Can you believe Chapter 40 was 40 chapters ago? Damn, I can still remember being in the middle of writing it and feeling all sorts of nervous about what was about to go down in it.
I definitely don't feel that way here. No sir. Not at all. This wasn't originally going to be two chapters. I'm not literally trembling as I'm writing this. The split chapters are over.
"Ah, home sweet home," Sean sighed, hopping onto the docks that had been built for the Treasure Town port.
"Feels like yesterday that we left," Saniya agreed. "If yesterday was seven weeks and four days ago."
"Not bad time to be crossing the ocean itself," Guardian said, stretching his limbs and cracking the bones he definitely had.
"Thank you, Lapras," Striker said. "For putting up with us."
"It was nothing," Lapras said happily. "Truthfully, you've been my favourite clients! Never a dull moment."
"Thank you for not tossing us in a whirlpool," Sean said, bowing.
"Twice," Saniya added.
"The first was an accident."
"Suuuure it was."
Lapras chuckled. "Well, if you ever need to cross the ocean again and I'm around, don't hesitate to book me!"
"We'll ask for you," Striker assured, and they each gave her a tip for the hard work.
Sixteen islands, three tropical storms, one ocean twister, and six dungeons later, here they were.
Which was a lot of time to be within about four square feet of each other.
But they loved each other, so the time had flown by.
The town was…quiet as they entered. It was dusk, but it was usually more lively than this. All the shops had closed, and there was little to no one on the streets; if someone was, they weren't alone.
Although at least faces brightened in considerable relief as the four pokémon were spotted.
"Team Sunrise! Thank goodness you've returned!"
"What's going on?" Sean asked. "The vibes of this place are…bad."
"Um… It's best you talk to the guild, I think."
They shared a glance and nodded, moving swiftly to the guild.
Diglett forced all four of them to stand over the grate rather than just one of them before Flaaffy let them in.
"Manuel labour," Flaaffy was huffing about as they came down. "That's Croagunk's job."
"Shouldn't have lost the bet, meh-heh," Croagunk replied. They had been in the middle of dinner when Diglett had been alerted that someone had come up to the guild.
"Team Sunrise," Armaldo said sternly. "It is good to see you in one piece. Did you complete your objective?"
"To that, I say Revelation Water, Clicky the Nipper," Saniya said, slamming a bottle of it on the table. Armaldo didn't even blink to the loud display or the name she called him by.
"Good," Armaldo said. "There's a situation going on here."
"Where's Bidoof?" Sean asked quietly. The rest of his team was here, and none of them were eating much of anything at the table.
Flaaffy's perfectly maintained wool had sticks and dirt in it, Marill's eyes were bloodshot, and Paras was absentmindedly bumping a claw against the table.
"That's the situation," Armaldo said. "Bidoof has been consorting with Soothe for years. She's been in town this entire time, and he's been telling her everything."
Sean's head cocked slightly, not quite understanding the words Armaldo was saying. They weren't clicking. Bidoof? Consorting?
Guardian's eye shadowed, and Striker's frown became something fierce.
"Saniya!" Sean cried, but she was already gone.
Sean looked between his partners and Armaldo desperately before racing after her.
"Furthermore," Armaldo added.
"Oh, there's more?" Striker asked.
"Furthermore, pokémon have been going missing. A monstrous creature described as a Runerigus was found posing as a totem. The two pokémon who found it initially, Wynaut and Wobbuffet, have both disappeared along with Octillery and Swanna. Search efforts have yielded nothing."
There was something deeply painful in Armaldo's eyes. He had placed that statue up on the guild. He had it checked. How did something get by him?
Guardian steepled his fingers in deep thought while Striker looked around for something to cut and release some tension.
"How have you come to learn about Bidoof's actions?" Guardian asked. "And where is he?"
"That's where things get complicated," Armaldo said. "He claims he did not realise that his friend was Soothe, that he had never actually seen her and merely spoke to her between a door."
"That's true," Croagunk cut in. "He's spoken enough about Bell."
"He could be lying."
"This is Bidoof," Croagunk croaked lowly. "He didn't know what he was doing."
"He still spoke of guild secrets and behaviours to someone outside," Armaldo growled, frustrated. The tension of the room doubled. This was not the first time this conversation had come up.
"…Carry on," Guardian requested.
"He claims that upon describing the statue, Soothe recognised what it was and acted to attempt to destroy it, or at least drive it off. A battle commenced outside the guild until it escaped, and she pursued. Bidoof pursued her against orders, and we found him crawling back into town a time later, badly injured. He claims that Soothe had gone invisible, claiming she was a mimikyu to avoid harming him. Upon that illusion fading and him seeing who she was, she turned on him."
"He was so hurt," Paras spoke up. "I've never seen anyone so shaken before. He was crying and hurt, and you just threw him in jail."
The tension never left the room.
"Bidoof is in guild containment," Armaldo said slowly, answering the other question. "We are not turning him over to Officer Magnezone as this is a guild-contained incident. We are…determining what his punishment will be and if his word can be trusted after this betrayal."
"What happened to Soothe?" Striker barked.
"She escaped after injuring him. No sign of her since. We've investigated the house she has been living in for the past few years at least and found a lot of things that we are trying to make sense of. Worst of which was a desiccated arm I recognise as belonging to Darkrai, Meowth did cut it off after all."
Well, that was gross. No one had an appetite now.
As they spoke, Sean raced after Saniya, following bursts of emotion from her.
"Saniya!" he called. "Please slow down."
"Sean, back off!" Saniya cried. "I don't want to hurt you."
"You're not going to," Sean said. A pulse of energy blasted him back. "See? I'm fine."
"That was a warning shot," Saniya said.
They stared at each other.
"…Soothe has been here the whole time," Saniya said. "And I had no idea. She knew I was here and did nothing."
"I know," Saniya cried. "Dammit! I knew the knock-knock joke thing was weird! I should have pressed or followed him to 'Bell's' house. My fucking god, Soothe Bell. AH!"
It was illegal to use moves in town, but no one was around to witness it. No one that would tell, at least.
"…Sean, I need to do something," Saniya said softly.
"I need to go to Mystifying Forest," she said. "I need to find Celebi. I need to." Everything she didn't say was louder.
