Chapter 114 - Despair Flame
- Aug 18, 2018
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Chapter 114 – Despair Flame
The most irritating sound had returned. Sloshing, wet footsteps. Dark Matter squeezed his own fists and spitefully changed his form to that of a Charizard; he needed some practice to intimidate Owen later anyway. His flame, however, was black.
“I’m so proud of you, Mister Matter,” Anam said.
“No, I really am! Not only did you agree to wait, but you actually listened!”
“I have no choice. I cannot forcibly go within the perimeter of the new Tree of Life yet. I need more power. Any less and I am at risk of shattering.”
“Well, I don’t really know what the old Tree looked like. But I’m still glad! You could have threatened so many different things!”
Why was Anam bothering to feel so positive when Dark Matter could not feel any of it? Did Anam realize this? Or was he so hopelessly lost without his guidance that he now thought everyone was happy with him?
Anam sat next to Dark Matter, leaning forward to play with his slimy toes. “I like this new you.”
“There is nothing that changed about me.”
“I think something has! Compared to when we first met, you never would have done any of this. You would have been totally dedicated to destruction and suffering! Instead, you’re here looking for other ways to solve problems!”
“In the past, just think back! You were beating me into the ground for hours and hours until you got tired of it! Now I can sit right next to you like buddies!”
“Will you… just stop?”
“A-and, well, and I really do think that if you put your all into it, and I was there to vouch for you, maybe we can work together after all! We can still make you happy! That’s why you’re doing all of this, right? Because he’ll—”
“ENOUGH, ANAM!” A shadowy fist slammed into the Goodra’s side, blowing a clean hole through him and spattering purple slime into the tree opposite to them. Anam was silenced, looking at Dark Matter, stunned, betrayed, and then he saw it. That very brief look of disappointment.
Why did that hurt so much?
Dark Matter pulled his hand away and stood up. He took a few paces away and slammed it into a tree next, disintegrating it into a fine ash. He then leaned against a nearby boulder and went back down to the ground, ignoring his small, black flame. Anam, by now, had rubbed the wound back to normal.
“I don’t understand,” Dark Matter growled. “You know I cannot feel these… positive emotions you keep asking for. I only feel fewer negative emotions. The greatest I can hope for is nothingness. No”—he raised his hand immediately to halt Anam’s protest—“I won’t hear it. Not only can I not feel the hope you are trying to send me… but it only teases me with what I will never have. Enough. Do not try to convince me.”
But he saw that stubborn look in the Goodra’s green eyes. He wished nothing more than to…
It was tiring to even think of what he wanted to do with Anam. Maybe it didn’t matter.
“Then why?” Anam asked. “Why do you want to get to Owen so much? He’s… all he wants to do is save everyone. He won’t cooperate with you to kill them instead.”
“Perhaps he will cooperate long enough that it would be beneficial to both of us.”
“Are you sure?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you sure that’s why you want to work with him?” Anam leaned forward, even though it barely made a difference with how far apart they were. “You say that you hate him, that his power is a nuisance, but…”
A pang of irritation ran through his upper back like a cold needle. He squeezed his hands, claws digging into his scales so they oozed dark blood.
“Were you trying to lead me to a conclusion only you understand?” Dark Matter snarled. “Talking to me as if it was an answer I had to learn?”
“You’re pursuing him too much,” Anam went on without acknowledging him. “I… I think I understand why, now, though. You never told me, but…”
“Why should I tell you anything?”
“Mister Matter, can you answer something for me?”
He said nothing.
“Why did you keep telling me to deny Owen’s position as a Heart? Over and over and over, but you didn’t have a problem with letting the rest of Team Alloy become Hearts for real.”
“I followed you because you said you sensed a darkness in him… but then suddenly you let him through. I was a little surprised, but… was it because the Orbs were getting brighter? Was that what you were waiting for? Is that… why you told me Owen should get the Grass Orb? After all, it was kind of weird you’d go along with what Necrozma probably wanted…”
“All of this prattle is useless,” Dark Matter said. “Get to the point. Otherwise, I’m going to check on Marshadow and the Titans.”
“Okay.” Anam nodded. “I think… that there’s more to why you’re trying to make Owen work with you than his closeness to Necrozma. Otherwise, you would have tried to pick Elder, or Mom, or even Emily!”
“Emily is… not under my control any longer, and you know that. Elder cannot fight, so he would be useless even if I took control of him. And your mother is a fool who sacrificed herself to protect useless little you.”
“But Owen would have done the same thing,” Anam said frantically. “He’s… one of the most positive Pokémon I know!”
“Yes. He is.” Dark Matter’s voice deepened. “They’ve brainwashed him to be like that.”
There was a glint in Anam’s eyes. “…I knew it…”
Dark Matter realized his mistake seconds later. His claws dug into the dirt. “What do you know?”
