She knew the legends, of course. There was, once upon a bygone time, a being born of the mystical Mew – not in the same way that Mew was said to be the ancestor of all Pokemon, and not in the same way that men playing God created the cloned Mewtwo. This being, this Mew-child, was said to be Mew's direct offspring, its own flesh and blood.
Her mother had read her stories about the Mew-child when she was young, stories about the villains that sought its power and the heroes that stopped them. As she grew older, she began to notice that the stories all had one common thread: the Mew-child was passive, inactive, in all of them. "What exactly could the Mew-child do that made the villains want it so bad?" she'd asked her mother. Horrible things, was the answer she got. The Mew-child possessed power of a magnitude unknown in the modern world. "Then why doesn't it do anything in the stories?"
Because when it did act, nobody survived to tell the tale.
Her name, according to her Pokemon handler's license, was Melanie Cora Rylan; according to her parents when she was in trouble as a kid, it was also Melanie Cora Rylan, but with more bass in it; and according to her friends, it was Mel. Her license also indicated her height and weight (both slightly more than she would have preferred), the number of occupied Pokeballs she was qualified to carry with her at one time (six, with certain exceptions listed on the back of the license), and her trainer ID number (97532, one digit off from her lucky number, which she still hadn't gotten over in the eighteen years since she'd first gotten her license).
Her license didn't say anything, however, about what she did and what she was.
What she did was easy – she nominally worked for the Rylan Family Pokemon Shelter in Fuchsia City, where injured and abandoned Pokemon were cared for until they were ready to be adopted. In practice, this meant that she spent most of her time traveling the country, finding Pokemon that needed help and bringing them home. This was, in part, due to what she was: a low-grade psychic.
Psychics, while not common, weren't unknown; the Saffron Gym especially was notable for its large number of psychic staff. Mel didn't care to tether herself to a single gym, nor did she want to spend the rest of her life battling, so she used her psychic abilities – mostly manifested as emotions she could feel bleeding off of others – to locate Pokemon that were hurting.
It was an arrangement that had worked fairly well for years and years with nothing going wrong. At least, nothing that couldn't be fixed.
Then she received the call.
"Okay, Repeat," Mel hissed through grit teeth, "very slowly lower me the rope. Slowly. Please."
"You got it, chief." Repeat stretched out one arm and let the other end of the rope dangle from his grip. As he was currently wearing the guise of a Gloom, a species not well-known for their incredible reach, this meant that the rope didn't make it too far down the cliffside, but it was far enough for Mel's purposes.
Mel had started the morning intending to find the Magby that had been leading her on a chase around the outside of Rock Tunnel for the past two days; it wasn't unusual for Pokemon, especially injured ones, to be wary of her, but few of them had been as adamant about shaking her off their trail as the Magby had been. It was hurt, though, she was certain of that; it radiated feelings of sharp pain off of it that sent needle-stabs through Mel's mind. One thing led to another, and Mel found herself gripping an outcropping of cliff so tightly she thought her fingers would break through the stone. Water pounded the rock far beneath her feet, and she could just barely see the shape of the power plant in the distance and, even further past that, Lavender Town's looming graveyard, the Pokemon Tower.
Mel was trying very hard not to think about death, but it was coming naturally to her at the moment.
The rope, held at the other end by her Ditto, Repeat, just barely brushed her knuckles. Mel made a mad grab for it with one hand and let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding when she managed to wind it around her fist a few times. "Repeat! You tied the rope to something, right?"
"Sturdiest tree I could find," Repeat called. He, like every other Pokemon, spoke his own arcane language, but Mel had picked up enough over the years to figure out what he meant most of the time. The psychic powers, admittedly, helped.
"Good." Mel tugged on the rope and swung her legs in, planting her feet on the side of the cliff. Her boots, which wouldn't have looked out of place in a war zone, didn't slide one inch. She sucked in a breath through her teeth, prayed that her glasses wouldn't slide further down her nose, and—
The voice tore through her head, echoing everywhere all at once.
The world shook around her with the resonance of the sound.
Blackness enveloped her as pictures danced in her mind. A cat-like face, small and pink and soft. A barren island far away in the ocean, home to only a small stone triangle amidst sparse trees. A woman in a purple robe. Red letters, too blurry to read.
Then everything was gone.
When Mel opened her eyes again, the harsh, artificial light threatened to turn what was already a pounding headache into something more apocalyptic. She winced and screwed her eyes shut. The place she was in didn't look familiar, at least not from the brief glimpse she'd gotten, but the mattress under her, the sheets twisted around her, and the pillow that her head rested on at least all indicated that she was somewhere safe – a hospital, she guessed, after that fall.
Mel let the eyelids of one eye part, just a crack. The light flooded in again, but this time more manageably; the source seemed to be a fluorescent light embedded in the ceiling. She became aware of a quiet rhythmic beeping that, once she noticed it, was impossible to ignore, counting out her heartbeats. The room her bed sat in was far larger than she could see; curtains on either side of her sectioned her off from the rest of the people that were presumably in there with her.
