TEEN: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation

namohysip

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Thanks for the feedback, Canis! I think I got a little sloppy with these revisions due to...

I think there's a time discontinuity in this chapter?
So... yeah. I think I flubbed the revisions on this chapter for one bit in particular--that paragraph about a few days passing? That... wasn't supposed to be there. I've already removed it. Ignore that. Only a night has passed.

Next up, Amby. The overall impression I get is that I'm probably going to revamp the latter part of this scene (and... maybe cut down on a bit of the flying bit? But some of that is important--I'll elaborate below)

In general, in hindsight, it does seem like a bit of a weak scene. I'll take a look at this when I revise through it, but I think the first thing that I don't think I elaborated on is the fact that this isn't actually a Dungeon. It's just... a factory. No crazy Dungeon barrier here, just an abandoned ancient factory. Which leads into the point where it was very non-threatening this time around.

I think it was because of the cast's general indifference toward the factory setting, which was clearly setting up for the reveal of Brandon, our resident human.
So, this is where I messed up the most. I'll be revising this scene some to alter the tone, because if I'm not going to make it dangerous, I absolutely should be more focused on the sense of unease and alien appearance of this place (well, relatively speaking.)

with it maybe turning into fear and confusion about how mechanical and imposing the abandoned factory is)
So, yes, this, basically. Fear of the unknown, maybe Owen getting enthusiastic about it being some sort of ancient location meant to be rediscovered? And the washing that into... well... fear of, "oh, wait, this is actually really different." However...

This could just be a pitfall of having a cast that is, essentially, all-powerful. In true shonen fashion, they need to face threats that have the same level of power to get any sort of surprise out of them. But even then, the surprise is mostly limited to Owen and Amia so far over the course of the story. I don't know, I guess it's a personal taste thing, but this had the potential to actually be threatening toward our heroes
So, here's the thing. This area--the factory--is not meant to be threatening to the group. The sand isn't actually mega-toxic. I mean, well, it is? But not in the "touch it and die" sense. It's probably carcinogenic or something, but that's small potatoes compared to what they were dealing with before. If anything, maybe I can divert that a little. The fact that it's not threatening unnerves them further?

but instead you devote a large amount of time to showing that Mystics can fly, which I admit made me a bit glass-eyed and bored.
Agree to disagree on the base, but I suppose I could cut down on a bit of it. There was a small glimpse at the Void that I wanted to get out here, and also just a little bit of Owen having a small pleasure in life, but aside from that, I guess I could cut down on the unnecessary information.

I don't know how many more of these dungeon crawling things you've got, but I'd really advise that, if at all possible, future revisions try to find some way — anything, really — to actually threaten the heroes, Mystic status and all.
As mentioned before, it's not a Dungeon, so I'm going to have to rework the scene to be more on the mystifying and unnerving side than the outright dangerous side. Hmm. I'll need to think on this one and probably spend a good portion on it tomorrow. Depending on how substantial the rework is, I might even announce it... ehh. Maybe not. It's just tone. Stay tuned, I guess?
 
Chapter 31 - Ancient Tradition

namohysip

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Chapter 31 – Ancient Tradition

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

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

Mispy didn’t move.

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

Still no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did one activate just now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah…”

“Is something bothering you?” asked Zena.

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

Zena hesitated for a bit too long.

Mispy turned around.

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

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

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

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

A white light enveloped her.

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

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

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

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

“How do you feel?” Demitri said.

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

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

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

<><><>​

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

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

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

Rhys quickly went on his guard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?” Brandon said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“P-pretty?” Amia said. “Oh, dear…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ahem.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen twitched. “What’s your point?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A—A volunteer?” Owen said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ball wiggled helplessly again.

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

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

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

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

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

Gahi looked tempted.

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” Owen asked quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owen’s shoulders fell.

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

Owen winced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhys glared at Brandon. The Machoke smirked back.

“Right…?”

“We can’t leave, can we?” Rhys asked.

“You could try,” Brandon said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I heard that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never say that again,” Rhys said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. So, I’d appreciate it if—”

“Charmeleon, Vibrava. Steal the bag.”
 

canisaries

break necks, i'm the chiropractor
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Mispy wobbled toward Demitri and wrapped her vines around him, channeling healing energy through him. She then rubbed along his body,
oh whoa whoa whoa whoa hey now keep it PG

Fusion of this kind amplifies the aura, and therefore the power that is output by the Pokémon battling.
FUSION IS JUST A CHEAP TACTIC TO MAKE WEAK MON STRONGER

“Charmeleon, Vibrava. Steal the bag.”
yo wtf dude not cool

This chapter felt kinda weird to me somehow. I guess it may be because of the long conversation? Not sure. I know it did strike me as odd that Owen would just spill the beans about the Eviolite without that much reservation, but I don't think beyond that there's anything I specifically saw as questionable course of action. Maybe I was expecting to get some more answers about the relationship between humans and this current world than what was given - mostly Owen just learns that humans are/were real and what Pokéballs are. And that Arceus does weird shady things, but that was kind of expected.

I know this feedback is very vague and not all that helpful, but if I manage to pin it down better, I'll let you know.
 

namohysip

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This chapter felt kinda weird to me somehow. I guess it may be because of the long conversation? Not sure. I know it did strike me as odd that Owen would just spill the beans about the Eviolite without that much reservation, but I don't think beyond that there's anything I specifically saw as questionable course of action.
You're not alone. These particular chapters are incredibly tricky for me. There's a lot going on behind the scenes that I'm juggling while making sure it still makes sense on the front end, at least a little. Because, as it's clearly seen, Owen isn't being told everything, but he's still trying to get as much as he can. I might revisit this later and see if I can rework how this is all done without messing with any cascading changes.

Maybe I was expecting to get some more answers about the relationship between humans and this current world than what was given - mostly Owen just learns that humans are/were real and what Pokéballs are.
Same here.
 
Chapter 32 - Instincts

namohysip

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Chapter 32 – Instincts

“That’s off limits!” Amia cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amia gulped, readying the same aura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several seconds of silence filled the echoing factory.

Brandon’s arms dropped. “…WHAT?!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh—Gahi,” Owen said quietly.

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

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

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

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

“Okay, sure, if you’re strong, maybe I can’t beat you, but what if I used these Poké Balls that were lying around, found a working one, and captured you? Then once you escape from it, I’d just attack you and throw another one at the same time. I’d just chip away until you got too tired to fight back!”

“O-Owen, that’s… a little elaborate. How long were you thinking about that?” Amia said worriedly. “A little, um…”

“…Huh,” Brandon said. “Didn’t actually think of that.” He rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “I guess there’s a slim, slim chance that might make me flinch. I’d be more worried about those things getting out of here, though. Man, I forgot that’s your specialty, Owen.”

“What?” Owen said. “Specialty?”

“Yeah. I heard from Arceus all about you four—the ultimate Synthetics that Nevren and Rhys designed. The perfect team. Mispy, who was able to heal and sense those who were injured by aura—Gahi, whose speed could dodge attacks and deal ones that couldn’t be dodged—Demitri, whose attacks were so potent that not even Protect could block them—and then you, Owen, who knew how to come up with the best strategies on the fly, and who was aware of the whole battlefield at once.” The Machoke nodded. “Defense, agility, offense, and Perceive.” Brandon said. “Isn’t that right, Rhys?”

Owen’s heart was racing with some strange mixture of anxiety and anger. Even his abilities weren’t something he controlled? That Fire Trap that he spent so much time developing and planning—was that just what he always had? It was all planned? His awareness of everyone’s body language, reading if they’d attack or not, where things were. Was it all…?

“Ngh… yes,” Rhys admitted. “Those are their abilities.”

“That’s… my ability?” Owen said. “So—my whole thing about just knowing the flow of battle? That’s always been stronger as a Charmeleon… when I’m closer to—” Owen shook his head. “No. That’s just what I built up with practice. I read all those books to learn more about dungeon explorations, and my practice with that knowledge is what made me how I am! That’s not something I was supposed to know. I did that by myself! Because that’s what I liked doing, and what I wanted to do! It’s not some instinct! Is… is it?”

“Instinct… I wouldn’t call it that. Maybe your talent.” Brandon said. “By the way, hate to break it to you, but having an innate desire to do something? Kiiinda sounds like instinct. But hey, you honed it!”

“But it’s still something that I was born with.” Owen said lowly. “Or… no. Not born. Designed with. Is that it?” His voice broke. His claws dug into his palms. “I was designed to be like this. I didn’t… choose at all!”

“Owen…” Amia said softly. “It’s not like that. It’s okay. I mean, you still had to refine it! Right? Rhys?”

Rhys nodded. “Y-yes, it isn’t as if you can be born with total knowledge of, say… what Dungeon Orbs are, or Seeds, or Berries. You had to learn those. You just had… a specialized mind for putting those pieces together, Owen. More than usual.”

This still didn’t sit right. The fiery Charmeleon went back to looking at his claws, but then at Brandon. “…And you’re not coming with us?” he asked.

“Nope,” Brandon said. “Sitting right here. I’ve got a factory to guard.”

“Right,” Owen said. “…Then I guess we’re just gonna go.”

“O-Owen? You aren’t going to… finish the fight?” Amia asked.

Brandon glared. “Hey, you still gotta evolve one way or the—” Brandon suddenly stopped talking, squinting at the ceiling as if it said something stupid. “Arceus is saying to just let you go.” He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. But for real, you aren’t fighting? What kind of mutant are you?”

Owen felt that heat in his heart—the temptation to fight. He gritted his teeth. That was part of his design, too. He wanted nothing more to fight. Therefore, he answered. “No. I’m not in the mood.”

Hecto, who had been watching silently from the corner of the arena, turned his head at Owen. He said and did nothing else.

“I won’t stop you,” Brandon said. “Just don’t touch anything on your way out.”

“Thanks,” Owen said curtly. He headed for the exit, not even looking at Amia or Rhys. Instead, he glanced at Gahi. His tone softened. “Do you want to ride on my back again?”

“Eh—nah, I’ll just fly next to yeh. If I get tired, I’ll… go on.”

Owen nodded, then left. Amia tried talking to Owen, but the most response she got out of him was curt hums and silent nods. Rhys knew not to interact.

Owen stood at the edge of the shoreline, looking at the blackened sand and the dark water. He looked at his bag, irritated at the little rips on it from his metallic counterpart trying to pull it away. He snorted.

“I can’t believe I let them do that,” he said. “Should’ve just told them from the start that I wasn’t able to evolve… Now look, I probably have to get this thing sewed up, repaired, all that… Ugh!” Owen stomped his foot on the ground, splashing a bit of the dark water and sand in the air. He protectively lifted the bag, narrowly avoiding getting it dirty again.

“Hey,” Gahi said.

Owen looked back. “It’s alright,” he said. “I just need to cool off, that’s all….”

“How come yer all mad?” Gahi asked.

Owen took off, so Gahi flew after him. As it turned out, Owen was too fast—Amia and Rhys trailed behind but knew to keep away. Gahi only kept up because of his natural speed.

“I guess I just got a reminder,” Owen said. “Just—a reminder of what I am, is a way to put it.”

“Yer instincts, y’mean? Being good at solving problems? I mean, hey, rumor has it that humans were the same way.” Gahi buzzed a bit further ahead so he could get a better look at Owen. “We all have instincts. I wouldn’t know how ter fly without’m.”

“I guess so,” Owen said. “But… but it feels different that I was designed instead of just… born like everyone else. I know Star may’ve started life and designed that, too, but I bet they changed a whole lot, generation to generation, from what she first made, right? But me, I’m… I feel… predicted.”

Gahi stared dumbly at Owen. The Charmeleon understood that this may have been too much. “I feel like I’m not me, I’m just… what someone wants me to be. And I’m just… being that, like I was supposed to. I feel like I didn’t… make any choices. No real ones. It was all predetermined, and I never really had a fork in the road, ever. I just… did what everyone wanted me to do.”

“Eh…” Gahi said. “I guess I c’n see that. Either way, sorta annoying that we’ve got these instincts that people don’t understand.”

“I don’t even want them,” Owen said. “Why couldn’t I just be a normal Charmander, or a Charizard, or whatever? Then I’d just… I dunno.”

“What would you do?” Gahi said.

Owen hesitated. He didn’t think that far ahead. Sure, it was a little nice to think about living a normal life, but how would that go? Would he even be strong enough to become a Heart if he wasn’t… who he was? After all, only the most talented fighters would become one. Everyone else had to take on normal jobs to get by. That wasn’t so bad, but…

“I think being like this is kinda cool,” Gahi went on.

“Cool…? You think it’s cool?” Owen repeated, glancing incredulously. “You think it’s cool that your whole destiny was predetermined by—by killers, and you were supposed to be their weapon? You like being nothing but a—but some sort of… muscle head?”

“I mean, kinda,” Gahi said. “I’d say I’m happy.”

Owen squinted at Gahi, but then looked forward. He didn’t respond. Gahi just didn’t understand yet. Maybe he would if he actually understood what it meant to remember.

<><><>​

The rest of the flight home was silent. He stared down at the ocean for a while, mulling over what Brandon said. Instinct? Talent? More like his design. He wondered if this was how the first Pokémon ever created felt like. Star made them to behave a certain way, didn’t she? He could feel her presence. She was trying to talk to him.

Well, he wasn’t in the mood.

They flew over the beaches. Owen saw the Chasm of the Void to the right, the great, black Abyss yawning toward the sky. Subconsciously, he veered away from it.

Far ahead was Kilo Village. If he flew a bit higher, he’d actually be able to see the tiny buildings within the crater. Owen sank a bit lower in altitude, if only to get a change in scenery.

“Not too close, Owen!” Amia called. “You’re a flying Charmeleon!”

“Ngh.” Owen lifted up a bit more. They were like specks to him from this height, but he could still see the vague features of the Pokémon below, the sections for training, for food, for entertainment—and Anam’s Thousand Heart Association. Even from this height, he saw the giant, heart-shaped building.

Owen wondered where he got the name from. Why a thousand, so specifically? It was a hefty number, after all. But then again, it was a good number for the size of the world.

“Owen, don’t you think we should just warp back home, dear?” Amia asked once again. Owen lost count of how many times she’d asked.

“You can,” Owen said. “I just want to fly.” That wasn’t entirely it. But he needed more time to think, and he knew that if he got home, they’d convince him to fall in line, like they always did.

Amia sighed, looking at Rhys. Really, they could have been home by now, before they even took off. But Owen had flown too far away for Rhys to use his Badge for warping back.

Eventually, the Owen slowed down to pass his bag.

“Do you know how to repair this?” Owen asked her.

“Oh, um… I’m not very good with… fabrics,” Amia said.

“I can assist,” Rhys said. “Owen, why are you leaving this with me? We’re all going home.”

“I’m gonna fly on my own for a little bit,” Owen said.

“Owen—you can’t do that,” Amia said. “What if a Hunter—”

“Don’t give me that,” Owen snapped, speaking lowly. His tail flashed blue, but then it dimmed to a weak red. “S-sorry,” he mumbled, looking away.

“Owen,” Amia said. “It’s dangerous.”

“Is it, though?” Owen said. “Think about it. Rim could’ve killed us at any time. I don’t even know where Eon is. And you know what? I don’t think I can beat her even if I fully evolved. She commands my kind. So, I think she just doesn’t want to hurt me!” He blew out a few embers that instantly dissipated in the wind. “And she can’t take me away, or she would’ve done that, too. So, you know what? I’m fine. I’ll be fine.” He stared at Rhys. “Isn’t that right?”

Before Rhys could answer, Gahi spoke up. “Ehh, I dunno if it’s safe to go out on yer own like that,” he said. “What if Rim shows up and does try something?”

“I’ll fight her.”

“Yeah, uh, maybe not,” Gahi said.

“She doesn’t want me to evolve,” Owen said. “If I try to fight, or I throw away my Everstone…”

“But what if she just kills you?” Gahi said. “Yer a threat now.”

“I don’t think she will,” Owen said. “I saw it in her. She doesn’t want to hurt me. Don’t you think so, Rhys?” Owen nodded. “Even back then, before I even became the Grass Guardian, she was just trying to scare me off. That was it, wasn’t it…? She doesn’t want to hurt… me. I don’t really know why yet, but… I think it’s because I used to be with them. Maybe she’d feel bad.”

Rhys made a sound that was a mixture between a pensive hum and a frustrated growl. “I suppose not,” he said. “She wouldn’t want to harm Gahi, either. But I want you home by sunset, understood? Minimize all interactions with her. Do not let her take your Everstone. Okay?”

“I won’t,” Owen said.

“Yer gonna be okay?” Gahi asked, slowing until he was near Rhys and Amia.

“Yeah,” Owen said. “Besides, if Rim does show up…” he trailed off. “I want to… give her a piece of my mind. Even if she doesn’t want to hurt me, she’s still a Hunter. And…” Owen trailed off.

“Sunset, Owen,” Rhys said firmly.

“Please, dear,” Amia added.

Owen just huffed, but he gave a minute nod in reply. This was their compromise, was it? Always treating him like a kid. But maybe he deserved it. He spent so many lifetimes with memories in a fog that he never had the opportunity to grow up. He always forgot, over and over. Or was it just in his design to be juvenile? Owen wondered if even this spine that he grew, as Brandon put it, was just part of his nature.

Owen glanced at Amia’s worried eyes and his tail dimmed even further. “Maybe she won’t show up at all,” he said, feeling a lump in his throat. “I’ll… I’ll be back. Sunset. Or maybe earlier. I have my Badge.” He flashed it, even though the rest of his supplies were with Rhys. “If I run into any trouble, I’ll come right home. Besides,” Owen said, smiling slightly. “Star will keep an eye on me.”

This, it seemed, was enough. Amia reluctantly flashed the Badge in the air, and she and Rhys vanished with Gahi.

Owen drifted away from Kilo Village. He scanned the landscape and found a small clearing. Something about that location drew him toward it—he remembered this sight, from the skies. But the memory was too blurry to make out the details. But if it was familiar, then it was when he was a Charizard. He followed his vague memories to the ground.

Right when he landed, the memories struck him, almost like a punch from behind. The trees stood tall on all sides, and the ground had shin-high grass all over. Some parts of the grass seemed shorter than the rest, but for the most part, it was as if nothing had ever happened here. But it did.

Plant-like flesh squished between his claws. He felt intense heat from the back of his throat. He saw, fearful, tiny eyes staring right at him under the moonlight. The flames overtook his vision after that. A feminine voice screamed and he looked up. A Lilligant. Owen rushed forward, gliding over the ground, sharp air swirling around his claws—

Rhys shouted desperately behind him. “Owen, STOP!”

“Stop…” Owen mumbled.

Someone within knocked on his mind. He jolted where he stood, staring at his arms. Trembling. His legs felt like jelly. He thought, for just a moment, he had wings. That brief second filled him with so much primal fear that he was positive he saw his chest physically throb with his heartbeat.

He closed his eyes, struggling to meditate. His chest felt like it was going to explode. Uneasy breaths slowed into a steady rhythm. His fire crackled like a Blast Seed. He swallowed something invisible, and then took a final breath.

He pushed the aura forward. The blue ember became a Jumpluff. “Klent…” Owen said.

He floated gracefully down—he looked completely solid, like he was alive again. He was so light that he floated in the wind. His pom-poms behaved like flotation devices on the grass. “It’s been… quite a while,” Klent said.

“Yeah…”

Owen looked at his claws, then at his tail. Some of the grass was singed from the flame drooping too low. He breathed deep, red transitioning to green, the flower at the tip of his tail blooming into a brilliant crimson this time, contrasting against his green, leafy scales.

Owen tried to raise his left arm forward, but it felt numb. It didn’t respond. “…I’m sorry for…”

“It’s okay, Owen,” Klent said. “It… it wasn’t you.”

“But—but wasn’t it exactly me?” Owen said.

“Not the Owen I know.”

“Klent…”

A consistent, easy breeze blew past them. Owen felt the petals of his tail shiver in the gust. The tall grass blew all in one direction, making a watery, whishing noise throughout the thin forest.

But it was him, wasn’t it? It was part of him. That horrible monster that was sealed away in his mind was as much Owen as the suppressed version talking now.

The Jumpluff turned away. “…As much as I say that I know you as someone else now, Owen… I don’t like being around here very much. There aren’t many good memories here. Very few…” He sighed. “I’ll be returning, now. Owen, will you be fine on your own?”

“Y-yeah. I just want to… take a walk.”

Klent nodded and evaporated into an aura ember, returning to Owen. He walked down the path until the grass got shorter, away from the residual influence of the previous Grass Guardian. The Mystic side of him appreciated the scenery; the natural side of him preferred a hotter climate. He didn’t know what his ‘true’ side felt about this place. Perhaps it didn’t feel anything.

What was it like to feel nothing? Owen shivered. To lose all sense of self like that…

Once he was on a landscape with grass that only went up to the top of his claws, Owen felt the presence of someone powerful. The leaves on his body stiffened like fur and he slowed his pace. He could feel the anxieties of the spirits within him. Calm down, it’s alright, Owen thought to them.

He knew who it was. So, he wasn’t surprised when he saw an Espurr appear in front of him. He snorted and continued walking. He sensed no malice, but he also realized that it was going to be impossible to get anything out of her. As much as he wanted to have his questions answered, there was no point in talking.

There she was, the Hunter herself. What was her role in all this? Did she once command him? Did she want him back? He obviously wasn’t going to follow that. The Charmeleon stared at her with half a mind to…

Owen didn’t know what he wanted to do to her. There was a block in his thought process. Attack her? No. That didn’t feel… right. But—she was a killer. She killed Cara and Forrest. She forced Demitri, Mispy, and Gahi to evolve. She made them get reset. He never got to talk to Forrest. But Cara was terrified. But she also seemed relieved. Was she like Zena?

Rim had her eyes on the ground. Owen walked right past her. And then she turned around. With his cursed Perception, he knew she did. He walked for a few minutes; the Espurr never made a move. Instead, whenever he got too far away, she vanished and reappeared behind him, following without moving a muscle.