“Mister Matter… you never told me what happened during the first war. The war that erased the Legends. The one that tried to end the world, where you controlled people to—”
“Get to the point,” Dark Matter snapped.
“Owen was on your side! Wasn’t he?”
“I knew it!” Anam pointed at the Charizard. “I knew it! Ever since we came here, ever since you were so obsessed with finding him even though there are tons of other Radiant Spirits to pick from… you wanted Owen. Because… you used to be friends!”
Another crackling blast of Shadows sent various parts of Anam’s body in scattered globs. Anam’s upper half rolled and righted itself with an intact arm.
“Do not,” Dark Matter began, “mock me. Do not taunt me with this concept that I can make friends, that I can have any joy out of it. It is an empty gesture. After five hundred pointless cycles with you, I would think that you would have learned. Yet all you do is disappoint me and remind me that you cannot and will not change.”
“Then why?” Anam asked, pulling himself together. “It’s obvious that you and Owen… there’s something about it. I mean, look at you! You look like him right now!”
“I am practicing the form of a Charizard. There is nothing special or strange about that. It will unnerve and unsettle him and make him easier to read.”
“But Owen is already easy to read,” Anam said.
“No. He is not. That is a front. Owen can control his flame to deceive.”
“What? That isn’t true at all!”
“…Hmph. Then perhaps it is not true any longer.”
“Well… and the other reason I knew…” Anam pointed, but fell over. He righted himself, grew his arm back, and pointed again. “You really do look like Owen.”
Realizing that Anam was pointing just above him, Dark Matter reached up and felt the pointed horns on his head. Just like Owen. “Mrm. Coincidence.”
“Mister Matter…” Anam frowned, disappointed again.
“I owe you nothing. Leave. If Owen refuses to appear, then I will carry on with my plans.”
“And what if Kilo attacks you first? You aren’t ready, and then you’ll die.”
“Cute.” Dark Matter turned around and folded his wings over in a gesture of finality. He said nothing more to Anam, and while the Goodra tried to say a few more things, he answered nothing.
Finally, Anam left. And that heavy, cold, empty feeling returned to Dark Matter.
“Friends…” Dark Matter’s teeth cracked against themselves. “Just like you were ‘friends’ with me?” The cruel wings answered him with indifference. “My existence dictates that I can never have friends, fool. Only… allies. Tenuous agreements. Compromises and mutual goals.”
Dark Matter looked at his hands, conjuring a small, shadowy flame.
“The fabric of reality itself dictates that I suffer. If I must rewrite it entirely so that can be fixed… so be it. You agreed with me once before, Owen.” Dark Matter looked up. “…Perhaps you will agree again.”
A sudden pang shot through his heart and he shouted, doubling over. He clutched at his chest as if an icicle had jammed through it. Squeezing his eyes shut, he took steady breaths. His claws dug into his thighs, drawing black blood. They went deeper, ripping flesh, and the pain eased. The claws withdrew. His body healed.
Cursed… hope, Dark Matter thought. Tentatively, he pulled his hand away from his chest. Within, his red core pulsed rhythmically. Normal. I nearly shattered myself with that… little hope. He waited a little longer, then stared behind him at the tree.
He couldn’t look at it for long. It all hurt too much.
“Oi, breakfast!” Gahi shouted down the main hall.
“I… forgot to eat after everything that happened,” Owen mumbled aloud, hopping onto an oversized seat. Apparently, Demitri had taken up the cooking role, and was getting quite good at it. Breakfast appeared to be a savory, thick soup of reds and greens. Owen wondered how much work had gone into Null Village figuring out how to make foods of this nature at all. Then again, after so much time here, and being immortal, they had probably come up with an innovation or two even in this desolate land…
“Well, you should eat now,” Demitri said, pointing a ladle at the tiny Charmander. “I dunno how much you need to eat, but food’s kind of expensive here, so I’m going to start you with a small bowl and you can ask for seconds, okay?”
“Sure.” He hoped the ‘small bowl’ wasn’t bigger than his head.
As everyone gathered around the large table in the common area—including Hakk and Xypher—Zena coiled near Owen and asked, “Did you happen to get any memories last night? You were murmuring about it in your sleep.”
Owen’s feathers puffed out. “I w-was, huh?” Great, now he had that going for him. “Well, I did. Just a short memory with Necrozma, though.” He had a feeling that there was another, but he couldn’t remember anything else. That was fine—the one with Necrozma gave him just what he needed. “When we’re done eating, I want some of you to come with me to ask around about a few things.”
“Some guards, maybe some authorities.”
“You have the clout for that?” Hakk asked.
Owen was still trying to get over the oversized Sandslash’s apparent attempts to turn him over to Mhynt or Alexander… but it seemed like he didn’t have a choice there. He could confront him later. Later, later, later, always later.
“Clout?” Owen instead asked.
“It’s not like you can waltz into a place and say ‘hey, tell me classified info’ or whatever.”
