Special Episode 8 – Normal Living
Lightning shattered the sky.
Torrential rains obscured anything more than a few feet ahead. Owen's wings were heavy and his flame sputtered boldly against the storm. Lighting the way, aside from his own embers, was a horrible forest fire that had been started by an unlucky lightning bolt. A rare natural disaster, where the rains were not enough to put out the intense flames that fed off of the overgrowth. It would be short-lived.
But there were still Pokémon and humans helpless in that storm, and they had to find as many as they could.
"That way, that way!" Tim called over the wind. He pressed on Owen's left shoulder and the Charizard banked. His pupils dilated, seeing the faded silhouettes of several creatures. He folded his wings down and descended, then abruptly spread them out for a quick stop.
Two humans, a Gabite, and a purple Nidoran were being attacked by agitated-looking Pokémon—a Cherubi and a Grovyle. The humans were shielding the two injured Pokémon.
"Keep them safe," Tim said. "I've got this."
His human jumped from his back and landed. Tim wore a red shirt and black shorts with a yellow stripe that glowed. He quickly pulled out a device from a pouch on his thigh, aiming it at the Cherubi first. It was an odd device that looked similar to a levitating, spinning top; from its bottom point came a trail of bright light that cut through the storm's darkness.
Tim made various rapid gestures with his arms using a control device in his hands, and the Pokémon attacking briefly stopped. The top spun and twirled through the air, forming ethereal ropes that dissolved into particles and clung to the Cherubi. Before she could react, the light completely enveloped her, and she looked briefly dazed.
"It's okay!" Tim shouted, squeezing the device. "We're here to help!"
Cherubi blinked, but then looked at Grovyle, who was rushing toward Tim with his leaves primed for a slashing attack.
Tim deftly hopped back and spun the top around Grovyle next, but he sliced through the threads instead. The top made a worrisome popping noise and Tim tried to recall it for another throw.
"Owen!" Tim shouted.
The Charizard swooped in and blocked the Grovyle's follow-up strike.
"Calm down!" Owen shouted at Grovyle.
"They started the fire. I know it!" Grovyle hissed back.
The fire had them too agitated to think straight. Owen beat his wings and parried Grovyle, just in time for Tim's second attempt. Threads of light dissolved and clung to Grovyle; he snarled and tried to slice at it again, but Tim was faster, skillfully weaving the thread between Grovyle's slash. Then, the light enveloped him next.
"It's okay," Tim pleaded. "Work with us! We have to get you out of here!"
Grovyle had a similarly dazed look, eyeing Cherubi.
"What… did you do?" Grovyle asked Tim.
"It's human magic," Owen explained to Grovyle. "It lets them show you how they truly feel."
Grovyle looked at the little lights that still clung to his scales. He brushed them off, and with it their effects also waned, but Tim didn't look alarmed.
"Fine," Grovyle said. "…Sorry."
"Thank you," said one of the humans that they'd rescued.
"Get out of here," Tim directed. "There's a safe path that way, and rescue crews are waiting. Can you walk?"
"We can," said the other. "Thank you!"
They departed, but Owen had a feeling they weren't done. Tim was speaking into his communicator.
"Ayame, are you there? Some rescues are coming your way. We're still looking for more."
Meanwhile, Owen asked Grovyle, "Is anyone else here in danger?"
The forest native immediately pointed further into the thunderous gloom, which was glowing a faint orange. "The fire's too hot."
"Not for me," Owen said, smiling. "Tim, I'm going in to rescue a few more."
"I'll come with you."
"The fire's hot."
"I'm used to it." Tim nodded at Grovyle and Cherubi. "Follow those other humans to safety. We'll save the others."
"Th-thank you!" Cherubi called as Grovyle picked her up and ran.
They wasted no time; Tim hopped on Owen's back, and then Owen sped through the trees and toward the glow. Tim pulled out yet another device from his pouch—everything was element-proof to handle any situation—and said, "They're right, it looks like there are still a few Pokémon that got cornered off from the fires. I'm counting five… All small. This should work out. I'll try to calm a few, and you can grab the rest. Talk them through it."
Owen grunted in understanding and accelerated. "Fire's coming. Get ready."
Tim held Owen tight as the flames licked at the Charizard's scales. The human pressed hard against Owen's back, squeezing his shoulders, and Owen saw a particularly orange tree up ahead. It cracked and crackled. Not good.
But his momentum was too much. The tree splintered, the sap within vaporizing, and it exploded right next to them. Tim shouted in pain and buckled against Owen, and he was about to turn back and flee. Instead, Tim slammed a hand against Owen the moment he made a motion to try.
"Keep going," Tim hissed. "I'm fine."
While apprehensive, it was far from the worst they'd gone through. Obeying, Owen sped through the flames and searched for more survivors, the flames and crackling wood being all he could hear.
Birds chirped under another calm morning sky. A ray of light shined through the window, and a summer breeze finally coaxed Owen out of his slumber. His body no longer ached from the rescue a few days ago. Which was good. He'd been getting restless.
Uncurling from his flame-proof beanbag for a bed, the Charizard swiveled his head around the room in search of Tim. His bed was empty with the sheets thrown in random directions, as usual. Tim never made his bed. So, he was awake. Owen therefore checked his bedside. His human magic devices weren't there, so he wasn't showering or doing anything from his morning routine.
Definitely late morning, from the sun's position. Had Tim let him sleep in again, just for the sake of recovery? Hmph. He didn't like sleeping in that long. Owen flicked his tail and shook off the flame veil that covered it, and his ember lit up the rest of the room instantly.
He pulled the door inward and stepped into the halls. A simple green carpet covered the middle portion of the hall, leading to a main lobby on one end and further human facilities on the other. Tim probably went that way. Before he could go, he was immediately greeted by another of the humans in this settlement.
"Owen! Good to see you up and about. Feeling better?"
This one was shorter than Tim and had long, brown hair. She grinned with her hands on her hips. This one, Owen knew, couldn't understand him well, so he nodded and growled in affirmative.
"Great! Oh, are you looking for Tim?"
"He's over having breakfast. He's looking a lot better. Talk about a quick recovery! Not everyone can walk off being crushed by a tree in a few days, y'know."
Owen winced. That had only happened because he had gotten careless during the rescue…
"Aw, hey, it's alright. It happens in our line of work."
That didn't make it any better.
"Hey, I bet Tim would love to have breakfast with you again. Go see him!"
Owen grumbled in farewell and spread his wings, flying through the halls to catch up. He eventually found his way to the mess hall and scanned the many large, communal tables where humans and Pokémon alike partook in their meals. At one, there was Tim, in his usual uniform, but with a few bandages over his chest and neck. Smiling, Owen drifted toward the food stands, got a plate from the smiling cooks, and sat next to Tim.
"Hey," Tim greeted.
"Feeling better?" Owen asked.
"A lot." Tim patted his chest and suppressed a wince. Owen didn't look impressed. "Eheh…"
Owen was about to explain to Tim exactly why he shouldn't be moving around so much just yet when a brief dizzy spell struck him. Looking unfocused, he hummed a confused grunt.
It came again, this time with a hazy image of something pink. And then it was gone.
"Hey, Owen?" Tim said again.
"Oh, sorry. I saw something, or at least, I thought I d—"
Owen immediately stood up, wings flared. Several others in the cafeteria looked at Owen, sensing his alarm. That made several other humans and their Pokémon scan the surrounding area next.
But there wasn't anybody there.
"Did you hear something, Owen?" Tim asked gently.
"I thought I did…" Owen looked down. "I saw something… pink. And someone calling for help. Like a thought. I don't think I actually heard it."
A stiff silence followed. Owen sank back into his seat, folding his wings down.
"It's alright," Tim said. "Maybe we're just tired. Let me know if it happens again, okay?"
Owen nodded, returning to his meal. It was too real to be some kind of hallucination. And something about that pink haze felt… familiar. Years ago. What was it?
The night was calm again but Owen had trouble sleeping regardless. His flame veil was irritating him, which wasn't normal. It was soft and weightless and he was used to the dark by now, especially since Tim left the window open so the moonlight and the stars gave him something to sleep under. And his flame, while veiled, still had a soft enough glow that it comforted him.
But he still couldn't drift off. It was suffocating. That cry for help was too real to ignore, and yet he was doing nothing. He was supposed to be a Pokémon for search and rescue. A Ranger's Pokémon. And he was just sitting idly by as a cry for help went specifically to him. Had he really hallucinated?
Eventually, with those thoughts endlessly circling around his head, the Charizard drifted off into something that resembled sleep.
Black space greeted him, and he floated like a wandering spirit. Not fully aware of his own thoughts, the Charizard flew without need for air or wind, lazily tilting his head left and right, half-wondering if it was a dream. After moment after empty moment, he realized that something was drawing him in a certain direction. There was a light.
