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The Quest for the Legends, now with its ILCOETH revision!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Dragonfree, Apr 26, 2004.

  1. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    HORSE FIGHT HORSE FIGHT HORSE FIGHT

    Oh my god Robin is not willing to let us forget about this subplot.
    Hot DAMN the setup for this subplot is real and it is killing me. Rick is going to find out very soon and it is going to be terrifying and possibly result in more Legendary fight and I still don't buy that whole "oh well Rick caught a lot of them and they're safe in his gym probably" Carl having Volcaryu was waaaayyyyy more secure.


    The battle flowed well enough for me, did a good job of bringing in all the characters despite there being so many participants, though I gotta admit, it did feel 100% hopeless within like the first minute. Like "wow they really have NO shot at this at all, there's definitely going to be a twist because they are not winning this--"
    OH NO THEY'RE NOT REAL ARE THEY AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    But then....wow Waraider is powerful if he can maintain eight Legendaries worth of power.

    I really liked how Mark was the most on top of things during Waraider's meltdown, and basically the only one with any kind of tact. How long had you planned for the herd to all be personifications of Waraider? I'm guessing it wasn't the case when they were first created, but is probably a pretty old idea at this point.

    Ogod we only have six chapters left and four major plot points of Mitch drama, RICK DRAMA, the Mystery of Mew and the Mystery of Chalenor. AUGH.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  2. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Thanks a lot for the thoughtful reviews!

    Haha, fair point, particularly the bit regarding clothes. This wasn't a sentence I mulled over extensively for plausibility.

    It doesn't have a contraction because the emphasis is meant to be on "is", in which case you wouldn't contract it? I mean, I guess I could italicize it, but that seems to convey a heavier emphasis than I'm going for.

    She knows basically what happened - Mark explained the situation to all the Pokémon in chapter 54 - but May herself has not talked to Spirit about it, or any of her Pokémon besides Stantler, and she's generally wanted to keep it that way.

    Yeah, he did a pretty terrible job on this one. That's mostly because from the start, he hasn't really believed they could convince them to agree diplomatically; as far as he's concerned, the unicorns are nuts and some of them are hopelessly contrarian, and although he's nervous about the fight and wants to try diplomacy, he's very quick to give up after he sees Emphire and Freezaroy won't agree, because in his experience, none of them ever change their minds; after a couple of token attempts to get Waraider to override them, and the predictable responses, he just figures it's a lost cause. Chaletwo got the job sort of by default, because he's a legendary and he knows the other legendaries (and usually he hasn't been this bad), and he had told everyone they were weird and unreasonable and negotiating probably wouldn't work; by the time it becomes clear that no, he's genuinely terrible at this and somebody else could do a better job, there's not a lot of time left for anyone to step in (although Mark does try at the end; it's just too little and too late).

    I... don't really think they're that similar, beyond the basic idea of "Mark feels inadequate because other people's Pokémon are stronger than his", which was intentionally a running theme in the chapter? The bit about Robin's Charizard you're referring to is presumably "Charizard strained to keep up, and Mark couldn’t help but be painfully aware of how effortless Robin’s Charizard’s flight seemed in comparison"; he's reacting to a similarish situation here, where his Weavile faints and Leah's doesn't, and he still feels inadequate, but he frames it differently (Leah's been training five years longer than him so of course her Pokémon are stronger, while there's no reason to think Robin's Pokémon would naturally be stronger than his), focuses on different feelings (in battle he specifically feels that he's not contributing much to the fight compared to Leah, whereas in the earlier bit with Robin's Charizard they're not in battle and he's just noticing the difference in effort expended between the two of them and feeling pained by it), and none of the phrasing is at all related. I don't really think I see it.

    Hah. In the original plan, Tyranitar killed Taylor in the League battle. Like, after beating Mewtwo^2 because he's a Dark-type, he just walked across the arena and stepped on him. It was also an Elite Four system for some reason (where whoever beats an Elite Four member takes their place), so they were alone in a closed room and there were no spectators. And after that... ~something~, I didn't know what would happen after that but it'd be awesome, obviously.

    All very good points, and I really should have realized that sentence was clumsy because this is exactly one kind of thing I've been trying to do better. I think I never did because it was literally the last sentence of the chapter, so when I got there I just sort of slipped over it to move on to "All right, finished this round of proofreading!"

    That's an excellent point and in hindsight I totally agree. I think if I were to do this battle over I'd try to focus more on the stronger Pokémon in the fight (Leah's and Ryan's) while spending more time on each individual subfight, and try to really show them doing something awesome that actually makes it seem like they have a shot, even as Mark feels pathetically inadequate.

    Recalling and sending out immediately would definitely not magically get rid of stat drops in this universe; being in a ball for some time might, but that'd mean naturally wearing off because they're not in complete stasis in the ball, not the ball just wiping it out. Healing items can deal with minor injuries and exhaustion, but can't replace proper medical care (even Pokémon Center healing machines and the pocket version can't).

    NOPE.

    Ahaha, it is actually totally not. I realized there was only one unicorn during a shower I took when I was NaNoing the first draft in 2012. Early in the month, before I got to this chapter, obviously, but yeah. It evolved out of earlier plans for the unicorns to represent different emotions because why not, though; it just occurred to me then that this made way more sense if that was literally what they were.

    Well, probably seven. I've pretty much decided on 77 chapters by now. One-Shot B is getting its own chapter.

    Anyway! Here's the promised extra. As usual with extras, it's completely optional; it's just an extra look into young Waraider's confused mind and how his relationship with the other unicorns developed, with a bonus cameo appearance by young Chaletwo.


    Chapter 70 extra: Not Alone

    Waraider is not alone. He has never been alone.

    Ever since he was created, he has heard voices. They’re a constant, comforting presence. He can’t see them, but he can hear them.

    One warns him of danger, of things that might happen and things that are happening, that hurt, could hurt, could go wrong. When she talks, a chill runs through him, and he shivers; she must be an Ice-type. He can imagine her, icicles in her mane and tail, powdery snow swirling around her body. She’s a she; he’s not sure how he knows, but that’s how he imagines her. Her name, he realized one day – did she tell him? He’s not sure, but he knows – is Freezaroy.

    Another asks questions, wants to know everything. Why is the grass green, where does the wind come from, where do the mortal Pokémon go when they die? Freezaroy doesn’t like that last question, but he asks it anyway, his attention flitting this way and that to everything that interests him, quick as lightning, and pays her no mind. Indeed, he’s an Electric-type. Bright, leaping sparks form a mane down the back of his neck. His name is Electhrone. Waraider knows; he doesn’t know how, but he knows.

    Sometimes Waraider meets other Pokémon and talks to them, but many are wary of him. One of the voices wants to tell them everything, just to share it with someone and hoping they share in return, and her name is Mysticrown. But even when they listen to him they don’t stop being wary; in fact, they often start to act strange, especially when he talks about the voices, and then he realizes they’re avoiding him, don’t want to talk to him. Another voice appears, a voice that burns, a Fire-type, Emphire; she thinks he should attack them, show them the power that they’re so afraid of. But Natruler, who is soft and calm and comforting like the breeze in the trees and the swaying grass, says he shouldn’t hurt others. So he leaves them alone and retreats to some of the places that he likes where he feels a little better, and yet another one of the voices is dark and a little scary and his name is Darkhan and he tells Waraider to never, ever try to befriend those Pokémon again, because they hurt him, and they’ll surely do it again because they’re bad, bad, bad.

    So he spends more and more time in his places, where the Pokémon all know of him and usually keep away. And then there’s another voice, Seasar, who says no one will ever want to talk to him or care about him, and when he talks, Waraider feels like he’s drowning.

    But he is not alone. He has the voices. They’re the only friends he’ll ever need, and they’ll never leave him. He talks to them instead, and he understands them and they understand him. Mysticrown still wants to talk to other Pokémon, so he still does, sometimes. But he doesn’t need them. The voices are enough.

    -------

    One day he talks to a Pachirisu. “You’re a legendary Pokémon?” the little squirrel asks him, wide-eyed with awe, and Mysticrown says he should say yes, so he does.

    “What’s that like?” asks the Pachirisu.

    Waraider pauses to think, unsure how to answer. “Mew told me I should try to watch over mortal Pokémon and help them. But I’m not sure I know how.”

    “Mew?” the Pachirisu asks, gaping. “You’ve met Mew?”

    “Mew created me,” Waraider responds.

    “Oooh. That’s so cool! How old are you?”

    Waraider glances away and then back. “I was made only a few months ago. I still have a lot to learn.”

    “Really? But you’re a legendary! Like what?”

    He takes a breath. “My power,” he says. “I have a lot of power, but I can’t control it well yet. I don’t know what I should use it for. Mew said I could choose it for myself.”

    “Wow! That’s amazing!” The Pachirisu lets out little sparks of excitement. “Can you show me what you can do?” she says eagerly.

    Waraider hesitates, but the Pachirisu is looking at him, starry-eyed, and Mysticrown wants to show her. He gathers his powers and stomps one foot, and the earth shakes underneath them. He can just see the Pachirisu’s eyes widen further before she falls to the ground, shivering, and then lies still. Startled, Waraider prods her with a hoof, but she doesn’t respond.

    As he stares at the little Pokémon’s unmoving body, Freezaroy cries out in despair. “You killed her!” she screams. “She’s dead!”

    “Oh, no, you hurt her,” murmurs Natruler, not accusing, she’s never like that, just sad. “Can’t you help her, somehow?”

    “You can’t help her when she’s dead!” Freezaroy howls.

    “You idiot. Why can’t you do anything right?” Emphire snarls.

    Waraider shakes his head, frozen. He can’t think. Not this Pachirisu too. Not this. Seasar is making his eyes water; he feels his legs shaking as Freezaroy keeps muttering, “She’s dead she’s dead she’s dead…”

    Before he can decide what to do – he never knows what to do – he’s running. It’s Freezaroy who told him to run, Seasar who tells him to keep going and never stop. He runs all the way across the plains and into a thick forest, where the undergrowth ensnares his hooves; when he falls, he scrambles back to his feet and keeps running, despite the way his body aches and his muscles strain and his legs tremble. He runs until he collapses by a lake, gasping for air, eyes squeezed shut as Seasar’s water tries to trickle between his eyelids.

    When he awakes, beams of bright, warm sunlight fall between the leaves of the trees overhead. He’s weak and exhausted and drained. When he raises his head, Seasar is standing by the side of the lake, leaning down to drink. Water flows up his mane, along his back and cascades down his tail.

    Waraider blinks, his mind still hazy. He’s never seen any of them before, but there he is, just as Waraider has always imagined him. And then, as his mind starts to clear, his heart soars. He can see him. He’s really there. Sometimes when he’s talked to other Pokémon, he’s wondered if – but no! Seasar is standing before him, plain as day. He pushes himself to his feet; Seasar turns his head, but doesn’t say anything, and why would he, because Seasar’s the one who keeps talking about how Waraider has no other Pokémon to be with, but he does now. He reaches forward to touch Seasar’s snout – he’s solid, he’s there – and then Seasar says, quietly, “You killed that Pachirisu.”

    Waraider flinches back as the memory resurfaces. Suddenly Freezaroy is there too; she must have been behind him. “She’s dead,” she murmurs, eyes shining. “You can never be around other Pokémon again like this. You can’t control your powers. You could kill someone else.”

    “Why are mortal Pokémon so fragile?” snarls Emphire from the other side of him, her mane and tail blazing, red eyes glinting. He backs away as she rounds on him. “How were we supposed to know it’d kill her?”

    “That poor Pachirisu,” Natruler says, and he turns yet again to see her standing in the shade of a tree. “Perhaps… perhaps we can help her?”

    Waraider thinks no, of course not, he can never help anyone, it’s impossible – and then he realizes it’s not, because Natruler is there, she’s a Grass-type, lots of Grass Pokémon have healing abilities. She can fix it; of course she can! His heart pounding in excitement, he turns, trying to remember what direction he came from, and then bounds back out of the forest, the others following closely behind him. This is how it should be. This is how it was always meant to be. They’re with him, and they know what to do, and he will never be alone again.

    -------

    When they reach the place where the Pachirisu was, though – he remembers it clearly, the plains, between that hill and the mossy rock, where the purple flowers grow – she’s not there anymore. He looks around in confusion. The sun is shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky. A faint breeze wafts through the grass. The wind and the weather couldn’t have blown her away.

    “Where is she?” Electhrone asks, looking around.

    “A predator picked her up and ate her,” Freezaroy mutters. Waraider remembers the Pokémon that live here, though – he hasn’t seen any predators before.

    “They probably come here sometimes anyway, with all that prey around,” Electhrone suggests.

    Maybe. How long was he collapsed in the forest? It couldn’t have been very long; it’s still daytime. Unless he was there for the entire night? He doesn’t know.

    “Maybe she wasn’t dead,” Mysticrown says. “Maybe she stood up again, just like you stood up again in the forest.”

    “Maybe she didn’t,” Freezaroy says.

    “She left,” Seasar says dully. “She’ll never want to see you again. You hurt her and then you left her for dead. Why would she?”

    “These Pokémon always assume the worst of you,” Emphire says, nostrils flaring.

    “She didn’t deserve you anyway,” Darkhan hisses, unfurling his leathery wings. “Forget about her!”

    Waraider shakes his head. He has always tried not to listen too closely to Emphire and Darkhan, but it’s harder when they’re there in front of him, his friends.

    “Maybe she tried to find you when she woke, but she couldn’t,” Mysticrown says.

    “She must have been very confused when you were gone,” Natruler agrees.

    Yes, that’s probably it. She liked him, didn’t she? She’d thought he was amazing.

    “And then you attacked her and left her,” Seasar points out.

    “Why would you do something stupid like that?” Emphire growls. “You knew you couldn’t control your powers.”

    “I’m sure she forgave you.”

    “But if she’s wary now, that doesn’t make her bad.”

    “She asked you to show her your power!”

    “She got exactly what she wanted and she has nobody but herself to blame!”

    Waraider squeezes his eyes shut as the others argue, back and forth, all at once. He doesn’t know who is right. Maybe…? But what if…?

    Mysticrown wants to try to find the Pachirisu and continue their conversation. Natruler thinks so too, so that he can apologize for hurting her. Electhrone just wants to know where she went, but Seasar thinks there’s no point and she won’t want to see him again anyway. Darkhan thinks he should stop talking to mortal Pokémon, just stop, and Freezaroy agrees. Emphire… he’s not sure what Emphire actually wants. She’s mad at the Pachirisu for not being here anymore, mad at him for using his powers carelessly, and for running off like that for no reason when he could have seen she was fine if he’d just waited a bit longer, and for not being able to make up his mind.

    They won’t agree on what to do or where to go. When they’ve all said everything they have to say, they look at him, and he backs away. He can’t betray any of them. They’re all his friends, the voices who are always with him – but now that he can see them, could they leave?

    So they go to one of his favorite places. They all like his favorite places. Mysticrown wanted to find the Pachirisu, but he didn’t know where to find her anyway, and maybe he’ll find another Pokémon to talk to. Or, then again, he might not, so Darkhan doesn’t object.

    When they’ve been there too long, they go to another place, and then another. They’re all happy with that, and that makes him happy. If they just do this, keep doing this, exactly like this, then they’ll be fine.

    -------

    As they graze in the serene woods, Chaletwo appears. Darkhan doesn’t like Chaletwo, but then again, Darkhan likes no one. Where Mew was kind and patient, though, Chaletwo was always restless and angry, and Waraider is wary as the other legendary surveys his herd through closed, leathery eyelids, scrutinizing, as if he’s evaluating them for some higher judgement.

    “So it’s true,” Chaletwo says at last. “There are eight of you now. Care to enlighten me?”

    Waraider blinks in confusion. “They’re my friends.”

    “Yeah, that’s nice,” Chaletwo says; he doesn’t sound like it’s nice at all. “But where did they come from? Did you make them?”

    “They’ve always been with me, but I can see them now,” Waraider explains.

    “What’s that supposed to mean? Did you create them or not?”

    Waraider shifts; Chaletwo is making him uncomfortable, but he’s not quite sure why. At last, he shakes his head. “I didn’t make them. They just are.”

    Chaletwo sighs. “Sure. Look, I’ll be straight with you. You can’t just create seven new legendaries. Mew and I planned out very carefully who the legendaries should be after the – after the disaster, and where they should reside to keep the regions in balance. There weren’t supposed to be eight unicorns running around Ouen, all right? I gather they’ve stayed close to you so far; is that right?”

    “They’re my friends,” Waraider repeats, glancing at the others; they nod, all at once, and he feels warmer. “We’ll always be together. They’d never leave me.”

    “Great. Let’s keep it that way. And no more creating extra legendaries Mew and I don’t know about, all right?”

    “I didn’t make them,” Waraider says.

    “Well, did someone else make them?”

    “No. Nobody made them.”

    “Right, if you say so.” Chaletwo doesn’t sound like he means that. Waraider doesn’t like him, not at all.

    “Who are you to come here asking questions?” Emphire spits.

    “We were not made,” Darkhan says, beating his wings.

    “Fine, whatever. I’ll leave you and your… friends to it. Good job working out your powers, at any rate. They look great; not exactly creative, but you pulled off the different types okay. And I’m sensing full legendary power from all of them, except the Dark one of course. Can barely tell it wasn’t us.”

    And then he gives a casual wave of his bony hand and disappears.

    Good job working out his powers? Confusion swirls in Waraider’s head. He wants that, more than anything, but if it were true, then…

    Emphire tosses her head. “How dare he? Like we’re just things that you made.”

    “Don’t listen to him,” Darkhan hisses. “He’s Chaletwo. He doesn’t care about you.”

    “He thinks you’re a freak,” Seasar says.

    “But…” Mysticrown begins to say.

    “What if…?” Electhrone asks.

    “No!” Freezaroy screams. “No!” And Mysticrown and Electhrone look away from him again.

    “Chaletwo was mistaken,” Natruler says softly. “He only said what he thought was true.”

    “But it’s not!” Freezaroy snaps.

    “It’s not.”

    “It’s not.”

    Waraider takes a deep breath, closing his eyes. “It’s not.”

    Mysticrown and Electhrone are silent.

    “It’s not,” he repeats.

    He hasn’t done anything of worth at all with his powers. Surely if he simply believed Chaletwo, that would be wishful thinking. He knows they were always there. He had nothing to do with it. Chaletwo is wrong.

    -------

    Waraider decides to learn to fight – well, Emphire and Darkhan want to, and while Natruler is a little reluctant, even she doesn’t disagree. He doesn’t know much, but the others teach him. It’s something they can do together, all as one, and it helps him understand and practice his powers – helps all of them. They take turns acting as opponents, always in the same order. Because it’s always the same, they never have to think about it or make a decision after the first time, and that’s good. It makes things easier.

    One day, as they spar, he hears a familiar chittering voice from the ground.

    “Waraider!” calls the tiny Pachirisu. “I haven’t seen you since you knocked me out with that Earthquake! I was watching you practice and wow! Who are the others?”

    “We’re his friends,” Mysticrown says.

    “His only friends,” Darkhan adds.

    “I’m so glad you’re okay,” Natruler trills softly. “We thought you might have died.”

    The Pachirisu looks between her and Waraider in confusion. “Thanks, but… how did you know about that?”

    “I was there,” Natruler says.

    “We were all there,” Mysticrown explains. “But we were invisible.”

    The Pachirisu blinks. “Invisible friends?”

    “And what of it?” Darkhan snaps. “It doesn’t make us less real.”

    The Pachirisu shakes her head quickly. “No, I didn’t say anything like that! I… that’s so cool!”

    Mysticrown beams at her. “That’s very kind.”

    “How do you turn invisible? Can you show me?”

    For a split second they all look at Waraider, and then they look back.

    “We’re not showing you,” Darkhan growls. “Go. We’re here for him now. We’ll never leave.”

    The Pachirisu’s face falls. “But… I didn’t…”

    “You want us gone?” Freezaroy says, her eyes shining.

    The Pachirisu’s ears droop. “No! Nothing like that! I just… I just thought turning invisible was cool.”

    She glances miserably at Waraider. He averts his eyes. He knows Darkhan only wants to protect him, to make sure he doesn’t get hurt again, but…

    “We didn’t mean to lash out,” Natruler says. “I’m sorry.”

    “You are welcome to be our friend, too,” Mysticrown says.

    “Can’t I… can’t I just talk to Waraider?” the Pachirisu mutters, fidgeting, glancing at him only to look away again.

    “You want to separate us,” Darkhan hisses. “It will never happen! Never!”

    The Pachirisu shrinks away. “Why aren’t you talking, Waraider?” she asks, in a small voice. “Why is it just them?”

    The others look back at him, again. He looks at each of them in turn; aren’t they going to say anything? “I… I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s better this way.”

    “Leave him alone,” Darkhan snarls. “Who are you to tell him when he should talk?”

    Again she flinches, shaking her head. After giving Waraider another sad glance, she backs away, turning.

    “No! Don’t leave!” Mysticrown calls after her, but she has already skittered away and disappeared into the tall grass.

    Waraider expects Emphire to speak to denounce her, but she doesn’t. The silence is hollow and empty.

    “She was just like the others,” Darkhan says after a second. “I’m glad she’s gone.”

    “She was the last one,” Seasar murmurs. “And now she’s gone. No one else will ever –”

    “And that’s fine!” Darkhan interrupts, flaring his nostrils. “We’re all he needs.”

    “Well, you drove her away,” Emphire growls.

    “No, no, we can’t fight!” Freezaroy whinnies.

    Waraider closes his eyes and shakes his head. After a minute, the others quiet down. Only Seasar still talks: “She’s gone. She’s gone forever. She thinks we’re all freaks and she left. Nobody likes us or wants us.”

    “I know,” Waraider says quietly, without opening his eyes. “That’s just the way it is.” Seasar is always so sad. He wishes he could help him.

    “Let’s do another battle,” Darkhan says after a moment. “We need to know how to protect ourselves if they ever try anything.”

    Waraider nods. They can already do that; they’re so strong all together, so much stronger than any mortal Pokémon. But practicing fighting is good. Seasar isn’t sad while they’re fighting. And nobody argues. In battle they’re a team, complementing each other, with so many different powers. They’re unstoppable.

    Yes. No matter what other Pokémon think, he still has them. They’re his friends, and they always know what to do. With them by his side, everything will be fine.

    Because he is not alone, and he will never be alone.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2016
  3. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Well, this took a bit longer than I hoped thanks to spending a while overthinking some issues that came up in the beta, but at least I have two chapters ready and the third underway. Chapter 72 will go up next Saturday.




    The Final Stretch – Chapter 71: Shattered

    “To Mark, legendary psychiatrist,” Leah said, grinning as she raised a glass of cola. “Who would’ve thought?”

    Mark felt himself blush as the group raised their glasses along with her. He still felt dazed and strange, trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he had actually managed to persuade a legendary to their side, with words, him. Everyone had been there, people like Leah and Ryan who were better and brainier and cooler than him, and yet it’d been him who’d realized why the other unicorns hadn’t gone into the balls, him who Waraider had trusted enough to agree. He’d had help – but he’d done it. And now there was only one legendary left.

    “What do we do now?” he asked as everyone put their drinks back down. “How are we going to find Mew?”

    “We split up,” Leah said. “Mew knows a lot of moves, but there’s only one of her, and of course, she’s been getting weaker. Ryan and I could take her solo no problem. You guys might want to go in pairs, I guess, just in case, but the hard part is finding her. We’ll want to spread out.”

    “Are we sure we have to fight her?” Sparky asked, stroking his chin. “I can’t claim to be a legendary expert, but my impression was that Mew wasn’t much of a fighter.”

    “We can’t persuade him,” Chaletwo said flatly. “I’ve tried.”

    “I should go with Mark,” May said out of the blue. “Our Pokémon have fought together the most. It makes sense.”

    Mark turned towards her, a bit surprised, but she was only looking down at her food, busily cutting into a mini-pizza. “Okay, sure,” he said.

    “I don’t think Sparky and I could handle a legendary on our own,” Victor said, looking at Alan and Robin. “So each of us goes with one of you, I guess?”

    “Sparky?” Alan suggested.

    “Why not?” Sparky replied, smiling. Robin and Victor shrugged at each other.

    “Do we have any leads on where Mew is?” Mark asked.

    “Just that one sighting in Scorpio City from a couple weeks back,” Leah said. “We should concentrate on Ouen to start with, but not too much – she does teleport, so although she usually sticks to flying around, she could also be, y’know, off in Unova somewhere by now. Let’s start off dividing Ouen between us and then spread out more if we haven’t found her in a couple of weeks. Any special requests?”

    Robin shrugged. “I know the east side of the region pretty well. We could cover that.” Victor nodded at her.

    “Same with me and the northwest, near Stormy Town,” Sparky said, looking at Alan. “Does that sound good to you?”

    “Sure,” Alan said.

    Mark opened his mouth. “I… I’ve been thinking we should look into somebody here in Alumine,” he said. “Dunno if it’ll help, but there’s someone who managed to find Mew once, and maybe… maybe he’d be willing to help, or we could dig something up about how he did it.” May gave him a glance out of the corner of her eye. He was a little apprehensive about voluntarily approaching the Mew Hunter again – but if it could lead them to Mew, they had to try. And surely he didn’t want the world to end any more than they did.

    “Sure,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “Let us know if you get anything useful out of that. Let’s see, after that you could cover the west side, so how about I grab the south and Ryan takes the north?”

    Everyone muttered some form of agreement.

    “Great! That’s that all settled. Now for the rest of tonight let’s just sit back and –”

    “Hey, look,” Robin said suddenly, pointing at the TV above the bar.

    Mark looked, and his heart skipped a beat. In the top right corner of the screen, behind the news anchor, Taylor’s picture smiled obliviously down at him, alongside a standard Pokédex render of a Tyranitar.

    “…who claims to be responsible for the death of controversial Ouen Champion Taylor Lancaster. The wild Tyranitar approached a trainer on the island this morning to confess to the murder of Lancaster and ask to be captured and taken to the human authorities. In a statement made to the police, the Tyranitar claims it happened upon Lancaster in the mountains and attacked him after he insulted Tyranitar. The statement goes on to say the Tyranitar now understands why it was wrong, that it deeply regrets its actions, and that it wishes to face human justice to atone for its crime.”

    Mark turned towards May, his heart thumping. She stared at the screen, the color drained from her face. Alan, Robin and Sparky were all looking at her; Ryan’s gaze flicked uncertainly between her and Mark. Victor stared wide-eyed at her, lips pressed together, clenching his fist on the table. Leah looked around at everyone in confusion.

    “Among legal experts,” the anchor went on, “opinions are split on how to handle the Tyranitar’s unusual request for human justice.”

    The report cut to a woman in a suit, identified as a lawyer. “Regardless of the creature’s desire to be punished, it is a wild Pokémon,” she said. “It’s commendable if it wants to take responsibility, but the Agreement is clear that wild Pokémon are not subject to human laws and standards, and vice versa. Cross-species murder has always been an unpleasant can of worms, but there’s no good solution here. The legal separation is an absolutely fundamental part of the Agreement, and upholding it is far more important than any individual case.”

    Another lawyer appeared, impatiently adjusting his sleeves as he spoke: “When a Pokémon joins a trainer, it voluntarily submits to the rule of human law and becomes legally responsible for its actions within human society. This Tyranitar may not be trained, but it’s voluntarily submitting to the rule of human law just the same. I see no reason not to treat it the same way.”

    “Champion Island police declined to comment on the matter of jurisdiction, but have stated that the Tyranitar is currently in custody and urge the public to have patience as the investigation continues.”

    May’s gaze flicked from side to side, to all the eyes fixed on her, and then, abruptly, she stood up and stormed out of the restaurant.

    -------

    They caught up with her on the road out of town. She was leaning over a wall by the roadside, taking deep, heaving breaths. When they approached, she stumbled a bit further before giving up and turning around to face them, still supporting herself against the wall.

    “If you told him to lie he’d do it, huh,” Robin said.

    “I did not tell him to do that!” May shouted, her voice hot and raw.

    “You were there!” Robin shouted back, fists clenched. “You were there! Why is it him giving himself up to the police and not you?”

    “I don’t know!” May threw her hands up in agitation. “I told him to go away and find some wild Tyranitar! I don’t know why he’s doing this!”

    “I knew it,” Victor said coldly. “God, I knew it. I knew you two weren’t right.”

    Mark blinked, turning around in confusion, and flinched under the sudden accusation in his gaze. “What happened to your Letal?” Victor asked, his voice harsh.

    “What?” Mark’s brain was frozen in befuddlement. “What are you talking about?”

    “Your Letal!” Victor rounded on him. “You used her way too long in our battle, and she failed to evolve, Nurse Joy said you could’ve killed her, and now you don’t have her anymore!”

    “That’s not…” Mark’s gut stung, his face burned. “I – I think you’re mis…”

    “And you, yelling at your Vibrava like that – I should’ve seen it earlier but I liked you and wanted to be your friend, and I didn’t put it together until I watched the League finals and your Tyranitar was just… like a child, and thought he was weak, and you just yelled at him and watched him get hurt! And even then, I thought you’d released him for not being good enough, I never thought – why did I come with you?

    “I didn’t make him do it!” May shouted, fists clenched. “He just…”

    “I think this is quite enough,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, there was an unfortunate accident –”

    “They were there!” Robin yelled.

    “– but none of this has any bearing on our mission, which is to find and capture Mew. We have almost succeeded. How can you stand here still arguing about this? You’re splitting up anyway; if you have a problem with May, then great, you never have to see her again.”

    Robin stared at Mark, anger gleaming in her eyes. “What about Tyranitar?” she said, her voice quiet. “He’s sitting in captivity right now trying to get himself punished, who knows what they’ll end up doing to him, and they’re standing here getting away with it.”