Realizing she wouldn’t stop this, he finally turned around. The Espurr still had her eyes on the ground. After a moment of quiet that was cut only by the wind, she took slow, hesitant steps toward him. Owen could tell that she was too nervous to speak—and his vague memories suggested that she wasn’t much to talk in general.

Who was Rim? Owen’s claws tapped against one another, fists clenching. Why did Owen feel so familiar with her? The memories were right there, but Star’s block prevented them from emerging. If only he could rip it away. He had to know. Rim, who was she? Was she Owen’s commander? What did she know about him? Why did she run?

Could she fix him?

Rim sat down. Owen watched her. The grass caressed her tiny legs and intertwined with her gray fur. The way she moved was delicate and deliberate. Her ears twitched when a breeze rustled the fur the wrong way.

He wondered if Rim missed him, or if he was just an asset to her that she was trying to get back. He really didn’t know. But her heart beat in an odd way. Her breathing was slow. It had nothing akin to a body preparing for battle. If anything, her spirit to fight was nonexistent. Rim wouldn’t be able to fight even if she tried; like Owen, she just wasn’t in the mood.

Who was Eon? It was such a familiar name. He felt so close. Yet, those memories were perhaps the most locked away. Were they good memories, or bad ones? Any time he thought back, his stomach twisted itself in knot after knot. He just wanted it to be over. He just wanted to know. He envied Gahi, so nonchalant about his missing past. But knowing him, he was just putting on a brave face. It probably bothered Gahi, too. But what could he do about it? Nothing.

But Owen could. As a Mystic, he could fix this himself. Right?

Rim focused on the ground; The grass cut away. The dirt rose up and swirled into a flat, brown plane. Then, little figures rose up on the ground, and a grid formed a square in the middle, with a figure taking up each square on the two bottom and top edges of the grid. Half of them on Owen’s side, the other half on Rim’s.

Owen blinked. Chess. Chess! The memory crashed through the block, but it was the only one. A specific memory. If only he could have pulled out a few more.

He had played it all the time—it was a game that Nevren knew, though where he learned it, he had no idea. He didn’t know what half of the pieces were called anymore; he just knew what they could do by their shape. One of the pieces on Rim’s side jiggled and floated up, moving two spaces toward Owen.

Was this what she wanted to do? A game? The petals on his tail swayed rhythmically and he sat down in front of her. The grass felt nice against his leafy scales. Perhaps the fields weren’t so bad after all.

Owen intended to counter with the same move. He reached forward, but a barrier blocked his way. He let out a confused, reptilian chirp, looking at Rim. She stared back at him. Those giant eyes stared wordlessly into his.

He retracted his hand and closed his eyes. He used his Mystic powers and slowly slid the pawn forward to mirror her move.

Rim smiled and made her next move.

Owen defeated Rim easily. He wasn’t sure how many moves it took for him to beat her, but he made them so quickly that Rim felt pressured to match his speed. Her mistakes were devastating. Owen looked down at Rim with a little smirk, but Rim beamed with her big eyes.

It unnerved him. He could read bodies, but he couldn’t read minds. All he could feel from Rim was a radiating, happy heartbeat, a happy puff of air from her tiny nose, the muscles of her face contorting into a rare, genuine smile.

It was contagious. For a moment, Owen stopped caring. A dumb smile crossed his scaly lips. And in that moment, his heart felt a little lighter, too.

Rim stood up; she walked around the board, toward Owen, and pushed at his side. Owen tilted his head; he scooted to the side, but then Rim made a slightly more twisting motion, and Owen understood.

The Charmeleon spun until his tail faced the board. Rim sat back on the other side of the board. Owen felt it again—that feeling of something moving. Rim made the same move as before. But he wasn’t sure about any of the other pieces. He knew that they would be in their original positions, but he couldn’t feel them yet. He had to focus…. There. The pieces were all there, as were his. So, he focused on that one piece again and mirrored her move.

The game was slower, but it allowed Rim more time to think. She was harder to beat this time, but Owen soon knew the entire landscape of the board.

Even the wild Pokémon in the trees that were watching them. The plants that swayed with the wind. He sensed all of their movements. Even the hidden ones lounging in the bushes. The leaves loosening with the incoming autumn, starting their slow transition from green to red.

He had no idea he could expand himself like this, to feel the land as if it was his own body. Perception. Was this it? Was this what it felt like?

He never felt so… correct before. Was that the word? But this was his design. Wasn’t this what Rim wanted? But he wasn’t killing anybody. He wasn’t fighting. He was playing a game. And everything around him felt… peaceful. Could mutants know peace?

The game was over before he knew it, and with a final, decisive thump of the piece, Rim’s king was trapped in checkmate. Owen felt Rim’s smile when she stood up.

Owen turned around, but by the time he was facing forward again, she was gone.
 
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canisaries

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

He looked back at Amia and Rhys. Their auras already swirling to reset him.
It could be an extension of the previous sentence (he looked back at [...] their auras), but it's also possible you missed adding a verb so pointing it out.

Release the anger steadily Let the restlessness settle down to nothing.
Missing period?

Who are you? Owen’s claws tapped against one another, fists clenching. Why did Owen feel so familiar with her? The memories were right there, but Star’s block prevented them from emerging. If only he could rip it away. He had to know. Who are you? Was she Owen’s commander? What did she know about him? Why did she run?
Rim, who is Eon? It was such a familiar name.
Hmm, I know your style mixes the thoughts in with the narration frequently, but some of these feel like they'd be better in cursive, specifically the present tense using ones.

Even the wild Pokémon in the trees that were watching them.
Extra "that", I believe.

But this was his design. Isn’t this what Rim wanted?
You'd want "wasn't" to keep it consistent.

I feel really weird finding Rim cute after all she's done, but either way, the final scene is very peaceful. I might even say aesthetic. I'm looking forward to see where this goes.
 

Ambyssin

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

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

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

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

But we haven’t had a good fight in a while, and that sparring match we had with Owen left me feeling antsy.
(shouting in the distance) Damn it, stop making them sound like saiyans!

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

“Incorrect,” ADAM said, quietly observing from his home nearby. “Grass Type detected.”
Thank you ADAM, you're a big help, as usual.

I take it you’re here to have me join in your little games?
Game of ThronesOrbs, by Nam O.H. Ysip.

Owen blinked. “Fuse?” he said. “That’s… that’s possible?”
Fusion is just a cheap tactic to make weak pokémon stronger!

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

“Never say that again,” Rhys said.
No, keep saying it. I demand more Rhys puns.

“Charmeleon, Vibrava. Steal the bag.”
Somewhere, in the far reaches of Ultra Space, Nebby cheers enthusiastically.

32
Whether this was intentional or not... it struck me that Owen's situation here is, in a lot of respects, awfully similar to Knuckles in the Archie Sonic comics under Ken Penders. That is, uh, going to honestly make it very awkward for me to continue reading about it with that thought in the back of my mind. But, hey, this is way more entertaining to read than that stuff, so that's a win of sorts! Even if the bulk of this chapter is just Owen doing moody teenage brooding... again.

That was a pretty slick MacGuyver plot on Owen's part with just eating the damn Everstone. Though I think part of the humor(?) of the moment was a bit lost by Brandon's reaction. The "exit strategy" line was a cringey euphimism for what I'm sure everyone was thinking reading that bit. Still, it's one way to control the whole evolution tidbit. From there, it kinda descends into an extended angsting sequence where Owen's focused on how his whole life's a lie and even his semi-prodigy status is a byproduct of that. I guess the chess match piece with Rim stuck out as an artsy moment of sorts. It was mostly extended narration and, were this a comic and not a fic, the extended, dialogue-less sequence would've been even artsier. I think there were a couple of oddities with the lack of dialogue though, namely some jumps into the present tense (ex: "Where is Eon?") that really didn't make a lot of sense, even if the narrator's inside Owen's head.

Owen saw the Chasm of the Void to the right, the great, black Abyss yawning toward the sky.
Void, you say?

This was their compromise, was it? Always treating him like a kid.
He wouldn't be a charmeleon if he wasn't having his edgy rebellious phase.

What was it like to feel nothing?
Heeheeheehee! I see you're asking all the right questions. And I'd just love to give you an answer, you delightful little freak!

... alternatively, ask Asriel. Oh, sorry, still too soon? :p
 

namohysip

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Thanks for the reply, Amby--I got you elsewhere! But just to announce it here, too, I finished watching Dragon Ball Super: Broly and you win, regarding your comments waaaay back about Owen.

Now then, onto Canis...

MAMA BEAR
Yes! Amia finally shows a bit of her fiery side! That's definitely something that's only showed up in tiny moments, but now that she's put in a situation like this, it's coming out. I imagine this won't be the last.

Hmm, I know your style mixes the thoughts in with the narration frequently, but some of these feel like they'd be better in cursive, specifically the present tense using ones.
Yeah, I might revamp a bit of the tenses here. They were recent additions, and I think the prose, while artistic, is a little awkward. I'll normalize.

I feel really weird finding Rim cute after all she's done, but either way, the final scene is very peaceful. I might even say aesthetic. I'm looking forward to see where this goes.
This scene in particular was very tricky. I've had some people outright ask me if Rim is good or evil. I think at this point it's pretty obvious that while Rim has done horrible things, Owen's going to be feeling some mental conflict about what that means for how she used to be. We're seeing hints of that here.

Anyway, I'm hoping to get the next chapter out today or tomorrow night!
 
Chapter 33 - Black Sparks

namohysip

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Chapter 33 – Black Sparks

Hot Spot Cave’s training area—deeper inside, beyond the residential buildings, but not near the lava—was awash with water, warming in the natural heat. Four Pokémon fought in the middle; two were exhausted, collapsed on the ground. The other two waited patiently for their opponents to rise.

“I thought this would be harder,” Willow pouted.

“You have to remember,” Zena said, “they’re not Mystic. They may be Modded, but that’s sealed away, still. I doubt they’re taking this too seriously, either. We’re just sparring. Maybe they don’t want to hurt us or go too hard.”

Demitri gurgled in a puddle of Zena’s Hydro Pump. Mispy staggered to her feet.

“Well, at least we got Demitri to evolve,” Willow said, eying the Fraxure and Bayleef.

Demitri finally stood up, panting. “That’s… that’s right! So we’re… totally making progress,” he said. “Right, Mispy?”

“I might faint…” Mispy wheezed.

“If that’s the case, we should just take a break,” Zena said. “We don’t want to push you too hard anyway—not when it won’t be easy to subdue you in case… well…”

“In case we evolve?” Demitri said.

Mispy nodded. “But… it doesn’t feel like we’ll evolve yet.”

“Yeah, the other times we evolved, it always sorta felt like there was this… pressure, or this heat, in our chest, you know? A power that wanted to get out—and I don’t feel that yet. So, we can probably go for a little while longer and be fine!”

“Demitri,” Zena said, “you can barely stand.”

“I—I’ll figure it out!”

“Maybe let your head do some thinking instead of your muscles,” Willow said. “Turn off that battle-mode instinct!”

“I don’t think we can!” Demitri said. “But… but I guess we fought enough…”

“We didn’t,” Mispy sighed.

“Well, when will it be enough?” Zena asked.

Mispy wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

“…Let’s just rest,” the Milotic said. She turned and slithered back to the main square. Willow hopped onto her back and climbed to the top of her head. Demitri and Mispy reluctantly followed them home.

Rhys, Amia, and Gahi appeared in the middle of the square. At first, they were relieved that they returned safely, but then panicked when they realized only three came back.

“W-where’s Owen?!” Willow said. “You lost Owen! You idiots! H-how could you—?”

“Owen’s okay—he’s okay!” Amia said. “He just… wanted to go for a walk! Take the scenic way back! I’m sure he’s okay. It isn’t even dark out yet, okay? He should be back by lunch! Maybe late lunch… I told him before sunset, but I don’t see him taking that long.”

Willow was sparkling with angry, pink energy. “He could be hurt by the Hunters alone! What kind of a mother are you?!”

“Th-that’s not—! I didn’t mean to—he’s okay! H-he’s…!” Amia sniffed.

“Willow, there is no strategic advantage to the Hunters striking Owen. He’s unstable, and if he evolves, it could mean the end for them. Owen isn’t aligned with Star or Ba—Arceus, and I believe they want to take advantage of that.” Rhys crossed his arms. “To add, I do not believe the Hunters want to harm Owen to begin with.”

“What, they want to convince Owen to work for them? Hah!” Willow snorted. “…Why did Owen want to go on his own?”

“Eh, got a little moody when someone told him he’s good at solvin’ puzzles because that’s in his nature, the way he was designed.”

“Oh,” Willow said. Her sparks simmered down, turning into a pink mist. “Well… I guess that’s okay to be mad about.”

Manny stepped closer, overhearing the discussion. “He’s still having an identity crisis, eh?” he asked. “Bah, why can’t he be simple-minded like these three?”

“Simple-minded?” Mispy growled.

“E-ehh, maybe like, yeh don’t care as much?”

“That’s better,” Mispy said, shaking her leaf angrily. She eyed Demitri and softened her expression. “Think Owen will be… okay?”

“Well… I think he’ll be a little moody for a while. He always got wrapped up in his thoughts. I mean, maybe that’s part of how he was designed, but… that’s how we know him, right? So, it can’t be all bad. Besides, isn’t everyone born a little designed?”

“I dunno,” Gahi said dismissively. “Hey, so looks like yeh evolved! I bet I evolved first, though, heh.”

“We got to training pretty soon after you left,” Demitri said. “I think we evolved while you were still flying to the factory. Oh—and how’d that go?”

“Eh… I don’t wanna talk about it,” Gahi said. “Maybe later.”

“What, is everyone in a bad mood?” Willow said.

“It seems so,” Zena said. She nodded solemnly. “And you’re absolutely sure that Owen is okay?” she said.

Rhys nodded.

This still wasn’t enough for her. She had half a mind to go out and find him, but she wasn’t sure if the Hunters would feel the same way about her that they did about Owen. “Perhaps we can discuss this over dinner,” she said. “Manny, you mentioned that you were preparing something for the Mods?”

“Eh, yeah! Great stuff fer a post-fight meal, y’know. Builds up muscle. Real great protein. I’m gonna go finish it up; I’ve got it on a low simmer righ’ now. Aura burns real steadily if yeh got good control.”

The Lucario left. Rhys seemed skeptical that Manny was capable of slow burns.

“Make a plate for Owen, too,” Zena said. “Surely he’ll return by lunchtime…”

“But he doesn’t eat anymore,” Gahi said.

“I think he’ll appreciate it,” Zena countered. “Okay?”

“Ehh, alright, alright…” Gahi looked at Manny, who nodded while hauling out a pot of stew.

<><><>​

Thankfully, Owen returned during lunch, entering the cave the old-fashioned way. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t have to do the Hot Spot dance to open the path, but despite this, the Charmeleon had the smallest spring in his step.

Owen wondered how Deca was doing. Ever since he became a Charmeleon, he never got to see him. Then again, he hoped it would be a while. He couldn’t imagine the jealousy Deca would feel if Owen evolved, but he didn’t. He probably wouldn’t want to know about how much of a freak he was for eating an Everstone, too, after all that talk about wanting to evolve.

Amia spotted Owen first and was simultaneously perplexed and relieved at his brighter mood. “Owen, you’re back.”

“Hey, Mom,” Owen said. He stood awkwardly in front of her, avoiding her eyes.

Amia waved her arm and summoned Alex, the embers briefly swirling from a blue ember, to something that floated in the air, and then finally into a solid, Magmortar form. “Owen, we’re sorry if—”

“No, no,” Owen said. “That was stupid of me. I’m sorry I just flew off like that. I’m okay.”

He smiled at both of them. Alex nervously bumped his cannons together.

Owen abruptly moved forward to Alex, wrapping his arms as well as he could around the Magmortar’s huge frame. He turned his head to nod at Amia. “Thanks for dealing with me for all this time. For… how long has it been?”

“Oh, Owen…” Amia held her hand against the fin in her chest. “What’s gotten into you?”

Owen laughed, pulling away from Alex, but he refused to let him go. His arms crossed behind Owen and held him in place. Owen complied, rolling his eyes with a smile.

“Um—how’s everyone doing?” Owen asked.

“Oh, just fine, Owen,” Amia said. “Did you have a good flight home?”

“Yeah,” Owen said.

“Rhys didn’t have time to repair your bag just yet, but I’ll have it to you by tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Oh, yeah, uh—that’s okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

“Oy, Owen!” Gahi called. “We made a plate fer ya!” He waved one of his tiny legs at him in midair. Gahi hadn’t touched the ground in quite a while.

“F-for me?” Owen asked. “I don’t eat!”

“Yeah, but I bet food still tastes good, eh?” Gahi said. “C’mon!”

“W-well, if you went through the trouble…”

Alex let Owen go, following him toward the square with Valle as the centerpiece. They walked over to the little picnic-like seating arrangement, seeing the one plate without someone next to it. Owen sat down between Gahi and Demitri, taking his first heaping spoonful. He smelled the smallest hint of Tamato Berry in the thick broth and had to swallow to keep the drool inside.

Owen sensed something flying his way. He raised his free hand and caught a full Tamato from his right.

“Heh, Rhys told me yeh liked these,” Manny said.

Owen beamed, squeezing the ultra-spicy juice straight into the bowl, unnerving everybody.

“So, how’d your trip go?” Gahi asked. “Anybody yeh see er anything? Y’took a while, unless yeh just wandered.”

“Oh, I ran into Rim,” Owen said, eating the pulp and husk of the squeezed berry.

Amia and the others flinched, but they’d already been prompted that this was a possibility.

“She, um… she was nice,” Owen said tentatively. “We didn’t talk much, but she barely talks, so that’s not really any different. She played a game with me—chess, y’know what that is?”

“Huh… That sounds kinda familiar,” Demitri said. “Gahi?”

“Yeah, I think you played that before,” Gahi said, “when we were still with the Hunters. So, Rim just taught yeh how that game worked again?”

“It kinda just came back to me,” Owen said, mixing the spicy juice into the broth with a claw. “But then she did something a little weird. She made me turn around and play it without looking. But I still beat her… I had to use my Mystic power to move the pieces, but… yeah. I still won.”

“Wow, you beat Rim without even looking?”

“At chess,” Owen said. “I just… felt where the pieces were, that’s all.”

“Yeah, but that’s still pretty cool,” Demitri said. “Is that part of your Mystic power?”

“Maybe? But… I feel like I had that sort of power before. It’s familiar. So, I might’ve been able to do something like that before. Maybe without the telekinesis, though. I think she—” The memory hit him. “Th-that’s right! She’d tie a Pecha Scarf or something else lying around. She’d tie it over my eyes so I couldn’t see! I remember that…” Owen touched his chest. “Wow… we used to play that all the time.”

Rhys eyed Owen nervously. “That was a long time ago, Owen. Don’t think too fondly of those memories for now.”

“Y-yeah,” Owen looked off, deflating. “I know. She… she’s still hunting us down, even if she wants to keep me around. I won’t be going with her or anything. But, to be honest, I…” He trailed off. “…I feel a little better about me.”

“About you?” Amia said. “Oh, you mean—”

Owen nodded. “Yeah. About who I’m supposed to be, and how I… kinda just am what I’m supposed to be. It’s okay. Because… I like it. It’s not bad. Like what Gahi said, y’know? And I can still choose the little things. Fighting who I am isn’t gonna help, if it’s just… ingrained. Like, you can’t stop yourself from feeling happy, or mad, right? It’s just… there.”

“That’s a good way to look at it,” Amia said. “But you don’t have to be defeated by that, either. After all, you’re still meditating to keep your… battle-heart in check, right?”

Owen nodded. “Yeah. So, I can control it. But my personality—being all… quick-thinking… I think I want to keep that. I’m choosing to keep that part of my design.” The Charmeleon stood up. His bowl still wasn’t eaten, but he had come to a decision.

“Uh, Owen?” Demitri, still seated, craned his neck.

Owen’s body shifted from red to green. Then, he grew a bit in size, followed by turning around to keep his face away from the others—it’d be rude otherwise. He tilted his head up and opened his mouth; the vine in his gut emerged, caressing the Everstone-Eviolite within. After grabbing it, he retracted the vine back into his gut and returned to his normal size and color. He turned around and placed the stone in his lap.

“Uhh—Owen,” Amia said, “didn’t you promise to wait until tomorrow to do that?”

“It’s tomorrow somewhere,” Owen replied, digging into his stew. He tilted the whole bowl into his mouth, pausing only momentarily to savor the taste, and then set it on the ground. The Aspear material let out a hollow tok against the rocks.

Owen stood up and backed away. When he felt he had a safe enough distance from them, he tossed the stone to Rhys.

Enet’s fur puffed up. “Owen?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” Owen said. “I’m… ready.” He looked at Rhys, Zena, and Amia. “Get the Suppression Aura ready. Okay?”

He felt the heat swelling up rapidly. He wasn’t going to contain it much longer—there was no suppressing this evolution. “Th-that’s pretty strong…!” He winced.

He scanned the room—everyone that he knew. There was no way he’d forget them, and he wouldn’t forget himself. He couldn’t, not after all this. This was what his training was for. Owen closed his eyes and took a slow breath, held it, and let it out. “I’m okay,” he said again. “I’m gonna evolve, alright?”

“Take it slow, Owen,” Amia said. The entire square was silent. “If—if you can.”

Owen nodded. His heart slammed against his chest, vision clouding over. Thoughts became muddled. Owen steadied his breathing—it was all he could do—and meditated. Peace, calm. Control.

Please… not again, Owen begged his own instincts.

The light enveloped him, black bolts crackling all over.

<><><>​

Rim appeared behind Nevren in his office. “Disappear, please,” Nevren said.

Rim quickly vanished.

“A-Alakazam!” someone called.

“Hmm?” Nevren turned around. “Ah, yes. What’s wrong?”

