- Aug 18, 2018
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Chapter 92 – Rediscovery
Angelo had fallen into a healthy routine. He would wake up around early afternoon, have breakfast, do some drawing, and leave his home to heal the dying. Then, along the way, he would see small requests on the board by the Central Waypoint—now nonfunctional and repurposed as a trouble board. Angelo was, therefore, able to take on essentially any request, whether he wanted to or not.
He didn’t understand. It had been so perfect. Every day would have been the same and nobody would have assumed any differently. He was an artist, just a simple comic artist who wrote about heroes taking down impossible villains. He wasn’t someone who actually could!
And yet, now, they assumed he was. Suddenly he was the versatile hero. And now, standing at the exit to his art shop slash home, he knew that it would only be two steps before someone would ask him for help.
He pawed uncertainly at the door, undoing the latch—but then heard a small, squeaking sound, followed by a scratching noise below.
“Erm, hello?” Angelo asked.
Little, fuzzy yellow legs poked out from underneath the door. More scratching and squeaking, angry little noises, and a Joltik finally popped out. “You!”
Angelo flinched, stepping away. “Me?”
“Yeah, you!” She leaped onto his face, and Angelo screamed, flailing,and tried to grab her. Instead, she squirmed and found her way somewhere under his hat fur. “You’re late!”
Angelo was still screaming.
“Why’d you take so long to wake up!?”
Angelo was still screaming.
Then he felt something bite against his skull, and then he couldn’t move. Electricity raced along his body, numbing him, and he fell on his side with jerking, spasming motions.
“Oh, great, and now you can’t even move!” Willow jammed her leg against Angelo’s head again. “Come on, you’re stronger than that! Get up!”
“Hmph!” Willow hopped off and waited at the door. “We need your help with scouting this time.”
“Scouting?” Angelo repeated, his gaze focused on a few dusty coins that had rolled under a shelf a long time ago. “Why scouting?”
“Well, because you can fly!”
“Oh, so I can.”
“And if we’re ever short on units to send somewhere, Elder said that you’d be the best person to grab! Because you’re a wildcard, or something!”
“Elder. The giant Torkoal?”
“Of course.” In the past few days, he had seen him giving out calm orders in the place of the Lucario mate of his. What ever happened to him, anyway? Well, perhaps he was on a long travel.
“You know, I’m kinda jealous,” Willow said, prodding Angelo again while the feeling slowly and agonizingly returned to his limbs. “Since when can a Smeargle learn so many moves and keep them?”
“Sticky aura, Father called it.” Angelo slowly rolled until he was on his belly, then shakily brought his arms forward. Up, up… don’t fall, don’t fall… Too weak to stand. Not yet. Sitting would do.
Willow, clearly impatient, hopped a few times before landing on a nearby shelf, dangerously close to a framed picture of his grandfather, Smeargle Angelo. While recovering from his paralysis, the current Angelo wondered if his grandfather, too, had been driven insane by overworking. Sure, the cover was that he had gone insane somehow by straying too close to Void Basin, but really, weren’t those just silly rumors? Overworking sounded a lot more likely…
Because it certainly felt like he was following that same path.
He could feel his legs again. Good. Finally back on his feet, he sighed and didn’t flinch when Willow landed on his head.
“Okay. Time to go,” Angelo said. “Where am I scouting?”
“We,”—The word filled him with dread—“are going to fly to Yotta Outskirts to observe from the air if there are any mutants straying nearby, and if there are, we’re gonna take them down!”
Angelo was frozen mid-step outside his home. “Excuse me?” he said. “You can’t be serious. I—I’m not someone who can fight mutants. Are you insane?”
“But you’re super strong, aren’t you?”
“No!” Angelo shook his head fervently. “That’s all behind me! I have a variety of abilities, yes, and I’ve trained for the Hearts, yes, but I am just a comic book artist. I do not want to fight a mutant! I want to live!”
“Hmmm…” Willow shrugged. “It’s okay! I’ll protect you.”
The little Joltik hopped a few more times—at an impressive height, going over his head—and then said, “Okay! Let’s get our other scouts. These two went to Yotta Outskirts a few times already to help with the new trade route thingy.”
“I dunno! Something about farmland.”
“Farmland… Oh, perhaps to secure some steady food.”