    “Well, contrary to some of your wild theorizing here, it was the Tyranitar who killed him, of his own volition. For the record, May tried to stop him. And as far as I’m concerned this wraps things up nicely. Weren’t you complaining about Rick not knowing how his brother died? Well, now he knows, and he has no reason to think there’s anything more to it than an aggressive Tyranitar, as he should. Frankly this couldn’t have ended better if you ask me.”

    Robin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Look. Chaletwo. Maybe you don’t know this. But just because trained Pokémon submit to human law doesn’t mean the trainer is free of all responsibility. The trainer’s the one who makes sure their Pokémon understand and honor the contract they’re entering into. It’s the trainer’s job to inform and educate the Pokémon about human society, and evaluate whether they can be trusted, and recall them if they ever do get carried away during a fight. You know, May tried to tell me it was all a misunderstanding. The problem with that is that actually, making sure he understands stuff like ‘murder is wrong’ was her responsibility, and the moment Tyranitar made a move towards Taylor, he should’ve been recalled. So unless you’re going to tell me that after somehow misunderstanding the most basic rule of being trained, this huge lumbering beast that can be outsped by a Fletchling attacked so fast and so out of nowhere that nobody could possibly have seen it coming, this should not have happened!

    She glared at Mark; his heart pounded uncomfortably. He should’ve done something. He should’ve stepped up when Tyranitar approached Taylor, said something. He should’ve objected to May’s methods. He should’ve…

    “No? I didn’t think so,” Robin said, her voice hard.

    “Well, my point still stands,” Chaletwo said, defensive. “Even if May bears some responsibility for this boy’s death, we’re looking for Mew. That’s far more important than your high-flying notions of justice. It’s fine if you hate her, but we need her out there searching, not sitting in jail or whatever it is your human justice system would do with her. And I assure you that if you make any attempt to sabotage our mission, you’ll make me very angry with you.”

    Robin stared at him and shook her head. “Fine,” she said. “Fine. Victor, let’s go.”

    She turned to join Victor where the road led onwards, out of Alumine.

    “Victor,” Mark managed to croak out as he finally remembered how to speak. “My Letal, she wasn’t… She always wanted to be released after the League. I just took her back home.”

    A flicker of doubt passed across Victor’s face. Robin turned, too. “Yeah, well, good for you,” she said. “I guess your only crime is sitting around watching while Tyranitar murdered someone and then participating in covering it up. Hooray.”

    She threw up her hands and strode down the road without looking back. After a moment’s hesitation, Victor followed.

    “I… I think I’d better go,” Ryan mumbled, taking out a Pokéball. “Xatu, Green Town.” And in a second, he was gone, too.

    “Well, that sure was a thing,” Leah said after a moment, raising her eyebrows. “So, uh, were there any plans to let me in on this murder everyone else apparently knew about?”

    Chaletwo gave a frustrated sigh. “I never meant for any of you to hear about this,” he said. “Robin learned of it and informed our group earlier; it was just as hard to reason with her then. As for Victor, I don’t know what he was on about. He didn’t seem to believe any of this nonsense the last time we met. Frankly I’m happy to be rid of them.”

    “Same old Chaletwo after all,” Leah said dryly. “Well, so long as you don’t get me tangled up in this. I don’t want anything to do with murdered kids, okay? It’s none of my business how you deal with it, but don’t make it my problem.”

    “Why would it be your problem?” Chaletwo replied irritably.

    “I don’t know, just don’t.” Leah looked at Mark, grim. “Well, I guess I’m off to look for Mew, too,” she said, giving a sarcastic wave of her hand. “Bye, everyone. Good luck with all that.”

    Mark was too dazed to even say goodbye before she’d sent out Felix and teleported away.

    That left Mark, May, Alan and Sparky standing on the crossroads. May was still by the wall, averting her gaze.

    “May?” Alan said quietly, stepping closer. “Are you okay?”

    She looked up. “Fine,” she said after a moment’s pause. “We should probably get going too.”

    Mark shrugged limply as she turned her gaze towards him. Robin’s words still echoed in his ears. Hooray.

    Alan stared at May, brow furrowing. “Look, I… I don’t think they were being fair. It wasn’t your fault, not like…”

    “That’s new,” May said coldly without looking at him.

    Alan glanced at Mark, sighing. “We… we didn’t see it either,” he said. “None of us knew Tyranitar would do something like that, but he did. And you’ve been suffering for it, and I…”

    “I’m not suffering,” May said, turning abruptly, fists clenched. “Let’s go.”

    Sparky, who had been standing silently back, listening, stepped forward. “I can see you don’t want help or pity,” he said, his voice level and calm. “But for the record, I also think they judged you too harshly. It’s true that a trainer is formally meant to inform their Pokémon about human laws, but in practice, most Pokémon already know and most trainers don’t bother. I certainly never sat down for a legal chat with any of my Pokémon, and to be frank, I doubt they did, either. It’s easy in hindsight to call someone a monster for the mistakes they’ve made, but it’s human nature to make mistakes; whose mistakes result in tragedy is often a matter of sheer moral luck.”

    May didn’t answer. She stood still, knuckles white, lips pressed together.

    “Look,” Alan said, exhaling. “You were careless towards your Pokémon. I still think that. Maybe Tyranitar wouldn’t have done it if you’d raised him better. But I know you didn’t want this to happen. I’ve been thinking about the way I’ve been acting, and…” He glanced at Mark. “I didn’t really want to see it before, but I’ve finally started to notice what you’ve been going through because of this. And I’m sorry for making it worse.”

    “Just go,” May said.

    Alan and Sparky looked at one another. “The last thing I want to say,” Sparky said, slowly, “is that in my experience, lies and secrets lead to nothing good. I hope the truth will eventually come to light in a way that’s fair to you and to your Tyranitar, and I hope you can be at peace with what that might mean.”

    May didn’t answer.

    “I guess we should get going,” Alan said after a moment, sighing. “See you around. Let’s hope we can find Mew soon and put an end to all this.”

    “Goodbye,” Sparky said. “And good luck.”

    “Bye,” Mark said limply. May only gave a vague nod, not looking at them.

    And Alan and Sparky turned to head northward, leaving them alone on the empty road.

    Mark let out the breath he’d been holding. His arms and legs were trembling, his body weak with emotional exhaustion; he wanted to go back to the trainer hotel and sleep, forever, forget about Tyranitar and everything that had happened.

    May inhaled sharply. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s get back.”

    He nodded, and they set off in silence, back down the road into the city.

    “Are you sure this Mew Hunter person can help us?” Chaletwo asked after a minute, a note of lingering irritation in his voice. “From what I’ve gathered of your memories, he doesn’t seem very pleasant or reasonable.”

    Mark shrugged uncertainly. He’d felt a lot more confident earlier. “Scyther used to be his Pokémon,” he said. “He might be able to talk to him.”

    He took out Scyther’s Pokéball and dropped it. The mantis materialized out of white light, stretching.

    “We were thinking about talking to the Mew Hunter and seeing if he’d be able to help us find Mew,” Mark said.

    “So I heard,” Scyther replied.

    His gaze was distant and contemplative as he scanned his surroundings – the city he’d spent three years of his life in. Mark suddenly had a thought that he should have had before. “Wait, do you know anything about how he found Mew back then?”

    Scyther shook his head slowly. “That was before he caught me. He would often talk about it, but he never mentioned a strategy. I always assumed he simply wandered.”

    “Didn’t Rick find Mew at the same time, though?” May said. “That’d be a weird coincidence.”

    Scyther hesitated. “I don’t know. Perhaps he didn’t tell me everything.” He paused again, wincing. “I don’t know if he’d talk to me. He thought I’d betrayed him. But I do know that he’d never help you capture Mew. He was in agony after losing it to Rick. He wouldn’t tell you anything unless he thought it’d help him find Mew himself.”

    Mark shared a brief glance with May before she looked away again. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. What if the Mew Hunter demanded to come along, threw his own Pokéball at Mew when they’d weakened him?

    “Well, then at least the War would be prevented,” Chaletwo said. “You can worry about what follows if it comes to that.”

    He shrugged uncertainly, and they walked on towards the hideous yellow building on the edge of town.

    -------

    When they knocked on the large steel door, though, there was no answer. The curtainless windows were all dark.

    “He’s gone,” Scyther whispered, his gaze distant.

    “Home?” Mark asked.

    Scyther shook his head. “He lived in the Gym. He must have gone out to search for Mew again.” He chuckled bitterly. “I always knew he would. Never stopped hoping, though.”

    Mark stared at him. He really should have known that was a possibility, but somehow he’d felt like the Mew Hunter would simply be waiting there, rambling incoherently on the floor forever like they’d left him, as if time wouldn’t pass when they weren’t there.

    “So what then?” he asked. “Is there anything here that could give us any clues?”

    Scyther hesitated. “He kept a diary,” he said after a moment. “He never let us see it, but sometimes I could see him writing in it late at night. Perhaps he wrote about how he found Mew there.”

    “And you think he’d have left it here?”

    Scyther shrugged slightly. “It was a few years ago. If he still keeps a diary, it wouldn’t be the same one.”

    Although he said it casually, he averted his gaze to stare into the distance. Mark supposed he even now felt conflicted about invading his former trainer’s privacy.

    “We have to do this if it might help us find Mew,” he said.

    “I know,” Scyther said, sighing.

    “May?” Mark said, looking at her. She’d been staring at the door, but snapped to attention as he said her name.

    “Right,” she said and took a deep breath. “I’ve broken into this place once. I can do it again.”

    And she marched decisively around to the back of the building as Mark recalled Scyther and scrambled to keep up.

    -------

    Near the top of a corner of the back wall of the gym, a large ventilation grate was bolted onto the concrete. Without speaking, May raised a Pokéball and released Skarmory from it.

    “Get the grate,” she said, matter-of-factly, like this was something she did regularly, and Skarmory flew up, dug his claws between the slits and tore the grate clean off the wall. It dropped to the ground with a clatter; Mark’s gaze darted down the alleys on either side, waiting for some bystander to appear to investigate the noise and catch them in the act, but no one came. He wasn’t sure that made him feel any better. (Getting away with it.)

    “You coming?” May said, climbing onto Skarmory’s back. He wanted to say no and stay here looking the other way, pretend he had nothing to do with this, but he couldn’t. He nodded, his mouth dry, before getting on behind her. The bird Pokémon trilled and clumsily took off the ground to ferry them up.

    May went in first and Mark squeezed in after her, ducking down to let her recall Skarmory over his shoulder. The ventilation duct was dirty and only barely wide enough for them to crawl through on all fours, but thankfully it wasn’t very long: it only went through a small side room, visible through a grate in the bottom of the duct, and then ended in a third grate on the wall of the main gym arena. Cold air rushed past them from the outside, as if drawing them in.

    “Go,” May whispered, knocking Skarmory’s Pokéball against the inside grate. It burst open in a shower of white light, releasing Skarmory on the other side, where he could tear off the grate and ferry them down. As May absorbed Skarmory back into his ball, Mark released Scyther again, looking around apprehensively.

    It was obvious no one had been in the Gym for a while; the floor was dusty, the windows grimy, and the lights were off. Scyther looked wistfully out the window and around the room, like a cherished childhood home, but the harsh, bare concrete of the empty walls only pricked at chilling memories Mark had tried to forget: being pinned against that same wall, scythe at his throat, threatened with death.

    “He wasn’t a madman,” Scyther said, as if he’d read Mark’s mind. “He was kind and he loved us. I would’ve followed him anywhere, short of murdering a child for Mew. And even then I considered it.”

    Mark shuddered. He couldn’t see the man he’d met that day, with those glinting, light blue eyes and that hoarse voice that went from low to bellowing in a second, as anything other than frightening and dangerous. Even the idea he could also have been kind to his Pokémon seemed irrevocably in conflict with the rest of him.

    “Come on,” May said behind them. “There’s nothing here.”

    She turned to the door beneath the ventilation grate, to the back room. They pushed it open, carefully; inside, there was a table, a refrigerator, some cupboards, and a bed with a small window above it.

    “This is where he lived?” Mark asked.

    Scyther nodded. “He never went back home after his Pokémon journey. Bought the Gym, lived here ever since.”

    Mark swallowed. The room was tiny, dark and dirty – not the kind of place one would want to spend a single night in, let alone live in. And yet in some way it didn’t entirely surprise him. It seemed to fit with the man’s unkempt appearance and strange behaviour.

    May opened the refrigerator to find it loaded with beer cans. “I can see where Scyther gets the drinking problem from,” she said, wrinkling her nose as she closed it again. The cupboards, too, were full of liquor bottles of various shapes and sizes.

    Scyther chuckled. “He wouldn’t let us have any of that,” he said. “Said it was too strong for Pokémon.”

    May only arched an eyebrow at him in disbelief.

    Mark looked around, and his gaze settled on a black object lying on the windowsill above the bed. “What’s this?” he said, climbing onto the bed to reach for it; it turned out to be a small, dust-covered book. There was no title or picture on either cover.

    “That’s it,” Scyther said. “That’s the diary.”

    Mark turned it over, apprehensive. He’d known they were looking for it, but it still felt strange to be holding the diary of someone like that in his hands, like his madness could be infectious, somehow. What would they find in there? Could they really just read it?

    May snagged the book out of his hands, sighing impatiently. As she opened it, Mark caught a glance of bizarre, alien writing at the bottom of the page, and his gut twisted in a sudden, irrational panic before May turned it the right way up and flipped to the start of the book. It had no date, only a hastily scribbled, barely legible block of text covering the page from top to bottom.

    Mew is the greatest Pokémon, originator of all life – all of them in one, the ultimate being. They say it wanders the earth and appears only to the pure of heart who desire to see it. It knows their hearts and takes mercy on them by gracing them with its presence. Mew would underst

    It cut off suddenly in the middle of the word; a loose, hasty scribble crossed the entire paragraph out before the writing began anew in the next line.

    Mew is the most perfect and pure-hearted of all Pokémon. People don’t see it but I do. There are rotten people everywhere poisoning the world, capturing Pokémon and enslaving them for their own gain. Mew must be devastated, tired, harrowed, at the filthy selfishness of all those people, just like me. I understand. This world is broken and Mew must suffer and I can help. I understand Mew. I can help Mew. I can save

    Again, the paragraph cut off suddenly. Mark swallowed, his mouth dry as he read on.

    I’m a savior. I save Pokémon. That’s what they tell me. I capture them so I can save them. Feraligatr was nervous about trainers, but with me he said he could be himself. Sandslash lost his parents, but I came in their place. Sneasel was an outcast rejected by his kind, and I accepted him for who he was and taught him to trust again. Kabutops is haunted by ancient memories, but I listen and help him process them. They would be lost if it weren’t for me. I saved them because I love them, more than anything. Other trainers don’t care, they don’t care to understand them, they just want to use them for fights. They’re repulsive and wrong. I can save Mew from all the filth and the selfishness and the greed. Mew must cry every day at how broken the world is. I can help, I can make Mew whole again, I can make it better. But how can I make it see? How can I let it know that I’m different from them? Mew wouldn’t let itself be captured by an ordinary trainer, I know. Even with a Master Ball, it would teleport away instantly when released. I have to find a way to make it stay and give me a chance, like Feraligatr and Sandslash and Sneasel and Kabutops, so I can show it that I understand and earn its trust and save it, just like I saved them.

    May took a deep breath, glancing at Mark for a second, before she turned the page.

    Pokéball books at the library. It’s not that hard to modify balls. I never thought it would be so easy. The secrets seem so closely guarded from afar, but the technology is old and it’s simple when you look into it. I think I know what I need to do, found some info on Mean Look. Just have to experiment and confirm, get some balls to try it on. I can feel Mew getting closer. Please

    I can do it. Tried it on Sneasel’s ball. The first attempt didn’t work but the second did. He can’t stray far from the ball now. I switched him back to a normal one, but it works. If I just get a ball that can hold Mew, everything will be complete, but I need money. I think I’ll open a Gym. Feraligatr and Sandslash and Sneasel and Kabutops are strong. They can do it. They believe in me.

    The next few entries were about the process of setting up the Gym and opening it; May gave an impatient sigh and turned the page, then gave the next a brief scan and flipped it again. Mark caught glimpses of sentences as she skimmed:

    The Master Ball price is going down. I will wait. Mew has time. Mew has unlimited time but it is alone and it has no one. I’m coming for you Mew

    Sneasel was distracted during a fight today. I asked him what was wrong and he said he’s feeling sick but didn’t want to disrupt the management of the Gym. I told him never do that again, he’s more important. He said he doesn’t think he’s important. I said he’s important to me and to us. Took him to the Pokémon Center, they wanted to keep him overnight. Can’t sleep, hope he’s okay.

    Kabutops remembers seeing Mew once, back in his previous life. I nearly choked. I asked what he had seen but he says it’s all fuzzy, all he remembers is a pink glow and a serene smile. So back then, Mew was happy. I wish

    “Okay, here we go,” May said at last as she turned the page once more.

    I have the ball now. That means I only need to find it. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Mew appears to the pure of heart who desire to see it, and I know it will appear to me. I only need to go out, wander the world like Mew does, and our kinship and connection will grow. I can feel destiny drawing us together already. I am meant to be Mew’s trainer and it is meant to be mine, so I can help it heal and we can face the world together. It will happen soon.

    So far nothing. It’s been a month, I think, haven’t kept track. It doesn’t matter. I have time and patience. Mew cannot be rushed. Mew lives without worrying about time. It has nowhere it needs to be, nobody it must see, it just is. It’s like me. We will find each other.

    I know my heart is pure. I know it. But does Mew know?

    Mew still hasn’t come. I have patience. I

    Still nothing.

    Heard a rumour today. Bad rumour, about some kid from Cleanwater City capturing legendary Pokémon, cloning them, planning to open a Gym. He’s just a teenager, an orphan. They say he’s caught a few already. How can that be possible? The legendaries of the myths are so powerful no trainer could take them down. It has to be a lie.

    Still haven’t found Mew. The kid’s still at it, they say. It’s said he’s caught even more legendaries, like he has a way, like can track them down. It’s impossible. I don’t believe them.

    I think I saw the kid today. He travels with a sense of purpose, like he already knows where he’s going. He has a device at his belt that he looks at every now and then. That has to be how he’s finding them. He can’t find Mew that way. Mew only appears to the pure of heart. How dare he? I should

    I can’t risk him finding Mew first. I’m following him. If I’m there too when he finds it, Mew will choose me. I have the ball. Everything is ready. Mew will come to me.

    May sighed. “So he just tailed Rick, I guess. What a waste of time.”

    “What are you talking about?” Chaletwo said. “Apparently Rick had a device that led him to Mew. This is fantastic news. If we can get that device from him, we can track Mew down.”

    Mark’s stomach twisted. They’d have to talk to Rick. Rick, whose brother they had killed. May looked away, silent.

    “Well, if you really don’t want to, we can try to get some of the others to check that out and you can start looking in the meantime.”

    May took a deep breath. “No,” she said firmly, and Mark blinked in surprise. “Let’s go see Rick. We can still make it tonight.”

    She closed the diary, thrust it into Mark’s hands and turned around to exit the room. Mark motioned to replace the diary on the windowsill where he’d found it.

    “Mark?” Scyther said quietly. “I’d… I’d like to read just a little further.”

    Mark hesitated before opening the book again. Truth be told, he was a little curious as well, but the apprehension he’d felt before had only grown.

    I think he knows I’m after him. He takes long ways around, leaves early in the morning like he’s trying to shake me off. He doesn’t fool me. I know better than to let him escape. I have a duty to Mew and I cannot fail it.

    He’s gone. He left even before I woke up. Has he already found Mew? Sneasel may be able to smell him. I will try

    Mew chose him. What they say about pure hearts is false. Mew refused me. Why? I don’t understand. I thought I understood but I don’t. Mew chose enslavement and brainwashing. I wanted to tackle him down and wrestle the ball away from him, but Mew made the choice. Why? I don’t underst

    Why

    Mew is gone. It’s gone. It thinks I’m worse than him. There’s nothing left. No point. Mew’s right. Goodbye.

    I failed. Like at everything else. Couldn’t go through with it. Kabutops found me. What would they have done without me? I can’t leave them. It was cowardly. I have to move on, for them. It’s the only thing I can do.

    Mark shivered, a knot of unease in his stomach.

    Behind him, Scyther let out a long, heavy sigh. “That’s enough. Thank you.”

    Mark nodded and placed the diary carefully back on the windowsill where he’d found it before he recalled Scyther and hurried out after May.
     
  4. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    And here's chapter 72, as promised.



    The Final Stretch – Chapter 72: Rick

    They flew to Cleanwater City. May was silent, staring fixedly ahead, leaning forward as if it’d make Skarmory go faster; Mark couldn’t begin to guess at what she was thinking.

    Charizard sighed, and Mark patted his neck. “Getting tired?”

    “I think I’ve done enough flying lately to last me a while,” Charizard said, smiling weakly.

    Mark was about to ask what he meant when he stopped. They had been flying a lot. To Acaria City, then Scorpio City, then for the battle with the male Color Dragons, then Acaria again, then from Stormy Town to Crater Town, then after the unicorns… “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” he said, yet another new pang of guilt in his stomach; he’d had other things on his mind, but that was no excuse for not thinking of his Pokémon. “Should I get Dragonite out instead?”

    Charizard shook his head. “It’s fine; I’m faster. I’ll take you there.”

    “If you’re sure,” Mark said, furrowing his brow. “If it helps, I think this is our last flight in a while. We’ll probably be on foot looking for Mew.”

    The Pokémon nodded. “But if you do need to fly, then…”

    “Then I’ll get Dragonite,” Mark said firmly. “It’s okay. You more than deserve a rest. Thanks for everything. I mean, without you I wouldn’t even be here.”

    Charizard smiled. “Without you, I wouldn’t be here.”

    It took a second for Mark to even remember what he meant. Then, in a flash, he was back in Sailance on the night that he’d pulled Charmander in from the rain: that surreal moment of seeing that orange blur on the road through the rain-streaked window, his clumsy efforts to keep the little lizard’s dying tail flame alive, the fragility of the limp, warm body that would eventually grow into a dragon who would fight legendaries for him. And who’d carried him for miles and miles without him even stopping to think about it.

    Something broke in the swirl of emotions that he’d barely kept at bay for the last couple of hours; tears flooded his eyes and he wrapped his arms around Charizard’s neck, leaning forward to hug him tightly.

    “I’m sorry,” Mark whispered. “Whatever happens, I’m glad I met you.”

    “Me too,” Charizard said quietly, wrapping his own arms around Mark’s.

    May either didn’t hear them or ignored them, staring steadfastly towards the field of shimmering lights in the distance.

    -------

    “Where does Rick even live?” May asked as they dismounted their Pokémon in front of the Pokémon Center. She looked around restlessly, as if he might appear around a nearby corner at any moment.

    Mark shrugged. “I guess we can ask someone.” He put a hand on Charizard’s neck. “First, though, they need a rest.”

    Charizard smiled gratefully at him again before they recalled their Pokémon and entered the Pokémon Center.

    They’d almost left again, after handing the pair of Pokéballs to Nurse Joy, when it finally occurred to Mark that she was a person, one who presumably lived here. “Excuse me,” he said, and the nurse turned back around, smiling. “Do you know where Rick lives?”

    The nurse blinked. “Do you mean the Gym?”

    “No, we… we need to talk to him.”

    Nurse Joy frowned. “It’s number seventeen, Taillow Street, straight left from the Gym. But I don’t think he takes visitors from the public. He’s a very solitary man, especially since… you know.”

    “It’s important,” May said; she sounded cool as always, but her fists were clenched at her sides. “We need to talk to him tonight.”

    The nurse peered at the two of them, probably trying to gauge if they were up to something. “Well, if you go there, I must warn you he’s in a delicate state these days. His brother’s death hit him rather hard. Please be careful with him.”

    Mark wasn’t sure if she meant that for Rick’s sake or theirs, but he nodded. “Thanks,” he said, turning away from the desk. May led the way back outside, not looking at him.

    Taillow Street wasn’t difficult to find, and though a lot of the houses looked similar – white, squared-off, flat roofs – they all had prominent house numbers. They approached the front door of number seventeen; it seemed strange that Rick lived in such an unremarkable, normal-looking home, in exactly the way that it hadn’t felt strange that the Mew Hunter lived in a room in his Gym.

    Mark shot a glance at May. She was standing a little behind him now, pale, but gave a quick nod. He found the doorbell beside the door and pressed it; a faint ringing sounded inside the house.

    A few seconds passed. Mark shifted on his feet, uncomfortable, trying to stay focused. The device that found Mew; that was all they needed. Mew – with a sudden pang of dread in his stomach, he remembered Rick throwing him Mew’s ball after his first Gym battle and ordering him to take it away. Would Rick remember him? Did he expect him to still have it?

    But before he could take that train of thought any further, faint footsteps sounded through the door, the lock clicked, and the door opened.

    Rick stood in the doorway, looking more or less like he had at the beginning of that short-lived interview: his eyes wide, staring and bloodshot, his blond hair wild and unruly. He looked at Mark, then at May behind him, then back at Mark, the corner of his mouth twitching, but didn’t say anything.

    “Um, hello,” Mark said, his brain scrambling to string words together. “Sorry to bother you, but could we possibly speak to you in private for a bit? It’s very important and concerns legendaries – we need your help.”

    Rick spent a few more seconds standing there, looking between the two of them, as if he hadn’t heard anything. Just as Mark was about to repeat himself, thinking he might have zoned out altogether, the Gym leader suddenly became animated again, his mouth twitching into a polite smile as he nodded. “Come in,” he said and opened the door, walking inside without another word. Mark proceeded after him, still a bit disoriented, and May followed. She hesitated before closing the door behind them.

    “Hello, Rick,” Chaletwo began. “Don’t be alarmed; this is Chaletwo, and I’m with them. I’d rather not go into detail, but we’re looking for Mew, and it’s imperative that we find him quickly. We gather a few years ago you made or obtained some kind of device to track Mew down, and we need to borrow it.”

    Rick didn’t look alarmed at all; he only nodded vaguely, heading down the corridor ahead. Mark hesitated, not sure if they were meant to follow. The small entrance hall had a wardrobe on the left and some jackets and coats hanging from hooks on the right-side wall; they looked too small to fit Rick, and it took Mark a second to realize with a sickening pit in his stomach who they must have belonged to. He was a lot more unnerved being in here than he’d anticipated; he looked from side to side, wondering where Rick was going, his heart thumping.

    “So, did you hear about that Tyranitar?”

    Mark turned towards May in alarm. She’d stepped through the inside door and looked casually around the room, as if it were a simple off-hand question, but her fists were clenched tightly at her sides, trembling. Rick grunted in response as he entered a room on the left-hand side of the corridor.

    “What’d you think?” she went on, taking another step, looking in after Rick. Her fingers fiddled with the nail of her thumb as she took a deep breath. “I don’t know, I’m not sure that’s the one who did it. My… my uncle works for the Champion Island police. He says its story doesn’t match up with the evidence. They’re still looking into it, but…”

    Rick reappeared through the door, holding a strange metal device – and following behind him came the tall, bony shape of Mewtwo². Mark’s stomach twisted into a knot as Rick pointed at him, his mind freezing up before he could even process what was happening. “Destroy this, silence them and then keep him away,” Rick growled.

    “Rick, what are you…”

    Mewtwo²’s eyes glowed blue, and the device in Rick’s hand twisted and collapsed into a useless lump of metal before he tossed it into a corner. The instinct to run as fast as he could hit Mark a split second later, but his limbs refused to move, frozen in place by some terrifying force. May, unrestrained, bolted for the door, but Rick leapt at her like a hungry predator, grabbing the collar of her jacket. She threw her hands back and the jacket began to slip off her shoulders, but before it could, he’d wrapped a muscular arm around her neck, gripped her shoulder with his other hand and pulled her back inside, throwing her against the wall of the corridor. Mark tried to scream but his mouth wouldn’t move, either, and breathing was almost impossible even as icy terror and panic clawed at his lungs, desperate for air; he heard a strange, squeaky moan emerge from his throat, too weak to be heard by anyone who could help.

    May, eyes wide open and lips pressed together, kicked desperately at Rick as he gripped her neck with both hands; he didn’t even flinch. “You killed him!” he snarled. “It was you!”

    “Rick, let her go,” Chaletwo ordered. “She’s with me.”

    “She killed my brother!” Rick shouted, without taking his eyes off May; his fingers tightened around her throat.

    “Of course she didn’t. I’ve been with her the whole time.”

    “You’re lying!” Rick bellowed. “They told me but I always knew!”

    “What are you talking about? Who told you? Look, it’s…”

    “That girl from the semifinals and the Acaria Gym leader!”

    “What?” Mark’s heart skipped a beat. Robin. Victor. “What do you mean, they told you?”

    “They said it had a trainer!” May made a small, choked sound, struggling in his grip. “She was the only trainer with a Tyranitar at the League! I checked the records!”

    “That doesn’t mean – and why would you even believe kids knocking on your door claiming inside information? How would they even –”

    “She lost to him!” Rick roared. “She lost to him and she had a Tyranitar! I knew it from the start!”

    “Well, your wild, outrageous guesswork is wrong. Now let her go!”

    “Make me,” Rick growled. May’s face was turning unnervingly purple, her struggles becoming feebler.

    “I’m not physically here right now, but believe me, you don’t want me angry with you. Let her go right now!”

    Rick didn’t even respond this time; he only continued to throttle May, gritting his teeth. Mark strained to move, but nothing budged, every muscle in his body on fire, blood pulsing in his ears, his mind fuzzy, praying to every force in the universe for some kind of help, please, please

    A blinding white light burst out of May’s necklace, and Rick’s momentary distraction became a roar of pain as Floatzel materialized with her teeth locked around his right arm. May collapsed, gasping for breath, as Rick unthinkingly released his grip on her. “Kill it,” he growled as Floatzel scratched madly at him with her paws; she yelped as Mewtwo² squeezed its two fingers together and an invisible force pressed in around Floatzel, twisting her limbs back with a horrible cracking sound –

    Another Pokéball hit the floor, releasing Spirit. As Rick threw the limp Floatzel away like a deformed ragdoll, he ordered, “Kill it too.”

