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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

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

  1. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    lol it's me again hope you didn't forget about me

    This is... mostly a reactive post, in hindsight now. Took me a long time to review but it was fun re-reading my notes and re-reading a lot of my favorite parts again. Not much to criticize, which I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, but I tried to go more in depth where I could!

    CHAPTER 19

    Heh, not only does Gahi take on Manny's style of speaking, but also some of his personality, methinks. They're both pretty outspoken and loud. I like seeing a connection between two rather minor characters.

    "Mutant" implies a much worse connotation, in my opinion... like, an intense biological flaw, which I don't think Owen and them are if they've directly been modified. Indeed I'd side with Manny on this one lol.

    Manny strikes me as the type to be able to handle the modified 'mons better than anyone... though I'd be afraid he'd just kill them and have no remorse for it, if the way he trained Owen is anything to go by. :p I get it's necessary, but he just seems to be harsh mostly for the fun of it, haha.

    OKAY BUT after chapter 28's ending... WAS THIS SERIOUSLY a sign that Nevren's still involved??? goddamn it I should've known. Too much delicious secrecy and drama in this fic I love it.

    Hasn't she been stripping his memories while he's been mystic so far, though?

    CHAPTER 20

    I liked this scene a lot to highlight the differences between Manny and the others. I've also never thought about using fire-types for cremation purposes, but... that's a morbid worldbuilding idea I can get behind.

    I never took Rhys for the daredevil type. :p

    Oh dear, I'd kinda argue that Rhys glowed here and lost, what with the brightness of his paw...

    Love this bit of dialogue tbh. Flows so smoothly and it's so... Mannylike, lmao. Which says nothing except that his character's shining through for what little screen time he's had already.

    Mm, it might've been cool to see this scene, but I understand why you omitted it, what with the lack of answers at that point in time.

    CHAPTER 21

    It takes a remarkable amount of patience and trust to be able to wait over an existential crises like theirs... Really speaks to their characters tbh.

    I've been happy to see more of Amia, really. I think she's kind of the glue for the entire growing cast, even if Owen's the main character. That's what motherly people are for, I guess. And she's definitely acting more motherly than before, now that some of the secrets are out.

    I lol'd. Wow, Owen. Just wow.

    This is... quite a shift from how Owen treated Star during their first meeting. Hmm...

    Arceus drives a hard bargain. :p And you can tell it hurts Owen, wanting to help his friends and knowing how lonely Zena and them have been as Guardians, but. I think he makes the smart choice here, even if I don't think he should totally trust Star, either.

    Also, Star's Barky nickname for Arceus = amazing.

    PAPERWORK?! Owen, you're killing me.

    Oh, I'm sure he's busy, Owen. Star is, too. But even she takes time to listen and talk things out when she deems them necessary. Anyway, I wonder how a more religious character would've acted in his place...

    CHAPTER 22

    HMMMMMM

    Weird to think of Hec and Star as an item. But uh, of course there's something special about Owen. At any rate, you've been handling pretty well spacing out all these secret reveals, IMO... and, even better, there's still more to come, re: possible Nevren betrayal! Knowing how reactive Owen can be to everything, I do wonder whether he'll end up being able to trust the group he's traveling with. He may love them, but... those he loves have been hiding things from him left and right, and now, even Rhys seems to be hiding things from Zena (not 100% new) and Amia (to my knowledge, 100% new). It makes me, as a reader, kind of question the legitimacy of what I'm reading - not in a bad way, but I do wonder if what I'm reading will be upended a few chapters down the road with new information. It's an interesting rollercoaster.

    why you tryna break my heart

    I hope this fic ends (a long way off, I know) with Owen permanently being a Charizard. ;o; He deserves it.

    Well, gathering the Guardians in one location seems dangerously close to breaking that divine promise, if something goes wrong. I'm surprised no one's mentioned Owen possibly meeting up with Arceus before. Or maybe they thought nothing of it because, well, it's Arceus, and why distrust Arceus, right?

    Yo Star I hope you're counting yourself in that statement. That is all.

    All right, the "or anyone" part got me here. Everyone's got their secrets, and it sounds like Star's got some particularly burdensome ones. It must be hard.

    Star's been meddling around for a while, though, right? So this bit doesn't quite make sense to me, though the message on its own is sound.

    I'm really glad Star didn't properly ask for a Divine Promise here. Indeed it'd have been terrible timing. I may not like her, but really, you're doing a good job with her character. She's very transparent in a lot of ways and mysterious in others - a balance that takes skill, in my opinion. As for Owen, I don't blame him one bit for being skeptical about all this.

    Oh, Owen, you put it perfectly. D: Anam's a good leader, and a powerful one at that, but knowing his personality... this is what he'd want the Hearts to believe, I'm sure.

    Ohhh, interesting use of a ghost-type. I wonder if it has anything to do with Anam's strange ghostly powers shown in the recent chapter?

    CHAPTER 23

    In theory, that's likely, since spirits have forever and then some to dwell on it. :p

    I give Owen a lot of credit here, and Amelia, too, of course. It's not every day that you're forced to face someone you killed but don't remember killing... and it's not every day you face your killer. Yet both are determined to fulfill their respective roles, and I think it turned out well. Seems to be bring some peace of mind to Owen, a little, too. <3

    Probably because she has to remember and feel all the pain while he lives blissfully unaware like he has been for god-knows-how-long.

    I'm glad to see Rhys finally be a little more open with Owen... He's been reserved for far too long. And on the flip side, I'm glad a lot of the group are relieved to not have to maintain a facade anymore. It's made for an interesting shift in character dynamics.

    Knowing now that Nevren is kinda suspicious of things... and seeing the weird ghostly powers with James coming and going from Anam... I can't help but wonder if they're taking advantage of Anam's kindness and childishness. Ugh.

    Hey, he'd probably have a harder time not lighting the store on fire as a bigger charmeleon/charizard. :V

    Ohh, I love this use of smeargle! Definitely an underused 'mon in fics. <3

    All right, Deca is ****ing weird, man. What's his deal? But at the same time, I love seeing the two charmanders marvel over being, well, two charmanders. So give moar Deca, pls&&ty.

    CHAPTER 24

    My best guess is that Deca's basically Owen in another lifetime, with all his memories intact. Basically, what Owen would've been like without all the modified 'mon nonsense screwing up his life in the present.

    As Owen's mother, I'm sure she's been wondering and battling these thoughts for a long time. To have Willow, a seemingly childish and naive lil joltik ask such profound questions... Well, doesn't seem that anyone has the answer, because there's no simple answer. Poor Owen.

    Sheesh, Azu. I'm glad you explain that Mystics can take a little better of a beating than normal 'mon, kinda like in Bleach with their Soul Reapers taking more to die than a regular human. But this seems pretty brutal in particular, not even letting the poor charmander celebrate for two seconds.

    I'm with Yen here. :V I wonder what would happen if Owen or some other modified 'mon switched places with a spirit...?

    He says, as Owen's power has to be contained. :V But really, I appreciate this lesson as a reader, too. A group like the Guardians is bound to be complicated, but you as the writer also help it make sense rather easily.

    Man, that's gotta be terrifying, lmaoo. But it builds mental fortitude, I'm sure. Does this have any effect on Owen still being a charmander being reversed from a charizard over and over, though? Like, is his body more susceptible to death because of all the severe biological changes over 493943 years?

    Sounds like an official quote. I dig it.

    Don't blame Amia here. Willow's a Guardian, but she acts just like a kid and is the size of one... A lot of them are eclectic and seemingly fragile like that, really, especially Enet most recently.

    Oh NOOOO this is so sweet. <3 I'm sorry I called you a kid, Willow. You're wise beyond your years.

    CHAPTER 25

    Okay, but now I want to see a muk character that's also Anam's best friend. I will pay to see this happen pls.

    Like Nevren's and Rim's powers and more? Cough.

    ;_;

    I wonder if this is why Owen and Enet take such a liking to each other right off the bat.

    Well, I hope the leader of the Hearts has a heart...

    But ice-types are already the weakest type and need something to keep them up in status! Nah, but seriously, I like the idea of an inventor pokémon, even if Nevren's inventions aren't quite done in everyone's best interests after all. He's always been kinda aloof and quirky, but I never would've thought he'd end up siding with Rim or any of them after having sworn off the Hunters with Rhys.

    Yikes. This... really highlights Owen's distrust of others, doesn't it? And who can blame him after everything? Klent's never seemed outraged or particularly grudging toward Owen, but still, he thought this anyway. I'm glad it turned out to be an illusion. Overall, the use of a zoroark is really clever here. With a feral especially, she seems dangerous and liable to be a burden to the group in the future... but then again, the language barrier being broken down piece by piece, trying to decipher what she understands and what doesn't, makes for a fascinating read.

    SPECIAL EPISODE 2

    Ugh, you really pull out all the emotional punches for this special. Meditating indeed is no substitute for interpersonal connections.

    A fire from the last special episode, I assume... It's interesting, getting a whole different POV on it. Owen and Deca and them were risking their lives out there while, meanwhile, Ra just watches from his pedestal and can't bring himself to care.

    A+ pun brought from the human to the 'mon world.

    I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT DECAAAAA

    You tell her, Ra! ...Even though she's trying to stop you and provoking her probably isn't the smartest idea. But seriously, it's practical advice. Star may be a god... but trying to fix others? A near impossible feat, 100% of the time. Not speaking from experience or anything...

    Most of the Guardians have focused on loneliness so far over (im)mortality, surprisingly, so it's nice to get yet another POV on this point. Ra seems the type to take that Divine Promise to Arceus to free all the Guardians of their duties, not Owen. :p

    It seems an unnecessarily cruel fate to inflict upon Enet out of nowhere, but. Well. You clearly portray just how desperate and done Ra is. And it may or may not say a lot that so many people have actively worked against and hated Star throughout the years.

    His family backstory is depressing, isn't it? D: Everyone he loved turned away from him, and what did he have left in the end? Just his immortality and his grudge against said immortality, really. Even if his family were still alive, well, he didn't get along with them even then.

    Oh snap, another dementia-featuring fic. I don't feel so alone anymore. :p

    CHAPTER 26

    Just like Enet doesn't like people insinuating she can't understand language intelligently, she doesn't like people insinuating she's not capable of possessing the Orb, probably.

    Lol, too bad Owen isn't a charizard since they're pretty big. It's cute how he tries to appeal to her, though, to get her to come with him. You can tell how flustered he is, but he doesn't have much of a choice without Anam and Amia around to help.

    OH NOOO, FERAL INSTINCTS

    I'm dying

    Oh snap, foreshadowing I missed the first time around. It doesn't help clear the suspicion from Nevren when he lied about what the Everstone was...

    Discrimination in the pokémon world...? Interesting, but I can see it. Like humans are separated by racial categories, so, too, are pokémon separated into type categories. Anyway, I agree with Sugar that Rim's absolutely creepy here, lol. Forgot Rim being a psychic and that's why. She's just creepy overall... and insanely powerful to boot.

    Am I right in that this is the same salazzle from special episode 1 and she just doesn't remember...? How many memories are being tampered with?!

    Ohh, Amia's so popular and/or powerful she has a legend told about her? :p

    CHAPTER 27

    Just when you didn't think it was possible...

    I'm surprised Anam doesn't panic more often, though. Maybe it's a constant, internal panic, because he's always conscious enough to not use his powers much for fear of hurting others beyond repair.

    Fire-types gotta take baths, too, yo.

    I like how you've been able to consistently bring up Owen's progress or not-progress in his Guardian powers, though, amidst everything else happening. Not much else to say about this chapter, aside from WTF ANAM. If the Hearts all saw his powers... Well, I don't think he'd be the leader anymore, or at least, he wouldn't have a functioning association...

    CHAPTER 28

    I'm not sure I understood the logic that caused Owen to throw the Everstone away. The Eviolite, he thought, was supposed to boost his powers, right? He wasn't intentionally trying to evolve and get stronger, it seems, at any rate... Though I also get the feeling the point is that Owen doesn't know why it worked; he just tried it based on a hunch.

    Perfect image. <3

    As if stealing Owen's memories time and time again wasn't bad enough... Now Zena can't remember a friend when she's been lonely for so long? I'm sure Rhys and co. have a reason for it. They always do. But is it justifiable? Pretty subjective moral stuff going on here. I like it.
     
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Thanks for the feedback, dp! I got to you elsewhere, but it's a joy as always to read your bulk-reviews!

    Chapter 29 – Honor and Loyalty

    The more Owen thought about it, the stranger it all became. Nevren’s actions seemed friendly, but the peculiar things that he did from time to time, specifically with Owen, made him suspicious. The gift that he was given to suppress his evolution, right before he became Mystic? Right before the traditional suppression methods wouldn’t have been enough? Then there was Nevren’s entire past in creating them.

    And then, most of all—and what made Owen still scratch his scaly head—what exactly was that vision he had on the mountain, during his trial to become a Heart? Nevren tried to attack him back then, but it was all a dream. It was, right? He wasn’t hurting at all when it was over, and he knew he dealt a horrible blow onto Nevren, too. So, what was that all about? Was it really the altitude? Or was it a Psychic vision that Nevren gave him, perhaps to test out his battle? That could have been it.

    Owen tried to explain this to Zena, Amia, and Alex, and while Zena nodded at every word, Amia and Alex seemed less sure.

    “Are you sure that you aren’t just a little worn out?” Amia said. “To be honest, all I want to do is rest for the night. Don’t you? Nevren may have not told you that the stone would keep you from evolving because then you’d try to evolve—and that’s just not a good idea right now… right? Why don’t you just rest?”

    “But it seems suspicious, don’t you think?” Zena pushed.

    “Nevren’s gift is the only reason Owen is still with us,” Alex said with a frown. “For that alone, I think we owe him quite a bit.”

    “He could have been honest with Owen,” Zena growled. “Star is still not telling us everything, and to be honest, if Star ever tells us to do something questionable, I won’t follow.”

    “None of us will, dear,” Amia said. “But think of it this way, Zena. If Nevren told Owen that it was an Everstone… and that he wasn’t supposed to evolve… how do you suppose he would react? Owen, who wanted nothing more than to evolve?”

    Both Zena and Owen flinched. The Charmeleon gulped, turning his head to focus on his stash of books in the back alcove of the room. “I guess I could be a little tired,” Owen said. “But… I don’t know. I still don’t know.”

    “Just… just don’t throw away that stone, okay?” Alex said. “Getting too far away from it just might evolve you, and we can’t have that. Not yet.”

    “Because I’ll go crazy?” Owen said.

    “W-well… yes?” Amia said delicately. “I think we all agree that we might not be ready for that. You still need some time to meditate.”

    Owen fiddled with his claws again. Then, he looked up at Zena, and then Amia and Alex. The first thing they asked him when he almost evolved was what he was thinking, and if he felt angry. Or perhaps if he felt violent? But he didn’t feel either of those things. He felt afraid. He thought about nothing but those he knew. He didn’t feel some sort of insanity creeping in on him, did he? Sure, there was a pressure, but that wasn’t the same. Right?

    “But do I?” he said. “What if I’ve been ready this whole time, and this stone is holding me back?”

    “N-now, Owen, let’s not…”

    “What if I got rid of it and evolved when I was calmer? I bet I’d be fine after that,” Owen said. “Then I could take on Rim and the other Hunters, no problem. It’d all be over. I bet I’d even rescue all of the other Guardians that are lost and afraid… I could’ve saved Cara and Forrest.” Owen still remembered how terrified the Lopunny in particular looked. That could’ve been any of them. That could’ve been Zena if the Hunters got to her first. With a fire in his chest, Owen glanced at the Milotic, then at his parents. “So why don’t I try it?”

    “B-Because, dear,” Amia said in a slow, yet frantic tone, “don’t you think you’re jumping to conclusions? The last time you evolved, you still went—”

    “I went crazy, but I was stressed! Attacked by Azu! What happened after that? When I won? Was I still angry?”

    “I… I mean…” Amia said. “Not… not really, but… but you were shaking, and shivering—and I know that you were trying your hardest to keep it together. You weren’t ready, even after the fight was over. I… it’s just not good yet, okay? Even if Nevren might not be totally honest with us—maybe you evolving isn’t good for either of us.”

    Owen flinched. “I… I mean…” He turned away. “I guess that’s a possible answer….”

    “I don’t want to risk it yet,” Amia said. “Can you just wait a little while longer? We—we’ll try evolving you later. When we can be sure we’ll turn you back… if it doesn’t work out.”

    The Charmeleon huffed. “Okay,” he said. “…But I get to stay as a Charizard for a little while, okay? If I’m not attacking anybody, then it should be just fine, right?”

    “Y-yes… okay, Owen… I know you want to do it, and we can’t force you to not evolve, so… let’s just schedule a time for it to happen, alright? Will that be okay?”

    “…Two days,” Owen said. “I want to try evolving in two days. And this counts as the first day.”

    Amia sighed, but Owen held firm. She really trapped herself with that one. “Not… three days?” she asked.

    “Two days,” Owen said, prodding at his remaining food. He dumped the rest into his mouth and stood up to put the bowl away. Zena frowned.

    “Can’t you wait a little longer, Owen?” the Water Guardian asked. “We still don’t know for sure. And I don’t want to lose you.”

    Some of the wind under Owen’s nonexistent wings faded, but he didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said, “If I feel like I can handle it, then I’m going to try.”

    Alex watched his son go, and then shook his head. “…He’s certainly going through that rebellious phase… again… isn’t he?”

    Amia rubbed her head. “He’s probably remembering all the other times he went through it,” she said. “Ohh, why does he need to be so clever… He trapped me in my own argument!”

    “You could have just said three days,” Alex said.

    “Then he would have just tossed his stone today,” Amia said, pouting. “But… I can’t blame him. You have to look at it from his perspective—he doesn’t even know who he really is, in a way. And now he wants to claim it.”

    Zena nodded. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like,” she told them. “Owen doesn’t know if who he is right now is real. Can you imagine? The idea that who you are is just… false. That the real you is sealed inside.” Zena tensed. “Owen… he’s… he’s not someone completely different, is he?”

    “He might lose himself completely…” Alex said.

    “We’ll fix it if that happens,” Amia said, glancing at her hands. “Just like always…”

    “…But… but will it work?” Alex said.

    Amia hesitated. “…I’m going to train,” she said. “Just that attack. Just the Suppression Aura. To make sure I can do it right, and do it strong, to buy us some extra time.”

    “Strong,” Alex said. “I think we’re all going to have to be strong for this—including Owen.”

    Zena looked at Owen’s collection of books. “Amia,” she said. “Teach me the Suppression Aura, too.”

    <><><> ​

    Outside, Owen stepped through the caves again, admiring the mushroom light. He looked at his pouch, and then took the stone out of it. He stared for a while. Rolled it in his claws. Dug a claw gently into a small imperfection in the amalgam. Eviolite… why was he so gullible? Why did he just accept what Nevren said as the truth? He always seemed so trustworthy to him.

    Was that just part of his latent instincts? Did his instincts naturally trust him, his creator? Or was he built to be a follower?

    Owen stared at the stone again, holding it in a crushing grip. It was too strong to destroy that way. Owen wondered, what would happen if he just tossed it into the lava? If he headed down to the flaming river and… just got rid of it? Would he evolve right there? Would he feel perfectly normal? Would he remember everything, and take down the Hunters, just like that? Was it that easy? Could Nevren be holding him back this entire time, just with this gift? Cara and Forrest were dead because they were too weak and too slow. Rim ran away when he threatened to evolve. And Rim attacked Rhys before, but when the others of Team Alloy evolved, she ran away, too!

    They could have beaten her!

    Owen clutched the stone a bit harder. His arm muscles felt hot. Hotter than the lava he bathed in.

    The sound of something metallic tumbling to the ground echoed out of the cave. It startled Owen so much that he nearly dropped the amalgam. He faltered with it in the air and slipped it into the bag out of reflex.

    Rhys cursed from his room in the cavern to the right.

    For the briefest moment, Owen eyed the home with suspicion. He was a Hunter, too. But then, Owen recalled that Rhys had made a Promise to Zena that he’d abandon that position. He couldn’t kill another Guardian, let alone betray them. If anything… he could trust Rhys.

    Hesitating, Owen walked into the ex-Hunter’s home and tapped the back of his claw against the wall. He passed the kitchen area, went through the familiar hall, and turned to the right on the first entryway.

    “Ah, hello, Owen,” Rhys said, a tinge of irritation in his voice, which Owen interpreted as toward the mess in front of him, rather than the Charmeleon’s approach. It seemed that one of the shelves broke under the weight of another memento that Rhys had apparently found on the ground. It appeared to be a Dusk Stone from Nightshade Forest. What use would he ever have for that? Owen rolled his eyes. He probably thought it’d be ‘useful someday.’ Even with his clouded memories, that phrase associated with Rhys was very familiar. He had thousands of those moments. Some of them seemed more useless than the others, like the odd, metallic bracelet near the corner of the fallen shelves. One of Nevren’s prototype inventions. Nevren…

    Owen dug through his bag and set down the Everstone-Eviolite. “Rhys?” he said. “Did you always know Nevren gave me this to keep me from evolving?”

    Rhys dropped the Fire Stone he’d been holding.

    Owen growled, tail flashing yellow. “You did.”

    Rhys sighed. “You were evolving very quickly, Owen. It was an emotional strain on your mother. That goes double after you wound up becoming the Grass Guardian. It makes suppressing your true form… difficult.”

    “Hm,” Owen said, nodding. That much made sense. He could only imagine how hard it was for Amia and Alex to keep up with him, constantly worrying that he’d evolve in the wrong place at the wrong time…

    Owen rubbed his head. “The sooner my memories are totally back, the better.” He paused, remembering why he’d approached in the first place. “Rhys, er—about Nevren, actually. I…” He hesitated, realizing that, if Rhys knew about it, and Rhys was no longer a Hunter, then the likelihood of Nevren still being a Hunter was slim to none.

    He asked anyway, just to be sure. “Why do you trust Nevren? He’s so… blank. I can never get a read from him. And he used to be a Hunter, just like you. What makes you trust him?” Owen had reminded himself of yet another reason to be wary of the Alakazam. His unreadable expressions. His lack of muscle movement. The only thing that had ever phased him in a meaningful way was when Rhys made that Promise—and only then, because of how significant it was to make it. If Nevren lied to him, Owen’s strange Perception ability would not work.

    Another thought crossed his mind. What if it simply didn’t work on Nevren, specifically? How deep did his instincts go? Paranoia creeping in, he refocused on Rhys. His pause didn’t bode well.

    Rhys looked at Owen, humming thoughtfully. Then, he sighed, and continued to arrange his items on the repaired shelf. “I promised Nevren that I would not tell him about the moment we shared.”

    “Uhh—” Owen blushed.

    “Not in that way,” Rhys hissed.

    Owen waited for an alternative explanation.

    Rhys sighed irritably. “A very long time ago, Nevren behaved as Anam’s strategist. A tactician, so to speak, during… an event. He was working in a mutual interest between the Hunters and the Association to stabilize the world during a chaotic era, before the Thousand Heart Association established its roots across all of Kilo.”

    Owen listened intently. A time when the Association wasn’t around? How long ago could that have been?

    “One day,” he said, “near the end of this chaos, Nevren approached me. And… he confessed to me that while he had been aligned with the Hunters for quite some time, something… changed in his worldview. It was when I was… gravely injured, resting in a hospital—this was before Anam’s blessings were widespread—and Anam saved my life by bringing me there. Nevren approached me then, while I was resting, and told me that he had an epiphany.”

    “An epiphany?” Owen said. “Wait—so Nevren was still a Hunter?”

    “We didn’t necessarily call ourselves that at the time,” Rhys admitted. “It was a different time. The Divine Dragons, we called ourselves. Frankly, I can’t recall why…. Few of us were actually Dragons. I believe Eon came up with the term because it sounded cool…” Rhys rolled his eyes.

    Calling oneself a Dragon, despite not being one, was something Owen felt he could relate to all too strongly.

    Rhys went on. “But yes. And it was on that day of his epiphany… that I saw Nevren as the most emotional Pokémon I’d ever seen him. Now, it was nothing dramatic. He did not cry. He did not shout. Frankly, he did not do much than he usually did. But his eyes, Owen.” Rhys looked down at a small bag of marbles. “His eyes were alive with light. The light of a Heart. He said that the Association deserves the world.” Rhys pulled out a marble from the bag. A blue one, with a single, green circle on one side. “Ever since that day, I noticed that, while working with Anam, he seemed… somehow happier. Content. That’s the word. As if he knew what he wished to do with himself. Someone who knew his purpose.” Rhys chuckled. “I envy a Pokémon who knows such peace.”

    Owen listened, but then hung his head in shame. He knew none of what Rhys was saying. Those memories were locked away so firmly that he knew it was tied to a point in time that Star had sealed for his own safety. Owen could feel it, even now. The blocks that Star put on his mind—the memories that were pressed up against them. It was a dull headache. But if Owen knew what Rhys had known, he wouldn’t have been suspicious of Nevren at all.

    “He really just wants to help,” Owen said. “Oh, Mew. I feel bad just for thinking he was sabotaging us.”

    “Sabotaging?” Rhys said.

    Owen nodded. “Rim’s been catching up to us every time we talk with the communicators. Or, that’s kinda how I noticed it.”

    “Rim is also the Psychic Guardian, unfortunately,” Rhys said. “And while I doubt that grants her the ability to see into the future, I suspect it heightens her perceptive range—and aura senses—significantly. We also know that they likely have a means of tracking Guardians as well.”

    “Oh,” Owen said. “Right… I… forgot about that.”

    The evidence fell apart in Owen’s mind. It was all circumstantial. Nevren was just trying to help with all of his inventions. He thought about how he had advanced the whole world with his technological marvels. Waypoints. Badges. Even those X-Ray Specs that Owen was grounded for life from using. He, along with James, managed almost everything to do with the Association’s inner organization, keeping all of Kilo safe from Kilo Mountain’s village.

    He gave his whole life to the Association. And just because he gave him an evolution-suppressing stone, he thought he was a liar. When in the end, it was just so he could stay sane, and to help his parents cope.

    “Hey, Owen!” Gahi shouted.

    This broke the Charmeleon’s chain of thought. “Wh—what?”

    “Let’s train! I wanna evolve like yeh got to!”

    The levity was just what he needed. “Oh—okay,” Owen said. “Sure! Yeah…” He couldn’t deny the joy in battles, even if it was an instinct that he was born with. Perhaps he could forget about that for at least a little while.

    “Thanks, Rhys,” Owen said.

    Rhys smiled. “I would trust Nevren with my life, Owen. I’m sorry that we lied to you.”

    Owen shook his head. “I get it,” he said, and then left.

    In the hall, before meeting up with Gahi and the others, he looked down at the stone again. Just carrying it around, hoping it would keep him sane, wasn’t going to cut it after a while. Maybe Amia had a point. Maybe evolving should wait until he was definitely, totally ready for it. But how else would he be able to ensure he’d have it with him? A dull headache pulsed through him, and he recalled in a previous life, an Aerodactyl stealing his bag, including the stone. It seemed a lot more believable that he’d lose it when it was the least convenient.

    But how was he supposed to keep that from happening again? Owen pondered, tail-fire dimming to his deep concentration. And then, an idea came.

    <><><> ​

    “Please… leave me be,” Valle said.

    Enet tilted her head, sniffing at the feet of the stone Shiftry.

    True to form, the Rock Guardian did not move.

    “This is not something that I am used to,” Valle said. “Enet, Guardian of Electricity, this is too close.”

    Enet tilted her head to the other side, pacing around Valle. “Not move?” she asked.

    “I do not move. All is stillness,” Valle said.

    “But… I move,” Enet said.

    “I am the Guardian of Rock,” Valle said. “It is not my place to do such…” he trailed off.

    “Can’t move?” Enet asked.

    “I can, but I choose not to.”

    “Why?”

    Valle was silent. “It… is simply something that I have grown accustomed to.”

    “But other Rock move,” Enet said, using her claw to pull at her lower right lip. She reached down and picked up a pebble, tossing it from one paw to the other.

    Valle rumbled.

    Enet stopped. “Not you? Because you crazy?”

    “I—did not go crazy, as you call it,” Valle said. “I… built a tolerance to the solitude.”

    “Solitude?” Enet repeated.

    “…Being alone,” Valle said.

    “Oh,” Enet nodded, sitting down. “Being alone… hurts,” she said.

    Valle took a few seconds to reply. “It… does. Yes. It did. But I grew used to it.”

    Enet frowned and made her way back to the front of Valle. “But… not alone! So… move again!”

    “Move, again?”

    By now, a few others passing by were listening in on the conversation, wondering what Enet was trying. Most just let Valle do as he wanted, but now…

    ADAM buzzed curiously. “Valle, do you wish to change your protocol?”

    “I… am unsure,” Valle said. “I don’t know if I know how to move.”

    “Move!” Enet said, waving her arms around. “Easy!”

    “Easy,” Valle said uncertainly.

    A distant explosion shook the caves, though the walls were too strong to risk the area collapsing. It was likely reinforced by Amia’s power.

    “That must be the modified Pokémon fighting,” Valle said.

    “Modi…?” Enet puffed out her cheeks. “Use easy words!”

    “The Pokémon that become something strange when they evolve,” Valle said.

