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TEEN: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

Heya, saw that HoC was up for offsite Review Tag on Thousand Roads, so Imma just take the opportunity to just slide right in and belt out a speedy review. Since hey, it's not as if I'd run out of material if I came back to this story during that site's Review Blitz:

Chapter 6

“Ugh, what a weird dream,” Owen mumbled. He rubbed his eyes; he still ached. He must have jumped improperly to avoid that Psychic attack and bruised himself. Wait. If he ached, then that wasn’t a dream, was it? Owen chanted to himself, “Not crazy. Not crazy. Not crazy.”

Owen you have bruises on your body. You can admit that that all happened already.

Owen: "I-I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this! I was... uh... sleepwalking! Y-Yes, that must've been it!"
:sweats:


“Eh?” Gahi said, peeking out from his sand pit. “What’re yeh mumblin’?”

“N-nothing,” Owen said. “I think I just had a weird dream. That’s all.”

I like how Owen from his tone of voice doesn't really believe this himself. I kinda wonder if this particular moment would've benefitted from Owen wrestling a bit in his mind in the narration before answering Gahi though since something about his line feels like it was meant to come after a pause, but the back to back dialogue gives off a very "prompt" vibe.

“Well, have ‘em some other night,” Gahi said. The Trapinch clicked his jaws. “…I don’t smell breakfast.”

“Does Rhys usually make it?”

“Yeah. Unless he made something cold that doesn’t smell. Usually if we’re running behind er something…”

Owen: "Does Rhys normally do this, or...?" .-.
Gahi: "Would you have expected me to point this out if it was normal?"
:what:


The kitchen had food on the table—a simple fruit salad—and a note from Rhys saying that he had gone to speak with Anam, and to stay at home until he returned. “That glowing stuff must be real urgent…”

[ ]

“Wait!” Owen said. “That’s right! There was an Espurr that was trying to take the orb last night! I remember!”

“Eh?”

I kinda wonder if this would've been better served by getting into Owen's head and showing the almonds activating internally over "... Wait a minute, that wasn't a dream!" before he pipes up.

Dunno, maybe I'm overthinking things a bit there, but this is another one of those moments where things weirdly read faster than I think they're intended to.

“What’s going on?” Demitri said. “Are you talking about last night? I think I had a dream of Rhys whisper-yelling. He sounded really angry.”

Yeah, another benefit of slowing down and dropping in "gears turning in Owen's head" moments is that you can establish what the state of Team Alloy's members are when Owen wakes up in description, since at first, I thought it was just him and Gahi awake, but the text doesn't explicitly say one way or another.

Owen nodded incessantly, the memories of the night before flooding back, replaying in his head multiple times. “Last night, while you guys were asleep, I think I woke up and saw a weird Pokémon enter Rhys’ room. She tried to, like, get the glowing orb while Rhys was asleep!”

[ ]

“Did she?”

“No, but she nearly twisted me to shreds with a crazy-strong Psychic attack. I think it was even stronger than Nevren’s!”

Can't really get a feel for how Demitri is meant to react right here to Owen's statement and if he's supposed to be "wait, huh?", something more alarmed, or something else. Also, if Demitri is underreacting relative to Owen's expectations, it's a handy way to lean into that "I'm not crazy, I'm not crazy, I know what I saw, okay?!" thing he had going on towards the beginning of this scene.

“How d’you know how strong Nevren’s is?” Gahi said.

[ ]

“Oh, um—” Owen rubbed the back of his head. “Well, it was really strong in my dream…”

And here would be a decent spot for a brief "beat" moment. Since this is technically two separate incidents of "wait, did that actually happen?" for Owen and the "oh right" moment would likely fluster him a bit, enough so that it might make sense to explicitly depict that and whatever's going on in his head as a third-person limited perspective story.

“Wait, back up,” Demitri said. “An Espurr? That isn’t even fully evolved. Why is it so strong?”

Owen: "... It was a late evolver like us? Look, the point is that there really was an Espurr trying to steal that freaky orb, okay?!"
:ohnowen:


“The weird thing about that is that she kinda glowed, too. The same way the orb did, and the cave did.” And the mushrooms did…

A sudden silence filled the kitchen. Realization washed over them.

He left the orb alone!” Owen said. “Right? Did he?”

... Wait, is the 'He' supposed to be Rhys or the Espurr? Since I'm tripping up a bit as to who the pronoun is meant to refer to.

Forgetting about breakfast, the quartet rushed into Rhys’ room. It was the first time that Owen got a good look at it in the sunlight that bled into the shallow cave. There was a simple bed of leaves to the left corner of the room, and a solid stone desk to the right. There was a strange stash of Pecha Berries under the desk. Owen saw a small piece of parchment lodged inside the pile of berries in the shape of a heart. At first, Owen thought it was from Anam and his saccharine taste in themed shapes, but somehow, that didn’t feel correct.

I mean, even if it's not from Anam, I suspect that it's a standardized TH letterhead fit to specs Anam designed. Since... yeah, heart-shaped parchment is a really specific design for a letterhead that feels very "Anam" to settle on.

The shelves were lined with artifacts both shiny and dusty. Owen saw a number of strange items on the three shelves that lined the cave’s far wall in a half-circle. He only recognized a few of them: an Everstone in the far right, which Owen subconsciously inched away from; something that looked like a prototype Badge, lumpy and bronze; something that looked like one of Nevren’s zany inventions, some metallic bracelet; and what looked like an old, faded edition of the Book of Mew.

Wait, is Owen supposed to know what a 'prototype Badge' looks like? Since I actually don't recall if the story ever mentioned what those were or what they did.

Though 'Book of Mew', huh? Guessing that's a religious text in this setting since Mew does have that whole "progenitor of Pokémon" lore from Gen 1 to it.

The final item gave Owen pause. “Huh. Didn’t peg Rhys as a Mew sort of person,” he mumbled under his breath. “Seemed more like the Arceus type.” His eyes continued to trail along the other books lining the shelves. There was even a book that didn’t seem to have text on it at all.

Those two get into pissing matches in this setting, don't they? Since if they're being mentioned in distinct breaths where Pokémon are expected to hold one or the other as patrons specifically...

Owen: "... Wait a minute? Aren't Mew normally wildcards in stories like ours? For a guy who was all gung ho on discipline and meditation like Rhys seemed to be, that... makes me wonder if I should be worried right now."
:fearfullaugh~1:


And there it was—perhaps he had forgotten about the orb in his rush to see Anam. For whatever reason, the orb was there, its glow significantly fainter against the morning sun peering through the cave’s entrance.

Considering how Rhys was dead set on keeping you from even being in the same room as this thing normally, I'm pretty sure that you should be a lot more uneasy at the moment, Owen.

Owen squinted, suspicious. Rhys wasn’t the sort to be careless. Demitri mentioned an argument, perhaps after he had been put to sleep. Arguing with who? The mist? The orb itself? Maybe Owen wasn’t the only crazy one in the family.

Wow, and here I thought Flame from Rebirth was credulous as a Char. Owen's definitely going out of his way to set a new benchmark, even if I suspect that some of this is conscious resistance to accepting that the crazy-sounding things going on are really happening.

This orb must have been there intentionally. That voice—was it the mist?—told Owen to touch the orb. But should he listen to that mist, or to Rhys?

I mean, I'm pretty sure I know who he's going to listen to, and I'm pretty sure it's not Rhys.

And sometimes, Rhys is an idiot, Owen recalled.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi wandered the room, looking for a way up. Mispy’s vines were too short to reach on their own, and it was hard to pick someone like her up to begin with. She always did seem heavier, or perhaps denser, than the average Chikorita—though, Owen had a feeling if he said that aloud, he’d face the wrath of her Solar Beam.

Mispy's part-Steel or something like that, isn't she? Though I'd recommend hacking this paragraph up into two, since Owen's recollection of what he was told in his """dream""" feels pretty distinct from the rest.

“But it’s still so high…” Demitri finally said. Vines wrapped around his abdomen. “N-no way! I can’t do it!” he protested, legs shaking.

“Aw, c’mon, it’s barely that high,” Gahi said.

“I just can’t do it. Demitri shook his head, little feet trembling in the air. “I—I mean, it’s… it’s just too high up!”

Now I'm morbidly curious as to what would happen if Demitri managed to get himself stuck in a tree. Since I know that that looks like with a male Axew of my own, and somehow I get the vibe from Demitri that while he'd probably be a bit more dignified, it wouldn't be that different.

Mispy sighed. Even if she tried, her Chikorita-strength vines weren’t quite enough to lift an Axew like Demitri. But, Owen… Mispy eyed Owen, sizing him up.

“What?” the Charmander asked.

Mispy brought two vines forward, wrapping around him.

“U-uhh—personal space, please?”

Mispy:
Image


Mispy lifted Owen up. “Hmm. Half.” She glanced at Demitri. She had a much easier time lifting Owen in the air. This just might work. He was even lighter than Gahi—and easier to hold, too.

“Well, ain’t that something,” Gahi said. “Owen, you were the piece we needed, eh? Okay. Let’s go and lift ‘im up!”

I actually did a double-take at this since I wasn't sure what was going on, though I'm guessing Team Alloy is on the "check out the Orb" train there. I kinda wonder if it could've been beaten over the reader's heads harder since I didn't realize that they also saw the orb and wanted to see it themselves since they never explicitly say anything to the effect to express interest in it and the one thing that does that at the moment is a single sentence saying that they looked for a way up.

Mispy nodded, but then nodded at Demitri. He went up to the wall and held his tiny arms against it; Gahi got behind Mispy and pushed his head beneath her. Using Gahi’s front as a platform, she climbed onto Demitri’s back, awkwardly maneuvering until her chest wrapped around his head.

Oh hey, they're making an Adventure Squad-style tower. :V

[ ]

“W-w-wait!” Owen said. “Wait! What are we doing? M-move slower!”

Was this it? He didn’t expect his wish to touch the sphere would be granted in this way. He had been mapping the room in his head, looking for shelves to hop and Rhys’ various knickknacks and books to use as footholds. Owen normally wouldn’t disrespect a book by using it as a stepping stone, but perhaps this time would have been a necessary evil.

I didn't get the vibe that Owen was moving at all, it might've made sense to either drop in an additional paragraph mentioning Mispy is moving him around, or add it as an extension to the last paragraph of the prior block.

Though would recommend hacking Owen's dialogue off from the rest of the paragraph here.

“We’re gonna grab that orb and take a look at it!” Gahi said.

Image


[ ]

“O-oh, okay. But—but it wasn’t my idea, okay?! I need to make a good first impression with Rhys, and I don’t want him thinking I’m some—some delinquent!”

“With a vocabulary like that, I ain’t gonna feel too worried ‘bout that,” Gahi said.

“And with a vocabulary like yours,” Demitri said, “Rhys will probably think it was your idea.”

Another bit where showing some description of this moment / the stuff in Owen's head probably would've been a nice addition. Especially since this is basically a "whelp, no turning back now" moment for him that he seems to be getting cold feet over from his dialogue.

Gahi: "How's that not the definition of stereotyping?!" >.<
Demitri: "Look, it's not our fault that your dialogue reads like Huck Finn sometimes, and he wasn't exactly Mr. Straight and Narrow in his book."
Owen: "... Are we supposed to know about that book? Though uh... right, I was supposed to touch the orb, huh?" ^^;

Owen hoped that his parents wouldn’t be upset if they found out. But then again—they didn’t even show up for his acceptance of the Heart position! Maybe a little rebellion was warranted. Yeah, that was a good excuse.

Oh yeah, somebody sounds totally convinced right about now.

Owen was at eye-level with the orb. Up close, it seemed bigger—he wouldn’t be able to hold it with just one of his tiny hands. He’d need to grab it by both sides; it was almost half the size of his head. He saw little, flowing lights swirling inside the pale, green sphere.

Just a little more, Mispy!” Owen said. “I can totally get it!”

Rhys is going to walk in on them in 5 seconds, isn't he?

Mispy obliged, straining her vines. “Almost?!” She adjusted her vines lower to push him just a bit higher.

“N-not too low, Mispy!” Owen squeaked. “S-sorry!”

[ ]

“Almost… got it…!”

Owen took a break to let Mispy drift him closer, relaxing his arms. Then, he reached out one last time, feeling that Mispy was at her limit. He knew it, now—he could grab the orb! Owen reached out.

Okay, I—”

Contact.

Feels like something is kinda missing before the "Almost... got it...!" moment, but maybe that's just my bias for scenes that are visualization-friendly speaking. Since it feels like it'd be a relatively easy way to build up some suspense about what's going to happen.

Though speaking of which, let's go ahead and see how much of a disaster this is going to be, huh?

The Charmander went completely limp; his arms fell forward, the orb still in his hands. Mispy stumbled from the dead weight.

“O-Owen? Is it heavy?” Demitri asked, unable to look up.

The flame on Owen’s tail went out.
Well then. I mean, I was expecting it to blow up the room, but I see the orb didn't disappoint there.
:uhhh:


“Hrrmmnnn, what a mess,” Rhys muttered, walking through town at a brisk pace.

His bag hung around his shoulder, the bottom bumping against the spike on his chest. He glanced down inside; he had a few items, along with a cloth wrapped around a large sphere, glowing faintly. He scanned the immediate area. Business as usual for most of the Hearts. Missions, missions, and more missions. He spotted an Aerodactyl grumbling while posting mission statements on the bulletin board.

Ohai, Jerry. How's Community Service life as a Broken Heart treating you?

“Ahh, Rhys!” Nevren called.

The fur on Rhys’ body bristled. He walked without acknowledging the Alakazam.

“Now, Rhys, that’s no way to greet me,” Nevren said. “What are you doing here? You don’t often come to Kilo Village unless there is a ceremony.”

He looked at the bag. [ ]

…It’s not exactly a good idea,” he said, “ to be carrying that around right now, don’t you think?”
IMO, Nevren's line here would likely read more organic if you hacked it up into pieces and showed him
:sceptical~1:
at Rhys with his bag in a bit more detail or something like that.

“I will take my chances.”

“Are you sure?” Nevren tilted his head. “Rim might try to take it from you in broad daylight. Do not think a crowd will discourage her. The Hunters have been getting antsy lately.”

Oh, so Rim is that Espurr from the end of last chapter, huh?

“And what will she do if she sees me? Glare angrily at my feet?”

“Now, Rhys, that was uncalled for.” Rhys clutched at the bag.

“…She entered our home yesterday.”

I KNEW IT

“Ah.”

[ ]

“I do not want her to endanger my students,” he said. “I would rather take it with me while speaking with Anam.”

Yeah, funny story about that, Rhys. Though this might've benefitted from dropping in a moment of "Nevren, sod off" body language from Rhys here. Especially if this scene is meant to be written from his perspective.

“Hrm.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Rhys made a motion to walk past Nevren, hesitating briefly, as if knowing that Nevren would say something. Yet, when he didn’t, he continued past him.

Nevren watched Rhys walk. “Has Elder talked with you about any of this?”

Wait, Elder is a name of a person and not a title in this story? Though looks like Rhys was correct in his anticipation, just slightly delayed.

Rhys hesitated, looking down at his bag. “Of course we talk.”

Silence.

“…Where are you going, anyway?” Rhys said, looking back.

... That's a good question, honestly. And what on earth is in your bag right now such that you think that the Orb on your shelf at home is in it?

“Ah, well. I was sent on a mission to where Owen had gone the day prior. I need to take care of one of the mutant sightings there before anybody else gets hurt; it was already designated as a restricted zone until further notice. Well, I plan to give that further notice.”

Oh, so those ghost things were mutants after all. Probably. Maybe. Assuming that Rhys isn't talking about where Nevren almost murdered Owen out of existence.

“Ah.” Rhys hummed, glancing down at his bag, then at Nevren. “Will you need help?”

[ ]

“Not at all. This will be trivial. Carry on with your duties so you may return home with that Orb, yes?”

[ ]

“Mrm. Very well.” Rhys continued into the office, and Nevren headed out of the Heart HQ.

This also seems like a spot where some more description would've probably been warranted, especially if you're trying to give any hints or red herrings about Rhys and Nevren to your readers.

Though I just realized that for a scene written from Rhys' PoV, we're not seeing an awful lot of what's going on in his head. Is that a deliberate choice by virtue of Rhys' inner workings being a spoiler minefield? Or is that an artifact of early installment weirdness?

The entryway, past the main, heart-shaped exterior, was a building of stone and wood, painted in various shades of pink, red, and purple. Pathways on the ground were painted in a dark violet to indicate which way to go in the main lobby; the walls were a soft, invigorating red, with white stripes separating the red from the purple and other colors. The ceiling was pink, and the upper half of the walls shared the same color. They were all solid colors with no real pattern, except for some floral designs lining where the colors changed.

The color scheme disgusted Rhys, but he didn’t have the heart to berate Anam for his taste in décor.

Not least of all, since I'm pretty sure that doesn't end well for the Pokémon that do from what I vaguely remember of Anam's portrayal in the GL crossover.
:fearfullaugh~1:


To Rhys’ left was a stairway into the in-house dorms, where Pokémon that preferred to live directly inside of Kilo Village slept. To the right was where official business took place, such as meetings, private assemblies, and administrative work. Rhys entered the right stairway. There were very few Pokémon in the Heart during this time of day. With the morning missions taken and afternoon missions still unprocessed, the boards were being cleared off by the disgruntled Aerodactyl, muttering something about Solar Beams.

... Wait, didn't Rhys see Jerry working outside earlier? Or was the earlier description meant to indicate that Rhys had been at Heart HQ earlier in the day, left, and now he's back?

It was dark in the hall, and then brighter at the exit. The colors were the same, and Rhys generally didn’t care for Anam’s style. But he was the boss. The Lucario sighed to himself, fidgeting with his bag.

... Wait, so how many decisions does Anam get to make in and around Kilo Village by fiat anyways? Since if Rhys' opinion here isn't exactly rare, that has some implications for how on earth KV is being run such that nobody's able to do anything about redecorating the HQ that by their standards is really gaudy and tacky.

A Decidueye emerged from the floor in a black mist—not a normal entrance for his kind, but something that the Lucario was accustomed to, specifically for the second-in-command. “Rhys,” James said. “Is this about the recent sighting?”

“Calm Water Lake? Somewhat. Where is Anam?”

Oh, so it was about the ghosts they ran into.

“He is in his quarters.” He motioned behind him with a wing. “I will see you there.” He sank into the ground again in a cloud of ominous, black smoke.

Totally normal thing for a Decidueye to do there. /s

Goodra Anam’s quarters was at the very edge of the building, at the back and center of the Heart. He was staring at a large map of the world on the front wall, above the entryway. Due to Anam’s size, it wasn’t easy to see the rest of his room. However, the gentle, strange, sweet smell associated with the Goodra permeated the atmosphere. It was like he bathed in Pecha juice.

inb4 Rhys has to fight back gagging every time he comes to this place.

“Oh, hi, Rhys!” Anam said, waving. “I was just looking at the map.”

Rhys entered and turned around, looking with him. The map was ancient and hand-drawn. Much better copies existed of the world, but this was Anam’s personal copy. The original copy, apparently, complete with dried slime and illegible scribbles in the empty spaces. Kilo Village, and by extension Kilo Mountain, was at the center of this map, displaying a largely circular country in the middle of an ocean on all sides.

I see that KV follows the Cradle and Etherium's school of world design of "stuff in the middle and a whole lot of functional bupkis all around it". Even if I suspect that there's still more floating around out there since I remember the Heart motto distinctly mentioning worlds plural.

“…Calm Water Lake,” Rhys said, pointing to the northeastern river that fed into the reservoir. “We always suspected an orb would be hidden there. But we didn’t find one, last we checked.”

“We assumed it was a false lead,” James said. “Previous signs lasted only for a short while, after all. But it happened again, and this time we have actual witnesses to prove it.”

“Not good.” Rhys sighed. “They might be taken by the Hunters… But perhaps we should also investigate.”

Filing that one away since: A: Pretty sure that's not slang for Rescue/Exploration Team members in this setting, B: Pretty sure we're going to be hearing that term a lot in the coming chapters.

“There were sightings of a Torkoal entering the lake,” James said. “I assume you know him, Rhys?”

Rhys looked away from the map and toward the ground.

Yes, I’m sure that Elder attempted to speak with whoever held the orb. Anam… I actually wanted to tell you about some extra information.”

He paused to make sure he had their attention. [ ]

It’s very likely that it is the Water Orb—my students explored it, unannounced.”

I would explode Rhys' line there into a few separate chunks there, though while it was kinda obvious in short order, this basically confirms that Rhys is managing to keep (at least some of) his memories across Team Alloy's mind wipes. Since this is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that exactly nobody among their number, and I suspect KV at large, knows about.

[ ]

“W-wait, your students?” Anam said. “You mean… all four of them… together? Wouldn’t that spook the Guardian?”

IMO, another spot that would probably benefit from explicit body language / description, since up until this point Anam has been pretty goofy and happy-go-lucky while here he kinda vibes as if he's meant to be spooked. Might make sense to dwell on it, especially if there's anything about him you'd like to call attention to for readers.

“Yes,” Rhys said. “They are fine. Owen is, too. The Water Guardian may not have realized it, thanks to their current state.”

James’ feathers puffed out considerably. “Those four are not supposed to be together, ever, Rhys.”

Oh, so Anam and James are in on whatever it is that Nevren's got going on with Owen's (and probably TA at large's memories). And likely Rhys too at this rate given that these two are bluntly telling him that he's doing things wrong with the way things are going between those four.

James: "Seriously, Rhys. All you had to do was tutor one of those four and keep him or her away from the others in some secluded forest-" >v>;
Rhys: "We have Waypoints, remember?"
James: "... Right, that's a thing. But my point still stands!" >v<

“I understand,” Rhys said, “but a… series of circumstances caused them to be together, recently. But that will be the end of it. Once I get home”—Rhys let out a defeated sigh—"I will… set things right. Owen will return home. The rest of Team Alloy will forget him again. He will train and meditate, and… things will remain as they have always been.

Somehow, I wasn't expecting hard confirmation that Rhys was in on resetting TA's memories to come out right here and now in this scene, though I guess this really is the chapter where we're just going to smash the seeming normalcy around KV into a million pieces, huh?

“…You’re lying,” Anam said, nibbling on his slimy fingers. The feelers on his head twitched uncomfortably.

“Ngh.” Rhys’ head went lower. “Anam, don’t start talking about any silly ‘dark emotions’ you may feel from me. I get enough of that from Owen’s Perception.”

... He can do that? Are these off-spec powers coming from those orbs or something? Since since when were Goodra aura sensitive in any branch of canon?
:ohnowen:


[ ]

“S-sorry,” Anam said, looking down. “But… it was just so obvious.”

[ ]

“We can’t allow this,” James said. “I understand your feelings on the matter, Rhys. But it’s still too dangerous. Perhaps later. But not now.”

Yada yada, you know the drill. Especially since this is a golden opportunity to draw contrast to Anam and James' personalities, especially when they're under a stressful situation where things aren't "going to plan™️" for them.

“It has been that way for quite a while, hasn’t it? Perhaps later. Perhaps later…” Rhys smiled bitterly at James. “That is all I wanted to say. Thank you, Anam. Be careful.”

“Rhys…” Anam sniffed. “I… I don’t want you to be upset!” He wiped gooey tears from his face. “Can I do anything to help?!”

Yeah, this is why more description earlier would've helped for getting a read on Anam, since I didn't realize he was supposed to be crying/tearing up right now.

Rhys closed his eyes. [ ]

Anam. A long time ago, you told me that you saw great potential in the bond that my students shared. That if they could train their spirits to overcome their… weaknesses… they could perhaps tip this teetering scale in our favor. But to you, Anam,” he said, turning around, “what is that favor? What then, if we win?”

inb4 it turns out that they're the living keys needed to stave off a multiversal collision- oh wait, wrong story for that. But I'm interested in where this is going, too. Since I gathered that TA was going to turn out to be cosmically important, but even so, I still haven't been able to suss out the "why" just yet.

“F-favor…?”

Rhys crossed his arms. “How do you plan to use my students, Anam?”

“I… I just, um…” Anam hesitated. “I don’t know. But together, they’re really, really strong.”

Narrator: "He knows and is being deliberately obtuse."

“I see,” Rhys said. His eyes were closed again. “Anam.” He stared at Anam, right in his glistening, green eyes. “I’m sorry to hear that you don’t know what to do with that power. But the world will not wait for your decision. And neither will they.”

“What?” Anam asked. “What’s that mean? Rhys…?”

... Rhys sensed Owen touching the orb in his study, didn't he?

The Elite Heart said nothing else and turned to exit. James, glaring from behind, assured Anam that Rhys was merely upset at his circumstances, and he just had to blow off some steam. While this was normally true, James was worried at how affected Anam was, this time.

“Anam,” James said, “is he not always like this, when he has that tone?”

Anam gulped, but then shook his head.

This time… he feels different.” The feeler-horns behind his head twitched. “He’s telling the truth… b-but what’s that mean? I dunno… I dunno…”

... Wait a minute, did Rhys leave out the Orb for TA on purpose? Since this is giving off the vibe that he left the Orb out for them on purpose right now. .-.

“Goodness. You’re an angry one.”

Nevren tilted his head to the right and stepped away, narrowly dodging a brutal swing from the muscular Snorlax mutant. In the close quarters of the wooden Dungeon labyrinth, it wasn’t the easiest maneuver, but it seemed like Nevren knew exactly where to move before the strikes even began. The air that followed made the Alakazam’s mustache dance with the flow. The strange creature made another brutal swing, trying to punch him in the torso next, but Nevren vanished in thin air.

Ah yes, the return of Swolax. So it was going to come back in this story.

The Snorlax stared at his hand, squeezing his claws dumbly.

“So unhinged. Is there even any reason within you?” Nevren asked, though the question was rhetorical.

He floated just above Snorlax’s shoulders. He tapped a spoon on the behemoth’s head, squinting at some invisible spot on his skull.

Yes, very disturbed. There may not be any coming back from this one. You’re simply too berserk.”

This scene will be going places shortly, won't it? Since I saw how Rhys talked about how mutants were handled earlier on.

Snorlax roared and swung behind him; Nevren hopped on air, easily avoiding his arm, and then formed a small ball of light in his hands.

“It’s a shame, really. I don’t know how to dispatch of someone like you most of the time. You’re a danger to all life, you know. Yes, a true shame…”

Whelp, time to see how chunky salsa these cleanup operations get.

Snorlax opened his mouth, orange energy concentrating at the back of his throat. The sphere emerged, aimed at Nevren.

“Ah. Hyper Beam. I should have—”

The blast cut through the ground and into the forest behind him; the Wooden Wilds’ trees splintered near the top, and one of the labyrinthine walls of the Dungeon incinerated completely, leaving a scorched hole into another hallway. Embers and smoke filled the air.

Well then. That would explain why these things are getting put down with extreme prejudice.

Also boy did Owen luck out in Chapter 1 way back when.
:fearfullaugh~1:


Wordlessly, Snorlax turned around and lumbered through the Dungeon, growling. His arms twitched and swung, and the Snorlax himself was breathing heavily and angrily. For no particular reason, he roared and slammed his fist into the wall, leaving a crater as big as he was in it. Then, he continued forward.

“Yes. Too far gone.”

:worriedgoo~1:


Snorlax spun around, blasting another Hyper Beam through the smoke. This time, it didn’t hit anything for a while. It struck the end of the hall with an explosion that rocked his chest. Glowing eyes of an Alakazam shined through the smoke.

“Oh? You can blast them repeatedly? What drawback does that give you, hmm? Perhaps it takes up too much energy.”

Well, for one, he's no longer sapient- oh right, ferals exist so that's not a guarantee.

Uh... that's a good question, really. But I'm guessing that it'll be "something something Psychic-type weakness".

Snorlax fired again, this time directly at the glowing eyes, but they disappeared a split second before the blast could connect. He sniffed the air, trying to find the Alakazam’s scent, but the smoke made that too difficult. He opened his mouth again, but then Nevren reappeared right in front of Snorlax, tapping a single, glowing finger to his forehead.

Snorlax stopped his blast; the energy that had been gathered dissipated harmlessly in all directions. But his mouth didn’t close; instead, it hung open. His legs wobbled, but he didn’t quite fall down, so much as he leaned against the wall that hadn’t been destroyed.

Actually, wait. Why is Nevren not just chunky salsa-ing this thing anyways?

Nevren sighed, looking at the entranced mutant. “I apologize in advance.” His eyes glowed brightly. Nevren placed his palm on the Snorlax’s chest; the glow of his eyes channeled rapidly down his neck, into his arm, and into his palm, and then into Snorlax.

After a brief spasm, the Snorlax disappeared from the Dungeon.

... Wait, where on earth did he send that thing? .-.

Nevren dug through the bag over his shoulder and pulled out his Badge. He tapped on the Heart symbol in the center twice and held it in the air. After several seconds of waiting for the safe extraction to be established, he disappeared from the Dungeon, reappearing near the entrance. While he fully expected to see the unconscious, or perhaps dead, Snorlax nearby, nothing waited for him at the entrance to the distortion.

Oh, well that's not ominous at all there. Guess that's not the last we've seen of Swolax in this story.

“Hm.” Nevren inspected the area halfheartedly, but then shrugged. He supposed it was already taken care of, then. Efficient. Knowing there was nothing else to worry about, and his mission was accomplished, Nevren walked toward the Waypoint back to Kilo Village.

:copyber:


I can already tell this is going to cause problems later.

Rhys’ walk back home was a quiet one. He heard wild Pidgey singing in the trees. Rattata scampered in the bushes. Auras were wild or calm, rushing or resting. They were all weak, really. Wild Pokémon in this area weren’t anything to worry about. That was one reason he enjoyed living in the forest to the side of Kilo Village’s outskirts. The auras didn’t overwhelm his senses. It also meant that if a powerful aura was around, he could spot it instantly.

“Hello, Rim,” Rhys said.

He stopped walking and lifted his head. To his left was the black, rocky Kilo Mountainside. To the right was the surrounding Kilo Forest, comprised of thin trees with thick, lumpy tops. And ahead and behind him, the thin, grassy field that connected the two.

... Wait, he just knows the 'mon who tried to break into his house last night? .-.

An Espurr appeared in front of Rhys, ten paces away. She was floating at eye-level to Rhys, but she didn’t look directly at him. She stared at his feet instead.

“H-hello…” Her voice was like a whisper, barely audible over the wind. Rhys had to strain his sensitive ears just to hear her.

“I didn’t appreciate your antics last night.”

“S-sorry…”

Okay, Rim. What is your game here?
:absus:


[ ]

“Will you stop, then?” Rim didn’t reply. [ ]

“I see,” Rhys said. “So, it’s begun again. Do not think that I am unprepared, Rim. Send that message to the others.”

Having a bit of trouble visualizing how Rhys and Rim are meant to be reacting right now, a little bit of body language would go a long way for both of them, especially for selling the sort of dynamic these two have with each other since they very clearly have history.

“The… orb… p-please…”

“The orb?” Rhys grabbed at the strap, pulling his bag up. “You intend to take the orb?”

[ ]

“P-please…”

[ ]

“I will not allow it.”

I can't tell if Rim is meant to be coming off more as a pleading child or a junkie going through withdrawal right now, but either way, this is more than a little concerning.

The wind died down. For five seconds, the atmosphere was without sound. Then, it picked up again. The leaves on bushes rustled; wild Pokémon, sensing the tension, fled. The wind stopped again. Rim’s fur, however, continued to blow, energy swirling around her.

Yeah, I'm guessing "junkie going through withdrawal", since this is giving me strong "End of AKIRA Book 1" vibes right about now.

Rhys felt the air twist around him; in a deft movement, he jumped back, dodging Rim’s first Psychic blow. The dirt where he stood warped into an oblong, spiral spike of grass and mud. Rhys countered with a bright ball of concentrated light from his paws, aimed at Rim. It was weakened by an odd, invisible barrier, but still passed through, making the Espurr squeak. She countered with another bout of twisting energy. Rhys dodged it again, but felt the fur at the edge of his tail spiral into a corkscrew.

Rhys fired another Flash Cannon at her, its brilliance scaring off all spectating wild Pokémon. Rim vanished. Rhys cursed and glanced behind him; he felt a powerful presence in front of him instead, but it was too late. The twisting energy surrounded Rhys, and the attack connected. He lost the wind from his chest; his bones were strained. He jumped away, but dropped his bag in the process.

Ngh—”

Rhys: "Oh, that's not good..."
:uhhh:


Rim was readying another wave. Rhys ran in the opposite direction, and then redirected himself. He fired another ball of steely light one last time; Rim dodged, but had to close her eyes against the bright detonation. When she opened them again, he was gone, but the bag remained. Based on the dim glow it emitted, the orb was still inside.

... Wait, how many orbs does Rhys even keep at his house? .-.

She hastily floated down and pulled the cloth out. The orb fell out of the bag, knocking against the dirt with a dull thud. She smiled in relief and hastily grabbed the orb with both hands.

Nothing happened. Her smile transitioned into a confused frown.

This is going to be one of those moments where at first the consumer of forbidden power thinks it's a dud and then they blow up, isn't it?

In another second, her big, purple eyes bulged with panic. She pulled her hands away, and then touched it again. Nothing. She touched it yet again. Still, nothing. She whimpered and knocked her claws against the side. It made a hollow tink.

The glow inside was just a latent Aura Sphere; Rhys had mimicked the Mystic radiance perfectly, yet it was all a fabrication. It was simply colored glass.

Well, that would explain why Rhys was so unbothered by Rim getting at the thing. Though I have to wonder how difficult it was for him to make this decoy in the first place and what his game is holding secrets from the rest of the "not getting our minds wiped" gang. Since he definitely did not tell Anam or James about this.

“Got it, guys!” Owen said. “Ha ha, that was… what?” The orb wasn’t in his hands anymore.

Owen: "Oh thank gods, I am still alive right now. That last scene was scaring me."
:sweats:


He was standing in a clearing within a forest that was vaguely similar to the one outside Rhys’ home. Sunlight poured through the treetops above, creating dazzling patterns on the ground. A large, open field sat to his right, beyond tree trunks wider than he was tall. To his left—and in all other directions, really—was more and more forest. Tanned wood topped with bright green. There was no mountain and no nearby cave; Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi were nowhere to be seen.

Owen: "... Or I could be dead after all, since Rhys' house didn't look like this when I came to it."
:ohnowen:


“Okay. I’m crazy,” Owen finally conceded, looking at his hands. He was certain that he was holding the orb, or that he at least grabbed it. But then, in an instant, it was gone, and then… What happened after that? He did feel a bit strange. He had blacked out for at most half a blink. And then, he was here. It still felt like Mispy was holding him, but it was some sort of phantom sensation. He saw no vines wrapped around his abdomen.

... Am I reading Owen astral projecting right about now or something? Since I'm kinda getting those vibes right about now.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast.” But then again, he didn’t feel hungry.

Something rustled behind him.

Owen: "... Oh great, just what I needed right now."
:uhhh:


“U-uh—h-h-hello?” The flame on his tail brightened. Fire danced in the back of his throat. His heart was racing with onset panic at being thrown into a completely unfamiliar place.

More rustling behind him again, where he had once been facing—and to his left, and his right, and above him. Eyes everywhere, little dots in the shadows of bushes and branches. He caught sight of one of them.

H-hey!” he said, pointing. “I saw that! C-come out! And—and do it in a… slow and non-threatening way! P-please!”

Oh yeah, that's really gonna stop them there. Though let's see what on earth we're dealing with right now.

After a few seconds, a Leafeon emerged. Owen deflated with his sigh.

A few other Pokémon revealed themselves, including a large Jumpluff. Another was a Murkrow—but instead of its iconic, black feathers, it was covered in sharp leaves. Another emerged—this one was a Cubone, holding a solid, wooden stick instead of a bone. Its helmet was made of the same material. The Jumpluff—an actual, normal Pokémon—helped him relax the same way seeing the Leafeon did. If there was anywhere for him to be placed randomly, a place of Grass-Types wasn’t too bad.

... Wait a minute, is this the moment where Owen gets that Grassmeleon form he shows up in some art pieces as? Since everyone else here has something similar going on at the moment.

“Hey,” Owen said, lowering his guard. “S-sorry. I’m just a little… confused. Um. Where am I?”

He nervously nibbled on his tongue. [ ]

I’m sorry if I’m, um, intruding, or anything like that. I think I got here on accident, somehow. I’ll go right home! When… I know where that is.”

One of those "blow up and expand" paragraphs here. Though that makes me wonder how badly the rest of Team Alloy are freaking out right about now back in normal reality.

The Pokémon all looked at one another. They seemed to understand Owen, and were murmuring to one another. Owen’s breathing steadied. At least they weren’t wild. Another ideal circumstance. He listened in on the words being said, sensing that quite a few of these Pokémon were tense and ready to fight or flee. He gulped. Was he about to become a Carnivine’s lunch? Some Grass cult’s sacrifice? Even if he had an advantage, he didn’t think he’d be able to take on all of them. It would be the most humiliating way to die, really—a Charmander, eaten by a bunch of Grass-Types.

Could be worse, I've seen a Charmeleon almost die to Paras before. Pretty sure that's a level of humiliation above what you're worrying about, Owen.
:loltias:


The mumbling slowly subsided; more and more of their eyes focused on something behind Owen. The Charmander almost didn’t want to look back. He could feel it. A presence—a powerful, incredible, radiant presence. Perhaps it was the cult’s leader, ready to cook him up. Charmander stew! With only the finest herbs and berries. It cooked itself.

Ah yes, the "self-cooking Fire-type" joke, even if I tend to see this one more about Tepig.

He couldn’t move; his flame burned brighter, ready to run and torch anything that stopped him.

“Yo,” said a feminine, yet casual voice. “Took you long enough.”

... This is the voice who reached out to Owen in his dreams, isn't it?

By some miracle, Owen heard this voice over the blood pounding in his head. This voice sounded familiar. Recent. Wait! It was the pretty voice!

Yuuuuup.

He spun around.

His jaw nearly detached from the rest of his head. “M-M-M… Muh—Muh—”

“Nice to meet you in spirit, Owen,” the Mew said, smiling wryly. “How’s life?”

Oh, so that's who encouraged him to ignore Rhys.

Alright, so admittedly I'm a bit spoiled secondhand that this character is bad news even if I don't know the specifics behind why. But I suspect that that won't become apparent for a good while into the story for here. And with how credulous Owen is, I'm not sure she'd need to work all that hard to pull a fast one over him and the readers.

Though I suppose the shakeout from the Orbening will need to wait for another day. Not that this was exactly a bad note to leave off on to keep the audience in suspense.

Aaaaand it's recap time:

Okay, so the obvious strength of this chapter was how it just smashed the status quo into a million pieces and set things up such that things can just go from 0-60 in the next chapter. Since I seriously doubt that Owen's just going to be able to sweep things under the rug once he comes to post-Orbening, and it looks like Rhys engineered this to happen under the noses of his colleagues. All of that more or less screams "nothing is going to be the same again" once the dust settles from this.

I thought that the chapter also did a good job at hinting that there's still wheels within wheels to go for the full story behind things that are going on, since I saw what happened with the Swolax there. And mechanically, it's not a half-bad structure to get readers interested in the "hey wait, that's weird" and want to come back to see where it will go in the future. It's been a bit of a constant of the story thus far, so it's good to see that it didn't let up since it primes the audience to look forward to what the aftermath of all of this will be.

As for criticisms, the number one criticism that I have is that there is a dearth of description in some scenes that makes it kinda hard to get a bead on characters or stuff that's going down at times, with it being especially noticeable in the opening scene in the chapter. At about 5000 words long, you have a bit of wiggle room to address that before things start getting into "long and plodding" territory.

The whole thing about "paragraphs that read like they'd be smoother as smaller paragraphs" also reared its head here and there, but by and large, those: A: are subjective to an extent thanks to differences in narrative style, B: aren't terribly hard to address if you decide "no, no, he's got a point" on a few of them since it's just punching the return key a couple times and occasionally adding a sentence or two.

On the whole, I thought the chapter was pretty fun @namohysip . Since even if I had a few bones to pick with some of the detailing, it did what I suspect was its intended meta job pretty well and made a decent sales pitch for coming back to this story in the next month or so.

Hope the feedback helped, and till next time!
 
Special Episode 11 - Dark Radiance
Thanks for the feedback, Fobbie! I covered this elsewhere, but appreciate the commentary as always~

Next up is the long-anticipated Special Episode. A simple love story...



Special Episode 11 – Dark Radiance

Every night, as he drew nearer and nearer to evolution, Alex dreamed of the strange blade made from dragon scales and spells. It was the one destined to cut through his neck.

Each time, in that dim haze of a nightmare, his other half would grasp the blade in his mouth, twist his head, and Alex would go tumbling down, down, down.

And then, every night, he woke up first, with a start, as Xander yawned, content and safe, as the head who would win.

<><><>​

Summer was Alex and Xander’s favorite season, and it was one of the few things they could agree on. The two heads of the Zweilous—Alex on their left, Xander on their right—naturally opposed one another. They were two halves of the same Deino, split down the middle and destined to recombine when they evolved once more. Xander, naturally, was going to be the one that would win out.

So, Alex once again sighed to himself when he caught the scent of blood on the table. Dinner. And the beautiful humming of his mother, who drifted soundlessly across the room and tap, tap, tapped on the cutting board with her head-hands.

“Want to have another tug to see who gets the bigger half?” Xander taunted, growling into Alex’s ear as usual.

“It goes to the same stomach,” Alex grumbled back, commanding the body to march forward. They took a seat once they were on softer ground, their bed.

“But it’s the meaning behind it that matters,” Xander replied. “We’re evolving soon, aren’t we? Well. I’m evolving. You… get to fade away.”

Alex’s chest hurt, but he wondered if Xander felt it the same way. He didn’t want to be cruel like Xander. Callous and brutish. As a Deino, he had wondered if being that way was necessary; he supposed their split was taking on that persona or not. That conflict of being so strong, like his father, or being so gentle, like his mother, was what had led to his split. He was sure of it.

All Zweilous ‘split’ in this way. And according to Father, the stronger one would win, and the weaker one would be a feeble voice in the back of their heads, until eventually it would submit to the stronger one’s way of thinking, and truly become whole.

But Mother had a different attitude. She claimed that only through compromise and mutual understanding would they evolve. It was naïve; Hydreigon came about from strength alone. Their heads would be forced together by then, no matter how it happened.

Xander headbutted him.

Alex yelped. “Excuse me!”

“Stop going quiet and thinking,” Xander demanded. “It’s… annoying. It makes our muscles tense. We don’t need that after all the training today. It’ll ache.”

“Ugh, now I can’t even think? My thoughts are the only thing I’m allowed to have to myself anymore.”

“Generosity is what Mother believes in, isn’t it?” Xander mocked. “Maybe one day I’ll have those, too.”

As Xander chuckled to himself, Alex only shrank away.

“Hey, hey! Don’t do that, either! I don’t want to feel your terror. Keep it in your head!”

“Now, boys.”

They both tensed and straightened their necks upward.

Mother went on, “What did I tell you about fighting?”

Xander sighed. “That it’s something for the ferals, and we can do better.”

“That we should speak kindly and take care of our mutual body.” Alex nodded. “But I’ve been doing that!”

You want to laze about,” Xander countered. “I am the one striving to actually get stronger.”

“Well, you overeat,” Alex said. “We need moderation, too… We certainly eat more than our bodies use up from training…”

“If only because you have to get some of it.”

“It goes to the same—”

“Ah, ah,” Mother went on, gently patting both of them on the head. The Hydreigon continued, “How about we avoid fighting for the rest of the day, hm? Speak gently to each other.”

“Yes, Mother,” Alex said.

“Fine,” Xander relented.

And once again, through Mother’s peace talks, the two heads set up a truce until morning.

<><><>​

But they had one last thing to do before allowing their day to end. When they were certain that Mother and Father were asleep, Alex and Xander carefully and silently tiptoed their way outside, following lifelong, known paths through their abode and out the door. The wind blew gently and the leaves rustled, masking their steps perfectly. They knew this path well.

Once they were far enough away, they sniffed the air. It was yet another miniature competition to determine where she was.

This time, Alex won. “My side,” he said, taking control of their legs to march onward.

“I smelled her, too,” Xander protested, wresting control to march the same way and through a few branches. “Hey, psst… You there?”

She giggled in response, and once they broke through the bushes, they entered a clearing and tackled the source. Her skin was soft and her dress was elegantly smooth as ever. A Gardevoir.

“Found me again,” she said, running a hand along both their cheeks.

“Hey, Evelyn,” they both said dreamily, leaning into her hands.

“Want to go to the hill?” Evelyn asked.

“Yeah!”

They happily ran through the clearing and past a few bushes. Evelyn occasionally stumbled over bushes, so they let her ride on their back again.

Once they reached the apex of a hill in an open patch of land, Alex and Xander crouched down and let Evelyn dismount. The air always smelled fresher here, just beyond the forest where everything sounded clear and distant.

Evelyn flattened herself against the grass and rolled next to the Zweilous, who lay belly-down.

“It’s such a beautiful night,” Evelyn said.

“Yeah…” They leaned against her. Xander tried to wrap his head around Evelyn’s shoulders, while Alex nuzzled her cheek. She giggled either way, scratching both of them under their chins.

Xander nudged her. “Not as beautiful as you, though.”

“Oh, stop!” Evelyn giggled.

“It’s the only reason we come out,” Alex added.

Evelyn signed, content, between their two heads.

“So?” Xander asked in a little whisper. “Want to do something else tonight?”

Alex felt their heart fluttering. And Evelyn seemed just as receptive, her touch against their heads a little slower.

“I don’t think there’s anything stopping us,” she whispered back.

For the Zweilous and Gardevoir, the night went on for a while longer.

<><><>​

The warmth of morning felt nice against Alex’s scales. He was sure Xander thought the same. Even with that anxious feeling in his stomach, the sun helped to lighten his mood.

The bruises still hurt, though.

“Aaaaah!”

“Quit screaming!” Xander spat. “Bite! Keep biting!”

They nipped at Mother’s shoulders, trying to force her to let go, but they were already ascending. When they let go to get a firmer grip, she abruptly released them, and they were free-falling toward the ground, ocean air drowning out all other sounds and smells.

They were running out of time to steady their descent. Suddenly, though, they were caught by Mother again, and their crash instead became a harsh stop. Then, their paws touched sandy soil, and Alex heaved a sigh of relief.

“Ugh… lost again,” muttered Xander.

“You did very well that time,” Mother said gently. “Come, let’s recuperate over some lunch.”

“We’ve only been training for a few hours, though,” Xander said. “At this rate, we aren’t gonna evolve until we’re, like, thirty…”

“Oh, don’t say that. You’re so close!” Mother giggled, patting them both on the head. “Besides, you shouldn’t be in such a rush to evolve. You two need to reconcile first.”

Alex huffed. “You speak as if it’s so easy…”

“Well… I’m sure it isn’t. That’s true… But all the more reason to spend more time, yes? Compared to being a Deino, you don’t have as much time as a Zweilous to get your heads in order. That much I know.”

They both sighed. “Yes, Mother…”

“Now, let’s get breakfast! I want to check on the egg, anyway.”

“Right…” They started walking back, Mother drifting near them with a little humming tune.

It was still going to be a long walk.

“You seem lost in thought,” Mother said.

“Huh?” they both replied.

“My comment about evolving didn’t bother you, did it?”

“Nah,” Xander said.

“A little,” Alex said.

Alex felt their body shifting as Xander readied to headbutt him, but he’d been stopped by Mother.

“Now, don’t do that,” Mother said. “We can’t have feuding. Not when you’re so close. You don’t want to have a turbulent psyche, do you?”

They’d never really talked much about evolving. Father only said that he should evolve as fast as possible, for some reason, and that it was part of some great tradition… He still didn’t really understand.

“Father didn’t tell us much,” Alex said. “And Hydreigon are pretty rare out there… We’ve never met a single other one… You aren’t even a true one, so… o-oh, I’m sorry. If that’s terrible to say.”

“Just the truth,” Xander replied with a hint of indignation. “But… you know, I still love you, and stuff. You just don’t get what it means to be stuck with him, though.”

“I’m sure it’s difficult for both of you,” Mother said. “But I think you’ll still do fine in the end. Don’t forget that, okay?”

“I’ll try…” Alex dipped his head down. “I don’t get it, though. I’ve talked to other Pokémon sometimes, and they say that you can’t become a Hydreigon without being a Zweilous first. But you say you’ve always been a Hydreigon?”

“Well…” Mother trailed off. “No. That’s not exactly it. Your father has special abilities that only he does. It’s a power he had acquired from the gods after saving the world from the Dark War.”

More foreign things that Alex only heard tell of and little else. Xander was probably just as stumped, the way he wasn’t saying anything.

“What was the Dark War?” Alex asked. “Everyone talks about it like it’s ancient history, but…”

“Well, in some ways, it is,” Mother explained. “I don’t really know the details myself. But… your father saved me from it a long, long time ago. His noble acts were what saved the world, so he was given a lot of privilege from the Legends for it. You could say he’s blessed.”

“I’m not a kid anymore, you know,” Xander said. “You don’t need to hit me with those fairy tales.”

“Oh, they’re hardly tales! I know for sure I was there… just in a different body, from a different time. It had to have been centuries by now…”

Alex tilted his head at that, like he was trying to hear her a little better. “Excuse me?” he asked. “Mom, Hydreigon don’t live that long…”

Did they? He didn’t really know.

“Well…” Mother sighed. “Your father told me that it’s about time that you know the truth about things. I’m sure you figured it out already…

“Not really…”

“I had a hunch.” Xander nodded. “Dad’s super strong and basically the leader down in Pyrock, right?”

“That’s exactly right.”

It wasn’t totally registering with Alex what that meant. Maybe only having half a mind was messing with his ability to comprehend it, but he always knew Father was strong. But how strong?

“Why are you telling this now?” Alex asked. “I kind of… find it hard to believe. I thought it was just a story.”

“Well, it’s just a story now,” Mother said. “But it used to be present day. Does that make sense?”

They didn’t reply. Xander was being awfully quiet.

Once at home, Alex and Xander settled on their bed for a little afternoon nap. Mother prepared a simple meal for them, but they could still talk since they were in adjacent, small rooms. It smelled like Mother was cooking some kind of meat dish with a lot of seasonings. It tickled Alex’s nose.

“So how about you?” Xander spoke up. “Did you get turned into a Hydreigon with that same divine power?”

“Yep! That’s exactly right! That’s what we meant by not being a Zweilous before becoming a Hydreigon. I do wish I could have, though, but your father wasn’t very interested… He can be so impatient sometimes.”

“He can just change species of others? How come you became a Hydreigon?”

“I think, well, I think he’s very proud of carrying on the Hydreigon line. It’s a bit rare, so he’s keen on preserving it… And, well, when you’re male, it’s not as often that your family line will carry on as your species. Not nearly as often and I don’t think he wanted to keep trying until I had a Deino.”

“So he wanted to guarantee we’d be a Deino. Huh.” Xander shrugged. “Well, hey, if he was blessed with that power, they clearly don’t mind him using it for that.”

“What were you before?” Alex asked.

“That was so long ago!” Mother laughed, sighing, like she was trying to recall. “Let’s see… I had legs, I remember that. And a green body. Ah! Sceptile, that was it. It’s been so long; I hardly remember anymore.”

“Well, that’s kinda scary…” Alex shifted his side of the body. “Being someone for so long that you forget what you used to be? What in the world is that like?”

“I guess only I know!” Mother laughed a little, scraping something onto the plates in the other room. “Anyway, come on! Lunch is ready!”

Xander led the body this time, but Alex was happy to be at their usual seat.

“So, how is the egg?” Alex asked.

“Oh, wonderful,” Mother replied. “You’ll be having a baby brother or sister so soon! I’ve always wanted to have another child, but for some reason, it’s the one thing your father seemed to be patient about. So peculiar, wanting to raise you entirely on focus, and only then would he want another child…”

“Maybe he knew it’d be a handful to just have one,” Xander said.

“It’s thoughtful of him,” Alex concluded.

Mother giggled and the smell of freshly cooked meat and spices took over their senses. For once, they shared their meal equally, because Mother was watching. Alex savored every bit.

<><><>​

“You’re kidding,” Evelyn whispered in the cold of night. “So, it’s true, the rumors? Hydreigon Alexander is an immortal blessed by the gods?”

“I mean, if Mom didn’t lie or anything… yeah,” Xander said.

“It seems absurd if you ask me,” Alex said. “My father, immortal? My mother, blessed by his powers of transformation? Why had we not learned something like this before?”

“Maybe you did and he made us forget,” Xander said with a spooky groan, nearly headbutting him had they not been in front of Evelyn.

“Oh, don’t talk like that,” Evelyn said. “There’s no way to modify memories that way. Not even the most powerful psychic can do something like that; those are just rumors!”

“I hope you’re right,” Alex said. “But yeah, that’s basically what we were told. But… he might also know that we go out all the time. I don’t think he followed us this time, but… I think we should lay low for a little while, if that’s alright.”

“What?” Evelyn sounded a little hurt and uncertain. “You mean…”

“Yeah, we didn’t tell him. And you know he’s gonna be mad.” Alex winced.

“But I’ve never gone against the Shadow Clan at all! That’s all Mother’s focus! I even have a proper southern name, it was, you know, to denounce the fragmented nature of things! Does he not care?”

“He doesn’t.” Alex sighed. “Not until your mother officially surrenders.”

“Well, with all due respect, we have quite an advantage,” Evelyn hummed. “Fairy is his total bane. Honestly, I’m not sure how he’d held an advantage for so long to begin with, the way he’d be so weak to us. Almost like it used to be different, the way the stories go with how he’d dominated before…”

“Well,” Xander interjected, “unless we suddenly became weak to Fairies one day, seems more like there was a change in management since your mom took over. Anyway, I’m bored of talking about this stuff. Wanna just go to the usual spot?”

Evelyn sighed and rubbed them both on the head. “Sure. Oh, but actually, if you have time… Mother wanted to talk to you.”

“Eh?” Xander asked.

“Um, that’s peculiar timing…” Alex didn’t want to imply, but Evelyn was the daughter of an important figure. There was always that tiny layer of uncertainty with doing anything unexpected with her.

“It’ll be okay,” Evelyn said. “Trust me, like, they wouldn’t dare hurt you if you’re with me, for one. And they know you’re innocent in all this, too. You don’t want to hurt me, right?”

“Duh,” Xander replied.

“We’d never. We want this feud to end…” If there was anything Xander and Alex agreed on, it was that Evelyn didn’t deserve any of this trouble.

“Exactly. Now, come on! Let’s go to her and we can talk it out there. I think it’ll help end the feud once and for all.”

“Also ominous,” Xander muttered.

But Alex drove them forward, walking along for a few minutes through the forest and in the cold night, down unfamiliar routes and past slightly different, unfamiliar scents.

They’d never gone this far down the forest before. And finally, far ahead, they could hear murmuring of unfamiliar voices.

“It’s okay,” Evelyn said, placing a hand on their back. “Just smile and walk, okay?”

So, they continued walking through the forest, and now a small settlement. A colony, probably an extended family, all the way until a deeper voice called out to them.

“Evelyn. You’ve arrived.”

“Mother! Yes! I have! This is him!”

“I see.”

This was an imposing, cold voice that directly contrasted Evelyn’s warm cheer. Yet, they could hear the vocal resemblance, even if the tone was completely foreign. It put Alex and Xander on edge.

“Welcome to our side of the forest, Alex and Xander, is it?”

“Y-yeah.”

“My name is Gardevoir Amia. I am the proper leader of Pyrock, before it had been taken from us generations ago.”

“Yeah, we know the story,” Xander said. “We were told it a little different but, you know.”

“Wh-wh-what Xander means,” Alex said, “is that our father told us our side of history, even if it may conflict with… with, um, with yours.”

“I’m not offended. It is only natural that you were told things the way they had been.” Amia still spoke evenly, regal. It was kind of like Father with its coldness, but not nearly as cruel.

“So, Mother,” Evelyn said, “why did you want to bring him here?”

“You are in love, correct? You’ve confessed as much?”

“Yes, I have,” Evelyn declared. “And… that’s just how things happened to be. We’d met by chance, and we’d matched nicely. I do not think it is some kind of ploy.”

“And you’re certain of this?” Amia asked. “Do you have any proof?”

And suddenly, Alex realized this might have been a mistake after all. There was no proof. How did they prove he wasn’t a spy?

“Well, um,” Alex interjected, “I don’t know how to prove that.”

“Look, if that’s what this is about, how about we just leave?” Xander said. “We, uh, we’ll… not bother your kid again and stuff, and, uh…”

“That won’t be necessary,” Amia said. “On the contrary, I actually brought you here to save you.”

“Well, you’ll have to beat me f—wait, save?”

Xander had been reeling up for a fight, and yet they’d both been thrown off their game with the reversal.

“Save us,” Alex repeated. “Are you sure? Wait—from what?”

“From your deaths.” Amia paced closer to them. Her steps were elegantly soft against packed soil. “What I’m going to tell you is something you must keep a secret for as long as you can. But you are nearing your evolution, are you not?”

“What’s with everyone obsessing over my evolution?” Xander asked.

“We are,” Alex answered Amia directly. “Why do you ask?”

“I will lay it out to you flatly, and answer your questions afterward. Alexander is going to kill you and use your soul to further strengthen him. He has done this for generations, and we have uncovered the… obvious, in hindsight, pattern.”

“Is part of being Psychic also seeing the future? Because you’re right, I have a LOT of questions!” Xander said before Alex even had the chance to process what Amia said. “Kill us? Use our spirits for—are you insane?! Why? How would that even fly with Mom?”

“Your mother has no knowledge of this. She is just a puppet of your father’s, and has been for a long time. A plaything. A means to produce offspring and little more.”

“Okay, you’re taking that back,” Xander warned. “I’m gonna torch you otherwise. You hear me?”

“W-with all due respect,” Alex said, “this is an incredible thing to tell us. How… how can you prove this?”

“We don’t need to,” Amia said. “Instead, I would like to give you a gift. A protective charm that you must hide from your father until it is necessary to use to save yourself. Is that fair? It won’t activate on its own. You must be the one to use it.”

“Specifically saying it won’t activate is suspicious,” Xander growled.

“Oh, don’t be so worried!” Evelyn said, patting them on the back. “I promise, it’ll be just fine. Mother, is he in danger right now?”

“No. That, I am certain. He only kills his son or daughter when they have evolved into a Hydreigon. Then, he will challenge them to a duel, and of course he will win. That is when your life will be in danger, and then your afterlife as well. You will be cursed into eternal servitude to his phantom army, just like all of the siblings before you that you never knew.”

“I have never once,” Alex said, “seen Father with a… a ‘phantom army.’ But thank you for the protection. I’m sure you care for your daughter and wouldn’t want to hurt me.”

“I’m glad you two share such a bond,” Amia replied. “That is precisely why I am taking action now. In some ways, Evelyn defying my orders to grow a bond with you has become a happy accident. A risky opportunity. I hope you do not think less of me for taking advantage of it.”

Alex and Xander were both quiet in response. Something was tingling in the air and they reflexively flinched away.

“Please accept this into your chest,” Amia said, putting something strange in front of them that stung a little.

“What is it?” Xander asked.

“Think of it like a stored bit of power. Fairy power, specifically, and some… divine trickery of my own. When the time comes, focus on it, and you will be able to expel a breath with the same element. It should be enough to ward away your father.”

“What about Mother?” Alex asked.

A hesitating pause followed. Then, with a regretful tone, Amia said, “She is already lost. I’m sorry.”

Alex shook his head slowly in disbelief, but Xander was more aggressive.

“As if I’m gonna believe that!” Xander shouted. “Mom, already lost? No. Not gonna happen!”

They got silence in reply, and then a gentle hand on their back.

“Will you at least take this power?” Amia asked.

Murmurs surrounded them from many onlookers. A crowd had gathered. If they made a scene, it would only make them look bad—at best.

“Xander, we should accept it and go for now. Clear our heads…”

“Whatever.” Xander stomped his foot. “Fine. Give it here. How’s it work?”

“You need only hold still. I will embed it invisibly within your chest.”

Alex hummed. “That sounds a bit painful. Will it—”

“Yeah, fine.”

“No, wait, do I need to brace for something, or—YGAAAAAH!”

The pain was immense and sudden. Alex passed out.

<><><>​

The next thing Alex knew, he was bobbing along as Xander walked one-headed. Evelyn was on their back. “O-oh. Huh? Hm?”

“Finally,” Xander muttered. “It’s all lopsided without you awake. C’mon, help me walk.”

“Where are we?” Alex asked breathlessly.

“Almost to our little clearing, dear,” Evelyn said. “I decided to go with you for a little while until you came to. Now that you’re back… I think I should get going in case we get spotted. It’s already so late…”

“We got in trouble a few days ago for the same thing,” Alex said. “But at least he won’t kill us like how your mother said.”

“I think that’s fake,” Xander said. “We should just ask.”

“N-no! We certainly shouldn’t!” Alex whispered.

“Remember, it still needs to be a secret,” Evelyn said. “Stay quiet for now, okay? For me?”

That quieted Xander down. He fumbled over his words, but then nodded. “Fine,” he said, bumping his head against Alex. “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

And with another air of unease, they split off.

<><><>​

One of the favored places that Alex and Xander preferred was a small cave further north of their usual meeting spot. They were sure that Father knew nothing about it, and it was by a river that helped mask their sounds.

The past few days had been tense with his father and mother. They were surely getting suspicious with their behavior. At some point, they arranged to meet with Evelyn in a more secluded spot to finally make a decision.

They… had to trust Evelyn enough to ask a little more. Maybe some proof. If they just had a little proof…

“Evelyn?” Alex whispered.

“I’m here,” Evelyn replied. “Did you… come to any decisions?”

“No,” Xander said flatly. “It just doesn’t add up. Dad just wants me to grow up dominant so I’ll be strong like him.”

“I don’t know,” Alex admitted. “It… it’s hard to believe, but at the same time, I do not know why your mother would lie to us if she values your feelings so much, too. What has your father said about this?”

“He doesn’t say much,” Evelyn admitted. “He’s practically a servant to Mom. Always defers to her. But… I think he also agrees. He’s worried for me… and therefore you. Our kind are pretty tuned to emotions, so it’s hard to fake things with each other.”

“Well… I’m worried, too,” Alex said. “Father can be so cruel. I wouldn’t put it entirely past him, even if it seems completely unreasonable alone. Still… you wouldn’t lie to us. She told us the same thing, Xander.”

“Y-yeah, well…”

Evelyn was awfully quiet, but then someone rumbled behind them.

A familiar rumble. No no no.

“So,” Father said, his voice a great hiss, “this is what it has come to.”

Metal clanged against stone. Father was dragging something with him—the blade. The blade encrusted with dragon scales that could cleave through his neck.

“I was wise to bring this with me,” Father said with venom in his voice. “Alex… how much poison would you be for the proper head’s mind otherwise, I wonder?”

“F-Father, what do you mean?” Alex said. “Is it true? Is that really what we are to you?”

“Just say it isn’t,” Xander said. “It’s obviously some mistake.”

“Who told you this?” Father asked, his voice now closer. “No matter. I’ll just force the evolution now. It’s a waste of energy, but this has gone on long enough. I’ll learn the truth and kill whoever told you!”

The air was charged with an acidic feeling. It became harder to breathe as Father radiated a power he rarely displayed. And then came an intense heat, and then a spike going into their chest. Power surged through them like electricity, and at the same time, the wind whistled as Father flew closer. The metal blade screeched against the cave walls and then whistled through the air for a swing.

For a moment, Alex resigned himself. He almost felt relief. All the worry about this moment, and it was finally happening, and it was so fast. He had no way to defend against it… Did it matter? Did any of it matter?

At least now he would be strong like Xander.

The swing should have come by now. It hadn’t. At first, Alex wondered if, somehow, Xander had been slain, but surely he would have felt some of the pain.

“Gnkhh—what… what did you… d-do to…” Father was in pain.

Their body moved. Xander was driving the body, and Alex was too stunned to do anything but listen to Father running back. There was a tingling in his chest that lingered, and Xander’s breath stung when he happened to turn his head to look back.

“Gah! Xander, don’t breathe flames on me!”

“WHAT?” Xander cried—but Xander was on the wrong side.

“X-Xander?! When did you get there?! How?!”

“I was gonna ask you the same!” Xander cried. “Did we swap heads?! What?!”

“What—what did you breathe on me?”

“Not flames. I think that’s fairy power. That thing Evelyn’s mom gave us. Ugh! It’s awful! But it stopped him. L-let’s go. We’re out! We’ll figure out the head thing later!”

“What?!” Alex yelped. “But Xander, he’s… y-you were going to evolve, just like you wanted!”

Xander didn’t answer. He kept running. “Evelyn!” Xander cried. “EVELYN!”

“This way!” called her voice. They leapt over boulders and stumbled over roots. This wasn’t a familiar path and Alex felt like a Deino again, helplessly bumbling through in unfamiliar lands, weak and pathetic.

“I’m here, I’m here,” Evelyn whispered, holding both their heads. “Alex, are you okay?”

“Uh, wrong head,” Xander said.

“What?” Evelyn whispered.

“H-hi, Evelyn. Um, something strange happened.”

“Mother must have…” Evelyn pulled them ahead. “Please, come, quickly. He must be trying to find you. Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” they both said.

“I’m going to Teleport again, but with you this time. But you can resist it very easily, so I need you to trust me completely.”

“We do.”

She embraced them, and while disoriented at the positioning, Alex adjusted and leaned his cheek against her back. Gods, this was strange. Evelyn always rested between them, and now the wrong side of his head was feeling it.

They felt weightless for an instant, and then they were somewhere else.

“Moooom!” Evelyn cried. “You were right! You were right, he’s coming, oh, Skies, what do we do?!”

“Calm, calm!” called an unfamiliar voice from someone who smelled like they had fur.

“Whoa, wait, what’s up?” called another wholly unfamiliar voice. “Yo, Rhys, fill me in?”

“Later, Star.”

Their voices were becoming muffled. There was a tightness in their chest. Alex had only felt this once before. He gasped. “Xander—”

“I know,” he replied back, grave. “We’re evolving. R-right now.”

“We… we are…”

He was having trouble speaking. The heat was rushing over and his mind felt fuzzy. It was happening again. Once, it happened when his conflicted mind had split in two. Now, it was time to reunite.

This was it for him.

“Xander… I…”

Xander said nothing, and the dizziness overtook him.

<><><>​

Alex felt like nothing. No weight, no sound, no scent. Floating somewhere. At first, he wondered idly if this was what happened if he was the mind that lost. But that would be silly; he would simply awaken as ‘Xander,’ and never be any the wiser of what he used to be. Who he was, his dreams would all become afterthoughts in an instant. Meaningless.

Maybe this was a middle ground, and he would eventually stop thinking altogether, and let Xander replace him. Become Xander. Was that it?

“Hello?”

Alex hadn’t said it. But it sounded like him, aside from the assertive tone. Which meant…

“Xander?” Alex called back.

“Are we dreaming?” Xander asked.

Silence. He wondered if that was true. But he didn’t know how to answer. It felt like they were drifting a little bit closer. Inch by inch. They were only a few feet away from each other, though. So strange to hear him not right up against his ear.

“Maybe this is a vision,” Alex concluded. “The… the last time we’ll ever get to talk to one another. Do you think all Hydreigon went through this?”

“Maybe.” Xander dismissed it, though, like he didn’t care. But it was more halfhearted than usual. “Fine. Not gonna waste time with this. Alex, look… He… he wanted me to be… how I was.”

“What?”

“Father. He wanted me to take over. Because I’d be like him. I’d… be…”

“Xander…”

“It was true, wasn’t it?” Xander asked, laughing. “It really was true…”

Two feet away. It felt like they were already only two feet away, but that was still so much further than as a Zweilous.

“Don’t think like that,” Alex encouraged. Because he knew where this was going and suddenly he couldn’t accept it.

“No, I should! He wanted me to be a monster! Just to kill me, or whatever. He gave himself away. It all would’ve been over if I believed him!”

“Yet you had the power to fight back! I just stood there, accepting my fate. You fought! Xander, you fought!”

“Who cares! You knew! You were right, you… were like Mom, okay? You win.”

“No, I don’t win! It isn’t a competition!” Alex pleaded. “I never wanted it to be a competition between us; why can’t you get that?!”

“Because that’s all I know!” Xander cried. “That was our difference! That was what split us, that’s how I am!”

Alex had never heard him so broken before. It hurt.

Xander continued, “And now, at the last second, I realized it was all because I was… shaped and favored to be just how he wanted, not how I wanted, everything was just one big lie! Mom was… Mom might already be…”

“Xander… I need your strength,” Alex whispered. “Please, please don’t give up. Please persist, I need you, I need your strength! We need… we need to compromise. We need to work together; I don’t want you to disappear! I never wanted that!”

“Don’t you lie to me,” Xander spat. “That’s not at all how this is. I wanted you gone. It would’ve been so easy. Don’t tell me you wanted me to stay despite that; it’s a lie!”

“I…” Maybe some of that was true. “But only fleetingly. When I truly thought about it, about you, about how I’d feel, no! I wouldn’t want you gone! You… are the one who gets things done. You had the courage to rebel and seek Evelyn at all. You had the strength to keep training as hard as we did. I’m…”

“The only one that’s kind. The one Evelyn actually likes. I know she wishes you dominated.” His voice cracked. “It’s all for nothing. All of it’s nothing! Just let me go! LET ME GO AWAY!”

They touched. They had no body; they were just wisps in a void. Electricity bubbled through them, but Alex felt empowered. And Xander was fading.

“No! No, please, Xander. I need you, I need… that strength. If Father made you into a monster, then be a monster toward him! Be a monster that defends against other monsters. Monsters prey on weaklings like me, Xander, please, I need… to know how to be strong. And that’s you, I shouldn’t be… alone…”

Xander wasn’t saying anything. He was still there. But his whole world had collapsed around him in seconds. All that bluster, all that confidence, gone like dust to a gale. And as their essences dissolved against each other, he could feel some of those thoughts. How thoroughly everything Xander did was just to wall himself off. The very same, exact fears Alex had felt, Xander had, too.

And he had no idea, all this time. How afraid Xander truly was of every single day.

“I’m not strong,” Xander whispered.

“But you’re defiant,” Alex said. “You are strong. You have the courage to stand up to that fear… Gods, Xander… you were so strong despite feeling as afraid as me?”

“You were so nice… despite feeling all that fear?” Xander countered.

Alex didn’t have a counter for that. In that stunned silence, Xander shrank even more.

“Heh… at least… Evelyn will be happy…”

“Please,” Alex begged. “Mother wanted compromise. We can still follow her. Please, a deal… Just one little deal.”

“…Fine… what.” He could barely hear Xander now.

“When things are dire… when I truly need strength, when everything else fails… You must emerge.”

Alex couldn’t feel Xander anymore. He’d been totally pulled into his essence.

“Xander?” Alex whispered. “Please… I want to hear you one more time… please…”

But Xander was already gone. Instead, he felt a slight warmth at his very core. A presence. Himself, now. A bubbling little piece of courage was what remained of Xander… and then a strange defiance.

“F-fine,” Alex said. “If you refuse to get out, then… I’ll just force you when it’s needed. How does that sound?!” He felt silly, talking in the void. But it had to be said.

Everything was fading again. Time accelerated from its standstill.

And suddenly… he was there again. High above the others. Weightless, still, but now because he was floating with spectral power.

“Alex… Xander?” Evelyn whispered.

And in front of him, in a small room, was Evelyn. She had kind red eyes, a thin frame, a beautiful white dress that made up part of her body, and stunning blue hair.

Alex opened his new mouth for the first time to breathe, and then leaned down to kiss her without a second thought. A bold move he never would have considered in the past, but now it came so easily to him. And Evelyn was stunned, yet leaned into it, closing her eyes.

Instincts filled Alex’s mind with all the new sensory information he was now capable of. The new aspects of his body and power, the way his forelegs had become diminutive heads, his hind legs nothing but drifting things behind him… Floating was as natural as standing. And his wings

But most of all… This new sense he’d finally earned, that so many were simply born with, simply handed upon hatching.

But now, that reward was something he could truly savor: sight.

“Evelyn,” Alex whispered. “You’re beautiful.”

<><><>​

Alex had always been told about ‘sight’ before, a way to tell where things were without scent or sound. That it was very precise, and that they could turn their heads in a direction and know where everything was that way, just by ‘looking.’ For a Deino, their lives were without it; for a Zweilous, it was much the same, as far as Alex knew. But they finally gained eyes upon evolving to their final form, after great struggle and constant training.

With it came the instincts to understand what he was seeing. But it was all still overwhelming, even with that. So many people and their ‘visual’ appearances were being instantly paired up with their scent and sound profiles. A whole new dimension was being added to everything and everyone that Alex had known.

He had no idea that so many of the higher voices that came from below him also came from bodies so small. They ‘looked’ small to him, now. A Charmander had the ‘appearance’ of something so small and dainty. The walls were ‘brown,’ as Evelyn had explained to him. Brown and black rocks. He saw the sky and the ocean from high above once on a test flight, and the sensory overload of flying by his own power, combined with the light—he could have died right there and have been satisfied.

And all of it was earned. He’s finally earned his eyes. Six of them, even if the four on his smaller heads were not as good.

He was sad he couldn’t see his mother first, but this would have to do.

There were other very unfamiliar Pokémon in the rocky cavern. He had no idea what any of them were until they spoke up and he recognized their voices. That furry-smelling Pokémon was actually someone called Lucario Rhys. There was also a Charmander named Owen with him, and he smelled like brimstone despite assuring them he’d washed up. Surrounding the Charmander were three other Pokémon of similar sizes. Over the Lucario’s shoulder was a floating, tiny thing with a very long tail.

Apparently, it was this Lucario and those associated with him who had been collaborating with Amia and her clan to uncover information about Father. And after what just happened… maybe it was true after all.

In some ways, Alex already missed being blind.

Then there was Evelyn, the blue-haired Gardevoir, and Amia, a bit taller than Evelyn, but with emerald hair instead. They were all talking about some war, but Alex still felt too dazed to understand what it meant.

Occasionally, Pokémon he didn’t recognize asked him trivial questions like his name, what he remembered, how he felt. They seemed silly, but he answered to be polite.

Eventually, Rhys approached him, and it was startling to see how clearly Alex could now tell that without waiting for the scent or sound to get more intense first.

“Your chosen name is Alex?” Rhys asked. “Is ‘Xander’ there?”

Alex winced. “I… want to hope so,” he said. “But he did not wish to dominate. I was surprised as well, to learn that…”

“As am I,” Rhys admitted. “But your aura is not turbulent. I believe you have found peace in your evolution. You are lucky, considering how you were raised.”

“My mother helped guide me down a proper path.”

“Your mother, right. Her name is… Remi?”

Alex nodded.

“Hmm… It sounds familiar. Unfortunately, I don’t believe she is relevant to any of this beyond…” He spoke carefully. “Beyond her relation to your father.”

“It’s… Is it true? Warlord? A soul eater of some kind, how does—Please, you must explain. I have no intention of returning to his side, but if we can save my mother…”

Rhys closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Alex. Your mother has already been reclaimed. It was the first thing your father did upon returning home. Our scouts confirmed that she is… withdrawn into Alexander. She is not dead, not in the sense you would imagine. But I’m afraid you cannot see her. She seemed to have a blessing of some kind that allowed her to persist beyond Alexander’s typical range, but she was still under his domain.”

None of that made sense. Gone, withdrawn, reclaimed? What does that mean?

“You seem confused,” Rhys said.

“Of course I seem confused. I have no idea what you mean,” Alex replied breathlessly. “I…”

His levitation faltered, and Rhys swiftly moved in and propped him up. He leaned against the surprisingly strong Lucario for his petite size.

A new voice called into the room. “Apologies for being late.”

Formal, remarkably neutral. It was a voice that wasn’t appealing nor unappealing. In some ways, it felt almost bland in tone. Entering the cavern, lit only by dim orbs embedded into the ceiling, was a strange canine with black scales and green hexagons along his body. Strangely enough, sometimes the green hexagons lit up in a slow rhythm.

“Who are you?” Alex asked.

“You may call me Zygarde Hecto. Overseer.”

“Oh. Overseer of…”

“Kilo, for now.”

The small, pink thing giggled and landed on Hecto’s back. “So formal! He and I are sorta dating, but long story short, he’s basically someone who’s helping out with a little trouble happening in this place. He’s the scout Rhys sent to look around for what’s going on.”

“Oh, you, a scout?” Alex asked. “I suppose you look like you might be a good scout… stealthy…”

“Kilo is in danger due to Alexander’s movements and actions. He intends to resurrect some great power that had been sealed away. Unfortunately, a strange force is causing me to forget what it is.”

“Causing you to forget,” Alex repeated. “What does that mean, causing you to forget?”

“The fabric of this world that permeates every living creature can be manipulated by powerful entities. Sometimes, the rules to what can and can’t be remembered and perceived can be imposed upon mortals and weaker immortals, like I am right now. Even at my greatest power… I am limited by my domain while within here. Which can lead to frustrating circumstances of remembering while outside of it, yet helpless once within.”

Alex decided to pretend he understood all of that. “Your point is, as this Overseer, you are stepping in to… stop my father?”

“In essence, yes. That is the ideal outcome. If your father can be defeated, and then I may observe the end result for a few centuries, that will save this world from destruction.”

World destruction?” Alex laughed in disbelief. “My father raised me to train and become strong. If he plans to destroy the world, why would… I—I mean, why would my younger sibling be incubating, then?”

“His claim over the world will not be the end of all life. Only all free life,” Hecto said. “All will be under his dominion. Conquest. But in the process, the world itself will fall to ruin due to the nature of his power over Shadow. That is why I have stepped in, specifically. His dark powers are a cosmic threat, and therefore beyond the simple domain of mortals, or the local gods.” He gestured to the pink creature.

“Oh, yeah, never introduced myself, huh?” The pink creature held out a paw, but then realized who she was doing it to and patted Alex’s left head instead. “My name is Mew Star.”

“M-Mew Star? Local god? Wait… so not simply a rare creature, but the Mew?”

“Yeah, that’s the one!” Star replied cheerily. “Don’t worry, though. I’m not here for godly worship or whatever. I just want to make sure the world doesn’t end. I’m an asset to stopping Alex right now. Even got special permission from B—Arceus to descend and help directly.”

Alex lowered himself again, sighing. “This is all… a lot.”

“I imagine so,” Rhys said. “The good thing is, you do not have to take action. Your best choice in the matter is staying away from the fighting. In fact, I would go so far as to recommend you flee entirely from this battle.”

Alex flinched. What? Flee entirely? After all this time…

“I must, err, respectfully disagree,” Alex said. Then, when he realized how pathetic that sounded, he straightened and said, “I’m fighting. If he wants me, then I’ll be at least a distraction while you take him out. I know my father. I’ll be able to avoid him.”

“You’re just barely getting used to a new sense,” Rhys countered. “You will be disoriented.”

“I’m not running from him!”

That startled him, yet also didn’t surprise him. His voice was deeper and firmer, resolute. He’d never spoken like that before. But under this stress, there was a warmth in his chest…

Xander. He’d called upon him. Or, he became him, for just a little. So seamless…

He let the momentum carry him. “If I’m part of a long line of sons and daughters created from him and some twisted relationship with my mother, then let me be the one to also break it. I still have an unhatched sibling that I can fight for, too. I won’t run away from them. Please… You have to accept this.”

Even as Alex spoke, he could see his words having an effect. It was so strange to witness the way they moved, the sounds that corresponded with weight shifting, little grunts, body movements once invisible to him. That must have meant they were agitated.

For some reason, the Charmander was sniffling. “That’s so cool,” he said. “Rhys, we gotta let him fight!”

Rhys rubbed his forehead.

“He’s got you beat there,” Star remarked, shrugging.

“Oh, not you too,” Rhys muttered. “Fine. But it will be anything but the front lines. If he gets a hold of you, that’s another lost to his cycle. Is that a fair compromise?”

Alex nodded. “I’ll support. I just won’t run.”

“Oh, Alex…” Evelyn strode up to him and embraced his neck. “If that’s how it’s going to be… we need to train up.”

“Train?” Alex asked. “With… Fairies?”

“Hmph. Afraid?” Amia taunted, crossing her arms.

“N-no, I… Alright. Training. Let’s see what we can do!”

He was going to regret this.

<><><>​

The following days had become a whirlwind of activity as he was trained, debriefed, and warned about everything Alexander had actually been doing. Each revelation felt more unreal than the last, but most worrying was the fact that everyone he spoke to lacked the full picture, and acknowledged as much.

Rhys worked with Star, one of the Creators. Rhys was part of an organization that was dedicated to the study of life and spirits, but had recently pivoted to fighting Alexander in the middle of something they were calling the ‘Second Dark War.’