Can you hear me?
He could. He tried to speak, but didn't have the energy.
I can see you. This way, please…
This voice. So familiar. But maybe only from a single moment in his past. Where, where…
Do you remember how maybe I helped you out a long time ago?
Helped, helped… Yes! With a gasp, he remembered. That was so many years ago, but it was when he'd first evolved. No wonder it sounded so familiar. That voice had offered him some power in exchange for 'causing trouble' with those horrible people. A sick pit formed in his stomach. That had also been when he killed someone.
That means you owe me, right? You totally owe me!
Owen wasn't sure what that meant. But now that he thought about it, the way they had been given their hints to find that hideout out of the blue. And Owen wondered if there had been any signs of this strange presence then, too.
Look, I know you might think that there are some signs that I've been around before. Yeah. I get around a lot, I help out; miracles are kind of my thing. But now I'm in trouble. I need help. You'll totally help me, right?
This was all a little too strange to be a dream, but did that mean he could trust this voice's word?
My name is Mew Star. I… got captured. I'm being held somewhere on an island in the Orre region. Please… help. I can't… get out on my own. This is the last of my strength. If any of you can accept… I'll send someone to guide you to me. Please.
'Any of you.' Then she was sending this out to several people. But that didn't mean much if any of the others weren't capable of rescuing her. He was a Pokémon who had dedicated his life to rescuing.
He tried to reach out. It felt draining, like it required more energy than he could truly offer. But something came out. "I'll try…"
Owen wasn't sure if his voice had reached out. But soon, he couldn't hold on, and this strange semi-conscious state left him entirely.
A horrible pressure was wrapped around his chest and he couldn't get rid of it. Limply, he tried to pull away at something… That only made the pressure worse. He groaned…
Whimpering woke him up. Hazily, Owen blinked and saw three figures nearby. He recognized one by the outline alone as Tim. The other had hair that seemed to reflect the moonlight very well—Ayame. Which could only mean…
The pressure was from a Dragonite that had climbed into his bed. Tim's door was hanging off of its hinges. Ire hugged Owen and refused to let go, growling something between his whimpers.
Owen wheezed. "Help… me…"
Tim and Ayame's combined strength wasn't enough to pull the hulking Dragonite away.
"I had a nightmare," Ire said. "It was so scary…"
"So did I… but it wasn't scary." Owen tried to squeeze between his arms. No use. "Ire, I can't breathe…"
Finally, Ire had enough sense to let go. Owen took a deep breath and expelled a few embers.
"What's gotten into you?" Ayame pulled Ire away. "What nightmare?"
"Someone called Mew Star," Owen said. "Did you get that dream, too?"
Ire nodded. "It was dark and scary. And she said she needed help and she'd send someone to get me!"
"…To guide us there," Owen finished, which looked like a correction to Ire.
"Did you agree?"
"Well… I did." Owen glanced at Tim. "Does the region… Orre sound like somewhere to you?"
"Orre?" Tim repeated. Owen nodded. "Mew Star… Mew. Is that a Pokémon name?"
"It is," Ayame said, "but this sounds like some kind of Psychic prank to me. Mew is a Pokémon of myth; nobody's ever actually seen one before. They're said to be the ancestor species of all Pokémon, but they all either died off or their offspring became the many species. The Mew species itself just split off into the countless ones we see today, and the originals died off over time thanks to environmental changes. It just became more favorable to be specialized instead of generalized, or something."
"So, Mew were very generalized Pokémon? Kind of like Eevee, who then evolve into something specific?" Tim tilted his head. "I didn't look into this before…"
"That's the theory," Ayame said. "I don't think anybody has ever seen a real Mew before. I mean, apparently they're invisible, so that makes it pretty hard to verify. Either way, if Owen and Ire both got the same dream, it's probably some Psychic trick."
"Was Mew Psychic?" Owen asked.
"…Yes, but that's not my point."
"But what if it really was a Mew?"
"Then I'll owe Tim two thousand Pokédollars."
"I'm holding you to that," Tim said, smirking.
Ayame jabbed Tim in the side and he yelped and crumpled to the ground in pain. "Get some rest. We'll tell the others about this and see what they think, but real or not, you're in no condition to go to Orre of all places."
"Yeah okay," Tim squeaked.
Ayame hauled Ire back to their room, Owen helped Tim into his bed, and then fell asleep. Thankfully, this time, it was restful.
Several weeks passed uneventfully. For a while, Owen was sure that it really had been a dream, or a Psychic prank like the humans had suspected.
Why, then, did Owen often find himself searching the skies for signs of a Mew, or someone that a Mew might send?
They were back in top form and performing rescues as a team, mostly as a pair, but sometimes with Ayame and Ire, especially for larger missions. Normalcy had returned, but it was short-lived.
After another day of patrolling through a mercifully quiet shift, Owen and Ire landed with their humans in front of their boss. He was waiting for them outside the main base. He was a tall, muscular man with silver hair and a silver beard that made him look a lot like an Abomasnow, if not for his tanned skin.
"Owen, Tim," Boss-human said.
"Oh, hey, um—is something wrong?"
"Maybe. Maybe not." He was always like this. Gesturing behind him, Boss-human continued, "Someone's here to see you. Had some strange things to say. Figure he'll repeat it and see if there's anything you can glean from the crazy talk. We tried removin' the guy, but he went and phased into the wall and politely waited."
"That's an odd way to describe someone's polite behavior," Tim commented, following Boss-human inside. Owen walked by his side and Ayame and Ire followed behind. The hall was the same as always, but there was a trail of water from a loose Hydro Pump from some other incident that might have happened earlier in the day. Nobody paid it any mind.
A quick turn brought them to a side-lobby, one of the break rooms of the simple naturalistic-themed base.
"There he is." He pointed at a pair of large arms sticking out of the wall, crossed against a broad, gray chest.
"Oh, he really is just inside the wall."
"Dusknoir," Ayame said, shivering. "Just the Pokémon? Is it wild, or does it have a human nearby?"
"Wild… I think." Boss-human rubbed his beard. "Let's go give this talking thing another try."
"It can talk?" Tim asked. "You aren't exactly the best at understanding Pokémon, Boss."
"Did say he was an odd one." Boss-human led the way and called, "Alright, here's the Charizard and his friends! Don't try anything funny, but we're here to listen."
"Good. Thank you," the wall said as its arms made a bowing gesture. The wall sprouted the head of a Dusknoir during that bow before it returned inside. "My name is Hecto. I have been sent by Mew Star as per Owen's agreement to repay his debts and divine obligations."
"Like I said, nonsense," Boss-human drawled. He looked toward the others and saw the grave expressions they all wore. "What? That actually makes sense?"
"I know Mew Star from a dream I had a while ago," Owen said. "Ire had one, too."
"You guys can have dinner now if you want," Boss-human confirmed.
"Owen said," Tim translated, "that he saw Mew Star in a dream."
"Mew. The mythical Pokémon."
"The one that up and don't exist," Boss-human added.
"I can assure you she is very real," Hecto said. "While her species is rare, they are present in the world, albeit very timid. She, however, is divine in nature, and requires your help. I believe this makes her even more important than a standard Mew under your established moral standards."
"And why exactly are you coming here to request a save from these fellas in particular? We've got plenty of talent in our ranks that are up for divine missions."
"Mew Star resonated with them and therefore has a connection that can be used to track her down innately. Such things cannot be done by any person, only those who have been blessed by her previously."
"Mmmhm. Blessings. Sure." Boss-human hummed skeptically. "You got any proof that this is some kinda divine Pokémon?"
"I am a talking Dusknoir."
"Fair 'nough." Boss-human nodded, crossing his arms much like Hecto. "Got any more proof, though?"
"Mm. She was right to grant me small charges of her power." Hecto brought one of his massive hands forward. "Hold this, please."
"Eh?" Boss-human stared. "If you're divine, you ain't about to pull me to the spirit world, are you?"
"Aren't you a comforting fella. Alright. I'll bite. What's this for?" He held one of Hecto's large fingers.
A pulse of white light flowed from within the wall, through Hecto's arm, and then into the Abomasnow-like human. He seemed to bristle and jerk his hand back, but whatever Hecto intended to do had been completed.
"You now know Thunder."
"Use it carefully. It will fade in an hour."
Skeptical, he looked at his hand, then at a nearby window. He walked toward it and pushed it open, glancing at the Dusknoir in the wall. "How do I use it?"
"It should be innate. Follow your heart." Despite the symbolic and flowery tone, Hecto's voice was as monotone as ever.
The Thunder-infused Abomasnow-Boss human looked outside and focused on the pavement. A shadow formed in the skies above and a sudden burst of electricity scorched a small portion of the ground. Someone sitting on a bench a few feet away yelped in surprise.