Well, all but one of the people, anyway – as she opened her eyes more slowly, Mel could see, out of her periphery, a figure in the chair next to her bed. Her limbs felt heavy, most of all when she tried to turn to face the stranger, but her motion, feeble as it was, was enough to attract their attention.
"Hey there, kid," they said as they got to their feet with a languid motion. Mel got a better look at them: a woman, shorter than Mel by at least a head by her estimations, slender, spritely. Her face, elfin and pointed, bore a sharp grin and twinkling eyes, like she knew the punchline to a joke Mel hadn't heard. Her clothes were beaten up and ill-fitting, somehow incongruous with the image the rest of her presented.
"Not a kid," Mel mumbled. "I'm 28."
The woman sat herself on the corner of the bed. "Yeah, well. When someone does something stupid like, I dunno, straight-up letting go of a rope when they're hanging over a raging river, I figure a few punches to the ego are called for, right?"
Mel blinked blearily. Her mind wasn't firing quickly enough to pull apart all of the concerning parts of that sentence. On top of that, the woman wasn't even letting her guard down enough for her emotions to seep out. "Who are you, exactly?" she asked.
"Oh yeah, of course. My bad. Call me Nia." Nia made a theatrical sweeping motion with her arms and bowed, though, given her position on the bed, the only thing she accomplished was knocking away a stand with some papers on it.
"Nia…" The name rang faint bells in the back of Mel's memory, but she couldn't place why. "Why are you here? Just to take me down a couple pegs?"
Nia giggled and shook her head. "Nah, nothing like that. I was set up next door. Or next curtain, or whatever. I'm due to go today, so I thought I'd look around for one last time. You know, for nostalgia's sake or something. Looked through your chart when the doc wasn't looking. You know how it is."
"Oh." It was the only response Mel had the strength to give. The room around her felt bitterly cold, and she drew her sheet in around her.
"So what possessed you to drop?"
Mel grimaced. The thought of what happened caused physical pain in the back of her head, like someone had driven in an ice pick. "Was trying to find a hurt Pokemon. Fell. Tried to climb back up with a rope Repeat had… Repeat…" Two neurons abruptly connected. "Where's Repeat? Where is he? Is he okay?"
"Calm down there, bucko," Nia said, holding her hands up. "Guessing Repeat is your Ditto, right? Sounds like a Ditto-ish name. Says on your chart the doc has him in the hospital's Pokemon Center. Good hands, I'd wager. So finish the story. What happened?"
"Psychic flash," Mel muttered. The voice in the back of her head that ordinarily would have warned her against mentioning her ability to others had a bit more on its plate to worry about. "Need to save the Mew-child. Something like that."
Nia clapped her hands together. "Ah, you're a psychic! And you got a call for help out of the blue! Sounds like the start to some kind of mystical quest or some such. And I would know. That's the kind of thing that stories are made of! What's your plan?"
"You know, like… what are you gonna do to save the thing?"
"Not gonna be any saving." Mel shook her head weakly. "I got better stuff to do than fall for some kind of prank. Probably some little kid, just got their psychic powers, playing jokes on anyone nearby. Me and Repeat, we need to finish the job then get back home and report in." It was the longest sentence she'd said since she woke up, and she had to take several deep breaths afterwards.
"Well, if you say so." Nia hopped down off the bed. "But be careful. I know it first-hand. When calls like that come in, they don't take 'no' for an answer. Best of luck to you, one way or the other." She parted the curtain and stepped outside of Mel's section, then poked her head back in after a moment. "By the way, your chart says you'll probably be good enough to leave tomorrow if you get enough rest. So take it easy! It's like a free vacation." Then she disappeared.
Then Nia reappeared a second time. "Hey, one more thing," she said, slipping back past the curtain.
"Can you stay gone so I can actually rest?" Mel growled.
"Nah, this is quick. Faster than fast, you know? Look, no matter what you decide, we live in dangerous times. There are cults and other nasty groups everywhere nowadays. Lots of bad people all over the place. Just wanted to tell you to be careful. You never know what's coming down the pipeline, and what they have aimed at you." Nia flashed Mel a wide smile, showing many more teeth than Mel felt comfortable seeing, then disappeared for the final time. "Be seeing you!"
"Hopefully not," Mel said to herself. She closed her eyes and drifted back into sleep amidst images of rockets taking off into the sky and men with swords opening treasure chests.
The next morning came and went, and true to her chart, Mel had been released, Repeat's Pokeball in hand. She kept the Pokeball closed until she reached her destination, all the while trying her best to shove down her memory of the conversation with Nia. It was too concerning otherwise.