The first Dark War was shrouded in mystery, lost to time and perhaps divine intervention. Star suspected that Arceus was responsible for its erasure from history, and also suspected that, after Alexander, perhaps Arceus would be the next on their list of people to question and stop. That alone seemed farfetched, and even Rhys seemed skeptical, but perhaps it was true. Who else would have the power to erase such things from history?

Owen and his three friends were apparently a secret weapon of some kind, though Rhys was cagey about talking in detail about what they were capable of. Only that, if there was a need, he would be able to “unleash” their full power if it meant stalling Alexander for a finishing blow.

But Alex sensed a great conflict in the way Rhys spoke of it, and Evelyn’s keen sense of emotions confirmed it. While they were an “ultimate weapon,” Rhys was also treating it as a “last resort.”

It was probably fine.

And then, one day, Hecto returned from another scouting mission, but this time with some company and terrible injuries.

“Ah! Um, ummm, Evelyn! Amia!”

Alex happened to be the one to see him first, training outside the caves many miles away from his old home, where it was safer. Hecto, the canine Zygarde at the moment, was missing almost his entire lower half, bleeding a green fluid and one of the Cells that comprised his body dangling.

“Hello,” Hecto grunted. “Please relieve me of what I am carrying. That is all that matters.”

“But—but you’re hurt! I’ll get a healer—”

“These wounds are far too grave and settled to heal,” Hecto said. “The egg. Please.”

“Egg—”

Alex gasped. He knew that egg, its speckled blue and black exterior… Hesitantly, he picked it up. “This is… my brother, or sister, isn’t it?”

“Yes. You seemed… to value them greatly. I did what I could. It is safe…” He rested his head on the ground, eyes dimming. “Good. The mission is accomplished.”

And right before Alex’s eyes, the Zygarde degraded into oozing cells, about seven total. The worst was how his head had split into two lopsided blobs…

“H-Hecto…” Alex sniffed. He set the egg down nearby, very gingerly. The shell felt like it was beginning to thin out—a sign that it was hatching time soon. “I’ll… I’ll avenge you, Hecto. Putting your life on the line just to try to get my sibling back… I had no idea you’d go so far. And—”

“I recommend getting the egg somewhere safe first.”

Alex shrieked and spun around, seeing another Hecto standing there, looking up.

“Wh—but—but you, that’s, sacrifice…”

“…Mm. I realize that I did not explicitly tell you that I have spare bodies. My apologies.” He then looked at the egg. “The sun is harsher in this region. It’s better inside.”

“I… y-yes. Okay.” Every day was a shock. He could feel his lifespan shrinking.

He picked up the egg and dusted off some of the sand, and then drifted toward the small encampment they’d made for themselves. The trees here were a lot thinner and the sun was indeed much warmer. It no longer smelled of the ocean, but the scent still lingered from the south. It was very dry, too. Alex found himself needing water more often, even with his scales. Maybe it was the training, or the fact that he was so much larger, or that he was now conscious of three mouths doing the drinking instead of just one.

“Err, what about those?” Alex asked, gesturing at the remains of the dead Hecto.

“I will harvest him,” Hecto said. “You may go on ahead.”

Alex decided he didn’t need to see that and agreed.

After some navigation through the forest, he made it to a spot where it was dimmer and the thin trees were just a little denser. It was where they’d built an underground base. ‘Not their real one,’ Rhys had said, ‘but a good outpost.’

Underground, packed dirt and reinforced clay formed most of the makeshift base. The walls were thankfully tall enough to allow Alex decent movement even while flying. “Um, excuse me! Hecto gave me an egg?”

“Wow, didn’t know he swung that way,” Star said.

“No! Not what I meant! And um, males can’t have eggs,” Alex said.

“Bah, I’ll find a way.” Star smiled at him and gestured to the right. “Put them in there. I set up an incubation area. Aww, he’s gonna be a boy. Healthy!”

“Y-you can tell, just like that?”

“Sort of my role,” Star pointed out. “Think of it like a sixth sense.” The Mew floated to the top of Alex’s head and sat down. “You know, I just wanted to say to you… you’re really kind, you know that?”

“Oh… um, that’s good… That’s good, right?”

“Yeah. I think I get why Alexander wanted to focus on just one head or something, because trying to get both of you to be like him would’ve taken too long. Weird… You didn’t inherit much of his nature at all. Remi must have had a stronger influence…”

Her paw traced his scales and scratched under his chin. He suppressed a pleasured growl.

“Well,” he said, gently shaking her off. She floated a few inches above him. “We’re both glad. I wanted to be strong, but I didn’t want to be a monster. Mother was right after all. Compromise…”

“It’s probably why Evelyn loves you so much. Anyway, we were about to have a strategy meeting. We want you in it if you’re going to go for the assault. Things are going kind of fast right now, but if we can get this done, we might be able to take Alexander out here and now.”

“Just like that?” Alex asked in a whisper. “I… I don’t know how. He seems so strong…”

“He’s also just one person. Sure, he has a phantom army but he’s still the core of it all, and that’s his weakness. If we can take him out, that’ll be it. Take out the lich, and all the minions fall! Just like one of those fantasy books!”

“I see…” Still too surreal for him to fully comprehend. But he was starting to get the gist of what this all meant. “Will this be everyone, then? Do you have an army of your own?”

“They’re all still fighting their own fights. We’re the ones tasked with taking out Alexander directly,” Star explained. “But we do have a little more backup coming. A few old friends of mine, and the leader of the Hearts.”

The way Star said it, the term sounded important, but Alex didn’t know what it meant. He just nodded.

“And what can I do?” Alex asked. “Who will I go with?”

“If you’re going to be the distraction,” Star said, humming, “I want you to go with Rhys’ group.”

The little Charmander straightened his back and puffed out his chest. “When you see me tomorrow, I’m gonna be evolved and way stronger!”

“Mm. All in preparation,” Rhys said. “We’ll be doing intensive training for it. I know a special technique that will help them grow faster.”

“You speak like evolution is something that happens on the regular,” Alex mumbled. “When I first evolved, it was a celebration…”

Star gave him a sad smile. “Well,” she said, “it’s all for the world. Are we ready, everyone?”

Many nodded.

“Then it’s a good night’s rest, and then the final assault!”

<><><>​

After a heavy dinner, Alex curled up in bed. It was nice to be able to totally relax himself, completely disabling even his spectral floatation. He allowed gravity to pull him into his nest, nuzzled into the grass and curled around the Gardevoir right next to him.

It was strange. When he closed his eyes, it was a lot like when they’d known each other. But now, with sight, there was a new dimension to basically everything that he did. In some ways it was a little tiring.

It was convenient being able to see and know things from so far away, though. He understood how useful that was for battle against silent foes, or how, perhaps, his father had followed him so easily in the past. With no footfalls, there was only scent that he could rely on, and that wasn’t always reliable depending on the direction of the wind.

“Evelyn,” Alex said. “Your mother. She’s the strongest of your… clan. Correct?”

“It’s hardly a clan anymore, but yes,” she said. “She’s trained for a long time to take a power that your father has. It’s been misused for quite some time. But she has a plan… Perhaps we can save everyone.”

“Ev—even Mother?”

“Yes. You see, Mom, she… inherited a power from someone. She’s also blessed by the gods in her own way. Unlike Alexander, though, she doesn’t kill her children. They all live happy lives and, er, well, move off and die of age. She doesn’t. But she has a power, a very special power…”

“What is it?”

“You’ve seen it already.”

“The Fairy thing?”

“No, that was a little trap she set for you. I meant when your heads switched. She has Manaphy’s blessing.”

“Oh, goodness…” A beat. “I don’t know what that is.”

“You’ve never heard about it?”

“Not really. And it’s not like I know how to read…”

“Don’t they have books for the blind?”

“That’s not why I don’t know how…”

“Oh.”

Another awkward silence. Evelyn gently rubbed his cheek, as if in understanding.

She continued, “Manaphy is the god of, er, changing places. I don’t really remember the exact term. But she can swap the very spirits of two people, have them live in the body of another, just like that. And, in cases like you, she can also swap the minds of the same spirit, if there are multiple.”

“Oh. Well. A bit pointless on me, isn’t it?” Alex asked.

“Maybe for you,” Evelyn said. “But… your father.”

Alex’s mouth opened slightly in disbelief. “Y-you mean… no! Is that possible? Could my father have… once been kind? One of his heads? And…”

“Think of how he spoke about you, or, er, the Alex half.”

“Xander’s still in here, too,” Alex said, only mildly offended.

“Yes, I’m sorry. But imagine if she switched the father you know… for the father that ‘lost’ that battle? He didn’t win by compromise, did he? So, what if…”

“That’s brilliant!” Alex laughed. “It’s no wonder you’re so confident. All you have to do is turn this Alexander into the dormant one… Oh, I hope that works…”

“We don’t really know what the losing head was like,” Evelyn said, “but considering how he talks about it… we can be confident he wouldn’t want it. And therefore, we do. Right? Does that make sense?”

“At the very least,” Alex said, “we can disorient him. You’re right. Oh, now I’m excited!” Alex shook his smaller heads.

Evelyn giggled, nuzzling him. “Alright,” she said, wrapping her hands around the back of his head. “Let’s get some good rest. We’ll get it all done in the morning.”

“Right… rest first.” He sighed, trying to calm down.

The prospect of saving his mother was what kept him awake the most.

<><><>​

It was cold that morning. When Alex opened his eyes, he assumed he was blind again. But it was just dark. And… airy. And he felt weighed down, too.

Why did his head hurt?

“Thank God you’re awake,” Star whispered, slapping Alex on the cheek.

“Ow! Excuse me?” Alex grunted, trying to get up, but then he yelped as a twisting shock ran through his body. Only then did he realize that most of the cave had collapsed onto him.

“Hold still. I’ll get you out of there,” Star said. Psychic energy enveloped the stones and rocks, releasing Alex, but he wished he hadn’t been staring when he was released. He couldn’t recognize his lower half.

“Don’t panic, don’t panic!” Star assured him. “I got this. It’s not even that bad, it’s just some crushing. You’ve had worse, right?” She patted him on the shoulder, but Alex had been stunned into silence. Or shock. He wasn’t sure anymore; everything was blurry.

“E-Evelyn,” Alex managed. “Where is—”

“She’s safe. But we have to get out of here. Alexander got the jump on us.”

Warmth spread through parts of Alex’s body that had been totally crushed, followed by a brief agony of tingling and featureless pain. He screamed but a psychic hold wrapped around his muzzle, though it fizzled a second later.

“Ugh! Right, Dark. Just shh!” Star said, physically clamping his jaws tight with her tiny arms. She was surprisingly strong.

“Sorry,” Alex said through a closed mouth. The feeling in his lower half returned; a little crushing never killed anybody, right?

Why did he think that? Had a thought from Star channeled into him with her healing?

“We might get spotted,” Star said before he could test his healed body. “I’m gonna Teleport the both of us out. Don’t resist, alright?”

Alex nodded. Star wrapped her body around his neck and started glowing white.

Something cut his cheek. Cold, a deeper cold than ice, and a burn like acid. When Alex opened his eyes again, he was not in a new location. It was still dark and it was still the collapsed caverns of their old hideout. Star was pinned to the wall with a spear made of a strange, shadowy material rammed through her chest. Her eyes were wide with fear and surprise.

He knew that power, the feeling alone. Instead of turning back, he rushed for Star and grasped at the javelin, pulling it out. Star’s mouth opened with pain, but he grasped her tiny body in one of his smaller jaws and curled her under his chest, flying away as quickly as he could.

That sizzle approached again and he weaved left, dodging it. Then he weaved right and dodged another, just from the sounds in the air.

The cave below him was a blur of ruins. The whole place had been savagely leveled overnight. How did he sleep through it? Or had he been knocked unconscious before he could wake?

“Die.”

Two small jaws grasped Alex by the tail, and then he was yanked backwards. He saw his father’s crazed eyes, his jaws that seeped with a black fluid. Then they were upon him, and a horrible, tearing pain cracked his snout and forehead—

And then it stopped.

<><><>​

He could still hear, he could still think, but only barely from the pain that was suddenly all-encompassing. He wasn’t even sure if he was screaming or not. All he thought to do was flail dumbly, not knowing anything else, until that same warmth from before restored his eyes.

That blindness had been a small comfort, but now he could see again.

Even better, he could see Evelyn, whose eyes were wet with tears. Her delicate blue hands covered her mouth.

“That guy’s beyond help,” Alex heard Star mutter while he was still in a daze. “He ate his own son’s face! Who does that?!”

“Shh, he might be waking up,” Evelyn said. “Don’t frighten him. Oh, Alex… h-he’ll be fine, right?”

“You’re lucky his son’s resistant to Shadows, or I wouldn’t be able to heal this,” Star said. “But yes. Look, it’s already closing up.”

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” called an unfamiliar voice. Alex eventually tied it to a Fraxure, who looked somehow pale in the face despite his scales.

“Cool,” said a nearby Bayleef, her eyes focused on Alex for some reason.

Alex gasped to indicate his presence. “I—I’m okay,” he said. “I’m okay…”

“Oh, thank the skies… Alex! I—I thought the first onslaught had taken you…” Evelyn rushed to his side, embracing his main head and neck. Alex wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She was trembling and there was blood—his blood—on her shoulder.

“What happened?” Alex asked. “Please, tell me. Where are we?”

It was another cave. He could still smell the ocean, so it hadn’t been very far. Father could be upon them at any moment…

“Alexander grew wise to our plans and made a preemptive strike. Most of our initial plans have been completely overturned,” Amia said, stepping closer and out from a deeper part of the caverns. “But this also simplifies matters. Alexander is coming after you, Alex. So, we will defend you with our lives so he may not become stronger. We will end his cycle here, permanently. No matter the cost.”

Alex took a shaky breath. Just one exchange with his father, when he was truly fierce, truly ferocious… He didn’t want to face him anymore. He did not have the fighting spirit to do so. Even Xander would have been completely overwhelmed by this. Even that half of him saw sense to flee. And the overwhelming shame that burned into his stomach was enough to make him sink and sniffle.

Evelyn embracing him was the only true comfort he had. His mother was dead. His father had killed her. And now he was next. His little world, blind to everything else, overturned in a matter of days. He was falling and tumbling and all he had were a bunch of strangers to defend him… and Evelyn.

Alex ran everything through his head again and then suddenly looked at Star. “Y-you were impaled!”

“Yeah, that one… still hurts. But I’m sort of divine, so it’s pretty easy to heal that. But I’m not doing too well, actually.”

And when Alex took a closer look at her chest, he could indeed still see some darkness swirling over her fur where the spear had pierced.

“Look, don’t worry! We still have to take him down, right?” Her eyes were desperate again.

But he couldn’t do the fighting.

Deeper in the cave, an Alakazam emerged. He seemed composed, in the same way someone was trying to stay calm after a great outburst. Everyone had gone quiet when he emerged.

“…Hello,” he replied with false cheer.

“Hey, Nev. Is Rhys…?”

“He will recover,” Alakazam replied tersely, eyes closed. “I will be taking the four, now.”

“Wait, you’re what?” Star asked, rising, but then winced and clutched her chest.

“Yes. Alexander is far too great a threat. It is time to employ our desperation tactics.”

“Hold,” Amia said. The Gardevoir with emerald hair stared coldly toward Nevren. “We still have other measures. We do not need to endanger them with… whatever those drawbacks were that you’d warned us about.”

The quartet of Pokémon looked confusedly between them. Alex had the sneaking suspicion they didn’t know what they were talking about. Frankly, neither did he. What were those four middle-evolution Pokémon supposed to accomplish? Father rivaled the gods themselves.

“I’m going,” Nevren said with another grave nod. “Owen. Demitri, Mispy. Gahi. Come, now. It’s time to fight.”

“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” a Vibrava replied, flitting over Alakazam’s head. The other three ran after him, and soon they were leaving.

Heavy, wet footfalls echoed from deeper in the cave, and then a Goodra covered in blood ran past them, calling ‘Nevren’ as the five left. The blood didn’t smell like it was from a dragon. The strange Mew went next, floating shakily after them before hitching a ride on the Goodra’s shoulder.

Soon, only three remained. Alex, Amia, and Evelyn. He was lost in a war so far out of his vision that now that he could see its ramifications, he felt blind all over again.

And then, Amia marched out.

“Mother,” Evelyn said desperately. “What are you doing?”

“If Nevren intends to use his trump card,” Amia said, “I shall use mine. It’s time we end this once and for all and put an end to the Shadows’ cycle.”

“Then let—”

“You,” Amia said, “will guard Rhys and Alex. Rhys in particular is extremely vulnerable, and if Alexander claims his soul, we will be just as vulnerable regardless. Every soul he claims adds to his power. It does not need to simply be of his lineage; that is only what allows him the greatest growth… had he not been facing gods and those blessed by them alike in our gamble.”

As she spoke, she walked further out of the cave.

“I do not know how many of our clan he has already claimed or killed. Your father is still out there, fighting. I must join him.” She glanced back at Evelyn out of the corner of her eye, nodding. “Be strong for me here. I will return.”

In a flash of light, she was gone.

At first, perhaps Alex would have listened. But he took one glance at Evelyn, and he knew even with his limited knowledge on sight that she was in anguish. She knew something he didn’t, or maybe it was just a feeling.

Were they all going to die? If they didn’t go, right now, would they never see any of them again?

A warmth bubbled in his chest. He didn’t feel very much like ‘Alex’ anymore.

“Let’s go,” the Hydreigon said.

“H-huh?”

He lunged for her and pulled her onto his back; she followed out of pure surprise. He flew, despite his pain, but just as he did, another green canine appeared.

“Good, you’re here,” Alex said, or maybe right now he was Xander. He didn’t know and didn’t care. “Rhys needs to be guarded. We’re coming along.”

“Is that what was ordered?” Hecto asked.

“Yes. Guard Rhys.” The lie came easier than usual. Once Hecto was out of earshot, he asked, “Evelyn, can you get a sense for where your mother went?”

“The Teleport is still fresh,” she said. “I… I can tell. I know the direction.”

With a firm nod, Alex held Evelyn’s shoulders and waited for that disorienting flash to take him away. A moment later, the smell of the ocean was stronger, but the darkness of early morning allowed more detail.

“Where is everyone?” Alex asked.

“I can’t Teleport as far as Mom,” Evelyn admitted. “Give me a second…”

Alex worriedly scanned the horizon, rising higher after getting Evelyn on his back. Maybe he could fly while she focused on her next Teleportation. That would be a fast mode of transport, right? The chilly air helped him be more alert as they raced over fallen trees.

A shame he was still trying to get used to more advanced flying maneuvers. Evelyn, too, was struggling with it, based on how tightly she was holding onto his shoulders.

But they didn’t need to fly very far. In the dawn’s long shadows, the smallest pulses of energy stood out against the dark. Therefore, the clash between god and usurper bathed that darkness in light as if by a second sun.

Flames of orange and indigo tore a whole section of the forest away in an instant. A beam of concentrated sunlight carved another fissure into the earth, leaving glowing spots of melted rubble in its half-cylinder mark. Then came a retaliatory meteor of darkness, the skies themselves raining with a strange, deep purple water. Crackles of blackened lightning came from those clouds, smiting what remained of the ruined battleground, which had become a wasteland in a matter of seconds. And all of those attacks were dwarfed by the sheer crater beneath them that would have taken a good part of the morning to fly around. It radiated a horrible malice.

From the explosions, a tiny figure trailed out in a ragdoll’s arc. Friend or foe? Alex couldn’t see yet, so he flew closer. Then came another figure, one he’d easily recognize as his father. He smashed into the arcing comet, jaws locking onto his prey.

Alex now could see who it was. “Star!”

In a flash of light, the Mew disappeared, yet there still seemed to be something in Father’s mouth, like some part of Mew couldn’t escape. Evelyn pointed to the ground. “She went there!” she whispered, and Alex started to fly that way, evading Father’s notice.

The dust and debris still falling from the last explosion battered him, sometimes pieces of wood the size of whole fruits slamming onto his back. He coughed through the smoke and flew over four figures. Three of them were down, so he descended and whispered, “Can you heal them?”

“I—I’ll try.”

Alex had no idea what they were supposed to be. He couldn’t even comprehend what he was seeing. Was it horrifying, confusing? All he saw were four vague shapes that looked like they were meant to be fitted together into a single, whole, but parts were torn away.

And then, to his horror, he realized that he recognized those four—but for their lower forms. It only clicked when he saw one of those misshapen… things emit a flame on one of its appendages.

“What happened to them?” Evelyn whispered, voice trembling.

“Heal them,” Alex urged.

“I’m t-trying,” Evelyn said, but her hands were trembling. She pointed at them, managing to get the melted Charizard. It didn’t seem to do anything, but he did glance at Alex and Evelyn.

And all Alex could see in those eyes was bloodlust. Empty-headed bloodlust, even lower than the most mindless feral.

He knew in that moment he had to get away. He ascended, thankful that Charizard’s wings hadn’t properly reformed yet, and followed the destruction in time to see Father chasing down someone else. “There!” Alex said, suddenly wondering what he was even thinking to do. Were they losing? Did he come here just to feed his soul to his father?

A small part of him was tempted to go back. The rest of him, and Evelyn, urged him forward.

“Mom!” Evelyn whispered loudly to Alex, pointing.

An emerald-haired Gardevoir was standing against a boulder, hiding. Meanwhile, Father was pinning Star to the ground with one paw over her chest, squeezing it.

“No…” Alex went forward on autopilot, but still had no idea what to do. “He’s got Mew. He’s got the Creator in his jaws, how, what—”

“We have to save her. S-somehow!”

Star was seconds away from being killed and possibly even claimed. A divine being, claimed by the monster he’d called a father only days earlier. As the morning sun rose higher into the sky, the long shadows getting cut by new light, Alex mustered the last of his courage for one final cry.

“Father!”

And suddenly, the Hydreigon of Shadow turned all three heads his way.

There you are,” Father said with a great smile. There was a chilling echo to every word. “Giving yourself up?”

Star wasn’t moving. Was she already…

“I-if I do… will you end this war?”

“War… This isn’t a war,” Father shrugged. “I’m only taking back what was meant for me in the first place. My natural, divine right, as the proper savior of this world.”

“And yet you’re killing the very Creator Herself!” Alex countered.

“A Creator would not descend to a state where She could be killed,” Father countered. “Really, I’m doing this world a favor by taking Her place. I will at least honor that much of her responsibilities…” He leaned closer. “Are you ready to die, Creator? Lend me your power. I will make it… painless.”

“I-if you take her, then… you’ll never have me,” Alex said. “I’ll run. A-and you’ll never find me. I’ll…”

Father tilted his head again, that grin morphing from a challenging smirk to an entertained smile.

“Oh,” he said, “that is… adorable. You think you matter.”

Why wasn’t Star Teleporting? Was that disabled somehow? She couldn’t be dead. Couldn’t be. Not yet. The way Father was sparing a few extra glances suggested he was still watching. She was still alive. It wasn’t too late!

“Do you know how many souls I control?” Father asked, drifting toward Alex. As he did, Star was dragged by a near-invisible thread of darkness that had been tied around her chest. “How many are already part of my personal army? You are nothing to what I already have. I do not want you for power. I want you for pride. To keep my own blood with me forever. My empire, by my own essence, growing to rule over everything else.

“Why? Because I can. I clawed my way to this power and I will use it. Every ounce of this power, I earned. This forsaken world, corrupted by darkness, must be tamed by that very same darkness. And I have conquered it long ago, dear blood. This is just the ending act.

“Now is the time for me to take the final step into ascension. Every spirit inside of me, working in-step to usurp the very Creators that granted me life. Like one thousand little hearts all beating as one. As my heart. The gods’ own pride, their own folly, led them to this perfect, vulnerable moment.”


He raised his smaller left head, and Star followed, dangling limply. Blood pooled beneath her. She was so pale.

There went Alex’s last idea, using himself as a gambling chip. Maybe it was a bluff. Maybe Father really did still need him. But right then, at that moment, Alex wondered if the best option was to just give up. He was so… tired. It was all too much. And staring at the ruins around them, it felt like there was nothing left to be saved.

The crater seemed so horribly large. It would take most of the day for the average person to walk around its perimeter. And they were just at its center, where Father’s most recent blast had started. He could feel the Shadowy energy radiating from it, and perhaps even more, the way it had clashed with Star. The little shelter that had survived faded into rotten ash. Evelyn, on her back, felt like she was struggling to breathe. Alex felt fine. Almost invigorated, despite everything.

Amia was visible again. Her body looked a little darkened, but not terribly. And she was trying to aim at Father’s head with something, from a blind spot behind him. Alex tried to ignore it, a flicker of hope in his heart again.

How long had they been at a tense stare down?

“Do you feel it?” Father asked. “This place… it’s mixing the energies together. Radiance and Shadow, together. It’s… intoxicating. I could bask in it forever. And maybe soon, I will… I’ll give you one more chance, blood.”

He held his free head forward.

“Join voluntarily with all of your kin.”

Over his shoulder, featureless phantoms, all of them Hydreigon, floated like a miasma, glowing eyes staring at him. He could only guess that his mother was the one that was so much brighter than the rest. It stood out like the sun in the sky.

She really had been claimed.

Like so, so many others.

“Or be dragged in, pathetic to your last breath.”

Evelyn’s grip was getting weak. The atmosphere was killing her. He had to run. He couldn’t fight. But then, Star…

And then, Amia fired.

And by some miracle, Father didn’t notice when it struck him clean on the head. There were no wounds, no changes, not even a noise. It was just a flash of light, and suddenly Father seemed completely stunned. His eyes were wide and his jaw was agape.

“Now!” Evelyn slammed on Alex’s shoulders, and he rushed into action. He flew under Father and grabbed Star—cold and limp, but she responded with a whimper—and felt the acidic thread that connected her to the tyrant Hydreigon. On instinct, he clamped his main jaws onto the thread and pulled. There was feedback into his teeth that felt like ice, cutting into his gums, but the thread snapped, and he started to fly away, spinning only to see if anything had changed.

Amia’s power would have allowed Father’s mind to swap with the other Zweilous head. That was the theory, right? Perhaps they should have tested it on him first. ‘Xander’ would be present for a little while. That was fine. Maybe having some of that bravery would have been nice. He could feel his own frustration bubbling at that, but then he refocused on Father, whose flying had slowed.

“Did we do it?” Alex held his breath. “Is… is the other mind active?”

“Yes! It must be!” Evelyn said. “Yes! Mom did it! It’s over! I can feel his emotional waves… It’s different. There was horror, and then, hang on, I almost have a feel for it…”

Alex slumped over, relieved. It was finally over. He didn’t like the way they had to do it. In some ways, he pitied the Father he knew, because now he would likely be in that same dark oblivion he’d tossed aside his other self to become. A mere afterthought of what he had once been like.

But… he would never truly be gone. They were still the same ‘Alexander.’ So, they would still need to be careful, in case temptation brought about that old self.

It was going to be okay.

Evelyn fell off of Alex’s back.

“Eve—” Alex choked.

Evelyn’s eyes were wide with shock, a javelin of shadows piercing her chest. It had been so fast. Dark tendrils were pulsing from the impact site, dissolving her skin and flesh like fire on cotton.

Alex turned his head to face Father again. He only caught a glimpse of the emptiest, most savage, soulless grin he’d seen. An image he knew would burn into his mind forever, for what little time he had left to think.

Three spears pierced through Alex’s chest, and one each pierced through the heads of his arms. It was so cold he couldn’t even register the pain. He only tasted the acidic metal in his mouth, blood tinged with darkness.

He fell for at least two seconds, getting faster the whole time, until he slammed on boulders and stopped next to Evelyn, who was already barely conscious. Weakly, she tried to reach out to him, but then he realized she was pointing at something.

Agonizingly, he turned his head. First, he saw Star’s body, crumpled and torn and motionless. She’d fallen with them. And… while she had been alive before, she was alive no longer. He couldn’t feel that gentle aura of power coming from her. The god had been slain, completely. It was just a husk of dead flesh now.

Then, he saw that Father hadn’t properly gotten to him afterward. The residuals of a stinging blast of Fairy energy had stalled him. This Hydreigon wasn’t fighting with nearly as much grace, but he made up for it in total ferocity. Amia would have gone down next, had it not been for the final interloper Alex could see. It seemed to be the Charizard from earlier, fighting with blind fury. Flames shrouded his slender body and Father couldn’t properly land a blow on him. Strange golden barriers precisely blocked every hit.

The ground was shaking. Everything was getting so much darker. Was that because his vision was finally failing him? It had been a lovely few days of sight. It was a shame he couldn’t enjoy it for longer.

But he felt oddly peaceful about returning to that comfortable darkness. Things were less complicated back then. When he was blind to the world. When his only worry was not getting caught by his strict father and doting mother. When he could enjoy the quiet nights. He could hear the water now, rumbling the rocks.

Evelyn… was she also going to die? They’d die together. So morbid. There was a small, stray thought that wondered if one should live, and if it should be her. He focused as much as he could, willing himself to see one last time. See her one last time.

Some time had passed and Alex didn’t even realize it. There was a Charizard on the ground near him, crumpled with limbs in wrong directions, struggling backwards. And… it was boiling. The sky had erupted in flames.

He agonizingly turned his head again, and was certain he’d seen a true demon. His Father had become shrouded in nothing but flames. The spectral wings had burst into fire; his scales rippled with the colors of magma. Flames poured from his mouth, mixing with dark clouds like a whole forest’s life burned at once within him. It smelled of brimstone.

The Charizard screamed a mindless scream, no longer fierce but afraid, as the demon fell upon him. Alex couldn’t see anymore, but he could hear, and he felt another psychic wave that his body resisted. He recognized it as Amia’s strange swapping powers.

Father grunted. “What… what was that?” he said. “That trickery… what did you make me do?!”

“Then even at your core, you were a monster,” Amia screamed, her voice shaking.

Silence for a moment, and then he chuckled. “So that is your trick… I see. Yes… my other self. Pathetic, primal, monstrous. He sees a single goal and takes the straightforward, naïve path. A fool. He was a slave to his urges. I was the calculating one. But we both agreed on what we wanted, in the end. All Hydreigon are like this. We always agree… we only differ on the methods to get to what we want. Of course, the superior head always wins… But now I see why my most recent blood had been such a failure. You must have swapped him around, too.”

Alex tried to speak. The swap had nothing to do with it. And he knew, in his heart of hearts, this was the truth. But why did he even care to prove himself to such a monster anymore?

No words came.

“But you brought to me a wonderful gift,” Father went on. “Owen… what sick joke it is that you’ve come to get in my way again. But that doesn’t matter, does it?”

The Charizard whimpered helplessly. There was a dragging noise and the whimpering got louder.

“Reduced to a mindless weapon. Even your body has been corrupted. You’re barely worth my effort. But that soul of Radiance and Shadow… that is the prize, even if I need to break you down to get to it. Maybe I’ll do it slow. Show you how helpless you truly are to me…”

More mindless cries and whimpers were his only reply. Alex heard sizzling. The Charizard was doomed.

The ground rumbled even more. Father didn’t notice, floating in the air. But then it was audible enough that rocks started to rumble.

At the same time, a gentle warmth coursed through him. He could see again. Barely. Just barely.

Gods, it was much darker. A miasma of shadows thickened the air.

“What?” Father turned toward something Alex couldn’t see, behind him.

“Away…”

The party of demons had grown from one to two. A new voice. It was many voices, speaking in unison.

“Stay away from him…”

“You…”
Father floated backwards. “I killed you!” He lunged for Charizard anyway, but that set off an ear-splitting roar. Suddenly, Father was blown into the sky by a tendril of darkness. Five more sprouted from it, enveloping him, clawing at him. Alex struggled to keep watching as Father tried to fly higher and higher, only to be dragged down, down, down…

He was persistent. He flew as hard as he could, but in Alex’s blurry vision, he saw… pieces of Father getting pulled in. The more Father flew, the more of him was torn down, passing into a dark portal. By the time he was halfway disassembled, he abruptly spun around and roared, flying directly into the portal.

There were more tendrils reaching toward Evelyn and Alex. But Evelyn was reaching toward Charizard, sending a him pulse of energy—a familiar one, the same one that had tried to heal Alex.

And the dark tendrils stopped. They retreated back to the portal…

Father fell completely into it, but something had fallen out of his decaying body just before entering. It looked like an orange, glowing orb.

It bounced on the ground, emitting an ethereal ring. All fell into silence.

His dark wounds reopened. His vision was fading again.

He heard steps.

Someone sobbed. Sounded like Evelyn, but deeper. Amia.

Evelyn tried to move. She was reaching for someone.

“I’m so sorry,” Amia said. She was right next to him.

“M… Mom…” Evelyn was barely audible. Only from the silence of the crater could Alex hear.

But that was all Alex could muster. Amid this family and not a single one of blood to call his own, Alex finally drifted away. The last thing he heard was Amia’s voice.

“I won’t let you die.”

And he felt her psychic swap’s pulse one last time.

<><><>​

He remembered… floating. A weightlessness that was even more ethereal. Something warm had drawn him in, and, mindlessly, he had followed it.

Some unknown amount of time passed. To Alex, it felt like a second, yet he had a suspicion it could have been days.

He emerged from a sphere of light and thought nothing of it, too dazed to process what had happened. Had that all been a dream? Or was this the dream? What was… anything, anymore?

The cavern around him flowed with veins of lava, and it glowed with unnatural brightness. It was comfortably lit and warm, but he was suspicious that it should have been much hotter. Most alarming were his arms, which were now coated with fire. He didn’t know why that terrified him so much. He screamed without realizing it and fell against the wall, squeezing his eyes shut.

No, no! Not a monster, I’m not, I’m—I’m—

“Alex?!”

Alex gasped, jolting up. That was—Amia? But her tone was so upward. That didn’t match her at all.

He dashed out the cave in time to see a blue-haired Gardevoir running to him. Behind her, there was a typical-looking Dusknoir, a slumbering Charmander in one arm, and a strange, diminished blob of darkness in another.

“Evelyn! You’ve… grown up… quickly!”

Evelyn winced, looking away. “Please,” she said, “you must… call me Amia for now.”

“I’m sorry? Is that not…” He trailed off. “Is that not your mother’s name?”

“It is,” she said. “She… I must honor it. If I keep anything of hers, it must be her name… for a little while.”

Alex thought back to those hazy final moments. That pulse…

Cold horror snaked down his spine. “She swapped with—”

“She sacrificed everything to save me,” she said. “I… I don’t know why. It’s all so meaningless! And to make matters worse… she won’t even come here. She’s searching for Father…”

“I don’t follow. What do you—”

Dusknoir drifted closer, nodding respectfully, and Alex stopped his questions.

“If I may take over.”

Alex recognized that voice. It was deeper and hollow, but the way he spoke…

“Hecto?”

Dusknoir bobbed again. “This is my form in the spirit world when guiding those across the aura sea. Or, in this case, in an outpost near the coast of the living. I would like to explain a few matters to you. Do not be alarmed. You are dead.”

“D-dead?!” Alex chirped, alarmed.

“Yes.”

“But that can’t—but I’m here, I’m speaking, I’m—”

“A dead spirit. I am sorry if this is inconvenient for you. But your soul now rests within part of the source of power once held by a great evil. It is, thankfully, in proper hands now, in your mate, Evelyn, now Amia.”

“That’s… going to take some getting used to,” Alex admitted, though he wasn’t sure if it was the name swap or the part where he was no longer alive.

“Your bodies were unsalvageable. Thankfully, I was able to get to the scene and show the sole survivor how to harvest spirits from the dying using the Orb’s power. The only one who could not be saved was Star. She is recovering in the aether. As a god, she will be greatly inconvenienced, but may still run things from outposts such as these if she must.”

Alex nodded dumbly. “P-point is, I’m… dead? This is… beyond?”

“This is a place between. If you would like to leave for the afterlife proper, you may. However, I am afraid that your mate is bound to the Fire Orb and may not leave until she is slain. Even a visit to the afterlife will be fleeting, and will require ferrying by me.”

“Then I will stay,” Alex replied.

“I understand.” Hecto bobbed again. “Thank you for taking this so well. We will—”

A horrible scream came from the Charmander. He clawed up Hecto’s shoulder and was stilled by his massive hand. But he tried to run anyway, taking fleeting glances back at Alex.

Alex realized why quickly. It was, surely, the same reason he was terrified of his own appearance. His eyes darted around the field of lava for a place to hide, but the fields were too open.

“Calm. Calm,” Hecto said, patting Charmander on the shoulder, but he kicked away and ran down the lava.

“Wait!” Alex cried, but Hecto held him on the shoulder. His hand burned and yet he didn’t seem to react.

“This realm is completely safe to him. Let him flee. We can sort out your appearance later.”

“Of… of course.” What did that mean?

“M… mmggh…”

Alex blinked. In the world of familiar voices, this was the one that he would never truly be able to forget. “Mother!”

“Ah… who is there? Such a deep voice, but it can’t be…”

It was the blob in Hecto’s arms.

“It’s me! A-Alex. And Xander. Your son, not—er, not…”

“Where am I? It’s… very warm. I’m… was I…”

“You were claimed by a great evil a long time ago. I’m afraid I do not know the circumstances of your current condition.”

“Oh… don’t worry about that. I think I can see you now… but I’m fading fast.”

“What?” Alex whispered. “Mother, what happened to you?”

“Can’t I do anything?” Evelyn—no, Amia—asked. “Please, there must be!”

Hecto’s one red eye dimmed. “No. There is nothing that can be done. This is a dying soul… I can already feel her presence fading away. And I cannot sense where it is going. That typically means it is evaporating into nothing.”

“Don’t worry! This is okay! I made a deal with someone a long time ago… I know where I’m going. Chances are, you won’t remember me. I need to…” She trailed off, and her body was losing its shape even more. “Is Owen here?”

“Owen?” Alex asked.

“He is here. I’m afraid he perished and died in this realm.”

“I figured. Thank you. Please, watch over him. Repeat that! Say it out loud!”

“What?”

“Say it now! Take care of Owen!”

“T-take care of Owen. I need to take care of Owen?” Alex looked confusedly at Amia and Hecto.

“I’ll take care of Owen,” Amia agreed. “But why?”

“He’s going to be needed for the world later. The person I’m trying to stop… I know he’ll try to return. And Owen’s the only one left who can do it.”

“Who is this evil person?” Hecto asked.

“Sorry… I don’t know anymore. He was sealed away, and memories of him disappeared when that happened. Just like me. Ah… sorry… I…”

Perhaps she wanted to say more, but she was just a haze in Hecto’s arms now. She murmured something. She sounded happy when she did. Alex leaned closer to hear a little more.

“Mother…” Alex said. “Mother, don’t go! Where are you going?!”

“So… proud of you…”

Gone.

And then, Alex looked at Hecto, rubbing his eyes. He had a serious case of the sniffles. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I think I’m… overwhelmed with being dead.”

“Mm.” Hecto bobbed. “My apologies.” His red eye looked down at his arm, which had been positioned as if he’d been holding something, but nothing was there. He lowered it without a thought.

Amia seemed contemplative. “I feel like someone just exited this domain,” she said.

“You would naturally be very aware of such things,” Hecto said. “Who left?”

“I don’t know. It’s like I had miscounted this whole time…”

Hecto looked at his arm again, and then noticed that there seemed to be markings in his hands. “Hm. There’s a message on my hand.”

“Oh, goodness! Are you injured?”

“It is not a bother. It says, ‘Remi.’”

Alex’s heart fluttered. “Remi… Is that a name?” He held his chest. “Why do I… feel…”

“…Mm. I understand what happened,” Hecto replied. “Someone… must have had their soul destroyed in front of us. They were too injured from the previous battle. Unfortunate.”

“De… destroyed…” Alex shuddered. “That can’t be. How could something…”

“Do not worry. I will dedicate resources into finding them. I will try to deliver the news to you when they are found.”

“I’m sorry?” Amia asked, taking a seat. “You said they were… destroyed. How can you find them?”

“Apologies. The terminology must be confusing to you. I come from… a place beyond here. Do not speak openly about this with others, but you have little incentive to do so anyway. It is irrelevant to your reality. But it is likely this person is now in the Overworld.”

Alex tilted his head. “I’m not familiar with that at all. A world that’s over us?”

“In a sense,” Hecto agreed. “When a soul is destroyed in one reality, they are ejected completely and utterly from it, and float in the Overworld. Then it is part of my job to recover them. However, they will never be able to return here. The reality itself… no longer acknowledges their existence. They are utterly gone from this world. Sometimes, realities are so prudent of this that those still dwelling within it lose their ability to acknowledge that person as well. Sometimes in the form of forgetting them; other times, in making as if they are completely invisible. Though, not all realities are this way… but it appears this one is. Strange. I do not recall Star mentioning this detail to me.”

“W-well, could there be another reason? What if… what if we were attacked by a Psychic?” Alex asked. “Er, I may be Dark, but there are techniques to go past that, surely…”

“That is a much less likely reason,” Hecto dismissed. “But the chances are not zero. If that is the case, then you may recover memories of them when the seal is undone, somehow. But if it is, it is above my power. I do not detect anything of the sort.”

His red eye flashed a shade of green.

“And I am quite powerful.”

That probably ruled it out, then… He couldn’t remember who it was, though.

“Protect… Owen,” Amia whispered.

“Hm?”

“Do messages from them remain?” Amia asked.

“I do not know for this world.”

“Well, I remember saying that, as if repeating it. Maybe this person knew what was about to happen. But whatever it was, I remember urgently saying to protect Owen.” She looked down the lava road, where a small crowd of Pokémon had stared down the path to the screaming Charmander.

“Hm. Perhaps it would be wise to follow that. His spirit has special properties that may be useful in the future. I’m afraid whoever created this power also had their soul destroyed, but their remnant power remains within him and others. That power, from what I have analyzed, will allow you to materialize him in the living world again, Amia. Not only that… but I believe he will be able to sustain himself no matter his distance from you, too.”

“I… I see. I’m still getting used to that power,” Amia admitted. “But thank you for letting me know. Still, I don’t understand why he’s here at all. Owen said that if he ever died, he would… be recalled somewhere. Why here, then?”

“That is a question for Rhys to answer. It seems he wanted his spirit to be tied elsewhere. It is no longer my place to intervene on this matter.”

Hecto bobbed one last time and drifted backwards. “That will be all. It seems that whatever evil we had to battle, it has been vanquished. While frustrating that we cannot recall specifics, its erasure from our minds suggests it will no longer be a problem. I will conduct research into what it was to prevent any resurgences, and inquire with Star about the properties of erasure in this world. I will be very busy while tracking them down in the Overworld. If you’ll excuse me.”

“Oh, er, of course…” Amia waved, and then Hecto disappeared in a mist.

It was just the two of them, now.

“…Well!” Amia said with a nervous smile. “I’m… sorry about this. But this is your home, now, if you’ll have me…”

Alex smiled nervously, nodding. “I didn’t quite expect this sort of arrangement,” he said, “but… it will be okay. No, it… would be wonderful, actually. I want to get away from home. I have nothing but bad feelings about being alone in that house.” He sighed. “Then… if I’m dead, who are all these people?” He gestured out.

“Those are… all the people that had been claimed by that evil force. When I took its power, I also took everyone they claimed. All Hydreigon like you, actually. But over a few days, they’ve decided they all looked a little too similar, so they picked new forms.”

“New… forms.”

“It terrified Owen anyway. We felt bad.”

“A-ah. Right. Well. I suppose I’ll think about that.” Alex hesitated, feeling like he was forgetting something. Alone in that house… He grew up alone? Surely he had parents. And—

“THE EGG!” Alex screamed, gasping, but then he recalled Hecto had… Yes, Hecto had taken it somewhere. Perhaps… Yes, he could ask—

“The egg is fine, Alex!” Amia assured him, grasping his shoulders. “Hecto delivered it to Pyrock. It will be well taken care of. I… can’t go there, but I’m sure they will hatch and grow up to be happy and healthy. Okay?”

Alex deflated. “But I was going to have a sibling… wasn’t I? Or…” Even that felt hazy. Was that egg in some kind of peril?

It was all so confusing… Maybe he should stop thinking about it. Maybe he’d simply found the egg.

Alex recalled the strange, defeated sadness he’d felt only moments ago, before Hecto had left.

“Were my parents… destroyed?” he wondered.

“Hm? Did you say something?” Amia looked back. She was already walking down the path to find Owen.

“Er… nothing. You go on and find Owen. I’m going to decide on a form that won’t frighten him.”

“Of course.” Amia smiled, and then walked further along.

Only a handful of days had passed, and Alex had gone from Zweilous to deceased Hydreigon. What a sad, lonely life he’d lived. Maybe… abandoning this form would have been better after all. Symbolic of trying to find for himself a new start.

As Alex’s eyes followed a magma river, he happened to see a Magmortar sitting by the rocks, before shifting to the form of a fiery Machamp, like he was testing out bodies.

“…That would do,” Alex finally decided.

With some concentration, he shed his scales for a body of flame and fire powder. And with it, he shed the past he no longer wanted to keep, feeling at one with Amia, the only constant left in his mind.
 
Chapter 146 - Four Teams
Chapter 146 – Four Teams

It was deep into winter. The world had nearly ended during the harvest season, and there was a massive shortage of supplies for all the refugees. Emily, the Shadow Lugia, was still blindly rampaging throughout the world, but due to her complete aimlessness, she was treated more like a weather phenomenon or natural disaster than something to actively flee.

Thanks to advice from Owen, as well as the Charizard himself leading some of the charge, they learned that Pokémon with gold Protects held a particular advantage when it came to diverting her to harass somewhere else. Due to a silver lining of Dungeons still expanding and Anam in perpetual recovery, Kilo Village had become the last bastion of civilization. Tiny pockets of villages remained to be gathered back, but not many dared leave the mountain. Word from Pyrock confirmed that they would be in need of supplies there as well, but it had fallen into local villages self-ruling.

Wild Pokémon had grown hostile, due either to residual effects of Dungeons becoming more spiritually corrosive than before, or simply from the worsening environment without more intelligent Pokémon controlling the landscape. Civilized Pokémon had, in a way, become their own keystone species to the environment. Now that it was disrupted, wild populations were in danger of outpacing the dwindling winter resources, should that persist into spring.

So many factors led experts to determine one thing: While they would narrowly survive winter, they would not survive the next season without serious losses and an even greater permanent blow to world stability.

To Owen, that was a timer. By his hand, only a few seasons prior, he had grasped the Grass Orb and put the careful stasis set up by the world’s Elite Hearts into total upheaval. Now, they had nowhere to go but forward. If they failed, the world would collapse one way or another, and Alexander would rise again to reclaim the ruined lands.

If Kilo degraded too far, Alexander would catch wind of it and try to make his move. South Null and North Null Village were the main strongholds and connections into the living world. They also knew that Cipher Castle held a direct connection through Void Basin for an invasion at any time. Surely, by now, Alexander’s forces had discovered the uses of the light crystals to escape the Voidlands, now that the Dungeons were totally unsealed.

Owen wasn’t really sure when it happened. But with Anam’s general absence, Nevren missing, Rhys united with Dialga, and James tending to Anam, all of the Elite Hearts had suddenly… disappeared. Owen had filled that vacuum with the help of Elder and Rayquaza, still yet to unite, and others who pitched in where they could.

To many who knew Owen, his countenance had changed significantly during his work managing the Hearts. He acted formal; he had a serious but attentive expression any time someone spoke to him. Not once did he stumble over his words or openly second-guess himself. He was like a completely different person.

But really, Owen was one and the same, screaming in his mind about how he was supposed to handle the next hour. He was just scrambling to figure out what it meant, at night, in the quiet with Zena.

This was one such night, back to the ground in a field in Yotta Outskirts. Leo apparently helped take care of his parents here, and Spice visited often, so it seemed like an idea place not too far from Kilo Mountain. Distantly, Leo’s parents were shouting over some board game they were playing with their son and Spice’s family.

The wind blew, but mercifully it was not snowy. No ice coated the fields, so the two of them were simply enjoying the bare land.

“Stars. I still can’t get used to them again,” Zena said. No snow and no clouds made a clear night sky.

“Yeah,” Owen replied with a relaxed smile. “Not having to worry about all that… even for a little while, is nice.” But he always felt a pang of guilt knowing that as they enjoyed this, there were still countless souls suffering in the Voidlands. Every day resting felt like a day wasted, even if he knew, on a practical level, they couldn’t feasibly do anything yet.

The scouts had determined that Cipher City was crippled from the onslaught, at least for its leading forces. Without Leph, Mhynt, and Aster at Alexander’s disposal, he must have been plotting for some other assault. But the Kiloan forces making any moves now, when Kilo Village was still recovering and Legendary halves were still fusing, would be a blunder.

Zena curled around him, but gingerly avoided the black sphere resting under Owen’s wing.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m restless, too. Maybe not as much as you, but… you need rest. You’re still completely on edge. That can’t be good for a tactician, can it?”

“It can’t,” Owen relented, rolling so he rested against her.

She encircled him one more time and focused on the dark egg under his wing. Owen lifted it so she could see it easier.

“How is it?” she asked.

“No idea. But it’s wiggling and getting a little bigger, so I think it’ll hatch soon. Perceive still can’t see what’s inside… which is weird, because I don’t usually have that problem.”

“Could it be absorbing whatever mechanism you use to see inside things?”

“It was the same way when it was lodged in my chest, so maybe,” Owen agreed. “Still, whatever hatches, it came from when Diyem defended my life. I don’t think it’s evil, and… I want to give it a chance.”

Paws on grass in a familiar rhythm caught their attention. Owen’s Perceive caught the body shortly after—Manny.

That was unusual. “Manny?” Owen asked, not turning his head.

“What about Manny?” Zena asked.

“Yo.”

“Gh—skies, Manny,” Zena said with a sigh. “Don’t sneak up on us like that…”

“Ain’t no sneakin’ with Owen.” Manny somersaulted through the air and landing a foot away from the couple. He collapsed on his rear and leaned backwards. “Aaah, that’s the ticket. Nice ‘n relaxin’ nighttime.”

“We were just about to go to sleep,” Owen said. “Is something wrong?”

“Just checkin’ up on ya,” Manny said. “Sorta became nocturnal in a little ways.” He raised a paw, which suddenly shifted a spectral black before going back to normal.

“O-oh. Oh, goodness, you…”

“Yeppers. I’m united. That’s what we’re callin’ it, yeah?”

Owen slowly sat up to give the subject the respect it deserved. “You mean… you’re Marshadow right now?”

“Eh, half. Maybe two thirds. I ain’t good at measurin’ that out.” Manny smirked. “Just call me Manny. All m’ spirits still do that, an’ Yen prefers it, so I ain’t gonna object.”

“Oh, gods, that’s right, Yen…” Zena winced. “That must have been a difficult discussion.”

Owen’s flame dimmed. That Drampa within Manny had essentially been his mate, right? They must have spent a lot of time quietly talking when nobody else would know. “Was he okay?”

“Oh, totally,” Manny said. “Turns out Marshadow ‘n Manny didn’t diverge all that much. Yen clicked real easy. So, when we fused, zero issues. I think Madeline an’ Giratina’re the same, but they ain’t fusin’ yet ter give Xerneas a hard time.”

Zena sighed. “I can’t believe someone as agreeable as Anam came from someone so… um, dedicated to proving a point.”

“How many curse words did yeh jus’ cycle through in yer head?” Manny asked.

The Milotic quickly looked away, ribbons curling.

“Heh.” Manny let up, staring at the sky with his paws behind his head. “Nah. They’re alright. Get the feeling they’re just a little afraid themselves. Madeline met James when she was already split. Giratina ain’t got any feelings fer ‘im yet, I bet. Maybe they’re tryn’a foster somethin’ fer Anam’s sake. Y’know, since…”

Since Anam still refused to make public appearances after all this time.

“Right,” Owen said. “I can’t blame them. Imagine if I split in two Owens and spent too much time apart. I wonder if Hecto as contingencies for that, since there are literally a hundred of him wandering around…”

Manny shrugged and kicked his feet in the air.

“Alright,” Owen said, sighing. “What’s bothering you?”

“Nothin’ gets past you, eh?” Manny said.

“It was pretty obvious,” Zena said, “when you came here so suddenly.”

“…Yeah,” Manny finally admitted. “Restless. And you kinda became the lead tactician fer our whole… whatever we’re calling ourselves. Team Alloy Extended?”

“Restless. Right.” Owen nodded. “Tomorrow, I was actually planning to get everyone together for a talk. I wanted to tell everyone what’s been on my mind, in case there’s any information missing. Then give it another few days to process, and then we’ll start mobilizing again, at least some of our teams.”

“Already breakin’ it down into teams,” Manny said in an almost mockingly impressed tone. But Owen knew Manny; he was just giving him a hard time to be fun. “Look at you. Ain’t no rest fer the endlessly dyin’ Charizard.”

“Right, well,” Owen pushed on, “point is, when I go over the four goals we need to achieve, you can pick the one you’ll be a part of. Knowing you, it’ll probably be… Legend recovery. But we’ll see.”

“Sounds about right.” Manny rubbed a pawpad under his nose. “Wouldn’t mind gettin’ all those old friends back.”

“Are any of them particularly different?” Zena asked. “Do you know which ones are paired off?”

“Been askin’ around. Pretty sure Brandon’s Reshiram, fer one. Kyurem and Zekrom, they’re the others of the Trinity. Ain’t sure which one’s which though. Aramé seems like th’ sort ter be Kyurem with how nihilistic she is, but y’know, who knows?”

“Aramé never seemed like the nihilistic type,” Owen said. “Back in Kanto, she was the one who helped me and Eon, you know, become stronger, back when we were just a pair getting stronger for the League. That sounds more like a Zekrom ideal.”

“Yeah, no clue what any o’ that stuff is,” Manny replied flatly. “But sure. Anyway, aside from that, ADAM’s got a weird spirit but he ain’t a half. Willow’s a half—yeah, terrified o’ that one too—an’ so is Valle.”

“And Valle, we know, is Necrozma’s half,” Owen added. “From… my memories of that.”

“Yep. Guess that explains why his glow is way brighter than other Mystics.”

“Um.” Zena cleared her throat. “Are we sure Willow was a Legend? That’s… disturbing to think about.”

“Hopefully her half was sane an’ they balance out,” Manny said. “Eh, alright. I’ll get outta yer hair.” He hopped to his feet and paced toward the main village of Yotta Outskirts. “Strategy meeting t’morrow, yeah?”

“Yep. See you then.” Owen sighed, feeling something rumble against his wing. He lifted it to see the egg still shaking. But not yet. It would be any time at this point, though…

“You’ve taken a real shine to that. I hope you aren’t growing too attached,” Zena said, curling around him again. “It’ll be fine, right? If it turns out to be something evil, we, er…”

“Diyem said it was fine, and I trust him,” Owen said. “He had no way of knowing this would have happened.”

“Mm…” Zena rested her chin against part of her long body.

“I know it’s hard to trust him,” he went on.

“Oh, don’t use your Perceive like that,” Zena murmured.

“N-no, I wasn’t!” He might have, subconsciously. “Just… I figure it’s only natural to not trust him. I have a history with the guy, y’know? That’s all.”

She seemed tense. He quickly reached for his horns so he wouldn’t have to read her more. But then, she quickly grabbed his arms—like she knew it was coming—and kept her ribbons firmly around them.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I… understand, too.”

He let go of his horns and nodded. “I guess another reason I try to sleep in fields lately is because I think my Perceive has people nervous. Ever since I told Jerry that he should try eating less fatty foods during lunch, he’s been giving me weird looks.”

“Well, yes, Owen, but that’s usually because people don’t like others seeing their internal organs,” Zena explained gently, rubbing his shoulders.

“It’s just practical, though, isn’t it?”

Zena gave him that pitying smile. “Well… it is,” she admitted. “Maybe we can think of ways to get that across without reminding them of how much you can see.”

They settled down against the ground again, eyes to the sky.

“Mispy loves it,” Owen remarked. “She’s fascinated by… organs, and how everything works together. Maybe it comes with being a healer. I think it’s a little weird, but I get the feeling she wouldn’t mind fusing with me now and then.”

“Oh, so that sense transfers?” Zena asked.

Owen nodded. “And I get her aura sense, too,” he said.

“Perceive and aura sense?” Zena repeated. “That basically means you can detect anything.”

“I think that’s the point. Giving Mispy something to sense auras was a major thing Nevren had…” He winced. Right. Nevren. That was still a sore subject for a lot of them; they still weren’t sure where exactly he was hiding.

Perhaps sensing this, Zena gently held his shoulder again and leaned into him.

“Well, it’s just useful,” Owen concluded. “Sorry. Talking a lot and it’s already so late… You aren’t too cold?”

“I’m never cold with you,” Zena pointed out.

“Oh, that’s right. I’m hot.” He stretched his wings and pulled her in. After making sure the egg was in its usual, secure spot, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off, letting the comforts of Zena’s rhythmic breathing coax him to slumber.

<><><>​

They’d repurposed an old room in the Thousand Hearts HQ into a main conference room. It had once been used as a gathering place for data, reports, bounties, and other immediate request to be processed and disseminated. Now, it had a central table, many seats or all-purpose nest-bags for any body type. The newest addition was a straight-from-Void digital board that Owen had spent several days on-and-off wrestling with the interface to get working.

Cutting-edge technology from that decrepit place had been migrated to the living world. With it came huge developments in all kinds of technologies that Owen didn’t know the start of. But now, it was just another asset in this new phase of the Third Dark War.

Owen stood at the front. And in front of him in this room held the most important people in the world. He knew every single one of them.

Only then did he realize how massive this could be. How this really was going to be their last shot at stopping Alexander and the remnants of Dark Matter from destroying the world, or worse.

It was one thing to think about it. To have the memories of what had happened, to finally escape that cycle of repeats. But it was another to see so many of his friends in the context of their positions in the world’s balance. And then he had to wonder, how had it fallen down from so high up to land in his hands?

The person standing before them should not have been Owen. The only reason he was there was because of the properties of his spirit. Some kind of divine right. How hypocritical was it that such blessings had been the sole reason for him standing there instead of someone like Anam, who—well, he’d lost his powers and morale. But there was of course Barky, who—well, his ego had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Marshadow could have—well, he was with Manny now, and neither of them were particularly interested in major leading… Trina? No, that was mostly hypnosis…

Gods, was he really there by default? Barky was standing near the back—he refused to be shrunk down—and Star was resting on his back. It seemed so wrong, even if he’d been irreverent of them for a while.

The last of them were starting to gather up. Nearest to him, at the front of the table, were some of his closest friends. Team Alloy, back during his final life as Wishkeeper, brought to him simply because of Jirachi’s generosity. A little toying with coincidences, somehow, made them happen to meet him, starting everything.

Next to them was Zena, whose eyes always calmed him. They’d started off unhealthily obsessed with each other because they were their only sense of normalcy; everyone else lied, or was caught up in it. But they were able to be truthful to each other. But then, the Voidlands took away her memories. It helped them see things for how it truly had been, and they’d rebuilt from scratch, even after those memories returned.

The Voidlands had been a blessing in disguise for them, hadn’t it? Selfish as it was to look at it that way.

Rhys—or, Dialga, taking the form of a Lucario—watched over them. ‘Rhys’ was gone, but maybe some echoes of his personality compelled Dialga to watch over Team Alloy anyway. Palkia was standing next to him with a cheery smile, but without Nevren, he could not revert to an Alakazam. Instead, he was uncharacteristically… small, almost Rhys’ height. In fact, a lot of them were abnormally small to fit here.

That was thanks to Willow. While her powers could be dispelled by a stiff breeze, it was useful in a conference room. The Joltik was proud and openly bragging to how useful she was to the others, using Valle as a stone pedestal to be seen. ADAM buzzed and was apparently recording the meeting. Somehow. Owen wasn’t sure how that Porygon-Z worked.

Next of their currently allied Legends were Yveltal, Xerneas, and Giratina. While the first two had united with Ra and Step, Madeline stood beside her Giratina half. Next to her was James, and—oh, Anam had made it. Good. He was even smiling today, and it looked at least half-genuine. Owen tried to ignore both Jirachi and Eon staring at him, the latter taking the form of a Charizard, of course.

The surviving Guardians were all there, too. The one that stood out the most was Trina, with Har and his own Team Alloy duplicate as representatives of their small squadron of what was left of them. Most of other mutants had been lost to the Voidlands.

There was also Amia—she was getting used to the name again, even if Evelyn seemed distantly familiar—and her mate and his father, Alex. Perhaps to keep Owen’s nerves calm, he still assumed the form of a Magmortar, now that Amia’s Fire powers were back from recovering a gemstone in Amia’s old body’s statue. Owen wondered if Alex had grown used to that form anyway.

“I think that’s everyone who’s coming,” called a meek voice from the far back of the room, who closed the door behind him. This was a Smeargle that Owen didn’t immediately recognize, but he was probably with the part of Team Alight who had gotten involved with this whole mess. Leo, whom Owen had vague memories of, and Spice, who was…

And there was also Jerry, murmuring to Diyem about something. Diyem, still a Charmander, refused to use anyone as a booster, and simply sat on a high seat. He gave Owen a little nod and stared, looking bored.

He’d probably paused long enough. He felt like a few people were still missing, but hopefully they would be caught up later on essentials.

Seeing every single one of his friends in one room, staring at him, former foes and new allies alike, left him feeling paralyzed.

Seconds passed. They stared, patient, perhaps thinking that he was waiting for something. He wasn’t. His mind had just gone blank.

But he couldn’t call for another meeting. That’d just be silly.

The door opened.

“Sorry, late,” Hakk muttered. “So bright out. Couldn’t see a thing… Brought these guys with me.”

And behind him was a smaller Arceus, a Mewtwo, and… Mhynt. All freed from the Void, but now that they were up against everyone else, they still seemed, somehow, relatively darker.

But Hakk, a simple glance at that icy Sandslash, brought a new fire in Owen’s chest. His gaze hardened.

And finally, he found his momentum.

“You’re right on time,” Owen greeted. “Thank you, everyone, for coming. For anyone who misses this meeting, please convey the news to them if they are relevant. None of this information is necessarily confidential, but don’t share it freely if you can afford it.

“This is going to be a strategy meeting on what needs to be done about Diyem’s four remaining fragments. For those unaware, Diyem is the remnant of Dark Matter that had been given some of my light. With it, he can feel things that… he simply was unable to feel before—positive emotions—without it harming him. If we can defeat the other four fragments, extract them, and siphon them into Diyem, then he will be the dominant force… thus saving him. Any other way, and he will return to the Voidlands and cause trouble for us in the future… and we will lose Diyem himself. Everyone following so far?”

Jerry raised a wing, and Owen nodded for him to speak. “What is Diyem?” the Aerodactyl asked. “Not trying to offend, but, c’mon. On a cosmic level, what is he?”

“Diyem is something that was born when the world was created. A stray thought from the Creators had gave him awareness, and… that resulted in the dark forces that permeate this world. We can’t really get rid of that. It’s baked into reality. But we can give it to the best of the Diyems and hope that’s enough.”

The black-flamed Charmander nodded. “I’m sorry if my existence is inconvenient for you. To be frank, if I could die properly, I’d allow it. But that is something the gods currently cannot do.”

“Mm.” Jerry sat down again and nodded. “And that’s where my dark powers come from. Or, what my lineage is, before it was taken from me. For better or worse.” He glanced at Anam, who stared at the ground.

“Yes,” Diyem said. “That is something that can be explored later. Owen, there are four fragments aside from myself. Continue.”

“Right. We know where two of them are. One is in Lugia Emily; her body is still wandering around Kilo, but we’ve figured out how to drive her away thanks to some help from Gold Aura Pokémon, and Nate.”

A gurgling sound came from some black, shadowy thing near Smeargle.

“Y-yeah, him,” Owen went on. “Treat him like a protector of Kilo.”

“That’s literally what he is,” Diyem murmured. “The term he came up for himself was a ‘Voice of Kilo.’ He was born at the same time as I was. From what I can tell, he seems to embody this world’s will to live. And I am its will to die.”

Demitri rubbed his head, looking confused. Mispy comforted him with a few pats with her vines.

“The next fragment,” Owen said, “is Alexander himself. He stole a part of Dark Matter. He might have several fragments, but they’re all ‘one’ piece that we need to recover by defeating him and extracting the piece. We aren’t ready to take him on directly, but that’s related to the first team, led by me.

“I will be leading the charge to Necrozma. According to Darkrai and Cresselia of North Null Village, he is across an ocean of black water, but they have a ship that can take us across. Flying would be too risky, even for Mystics.”

Owen pointed at a collection of names on the screen. “Team Alloy will be going. We obviously make a good team for this, and we’re strong enough to defend against whatever comes our way. That will also include Eon, Zena, Rh—Dialga, and Mhynt.”

“Sea can’t be that far,” Jerry said. “Can’t Aster just Teleport there?”

“Um, I wish I could, but the sea is huge,” Aster said. “It feels even bigger if you try to Teleport… I don’t know why…”

“Sounds like some kind of psychic field,” Barky hummed. “Are you sure Necrozma wants to be found?”

“He wanted me to go that way,” Owen said. “Oh, and also, we will leave Valle here, but… we will be bringing him with us directly after we set up one of Palkia’s Teleporters there. I think, for the same reason Aster can’t Teleport, Palkia can’t go there, either. But if we bring one of his pearls inside, that should bypass it.”

“I’m quite confident that will be sufficient,” Palkia said. “Even if it isn’t, that only means bringing Necrozma back with you the old-fashioned way. Inefficient, but it gets the job done.”

Owen sighed, then moved on. “The second team will handle something else that is essential: Voidlands scouting and Titan slaying. We’re going to be using the power of light and Legends to take down as many as we can. The strongest ones have Legends at their center, and we’ll be gathering them up because some are halves of people here with us. And, hopefully, that will help bolster our forces when we make a final assault against Alexander and Emily.

“Leading this will be Manny, who has fused with Marshadow. He knows the Voidlands very well and has the strength to fight Titans alone now that he’s merged, but backup is what he’ll need if Alexander tries to strike. All Legends we have will be fighting alongside him, aside from Star and Barky, who will remain Kilo-side.”

“Yep, I’m ready fer that,” Manny confirmed with a wave of his arm, leaning back. “I’ve got Necrozma’s light in th’ form o’ th’ Fightin’ Orb, lots o’ spirits, an’ all that. Channelin’ that light ter empower other Pokémon, I’m pretty talented at that, too, y’know. I’ll be great fer this.”

“Thanks, Manny. And to all the Legends—I know you just got out of the Voidlands, but you’ll be needed to get all your friends out, too.” Owen faced the crowd as a whole again. “Our third team is going to be Kiloan scouts. They’ll be scouring all of Kilo to find straggling mutants, settlements, and possible leads on the two missing Dark Matter fragments. Diyem is pretty sure that only Alexander is wholly within the Voidlands as a fragment; the other three have their piece either partly or fully on Kilo. And we only know of Emily. There are two more lurking around, and they would have to be powerful.”

“Well, I hate to point fingers, but,” Brandon said, “doesn’t that mean it’d have to be a Guardian, Hunter, or some immortal person we’ve lost track of?”

“You’re right,” Owen replied. “That’s possible. But Diyem has checked everyone here already, and there wasn’t a reaction.”

“Any way to hide it?” Brandon pressed.

“Possibly, yes,” Diyem said. “Those with Necrozma’s light could possibly hide it. But it wouldn’t be easy. I also want to check Ghrelle, Aramé, and potentially the fallen Guardians. There is a chance my fragments are not on Kilo, either, but across the aura sea.”

“No,” Hecto said. “I am certain that there are no fragments of you across the aura sea. The true afterlife is safe of your blight.”

“You’re certain?” Diyem asked, eyes narrowing at the green canine across the table.

“Yes. I have specific checks in place. I did not know what they were for until recently when memories of it were resurfaced, but they did not go off. You are exclusively on Kilo or the Voidlands.”

“Well. That simplifies things,” Diyem said. “Good.”

“Is this a recent development?” Owen asked, slightly annoyed.

“Apologies. I only got this news in the morning.”

“Well, alright. Let’s talk after about details,” Owen said. “Anyway, third team, the Kiloan scouts, are going to be led by Team Alight and those close to them. They’ve proven themselves for a while at being good at traveling Kilo, and going by wing alone will miss a lot of ground. Palkia has also set up Waypoints to start simplifying travel again. While scouting around, they will also be re-blessing Dungeons to seal them off. We’ll only keep strategic Dungeons open for Voidlands travel.”

“All handled here,” Spice said. “Void Shadows won’t attack as long as I’m around.”

Various eyes uneasily turned toward her, and she scowled.

“Everyone, please trust Spice,” Owen said. “I don’t know if it’s been told to everyone yet, but she is… a reincarnation of someone I trust. Or, part of her is.”

“And me!” called a Zoroark that suddenly appeared next to Leo. “I’m also me!”

Smeargle had nearly passed out from fright.

“And do not forget the third,” Xerneas pointed out. “Have you discerned who that is yet?”

“I gave my spirits to Zena, who then gave them to Enet. Eventually, that final piece will show up, and… hopefully things will work out.” Owen shifted uncomfortably. He still felt conflicted about it all. Spice, Enet, and the third piece… If they became Remi again, what would happen to ‘them’ afterward? He supposed, after seeing Rhys or Manny… he knew the answer.

Somehow, it felt different for Remi…

“And finally,” Owen said, “our fourth team will be defense and communications. Barky, Star, and everyone else will remain here in Kilo Village or South Null Village. We have a lot of refugees, rebuilding, and defense to do in case Alexander or another fragment launches an attack to destabilize us. Even if we need to win against Alexander, we can’t lose what we have. It’s not as glamorous, but I hope you’ll all give it everything to defend what we have while we rebuild.”

“Hmph, not glamorous.” Barky shook his head. “Defending your home is of utmost importance. It’s why I will be leading things for it and communication between all parties. My telepathy is unparalleled. You only need to pray my name and I will be able to answer.”

“Hopefully, we can also establish a cross into the Voidlands, too,” Owen said, “but right now, that isn’t working.”

Murmurs of agreement and contemplation rippled over his team. Most of them seemed to understand. He could sense the usual pangs of uncertainty in their body language, but he knew he hit all the right notes. He didn’t think there would be a way to assuage all of their fears when, frankly, everything was so uncertain to begin with. The fear was justified.

“This is the point where we can ask any overarching questions,” Owen said. “Does anything come to mind?”

Jerry raised his wing again. Owen nodded, and Jerry said, “Say we defeat all the Dark Matters and Diyem is the dominant fragment. What then?”

“Then… we will have Dark Matter in one place. We can evaluate him, and…” Owen trailed off. “Save him.”

“I have a piece of light within me,” Diyem said. “That alone is more than enough to not only dampen my powers from what they used to be, but is also a weakness that, if fostered, can kill me like a poison from within. So, if you’re worried about my rebellion… I will not be able to rebel at nearly the magnitude I had in the past. Additionally, I have spoken to Hecto on this.” Diyem closed his eyes. “…When this all comes to an end, the Hands of Creation will be used to destroy my soul.”

Ice gripped Owen’s chest. It had caught him so off guard that he couldn’t mask his flame dimming by half.

“That—” Owen searched for the words in the split-second he had. “That’s not part of the agenda,” he dumbly finished.

“I apologize. I should have saved it for after everything, not after the overview.” Diyem’s eyes were closed. Everyone else was staring in stunned silence, one way or the other. Some had gaped at Diyem, like Mesprit and Demitri. Others seemed contemplative, like Uxie and Mispy. Others looked insulted, as if the idea of considering it was an affront to them specifically, like Azelf and Gahi.

But some also looked right at Owen, like Zena. And there was no hiding how badly he wished to protest.

“Is there any other way?” Zena asked.

“Perhaps,” Diyem said. “We can find an alternative. But that is the safe default, and I accept it.”

“I should explain,” Hecto said, “that the destruction of a soul is not precisely what one would assume, in the grand scheme of things. The act of destroying someone utterly in a world will eject them from that reality. They will never, under any circumstance whatsoever, be able to return to that same plane of existence. ‘Dimension,’ to use simpler terms. So do not mourn him. This will be what he wants.” Hecto’s eyes dimmed. “He will then be under my care and out of your hands.”

“This also means even if I die,” Diyem said, “you still have a means to erasing a more evil Diyem the same way. No matter what state I leave the world in, the result is the same for you.”

“But…” Demitri couldn’t finish. He lowered his claws and stared at the table.

“You should be thankful,” Diyem said. “It isn’t often that the least ideal victory can still leave all parties intact.”

“How is that intact?!” Owen exclaimed, but then winced at his voice echoing back to him. He wasn’t conducting himself well. “I—we can strategize about this later.”

“Of course.” Diyem bowed his little head, claws intertwined.

“…If I may ask,” Mhynt spoke up, leaning forward on her incredibly high seat, “Hecto, shouldn’t you answer just who you are in relation to all of this? I believe it went over the heads of some of us listening, but your talk about a soul’s rejection from a realm implies the existence of realms beyond.”

“Well, yeah, there’s across the aura sea, right?” Demitri asked.

“That,” Hecto said, “is still within this dimension. I am… from a place beyond. I am a scout for a force that is not relevant to your current struggles. I was partnered with the one you know as Necrozma. The two of us were a team of Overseers, from a place called the Overworld. It is beyond even the network of Ultra Space that connects this world to others within the same dimension, such as the world it splintered from, the one of humans.”

Demitri and Gahi both looked confused by that, while Owen noted that Smeargle and Jerry’s eyes had nearly completely glazed over.

“The point being,” Mhynt clarified, “you are not even native to Star and Barky’s creations. You are… the most otherworldly beings in this room, even more alien than the divine, the humans, and even those from the world of humans like Owen.”

“That is correct.”

“And the conflict in this world is so troubling that it required outsiders such as you to intervene?”

“Yes.”

“I believe that is relevant,” Mhynt said.

“I suppose in the context of the magnitude of the problem, yes, it is. An entity such as Dark Matter has a risk of spreading to other parts of this reality and, if it permeates strongly enough, may even try to expand into dimensions beyond this one. As it stands, that threat is far and away. However, the risk existing at all is cause for concern. If Dark Matter’s primal, chaotic power goes to someone fully sapient such as Alexander, it is very likely that the Overseers will take decisive measures to put an end to it.”

“H-how decisive are we talking?” Demitri squeaked.

“…Some diseases leave certain parts of the body in such a state that there is nothing to do but remove it and hope the rest of the body may persist. In that way, all of Kilo, and all that it has touched, will be… removed. Erased. Destroyed utterly, as I mentioned prior. It is not cruel. I will assist your destroyed selves in recovery. But your home will be gone. It must be, in this hypothetical.”

Owen thought back to Necrozma’s approach to ending Kilo’s population. Was that… the same? Was this the more direct approach they’d told Necrozma not to do?

Then it would just be another failure state.

Mhynt snorted in disapproval. “As guardians of all realities, I suppose I see your point. I could say a few things about how impassively you convey it to the natives, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you think we can handle the facts without sugar-coating.”

“Then in the end,” Spice said, her black embers flaring a little, “that just means if we want to avoid Alexander winning and Hecto’s little Overworld club killing everything… we just have to win.” Her yellow eyes seemed to focus on Owen. She gave him a wry smile. “So, none of this affects your plans. No pressure.”

Owen stiffened. “I—I guess it doesn’t.” In fact, I guess it’s a little comforting. Even if we lose… at least it won’t be more of the Voidlands… right?

But it would still mean his world would be gone. It’d… just fail. Nothing.

And he’d have to live with that failure forever. Well, ‘live.’

“I apologize if this puts a damper on your morale,” Hecto said. “It was not my intent.”

“You did your best, dear,” Amia replied. “It must be so hard to relate to us mortals.”

“Barely anyone here is mortal,” Jerry muttered just barely enough to be heard.

“Will we be getting any resources from the Overseers to assist in this?” Mhynt asked. “We could use all the help we can get.”

“As it stands, myself and Necrozma are the best you can get. Others are likely in other corners of your reality rallying assistance in other ways. I do hope it becomes useful, but I have lost communication with them for some time, and do not know their current status.”

“How long?” Demitri asked.

“Since Kilo was created.”

“Oh.”

“It did not help that for a time, I forgot my duties. The first Dark War’s end resulted in much of my self being forgotten for some time, along with any memory of Necrozma. That is the pitfall of directly entering the domain of someone’s world. I am subject to their rules. At first, I thought it was because someone was destroyed, but it seems this world either has no mechanism to properly destroy someone as I described, or it has not been discovered yet.”

“Just like when Star or Barky become physical,” Owen guessed. “They aren’t really at their strongest here, but they also can’t do a whole lot without descending, right?”

“Yes. It follows similar principles.”

“At least that means we’re on even footing,” Owen hummed. “Or… closer to even footing.”

“Yes. I suggest you try to work around that when trying to defeat Alexander and the others,” Hecto said. “Just like the Overworld, the world of Kilo operates on domains. So long as you are battling the ruler of a domain within their realm, you are at an inherent disadvantage.”

“Easier said than done to get someone out of their domain,” Jerry remarked. “That means you need to pull Alexander kicking and screaming out of the Voidlands.”

“That is correct,” Hecto said. “Even battling him in a Dungeon, rather than the Voidlands proper, could be sufficient to weaken him. But within the Voidlands, he naturally, perhaps even subconsciously, draws from the power that permeates the atmosphere there. That corrosive power that makes spirits within unable to survive outside… and the same power that draws their spirits back into the Voidlands. A prison that makes them not only dependent on its energy to survive, but turns them into more of the same energy with time.”

“He probably knows this better than we do,” Owen said. “It’d have to be a trick and then forcing him out. But… that is a possibility. We’ll strategize about that once we have more strength and resources.”

“Of course.” Hecto nodded. “I will assist you however I can.”

Owen took a steady breath. Some unexpected developments during a meeting of all times, but Owen maintained most of his composure. And despite the shift in context, there wasn’t a lot that actually changed for their immediate goals. They could continue.

“Now that we have the overview taken care of,” Owen said, “let’s get into some logistics. . .”

<><><>​

They’d started the meeting in the morning. It went on up until Jerry noticed that Angelo was looking exhausted and uncomfortable. That was when Spice reminded the other ninety percent of the room that there were still some people who were mortal and needed basic things like food and breaks.

Had it really gone past noon?

A little embarrassed, Owen called for a break for two kilos. He translated for Hakk that meant a little more than half an hour.

Owen took the time to get some sunlight near the back of HQ, at the edge of the crater, flying with Zena to enjoy the view. Once they landed, she coiled next to him and raised her head to the breeze.

“I feel bad,” Owen admitted. “I totally lost track of time during the meeting and forgot about the others again. And they were all sitting on the far end of the table. Must have been out of my Perceive range. That room is big…”

Zena smiled, but it was in a way that she was trying to humor him. “You were very passionate about… planning,” she said. “Combine that with Mystic stamina and you can get nonstop days of planning. I think that would be enviable to a lot of people… though I do still like to sleep.”

“I, er, I’ll… I mean… planning is fun.”

Zena rubbed a ribbon between his eyes. “One of us needs to have fun with it,” she said. “I have no idea how you kept all that in your head. Surely your spirits helped take notes.”

“Oh, I… actually gave them all to Enet.”

“What—still? I thought that was only for Alexander.”

Owen shook his head. “Enet’s still sorting through all of them to figure out who the final third of Remi is.”

“Still?”

“It’s not as easy when they’re all spirits in the Orb. Klent, Amelia, all the Grass Spirits are Electric Spirits now until they can sort that out. Then I guess, anyone who was friends with that part of Remi can stay with Enet, and the rest can return to the Grass Orb. At least, that’s the plan. I’d be fine if it was just me again.”

“Won’t that make you nearly mortal without them?” Zena asked.

“Mutant. I think I’m already immortal without that kind of power. But… I do need that extra power, too, I guess. I just don’t know how I feel about using spirits for that…”

“It isn’t like they mind,” Zena said. “Many spirits just want to rest. They don’t mind if their power us being used for a good cause in the meantime. That’s how almost all of my spirits are at this point.”

Owen shifted uncomfortably, turning his head away. “I guess so,” he said. But there was more to it. The way Zena continued to stare, he had to elaborate. “I just don’t know if my own personal feelings are leaking into theirs, influencing them. There’s no way Klent would have forgiven me for killing him and his daughter if it wasn’t for the fact that I was influencing them.”

“Were you?”

“Not intentionally, just… that’s obviously why they forgave me,” Owen said. “You don’t… forgive someone for that. I know I wouldn’t.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Zena said. “Are you sure it isn’t simply a result of feeling how you had felt?”

“I mean, they’d have to do that… right?”

“Exactly. But not in that you’re forcing them.” She wrapped her ribbons around his shoulders. “If they’re part of you, then they also know exactly how you feel. They know your honest feelings. And you’d know theirs, if you peeked, right?”

“I’d never do that to them.”

Zena wrapped once around him. “All the more reason for them to trust you,” she said. “You can’t hide your feelings from them. That they remained with you means they know you care. Isn’t that better?”

“…I’ll ask,” Owen said. “Right now, they’re with Enet. If they all return to me willingly, then…”

“Exactly.” Zena nuzzled him. “You’ll know for sure.”