"Well, that was disappointing."
"You aren't a Pokémon."
"Fair 'nough. Alright. Guess I'm convinced now." He faced Hecto. "But I've still got valid concerns about my crew if they're gonna be safe."
"They won't be. But I can assure you they will be rewarded for their efforts in this world or the next, whichever they end up."
"So it's a possibly lethal mission."
"I believe your occupations carry that same risk."
"They do, but that comes with hazard pay and safety processes, securities, and regulations."
"Well, good karma is probably good hazard pay if it's from someone literally divine," Tim mumbled aloud, earning odd looks from everyone except the wall, who did not have a look. "What? A-am I wrong?"
"Let me do the thinking," Owen said, patting Tim on the shoulder. He pouted. Then, the Charizard faced the wall-noir. "What happens if we don't go on this mission? I want to help Star, but I don't know if this is something worth doing."
"I do not know how many others will agree to this, how many are capable, or how many Mew was capable of adequately reaching before she completely ran out of strength. Therefore, if you refuse, the results may be anywhere between inconsequential or world-changing."
"In other words," Ayame said, "if we go, it will have to be because we think it's worth it all on its own."
"Wait." Tim looked at Ayame. "We? I thought Dusknoir came for Owen and I."
"Ire got the same dream, so we could help all the same, can't we?" Ayame frowned. "Besides, I don't want just you on a mission like this."
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"Ire might have been one who refused in his dreams, so Star did not bother to reach toward him again. If you agree, I recommend deciding now. We will depart tomorrow."
"This is all real sudden, y'know. But after what I've seen… sure. I just gotta know one thing. What exactly are they fighting to rescue Mew from?"
"A budding but dangerous criminal syndicate of the Orre region intent on corrupting Pokémon of all kinds using a strange technology. They got a hold of Mew Star. If she becomes corrupted by that same technology, the results could be devastating for more than just the world."
"Ah. Well. That's a tall tale I'm inclined to believe." He looked at his hand again. It sparked with electricity, yet seemed painless. "You're gonna keep us updated on how they do, I'm hopin'?"
"Yes. That should be the case. I shall remain behind to give them to you," Hecto assured.
"All right. Well. I guess if that's settled…" Boss-human was still clearly unsettled about this, but with the proof provided, perhaps that was all he needed. "We'll try to make arrangements. Saving the world. Heh. I'm… gonna ask for a little more proof later, if y'don't mind."
"I have influences elsewhere that may be able to pull strings to reward your organization for your efforts." Hecto nodded. "Thank you for your time."
"Right. Well. You gonna come out of that wall and have something to eat, then?"
"Mm." Hecto uncrossed his arms. "I forgot there was a wall."
"…Right." He patted Tim on the shoulder. "Well. Good luck. That's gonna be your mission for a while, depending on how good his next proof is."
"R-right, yeah…" Tim looked uneasily at Ayame. "Are we sure about this?" he whispered.
Owen wasn't, at least not about his confidence in the mission itself. But Hecto showing up suddenly, after that dream a few weeks ago, and everything else? It felt like it was starting to come together. It was true. But he had no idea what would be waiting for him once they got there…
The following days were a confusing haze of activity. As it turned out, Hecto did provide more proof to their boss, from making secret calls to authority figures around the world to outright demonstrating a few more miracles that simple tricks could not replicate. And as Hecto's final trick, he seemed to have an endless, careless supply of funding to get them immediate and private flights to Orre. Those were apparently agonizing for the humans, but Owen, back in a Poké Ball that was ever so nostalgic, couldn't have been happier.
The hours passed slowly and cozily until the plane landed. Tim picked Owen's ball up and slipped him, with a slight and hesitant unfamiliarity, in his bag.
"Now, be careful around here," said Ayame said. "Orre isn't exactly the nicest place to be, and we didn't land in a good spot, either. There aren't really a lot of good airports in the region…"
She held a hand over her eyes and looked forward. Owen wiggled in his ball.
"Oh. Hang on." Tim pulled Owen out and released him. Ayame did the same with Ire.
Hot, dry air blasted him immediately, and Owen never realized until just then how much he loved the heat. It was no volcano, but the hot desert had a certain appeal that lush forests, while pleasant to look at, couldn't provide his fiery scales.
Could do without the sand, though.
All around them, away from the small and barren, gray airport, was an expansive and flat desert of soft sand. Though, there was something strange about Orre that Owen couldn't quite place…
The wind howled. Plumes of sand scattered across the airport's roads, obscuring the markings the pilot had probably used to land. The simple street they'd walked through was more a suggestion than a defined path, with only a few vehicles parked in unmarked stalls next to the building. An island of concrete in the middle of a sandy ocean.
"Is it just me or is it kind of… lifeless here?" Tim said.
"There are a few Pokémon in the sands here and there, but most of them died off or went away," Ayame explained. "You didn't read anything about Orre, did you?"
"I did!" Tim said.
"He didn't," Owen clarified.
Ayame sighed. "A horrible drought that even the desert Pokémon couldn't bear had bombarded the entire region like a curse. They're calling it some kind of divine omen, but to me it sounds like a massive upheaval of the climate. Maybe those environmentalist freaks in Hoenn I've been reading about are just in the wrong region."
"What happened to all the Pokémon?" Tim asked. "It's… empty."
"For a long time, wild populations had been in massive decline. They say that not a single wild Pokémon lives in Orre, now, not even in the patches of land that are fertile. All the humans caught them. In some ways, it's a place where the unification of Pokémon and humans reached its logical conclusion… No wild Pokémon. At all."
Owen's frown deepened. "That doesn't sound like how it would turn out."
"It's a possibility," Ayame said, "if we do it wrong, I guess. But this is more from the environment… not from the culture."
"And what a culture it is!"
Behind them, a tall man with green eyes and red, wild-looking hair approached. Despite the sand flying every which way, his hair seemed to be standing up on its own, like it was genetic, rather than from all the wind.
"I would like you to meet Michael," Hecto said.
"GAH!" Tim leaped a whole three paces away from the Dusknoir. "When did you get here?!"
"I have been in your shadow."
"Ahh, hello again, Hecto. A pleasure to see you. As instructed, here I am." The red-haired human gave a light nod, holding out his hand to Ayame, then Tim, to shake.
"Um, good to meet you. Who are you?" Ayame asked.
"Michael is an esteemed public figure," Hecto explained, "and is mostly known for his assistance and funding of the Pokémon HQ Lab to the western regions of Orre, quite far from here. They research and study Pokémon extensively and comprehensively, with a focus on ecosystems and battling."
Owen glanced at Michael. That seemed interesting.
"Oh, you flatter me." Michael chuckled. "Well, regardless, I am ultimately your guide for this excursion to Orre. We will be going on quite a trip, but I have made all the necessary preparations. You are the last to arrive due to your relative distance and… difficulty with traveling from Almia to Orre."
"It was pretty far," Tim said. "How long was that flight? Felt like days…"
"Never were good at math," Ayame hummed. "Who else is with you?"
"We're all in there. Come, come!" Michael spun on his heel and walked toward an unassuming but large, brown truck that blended with the sandy horizon.
It beeped twice and the door opened, which prompted someone in the back to shout, "Hey, hey! You're letting all the cool air out!"
Owen peered inside.
"Oh, great, a Charizard. Get in your ball! I stayed in this truck to keep out of the heat!"
Scowling, the Charizard defiantly continued to inspect the interior.
It was spacious. The truck went back at least three rows, with enough seats to account for a full squad and then some. Michael was the driver, of course, and sitting in the passenger seat was a Vaporeon pressing her face against the air conditioning, looking very content. In the back were several other humans, and they quickly introduced themselves once Tim and Ayame found their seats in the very back.
The rude human, who wore a faded purple jacket and had sandy brown hair, was named Brandon. He radiated an aura of calm confidence and power, and it showed in his belt of six Poké Balls. A full team… Something about that sent a sad pang through Owen's heart.
The second human was quiet and looked like he was from Kanto, or perhaps Johto, based on his attire and the familiar equipment. This, too, was something Owen didn't want to look at for very long. This human was named Rhys, and he only had a single Poké Ball with him, which housed a Torkoal.
"That's curious," Ayame remarked. "You don't look as if you're from Hoenn. Oh, I'm sorry if that's an assumption, but—Torkoal, was he from somewhere else?"
Instantly, the accent made Ayame flinch.
"Galar, actually. A pleasure to meet you. This is quite a faraway place…"
"I—I'm very sorry."
"Nice one." Tim smirked.
"My equipment was actually donated to me thanks to her." Rhys gestured to the next human.
She was starry-eyed, excitable, and possibly the youngest in the group. "I'm Gurere Utano! And this is my Gastrodon, Ano!"