“I gave this town the sun, so I guess that would count for something.”
Hakk’s face twisted into a mixture of consideration and befuddlement. Eventually, it furrowed into a resigned, impressed frown. “Huh,” he said. “Y’know, point taken.”
They had some small talk over breakfast. Hakk mentioned a few errands he had to run, including picking up some of their stuff from their old home that wasn’t ruined or stolen, along with a few of Hakk’s projects that he’d forgotten. Demitri offered to help, but Hakk said they’d be fine on their own. Eon came to breakfast a little while later with Jerry, but neither seemed to be much for conversation, and Owen wasn’t interested in talking to Eon yet anyway.
“Hey, uh,” Owen cut in, “is it alright if I help you guys out a little anyway? I don’t really have a job here, and I need some extra time to think. You know, for Dark Matter. I might have something that I can do there, actually…”
“Ehhh…” Hakk glanced at Xypher, who chirped. “Fine. You aren’t worried I’m gonna, like, steal you or something?”
“Mhynt isn’t here, right? Besides, if you do, you’ll have to answer to them.” Owen gestured to the rest of Team Alloy, then at Zena, Enet, and Eon. Jerry, leaned out of the way of Owen’s gesture.
Hakk, meanwhile, avoided Mispy’s stare in particular. “Yep. That’s also a good point.”
Mispy nodded firmly.
“If Owen is going, then so will I,” Zena said. “My shift isn’t until later in the day anyway.”
“Oh, come on,” Hakk groaned. “I’m not gonna take him! I was just pointing it out!”
“It’s not just you I’m worried about.”
“What’s Xypher gonna do?”
“Dark Matter,” Zena said.
“Oh. I mean. Okay.” Hakk shrugged. “Whatever. But don’t get in the way, alright? You’re kinda huge.”
One of Mispy’s vines split open, hissing.
Hakk muttered something about a house of lunatics before leaving the table.
“Do you suppose Mispy is… intense at times?” Zena asked Owen.
“A little.” Owen held onto her horn while he rode on her head. “I think since she has trouble talking, she uses actions to make her point.”
“That’s one way to put it.” Hakk crossed his arms. “She’s gonna get put in the slammer one day for turning someone into paste.”
“Well, her job was usually to turn people into paste and then put them in the slammer…”
“Kilo sounds like it’s worse than here.”
“I—I think I phrased that badly. She has the same job you guys have, in a way. Guards?”
“Oh, so she’s part of the VPN of your world.”
“The what?” Zena asked.
“Voidlands Protection Network,” Owen and Hakk said. Then, Owen continued, “Yeah, and in Kilo it’s called the Thousand Hearts.”
“Right, right, I remember that. So, what, taken in for strength, or what?”
“Strength, good character, aptitude, stuff like that.”
“Good character,” Hakk repeated. “Who judges that?”
“…The manchild Goodra.”
“Er… h-he’s a lot better than he presents himself. Really. Kilo’s a great place!”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Hakk lied.
They stopped in front of the ruined home, which was mercifully untouched by any potential looters or other thieves that would take advantage of the broken home. Perhaps they assumed it had already been cleared out… or perhaps they only stole what little remained that wasn’t hidden.
“I don’t sense anyone in there,” Owen said. “It’s safe.”
“What, you can sense auras, too?” Hakk asked.
Owen paused. He’d said that without thinking… “Uh, yeah,” he replied. He hadn’t actually checked for auras. He just didn’t sense any life inside…
“Owen?” Zena asked gently.
Owen placed a hand on her horn assuredly. “I’m fine.”
They continued inside and Owen slid down Zena’s neck and onto the ground. “You guys can help move things around. I’m going to check the outside, if that’s alright.”
“What for?” Hakk asked, but Owen was already looking at the fallen portions of the building. Hakk headed in with Zena, telling her to search around the ground floor while he and Xypher went into the basement.
“It’s those crystals in the walls…”
“What about ‘em?” Hakk asked, letting Xypher descend before walking back to Owen.
“These are the same crystals we used against the Titans, aren’t they?” Owen asked.
“Ehhh yes and no,” Hakk said, leaning down. He started with one of the fallen slabs of rubble. “They’re depleted. Inert. They don’t have the sort of power that the energized ones do.”
“How do you energize them?” Owen asked.
“Usually we can’t, at least, not easily. Takes time. I dunno the process.”
“Okay… So, these are the same things, but they’re depleted. Zena?”
“Can you put some high-pressure water here to dig out this stone?”
“Are these crystals fragile?”
Hakk hummed uncertainly, then said, “Stronger than the stone.”
With some work, Zena concentrated a thin but powerful stream of water against the rock, eventually breaking loose one of the crystals—a dim, yellow hue radiated from it.
“Y’know, even though they’re depleted, they’re also expensive,” Hakk grumbled. “I gotta repair this, y’know.”