    “Destiny Bond!” May wheezed, her voice raspy and hoarse; Spirit’s eyes flashed, and as she too succumbed to Mewtwo²’s power, it collapsed with her in a burst of black flame.

    Mark crumpled to the floor as the force holding him in place abruptly vanished; he reached for the first Pokéball on his belt, threw it and screamed, “Help!”

    Weavile emerged as he stumbled to his feet and grabbed frantically at May where she was coughing on the floor. He took her hand, shaking, and pulled her towards the door. As the Pokémon materialized and eyed Floatzel’s body on the floor, she let out a screeching hiss and leapt at Rick as he was grabbing for Mark; he yelled out as her frost-coated claws sliced into the side of his face.

    Mark opened the door and was starting to pull May through when he realized she was pointing Pokéballs at Spirit and Floatzel. His heart stopped for a second in a sickening fear, then started again as both of them dissolved into red energy and were absorbed into their balls. They were still alive.

    Rick tore the mad Weavile off his bloodied face and threw her to the floor; she sprang up again with a hiss, ice circling her claws, and delivered an Ice Punch to the side of his head. He staggered back against the wall, hands reaching blindly out towards Mark and May before he collapsed, unconscious, blood trickling down the side of his face.

    Mark recalled Weavile as May crawled to her feet, and together they stumbled outside and made a run for the Pokémon Center.
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2016
  5. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Two new chapters! :D And a third one coming soon! 8D

    Ohhhhkay...this is what you were referring to when you said the Victor scene in 67 was important, right? And going back and rereading it...I can kinda catch a hint of foreshadowing. It's verrrrrry subtle, though...perhaps a bit too subtle--that's why the scene came off as pointless the first time around. It was really easy to attribute Victor's behavior back then to just being overwhelmed by the "Wtf" nature of what he'd just been told. Perhaps steering his reaction away from shock and more towards being a bit more anxious, lingering more on the way he glances between the two of them, looking uncomfortable but insisting that it's not because he's afraid/unwilling to join the fight, but then conspicuously not explaining the actual reason, maybe having Mark vaguely notice, but just brush it off with a "well that was weird." That could be a way to tip off readers that there's a little more going on there, while still concealing what it is (especially since it does, in fact, end up being important, as I'm pretty sure the only reason Robin ended up actually going through with telling Rick is because she went off with Victor, as opposed to any of the others who might have been able to calm her down.)
    *GASP* It's the famous ventilation system we've heard so much about!
    Ehe, interesting wording you've got there... ;3
    Alright, I gotta admit...that was cute. even if Charizard hasn't gotten too much character focus in a while.
    o_o May!!!??!
    O___O MAY??!!!!!???!?!???!??!!
    I SWEAR IF THEY WEREN'T--

    That was pretty clever having Spirit take down Mewtwo² like that. Shame they couldn't take advantage of the moment of having it downed and them having the upper hand, power-wise, but given the rather frantic nature of that ordeal, I can't really blame them for booking it instead. What I can say, however, was that this chapter was too short!! D:< It was just getting to the good part!

    *Cough* Anywho, in other news, it’s kind of fun going back and reading the posts you made while NaNo-ing these chapters, cause there’s a lot of vague rambling that I didn’t bother paying any mind to at the time, which has become a lot more interesting now that over half the NaNo chapters are actually out. I still can’t believe the next chapter is a breather though. How is the entire climax so soon and also so short aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  6. Sαpphire

    Sαpphire Well-Known Member

    So, I want to start this out as a more general comment on this fic as a whole, which might be a little unconventional but I think it's warranted.

    I've actually been following this story since some time around early 2008, when I was just about to turn 12; I've literally grown up with this fic, so seeing it draw so close to the end is really interesting. I've been on the TCoD forums for forever and I've browsed the main site for like over a decade now. Anyway, I'm on edge for the next bit after catching up on chapters 70 - 72. Warts and all, I've become pretty engrossed in the story and I really like the writing style that has developed over time. Seeing the depth of the characters and story increase exponentially as time goes on has been great, and the various elements of chapters 71/72 have been my favorite in terms of character interaction (and I desperately want to see the resolution of the May/Taylor issue, because I really don't want to see her like, in prison!).

    I've actually started writing a little bit myself, almost invariably in the form of Pokemon fanfiction, and despite all the warts and things you talk about in your original post I really credit this fic with inspiring me to write! I really can't wait to see the conclusion, and ultimately the IALCOTN and further revisions of the whole story if you choose to go down that path.

    Keep on going, and here's to maybe seeing the conclusion in 2017!
     
  7. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    I do kind of want you not to give it too much of a second glance when it happens, though - I want it to look innocuous and then make sense in retrospect, more than to foreshadow, because if it's too obvious something is up, the reader is going to just be waiting for the story to reveal what's up with Victor, rather than being struck cold by it the way Mark is, which is something I like. I think I'd prefer to go with adding some other ostensible purpose to the scene, rather than make Victor's unusual behaviour obviously the point.

    Hee, hope you're enjoying that.

    The climax is a bit unusual, so the pacing leading up to it is pretty weird. It's hard for me to judge exactly how well it's going to work, but I'll do my best.

    Awwh, thank you! You'll definitely see the end in 2017; I hope you'll enjoy the last fraction of this ride.


    Anyway, it's time for chapter 73, which I like a lot for several reasons, some of them pretty obvious and others less so. Man, I can't believe I'm finally posting this.



    The Final Stretch – Chapter 73: Recuperation

    Mark half-dragged May through the automatic doors of the Pokémon Center, panting and shivering uncontrollably. “He can’t attack us in a public place,” he muttered, over and over, like a mantra; it was all he could think at the moment.

    “Kids, are you okay?” called Nurse Joy before hastening over to them. “What happened? Was it Rick?”

    Mark nodded, unable to explain; lingering terror seemed to have settled into his speech centers, allowing him only to think that one sentence: He can’t hurt us in a public place.

    “Did he attack you?” the nurse asked anxiously, pulling May gently upright. She recoiled in horror as she saw the redness of her neck. “Oh, I should never have given you his address. I wasn’t thinking, but I never thought he would...”

    May doubled over and threw up on the fuzzy carpet. Nurse Joy only seemed more sympathetic as she gently pulled them away from that spot and called over one of the Center’s Blissey to clean it up. “I’m so sorry. I’ll call the police; they can’t ignore an assault on a child on top of everything else. They just can’t.”

    May shook her head frantically, pulling herself into an upright position on the nurse’s arm. “Don’t,” she said, her voice raw and shaking.

    “The police should get involved,” Joy repeated. “This is serious. And you should go to a proper, human hospital and get professional treatment. There’s only so much I can do for you.”

    “No,” May said. “Please just leave it.” She turned around, trembling, and unclenched her hand from around the two minimized Pokéballs she was still holding. “They’re… they’re hurt.”

    “Your Pokémon too?” Nurse Joy shook her head, taking the Pokéballs from May’s hand. “Now, I’ll take a look at them later, but they’re safe in their balls for now, so we should focus on you first. Can you tell me how you feel right now?”

    “I’m fine,” May said, glancing around the room. “Please, can we just…”

    “Any lingering nausea, difficulty breathing?”

    May shook her head, her gaze still flicking restlessly around. Nurse Joy peered at her for a second.

    “Why don’t you come with me to the back while you regain your bearings?” she offered. “It’s safe and less public.”

    Mark nodded automatically, and the nurse gestured at the Blissey to take over the front desk before leading them to the door at the back of the lobby. A strange memory floated to the top of Mark’s head as they entered: this was where he’d talked to Eevee, back when he’d first set off as a trainer. The thought felt inappropriate and out of place, yet somehow comforting.

    “What about you?” Nurse Joy said as she motioned to close the door, looking at Mark. “Are you or your Pokémon hurt?”

    Mark opened his hand to give her Weavile’s ball.

    “Just sit down over there,” the nurse said as she took it, pointing to a bed with a simple white mattress in the corner. “Try to breathe normally for me, all right? And if you feel any different, tell me immediately. It could be a sign of more serious damage.”

    Mark looked back at May; he realized vaguely that he was still gripping her limp hand and let go of it. She nodded slightly and they walked over to settle down on the bed.

    May sat, staring down at the floor, clutching the edge of the mattress tightly with both hands, her arms shaking. Mark shuddered as he got a better look at her neck; the red marks were shaped visibly like thick, clutching fingers that almost appeared to still be strangling her. She coughed again, but said nothing. Mark didn’t either. His legs were trembling; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand up again even if he tried.

    Nurse Joy sent out Weavile, and she appeared, panting, looking from side to side for any sign of Rick. “It’s all right now,” Joy said softly. “You’re safe and so is your trainer. How hurt are you?”

    “Where’s Floatzel?” Weavile asked, ignoring the question.

    “The others are still in their Pokéballs. I’m just going to take a look at you first.”

    “I’m fine,” Weavile insisted. “Floatzel wasn’t. She needs the Pokémon Center, not me.”

    Joy started as she looked Weavile over. “Is that blood on your claws?”

    “I don’t care!” hissed Weavile. “He killed Floatzel!”

    “If Floatzel is in a Pokéball, then she’s alive,” Nurse Joy said, her voice concerned but calm. “Did you attack Rick?”

    “It was self-defense!”

    “He was okay,” Mark said. “He... Weavile knocked him out so we could escape, but I think he was all right.” Oh, God, what if he isn’t?

    Nurse Joy nodded, then turned back to Weavile. “All right. I’ll take a look at Floatzel, just to see where we stand.”

    “It’s the Ultra Ball,” May said quietly.

    Floatzel somehow looked even worse emerging from the ball than she had before being recalled: everything seemed aligned strangely or bent at odd angles, things sticking out in weird places. Weavile stared at her in shock; Mark shuddered and looked away. “I can’t believe him,” the nurse whispered, a quiet fury burning in her voice as she quickly recalled her back into the ball. “Was it that Mewtwo²?”

    Mark nodded.

    “She’s going to need extensive surgery,” Nurse Joy said. “I just hope her system can take it.”

    “Is she going to be okay?” Weavile asked.

    The nurse shook her head. “I can’t make any promises, but as long as she’s in the ball, she won’t get any worse. Let me treat you first.”

    May swallowed, still pale as Weavile nodded reluctantly. “My Ninetales was attacked by Mewtwo² as well, but she used Destiny Bond,” she said. “I think she’s not as bad but...”

    Nurse Joy nodded, then started to gently feel around Weavile’s body, asking her to say when it hurt. She hissed as Joy’s hand passed over her left side, and the nurse reached onto a shelf for a potion spray of some kind. “Did he just attack you for wanting to talk to him?” she asked while she sprayed it. “I never thought he’d go to such extremes for something so small.”

    Mark looked at May, a sting of guilt in his stomach, not sure what to say, but he didn’t have to. “He thought I killed his brother,” she said quietly, without looking up.

    Joy looked at her, recognition dawning on her face. “Oh, you’re that girl from the finals, aren’t you? I suppose he thought you had something to do with it just because you used a Tyranitar.” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry I sent you there. I should have realized how unstable he was. What were you going to talk to him about?”

    Mark stared at her in a numb panic. His brain felt like sludge, but some detached part of him managed to open his mouth anyway. “He… he gave me this Growlithe when I fought him,” he heard himself say. His voice was weird, raw. “It went missing and we wanted his help finding it.”

    “Rick gave you a Growlithe?” The nurse glanced at him, frowning.

    “Yeah, he… he seemed to just want to get rid of it.” Mark’s heart was thumping rapidly, his pulse hot in his ears. There’d been an Arcanine. He’d fought an Arcanine at Rick’s Gym. Hadn’t he?

    “Oh.” The nurse turned back to Weavile, shaking her head. Mark exhaled slowly. He felt terrible misleading her, however slightly, when she was being so helpful and kind, but they couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. “That does sound like him,” she went on, sighing. “If he’s giving them to kids, I guess that’s better than dumping them behind the Gym.” She grimaced. “I hope you find that Growlithe. They do often return to familiar places, but to be honest I don’t know if he could’ve helped you any. Search around the Gym, maybe. Put out some food.”

    “Yeah, we’ll try that.” Mark swallowed. “Thanks.”

    After giving Weavile another check-up, Nurse Joy seemed satisfied that she wasn’t seriously injured. She handed the ball back to Mark.

    “You’ll try to save Floatzel, right?” Weavile muttered.

    “Of course,” she said, giving her a reassuring smile. I’ll do everything I can.”

    Weavile nodded, and Mark recalled her.

    “Now,” the nurse said, turning back to Mark and May, “I know you’re in shock and need rest, but I still have to call the police. You’re kids; it’s the law, and they can keep you safe from him. I’m sure now they’ll listen. He always got far more leeway than he should on his Gym, but this?” She shuddered as she turned around to the telephone on the counter behind her and picked up the receiver.

    Mark looked at May again, wanting to mouth some sort of objection, but she wasn’t saying anything now, just staring transfixed at the tiled floor.

    “Hello, Cleanwater police? This is Joy speaking. I’ve got two children here, twelve or thirteen years old, who say they were violently assaulted by Rick Lancaster. I…” She fell silent, frowning. “They hung up on me.”

    She hesitated for a second, then quickly dialled again. “Hello? I was just trying to call about Rick Lanc…”

    “It’s no use,” Mark said as Joy was cut off again. “He… he uses Mewtwo² to hypnotize the authorities. They just do whatever he says.”

    Nurse Joy blinked at him, still holding the telephone receiver. “What?” Her frown deepened, eyebrows furrowing in thought. “Oh. Oh. That… that explains a lot. Oh, God.” She put the receiver down hastily and took a deep breath, biting her lip. She was silent for a moment, then slowly looked back up at Mark and May, her gaze firm.

    “Would you like to sleep at the Pokémon Center tonight while I do what I can for your Pokémon? We’re supposed to refer people to the trainer hotel these days, but we’ve still got rooms in the back. Rick won’t expect you to be there.”

    Mark looked at May; she was still staring at the same spot. The thought of staying overnight so close to Rick made him shudder, but all he really wanted to do was curl up somewhere and never have to move ever again. Travel seemed an insurmountable obstacle; he wasn’t sure he trusted himself not to fall off Charizard’s back right now.

    Is there… is there any way he could make her tell him where we are? he asked inward. It was all the caution he could manage.

    “Probably not,” Chaletwo replied. His telepathic voice was quieter than usual. “From what I’ve seen, Mewtwo²’s power is very blunt. He never learned to use it properly. Getting someone to recall specific information would take finesse that I don’t think he’s capable of.”

    That had to be enough. He nodded to Nurse Joy. May glanced over and nodded too, almost imperceptibly.

    “All right,” the nurse said. “I’ll take you there. Get some rest, come to me right away if you experience anything unusual, more nausea, anything, and I’ll come tell you how your Pokémon are doing in the morning. Don’t leave the back until then, just to be safe.”

    Mark stood up; his legs felt like lead, wobbling strangely, but they were steadier than before, slowly recovering strength. May stood as well, hugging her body with her arms. The nurse took them hastily through a locked door into a dark corridor, turned on the light and handed them a pair of keys, then left them with the assurance that she would do everything in her power to help Floatzel and Spirit.

    “Good night, then, I guess,” Mark said as he opened the door to his room. A strange fear still trembled in his chest, but he didn’t know what to do about it. The thought of sleep was simultaneously welcome and terrifying. “I… I hope they’re okay.”

    May gripped the knob of her room’s door, but stopped. “Is…” she said, staring at the knob, her voice faint and hoarse. “Is it okay if I come in with you for a bit?”

    Mark was strangely relieved at the suggestion. He nodded and held the door open as she entered the room and sat down on the small bed with her hands clutched together in her lap. He closed the door, locked it and sat down beside her.

    There was silence. The room seemed almost unnervingly peaceful and ordinary. Mark’s heart was still thumping faster than usual, his mouth dry, his mind reflexively picturing Rick bursting through the door, but now at least it felt like an irrational thought, something he could try to push aside and ignore. May was still staring at her lap.

    “Are you okay?” he asked carefully, and suddenly May broke into sobs.

    She covered her mouth with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks, then clenched them into fists in front of her face, shaking. Abruptly, she stood up, walked to the corner of the room and laid the palm of her right hand flat onto the wall for a moment, as if to support herself, then curled it into a fist again and punched the wall. Once, twice. Three times.

    Mark looked away; she didn’t want him to see this, he knew, but he couldn’t abandon her either. In the corner, May took a breath that trembled audibly, only to dissolve into suppressed sobbing again as she tried to exhale.

    She was there for what felt like a long, long time, and Mark sat and stared at the side wall, trying to let her forget he was there.

    Eventually her breathing started to calm. She sniffed a few times. Several seconds passed before she sat very slowly down on the bed again, in the same spot she’d been. Mark turned carefully; she was still looking down, her right fist clenched tightly in front of her mouth, her left hand fiddling around her neck.

    “You okay?” he asked again, quietly.

    “No,” she said without looking at him. Her voice was weird and nasal and still trembling. “You can see that.”

    Mark looked at her, not sure what to say. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s... I mean, it’s normal to... Rick just tried to kill you and all.”

    May stared at her lap. “I wanted him to die,” she muttered.

    Mark blinked, dread creeping up his spine. “What?”

    “I wanted him to die. I wished he’d just… have a fall in the mountains and break his neck. Many times.”

    Her voice was faint, dull. Mark shivered, suddenly cold. “But you didn’t want Tyranitar to…”

    “No! I…” she said almost reflexively before she trailed off, shaking her head slightly, still without looking up. She lowered her hands. “I don’t know.”

    Chaletwo gave a huge telepathic sigh. “Not you too.”

    May clenched her fists. “Go away.”

    “Is this why you didn’t want me in your head? Look, this had nothing to do with whatever idle fantasies you were entertaining during the League; Rick couldn’t have known any of that. He did it because he’s insane and needed somebody to blame, and then Robin and Victor went and told him just to spite us. I swear, when I get my hands on them…”

    “They did it for Tyranitar,” May said, still not looking at him.

    “What are you talking about? They –”

    “Rick could’ve had him put down in a heartbeat,” May said. Her voice was steady now, but still quiet. “They said he had a trainer so Rick wouldn’t go after him. They didn’t tell him it was me.”

    There was a pause. May remained where she was, picking at her fingernails.

    “I suppose that makes sense,” Chaletwo said reluctantly, “but…”

    “Chaletwo,” Mark said, something about the voice in his skull sickening and overbearing, “just… stop.”

    A flicker of psychic exasperation flashed through his mind, but then Chaletwo’s presence retreated back to a pinprick corner of his brain, something he could almost ignore.

    “Thanks,” May said, quietly.

    Mark nodded, and they sat together in silence a few more minutes. There was a strange comfort simply in being there, in the calm, not alone. Slowly, May’s breathing calmed and steadied, her legs stopped shaking, her hands lowered.

    Then, finally, she took a deep breath and rose to her feet. “I should go to bed.”

    Mark nodded again. As she opened the door, she turned around, looking him in the eye for the first time since they’d sat at the restaurant, a few eternal hours ago. “Good night, Mark,” she said.

    “Good night,” Mark said, and she exited the room and closed the door.

    -------

    May sat down on her own bed, took a deep breath, and dropped a Pokéball.

    “Stantler?” she said, her voice still hoarse.

    “Are you all right?” the deer Pokémon said immediately when she had formed. She’d probably heard everything from inside her ball – and her other Pokémon too, May realized, wincing.

    “Yeah,” she managed. “Floatzel… Floatzel stopped him.”

    Stantler nodded slowly. “I never learned to let myself out of a Pokéball. Perhaps I should have.”

    May looked away. She knew a couple of Mark’s Pokémon could do that; their balls must have been locked shut by the same power that’d kept Mark frozen, staring, choking. She’d always thought it was pointless: why have them waste time learning to come out on their own when she could just as well send them out herself when they were needed?

    “She must’ve figured it out on the spot,” she muttered.

    “That’s impressive of her,” Stantler said. “From what I’ve heard, it takes hours of practice for most Pokémon to learn to do it reliably, and the first time is always the most difficult. She must have been very determined to save you. Perhaps she cares more than she lets on.”

    Yeah. What did it take to pick up a new skill, never practiced, under pressure, while in the dreamlike haze of a Pokéball? That only made it worse. If Floatzel had just done it for an excuse to fight, then at least it wouldn’t have had anything to do with May.

    (Had any of her other Pokémon been trying and failing? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.)

    “She… she was badly hurt,” May said after a moment. “Spirit too. I sent her out to take down Mewtwo² with Destiny Bond, but that meant…” She swallowed; her throat hurt, and she took a slow breath as the pain subsided, shaking her head. “I don’t know what else I could have done.”

    “Spirit is loyal,” Stantler said. “She would die for you. I have no doubt she’d have done it on her own if she could.”

    “I don’t want anyone dying for me, okay?” She said it too quickly, too loudly, and her voice dissolved into coughs that tore into her raw throat all over again until she wished she hadn’t said anything.

    “They survived, though, didn’t they?” Stantler said softly. “How are they?”

    May shook her head. “It looked bad. The nurse said she’d do her best, but…”

    Stantler nodded again, grave. “Then there’s nothing for us to do but to wait and hope they pull through. Remember that whatever happens, this wasn’t your fault.”

    Her words left an acidic taste in May’s mouth. She looked away, swallowing again, hating the pain, wishing it would go away and let her just forget about what had happened.

    “I wanted him to die. That’s why I told Tyranitar that.”

    “Did you tell him that so he’d do it?” Stantler asked, her voice level as always. She’d probably heard that through her ball earlier, too. And yet she was still here, talking to her.

    May stared at the wall. “No,” she said after a moment. “I wanted it but I didn’t expect it to actually happen. I just…”

    “People often fantasize about violence without really, truly wanting it enacted,” Stantler said. “What matters is what you choose to put into action.”

    She knew that. That was what she’d been telling Chaletwo when he was in her head. But it felt like a hollow excuse, a lie she’d told herself to shift the blame – a lie that Rick’s wretched gaze had shattered and peeled back from the naked truth that in every way that really mattered, she’d killed him. Tyranitar had acted on her words, words that hadn’t been just a figure of speech, and now Taylor was dead. Why would anything else matter?

    And meanwhile, Tyranitar had given himself up and gone out of his way to pretend he’d been wild. To protect her. Why would he do that? Why?

    May clenched her fists, her nails digging into her palms until they hurt. She stared at the floor beneath Stantler’s feet, imagining everything just melting away into nothingness, but it never would.

    “I need to talk to the police,” she muttered, without looking up.

    “When we have captured Mew, then?” Stantler responded, unfazed.

    May hesitated. She wanted to just go now, get it over with before she changed her mind, so she could stop thinking about it. But Mark probably couldn’t take out Mew on his own, and Rick had no reason to go after Tyranitar anymore, so he should be safe in custody for the moment; she hated the voice that told her that, because it felt like the same voice that just wanted to go on and forget about Tyranitar and pretend none of this ever happened, but it was true.

    “Yeah,” she said. “Once we’ve caught Mew.”

    May took a deep breath and exhaled it, slowly, staring into her lap. She wished Spirit were here, but she wasn’t. Maybe she never would be again.

    Stantler stepped closer and gently touched her nose to May’s forehead. May lifted a hand and stroked her neck absent-mindedly. It wasn’t as soft as the Ninetales’ mane, but warmer, steadier.

    “Don’t blame yourself for what happened to Floatzel and Spirit,” Stantler said. “You never wanted them to get hurt. It was Rick who attacked them.”

    “Does that change anything?” May muttered.

    “Of course it does,” Stantler replied. “They were there because of you, but you didn’t cause the harm. Assigning blame down an endless chain of inadvertent causes leads nowhere. I’ve been down that road before.”

    “When your… when your trainer died?”

    Stantler nodded. May shifted on the bed. “He’s still just as dead, though.”

    There was a brief pause. “That’s true,” Stantler said. “But blaming myself for his death didn’t bring him back either. Blame can never change the past; it can only direct our perspective on how we should proceed in the future.” She paused again before continuing, her voice softening. “Some things I realized I could have done differently, and I resolved to do better. But other things I couldn’t fault given the circumstances. Sometimes you’re an accidental link in the chain of causality, nothing more, and there is no real change you could have made without the benefit of hindsight. In these situations, there’s little to be accomplished by dwelling on whatever role you may have played in the chain of events. Focus on actions that you can take from here, not events that are already past. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s all you can do.”

    May nodded slowly.

    “How are you feeling?” Stantler asked after a few seconds.

    “I don’t know.” May looked up, forced her back to straighten. “Better, I think. Thanks.”

    “I can use Hypnosis, if it would help.”

    Her first instinct was to say no, but it wasn’t true. She nodded wordlessly, lying down on the bed, and Stantler leaned over her, her eyes gentle.

    “Stantler?” May said as the air between her antlers started to shimmer with psychic distortion. “Do you… do you want to sleep outside your ball tonight?”

    She nodded. “I will.”

    The distortion between her antlers intensified, and within seconds the room and the world turned into a rippling, unreal canvas that crumpled and faded into nothing at all.

    -------

    Mark didn’t feel like he’d slept much at all. The night seemed like a long string of vaguely disturbing nightmares interrupted by periods of waking, tossing and turning, snapping awake at any sound from outside, until finally the light of morning streamed in through the narrow gap between the thick curtains and he decided he was too awake to fall asleep again. He got dressed and brushed his teeth in the hope of dispelling some of his grogginess, then knocked carefully on the door to May’s room. She opened it only a few seconds later, already dressed and ready, looking jarringly normal.

    “Have you seen Joy?” he asked.

    “No,” she said. Her voice was still a little hoarse, but better than yesterday. Her gaze flicked around the corridor.

    “Do you want to hang out in my room until she comes?” he offered.

    May shrugged, and they went back into his room. She glanced at Sandslash and Jolteon, who were still sleeping at the foot of the bed, before she sat down on the far side of it. She was still silent, looking away.

    Mark looked at her, unsure what to say. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached for his bag and pulled out his sketchbook. “Hey, tell me something to draw and I’ll do it.”

    She looked at him. “Vulpix,” she said, without thinking about it.

    Mark smiled as he picked up his pencil and sat down on the bed with her. “Vulpix is my favorite Pokémon.”

    “Huh.” May wasn’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm, but she still looked over at the paper to watch him sketch. After the Vulpix, she suggested a Skarmory, and he was halfway through that drawing when there was a knock on the door.

    “It’s me,” said Joy’s voice on the other side.

    Mark stood up to unlock the door and opened it. Joy’s face was tight, grave, and Mark’s stomach stung.

    “How did it go?” May asked, hugging her chest.

    “They’re resting,” Joy said, putting on a brief smile. “The surgery went well, and they should both make a full recovery, but they’re going to need a while before they can get out of the Pokémon Center, Floatzel especially.” She took a deep breath. “Rick came here late last night,” she said, her voice quieter. “He asked if I’d seen you.”

    Mark’s heart skipped a beat. “And what…?”

    “I told him you’d come by to get your flying Pokémon and left in a hurry,” the nurse replied. “He seemed very out of it; he appeared to be suffering from a severe concussion in addition to the slashes on his face. I persuaded him to let me call him an ambulance.” She took another deep breath. “His memory seemed fuzzy on exactly what had happened, but he clearly still wanted to find you. Given his injuries, I expect he’ll be in the hospital for most of today at the absolute least, but to be safe, I strongly suggest you get out of town as soon as you can.”

    Mark glanced at May. She shifted, not looking at the nurse. “What about Floatzel and Spirit?” she asked after a moment.

    “You’ll have to leave them here. I’ll take care of them; you can call me from any Pokémon Center, and when they’re ready I can transfer them to you.”

    May nodded. “Can… can I see them before we go?”

    The nurse smiled slightly. “Of course.”

    She led them into the recovery room. Floatzel was lying on one of the beds, most of her wrapped in a cast; she was fast asleep. Spirit lay on another, blinking slowly, her legs bandaged. She turned her head as they walked in, wincing in pain.

    “Spirit,” May said quietly, approaching her bed and stroking the fur on her head. “Are you okay?”

    “It was worth it,” the Ninetales said, her voice hoarse. “Nothing else could have taken down Mewtwo².”

    May gave a faint wince. “It was Robin’s idea.”

    “At least the gems are unharmed,” Spirit went on, looking at the pendant still hanging around her neck and the three rubies embedded in it. “To think Rick could have destroyed them without even knowing.”

    Oh. Mark looked dully at the soul gems and realized he wouldn’t have cared if they’d been broken, wouldn’t have even noticed. He stood back, silent, as May ran her hand through the Ninetales’ silky fur a few more times before moving over to Floatzel’s bed, hesitantly placing her hand on the sea otter’s head. Floatzel twitched a little in her sleep.

    “So she’s going to be fine?” May asked, stroking her Pokémon’s fine, orange fur carefully.

    “She should be,” the nurse responded. “Pokémon are resilient. I’ve set the bones and stopped the major internal bleedings; her system should handle it from here with some help from standard potions. But she will need to rest for a while. They can’t heal as fast when the damage is so widespread.”

    May nodded, staring at Floatzel for a few more moments before turning to Spirit. “We need to go,” she said. “Rick’s trying to find us again. We have to leave town and stay under the radar.”

    “What?” Spirit looked up sharply. “Where is he?”

    “He’s at a hospital now,” May said. “But we have to get out of here before he gets out. We have to leave you behind until you get better.”

    Spirit struggled to stand up. “I’m coming with you,” she said. “I will be fine if I just…”

    “No,” May said, her voice a little unsteady. “You’ve done enough. Please just stay here and rest.”