“W-we spotted something in Arachno Forest, more of those—those mutant Pokémon! But… they were behaving strangely. So—even stranger compared to how those things usually are.”

“Strangely? In what way?” Nevren asked.

“They were… controlled. They were just patrolling—they didn’t look like they were going to fight at all. But—but they were definitely those strange Pokémon.”

“I see. Thank you for the report. I’ll be sure to send an Elite team there shortly. You are dismissed for the day.”

“Y-yes. Um… and, Alakazam…? Where’s Goodra Anam?”

“Ah, he’s fine and performing another round of blessings. Not to worry. Perhaps I can see if he can make a public appearance tomorrow for morale, or an assembly.” Nevren nodded. “In any case, thank you. You may go.”

He left.

“…You may return, Rim.”

The Espurr appeared. Her eyes were a bit brighter than usual.

“How are things, Rim? You have visited me again.”

Rim nodded. “Owen…”

“Oh? I’ve been listening in on their little conversations. Owen is planning to evolve.”

“He’s… content.”

“That’s very good,” Nevren said. “He might be ready now. I didn’t quite expect that meeting with Brandon to go that way, but in the end, I suppose we’ve captured two Pidgey with one ball. Ah, hm. That’s impossible. I suppose I shouldn’t coin that saying.” Nevren tapped his spoon on the table. “They learned of Poké Balls, and that was the primary goal.” He nodded. “You didn’t have to see him, though, Rim. Why did you do so now? He still doesn’t trust you.”

“He… plays chess well,” Rim said.

Nevren returned to Rim a wry smile.

She giggled, but then disappeared.

“Ahh, Rim,” Nevren sighed. “Well, whatever makes her happy, I suppose.” He looked at the ceiling. “Such emotions are so perplexing.” He paused. “…What is taking Anam so long?” He stepped out of the office and into the main lobby of the Heart. He followed the colorful path to the room next door and gently pushed it open.

“Ah,” Nevren said.

The supply room was filled with batches of seeds—most of them plain—all across the shelves. On another wall were plain scarves and simple berries. But what caught Nevren’s eyes was the long, stick-like object in the middle of the room, next to a Goodra slumped over.

“Interesting,” Nevren said aloud, approaching the stick. He picked it up, spinning it. “Are these not the Wands I’ve been designing?” He looked down at Anam, who was sleeping soundly. Nevren held the wand horizontally and squeezed tight, watching the operational end. Nothing emerged. Instead, a small blast of light shot out and evaporated from the opposite end. “Hm. It’s shooting out the wrong end.”

Nevren flipped the wand and held it properly, firing directly in front of him.

This time, it shot correctly, and therefore, right into Nevren’s chest.

“Urf…” Nevren’s eyes drooped instantly. “It fires… inconsistently. Must… make note… of…”

He collapsed next to Anam, snoring.

<><><>​

Black sparks flung off of Owen. Waves of power radiated from the center of the corrupted, evolutionary light. Amia and the ones closest to him had to step away. And then, finally, with a wave of heat, power, and sparkling pinpricks of black and white light, it all faded.

He had to remember.

He saw Amia’s smiling face, leaning against Alex in the middle of their home. They were laughing at something. Owen asked what was wrong. “Your face, dear. Feel your cheek.” There had been a bit of stew caught there. He always ate too quickly.

To Owen, it felt like he’d been standing for minutes. But he imagined that to the others, he was only there for a few short, tense seconds.

Zena’s huge form emerged from her small pool just inside her new Hot Spot home. She was asking curiously about the book Owen had in his hands. Did they read together before? How often? He wanted to know more, but a new memory took its place.

Owen knew that Zena was a recent addition to his life, yet with how scrambled his memories were, it didn’t really matter. She was the first Guardian he’d rescued. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

With his lower half numb, he only heard the pummeling from Demitri against Aerodactyl. That overwhelming sense of relief combined with the overwhelming pain of all his wounds nearly made Owen dizzy.

Team Alloy… he lost so many memories of them. So many important memories. He wasn’t as close to them, even now, as he had been so long ago.

“Owen… will we ever see you again?” Demitri asked, sniffling.

“Don’t go,” Mispy begged.

“I… I have to,” Owen said. “We can’t stay together. If we all evolved together, and then…”

“It ain’t fair!” Gahi shouted. He stomped his tiny, Trapinch foot on the ground. “I’ll… I’m comin’ with you!”

“Gahi… I have to go alone. If I evolved with any of you, it’d be… Rhys can handle you three. But not me. Not if—"

“I don’t care! We… this is all stupid!” Gahi sniffed. “This is… all…!”

“We don’t even know what’ll really happen. What if Rhys is lying?” Demitri said.

“We’ll be fine,” Mispy said.

“You will be,” Owen said. “That’s why I’m… going with Amia. She’s gonna be my ‘mom’ now. It’s better this way. I’m… sorry.”

“Are you ready?” Rhys asked.

Owen looked back. “I’m ready.”

“Wait!” Demitri said. “Will… will we ever see you again?! Owen, c’mon, we gotta at least visit!”

“We won’t remember each other,” Owen said, voice caught in his throat. “It won’t matter.”

“Then… then I’m gonna evolve until we can again,” Demitri said.

“Good!” Owen laughed, but by now his face was screwed up in a horrible, ugly wince. “I’ll d-do the same thing!”

Owen couldn’t look away from this memory, yet he was relieved when it finally faded, overtaken by another.

Owen held back his tears. Not in front of the others.

A Charmander stood before him, teary eyed and laughing. Everything hurt. He felt waterlogged. “They’re so proud of you, Owen,” he said. And a confused, thrilled heat swelled in his chest.

Owen hoped he could see Deca again.

Now the ground was below him. Claws outstretched, he plunged them into a Feraligatr. He taunted him. “Ha HA! Is that all you are capable—" But then he slashed through his body, and the Feraligatr dissolved. He kept chasing after the spirit, even in its ember form, ineffectual as it was.

How amazing was that fight? To finally sink his claws into something, to finally feel his attacks connect with their full power. The euphoria that overtook him when he got that first punch to his gut, or spewed hot flames toward his enemies. To truly exert himself, to not hold back and seal his true power away!

No. Stop. Control. Breathe. He was Owen. His name was Owen, son of Gardevoir Amia and Magmortar Alex. Friend, not killer, of Guardians.

Breathe. Slow.

“Owen… stop,” Amia’s pleading face glowed in the darkness of Manny’s old abode. “It’s okay. It’s over. Please…”

“Fight it, Owen!” Willow said. “You c-can do it…! S-stop looking like that…!”

“Fight it…” Owen mumbled aloud.

Everybody was watching him with bated breath. He could feel their tension. In fact, he even felt his own.

The new Pokémon beat his wings and the lights flew across the entire town square, bumping into the walls, fading, dissipating. Rhys held up an aura barrier to keep the blackness from hitting the rest of Team Alloy. In his other paw, a sphere of white Suppression Aura flickered.

Owen opened his eyes. He looked very much like a normal Charizard. He had orange scales and a beige front, a flame at the end of his tail, wings, and two horns on the back of his head. However, he was a bit slimmer, and his wings were larger. His horns were sharper, and they were just barely hooked upward behind his head. He was built for evasion in the air and on the ground. Owen remembered that, now. But his memories were still sealed, gradually leaking through.

He blinked a few times. It felt like his vision was twice as powerful as it was before. It was like he could see every tiny detail ahead of him. And if he focused, it felt like he could sense everything beside him, and behind him, too. And above, and below. He felt like a Claydol. Eyes on all sides—though, not literally, he hoped. With a brief worry, he felt the sides of his head. No eyes. Good.

He breathed slowly; he felt that inner need to battle again. But he suppressed it, and he kept himself composed.

“Hey… guys,” he said, startled at his new voice. Deeper. That was going to take some time to get used to. Based on the startled looks from everyone else, he wasn’t the only one. “W-wow… Everyone looks a lot smaller now that I’ve evolved. H-heh…” He scratched the back of his head, taking a moment to feel the two horns behind him. So new, yet so familiar. “Wow…” Owen said again, looking at his claws, squeezing his hands.

“Are you… okay?” Amia asked.

“You’re… big!” Enet said, staring up. “Really big!”

“Y-yeah,” Owen said. “Thanks! I guess I’m not too small after all, huh?”

“Yeah!”

“So… so you aren’t gonna kill us?” Willow asked.

“W-was I really like that?” Owen said.

“Not really, but… you know…” Willow hesitated, glancing at Manny.

Everyone had a sort of cautious optimism at seeing Owen, fully evolved, behave like a normal Pokémon. Owen figured that they were just trying not to startle him, and while he appreciated the thought, he was hoping for at least a few cheers, or perhaps fanfare from ADAM’s strange body.

“Nah, yeh were just scary good at fighting,” Manny said. “Good job at all that! Hey, how ‘bout we break the new body in, eh? Let’s have a rematch!”

“Y-you? I—I don’t know if I should,” Owen said. “I could barely stand up against Azu, and isn’t he your weakest?”

“Only by a li’l bit,” Manny said. “I dwarf ‘em all anyway. So yeh wanna go? One on one?”

“W-well…!” Owen looked pleadingly at Amia and Rhys.

Rhys sighed. “Very well. But if you feel yourself slipping, request to stop. Manny, you will respect that. Better we test Owen now than in a real battle.”

“I will,” Manny said, knocking a claw against his chest-spike. “Lucario’s Honor, eh?”

“Hm.”

Manny led the way to the training area; Owen marveled at how much smaller it seemed now that he was so much taller. “I’m still not used to it,” he said. “I don’t think I was ever this size before in these caves!”

“Are yer memories comin’ back yet?”

“A little,” Owen said. “But… I don’t want to think back to them yet. I just want to enjoy being like this for a while before I, um, reflect.”

Zena slithered up close to Owen on his right side, sizing him up, eyes following every part of him. At this size, they weren’t very awkward in comparison anymore. She was still larger, but not by much.

“How do I look?” Owen asked.

Zena flinched, turning away. “V-very good. I mean—! It… suits you. You look like a real dragon, now.”

Owen blushed. “A-aw, well, I’m still just a Fire-Flying. But thanks. Maybe I can practice flying with actual wings next.”

Gahi watched Owen walk, flying next to him with an envious growl. “I’m gonna evolve next,” he said. “Then we’re gonna fight. And then I’ll beat you. Then I’ll win!”

Owen laughed. “You know, sure,” he said. “A little sparring match after you evolve. It’s a deal.” He winked at him. “But you’ll have to evolve first.”

“Yer on,” Gahi hissed challengingly. Despite his tone, he smiled as well as a Vibrava could. Mispy rolled her eyes; Demitri just sighed. Gahi would never change.

They stopped when they entered the sparring area again. The water from Demitri and Mispy training against Zena and Willow had evaporated, leaving the caves feeling a bit humid.

Manny spun on his feet. “Okay, y’ready?”

“I am,” Owen said.

Manny went into his usual battle stance. Owen did the same. If one thing came back to him, it was his memories of battle. He closed his eyes and cleared his head of any interfering thoughts, then crouched down. His throat felt hot. His wings felt tingly, especially near the membrane. Why? He twitched them tentatively, seeing little embers forming along the membrane. He remembered.

Owen could sense Manny’s nervousness. The Lucario was giving a front of bravado, but Owen smelled that tinge of fear on him and the over-tense muscles of his arms and legs. Why would Manny volunteer to fight him, then? Perhaps he was trying to train him like he trained the other synthetic Pokémon within his Orb.

The Lucario shifted his feet and opened with a blurry dash forward. The sudden, rapid movement wasn’t overwhelming anymore. Instead, Owen made a minute, calculated jump back, and then a second one. Manny continued anyway, aiming to ram into Owen with his momentum. He was interrupted by a fiery explosion beneath him. The Fire Trap was planted without Owen even stomping his foot.

“Bah—wh-y’think that’s enough ter get m—”

Owen spewed a gout of fire toward Manny right when the Trap fell. Manny roared and launched an all-out attack in close quarters, desperate to at least land some sort of blow to shake Owen’s composure, but all Owen had to do was close his wings, creating a golden Protect barrier. Through a gap between his wings, Owen stared at Manny’s surprised expression. He wondered why. It was genuine—he sensed that much. Manny fought Mods like him before—but then again… this was the first time he fought one with this much latent experience.

The Lucario jumped away. “Heh… okay, okay…” Manny said, shaking his head. “So yeh got some skills after all… Well, lookit that. And if that’s just you on yer own…”

“Are we done fighting?” Owen asked, going into a neutral stance.

Manny vanished from view for a split-second. Owen flinched and jumped forward, narrowly dodging an attack from the rear.

“Bah, yer too good fer a sneak attack,” Manny said, shrugging. “Guess I’ll just have ter do something that won’t miss.” He aimed an Aura Sphere at Owen and fired. Owen cloaked himself in his wings for a second time, blocking it, but it didn’t work the second time. The next Aura Sphere hit him square in the chest.

Owen grunted and stumbled back. Even if he was good at dodging like Gahi, he felt just as fragile—and Manny was no lightweight. He’d only be able to take a few more of those hits.

“If Fire Trap is yer signature, then I just won’t move!” Manny announced, and then planted his feet down, moving only his paws to aim at Owen.

“Ngh—!” Owen knew that he was right. If Manny didn’t move, he wouldn’t be able to activate any of his traps. He’d have to force a movement out of him. Owen knew just the way to do it. He still had one more trick under his scales, like one last buddy long lost. Concentrated, white, whirling gusts of wind swirled around his claws. When Manny fired his first Aura Sphere, Owen countered with a slash to the wind. The resulting strike, an Air Slash, countered the Aura Sphere. The explosion obscured Manny’s view just long enough for Owen to get near Manny; all he had to do was get close. Then, he jumped around and away from Manny and launched a second Air Slash while he was confused.

“What—”

The Air Slash exploded prematurely, right in front of Manny. The concentrated wind made a shockwave that knocked the Lucario off his feet. He flew through the air and looked down. “Bah—ain’t gonna work!” he said. He fired another sphere at the ground; the Fire Trap triggered and erupted, sending rocks in all directions. Owen used his wings to block the aftermath, but Manny landed right where the explosion happened. None of the other traps ignited.

Owen cursed. “Well if you’re gonna do that, then—” Owen fired another Air Slash, but Manny knew his game. He launched an Aura Sphere in return and then hopped in the air. He stepped on the Fire Trap, but then tapped into Extremespeed, outrunning the very ignition delay of the traps. Before Owen had time to react, Manny was in front of him, too fast for Owen to use Protect this time. The blow was powerful, but not decisive; the Charizard grunted and stumbled away, clutching his chest. Manny held his paw up, aiming an Aura Sphere directly at Owen’s head.

The Charizard panted, glaring at the sphere. He felt his senses wane slightly—his vision was focused entirely on Manny. He wasn’t sure if this was just working with the heat of battle or losing himself to it. He had a lot of fight left in him—and he wanted to keep going. He saw an easy counter to stop Manny from launching an attack—at least, he thought he did. No. If he moved, Manny would just fire. If only he could rip into him. Air Slash did wonders. He wanted to see him on the ground. His mind ached for this fight.

No. Stop. Breathe.

He also didn’t want to become a Charmander again. Strategizing for something beyond the battle itself, he knew he had to surrender. He bowed his head and let his wings drop. Manny smirked, and the Sphere vanished. He leaned over and helped Owen up.

“Well, lookit you,” Manny said. “You actually stopped yerself.”

“Ugh, I think you broke something,” Owen mumbled, wincing at the pain near his core.

“Heh, maybe I overdid it a li’l,” he said. “We’ll get yeh a nice Oran Berry and it’ll heal yeh up right away. Maybe have Mispy take a look, too.”

“Yeah,” Owen said.

But Owen, despite his loss, knew that he was still relearning his old abilities. More importantly, he knew something else—that he was put in peril… and didn’t lose control. He knew to hold back. His heart rate normalized; his easy breathing calmed his aura. The flame at the tip of his tail flared up with confidence. He was in control. This body was his.

A passing thought about Rim flashed in Owen’s mind. If it wasn’t for her, Owen knew he’d still be a Charmeleon, brooding about his origin. He’d be too afraid of being out of control of his own design. Now—he was ready to take full advantage of it.
 
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Ambyssin

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I won't give too many spoilers but... you win, Amby. You were right. Not completely right, as there are obviously key and extreme differences... but Owen's backstory has a lot of similarities. A lot. And I both hate and love it. Congratulations.


Welp, I guess Owen's looking pretty fly now.

Nifty. But edgy flutter borb is still my favorite fire/flier and he's not even a pokémon. :V

For an evolution chapter, this was surprisingly quiet, though I think that's by the plot's design since this whole arc of sorts was emphasizing the perils that the head of battle could put on Owen and something about undoing all his progress and all that jazz. And the fact that something peaceful (a chess game) led him to accept his Perceive ability emphasizes that further, I guess. It also plants that sort of sinister seed of "If it wasn't for Rim, this wouldn't have happened," which is probably what the Hunters want, but I guess Owen hasn't had that "Oh crap!" moment of realization that he might be playing into their hand.

Anyway, given everything that did happen, it's fitting that he evolves surrounded by friends and family. And it seems like that's what the prose is trying to emphasize, too. Though, if I'm being honest, it's a bit disappointed that the characters got lumped together generically into "I like Team Alloy" and "Saving Guardians feels great." I think it would've been more impactful to draw attention to particularly happy memories Owen's had with them, especially if you want to go true shonen anime levels of "my friends are my power." There's also my big issue's with the prose handling Owen's inner monlogue: the mechanics. I don't know what happened here, but you've got a lot of strings of sentences starting with the same word, usually "He" or "Him." It got legitimately jarring at one point, which is the example I've quoted here:
He felt the heat swelling up rapidly ... “I’m gonna evolve, alright?”
I didn't want to copy everything, since you can just CTRL+F anyway. But, yeah, this is it. Getting inside Owen's head is great and all that jazz, but not when it comes at the cost of having two paragraphs where nearly every sentence starts with "He." Legitimately tripped me up.

Anyway, the Anam scene is, uh, a harmless non-sequitir and that's about all I've got to say on it... and the chapter as a whole, actually.

it always sorta felt like there was this… pressure, or this heat, in our chest, you know?
Okay, speaking as someone working in medicine, pressure in your chest is a bad thing. Either your heart's about to give out or a Xenomorph is about to burst out of your ribcage. ... actually, I think that'd be the most interesting thing that could possibly happen to Demitri. Yeah, let's see that happen. Death's cheap in the world, anyway!

“I don’t think we can!” Demitri said. “But… but I guess we fought enough…”
"Yeah, we need 10 hours of Vs. matches between the two of us to unlock Mewtwo!"

You lost Owen! You idiots! H-how could you—?
Tsunderetik has her priorities straight, I see.

“Eh, got a little moody when someone told him he’s good at solvin’ puzzles because that’s in his nature, the way he was designed.”

“Oh,” Willow said. Her sparks simmered down, turning into a pink mist. “Well… I guess that’s okay to be mad about.”
I look at this conversation and envision some pokemon in this world doing the exact same thing when their parents tell them that they're modest nature, when they wanted to be adamant.

“Well… I think he’ll be a little moody for a while. He always got wrapped up in his thoughts. I mean, maybe that’s part of how he was designed
Okay, I'm calling hax. Charmander doesn't get Moody. IMMERSION RUINED. WORST STORY EVER 0/10.

Rhys seemed skeptical that Manny was capable of slow burns.
... so, basically, Manny always finishes prematurely. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

He was a little disappointed that he didn’t have to do the Hot Spot dance to open the path
Owen confirmed to finally be in touch with his feminine side.

“What’s gotten into you?”
"A grass orb, a bunch of spirits, and an everstone." Sheesh, Willow was right. What kind of mother are you, Amia? smdh...

It’s tomorrow somewhere
"You got that right, pardner." [takes swig of whiskey]

Manny held his paw up, aiming an Aura Sphere directly at Owen’s head.
AIM FOR THE HORN... S!
 

canisaries

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(crossposterino)

Willow was sparkling with angry, pink energy. “He could be hurt by the Hunters alone! What kind of a mother are you?!”

“Th-that’s not—! I didn’t mean to—he’s okay! H-he’s…!” Amia sniffed.
DO NOT INSULT THE MOMMY YOU FRICK

Owen’s body shifted from red to green. Then, he grew a bit in size, followed by turning around to keep his face away from the others—it’d be rude otherwise. He tilted his head up and opened his mouth; the vine in his gut emerged, caressing the Everstone-Eviolite within. After grabbing it, he retracted the vine back into his gut and returned to his normal size and color. He turned around and placed the stone in his lap.
Aw geez Owen, no throwing up your stomach-vine at the dinner table

I didn’t quite expect that meeting with Brandon to go that way, but in the end, I suppose we’ve captured two Pidgey with one ball.
narrows eyes what do you know about that

Owen figured that they were just trying not to startle him, and while he appreciated the thought, he was hoping for at least a few cheers, or perhaps fanfare from ADAM’s strange body.
This is so epic, ADAM play Celebration by Kool & the Gang

He fired another sphere at the ground; the Fire Trap triggered and erupted, sending rocks in all directions.
oh god oh frick it's a stealth rock watch out owen they love charizard flesh!!!

---

Hmh, so I hate to say this, but I feel like the punch of Owen finally becoming a Charizard was kind of muted by it happening during a pretty mundane event. I do like the tidal wave of memories that came with it, though. But I think I also expected a bit more description of the transformation itself from Owen's perspective? You could argue that he was so deep inside his memory that he couldn't feel it, but it doesn't really match with the part where he's said to hold back his tears, as that requires you to be conscious of your own body, and I feel like growing a new set of limbs would be a stronger sensation.
 

namohysip

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And the fact that something peaceful (a chess game) led him to accept his Perceive ability emphasizes that further, I guess.
I didn't really realize it at first, but I guess having Owen's "stable" evolution into Charizard being a quiet one was going to be a little... experimental. I guess, now that I think about it, all the past evolutions have been during moments of peril, and then the evolution itself was a climax of the fight, in a way. But not really here. The fight happened after, and it was just breaking in the bod'! Ehh... I personally prefer a quiet evolution in this case. It fits the narrative, even if it's not quite exciting. Owen needs a break.