Supplies were rapidly dwindling. The Hearts were scrambling to set up new routes to sustain the population—though thanks to most healing mechanisms disappearing, Angelo morbidly wondered if the number of mouths to feed would be a problem for long.
There were several towns referred to as Outskirts, but Yotta was by far one of the largest settlements by area. Angelo also recalled that their crops used to be a great supplier across the world. Wheat, seeds, vegetables, whole orchards of fruits… If they could secure something like that again, feeding the town would become a matter of organization, not numbers.
Walking down the streets of Kilo Village, Angelo checked for any new developments. Several shops were reopening with new purpose or old business. Several more were used as makeshift hospitals and recovery shelters. Settled wounds—ones that proper healing did not get to in time—and other ailments plagued most of these Pokémon, and they needed a place to curl up and rest a while, at best. Angelo was tempted to visit them and see if his Heal Pulse would do any work, but the very thought labored his breathing. He was lightheaded.
“Oh, and Elder also said we’re gonna get a visitor soon!” Willow said. “A really big visitor from the east.”
“Visitor? Who told Elder?”
It was probably true, but Angelo had grown numb to it. Arceus this, Arceus that, it was like seeing him in town that one time was the dawn of a new era. What, the sky falling wasn’t enough? It wasn’t like Arceus was strong enough to do anything anyway. What a divine letdown.
“Will we know when the visitor’s arriving?” Angelo asked.
Angelo passed by a team consisting of a Scyther and Pikachu heading for the northern exit. Both of them looked like they hadn’t slept well in days. In Pikachu’s paws were several mission statements, which he was reading aloud to Scyther. Angelo closed his eyes, wondering when he’d be able to curl up in bed again.
The Central Waypoint’s bulletin board was a crowded mess of requests of varying levels of legibility and descriptiveness. Pokémon came and went from this board, peeling requests off as they saw them, while several more were stuck on to replace them, managed by several Heart staff.
Perhaps he could take on that job next? Not as one of the Thousand, but as a simple bookkeeper that helped keep the Hearts functioning as a governing body, even now. Maybe if he asked convincingly—
It was a curse. “Yes, that’s me.”
Before him was a Salazzle with a settled wound—a scar that was certainly from a lightning strike on her chest. He couldn’t look away, but the annoyed look on Salazzle’s face was enough to force him to stand to attention.
“Like what you see?” Salazzle growled.
“I’m sorry. I, er—Yotta Outskirts?”
“…Yeah, that’s us. Delphox Leo’s going to be our director. Team of four. Apparently this one is going to help us fly there and deliver supplies.” She motioned to the Joltik between them.
“Yup! That’s me!” Willow raised her front half an intimidating inch off the ground. “Joltik Willow, master cargo deliverer!”
“…Is this a joke?” Angelo asked Salazzle.
“Nope. I saw her do this myself. You’ll see soon. Anyway, name’s Salazzle Spice. I remember you from drawing our menu over in Sugar ‘n Spice. Thanks, by the way. Really popped, brought in extra business before this whole mess started.”
“Oh! The same—you know Sugar?” Angelo asked. “Oh, of course, you’re, er, her sister.”
Now that Angelo thought about it, having two Salazzle for siblings sounded quite strange, especially at the same age. Weren’t female Salandit rare?
“Oh, there’s Leo,” Spice said, pointing behind him. Weaving away from the crowd still trying to take notices, Angelo struggled until he saw the Delphox in question waving them down.
“Is that Angelo?” Leo called.
“Yep! We’re ready to go!” Spice said.
Something landed on Angelo’s head and he froze in horror.
“We’re ready!” Willow said while on top of him.
But before they could depart—or figure out how they were supposed to depart—a shrill cry came from the western road. Heads turned. A frightened Bewear pointed a massive paw toward the horizon, where a great, black figure loomed over them. With the sun’s current angle, its shadow darkened the entire western mountains, with great, black wings made of some ethereal material, a long, coiling, serpentine body… Angelo couldn’t comprehend its form. Where was its head? It simply coiled and coiled with a black core in the center, and then it ended on the other end with five thick tendrils that looked this way and that.
Not that it mattered—it was covered in eyes! All of them blinked independently of one another, and Angelo was sure that a few were staring specifically at him, despite how far away it was.
It stopped its advance just as its shadow curled around the crater’s edge.The Pokémon of Kilo Village all stared in stunned silence. Murmurs of terror rippled across the crowd. Others were morbidly fascinated. Several were already fleeing for their lives.