    Spirit gave a pained whine as she gave up and laid herself back down on her front legs. “Very well.”

    “And…” May hesitated. “Be nice to Floatzel when she wakes up, all right?”

    Spirit glanced over at Floatzel’s bed, sighing. “She saved your life, didn’t she?”

    May nodded without words.

    “Perhaps I misjudged her,” the Ninetales said. “I don’t know if she will grant me the same courtesy, but I suppose she deserves it.”

    “Tell her… tell her thanks.” May turned around. “Goodbye, Spirit. I’m sorry.”

    And with that, May walked out of the room without looking back. Mark waved a brief goodbye to Spirit before he followed.
     
  8. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    All righty, caught up again. And I gotta say... wow. Somehow I never expected Waraider to become my favorite legendary in this whole thing, but guess what. Yeah. The reveal about his herd definitely caught me by surprise, and between that and the extra, holy balls. He is one heck of a deep and fascinating character and even now I'm having a hard time organizing my words or even thoughts about the guy. I think the best I can do, apart from what I've already said, is to say that god dang could he ever use a hug, or something equivalent. (I've never hugged a horse. No, not even the non-stabby kind with no flappy bits. I don't know how cool they'd generally be with that ****. I'm not itching to find out, either. XD; )

    Still wondering what'll befall Tyranitar, when all's said and done. I don't THINK he's gonna get put down, especially not if Robin and Victor have been telling anyone other than Rick that he had a trainer. And just as especially not if May comes clean, for that matter.

    I knew meeting up with Rick would end badly, just. Couldn't predict exactly what flavor of badly it'd be. Floatzel and Spirit really dodged a bullet there. As did May. As did all of them. (Hell, even Rick did, in the "not getting thoroughly mangled by a weavile" sense.)

    ****'s been heavy for a while, but I feel like I can safely say it's gone heavier than ever. (How I avoided typing "evier" there, don't nobody know.) And I frickin love it. :D Looking forward to the next bit, and certainly excited to see just how this story finally ends.
     
  9. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    I have arrived finally! \o/

    Ahhh, ok, fair point. In that case, yeah, having a plausible secondary purpose would probably be your best bet.
    I really like this opening. It's a great followup to the intensity of the previous chapter, and Mark's brain getting stuck on this is pretty heavy.
    Heh, nice IALCOTN reference.
    Alright, we all know that May's breakdown was the standout of the chapter, and it definitely delivered! (Which I'm sure you're glad about, seeing as you've only spent like nine chapters setting it up.) Actually, in retrospect, it's pretty amazing that Robin was a semi-spontaneous addition to the cast, because it's hard to imagine how May's arc would have gone without her.
    Oh man, this didn't even occur to me last chapter--that we'd never seen Floatzel do that before. Damn.

    Alright! My OFFICIAL THEORY on the Super Ancient Plot Thread in Chapter 74 is that it is something to do with Mew, because that's the oldest thing that could plausibly have been in the original and somehow still be relevant today. I mean, it obviously can't be anything related to Chalenor or the Destroyer, because those didn't happen until later.

    Oh yeah! And Sike's review reminded me that I never commented on the Waraider extra! I love the idea of seeing a Legendary still getting used to their power. I especially liked the descriptions of the others' voices before they became physical.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAA WE ARE ONE CHAPTER AWAY FROM THE WHAM CHAPTER THIS IS NOT A DRILL AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

    As unspeakable as it is for me to err on the side of you ever delaying a chapter, if the ending to 74 really is as evil as you've implied it is...I think I could wait until closer to 75 being done, yeah.

    Oh my god 75 is coming how is that possible, where will I be when I read it, will my life ever be the same again, I've been reading this fic for so long, should I post my reactions in real time, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  10. Samayouru

    Samayouru Rabid Dusclops Fan

    Aaaalll right. I've finally caught up after years and years of delaying and procrastinating. This is all thanks to a sleepless night due to my stomach not agreeing with the spices used in my KFC meal and dad's earth-shattering snores. So i guess him being a loud sleeper was useful after all. ~

    I can't believe I'm actually finally going to be able to give my full thoughts on this fanfic, and even I am finding it difficult to let the fact that this story has been ongoing for 10 years now sink in.

    I'll start by saying that I am in a bittersweet position. On one hand I haven't actually grown up with this fanfic unlike a lot of the forum members here, which means I sadly don't have an emotional, sentimental or nostalgic attachment to it. On the other, I am glad that I didn't - I know for a fact that if I had been following TQftL from the start, then my opinion on it would be rather biased - and that is something I like to avoid when writing down my opinions or reviews.

    Your little disclaimer on the first post I both sympathise and emphasise with. I too have a demented little brainchild that I love to pieces (though mine is in the form of a MOTHER 3 fancomic) and I know just how hard it can be to let go of it. You've pretty much summed up my feelings towards the first part of the story - it definitely has warts, and it doesn't take much to see them, but you're aware of them yourself so I don't think I need to say any more on that.

    But as for the second half? Great googly moogly do I like it! I love how much time and effort you've put into this fanfic. Your characters are crafted very well and I particularly like your legendaries. I think Puragon and Polaryu are probably my favourites out of the bunch (in fact I'd probably want to mount Puragon and ride her into battle I like her that much). I think my favourite character that isn't a legendary, though, is Mark. Believe it or not, I had overprotective parents when I was a kid as well as teachers who didn't approve of the doodles of pokemon both canon and fan-made I made in my books, so I relate to him a lot more than I thought I would.

    As for my favourite pokemon? It's difficult for me to choose because to me, it is the pokemon characters who stand out the most. I always look forward to seeing them get character development. If I had to choose, though, I'd have to pick Tyranitar and Stantler. I'm a sucker for big monsters who are child-like and have no idea how the world works and Tyranitar is no exception. I actually felt really bad for him, even if he (and May) were in the wrong, he was only trying to please his trainer - even if it backfired horribly in the end. As for Stantler, I love how she's basically helping May come to terms with what she's done (or hasn't done, in some cases) and see things from a different view. That, and I like that you've chosen a pokemon that rarely ever gets put in fanfics unless they're Christmas themed. Something else I particularly enjoy are the legendary fights. There is always usually a sense of urgency and it is understandable why a lot of planning has to go into them. Every fight is a treat to read and I can see that you've tried your best to make them as intense as possible.

    I do have some theories about the Destroyer's identity myself as well as placing my bets on which legendary it turns out to be, but I will keep them reserved for now. Like the others, I will be watching this fanfic as you finish it with keen interest, and I can't wait to see how this all concludes.
     
  11. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Sike Saner

    Bwahaha, I should refer to horses as "the non-stabby kind with no flappy bits" from now on. I'm glad you liked Waraider! I had no idea about any of this stuff until I was NaNoing the rest of the fic, but I came to really like him once I'd realized what was up with him.

    Stuff really has been heavy lately, hasn't it? Well, chapter 74... is also pretty heavy. Sorry. :p


    Chibi Pika

    Yup. :D Sometimes I get a little sad thinking of how in the IALCOTN/next version I won't be able to do this sort of future mythology gag. But I could do the reverse instead, so I suppose I'll make do.

    I'm glad it went over well! :D May's breakdown here, and Rick's attempt to murder her that triggers it, has been a thing a lot longer than Robin has; it's a pretty old bit that I've been itching to write for yeeeears. But originally, Rick just happened to guess that it was May, based on the fact she had a Tyranitar and lost to Taylor. There was nothing particularly stressful for May going on in chapters 66-71 in the NaNo draft; Tyranitar never gave himself up either. This meant, of course, that all these chapters were pretty dreadful and basically nothing interesting was going on in them at all. I knew I wanted to tie Robin into May's arc and create more buildup for this, but I had no time to actually work out how, and it was terrible. (There was also literally no point to Victor whatsoever. I had no idea what he was doing there, aside from "Hey, remember this guy??" I'd written him in hoping I'd think of something fun to do with him, but it was NaNo and it just didn't happen. I'm pretty sure at some point while I was editing 66-69 I was considering just removing him altogether. But then, this Tumblr post? That was me realizing what Victor had been thinking this whole time, and then suddenly everything started to piece itself together. I'm amazed at how well this arc turned out given what an utter mess of inanity the draft was.)


    Samayouru

    Welcome aboard! I'm always thrilled to see new readers actually make it through the first half, and I'm glad you've been enjoying the ride since. I wish you'd shared your Destroyer theory because theories keep me alive, but ah well, it won't be long now.

    Chapter 74's coming in the next post, along with a little bit of an intro; it wouldn't fit within the character limit with the review responses. Enjoy!
     
  12. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    On this day fifteen years ago, I started the original version of The Quest for the Legends. Today, I'm posting chapter 74 of this same story that's followed me through most of my life.

    I wanted to be able to finish the fic today, or else post the climax (chapters 75 and 76) - alas, it wasn't to be. But in a way, this is a pretty appropriate chapter to post today. It's not the most exciting or action-packed chapter, but it's a very nostalgic one, including, referencing or calling back to several events, characters and places from very early in the fic (don't worry, I don't expect you to still remember any of that), and one of the scenes here I literally first thought up when I was twelve or thirteen, making it by far the oldest scene this late in the fic - it has evolved over the years, of course, but my thirteen-year-old self would still recognize it. That feels pretty amazing, and looking back on all that history and the little thoughtless, childish writing decisions from the early days that this chapter lovingly embraces and recontextualizes a bit is a nice way to celebrate the fic's fifteenth anniversary.

    I confess I'd probably be spending more time on this chapter if it weren't the anniversary, but I think it more or less does what it's supposed to do, and I'm content with that.

    Thanks to everyone who's been here for this journey, whether you started reading this year or a decade ago. I know I have readers my age who've been following this story since they were kids, and it's amazing to think something I wrote has been a part of their lives for so long. Thanks to everyone who's been cheering me on over the years, poking me about my progress until I got here. And of course, a very special thanks to elyvorg and opaltiger, who've been my beta-readers for the past several years.



    The Final Stretch – Chapter 74: Unraveling

    They’d been assigned the west side of the region, and despite everything that had happened since yesterday, no plans had been changed, so west side it was.

    They headed south into Rainbow Woods, traveling a bit off the beaten path, keeping a silent, wary lookout for anything suspicious. Every movement made Mark’s stomach lurch, his mind preparing to see Rick’s clenched jaw and bloodshot eyes, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. The woods were peaceful and quiet, weak wild Pokémon occasionally flitting between the trees but avoiding engagement.

    Rick was probably still in the hospital, Mark reminded himself every time a rattling in the bushes turned out to be a Rattata. There was no reason for him to be here now.

    After a few hours of repeated false alarms, that reflex finally started to numb somewhat, and Mark’s mind began to wander to other worries, to their quest and to Mew.

    “Hey,” he said eventually. May glanced back at him, her expression unreadable as usual.

    “I was thinking,” he went on. “So when Mew…” He paused. “Wait, did I ever properly explain the thing with Mew? Why the Mew Hunter went after me and all that?”

    “No,” Chaletwo said. “I had been planning to ask you about that myself. You were thinking something yesterday about Rick giving Mew to you…?”

    “Yeah. When I battled Rick, he used Mew, but Mew was resisting the Clone Ball, and I think it freaked him out. He got all weird and angry and then he gave Mew’s ball to me and told me to just take it away.”

    “Huh,” Chaletwo said, slowly. “I’d gathered that you’d met Mew a couple of times before, but not like that. I always thought Rick had simply released him.”

    “No,” Mark said. “It was me. I switched him to a normal Pokéball, and after we talked for a bit he flew out through my window.”

    “And you released him formally through the PC after that?”

    “Yeah,” Mark replied. “And I put the ball in the recycling bin and everything. I’ve still got the Clone Ball in my bag somewhere, but obviously that’s deactivated. Nothing that helps us now.”

    “The mind-control ball? You kept that?” Faint disgust pricked at Mark’s mind.

    Mark shrugged sheepishly. “It seemed like sort of an interesting keepsake, I guess.”

    Chaletwo sighed. “Well, it’s a moot point now. What were you going to say?”

    “Yeah, so… when I released Mew back there, he told me his home was here. In Rainbow Woods.”

    “Oh.” Chaletwo’s telepathic voice was dull. “What Mew calls home doesn’t mean very much. He spends most of his time traveling, seeing the world and observing its inhabitants. Every once in a while he picks a place that strikes his fancy and designates it as ‘home’, but he only occasionally spends much time there. He may not return to it for years, and this is not one of the times that he sticks around. He might come back here or he might not. It’s no more likely than any other place.”

    Mark nodded slowly. “Do you think he might return home when his power starts to run out? If he’s too weak to travel like normal – would he come back here?”

    “Maybe,” Chaletwo said, reluctant. “That would be cutting it uncomfortably close, but if it comes to that, it might make sense to return here.” That was something, at least – a contingency plan. Chaletwo sighed. “If only we could have gotten that device off Rick.”

    May looked away. “Do you have any idea how that thing worked?”

    “Mmm. I can’t know for sure, but it’s likely it was something that detected psychic signals. A strong Psychic legendary like Mew gives off an aura. You can only feel it when the legendary is physically close, but theoretically it’s possible he could make a machine that could pick up a much fainter signal, and then he could triangulate Mew’s approximate location from that. That’s my best guess, anyway. Doesn’t help us find him without the device itself.”

    “But what about twenty years ago when you first asked him about the War?” Mark asked. “Or when Raudra and Puragon wanted to warn him about us, or Mewtwo – how are they finding him?”

    “He wants to talk to them,” Chaletwo said pointedly. “It’s not usually hard for a legendary to find him – wander around looking, don’t make a secret of what you’re looking for, and before long he’ll pop up to greet you. But he’s obviously been avoiding us since we proposed the plan, and he pays close attention to news and rumours of the other legendaries. He’ll know he’s the only one left by now.”

    Mark nodded, silent. No shortcuts. They’d just have to stumble upon him, somehow.

    One Pokémon in the entire world, and they had… seven groups looking? He’d tried not to think about Mew and how hard it’d be to find him, to push all that back to when they got there, but now they were there and there was nowhere else to push it; all the built-up dread that he’d managed to ignore up to this point was seeping back into his mind, amplified by his general anxiety about Rick.

    May just walked on, staring straight ahead. He didn’t think he would ever understand how she maintained that steely composure even now, but somehow seeing her soldiering on after everything gave him some small measure of strength. He hastened to keep up with her, and as they continued their trudge through the forest, he tried to think only of the next step, the next clearing, the next clump of bushes.

    -------

    They camped out in the woods in the evening. May was quiet as they ate a cold dinner of beans and crackers; Mark persuaded her into another drawing game before they retreated to their tents, though, and she gave a faint smile at his drawing of Floatzel. Weavile offered to keep watch as they slept, silent and devoid of her usual cocky demeanor, grim determination in her eyes.

    It was almost completely dark when Mark woke with a start, gripped with a chilling feeling of being watched. Something rustled outside, like footsteps, as an indistinct shadow – Weavile? – shifted on the wall of the tent, flickering in the faint light of the fire. He held his breath, paralyzed; everything was silent now but his thumping heartbeat as he waited for Rick to tear open the tent, silhouetted against the flames, Mewtwo²’s looming, hunched-over form at his side.

    But nothing happened. After several minutes tense and frozen in the dead quiet, taking shallow, silent breaths, Mark finally dared to fully exhale. He sat up, slowly, and carefully unzipped the front of the tent. “Weavile?” he whispered.

    “Someone was here,” she said. The glow that remained of their campfire reflected in her eyes and her gleaming claws. “They bolted when I noticed them.”

    Mark shivered, staring into the darkness. Rick? But why would he have run off without a fight?

    Weavile glanced away, then back at him. “Sleep,” she said. “I’ll wake you if there’s trouble. I won’t let him get you too.”

    “No, let’s… let’s move,” Mark said weakly, his mouth dry. “We can’t risk it, not with Mewtwo² around. It can hurt Dark-types.” If only they’d thought to take its ball off Rick while he was unconscious – but of course, they’d been in no state to think that far.

    Weavile averted her eyes, but didn’t object. Mark crawled out of his tent to wake May, shaking with both cold and adrenaline.

    “I never used to have anyone I wanted to protect,” Weavile muttered, and Mark turned around. “And now that I do, I can’t.”

    “You helped us escape,” Mark said.

    “Didn’t help Floatzel. Couldn’t have helped Floatzel.”

    Mark tried to shrug. “You… you can’t always help.”

    Weavile didn’t answer. Mark shivered again as he turned back to May’s tent.

    You can’t always help.

    -------

    They moved to a different campsite. Mark didn’t get much sleep after that, but there was no further sign of their visitor. In the morning, they searched around Alumine, tired and exhausted, but found nothing. They camped in the woods again, after wading through a mess of undergrowth and a thicket of trees, lighting no campfire so they’d be less likely to be seen. Again, the night was quiet. Nothing happened, no one attacked – but that didn’t ease his mind much.

    The next day was similar. May still said nothing, staring distantly around the forest as they searched as if on autopilot. The silence was deafening, but what could he say?

    “Draw Mew,” she said when they’d eaten dinner that night.

    “It’s too dark,” Mark said. Again they had no fire, no light, and even though their dinner was early, the trees obscured the diminishing light of the setting sun.

    May shrugged slightly. “We can use my torch inside one of the tents.”

    Mark couldn’t help compulsively worrying – wouldn’t the beam be visible through the fabric of the tent? – but by the time they were huddled together over his sketchpad by the flashlight, he could forget about all that for a moment. In his drawing, Mew was sleeping, peaceful, serene.

    “Did you know,” he said absent-mindedly as he shaded the tiny body, “back in Scorpio City after you got stung by that Scorplack – Mew came there?”

    May blinked. “Huh?”

    “I was sitting there alone with you, Mitch left to check on some blood test, and Mew just… appeared.”

    “Why?”

    Mark shrugged. “He said something about… fate, and appearing because he felt he should? I asked him to heal you but he said he couldn’t because Scorplack is a Dark-type. Then he just left again when Mitch was about to come in.”

    “Did it say anything else?”

    “Not really.” Mark shook his head, turning the memory over in his mind: it was pretty odd, wasn’t it? “He was only there for maybe twenty or thirty seconds. Didn’t do anything.”

    “Weird.” May looked at the drawing again. “Chaletwo, you got anything?”

    “It sounds like Mew,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “Banging on about fate, appearing at random. He likes to show himself more than to be inadvertently seen, so appearing to you but leaving before someone else walked in sounds typical.”

    May stared unseeingly at the paper. “Why would he go somewhere for such a short time, if he didn’t do anything while he was there? What was the point?”

    “You can’t reason about Mew. He works in mysterious ways. I’ve never been able to figure him out.”

    Mark shrugged, but he could see May, her gaze distant, still mulling it over while he finished his drawing.

    -------

    As February wore on, they spent a few days searching near Alumine, then a few in the forest, then a few around the Lake of Purity. By a silent, implicit agreement, they didn’t get too close to Cleanwater City itself. Mark thought to himself, without knowing if it was true, that Mew probably wouldn’t want to spend time in a city where he’d been trapped and mind-controlled for three years, either. If Chaletwo thought otherwise, he didn’t object.

    Mark initially wasn’t sure about covering the northwest corner of the region, near his hometown: surely, if all wild Pokémon avoided the area, Mew would too? But Chaletwo was unsure, so they searched around Sailance, too. There was a knot in Mark’s stomach as they skirted around the edges of town, as he tried not to think of what would happen to his parents if they couldn’t find Mew. Could he save them, get them into Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter before it was too late? Would it be enough? What about everyone else, who wouldn’t have a shelter?

    At May’s suggestion, they slipped into a clothing store after they restocked on food and bought large, hooded wind jackets, hats, and scarves that obscured their features from afar. Mark wasn’t sure it would stop Rick, but he still felt safer, wrapped in warm, concealing layers. They still hadn’t had a nighttime encounter since that first night. Perhaps they’d shaken him off.

    After Sailance, they headed back past the Lake of Purity and through the forest, then threaded the beaches west of it. They were back near Alumine, a couple of weeks into the search, when something was different about the atmosphere as they packed up their tents in the morning; May was distracted, fidgety, in a way she hadn’t been before, and even Chaletwo was radiating a faint sense of apprehension from somewhere in the back of his mind.

    “What’s up?” Mark asked, looking at May.

    “Nothing,” she said immediately, stuffing the minimized box with her tent into her bag, then pulling the hood of her jacket further over her head. Mark’s gaze lingered on her. She still wasn’t talking much, but she watched him draw most nights, hugging her knees close, making quick suggestions like she was trying not to think about them – always Pokémon. He was never sure what she was thinking or how he could help.

    She glanced back at him, then away again. “It’s…” she began, her voice quiet. “It’s my birthday.”

    Mark blinked at her. She busied herself with zipping up her bag, as if she expected that to be the end of the conversation. With a sting in his gut, Mark recalled his own last birthday: Sparky throwing him a party, May and Alan helping to make him a cake. Now, here they were, hiding in the woods, subsisting on bottled water and dry crackers and cold beans and cereal bars.

    “Hey,” he said, willing himself to smile as she looked up again. “Happy birthday! Thirteen, right? So you’re… you’re a teenager. Congrats.”

    He laughed as she grimaced exaggeratedly. “Don’t remind me.”

    “How about we go somewhere and celebrate?” Mark said. “There’s a café at the edge of the woods. They might have cake or something.”

    “Really?” May gave him a sceptical glance.

    He shifted on his feet. “There’s… nobody’s been following us lately, and we’ve got our disguises. It has to be okay for just maybe an hour, right? Some proper food?” Mark really hoped he was right. “It’s your birthday.”

    May looked away, still hesitant. In truth, Mark wasn’t quite sure either; images of Rick bursting in and Mewtwo²’s empty eyes flickered in his mind, underlined by the faint buzz of tension and fear and guilt in the back of his skull.

    “If…” Chaletwo said abruptly, “if it would help, you can switch me to an active ball. If Rick did appear, you should have time to let me out before he could pick you out of the crowd, and I could teleport us out of there. It should be fine.” May blinked in surprise. “You... you both deserve this,” he added awkwardly. “Happy birthday.”

    Mark grinned in disbelief, looking back at May. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “Sure.”

    -------

    They reached the café around lunchtime. Mark couldn’t help being apprehensive again as they approached it, but Chaletwo’s ball was comforting in his hand; even though it was unlikely it would come to that, knowing they had a backup plan if something went wrong calmed him down.

    The little red door was friendly and welcoming. They frantically scanned the other customers as they entered, but once they were sure they hadn’t just barged in on Rick, May led the way to a corner booth, sitting down on the side that faced towards the door. Mark took a seat opposite her; as he sank into the cushion and dropped his backpack down on the floor next to him, all the pent-up tension and worries of the past weeks seemed to lift off his shoulders as well. They were okay. They were here. They were going to have some nice food again, in the warmth of a house, because it was May’s birthday, and for the moment that was all that they had to think about. He’d needed this break, really needed it; he hadn’t realized how much so until now.

    He inhaled deeply, rolling his sore shoulders, relishing the smell of food. A waitress approached the table, smiling, and took their order. For a minute he just sat back with his eyes closed, feeling the tension melt out of his muscles; then he opened his eyes again and glanced at May where she sat gazing at nothing in particular. The interior of the café was cozy and nostalgically familiar.

    “It’s weird to be here again,” he said, smiling at May. “Still seems bigger on the inside.”

    “Last time we were here, you thought I’d stolen your Pokémon,” May said.

    “Did I?” Mark laughed; he could just about remember it, but the thought seemed alien now, like something that had happened to someone else.

    “Yeah. It was when the Mew Hunter took them. You freaked out at me because you thought I’d wanted to steal Dratini.”

    He did remember that. Back when he’d caught him, May had tried to argue that Dratini should be hers because she’d brought the tools to fish him out of the lake. “And then you said you didn’t really want him anyway, because…” He trailed off as he caught himself, the humour of the situation dying down into an awkward silence. Because she had Larvitar.

    They looked at one another for a moment before May averted her gaze. Thankfully, just then their waitress arrived with the food, smoothly disposing of the subject.

    Halfway through his grilled cheese sandwich, Mark spoke again. “I was kind of a jerk back there,” he said. “We both wanted Dratini, but I just took him and ran while you were distracted. I’m sorry.”

    May shook her head; she was eating her sandwich with a knife and fork, one meticulous bite at a time. “You were the one who caught him. I just made up some dumb reason I should get him instead because I was jealous.”

    Mark blinked at her, surprised by her bluntness. Not that he hadn’t guessed; it occurred to him, fleetingly, that it was no wonder they hadn’t noticed anything off about Larvitar, because they’d both been too busy being childishly excited about having pseudo-legendaries.

    “I guess we’ve both grown up a bit since we started out, huh?” he said. “Happy birthday again.”

    May poked the bottom of her glass of cola with her straw, absent-mindedly, her face expressionless. “I never really used to have any friends,” she said, without looking up. “I had Spirit, but the New Bark Town kids never liked me. I told myself it was because they were idiots, but I guess actually I was the idiot.”

    Mark looked at her, unsure how to react to a confession like that. “I… I don’t think you’re an idiot.”

    “You didn’t like me either,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t actually start trying to be friendly until after the Dratini thing. And even then I wasn’t very good at it. Remember how I just left you behind in Scorpio City?”

    “Oh.” Mark scratched the back of his head. “I figured you’d just moved on, though. It wasn’t a big deal.”

    She grimaced. “You can tell I wasn’t used to having friends.”

    She put her glass down, still not looking him in the eye. Mark hesitated before opening his mouth again. “I’m glad we ended up traveling together.”

    May looked up. “Why?”

    “You helped me with battling a lot. I’d never have gotten so far at the League without you, or caught any of those legendaries. And… you’re not perfect, but we’ve been through a lot and I just… I’m glad you’re here.”

    May looked at him for a long moment. “Well, thanks, for… coming to my birthday party, I guess.” She glanced back towards the counter. “Anyway, didn’t you say they had cake? I want cake. Screw the money.”

    She called over a waiter and ordered two large slices of chocolate cake, which arrived quickly. Mark wasn’t too hungry after the sandwich, but he ate his slice anyway, almost as an act of solidarity.

    “What was that Sparky said again?” May asked when she’d finished, putting her fork down. “Make every birthday the best you’ve ever had because it might be your last? Seems apt.”

    “Don’t say that,” Chaletwo said. “We only have Mew left. We’ve got to find him eventually.”

    “Yeah,” May said. “Sure.”

    Mark felt a sudden, abrupt flash of intense anger in the back of his mind. “No! You will not undermine everything we’ve worked for at this stage in the game. We’re almost done. Do you understand what we’ve accomplished? We’ve captured every legendary but one!”

    May blinked at him, her brow furrowing.

    “Mew is just one more. We’ll get him. Not one more word of this. It’s your birthday! Talk about… presents or school or whatever it is you talk about on birthdays.”

    Mark shared a glance with May, a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Chaletwo?” he asked under his breath.

    “I just…” The legendary’s psychic sigh reverberated through Mark’s mind, trembling. “My power loss is slowing down. That’s what happens near the end. We may have somewhat less time than I thought.”

    “What?” Mark’s ears rang with a strange, otherworldly static. “How much time?”

    “I don’t know. I didn’t really know to begin with. I was hoping we had until May at least. I’m not sure anymore.”

    “So what, it could just… happen any day now?”

    “No,” Chaletwo said. “I’ll know when it’s getting very close. We probably have at least a month or two. It just… made me concerned.”

    May pressed her lips together. “I guess we should get going,” she said and started to push her chair away from the table.

    “But…” Mark trailed off; May stopped. “Can we… can May at least have her birthday?”

    “It’s fine,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “You lose far more time at night than you do here. I wasn’t going to tell you until after this.”

    “No,” May said after a moment. “Let’s go. The cake’s done, anyway.”

    -------

    They kept on searching. Mark kept a close eye on May, concerned after all she’d said at the café, but she was actually less quiet than before, commenting dryly on the search, the weather, the Pokémon they encountered. Every night now, she suggested a new Pokémon for him to draw: an Espeon, a Milotic, a Lapras (he looked at her when she said it, and her lips were tight but she said nothing).

    After another week or so, Chaletwo persuaded Mark to message the others through May’s Pokégear. There was a knot in his stomach as he typed: Been a few weeks, should we spread out?

    Heard of more sightings in Ouen, Leah replied back. Better stay here. Keep doing what you’re doing, everyone. I’ll contact Mary and get her over here too.

    Roger, came Alan’s answer. Take care, guys.

    Mark felt anxious for the rest of the day, compulsively checking the Pokégear while at the same time dreading it, his throat tight, but the others never responded. The device showed they’d gotten the message, at least; they had to trust that they were still searching.

    They went up and down the coast, through the woods again, back beyond Sailance, around the Lake of Purity, down to Alumine; then they combed the whole area again but found nothing. Chaletwo’s apprehension was a steady throb in Mark’s skull, growing little by little every day into a constant, maddening tension that left him restless and unable to relax, constantly shaking with nerves.

    In the evenings, he continued drawing, the quiet sessions with May becoming the only times he could temporarily escape that relentless anxiety, an anchor of comforting tradition that kept him going: Pidgeot, Salamence, Blaziken, Mutark, Flygon, Raichu, Butterfree. Charmander. Quilava. Spirit.

    It was April when, after several exhausting nights of fitful sleep interrupted by flashes of alien terror, Chaletwo muttered, “I think I should get out of your head.”

    Mark felt his brain grinding clunkily out of a state of autopilot, a strange mixture of relief and dread bubbling up in his head. “Is… is it close?”

    “Not… not that close, I think. I just… I just think it’s best if I conserve my power from here. I could still teleport you somewhere, and it’s good if I can in an emergency.”

    Mark swallowed. “How are we going to know if it’s too late?”