Owen sighed, wrapping his wings around her and staring at the sky. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Something invisible entered Owen’s range. He turned his head back. “Oh, hey, Enet.”

“Oh? Enet’s here?”

The illusion dropped, and the Zoroark landed next to Owen, affectionately nipping at his arm.

“Finally taking up flight, are you?” Owen asked. “Hope the meeting wasn’t too boring.”

“Very boring,” Enet replied honestly.

Owen tittered. “Yeah, sorry… I think the rest of the meetings will involve just the key strategists and leaders. It probably wasn’t that helpful to have everyone there in the first place.”

Enet dug through her mane, feeling around for something Owen couldn’t quite Perceive. That meant it was the egg she’d been caring for while Owen was at his meeting. With a pang of guilt, he realized it had slipped his mind.

“Oh, Enet, I’m sorry—I was supposed to pick that up after—”

“Hatching!” Enet declared, pulling it out.

The black sphere had a darker crack in it. The color of the crack made him feel like he was going blind.

“Oh!” Zena whispered.

The egg wobbled and the crack widened.

“Uhh, put it down, just in case, Enet,” Owen said uneasily. “We have no idea what’s inside, so…”

They found a nice spot on stable, flat ground near the crater’s edge where it wasn’t in danger of rolling or tumbling away, and they waited silently. Owen told Enet to go and let the others know, but she refused, far too interested in watching the egg hatch.

Then, with one final CRACK! the shell broke apart. Each piece of that blackened outer layer dissolved into smoke, and then nothing at all. Inside, a black blob coalesced into solid material. A head. Arms. Legs. A tail.

Zena gasped, leaning forward. “It’s…”

Color came next. Orange scales and a cream belly. Big, blue eyes, just like Owen’s. They even had that more feral, reptilian face shape to them compared to others of his kind. But, most of all, the flame that ignited a moment later was not orange or even dark like Diyem’s, but a strange mixture of white and black, like two kinds of material burning under the same flame.

Enet crawled toward the confused Charmander, the last of her black egg dissolving from the scales. She sniffed her, nuzzling her, but Charmander was focused more on Owen and Zena, the first two they’d made eye contact with.

She grasped Charmander and raised them skyward. “Healthy girl!” she declared.

Charmander squealed and kicked her legs, spitting little flames the same black-white color as her tail’s ember. At first, Owen was worried that Enet was scaring her, but then he noticed something else. Something that almost confirmed she couldn’t be the same as Diyem…

She was laughing.
 
Chapter 147 - Spirit Lineage
Chapter 147 – Spirit Lineage

The last thing Owen was expecting to throw several plans into question was a child hatching. It had slipped his mind completely, that egg. But now, he was balancing a little Charmander between his horns while sitting at the table of the conference room. Zena tended to the Charmander to make sure she didn’t fall.

Slowly, others trickled in. The first was Mhynt, who saw the Charmander and sighed, hopping onto her stool and staring at Owen. She said nothing.

“…Okay, yes, this was what hatched from the egg,” Owen finally said. “I’m still thinking about names.”

“She has your eyes,” Mhynt said, and somehow, despite his Perceive and knowledge of the Treecko, he had no idea if she was mocking him or not. “Certainly not your flame, though…”

“Yeah, I’m not sure what kind of energy it is,” Owen said. “It feels like Shadow, but it’s also… not? It almost reminds me of the energy I can channel in my Protects, or when I Bestow something.”

“It might be both,” Mhynt said, her expression hardening. “Which is surprising. We should think about precisely how it was born.”

“She, actually.”

Mhynt nodded. “How did her egg come to be?”

“Well… I don’t really remember too well. Or why. But…”

Mhynt sighed. “I do hope you’re careful about this,” she said, “but… she doesn’t seem to be evil. Inherently, at least. Her aura is… strange, though. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I believe I know what it is,” Xerneas said, standing at the entrance. Yveltal bowed her head to slip inside next, reminding Xerneas to do the same so his antlers didn’t get caught in the doorway.

Owen’s scaly brow furrowed. “What? So it’s something to do with her life energy?”

Xerneas nodded. “And I believe we are incredibly lucky that you were able to escape before Alexander could discover it… That is the very thing he had been striving for.”

His father, followed by his mother, entered his Perceive range.

“Oh!” Amia called, waving. Her movements were still foreign to how Owen remembered her. Little subtleties that constantly reminded him that she wasn’t all there yet, and perhaps never will. Not the Amia he knew. “Congratulations, Owen!”

“Uh.” Awkwardly, Owen shifted his weight and gestured to the Charmander. “Just so you know, that wasn’t… from Zena and me. That was something else.”

“Oh, I think I remember that,” she said. “Yes… You two were a couple! But, only just beginning. Sorry, I’m still sorting through all those memories…”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” Owen replied, throat tightening. When Zena held his arm with her ribbon, he relaxed.

“Bring Charmander to me,” Xerneas said. “I can have a closer look at her spirit.”

Diyem entered the room next, wearing a cautious frown. “Will this harm her?”

Zena slithered to Xerneas, gently holding Charmander in her ribbons. The little Pokémon made a cooing sound as she was carried closer to Xerneas.

“It will not,” Xerneas said. “This is… a new life brought into the world.”

Zena set her on the table and she plopped onto her rear, staring at Xerneas. She held her arms up and grasped the air.

“It is against everything I am to harm a healthy child.” Xerneas brought his head down until he was eye-level with Charmander.

She continued reaching up, wobbling until she was on her legs.

Amia breathed in. “Goodness, already standing up on her own, so bold.”

“You have your hands full with this one,” Mhynt commented. She was smiling, but Owen shared her sad nostalgia.

“Perceive will help, while I’m around,” Owen said. When he said it, he realized that he couldn’t possibly bring her to the boat. He’d need to find someone else to take care of her for a little while.

“Mmff.”

Charmander grasped at one of Xerneas’ antlers, stepping on his snout to get closer.

Slowly, he lifted his head. Dauntless, Charmander continued to climb.

“Yes, I can feel it,” Xerneas said. “It is clear in her flame as well. Down to her very core, she is a being of light and darkness. A blend even more perfect than you two, Owen, Mhynt. Though, because of that… it seems she is a different breed.”

“Then, she isn’t a vessel for me,” Diyem said, looking disappointed.

“What does that mean?” Zena asked. “You didn’t plan on possessing her, did you?”

“The opposite,” Diyem said. “One alternative plan was to find an incarnation of myself that had… no proper memories. To seal all of my other selves within, to be replaced by a more dominant life for a time to learn what proper happiness was like. It’s not unlike how Owen had been overwritten for a time.”

“Hopefully in a less traumatizing way,” Owen muttered. “But you’re saying that’s not the case?”

“Yes,” Xerneas confirmed. “Whatever brought about her egg, the process created a new soul. She is not Diyem, and she is not Owen. However, her aura… I can trace its ancestry back to you, Owen. As well as… Diyem.”

“Just like that?” Zena asked. “You can tell someone’s parentage?”

“I remember Star mentioned something like this a long time ago,” Owen hummed, thinking back to how his ancestry had been scrubbed clean.

“…Owen and Diyem had a child together?” Mhynt asked, bemused. She leaned back against her chair, smiling wryly. “And you didn’t even invite me.”

“I can trace parentage, yes,” Xerneas said. “For most Pokémon, the creation of a new life is a biological and spiritual process. In the spiritual portion, both parents’ essences are used to spark a new essence entirely, placed within that new and developing body in the egg. This process is permanent on the spirit, but can be cleansed from the aura.” Xerneas glanced at Owen. “As is what happened to you when you were placed in the Reincarnation Machine. Your ancestry by aura was washed away, and you became artificially recycled. Something similar happens to souls that choose to reincarnate through the normal process, which removes their memories, too. That way, the old soul may live a new life without the burdens of their memories, for a time. Long enough to experience everything anew before all lives reemerge upon death.

“But you, Owen, were always burdened by your memories. They returned stubbornly and quickly, because you were always, on a cosmic level, dead. A spirit in an artificial shell. Memories are enteral in a spirit; without a proper body to be your active ‘mind,’ your spirit would resurface all it knew.” Xerneas closed his eyes. “But you, of course, took that to your advantage, and became a threat to all of us.”

“You can save the lecture,” Diyem muttered. “What of her, then? Her ancestry traces to us. What of her spirit? Is she reincarnated?”

“No. I can tell, too, that her spirit holds no ancestry but to you two. A reincarnated spirit would have more strands tracing to previous parents that had touched its previous life’s first spark.” Xerneas tried to get a good look at her, but she was already trying to leap from his left antler to his right. He kept still.

Yveltal giggled quietly and kept her distance. “It’s nice to see you enjoying some company for a change,” she said. “I do miss that.”

“How have you been doing?” Owen asked Yveltal. “You know, with… being Step.”

Her countenance became more solemn. “Sobering. But I’m happier now. And I’m together with my mate of both lives. In many ways, that is ideal, isn’t it?”

“I’d go so far as to call it poetic,” Mhynt remarked. “Different lives usually mean different friendships. It’s lucky that you have the same.”

Owen wasn’t sure why he couldn’t feel any tension from Mhynt with those words. Because he certainly felt some in his chest, and even Zena’s. He was tempted to remove his horns.

“In any case,” Mhynt said, leaning forward on the table again, “Xerneas, explain the significance of this Charmander and her black-white flame.”

“She is Alexander’s goal of trying to create someone that is a proper blend of Shadow and Radiance, down to the core. The darkness of Diyem, and the light of Necrozma. There are some who have something akin to this, such as you. Ones that have their blessings. However, even if those blessings were granted to you, brought into your auras and then your spirits… you yourselves were not of those blessings.”

“Hmm… I think I understand,” Mhynt said. “Alexander was someone who had Shadows, and so his offspring were also of Shadow. Just as Mew’s blessing can also be carried, I believe?”

“Jerry has that,” Owen said.

“Mew’s blessing as well as Shadows, hmm.” Xerneas nodded. “There is not much that we understand about how the passing of blessings from parent to child operates, only that it happens. I’d go so far as to say it was an unforeseen consequence of other things Star and Arceus had done when crafting this world. It must be a side effect of the spiritual aspect of offspring.”

“This mate of Alexander’s that we’ve heard about,” Mhynt said. “Do we know anything about her?”

“It’s foggy, but she was also a Hydreigon,” Xerneas said. “I was not around at the time, so all I can tell you is what I’ve been told from Star… but she is in no state to recollect anything about Alexander at the moment. I will not press her.”

“Is there anyone else who might know?” Owen asked.

“Well.” Xerneas hummed. “You will want to speak to your father, Owen. If anyone knows, it would be him.”

“R… right…”

“…Why?” Zena asked. “I’m sorry. I think I forgot this part.”

“My dad is Alexander’s kid,” Owen said. “Which… makes Alexander my grandfather, at least, adoptively. Technically. I don’t think that really matters.”

“Oh.” Zena stared awkwardly. “Right. I think I heard something like that.”

“It’s a very… disturbing family tree,” Xerneas said. “And for some reason, I have a sinking feeling it’s far worse once we piece it together.”

“Don’t say that,” Owen mumbled.

“My instincts tell me so, and so I must say that,” Xerneas countered.

“It is an expression, Xerny,” Yveltal whispered. “Ah, Owen. If you are not sure you want to talk to your father about this, perhaps one of us will instead?”

Gods, it was weird to hear Step’s accent leaking through in that kind voice, on top of that deathly form. “Uh—no, I’ll do it,” Owen said. “Meeting is soon, right? I’ll do it after. I don’t think he’ll be coming to the meeting.”

Xerneas lowered Charmander back down. “In any case, it seems that Charmander is the first of her kind. Someone who not only inherited the blessings of both sides, but was born with them. Owen… not to bring up painful memories, but you had Remi before acquiring blessings of Shadow, correct?”

“Not too long before in the grand scheme of things,” Owen said, “but yes. After all, nobody could have children at all when I started… you know.”

Zena winced. “How awful…”

“Perhaps if Remi had somehow been born later, she would have this property instead,” Xerneas remarked. “What is curious… is that perhaps Diyem, too, had light’s blessing. But that…”

“Destabilized me,” Diyem said, “but I do have it in some small way. I do not know if that was a catalyst, or if she merely inherited Owen’s spiritual properties more.”

“Mm. Well, that’s enough talking.” And just as Xerneas spoke, the door opened again, the main flood of others coming back from their break.

It was time for more logistics.

<><><>​

Evening cast long shadows from the caldera’s edge into Kilo Village. The meeting had gone until everyone but him seemed mentally fatigued from all the planning. After he had asked Arceus for his opinion on certain tactics, and the god himself apologizing because he had been focusing on worldwide prayers, that was the signal that it was time to call the meeting to an end. They could do more planning tomorrow.

Owen took the road this time, looking for the Yotta Outskirts Waypoint that Palkia had so graciously set up for them. The fact that Nevren had developed the previous Waypoint system, and the irony behind that, bothered him a little, but hey, at least Palkia was nice. As long as the others kept him from performing experiments again.

Eventually, it was just Zena and Owen while walking away from HQ.

“Sorry that ran for so long,” Owen finally said.

“It was important,” Zena replied.

“I think I even bored the hatchling,” Owen remarked. “But, you know, I think she helped, too.” He could still sense her balanced atop his head, staring at the sky. The way her muscles were so relaxed suggested she was entranced by the stars. It was a clear night.

“Oh, easily,” Zena said. “People rotating out to keep an eye on her during parts of the meeting they aren’t needed for… helped with stamina. We probably covered more ground that way.”

“Owen! Zena!”

Just down the road, Alex ran after them, still awkward in his Magmortar form. Owen wondered if he kept it after remembering Owen’s fear, or…

“Hey, Dad,” Owen greeted.

“Diyem, ah, oh, one moment…” Alex puffed, cannon-arms against his belly as he wheezed. “Sorry. So far from your mother, I get tired quite quickly…”

“It’s alright… Diyem said something?” Owen asked.

“He said you wanted to speak to me,” Alex said. “I thought I’d see you going down the other street, but I saw your flame this way…”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Zena and I decided to take a longer walk around. I did want to talk, though.” Owen glanced at the Milotic, then back at Alex. “Let’s go to Mom’s. Where’d you go?”

“We were actually at Sugar ‘n Spice,” Alex said. “They were about to close for the day.”

Owen tried to keep his flame calm. “Oh. Well… sure. We can talk there.”

He didn’t walk, and Alex didn’t start walking, either. A wind blew, chilly, carrying a little evening frost with it.

“It won’t be too hard on you, will it?” Alex asked nervously. “With… with Spice, and…”

“No, er, no, it’s fine,” Owen said. “Yeah. I’ll go.”

“This seems private,” Zena said quietly. “Should I take Charmander back to our home for now?”

“If you want,” Owen said. “You can come with us, though.”

“You don’t mind?”

“I’d… I’d like it, actually. If you’re fine with it.”

Zena glanced at Charmander atop Owen’s head, seeming torn. “It won’t upset her, you think?”

“I don’t think she can understand what we’re saying yet,” Owen said. “It’ll be okay.”

“She’s adorable, you know,” Alex said with a smile. “So well-behaved, too.”

Charmander blinked at Alex, tilting her head. She plopped atop Owen’s head and tapped her tiny fists on his snout.

Owen smiled. “Well, okay. Let’s go.”

<><><>​

“Just so you know, we’re technically closed,” Spice reminded. “If you planned on getting any goodies, we’ve packed up for the night.”

“Oh, no, er, sorry, so sorry,” Alex said. “Oh, dear, we really are keeping you, aren’t—”

“I was joking,” Spice said. “We’re just doing cleanup. You guys relax here.”

Amia giggled. “Unorthodox meeting place, but I wanted to know my supposed step-granddaughter a little more.” The Gardevoir adjusted her green hair and sighed.

“Well… it’s not like we’ve met before,” Spice said. “Or, I don’t remember it. Yet. Or ever.”

“That makes both of us!” Amia replied with a laugh. “I hardly remember anything myself!”

Spice and Alex shared a look. Alex gave a wobbly, nervous smile; Spice, despite her lack of pupils, stared at him with pity.

“Dad,” Owen said, “can I ask you about… your father?”

“Ah.” Alex fidgeted. “A difficult question. I, er…”

“I know it’s probably hard for you,” he said. “I mean, you even abandoned your old species for it… And I’ve seen what he’s done. But I need to know because it might tie into what he’s doing now. It could even give ideas on how we could trick him, or learn more about how he… thinks.”

“Are you sure?” Alex still looked apprehensive. “I don’t… know if…”

“We won’t know for sure until we find out,” Zena said. “Is it that painful?”

“Of course it’s painful,” Alex said, “but that isn’t why I’m hesitant. I’ll admit, I… oh, fine. I know how you are by now, Owen.” He smiled feebly. “Nothing will stop you from wanting to learn the truth.”

“Thanks.” As painful as it was, they had to know. It was better than not knowing.

Right?

“Should I be here for this, or…?” Spice glanced at Sugar, who had just emerged from the back room from organizing their inventory.

“If you want to,” Alex said, but then, a moment later, seemed to realize something. “Actually… yes. I think you should be here.”

“Not ominous at all.” Spice took a seat and tapped her claws rhythmically against the table. “Sugar?”

“I hope you don’t mind if I listen in, too,” the normal Salazzle said, taking a seat on the other table.

“That’s okay, too.” Alex took a breath. “Right. I’ll get right to it. Ah, oh, dear, how do I even begin…” Alex sighed.

Charmander complained by slapping Owen harmlessly on the top of his head; confused, Owen grabbed and set her down. She wobbled to Zena and tried to wrestle with one of her tail feathers.

“…Oh, I know,” Alex said. “My father, Alexander… was obsessed with growing his own power. Truly and utterly obsessed. He had children in a… a twisted pattern where, as one would evolve into a Hydreigon after intense training, he would… he would kill and put them into the Fire Orb.”

Owen gaped. “He what—what do you—what?”

“Spirits within an Orb seem to be what make him stronger,” Alex said. “You draw from their power. More spirits, more power. And Alexander wanted… the most compatible spirits possible. Spirits that had his own essence. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, Owen, but—I couldn’t remember. When Alexander was pulled into the Voidlands, all memory of him followed. Only when the Voidlands became totally unsealed did the memories come back again. Like a balance of power had been upset.”

“Wait. H-hold on.” Owen held up his hands. “But the Fire Orb didn’t have any Hydreigon. They were all Hot Spot villagers. Auntie Arcanine, and the kids I played with, they were—it was all an act, sure, but…”

“All Hydreigon originally,” Alex said. “They took on different forms because it upset you.”

“Upset me… I…” Owen shuddered, flashes of memories coming back to him. He had been trying, perhaps subconsciously, to not think about those moments. They were fleeting, but he remembered a fiery Hydreigon… ripping him apart. He remembered feeling so helpless, his Perceive telling him that Alexander planned to do so much worse to him, if he had his way.

“Owen,” Zena whispered, ribbons wrapping around him. Owen flinched, and she pulled back, giving him room.

“Zena, I—sorry. Sorry.” He gestured for her to come closer again, and she wrapped around his arms, gingerly this time. Then she leaned against him. She was cold, but that was a small comfort. “Thanks,” he whispered. “Can you ask questions?”

“If you want,” Zena said. “Alex, you all chose different forms. Was that to comfort Owen?”

“We thought it was a strange coincidence that we were all Hydreigon. We had no memory of sharing a father nor any memory of having siblings, since he had them in sequence, not all at once. We figured we might have been… creations of some kind, or a colony of Hydreigon. Those memories returning made things very awkward…”

“How did Amia come to acquire the Fire Orb?” Zena asked.

“Oh, I remember that one,” Amia said. Her usual smile was subdued. “It was actually my mother who was named Amia. She had the blessings of Manaphy and could swap things around readily—it wasn’t limited to spirits, but even minds or thoughts could be swapped if it was the same person split in two. I never saw her using it much, since tampering with such things is… not the greatest thing to trifle with, but she’d used it to… save me. Alexander had injured me horribly… She wanted me to live. But those injuries… couldn’t heal.”

“Shadow energy seems to cut more than flesh,” Zena said. “Maybe that’s why it couldn’t heal so easily.”

“That’s my guess,” Amia agreed. “But to honor her… I took her name. Though, I did miss my hair. It’s very rare, you know. I used simple Mystic power to alter it. But… my real name is Evelyn. Ah, but… I’ve been using ‘Amia’ for most of my life, haven’t I? So, I guess… technically, my name has been Amia for much longer than it had been Evelyn.”

“It must have been hard to keep that up for her. Where is she now?” Zena asked.

“I think… she eventually found her way across the aura sea, or something,” Amia said. “She was searching for my father, but he might have been claimed by Alexander. Perhaps pulled into the Voidlands. I feel terrible, but… I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know where she is anymore.”

Owen couldn’t imagine that kind of pain. In some ways, maybe Owen was lucky he’d spent so much time ignorant of his own past…

“Diyem mentioned,” Zena said, “that Alexander was searching for more than just power when he had so many offspring.”

Alex hummed. “Right, he was trying for something else. And he was obsessed with it. Trying to find someone who had the power of Radiance and Shadow, at the same time. Like Owen, as we’ve learned, even if the Shadow aspect had been rendered dormant.”

“Well, he’d obviously need a source of Radiance for that, then. Power of light,” Zena said. “But Necrozma was selective of who he blessed, wasn’t he?”

Owen felt cold. He’d nearly tuned out of the conversation with a thought that occurred to him—a cold, horrible thought—but he listened in silence. Numbness crawled along his cheeks.

“He… was,” Alex said. “Very few Pokémon passed their bloodline of that same Radiance on, presumably, but… there was one bloodline that reawakened. You see, some of Alexander’s children were not of Shadow. They fled with powers of Radiance, or the powers were too weak to manifest at all, like with me. Those with light sometimes escaped him because they could counter his power more easily… and they went on to make families of their own.”

“So, his mate had Radiance,” Zena said. “…But… who would…”

What followed was a long, terrible silence. Owen had already pieced it together. He could only hear his heart. Muffled words from Alex, Amia, and Zena encircled him, and he had a sense that they were all looking at him. Spice said something next, reaching for him.

And suddenly, Owen was staring at the ceiling, dazed and nauseous with Amia and Zena in his immediate view.

“What? What… I’m on… ground, ceiling, sorry, I think…”

“Take it easy, take it easy,” Zena whispered. “You fainted, Owen. Are you okay?”

It had been so sudden. He wasn’t sure what happened. Maybe it was an aftereffect of the egg in his chest.

No. No, he knew what it was. The memories came back, but the shock was a little less this time. He couldn’t stop shaking. When Zena got a little closer, he clung to her, squeezing hard. He could still Perceive them all staring and couldn’t take it. With one hand, he ripped off both horns and placed them nearby, then went back to holding Zena. Sweet relief—he couldn’t see anything.

Charmander poked his cheek, tilting her head.

“Hi,” Owen said gently, reaching toward her and rubbing her forehead. She nipped at his claws harmlessly.

Zena helped him to a sitting position. Sugar had what seemed to be a few healing berries, like it would have helped, but put them on the table for now.

“I’m fine,” Owen said breathily. “Sorry. It was… it just hit me at once.”

“…Yeah. No, I get it,” Spice said. “Don’t blame you. Can’t blame you.” She rubbed her arm. “That’s… pretty awful to hear. It almost makes me scared to want to get those memories back. Like, I’m getting them back one way or the other eventually, right? Because… if I had a choice, I don’t really know, Owen. It sounds to me like Remi had a pretty awful life. Would I really want that back?”

They were like stabs to his heart, but Owen nodded anyway. “I know,” he said. “But… you said you wanted to, right? So maybe… deep down, Remi still wanted to—”

“I know, I know. You don’t need to preach it. Just… doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the easiest set of memories to get back anymore.” She shuddered. “If I see that Alexander person, maybe I’ll have some revenge myself, using me like some… some egg factory. Ugh!” Her tail whipped on the ground, cracking it. She muttered a curse. “Ah, sorry, Sugar…”

“I, um, I don’t blame you, either. I’ll fix that up tomorrow.”

“…Excuse me,” Amia said. “I think I missed a detail, but, if Owen is Remi’s father… and Remi was the one who had given life to all of those Hydreigon… Does that mean all that time in Hot Spot, he’s been raised by his own grandchildren?”

Spice sighed loudly and stood up from the table. “And that,” she said, “is where I think I’m going to call it a night.”

“It actually is a little more than that,” Alex said. “I think everyone of the Shadow lineage inherited it from my father, too. I believe… that also means Jerry is a distant descendant of yours, Owen. And all the Southern rulers who had been blessed by Shadow.”

“Oh, wonderful. Really glad I learned my childhood friend is actually my great grandson. Sugar!”

“Yes!”

“We’re going home and I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear any of this.”

“Do you mean that for real, or…”

“I don’t even know anymore.” Spice pinched her snout. “It’s… a lot. A lot a lot. I need… a quiet place to just think. Away from it all.”

“Sorry for all this,” Owen murmured.

“Don’t apologize,” Spice said, claws pressing into her palm. “All of this is because of Alexander, not you. Don’t tell yourself otherwise. And don’t give me that look.” Spice snarled at Owen. “I heard all about it from the others, the Wishkeeper stuff. Don’t care if you made it possible for Alexander to do what he did, he still was the one who did it.”

Owen flinched, feeling a coldness run down his skull. She’d read him so easily.

“Don’t give me any of that martyr blame-catching for him, got it? He’ll only use it against you.”

“Right,” Owen replied automatically. “I’ll… I won’t, then…”

Spice snorted, then nodded at Sugar. “Shop’s closed. You can get home alright, Owen?”

“Yeah, I—can walk.” He slowly got to his feet. No dizziness.

Zena picked up Charmander and cradled her in her ribbons. “We’ll make sure everything is going fine tomorrow. Check in at HQ?” she asked Spice, when Owen had forgotten to ask.

“Yep, same as today.”

Zena guided Owen out, Alex and Amia following next.

“Owen, ah, would you like to come home today?” Alex asked. “Hot Spot is nearly cleaned up. We can get back to normal again…”

That did sound nice… “We have some of my stuff and supplies I’d want to move back first,” Owen said, “And, I’m… too tired tonight. Sorry, Dad. But—I promise, that’s the only reason. How about tomorrow?”

“I understand,” Alex said. “We’ll have your room ready!”

“Ohh, you look so happy,” Amia said, clasping her hands together. “We’ll see you soon, Owen. Take care!”

Amia and Alex departed next, leaving Zena and Owen alone with Charmander. Owen glanced at his horns, still in his hands and not on his head. He decided to keep them off for now. The mental break was liberating.

<><><>​

They decided to make use of their humble temporary home for one more night without packing anything up. It was late, they were tired, and even if sleep was optional for them, it certainly wouldn’t be for the child. Presumably. They actually weren’t sure about that yet.

Zena curled around a huge bag stuffed with soft cotton and rested her head on the center, and Owen looked for the best way to place the hatchling.

The Charizard’s tail flicked. “Do you think it would be better to have her between, or… No, I don’t want to accidentally roll over her or something, especially if I get into a battle-dream. What if we…”

“I think we’ll take shifts keeping an eye on her,” Zena said. “You rest first. I’ll be fine.”

Owen rubbed the back of his head. It had been a thousand years since he’d raised a child. It all felt foreign to him again. “Have you ever looked after kids?”

“Not really… Maybe a few friends back at sea, but the ocean life isn’t as complicated as the way things are on the surface. Find a cave or a burrow, rest under some kelp, everything drifts along…”

“Guess we’re both rusty at this, then,” Owen said.

Charmander struggled and kicked, and eventually Owen set her down.

“Yes?” he asked.

She started to wobble toward the doorway. Casually, Owen brushed his tail along the ground, blocking her from leaving.

“A real adventurer,” Zena said, giggling. “She’ll eventually tire herself out.”

“I’m already tired,” Owen murmured, wings drooping.

“I suppose this is where I’d say, welcome to parenthood, but I’m not sure if it’s normal or not myself…”

“We’re… not equipped to raise a kid, are we?”

The Milotic smiled awkwardly. “Well… in some ways, I’d hoped for one. It’s an odd way for a wish to be granted, but…”

“You did?” Owen asked, genuinely surprised. “But… I don’t think mutant bodies can have kids. We just die and reincarnate.”

To this, Zena seemed surprised. “Oh. I had no idea…”

“Did I never mention that? Sorry.” Owen winced. “That’s… probably a big detail.”

“No, it’s fine,” Zena said. “After all… perhaps when this is all over… Oh, I’m sorry. I’m moving too fast again.”

Owen must have made a face because Zena amended herself quickly.

She leaned forward. “Please, don’t think too much into it. Especially after what came up today. You’ve been through so much and we’re still not sure of our futures… I had actually been considering if I’d even bring it up. I’m sorry. It slipped out.”

“Don’t worry.” As Zena spoke, Owen had relaxed, picking Charmander up and sitting beside the Milotic. “…Are you really sure, though? About… all of this? I know I keep asking, but…”

Zena nodded. “All of my memories are back now. And even though the ‘Zena’ of the past feels… like a distant dream, I was able to meet you all over again. These past few months with you… combined with before… Well, I—it would have been a much more miserable experience in the Voidlands without you.”

Owen smirked. “Would you rather be here in Kilo without me, or in the Voidlands with me?” he asked.

“Oh, Kilo, absolutely,” Zena replied, earning a laugh from Owen. “—Ah, but! Would that mean you’re stuck in the Voidlands?”

“Err, didn’t think that far. Let’s say I was… I don’t know, back in Kanto.”

“Oh. Then… I’d miss you, but, that way we’d both be out of that horrible place.”

“Good answer.” Owen leaned back, letting Charmander settle in his arms.

She was still protesting a little, but her energy was running out. He could tell by her flame that she indeed required sleep.

“Kanto,” Zena repeated. “What’s it like?”

“Not all that different from Kilo in some ways, aside from the humans,” Owen said. “Think of them like… Pokémon, but without the elemental techniques. Well, some humans have them, but they’re pretty rare, and usually from hanging around Pokémon too much.”

“So, they can adapt to the Pokémon they’re with?” Zena asked. “How interesting. They’re like Normals, but… different.”

“Sure, sort of like that. They rely on technology a lot more than we do, since they can’t channel techniques as easily. In fact, most humans go their whole lives without using a single elemental attack.”

“That sounds so hard,” Zena whispered.

“Yeah. The strangest thing about them is how they—you know how some Pokémon have enchanted battle scarves and other equipment? Imagine that, but all over their bodies, and it isn’t even enchanted.”

Zena squinted. “I don’t understand. They put on full-body armor, but it isn’t enchanted? Isn’t that… cumbersome with none of the benefits?”

“I never really asked why. I think it’s cultural, or protection. Like a Cubone’s helmet.”

“Oh, that could be it. Perhaps humans have a special ability that lets unenchanted armor work like it’s enchanted?”

“Huh, maybe. You know, next time I see Brandon, I’ll ask him. Or maybe Eon, or the other humans. I think Rhys—er, Dialga might be too faded to know the answer anymore, though.” He fidgeted with his claws. “Yeah…”

Gentle ribbons wrapped over his shoulder, rubbing them. Owen relaxed again. Had he been tense?

“Do you miss that world?” Zena asked.

“Not the world, no,” Owen said. “It’s okay. I liked it there. But I think I like here more. And… I mean, I have more bad memories than good memories back home, when I think about it.”

“Did you?” Zena asked. “I thought you enjoyed your time with, err…”

“…I did. Huh.” Owen shifted again. “I really did… I guess it was… clouded until now. Since that all became… what happened to Eon. And how that all led to me.”

“I see…” Zena looked down. “But… you did enjoy your time with him. Even if he became… how he is now.”

“He’s trying to do better,” Owen said. “I can tell he’s giving me space. And it’s probably eating him up inside. I don’t know if I can ever…” He saw that helpless, desperate look in his eyes. “Sorry. I don’t know if I want to talk about this right now.”

“It’s okay.” Zena leaned her forehead on his cheek. “You don’t have to.”

More silence. Charmander had finally drifted off in his arms. Just outside, through an open window, a chilling wind blew, but conveniently, the window closed to keep the cold out. Owen assumed Zena used some Mystic energy to close it.

“I just don’t know who to blame anymore,” Owen said. “He was Jirachi and then just wanted me to be happy. I agreed with him. And then… Uxie, Azelf, and Mesprit took away everything that made me… me. And Jirachi tried to bring me back. The Dark War happened, somehow Jirachi got pulled into the Voidlands, and all that was left was… the mortal half, somehow. His memories were shattered; he probably didn’t even know what went wrong with me at that point. To him I’d just suddenly gone and lost myself, and… and it probably drove him insane. Was that his fault, in the end? Or… was it just how things ended up because of Diyem, or Necrozma, or…”

His heart was racing. His vision was blurry. Realizing something was wrong, he rubbed his eyes and realized there were tears.

“Oh, Owen…” Zena shifted her weight and wrapped a coil around him, careful not to squeeze Charmander. “When you put it like that, I see why you’d hesitate.”

“You hate him, though, right?” Owen asked.

Zena looked away, as if conflicted, or perhaps to find a way to dampen her next phrasing.

“It’s okay if you do,” Owen said. “I… just want to know. What does it look like to you?”

“I don’t think I can judge anymore,” Zena said. “I only know him as the Hunters’ leader. You knew him as your partner. And then there’s a… a disconnect, where things changed, and he’s no longer that same person you know. He’s changed forever, just like you changed. Him trying to fight, over and over, to get you back to how things used to be… Isn’t that what led him to becoming so deranged as a Hunter to begin with? What… drove him to madness?”

“…I… yeah. It is.”

“And then… trying to go back to that for you… Will that help anything? Or is it… just trying to piece together an illusion, just trying to simulate a time that’s already gone away?”

Charmander curled up a little, content. Her black and white flame dimmed and grew rhythmically with her breaths. Owen’s was a deeper hum, warming the room as he tried to calm his nerves.

“Tim’s really gone,” Owen finally whispered. This time, he leaned against her. “I’d… probably, if I do anything, I’d have to start over with him. As… but then, it’d just be forcing it. I’d have to let him… make the choice, too.”

Zena looked guilty, turning her head away. Conflict in her posture, even with his horns removed. She wanted to say something.

“Zena?” Owen asked.

“Mm.”

“What’s wrong?”

After a brief silence, she seemed to give in. “I suppose that’s what Eon did for you. He’s letting you choose what to do with him. I… do have to give him credit for that. He’s walked away to let you decide. As shattered and broken as everything is… and how your dynamic can never be the same again—human and Pokémon, or Legend and Wishkeeper—that’s all gone now. Instead, it’s… something new.”

“New… right…”

“Nuu,” Charmander mumbled in her sleep.

That warmed his heart a little.

“If you’re so torn up about it,” Zena said, “you should talk to him when you’re ready. If you want me to be there…”

“I will,” Owen said. “When I’m ready. But… he’s going to be battling Titans soon. I’m on another team…”

“Can you wait?” Zena asked.

Another pause. He didn’t know. But it wouldn’t be long until everyone was back at full strength and ready to depart. And he certainly couldn’t stall for his personal feelings.

“I’ll decide tomorrow. I need to sleep on it,” Owen said. “I don’t want to make any decisions while I’m all… bothered.”

Zena nodded. “Then get some rest.”

“Thanks, Zena,” Owen murmured. He reached around for his horns clumsily, feeling himself drifting.

“Really?” Zena asked, concerned. “Doesn’t that make you more awake?”

“I get kinda paranoid without being able to Perceive what’s around,” Owen admitted. “I had my mental break. Now I just want to sleep.”

“I’m not going to be able to understand that,” Zena said. “But, if it helps…”

Owen snapped the horns in, taking a moment to scan his environment—

“Wh—” He nearly shouted, but then remembered Charmander. He whispered loudly, “Enet?!”

Zena held back a gasp and looked around; moments later, an illusion dropped, and there was a Zoroark curled up in the corner of the room, looking half-asleep.

“How long have you been there?!” Owen whispered.

Enet blinked a little and curled up again.

Sighing in defeat, Owen leaned back and accepted her presence. “Another long day tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll take the next shift when I wake up.”

“That’s fine,” Zena replied. “I’ll keep an eye on things. It’s… nice, actually. It’s like being in the quiet caves again, but with company. Proper company. Not spirits that start to feel more like more of yourself.”

“Good,” Owen said. “I’d feel bad if you were getting bored.”

Zena only smiled and curled around him. Owen sensed… something, but decided not to comment tonight. Instead, he leaned against her and finally drifted off into the night.
 
Chapter 148 - How Things Change
Chapter 148 – How Things Change

For Eon, it was just another night. He was surrounded by friends and family he’d found or helped create, and yet he felt like something was missing. Well, no. He knew what was missing. But he tried not to think about it.

In the corner of the room was a perpetually enhanced Houndoom, a variant of some mutant experiment that Nevren had come up with. It kept a Pokémon in something called a ‘Mega’ form from the human world. Resting atop his warm, black fur was a Cherrim, still weak but strong enough to stand up on her own.

And curled up in the other corner was an amalgamation of different, perfect parts, engineered based on schematics found in the human world, a Silvally as they were called. Much better than Type:Full at least.

This was his family now. In some ways, it was cozy and comfy. But in others, so late at night, Eon always wondered if…

Something shifted outside. A Milotic was slithering, hesitating at the doorway. Eon wondered to himself, was the door locked? Did Kilo Village even have locked doors? He had no idea. He’d never bothered. Gods, that meant he didn’t lock it. If it had locks.

But she never entered. Perhaps she was thinking, or waiting. It was obviously Zena—he could feel her powerful aura through the door—but she didn’t seem angry. Perhaps anxious. And then, she turned, leaving down the road.

Eon wasn’t tired anymore. And maybe…

He knew he’d regret it, but he got up anyway, carefully tiptoeing out of the door. His body nearly shifted to Milotic a few times, but he suppressed it, keeping to Charmander for now. Memories of good times gone by.

“Zena?”

The Milotic stopped and straightened. Then, she sighed and turned around.

“Eon. Sorry for disturbing you.”

“Do you want to talk?” Eon asked, losing his form again and quickly reaching for his blindfold—he’d forgotten it in his room. He kept his eyes to the ground instead.

“…Allow me to see your eyes. I don’t mind if they are my own, Eon. I understand your… problem.”

She didn’t mind? But it would make a mockery of her form, wouldn’t it? He’d done the same thing once with Amia, and that went… badly. Practically ruined Emily’s cave.

But this was different, right? That felt so far away from what he’d do today.

“Alright,” Eon said, facing her. Even if he wanted to, there was no way for him to maintain his form after that. His limbs merged into his body, his tail thickened and extended, and soon he was a much larger Milotic, an exact double of Zena. He sighed and said in her voice, “What did… you want to speak about?”

There was a flash of disdain in her eyes. It was a common reaction to seeing oneself, for one reason or another. Eon paid it little mind and nervously waited for her answer, but so far, she was silent.

He filled it with more words. “I’m open for whatever you want to talk to me about,” he said. “Please… I’ll answer. If… if this is about the mutants, I’m going to help round them up. Put… maybe try to stabilize them. That’s the right thing to do, right?”

“It is,” Zena said.

Her body language relaxed a little, or, he thought that was what she was doing. Even sharing her body, he wasn’t really sure what anything meant.

She continued, “I wanted to ask what you thought about Owen.”

Eon tried not to flinch, so he only hummed and nodded. “Owen, right. He’s… He means a lot to me, obviously, but…”

He hoped Zena could complete for him so he could agree, but she didn’t. She was waiting for his words.

“…But…”

But it wouldn’t happen again? But he couldn’t get any of what he envisioned Owen as again? But he was horrible to him?

“But it’s his choice,” Eon finally said. “And if he… wants to stay away from me forever… I’d understand. I’d hate it, but I’d understand. And that’s his right.”

He decided to speak from the heart. As much as he wanted Owen back, he’d already come to the decision that the ‘Owen’ he wanted so much was already gone. Long gone. Lost to time and buried in so many new memories that didn’t have Eon in them.

“I’m glad you understand,” Zena said. “I… wanted to tell you that… I am not sure what Owen would choose to do, either. But I do recognize you’ve improved. I hope it stays that way.”

Eon nodded. “I understand. Sorry I don’t have anything better to say, I, err…” He really had no idea how to carry this on. “How… is he, anyway?”

“Owen? Better.”

“I heard he’d fainted today.” He said it suddenly, but it had been on his mind.

“Oh. Yes, he…” Zena trailed off. “I don’t know if it’s my place to explain for him.”

“Th-that’s okay, you don’t need to. But he’s better now—if he has support from you?”

“Yes. That I can say, certainly.”

“Good. Good.” Eon shifted his weight. He wanted to say that if Owen needed more support, he’d be there. But he couldn’t. That went against what he was trying to do.

“I will let Owen know you wish him well,” Zena said, “if he seems in the mood. Perhaps he will be.”

Her tone was tentative, like she was trying to mask how Owen really felt. But that could have meant anything. Unable to contain his morbid curiosity, he asked, “Does he hate me?”

“N… no. He doesn’t.” Zena said it like she’d been trapped.

Eon backed off again. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked that sort of question…”

“I think you at least deserve to know that much,” Zena admitted. “But he’s wrestling with his feelings.”

“I won’t approach him until he initiates,” Eon confirmed. “Even if… that’s never.”

Zena sighed. Eon didn’t know what that meant. But then, she looked almost defeated when she said, “I see a little of him in you. So, knowing that, neither of you are going to let this go until you talk. It won’t be ‘never.’ That isn’t how either of you are, is it?”

There wasn’t anything Eon could say there. He only swallowed and looked away. That’s when his eyes caught the glint of Lavender’s eyes staring out the window. The Silvally tilted his head. Zena must have noticed, too, at some point.

“I guess so,” Eon said. “We go back a lot, but, when you math it out, we’ve actually probably spent more time away from each other than together at this point. I, er, I think. My memory of all that is still foggy without Jirachi…”

“That… is not quite true, I think,” Zena said. “Owen spent his first life with you, yes. And then a thousand years with Jirachi. After that, another five hundred or so with you that is still a blur for him—”

“Oh, he was… That was when we were recouping from the first Dark War. We don’t really know the details of it… but, that must have been when we settled in Quartz HQ…”

Zena nodded. “And then… another five hundred or so years with Amia. Only last year did things begin to change again.”

“That’s how much you’ve been able to piece together.” Eon nodded. “That’s good. I’m glad he’s starting to sort that all out. Maybe it’ll help me, too, since Jirachi and I are having trouble getting details sorted. We’re scrambled if we think too far back.”

“You aren’t going to merge yet?” Zena asked.

“I’m… sort of a mess. Jirachi’s evasive.”

“Ah.”

She didn’t disagree. Somehow that hurt a little.

“Jirachi’s fun!” Lavender called from the outside, pulling his head through the window before exiting like a normal person through the door. The Silvally trotted closer and bobbed his head. “I bet when he gets his full power back, he can grant the best wishes!”

Zena smiled a little at that, and Eon mirrored it.

“I don’t think I’ve introduced myself properly to you before,” she said. “My name is Milotic Zena. No… Legendary background from me. I used to be friends with Emily, I suppose, but that’s all.”

“Nice to meet you, Zena! I’m Silvally Lavender. I’m a monster!”

“A-ah, yeah. He, er, one of the… experiments of Nevren, along with Lucas, the Houndoom. Mega Houndoom, actually…”

“Mega… is that… does that mean powerful?”

“It’s apparently an official term used in the human world. Nevren took inspiration there when trying to replicate that power.”

The heavy-set Houndoom peeked out next, growling at first before Eon shushed him.

“She’s a friend, Lucas. Nothing bad is happening.”

The Houndoom stopped growling and instead wagged his tail, prancing to her next. A purple-petal Cherrim tiredly wobbled out next.

“…That’s your family, is it?” asked Zena. “The… new family you’d formed.”

“Yeah. They’re my family.”

A chilly wind finally blew, and it was harsh against Eon’s scales. He winced and curled up. “It’s very late and cold. Sorry, Zena, if I’ve been short with you or, uh, or anything.”

“I shouldn’t have come so late in the night,” she said. “I don’t really know what drove me to this in the first place. I just…” She sighed. “…You did truly awful things, Eon. But you’re also trying to change and make up for your crimes.”

“And I’ll need to keep doing that for lifetimes,” Eon said. “Even then I don’t know if it will be enough. But I’m ready to try. Maybe one day, I’ll… be able to bury this. N-no, I… that’s not the right word…”

“Atone,” Zena suggested.

“Atone,” Eon agreed, sighing. “That’s… a good word.”

Zena turned around. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Eon. And… I think I appreciated this talk. Sorry for bothering you.”

“I did, too,” Eon added, his form melting back to Charmander when she’d gotten far enough away. “…I… think I did, too.”

Lucas and Lavender approached either side of him, dipping their heads down in unison to get to eye-level. Eon smiled and rubbed both of them on the beak or snout.

Nothing could replace Owen. Nevren tried, and it failed miserably. But at least he had others to lean on.

<><><>​

The next morning, Owen went on his usual rounds to make sure things were in order and nothing urgent had come up. Nothing ever really did after the world had been given a brief respite, but he checked anyway.

Most had gone into their own fleeting routines before they’d all set off for their separate missions. It was, all in all, a slow day of wrapping up final obligations. Zena seemed to be in better spirits, too.

One of his last stops was checking on Angelo’s little shop. He still hadn’t looked into much about him. He only knew that he was apparently the son of a very talented Smeargle who had inherited Mew’s Blessing. A Smeargle with a malleable aura, vulnerable to strange shifts in energy, but in exchange so readily able to call upon techniques without latency. Owen envied that kind of power, but he’d never taken Mew’s Blessing. He didn’t think there was any need. And asking now felt… dirty with how delicate Star seemed.

“Hello?” Owen called, knocking on the side of the entrance before stepping inside. He could sense Angelo in the other room, drawing. He seemed calm.

“Be right there!” Angelo called with a tinge of new nervousness. Owen wondered why.

The Smeargle emerged shortly after, looking even more nervous.

“Ah, er…” Angelo nodded. “I’m doing fine today. Thank you, Owen.”

“Oh, that’s good. Sorry, just doing some final rounds. Last day before we set off.”

“Oh, gods, already?”

“Yeah. But I’ve been so restless, so… But you don’t have to worry. You’ll be helping with safer traveling on Kilo.”

“Right. And thanks to Palkia, I’ll have a familiar bed to sleep in at night, too…”

“Convenient, right? Restoring Waypoints will be so important to Kilo. So don’t let anyone shame you into thinking you took the safe route. It’s important, and not everyone needs to be at the front of the worst.”

“Thank you,” Angelo said. He seemed distracted by something, maybe a new thought, when he tilted his head, fingers curling subtly. “Have you talked to Jerry yet, by chance?”

“No, not yet. He’s close to next.”

“Right, right…” Angelo held up a paw and went into the other room, shuffling through his mess of a room that gave Owen a mild headache mentally sorting through it all. He returned later with a small portrait.

“Could you deliver this to him?” Angelo asked. “It was something that your Espeon friend had commissioned me to draw before, er, the world almost ended.”

“Espeon friend… We don’t know any Espeon by name, actually,” Owen said. “Er, sorry. Could it have just been…” Well, it couldn’t have been a fan. Jerry was just an outlaw to most of Kilo Village, at worst, and simply not known prior.

Knowing he used to be a prince was unreal. How thoroughly had the southern history been wiped from the public eye in only a few decades?

“…It must have been Star,” Owen said. “That feels like so long ago… Er—thank you, Angelo. It’s very nice art, too. It kind of reminds me of the style in Druddigon Cube Ultra, the way you drew it, but… portrait quality instead of a comic page.” Owen laughed. “It practically looks like cover art!”

“Oh! Well, thank you,” Angelo said. “Sorry if that may not be his preferred art style. I did my best, er… For saving the world, it’s the least I can do. Oh, and, er, yes, I’m glad my style is… appealing.”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s one of my favorite comics!” Owen grinned. “Might be the favorite. A story about a little Druddigon trying to gather all the wish cubes… Well, actually, it’s gone way past that at the point where it’s left off!”

“Ah! I… I see, you’re a fan of…” Angelo nodded quickly. How odd, he seemed tense, but in a different way. Angelo’s heart fluttered like he was excited. Maybe he was a fan, too.

But he was getting distracted. With a small smile, Owen said, “Anyway, I should get going. Thanks for the art. Maybe I’ll ask for something from you one day, too, if you can replicate its style so well!”

“S-sure! That would… be… nice!”

Such a nervous Smeargle. Owen nodded and left the shop, trying to be polite by not overanalyzing the Smeargle’s body language. Maybe he could ask later why he reacted so strangely. He knew what Angelo looked like when he was terrified; this was completely different. If anything, he seemed… emboldened.

Oh, of course! Because he complimented his art!

“Hmm,” Owen hummed, spreading his wings to fly and get to Jerry. Conjuring an updraft, Kilo Village quickly became far below him. “A little compliment can take someone far sometimes… I wonder…”

<><><>​

Jerry had been given temporary housing in Yotta Outskirts, too. It was small and, from what Owen could tell, he preferred roosting on the rooftop instead.

“Jerry!” he called.

“What?” Jerry shouted back.

Owen leapt into the sky, updraft carrying him higher, until he landed on the sturdy rooftop. First gingerly, then fully once he was confident in the roof’s structure.

“I wanted to give you this,” Owen said, handing it over. “From Angelo. He drew it?”

“Eh?” The Aerodactyl looked incredulous, but then recognition flashed in his eyes. “Oh, that was… before everything fell to—right, uh, thanks. Sure.” He inspected the picture, and Owen finally got a good look at it. Angelo’s painting was so delicate that his Perceive didn’t get any details of the painting—he couldn’t properly see color with it, after all.

Getting a finer look with it, Owen saw a thin Aerodactyl, much daintier than the one on the roof with him, sitting up against a tree. The colors were light and cheerful. Beside her was a much smaller Aerodactyl, leaning against her wings. Owen recognized some of the subtle details. That was a young Jerry. Angelo really was talented…

Jerry’s heartrate had slowed, Owen noticed. More than that, his muscles relaxed, and his posture slackened.

“Star sent this image into his mind,” Jerry recalled. “Told me it was gonna be a surprise.”

“Do you like it?” Owen asked.

Jerry gave him a sour look. “You don’t just ask someone that.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“…It’s nostalgic.” He tilted the picture. “It’s been a while. I feel like I forgot Mom’s face. But this…” Jerry trailed off.

“…Sorry, I’ll leave you alone,” Owen said, creeping away.

“Tch. Don’t act like I’m some… fragile thing.” Jerry seemed more vulnerable than before, body language closing off. His jaw quivered, barely. Owen wouldn’t have seen it with his eyes.

Owen was tempted to ask if Jerry wanted to talk about it, but of course he wouldn’t. Instead, he nodded and said, “You can’t be fragile after everything you went through. Still standing, I mean. Thanks for holding out after everything about us and how… you know, weird we are.”

“Yeah, whatever…” Jerry sighed. “And… what, do I say thanks back for something?”

“Do you want to?”

Jerry brought his head back like he’d been offered old meat. But then he exhaled. “Sure. Thanks for… I don’t know, saving my wings a while back. With the…” He gestured toward his neck.

“Oh, back at Ghrelle’s… poison bog. Right. It’s a good thing that seemed to wear off once you got to the Voidlands…”

“Your mom gave me the scarf, actually,” Jerry said, slipping his wing claws into a satchel to pull out the same scarf. “Was near my statue.”

“In case it comes back?”

“With how crazy you guys are, I’m not taking any chances.” Jerry winced. “If I ever see that Ghrelle or her freak Gastrodon spirit-mate, I’m flying the other way full speed.”

“Can’t blame you there.” Even Owen as a little nervous about her.

“Anyway… thanks. I mean it this time.” He held the picture a little tighter, but then slipped it gingerly into his satchel, wrapped along with the scarf. “Guess Star isn’t all bad. No idea why a god of all creation would be bothering with trying to help just one person, though. When you think about it, they should be doing crazy broad stuff up in… wherever they operate.”

“Destiny Tower,” Owen said. “I was going to head there next.”

“Where the Spire of Trials used to be, yeah?” Jerry asked. “Who would’ve thought that it was Destiny Tower all that time…” He waved Owen off. “Yeah. Go do that. I’ll do my part here at home. Just… get back safe, alright?”

“I will. Thanks. Take care, too, Jerry.”

Before Owen left, he had a lingering question on if he should tell Jerry about his ancestry.

He decided to keep this as a good moment for Jerry instead and left.

<><><>​

Owen stared skyward at the impossibly tall tower as a normally-sized Charizard. At the top was the realm of gods, the ascent that could only be attempted once before the true reward would be locked from them forever.

Owen had climbed this tower once and succeeded with his partner. But today, it seemed it did not behave as a realm for spirits to fight back against intruders. Now, it was just the home of Star and Barky.

The first floor had been turned into some kind of welcoming lobby. Nobody waited there except for a simple signpost with instructions on where to leave mail and how to place it. It was oddly firmly worded. Owen, however, was more interested in the central sigil on the ground, normally inert. But when he approached, that sigil—resembling Arceus’ wheel—lit up.

“So, it still remembers me,” Owen said with a little smile. He stepped on the center platform and focused, expanding his aura into the sigil and thinking about the top floor, but only for a moment.

He considered something else. He thought about another room. Not quite the top, but close to it.

White overtook his vision, and for an instant his Perceive was scrambled, and then the vertigo disappeared. He stood at the end of a hallway that led to several other rooms, and the altitude felt higher. The air, just a little thinner. Thankfully, the tower itself helped to regulate some of that pressure, or he’d feel a lot worse than a little dizzy.

Out of respect for privacy, Owen removed his horns and kept them in his bag as he walked down the hall. He wasn’t sure who was inside at this time, but he wondered…

One door, two, three, fourth door, on his left. He turned and stared at the unremarkable entrance, then held his palm forward. A sigil of flames appeared, and the door slid aside.

Gods, it was just like he’d left it.

Oversized furniture lined the large room, about twenty paces from the door to the farthest table, which was taller than he was. He walked through the recently dusted and polished wooden desk, the shelf whose highest levels were too far for his arms to reach, and then opened one of the lower drawers to find an old notebook of faded paper. It looked like it had been restored, possibly by divine means. He flipped through the pages, memories flooding back to him from the touch.

So many reports, so many logs of wishes approved and denied. Energy expenditure, findings of which wishes had the greatest impact for the least work. He’d made it a pet project to help Jirachi’s wish granting have a wider reach, sifting high-effort wishes with low impact from the others. Worked with Xerneas, Yveltal, and sometimes—with hesitance—Palkia to offload that power with more manual work. It wasn’t like they did a whole lot on their own. They were emergency gods. They could afford to spare a little power in their off-years.

World went fine without them anyway. Mostly.

Owen put the notebook back for now and opened the drawer opposite to it. Something clanged and clattered inside. He tilted his head, pulling out the first thing that caught his eye—a little glass sphere that had glittery orbs floating inside through some idle energy. When Owen focused, they spun a little faster, like bubbles in a current.

Someone stepped a little loudly down the hall. A calm stepping that was deliberate to get his attention.

Walking past and then turning to the entrance was Arceus’ daughter, Leph. Smaller, a little thinner, and with kinder eyes. But she inherited his sternness, even if it wasn’t a true bloodline.

“Hi,” Leph said.

Owen nodded, and then the connection finally reestablished itself. “You made this,” he said, holding up the little cosmic trinket.

“Oh, y-yeah.” Leph looked down. “I sort of… just like to make little things with divine power. Even if they’re useless. It’s nice to look at.”

“Yeah. I liked it. The way it spun… I like how it interacts with my Perceive. Helped me practice not getting overwhelmed.”

“Is that why you, er, don’t have your horns right now? Were you cursed?”

“Oh, uh—No, I just took them off. I can’t turn them off, so that’s the next best thing.”

Leph looked taken aback. “That’s a bit brutal, isn’t it?”

“Uh? I can just snap them back on.”

“What?”

As if to demonstrate, Owen removed them from his back and put one back on with a little click.

“…Palkia experimented on you.”

“Y-you could say that.”

“Can you not turn it off?” Leph asked.

“It’s kind of stuck on.”

“Perhaps I could help…”

“M-maybe later. This works for now.” Owen held up a hand. “Anyway… Er, did you want to talk about something?”

Leph only stared. With his half-Perceive, he had a vague sense that she was tense. “Do you remember anything?”

Owen put his other horn on and looked through the rest of the shelves with his Perceive. So many little baubles and trinkets that he kept…

“Some of it is coming back to me. But it’s a lot to sort through. I do remember helping to raise you. I remember you were born as a proper god of this world. That when your father and Star created this place, two gods in their likeness had also been born under the Tree of Life to lead things once the world reached its maturity, or something. And that maturity was only a few years after it had been created. Star and Barky seemed happy and surprised to raise you…”

“You were my uncle,” Leph said. “Sure, you were busy with Jirachi and being Wishkeeper all the time, but…”

“You spent your days with all the Legends, didn’t you? Getting to know them…”

Leph nodded. “So, you remember?”

“I remember… some of the facts,” Owen said, his heart sinking at the hope in her eyes. He wasn’t really sure if he could truly feel how she wanted him to feel right now. He’d lived too many lives, made too many new connections, for these old ones to… settle.

Was this how he felt about Rhys? About Amia?

Was this how Eon had felt about Owen before?

“How’s Aster?” Owen asked awkwardly.

“He’s fine. Tired. Recovering. Kind of… scared.”

“Oh.”

He couldn’t ask to see him, could he?

“Um, good luck finding Necrozma,” Leph added. “…You’ll… need it. It’s bad down there, and I don’t… want to go back.”

“That’s fine. You need to help here on the surface.”

But Owen didn’t need Perceive to sense her shame.

“Really, Leph,” Owen urged. “You’ve been through enough. You need strength from Kilo, not the Voidlands. Let some people who have more light in them handle it down there.”

“Yeah.”

“And tell Aster the same, alright?”

“Yeah.”

She stood aside as Owen walked past her, but he gingerly placed a hand on the base of her neck. She didn’t flinch. In fact, she leaned against him.

“You’re smaller,” Owen remarked.

“I kind of like it that way. In here. Too cramped at full size.”

Owen nodded, but then looked back. “I guess my oversized room helps, huh?”

You were huge,” Leph muttered. “Really, why do Pokémon react that way to divine power?”

“Big energy, big body?” Owen asked with a nervous smile.

She giggled and walked down the hall; Owen went the other way, but he’d forgotten to take out his horns. He could sense someone in another room focused on the hall, listening, attentive, but too nervous to speak out. But he knew the body language to tell she was conflicted.

And so was he. With a sigh, he decided to break the ice, and once Leph headed into her room again, Owen approached another door and quietly tapped his claw three times against it.

The person on the other side watched, staring, paralyzed. Didn’t want to get up. Instead, she only stared again, trying to decide. Owen didn’t do anything; he didn’t want to pressure her.

Then, he Perceived her gesture for him to come in. Was the door unlocked?

Owen pressed his palm against it and focused. The door reacted, forming a sigil of some kind of double-helix, and slid aside.

Star’s room was brightly colored and had countless old drawings from mortals plastered on the wall. Eighteen bowls adorned the walls on individual shelves, each one filled with symbols of the elements. Eternal woods in one bowl, candle wax and kindling in another, dragon scales and incense that burned blue in a third, and so on. In the very back was a large bed with a tiny god curled up in the middle, staring at him, silent, trembling.

“Hey, Star,” Owen said, keeping his voice gentle. “How are you feeling?”

She looked exhausted. She’d been just fine during the meeting, but he knew she’d been struggling to keep it together. This must have been one of her bad days. Bad hours. Maybe even a bad moment. A part of him wondered if he should wait to see her again, but he knew he may not have that opportunity for a while. The Abyssal Sea waited for him tomorrow.

He decided to take it as far as he could without scaring her. “May I come in?”

She nodded, curling a little more. That wasn’t a good sign. But he couldn’t back out now; she’d take offense. He stepped over, but didn’t close the door. She wouldn’t be trapped with him. He made sure she could clearly see the exit as he walked, following the walls and not directly to her, sitting near the bed and never taking a direct route to where she rested. All of those things at least didn’t make her more nervous.

“I just wanted to pay a visit to see how everyone was doing,” Owen explained to Star, who didn’t nod, but she was attentive. “Just get some words in before leaving for the next part of our mission. We’re all ready, physically. I just wanted to say goodbye in case it would be a while.”

To that, she nodded in understanding and opened her mouth, but the words couldn’t come. She seemed trapped and confounded by herself.

“I wanted to thank you. And to apologize for what you went through in there.”

She winced, looking pained, and Owen silently chided himself. Bad move. He couldn’t remind her of there.

“Sorry. Just, thanks for being so strong,” Owen said. “It’s okay. You don’t… need to think about it, Star. I understand.”

Again, she felt like she wanted to say something.

“Star?”

But the words couldn’t come.

So small and vulnerable. Tiny and helpless. Small parts of Owen’s primal, mutated psyche conceptualized what that would mean if they were opponents, but he was all too practiced in pushing those thoughts aside.

“Are you cold?” Owen asked.

He wasn’t really sure. He couldn’t quite sense temperature with Perceive, but he could tell how her body reacted to things. She was probably cold.

She flinched a little at the question, but in surprise rather than horror. She nodded, glancing at a blanket she’d tossed aside. She could easily retrieve it with some psionics, but didn’t.

“…Would you like me to hold you?” Owen offered, perplexing Star more. She didn’t object, but something kept her from nodding. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

Now puzzled, and maybe curious, the Mew reached out. Owen did the rest of the work, gently reaching a single palm over so she could grasp him and curl around his palm. Then, he slowly, slowly moved her to his chest, folding his wings over her.

She leaned against his scales, and then closed her eyes. Owen wondered where Hecto was in all this, or if he was busy with everything. Could he even spare one copy for her?

That seemed like a bad question to ask. “That’s better,” Owen said. “It’s alright, Star. You… are just having a bad day. It’ll get better.”

Owen didn’t know the full details of what they’d done to Star, and he wasn’t about to ask out of respect to her. He only could guess, from how Spice described her room as littered with empty seeds and a horrible smell that had lingered in the air.

At least she was relaxing. Owen decided he had a little extra time to spare, knowing his conversation with Barky was probably going to be a lot faster anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Star whispered.

Finally, she’d talked. Her voice was frail, but Owen could tell it wasn’t an act, as suspicious as he had been for many days. But now, holding her, sensing her energy, hearing her voice, there was simply no sign, even from his Perceive, that it was an act. And while he felt justified in having doubted her, he also felt guilty in that moment that he had.

“Sorry?” Owen asked.

Star curled up more. “Everything. The world. I… made Dark Matter accidentally. It was me, wasn’t it? He wasn’t lying…”

Those strange machines in Orre had corrupted Star to the point where even after she was freed, her lingering fears had created Dark Matter in the new world that had been formed. That was the most likely reason for all of this, the whole reason Kilo had Dark Matter at all.

Her face was wet.

“You couldn’t have known,” Owen said. “But… you should be careful with it next time, if… you do. Which maybe don’t. No new worlds.”

Another long silence. It was a little less tense. Owen didn’t say he forgave her, but maybe the way he worded things helped anyway.

“For controlling you,” Star went on. “For using you. For the Guardians. For the Hunters…”

That was… harder to forgive. But he couldn’t allow himself to hesitate. “You won’t do it again?”

“I pr…” Star trailed off, and her body had tensed with… Owen wasn’t sure. Fear? It wasn’t quite fear. Some of the muscles weren’t reacting the same way as fear.

Star raised her little paw up to Owen. Her big eyes had a determined look, but it was fake. The gesture, though, was very real. Golden lights trailed around her paw.

“I… I Promise,” Star whispered. “I Promise I’ll never control you again.”

But she never did Promises. Star… didn’t. She feared those, for what it might do to her.

“Star… don’t do this just for forgiveness,” Owen whispered.

“Please.”

She held her paw forward again, trembling, like she wanted to pull it away. Owen thought about what that meant; the Promise would only go through if they were truly on the same page. That Star wouldn’t Reset him. Wouldn’t manipulate anyone else into Resetting him. Wouldn’t try to overtake his body. He would be free from her authority.

Owen thought he would be taking advantage of her by agreeing. But despite this straightforward Promise, how clearly it only benefited Owen, he sensed a strengthening resolve as Star’s impulsive offer lingered in the air. She wanted it, too. It felt like she had more than one reason, and he didn’t fully know.

But there was absolutely no drawback to it for him. If Star was so sure…

Owen held a claw forward, half-expecting the Promise to fail because they weren’t thinking of the same conditions.

“I accept.”

Divine light flared between them and a shock ran up Owen’s arm, sinking into a gentle warmth in his chest.

Star rested her head against Owen and laughed a little. Her eyes fluttered closed, and then she whispered, “Thank you…”

Owen still felt guilty. But when Star finally fell asleep, she seemed oddly peaceful. Like she’d repented. Owen wanted to say it wasn’t that easy, but… was it?

He now existed beyond Star’s control. A whole third of the proper pantheon could no longer touch him.

Had Star been on his side all along… and simply was going about it the wrong way? How many others were like that?

After gingerly setting Star back into her bed, making sure she was warm and comfortable, he left the room. The door slid closed when he did.

Nobody else was there. For the best. It was time to see Arceus himself…

<><><>​

But nothing was really simple anymore. When Owen emerged on the top floor of Destiny Tower, a cold high-altitude wind whipping against his scales, he saw not only Arceus, but a Treecko standing and overlooking the horizon. Having half a mind to turn back to leave, Owen instead braved the encounter with a heavy step to announce his presence.

“Owen,” Mhynt greeted. “Welcome. We were just enjoying the view.”

“Bar—er, Arceus let you up here?” Owen asked.

“She fought her way through in the morning,” Barky explained. “As it turns out, already possessing blessings and having your spiritual forces depleted makes for a fairly easy climb.”

“In the end, it’s basically cheating anyway,” Mhynt hummed. “Here to do your final rounds before departing for the Abyssal Sea?”

Owen nodded. “Just wanted to ask if you needed anything.”

“I am fine. Good luck in the Abyssal Sea, Owen.” Barky glanced down at Mhynt.

“I will be coming with you,” Mhynt said, tapping her foot. “I feel that I should meet Necrozma myself as well. We have a lot to talk about. And I simply cannot stand a second without you.” Mhynt rolled her palm toward the sky and smirked at Owen.

“A-aha… right… er… Zena’s going to be there, too…”

“Oh, I know,” Mhynt replied. “I plan to give her some competition.”

“That’s not—”

“And frankly, you need my protection. Even without powers of Shadow working properly anymore, I’m still more than capable.” She flicked her wrist, and a new blade formed, this one of light with a dark core that traced along the sharp edge.

“Well… Right. Thanks, Mhynt. And thanks, too, Arceus. I checked on Star. She’s doing… better.”

“I sense her energy within you,” Arceus said. “She’s been afraid to talk to you. But I’m glad it went well.”

Owen nodded. “By the way, where’s Hecto? I thought that he’d be around to support her by now.”

“Hmm. You must have missed him,” Arceus said. “His pieces visit daily, but he has been utilizing all of his resources to search for Dark Matter’s fragments. So far, nothing. We’re confident it will be nothing, but we must be sure of such things. He has also been behaving… differently lately. I do wonder if it has to do with his memories of Necrozma returning; they were once partners. He’d forgotten him until recently.”

Owen nodded, but he felt that was beyond his scope for now. “Right. Well, I’m glad he’s keeping an eye on her. She’s still very vulnerable.” Owen tried not to look at Mhynt, who had probably been in the same building while Star had been tortured.

“Mm. Which reminds me, Owen,” Arceus said. “Before you go, I would… like to assist you in my own way.”

“Uh?”

“You’ve been bestowed power by others before, correct?”

“Oh, yeah. Like Rayquaza, or Azelf, when they gave part of their power for me to use against Alexander.”

“No. As in… the way you’d acquired power from Dark Matter—sorry, Diyem, and Necrozma. I believe it is suitable for now that I offer a piece of my own to you as well. It may be necessary if you will be fighting Alexander.”

“Uhh, maybe can we… wait on that?” Owen asked.

Arceus relaxed. “No Promises this time, Owen. It will help you resist any influencers, perhaps even the Reset Key. You’ll—”

“No, because, er… the energy you sense within me. Star… sort of beat you to the punch.”

Barky flinched. Then he looked offended. After that prideful reflex, he tilted his head in genuine puzzlement. “Just now?”

“I was surprised, too. But she insisted.” He almost said that she also shared a Promise with him, but… Arceus would not take that well. Would he? Or would this be okay to share?

No. They were allies.

“She also made a Promise to me. I—I didn’t force her. In fact, I told her no, but she insisted!”

But Barky didn’t seem as startled that time. His eyes almost looked… sad.

“I see.” He hummed. “Thank you for telling me, Owen. I will take care of her while you are gone, just as others are. But after she gave you that Promise… did she seem better?”

“Yeah…? Why?”

Barky shook his head. “It is nothing. I can only speculate that she wanted to force the temptation away from herself, should it ever come again. Drastic. Spontaneous. She hasn’t changed…”

“Hmph. You’re obviously feeling guilty for accepting,” Mhynt said. “Don’t be. Instead, promise you won’t abuse that position of yours, hm?”

“Y-yeah. I won’t. Promise.” Owen nodded. “…I guess… see you tomorrow?”

Mhynt nodded, dispelling the blade and looking out at the horizon again.

“Go and rest, Owen. I’m sure Zena’s waiting for you.”

Owen winced. “You know if… you ever want to get out there, I could… vouch for you?”

“Vouch for me.” Mhynt laughed, half-cringing. “I appreciate the offer, Owen. But really. I don’t think you understand how awkward that is.”

“Is it?” Owen asked.

Barky had cringed a little, too, but tried to hide it. Futile against Owen.

“Best of luck to Zena, then,” Mhynt said with a dry chuckle, waving him off. Deciding to cut things off while he was only slightly behind, Owen stepped back and tripped his way down the stairs.

<><><>​

A spiraling flight down Destiny Tower helped clear Owen’s head and cool off his minor bruises from the accidental fall. The extra altitude made the flight back home a lot easier as well, surprised in retrospect at how much faster he was compared to summertime. Being properly unleashed and able to fly with wings and Mystic power… He was at least twice as fast as before.

By the time it was late afternoon near Kilo Village, he landed in front of his temporary home in Yotta Outskirts. Nobody but Zena was around, not even Enet, and the Milotic had packed their few supplies into a small bag and set it off to the side.

“Everything is ready,” Zena said with a satisfied sigh. “How did everything go?”

“Really well,” Owen replied vaguely. “I can tell you all about it later, when it’s more private. We should get moving, huh? They’re probably waiting for—”

“We’re actually early,” Zena explained. “We don’t have to go just yet.”

“Oh. But we’re all pa—wait…” Owen tilted his head. “Oh, well, the bed is still there. I can carry that, don’t worry. It’s a nice bed; we should bring it with us. Bought it ourselves, right?”

Zena smiled a little awkwardly. “Owen… I left the bed out for a reason.”

Owen squinted. “…You needed a nap? Were you training?”

“Use your Perceive, please.”

Owen tilted his head the other way. “…Oh. Oh!”

Zena’s ribbons wrapped around Owen’s arms, guiding him inside. The door closed behind him, and did not reopen for quite a while.

<><><>​

“Oi! They’re here!” Gahi announced, disappearing into the mostly restored Hot Spot Cave. Owen wasn’t sure if he’d simply moved very quickly or Teleported at this point. On his back was the bag of their household supplies, a recently cleaned bed, and Enet and Charmander, whom they had picked up at Leo’s.

“Hey!” Owen greeted with a wave. “Sorry if we took a while.”

“Oh, you’re actually almost right on time!” Amia called back, emerging next and adjusting her hair. Still blue. But her mannerisms were just a bit different as usual. “You can put your things in Zena’s old home, if you like, dear. Will you two be…?”

“Y-yes, actually,” Owen said. “How’d you guess?”

“I suppose it would be a mother’s intuition,” Amia said, smiling. “See, I’ve still got it!”

Owen laughed nervously and gestured for Zena to come along. As he moved past, though, Amia said a bit more seriously, “I’m… trying to get things back to normal. I remember most of what happened, dear. It may feel like another time, but it still happened. I still remember… taking care of you for so long. Soothing your spirit, helping you have a happy life with all the other Fire spirits…”

Zena was looking at Owen with some concern, and he wondered if his expression was too obvious or not. Or if they simply knew.

“It’s alright,” Owen said. “I… I mean, I always wanted to talk about it to you. I don’t know if you remember… when I talked to you when you were a Void Shadow about what I wanted to ask you about. Your life, and all that. But I learned a little from Dad. Just a little. And…”

“I don’t remember it too well,” Amia said, advancing a few tentative steps. Owen didn’t move away. “But… if you want to talk, we can, dear. About whatever you like.”

Owen couldn’t find the words. He only stared, mind racing, realizing the opportunity was suddenly in front of him. Zena wrapped her ribbons around his nearer arm. It helped just enough.

“Do you… regret it? Anything with me?” Owen asked.

“Regret… Goodness, no. I loved taking care of you. You were like the child Alex and I couldn’t have.”

“And… the Resets. That was… that was because you had to. Otherwise…”

“That’s how I saw it. I’m… I’m sorry if—”

“No, no, it’s okay. I understand, I’m over that part—”

“But it still wasn’t right,” Amia interjected firmly. By now, a few heads were poking out from nearby buildings, including Alex, who was back to looking like a Hydreigon. He yipped upon seeing Owen and disappeared inside.

“Dad, it’s fine,” Owen called. “Just… don’t go on fire.”

While Alex continued to hesitate, Amia continued. “I wish I was more assertive about finding another way. Instead, I subjected you to… five hundred years of that, Owen. So many times you found out, had to be Reset, or died, tried to run away, only to have your ember come right back to me. Do you remember any of that yet? I… it was horrible. Always worrying what would happen when those memories came back. Or worse, if they could come back in… I don’t know what would be more terrible to put you through.”

And as Amia spoke, Owen felt that she was… more familiar. Like maybe he was talking to an echo of who she used to be, the more she talked about those regrets. That maybe ‘she’ was finally back, even if it was fleeting.

He had to seize that opportunity. “It’s okay,” Owen said. “I understand. Like I said, I get it—don’t think about it too much for now, alright? We have… we’re going to have a lot of time to make up for it later. After we save Kilo… how about we try to be a family for real this time? And…” Owen pulled Zena a little closer, wrapping a wing over her neck. “Maybe with… someone else in the family, too?”

Zena’s cream-prism scales reddened. “O-oh. Ah, yes, we… I suppose, we’ve… taken things more seriously between ourselves.”

Owen grinned. “We’re mates now!”

“Owen, that’s—” Zena sighed, then smiled, defeated, toward Amia.

She only laughed. “Congratulations, you two. But don’t get distracted on the Abyssal Sea! It’s dangerous!”

“We won’t,” Owen assured.

“I’ll go and set up our room before we go,” Zena said. “Why don’t you have dinner with your parents, Owen? I’ll join you later.”

“Sure.” Owen nodded. “If that’s the case, how about we have an old classic?” he grinned. “Tamato soup.”

Amia clasped her hands together and grinned, about to reply.

The sky rumbled; they all turned toward the now open air of Hot Spot’s former caverns and into the rift that connected them to the Voidlands. Someone was falling from it.

Manny landed on his feet in a kneel, leaving a small crater in the rocks. He dusted himself off, looked around, locked eyes with Owen and pointed. “You gotta go.”

“Uh?”

Demitri and the others emerged from the other room. Mispy whispered something to Gahi, who disappeared into their home and started gathering supplies.

“Is something wrong?” Mhynt asked, emerging next from Team Alloy’s abode, along with Trina.

“Good, yer all here,” Manny said. “Everyone goin’ ter the Abyssal Sea. Owen’s team. Gotta go now.” He gestured skyward. “Alexander’s spotted. He’s a kilo away.”
 
Chapter 149 - Nightmare
Chapter 149 – Nightmare

Hot Spot went from calm to chaos in seconds, because seconds were all they had left. If Alexander got to South Null Village as quickly as Manny said he would, then there was a risk their Waypoints—precarious as they were—would be destroyed. And while they could potentially head to Fae Fae Forest again to go directly to the North, there was no telling if its exit point had shifted since then.

“Gahi!” Mhynt shouted. “How quickly can you get to Kilo from here?”

“With the new Waypoint? Ehhh ten seconds?”

Mhynt leaped several feet into the air and slapped a note on Gahi’s forehead. “Get those items and come back in three hundred.”

“Eh—sure!” And he vanished, flying out of the cave post-Teleport.

“Can he count t’ three hundred?” Manny wondered aloud.

“Someone carry Valle!” Owen shouted, pointing at the statue.

“O-on it!” Demitri said. “Wait! What about our other halves? They’re supposed to come with us, right?”

“I put them on the notes,” Mhynt said. “Gahi can at least read, right?”

“Hopefully,” Mispy said.

“He hasn’t picked up a book in a while,” Demitri said worriedly.

“Come on, guys, he’s not stupid,” Owen said, feeling oddly defensive.

“C-can we help with anything?” Alex asked desperately. “Er, more supplies, or…”

“Thankfully, we’ve prepared for this,” Zena said. “We’re packed. We have a special bag for our supplies in the main one. I’ll get that.”

“Good luck, dear,” Amia said, nodding. “When you return, we’ll have that dinner.”

“Right.” Owen nodded firmly.

They gathered the rest of their supplies, double-checked what they had on a timer that Uxie personally counted down from, and then had some time to spare while waiting for Gahi. Tension coursed through everyone, leaving Owen feeling sympathy pains in his chest. It felt like everyone’s hearts were beating at the same rhythm, and Owen’s was part of that same chorus.

Then came Gahi, who was also carrying a few curious badges with him. “Palkia gave these,” he said. “Somethin’ about better Communicators?”

“Oh! Nevren made…” Owen nodded. “Right. We can use those. Come on, let’s go!”

“Partner up, everyone,” Mhynt said. “We’re flying!”

Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy all got together and fused into Migami, bolting to the sky. Zena flew on her own; Trina, not as adept at flying, wrapped around Migami’s body and was carried along that way.

“Owen!” someone cried.

Rushing to the entrance were two Jirachi, waving him down. He winced—there was no time for this. He couldn’t—

“Good luck!” one called.

“Hurry! Do your best, okay?!”

He was stunned until Mhynt kicked his shin to get his attention.

“R-right.” Owen spat a plume of fire in the air toward Eon and Jirachi in affirmative. He’d know what that meant.

Both of them beamed as Owen flew skyward with Mhynt.

“We’ll do our part!” Eon cried, or maybe it was Jirachi.

“Don’t give up! Keep fighting!” Jirachi added, but it could have been Eon.

Owen got his last glimpse of Kilo’s light before flying up and into the Voidlands’ rift. Then, he had to adjust quickly—up became down, and gravity flipped. He tumbled and righted himself with a blast of updraft, then made sure Mhynt was still firmly on his back. The others landed nicely.

“I see him,” Mhynt said grimly. “Down!”

“What?!” He obeyed automatically, narrowly dodging a corrosive beam of Shadows that careened far into the horizon, distantly exploding and darkening the sky. “S-someone got better aim!”

“He’s locked onto you after last time,” Mhynt said. “We don’t have time for this. He could have prepared anything…”

Fear was already clutching at his heart. Fear, and a new fire as he remembered Spice. Remi. What Alexander did to them.

Mhynt smacked Owen on the back of his head. “Waypoint, Owen! Waypoint! We don’t have time to stare!”

The explosions were still distant. Stray shots and guesses where they landed. But they knew where to go; fleeing was an easy ordeal. Owen could only hope that the others would be able to defend South Null Village once they were gone.

A small part of him wanted to stay. To fight. Surely them at their best, after so many days of downtime, would be enough, right?

But then again, Alexander had time to heal, too, and there was no telling what he’d done to prepare. Did they want to afford to risk it all in a confrontation with him at South Null?

He had to stick to the plan. He couldn’t let his emotions, his Battleheart, his fears get the better of him after one setback. Large setback. Catastrophic setback, actually, if Alexander managed to destroy anything valuable.

Down the streets, into the town hall, and then the basement. That was where they’d placed the Waypoint. Owen saw a trail of Shadows careen over the rooftops once, but it was so wide that he was confident Alexander had no idea where they’d gone.

But then Owen heaved and collapsed down, a horrible, searing cramp wracking his whole body.

“Owen!” Zena shouted.

“What happened?!” Mhynt called back. Everyone else stopped.

Owen tried to stand again, but another Shadow Blast raced over the sky. After another explosion, Owen wailed, the pain doubling.

Their heads turned to something Owen didn’t have the strength to see. It was like Alexander was pulling out his living guts where he stood.

“The Tree,” Zena whispered.

“Demitri, carry Owen!” Mhynt ordered.

“What?”

“They’re linked,” Mhynt hissed. “Owen, why?! Why did you leave part of yourself in the Tree?!”

“Needed t-to… because… the rift…”

“You were sustaining it?!” Mhynt asked. “I thought it… sustained itself!”