Sean nodded. "Alright, we'll get ready." He began to turn.
"No," Saniya interjected. "I need to go. I need to do this myself."
Sean looked back, concerned. "Saniya…." He searched her face for a moment before sighing. He nodded. "Alright. You better say goodbye to Guardian and Striker though, they'd chase you down if you left now."
She chuckled; he could read her like a book. Nodding, she floated with him back to the guild. She wouldn't stay the night.
Outside the crossroads, something rustled in the bushes before someone fell out with an oof. "Oh dear," Wynaut groaned, weakly getting to their feet. "Oh…oh dear. Spinda!?" They hurried to the café.
"Those minior were feral?" Rai asked quietly.
Rhythm nodded. "The ones that survived? They all attacked once they regained consciousness, repeating their species names and such."
"They spoke," Scout said, a little numb from the previous night.
"They did," Rhythm agreed.
Mane didn't speak up. He didn't need to. He was laying on Scout, keeping him warmed up so he wouldn't shiver and tremble.
Scout occasionally licked the top of his head.
Their reverie was broken as a pelipper came flapping down to them. "Delivery, Team Ion," she said, handing over a letter.
"Let's see what he has to say now," Scout growled, snatching the letter from Rhythm, who stared sadly at the letter.
Wowie, Team Ion, I bet the festival was so much fun!
Make any wishes on the falling stars?
I hope you had a good time~
I'm about ready to finally get your pawprints in my autograph book now!
Capim Town is where I've set up the wheel, can't wait to meet you!
"Surprisingly straightforward," Scout snorted. He looked to his partners, and they all nodded.
"It's time to get this done," Rai said.
"This better have not been a waste of our time," Mane growled.
"I'm sure it'll all work out," Rhythm said positively, although he still had a rather downcast expression.
"Ah, Team Ion?" the flapping of wings took their attention as down came a wingull of all pokémon. He was panting pretty hard. "Hoo boy. Express delivery for Team Ion!" he crowed, shoving a letter at them. "It was paid for a LOT. I normally don't deliver, but no one else was available. But it's worth it, all that poké…." His eyes sparkled.
Rhythm took the letter in surprise and glanced down at it. The writing was quickly scrawled and messy. "Okay?"
"Have a good day!" Wingull called, flying away already.
"Read it," Scout said, also very surprised. It couldn't possibly be….
Plans have changed.
It's an emergency now; I'm terribly sorry this has happened.
We have to meet sooner, no more games.
I'm heading down from Capim Town; there's a dungeon called The Crest.
A nice small thing, but it covers a lot of ground from entry to exit.
I should be there by the time you reach there if you're still in Hillcrest Town.
Hurry up, we have to meet now.
"The Crest is a popular pathway," Rhythm said.
"We know," Scout said. "We've used it before."
Very handy dungeon, more of a long passageway than anything.
"Did Victini not know about the minior?" Rai asked.
"I'd hope not," Mane snorted. "But either way… what's an emergency?"
"Let's find out," Rhythm said, blazing with determination. We have got to find out."
Pyroar had lingered, seething in anger….
The Clefable Guild was on fire!
"Hurry up!" Jet yelled, bursting forth with an Aqua Jet.
"I don't have magical WATER POWERS like YOU DO!" Boom yelled, sprinting as fast as his body would allow.
The smoke was getting thicker, and with Boom's short breath, he was beginning to cough and slow down. Jet stalled his move and smashed some water around Boom to try and shield him from the smoke.
"Dammit, go ahead," Boom hacked and coughed.
"No, who knows what could be in there?" Jet said, they could see parts of the flames now. He supported Boom, and they made the rest of the way together. Winding themselves before even arriving was a great way to be useless.
The doors of the guild were smashed down. The remains of two pokémon were just ashes now. Black embers still popped from the ash left behind.
The sound of the fire was a constant roar of some great beast of mythical legend, a monster that tales would be told about. A monster was accurate, at least.
Jet shielded them in a lot more water, and they breached inside. The foyer was mostly burned out by this point; the entire room was destroyed, with walls having collapsed under the force of attacks. Or just pure fire.
Pure was maybe not the right word. Something heavier than smoke sunk the air, a haze of purple glowed around everything.
"HAHAHHAHAHA!" a roar shook the burning building and Jet, and Boom shared a nod.
Outside in the courtyard of the guild, watching Clefable's office crumble, was a pyroar.
"Burn!" Pyroar roared. "BURN FOR ALL THAT YOU DID TO ME!"
His whiskers twitched, and his tail flicked before he curled his head around, grinning with bloodstained teeth at the hidden pair. "I know you're watching me, Corphish and Loudred. Come out."
"How does he know?" Jet whispered. Boom bullheaded leapt out and delivered a clanging cry, a Hyper Voice to blow Pyroar away.
Pyroar roared back, and the sound waves bounced and deflected off each other, smashing burning buildings and causing more of the guild to crumble.
"Why have you done THIS!?" Jet yelled, bursting up and sending swift strikes of water at the monstrous pyroar.
Pyroar breathed flame, a foul blaze tinged with black, and it struck right through the water attack, and Jet had to dodge.
"It's because of them here that I died," Pyroar…Rumble said. The pair gasped, and he rolled his eyes. "Oh please, who ELSE WOULD I BE?"
Shadows curled around him as he grinned maniacally. "Oooh, you cannot imagine how painful it is to die. To burn to death slowly, helplessly, being strewn up to rot. It wouldn't have happened to me if it wasn't for the worthless guards of this place, trusting the monster that hid behind a smile."
"Clefable?" Jet growled.
Rumble laughed hysterically. "CLEFABLE? I guess you're just too easily fooled. I only killed her months ago, after I had been turned, and she's been hiding the infection ever since. Killing the prisoners slowly to feed the manic Hunger that now bubbles within BOTH OF US!"
He roared and leapt for them, paws blazing with fire.
Boom sprinted for Jet amidst the burning grass, Hyper Voicing backwards to blow himself forwards and tackle Jet out of the way of a tendril of darkness that whipped up from Rumble's tail.