“I’ll pay you back,” Owen said. “Electric…”
“It’s an Electric crystal.”
“Duh, it’s yellow. You don’t know your element spectrum?”
“I, uh, we weren’t taught that.”
“Each elemental type corresponds to a color. Dragon is indigo, Psychic is pink, Grass is green—it’s derived from the color of their crystals.”
“Oh. Didn’t know that.” Owen held up the yellow one. “So, yellow’s Electric?”
“How did you not—Yes. It is.”
Owen nodded, then directed Zena to pull free a blue crystal next, and then a green one, and finally a pink one. Owen picked up the green one first, holding it tight.
“So, are you just gonna loot from my wall all day, or…”
The green crystal’s glow brightened twofold, hot in Owen’s hands. He held it to Hakk, who was staring, wide-eyed.
“It’s energized now?” Owen asked innocently.
Owen’s grin was giddy. “So it did work!” He sprang to his feet. “Zena! We can ward off Dark Matter like this!”
“Hang—hang on, did you just energize a crystal like it’s nothing?! Don’t blow over that, you have any idea how—no wonder Alexander wants you do—y’know what? Gonna pretend I didn’t see that so Mhynt doesn’t order me to grab you. Kid, you need to keep that a secret, immediately.”
“Not a kid. And, it’s that valuable?” Owen asked.
“You just did in a second what usually takes weeks per crystal, assuming we don’t find them by chance out in the plateaus.”
“I… wow. Alright. I’ll, uh, keep that in mind…” Holding the blue crystal next, Owen faced Zena. “Hold this.”
“How do I energize this one? It’s Water, I’m guessing?”
Owen nodded. “Focus like you’re meditating, first. Kind of like summoning a spirit. Then, focus that power into the crystal. It might take some effort…”
As Owen spoke, she followed along, breathing deeply. A soft light started from her head, trailing through her ribbons and into the crystal. The light from Zena faded back to normal, but the radiance from the crystal remained.
“You’re kidding me,” Hakk muttered. “Both of you?!”
“I’m… a little tired,” Zena admitted to Owen. “Are you?”
“A little, but I think I have some practice. This isn’t about power, but how to draw from yourself, if you want to activate a crystal like this.” Owen gestured to the wall. “I’m going to get some for all the Guardians. Jerry might be in danger, though, and the same goes for Demitri and Mispy. But any of the Guardians can do this. I, uh, I’ll handle Enet, since I think I know how to explain it to her.”
“Jerry should be okay,” Zena said. “He’s immune to Dark Matter’s touch.”
Zena shrugged. “He won’t say.”
“Hmm…” Yet another thing to discuss.
Xypher emerged from the basement and chirped at Hakk. He had a few things in a bag, but it seemed whatever was down there, it was staying there or it wasn’t worth salvaging.
“Well, I guess that’s all for here,” Owen said. “Uh, sorry for the wall, Hakk.”
“Ehh, just gimme a cut of what you get paid,” Hakk muttered.
“Sure.” He grinned. “I don’t think I’ll be using money too much anyway! Okay, Zena. Let’s gather the others and find Dark Matter.”
“And you’re sure this will be enough?” Zena asked. “What are we going to talk to Dark Matter about?”
“I want to see what he has to say.” His expression was serious, but even he knew that this was only a gut feeling. “If he tries to only get us to follow him by his word alone, then we won’t.”
“He thrives on negativity,” Zena warned. “He could just try to fill us with doubt.”
“And if it seems like he’s doing that, stop listening and we can go,” Owen said. “We still have a counterattack against him, don’t we? All we have to do is coordinate with Nevren once he gets that portal open. After that… Against all of us?” Owen shook his head. “I don’t think he can win. We have the upper hand, now.”
“Just be careful,” Zena warned. “This won’t be the first time you’ve been overconfident with your Mystic power.”
A phantom pain of Jerry’s icy fangs briefly tightened Owen’s chest. “Right.” He nodded. “Right. We’ll be careful. And… make sure we don’t leave any weaknesses. We’ll try to stay near the tree, too.”
“That’s better,” Zena said, and then she smiled.
Right. As long as they were careful… they would be able to confront Dark Matter. Maybe he could get some answers, and maybe there would be a way to fix all of this. Owen could only hope that this lingering feeling in his gut that he had to speak to Dark Matter was the right one.
Trina, Gahi, Enet, Zena, Eon, and Jerry were the ones that came with Owen to meet Dark Matter. Demitri and Mispy—the only ones not known to be immune, or without a proper Orb to resonate with a light crystal, stayed further behind, but kept a distant watch nonetheless.
Owen stood atop Zena’s head for the greatest vantage point, and they led the way forward. Eon, as a Charmander, rode on Gahi’s shoulder, while Trina balanced between the slender Flygon’s antennae. Jerry trailed behind, making frequent, paranoid glances left and right. He muttered to himself about how stupid this was, and why everyone had so much faith in the idiot Charmander.