"NooOOO!" Brandon pointed at her. "Not again! Not here!"
She pouted and put Ano's ball back in her bag.
"Now, now, play nice!" Michael called back as he took the truck out of park. "Is everyone seated and belted?"
"Uh, yeah, seatbelt's on," Brandon said.
"Sorry, Owen. Might be better if you stayed in your ball for now."
Owen nodded, but then growled at Brandon, who raised his hands mock-disarmingly.
The truck rumbled, and soon they were off and going across barren desert sands.
"No time for sightseeing, I'm afraid," Michael said, glancing back once they were driving smoothly. "Our first and only stop prior to our destination will be Gateon Port. From there, we will be taking a special trip south, across the sea, to a nearby offshore island called Quartz Isle. That is where Mew is held."
At the mention of Mew, everyone's expression seemed to harden—even Hecto, who was floating next to Tim, and was jammed partway into the corner of the truck.
"What's got all of you guys here, anyway?" Brandon asked with a leisurely shrug.
"Mew helped us try to get my team back," Tim said. "We were fighting some kind of crime syndicate in Kanto."
"Oh, Team Rocket," Brandon said. "Didn't they get taken down a year or so ago?"
"Yeah, it was all over the news. Did you not see it?"
Tim and Ayame stared at each other. Owen tried to get a better angle, but it was hard from Tim's pocket.
"We've sort of… avoided news about Kanto when we could," Tim admitted. "And Almia is pretty far away."
"Huh. Well, yeah. They're taken down. Maybe you should visit sometime."
"Maybe we should."
Owen wondered the same thing. Perhaps after they rescued Mew, they could return to Kanto for… something. He wondered if his parents were still at the lab. Probably. It hadn't been that long, after all, and they'd probably be happy to see him big and strong and with wings… Especially his mother.
"It might still be unsafe," Ayame hummed. "How thoroughly taken down were they?"
"No idea how thoroughly," Brandon said. "Some mute kid in red took the big boss down or something. Overwhelmed him with sheer force of will and a crazy energy about him. Pokémon were unnaturally strong and he practically beat the big boss into reforming, somehow. Craziest story I ever heard. Dude had a Pikachu and a Charizard, dunno about the rest of his team. A Pikachu! That one's his ace! How's that even work?"
It did sound unbelievable. But this 'Team Rocket' being taken down at all was absurd… If Tim couldn't, then nobody could.
"How about you?" Brandon asked Utano.
"Well, I'm a devout follower of Arceus, you see," Utano said, and that curious light in Brandon's eyes immediately went out. "And during one of my prayers, I saw a great, white light, and He told me that I had to do a few things to make the world better. Most of them were community issues, but some specific ones had to do with something awful happening on the east side of Orre. Well, I put a stop to it right away!"
Brandon quirked a brow. "You what now?"
"Utano is responsible for dismantling another budding organization's efforts to develop a technology that could steal Pokémon from their trainers. It's actually something that I had been in the middle of investigating myself."
"Steal—what?" Tim repeated. "How? Grabbing their Poké Ball and—"
"Ohh, far worse than that," Michael said. "I suppose it's not relevant right this instant, but there are certainly some shady organizations out and about in Orre. Utano here has a special talent for seeing strange auras around certain Pokémon. She will be able to help us determine if Mew has been tampered with."
"It runs in the family," Utano said. "My little sister might be able to do it, too!"
"T-tampered with?" Tim squeezed at Owen's capsule a little tighter. He was nervous. But Tim didn't have to worry; Owen knew he couldn't get tampered with like that.
"Yes. Likely irrelevant. Possibly not. In any case, are any of you fond of particular radio stations? Otherwise, I may just switch to national radio."
Brandon was already breaking out his earbuds. Utano asked if there were any religious channels. In response, Brandon raised the volume of his music, to the point where Owen could hear it from his Poké Ball.
Eventually, though, Owen drifted off to a nostalgic half-sleep as the truck's rumbling growls lulled him off.
Owen rolled and tumbled in his ball, the sudden motion startling him awake. He'd hit the ground and hit the far end of whatever room he'd been placed in. Tim was scrambling to him, tripping and tilting in a weird way, and as he tilted, his ball rolled more along the floor. Finally, Tim scrambled enough to pick Owen up.
"Sorry about that," Tim breathed.
"Ah, no, don't get out yet," Tim said. "You might, uh, fall over. We're on a boat right now."
First a plane, then a car, now a boat? How much travel did this Quartz Isle need?
Someone knocked on the door to Tim's cabin, which was filled with only the most basic needs of a bed, a desk, and a light.
"Everything alright in there?" Ayame called through the door.
"Yeah! Uh, my bag just fell."
"Is your bag filled with concrete?"
"I also fell."
"That makes more sense. Well, get out already! We're getting close to shore and we might be in for a rush."
"A rush?" Tim pulled what he could into his bag and stood up, wobbling his way to the entrance. He slipped Owen into his bag, double-checked his Ranger equipment, and then headed down the boat hall. Owen couldn't see any particular details other than the fact that it was a medium-sized boat meant for tens of human passengers, perhaps more.
"There is a chance that we will need to fly there," Michael commented, eyes pressed against binoculars. "Their base of operations is near the shore, but they seem to know we've arrived. How interesting!"
"Uh. Interesting?" Tim asked once he got to the deck, where the wind whipped at their faces. "How do you know they see us coming?"
"The incoming Hyper Beam."
Wood exploded, metal bent, and glass shattered when the blast of energy struck the area only a few feet away and behind Michael.
Owen poured out of his Poké Ball and grabbed Tim by the shoulder. He flared his wings and bumped Tim on; muscle memory took over from there. The human latched to his back and Owen jumped from the boat, ascending tens of feet into the air in a matter of seconds. Ayame wasn't far behind with Ire, and Brandon outright threw himself off the boat for a Gyarados waiting for him just underwater. Utano had jumped with him after a second of hesitation.
And Michael just stood there.
"Tim! He's not moving!"
Ire had flown ahead, leaving Michael behind, standing at the front of the dock with his binoculars. He took them off to glance up at Tim. Both the human and Charizard made the same exasperated motion with their arms. Michael waved at them in response like they were passing during their lunch break.
"By the skies, what's with him!?" Owen muttered. "Alright! I'm going back!"
Michael was pointing toward the shore.
Another Hyper Beam exploded a hole through the ship as more of the skeleton crew scrambled to get out. Michael glanced back at one of the rescue boats; one of the men was ordering Michael to come with them. He shooed them away. Befuddled, the sailor ran with the others to get on the lifeboat.
Owen plucked Michael from under the arms and continued to fly.
"What is wrong with you?!" Owen snarled at Michael.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand you very well."
"He said what's wrong with you!" Tim shouted over the wind. "You could have died!"
"Well, the Hyper Beams were clearly going to miss," Michael pointed out. "I only had to move aside a few steps." He kicked his feet leisurely, dangling over the ocean. "You have a firm hold of me, yes?"
"He does," Tim said. "We do rescues like this all the time. He has practice carrying humans this way, but it's still dangerous. Not exactly used to being under fire—why are you taking this so calmly?!"
"Oh?" Michael tilted his head up. "Well, panicking makes your jobs harder, does it not?"
"Why didn't you go with the others on the life boat?"
"Well, we're on a mission, I believe. It seemed you were going to carry me back." Michael idly kicked his legs again before squeezing his arm to force the binoculars over his eyes. "Ah! They are aiming at Brandon. Hopefully he is quick to avoid those. Oh, very good, very good!"
Brandon had indeed weaved through the ocean at an alarming speed, grasping onto Gyarados' upper half with practiced ease. Utano was having less luck and was clinging to Brandon's back with terrified screams that Owen could hear all the way from the skies.
"The closer we get, the less time we have to dodge their attacks," Tim said. "Soon one of those Hyper Beams will hit us. How do we get out of the way?"
"Well, we should be thankful that they're not very numerous. They must have done a rush job to stop us. Hmm." Michael scanned with his binoculars. "I see a few faraway shooters."
An orange beam cut across the air again, but this time it was going toward the shore.
"Oh, look, that Hyper Beam is from us!"
"Whoa…" Owen had almost forgotten how much power Ire had behind him. The Dragonite's Hyper Beam left a huge scorch along the sand, sending plumes of debris in the air.
"Hey! Good thinking!" Tim shouted, but they were too far to properly communicate. "Owen, speed ahead. They can't see us with all that sand."
"I recommend shooting fire in random directions. Try to make them linger."
"They might try sensing you via heat."
Owen didn't know what technology that was, but human magic always had little surprises. He followed Michaels' instruction, sending the occasional blast of fire ahead of him, behind him, and in trails that would have been possible paths he'd take. He made them slow, hot blasts, ones that stayed for a while—no good for striking, but good to draw attention away.