    “Strange?” Enet asked. “Oh! Owen!” she said. “And the other four…?”

    “…Three,” ADAM said.

    Enet blinked and counted her claws, but then huffed and turned around. “Numbers dumb,” she said.

    “Numbers are everything,” ADAM replied.

    Enet growled again. “Dumb,” she said.

    Valle was still as always, but he appeared to be observing their movements carefully. The unmoving Guardian spoke, “Are you… sure?” he said.

    “Sure?” Enet asked. “Huh?”

    “About… movement,” Valle said. “Is it… safe to do?”

    “Yes?” Enet asked, wiggling her arms. “Easy!”

    Valle was silent again. “I can float… and I can slide,” he said. “But… I have not moved in a mountain’s age.”

    Enet tilted her head. She clearly didn’t understand the analogy. “Age?”

    “Do you plan to move, Valle? Are you certain that is the best choice?” ADAM asked.

    “I don’t know,” Valle said. “…Stillness… I need stillness.”

    “How come?” Enet asked.

    Valle couldn’t answer.

    “Move!” Enet encouraged, jumping once in the air. “Easy! Try… arm! Move arm!” She wiggled her right arm.

    “My arm… yes. My arm. I could move my arm,” Valle said. “That doesn’t sound very hard. The stillness… doesn’t need to be forever. Even other Rock Pokémon move. Mountains move, rarely… slowly… I can move. Can’t I?”

    “Yeah,” Enet said. “I think so. Right?”

    There was a long silence again. Enet shifted awkwardly, eventually losing interest, though ADAM remained, watching Valle closely.

    “Do you intend to move?” ADAM asked.

    “I… yes. I will.” Slowly, almost imperceptibly, one of Valle’s arms twitched. And then moved again, and then, by roughly a mere ten degrees, the arm changed its angle. And then it stopped. The nearby cavern walls trembled, like the skipping of a heartbeat. “That… is enough movement for a while,” he said.

    “Huh?” Enet looked back. “Oh! You moved! I think…?” Enet said, tilting her head at the rocky Guardian.

    “I did,” said Valle. “Thank you.”

    “Yeah!” Enet said. But then, the Zoroark addressed ADAM. “You. Talk weird.”

    ADAM buzzed in response. “Weird?”

    “Yeah! Zzzz! What’s that?”

    Adam twitched. “Zzzz? I am processing.”

    “Processing?” Enet asked.

    “Yes. I think. I must think. Sometimes things… puzzle me, and I require extra time to think.”

    “Thinking, you zzz?” Enet asked.

    ADAM buzzed again.

    “That! What’s that?”

    ADAM buzzed louder. “That is me thinking. I am annoyed.”

    “Are you broken?” Enet asked.

    “Far from broken! I am—optimal!” ADAM twitched furiously.

    Enet giggled. “Funny words!”

    “Aaaaaaa,” ADAM said, followed by flying into a nearby building, perhaps to cool off his core units.

    “Enet,” Valle said. “Why do you think ADAM is broken?”

    “Huh?” Enet asked. “Not broken?”

    “Well… he is certainly odd,” Valle replied. “But I attributed that to his species. Porygon-Z tend to behave… oddly, sometimes. It is a wonder where they even came from. The rumor is they came from an ancient time of the mythical human.”

    “Oh,” Enet said. None of this meant anything to her. “He… smelled funny.” She sniffed the air. “Smell … of his, this,” she said, patting her chest.

    “His… chest, had an odd smell.” Valle repeated.

    “No,” Enet said. “The… this,” she said, pressing her claws deeper into her fur.

    “His heart? …Does he have one?” Valle asked. “Ohh,” he said, recognizing the frustrated look on her face. “You mean his aura. All of our auras are strange. I’m surprised that you perceive auras by smell, Enet.”

    “You don’t?”

    “No,” said Valle. “I see it with sight.”

    This was foreign to the Zoroark.

    “Well, in any case, perhaps he is just odd,” said Valle. “Now… Enet. Why don’t you see the others? I… must… be still, here.”

    “You won’t move more?”

    “Tch… I shall move in the future,” Valle said. “I promise.”

    This was enough for the wild creature. “Okay,” she said. And so, she bounded off.

    <><><> ​

    Nevren sat in the middle of Anam’s office, sorting through records and papers. Anam was in another room of the Heart Headquarters, performing blessings on another batch of seeds, which required the withdrawal of all his spirits—including James—to perform with the most power and efficiency. That left the Alakazam alone to manage the paperwork.

    “Hmm, interesting…” he said. “There are quite a few false alarms… a good handful of sightings in the Southern Ocean, but that’s likely due to the glowing moss that comes with the transition of summer to autumn. Still, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to investigate further…”

    “More reports, Elite Nevren!”

    “Ah, thank you, put it on the desk!” Nevren called back, not even looking up. He sorted through more of the papers. “Ahh, I simply don’t have the time to look through every single one of these, do I? If only I could—hm, wait a moment. Why don’t I just—” Nevren paused, looking at a small, silver badge next to him. Unlike the communicator, this one had a blue, glowing gem in the middle. He reached toward it, but then stopped when the blue gem abruptly dimmed to a dead gray. “…How long have you been there?”

    “Eep—!”

    Nevren sighed and turned around. “Rim, you know it’s rude to eavesdrop. Come on, show yourself.”

    The Espurr appeared in a warping bend of light.

    “Well, I take it you know where the next few Orbs are, do you? I imagine you’ll be sending Elder to do his negotiating first. A futile effort, you know. They’re very unlikely to agree to anything of the sort, simply giving up their power willingly like that…”

    Rim glanced away.

    “Yes, yes, I suppose you always have a bit of hope that you won’t have to take it away violently, but, hrm…” Nevren sighed. “Well. I suppose I can’t stop you. I’ve already tried convincing you quite a few times, you know.” Nevren looked at the gray gem again. “Ah, speaking of which, could you vanish for a moment?”

    Rim stared at Nevren curiously.

    “Just for a moment.”

    Rim obeyed, disappearing. A few seconds later, a Golem stepped into the office. “We have another report,” he said.

    “Ah, good. You were sent to the Arachno Forest?”

    “Yes, er—we were, but… we don’t think anybody should go there anymore.”

    “Oh? Is it that dangerous?”

    “Y-yes. Actually, about that, I’d… like to set up a mission for it.”

    Nevren tilted his head. “A rescue mission? …Where is the rest of your team?”

    The Golem winced.

    “I see. I will set one up immediately.”

    “Th-thank you.”

    He left. Rim appeared shortly after.

    “Rim, if it’s not a bother,” he said, “are the Synthetics responsible for that?”

    Rim shook her head immediately.

    “But did we not send quite a few of them there in the past? None returned. But their spirits never went into the aura sea, either—so it wasn’t as if they were killed. Hecto informed Eon as much, regardless of how uncooperative those Zygarde has been lately. Are you sure they don’t simply get lost in their battle modes there?”

    Rim shook her head. “But… I can’t…” she said.

    “Hmm… well. Please, set up a team anyway in an attempt to rescue his Pokémon, Rim. Moderately strong Synthetics should do. Team of three? Be sure to set them to Scouting and not Battling.”

    Rim nodded.

    “Ah, and Rim,” Nevren said.

    “Mm?”

    “How many Orbs do you have at the moment? Which ones, between yourself and Eon?”

    “…Psychic…” Rim said. “Flying, Ground…” She paused, but then nodded.

    “Only three, hm?” he said. “You’re falling behind. At this rate, Owen will have you beaten for sure.”

    Rim winced.

    “No need to worry.” Nevren sighed. “After all, he didn’t align with Barky. Did you hear of that?”

    “N-no…! What?” Rim asked.

    “Yes! Quite surprising. Perhaps Rhys was right after all,” Nevren nodded, almost beaming. “Incredible, really. I’d go easy on him for that. Well, in any case, Frozen Oceanside may be a bit dangerous for them to handle, so I’d recommend gathering that Orb next. Ice Type, so be wary of being frozen. The Pokémon there is quite hostile toward Hunters. And Star. And Barky. Frankly everyone, quite cold in spirit.”

    “Elder…” Rim said.

    “Elder?” Nevren said. “I’d honestly rather not. Regardless of his Typing, he may become encased in ice immediately if he doesn’t convince her to side with us or relinquish her power. It isn’t as if that strategy worked before.”

    “Eon said to…” Rim said.

    “Yes, but Eon is far from logical,” Nevren said. “It may be a gesture of good faith, but sending Elder is a waste of time and a risk to the poor Torkoal’s life. Let him rest.”

    Rim stared with her big eyes.

    Nevren shook his head.

    Rim stared harder.

    The Alakazam sighed. “Very well,” he said. “Elder first. Remember, I don’t want to send Owen on risky missions. He isn’t strong enough yet. He and his friends need to live. A shame he already befriended the Zoroark, but I suppose it cannot be helped. I was hoping you’d kill her before that happened, like with Cara or Forrest.”

    “Mm.” Rim nodded, but then eyed the Alakazam carefully. “Owen…” she said.

    “Hm? Owen?”

    “Tried… to evolve…”

    “Evolve…” Nevren said. “Yes, I heard. Is he ready?”

    Rim bit at her lower lip.

    “Hmm… Perhaps I should talk to him.”

    “He might not… trust you…” Rim said.

    “Ah,” Nevren nodded. “I suppose he would be the first to worry. Well, aside from Rhys. I don’t think he fully trusts me, even now. He wouldn’t understand. Just like Eon and his emotions, Rhys lets his honor get in the way. Time is running out, hm? Third war or not, we must keep going. Still. Regarding Owen. What do you recommend?”

    Rim tensed, shaking her head.

    “Ah, sorry, sorry,” Nevren said. “I apologize. I’ll think it over myself—no need to be put on the spot, hm? Just ask Elder to speak to the Ice Guardian, and we can proceed from there. I believe her name is Ladder, but you might want to double-check. It has been a while since I heard the name. I will send Owen’s group to the Steel Guardian.”

    Rim flinched. “S-Steel…? But that’s…!”

    “I believe it is time,” Nevren said. “They will fail, but I think now is a good time for them to know about the Trinity. Besides, he is the least dangerous of the three. I won’t be sending them to Zero Isle, for one, or Dark Mist Swamp.” Nevren sorted through the papers a bit. “…Thank you, Rim. That will be all. Ah, but do send a team to Arachno Forest on a rescue. Perhaps we’ll find another Guardian there.”

    Rim nodded and vanished. Nevren looked down at the papers. The Badge on his desk had become blue during the middle of their conversation.

    He briefly thought about Owen and how quickly he had befriended Guardians for nearly half of the Orbs. Fast friends with even the unruliest of them. The Fighter, the Fairy, and the feral in particular. Perhaps it was charisma or perhaps it was his unintimidating disposition. Or perhaps it was, despite everything, the hidden strength he possessed. The potential that surpassed even Nevren’s base design expectations. No, Nevren knew that this strength Owen possessed—perhaps not physical strength, but the strength of spirit, or the light he possessed. That wasn’t his design. That was how he was raised.

    “Owen,” Nevren said to himself, shaking his head. “You’re just like your father.”
     
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Here is your ketchup delivery, good sir.

    SE2
    Didn't take me long to realize we were looking at the cause of the events of SE1, in some respects. I do think labeling Ra's "target" as simply a feral is... being vague for the sake of being vague. Given Ra has lightning powers and the feral is female, I can workout that we're looking at Enet and by the time you get to the "She's just what Star deserves," it's evident that we're seeing how Enet wound up with the electric orb in her posession. That said, I think you'd have been wiser at least noting something about Enet's appearance, especially since Ra knows she's a zoroark and has been watching her.

    That nitpick out of the way, let's tackle the meat of this whole thing, shall we? I'm... of two minds about it, quite frankly. On the whole, I think it's an interesting structure you've got here, interspersing the flashbacks of Ra's, uh, relationship into his present state. On the whole, the stuff in the present was quite visceral and I think this is easily the best action sequence that's been in the fic so far. The parts inside the orb, in particular, gave me Inception vibes with how twisty and topsy-turvy the landscape was getting. I doubt that was the inspiration, but the parallels are there for me with the whole dream-like state of this. As far as the flashbacks go, I think they hit the biggest high points as far as showcasing what happened to him. But... uh... this is where my big issue with the whole special comes into play.

    tl;dr version is that I personally think you got a bit too ambitious with this one. On its surface, about the only thing I come away from this special feeling is more paranoia with Star and having more a concrete sense that, no, she is not benevolent and doesn't have the world's best interests truly at heart (heh). But as far as Ra goes... while I think there's a lot of evocative writing thrown in there, it just drew a collective shrug from me. It does tie back into the current part of the story via Enet, which is nice, but since she's a feral we don't get a sense of how any of this effects her, which is a shame. Now, I'm no hypocrite. I have plenty of bonus parts that focus on people outside the main cast, but I generally try to make it that they're focused on characters who readers already know. Ra... is not really that. He's basically introduced solely for this special and you try to get through the entirety of his backstory in it.

    The end result is that, as bad as this is to say, it didn't hit the emotional tones I assume you were going for. Because you're trying to cover his entire backstory, there were gaps that left me scratching my head. I understand the immortality element was the key, but I don't personally think you showed me enough of his time with Step to leave me heartbroken over their falling out. We didn't get enough flashbacks after his daughters died to establish his mind slipping and his rage toward Star building so the logic of him blaming everything on her makes sense (at least to me). Normally, this wouldn't be that bothersome. But because Ra isn't part of the story until now, it all adds up to me feeling like I'm not given any real reason why I should care about Ra. Hell, the stuff in the "present" starts with him causing a fire and wishing death upon Owen and Deca. And that's not the worst of it. Despite the many flashbacks, we never really see him genuinely apologize for what appears to be behavior tantamount to abusing his kid! I get that pokémon customs aren't the same as ours, but given you don't show us what his training was like and don't get inside his head-space to show his fear of losing his daughters, those were the messages you sent with Step and his daughters leaving him. Yet, by the end, they're all together... in a manner of speaking. Yet, still no apology. Unless I missed something, this raises some alarm bells for me, personally, in that it could be sending a bad message to people who read it, especially if they've witnessed or been subject to abuse. I know Ra's "dragon pride" is brought up, but we never see what that means. It's only given via exposition. So, again, an instant of a gap that just leaves me scratching my head.

    I'm sorry if this wasn't what you were hoping to hear. I know we talked about this, but you present a lot of interesting ideas (immortals committing taboo by having kids, the effects on the psyche, a Parkinsonian-like illness) yet none of them are really given any depth. Hence why my gut reaction is that this all feels too ambitious in scope but the scale (i.e. the fact that it's only one chapter) does not match the scope you're going for.

    Well, that's totally not ominous at all!

    C H A O S C H A O S ! S T A R C A N D O A N Y T H I N G !

    Exhibits A-D that Star is definitely a bitch.


    26
    Man, it would've been nice if we had a primer to feral culture. Like, why does Enet even have a name, anyway? At least it's nice to get her, erm, "perspective" on the events we witnessed from Ra's POV. Even if, y'know, it's not exactly articulate and doesn't offer much. I get the feeling Owen's making everything worse by being such an apologetic door mat in this entire scene. At least Enet can talk... in basically the 'mon equivalent of caveman speak, but I'll take it! It's also interesting to see Star's (warped, lying) perspective on what happened to Ra. Though she clearly chose to work with the hand he dealt her by training Enet. Makes me wonder how much time has passed since the events of the storm. It can't be that long if Spice is still alive, but the way Star talks, it seems like it's been decades.

    Huh. So Owen's Eviolte was a bit of a Chekhov's Gun, after all. Clever girl, Nevren. Clever girl.

    Not much to say about the Sugar and Spice scene. It was nice to actually have info relayed about what's happening in the world beyond what our heroes are doing. Also a possible tease at Aerodactyl's return? Could be intriuging, since Owen's in a different place physically than he was when last they met. Rim mostly sticks to the creepy espurr meme schtick, but at long last we hear Eon! ... for all of two lines. Oh well, looks like there'll be a confrontation.

    Z-Zoroark have tails? Since when? Or is that what you call her mane?

    Easily the most riveting conversation to take place in this whole story.

    Guildmaster Wigglytuff is a feral by this world's logic. Wow.

    This harem fic's getting spicy, I see. go for it owen! turn to the furry side!

    Pfffffffffffbt.

    This is just a G-rated dick joke!

    *the audience collectively groans*


    27
    Is it bad I don't think James talks with big words? *nervous laugh*

    I, uh, actually don't have much to say with this chapter. I've written countless scenes of Shane getting covered in gunge, so seeing it happen to Owen is funny and entertaining. Really the only other part of note is one of Anam's spirits rising up to seize control of his powers. So, he's got an element of decay to him, huh? That's... uh... well, I can't make a DBZ joke... but I can make a My Hero Academica joke! Anam is just the fusion of Fat Buu and Tomura Shigaraki! Brilliant! In all seriousness, having Owen's flesh rot away like that was metal AF. And that's, uh, all I've got to say, really.

    Enet is a precious doggo and if you hurt her I will kill at least a few charmanders before my fic is— oh, wait, I already killed a charizard. Eh, that's okay, I can always add a few lizards to the mix.

    WELP. Good thing I have the perfect way to fry some fire lizards!

    Where's the vore content warning?! My sweet virgin eyes!

    Uh... giggity?

    Oh god, he's entering his edgy emo phase! Stop! Abort! Turn back! Everyone stop playing Nickleback and Linkin Park on the speakers, for god's sake!

    The dangers of using epithets. Alternatively, Enet's such irresistable furbait, we need to have extra attention drawn to that fact.

    Don't forget, I'm with you in the daaaaark!


    28
    ... Owen is fucking Broly. Guess we can add that to the list. Think about it. He has an incredibly unstable super form that causes him to go completely berserk and turn into a battle-hungry monster. It's kept under control by some sort of bizarre power limiter and attempts to contain said super form tend to cost Owen most of his memories. Heck, as Grass Guardian he can have a green aura if he wanted it. It occurred to me because Owen's gambit pretty much involves using his super saiyan form as a deterrant to get Rim to flee. It, uh, works a little bit too well. Not even any comedic reaction from Rim. She's just all "Fuck this shit I'm out!" Good on Enet being smart enough to get him the Eviolite before things went completely south.

    I will admit that the conversation with Zena about her friend was... odd. I couldn't follow it, becuase it was like no one was listening to anyone else, but since it's just a stream of dialogue, it got my brain twisted around. I assume the mention of a lugia is meant to raise flags just like Ra's mention of Yveltal which, uh, basically came out of nowhere in the special and served no real purpose other than to tease something down the road. This, at least, felt better, since Zena's friend was brought up in the previous chapter.

    Also, it seems my early assumptions about there being more to Nevren might be right!

    What a goody-goody.

    Are we sure this fic's rated T? Because there's a lot of metal AF stuff going on here. Alternatively, Owen's channeling his inner Piccolo. What? The guy can turn green and shoot out strentchy stuff, what'd you think I would say?

    How does a waveform beam char your skin?

    D'aww, look at this budding couple! Eat your heart out, Zena. wait, that's probably something you'd actually do to her...

    This is why Enet is precious and must be protected!

    Ehh, maybe this is just me, but we're almost 30 chapters in I think the narrator doesn't need to point out how awesome Owen's tactical mind or perceive ability is. We get it. Just let it happen.

    I can feel the sexual tension in the air already!


    29
    So, Nevren is Paragus, then, am I right? *laugh track*

    In all honesty, I think this is a nice (and somewhat overdue) bit of development for Owen. So far, it feels like he's just reacted to everything, but no matter how crazy the reaction is, he's accepted his "fate" and gone alone with things. In that respects, I'm glad he's finally taking a bit of a stand and trying to get something that he actually wants. Like, I get being selfless, but Owen's alternated between door mat and punching bag so far. I'm glad he thinks that needs to change and can even come up with reasons that still have a selfless element ("I want to stop Rim and I might be able to if I wasn't in this loop").

    Jesus... so, they're basically the "Defiant Dragons," then! Which makes Eon a Dhurke expy. It all makes perfect sense since, y'know, Owen is a discount Apollo. And that could make Deca a Nahyuta expy with all his blind mysticism voodoo and whatnot. It all makes sense, now. This isn't a PMD fic... it's an Ace Attorney fic! No wonder it's so anime! XD

    Jokes aside, I do think that, with all the paranoia Owen had, he gave up on his train of thought very quickly. I suppose that comes down trusting Rhys but, ech, it felt like an unfulfilling end... unless, of course, you're lulling us into a false sense of security for what's to come. Which I could see being the case. In which case, it's a good anti-clim—

    *scene with Nevren happens*

    Huh. Well, hot damn. Unlike canis, I'm not exactly tempted to call him a mole more than a chessmaster of sorts, trying to play both sides so that he can achieve the outcome that he believes is best. That outcome might be more in line with what the Hunters want, but I'm not entirely sure it's 100 percent the same, as evidenced by Nevren's apparent dislike of Eon's attitude and seeming dislike of the effect it might've had on Owen. Still, interesting to know that Torkoal Elder (really? that's his name?) is actually alive after some vague allusions to his existence before. And Rim does, uh, some emoting of a sort. Good to know there's something inside of her. Also, Zero Isle apparently exists in this world. Huh. Wonder why. And how.

    The stuff with the other guardians was nice comedic filler... and it also means they've gotten more attention than Team Alloy. Remind me why you consider them to be main characters, again? Cause I don't see it...

    "Mwa ha ha ha! Guess what, Guardian Heroes? I've finally developed the ultimate evolutionary technique! In three days, I'll conquer the world! Think you can stop me?"

    "I am too a dragon, Mom! You just don't understand me! Nobody understands me!" (Crawling in My Scaaaaaaales)

    Ah, there's the more obvious confirmation Rhys is gay... like practically every male lucario on the internet, from what it seems.

    Good thing I already unceremoniously killed off a certain alakazam, because this transgression would not be able to go unpunished!

    I see what you did there. This IS an Ace Attorney fanfic! Good grief.


    Okay, that's everything. Honestly, with how much deceit and behind-the-scenes scheming there is... just about the only major player I actually trust is (and this will sound terrible) Arceus. He may be angry and a bit of a ranter, but at least he's upfront in all of it. Everyone else is playing PMD-friendly Game of Thrones at this point.
     
  4. pbugle

    pbugle Member

    Hey Namo! I apologize for my tardiness on this review, but it seemed that fortune smiled upon me when the story I was to review was chosen. It certainly was an experience reading the backstory for the Owen I've been roleplaying with over discord. Anyway, onto the review, I'll be doing a free-write up to chapter five.

    A Fragile Identity
    As all prologues should, this one does a great job at capturing the reader's attention. There is a genuine sense of mystery throughout the chapter: What are the weird hybrid-pokemon attacking? Who are they, why are they here? The sentence structure is also kept varied throughout the fight scenes, conveying a sense of urgency and desperation. The style of narration also does a good job at conveying what Owen is thinking without having to directly show him thinking it. If there is one trait that Owen especially shows in his conversation with his parents, it's his complete sense of honesty and openness. It's a shame that Alex and Amia couldn't reciprocate this, but I suspect they're too likable of characters to not have good reason for this. The chapter as a whole kind of plays with the whole 'protagonist looses their memory' pmd plot line, with Owen chalking stuff up to dreams things his parents know seem to have actually happened. Overall, a great start.

    Kilo Village

    You do a great job with the setting descriptions in this chapter, they really help to visualize how the scenes play out in the reader's head when Owen navigates through the village. The common theme of everything feeling the slightest bit...off is continued for poor Owen. Even more questions are raised as to why all of Owen's friends seem to be hiding their knowledge of him, but still guiding him down the path of an explorer nonetheless. Again, it's a good mystery, and I look forward to literally and metaphorically reading further into it. During the actual first mission, it was also pretty interesting how you had mystery dungeons be in different sections without having to deal with the whole 'staircase in the middle of the room' situation. Even when the mechanics of mystery dungeons are explained, you still show the inherent, well...mystery to them. They twist, they turn, they play with your sight, and I bet being in one only exasperated Owen's questioning of his own sanity.

    Trouble in the Woods

    I have a belief that how a character fights tells something about their personality, and this chapter definitely shows it. Because Owen doesn't have the advantage of a non-kid like charizard body, he's forced to rely much more on cunning and items usage, especially against a foe he would be so seemingly outmatched against. You spare no details on the inherit danger of dungeoneering, and having Owen be defeated despite his best efforts definitely gives the character something to grow toward and outlines what he is, and isn't capable of. If there is one thing that I'm a little apprehensive about, it's that Demitri stated that they went in because the Aerodactyl was stated to have been in that dungeon. If that's the case, then why wasn't Owen informed of this when he choose to go in? I could very likely be missing something, but that was one of the few things that made me pause.

    Ceremony of Advancement
    The first thing that really got my attention this chapter was the mention of the pink cloud. The fact that Rhys wasn't surprised by the mere mention of the cloud, but the fact that it was pink gives me the feeling that they've all been through something like this before, only now something is different, and that something is why they have to keep Owen in the dark. You sort of see an extension of Owen's parent's protective demeanor with the fact that they live in a secret village with comedic password protection, and it shows the inherent danger that this world contains, and why the association exists to combat it. Anam has his fair share of foreshadowing in the previous chapters, and with an organization as large and important as the Thousand Hearts, he definitely seems to embody the typical traits that such a ruler would require. He has charisma, he listens to those below him, and as the organization implies, he cares...maybe a bit too much.

    Strange Meditation
    Once again, I must compliment the exemplary setting descriptions. Eternal Whistler Cave painted a clear picture in my mind of both their unique setting, and the challenges they had to overcome. We definitely get more character development for Owen, specifically his willingness to defend himself. Owen showed that he had the simultaneous willpower to continue, and the instincts that would force him to the offensive, even when attacked by someone he idolized. It definitely seems that the high ranking members, Nevren and Rhys, are more secretive and dismissive about the many strange happenings, while Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy are almost as curious and confused as Owen is. This suggests that, whatever is happening: the strange glow, the mutated pokemon, the lost memories, it is directly related to the, pardon my pun, to the heart of the organization.

    Final Thoughts
    Overall, I found Hands of Creation to be an engaging read. The characters are defined, realistic, and work off of each other. I apologize for not offering more recommendations on how to improve the story. As I am just starting off as a writer, I just believe I wouldn't be the most qualified to do so. Overall, at the end of those chapters, I can say I feel much like Owen, brimming with questions, and desperate to find any answers. I look forward to seeing Owen again, in one way or another.
     
  5. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Yeahhhh I'm not falling behind again already.

    CHAPTER 29

    I'd... forgotten about this, but. Something did seem really off even then, so in hindsight, this Nevren revelation isn't surprising.

    The psychologist in me immensely appreciates the consideration put into the depth of characterization in this fic. Here's a good example, especially when Nevren gave the stone to Owen when he was 100% in the dark about things. He had no reason at that point to think evolving was a bad thing, just some weird late bloomer issue, if I remember right.

    This went to super cute to super sad in such a short span. D:

    Lmao, these two are amazing together. To have Enet, with her limited vocabulary, convince Valle to try to move, just a little, so quickly... In short, I love this scene.

    UMMMMMMMMMMM This is the most I've ever seen Nevren talk, and all of it is unnerving. I want my reader innocence back, please.

    And now I wish I was behind so I'd have all this Trinity failure insanity to read. :V See ya next time~
     
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Yoo good to see you back, Amby! Hope all's well. I talked to you in private about the SE2 issues in particular, but they've all been very constructive. Some things I simply can't fix due to a key design flaw, but I can at least mitigate it eventually. To the todos with it!

    Thanks to dp and Bugle--I replied to you guys elsewhere, but it's been a great start to the New Year, hasn't it?

    I'm super glad about this. I'd be lying if I didn't say the whole sequence was inspired by something, actually, at least in part. The twisty-turny landscape is actually just me doing whatever, but the actual feel of all the spirits ganging up on Star to help Ra advance and win is inspired by a certain battle sequence at the very end of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. You'd know the one.

    Yep, I think I could've expanded the flashback scenes a bit in particular.

    Nothing I can do about this one beyond when he becomes a bit relevant later (we're meeting the Ice Guardian eventually, after all, right?) so yeah. Thankfully, I don't think the main character of any other Special Episode is someone making their debut in it.

    I'll definitely expand on this a little in future edits.

    Ditto to this, but to clarify for other readers: I flubbed Ra's depiction in the flashbacks here by not making it clear that the kids were in their teens at this point, and Ra was stepping up his training and sorta losing himself in trying to get them stronger too quickly. And he does apologize... a ton during flashbacks, at least I thought so, but I think it wouldn't hurt to make them more thorough, either.

    I'll have to look into this one. He says sorry a lot, and the family knows he means it, but circumstances kept them separate afterward due to the Hunters' increased activity. I suppose I should make that more clear.

    Y'know, I don't think I ever said it explicitly, but... Star gave her that name!

    Since Namo got fooled by concept art.

    This is actually something that I intended to be weird, but I was hoping that Rhys' interruption would clue in the audience that, yes, that was weird. It was as if they were forgetting about Lugia mid-conversation, which alarmed Rhys because of how, well... surreal it is for two people to just forget something like that.