The idiot Charmander ignored him. He knew, deep in his gut, that seeing Dark Matter, at least to hear what he had to say, would be worth it. He once feared his instincts, but now, he realized that many of them were his past selves trying to tell him what to fear, and when to press forward. The influence of his mutant self was weakest now, and his mind felt clearer than it had been in centuries.
There was something about Dark Matter that drew him in. But if he was meant to be a creature of the light, why was that? He had to know. Perhaps seeing Dark Matter would answer that question. And even if it didn’t, he would at least have an opportunity to glean the entity’s full motivations. Perhaps even a weakness.
“We’re pretty far from town,” Eon, another Charmander, hummed.
“Dark Matter doesn’t like that tree,” Owen said. “So if we’re in trouble, we can run toward it. Everyone, you have your crystals?”
They all murmured in affirmation. Some had them grasped in their hands; others had them tied around their necks.
“Don’t lose them. I think that’s the one thing protecting you from his influence.”
The forest was darker. The air seemed denser. Light from his flame didn’t go as far as it should have. It was like the atmosphere itself was closing in on them the deeper into the forest they went. Trees loomed over them, as if making faces, mourning their arrival, and they groaned with every bitter gust of wind.
They passed by another aberrant cluster of berries in the ground and Owen’s stomach twisted in knots. He looked away quickly. When Zena asked if he was alright, he only muttered a halfhearted dismissal.
After perhaps a half hour of travel, Owen caught a glimpse of a dark glow. It was an impossibility; it flickered like fire, but where it touched was darker instead of bright.
“Stop.” Owen slid off of Zena, landing lightly on his feet. He steadied his breath, puffed his chest, checked his feathers like it was some important job interview, and faced the dark.
“We’ll be right here, Owen,” Zena assured.
“Don’t be scared,” Enet added. “He’s not strong against us.”
“Yeah, whatever she said.” Gahi gestured at Enet, who Owen realized had said that to him in the feral tongue.
“Be careful,” Trina said, “but so will we.”
“Do you need anyone with you?” Eon asked.
“…Just stay within earshot,” Owen said. “I want you to hear this, too. Just in case I forget, you know? It’s… happened before.”
“Just don’t die on us,” Jerry murmured. “I know you like doing that, but this would be a bad time.”
Owen smiled a little, but nodded and walked forward. His feathers were puffing out, and he really wished he was back to his Fiery self, but this would have to do.
“Dark Matter!” Owen called. “I’m a little early, but I’m here.”
The dark flame moved, but before it came into view, someone else stepped out from the trees to the left.
“Owen!” Anam called cheerfully. “Hi! Got here alright?”
“It was a little far.”
The world went dark. The sky went from its purple, dreary color to a black haze. The ground itself gave way to nothing, even though he could still feel the dust beneath his feet. Jerry cried in fear, but then masked it with an angry shout.
Before them was another Owen—or Dark Matter impersonating him as a great Charizard with a black flame. He stomped forward leisurely, as if he had a thousand better things to do, and was only here out of obligation. But his eyes were trained on Owen and, once they were five feet away from one another, he scowled.
“Look at you.” Dark Matter’s claws curled into the dirt. “And this is who you thought was worth waiting for?” He glowered at Anam, who strained to keep his smile.
“You were the one who went through all that trouble and risk to talk to me in the tree,” Owen replied calmly. His heart was hammering in his tiny chest. He realized, just then, how easily Dark Matter could make an attempt on his life, or whatever equivalent in this realm. Or would he capture him? Claim his spirit? No, he had light; Dark Matter couldn’t so much as touch him if he wasn’t careful.
That gave Owen pause. Why did he know that innately? That Dark Matter couldn’t touch him?
“You’re getting distracted and we barely started talking,” Dark Matter said.
“What?” Owen snapped to attention. “Oh—sorry. I was getting some thoughts.”
“You do that a lot.”
Owen said nothing. His heart felt better. His breath did not. It was hard to keep it steady in all this darkness. Something primal told him to run away, but he knew not to. “What did you want to talk to me about?” He glanced at Zena and the others around him, but they were reflexively taking steps back to keep their distance. They were all quiet, and a few looked like their breathing was labored just by being near him, so far from the tree that warded his influence.
This was bad. He had to be careful. He hadn’t expected Dark Matter’s aura to have that much of an impact on them… Would it affect him, too? So far, he felt okay…
“Straightforward. Fine. And you want all of your allies to hear this?” Dark Matter gestured to them in the back. “Some things are easier said privately.”
“I’m done with secrets.”
Owen knew that Dark Matter couldn’t feel pleased, but he wondered if that had an effect in other ways.
“Fine. What do you want to know?”
“I remember everything about Kanto,” Owen said. “And Almia, and Orre, and Mew, and how humans corrupted her. I remember seeing a light from a vortex above Quartz Isle, and then everything going white. Then I woke up. My human trainer became a Mew, and I thought it had always been that way.”