The shore was visible, white sands blinding against the sun. Owen squinted, using the haze of the debris that Ire's Hyper Beam kicked up to speed through to find an opening. It occurred to Owen that they had no idea how to regroup with the team. Hopefully Hecto would be able to coordinate that; he seemed to have a talent for appearing just where they needed him.
"Get low to the ground!" Tim shouted. "Keep going forward! Ire's already through the smoke and—"
Another Hyper Beam shot through the smoke in a complete misfire. There was another explosion and faint shouts of voices Owen didn't recognize.
By the time they'd gotten through the smoke and landed on pavement—an abandoned street—all Owen saw were fleeing humans and Ayame standing tall with Ire. They were at the very edge of a small town on the island, where the paved roads were halfway covered in the sandy beach. Trees dotted the medians and no place was taller than two stories. Warm but subtle colors dominated the buildings, from soft reds to bright browns, accented occasionally by darker, cooler rooftops.
"Well. That wasn't so bad." Ayame clapped her hands together and nodded at Tim. "Their defenses weren't very strong at all, so it must have been a frantic prep."
"Which means their real backup should be coming soon," Tim warned.
"Indeed. We should hide." Michael adjusted his shirt from all the wind and flames. "Hecto!"
A Dusknoir rose from the ground, pointing to a nearby structure that Owen recognized as a place traveling humans used to roost.
"I have reserved a room for us to stay in for a brief time," Hecto stated. "We will be found if we stay long, but it can be a moment to breathe before relocating."
"Right. And the others—"
"I shall gather them. Waste no time."
Owen and all the others were crammed into a single-bedroom motel room on the second floor. The carpet was a gross green-blue speckled mess and the beds looked like they had only been cleaned the legally required amount. Owen hoped there was a legally required amount, because he'd much rather sleep outside with how they smelled. In the middle of the room was a table with a map of the island spread out. Hecto pointed a massive finger at a spot just slightly inland.
"We are currently on the southeastern corner of this map, nearest to where their underground headquarters are located. It seems that they take advantage of the tourist scene to smuggle their supplies without being detected by authorities. To go deeper inland, perhaps, was a risk. But now we are exploiting it as a vulnerability. Only an hour's travel is required if we want to be careful and slow, and I've arranged for a quiet route."
"Um, arranged? How?"
"I am in possession of a few assets that will allow you passage there."
Someone knocked on their door. Everyone stopped murmuring to one another; Owen tried to keep the hum of his flame as quiet as possible.
"It is safe," Hecto said.
Michael was the one to answer. "Well, thank you, Hecto." He opened the door to see a Dusknoir with an armful of takeout. "Ah! Well, thank you, Hecto."
"Wha—" Tim stood up. "You—how—" He pointed at the Dusknoir by the table, then the other one by the entrance, who was setting everything down before disappearing into the wall. "Wait. Why did you knock if you could just pass through the door?"
"It's polite," that Hecto said before disappearing.
"I believe these are all of our orders." Michael handed out each marked meal to everyone. "We shall eat, rest, and then depart first thing in the morning. Will we have enough time for that, Hecto?"
"Yes, that should be safe. I will warn you if we are found sooner."
While unnerved, they all sat around the table and had their dinners. Brandon had a plate of rice and meats with sides of dumplings, while Utano and Michael both had heroes from the same eatery down the road. Tim and Ayame both ordered the local curry, which turned out to be well-made. Rhys had a sushi plate and seemed to be the only one paying attention to Michael's babbling about the melting pot of culture that Quartz Isle had, and how it was a shame that it was also the heart of such shady underground activities. Owen tried to pay attention, but something about Michael's manner of speech made him drowsy.
Another Hecto had returned shortly after with a generous portion of high-quality Pokémon food, and for that, Owen was grateful. He wasn't used to this particular brand, but it was a decent substitute. He hoped that after the mission was over, he could try something that he'd picked on his own. Surely a melting pot would have all kinds of Pokémon food to try…
"So, uh," Brandon said near the end of their meal, "Hecto, right? When did you learn how to talk?"
"I acquired this language several centuries ago."
"Oh. Uh. Didn't know Dusknoir were immortal."
"They are not."
"…So, you're some demigod Dusknoir servant of Mew?"
"I serve a higher authority."
"Riiiiight, okay." Brandon seemed to believe it, yet simultaneously recognized that he wasn't going to get more. "So, this Mew Star. Can she talk like you?"
"She can, but she prefers not to. She isn't very fond of humans."
"Eh, I don't blame her." Brandon shrugged. "Humans can be pretty awful. How'd she get caught, anyway?"
"Star has a habit of descending to this world and performing little miracles to help where she feels it's necessary. And while she generally doesn't care for humans, she does recognize that a few of them are… better. You all are proof of that. Each of you received help from her in the past, directly or indirectly. That is why she was able to reach out to you in the first place. Receiving such help left behind a trace of a link between you or your Pokémon."
"Uh-huh. So basically, by chance, she found us, gave us a few perks, and now we gotta return the favor." Brandon hummed. "Is that the basics?"
"Yes, though you did have a choice."
"Yeah, yeah. I bet she reached out to a lot of people, the way you describe this being some kind of divine habit."
"How'd she get caught?" Tim asked.
"Humans are clever," Hecto said. "When Star descends to this world, she is not at her strongest. It was an inevitability that she would one day get into this kind of trouble, but she does not wish to let Arceus know about it. She is worried about what may happen if—"
"Okay, hang on, you can't just gloss over that. Arceus, the Sinnoh myth?"
"Yes. He is real. In any case, she doesn't want—"
"You can't just drop something like that, hold on!" Brandon narrowed his eyes.
"Well, of course He is real," Utano said, stars in her eyes. "But I believe that if we pray for help, surely Mew would—"
"He said that he'd be mad," Tim said, looking at Hecto. "Why?"
Hecto's red eye flickered. "Well, Arceus had warned not to associate with mortals at all."
"I mean. He's right. Mortals suck. I should know, I am one." Brandon thumbed his chest.
"…Mm. I am losing confidence in this team. I will get back on topic. Mew was captured when she was reckless, and now the humans here are attempting experiments that will put her under their control. The results could be catastrophic, but frankly could be even worse if Arceus finds out. So, your mission is the same. Rescue Mew, and save perhaps this entire island or greater from divine smite."
"Oh, sure, just throw the world on our shoulders while you're at it." Brandon grunted.
"He would not be so cruel." Utano frowned.
To this, Hecto said nothing.
Rhys, silently eating his meal, placed his fork down and nodded respectfully toward Hecto. "I will trust your judgement. We have only you for guidance in saving her, and I am thoroughly convinced that you would not have gone through this trouble otherwise. I do have one last question, however. If you were so capable of arranging all of this, why were you unable to save Star yourself?"
"A fair question. It is because despite Star's disdain for humans, she also acknowledges that the bond between humans and Pokémon is something that I alone cannot replicate. Despite my power, I am spread thin, and am not able to do much in a swift manner. I am not the same body you met in Kalos, nor am I the same one any of you met. I am in many places, monitoring this world. But that is what I am best at. Monitoring. I suppose you could call me an Overseer." His eye flickered again.
"And hooking us up with some great food," Brandon added, his plate now empty. "So, uh, you're basically an average Dusknoir, but a lot of them?"
"In power, yes, with a few minor abilities."
"Perhaps they will be relevant later."
"That's not ominous…"
"It was not intended to be."
Owen liked Hecto. He had a funny sense of humor.
Morning came, and Hecto reported little in regard to those of the underground organization. One way or another, he had hidden them from detection, or perhaps they were just lucky. But just one night, Hecto explained, had been risk enough. Before noon, they would have to get Star out of trouble, or they may lose their chance for good.
Hecto had procured a tour bus. A strange man in a sea-green uniform drove it, and he looked at them blankly with dark, dark eyes.
"Uhh… are you sure this is safe?" Tim whispered to Hecto.
"It is safe," the Dusknoir and bus driver said in unison. When the bus driver spoke, a spectral mist poured from his mouth instead of air.
Ayame covered her mouth in shock. "Y-you… that person is…"
"I am in possession of a few assets."
"H-he'll be okay, right?"
"Yes. As soon as this drive is complete, he will continue on his way with only a brief lapse of memory."
"…We're the good guys, right?" Brandon asked as he entered the bus.
"You are freeing Mew from a terrible fate."
"If it is the will of Arceus, then it must be good, by definition," Utano stated.
"Hrm." Rhys took a seat first, looking unfamiliar. "Public transport. I have not used it in quite a while."
