Author's Note: Here's our final part! Thanks so much to everyone who supported this little side-venture of mine. I'm excited to get back to working on Salvage and playing through all the fallout this story leads to. I hope you've had fun so far—enjoy the finale!
It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move at all, but worst of all was breathing, because Sara couldn't stop, and every inhalation felt like a knife-stab. She lay very still and breathed as shallowly as she could, to almost let the air roll out and in of its own accord, but no matter how hard she tried she always had to move a little bit. Then it hurt.
Titan's flame lit the tent, yellow-hot with worry. He was curled unhappily in the aisle between the cots. He'd wanted to snuggle with Sara, but it hurt to have him pressing against her, and she'd started to cry, and that hurt even worse, so now Titan was on the floor, by himself.
It hurt so bad. It almost wasn't fair, because the scratches and scrapes, even the big cut on her forehead from the pikipek's beak, she barely felt those. They were slathered in antiseptic gel that had tingled going on and now felt vaguely slimy. But her ribs, they said there was nothing more they could do for them, that they hadn't brought any stronger medicine along.
Broken, Dad had insisted. Broken, broken. How long to the hospital?
Maybe not broken, Mom said back. No way to tell. Three days to the village, even if we hurry.
Dad said a bad word, and, Where's Hunter? He's supposed to be our emergency out.
They hadn't even asked her if she knew where Hunter was. They didn't realize he'd gone with her at all. Everyone was being nice to her even though it was her fault Hunter was gone, and what were they going to do when they found out? She couldn't keep it a secret forever. They couldn't leave Hunter alone in the jungle.
When they first started talking about leaving, Sara had tried to protest. She tried to say no, she was fine, they should stay. It was only for a few more days anyway. She couldn't leave without catching Mew, especially not now.
But Mom and Dad had only looked at her, and said not to be silly, she needed to go to a doctor, and she hadn't even really tried to convince them otherwise. She didn't really want to catch Mew, right now. She wanted to go home.
When she next woke up it was dark out but also weirdly bright, every floodlamp in camp on and pointing outwards, lighting up the edge of the jungle. The harsh light cast long shadows through the tent canvas, black shapes moving back and forth. Sara could hear things clattering, rustling, all the random noises of packing-up. Mom said they were leaving early in the morning.
Dad was on his cot, reading something. Sara tried to be quiet, but she must have moved or something, because he looked over at her. "Hey, Sara," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," Sara said.
"Hmm." Dad came over to feel her forehead, and Sara held still, willing there to be nothing else wrong. Dad stood looking down at her for a moment, brushing a stray lock of hair back from her face. "If you feel any worse, let me or Mom know, okay? We're going to get you to a doctor as soon as we can, I promise."
Sara didn't want to go to a doctor. She wanted to go home or, failing that, to stay right here, not moving. Dad went back to his bed and picked up his book again. Sara tried to shrink down under the covers and go back to sleep, but that lit up one whole side of her with fire, and she swallowed back a squeak of pain.
Titan wasn't here anymore. Probably he was outside helping people pack. That's the kind of thing he would be doing.
"You want me to tell you a story, Sara?" Dad asked. "It must be boring having to lie real still like that."
Sara thought for a while. "Do you know any stories about Mew? Like what the people here used to tell?"
"Oh, tough one," Dad said, laughing. He set the book down next to him and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "There were a lot of people who lived here, Sara. Cities—there were many cities here. They came and went. Most of them we don't know what they believed because we don't know how to read what they wrote. But all the people out here, every culture, each one had a different understanding of Mew. Some revered it. Others saw it as a villain."
"Like evil?" Sara croaked.
"Some of them. I know it's hard to imagine for a cute little pokémon, but Mew was said to be very powerful. That's one thing the stories agree on. Legendary pokémon do tend to be dangerous, even the ones who are usually helpful. Even if Mew wasn't a proper legendary, it must have really been something. And it couldn't have been everyone's friend."
Sara shifted in her sleeping bag and immediately regretted it. Dad was looking at her, so she tried to smile.
"But let's see. This place here, what I think we've found, they used to say it was the little god's home. The whole city founded just to honor it. People waited on it hand and foot, created art in its likeness for it to admire, tempted it with foods from far-off places. In return their land was bountiful and the weather fair and they feared no army, for even that one single pokémon was supposed to be stronger than a thousand men."
He was really getting going now. Mom called it time-traveling, when Dad went on and on with his stories of the past. He was having a good time, had been having a good time this entire trip. He didn't know Sara had found Mew, that she'd been disobeying him and Mom and going off to see it by herself. She'd been breaking rules they made up just to keep her safe, and then of course the exact thing they'd said would happen had happened.
That wasn't the worst thing. The worst thing, the very worst thing, was that nobody had even asked her what she'd been doing outside the camp. They hadn't been mad. Nobody had even asked.