"Hahehahahaah," Rumble chuckled as he missed. "Clever. I see why you're the Wigglytuff Guild. You know, the pokémon here are pathetic?" He slowly turned to face them again. "It's too big. There's none of that personal touch. Quantity over quality. Clefable herself might have been impressive one day, but she grew far too soft sitting in that chair."
"Where is she?" Jet demanded.
"Dunno," Rumble replied. "She wasn't here when I came to party. I wonder why~" He grinned maliciously. "But you're not asking the right questions…but I guess after I kill you, you might get the chance to ask Her yourself. See if you're strong enough to hold onto yourselves like I was. Heh, I guess my mother was right about her plans. You can breed a Shadow Pokémon."
He was done with talking, his teeth itched, the Hunger reared within him, and his eyes went pure black. Shadow Pyroar roared and attacked.
Marowak and Espurr chose to remain in Hillcrest Town.
"We can't follow you forever," Marowak sighed, tapping Espurr on the head with his bone. "And I think the town here needs some help. You get your thing done, and don't feel bad about leaving here to do it! Go on, shoo, we don't need you anymore!"
"There-there," Espurr said brightly, patting Marowak as he tried not to cry about Team Ion leaving. "You're doing the right thing."
"I know. But I hate it."
The Crest would take a couple days to reach, and Rhythm barely said a single word the entire trip.
"Rhythm, are you okay?" Scout asked, a day in.
"I'm fine," Rhythm said, with a tone that said the exact opposite.
"…Seriously, Rhythm. What's going on?"
"Seeing all those minior," Rhythm said. "I just…."
Scout backed off. He had Rai and Mane to make him feel better. Who did Rhythm have any more?
"~I love you…I miss you. All these miles awaay~."
The crunch of foot on gravel alerted Rhythm to taper his song off, and it fell from a crescendo to a whisper to a sigh.
He continued watching the horizon for a moment before an old smile graced his face, and he turned to his visitor. "Hi, Soothe."
Soothe approached on foot, silent as a whisper on the wind, yet he knew the sound she made. Her face was impassive, a mask of detached boredom, around one arm hung a shoulder bag.
"Rhythm," Soothe said, the word hanging between them. It had been so many years since they had said each other's names since they had looked each other in the eye. "Nice song.
"It was yours." Rhythm's eyes filled with tears, and he took a step forward. "Soothe it's-"
"Don't," she snapped, pausing him. "I am not here to catch up, Rhythm."
He couldn't help himself. "It's so good to see you," he whispered, tears falling down his cheeks. "I've missed you so much."
Soothe's expression didn't shift, but her eyes darkened slightly. He didn't give him the satisfaction of a reaction, however. "You know why I'm here."
Rhythm's smile was one from a broken man, but one who saw the shattered glass as an opportunity to create something new. "Are you here…is he alive?"
"Trill is alive," Soothe said, and all the wind was knocked out of Rhythm in one sentence. He closed his eyes, shuddering in a mixture of painful hope and agonising fear.
"You know what that means," she added. Rhythm took a shuddering breath and whimpered out a sob. "He's a Shadow Pokémon, Rhythm. Just like me."
"Where is he?" Rhythm asked, trembling. He took another step, and she raised a paw to warn him back.
"Keep. Your. Distance."
Rhythm nodded, tears flicking off as he did so.
"Trill is safe for now," Soothe said. "But he's with a monstrous demon of the likes you never have, ever, imagined. And She has a few demands of you to keep Trill safe. I will approach."
She drew out another letter, holding it carefully as she took soft steps towards him. Once she had closed the distance, she held the letter out. He raised a shaking paw and took it, snaking it up until he touched her paw.
"Don't," she said, snatching her paw back and putting distance between them again. "That is all I have to offer you," she said, turning back.
"You can tell me where he is," Rhythm said sharply, voice bleeding desperation. Soothe paused. "I know you, Soothe. I know you. I know you know where he is. I know you don't work for whoever has him. I know you!"
"You didn't know me at all," she said, face shadowed in contempt. "Else, this never would have happened to me."
His face crumpled. She turned back again.
"You could do it," he said, causing her to pause again. "You could be here and help us. There's a way to save you. I know there is. Soothe…Please."
She didn't turn back. She didn't let him see her face. "Read the letter," she barked. "Read it and decide for yourself how far you're willing to go for him."
"I would do anything for either of you," Rhythm said.
"That's exactly why She is going to destroy you." She continued walking. "Goodbye, Rhythm."
He looked down at the letter in his paws, crumpled and stained with his tears.
He read it that night, shared what he had heard and knew with Armaldo.
"I have to step down," he said that night. "I trust Soothe. She was warning me with this." He smoothed out the letter. "I'm too weak, Chitin. I know I'll buckle. I have to step down to get rid of my power, or else it'll be used against us. I know you're far stronger than me. You'll do what has to be done because I can't."
Armaldo wasn't happy in the least, but he agreed.
Blossom was led out of town immediately into the surrounding woodlands. She cursed herself over and over again, but she also didn't stop her path.
She could see Chatot through the leaves still, small glances of the colourful bird in the sky, he was flying fast, however, and she was losing ground on him.
Eventually, she was just purely and entirely lost, lost in the middle of the woods, where a pyroar had been led into and murdered.
She had a surge of fear. Where had Pyroar run to? Why did he run specifically where he did? Had…Chatot let him out and led him out here?
She looked around, afraid. She grabbed her bag and readied some items; she tied her Sun Scarf tighter around her neck. Unlike Pyroar, she was immune to fire.
It'd be her ace in the hole if something went awry.
Still, she was lost. Turning around felt,…what was that?
She glanced back, there. Impaled into a tree was a feather. Not just any feather, a chatot feather. She walked carefully, eyes everywhere and roots feeling for anything wrong.
Oh, she had such a bad feeling about this.
My word, this could be bad.
Gosh, was this really what she was doing?
She reached the tree and looked around it, up it, around the ground surrounding. There was a patch of disturbed dirt. She spread her roots into it, wincing for something unpleasant.
Instead, she felt something flat and hard. With her arms, she cleared the dirt, finding a single rock. It was perfectly flat. How curious.
Blossom wasn't stupid. She lifted the rock with the help of her vines, uncovering a dark and terrifying tunnel.