"Well, it's not nearly as bad as it usually is," Brandon said, taking up three empty seats as he laid down. "The whole bus to ourselves! This is awesome!" His hand landed in an unknown stain and he quickly jerked back. "You know," he added, wiping it on his shirt, "I went on a party bus back when I was graduating. Now that was a time."
"You certainly peaked then, didn't you?" Rhys asked as he sent out his Torkoal, opening a window so any smoke he may form would drift away. It wasn't very much, thankfully, and the prospect of a smokey smell tempted Owen to come out of his capsule, too.
"Those were the days," Brandon replied, leaning back with a smile.
"I never really went to school," Tim said. "Was part of the starter program."
"Well hey, you got into a successful job in the end, so it worked out." Brandon shrugged. Tim seemed tense.
"Mm." Hecto, as the bus driver, spoke up. You will be meeting with one other person when we get there. One person that Mew had connected with lives on this very island. Due to how nearby it was, perhaps it was out of convenience that she helped, but I suspect that she, too, has a strong heart like you all."
"Oh? One more person?" Brandon asked. "Who?"
The bus stopped at a light. "She is an older woman with a lavender vest. She has knowledge about the security within this underground facility as one of the guards there."
"What? How come she's a guard? Is that, uh, is that safe?"
"Yes. There are great punishments for going against their secrecy, but generally speaking the benefit of saving Mew outweighed that. It is hard to compete with divinity."
"No, but can we trust someone who signed up for that sort of thing?" Brandon asked, skeptical.
"Yes. She, like many in the world, was only looking for a job. She was not aware of what she was guarding until she was informed by me. The horror in her eyes was unmistakable."
"And not because you were talking to her as a Dusknoir or some other possessed schmuck, right?"
"No, that panic passed quickly."
"You really gotta work on your social skills."
"I think he's quite fine, social wise!" Michael said cheerily. "A very well-adjusted Pokémon."
"Well, when Michael's the one vouching for you, I guess I'm the wrong one."
The bus dropped them off near an unassuming parking lot of a barren strip mall. Not many cars parked here and the stores were run-down and only a few seemed to show any signs of being active at all. Was it some kind of front? Not many roads led there, either. Owen couldn't get a good look from inside his capsule, but Tim seemed cautious.
The bus drove away and another Dusknoir emerged from the ground. "Come."
"You know, this could still be an elaborate plot to get a bunch of people together to kill them," Brandon mused to the others as they walked. "You think that's what's going on? Go around the world, multicultural killing event? You know, for diversity."
"You're not very funny." Utano pouted.
"And there is Madeline," Hecto said.
Standing by one of the abandoned stores was a woman with dark purple hair and a vest to match. There was a piercing look about her green eyes that Owen saw even from his ball.
"Hello, Madeline," Hecto greeted.
"Is this everyone?" Madeline asked. "You said six trainers."
Tim counted their group. Himself, Ayame, Utano, Michael, Brandon, and Rhys. That was six, which made Madeline their seventh. Seven made sense. The strongest Pokémon teams involved six Pokémon and a human. But to have seven humans, did that mean they were a super-team? Though, not all of them had six Pokémon. Tim and Ayame both only had one…
"Okay. Once I get you all inside with clearance, you'll only have a few minutes to get in there and rescue Mew."
"A-a few minutes? To explore a whole facility?"
"We have a map and Hecto told me which room has Mew," Madeline explained, pulling out a strange device to display a screen to the humans, who all huddled together. Owen, in Tim's pocket, saw nothing.
"That's deep," Brandon said lowly.
"The elevator works, right?" Tim asked worriedly.
"What's our exit strategy?" Rhys asked.
"There appears to be a fire exit we can take. It's only a few flights."
"Yeah, a few flights with the whole facility on our tail…"
"Time is short," Hecto said. "This is going to be reckless, but we have no choice. Are we ready?"
"Then let's go." Hecto disappeared into the wall, gesturing for them to go ahead.
"…I said no, but alright," Brandon growled, but then, perhaps for the first time, the gravity of what they were doing must have dawned on him. He glanced back at the others. "I know we went all this way, but—"
"It's for Mew," Tim said, nodding. "She saved all of us once, right? So…"
Brandon sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "I better get a good afterlife for this."
Madeline had taken on the role of showing some new recruits around the facility, up to the point where they had been authorized to go. The walls were a sterile white and her steps often echoed against the concrete halls. Lights evenly illuminated the halls, and there was nothing organic or appealing about it at all. Owen hoped they would leave soon. Pipes lined the higher portions of the ceilings, probably carrying water and other building-essential material.
Hecto was hiding in the walls again. Owen spent his time listening carefully to what Madeline was saying as they went deeper into the facility, showing what might have been an abridged version of the same tour Madeline had once been given.
Owen had no idea what sort of strings Hecto had pulled, or what sort of planning Madeline had performed, but they made it to a lower floor without incident.
Tim clutched at Owen's capsule, signaling to him that he should be ready to be summoned at any time. Owen wiggled in response. Yes, he was ready.
Madeline suddenly dropped the tourist act and everyone's pace quickened. "From here on out," Madeline said, "if we're questioned, we just have to power through. There's no point anymore, right?"
"Yes. Subdue them."
"Uhh, subdue?" Tim asked. "How? I only have a Charizard, so he's not very good at—"
"Hey, what's going on? You aren't supposed to be—"
An unknown voice was abruptly shut down after a soft POP noise startled Owen even as he was weightless in his capsule. Then there was a thud.
"M-Michael!" Utano gasped.
"What did you do?!"
"With a—what is that?" Brandon pointed.
"Portable Thunder Wave."
"When did you—"
"Shall we advance? I have a few more of these in case it's needed."
"Gah—you're nuts. Zeke!" Brandon tossed a Poké Ball and out came a Blaziken, already prepared for stealth. "Ready to kick some faces if we need to?"
Zeke hesitantly nodded.
"Don't worry, just enough to knock them out," Brandon added.
"Humans?" Zeke asked uncertainly.
"Trust me, we might need to here," Brandon said. "Only this once, alright?"
"What did he say?" Michael asked Brandon.
"He's just apprehensive. Let's go!"
"Should Owen come out?" Tim asked.
"That flame won't help us stay hidden. Save it for fighting."
Owen shifted restlessly, but the rude human was right. More loud POP sounds meant Michael was making good use of his Thunder Waves, while Brandon's Blaziken kicked down several doors that had required passcodes. So much for being subtle. They'd asked Hecto why the security cameras didn't alert anyone to anything. Hecto's reply had been, simply, that he'd 'taken care of it.' Nobody asked him to elaborate.
"Looks like a lot of these doors aren't element-proof," Brandon remarked. "Which means we need to go deeper for the real high-security stuff, don't we?"
"Yes. We need a key to get through those," Madeline said. "We'll have to find an administrator. They're deeper inside, but their Pokémon are extremely powerful."
"That won't be necessary," Hecto said. "There is one who had been on a lunch break with their Pokémon in another location. Security negligence. It was an easy social manipulation. I am in the process of subduing him. Continue down this hallway."
How much had Hecto arranged for this? Owen took note not to be on his bad side.
Down the hall, in a large but empty cafeteria, someone was screaming bloody murder.
Brandon kicked the door down unnecessarily and searched for the source. "Whoa!" He cursed several times, reeling at the sight.
A man was being dragged into the ground, kicking and flailing and screaming, by great, powerful arms. The shadows expanded and the man disappeared, his screams cut off in an instant. Several seconds later, a second Dusknoir rose from the ground and tossed a card toward the first. He then handed it to Brandon, who stared at them with wide eyes. He asked Hecto about what had just happened using words Owen wasn't allowed to use.
"I have acquired a key card to enter the deepest areas of the base. We should not wait any longer. They may put the area in lockdown soon."
"N-hang on, did you just—where's that guy now?"
"Nowhere to concern yourself with."
"Is he okay?"
They all stared.
"Shall we rescue Mew?" Hecto asked.
Owen was definitely glad Hecto was on their side.
They made it to more stairs that were, after a painful revelation from Zeke, element-proof. The card, immediately useful, opened the path down, where the concrete walls transitioned to more reinforced hallways that lined several more rooms all evenly spaced throughout the facility. Their steps echoed across the way and had it not been for Hecto's guidance, they might have been lost for hours finding where the specific room had been.
Many times, they were stopped or pursued by guards. With help from Elder's Smokescreens, Brandon's team's general prowess, or, indeed, the brute force of Ire's Hyper Beam, they were able to power through after great effort.
"They really weren't expecting us!" Tim shouted.
"We're almost there. The hard part will be escaping," Hecto stated. "One of us will go inside to rescue Mew. The rest must hold off every single guard. Prepare to push through for our escape. Failure will mean death for you."