This was probably a surprise to his team, too. He hadn’t told them all the details, and he probably should have, but in all the mess of things, he’d forgotten. He could apologize later, hopefully. But so far, they said nothing, focused on keeping from falling to that exhausting aura, no doubt. Hang in there, guys. Be there for me…
“And that’s all?”
“For now.” Owen looked up. “What will you tell me instead?”
“You won’t believe me.”
A pang of irritation, but Owen stuffed it away. “I won’t until I remember.” Owen hardened his stare. “I’m not going to believe anything anyone says until I have proof. I didn’t have faith in gods before, and I still don’t have faith in them now.”
“Then you acknowledge that I’m a god.”
“Broadly, I guess.” Owen wasn’t really sure himself, but from what he’d seen with what a god could do… it was close, wasn’t it? An evil god was still a god.
Owen’s neck was getting sore, but he kept staring up.
“Fine. I do not know the full extent of everything. But I do know that you were Necrozma’s student, along with a few others. But you were one of his finest. You were diligent, humble, consistent, and had a good heart. But you also perplexed him, because you refused Ascension. None of his other students did. So, instead, Necrozma granted you more power than he normally would have, and made you somewhat of a demigod. You gained greater influence over blessings. And while not a Legend, you held a shadow of what they were capable of in your spirit.”
All of that made sense. Owen had no reason to doubt any of that because he already had fragments of those memories. He nodded and waited for Dark Matter to extrapolate, mentally guarded for possible deceit.
“The light you saw from the sky in Quartz was that of Arceus, the very one you know. Star had prayed to him in desperation, despite the risk it would cause, and he answered the moment she had been rescued. In a bout of rage, Arceus cast his Judgement upon that land, annihilating Quartz Isle entirely and leaving nothing but a volcanic wasteland in its place. Not only that, but the island itself was erased from history, its inhabitants forgotten or presumed missing to the rest of its world.”
“And then Kilo was born,” Owen said, the words still not fully registering. Arceus destroyed Quartz Isle? And everyone on it? That was the light? “How do you know this?”
“I am Dark Matter. I am made of regrets and pain and hatred. Those who remembered that world filled me, whether they knew it or not, with that knowledge. I was here for the world’s beginning.”
There was no proof of this, so Owen didn’t take it as fact, but acknowledged it as a possibility. He ignored the lingering feeling in his gut that it was true. That all of it was true.
Or was that his head being muddled again? Could Dark Matter be doing that to him, right now? Was his strength against Dark Matter an illusion?
“Nothing?” Dark Matter growled. “How much of your mind has been wiped, Owen? How much of you is gone to the whims of those who wish to control you?”
Owen was glad to not have his flame, but instead it felt like the autumn leaves that made up the frills of his tail had flared out. “And how are you any different?” Owen asked with a bite to his tone. “You steal memories all the time. You turn people into Void Shadows by taking their memories away.”
“I do. And I will not deny that it is monstrous. But it is no more terrible than killing in a war, something mortals do on the regular. But you, Owen. They take away your memories selectively. They want to turn you into a puppet all by your own volition. Ignorant that your will was never your own, but the wills imposed upon you by others. You are their perfect, obedient weapon.”
Those words dug into Owen more than they should have. They were like parasites digging into his forehead. Were his friends saying anything? He couldn’t hear them. Where did they go? Were they still behind him? Owen couldn’t turn around. He didn’t want to find out. But their silence sank into him.
“I’m not—I’m not a weapon. I make my own choices.” Owen’s words were feeble. This shouldn’t be getting to him. Why were they sticking to his mind so stubbornly? He’d said it to himself all the time before, that he’d been pushed around by so many of his superiors all his life, but why did it weigh so much when coming from him? No, he wasn’t supposed to let Dark Matter get to him. These were mind games. It was… a distortion. It had to be.
This was part of Dark Matter’s ploy. He wouldn’t fall for it. Clenching his fists, Owen steadied his breaths.
“You spent nearly all of your life following the choices of others. The only time you chose otherwise…” Dark Matter took one step closer. Owen took a step back, but it was nothing compared to the dark Charizard’s stride. “…Was when you chose to side with me.”
“Well, that’s obviously not true,” Zena interjected immediately, her breaths coming in scattered heaves. Owen’s world felt lighter and his feet were firmly planted on the ground. He was trying to process what Dark Matter said but it all felt cold and numb and heavy. He wanted to cling to Zena for any sort of mental warmth, but his body didn’t move. This was not a time to show weakness.
“Oh?” Dark Matter’s eyes narrowed. The black flame on his tail grew. “Deny, deny, deny. Because you do not want to consider the truth, you assume it is a lie.” He stared at Owen, expression blank. “He obviously does not remember. He is trying to keep a neutral expression.”