Torkoal Elder was quickly—therefore, slowly—making his way down the Heart HQ stairway.
The leviathan in the sky waved one of its five tendrils at them, and Angelo realized that the tendril split open at the end like a mouth.
Angelo forgot how to breathe. The thought and ability left him. Pokémon were screaming but it was all dull and muddled.
Do not be afraid!
Spice was shoving Angelo forward to find shelter, or something. He didn’t know. He was probably still dreaming. The screams were all white noise.
My name is Nate!
It was drifting closer. Several beams of energy—a Hydro Pump, a Fire Blast, and an Ice Beam—blasted the leviathan to no effect as its body drifted over the outer rim of Kilo Mountain’s crater.
Please! I’m here to help!
It was landing. Its body curled over the mountain like a hungry, feral Seviper over an unguarded nest, or like Angelo curling over his bed to rummage through his snack packs.
Angelo hadn’t breathed for a while. Or perhaps he was breathing too quickly. Either way, his vision was curling itself into a tiny circle. Something tiny pulled on his furry cap, and Willow’s voice loudly screeched for him to stand up. Angelo hadn’t even realized he’d collapsed.
“It’s just Nate! Get up!” Willow commanded. She jammed one of her legs into his forehead, but to no avail. She growled and kept trying to pull him up, flapping her fairy wings to gain altitude.
And then, everything went dark.
“They’re dead ahead.”
Eon had the form of a mutant Flygon this time, likely because his mind was so focused on Gahi. He thankfully did not inherit the accent. However, he also did not inherit the Psychic powers, and had to deal with normal flying—an agonizingly slow pace compared to the others in the scouting team, namely Xypher and Hakk. Even with his Flying-induced Tailwind, they weren’t very fast compared to Gahi’s flying speed. Corviknight were incredibly fast fliers, but it wasn’t enough compared to Gahi’s speed. Though, he supposed having such a lightweight passenger also helped.
They had to stay close so their cloaking against Titans was still effective, but there was no telling how long that would last. The cloaking was apparently not perfect, especially if more intelligent ones were looking for small distortions in the sky. Below them were the many jagged fingers of Void Forest’s treetops, and ahead, after what might have been half a day’s travel, were the faraway mountaintops of what Marshadow had called the Nolla Mountains. By wing, travel there would have taken a full day of nonstop, full-speed flying, and they’d have needed to bring more rations. On foot? Marshadow had said not to bother.
“How’d he get this far so fast?” Marshadow said. “How’d he know where they were? They ain’t seers like you.”
“They share a strong bond already because they fused together before,” Eon said. “Maybe that’s a factor?”
“If that’s the case, they’d’ve said something about Owen, too, eh? You mentioned they fused with him, too.”
“Well, that’s true…” Eon sighed. “Then maybe it’s a coincidence.”
“I don’t buy coincidences,” Marshadow replied, arms crossed. “Bah, whatever. We’ll see if it means anything later. Fer now, let’s make sure he’s alri—OI!”
Eon had suddenly stopped, and Xypher squawked and beat his wings. Dark, steely feathers drifted below them. Marshadow, losing his balance, landed face-first into Eon’s back. With a grunt, he slammed his hand on a shoulder and stood up.
“Alright, what’s yer deal?”
“They’re behind me now,” Eon said, pointing. “They were just ahead a few seconds ago, and now they’re…”
“What, does your internal routing not update in time or something?” Hakk muttered, but then blinked. “Update…” He rummaged through his bag.
“I guess not, but we need to head back now. They aren’t ahead anymore.”
Eon spun around and flew under Xypher, then waited for him to keep up.
“This cloaking device blocks sound, right?” Eon said. “We might need to disable that so we can call them. He might not be paying attention to where we are.”
“Maybe we can just land next to them when we see them. Are they moving?”
Eon searched for Gahi’s energy. It didn’t seem like he was moving; they were getting closer at around the same speed they were flying. But it was all such a strange, vague sensation to begin with that he had no idea.
“Forget your senses. Found ‘em.” Hakk pointed at a bright green figure among the dark trees. The glossy, shining body was enough of a giveaway that it was Gahi.