And it seems like that's what the prose is trying to emphasize, too. Though, if I'm being honest, it's a bit disappointed that the characters got lumped together generically into "I like Team Alloy" and "Saving Guardians feels great."
I have since rectified this by adding more narration to actually demonstrate these memories, including some new scenes to give (desperately) more development to Team Alloy via short flashback! Kinda. It helps... a little...

There's also my big issue's with the prose handling Owen's inner monlogue: the mechanics. I don't know what happened here, but you've got a lot of strings of sentences starting with the same word, usually "He" or "Him."
Yeah I touched up the prose here as well. How clumsy of me.

I feel like the punch of Owen finally becoming a Charizard was kind of muted by it happening during a pretty mundane event.
So as mentioned above, this was a stylistic choice, and I guess it was a bit of a gamble. Gonna be hit or miss here, but due to the plot, it's sorta a bad idea to evolve Owen in the middle of the fight. Owen probably made a good choice by not evolving in a stressful environment.

I think I also expected a bit more description of the transformation itself from Owen's perspective?
This is actually something I'll look into a bit more. Technically the transformation happens before all the memories come flooding back, so I should probably make that more clear as well.

Anyway, chapter 34 is incoming! It's a bit of a bridging chapter before the final arc. Sorry for the delay. I added, and then polished, a totally new scene for some setup later, and so on. Took longer than expected.
 
Chapter 34 - Rest and Recovery

namohysip

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Thanks for the feedback, guys! I handled you elsewhere. Now for the next chapter...


Chapter 34 – Rest and Recovery

With the confirmation that Owen was stable in his fully evolved form, Amia was more than happy to take him to Kilo Village with Rhys and Zena to find some supplies to repair his inventory bag. Anam, missing the warmth of the sun and the outdoors that the headquarters simply could not provide, tagged along with them with the intention of returning home. He heard that some of the Pokémon were wondering how he and James were doing, anyway.

At first, Owen was worried that his strange appearance might make the Kilo Villagers worried. After all, compared to a normal Charizard, his proportions were different—not to mention the horns. But Amia assured him that it was fine.

“We’ll just say you’re a southern Charizard,” Amia said. “If a Vulpix can be icy and we pass it off as southern, there’s no way they’ll look twice if we just say you’re from the south. Annexation was only a few decades ago, so I think we can afford that explanation.”

“And you’re with me!” Anam said. “They’ll know you’re safe.”

They appeared in the central arrival area in a flash of light. They stepped off the giant Waypoint; Owen marveled at how properly sized everything was now that he was as tall as most of the others. “Wow…” he said. “I kinda feel like I fit in with the other Hearts, now. Everything’s at the right size.”

“Your size is much more fitting, now, Owen,” Zena commented. “I can almost talk to you at eye level, now.” Though, not quite. She still had to look down from her normal stance.

“That’s good,” Rhys said. “This is technically the first time you’ve ever come to Kilo Village in this form. We were very careful to make sure you didn’t before.”

“Yeah, I don’t have any memories coming back about here now that I’m a Charizard,” he said. “So that’s good—I didn’t accidentally, you know…”

“I will get the supplies for your bag, Owen,” Rhys said. “Why don’t you and the others follow Anam to the Association to catch up with Nevren?”

“Oh, that’s a great idea! You know, Rhys, what if we gave Owen’s old Everstone to the rest of Team Alloy? That should prevent them from evolving. They can go on a little Mission together! Maybe with you as an escort? Or me.” Amia looked down at Owen, smiling.

“Or me,” Zena spoke up. “I wouldn’t mind, now that I also know the Suppression Aura if it’s needed.”

“You know, I haven’t gone on a normal Mission in a while,” Owen said. “Feels like forever! Oh, but it’s already starting to get a little late in the afternoon…”

“It could always be a quick one,” Amia offered. “But we do need to make sure they don’t evolve near you. Not yet. So, if you do go, make sure they keep that Everstone near them.”

“…What do you mean, not yet?” Owen asked. “I thought I was over it. Isn’t it okay now? I can help calm them down if they aren’t ready!”

“No, that’s… that’s not it,” Amia said. “There’s still something we need to be careful about, Owen. Don’t you remember?”

“Remember…? No, I’m… I mean, I’m still kinda remembering stuff,” he said. “I didn’t take the time to think back yet. But it feels like… there’s still stuff missing. So, I think it’s still coming back to me.”

“Hmm…” Amia said. “Well… if they ever evolve in front of you—don’t get too close to them, okay?”

Owen hummed uncertainly. “Don’t get… too close. Okay.” Perhaps the black sparks that erupted from them could set him off. He still had to be careful about stressful situations, now that he thought about it. He had to meditate often. Even now, he felt the itch for battle. He hoped that would go away soon.

The Charizard nodded, but then caught a few glances directed at him.

“Hey, look at you!” said a Golem that seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps they had run into each other before his last reset. “Did you evolve? I never saw a Charizard before!”

“I have, but you look more… slim!” commented a Noivern next to Golem. “It’s interesting! Are you from a different part of the region? Maybe the south? I heard the Pokémon can be pretty different down there.”

“Y-yeah! I think I am! Must be why I look so different, ha… Southern, yeah.” Owen sighed. He passed as foreign. That was as much as he could hope for, he supposed. But then again, foreign wasn’t very far; as far as he knew, this was the only landmass in the whole world, beyond Zero Isle and that factory.

Suddenly, Owen spotted a few kids running over.

“Goodra Anam! You’re back!” said a little

“Goodra, Goodra!” called a little Salandit riding atop a Salazzle’s head.

“Association Head Goodra—you’re…!” Salazzle blinked. Owen recognized her—based on the lack of a scar—as Sugar. “What happened? Where have you been?”

“It’s okay!” Anam said. “I was on a big, big mission! But I’m back now, and it’s okay! I’ve been doing blessings and stuff, too! But I was all holed up in the office during that, so I guess I never walked in the sun for a while…”

“Were you successful?”

“I’m still doing it! But I had some time to come back, since we’re still looking around. Did Nevren tell you all about the artifacts we’re trying to gather?”

“Y-yes! In fact, my sister has been looking far when missions are slow…” Sugar tilted her head so the Salandit on top didn’t fall during his shuffling. “But they’re running out of safe places to search.”

“Nearly lost my wing,” Noivern mumbled, looking away.

“Then they must be in the dangerous ones!” Anam said. “Don’t worry. We can handle those. But first, I need to see Nevren! Is he in my room?”

“He should be. A-and it’s good to see you again, Goodra!” Sugar gave a little nod. She looked up at the Salandit. “Come, Saffron. Let’s go home.”

“Thanks!” Anam giggled and waved. Then, the slimy Pokémon climbed the stairs and headed into the Heart Headquarters. Owen was careful to not slip on the slime on his way in.

“Wow, it’s a little cramped in here, isn’t it?” Owen said.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Amia said. “I think you’re just too used to being so cute and small!”

“M-Mom…”

“Ohh, I’m sorry, dear. I couldn’t resist. But it’s so new to stand next to you and be shorter! Alex is so proud, dear. He wanted me to let you know.”

“Right…” Owen sighed. “Well, let’s just see what Nevren found for us. And I want to know if he knew that I could evolve and handle it or not.”

“Well, he’s a bit difficult to read, dear. Don’t forget that he’s an Alakazam—I feel like he’ll only really let you to know the truth if he wants you to.”

“Comforting.” Owen snorted. “But I think my Perception and stuff will make that a little hard for him.”

“If I sense he is trying to deceive you,” Zena said, “I will be sure he stays hydrated.”

They entered the office Nevren was looking over some of the newer reports that came in. He didn’t even know who it was that visited this time. “Ah, more information? If you have a report, please leave it on the desk.”

“It’s me, Nevren!” Anam said. “Oh, and Owen! Look!”

Nevren finally raised his head. His eyes lifted. “Owen! You evolved!” he said. “My goodness, when did that happen?”

“Just today,” Owen said proudly, hands on his hips. “I’ve been feeling pretty good about it, if you ask me. A whole day earlier! Not even sunset.”

“Well, not sunset here,” said Amia. “It’s probably already quite late at Hot Spot Cave, and we just can’t tell since it’s underground.”

“Oh, yeah,” Owen nodded. “It’s crazy what a little warping around can do to time.”

“Well, the position of the sun,” Nevren said. “After all, if you move fast enough, you can outpace the time of day by the sun’s position. Or you could cut the day’s length in half. The planet isn’t very large, unfortunately.”

“Unfortunately?” Amia repeated. “What an odd word, Nevren. I think the planet is just fine!”

“Well, it’s a bit on the small side, wouldn’t you think?” Nevren said. “The living population can’t be more than a few million.”

“That’s—a very big number, Nevren!” Amia said. “Honestly!” she giggled. “Such grand statements. The stars are too far away to think of other worlds.”

“Indeed, they are,” Nevren said. “Well! Owen, how are you enjoying your new body?”

“I love it,” Owen said. “I feel like I’m finally in the right scales. And the wings are really cool, too.” He flapped them lightly, careful not to blow at the many reports on the table. “But, about that…” he said. “Nevren, why did you… give me that stone?”

“The stone?” Nevren said. “Ahh… I imagine you figured it out by now—that I gave it to you because I was afraid the Suppression Aura wouldn’t be enough to contain you if you went berserk.”

“The—oh, right.” He glanced at Zena, then his mother.

“And the others, as they learn how to duplicate it,” Nevren said. “You understand. In case Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi lose themselves on their next evolution.”

“O-oh…” Owen said. He reconsidered his planned questions. “So… you were just making sure that…?”

Nevren sighed. “There were three options,” he said. “The first option was to continue your evolving over and over until you were finally stable enough to not reset. We have done that for a long time. You weren’t dangerous if we knew how to contain you. The second option would be what I did—keep your evolution suppressed outright, in case you became too powerful or too risky to put in your final form, even for a moment. With your Mystic powers, you were starting to resist the memory-loss effects of the Suppression Aura. If you went berserk, there was no telling whether you would be able to revert back. Then, we would have an Owen that was irreparably… damaged. So, we suppressed your aura until we were certain that you were stable enough to handle it.”

“I guess… hm,” Owen said. “Guess it’s a good thing I was stable, huh?”

“I could sense it. Rhys could, too. The way your aura feels now, compared to the other times, is… different.” Amia said. “You’re… stable. But—don’t push yourself too hard, okay? We still need to be careful…”

“Perhaps think about me or the others if you need to calm down,” Zena offered.

“I know,” Owen said. “I’ll even have my Mystic power help a little, right? Nevren?”

“Hmm, in theory, that could very well work,” he said. “Mystic power could calm the…” Nevren paused, considering this. “Hm, actually—would you mind if I wrote some notes down? Thank you for the visit, I appreciate it. But I need to consider a few things. Ah—and there’s a sighting in the Frozen Oceanside to the north. Undoubtedly Ice. Perhaps prepare a team tomorrow?”

“O-oh! Okay!” Amia said. “Thanks? And, er, good luck with the notes?”

Owen nodded. “Um, Nevren?” he said. “What was option three?”

“Hm? Three? Ah, yes—well, if we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you.”

Zena tensed.

“O-oh, that’s… that’s good.” Owen gulped. “Well, um, thanks for the info.”

“Yes, I shall report to you my findings sometime tomorrow. Thank you.” He was already face-deep in his notes.

Owen slowly stepped out, hesitant to even make a sound. Amia gently reached up to hold his shoulder. He glanced back and tittered once they were outside. “I—guess I can’t blame him. He’s very… straightforward, and…”

“Utilitarian, perhaps,” Amia sighed. “A little too much. But that’s Nevren for you.”

“Perhaps he should be the Ice Guardian,” Zena mumbled.

Anam nodded. “I wouldn’t let him, though. I’d just… um… let you live in my Orb, or something! Like what Manny did! Except, um… maybe I’d find a way to not kill you when I did that. I think there’s a way. Umm…”

Owen sighed. “At least I’m past that,” he said. “Glad I waited to evolve.”

“We should take a look at that Ice area, huh? I guess that’s one little disadvantage to evolving,” Owen said. “Now that I’m part Flying, I don’t have a total advantage against it. But hey, Fire, right?”

“Frozen Oceanside has a lot of Water Types as well, Owen,” Amia said. “I think you should stay back for this one. No matter what form you take—your normal self or Grass—you won’t be in a good position. Why don’t you let us handle this one?”

Owen frowned. “Well—I mean, I guess so.”

“Don’t you worry,” Amia said. “I think we’ll have a great team! Well, I might stay behind, too. After our encounter with Brandon, maybe bringing the Fire Guardian to the Ice Guardian would give the wrong impression.”

“Are we sure it’s the Ice Guardian, though?” Owen said. “I mean, the Guardian could be throwing us off. What if it’s actually the Dark Guardian or something? Willow’s the Fairy Guardian but she lived in a field like where Klent lived. And Anam’s the Ghost Guardian but he lives in town! Well, lived. Now he’s with us. So…”

“I don’t like Ice,” Anam said. “It makes my goo all crackly and hard.”

“But as the Ghost Guardian, surely you would be able to handle that,” Rhys said.

Anam shook his head. “I think the others will be okay, right? I’ll… um… I’ll go on a scouting mission! Yeah. To one of the more dangerous places, like… um… oh! How about Dark Mist Swamp?”

“That’s… a very bad idea,” Rhys said. “Dark Mist Swamp has a poison so potent that not even Steel Types like myself can last in it.”

“Yeah, but did we ever bring a Mystic close enough to feel if one of us live there? We should try!” Anam said.

“Oh, maybe I can—” Owen caught Amia’s look. “M-maybe I’ll… just… go on a mission today and train with the others at home tomorrow, or something.”

“That’s better,” Amia said, giving a firm squeeze on the Charizard’s shoulder.

With that, they gathered supplies for Owen’s bag—and stopped by Sugar ‘n Spice for some treats—and returned home. Anam ended up coming with them back to Hot Spot, saying that Nevren let him take a break from all the paperwork. The others assumed this meant giving Nevren a break from having Anam near paperwork.

Owen was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t run into Deca along the way.

<><><>​

“Hey, um, Zena?” Willow said from atop Owen’s head, seated right between his eyes.

“Hmm? Yes?” The Milotic asked, looking at the water deeper in the cave. She had come across it during one of her morning strolls in the caverns and had visited there every day since. It was warm, but still far enough from the magma that it was only like a nice bath, rather than something for cooking.

“Tell me more about that friend. Because I keep forgetting who it is. Anam reminded you?”

“Friend?” Owen asked. “I think I forgot about that, too.”

“I’m still really upset that I didn’t remember her until now,” Zena said, huffing. “How could I? She was wonderful, and I forgot in my isolation, I’m sure. But now that I’m training, maybe my head is starting to clear up.” She breathed slowly. “She was a Lugia. Her name was Emily. She was so strong… Now that I think about it, she had a lot of Mystic properties to her. Maybe she was, but I can’t remember it clearly. But it couldn’t have been Water… I remember I had it while she was still around. Maybe she still is alive…! Because, well…” She trailed off. “I haven’t seen her in my spirit world. Surely she’d visit.”

Owen dipped his claws into the warm water. It didn’t quite appeal to him in either of his forms. Too warm for his Grassy self, too wet for his Fiery self. “How come Anam reminded you of her?” he asked.

“I’m… not sure. I don’t remember,” Zena said. “I just need to clear my head more, I suppose. Maybe it was her personality. But Emily… I want to meet her again. I think I know where I can find her, if you’d like to come with me. And… hmm… I don’t really know who else.”

“Where would she be?”

“The ocean,” Zena said.

“…Okay…” Willow said. “And where in the ocean?”

“Anywhere,” Zena said. “She’d know where you are. She always did… Yes, I remember now—she used to rescue Pokémon that were stranded in the ocean all the time! That was her… I suppose her talent. She was a healer, like Mispy.”

“And if she knew where everyone was, maybe she had some sort of Perception like I did,” Owen said, feeling a rare sense of kinship. “Wait, does that mean she was Synthetic?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Zena said. “Oh—we just have to meet her.” The Milotic seemed excited, now. “Tomorrow. Let’s go to the beach tomorrow and find her!”

Owen grinned. “That sounds like a great idea!” Aside from the water.

“Okay!” Willow said.

“Owen?” someone called from behind.

He looked back and saw a Decidueye. “Oh, James!” Owen said. It had been so long, he nearly forgot about him. Between Anam being at the Heart Headquarters so often and keeping his spirits withdrawn, he hadn’t seen James in days. “How’re you doing?”

“Quite well,” James said. “I was sent here to deliver a message: Mispy orders you to take them on a mission.”

“She orders me?” Owen asked.

“As the leader of Team Alloy, she said,” James clarified.

Owen’s tail flared up. “I thought I was the leader now, or something.”

“She takes it back.”

Zena giggled. “I thought Gahi would be the one most upset about you evolving first. I guess Mispy had it bottled up inside. You should really be careful, Owen.”

“I have, like, all the Type advantages over her, now!” Owen protested.

“You’re free to dispute it,” James replied. “I am only relaying the message.”

Owen huffed. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Zena, do, uh, d’you want to come as our Suppressor, just in case? Five is a little unwieldy for a mission, but it should be okay. I mean, who’s gonna reprimand us, right? Anam knows why.”

Zena nodded. “I’d love to, Owen.”

<><><>​

“It’s kinda weird that they actually let us go,” Owen said, walking through Kilo Village under the late-noon sun. “But we made a promise that you wouldn’t evolve, so we’re going to take on a not-so-dangerous mission, alright? And make sure you stay close to that bag.”

“Right,” Demitri said. “And we’re safe from Rim, right?”

“If she doesn’t want to bother you, Owen,” Zena said, “then hopefully that will continue to be the case…”

“Mnn, I’m not so sure about that,” Owen said, crossing his arms. “But at least now I’ll be able to sense her way before she tries to attack!” He grinned, showing his teeth.

Zena flinched slightly—they seemed a lot sharper now that he was a Charizard.

Owen glanced at Zena. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Oh—yes, I’m fine.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry,” Owen said. “I’m still trying to get used to reading your kind of body language. I thought you were about to attack me or something!”

“Oh, not at all!” Zena said. “I was just surprised at how sharp your teeth looked.”

“Sharp?” Owen ran his tongue along a few of them. “I guess they’re a little sharp.”

He looked back at the rest of his team. Gahi ended up hovering on Demitri’s left, with Mispy on his right. Owen’s eyes lingered on the three. This was the first time that they would be going on a mission together as a full Team Alloy, including knowledge of what they used to be. ‘Team Alloy’ wasn’t complete, but it was close.

His heart fluttered—he barely knew them, at least with his current memories, yet it felt like he was catching up with old friends.

The pang of frustration he felt about those sealed memories was stifled when he spotted many other Hearts walking in and out of the main building. Owen wobbled where he stood, watching all of the bodies moving at once. Mispy jabbed at his back to snap him back to attention.

“You okay?” Mispy asked, the first to enter the headquarters.

“Yeah—sorry,” he said. “Got distracted.”

“Hey, look,” Demitri said. “Isn’t that the scarred Salazzle you were talking about? Spice?”

Indeed, it was. Spice was looking at the board, checking the notices with a Delphox standing next to her.

“Oh, goodness,” Zena said, quickly averting her eyes.

“Yeah, it looks pretty nasty,” Owen said. “But I heard that it doesn’t actually hurt. It just looks really bad.”

When Spice turned around, it was unmistakable. He winced at the sight of the scar.

Spice scoffed at him, clearly used to such a reaction. “Like what you see?”

“Um—yes! No! Wait—no! I mean—it’s okay,” Owen said.

Demitri gave a polite bow. “Sorry. Owen knows you from your chocolate store.”

“Owen?” Spice looked at him, but then elbowed the Delphox, eyes wide. “Leo, look. That’s the Charmand—well, Charizard I was talking about. The one from the mission.” She tapped her chest. “Holy Mew! Congratulations on evolving, little guy!”

Not little. “Thanks!” Owen said, grinning. “We’re actually looking for a mission. Are, uh… huh. Slim pickings…” Or rather, no pickings. The board was devoid of missions. It happened from time to time, according to what Demitri had told Owen before, but it was always a disappointment. Then again, they were pretty late on grabbing them this time.

“Yeah, bit of a slow day, unfortunately,” Leo said. “I was thinking about just taking the day off to—”

Owen tilted his body to see a single mission still present.

“Oh, don’t bother with that one,” Leo said. “It’s cursed.”

“Oh, stuff it,” Spice said, shaking her head. “Hey, do you want to take this one?” she asked. “Leo’s too much of a wimp to take it on.”

“Excuse me, I am not a wimp. I’ll have you know, as Team Alight’s leader, I’m the least wimpy of—Yowch!”

Spice whipped Leo on his backside with her tail.

“Here, Charizard,” Spice said, passing the mission posting.

Outlaw Aerodactyl recovery mission – research task – Void Forest.

“Research task?” Owen mumbled. “Wait, Aerodactyl…” Familiar. That name was incredibly familiar. But he couldn’t place why. He knew he’d be standing for the whole day if he didn’t move on. He continued to read.

Summer, moon 3, day 28. Outlaw Aerodactyl escaped custody and fled to Void Forest, followed by relocating southwest to the Abyssal Borderlands. Follow his path and search for any signs of him, and arrest if possible. Otherwise, return after a thorough search. As per protocol, do not approach the Chasm of the Void. Do not enter the Abyss. Do not interact with southern anomalies. Do not touch dark clouds.

All the same, typical warnings for any mission to the southern area of Kilo. Owen considered it almost a routine disclaimer. “Sure, we’ll take it on.”

“Well, you heard them,” Leo sighed. “My hands are tied.”