“This was obviously a waste of time,” Zena spat back. The amount of energy she was able to put into those words impressed Owen. “It’s time to go.”
Without thinking, Owen took a step away, nodding.
“Of course.” Dark Matter scowled. “Look at what’s happened to you. The moment someone gives a command, you listen.”
“Owen…” Zena spoke lowly. “Be careful. He’s trying to mess with your head. Let’s just go!”
“I am doing no such thing. I cannot. You know this. I am only using my words. Is that so dangerous?”
It was all reasonable. It all felt reasonable. Why? Why was Dark Matter making sense? He was waiting for some kind of flaw, but he couldn’t see any, and his head was pounding, and everything was cold.
Owen asked dumbly, “How could I have been your ally?”
And without a pause, Dark Matter answered. “You wanted to help me. You wanted to save the world. That much about you has not changed.”
“Save the world, and help you?” Owen asked. “How? You want to destroy the world.”
“I do, now.”
“Now. Then who was destroying the world instead? Necrozma?”
Dark Matter frowned again. “I told Anam”—he gestured to the silent Goodra, who flinched when he was mentioned—“that I would not tell you anything that I could not prove. My word is nothing. Any truth I tell that cannot be backed with evidence will fall on deaf ears.”
“At least you understand that much,” Eon spoke up. “You would—”
“I want to hear nothing from you, whelp.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Eon growled, but the more he spoke, the more his stance slackened. “I came here like all the others, and I don’t need—”
“Enough!” Owen and Dark Matter growled back. Owen flinched, unable to believe he’d just shouted with the other, and he looked back apologetically at Eon.
Zena was horrified. “Owen, let’s go,” she said. “This was a mistake. We’ll get back to Null Village and regroup. Let’s go before he tries to mess with us more.”
“Of course. The moment your narrative is at risk, you call the truth a lie and flee. Continue to deceive Owen so he will happily pay his life and limb for your cause. Pokémon like him were born with the intent to be used as tools.” Dark Matter glared at Owen. “Go, then. When you find the strength to face the truth, seek me again.”
“You’re going to be gone, though. A-and I’m… choosing not to see you again.” There was no energy behind what was supposed to be a firm declaration.
“…Cute.” Dark Matter held his hand forward, conjuring a black haze above his palm. Immediately, everyone went on guard, but Dark Matter paid them no mind. Owen watched cautiously.
Above his palm, the darkness condensed into a black, coin-like object with a needle balanced on the top. It pointed toward Dark Matter, no matter how it was turned. Dark Matter tossed it to Owen.
“Those with Necrozma’s blessing have an innate sense of where he is. In the Voidlands, his location is considered ‘north’ and is universal across this plane. If you squeeze that coin, you will gain a second ‘north,’ which will point to me.”
“Don’t do it, Owen,” Zena said instantly. “He’s trying to corrupt you! Dark Matter said that Necrozma’s blessing gave that sense if north—so by taking that, you’ll—”
“He already has,” Dark Matter said, “my blessing, fool. Have you been paying attention?”
“Not once has Owen shown any sign of your… your horrible power!” Zena shouted back.
“Of course he hasn’t. It’s been sealed. Sealed like everything else. But that’s all it is; it can be unleashed again. Just like his mutant, weaponized self, suppressed for so long by his own, latent dark power…”
“What?” Owen asked in a whisper. “What do you mean?”
“Let’s just go,” Zena urged. “Please, Owen.”
Dark Matter’s expression was neutral as always. He watched, saying nothing. The coin felt even heavier in Owen’s hands.
“Just leave it behind and come with us,” Zena said gently. “Please, Owen. You can’t possibly believe what he’s saying!”
Owen held the coin a little tighter.
And then loosened. Dark Matter frowned just barely.
“Not yet.” Owen placed the coin in his satchel along with the spare crystals he’d brought.
“Not yet,” Dark Matter repeated. “And what does that mean?”
“I’m keeping my options open,” he replied hollowly, like a default. “I’m not making any decisions when I’m… stressed.”
Demitri and Mispy got closer, but were held off by Enet, who growled at them to keep away. Jerry muttered something about not getting too close.
“Then I believe we’re done here.” Dark Matter turned and gestured at someone in the shadows of the forest. Moments later, Marshadow emerged, looking normal, but frowning. “I will also be returning this one to you.”
“What?” Owen blinked, but then winced. “You… totally corrupted him, didn’t you?” His heart sank. So, Marshadow was just…
“Yeppers, I’m really goin’ fer my namesake now,” Marshadow said, nodding apologetically. “But hey, orders’re pretty simple. Just do my usual thing, then go back when’m called fer stuff. Guess I ain’t gonna be goin’ inter any high security places anymore, but hey. I’ll work somethin’ out.”
“…You’re supposed to be a Legend. Why were you corrupted at all?”
“A lower Legend. Didn’t get caught ‘til now since I was small ‘n spry. And Dark Matter was all, eh, y’know, busy an’ away.”