"Actually, one of the stories about Mew is that it was the one who destroyed that city. That it turned on its worshippers and tore down their temples and—well, maybe this isn't the best time for a scary story," Dad said, coming out of his reverie for a moment. "So let's think about what that city would have been like. Up on a mountainside, so you'd be able to look out at the jungle all around, higher even than the clouds. Almost every day sunny, just enough rain for the crops, never too hot or too cold. Everywhere riches. There's this little Mew pendant they found, all decorated with pearls that must have come from hundreds of miles away. There was a lot of trade in those days, a lot more than most people realize, and—"
"What is it, Sara?" He was on his feet like he thought she might be dying.
She almost wished she would. Sara started to take a deep breath, and then she couldn't talk a second for the pain. Still she tried to turn away when Dad came over and knelt down next to her cot. She didn't want to have to look at him.
"I know where Hunter went."
Sara walked, because being carried was worse. There was no way to hold her without pressing on her screaming ribs, and lying on a stretcher only meant she felt every tiny bump in her maybe-broken bones. So she walked, and when night came she slept, exhausted and insensible, and then got up to walk again.
Mom had said three days to get out of the jungle, but it was slow going now with guard-pokémon surrounding them on all sides. All along the trail there were glimpses, flashes of wild pokémon watching from the trees. Maybe curious onlookers and not the same ones who had attacked Sara. Maybe they wanted to make sure the humans were really leaving, make them aware they were no longer welcome.
Titan was there, always, to protect Sara, but his loyalty felt almost like an insult, considering what she'd done. Dad had to stay behind because of her—they couldn't leave Hunter behind, and it had to be one of her parents, one of the expedition's leaders, who went to find him.
"Don't worry about it. Once we find Hunter we'll teleport straight back to town. We'll get there first, you'll see. We'll be waiting when you get out of the jungle," Dad had said, but Sara was old enough to be able to tell when he was pretending to be brave. He smiled too much and never at the right times.
She'd said Hunter was with her in the forest, that they went to the berry patch together, and that he got knocked out and afterwards she didn't see him. She hadn't talked about Mew. Why didn't she tell? It wasn't like she'd thought about it and decided. Maybe she'd thought it would make everything harder, that people would want to stay and search for Mew, too. Maybe she still had some hope, somewhere, that she could catch Mew and bring it out of the forest herself. Maybe she was just used to keeping it a secret now.
It didn't matter. Sara walked until they stopped, and then she slept until it was time to get up and walk again. Two times she did that. And then, on the third evening, she slept, but only for a little while before she woke to Titan screaming.
Sara sat up without even thinking about it, and almost didn't notice the pain that followed when she saw what had set Titan off.
Crouched down with head and shoulders stuck through the tent flap, staring blankly at Titan, was her. The air swirled with cold irritation, a tingling psychic buzz.
"It's okay, Titan," Sara said through gritted teeth, but the charmander yelled and pounced anyway, claws flashing. He was on his back at the far end of the tent a second later, eyes rolled up in his head. Mew turned its gaze on Sara, prodding her with impatient thoughts.
"Get in here," Sara hissed while she groped for Titan's pokéball. Where had she put it? She thought it was right by the edge of the bed. "People can't see you like that! Get in here and turn into Titan."
Mew stayed where it was. Its thoughts beckoned Sara forward. It wanted her to come out.
"No!" Sara snapped, finally scooping Titan's pokéball out from under a loose fold of sleeping bag. She recalled him and slammed the pokéball down again, too hard. A stab of pain went straight down her side so she stopped breathing for a second. Mew twitched. "I'm not going anywhere. You get in here or someone's going to see you. You don't want that, do you?"
Mew pouted more in her head, but after a moment it clambered the rest of the way into the tent. Sara blushed, turning her eyes away. Why was it weird seeing someone that looked like her without clothes? Well, maybe because it was weird. Was this what it was like to have a twin? It had to be less creepy. Maybe you just got used to it.
"Now be Titan," Sara said and, realizing that the dinner-noises outside the tent had stopped, "Quick! They're going to find you soon."
The time Mew took to go through the transformation had to be deliberate. Sara had plenty of time to see how Mew's skin flushed brilliant orange and split open in scales, limbs shrunk and thickened and eyes grew wide, wide, wide. Its hair sank out of sight as though its skin had turned to liquid, molten orange flowing to cover it up. It was so gross, Sara wanted to look away but couldn't, and then all of a sudden everything was normal again and Titan was sitting on the ground in front of her, impassive.
Sara hadn't even thought of what to say when the tent flap ripped open and Mom thrust her head inside. "Sara! What was that—I heard Titan screeching, I thought I saw—"
She came up short on seeing "Titan" sitting there calmly and Sara still in her sleeping bag, unharmed.