    I mean, DBZ was rated PG14. Bleach is rated PG14 or whatever. I figure by opening with stabbing Owen, I pave the way for some metal stuff happening when things get desperate. Owen's gonna use everything at his disposal when he's really put to the test. And that includes lopping off parts of his body, apparently... Huh. Guess that is a little Piccolo-like.

    Theeere it is.
     
  7. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 30 – Remnants

    The evening transitioned into the night. Owen felt like he didn’t quite need to sleep. Perhaps he finally became strong enough to no longer require it. Still, Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi did. When their training ended, Owen wandered the caverns.

    Zena was training with Amia. She seemed awkward about it, simply telling Owen that she wanted to get better with aura-based powers. It took very little pressing for her to reveal that she, too, was learning the Suppression Aura that reset Owen countless times.

    Owen just smiled. “You know, better safe than sorry.” Not like he intended to be reset again anyway if he could help it.

    But that also meant Owen couldn’t stay near them while they trained without risking getting reset, and he had to wander the caverns again. Should he sleep? He could. But he was too restless. He couldn’t get the look of Rim’s eyes out of his head, and, in hindsight, the feeling he had when he saw her. How in the world did he become so bold as to taunt his very sanity to scare off Rim? Was he even strong enough to take her on in that state? He somehow doubted it. Rim commanded mutants.

    So why did she run?

    “You are in motion far too much.”

    Owen, startled, looked to his right. He forgot about Valle. The Shiftry statue was right next to him, so still that he had mistaken it for part of the cave. “Sorry,” Owen finally said. “Just restless.”

    Valle rumbled angrily. “Cease your movement. The night is when I can know peace.”

    “O-okay. I’ll just find somewhere else to rest. I should meditate.”

    “Yes. You should.”

    Owen sighed. He headed further along the giant cavern until he spotted more Guardians.

    Earlier in the day, Willow and ADAM had assisted Enet in finding a home in the caverns. She took a liking to the one a few homes down from Rhys’ side. It was easy to spot Enet’s abode because of the perpetual darkness that veiled the insides. Only her eyes—glowing—were visible when looking inside.

    “Enet?” Owen whispered, but the glowing eyes said it all.

    “Small,” Enet greeted.

    “M-my name’s Owen.”

    “Owen… Small Owen.” Enet said.

    “Are you okay?” He could sense her tense muscles.

    “Okay.”

    “You aren’t scared or anything?” Owen asked.

    Enet didn’t answer.

    “Hey, it’s alright,” Owen said. “Friends. All friends.”

    Enet let out a strange growl. It didn’t sound aggressive, but it wasn’t one of comfort, either.

    Owen felt someone knocking inside his mind. Hello? Is someone calling me?

    Yo, Star greeted. Are you checking on Enet?

    Yeah. Is she alright?

    She’s just antsy. New den and all that, and it’s not like it was totally up to her.

    Oh, Owen said. Well, I guess I don’t wanna bother her.

    No, no, actually, I think she trusts you more than anyone else here. Since Amia’s training Zena the Suppression Aura stuff, can you do me a favor and spend the night keeping her company? She’s not all that strong, so she’ll be asleep for most of it.

    Owen nodded. It was better than irritating Valle, at least. Okay, he said.

    Great. While you do that, I’m gonna check up on some Guardians. I want to see if the Bug or Ice Guardians are up for anything. I think I know where the Ice Guardian is, but she’s a little cold toward me. Sorta a long story.

    Like all the others. Owen rolled his eyes. I bet the Electric Guardian didn’t give up peacefully, either. I’m starting to think back, and there was a huge thunderstorm in Nightshade, like, a year or two ago. That wasn’t a normal storm, was it?

    A-anyway, I gotta head off! Star said. I’m gonna hang up now.

    Hang… up?

    But she didn’t reply. So distracted by the conversation, Owen didn’t realize that Enet was mere inches from his face. He stifled a gasp and fell backward; Enet lunged forward and grabbed him just in time. Her paws were almost as big as his head.

    “Okay?” Enet asked.

    “Y-yes. I’m okay,” Owen said, pulling himself up. “Enet… would you like me to rest with you?”

    Even in the dark, Owen was able to Perceive her muzzle scrunching up. “Better father.”

    Owen tried not to sound exasperated. “Not like that. As… a pack. Friend.”

    “Small pack.”

    Why me?

    But despite this, Enet turned around and curled up in the darkness. Owen sighed, shifting his body into his Grassy state. He had a habit of fighting in his dreams, and that always made the ethereal flame on his tail heat up. At least as a plant, he wouldn’t accidentally burn Enet.

    While he didn’t rest, Owen spent the rest of the night meditating and calming his aura.

    Owen’s thoughts returned to Star. Hey, Klent? he called.

    Hm? There was a pause, and then Klent answered, Oh, Owen. Are you feeling okay?

    Star just left, if you’re looking for her, Amelia spoke up. When are you gonna come visit again?

    Owen grinned. Sorry, I’m looking after Enet tonight. I was just thinking about… everything.

    That’s quite a lot, Klent said. Owen… you know we’re a bit in-tune with your feelings, right? Being within your spirit, that is. We understand. We’ve been trying to get Star to tell us more, but she’s obviously bothered by it. And she knows if she tells us, we’ll tell you. And I suppose we don’t want to trigger anything.

    I think I’ll evolve just fine, Owen said. I bet I can handle it now. Last time, I almost had it. And this time, I didn’t feel like I was going crazy at all. I was just scared. So… what if I—

    You promised, two days, Klent said.

    Owen rolled his eyes. Fine, fine, he said. But when I evolve… and I’m normal… I want her to tell me what made me go crazy in the first place.

    I’ll hold her to it, Klent said.

    <><><>​

    Gahi’s kinda cute when he’s a Trapinch, Owen thought to himself. He had Gahi ensnared in a simple vine around his torso where his tiny legs and massive head couldn’t reach. He flailed and hissed and screamed in anger, but there was nothing the stubby Pokémon could do to break free from the relatively effortless hold.

    “Lemme go!” Gahi shouted.

    “Not until you say I win,” Owen said.

    “It ain’t fair! Yer Mystic, yer evolved, nuh-uh!”

    “To be fair, Gahi,” Demitri said from the sidelines, “you were the one who wanted to fight Owen one on one.”

    Mispy nodded, nursing a cut on one of her vines. Demitri had clawed her pretty hard and her healing was taking a bit of time to repair the damage.

    “I kinda remember always losing to you, Gahi,” Owen said. “At least, that’s sorta the feeling I get when I think about other times we’ve sparred. So, I dunno what to tell you. This feels like a great change. So, are you gonna give up yet?”

    “Not ‘til I’m passed out an’ broken!” Gahi replied defiantly.

    The vines squeezed a bit tighter around his body.

    “Just give up,” Mispy said, sighing.

    “Yeah, Mispy’s sick of healing you. Maybe this time she won’t do it,” Demitri teased. He tittered, glancing at Mispy. “Y-you’ll still heal him, right?” he whispered.

    Mispy shrugged. “Can’t heal stupid.”

    “I ain’t stupid! I’m determined! Rhys said so!”

    “Hey, Rhys called me determined, too…” Owen mumbled.

    Mispy glanced at Demitri, who just shrugged.

    “Yeah, if Owen’s determined, then I’m not dumb!” Gahi said. “Now lemme down!”

    “Not until you say you give up,” Owen said. “The win doesn’t even feel good if I knock you out, Gahi, You won’t be able to dodge anything I throw at you.”

    “Mehh… fine.”

    Owen sighed, dropping Gahi to the ground.

    He immediately rushed for Owen. “I never said I gav—”

    A Vine Trap erupted beneath Gahi, tearing through rocks to ensnare Gahi for a second time. The crush was so intense that Gahi squeaked and cracked like wood, tiny legs flailing weakly.

    “I know,” Owen said, smirking.

    Gahi hissed but finally relented. “Okay, fine, fine… ya mrmff…”

    “What was that?” Owen asked with a teasing lilt in his voice.

    Mispy smacked Owen on the back of his head. He winced, expecting the blow, but still yelped at how hard she hit. “H-hey, I was just joking around!” he said.

    Owen helped free Gahi from the vines and Mispy patched him up with a gentle wave of healing energy. Demitri sighed and stretched, scratching at a nick in his tusks with a frown. “I messed up my tusk again,” he said. “I need to be more careful. These things don’t grow back, you know.”

    “They do with Orans,” Owen said.

    “I mean, yeah, but I don’t wanna waste resources,” Demitri said. “I’ll just wait a while.”

    “Well, don’t wait too long,” Owen said. “If you let a wound settle in for too long, Orans don’t heal it. There’s this Salazzle, you know Spice? She got badly hurt during some outing and even though she took an Oran to heal the major stuff, it still left a scar behind because she didn’t take a second one to heal it completely. Guess they had run out since it was a rough mission…”

    “You mean from Sugar ‘n Spice?” Demitri asked, unconsciously picking at the dent in his tusk again. Mispy wrapped a vine around his claw to pull it away, knowing he’d only make it worse.

    “Yeah.”

    Demitri flinched. “W-well, I still don’t want to waste it on a little chip. Maybe if we went on a Dungeon mission, I’ll use one along the way? Then I won’t feel so bad.”

    “Oh, sure,” Owen said. “You guys can head on one if you like.”

    Demitri and Mispy exchanged looks. “Well,” Demitri said, “we were actually thinking, and, um…”

    “What?” Owen asked, returning to his Fiery form. He felt something in the back of his throat and coughed out a stray Bullet Seed.

    “Can’t you come with us?” Demitri asked.

    “With you guys?” Owen said.

    “Yeah. I mean—we’re Team Alloy, right? And now that you know how you evolve, it should be totally safe for you to come with us. We’re still in our lowest forms. No way we’ll evolve all the way up on one mission.”

    Owen sighed. “It’s still dangerous to go out,” he said. “Rim could try to kill me.”

    “What, like she did back in Nightshade?” Gahi said. “C’mon, she ran off when you just threatened ter evolve!”

    “W-well, yeah, but—”

    “It’s safe,” Mispy nodded.

    “I’m still not sure, guys,” Owen said apologetically. “Rhys and Mom would kill me. And Dad would probably explode again.”

    “Bah, he’s a spirit, he’ll come back,” Gahi said. “We’ll jus’ say we kidnapped ya.”

    “Okay, first of all, I don’t think I want you guys getting in that much trouble—and two, you didn’t kidnap me!”

    “How do you know?” Mispy asked.

    As if on cue, Demitri and Gahi approached Owen on both sides. Mispy’s vines emerged from behind her shoulders.

    “W-wait, wait, wait, wait!” Owen said, raising his arms.

    They all lunged at him. Owen crossed his arms, forming a shield of light that bumped them all away. He grunted when Demitri hit it particularly hard, and for just a moment, he feared that the Axew would somehow break his Protect barrier.

    “Okay,” Owen said, taking advantage of their brief dizziness. Mispy, who could have easily grabbed Owen after the barrier dropped, was patient enough to let him speak. “How about,” he continued, “after I fully evolve—which will be tomorrow, by the way, that’s when I plan to do this—we go out then. I bet if I can keep it together, we’ll go on a mission then. How about that? Huh?”

    “So tomorrow, we’re gonna go on a mission together,” Demitri said.

    “If, uh, if they let me,” Owen said.

    “If yer a Charizard, they ain’t gonna stop you,” Gahi said.

    Owen twisted his mouth into a pensive frown. “I guess, but I’d feel kinda bad about taking advantage of my power like that,” he said. “I guess as a last resort.”

    “We’re sorta on the verge of evolving anyway,” Demitri said. “I guess we should be careful, too.”

    “Mmh,” Mispy said. “Fine.”

    Rhys emerged from his home. “Ah, Owen!” he called.

    “Huh?” Owen spun around. “What? Something happen?”

    “Nevren just called via the communicator,” he said. “Come. I’m going to gather the others. Apparently, a Guardian’s location has been found… but it is a strange location.”

    <><><>​

    “So, what’s so weird about it? Where on the map is it?” Owen asked.

    Everybody had been gathered together in the center of town to speak to Nevren through his communication badge.

    “It’s far off the coast,” Nevren said. “Far, far south, on an old island, in fact. Quite difficult to get to normally. Only Mystics can approach it—it’s protected by a special barrier set up by the guardian within.”

    “Factory…” Amia said. “I’ve heard that term before, but—what is it, again?”

    “A facility that is built for the purpose of mass-producing something,” Nevren said. “We have something similar here, though not quite to the same level.” The communication device was quiet for a while after that. “…Hello?”

    “Oh! Sorry, I thought you would say something,” Amia said. “I was just trying to figure out what this factory would be. But, um… What Type is this Guardian?”

    “Well, it’s a factory, so, Steel,” Nevren said. “He’s quite at home there, from what I’ve gathered.”

    “How’d you gather that?” Owen asked suspiciously. “Did you visit there yourself?”

    “I have,” Nevren said. “Though, not to any success. It was quite a long time ago, though I feel now is an appropriate time as any to try our luck with this one. I recommend… someone with a more effective set of techniques, yes?”

    “Steel,” Owen repeated to himself, looking at the red scales on his arms.

    “I can go,” Gahi shrugged. “Ground, eh? That’s real good against Steel.”

    “I can, too,” Owen said. “Um… I guess Demitri and Mispy should stay back for this one, huh?”

    The Axew and Chikorita wanted to protest, but they backed down shortly after. Owen figured they knew he had a point. “Okay,” Demitri said, “but what should we do while you’re gone?”

    “Spar!” Owen said, nodding. “Actually, y’know what? When I come back, I want to see you two as a Fraxure and Bayleef, okay?”

    “D-d’you think we can get there so soon?” Demitri said.

    “Definitely,” Owen nodded. “I can feel it. I’m a Charmeleon already, after all, right?”

    “Yeah, but you’re Mystic,” Demitri said.

    “Well… either way, I think you’ll do it. Maybe spar with the other Mystics? The weaker ones, like Willow, or—”

    “Weaker?!” Willow charged up for a Moonblast.

    “I—I mean, th-th… the nicer ones! The nicer ones, who can go easy on them! R-right?”

    “That’s better,” Willow huffed. The lunar sphere dissipated in a white-pink mist.

    Owen sighed, holding his chest. At the very least, she was acting normal toward him. He thought she wouldn’t talk back to him again after that incident with Azu…

    “If you’re going, Owen, then I should go, too,” Amia said. “And as the Fire Guardian, maybe I can help in fighting, too? I may not be the best fighter, but I’m still strong…”

    “Okay, so that’s me, Mom, Gahi…” Owen said. “If I go crazy, d’you think that’ll be enough, Mom? If you make me a Charmander again?”

    Amia flinched. “Y-you’re okay with that?” she asked.

    Owen nodded. “I… I don’t want it, but it’s better than being crazy forever. But… if I evolve… can you make sure I’m crazy first?”

    Amia nodded. “Of course! That’s what we were building toward this whole time!”

    Rhys hummed worriedly. “Just in case,” he said, “I would like to accompany you as well. A team of four. My Fighting attacks will be effective.”

    “That should be enough,” Nevren confirmed. “Now, hold out your maps. Do you see where Zero Isle Spiral is located?”

    “No, um, is that…?” Amia said, unraveling their map.

    “Start from Kilo Village, at the center of the map. Go south until you reach the ocean.”

    “Oh, I know that spot!” Owen said. “Zena and I washed up there after we, uh, you know.”

    “Hm, so we have a reference point,” Rhys said. “What then, Nevren?”

    “You have to fly from there and head further south until you can see the archipelago with Zero Isle at the center. From that direction, you should head diagonally to the left—that is, southeast. You should see another landmass. That will be your location; if you search by aura, you will sense a powerful barrier blocking the way. Anybody too weak in the spiritual sense will be turned around in the opposite direction without realizing it. Mystics, by default, should be strong enough to pass through.”

    “Eh, so what about me?” Gahi said, clicking his jaws. “I ain’t spiritual Mystic sparkly.”

    “Your proximity should be enough. Perhaps ride on Owen’s back.”

    “Wh-why me?” Owen said.

    “I can do that.”

    Owen sighed. “Okay, fine,” he said. “But, can I fly yet?”

    “If you can’t fly, you can ride on me, dear,” Amia said.

    “…Wait. Rhys? Can you fly for a long time?”

    “To an extent,” Rhys said. “It may deplete my stamina a bit after some time, but, ah… I’m sure I will have time to rest once we arrive.”

    “If you’re tired, you can always ride on me, dear,” Amia giggled. “I don’t mind.”

    “I… shall… consider it,” Rhys said, turning his head away. “Though I would prefer not. I am not used to riding on the backs of others. They’re always too soft.”

    “Soft?” Amia said. “You prefer… hard backs?”

    “Er—yes. I suppose I do.”

    “Yer weird,” Gahi said.

    Zena quickly slithered over to Owen and gave him a reassuring nod. “Good luck, Owen.”

    Owen smiled, returning the gesture. “Hey, how’s the Suppression Aura going?”

    Zena winced. “Er, well—I’m getting better at it,” she said. “I’m sorry that I’m training at all for it…”

    “I said it was fine,” Owen said, shaking his head. “Okay. You guys ready?” He looked at Amia, Gahi, and Rhys. When they all nodded, they set off toward the exit of Hot Spot Cave.

    <><><>​

    It was only a few quick warps from Hot Spot to Kilo Village to the south. They wound up taking the Waypoint to the Void Forest, though they were sure to steer clear of the Dungeon itself.

    Void Forest seemed quite… normal, considering the name. Tall trees dotted the landscape, leaving ample room to walk around. While the ground was a bit grayish, and it was mostly dirt and fungus, it wasn’t something Owen would have labeled as void-like.

    The lack of proper foliage was a bit unnerving, though.

    “Usually don’t like taking trips or missions to the south…” Owen mumbled aloud.

    “Don’t worry, dear. We’re flying right now,” Amia said. “Oh, that’s right. I suppose we should start giving you flying lessons. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

    Owen’s heart fluttered in some trick-of-the-mind instinct. “F-fly?” he said, his mind trying to flex wings he did not yet have.

    “Aww, Owen, I’m sorry,” Amia said, patting his shoulder. “I meant with your Mystic power. You remember us doing it before, right? Just try to mimic it. It’s a lot easier than you think, once you get started.”

    “Okay, sure. Let me guess. It’s sorta like when I think to switch from Fire to Grass, except this time for flying?”

    “Kind of! I think? The way Star taught it to me was like this. You feel gravity pulling at you… feel your own weight. And then, well… defy it! Sort of.” Amia levitated slightly in the air. “I suppose it’s not too different from Psychic kinesis after that. Push yourself in the direction you want.”

    “I think I know how to describe that,” Owen said. “I had a lot of dreams like this. Where I was flying as a Charmander, just going over town and looking down.” A dumb smile spread across his face. He shook it off. “Uh—right. So, I guess like a dream, huh? Let me think…”

    Owen felt weightless. He flailed his arms out of reflex; Rhys quickly held his back. “Now, now, hold still,” he said.

    “Whoa,” Gahi said, churring. “His feet’re off the ground!”

    Owen looked down. He was a foot in the air. “I—I’m doing it!”

    “I’m going to let go, now,” Rhys said.

    Once he did, Owen spun forward, upside-down after a few seconds. “Uh—wait—I’ve got this,” Owen said, righting himself. He overcompensated, shooting several more feet in the air. “W-wait! Wait—oh—this is really—uh—sudden!” He kicked in the air, but he was laughing at the same time. “I—I’m actually flying! Mom! I’m flying!”

    “Yes, you are, dear,” Amia said. “Honestly, if I knew it’d make you this happy, I would’ve trained you with this earlier! But at least now you’re strong enough it’s not even hard to do. …Owen?”

    He was flying in circles through the air, ember a blazing blue.

    “…Should we calm him down?” Rhys asked.

    “Ohh, let him have his moment,” Amia said.

    Gahi watched enviously.

    Owen suddenly stopped his flying when he got high enough to see over the forest trees. He gulped, not realizing how close they were to the Chasm of the Void. It was always depicted as a big, black dot on the map, and was typically only restricted to Hearts to go near due to its ominous appearance. It was undoubtedly home to another Guardian, based on how anomalous it was, even by Dungeon standards. But it was also hard to approach, let alone enter.

    It looked exactly as it did on the map. Black dot on the paper, a great, black crater in person. He couldn’t even see the crater’s walls. It was like a vat of pure, inky blackness. It vaguely reminded him of Enet’s home the night before. Hidden in plain sight. The fact that it was still around suggested that not even the Hunters could approach easily.

    Owen landed. “Sorry about that,” he said, tittering. “Okay. Rhys, do you know how to fly?”

    “Of course,” Rhys said. “Though, not in the traditional sense, as I said before. Let me make sure I still have the technique in me, so to speak…” Rhys held his arms firmly to his side. Then from both paws, aura energy burst downward in a steady stream. Wind blew in all directions away from the Lucario and he flew right into the air. “I seem to have it covered!” he shouted down, secondary blasts coming from his feet.

    “Oh,” Owen said, staring. “…He can do that.”

    “It’s not very useful in Dungeons where you can’t fly,” Amia said, “and I imagine with his limbs occupied, he can’t fight in that state, either. And with Waypoints for quick travel to most places, well…”

    Owen shrugged. “Let’s go.”

    “Oy! Don’t go fergeting me!” Gahi chirped.

    <><><>​

    The horizon seemed to go on forever. It was an endless expanse of the blue ocean along a pale sky, speckled with white clouds. The only real detail they could see from this height was that of the clouds’ shadows cascading along the water below. Gahi clicked his jaws worriedly. “If y’drop me, I’m gonna kill yeh,” he said, clinging onto Owen’s back with the help of a few vines.

    “Not if the fall kills you first,” Owen murmured, adjusting his arm-vines carefully. “Rhys, are you sure that isn’t too hard for you?”

    The steady stream of aura energy made Owen think about Golurk and their propulsive abilities.

    “I should be fine for quite a while,” Rhys said. “This aura energy is produced as quickly as I spend it with simple flight.”

    “Oh, don’t lie, dear,” Amia said. “I can feel it depleting a tiny bit. Otherwise, you’d be flying like this all the time!”

    “Ngh—perhaps by a negligible amount,” Rhys said.

    Amia looked at their map, and then ahead. “I think that’s Zero Isle,” she said.

    Rhys nodded.

    “Goodness…” Amia said. Their flying slowed down slightly, and they veered away from the archipelago—which appeared to be a spiral of beige sand in the middle of sky-colored saltwater. “Do you feel that?” she asked.

    Owen felt a horrible tightness in his chest, like the sheer radiation of power was stopping his heart. “What is that? It’s… coming from…”

    “Feel what?” Gahi asked.

    “I guess only Mystics can feel it,” Amia said. “Rhys?”

    “…We should keep clear of Zero Isle for a while,” said Rhys. “A powerful Guardian is there, and we are simply not ready.”

    “W-wait! A powerful Guardian? A friendly one?”

    Rhys shook his head. “Not to us, no,” he said. “…Frankly, I’m not sure if the Steel one will be friendly, either.”

    “How do you know?” Owen asked. “Did… did you try to attack the Zero Isle Guardian before? When you were a…?”

    Rhys shook his head. “No,” he said. “But I fought her predecessor, who was…” he shivered slightly. “It’s not something that I like to think about.”

    Owen nodded. “Okay. But, what Orb is it of? Do you know anything about her?”

    “Dragon, and yes, she’s very hostile. We’ll talk about this later,” Rhys said, pointing ahead. “That’s the island we’re looking for, is it not?”

    At the horizon was a grayish structure sitting atop a black ground. The water nearby had a dark residue around it as well. Owen wasn’t sure what to think about the odd color—he certainly wouldn’t drink it.

    “That’s… a factory?” Owen said.

    “Hm, it appears to be one, yes,” Rhys said. They lowered their altitude, heading for a firm trajectory right for the shore of this island, just beyond the dark water.

    “What’s the weird… black stuff?”

    “It may be remnants of decay,” Rhys said. “Factories tend to produce waste products like trash quite a bit. If it’s been here for such a long time, perhaps some of that product is simply leaking into the water…”

    “That can’t be good…” Owen said.

    “Well, it is a small factory in a large ocean. It shouldn’t be too bad… I imagine…” Rhys trailed off. “Hrm. Well, regardless, it doesn’t seem to be spreading beyond this point. Perhaps we can look into cleaning it up later.”

    They landed in the sand. There was something that felt… dirty about it. Owen winced at the ground, lifting his foot. “That’s a weird feeling. It’s… heavy. No, not heavy, but…”

    “It feels like it’s more than just dirt and rock,” Amia nodded.

    “We should wash in cleaner water when we return home,” said Rhys. “Particularly you, Gahi, since you aren’t Mystic.”

    Gahi tilted his head down. “Ehh, I’ll stay on yer back fer now,” he said.

    “W-wait, what?” Owen said; he was already lugging the giant Ground and bug-like Pokémon on his back, holding his hands behind him. “G-Gahi! You’re a little bulky to be carried around like that!”

    “I ain’t walkin’ on tainted ground! Carry me!”

    “Nngh… okay,” Owen sighed. “But give me a second to….” He carefully pulled Gahi around his body until the bug was in front of him; Owen had his arms around Gahi’s abdomen, holding him gently against his chest.

    Gahi leaned his head back, bumping it against the bottom of Owen’s neck. “Don’t squish me.”

    “I won’t,” Owen said. “Let’s go. I’m gonna set you down once we’re on that solid ground, the… that’s a steel floor or something?”

    “It appears to be a special kind of stone,” Rhys said. “It’s called concrete.”

    “Concrete…” Owen said. “I thought that was just a word that meant ‘really solid’?”

    “Yes. The word came from that material, I believe. Or the other way around… hmm. Now I’m not sure,” he said.

    “Concrete… Like a Conceldurr?”

    “Somewhat, yes,” said Rhys. Their steps began to have sound; Owen looked down, puzzled at the new noise. So familiar… The feeling of claws on concrete. He then looked up at the factory—less familiar. In fact, he’d never seen such a structure before. It was many stories high, taller than the giant heart in the southern point of Kilo Village. Owen nearly fell backward from craning his neck so far; eventually, he had to stop to look into the entrance.

    It was too dark from the outside to tell what it was; there were only a few windows at the top of the large room, and they were small. He saw many strange structures inside of the factory; horizontal platforms that had little wheels and cylinders embedded into them, contraptions that looked like strange, new Steel Pokémon. It vaguely reminded him of Kilo Village’s more advanced technology that Nevren made. Owen had a vague, blurry memory of once visting a priting press. Perhaps that’s what these contraptions reminded him of. Some of it looked quite shiny like it was being sustained and washed—not dusty. It must’ve been the Guardian.

    “What… is this?” Amia said.

    On solid ground, Owen set Gahi down. The Trapinch tapped his head on the concrete. “This place ain’t too bad,” he said. “Good echo. I can tell where everything is here, heh…”

    A metallic clinking noise echoed in the depths of the factory. A quick check revealed that there was a single, powerful aura in the building, aside from themselves. “Guess that’s the Guardian,” Owen said. “But hey, on the bright side, we don’t have to deal with crazy Mods anymore! Oh, wait.” He felt another aura—it was weaker, but he also recognized it. “I think Hecto’s here, too…” he mumbled.

    “What was that, dear?” Amia asked.

    “Do you guys know Hecto? Star’s, uh…?”

    “Ah, yes, Hecto,” Rhys nodded. “If he’s here, then I imagine this will be a safer area, in a sense. Hecto is not very strong on his own. Perhaps we won’t have to fight, either. Let’s keep going.”

    They walked through a narrower portion of the factory, next to some of the odd platforms nearby. Owen saw strange objects on top of these platforms, but he was too short to see what they were at a good angle. “What’re those?” Owen asked.

    “What are what, dear?” Amia asked. “Oh! Those… things?” she asked, reaching out.

    “Don’t touch them,” Rhys said quickly.

    “O-oh?” Amia asked, flinching her hand away. “Okay. Are they… traps, or volatile Dungeon Orbs…?”

    “Yes, in a sense,” Rhys said. “Now, let’s keep going. Don’t touch anything that doesn’t look familiar; this is a remnant from another realm, and we can’t be sure how it will react to us.”

    “That’s… a weird way of phrasing it, Rhys,” Owen said. “But—okay.”

    “Eh?” Gahi looked up. “What’re yeh all talking about anyway? Weird li’l…” he trailed off. “What’s this orb yer talking? What’s it look like?”

    “It kinda looks… I dunno. It’s kinda pretty, though. But it doesn’t look natural.” Owen shrugged.

    “’Sup.” This voice wasn’t familiar.

    Owen looked ahead to see a bipedal figure with muscled arms and a shiny body. Metallic, indicative of the Steel Orb’s influence. His voice had a ringing tinge to it, too.

    “H-hey, uh…” Owen hesitated. He wasn’t really sure how to acknowledge it. He said without thinking, “A Machoke, the Steel Guardian?”

    “Not as dumb as you being the Grass Guardian.”

    That one stung.

    “A-ah, um,” Amia quickly held up her hands, “H-hello! Um… what’s your name? I’m Gardevoir Amia, this is Charmeleon Owen, that’s Lu—”

    “Brandon Rezz,” the metal Machoke replied. “I know who you guys are. Don’t worry.”

    Owen blinked as if he was trying to piece together something in his head. “Rezz?” he asked. “What Pokémon is a Rezz? I thought you were a Machoke. And you said your name backward.”