    “I’m… I’m sure I’ll be able to tell if you release me for a moment, maybe once a week. I’ll let you know. It’ll be fine.”

    Mark and May looked at each other, silent. “All right,” Mark said, hesitant.

    “This is… this is goodbye for now, then.” Chaletwo’s voice was forced and unsteady. “You’re sure the storage system’s Pokéball farms are safe?”

    Mark nodded, his mouth dry. “Yeah, they should be.” But…

    “Good. Just put me on the PC and –”

    “No,” Mark said, his voice tight. “I’ll keep your ball with me until you tell me it’s too late. We might need you to teleport quickly again. And…” He hesitated, an uncomfortable stinging in his gut. “I need to know that you’ll really tell us. I… maybe I want to call my parents.”

    Chaletwo was silent for a long moment. “All right. I’ll talk to you in a week. Keep searching.”

    And then, all of a sudden, he was gone. The presence in Mark’s head vanished, a smothering weight of oppressive emotion abruptly lifted from his mind, leaving behind a strange void. He felt lightheaded for a moment, followed by a weird pins-and-needles sensation, and then, finally, normal. No Chaletwo. They were on their own.

    “Is he gone?” May asked, and Mark nodded. They looked at each other in silence for a few more seconds; neither of them wanted to voice the obvious, like it would somehow make it more real.

    Mark forcibly pushed it out of his mind, turned and prepared to go on autopilot again, to just stare at the ground and the bushes and not think about anything.

    “Wait,” May said suddenly. “I… I want to get Spirit and Floatzel back.”

    -------

    The nurse from Cleanwater City was visibly relieved to see them when they called her on the videophone in the Alumine Pokémon Center. She looked quickly from side to side before leaning in closer, lowering her voice. “I’m so glad to see you safe. How are you doing? Did you find your Growlithe?”

    It took Mark a moment to remember what she was talking about. “Yeah, we did,” he said as his brain caught up, feeling a little guilty again for lying to her. “We’re okay. We’ve been keeping a low profile.”

    The nurse nodded. “Good. Your Pokémon are doing well; they’ve made a full recovery, more or less. Your Ninetales has been concerned after not hearing from you for so long. Rick’s been out of town since he got out of the hospital, probably searching for you. I hoped the fact he hadn’t returned meant he hadn’t found you, but we couldn’t know for certain.”

    “What about Floatzel?” May asked.

    “She said you’d never let him catch you.” Nurse Joy smiled. “They’ll both be glad to be back.”

    They kept it brief. Spirit and Floatzel were transferred over and they said goodbye to Nurse Joy before heading back out into the woods, until they felt safe again. They sent out all the Pokémon they could to welcome the pair back; May hugged Spirit close, while Weavile practically jumped on Floatzel with a playful Quick Attack as soon as she was out, the sea otter cackling with glee as she retaliated.

    “Thanks,” May said as she let go of Spirit, looking towards Floatzel but not quite making eye contact.

    “Only what you do for a trainer, isn’t it?” Floatzel said, cocking her head. “I get battles and food and I protect you. That’s how it goes, yes? A deal’s a deal.”

    May stared at her a moment as Spirit eyed her grimly; then Weavile pounced again, and Floatzel turned, darting out of the way and preparing a countering Aqua Jet. May took a deep breath. “There’s more,” she said, looking over the group of Pokémon. “Chaletwo’s gone from Mark’s head. Apparently there’s not that much time left. So if… if any of you want to leave and find a safe place now, you can go. Mrs. Riverstone had a shelter.”

    Floatzel laughed and returned to the playfight. The other Pokémon murmured to each other, but nobody stepped forward.

    “Are you sure?” May asked, clenching her fists. “You don’t have to stay.”

    “We’ve come this far,” Butterfree said. “We can’t quit now.”

    “How long do we have?” Flygon asked, his wings twitching.

    “We don’t know,” Mark said. “He said we should release him once a week and he’ll say if it’s coming.” The knot in his stomach tightened. Weeks. Everything might be ending in weeks.

    The Pokémon looked at each other. “Then,” May’s Flygon said, tilting his head, “we can think about leaving if Chaletwo says that.”

    The other Pokémon murmured in agreement. Nobody objected.

    May stared at them in silence for a few moments. “Well, then let’s go,” she said, reaching for her Pokéball necklace again. “Better not waste any more time.”

    -------

    A week passed, slowly but far too quickly. Chaletwo said that it was okay, it was fine, there was still time.

    Another week went by, and May asked Mark to draw some of his favorite Pokémon. So he drew Lugia, Articuno, Moltres, legendaries he’d adored since he was a little kid staring wide-eyed at the illustrations in his picture books. Back then, they’d seemed impossibly big and beautiful, perfect, immortal beings that he could only dream of seeing from a distance one day – but they were just Pokémon, weren’t they? Just a bunch of beautiful, undying, flawed, scared Pokémon that were doomed to destroy one another, unless they succeeded on this strange quest. He wondered again, for the first time in a while, why Mew, who already knew about the War, didn’t want it stopped. Had Mew and Chalenor tried to stop it before? Exactly what had happened before the last War, a thousand years ago?

    One more week, and Chaletwo told them to contact the others again. There had still been sightings in Ouen, all over the place, scattered throughout the region in no discernible pattern. There was nothing better to do than to keep doing what they’d been doing. The lack of a change, a plan, of any sense of progress, was maddening, but they kept going, walking the same familiar woods and beaches and edges of cities.

    “Draw Tyranitar,” May said quietly at the beginning of the next week, and Mark drew him as he successfully stood up to Mewtwo²’s power in the League finals, not weak, that one glorious moment when it had seemed like she would win. The next day, when May asked him to choose, he drew Letaligon, roaring in triumph after her evolution. Where was she now? The rest of the week’s drawings were more victories, successes, happy moments frozen in time with everything that came after them forgotten: bringing down Thunderyu, winning badges, Jolteon holding his own against May’s Flygon, Waraider when he agreed to be captured.

    At the end of the week they sent Chaletwo out, in the thicket of the forest, and he was silent.

    “How long do we have?” May asked.

    “Stick to the forest,” Chaletwo said after a few seconds. “You said his home is here. He’ll come back. He must come back. Search it better.”

    A cold, invisible hand clutched at Mark’s insides. He didn’t know what to say, but even if he had, his throat ached with weeks of built-up looming horror finally latching on and settling in, making him want to curl up and scream until it was over.

    “How long?” May repeated.

    “It’s… it’s fine. Just keep looking. By this point he’d be getting weak. He’ll be back to the forest.”

    “Are you sure?” May asked. Her voice was level but firm, her fists clenched, knuckles white.

    “Yes. Yes! I’m sure. It’s not yet. We’ll find him when he returns to the forest. It’s fine.”

    “So…” Mark began, his tongue sticky and uncomfortable in his mouth, “what you’re saying is… I should put you on the PC and call my parents?”

    “I’m…” Chaletwo hesitated. “No! No, it’s… it’s not yet. Not quite. It’s not less than a week. It can’t be. He’s coming; I know he’s coming here. Just keep looking!”

    And he recalled himself back into his ball.

    May looked at Mark, her fists still clenched tight.

    Chaletwo hadn’t actually asked to be sent to the PC. That had to… that had to mean he believed it. Didn’t it?

    His parents. Was he actually going to call them, show them he was alive only to tell them the world was ending? Would they believe him? Would Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter actually keep anyone safe? If they did survive a legendary apocalypse, what kind of life would be waiting for them afterwards, with maybe thousands or millions dead? All these questions seemed abstract and unreal; his mind went blank trying to imagine it, flinching away from the idea, retreating back behind a barrier of safe, sane normalcy: Chaletwo didn’t ask to be sent to the PC. Mew is probably coming back here. We can find him. We’re going to find him.

    Even if he could save his parents or other friends or family members, could he really do that, knowing so many others were doomed?

    Was the time he was wasting here thinking about it time in which they could have found Mew?

    “So are you calling home?” May asked.

    “I…” For a moment he stood there speechless, his parents’ faces at the edge of his mind, never quite in focus as some desperate part of him insistently pushed them back, behind that safe barrier. “Not… not yet,” he said, numb. “Let’s try for at least a few more days.”

    May nodded slowly, without responding.

    “We should message the others,” he managed to add. “Let them know. And our Pokémon.”

    She handed him the Pokégear, and he typed a message with shaking hands: It’s coming soon. Mrs. Riverstone wanted Robin home. There might be room in her shelter. We’re still searching.

    Despite everything, none of their Pokémon wanted to leave. May’s Flygon looked uneasy, curling his tail around himself, glancing anxiously from side to side, but when no one else volunteered, he didn’t either. May asked if he was sure, twice, staring at him like she wanted to make him go, but he insisted he was staying, at least for now, and that was that. Stantler asked if they were okay, if they were going to contact anyone, but Mark said no, and May shook her head. For a brief moment he wondered about her family, why she didn’t want to call them, but that train of thought took him back towards his own, and within moments, before he could take that horrible plunge into nightmarish finality, the barrier was back, banishing the thought. They could do it. They could do it. They’d stop it. Everything would be fine, somehow. It had to be.

    And then they had to go. There was no more time to waste. May kept Spirit out, saying if they found Mew they’d need a quick Mean Look, and they set off yet again, the Ninetales staying close by her side.

    “You know what’s funny?” May muttered that night as they were hastily pitching their tents. “Part of me doesn’t mind.”

    Mark shivered. He wanted to respond, but there was nothing he could say that wasn’t painful and terrifying.

    There was no more drawing after that.

    -------

    And then, after five more days of restlessly combing through the forest, shaking, unable to stop or think or sleep more than a few hours, there was a change.

    A soft, familiar tingling brushed by the back of his mind, something light and warm and feathery, and he knew what it was. He hadn’t really registered it back then, but just the same, he recognized it instantly, some subconscious memory surfacing for air from the depths of everything, a sudden ray of hope out of the darkness.

    May and Spirit noticed, too, stopping, holding their breaths. Everything was hazy and unreal as Mark led the way towards that gentle guiding signal, the soft psychic aura of the last legendary.

    And then they were there, pushing aside the branches of a tree to reveal a small clearing where Mew lay curled up in sleep inside a pink protective bubble, hovering lightly just above the ground.

    And then, before Spirit could step forward and use Mean Look, before any of them could start to process what was happening, the red recall beam of a Pokéball shot towards Mew from the bushes to the side, and the legendary was absorbed into it and disappeared.

    Mark’s heart stopped, his body frozen and numb with shock. Behind the bush, an all-too-familiar man in a trench coat with a thick, unkempt beard rose to his feet and chuckled in disbelief, gazing at a black Pokéball in his hand. A Kabutops stood by his side, staring at Mark.

    His brain could think one thing and one thing only. “How?” he croaked. “How do you have a Clone B…”

    The Mew Hunter looked up, sharply, as if he hadn’t noticed them, taking a step back behind his Kabutops. He hesitated a moment, his eyes darting back and forth, but then a gloating smirk broke out on his face. “Don’t you recognize it?” he said. “It’s yours. I heard you say you still had it and then nabbed it from your bag at the Rainbow Café, when I finally had a chance.”

    Everything spun around in Mark’s head. Him. He’d been following them, for weeks. He’d been the nighttime visitor. “It… it was deactivated! I know I…”

    “I reactivated it,” the Mew Hunter said, his voice cool, holding the ball close to his chest. “The recall data isn’t permanently lost on deactivation. It can be recovered, if you know how. I studied Pokéballs, remember.” Oh. “I removed Rick’s repulsive mind-control hardware, of course. I need better tools for the Mean Look modification, but once I get home I’ll make it a ball fit for Mew.”

    “Okay,” May said, and Mark looked back at her in alarm. “Okay. It’s fine. You can have it. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t send it out for a while, okay? If you just keep it in there for –”

    The Mew Hunter’s lip twitched. “You think I caught Mew to be a mere prize in my collection? To let it rot in a ball? No! I caught it because I understand. I’ll give Mew friendship and happiness. I care about it. I care more than anyone! That’s why I was destined to be Mew’s trainer. I’m the only one who can save it!”

    “Give her to us,” Spirit snarled. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

    “Look,” May said, keeping her voice level. “There’s this periodic disaster –”

    “I’d die before giving Mew up to the likes of you!” the Mew Hunter growled, pulling four Pokéballs off his belt. “I’d sooner release it now and find it all over again than let you get your filthy hands on this ball. Cover me!”

    As he took off running through the woods, four bursts of light formed around him, his Feraligatr, Sandslash, Sneasel and Fangcat joining Kabutops, looking back and brandishing claws and fangs as they ran alongside him in a protective formation. May glanced at Mark as they sprinted after him, Spirit bounding ahead. They could beat his Pokémon easily, of course – they’d taken down legendaries. But if he felt threatened and threw that ball and Mew teleported away, to some far-off region…

    Mark grabbed Chaletwo’s ball from his belt, but before he could throw it, one of his other balls popped open.

    “Rob!” Scyther called as he materialized in front of Mark, and the fleeing man froze in his tracks, his Pokémon whirling around to face them.

    The Mew Hunter turned, slowly. “You… you’re with them?” he asked limply, his voice quiet and shaking as he lowered Mew’s ball. “You joined them for good?”

    Scyther nodded warily, glancing at the five Pokémon surrounding his former trainer. “Rob, what are you doing?”

    “Does he ever talk to you, like I did?” the Mew Hunter said, his voice low. “Spend evenings washing the blood from your self-inflicted wounds and trying to give you comfort and warmth? Let you drink and vent and forget?”

    “He doesn’t have to,” Scyther said.

    “I gave you everything!” the Mew Hunter barked, his eyes wide and shining. “I saved your life! I loved you. I did everything I could to help you. How could you abandon me just when I could finally live again, only to join up with...” He waved a trembling hand at Mark. “...with these slave-drivers who want to destroy everything that’s important to me?”

    Scyther took a breath. “I loved you too, Rob,” he said. “I’d be dead if it weren’t for you – you taught me a way to cope when I had nothing. But my head’s cleared a lot since I left you, and I don’t think it was the right way anymore. I wallowed in my own worthlessness instead of questioning it, instead of getting anywhere. And I did that because that’s all that you did.” He hesitated, staring at the Mew Hunter, then at his Pokémon again. “You don’t need Mew. You can have a normal life with your Pokémon, who would die for you. Rob, you can let go. I swear you can. All Mew’s ever given you is misery. Just… just give that ball to Mark and walk away. Please.”

    The Mew Hunter cradled the ball tightly against his chest. “Why should I give it to him?” he snarled. “He’s done nothing to deserve Mew. Either it comes with me or it goes free.”

    “He doesn’t want it, Rob,” Scyther said, sighing. “We just need Mew to be in a ball for a while, until it’s safe. There’s a…”

    “What are you talking about?” the Mew Hunter snapped. “Mew shouldn’t be trapped in a ball. Do you remember how I didn’t even keep you in a Pokéball unless I had to, because you didn’t like it? Remember how at first you wanted to escape but then I let you stay outside your ball and watch me with the others for as long as you needed until you grew to trust me? How is Mew going to trust me if I don’t send it out?”

    “There’s a legendary war that happens every thousand years,” Scyther continued. “If every legendary is inside a ball, it won’t happen, but if even one is out there, the world could be destroyed. We only wanted to capture Mew to prevent it. Mew, and the others, will be released when it’s safe. If you followed us, you must have heard them talk about the War. That was what they meant.”

    The Mew Hunter’s Kabutops shifted uncomfortably, looking back at his trainer as his other Pokémon stared at Scyther. The man’s gaze remained fierce and suspicious. “How do I know you aren’t just lying to make me give it to you and your filthy new trainer?”

    Scyther sighed heavily. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Rob.”

    “You betrayed me.” By the Mew Hunter’s side, his Kabutops winced, looking back at Scyther. Feraligatr and Sandslash glanced at each other.

    “I didn’t betray you,” Scyther said softly. “You were you when you caught me, when you thought Mew was lost. But once you saw it again in Cleanwater City, you turned into someone who’d threaten a kid and wanted me dead for questioning you.”

    “Mew is worth it!” the Mew Hunter shouted. “I can save it. This is what was meant to be!”

    Scyther shook his head, slowly. “That’s only what you’ve been telling yourself. Mew is a legendary Pokémon and doesn’t even know who you are. Why would he befriend you? We only did because we had nowhere else to go. I’m sorry, Rob.”

    The Mew Hunter’s eyes widened as his face contorted in rage, his Fangcat hissing at Scyther from his side. “No! You know nothing! Mew will understand me! Mew will know! Mew will give me a chance! Just watch, you –”

    And he pulled back his arm as he prepared to throw the Clone Ball. Mark froze, his heart lurching in panic; by his side, Spirit growled, preparing to attempt a Mean Look –

    – and then, suddenly, a deep, powerful tremor shook the ground. Everyone looked up in alarm as a massive shockwave blasted through the forest, knocking leaves from branches and the kids off their feet. Mark lost his grip on Chaletwo’s ball, and it sailed through the air as the Mew Hunter too lost his balance, fell forward and sent the Clone Ball flying.

    Chaletwo materialized on the ground, looking frantically around. Mew emerged in mid-air, blinking, his gaze turning from confused to worried.

    “That… that was it!” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with nervous excitement. “The... the Destroyer’s pulse! Before Mew came out! We did it!”

    Mark blinked in incomprehension as he crawled to his feet. It was over? They were done? They’d saved the world?

    Mew turned sharply. “No, no, no,” he muttered. “No! Why!”

    “No?” Chaletwo repeated, his voice fierce and incredulous, whirling towards Mew. “No? I’ve just saved the whole world from destruction, including you, that’s why! You should be thanking me on your knees!”

    Mew just shook his head. Chaletwo continued, heat growing to a furious pitch in his voice. “What, are you going to tell me now that you had some great reason to oppose the plan all along? That we’re actually all going to die now, is that it? Because you’ve had twenty years to tell me to stop and the only reason you ever managed to give was some dumb crap about destiny!”

    “You wouldn’t understand,” Mew said, his voice trembling.

    “No, of course I wouldn’t. I’m not Chalenor, am I, so how could I ever understand –”

    “You never even knew Chalenor!” Mew interrupted, desperate tears in his eyes. “Why are you talking about him? You have no idea who he even was!”

    Mark’s heart thumped; there was something strange in the air. He didn’t understand what was going on anymore. Why was Mew so upset? Something was off, he could tell, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

    “I know enough!” Chaletwo spat. “You kept on telling me about him, about how he was the Preserver before me and your best friend in the world and no one could ever compare –”

    Mew squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head bitterly – and then, suddenly, Mark recognized the strange feeling in the air, the oppressive psychic pressure that was growing, magnifying, smothering everything, like but so unlike Mew’s light footprint, only so much stronger than he’d ever felt it before. Chaletwo’d stopped speaking, turning his head sharply as Mew looked around in wonder. “Oh, no,” Chaletwo said, his voice quiet again. “Oh, nonononono. What is that?”

    “I’m sorry,” Mew whispered, trembling.

    “That’s… that’s Mewtwo²,” Mark breathed, heart hammering in his chest.

    “What?” Chaletwo stared at him through his eyelids. “Oh, no. He was out. Rick had him out. This can’t happen. This can’t happen!”

    “Isn’t… isn’t there anything we can do?” Mark asked, numb.

    “I…”

    “Hold on,” May said, pale. “It’s already got a ball. It’s got a ball that mind-controls it. Maybe if it’s recalled, then…”

    Chaletwo whirled towards her. “Yes. Yes. We can still stop it. We can still stop it. Come on!”

    And before Mark had any idea what was happening, Chaletwo had grabbed Mark and May by the shoulders. May only just managed to place her hand on Spirit’s head, clutching her mane, before he teleported them away.

    -------

    Razor might have been left behind, but he knew where he had to go. There was a tangible shift in the psychic interference if he turned, an unmistakable pull towards the east. If he just flew straight and followed that pull, he would find them. Mew was looking in that direction too, fiddling anxiously as if conflicted.

    “Mew,” said Rob hoarsely, still on his hands and knees on the ground. “I will protect you. I understand. Come with me. I can help you.”

    Mew shook his head, staring into the distance. “There is nothing you or anyone can do to help me.”

    And then, stopping, Mew took a deep breath, closed his eyes and vanished, without giving Rob so much as a second glance.

    “Goodbye, Rob,” Razor said quietly. “I need to help my trainer.”

    “Mew, please,” Rob muttered. “Don’t… don’t go.”

    His Pokémon were silent. Fangcat growled quietly, nudging his leg, but he didn’t react. Kabutops looked up at Razor, hesitating.

    “You know this is mad,” Razor said. “You’ve always known.”

    “Yeah.” Kabutops sighed, looking away. “It’s just how he is sometimes. You never knew him back the first time around.”

    “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Razor glanced between his former teammates. “I meant what I said before. It’s possible to let go, even if it doesn’t seem that way. I… I met Nightmare again. I realized the Code was wrong. I found a reason to live.” Kabutops stared at him in wonder. “You can break free.”

    Feraligatr and Sneasel nodded silently, glancing at their trainer again. Rob heard everything they were saying, Razor knew, but he didn’t respond or even look up.

    “Goodbye,” Razor said. “Try to… try to help him.”

    And he took a deep breath, turned around and took off, heading towards the source of that terrible looming power.

    The Mew Hunter was left lying on the ground with his Pokémon, sobbing quietly.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2017
  13. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Hoooo that smells of fate being tempted...
    What a sweetie.

    Such an awkward dork! I love him.
    Every time he says "it's fine" I believe him just a liiiiiitle bit less...
    Oh god damn it, Rob.
    D'aww... :(

    Despite everything, I actually did feel for Rob in all this. He was genuinely sympathetic and yet just as surely in the wrong here--not always an easy mix to pull off, but you sure as heck did it.

    Scyther's talk with him was definitely the highlight of the chapter for me, but far from the only thing I took from the chapter. I liked the sort of feeling of dread hanging over the cast, the knowledge that this was it: the end of all this is well and truly coming, for better or worse. Chaletwo's growing anxiety. May trying desperately to distract herself through Mark's drawings. The weight of the situation was practically palpable.

    And of course now there's the oh **** Mewtwo² factor to think about. It's strange, how relatively little thought I've given that guy over the years. But yeah, that's a legendary too, when it all comes down to it. A superpowered, genetically enhanced one.

    This should be interesting. 8D
     
  14. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Right so I know I already gave you a play-by-play of incoherent reactions last night, but now I can sit down and piece together some more fleshed-out thoughts!

    So, first of all--man, you were right, this chapter really was a nostalgia-fest. So, so many callbacks to previous chapters, it was pretty hard not to feel all warm and fuzzy with the memories, and I'm sure that goes double for you while you were writing it. Of course, that also means mentioning some of the sillier things from the early days, and I'm rather pleased to see I was correct in assuming that the tale of how Mark got Mew from Rick was proooobably what you meant when talking about that one cringe-worthy ancient plot thread that needed to get brought up. :p

    Please let Chalenor be the Destroyer please let Chalenor be the Destroyer please let Chalenor be the Destroyer. (Adjust that to past tense if you will, I don't care if it's for this cycle or the previous, just one of them!)

    WELL LOOK AT WHAT WE HAVE HERE. >:3 >:3 >:3 Ding dong the war is Rick's fault. Well, I say "war" but it's really just gonna be Mewtwo² raging about (it still hasn't been confirmed that the Destroyer even takes part in the war, so I'm assuming not until proven otherwise). And... yes "only" Mewtwo² is still Mewtwo² with the power of a god (or rather EVERY god). But there is one, very, very huge discrepancy between this doomsday, and the one Chaletwo has been assuming all this time:

    Chaletwo (and all of them) are still sane! That's huge! It wasn't a zero-sum game, and it never was. Everyone's been talking about the war prevention effort like it was all-or-nothing, and while that's true for preventing the war, every Legendary caught is still one that's not participating, which makes all the difference for ending the war if it does start. "War" meaning Mewtwo²'s temper tantrum.

    But even with all of that said...I still have no idea what is yet to come in Chapter 75. Seriously, I don’t think that can be emphasized enough—I’ve been reading this fic for thirteen years and i still don’t know what is going on. That is incredible. And sure, I’m betting there is at least some truth to the various theories that some of us have come up with (particularly the recent ones from last year) but the point is we don’t know.

    WE DON'T KNOW.

    If I manage to preserve even half the mysteries that you have when I get to my own Chapter 75, I'll consider that my greatest success.

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;

    PS: Those prototype endings were hilarious. I'm particularly fond of the one that was exactly the same as the original except with more Chaletwo misery. Because of course it was.
     
  15. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Happy fifteenth ficiversary! (Also, I'd like to thank the shitty, shitty wi-fi here for not letting me post this much earlier. Thanks, shitty, shitty wi-fi!) I definitely didn't expect to end up here way back in 2004 when I started reading. Congratulations on getting the chapter out and finally getting to show off the first of your big ending twists!

    I think you did a really nice job on the atmosphere in this chapter. You really get the feeling of doom hanging over the party, how they're slowly deteriorating over the course of the chapter, and of the frustration and, honestly, boredom of simply wandering around with no leads, hoping to run into Mew by pure chance. I still like how Mark tries to retreat into his drawing and also use it to comfort May, and how at the end there he can't even bring himself to draw anymore. (And May wants to keep Spirit out "in case we need her mean look"--you're not fooling anybody, May!)

    Rick must be kicking himself over having destroyed his Mew-tracking device: since he now knows May and company are looking for Mew, he could have used it to find them as well! (Well, at least in theory... obviously they didn't do a great job of actually finding Mew.)

    I might have liked to see a little more description of Rainbow Woods at some point, here; it feels to me like the group are hanging around in Generic Outdoors Location rather than anywhere specific. I also imagine that the woods are a rather peaceful, pretty kind of place, which would make a nice contrast to the decidedly un-peaceful feelings going around between the main characters.

    It strikes me as a little weird that Mark would refer to his flashlight as a torch, while the narration calls it a flashlight.

    The "thicket" of the forest?

    Hmm, I wonder whether that's going to be important. (Didn't seem to stop Mew from teleporting away at the end, there, so it must not have actually been working?)

    Some bad markup in this paragraph.

    Heat growing to a furious pitch? Kind of a mixed metaphor there.

    I'm feeling smug at the end here, since I knew both the clone ball and Mewtwo2 were going to be important for the endgame. (Although it's pretty hilarious that you hatodn't originally intended for the clone ball to be significant at all.) Actually, I can't remember what Mark and company's reasoning was for not going after Mewtwo2. Most of Rick's clones, they figured he kept them in the PC all the time anyway, but Mewtwo2 has been out and about quite a bit more. Did they really not consider that it would "count" as a legendary?

    So we know that Mew isn't the Destroyer, and we also know there's at least one other legendary out there who is the Destroyer who had to have caused the pulse. (It's Mitchenor.) So, we return to what, if anything, Mew and/or Mitchenor were planning. Was Mew really just resigned to not being able to change anything? It's entirely possible, but Mew's whole "you wouldn't understand" suggests that it's not so much apathy, but that for some personal reason he actually wants the War to happen, or at least some particular aspect of the War. After all, if it was something like the last time Mew and Chalenor tried to change things, but then it turned out changing them only made things worse somehow, I'd think Mew could have given that as a reason not to go with Chaletwo's plan. It would be entirely understandable!

    So I think it's got to be that the War had to happen in order for Chalenor to be properly restored, or maybe Mew wanted the War to happen because she was hoping this time she'd be one of the legendaries killed (maybe she's actually been the Creator over and over through many, many cycles of War and just wants it all to end). Something selfish where people in general would probably go, "You were going to let everybody die and the whole world get ravaged just for that? Really? Really?"

    Sounds like Mewtwo2 wasn't really part of Mew's plan, either, but ended up being a convenient windfall. I have a feeling things aren't going to go like Mew was planning, though. If absolutely nothing else, Mewtwo2 must be might tired of other people using him to their own ends by now.

    Oh yeah, and the Effect has to play into this somehow, too, right? Guess we'll find out! In Chapter 75, was my impression, with 76 being more of an epilogue and denoument. Looking forward to seeing what Rick does with his all powerful super-clone! I mean, that's assuming the huge power boost hasn't let Mewtwo2 break the mind control already so when Mark and company show up Rick's just a red smear on the wall... but I think it's pretty safe to say that you wouldn't let things end without May vs Rick v2. Onwards!
     
  16. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Sike Saner

    Aaaahh, I'm glad to hear your reactions to the chapter were pretty much exactly what I was going for. Thanks for reading!


    Chibi Pika

    I mean, it was a lot of things. The bit about how Mark ended up with Dratini, oh lord.

    Well, you're about to! :D

    I'm always so thrilled to hear your thoughts and theories on what's going on/going to happen. Thanks for reviewing!


    Negrek

    Again, I'm really glad this worked out well. That was the big thing I wanted to do with this chapter, and I'm really happy it seems to have done that.

    Yeah, that's a good point. Will do whenever I next revise this bit, heh.

    Already mentioned this on Discord, but for the benefit of anyone else reading because this is amusing trivia: it was May who called it a torch, and it's because this fic has a funky thing going where May uses more Britishisms compared to Mark's more American dialect because she's from a different region (Johto). It didn't start as a conscious thing, but when I noticed it sort of made sense, I started to do it on purpose. It is absolutely not super-consistent (largely because I, who overwhelmingly learned English from the Internet, only have the vaguest sense of English regional dialect differences myself), and the dialects are not supposed to be any kind of one-to-one correspondence, but this is why May calls a flashlight a torch. Trivia over!

    They simply didn't think of it that way! After all that time writing off Rick's legendaries as probably a nonissue, Mewtwo^2 and the legendaries were completely separate threats in their minds, and if I wrote it effectively, hopefully it wasn't really something that occurred to readers either until it happened. (If you were screaming at them throughout the chapter, though, I entirely understand this would be annoying, haha.)

    Indeed!