“Tree…”

Demitri heaved Owen and continued to run. Mispy helped with her vines, stabilizing him, as they raced into the building. There was another boom, another horrid pain that resonated past his mind and into his spirit. The reaction flowed through his body, bile dripping down Demitri’s back.

“Sorry,” Owen wheezed.

“Hang in there,” Mispy said, looking so helpless. She couldn’t heal this. It was all in his head.

“Withdraw your spirit, Owen,” Mhynt ordered. “You can’t handle this. Let the rift close, we’re already inside!”

“Can’t…” Owen braced. “I can’t. Not until… the team makes it. That’s when… I—”

Another rumble, but this time, there was no pain. He braced for it, but none had hit him.

Someone roared. Owen wasn’t sure who; he couldn’t recognize the distantly familiar sound. He sifted through his memories one by one as the temperature of the air raised. Outside, everything was a bright blue.

Reshiram…

Manny must have gotten started on his squad early. Or maybe they had been opportunistic.

But it saved the Tree from a few blasts. Bought them all precious seconds. As Owen’s mind drifted off, too fatigued from that onslaught of pain and primally desperate for a reprieve, he smiled.

It was going to be alright, at least for a little while longer.

<><><>​

“Sorry I’m late,” Reshiram grunted, blue fire dancing around his wings as the turbine of his tail whirred.

“So, you’re me, huh?” Brandon remarked, balanced atop his back. “Gah!” He pointed ahead.

Reshiram blasted the incoming Shadow Blast with his Fire energy, deflecting it downward and into a random building. He winced. “Sorry about that!” he called. “This place was evacuated, right? I sort of just woke up.”

“And you don’t feel like you’re at your full strength,” Brandon said.

“Obviously not. You’re still here.” Reshiram smirked, but then he glanced back to the rift. Every strike against the Radiant Tree had distorted it to the point where it seemed like another strike or two would close it completely—and destroy the Tree.

Brandon sighed. “Things sure are dire,” he said as Reshiram deflected another Shadow Blast, but he was getting slower. Tired.

Brandon felt within himself, his team of six that watched from within the Steel Core. Little whispers of encouragement and apprehension. He knew them well.

“Hey, look, just tell it to be straight,” Brandon said. “Will I still be… me?”

“Quite the opportune time,” Reshiram hummed. “If I had to guess, we’ll be us. I don’t think either of us will complain about it when it’s over.”

“How about our bonds?” Brandon asked.

“Bonds.” Reshiram studied Alexander as he got closer. A few hundred seconds now. “Oh. Your team, from the human world." He shook his head. “It sounds like that’s stronger than anything I formed if you ask me. And I vaguely remember them, too. They’ll be fine.”

“Heh.” Brandon brought a gently closed fist to his chest, then nodded. “Alright. No more wasting time. Let’s—”

Reshiram deflected one last blast, and at that, he grunted with strain.

“Hurry, please,” Reshiram wheezed.

“A-alright, alright!”

Silence.

“So how do we—”

Brandon suddenly erupted in light, as did Reshiram, and halves became whole.

<><><>​

By the time Owen was aware of his surroundings again, he’d been laid in a bed and covered with heavy blankets. He could hardly breathe, but he heard muffled talking coming from the other room. He tried to feel around for his horns, knowing his Perceive was off, but couldn’t find them. Panic settled in—it was too dark to see—and he groaned a little louder before finally grasping at his horns again. They’d been on the table.

“Ah! Not yet,” Zena said, suddenly bringing a ribbon over his hands.

Owen yelped in reply and rolled out of bed, landing hard on the carpeting beneath and onto his arm. “Ow—Z-Zena, are we… where are we?”

“It’s okay, everything’s okay,” Zena assured him.

“What happened? Null Village—”

“—is fine,” Zena said. “We’re in North Null Village. We put you in a room in Darkrai and Cresselia’s home until you woke up. We had to, err… clean you up. But something must have happened in South Null to save the Tree.”

“Something must have… Right, I think it was… Reshiram, that fire and light I recognize…” Owen tried to grab his horns again, but Zena held firm and shook her head.

“You’re still feeling weak. Don’t use your horns for now, okay?”

Reluctantly, Owen pulled away and relented. “…What did I miss?”

“Nothing too much. We’ve just been preparing for the trip,” Zena said. “We got word from the others about what happened. The Tree of Life is fine. You’ve… been asleep for a little while, and…”

“Asleep?!” Owen shot up, but was slammed with another wave of nausea and wobbled back. Zena swiftly circled Owen and caught him.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “We have it all handled. We aren’t behind schedule.”

“We… we aren’t?” Owen asked.

Zena giggled. “We didn’t need you for most of it!”

Owen winced, glancing away.

“Oh, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” Zena said. “Anyway, er, come. Let’s go see the others. We’re going to be training soon.”

“Training? What?” Owen squinted. “We’re training? I thought we were going to the Abyssal Sea.”

“We are, but to do that, we need to be strong enough to withstand the monsters within the black waters. Otherwise… well, we’ll become one of them.”

“Oh.”

Zena nodded. “I already did some training myself. You should get a round in.”

“But, without my Perceive…”

“It’s just raw strength,” Zena said. “You’ll be fine. You’re stronger than me, right?”

“I don’t know,” Owen admitted.

Zena gave him an odd look. It almost seemed disappointed.

“Z-Zena?”

“Why would you think you’re weak?” Zena pressed.

“No, I mean… it’s just been a while, you know?”

Her expression twisted a little in puzzlement at first, but then she offered him an encouraging smile and gestured for him to follow.

Soon, Owen found himself in another room, past a hall, through a street he couldn’t quite remember the details of, and then into an open field. Dusty, light purple, and the sky was its usual red, and it finally dawned on him that he had subjected himself to entering the Voidlands once more.

“Losing heart?” Zena asked.

“No, of course not,” Owen replied. “It’s just… always a little tough to look up and not see the sun.”

“Hm.” Zena had that disapproving look again and she continued to slither forward. There, on the opposite side of the field surrounded by gnarled black trees, Demitri and Mispy stood. Gahi must have been away doing scouting with Mhynt, or something.

“Where’s Darkrai and Cresselia?” Owen asked.

“They’re scouting. They helped to train us, but I think for now, we’ll just have to train you ourselves. You’re a little behind, but you’re a fast learner, aren’t you?”

“I, uh, I think so,” Owen said. “Zena, is everything alright? You seem tense…”

Zena sighed. “Sorry. I’ve been restless, waiting.”

“O-oh.” A pang of guilt coiled around his gut. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“You couldn’t help it. Not your fault.”

“Hey,” Demitri called over, waving. “So, I think it’s time we got to training, huh?! Zena, you should start. Oh, and avoid using your Water against him, yeah?”

“Of course,” Zena said.

“I can handle that,” Owen said, frowning. “I can just shift to Grass and deal with it.”

“Let’s start with ice. It isn’t augmented by my Orb and is neutral against your base form,” Zena said. “We’ve had some training for this; can you trust us?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure.”

Zena nodded and slithered to the other side of the field. Only then, as Owen focused on his aura, did he realize how feeble it felt. Was he still recovering?

“Something wrong?” Zena asked.

Mispy’s eyes were closed and she had a pensive frown.

“I think I’m still a little out of it,” Owen said.

“Hm.” She sighed. “Well, if you are, maybe we shouldn’t train.”

“No, I—we can still train! Just… let’s see first?”

“Hmm. Okay, Owen. Attack me with…” She raised her ribbons in a shrug. “Anything.”

“Okay. I’ll, uh…” She could handle a Flamethrower easily. “Okay. Let’s go!”

He crouched and flared his wings, then surged forward. Fire erupted from his throat as he aimed for her chest, but Zena didn’t even move. She stared at the flames and concentrated; a small barrier split the flames effortlessly and Owen had to veer to the side before he could do anything to her.

“Wh—” Owen shook his head. “Wow! Zena, that was amazing!”

“…What was that? Was that your best?” Zena asked. “Owen, was that all?”

“Y—uh, well, I… huh?”

“Let’s… try that again,” Zena said tentatively, gesturing for him to come at her again.

He tried again, this time going for a Flame Burst instead, startled at how easily he’d conjured it up from before. He realized that he had no idea which of his techniques were tuned to his aura anymore. They were all just floating around in his mind freely…

But the Flame Burst bounced harmlessly off of Zena’s simple deflection barrier, and she wiped the rest of the embers from her scales nonchalantly. Demitri and Mispy, on the sidelines, tilted their heads in unison.

“Let’s try it the other way,” Zena said, water energy collecting in front of her mouth. Owen flew backward and crossed his arms, conjuring a shield of light.

What Owen didn’t expect was the sheer force behind it. Zena’s Hydro Pump slammed into his shield and sent him flying far, far, far back, into one of the buildings. The barrier shattered and everything went dark.

The next thing Owen knew, he was staring at the red sky on a dusty field. Mispy withdrew her vines and nodded at the others, who seemed relieved.

“Owen,” Zena said, “I’m sorry. I had no idea you were that weakened.”

“How did… how did that happen?” he croaked. “I can’t even… protect against… That was just a warning shot, wasn’t it?”

“It was, Owen,” Zena said. “I think that attack on the Tree, or something, made you a lot weaker. You… can’t really do anything anymore.”

“What’re we supposed to do about that?” Demitri asked worriedly. “If Owen’s this weak, he won’t be able to last against the Abyssal Sea. No way!”

“This is just temporary!” Owen said. “I’m sure I’ll get my strength back! By the time we’re there, it’ll be just fine, definitely!”

But Zena and Mispy, as they exchanged a look, seemed much less confident.

“Guys?”

Zena sighed, ribbons curling around themselves. “Owen… I think we need to confess something.”

“Wait, Zena,” Demitri said, “maybe we don’t have to worry about it. We can—”

“This is exactly what they warned us about,” Zena said.

Mispy nodded. “He can’t come,” she concluded.

Owen’s heart sank, chest feeling cold. “What?”

“Owen… This little test,” she said, “it’s… just to find out if you actually lost your strength or not. And you did. We’re going to have to go to the Abyssal Sea without you, and…”

Whatever else Zena had to say was a strange blur. Owen reached toward her, but then he found himself sitting at a table in Darkrai and Cresselia’s room, realizing that they’d been brought to lunch. At first, Owen was startled, but then he remembered they’d just walked him back. He’d gone into some kind of mental shock at losing all of his power.

He took a few bites of the tasteless plate of rice and meat in front of him.

Zena and Demitri passed by and gave apologetic nods; Mispy had already gone ahead. Last was Gahi, who sped by before Teleporting backward to float next to Owen.

“Hey, see yeh,” he said, tapping Owen on the shoulder before disappearing again.

“W-wait! What?” Owen sprang up. “I thought this was just a lunch break?”

“Forgot already?” Demitri asked, looking concerned. “Get some rest, Owen. We told you we were heading out, remember?”

“No, I don’t—we were just—weren’t we just training? What?”

“That was yesterday, Owen,” Zena said. “Oh, he’s slipping again…”

“Slipping? What do you mean?” Owen muttered. “We only trained for a little while! …R… right?”

“We’ve been training for a while, Owen,” Demitri said, wincing a moment later. “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that…”

“A… a while?” Owen asked. “What are you talking about? My strength definitely should have… come back by now, then…”

The sad looks continued, and eventually, they all turned and continued to walk away, out of the home and into the forest. Owen shambled after them, feeling heavier and weaker with every step. “This… isn’t right,” he said. “Let me come with you. I… I may not… remember things… or have my strength… but I still need to be there. For Necrozma, for… everyone! This isn’t right… none of this is right!”

They weren’t listening. They only looked back at him again with those cold, tired, pitying stares.

What was going on? Ever since he’d woken up in North Null Village, everything had spiraled completely out of control, after all his planning. None of it added up, it was all…

The realization struck him all at once. Owen squeezed his fists and thumped his tail. “Wait!” he roared, his voice finding new strength. “Zena. Hello?”

The first step was the heaviest and got lighter after each push forward. “Even if I’m reduced to just a shell, this was my plan to march forward. I can’t fall back anymore. So, if… if I’m too weak to be at the front, then at least let me give you my strength before I go back. My advice! I may not remember the past few days… but I remember the past! I remember everything else! And that knowledge is what… will help. A communicator, I can still talk to Necrozma through that!”

They all turned in unison, staring him down, cold gazes. Owen didn’t falter. A fire drove him. “Accept what I can give, please. I’m going to give everything if…”

“You really will keep fighting, even if you can’t follow us?” Zena asked.

“Even when you’re weak and helpless…” Demitri frowned.

“Stubborn,” Mispy remarked.

“Hmph. You were so much stronger before,” Mhynt said. “Well… physically.”

“I’m a Heart. It’s all about having strength—and not just physical strength. Internal strength, too.” Owen balled up his claws and formed a golden light. “Take this, then. It’s as much as I can give. Okay?”

He held the light forward, but all of them suddenly recoiled at that, hissing like it was some plague.

“Uh—guys?” Owen asked. Their forms were hardly recognizable… His vision clouded like a haze had always been there. He squinted and tried to wave it away, but then he realized it wasn’t his vision. It was the world around him.

“What’s… happening…” Owen looked at the light in his hands, then at the apparitions. He was ready to give everything to empower those who could still fight. That had been his resolve. But in the process, what did he do? What… broke? Why was the world falling apart?

In a surge of primal desperation, he ripped at the air with claws of light, and indeed, he caught something. Reality bent to his will, and he clawed forward, Zena and everything else of the illusory world dissolving into swirls of watery color. He heaved through the distortions, his arms growing heavy as he clawed his way out, puffing fire, growling, snarling…

And then, Owen found himself on his back, smothered in a blanket. He groaned and sat up, pupils dilating and narrowing until he focused on a phantom reading a book in the corner of the room. Still half-feral, he snarled and sprang from his bed, rushing blindly toward him.

“Hm?” Darkrai glanced up. He dropped the book. “AYEEEE! NO! WAIT! MERCY!”

The ear-splitting cry was enough to startle Owen into three-quarters sensible. “What?” he growled, puffing more fire on the ground. Some of the embers licked at Darkrai’s arms.

“Ah—sorry, please! It was… part of your plans! Remember? Owen? Test of resolve? Mental fortitude? Owen? H-hello?”

The Charizard snorted again, trying to recall. He had no memory of this… but it did add up. The King of Nightmares had been born to help Pokémon face their fears, and against someone like Alexander, a crash course of confronting that would be useful.

“Oh, wait, that wasn’t you,” Darkrai murmured. “It was… a-ah, it was that Mhynt Treecko…”

That explained it.

Owen let out another irritated growl. It finally registered to him that he couldn’t Perceive anything. He felt for his horns—missing.

“Oh, ah, table.”

There they were, gently in place next to where he’d been resting. And next to the table was Zena, brow furrowed in discomfort, still deep asleep. The same went for Demitri, Mispy, their counterparts, Trina, and even Mhynt.

“Did you see what I was dreaming about?” Owen asked.

“No. And you don’t need to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Darkrai said. “You woke up. You fought through it; that’s enough. If the others aren’t able to… well, I won’t stop them from going to the Abyssal Sea, but it will be harder for them.”

“They will,” Owen said.

“Such confidence,” called a new voice. Cresselia drifted into the room, her demeanor stern, though she was deliberately keeping her distance from the slumbering Pokémon. “Is that from somewhere, or are you just puffing out your chest?”

“Somewhere,” Owen asserted, still riding the high of his conquered nightmare. “We’ve been through more than enough to handle a little bad dream.”

Cresselia’s intense gaze didn’t falter, but she did nod. “We’ll see how much that follows through. But, Owen, I’m surprised you were the third to wake up.”

“…Third?”

Owen counted the heads again and realized Gahi and Azelf were missing. Of course.

“Yes, ah, Gahi and Azelf were… defiant right from the start. I suppose we shouldn’t have expected any different in their dreams… They went on a stroll to shake off the negative thoughts. Would you like the same?”

“I’m fine.” Owen crossed his arms, mildly curious about what Gahi and Azelf dreamed about. But that seemed too private to ask. He’d let them talk about it when they were ready if they ever wanted to.

“Are you sure?” Darkrai asked. “Mhynt said to use the worst I had, and I don’t know how that… would manifest.”

“Your worst wasn’t terrible,” Owen replied. “I’ve already had worse in Alexander’s castle.” With a slight, encouraging smile, he said, “I think you’re too nice to give a true nightmare, Darkrai. You’re meant to give something… conquerable. Not oppressive.”

“Oh.” Darkrai dipped his head, the wisp that drifted off of him slowing.

“It was a compliment, honey,” Cresselia cooed, rubbing his shoulder before nodding. “Well, if you’re awake, would you like an update from South Null?”

“Oh. Right, uh—how long have we been out, actually?” Owen asked nervously. He wondered how much truth there was in his nightmare.

“Only a few hours,” Cresselia said. “To stay on schedule, you’ll want the team to be up and ready by our next sleep. You have time.”

Perhaps he should have been less obvious with his sigh of relief, but at that moment he had to let it out. “…What happened at South Null?”

“Well… they’re fine, mostly. They drove Alexander off,” Cresselia said.

“Okay, that’s good… Mostly?”

“Alexander… likely got what he wanted.”

<><><>​

Reshiram nursed the scorch mark on his left wing with a strange mixture of dust and berries of the Voidlands, glancing skyward with a scowl. “So much for full power,” he grunted, thumping his back against the wall.

“Don’t say that.” Marshadow casually strode by Reshiram and sat next to him against the ruined town hall, its rooftop caved in and sparking with residual Shadow energy. “Yeh saved lives. That’s important, too.”

“Yeah, well…” Reshiram glanced at the tree. It was still on fire, and it had been long dead. Above it, the rift that connected the Voidlands to Kilo Village was completely closed. Just as it had been before.

Traces of Owen’s spirit within the Tree had also disappeared. He could only hope that Owen was whole and at full strength all the way across the forest.

“Guess there’s no going back for us,” Reshiram said.

“Hey,” Marshadow added. “What’s yer name?”

“Uh? Brandon?”

“Heh.” Marshadow smirked. “Nice. Marshadow Manny.”

“Oh, we’re doing this conversation.” Reshiram rolled his eyes. “Look, just because my immortal Machoke half and my immortal Legend half became the same person again doesn’t mean I’m gonna just toss aside my name again. I had good memories tied to that name!”

“Nah, nah, I get yeh.”

“…And my team’s pretty pleased, too,” he said. “I’m probably gonna miss, you know, having them around if we have to return this power to Necrozma. Turn him into the proper spirit repository again.”

“Ehh, somethin’ tells me that’s not gonna happen,” Marshadow said. “The new afterlife formed across the aura sea works well, I heard. Maybe it doesn’t gotta be a forever nap in the lightbulb’s body.”

“He’s pretty traditional,” Brandon warned. “Think he’d be interested in that?”

“Not like he’s been doin’ it fer all that long,” Marshadow pointed out. “Eh, whatever. We’ll figure it out. Ah, yeh! That reminds me. Fergot. Jirachi made it in, an’ he’s gettin’ everyone set, too. We’re gonna head out fer some Titan hunting… jus’ like we did fer you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Brandon groaned and stretched his back. “Alright. Let’s get going. One Titan at a time…”

Marshadow hopped onto his back, which earned an annoyed grunt from Brandon, though he didn’t object. The Dragon of Truth made one last glance at the burned Tree of Life. “…You guys better keep up your part, too,” he said. “Don’t fall back now…”

Part of him wondered who really heard his murmurs.

<><><>​

Mispy was next to rise, looking shaken but stable. After keeping her from blasting Darkrai with a Solar Beam, they filled her in on what had happened, and her hostility toward Darkrai was reduced from blasting to simply glaring. Then came Mhynt, Trina, Zena, and lastly Demitri, who awoke screaming about falling from the sky.

Their counterparts, perhaps not by coincidence, woke up at the same time, with Mesprit hugging Uxie tightly and saying something about falling. Uxie reminded him that he could float.

“I’m sorry for all of this,” Darkrai finally said as he set down a tray of freshly baked cookies for Team Alloy. “But it was just to make sure you wouldn’t give in to despair. The Abyssal Sea’s fumes amplify that sort of thing, and if you couldn’t handle a basic Nightmare, the fumes would surely turn you into more of them.”

“M-more of them?” Demitri asked.

Cresselia nodded gravely. “The endgame of most Void Shadows is to eventually seep into the Abyssal Sea, where they, as a collective, try to drag more and more into themselves. It’s a sea of madness, surrounding and separating Necrozma from the rest of us. Even if you managed to get on the small isle that is his prison, he’s guarded by Titans.”

“Well… if you wanted to make sure we were all okay, why didn’t you test Valle?” Owen asked.

“Hm?” Cresselia tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

Owen gestured to the Shiftry statue.

“…Oh, Owen,” Cresselia said apologetically. “Yes, we tested Valle. He did very well.”

Owen’s flame sparked. “He’s not my imaginary friend! He’s literally Necrozma!”

“Hello,” the Shiftry statue said.

“KYAAAA!” Darkrai flew behind Cresselia, who also flinched. “Wh-why didn’t you talk?!”

“I wasn’t addressed.”

“W-well…” Cresselia sighed. “Valle will be fine if he’s Necrozma. He’d be immune to the fumes’ effects.”

“Wouldn’t that mean I’d also be fine? I have his direct blessings,” Owen said.

Cresselia nodded. “Your presence, and Valle’s, will be a boon for everyone. But it doesn’t hurt to be too careful. But… well, now that Valle knows about the Nightmare trick, that won’t work out.”

Valle continued to not move. “If Radiance is the antidote to the Abyssal Sea, I will be fine.”

Owen sighed. “Alright. Then let’s leave after a good rest. How long is it from here to the Sea?”

“Unfortunately,” Darkrai said, “you’ll probably only get there just after your next sleep if you go straightaway.”

“Oh.” That was a lot of traveling. The sheer size of the Voidlands was always startling after spending centuries in Kilo.

“Aah, it’ll be fine,” Gahi dismissed, crossing his arms and spreading his wings confidently. “We’ve got speed. You already have the boat ready?”

“Yes! That, we do,” Darkrai said. “It was constructed and hidden, but once you go on your way, we’ll reveal it right at your destination. Just make sure you follow ‘north’ that way.”

“Can do,” Owen said. “Right. If that’s the case… One last question. How’s Tanneth?”

“Tanneth? Oh! The Vaporeon. She’s… mostly recovered, but not nearly at her full strength.” Darkrai sighed. “She has her own place here, and while it isn’t the… best place to live, it’s safer than Kilo where Lugia might try to get her. Would you like to see her?”

“Yes, please.”

“Owen?” Mhynt asked. “Is something the matter?”

“…She and I go back,” Owen said. “I have scattered memories of it, but she was… a friend of mine during the Dark Matter days. I just wanted to try to catch up and see if that would jog any of those old memories back. That’s all.”

“I’d like to see her, too,” Zena said. “She and I were friends, too. But, that sounds like it was after her memories were wiped of that time…”

“Well, that’s all fine,” Cresselia said. “I’ll give you her address. . .”

<><><>​

Tanneth’s temporary abode was very close. One floor, only three rooms or so, and sparsely populated with essential furniture. Tanneth herself was reading a book, so she wasn’t busy. Owen gently rapped his claw against the door and waited.

“Tell me about her,” Zena said while Tanneth got out of her seat.

“Emily? I happened to convince her about Dark Matter during the first war,” Owen explained. “That’s probably how she wound up having those powers—and a piece of Dark Matter—to begin with. Diyem must have gotten desperate once I was taken out of the picture because I don’t remember a whole lot beyond that.”

The door opened, the little Vaporeon reflexively stepping back upon seeing the much larger Charizard and Milotic on the other side.

“Hey,” Owen greeted with a nervous wave.

“Hi…?” Tanneth stared, but then her eyes bugged out. “Owen! Zena!”

“Yep!”

She looked mournful. “You’re… back.”

“Oh, it’s not like that!” Owen said. “We’re here on purpose! Off to rescue Necrozma soon.”

“Oh.” Tanneth sighed, brightening afterward. “Okay, that’s way better than what I was thinking. I thought my… my other half ate the world.”

“No. She’s sort of been aimlessly wandering around and stays away from places with too much of Necrozma’s light, so she’s… under control. Er, we just wanted to talk and catch up. May we come in?”

“Yeah—um, sure. I don’t… have any seats except for my own, so—”

“That’s fine. We can just settle by the wall.”

Tanneth treated them to some tea made of strange plants of the Voidlands and a surprisingly sweet fruit, though a little overpowering. Owen offered to heat the kettle faster, and soon they were all relaxing with cups of a steaming, sweet-tart brew.

“Um, if it’s not a problem, can you call me Emily?” the Vaporeon asked.

“Oh… that’s right.” Zena curled her ribbons loosely. “You’re…”

“Yeah. I… There was something that happened… during the war. The longer I stay in the Voidlands, the more I remember what happened.”

“I wasn’t around for it,” Owen said. “Can you give me the rundown?”

Emily glanced at Zena, then at Owen.

“She can hear, too,” Owen said. “We’re all in this together. Anything I know, I’m going to summarize to everyone.”

“Oh.” That made Emily less enthused, like she was looking for different words to say than before.

“T—Emily, they already know all about Wishkeeper and what I did, and they forgave me.” Mostly. “We’re working to right wrongs for good. We need to know what happened.”

This Vaporeon was so different from the one they’d met only a few months ago. The Voidlands had dampened her spirits even more than she’d already been. Then again, with how they’d found her… maybe she wasn’t recovered.

Would she ever, after this? How deep did the damage to ‘Emily’ go, even after she was saved?

“Dark Matter,” Emily began, “wanted me to… save the world in your place. As Lugia, I was one of the few Legends—along with Rayquaza, Giratina, and Azelf—to receive Necrozma’s blessing. But of the four of us, I was the only one who directly, you know, went against, uh, against Necrozma’s plan to… uh…”

“End the world,” Owen finished.

“Y-yeah.”

“Why in the world would everyone else agree?” Zena asked. “I still can’t understand it. Why end everything, end all life?”

“It wasn’t all life,” Emily answered ruefully. “We’re just a teeny tiny ‘pocket world’ that’s only a little bit away from the ‘main world.’”

“And… we were here in the first place,” Owen said, “because Mew had been possessed by some weird technology in the human world, and Arceus found out and… in a fit of rage, smote the whole island. The first lives of Pokémon that could speak and have societies like you guys… Those were all originally humans. And the feral Pokémon were all the wild Pokémon on that island. But this tiny world was meant to be temporary. Arceus only planned to make it for a few decades or something, but then Star felt bad? I think? And… just let the world live on because suddenly the first generation had kids, and they had kids, so on so on.”

“Well, of course,” Zena murmured. “That’s part of life, isn’t it?”

“And that’s the problem,” Owen said. “Necrozma’s answer was to stop new life from being born, so the last generation would just fade out, and Legends could handle the gaps a small population could no longer cover, with their greater powers. Then once every soul was dead… that’s it. The world would end, and they’d be able to focus on the ‘main’ world again.” He sighed. “Instead… the people who were born in Kilo wanted to keep living. I became their figurehead.”

“…Was it all a mistake?” Emily asked. “Should we have just… let it end? Look at all the suffering it’s caused…”

“I… don’t know,” Owen said. “But I do know that I want to make things right and at least rescue everyone from here. What happens after… we can talk about with Necrozma and the other gods. But I think everyone—even Diyem—agrees that we need to empty the Voidlands.”

It wasn’t the perfect answer, but it at least relaxed the Vaporeon in front of him, who nodded.

“Anyway,” Owen said, “I want to catch up a little, too. So… you and Zena, huh?”

“Oh! Um. Right…” Emily smiled nervously at Zena. “It was just a coincidence, practically. Running into her, I mean. I don’t even remember how we met specifically anymore. We just started hanging out near one of the undersea villages. After the dark war, something… defeated me and split me in half. But unlike all the other Legends, my Lugia half didn’t get sucked into the Voidlands. Maybe I was lucky, being the strongest one with Diyem’s power.”

“At least the most defensive,” Owen agreed.

“I guess with amnesia, we were just taken care of down there.”

“None of the Legends had amnesia, though,” Owen remarked. “Why did Emily—Lugia forget?”

The Vaporeon sighed. “No idea. But if the memories were sealed into the Voidlands by some crazy Decree, then that means they would’ve left my halves and gone straight here. No half here, neither half remembers. Until I spent time in here, at least…” She curled up a little in her bed. “…And… I’m going to have to recombine with her, too. Even though I was trying to run away, she almost pulled me in…”

“Yeah. Rhys rescued you,” Owen said.

“How is Rhys?” she added.

Cold gripped his chest. Gods, did nobody tell her?! “He’s alright,” Owen half-lied. “He and Dialga merged, so he’s a little different now. But you know, that’s how it goes.”

“Then… it’ll be okay when I combine with the other me. After… you find a way to purify her, right?”

“It’s a deep darkness, but that’s the plan,” Owen said. “Necrozma could help.”

“Thanks…” She still was uncertain, but the smile she gave was at least a little more genuine.

It was just another reason for him to go and take this risk and cross the sea. He only hoped the rest of his team would have the same resolve.

“We should get ready,” Owen finally concluded. “Let’s check with the others using the communicator.”

“Take care, Emily,” Zena said. “You’ll get to see sunlight again in no time.”

“Be careful,” Emily said. “And… thank you.”

A warm tightness filled Owen’s chest as he left, knowing that he was responsible, indirectly, for Emily’s mess all the same. But just as much, it was another reason he had to keep going.

Just a little longer. That was the hope.
 
Chapter 150 - Into Thirds
Chapter 150 – Into Thirds

“. . . and with that, we’ll be heading to the Abyssal Sea now.”

“Wonderful. Good luck, Team Alloy.” Dialga nodded firmly and looked at Palkia. “Well, it seems that Team Alloy is making good time. They’re about two days ahead of schedule. Darkrai’s nightmares weren’t an obstacle for them at all.”

“Perhaps he’s gone soft,” Palkia said. “Ah, well. I’m sure they’re fine. Now then!” Palkia cheerily turned around. “Let’s inform the others and—hm, just where did my prototype Dungeon Gun go?”

“Your what?”

“Well, in the cosmic sense, it’s mine, though I suppose, technically, it’s not mine,” Palkia said. “You see, my Alakazam half, before he fled, had left behind schemati—”

“I don’t care what half made it, why does it exist?!”

Palkia raised a claw to answer, but when none came, he tapped his chin thoughtfully.

“Bloooo.”

Palkia perked up. “Hm?”

The source of the little noise was a tiny Charmander with a black and white flame. She held a device with strange crystals on the top containers and a small opening on the front.

“Ah.” Palkia dipped his paw into the air. It emerged from a small portal by the gun, plucking it from her grasp. She yelped in surprise and grasped where it had been, tearing up.

A second later, a squeaking toy of a tiny Rattata landed in front of her. She giggled, biting and squeezing it several times.

“Found it!” Palkia said cheerily to Dialga, who looked utterly horrified.

“Why in the world did they leave her under YOUR care?!”

“Oh, she isn’t under my care,” Palkia said. “Frankly I’m not sure how she got here.”

“And you didn’t think to tell anyone?!”

“I’m far too busy with my research, Dialga, you know this!”

“Did you not have a child in the human world?” Dialga chided. “How can you be so… so…”

“Now, that was thousands of years ago!” Palkia said. “Apparently. Memory of that era fuzzy. And my time as a Legend is still so very young! I’m not the god of child-rearing, I’m the god of space!”

“And yet here you are, wasting your time with… with…”

“Oh, this is hardly a waste,” Palkia said. “I tried to think of a satisfying answer for you, Dialga, but I suppose I’ll just give mine instead. This Dungeon Gun will save us, I assure you. With it, we can freely connect to the Voidlands, just as my other half can. And connect out all the same, without any risk of Void Shadows mucking up the passageway! Well, at first. We will need to close and reopen it, too.”

“I still don’t see the merit in this,” Dialga said. “I’m… going to take Charmander home. Who is supposed to be watching her?” He paused. “I’ll just ask. Yes, hello”—He activated the communicator—"Do you know who is taking care of Charmander today?”

“What’s wrong?” Owen’s voice came immediately.

“Ah—nothing’s wrong! We were just… wondering.”

“Charmander?” Brandon called next. “Oh, the new girl. That’s supposed to be Spice.”

“Excuse me? I haven’t seen her all day. I thought Anam was looking after her.”

“Anam is still resting, I think,” Leo called. “Didn’t Madeline take over?”

“How do you guys not know who is supposed to have Charmander?!”
Owen squeaked. “Haven’t even… come up with a name yet. Did she like any of the names suggested?”

“Not yet,”
Brandon said. “You know you can just pick one, right? Not like she cares.”

“Ahem,”
Barky interrupted. “Charmander was given to Madeline, who was busy, and gave her to Palkia to deliver back to Spice.”

“…Why would you give Palkia a child?”
Brandon asked.

“Don’t—make me come back there,” Owen said.

“Owen, calm down, she can handle herself.”

“She’s two! Days!”


“Ahh, now I remember!” Palkia exclaimed. “Madeline did hand her off to me to deliver to Spice! But then my test results chimed that they were done processing, so I looked them over. It must have slipped my mind!”

Silence.

“Please,” Owen said, “Please, just… bring her to Hot Spot. Mom can look after her. Don’t just… move her around everywhere, she’s too young for that.”

“I—I will. I’m sorry, Owen,” Dialga said hastily.

“Now, now. This is my responsibility,” Palkia said. “I’m feeling generous.” Palkia tilted his head, confused about the sudden concern. Really, was it that much of a problem? This strange Charmander was probably more powerful than they imagined. “Well, goodbye, for now, Dialga,” he said. “I have a baby to deliver.”

<><><>​

“Again, I’m very sorry,” Dialga’s voice echoed in the room.

“Oh, it’s not a problem, just me slowly realizing gods shouldn’t raise kids,” Spice echoed back. And as the communicators slowly quieted out into inactivity, Star leaned back against her bed and sighed.

She’d napped through the whole thing. Only through Barky did she realize what had happened to Owen, and what nearly had made everything go wrong.

Star turned her gaze to the space next to her bed, where Hecto wasn’t. A hundred bodies and he couldn’t spare even one for her. He’d become more and more distant ever since the rift between the Voidlands and Kilo had widened. He had said it was because his memories of that time had returned, or were returning.

They’d returned for her, too, of course. Hecto wasn’t of this world; he wasn’t of Barky’s creation at all. He’d been visiting to watch over something, and things had become… complicated afterward. After her rescue.

Star rolled in her bed for timeless moments until someone knocked on her door.

“Yeah?” Star called, sending a pulse of aura to read who it was. She had trouble recognizing the aura distinctly, which could only mean…

“Hey,” called Charmander Owen’s voice, though it was Eon. The door slid closed behind him, though he didn’t approach further.

“Eon?” Star asked, tilting her head. She crawled to the very edge of her cushions and frowned. “What’s the matter? Aren’t you supposed to be fighting with the Titan crowd?”

“The rift closed before I could get through,” Eon said ruefully. “I’m kinda lost. I had been sent over to message everyone and help Teleport them back, but I was too slow to get through myself. Turns out, Teleporting into the rift doesn’t work. I just appeared behind it.”

“Oh. Yeah, common mistake with Teleporting into a portal,” Star said. “Well, they have enough backup… If they can restore the rift or do something else to get you in… you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah…” Eon continued to stand awkwardly by the entrance.

“…So, you want to take a seat, or?”

“Oh—okay. Sorry. I didn’t really know if I was…”

“It’s okay,” Star said with an annoyed sigh. “Why does everyone treat me like I’m some…”

“It’s just, the way we saw you, and…”

“I’m fine,” Star lied. “Just find somewhere to sit. I’m feeling a little better. Had a nap, and I made amends with Owen.”

“You did?” Eon said. “So that actually—so you’re fine now? Or, no, not fine, but, just, between you two, I mean—”

“I don’t… want to talk about it too much. But it’s okay. We’re okay.” Star sighed. “Are you asking because you still want to talk to him?”

“I think… we’re okay. But I want to talk to him for real, and not over those communicator things. Everyone can hear it, and that’s awkward…”

“Yeah…”

Eon had finally settled against the wall, crossing his arms. And for a little while, they didn’t say anything to each other. It was a quiet moment where they both awkwardly stared at the walls. Star occasionally stole a glance at Eon, who happened to glance away when she did. He’d also transformed into another Mew, and Star flicked her ear.

“Hey,” she said, “do you remember being a Mew before?”

“Yeah, a little,” Eon said.

“I can’t remember what changed to turn you into a Ditto.”

“Oh.” Eon rubbed the back of his head. “The details are sort of foggy for me still, but I think it happened at the split.”

“Split. I wasn’t there for that… I might’ve been fighting somewhere else. First Dark War, right?”

Eon nodded. “I was fighting Emily.”

“Emily? Oh, geez, that’s, uh…”

“I took a Shadow Blast directly while transformed. I couldn’t replicate the sheer power, and ever since then, I think… it just broke my aura.”

Star winced. “Shadows tend to do that,” she said.

Eon sighed, curling his paws up. It was weird to hear her own voice, but the tone was always Eon’s. She knew how Eon spoke, and while they’d picked up a few vocal habits from each other, he was still distinct. People like Barky or Hecto or Owen would tell them apart.

“I don’t want to talk about it too much. Is that okay?” Eon asked.

“Oh—yeah, sure. Yeah.” Star mumbled a curse to herself. “Not like I can’t relate to that…”

Another silence settled in, but this one felt a little less awkward. It was relaxing to have that sort of company again.

“Can I ask you something?” Star asked.

“Sure.”

“Are you mad at me for bringing you here at all?” she asked.

His ear flicked and he rolled to face her. “…Like… two thousand years ago, you mean?”

“Or maybe even when I evolved Owen way back when to help you guys get free. That’s what put the targets on your back in the first place.”

That vacant stare from Eon suggested he had to think back to recall what she was talking about.

He smiled a little and rolled so he was facing the ceiling.

“That was too many lifetimes ago for me to dwell on it that way, Star. But… you let Owen and I stay together. You gave him that power, and we used it to stay together. And we owed it to you to save you from whatever that organization was doing to you after. If anything, I’d… be pretty upset at the way Barky decided to get his retribution for it, since that got us in the crossfire.

“You just felt bad afterward and tried to give us a second chance.”

“But… I was the careless one,” Star said, playing with her paws. “If I didn’t go into the land of mortals, making myself vulnerable, none of this would have happened.”

“Blaming yourself for getting caught?” Eon asked. “Barky was the one who actively decided to destroy an entire island for what a small group of people on it did. I still would resent him for that above everything. He’s the sort of wrathful Legend they talk about in stories meant to demonize them. You? You just wanted to help people more directly.”

“But that’s not how we’re supposed to act,” Star said.

“Who told you that?”

Star sighed. “It’s just… Look at what happens?” she evaded. “I don’t know. It’s just been on my mind. How, if we didn’t interfere at all, it would’ve—” She exhaled sharply. “Sorry. I’m dwelling. I’ve been dwelling for moons now, feels like. I… had nothing to do but dwell and be spiteful to Alexander’s cronies.” Her paws were shaking a little. She tried to hide it by pressing them against her sides.

“Star…”

Star sighed. “…How do you deal with it?” she finally asked. “With all that regret. You messed up, too, right?”

“Don’t give me a loaded question like that,” Eon said with a wince. “I don’t know. I’m just trying to… atone.”

She laughed genuinely at that. “Atone? How in the world can a god atone? Who do I atone to?”

Eon tilted his head. “…Your people,” he said. “I thought that was obvious.”

“W-well, yeah, totally,” Star mumbled back.

Eon stared at her, skeptical.

“It’s just, what I mean is, I thought that… like, you’d look for forgiveness from someone… but like, who are we held accountable to?” Star paused. “Well, I guess that’d be an Overseer, but—like, they don’t really step in unless things get super bad.”

Eon squinted. “Wait, but isn’t Hecto an Overseer thing?”

“…Things got bad.”

The false Mew winced and shook his head. “Okay,” he said. “Either way… I think it’s the same way a Pokémon Trainer would have to atone to their Pokémon if, you know, they messed up. In the human world, sure, humans had more authority, but that didn’t mean they weren’t still… you know, obligated to be good to their Pokémon. Otherwise, the Pokémon would rise against them. They’re stronger, even if humans are smarter.”

“So what, in this analogy, a Pokémon Trainer is like what I am to you all?”

“It’s not perfect, but, ehh…” Eon shrugged nervously. “Look, I’m just looking at it like how I’m looking at Owen. And I really… messed up being his Trainer. That’s all.”

“Yeah, Messed Up with a capital MU,” Star said.

Despite that, though, she did feel a little better about herself. She wasn’t alone in trying to ‘atone’ despite being the one people usually atoned toward. In the Books, at least… which she had yet to read.

She wondered how those Books depicted her…

“Alright,” Star finally sighed, sitting up. “I’m tired of staring at the ceiling feeling like garbage. Want to go somewhere?”

“Wh—uh?” Eon blinked. “What’re you talking about?”

“I dunno,” Star said. “I’m… tired of sitting around. I want to get moving.”

Always spontaneous, aren’t you? Star heard an echo of Barky. Something he’d told her a long time ago. Her tail flicked in defiance. Her spontaneity was what got her into trouble, but this time it was to help her.

“Okay. Um, what did you want to do?” Eon asked, floating a little higher from the ground.

“No idea. Nothing high pressure since I’m apparently ‘in a fragile state’ or whatever, but I dunno. Pick something!”

“…Seeing how Owen’s parents are doing?”

“Something else!”

“What’s wrong with that?” Eon asked. “…Oh, right.”

“Yeah, kinda on their naughty list,” Star said.

“What?”

“Never mind, how about—you know what?” Star balled up her fists and nodded. “Sure! Hot Spot. Wanna go now?”

“You’re really spontaneous, aren’t you?” Eon tittered.

Star suppressed the urge to contest that. Sure, it was true. But maybe some socializing was what she needed.

<><><>​

“All in favor of never letting Charmander near Palkia again?” Spice asked, raising her hand.

“Yeah!” Enet cheered, raising a paw. She didn’t seem to know what they were talking about.

“I… wouldn’t want her near any experiments, no,” Alex added, putting one of his smaller heads to his chin.

Hot Spot was a calming place for Spice. The heated caverns reminded her of Pyrock.

Crawling around where Owen used to sleep was that black-white flamed Charmander, who took a liking to the bedding. And since Owen wasn’t around, they figured he wouldn’t mind if she used it for the time being.

Though, Spice had more on her mind.

“Tomorrow we’ll be doing rounds of Kilo. Whole planet, just to find oddities and Dungeons to seal with Anam, except the useful ones we already have,” Spice said. “But I’m a little more worried about… us.”

Enet tilted her head, left ear twitching. “Us?” she asked.

“Yeah. The fact that we’re the same person. And apparently, one of the spirits in your Electric Orb right now is also the final third.”

“Mmmm.” Enet’s other ear twitched, and then the Zoroark snorted and paced into the other room.

Spice sighed. “What, did I bore you again?”

“She’s just wandering and exploring her old environment,” Alex said. “Zoroark often have whole territories that they guard. I heard stories that the strongest ones conjure illusions to protect their space, just like that. Amazing, don’t you think?”

“And probably just scary stories,” Spice dismissed. “I hope she’s focusing on finding that last fragment of… me. Otherwise… I don’t know.”

“Otherwise what, dear?” Amia slipped into the room. “Oh, you mean… being ‘whole’ again, like all the Legends?”

“I feel whole already,” Spice defended. “I would be a whole lot happier if I could just live my new life with Sugar and be done with all this. But according to Arceus Himself, that’s not how this works.”

Amia only frowned. “Just like everyone else… The same soul can’t stay apart forever. Eventually, you’ll reunite, right?”

“Yeah, by whose command? Didn’t sound like He was gonna force it…”

“Also true,” Alex said nervously. “I don’t know. But maybe—”

Heads turned to the entrance as everyone felt a powerful force approaching. “What’s that?” Amia whispered, her hair glowing with blue flames bubbling to the surface of her skin.

“Hold on, Amia,” Alex said. “It could be a friend.”

“I have bad memories of this power… who is this?” Amia said.

“He-ey!” Star called. “Sorry for the surprise visit!”

“Oh.” Alex sighed. “Amia, it’s just Star. You remember Star, don’t you?”

Amia was quiet and the flames didn’t die away. “I remember how she killed me, yes.”

“A-ah…” Alex nodded. “I’ll… talk to her.”

“Hold on. What if she’s here for some ulterior motive?” Amia asked. “Dear… I think you should withdraw for now.”

Alex winced, but obeyed, disappearing as a flurry of embers that returned to Amia.

“Hello?” Star called.

“Wait, did I miss something? I thought she was, like, one of the good gods,” Spice said.

Enet returned with armfuls of berries, which she set in front of Spice.

“What?”

“Food!” Enet said. “Feel better.”

“I feel fine.”

“Lie!” Enet accused.

“Enet, you should probably take Charmander and hide somewhere,” Amia said.

Enet tilted her head and picked up the food again, placing it in front of Amia this time. When the nearest berries to the Gardevoir began to sizzle, Enet crawled away and plucked Charmander from the bed, stuffing her in her mane. She waited in the corner of the room with a confused, anxious expression.

And Spice was in the middle of an awkward reunion. Wonderful.

“Star,” Amia greeted. “Why are you here?”

But then, she tensed even more, and that fire atop her head got a little hotter. The Gardevoir took a breath and nodded. “Eon, too. You’re both here?”

“Yeah, uh, I sort of… didn’t want to mope in my room anymore and I’m trying to seize the opportunity to just say hi,” Star said. “I know we’ve already been, like, around here and there for the meetings, but…”

“Yes, I remember that.”

There was an odd weight in Amia’s tone.

“I… just wanted to try to apologize. I’m sorry,” Star said. “…For everything that you remember, and everything you might not yet. I figured you’d react this way, so—if you want me to go, I will.”

Perhaps Amia would have agreed that she wanted Star gone. She never had the opportunity to reply, because Enet blurted, “Hi, Star!”

“Saaaa!” Charmander added, poking out of the fur just behind Enet’s head.

Amia’s hair was still on fire as the two Mew floated closer. Spice tried to figure out which was which. The more nervous one was probably Eon. The one taking the lead seemed more like how Star was trying to present herself.

Spice wasn’t sure what convinced Amia to relent, but the fire finally went out. “Just to talk?” she asked.

“Yeah. Again, I’m just… trying to take action. By talking, this time, instead of doing something totally stupid. And hasty. And probably put us all in this mess in the first place… I’m trying to do better. I don’t know what I can do to start, though. Do you, like… have any suggestions?”

“Suggestions?” Amia repeated, her cold tone melting a little. “Well… How are things with Owen? He left recently, and…”

“We’re doing better. We talked just before he left,” Star said. “I gave him my blessing. Literally and figuratively.”

“Oh, goodness—is that something you can take back?” Amia asked.

“Nope.” Star tapped her chin. “Once a god gives a blessing to someone, that’s it. It’s theirs. Means you have to be pretty selective about it, but Necrozma was like that.”

“Doesn’t Angelo have the same blessing from his parents?” Amia questioned.

“I, uh, I wasn’t as careful. Back then! I think Owen is a good choice! Right?”

“Of course he is!” Amia said with a laugh. “I have nothing but good thoughts about Owen!”

“H-ha, yeah.” Star nervously made eye contact with Spice, who finally remembered she wasn’t watching a play and was actually there.

“Uh, hi.”

“Hiii!” Charmander waved at Star, who waved back.

“Aww, hi, little guy!” Star greeted, but then glanced at the others, as if for permission. With great apprehension, Amia didn’t seem to object, so Star floated over and kept low. “What’s your name? I’m Mew Star!”

“Hiii!” Charmander said again, reaching out to her. “Muuu!”

“And part of your name is Charmander,” Star explained. “Can you say that for me, huh? Chaaar-maaan-derrr?”

“Muuu!”

Star giggled. “That’s my name!” she explained. Then, glancing at the others, she asked, “Have you come up with a name yet?”

“Not yet,” Amia said. “We’ve been thinking of one that she’d smile to. Small, silly tradition when thinking of new names that aren’t passed down…” She knelt by Enet, who crouched down in response. Charmander giggled and spat a few flames toward her; they were the same color as her tail’s flame.

“Wow, look at that,” Star whispered. “Hey, do those hurt you?”

“Yes, a little,” Amia admitted. “They aren’t normal flames, and they aren’t Dragon flames either.”

“Figured…”

“Muuu!” Charmander said again, grasping for Amia’s cheeks.

“Hmm?” Amia leaned forward and Charmander giggled, squeezing her pale skin before falling into Enet’s fur, swimming around it like some tall nest.

“Having fun with Enet, Charmander?” Amia asked.

“Fu-un!” Charmander repeated, which earned several gasps from the room.

“No way!” Amia whispered.

“Wow,” Star drifted forward.

“Words!” Enet cheered, digging through her mane to find her.

Amia rushed into the other room and fiddled with the silver badge they’d been given. “Hello? Hello, is this on?” she called.

“Yes, what’s wrong?” called Dialga from the other end.

“Mom?” Owen said.

“Oh?” Star drifted closer. “Isn’t Owen flying across the Voidlands right now?”

“As long as one Dungeon remains open, the connection should still work,” Owen said. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Charmander! She said her first word!”

“What?! What was it?!” Owen asked.

“Is something wrong, Owen?” Zena called, her voice cutting in and out.

The audio from their side went out, presumably as they conversed, and then Owen returned.

“What was the word?”

“It was ‘fun!’ Just a repeat of what Star was saying, she probably doesn’t know the word, but…”

“She’s learning so fast…”

“Hmm, I wonder why,”
Dialga chimed in. “That Charmander is certainly someone of many talents. But Xerneas said she was just born…”

“Oh, so serious!” Amia dismissed. “Um, that’s all, though. We’re still deciding on a name.”

“A name?” Palkia called over some whirring. “I’d love to—” There was a sharp explosion, and then his feed cut out.

“I’ll… take care of that later,” Dialga murmured.

“Owen, do you mind if we come up with some names?” Star asked.

“Oh, no, that’s fine. I kind of want to think, too, but… I’m not that good at names.”

“Hmm…”

Charmander squealed when she rolled out of Enet’s fur and into her arms. Enet tilted her head and sniffed the top of Charmander’s head, then set her down. She waddled her way to Amia next, falling onto her dress when she tried to lean down.

“Na-ame,” Charmander said.

“W-was that her?” Owen whispered. “That was! She really is talking!”

“Amazing,”
Zena also said.

“Hah, she’s a genius!” Gahi declared.

“More likely, it’s innate knowledge, somehow,” Mhynt said, “or some kind of… hm. I’m not sure. Could she be passively absorbing it…? Or just very good at mimicry?”

“Why is mimicry the
last option you thought of?” Demitri asked. “Babies mimic all the time!”

“Uh, I mean, I had to learn Mimic from—”

“Wrong Mimic, Owen.”
Mhynt sighed.

“Muuu!” Charmander declared again.

“Is he calling for you, Star?”

“I think so,” Star said with a little titter. “Hey, yep, that’s my name! Or, species I guess,” she added.

“Na-ame!” Charmander said again. “Muuu!”

“Yes!” Star said with a nod. “Good job, Charmander!”

“Muu!”

Spice tilted her head, tapping her chest’s gem in thought. “Hang on. Is she trying to tell us something?”

“Name is Mew!” Enet declared, which earned a positive squeal from Charmander.

“Well, uhh…” Star tittered. “I mean, that’d just get confusing, wouldn’t it?”

“Chaaarmaaaander… Mu!” Charmander declared again.

“Maybe if we spelled it differently?” Owen asked. “It is a little odd, but…”

Amia sighed. “Well, it’s what she likes,” she said. “Besides, it’s not like it’s a hard name to mistake.”

“I… I guess so,” Owen finally said. “Charmander Mu. You know… maybe if we spelled it a little different, I wouldn’t… be against it.”

“Sorry if, um… I made it awkward,” Star said.

“Mu!” Charmander declared.

Amia seemed a little disapproving, but she gave a smile anyway. “We’ve tried to get a name she’d like for a while, and you got it. Fair’s fair,” she said. “How does that name sound, hm? Mu?”

“Name Mu!” Charmander agreed, clapping before spitting more flames of bright darkness.

“Then Mu it is,” Amia said.

Spice smiled a little and glanced at Enet, who yipped at her. She winced and glanced away. Gods, were they going to be the same person one day?

“…By the way, Enet,” Spice said, “did you find who our third is?”

“Third?” Enet asked. “Oh! Mhm!”

Spice blinked. “Oh? Who?”

“Amelia!” Enet tapped her claws together. “Oh, but… Klent’s sad.”

“Klent…”

Star tilted her head. “What’s this about?” she asked. “Amelia’s… your third? The—oh, wait…” Star gasped. “Wait! How? I thought Klent… adopted her kinda recently? I mean, not recently by your standards, but—you know, like, way after Remi died. What’s up with that?”

Enet shrugged. “Just know. I feel it. She felt it.”

“Felt it… Yeah. Like Owen was sorta familiar.” Spice sighed. “Guess with the Voidlands’ open and its barrier breaking, the feelings and memories are manipulating us to feel a certain way. Not too happy about it, but…”

Amia nodded solemnly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “If you want to talk it out at all…”

“You know, I think we should,” Spice said as Mu began climbing into her lap, then reaching for her shoulders. Spice picked her up and let her crawl on top of her head. “Maybe tomorrow. Or tonight. Whatever works. Not now, I’m gonna just… I dunno. Talk to Leo.”

Enet’s ear flicked and she tilted her head. “Not now?”

“No. Later,” Spice evaded. “…Anyway, I think that’s enough socializing for me, yeah? I’ll be back.”

Not wanting to think about it anymore, she set Mu back in Enet’s mane and wandered out of Amia’s home.

She was just deferring it, she thought to herself.

But if she wanted to stay as “Spice,” what else was she supposed to do?

<><><>​

“Alexander,” Qitlan reported, stepping into his room.

“Mmmgh… Qitlan. You’re walking again.” The Hydreigon raised his main head out from his bed, but the rest of him was too lethargic to do much more.

It was a lot lonelier in the bedroom without Mhynt or someone else there, but that was only because that infernal lizard had stolen her away, along with everything else good that had been going on in Cipher City. He hadn’t even bothered with the State of the City, leaving it to his speakers to handle. They knew how to run it. Why did it matter? He had to focus on getting his power back.

“Yes. My strength is returning,” Qitlan said, though there was a noticeable limp in his gait, and faded parts of his body where he hadn’t properly healed. Not yet. Maybe some treatments would restore that, too. “I have some good news.”

“Always welcome,” Alexander said, grunting.

“We found Owen and know precisely where he’s going.” Qitlan smirked and placed the papers on a table for Alexander to look over later.

That gave him enough strength to rise from bed and float to him, grasping Qitlan by the shoulders. “Really? With certainty?”

“With sightings and aura signatures,” Qitlan replied, placing his fingers on Alexander’s smaller heads. He gripped them a little tightly, probably as a show of strength. He always liked that in Qitlan.

“Where?”

“The Abyssal Sea. They hid a boat there and it’s well-defended. They’re going to try to cross it and get to Zero Isle Void.”

Alexander’s grin widened further, and Qitlan’s had the same energy. He leaned a little closer as if to whisper a secret, but none came. Alexander simply replied, “Then we have a plan. How close are they? How fast is the ship?”

“They will likely get there in a day, and will cross the sea, depending on how well their sailing is done, in two weeks.” Qitlan pulled back. “In other words… a trivial matter for you to catch up if you want to take them where they are most vulnerable.”

“Yes… yes!” This was it. The break he finally needed to get Owen back. But then he paused. “And who is with him?”

“It seems he brought a small team. The Trio of Mind, their counterparts, some random Milotic, and… Mhynt.”

“More than enough of a reason to go,” Alexander said, giddy. “Prepare some countermeasures for me to take. And I will go. Alone. Anything else will slow me down and we won’t catch up.”

“You don’t want a backup crew?”

“Mmf, fine, but I will go ahead to give them a proper assault. I will be enough to sink their ship and let the sea claim the ones I don’t care about. Maybe we can get more Titans out of this…”

“Then I’ll do everything you want,” Qitlan said, “and… more. If you’d like, of course.”

“As much as you can,” Alexander said, shoving Qitlan away to get to work. “Wonderful as always, Qitlan.”

“Ah, Alexander!” Qitlan called. “I wondered if I could… come with you, as well?”

“No!” Alexander replied. “You’re far too valuable as a lead for the backup. I will see you when we have Mhynt and the others under my claws once more!”

He wasn’t sure why he sensed a bit of negativity from Qitlan just then, but he didn’t care. This was going to be it.

Owen, Mhynt—both would finally be in his grasp again. For good this time. Just two weeks to race against… and the power of Shadow and Radiance would be in his grasp.
 
Chapter 151 - Mu
Chapter 151 – Mu

Owen forgot what boats were. Kilo only had a single major landmass, after all, so the only real boats they had were for crossing large streams or going down long rivers where the ground was too hard to traverse.

And since Waypoints connected most of the world, his recent memories didn’t have much water travel at all. Though he did vaguely recall a few times during his Reincarnations under Eon, when his memories were scrambled, he had tried to swim across a lake or two. And died. A lot.

“Um, s-so, what happens if we fall overboard?” Demitri asked the Dhelmise boat captain at the front of the dock, which was more like a stone outcropping built firmly atop the still, black water.

“Well,” the living anchor whispered, “you die.”

Demitri squeaked.

“Well, no. I suppose that’s not true.”

Demitri relaxed.

“It claims your soul. Which, depending on who you talk to… ehh, you’ll be fine.”

Mispy picked Demitri up and hauled him onto the ship as he whimpered. Dhelmise let out a rattling, hollow hiss that Owen realized was supposed to be laughter.

They all loaded onto the ship and had a brief meet and greet with the skeleton crew that had been assigned to them. Owen was impressed, at first, with how much North Null had provided, but then he realized that if this was an investment into escaping the Voidlands—an investment that they’d already paid for in South Null in some ways—they’d probably dedicate anything to their cause.

Having a nice reputation helped them get what they needed.

“Here is your room. Enjoy,” rattled Dhelmise before floating down the dark hall. Had it not been for Owen’s flame, it would’ve been very hard to see under the deck. It was already vaguely dim when the red sky was above them…

Their accommodations were modest. A few packs of leaves that worked well as bedding for the time being, some kind of purple cotton, and a few tables. There was an empty, tiny room meant for storage of their supplies and a bucket of clean water in the corner for drinking.

And in the back of the room, set there like a piece of furniture, was the statue of Valle. The Shiftry rumbled in greeting and said nothing else, apparently content to be another fixture in the room.

“Not bad,” Owen remarked. “For something that’s going to be floating across the sea for weeks, I think that’s good. They said more supplies were deeper in the ship, right?”

Mispy nodded and planted Demitri on one of the beds, patting him on the head until he’d calmed down.

The Trio of Mind, meanwhile, floated around one another in a circle.

“Yeah, this’ll do,” Azelf said.

“Big enough for Azelf is big enough for us,” Mesprit added, nodding. “Maybe we can get some training in while here?”

“Training?” Owen asked.

“You know…” Mesprit gestured to Demitri. “Trying to sync up. So the… transition isn’t so bad.”

“Oh.” That still tightened Owen’s chest. “Right. Yeah, that’s fine.”

Zena brought a ribbon over Owen’s shoulder, having just entered. He leaned against her and sighed. “Sure. I’ll help however I can.”

Mhynt was the last to enter, pacing around the room as if to appraise it.

“I’m in the next room over,” she said. “Seems we have three rooms to share. I have the joy of picking who I’m going to be a spare for the pair.”

“Eh?” Gahi asked.

Mhynt gestured to Gahi, then Trina. Then she pointed between Demitri and Mispy. And finally, thumbed toward Owen and Zena.

“Oh.” Owen winced. “That, uh… I mean… that’s…”

Mhynt chuckled. “I’m not bothered by the pairs,” she said, “I suppose what’s more inconvenient is for all this ship space, we only have a few rooms. I suppose it wasn’t meant for a whole fleet…”

“Maybe we can find something extra somewhere,” Owen offered.

“We could also separate by boys and girls,” Mhynt hummed.

“Eh? Why?” Gahi asked. “that’s kinda a weird way ter split. How about we split by eh… Dragons, Psychics, ‘n Neither?”

“I’d like to sleep with Mispy, actually,” Demitri said.

Mhynt pinched her snout. “I regret bringing this up.”

“A-alright, everyone,” Owen said. “Let’s just… sort this out. And then we can get some training done.”

It was going to be a long couple of weeks.

<><><>​

Chunks of earth flew through the sky, tinged with the corrosive power of Shadows. Angelo screamed with fear before Phol picked him up and sprinted to the nearest Dungeon where Spice was waving for him to get along. Spice could only watch and hope that they could make it in time.

Emily roared behind them, charging another Shadow-tinged Aeroblast to rip the dirt from the ground. The Incineroar ran across one of the small valleys that had been formed by the last one, hoping that it would make Emily focus on the same path so he could jump out of it in time.

But, thankfully, Emily’s charge was too slow. Phol barely managed to get through the Dungeon’s barrier, and Spice entered last just to make sure they’d all made it.

“Okay,” Spice whispered. “I think… I think we’re safe. She won’t follow us here. Probably. We’re kinda living on a prayer that it’s not a coincidence she never enters Dungeons.”

Angelo heaved and collapsed on the ground. Phol, too, knelt and sighed.

“Everyone not dying?” Spice asked. “Better question, who’s dying?”

Angelo raised a paw.

“Who’s actually dying?”

Angelo’s paw flopped back into the dirt.

They seemed to have wound up in a forest dungeon of some kind. There was a foul smell in the air, acrid like something was dissolving, but not anything that had lived there.

“Where are we?” Phol asked. “Something about this place…”

“Yeah, I don’t like it either. But we were heading away from Milli Town, so that means…” Spice checked their map, then the sky, for whatever it was worth. “Swamp of Purity?”

“Isn’t one of Arceus’ disciples here?” Leo asked. “If that’s the case… we should be safe here. A small respite.”

Spice looked around. “Yeah… no Void Shadows, at least,” she murmured. “Still…”

“Something bothering you about here?” Phol asked.

“Yeah. I think we shouldn’t spend more time here than we have to.”

“I’ll trust your judgment.” Phol didn’t want to question whatever strange Dungeon instincts Spice had as a wraith. They had led the group well so far. That was all he could hope for.

Phol’s left ear twitched. He heard something in the bushes.

A moment later, a Charmander with black and white flames emerged from the bushes, wobbling forward.

“Strange. I wouldn’t expect a feral here,” Phol said.

“They’re definitely not native…”

Spice looked horrified. “Why in all of the heavens is Mu here?!”

“Muuu!”

“Wh-what?” Leo said. “Mu? You know this feral?”

“She looks feral because of her ‘father’ but that’s Mu! Owen’s kid!”

“Ahh!” Angelo squeaked. “You’re right! But how did she get here?!”

“There’s no way she wandered that far from home. This… this isn’t right.” Leo carefully approached Mu. “Hey, little Charmander. My name’s Leo.”

Mu looked at Leo but then stared at Spice.

“Hey, Mu. It’s alright,” she assured. “How’d you get here, huh?”

Mu approached and grabbed Leo’s fur in fistfuls, suddenly fascinated with its texture. She giggled and pulled a little harder until she was hiding inside.

“Ah! Er, sure, you can hide around if you like,” Leo said, glancing helplessly at the others. “I guess this means we’re going to head back a little early, huh?”

“We can’t just take a kid with us,” Spice agreed. “Let’s go back. Hang on, let me alert the others.” She pulled out their Communicator. “Hey, guys?! Why is Mu all the way in the Swamp of Purity?”

Silence. Then, Owen’s voice, “She’s WHAT?!”

“Who let Palkia look after her?”
Brandon’s voice came next.

Star next. “I swear to me, Palkia, I’m gonna—"

“Now, now, I had nothing to do with this!”

“Then explain how she’s across the planet!”

“Spatial anomaly?”

“That’s YOUR business!”

“…Hm, you’re right. How odd.”


“Okay, guys? Look,” Spice said, “I don’t care who did what, but we’re bringing her back. Keep an eye on her, alright? Leo, let’s go.”

“Um, small problem,” Leo said nervously, suddenly pulling up his fur and lifting his legs. There was no Mu to be found. “I can’t find her.”

Completely dumbfounded, Spice dropped the communicator.

<><><>​

“That was passable.” Diyem closed his eyes, studying the auras in front of him. “If you run into wraiths, you’ll at least know how to dodge their attacks. Let’s try again.”

The trainees groaned but complied as Diyem built up more shadowy energy over his shoulders.

The black-flamed Charmander exhaled through his nose and observed, but then movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He saw another Charmander staring at him, strongly resembling Owen, but her flame was—

“Excuse me,” Diyem said to the others. “You’ve earned your break after all. I’ll be back shortly.”

Walking somewhat quickly, Diyem approached Mu just as she went around the corner. “Mu!” he called.

“Muuu!” she replied, craning her head backward.

“How in the world did you get here?” Diyem growled.

She flinched, her eyes suddenly watering.

“Ngh—no. I’m not upset,” Diyem lied, calming himself. “I’m only worried. Are you okay?”

He didn’t even think she could understand him yet. But just an hour ago, Mu had been spotted in the Swamp of Purity. That was half a day away on the other side of the continent. And then she disappeared. Here?

He had to alert the others. “Come on, Mu. Let’s go see your family.”

Mu only stared.

“…Mu, we should go,” Diyem went on.

Oh no. He had to deal with a child.

How did one deal with a child?

“…Sweet… little… Charmander,” Diyem said, trying to remember how to smile, “wouldn’t you like some… candy?” Did kids like candy? Was that still true?

Mu crawled a little closer, staring upwards expectantly.

Diyem mentally cursed. Does she know the word candy? How? She’s barely a few days old!

“I have some,” Diyem said. “Come with me, yes?”

Mu continued to stare incredulously, but just as she was about to come within pickup distance, she stopped and looked at something behind Diyem.

“You know,” Hakk said, “I overheard some of that. Word of advice, O Lord of Darkness, but offering candy to a kid in a back alley if they follow you is probably the worst possible thing you could’ve said or done here.”

Diyem whirled back and pointed at the oversized, icy Sandslash. “And it’s rude to follow people,” he growled. “If I still had my powers, I would have blasted you.”

“Cute.” Hakk pointed behind Diyem. “She’s getting away.”

“Wh—”

Diyem caught her tail flame going around the corner. He flashed one final glare at Hakk before sprinting forward—but by the time he went around, there was no sign of her.

“What is this child,” Diyem asked, though it sounded more like a question.

“You get her?” Hakk called, following.

“No,” Diyem said. “She disappeared. Again.”

“That kid…” Hakk rubbed the back of his head. “We should at least warn the others.”

“Of course.” Marching down the alley again, the black-flame Charmander happened to glance Hakk’s way. He exhaled through his nose. “Nice Mark of Necrozma.”

Hakk spun around and covered his rear. “Get!” he shooed away.

As Diyem marched down the alleyway, he suddenly formed a theory. Considering what Mu was, both of Necrozma’s and his own powers, could she be…?

<><><>​

“Dungeon teleportation?” Palkia repeated. “Why, that sounds incredibly interesting. But what do you mean?”

“I believe Mu has an innate ability to manipulate Dungeon space. That includes the creation of tiny, temporary Dungeons for the sole purpose of traversal. If my theory is correct, she has visited the Voidlands, briefly, to go to other Dungeons, or to even emerge in totally new locations on Kilo.”


Diyem’s theory made enough sense, but the implications were staggering. A mere child had the instincts to create and destroy Dungeons? Owen glanced worriedly at the others, who had all gathered around the Communicator in their room—they’d ultimately decided to all share a single room, unable to decide how to split up.

“How do we test that?” Owen asked. “Better yet, how do we… you know… stop Mu from doing that? If she goes into the wrong Dungeon, she could get seriously hurt.”

“That’s what I want to figure out. As it stands, I don’t know. I can only hope she also inherited my command over Void Shadows so she can at least tell them to stay away. Right now, though, she is more a liability than a benefit. She is only a child.”

“I don’t like this,” Mhynt murmured while the communicator’s connection wasn’t sending anyone out. “I feel like we should have a dedicated team solely to make sure Mu is raised properly. If she wanders off and falls into Alexander’s hands accidentally, that could prove disastrous.”

“Ahh! I have an idea!” Palkia chimed in. “All I need is something of hers, like a loose scale, claw, baby tooth, really anything.”

“Well, she’s way too young to be losing teeth,” Owen said, “but maybe we can find some of that other stuff. Why exactly?”

“Well, the same reason my pearls help to guide spatial warping,” Palkia explained. “With some fine-tuning to their aura, I can probably make my Dungeon Gun resonate with the source and create a small pocket Dungeon right in front of them! It’s not too different from Waypoints, really…”

Letting Palkia try any kind of new experiment involving Mu had Owen’s flame sparking with anxiety. Palkia and Nevren weren’t too far removed from one another, and it felt like Palkia was always one unethical slip-up from becoming another horrible blight on nature.

But the alternative was having no idea how to find or keep Mu under control until she would be more conscientious of her apparent powers.

“Is this why Alexander wanted someone like her?” Demitri wondered aloud.

“Doubtless,” Mhynt said. “The ability to freely create Dungeons as he wants? Perfect control over Radiance and Shadow? He’d be unstoppable. Alexander’s current weakness is the light of the surface world. If he gains power over it… That’s it. He will have all he needs to become this world’s new god.”

“That’s always what it boils down to,” Owen said with a frustrated hum. “Everyone wants to be a god. The god. Take over from Necrozma, Star, Barky…”

“When it’s right there, I imagine those lusting for power would find the goal irresistible. Especially when it seems possible.” Mhynt crossed her arms. “This temporary world wasn’t made with many securities in mind. That’s why we’re in this problem in the first place.”

“We can talk philosophy about this later when we have the power to change it,” Uxie said telepathically. “Right now, we should focus our brain power on stopping Alexander altogether. And right now, that’s keeping Mu safe and out of Alexander’s clutches. Make sure he doesn’t even know she exists.”

“Right.” Owen sighed. “Uxie says we should just focus on one thing at a time. Keeping Mu out of Alexander’s hands, just in case. So, Palkia, if you can find a way that we can locate her if she runs off…”

“Of course! However, it just occurred to me, we do have a much easier solution, do we not?”

“We do?” Owen asked.

“Why not simply kill her?”

Cold silence answered, and Owen at first thought he’d misheard him. “What? we aren’t doing that! What’s wrong with you?”

“Now, I know it sounds unethical—”

“She’s a child! Not even that, a hatchling!”

“Indeed! And also one that, should Alexander get a hold of—”

“We’re not hurting her.”

“You know, Owen, this is very reminiscent of when you decided to save the world and instead doomed it to the Voidlands.”

“I… that’s not…” Owen was shaking his head, but he knew it wasn’t coming across properly.

“Come now, Owen. Death hardly means anything to us. Take her spirit into the Fire Core so she can ‘live’ in safety. You were quite happy as a Fire Spirit for a time, weren’t you?”

“I don’t care how you frame it. We aren’t hurting her. Okay? End of story,” Owen said, flame sparking. Demitri fidgeted nervously. Mispy seemed contemplative but didn’t seem to object to either of them.

Palkia sighed on his end of the communicator. “Well, I suppose I’ll take this as another challenge. We’ll go with the body part idea.”

“We can probably get you some scales or trim her claws,” Owen said. “…When we get her. Why?”

“Silver linings! You know, I was considering putting these into tiles for better portability, perhaps dubbing them… Dungeon-Creating-and-Entering Cards.”

“Find a catchier title,” Mhynt suggested.

“Ahh, marketability. A good point, Mhynt.”

Owen rolled his eyes and checked on how the others were feeling. Demitri seemed nervous, the way his claws kept clenching and unclenching against his palms. Mispy was comforting him. The Trio of Mind was equally pensive. Trina was horrified for some reason, looking at Gahi, who was—

“Found Mu,” Owen suddenly blurted.

“Eh?” Gahi followed Owen’s gaze to just behind him, where Mu was currently playing with a loose piece of wood in the floorboards.

“You’re kidding,” Diyem muttered.

“Heyyyy Mu,” Owen said carefully, creeping a little closer. “You feeling alright?”

“Muuu.”

The little Charmander was fine and normal. The only concerning part was that she was there at all. How in the world did she get to the middle of the Abyssal Sea so effortlessly? What happened if she misfired and appeared in the water?!

“Palkia, please get that portal shooting gun ready as soon as possible,” Owen whispered.

“Understood. A rush job. That’s the sort of challenge I can appreciate.”

“I suppose, while she’s here, we can at least keep her entertained,” Mhynt suggested.

“It’s at least a change of pace,” Trina agreed. “Maybe we can have him climb on top of Valle.”

Valle provided no objections. That usually meant he didn’t mind.

Still, Owen wanted to make sure. “Valle, is that alright? You, uh… haven’t been talking much.”

“I am meditating. But Mu can do as she likes. As long as she does not break parts of me off again.”

The stony Shiftry puzzled Owen. Was he at all worried about meeting his immortal half?

“By the way, how have you been doing?” Owen asked.

Gahi started to play with Mu, picking her up under the arms and gently tossing her in the air. Mu laughed, and there was an uncharacteristically tranquil smile on Gahi’s face.

Valle answered, “I have been fine. I feel that I am getting close to someone important to me. Myself, I believe.”

“I suppose this takes ‘not forgetting about Number One’ quite literally,” Mhynt hummed.

Mu climbed to the top of Valle’s head and raised her arms. “Yeah!” she declared.

“Y-yeah,” Owen echoed. “That’s… another word!”

“Yeah!” Mu declared again.

“Did we ever say that in front of her?” Mhynt wondered aloud. “Strange…”

“Oh!” Demitri perked up. “We should start teaching her words and phrases!”

Gahi instantly looked bored and glanced at Azelf.

“Well, while y’do that,” Gahi said, “we’re gonna go flyin’ around again, do some scoutin’.”

“Don’t get close to the water!” Owen warned.

But as Gahi and Azelf left, Demitri and the others took the time to entertain their new passenger for however long she wished to remain.

<><><>​

After the scare with Mu, Spice decided to only go a little deeper into the Swamp of Purity to send a message over to Ghrelle. Angelo and the others seemed to be feeling sick from the fumes in the air, so she told them to wait near the entrance while she delved deeper on her own. She’d return quickly at any sign of trouble.

She knew from Jerry that simply going a little deeper was a risk. The moment she saw any actual puddles of sludge, she’d turn back. Apparently those were the lethal parts.

It had been a while since she’d been alone with her thoughts. At night, when they were camping out on their way to the next Waypoint location, it wasn’t the same. She could always hear Leo snoozing or Angelo whimpering in the cold. She’d always have someone’s furry body nearby reminding her that others were nearby.

But now it was just her. Someone who wasn’t even a whole person, all alone. She kept thinking about Enet, the feral who was also a fragment of herself. She thought about that Lilligant swimming within the Zoroark’s spirit. Did that mean she was outnumbered, two to one on components?

And then a new thought echoed.

Was there a way she could persist? Could she escape, run, or go missing? Or could she dominate, and the other two would just be echoes of her ego?

Was that an evil thought? Or was that survival?

A breeze from the Dungeon clouded her vision with purple smog. She grumbled and ducked her head, not trusting even the otherwise benign fumes for her Poison body.

“Is something wrooong?”

Spice exhaled a long curse and looked to her right. “You scared me,” she said dumbly.

A Gastrodon made entirely of purple sludge was staring at her. She wasn’t sure, but maybe he was smiling.

“Do you wanna see Ghrelle? She’s busy singing. I don’t think you want to see her today.”

“Right. Well, sorry if I look off. I can’t really help it.”

“It’s okay. Arceus told us about you. You’re safe here.”

“Right…”

“My name is Ano,” the Gastrodon said. “You’re…?”

“Spice.”

“How come you have a creepy voice?” Ano asked. “Oh, oh, wait! Let me do it! Ooooh, we are one, we are powerful!”

Spice flinched. “How in Kilo are you doing that?”

“Oh, I’m just having all the other spirits talk with me. It’s fun! How do you do it?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t know how to turn it off.”

“Really? It just sounds like a bunch of your voices saying the same thing at once. Just make it so only one voice talks!”

“Oh, sure, ‘just’ make it do that. Like I haven’t tried.”

“Can I help?”

She didn’t want to trust that. “I’ll figure it out myself. Thanks, though. I… appreciate the offer.”

Ano tilted his head, part of his face slipping off and onto the ground. More of his face grew back to replace it.

Spice noticed the eye that fell off was still staring at her.

“What’s bothering you?” Ano asked.

Aside from… you? Spice winced and answered, “It’s sort of complicated.”

“I can try complicated!”

This was ridiculous. Still… Ano wasn’t someone of consequence. He wasn’t going to blab to her friends. Maybe this could help. “Have you ever been worried that one day, you’ll wake up as… not who you used to be?”

“Hmm…” Ano’s three eyes closed. The Gastrodon made a bubbling, gurgling noise. “Nope! Usually, other people wake up as part of me!”

“Oh, wonderful. Why?”

Ano sank into the ground, and soon, several little eyes emerged from his slime, little heads and limbs half-formed and creeping out. A few waved at Spice. Others seemed to be listless and trying to sink back inside.

Spice regretted coming here.

“The Poison Orb welcomes every lost soul and molds them into something better. And when they want to go out, they travel with me!” Ano cheerfully explained. “That’s the purpose of a Guardian, after all, even if I’m just the lead spirit.”

Guardians, spirits, all of this went way over Spice’s head. It all just sounded like creepy power-mongering using the ex-life force of others to her. Even Owen, her presumed father, was some kind of soul-harvester who got stronger the more people were stuffed inside his aura.

“How come?” Ano asked. “Are you scared of becoming something else?”

But would he understand? Well, there was no harm in asking. “I’m a piece of somebody else. There are three of us, and I’m just one. None of us are the same as the original.”

“Oh.” Ano tilted his head. “Ha ha! That’s funny. You sound like the legend of Reshiram, Zekrom, and Kyurem! Except Lord Arceus said that the three weren’t one original being, only that they can become one if they need to.”

“I heard of that legend. I’m surprised it isn’t true, though.” In part, at least.

“Maybe it could be true,” Ano said. “Lord Arceus told us about it. That there is another one in another world that is like that story, and he based the ones here off of that.”

So he spoke about that other world to Ghrelle, did he? An interesting little tidbit, Spice thought.

“Well, I guess it’s kind of like that. But I don’t remember ever being this original, whole person. And I’m worried that when I do return, I won’t… be me anymore. You get it? It feels… almost worse than dying. I’m just… gone. ‘Spice’ is gone.”

“Hmm…” Ano’s eyes closed again. “Mister Rhys and Lord Dialga were the same way. But I think Mister Rhys is still in there. He’s just quieter.”

“Quieter…”

“Mhm. But no memory is ever truly gone. It’ll be okay!” His eyes warped in a way like he was trying to smile.

“What if I don’t want to be quiet?” Spice asked. “I just want to live.”

“I think you’re gonna live,” Ano said. “You know what’s funny about becoming one? You’re scared of it up until it happens. After that, you always always always realize it wasn’t so bad.”

“Yeah, because the person waking up doesn’t realize what’s gone,” Spice growled.

“Huh? But that person is all of the persons!”

Spice growled. This was going nowhere. “I guess so,” she dismissed. “Anyway, I need to report to the others. Thanks for the talk.”

“Okay! Bye!” He and the many misshapen limbs waved at Spice as she headed for the outer parts of the Swamp of Purity.

Afraid until after it happens. What kind of advice was that?

Do you want to persist?

Spice halted. Ano was already gone. He must have slimed his way to the deeper parts of the Dungeon again.

“Hello?” Spice called.

Do you want to be the survivor?

The voice came from nowhere in particular. But she could only pray that it was not coming from within. It felt like it was coming from somewhere else, but she couldn’t get an identity on the words. No voice, no tone. Just… thoughts. Thoughts that weren’t hers, being taped onto the front of her skull. She felt a need to scrape it off like an itch, but when she scratched at her forehead, nothing happened.

If you kill them, ‘you’ will dominate.

“Whatever,”
she growled back. Marching further out of the Dungeon’s depths, the itch in her forehead began to subside.

But it never completely went away.

<><><>​

“I’ve done it!” Palkia said. “It took a little while, but the Mu-Dungeon-Gun is complete! Now no matter where she is, I can make a Dungeon right in front of her, and poof! Mu can be found!”

It had been a few days. By some fortune, Palkia’s focus had been on something not diabolical or terrible for the future of the world. A “Dungeon gun” was a horrible idea, but at least this time it was for keeping someone safe. Maybe it would be useful later, right?

“Great, Palkia,” Owen said. “I guess if you ever run into some trouble finding her, you can shoot that and grab her. Can you give some of that to others who care for her on Kilo?”