    “No, I’m a Machoke, sure,” Brandon said. “But my last name is Rezz.”

    “…I don’t get it,” Owen said. “Brandon and Rezz both aren’t a species.”

    “Where I’m from,” Brandon said, “everyone that talked was the same species. …Mostly. So, kinda stupid if we all had the same first name. So instead, we had unique last names that followed our family line. So, the same way you guys take the first names of your mother, the same species, I got my last name from my dad.”

    “O-oh…” Amia said. “That’s interesting! But—you came from a realm that was all Machoke? I don’t know which part of your story I want to ask about first!”

    Brandon gave off the smallest smirk. “No,” he said. “Not Machoke.” He turned around, staring at the dull ceiling. “I only have this form because it’s close to what I used to be. I’m from the human world.”

    “Oh! So… a Machoke… wait…” Amia said.

    “While I gave it up a long time ago,” Brandon said, “I used to be human.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
  8. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Actually, I've never watched any FMA. :V

    Minor nitpick to start out, here. And it's what canis mentioned. After Owen Enet-sits for a night you say "the next few days pass by unceremoniously," only for the conversation with Klent to bring up the promise Owen made about waiting two days to evolve. That... uh... doesn't line up. Did you mean to say "The next day passed by unceremoniously"? Because that's the only way this'll make sense.

    I'm-a be honest here, as far as your "explore place, find guardian" chapters go, this one fell a bit short of the potential for me. I think it was because of the cast's general indifference toward the factory setting, which was clearly setting up for the reveal of Brandon, our resident human. Like, I expected Owen to be a bit enthusiastic at the prospect of exploring a remnant of human society (with it possibly giving way to genuine fear at how mechanical the abandoned factory was and what humans might be like), but he mostly seems pretty apathetic. And then the general pattern this seems to follow is that they see something, acknowledge it in a relatively stoic manner, Rhys exposits, and then they move on. I know you said before you're not a fan of writing dungeon-crawling stuff, but I think this premise should've put everyone (except Rhys, I guess) very on-edge, especially when it turns out there are toxins around the factory. But I didn't get a real sense of unease or nervousness or anything. It just kind of felt like the group was going through the motions.

    This could just be a pitfall of having a cast that is, essentially, all-powerful. In true shonen fashion, they need to face threats that have the same level of power to get any sort of surprise out of them. But even then, the surprise is mostly limited to Owen and Amia so far over the course of the story. I don't know, I guess it's a personal taste thing, but this had the potential to actually be threatening toward our heroes — for example, the factory's poisons could've been corrosive like a Salazzle's and been a threat to even Rhys or the toxins could've interfered with their Mystic auras, rendering them mortal — but instead you devote a large amount of time to showing that Mystics can fly, which I admit made me a bit glass-eyed and bored.

    Okay, I don't like being this negative. Positive stuff! Zero Isle's teases continue to pique my interest. I hope it can live up to the "hype." And aside from Brandon raising a few possiblities, I found it interesting that Star (likely unintentionally) brought up a human idiom while telepathing with Owen. I might be getting wires crossed, but I seem to remember you saying something on Discord that leads me to wonder if, perhaps, Star (and Arceus) were, say, human at one point in time... only to stumble into this world and have godly power thrust upon them. Would make for an interesting exploration of gods and whatnot.

    Also, Brandon Rezz. That name is so... so stereotypically frat boy that it's just... just... *chef's kiss gesture* Mwah! Is beautiful! 10/10.

    (But, yeah, I don't know how many more of these dungeon crawling things you've got, but I'd really advise that, if at all possible, future revisions try to find some way — anything, really — to actually threaten the heroes, Mystic status and all. Otherwise, I imagine I'll be singing a similar tune in the future. Sorry. You might've "buffed" Owen a bit too early.)

    D'aww, look, she's working up the courage to ask him out. Shame she's not his type... in more ways than one. :V

    Star, I'm disappointed in you. ¬_¬

    Are we sure she ain't a fire-type cause that was a sick burn!

    Gahi! Stay determined! You are the future of Pocket Monsters!

    Oh, come on! He really is just a saiyan! >_>

    Uh... Rhys doesn't swing that way, Amia.

    Rhys is a power bottom, apparently. and a scalie

    Someone call in Kirby!
     
  9. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Okay, so despite being biased towards Pokemon centric works, I usually don’t read PMD fics. I don’t have any preference against it, I’m just not as familiar with the side games like I am with the main series. From the snippets you shared in Discord, you had me intrigued with your character interactions, so I thought I’d eventually give this a go, and 12 chapters in, including a special episode, this story has been really rewarding and engrossing so far. Where do I start? There are lots of great moments chapter by chapter, so I will get into some of that, but I would like to touch base with the general aspects first.

    First, the prose. You have a great mix of dialogue and description. The dialogue between characters feels unique, as each have their own voices and dialects, and the chemistry between them is entertaining as all hell. The description has a lot of detail, from internal monologues to physical locations, but it never bogs the story down, but rather, enhances the setting, which has inspired me to try and do the same with my works, as mine are often dialogue heavy.

    And speaking of chemistry between characters, the actual characters themselves are fleshed out and have a lot of depth, or at the very least, have a great presence in the story. I thought I’d start with Owen, seeing how he’s the main protagonist.

    He’s likeable from the start, being determined, but also disadvantaged by his position as a late-evolver, which added some good drama in the initial chapters. His introspection as well as his sense of optimism really made me feel for the guy, and when crap eventually hits the fan at around Chapter 8, which was filled with big revelations about the story, increased that tenfold. By the end of Chapter 11, I just wanted to hug him. He went through a lot, and he eventually recovered from those bombshells, but it’s obviously impacted his character in a major way and also made him mature a bit.

    I mean, if I found out I was implanted with false memories, my adoptive mother was secretly raising spirits from the afterlife to make up inhabitants of my village, including my adoptive father, and that the associations I was hoping to join was part of a conspiracy, on top of becoming a Grass guardian, I would’ve flipped as well.

    Some of the other major players in the story were also great. Rhys developed nicely, as he starts off as the aloof leader and starts getting more depth when some of his past is revealed. Although Zena has only just been revealed, I love her design as a Milotic that can turn her form into water and also use that to power her attacks, as well as some of her awkwardness. Her relationship with Owen is great and serves to make the two even more sympathetic. Mew Star is such a treat as well. She feels like an anomaly in the story (well of course, she is The Creator, after all), but her presence is needed as her light-hearted dialogue gives her a lot of personality and adds even more flair to your extensive list of characters.

    The side characters as well were a treat to read about; Gahi and Anam in particular being my favourites. With the former, I love his brash attitude combined with his appearance as a Trappinch and a roughly-accented one at that. With the latter, I just loved the idea of the leader of the Thousand Hearts Association being a complete manchild, which contrasts well with the rest of the cast, without losing his ability to take his role seriously.

    And lastly, the story. So far, this has been one hell of a ride, in more ways than one. Admittedly, while I still found the early chapters interesting, I wasn’t fully invested in the story since I didn’t know where the story was headed in the grand scheme of things and what the stakes would be aside from Owen wanting to join the Hearts Association, but throughout, you did a great job of developing the characters as well as foreshadowing the big revelations it built up to at the climax of this arc, and when it finally hit at the end of Chapter 8, really, you just feel for everyone involved, especially Owen. By the end of Chapter 11 when the Hearts are sent on their quests to find the Guardians, as well as the introduction of the Orb Guardians plot in general, the dynamic of the story has completely changed, and all for the better, really.

    There’s a lot to unpack, so this is where I’ll get into some of the chapter specifics:

    Chapters 1 & 2

    The prologue was intense and attention-grabbing, and going back to this after finding out what Owen’s parents were referring to, specifically
    Alex evaporating and either being brought back from the dead due to Amia’s spirit powers/still being dead all along and brought back by Amia yet again, what Amia is hiding from and the nature of Owen’s memories being altered)
    , there were a lot of details I picked up on that I really appreciated.

    The rest flowed easily from there and did a good enough job at establishing Owen’s insecurities as a late-evolver and how dangerous the dungeons are with those mutants. It was a lot to take in at first, especially since so many names were being thrown around, but I got used to it after getting to properly know those characters after a while.

    Chapters 3 & 4

    And hey, little pink cloud! Rhys was definitely acting suspicious in the chapter, and as we find out later, he has a good reason why, and his attempts at diverting Owen from the subject were really funny. It was quite surprising to hear such a stoic Lucario of all things tell a Charmander that “I do not believe in love at first sight.” in the same stone-faced manner.

    I love Anam’s introduction here. I said I loved the design of him before, but that scene where he’s crying over the lost Hearts Members and everyone else trying to avoid his gooey tears was both hilarious and endearing.

    Owen’s meditation dream also surprised me, and did a great job at making me feel I was trapped in a nightmare.

    Chapters 5 & 6

    I still love Anam, even though his actions are kind of questionable as it’s shown he plays some part in pulling Rhys’/Owen’s strings. I can’t be made at a man-baby-dragon that calls his assistant ‘Jam Jam’.

    The Espurr Rim was creepy throughout, from her trying to steal the orb off Owen to her confronting Rhys later, which also did a good job at foreshadowing Rhys’ role in all of this.

    And after all this egging on from a certain inner voice as well as Team Alloy, Owen finally touched the orb, and for his efforts, dies. Huh. I didn’t think this story would be ending so quickly. Of course, this wasn’t permanent, and your diversion into Rhys’ narration did a good job at sustaining that tension until we got back to Owen’s narration at the end. Although the lead up to him meeting Mew was quite suspenseful, I laughed at some of Owen’s catastrophizing here, especially with this line

    Oh Owen, you are a paranoid little ball of fire, yes you are.

    Chapter 7

    ...And this is where the tables of the story start turning for real. I love the introduction of Mew Star and as I said, her cheery personality makes her stand out amongst the rest of the cast, where she has a lot of great lines here while still being able to maintain that mentor role. This line in particular, I loved:

    Now all we need is a spin-off with Mew Star confronting her darker half.

    The reveal of the orb’s nature was shocking, as it hinted at some massive changes in Owen’s character as well as revealing more about the bigger plot with the Orb Guardians.

    Holy crap. That was a significant makeover for Owen.

    Chapter 8

    Hoo boy, this is where all the big reveals come in. The previously chapters had me curious to see how the story would progress, but after reading through that, this chapter was such a great payoff for everything that happened before. It was the perfect mix of worldbuilding, meaningful character drama and exposition, which altogether, made for a really shocking and sad chapter. It’s not without its light-hearted moments as well, which I appreciated.

    Nintendo, please make Grassmander a thing.

    I guess I didn’t find this too weird from a human perspective, but if I was wearing someone else’s skin, I probably would be freaked out as well.

    Smooth, Amia. Real smooth.

    Because that’s how you react when looking at an affront to nature.

    The fight between Owen and Rhys/Nevren was tense, and the fallout from that was my favourite moment from this chapter. There was something cathartic about him slipping out of their grasp, however necessary it was for them to catch him, and the imagery of his transformation as he’s struggling to keep his new form under control was both horrifying and heartbreaking. This line in particular stuck out to me.

    ‘Owen was nothing but a head and torso amid a tapestry of plant life.’

    While it isn’t graphic, there’s still a lot of body horror at work here.

    After all that was said and done, I just wanted to give Owen a hug at the end of this chapter.

    Chapter 9

    Owen’s monologue, or should I say, dialogue to that Guardian of the lake gave a much needed breather after everything that happened, for both him and the reader. And when it turned out that Guardian was Zena, I warmed up to her instantly. The whole conversation between them was great. It was interesting to meet yet another Guardian so soon, but what made their dialogue stick out to me was their mutual awkwardness throughout it. Zena seems like a fish out of water (hehe) talking with Owen, and Owen’s attraction to her was cute.


    What a tweest!

    Chapter 10

    The obvious highlight was the fight between Zena and Rhys. The lead up to that was great, as Owen questions whether or not to trust his Lucario mentor
    who had just been revealed as an Orb Hunter
    , and when the confrontation eventually happens, it’s awesome. Zena holds her own in battle, proving to be a formidable opponent, but Rhys is just as crafty, dispelling her and Owen’s attacks in some well-telegraphed combat. The end of it was also quite sad with Owen trying to prove himself as a Guardian even though he’s too physically weak to hold himself up.

    I was a bit scared when I found out Rhys was a Hunter, but I was also glad to find out he was just a former Hunter, and he obviously regretted it, so it was nice to see him and Zena reach some sort of ceasefire.

    Chapter 11

    While this is a good chapter in the grand scheme of things, I also felt it was a bit too much. Not because of anything bad happening, but because of how much exposition there was and how little breathing room there was for the characters before going on their quest to find the Guardians. It was all necessary for the story to fully transition into the Guardians plot, but in order for that to happen, as a compromise, you had to use a lot of set up with the dialogue, which resulted in this chapter having uneven pacing. I would’ve like a bit more reprieve from the consecutive chapters of fast-paced action and heartbreak, but I’m also pleased with this as it’s a massive game changer for the rest of the story.

    It almost feels as if the chapters before it were all building up to this moment. I never would’ve expected to get to this part in the story just from reading the first chapter alone, which is great. At this point, I’m definitely invested in the rest of the story, and can’t wait to see more of the characters in the present, so kudos to you.

    Aside from that, Owen’s relationship with Zena continued to be sweet here. I can’t quite tell where it’s going (I’m fine with them just staying good friends, but romance might be possible as well), but the dynamic is strange, yet endearing. Despite their size and the obvious disadvantage it poses for Owen as he has quite a few close calls with her coils, he’s still willing to stick with her, which shows how big of a heart he has.

    Special Episode 1

    This took a bit of a left turn. I didn’t know what to expect from a special episode, but I was really surprised to see a flashback (???) chapter of all things, with Owen making an appearance before he joins the Hearts Association and gains his Guardian powers. It took me a little while to get invested in this chapter, but once I reached the point with Deca, the other Charmander, that’s where things started getting interesting.

    I don’t know exactly who Deca is, still. At first, I leaned towards him being Owen’s real father, especially with this line of dialogue: ‘“They’re so proud of you, Owen,” Deca said. He was shaking’. However, I am quite early into this story still, and judging from what I’ve read of other people’s theories, he’s could also be a spirit or a remnant of Owen’s future self. I’ve yet to see which direction this story will take from here, but this Special Episode added yet another layer to that and has left it open for all sorts of theories, possibly to be answered later.

    In any case, this was an intense and exciting chapter with Rhys and all that trying to put out the fire caused by the storm, and it was great to see Owen act like such a badass even as he’s at a disadvantage and without his Guardian powers.

    Overall:

    So far, this has been excellent. I love the characters, their dynamics, and the arcs they go through, I love the way the story has developed since its beginning, and despite not being familiar with much of PMD, the world was interesting as well, as it seems to merge the game logic of the dungeons and its items/rules with some sort of inter-dimensional stuff happening behind the scenes.

    There’s very little to complain about here so far, as they’re only minor. The only consistent complaint I have, which even in the grand scheme of things, is a nitpick and doesn’t impact my enjoyment of the story, is that it can be a bit too fast paced for my liking. With how interesting this Pokemon society you’ve crafted is and how good the character interactions are, I feel like the pacing would’ve benefited from slowing down at times just to give our characters more room to breathe or blow off some steam. That might be because of my preference for slice of life stories, so take that with a grain of salt.

    Great job with all the work you’ve presented so far, and I’d love to read more of it in the future.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
  10. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    All things considered, I honestly think everything from Special Epsiode 1 and earlier were the fastest paced sequence of events of the whole work, and that includes everything I have planned in the future. And that's specifically because I needed to get that information drip out quick. Here's something I learned about fanfiction readers--and readers in general--most of them are impatient. There is a megaton of free content out there. If I'm not catching their attention and holding it, they're going to move on to the next thing. So, by design, I made sure to sprinkle and pack as much foreshadowing and "it gets better, I promise" nods as possible, especially up to the point where Owen touches the Orb. After that, I had to set up everything so the reader gets a feel for what's going on next. Set the tone. Grab the reader. And finally, to top it all off, leave a Special Episode that'll add a final flavor of mystery to the story as the plot advances.

    It's not ideal... but it was my answer to the reader that wants to know what they're getting into, now.

    I didn't realize this at first, but Owen really does get put through the ringer a lot in these early chapters, doesn't he? I mean, his entire life was turned upside-down. His friends, family, and idols were all not what they seemed. His life was a lie. Yet the light in his eyes doesn't go away...

    I as well. Well, I'd probably just sit down and give up for a few days, really. Where would I even go from there? But I guess Owen's fire kept him moving forward. Or his... leaves? I don't know.

    Anam's Wigglytuff-like role at the beginning of the story has been polarizing, but it's such an integral part to the plot that even if I wanted to, I can't change. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Yes. Chapter 8 is the first big "turning point" of the story, and it comes to a head and finish at chapter 11. When will the next turning point be...? It may be sooner than you think.

    This is a side-effect of both my fast pace for the beginning and my naaasty habit of making use of large casts where everyone has their long-term role and importance. I'm glad you're able to catch on to all the names and characters, because the flow won't stop for a little while. Thankfully, it does eventually slow down...

    That was actually intentional! Similar to the Rhys "love at first sight" scene, I wanted a bit of humor to help defuse the moment and transition to the next tone, which was, well, Star's introduction.

    You know, this is odd. This is one of those chapters where I get opposite feedback. Scythe just read through this chapter a while ago, and he actually thought chapter 11 was a drag compared to everything else. Like it was too slow. He mentioned that the info dump in particular was too strong near the beginning and end of the chapter. Sigh so I have some saying it's too fast, and some saying it's too slow. But regardless, I'm going to be reworking chapter 11 a little, because I do agree that some scenes can be expanded, and others... cut down. It's on the todo.

    I'm glad! Super happy to know you're invested and more or less "hooked" on the plot. I eagerly await when you're able to get back to this~

    I think a few others have made this theory? But I believe this is the first time someone has made it their main choice. I've had some people go with "Owen from the future," and others saying "another spirit" or even "Owen's other half of his soul," or even "he's a Ditto," or something along those lines. There's a lot. And I refuse to confirm or deny any of that for where you're currently reading.

    As mentioned above, that was part of my design, even though I absolutely agree with you. Pacing, attention-grabbing, and information management was the #1, 2, and 3 priorities of this first Act's "section." I actually have plans to pad out some things a little with extra scenes with the (horribly neglected) Team Alloy trio since Owen and the big players have all the spotlight. That might help with the fast pace. But if you like slice of life, there's definitely a bit of that here and there. I like it too. Slice of life, but with a hint of "we're all freaks" mixed in.

    Thanks for the review--really appreciated it. And as for Amby and Canis, I took care of you guys elsewhere.
     
    NebulaDreams likes this.
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 31 – Ancient Tradition

    Mispy flew high into the air and slammed hard against the rocks. “Ugh!” She tumbled and rolled, eventually coming to a stop on her side. Her vines twitched weakly.

    Demitri puffed, scratching his tusks with pride. “That’s a win for me,” he said, walking toward the fallen Chikorita. “Mispy? You alright?”

    Mispy didn’t move.

    “Aw, c’mon, Mispy, it wasn’t that bad,” he said. The powerful Axew gulped. “R-right? Mispy?”

    Still no response.

    He quickened his pace, clenching his fists. He didn’t hit too hard, did he? “Mispy, I—”

    She suddenly jumped to her feet, firing her pent-up Solar Beam toward him. It was so fast and so sudden that Demitri had no time to dodge. He screamed in surprise and covered his face. The beam burned his scales and sent him flying several feet backwards, tumbling to the ground in the same way. The Axew coughed a plume of smoke when he finally stopped.

    “Th-that’s enough, now!” Zena shouted, slithering toward the dueling pair. “Please—I don’t want you two going all-out!”

    “What’re you talking about?” Demitri asked, staggering to his feet. “If anything goes wrong, our Tiny Reviver Seeds will activate…”

    “That’s—yes, but—that’s quite wasteful!”

    “Anam makes tons of them,” Demitri said. “They’re not like regular Revivers. All they do is help you get enough energy to move again and restore the body a little bit, you know?”

    “Did one activate just now?”

    “No. Which means we didn’t push ourselves hard enough,” Demitri said, frowning.

    “I—I think you push yourselves just fine!”

    Mispy wobbled toward Demitri and wrapped her vines around him, channeling healing energy through him. She then rubbed along his body, scraping the ash off, exposing new, fresh scales. He smiled and nuzzled her when she got close.

    “It’s just how we fight, Zena,” Demitri said calmly. “It’s okay. I think… that’s just part of how we are, I guess. That’s not so bad, right?” He tittered, but caught the Milotic’s worried eyes. “Look… if we can keep it under control, it’s okay, right? But we haven’t had a good fight in a while, and that sparring match we had with Owen left me feeling antsy.”

    “Me, too,” Mispy said, prodding the ground with her right foreleg. She hesitated, but then looked up at Zena—her towering form compared to her Chikorita self was at least slightly intimidating. She gulped. “Um,” she said, “are we…?”

    Zena sighed, looking away. “Well, I suppose if you enjoy yourselves. Rhys told me to keep an eye on you two while the others trained, since I know the Suppression Aura, too, just in case…”

    “Yeah…”

    “Is something bothering you?” asked Zena.

    Mispy prodded the rocks again, finding a loose pebble to toy with. “Are we… monsters?”

    Zena hesitated for a bit too long.

    Mispy turned around.

    “N-no, you aren’t,” Zena said. “You aren’t. You aren’t monsters, because creatures like those… wouldn’t be worried about something like that in the first place, don’t you think?”

    Mispy didn’t seem convinced, but she sighed, conceding. “I guess,” she said.

    “Hey,” Demitri said, patting her on the back. He huddled a bit closer to her, “Rhys left us alone with Zena who barely knows the Suppression whatever. So…” He gently rubbed her back, just below the buds along her neck. “Don’t worry about it. We might’ve been created, but we’re still us.”

    “Yeah…” Mispy smiled, brushing her leaf against his head. “Thanks.”

    A white light enveloped her.

    “M-Mispy?” Demitri squeaked, staggering away.

    Even though it was only her middle stage, Zena readied a bit of the strange aura just in case, holding it between her ribbons. When the black sparks shot out, Demitri quickly dodged one of them, shivering at the residual feeling it gave off, like electricity. “What even is that stuff?” he mumbled.

    “Rhys said that it’s anti-evolution energy,” Zena said. “Apparently the Suppression Aura… is a key that makes your own auras synthesize the material, reversing your evolutions. The act of evolving shakes off that aura.”

    The light faded. Mispy, a Bayleef, opened one eye, looking down. She lifted her legs tentatively, then looked at Demitri.

    “How do you feel?” Demitri said.

    Mispy considered her answer. “Mm… normal,” she said.

    “Incorrect,” ADAM said, quietly observing from his home nearby. “Grass Type detected.”

    Mispy giggled, as did Zena. Then, the newly evolved Bayleef wrapped her vines around Demitri. “Let’s evolve you next,” she said.

    <><><> ​

    “Humans…?” Owen repeated, still trying to grasp the concept. “What do you mean, the human world? So, you used to be human?! But—but I thought humans were just mythical creatures!”

    He had so many questions to ask. Was it true? Was Brandon the Steel Guardian because humans really were made of metal? Did they eat metal, too? Or did they eat stone? There were so many rumors about humans—there was no telling which ones were true. They were even more unknown than Mew and Arceus themselves—if Owen ignored the past moon or so.

    Brandon laughed. “No, they’re far from mythical,” he said. “If anything, they’re less impressive than Pokémon. They don’t know moves, and they can’t really stand up to a Pokémon in a fight unless they’re very highly trained. They cheat and use special tools instead. Tools like these.” He reached over to the platform and picked up one of the strange, red-white orbs.

    Rhys quickly went on his guard.

    The very fact that Rhys, of all of them, was on his guard put Owen on edge.

    “Don’t worry, this one doesn’t work,” Brandon said. “This factory hasn’t been used in ages. The stuff on this assembly line is basically useless.” He dropped the orb to the ground, where it split into multiple fragments.

    Owen slowly relaxed, but couldn’t help but focus on his peculiar wording. The ones on the assembly line didn’t work? Then which ones did?

    “So,” the Machoke went on. “I take it you’re here to have me join in your little games? Star’s little underlings against Arceus’ Trinity against Eon’s subjects.”

    “Uh—hang on, what? To all of those things,” Owen said, holding a claw to his chest. “I’m not Star’s underling, and what’s this about a Trinity? And Eon, uh…”

    Brandon eyed Owen curiously. “You mean you aren’t aligned with Star or Barky?” he said. “Or Eon?”

    “Aligned? What?” Owen squinted at Brandon, but then remembered the Promise that Barky had asked of him, and the one that Star nearly did, too. He shook his head. “I’m just… I’m just trying to make things right,” he said. “I want to stop the Hunters from killing the Guardians so we can just relax. It’s too hard to live alone like they’ve been… I don’t want that. For anyone.”

    This caught Brandon’s interest. The Machoke stopped surveying the walls and stared directly at Owen. He approached, his metallic feet making loud, clanging echoes across the abandoned factory. When Owen took a few steps back—and Amia took a warning step forward—Brandon raised his arms with a smirk. He settled for where he stood, about five paces away from Owen’s group.

    Brandon hummed thoughtfully. “…You… you’re still a Charmeleon.”

    “Y-yeah,” Owen said, holding his position with tensed muscles.

    “Which means you can’t handle your true form yet. Like an awkward cocoon.”

    “U-uh, I guess you could put it like that,” Owen said.

    Brandon looked at Gahi next, kneeling down. “And you. You must’ve gone back to being a Trapinch, so you can’t handle it, either.”

    “Yeah, what of it? I’m workin’ on it. Lay off.” Gahi clicked his jaws at Brandon. “I can evolve any time I want!”

    “Oh?” Brandon said.

    “Y-yeah, eh… just gimme a second and I bet I could.”

    “So, if I have you evolve right now, you can handle being a Vibrava?”

    “Y-yeah! Totally! …Yeah, Owen?” Gahi asked. “I ain’t crazy as a Vibrava?”

    “What? You were fine,” Owen said. “Were—were we crazy as that before, too?”

    He looked at Amia and Rhys; they both looked away. “Ngh—so you didn’t even tell me that? How come this guy knows more about me than I do?”

    “Well, Arceus told me about it, mostly,” said Brandon. “We chat. You know, he can be a real gossip if you know how to ask questions the right way. I’m part of the Trinity. Steel, Poison, and Dragon Orbs happen to be under Arceus’ loyalty. And we’re all too strong for you, so I’d recommend you just head on back. Not even Rim wants to take me on.”

    “You don’t feel all that strong,” Owen muttered.

    “How about you come up to my face and say that?” Brandon asked.

    “Maybe I will,” Owen said, flame brightening a bit.

    “Ohh, look! You’re growing a spine!” Brandon clapped his hands together, creating a loud clang. “Aw, hey, I’m just kidding around. I get it, you’re still sealed away. Still. Don’t think you can take me on. I’m keeping you around because I like the chat and I haven’t had a good fight in decades. Do you know how boring it is meditating for years at a time? Very.”

    “W-wait,” Amia said, “we didn’t come here to fight if we didn’t have to.”

    “Oh?” Brandon said. “Then how come you brought two Fire Types, a Ground Type, and a Fighting Type to the Steel Guardian’s place?” he asked. “C’mon, I’m not stupid.”

    Rhys flinched. “We were—just being careful, in case you were hostile.”

    “Aside from the pretty one, you brought a Hunter and two Synthetics to meet me. You’re lucky I didn’t kill you guys on the spot.”

    “P-pretty?” Amia said. “Oh, dear…”

    “We’re sorry if our arrangement was suspicious. I should have considered that,” Rhys said formally. “But we truly do want to do this peacefully, and it’s only for the benefit of the Guardians. I would like to point out that I made a Promise to one of the other Guardians to never kill one of your kind again. I can assure you that I am, by divine contract, safe. Will you come with us?”

    “No deal,” Brandon said, holding up his hand. “I’m with Arceus on this one. Gathering the Orbs together is just asking for trouble, and I’d rather not stir the pot.”

    “Did you make a Divine Promise to not come with us?” Owen asked.

    “I made a Promise to keep myself away from the other Guardians,” he said. “It’s not a violation to allow them to approach me like this, but I’m not about to come with you guys. Got it?”

    “But… but it’s not safe!” Owen said. “What if Rim gets even stronger? The Hunters already have three Orbs. What happens if they get more…? At some point, won’t you be overpowered?”

    “Maybe,” said Brandon, “but I think Arceus has a better chance at handling them than I would, if that happens.”

    Owen thought about this. Arceus could handle an overwhelming power—he believed that much. He was the Creator, after all. He witnessed his power firsthand; only Star could counter something like that. But if that was the case… “Then why doesn’t he just do that now?” Owen asked.

    “What do you mean? They aren’t a threat to him yet, so why bother?”

    “Yeah, but why bother letting even a minor threat grow? They could eventually take him down. Shouldn’t he just… I dunno… smite the people who are trying to overthrow him?”

    “Well… maybe,” Brandon said. “Maybe he’s showing them mercy by giving them an opportunity to take it all back, or something.” He shrugged. “Or maybe Star gets in his way if he tries. She’s pretty shady, you know.”