"Is this what you wanted to show me?" she asked the wind. The wind did not reply.
Blossom looked down at the hole; there were stairs leading down. She took a deep breath, coughing as a musty breath hit her lungs. Something was down there.
She dug through her bag and palmed a Rollcall Orb. She may not be smart to go down here, but she wouldn't be entirely stupid about it.
Carefully, she stepped into the tunnel and descended into the pit.
The Crest, named due to its location and closeness to Hillcrest Town, was not a long or difficult dungeon. It was popularly taken as a shortcut for all sorts of pokémon, the ferals not being too vicious within it.
Team Ion had taken it before, so they stepped confidently within. At the end of the dungeon would be a cave checkpoint where they assumed Victini would be waiting.
Stepping through a few ferals and descending forth a few proverbial floors, they reached the checkpoint.
"Victory?" Scout called loudly. "We're here?" They looked around. "We might be the first here," he suggested, they were pretty fast, and there were four of them.
"Yeah, that might…" Rai yawned, eyes suddenly heavy. "That…oh no!" A brief burst of energy amped him up to cry out before he fell asleep.
Rhythm and Mane and Scout dropped seconds after him. The invisible mist of the Slumber Orb faded.
They had shown the former Guildmaster the curiosity of this letter. "Why would Victini be contacting us? Rai wondered, after showing Rhythm the letter.
Rhythm had taken the letter in curious silence, and it was fortunate he had been silent, else he would have hitched his words. He knew this handwriting. He always had known this handwriting.
"You mean why wouldn't Victini be contacting us?" Mane corrected. "We're awesome! Saved the world twice. That's better than Paradise or Team Go-Getters!"
"Easy tiger, don't get a big head." Scout patted him on his big head.
Rhythm swallowed and chose to lie. "It isn't too unusual to see this," Rhythm said, speaking casually. They had missed everything being so focused on each other. "Victini can be a little…strange, but he's very knowledgeable. Especially about his current topic of obsession."
Rhythm recognised the writing every time.
Scout groaned as his consciousness returned to him. He felt around for Rai and Mane, expecting their comforting warmth and weight. But there was nothing.
His eyes snapped open, remembering they had just been hit with the effects of a Slumber Orb. He jolted up. "RAI!? MANE!?" he cried.
"They're not here," his only companion replied, and Scout spun on her.
"…you," he said softly.
"Me," Soothe said, resting on a rock with her legs crossed.
Scout stared at her in utter silence for a long time before it clicked. "You're Victory, aren't you?"
She smirked. "Very astute of you to realise that once I already showed up. But it's a pity you didn't put things together before, especially what that name really means." She dropped off the rock and began to walk.
"Where are Rai, Mane, and Rhythm?" Scout asked lowly, backing off as she approached.
"Probably tearing through the forest right now," Soothe said, giving a half-shrug. "I dropped the four of you to sleep, picked you up, left the dungeon and then made it look like I ran off into the woods before coming right back in. A handy little trick I learned in the Dark Future."
"Why?" Scout asked, not trusting. He continued backing away, keeping a healthy amount of space between them. "You knew we were looking for you."
"Of course I did," she replied. "Timber told me."
Her smirk deepened. "Funny how I've been in town the whole time, and no one had any idea."
Soothe backed him into a corner, and Scout's claws came out. "I'm not afraid to fight you." He bared his teeth and claws.
There was a weird loopy smile on Soothe's face, curling her mouth. Like she wasn't too sure what to look like while staring at him. Her eyes were as green as Scout's and fixated on him.
She swallowed, fluttering her eyes slightly. "It's just so weird," she said softly. "You imagine moments like this…for so long. You think and think and think about what to say, what to do, what to be. And then when the moment finally arrives? What do you do?"
Scout stared, waiting, wondering.
She smiled, closing her eyes fully. "It might be a tiny bit lame, but ultimately, I think there is only one way to address this. Only one way to finally reveal it all. Heh. You've been wondering about it for so long, haven't you? Where it comes from. How that you know things you couldn't possibly know?"
Scout's expression began to turn.
"But there is only one way to say it. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time, Darkness, and the one everyone loves the most. The one we're in because Spinda's Café is right there. Sky."
And there it was. Scout's eyes widened as he stared at Soothe, and she challenged him with a smirk right back.
They stood in silence.
Tears hit Blossom's eyes as she walked into yet another room of monstrousness.
Pokémon chained in cages, some beating at them croaking broken words, some sleeping fitfully. Some just not moving entirely, likely having starved to death.
Crackles of purple energy split the air but failed to break the bars of the cages. As soon as she entered a room, she was beset by howls and screams as…things barely even able to be regarded as pokémon beat themselves against their bindings to try and reach her.
"Help. I. Hunger. You. Help. Help. Bring. Blood. Save. No. Kill. AH. Help die. No."
Some couldn't even speak at all.
Hooks held some cages suspended in the air, swaying the occupants as they desperately beat against them to reach her. The screaming and broken begging words drove her to tears in minutes, but she pressed on.
She knew what they were. These were Shadow Pokémon. Shadow Pokémon locked up away from other pokémon.
But this place? It stunk of more than just them.
Pain sent a sharp tang across the stale air, and Blossom wanted little more than to just leave. She'd seen enough, but there was more and more.
She walked through three rooms of cages filled with Shadow Pokémon. There had to be at least thirty of them all chained up and contained.
This was terrifying, but…she couldn't truly say anything yet. Was this a prison? Was this an offshoot of the guild, containing Shadow Pokémon rather than killing them?
Perhaps looking for a cure?
The screaming really brought her down, though.
"She comes! She Comes! SHE COMES BLOSSOM! RUN" a pokémon howled, scaring her half to death.
"How do you know my name?" she asked the zigzagoon.
It foamed at the mouth and tried to bite her through the cage, breaking its nose. The wound repairing in seconds as melting darkness oozed over it. Energy crackled, and she backed away quickly, running out of the room.
She entered a larger one, still bitterly dark. Only the light of her Sun Stone or the crackles of Shadow Pokémon gave any light to be seen.
In here was just one cage. Just a single one, large, with an occupant sitting on their face. A big luxray, head resting on its paws.