"It's okay, Mom. Titan just saw a weird bug and got scared. He's fine now."
"A bug? I could have sworn—" Mom leaned a little farther into the tent, peering into corners. Sara wondered whether she'd be able to recognize the psychic signals Mew was putting off, but then she realized, all of a sudden, that she couldn't feel anything herself. Everything was just... normal. Mew sat in the middle of the tent, much too still to be the real Titan, but otherwise giving no sign of what it was.
"Oh, well, never mind." Mom said. "I'm glad it was nothing. Do you want something to eat? We're having dinner out here. I could bring you something."
"No. I just want to go back to sleep."
"Okay. I'll save you something," Mom said. Still she lingered, peering, suspicious. But there was nothing in the tent but a human girl and a quiet charmander.
"I'm glad it was nothing," she said at last. "Get your rest, then, sweetie. You were very brave today. We'll be out of this soon."
Sara hadn't wanted to be reminded that there was more still to come, at least another full day of walking. But she didn't say anything, and finally Mom went away.
The air fizzed and tingled, and something like a warm wind swept over Sara as Mew let its psychic powers go again. It nudged her mind impatiently.
"What are you doing here?" Sara asked.
Loose pens, a paperback novel, Titan's pokéball, one of Mom's boots rose into the air, hovering in slow orbit around Mew. The book shot at Sara's face, and she instinctively reached up to catch it, missed, and it bounced off her arm instead. The dull burst of pain from the impact was easily drowned out by her ribs' complaint, and Sara's fingers twisted tight into the fabric of her sleeping bag. Mew made a loud mental protest.
"Yes, I know it hurts," Sara snapped. "I got attacked by a bunch of your friends. We're leaving. We're going back to where humans live."
The items Mew had gathered toppled to the floor, and the pokémon stood up. One clawed hand went to its chest, where brilliant white suddenly glowed. It looked like Mew pulled a ball of light out of its body, the energy stretching and sticking to its scales before pulling away to join the mass in its hand. A softboiled attack. Mew stepped forward and held the ball of energy imperiously out towards Sara.
"That doesn't work on humans," she said. Mew waved it up and down, prodding at Sara's mind. "Okay, but it's not going to do anything." Gingerly she reached out and took the glowing egg from Mew. It was warm against her fingers, and after a second of wondering Sara shoved it into her mouth whole.
It was like taking a bite of the sun; Sara saw a flash of light, and a burst of heat swept down her throat and out across her whole body, and that was all. Did she feel any better? Maybe, maybe a tiny little bit. But when she shifted her weight another stab of pain went up from her ribs, and Mew flinched, complaining wordlessly in Sara's head.
"See? I told you." Sara carefully lay back against her pillow. "I can't play with you anymore. It hurts too much."
Now it was Mew that lifted up off the ground, zooming in agitated little circles. "Stop that! What if somebody comes in and sees you?" Sara said, but the sight of a charmander floating like a soap bubble, bouncing and drifting in the air, was so funny she couldn't help but smile.
Fuzzy ill-formed thoughts pattered against Sara's brain, but it seemed Mew was at a loss. It kept going in circles, fretting to itself.
"Do you want to come with me?" Sara asked. "I'll get better. Then we can play again. Otherwise we're going to be out of the forest in a couple of days, and then we'll probably never see each other again."
Mew huffed in a way that was far too like Titan when he was annoyed, and dropped back to the floor with a thump. It stared up at Sara, prickling with irritation.
"Or you could come with me," Sara said. "I'd need to get a pokéball, or"—she'd only just thought of it—"you could. It would probably be easy for you. I know they keep them with the rest of the equipment. As long as you look like Titan, nobody would notice you—or you could be a kecleon! Like that one time! And be invisible! It'd be easy! And then we could leave together, and you could see Cinnabar Island and travel all around Kanto with me and go to the League and we could be friends forever. We could play all the time!"
Mew made more annoyed feelings at her. So no, then. Sara lay back again. "Well, I can't do anything right now. It's up to you. You can stay here and be Titan as long as you like, or you can go get a pokéball and let me catch you and we can play later, or you can go away. I don't care."
And she almost didn't care, actually, when Mew stomped an unhappy circle in the middle of the floor, hissing and scattering sparks, then turned up its snout and vanished with a clap of displaced air. Teleported off somewhere else. Maybe it had other playmates to bother if it didn't get its way.
Sara eased herself deeper under the sleeping bag. Probably later she'd regret leaving things at that when she was never going to see Mew again. Or maybe she could tell people about it once she felt better, show them the pokédex and convince them to take her back out here. Right now, though? Right now she thought she'd be fine never seeing Mew again. What good was a pokémon you couldn't even count on to be nice to you when you were hurt?