    Owen grumbled. He refused to admit he had a point, so he just snorted flames out his nostrils.

    “Look,” Brandon said, “it’s not like I care all that much. I agree with him, so I’m gonna sit right here and keep things the way they are. It’s… the best thing to do.”

    “The best…? What’s that even mean?” Owen said.

    “Ahem.”

    Amia jumped in surprise and spun around. “Wh-who—?”

    “Hi, Hecto!” Owen waved. “I thought I sensed you. Uh… how come you’re here?”

    The canid Zygarde made a soldier-like trot toward the group and gave a nod in greeting to Amia. He addressed the group, “I am stationed here to keep a close watch on the factory and Brandon. The artifacts that are here cannot be tampered with. Destroying this place would risk releasing these objects into the ocean, which could then spread them essentially anywhere that has a shore. Therefore, it must simply be contained.”

    “Okay, I get that,” Owen said, “but what is this? And why doesn’t Arceus just annihilate the factory? Like, he totally could do that if he wanted, right?”

    Brandon shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “Or maybe he’s saving it for a rainy day.”

    “You’re the least helpful Guardian we’ve ever talked to,” Owen said.

    “What, is being helpful my job?” Brandon said. “Then where’s my pay? Besides, I’m far from the least helpful. Didn’t the Fairy try to crush you?”

    “Y-yeah, but she’s friendly now,” Owen said.

    “She probably just thinks you’re a big toy, y’know,” Brandon said.

    Owen twitched. “What’s your point?!”

    “I dunno.” Brandon shrugged. “I haven’t been able to chat with folks that aren’t my spirits for a while. Talking with them gets kinda samey. Maybe I like chatting after all? Hah. If me a thousand years ago could say that…” He shook his head.

    Hecto watched the exchange without changing his expression. When the idle chat died down, he said, “Brandon, perhaps you should explain to them what these mechanical spheres are.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” he said. The metal Machoke looked at the orbs on the production line and shook his head. “That’s the legacy of humans. Their ambition to be the strongest species in the world by doing nothing more than manipulating your kind. By capturing, controlling, and indoctrinating Pokémon to do their bidding. Their battles. Their wars…” Brandon tapped a finger on his crossed arm. “All of it in the name of human ego.”

    He snorted. “I’ve been there. I’ve been a human. I know exactly what it’s like to be on top, how it feels to be in control—but I’ve also seen what it means to be on the bottom. And I’m not about to put this world through that by leaving this place unguarded.”

    Owen stared. “How can… what’s made in this factory be able to do something like that? How can any single species be that powerful? Everything has a counter, doesn’t it? Like, if there was ever, uh, maybe a Rock Type uprising, I’d be in pretty big trouble…”

    Brandon looked at Rhys. “Should I show him?”

    “Ngh… I suppose Owen’s curiosity won’t let me say no,” Rhys said. “Amia, Gahi, Owen, I need one of you to go forward as a volunteer.”

    “A—A volunteer?” Owen said.

    “I’ll do it,” Gahi said. He wobbled forward and looked up. “Okay, what’s this gonna be fer?”

    Brandon looked up and waved his hand gently in the air; something fell down. It was another one of those orbs, though this one shined brighter, and looked a lot newer. “I kept these ones safe, but I guess it’d be good to get rid of one for this,” he said.

    “That one’s a different color,” Amia said. Instead of being red and white, this one was white on the bottom and black on the top, with yellow lines.

    “Yeah, this one’s stronger. Just in case this guy puts up a fight. Trapinch…” Brandon hummed. “I’d say since he’s at his best, catching him would be a fifty-fifty shot with this. Maybe a little better. It’s been a while. You ready?”

    “Sure. Go fer it. What’re yeh gonna do wi—”

    Brandon tossed the ball; it hit Gahi on the head.

    “Oy, what was tha—!?” The ball opened, and a light enveloped Gahi. In less than a second, the Trapinch was gone, and the ball fell to the ground, wiggling.

    “Gahi?!” Owen and Amia said. Rhys lowered his head.

    It shook a few times, almost violently, like someone was struggling inside. And then, the wiggling stopped, and there was a quiet click noise. Owen’s heart sank. “Wh-what… what happened?” he said, taking an uneasy step forward. “Gahi? A-are… are you in there?”

    “He is,” Brandon said, approaching the sphere. “He’s probably disoriented right now. But he’s in there. It’s not easy to get out once it seals them. That’s what the click was.” He leaned down and picked the ball up. “Humans would capture Pokémon in these capsules. We called them Poké Balls for that reason. This one is an Ultra Ball—about twice as strong as the average Poké Ball, those red ones.” Brandon looked down at the little button, but didn’t press it. “Hey, Gahi? You hear me? Why don’t you try escaping, huh?” He held the ball flat on his palm. “I’d send you out the traditional way, but I want to show how hard it is for a new ‘wild Pokémon’ to escape these things.”

    “Wild? But Gahi isn’t wild!” Owen said. “He’s a little weird, but that’s because he’s a Modified Pokémon, not wild!”

    “Same difference. Any Pokémon not under the control of a human is considered wild,” Brandon said. The ball wiggled weakly. “That’s how the culture of humanity went. Sure, there were exceptions among them, but for the most part, you had to be under the dominion of a trainer to be considered not wild.”

    The ball wiggled helplessly again.

    “Guess Gahi can’t figure it out. Alright, Trapinch. Come on out!” Brandon tossed the ball; at the apex of its throw, it opened. A white light emerged, poured onto the ground, and solidified into Gahi.

    Gahi wobbled a few steps and turned around. “Wh-what was that?” he mumbled. “Was… was weird. Felt real weird.”

    “Weird, huh?” Brandon said. “To be honest, I dunno what it’s like.”

    “It was kinda like I was just… floatin’ in there,” Gahi said. “Didn’t have a body. Felt… I dunno, weird. But I guess it was okay… felt kinda relaxed, eh…” He looked off. “I guess it was fine.”

    “Yeah, it’s not bad, in itself,” Brandon said, but then looked at Gahi. “D’you wanna go back in?”

    Gahi looked tempted.

    “W-wait! Gahi, maybe don’t?” Owen said. “We don’t know why that happened, but you shouldn’t just jump back into that thing! You disappeared! That’s—that’s crazy!”

    Brandon nodded. “This is how wild Pokémon are tamed. They’re put in a stress-free, cozy environment. It’s not like we mistreat them. I’ll give humans credit for that much; the vast majority of trainers treat their Pokémon with respect and kindness, one way or another. And living in those Poké Balls, it’s like a little bliss to them, compared to having to tough it out in the wild. When they’re captured, they realize this. They’re pretty smart, even if they’re wild. They put it together that humans can take care of them. In return, they serve the human. In itself, it’s not a bad system.”

    Brandon looked down. “I was a trainer. I had lots of Pokémon, all loyal to me, and I took care of them. They were my partners. …No. They are my Partners.” He gently tapped his metallic had on his chest, making another clang. “My Pokémon are still with me, as my Steel spirits. So, I’m not going to deny that this technology made our lives better. But you know what? It can make lives a whole lot worse, too.”

    Brandon crushed the Ultra Ball in his hand. It shattered and fell to the floor. Gahi flinched, as if his home had been destroyed right in front of him—but the feeling was fleeting. The Trapinch sank to the back of the group, wordless.

    “Are you okay?” Owen asked quietly.

    “Y-yeh, I’m fine,” Gahi said. “Jus’… weird, is all. That whole thing. But I dunno. I guess I prefer walking around normally.”

    Owen watched Gahi for a bit longer, but then reached down. He picked him up; to Owen’s surprise, Gahi didn’t resist. In fact, he pressed his head against Owen’s chest again.

    Brandon continued. “I don’t want someone taking advantage of this technology here, either.”

    “Then… why not destroy the factory carefully?” Amia said. “If you don’t like this technology, why don’t you just…?”

    “Again, I dunno,” Brandon said. “Arceus said to guard it, not destroy it, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ll trust him on that one.” Brandon tapped his chin. “Well, no. That wasn’t the whole story. I had him slip one day that he wanted to save it for a crisis. Apparently, it’s been used before?” He shrugged. “Wasn’t around when that happened. Or it’s just been so long that I forgot. What year is it?”

    Owen frowned. “But… our mission is to bring you with us,” he said. “If—if we can beat you, would you come with us?”

    “Mmmm…” Brandon tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I Promised Arceus. That being said, I bet if I sweet-talked him enough, we can revoke it together. You just have to prove yourself. You’re on good terms with the guy, right?”

    Owen’s shoulders fell.

    “Yeah, I figured,” Brandon said. “But I’m not gonna make it hopeless. If you impress me enough, I’ll maybe think about coming along with you guys eventually. But with all that said, I’ll fight you anyway. It’s in your blood, and you’ll feel like trash if you didn’t get some fighting in, right?”

    Owen winced.

    “Yeah!” Gahi said. His spirits were already back to normal. He squirmed until Owen let go, landing on the ground with a little thud. “That’s right, yeh got it! So, at leas’ fight us, eh?!” He looked up at Owen, bumping his massive head against the bottom of his knee. “Oy, you gonna fight?”

    “H-huh?” Owen asked. “Y-yeah! Of—of course!” he said. Even if they weren’t going to bring him back, a fight sounded like fun regardless. “Fighting… battling… it’s the best!” he said. “Even if it’s in my instincts… it’s not like I’m hurting anyone!”

    “Well, you kinda are.” Brandon shrugged. “But I know what you mean. But if I fought you, this wouldn’t be fair. And my Pokémon… they feel the same way you do, in a way. Even if they know, now, that they were raised to like battling… it doesn’t really leave you. And I guess if it’s okay, it doesn’t hurt to have a proper fight now and then. Heheh…” Brandon created an orb of aura energy from his palm. “I’ll teach you a tradition of the human world. It’s about our Pokémon battles when we aren’t fighting in wars or other pointless things like that. Okay?”

    “A traditional human-world Pokémon battle?” Owen said. “Sure! Okay!”

    There was a little glint in Brandon’s steely eyes. “Heh… alright.”

    “Now, hold on,” Rhys said. “There’s no need for any of this.”

    “H-huh?” Owen looked back. “What do you mean? It’s fine to do this, right? We can win him over!”

    Rhys glared at Brandon. The Machoke smirked back.

    “Right…?”

    “We can’t leave, can we?” Rhys asked.

    “You could try,” Brandon said.

    The levity drained from the room like blood from an open wound. “Wait,” Owen said. “We can’t… leave?”

    “Not until I get my fight,” Brandon said, nodding. “Besides, that’s what you wanted, right? C’mon, your instincts are screaming to fight me, aren’t they?”

    “Nuh-no,” Owen said. “I’m in control of myself. I don’t feel a thing.”

    “You know, for someone with Perceive, you’re a bad liar,” Brandon said. “Look, I’m not gonna be coy with you. Fight me and I’ll let you go.”

    “Oh,” Owen said. “Okay. I—I guess I can work with that.” It wasn’t as if they had a choice. He had a sinking feeling they didn’t want to fight Brandon seriously on his own turf.

    Brandon nodded. “Arceus is telling me he wants to see you in action, and that’s all. Human’s honor, I won’t do anything more than that.”

    “Human’s honor,” Rhys said with a bitter snort. “That hardly means anything.”

    “What, and you have more, Hunter?” Brandon asked.

    “N-now, let’s not escalate things,” Amia said quickly.

    Brandon rolled his metal eyes. “Whatever.” He then tossed the aura energy; it formed into four Pokémon that mirrored their appearances. “My Pokémon used to have forms of their own, but they’ve gotten used to other bodies. So, I think it’d be appropriate if they mimicked you guys, huh?”

    “Oh, okay!” Amia said, quick to attempt to steer the tone of the factory in a positive direction. “I think that’s fair, but… you know, I think I’ll sit out, if you don’t plan to come with us. Why don’t we just have a battle between Gahi and Owen and their mirrors?”

    The two Pokémon mimicking Rhys and Amia seemed disappointed at this, slumping their shoulders. “No fair!” the double of Rhys said.

    Rhys flinched. It even sounded like him. And that childish tone…

    Gahi opened his mouth, amused. “Heh. Wish our Rhys was fun like that.”

    “I heard that.”

    “Hey, hey,” Brandon defused, “y’know what, if that’s how you’re gonna be, why don’t you guys just fuse three-three on them, huh?” Brandon tossed two more spirits out; rather than form into steely bodies, they went into the backs of Owen and Gahi’s metallic doubles.

    Owen blinked. “Fuse?” he said. “That’s… that’s possible?”

    Brandon stared at Owen, but then glanced at Rhys and Amia. They both looked away. “Uh, yeah,” Brandon said. “I mean—yeah, it’s uncommon, weird actually, but it’s definitely possible for Mystics, spirits—Just hold on.” Brandon gave a nod to the metal Lucario and Gardevoir. They melted into a puddle of metal. Then, the Owen and Gahi doppelgangers stepped onto one of the puddles each. The metal wrapped around them and clung tight, sinking into their bodies. Owen felt a wave of power radiate from the two that remained. He took a reflexive step back. “W-wow…” he said. “That… that feels so… strong.”

    “Fusion of this kind amplifies the aura, and therefore the power that is output by the Pokémon battling. So, to keep it fair,” Brandon held his hand parallel to the ground and lowered it; a strange field enveloped the metallic fighters, “I’m gonna suppress their power as if they’re just a single Pokémon each.”

    Owen looked at Gahi, and then at his opponents. “Okay. So, we’ll fight on even terms. That’s fine. Gahi, you think you can take them on?”

    “Heh, nobody’s better at being me than me. I’ll beat ‘em.”

    “Hmph, we’ll see,” said Brandon. “You’ll see the true strength behind Pokémon and their trainers.” The Machoke swung his arm forward, “Alright, guys! I’m gonna call you guys by what species you are, so don’t get confused!”

    “Right!” the two—six, technically—of them said. They both entered a battle stance.

    Owen briefly wondered why Brandon was agreeing to this fight. He sounded like the least committed Guardian ever for joining them. Even if he won, what would come of it? Not to mention Rhys and Amia simply sitting back for this. Were they conserving their energy in case Brandon attacked? That had to be it.

    How thoughtful of them. That meant Owen wouldn’t have to worry as much. Besides, the fight was tempting. He just had to keep on his guard. Gahi was antsy, anyway. He deserved to blow off some steam.

    “G-good luck, dear,” Amia said, stepping away with Rhys. She said quietly to him, “What does he mean by the true strength?” she said.

    “Hm… I believe I know what he is referring to,” Rhys said. “But we will have to see.”

    Brandon eyed Rhys again. “So, you wanna be the referee for this?” he said. “Maybe the… Referhys?”

    “Never say that again,” Rhys said.

    Brandon shrugged. “Suit yourself. Alright. Guess I’ll call the start. Ready… begin!”

    Owen and Gahi both opened with their usual moves—Owen with a plume of fire, and Gahi with a zig-zag dash shrouded in shadows.

    “Trapinch, counter with Feint Attack! Charmeleon, Dragon Claw!”

    The Steel Pokémon obeyed, rushing right for their respective opponents. Gahi landed his Feint Attack with a powerful tackle, but his mirror did the exact same thing, knocking them both away from each other. Despite being made of metal, he seemed just as durable as Gahi; Brandon must have adjusted them to mimic their exact battle capabilities.

    Owen’s Flamethrower hit its mark, but it didn’t leave a burn as Owen would have hoped. The Dragon Claw hit with full force, leaving a light gash along his chest. “Ngh—!” Owen tried to rush back, thinking about his next move. He didn’t hear Brandon’s next order in the rush of battle, but he had said something.

    “W-wait! Hello?” Owen saw his opponent running to the side, away from him. He fired a Flamethrower to get his attention, but he missed; instead, they both went after Gahi, striking him from both sides.

    “Ngah—!” Gahi rolled on the hard concrete and struggled to stand up. Owen breathed another beam of dense flames toward them. Charmeleon countered with an orb of white light, softening the blow. Trapinch, meanwhile, formed a wad of mud in his mouth and fired at Owen, partially obscuring his vision. “W-wait! That’s not—”

    Coordinated, Charmeleon pushed Owen back with another claw coated in dragon embers. Trapinch followed up with another Mud Slap, almost completely blocking Owen’s vision, now.

    “Alright, he’s weak enough. Watch out for Gahi!” Brandon yelled. “Charmeleon, use Flash Cannon! Trapinch, Iron Head!”

    “Of course they’d know those.” Amia sighed. “Ohh, why is he losing?! Is Brandon cheating? They should be at a disadvantage by Type, shouldn’t they?”

    “No,” Rhys said. “They are at a disadvantage… but Brandon isn’t cheating. Their powers are equal.”

    Gahi groaned, rolling across the ground. He was done—he could barely get off from his back. Owen was trying to get the mud off of his face.

    “No matter how good you are at having a strategy,” Rhys said, “when you are in the heat of battle, it can be difficult to make the right decision. Owen, in his current state, isn’t able to strategize and battle at the same time without distance; he can buy time to do so… but Brandon needs no time. As an observer—as a trainer—he is able to guide his weapons, his partners, with a much clearer head. Fewer mistakes, and more knowledge of the field, augments his Pokémon’s power in immeasurable.”

    “Just being commanded makes them stronger?” Amia said.

    “Not in and of itself,” Rhys said. “But it allows them to focus entirely on execution. There is no need to think about what to do next—if the bond with your trainer is at its best… you can put all of your trust into his commands and focus entirely on your next move, thinking in the present, and let your trainer think in the future. You stop thinking about what to do next, and you start thinking about what to do now. The focus it provides is, well… You see the results.”

    Owen knelt to one knee after the third Dragon Claw, clutching at his chest. “Th-that’s not fair,” he said, hearing the explanation. “That’s three on two!” Owen shouted.

    “Hey, nothing’s stopping them from giving you commands,” Brandon teased. “Alright, guys! Finish ‘em off!”

    A white light enveloped Gahi. Both of Brandon’s Pokémon flinched in surprise.

    “Oh…?” said Brandon. “Well, would you look at that…. Hey, Trapinch. Mirror Gahi’s new bod’.”

    The light faded just in time for Gahi to see his new, mirrored Vibrava opponent. His antennae twitched a few times, and he beat his wings tentatively. “Heh… finally,” he said, but it was less celebratory than Owen remembered. He knew why. Gahi probably figured he’d gone through this scene countless times before. Perhaps he was even remembering those moments. But that wasn’t important now—it looked like Gahi still had some fight left in him.

    “Hah!” Gahi said. “C’mon, round two, let’s go!”

    Brandon couldn’t help but laugh at Gahi’s enthusiasm. He then eyed Owen carefully. “…You know what,” Brandon said. “You’ve got even more power flowing through you, yet you aren’t evolving. What’s up with that?”

    “I, uh, that, uh,” Owen clutched at the bag strapped to the side of his body. “That’s because of that stone I have. The Everstone? Oh, and it’s kinda an Eviolite amalgam, too, so I’m not too disadvantaged while I’m not evolved. That’s what Nevren said.”

    “Oh, so that’s what’s keeping it down?” Brandon said. “Everstone… huh. Nevren…” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “That clever old geezer. Guess that thing is pretty good. I take it if that ever parts with you, you’ll evolve right away?”

    “Yeah. So, I’d appreciate it if—”

    “Charmeleon, Vibrava. Steal the bag.”
     
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Huh. Interesting. So, it was a Poké Ball factory... like the one in Kalos. Or fanon ones people tend to associate with Silph Co. I guess this means Brandon came from a world of humans and pokémon, then. The big question, of course, is just what happened to that world. Maybe it's tied into why Star and Arceus are the way they are right now... unless, as I postulated before, those aren't their originals forms and they were either humans or regular old 'mons given a healthy dose of godly powers somehow. But, yeah, something dramatic must've happened to change the world from a prototypical one of trainers and 'mons to what we have right now. (*loud cough*)

    As far as the actual chapter itself, well... I suppose the Team Alloy non-sequitur is, erm, I guess "harmless" would be the best way to describe it. I'm certainly no strange to writing non-sequiturs like that, so I can't fault you or anything. But — and this might have to do with seeing your thoughts on Discord — it does have this general feeling of being shoved into the chapter just for the sake of giving Demitri and Mispy some focus. And I say that because the strokes you're hitting — their worry about their sense of control and remarking on their innate desire to fight — are all subjects that have been tackled in far more detail from Owen's perspective. It all feels like a rehash, with nothing particularly distinctive to make Mispy's and Demitri's situations feel unique. I think that might be why I've kept harping on Team Alloy. It's just a product of the way you structured the story. Sure, Owen has the Guardian/Mystic stuff to be concerned about... but that's interwoven with the fact that he, like Team Alloy, is a mod. They share that circumstance, but because you introduced the whole concept while focusing solely on Owen and had most of the aftermath of that revelation deal only with Owen while Team Alloy were relegated to the background for, like, a solid dozen or more chapters, I, as the reader, can't help but shrug. I don't feel much about their worries about their mod status, because I've already read through this whole cycle from Owen's perspective and he's got a lot more shit to deal with, so I'm, at best, apathetic to their plight at the moment.

    But that's not the meat of this chapter, is it? No, that really comes from Brandon. And, really, all I can say is that I feel like this isn't the last we're going to see of the stuff Brandon brought up with the whole trainer/pokémon dynamic. I'm not going to delve into the whole philosophical side of things. I know trying to write out a justification for why the relationship is a positive one is bound to piss someone off. I think your explanation worked well in my book. Like I said, I want to see if there's more to it beyond this "trainer" battle... because otherwise it seems like a bit of an anime exposition dump. Y'know, one that's meant to explain certain mechanics for one battle, only to get left alone. It did strike me as strange that Rhys understood the dynamic that well. Maybe he's got a bit of a past where Brandon is concerned?

    I'm interested that he's allied with Arceus, at least. The fact that Arceus didn't give him solid reasons for keeping the factory alive is, of course, meant to arouse suspicion... but it sounds less inherently malicious than some of Star's reasoning and more a case of Arceus not thinking straight... likely because he's lost his damn mind. Interesting that the Trinity have some shared weaknesses going to them, while also offering some coverage.

    (shouting in the distance) Damn it, stop making them sound like saiyans!

    Pretty sure Owen said this exact same line while reflecting on his mod status before, because I'm 90% sure I saw this quote and made the same snarky response I'm going to make now: "Yes, you're pocket monsters. D'oh ho ho ho ho!"

    Thank you ADAM, you're a big help, as usual.

    Game of ThronesOrbs, by Nam O.H. Ysip.

    Fusion is just a cheap tactic to make weak pokémon stronger!

    No, keep saying it. I demand more Rhys puns.

    Somewhere, in the far reaches of Ultra Space, Nebby cheers enthusiastically.
     
  13. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    A big big big big item on my eventual todo list is to try to rectify this by mixing in the rest of Team Alloy with Owen's moments, at least while they're around. Some things I just can't salvage, due to the nature of the story and the fact that for about half of Act I, everyone was actively trying to keep them separated. This scene is a bit of a new addition, but it doubles as some foreshadowing for later, since the relevancy of the rest of the team is even more sudden before. Slow improvements, I guess.

    Same as above, one of my big fixes is going to be trying to keep them at least a little more relevant while the Guardian business takes the front seat.

    Aaaanyway, for better or worse, this "Steel Guardian" arc is coming to a close! But let's see how it goes down...
     
  14. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 32 – Instincts

    “That’s off limits!” Amia cried.

    “Whaaat, scared he’ll go crazy?” Brandon teased. “C’mon, it’s time we put it to the test. What do you think, Hecto?”

    “I have little information on Owen’s sanity if he evolves, one way or the other,” the canid Zygarde said. “He demonstrated restraint the last time he evolved against Azu, but he was still unstable.”

    Gahi buzzed his wings angrily. “Well I’m not gonna let ya!” he said. “Owen’s gonna evolve on his own terms!”

    “I’d love to see you try to stop that,” Brandon said, flicking his hand forward.

    Amia immediately ran forward. She promptly slammed her face against an invisible barrier; it flashed white when she hit it. “What—”

    Brandon smirked at her. “You said you’d let them fight on their own, right?” he said.

    Amia stared at Brandon in disbelief. Then, in a split-second of pure, fiery fury, she slammed her fist against the barrier. Fire enveloped her hands, spreading in six directions upon impact. The sudden heat made Rhys take two steps back.

    “Whoa-ho, calm down!” Brandon said, keeping his hand up. “Owen’s in no danger, right? Let the guy fight. Charmeleon, Vibrava, take that bag at all costs!”

    “Right!” They rushed toward Owen, completely ignoring Gahi. The metal Charmeleon went for the bag, while the Vibrava generated and hurled another volley of mud and sand toward his opponent. The Mud Slap missed, but the Charmeleon had already rushed for the bag. A burst of fire exploded below—Owen had planted a Fire Trap in case they tried to get close, and he took advantage of the explosion to get some distance. If they were going to try to steal from him, then he just had to escape. “Mom! Rhys—Gahi! We’re leaving!” he shouted.

    “Oh, no you don’t!” Brandon said. “Guys! Quick!”

    Charmeleon’s steel body had an odd scorch mark on it from the Fire Trap, but he advanced anyway. He didn’t have to attack, after all; his mission was now to steal the bag. Vibrava launched another wad of mud just in time. Owen had grabbed his Badge, deciding that escape was a better idea but the Mud Slap blinded him, and he reflexively rubbed at his eyes. He heard another fiery explosion to his right; the metal Charmeleon shrieked but toughed it out. He lurched forward and grabbed the bag.

    “L-let go!” Owen said, and the two reptiles—one metallic, one fiery—held fast on the fabric. Owen was trying to be careful and not tear it apart, but his metal counterpart was significantly rougher. “C-c’mon, this is expensive!” Owen begged, looking at the metallic claws tearing into the lip of the bag. “Nngh, that’s not—can you just stop?!” But he saw the bag leave a little tear at the fabric, and as a reflex, he let go.

    The metallic Charmeleon fell back with a loud clang, but the bag was in his arms. “Got it!”

    “Finally,” Brandon said. The Charmeleon stood up. They watched Owen for the evolution to take place. Hecto, off to the side, stood expressionlessly, staring.

    “No!” Amia cried. She huffed and slammed her fist on the barrier again, but it didn’t budge.

    Rhys readied the Suppression Aura. “Amia,” he said lowly.

    Amia gulped, readying the same aura.

    Owen held his breath, looking at his hands. He looked back at Amia and Rhys and their Suppression Auras already swirling to reset him. All that talk about how he’d be ready, all that encouragement to pull through one more time. And it all faded the second things actually happened. So that’s how it was. Already prepared to take him down… So much for building him up.

    How many times did they lie to him about this, too? No—that wasn’t fair. They were just being careful. He told them to be careful. He shouldn’t be mad at that. Maybe they really didn’t lie, right?

    Owen looked at his hands, squeezing his claws together. He breathed slowly and deeply, eyes closed, and puffed out a steady ember from his throat. Meditate, calm the aura. Release the anger steadily; let the restlessness settle down to nothing.

    Owen could tell that everyone was holding their breath. Even Gahi. The Charmeleon—still a Charmeleon, without any white and black light—looked at Brandon. “…You really wanted me to evolve,” he said. He swung his arms down, fists clenched in some sort of juvenile anger. “What’s wrong with you?!”

    “What—of course I did!” Brandon said. He waited a few more seconds. Exasperated, the Machoke raised his arms. “And why aren’t you!?”

    “Because I knew something like this was gonna happen.” Owen growled, pacing in a small circle. “Enet might’ve tried to steal it as a prank, or maybe Willow, y’know, something like that. Or Mom would get impatient and take the bag away while I was asleep, see if I was calm when that happened? I don’t know! People get moody! What if one day I just happen to lose my stone, misplace it?” He glanced back at Amia, whose Suppression Aura dissipated from the shock. “So that stone isn’t in the bag anymore. It hasn’t been since this morning.”

    “Th—where is it, then? Or are you in total control of evolving, now?”

    “Owen…?” Amia said. “Did… are you stable? In control?!”

    Owen smiled sadly at his mother, shaking his head. “No. I’ll never know that until I actually evolve.”

    “Okay, so, what, then?” Brandon asked.

    Charmeleon, defeated, handed Owen his bag back, muttering a quiet apology for tearing it.

    Owen smirked at Brandon, holding his hands to his hips proudly. “I ate it.”

    Several seconds of silence filled the echoing factory.

    Brandon’s arms dropped. “…WHAT?!”

    “You ate it?! Owen! That’s dangerous!” Amia said. “You can’t swallow something that large! How did you—?”

    “I just grew in size a little, ate it, and shrank back down,” Owen said. “I guess I tried to simulate Growth from my Grass Orb. I did it while I was on my morning stroll, thinking about ways to keep anyone from stealing my Everstone.”

    “Okay, but, Owen,” Brandon said, “lemme… just… What exactly is the exit strategy for that? It’s probably stuck in your stomach. It’s way too big to go through the rest of your guts.”

    “I ate it with that weird vine in me,” Owen said. “I dunno where it is, but it’s stored somewhere when I became a Grass Type. I feel fine. If I ever want it out again, I’ll just spit it back out.”

    Gahi buzzed over to Owen and started poking at his stomach.

    “Uh—Gahi,” Owen said quietly.