"Oh, I didn't get that part of the memo," Brandon grunted, stopping at the door that Hecto gestured to. "I'll hold off the guards while I can."
"I will, too," Ayame added, sending Ire out again. "Tim! Go inside and get Mew. She might need to be calmed down and you're better at that."
"Oh! Thanks! I—"
"Gratitude later, Tim!"
Tim grasped at Owen and sent him out; finally, he could spread his wings! Owen scanned his surroundings to make sure he had the right impression. Inside, Michael had already dispatched a few scientists that had been working on a large computer. There were several guards outside that Brandon and Ayame were fending off. Utano was pointing frantically at a chamber deeper inside, behind a glass window, and then further in a large, glass cylinder in the center. A small, pink creature was writhing in pain inside as a strange energy coursed through metal.
"It's horrible, all those black clouds," Utano said, but Owen could see no such thing. This must have been her special power. "We need to break that glass! And be careful not to be too close for too long!"
"What is happening to her?" Michael asked, looking over the computer systems carefully. "It appears that whatever is being done to her, it seems to be at around half of its maximum capacity, climbing steadily. I do not want to adjust anything I'm not familiar with. A manual override may be necessary."
"How do you manually override?"
"Find a weak point in the chamber and break it open. It seems to be all kinds of element-proof, so that may be easier said than done…"
Owen stomped toward the computer. "I can break it if you want."
"Are you trying to help? No, don't press anything," Michael said. "Destroying the computer could do something even worse. Give me time. I'm going to try opening the chamber first, once I find the proper command in this… awful interface, really."
Just outside the room, Ire barked in pain.
"We need to hurry," Tim said, grabbing the card from Hecto before pressing it randomly on the glass.
"What are you doing?" Hecto said.
"There's got to be some way through this glass, right? There's no doorway inside so you probably need to—"
"Ah! Tim, go back a few paces!" Michael yipped.
Tim followed Michael's instruction. After a few moments, Michael performed a few keystrokes, and the glass door slid just slightly to the side.
"Perfect!" Michael clapped. "Go inside and see if the glass inside is breakable, too!"
Owen followed Tim inside and he started to tap the same card on the inner chamber, frowning at the twitching Pokémon inside. Owen had never seen it in person before—at least, he didn't think so. Yet, she looked so familiar to him. Her presence was familiar. That same, powerful feeling when they'd raided those evil humans' hideout…
"Oh, hello," Michael said. "Yes, I believe this should do it."
He pressed something, and there was a beeping noise, then a loud alarm and flashing lights. The Mew in the chamber dipped lower and the glass unsealed itself… but then the thick, glass window behind them also sealed itself, trapping Tim and Owen inside.
"Uh—Michael?" Tim called, but Michael didn't hear him. The glass was soundproof. Michael stood from the computer and approached the window, saying something, but Owen couldn't hear it.
"G… gh… kkhhh…"
Michael was pointing urgently toward Mew, who was trembling in midair, curled up tight.
"Mew, it's okay. We're here to help," Tim said gently. "Is something wrong? Are you hurt?"
"I want… you to… go away. H-humans… all humans…"
"I can't understand her," Tim whispered to Owen. "What's she saying? She sounds distressed."
"She doesn't like humans," Owen summarized.
"I SAID GO AWAY!"
Owen didn't see it directly, but it was a distortion of light tinged with a strange, horrid feeling. When it struck him and bludgeoned his chest, it also felt like it was acidic, eating away at his scales like hot sand against ice. He screamed and found himself on the wall; the pain of hitting it came seconds later. The burning on his chest took precedent.
He'd never felt that kind of power before. Was this what it meant to be a god? How strong was she?
Owen couldn't even see straight, but he saw the pink figure drifting toward Tim, who had been slammed against the opposite wall, and that was more than enough to shoot a gout of flames as a warning shot.
The embers didn't even touch her. She wasn't even aware that he was there, and his flames bounced off of an invisible wall around the Mew. Despite this, it got her attention.
And for that brief instant, he saw her face. It was awful. A mixture of cruelty and anger and pain and tears. But that was all he saw before another distortion, this one tinged with darkness, rushed toward him. Unable to move quickly, he brought his wings and arms forward to block it.
The next thing he knew, he was laying on his side with more burning pain on his back. He tried to sit up and search for Tim, but a wave of nausea and dizziness stopped him. He tried to hold up his arms, but only one responded, with most of the scales peeled clean off, revealing tender skin. His back was stuck to the wall and he forced himself to his feet, wincing in pain.
He didn't want to know what his wings looked like. Not after seeing the stain of blood on the wall he'd stood up from.
Ahead, Tim was dodging the same blows that Mew had sent his way, and Mew herself was snarling at a ring of energy that surrounded her.
"Please!" Tim shouted. "It's—it's going to be okay! Please calm down, Mew!"
Michael was frantically pressing several buttons on the computer to try to do something, but nothing was helping. The system had gone into some kind of secure lockdown mode; escape was impossible.
Further back, Ayame and Ire, with Brandon, were losing ground against the onslaught of guards, and no doubt the elites were there. Even if they calmed Mew, would there be a way out?
Tim encircled Mew again, more and more, but it didn't look like he was able to calm her at all. There was something in the way, something weakening his human magic. Owen had to help. Mew seemed distracted. Maybe this time, he'd be able to get a shot in.
That attack. That strange attack that she'd done. Could he copy it?
He grasped at the lingering air… No. It was too horrible. He'd never seen something like it before, something that couldn't be copied. But there were other essences he could try. Grasping at one, he pulled it toward himself and tried to sent it back.
A ball of darkness—he recognized this one. It felt like Hecto's. Was he also trying to calm her from somewhere?
Owen held out his good hand, forming that Shadow Ball in his palm. Then, clenching his three claws together, he fired—contact! Mew didn't have a shield this time!
But all it did was dissolve against the back of her head, and she turned around with fire in her eyes.
Owen's body jolted. He didn't even see the attack coming. Another distortion of light, ringing in his ears—he heard Tim scream.
Then, he made the mistake of looking down. He wondered if he would ever forget what that attack had done to his body… There wasn't a hint of cream-colored scales on his front anymore. It was all crimson.
Mew drifted toward him. There was another distortion, but this time Tim tackled her from behind. Mew screamed, and then Owen acted without thinking. Nothing hurt and he knew everything should have, but Tim was in danger. That mattered more. A burning, final gout of fire shot toward Mew, and Owen didn't let up. He stared at Tim as well as he could, glaring. Keep calming her, he ordered.
Somehow, Tim heard him. And somehow, Tim kept going. Those final few rings made Mew waver. She stared angrily at Tim, but then back at Owen, and that final hesitance allowed Tim to fully envelop her in light.
"Please," Tim begged. "We aren't like the others. We came here to rescue you. H-Hecto sent us!"
Mew gasped. The lights disappeared, but so did all the fire in her eyes. It was like she'd woken up.
Ayame and Brandon had to fall back and shut the door to recover. Ire was badly hurt; Brandon was clutching at his arm and one eye was closed and bleeding.
But that was all Owen could see. His vision was darkening rapidly. He glanced down at his tail. The flame was wavering.
"Owen." Tim held his shoulder. He felt so warm. "Owen, stay with me, okay? L-let me get your Poké Ball, o-okay? I'll—" Tim dug through his bag, but it had been torn to shreds from some of Mew's attacks. He looked around frantically for his supplies, but the metal of the room had been so warped. Owen's ball might have fallen through the cracks of the room. "Just—just hang on, okay?!"
Owen tried to reach for Tim with his one arm, falling onto him. He couldn't see anymore. But he could hear him sobbing. It's okay, he told him. He wasn't sure why. Things were most definitely not okay, but that's what Tim needed to hear. It's okay. Can you hear me?
"Owen… please… st-stay awake, okay? Okay? We'll get out of this s-soon…"
The doorway smashed open due to some Pokémon's strikes, far stronger than anything Owen had ever dealt. The ground rumbled. Ayame shouted a command; Ire roared. Ire's roar was cut short and Ayame screamed. And then her scream, too, was cut short.
"It's my fault…"
That was Mew's voice.
"Oh, God… it's my fault…"
Brandon barked a taunt, then called for Zeke, and then flames and kicks rocked the air. Owen finally realized that meant the glass door must have opened again, or perhaps shattered.
"No… I…" Mew's voice was shaking. "I can't… no! Please! St… stop!"
Brandon cried Zeke's name. A cruel human's laughter echoed. Owen envisioned Zeke crumpled to the ground and Brandon trying to protect him with his body. He practically saw it, even though he was completely blind. That seemed like the kind of human Brandon was.
Utano screamed next. Rhys called for a Smokescreen. Madeline was wordless, but Owen heard her grunts as she tried to fight back herself. Nothing was working.