“Gladly! I’m working on making it very portable. All I had to do was tap into the spiritual pulse of Kilo and how it seems to resonate with the ethereal plane, which in turn reaches over to the Voidlands opposite to Kilo on a cosmological scale. Fascinatingly, I can then use the portal created by this gun as a medium to go instantly between the two planes. There also seems to be a small pocket between the two if I configure the settings properly… but that is only for traversal across the same plane, using the opposite as a go-between. How fascinating…”

He had no idea what any of that was about.

“In other words,” Mhynt translated, palm to the ceiling, “with the proper configuration, you can make a tiny Dungeon that instantly traverses into the Voidlands or a larger Dungeon that can go from one spot of Kilo to another.”

“Yes! Precisely! Now I just need a name for these things. Being able to travel anywhere by entering a portal… Travelgun? Dungeon? Gungeon? Entrance Gun?”

“Is it really just a gun that shoots Dungeons?” Demitri asked.

“Well, the original models were, but it’s a bit of an artifact title now. To make it more configurable and… stable… I’ve had to convert it to a piecewise tile format. Like specialized cards that can channel the world’s energy a certain way.”

“Cards?” Demitri leaned back, tapping his tusks. “I guess if that’s the case, you’d probably want to call them Dungeon Cards, right?”

Zena raised a ribbon despite Palkia not being able to see it through the communicator. “Entry Cards?” she asked. “After all, that’s what they are, and they’re a play on those tickets used to see plays in Kilo Village.”

“Hmm, I’ve yet to see one,” Trina hummed while glancing down the hall. “Gahi has been out for a while…”

“Entry Cards sounds too mundane,” Mesprit complained.

“Hmm… hmmmm… But it does seem closer.”

“Does this matter?” Mispy finally asked, her eyes drooping from boredom.

Owen tittered, about to speak, when Palkia cut him off.

“Of course it matters! It’s a matter of marketability! I can’t continue my research if I don’t get proper funding for more research, after all.”

“Fund—you’re Palkia!

“Yes! And Palkia needs money,” Palkia explained. “I don’t make gold. I control space!”

“Can’t you just, like, perform a divine miracle or something?” Owen asked. “Get paid to transport a bunch of supplies instantly every so often and you’ll have all the funding you need.”

Palkia didn’t reply. Team Alloy exchanged looks with one another.

“I hadn’t considered that,” Palkia finally said.

“Seriously?” Mispy sighed. Uxie flopped onto Mispy’s vines, defeated.

“I simply assumed my funding should come from successful research. I hadn’t considered other ways to make a profit. Hmm. Hmm, hmm. Yes. I’ll consider—ENTERCARDS!”

The shout was enough to startle Demitri into kicking Mesprit into the wooden wall. “Ah, sorry!”

Mesprit seemed unharmed, though the wall itself was a different story.

“Entercards?” Mhynt asked. “That’s an awful name.”

“Well, I personally think it’s quite catchy. Yes, I’m certain it will become popular! New research funding, here I come!”

Mispy groaned and covered her eyes, but then her antennae twitched and she perked up. Owen followed her eyes to the hallway and then his Perceive caught Gahi entering their range at alarming speeds.

He appeared next to the entrance, a gust of wind following him. “We got a problem.”

“Uh?” Owen stood up, trying to get numbness out of his legs, and followed Gahi out of the ship and to the deck. The rest followed.

Gahi flew high into the red sky, but then suddenly ducked down with a “Yeow!” when he narrowly dodged a sizzling beam of dark energy.

Ten days out at sea, with a few more days to go, in the middle of the seemingly endless black ocean, it dawned on Owen the sheer weight of what that isolation could mean.

Especially when they could see Alexander flying toward the ship with only minutes between them.
 
Chapter 152 - Battle of the Abyssal Sea
Chapter 152 – Battle of the Abyssal Sea

Alexander blasted through the ship’s mast. They hadn’t seen it coming and had no time to maneuver it, but Dhelmise was already shouting at the skeleton crew to get to work pulling the ship away from the next incoming blast.

“Why?! Why is he following us now?! I thought the clash at South Null put him out of commission!” Owen frantically searched for something he could do, but at such an incredible distance, he had no idea. He didn’t have the power to properly deflect those attacks… did he?

No. No, he did! He’d done it before, and that was up close! Maybe…

Another blast soared through the skies. At its trajectory, Owen was sure it would be hitting the mast again, and without that, their remaining travel time was going to double or worse.

He spread his wings and leaped in the way, crossing his arms to form a Protect shield. The golden light shifted and hardened, lined with tinges of dark tendrils. Owen gasped softly but decided to worry about that later as the blast approached.

With the Protect still up, Owen breathed and focused on that energy. Once it struck—much weaker from such a great distance—he squeezed his claws and twisted it around. He felt it, that horrible energy. He could control it. It was so familiar.

The dark tendrils of his Protect surged with power and helped him grasp it completely, and then reflect it all at Alexander.

He easily weaved out of the way. It would be several seconds before it would even get to where it could have hit Alexander. Parrying them to hurt Alexander would be pointless at this distance.

But he could still deflect it.

“Good job!” Demitri cried. “Are you hurt?!”

“No! Just fine,” Owen said. “But it’ll get harder the closer he gets…”

Was there a way he could try to weaken Alexander?

“How far is he?!” Owen called.

“Better question, how soon ‘til he gets here?” Gahi added, flying up. “Ehhh…”

Owen couldn’t rely on Gahi to give a good estimate, but he had a feeling they only had a few minutes before Alexander would start doing melee combat, and at that point, it would be far too dangerous. They had to drive him away before that.

At this point, the crew had rushed out of the deck, about ten strong along with Team Alloy. But really, Owen didn’t think these ten would be able to do much against Alexander himself. Was there any point in them even being out here?

The next blast was incoming, and five of those Pokémon rushed forward. All of them could fly or levitate.

“No!” Owen cried. “Don’t—”

The blast struck something with a horrid, ethereal ringing that deafened Owen. Something splashed, and Owen could only imagine, just outside of his Perceive’s range, a Pokémon being pulled underneath those black depths forever. But when he counted the heads, all five were still there, surrounded by golden spheres in a hexagonal pattern.

“What?” Owen whispered. “They all have Necrozma’s blessing…”

“We brought specialists for just this problem,” explained Dhelmise in another of his ominous whispers. “According to our findings, we are quite resistant to the dark. It seems to be… hereditary.”

Hereditary.

Owen gulped hard. These… were his children. His descendants. Did any other person blessed with Necrozma have children? Were all of them descendants of Alexander too, who broke off because they had inherited the light, not the dark?

He couldn’t tell them. It wasn’t even relevant to their lives. He was nothing but a historical note to them, in the end; that connection… was a secret he had to keep to himself for now.

Mispy was staring at him.

“I’m okay,” Owen said to her.

“They can’t last,” Mispy warned.

“Huh?”

A third volley came, deflected again, but some of them were wavering and sinking, their stamina wearing down. She was right; this was yet another instance of just buying time.

“I’m gonna help,” Gahi finally said.

“Gahi, you can’t take Alexander on directly! Just one strike and—”

“Maybe I can’t,” Gahi snarled, “But we can! Demitri, Mispy! C’mon, you with me?!”

“I am,” Mispy said, nodding.

“W-wait!” Owen shouted. “We just—fight him at sea? What if we fall?!”

“Carry me with you,” Mhynt ordered. “I will help you resist any Shadow tricks he throws.”

Zena winced; Owen realized that she, without being able to take advantage of the seas, would not be able to do much here except—

“Zena, accelerate the boat from here!” Owen said. “We can get more time that way so we can think of something else.”

“Of course!” Zena nodded.

“Owen,” Trina spoke up next, frowning at him. “I think what we should do now is coordinate with Palkia and the others. This is a crisis; perhaps Arceus or the others may be able to help.”

“R-right!”

“I’ll get the communicator. You help deflect more blasts. We cannot let the boat sink!”

Another clang, but this one was a stray shot easily deflected. It seemed Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy—fusing into Migami—were already halfway to Alexander with Mhynt on their back.

Mesprit and Azelf, meanwhile, emboldened the defending crew with valor and extra bursts of courage to keep fighting, while Uxie augmented their defenses directly with psychic barriers.

Once their strength began to waver, Owen swapped in next, trying to distract Alexander with a scattershot repulsion of his next attack. When the Shadow Blast struck the barrier, rather than reflect it exactly, Owen tried to aim it skyward and curve the energy downward. It wasn’t nearly as effective, but it did force Alexander to watch more cautiously as Migami lobbed potshots from afar.

He wanted them to return quickly, though. One wrong move and Migami would…

“Owen!” Trina called, tossing the communicator to him.

“Is something wrong?” Palkia said.

“Palkia!” Owen said. “We have a problem. Alexander found us and he’s flying straight for us!”

“Goodness, that’s soon. I thought he was recovering.”

“Did you ever see actual injuries on him, or was he just turned away?”

“Hmm, our scouts were quite confident he’d been wounded… But there is no telling. Ah, well. A shame, really. So! What is your plan?”

“MY plan?!” Owen sputtered but then jumped in the way to take over for more blasts. They were getting faster; Alexander was starting to fire more wildly, and he was halfway to them. Rapidly closing the distance. And they couldn’t let him get into melee range…

“As much as I want to help, I do not think I can safely use my spatial warping to get to you,” Palkia remarked. “And, really, Alexander would surely trump my powers in that realm, to begin with… I could certainly try if you wish.”

And risk Palkia falling under Alexander’s control again? Or any of the other Legends? That wouldn’t do.

Another rumble. Migami had to fall back; it looked like one of the Shadow Blasts had nearly grazed them. Thankfully, Mispy’s judgment trumped Gahi’s pride, and they were falling back.

Alexander was nearly as fast. This wasn’t going to work! And at this rate, even with Zena’s acceleration, the ship was…

“…Palkia,” Owen said, “Palkia! Can you get me a Dungeon?!”

“A Dungeon? Right where you are? Not really, no. I would need something to tune to, and is Mu there?”

“No. We haven’t found her. She’s—”

“Mu is with us,” Spice reported. “Dunno if she’ll understand to go to you guys, and—”

“No, no, no, don’t put her here. If Alexander sees her—”

A chorus of objections accompanied Owen.

“Alright, alright!” Spice said. “I wasn’t suggesting! But what, Owen, a Dungeon?”

“Yes. If Alexander is too strong in the Voidlands, what if we… just… put him into Kilo and tried to take him out there?”

A beat. Then another chorus of objections. Reshiram’s was the loudest. “Bring him right home?! Are you insane?!”

“We need to get to Necrozma,” Owen said. “And… if you can get to a remote area, it’ll be safer. Get some of the Guardians to suppress him. We might be able to get rid of Alexander and get to Necrozma on this one trip! If he’s going to chase us this aggressively…”

Mhynt hurled a conjured Leaf Blade at Alexander’s chest. For once, it had connected, but the rampaging Dragon kept flying as if he didn’t even feel the blade in his body.

“That still has the problem of not having the means to connect to you, Owen,” Palkia pointed out. “I’d need a part of your body, and you did not donate such things for research.”

“Why would I—” Owen grumbled, rubbing his forehead. “There has to be some way. Maybe some dropped scales from Zena at home? I shed patches of scales, I think, err…”

“That would produce quite a weak signal,” Palkia hummed. “I may not be able to get a substantial enough connection to form much of anything like that.”

“Ah!”
Dialga exclaimed. “No! We have just what we need!”

“What? How?” Owen asked.

“When Rhys—when I had taken your horns after sparring with Trina’s doubles of Team Alloy!”

Owen thought back. Yes, he remembered seeing Rhys slip those broken horns into his bag ‘because it might be useful later.’ He was just hoarding.

And for once it was true.

Wait.

“You still have those?!” Owen blurted.

The crew cried out again, several of them forced to fall back to the deck. They were trembling with fatigue and didn’t have the strength to fly or float any longer. Owen grunted and went back to the skies again. Alexander was getting more distracted by Migami, but that meant he was spending time trying to down them.

“GET BACK!” Owen shouted. Then, to the communicator, “Okay, please, get it quickly! Palkia, how soon can you configure that device to create a Dungeon in front of me?”

“Well, I suppose I can quickly find a free area, get some Guardians, perhaps two minutes?”

“Then go! Don’t hesitate, go!”

No response. Another Shadow Blast carved its way across the water, leaving a fissure down the blackened sea. Owen dove down, mere feet away from the water’s surface, and conjured another Protect to block its path and scatter it back. The countless rays would make it harder for Alexander to dodge, but he could only hope Migami would avoid any friendly fire.

There still was no response from Palkia, but Migami was retreating more, disappearing in flashes of light to get faster. Alexander was hot on the trail.

“Hello?!” Owen called again. “Palkia, answer!”

“Erm, he left,” Dialga said. “When you said don’t hesitate, well, he disappeared into the floor.”

“Oh.” Well, at least his very literal interpretation helped this time around. “Er—good! Hopefully, he’ll be back on time… We’ll hold the line!”

The crew seemed exhausted. Alexander did not. But now that Alexander was closer—he could see the three heads individually, now—it seemed he was switching his rhythm to stronger, mid-range attacks. From his smaller heads, he opened his jaws and blasted into the water, conjuring whirlwinds of darkness. He hurled them in horizontal arcs toward the ship, flanking them on both sides.

“Zena! Give us a push, we need to outpace that storm!”

“I can’t outrun that!” Zena shouted from below.

But she could slow its approach. “Go as fast as you can! I’ll try to dispel them!”

“Dispel?!” cried one of the crewmates—an Illumise who seemed aged enough that her tone alone explained to Owen, ‘You idiot, that isn’t how storms work.’

A lot of things didn’t work properly anymore. Owen had to try what he could.

He veered to the right, going straight to the first storm, and conjured another shield. The storm batted against him while cutting up his back, deafening him to everything else. He’d have no idea if they were calling for him anymore amid the acidic howling. Everything in front of him was a swirl of purples and blacks, but all the same, he could feel that essence. Control it, claim it, all the same, Mimicking that power and then claiming what was in front of him as his own.

Once he became the eye of the storm, Owen whirled around and pointed at the other one, and the storm obeyed. They clashed, opposites in direction, leaving turbulence in the water and nothing to strike the ship itself but a few flecks of water.

“H-ha!” Owen panted. “That… that worked.”

A shadow loomed over the ship.

“Uh?”

Alexander had conjured a wave twice the height of the ship.

And Owen had no idea how to counter something like that.

“Zena! Just keep pushing!” Owen sputtered just as Migami appeared beside him, grabbing him by the arm and hauling him to the deck rather than floating above the water.

“Migami! I can’t just sit here—”

“Hold still,” Migami ordered. “Keep this place stable. Save anyone who falls!” And then, they Teleported behind the boat.

Just as Owen got to his feet, the boat lurched forward and knocked him over again. Muttering to himself, Owen focused on his Perceive…

Zena was at the deck’s very edge, practically hanging off the back of the ship while focusing on the water’s currents. Blackened and tainted or otherwise, it was still water, and Zena had control over it.

But what worried him more was Migami flying near the ship’s base, hands only inches away from the ship itself as their wings pumped and pumped. Owen didn’t understand the pose; their hands weren’t touching the ship, and it was like their many tendrils were pushing off of something that wasn’t there, being crushed by an unseen force.

And then he realized it was their Psychic energy. They were creating barriers to gain purchase on thin air. Perhaps they were pushing another barrier on the ship itself, literally using brute strength and the Psychic Orb’s energy to push as far as they could to accelerate.

Migami was roaring just barely louder than the incoming wave that loomed over them like a blackened avalanche. Alexander’s eyes, like red pinpricks behind the water, locked onto Owen’s for a split second and the breath in his chest left him.

“H-hurry,” Owen whispered. “P-please, hurry.”

He had to do something. Anything. But what was he supposed to do?

The ship was decelerating. Migami didn’t have enough power to outrun a ship, even with all their speed and Zena’s assistance.

“Migami!” Owen cried, finally finding his feet.

“I’m tryin’!” Migami whimpered back. On their backs, the Trio of Mind was enhancing their barriers, but they could only do so much, too. They just needed a little more power.

Just a little more.

Owen took a slow breath. He had to stay calm, but he couldn’t think slowly. He was useless here.

He thought back to his nightmare. When he was useless, he had to rely on his friends. He had to lend them his power, even if it was direct, and even if it would leave him with nothing.

While he couldn’t go to that extreme, he could still do something. He could Bestow his power, just like before. Bless his friends, not just objects or the ground. Store his power within them.

He envisioned his friends not as immutable people, but as vessels for more power. Something that can take more than he had given before; entrusting them with himself, in a way. And as they struggled and cried for everything they had, Owen tried to answer.

“Take it,” Owen whispered. “Just one more push!”

The membrane of his wings flashed gold, and he slammed his hands on the ground. The energy shot through the wood, ignoring it completely, and siphoned into Zena. His other hand aimed at Migami, and the same golden energy enveloped them. His Perceive couldn’t see the effects, but his eyes did. A bright gold enveloped them both.

He couldn’t stand. When the boat lurched again, doubling in speed, the most he could accomplish was feebly reaching out to scattered, toppling crewmates so they didn’t hit the deck’s edge as he had.

Somehow, they outpaced the wave, and the wave itself lost its momentum. Distantly, Alexander’s frustrated cursing reached them.

Migami Teleported next to him, setting down a limp Zena.

“G… good job,” Owen said. “How’re you feeling?”

Migami collapsed into a pile of a Haxorus, Meganium, and Flygon.

“Yeah… figured,” Owen said.

“Owen!” Palkia said. “Owen, if you may answer? I have everything set up!”

A nearby crewmate stared at the communicator on the ground. Owen gestured tiredly for it, while Uxie looked through their bags for a spare Oran or Elixir to help return their strength, offering the latter to Owen.

“Good,” Owen said. “When I say now, you need to activate it. Okay? Are you somewhere safe?”

“On such short notice gathering who I can, yes. Near enough that backup can be called, but far enough that immediate threats are not a concern.”

Owen nodded, then remembered Palkia couldn’t see that. “Okay. Just wait for my call. It might be a few.”

Alexander was out of massive storms and waves. Perhaps he was also tired. Or he was just impatient. One way or another, though, he was still surging forward. Without Zena or Migami to accelerate them, he was also so much closer.

“He wants me,” Owen said. “I’ll take him on.”

“What?!” Demitri shouted. “We can’t do that! You’ll—”

“If you hit that water, it’s over, Demitri,” Owen said. “It was risky enough with you taking him on once. We can’t do that again. I just need to… get close to him.”

“Owen, can you explain what your plan is? Please?” Demitri begged.

“Palkia will make a Dungeon and warp him out right on time. Into Kilo, where that place will dissolve him. He’s of Void, so he’ll dissolve. He might even become a Deino again if I’m lucky!” Owen puffed. “Trust me, okay?”

He looked uneasy, but the hasty explanation was enough for Demitri to acquiesce. “Let us help, too. We’re still weak, but…”

“I’ve got a second wind goin’,” Gahi growled.

Mispy ate a pouch of Elixirs and pulled Demitri into her vines. As Gahi taunted the air, she dragged him in next.

The Elixir did its job for Owen, too. His stamina, while temporary, had been restored. With a powerful kick off the deck, Owen flew through the skies and got at the same elevation as Alexander, about twenty feet above the sea.

“Alexander!” Owen shouted. Then, murmuring into the communicator, he said, “On second thought, Palkia, not when I say so. Wait until I roar.”

“Ooh, dramatic.”

“Shh!”

Alexander was not one for conversation. By Owen’s estimates, he was about ten seconds away. Owen tried to close the gap, flying forward.

Alexander veered away.

“What?” Owen whispered. “H-hey!”

By the time Owen countered his momentum to chase Alexander again, he’d clashed with Migami. He could only be glad that Migami was fast enough to dodge it.

Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf backed them up. Each psychic blast was tinged with their divine power, trying to siphon away from Alexander’s mind like before.

But this time, he’d been more prepared. Every time Uxie tried to erase Alexander’s memory of his attacks, a puff of darkness splashed off of the Hydreigon’s forehead. Every attempt to demotivate him from Azelf only made a dark, once invisible armor over his chest flash. Mesprit tried to make Alexander apathetic to those same tricks, but that strange dark shield blocked their attempts.

“What is that?” Owen whispered. “Was that what he was preparing?”

He’d seen something like this before. It reminded him of the way Rhys had armor made of solid aura. Could that interfere with psychic waves? He had no time to theorize—only that Alexander had come prepared this time.

He was overpowering Migami and the three. Trina had gone in to hide with Zena, but they were still watching as if to find an opportune moment to strike.

Where was Mhynt?

Just then, a beam from above slammed Alexander into the water. Owen gasped and followed the beam to its source—Mhynt, with a shadowy Lunala looming behind her, fading away just as the beam’s true might ended.

“Nice shot!” Migami shouted.

“He’s coming back!” Mhynt warned.

Of course. Alexander was immune to the water. If anything, it was his domain more than anything else.

Mhynt conjured a Leaf Blade and crouched, but a blast from below caught her off guard. She narrowly dodged out of the way, deflecting the blast over her shoulder.

Cursing, she called, “Don’t let that hit you if you don’t have Shadows!”

“Oh, I never would’ve guessed!” Migami shouted back.

The Hydreigon burst from the water, snarling, wordless. He lunged for Migami again, and this time, he was just fast enough to graze their shoulder. The cut ate away at their flesh by several extra inches, widening the wound before a wave of healing halted its advance.

“Stop!” Owen cried. “Don’t you want me?!”

But Alexander pursued. As Migami tried to blip away to gain more distance, Owen noted their stamina was running low. That graze wasn’t doing them any favors, either. The Trio of Mind tried to halt Alexander, but all that accomplished was earning a few retaliatory blasts from Alexander’s scales, like his body itself was repelling against him.

Alexander was closer. And Owen felt… something. His Perceive clued him in… on a squirming inside Alexander’s body. Void Shadows—how many?—stuffed just beneath his scales, powering him while tearing up his insides at the same time. Owen had no idea how painful it was or how long Alexander could maintain it… but it was augmenting him the same way his Orb was.

He was even stronger than before.

“C’mon!” Migami shouted. “That all y’got?!”

They finally gathered enough light and blasted Alexander with a searing ray of a Solar Beam. It was a direct hit, enough that Owen had to double back and cover his eyes.

But his Perceive showed him the result. Alexander, parts of him ripping off only on the surface level, flew straight through the beam and followed it to its source. Migami couldn’t see it. Too focused on the beam. There was no alarm in their body language.

“RUN!” Owen screamed.

Alexander’s jaws clamped onto their neck. Crunched. And their body went limp, shocked surprise in their expression.

He crunched harder and something tore. Owen’s curse of perception forced him to witness every detail of that chunk of flesh sliding down Alexander’s throat, and then, with a careless push, Migami was thrown into the water.

They were still alive, barely. But that was worse. They were falling into the ocean.

Without thinking, Owen dived toward them. He could barely think. Alexander was flying toward him next. Pest. Demon. Monster.

He had just enough presence of mind to enact the plan. He pressed the communicator and screamed, banking upward and toward Alexander. He caught a glimpse of the blood-soaked mouths of the Hydreigon, and then a distortion appeared in front of him.

Alexander gasped in surprise, but couldn’t halt his momentum. He passed through the portal and it closed.

Owen fell into the water, hard, and dove down six feet. Nine feet. Twelve feet. He Perceived their body in the water and Perceived an overwhelming number of hands, limbs, and barely-formed bodies drifting toward them from all directions. Lost spirits, Void Shadows of the Abyssal Sea, coming to claim another to their fold.

Below, Migami was being split apart. Tendrils dug through their flesh and split the trio into their parts. And then dug further, intending to split them even more. They were barely conscious; Mispy was healing the fastest, but her body was losing its shape at the same time. Demitri and Gahi were barely recognizable anymore, and it had only been a few seconds.

“STOP!” Owen cried. “Give them back! Don’t… don’t take them away! I’m so tired… of losing everything…!” The water tasted foul. The bubbles of his words resonated. His wings were bright, scaring the dark things from grabbing him, but the same couldn’t be said for those around his friends. They were drifting further but had slowed down.

“GIVE THEM BACK!” Owen roared again, pulling his arm back, channeling power from somewhere deeper. Such a strain, a searing pain in the center of his chest. It crept over his shoulder and out his palm, and then snaked back around his arm, forming a lance of light and darkness.

Before he had the chance to use it for anything, though—and he didn’t know what; he was running on instinct—the flow of the sea… stopped.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi—still bleeding, still melting—were stabilized. Mispy’s eyes fluttered open. Per routine, she glowed, and her wounds began to close. She saw Demitri and Gahi, and she glowed, and their wounds closed next. They all looked at Owen and tilted their heads.

They were fine.

They were… fine?

Owen had stunned them. That was his conclusion. And he wasn’t going to let them come back to their senses and take them again. He gestured for them to follow, and they quickly did, swimming upward. Gahi grabbed Demitri, who grabbed Mispy, and they all ascended to the Sea’s surface. Upon glancing at the ship’s deck, all four of them disappeared and reappeared on the deck.

Owen coughed out mouthfuls of sour, bitter ocean water. He grimaced when he realized some of it was… chunky with Void matter.

“Oh, gross,” he mumbled. “I-is everyone okay?”

Demitri made a gurgling noise and collapsed. Mispy picked him up by the legs and held him upside-down, Abyssal water pouring from his mouth. After a fit of coughing, Demitri smiled and gave a nod to Mispy, who set him down again.

“Been better,” Gahi groaned, rubbing his forehead.

“How in the world…”

At the entrance, some of the crew emerged.

“They’re alive! H-ha! No way!”

Some were cautious, but three of them rushed over to look Team Alloy over. One also approached Owen and offered a hand.

The Charizard smiled gratefully and took the offer. Some Abyssal water still soaked him.

“Oh—sorry,” he said, but the person he’d touched stiffened a little.

There was a look of… horror in his eyes, but then it washed to his simple smile again.

“You okay?” Owen asked.

“Just fine,” he replied.

“Okay.” Owen let go, nodding. “I’m fine. Uh—help the others, they were the ones inj—”

The crewmate walked to Team Alloy to inspect them.

“…Right,” Owen said, looking at the others. “Sorry about that, everyone… I… Actually, can I just… go to my room and cry for a bit?” He tittered, the emotions finally coming back to him as the adrenaline wore off.

“Take all the rest you need,” Mhynt said with a firm nod. Zena and Trina coiled up nearby and nodded the same way, and Owen was glad to see them all unharmed.

“Thank you,” Owen said with a small sigh. “Hey, guys?” He addressed the rest of his team.

Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi all looked toward him, attentive. It was a little weird.

“Uh… just rest, okay? Don’t strain yourself.”

“You got it,” Gahi said, nodding, as did Demitri and Mispy.

They remained there as the crew looked them over. One was murmuring about being checked in the medical ward a little more thoroughly, just in case.

“Good idea,” Owen said. “How about you guys rest up there and—”

They were already heading down to the lower levels of the ship. No snide remarks, no resistance, simply…

“Wait,” Owen said, and they all looked back at him. Obedience in their eyes.

The coldness that ran through his body was a little faster than the logical realization. They weren’t listening to him. They were obeying him.

“Something wrong, Owen?” Zena asked.

“I—just need a moment,” Owen replied. And it was technically true. “Just a second, sorry, I—I—”

Zena and the others looked at him with concern, but before they could touch him—he had no idea what activated this—he rushed for one of the empty cabins. He closed the door. He found a wooden plank and lodged it on the door. He found another and lodged it further.

Zena was slithering toward the door, concern in all her movements. Owen ripped out his horns.

“Owen?” She knocked against the door. Jiggled the handle and tried to push it. “The door’s stuck, Owen, er…”

“Later,” Owen whispered. “Please, later… I—I’m okay. I’m okay, I promise. I need… to… ch-check on Palkia. I just need to check on Palkia.”

Mhynt spoke next. “Take your rest, Owen, but you’re answering our questions after. Understood?”

Icy dread raced along his back. “Okay,” he croaked.

With a quiet sigh, Owen reached for the communicator again and quietly asked, “Palkia? How’d it go? Did Alexander… dissolve?”

Silence.

“Palkia?”

“Palkia, are you okay?” Diyem’s voice came next. “What happened?”

“I heard the plan, what’s going on?” Spice said. “That should’ve worked. He’s the Voidiest of all of us.”

“Ah… h-hello,” Palkia said, sounding strained.

“Palkia!” Owen’s chest tightened. “What happened? What’s going on?”

“Small… problem. Ah, you see. Dissolve, he did not. Some kind of… shield around him? Quite a lot of screams! But not his. I don’t think I can feel my other arm, quite difficult to move right now. But the wound has… stopped spreading…”

“W-what about the others?!” Owen asked, trying to keep his voice down and he didn’t know why.

“Wounded or dazed. Alexander… avoided most of us. We were too alert. Ah… but… alert everyone, please.

“He is flying toward Kilo Village.”
 
Chapter 153 - The Curse of Power
Chapter 153 – The Curse of Power

“Okay,” Owen whispered shakily, “you can wake me up now, Darkrai. This is… just an extended nightmare, right? Please. I give. It’s too much…”

Nothing replied to him. The communicator was murmuring with the others frantically coordinating what was happening on the other side of reality. Palkia gathering his bearings. Xerneas rushing over to treat the rest.

Owen lowered the communicator and tried to ease his breathing. He wasn’t entirely sure what was happening on their side anymore, only that he was powerless to stop any of it.

“Alright, Owen,” Mhynt said. “Zena is too kind to you. Open the door or I’m cutting it down.”

“I—I’ll open it.”

Awkwardly, the Charizard started pushing aside the wood meant to keep anyone from entering, realizing how futile that was against so many of them. He had simply not been thinking. It was all a panic. And his first instinct was to push everyone else away. What did that say about him?

The door creaked open. On the other side, the Trio of Mind, Zena, Trina, and Mhynt were all there, which surprised him until he recalled tossing his horns away.

And they could tell he was without them, too.

“Owen,” Zena said. “What happened?”

Mhynt eyed the horns tossed on the ground. Owen quickly picked them up, snapping them into place.

“I’m sorry if I… scared you, or anything,” he added. “I’m okay. I’m… I’m okay. And I think Palkia and the others are okay, too, just—”

“We heard,” Mhynt said. “It’s okay. We can’t do anything about it right now, but… they’re smart. They’ll figure it out. From where they were to Kilo, how long is it? It could be hours—many kilos for them.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you were distressed even before that, Owen. Speak.”

Zena frowned at Mhynt and amended, “We’re just worried about you. Please—”

When she moved forward to hold him, Owen staggered back and shouted, “No, it’s—!”

She pulled her ribbons back, startled and hurt. That hurt Owen even more. But what was he supposed to say?

“Sorry,” Owen said, deflating, “it’s okay. I can talk.”

“What’s happening?” Zena whispered to him, not moving closer again. “Are you… hurt? You’re so afraid…”

“He fell into the ocean,” Mhynt said. “The rest of Team Alloy was also behaving strangely…”

“Perhaps I should return to them,” Trina hummed. “My hypnosis seemed to keep them from stirring…”

“Of course it would; that’s what Hypnosis does,” Mhynt murmured, earning a brief glare.

Owen found his way to the wall and slid down, staring at his tail flame, which was dimmer than usual. He couldn’t find the effort to disguise his mood. It wouldn’t have been honest to them.

“May we come in?” Zena asked, her voice delicate.

Owen nodded weakly. “But… don’t touch me,” he said, “for your own good…”

Mhynt’s eyes narrowed, and then she glanced at Trina. “Check on them again, actually,” she said.

Trina seemed confused but nodded and slithered out.

The door closed behind Zena, and it was just the three of them in a gently swaying cabin on a boat going deeper into the black oceans.

“Don’t touch you,” Mhynt echoed. “You don’t look Voided. Which isn’t a surprise; none of us are surprised by this. Now, please, Owen. Speak.”

No matter how many times Mhynt demanded it, Owen still felt that horrible feeling in his gut about giving the truth. Maybe, if the currents of the ship were a little friendlier, they would get there sooner. Maybe there wouldn’t be any time to talk. That would make this easier. And delay the inevitable.

So, with a defeated sigh, Owen squeezed his eyes shut. “I… think something killed them down there. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi, I mean. And… a-and the dark power down there awakened something in me, too. I c-can’t control it, I don’t think I can control it.”

Mhynt’s expression was stoic, but there was a hint of grave darkness in her eyes. Zena looked more confused than anything.

“What awakened?” Zena asked. “Why are you… Are you hearing any voices? Of the spirits in the ocean? We—we’ll free them, Owen. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing, right?”

“That isn’t it,” Owen said. “The sea, Zena. It killed them. No, not even killed, it—it Voided them. They aren’t immune like I am. Even Guardians like Gahi aren’t immune. And… I saved them. But when I did that… they’re mine now.”

Owen’s claws went to his head, digging into his scales.

“They’ll follow my every command, Zena. I don’t even have to try. I say it, and… and they listen… no questions… they just do it, Zena.”

Steady breath in, steady breath out. He could feel the horror in their bodies. That cold shock, that tension of trying to say the right thing. In Zena, he sensed… what might have been fear or hesitance. Did she think he would control her next if they reacted badly?

“I know how to work around this,” Mhynt replied.

Owen blinked, pausing, registering the words. “You what?”

“I’ve seen something similar with how Alexander commands Void Shadows,” Mhynt explained. “If you are worried about their free will… until we find a way to revive them—perhaps a trip to Xerneas, or even Diyem—I know how you can get their true desires out of them. It’s a small logic trick that can work around the new rule of obeying you.”

Zena seemed lost in the explanation. “That means they can still… be themselves?”

“I believe so, or close to it,” Mhynt said. “It’s not a clean fix. However, Owen… not being able to touch your allies is going to be a problem.”

“I think I agree,” said Owen. “After all, if I can’t be close to allies in battle, that’d be like having another enemy on the—”

“I meant psychologically,” Mhynt hummed. “You’re a very physical person. I suspect it’s some of your feral instincts, but you prefer to huddle against things at night. The isolation is not going to be good for your mental health.”

“That is true,” Zena added. “And I… do not know how I feel about not being able to so much as hold you, Owen. There must be a way to control it.”

“I think he’s overreacting,” Mhynt stated.

“Over—”

Mhynt held up her hand and Owen simmered down, though his flame sparked.

“You can’t control people with a touch so easily. Here’s my theory: you spoke to someone already weakened by the sea, and you were already damp. Therefore… you are likely safe now.”

“I don’t want to test that,” Owen said flatly. “I’m not testing any of my friends to see if I’m—”

“Would you like to live the rest of your life in fear of basic contact?” Mhynt pressed. “I’m confident you are safe here. And if you aren’t safe, Diyem can help, or Xerneas, or even Necrozma himself. If even they cannot override you, well… that puts you at a great advantage against Alexander. So. Test?”

Looking briefly helpless, he turned to Zena for her opinion. She seemed conflicted, but then gained resolve in her eyes. She held a ribbon forward.

“I trust you,” she said.

“It’s not me you have to trust,” Owen countered. “It’s… my power.”

“I trust you to use it right,” Zena replied. “Even in the past, you only wanted what was best. And you wouldn’t ever impose your will on others, would you? Not after what you did.”

Mhynt only crossed her arms, as if studying Owen.

“You’re afraid of it,” Zena went on. “That’s reason enough for me to think you won’t misuse it. And I don’t want you to be afraid. We’ll accidentally touch anyway, I know it. So let’s just get it over with.”

Owen sighed. That was probably also true if a careless scale brush would be enough. “I’m sorry,” he said in advance, reaching out. Zena showed a flash of fear before he touched her.

The tension remained. Anticipatory.

One second. Two. Five.

“…Does it feel like anything?” Zena asked when Owen let go.

“I don’t know,” Owen replied. “Coil up.”

“What? Why?”

Owen laughed a little; Mhynt smiled wryly, heading for the exit. Just as Owen pulled Zena in for a tighter hug, Mhynt said, “I’ll take care of Team Alloy. Owen, you relax.”

“Thank you,” Owen whispered as Zena wrapped around him.

“Am I under your control?” Zena asked.

“No,” he replied. “No, it’s… it was just a flare-up, maybe. It’s not so bad. We… we can work through this.”

He took more steady breaths, trying to sort through his thoughts. They could save Team Alloy later. And they probably had a workaround for now. That just left…

“Ngh—!” Owen struggled for his communicator, which Zena grabbed for him. “Palkia? Wait, no—Spice? Any news? Is Alexander coming?”

“Not the best time, buddy!” Spice replied over the noise in the background. Explosions and shouts.

“Oh no.” Owen looked at Zena, then back at the communicator. “Light! Shoot light at him!”

“We’ll let you know once that starts working!”

“Just listen for updates, Owen,” Zena said. “Don’t distract them.” Gently, she helped him set the communicator down. Reluctantly, Owen obeyed.

He just didn’t understand. How was he becoming so strong, yet feeling so much weaker?

<><><>​

Spice lost track of how many times she’d cursed.

But every time a new frantic blast of darkness came, a new protector had to block the strike, and ultimately be too tired for the remainder. That forced Spice to get out to the front and block it with her own, black barrier. And each time, that barrier wasn’t enough, and it instead blasted away some part of her body.

Her body was a suggestion. It was a startling revelation, but she’d lost her arm three times, and with a little focus, she had grown them back.

Because she was a Void Shadow. She’d forgotten for so long that those powers had gone dormant, but she had the power to shift and adjust her body as desired. The healing, the scarring, all of it was just to get back to a normal appearance.

She wondered if those blessed items not working, the scarring, all of it was just… her fooling herself. No. Surely her body was solid enough that she’d just been unable to heal it.

She still had that normalcy. She still had a body!

Spice cursed again when a blast struck the side of the crater. Another missed shot. Alexander was firing wide; there was no way she’d be fast enough to block all of them, and Nate was already hiding inside the crater to avoid getting hit too often. He was practically as big a target as the caldera itself.

“He’s coming in!” announced one of the Hearts.

“Fall back!”

“But what do we do?!”

“Defend from inside buildings if you have to!”

Those buildings would be pointless. Alexander was shattering Protect barriers with some of those attacks; the weaker barriers in the buildings wouldn’t hold up nearly as well.

“Get the Guardians!” called another.

“But they’re our backup!”

“And we need that now!”

Another blast drowned out the rest of their deliberations and Spice was left defending again. She’d gotten distracted; a blast was coming straight for her face. Hastily, she brought up a sloppy barrier, but then a blur of gray dove in, bringing up his own.

An ethereal clang followed, and then the shot went high into the clouds, splitting them apart.

“Jerry,” Spice wheezed.

“You good?”

“Yeah.”

Jerry stood by her side and got into a defensive stance. “You handle the left side. I’ll handle the right. I think our backup’s coming soon.”

With a firm nod, they went in opposite directions and prepared for Alexander’s next assault.

<><><>​

Storms, gales, rain of dark and flashing lights. Nate didn’t know what to make of the return of such terrors, only that he was hurting, and he had to save up his power for another great blast. But he didn’t know if the spirits within him had the power to offer. Not yet, so soon.

But maybe he had to try anyway to slow Alexander down. That shadowy Hydreigon… Nate could sense countless tortured spirits just beyond the surface of his scales, protecting him, insulating him, from the atmosphere. The spirits were being used like an artificial Void atmosphere around him, but the outer surface was evaporating away rapidly, called back to the Voidlands. Soon, the same would happen to Alexander.

But he was coming too fast. Nate had to stop him!

He called upon the spirits within him to help, and of course, they agreed. Energy funneled through his long body, swirling in his chest, and channeling their way to his five heads. Many of his eyes closed as each spirit, each eye, closed in turn, concentrating to donate their power to their host.

Nate opened the palm that made up his face and aimed his five finger-heads toward Alexander. The power of the lost Tree flowed through him, and it would only be poetic that it would be aimed at its destroyer.

But moments before Nate could fire, he realized, to his horror, that he could not. It was not because he lacked the energy, but because of the angle. If he fired at Alexander, and missed—and surely, he would, at least for an instant—then he would hit… Yotta Outskirts.

He simply could not do that. They were innocent, and to strike Alexander, especially if he dodged or survived it… their blood would be on Nate’s hands.

The closer Alexander got, the higher his angle became. It was deliberate. He knew Nate wouldn’t fire…

The leviathan squirmed nervously. What was he supposed to do?

Nate dispelled the charge. He wouldn’t destroy a village just to target Alexander. He had to use weaker, more precise attacks. He aimed upward, firing a shower of similar energy skyward, and then directed them down. In response, the Hydreigon weaved between many of them but shrugged off the few that hit. But each one wore away at his shield.

Nate winced, hearing and feeling their screams. Those poor souls were used as shields and then dragged back to the Voidlands to be used over and over by this dark god’s whims.

Alexander got past Nate’s barrage, and then past Nate himself, even after a desperate swipe and grab to pin him down. Nate was too large and Alexander was too fast, and now, even Nate’s shower of attacks would risk harming the civilians of Kilo Village.

He’d have to instead try to empower others. He shifted his energy again, many eyes opening and searching for fighters who were about to take on Alexander.

At least his barrier was almost gone. They just had to outlast him for a little while longer…

Most of the citizens were hiding, but he sensed many of them with heightened energy. They were going to attack if Alexander got too close, and that was probably a good thing. More slowing down.

He just hoped nobody would die because of this.

Angelo was hiding in his room. Nate could sense his aura shifting around as if trying out different techniques, unable to choose which one to open with.

The strongest auras were emerging from the Heart HQ, including Anam. His powers had been significantly reduced, but he was still the Heart of Hearts. Even without the power of darkness, he was formidable. By his side was ADAM, the strange Porygon Z, as well as Willow, the tiny Joltik. Both of them were so adorable, even if Willow was only a half-soul. She hadn’t wanted to go with the others just yet for Titan hunting—her shrinking powers didn’t work on things that large; she’d tried on Nate—so now, she was trying to shrink Alexander down.

And to Nate’s amazement, as Willow pushed her power over him, he did shrink. Within the pink cloud, Alexander’s body became a small, berry-sized thing unceremoniously. That was it! He was contained!

…Ah, no, he just blasted Willow three streets down and undid the effects.

Nate lobbed a dark spirit toward Willow, who quickly enveloped her and cushioned the impact on the ground. Then, he turned his attention to the remaining Guardians. Anam was trying to score a few hits, but he was too slow. Alexander was avoiding him entirely.

Get him away! Nate urged, holding his attacks. He was tempted, ever so tempted, to fire, but then he imagined all the citizens in the area. Buildings, people… He already felt bad about killing those who wandered too close to the Void across his crater. But the citizens here weren’t corrupted or about to enter a fate worse than death. In fact, their world was just about to turn things around!

“Fire!” Spice cried.

What? Fire? Why would he do that? Down below, the cute little Salazzle-wraith was waving and urging him.

“C’mon, we can treat injuries, but we can’t treat what that guy’ll do!”

She had a strong argument. But he was a big scary monster. If he hurt the citizens, would they exile him? It was why he’d fled at all in the first place…

But she was also a monster to them, and they accepted her even when she was a little rude. Could he be rude?

The Porygon-Z Guardian blared a distressed klaxon before firing a Hyper Beam down the road, melting part of the main street. Alexander endured almost the full hit, but his shield looked significantly depleted. Maybe he was starting to evaporate…

But now, the Guardian was exhausted. He wouldn’t be able to fire again.

Yes! It was time to fire!

Nate shot into the air, and as the energy beams curled downward by his will, it was like a fabled meteor shower had turned hostile.

But Alexander was fast, dodging and weaving. Sometimes he went too close to the fleeing Porygon-Z to fire. He might hurt him instead…

What was Alexander going to do to him, anyway?

That stray thought rattled around in Nate’s mind for a second too late. By the time he realized what it meant, Alexander lunged and finally connected.

He was going to enter his Orb.

Nate charged the most concentrated blast he could, hoping that the lives within the nearby buildings would survive—or forgive him if they did not. He used only one head, aiming not at Alexander, but the Porygon-Z. It had to be done. The air warped around the blast, the smallest vapors in the air sizzling. Alexander pulled the startled, flailing Porygon into the ground.

No! Nate tried to angle his shot toward the ground instead, but it missed. The boulders just beyond where Alexander had been exploded out, molten rock leaving the spot aglow.

Where did he go?

Nate couldn’t sense him anymore. Did he kill him?

No… it was too easy.

“Did you get him?!” Spice called up.

He didn’t, but he also didn’t know how to give a response.

He hesitated for a few seconds too long, because Spice sighed and said into a communicator, “He seems to be gone for now. Not sure what happened. We’ll get back to you after we regroup.”

<><><>​

Mhynt’s blade struck the wall just beside Demitri’s yead. The Haxorus screamed and covered his eyes a split-second after it hit, his reflexes too slow. Mispy snarled and was about to wrap the Treecko in thorns before she hopped back and across the room. The conjured Leaf Blade disappeared, reappearing in her hand.

“Good,” she said. “You still have a sense of self-preservation.”

“Duh?” Mispy said, still looking cautious and annoyed.

Demitri uncovered his eyes. “Wh-why are you saying that?”

“I just wanted to see how far gone you were. But it seems that you’re still mostly yourselves.”

“Hey,” Gahi said. “How’s Owen?”

“Strategizing with Palkia and the others,” Mhynt half-lied. “I wanted to talk to you about something you may not be aware of. Where are your other halves?”

“Helping the crew repair the boat,” Demitri said.

Mhynt nodded, crossing her arms. “Then we can talk in private and you may choose what to do with this information. You’re Void Shadows.”

A beat.

Then, Demitri tilted his head; Mispy’s scaly brow furrowed; Gahi scoffed.

“Yeah, right,” Gahi said, holding out his arms. “I’m green, sleek, scaly, an’ a real good looker.” He flexed, revealing vaguely defined muscles.

Demitri, curious, did the same and looked at his arm. When he flexed, the air around his arm pulsed outward.

Gahi scowled. “Cheater.”

“Did you just flex out a shockwave?” Mhynt narrowed her eyes. “How strong are you?”

“I—I don’t know… That just happens when I channel my strength. You know, aura stuff…”

“Aura stuff.” Mhynt waved it away. “I want you to think back to when Owen told you to go to this room. Did you feel compelled to follow that command?”

“I dunno about compelled,” Gahi said. “Jus’ seemed reasonable, so we did it. What, is listenin’ ter our leader a sign o’ bein’ a Void Shadow?”

“How can we tell?” Mispy asked.

“…Later, I’m going to call for Owen to come this way. And when he does, he will ask you to do a few things, and that will be enough, rationally, for you to realize this. But before we do, I would like to ask a few questions of you, for Owen’s sake.”

“Okay…” Gahi still looked skeptical. He crossed his arms and glared. “I ain’t in anyone’s control. I’m me.”

Mhynt nodded at the mutant super soldier and then looked at Demitri and Mispy. “Now, first question. If Owen told you to die, would you?”

“Um. No?” Demitri poked his claws together. “That doesn’t sound like him at all…”

“Hah!” Gahi pointed at Mhynt. “We disobeyed Owen! We ain’t Void Shadows!”

“Hypoth… thetical,” Mispy chided, gesturing with a vine for Mhynt to continue.

Mhynt nodded. “And if he told you to do anything, would you listen?”

“I mean… he’s our leader,” Demitri said. “And aside from Mispy, he’s usually the best person to go for tactics…”

Mispy shrugged. “Not the smartest… but… tactics.”

“Exactly,” Demitri explained. “I mean, I guess now that he’s got all his memories back, he might have an edge there, too, but—er, I mean—sorry, Mispy.”

The Meganium seemed competitive and indignant. Demitri rubbed her side and she seemed to settle down.

“Hmm. Overall, this is good,” Mhynt said. “Perhaps it’s a credit to Owen’s unconscious desires that you’ve kept your individualities.”

“How can you prove it?” Gahi asked again. “C’mon, just get Owen in here already!”

Mhynt sighed. “Will you have some patience?”

“Feels like we can’t do anythin’ else ‘til that happens! C’mon!”

“Okay. Fine.” Mhynt was getting a headache from the Flygon, and not because of his psionics. “Wait here. Surely you have the patience for that.”

Gahi scoffed and pressed his back against the wall, crossing his arms in a pout. But she saw a few uncomfortable twitches in his claws. It was bothering him.

Perhaps this proof would at least help them come to terms with it, and then they can figure out ways around it.

<><><>​

Mhynt returned only a few minutes later with Owen behind him. The Charizard was a nervous wreck, mumbling about how he could face his team again, and Mhynt offered halfhearted assurances to him while he and Zena walked down the ship to the other room.

Once they were back, Mhynt stood aside and watched how things played out. She didn’t intend to step in unless Owen looked stuck, but as far as she was concerned, this was something for him to figure out. Spotting Zena already looking for ways to step in, she whispered her over.

“Yes?” Zena asked.

“Let him handle this.”

“He seems overwhelmed, Mhynt…”

“Has he done well under pressure before?” Mhynt asked.

“Sometimes,” Zena said.

“How about now that his memories are returned?” Mhynt offered. “He’s quite different now, isn’t he?”

“In a lot of ways, he’s also the same,” Zena said. “Is that necessary?”

But before Zena could object further Owen stepped up to his team.

“Hey,” Owen greeted.

“Hi?” Demitri said. “We’re Void Shadows, apparently.”

“Y… yeah.”

“We don’t feel like it,” Demitri said. “Mhynt said you’d have some proof.”

Owen nodded. “For… for this proof, will you be mad? If it turns out… you are Void Shadows?”

“No,” Demitri said, “that’s—”

“Yeah, I’ll be mad!” Gahi waved his fist at Mhynt. “I ain’t someone ter control!”

Mispy rubbed her forehead with a vine. “Circumstances,” she said.

“She means, she’d be mad at the circumstances,” Demitri explained. “Let’s just do the test. I don’t think any of us will be mad, Owen. A-at you,” he hastily amended when Gahi glared.

The ship rocked gently. Mhynt wondered how much faster they were going now that Owen had, perhaps consciously or subconsciously, encouraged the currents to speed their trip up. Zena picked at a splinter in the wood, trying to repair it with a gentle stream of water and ice. Mhynt quietly informed her this was a bad idea.

“Okay,” Owen said. “Demitri.”

Demitri’s head snapped to attention. Owen glanced at Mispy and Gahi for their reactions; they did look a little unnerved.

“Punch your left arm with your right.”

Demitri raised his right arm, curled his claws in, and slammed it into his left arm. There was a horrible, sickening cracking and squelching sound as the arm bent impossibly in two places. Owen looked ill.

Mispy and Gahi both blinked, staring at the injury, then at Owen.

“What was that fer?” Gahi asked.

“This sort of hurts,” Demitri mumbled.

“You… you aren’t freaking out,” Owen said. “Mispy, heal him!”

Mispy obeyed, almost mechanically wrapping her vines around the injury and pumping healing energy into him. Bones snapped back into place, flesh wrapping and stitching together, wrapped finally in scales. The blood remained on the ship and the wall—now cracked—behind him.

“You know,” Mhynt said, “you should have asked someone without absurd strength to do that.”

“It was the first thing that came to mind,” Owen said. “I didn’t want to get… elaborate on my friends hurting themselves!”

Mhynt sighed, punching her snout. “Please, continue.”

“Well—look, that was weird, right? Guys? Do you agree that was weird that Demitri just listened to that without a care?”

“It was,” Mispy said. “But… you commanded it.”

“Okay—no, no, see, don’t do that. Don’t listen to my commands just because I say them, okay? Because you’re Void Shadows now, and… and I’m the one who controls you. Void Shadows just… do that, and usually it’s Diyem, or Alexander, b-but now it’s me, too. So… I don’t want that. Especially not you. Okay?”

“I don’t want that, either,” Gahi muttered. “But… it ain’t like I can freak out about it.”

There it is. “Good,” Mhynt said. “You’re self-aware of your condition. That’s what we’re looking for. Owen?”

“Right. N-now that… that you’re aware… I want you to answer my questions, as a hypothetical. Okay? A hypothetical where, if I didn’t command you to do something, what would you do in response, okay?”

The three exchanged looks, as if a little confused, but Mispy got it the fastest.

“Okay,” Mispy said.

“Demitri, Gahi, follow her lead. Mispy, if I wasn’t controlling you… what would you want to do right now?”

“Sleep,” Mispy said.

Owen paused. “Oh. Right, it’s… been a while since we had our last sleep.”

“Has it?” Gahi asked. “I ain’t tired.”

“I’m a little tired,” Demitri added. “Maybe it’s because it’s darker below deck.”

“Okay, so Mispy, if you want to sleep, you can sleep after this is over. Is that okay?”

Mispy nodded.

“…If you weren’t under my control, would you say that’s okay?”

Mispy nodded again, after a pause.

“That’s good. She thought about it,” Mhynt said. She offered a smile, “They aren’t all gone, Owen. But until we get a way to free them from your spell, that’s how you need to ask questions, okay?”

“Impract… actical,” Mispy said. “Battle.”

“Oh, Mispy means… like, if in the middle of battle, you had to do that whole thing,” Demitri said, “we won’t be that effective.”

“I… I know, but…”

“I’ll agree,” Mispy said.

“I trust you,” Demitri said. “…Even if I wasn’t under your command, I say I’d trust you!”

Gahi crossed his arms, giving Owen a little glare. Of the three, Gahi seemed to resist this control the most, and for that, he appreciated it. He huffed. “Only fer as long as y’gotta. My will’s mine.”

“I know, Gahi. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“Nah. I know y’didn’t. I’m just sayin’, my will’s mine.”

“It is. And I’ll… respect it. Always. But in battle, if I give a command, I can’t… do it with all the caveats if you’re in danger. Do you trust me to make the right decisions?”

“No,” Gahi growled. “…But if y’gotta, I’ll listen. I ain’t gonna hold it against y’ ‘til this is over.”

Owen’s wings lowered, and Mhynt felt that little tightness in her chest loosen up. “Well,” she said, “it seems you have some loyal allies even without the Voiding. Congratulations.” Mhynt nodded at Zena. “Now, we should get ready. With how fast the ship is going, we’ll probably arrive at the Abyssal Sea far ahead of schedule, perhaps by the time you wake up. You should get an early rest just in case.”

“Right, okay. Um… does everyone want to rest in the same room again?” Owen glanced at Team Alloy but was deliberately avoiding Zena’s gaze.

“Is it safe?” Zena asked Mhynt. “Owen tends to get battle-excited in his sleep. His tail can go from ethereal to burning. Can the same happen with these Voiding powers?”

“As far as I can tell,” Mhynt said, “it wasn’t Owen who did the Voiding, but a splash from the sea augmenting it. As long as Owen stays dry, he is safe.”

“Good.” Zena slithered up to Owen and curled around him. He leaned into it as if he’d been touch-starved. Perhaps he was.

There was that small pang of longing in her chest. Something that she dutifully tried to shove away, mentally, while on this trip. She only closed her eyes and sighed. “Very good,” she said. “I’ll get Trina and the Trio and let them know you’re alright.”

“Thanks for all the help, Mhynt,” Owen added, looking relieved. “I’m… er… sorry if…”

“Don’t,” Mhynt replied tiredly, stepping out.

She’d said she would be strong, but it was admittedly getting harder than she’d anticipated, seeing them together. She really needed to sort through her feelings when this was over.

But on the next awakening, they would finally be on the island. From there… Necrozma awaited.
 
Chapter 154 - Void Isle
Chapter 154 – Void Isle

The ship groaned and creaked as it reached the isle and the crew let down the anchors. Owen quietly told the currents to slow down as they made landfall.

It had indeed only been another sleep before they’d arrived, and there was still no update from the team in Kilo Village, only that ADAM had gone missing. That wasn’t good. Hopefully, they would find him after finding Alexander, as morbid as it was. There was nothing Owen could do about it now, as much as his hands shook at the thought of what it could mean.

“So this is the Voidlands’ Zero Isle. Uh, Void Isle, I guess,” Owen said, looking ahead to see a small island of sparse, thin trees with dark purple leaves and even darker trunks. In the center of the island, only a handful of kilos of flight away, there was a great spire of rock as black as obsidian.

Lumbering through the forest and around this rock were Titans. Owen counted at least ten, and some of them vaguely resembled familiar Legends. Several of them he recognized from their dim, glowing, six eyes in peculiar patterns. Though, he never met any of the Regis in person before. They were meant to be guardians.

“We aren’t seriously gonna fight all of those, are we?” Demitri asked, whimpering.

Despite how pathetic he sounded, he was hauling Valle over his back like it was petty luggage. Valle himself was content with being a statue, as always, and nothing convinced him to move otherwise.

“If Owen gives the command, we gotta,” Gahi stated flatly, sounding like he still hated that fact.

Mispy only stared at Owen.

“…Are you waiting for an order?” Owen asked.

“What else?” Mispy stated.

Owen sighed. He supposed she had a point there.

“My order is…” Owen closed his eyes. “Tell me what you think.”

“I think this is somethin’ doable, but I ain’t gonna like it,” Gahi said.

“There’s only a few of us… we’re nearly outnumbered by Titans!” Demitri pointed at them. “And we can tell these are all Titans with a Core, too! Isn’t this, um, isn’t this sort of the job of the other group?”

“I’ll admit,” Mhynt said, “I wasn’t expecting this number. However… we can sneak past them, too. A shame Enet didn’t come with us.”

“Do we have any other ways to hide?” Demitri asked.

“Speed’s another option,” Trina suggested. “And, Owen, is there not that gift Xerneas gave you?”

“Gift?” Owen asked. “He never gave me a gift.”

Trina stared. “No marble with blue in it?”

Owen slowly shook his head. “We were going to get a bunch of blessings, but Alexander’s sudden attack expedited it and I couldn’t get too many. I just have some from Azelf. Besides, Xerneas can’t give blessings; he didn’t get Necrozma’s—”

“This is with Xerneas’ power alone,” Trina said. “Did he really not give it to you? I was speaking to him about my own ‘Team Alloy’ and how well they’d come along. I’m surprised.”

Despite this, the Snivy looked pensive. “I suppose it was a long talk while he was having me evolve… But he mentioned that his power over life also ties into evolution. He can apparently give some sacred power that goes beyond… oh, never mind.” She sighed. “We can ask him why he didn’t give it to you later. I have my suspicions.”

Owen gave Trina a tired look. Picking his battles, he refocused on the mountain, so near, yet so far.

“Let’s just go,” Owen said. “We’ll try to sneak past the normal way. Hide my flame, and…”

Mhynt sighed. “That is our best strategy. We are not equipped to defeat so many Titans at once. One of them is likely Emily, too, and she will be especially powerful, even if it’s only a piece of her.”

The last thing Owen wanted to deal with was an aggressive Emily.

With the danger of being eaten again—to add to the uncomfortable number of times Owen could already recall something similar in the past—looming over him, Owen hid his flame with a simple black veil he’d brought. They checked one another for any glowing they might have forgotten about—now that they knew the Orbs were related to Necrozma, it made sense why it always happened—and they were confidently dim.

“That’s everything,” Owen said.

“Ladies first,” Mhynt said, gesturing for Owen to take the lead.

“…I was a girl in a few rebirths, you know,” Owen muttered, taking the lead.

“I know. You told me before.”

“You were?” Zena asked.

“Did it hurt?” Demitri asked.

Mispy gave Demitri a befuddled look.

Owen rolled his eyes. “Nevren didn’t perfect the Reincarnation Machine for a while,” he explained. “Sometimes, the body my spirit was put into wasn’t the same. To be honest, I don’t think he was able to restore it to how it used to be at all. Too many variables, he said.”

“Fascinating… He really did just grow a new body for you, just like that?” Zena tilted her head.

“More than that,” Owen said. “To be honest… I think one thing Nevren did was give me a sharper mind. I used to be pure feral. I always wondered if…” He trailed off.

“Oh.” Zena glanced away. “I… That seems like something complicated to think about, considering how he is now.”

“Yeah.” And Owen still didn’t know how to wrestle with that thought.

They’d found a favorable patch of gnarled trees to sneak through. The soil was incredibly soft and dampened even Demitri’s heavy footsteps. Eventually, over harder patches of dirt, Demitri elected to ride atop Mispy, who could glide over the ground with her countless vines. Zena was silent along the earth. Mhynt, so small, simply rode atop Mispy’s back. Trina rode on Gahi’s shoulder, occasionally speaking to him about something or another.

Gahi floated, because, according to him, he wanted to show off that he could. Azelf did as well, and Uxie quietly reminded him that he could always do that. It didn’t seem to register. Mesprit nervously stayed close to Mispy.

Owen had tried the same with his conjured gusts, but the soil, while soft, was also loose. His gusts kicked up dirt and would easily give them away.

“Have you considered becoming a Charmander again?” Mhynt offered. “It shouldn’t be hard for you. Being small is probably favorable now.”

“I know,” Owen said. “But… if we do get attacked… it wouldn’t be good, now, would it?”

Mhynt crossed her arms. “I don’t remember you ever devolving intentionally before.”

“Hey, y’know, now that I think about it, yer right,” Gahi said. “Hey, c’n I do that?”

“Anyone with divine power has control over their bodies. Old shapes are easy, just as younger ages are maintained.” Mhynt hummed.

“Well, I ain’t gonna,” Gahi said. “Flygon’s cool.”

“Gahi gets it,” Owen said.

Mhynt squinted. “But it’s much more practical to remain small,” he said. “You out of all of us would be spotted easily, Owen.”

“She has a point,” Zena said. “Owen, can you? Just for a little while, before we get closer to the Titans.”

Owen sighed. “…Fine, fine,” he said. “How do I do it?”

“You haven’t at all?” Uxie asked.

“No,” Owen said shortly. “So just tell me how to do it already.”

Mhynt gave Owen another disapproving look. “You’ve done it before, surely…”

Now, he could feel all their eyes on him, closing in on all sides. Their inquisitive stares, every curious muscle of their bodies.

Except for Trina. “Does it hold bad memories?” she asked.

He flinched. That was absurd. Sure, being a Charmander was humiliating, and being a Charmeleon was awkward and too gangly for his liking. But bad memories? That was… silly.

But Owen couldn’t reply as the words sank in more. Bad memories. “They weren’t bad,” Owen said, more as if he was trying to convince Trina than anything. “But… I mean, well… I don’t know. I doubt that’s it…”

“Owen,” Zena said, her voice a little softer. “It’s okay if… it reminds you of the ‘Reset’ times.”

The rest of Team Alloy flinched and looked away; Trina only bowed her head in understanding.

“…I’ll do it,” Owen said, an odd heaviness in his chest. “I’m not gonna let some… fear of that… get in the way. It’s… irrational.”

Despite this, he didn’t change. It was an act of will, wasn’t it? And he couldn’t find that will. He’d crossed whole oceans of darkness and pushed through all that came before, and yet now he was wavering? What would the others think?

Mhynt suddenly hushed them, and all went quiet. Owen made sure his flame was veiled. The ground rumbled; one of the Titans was nearby. Were they spotted?

Each slow step rumbled the ground. A little louder. Each one a little harder. And then softer. It was leaving… Simply passing by.

“Okay,” Owen finally said. “Give me a second. I’ll… do it. I’ll do it.”

He steadied his breath, envisioning a smaller self. Smaller, smaller. He lost his height; while he wasn’t as bulky as a normal Charizard, he was still bulkier than a Charmeleon, let alone a Charmander. His scales shifted to red. Realizing he could also hide his flame, he shifted to Grass as well and finally sighed. “That’s better,” he said.

Charmeleon was an acceptable middle ground. Long strides, but no bulk. That lankiness it had was an advantage here.

“And you feel okay?” Zena asked, her voice more delicate than usual.

“Yeah. Thanks,” Owen said. “I’m… it’s fine. I was psyching myself out for nothing.”

“Not for nothing,” Mhynt hummed, pointing forward so they could continue. “I’m sure there are some things that I’d hesitate on, too. Like the opposite of your problem… I’d rather not evolve for a time.”

“Eh? How come?” Gahi asked.

“Mm.” The Treecko shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’d rather not talk about it.”

Gahi and Azelf both squinted, but Mispy and Uxie respectively tapped them on the shoulder and shook their heads.

“Let’s sneak by. Keep quiet,” Owen said, and suddenly, Team Alloy went dead silent. Owen sighed. “I mean… you can talk if you want. Just be careful.”

The sooner they could be free from him, the better.

<><><>​

In Kilo Village, an emergency meeting was called after realizing that ADAM was missing. Nate explained what happened from his perspective, and Barky used that to scan for ADAM’s aura. While his Orb didn’t perfectly resonate with his power as they’d believed before Necrozma’s erasure had been lifted, he could still search for it a little.

That was when a scout returned with some news of activity in an old, abandoned temple that had been a small Dungeon. That put all the pieces together—that was the same temple they’d found ADAM almost a year ago. However, it had become shadowy in nature… They had a strong suspicion that Alexander only used ADAM to return to the Voidlands where he would no longer melt in the light. However, in his wake, ADAM had been corrupted. They had to find a way to purify him before he became another Emily.

Based on those findings, it was clear ADAM had fled to his original hiding spot—the little Dungeon that had formed within the abandoned temple southwest of Kilo Village. There was a Waypoint there, but it had been destroyed with Dark Matter’s attack and not restored. It would take a short trip to get there.

“Well, that’s great,” Star said, crossing her arms. She was still nervous around others, but compared to before, her spirits had been lifted. She figured it was because her talk with Owen had helped resolve some of that unspoken guilt. “I guess we could get a small group to Teleport in, but we can only do that to the Dungeon’s edge. Even worse, I’m pretty sure Emily is starting to drift that way, too. If we linger outside, she might get drawn to us.”

Essential team members were hastily gathered in the Heart HQ office. Those who could make it were Anam, Hecto, herself and Barky, Spice’s team, Marshadow Manny, Eon and Jirachi, Willow, and Nate, who was curled outside the caldera and projecting a little Mimikyu wraith to represent him.

“It’s troublesome either way,” Barky said. “We can either send a team forward to navigate while I try to support you from the air with my stored divine energy to keep Emily away, or we warp in swiftly with a smaller team and hope that’s enough to subdue a Shadow Guardian.”

“An’ it ain’t any normal Shadow, either,” Manny added, arms crossed. “This is Alexander we’re dealin’ with. He may not have Hands, but he’s got the primordial power o’ Kilo’s evil forces behind’m. ‘S far ‘s I’m concerned, that’s a match fer you, big guy.” He gestured nonchalantly to Barky.

The god of gods harrumphed and looked down. “I can’t dispute it. I’ve lost hold of my domain, and now I know why.”

Star knew it was largely because of his temper. She could remember some of those scattered memories of Necrozma, now. After he’d lost it and killed Quartz Isle, Necrozma had shown up to investigate the cosmic disturbance as an Overseer. Nothing but a bureaucratic nut who claimed to manage the gods as part of some upper organization. Like they needed their help.

Okay, maybe they did. But she wasn’t going to admit that to someone so haughty. ‘Give me some of your power for regulation; the two of you in a deadlock is not constructive.’ Yeah, that turned out well.

Hecto was fine, though.

Star had zoned out from the logistical discussions and tuned back in.

“. . . attacking directly. Is Alexander still there, for example, or are we only dealing with a remnant?”

“We should probably get someone with blessings to go in,” Barky suggested. “Necrozma’s, specifically. He had tuned himself to counter Dark Matter’s power with his own, and that carries into Alexander’s.”

“He c’n jus’ do that, eh?” Manny said. “Always wondered how that worked.”

“We allowed him to access the tapestry of Kilo itself. Its ‘core,’ you could say, of the world. And when he saw the flaw, he began to research ways to tune his energy the same way. But… we couldn’t remove it directly without breaking everything… and we didn’t want that. Hence, his light became something to counteract the darkness. It was very… symbolic, but I’m not against it.”

“What, yer sayin’ that if he wanted, he could’ve made a special song a counter instead?”

“Well, er, perhaps,” Barky said. “We’re getting distracted.”

“So, someone with blessings,” Star piped up. “That’d be… Owen, who’s out, or any of his… er… descendants.” She glanced at Phol, part of Spice’s team. But he wasn’t especially powerful. One strong Shadow strike could do him in. Spice could help, but she could only guard so much…

“One problem with tuning his energy in such a way,” Barky said, “is that it made him mutually vulnerable. Just as Shadow is weak to Radiance, Radiance is weak to Shadow. That’s why he fought from great distances so his opponents had no chance to get close.”

“The warping and wormholes helped,” Star murmured, recalling scattered memories of trying to fight something that disappeared into odd portals any time she got close. It was slower than her Teleport, but Necrozma could do it to her attacks, too. Reflecting attacks. Annoying.

“Hmm… Who is our most powerful fighter right now with blessings? Any Legends?”

“They’re still in the Voidlands helpin’ out,” Manny said. “Titan huntin’ and all that. Got kinda cut off when the rift over Hot Spot disappeared, so that’s cut most communications back…”

“Well, that just means we remain with our old problem,” Phol said. “Hmm…”

Something was crackling near the entrance of HQ, down the hall. It was getting closer.

“Excuse me! Where is Heart of Hearts Anam?” called a voice, sounding unpleasantly staticky. Star realized moments later that was panting, or simulated panting. Something like that.

In came a Porygon Z, accompanied by a Rotom who had possessed a ball. Did that make him move faster?

“Hi?” Anam called, waving a slimy hand. He sat awkwardly on the far end of the table, so he stood up and waddled across the room.

“We… we heard that it was that strange Porygon Z Guardian who had been in trouble, right?” Porygon Z asked. His eyes flickered and became what looked like six lines meeting in the middle, with each line darkening in a rhythm, one after the other like tracing a circle. “Hang on, hang on… ADAM! Right?” The eyes returned to normal.

“Do you know him?” Spice asked.

“Y-yipes!” Each of his eyes became an exclamation point in a triangle.

Spice growled. “Answer.”

“Yes! We, um, we tried to treat him before with, uh, some bad programming in his operating system, or something, but that didn’t work out. But! But we know the layout! Let me load it up…”

The circling lines reappeared. Meanwhile, Rotom-ball-forme rolled forward.

“Sorry for my partner’s forwardness.”

“Oh!” Anam clapped. “You’re the specialists for all things electrical, right? You’re our lead techs!”

“Oh! Y-you remember us! That’s wonderful!” Rotom fizzled around the ball like he was holding it to fidget. “Th-thank you. Um. Yes. And well, the Porygon line happens to be derived from ancient human technology, or, um, that’s the tale, and so we help with repairing them when they’re hurt, too. Or, er, hurt in ways that Orans and traditional therapy don’t help with.”

Porygon-Z was buzzing a lot. Star’s ear flicked. Annoying. But he was probably just thinking very hard. She had a soft spot for Porygon.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think your kind of help will work here,” Phol said with a hum. “This is more than… technological malfunctions.”

“The same energy that made me look how I do,” Spice said, “is flowing through him. It’s gonna take more than… technology repair to fix something like that.”

“Complete!” Porygon-Z pointed his beak downward and blasted a tiny and oddly-shaped beam into the ground, scorching it. The Hyper Beam pulse had Spice reflexively on guard, but Anam only walked closer to see what the scorch was.

To Star’s surprise, it was a map. Once Phol seemed to realize what this was, he pulled out a notepad and began to copy it down.

“This is what the inside of ADAM’s programming looks like. It is completely unlike anything that I’d ever been to before and resembled a Dungeon in shape, except for one aspect of its behavior. It did not appear to shift or change. All the segments were the same dimensions, perfectly square, and separated in identical distances with hallways of identical width. It was…” Porygon-Z’s eyes became teardrops. “Beautiful.”

“…Right… So…” Spice crawled to the map. “There aren’t any markings except for the start.”

“Ah, yes. We’d been ejected very quickly, but that was the most my scans showed during our brief time inside.”

“Hmm… I think this could still be useful,” Phol said. “If we’re supposed to be navigating through that Dungeon and finding a way to purge him of that darkness, a basic map would be helpful, even if unmarked.”

“He does have dimensions,” Spice said.

“Yep. ADAM’s internal Dungeon is a perfect 32-by-32 two-dimensional array.”

“I’ll pretend I know what that means.”

“I believe I understand,” Phol said. “Thank you. Now, as for our plan…”

That gave Star an idea. “If we’re dealing with a superpowered Guardian, I know one way this might work,” she said. “It’s the same thing that did me in when I tried to possess Owen.”

This earned a few uncomfortable or dirty looks.

“E-eheh, look, we made up. And now that’s useful!” Star shrank back. “We need to attack from both sides. A team on the surface to keep him busy, and a team on the spirit side infiltrating the Dungeon from my realm, the Ethereal Forest.

“Um, we may be… lowly mortals… but, err… could we also help?” Porygon-Z asked.

“Hmm…” Barky spoke up, making himself known by standing taller and glowing.

Star suppressed an eyeroll. “Yes, Barky?”

“I will grant you a temporary boon of protection,” Barky said. “That way, you will have a chance to flee if things become too dangerous.”

“O-oh! Thank you, Original One!”

Barky radiated a little brighter. Star decided to make all of his things in his room slightly askew again later.

“Well,” Barky said. “Let’s get to logistics.

<><><>​

Getting through the entire dead forest of the island had been a fantasy. Especially when they were encumbered with carrying Valle’s statue.

They’d made it so far. Maybe halfway there, slowly and steadily, with only a few spots where they had to crouch and hide in what little cover they could find.

But Demitri had to sneeze.

Owen didn’t resent him for it. Mostly. And in some ways, it was Owen’s fault for hesitating in commanding him to stop. He didn’t even know if that was possible, but perhaps it had been. But he never commanded Demitri to stop—and he also wasn’t sure if his command would have drawn too much attention.

But after that horrible second of silence, wondering if they’d been spotted, they’d all heard the rumbling of two Titans changing directions. Yes, they’d been found.

Owen panted heavily; they’d been running for a few minutes at top speed, with Gahi leading the way.

Massive beams of darkness carved through the forest, once ancient trees now part of the damp void mulch of the island. Diagonal fissures from near-misses became cold ditches for them to hop over before the lingering corruption singed their scales. Occasionally, Gahi had to go back to divert them as Demitri hurled Zena and the others over them—they’d noticed some time ago that something about the island’s atmosphere kept them from going too high.

They were all half-covered in purple soot by the time a straight shot was visible to them. The base of that strange mountain. The sense of ‘north’ to Owen was stronger than ever, and that was enough.

“Almost!” Owen cried. “Keep going! I’ll hold them back and follow after!”

“This is risky!” Mhynt called.

“That’s why I’m only doing it once!”

He skidded to a stop and turned around. He had about ten seconds before two Titans would be within strong firing range. By his estimates, the team had a whole minute before they’d get to the mountain.

“I’m stayin’, too,” Gahi said. “I’ll help y’run an’ catch up.”

Azelf flew by Owen’s side as well, determined.

“C’mon!” Azelf said. “We’ll all hold ‘em off!”

“Azelf, we can’t fuse,” Owen said. “Get back with the others!”

“I’m sick o’ runnin’!” Azelf said, headbutting Gahi. His eyes squeezed shut, but nothing else happened.

The Titan on the left—its angular and bulky shape suggested Regirock—charged up a crackling ball of blackened electricity. Owen held a hand out and prepared to time his Protect. His other hand was ready to grasp the energy and throw it at whatever the second one—Regice, probably—was going to throw.

“How do we fuse?!” Gahi shouted, hugging Azelf, but nothing seemed to work. “Ain’t the same!”

“Why now?!” Owen, befuddled, shouted back.

Regirock fired the Shadowy Zap Cannon. Owen brought up his Protect—a shield of black this time to resist the strange incoming element—and then reached toward the incoming blast with his other hand. First came the impact, the barrier’s force recoiling back against his body as he dug his heels into the ground. Then, he tried to grasp that energy as it crawled around, zapping his scales. His tail thrashed on the ground, kicking up more dust. The burning coursing through him was familiar. Not as bad as Alexander’s. But still painful.

Then, in another breath, he hurled the energy toward the other one just as it fired. The collision left an explosion followed by a vortex of darkness and electricity that singed the forest in a crater, taking out a wide cluster of trees. A jagged crater riddled with black electricity was all that was left behind.

“Azelf,” Owen said. “Start running now. Gahi!”

Gahi’s head flicked to him, attentive.

“Just as they charge up a second blast, fuse with me and run.”

“Okay.”

Azelf growled and tried to send some enchantment toward the two Titans. A pink wave washed over them, but they were either too strong or still too far away for it to have much of an effect.

“Don’t die!” Azelf ordered, flying to catch up with the rest.

Owen remained on his guard. The second volley was coming. He didn’t want to risk parrying another one; the first was already harsh.

“I didn’t overstep by ordering you, right?” Owen said, still watching cautiously.

“Nah.”

Regirock jolted.

“NOW!”

Gahi tackled Owen and melded into him. They fell backward, but then, in a flash of light, they Teleported away.

This fusion felt different. It was like Owen had total access to all of Gahi’s abilities while still feeling like himself. He felt a smidge of confidence, too, but he couldn’t tell if that was because his plan worked, or because of Gahi’s influence. In another Teleport, he disappeared again and flew onward, rapidly gaining some distance.

They’d made it to the others in seconds, the Titans a half-minute away. Only the longest shots would reach them.

“Congratulations,” Mhynt said. Despite her flat tone, her eyes had the light of being at least slightly impressed. “Your calculated risk paid off.”

Owen split away from Gahi, both halves flopping into the dust.

“Gahi, are you okay?” Owen asked.

“Gehhh…” Gahi rubbed his head. “What happened?”

“Do you not… remember?” Owen asked.

“I tackled you, ‘n then…” Gahi shrugged.

Owen gulped. So he’d completely…

“It’s alright,” he said. “We bought some time. Let’s get to that spire.”

Though when Owen looked back, the Titans hadn’t advanced. About three hundred feet from where they stood, the Titans merely resumed their patrol.

It felt brighter, too. Naturally, Owen checked the sky… but it was the same dim red.

Everything was brighter, and not because of the sky—the ground, the trees… Aside from the obsidian spire itself, everything around them was a little brighter.

Mispy, Demitri, and Gahi seemed ill, shaking off lethargy in their own ways. Mispy shook her head; Demitri rubbed his eyes; Gahi beat his wings.

“We’re definitely in the right spot,” Mhynt hummed. She raised a hand, materializing her Leaf Blade. It glowed with golden light. “It’s much easier to draw upon Radiance in this place. Makes sense, being right next to its source.”

“Necrozma’s… somewhere in this mountain?”

“Likely, there’s a cavern to enter. We should go that way. We will be safe here… so let’s take a moment to gather our bearings.”

Trina dusted herself off but then called for Zena to help wash them all down instead. It’d be much easier that way. While they all bathed from light bursts of water, Trina remarked, “I’m glad I was taken for security… but it seems like all of you are handling yourselves well,” Trina said. “I was hardly needed to calm you. Though, I nearly did with you, Owen.”

“It’s… uh… nice to know?” Owen didn’t want to rely on Trina’s hypnosis just to stay calm. Though, if he did panic, maybe…

Thoroughly washed, refreshed, and most importantly no longer in danger of being chased by Regi Titans—Owen wondered where the Lugia one was supposed to be—the team took their final steps to the obsidian spire. Up close, it felt warm, like the sun on a summer afternoon. Trina and Mhynt kept their distance, but Owen appreciated the warmth and went even closer, reaching out to touch the stone.

He could tell it was hot. Scorching, like metal left too long in Hot Spot.

Something called out to him. He recognized it as a psychic pull. It told him to push some of his power into the crystal. Suspecting who it was, Owen obeyed.

That warmth redoubled. A sigil of Necrozma—a lengthened, eight-pointed starburst—appeared in bright gold light where Owen had touched. And then, the wall sank inward, melting into a new hallway for them to enter.

Or, so Owen thought. Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi had hissed and backed away all in unison.

“Hmm.” Mhynt closed her eyes. “Trina, you should calm them.”

“Right.” The Snivy walked first to Gahi, the fastest and flightiest, and said, “Gahi… keep calm. What’s wrong?” Even in her diminutive state, her hypnosis was still their asset to keep them steady. Perhaps the small size was useful here, for stealth…

The Flygon’s eyes darted toward the obsidian spire, then at Trina, rapidly. “…Dunno. Don’t like it,” he said. “Prob’ly the light. I’m a Void Shadow now, yeah?”

“You’re well put together for one,” Trina said. “Come. Let’s keep you calm for now…”

Whatever Trina was doing, it was relaxing Gahi’s muscles enough that he collapsed where he stood, slouched over. Owen’s Perceive couldn’t detect energy, so he could only guess it was her specialized Hypnosis.

“Trina,” Mhynt said, “if Owen, Zena, and I enter here, will you be able to handle these three on your own?”

“I believe so,” Trina said, looking next to Mispy, then Demitri.

“Um.” Mesprit raised a hand. “We’ll help, too. Figure we should, you know, stick to our doubles…”

Azelf looked unnerved, perturbed by Gahi’s sudden behavior. “Yeah,” Azelf murmured. “You guys be careful…”

Zena picked up Valle’s statue again, hefting him onto her back. She slithered forward.

“The four of us, then?” she asked, nodding at Mhynt and Owen. Though, just before Owen wanted to go, when he took another glance at the spire, he couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of unease.