Owen appreciated Leo’s generosity. “Alright, I guess we’ll get going!” he said. “You guys ready?”

“A simple recovery mission doesn’t sound too bad. This Aerodactyl… won’t be trouble, will he?”

“He won’t be around,” Spice said with a snort. “That mission statement is too hopeful. He’s long gone and fled someplace else, but maybe we can find a sign or two of what he took.”

“Okay, got it,” Owen said. If that was the case, it was the perfect mission for them to take.

Owen barely had enough time to look over the sheet again while he walked down the stairs.

“Owen, watch where you’re walking,” Demitri said. “You could trip down the stairs.”

“Huh?” Owen asked, glancing away from the paper. “No, it’s fine. I can see the stairs.”

Demitri stared incredulously. Mispy quickly wrapped a vine around Demitri, sensing his misstep. “Uff—sorry. Um, Owen? You aren’t even looking at the stairs.”

Zena, meanwhile, struggled with her serpentine body going along the steps, nearly rolling the whole way down when she lost her grip. Owen brushed his tail in front of her to stop one of those falls. She gave him a grateful little smile.

“I know,” Owen said. “It’s fine. I’m getting better with this whole Perception thing. I kinda practiced it all night in Enet’s den. No light, so I had to see in other ways. I can walk without seeing.”

“Oh.”

“Wish I had that,” Gahi mumbled.

They passed over the Waypoint and took time to reacquaint themselves with their new surroundings, from the gray ground to the dead trees. Zena flinched at the sudden change in atmosphere, as well as the ominous, damp chill that ran through the ground. It reminded her too much of her old caves. She silently slithered a bit closer to Owen for his warmth.

“So… Creepy? Not creepy? What’s the verdict here?” Demitri asked.

“I’m going with creepy,” Owen said, sighing. “Let’s just go through. Be careful around here.” He read through the mission prompt’s more intricate details. “Lots of feral Ghosts that like to frighten you to feed on your panicked life energy, or something. They eat the flare that comes off of you when you panic. I actually read that they turn that flare into energy. Kinda cool, when you think about it.”

“Oh. Great,” Gahi said. “Spirit-nibblers.”

“So basically,” Demitri said, fiddling with his claws, “if we stay calm, they won’t be attracted to us?”

“Hope so.”

This was not the case. Right when they passed through the first distortion, with the Dungeon’s typical, structured walls rising above their heads, the atmosphere instantly intensified into one of chilling cold. Haunter in particular plagued this portion of the Dungeon, rising from the ground or walls. They attempted to claw at Owen and the others, but Team Alloy was smarter and sharper. Owen focused on his fire attacks here, figuring that they were the most familiar, and dispatched of them with ease. Gahi had an easy time swiping at them with his high speeds; Mispy kept any small damage from piling up.

Zena even managed to frighten a few of the feral Ghosts away by summoning her own Water spirits to briefly fight alongside them. The team joked with one another about the Ghosts bring frightened by spirits.

Unfortunately, Demitri kept attracting more.

“Th-thuh-that was th-the last one, right?” Demitri said.

“Maybe, if you stopped getting scared!” Gahi hissed. “C’mon, thicken those scales! Oooo, I’m a big scary Ghost! I’m gonna eat yer aura!” The Vibrava opened his jaw as wide as it could go, chomping right next to Demitri. Owen had a feeling that it would have been more effective if he was still a Trapinch.

The Fraxure screamed anyway.

Owen absently wondered if this was offensive to Anam. He glanced at the mission paper’s prompts upon passing through the seventh segment.

Upon entering the Dungeon gap, do not proceed. Aerodactyl did not enter the Dungeon depths, and instead exited via the left distortion. Per natural precautionary measures, do not sleep in the Dungeon gap.

“Don’t sleep? What?” Gahi said.

Owen summarized the rest. “Looks like sometimes, when sleeping here, explorers wake up in a completely different place, sometimes with a whole day missing from their memory. That’s… comforting.”

“Okay.” At this point, Demitri was a trembling wreck. “I’m done. Let’s go.”

“Can’t go yet, scalebag,” Gahi said. “We still gotta make that last trip ter the Abyssal whatevers.”

“Uh, Abyssal Borderlands,” Owen said, checking the top of the mission statement. “It’s not too far from here once we leave. C’mon.”

Demitri stuck close to Mispy’s side, practically brushing up against her scales. She leaned back against him, nibbling at her lower lip. “It’s okay,” she said quietly, though she wrapped her vines around him while they walked.

Gahi clicked his jaws. The cold atmosphere immediately let up. The Dungeon’s exit led them to another open field, this time lined with lifeless, tanned rocks. “At least we didn’t see any weird black clouds,” he said. “Maybe they’re just rumors that the Hearts are too spooked ter verify.”

They continued to walk, but then Demitri gulped. “Is that…?”

The Chasm of the Void. Approximately a fourth the length of Kilo Village, the giant crater looked like a pool of motionless, black ink. No matter what angle the sun hit it, the bottom was never visible, and whatever that black substance was didn’t reflect any light back. The ‘Abyss’ was that blackness.

“So, stay away from that,” Owen said to them. “Let’s just walk kinda close, look for anything out of the ordinary, and head back.”

“Aside from the big, black void right there?” Gahi said. “What kinda Dungeon anomaly is that supposed to be?!”

“It might actually just be a Guardian,” Owen said.

Yep, Star replied.

Owen jolted. “S-Star!” he said. Can you stop doing that?!

Sorry, sorry! I just caught word that you’re heading to that place. You know that’s a restricted area, right?

I mean, yeah, but we’re Hearts. We can go here. And that’s part of the mission.

Okay. But be careful, alright? Seriously,
do not get close to that thing. The Dark Guardian is nice, but… I don’t know enough about him to feel safe about it. Guy’s weird.

“Is Owen okay?” Demitri said.

“Star,” Mispy said.

“Hmph,” Zena rolled her eyes. “It’s probably not that important.”

If you say so, Owen said dismissively.

Okay no, listen, I know you think I’m kinda shady and stuff, but seriously, do not get too close. I get bad vibes from the guy, just like Anam’s realm. I hate going there. Okay?

Owen’s hands ached at the thought of Anam’s Ghost Realm. “Let’s just be careful,” Owen told the others, beating his wings a few times to keep them limber.

“Let’s start searching for any clues of Aerodactyl,” Owen said.

“Can’t you just use your Perception and get this done in, like, five seconds?” Demitri asked.

“That’s true, Owen. Why don’t you use this as a moment to get some practice in? We’ll check… er…” Zena paused. “If you can see everything around is, there isn’t much we can do to help, is there?”

“Well, it might be a little unpolished,” Owen said. “So, I’ll have you guys check out a few places that seem suspicious.” He looked at the mission statement. “It’s only this part of the Chasm that we have to check, so we don’t even have to walk around the whole thing.”

“Good,” Demitri said. Mispy nodded with him.

Owen closed his eyes and tried to put his Perception to use again. This time, he closed his eyes and tried to tune out his other senses, too—focusing entirely on his surroundings. He felt every detail. Every pebble and every leaf. He felt the rocks beneath the surface. The—

Owen slammed face-first into the ground.

“O-Owen!” Zena rushed toward him, pulling him up. “What happened?”

“Unghh, who pushed me?” Owen said, rubbing his bleeding snout.

Mispy approached to heal him, but then said, “You fell.”

“You did, Owen. You just… took a step and fell forward. Are you okay?”

“I think I tried sensing too hard,” Owen said. “I’ll… I’m gonna sit down next time.”

“Did you sense anything suspicious?” Zena asked.

Owen shook his head. He then looked at the Chasm and its infinite darkness, shivering. “One more check. Then let’s go.”

“No objections here,” Demitri said, hugging himself with his tiny arms.

Owen breathed slowly. It was a lot like meditating, now that he was in a sitting position. He flicked his huge tail and wrapped it in front of him to take up as little space as possible, and then concentrated. The rocks, the leaves, underground…

Then his senses touched upon the Chasm, and then into the Abyss.

Owen gulped, heartrate increasing. He kept going, just in case. Just a little further and he’d scan as much as he could without feeling overwhelmed again. He never scanned something this in depth before—that he could remember, at least—but it was for the mission. Maybe Aerodactyl dropped something in the Abyss?

It was just more and more darkness. It kept going. He didn’t know how far the bottom was, but with his powers still awakening, he couldn’t go very far. Then he felt something else. Arms? No. Not quite. But it was something. They were swirling inside, slithering in the inky blackness.

Then, suddenly, the slithering stopped. He saw eyes. They stared at him.

Hello.

Owen’s whole body lunged backwards and he broke out of his trance. “AUGH! M-Mispy!” He shook away the two huge vines that had wrapped around him.

“What are you doing?!” Mispy hissed.

“What’re you talking about?! I was Perceiving!”

“No!” Mispy said, thwacking him on the head with her left vine.

“Ow!” Owen snapped, smacking her vine away. “I think this whole leader thing is getting to your head!”

Mispy smacked him again. “Look!”

Zena had been trying to pull him away by the arm with her ribbons; he only now noticed.

“What?” Owen said, but then turned to the Abyss.

He was only a few steps away from falling in.

“W-wait, when did I—”

“Let’s go,” Mispy said, pulling Owen back. “We’re leaving.”

“W-wait! I don’t think I finished scanning!”

“We aren’t gonna find anything, Owen,” Demitri said, shivering. “That’s what the mission said could’ve happened. Let’s just report back and go home; I’m done.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda bored, too,” Gahi said. “Finding a trace of Aero ain’t gonna do much now. Been so long, y’know?”

“But—” Owen protested.

I’m leader,” Mispy said, searching for their Badge. “We’re done.”

Owen’s fire glowed challengingly, but he relented with a smoky huff. “Fine. I need some sleep, anyway. I think I’m losing it…” Maybe Leo was right. This place was cursed.

Mispy found one of their Badges and pulled it out.

And what did you learn? Star quipped.

Owen ignored her.

“When we get home,” Owen said to the others, “I’m taking a nap.”

“Likewise,” Zena said.

The rest of Team Alloy agreed. In a flash of light, they vanished for Kilo Village.

Hello?
 
Last edited:

canisaries

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“We’ll just say you’re a southern Charizard,” Amia said. “If a Vulpix can be icy and we pass it off as southern, there’s no way they’ll look twice if we just say you’re from the south. Annexation was only a few decades ago, so I think we can afford that explanation.”
"To really sell it, you should start working on your 'Howdy'."

You know, Rhys, what if we gave Owen’s old Everstone to the rest of Team Alloy?
Uhh, maybe clean it first, though. Just saying.

The Charizard nodded, but then caught a few glances directed at him.

“Hey, look at you! Did you evolve? I never saw a Charizard before!”

“I have, but you look more… slim! It’s interesting! Are you from a different part of the region?”

“Y-yeah! I think I am! Must be why I look so different, ha… Southern, yeah.” Owen sighed. He passed as foreign. That was as much as he could hope for, he supposed. But then again, foreign wasn’t very far; as far as he knew, this was the only landmass in the whole world, beyond Zero Isle and that factory.
“Y-yes! In fact, we’ve been looking far…” One of the Pokémon said. “But we’re running out of safe places to search.”
Hmm, I can get what you're doing with not specifying who or what these rando mon are, but it makes it pretty hard to visualize - and having no dialogue tags for the two reacting to Owen made me have to reread the passage a few times to realize who was talking to whom. I think it'd be okay with just their species mentioned, no need to build any more character for these nobodies.

“Well, it’s a bit on the small side, wouldn’t you think?” Nevren said. “The living population can’t be more than a few million.”

“That’s—a very big number, Nevren!” Amia said. “Honestly!” she giggled. “Such grand statements. The stars are too far away to think of other worlds.”
hmmmmmmmmmmm

With your Mystics powers,
Is there a typo here?

“I don’t like Ice,” Anam said. “It makes my goo all crackly and hard.”
And it gets everywhere.

Owen was slightly disappointed that he hadn’t run into Deca along the way.
<><><>​
One newline seems to be missing.

“No, I don’t think so,” Zena said. “Oh—we just have to meet her.” The Milotic seemed excited, now. “Tomorrow. Let’s go to the beach tomorrow and find her!”

Owen grinned. “That sounds like a great idea!” Aside from the water.
BEACH EPISODE BEACH EPISODE

“Excuse me, I am not a wimp. I’ll have you know, as Team Alight’s leader, I’m the least wimpy of—Yowch!”

Spice whipped Leo on his backside with her tail.
yeah why do i feel like she's no stranger to that move
 

namohysip

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Hmm, I can get what you're doing with not specifying who or what these rando mon are, but it makes it pretty hard to visualize
Mm, I understand. I think I'll patch that up a little.
One newline seems to be missing.
I think part of this has to do with the new forum format. Weird. I'll take a look at how it behaves when I port in the edited version and see if this will be a recurring issue that I'll need to look at...
yeah why do i feel like she's no stranger to that move
Hey now, let's not stereotype anything here!

Anyway, thanks for the feedback, Canis! Next chapter will be dropping in a few hours, and I we're finally (for real this time) entering the last arc of Act I, or at least, the action will start rising again. This chapter was a bit of a breather. And the next one, for most of it. But then... well... yeah. I hope I can top it off well~
 
Chapter 35 - The Hunters' Leader

namohysip

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Chapter 35 – The Hunters’ Leader

Upon returning home, Owen felt exhausted. Despite not needing sleep, he wanted it. Zena offered for him to rest near the pond inside her home again, and he happily agreed, though he realized soon after that his bed might not be big enough for him. That gave him an idea. He was planning on visiting the Grass Realm while he slept—or was that technically meditating?—so he felt it’d only be appropriate if he switched to his Grassy form for the night. His tail curled around his body and his limbs slowly dissolved into a tapestry of vines. He then focused on his wings; they went from green and leafy to actual, thick leaves, which he used as blankets.

Then, his limb-vines twisted around the leaves of his tiny bed. He curled around his self-made nest and closed his eyes, though he could still sense Zena staring at him.

“Uh, is something wrong?” Owen asked.

“N-no, nothing,” Zena looked away. “I was just… interested in how you decided to sleep,” she said.

“Oh. Uh, is it weird?” Owen looked up, simultaneously part and on top of his bed.

“…Yes. That’s a bit strange, Owen.”

“I mean, it’s no weirder than you becoming water and sleeping as the lake, right?”

“I… I suppose so,” Zena said. “You aren’t going to turn into a giant flower next, are you?”

“I don’t think I’ll try,” Owen said. He curled around again, readjusting his vines. Something about resting against a thick bed of vines felt familiar.

Slowly, he drifted off to sleep.

<><><>​

Nevren returned to Hot Spot Cave under the cover of darkness. Lit only by the mushroom glow, he tilted his head to the side and narrowly dodged a Moonblast.

“Sorry!” Willow said.

“Quite alright,” Nevren replied.

Willow skittered toward him; Nevren held out one of his spoons for her to land on. “Are you back from your boring paperwork?” she asked.

“Yes, though I fear there is still quite a backlog remaining,” Nevren said. “Is Anam resting in his home?”

“Yep! He was talking to himself.”

“Talking… to himself? Ah, you mean to his spirits.”

“Yeah. But I dunno what he was saying.”

“Well, thank you, Willow.” He lowered his spoon and she hopped off. “What are the others doing?”

“Mostly meditating. I saw Manny trying to summon someone, but he was too blurry to see. Everyone else is just being boring so the mortals can sleep.”

“Mortals. What a funny word for the Synthetics,” Nevren said. “Well, I will be going to Anam now.”

“You sleep with Anam?” Willow gasped. “I knew it!”

“Pardon?”

“Rhys is gonna be sooo upset!”

“…Pardon?”

“You two are mates, right?” Willow asked. “You and Rhys? I thought you two were. But it’s you and Anam instead, huh? I didn’t think you’d be like that.”

Nevren stared at Willow.

“Are you the one that keeps sending Rhys love letters and Pecha berries? That’s what Demitri told me. He keeps getting them and sometimes he hugs a huuge pile of letters when he thinks nobody’s watching. You seem like you’d write a ton of letters!”

Nevren walked on. “I do not send Rhys letters. That is from an old, close friend of Rhys. They speak through telepathy, but I suppose they also enjoy physical correspondence.”

“Are they mates?” Willow asked, sparking. “Are you mad that Rhys is still in love with him? A secret admirer?”

“It’s hardly a secre—we are not mates. We never were. Rhys is with Elder.”

“Elder? That’s his name? Is he really old?” Willow hopped onto the bottom of Nevren’s mustache. “How come we never see him? Did they have a falling out? Do they have kids?”

“Two males cannot have children.”

“Not with that attitude!”

Before Nevren had a chance to reply, his bag suddenly beeped.

“What was that?” Willow asked.

“A message from the Association. I must take this. Please, some privacy.”

“Oh. Okay.” Willow hopped from his mustache and scuttled toward Enet’s home next. Upon hearing a low growl, she redirected herself to ADAM’s polished abode.

Nevren spun around and glanced at Valle in the center of town. He then turned back and went for the exit of Hot Spot, blinking once. With a simple Teleport, he was at the entrance again.

“Eon,” Nevren said into his communicator, “it is very late.”

“Actually, it’s very early.”

Nevren looked at the sky. Dark blue. “My word.”

“Nevren,” he said. “Do you still have that Waypoint set up in the Chasm?”

“That’s an ancient Waypoint, Eon, but yes, I do have it in my Badge, and it has been transferred into theirs. Do you intend to visit the Dark Guardian next with their help?”

“Later. I’m coming over first.”

“…Pardon?” Nevren said. “Was the plan not to use the Guardian’s own shroud to mask your presence while taking it down? That was the plan.”

“Owen evolved, right?” Eon asked.

“Yes, he has. But—”

“Then I’m coming over.”

“Now, Eon, I warned you that it may happen early. He’s not ready for—”

“I’m coming over.”

“Eon, no. Patience. The rest of the Alloy has not evolved. Owen’s memories are still sealed, as are theirs. And, frankly, I’m not sure if—”

“I’ll just unleash them. It’ll work out!”

“Now, Eon, the likelihood that it will ‘work out’ is—”

The communicator buzzed.

“Eon? …Eon?”

No reply.

Nevren lowered his hand, sighing. “Eon…” he grumbled, pulling out his bag to stare at a little Badge with a blue, glowing diamond in the middle. “…No. It isn’t worth it,” he muttered, closing the bag. He then looked into Hot Spot. “I suppose I should warn them.” He reentered the caves.

<><><>​

The forest within Owen’s spirit was bright as ever, and the Charizard was happy to revisit the former Grass Guardian at night. While still ‘daytime’ within this realm, Owen was mentally exhausted and wanted a break. Owen looked at his hands. Orange. He hoped he was still Grassy in the real world or he’d be waking up with some serious neck pain.

“Klent?” Owen called. “Hey, Klent! How do I look, huh?” he said.

The spirits witnessed the transformation from within, but they didn’t see him in person until just then. They recognized the form instantly—but were unnerved at how calm he was compared to their first encounter, so long ago.

“Owen,” Klent said. “You’re so… calm.” He floated a bit closer and prodded at his leg tentatively, nervously. The way Owen reacted was nothing like he’d imagined just days before.

“Calm, huh? I mean—I guess compared to how I used to be…” He rubbed his left horn nervously. “I’m sorry if me being here is bringing back any memories. I mean…”

The deceased Jumpluff shook his head. “If anything, it’s helping,” he said gently. “That was a long time ago. It’s good to see the same thing, in a different way. Amelia is a bit nervous, of course, but…”

Owen felt her presence in the bushes and nodded. “It’s alright. I figure it’s gonna be the hardest for her. I’m gonna be leaving anyway—I wanted to see Star and Hecto. Have a few questions to ask.”

“Oh? About what?”

“Just some things I saw at the factory. And maybe whatever that was that happened down south.”

“Ahh.” Klent nodded. “Well. I’ll be seeing you.”

Owen nodded and walked straight ahead, following the rules of the spirit world. The bright forest he knew transitioned into trees with a blue, ethereal glow. Owen thought back to his last time there—he was a Charizard then, too, wasn’t he? But a normal one. He knocked a claw against the sharp tip of his horns. He wasn’t quite normal this time, but… he preferred it this way.

He felt someone nearby. From the walking pattern and softness of the steps, it was pretty obvious who it was. “Hecto? Are you there?”

“Yes.”

Owen sighed. “You’re pretty much everywhere, aren’t you?”

“Not precisely everywhere,” Hecto replied. “Are you here to see Star?”

“Yeah, actually. Um, is she in her cave and stuff? I can just walk that way if you want.”

“That will be fine. I imagine you are here to discuss our encounter in the abandoned factory. About Brandon, the humans, trainers, and their culture?”

“I mean—more or less, yeah,” Owen said. “Like, why Barky wants to keep that factory there when he can just destroy it whenever he wants through Brandon?”

“Brandon likely doesn’t have the power necessary to destroy the factory in its entirety,” Hecto said. “I also imagine he wants to use it as leverage.”

“Leverage?” Owen said.

“It is more advantageous to have the ability to use those items rather than nobody use them at all, risky as it is,” Hecto said.

“Do you know why Brandon was sent from the human world?” Owen asked. “It seems crazy to think of a human that became a Pokémon at all. I mean—it’s crazy! I thought humans were just scary stories that Mom made up to keep me behaved. They’re real?”

“They are, though they are not very strong,” Hecto said. “You have little to fear of them. A Pokémon with the same equipment would be significantly more dangerous. Additionally, there are no humans in this world anyway.”

Just like before, a short walk was all that was needed to reach their destination. Where the trees began to clear out, Owen saw the rocky mountainside of the cave through which he had first entered Star’s domain. “What’s that mountain called, anyway?”

“Star Mountain.”

“…Oh.”

He walked for a few more seconds when Hecto said nothing else.

“So, uh, you’re saying that there’s a whole other universe with humans in it?” Owen said. He ducked under a particularly low tree branch; his tipped horns grazed against the dark wood, surrounding them both in little blue lights.