It looked up as she entered. "Who are you?" he asked, voice more level than the others but still just as cracked and broken.
"I'm Sunflora," she said, shaken. "Of Team Voyage. I'm…who are you?"
"Sunflora…," he growled. He rose to his legs, letting her see him fully. He was a powerful specimen, tall and strong. His fur was mangy and ridden with bugs and dried blood and other stuff. His legs were shaking, holding himself up, their strength atrophied by years of containment. "You should not be here," he said weakly, collapsing back to his belly. "She will come…She will place you in one of these cages as well."
"Who is She?" Blossom asked.
"I… don't…understand," Scout said.
"Yes, you do," Soothe replied. "You just don't want to believe me."
"I'm not merely human," Soothe said. "I am THE human. I am the real one. The knowledge you have? The games you played? The life you remember living? That was mine. That was mine. And you took it. But not…intentionally, I think."
"H-How?" Scout asked. "No. NO! How do you think I'd believe this?"
"You grew up in Australia," Soothe said, and he fell sharply silent. "But you don't really remember much of your upbringing. Don't you?"
"…okay, I'm listening."
"That's what I thought," Soothe said dangerously. In her paw was her famed iron thorn. She waved it around as she spoke. "It took me so long to figure you out. Eventually, it was Timber who helped me. You finally told the guild, all of them, why you knew the things you knew, and Timber, the darling that he is, told me. Finally, finally, I understood why She had taken it from me."
"The First Fallen," Soothe replied, rolling her eyes. "The most fucked up monster you've ever imagined but ten times worse. I trusted her. I woke up in the Dark Future. I thought this was a dream. What 'real' human falls into an imaginary game? And I was found by her, and I realised it was real. I thought,…oh, okay. This is the partner; we look alike. It makes sense. I trusted her after a few days and told her everything."
She smiled. It was a horrible smile. "And she ripped it out of my mind. Violated me, took everything. I don't even know how I had the will to escape. But I did. I ran out of that dungeon, and then I ran back into it. Over and over again. In the Dark Future, you might remember that if you leave a dungeon, you might appear in a wildly different place. I did that seventeen times to ensure she couldn't follow me and then ran. Somehow I survived and escaped, and for twenty years now, I never knew why she had taken it from me."
She shrugged. "Especially since she didn't remember anything about that in THIS timeline."
"…Who?" Scout asked weakly.
"I'm getting to that," Soothe said. "For so long, I wondered to myself, why had she taken it? What use did it have? Was it just a sadism thing? She's definitely a freak, even in this timeline. It took so long, but once Timber told me, it clicked why there was some meowth who apparently was all connected with Dusknoir and Grovyle. She did something. She did something and gave someone my knowledge."
Soothe bared her teeth. "And then you gave it all to her. It's why she's been so active lately, why things are happening. She knows and has fooled everyone."
"Dammit, Soothe. WHO!?"
"Who else?" Soothe asked.
"She is a monster," Luxray said, failing to answer Blossom's question.
"She is a monster," Soothe said, failing to answer Scout's question.
Soft footsteps that were not Blossom's began to move.
"She's fooled you all," Luxray said.
"She's fooled everyone. Hiding behind a kindly façade, a gentle demeanour. An identity of gratitude."
Blossom stepped closer to the cage, curling her leafy hands around the bars, wanting, needing, more information.
"Soothe, just tell me!"
"She's here," Luxray hissed, shrinking back into the darkness. "You will join Kogeki soon."
"Your real enemy."
A gasp sounded from behind Blossom, and she spun to see someone raising a hand over their mouth.
It was a shadow of a monster with horns.
She had a mothers song and deep brown eyes.
I never said the horns poked up above the monster's head.
"Is Indeedee, the mayor of Blackstone Village."
Indeedee's hand remained over her mouth as she sighed, closing her eyes. Between her fingers, she smiled, her eyes opened, and she gave a girlish giggle. "Ooooh dear," she sighed, fluttering her eyes in pleasure. "Oh, golly gosh. Oh no. Oh dear. Oh…Blossom. What have you done?"
"It was you," Blossom said, staring at her in blanketed shock.
"It was me~" Indeedee crooned, voice oozing with delight. "It was me in so many ways, more than you could ever possibly realise."
She took a step into the light Blossom shone, and she stepped back, hitting the cage. "Careful there, Blossom. He might bite."
"Who is this!?" Blossom shouted. "What is ALL of this?"
"Who?" Indeedee repeated before laughing. "Oh, I guess your reputation oversells you. What sort of friend are you that you don't even recognise your friend's father?"
"Fa…" Blossom glanced back at the luxray who had called himself. "Kogeki…Rai's father."
"Rai?" Kogeki's ears perked up, and Blossom shrieked as he suddenly pounced at the cage, slamming into it and knocking her back. "RAI! RAI! RAI! WHERE IS HE?"
"Settle down," Indeedee said, lifting him with her mind and tossing him back. "It's rude to enter a lady's personal space so roughly."
Kogeki growled and then yelped as she forced him against the steel of the floor, cracking his nose against it.
Blossom backed away from the cage, but she didn't want to go any closer to Indeedee.
"Answer me," Blossom said breathlessly. "You killed Pyroar, didn't you?"
"I already said it was me," Indeedee replied, rolling her eyes. "Don't you listen, Blossom?"
"How do you know my name!?" she shouted.
"I know…so much, and that's what you ask?" Indeedee laughed. "Oh honey, try better than that. Weren't you meant to be interviewing the suspects? Keep it on topic, please."
"…Why?" Blossom asked. The Rollcall Orb was hidden well in her hand. "I just…I don't understand why it was you, let alone how?"
Indeedee's smug expression melted into a more kindly one, more akin to how she presented elsewhere. "Ah… don't feel too bad about not realising," she said, cocking her head and trailing a finger along one of her horns. "I mastered the act millennia ago. There were hints, but nothing you could truly get anything off. Although, I do have to give you some credit."
She leaned in, amused. "Scout, Rai, and Mane looked Trill right in the eyes and saw nothing. Same with Boom and Jet. You are the only person to even suspect the truth."
The wind was knocked out of Blossom. "That…really was?"