    Oh, no, I hope most people aren't getting this confused. The fic will be 77 chapters. 76 used to be "One-Shot B", which at various points I intended to have as an extra or to simply include the information it gives in 75, but I ended up making it a chapter. This isn't quite the end!

    Always love to see your theories! And now IT IS TIME.


    So. It's time for chapters 75 and 76, finally. I'll be posting them together, with 76 posted directly after 75. I don't know if this is going to live up to whatever you may have been imagining or expecting or hoping for, but it's how this story goes.

    The final chapter, 77, will be posted whenever it's done.

    These chapters contain violence, blood, character death and suicide.



    The Final Stretch – Chapter 75: Mewtwo²

    Mitch lay back in his sofa and stared at the ceiling, arms folded tightly across his chest, listening to the faint tick of the clock and his own heartbeat as the hours dragged on. Nothing changed, nothing improved, no more than ever. He wasn’t sure what he was even waiting for anymore.

    please no

    A looming, suffocating dread hung over his mind: a desperate fear of the inevitable, a deep and fundamental knowledge that something was horribly wrong, something terrible was happening and he was powerless to stop it. He was helpless, trapped, alone, and all he could do was wait for everything to fall apart.

    The problem was that he had absolutely no idea why he was feeling any of these things.

    not this

    Outside, the sun was shining, birds were singing, a gentle breeze was blowing through the trees; it was a beautiful, calm spring day. He might have liked to take a walk, a nice little hike in the mountains around the desert perhaps – if he weren’t here, clinging to the last vestiges of his sanity inside his locked Gym.

    no no no

    Mitch sighed, unfolding his arms carefully to rub his temples. It had never been like this before, not this strong. He’d always experienced it as vague feelings, intuitions, beliefs that didn’t seem to come from anywhere. But now it was like a tangible presence somewhere in the back of his mind, not speaking exactly but sparking intense flashes of emotions that seemed disconnected from everything, as if they weren’t his own, flashes that disappeared if he tried to focus upon them. Like… like someone was there, at the edge of his consciousness, barely brushing past his thoughts.

    it’s all my fault no please

    At first, Mitch had thought the phantom emotions – faint back then – were some strange side-effect of the Scorplack venom. He’d started to research it, interviewed countless other survivors, but none had experienced anything like it. Then he’d realized it seemed to be telling him things, somehow giving him information that he shouldn’t have, that he just inexplicably felt. He’d figured it meant he was a late-blooming psychic, and he’d been okay with that. But then he’d read some books on it, and their descriptions had been similar but not quite the same, and then he’d gone to see an actual psychic – a legit one, he’d made sure – who’d told him she felt nothing at all from him: no latent psychic powers, no trickster Ghost Pokémon sneakily following him and messing with his head, nothing. He’d seen another one for a second opinion and gotten the same answer. And then he’d paid them through his teeth to keep it quiet, because he didn’t know what he’d even do with himself if the League found out and decided they’d rather not employ a Gym leader who was hearing voices that weren’t there, and slowly but steadily getting worse.

    (And could he really blame them?)

    please

    Then he’d quietly seen a psychiatrist, of course, been on several different antipsychotics with wretched side-effects for a while. Nothing had changed.

    And ever the feelings had grown stronger, clearer, more defined. It had occurred to him, of course, that maybe the psychics were both wrong and there was something there that they weren’t sensing, somehow. But it had also occurred to him that he could simply be hallucinating, imagining the whole thing. Sometimes his mind surged with conviction: what about that time, how could you have known that – but it could be a coincidence. He felt lots of things that didn’t tell him anything specific, sudden pangs of worries and loss and fear that had nothing to do with anything; why wouldn’t some happen to line up with real events? It seemed unlikely, but – odds were meaningless, weren’t they? And he could hardly trust his own brain to judge if his brain was the one producing these feelings in the first place.

    must not happen

    So he’d waited, for something, some kind of change or shift or – he wasn’t sure, really, but as it was there didn’t seem to be anything he could do, and that helplessness was maddening. Sometimes, when he was sure he was crazy, he’d thought about admitting himself to the mental hospital in Alumine before he started really hearing voices and believing what they said and doing something reckless or dangerous or harmful. But – what if he wasn’t? And the meds hadn’t helped before; why would they now?

    MUST NOT HAPPEN

    And, although he hated to admit it, he just didn’t want to be crazy. He could feel his brain rationalizing and downplaying and sanitizing it, assuring him he was fine and his mind was sound and there must be something real there. And he could tell those were insidious thought processes, the same ones that would be at work if he really were going mad, but they were too tempting to entirely ignore. Too tempting to make a decision like locking himself in an asylum.

    So instead, he’d locked himself up in the Gym, waiting and waiting for some vague miracle to solve everything – something that’d just settle the question and give him some kind of starting point – as if that wasn’t the most useless kind of wishful thinking. As if wasting away with restless boredom, fearing his own thoughts, wouldn’t eventually drive him mad even if he wasn’t already.

    nononono

    He sat in silence listening to the dull throb of alien emotions, hearing his breath shaking as he exhaled. He couldn’t keep this up forever. Nothing was getting better. Nothing was going to just sort itself out and make sense. Any sense this would ever make was something he’d have to make for himself.

    please

    Mitch took a deep breath, closing his eyes. That strange, pleading desperation was so tangible he could almost taste it – and then, as he focused on it, it was gone, and he couldn’t tell if he’d just been imagining it. “Okay,” he whispered, teeth clenched. “Let’s say you’re real. Then prove it. Come out and talk to me. Can’t you talk?”

    For a moment he sat there as nothing happened, like an idiot, hating that he was far enough gone, desperate enough, to be indulging his own hallucinations. But then, suddenly, there was a – an answer. His heart wrenched suddenly in his chest, and a no emerged from the back of his mind – not the word, not speech, but a vague urge to shake his head, to object, to protest. He probably wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it, waiting for it, today when the feelings were stronger than ever before. But it was there, he was sure of it. He felt his pulse quickening, his attention suddenly on high alert, his head spinning.

    He scrambled to gather his thoughts. An imaginary voice would probably answer, too, noted a dispassionate, reasonable part of him – this wasn’t proof of anything, was it? And abruptly, he realized he didn’t care. Whatever this was, whether it was a hallucination or not, it was better than sitting there, waiting, forever.

    “You… you’re real,” he said. From the back of his mind came an urgent affirmation, a longing to nod eagerly: another answer, a different one. Real. A strange wave of elation washed over him, his eyes watering. “So you’re…”

    Mitch blinked rapidly. Even now he could feel it, not communicating anything in particular, just there, at the edge of his mind. If he tried to concentrate on it, as usual, it went away – but then he shifted his focus and he could sense it reappearing. How could he have gone so long without realizing?

    For a while he was silent, eyes closed, aware of it only as that tingling, shivering presence: real, comforting, safe.

    “You’re the one who saved me from the Scorplack that day, aren’t you?” he asked softly.

    For a moment there was nothing; then came a hesitant, half-apologetic confirmation, the regret of good intentions gone awry. “No, thank you,” he said, chuckling. “I only… I was so confused.” Mitch took a deep breath. “But here you are. I should have… I should have tried this earlier.”

    A spark of happiness, reassurance, the relief of old, nagging doubts and guilt finally laid to rest. The undercurrent of urgent, screaming desperation wasn’t gone, but – it was glad for that, at least. Glad he thought it was worth it, glad he was glad to be talking to it. It was strange, but somehow, now that he was paying attention, its presence felt deeply familiar, as if he’d known it intimately all those years since that day and just never realized it. As if it was an old friend – a friend he’d never known he had, who’d saved his life and then stewed in anxiety wondering if he would have preferred if it hadn’t.

    He couldn’t help but linger on that thought. In some way he’d always thought of himself, of Mitch, as a puppet of some nebulous, inscrutable power that was toying with him, like this was all part of some fate or plan that he was helpless to contest – but that had never been it, had it? Perhaps it had only ever simply been something, someone, that’d wanted to help, and tried to, as best it could, the only way it could think of.

    He chuckled. “I’ve had so many theories,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I’ve spent the last seven years of my life trying to figure you out. And…” He paused. And what? What could he say to it? What are you? How could it possibly begin to answer that?

    “What… what happened? Why are you so upset?” he asked at last.

    Flashes of pain, grief, loneliness of an intensity that was terrifying and ancient and inhuman, coursed through his mind and left him breathless and shivering. Then a blanket of deep, desperate guilt smothered all of that, drowned it, made it seem trivial in comparison. He wanted to die, wanted to disappear, and yet he couldn’t; he was trapped, suffocating, screaming with no voice, forever and ever, in a silent, isolated hell.

    Mitch clutched his head as he caught his breath, eyes squeezed shut, still trembling uncontrollably. It… it was suffering. He couldn’t tell why, or how, but it had been suffering, in a way he couldn’t even imagine, for a long, long time. An intense sympathy gripped him; after feeling what it felt, the urge to assist somehow, some way, was overpowering.

    “So there’s… there’s nothing you can do about it?” he murmured.

    His heart wrenched as that horrible, suffocating sense of entrapment consumed him again, of being imprisoned and powerless and mute – and then it hit him. “You’re… stuck in my head?”

    Yes: a brief sensation of faint relief, an urge to nod. It couldn’t do anything at all, because it was a prisoner in his brain. How had it gotten there and why? There was no way it could answer that, was there? (A sense of flustered helplessness affirmed this.)

    “Can I… can I help?”

    His heart stung again, with hopelessness and regret and weakness in the face of overwhelming odds and another flash of that sense of being trapped and unable to speak.

    He really couldn’t, anyway. What could he possibly do to help it, when it couldn’t tell him what to do, what was even wrong? It might share his brain, but his brain had too much him in it. He supposed the way it vanished from where his attention was meant his own thought processes drowned it out, kept it confined where all it could do was twang his emotions.

    And that thought gave him pause, a chilling idea creeping up on him.

    “Say… say I could lend you my body,” he said, slowly. “Would that… would that help?”

    A spark of hope, real hope, flashed across his mind, tinged with a hesitant wariness, a hint of sorrow and pain: maybe, but.

    “Is it dangerous?” he guessed.

    Yes.

    “Dangerous to whom? Is anyone else getting hurt?”

    Hesitation, uncertainty, a stab of pain and loss, determination, grim hope – probably, but it would try to prevent it.

    Mitch nodded slowly. “Would we die?”

    The response was pained, a regretful, tentative affirmation made of endless grief and dejected apology. It wasn’t certain, but it didn’t have a lot of hope for them.

    “Is it worth it?” he asked softly, and the answer was yes – tinged with guilt and regret, but no trace of doubt. It didn’t want him to die, but this was important, more important than anything.

    Mitch paused. So this was it, then.

    “There’s a rare, reclusive Poison-type in this region called Wasparch,” he said. “It lays its eggs in comatose victims and buries them as a living larder for its young. Its venom shuts down the higher brain functions, but keeps the body alive. I have a sample of it in my cupboard.” He hesitated. “So does that sound like you could…?”

    A jolt of hope, excitement, wonder, coupled with immense gratitude, hesitation, sorrow, apology again. The alien emotions felt discordant, strange against his own sticky, drying mouth and the pit in his stomach, but they were somehow comforting nonetheless. He wasn’t alone. He had a friend. A friend who was suffering, and he could help.

    He stood up, his body trembling as his head buzzed with conflicted feelings: tightness, grief, warmth, love. Was he really doing this? Dying for the voice in his head, this companion that – even if it didn’t seem that way – he’d only actually known for a matter of minutes?

    Yes, he thought, and this time it was all him.

    It wasn’t as if he shouldn’t have been dead seven years ago. It was time to repay it the life that he never ought to have had – the fake, troubled life of Mitch that it had given him that day in the desert. He owed it that much.

    And if none of this was real, realized that rational part of him, if it was all a hallucination and he’d never had a companion – then he’d just drift away and stop existing. They’d find him sometime when people started to worry about him not returning calls, and euthanize his empty shell, and he’d never have to endure any of this again. Nobody would get hurt.

    It was an oddly calming realization. He had nothing to lose.

    Slowly, he walked over to the lab and opened the cupboard of venom samples. He rummaged through it for the right vial, an odd routineness to the act, as if he were simply looking for a normal Weedle antidote on any ordinary day.

    (The growing nervous hesitation in the back of his mind probed at him again with a stab of concern. “Yes, I’m sure,” he whispered. “You need it more than I do.”)

    And then, finally, he found it. He pulled it out carefully and fiddled with the label for a moment, gazing at the thick navy ooze inside it, ignoring the trembling of his hands. Wasparch. Effective when ingested as well as injected. He took a deep breath, not sure he could feel his legs anymore. The poison acted slower when ingested: it would take about a minute or two before he became dizzy and lightheaded, and then he would fade away. He’d read it, researched it, interviewed survivors, studied countless diagrams and surveys and medical reports; he knew how this went.

    With a shaking hand, he lifted the vial towards his faint reflection in the glass door of the cupboard. “Cheers,” he said, chuckling – he looked like a lunatic, he thought – before he let it clink softly against the glass, raised it to his lips and poured the contents into his mouth in one swift gulp.

    It tasted faintly sweet and sticky, distantly reminiscent of blood, leaving a cold, tingling feeling on his tongue and the inside of his mouth. He shuddered as he swallowed it, then walked slowly, slowly back to the couch, legs trembling. As an afterthought, he picked up the pencil and half-solved crossword puzzle lying on the coffee table and scribbled a note in the margin:

    If you find me here, I don’t want to wake up

    I’m sorry

    -Mitch

    He put the paper down and laid himself gently down on the sofa, feeling sleepy and fuzzy and slow. It was becoming difficult to think. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, only an unusual one; it wasn’t a bad way to go, all things considered.

    “I hope I could help,” he whispered, “whoever you are.”

    And then he drifted away, leaving his fate to the friend he’d never known.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
  17. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Mark blinked rapidly into cold air that was thick with dust. The hunched-over form of Mewtwo² stood limply on the ground ahead of them, shivering uncontrollably. An electrifying sensation of power hung in the air around it, a psychic pressure that threatened to tear everything apart; Mark felt every hair on his body standing on end, nerves tingling in anticipation of looming, terrifying danger. In front of the clone, a shallow, circular crater was carved into the rocky ground, still smoking with heat and twirling dust, surrounding a sickening, unrecognizable splatter of red – some unwary wild Pokémon suddenly obliterated by the power of a hundred legendaries.

    Behind it stood Rick, coughing, arm shielding his face, a ball clutched in his hand.

    “Recall him!” Chaletwo screamed. “Recall him now, or that’s what happens to this entire planet!”

    Rick’s head snapped around, his gaze locking onto them, surprised, alarmed. For a split second he stared at them, frozen. Then, all at once, recognition spread across his face and melted into a familiar, stomach-turning madness.

    He raised a trembling hand towards May. “Kill her!” he snarled.

    Mark’s heart thumped in slow-motion as May stared back at Rick, pale, fingers tight in Spirit’s mane. Then she released her grip on the Ninetales, closing her eyes, inhaling sharply, and before he could consciously think anything at all, Mark had thrown himself at her in some stupid attempt to get her out of the way. They tumbled over each other on the ground, his head smashing into a rock that sent his vision spinning as he realized that it was no use, he couldn’t help, this was Mewtwo² imbued with the power of every legendary and it would just blast him into oblivion too.

    For another eternal heartbeat, he clutched May’s jacket, eyes screwed shut, bracing himself for an inevitable death.

    But his heart thumped again, and he opened his eyes. May was still there, coughing in the dusty air, blinking at him, with nothing more than a gash on her leg. Mewtwo² stood in the same place it had been, its arm extended in their direction, shaking as if straining against some invisible force.

    “Kill her!” Rick ordered again, louder, and still Mewtwo² didn’t attack.

    “Recall him! Now, goddamn it!” Chaletwo lunged towards Rick, but Mewtwo²’s eyes flashed blue and an invisible barrier stopped him. “Recall him or he kills us all!”

    Rick glanced in his direction, hesitating only a split second before he looked back at May. “Kill—”

    Abruptly, Mewtwo² moved, sweeping its hand back with a heaving lurch of effort, turning its head towards Rick as the power in the air intensified, burning, searing. The man’s eyes widened as he stepped back, raising the ball in his hand.

    And then his hand just folded in on itself, bone crunching and electronics sparking and then it was simply gone. Rick let out a piercing scream, and then Mewtwo² swept its other hand down and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore as a formless red mist splattered the clone’s body. Mark stared in mute, detached horror, unable to properly comprehend or absorb the unreality of it. Somewhere, dimly, behind what had just happened to Rick, he realized the ball was gone, vaporized. There was nothing left, no way to stop it.

    And yet, Mewtwo² stood there still, quiet, pupilless eyes rolling in its head.

    Run. They should run, screamed a terrified part of Mark. But another part of him was paralyzed, fascinated, silently waiting for what would happen next, and his legs didn’t move. What was the use in running, anyway, if the world was ending?

    “I…” Chaletwo said, backing away, his voice wavering. “Why isn’t he doing anything?”

    “He’s spent all his life struggling against forces subduing his will,” said a quiet voice, and Mark looked around, startled, to find Mew suddenly hovering near them, staring towards Mewtwo². “He’s still fighting back. I should have known.”

    “So he’s… he’s not going mad? It’s not happening?”

    Mew shook his head slightly. “He can’t resist forever. He’s not the first to try.”

    “Then throw another ball! Anything!”

    His voice was piercing and desperate. Mark rose to his feet on wobbly legs, fumbling for an Ultra Ball, but as he threw it, Mewtwo² looked up sharply and it simply disintegrated in mid-air. At the sight of it, with a bloodcurdling physical scream, Chaletwo opened his eyes, and Mark shuddered in anticipation, the memory of the day he’d died flashing through his mind – but instead of the blinding, terrifying brightness he remembered, the light shining from Chaletwo’s eyes was only a faint glow.

    Across from them, Mewtwo² didn’t even react.

    Chaletwo’s scream died in a strangled, disbelieving cry as he closed his eyes again and doubled over, panting and shaking.

    “You’re too weak to use your eyes,” Mew said softly, not quite looking at him. “But with the power he has now, he could block it even if you could. It can’t be escaped.” He took a deep breath. “Once he succumbs, he’ll hunt down all of us. Pokéballs, soul gems, he’ll destroy them. Legendaries have tried to escape it before; we have always struggled with the idea of dying. But it’s no use. I’m sorry. We should try to use these final moments to make peace and accept it, like the mortals—”

    “Hypocrite!” Chaletwo lashed out, rounding on Mew. “You tried to escape it! You and Chalenor went to the future together trying to insure yourselves, and then when I try to do the same thing you just babble on about fate and acceptance!”

    Mew blinked, turning towards him.

    “If you’d just told me what went wrong with your attempt, we could have made a better plan, goddamn it!” Chaletwo went on, fiercely. “We could’ve been working on it for a thousand years instead of twenty! We could’ve gotten all the legendaries in on it from the beginning, instead of trying to keep it a secret! Everything you’ve done, everything, it’s all like you just wanted to...”

    “What are you talking about?” Mew interrupted, frantic. “Me and Chalenor in the future?”

    “Mewtwo told us all about it, that you appeared on his island babbling about insurance and made a copy of his body and took it back to the past – is that where I came from? A botched safety precaution for Chalenor?”

    The alarm in Mew’s expression faded. “Oh.” He looked away, bitterly. “I’m sorry. I did go to the future and bring a copy of his body back. But I was alone.”

    “That doesn’t even make any sense!” Chaletwo snapped. Mew stared at the ground, not moving, paws clenched. “How could you travel through time alone? If you’re going to continue lying to me, I swear –”

    “Because I was the Preserver,” Mew said. His voice shook as he looked up, still not looking Chaletwo in the eye.

    “What are you talking about?” Chaletwo’s hostility was gaining an undertone of desperate fear and confusion. “Chalenor was the Preserver! Like me!”

    Mew shook his head again, almost imperceptibly. “No, he wasn’t.”

    “Yes, he was!” Chaletwo screamed, a crazed ferocity in his voice. “It was the first thing you told me about him!”

    “I lied,” Mew whispered, staring at Mewtwo².

    “No! That doesn’t make any sense! Why in the hell would you lie to me about that?!”

    A cold shiver of realization trickled down Mark’s spine, but before Mew could give an answer, there was a sudden change in the throbbing psychic background noise as Molzapart blinked into existence ahead. At his side stood Alan and Sparky, visibly relieved to see them.

    “Chaletwo!” Molzapart said, his voice sharp, as Alan ran over to hug Mark. He hesitated as he looked at May, who didn’t meet his eye, then gave her a quick hug as well. “What’s happening? I’ve stopped growing weaker, and they said they felt some kind of pulse. Was that it? And what’s…” He trailed off, staring at Mewtwo². “Oh, no. Is that the power we’re feeling? Please tell me it wasn’t out.”

    Chaletwo didn’t answer. He stood still, arms shaking, fingers clenched together.

    “It was out,” May said, her voice hoarse. “Mew said it’s resisting but it can’t hold out for long. It…” She swallowed. “It killed Rick and destroyed its ball.”

    “Then how do we stop it?” Molzapart hissed.

    “It can’t be stopped,” Mew said, without looking at Molzapart. “There’s nothing we can do.”

    Molzapart stared at him. “There has to be a way!” he said. “We can’t fight power like that, but what about…”

    He trailed off suddenly, turning wide-eyed towards Mewtwo² as the clone began to stir. There was a strange disruption in the energy surrounding it, a sudden sensation of stinging heat, as it slowly pushed itself upright, strangely rigid and tense, stared at Mew, and stretched out its arm.

    “I’m sorry,” Mew said again, closing his eyes.

    And then, all of a sudden, an orb of dark energy smashed into Mewtwo², sending it flying back. It took a few limp tumbles on the ground, then went rigid again, floating into the air as a new protective sphere formed around it. Mark looked wildly towards where the attack had come from, expecting another legendary somehow, only to see Mitch sprinting in their direction, already forming another shadowy orb between his hands.

    Mark had no chance to even try to wrap his brain around what was going on before Mitch leapt into the air, unnaturally high, and threw another Shadow Ball at Mewtwo². It dissipated as it hit the barrier, only for Mewtwo² to drunkenly swing its arm downwards, sending Mitch hurtling towards the ground. He vanished suddenly inches above the dirt, reappeared in the air behind Mewtwo² and crashed into the barrier, clawing madly at it with his fingers as tendrils of darkness twirled around his hands, and Mewtwo² jerked away, bringing the barrier with him. Mitch charged back towards it, but froze suddenly in mid-air as Mewtwo² held its arm forward, bringing its trembling fingers together.

    He let out a chilling, almost inhuman scream as his head and limbs were twisted back, and Mark felt a horrible certainty that he was about to meet the same fate as Rick – and then, somehow, a burst of dark energy exploded out of him and surged towards Mewtwo², straight through the barrier. A stab of piercing psychic agony rang out as the clone dropped out of the sky, and for a heartstopping moment Mark thought Mitch had actually knocked it unconscious – but its fall came to a gentle stop as it glowed blue, curling up into a ball on the ground and clutching its head. The barrier around it thickened somehow, turning a more opaque white that throbbed like a living thing, and inside, it lay motionless, shivering, breathing rapidly. The thrum of power in the air had barely diminished; it wasn’t defeated, only… recovering?

    Mitch stared warily at Mewtwo² from the air for a few seconds, as if making sure it wasn’t standing up again, then landed in an exhausted stumble, panting, blood trickling from his lip. Mark was about to run over to help him, to ask if he was all right and how in the world he’d done that – but then Mitch looked up, his eyes a startling, alien bright teal color that definitely wasn’t what they’d been last time they’d met, and the words died in Mark’s throat.

    “Mew?” Mitch said quietly, his voice raw and shaky and unlike himself.

    Mew whirled around, his eyes widening. “Chalenor?” he said, trembling, but didn’t wait for an answer before he shot towards Mitch.

    The Gym leader broke into a run. He caught Mew in his arms in midair and pulled him tightly against his chest as he fell to his knees, knuckles white as he embraced the legendary like his life depended on it.

    “Mew, I’m so sorry,” Mitch said, his voice choked with sobs. “This is all my fault.”

    “You were dead,” Mew whispered, still in shock. “I tried to resurrect you but I couldn’t find you – sometimes I could have sworn I felt you there, but with the Dark type I couldn’t—”

    “What?” Chaletwo said weakly, staring at the two of them. “What do you mean, he’s…”

    “I know,” murmured Mitch, except it wasn’t Mitch. “I tried to move on after I died, but I couldn’t, something was anchoring me there, and I wanted to talk to you, to anyone, but there was nothing I could do.” He shivered violently. “It’s been a thousand years.”

    “As an undetectable roaming spirit?” Mew’s voice shook.

    “I passed between hosts and tried to communicate, but I wasn’t strong enough, not until…” He trembled again, staring at his hands, Mitch’s hands. “He lent me his body, he didn’t even know why, and now he’ll die with me.”

    Mew shook his head fervently. “No, no, you can’t go through that again, I won’t let you, I won’t let you—”

    Sparky stepped forward, wary, his brow furrowed. “Mitch?” he said cautiously.

    The other Gym leader flinched strangely as he turned; he looked oddly small, somehow, still clutching Mew tightly.

    “I’m not him,” he said, quietly, his voice trembling as his eyes flared teal again. “I’m Chalenor, the Destroyer.”

    There it was. Mark’s stomach twisted in on itself, his ears ringing as a ripple of wordless, desperate psychic fury passed through his mind.

    “No!” Chaletwo screamed, head bowed low, his hands trembling at his sides. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

    Mitch – Chalenor – flinched again, squeezing his eyes shut. “I know this is my fault, but please, let me help.”

    “It isn’t your fault!” Mew said desperately, wrenching around in his grip. He turned towards Chaletwo, pleading. “Arceus made him to punish the legendaries for their arrogance, eons ago – he doesn’t control it! He never has!”

    Alan stared at them. “But… I thought Chalenor was the Preserver?”

    Chalenor blinked at him. A wisp of a smile crossed his face as he looked back at Mew, his eyes darkening to a calm, murky blue. “Is that… is that what you told them?”

    Mew took a deep breath. “I only –”

    “No!” Chaletwo’s voice shook with anger. “Why?!”

    “You don’t know what it was like,” Mew said, his voice quiet, not meeting Chaletwo’s eye. “For millennia every legendary knew him as the Destroyer. They knew he would drain their power and make them mortal and then watch them tear each other apart. They feared and despised him. You would have too if you’d known.”

    “You said… you said he was…!”

    “I thought he was dead.” Mew looked away. “All I wanted was to make a world where at least he’d be remembered like I remembered him.”

    Chalenor stared down at Mew, holding him tightly. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured again.

    “Why are you sorry? It’s my fault.” Mew curled up against his chest, bitter tears forming between his eyelids. “I screwed everything up. I – I k—”

    And then, suddenly, the psychic pressure began to shift yet again with a nauseating sensation of the world being skewed and off-balance, and Mew was cut off abruptly as Chalenor scrambled back to his feet. He released Mew gently in the air, like something precious and fragile, and then took a protective stance in front of him, forming another dark orb between his hands.

    In the rubble, beneath the thick protective shield, Mewtwo² was stirring, crawling to its feet, slowly, jerkily. The shield faded, and Chalenor flung the Shadow Ball with a desperate yell, but again, it simply fizzled away harmlessly in the air as Mewtwo²’s eyes flashed.

    As the clone’s body arched upright, its gaze locked onto Chalenor. It swung its arm downwards, and a vertical, ripple-like shockwave passed through the air, tossing Chalenor’s body back like a ragdoll. He landed in a heap, and Mew rushed over to check on him. Mewtwo²’s hand pointed back towards the two of them again, only for its body to suddenly jerk back, convulsing strangely.

    “I don’t know if I can defeat him,” Chalenor said as he crawled back to his feet, his voice hoarse. “But if I can, it should end for now, shouldn’t it?”

    Mew stared at him. “I don’t know,” he said. “He won’t become the Creator unless we’re all dead, but…”

    “I have to try,” Chalenor said. He wiped blood from the corner of his mouth as he pushed himself to his feet, just in time to form a translucent white shield in front of them as Mewtwo² stood rigid again and fired a clumsy psychic blast that smashed the barrier apart and brought him back to his knees.

    “But what if you die again?” Mew said urgently, pleading.

    Chalenor paused, watching Mewtwo² carefully as it clutched its head, eyes shut, a protective sphere flickering in and out of existence around it. “Wasn’t that what I wanted in the first place?”

    “But – what if you can’t move on, like last time?” Mew’s voice was desperate. “Another thousand years as a Dark-type ghost? I can’t let you do that to yourself!”

    Chalenor hurled another Shadow Ball as Mewtwo²’s barrier flickered off, but the clone raised its hand again, and this time the attack swung around and smashed back towards Mew. Chalenor leapt into the way, producing a shield that scattered much of the blast into dark tendrils of energy that hit him instead. He shuddered, sucking in a breath before he jumped into the air again, sending a pulse of darkness towards Mewtwo² and then shooting higher up, the clone following. The two circled each other in the air, spiralling upwards, firing attacks, darting aside, putting up shields. Mew stared up at their battle, quivering.

    “It’s me, isn’t it?” Chaletwo said suddenly, his voice flat. Mew turned towards him, eyes wide.

    “It’s me. I’m the anchor.” His voice began to tremble, a furious psychic cocktail of rage and confusion and terror spilling out of him in waves. “You transferred the essence from his eye into me, and it tethered his soul to me, and that’s why he couldn’t move on. That’s why the War is still happening. It’s me! You did this! Goddamn it!”

    A strange pain passed across Mew’s face; then he averted his eyes, turning back towards the fight raging above.

    “You knew?” A fresh wave of desperate, confused psychic anger lashed across Mark’s mind. “You knew all along?”