“Hmm… yes,” Hecto said.

“Wow…” Owen nodded, entranced by the shimmering shower. “That’s pretty cool. Millions of humans, all in one place?”

Hecto didn’t say anything. Instead, he pointed out, “Ah, I believe Star is coming down now.”

“He-ey, Owen!” Star waved from the mouth of the cave. She hopped out and floated until she was in front of the Charizard, bumping his chest. “Ha ha—look at you! All evolved and sane at the same time! Took long enough, right?”

“No kidding.” Owen laughed. “Actually, I was a little worried for a few seconds, but I’m glad that it turned out okay after all. Um—Star, do you know if I can go insane again?”

“On your own? Probably not, maybe—okay, possibly? But, let’s play it safe, yeah? You might still lose it temporarily, and that might slip into another reset, so keep it steady. And… just keep an eye out for Gahi, Demitri, and Mispy, still. They might make you go crazy again, but don’t think too much about it yet.”

“That’s the second time someone told me that,” Owen said. “Just thinking about what they used to be could send me over the edge, just like that?”

“I mean… maybe?” Star said. “Just try not to think too hard, okay? Besides, it’s probably still too blurry. I wouldn’t risk it.”

“Ugh, okay,” Owen muttered. He didn’t want to risk everything for a little curiosity. But maybe if he did a little peek?

“Hey, I know that look,” Star growled. “You already almost jumped into the Abyss like an idiot, so—”

“Okay, that’s not fair! I didn’t even realize it!”

“Well, be careful next time! We can’t afford to have you blacking out for a day or whatever that guy does.” She sighed. “Anyway, whatever, I’m actually glad you came. Look at you, all grown up! I mean, you’ve been a grown up forever, but, I mean it more in a literal sense. I mean, even then, you were kinda like a confused teenager or maybe a young adult most of your life, but—”

Owen’s amused stare slowly turned into a glare.

“What I mean is, uh—you’re a little above average in height for a ‘Zard, huh?”

Owen took it with a resigned sigh. “Yeah, and good thing, too,” he said. “Last thing I wanted was to still be shorter than Enet after all that trouble she gave me for being small.”

The most minute of smirks appeared for a split-second on Hecto’s face.

“Man, Owen,” Star said. “I didn’t think you’d be the sort to care about height! But you’re right. You’d think Charizard would be bigger in general, huh? But no, they’re a little on the small side for pseudo dragons.”

“Ngk—you take that back!”

Star bumped her tiny fist on Owen’s chest. “Hey, let’s go someplace! What do you want to do, Owen? We should totally celebrate!”

“C-Celebrate? Where? How?”

Star flicked her tail; a dark blue portal appeared behind her. “C’mon! I wanna show you someplace fun. But I wanna invite the others. Zena’s sleeping, right? We should totally get her, too!”

Star tugged at Owen’s claw, and he followed. But Hecto didn’t move. “Uh, Hecto?” Star said. “You’re invited, too, y’know!”

“We may need to reschedule,” Hecto said.

Star stopped tugging. “What do you mean?”

“Owen should wake up.”

“Huh?” Owen asked. He felt a sort of phantom sensation of someone pushing at his shoulder. He swatted gently at it, but then his whole body shook. “What’s…?” Little bubbles of golden light floated out of his body.

<><><>​

“Owen, you must wake up. Owen!” Rhys said.

“Muh—huh? What?”

“Owen, get up! We need to leave.”

“Uhh—”

Rhys tried to lift the Charizard up. Owen dumbly stumbled around until finally shaking himself awake. He tripped over his own vines on the way, forgetting that he didn’t have proper legs to stand on. “What’s going on?” he said in a moan. “Is it morning? Just five more blinks…”

“Follow me. I don’t have time, just follow me.”

“Mrgh…” Owen sluggishly reformed his limbs, returned to his Fiery state, and walked behind him. Rhys urged Owen to go faster; grudgingly, he did.

Almost everybody was in the middle of town; Demitri and Mispy were being carried out by Azu and Roh, while Gahi sped over to Owen.

“Oy, Owen! Wake up!” he said. “We gotta run! Yer holdin’ us back!”

“What do you mean?! What’s going on?” Owen rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Anam was fiddling around for his Badge; many others were doing the same. It looked like there was enough Badge power to bring everybody somewhere else. Owen felt something approaching, too. Now that he was more awake, he took the time to tune his aura to it. What was that…? It was an intense power, a bit away from the entrance to the cave. He couldn’t tell if it was stronger or weaker than that he’d felt from Zero Isle, but it was, at the very least, a lot closer—and a lot stronger than any other aura he’d felt before. He gulped. Why did it also feel familiar? And he sensed someone else, too. “Wait—I think I feel Rim,” he said.

“Yes, you do,” Rhys said. “But don’t you also feel Eon?”

“Th-that’s Eon!?” Now he remembered. The leader of the Hunters—the one who told Rim where to go, told Nevren what to research, Rhys who to fight. He was here? Now? “Why?” Owen asked. “Why’s he—”

“I don’t intend to find out,” Rhys said. “Let’s go! We have to move!”

Anam and the others raised their Badges.

<><><>​

If it wasn’t for Owen’s tail or Rhys’ aura, they’d be blind in their destination.

“Oh—goodness, how dark!” Amia said. She waved her hand in front of her, but even her blue flames seemed inhibited by the thick atmosphere.

“This isn’t a normal sort of darkness,” Rhys said. “It feels like something more. Like our light is being… drawn away. I can barely see.”

“Oooh… I don’t like the dark all that much…” Anam said, shivering. “Especially the kind where even the light doesn’t help…”

Amia felt the ground. It was oddly soft, and had a lot of give, like thick grass. “What a strange material,” she said, standing back up. “I don’t know how to describe it, but… it doesn’t feel that good.”

“Feels fine ter me,” Gahi said, rubbing at the ground with one of his feet. “Dunno what it is, though.”

“It might not be a normal material,” said Rhys. “I’m sensing the presence of an Orb nearby. Anam—where did the Badges take us?”

“Ah, I can explain,” Nevren said through the communicator. “We may as well multitask. I instructed Anam to take you to where there were sightings of a strange aura in a cavern deep within the ground, far to the south. You’re in the depths of a place known as the Chasm of the Void. We set up a registry here quite some time ago but found nothing the first time.”

“Oh, no.” Owen looked around, but even his enhanced eyesight saw nothing. He had to work with his feelings instead; he sensed that they were in someplace quite expansive. He could fly quite a few body lengths into the air without any trouble. He also sensed that there was somebody watching them—but he had no idea where. It felt like everywhere… Perhaps that was literal.

He remembered the swirling things in the inky blackness, and the eyes that stared at him when he Perceived them for too long. But he didn’t sense any of that this time. Nothing was moving. The darkness felt frozen and tense.

Also frozen and tense was Anam, who was hastily looking left and right for something. Owen couldn’t tell what else he was doing, but he assumed it was because of Anam’s natural fear of all things dark and spooky.

Owen could relate. There was some primal fear bubbling inside of him at not being able to see light, not even the fire of his tail. True darkness to the Charmander family line was practically a foreign concept. To be plunged into a place that he could not even see the light of his tail? Owen gulped, keeping it together for the sake of the others. Even in this complete darkness, he could still see with his Perception. And he could still sense that there was a lot hidden away in this darkness, staring at them from all sides. Silent.

“Um—hello?” Owen called.

“Owen, what’s wrong?” Amia asked.

“I feel like… someone’s here, but I don’t know where, or… anything else.”

“So, just that they’re here,” Rhys said. “Hmm. That’s concerning. Excuse me—Guardian! Please reveal yourself! We mean you no harm—in fact, we would like to help you! So, if you could just come with us…”

They were answered with silence.

“…A bit shy, don’t you think?” Amia said.

“Maybe… nervous,” Enet said, looking around. She could relate—after all, with a party this large suddenly invading her home, she’d be afraid, too. And with how strong she knew they were, well—for all she knew, this Guardian was plotting to run away. “We’re… too big.”

“Too big, hmm…” Rhys said.

“Too big? Oh! Then I can just shrink us down!” Willow said.

“N-no, no! We don’t need to do that, uhh—” Owen couldn’t tell where anybody was unless he concentrated on his Perception. They had to work with just voices. “How about we just… have one of us move forward, and maybe try to interact with this Guardian, or something? I know they’re still watching—I can feel it, y’know? So, if something bad happens, I’ll know, but I think they’re just nervous. So… uh… I guess I’ll go.”

“Oh, I can go, dear,” Amia said, moving forward.

“Ngh—”

“S-sorry, Manny!”

“Eh?”

“Oh, you’re there? Then this must be Rhys.”

“Y-yes,” Rhys said. “Can you not see my aura?”

“No, I can’t. Can you see mine?”

“…No. I can’t.”

“Great, so even our aura senses are being blocked. That’s kinda powerful,” Owen said.

“What is… aura again?” Enet asked.

“Uh, the… I’ll explain later,” Owen said. “Guys? How far is everyone from everyone? Do we know? Uh—spread out your wings, or arms, or whatever, let’s try to figure out.”

After a lot of fumbling, Owen got an idea of how close everybody was. They were scattered randomly within their range of warping, perhaps a stone’s throw in diameter.

“Okay, uh… Zena, how about you slither forward a little, and try to talk to the Guardian?”

“Mm, okay. Is this forward?”

“No, uh—no, turn, turn, turn… okay, now go forward…”

Owen ‘watched’ Zena’s advance, and once she was ten paces away, he said, “Okay, stop! That should be fine enough, uhh… okay. Guardian? Are you there? Is it okay if you come out now?”

It was still quiet.

Owen sighed. “He must be really shy…” he said. “Or…” He still felt threatened, Owen theorized. He looked around, but no matter how much he did, he wouldn’t see. Swiveling his head around was just useless muscle memory. “Well, uh…” But then, he did sense something else. But he didn’t like what it was. “Oh, no.”

“What is it, dear?” Amia said.

“Y-you can’t feel it?” he asked.

“The darkness is dulling even our aura senses, Owen. Only you can sense what is here,” Rhys said. “What is it?”

“Hi.”

The voice was like ice on their spines. It was familiar and foreign; the sound was almost exactly like Rhys, but the tone was unmistakably unlike him.

“Who—who’s that?!” Anam said.

“Oh, me? I think you know who I am,” said a voice that sounded like Anam.

“Th-that’s not funny!” Anam said. He pulled his tail around his body and gave it a tight squeeze, oozing fearful goo on the darkness below.

“Eon…” Rhys hissed. “Why are you here?”

Eon mimicked the sound of the last person he spoke to. “I’m here simply to say hello, perhaps investigate why you’re gathering the Orbs conveniently at the same time I am. Trying to stop me, I take it…”

In the dark, none of the group dared start a fight. They didn’t know where anybody was—and if Eon was mimicking voices, he could easily make them hit each other. Perhaps they could take him on if they were all grouped against him—he wasn’t that powerful, right?

“But… but why?” Amia said. “You’re the leader of the Hunters, r-right? So why are you doing this? Any of it, I mean? We just—want to live peacefully!”

“You can’t live peacefully and live together at the same time,” Eon said. The careless tone combined with Amia’s voice made Owen want to vomit.

In an effort to have Eon sound like anybody but his mother, Owen spoke up. “What do you mean, can’t have peace? Pokémon live in peace all the time together!”

“But not as a Guardian,” said Eon. “Not with the power we all have in play. Not with the powers that are playing with us.”

“Eh?” Manny said.

“Do you really think you’re fighting for yourselves and for your peace?” Eon said hastily. It almost sounded rehearsed.

“Uh—” Owen said.

“That you really think that gathering everyone together so you’ll be happy is what Star really wants? You never thought that perhaps she has another motive?”

“I mean—”

“She had centuries to bring you all together, and only now, when I make my move, does she try to gather you together. Isn’t that odd?”

“Wait!” Owen quickly said. “Star said that she made you guys, but then had a change of heart when you went crazy!”

“Oh, went crazy!” Eon said. “What a story! Truly, I’m the crazy one for trying to do precisely what I was asked to do. By the way, made us? No. She conscripted us. I was supposed to gather the Orbs for her, but then she gets a change of heart and wants to stop it all.”

“Yeah, because you killed them.”

“Are you sure?”

“Wh—yes? You killed us! I mean—no, not us, the Flying and Ground Guardians!”

“I did,” Eon said. “Or, I sent others to kill them, to take their Orbs. But I sent Elder first.”

“Elder…” Rhys said. “You still believe in that?”

“Of course,” Eon said.

“Who’s Elder?” Owen asked.

“Sounds old,” Gahi said.

“We’re all old,” Demitri mumbled. “Rhys? Who’s Elder?”

“He’s a Torkoal…” Rhys said. “He used to be the first person we’d send to a Guardian to negotiate whether we’d take the Orb or not from them. But… I thought you did away with that part of the plan.”

“Oh, no, I still try,” Eon said. “The Guardians just don’t listen when he speaks to them. I just sent him on a mission to the Frozen Oceanside, actually. I wouldn’t bother going there at this point—we might have a new Guardian on our side, after all.”

“Yer bluffing,” Gahi said.

“Nrgh…” Rhys said. “You should leave, Eon. None of us can see anybody, and Owen can. You wouldn’t win in a fight here.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll put up a good fight… but I’m not here for that.”

Owen sensed Eon looking up. His body seemed almost impatient, like something—some aspect of his plan, that rehearsed speech, wasn’t going as he had hoped. Or perhaps he was waiting for something else to happen? Eon was tense about something. Owen struggled to figure out what sort of body he had, but his Perception wasn’t strong enough yet.

“It looks like this Guardian is docile after all. Given how foreboding the Abyss was, I was thinking we’d have to fight him together, you know.”

“Fight with you?” Zena said. “I’d sooner kill you with me.”

Eon huffed. “Guardian of the Dark Orb!” he said in Zena’s voice. “If you wish to speak with Elder, I will be sending him over in a few days. I’d suggest you don’t make any decisions until he comes, so you can hear all sides of the story.”

“All sides?” Owen asked. He felt Eon’s presence turn around. “W-wait! I’m—not gonna let you go! You’re going to answer my questions, and—”

“Do you… still not remember me?” Eon asked. “You… you evolved.”

“Star put a block on my memories so I didn’t go insane,” Owen said.

“What?” Eon said.

Owen felt Eon’s body shaking. The Charizard smirked, putting it together. Eon was here to try to control him now that his memories were back. Was that what Rim was trying to do? No—that couldn’t be it. Rim… seemed genuinely happy that he was at peace during that chess game. But now, with Eon, learning that he was fully evolved, he was upset. This reaction wasn’t at all like the Espurr’s. Was Rim working with Eon anymore? Did she defect from him, too, just like Nevren and Rhys?

But that didn’t matter. All Owen knew was that he was fully evolved, and Eon was mad about it. It seemed pretty clear what that meant. “Yeah. So, you can’t control me, Eon.”

Fists clenched. Eon’s body took a slow step forward, trembling. Owen could see only the darkness, yet he felt the intense, mad stare. “Owen,” Eon said lowly. “Come here.”

“Yeah, sure!” Owen opened his mouth and blasted Eon with a Flamethrower; everybody ducked, feeling the heat, but Owen knew just where to aim. Eon couldn’t dodge well in the darkness; he bumped into somebody. They retaliated with an angry bite on his hand.

“Ngh—! You little feral!” he shook his hand and knocked Enet away. She yelped.

“D-don’t you hurt her!” Owen shouted. He swung his claws through the air, sending an Air Slash at Eon, suspecting that he was mimicking his form, based on the sound of his voice. He fired again; Eon didn’t feel like he was getting hurt at all. But he was being a nuisance—maybe he could buy some time for the others to escape. “E-Everyone! Try to get him! Maybe we can take his Orbs, or—something!”

Several attacks slammed into Eon from all sides, though most of them missed or only grazed him. Eon’s low, impatient growl in Owen’s voice shook the air. “You can certainly try,” he said. “But I would be more worried about—your—friends!” Owen felt a strange aura pulse radiate off of Eon. He recognized this aura—and he clutched at his head, feeling his senses slip away. He had to focus to keep calm. Breathe. Easy. Slow. It felt like the exact opposite of Rhys’ Suppression Aura. The radiant blast went right past Owen, but it hit someone else. It had stopped prematurely against someone who had been flying blindly in the air. But that meant—

“Nggg…. Rrrr….”

Owen knew that growl. “G-Gahi! Gahi, stay calm! Stay—”

A white light coupled with black sparks illuminated the room, briefly cutting through the darkness.

“No!” Rhys fired a Suppression Aura, but it did nothing.

“There’s no resetting it this time, Rhys!” Eon shouted. “You can’t torture them anymore! I’ve fixed your mistakes; thank me later!”

The light faded; in a confined place like this, if Gahi lost it in a stressful situation… No, they might never get him back. “H-hang on!” Owen shouted. He grabbed a Badge and ran toward the light. He thrust the Badge in the air—and the two of them, just himself and Gahi, vanished from the void.
 

canisaries

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zip zap crossposting from serebii

“You sleep with Anam?” Willow gasped. “I knew it!”

“Pardon?”

“Rhys is gonna be sooo upset!”

“…Pardon?”
This entire exchange is just... kisses fingertips

Torkoil and Lucario... now that's a pairing I haven't seen yet. And all I can wonder is who tops.

“Oh. Okay.” Willow hopped from his mustache and scuttled toward Enet’s home next. Upon hearing a low growl, she redirected herself to ADAM’s polished abode.
Is it bad that this gif is literally the first thing that came to mind

“This isn’t a normal sort of darkness,” Rhys said.
This is... ADVANCED DARKNESS and obvious meme... check

“What?” Eon said.

Owen felt Eon’s body shaking.
wtf owen you dont remember me im literally cryin and shaking rn this cant be happening

---

Wow, Eon's a real smug bastard. It's all the worse when you know just how much power he has. Dying of curiosity to know what he actually looks like.

This was a really suspenseful chapter, and it looks like only more is coming up! Excited to see how this continues, keep up the good work.
 

Ambyssin

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tl;dr version: quiet chapter is quiet.

As far as deeper thoughts go, the banter was my favorite part about the chapter. There were a lot of great one-liners tossed around between the cast and some fun little dynamics such as super-stoic James delivering an "order" for Owen to take Team Alloy on a mission all with Mispy showing some little tsundere moments ("I'm not jealous of your evolution, you baka!"). I'm interested in the potential foreshadowing going on with Emily, here, but that's mainly because I like Lugia. It's a good birb. Needs pets. With that said, there was a bit of an "as you know" element going on to the first part of this chapter, where it felt you fell into that anime trope of reminding the reader of things they already know like how Zena can perform the Suppression Aura.

Bringing up the dark guardian as the source of the Chasm of the Void is interesting and it sounds like they could even be a distaff counterpart of sorts to Anam just by the way Star's describing them... even down the whole dark vs. ghost dynamic as far as typings go. Interesting potential, there, especially with the slightly creepy Perceive stuff. What was less exciting was the actual Void Forest exploration bit. I know, you don't like writing the dungeon crawling stuff and it does show, but as far as an introduction to cursed dungeons go it falls flat for me. There isn't really any urgency and the potential creep factor is killed off when Demitri basically becomes a discount Shaggy for the sake of a laugh.

One thing I did notice about this chapter (and a lot of 35 until THE DARKNESS) is that you had a strong tendency to structure your dialogue-containing paragraphs the exact same way. That being:
"This is a sentence," X said. "And now I'm staying other stuff, too."

I don't really thing there's anything inherently wrong with this, but you might want to consider trying to vary up your sentence structure a little bit so things don't go stale. Only bringing it up because someone pointed it out to me (possibly kintsugi, can't remember) and now I'm sort of hyperaware of coming across it in writing. You can check this chapter again if you don't believe me but, I can assure you, 90+% of your dialogue follows that same structure.

If a Vulpix can be icy and we pass it off as southern, there’s no way they’ll look twice if we just say you’re from the south.
That fox ain't right, I'll tell ya what. [cue Shane shouting angrily from the distance, "Do I look like a hick to you?!"]

“Your size is much more fitting, now, Owen,”
Well, someone's certainly happy, aren't they? [Lenny face]

You know, I haven’t gone on a normal Mission in a while
Poor Owen, doesn't understand he has shonen protagonist syndrome. He'll never get a normal day again. Also, why is mission randomly capitalized here? It's jarring...

Don’t forget that he’s an Alakazam
That's... speciesist? I'm sorry, you called me out on it, so I'm gonna do the same. :V

I will be sure he stays hydrated.
Zena is Hydrate Bot from Twitch?! What a tweeeeeest!

Ah, yes—well, if we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you
"... tch. Nothing personal, kid."

“It makes my goo all crackly and hard.”
Damn it, Anam, kids are reading this!

It had been so long, he nearly forgot about him
You know your cast is large when the narrator lampshades missing characters.

Void Forest

I like where this is going

“Oh. Great,” Gahi said. “Spirit-nibblers.”

"Something wrong with spirit-nibblers, runt?


35
Willow has been reduced to the group gossip. So much for being a godly Guardian or whatever. I'm sure there's some sort of interesting dichotomy or whatever between Rhys and Elde, but I'm not gonna lie a lucario / torkoal pair is pretty far out there. It's also hard for me to poke fun at, because aside from saying Rhys is one of those guys who only cares about character, not appearance so good on him, I guess? Just makes him even more of a stoic goody-goody in my eyes. Someone needs a stern talking to, clearly.

So, Eon's introduction. One of the issues with this scene in general is that, with the whole darkness thing going on, you have a lot of exhanges where you don't identify a clear speaker and it honestly got a bit confusing to tell who was saying what at some points. That's mostly before Eon showed up, since he apparently begin immitating everyone. Could he be a ditto? Who better to carry out Star's original will then, essentially, a knockoff. Or maybe it's Mewtwo or something. Whoever it was had to be able to teleport incredibly quickly, though given this fic just doles out powers at a breakneck pace, it could just be Eon's Mysticism or whatever. Perhaps his spiel was prepared but, at this point, considering he doesn't try to attack until Owen uses a Flamethrower (#OwenShotFirst), I'm not so sure he's really here to be malevolent so much as see what Owen's deal is. I still maintain Owen used to see Eon as his true dad or something, hence why he'd be very upset Star put a memory block on the guy.