    “Hang on, trying ter find it,” Gahi said, prodding at different parts of his belly and lower chest. “Oy! There it is,” he said, prodding at just below his chest with one of his legs.

    “Yep, that’s pretty stomach-regiony.” Brandon put a hand to his forehead, making another loud ringing noise. “Unbelievable. So much for testing your full form.”

    “And I’d like it if you asked first!” Owen said, pointing at Brandon. “What if I went crazy and you couldn’t stop me?! I’d destroy this factory!”

    “Aah, it’s not that easy to do,” he said. “I’m a lot stronger than you think, y’know.”

    “Okay, sure, if you’re strong, maybe I can’t beat you, but what if I used these Poké Balls that were lying around, found a working one, and captured you? Then once you escape from it, I’d just attack you and throw another one at the same time. I’d just chip away until you got too tired to fight back!”

    “O-Owen, that’s… a little elaborate. How long were you thinking about that?” Amia said worriedly. “A little, um…”

    “…Huh,” Brandon said. “Didn’t actually think of that.” He rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “I guess there’s a slim, slim chance that might make me flinch. I’d be more worried about those things getting out of here, though. Man, I forgot that’s your specialty, Owen.”

    “What?” Owen said. “Specialty?”

    “Yeah. I heard from Arceus all about you four—the ultimate Synthetics that Nevren and Rhys designed. The perfect team. Mispy, who was able to heal and sense those who were injured by aura—Gahi, whose speed could dodge attacks and deal ones that couldn’t be dodged—Demitri, whose attacks were so potent that not even Protect could block them—and then you, Owen, who knew how to come up with the best strategies on the fly, and who was aware of the whole battlefield at once.” The Machoke nodded. “Defense, agility, offense, and Perceive.” Brandon said. “Isn’t that right, Rhys?”

    Owen’s heart was racing with some strange mixture of anxiety and anger. Even his abilities weren’t something he controlled? That Fire Trap that he spent so much time developing and planning—was that just what he always had? It was all planned? His awareness of everyone’s body language, reading if they’d attack or not, where things were. Was it all…?

    “Ngh… yes,” Rhys admitted. “Those are their abilities.”

    “That’s… my ability?” Owen said. “So—my whole thing about just knowing the flow of battle? That’s always been stronger as a Charmeleon… when I’m closer to—” Owen shook his head. “No. That’s just what I built up with practice. I read all those books to learn more about dungeon explorations, and my practice with that knowledge is what made me how I am! That’s not something I was supposed to know. I did that by myself! Because that’s what I liked doing, and what I wanted to do! It’s not some instinct! Is… is it?”

    “Instinct… I wouldn’t call it that. Maybe your talent.” Brandon said. “By the way, hate to break it to you, but having an innate desire to do something? Kiiinda sounds like instinct. But hey, you honed it!”

    “But it’s still something that I was born with.” Owen said lowly. “Or… no. Not born. Designed with. Is that it?” His voice broke. His claws dug into his palms. “I was designed to be like this. I didn’t… choose at all!”

    “Owen…” Amia said softly. “It’s not like that. It’s okay. I mean, you still had to refine it! Right? Rhys?”

    Rhys nodded. “Y-yes, it isn’t as if you can be born with total knowledge of, say… what Dungeon Orbs are, or Seeds, or Berries. You had to learn those. You just had… a specialized mind for putting those pieces together, Owen. More than usual.”

    This still didn’t sit right. The fiery Charmeleon went back to looking at his claws, but then at Brandon. “…And you’re not coming with us?” he asked.

    “Nope,” Brandon said. “Sitting right here. I’ve got a factory to guard.”

    “Right,” Owen said. “…Then I guess we’re just gonna go.”

    “O-Owen? You aren’t going to… finish the fight?” Amia asked.

    Brandon glared. “Hey, you still gotta evolve one way or the—” Brandon suddenly stopped talking, squinting at the ceiling as if it said something stupid. “Arceus is saying to just let you go.” He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. But for real, you aren’t fighting? What kind of mutant are you?”

    Owen felt that heat in his heart—the temptation to fight. He gritted his teeth. That was part of his design, too. He wanted nothing more to fight. Therefore, he answered. “No. I’m not in the mood.”

    Hecto, who had been watching silently from the corner of the arena, turned his head at Owen. He said and did nothing else.

    “I won’t stop you,” Brandon said. “Just don’t touch anything on your way out.”

    “Thanks,” Owen said curtly. He headed for the exit, not even looking at Amia or Rhys. Instead, he glanced at Gahi. His tone softened. “Do you want to ride on my back again?”

    “Eh—nah, I’ll just fly next to yeh. If I get tired, I’ll… go on.”

    Owen nodded, then left. Amia tried talking to Owen, but the most response she got out of him was curt hums and silent nods. Rhys knew not to interact.

    Owen stood at the edge of the shoreline, looking at the blackened sand and the dark water. He looked at his bag, irritated at the little rips on it from his metallic counterpart trying to pull it away. He snorted.

    “I can’t believe I let them do that,” he said. “Should’ve just told them from the start that I wasn’t able to evolve… Now look, I probably have to get this thing sewed up, repaired, all that… Ugh!” Owen stomped his foot on the ground, splashing a bit of the dark water and sand in the air. He protectively lifted the bag, narrowly avoiding getting it dirty again.

    “Hey,” Gahi said.

    Owen looked back. “It’s alright,” he said. “I just need to cool off, that’s all….”

    “How come yer all mad?” Gahi asked.

    Owen took off, so Gahi flew after him. As it turned out, Owen was too fast—Amia and Rhys trailed behind but knew to keep away. Gahi only kept up because of his natural speed.

    “I guess I just got a reminder,” Owen said. “Just—a reminder of what I am, is a way to put it.”

    “Yer instincts, y’mean? Being good at solving problems? I mean, hey, rumor has it that humans were the same way.” Gahi buzzed a bit further ahead so he could get a better look at Owen. “We all have instincts. I wouldn’t know how ter fly without’m.”

    “I guess so,” Owen said. “But… but it feels different that I was designed instead of just… born like everyone else. I know Star may’ve started life and designed that, too, but I bet they changed a whole lot, generation to generation, from what she first made, right? But me, I’m… I feel… predicted.”

    Gahi stared dumbly at Owen. The Charmeleon understood that this may have been too much. “I feel like I’m not me, I’m just… what someone wants me to be. And I’m just… being that, like I was supposed to. I feel like I didn’t… make any choices. No real ones. It was all predetermined, and I never really had a fork in the road, ever. I just… did what everyone wanted me to do.”

    “Eh…” Gahi said. “I guess I c’n see that. Either way, sorta annoying that we’ve got these instincts that people don’t understand.”

    “I don’t even want them,” Owen said. “Why couldn’t I just be a normal Charmander, or a Charizard, or whatever? Then I’d just… I dunno.”

    “What would you do?” Gahi said.

    Owen hesitated. He didn’t think that far ahead. Sure, it was a little nice to think about living a normal life, but how would that go? Would he even be strong enough to become a Heart if he wasn’t… who he was? After all, only the most talented fighters would become one. Everyone else had to take on normal jobs to get by. That wasn’t so bad, but…

    “I think being like this is kinda cool,” Gahi went on.

    “Cool…? You think it’s cool?” Owen repeated, glancing incredulously. “You think it’s cool that your whole destiny was predetermined by—by killers, and you were supposed to be their weapon? You like being nothing but a—but some sort of… muscle head?”

    “I mean, kinda,” Gahi said. “I’d say I’m happy.”

    Owen squinted at Gahi, but then looked forward. He didn’t respond. Gahi just didn’t understand yet. Maybe he would if he actually understood what it meant to remember.

    <><><> ​

    The rest of the flight home was silent. He stared down at the ocean for a while, mulling over what Brandon said. Instinct? Talent? More like his design. He wondered if this was how the first Pokémon ever created felt like. Star made them to behave a certain way, didn’t she? He could feel her presence. She was trying to talk to him.

    Well, he wasn’t in the mood.

    They flew over the beaches. Owen saw the Chasm of the Void to the right, the great, black Abyss yawning toward the sky. Subconsciously, he veered away from it.

    Far ahead was Kilo Village. If he flew a bit higher, he’d actually be able to see the tiny buildings within the crater. Owen sank a bit lower in altitude, if only to get a change in scenery.

    “Not too close, Owen!” Amia called. “You’re a flying Charmeleon!”

    “Ngh.” Owen lifted up a bit more. They were like specks to him from this height, but he could still see the vague features of the Pokémon below, the sections for training, for food, for entertainment—and Anam’s Thousand Heart Association. Even from this height, he saw the giant, heart-shaped building.

    Owen wondered where he got the name from. Why a thousand, so specifically? It was a hefty number, after all. But then again, it was a good number for the size of the world.

    “Owen, don’t you think we should just warp back home, dear?” Amia asked once again. Owen lost count of how many times she’d asked.

    “You can,” Owen said. “I just want to fly.” That wasn’t entirely it. But he needed more time to think, and he knew that if he got home, they’d convince him to fall in line, like they always did.

    Amia sighed, looking at Rhys. Really, they could have been home by now, before they even took off. But Owen had flown too far away for Rhys to use his Badge for warping back.

    Eventually, the Owen slowed down to pass his bag.

    “Do you know how to repair this?” Owen asked her.

    “Oh, um… I’m not very good with… fabrics,” Amia said.

    “I can assist,” Rhys said. “Owen, why are you leaving this with me? We’re all going home.”

    “I’m gonna fly on my own for a little bit,” Owen said.

    “Owen—you can’t do that,” Amia said. “What if a Hunter—”

    “Don’t give me that,” Owen snapped, speaking lowly. His tail flashed blue, but then it dimmed to a weak red. “S-sorry,” he mumbled, looking away.

    “Owen,” Amia said. “It’s dangerous.”

    “Is it, though?” Owen said. “Think about it. Rim could’ve killed us at any time. I don’t even know where Eon is. And you know what? I don’t think I can beat her even if I fully evolved. She commands my kind. So, I think she just doesn’t want to hurt me!” He blew out a few embers that instantly dissipated in the wind. “And she can’t take me away, or she would’ve done that, too. So, you know what? I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” He stared at Rhys. “Isn’t that right?”

    Before Rhys could answer, Gahi spoke up. “Ehh, I dunno if it’s safe to go out on yer own like that,” he said. “What if Rim shows up and does try something?”

    “I’ll fight her.”

    “Yeah, uh, maybe not,” Gahi said.

    “She doesn’t want me to evolve,” Owen said. “If I try to fight, or I throw away my Everstone…”

    “But what if she just kills you?” Gahi said. “Yer a threat now.”

    “I don’t think she will,” Owen said. “I saw it in her. She doesn’t want to hurt me. Don’t you think so, Rhys?” Owen nodded. “Even back then, before I even became the Grass Guardian, she was just trying to scare me off. That was it, wasn’t it…? She doesn’t want to hurt… me. I don’t really know why yet, but… I think it’s because I used to be with them. Maybe she’d feel bad.”

    Rhys made a sound that was a mixture between a pensive hum and a frustrated growl. “I suppose not,” he said. “She wouldn’t want to harm Gahi, either. But I want you home by sunset, understood? Minimize all interactions with her. Do not let her take your Everstone. Okay?”

    “I won’t,” Owen said.

    “Yer gonna be okay?” Gahi asked, slowing until he was near Rhys and Amia.

    “Yeah,” Owen said. “Besides, if Rim does show up…” he trailed off. “I want to… give her a piece of my mind. Even if she doesn’t want to hurt me, she’s still a Hunter. And…” Owen trailed off.

    “Sunset, Owen,” Rhys said firmly.

    “Please, dear,” Amia added.

    Owen just huffed, but he gave a minute nod in reply. This was their compromise, was it? Always treating him like a kid. But maybe he deserved it. He spent so many lifetimes with memories in a fog that he never had the opportunity to grow up. He always forgot, over and over. Or was it just in his design to be juvenile? Owen wondered if even this spine that he grew, as Brandon put it, was just part of his nature.

    Owen glanced at Amia’s worried eyes and his tail dimmed even further. “Maybe she won’t show up at all,” he said, feeling a lump in his throat. “I’ll… I’ll be back. Sunset. Or maybe earlier. I have my Badge.” He flashed it, even though the rest of his supplies were with Rhys. “If I run into any trouble, I’ll come right home. Besides,” Owen said, smiling slightly. “Star will keep an eye on me.”

    This, it seemed, was enough. Amia reluctantly flashed the Badge in the air, and she and Rhys vanished with Gahi.

    Owen drifted away from Kilo Village. He scanned the landscape and found a small clearing. Something about that location drew him toward it—he remembered this sight, from the skies. But the memory was too blurry to make out the details. But if it was familiar, then it was when he was a Charizard. He followed his vague memories to the ground.

    Right when he landed, the memories struck him, almost like a punch from behind. The trees stood tall on all sides, and the ground had shin-high grass all over. Some parts of the grass seemed shorter than the rest, but for the most part, it was as if nothing had ever happened here. But it did.

    Plant-like flesh squished between his claws. He felt intense heat from the back of his throat. He saw, fearful, tiny eyes staring right at him under the moonlight. The flames overtook his vision after that. A feminine voice screamed and he looked up. A Lilligant. Owen rushed forward, gliding over the ground, sharp air swirling around his claws—

    Rhys shouted desperately behind him. “Owen, STOP!”

    “Stop…” Owen mumbled.

    Someone within knocked on his mind. He jolted where he stood, staring at his arms. Trembling. His legs felt like jelly. He thought, for just a moment, he had wings. That brief second filled him with so much primal fear that he was positive he saw his chest physically throb with his heartbeat.

    He closed his eyes, struggling to meditate. His chest felt like it was going to explode. Uneasy breaths slowed into a steady rhythm. His fire crackled like a Blast Seed. He swallowed something invisible, and then took a final breath.

    He pushed the aura forward. The blue ember became a Jumpluff. “Klent…” Owen said.

    He floated gracefully down—he looked completely solid, like he was alive again. He was so light that he floated in the wind. His pom-poms behaved like flotation devices on the grass. “It’s been… quite a while,” Klent said.

    “Yeah…”

    Owen looked at his claws, then at his tail. Some of the grass was singed from the flame drooping too low. He breathed deep, red transitioning to green, the flower at the tip of his tail blooming into a brilliant crimson this time, contrasting against his green, leafy scales.

    Owen tried to raise his left arm forward, but it felt numb. It didn’t respond. “…I’m sorry for…”

    “It’s okay, Owen,” Klent said. “It… it wasn’t you.”

    “But—but wasn’t it exactly me?” Owen said.

    “Not the Owen I know.”

    “Klent…”

    A consistent, easy breeze blew past them. Owen felt the petals of his tail shiver in the gust. The tall grass blew all in one direction, making a watery, whishing noise throughout the thin forest.

    But it was him, wasn’t it? It was part of him. That horrible monster that was sealed away in his mind was as much Owen as the suppressed version talking now.

    The Jumpluff turned away. “…As much as I say that I know you as someone else now, Owen… I don’t like being around here very much. There aren’t many good memories here. Very few…” He sighed. “I’ll be returning, now. Owen, will you be fine on your own?”

    “Y-yeah. I just want to… take a walk.”

    Klent nodded and evaporated into an aura ember, returning to Owen. He walked down the path until the grass got shorter, away from the residual influence of the previous Grass Guardian. The Mystic side of him appreciated the scenery; the natural side of him preferred a hotter climate. He didn’t know what his ‘true’ side felt about this place. Perhaps it didn’t feel anything.

    What was it like to feel nothing? Owen shivered. To lose all sense of self like that…

    Once he was on a landscape with grass that only went up to the top of his claws, Owen felt the presence of someone powerful. The leaves on his body stiffened like fur and he slowed his pace. He could feel the anxieties of the spirits within him. Calm down, it’s alright, Owen thought to them.

    He knew who it was. So, he wasn’t surprised when he saw an Espurr appear in front of him. He snorted and continued walking. He sensed no malice, but he also realized that it was going to be impossible to get anything out of her. As much as he wanted to have his questions answered, there was no point in talking.

    There she was, the Hunter herself. What was her role in all this? Did she once command him? Did she want him back? He obviously wasn’t going to follow that. The Charmeleon stared at her with half a mind to…

    Owen didn’t know what he wanted to do to her. There was a block in his thought process. Attack her? No. That didn’t feel… right. But—she was a killer. She killed Cara and Forrest. She forced Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi to evolve. She made them get reset. He never got to talk to Forrest. But Cara was terrified. But she also seemed relieved. Was she like Zena?

    Rim had her eyes on the ground. Owen walked right past her. And then she turned around. With his cursed Perception, he knew she did. He walked for a few minutes; the Espurr never made a move. Instead, whenever he got too far away, she vanished and reappeared behind him, following without moving a muscle.

    Realizing she wouldn’t stop this, he finally turned around. The Espurr still had her eyes on the ground. After a moment of quiet that was cut only by the wind, she took slow, hesitant steps toward him. Owen could tell that she was too nervous to speak—and his vague memories suggested that she wasn’t much to talk in general.

    Who was Rim? Owen’s claws tapped against one another, fists clenching. Why did Owen feel so familiar with her? The memories were right there, but Star’s block prevented them from emerging. If only he could rip it away. He had to know. Rim, who was she? Was she Owen’s commander? What did she know about him? Why did she run?

    Could she fix him?

    Rim sat down. Owen watched her. The grass caressed her tiny legs and intertwined with her gray fur. The way she moved was delicate and deliberate. Her ears twitched when a breeze rustled the fur the wrong way.

    He wondered if Rim missed him, or if he was just an asset to her that she was trying to get back. He really didn’t know. But her heart beat in an odd way. Her breathing was slow. It had nothing akin to a body preparing for battle. If anything, her spirit to fight was nonexistent. Rim wouldn’t be able to fight even if she tried; like Owen, she just wasn’t in the mood.

    Who was Eon? It was such a familiar name. He felt so close. Yet, those memories were perhaps the most locked away. Were they good memories, or bad ones? Any time he thought back, his stomach twisted itself in knot after knot. He just wanted it to be over. He just wanted to know. He envied Gahi, so nonchalant about his missing past. But knowing him, he was just putting on a brave face. It probably bothered Gahi, too. But what could he do about it? Nothing.

    But Owen could. As a Mystic, he could fix this himself. Right?

    Rim focused on the ground; The grass cut away. The dirt rose up and swirled into a flat, brown plane. Then, little figures rose up on the ground, and a grid formed a square in the middle, with a figure taking up each square on the two bottom and top edges of the grid. Half of them on Owen’s side, the other half on Rim’s.

    Owen blinked. Chess. Chess! The memory crashed through the block, but it was the only one. A specific memory. If only he could have pulled out a few more.

    He had played it all the time—it was a game that Nevren knew, though where he learned it, he had no idea. He didn’t know what half of the pieces were called anymore; he just knew what they could do by their shape. One of the pieces on Rim’s side jiggled and floated up, moving two spaces toward Owen.

    Was this what she wanted to do? A game? The petals on his tail swayed rhythmically and he sat down in front of her. The grass felt nice against his leafy scales. Perhaps the fields weren’t so bad after all.

    Owen intended to counter with the same move. He reached forward, but a barrier blocked his way. He let out a confused, reptilian chirp, looking at Rim. She stared back at him. Those giant eyes stared wordlessly into his.

    He retracted his hand and closed his eyes. He used his Mystic powers and slowly slid the pawn forward to mirror her move.

    Rim smiled and made her next move.

    Owen defeated Rim easily. He wasn’t sure how many moves it took for him to beat her, but he made them so quickly that Rim felt pressured to match his speed. Her mistakes were devastating. Owen looked down at Rim with a little smirk, but Rim beamed with her big eyes.

    It unnerved him. He could read bodies, but he couldn’t read minds. All he could feel from Rim was a radiating, happy heartbeat, a happy puff of air from her tiny nose, the muscles of her face contorting into a rare, genuine smile.

    It was contagious. For a moment, Owen stopped caring. A dumb smile crossed his scaly lips. And in that moment, his heart felt a little lighter, too.

    Rim stood up; she walked around the board, toward Owen, and pushed at his side. Owen tilted his head; he scooted to the side, but then Rim made a slightly more twisting motion, and Owen understood.

    The Charmeleon spun until his tail faced the board. Rim sat back on the other side of the board. Owen felt it again—that feeling of something moving. Rim made the same move as before. But he wasn’t sure about any of the other pieces. He knew that they would be in their original positions, but he couldn’t feel them yet. He had to focus…. There. The pieces were all there, as were his. So, he focused on that one piece again and mirrored her move.

    The game was slower, but it allowed Rim more time to think. She was harder to beat this time, but Owen soon knew the entire landscape of the board.

    Even the wild Pokémon in the trees that were watching them. The plants that swayed with the wind. He sensed all of their movements. Even the hidden ones lounging in the bushes. The leaves loosening with the incoming autumn, starting their slow transition from green to red.

    He had no idea he could expand himself like this, to feel the land as if it was his own body. Perception. Was this it? Was this what it felt like?

    He never felt so… correct before. Was that the word? But this was his design. Wasn’t this what Rim wanted? But he wasn’t killing anybody. He wasn’t fighting. He was playing a game. And everything around him felt… peaceful. Could mutants know peace?

    The game was over before he knew it, and with a final, decisive thump of the piece, Rim’s king was trapped in checkmate. Owen felt Rim’s smile when she stood up.

    Owen turned around, but by the time he was facing forward again, she was gone.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2019
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Whether this was intentional or not... it struck me that Owen's situation here is, in a lot of respects, awfully similar to Knuckles in the Archie Sonic comics under Ken Penders. That is, uh, going to honestly make it very awkward for me to continue reading about it with that thought in the back of my mind. But, hey, this is way more entertaining to read than that stuff, so that's a win of sorts! Even if the bulk of this chapter is just Owen doing moody teenage brooding... again.

    That was a pretty slick MacGuyver plot on Owen's part with just eating the damn Everstone. Though I think part of the humor(?) of the moment was a bit lost by Brandon's reaction. The "exit strategy" line was a cringey euphimism for what I'm sure everyone was thinking reading that bit. Still, it's one way to control the whole evolution tidbit. From there, it kinda descends into an extended angsting sequence where Owen's focused on how his whole life's a lie and even his semi-prodigy status is a byproduct of that. I guess the chess match piece with Rim stuck out as an artsy moment of sorts. It was mostly extended narration and, were this a comic and not a fic, the extended, dialogue-less sequence would've been even artsier. I think there were a couple of oddities with the lack of dialogue though, namely some jumps into the present tense (ex: "Where is Eon?") that really didn't make a lot of sense, even if the narrator's inside Owen's head.

    Void, you say?

    He wouldn't be a charmeleon if he wasn't having his edgy rebellious phase.

    Heeheeheehee! I see you're asking all the right questions. And I'd just love to give you an answer, you delightful little freak!

    ... alternatively, ask Asriel. Oh, sorry, still too soon? :p
     
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    I'l like to preface this review response with the fact that I just got through watching the new Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie. I won't give too many spoilers but... you win, Amby. You were right. Not completely right, as there are obviously key and extreme differences... but Owen's backstory has a lot of similarities. A lot. And I both hate and love it. Congratulations.

    So Owen is Knuckled, Broly, Gohan, and Goku. One of these things, doesn't belong...

    Hopefully this will be the worst of Owen's angst issues about his whole "my life is a lie" deal. I mean, he's reasonably upset... but I don't think it makes for an interesting story if we focus on that upset stuff for very long. Guess we'll have this upcoming chapter to see how he's doing, eh?

    Artsy was surprisingly not what I was going for, but I will say that I intended from the start for this to be a moment of no dialogue. A concept totally foreign to me, in a way, because that's my strong suit. But since Rim isn't chatty and Owen knows this in some dark recess of his mind, no words could be said.

    Ehh yeah, I think I added a lot of those during these edits to get suuuuper into Owen's head, but I see how that messes with the tensing. I'll normalize it.

    I plan to publish the next chapter sometime today or tomorrow night! But most likely tomorrow night.
     
  17. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Chapter 33 – Black Sparks

    Hot Spot Cave’s training area—deeper inside, beyond the residential buildings, but not near the lava—was awash with water, warming in the natural heat. Four Pokémon fought in the middle; two were exhausted, collapsed on the ground. The other two waited patiently for their opponents to rise.

    “I thought this would be harder,” Willow pouted.

    “You have to remember,” Zena said, “they’re not Mystic. They may be Modded, but that’s sealed away, still. I doubt they’re taking this too seriously, either. We’re just sparring. Maybe they don’t want to hurt us or go too hard.”

    Demitri gurgled in a puddle of Zena’s Hydro Pump. Mispy staggered to her feet.

    “Well, at least we got Demitri to evolve,” Willow said, eying the Fraxure and Bayleef.

    Demitri finally stood up, panting. “That’s… that’s right! So we’re… totally making progress,” he said. “Right, Mispy?”

    “I might faint…” Mispy wheezed.

    “If that’s the case, we should just take a break,” Zena said. “We don’t want to push you too hard anyway—not when it won’t be easy to subdue you in case… well…”

    “In case we evolve?” Demitri said.

    Mispy nodded. “But… it doesn’t feel like we’ll evolve yet.”

    “Yeah, the other times we evolved, it always sorta felt like there was this… pressure, or this heat, in our chest, you know? A power that wanted to get out—and I don’t feel that yet. So, we can probably go for a little while longer and be fine!”

    “Demitri,” Zena said, “you can barely stand.”

    “I—I’ll figure it out!”

    “Maybe let your head do some thinking instead of your muscles,” Willow said. “Turn off that battle-mode instinct!”

    “I don’t think we can!” Demitri said. “But… but I guess we fought enough…”

    “We didn’t,” Mispy sighed.

    “Well, when will it be enough?” Zena asked.

    Mispy wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

    “…Let’s just rest,” the Milotic said. She turned and slithered back to the main square. Willow hopped onto her back and climbed to the top of her head. Demitri and Mispy reluctantly followed them home.

    Rhys, Amia, and Gahi appeared in the middle of the square. At first, they were relieved that they returned safely, but then panicked when they realized only three came back.

    “W-where’s Owen?!” Willow said. “You lost Owen! You idiots! H-how could you—?”

    “Owen’s okay—he’s okay!” Amia said. “He just… wanted to go for a walk! Take the scenic way back! I’m sure he’s okay. It isn’t even dark out yet, okay? He should be back by lunch! Maybe late lunch… I told him before sunset, but I don’t see him taking that long.”

    Willow was sparkling with angry, pink energy. “He could be hurt by the Hunters alone! What kind of a mother are you?!”

    “Th-that’s not—! I didn’t mean to—he’s okay! H-he’s…!” Amia sniffed.

    “Willow, there is no strategic advantage to the Hunters striking Owen. He’s unstable, and if he evolves, it could mean the end for them. Owen isn’t aligned with Star or Ba—Arceus, and I believe they want to take advantage of that.” Rhys crossed his arms. “To add, I do not believe the Hunters want to harm Owen to begin with.”

    “What, they want to convince Owen to work for them? Hah!” Willow snorted. “…Why did Owen want to go on his own?”

    “Eh, got a little moody when someone told him he’s good at solvin’ puzzles because that’s in his nature, the way he was designed.”

    “Oh,” Willow said. Her sparks simmered down, turning into a pink mist. “Well… I guess that’s okay to be mad about.”

    Manny stepped closer, overhearing the discussion. “He’s still having an identity crisis, eh?” he asked. “Bah, why can’t he be simple-minded like these three?”

    “Simple-minded?” Mispy growled.

    “E-ehh, maybe like, yeh don’t care as much?”

    “That’s better,” Mispy said, shaking her leaf angrily. She eyed Demitri and softened her expression. “Think Owen will be… okay?”

    “Well… I think he’ll be a little moody for a while. He always got wrapped up in his thoughts. I mean, maybe that’s part of how he was designed, but… that’s how we know him, right? So, it can’t be all bad. Besides, isn’t everyone born a little designed?”

    “I dunno,” Gahi said dismissively. “Hey, so looks like yeh evolved! I bet I evolved first, though, heh.”

    “We got to training pretty soon after you left,” Demitri said. “I think we evolved while you were still flying to the factory. Oh—and how’d that go?”

    “Eh… I don’t wanna talk about it,” Gahi said. “Maybe later.”

    “What, is everyone in a bad mood?” Willow said.

    “It seems so,” Zena said. She nodded solemnly. “And you’re absolutely sure that Owen is okay?” she said.

    Rhys nodded.

    This still wasn’t enough for her. She had half a mind to go out and find him, but she wasn’t sure if the Hunters would feel the same way about her that they did about Owen. “Perhaps we can discuss this over dinner,” she said. “Manny, you mentioned that you were preparing something for the Mods?”

    “Eh, yeah! Great stuff fer a post-fight meal, y’know. Builds up muscle. Real great protein. I’m gonna go finish it up; I’ve got it on a low simmer righ’ now. Aura burns real steadily if yeh got good control.”

    The Lucario left. Rhys seemed skeptical that Manny was capable of slow burns.

    “Make a plate for Owen, too,” Zena said. “Surely he’ll return by lunchtime…”

    “But he doesn’t eat anymore,” Gahi said.

    “I think he’ll appreciate it,” Zena countered. “Okay?”