"Hey, chief," Repeat said as he materialized on the ground. He looked well-rested, Mel thought; she had no idea what was inside the Pokeball and Repeat was not in a hurry to fill her in. "You doing okay? I expect we're heading home—" His words stopped short in his mouth as he looked around.
Mel gave him a moment to get his thoughts together.
"Okay, okay, chief. Boss. Partner," Repeat said, chopping his arm-analogues through the air like punctuation. "You wanna tell me why we're going right back to the place that sent you to the hospital the first time?"
"It's not the same place," Mel said, her hands on her hips and a smile on her face. She knew that Repeat knew what that smile meant. It was her 'I have a completely dumb answer to your next question, but you're still going to ask it' smile.
Repeat sighed and looked up at her with a furrowed brow that he had morphed for just that purpose. "What do you mean, 'it's not the same place'? I can see the cliff that you fell off of right over there. We're less than a hundred feet from it."
"Nope! That cliff is further back the way we came! It just looks similar here." Mel picked Repeat up and held him in her arms as she began hiking the other way across the asperous rock, winding her way between scraggly trees and scrubby brush. The sun beat down overhead, and the tepid breeze did little to provide relief. "We're about half a mile north of that. Our Magby friend didn't move very much over the past day. And it's still in pain – I can feel it."
Repeat let his eyes track upwards as they walked. A flock of Spearow, nestled in the boughs of an especially gnarled tree, watched their every move. "You, uh, ever considered that maybe the Magby doesn't want our help?" he asked. "I mean, if it only was on the run while we were following it, and it settled down after, maybe the problem is us."
"Don't be silly!" Mel patted Repeat on the head, making a faint squelching noise. "It's hurt, so we're going to help it. That's how it works. Besides, I think it's asleep now, so that'll make our job a little easier. This way!" Mel followed the Magby's emotional trail to an outcropping covered in a thick, thorny mass, overlooking the power plant. The Magby's signal was coming from underneath the brambles. "Okay, Repeat, do your thing," she whispered.
Repeat nodded and glanced around, scanning the area for any useful Pokemon. "Ha, there we go," he muttered. There, in the distance, he laid eyes on a black and white figure, climbing down the cliffside with agile jumps – an Absol, especially rare in this part of the country, he knew. He closed his eyes, and his limbs began to extend and enlarge. His body took on a more well-defined shape – something quadruped, with a distinct head and matching bladed tail. When he stopped shifting, he opened his eyes and shivered, shaking out his fur.
"Good eye," Mel said. "I didn't even see one of them around here."
"Because I'm feeling nice today, I won't make a crack about your glasses." Repeat lowered his head then, faster than Mel's eyes could follow, let loose with a whirlwind of slashes from the Absol body's abundance of natural blades. Before Mel could even scoot back, the brush was gone – and underneath where it had been was, yes, a small Magby, fast asleep, covered in the bruises that Mel suspected had come from its previous home. In addition to the expected collar that all Magby had around their neck, this Magby also had one around its leg, with a tag that read 'if found, please return to,' with the rest torn off.
Mel gently picked up the Magby and cradled it against her shoulder. "All right, Repeat, let's scoot," she said in a soft, lilting tone, none too eager to wake it up. "We need to get this little guy back to the shelter as quick as we can."
"Shh," Repeat hissed, looking out over the edge of the outcropping. "Come over here and check this out."
"What's up?" Mel knelt next to him. From where they were, they could see the power plant, pristine and gleaming in the morning light – and they could also see the pair of people skulking around the outside. The two intruders wore pale, nearly-white robes, with mantles long enough that they were almost scarves, and hoods that covered the top halves of their faces. Even from where they were, Mel could feel the emotions radiating from them – a heady mix of determination and anxiety, with fear and frustration seeping in at the edges.
"What's the word?" one said to the other in a voice that Mel had to strain to hear, even in the still air.
"The target's not around," replied the second, "despite the reports that it would be nearby."
The first one slapped the second on the back as their postures relaxed. "Look, I don't want to be the one who tells Degree that the Mew-child wasn't here. Let's go get a drink first, then we'll go deliver the bad news together."
"Agreed." The second of the pair opened a Pokeball into the water, revealing a Starmie whose jewel glimmered in the sun. The two of them clung to its back as it swum up the river as easily as if it were cutting through air.
"Ha!" Repeat let out a snort as he reverted back to his normal form. "The Mew-child? People are still lost in legends and myths over that thing? Please. Isn't that ridiculous, chief? …Chief?"
Mel watched the two go, a frown darkening her features. They were looking for the Mew-child… and those outfits… What did Nia say? That there were cults around? She knew. She knew all this was happening. But… as shady as she is, she was right. They're looking for a Pokemon, the Mew-child, and I bet it's not to give it some extra TLC. They're probably going to hurt it. That means…
"Hey, uh, boss, you okay there?" Repeat asked, patting Mel on the shin.
"We need to beat them to it," Mel said.
"We need to find the Mew-child first."