So many other shouts… Humans he didn't recognize. Humans that he did. But then, crying above them all—
Metal twisted from under Owen; glass shattered and particles of it landed painfully in his flesh. The humans that Owen didn't recognize were screaming, but they all were cut off with gurgling wheezes. Something pulled him away, and he fell a foot in height, landing roughly on hot ground. The sun was beating down on him and the humid island air filled his nostrils.
He was so tired. The sun was so comfortable. Tiny, soft paws touched his cheeks, and a voice, so clear, spoke to him.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry… Please, are you awake? Can you hear me?
It was a struggle just to reply in his mind, because that was all he could do. …Mew… Star?
Something embraced him. Tim's hand was still firmly on his shoulder, refusing to let go.
Warmth spread across his chest, then an uncomfortable, tingling feeling of electricity. It was an itch he couldn't scratch that evolved into an excruciating, needle-like sensation all over his wounds. He whimpered again, and then realized that he could talk. Blurry shapes returned to his vision.
All he saw was Tim, his face screwed up in a horrible, pained cry. Owen spat a tiny ember in his face and tried to smile. With that ember was a small spatter of blood, and Owen grimaced at that.
"Owen?" Tim asked. "Owen?!"
Owen could only smile back. He glanced at his flame. It was growing.
Mew pulled away from him and drifted to another one—Ire. He had a hole straight through him. What kind of destructive power could have caused something like that?
Ayame was holding Ire in her arms, but he was unresponsive. Mew coated him in a pink light…
There were unrecognizable humans nearby. Confused, terrified Pokémon stood next to them, like they didn't know what to do with themselves. Were they being commanded by those humans?
Owen stared at the humans for a little while longer, like he couldn't register what had happened to them. And soon, he realized why—human bodies… didn't twist in that way.
He averted his eyes. Couldn't stomach that for long.
"I'm sorry," Mew said. She was in the hand of Hecto again.
The Dusknoir had a grave look in his red eye. "Do not worry. You are safe. Those who rescued you are safe. Your assailants cannot pursue you now."
"I… told him."
The grave look redoubled. "What do you mean, Star?"
"I told him that… I was there… I w-was so desperate, I…"
"Who? Merely one of His avatars, or…"
But Hecto's answer came from the sky as a deep, thunderous rumble shook the earth.
Silver bolts of lightning traced the sky at a speed far slower than any kind of electricity Owen had ever seen. A swirling vortex of gray clouds with a central circle revealing a starry void overtook all of Quartz Isle's sky. Owen saw a white figure with a gold ring around it somewhere near the middle of that vortex… He also saw that many of those stars were getting brighter.
Madeline suddenly cursed, standing up before, just in time, Brandon's Salamence fired a Dragon Pulse to deflect an incoming Flamethrower. That fire would have hit Madeline directly…
Countless guards were pouring from the secret entrance.
Mew was making strange gestures as a white light formed around her paws, but then fizzled out. Was she trying to Teleport? What was blocking her? Owen saw traces of ethereal chains around the Mew's shoulders; following them with his eyes, they seemed to go toward an Alakazam. He was sealing Teleport, but that same Alakazam was making Utano tremble. Owen figured she was seeing another dark aura.
Owen tried to stand, but he was too weak. The guards were closing in.
"I see," Hecto said solemnly, amid all the tension and rising panic. He folded his fingers over themselves. "Tim. I would like to personally thank you for freeing Star of that dark power—"
"Y-you can thank me when we escape!" Tim was searching for Owen's Poké Ball again.
"…And I am sorry," Hecto finished.
And that was all.
The sky was bright. That once-black void with only pinpricks of stars had become a blinding field of countless suns. Trails of light rained down on Quartz Isle, all the way up to its shores. The ground shook; an ethereal hum muted all other sounds. Hecto's red eye was dim in acceptance; nobody else understood what was happening.
One of the beams of light was upon them. Owen remembered a great heat and Tim holding his body in a final embrace, and then nothing.
It isn't right. None of it is right… I'm going to fix it. It's the only way I can make this right. I hope… I hope you can forgive me. I'm sorry for causing all this.
Sharp, seething pain jolted its way up and down Owen's body, accompanied by an intense, dull pressure that squeezed against every muscle. Movement hurt. Stillness hurt. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. He tried as hard as he could to roll, but it wasn't working. Everything was still a hazy ball of pain that he didn't even know the terrain he was on. He couldn't focus on what he was seeing or smelling.
He blindly reached forward, realizing that his eyes were closed. It was nighttime, but the dim glow of his flame was bright, and he tried to curl it forward fort an easier look. Yes, no injuries, so that was a good start. His flame was bright. Then why did everything hurt so much?
Someone was groaning next to him. He didn't have the strength to move. So instead, he gave in, just for a short rest. Perhaps that was all he needed to feel better…
His dreams were nothing but flashes of images and emotions and sound, but no comprehensive sequence of events. He saw a pink creature and felt an emotion of relief and urgency, but he couldn't remember why. There was also a sense of dread and maybe a little pain. Shouting. He saw a bright sky when there shouldn't have been one, and then—darkness. Screaming, only to be cut off. He heard an apology afterward. And then, and then, and then… No. He couldn't remember.
While he hadn't been entirely sure it would happen, Owen woke up, and the pain had almost completely vanished. All that remained was a phantom, dull, bruise-like feeling all over his body that didn't get better or worse no matter what he did. Perhaps that, too, would eventually fade. He sat up and grunted lightly to himself.
Surrounding him was tall grass and a far, flat field. Dotting the field were ruined buildings that had been covered in dirt and sand. It was like a bomb had gone off and then nature reclaimed the land…
He was on the top of one of the few hills in the entire landscape—at least, as far as his blurry morning vision could see—with only a tree to keep them sheltered. It hadn't rained, and he didn't feel uncomfortable aside from that phantom full-body pain, so it was probably a drier environment. But it wasn't too dry, because his flame hadn't left scorches on the lush grass.
For a while, Owen ran his claws along the ground in fascination, distracted, thoughtless. But then something came back to him.
How did they get here?
What… happened before?
Owen jumped, startled. Someone was there?
Amid the tall grass, there was a pink figure curled up, small and delicate. "Um… hello?"
"Hello?" the creature groaned. He was barely bigger than Owen's hands. "Who's there?"
After more groaning and rolling, he finally sat up and brushed the grass off of his head. He blinked several times at Owen as his view presumably cleared up.
"…GAH!" He yelped and fell backward. "Yeowch, okay, hang on. Sorry, startled me. You are… a lot bigger than me."
"Uh, sorry." Owen rubbed the back of his head. "Hey, you're… familiar."
The pink creature hummed. "I am?" He played with his ears, fascinated by them for some reason. "I don't feel familiar at all… That's strange, isn't it?"
Owen had no idea what he was talking about.
"But you definitely are familiar. Your name… I remember your name. Owen, right?"
"Y-yes." Owen stared, and the next words came without him thinking. "And you're… Tim."
"That's right!" Tim gasped. "I—" Suddenly, he stopped talking, and Owen felt a massive pressure smash into his forehead.
Tim must have felt the same, clutching at it, groaning, falling onto his back.
Then, he gasped and sprang onto his feet. "Owen!" Recognition flashed in his eyes. "What in the world was that? I'd completely forgotten about you!"
"Me, too!" Owen tried to stand, but it was hard at first. Too long on the ground. "I feel kinda bad about it… I feel like I shouldn't just forget you like that."
"Do you remember anything?" Tim asked, floating a little higher, wobbly. "Ugh, I feel like I can't… move this body right at all. Something's off. What am I again?"
"What are you? How hard did the brain block hit you?" Owen remarked, but then frowned deeply. That was true. Something happened to make them forget…
But he did remember one thing. "You're a Mew," he said to Tim.
"Mew… Mew… That sounds familiar." He nodded. "Okay. I'm a Mew. And you're a Charizard."
"Right." At least that one Owen also knew.
"And right now, we're…" Tim floated a little higher until he was at Owen's height. "…I have no idea where we are."
"Maybe we should fly around and see?" Owen asked. "Here, hop on." He crouched down so Tim could hop on.
The Mew tried to climb, but quickly got frustrated and fell off, but then realized how slowly he'd fallen. "Wait a minute…" He kicked the ground and held his position. "…Hey! I can fly!"
"Y-you can?" Owen blinked. "That's… odd."
"Yeah… I don't remember flying before. But I think I naturally can? Ugh, my head… Whatever. Let's look for the others, alright? I know there were others with us."
Owen grunted in approval and helped Tim on anyway. The Charizard and the Mew ascended to the skies of a strangely familiar, yet unfamiliar horizon, with nothing but ruined buildings and fields of grass in sight. Owen vaguely recalled this world to be called Quartz.