“But… are we sure it’s okay?” Owen asked. “There’s something… uneasy about… I don’t know.”

Trina gave Owen a more cautious look. “You aren’t destabilizing, too, are you?” She glanced at the rest of Team Alloy.

“No, no, I—I’m okay,” Owen said. “Just, you know. It’s a little weird.”

“I also have a sense of foreboding,” Valle reported. “I suspect it is because I might cease to exist soon as ‘Valle’ and the weight is beginning to catch up to me.”

The way he said it so nonchalantly didn’t suggest otherwise… Owen didn’t comment.

“I feel fine,” Zena said. “…Which is surprising. Usually, I’d not like any of this, but I don’t sense any… foreboding. No more than when we got on the ship in the first place, at least…”

Mhynt sighed. “Foreboding or not, we’re here. Just stay on your guard. So, Owen… are you ready?”

“Yeah.” Owen folded his wings back. He didn’t like it, but they’d come far enough. And they had no other leads. “Let’s go.”

The quartet approached the passageway of the obsidian spire. Necrozma’s sigil still glowed like a hologram in the middle. Finally, after all this time, they were going to see him.

Once this was done and Necrozma was restored… they would finally be able to take out Alexander. One more step. Just one more step.

Please, just work out for once.

<><><>​

The spire went downward. While on the surface it had been about the same size as the Spire of Trials that Manny had once lived in—and now, Destiny Tower—this place seemed vaster beneath the island’s surface. After a minute of walking, Owen, Zena, and Mhynt could walk side by side with ample room for Owen to stretch his wings.

“So, now that we’re here,” Zena said, “what is Necrozma like? Is he… stern, like Barky? A, er… free… spirit, like Star?”

“He’s a little closer to Barky,” Owen said. “Stern, sure, but he’s not… haughty about it. He’s more businesslike. Sort of how you’d imagine some entity that was powerful and way above mortals, y’know? But still… working to help them.”

“There isn’t a chance he’s still bent on destroying the world once his power is restored?” Zena clarified. “I understand that he is the direct counter to Dark Matter and our best shot at defeating him. But… I don’t really…”

“I think it’s okay,” Owen said. “Necrozma was only trying to look out for us when he sensed Dark Matter… and he’s learned since then. We want to live. He’ll only get his power back if he promises to fight to save Kilo.”

“And the chances of him honoring that?” Zena clarified. “Are you going to ask for a Divine Promise?”

“Would he accept that?” Mhynt hummed. “Gods do not take that very lightly, you know. Divine Promises.”

“Obviously,” Zena agreed. “You wouldn’t want divine power to be siphoned into someone who doesn’t have the aptitude for it. We already see echoes of that problem in some of the Guardians.”

“Yeah…” Owen sighed.

“Not only that,” Mhynt said, earning all three of their quizzical looks. “Necrozma, Star, Barky. All three of them are the gods of this world and are tied to it with that power. Unlike mortals, who can live without that power because they are of that world, gods are only here by that power. They temporarily gain bodily avatars to represent themselves.

“Do not forget: Kilo is only a side project to them. Their true domain is the world beyond. And while I don’t know Necrozma’s relation to all this specifically… I know that for Star and Barky, they would never make a Promise. It would mean the loss of their power, yes… but it would also mean the end of their existence in Kilo. A Lockout.”

“Lockout…” Owen echoed the word. “What we thought happened to Necrozma before, when he was erased from history. When a soul is destroyed so the world can’t recognize it anymore, it can never return. Right?”

Mhynt nodded. “From what Necrozma told me, they will then be ejected into the Overworld and will need to find a new universe to inhabit. But, yes. There is no hope in returning to the universe they’d been destroyed within. It simply does not acknowledge their existence, forever.

“Due to the way Star and Barky set up the Divine Promise system, they are beholden to that flaw. Breaking that Promise would result in a total Lockout. And a god certainly would not want to be removed from their world permanently.”

“That’s… quite a grave flaw,” Zena said. “Why would they design a world like that?”

“It’s intended,” Mhynt said. “Should a god ever lose confidence in themselves, perhaps they must pass that power on. Let the world run without them, and let a new god take their place.”

Owen stopped walking. That… that couldn’t have been Star’s true intentions. No. That…

“But it’s not guaranteed, right?” Owen said.

Mhynt gave him a knowing look. It felt like pity. “I suppose not,” she said. “A Promise is just that. They can choose to keep it. But unless it’s revoked, a god has an eternity to break it. It will, inevitably, happen.”

“Then, when Star gave me that Promise… I wonder if…”

“It’s possible,” Mhynt said.

“If that’s the case, I can’t take a Promise from Necrozma. It’d have to be one of you. It’s… too risky for me to take any more power. Just—just having one is too much. Is there a way to revoke a Promise?”

Owen tried to hide his panic, but near the end, he slipped. The gravity of what Star had done… Maybe it hadn’t fully registered until then, as Mhynt outlined it. Not only would Star cease, but he’d… No. He can’t allow that. His entire purpose, the way he’d built himself up, was to oppose them. He didn’t have the temperament for that kind of power. What if he went berserk? Could he cure himself of that, or was that ingrained within him?

“Calm, Owen,” Mhynt said like she recognized his panic.

“You’ll be okay,” Zena added. “We’ll help you through it, okay? Ideally, Star will learn from this.”

Owen nodded, sighing. Great. Now he was antsy for the talk with Necrozma, and his rehearsed lines all felt out of place and wrong. He’d just have to play it by ear and hope Zena and Mhynt could back him up.

“Valle,” Owen said, “do you have any thoughts on this? You’ve been awfully quiet…”

“I am always quiet.”

Good, he was still alive. The Shiftry statue didn’t give any indicators, since he never moved…

“You know that when we meet Necrozma, we’re going to probably fuse you with him, right? Are you okay with that?”

“Yes. I feel him calling to me. This is correct.”

Owen and Zena exchanged perturbed looks. “Valle,” Owen said, “you haven’t really talked about your feelings about this. Or your feelings at all, actually…”

“Are they relevant?”

“Of course they are,” Zena said. “Please, if you’re afraid at all—”

“I am not.”

“Well… I mean, if you are worried about… no longer being yourself—”

“I am hardly a person.”

“What?” Owen squinted. “What does that mean?”

Valle was quiet.

“Valle?”

“I spoke out of turn.”

“Speak your mind, Valle,” Mhynt said. “If you return to Necrozma, it will not be your own mind anymore. This is your final chance to speak purely as yourself.”

“…I am unable to return to normal. This statue I am. It is not by choice. I have learned this.”

“What? But I thought you were the Rock Guardian and just took on that statue form because…” Zena trailed off. “I mean, well, you enjoyed stillness… And it helped bide time like that, right?”

“Yes. But I cannot revert. I cannot feel. I can only barely move. It is not just fear. If this will save me from this fate, so be it. I have been speaking to Necrozma on the boat ride here. I am ready.”

“All this time?” Owen whispered. “I guess that explains your silence…”

“Yes. I will be fine. We share a lot in common. Obviously.”

Valle and Necrozma didn’t seem all that alike to Owen, but he decided not to vocalize it. He seemed content. But being unable to revert… was strange.

“Right…” Owen gave another uneasy glance at the others. “Let’s be more careful here. Talk to Necrozma a little before… doing anything. Something doesn’t feel right.”

Mhynt nodded. “I’m also skeptical. But we can interrogate Necrozma for that.”

“Interrogate?” Zena echoed. “Do we have that kind of leverage?”

Mhynt hummed, eyes closed. “…Yes. I believe we do. Even if we need Necrozma to defeat Dark Matter, we have not tried to explore other options yet. We can leave him here. I don’t want to, but I’m not taking the option off the table.”

It made Owen feel dirty for agreeing, even mentally, but she had a point. Necrozma was the obvious answer, but not necessarily the only one.

This talk would be the decider.

Something entered the edge of Owen’s Perceive and he stopped.

“Hm?” Mhynt looked back.

“That’s him,” he said. “About a hundred feet ahead, around the next turn.”

“Only a hundred? You’re getting rusty,” Mhynt said with an eyeroll, advancing.

“Something around the air is… thick. I can’t see far.”

“It must be a strong atmosphere if it’s interfering with your Perceive,” Zena said, slithering onward. “How far below are we…?”

“I can’t see the surface anymore,” Owen said. “So, at least a hundred feet down, too.”

“Hopefully the structural integrity of this spire is sound.”

“Don’t… don’t jinx it,” Owen murmured, double-checking for cracks and faults around them.

The walls were brighter here. The black had transitioned into veins of dim gold, denser as they turned, up until they could see the source in the back of a small chamber. It was reminiscent of how Gahi had described them finding Valle… An isolated little cave.

Rather than rock, though, it was made of black crystal. Owen thought it was obsidian, but it didn’t smell of lava or sulfur. It was crystal. Necrozma’s…?

“Where is he?” Owen asked. He was expecting to see a great dragon of golden light, like his visions. His Perceive could never see the energy parts of his body, only the crystal skeleton and the odd triangle prism in his forehead. But all his eyes saw was more obsidian.

There was a pile of crystal aheads of them that looked vaguely like a half-complete sculpture. Owen had mistaken it for Necrozma, but it didn’t seem to be moving.

“Hmm…” Mhynt continued ahead.

“Um, wait. There’s no path ahead. I think we must have… missed a turn, or something…” Owen knew that was impossible. But there was no other path forward. And—

“No,” Zena said softly. “He’s… he’s there. That’s him.”

“Don’t rely on your Perceive so much, Owen,” Mhynt warned. “You’re Mystic now. Check for auras.”

“Auras…” Owen saw Rhys in his mind’s eye, followed by a pang of grief. He pushed it away.

The crystal ahead—that half-made sculpture—flickered to life when he checked his aura senses. It… was Necrozma.

“What?” Owen whispered.

Part of the sculpture—the right hand’s fingers—twitched.

“Necrozma… what happened to you?” Owen whispered.

More little twitching. Feeble movements. Owen took the lead this time, kneeling after he was a foot away from him. He heard a hollow rattling.

“You made it,” Necrozma whispered, his voice a harsh scratching that Owen tried his best to not wince over.

“Yeah. We made it. What happened?”

“Oh, this… I… ran out of… power,” Necrozma said. “It comes… and goes… Not much… light… here…”

Owen looked up. There was a straight shot upward from here, at the very top of the spire, where he could see a red dot where the sky was. Could Void Shadows enter through here? Or were they warded off by the natural radiance of this place?

“May I…” Necrozma slowly raised an arm. “May I… borrow… your… light…?”

Necrozma’s hand trembled before Owen, clearly asking for it to be held.

“What do you mean?” Owen asked.

“I need light… to… stop the pain…”

“Pain?”

“This form is… like… starvation…”

“Oh.” Owen looked back at the others. “Can we give him light?”

“Your flame could help,” Zena said. “And I naturally glow. Valle, why don’t you glow, too?”

“I may.” Already, he brightened enough to light the room.

Owen noticed that the area around Necrozma was noticeably darker despite this, absorbing the light in the room. But even that, Owen realized, wasn’t everything. His Perceive was significantly dulled around him… and he also felt weaker. The light wasn’t the only thing being drawn in. He already felt like he’d been flying at top speed for several minutes.

“Your generosity… is appreciated,” Necrozma said. “I already feel… a little better. Ha ha…”

He sounded miserable.

Necrozma’s hand still lingered in front of Owen. He interpreted it as an ask to be pulled to his feet. Owen reached forward and grasped it.

“Here,” Owen said.

Necrozma’s crystals were very cold.

“Up, with me, alright?” He pulled, but Necrozma was heavy. His hands were massive, too. His whole hand could only wrap around a finger.

When he tried to pull his hand away, though, he felt… stuck. Crystal had formed around his palm like he’d been suddenly attached. “Uh—”

Something pulled at Owen’s chest. Not physically, yet a tug, like he was about to fall into a great void. And then—

Owen woke up, dazed, staring at the red dot of the sky through the faraway opening. Zena was coiled protectively around him, while Mhynt hadn’t moved from her spot. Valle, of course, hadn’t moved at all.

“Huh?” Owen mumbled. “What happened? Where…”

His head was pounding.

Necrozma was still collapsed on the wall, still pained, but he could speak a little louder.

“I am… sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean… to blast so violently toward you. I… had… a moment… of weakness.”

“Why did you blast him into the wall, then?” Zena snarled. She was glowing brighter, water flowing through the ridges of her scales.

“Zena,” Owen said, “hang on. I’m okay, I think. Just… hit my head, I think…”

“I was trying to draw some of your power into me,” Necrozma said, rattling more. Gathered his strength. “But… I was taking too much. You would have… been… overtaken. I refused… to give in to that. I am sorry. I should have been… transparent.”

“Wh-what would’ve happened to me?” Owen asked.

“My crystals would overtake your body… and I would be in control. I would have… released you afterward. But… I know your history. You would never forgive me…”

He had a point. That sounded terrifying. Was he always capable of that?

“Considering your circumstances,” Mhynt said, “I’m willing to let that one slide, so long as you don’t try it again. Owen?”

“Y-yeah. It’s okay. You, uh, you stopped… yourself…”

Necrozma had no proper face to read, no body language he could recognize. Owen had to rely on his gut. His naturally obedient, super mutant gut.

“Zena?” Owen asked instead.

“…Can you function with just our ambient light?” Zena asked.

“I can, for a time.”

“…Then while we talk, we will talk from a distance. Here.”

With Zena’s help, Owen got to a sitting position, the last of his dizziness leaving him.

“That is fine,” Necrozma said, rising enough that perhaps he was also in… some kind of sitting position. “How do you want to begin?” he asked. “I think I heard echoes in the cavern of… an interrogation.”

Owen winced. Right. Sound probably bounced very well here. “Right,” he said. “Well… Let’s open with the first question, Necrozma.

“Do you still want to destroy this world?”

The acoustics of the room made Owen’s words echo back to him. It made him question whether or not that was a fair question, or if he could hope to get an honest answer. If he said no, could he trust that?

After that silence, nobody speaking at first, Necrozma rattled out what might have been a sigh.

“That is not something I want to do.”

Owen felt relieved, even if it could have been a lie. That was what the interrogation was for.

But then, Necrozma continued.

“It is beyond my power to stop its destruction.”
 
Chapter 155 - Remember, Move On
Chapter 155 – Remember, Move On

A Charmeleon of leafy green feathers awoke in a forest, dazed and groggy.

He groaned and rubbed his head, trying to sit up, but the dizziness left him falling forward instead.

“Ugh…”

Leaning on his hands, he propped himself up, took a few breaths, and sat up again. Steady, steady… He felt oriented enough to try standing.

“What happened?” he murmured. “Hello? Anyone?”

Nothing. Just forest. He looked up—where was the sky?

Just a black void. Not even clouds or stars. Why, then, was the forest so well-lit? Where was his shadow? He tried to find a light source, but nothing made sense. Nothing looked real.

What happened? The last thing he remembered… Necrozma, right? Necrozma had said halting the world’s destruction was beyond his power. And then he was here.

And he was… he was…

Who was he?

No, he remembered. He was the protector of the Grass Spirits—the Guardian, and the one who wound up bringing all the other Guardians together with the help of his friends. He was supposed to save Kilo from the war Eon had started to overthrow Star and Barky.

But now, after everything that happened, and everything he knew now… What did that mean? And why was he here? Did Necrozma do something to his memory…?

Standing around wasn’t going to do anything. With little else to do, the Guardian marched through the forest.

A voice echoed from above.

So that’s it, then? You’re… saying it’s inevitable? That our world is doomed?

Owen knew that voice. It was Zena. Oh, Zena… Of all the Guardians, she was one of the least fortunate to get involved. She had no Legend half, no stake in this. She only happened to befriend Emily long ago, a former Guardian and one of Dark Matter’s underlings.

Why was he hearing this?

He’s not saying that, said his voice. That was surreal to hear. Had he said that?

Was this a conversation… from before?

I’m having trouble interpreting it another way, Zena replied. What could it be?

Maybe he needs more power… Don’t we have that?

What?


He didn’t have the answers now, and standing around wouldn’t do anything. In search of clues, the Guardian marched through the shadowless forest.

<><><>​

A tiny Charmander bravely marched through a clearing. He puffed out his chest, intimidating invisible foes. “Is anyone there?!” he called. “Whose voice is that?!”

It sounded a lot like him but older. Finally evolved. A wonderful aspiration of his, so maybe this was a dream?

But his memory lapses were getting a lot worse. He couldn’t even remember his name. Mom would know, though. Clutching at the Heart badge in his hand, eyes shining with the reminder that he’d done it. He wasn’t a provisional Heart anymore. He was a true Heart.

That’s what he’d go by for now. At least… until he remembered his name.

Dark Matter is someone that is not just an entity plaguing this world. He is, at its core, part of the very fabric of reality.

Heart tilted his head. Dark Matter. Yes, he remembered him. Heart of Hearts Anam had been taking care of him and trying to show him a better world, right? Sure, he had to do some shady things for it, but the world was happier in the end, right? Did that make it okay?

Dark Matter existed at the beginning, during this world’s creation. He began with the inception of its rules. A stray thought from one of its Creators.

So, no way to remove him without removing the world,
said another, small but serious voice. Mhynt, right? She was important.

An entity that was a problem for the world, but was also part of the world. Getting rid of it also got rid of the world, and vice versa. That did sound like a problem.

But then the solution would be to turn the problem into something that wouldn’t be a problem, even if it was there, right?

As he wandered through the bright forest, the Heart pondered a solution…

<><><>​

There weren’t any enemies nearby. No targets to kill. That was boring.

A nameless Charizard crawled over the charred forest—he’d done it himself because the green felt like it was not good terrain for him. The whole air had the smell of what he was supposed to be hunting down. Mystic power, right? And he remembered the source of that voice, too.

It was something that he was supposed to destroy. Well, most things were. All things were aside from his commander and anyone that he wasn’t ordered to destroy.

No targets. That was boring. So he just had to keep looking.

He was the one who hunted down power. Why didn’t matter; it was fun, wasn’t it? Battle was fun. That was the point, that’s what made him feel alive. And unlike so many others that he knew, who didn’t know how to truly fight, he was the only one who had the mettle to take out a target.

That weak little voice that spoke for him didn’t know how to kill. How much easier would it have been if he did?

There’s no way to destroy him at all? his new voice called. That was one of the first wise questions he’d ever asked.

I think even destruction would only result in his slow return. Perhaps not now, but ages later…

That just meant another fight ages later. He didn’t age. He’d be around.

Listening to that was tiring. The Hunter crawled forward on all fours—his lengthened limbs allowed it, and it seemed to intimidate others—in search of a new target.

<><><>​

This was one of Necrozma’s mindscapes. Hmm.

But he didn’t remember agreeing to one, which was worrying. Still, knowing Necrozma, he probably asked, and this was only a temporary stint of memory loss. He still didn’t like it, but… fine. It was a small problem compared to everything that happened after his era.

The great Charizard—a staggering thirteen feet in height, perhaps a bit taller—had a surprisingly light footfall. His wings were already spread, carrying a simple updraft that allowed him to walk with much less weight. The gusts of wind helped to intimidate weaker challengers, not that it mattered when they posed a proper threat.

Necrozma’s pact of destruction didn’t surprise him. First, it was that he must, and now it’s simply that he can’t not. Wishkeeper—he recalled his title, not his name—was wise to Necrozma’s plays.

He wasn’t going to be fooled. It was only when he trusted his friends did he fall. Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf… they’d betrayed him. Turned him into a shell of his old self, left to become… that thing afterward. And that had been his fate, hadn’t it?

Ever since that moment, he’d never returned from that apex. If he still had his whole power from before, all of this would have been behind him now. He would have saved Kilo. Instead, everyone else tried to use him.

He hated what he’d become. What others made him.

Why couldn’t he simply be himself again? Not crafted by what everyone else wanted him to be, but his true, innermost, proper, pure self. That was who he was.

The talking in the sky continued. Zena—she was a kind Milotic. He appreciated how, even when she was overprotective, she tried to give him his autonomy back—was objecting to Necrozma’s evaluations. Good. She was wise. If there was anything he could compliment his future self over, it was choosing her to trust.

Necrozma blathered on about how perhaps he’d changed, and that he wouldn’t have the power to overpower them anyway.

Wait. Would he?

What do you mean? The voice of his future, diminutive self asked.

It’s as I said. With Star and Barky so focused on saving this world, I’m simply overruled. And with Diyem as well… even the counterpower against divinity is against me, hypothetically.

Diyem, the counterpower. Yes. He was woven into the world’s core.

Necrozma seemed to be speaking with hard facts… He recognized that he couldn’t be trusted otherwise.

Maybe he did learn something.

I… suppose I can trust that, Wishkeeper’s future self said. Okay. Well… alright. I’m just… thinking.

You seem conflicted,
Necrozma said.

Well, yeah, I mean—

No, no. I’m sorry… I meant… internally. Conflicted over…
Necrozma rattled a wheeze. Your mind. It’s… fragmented.

Huh?


Then, it clicked.

Wishkeeper realized what this mindscape was. This false forest with a black sky and phantasmal leaves was just a place where he’d travel to find the rest of him.

What Necrozma had set up, as their pointless prattle continued in the sky, was a place where he could finally be himself.

This was a reconciliation. This was his opportunity to come back.

The time for all of his other ‘selves’ to finally be put in their place.

With a quickened pace, Wishkeeper marched through the empty forest. He could feel it, even without his Perceive. The others, his other selves, were just ahead.

<><><>​

This forest smelled weird.

The leaves didn’t burn. And none of it looked right. Or maybe that was because the sky didn’t have any lights. That was weird. But he liked that it wasn’t dark. His flame could only do so much.

Still, Smallflame wasn’t sure why he was there. He felt lost without his human.

Thinking about that human hurt his chest.

He beat his wings. Folded them back. Didn’t feel right. He puffed out his chest and growled at nothing, making sure anyone who might be spying on him knew he was nothing to trifle with.

The people in the sky were talking, but he didn’t get it. That was for the humans to go on about. Something about saving the world, but that always felt way over his head. The vague feeling he had about what happened after he went to sleep and became someone else… seemed beyond what he should be doing. Like he didn’t have a place in what he was interfering with.

His human… also gave him a name. It was very important to him. Why couldn’t he remember it?

Smallflame sniffed the air. He could sense others of his kind ahead. One smelled a little funny, though. Maybe they would have some answers—or even better, they were the people he’d become! He had a feeling that was this place’s trick. The weird black crystal might have done it.

He suddenly had a vision. Inside a dark cave of black crystals, that Necrozma was reaching toward him. It was for the second time. Zena and so many other new, friendly faces nodded in approval, some more cautious than others. He took Necrozma’s hand, and the crystal grew over his body.

Breathe gently. Just like your meditation.

As the crystal crawled over the rest of his body, Necrozma himself disappearing as more and more of him encased the Charizard’s scales, the vision faded out.

And that was how he’d arrived in this forest.

Suddenly, something roared. Then another roar from something smaller, around his size. It sounded a lot like him.

Trouble. Smallflame spread his wings and flew into the fray.

<><><>​

All five met in the nexus of this forest, where there were no trees and no ground. Instead, it was some flat surface devoid of proper texture, only a vague give any time their heels pressed against it to walk forward.

The first to arrive was a green Charmeleon with leafy feathers. He was surprised to see all the others approaching but was most nervous about a Charizard that prowled on four legs and stared at him with a crazed, hungry look in his eyes.

“H-hi,” Guardian said, waving.

“You smell nice,” Hunter replied, creeping closer.

“Uhh, thanks?” Guardian’s eyes shifted left and right. There, he spotted another, mercifully normal Charizard flying in, though he still had a more feral look to his mannerisms.

The feral Charizard said something in a series of growls and snorts. Vocalizations Guardian didn’t understand, but he came off as intelligent enough. Guardian waved at him, and he waved back.

“Smallflame, right?” Guardian asked.

Smallflame grunted in approval. Hunter sized him up, narrowing his eyes and pupils.

“Hello?” called the tiniest voice yet. On another part of this nexus, a little Charmander hopped into view and waved. “Oh, hi! I think I know you! Or, us, right?”

He sprinted, only skidding to a stop once he was within speaking distance. “You can call me Heart! Do any of you remember our name?”

“Not really,” Guardian said. “Oh, but you can call me Guardian. I guess it fits, since, you know…”

“Right!” Heart’s bright eyes sparkled with wonder. “You’re who I become, right? Wow. Saving the world!”

“Yeah, uh, that’s me…”

Heart grinned anyway, not sensing Guardian’s hesitance.

A spear of black and white energy—a sizzling mixture of Radiance and Shadow—streaked through the air. Hunter, its target, jumped out of the way and avoided it completely.

Flying toward them was a Charizard more than twice the size of any of the others, fury in his eyes and hatred in his javelin of light and dark. He slammed into the ground and stood upright.

“You,” he hissed at Hunter. He brought the javelin back, ready to throw it like Hunter was a fish to spear in the river.

“H-hey! Hang on, what’re you doing?!” Heart cried, but he was of course too small to do anything. Smallflame shouted as well, trying to call off the fight. Hunter took a cautious step back, that crazed look somewhere between excited for a battle and doubtful he’d win.

Wishkeeper wound up, seconds from hurling it through Hunter—and this close, he wouldn’t miss.

“STOP!” cried Guardian.

owen_mindscape.png

(art by Chibi Pika)​

He leaped in the way and held up his arms. A golden barrier separated himself and Hunter from Wishkeeper. Smallflame and Heart both stopped their approach, and Wishkeeper, mercifully, only held the crackling spear in place, neither throwing nor withdrawing it.

“What’re you doing?” Guardian dared ask.

“Putting down the blight on our soul,” Wishkeeper said flatly, staring past Guardian and into Hunter, who only hissed and crouched in response.

“He’s still us,” Guardian said. “We need to—”

“He was created after everything that made us was wiped away. When I was wiped away.” Wishkeeper’s claws squeezed the javelin.

“Will hurting him hurt us?” Guardian pressed.

“Y-yeah!” Heart added. “We have no idea what that would do. We’re still the same soul, just… just, you know, different times!”

Smallflame stood beside Hunter and spread his wings protectively, glaring at Wishkeeper next.

Hunter was antsy, ready to strike. But for now, he recognized everyone else as safe… aside from the big one.

“There’s no point in fighting right now,” Guardian said. “Please. Let’s just talk, okay? We’ve got to be here for a reason.”

“The reason is to get rid of what has been holding us back,” Wishkeeper said.

“And you think he’s holding us back?” Guardian asked.

“You don’t?”

Guardian tensed. In many ways, he was. But he couldn’t admit that directly. “There’s still something he can help us with,” he said. “If we just talk, maybe we can all see that.”

The barrier remained, as did the spear, for a tense few moments. Above them, in the black, starless abyss, there were light murmurings of small talk. Was that the present day? Were they all resting after their long trek? That was probably it.

Wishkeeper finally let out a long, weary sigh. The javelin dissipated into nothing and his shoulders sagged. When he collapsed into a sitting position, the malleable ground around them pulsed with the energy of his sheer weight, which Guardian suspected was a literal ton, given his height.

“Fine,” Wishkeeper said. “A talk.”

Heart beamed, about to speak, when Wishkeeper cut him off.

“But I expect this to be useful. I’m… not going to fade away again. And I won’t let anything stop that from happening.”

“I understand,” Guardian said. “I think we all want to… not fade away. We’ll find a way to make this work. Everyone okay with this?”

Heart nodded emphatically. Wishkeeper merely crossed his arms and closed his eyes, submitting to the proposal. Hunter remained guarded, settling next to Smallflame, who took to keeping his wings over his fellow near-feral Charizard.

“Good enough,” Guardian said. “Let’s start with something basic. Does anyone know our name?”

All negative responses.

“Oh, I know!” Heart piped up, raising his hand like he was supposed to be called.

Guardian and Wishkeeper exchanged awkward glances. They both nodded at him.

“How about we introduce ourselves?” Heart suggested. “We’ll tell each other what we know, from our perspective! Then, uh, we’ll… see what happens from there?”

Near the end, he’d lost some steam. But the effort was there, and the idea…

“Hm.” Wishkeeper pondered it aloud. “I like that. We’ll start there. Let’s begin chronologically. I believe that means we start with…” He looked at Smallflame. “Hmm.”

Guardian scratched the top of his horn.

“Oh.” Heart tittered nervously. “That… might be harder than I thought.”

<><><>​

Zena had found a decent place on the edge of the room to sleep. Despite its dim glow, it was more comforting than the old cavern she’d once slept in when she was alone… though with the current circumstances, it was hard to get any rest. Not that she needed to, as a Mystic. But her mind was tired, and some moments of silence and inactivity were still necessary.

Valle was set up in the corner of the room, having said very little during their discussions, though he did remark every so often about vague feelings of familiarity with the things Necrozma spoke about.

Demitri, Mispy, Gahi, their three counterparts, and Trina were all settled in a big seven-person heap in another part of the room, and looking at them eased Zena’s heart just a little. They’d been calmed enough to enter the place, and with Necrozma dormant, the light did not bother them as much.

She especially liked how delicately Trina was settled between Gahi’s two antennae, awake but with her eyes closed in meditation.

Owen’s state unnerved her. The long conversation they had, talking about Necrozma’s role as the third god, the mediator of Kilo, and his true role as an Overseer—which he was frustratingly vague about the details of. How they’d ultimately decided that Necrozma didn’t want to destroy Kilo any longer, and no longer had the capability anyway. Did she truly believe that?

She believed he couldn’t. But she was skeptical he no longer wanted to if given the opportunity. Thankfully, the rest of the divine and ‘anti-divine’ powers were against him. When Necrozma gathered more of his strength and helped sort out Owen, he and Valle would combine.

But his means of gathering that strength…

Hunched over in the edge of the room was a Charizard covered in strange, obsidian-black armor. Necrozma had reached toward Owen, and their hands had clasped together. Owen had evolved, and they spoke some kind of agreement to one another. After several contingencies with Mhynt, and determining Necrozma’s strength, they’d found that Owen was the proper vessel to help reenergize Necrozma.

They’d tried with Mhynt first. Unfortunately, her light had faded from so long in the Voidlands. It did ease Zena’s worries, though. Mhynt described the experience as unpleasant, but not painful, and it was only the former because she lacked the light Necrozma sought. It had only been partly there.

And, more importantly, Zena could sense Owen’s aura mingled with Necrozma’s. He was fine. No more, so far, than an active dream. According to that crystal beast, Owen’s mind was so fragmented that Necrozma was helping to sort it out with him. She wondered what that was like… and it pained her that she couldn’t have been of any help.

“I don’t blame you,” Mhynt said.

Zena jumped, then curled inward defensively. She didn’t make eye contact.

“I’m sure Necrozma doesn’t, either.”

“You’ll wake the others.”

Mhynt settled down a few feet from her. Upon glancing at her, Zena only saw Mhynt offering a little, crooked smile.

“I’ll speak softly. The chamber is large enough.”

The Milotic sighed and coiled a little tighter. “Right.”

More silence followed, though this time, it was because Zena was thinking about what to say. How to say it? Mhynt seemed courteous enough to not interrupt.

“I’m not,” Zena began, “crazy, am I? For… being so oppositional.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well. It started with Star, obviously, for the life she put me through when I had no idea what I was getting into. Then, Barky was no better. And I find out that Necrozma planned to end the world before I was even born. I’m not some Legend. I’m not even descended from someone particularly… noble or powerful. Xerneas checked. There’s nothing standout in my lineage. I’m just a Milotic.”

“And I think for that reason,” Mhynt said, “you would be the most reasonable opinion to seek out, Zena.”

“I have no experience with this. Even though I can’t… shake my feelings, there’s… I’m doubting it, Mhynt. Especially when Owen is…” She gestured at the crystalized Charizard. “Going along with it.”

“I wouldn’t use Owen as your baseline,” Mhynt warned. “He was born as a docile, human-friendly Charmander, remember. Meant to be agreeable to figures of authority. To add, Nevren had a hand in the mind he was given once he was ‘de-feralized,’ so to speak… And of course, there is the mutant body afterward.”

The Treecko shook her head. “I doubt none of that stuck, Zena. He’s going to tend to agree. But in this case… Necrozma’s reasons and logic checked out. He cannot hurt us. The gods would overpower him, especially with Diyem now on our side, too.”

“But what will he do instead?” Zena asked. “He claims he’d save this world, but how? If Diyem is woven into…”

“I think Owen is already doing it,” Mhynt said. “He’s trying to make Diyem something that isn’t a destructive force. We already have a small grain of truth that it’s possible. All we must do now is make sure that’s the dominant part. Necrozma would gladly do that.”

“I… I suppose so,” Zena said. “I can only rely on your judgments at this point. I can’t shake that spiteful feeling, though, and I’m worried it’s going to distract me from the practical answer… sometimes…”

“Don’t worry,” Mhynt said. “We need someone to be spiteful. We need someone to remind us of what they did.” She nodded. “I’m… admittedly desperate to get rid of the darkness of Kilo. But you haven’t seen it as much. Remind us if we lose sight of what it means to be of Kilo.”

That was a heavy weight to place on her. Zena nervously toyed with her ribbons. “I’ll try,” she finally said.

Mhynt seemed satisfied by this because she nodded and took a seat nearby, looking at the opposite wall. Meditating, lost in thought? She couldn’t tell.

The silence ate at her. She could have just rested.

“You’re a lot stronger than I am,” Zena finally said.

“Hm? Well, of course. I’m Lunala.”

“No, that—” Zena sighed. “Emotionally.”

“I’ve been through more,” Mhynt said.

“That’s hardly a reason. People can go through a great deal and come out fragile.” Zena’s ribbons curled and uncurled.

“Well, yes,” she said. “And I have little, fragile cracks because of it. Everyone does if I had to guess… but we can be hardened. The Voidlands made it so.” She leaned her back against the wall. “I don’t think that’s a good thing. People should be able to let their guard down.”

But Zena was no better. She’d just gone over a talk about being on guard with the gods. Mhynt seemed knowledgeable enough to know when to let that guard down.

“Do you mean for normal people?” Zena asked. “Surely you can trust them.”

“The Void erodes people, Zena,” Mhynt said, not looking at her. “It’s a world where death leads to a new life of blissful malice. I’ve seen Class B and C individuals far happier than Class A, deathless citizens. They are people burdened with the knowledge that one day they will die of some painful circumstance and lose who they are.

“You’re a lot happier when you don’t know what you’re missing.”

Zena thought of poor Xypher. He had seemed cheerful, in his weird little way. And then Hakk, his caretaker, so embittered, so broken when Xypher was gone. But where was Xypher now? Would there ever… be a Xypher again?

“What would you prefer?” Zena asked Mhynt.

“…I don’t know,” Mhynt admitted. “To lose who I am now, to throw everything away, and become someone else? That’s a gamble, even if it’s a terrible one. I think… I would prefer to keep all of myself for now. But I do wonder if, at some point… I’m simply too old and burdened. I wonder if there’s merit in…” Her eyes trailed over to Owen. “Forgetting.”

“Don’t let him hear that one from you,” Zena hummed with a slight playfulness to her tone.

“I won’t,” Mhynt replied with a wry smile. “I admire his determination to get everything back. Good and bad. I do wonder what that means for the fragmentation Necrozma was talking about…”

She did, too. A deep part of her wondered if the Owen who woke up would be the same Charizard she knew. The time she shared with him was brief, no more than a year by now, and yet… he was thousands of years old. What was she to someone like that?

“Zena,” Mhynt said. “I know that look.”

“I’m sorry. It’s selfish of me.” She coiled up, pretending to rest.

“Not what I meant,” she said. “…Let me tell you about something. It’s not… completely true, but it is the trend. When it comes to memories of people like us, of Mystics and gods and all the other ageless… recency matters. As we grow older and older, the distant past does feel like an old life, a dream of some other person.

“That is my time with the Owen I knew a thousand years ago. A good, happy dream… but nothing more. That person I was, and the person he was, are gone forever, Zena. It’s a foolish thing to try to rekindle the past when we have something in the present instead. When so much had changed.”

“But you can’t possibly throw it all away,” Zena said. “Memories… they don’t seem to go away for us. Just sealed, or moved, or buried, but you can’t erase them. It’s like a curse.”

“That is the curse of all souls, Zena,” Mhynt replied gravely. “It is only because we are beyond mortal bodies that we bear it earlier. Memories are eternal to a soul. And really, there is no need for a realm like the Voidlands to torment a soul. Regrets will do that well enough.” Mhynt looked down. “A soul is powerless to reverse the regrets of their time alive. It sticks to them like weights. It’s no wonder some desire a new life so their old self can become a distant dream.”

“Old self…” Zena thought about Owen’s personalities. The jabbering he’d talk about in their downtime about his old names, his old languages, and friends. They were always so interesting to her, but she also wondered—and asked—what he thought about those. Were they really ‘him’ still?

Owen never seemed to like that question. She avoided it after a few tries.

But now… he was probably confronting that very problem.

“Recency,” Zena circled back. “Are you saying Owen would be more as I know him, even after this?”

“It’s more likely. Maybe a few changes. For the better, if I want to be optimistic.” Mhynt wobbled her head noncommittally. “But,” the Treecko went on, “I do think he will still care for you more than other friends. Perhaps as much as family. How close are you two, now?”

“Oh, well… we’re fairly close,” Zena said.

There was a beat of silence. Zena shrank back slightly. Her cream scales, she wondered, were they darkening? Owen remarked about how feral Pokémon couldn’t blush like that. Gods, it must have been obvious to Mhynt…

But the Treecko’s expression was softer than she’d expected. “Tell me, Zena,” she said. “Are you ready for the day you two may part?”

“What?”

“For immortals, forever is a long time. There is no death to part you… Well, unless you’re killed, I suppose. But we’re strong. That’s hard to come by. And, well, death is an inconvenience for us. It won’t be goodbye. Other goodbyes happen instead.

“So, one day, you and Owen… will drift apart. It’s naïve to think you’d be together ‘forever,’ yes?”

Zena felt defensive over it. Like she wanted to battle the concept. But then, she thought about it, her reflexive defensiveness hardening into cold shame.

“Why tell me this?” Zena said, not quite thinking her words through.

“Because it’s something you’ll think about one day,” she said. “I wanted to give you… advice.”

“To be ready for the end? What a horrible way to—”

“To enjoy things as they happen.”

Zena was quiet. It seemed… simple enough. But why that angle?

“Gods, demigods, whatever we are… We lose sight of the ‘now’ when facing forever. But if you know everything will end during your long line of eternity… don’t shy away from everything because of it. Enjoy one thing after the other. Accept them for their fleeting nature. Even your loved ones, as you drift apart, be happy for what you have now, and what you had then. And be ready for something new the day after.”

“Right, I… I think I understand. The now… So I don’t, don’t shy away from…”

Mhynt nodded. “Mortals may get by with one dedication for their life. But forever is too long for that. I think right now, Owen is battling that very same thing. He is battling what it means to remember… and what it means to move on at the same time. To carry that burden of memories. To pay for the privilege of remembering everything he can.

“All things considered… he seems very happy anyway, doesn’t he?”

“Content,” Zena corrected. “I think it’s not that it makes him happy. I think it… satisfies him, to know. Even the parts that are hard.”

“Hm.” Mhynt shook her head, smiling. “You sound confident.”

“That’s one thing I know for sure.” The Milotic uncurled a little, relaxing.

And silence filled the air again, the conversation trailing away. But it wasn’t an awkward, tense silence this time. The now… Maybe she’d drift from Owen one day, sure. But not for decades, maybe centuries? Gods, if they had centuries, at the rate the world was going… No, no. Positive. They had to keep fighting.

“I suppose he’s already changed,” Mhynt said. “You know him more than I do now.” She smirked, closing her eyes. “Good luck. He’s a handful.”

Zena chuckled at that, resting her chin against her coils. “I’ll do my best.”

<><><>​

Something was energizing about guessing what Smallflame was trying to convey when there was such a vast language barrier between him and the rest of his selves. Hunter was one of the best interpreters, but he was a bad speaker. Heart turned out to be good at interpreting Hunter, and while the way Heart talked about it irritated Wishkeeper, Guardian acted as a good mediator between the two.

Slowly, they pieced together Smallflame’s past as Tim’s starter Pokémon in Kanto, the tragic end to their journey to become Champion and their eventual transition to Ranger work in another region. Then, being recruited by Hecto for rescuing Star from some dark organization in Orre, and being obliterated from orbit by Barky, along with the rest of the island.

Smallflame spoke of how he’d suddenly learned how to speak to Tim—though now, he was a Mew—and their ascent up the tower… and, eventually, his death by age, and how Tim, now Jirachi, Palkia, once the scientist Michael, and Xerneas had put their efforts together to make the Reincarnation Machine so Owen could properly come back, even after dying of age.

This led to Wishkeeper, whose diction needed to be dumbed down for Smallflame, thanks to help from Hunter and Heart. Wishkeeper talked about his reincarnations and work with Jirachi, the many times he was killed due to assassins, bad luck, or as Wishkeeper phrased it, “Poor calibration of the Reincarnation Machine.”

He eventually spoke of the thousand years that Quartz had been allowed, and how presumably its name had eventually been changed to Kilo in that honor after his ‘death.’ He glared at Hunter occasionally when he spoke. The largest Charizard ended off with the remark that after his emotions, will, and memories had been wiped, he was left for dead to be Reincarnated once more.

But the damage remained, and he had to be taught all over again. Perhaps Nevren, Eon, or some other twisted machination had turned him into an obedient little soldier instead. Into Hunter.

They didn’t know how Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi had gotten caught up in that one, but obviously, it was after they’d been split from their Trio of Mind, or they would have repaired him a lot earlier. Maybe they could ask them about it later…

Hunter’s story was much shorter. Fighting. Training. They didn’t know why, but it was fun. Over and over until one day, after he killed someone he wasn’t supposed to, Rhys took him away and to Amia. Or, more specifically, when he was killed, he’d been taken as a spirit instead, where they could calm him a lot easier.

It was all blurry. Hunter spoke in broken sentences like he was perpetually in his battle mode rather than his docile state. Heart seemed to calm him with gentle head pats and chin scratches.

Heart took over from there. He only remembered living in Hot Spot for so many lives. He’d made simple friendships in Kilo, only to forget them later when he had to be Reset again. Until one day…

He became Guardian, and his memories started to return. It was all coming back to them all, now. For some, like Smallflame, it was like seeing into the future; for Guardian, it was recovering the past.

By the time Guardian finished talking about gathering their new friends, falling into the Voidlands, and slowly clawing back every bit of power they’d lost or forgotten…

All of them took a collective breath.

And let it out.

Wishkeeper spoke first. “It’s better,” he said. Every time he spoke, he seemed to be keeping up a regal air about himself. No, not quite regal; perhaps it was more formal and important. Much more than any of the others. “Better than it had been before.”

Hunter growled at Wishkeeper but said little more.

“But I’m the rightful continuity,” Wishkeeper went on. “When Smallflame was reborn, I was given a mind. A proper mind that wasn’t simply bred to be docile to humans, and—”

Smallflame growled in protest. His toes dug into the void below him like it had dirt, and he snorted out a little plume of fire. The smoke carried his disapproval.

Wishkeeper rolled his eyes. “I know it’s not bred to be docile; I know it was because it was evolutionarily advantageous to work with humans, but the result is the same. You were friendly. Obedient. Nice. And that got taken advantage of.”

Smallflame’s growls continued, but quieter, like a defiant mumble.

“But you also lost your way,” Heart said gently. Unlike everyone else, Heart had the softest tonalities, and he often had his hands over his chest holding themselves. “You could have talked it out a little more and maybe convinced Necrozma sooner, instead of turning to the very thing he was trying to destroy. Dark Matter…”

“I tried to save him,” Wishkeeper said.

“You made… Voidlands,” Hunter pointed out.

“I didn’t make it,” Wishkeeper growled. “It was a product of the reverse of the Hands made by the gods. As if you’re one to speak about causing suffering.”

“Just fighting,” Hunter said. Then, he brought his forelegs up—he liked prowling on all fours—and made air quotes. “Bred to be obedient.”

“So you do listen,” Wishkeeper said. It was somehow a genuine compliment.

“But Hunter has a point,” Guardian spoke up.

Guardian was not formal nor casual, and spoke more evenly than the others. He was a little grave, and he didn’t quite feel right in his feathers, but he couldn’t change it here for some reason.

“Compared to the four of us, his ability to fight is… kind of the best. If we can control the temper, that’s what we need him for. Strength. Right, Hunter?”

Hunter growled affirmatively. It didn’t seem like he cared much about anything if he could fight. Really, that came naturally to Pokémon. They just had to temper it.

“Hmph. I also have technique,” Wishkeeper said. “…But combined, I can see its strengths. Fine. I’ll… I’m fine with that.”

Guardian frowned. “Wishkeeper… I think it’s also because you’re afraid of being erased again.”

“Tch.” Wishkeeper scowled. “Of course I don’t want that. Who would? I was… betrayed by the people I trusted the most. I was alone. Isolated. And then my final thoughts… were of the last person I trusted taking away my will. Then my emotions. Then my memories. Gone. I was gone.”

He’d been thinking about Gahi initially, but then quickly pivoted to all three of that Trio of Mind… But his mind went back to Gahi again. Azelf. And for the first time, his voice trembled. That told the others everything they needed to know. He was so persistent because out of everyone, he was the one who’d been so thoroughly wiped away. And now he was clawing his way back… only to be in this talk with four others who wanted the same.

“No,” Guardian said. “Sorry. I meant you’re afraid of… that, right? Of becoming something else, not even lesser. Just not ‘you.’ Right?”

Wishkeeper seemed briefly ashamed. He’d let it slip, that insecurity. But… it was true. He knew what it was like. And he saw what he became. “I don’t want to disappear, yes. I have to… I don’t want to go away again. I can’t.”

Guardian spoke gently this time. “So you… try to strike it down. Hunter, I mean. But… isn’t that the opposite of what you tried to do with Dark Matter?”

Wishkeeper squinted, and in a brief silence of contemplation, he seemed to recognize the parallel. “…Then, you’re suggesting I should try to… help Hunter the same way. And it won’t end in disaster this time? I won’t be erased.”

“The only way to get rid of Hunter is to get rid of all of us,” Guardian warned. “Just like Kilo and Dark Matter. So… yeah. We have to help him, too. None of us will be erased this time. We all need to exist, because all of us bring a little bit to our ‘whole.’ Right?”

Hunter snorted. “Don’t need help,” he grumbled.

“Stubborn,” Wishkeeper snorted back.

“You’re both stubborn,” Guardian said.

“Of course we both are. We’re both many things. We’re all the same soul.”

“I dunno if the soul means a whole lot,” Heart said. “It’s memories and feelings, right? And we hardly had either persist between us, just… dispositions, and people… That’s what makes this part so hard.”

Wishkeeper nodded. “Fine. I agree there, too. I’m… afraid of being erased. I said that. Sure. But if I have to help Hunter, you also have to help me be part of…” He gestured around.

“Of course,” Guardian said. “You don’t have to be protective. We’re all here for each other. Okay?”

“Fine.”

“You’re also way too intense,” Heart added.

Back on the defensive, Wishkeeper retorted without hesitation, “What? Intense? I’m not intense. I’m serious. I had to manage reality-bending wishes! And then save the world!”

“I mean, so am I?” Guardian said. “Maybe not the wishes part, but the world’s in pretty big danger!”

“Huge danger,” Heart said. “But, uh, Wishkeeper, you’re just, like…” He pinched the air. “Maybe a tiny bit scary?”

Smallflame grumbled something.

“I think he said, ‘he is anything but tiny,’” Guardian guessed.

Smallflame snorted in approval.

“Oh, wow, a size joke. I’ve never heard it before.”

“You’re the one that’s like thirteen feet tall!”

“And four inches.”

“So you do keep track!” Heart pointed at him.

“How did you even eat?” Guardian said.

“My diet was actually… small. Necrozma’s blessing increases your size but it shrinks your appetite.” Wishkeeper shrugged. “I guess it’s like being half-Mystic.”

“Solar power,” Hunter rumbled.

“Maybe.”

“I can do that,” Guardian added, playing with his feathers.

Heart giggled. “Well, if we’re supposed to, like… try to sort ourselves out, I’ll talk about what I want. I want to be friends with as many people as possible, and to save as many people, too!”

“What about when you need to make tough decisions? Sacrifices? Will you freeze up, shut down?” Wishkeeper pressed.

“W-well… maybe… But!” Heart pointed. “That’s when you come in!”

“…To make the hard decisions,” Wishkeeper said. “…Okay. I’ll agree to that. If… being friendly isn’t enough, or… something. If there’s anything I want to carry on, it’s my knowledge and experience. Compared to all of you, I just… know more. Sorry.”

“But you’ve become timeworn because of it,” Guardian said. “We need to remember being normal, too. Even if it’s a tiny bit. I think… Smallflame and Heart can help there.”

“Perhaps so,” Wishkeeper acquiesced.

Heart beamed. They’d managed to convince Wishkeeper to work with them. That was a lot better than trying to kill Hunter! He didn’t even know what that would mean for him as a personality. Then again… Hunter was hostile.

Guardian, seeing the way Heart glanced at Hunter, carried that along. “Hunter, you’re going to have to behave from now on. Yes, we’re still going to fight. But you don’t want to scare your friends, right?”

“Guess not,” Hunter agreed. “…But use my strength. You’re soft. All of you. One day, an enemy… will need to be killed. Not befriended.”

“We understand,” Heart said, though his tone suggested he wasn’t all in. “As long as we aren’t hurting people who don’t deserve it. And not going too far, either. I’m… sick of having to worry about killing.”

“Does that even matter anymore?” Guardian asked. “We know what death is. So—”

“Do not go down that path,” Wishkeeper said, and Guardian flinched at the sudden harshness of the largest Charizard’s tone.

“Right, sorry,” Guardian replied quickly.

Wishkeeper wasn’t satisfied. This was exactly what he was worried about. “Being a god makes you lose sight of the values of mortals. We aren’t gods, but we have the agelessness of one. Do not discredit death. It’s traumatizing to mortals, and not something to take lightly. Is that clear?”

“It is! I knew that,” Guardian said. “I just meant for me, and stuff… if we had to choose, you know? Between them and us.”

“Mm.” Wishkeeper wasn’t convinced, but it was fine enough that he recognized the error. “I suppose that means we all have decided on, generally, what we want. Except for…”

They all looked at Smallflame, who shifted nervously. This was all so complicated for him. Big words and even bigger concepts. He didn’t care about all that, and they were all ‘older’ than him anyway.

And his old friend… all his old friends were gone, now. Tim’s old team was long gone, lost to the horrible organization that stole them. Who knew what lives they’d lived? Tim’s old friends and allies had become gods, too, and all changed so much.

Smallflame was… the past. He wasn’t supposed to be around anymore. Was that what they were trying to tell him?

“I know it’s hard to talk to us,” Heart said, “but we’re all the same person. We’ll understand you. If there’s anything you want to… keep… about you, what would it be?” He gently reached forward until his tiny hand was on Smallflame’s thigh. “It’s okay. What is it?”

The most frustrating part was Smallflame didn’t have the vocabulary for it. Not for them. And they didn’t have the part of ‘him’ that could understand his words.

But this was a weird, mental place where they could all understand each other, right? Maybe it was like humans and Pokémon. Maybe they would understand his feelings.

“I want,” Smallflame said, “to have friends again.”

He didn’t know if they understood. But the way Wishkeeper glanced away, pensive, and the way Guardian smiled sadly… They did.

“It’ll be okay, Smallflame,” Guardian said. “We have so many people by our side now. You won’t be lonely. Not after all this.”

“Even I had friends,” Hunter pointed out. “…Violent friends. But still friends.”

“Well, you were also violent, so it worked out,” Wishkeeper murmured.

“Says the guy who opened trying to skewer him,” Guardian muttered back.

Heart tittered, but then sighed. “I guess that’s everything,” he said. “What do we do now?”

“We decide on how to go forward,” Wishkeeper said. “And I believe I’ve finally puzzled together what Necrozma wants from us, too. A decision on how ‘we’ come together with a sense of… continuity between our fragmented parts. We did that. Now… we decide what our future is.”

“We already did that, too,” Heart said.

“We did. Guardian,” Wishkeeper said, “I… have reservations about how you did things. But even you, the most recent of ‘us,’ are not the person that was speaking to Necrozma. It was a little bit of all of us. And a little bit of it will remain. I guess… in that sense… we’re all supposed to rise together. As one.”

Guardian nodded. “I agree,” he said. “If that’s the case, how about we all fly together?”

“Uh? Fly?” Heart asked. “I never evolved yet…”

Guardian chuckled. “Well, if that’s the case—”

Hunter crawled over and dipped his nose beneath Heart, flicking him onto his back. He yelped, but landed surprisingly softly in his wings, tumbling to the center of Hunter’s back.

“Hold on tight,” Hunter said.

“Uh—” Heart grasped onto the base of his wings. “Okay! I’m tight!”

“Can you fly as well?” Wishkeeper asked Guardian.

“Yep.”

Wishkeeper and Smallflame both spread their wings, conjuring updraft. Gentle psionics and Mystic power raised Guardian from the ground. Hunter crouched; Heart braced.

All five rose toward the abyssal sky as one. Their bodies shimmered with light. For a few fleeting seconds, they could all see through each other’s eyes. And for a few more, their sights became one.
 
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Chapter 156 - First Generation
Chapter 156 – First Generation

“Is it just me, or is this a terrible idea?” Phol murmured. “At what point did I get involved in the field again? I’m a doctor now, not a Heart.”

“Probably when we started losing Hearts to who knows where,” Spice said. “The world may have stopped ending, but the damage is done. Maybe once it calms down more, you can be irritated at patients again.”

Phol grumbled and didn’t reply directly.

Before them was a great temple, completely decayed from disrepair and abandonment. Stained glass windows once depicted the figures of Mew and Arceus and all their creations. The blank window that often separated the two was considered a symbol of their distance. But now, with the new revelations at hand, that third window was Necrozma, their mediator.

“According to the plan,” Leo said, looking at the sun’s position, “we wait until the apex of noon and then go in. That should time us for whatever the ‘spirit side’ team tries from within. This all seems very risky…”

“We’re just a distraction. Fight defensively,” Spice said.

“Mrgh. Right. How close is noon?”

Leo was watching his shadow creep along. “Pretty close,” he said. “We can probably head in already and the timing won’t be too off. It’s not like we were given exact kilos to count…”

“Does time even flow the same?” Phol asked as Angelo meekly approached and sketched something on his arm. Phol didn’t question it.

“I don’t know,” Leo said. “But we have to try at least a little bit.”

“They could have at least left one Guardian with us,” Phol mumbled, looking down the field. The scouts were circumnavigating the temple—and among them was Star—but the fact that nothing was exploding meant ADAM was just inside.

Angelo drew something on Leo next before approaching Spice.

“Okay, what are you doing?” Spice asked.

“A-ah! Um.” Angelo nervously poked his tail’s black paint. “I was just giving you some, ah, some good luck before you go in. A simple enchantment. Normally only Alcremie can learn it, er, but…”

“…Right. You know basically every known technique, don’t you?” Spice rolled her eyes. “Well, thanks, I guess. I’m sure it’ll help.”

“I hope so,” Angelo said, sketching out odd squares and hexagons next. Similar symbols appeared all around them in a two-layered barrier.

“Okay!” Angelo said. “We should be ready.”

“Hopefully, the Dungeon doesn’t dispel any of these once we enter,” Phol said. “Ah, there are the scouts.”

Star, a Hecto, and a Nate approached from around the corner. The canid Zygarde and strange wraith representative were quiet, but Star announced, “All clear! The guy must be inside. I think we’re good to go.”

“And my purpose specifically,” Phol said, “is to try to… shape my Protects into a gauntlet and then punch ADAM as hard as I can. And that will somehow work.”

“That will be part of what works. Maybe.” Star nodded. “Radiance seems to counter Shadows, so we do that from both sides. That’s what the other team will be doing with Anam’s Radiance.”

Part of Spice wondered if Anam knew how to fight anymore, with how meek he’d been lately. Hopefully, he’d rise to the occasion. “Alright,” she said. “Lead the way.”

The time for preparation was over. Hopefully, they could clean out whatever ADAM was doing and then try to track where Alexander had fled next. They approached the temple entrance. There was a soapy rainbow film where the door should have been. The Dungeon felt strong.

“One,” Leo said, “two… three!”

They dashed through.

And immediately put up Protect barriers to block incoming Hyper Beams from all sides.

The deafening blasts drowned out Spice’s curse. She couldn’t hear, but that was what nonverbal gestures were for. Phol tapped her shoulder and dashed ahead; the others followed suit while Hecto and Nate took the leads. They were, as they considered themselves, disposable—there were multiples of them, after all, or in the wraith’s case, he would just return to the main body. Spice wasn’t even sure if that was truly Nate, or a spirit acting as his extension.

This was supposed to be a small Dungeon, but it certainly felt a lot larger on the inside. It was just one large chamber with a smaller room in the back, but traps covered every square inch of the place.

But Spice noticed something peculiar about the way it was coming down. It was all regular. Each Hyper Beam exploded from a square, like a grid. It matched how they’d seen the apparent internal Dungeon’s format, but would that be useful?

Another volley came as they were only a fifth of the way across the room. Spice had no time to think about how useful the format of the Hyper Beams was.

“They aren’t firing again behind us,” Phol said. “They may need time to recharge.”

“This guy wasn’t as strong out in Kilo Village!” Leo said, looking winded.

“This is his domain. He’s a lot stronger inside.”

Spice brought up another Protect, as did Phol, and they both blocked the next volley to protect the team. Angelo conjured a much wider barrier to do the same but squealed as his knees buckled from the resonant pressure.

“Well, they could get to protecting us at any time, now!” Angelo cried as Phol picked him up under his arm.

They were going to make it if they could endure the barrage. The beams were fixed. If they took a moment to gather their breath where they’d already fired… perhaps they had a shot.

It was like a dance. A lethal, potentially soul-smashing dance.

“I’m gonna feel this in the morning,” Angelo wheezed.

But despite everything, Spice was proud that Angelo was here at all… even if they had to carry him along for it.

“They’re charged! Advance!” Phol called.

And so the dance began.

<><><>​

According to Star, the path ahead of them would lead to the Ethereal Forest’s exit into the Normal Realm.

Her directions hadn’t been necessary, as it turned out. Marshadow Manny crossed his arms and nodded to himself.

“Yep. Those’re Shadows, alright,” Manny said.

“Mhm… Um, just so you know, my Shadows aren’t super strong anymore,” Anam said. “So, um, I hope I can still help…”

The poor Goodra was still getting used to being weak. Marshadow made it a point to be more expressive around the fella. “Yer doin’ jus’ fine, Anam. Keep it up, eh? How about Radiance?”

“Oh! I’m better with that!” Anam said, the green patches along his neck lighting up to demonstrate.

“Perfect. We’ll need Radiance fer offense and Shadow fer defense.”

“Do you have either!”

“Hah!” Manny faced the dark path with his hands on his hips. “Nope!”

“Oh.” Anam’s horns drooped.

“Aaah, I spent half my lifetime in the Voidlands. I know a thing er two on avoidin’ it. We’ll be fine. It’s you guys I’m a li’l worried about.” His gaze trailed over to Willow, Jirachi, and another Jirachi wearing a blindfold.

Sure, they were powerful, but…

Well. It was a good thing he happened to visit when the rift was cut, since navigating a Cursed Dungeon didn’t seem like something in their résumé.

“Let’s go in,” Marshadow finally said. “Ain’t gonna dispel itself.”

“It might?” Jirachi on the left asked. “After all, we aren’t even sure if Alexander is still in there…”

“He ain’t.” Marshadow gestured to a trail of darkness that seemed obvious to him. Perhaps the others were not aware of how discrete the essences could be. “Seems like he left a while ago, prob’ly ter recoup in darker environments er somethin’. Hopefully, that’ll mean whatever’s inside ain’t so bad.”

This became a recovery mission rather than something more dangerous. Fighting Alexander directly could have resulted in apprehending and exorcizing him, sure, but were they prepared for that kind of damage?

Thankfully, that was for another day. “Ready ter head in?”

“Yes. We just need to find the Core and purify it, yes?” Jirachi asked.

Anam flexed his little arms and horns. Ripples of gold light coursed through his slime.

“Yep. Alright. No breaks. One… two…”

They dashed. The forest transitioned from beautiful blue hues with slightly glowing, dark tree trunks into white marble that was perfectly square. Hallways rose above and around them in that perfect grid pattern that those two digital Pokémon had described. But Marshadow wasn’t prepared for the actual environment that followed. His body felt strange in a way he couldn’t quite describe; his bag of supplies had gotten noticeably heavier, and he was tempted to look why.

But more worrying was how his vision had become blurry. He rubbed his eyes. And then noticed that his hands looked weird and blurry, too.

“What?!” Marshadow shouted. He couldn’t hear his voice. Something buzzed in his ears.

“What’s going on?!” Anam called. “Oh no! I can’t hear my voice! But I know I’m talking… I can hear myself talking!”

“You just said you couldn’t!” Jirachi shouted.

Everyone looked like they were made of little squares. They moved without motion, simply flashing from one pose to the next, Anam’s whole body jittering with fear.

“Is this what ADAM’s head looks like?” Marshadow asked. Whenever he spoke, the odd beeping and buzzing he heard was higher than Anam’s. And then he looked to his left.

He saw a rectangle with the words he’d said printed on them. Then, when Anam spoke, his words vanished, and Anam’s words appeared instead, though they seemed mirrored from Manny’s perspective.

“What’re you looking at, Manny?”

What indeed. In this strange grid, when he looked up and left, past the short wall, there was that big rectangle that captured their words. And behind that rectangle, he saw ADAM, supersized, staring at the words.

“THAT’S him?!” Jirachi shouted. The box his words appeared on shook as if he’d slammed a table.

“Ooh, that’s one for therapy,” Anam murmured, taking an uneasy step backward.

When ADAM spoke, his words appeared all around them in repeating patterns, nearly blinding them. “ABNORMALITY DETECTED INSIDE SECTOR 3-E.”

Marshadow swatted away at the words like bugs. This wasn’t going to work. They had to stop ADAM but he was currently high above them and beyond the Dungeon itself.

Core. Right, Core. They didn’t need to worry about the giant projection that was probably about to Hyper Beam them to death. They just had to worry about finding the Core before it was too late.

“Let’s go!” Marshadow called. He sprinted for the wall and tried to hide in it for some extra stealth, but instead of passing into it, he slammed hard and winced. “Ow,” he wheezed, the box containing his words shivering and crumpled.

“Are you okay?!” Anam asked, rushing to him.

Jirachi eyed Marshadow worriedly, and then tried to create a wave of Psychic energy. It only made a weak little ripple.

“Our powers are disabled here,” he said, “or weaker…”

The other Jirachi tried to conjure a flurry of stars instead, and those seemed to work—very effectively, too, leaving little cracks in the wall.

The Normal Dungeon. Did it somehow ‘Normalize’ them?

This suddenly got more complicated.

“REMOVING ABNORMALITIES.”

The whole floor lit up. Marshadow suddenly realized that if he was Normalized, then these strikes would certainly hurt him, too.

“RUN!” Marshadow commanded, and behind them, the ground erupted in Hyper Beam pillars.

<><><>​

Three Hectos had come in for backup during their navigation through the temple Dungeon, and two of them had been reduced to green vapor by ADAM’s attacks. They were reckless and weak, of course, but Spice could only help but think how that’d look if it hit any of them instead.

“Just a little more!” Angelo squeaked.

“Hey, Angelo! Any bright ideas on moving faster!?”

“Trick Room doesn’t work on Hyper Beams!” Angelo cried. “Wait! That’s it!”

He hastily sketched out gusts of wind and tossed them into the air. Everything seemed to move easier for the team, wind resistance eliminated and Tailwind pushing them onward. A Hyper Beam rained upon them from above, but then they got into one of the halls.

Here, the blasts didn’t reach them. At least, that was Spice’s thought. Why would this place allow ADAM to be so strong, anyway? Was the law of domains that powerful?

No, it wasn’t a question. It was plain in front of them. Without the distraction within ADAM’s realm, Spice wondered if they’d even get this far.

The back of the temple seemed to be a place that had once been for small offices and meeting rooms. The hallways were still abnormally large, though, as if they’d been built for Pokémon twice Anam’s size, and he was already a decently large Goodra.

“I see a light up ahead!” Phol announced.

“Hyper Beam light or end-of-the-Dungeon light?”

“Might be the same!” Angelo squeaked.

It was. Spice and Phol blocked the incoming beam with a dual Protect barrier. When the initial blast faded, they saw a jittering Porygon-Z in the middle of the back chamber. There were no exits except for the one they’d entered, which was typical for these strange Guardian Dungeons. The very center, the ‘core’ of the Dungeon, would be that Guardian.

“He’s recharging,” Phol said. “Attack!”

For a split second, Spice wasn’t sure if they wanted to attack and if that would have hurt ADAM badly or not. But then Phol did the honors of landing the first strike square in ADAM’s forehead, smashing his disconnected head into his hovering torso with a deep sound like two glass spheres knocking into each other.

ADAM’s head bobbled frictionlessly in the air. Spice aimed and bathed ADAM’s body in flames. Angelo conjured little droplets of poison that seeped into the artificial Pokémon’s smooth body. Hecto and Nate were in the back deflecting incoming Hyper Beams, for better or worse, but they were already down on most of their Substitutes, while Star was waiting for a clean shot.

“Something holding you back, dear?!” Spice cried to the Mew.

“I don’t want to overkill!” Star exclaimed.

Phol, who grabbed ADAM’s head and directed it down the hall as another Hyper Beam charged, roared, “Him or us!”

“Fine, fine, him!” Star conjured several little balls of explosive purple energy and lobbed them at ADAM. Phol grappled the Porygon-Z in place, largely unaffected by the bursts, before ADAM suddenly fizzled and went limp. The magnetism that kept his limbs and head in place weakened, and Phol quickly let go.

“…Did that do it?”

Star whimpered a curse. “Did I overdo it?”

Spice crept closer and brought her head close to his head. Star closed her eyes and checked his aura.

They came to the same conclusion: merely unconscious and recovering.

“Then… I guess we’re done for now,” Phol said. “Let’s charge up these Badges. We’ll warp him out of this place where he’ll be weaker again.”

“Right. Then it’s up to the others to clean things up on the inside,” Star said.

“That’s all? Hopefully, this’ll make it easier… He didn’t seem to be at his best against us, huh? He sorta just stared…”

“That’s exactly why we timed it this way,” Star explained. “He was distracted with whatever Marshadow’s team was doing.”

“Huh. Alright. Good job… Guess we’ll see if they’re back soon.”

But whatever was happening in there was probably not as bad as what they’d just gone through. Right?

<><><>​

Jirachi almost got eaten by a glitch.

That was the only way Marshadow could describe what he’d seen.

From across the hall, they’d seen some strange, warping projection of something made of black and white squares. There was no rhyme nor reason to what it was, only that it was hovering toward them rapidly, occasionally disappearing several feet backward before reappearing even more feet ahead.

It nearly descended upon Jirachi had it not been for quick thinking from Eon, who had pulled him away and ran around the corner.

Now they were fleeing from three more of the same things. Marshadow didn’t want to know what a single touch would do to them.

“I’m g-getting kinda tired,” Anam said, his feet slapping wetly on the ground with every labored stride.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get y’ an elixir maybe,” Marshadow said, digging through his bag.

This didn’t make sense. They’d navigated here through a Dungeon from Kilo, thanks to Star’s efforts, but how did that work? Dungeons really were a bridge between the living world and the spirit world, if that was the case, because Guardian realms were exclusively for spirits.

Was he dead? Alive? Or was it all just a blurry illusion?

Like the hundreds of elixirs that were in his bag.

“Wha—?!” Marshadow grabbed one randomly and tossed it to Anam, but then grabbed another few and realized why his bag felt so heavy. It was overstuffed with elixirs. He pulled out another, and another, and then overturned his bag as they ran, leaving a trail of full elixirs in their wake.

“Man, I hate this place!” Marshadow shouted. “Where’s the Core s’posed ter be?!”

“I think if we keep going across this grid, like reading a book, we’ll eventually find it!” Jirachi said, hovering as fast as he could before lunging at Marshadow’s shoulder.

“Oi!”

“I’m tired.”

“It ain’t that bad!”

“Sorry, I—propulsion with floating is a lot harder than you think in someone else’s Dungeon,” Jirachi said. “I never even figured out how to make my own…”

“Make yer—oh, yer Eon, not Jirachi. Wait, where’s Jirachi?”

Marshadow looked back and realized that Jirachi was already hitching a ride on Eon’s back the same way.

“Oh, come on!”

“Go right!”

They’d reached another end of the grid. Unlike all the other Dungeons they’d ever explored, this one was indeed so perfectly square that following it like a book was all they needed to do to explore every segment of it. Assuming the exit didn’t somehow warp around. With ADAM constantly looming over them like they were little pieces on a board game, Marshadow wondered if he was moving things around without them realizing.

“Two—things on either side!” Jirachi warned.

Two ‘things’ indeed. Black-and-white, static squares with no pattern approached them in a pincer formation, forcing them to speed ahead and retread old ground.

The chamber rumbled. “Whoa!” Marshadow nearly toppled over but caught his footing just in time. The glitches had stopped following them, stalling. Marshadow glanced at the message box near him, facing ADAM, who was briefly dazed.

“Hey! He’s stunned!” Jirachi said. “That must be the others!”

“…I got an idea!” Marshadow said, reaching toward the message box, but it suddenly disappeared. “Jirachi! Keep talkin’!”

“What? Why?”

Marshadow tried, and it disappeared again.

“O-okay,” Jirachi said. “Um, the entire type matchup chart as taught to us in school starts with the Normal type, which is neutral against all types except for Ghost, which it . . .”

Marshadow smirked, getting a firm grasp of the box that contained Jirachi’s words. With a firm tug, he pulled it out of the air and held it behind him.

Touching the glitches was probably a bad idea, but maybe using some of this Dungeon’s environment against it would be enough. Marshadow pulled back and swung the flat box forward, thwacking the glitch with an ear-splitting staticky noise, like a sizzling pan right up against his head.

But it worked.

“Ha haaa!” Marshadow sprinted ahead in time to see a trail of pixilated slime on the ground. “Found Anam! Don’t stop talking yet!”

Jirachi continued. He’d gotten to eight of the types so far before Marshadow saw Anam up ahead, motes of light swirling around him like he was charging a strike.

And just in front of him, floating in a chamber like all the others, was a void of darkness that siphoned away the colors of the other parts of the blocky chamber. Anam fired a Radiant Dragon Pulse at it. The gold light burned through the black orb, plumes of thick smoke drifting away and revealing a golden sphere beneath.

Some of Anam was darker, too. When Marshadow crept closer to get a better look, he realized that Anam’s left arm was gold, and his right arm was black. The smoke siphoned into the darker one, while the gold drove it out of the sphere.

“Wow, how ‘bout that,” Marshadow said.

“Why is he going over types? Did he make a mistake?” Anam asked.

“Oh, eh. You c’n stop that now,” Marshadow said.

Jirachi sighed, the text box shaking and leaving Marshadow’s grip. “That was weird.”

Marshadow patted Jirachi on the back and then did the same for Eon as he drifted up. “Alright, Anam. What’s it look like?”

“It’s not too bad,” Anam reported. “Alexander must have only passed through… He just left a little behind like a distraction.”

“Feh. So we wouldn’t try ter track’m,” Marshadow concluded. “Geh… yeah. He got us there. Went right ter savin’ ADAM an’ didn’ think ter follow the guy more. Then again…”

“Splitting up more would be a huge risk,” Jirachi concluded.

The sphere was cleaned in a matter of minutes. “Welp,” he said. “That’s one problem solved.”

Jirachi tilted his head. “Anam? Why are you… covered in burns?”

“Oh! I’m sorry,” Anam said like it was some mistake he’d made. “My bag was suddenly super full of Blast Seeds and I set one off. And that set another off, and another one, and, um…”

“Huh. Blasts fer you, eh?”

“Mhm. Just like that one incident Owen had a few decades ago,” Anam said.

“…Ain’t gonna question that, eh, well, we got a ton o’ Elixirs. Weird, huh?”

“Really weird. But I guess it’s fine now,” Anam said. “Should we go find Willow?”

“I thought she was with you,” Marshadow hummed.

Anam shook his head, glancing at the orb, and then back at Marshadow. “Umm… ADAM might be out cold. Let’s just—”

“There you are!” Willow said, but the message box that followed her was a horrifyingly garbled mess. “I was looking everywhere where where where where for you!”

Marshadow… assumed it was Willow. But she was a jumble of yellow and blue with no sense of… It made Marshadow sick. “Don’t touch us,” Marshadow said. “Let’s get you outta here befer that becomes permanent.”

“Permanent nent nent? This is great! You should join join join join—”

“Nope! Let’s go! Outta here!” Marshadow tossed his bag over Willow.

“Wait!” Jirachi shouted. “Don’t—”

Marshadow’s bag suddenly swelled.

“…Aw, f—”

His bag exploded with hundreds of little Joltik.

It was going to be a long day.

<><><>​

Thankfully, Willow was still one person, and the countless Joltik were more like Substitutes than anything. Unfortunately, Willow was stubborn, and now Kilo Village was infested with Joltik. The team eventually gave up on gathering them from the uncooperative Guardian and decided her copies would eventually wither away on their own.

Spice wandered over to Ludicolo Café. As it turned out, quite a few others had the same idea. Anam, a Charmander in a blindfold—presumably Eon—Angelo, Jerry, and a Nate were all there. Lots of awkwardness was in the room, but surprisingly, nobody else was there. Maybe Jerry scared the other customers off, or Anam intimidated them accidentally. Or maybe they knew not to bother them.

“Hey,” Spice greeted with a wave.

“Hey, Spice,” several replied.

“Heard your mission went well,” Jerry hummed, munching on a thick piece of meat in some stew he’d ordered.

“Could’ve gone better, but… sure.” Spice spotted a Joltik skittering around the corner. They were going to see a lot of that in the coming days.

“I’m already nice and healed!” Anam said. “The nurses and healers are super nice. None of my wounds settled!”

Spice unconsciously scratched at her chest. “Yeah,” she mumbled. “Anyway… what’s this? Coincidental get-together?”

“It’s a nice place,” Anam said. “And, um… I don’t have a lot of work to do at the Hearts anymore since some of the others do a lot of it now…”

He likely meant several of the former Elites, their halves, or even Anam’s mother.

Spice knew that the feeling of dread she’d always felt from Anam was because of Dark Matter inside of him, but she also wondered if being the son of Giratina had anything to do with it. And he was their priest for a time, too. Gods, what the world had come to…

“Why aren’t you leader again, anyway?” Jerry asked. “Thought you wanted to ‘unite the world’ or something that mantra always said.” He rolled his eyes, but his words weren’t as venomous as before. If anything, it seemed to only annoy him.

“Oh, um. I’m… I’m not that… good at it anymore.” Anam poked his fingers together. “I sort of… I mean, um, Diyem was the one who… told me when things were wrong or people were being bad or evil. I didn’t really know, so… I can’t tell anymore.”

“Hmph. And Diyem told you I wasn’t worthy because I came from that same darkness, I bet. Just told you who had darkness…” Jerry sighed. “Whatever. I’ll yell at him about it later, been meaning to get around to that…”

Anam looked like he wanted to defend, but shrank away.

“For what it’s worth,” Spice said, “if your goal was to make a good world… it was one, up until the whole Nevren thing. And then Dark Ma—er, Diyem going crazy afterward. You… had good intentions.”

The little blob that was Nate slid to Anam and comforted him by tapping its forehead on his thigh.

“I liked it,” Angelo replied quietly. “I could live a comfortable life just doing art. Before the world almost ended. That was bad. But the world before that was nice.”

“It’s my fault, in a way,” Eon said. “If I didn’t go crazy just… trying to get Owen back, or get that power from Barky and Star—I forgot it was Necrozma I was fighting—it’s all so… stupid. The whole fight was against someone already dead…”

“Yeah, I guess everyone was sort of an idiot for a while,” Jerry muttered.

Suddenly, Anam’s communicator beeped. He reflexively tried to dig into his thigh, but he was mostly solid still and had put things in his bag again. He tittered and pulled it out.

“Hello.”

“Oh, Diyem! Um, we’re in public right now, so…”

“That’s fine. This isn’t secret information. We’ve managed to reopen a rift using Hot Spot Dungeon, and it safely connects to South Null.

“That took forever,” Spice said. “What was the holdup?”

“For a while, getting into the Voidlands was difficult in general. Which was worrying, but the seal was not nearly as strong as before. With time we were able to get it undone.”

“Undone? Sealed? Why, how? It was just Alexander attacking, wasn’t it?”

“I’m not sure. This is why I’m heading in soon to investigate if the number of Dark Matter fragments inside has changed, or any other abnormalities. I can only tell that when I properly enter.”

“Alright, well, good luck with that. Everyone else hear that?”

“Yes, clearly,” Palkia reported.

“Does that mean the Titan hunting can resume, too?” Eon asked. “We almost tracked down a few Cores last time…”

“Likely, but be on high alert. Alexander is probably lurking somewhere in the realm. Anyway, I’m leaving soon. I just wanted to give the status update. Ending communications.”

The communicator went dim and Anam put it back.

There was a brief and comfortable silence as Spice went to order herself a Tamato-and-meat salad. By the time she returned, the conversation had shifted.

“So, you and Diyem,” Jerry asked Anam. “You guys still, like… close?”

“Yeah!” Anam said eagerly, lighting up. “We’re still roommates! He, um, I think he tried to help me get back into leadership, but I still dunno…”

“It’s weird that he puts so much effort into you,” Spice remarked. “…Not—as in, that you aren’t worth it. Just that he’d put that kind of effort into anyone. Isn’t he a ball of evil wrapped in Charmander skin?”

“He’s not evil,” Anam said quietly, glancing at his bowl. His food was a plate of various sliced fruits and berries. Mostly sweet fruits populated his plate, with only a few tart ones to break up the flavors. “He was suffering because he felt everyone’s… bad. He just wanted that to stop. But he couldn’t die unless everything else died. It wasn’t fair.”

Spice hummed, displeased. “I guess when you frame it that way, he didn’t have any options.”

“I wanted to find a way to help…”

“Yeah, we get it,” Jerry said. As crass as his words were, his tone was… softer, at least a little. “We’re sorta doing that now.”

“I definitely didn’t help,” Eon muttered. “…There are still mutants roaming around that I need to calm down. Maybe when Trina gets back, I can… get back to that with Jirachi and her.”

“I should get back to drawing,” Angelo said absently. “I haven’t sent out a new issue in a while.”

“I get the feeling most people won’t mind the wait,” Spice said.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Angelo muttered.

“What’s the matter, can’t handle the fans?”

“They terrify me sometimes, really,” Angelo admitted with a titter. “So glad I go by a pen name. A-ah, please don’t reveal who I truly am, by the way…”

Spice shrugged. It didn’t seem that important to her anyway. Maybe to Owen, it would be.

Owen…

Spice sighed. “You guys know about… me, right?”

“The whole third-of-a-soul thing? Yeah,” Jerry said. “Sounds pretty rough. Especially when you’re sharing your soul with a feral and a dead plant.”

“That’s… I didn’t want to phrase it that way, Jerry, but… yes. It is rough.”

Jerry sighed. “What else am I supposed to say? Sorry your existence is gonna melt into one-third of a whole? Like, we’ve already seen the process with Dialga… I’m just glad I’m one person. I checked.”

“I’m still sorting it out,” Spice said. “Enet has Amelia in her already, so I think they’re… talking to each other. I don’t know how that’s going.”

“Where is Enet, anyway?” Jerry asked.

“Who knows? She’s invisible most of the time, feral Zoroark things, I guess. She could even be here right now.”

“Now?” Angelo asked, sitting up straighter.

“Yup. Maybe her predator instincts are kicking in, too, and she smells your fear… sneaking up right behind you, and—”

“Stop! Stop! There’s—she wouldn’t do that!” Angelo shivered. “R-right?”

“You seem like prey to me,” Jerry said.

“Zoroark are pranksters,” Anam added, frowning.

“You’re doomed, buddy.”

Nate hugged Angelo’s shins.

Angelo deflated. “Oh, why me…”

“Hello?”

“Hi, Diyem!” Anam said, bringing out the communicator again. “How’d it—”

“We have a problem. The number of Dark Matter fragments inside the Voidlands has gone up.”

“Well, of course it’d go up. Alexander came back. So—”

“By two.”

A pause. “What?” Spice asked. “Do you know how many are up on the surface?”

“We assumed three. Alexander is one piece, I am a second. Then there was Emily and two unidentified pieces we’ve yet to track down properly. I’m positive they are intentionally hidden from me, perhaps in something that would blot out their dark aura. But… now I can sense there are three here. Where is Emily?”

“Last Lugia report had her east near War’s End,” Jerry said. “Nothing special. She always goes there.”

“Hmmh… Something is wrong. Very wrong… I can’t contact Owen’s group, either.”