Seconds before Eon was about to call, Gahi disappeared in a flash of light, and suddenly he was further ahead again. “What—”
“Teleporting. Figures.” Marshadow chuckled and tapped Eon on the shoulder. “Think yeh c’n keep up with that?”
“Hmph, I won’t be outrun by some Guardian newbie.” Eon beat his wings harder and sped ahead, but that only earned an irritated shout from Hakk.
“Wait!” he roared. “Cloaking device! Remember?!”
“Hrrgh, then how am I supposed to catch up?” Eon snarled back at them. “You’re the one keeping me held back!”
“Stop complaining and catch up!”
“Fast! Fast, fast!” Xypher panted, gliding downward for extra speed.
Thankfully, Gahi was slower to disappear this time, and once close enough, Eon shouted, “GAHI!”
“E-eh?” Gahi turned. “Lygo? What’re yeh—”
“It’s—” Eon was about to specify, but then realized that would be a bad idea. Not yet. Instead, he motioned behind him. “We were scouting for you. What’s going—” Once he landed on the ground, he saw how winded Gahi was, eyes crossed with what looked like a bad headache. Trina, slung behind Gahi’s shoulders, looked pale. Along with that, Demitri and Mispy, looking starved and battered, stood against one of the trees just to prop themselves up.
Marshadow muttered a curse and said, “You guys don’t look too great.”
“Yeah, was bringin’ ‘em back,” Gahi said between breaths.
“We found them in the mountains,” Trina reported, wrapped around Gahi’s neck by the vines like a backpack. She looked nauseous. “I’m assuming we’re going in the right direction.”
Eon looked to Demitri and Mispy next. “And you two? Are you okay?”
“Better than before…” Demitri tried to stand straighter, but it only made him dizzy. He collapsed against Mispy, who fell over right after, leaving the pair in a heap.
Xypher chirped worriedly, and Hakk hopped off of the Corviknight while sorting through his bag.
“Rations,” Hakk said to Marshadow, who nodded. “Hey. You two should get some energy back and just sit here for a while.” He pulled out two brown bars wrapped in paper.
“What’s that?” Demitri asked.
“Food. Just a little to—”
Mispy violently tore the two bars out of Hakk’s grip, having only enough self-control to give one of them to Demitri, who took it with trembling claws.
“You’ll need water,” Hakk said, pulling out a flask next. He held it out delicately this time, and Mispy took it with another vine.
“And how about you?” Hakk asked Gahi and Trina.
“I do not have an appetite right now,” the sick-looking Snivy muttered. “Perhaps when the world stops spinning.”
“I’m fine,” Gahi said. “When c’n we get back?”
Eon squinted; there was a trail of blood coming out from Gahi’s left nostril. “How much have you been Teleporting?”
“Not fer too long,” Gahi said.
“Looks like you’re Teleporting too much too fast,” Hakk noted, scratching deliberately at his own nostril.
Gahi mimicked the gesture and inspected his claw, flinching.
“I don’t think your powers are fully developed after all, Gahi,” Trina noted. “Let’s rest until you can go the rest of the way.”
“I’ll make it,” Gahi said. “I just gotta—”
“I will shove my vines down your windpipe if you Teleport me again,” Trina hissed. “I wasn’t built for this sort of thing.”
“Hmph, at least get me dinner first,” Gahi muttered back, but he sat down anyway. Only then did the dizziness hit him, because after a few breaths, Gahi had his hands on his head. He said something difficult to understand and then breathed deeper.
“Yep. There’s the migraine,” Hakk said, rolling his eyes. “Who would’ve thought, a Dragon with Psychic powers wouldn’t work out. Last I checked, only Legends have those.”
“Legends. Which ones?” Eon asked. “Hrmm… Latias and Latios, if I remember right.”
“Are they here?” Eon asked. “You mentioned that the Legends were forgotten, but…”
“Yeah, those two’re around. Far northeast from where we are right now. Those two’re leaders of another sector of the Voidlands Protection Network.”
Something was bugging Eon. “I think there’s another Dragon-Psychic.”
Marshadow shrugged. “Maybe. Probably another Legend we’re forgetting.” He approached Demitri and Mispy. “Hey. You know a Charmander?”
“What?” Demitri asked between bites. Despite how much he was starving, he swallowed, paused his eating, and nodded. “Kind of. He’s a Charizard now, though.”
“Nah. But what’s his name?”