I was just… interested in how you decided to sleep
At least she's being honest. [lenny face]

“Two males cannot have children.”

“Not with that attitude!”
You tell him, Willow! Alternatively, if you want to jump universes, we've got an opening.

C’mon! I wanna show you someplace fun. But I wanna invite the others. Zena’s sleeping, right? We should totally get her, too!
oh my god she's inviting him to an orgy... I KNEW HE IT. He has a harem.

This isn’t a normal sort of darkness
Canis didn't post the pic, so I sure will...
 

namohysip

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Wow, Eon's a real smug bastard.
I mean, he's been leaned on as the leader of the people giving the Guardians all this trouble (who finally shows up at the end of Act I) so he's gotta have a few qualities that make him stand out! Especially since we never actually see him!

Dying of curiosity to know what he actually looks like.
Won't be long (though it will be a few chapters) before we find out for real~

What was less exciting was the actual Void Forest exploration bit. I know, you don't like writing the dungeon crawling stuff and it does show, but as far as an introduction to cursed dungeons go it falls flat for me.
This is a bit of an oof on my part. I mentioned offhand and in Special Episode 2 that "Cursed Dungeons" exist, but Void Forest isn't one of them. The dark anomalies mentioned and the idea of a Cursed Dungeon are not intertwined / synonymous. Technically, these aren't even mentioned in the narrative yet, so I should probably shut up about them...

you had a strong tendency to structure your dialogue-containing paragraphs the exact same way. That being:
"This is a sentence," X said. "And now I'm staying other stuff, too."
I'll, uh, look into this down the road. I can probably move some of those to the beginning of the tag instead so the reader still knows who's talking. That's for later todo edits.

Poor Owen, doesn't understand he has shonen protagonist syndrome. He'll never get a normal day again.
In the end, has he ever had a truly normal day in his life? Between the facade and his mutant backstory, I mean... I don't think he has a normal.

Also, why is mission randomly capitalized here?
That's easy, I used to capitalize Mission and I missed this one! Why did I capitalize it? Hell if I know! For some reason I just capitalize important-sounding nouns like an idiot and I have to check myself now and then.

You know your cast is large when the narrator lampshades missing characters.
Ha ha... ha... I mean, you're not wrong. But at least I'm starting to get a better handle on who's an extra, who's support, and who's a main. Line blurs a bit for the latter two.

a lucario / torkoal pair is pretty far out there.
I mean, the main pairing going on here was briefly a Charmander and Milotic, so...

with the whole darkness thing going on, you have a lot of exhanges where you don't identify a clear speaker and it honestly got a bit confusing to tell who was saying what at some points. That's mostly before Eon showed up, since he apparently begin immitating everyone.
Hmm, I'll look into this in the future. This was a tricky scene for sure. Mostly because I didn't really have any physical cues to work with. I can probably rework the prose to make it more clear. Speaking of difficult scenes, the next chapter! I hope I can pull this off, but I'm probably going to wind up editing some parts of it again in the future. There's just a lot going on that I hope I was able to convey well.

Anyway, the climax to Act I will be arriving soon!
 
Chapter 36 - Team Alloy

namohysip

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Chapter 36 – Team Alloy

Owen squinted at the morning light. After being in the pitch-dark Chasm of the Void, anywhere else in the world was a strain on the eyes. He saw the brightest light in front of him, shining with the last remnants of black sparks of anti-evolution energy. “G-Gahi?”

The Badge had warped them to the outside of the Chasm in an emergency exit, though it was further away and further south than their previous visit. They were in a big, lime-green field of grass. He smelled ocean water—they must have also been close to the shore, though he couldn’t tell which direction it was.

Owen felt lighter. Reflexively, he clutched at the bag by his side, gasping. While the bag itself came with him, it felt as if the rapid exit had jostled most of his supplies onto the ground when he warped out. What did he even have left?

Even while he was checking his supplies, Gahi said nothing to him. Owen’s eyes finally adjusted to the light of the morning sun. Gahi, a Synthetic Flygon, was similarly slim as Owen was, but had scales with a blinding sheen. Even after the light of evolution completely faded, Gahi’s body reflected the sun well enough to make it hard to stare directly at him. It made sense—if Gahi’s entire specialty was agility and evasion, being hard to look at would add to the latter.

“Are you… are you okay?” Owen asked. But he knew the answer. He could feel it radiating from his the explosively turbulent aura.

Gahi growled, arms shaking. His tail flicked to the left, and then the right. The little fan at the tip of his tail cut through the grass with ease. He had a crazed look behind the red goggle-like, natural headgear on his face. His wings stretched wide and angled themselves to the light, blinding Owen.

Owen squinted, realizing that Gahi’s instincts were taking over. He couldn’t let that happen. If he lost himself here, and he ran off, how would he catch him? What sort of havoc would he—no, what if he got mistaken for a mutant? It wouldn’t even be mistaken. He is a mutant. They could kill him. No, he had to deescalate.

“Gahi, take a breath. Can you do that? Can you… can you meditate, Gahi?”

Gahi huffed, bringing his trembling arms forward to stare at them. He clenched his fists the same way Owen did; the Charizard recognized this stance. He was trying to contain himself. He was still there. There was still a bit of him fighting to stay stable.

“Gahi, it’s okay. Everything’s okay. Can you talk? Can you hear me?”

He was still trembling, but there was a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. The mutated Flygon gave a shaky nod. He breathed, eyes closed, in and out. Owen watched Gahi’s aura nervously, but it looked like it wasn’t improving. It wasn’t completely unstable, but it wasn’t calm, either.

“G-Gahi?”

“Owen…” Gahi grunted, staring at Owen. It was hard to tell what was going through his head, but his eyes had a mixture of fleeting sanity and increasing fear.

But he spoke, so Owen replied. “Gahi! Good! You’re still—”

“Kill me…”

Owen felt the color drain from his scales. “What?”

Gahi staggered forward, glaring at him. “I can’t… think…” he said between breaths. His claws clenched, digging deep into his palms. “Hurry.”

“I’m not—I can’t—that’s—”

Owen saw the desperation in Gahi’s eyes. He could barely talk, yet those frantic, slit-pupils said it all. He wasn’t ready. Gahi wasn’t ready to be fully evolved, was he? It happened in such a stressful environment, by Eon’s hands, that he lost himself completely. His consciousness dangled precariously over a void larger than the Chasm itself.

But to kill him?

“Like Manny,” Gahi begged, taking another stumbling step. His wings suddenly jolted out, but then he flattened them against his back, grunting.

“Manny?” Owen repeated, but then thought about Azu and the others. Owen could seal Gahi there and calm him down. But that would mean—Owen’s stomach lurched at the idea.

“No, Gahi. I—”

His mind raced. What could he do? He staggered back, his bag bumping against his chest.

His bag!

“Wait! I have something,” Owen said frantically, looking down. An emergency exit was always an imperfect jump from whatever place he had been to—in fact, it was such an emergency that he hadn’t gone far from his starting position at all. If he could just stall, the others would be here in no time.

Why weren’t they already here?

Owen frantically dug through his supplies. He had seconds. He brushed his claws against each and every one, feeling the residual effects of the blessings. He was looking for one that tingled his claws. A Stun Seed, or a Petrify Orb. Either of those would do wonders.

But he didn’t feel a single one. He felt a great deal of soothing items, Heal Seeds and so on, but nothing to stop Gahi in his tracks. He didn’t take the time to identify the seeds specifically, but that’s all that was left inside. Seeds, and none of them useful for Gahi. No way to restrain him.

No. He couldn’t kill Gahi. Even if he’d be in the spirit world—he’d still be dead. There wasn’t coming back from that. Even Star, Creator, was stuck there.

“If you don’t kill me…” Gahi suddenly said, breaking through Owen’s thoughts. How much time had passed? It felt like an eternity, but Owen just realized it may have only been a few seconds.

“I can’t,” Owen said. “Just—"

Gahi suddenly lunged toward him. He had no guard. Owen saw three different ways that he could have killed Gahi right then. Air Slash on the throat. Flames to his face? Just cut off his air supply with nothing but fire. He could even let him come toward him and crush his neck with his claws. Did he have that kind of strength? Gahi was frail up close. Perhaps he did.

But Owen refused to do any of them, yet his instincts made him attempt all three in some sick reflex. Fire erupted from his throat, blasting Gahi in the face. Cutting air circled around his claws. He reached toward Gahi’s no-guard approach and grabbed his throat with both hands. He watched the air slice through some of his scales, little green flecks dancing in the wind.

The burns weren’t the most effective against Gahi. He still stared at Owen through mad, wide eyes. When he was in Owen’s clutches, he instantly stopped, muscles tense.

Gahi was lucid. The insanity left his eyes, replaced by fear and tears. The Flygon’s arms twitched weakly, but Owen could sense from those muscles how badly he wanted to strike Owen back. It took everything in Gahi’s power to stay limp, waiting instead for Owen to end it.

Nevren’s voice echoed.

“If we couldn’t suppress you, and you were berserk, we’d have to kill you.”

Owen shook his head, vision blurred with tears.

“I wanna be… me…” Gahi begged. “P-please… hurry… I can’t… think…”

Klent’s voice called out to Owen, but he couldn’t hear what he was saying. His thoughts were too muddled, too panicked. As far as Owen was concerned, it was just himself and Gahi. Someone that he barely knew, yet knew so much. Endless potential of memories that were only now returning to him, bit by bit.

The fire in his throat faded away. His tail dimmed to a somber, small ember. The cutting air around his claws dissipated slowly.

“I can’t, Gahi,” he said.

No matter how Owen tried to rationalize it, killing Gahi wasn’t on the table for him. Even if he became a Grass spirit, Owen would be responsible for cutting off many opportunities for Gahi in the living world. He’d be tied to his Orb if he ever wanted to see the others. And a small worry in the back of his mind said that one day he won’t have access to that Orb anymore, or one day Gahi would resent him for taking away his autonomy as a living creature.

He’d find a way. There had to be some way to fix Gahi. Even now, he was restrained against him. He had him where he wanted. If a Stun Seed didn’t work, he’d just hold Gahi in place like this.

Maybe with Rhys, Zena, and Amia, it would be enough. He’d be a Trapinch again. Sure, he’d be a bit upset about it, since Owen would remain a Charizard—hopefully—but it was better than this.

Owen realized too late that Gahi’s sanity had slipped away again.

The Flygon roared, plunging his claws into Owen’s sides. His fighting spirit—some deep part of Owen’s instincts—flared up. Involuntarily, the fading wind around his claws intensified and then doubled. A flash of fierce, fiery rage welled up in Owen. And that was all that was needed. In that second of lost control, the wind cut through Gahi’s neck, across his face, over his protected eyes, and down his shoulders. Owen let go, but the wind blasted Gahi backwards. The Flygon’s claws left deep gashes along Owen’s sides, but Owen’s own grip on Gahi’s neck hadn’t faded, either, further slicing into his flesh.

The Flygon crumbled, motionless at the end of his tumble.

The Charizard’s fire faded after the seconds’ long slip. He watched Gahi blindly clutch at his neck, blood pouring mercilessly.

Owen screamed. His roar shook the ground even more than his stomps did; he ran toward Gahi, eyes wide. “Gahi, n-no! GAHI! H-hang on. Just hang on! The others will be here soon, they—”

Gahi reached up to Owen, claws digging into his shoulder. He dug a bit deeper, making Owen wince. “J-just like that,” Owen said. “Just like that, Gahi. Keep fighting and it’ll be okay. I promise.”

The Flygon stared at Owen. He didn’t smile, but his eyes, behind the red lenses, looked almost peaceful. Like some simple plan formed by what was left of his mind had worked.

“You… you did that on purpose,” Owen said. “You knew I’d—if you just set my instincts off, I’d—you—why’d you have to be smart?!” Owen roared. “You’re supposed to be an idiot! I’m the clever one! I’m supposed to be the one who thinks of every option! I’m supposed to see the way out! If you just let me think, I could’ve… I could’ve…”

Gahi smirked through it all.

Owen fell to his knees, reaching over to Gahi. “Why… of all the times to be smart… you actually chose now, to make the dumbest decision… you idiot… you idiot…!” He pulled Gahi closer, uncaring of the crimson that stained his orange scales. “Just wait. Wait for the others. Mispy can heal you, okay?”

Gahi kept his grip firm on Owen. Whether it was his battle instincts or Gahi’s remnants telling him that he’d hang on, Owen didn’t know.

The pain Owen felt was just a reminder that Gahi was alive. He tried to cover his wounds with his hands, feeling the blood push against his scales with each beat of his heart. Even if he was fragile, a Synthetic wouldn’t die so easily.

“S-stay strong, Gahi. You’ve got this. Gahi?”

His grip was weakening.

“No, no no, not yet,” Owen said, holding him firmly. “Not yet. Hang on, okay?”

Gahi’s grip strengthened, but not fully. They locked eyes again, and Gahi gave him a confident little smile. Owen coughed out a sobbing laugh.

“Exactly,” he said. “Exactly…”

But Gahi’s smile vanished when a golden light poured out of Owen’s bag and onto Gahi. The Flygon’s confidence and peace rapidly transitioned into panic and anger.

Owen looked at his bag again. Reviver Seed. Was that his last one? He rummaged through his equipment again, but didn’t feel a Reviver. But he did feel one that lacked any sort of blessing. One whose magic had been used up. And then he looked back at Gahi again. He wished he hadn’t.

He didn’t see Gahi die. But he saw all sense of self leave the Flygon’s eyes like a fading ember.

“Gahi?” Owen choked.

The Flygon stood up, staring at Owen. He mirrored the motion, yet had to step back from the shock. He was almost fully restored.

“Gahi, are you okay?” Finding his courage, Owen stepped forward again. “Are you calm? It’s okay. The others will be here soon. Medi—meditate! Meditate, Gahi!” Owen grasped onto that hope. “Remember that? Breathe in, breathe out. Close your eyes. Try it. Please…”

Owen saw a flash of recognition in those red eyes. And then they closed.

Just in case, Owen pressed his foot a bit deeper into the ground, setting a Fire Trap. Then, he stepped away. Some strange dance of caution and trust. “You’re okay,” Owen said. “You’re just fine.”

“Just fine…” Gahi repeated.

Owen let out a mixture of a sob and a laugh. “Yes! Yes, Gahi! Exactly!”

Gahi’s aura calmed. Owen sensed the flare die down to normal levels, but it stirred. He held his breath. He could hold it forever. The longer he could stall, the more likely it would be that the others would find them.

The aura suddenly erupted like a flame disturbed by a drop of water. The Flygon made a sort of short roar, almost like a grunt or a bark. Then, in an instant, Gahi went from standing away from Owen to being mere inches from him. Reflexively, the Charizard stumbled away, saved only because Gahi had stopped directly on top of a Fire Trap, potent enough to leave Gahi with a burn.

“G-Gahi! Calm down! You almost had it!” His words weren’t going through. Given how fast he was, there was no way Owen could run away. He was out of options. Gahi couldn’t run off, and he couldn’t let himself get killed, either.

He’d have to calm him down the old-fashioned way. “Okay, so if that’s what you want—then—fine!” He’d have to beat him down instead. He already did it once. How hard could it be to do it again? But he couldn’t deal with striking him lethally. His stomach twisted at the mere thought, so he already decided that this would be a sparring match.

He moved too quickly for Owen to keep track of. His Perception struggled to pinpoint Gahi’s rapidly changing location, and he briefly wondered why Gahi was attacking him in the first place. Weren’t they supposed to work together as Guardian killers?

That’s it! Gahi just wanted to train! That had to be it. And training he would get. A small grin crept at the sides of the optimistic Charizard’s mouth, wings flaring outward.

Owen opened with a Flamethrower in a wide semicircle, sweeping his head across the lime grass. Gahi jumped and beat his wings once, going high into the air while embers and burned blades scattered below him. Some deep part of Owen, the Grassy part, flinched at the sight.

But Owen already planted his trap; the larger embers that floated above the grass sank into the ground, becoming Fire Traps. The entire field was covered in them. He hoped the remaining grass was lush enough to withstand the flames. There was no other way for Gahi to attack while on the ground, and as long as he stayed down there, too, he’d be just fine.

Wait. As a Flygon, didn’t Gahi know Earth Power?

The ground erupted beneath him, triggering the Fire Traps that he planted. “Oh, come on!” Owen shouted over the explosions. He beat his wings; the Ground attack was easy to avoid, but the exploding Fire Traps were another story. Inconvenienced by his own traps—in the back of his mind, Owen had an inkling that there was a better way for him to use them.

Perhaps he could try something aerial instead; he had a few techniques in mind. He beat his wings again, at the same altitude as Gahi. Then, he loosened more embers from his wings, creating little, glowing orbs of fire in the air—floating Fire Traps. The little balls of light almost reminded him of the aura sea, but rather than cyan-silvery embers, they were a bright yellow. The technique came to him easily now that he was fully unleashed. It was perfect! There was no way—

Gahi sped through the traps and tackled Owen; he hit him with such velocity and moved through the air so quickly that the traps exploded too late. Flashes of fire burst behind him while Owen felt as if a few bones in his body broke from the impact.

Gahi growled and dug his claws into Owen’s shoulders.

“Gahi—stop!” Owen wheezed. The maneuver felt foreign. Gahi didn’t have the strength to grapple, usually, and he’d normally avoid it in combat.

Owen shook himself free, pushed away, and launched an Air Slash from his right arm, compressed air shrinking and expanding to force the Flygon out of the way. Gahi hissed back, finally taking a hit, but Owen was still at a disadvantage. He couldn’t take many more of those strikes. Now that Gahi was completely submerged in his battle mode, he wasn’t nearly as frail or prone to attacks.

And he was so fast—his traps didn’t have the time to activate. He moved unpredictably; he had no pattern to read, no way to guess where he’d go next. And even if he did have a plan, Gahi would take him out by then. Even with foresight, even with his Perception, he didn’t have the speed to keep up with him.

That’s when a memory returned. Gahi and Owen had sparred like this all the time. He sparred with everyone—but except for a small handful of flukes… Owen lost against Gahi almost every time. He was just too fast. And the way this battle was going—

“Gahi! I g-give up!” Owen said. “You win! Okay? You win! Training over!”

Gahi halted in midair. His eyes were crazed, but the fact that he stopped—did that mean he got through? Is that all he wanted, just to win?

“Gahi?” Owen said.

The Flygon took another wingbeat forward. It was calmer than before, but with intent. Owen didn’t like it. He took an equivalent wingbeat back. “Hey, let’s talk, first, okay? Gahi? Can you hear me?”

Gahi puffed softly. “I win…”

“Y-yes! Yes, you win! You win, win, win—so, we can stop fighting, right? Is that okay?”

Every step that Owen took backwards was matched by an advance from Gahi. What was going on? Why was Gahi behaving so strangely? Why did he grab him? That wasn’t part of his normal strategy. In fact, now that he thought about it—when Gahi tried to grab him back then, it felt as if—

Gahi dashed right at Owen, grappling against him by the shoulders. And he felt it again—he knew what was going on, now. Memories rushed back, but he had no time to make heads or tails of it. Flashes of old images—Gahi right next to him, and then vanishing—intense power washing through his whole being—and then—and then… nothing.

“Gahi, STOP!” Owen pushed him away with an explosion of wind. Something strong tugged at his shoulder blade—he looked at the left one and saw that Gahi’s claws were inside of him, some strange light pouring out where they made contact. But when he pushed away, Gahi broke loose—and his body, to his horror, meshed itself back into a solid form, like he was made of some kind of loose clay.

Nevren—what twisted design did he create? And then Star’s words echoed.

“If you ever see Demitri, Mispy, or Gahi evolve to their synthetic forms… Run.”

Gahi had flinched; Owen took advantage of this and fired another Air Slash, landing a direct blow. Gahi, dazed, was spun around, clutching at his head. Owen’s best plan of action was to fly away right then—as far away as he could. But he couldn’t go straight into town—not when Gahi was like this. And he couldn’t go back into the Chasm, either; Gahi could rampage in the dark and hurt himself. He needed someplace open. Somewhere that he could possibly tire himself out. They were both Synthetic, after all—they had similar amounts of stamina.

The salty smell in the air gave him the clue he needed. The ocean! Owen beat his wings, muscles burning even more than his flames, and rapidly gained altitude. He saw the ocean once he was high enough and accelerated desperately. His heart raced; he could hear the beat over the wind. The adrenaline fogged his thoughts; that feeling of power from Gahi was addicting. A tiny, tiny part of him wanted to go back and let Gahi approach. And this made him beat his wings even faster, trying to outfly his own thoughts. Horror and defiance overtook his mind in a futile attempt to snuff out his instincts.

He was above the ocean. He had only seconds to relax; his Perception was at its maximum from the stress coupled with his Mystic power. He could sense every single creature below him in the water; every bystander and curious feral, and something else, too—something big, deep below. The dizzying, overwhelming amount of stuff in the open area made him falter. Yet he couldn’t turn it off.

He also felt a powerful presence behind him—Gahi—and several more emerging from the Chasm. They saw him—Rhys and the others were chasing after him right then. Finally! But he had to last until they caught up.

Owen looked back. Gahi was hot on his tail—even at maximum speed, Gahi was going to catch up to him in seconds. “No…! I…! There has to be a way…!” Owen slashed at the air behind him, sending another shockwave. Gahi dodged with ease, twisting in the air.

Five seconds away. Owen planted his Fire Traps in the air again and then an Air Slash to stop Gahi, but he flew all around the whole trap and barely lost even a second of time to it.

Three seconds. Owen, desperate, dove down, halving his distance from the water.