"It was," Indeedee said, back to crooning in amusement. "Oh, that's an interesting blend of emotion you are feeling right now. Joy, horror, and a bitter sort of satisfaction that you were right. Very unique, I haven't tasted that often."
Blossom fought to keep a sneer off her face; if she could keep the killer talking….
"You still haven't told me why?" Blossom said.
"Why not?" Indeedee replied. "Scorch was so…sure of herself that she could breed an army of Shadow Pokémon that I simply had to test if her methods had any merit. Seems that they did; one of her children became a proper Shadow."
"Scorch…that was Pyroar? Mane's mother!?"
"That it was," Indeedee replied, pleased she was putting it together. "She and I didn't quite get along. She was a bit too much of a megalomaniac to play nicely with my ideas, so she left on her own. Pity, she died, but her spawn has been useful."
"Then Pyroar is…."
"At the Clefable Guild, burning it all down. He already killed Clefable some time ago, heh. She was called away for an emergency. He killed her when she revived and returned…well, I couldn't exactly approach her with an offer, so it's been curious to see how she conducts herself. She murders the inmates to control the Hunger, which is just…isn't that simply justice?"
"That's sick," Blossom whispered. And Boom and Jet were heading that way.
She had to help them and soon.
"Then that means you are a Shadow Pokémon?" Blossom asked.
Indeedee laughed at her. "I know what you're doing, Blossom," she chortled. "And while I have been positively itching to engage in a villainous monologue for some time now, especially since Soothe has gone off the grid, I'm afraid you have made a miscalculation here."
Indeedee took another step forwards, and one of her arms erupted into a dark fire. Kogeki whimpered, pressing far against the cage he was in. "Unlike others, anyone that I kill will be revived as a Shadow Pokémon. So…I can kill you, and if you are strong enough to maintain your mind, I can THEN monologue to my heart's content."
Okay, now was the time. Blossom triggered the Rollcall Orb and threw it up shining. It glowed brightly until it erupted in a pulse of energy, pulling the two pokémon keyed to it to this location.
Jet and Boom tumbled to the ground in a series of crashes and yelps and looked around sharply. "Blossom!" Boom yelled. "Pyroar is at the guild. He's killed-"
"I know!" she cut across. "Indeedee was the killer, and she's RIGHT THERE!"
Jet already had his eyes on her as Indeedee waved politely. "Hello. Seems that Rumble was a bit lax and let someone escape. That's disappointing."
"Indeedee?" Boom uttered. "What? No one would ever believe that!"
"Exactly," Indeedee smirked, raising her own orb. "I live off gratitude, remember?" She shook her head in amusement.
"They know I'll do what's 'best by them'. What they want. It's an easy act to conceal. It's always worked. It worked back then as well, with the cable. Hah. They called themselves the First Fallen, yet they never realised the truth. They never realised the common link, the indeedee that advised them all. And they were a very handy disguise when Keira came slaughtering my forces. When she caught wind of 'The First Fallen' she like all the rest were fooled into thinking it was them. Hah. No. There was only ever one Fallen, and that was me."
"And so Keira the Legendary Lucario died without even realising that she never succeeded in her goal."
"Died?" Jet whispered.
"Dead," Indeedee snarled, and she suddenly drew a sword. The same one she had shown off to them earlier. "But not forgotten." She tapped the blade and winked. "Now it seems that you got me to say a little more, well done. But we're looking a little overbalanced here." Her orb activated, and the same effect happened, only this one spawned Rumble.
"Gah, where did they…?" He spotted Boom and Jet and snarled but then sensed Indeedee behind him. "U-uh…." He began to shake as he stared at her like he'd been caught in the act.
"Stuttering is appropriate," Indeedee said, all traces of amusement fading. "But it's okay; you can redeem yourself."
Rumble, trembling still, delivered a mighty roar that formed an aura around him. An Ignoble Roar.
"Ah, but we're still unbalanced," Indeedee said maliciously as Team Voyage grouped up. "Oh…Kogeki? If you help us kill these three, I'll let you see your son."
"Rai?" Kogeki whispered, Jet and Boom stunned from every direction now as too much was happening to process at once.
Kogeki gave a deep, rumbling growl as the cage was lifted off by Indeedee's Psychic power. "Kogeki…begs…forgiveness." And then he roared, leaping up to pounce upon Team Voyage.
"Indeedee?" Scout asked flatly. "You want to believe that Indeedee is this big bad evil monster you were just hyping up?"
"She's a fantastic actor," Soothe replied. "It's not a surprise that you don't believe me."
"But it's the truth," Soothe said simply. "Tell me, Scout? Why would I lie? Why would I accuse some random pokémon in some random town? What benefit would it give me? What reason would I have to point that finger? And I should also bring up, the only time we've interacted was when I saved your scrawny ass from Darkrai, so I would appreciate a little bit of trust."
"You." Scout raised his paws and began counting down. "Knocked us out, led my partners away from me, and are a Shadow Pokémon. None of those things are the best reason to trust you here!"
"Again. Why would I lie about Indeedee? Why her in particular?"
"Maybe because we know her enough that I can recognise but not so close that I'd let attachment affect my thoughts?"
"Pfft. Yeah, because you know her THAT much. What did you even do in Blackstone Village? Did you touch her? I bet you did. She started acting differently around that time, I've now realised. You. You who she gave MY knowledge to ended up giving it back to her."
"I did not!"
"Did you touch her?"
Scout opened his mouth to deny but paused. He had…shook paws with Indeedee when he first visited.
"Thought so," Soothe said, satisfied.
"That doesn't prove anything," Scout snapped. "I offer a paw shake to everyone. Just because she took it doesn't mean she's this evil person who you have barely even begun to explain."
"Now you want to hear me talk," Soothe said. "Really, you're taking this fairly well. How many people are you now? Me. You. Sean. Yourself. That's a lot of people to be, and I bet you're at least one, maybe two, more people."
"No," she replied. "Indeedee fucked my mind, tore it apart, pulled the knowledge from my mind. And then she gave it to you. You. But…hah, like I believe that's all she did to you. There's something else about you, I'm sure. And I'm going to figure it out."