    “I suspected,” Mew said quietly, his voice bitter. “I didn’t know he was trapped here, or I would’ve…” He clenched his paws, staring. “But when I felt my power was being drained again, I thought it might have to do with you. I hoped I was wrong. I’d seen the effect Chalenor’s skull had where I buried it, near Sailance; perhaps it would have done it regardless.”

    Sailance. Mark froze. The Pokémon. The lack of Pokémon in northwest Ouen.

    “It’s not fair!” Chaletwo yelled. “It’s not fair! I’ve been fighting to stop it!”

    “I know,” Mew whispered, looking away. “I couldn’t tell you, not after watching how Chalenor suffered every day of his life. I’m sorry.”

    “I was trying!” Chaletwo screamed. “It could have worked! You could have helped! Why didn’t you help?!”

    Mew squeezed his eyes shut. Above, the battle raged on, bursts of energy flying between the clashing beings. “It can’t be stopped. It’s no use. I told you that.”

    “You didn’t know that! You didn’t even try!” Chaletwo’s rage had taken on an almost physical quality, swimming through the thick background of Mewtwo²’s power. “Earlier, when you came out of the ball, you thought it wasn’t happening! It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been out! But you just decided it wouldn’t work and made excuses! Like you – like you wanted it to happen!”

    Mew stared down at the ground, silent, for a long, long moment.

    “I…” he said in a whisper. “I just wanted to see Chalenor again.”

    A desperate, wordless psychic scream emanated from Chaletwo’s mind. Molzapart stared at him, opening his beak as if to say something.

    And then Chalenor crashed into the ground with force enough to shake the earth, sliding several feet in the dirt on his back. Mew shot to his side as Mewtwo² descended, paying no mind to Molzapart, who shuffled back to stay out of its way. It pointed its now-steady hand towards Mew and Chalenor –

    – and then, suddenly, a green blur knocked it down. Mark stared as a shape – Scyther – slashed madly at Mewtwo², severing one of the two pipes connecting the base of its neck to the back of its head. A stab of pain pierced through Mark’s mind before the clone thrust Scyther away with a psychic blast, the two ends of the neck pipe already knitting back together as the flesh mended itself. Scyther rose again, swaying, hurtling back towards it with a desperate battle cry, and Mewtwo² lifted a hand – which trembled before it fired a small, clumsy burst of purple light that barely slowed him down. Scyther lunged at its throat, but Mewtwo² flexed its fingers and produced a protective barrier that stopped him, its blank eyes staring at the mantis’s form as he tore into the barrier with a Fury Cutter, to no avail. Slowly, the clone turned away from him, its eyes fixing back on where Chalenor was lying.

    Scyther blinked at Mewtwo² and then glanced at Mark.

    Mark’s heart thumped. He knew what Scyther was thinking. Mewtwo² could have obliterated him with a thought, and yet it hadn’t. Scyther had tried to kill it, and still it hadn’t. For that matter, it could have attacked any one of them, and yet it was still focused blindly on Chalenor, attacking only him.

    “Guys,” he said, feeling his pulse in his throat, lightheaded in the sea of psychic static. He reached for his Pokéballs. “It’s still resisting. It’s not attacking Scyther.”

    Mewtwo² fired a Psycho Cut towards Chalenor, and Mew darted in front of him, squeezing his eyes shut as a faint, feeble pink bubble formed around him. Chalenor pushed himself partially upright in a lurch, holding his hand forward to create a stronger shield in front of Mew that deflected the attack before he collapsed again. Mewtwo² stared at them, motionless.

    Scyther leapt up again, and this time he got a few slashes in before the clone psychically thrust him away and raised its shield again, its wounds easily closing.

    “Go!” Mark shouted as four Pokéballs opened in bursts of light. Charizard, Dragonite, Jolteon and Weavile materialized on the ground. “We can… we can help! Be careful!”

    He glanced at Charizard and was going to ask him if he was okay to fight now – but before he’d said anything out loud, Charizard nodded. “I’m fine.”

    And he kicked off into the air.

    As Mark’s Pokémon surrounded Mewtwo², another burst of white light emerged in front of him. May jerked her hand up to her necklace, but Floatzel was already forming, racing after Weavile with a manic grin.

    “Mark’s right,” Spirit said, looking up at May. “The madness only compels it to attack legendary Pokémon, does it not?”

    “I…” May pressed her lips together, a trembling hand clutching her Pokéballs. “I don’t…”

    “May,” Spirit said, her voice firm. “We will all die if we don’t stop it.”

    May bit her lip, glancing over at Floatzel before she gave a slight nod, pulled the remaining balls from her necklace and threw them. Flygon, Butterfree, Mutark and Skarmory came out of their balls ready, Mutark licking herself and transforming within moments. Only Flygon hesitated, trembling as he stared towards Mewtwo².

    “Flygon,” May said, fists clenched. “Should I switch you out?”

    The dragon took a deep breath and shook his head, then darted after the others.

    Alan and Sparky’s Pokémon joined the fray as well, but Mewtwo² remained inside a protective bubble, shielded from the onslaught of attacks, twitching restlessly. Chalenor had risen to his hands and knees, struggling to recover; Mew hovered by his shoulder, worried.

    The psychic noise shifted, and Mark’s stomach twisted in anticipation of Mewtwo² firing off another attack – but then Spirit disappeared and reappeared behind it inside the barrier, locking her teeth around its neck pipes. Again, a surge of pain pulsed outward. The Pokémon gathered around Mewtwo² visibly flinched as it raised an arm and telekinetically tore Spirit away, healing its wounds again. She landed on the ground beside it and was quick to get back to her feet, preparing to pounce again.

    Mewtwo²’s arm pointed at her, twitching. Mark’s heart pounded as May clutched the Pokéball in her hand. It shouldn’t attack her, not really, not badly –

    – and then, abruptly, Spirit was yanked into the air. Mewtwo² levitated her pendant as it stared at it, eyes rolling, oblivious to Spirit’s struggling form suspended from it by the neck. May threw her arm forward, pressing the button to recall her.

    The beam of the Pokéball passed through the barrier and began to absorb her – but as the glow tried to take the necklace with her, it couldn’t. The chain trembled in the air, flickering red, the Ninetales’ amorphous shape still dangling from it.

    “Spirit, let it go!” shouted May, her eyes wide, but the Ninetales continued to struggle against the pull, the red glow clawing desperately at the chain. “Spirit! Please! Don’t!”

    For a second more, Spirit strained to take the pendant with her. But then, her translucent form was absorbed into the ball, and in Mewtwo²’s psychic grip, the necklace and Entei’s striking red soul gems crumbled to dust.

    The clone stood there for a few seconds, breathing rapidly. Slowly, carefully, May placed Spirit’s ball back on her necklace, staring towards the other Pokémon. Coughing, Chalenor rose to his feet, facing Mewtwo² again.

    The clone flexed its fingers for a moment; then the barrier around it disappeared as its eyes glowed blue. Immediately, the Pokémon around it sprang into action, led by Floatzel slamming into it with an Aqua Jet. Mewtwo² took the flurry of attacks without flinching, almost comically unaffected, but looked around, shaking its head, concentration faltering, and whatever attack it’d been preparing never landed. Charizard engulfed it in a Flamethrower, and then, without warning, a shockwave threw all the Pokémon back, clearing the area around the clone. Chalenor, leaping into the air, tossed a Shadow Ball at it, and Mewtwo² stumbled back momentarily before wrapping itself in another protective bubble and shooting off into the air after Chalenor, followed by all of the flying Pokémon.

    They surrounded Mewtwo² in the air, orbiting it in a circle, but its barrier kept them away whenever they tried to strike. The two legendaries danced around each other, exchanging blows, barriers clashing, firing attacks – but Chalenor’s movements were exhausted, desperate, while the clone fought with the same indifference as ever, barely hurt. “No,” whispered Mew, staring at the fight above, “no no no no no no –”

    “He’s not going to make it,” Molzapart said, his voice tight and fierce. “The thing’s not even tired, and he’s stuck in a useless human body. It’s only a matter of time.” He looked restlessly around before fixing his gaze on Chaletwo. “If ever there was a time for your murder-eyes, it’s now. Why haven’t you obliterated it?”

    Chaletwo didn’t respond. Mew shook his head. “He’s too weak. It’s no use.”

    Molzapart looked away, then back. “So if you had more power, you could do it?”

    Mewtwo² hovered above Chalenor and thrust its fist downward, producing a burst of energy that crushed him against the ground next to them, where he lay motionless. “No!” Mew said, nudging him desperately. “Come on, come on!” Up above, Mewtwo² hung in the air, a shadowed figure wreathed in a combination of orange and blue flames, motionless but for its tail lashing restlessly around.

    “I mean it. Could you do it with more power?” Molzapart repeated, looking urgently at Chaletwo. “Because I can do that.”

    Chaletwo looked up, slowly.

    “Power Drain, remember? I can drain the power of willing subjects, and I could channel it into you. I don’t know how much you’d need, but…” He glanced at Chalenor. “With all the Pokémon here, and him, it might be enough.”

    Chaletwo stared at him. Somewhere in the raging psychic storm sparked a flash of faint, confused hope.

    Mew squeezed his eyes shut as Chalenor stirred on the ground. “You don’t understand,” he said, shaking his head. “With the power that Mewtwo² has now, he can block or redirect anything he pleases. He may be able to ignore your Pokémon’s attacks, but anything that could truly hurt him or stop him, he will instinctively react to. Even at full power, Chaletwo’s eyes would be useless. There is nothing you can do here.”

    Mew took a deep breath, looking back towards Molzapart. “And I don’t remember much of the War. But I remember what the madness felt like. Nothing mattered but the legendaries, surviving long enough to destroy them. And…” He trembled at the recollection, his gaze distant. “Any legendary who attacked me, I had to retaliate. That compulsion was stronger than anything. When only Chalenor is fighting him, he can focus on only him. But as soon as you try to attack, he will strike back. If you’re a true threat, he’ll be forced to use everything he has. He’ll kill you where you stand in the attempt.”

    “Well, according to you it’s going to kill us all anyway!” Molzapart hissed. “Do you have a better idea?”

    Something rippled through the psychic noise. Mark looked up to see Mewtwo² beginning to move again, descending slowly as attacks bombarded its protective bubble, preparing an attack between its hands. Chalenor lay in the dirt, exhausted, looking up in silent resignation; Mew curled up against his chest, face digging into his shirt, closing his eyes.

    “I’m sorry, for everything,” Mew said quietly.

    “Maybe this time we’ll both die,” Chalenor said, his voice hoarse, smiling faintly. Then, in a murmur, he added, “I’m glad I got to see you again.”

    “Me too,” Mew whispered.

    Up above, Mewtwo² stared at the two of them, its arms still, shaking with effort as the energy around its hands dissipated, its bulging eyebrows twitching. A psychic wave of horror and nausea spilled out of it for a brief second before it was superseded by a forceful pulse of blind anger. Mewtwo² lifted its arms to clutch its head, then snarled as a ripple of frustration passed through Mark’s mind, then went rigid and started preparing an attack again.

    And something about that visceral psychic horror hit Mark like a punch to the gut as he stared at the clone, a sudden stab of sympathy piercing through his fear of it. And with that, a strange, stark sense of clarity came over him.

    Before he knew it he was moving, running, sprinting towards Mew and Chalenor. He spread his arms in front of them, facing Mewtwo², heart hammering, and stared at the clone.

    And Mewtwo² hesitated, staring back at him, eyes rolling in his head.

    “Mewtwo²?” Mark said, his voice shaking. The clone’s empty eyes pierced back into his, the psychic force in the air pricking at his brain like a thousand tiny needles. “You’re still fighting back, as hard as you can, aren’t you? You don’t want this. You don’t want to kill anyone else.”

    The clone let out a faint whine, curling up in the air, the barrier around him shimmering; then his arm shot outwards again, charging a Shadow Ball.

    “Please,” Mark said. His legs were wobbling, but he was frozen in place; he couldn’t have backed off if he’d wanted to. “I’m… I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” He swallowed, tears starting to blur his vision as the clone stared at him, his head twitching from side to side. “You didn’t deserve any of this. I… I wish we could free you, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”

    His mouth was dry; it was hard to speak. He wasn’t sure if there was any possible way for this to accomplish anything; how could there be anything he could say that’d be stronger than the madness that’d killed every legendary for thousands upon thousands of years?

    But he had to say it anyway. If nothing else, Mewtwo² deserved to hear it.

    “I remember I met you in Rick’s Gym, a year ago, and even then you were fighting back, saying you didn’t want this. You never got to have a life of your own, did you? Just… just fighting for whoever held your ball. I’m so sorry.” He blinked rapidly. “We don’t want to hurt you; we just don’t want you to kill everyone. I can see you don’t want that either. I wish we knew how we could help you.”

    Mewtwo² released the Shadow Ball with a roar, and Mark’s heart stopped, only for the attack to hit the ground several meters away in a spray of sand and dirt. The clone stared at him, trembling.

    “Please.” Mark turned around at the sound; Chalenor had pushed himself upright, staring up at Mewtwo². “He’s right. You’re still fighting back, still trying.” He swallowed. “You’re causing destruction that you don’t want and are attacked for it. I… I’m sorry.” He averted his eyes. “Others have tried this before, and it never worked. That’s why I attacked. But you…”

    He looked back up, meeting the clone’s eyes, milky white staring into tealish blue.

    “You’re stronger than any of them, aren’t you?” Chalenor murmured. “You’ve had a lifetime to learn to resist. If anyone can stop the cycle, it’s you, isn’t it? Another… another anomaly that Arceus didn’t account for. Please, keep trying.”

    They stared at one another for a few more seconds of tense, electrifying silence. The psychic field intensified to a feverish pitch; Mark’s ears rang, his heart pumping like it was about to explode. Something probed at his mind, fumbling and frantic and shaking.

    “I…” said a voice in his head, and he recognized it, faintly, from that day. “Please…”

    The clone’s body seized up; the barrier vanished, and a psychic shockwave abruptly thrust the flying Pokémon around him away.

    “K-k…” The telepathic voice was strained as Mewtwo²’s body convulsed in the air. Then, a sudden moment of abrupt alertness, his blank eyes staring straight into Mark’s, pleading. “Kill me!”

    Then he seized anew, roaring once again, and began to prepare an attack, only for Charizard to tackle him with a Flare Blitz. Mewtwo² swung his arm, and Charizard was slammed into the ground with a heavy thud. Finally, Mark could move again; he ran over to kneel by his starter’s side, stroking his head. Charizard opened an eye. “I’m okay,” he said, weakly, and Mark tried to smile before recalling him back to the safety of his ball.

    “I…” came the psychic voice again as Mewtwo² formed a new barrier around himself. He stared at Mark as abruptly, the barrier disappeared. One, two, three seconds, he convulsed in the air, fingers twitching; Scyther dived in towards him again, raising his scythe, but the instant he swung it and it made contact with Mewtwo²’s flesh, the clone flung out his hand and sent him flying. He remained unshielded for a second more; then a forceful wave of rage exploded through the psychic field, and the barrier was up again, his wounds healing. Mark stared up at him, his heart hammering. Mewtwo² could deliberately take down the barrier. That was what he was showing them. He could stop defending himself, if only for a few moments. So…?

    “Do it!” the voice shouted, and then, with a roar, Mewtwo² flared up with a purple aura and smashed into the other flying Pokémon, firing off clumsy Psycho Cuts.

    Molzapart looked at Chaletwo with a maniacal fervor. “That’s it! I Power Drain and you get it when the shield goes down!”

    “He’s still going to counterattack, isn’t he?” Chaletwo asked slowly, his telepathic voice dull. He was still standing, head bowed, not turning. “He can let an attack through but he still hit Scyther back.”

    Mew nodded silently. Molzapart’s eyes widened. “But…”

    In the air, Sparky’s Swellow, Charlie and May’s Flygon danced around Mewtwo², keeping him occupied, dodging carelessly thrown but increasingly forceful attacks.

    Naked fear trembled in the air around Chaletwo as Molzapart stared at him, silent. “It’s not fair,” he murmured, wiping his closed eyes with his hand, “it’s not fair, it’s not fair!”

    Mew hovered closer, but Chaletwo swung his hand, flinging Mew back; Chalenor caught him, cradling him protectively in his arms.

    “You lied to me! All you did was lie to me, for him! All I ever was was a stupid mistake, for him!”

    Mew shook his head, eyes squeezed shut. “That’s not true.”

    “Yes, it is!” Chaletwo shouted. His fists trembled as tears streamed from his eyes; his voice grew quiet. “But that doesn’t matter, does it? Of course you cared about him more than anybody else. I always knew that.” The psychic anger around him was thickening, congealing into heavy despair. “I need to die anyway, right? I need to die so he can move on and the War can stop. That was always how it was going to end, wasn’t it? Now or in a thousand years.” He took a shaking breath. “I wanted to save the world, didn’t I?” Another swirl of terrified fury lashed through the air. “It’s not fair!”

    Mew pulled himself from Chalenor’s grip and floated cautiously towards Chaletwo again. “Chaletwo, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I was selfish. All I could do was forget and pretend. I was never… All this was my fault.” He shook his head, his voice trembling. “I could never stop seeing my mistake in you, but even despite that, you grew to be a better Preserver than I ever was.”

    Mew wrapped his tiny paws around Chaletwo’s torso, eyes filled with tears. Chaletwo stared down at Mew for a moment, then slowly, slowly wrapped his arms around him and hugged him in return, a confused flurry of emotions radiating from his mind.

    A stab of urgency cut through the air. Up above, Mewtwo² flung the last of the flying Pokémon away with a pulse of psychic energy and descended slowly towards the ground, staring at Chalenor. Chaletwo looked up, releasing Mew, taking a deep, trembling breath.

    With a quick teleport, he was in front of Mark, grabbed his shoulder, teleported him to Molzapart’s side, and then took his place.

    “If we both die, it ends forever, doesn’t it?” he said, his voice shaking, looking back at Chalenor. “We’ll… we’ll end it. Right?”

    Chalenor nodded, reaching for Chaletwo’s hand. “I think so.”

    Chaletwo started to pull away, but then hesitated. Chalenor gripped his bony fingers tightly as Mew floated up to them, settling on Chalenor’s shoulder.

    “Mew, go! Get out of here!”

    “No,” Mew whispered, wrapping his tail around their joined hands. “I’m going with you.”

    Chaletwo stared at Mew for a long moment.

    Then, abruptly, he turned to face Mewtwo². The Pokémon on the ground were frantically attacking, keeping him convulsing as the remaining Electric-types alternated electric shocks, but with a sweep of his hand, the clone threw them aside yet again and produced a translucent bubble around himself.

    “Molzapart, do it!”

    “I…” Molzapart stared at Chaletwo, hesitant.

    “Do it!” Chaletwo’s voice broke. “Before I change my mind!”

    “I’m… I’m sorry,” Molzapart said.

    He looked down in concentration, and strings of energy shot towards him from all the gathered Pokémon. Chalenor and Mew shivered as the ghostly tendrils sucked out their strength; Floatzel and Weavile collapsed side by side, Floatzel shooting Weavile a grin. Jolteon whined, ears pinned back as he lay down, eyes closed.

    Chaletwo trembled like a leaf in the wind, unmoving in the deathly silence that followed. In front of him, Mewtwo² stood on the ground, hunched, still covered by his defensive barrier.

    “Mark?” said Chaletwo’s voice suddenly; it was strangely weak, shaking. “Get Molzapart to fix the dragons. Give them a life. Please.”

    Mark nodded, frozen. He wanted to say goodbye, say something, but his voice was gone.

    A bright beam of power shot from Molzapart’s beak and enveloped Chaletwo in a glowing aura as he took a trembling breath.

    Mewtwo² clutched his head, and the barrier was gone.

    Chaletwo screamed as he opened his eyes, and brilliant, blinding light shone from his eye sockets, sending shivers of phantom agony down Mark’s spine. The clone jerked where he stood, suddenly rigid, his back arching, eyes rolling back, arms outstretched.

    “Thank you,” Chalenor whispered.

    A huge orb of dark purple energy formed in front of Mewtwo² and shot towards Chaletwo. The ground shook with deep, shuddering tremors as it exploded, tendrils of darkness whirling around in a dark vortex before dissipating into nothingness.

    When the dust settled, there was another shallow crater carved into the earth. Nothing remained of the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, gone together into the great beyond.

    Opposite the crater, Mewtwo²’s body slumped motionless to the ground, its pupilless eyes peacefully closed at last.

    Beside it, a single purple gem clattered on the rocks and settled in the dirt.
     
  18. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    This is chapter 76, the second of two chapters posted today! If you just clicked the last post link, you want to read [post=18521470]chapter 75[/post] first.




    Chapter 76: Chalenor

    He was dangerous, they said. He could kill with his eyes. He was taking their power bit by bit, slowly but surely, until they were no stronger than mortal Pokémon. One day he would strip them of even their sanity, watch them blindly tear one another apart until only one was left to revive the world. And he was unkillable, unavoidable, inescapable. He was the incarnation of their doom, Death itself in the flesh.

    But Mew was curious, and he was a true immortal; he had nothing to fear. Not until a thousand years from now, anyway – and that seemed like an eternity to someone only a few years old.

    And so, he headed out to find the Destroyer, despite the other legendaries’ warnings.

    -------

    Mew had gotten the impression, from the hushed talk of the others, that the Destroyer must leave a path of corruption and horror in his wake – that she could simply follow some dark, sinister aura to find him. But Death was subtler than she’d thought. They had told her he resided in the Black Desert, but it took Mew a few hours of idle searching before she spotted a dark shape lying in the shadow of a rock, curled up in sleep.

    She descended, hovering warily above the sand. She had expected a more imposing figure; despite the long, angled, jet-black spikes protruding from its body as a warning sign not to come closer, the creature looked almost like it was trying to be inconspicuous. It was a curious sight, and Mew inched closer, cautious.

    Abruptly, without opening its eyes, the creature started awake – a sudden change as it jerked its head up, muscles tensing before it sprang up in alarm, crouching into a defensive position. Its closed eyes somehow locked onto her, staring at her through shut eyelids. “Stay away,” the Destroyer hissed, his spikes flaring with a bright green color.

    “Are you him?” Mew asked, tilting her head. She hadn’t expected the Destroyer himself to be so jumpy – the most powerful creature in this reality, murderer of every legendary Pokémon since the dawn of time, starting at the slightest of sounds.

    “I am Chalenor,” replied the creature, not moving. “What do you want with me?”

    Chalenor. Yes, Mew had heard, vaguely, that that was what the Destroyer called himself. His speech was rough, raw, like he didn’t use it often; it was strange, fascinating. Mew idly floated upside-down, considering. “Don’t the others ever come here?”

    The Destroyer’s closed eyes remained fixed on Mew. “Why would they? I’ll kill them all either way. Why are you here?”

    The bright green color of his spikes faded into a more tealish hue. Something was off about his hostility. Mew hadn’t expected the Destroyer to be friendly, but the tension in his stance seemed fearful, almost desperate, and he still hadn’t attacked. The creature shifted uneasily, still keeping a wary closed eye on Mew.

    “Why do you do it?” Mew asked.

    The Destroyer chuckled hollowly. “What is it to you, mew?” he asked. “I am the Destroyer. It’s what I do.”

    He used no name emphasis; it was a strange mistake, another thing that was off about his speech. Mew tilted her head at him again, and he stiffened. “Are you afraid of me?” she asked slowly.

    The Destroyer’s tail rose, defensive again as the teal glow of his spikes brightened in intensity. His claws were flexed, his muscles taut. “Why should I be afraid of you, mew? I can’t die, no matter what you do to me.”

    Again, he didn’t use any name emphasis – and all of a sudden, Mew was struck with her first true inkling of the age of the creature before her as it dawned on her that it wasn’t a mistake. He hadn’t just lived a full millennium, like Iriesce, or two, like she would have by the next War; not even three, like the very luckiest of Creators who survived two Wars in a row. He had seen so many millennia, so many incarnations of Mew, that they were simply a species to him.

    Even thinking of that length of time was dizzying and incomprehensible: her entire life thus far, thousands upon thousands of times over. She stared at him as he crouched deeper and started to growl quietly. “I’m not here to fight you,” she said. “Do the others try to fight you?”

    The creature looked warily at her for a moment before he relaxed, tentatively, still watching her, and sat down on his haunches. When she didn’t move, he looked down, let out a breath and wrapped his tail around his legs, his spikes fading slowly to a dark blue. “Sometimes,” he said at last. “Sometimes they think they can kill me and stop the War. But they can’t. It’s no use.”

    “I only wanted to talk,” she said. “Doesn’t anyone ever talk to you?”

    The Destroyer hesitated. “A few times,” he said, quietly. “But they always die, and then I wish they’d never come. You should go.”

    Mew watched the shifting blue hues on his spikes in silence for a moment. “You can’t help it, can you?” she asked. “You don’t want to drain our power and cause the War, but it happens anyway.”

    He nodded, looking away, his spikes a stark, clear blue.

    “Then they shouldn’t hate you,” she said.

    He didn’t answer, still turned away, the blue of his spikes flickering in intensity. She considered doing as he had said, writing this encounter off as a curiosity and going on to explore the rest of the planet. But he was so strange and sad and afraid, this incomprehensibly ancient creature doomed to destroy the world. Even if she left, she knew, she couldn’t simply forget. He’d seep back into her mind, when she curled up to sleep, when she flew over a desert, the flickering colors of his spikes and his shaky speech and the way he averted his closed eyes from her, as if he were terrified of what might happen if he looked at her too long.

    The Destroyer.

    Chalenor.

    She hovered down to his eye level. He shook his head frantically as she approached, rising and shuffling back. “No, no, you should go, you shouldn’t –”

    But as she reached her paws out to him, he stopped. She touched the tip of his nose, and he stood still, trembling, as he looked down. “No,” he muttered again, but he didn’t move as she carefully wrapped her paws around his muzzle in a small embrace.

    “It’s all right,” she said as hot tears streamed from his closed eyes. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

    “I’ll kill you,” he said, his voice shaking.

    “I know,” she said cheerfully, not letting go. “But that’s a thousand years from now.”

    -------

    The day went by in a blur. Mew asked him what he liked to do, where he liked to go, but Chalenor said he didn’t do much of anything, so Mew took him to his own favorite places instead. Chalenor knew them all, had been to them before – of course he had, in so many thousands of years – but he didn’t complain; they rolled around in the lush, dew-coated fields of Hoenn, and they raced each other down the slopes of Mt. Silver, and Chalenor tried his best to follow Mew through the maze-like caves of the Acaria Mountains until his spikes caught on the ceiling for the eleventh time and he gave up, apologizing, shrinking back outside, earnestly surprised when Mew followed him back out, laughing, and teleported them to Sunset Beach instead. Chalenor shivered with lingering cold from the snowy mountains; Mew produced a flame to warm him, and they sat together for a while until he eventually stopped shivering, his green spikes slowly fading to a calm bluish-blackness.

    “Did you have fun?” Mew asked, tilting his head as Chalenor gazed at the brilliant sunset. In truth, he already wanted to do more, show him more, go on a real adventure somewhere he’d never been before, but he could tell Chalenor didn’t want to go anywhere else at the moment.

    Chalenor nodded distantly, another flicker of blue passing across his spikes.

    “Should I come find you again tomorrow?”

    “I… I don’t know.” Chalenor looked down, silent. Mew wished he could have really felt what was going on in his mind, but to his psychic senses, Chalenor was a dark void, like a murkrow or scorplack or houndour – if he closed his eyes it felt like he wasn’t there at all, unless he listened for his breathing or his heartbeat.

    “Then I will,” Mew decided anyway, and Chalenor didn’t object.

    -------

    At first, Mew was cautious. Maybe Chalenor really didn’t want her to return; he had said no before, and perhaps she had been too pushy, too excited. She flew over the Black Desert, looking for him, and some part of her expected him to be gone, hiding somewhere she wouldn’t find him again.

    But no, he hadn’t gone; he was waiting in the same place he’d been the previous day, awake, tense, looking around, and as he spotted her he relaxed visibly. He liked all the places she took him to, all the new areas she hadn’t explored yet. In a couple of places, he commented softly, sharing brief, vague memories from previous times he’d been there. When she asked if he’d had anyone else with him, though, he grew quiet.

    They met every day after that, traveling to new places, playing little games that Mew came up with on the spot, talking about the world. She listened with fascination every time he shared something from thousands of years ago – the fields that were here before this lava flowed, the island these mountains used to be when the sea was higher. Her mind spun to think of it, how long he’d been quietly observing this ever-changing planet; he’d seen everything, knew everything, watched the eons work their merciless work upon everything that ever had been. The other legendaries seemed dull in comparison, still cautiously coming into their roles, learning the ways of the world – even Iriesce, who had always seemed so impossibly wise when she talked about the era before. Mew was learning things they could never have dreamed of.

    And for a while, she simply enjoyed that thrill of discovery and companionship, of having someone who would come with her, teach her things, indulge her wildest curiosities.

    -------

    One day, though, he wasn’t in his usual spot in the desert. Mew jolted out of a happy reverie, thinking for a moment that Chalenor must have finally grown tired of him, only to notice him a short distance away, pawing at something in the sand. Mew approached, puzzled; Chalenor started, shuffling back as he looked up, then sagged as he recognized Mew, looking down again.

    “What are you doing?” Mew asked, hovering near his head.

    By Chalenor’s feet lay a squirming Pokémon – a trapinch, helpless on its back with stubby legs flailing in the air. He gingerly turned it over with his paw, and the trapinch scuttled away across the sand before burying down into it some distance away.

    “Just… helping,” he murmured as he watched it disappear.

    Mew tilted his head. The Destroyer, helping mortal Pokémon. None of it made any sense. “Why? Do you do that often?”