One second left. A thousand possibilities filled Owen’s mind. He sorted through countless possible scenarios and maneuvers with his one, precious second. Everything above and below, ahead and behind. An opening, a weakness, an exploit, an opportunity.

He found no way out but to beg. “Gahi, PLEASE!”

They collided; Gahi grabbed Owen’s shoulders again, and they were face to face, in a tailspin toward the ocean’s surface. “Gahi—we’ll go crazy—we can’t…! We can’t…!”

Gahi stared at Owen, and that’s when the Charizard realized it. He saw his eyes. A struggling light of sapience in pupils narrowed into slits. Wide, frightened eyes. Gahi didn’t want to, either. Yet it was also like staring into the eyes of a starved feral. He didn’t want to do it—but he had to. It was a compulsion—an instinct, a core need of his being. There was no logic. Gahi knew he couldn’t handle it. But his design was too strong—he wasn’t Mystic like Owen. He had no special power to fight his instincts. His mind was all he had, and that mind was the problem.

A memory of one of his old lives washed over him, as just a Charmander, chatting with Demitri and the others.

“Team Alloy. That’s a pretty cool name.”

And then he heard Demitri’s cheerful voice.

“Alakazam Nevren helped us come up with it! It’s really cool. Something about how stronger metals are made from weaker metals working together. It’s awesome!”

And so, Gahi shoved his head into Owen’s neck. Owen gasped, like the wind was knocked out of him; a hug and a squeeze that went straight to his core. Gahi’s head vanished into him, followed by his neck, and then the shoulders. The Flygon’s body was halfway inside of Owen’s chest. He helplessly grabbed Gahi’s sides and tried to pull him out, but it was like his body became quicksand. His vision blurred. And the worst part of it all, what made Owen more terrified and helpless than anything else—was that he loved it.

Gahi sank deeper and deeper until nothing was left. Owen’s body shifted and twisted into something new—a second set of wings, angular like a Flygon’s, and a shiny, green body. The single flame at the end of his tail became three embers that resembled a Flygon’s fan. Owen’s head was filled with the crazed thoughts of a Synthetic. Gahi’s mind bumped against Owen’s, and that last, remaining part of the Charizard begged for Gahi to back out. But it was too late.

A new memory emerged, one that wasn’t Owen’s.

“Gahi,” Demitri said. “Do you think we’ll ever see Owen again? He seemed so sure, but…”

“’Course we will!” Gahi cheerfully said, clicking his jaws. “If Owen says so, he’s right. That’s just how he is. I’m gonna trust him. Maybe it ain’t gonna be fer a while, but y’know what? We’ll be together again one day.”

Demitri and Mispy smiled, just slightly. If only out of faith, they nodded.

“Then even if we forget,” Mispy said, “we’ll wait.”


Owen felt something below him in the ocean. It was watching, but it was too far below the surface for him to tell what it was. A new memory—this one felt familiar, and Owen hoped it was his own—floated to the front of his thoughts.

“Is the monster gone?” Owen squeaked, peeking out from under his Rawst bed.

“All gone, dear,” Amia said, sighing. “Owen, come on out. See?”

A Magmortar stepped in.

“There’s no monster! This is just Alex, remember him? Your Dad?”

“No… It was a monster… I saw it! For real!”

Alex fidgeted, bumping his cannons together.

“Well, the monster is gone,” Amia said, gently holding Alex’s shoulder. She flinched at the fire, but then pushed through, as if she got used to it.

“Where’re my real parents?” Owen asked, puffing an ember in their general direction. “My Mom’s supposed to be a Charizard, right? Where’s my awesome Dragon mom?!”

“Owen, dear, they… first of all, Charizard isn’t… We found your egg out in the woods, remember? Ohh, you must have hit your head pretty hard to forget all this.”

“NO!” Owen shouted, pointing an accusatory claw at them. “I… I know what happened! You… took me away from them! You—” Owen suddenly stopped talking, eyes wide. “W-wait… wait, I… I remember, they… Gahi… and…”

Amia and Alex exchanged looks. A white aura enveloped Amia’s hands.

“Wait, no—I’ll stay quiet! I’ll—Please—! I don’t wanna forget! I wanna be me! Don’t make…”


He was fading. The memories were vivid, and then scrambled, and then gone. Frantic thoughts exploded through his and Gahi’s fused minds. He didn’t know what thoughts were his, Gahi’s, or both of theirs. Soon after, they didn’t think of much at all.

<><><>​

“There!” Rhys shouted. “I see them! But…! N-no…! It… how did it happen so quickly?! Owen—He should have—!” Rhys shook his head. “We were only within the Chasm for seconds at most! How are they so far away?!”

Amia took in a sharp breath to steady herself. “We—we can still help! We just have to—we just need to…!”

Demitri groaned, tugging at his tusks anxiously. “How can we keep up?! They’re so far away! We can’t fly! Even if I evolved, I can’t fly!”

Amia shook her head, looking around. “Oh, I’ll just—” Amia hesitated by some internal conflict, but then pushed her arms forward, summoning a single spirit. A Hydreigon. “Some of you get on him,” she instructed the others.

“H-hello,” Hydreigon said timidly, bumping his head-hands together. “I can carry two of you.”

Rhys helped to guide Enet onto him, hopping on right after. He couldn’t fight if he flew on his own and would have to use Amia’s spirit instead.

Zena slithered toward Demitri and Mispy and urged her to get into her back next. “Let’s try to get close,” she said. “Maybe we can calm Owen down that way, the three of us.”

“Right,” Demitri said.

With everything arranged, all of the Guardians, Rhys, Demitri, and Mispy lifted to the skies. Nevren wasn’t present, but a quick talk in the communicator indicated that he was at Kilo Village, coordinating with other Hearts to set up possible rescue operations.

Demitri pointed ahead from atop Zena’s back. “They’re falling. Are they…? Did they stop fighting?”

“There’s just one…” Mispy said. But her leaf quivered at the power she felt radiating from the frantic aura.

“They fused together,” Rhys stated lowly. He saw the pair, now one, land in the water. “We don’t have a lot of time—we have to get there quickly and see what we can do. Try to split them apart—they must be adjusting, but if we take too long…!”

“Let’s speed up,” Anam said. “I’ll try to help as much as I can! Even if I need to…!” He gulped.

“What should we expect?” Manny said. “I’ve seen fusion befer with spirits, but I dunno what these guys’re gonna be like. They’re at the edge o’ stability, right? All my spirits’re going crazy right now, Yen’s trying ter keep ‘em in check. I think this stuff is triggering some memories they lost.”

“They were pushed to their very limit,” Rhys said. “And a fusion of all four—I don’t know how we’d be able to handle it. Demitri, Mispy, I need you to be very careful—do you feel yourselves evolving?”

“I felt the Unleashing Aura a little, but…” Demitri shook his head. “I think—I’ll be okay.”

Mispy nodded. “But Gahi and…”

“We need to watch out for that. Owen’s Perception and Gahi’s speed means that they will both be fully aware of any of our advances, and fast enough to dodge them.”

“What—then how do you hit him? How can we stop him!?” Amia said.

“Simple,” Rhys said. “We have to generate an attack that they simply can’t avoid. Aura Sphere from two sides, or something that will overwhelm their lacking offenses. Focus on unavoidable strategies that overwhelm. Understood?!”

“Right!” They all said.

Zena looked down at a dark spot in the water, deep below. It moved oddly. “Hm?” she said. “Is that…?”

“Um—what do we call them?” Willow asked, sitting atop Rhys’ head. “Gahi and Owen—what do we call them if they’re fused? Do they answer to something?”

“They’d probably answer to either name,” Rhys said.

“Gawen! Calm down!” Willow yelled. “Meditate!”

“I don’t think that’s something they’d pick,” Rhys muttered, readying a powerful Suppression Aura. “I wish it wouldn’t have to come to this—but they have to return to their lowest forms. We’ll have to start again. But hopefully it will be faster this time.” He fired while the fused Pokémon was still trying to get out of the water. It was a direct hit; Amia followed up with her own blast, which also hit.

Zena hesitated. “I’m sorry, Owen. Please don’t forget this time…” She ultimately joined the blast, combining her Suppressing force with the others.

All three blasts pierced, permeated, and enveloped the fused pair, but when it faded…

Nothing happened. The Flygon-Charizard amalgam stared up at the group.

“This…” Rhys said. “This is… the worst-case scenario.”

“Worst-case…?” Anam repeated worriedly, a swirl of inky blackness forming on his cheek. He slapped it, clutching at the slime of his face, and the darkness faded.

Gawen, for a split second, vanished from view, leaving only a high trail of water where he was once swimming.

“Behind us!” Rhys said, knowing this pattern. And indeed, he was there, high above and preparing a strike—a Flamethrower. Mispy immediately created a barrier of energy. Zena fired a Hydro Pump through the barrier to neutralize the blast, creating a wave of steam. This forced Gawen to fly to the right to dodge the plume.

“To the right!” Rhys said, but then they vanished again. “Where did—” this wasn’t part of a pattern he was familiar with. He turned around and saw a flash of Gawen’s body, but that was it. Little pinpricks of light surrounded them, difficult to see under the rising sun. That’s when he realized— “We’re surrounded by his traps! Be careful!”

“H-how surrounded is surrounded?” Amia asked.

Manny spotted little pinpricks of energy scattered on all sides. “Pretty surrounded.” He clicked his tongue in thought. “I’ll fix it. Oy, Rhys. I want yeh ter just… throw as many Aura Spheres as yeh can, yeah?”

“Y-yes, of course. But the traps…”

“We’ll shield against it. Mispy!”

“Yes!”

“Keep yer Light Screen up!”

“Okay!”

Manny hopped over to Rhys and took his bag. “Yeh picked up what Owen dropped when he escaped, yeah?” he said.

“Of course,” Rhys said.

Manny held out his paw; Rhys hastily tossed the bag over.

“Knowing him, he planned fer this.” Manny rummaged through the bag. “Somehow. He’s gotta… hah! He totally did!”

“H-he did?” Rhys asked. He didn’t have time to be surprised. “What did he bring?”

Manny grabbed something from the bag—a Dungeon Orb of some kind. He thrust it in the air; Gawen hissed and blasted another plume of fire, but the Orb took effect right after. A shocking energy radiated out and the Charizard-Flygon fusion stopped in his place, frozen. Zena reflexively created an invisible platform just beneath Gawen to keep him from plummeting to the ground.

“Hah! It worked!” Manny said. “Well lookit that, can’t fight against a Petrify Orb, can yeh?!”

The fusion’s body twitched, small muscle movements indicating that they didn’t have much time. “Uhh—I don’t think that’s working,” Anam said. “Owen’s Mystic power is undoing my blessings! He’ll move soon! I—” He gulped, suddenly clutching at his head. “No, please…” he begged to nobody in particular.

“Okay, what else did he pack… eh… Oran Berry, some Elixirs, eh… hah!” Manny tossed another item toward Gawen, encasing it in a small sphere of aura—it landed right in front of him and exploded in a fine, gray mist. The petrification ended, but Gawen retched and clutched at his throat, roaring in anguish.

“Wh-what did you do?!” Amia said.

“Vile Seed,” Manny said. “We stand a chance! C’mon—we gotta get ‘im now, while his defenses’re shot!”

Rhys hesitated, but agreed. “I will do my best,” he said, and then aimed a paw right for Gawen.

The fusion spat a Flamethrower at the group, dodging nearly every attack that they threw toward him. Willow learned that Gawen was at least partially Ground Type, as her Electric attacks did next to nothing; she transitioned to Moonblasts, but they were too slow to hit the speed from Gahi’s half. Zena’s Hydro Pumps missed completely; Anam’s halfhearted Dragon Pulses grazed him once, but that was all. It looked like Anam would have fired more, but a fleck of darkness mixed in with one of them made the Goodra clam up completely.

ADAM, thinking he was clever, fired a Hyper Beam right when Gawen dodged another strike, but the Flygon-Charizard brought his wings together and blocked it completely with Protect. ADAM screeched, flailing in the air.

Valle had little that he could do in the air. Desperately, he made his second motion in centuries and threw his own arm like a rocket. It exploded, and a few of the rocks grazed Gawen enough to slow him down.

Rhys and Manny both fired Aura Spheres in an alternating rhythm. Impossible to evade, the spheres tracked him down, destroyed only if they collided with one of the many aerial traps; however, with the two Lucario firing, the fusion couldn’t get close without risking a hit from the harder attackers of the team. At first, it seemed like a stalemate, yet with nothing to do but dodge, it became clear that Gawen was at a disadvantage. Fatigue set in. Moves became sloppy and muscles responded less efficiently.

“He’s getting tired!” Amia said. “We should get close to—to stop him!”

“Working on it!” Manny said. But the fusion refused to stop fighting; getting close would just get them both hurt.

Rhys looked at his paws—they were glowing a faint gold. “Ngh—” He suddenly stopped attacking.

“Eh?! Rhys? What’re yeh doing?” Manny said. “I need yeh ter attack!”

“I—I can’t,” he said. “If I go any further, I’ll risk losing my power. It’s as I said—I Promised not to kill another Guardian!”

“W-wait! Then that means Owen and Gahi—”

She turned to get a closer look. During the flurry, blood dripped toward the sea; every wingbeat Gawen made dropped a little bit more. Yet he kept fighting. “N-no…! E-everyone! We need to stop!”

“Owen,” Zena breathed. She looked down again, spotting a great shadow in the ocean, exposed by the rising sun. Her eyes widened and recollection flashed in her eyes. “…We need to defeat him!” Zena announced. “Make sure that he hits the water!”

“Wh-what?” Amia said, spinning around, betrayed.

“Just do it—he won’t calm down otherwise! Make him hit the water!”

“Why would—”

Willow squeaked angrily. “Do you think we have time to talk?!”

“We have to stop—before he dies!” Amia said. “He’s bleeding! Any more and there won’t be an Owen or Gahi to talk to!”

“If we stop, he’s gonna attack, and there ain’t gonna be those two left in their heads anyway!” Manny said. “He’ll attack everyone! The whole town! Anybody—and he’ll be too fast ter catch up ter, too!”

“Hyper Beam charged at twenty five percent,” ADAM announced.

“W-wait! Not yet!” Amia said. “We can find another way!”

“We don’t have another way, Amia. Just trust me!” Zena said. “I think if we just shoot him down—”

Gawen dashed toward them but was beaten back by the shockwave of a neutralized Aura Sphere.

“But he’ll die in the water!” Amia said. “He’s still part Charizard, and—and if he becomes too weak, and he lands in water, the water shock will—”

“Hyper Beam at fifty percent.”

Gawen roared. In a last stand, he powered through Manny’s barrage of small Aura Spheres and slashed at Manny, exploding the air right in front of his face. The Lucario coughed and fell back into Anam, cushioned in the slime, but was unconscious. Anam’s paws were black.

“Please, no,” Anam said, pushing Manny away and onto Zena’s back. “Stop… go away…” The black fog around Anam’s paws intensified, but then shrank back, sinking into Anam’s body as a swirl of black ooze just below the surface.

Rhys winced. “Amia, we… have to. He won’t stop.” He fired an Aura Sphere to keep Gawen slowed; his paws flashed dangerously. He couldn’t do another one.

“B-but…! But there has to be…!”

“Seventy five percent.”

“Wait—no! It’s—” Amia could find her words. Nevren’s remarks echoed in his mind.

Zena unleashed another beam of water. Gawen dodged it but stumbled afterward. An opening.

“Fully charged.”

Amia stared at Owen and Gahi’s fused form with wide eyes, like she wanted to take every detail of them that she could. There was nothing she could do to stop it. She had a mind to fly forward and take the blast herself—but the time for that had passed.

ADAM fired. This time, Gawen was too tired to dodge; the Beam hit him directly, frying the scales on his front, splitting around to burn his sides. Smoke from his cooked body rose in small streams. He fell straight toward the ocean. Amia immediately dove down; Demitri and Mispy urged Zena to do the same, and she complied. Her slender form made it easy to catch up to Gawen; the closer they got to the water, the stronger a new presence felt, and the darker the water became. Amia didn’t notice it; she was too focused on her son.

“Owen!” Amia shouted. “I’ve got you—M-Mispy! Mispy, please—heal him!”

He was still falling. The fall would kill him—Amia knew it. The water landing would be too harsh on his already broken body. He was seconds from hitting it. Amia accelerated to dangerous levels just to catch up; she got below Gawen and held her arms up, using her Mystic powers to slow his fall. Hydreigon burst into a cloud of blue embers, moving toward Amia even faster than before. That left Rhys and Enet free-falling, saved only by another platform created by Anam. Willow jumped off of Rhys’ head and sprouted her pixie wings, speeding after the falling family.

“I’ll shrink them!” she said. “That’ll slow the fall, right?!” But she was too far away to use her Mystic power. She tried to fire anyway, but it dissipated long before it reached them.

Shortly after Hydreigon returned to Amia, a Magmortar emerged. Amia and Alex caught a look at Gawen’s face, burned as it was. For a second, Alex made eye contact with the fusion. He tried desperately to see even a small iota of Owen left in them. “Owen—” Alex said.

Gawen let out a weak whimper.

Alex smiled and wheezed with a strange mixture of a laugh of relief and a cry of sorrow. “Owen, it’s okay! It’s okay!” They were falling fast, but it was slowing. Maybe he’d survive after all, but they couldn’t avoid the water at their speeds. Alex pressed his body against the frightened amalgamation. Amia was too focused on slowing their fall without breaking Gawen’s body.

Zena’s slender form allowed her descent to be much faster. She glanced back at Demitri and Mispy. Without any time to explain, she just said, “You’re going to hit the water. Get ready.”

The Fraxure and Bayleef stared, wide-eyed, but had just as much time as Zena did to protest.

She didn’t bother trying to slow down; instead, she liquefied her body and slammed into the water. In seconds, the water turned rough and white, swirling upward, softened with bubbles and foam. Demitri and Mispy screamed, slamming into it next; they fell limbs-first, arms and legs bending in odd directions. The shock knocked them both unconscious.

“Owen, just hang on,” Alex begged. “We’ll get Mispy to heal you, and then we’ll find a way to calm you down. And then—“

They slammed into the foamy water, which wrapped around and cushioned the broken, bloodied amalgam. The three flames along his body extinguished in the water, emitting a steady stream of hot bubbles instead, though that stream was weakening rapidly. The currents that Zena became pushed them back to the surface.

“Are they okay?!” Willow screamed, landing on top of Amia’s head. “W-wait! Demitri, Mispy!”

“I have them!” Zena shouted, briefly materializing her head to communicate.

While broken, Zena could still sense their auras were strong, and their bodies breathing—if only because she used her own power to empty their lungs. Zena’s gentle currents kept their heads above the water. Alex had dissolved from the strike, returning to Amia’s spirit realm. But with Mispy unconscious, she wasn’t going to be able to heal Gawen.

The Fire Guardian coughed out saltwater. She frantically held Owen in place. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her side; the source was a set of claws digging into her. She followed it to Gawen, one eye open, tearful and frightened and fading.

“Owen—it’s okay. It’s okay,” Amia said, but it sounded more like she was begging. She looked up. The rest of the group were still dots in the air struggling to catch up.

Zena rematerialized next to them, her body partway out of the ocean. “H-how is he?”

Amia shook her head. “He’s—he’s fading. His aura, it’s…”

Zena could feel it, too. Gawen’s aura was fading fast. The water and the stress and the blood—not to mention the sting of salt all over—was proving to be too much, even for them, or him, or it. Amia didn’t know what to call her son anymore, or what was left of him. Hot tears mixed with the ocean.

The Milotic coiled around Gawen’s body. It felt cold. The blood gave her prismatic scales a red tinge. She pressed her head against his, wrapping her ribbons around his shoulders and neck to feel his pulse. Weak.

Amia finally came to her senses. She held her hands against Owen’s chest, shutting her eyes. “Just… just a little… just a little…” she said desperately. Healing energy channeled pink light from her arms into Gawen.

“Owen? Gahi?” Amia said. “Do you feel that? Are you… okay?”

Gawen stared at Amia with a flickering light of recognition, red lenses obscured by droplets of reddening water. He tried to reach out to her. Amia immediately returned the favor—his grip was strong and savage, digging into her hands with intent to kill. And yet his eyes said something entirely different. The Gardevoir winced. She refused to let go.

The others were almost there. Just a little longer. They could keep him under control. Perhaps tie him up, wait for him to calm down—would he ever calm down? Was he like this forever? No—Amia refused to believe that possibility. She could still see Owen and Gahi inside the beast. They both had to be there.

Gawen refused to let go of Amia, either. But she was starting to wonder if it was because he wanted to kill her, or because he didn’t want to see her go away.

Amia looked back at Demitri and Mispy, still floating with Zena supporting them with her tail as a makeshift raft. The Fire Guardian held her free hand toward them, blasting another Heal Pulse toward each unconscious mutant. Mispy was the first to blink awake, dizzy, followed by Demitri seconds later. They groaned in pain. The Pulse wasn’t enough to repair their broken bones. Amia readied another, feeling weak from how much energy she had used. “Just a little… more…”

And then Gawen suddenly looked down, eyes wide. Amia and Zena followed his gaze, Willow struggling to stay atop Amia’s head.

A dark figure was just below them, approaching fast. Glowing, blue eyes locked on, unblinking. As big as the Heart Headquarters, no—even bigger. The closer it got, the bigger it seemed.

“Emily!” Zena shouted.

The water bulged beneath them. Something rose from the surface—something big. A head, first, white in color with blue markings near the eyes. This was followed by a long, white neck and shoulders; everything else was submerged within the water, but Zena knew exactly what it was: a Lugia.

The Lugia had appeared for only a few seconds. Amia had no time to react than to just widen her eyes as its great mouth closed around their entire, huddled group. Willow screamed, but in that final, unceremonious instant, the great behemoth’s jaws closed around them.

Zena, Gawen, Amia, Willow, Demitri, and Mispy, in that final moment, were gone, taken by the Lugia to the depths of the sea.
 
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