“Well, good ter meet yeh two. I figure yer friends o’ Gahi’s? I remember he told me a lot about y’guys.”
“Eh?” Gahi mumbled. “Whozzat? Manny sounds smaller.”
Mispy laughed weakly, and Marshadow’s shadowy flames bent to an imaginary gust of wind.
“Whoever this Manny is,” Marshadow muttered, “I’mma challenge him ter a fight.”
“Are you going to stand there all day?”
Tim spun around, as did Owen. Smallwing—who Tim ended up naming Duos—chirped angrily at Owen to hold still while atop his head.
Before them was another human, and Owen recognized this one as female, at least, he thought so. The higher voice was usually the giveaway there. Long hair, brown eyes, she looked native to Kanto, unlike his current trainer, who was apparently from someplace called Unova. A Pokémon he had never seen before was curled around her neck, snoozing lazily. Serpentine, no arms or legs at all, with a bright blue body.
“No, I was just looking,” Tim said, stepping aside. “This Gym is our first.”
“And you’re bringing a Charmander and a Pidgey to it?” the girl asked, sighing. “Didn’t you take any classes on type matchups? They’re one of the most basic concepts.”
“I’m gonna make up for it in spirit!” Tim said. “And Charmander’s cool!”
She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess. Your parents moved all the way here because they’re rich, and then they helped get you into the Head Start program next, is that it?”
She quirked a brow.
Owen, perplexed, growled confusedly at Tim. Why wouldn’t he just tell her off? Granted, he had no idea what this program was about, only that Tim wanted him as a partner. And sure, he was an idiot, but he wasn’t a bad human. He already felt a little stronger, too.
The girl leaned forward. “Wait… did you maybe, get a scholarship for this? Are you a talented trainer?”
“No, that’s not it,” Tim hastily said, waving both hands. “I just, I don’t know. It’s what my parents wanted of me. I could’ve gone to high school back in Unova, but the Trainer Learning program is cool!”
“…Hmm.” She eyed Owen, and he didn’t like that. He started to growl, but Duos pecked his forehead from above. Owen hissed at Duos and grumbled.
The serpent around the girl’s neck stirred.
“Hm? Oh, sorry, Ire,” the girl said, rubbing under his chin.
“Ire, huh. Is that a, um….” Tim stared dumbly at it.
“A Dratini, yes.” And it looked like she took great pleasure in explaining this.
For some reason, this was monumental, because Tim’s eyes were wide. “But those’re—”
“Rare? Maybe where you lived, but where I’m from, they fly around all the time! But they wouldn’t choose any simple trainer. Dratini are graceful, elegant, and wonderful—”
Ire let out a loud, satisfied belch. Owen couldn’t believe that such a sound could come from something so small. And then, Ire squeaked happily and nuzzled the girl’s cheek.
“Y-you were saying?” Tim asked, struggling to hold back laughter. “Something about grace and elegance?”
Ire nibbled on the girl’s cheek, pulling it so her teeth were showing.
“Oh, just—move aside! I have a Badge to win!”
“Okay, Your Grace,” Tim replied, bowing exaggeratedly. Thinking that this was a custom—after all, apparently Ire was supposed to be an incredibly powerful Pokémon—Owen mimicked Tim and bowed the same way. Duos fell off of his head and chirped various curses at Owen.
Seething, the girl stomped past him.
“Oh, um—and what’s your name? I’m Tim!”
“Hmph! Ayame. Good luck with your Rock-weak team!”
Tim watched for a while longer, looking wistful. “Wow… a Dratini…” He looked down at Owen, grinning all the same. “Oh well. Charizard’s gonna be cooler anyway.”
And that, he liked.
“He sounds like an interesting human,” Zena remarked over breakfast. For her, more blocks, but she was looking healthier already. For Owen, he had what looked like a grainy, chewy bar packed with… he assumed it was food, but the taste was vaguely sweet and chalky.
“I guess so,” Owen said, staring at his toes. “Tim… Eon, now, I guess…”
“But from what you told me, you’re at odds with each other, now, aren’t you?”
Owen sighed, then stalled by taking another bite of his nutrient bar. She was still staring at him. No choice but to answer.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said slowly, “they aren’t the same person.”
“But aren’t they?” Zena asked. “I don’t understand.”