“Ah, I think I know why that is,”
said Palkia. “Their last contact was about entering an obsidian mountain. If that’s of Necrozma’s crystal, it may interfere with signals going inside. They tend to be quite energy-dense despite their appearance.”

“I still don’t like this. From one piece to three… No. We need to contact them immediately. Everyone in the Voidlands, be cautious of abnormalities. Is that clear?

“Something is making its move.”


Various affirmatives came in, and the connection went quiet once more. Anam and the others gave each other uneasy looks. After the brief respite… there was a lingering dread that something was coming all over again.
 
Chapter 157 - Rip Across Realms
Chapter 157 – Rip Across Realms

It felt like Owen had slept for at least two whole days. Perhaps that was because his mind had split five ways. When the dream ended, he woke up five times.

Regardless, he felt stiff and big and heavy. And everyone else looked like they’d gone down to half their size.

He stretched and tried to wipe the grogginess out of his eyes. He stretched, yawned, popped a few segments of his spine, and then it finally hit him.

“Oh no.”

His voice was deep, and he gasped in surprise.

“Whoa!” Azelf shouted, alerting almost everyone else.

“Owen?” Zena asked, guarded and tense.

The room was still dark, lit by the red glow high above them through the spire’s vertical column, but most came from Owen’s flame. Thankfully his scales were still orange and cream, but he’d grown… again, and this time to his old Wishkeeper form.

“Necrozma!” Owen called. “This was the one thing I didn’t want back!”

“I thought you liked being big,” hummed another light source in the room. To Owen’s left, covered in a thick blanket, was Necrozma. He was so bright that the blanket only partially masked him.

“I do, but—when did you get better?”

“A few hours ago,” Necrozma said. “Once I’d siphoned enough energy stored in you, I was able to jump-start my energy reserves. The divine energy keeps me sustained without the need for external light… A terrible Shadow blast had taken that away from me for some time.”

“And the blanket…”

“Too bright,” Mispy explained, glaring at Necrozma, who lifted his wings from beneath the blanket in apology. Owen noticed that Mispy had also shoved their bag of supplies under two layers of dirt from outside. He wondered if the light crystals were also glowing brighter in reaction to Necrozma’s presence…

“Thankfully, this body only burns voluntarily,” he said. “You may have the blanket back, now.”

“No!” Demitri said. “I—I mean, um… maybe you can take that off… when we’re ready to wake up?”

Mhynt sighed. “I believe we’re as awake as we can, thanks to that scream. Azelf.” She rolled to a sitting position and rubbed her snout. “Honestly, you’ve seen Owen like this before.”

“W-well, yeah, an’ last time I kinda…”

Owen winced. “Good point… Necrozma, can I shrink down now?”

“I believe you have control over your form,” Necrozma said. “That must be your maximum size. A side-effect of too much contact with me. It may also be your default again…”

“Great…”

“You’re huge,” Demitri whispered.

“Is that bad?” Owen asked, nervous.

Zena was staring but then shook her head. “I think it’s… different,” she replied, “but as long as it doesn’t bother you…”

“I think I’ll stick to being… smaller for a while,” Owen said. His Perceive told him that Zena seemed to like it, though. He kept that in mind later.

“…Is it time?”

It was Valle, still in the corner of the room, the statue he always was.

“I have grown weary of… anticipating this. But I do not like how much you move.”

“How much I… move?” Necrozma asked. “I’m made of divine energy, crystal, and concentrated light. Two of my three components are in constant motion.”

“Stillness. Do you value stillness?”

“…Of the spirit, and those at rest,” Necrozma replied. “But the living must move.”

“Hmm. If that is your opinion. I’ll consider it.”

Necrozma nodded but then turned his head to the Team Alloy trio. “As for you,” he said. “Now that Owen is awake… I would like to purify you three, first and foremost.”

“Aw, is it that obvious?” Gahi asked.

“Darkness can hide well,” Necrozma said, “but… yes. Yours is obvious.”

“Feh. Alright, fine.”

Demitri and Mispy got out of their cuddle pile and stepped forward first. Gahi hovered behind them, eyeing Necrozma suspiciously.

“So, um,” Demitri said, nervously swinging his tail before slapping it on the ground. Owen sensed he didn’t want to hurt anyone with the axe at the end. “Does it hurt?”

“It might. I can start by purifying one of you and then doing the rest. As a… test. Everyone else may want to avert their eyes.”

“Oh, great. Is it some horrifying monster form you have?” Gahi asked. “We already saw Nate, I didn’ get too many nightmares from that.”

“No. It’s just very bright.”

“Oh.”

Owen probably shouldn’t have looked surprised. Thankfully, his Perceive couldn’t see brightness, so he’d be fine either way. “Well, who wants to go first? If it hurts a little, maybe Mispy can go first since she doesn’t feel pain.”

“She doesn’t?” Necrozma asked. “Isn’t that dangerous? Pain is an indicator of the body being harmed… No pain, and—”

“She out-heals basically anything,” Gahi explained. “No reason ter feel pain.”

“…Ah.” Necrozma dimmed. “So, you have been modified that heavily. Quite… interesting.”

Owen couldn’t Perceive Necrozma’s body very easily, but it was easy to tell there was a hint of judgment in his tone. He supposed it wouldn’t be too surprising that someone made of light would be a bit of a purist.

“Well, let’s not stall. Come, Mispy. I’ll purify you of Shadows first.”

Mispy slid forward and closed her eyes. Owen and most of the others did the same. From Owen’s perspective, he watched the crystal of Necrozma’s body hover over Mispy, and Mispy herself suddenly tensed and winced. Was she actually feeling pain?

“Wait,” Owen said. “What’s going on?”

“I apologize,” Necrozma said. “It seems the pain I inflict is… spiritual. A lack of pain receptors won’t help you there. But I’ll be gentle.”

“Careful…”

That meant this would be particularly painful for Mispy, who normally didn’t experience it. Her wincing was pronounced; she was almost going to cry, but she was holding back any vocalizations. Demitri’s muscles were tense, too, like he wanted to attack. Not Necrozma; just a fight or flight.

Owen realized as he focused on Gahi that if he opened his eyes and looked at him, he’d probably look like a huge crystal statue of a Flygon with his natural glimmer. Would he dare?

No. Bad idea. He’d blind himself.

“I’m… sorry,” Necrozma finally said, pulling back and covering himself in the veil.

“What’s wrong?” Owen finally opened his eyes. Dark like before, but he was positive he’d seen the outline of his scales through his eyelids.

“I do not have the necessary concentration of light to purify something this deep,” Necrozma explained. “This kind of corruption is… intense. But you brought my other half here. That will do when we reunite… Valle.”

“Mm,” Valle replied, somewhere between an indifferent sigh and a nervous huff.

“I understand if you’re nervous,” Necrozma said, “but I assure you, this will be fine. With my experience, reunification of a spirit in this way won’t be disastrous. I am an Overseer, after all.”

“Right… Overseer,” Zena said, shifting uncomfortably. “A god above gods? Older than the world itself?”

“Well, not a god,” Necrozma said. “…Er, not normally. I requested to borrow some of their power to perform my duties, yes, but I am not a god by default. I was beholden to this world’s rules all the same, but they allowed me to work with its machinations.

“The Hands of Creation, as they say, from the Thousand Arms of Arceus. When Kilo was created, half of that was given to Star. And when I came into the picture after Hecto returned with his scouting information, I requested a third total, to which they offered a third of each of their halves.”

Demitri was counting on his claws, looking confused. Mispy whispered the mathematics to him, arranging six rocks to demonstrate.

“Can you explain what an Overseer is? And why didn’t you explain it to us before?” Owen asked.

“The existence of Overseers is… something that is usually kept away from worlds such as this one, where new souls are created. It disturbs their societies when they learn about the vastness of the worlds upon worlds beyond their own. And, in many ways, it’s… not relevant. But…”

Necrozma sighed, though Owen realized it was simulated. There was no air or empty cavity in his chest for air to flow.

“This world is already in great need of direct interference, and the current gods have… fallen short. So, more direct assistance and cooperation with the higher mortals is necessary.”

“Higher mortals,” Mhynt hummed. “So, the demigods, or close to it, such as us.”

“Yes. And once we get to that stage, it’d be silly to expect word to not spread. I only ask you do not ‘make a big deal’ out of it.”

“Oh, sure, yeah, no big deal, just some… divine alien from outer space coming to help us out.”

“Far beyond outer space,” Necrozma commented.

“Ultra Space, then,” Mhynt concluded. “I’ve heard of that theoretical plane… from you. Lunala can travel into it.”

“Beyond even that, I’m afraid. You can travel through Ultra Space, physically. But the Overworld—where I am from—is a place devoid of space or matter. It is only the spirit that may travel through, with its memories and intents, to other realities that may grant it a body to inhabit. A body such as this one.” Necrozma gestured to himself.

“That’s not even your real body?” Demitri questioned.

“That’s kind of crazy, even for me,” Mesprit echoed. “And I’m standing next to another me…”

“Do not worry. The important part is, I came here and was granted a body and power by your gods… Star and Barky, I believe, are their informal names still. I am an expert in untangling cosmic struggles of worlds such as these, but this… Dark Matter is new to me. I had intended to return to the Overworld to gather research if other worlds had dealt with similar problems elsewhere. Unfortunately, I was caught up in the Dark War before I could escape. And now, well, it’s a bit too late… At this point, I may be the one providing the research.”

“So this is a new threat…” Owen’s wings drooped. “And… I caused it.”

“You did,” Necrozma said, “but you have also provided me ample information. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud yet. Yes, even if this world is doomed—which it may not be, just yet—we can save other worlds that suffer similar phenomena in the future. That is the purpose of the Overworld.”

The distance that Necrozma spoke about Kilo unnerved him. It was like he was already preparing to abandon the world the moment he had his power back…

“You’ll still help, right?” Owen asked.

“Yes, of course. I’ll honor what you wanted, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it. First, Alexander, of course. When Valle and I reunite, I will fly to Alexander while he is still weak and eliminate him. I’ll absorb his spirit so he won’t cause trouble after that, just in case.”

“A-absorb his spirit?” Owen repeated. “You can do that?”

Necrozma gestured to Owen, then at Gahi. “You have been doing that all this time, haven’t you? That is based on my power. When I assisted in this world’s creation, I also became its nexus for spirits. When someone died, their spirits flowed into me, where they would remain dormant until the world’s end. After that, I would ferry them to the Overworld where they may find other lives to live.

“Kilo is… a temporary world, after all. It was not built to last more than a thousand years. That was its intended end… but your other creators were fallible and emotional. They grew attached, and I, under my new physical limitations, lost track of my mission to compassion. I allowed a slow death so the final souls could live out their lives. There’s something special about a soul’s very first life, they told me. And… true, true.” Necrozma sighed. “So long ago, for me…”

Zena shifted uncomfortably again, glancing at Valle. “Does this all make sense to you?” she asked.

“It is familiar,” Valle said. “But I am… hesitant to return to such a vast soul when I am so small, Necrozma. Will I remain at all?”

“Recency is important to a spirit,” Necrozma said. “You will. I doubt either of us will complain about the result. The spirit… tends to work itself out in these circumstances.”

To that, Demitri and Mesprit, Mispy and Uxie, and Azelf and Gahi all glanced at each other.

“Yes,” Necrozma said, “even you. For those fusing, it is rarely difficult. It’s typically those around them who are more affected by the change.”

Owen thought of Dialga and Rhys… That was certainly true. Dialga was completely unbothered, despite holding Rhys’ memories, for a time. Yet Gahi…

“Will I lose my friends?” Owen asked. He’d asked it without thinking, but he thought back to his dream with his five selves. Perhaps that was ‘Smallflame’ asking the simplest question. But he needed to know.

“Team Alloy, yes?” Necrozma asked. “Sorry. I happened to see glimpses of your memories while mending your spirit,” he said. “You were friends with the Trio of Mind as well as Team Alloy. I see no reason why you wouldn’t be friends with a combination of the two.”

Logical and simple. Amid all the vastness of what Necrozma was explaining, that was something the Charizard could grasp and hold in his mind. He breathed a little easier.

“Kilo should still last,” Zena said. “Will you help make Kilo a world meant to last more than a thousand years? Something sustainable?”

“It will require a heavy overhaul,” Necrozma said, bringing a wing to his crystal jaw. “A few hundred years, which is trivial, really, but still a lot of work. It can be done. Once Dark Matter is taken care of, that will be my next project, yes. It’s a promise.”

“A Div—”

“No, none of that,” Necrozma said with a wave of another of his four wings. “I don’t want to navigate Divine Promises amid reconstruction. And what happens to a divine being who breaks such a promise is still unknown; I’d rather not risk a Lockout… Then Kilo would surely be doomed.”

Well, it was worth asking. Owen leaned against the wall behind him again, which was uncomfortably hard even against his scales.

“Well!” Necrozma brightened enough that Owen had to squint. “I suppose that’s enough talking. Valle, are you prepared to merge?”

“Yes. I am ready.”

“Wonderful. This process should be very simple. Hold out your arm, and I will hold out mine. Focus your aura toward me, and I shall do the same toward you.”

“…There is a small complication.”

“…Ah. Of course. Well. I shall… place a wing on your head.”

“That will do.”

Team Alloy, the Trio of Mind, Mhynt, Zena, and Trina all stood away from the group while Owen decided to relax against the wall still to enjoy a few more moments of rest. He still felt mentally exhausted. Maybe he could catch another nap after this was over before they’d head back…

Then again, if Necrozma regained his full power, would he be able to use his powers to travel instantly? So much for getting some rest.

Necrozma and Valle were both glowing. Mhynt was watching with mild interest, head tilted and fingers tapping on her arm. Zena was cautious as always, and Trina murmured something to Gahi, who shrugged.

Valle and Necrozma both looked briefly transparent. Necrozma dissolved into light, even his crystals appearing to do this, while Valle dissolved next, little by little as the lights coalesced in the center. This seemed different than typical merges, perhaps due to Necrozma’s nature.

Mispy’s eyes widened in amazement.

“What’s wrong?” Demitri asked, and Mispy murmured to him. “What? Spirits?”

Zena closed her eyes and gasped. “Oh, goodness… She’s right. They were all within Necrozma, all this time? I can’t count them…”

Gahi scratched his chin and closed his eyes next. Owen followed.

If his ‘aura eyes’ could go blind, they would have. It was like he was staring at the entirety of the aura sea all at once, concentrated in a ball of light. Spirits in numbers that would dwarf all spirits of all Orbs combined flowed before them, every single one having been stored in Necrozma, the prism of death.

Owen remembered, now. Before there was the aura sea and that spirit world beyond, there was Necrozma to house all spirits. So, if Owen’s guess was right… within Necrozma were roughly a thousand years of Kilo’s spirits. Another thousand years was across the aura sea or still living.

They were all in stasis, though. Asleep for all those centuries, undisturbed and patiently waiting for ‘the world’s end,’ as Necrozma put it. At least they didn’t suffer. Owen wondered if the same could be said for the new afterlife Star and Barky had constructed for the spirits across the sea.

It was probably okay, too.

Mhynt narrowed her eyes as the motes of light continued to coalesce into a single entity. So far, this strange fusion process seemed to be going along fine, but… why did Mhynt seem tense?

“Something wrong?” Owen asked.

“I’m not sure. I feel as if something is… off,” she said. “It’s hard to get a close look at the light, though. I think the Shadows in me are making it too bright for me to see anything else.”

“Same,” Mispy said.

“Yeah, I ain’t looking at that.”

Owen could endure it a little easier than the others. He tried to take a closer look, straining past the motes of light and focusing more on the details otherwise. There was nothing important about the spirits at this point, at least nothing he could discern. He narrowed his eyes a little more, his mind’s eye, and noticed that sometimes, parts of the light seemed to disappear and reappear as they moved past something his aura sense couldn’t quite perceive. But he could see it through how the divine light seemed to curve around it…

What was that? It seemed to be coming from Valle, the very center of his aura. There was no way they would have seen it with everything else wrapped around it. Maybe that was the strange Overseer core that Valle had all this time. Did their spirits look different? No, Hecto’s didn’t seem that special…

The lights began to coalesce further. The whole form was nearly solid, but that odd gap in his senses remained. He’d been sensing light to not overwhelm himself, but…

No, that couldn’t…

In a split-second decision, Owen endured and tried to focus on other kinds of senses. Not Radiance, not aura broadly that would be overwhelmed, but Shadow.

He only got a glimpse before the Raciance shocked his senses, but he saw it enough that he gasped.

“Guys!” Owen sprang to his feet. Demitri yelped in surprise and crouched. Mispy and Mhynt glanced at each other and got on guard. “Necrozma! In Valle! There was—Shadows!”

“What? What does that mean?” Demitri asked.

Mhynt cursed, staring at the solidifying figure, now ominous despite its prior serenity. “The piece of Diyem we couldn’t find,” she said. “It was hiding behind the light!”

Everyone was too shocked to act, but Mhynt led the charge by conjuring a Leaf Blade and leaping toward the light. She raised it—and then a beam forced her to use it as a shield instead. It had more than just light behind it as concussive force slammed her into the wall. She cried in pain, but that cry transitioned into an enraged snarl as the beam continued.

Zena acted next, blasting the sphere of light with Hydro Pump. The beam split into eight segments, but the ball of light was corporeal enough to strike. Steam vented through the spire’s opening, rushing hot air forward and outside Voidlands air through the chamber. From the spire droned a long, low whistle like a call to war.

Mhynt was freed enough that she stepped into shadows, reappearing on the other side of the room to kneel. Behind her was the exit. “We need to go,” she said. “We aren’t in a state to fight him right now.”

Indeed, when Zena’s blast faded, the ball of light seemed almost entirely unaffected. “What?” she whispered. “I barely did a thing…!”

“Your powers are Radiant, Zena,” Mhynt said hastily. “You’re striking the very source. You can’t do anything to it with something feeble like that!”

“Oh yeah?” Gahi snarled, crouching. “Well, how about this? Demitri!”

“H-huh?!”

Gahi grabbed Demitri and pulled him over, and then dove into Mispy. The three fused in a matter of seconds, but by then, the sphere had almost completely coalesced, forming limbs and crystals once more.

“No way!” Migami challenged, simultaneously charging a Solar Beam on their neck-petals while ramming forward for one of Demitri’s punches.

That connected, and some of the crystal cracked. With a surprised gasp, Migami pulled back for a second strike, then hurled themselves forward.

The ball of light flashed brighter, and Owen shouted with his eyes closed. He fired at Necrozma and watched with his Perceive as his senses scrambled. He had no idea what he was looking at, like the matter he thought he was observing was suddenly twisting and turning. Mhynt was looking through the bag they’d brought and pulled out one of the light crystals, hopping toward the distortion before squeezing her fingers around it.

Owen couldn’t tell if the energy was reacting or not, but he could see the scales of his eyelids again. The burning feeling was different than normal flames; it stung his scales.

And then, suddenly, Mhynt was blasted backward and into Owen’s chest. Zena fired another Hydro Pump, but to Owen’s great confusion, the water abruptly disappeared the moment it got close to Necrozma. Where was it going?

Trina had no means to fight effectively in this environment. She was searching through the bag for supplies, but none of their typical items were working. Seeds vaporized before they got close to Necrozma; the powers stored within orbs were suppressed by the sheer power Necrozma gave off. And then, when Necrozma formed almost completely, the crystal beast turned his head toward Mhynt and Trina, and they vanished, too, as if pulled backward by some force. The two tiny Grass Pokémon didn’t even have time to react.

And just like that, in a matter of seconds, it was down to just Owen and Zena. The Milotic was already preparing another Hydro Pump, ineffectual as it was, but her eyes were closed the same way. It was certainly still too bright.

“Necrozma!” Owen shouted. He tried to move, but everything was sluggish and felt like jelly. Was it Necrozma’s divine presence, or sheer exhaustion? All he could do was shout, and even that was a strain. “What’s—going on?!”

“That isn’t Necrozma anymore,” Zena said. “Dark Matter… I saw it. He was waiting this whole time… and took over when he was most vulnerable! Did you see it, that darkness? We should have checked harder… How did we not even consider—even if Valle was of Necrozma, the Shadows were—”

“They are not dead,” Necrozma’s body said, a mixture of echoing Radiance and reverberating Shadows. “That is one mercy I will grant you.”

“Where did you put them?” Owen demanded. “Necrozma! You—have to fight this! Dark Matter, please! We’re trying to help!”

“I know you were trying to kill me. It’s too late. Words will do nothing. If only because I know you’ll be trouble if I kill you… I’m going to put you somewhere you won’t be a problem.”

Zena blasted again, but suddenly lurched forward by her own will, avoiding something Owen couldn’t Perceive.

He still saw the outline of his scales, so there was no use opening his eyes to risk it. Zena got closer to Owen as if to guard him.

“Goodbye, Owen.”

And then, with no flourish, Necrozma flicked the crystal part of his body—the only part Owen could see, this skeleton of a dragon—and the same force pulled Owen and Zena backward. Owen knew there was a wall behind them until there wasn’t. He tumbled through the open air and tried to scream, but realized that even screaming was producing no sound. Zena was curling a burned ribbon, wincing.

Finally, when his vision was dark again, he opened his eyes.

He wished he hadn’t. Ahead was a pinprick of light that seemed to share Necrozma’s colors. It had a tinge of darkness in it, too. But it was getting further away. Rapidly. All around him, blends of blues and oranges and purples and whites swirled around him. Occasionally, he saw odd rifts in the shape of squares that formed a tunnel.

He couldn’t move toward or away from them. Necrozma pushed him, even at this distance, to a certain trajectory, and it was toward one specific tunnel just ahead. “Zena!” Owen cried, but he couldn’t hear a sound. Zena could have been saying something—no. His Perceive. He just had to concentrate on his Perceive.

Zena… wasn’t saying anything. Simply bracing. Eyes darting around. Maybe she was looking for an escape. But since she wasn’t doing anything, she found none.

The calm was unnerving after the sudden rush. Owen wondered if the others had been put through this place, too. If they’d fallen into different spots. If they could come back from it. They were ‘safe’ but… what did that mean?

He should have fought harder. Would that have been enough? Should he have detected Valle’s corruption? Was that corruption, or… was Necrozma just biding his time until he was whole?

The tunnel claimed him and Zena, and the air shifted from empty to windy. They were going too fast.

If they hit the ground, would they be weak, like when he’d been claimed in the Voidlands? He couldn’t allow that.

Holding Zena close, Owen conjured the strongest Protect he could muster. The air was fresh and familiar in a way Owen did not know how to describe. He dared open his eyes, but could only see grass and trees rapidly coming closer. He spread his wings and held up his Protect, but it was too slow.

He struck the ground and wheezed, but it didn’t go black immediately. He’d fallen first, and Zena fell on top of him, breaking her fall.

“Ugh… What… what happened?” Zena said. “Owen, are you okay? Owen?”

Owen tried to speak and managed to get out one word. “Mostly…”

Zena wrapped her ribbons around his shoulders. “Can you look at me? Owen?”

Moving was hard. This lethargy felt like it was more than just physical pain. Was it fatigue from his mental exercises with Necrozma? He was fading fast. He just needed to get a little more sleep.

“Owen? Owen!” Zena called.

“I’ll stay awake,” Owen lied, eyes fluttering closed again. He loved the smell of the air. How strange, since it was nothing like the rocks of Hot Spot.

“Who are you?” Zena said suddenly, but that was the last thing Owen heard before the fatigue forced him under.

<><><>​

“Arms. Legs. Tail. I think everything’s still in one piece here,” Mhynt hummed, dusting herself off. “Trina?”

“Being small has its benefits,” the Snivy grunted, flicking her tail of dust and debris.

The ground was a blue-black color. It wasn’t quite rocks and gravel, so it must have been soil. Terrible soil for plants, though. She didn’t know what kind of mineral it was.

“Do you have an explanation?” Trina asked.

“For Necrozma? Yes. Dark Matter used the innate light of Valle to hide completely within him. Whatever this was, it was premeditated at least a thousand years ago when Necrozma was first sealed.” Mhynt shook her head. “I didn’t think that Dark Matter was the patient type, but maybe he had no choice…”

Their surroundings were closed off and would have been impossibly cramped for the larger members of the team. There was only one exit, and Mhynt didn’t like the idea of something coming in to trap them.

“Let’s get out and figure out where we are,” Mhynt said.

“Agreed.”

Mhynt took the lead, gesturing briefly for Trina to stay behind. Occasionally, the Snivy seemed confused. Mhynt remembered that a lot of her gestures only made sense in Cipher City’s protocol; a lot of it wasn’t going to translate… Hopefully, she could stick to more obvious gestures. And that someone whose arms barely worked could relate to Mhynt’s body language.

The winding cave was mercifully empty, and Mhynt didn’t see any signs of life in it, either. It seemed long abandoned.

But then, Mhynt sensed something nearby and held out her hand. Trina stopped and gave her an inquiring look.

She could sense the aura of… something. But the way it felt was unlike anything she’d sensed before. Was it even alive, or did it throw off her senses somehow?

Mhynt carefully peeked around the corner.

They resembled things that should have been in the depths of the ocean but were floating high in the air. Faceless, white things with tendrils and starlike shapes on their bulbous heads, like cloaks without a wearer.

Mhynt sank back into the cave and took a seat against the wall, pensive. Trina peeked next, then sat next to her.

“This,” Trina said, “isn’t Kilo anymore, is it?”

“I don’t think it’s the Voidlands, either,” Mhynt said. “This… could be bad.”

“Where do we go?” Trina asked.

Mhynt closed her eyes, trying to channel her inner power. If there was anything that could do this, it would be Lunala. But the Shadows had stunted her so badly… Would she have the power anymore?

“I don’t know,” Mhynt said. “But at least we aren’t being attacked. I can only hope… the same is true for the others.”

Trina didn’t like the answer based on her displeased hum. But she said, “I understand. Then… I’ll try to think of something next.”

“Don’t make too much noise,” Mhynt reminded. “They might hear us.”

Trina nodded.

They weren’t even allowed the luxury of shouting out their frustrations. No. All they could do now was sit and fester and, hopefully, find a way back.

<><><>​

Migami flew as fast as they could through the ruins of some old town, fleeing the sole living creature they had the misfortune of meeting. They’d never seen anything like it before. Some kind of monster in the middle of nowhere. Based on how ruined everything was, they could only guess it had to be the one responsible. Even with Mispy’s aura sense, Migami couldn’t sense any further life in the immediate area.

And as much as they wanted to fight it to see who was stronger, they did not want to risk losing themselves to battle when they were the only ones around. They had to keep a calm mind. Trina wasn’t there to direct their thoughts. Owen wasn’t there to command them. And their other halves weren’t even around to stabilize them in the worst case.

They had to avoid fighting at all costs.

It had a massive mouth and tendrils that ended in smaller mouths. It screamed an ear-splitting roar like a cry for the apocalypse. Their only saving grace was that it was incredibly slow, and Migami was incredibly fast.

The problem was they had no shelter. Everything had become some sort of flatland of ruin. It was even more barren than the Voidlands, in some ways, with brown sand covered in darker brown dust. The occasional building peeked out from this sand, looking half-eaten and hollow. If they went there, it would easily see them going.

Sand…

Wait! Sand! That was it!

Gahi didn’t have the technique prepared, but with some effort, perhaps they could channel it anyway. They flew for a while more, but then circled back and got closer, kicking up a storm around them. It was slow and shoddy, but eventually, they managed to get it flowing again.

Sand kicked up below them in a whirlwind of obscuring grains. Gahi’s lenses helped them see despite it, and more importantly, they pulled back to make sure the behemoth was caught in it, too. Get some sand in its big stupid mouth, too… Though it would probably enjoy it if those chewed-up buildings were anything to go by.

The air was as obscured as it was going to get. To leave no trace at all, Migami flew forward, letting their wings whistle and sing in the sand, and then Teleported at a right angle, out of the storm. That, they hoped, would be enough to buy some time to hide in a building. Then, they could meditate, calm down, and hope to figure out just where they were.

They just hoped there was a way back before they Voided completely.

<><><>​

Mesprit didn’t like surprises.

Ever since he was split from Demitri, Mesprit wondered how much of him was naturally a nervous wreck, and how much was just from his time in the Voidlands.

Life was just one stressful, emotional event after another sometimes. Somehow, his wish to escape from the Voidlands was answered with the most hectic few days of his afterlife. And new life? Was he alive again? Did that count? Was that cheating? He felt guilty for it. Uxie would tell him to stop worrying, and Azelf would say he was overthinking.

But now, he could tell that even they were agitated.

But hey! At least they were back in Kilo Village!

The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and everything seemed peaceful in the caldera. Maybe Necrozma was just having a hissy fit. It seemed like there weren’t any Shadows at all. Maybe they’d gone dormant, and Owen solved everything while they were out? That would be nice…

But Uxie already didn’t trust it. “Something is wrong,” she said. “None of the auras here match. It’s… different. This isn’t Kilo Village.”

“Aw, c’mon! We’re wandering around the same old buildings! How ain’t it?” Azelf asked. The oversized pixie did a flip in the air. “It’s great! Owen musta fixed it!”

“No,” Uxie said quietly. “The people here… are totally different! That’s what’s wrong!”

“You keep track o’ that?” Azelf said. “Kinda obsessive ter check stuff like that if y’ask me…”

“Well, let’s just ask around. That can’t hurt, ri—”

“You.”

“EEP!” Mesprit hid behind Azelf so fast it would’ve given Gahi competition.

It was a Granbull with a nasty scar that went from his right shoulder to his left thigh.

“H-hi!” Mesprit waved. “How… long have you been there?”

“A while,” he said, which Uxie had telepathically said at the same time. “I’m sorry to say,” he went on, “but you three are… dead.”

“Again?” Azelf complained.

Granbull quirked a brow. “…Yes, sure, again. This is Kilo Village by name. However, it’s across the aura sea. A replica based on everyone’s memories of the era. If you want to see past eras, you can go to—”

“Other side?!” Mesprit squeaked. “But how did we get there? We were in the Voidlands only a little bit ago!”

“Voidlands? Then you escaped that place? It really is open…”

“You know about it here?” Azelf asked.

“Yes. Only recently. It answered a lot of questions we had about why some of our loved ones were missing for so long…” Granbull shook his head. “Sorry. I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Jin. I was a Heart until…” He trailed off. “I don’t know how long it’s been in the living world, but I want to say a year or two. I’ve… sort of taken it upon myself to… stay honed, just in case. I had a feeling something was happening in Kilo, and… well. Maybe I was just being hopeful.”

“Well, you’re right in one way,” Azelf said. “It’s crazy over there! And we gotta get back! See—”

“There isn’t… any going back. Overseer Hecto makes very few exceptions for this sort of thing, and—”

“Yeah, yeah, we figure, but he’s gonna make an exception fer us,” Azelf said quickly.

Jin’s brow raised even more. “You know him.”

“Yes. We’ve known him for a while. Do you recognize us?”

“Should I?” Jin frowned. “Well… I’ve never seen a trio like you before, no.”

“Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf,” explained Mesprit.

“…Oh. You’re real.”

“…That’s it? No… surprised reaction?” Azelf asked, squinting. “C’mon, at least a little start!”

Jin rolled his eyes and turned around. “Come on. Let’s at least get you oriented, and maybe we can find Zygarde on the way there to sort out what ha—”

A sudden cry caught their attention. A shout of surprise? The way Jin was briefly stunned suggested this wasn’t a normal occurrence.

“What’s that?” Mesprit asked.

But eventually, Uxie pointed skyward, where a rip in the sky revealed the all-too-familiar purple wasteland they knew too well. And perpendicular to this rift was another, revealing a mirror of the city they stood in now. Kilo. Perhaps the real Kilo.

“…Is that good er bad?” Azelf asked.

“Bad,” Uxie said. “Very, very bad.”

Mesprit didn’t know for sure, but he had a feeling Uxie was following her gut. And he agreed.

Life and death were starting to break apart.
 
Chapter 158 - Unexpected Return
Chapter 158 – Unexpected Return

The rhythmic beeping of life monitors was becoming uncomfortably familiar to Owen. He was a demigod, right? Why was he constantly being put in hospitals? Could they even help?

Well, the last one did, he supposed.

Groggily, he opened one eye to figure out his surroundings without alerting anyone. A white wall of well-made material. Certainly not a hut or some den, but the beeping would have given that much away. Still, it even looked more advanced than what he would see in Kilo Village. Even the Voidlands didn’t seem quite this… modern.

“He’s waking up,” hummed a voice.

“Charizard? Are you okay? Can you hear me?” called another.

“Mhm,” Owen groaned.

He just realized he couldn’t Perceive anything. He tried to stand up but binds restricted him. The fatigue in his body still weakened him—he couldn’t do a thing against these mundane bindings. None of his limbs responded.

“It’s okay, you’re okay. We need you still while we check on you, okay, Charizard? Is that okay?”

“My horns,” Owen said again, trying to calm down. “Please, can you put them back on?”

Three voices gasped—there were three? How many were in the room? He couldn’t move his head easily and his vision was blurry from all the strain.

“He really can talk,” whispered a new voice.

“Just like the Milotic…”

Talk?

Owen stopped. Why did that surprise—

“Is Zena—Milotic okay?”

“She is, and in much better condition than you. You don’t need to worry about her.”

He… could trust that. He felt that he could trust that. “Where am I?”

“You’re in Pallet Town, in a new Pokémon Center. We’re trying to make sure you’re okay. People said you fell from a hole in the sky, so…”

Pallet Town. Pallet Town. Pallet Town.

“We’ll… get your horns, but they sort of… fell off you. We weren’t sure what to do with them, but…”

“Kanto?” Owen suddenly asked.

“Yes, Kanto. So, about your horns, they can probably be reattached, but we’ve never seen this bone structure before. Are you from a faraway region? Your appearance is different from a normal Charizard, and . . .”

Owen didn’t pay attention. He was in Kanto again. He was…

Oh no.

<><><>​

Humans were so strange. They were tiny, and they radiated no strength, but they acted fearlessly. Maybe they couldn’t sense power the way Pokémon could. That was Zena’s conclusion.

Still, that they were so weak yet fearless was a little charming.

And smart! She couldn’t figure out half of what was going on in this place, and some of them were kind enough to explain a few of the gadgets.

The lead human—Zena had an easier time telling who he was because he usually held a clipboard—entered the waiting room lobby, which had seats that were not suited for a Milotic at all. “Zena?”

She nodded politely. Speaking seemed to startle them, so she kept that to a minimum for now.

“Owen is doing just fine. He’s waking up now, but he’s still very groggy. Would you like to be with him?”

Zena nodded again.

The doctor smiled. “You can talk, you know. It’s okay. It was just… surprising at first. We don’t normally run into Pokémon who can speak like humans so perfectly.”

“Is it that rare?” Zena asked.

“Well… you’re the first two I’ve ever met,” said the doctor, “though, I’ve heard rumors about a Meowth in this region who… Well, it’s just a rumor. Never saw the real deal before.”

“I see… Well, yes. I can talk.”

“Who taught you, if that’s an okay question to ask?”

“Er, my parents.”

“Who were also Milotic?”

“Ah, my father was a Gyarados, actually.”

“Oh, I see… And they could also speak our language?”

Zena nodded. “It’s quite normal. If you didn’t speak in that way, you were usually very young or feral, but they looked different, slightly.”

“You know, you do seem a little different,” commented another human. “Your ribbons are a lot more dexterous than Milotic usually are.”

“Oh, of course. That’s one difference.” Zena hummed. “Oh, I’ve… gotten distracted. I’m sorry. May I see Owen?”

“Of course. Right this way.”

They led her along, and Zena noticed the many looks she was given. But they weren’t the sort that stared at her for being pretty like in the Voidlands. This was more of a fascination. In some ways, she still found it a little bothersome, but they meant well.

A world where all Pokémon were feral. What a strange place. But given what she knew… that meant she had human ancestry, didn’t she? Human ancestry from long ago, her first-generation being humans who’d been turned into Pokémon.

She heard Owen talking but couldn’t quite make out the conversation. Once the door opened, Owen stopped talking and tried to stand again, but the strange bind kept him down.

“Why is he tied down like that?” Zena asked.

“Oh, er… right. Sorry, usually for Pokémon, if they get agitated, we… ah… you can talk. We can just speak about this. Don’t strain yourself, yes?”

Owen frowned a little and grunted in reply. With a few clicks, the bindings against him were loosened and Owen sat up, sighing. He gingerly stretched his wings, careful not to knock anything over.

“Please stay here a while longer,” said the lead human. “We are waiting for your test results.”

“Yeah, okay,” Owen agreed. The doctors all left.

It seemed there were two remaining in the room before some murmurs about different protocols followed between them. Zena heard one say, ‘Treat them like human patients.’ And they seemed unsure how to do that. Did this place specialize in Pokémon?

The two humans left after giving awkward nods to her.

The doors closed.

Owen was probably watching them with his Perceive, given his eyes were closed.

All the appliances here were small. Humans were small, so it made sense that all the tools would be specialized for their dainty hands. The lights were too bright, yet they didn’t have the same warmth as the sun. That was saddening. Zena wasn’t sure why.

“We’re in Kanto,” Owen finally said.

“Kanto?” She remembered that region. “It can’t be. Isn’t that a whole world away?”

“It is,” Owen said, voice trembling slightly. “Does that mean… I’ve… I can’t go back? How do we go back? Where’s Kilo? What happened to…”

“It’s okay,” Zena said, having no idea if it was true. But she could tell he was panicking. His voice was even, but his flame was getting hotter. “We’ll figure something out.”

Knock knock.

Zena turned and tilted her head. “Oh!”

Another human wearing a red cap was at the door with one of the doctors.

“Hello again,” Zena greeted.

“Who’s that?” Owen asked.

“He was the one who guided me here,” Zena said. “It was… a little worrying at first, but…” Now that she thought about it, why did she trust this human so easily? He’d found them in the forest and hadn’t said a word, yet she knew to follow him along. It was as if she knew precisely what he wanted to do, and only had to follow him while carrying Owen to find safety.

“Well, thanks,” Owen said to the red-capped human. “And… sorry if talking Pokémon is weird or anything like that. We’re not from around here… sort of different from the Pokémon around this region.”

The human exhaled through his nose and nodded, tilting his cap forward before leaving. He seemed satisfied to see that they were safe.

“He seemed nice,” Zena hummed. “Quiet, though…”

The doctor nodded and said, “He’s a strange one, but one of the best trainers out there, you know. He was visiting home after another one of his adventures. The way he is, he’ll probably head out again in a week.” The doctor sighed, wistful. “I remember when he was just a kid walking out of town with his very first Pokémon. That was… how long at this point? At least a decade by now…”

Decade. What did that mean to them at this point? Well, explaining that to the doctor probably wouldn’t amount to much. Zena was about to ask Owen something when she noticed the grave expression on the Charizard’s face.

“I… Kanto. This is Kanto, right? What town?”

“Hm? Pallet Town. Goodness, you must have had quite a trip to not even know where—he-hey!”

Owen had suddenly gotten out of his bed and made for the door.

“W-wait! We haven’t gotten your blood results yet!”

“I need to go,” Owen said.

“Owen, wait,” Zena said, “shouldn’t we—”

“I won’t be far. Send my results to the Starter Breeding Facility.”

“Oh? A-are you… from there?”

“It’s still around, right?”

The doctor nodded.

“Is… is there a Charizard named Amber there?”

“That’s the Charmander clan’s main elder. She’s—”

Owen was already gone. Zena could deduce what was so urgent and let him go but then looked back at the doctor. “Is him leaving okay?”

“Not… not really… but… what can you do?” He sighed. “We’ll send the lab work to them. If he’s from there, they might have a record for him. Could you take his Poké Ball with you?”

“Oh, of course.” Those strange capsules they’d put her and Owen in while transporting them. It was strange, and took a lot of convincing, but the strange human with the red cap said it was fine, and she believed him.

And, in the end, it was fine. Cozy, even. She still preferred the air, though. But it kept Owen’s body safe, and that was the important part.

“Could I have more of those?” Zena asked spontaneously as the doctor sent for a nurse to get the capsules.

“More? Do you have friends?”

“In case this one breaks. It… I don’t know. It was nice.”

“Hmmh, well… I’d say you could purchase them, but you don’t exactly have money to buy them at a store.”

“Money. Oh, we have money,” Zena said, promptly realizing that their money might be useless here. Awkwardly, she said, “Er… do you accept these?”

She pulled out her bag and offered some spare coins she’d forgotten to get rid of. The doctor inspected it with a furrowed brow and Zena noted the many wrinkles on his furless forehead, aside from his tiny eyebrows.

“That’s… Some of that is gold, isn’t it?”

“We just call it Poké.” She offered a coin to him.

The doctor inspected it, flipped it over, and felt the material. “What world do you come from where coins of precious metal are abundant like this? Not even as a currency, but the raw material here could be worth quite a lot.”

Zena shrugged her ribbons. “It’s just our currency.”

“I’ll want some of it to be appraised before anything official, but, you can have a few of our spares. We don’t have to use them very often anyway, and if it’s to help and protect Pokémon, I won’t refuse.”

“Thank you. Er, how about I come back after it’s appraised?”

“Oh, that will do fine.”

The nurse returned with two red-white capsules. Zena gently placed them in her bag.

The nurse laughed a little and said, “I never thought I’d meet a Pokémon who qualified as their own trainer. How would that work on the forms?”

“I just listed Zena here as Charizard’s trainer,” the doctor admitted with a grunt.

“We’re mates, actually,” Zena said.

“Oh!” The doctor seemed confused at first. “Oh, mates! As in, married?”

Zena tilted her head. “That’s a bit of an ancient term, but yes, it’s the same. I would be his… wife, right?”

“A-ancient?”

Zena wondered if she’d said too much. She started slithering backward. “Where I’m from, at least. Er—goodbye. I’ll return later.”

After getting lost in the medical facility a few times, Zena finally found her way out and asked a few startled humans where the Starter Breeding Facility was. They shakily pointed her in the right direction and she apologetically thanked them before going on her way.

<><><>​

It was the same as he remembered—just… a lot smaller.

No, he was larger.

The main room was lined with common but educational books about Pokémon. Deeper inside were front-facing labs that would often be shown to prospective trainers—usually younger kids eager to start their adventure with a partner Pokémon. They’d be given some assignment to see as many Pokémon as they could and to report their findings to the professor. Sometimes, they would report new findings. Most of the time… stories and rumors.

It all was starting to come back to him. The little ember within him, Smallflame, felt so much warmer.

Two thousand years. That’s how long it had been.

Yet Kilo flowed faster. It had only been a decade or so at most since then.

And…

“Owen!”

Zena rushed up to the Charizard, who had stood nearly dormant at the walkway into the lab. His Perceive was on now that his horns had been returned, but he’d somehow not noticed anything. He’d never been so lost in thought before.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m… yeah. Sorry. I was thinking. Just… I was in a rush and then it hit me that I’m here again.”

“Here. Here as in…”

Owen nodded. “My first home. Where I was born and raised before I went with… Eon, Tim at the time, for his journey.

“Right…”

“I wish he was here,” Owen admitted without thinking, looking ahead again. “I wonder if…”

If he could have rekindled something, he thought. But it was a fleeting one. Everything was far, far too different between them now. It wouldn’t have been healthy to regress so far.

Yet here he was, seeking someone from even earlier in his life. Because he had to.

“I should keep going,” Owen said.

“You should. They’re staring at you.”

“What?”

Finally, Owen looked at the humans with clipboards and lab coats staring at him from across the room. He heard a pen drop.

Oh, right. He was speaking their language.

“Hi.”

He awkwardly waved at them, folding his wings back.

One of the humans waved back. Something about her was familiar. He struggled to recall, almost but not quite chirping when he tried, and then he realized it—this was the kind lab assistant from long ago. She was so much older now. Wrinkles were starting to form, but not enough for her hair to gray.

“I’d like to see Amber,” Owen said. “The… the matriarch, or something?”

“Oh! Of… course. You must… be…”

She suddenly gasped.

“No way,” she said. “Smallflame?!”

Owen closed his eyes. A thousand little petty memories ran across his mind at once. Scents of the sterile lab and the lingering ash of the fields. Challenging grunts from the rival clans of Bulbasaur and Squirtle that the kids had made a little game over, despite the elders simply enjoying the balance they provided one another.

Gods, he was home again. Back where it all began. He wondered how they could tell; he didn’t look anything like his old self. Was it his demeanor? Had he changed so little? Or… were they expecting one last Charizard to return?

Finally, he opened his eyes. “Yeah,” he replied, switching to his native tongue so it didn’t throw anyone off. No need for those questions. “A lot’s changed.”

“We thought you died!”

I did.

“Well,” Owen said, “I got pulled away for a while and didn’t have a way to return. I’m back now on a visit.”

Hopefully… right?

“And the first thing I want to do is see Mom again. Is she…?”

“Yes, of course. You asked for your mother?” She nodded earnestly. “Hey, let him through, okay? It’s her last kid to come back.”

So he was right. Owen still gave the human a questioning look.

“Amber was adamant that you’d return one day like everyone else,” she said.

Zena blinked. “Return…?” She glanced awkwardly at Owen, who nodded back.

“I think she means to visit. To show her how far I’ve come. And Dad, he’d want to see how strong I’ve gotten, too. He’s older, though…”

“He is, but he also has some vitality left in him. Some of Amber’s old wounds were starting to show a little more in her old age, so she isn’t as mobile now, but… She’s alive. She’s waiting for you. Don’t let me hold you up.

“And, er… when you’re done… mind answering some questions?” She tittered nervously. “Not every day we have a talking Pokémon with us…”

Zena glanced at Owen, then at the human. “This seems… very personal. How about I answer these questions for now, and Owen, you go ahead.”

“I want you to meet her, later, though,” Owen said immediately.

“Of course.” Zena nudged him with her forehead. “But… I think this should be your moment.”

Owen felt conflicted. Yes, it was his moment… but he wasn’t sure if he had the strength to do it. What would he say? After that initial rush, the quiet of the flight to the lab, and all the new scents, took all the wind out of his wings. He was a lost child.

“She wants to see you,” Zena encouraged. “I’ll meet her.”

“Right.” That was enough of a push. If he didn’t know what to do, if things didn’t work out, Zena could be there as backup.

So, with another nervous breath, Owen let the lab assistant lead him to the fields.

He already knew the path.

<><><>​

So little had changed. He recognized some of the little mounds of dirt and ash, somewhat shifted but largely the same structure. It couldn’t have been that long.

There were a few other Charizard here. They were all a lot younger than he was. And the irony struck him like rocks—those were all his ‘older’ siblings. Back from their adventures. Their partnerships with their trainers must have ended, or they retired from their adventuring and decided to return home. Of Mom’s offspring… about a fourth of them had returned, if he had to guess.

He didn’t know all of them too well anymore, but he did remember Bigtail. And he was still a Charmeleon after all this time, having never gone to see a trainer, and therefore struggled to evolve on his own. But he looked happy and content, the way his muscles moved. Maybe not everyone had to gain wings.

They made eye contact. Bigtail’s expression brightened immediately and he sprinted over.

“You’re back!” Bigtail said. It was in the language of ferals, but he understood it perfectly, of course. In fact, at the moment, it felt more natural than how he spoke in Kilo. “What happened?”

“I had a long trip,” Smallflame replied. “I’m only here for a little while, and I brought a friend, but I wanted to see Mom and Dad.”

Bigtail gestured to the other side of the field. “I’ll take you.”

The same large field. It was a lot larger in the past, but now, it seemed cozy to his new size. If he supersized himself again, maybe it would be too cramped. But they wouldn’t need to know that side of him.

They went further than usual. Did Mom and Dad not want to be close to the lab anymore? The humans were always kind to them, so he couldn’t imagine why unless it was some other desire to keep a distance. How old had she become?

Then, his Perceive picked them up. His breath hitched. His father, Marowak Daichi, was well enough. Aged, but still strong. Firm. He probably had a good few years left in him, maybe even a decade if he kept his health up. But his mother…

He could feel her struggling heart. Her labored breaths. Every detail of a truly elderly Pokémon barely hanging on was so vividly known to Owen that he wanted to tear out his horns just to blind himself from it.

But he had to march. No backing down now. He continued walking down the path and finally could see, with his eyes, the state she was in.

Discolored scales. Long, loose skin. She was a lot thinner, but not skeletal. Her eyes were closed, and her tail flame was incredibly dim. But there was a spark that came with every breath.

A once mighty warrior had long passed her prime. Smallflame should have found a way to visit sooner. If he knew it was possible, if he could’ve remembered, could he have seen her again? Sooner? Gave her closure? Would she even know? Could he call out to her, or would that be worse?

“Mom?” Smallflame said anyway.

The flame grew the tiniest amount.

Bigtail said, “You need to speak louder. And closer.”

Daichi stood from his seat and wobbled over. Their eyes met, and Smallflame found himself straightening his back in response. Daichi did the same. They stared at one another, and then Daichi smiled, nodding. Using his bone club, he walked a little closer and gestured with a free hand to the elderly Charizard.

Smallflame crept closer, afraid that he’d startle her. Amber’s eyes flitted open but then squinted. Could she see? Her pupils were cloudy.

“M—”

“I knew,” Amber whispered, “you would come back.”

Daichi finally made it to them and collapsed oddly gracefully next to Amber, who growled comfortingly.

Smallflame fell to all fours and crept a little closer. Amber sniffed the air and let out a long, satisfied sigh.

“You have been through a lot,” she observed. “Your scent… is of so many places. It’s changed so much.”

“How do you know it’s me?” Smallflame asked.

Amber chuckled weakly, lugging her tail closer until their flames touched. Smallflame’s completely overtook hers. “I’m not gone yet,” she said. “I know. The last one. You are Smallflame. I know.”

He didn’t need to question it. He moved closer for a hug, ever so careful not to hurt her. His cheek rested against her neck, and she did the same. Her delicate arms wrapped over his shoulder, but that proved too strenuous, and she eventually let go with a grunt.

“Mom—”

“I am fine,” Amber assured, then laughed once. “As fine as I can. I am… satisfied. I knew… all my children would return. Each one. What more… could I ask?”

Smallflame clenched his jaw, but he understood. She was waiting for him all this time. For her, perhaps it had only been a few years over. But for Smallflame… he had whole lifetimes away from her.

And now he was back.

How could he possibly express that to her? Was there even a point to it? Would she understand? Should she understand?

“I missed you.”

But the answer was so much easier to give. He followed his heart. That was all he had to say.

Amber leaned against him, then Daichi. She let out one last sigh.

“I’m sorry I have so little time left,” Amber admitted.

Smallflame squeezed his eyes shut again, but his Perceive told him the truth. Amber had held on for the sole purpose of seeing him again. Her goal had been achieved. That final goal in her life, at the very end. Her resolve to remain… was fading.

“I’m sure,” Amber said, “you have a lot to talk about. I’ll try to listen… if you want to.”

Smallflame hesitated. She wanted to know. But… how much would she understand? It was absurd. He’d been gone for two thousand years. Sure, most of it was a repeat, or things he couldn’t remember too easily, but… that sort of time scale would be incomprehensible to her.

But she was his mother. He had to answer.

“I’ll try,” he said.

Quietly, he explained what he could, and while Amber seemed to drift off with a smile now and then, Daichi listened intently and with his usual, hardened gaze. The more he spoke, the more other Charizard gathered to listen, curious about his story.

He talked about Tim and their journey through Kanto, and how it came to its abrupt end. Then, he talked about his time helping him as a Ranger in another region entirely, far, far away from here. With hesitance, he explained their final mission and quietly obfuscated the details afterward so he didn’t need to get into all the talk of gods and worlds and resets.

It wasn’t easy, and Amber, despite her age, seemed to recognize that Smallflame was leaving out details. His tail dimmed at the interrogating look she gave him and the way she seemed to pay more attention.

“Wait,” interrupted one of the larger Charizard— Smallflame recognized her voice as Sharpeye. He wondered if she kept the name.

“What?” Smallflame asked.

“So does that mean you’re super strong?”

“I… am, I think,” Smallflame said passively.

He felt weaker here. Maybe it was fatigue from Necrozma. Maybe it was for being in a different world. But his techniques were all there, and he certainly had some strength back.

“Prove it!” Sharpeye said, tail thumping on the ground. “My human and I got to the eighth gym before we had to stop. I’m super strong thanks to her!”

Smallflame suppressed a smile when he asked, “Are you sure you want to fight me? I’m… sort of a lot stronger than someone who’d go through those gyms now.”

“That’s why I want you to prove it,” Sharpeye claimed.

“Go on,” Amber whispered. “My eyes aren’t as good… but I can still feel your battle. Let me see.”

He couldn’t deny that.

“Alright,” Smallflame agreed. “But don’t go overboard, okay?”

“What does that mean?”

“Er… don’t fight too hard. It’s just sparring.”

They cleared the field of onlookers. There seemed to be another neighboring clan nearby of another family of Charmander-line Pokémon also spectating the fights, and Smallflame smiled at them. They would probably be the next generation; he wondered if any of them paired off with Charizard of his family.

“I’m ready!” Sharpeye called.

“So am I,” Smallflame said, spreading his wings to look a little larger. He knew he could literally grow now thanks to his awakened Radiance, but that would… lead to more awe and questions than a good fight.

Daichi stood up and tapped his bone club on the ground. “Ready,” he said. “Fight!”

Sharpeye was fast. With a kick of her legs and a flap of her wings, she disregarded the ground unceremoniously and spiraled toward Smallflame. She fought up close. He already saw countless openings in her reckless fighting style, but the problem was he had to take a hit for that to happen.

He brought a palm forward and blocked her strike with a Protect shield. When she bounced back, Smallflame kicked up dust with his wings and countered with a gout of fire through the debris. He made sure it was weak.

Sharpeye yelped in pain and crouched down to recover. Smallflame could have pressed on from there, but this was just sparring, and this was one of his siblings. Even though her throat was exposed and he knew precisely where to cut, that wasn’t a sparring match.

Sparring, sparring. Remember, it’s sparring.

Fighting in a crowd was a bad idea. He was still on edge from Necrozma. Or, was he always on edge?

Sharpeye didn’t just attack up close. She blasted Smallflame with fire next. The beam was solid and hot enough that Smallflame had to step back, but even when he did, the beam’s aim was true. Her namesake held.

But Smallflame had no trouble blocking it, and then, using this as a time to practice his advanced techniques, he reached toward the energy through the shield. His fingers extended invisibly with his aura, grasping at the incoming flames. In less than a second, they coalesced into a ball at the edge of his barrier, now at his command. He curved the flames back toward Sharpeye, who yelped and stumbled back again.

“What?!” she cried.

He had a good feel for the blast, now. When she tried again, Smallflame didn’t even need his shield. He reached toward the incoming flames and flicked his wrist, curving them toward her again. All of her siblings watched with awe.

“You took my fire!” Sharpeye shouted it like it was an accusation.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. It’s one of my techniques.”

“Can you do that with anything?” asked Bigtail. The Charmeleon crept forward and inspected Smallflame’s hand.

“Kind of,” Smallflame replied.

Sharpeye snorted. “Well, I can’t beat someone who blocks everything I do… and then throws it back at me.” She seemed irritated at first but then grinned. “But you became so strong!”

“Yeah…” Smallflame rubbed at his neck. They didn’t know half of it. If he was weak, or if he’d stayed weak…

No. Enough wondering. Once Zena got back, and he introduced her to his family, they could get back to business and figure things out.

“But I bet you can’t beat ALL of us!” Bigtail declared.

Smallflame blinked.

“What?”

But Bigtail was already rallying the other siblings. Amber smirked and settled her head against Daichi’s side. It didn’t look like she was going to interfere as the swarm of flames closed in on her final arrival.

<><><>​

Peace was a luxury and Angelo was a starving artist.

Well, not really. He was paid very well for his comics after all the success he’d gained.

But he called himself one anyway in terms of how much relaxation he could earn. The night before, upon rescuing ADAM, he felt accomplished. He did a mission! He felt great! Successful! Maybe his father was watching from the aura sea or whatever Star called it and was proud of him for finally doing some Heart mission! That meant he could retire after saving a demigod, right?

No. Because now he was frantically running down the main roads of Kilo Village with his personal Nate blobbing behind him, staring skyward at yet another rift that had formed.

But this time, it wasn’t the Voidlands—that was good, he hoped—but instead, he was staring at Kilo Village again. Like there was another mountain, upside-down, staring at the sky.

“Oof!” He bumped into something and realized it was slimy, to great horror. He screamed and tried to pull away, only to be staring at a concerned Goodra moments later.

“Are you okay?” Anam asked.

“H-Heart of Hearts!” Angelo scrambled to his feet, wincing at the matted fur the Goodra’s slime had left behind. “I, er… yes. But—the sky, it’s—”

Anam nodded. “We gotta go! Something bad’s happening!”

“Go? M-me?”

Anam nodded. “For protection and planning! It’s okay, no fighting!”

That was a relief… though, he felt a pang of guilt that he was known for that most of all.

They both rushed down the road and to Heart HQ, where they happened upon Star looking around frantically.

“Anam!” she called, wincing a little when they rushed close.

Anam skidded to a stop, his slime carrying him forward a few extra feet.

She shrank away but then steeled herself with a breath. “Where’s Barky?”

“Huh? I thought he was with you at Destiny Tower!” Anam nibbled on his grabbers. “Where is he?”

“Ugh! He’s probably chatting with Ghrelle or Aramé or something.” Star rubbed her eyes. “Okay. That’s fine. But look, we’ve got a big problem.”

“Oh, you don’t say?” Angelo said with a shaky voice, pointing skyward.

Something orange caught his eye and he turned his head, seeing a young Charmander with a black and white flame running past him with curiosity in her eyes. She was chasing a tiny Joltik. And, far down the street, a blue Gardevoir was chasing the Charmander.

“It’s Aether Forest,” Star said. “There’s a rift in there, too! That place is supposed to be safe now!”

“And what’s that rift? It looks like Kilo Village!” Angelo pointed up.

Spice and Jerry were running and flying over next, catching the end of the conversation.

“Don’t tell me there are parallel dimensions like those sci-fi comics,” Spice said.

“That’s not a parallel world,” Star said. “That’s across the aura sea! That’s… the afterlife!”

“What?! Then why does—what’s that mean for here?”

Star opened her mouth to answer, but then the sky erupted with golden light like another sun rose from the earth. It came from Hot Spot.

And that golden light was tainted by tendrils of darkness, creating some kind of dark sun in the middle of the rift. Angelo staggered back, blinded yet unable to look away.

“What is… THAT?” he cried.

The whole world became darker. Light was being siphoned away from Kilo and toward that rift, where a single new sun was formed above the portal.

And then it went flying toward them, everything getting hotter and hotter. Angelo could only hear screams. He curled up and squeezed his eyes shut, his life rushing through his mind.

After all of his struggles, was this how it was going to end?

Hotter and hotter. He could barely feel anything else. And then…

He waited.

His breath halted.

He dared to open one eye.

The great shadow of the leviathan, Nate, loomed over the town. The palm-like head was curled around the sphere, crushing it into a dissipating cloud of reddish energy.

“Wh-what…” Angelo gulped.

The leviathan left Kilo Village and flew toward the rift, as a dragon made of gold-black light emerged from the void.
 
Chapter 159 - Unwelcome Connections
Chapter 159 – Unwelcome Connections

They weren’t about to deal with some unknown number of strange, floating robes that, according to Mhynt, could take over their minds and parasitize their bodies. Instead, they retreated deeper into the caves as Mhynt pooled odd clouds of darkness in her palms, spreading them on the ground. It looked like she was drawing two large wings in the soil.

“Is this supposed to help you conjure your powers?” Trina asked. “Can’t you bring it about on command?”

“For short bursts,” Mhynt said. “This would be some of my strongest abilities. I need time to prepare. Gather my strength.” The Treecko glanced at Trina. “Unless you’d like to risk tumbling aimlessly through Ultra Space again?”

Trina stiffened and stepped back. “Take the time you need.”

Mhynt smirked and continued outlining her shadow. Occasionally, Trina watched outside the cave to make sure nothing would sneak up on them, and thankfully, they had evaded detection for the time being.

“Where will we be going?” Trina asked.

“With luck, back home by retracing our steps. We weren’t tumbling for too long, and thankfully Ultra Space is still, to an extent, space. Therefore, distance matters.”

Trina couldn’t imagine something where distance didn’t matter, but she decided not to question it.

“By the way,” Mhynt said, “why aren’t you changing to Serperior?”

“Hm?”

“You seem like the sort of person who would want to look as dignified as possible. Not to offend… Only an impression I had.”

She was a little offended. Trina straightened her back. “Well,” she said, “as much as I would prefer a larger size, I also did not have the time to go to Xerneas while he prioritized others. Triage. I must re-evolve the normal way until he has time.”

“But you’re Radiant—ah, Mystic, hm? The power may not be the same, but it lets you toy with your body as another plaything of the world. You can easily do the same.”

“I… do not have the power to do so,” Trina said.

Mhynt paused her drawing to look back. “Even Owen, who gave up all of his spirits to Enet, can still shift his form if he must.”

“I do not house spirits within me in the same way. They maintained the Dungeon I resided in and, after the Voidlands, were… lost when I evaporated upon leaving. I do not know where they went afterward.”

“Hmm… They should have gravitated back to you,” Mhynt said.

They couldn’t have been… erased, right? Hecto and the others said that wasn’t possible. If so, where had they gone?

“Well,” Mhynt said, “I hope we can find them when this mess is sorted out. Regardless, where did your power go?”

“I gave it to the mutants under my control before,” Trina said. She saw the surprise and concern in Mhynt’s otherwise stoic expression. “It wasn’t to make them dangerous. It was to help them stay in control while I was gone.”

“Ahhh. I see.” Mhynt nodded. “That’s very selfless of you.” She returned to her nearly-complete drawing. “And reckless, of course, by sending yourself into the Voidlands straightaway. At least you maintained enough power to hypnotize Team Alloy in case something went wrong.”

“That was the hope,” Trina said, feeling a pang of guilt. “…I don’t like the power, you know. But it’s necessary. I suppose I grew… used to it.”

“You don’t have to justify anything to me,” Mhynt replied dismissively. “I know all about how power can make you lose perspective. So often, Legends are, despite once being mortal themselves, just as naïve as any other in the world.

“Mm. That’s true.”

Mhynt finished the first crescent of Lunala’s head. “Being able to hold your authority while sacrificing so much… It’s admirable if it pays off. But for others who can see the benefits and disregard the risks…” Mhynt chuckled.

“What?” Trina pressed. “I’m not careless. I’m—”

“No, no.” Mhynt held up a free hand while tracing the final crescent out. “I wasn’t saying it was bad. It could have gone badly, but it didn’t. A lot of plans are like that. I was only thinking about… how similar it is to the one you’ve been hanging around with more.”

“Hanging around with—you mean Gahi.” Trina rolled her eyes. “I don’t see your point.”

Mhynt smiled wryly and completed the drawing. “Alright,” she said, stepping back so her feet were at the bottom tips of the shadow’s wings. “Time to get this working. Trina, could you provide some power as a catalyst for this? My Radiance is not as strong as yours, so I’ll need a boost.”

“Is Radiance what’s needed to awaken it?”

“Of course. Lunala are inherently like that when divine. It’ll help… reawaken me.”

“Well.” Trina sighed and brought her little arms forward. Warmth and light flowed from her shoulders into her fingertips. “I’ll do what I can.”

The Snivy then channeled that power toward the Treecko, and that light went from her shoulders into the ground, flowing into the shadow of Lunala. Light first flowed around it like an outline before bleeding inward, pooling mostly in the eyes and along the crescent of its wings. Trina was certain that it twitched.

At the same time, darkness pooled around Mhynt’s feet, submerging her to her ankles.

“Good work. That will do,” Mhynt said, smiling enough that Trina could barely notice, and then fell as if through a trapdoor.

“Ah!” Trina stepped forward to grab her, but a column of darkness made her recoil on reflex.

The shadow lifted itself from the ground and gained some colors. Cosmic blues and purples accented themselves with bright gold. Glowing eyes stared down at Trina.

“Good work,” Lunala said. A psychic force wrapped around Trina; she flailed for a split-second, but then kept herself dignified and accepted it.

“How long will this last?” Trina asked, trying to distract from her brief panic.

“A few minutes.”

Trina stared, brow furrowed.

“…Less than half a kilo,” Lunala translated.

“That’s not much time. Hurry.” Trina nodded.

Lunala’s gaze shifted to something behind Trina. There, at the cave entrance, three of those odd faceless creatures were approaching…

“Nihilego,” Lunala hummed. “We shouldn’t have to deal with these.”

“We’re a bit cornered,” Trina said. “Why are they coming now?”

“Curiosity with my energy. Let’s not take any risks.” Lunala flew toward the far wall. A rift formed, circular like a tunnel, and they fell inside. Trina held on tight, squeezing her eyes shut, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly bright this time.

All around them were those cosmic swirls from earlier that Trina couldn’t fully understand. Space? Some strange place between? The passive energy in the area tickled her scales. She wondered if it was dangerous to mortals.

“I want you to focus on anything reaching out to you,” Lunala said. “I will focus on flying. Direct me to what your spirit is drawn toward. With luck… you will know.”

“Is this something I would know through instinct?” Trina asked, realizing that she couldn’t hear her voice. The air felt so thin here. Was there even air?

Lunala didn’t reply. Trina followed her ‘spiritual instincts,’ whatever that meant. She looked at the wormholes in the strange rift, each a tunnel to some other realm she wasn’t aware of. Something that would draw her… there was no way something like that was mundane. Perhaps it was a Mystic attribute, then, that could cross realms. And if that was the case…

“There,” Trina said, pointing at a tunnel that, from her perspective, was only a few seconds of flying away. Lunala obeyed.

“Brace yourself,” Lunala warned. Trina pressed herself against Lunala’s back and wrapped her vines around any spot she could find purchase.

It felt like everything compressed around her. A tight, ethereal blanket. She couldn’t let go of Lunala if she wanted to. Then came light, and then a horrible battering of sand. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath as the sandstorm thickened. Rough grains pelted her in buckets.

Then, she heard whistling… singing. She knew that sound.

“Gahi’s near!” Trina called, then spat out the sand that got in her mouth.

“Of course you’d find him first,” Lunala hummed. “I can’t see very well in this sandstorm, though. Did he create it?”

Something roared in the sandstorm. Lunala suddenly banked upward and then took a hard left. Only thanks to her vines was Trina able to maintain her hold and not fall away.

The sandstorm thinned but not enough for the Snivy to peek. She breathed cautiously. Clear enough. Sand stopped pelting her scales so she dared to open her eyes.

No sand, but the sky was a dreary gray. But at least it was, for the most part, a natural color to expect from the sky.

“Oi!”

Trina suddenly looked back—and there he was. The Flygon, shining even in the dim light, sped and Teleported toward them, stopping just as quickly. “How’d y’get ‘ere?”

“You recognize me?” Lunala asked, cocking her head to the side while keeping her wings spread, hovering by some spectral force.

“Nah.” Gahi pointed at Trina. “Anyway, who’re you, Wings?”

“Lunala, but you also know me as Mhynt.”

“Oh.” Gahi narrowed his eyes. “Huh. Prefer y’as a Treecko.”

Lunala chuckled. “Well, like the others, I can choose which form to take… and this one’s time is running out anyway. Is there a safe place to land?”

“Eh, yeah.”

Trina noticed that the strange roaring had stopped. “By the way, when we came in here, there was… something in that storm. What was it?”

“Oh, that? Yeah, that was ol’ Bitey. Met’m here and while we were tryin’ ter figure out a way back, he kept chasin’ us. Got fed up, started fightin’. Was kinda fun, so we sparred fer a while. Demitri ‘n Mispy must’ve tuckered ‘em out.”

“…Bitey,” Lunala said. “That must have been a Guzzlord. And you tired it out. Mm. I don’t know if I should be disappointed or surprised.”

Gahi rolled his eyes and disappeared behind Lunala, holding out a hand for Trina. With a little smile, she hopped onto his arm and then shoulder.

“Well,” Trina said, “Lunala, if you’re running low on time, do we need to rest?”

“Only for a short while, but I would appreciate it.”

They descended to the wasteland’s terrain. Lunala evaporated into a cloud of black smoke, leaving behind a Treecko to dust herself off. She did, noticeably, look much more sluggish than before.

With their bearings gathered and Trina finally taking a breath to relax, they watched the sandstorm subside. Mispy was tending to a few minor wounds that Demitri had suffered, and by some miracle, all three of them were sane, though they all had crazed expressions. Trina offered to calm them, and they, after some reluctance, accepted.

With more normal expressions, the five all enjoyed the quiet, occasionally disturbed by the sounds of deep, rumbling snores by the behemoth buried in the sand a few stone’s throws away.

During that brief break, Mispy whispered something to Demitri, who nodded.

“So, um,” Demitri started, “what happened back there?”

“I wasn’t able to see everything,” Mhynt said, “but I’m pretty sure Necrozma was overtaken by a part of Dark Matter that we hadn’t detected. One that was hidden beneath a veil of light… Necrozma’s weaker half.”

“Valle…” Demitri shook his head. “That’s horrible. Poor Valle…”

“We can pity him after we’ve freed him,” Mhynt said. “Unfortunately, Valle is gone now. Part of Necrozma… who is under Dark Matter’s control. That makes three pieces of Dark Matter accounted for, and one final unknown somewhere on Kilo.”

“Where could that last part be?” Demitri asked. He tapped a claw on the ax on his left cheek, sighing. “We checked practically everywhere…”

“Everywhere except the unthinkable,” Mhynt pointed out, “or otherwise inaccessible. If we can’t trace them otherwise… they are either hiding in a random civilian—which surely Diyem would spot—or he’s hiding behind another established power, waiting for the right opportunity to take control.”

“…So we gotta do a deep dive on every single Guardian,” Gahi concluded.

“Essentially, yes,” Mhynt said. “And a cursory look isn’t enough, either. But… that will be for later.” She sighed. “First, we need to find a way to get back to the others. And for that… we will need to rest and figure out how I can fly all of you at once. Ultra Space is not an easy place to travel…”

“We can’t just fuse?” Demitri asked. “Is it… dangerous?”

“It hardly has air,” Mhynt said. “You have no means to propel yourselves without special powers.”

“I got those,” Gahi said, swirling his claws to create little bubbles of Psychic energy.

“But will that be enough, hmm…” Mhynt looked genuinely contemplative. “We could try. But failure would mean you become lost to Ultra Space, and recovery will not be easy…”

“Oh.” Demitri pulled out an ax, then clicked it back into place. “Um, how bad is Ultra Space?”

“It’s not so bad,” Mhynt said. “You’re strong enough to survive. Maybe. Assuming you find a place with air. But otherwise, the main problem is you won’t be able to find your way back home. Ever, possibly. I’m not sure where your spirit will drift even if you died here; the aura sea and so on are where the spirits of your world are held. For all I know, you’ll drift straight into the Overworld if you die here.”

“Th-then we need to get to the others soon!” Demitri said. “What if they’re already—”

“I know. I agree. But we can’t search blindly if your spiritual resonance doesn’t guide us well enough.”

“Now that we have the time,” Trina spoke up, “I want to ask about that. Spiritual resonance. I don’t believe any sort of emotional bond tied us together when I found Gahi, so what exactly is that?”

“Eh?” Gahi stopped picking at a scale on his cheek to look at Trina.

“It would be very poetic.” Lunala chuckled. “But, no. You’re right. It’s not emotions; it’s the Orbs within you two, even their mere essence, that resonates enough that you are drawn to them. It’s the same force that helped draw you together now, and the force that Star and Barky had tried to counter for so long out of fear of what it would mean if all those powers gathered again.”

“Then that means,” Trina deduced, “we can find Kilo again, since it’s filled with more of those Orbs, and wherever Owen and Zena had gone, too. But as for your other halves…” She offered an apologetic look to team Alloy.

“Oh, they will probably find their other halves on instinct anyway,” Mhynt said. “A soul is a soul. At the very least, we can be confident that if either of their halves dies, they will probably find their way to them, so long as they aren’t sealed like in the Voidlands.”

“Heh… alright.” Gahi nodded. “Guess that means we know exactly where ter go… by instinct alone! See? I knew my gut would go’n the right direction.”

Trina sighed but couldn’t help but smile. He was right… albeit with the wrong thought process. Mhynt gave Trina a coy look and she quickly composed herself.

Right. Soon, they would be going home, where, if they were timely enough, they could warn everyone about what was happening before anything bad happened.

<><><>​

Kilo Village was in complete pandemonium. To the north, Nate was trying to subdue a light dragon with blasts of reddish energy. Every time Nate attacked, Angelo felt his powers completely disappear, and he had no idea why. Was that part of Nate’s powers? Or was this something new?

Spice had picked him up—he was getting tired of being carried around like luggage—and fled to the Waypoints for safety. For many Kiloan citizens, evacuation drills were still fresh in their minds, and getting out was something that happened in an orderly fashion, aside from the panicked shouts.

In a flash, they went from Kilo Village to the recently repaired Milli Town, surrounded by newly made buildings and cobblestone roads. Angelo took a breath, trying to calm down.

He couldn’t see Nate or the rift from here, but he could feel the shockwaves of their clashing. The sheer energy behind the attacks… That was their guardian, all this time. Kilo Village’s protector.

In some ways, he felt guilty for being so afraid and suspicious of him for so long. The fearful glances, the flat statements of how scary he was…

Angelo realized that his Nate hadn’t followed. Perhaps he couldn’t stray far from the host body. He’d apologize later.

“You okay?” Spice asked, holding Angelo’s shoulder.

“Y-yes. I’m fine. Thank you.”

Spice left to check on others. Some seemed to be in shock, perhaps from the energy blasts overwhelming them. Angelo was surprised he wasn’t part of that group.

Skies, his heart was racing in his chest. He could hardly hear. It was getting difficult to see, too. Oh—

Someone bit his shoulder.

“Yeowch!” Angelo stumbled forward and spun around, taking deep breaths. Horrible dizziness forced him onto his back. Warm fur suddenly surrounded him. It smelled of wood and made his fur tingle and rise from static.

“H-help! Help, I’m being hunted!” Angelo cried, struggling uselessly against his assailant.

In moments, he was staring at the wide, curious eyes of a Zoroark. She nipped at his snout.

“A-ah!”

She turned him around and stuffed him in her mane. Why did he have to be so small? Or was she just abnormally large?

“Enet,” Angelo said, “why are you treating me like a child?”

“Scared,” Enet said. “Make comfortable.”

All around them, Pokémon were walking around and murmuring about the recent development. Some were already electing to go out and gather extra food and supplies for their new town while they acted as refugees. Some refused to be victims and tried to establish themselves as leaders of the hunt.

Angelo just wanted to rest. Maybe being restrained by this feral Zoroark was a good excuse.

“Spice was already looking after me,” Angelo said. “Isn’t… that like being checked on twice by the same person?”

Enet tilted her head. He wondered how many brain cells were operating on that line of questioning.

“Well, it’s more like three times, in a way.”

“AYEEEE!” Angelo flailed again, but Enet’s mane proved too thick to escape.

Occupying the mane with him was a nearly incorporeal Lilligant. She glowed naturally, giving the inside of Enet’s comically spacious mane some illumination.

“Why are you here?” Angelo whispered.

“I’ve kinda always been here,” she said, curling up so her lower half was scrunched up against her chest. “I’ve been trying to help guide Enet more, since… well, we’re the same person. It’s… weird, but the more I’m with her, the more it does feel that way. Even if she’s feral, we’re in sync in a lot of little ways… At least… that’s what I’m trying to tell myself.” She laughed nervously.

“Oh, right, the Remi thing…” Angelo took a breath and leaned against the wall of fur behind him. His legs dangled out of the mane and he tried to find a comfortable, sturdy position.

“Oh, don’t worry. You won’t fall. Enet’s using a bunch of static cling to keep you on her.”

“Wha—oh. Electric. That’s clever.”

“I think she has no idea how it works and discovered it on accident. But hey! That’s how it goes sometimes.”

A distant shockwave shook the air. Angelo couldn’t tell from there if the ground also trembled.

“So, er, with Enet… how is that going, anyway? With all the chaos, I haven’t really… seen much of you around.”

“The hardest part is seeing Dad worry about it,” Amelia admitted.

“Oh, your… father, yes.”

“He adopted me when I was just a little leafling in the woods,” Amelia said, adjusting her orange flower with a sad sigh. “And then, uh, my other cosmic-not-really-but-kinda-sorta dad killed me, so, that’s sort of awkward.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Owen. He killed me a long time ago.”

Angelo didn’t know how to reply to that one. He stared, slack-jawed.

“I got over it.”

“That’s not—something to get over so casually!”

Amelia made a wobbly gesture with her leaves. “It was a few hundred years ago, you know? Time heals all wounds.”

“You—died!? Time heals—”

“It’s a spirit thing.”

“Oh, of course. A spirit thing.” Angelo slumped against the fur again, rubbing his eyes. “I just want to go back home and draw comics. Is that too much to ask?”

“I guess when you’re so talented with other things, people want you to do more than your passion.”

“Yes, well… I… understand that. I’m not going to back down if there are lives I can save easily. A-and the Hearts are respecting my… wish to not risk life and limb.” He crossed his arms. “We’ve reached a point where there’s nowhere safe, so of course I’m going to help.”

“There you go,” Amelia encouraged. “Not everyone’s gotta be a hero. But at least you’re helping where you can.”

Angelo wanted to retort. He’d heard it before with patronizing eyes and a gentle tone like they didn’t want to upset him. But this time, Amelia’s words felt more genuine. Matter-of-fact.

“I suppose so,” Angelo half-conceded. Then, as another distant shockwave put Angelo’s fur on end, he asked, “So, you aren’t scared at all? About… that. I can’t imagine having some… other, totally different person from me that I’m somehow destined to become half of a whole with.”

“Yeaaah…” Amelia sighed. “It’s… a little scary because of… I mean, I have no idea how to comprehend it. I talked with Dialga about it. He said that the part that’s going to be the hardest isn’t yourself and how you feel—that’s going to be fine. It’s how everyone reacts to you being someone different. With me… it’s going to feel natural. I’ll be both at once. Enet and I, and Spice, we’re pretty similar even if we’re also super different. But… the people that might want only one of us—like Dad, with me, or Spice and her family—that’s where it gets complicated.”

“I think I understand. Like… like seeing a childhood friend after ten years, and you’re not the same anymore.”

“Yeah! I think.” Amelia adjusted her flower again. “It just happens way more suddenly.”

Angelo nodded. It wasn’t his problem, but hearing about it, maybe she would do okay. If anything, it was Spice he was worried about. She seemed a lot more bothered.

Enet suddenly stopped walking and growled.

“Y-yes, Enet?” Angelo called.

Amelia frowned and disappeared in a flurry of embers, entering Enet’s back. Angelo, meanwhile, shifted to part Enet’s mane like peeking out of a berry bush.

He wished he hadn’t.

The sky had turned a strange purple-blue patchwork of those horrible void rifts. The landscape was shifting without warning, leaving ripples of Dungeon bubbles that distorted the light. Some of them were only a few blocks away, completely obscuring the homes of some Pokémon in an instant. Cries sounded from them, and suddenly they were gone.

“Do I want to know?” Angelo asked.

Phol managed to evade most of the distortion and ran to them. Spice came from the other direction.

“Alright, new plan,” Spice said, “we take cover and secure what we can before—”

Then came another shriek that was louder than the rest. More shouts—more chaos. Angelo couldn’t focus on it anymore. During a passing glance, a wraith rampaged through. Spice roared something and ran toward it; more cries from the other end of their little pocket of safety pulled Phol away, conjuring his golden Protects.

“Help time!” Enet announced, plucking Angelo out of her mane and plopping him on the ground.

“Oof! And what do I do?!” Angelo asked, half annoyed, half panicked.

“Reflect and Light Screen,” Phol said tersely. “Support us from behind.”

“O-okay. I’ll, uh, and I’ll also try to give you boons in other ways,” Angelo added, already drawing a series of sigils in the air. Squares, hexagons, pulses—he tossed them in a frenzy. He figured Helping Hand would be useful, tossing that where he could. Tailwind, yes! Tailwind will get everyone more mobile. He drew the breeze in the air and pushed them along, hoping his sheer will could tell friend from foe in the chaos.

Okay. Okay, wraiths. They were in a Dungeon now. Suddenly. After decades of new Dungeons not appearing ever.

Right before his eyes, the land shifted even more. Now, only the small street corner he’d happened to be in was its own Dungeon pocket. If he moved past it, would he find himself in a completely different place, or would it be freedom? Would he take that risk?

Of course he wouldn’t. He could barely move his legs. Breathing was hard again; he was in a trance, repeating the same cycle of techniques to help the others, but he was getting sloppy. He saw wraiths where there weren’t any. He heard shouts and he didn’t know if they were imagined or not.

At some point, he collapsed to his knees and curled up, trying to hide in the chaos. He couldn’t attack anymore. His spirit was so drained of energy—he’d expended himself too much, too quickly.