    “Ehh, alright, alright…” Gahi looked at Manny, who nodded while hauling out a pot of stew.

    <><><> ​

    Thankfully, Owen returned during lunch, entering the cave the old-fashioned way. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t have to do the Hot Spot dance to open the path, but despite this, the Charmeleon had the smallest spring in his step.

    Owen wondered how Deca was doing. Ever since he became a Charmeleon, he never got to see him. Then again, he hoped it would be a while. He couldn’t imagine the jealousy Deca would feel if Owen evolved, but he didn’t. He probably wouldn’t want to know about how much of a freak he was for eating an Everstone, too, after all that talk about wanting to evolve.

    Amia spotted Owen first and was simultaneously perplexed and relieved at his brighter mood. “Owen, you’re back.”

    “Hey, Mom,” Owen said. He stood awkwardly in front of her, avoiding her eyes.

    Amia waved her arm and summoned Alex, the embers briefly swirling from a blue ember, to something that floated in the air, and then finally into a solid, Magmortar form. “Owen, we’re sorry if—”

    “No, no,” Owen said. “That was stupid of me. I’m sorry I just flew off like that. I’m okay.”

    He smiled at both of them. Alex nervously bumped his cannons together.

    Owen abruptly moved forward to Alex, wrapping his arms as well as he could around the Magmortar’s huge frame. He turned his head to nod at Amia. “Thanks for dealing with me for all this time. For… how long has it been?”

    “Oh, Owen…” Amia held her hand against the fin in her chest. “What’s gotten into you?”

    Owen laughed, pulling away from Alex, but he refused to let him go. His arms crossed behind Owen and held him in place. Owen complied, rolling his eyes with a smile.

    “Um—how’s everyone doing?” Owen asked.

    “Oh, just fine, Owen,” Amia said. “Did you have a good flight home?”

    “Yeah,” Owen said.

    “Rhys didn’t have time to repair your bag just yet, but I’ll have it to you by tomorrow morning, okay?”

    “Oh, yeah, uh—that’s okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

    “Oy, Owen!” Gahi called. “We made a plate fer ya!” He waved one of his tiny legs at him in midair. Gahi hadn’t touched the ground in quite a while.

    “F-for me?” Owen asked. “I don’t eat!”

    “Yeah, but I bet food still tastes good, eh?” Gahi said. “C’mon!”

    “W-well, if you went through the trouble…”

    Alex let Owen go, following him toward the square with Valle as the centerpiece. They walked over to the little picnic-like seating arrangement, seeing the one plate without someone next to it. Owen sat down between Gahi and Demitri, taking his first heaping spoonful. He smelled the smallest hint of Tamato Berry in the thick broth and had to swallow to keep the drool inside.

    Owen sensed something flying his way. He raised his free hand and caught a full Tamato from his right.

    “Heh, Rhys told me yeh liked these,” Manny said.

    Owen beamed, squeezing the ultra-spicy juice straight into the bowl, unnerving everybody.

    “So, how’d your trip go?” Gahi asked. “Anybody yeh see er anything? Y’took a while, unless yeh just wandered.”

    “Oh, I ran into Rim,” Owen said, eating the pulp and husk of the squeezed berry.

    Amia and the others flinched, but they’d already been prompted that this was a possibility.

    “She, um… she was nice,” Owen said tentatively. “We didn’t talk much, but she barely talks, so that’s not really any different. She played a game with me—chess, y’know what that is?”

    “Huh… That sounds kinda familiar,” Demitri said. “Gahi?”

    “Yeah, I think you played that before,” Gahi said, “when we were still with the Hunters. So, Rim just taught yeh how that game worked again?”

    “It kinda just came back to me,” Owen said, mixing the spicy juice into the broth with a claw. “But then she did something a little weird. She made me turn around and play it without looking. But I still beat her… I had to use my Mystic power to move the pieces, but… yeah. I still won.”

    “Wow, you beat Rim without even looking?”

    “At chess,” Owen said. “I just… felt where the pieces were, that’s all.”

    “Yeah, but that’s still pretty cool,” Demitri said. “Is that part of your Mystic power?”

    “Maybe? But… I feel like I had that sort of power before. It’s familiar. So, I might’ve been able to do something like that before. Maybe without the telekinesis, though. I think she—” The memory hit him. “Th-that’s right! She’d tie a Pecha Scarf or something else lying around. She’d tie it over my eyes so I couldn’t see! I remember that…” Owen touched his chest. “Wow… we used to play that all the time.”

    Rhys eyed Owen nervously. “That was a long time ago, Owen. Don’t think too fondly of those memories for now.”

    “Y-yeah,” Owen looked off, deflating. “I know. She… she’s still hunting us down, even if she wants to keep me around. I won’t be going with her or anything. But, to be honest, I…” He trailed off. “…I feel a little better about me.”

    “About you?” Amia said. “Oh, you mean—”

    Owen nodded. “Yeah. About who I’m supposed to be, and how I… kinda just am what I’m supposed to be. It’s okay. Because… I like it. It’s not bad. Like what Gahi said, y’know? And I can still choose the little things. Fighting who I am isn’t gonna help, if it’s just… ingrained. Like, you can’t stop yourself from feeling happy, or mad, right? It’s just… there.”

    “That’s a good way to look at it,” Amia said. “But you don’t have to be defeated by that, either. After all, you’re still meditating to keep your… battle-heart in check, right?”

    Owen nodded. “Yeah. So, I can control it. But my personality—being all… quick-thinking… I think I want to keep that. I’m choosing to keep that part of my design.” The Charmeleon stood up. His bowl still wasn’t eaten, but he had come to a decision.

    “Uh, Owen?” Demitri, still seated, craned his neck.

    Owen’s body shifted from red to green. Then, he grew a bit in size, followed by turning around to keep his face away from the others—it’d be rude otherwise. He tilted his head up and opened his mouth; the vine in his gut emerged, caressing the Everstone-Eviolite within. After grabbing it, he retracted the vine back into his gut and returned to his normal size and color. He turned around and placed the stone in his lap.

    “Uhh—Owen,” Amia said, “didn’t you promise to wait until tomorrow to do that?”

    “It’s tomorrow somewhere,” Owen replied, digging into his stew. He tilted the whole bowl into his mouth, pausing only momentarily to savor the taste, and then set it on the ground. The Aspear material let out a hollow tok against the rocks.

    Owen stood up and backed away. When he felt he had a safe enough distance from them, he tossed the stone to Rhys.

    Enet’s fur puffed up. “Owen?” she asked.

    “It’s okay,” Owen said. “I’m… ready.” He looked at Rhys, Zena, and Amia. “Get the Suppression Aura ready. Okay?”

    He felt the heat swelling up rapidly. He wasn’t going to contain it much longer—there was no suppressing this evolution. “Th-that’s pretty strong…!” He winced.

    He scanned the room—everyone that he knew. There was no way he’d forget them, and he wouldn’t forget himself. He couldn’t, not after all this. This was what his training was for. Owen closed his eyes and took a slow breath, held it, and let it out. “I’m okay,” he said again. “I’m gonna evolve, alright?”

    “Take it slow, Owen,” Amia said. The entire square was silent. “If—if you can.”

    Owen nodded. His heart slammed against his chest, vision clouding over. Thoughts became muddled. Owen steadied his breathing—it was all he could do—and meditated. Peace, calm. Control.

    Please… not again, Owen begged his own instincts.

    The light enveloped him, black bolts crackling all over.

    <><><> ​

    Rim appeared behind Nevren in his office. “Disappear, please,” Nevren said.

    Rim quickly vanished.

    “A-Alakazam!” someone called.

    “Hmm?” Nevren turned around. “Ah, yes. What’s wrong?”

    “W-we spotted something in Arachno Forest, more of those—those mutant Pokémon! But… they were behaving strangely. So—even stranger compared to how those things usually are.”

    “Strangely? In what way?” Nevren asked.

    “They were… controlled. They were just patrolling—they didn’t look like they were going to fight at all. But—but they were definitely those strange Pokémon.”

    “I see. Thank you for the report. I’ll be sure to send an Elite team there shortly. You are dismissed for the day.”

    “Y-yes. Um… and, Alakazam…? Where’s Goodra Anam?”

    “Ah, he’s fine and performing another round of blessings. Not to worry. Perhaps I can see if he can make a public appearance tomorrow for morale, or an assembly.” Nevren nodded. “In any case, thank you. You may go.”

    He left.

    “…You may return, Rim.”

    The Espurr appeared. Her eyes were a bit brighter than usual.

    “How are things, Rim? You have visited me again.”

    Rim nodded. “Owen…”

    “Oh? I’ve been listening in on their little conversations. Owen is planning to evolve.”

    “He’s… content.”

    “That’s very good,” Nevren said. “He might be ready now. I didn’t quite expect that meeting with Brandon to go that way, but in the end, I suppose we’ve captured two Pidgey with one ball. Ah, hm. That’s impossible. I suppose I shouldn’t coin that saying.” Nevren tapped his spoon on the table. “They learned of Poké Balls, and that was the primary goal.” He nodded. “You didn’t have to see him, though, Rim. Why did you do so now? He still doesn’t trust you.”

    “He… plays chess well,” Rim said.

    Nevren returned to Rim a wry smile.

    She giggled, but then disappeared.

    “Ahh, Rim,” Nevren sighed. “Well, whatever makes her happy, I suppose.” He looked at the ceiling. “Such emotions are so perplexing.” He paused. “…What is taking Anam so long?” He stepped out of the office and into the main lobby of the Heart. He followed the colorful path to the room next door and gently pushed it open.

    “Ah,” Nevren said.

    The supply room was filled with batches of seeds—most of them plain—all across the shelves. On another wall were plain scarves and simple berries. But what caught Nevren’s eyes was the long, stick-like object in the middle of the room, next to a Goodra slumped over.

    “Interesting,” Nevren said aloud, approaching the stick. He picked it up, spinning it. “Are these not the Wands I’ve been designing?” He looked down at Anam, who was sleeping soundly. Nevren held the wand horizontally and squeezed tight, watching the operational end. Nothing emerged. Instead, a small blast of light shot out and evaporated from the opposite end. “Hm. It’s shooting out the wrong end.”

    Nevren flipped the wand and held it properly, firing directly in front of him.

    This time, it shot correctly, and therefore, right into Nevren’s chest.

    “Urf…” Nevren’s eyes drooped instantly. “It fires… inconsistently. Must… make note… of…”

    He collapsed next to Anam, snoring.

    <><><> ​

    Black sparks flung off of Owen. Waves of power radiated from the center of the corrupted, evolutionary light. Amia and the ones closest to him had to step away. And then, finally, with a wave of heat, power, and sparkling pinpricks of black and white light, it all faded.

    He had to remember.

    He saw Amia’s smiling face, leaning against Alex in the middle of their home. They were laughing at something. Owen asked what was wrong. “Your face, dear. Feel your cheek.” There had been a bit of stew caught there. He always ate too quickly.

    To Owen, it felt like he’d been standing for minutes. But he imagined that to the others, he was only there for a few short, tense seconds.

    Zena’s huge form emerged from her small pool just inside her new Hot Spot home. She was asking curiously about the book Owen had in his hands. Did they read together before? How often? He wanted to know more, but a new memory took its place.

    Owen knew that Zena was a recent addition to his life, yet with how scrambled his memories were, it didn’t really matter. She was the first Guardian he’d rescued. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

    With his lower half numb, he only heard the pummeling from Demitri against Aerodactyl. That overwhelming sense of relief combined with the overwhelming pain of all his wounds nearly made Owen dizzy.

    Team Alloy… he lost so many memories of them. So many important memories. He wasn’t as close to them, even now, as he had been so long ago.

    “Owen… will we ever see you again?” Demitri asked, sniffling.

    “Don’t go,” Mispy begged.

    “I… I have to,” Owen said. “We can’t stay together. If we all evolved together, and then…”

    “It ain’t fair!” Gahi shouted. He stomped his tiny, Trapinch foot on the ground. “I’ll… I’m comin’ with you!”

    “Gahi… I have to go alone. If I evolved with any of you, it’d be… Rhys can handle you three. But not me. Not if—"

    “I don’t care! We… this is all stupid!” Gahi sniffed. “This is… all…!”

    “We don’t even know what’ll really happen. What if Rhys is lying?” Demitri said.

    “We’ll be fine,” Mispy said.

    “You will be,” Owen said. “That’s why I’m… going with Amia. She’s gonna be my ‘mom’ now. It’s better this way. I’m… sorry.”

    “Are you ready?” Rhys asked.

    Owen looked back. “I’m ready.”

    “Wait!” Demitri said. “Will… will we ever see you again?! Owen, c’mon, we gotta at least visit!”

    “We won’t remember each other,” Owen said, voice caught in his throat. “It won’t matter.”

    “Then… then I’m gonna evolve until we can again,” Demitri said.

    “Good!” Owen laughed, but by now his face was screwed up in a horrible, ugly wince. “I’ll d-do the same thing!”

    Owen couldn’t look away from this memory, yet he was relieved when it finally faded, overtaken by another.

    Owen held back his tears. Not in front of the others.

    A Charmander stood before him, teary eyed and laughing. Everything hurt. He felt waterlogged. “They’re so proud of you, Owen,” he said. And a confused, thrilled heat swelled in his chest.

    Owen hoped he could see Deca again.

    Now the ground was below him. Claws outstretched, he plunged them into a Feraligatr. He taunted him. “Ha HA! Is that all you are capable—" But then he slashed through his body, and the Feraligatr dissolved. He kept chasing after the spirit, even in its ember form, ineffectual as it was.

    How amazing was that fight? To finally sink his claws into something, to finally feel his attacks connect with their full power. The euphoria that overtook him when he got that first punch to his gut, or spewed hot flames toward his enemies. To truly exert himself, to not hold back and seal his true power away!

    No. Stop. Control. Breathe. He was Owen. His name was Owen, son of Gardevoir Amia and Magmortar Alex. Friend, not killer, of Guardians.

    Breathe. Slow.

    “Owen… stop,” Amia’s pleading face glowed in the darkness of Manny’s old abode. “It’s okay. It’s over. Please…”

    “Fight it, Owen!” Willow said. “You c-can do it…! S-stop looking like that…!”

    “Fight it…” Owen mumbled aloud.

    Everybody was watching him with bated breath. He could feel their tension. In fact, he even felt his own.

    The new Pokémon beat his wings and the lights flew across the entire town square, bumping into the walls, fading, dissipating. Rhys held up an aura barrier to keep the blackness from hitting the rest of Team Alloy. In his other paw, a sphere of white Suppression Aura flickered.

    Owen opened his eyes. He looked very much like a normal Charizard. He had orange scales and a beige front, a flame at the end of his tail, wings, and two horns on the back of his head. However, he was a bit slimmer, and his wings were larger. His horns were sharper, and they were just barely hooked upward behind his head. He was built for evasion in the air and on the ground. Owen remembered that, now. But his memories were still sealed, gradually leaking through.

    He blinked a few times. It felt like his vision was twice as powerful as it was before. It was like he could see every tiny detail ahead of him. And if he focused, it felt like he could sense everything beside him, and behind him, too. And above, and below. He felt like a Claydol. Eyes on all sides—though, not literally, he hoped. With a brief worry, he felt the sides of his head. No eyes. Good.

    He breathed slowly; he felt that inner need to battle again. But he suppressed it, and he kept himself composed.

    “Hey… guys,” he said, startled at his new voice. Deeper. That was going to take some time to get used to. Based on the startled looks from everyone else, he wasn’t the only one. “W-wow… Everyone looks a lot smaller now that I’ve evolved. H-heh…” He scratched the back of his head, taking a moment to feel the two horns behind him. So new, yet so familiar. “Wow…” Owen said again, looking at his claws, squeezing his hands.

    “Are you… okay?” Amia asked.

    “You’re… big!” Enet said, staring up. “Really big!”

    “Y-yeah,” Owen said. “Thanks! I guess I’m not too small after all, huh?”

    “Yeah!”

    “So… so you aren’t gonna kill us?” Willow asked.

    “W-was I really like that?” Owen said.

    “Not really, but… you know…” Willow hesitated, glancing at Manny.

    Everyone had a sort of cautious optimism at seeing Owen, fully evolved, behave like a normal Pokémon. Owen figured that they were just trying not to startle him, and while he appreciated the thought, he was hoping for at least a few cheers, or perhaps fanfare from ADAM’s strange body.

    “Nah, yeh were just scary good at fighting,” Manny said. “Good job at all that! Hey, how ‘bout we break the new body in, eh? Let’s have a rematch!”

    “Y-you? I—I don’t know if I should,” Owen said. “I could barely stand up against Azu, and isn’t he your weakest?”

    “Only by a li’l bit,” Manny said. “I dwarf ‘em all anyway. So yeh wanna go? One on one?”

    “W-well…!” Owen looked pleadingly at Amia and Rhys.

    Rhys sighed. “Very well. But if you feel yourself slipping, request to stop. Manny, you will respect that. Better we test Owen now than in a real battle.”

    “I will,” Manny said, knocking a claw against his chest-spike. “Lucario’s Honor, eh?”

    “Hm.”

    Manny led the way to the training area; Owen marveled at how much smaller it seemed now that he was so much taller. “I’m still not used to it,” he said. “I don’t think I was ever this size before in these caves!”

    “Are yer memories comin’ back yet?”

    “A little,” Owen said. “But… I don’t want to think back to them yet. I just want to enjoy being like this for a while before I, um, reflect.”

    Zena slithered up close to Owen on his right side, sizing him up, eyes following every part of him. At this size, they weren’t very awkward in comparison anymore. She was still larger, but not by much.

    “How do I look?” Owen asked.

    Zena flinched, turning away. “V-very good. I mean—! It… suits you. You look like a real dragon, now.”

    Owen blushed. “A-aw, well, I’m still just a Fire-Flying. But thanks. Maybe I can practice flying with actual wings next.”

    Gahi watched Owen walk, flying next to him with an envious growl. “I’m gonna evolve next,” he said. “Then we’re gonna fight. And then I’ll beat you. Then I’ll win!”

    Owen laughed. “You know, sure,” he said. “A little sparring match after you evolve. It’s a deal.” He winked at him. “But you’ll have to evolve first.”

    “Yer on,” Gahi hissed challengingly. Despite his tone, he smiled as well as a Vibrava could. Mispy rolled her eyes; Demitri just sighed. Gahi would never change.

    They stopped when they entered the sparring area again. The water from Demitri and Mispy training against Zena and Willow had evaporated, leaving the caves feeling a bit humid.

    Manny spun on his feet. “Okay, y’ready?”

    “I am,” Owen said.

    Manny went into his usual battle stance. Owen did the same. If one thing came back to him, it was his memories of battle. He closed his eyes and cleared his head of any interfering thoughts, then crouched down. His throat felt hot. His wings felt tingly, especially near the membrane. Why? He twitched them tentatively, seeing little embers forming along the membrane. He remembered.

    Owen could sense Manny’s nervousness. The Lucario was giving a front of bravado, but Owen smelled that tinge of fear on him and the over-tense muscles of his arms and legs. Why would Manny volunteer to fight him, then? Perhaps he was trying to train him like he trained the other synthetic Pokémon within his Orb.

    The Lucario shifted his feet and opened with a blurry dash forward. The sudden, rapid movement wasn’t overwhelming anymore. Instead, Owen made a minute, calculated jump back, and then a second one. Manny continued anyway, aiming to ram into Owen with his momentum. He was interrupted by a fiery explosion beneath him. The Fire Trap was planted without Owen even stomping his foot.

    “Bah—wh-y’think that’s enough ter get m—”

    Owen spewed a gout of fire toward Manny right when the Trap fell. Manny roared and launched an all-out attack in close quarters, desperate to at least land some sort of blow to shake Owen’s composure, but all Owen had to do was close his wings, creating a golden Protect barrier. Through a gap between his wings, Owen stared at Manny’s surprised expression. He wondered why. It was genuine—he sensed that much. Manny fought Mods like him before—but then again… this was the first time he fought one with this much latent experience.

    The Lucario jumped away. “Heh… okay, okay…” Manny said, shaking his head. “So yeh got some skills after all… Well, lookit that. And if that’s just you on yer own…”

    “Are we done fighting?” Owen asked, going into a neutral stance.

    Manny vanished from view for a split-second. Owen flinched and jumped forward, narrowly dodging an attack from the rear.

    “Bah, yer too good fer a sneak attack,” Manny said, shrugging. “Guess I’ll just have ter do something that won’t miss.” He aimed an Aura Sphere at Owen and fired. Owen cloaked himself in his wings for a second time, blocking it, but it didn’t work the second time. The next Aura Sphere hit him square in the chest.

    Owen grunted and stumbled back. Even if he was good at dodging like Gahi, he felt just as fragile—and Manny was no lightweight. He’d only be able to take a few more of those hits.

    “If Fire Trap is yer signature, then I just won’t move!” Manny announced, and then planted his feet down, moving only his paws to aim at Owen.

    “Ngh—!” Owen knew that he was right. If Manny didn’t move, he wouldn’t be able to activate any of his traps. He’d have to force a movement out of him. Owen knew just the way to do it. He still had one more trick under his scales, like one last buddy long lost. Concentrated, white, whirling gusts of wind swirled around his claws. When Manny fired his first Aura Sphere, Owen countered with a slash to the wind. The resulting strike, an Air Slash, countered the Aura Sphere. The explosion obscured Manny’s view just long enough for Owen to get near Manny; all he had to do was get close. Then, he jumped around and away from Manny and launched a second Air Slash while he was confused.

    “What—”

    The Air Slash exploded prematurely, right in front of Manny. The concentrated wind made a shockwave that knocked the Lucario off his feet. He flew through the air and looked down. “Bah—ain’t gonna work!” he said. He fired another sphere at the ground; the Fire Trap triggered and erupted, sending rocks in all directions. Owen used his wings to block the aftermath, but Manny landed right where the explosion happened. None of the other traps ignited.

    Owen cursed. “Well if you’re gonna do that, then—” Owen fired another Air Slash, but Manny knew his game. He launched an Aura Sphere in return and then hopped in the air. He stepped on the Fire Trap, but then tapped into Extremespeed, outrunning the very ignition delay of the traps. Before Owen had time to react, Manny was in front of him, too fast for Owen to use Protect this time. The blow was powerful, but not decisive; the Charizard grunted and stumbled away, clutching his chest. Manny held his paw up, aiming an Aura Sphere directly at Owen’s head.

    The Charizard panted, glaring at the sphere. He felt his senses wane slightly—his vision was focused entirely on Manny. He wasn’t sure if this was just working with the heat of battle or losing himself to it. He had a lot of fight left in him—and he wanted to keep going. He saw an easy counter to stop Manny from launching an attack—at least, he thought he did. No. If he moved, Manny would just fire. If only he could rip into him. Air Slash did wonders. He wanted to see him on the ground. His mind ached for this fight.

    No. Stop. Breathe.

    He also didn’t want to become a Charmander again. Strategizing for something beyond the battle itself, he knew he had to surrender. He bowed his head and let his wings drop. Manny smirked, and the Sphere vanished. He leaned over and helped Owen up.

    “Well, lookit you,” Manny said. “You actually stopped yerself.”

    “Ugh, I think you broke something,” Owen mumbled, wincing at the pain near his core.

    “Heh, maybe I overdid it a li’l,” he said. “We’ll get yeh a nice Oran Berry and it’ll heal yeh up right away. Maybe have Mispy take a look, too.”

    “Yeah,” Owen said.

    But Owen, despite his loss, knew that he was still relearning his old abilities. More importantly, he knew something else—that he was put in peril… and didn’t lose control. He knew to hold back. His heart rate normalized; his easy breathing calmed his aura. The flame at the tip of his tail flared up with confidence. He was in control. This body was his.

    A passing thought about Rim flashed in Owen’s mind. If it wasn’t for her, Owen knew he’d still be a Charmeleon, brooding about his origin. He’d be too afraid of being out of control of his own design. Now—he was ready to take full advantage of it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2019
  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    [​IMG]

    Welp, I guess Owen's looking pretty fly now.
    [​IMG]

    Nifty. But edgy flutter borb is still my favorite fire/flier and he's not even a pokémon. :V

    For an evolution chapter, this was surprisingly quiet, though I think that's by the plot's design since this whole arc of sorts was emphasizing the perils that the head of battle could put on Owen and something about undoing all his progress and all that jazz. And the fact that something peaceful (a chess game) led him to accept his Perceive ability emphasizes that further, I guess. It also plants that sort of sinister seed of "If it wasn't for Rim, this wouldn't have happened," which is probably what the Hunters want, but I guess Owen hasn't had that "Oh crap!" moment of realization that he might be playing into their hand.

    Anyway, given everything that did happen, it's fitting that he evolves surrounded by friends and family. And it seems like that's what the prose is trying to emphasize, too. Though, if I'm being honest, it's a bit disappointed that the characters got lumped together generically into "I like Team Alloy" and "Saving Guardians feels great." I think it would've been more impactful to draw attention to particularly happy memories Owen's had with them, especially if you want to go true shonen anime levels of "my friends are my power." There's also my big issue's with the prose handling Owen's inner monlogue: the mechanics. I don't know what happened here, but you've got a lot of strings of sentences starting with the same word, usually "He" or "Him." It got legitimately jarring at one point, which is the example I've quoted here:
    I didn't want to copy everything, since you can just CTRL+F anyway. But, yeah, this is it. Getting inside Owen's head is great and all that jazz, but not when it comes at the cost of having two paragraphs where nearly every sentence starts with "He." Legitimately tripped me up.

    Anyway, the Anam scene is, uh, a harmless non-sequitir and that's about all I've got to say on it... and the chapter as a whole, actually.

    Okay, speaking as someone working in medicine, pressure in your chest is a bad thing. Either your heart's about to give out or a Xenomorph is about to burst out of your ribcage. ... actually, I think that'd be the most interesting thing that could possibly happen to Demitri. Yeah, let's see that happen. Death's cheap in the world, anyway!

    "Yeah, we need 10 hours of Vs. matches between the two of us to unlock Mewtwo!"

    Tsunderetik has her priorities straight, I see.

    I look at this conversation and envision some pokemon in this world doing the exact same thing when their parents tell them that they're modest nature, when they wanted to be adamant.

    Okay, I'm calling hax. Charmander doesn't get Moody. IMMERSION RUINED. WORST STORY EVER 0/10.

    ... so, basically, Manny always finishes prematurely. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Owen confirmed to finally be in touch with his feminine side.

    "A grass orb, a bunch of spirits, and an everstone." Sheesh, Willow was right. What kind of mother are you, Amia? smdh...

    "You got that right, pardner." [takes swig of whiskey]

    AIM FOR THE HORN... S!
     
  19. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Well, Bulba's down for maintenance at the moment, so I'll be posting here instead.

    DO NOT INSULT THE MOMMY YOU FRICK

    Aw geez Owen, no throwing up your stomach-vine at the dinner table

    *narrows eyes* what do you know about that

    This is so epic, ADAM play Celebration by Kool & the Gang

    oh god oh frick it's a stealth rock watch out owen they love charizard flesh!!!

    ---

    Hmh, so I hate to say this, but I feel like the punch of Owen finally becoming a Charizard was kind of muted by it happening during a pretty mundane event. I do like the tidal wave of memories that came with it, though. But I think I also expected a bit more description of the transformation itself from Owen's perspective? You could argue that he was so deep inside his memory that he couldn't feel it, but it doesn't really match with the part where he's said to hold back his tears, as that requires you to be conscious of your own body, and I feel like growing a new set of limbs would be a stronger sensation.
     
  20. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Thanks for the feedback, guys! I handled you elsewhere. Now for the next chapter...


    Chapter 34 – Rest and Recovery

    With the confirmation that Owen was stable in his fully evolved form, Amia was more than happy to take him to Kilo Village with Rhys and Zena to find some supplies to repair his inventory bag. Anam, missing the warmth of the sun and the outdoors that the headquarters simply could not provide, tagged along with them with the intention of returning home. He heard that some of the Pokémon were wondering how he and James were doing, anyway.

    At first, Owen was worried that his strange appearance might make the Kilo Villagers worried. After all, compared to a normal Charizard, his proportions were different—not to mention the horns. But Amia assured him that it was fine.

    “We’ll just say you’re a southern Charizard,” Amia said. “If a Vulpix can be icy and we pass it off as southern, there’s no way they’ll look twice if we just say you’re from the south. Annexation was only a few decades ago, so I think we can afford that explanation.”

    “And you’re with me!” Anam said. “They’ll know you’re safe.”

    They appeared in the central arrival area in a flash of light. They stepped off the giant Waypoint; Owen marveled at how properly sized everything was now that he was as tall as most of the others. “Wow…” he said. “I kinda feel like I fit in with the other Hearts, now. Everything’s at the right size.”

    “Your size is much more fitting, now, Owen,” Zena commented. “I can almost talk to you at eye level, now.” Though, not quite. She still had to look down from her normal stance.

    “That’s good,” Rhys said. “This is technically the first time you’ve ever come to Kilo Village in this form. We were very careful to make sure you didn’t before.”

    “Yeah, I don’t have any memories coming back about here now that I’m a Charizard,” he said. “So that’s good—I didn’t accidentally, you know…”

    “I will get the supplies for your bag, Owen,” Rhys said. “Why don’t you and the others follow Anam to the Association to catch up with Nevren?”