Marshadow disappeared into the ground, reappearing near the others with his hands on his hips. Mispy growled and threatened him with the beginnings of a Solar Beam, but he held up his arms pacifyingly.
“Y’know, I have one question.” From behind, Jerry stepped forward, a skeptical look in his eyes. “For the dark god that created this whole place, I’m surprised you’re humoring this at all. You came in here swinging and nearly took down the whole Null Village, and suddenly you’re out here sulking. Doesn’t seem like you, now does it?”
“Get to the point.”
“My point is, if you could get rid of us, you would have. Are these dumb charms that Owen made actually warding you off?” Jerry motioned to the crystals in the Guardians’ possession.
“They are.” Dark Matter nodded, then turned around. “Of course, if someone were to knock them away, you would be vulnerable again. But you took precautions to keep yourselves secure. Otherwise, I would have possessed all of you by now. Also…” Dark Matter stared to the left, glaring at Anam. “He has been focused on suppressing me.”
So that was why Anam was so quiet… How precarious is their situation? Owen had felt for a time that he had to see Dark Matter. He didn’t know why. It was a gut instinct; a feeling, perhaps from a buried memory. But this truth Dark Matter had given him… It was more than that.
What did he forget? What was left in that gap of lost memory?
“Now, go away.” Dark Matter started to walk.
And he stopped, like he was expecting it.
That discouraged Owen some, but he pressed onward. “I have one last thing I want to ask.” When Dark Matter said nothing back, Owen continued, trying to keep his feathers from puffing out again. “Tell me why you want me to know the truth. Won’t that just lead me to trying to save Kilo?”
“You aren’t ready.”
“Rrgh… I hate that confident tone.” He turned his head only so one eye could glare down at Owen. “You know nothing, yet you think you can handle what hides in the dark. You, a species that cannot live without light.”
“I’ve been in the dark for centuries,” Owen said. “All I want is to get my memories back. If I get any of them from you, then fine. At least I know. So, what? Are you hoping that if I get them back, I’ll side with—”
“I do not hope.” His eyes hardened. “I desire. I see several options, all of them painful, but some less than others. You gaining your memories is convenient. I will not tell you anything that would be inconvenient to me… and I will not bother telling you anything your original patron will simply erase.”
“My original patron… Necrozma.” Owen’s feathers were rising against his will. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“Believe what you want.” Dark Matter walked into the gloom. “That’s all mortals do.”
And then he left. Owen felt like he had so much more to say, and yet he was already gone. He wouldn’t come back, either. Not today.
So instead, he gazed at Anam, the Goodra’s expression no longer as concentrated, but now tired and relieved.
“Owen,” Zena said gently, and finally she put a ribbon over his shoulder. It dwarfed him and he leaned into it.
“Right. Let’s go back.”
He felt so heavy and hollow. Even when Dark Matter left, that feeling lingered. At first, Owen had thought that it was simply because Dark Matter’s aura had that effect—especially since everyone else looked visibly relieved once he was gone. Like they could breathe again.
But not for Owen. He climbed onto Zena in silence, stared at the compass that Dark Matter had left, and contemplated squeezing it right then. But why?
Shaking his head, Owen looked down. “Zena.”
“I want you and the rest of Team Alloy to talk to me after you guys are done with work, okay?”
“Do you want to do it now?”
“No. I need to think.”
“Okay.” Zena didn’t nod because he was on her head, but he could tell she was trying not to fight him on anything. She’d been so persistent in getting him to go away; maybe she was feeling guilty over it.
“Thanks for being there,” Owen added. “A-all of you.”
“Hey, it’s ter keep us safe,” Gahi said.
“That was very strong of you,” Trina said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t of any help. When we got there, I felt… drained. I could barely will myself to say a word…”
“That might have been him,” Owen said. “It might have been even worse without those light crystals.”
“He wasn’t like that before,” Zena said. “Is… is he becoming stronger?”
“He ain’t attackin’ us yet,” Gahi said.
“He’s waiting,” Mispy concluded. “When… will he?”
Nobody had an answer that they wanted to say aloud.
They slowly returned to Null Village. The tree that Owen had created worked as a beacon for them, and very few Void Shadows tried to get close anymore. There were a few hiding in the trees, but none dared attack them when they were so numerous, and with those crystals.
And they were going to reconvene with Nevren and the others soon, too. And all of this worrying wouldn’t matter anymore, because then they would be able to fight Dark Matter from both sides. They were going to dispel his power, fix Amia, free all the Void Shadows, free every single spirit from the Voidlands, and return Kilo to its proper state. It was all going to be okay.
Those were all things that Owen thought. Yet, for some reason, none of it stuck in his mind. Because unlike everything Dark Matter had said, Owen didn’t know if any of it was true.
What Owen hated most of all, on a primal level, was how he’d fought and lost without throwing a single attack.