And he was going to die. He wasn’t paying attention and he was going to die. Become a wraith afterward, too, wasn’t he? He couldn’t hear the chaos anymore. His blood was pumping too fast.

Warm fur wrapped around him. Strong claws held him gently.

“It’s okay.”

Right against his ear. He barely heard it. He made out enough details that it was Enet again. Everything ran around them like they were a boulder on the battlefield… Yes. Was it her illusions?

“Shh, shh.”

Angelo had been whimpering. He didn’t even realize it. In shame, he curled up again.

Do you resent them?

“I’m just so tired,” he said. “I’m so tired of fighting. I’m not a hero….”

Do you want peace?

“I’m not some Heart that’s supposed to dive into the fray. I just want to go home. I want things normal again…”

Put them to sleep.

Angelo sniffled again. He opened his eyes, realizing that he didn’t recognize this voice. It was coming from… a Machop. A mere Machop, but there was a dark aura surrounding him. He was standing within Enet’s illusion, but her gaze was focused on the action on the other end. Everything felt slower.

Something about that Machop felt familiar.

Take my power, the Machop said, but his lips didn’t move. Angelo felt something cold run across his forehead, like an idea. A technique he knew, to pull from one’s innate abilities and swap it with—yes! Skill Swap!

He was calmer. His fear was boiling into irritation and resentment. It felt cold, and yet it burned. He was forming his plan while Enet slashed from the darkness at wraiths that happened to get too close.

He drew a sigil and pointed it at Machop. In moments, a ball of light from Angelo and Machop switched places, entering the opposite Pokémon. His mind felt clearer and honed.

Whether or not he was hit also no longer mattered to him. That was probably reckless. Asinine. But Enet was keeping up an illusion, and if he was going to have no guard, that was the best time to do it.

Release it, the Machop said. Put this chaos into a void where it cannot hurt anyone. Plunge them into the depths where they came from.

A small, shrinking, logical side of him recognized these words as concerning, perhaps even dangerous. But he was already frenzied with resentment and bitterness toward everything that was happening around him. He had no control. The world did as it pleased and forced him to flee and survive. Sick, fatigued, afraid. No more. If this outburst would be his first taste of true power…

So be it.

NOW!

Angelo gladly complied, a vision of a ghoul of nightmares in the back of his mind. He carved a sigil into the air and covered it in a blob of dark paint, and then crushed it in his palm. He didn’t care who it hit. Everyone. Just for some peace and quiet.

That cold bitterness hit its apex when Angelo finally released that power. A blackened ink covered the whole block. The screams all arose at once, shrieks and roars of so many species, and then… silence.

The Machop was gone.

“Wh-what was that?” Spice asked. “Angelo?”

“I… I don’t know,” Angelo replied as Hearts picked off wraiths while they slumbered. Some already began to stir again. Angelo, for all his rage, wasn’t all that strong; it seemed their rest was only brief… but that was all the villagers and Hearts needed. He wobbled forward as if called by something. “I want to be alone… please.”

“What? Angelo, it’s not—”

“Please.” He spoke firmly, coldly, and in a moment of lucidity, he realized this didn’t feel like himself talking. But he was so tired. He let it happen.

“…Just stay in a nearby building, okay?”

“Okay.” He wobbled toward any of them. Didn’t care. Maybe it had a bed. He’d apologize if it was someone who still lived there.

The first one he found was a quaint home that seemed abandoned, like the residents had packed up what they had and left a whole moon ago.

Except for a single occupant.

In the back of the living room, sitting against the wall, was a black-flamed Charmander. Off to the side was what looked like a Machop-themed cloth… before realizing that was a hollowed-out body of some kind, dissolving into a black mist. A disguise? Or… No. The others mentioned that Dark Matter could change his form.

“Hello,” Angelo greeted with a skeptical squint. “Aren’t you…”

“We should talk.” Diyem gestured in front of him. “Why not sit down and rest?”

There was always a catch. But the way he spoke, and that very small hint of brightness in the Charmander’s eyes… This was the Diyem the team knew. The one that had a hint of light inside that dark core. Angelo could trust him at least for a talk—and he’d turned into a Machop to give Angelo the power to put down all those wraiths at once to help the fight.

Still…

“Alright,” he said, sighing. “But… I’m not doing any hero work.”

“That won’t be a problem.”
 
Chapter 160 - Time and Space Asunder
Chapter 160 – Time and Space Asunder

“ . . . And so, in the end, we have a tiny part of Dark Matter on our side, and we have to find the rest.” Mesprit nodded. “That’s… sort of the whole situation.”

“Hmm…” Granbull Jin paced in front of the conference room—a replica of the Heart HQ, but with more subdued colors than its prior pastel reds, pinks, and magentas. “We know of Necrozma. We also know about Dungeons. When the Voidlands was reopened, we put our heads together on this one, and it’s very likely…

“People don’t remember much about Dungeons at all up until several decades after the Dark War.”

“I definitely don’t,” Mesprit said, crossing his little arms. “But… what does that mean?”

“That they didn’t appear until then,” Uxie stated. “Which means something in the Dark War caused it.”

“A place where space itself twists and changes, and where there are gateways into the Voidlands because of it,” Granbull Jin said. “When put in that way, it seems very clear that something caused the barrier between realms to… weaken. Applying Radiance plugs the gateway, but it does not solve the actual problem. Wraiths on one side… the living on the other.”

“And it’s not necessarily Dark Matter trying to escape, either,” Mesprit said. “He was within Anam the whole time, guiding him to run the world. And… not too badly, either.”

“Aside from the whole ‘hostile takeover of all other kingdoms’ thing,” Azelf quipped.

“No different than most nations, I believe,” Uxie hummed.

“That doesn’t make it okay,” Mesprit said, frowning.

Uxie shrugged and nodded.

“Focusing,” Jin said, “it means that Dark Matter might not have been creating these rifts on purpose. More likely… he was taking advantage of them. They seem to be the result of two divine forces clashing, and the aftershocks leaving weaknesses in the fabric that keeps the realms separate. It isn’t just a distortion of space, but the very planes of existence themselves. Dungeons are a gateway between the material and immaterial, the spiritual and physical. It converts one into the other.

“And, if left unchecked…”

“That could mean the end of life as we know it,” Mesprit whispered. “And death as we know it! There… wouldn’t be a difference!”

Uxie cocked her head to the left. “I wonder, how bad is that?”

“It’ll deprive the living of the chance to value life,” Jin replied. “There’s no telling what kind of instability it would cause. I know some of us are skeptical of the gods’ machinations, but something tells me letting life and death mingle will cause a lot of trouble. We should at least stabilize it before we come to any decisions.”

Uxie nodded as if conceding. “This is no time to be making decisions like that. But that leads to another question: if the border between life and death has been shattered, is there anything stopping us from taking advantage of that?”

“How do you mean?” Jin asked.

“Oh!” Mesprit perked up. “As in, if we’re able to just blur those lines, that means we can go from here, to somewhere in Kilo, right? Um, alive-Kilo.”

“Oh.” Jin hummed. “That’s… true. It’s scary that it’s so easy, but… yes. Hopefully, we won’t… dissolve, or something, if we go there, but… you’re right. We could probably find a way to go directly to Kilo if we had a way to fly up to the rift.”

“Which we can.” Azelf puffed out his chest and smirked. “I can fly in my sleep!”

“Hover,” Uxie corrected.

“Yeah, yeah.” Azelf shrugged. “Alright, c’mon! Let’s go!”

“Don’t be so hasty.” Jin sighed, walking to the entrance. “You can go on ahead, but I won’t follow. I need to rally the people on this layer of Kilo and then send word to the lower layers.”

“Lower… layers,” Mesprit repeated. “What do you mean?”

“Every few generations, a new Kilo is made to house them so this place doesn’t get too packed. It goes all the way back to the first one, back when it was still named Quartz. It’s a little chaotic down there since memories have been unsealed, but… well. What’s more chaos to the fire, right?” The Granbull grumbled and ran a claw over his left jaw tooth. “I’m going to have to get Brigid and Angelo. They’ll probably be part of the nearest layer’s forces. Restless souls, those two…”

The rift rumbled again. Something was shifting. By now, it wasn’t alarming. It was part of the new rhythm for the day. This was usually normal with people coming from older eras of Kilo’s afterlife to visit. However, this time, who stumbled through the rift in the sky was not from the Kilos of the lower levels. Instead…

“Wait a sec!” Azelf pointed up. “Look!”

The rift didn’t look like the others. This one was more like a tunnel than a tear, and it bore an odd, checkerboard pattern to it that seemed distinctly unnatural. Two figures were flying through it, though one seemed to be latched onto the other through some kind of vine.

“Hey!” Mesprit said. “That’s Team Alloy! And Lunala and Trina!”

“And I’m guessing they’re also alive,” Jin growled as if it offended him.

“Alive?” repeated the fused Team Alloy—Migami. “What, we’re dead now?”

“Hopefully not!” Azelf said.

“I don’t think so,” Trina said as she dismounted from Lunala, landing lightly on walking soil. “If that was the case, I think the theory from Mhynt was, the dead half would merge into the living. That hasn’t happened.”

“Oh, you mean our counterparts.” Mesprit nodded. “That makes sense. I guess that means we’re both alive.”

“Or both dead,” Jin theorized. “…Anyway, what happened? Why are you here?”

“We got tossed into Ultra Space,” Lunala explained.

“Ultra what.”

Lunala stared. “Ah. Right. That isn’t known by most.”

Her body dissolved into shadows. Streams of the remainder collected beneath the cloud, forming a Treecko again.

“Think of it as a massive network of tunnels and nebulae that connect this world to many others. And, as it turns out, it seems that it can also connect the spirit world to the living world… of Kilo, at least. I have my doubts it works the same way for other realms…”

The Treecko paced over the dirt, occasionally kicking at a few pebbles before making a little gesture with her hands. Pale green grass formed over the dirt in merging patches, which she more comfortably walked over.

“This normally shouldn’t be possible,” Mhynt said. “This makes me suspect something about the nature of Kilo all along…” She shook her head and turned toward them again, smiling. “Well,” she said. “why don’t we gather up? I want to be briefed.”

“I’ll get Brigid and Angelo,” Jin said. “After that, let’s share what we know.”

Team Alloy, after unfusing, and the Trio of Mind stared at one another.

“This is getting pretty serious,” Mesprit said.

“Who knows what’s goin’ on,” Gahi murmured, looking at the sky. “The world’s tearin’ apart…”

And, they could all feel it between them. That strange, looming tension as the world threatened to blend … The energy between the three pairs told them, without words, that their time apart would soon have to end.

<><><>​

Frightened but calmed murmurs drifted through the air of Milli Town. There was no escaping those wayward souls’ mumblings, even as Angelo sought refuge in one of the many abandoned homes, staring at a Charmander with a black flame who had already been waiting for him.

“You were that Machop,” Angelo whispered.

“Mm.” He nodded. “A power I have. Mimicry of anybody. I suppose it’s like a Ditto… though it’s more like putting on false skin. Within, it’s only darkness.”

“That, er, that sounds… like something a young teenager going through their rebellious phase would say,” Angelo had to say.

“Hmph.” Diyem rolled his eyes. “Classify it all you want. It’s what I am inside.”

Angelo wondered if he was intentionally being ironic. “If you’re a being filled with nothing but darkness… why did you help me? I was just born with this paint color, you know. I may not want to be a hero, but don’t expect me to… rebel against the light, or something!”

“…Hm. It’s no wonder Owen is a fan of your work,” Diyem muttered.

“What?”

The Charmander dismissed the subject like it was flying near his head. “Your… talents. I need them. But I don’t expect you to have the will to fight. I can already sense your fear just from how I’m talking to you now.”

“I—I’m not… afraid. I’m just tired, and—”

“Do not defend yourself against me. I know your fears the same way I can see the color of your fur. You cannot hide your feelings from me.”

Angelo tensed his jaw, trying to think of a way to deny that. He squeezed his tail a little tighter and searched for the words. Maybe Diyem was just messing with him. Breaking him down so he’d… be more obedient. He’d seen that method before.

“You’re right to not trust me,” Diyem said. “I am a fragment of the very thing that sought to take over the whole world. A selfish entity that only wants to preserve itself. I do not know what the rest of myself is capable of, or what it desires, any longer, but it can’t be anything good.”

Angelo let the words sink in and fester. It was true. Diyem had nothing that would prove he could be trusted beyond that he hadn’t done anything terrible yet. But… that was true for anyone, right? And not only that, some of the allies he had were already known for terrible acts! Even Anam, their supposed leader!

“Why me specifically?” Angelo asked. “My talent? What good is that?”

“You underestimate just how capable you are,” Diyem said. “What you lack in raw strength you more than compensate for with versatility. Mew’s Blessing, and an inheritance of ancient techniques lost to the Void.”

“Mew’s Blessing… right…” Angelo shifted his weight nervously. “In school, we’re taught that the aura can only really have four distinct channels on the surface. Everything else is… inside, and harder to draw out quickly. So, we have to focus on ‘drawing out’ those if we want to use them more. But I… don’t… have that problem. And it’s run in my family for generations. Some in my family tree had it fade, but not me, I guess…”

“Hm.” The Charmander nodded again, but there was now a second Charmander next to him and Angelo wasn’t sure when she’d gotten there. Her eyes were wide, and—oh no it was the child.

She reached toward Diyem’s face and grabbed his cheeks.

Diyem paid her no mind as he continued to talk, his words garbled by Mu’s playing. “Do you see that potential?”

“Um… I think I do,” Angelo said. “Is… she supposed to be here?”

Diyem’s black flame rose, then fell, as he reached out and grabbed her hands gingerly, pulling them away. “Hands to yourself,” he explained.

“Hands!” Mu giggled. She then bit Diyem’s hands; it seemed to be a play bite. Angelo hoped. It was either that or Diyem was so stoic that he didn’t care if she broke his scales.

Diyem exhaled through his nose and moved his arms to the right, sliding Mu in that direction while she remained latched.

“Now that I think about it, no. I believe you are very aware of your potential. That is why you have a sense of shame when you deny the call to action. You have the strength to save many lives, but are afraid and want to live quietly despite this talent.”

Angelo already felt himself getting defensive. His fur bristled out. His breathing was shallow. There was a numbness creeping along his upper spine. “You’re asking me to be a hero.”

“No. I’m asking you for a favor.”

Angelo waited, calming down a little. Diyem wasn’t judging him, right? Just… stating facts? He didn’t have the same tone or air that others speaking to him about this did. Maybe it would be okay…

“Interesting. You’ll hear it out,” Diyem hummed. Despite the upper tone he had, his face was just as expressionless. “I have a strong suspicion about where the final unknown piece of myself is hidden. However, giving it away to others will risk that knowledge getting to the source. I want to get to it… from someone unaffiliated and talented.”

“You can’t tell me?” Angelo asked.

“Of course not. If I did, you might tell others and the plan will be ruined. I’ll only tell you after you agree.”

“If I agree, and then back out?” Angelo asked. “How… how binding is this?”

“When it’s over, you can act like I don’t exist for all I care.”

Had it not been for Mu crawling and babbling, it would have been a tense silence. Instead, Mu had migrated to Angelo, scaling his legs. Nervously, he tried to push her away, but the strange black-white-flame Charmander clung to his arms next, eventually finding her way to his shoulder, where she happily perched like a bird.

“Fine,” Angelo said. “What’s the favor?”

“I need the power,” Diyem said without hesitating, “of someone unassuming but strong. Someone they wouldn’t expect to do anything heroic or outgoing, but is capable of it. So, you. And I need someone who has the potential to scale Destiny Tower no matter the guards sent your way. I believe the final piece of Dark Matter is hidden somewhere inside.”

Angelo blinked. Silent. He leaned his head against Mu, who leaned back and started to scale to the top of his hat.

“You want not-a-hero to scale Destiny Tower—the Destiny Tower—and confront a secret fragment of evil.”

“No,” Diyem said as if he already sensed that Angelo was about to vehemently refuse. “I want your body.”

Somehow that was worse. “No?” And it was so surprising that Angelo had wrapped back around to confused denial.

“I will possess you. For you, it can be either watching things play out as a distant passenger or a brief rest. No more disruptive than falling asleep. I will utilize your power, dispel the darkness hidden inside Destiny Tower, and then leave before the others realize what I’ve done.”

“Wouldn’t they praise you for… for dispelling your fragment?”

“Yes, but I doubt they would approve of me hijacking someone again.”

“Again?!”

“Of course again. What kind of demon of evil would I be if I didn’t possess someone now and then?” Diyem glared, arms crossed.

“How is this supposed to convince me?!”

“Because I can feel you’re already tempted by this easy job,” Diyem said flatly. “You take a break from all that’s happening. When you wake up, it’s over, the world is a better place, and you get the credit. You even know how it’s too good to be true because they would also find out what you did to achieve it. But that won’t matter. Peace is found. The world is restored. And I”—Diyem paused with emphasis, making sure Angelo paid attention—“will prove that I can be trusted on my own, too.”

“Hands!” Mu declared, standing on top of Angelo’s head. He made his best effort to keep her perfectly balanced.

Angelo held his breath, unsure. On one hand… it was an escape from this while still being productive. On the other, it was Dark Matter.

Yes, he could potentially save the world with this donation, and it wouldn’t even require any work from him, technically! But… it was Dark Matter.

Still… even if he refused, and this failed, wouldn’t the world end anyway? And he’d be in the same terrible position in a world of darkness? But… Dark. Matter.

All the while, Diyem sat there, patient. Mu had crawled down from Angelo and back to Diyem, trying to bite his tail. While Diyem remained still, his tail swished to avoid her.

“Can I have some time to think?” Angelo asked.

“About?”

“Just… it’s a lot to weigh. Can I… can I ask anyone?”

“Can you do so without compromising this plan?” Diyem asked.

“Er…” Maybe he had a point there. But he couldn’t just make the decision now! Unless…

“Y-you tricked me!” Angelo said. “Now I…”

Diyem rubbed the bridge of his snout. “I didn’t trick you for anything. You asked for the favor. I answered. You knew it was something important that could compromise the mission if it spreads elsewhere. Now, can you keep it a secret while you wait, or not?”

“H-how important is it that I keep it a secret?”

“If Arceus finds out, and he’s got to do with that piece of darkness, I do not know how much of your soul will be left behind to worry about it.”

Angelo continued to nervously fidget where he sat, looking anywhere but at Diyem. Why did it seem so much darker? Maybe even the time of day was starting to change. Where was everyone else? Were they still busy, were they not going to check on him? That would force Diyem’s hand. But…

But he was an ally, right? He helped Owen. He helped Anam before, too. Maybe…

“I need a contingency,” he said. “If… if this goes wrong.”

“Contingency. Explain.”

“A way where I can take control back if… I don’t like what you’re doing.”

“If people notice you’re missing, and you have friends who will, they will save you. I cannot beat them.”

“As you are now. But with my power or more fragments…”

“That’s a big hypothetical and not one I’d rely on,” Diyem replied. And that was convincing enough.

“Am… am I really needed?” Angelo asked. “Why can’t it be someone else?”

“I already explained this to you.”

“I… you did… right…” Angelo deflated, staring at the paint on his tail for a while longer.

Mu was gone again. She must have wandered off somewhere while Angelo wasn’t paying attention.

“F-fine,” Angelo said. “Just know… they like me! I think. And… they won’t stand for it if you took control of me and… and did something I’d regret. So… you won’t…”

Diyem only stared, waiting for him to finish. Politely quiet, yet somehow rude at the same time.

“Good,” Diyem said. “Then let’s not waste any time.”

“How do we… do this? Do you, like, use your Shadow powers on me, or…”

“If I wanted to puppet or manipulate you, yes,” Diyem said, “but this is a more… intensive procedure if I want to get this done properly.”

Diyem flicked his wrist, which suddenly made a horrible, cracking noise. Angelo flinched as the claws dissolved into a black fog, then the fingers and the whole hand into what seemed to be a sharp tendril of dark material. It reminded him of obsidian if it was somehow in liquid form.

“I thought you were… were biological,” Angelo said. “Mostly.”

“I was. Then I ‘evolved,’ as the world fell apart.” Diyem’s voice sounded distorted as black cracks trailed along his arm and over his shoulder. “While inside a Dungeon, I’m closer to the Voidlands. My realm. I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.”

Angelo’s throat tightened. There… wasn’t any backing out of this anymore, was there? Diyem had already shown too much.

“Is this going to hurt?” Angelo asked.

“Yes.”

Diyem’s feet relaxed as he levitated off the ground by some dark force that enveloped his body. The sharp tendril of darkness had completely overtaken his arm and shoulder by now and he wound it back. Then, he swung forward, and Angelo couldn’t remember what came next. He’d gone blind, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

It felt like Diyem was splitting his head open like a coconut. He still couldn’t scream. But it was fading. Everything was fading…

Sound left next. Finally, he couldn’t feel anything, either, except for a sick sense of vertigo. Did he even have a stomach anymore?

Sweet silence and painless, weightless bliss followed. He was on the ground. His head still hurt. But maybe it was just a bad dream.

What hit him the most was the intense grogginess. He’d felt something like this before when he’d woken up in the middle of the night after a moldy berry salad. Or, he assumed it was moldy. It had been too dark, but the spiciness had been odd in hindsight.

New problem: Angelo could not move. No matter what he tried to do, his body didn’t respond. Panic set in but his heart didn’t race faster.

And finally, with relief, he opened his eyes, and at the same time, Spice called from outside.

“Angelo? Buddy? You alright?”

Angelo sat up and took a slow breath. “I’m… I’m fine,” he said.

But Angelo hadn’t said that. He didn’t want to say that. His body was moving on its own. This wasn’t him Spice wasn’t talking to him what was happening?

“I heard a thud. Did you fall, or something? I was worried about you…”

The wraith-Salazzle had a concerned look. She leaned against the wall, blocking the way out. Angelo prayed she would see something was wrong.

“I… don’t want to talk about it,” Angelo said. “I just—passed out. From…”

Spice’s expression softened. “Was worried you got attacked,” she said. “It’s alright. Look, just take it easy. We’ve got a little base set up in what seems like a stable building. Might be a stable pocket like in a Dungeon proper.”

“I’ll catch up with you. I need to find someone first,” Angelo explained. “Sorry, it’s—one of those confidential things.”

“Confidential? I’m high-ranking now, you know. What’s going on?”

“Would you… believe me if I said telling anyone was dangerous right now?” Angelo asked.

Spice! You have to know something’s wrong! Look in my eyes! Oh, gods, do my eyes look normal, too?!

Calm down. I told you this would happen.

Spice looked skeptical, but stepped aside anyway.

Angelo nodded and walked out of the building. What’s happening? D-Diyem? What did you do?

I possessed your body, as I said I would.

If the others find out about this, they’ll—

I’m aware. I told you that. Can you stop forgetting things during your panic?

But this was too far. He didn’t have to reason it out, it was too far! He tried again, harder this time, to do something—anything—to get their attention.

You don’t get it, do you? Diyem went on. You have no drive, yet you have potential and power. You aren’t weak; you’re only weak-willed. You can’t even say no. It’s fine to not be a hero… but look at you, being pressured with niceties into the fray regardless. You’re only luck it was someone helpful so far.

And despite all you’ve been through, you didn’t change. You did not grow. This is the result.

Let this be a lesson to you. Aimless power will eventually be driven by someone else. Even if you aim to keep your head in the sand, it’s better than becoming a puppet.


But… but you’re making me a puppet!

And now it’s a valuable lesson once I’m through with you.

It was all a mistake. Nothing of what Diyem was saying made sense. He was strong but weak? Aimless but he was supposed to aim at the ground? What was he talking about?

And just as Spice was leaving, Angelo managed to get out a single whimper. “Help.”

This is why I hate working with people.

“What?”
Spice turned around, squinting with those terrifying yellow eyes. “Help…?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Angelo replied. “Are you feeling alright?”

Spice watched him a little while longer, but then sighed. “Not really,” she admitted. “It’s been all kinds of stressful lately. I’ve been hearing voices, too. Well… only once, when I was seeing that weird Poison Guardian.”

Wait. Stop screaming. This is important.


“What do you mean? Voices?” Angelo asked.

Angelo humored it if only to gather his mental strength. Spice, hearing voices? That couldn’t be good.

“Not important, just weird voices. Telling me… I can’t even remember. Oh, I think it was about… my fears about combining with Amelia and Enet. Now that I think about it, weird that it knew that… so I thought it was all in my head.”

Angelo nodded. “I don’t know what that means,” he said.

“Yeah. I’d consider therapy, but, well, world’s falling apart. No time for therapy.”

Angelo nodded again and started walking.

“Hey, you’re sure you’re alright?” Spice said. “You can’t tell me anything?”

“No, sorry. I—”

Angelo bumped into something. Fluffy air, a solid obstacle. The illusion disappeared moments later and he was face to face with a huge, crouching Zoroark. She growled and put two claws over Angelo’s shoulders.

“E-Enet? What’s wrong?” Angelo asked.

Enet… it’s not me! Please!

Are we really doing this?

Just confess! We’re in too deep now, right?

This would have been much easier if she didn’t spy on us.

“I trust Enet’s instincts on this one, Angelo. Something’s off.”


Enet bared her teeth.

“You aren’t even trembling,” Spice noted. “…Who… are you?”

…Fine. If you behave, I’ll give you control.


B-behave?

No screaming. Don’t cause a scene. Deal?

No screaming. Okay. I’ll do that.

And suddenly, without any realization, Angelo went from barely any control to full control. His knees promptly gave out and he collapsed to the floor, caught only because Enet still held him.

“Diyem,” Angelo said. “D-Diyem got me, no, he… I made a deal with him, and it wasn’t what I expected. He’s… He’s inside me right now or something, he was controlling me. He—”

Don’t tell the plan.

Angelo halted. At first, he thought it was because Diyem controlled him again, so he made a small noise to make sure. No, he was still in control. But if he spoke too much, would Diyem control him again?

Gods, why did he agree to this? Everything was so hazy…

“Diyem,” Spice said, her voice even, “if you’re silencing him right now… I want you to listen to me real carefully. If you don’t explain every single step to what was going through that head of yours, I’m taking you straight to Arceus, or Anam, or literally anyone to put you away for good.”

Enet cradled Angelo in her arms, though her look was stern. She was looking at Angelo, but he had a feeling it wasn’t toward him

“The only reason we aren’t killing you is because we think you’re an ally. Play with us, and you’re going to be your own demise. That clear?”

Angelo tried and failed to steady his breathing. Diyem wasn’t talking. Maybe he was thinking. His fur bristled at the very thought of Diyem being somewhere in his head, biding his time, and he could barely feel it. Maybe he couldn’t feel it at all, and it was just some phantom sensation. Gods, was this how they all felt?!

This is why I hate people. Go ahead. Just don’t attract too much attention. Surely they’re enough?

That much was reasonable, he hoped.

“Okay,” Angelo said. “Okay. I’ll explain. But… you can’t tell anyone, alright?”

“Wait, who am I talking to right now?”

“A-Angelo, it’s really me this time! Honest! I mean, I wasn’t lying before, that was Diyem, I—”

“Alright, alright, I believe you.” Spice waved her hands as if to clear the air. “What are you doing?”

“Diyem said… he thinks he knows where the final part of his fragment is, you know, since Necrozma is the other one. But he has to go to Destiny Tower to confront Arceus about it.”

“And he thought he could do that with… you?”

“I… have a lot of talent, but no power or drive, or something,” Angelo said. “I just… thought that if he gave me that power, and maybe the drive, it’d…”

Spice’s frown deepened. “Really, Diyem? Taking advantage of that? I thought you were past that.”

I’m past it as a default… but it’s still a skill.


“Um, he says that it’s a skill to use? Um, when… necessary, maybe?”

Enet growled again. “Bad,” she stated.

“Yeah, what she said.”

Emerging from Enet’s mane was Amelia, who had a similar, disapproving glare. But behind that was wary trust. “Diyem, you… know it’s a bad idea to go against us, right? It makes sense to keep working together, so… why not just tell us? You can trust us with this.”

Oh, good, here we go…

“You aren’t going anywhere until you explain,”
Spice stated flatly.

Following her demand, Enet plopped Angelo on the abandoned bed. Dust puffed out all at once before settling down on Angelo’s lap.

“Explain,” she demanded.

Angelo braced, waiting for Diyem to take over. When nothing happened, he glanced left and right. Um… are you going to talk?

Oh, NOW I’m allowed to take over.

And suddenly, Angelo couldn’t control his body again, and he sat up, looking directly at Spice and Enet. He was relaxed and calm in posture, completely unlike Angelo—no need to act this time.

“The hesitation was because I waited, politely, for Angelo to ask me to take over,” he said.

“Don’t get passive-aggressive with me,” Spice said. “Talk.”

By now, someone else had wandered into the area. Angelo’s body stiffened against his will, which was odd. He didn’t feel particularly nervous when seeing that Goodra—their leader—but for some reason, Diyem did. And that Goodra was frowning, like he was disappointed.

Diyem’s whole countenance seemed to change. He deflated, exhaled through his nose, and nodded. “As you wish.”

<><><>​

“I located Owen and the others,” Barky stated, staring into a strange rift at the apex of Destiny Tower. “They are… scattered. Some of them are too far for me to reach at all. Others will take time.”

“Hmmh, well, that’s very unfortunate,” Palkia said, arms crossed. “Space beyond Kilo is outside of my domain. If I leave here, I’ll be much weaker.”

“That’s true for any of us,” Barky said. “Leaving Kilo is a huge risk. I may have granted Necrozma his original dominion, but Dark Matter is an unknown variable. We don’t know how far Necrozma’s domain reaches; if we enter a place where he has an advantage, it’s over.”

“Wait, a few are on the move…” Barky narrowed his eyes. “I believe that is Trina and Mhynt with Team Alloy—aside from Owen. They’re all gathering at… what…?”

“Somewhere close, I hope,” Palkia said.

Just then, a dark blot expanded at the back of the tower summit. Red, glowing eyes appeared in the center of the black vortex. An ink-black dragon slithered out, sprouting legs and a sturdier form as it fully emerged.

“Ah, Giratina! Wonderful, the trio is here.” Palkia greeted. “Oh?”

Atop her back was Madeline, and behind her were many trembling, terrified citizens.

“I rescued who I could on my way here,” Giratina said. “But… it’s too chaotic down there.”

“Mm. I see.” Barky nodded. “Thank you anyway, Giratina.”

There was something nostalgic about seeing those three. If only he could also be sure that the Divine Dragons were also safe. But he only knew of Ghrelle’s safety; Aramé had gone quiet, and Brandon must have still been caught up in Kilo Village.

“Madeline, would you be able to lead them into the lower floors for now? They may take temporary shelter there until we can stabilize things. That goes for all rescues going forward; please spread the word.”

“Of course. And, if you can’t see, Nate and Necrozma have stopped clashing. A distortion separated the two.”

“For better or worse, that’s news,” Barky said. “Thank you.”

As Madeline departed, Barky stared into the portal again.

“They’re across the aura sea,” Barky went on “But… they couldn’t have been killed, could they? That makes no sense. If they died in the Voidlands, in the Voidlands they’d remain…”

“Could they have been shunted out of the Voidlands and then killed?”

“If that was the case, their spirits would not have gone to that specific area. It’s… cut off from the rest of the spirit world.” He lowered his head, thinking. “But that could only mean… they traveled there after being ejected from the Voidlands. From… a living plane?”

“Is that possible?” Palkia asked.

Barky pieced things together, occasionally glancing at Giratina. “Tell me,” he said. “Do you suppose the nature of Kilo… could have led to this?”

“Its… nature?” Giratina repeated, taking residence at the edge of the tower to look over its apex.

Barky followed her gaze. What had once been a beautiful horizon was now a twisted, morphing quilt of colors and distortion bubbles, shuffling and moving around with little pattern. The world was in literal chaos with only pockets of stability remaining. So far, the bubbles were large, some of them enough to encompass entire ecosystems. But Barky had seen a few of them split apart into smaller sections. If they got too small, there would be nothing left of Kilo except a chaotic soup of distorted matter.

“This world has always been… malleable,” Barky explained. “The Pokémon here are, on average, very strong compared to that of other worlds. And the world itself is also resilient, even without divine intervention. Even this…” He gestured with a jerk of his head to the sea of bubbles, “I think can be repaired in short order, once our powers are restored.”

“Are other worlds not the same?” Giratina asked. “Then again… Madeline speaks of a world that was not quite as volatile, but also slower to recover. The world I came from, as a human.”

“What does that mean here?” Dialga asked. “Our world’s general resilience against the Pokémon’s general power. That’s simply another way for the world to exist, yes?”

“It is. I thought nothing of it. But seeing how external powers interact with it… I wonder if Kilo itself has always been a land between life and death.” His gaze went skyward. “That this hollow sphere used to contain my old sins, a world where a whole island’s people were killed and then revived, were… never truly alive again, but somewhere between. Undead, but only by name and technicality…”

Madeline returned from the lower floors. “You mean to say if Kilo is some sort of half-death realm, we’d have access to both the living and dead worlds if allowed traversal.”

“In effect, yes,” Barky said. “But you’d be weaker in either.”

“But on the flip side, the living and the dead would both be weaker in Kilo,” Madeline concluded. “The reason spirits are so weak, for example. Though, we do not have an example of someone alive entering Kilo, do we?”

Barky hesitated, then looked down. “We do,” he said. “I… am technically of the living. And I am very weak here.”

“Your current power is you being weak?” Palkia asked, looking like he wanted to suddenly take abundant notes. “Fascinating.”

“There were other reasons I suspected this was the case. Giving some of that power to Star when the world was created; the blight I knew was somewhere in Kilo; many small factors. But this must have also been a contributing factor. Its… betweenness.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s entirely relevant anyway. But it may be something to keep in mind later when we have more time to think. Now, Dialga.”

“Hm?”

“How strong are your powers over this domain’s time?”

“If you’re asking to undo all of this by going back in time, I can’t recommend—”

“No, I know that’s beyond you,” Barky said. “But what about its speed?”

“Its speed… As in, how quickly right here is?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose I could dilate things. The part of me that does total pauses is still weakened thanks to the piece Eon has somewhere. Presumably, he misplaced it at the lab…”

“Ah, Nevren likely has it,” Palkia hummed.

Dialga rolled his eyes. “But I can manipulate it. Why?”

“As of now, I am unsure if Owen and Zena will be able to return to us. Their time is flowing very slowly… I recall making Kilo in such a way that it flowed quickly. Its lifetime would have been over in a matter of years to the world they came from, so normalcy would come relatively quickly.”

“Ahh, I remember, now,” Dialga nodded. “A hundred-fold was the extent I was able to do that. A hundred days here is one day there… Oh, I see the problem.”

Barky nodded gravely. “If anyone tries to reach Owen now, they will be stuck in that same time flow. Slowed to the point where they may return to a ruined Kilo or no Kilo at all.”

“I see. Then… I should bring Kilo down to its normal timescale?” Dialga asked.

Kanto… Barky knew about Kanto very well. He knew about that whole world. He’d created it long ago, perhaps with much more grace and autonomy than what he’d put together for Kilo. This planet of guilt stuck in its little pocket between life and death…

Necrozma had been right. This world shouldn’t have existed for as long as it did; it outlasted itself. And now…

“Er, Arceus,” Dialga said.

“Hm? Oh. Right. I’m…”

“Are you all right?” Palkia asked. “You seem distracted.”

“I was thinking about… Kanto. The world Owen is from,” he said. “I wonder why Necrozma sent him there of all places. Perhaps under the assumption we wouldn’t be able to reverse the time dilation. But it still seems… specific. Unless Owen manipulated it himself?” Barky tilted his head. “Hmm…”

“I’m going to just equalize the times,” Dialga said. “That’s probably the safest, and—”

“No,” Barky interrupted. “…Invert it.”

“In… invert?” Dialga said. “That means Owen might be stuck there for months before we can figure out a way to rescue him. You do reali—” Dialga stopped himself and glanced at Giratina and Palkia.

“Ahh, I see,” Palkia said. “How very interesting, Arceus…”

“He’s going to worry,” Giratina said. “He will figure out how much time has passed and therefore the speed of time’s flow. He will spend every day agonizing over—Palkia, what are you doing?”

“One moment,” Palkia said, now crawling on the ground as if searching for something.

Barky grumbled. “Do you really need to be so distractable? What’s going on?”

“Success!” Palkia declared, lifting a tiny Charmander off the ground. Palkia was, mercifully, very delicate in how he picked the tiny thing up.

Giratina groaned. “Palkia, please don’t tell me she was hidden in your bag again.”

“Oh, certainly not; I double-checked. She must have made her way here by accident.”

“Concerning.” Barky drifted forward, narrowing his eyes. Something about this Charmander was… strange. The very way she was created was beyond what the world had been prepared for, so her properties would be volatile. If Barky had his way, he’d try to put her somewhere more controlled so she could develop safely and—if she turned out to be dangerous… Mm, no. Now he was starting to sound like Necrozma.

“Madeline, sorry to send you on more errands, but can you… put her somewhere?”

“She’s just going to disappear again, you know,” Madeline said. “She has a talent for that.”

Barky, growing impatient, said, “Dialga, please… invert the time with Owen’s current location. Completely.”

“Completely? But, Arceus, that will mean if we do not have the means to find Owen, and he has no means of returning here, he could be stuck there for months! Perhaps years! One day here would become a hundred there. A single kilosecond here would be over a day to him. A—”

“I know, Dialga. Do it.” Barky spoke harshly at first, like a proper command, but then softened his gaze. “Please.”

Palkia tilted his head, but Madeline and Giratina shared a knowing glance.

“This is oddly emotional of you, with all respect,” Giratina said.

“Owen will spend every day worrying,” Madeline warned. “If we have a way to tell him not to worry…”

“I… will send a thought to him. I’m sure I can at least do that while we try to establish a more meaningful connection.” Barky nodded. “But he will be… safer there. It would be less risky, and more practical if time passed faster for him than if it did for us. So, Dialga. If you may…”

“…I understand. Please, give me a moment.”

Dialga approached the portal and focused on the tiny dot that Barky highlighted with divine energy. When that seemed to fail—Dialga could not influence that world from Kilo—he resorted to altering Kilo’s region’s flow instead.

“I’ll need your help for this,” Dialga said to Barky, who nodded and sprouted golden filaments from his back. Divine energy radiated off of him, some of the Hands stitching themselves to Dialga’s flank.

To everyone of Kilo, of the Voidlands, even across their aura sea, nothing seemed to change. But Barky had faith that Dialga knew what he was doing, and time’s flow was changing. That was why he entrusted him with that power in the first place.

“…There we are,” Dialga finally said, nodding at Barky.

The Hands detached from him and faded into his divine form again.

“It’s as you wished. You should send that message to him quickly before he gets too worried.

“Ah, of course. I’ll… think of something concise within the next… few seconds.”

He glanced at Giratina, Madeline, and Palkia. The former two both smiled warmly at him as if approving of his gesture in their silent way. Palkia was, as usual, distracted, squeezing the air in front of him as if it perplexed him.

Wait.

“Palkia, where is Mu?”

“Hm? Oh, she should have been in the lower levels of the tower, last I che—”

“No, no, not—not Mew. Mu, the Charmander child.”

“Ah, funny you should ask.” He squeezed his claws. “She disappeared from my grip while I was distracted, you see. She’s so light I must not have noticed.”

Dialga slumped where he stood as if the weight of Palkia’s stupidity was on his back. “You’re never allowed to babysit.”

“I would hope not! I’m far too busy.”

“She just disappeared again, as I warned,” Madeline said.

“Ah! Wait!” Palkia raised a claw and then dug through a satchel around his neck. “I have just the invention for this!”

He pulled out some kind of compass. “It’s already tuned to her. I’ll just use my powers over space and make sure she’s—oh, interesting.” His eyes followed the needle…

Barky didn’t want to look. His gut already told him all he needed.

The needle pointed into the rift… directly at that faraway Kanto star.

<><><>​

“Welcome to the Fallen Heart HQ.”

In the lobby of the place that looked much like the heart HQ of home, they met two vaguely familiar Pokémon. The first was an Aerodactyl with a firm look in her eyes that, had she not been female, they would have mistaken for Jerry in an instant. The other was someone who physically looked a lot like Angelo—and shared his name—but had none of the meek energy. This Smeargle stood with a wide smile and an excited shine on his expression. He was practically glowing.

“And thank you,” Granbull Jin said, “for coming on such short notice. As you can see…” He eyed Mhynt’s group. She nodded back. “We have some company.”

“Company of the living!” Smeargle said with a beaming smile. “Not a common sight! Perhaps even unprecedented!”

“Yes. But that unprecedented nature comes with a massive crisis of its own: They, of the living, are leaking into this world. Even as we have been waiting for everyone to gather here, Pokémon have been appearing here that were positive they were alive. They simply wandered into here like turning down the wrong street corner.” He crossed his arms, growling. “It’s utter chaos. We don’t know how to feed them. Our spiritual matter has no true substance for their bodies, so they wander to find proper food. If this keeps up, they will be among the dead.”

“And this started happening because the third divine power just got some of that power back,” Mhynt said. “And perhaps something more that’s been dormant, but…”

“Right.” Jin nodded. “That’s why I wanted to gather you all here. We need to go over something important now that we have so much knowledge on the subject. Mhynt? You are a key figure in this, and you will likely be able to fill some of the holes that we’ve had for some time.”

“About… Necrozma,” Mhynt said.

“Not just Necrozma,” Jin said. Then, to the others in the room, Jin walked along the conference room and pulled out a single book from the shelf. It didn’t matter which one; the book flashed with light and changed to the very book he wanted, which he placed on the table.

“I want to tell you about the Dark War… the first war of Quartz, before it became Kilo.”



Author’s Note: Hey, everyone! This marks the final chapter before the semifinal Special Episode. As usual, I’m going to need a full month to get this one done, since it’s more complicated and chunkier than a normal chapter. Thank you for your patience, and thanks for reading!

And that’s right, you read correctly. Incoming is the second-to-last Special Episode of the story. We’re nearing the home stretch. All that remains is another set of chapters, the final Special Episode, and then a final set of chapters and the finale arc.
 
Special Episode 12 - The Dark War New
Special Episode 12 – The Dark War

Sometimes, when nothing is left, all I can do is smile and cheer. That’s why I kept smiling, even as the world fell apart around me. Maybe that’s what made me so resistant to those Shadows. Maybe it was just survival.

Maybe I just didn’t want to admit defeat, and smiling was all I could do against it.

I’m somewhere deep inside the life of another person, now. Or another two, or maybe even three people. I’m not “here” anymore. I’m just their memories. Yet, somehow, it feels like they’re talking about me again. Maybe they’re dreaming.

It has me thinking about the past. How it all happened when the first tamer of that dark power—Dark Matter—was taken down.

And how it gave rise to the Dark War.


<><><>​

Dad’s Shadow Fortress was a floating citadel to the south of Quartz Mountain, powered by unknown technology. That’s what Remi called it; obviously, Dad didn’t want it to be named anything like that, no matter how cool and awesome that sounded.

It also helped make sure his ego was in check. That dark force was corroding him; she had to remind him of his innocence as much as possible to keep him sane.

The flying fortress was powered by a mysterious energy that seemed counter to whatever it was that powered Destiny Tower. An Anti-Divine energy. Or was it anti-Radiance? If that’s the case, it was obviously called Shadow Energy, or Dark Energy. But Dark was already related to a subset of Pokémon, and Remi was criticized for calling it Dark Energy. So, instead, she called it Shadow Energy, and it stuck.

At least, to Manny, it stuck. He said something about ‘Dark Energy’ already being the name for something else, but that was just another one of his strange stories.

What mattered was it was a floating spooky castle filled with anti-Radiant energy, and it was cool. And Dad oversaw it. Maybe he was evil, but he was cool, too, and he was still Dad. He was still nice. And maybe one day, if she fought a little harder, she’d be able to get through to him.

Dad always said that Battlehearts like him were just hidden away in the world. Everyone had a small bit of a Battleheart in them, and Dad’s was just more pronounced. And Battlehearts debated and understood one another through battle, and sometimes, the loser of the fight was the winner of the debate. Dad was stronger. But she had heart.

So, she was going to try to beat him again. She wouldn’t win, but the feelings of her heart would flow to him. Maybe she could keep him around. for a little while longer. That was their unspoken routine.

And that was why this lithe Sceptile was hidden inside a supply crate of fruits, curled up and nestled between countless Oran Berries, munching on one to pass the time. She had inherited some of her mother’s powers somehow, maybe from exposure or something divine. She didn’t care.

Inherited didn’t mean it was all that strong, though. But it was just enough to pass through the crate unnoticed with some spectral tunneling.

These berries weren’t fully ripe yet. That was her main tragedy on this trip.

Soon, the crate rumbled and it was hauled onto a heavy-duty flying Pokémon and sent off for the flying fortress.

Then came the hardest part of her infiltrations: waiting to land. She was never the most patient Pokémon. The fliers were so slow! But she guessed she couldn’t blame them if they were carrying her and a load of berries at the same time.

Mercifully, the crate was eventually hauled onto the ground. This was usually when they would open the crate, transport it, or perhaps even scan it for auras again. She’d already evaded it the first time, but while stuck inside, that would be a bad idea. It was time for another warp.

Spectral energy pooled in the Sceptile’s claws like dewdrops, eventually coalescing into a stretchy ball of ectoplasm-like taffy. She wriggled her body and burrowed underneath the berries, making her way to the bottom of the crate. While it was harder to move, she had the strength to push through.

She pasted the plasm-taffy onto the bottom of the crate and held her palm against it. Radiant energy channeled through her arm and into the plasma, lighting it up. The circle expanded, and in an instant, the crate’s floor was gone, and she saw soil in the glow. The artificial terrain of the flying fortress.

She burrowed through and tried to keep most of the berries inside. Once she was completely out of the crate, dust threatening to make her sneeze, the crate itself rumbled as it was lifted off to be hauled somewhere else. Despite this, the portal she’d made did not disappear—though it would soon if it got too far away.

Hastily, she stuck her claw at the portal's edge and peeled it off, instantly dissipating the connection. She balled up the ectoplasm and stuck it in her mouth like a big wad of gum for future use. And because it kinda tasted like Oran Berries now.

She continued to burrow, staying near the surface so she could overhear anyone who spotted her, but not so close that she made any noise. She had this place memorized by now and was confident, based on the footfalls, of where she was.

There! She was safe to emerge.

She wriggled upward and burst out from the soil with a quiet breath, earthen magic closing the burrow behind her once she’d fully emerged.

“Remi.”

“Yeep!” Remi leaped backward and drew out a Leaf Blade from her wrist, slicing at the speaker. A golden barrier flecked with darkness parried the blow so she followed up with her other wrist’s blade. That, too, was parried.

Then, a similar barrier appeared around her whole body like a bubble.

“H-hey!” Remi shouted. “Dad, no fair! You said you wouldn’t do that anymore!”

“Remi, why are you invading my base again?”

“’Cuz you keep making it easy, that’s why!” Remi said. “I mean, come on, a supply crate infiltration? Who even gets away with that anymore?!”

The huge Charizard narrowed his eyes with an unimpressed squint. “If it was so impossible to get away with, why did you do it?”

Cornered again. Her father was always impossible to beat.

When Remi didn’t say anything for too long, Dad finally sighed and said, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Yeah!” Remi pumped her fists in the air.

“But nowhere that’s important, alright? I don’t want you… involved in all of this, Remi. I just want you to live a happy life. That’s what I’m fighting here for.”

“I know.” Remi nodded. Her real goal was just to make sure he was alright, after all. That was the only ‘important’ thing here. “And so is Necrozma and the others, but…” she nodded again. “I know. I won’t talk about it during our walk. We’ll… just be Dad and me again.”

“Right.” Dad stared at the wall, made from dark stones, and had a strangely suppressive atmosphere about them. “Just… like old times.”

<><><>​

Remi woke up in the middle of the night after a wonderful, bitter dream. She had been enjoying a picnic with Mom and Dad, and she was a little Treecko again, and the sky was bright and there wasn’t anything she had to worry about.

Reality hit her mere seconds after she awoke on that deep, dark night. The cold air, the lack of any flame…

Her claws dug into the soft soil beneath her. She was tempted to dig herself in completely and see if she could ingrain at all with it, just for some strange primal comfort.

The house was completely silent. Living alone was torture. But she couldn’t find it in her to move back in with Mom when… it would mean she’d have picked a side.

Not that it meant anything anymore. Dad was dead.

And Necrozma had given the order.

Knock knock knock.

Sounded like a rock against the wood.

At first, Remi didn’t want to answer. It was the worst time possible. Midnight, probably. But the worst was that nobody visited anymore. She’d broken up with her ex, Mom was too busy being Lunala, and…

Knock. Knock knock.

Remi growled to herself and stood up. In the dark, her night vision helped her navigate in grayscale.

Her home was a cave of vines and leaves that she had constructed herself between two trees as the main foundation. The ceiling was a few inches above her head when standing fully upright, but she habitually crawled. It appealed to her primal instincts.

The cylindrical hall went up a gentle incline before leveling out at the main entrance. She tugged at a vine and the door rolled to the side.

A Shiftry stood there, glowing in the night, with his arms crossed and his head lowered.

Remi released the vine and it closed.

“Wait—”

Remi cursed him.

“Please,” Necrozma begged, “I only want to talk.”

His voice was muffled behind the door, but she kept her claws over the vine. He wouldn’t see it. But she always hesitated in saying no.

She pulled on the vine again, reopening the entrance.

“What?” Remi demanded.

Necrozma, in his Shiftry body, closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I’m sorry for what happened,” he said. “I will rectify it when this is over. That is my promise to you.”

“How am I supposed to believe that?” Remi asked. “You’re going to end the world. Everything that I call my home is going to be gone if you win, and I know it! Don’t try to give me vague words that it’ll all be okay. You’re ending the world!

“The force we’re against will do far worse,” Necrozma said sharply.

“What can possibly be worse?!”

The Shiftry opened his mouth as if to counter. He paused and then seemed to deflate.

“You deserve to know,” he said, “the nature of what I’m fighting against, and why Star and Barky ultimately agreed the way they did. I explained this to your father as well, but he was too far gone.”

Remi continued to glare.

“Can we talk?”

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s just fine. The others are at Destiny Tower preparing a few things. That’s all.” He nodded.

Could she believe that? Did she have any reason to think otherwise? Not really. Necrozma’s side of the war just got a serious upper hand.

“Fine,” Remi said.

It was late, she was tired, but she was too worked up for bed now. If Necrozma could at least explain a thing or two about what was going on, and if he had some kind of assurance for all of this… fine. But if it was anything like the last time, Remi resolved, then she’d kick him right out.

She walked down the leafy hallway and slipped into a small living room fitted with soft leaves for seats and several oversized leaves that blocked the otherwise open windows. She curled up and then stretched on one of those leafy seats to get cozy, while Necrozma simply stood near the other. She suspected he didn’t know it was normal for someone to sit down during conversations, considering he usually floated passively.

“What could possibly be worse than literally the world ending?” Remi opened.

Necrozma hummed but nodded. “I understand your fears of death and Armageddon,” he said. “I can sympathize. A world reaching the end of its lifespan is never a pretty affair. Well, sometimes it is, but in this case, it isn’t.”

“You’re not a good pep talker, you know that?”

“I will work on it.” Necrozma bobbed his strange Shiftry head. “Now, as for what’s worse. I have seen worlds fall to ruin in such a way that even the souls are unable to escape without intervention. A place where death is not a release but turmoil ever after. Aimless suffering for no point but the fault of a failed god.

“Put another way, I am granting Kilo its proper death and release, whereas this strange force is at risk of plunging it into a reality of unknown suffering, divorced from the gods that created it. It is a risk.”

“Unknown suffering… a risk? But you don’t know what it would do. Like, did it choose to be a dark and unknown force? What if it just looks like that?” Remi said.

“What if the dark force of negativity just happens to look dark,” Necrozma repeated.

“Y-yeah…”

Necrozma stared. Remi nervously shifted in her seat, curling her toe claws into the leaves.

“You couldn’t have seen so many worlds for this,” Remi murmured.

“I have,” Necrozma said. “That is my job as an Overseer. It is a title that… I do not give out lightly, but due to the state of the world, there is little risk or loss in speaking of it now.”

“Overseer… Like, just someone who watches over things?”

“In essence, though obviously, we also enforce and adjust when things get out of hand. Such as now.”

“So, you aren’t even from this world. You’re in… Mom called it Ultra Space?”

Necrozma chuckled. “Far beyond that,” he said. “But I’m familiar with Ultra Space, too.”

That didn’t make sense to her. Well, it kind of did, but it seemed like too high a concept to be important to her. “So, basically, you… see other worlds that Star and Barky made, and how they went wrong before?”

“No, no.” Necrozma held up his leaves.

Just then, Remi realized he was floating a little. Had he always been? Man, she hated psionics sometimes. Seemed like an unconscious showoff.

“Is something bothering you?” Necrozma asked.

“Uh? Oh, no. So, wait, what worlds, then?”

“Worlds and realities from other gods. Other Creators, entire realms outside of the one you live in now. That’s where I usually reside—the Overworld.”

“Alright… and… I’m supposed to believe that?” Remi asked, but it was an empty threat. It added up nicely for Necrozma’s position and the way Barky and Star regarded him. In some ways, it answered a lot of questions about how Necrozma fit in this at all. He didn’t. He was some… reality-foreigner. No! He was—

“You’re a divine consultant?”

The Shiftry-bodied Necrozma blinked. “…Yes, actually.”

“Who also becomes, like, an outlaw wrangler, or officer, if something really bad happens.”

“I… suppose that’s a way to put it, yes.”

“So, you’re kinda like when Dad used to—” She tried to hide her pause, remembering Dad at all, but she pressed on. “Like how he used to, you know, fly around and help little things around towns. Except instead of little things like finding Mom kidnapped by bandits and stuff, it’s… gods having trouble with their worlds.”

“That is the gist of my work,” Necrozma confirmed. “A divine… world… rescuer.”

“Then…” Remi closed her eyes. “Why are you destroying this world? What’s the big secret?”

“If I can destroy it,” Necrozma said, “I can remove the dark force entirely. It permeates the world—if even a single other soul exists inside, I can’t remove it. Or, rather… the reverse is true. For me to remove this dark entity, I would have to remove everything attached to it… and it was created as part of this world. One of two entities.”

“Two?” Remi asked.

“The second exists within the Tree of Life,” Necrozma said. “They are not very talkative, but compared to this entity of darkness, they seem more… benevolent.”

“Oh. Then… that’s probably the one that only knows all the good stuff about the world. Maybe they’re counterparts?”

“A reasonable guess, and when it comes to entities present as part of the world’s fabric, it’s also a likely one. But we don’t know for sure, and unfortunately, they do not seem to be very helpful against the negative half.”

More information that she didn’t know what to do with. Still… that other half, why wasn’t that one helping? She could ask later. Tree of Life… Wasn’t that the place Pokémon tended to disappear if they ventured too close?

“I apologize if this is all too much information,” Necrozma said.

“You sorta threw a lot at me… Why didn’t you tell the others about this?”

“I did. This is typically for divine ears only. However, the circumstances have changed, and due to your position with… my more direct subordinate, and the state of the world, I felt it would have been wise to inform you next. You may also help us if you wish.”

A small part of Remi wondered if this bombardment of information was meant to calm her down. She was overwhelmed and a little confused, but she didn’t feel as mad at Necrozma anymore. But as the silence settled in, she remembered…

“You still need to fix Dad.”

“I will,” Necrozma said.

“How?”

“His state of mind can be reversed. It is a psychic matter, and I am, of course, one such Pokémon. Perhaps the strongest and most skilled of the dimension.” Necrozma nodded.

“Then why’d you pick a Shiftry? They’re Dark, aren’t they?”

“Well, that… wasn’t part of my considerations, but you do know this is a fake body, right?”

“What, you’re just a bunch of light inside of that thing?”

The Shiftry’s chest cracked and split open, revealing a blinding fissure of light.

“Gah! Okay, okay, I believe you!” Remi couldn’t see a thing. Even when he withdrew himself, her night vision was shot.

Remi squeezed her fists, thinking. “But you already tricked Dad with the Mind Trio. How am I supposed to trust you, huh?”

“I never held any ill will toward you, and you do not have darkness corrupting your spirit. But if you need a means to trust me…” Necrozma hummed, tapping his foot on the ground. The strange, gourd-like belly of his Shiftry body glowed dimly in the night. “…Hm. I shall give you a piece of my power for… safekeeping.”

“Safekeeping?” Remi squinted. “Safekeeping how?”

Necrozma put his leafy hands together. Light coalesced like dewdrops, becoming a great big ball that forced Remi, once again, to close her eyes as she muttered a curse about the light under her breath.

When she opened them again, Necrozma held a small diamond in his leaves with a small, black symbol in the middle.

“What’s that?”

“This is known as a Z-Crystal in some worlds, but here, people call them light crystals. It is a piece of my true form… and is infused with my divine power. It’s far more than a typical Z-Crystal of other worlds.”

Remi reached out and poked it. The light crystal burst into pale green motes that drifted to Remi. “Ah! What’s happening—”

“Well, I was going to explain,” Necrozma said as she tried to bat the light off her to no effect. “But I suppose simply accepting the power will do. Hm. Interesting that you didn’t drop dead.”

What?!

“Temporarily!” Necrozma amended. “I suppose an… only-mostly-dead state. But that didn’t happen, hm. Perhaps it is because you are so strongly tied to light already…”

“I’m gonna pretend I understand,” Remi grumbled, dusting off her scales again. She felt warm. But it was in a weird way like she had a blanket over her, and she didn’t want that. Not when it reminded her of Dad.

But… she also felt something else. This divine power… was very strong indeed. She glanced at her home and suddenly the grass of the house tidied itself up, shrinking in some parts and flourishing in others.

“Ah!” Remi gasped again. “I… I didn’t even put effort into that. I just thought and it happened…”

“I felt that Grass would suit you well,” Necrozma said. “It’s your natural element.”

“Right… And you’re just… giving this to me.”

Necrozma nodded. “As I said, I need your help. And I have crossed you once. The onus was on me to make attempts to repair that bridge.”

And… to his credit, he backed up his words with action.

Remi heaved a sigh. “Okay,” she said. “But I want Dad back as soon as this is over, and this world is going to survive. Okay?”

“If you can find a way to rid this world of that corrosive force without destroying it,” Necrozma said, “I will do everything in my power to achieve that goal. And if you fail… you will be with your father anyway. I promise you that, under my care as an Overseer.”

Ominous way of phrasing it. But she could press on it later when she understood more of this Overseer business.

So, on that quiet night, she held out a hand just as a gentle breeze let the leaves dance in the dark.

“It’s a deal.”

Necrozma looked confused, but then understood and let Remi grasp the leaves of his right hand.

Remi squeezed the leaves tight; Necrozma’s eyes widened with surprise as she pulled him close, clamping her claws onto them.

“But if you try the same trick on me, I’ll side with that force the same way Dad did. Got it?”

“Ng… yes.” Necrozma shook his arm. “I understand.”

Remi grinned and let go. “Good!”

Necrozma nearly fell back had it not been for a helpful vine that spontaneously rose from the ground behind him.

“Now,” she said, “let’s talk strategy.”

<><><>​

Destiny Tower’s fiftieth floor was in a controlled frenzy of murmurs between the dead and living alike. On the fiftieth floor, there was a border that was invisible to most, but Remi had grown just keen enough to sense the change. Just below was the world of the living; just above, spirits manifested freely from the heavens.

Though, in this case, they were powerful warriors that had been resummoned by Necrozma’s light, disturbed from their slumber within the light dragon. All spirits went to Necrozma when their time in the living world was over, where they slept until the end of the world.

Only recently did Remi understand why… It was simply because Necrozma had planned to bring them all to the Overworld for whatever he did with them after. Presumably, the proper afterlife? She certainly hoped so, if this world was just… some temporary place.

But now, to assure that they would all be able to return to Necrozma, he had to release some old warriors to fight among the living again.

Remi got to know a few of them, but the one she got along with the most was a Serperior who seemed to have a mastery over leadership. She was a great leader some five hundred years ago and led a village to great prosperity in a forest to the north, defending against bandits and other encroaching forces before taking them over herself.

That kind of talent… would be a welcome tactician to replace Dad, in some ways. Remi wondered if she was the one responsible for the plan to take down Dad in the first place…

No, no. She was getting distracted again. She was an ally now and Necrozma promised that he’d make things right if they could stop the corruption of the world.

Logically, too. She’d asked Star and Barky and they confirmed as much. And, well, unless all three gods lied to her, it had to be true—and if they did lie… it was a lost cause anyway, right?

There was no point in worrying, then!

The ground rumbled, nearly toppling Remi over.

Okay, there was one thing to worry about.

“Another tremor?” Remi called. “What’s going on?!”

“Status report over in the war room!” called a Corviknight. “Hurry!”

“Thanks, Xypher!”

She leaped into the ceiling, phasing through the stone to appear one floor up. Then, she crouched down and did the same again, puffing by the fifth time—and startling a few Pokémon on the way.

“Hey!” Remi called as she climbed her seventh floor, pushing herself up. “I’m here!”

“We have stairs,” Necrozma hummed, taking on his radiant, true form this time.

“Meh, like you use them,” Remi countered.

“What?” Necrozma’s light flickered. “Never mind. We have some news and we need to act fast. I’ve already sent a squadron to fend things off, but the corruption’s forces have suddenly mobilized, and rapidly. I suspect in the brief power vacuum left behind, someone took over leadership and is now going for an aggressive strike.

“In some ways, this is good. This means they are likely making themselves vulnerable to a counterattack if they’re coordinating themselves so suddenly. The bad news is a reckless assault will mean casualties on our side, too. I fear for the fates of those who have already been sent out, but I will salvage their souls when this is over. Of that, I assure you.”

“Hey!” Star called breathlessly, blipping into the room. Barky, in his boring way, floated from the upper stairway and entered the room next. “So, while I was scouting around, I heard that they’re calling him the Wraith King. How about that, huh?”

“The force?” Necrozma asked.

“Maybe? Anyway, if we need a name—”

“Unimportant, but useful. As for dealing with this ‘Wraith King,’ I believe it is time that we sent our full assault at once toward their main base while sending a weaker force to intercept their main one. A weaker force dedicated to evasion.”

“Guess that’s me,” Star said, raising a paw. “I’m plenty evasive.”

“Then I shall lead the main striking force,” Barky agreed. “And what will you do?”

“I,” Necrozma said, “am going to be dual-backup. With my Ultra Wormholes, I have already created a firm network between the various places of the world that are key to this place, and I can also Teleport freely. Of the three of us, I am the most mobile.”

“Agreed. This seems simple, then. Our troops are already well-categorized for evasion and striking. You should leave the defending specialists here.” Barky scanned the room, eyes finally locking onto Remi, who shrank back.

“Um, hi.”

“Hello.” Barky looked at Necrozma. “Will she be part of the evasive group?”

“Yes. Remi, are you fine with this?”

“Totally. I want to see who’s trying to lead the charge now. Where are they going?”

“The Tree of Life.”

“Oh.” Remi blinked. “That’s uh… Isn’t the Tree dangerous?”

“Somewhat. But just don’t touch the sap and you should be okay,” Necrozma replied. “…Particularly you, Remi. Extended contact may cause your form to mutate and your emotional state to… spike.”

“Wait, that sounds awesome! Does it hurt?”

“Do not, Remi,” Necrozma warned.

Remi pouted but didn’t protest.

“Now then,” Necrozma said, “there’s something else I wanted to discuss, and do spread this to the Legends who have not yet gone to combat the Wraith King so they may see me. I’ve tried to contact those who I could, but some haven’t gotten back to me. Worrying. But I need half of each of your souls.”

Remi nodded along, listening like she understood everything, until Necrozma’s final sentence registered. “Wait—say that last part again?”

“The Wraith King seems to operate by corroding and corrupting the hearts of those who interact with it. Or, put in less symbolic terms, it infiltrates the aura, encapsulates the spirit, and attempts to make the victim assume the King’s thoughts are their own. This corruption can be complete and absolute… unless we take a piece of the spirit to free the imprisoned half. Therefore… as insurance, I would like your spirits. Half of them.”

“Splitting a soul in this way, so casually…” Barky harrumphed in disapproval. “Perhaps I would tolerate it of Hecto due to the nature of his being, but to do it to spirits not capable of such splitting…”

“Won’t that severely weaken us?” Mom asked, having been quiet up until then. As usual, she only spoke up for the most practical questions. As a Lunala, she had a much more commanding presence about it, too…

“It will weaken you,” Necrozma said. “However, this is a calculated risk. He cannot capture any of your absolute powers this way. Even I will be doing this with my mortal vessel.”

“I see…” Remi sighed. “Well, I guess if that’s how it’s gonna be… Like, how much will it weaken us?”

“Not as exactly as half, thankfully,” Necrozma explained. “The drop in strength, while substantial, does not become debilitating until less than a third of you remains or so, from my experience.”

“A third, huh…” Remi squinted. “Hey, wait a second. Then why not just take a third of us, or something?”

“Er… Why?” Necrozma asked.

“Well then two-thirds of us can go into battle and have better odds of not dying!”

“Well, yes, but then you’d have only a third of you here…” Necrozma folded his wings over each other in front of him. “But I suppose in some ways, it’s another angle at weighing our odds…”

“And with half and half, that’s more power that won’t be fighting!”

A shadow under the table rumbled with laughter. Two red eyes stared at Remi. “You really are Owen’s daughter.”

Mom looked away, frowning.

Remi smiled broadly. “See, even Giratina thinks I’m right!”

“I… suppose so, yes,” Necrozma said, sighing.

Remi knew that meant a lot to Necrozma. Giratina was one of the few that Necrozma had chosen as a Radiant disciple, just like Mom and Dad. And Necrozma wouldn’t want to lose another one.

“Very well,” Necrozma said. “Everyone, please gather up and get the others that we can find. I’ll take a third of your soul, Star will craft bodies for them, and Arceus will handle the proper bonding.”

“Hmm…” That Serperior from before hummed.

“Yes, Trina?” asked Necrozma.

“Will this be safe?”

“Not entirely, but it is a mild risk with only mild side effects overall. Nothing permanent,” Necrozma explained.

“No,” Trina clarified. “Will this be safe in the short term for those who can only persist in the upper half of Destiny Tower? What if we must also descend or flee?”

“Ah. Hmm.” Necrozma’s light dimmed, as did his shattered-glass eyes. The equivalent of his eyes closing, if Remi recalled right. “I can imbue you with my divine light, even if it’s only temporary. The energy should be enough to let you go beyond the spirit realm and into the physical realm.”

“Yeah, I totally understand that,” Remi said. “Simple version, please?”

“Power makes you not die,” Necrozma said, his body fizzling.

“But they’re already dead,” Remi pointed out.

Mom hid a smirk behind her wing, though Remi saw it at her angle. “She has you beat there, Necrozma.”

“…Please gather everyone. I’ll give what I can out. And get the human, too.”

“Which human?” Lunala asked.

Remi had no idea what they were talking about.

“The outer human,” Necrozma said with a meaningful flicker of his eyes.

“I see.” Lunala nodded. “Of course.” She already drifted down the hall to get someone.

Whatever. More divine secret plans. She had her mission. Remi was the first in line, eager to see what this whole soul-splitting would be like. “Hey, so,” she said, “how much does having your spirit cut by a third hurt?”

“Oh, immensely,” Necrozma said, raising a wing.

“Wait, what do you—”

He wasn’t kidding.

<><><>​

Remi lounged atop Giratina’s back for most of the trip, agonizing dramatically over how much everything hurt and how lethargic she felt.

“I’m dying,” Remi announced. “Necrozma killed a third of me. Do you know what that usually does to someone? That’s like losing both your legs and your tail, and then, like…”

“Remi, it’s not the same,” Mom chided, flying after Giratina at a leisurely pace.

“You’re one to talk!” Remi said, pointing an accusatory claw at her. “You didn’t even get your soul carved!”

“Necrozma and I are beings native to light. Or, my body was already converted as such. The darkness can’t corrupt and claim us in the same way it can for you and your semi-Radiant spirit.” Her eyes narrowed condescendingly. “Granted, if you actually became a Cosmog and evolved properly, that would have been a different story.”

Remi snorted. “Yeah, well… Necrozma has to earn it if he wants me under him. Not after all his mistakes.”

It was a topic Remi wouldn’t budge on, even if Mom didn’t agree with how Dad did things. There was more to it. She knew it.

“Hm. Well, regardless… I wanted to take a little detour before heading to the battleground proper. Giratina, go on ahead. I need to go on a special assignment from Necrozma.”

“Of course. Be careful,” Giratina said, slithering further through the air.

“Hey, wait!” Remi said. “Can I go with you, Mom?”

“No.”

“Where are you going?”

Mom paused, glancing at Giratina, and then sighed. “Fine. You shouldn’t be in the heat of battle anyway in your state.” She drifted closer and a dark tendril from Giratina helped roll Remi over to Mom. It was a little weaker than usual; Giratina’s bulkier form couldn’t form tendrils as easily on this side of the world, or something. Remi didn’t pay much attention to the specifics.

“Hold on carefully, Remi,” Mom said.

Mom drifted to the southeast, still speeding through the skies. In the brief transition, the rushing air past their barriers for flight deafened her.

“Wow, it’s cold,” Remi whispered.

“Chilly day,” Mom agreed. Her crescent wings beat a few times and she went back to flying at full speed.

Remi took the time to appreciate the afternoon sun under their flight barrier. It was surreal to think that just past the horizon they were now flying away from, a war was being fought. If she focused, maybe she could feel the ripples of energy as the superpowers clashed.

“How many places do you think they’re fighting?” Remi asked. “Is it mostly in the southern region, or…”

“There’s no telling,” Lunala replied. “Necrozma told us to take this route. The sheer forces involved make travel through my wormholes, or even Hoopa’s powers, unreliable. Not that we can rely on Hoopa to behave anyway…”

Remi scooched up to get in a more comfortable position, her arms aching, and asked, “Where are we going, anyway?”

“…Necrozma requested I track down Azelf. He can feel his power due to being a Radiant soul, and it will likely lead us to where they’d taken… your father.”

All at once, it was like the cold had returned. Her leaves may as well have shriveled up.

“Oh.”

“I can bring you back to Giratina if you want,” Mom said gently.

“No. I’ll go,” Remi replied quickly. “He’s… is he okay?”

“I’m going to find out.”

Remi had no idea how Mom always kept such a cool head. This was horrifying. She thought Dad had been… erased, or something, mentally. But what if he was okay? Or…

“It’ll be fine,” Remi said, though it was mostly to herself.

They flew the rest of the way in silence as Remi ran through all the scenarios in her mind, over and over again…

In some ways, she wondered if the anticipation was worse than the truth.

<><><>​

They landed just before a sandy shoreline where the dirt met the sand. Grass somehow managed to grow regardless in this sandy soil, but Remi had no idea why Mom had landed here. It seemed like it was empty.

“Um… so what’s this for?” Remi asked. “I don’t see Dad.”

“Give it a moment,” Mom replied, folding her wings in front of her like a cloak. She looked like an arrow embedded in the ground while she waited.

It occurred to Remi that she’d never seen Mom sleeping upside-down before. Did she, like the other bat Pokémon?

“Hey, Mom?” Remi asked.

“Mm?”

“Do you sleep upside-down?”

“I… What?”

“Upside-down. Do you sleep like that? Like other bats.”

“I don’t have feet, Remi.”

“You could, like, I dunno, jam your… tail crescent thing into the ceiling! Or make a hook, totally! Besides, Zubat don’t have feet and they hang off the ceiling!”

“That’s because—” Mom paused. “…How do they do that?”

“Exactly! So, you should, too.”

“Remi, that’s not—”

Something metallic clanged under the sand and they both stopped.

“Ah,” Mom said. “They’re here.”

“Huh?”

The sand pushed outward and upward. An underground stairway revealed itself beneath part of an artificially rising ramp large enough to fit even the largest Pokémon of the pantheon. Remi stepped back on reflex due to how much just the opening towered over her.

And then Palkia stuck his head out from below. “Hello!” he greeted.

“What—Palkia!” Remi squinted. “Why are you here?”

“This is my secret laboratory!” Palkia said cheerfully.

“I thought your secret lab was in the northeast,” Mom hummed.

“Ah, that one exploded. Anyway! What brings you here?”

“I’ve come to see the Trio of Mind as well as anyone else that may be here. I suspect Jirachi, for one…”

“And why are they here?” Remi interjected. “They were the ones who… got Dad.” And she, admittedly, wasn’t looking forward to talking to them yet. She wasn’t emotionally ready for that. But if she had to… she’d put on a smile.

As always.

“They apparently had regrets,” Lunala replied cryptically. “And they wanted to ‘fix’ their mistake. Unfortunately, it’s harder to heal than it is to harm.”

“Ah.” Palkia finally nodded. “Well, in terms of seeing them, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do something quite like that.”

Mom was undeterred. “Necrozma says that we should set aside any differences we have in favor of taking down the much more threatening foe that’s currently advancing to the Tree of Life.”

“Oh, how convenient! We were mobilizing for just the same thing.” Palkia nodded. “However, we considered the fact that it corrodes spirits, so we were just finishing a method to contain some of it for future use that cannot be corrupted in the same way.”

There was a pause.

Remi spoke up, “That’s—”

“A clever idea, but Necrozma can already do just that.”

“Oh, but so can we!” Palkia replied cheerfully. “See you on the battlefield!” He waved as the hatch began to close.

“Wait!” Remi shouted.

“Hmm?” Palkia clicked something, halting the hatch’s close.

“Can… I want to see Dad.”

To this, Palkia said nothing. His expression was inscrutable. Usually, he was cheerful or at least had a quip or two, nonsensical as it was. But this time his expression was like stone. The silence ate at her.

“It isn’t your father anymore, you know,” he said. “I’m afraid the damage to his mind was too much. I’ve had to repair him another way until he can heal.”

The cold chill was back. Part of Remi wanted to believe she’d misheard him. But Palkia was not one to lie or avoid the subject. He meant what he meant. Dad’s mind had been shattered. No… erased.

“It will take centuries,” Palkia said. “I’m afraid by then you’ll be a different person entirely if you’re alive at all. Him as your father figure is… no longer an option. And perhaps it never will be. You will accept this, yes?”

“How can… I accept that?” Remi asked. She didn’t think about the words, only said them from the front of her mind. But afterward, she had nothing more to say.

Even Mom was tense when she nodded. “I still recommend you give part of yourself to Necrozma. Drastic as his actions are, you can’t deny the utility behind being guarded by a being of Radiance.”

“True, true…” Palkia wobbled his head left and right. “Hmm. Well, in all honesty, we already handled the process with the Trio of Mind and some others, so it’s worked well enough as it stands. I was about to start the process with myself and Jirachi, but, ah, well. I’ll tell him.”

“How much of their spirits?” Mom asked.

“Half, of course.”

Remi sighed, disappointed. She thought Palkia was a genius.

“…Don’t be late. And be careful with distorting space. Something about the world’s fabric is fragile.”

“I’ve noticed,” Palkia said with a hint of weight behind his words. “I understand. Do be careful in the battle, Lunala. We will be there shortly.”

“Remi,” Mom said, “if you truly want to see your father… go with Palkia. I will be at the battle. Do not linger.”

It was an odd move. Remi wondered… if this was just Mom trying to keep her daughter from heading into battle. But she had the same sort of blessing! She could do it!

But… she also wanted to see Dad. Just for… closure, maybe. Or something.

“Okay,” she conceded.

Remi followed Palkia into the hatch and Mom flew away. Remi wondered, forebodingly, if she’d see her again.

No! That was a silly thought.

It was all going to be okay.

<><><>​

She had no idea such an elaborate labyrinth could be made underground. She’d already made, like, five turns, and every single turn was after such a long stretch of featureless walls and metal doors.

“All this for an underground lab? Kinda overkill, don’t you think?” Remi asked, her words and steps echoing through the windowless halls.

“Ah, well, so many projects, so many things. And this is also where your father is regularly revived, as you recall. Well, the new location.”

“…Because the old one exploded.”

“Yes!”

“How?”

“Hmm, I can’t quite remember. I’m sure it was after I accidentally became a Dwebble, but before I created that powerful Jigglypuff…”

“Wait, you what?”

“Ah! Nothing to worry about.”

They approached a wall that had the number “1” on it.

“Ten,” Palkia said.

The number changed accordingly. Remi frowned. “What, uh, what’s that for?” she asked.

“We’re on the tenth floor now.”

“Huh?!”

She whirled around. It was subtle, but some of the doors were in different spots…

“That’s kinda trippy,” Remi murmured. “I didn’t even feel the Teleport…”

“It’s not a Teleport in the psychic sense. It’s a warping of space. Put my divine powers there some time ago. Why, even if I’m killed this should still function! Well, probably. I haven’t been able to test that.”

“Right… Is more of this place the same way?”

“Somewhat. We have some anti-escape warping technology as well, some tricks to make it bigger on the inside…” he shrugged.

“Why do you need all this space?” Remi asked as they resumed their walk.

“Consider it future-proofing,” Palkia said. “Eventually I may need all of it. And, well, as the god of space, it’d be quite blasphemous if I didn’t make a lot for myself, hm?”

“Er, right…” Remi’s mind wandered as the similar sights of the labyrinth bored her. “…Where’s dad?” she said.

“He’s on this floor. Just a few more turns,” Palkia answered. “But I’d like to remind you, he won’t be as you recall. It’s going to be a long healing process for him, Remi. But we will do everything I can.”

Someone else was walking down the halls. The air was charged with conflicting energies like Remi was simultaneously being energized and then drained. She recognized this feeling. “Yveltal and Xerneas are here, too? But why’s it feel so strong…?”

One more turn gave her the answer. The two gods, one of life and one of death, walked side by side with fierce expressions. Remi pressed against the side of the wall to allow them past.

“He, uh, hey?” Remi greeted.

“…Hello, Remi,” Yveltal greeted, her usual, gentle tone missing. “Sorry, we’re in a bit of a hurry.”

“Be careful if you’re joining. Things are dire and not a place for mortals,” Xerneas added.

They didn’t so much as look at Palkia. “Ah, see Necrozma!” Palkia called. “He needed to give you a boon.”

They didn’t acknowledge him.

“…I’m sure they heard,” Palkia concluded.

“What’s up with them?” Remi murmured.

“Oh? Likely they do not approve of my blasphemous treatment of life and death. They were already iffy on the Reincarnation Machine, but I suspect what I did regarding my other research has put them in… a differing opinion, yes.” He nodded. “Either that or it was something Jirachi said. Hm. Well, regardless, let’s go down the hall.”

Just then, something caught Remi’s attention in the corner of her eye. She whirled around, on guard, but then saw Mesprit yelp and dash around the corner.

She rolled her eyes. “Mesprit!”

“Ah! Um, he-hello, Remi…”

“What’re you doing hiding from me? Is it because you betrayed my dad and erased his mind forever?”

“N-not forever! Promise! We’re… working on fixing him, just, you know, Dark War and all that, and, um—”

“Good!” Remi offered Mesprit a toothy grin. “I’d replace him if you didn’t fix your mistake.”

She kept her happy tone. But she was positive the master of emotion would sense the genuine fury she’d unleash otherwise. She wasn’t strong, but she was also the Wishkeeper’s daughter.

She’d find a way.

“R-right… okay…”

Palkia chuckled. “Remi, he’s right this way.”

That felt good. Just a little. But now, without giving Mesprit another glance, she followed Palkia down the hall again.

“Um, sorry,” Mesprit said meekly.

Remi didn’t respond.

One more turn. Finally, something different. It seemed to be a huge chamber with only a few devices in it, though there were signs of more to be constructed later. They were large, green cylinders with odd computerized devices in the middle, a thousand times more advanced than the stuff they had in town.

Jirachi was there, parrying Ember attacks with simple psychic shields. Remi sped up to go around one of the cylinders that was blocking her view of the attacker.

Her heart leaped and sank, somehow at the same time.

It was a Charmander, smiling, happy, young, and blasting fire at Jirachi in a playful spar. The little star Pokémon had a sad smile as he humored the small Charmander, and when that Charmander turned his back to flee, Remi saw the telltale mark of Necrozma on his back.

That… was what he’d been reduced to. Not only that, but he wasn’t even speaking. All he did was produce feral chitters and growls.

Palkia placed a hand on Remi’s shoulder. The Sceptile flinched but then took a long, slow breath. Held it. And then let it slowly out.

“So,” she said, “that’s him, huh?”

“Oh… er… yeah. It is,” Jirachi replied.

Dad perked up and scampered to the newcomer. He growled playfully.

Remi regretted coming here. She didn’t want this to be how she remembered Dad. But… she also knew it’d be even worse if she didn’t come. Right?

Dad always said knowledge was better than ignorance. So, this was better, too. It had to be.

“Hey,” Remi greeted. “My name’s Remi.”

Dad tilted his head, looking at her in wonder. He hissed affectionately and raised his arms. Did he want to be picked up?

She humored him