“No.” Owen closed his eyes, envisioning that happy, warm grin on the human boy, and then those desperate, mimicked-Charizard eyes. “He’s not the same person. You can have the same spirit and not be the same person. I’m at least four different people, and I don’t even know what some of those people were like. We may share the same name, and the same spirit, but… but the past ‘me’s are… that. In the past…”
Owen’s gaze drifted toward Zena, and her frown mirrored his. Look at him, now he was the one making her gloomy. He shouldn’t have gotten so into that; he was trying to cheer her up! Still, she wanted to know. And Eon… wasn’t the trainer he’d grown up with.
He wondered if Amber and Daichi missed him. Or Redscale, or Bigtail, or—
“Then what does that make me?” Zena asked softly.
Zena rose a little more from the water, wheezing for air, and asked again, “You wanted me to get my memories back. But would that just be… a past me, a me that’s no longer—”
“No, it’s—this is different,” Owen said feebly. “This was a short time, and you’ll eventually just—”
“I don’t think I like that attitude,” Zena interrupted, narrowing her sunken eyes. “It sounds like you’ve given up on your old selves. I don’t think they’d be very happy about that. Well, I—I don’t know about you, but I want to be whole again. The old me might have been gloomy, but it was still someone you fell in love with. And I want that back!”
Owen flinched moments before Zena did the same. The idle hum of one of the water filters occupied the silence. One of the drains to their left was slightly wider than the others, and the water flowed faster through that one.
“I—I mean—” she stuttered. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn. I do not know where that came from.”
And then more silence. He’d never expected someone like Zena to have so much fire in her, but it wasn’t like this was unprecedented. This was the first time he was on the receiving end of it, though.
“How can I be whole, though?” Owen said. “I spent so long as different… people. I-in fact, at this point, Har has it easier than me! And—”
“I just don’t agree with that,” Zena said. “You’re the same person. Yes, you’ve changed, and yes, maybe those old selves are far and away, but… but they’re still you! Do we not all change, day by day?”
“This is a lot more extreme than day by day,” Owen replied automatically, flame blazing brighter. “We’re talking centuries here!”
“And?” Zena asked, voice rising. “What are a few centuries to people like us, really? At some point, we all take things one moment at a time, don’t we? We have more to look back on, and perhaps less to look forward to, but we’re all in this moment, now, together.”
“And what’s that have to do with… everything that I’d forgotten until now? I bet I’d be a completely different person if I never lost those memories.”
“As would I, had I never become a Guardian,” Zena retorted. “I am still me. No amount of amnesia is going to change that. And you! You’ve accepted your past as a weapon. A living, mutant weapon. How can you not accept this next?! What’s the difference?!”
Owen tried to speak, but his mind was a fuzz. What was the difference? For a second, Owen thought he had wings to flex, but he was indeed still a Charmander, and Zena was still a Feebas. He certainly wished he had wings to hide under, though. The warmth they provided, the way he could shield himself under them, always felt secure.
“I’m sorry,” Zena said.
“Uh?” Owen returned to his senses, and he only then realized the apologetic, remorseful look in Zena’s eyes. She was mostly underwater again, surfacing only to speak.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Upset?” Owen echoed, and then realized how bright his tail was. “Oh.” He quickly tried to hide it behind him, took deep breaths, held each one…
“I was just so invested in getting my memories back, a-and then you say that it wouldn’t matter if—”
“No, no, it totally matters, I—”
“For me, yes, but surely for you as well?” Zena begged. “I do not see the difference in our situations. We both lost our past. We both are fighting to get it back. I don’t want to reject myself. How fair would that be to… to my old self? I’m sure I would be very upset…”
“I just don’t know if I can do any of them justice,” Owen admitted. “And I… don’t know if I want some of these memories back.”
“What?” Zena echoed, rising again. “But all of your talk about—”
“I did want it all back,” Owen said. “But…”
A Charizard hobbled up a great stairway, mumbling out a number. 77. 77. Because that was how many flights he had climbed. His arm was bruised. One of his wings was punctured. A few poison spikes had mercifully avoided any lasting damage to him, merely grazing his scales. Standing at the top of the stairway, yet another guard stood and watched, this time, a Rhydon. “You’re barely standing. Turn back.”
“Can’t,” Owen replied, a pitiful smile glued to his face.