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Scout replied, ready to fight at the flash of a thorn.
"Calm down. I'm not going to kill you," Soothe replied. "With my luck doing so will BE her plan and turning you into a Shadow Pokémon. Unless you already are one. A Shadow Pokémon cannot become one again, even if killed by another."
"I am NOT Shadow."
"You seem to be believing like I'm going to go along with whatever you are thinking!" Scout shouted. "I am NOT!"
Soothe snorted at him. "As if you have a fucking choice. I didn't invite you here for a tea party; I led you along and kidnapped you. Do you think I'm going to just let you run off when I know Indeedee has plans for the both of us? No. We're sticking together, getting off the grid, until I can work out how to stop her."
"You want to stop her?"
"Indeedee made me like this," Soothe snarled, eyes flashing. "There is nothing in the world that could ever convince me to spare her miserable life when I finally get my hands on her helpless neck. Just because I'm a Shadow Pokémon doesn't mean I agree with her goals or work with her in any way. She forced me too, and she'll try to do it again now that she stole my gift, but I have some time."
"And you are going to help me."
Scout stared up at the dangerous audino with defiance in his eyes.
"I'm the only one who can answer your questions," she said, deciding to appeal to try to get along. "You've wondered how you knew all this stuff, what you were meant to do, for years now…right?"
Scout's eyes flicked down.
"You ever wonder why it took you so long to admit the truth?" Soothe added. "That's probably my fault. Indeedee traumatised me so badly that every time I even began to try and begin to tell Rhythm and Trill That Truth, I choked up. I felt it happen again. You felt it too, didn't you? You thought of telling Shinx, Litleo, others? You worked yourself up, but every time the moment came, you just felt…scared. Like everything would break apart once you did."
Scout was silent. "…Yeah," he admitted. That was exactly how it felt.
"I told Indeedee," Soothe admitted, voice heavy. "I trusted her. And I can't blame you or anyone else for trusting her as well. She's extremely good. It took me less than a week to trust her with everything, and so she took everything. Burn me once…and you seemed to share that trauma, even if you didn't know why you shared it."
"I don't understand why I remember some things but not others," Scout said, frustrated. "If… you're actually right and I somehow have YOUR memories, why do I only have the game, really?"
"I guess she didn't need you to know everything about me," Soothe shrugged. "She was only ever after my knowledge, even in this timeline when I was forced to work along with her. She can pacify the Hunger. The maddening drive that Shadow Pokémon have to kill. In return, you have to do what she wants. So, I had to tell her a lot of what I knew so I wouldn't hurt anyone."
"You haven't hurt anyone?"
"Only Darkrai," Soothe admitted. "He is the only person I've killed, and I wish I could regret that, but I can't. Not anymore. Not like this. All I have is my fury and hatred. Scout…I don't ask for help, and I am NOT offering you a choice, but… it'd be easier to work together if you agree."
Scout looked her over. Soothe's head was raised, the iron thorn in her grip. It was clear the 'choice' was between a rock and a hard place.
He didn't want to be shanked, that's for sure. Go along with it, get her to drop her guard.
"If I do, will you let me go back to Rai and Mane eventually?"
"When the Fallen lies dead in a ditch, you're free to do whatever the hell you want."
Scout still didn't believe her, not quite. Still, what choice did he have here?
Soothe smirked. She wasn't fooled either, but an uneasy truce would suit them fine for the moment. If he was a Shadow…he was dead. She'd figure that out either way soon enough.
Without the containment device she had wished for from Darkrai, she could no longer suppress the Hunger without the Fallen's aid. She'd have to hold onto her sanity for as long as possible, and if it didn't rear up again directed at Scout….
She'd know either way.
"Well, that was just disgraceful," Indeedee said, stomping through the forest with Rumble and Kogeki at her heels.
"Kogeki is…," Kogeki began.
"Shut up," Indeedee snapped, and he flinched. Rumble was doing his best not to be noticed.
"Couldn't deal with them on their own, couldn't deal with them even with backup," Indeedee complained, leaving behind her workshop of horrors.
"We got two of them!" Rumble snapped, unable to hold his tongue. "How was I supposed to know the plant was immune to fire?"
He nearly lost his tongue to a shining silver blade. They all paused as Indeedee held the sword to his throat, a drop of blood trickling down the blade, the wound failing to heal even as the shadow essence tried to close it.
"You don't want a worse cut from this thing," she warned. "I'll cut your fucking balls off, and we'll see how high-pitched you get then. One of them escaped. From US!"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" Blossom screamed as she was pushed back by Boom.
"GET WORD TO THEM, JUST GO, JUST RUN!" He broke something and struck her with the energy. A seed.
Blossom screamed, trying to resist. "BOYS, NO!"
"How were we supposed to know they had a warp seed?" Rumble complained as the sword was taken away.
"Kogeki…wants to see Rai."
"You will see him when Blossom lies in pieces," Indeedee said darkly. "Ashes or ribbons, I don't care."
Kogeki nearly ran forwards, but he was stopped.
"It's too late now," Indeedee said sweetly, feeling Kogeki's fluctuation of fear, anger, and grief. "You'll have to wait longer."
"What are you going to do now?" Rumble asked. He cracked a smirk, entirely unable to hold himself in check. "Hehahaha. She's going to tell everyone Mayor Indeedee's dirty little secret."
Indeedee matched his smirk with her own and pitched his cheek, dipping her fingers into his mouth to fishhook him. She leaned in. "She won't." And released him. He rubbed his mouth.
"Why wouldn't she?"
"She believes the town is under my control," Indeedee said, amused. "And she'll run to the next one, screaming and crying about shadows and indeedee's. Maybe some will believe her hysterical crying. Most won't."
"And when she puts a message to the Wigglytuff Guild?" Rumble growled. "You can't stop THEM from hearing, and when they do, they'll believe her. You're fucked."
Indeedee smiled serenely.
"…I don't like that look."
"I've lived long before the Psychic Network was formed," she said sweetly. "Do you honestly believe I haven't designed a countermeasure for it?" she giggled a twisted little thrilled sound. "Pity you won't be able to see the effects, already killing Abra. But," she added, singsongingly, "you'll see the effects soon enough."