    “Sometimes,” Chalenor said, turning his head away. “I don’t always. Helping one can hurt another. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do that’ll help, not really.”

    And that bothered him. Mew stared at him, at the tension in his stance, his downcast gaze. “But mortal Pokémon die so easily,” Mew said. “They hunt one another. Even if you help, it won’t last. Maybe that trapinch dies tomorrow.” And he was so old. Their tiny, fleeting lives had to be mere blips to him, brief flashes of existence gone before he knew it, and yet here he was, helping a trapinch to its feet, simply because he could.

    “I know,” he murmured, looking away.

    That night, after a day of exploring swamps and jungles and volcanoes, Chalenor spoke out of the blue when Mew was about to go. “Sometimes I don’t help,” he confessed, his voice raw and desperate, not quite looking Mew in the eye, “because I’m afraid. Sometimes I think if I help, it’ll make it harder to know that they’ll die, so I don’t.”

    Mew gazed at him in the flickering teal light of his spikes. He thought of all the mortals he met every day, tiny beings with tiny concerns, living their little lives, that he didn’t give a second glance to, because they were mortals, common, unimportant, and before he knew it they’d be gone.

    “It’s all right,” Mew said numbly. “You don’t have to help everyone. That doesn’t make you bad.”

    Mew could sense the confusion and anxiety and loneliness in Chalenor’s mind even without psychic powers. He stayed, talking to him, about life and mortality and right and wrong, until Chalenor fell asleep, head resting on his paws, his spikes faded to a dull, peaceful black. Mew curled up against his side and lay awake, unable to sleep, thinking of the mortals, of Chalenor, of everything he knew about the Destroyer, and a nagging sense of injustice began to grow in his heart.

    -------

    “I tried to talk to some of the others today,” she said a few weeks later, when she had settled into her usual sleeping spot, tight against Chalenor’s body, and he shivered, his spikes flaring teal.

    “Don’t,” he murmured. “It’ll… it’ll only make it worse.”

    “I don’t understand,” Mew said. “They won’t hear it when I tell them you don’t want to cause the War. Iriesce was so angry.”

    Chalenor’s body trembled. “She should be angry. I killed everyone she knew.”

    “But it’s not the same,” Mew protested. “What’s the use in being angry at you, when you can’t help it? They really killed each other, but they couldn’t help it, and you couldn’t help it either. It was Arceus who made you this way.”

    “Arceus hasn’t been seen in eons,” Chalenor murmured. “All the legendaries he wanted to punish are dead countless times over. It’s still happening because I’m still here.”

    Mew sighed. “Why would Arceus make you like that anyway?”

    Chalenor looked away. “Arceus woke from thousands of years’ sleep and found the legendary Pokémon had become arrogant and selfish, ruling over the mortals as tyrants. He told them that from now on they’d know weakness and mortality and fear it every day of their lives. But he knew they would never truly change, and the lesson would only need to be taught again to their replacements. So he created a personification of his punishment, someone who could remind them why they were being punished for eons to come, who could never die but could kill them instantly if they tried, that he named the Destroyer. And when he’d done that, his power was exhausted and his soul was shattered, and he fell back into his eternal slumber.”

    Beneath the hint of bitterness in Chalenor’s voice, it had the air of a rehearsed story – the same story Iriesce had told Mew, more or less, and the one the Creator before her had taught her, only Chalenor must have heard it from the source, sometime in a past Mew couldn’t even comprehend. “But why was he so sure they would never change? The legendaries after the first War were completely different. We’re not ruling over the mortals as tyrants. Iriesce would never do that.”

    There was a long pause. “He was angry,” Chalenor said, his voice quiet. “At that moment, it felt true to him. I don’t think he meant for me to have a soul, either. But his mind was clouded with rage and grief and agitation, and I came out wrong. His soul shattered and I got one instead.”

    Mew made a small noise of discontent. “It’s not fair,” she said after a moment. “It’s not fair that you make the War happen even though you don’t want to and it’s not fair that they act like it’s all your fault. It’s not fair that you’re the Destroyer. You didn’t want to be. I never asked to be the Preserver either.”

    He was silent for a moment. “What is it like?” he asked softly. “Being the Preserver?”

    “I don’t know.” Mew thought back, to Iriesce’s first words to her; she’d been shaking, exhausted, drained, her pearlescent feathers streaked with tears and her mind radiating shock and horror and grief, and yet she’d softened as she looked at Mew, her eyes kind and motherly and her voice gentle. It was painful to think of that Iriesce now, when she couldn’t erase the livid, hateful Iriesce from today from her mind. “When I was created she told me I should watch over all life. Find Pokémon in need and help them, even humans. Look out for any greater evil and try to prevent it, if I can.” And she had tried. But between helping mortals, creatures that would die soon anyway, and exploring the wonders and splendors and horrors of a living, breathing, eternal planet…

    Chalenor chuckled softly. “That sounds nice,” he murmured.

    Abruptly, for the first time, she felt ashamed of her ambivalent feelings about her role. Here she was, Mew, an incarnation of the original Creator, and the Destroyer would have made a better Preserver than she did. Everything Iriesce had told her that day, everything she was meant to embody – she’d never truly cared, and somewhere deep down she’d assumed no one did. And that wasn’t true.

    (In the back of her mind, it struck her too, as an afterthought, that Iriesce cared. She’d been angry because she cared.)

    Perhaps that didn’t mean she was bad. But then again, maybe it did. Maybe she was selfish and uncaring, every bit as conceited and arrogant as the legendaries of old.

    “You’d have been a good Preserver,” she muttered. And she wished she was better.

    -------

    “Hey,” Mew said the next morning, pulling Chalenor’s tail playfully. “I want to help. Let’s help someone.”

    Chalenor chuckled, shaking himself as he rose. They teleported around between places where he said he’d sometimes found someone in need, and eventually, in the woods of Unova, they helped a deerling find its mother. Mew’s heart pounded in giddy excitement as it squeaked a quick, intimidated thank you, and Chalenor actually smiled as they turned to walk away, along the river running through the forest. This was good. This was rewarding. It might be even better than exploring.

    “We’re heroes!” Mew trilled, twirling in the air. A young poliwag flopped helplessly on the rocks by the riverside; Mew teleported it into the water and waved cheerfully as it stared back in wonder.

    “I don’t know,” Chalenor said, looking away, but he was still smiling faintly.

    “Of course we are. We’re helping.” Mew floated upside-down in front of him. “Isn’t that what you like to do?”

    “I suppose,” Chalenor replied. “I never thought of it that way.”

    “Then I’m thinking it for you. Heroes!” Mew dived into the river and splashed water in Chalenor’s face. He shook himself as Mew giggled, then leapt after him into the river. They swam, and laughed, and talked, and everything seemed better. Mew could get used to this. Perhaps he could be good, after all.

    -------

    She got better at helping. It never quite came to her like she suspected it came to him, but it became instinct to wonder what he would do, and doing it made her happy. More importantly, it made him happy – or, not happy exactly, but it was like he forgot everything for a moment, like the heavy melancholy that hung over him always was lifted for just a bit.

    And years passed, and it had been a long time since Mew had talked to Iriesce. Sometimes she missed her, and then Mew would think of the way she’d lashed out in violent hatred at the mere mention of Chalenor, and she didn’t want to make more eternal memories of that.

    Eventually, she did try to broach the topic again, and as Iriesce froze and her gaze went cold, Mew shrank away and realized it would never be the same. It became hard to be around Iriesce as her gaze became intense and suspicious, fearful, distraught, a constant reminder that she hated him and was starting to hate Mew a little bit, too, for not hating him enough.

    And eventually Mew realized nothing would ever change, and she let Iriesce go, Iriesce and all the others. It was painful, and it made Chalenor sad, but it had to happen. And as she curled up next to him in the night, and Chalenor asked her in a murmur why she didn’t just let him go instead, she replied, “Because I’d rather have you than any of them.”

    -------

    Mew bounded across the grassy landscape, heart beating furiously in his chest. He hovered nimbly over a hill, then dived into a valley, swerved to the right and ascended to confuse his pursuer. Up into the treetops, down in another direction, and then speeding straight ahead: he must be unpredictable, random. He looked quickly over his shoulder; had he shaken him off?

    And then all of a sudden came a black shadow from the other side, crashing into him and throwing him aside. Mew struggled to get away, but a paw had pinned him down before he could escape, and a huge, fanged mouth locked around his body.

    “Fine. You win again.”

    Chalenor released him gingerly and shook himself, panting. “A thousand years and I sometimes still can’t believe how fast you are.”

    He sat down, curling his spiked tail around himself. The sun was setting over the sea in the west; the sky transformed brilliantly from orange to yellow and finally to blue higher up, while purple clouds hovered lazily over the ocean, too small to hide the sun from view. Mew sat down too, wordlessly, to watch it with him.

    “It’s going to end soon,” Chalenor said quietly after a while.

    Mew nodded; his gut stung at the thought, but he knew showing that would only make it worse. “We always knew it wouldn’t last.”

    There was a long silence.

    “What do you think happens to the souls of the dead?” Chalenor said after a while, a distant thoughtfulness in his voice.

    Mew took a deep breath. “I think they go to somewhere better,” he said. “Don’t worry about me. There will be others who’ll see you for who you are. They’ll probably be better than me.”

    “I don’t want to replace you,” Chalenor said softly.

    Mew winced. “Neither of us wants this,” he said. “But you have to move on. You’re doomed to live forever, truly forever, and I won’t.”

    Chalenor was silent for another few seconds. “What if I’m not?”

    Mew looked up at him, wary. “What do you mean?”

    There was another pause as Chalenor gathered his thoughts. “Every cycle has more legendaries with more power than the last,” he said. “Every War takes a bit more of my power to match theirs. I was weaker during the last War than during any before it, and… my healing didn’t work right. I was hurt when Iriesce killed the last of them, at the end, and it didn’t fully heal until she came to and my power was returning.”

    Mew blinked up at him in incomprehension. “It took your true immortality? But –”

    “I didn’t understand what it meant then,” Chalenor said. “I don’t think Arceus meant for this to happen when he made me. There were a lot of things he didn’t mean to happen. But I think… this War might make me mortal.”

    Mew stared at him, mind racing. “A loophole? But that means…”

    “This War could be the last,” Chalenor finished, his voice quiet, trembling. “If I’m in harm’s way.”

    Mew looked away, quickly, fixing his gaze on the distant sunset instead, his heart thumping. “Ending it,” he whispered. “We could end the War, forever.”

    Chalenor turned his head slightly towards him. “So do you think there’s somewhere else?” His voice was an unsteady murmur, his spikes flaring teal. “Somewhere we could meet again?”

    Mew nodded, not taking his eyes off the setting sun. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. There has to be.”

    Chalenor was still, silent, undetectable, but in Mew’s peripheral vision, wild, rapid patterns of light flickered across the surface of his spikes, throbbing, restless, pained.

    “Hey,” Mew said, hovering in front of him. “We’ll end it. Together. We’re heroes, remember?”

    Behind those ever-shut eyelids, Chalenor stared at him. “Heroes,” he murmured as he looked away.

    “Heroes.” Mew nestled on top of his head, and they watched the sunset in silence. Slowly, slowly, as Mew suppressed the sickening feeling creeping up his lungs, the light of Chalenor’s spikes began to fade into a calm, soft blackness.

    -------

    Mew wasn’t sure if she really believed the dead went anywhere at all. But believing it was all she could do.

    Every morning, she awoke gipped with icy terror after nightmares of bloody war and catastrophe and Chalenor lying dead among the carnage. She told herself they were going to stop the War, and that was worth it even if there was nothing beyond death, but then she looked at the other legendaries and felt a rush of hatred towards them, them who all despised Chalenor for how he’d been made, and she didn’t want to save their successors. She looked at the innocent Pokémon with their short, mortal lifespans, and some part of her didn’t want to give up her life, his life, for them.

    Her life was void either way, she supposed; there was no way out of the War for her, whether it was this one or the next. But Chalenor could live. He was never meant to be mortal at all. Normally the legendaries wouldn’t even attack him. He could live.

    And what if the War didn’t end? Was Arceus so easily fooled? Wouldn’t he simply rise from his eternal sleep and make another Destroyer, one who would truly remain immortal?

    It ate at her, bit by bit; she tried to smile and pretend to Chalenor that nothing was wrong, because she couldn’t take this away from him, this small measure of true happiness that their plan had given him, but it became harder and harder. She stopped being able to sleep; she would lie awake in the dark and hallucinate rivers of blood and armies of Destroyers and Chalenor’s severed head with gaping, empty eye sockets, and one day she started out of a deranged vision with a wild resolve that she had to know, she must see how it really worked out, no matter what they said about time travel. She closed her eyes and reached a thousand years through time; everything swirled for a moment, and then it was cold and rainy.

    She opened her eyes, shivering, and saw a strange Pokémon, large and gray and leathery with a long, purple tail. He turned around as she stared at him in confusion – there was something eerily familiar about him, almost as if he were a twisted version of her – and then he said, like he knew her, “Mew? What brings you here?”

    “Who are you?” she blurted out, because it was the first thing that occurred to her.

    He paused as he looked at her. “It’s me, Mewtwo,” he said. “Is everything all right?”

    He must know the Mew of this time, she thought – but that wasn’t important. “The War,” she said urgently, knowing she didn’t have much time; she already felt her power diminishing, trying to draw her back to the past. “Is the War gone?”

    “The War? You said it was drawing closer,” he said warily, and she wanted to scream. “Mew, we were talking about this only a month ago.”

    “What happened?” she said, frantic. “I… I can’t remember. What happened in the last War?”

    “You were the victor,” he said, hesitantly, and that was all he said, like it had just been an ordinary War and she had…

    “Chalenor,” she said urgently, pleading, as if he could change the truth if he took pity on her. “Where’s Chalenor?”

    He hesitated. “Chalenor is dead,” he said. “You said he died in the War. Why don’t you remember? Are you all right?”

    She stared at him as she tried to comprehend what had happened. They had failed. The War wasn’t gone. And… he was dead, while she lived on, a true immortal, for a thousand more years.

    “No,” she said, shaking her head, looking wildly around. “No, no, everything is wrong –”

    “I’m sorry,” the other said, as if it meant anything.

    “This can’t happen, it can’t.” Her voice shook. She felt her power dwindling and knew she couldn’t stay for long. “We have to fix it. Chalenor – Chalenor has to live, and –”

    And, she realized in a rush of wild hope, she was going to win the War. She would live. If they just canceled the plan, they’d have another thousand years together, and they wouldn’t have to worry about the War again for a long, long time –

    But of course, this was only one possible future, and now that she knew it, had been changed by the knowledge of it, there was no guarantee of the outcome anymore. What was this future? What had she done in this past? What if a change meant she wouldn’t win?

    She shook her head again. “No, we – we need to escape,” she said, “insurance – I need insurance.” And suddenly it dawned on her that she was standing in front of a new legendary Pokémon, one she hadn’t recognized, one nobody in her time would. What if…?

    “What?” said the other in confusion, but she had no time to explain; she drew upon all of her remaining strength as the Preserver and formed a duplicate of the strange Pokémon in front of her, and she managed only to grab tightly on to it before she couldn’t hold the anchor anymore and was whisked back in time.

    -------

    “Chalenor,” he said, “Chalenor, wake up, we have to change the plan –”

    “What?” said Chalenor, his black spikes flickering slowly to life as he raised his head, drowsy. “Why are you wet?”

    “I went to the future. You were dead, and I’d won the War, but it was still happening – the plan fails, it’s all going to go wrong – but then I realized that if I can just win the War and you stay out of the way, then…”

    “What?” Chalenor hesitated, his spikes brightening, blue and teal. “I… but what if you don’t win?”

    “I figured it out,” Mew went on eagerly, heart thumping. “I took the body of a future legendary that the others don’t know and have no reason to attack – if I’m killed, you can resurrect me in that body before I disappear. An immortal body! And we can find another one in the future before the next War. We can both – we can both live on forever – we don’t have to…”

    “But…” Chalenor stared at him for a long moment. “I’m not sure I want that,” he murmured.

    “What do you mean? We’ll both live!”

    Chalenor shuddered, looking away. “I… I don’t think I want to live on forever.”

    Mew blinked. “But it’s still going to happen even if you die!” he said. “It doesn’t work – the plan doesn’t work! The War keeps happening! You dying won’t accomplish anything!”

    “I…”

    Chalenor stared at the ground, his spikes roiling with an intense, turbulent blue. Slowly, hesitantly, he looked up. “I’m not sure I really want to accomplish anything.”

    His voice was quiet, shaking; Mew stared at him in incomprehension.

    “If I’m dead, it’s not me doing it anymore. That’s all I want.” He let out a trembling breath. “I’m not a hero. I’m a coward. I just don’t want to be the Destroyer. I don’t want to have to see all that suffering, over and over and over again, and know that I made it happen. That’s all. That’s why I wanted to do this.”

    He looked away again, the light of his spikes brightening, flickering. Mew stared at him, his lungs burning with creeping despair and anger and terror. “Don’t you see?” he pleaded as his ears rang with a strange white noise. “We can live.”

    Chalenor shook his head, slowly. “While all the others die around us? It’s torture to watch, every time, and it’ll be worse when one of them is you. I should know. I’m sorry, Mew, I’m so sorry.”

    Desperate tears began to burst from the corners of Mew’s eyes. “But…”

    “You can live,” Chalenor said, his voice softening. “Like in the future you saw. You said you won the War. Please, live and be happy for another thousand years – maybe you can come up with a way to survive the next too.”

    “No!”

    “Thank you for everything,” Chalenor went on in a murmur. “These were the happiest thousand years I’ve ever had. But I just… I just want it to end. Forget about me. Please.”

    “No!” Mew yelled, tears streaming down his cheeks. “You can’t just die!”

    “Mew, I…”

    “Souls don’t go anywhere!” Mew’s voice broke into desperate sobs. “They don’t go anywhere! They just fade away and disappear!”

    Chalenor backed away, shaking his head as Mew closed in on him, his spikes bright teal. “We don’t know,” he whispered. “We don’t know that.”

    “We have a new plan now!”

    “Mew, no –”

    “We have a new plan! It will work! All you have to do is…”

    Suddenly Chalenor’s spikes flared with a piercing yellow, and with a desperate roar, he smashed his tail into the limp legendary body lying beside Mew. Blood spurted from where one of his tail spikes pierced into its chest, into its heart, ruining it, destroying it –

    “There,” Chalenor said, a manic, pleading desperation in his voice, raising his tail again, “what if we can’t use this body anymore? Let’s go back to the old plan, Mew, please, please let’s go back to the plan –”

    No!” Chalenor lowered his tail, startled, as Mew’s vision swam in a delirious combination of horror and rage and suffocating fear, he was going to die he was going to die no no NO –

    “Mew?” Chalenor took a trembling step closer, his spikes bright teal again. “I’m sorry –”

    A shrill, hysterical screech sounded somewhere from the depths of a void of hot, indescribable terror. Before Mew knew what he was doing, he’d produced a blinding, searing Moonblast between his paws. Chalenor cried out in agony, flinching under the burst of energy, and retaliated with a pulse of deep darkness that made Mew’s entire being shudder with cold and nausea.

    “Fine!” Mew shouted, his vision shrouded in darkness. “Fine! Go and die in the War, you coward, and I’ll live on for as long as –”

    Chalenor screamed, and this time there was something different about it that Mew couldn’t place, something that made the hairs rise on his body; he didn’t know how, but somehow he knew that he was releasing the War, that it was early, that somehow Chalenor was making it happen now when they should still have a few more months, a few more precious months of life and laughter and joy –

    “No!” he yelled into the darkness. “Chale…”

    And then a hazy red mist covered everything, and his last thought before he tore his only friend apart was I’m sorry.

    -------

    She shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up – she shouldn’t have expected it to work. But her heart still wrenched in agony when the creature created from Chalenor’s eye wasn’t him. She fumbled to give him a name, to stop her mind from screaming so he could hear, to explain that his eyes were dangerous and he mustn’t open them. Midway through she realized that because he’d been her first creation, that meant he was the Preserver, the one who must work with her to protect life and oversee the world for the next thousand years, and she wished she hadn’t done it, hadn’t foolishly created an eternal, immortal reminder that Chalenor was dead and she had killed him.

    She knew they had work to do, that they would have to recreate all the legendaries, fix the world, bring everything back to normal. But the thought alone was insurmountable when she was still shaking, grieving, fumbling to remember what living was meant to look like. She told Chaletwo – she wished she hadn’t given him that name, but it was too late, too harsh to try to take it back from him – that they would start in the morning. She knew humans and Pokémon were dying out there, would die while they waited, but the thought seemed abstract and distant; she knew she ought to care, ought to be out there saving lives and undoing the damage, but right now she couldn’t convince herself it wouldn’t be better if it all burned down.

    (She’d never been a good Preserver.)

    Chaletwo sat beside her, contemplative, staring at the fire she’d created for them through the permanently shut eyelids that still reminded her of him. His childish, unpracticed mind spilled psychic fragments of thoughts and emotions that he couldn’t yet contain, wonder and curiosity and a timid wariness. Despite her best efforts, he had sensed her agitation, the resentment that she’d tried so hard to conceal because, in the end, it wasn’t his fault.

    “Mew?” he asked at last, hesitant. “Why are my eyes dangerous?”

    Her heart stung. “I… I made you with the power of someone called Chalenor. It gave you his eyes.”

    She could feel his apprehension, confusion, a twinge of fear. “Who was he?”

    She stared into the distance. The wind was cold, the world empty. Everyone was dead. Everyone who had known him. Everyone who had hated him.

    “He was the Preserver, like you,” she said, staring at the fire as a new resolve took hold. In her mind she heard his voice, his laugh: That sounds nice.

    “Oh.” Chaletwo was surprised, but relieved, curious. “What was he like?”

    Mew took a deep breath.

    “He was kind,” she said. “All he ever wanted was to help others. He was braver than he thought. Stronger than I’ll ever be. And…” She took a trembling breath, wishing she had better words to say, but she had never been good with words. “And he was my friend.”

    Chaletwo’s curious admiration gave way to concern, worry, sadness. “What happened to him?”

    “He died.”

    He looked down. “I’m sorry.”

    She nodded faintly. Sympathy emanated from his mind; she’d told him what death was, that that was what was happening to all the creatures around them. The soul severing from the body, leaving an empty husk behind to be uselessly mourned. And then, after a little while, ceasing to exist.

    (Or, perhaps, it just went somewhere else. Somewhere better. She supposed believing that was all she could do.)

    A creeping edge of confused, nervous apprehension tinged Chaletwo’s emotions. He hesitated, anxious, looking up at her again.

    “Am… am I going to die?” he asked.

    Mew stared out at the ruined world, avoiding the sight of Chalenor’s mangled body.

    “No. Never.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  19. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    You know. There are a lot of ways I could go about writing this post. There's a lot to be said after thirteen years reading the same fic, and finally getting the answers to so many questions that have occupied my mind for all that time. So much to be said. So much that I still have yet to say, even after giving live reactions! So much old speculation to dig through and laugh at!

    But. For now. In this moment. I think I've settled on what I want this post to be.

    Seven Lines That Made Me Cry:


    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2018
  20. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    *reads Chibi's post*

    Hmmm... It's true. How do you respond to a climax that's over fifteen years in the making? It's a momentous occasion that deserves something special. How should I respond to the big chapters you've been looking forward to posting for more than a decade? Well...

    [spoil]
    *slams fists randomly on some organ keys* DUN DUN DUN IT WAS MITCHENOOOOOOOR!!!!

    Sorry, I don't cry over media, I can't really make posts about how emotional I got about things. :p

    But it was fun to see how everything shook out in the end. It actually comes together rather neatly. And, actually, looking back, I think I got most things right? Not the time travel stuff (although HUGE NITPICK if the Mewtwo body was dead there wouldn't have been any spurting blood when Chalenor spiked it in Ch 76), but although I got the circumstances of Chalenor piggybacking off Mitch wrong, that was basically what was going on. And Mew did lie to Chaletwo about him being the Preserver so he wouldn't have angst about his laser death-eyes! (Well, and so nobody else would have angst about it either and she could preserve Chalenor's reputation, but shhhh.) Interesting to see that Mew and Chalenor's "plan" was really only Mew's plan and Chalenor's ultimate fate was actually an accident and something that made exactly nobody happy. And I knew Chaletwo's death eyes were going to come in handy someday!

    I am curious, though; what was it, twenty years ago, that triggered Mew's slide into despond? Was it just kind of realizing that the War really was coming? Since she apparently never figured out for sure that Chalenor was back and that was before he was hanging out in Mitch anyway. Was there some particular catalyst that I missed there?

    Anyway, let's look at the actual chapters!

    Oof. Well. I guess we didn't really get Rick vs May v2, then. I'm a little disappointed, since I'd always found Rick to be a really interesting character and wanted to see more of him and his issues, but this is a totally appropriate way for him to go.

    Overall I'd say that this part of Chapter 75, from when we switch POVs to Mark's group up until Chaletwo tries his death stare, is my favorite part of this two-chapter bit. Mewtwo2 is terrifying, and I love how everyone's so terrified and hopeless and has no idea how to deal with the situation. Mark desperately trying to tackle May out of harm's way was probably my favorite-favorite part. In general I think Mark is great in this chapter, and I really like his reactions during this stretch, where he's just trying to survive Rick and Mewtwo2. (And trying to make sure May survives, too!)

    Once Chaletwo does try to stare Mewtwo2 to death, though, we get a bit that I fid a little comical, like, Mewtwo2 is kind of standing around in the background all, "Nnngh... fzhdfkfffl..." while in the foreground people are standing around bickering. Like really, Chaletwo, is this the time to be having it out with Mew? Priorities, guys!

    Ahhh, I can't remember whether I pegged Chalenor's dark typing as being what masked him from e.g. Chaletwo's check for psychic influence, but it makes sense. All those times when Mew was lurking around the desert, then... Not because she actually suspected what was up with Mitch, but because that was Chalenor's home, and if he was going to be anywhere, it would probably be around there? (I'm guessing you'll remove that part where she randomly pops up right in the gym to talk to Mark that one time in the revision, heh.)

    Like this part!

    I also like how poorly Chaletwo handles the revelation about Chalenor here. He's so obviously at the end of his rope and not at all ready to deal with his sense of identity getting totally flipped on its head. The poor guy really hasn't caught a break over the past several chapters, and it only keeps getting worse here, and he is just completely done coping with it, and all of Mew's ******** is icing on the most terrible cake. And then, of course, it turns out he's the only one who can save the world, but at such a price... And he's right, it isn't fair, it isn't kind, and Mew's treated him horribly, first with the lying and then doubling down on the lies and now putting him in this position. Chaletwo gets to be a hero, he gets to impress Mew the way he always wanted, but it's not how he would want to do it and he doesn't even want it anymore.

    (And also poor Mewtwo2 getting called "the thing" all the time by Molzapart. He has a NAME, Molzapart, and he is STANDING RIGHT THERE HE CAN HEAR YOU, jfc.)

    Ahhh, there it is. Strikes me as a little weird, though, like why would the ordinary pokémon care? Since the power drain only works on legendaries. And also, why would Chalenor's skull do that, since apparently the living Chalenor didn't repel wild pokémon in life? Unless actually he did, and so those times when he goes to help wild pokémon he has to like rush up on them real fast before they can feel him coming and flee, which is kind of a hilarious mental image.

    I think you mentioned possibly getting rid of the Effect in a later revision, and if this is all there is to it, yeah, it doesn't seem like it's worth keeping it around.

    Whoops, I 100% forgot that Scyther wasn't with the party at this point and was going to ask why he hadn't been mentioned earlier. Probably that won't be as big a deal with months between the chapters, but I'm also not sure why you chose to set it up that way?

    It took me a second, but then I was like, "Oh snap, the soul gem!" So in the end Entei's one of very few casualties of the War he tried so hard to escape. Nice going, jerk. (And I wonder if this is where Mewtwo2 got the idea of making a soul gem later on, if indeed that's what happened.)

    The tense bit earlier was my favorite overall part of the chapter, but this is definitely my favorite moment. Good Mark. What a good character! It's a little power-of-friendship cheesy, but it definitely feels like something true to Mark and the way he's developed over the course of the story. Despite his not really participating in this final fight much at all, it's nice for the protagonist to get a moment to shine here in the climax.

    It's interesting to compare my initial reaction to this bit to how I look at it now, the second time around. At first I was like, "Hmm, yeah, makes sense, that's pretty typical for how these things go down." I was hoping for a different ending for Mewtwo2, but the whole "gone mad with power and can't do more than ask for their old friends to put them down" thing is a pretty well-worn trope, and it makes sense in this case, even if it's a little frustrating to me. But with the soul gem thing at the end, if this was actually Mewtwo2 having a plan for not having to kill (almost) anyone while also getting to have his life and freedom, I like it a lot more, heh.

    Hmm. Mewtwo2 soul gem, I'm assuming? It would have to be that or Chaletwo, I think, and considering what Chaletwo learned about his eyes he presumably wasn't looking to get resurrected.

    (And I went back to Chapter 52 looking for info on how to create soul gems, and oh look

    Foreshadowing!)

    Oh no, suddenly pokémon capitalization discourse. XD Although I thought you did capitalize generic pokémon species for this fic?

    I really like the scene between Mew and Chaletwo at the end of seventy-six! It's great to see Mew's feelings and reasoning while she struggles with how to break things to Chaletwo (and ultimately doesn't), and of course you can definitely see what a distorted picture Chaletwo's getting. Wonderful ending lines, too.

    I have more to say about these chapters (you may have noticed a lack of comments on some parts), but I think it would be better saved to talk about in the context of the other ending chapters. Which I'm going to do once you post 77 and I do my big wrap-up review. So we'll return to these ones later! For now, congrats on making it to the climax. So hype to see you finish this monster up!
    [/spoil]
     

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