“I know you’re close, but you just aren’t going to make it. One Stone Edge from me, and…”
“Do it, then,” Owen said, planting his feet on the ground. “Not like you’re the first Rhydon I met.”
“I know. You fought me before.”
“The Destiny Guardians are an unending force. You can defeat us, and we will only return to take you down again. Now, c’mon, shortie. I know your tricks. Want to try aga—”
In a deft motion, Owen flew the rest of the way up the stairs and blasted Rhydon in the chest with Dragon fire. Rhydon was too slow, conjuring sharp stones from beneath, yet Owen had dodged it despite his injuries. Rhydon didn’t have time to react; the Destiny Guardian disappeared in a flurry of cyan embers.
“Owen?” Zena gently asked. “Did you have another memory just now?”
“It’s so much, Zena,” Owen whimpered, covering his face with his knees until the headache subsided. “Who even is Necrozma supposed to be? I didn’t remember his name at all until I started sleeping here! Why now?”
“I’m sorry,” Zena said gently. “I shouldn’t have brought this all up when you’re so distressed. My memories are nothing compared to yours…”
“Hey, no, don’t…” Owen peeked out from behind his leg-made hideout. “No, I’m sorry. I’m getting mine back. We still need to help yours…” He sighed, irritated with himself. “I should be grateful. Getting memories back at all sounds like it’s next to foreign here. And here I am, complaining about all the ones I have…” With a forced smile, he said to Zena, “Thanks. You helped me keep a perspective on this.”
“Right…” Zena sank a little lower. “But what do we do now? Has Gahi come back yet?”
“I think once he does, the next thing I want to do is help with scouting for Mom.” Owen nodded. “After that, I… well. One thing at a time for now. If I think too much, I think I’ll just tire myself out.”
“That’s okay.” Zena drifted away, but then perked up. “Um—you don’t have to stay with me all the time, by the way.”
“Well, you… are surely here to help me feel better. But I promise, if you’d rather be elsewhere—”
“What? No! Where else would I go?”
“I can’t go anywhere right now until that Marshadow guy says it’s okay for me to leave this building. I’m not going back to my room.”
“But you seemed to have trouble sleeping here. It’s built for Water Pokémon, not—”
“I was just having some memory-dreams,” Owen dismissed with a wave. “I’d definitely stay here until it’s time for scouting.”
“To… make sure I’m okay?”
“Well, sure.” Owen sounded puzzled. “But, you know, we were courting and stuff. And… well, I mean…” Owen fidgeted, looking for something to hold, but could only make use of his tail. “Being around you in general is nice. I’m starting to see ‘you’ again already. All I need is a book or two, and we can read together like before.”
Owen wasn’t sure what Zena was feeling—curse his lack of Perceive—but her silent stare worried him. Was that too much? Was he coming on too strongly? She still barely knew him aside from his own recounting. And for all he knew, Zena was taking that with the possibility that he was lying. He couldn’t blame her. After everything that had happened to him, he would have done the same.
“Just to be with a Feebas?” Zena finally asked.
Owen tried to disguise his mild annoyance with a playful sigh. “To be with you, c’mon! No, you were totally baiting me to say that answer.” The playful sigh worked for Owen, at least, because his annoyance morphed into a warm smile.
Yet Zena didn’t return it. A surprised frown, instead. “I wasn’t. I’m… Perhaps we were closer than I thought…”
“I wish we were even closer, to be honest,” Owen said. “Like I told you, I missed… a lot of signals. So, I’m trying to be really clear about how I feel this time, and you said you’d be the same way. So, um. That’s why I want to stay here, instead of going back to my Fire room.”
“Because… you love me.”
“Yeah. But—but it’s okay if you aren’t ready for me to say that to you, because, you know, with the memories, I know how sudden it must—”
“Owen,” Zena said gently, her sunken eyes looking right at him.
He couldn’t look away. Every detail was suddenly clearer. The glistening of the water over her ample sclera, those tiny pupils, the murky scales that surrounded it, her feeble fins. It was remarkable how much Feebas differed from their higher forms. How different and raspy and wheezy Zena’s voice had become. Yet despite it all, she was still there. Alive. And even if she didn’t remember him… there was still hope that she would one day. And even then, a chance to move forward regardless.
He wanted to see her smile again. It had been too long since the last time. Only this morning.
“What’s that look you’re giving me?” Zena asked after a long, long silence.