Flickers of crackling energy flitted across her body as they walked. Indeedee was preparing something.
As they reached the town, she unleashed her gift. She tapped into the Psychic Network and sent out a very broad beacon that no one would be able to identify as belonging to her.
The moment someone connected to her, babbling something about a meowth, she unleashed it.
On the outside, Kogeki and Rumbled watched in distaste as Indeedee's serene expression warped into a twisted sneer, a bitter smirk of sadistic satisfaction.
Within the Psychic Network, a panic attack began to crash upon it. Desperate to relieve the pain, her first target connected to someone else and passed the worm along.
A psychomimetic mental virus, spreading through the Psychic Network at horrifying speed as pokémon all over the Grass Continent suddenly erupted into agonising screams, desperate to eject the attacker ripping at their very minds onto someone else.
Indeedee watched as her simple act took down the continent-spanning mental network, the lights going dim as people retreated.
"The network is down," she said, opening her eyes. She gazed over her town, with the mangy Kogeki and bestial Rumble staring down at it themselves.
"Such innocent pokémon," she sighed sadly. "They've fed me well for the past couple hundred years. Ah well. Time for them to die."
Within her shadow lurked another monster, and both of her companions yelped away as a great stone rose up behind her, arms ripping out of the serpentine stone.
Indeedee smiled at her visitor. "Excellent timing. It's nice to see you, Violet."
In Chapter 40, Scout revealed The Truth to his friends. In Chapter 80, Soothe reveals The Truth to Scout. Fitting, isn't it?
Okay. BIG author note coming, a few things to discuss.
First off. My Fucking GOD, have I been waiting for this chapter FOREVER. It's Soothe.
Soothe is the SI-OC.
Soothe was that event that changed the story.
Soothe is where Scout's knowledge comes from.
A few people have partially guessed this also! First off, if you're still reading, I MUST give tremendous thanks to SlytherinLife. It was you who inspired this twist. It was you that made everything just…click together and answer that one answer that even I hadn't answered to myself yet.
Secondly, ShadowyMyths! Holy shit, my friend, you FUCKING CALLED IT! Almost all of it!
You were the person who put everything I had set up together in your review of Chapter 56! I am so damn proud that you got it, and I was blown away with awe and relief.
Check out their review on A03 if you want; it's in one of the replies. But you did it! You got pretty much all the hints I was anxious about saying too much or too little.
Everything Keira had to say about Shadow Pokémon and her theories were partially hints here. A human, humans who absorb Shadow passively, that eventually it could get too much and cause them to break. That their mood fluctuates, like Soothe's did in Chapter 33, and can be relieved by dungeon fighting, like what Soothe did.
It's why Soothe suggested that a guild could be made into that cliff! It's not because she saw it in the future, but because she saw it in the GAMES! It's why she gave her name so easily to Trill and Rhythm, why despite being a pokémon from the Dark Future, she only knew Tackle and Heal Pulse.
Why she's been hiding in Treasure Town, talking to Bidoof, who she knows is trusting and easily fooled.
And why she sang a parody of the Mr Sandman song :P I can't believe THAT is what caused the pieces to fall together for you, ShadowMyths, of all the things.
(It's also why Rhythm has sung Lullaby for a Princess a few times. Soothe used to sing it to Trill and Rhythm. He said it himself, 'It was yours.')
Okay. There's probably more stuff about Soothe. Heck, I could talk a LOT about her. You all thought she was the demon, but… we've now seen the face of true evil.
Damn. NO ONE suspected her, did they? I thought for sure that having Blossom suspect Chatot of being Trill would be enough to make people point at her, but no. She's just too damn good at playing the sweet kindly role.
This has been being hinted at for years now. Soothe wasn't figured out for a significant amount of time, near the end of Arc 1, I think. I'd need to check the reviews to figure out the exact time it all clicked for me.
Indeedee, however, began in the tiniest way all the way back in Chapter 7. The following lines:
He did remember something; he wasn't sure what exactly it was. A small song she sang him, the words were almost lost, but he could remember how her humming felt. Safe, warm. "Deep in the woods, there was a fire..." Came to mind.
Gotta love my foreshadowing so far in the past that no one even remembers it. Before we even knew Shadow Pokémon was even a thing. Before we even knew Scout was Scout and not Sean.
The next biggest ones are Chapter 34: A Time That Now Never Was. Read the part where Guardian found Scout again. You may see a familiar shadow with horns.
Heh. I never said the horns were on the TOP of the shadows head, after all. Indeedee was a good disguise for that since you think of a shadow with horns, you think of them popping out the top, not the side, of the head.
I also have to call someone out here. HYAN! You called Indeedee out on the chapter. Rumble was murdered by her, and I have to ask. HOW THE FUCK DID YOU DO IT?
I've been tormented for months because I couldn't confirm it and ask how you guessed it. Only that you called her out for being a backstabbing bastard. How did you put the pieces together?
It does make sense that Indeedee was the killer. Rumble's death painted that up. Something holding him with Psychic, using a Fire-type move (Indeedee can learn Mystical Fire). Possesses horns. She KNEW he was in the prison. She was the mayor and had been in town longer than literally anyone else. And it's not my way to throw something completely out of left field either.
I feared it was obvious, but she really wasn't. She's a very good actor. She's been doing this…a lot. LOT longer than she claimed she lived when telling Team Voyage about 'The First Fallen'. Hah, the amount of laughter she had to suppress in that conversation was intense.
Anyway, I think that's about it. Damn. I hope Indeedee's reveal was satisfying and doesn't seem like an asspull. I can say there was foreshadowing all I like, but it's been 900,000 fucking words. I cannot fault ANYONE for not remembering the signs that came up before we knew we needed to look for them.
But hey? If you reread the story, who knows what things you'll find?
I'm so eager to write Indeedee as she really is. We know who she is as well; that last scene reveals it ;)
She's been named for some time. Do you think a wretched ghost would cry out for someone who wasn't plot relevant?
Get ready, everyone. The First Fallen is among the evilest, most twisted characters I've ever created. She's already killed Jet and Boom, and she doesn't plan on stopping there.
But it's alright :̕D
Like she said. Anyone she kills returns. They won't be gone forever….