    “Oh, that’s a great idea! You know, Rhys, what if we gave Owen’s old Everstone to the rest of Team Alloy? That should prevent them from evolving. They can go on a little Mission together! Maybe with you as an escort? Or me.” Amia looked down at Owen, smiling.

    “Or me,” Zena spoke up. “I wouldn’t mind, now that I also know the Suppression Aura if it’s needed.”

    “You know, I haven’t gone on a normal Mission in a while,” Owen said. “Feels like forever! Oh, but it’s already starting to get a little late in the afternoon…”

    “It could always be a quick one,” Amia offered. “But we do need to make sure they don’t evolve near you. Not yet. So, if you do go, make sure they keep that Everstone near them.”

    “…What do you mean, not yet?” Owen asked. “I thought I was over it. Isn’t it okay now? I can help calm them down if they aren’t ready!”

    “No, that’s… that’s not it,” Amia said. “There’s still something we need to be careful about, Owen. Don’t you remember?”

    “Remember…? No, I’m… I mean, I’m still kinda remembering stuff,” he said. “I didn’t take the time to think back yet. But it feels like… there’s still stuff missing. So, I think it’s still coming back to me.”

    “Hmm…” Amia said. “Well… if they ever evolve in front of you—don’t get too close to them, okay?”

    Owen hummed uncertainly. “Don’t get… too close. Okay.” Perhaps the black sparks that erupted from them could set him off. He still had to be careful about stressful situations, now that he thought about it. He had to meditate often. Even now, he felt the itch for battle. He hoped that would go away soon.

    The Charizard nodded, but then caught a few glances directed at him.

    “Hey, look at you!” said a Golem that seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps they had run into each other before his last reset. “Did you evolve? I never saw a Charizard before!”

    “I have, but you look more… slim!” commented a Noivern next to Golem. “It’s interesting! Are you from a different part of the region? Maybe the south? I heard the Pokémon can be pretty different down there.”

    “Y-yeah! I think I am! Must be why I look so different, ha… Southern, yeah.” Owen sighed. He passed as foreign. That was as much as he could hope for, he supposed. But then again, foreign wasn’t very far; as far as he knew, this was the only landmass in the whole world, beyond Zero Isle and that factory.

    Suddenly, Owen spotted a few kids running over.

    “Goodra Anam! You’re back!” said a little

    “Goodra, Goodra!” called a little Salandit riding atop a Salazzle’s head.

    “Association Head Goodra—you’re…!” Salazzle blinked. Owen recognized her—based on the lack of a scar—as Sugar. “What happened? Where have you been?”

    “It’s okay!” Anam said. “I was on a big, big mission! But I’m back now, and it’s okay! I’ve been doing blessings and stuff, too! But I was all holed up in the office during that, so I guess I never walked in the sun for a while…”

    “Were you successful?”

    “I’m still doing it! But I had some time to come back, since we’re still looking around. Did Nevren tell you all about the artifacts we’re trying to gather?”

    “Y-yes! In fact, my sister has been looking far when missions are slow…” Sugar tilted her head so the Salandit on top didn’t fall during his shuffling. “But they’re running out of safe places to search.”

    “Nearly lost my wing,” Noivern mumbled, looking away.

    “Then they must be in the dangerous ones!” Anam said. “Don’t worry. We can handle those. But first, I need to see Nevren! Is he in my room?”

    “He should be. A-and it’s good to see you again, Goodra!” Sugar gave a little nod. She looked up at the Salandit. “Come, Saffron. Let’s go home.”

    “Thanks!” Anam giggled and waved. Then, the slimy Pokémon climbed the stairs and headed into the Heart Headquarters. Owen was careful to not slip on the slime on his way in.

    “Wow, it’s a little cramped in here, isn’t it?” Owen said.

    “Oh, it’s not so bad,” Amia said. “I think you’re just too used to being so cute and small!”

    “M-Mom…”

    “Ohh, I’m sorry, dear. I couldn’t resist. But it’s so new to stand next to you and be shorter! Alex is so proud, dear. He wanted me to let you know.”

    “Right…” Owen sighed. “Well, let’s just see what Nevren found for us. And I want to know if he knew that I could evolve and handle it or not.”

    “Well, he’s a bit difficult to read, dear. Don’t forget that he’s an Alakazam—I feel like he’ll only really let you to know the truth if he wants you to.”

    “Comforting.” Owen snorted. “But I think my Perception and stuff will make that a little hard for him.”

    “If I sense he is trying to deceive you,” Zena said, “I will be sure he stays hydrated.”

    They entered the office Nevren was looking over some of the newer reports that came in. He didn’t even know who it was that visited this time. “Ah, more information? If you have a report, please leave it on the desk.”

    “It’s me, Nevren!” Anam said. “Oh, and Owen! Look!”

    Nevren finally raised his head. His eyes lifted. “Owen! You evolved!” he said. “My goodness, when did that happen?”

    “Just today,” Owen said proudly, hands on his hips. “I’ve been feeling pretty good about it, if you ask me. A whole day earlier! Not even sunset.”

    “Well, not sunset here,” said Amia. “It’s probably already quite late at Hot Spot Cave, and we just can’t tell since it’s underground.”

    “Oh, yeah,” Owen nodded. “It’s crazy what a little warping around can do to time.”

    “Well, the position of the sun,” Nevren said. “After all, if you move fast enough, you can outpace the time of day by the sun’s position. Or you could cut the day’s length in half. The planet isn’t very large, unfortunately.”

    “Unfortunately?” Amia repeated. “What an odd word, Nevren. I think the planet is just fine!”

    “Well, it’s a bit on the small side, wouldn’t you think?” Nevren said. “The living population can’t be more than a few million.”

    “That’s—a very big number, Nevren!” Amia said. “Honestly!” she giggled. “Such grand statements. The stars are too far away to think of other worlds.”

    “Indeed, they are,” Nevren said. “Well! Owen, how are you enjoying your new body?”

    “I love it,” Owen said. “I feel like I’m finally in the right scales. And the wings are really cool, too.” He flapped them lightly, careful not to blow at the many reports on the table. “But, about that…” he said. “Nevren, why did you… give me that stone?”

    “The stone?” Nevren said. “Ahh… I imagine you figured it out by now—that I gave it to you because I was afraid the Suppression Aura wouldn’t be enough to contain you if you went berserk.”

    “The—oh, right.” He glanced at Zena, then his mother.

    “And the others, as they learn how to duplicate it,” Nevren said. “You understand. In case Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi lose themselves on their next evolution.”

    “O-oh…” Owen said. He reconsidered his planned questions. “So… you were just making sure that…?”

    Nevren sighed. “There were three options,” he said. “The first option was to continue your evolving over and over until you were finally stable enough to not reset. We have done that for a long time. You weren’t dangerous if we knew how to contain you. The second option would be what I did—keep your evolution suppressed outright, in case you became too powerful or too risky to put in your final form, even for a moment. With your Mystic powers, you were starting to resist the memory-loss effects of the Suppression Aura. If you went berserk, there was no telling whether you would be able to revert back. Then, we would have an Owen that was irreparably… damaged. So, we suppressed your aura until we were certain that you were stable enough to handle it.”

    “I guess… hm,” Owen said. “Guess it’s a good thing I was stable, huh?”

    “I could sense it. Rhys could, too. The way your aura feels now, compared to the other times, is… different.” Amia said. “You’re… stable. But—don’t push yourself too hard, okay? We still need to be careful…”

    “Perhaps think about me or the others if you need to calm down,” Zena offered.

    “I know,” Owen said. “I’ll even have my Mystic power help a little, right? Nevren?”

    “Hmm, in theory, that could very well work,” he said. “Mystic power could calm the…” Nevren paused, considering this. “Hm, actually—would you mind if I wrote some notes down? Thank you for the visit, I appreciate it. But I need to consider a few things. Ah—and there’s a sighting in the Frozen Oceanside to the north. Undoubtedly Ice. Perhaps prepare a team tomorrow?”

    “O-oh! Okay!” Amia said. “Thanks? And, er, good luck with the notes?”

    Owen nodded. “Um, Nevren?” he said. “What was option three?”

    “Hm? Three? Ah, yes—well, if we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you.”

    Zena tensed.

    “O-oh, that’s… that’s good.” Owen gulped. “Well, um, thanks for the info.”

    “Yes, I shall report to you my findings sometime tomorrow. Thank you.” He was already face-deep in his notes.

    Owen slowly stepped out, hesitant to even make a sound. Amia gently reached up to hold his shoulder. He glanced back and tittered once they were outside. “I—guess I can’t blame him. He’s very… straightforward, and…”

    “Utilitarian, perhaps,” Amia sighed. “A little too much. But that’s Nevren for you.”

    “Perhaps he should be the Ice Guardian,” Zena mumbled.

    Anam nodded. “I wouldn’t let him, though. I’d just… um… let you live in my Orb, or something! Like what Manny did! Except, um… maybe I’d find a way to not kill you when I did that. I think there’s a way. Umm…”

    Owen sighed. “At least I’m past that,” he said. “Glad I waited to evolve.”

    “We should take a look at that Ice area, huh? I guess that’s one little disadvantage to evolving,” Owen said. “Now that I’m part Flying, I don’t have a total advantage against it. But hey, Fire, right?”

    “Frozen Oceanside has a lot of Water Types as well, Owen,” Amia said. “I think you should stay back for this one. No matter what form you take—your normal self or Grass—you won’t be in a good position. Why don’t you let us handle this one?”

    Owen frowned. “Well—I mean, I guess so.”

    “Don’t you worry,” Amia said. “I think we’ll have a great team! Well, I might stay behind, too. After our encounter with Brandon, maybe bringing the Fire Guardian to the Ice Guardian would give the wrong impression.”

    “Are we sure it’s the Ice Guardian, though?” Owen said. “I mean, the Guardian could be throwing us off. What if it’s actually the Dark Guardian or something? Willow’s the Fairy Guardian but she lived in a field like where Klent lived. And Anam’s the Ghost Guardian but he lives in town! Well, lived. Now he’s with us. So…”

    “I don’t like Ice,” Anam said. “It makes my goo all crackly and hard.”

    “But as the Ghost Guardian, surely you would be able to handle that,” Rhys said.

    Anam shook his head. “I think the others will be okay, right? I’ll… um… I’ll go on a scouting mission! Yeah. To one of the more dangerous places, like… um… oh! How about Dark Mist Swamp?”

    “That’s… a very bad idea,” Rhys said. “Dark Mist Swamp has a poison so potent that not even Steel Types like myself can last in it.”

    “Yeah, but did we ever bring a Mystic close enough to feel if one of us live there? We should try!” Anam said.

    “Oh, maybe I can—” Owen caught Amia’s look. “M-maybe I’ll… just… go on a mission today and train with the others at home tomorrow, or something.”

    “That’s better,” Amia said, giving a firm squeeze on the Charizard’s shoulder.

    With that, they gathered supplies for Owen’s bag—and stopped by Sugar ‘n Spice for some treats—and returned home. Anam ended up coming with them back to Hot Spot, saying that Nevren let him take a break from all the paperwork. The others assumed this meant giving Nevren a break from having Anam near paperwork.

    Owen was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t run into Deca along the way.

    <><><> ​

    “Hey, um, Zena?” Willow said from atop Owen’s head, seated right between his eyes.

    “Hmm? Yes?” The Milotic asked, looking at the water deeper in the cave. She had come across it during one of her morning strolls in the caverns and had visited there every day since. It was warm, but still far enough from the magma that it was only like a nice bath, rather than something for cooking.

    “Tell me more about that friend. Because I keep forgetting who it is. Anam reminded you?”

    “Friend?” Owen asked. “I think I forgot about that, too.”

    “I’m still really upset that I didn’t remember her until now,” Zena said, huffing. “How could I? She was wonderful, and I forgot in my isolation, I’m sure. But now that I’m training, maybe my head is starting to clear up.” She breathed slowly. “She was a Lugia. Her name was Emily. She was so strong… Now that I think about it, she had a lot of Mystic properties to her. Maybe she was, but I can’t remember it clearly. But it couldn’t have been Water… I remember I had it while she was still around. Maybe she still is alive…! Because, well…” She trailed off. “I haven’t seen her in my spirit world. Surely she’d visit.”

    Owen dipped his claws into the warm water. It didn’t quite appeal to him in either of his forms. Too warm for his Grassy self, too wet for his Fiery self. “How come Anam reminded you of her?” he asked.

    “I’m… not sure. I don’t remember,” Zena said. “I just need to clear my head more, I suppose. Maybe it was her personality. But Emily… I want to meet her again. I think I know where I can find her, if you’d like to come with me. And… hmm… I don’t really know who else.”

    “Where would she be?”

    “The ocean,” Zena said.

    “…Okay…” Willow said. “And where in the ocean?”

    “Anywhere,” Zena said. “She’d know where you are. She always did… Yes, I remember now—she used to rescue Pokémon that were stranded in the ocean all the time! That was her… I suppose her talent. She was a healer, like Mispy.”

    “And if she knew where everyone was, maybe she had some sort of Perception like I did,” Owen said, feeling a rare sense of kinship. “Wait, does that mean she was Synthetic?”

    “No, I don’t think so,” Zena said. “Oh—we just have to meet her.” The Milotic seemed excited, now. “Tomorrow. Let’s go to the beach tomorrow and find her!”

    Owen grinned. “That sounds like a great idea!” Aside from the water.

    “Okay!” Willow said.

    “Owen?” someone called from behind.

    He looked back and saw a Decidueye. “Oh, James!” Owen said. It had been so long, he nearly forgot about him. Between Anam being at the Heart Headquarters so often and keeping his spirits withdrawn, he hadn’t seen James in days. “How’re you doing?”

    “Quite well,” James said. “I was sent here to deliver a message: Mispy orders you to take them on a mission.”

    “She orders me?” Owen asked.

    “As the leader of Team Alloy, she said,” James clarified.

    Owen’s tail flared up. “I thought I was the leader now, or something.”

    “She takes it back.”

    Zena giggled. “I thought Gahi would be the one most upset about you evolving first. I guess Mispy had it bottled up inside. You should really be careful, Owen.”

    “I have, like, all the Type advantages over her, now!” Owen protested.

    “You’re free to dispute it,” James replied. “I am only relaying the message.”

    Owen huffed. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Zena, do, uh, d’you want to come as our Suppressor, just in case? Five is a little unwieldy for a mission, but it should be okay. I mean, who’s gonna reprimand us, right? Anam knows why.”

    Zena nodded. “I’d love to, Owen.”

    <><><> ​

    “It’s kinda weird that they actually let us go,” Owen said, walking through Kilo Village under the late-noon sun. “But we made a promise that you wouldn’t evolve, so we’re going to take on a not-so-dangerous mission, alright? And make sure you stay close to that bag.”

    “Right,” Demitri said. “And we’re safe from Rim, right?”

    “If she doesn’t want to bother you, Owen,” Zena said, “then hopefully that will continue to be the case…”

    “Mnn, I’m not so sure about that,” Owen said, crossing his arms. “But at least now I’ll be able to sense her way before she tries to attack!” He grinned, showing his teeth.

    Zena flinched slightly—they seemed a lot sharper now that he was a Charizard.

    Owen glanced at Zena. “Are you okay?” he asked.

    “Oh—yes, I’m fine.”

    “Oh, okay. Sorry,” Owen said. “I’m still trying to get used to reading your kind of body language. I thought you were about to attack me or something!”

    “Oh, not at all!” Zena said. “I was just surprised at how sharp your teeth looked.”

    “Sharp?” Owen ran his tongue along a few of them. “I guess they’re a little sharp.”

    He looked back at the rest of his team. Gahi ended up hovering on Demitri’s left, with Mispy on his right. Owen’s eyes lingered on the three. This was the first time that they would be going on a mission together as a full Team Alloy, including knowledge of what they used to be. ‘Team Alloy’ wasn’t complete, but it was close.

    His heart fluttered—he barely knew them, at least with his current memories, yet it felt like he was catching up with old friends.

    The pang of frustration he felt about those sealed memories was stifled when he spotted many other Hearts walking in and out of the main building. Owen wobbled where he stood, watching all of the bodies moving at once. Mispy jabbed at his back to snap him back to attention.

    “You okay?” Mispy asked, the first to enter the headquarters.

    “Yeah—sorry,” he said. “Got distracted.”

    “Hey, look,” Demitri said. “Isn’t that the scarred Salazzle you were talking about? Spice?”

    Indeed, it was. Spice was looking at the board, checking the notices with a Delphox standing next to her.

    “Oh, goodness,” Zena said, quickly averting her eyes.

    “Yeah, it looks pretty nasty,” Owen said. “But I heard that it doesn’t actually hurt. It just looks really bad.”

    When Spice turned around, it was unmistakable. He winced at the sight of the scar.

    Spice scoffed at him, clearly used to such a reaction. “Like what you see?”

    “Um—yes! No! Wait—no! I mean—it’s okay,” Owen said.

    Demitri gave a polite bow. “Sorry. Owen knows you from your chocolate store.”

    “Owen?” Spice looked at him, but then elbowed the Delphox, eyes wide. “Leo, look. That’s the Charmand—well, Charizard I was talking about. The one from the mission.” She tapped her chest. “Holy Mew! Congratulations on evolving, little guy!”

    Not little. “Thanks!” Owen said, grinning. “We’re actually looking for a mission. Are, uh… huh. Slim pickings…” Or rather, no pickings. The board was devoid of missions. It happened from time to time, according to what Demitri had told Owen before, but it was always a disappointment. Then again, they were pretty late on grabbing them this time.

    “Yeah, bit of a slow day, unfortunately,” Leo said. “I was thinking about just taking the day off to—”

    Owen tilted his body to see a single mission still present.

    “Oh, don’t bother with that one,” Leo said. “It’s cursed.”

    “Oh, stuff it,” Spice said, shaking her head. “Hey, do you want to take this one?” she asked. “Leo’s too much of a wimp to take it on.”

    “Excuse me, I am not a wimp. I’ll have you know, as Team Alight’s leader, I’m the least wimpy of—Yowch!”

    Spice whipped Leo on his backside with her tail.

    “Here, Charizard,” Spice said, passing the mission posting.

    Outlaw Aerodactyl recovery mission – research task – Void Forest.

    “Research task?” Owen mumbled. “Wait, Aerodactyl…” Familiar. That name was incredibly familiar. But he couldn’t place why. He knew he’d be standing for the whole day if he didn’t move on. He continued to read.

    Summer, moon 3, day 28. Outlaw Aerodactyl escaped custody and fled to Void Forest, followed by relocating southwest to the Abyssal Borderlands. Follow his path and search for any signs of him, and arrest if possible. Otherwise, return after a thorough search. As per protocol, do not approach the Chasm of the Void. Do not enter the Abyss. Do not interact with southern anomalies. Do not touch dark clouds.

    All the same, typical warnings for any mission to the southern area of Kilo. Owen considered it almost a routine disclaimer. “Sure, we’ll take it on.”

    “Well, you heard them,” Leo sighed. “My hands are tied.”

    Owen appreciated Leo’s generosity. “Alright, I guess we’ll get going!” he said. “You guys ready?”

    “A simple recovery mission doesn’t sound too bad. This Aerodactyl… won’t be trouble, will he?”

    “He won’t be around,” Spice said with a snort. “That mission statement is too hopeful. He’s long gone and fled someplace else, but maybe we can find a sign or two of what he took.”

    “Okay, got it,” Owen said. If that was the case, it was the perfect mission for them to take.

    Owen barely had enough time to look over the sheet again while he walked down the stairs.

    “Owen, watch where you’re walking,” Demitri said. “You could trip down the stairs.”

    “Huh?” Owen asked, glancing away from the paper. “No, it’s fine. I can see the stairs.”

    Demitri stared incredulously. Mispy quickly wrapped a vine around Demitri, sensing his misstep. “Uff—sorry. Um, Owen? You aren’t even looking at the stairs.”

    Zena, meanwhile, struggled with her serpentine body going along the steps, nearly rolling the whole way down when she lost her grip. Owen brushed his tail in front of her to stop one of those falls. She gave him a grateful little smile.

    “I know,” Owen said. “It’s fine. I’m getting better with this whole Perception thing. I kinda practiced it all night in Enet’s den. No light, so I had to see in other ways. I can walk without seeing.”

    “Oh.”

    “Wish I had that,” Gahi mumbled.

    They passed over the Waypoint and took time to reacquaint themselves with their new surroundings, from the gray ground to the dead trees. Zena flinched at the sudden change in atmosphere, as well as the ominous, damp chill that ran through the ground. It reminded her too much of her old caves. She silently slithered a bit closer to Owen for his warmth.

    “So… Creepy? Not creepy? What’s the verdict here?” Demitri asked.

    “I’m going with creepy,” Owen said, sighing. “Let’s just go through. Be careful around here.” He read through the mission prompt’s more intricate details. “Lots of feral Ghosts that like to frighten you to feed on your panicked life energy, or something. They eat the flare that comes off of you when you panic. I actually read that they turn that flare into energy. Kinda cool, when you think about it.”

    “Oh. Great,” Gahi said. “Spirit-nibblers.”

    “So basically,” Demitri said, fiddling with his claws, “if we stay calm, they won’t be attracted to us?”

    “Hope so.”

    This was not the case. Right when they passed through the first distortion, with the Dungeon’s typical, structured walls rising above their heads, the atmosphere instantly intensified into one of chilling cold. Haunter in particular plagued this portion of the Dungeon, rising from the ground or walls. They attempted to claw at Owen and the others, but Team Alloy was smarter and sharper. Owen focused on his fire attacks here, figuring that they were the most familiar, and dispatched of them with ease. Gahi had an easy time swiping at them with his high speeds; Mispy kept any small damage from piling up.

    Zena even managed to frighten a few of the feral Ghosts away by summoning her own Water spirits to briefly fight alongside them. The team joked with one another about the Ghosts bring frightened by spirits.

    Unfortunately, Demitri kept attracting more.

    “Th-thuh-that was th-the last one, right?” Demitri said.

    “Maybe, if you stopped getting scared!” Gahi hissed. “C’mon, thicken those scales! Oooo, I’m a big scary Ghost! I’m gonna eat yer aura!” The Vibrava opened his jaw as wide as it could go, chomping right next to Demitri. Owen had a feeling that it would have been more effective if he was still a Trapinch.

    The Fraxure screamed anyway.

    Owen absently wondered if this was offensive to Anam. He glanced at the mission paper’s prompts upon passing through the seventh segment.

    Upon entering the Dungeon gap, do not proceed. Aerodactyl did not enter the Dungeon depths, and instead exited via the left distortion. Per natural precautionary measures, do not sleep in the Dungeon gap.

    “Don’t sleep? What?” Gahi said.

    Owen summarized the rest. “Looks like sometimes, when sleeping here, explorers wake up in a completely different place, sometimes with a whole day missing from their memory. That’s… comforting.”

    “Okay.” At this point, Demitri was a trembling wreck. “I’m done. Let’s go.”

    “Can’t go yet, scalebag,” Gahi said. “We still gotta make that last trip ter the Abyssal whatevers.”

    “Uh, Abyssal Borderlands,” Owen said, checking the top of the mission statement. “It’s not too far from here once we leave. C’mon.”

    Demitri stuck close to Mispy’s side, practically brushing up against her scales. She leaned back against him, nibbling at her lower lip. “It’s okay,” she said quietly, though she wrapped her vines around him while they walked.

    Gahi clicked his jaws. The cold atmosphere immediately let up. The Dungeon’s exit led them to another open field, this time lined with lifeless, tanned rocks. “At least we didn’t see any weird black clouds,” he said. “Maybe they’re just rumors that the Hearts are too spooked ter verify.”

    They continued to walk, but then Demitri gulped. “Is that…?”

    The Chasm of the Void. Approximately a fourth the length of Kilo Village, the giant crater looked like a pool of motionless, black ink. No matter what angle the sun hit it, the bottom was never visible, and whatever that black substance was didn’t reflect any light back. The ‘Abyss’ was that blackness.

    “So, stay away from that,” Owen said to them. “Let’s just walk kinda close, look for anything out of the ordinary, and head back.”

    “Aside from the big, black void right there?” Gahi said. “What kinda Dungeon anomaly is that supposed to be?!”

    “It might actually just be a Guardian,” Owen said.

    Yep, Star replied.

    Owen jolted. “S-Star!” he said. Can you stop doing that?!

    Sorry, sorry! I just caught word that you’re heading to that place. You know that’s a restricted area, right?

    I mean, yeah, but we’re Hearts. We can go here. And that’s part of the mission.

    Okay. But be careful, alright? Seriously, do not get close to that thing. The Dark Guardian is nice, but… I don’t know enough about him to feel safe about it. Guy’s weird.

    “Is Owen okay?” Demitri said.

    “Star,” Mispy said.

    “Hmph,” Zena rolled her eyes. “It’s probably not that important.”

    If you say so, Owen said dismissively.

    Okay no, listen, I know you think I’m kinda shady and stuff, but seriously, do not get too close. I get bad vibes from the guy, just like Anam’s realm. I hate going there. Okay?

    Owen’s hands ached at the thought of Anam’s Ghost Realm. “Let’s just be careful,” Owen told the others, beating his wings a few times to keep them limber.

    “Let’s start searching for any clues of Aerodactyl,” Owen said.

    “Can’t you just use your Perception and get this done in, like, five seconds?” Demitri asked.

    “That’s true, Owen. Why don’t you use this as a moment to get some practice in? We’ll check… er…” Zena paused. “If you can see everything around is, there isn’t much we can do to help, is there?”

    “Well, it might be a little unpolished,” Owen said. “So, I’ll have you guys check out a few places that seem suspicious.” He looked at the mission statement. “It’s only this part of the Chasm that we have to check, so we don’t even have to walk around the whole thing.”

    “Good,” Demitri said. Mispy nodded with him.

    Owen closed his eyes and tried to put his Perception to use again. This time, he closed his eyes and tried to tune out his other senses, too—focusing entirely on his surroundings. He felt every detail. Every pebble and every leaf. He felt the rocks beneath the surface. The—

    Owen slammed face-first into the ground.

    “O-Owen!” Zena rushed toward him, pulling him up. “What happened?”

    “Unghh, who pushed me?” Owen said, rubbing his bleeding snout.

    Mispy approached to heal him, but then said, “You fell.”

    “You did, Owen. You just… took a step and fell forward. Are you okay?”

    “I think I tried sensing too hard,” Owen said. “I’ll… I’m gonna sit down next time.”

    “Did you sense anything suspicious?” Zena asked.

    Owen shook his head. He then looked at the Chasm and its infinite darkness, shivering. “One more check. Then let’s go.”

    “No objections here,” Demitri said, hugging himself with his tiny arms.

    Owen breathed slowly. It was a lot like meditating, now that he was in a sitting position. He flicked his huge tail and wrapped it in front of him to take up as little space as possible, and then concentrated. The rocks, the leaves, underground…

    Then his senses touched upon the Chasm, and then into the Abyss.

    Owen gulped, heartrate increasing. He kept going, just in case. Just a little further and he’d scan as much as he could without feeling overwhelmed again. He never scanned something this in depth before—that he could remember, at least—but it was for the mission. Maybe Aerodactyl dropped something in the Abyss?

    It was just more and more darkness. It kept going. He didn’t know how far the bottom was, but with his powers still awakening, he couldn’t go very far. Then he felt something else. Arms? No. Not quite. But it was something. They were swirling inside, slithering in the inky blackness.

    Then, suddenly, the slithering stopped. He saw eyes. They stared at him.

    Hello.

    Owen’s whole body lunged backwards and he broke out of his trance. “AUGH! M-Mispy!” He shook away the two huge vines that had wrapped around him.

    “What are you doing?!” Mispy hissed.

    “What’re you talking about?! I was Perceiving!”

    “No!” Mispy said, thwacking him on the head with her left vine.

    “Ow!” Owen snapped, smacking her vine away. “I think this whole leader thing is getting to your head!”

    Mispy smacked him again. “Look!”

    Zena had been trying to pull him away by the arm with her ribbons; he only now noticed.

    “What?” Owen said, but then turned to the Abyss.

    He was only a few steps away from falling in.

    “W-wait, when did I—”

    “Let’s go,” Mispy said, pulling Owen back. “We’re leaving.”

    “W-wait! I don’t think I finished scanning!”

    “We aren’t gonna find anything, Owen,” Demitri said, shivering. “That’s what the mission said could’ve happened. Let’s just report back and go home; I’m done.”

    “Yeah, I’m kinda bored, too,” Gahi said. “Finding a trace of Aero ain’t gonna do much now. Been so long, y’know?”

    “But—” Owen protested.

    I’m leader,” Mispy said, searching for their Badge. “We’re done.”

    Owen’s fire glowed challengingly, but he relented with a smoky huff. “Fine. I need some sleep, anyway. I think I’m losing it…” Maybe Leo was right. This place was cursed.

    Mispy found one of their Badges and pulled it out.

    And what did you learn? Star quipped.

    Owen ignored her.

    “When we get home,” Owen said to the others, “I’m taking a nap.”

    “Likewise,” Zena said.

    The rest of Team Alloy agreed. In a flash of light, they vanished for Kilo Village.

    Hello?
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019

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