It was almost hypocritical, because she had been staring at him the same way. Not that Owen planned to comment on it.
“Sorry,” Owen said, and then struggled as much as he could, in that eternal second, to find something cool to say. Something. Anything. Brandon’s words echoed in his mind. Pickup lines. There were so many brilliant ones and none of them were returning to him. He was a master, and he forgot his teachings. Wait, wasn’t there—no, that wasn’t one. Still, he had to stop staring.
“Guess I just like looking at you,” Owen dumbly explained.
The filters in the pool filled the silence again, accompanied by Owen’s humming flame. One of the cameras, usually silent, made a quiet revving noise as it turned as part of its routine, usually drowned out in the natural noise of the pool. Owen finally broke his stare, suppressing a smile, though it didn’t work well.
“Sounds kinda silly when I say it out loud,” Owen finally admitted. “I—”
Owen thought he was having another memory flash—a literal one, staring at Necrozma and his blinding body. But that light was coming from Zena.
With a gasp, Owen hopped to his feet and ran toward the pool’s edge. He didn’t want to miss it. Her body grew and lengthened, shifting and changing within that bright light in a way more dramatic than any evolution he’d ever witnessed. At least, any he could remember.
That brilliant, white light cracked away into sparks that lingered in the air, then faded in tiny, flashing bubbles.
The Milotic looked down, and Owen found such humbling familiarity in those red eyes. There was a new glow in them that he had seen in the Feebas, and it did not fade when the last of the bright pinpricks of light did.
“Zena,” Owen breathed out. “You’re…”
She lowered as much as she could into the water, and Owen realized how small he was. As a Charmander, even with Zena’s chin practically on the floor, he was shorter than her horn.
“I’m what?” Zena asked, smiling. “Beautiful?”
“Well, yeah, but—you’re so huge!”
Zena recoiled, but then giggled. “And you’re so tiny.”
It was Owen’s turn to recoil, but when Zena smirked, he tittered and shrank even further. “Okay, maybe I phrased it badly…”
“I have a strange feeling that it wasn’t your first time,” Zena added.
“No, I’ve had a lot of times with you,” Owen agreed.
Zena looked like she was about to say something, but then looked behind Owen. When he turned to follow her gaze, Marshadow stepped out from the washroom with a small, amused smile on his face.
“How—long were you there?” Owen asked.
“Enough that I didn’t wanna interrupt yer moment,” Marshadow said. “I got some news fer you. Congrats on evolving, by the way. Surprised ev’n me, thought it’d take longer befer this li’l guy made yeh feel pretty.”
“Wait, that’s the secret?” Owen asked.
Marhsadow shrugged, then added, “Hey, so, I’ve got good news, great news, and bad news, so what order d’you wanna hear it?”
“Um.” Why did he have to make a show of it? “Just do it in that order.”
“Alright. Good news: Flygon’s back with Snivy, and he’s brought company. A weird looking Meganium and Haxorus.”
Owen’s flame doubled in size. “Are they okay?”
“Weak but stable. We’re gonna get ‘em checked in first thing, same as you.”
It was the best he could ask for. “Can I see them?”
“The great news,” Marshadow went on, his grin not faltering nor growing, “is that we found Ralts.”
Flame going from double to triple, Owen looked back at Zena with wide eyes. Hers were just as large, and then Owen asked Marshadow, “Okay, so—can I go? Can I help?”
“You’ll be able to sense her the strongest,” Marshadow said. “C’mon. We gotta go fast.” He turned around. “I think the rest of the scouts’re almost prepared by now. Gotta mobilize the team. Hurry and wait.”
“May I come as well?” Zena asked.
“No,” Marshadow said. “Stay put here. Not strong enough, and Charmander here is gonna be fer detectin’ it all.”
“But I—there has to be a way…”
“We can’t fly a Milotic all that easily with us.”
“Can you fly yet?” Owen asked Zena hopefully.
“I… cannot. Not yet. Or, I haven’t tried, but I doubt I would have the ability…”
“Then just you ‘n me, Charmander. C’mon.” Marshadow pressed on the doorway, which slid open, and Owen quickly followed after.
“What’s the bad news?” Owen asked.
“Well, it’s why the scouts are mobilizing twice as fast,” Marshadow said. “Yeah, we found Ralts. Problem is, she’s bein’ chased by a Titan.”