Sara woke again in the middle of the night. What was it this time—the high squeal of some pokémon out in the dark, the crunch and snap of twigs as things moved out among the trees, the sudden flare of firelight? "Stay here," Mom said. She was already up and shoving her feet into boots, hair a snarled mess. Before Sara could ask what was happening, she was gone.
Golduck's quacking voice sounded outside, and the deep hiss-roar of a hydro pump. Running feet, the crash of something metal falling. Titan was awake, pacing the front of the tent, eyes wide and tail-flame high and fizzing. Sara slipped off her cot, biting her lip against reawakened aches, and knelt by the tent flap Mom had neglected to zip behind her.
Camp was dark save for the floodlights set up around the edge, lighting up the forest for the pokémon on guard. It was full of shadowed running shapes, inhuman, slithering or galloping or bounding in ones and twos between the tents.
Wild pokémon. Sara pulled away from the tent flap and reached under the cot for her backpack, fished out her pocketknife, her flashlight, then reached for her boots. Mom said stay here, but how long until one of the pokémon came to this tent? One or ten or twenty?
There were human voices outside now, people waking up. Too late? The pokémon were already in the camp, probably dozens of them. Sara froze when she heard Mom's voice, yelling. Not scared, it didn't sound like that. It sounded like she was trying to reason with the pokémon, asking them to calm down and if they could talk.
Sara's ribs stung and complained while she shoved her foot hard into her boot. Fat chance of that. The pokémon must have planned this, showing up once everybody was asleep. For some reason they'd let them go before, let them think they might get away, but now—now they were serious. Why?
Because Mew had come here.
Sara stopped with the second boot halfway on, hardly breathing. Mew had never come into the camp before tonight. The wild pokémon must have been watching, must have felt the brush of its psychic emanations. Maybe they had decided that everyone had to die, that they'd all seen too much. Mew had come to see her, and now the wild pokémon were attacking everybody.
Mew was also the only one who could stop them. If what Dad said was true, if it was stronger than a thousand men—even if it was only stronger than a hundred—it would be able to stop them.
Something slammed into the side of the tent, making swishing, zipping sounds against the nylon. Titan dashed over to the thrashing bulge, but it wasn't trying to get inside, lashing out and hissing at something Sara couldn't see. It bounced away again, and Sara heard scuffling, snarling and rustling in dead leaves, then running paws. Whatever-it-was was gone.
Sara could breathe again, and loosen her sweaty grip on her knife. Titan trotted back over to her, chirring nervously.
"Come on," Sara said, and knelt gingerly by the tent flap, moving like someone ten times her age. Titan whined and hung back. He remembered what Mom had said.
"Come on. Mom needs our help. Everybody does." Sara peered out into camp. People had come out of their tents with their own pokémon, the ones who'd been resting instead of guarding. Sanesh and Golduck ran from place to place, Golduck's gem glowing while he threw pokémon aside with confusion and bursts of water. Trying to drive the pokémon back, back into the jungle.
Mom was shouting, calling people to her. Sanesh moved towards her voice. Sara waited for a stout nidorino to gallop past, then came up out of the tent as fast as she could, gritting her teeth against protesting ribs.
She weaved between tents, not running but not walking, either. She didn't want anyone to notice her. This was the hard part, where she only had Titan to protect her.
It wasn't far to the tent with the equipment in it, Sara's rational mind said. In the cry-split darkness it felt very far away indeed. Sara hustled, crouched over in stealth as well as pain, and then something tingled against the back of her neck, prodded at her mind. Sara spun around. Mew?
The shape was flapping, too small to be Mew. It let out a piercing squeal and dived, fluffy body illuminated by a flare of pinkish energy. Titan leapt and swiped at it, but it was well above his range.
Woobat. Sara covered her face with her hands, remembering the horrible pikipek, and stumbled for the equipment tent, trying to keep her bearings while the pokémon dive-bombed her with waves of disorienting psychic energy. She blundered straight into a steenee, but then Titan leapt forward, hissing and flaring. Sara left him to fight, swatting at the air with her hands while she ran. She ducked into the equipment tent, still flailing.
Here were the great boxes and dismantled antenna of the satellite link, huge bags done up in ropes and straps that pokémon would carry all stuffed with excavation equipment, first-aid supplies, anything too heavy for a person to carry on their own. Sara wrestled sack-necks open, biting her lip to stop herself crying out in pain. Her ribs hurt even when she wasn't moving now, aching in protest.
Here at last was the bag with pokémon supplies, extra potions and antidotes, cut HM's labelled with peeling masking tape, portable healers. Sara tipped the bag and spilled it all in a mess across the floor. Here were pokéballs, two mesh bags of them, maybe forty altogether. Titan came stumbling in while she was fretting over how many to take. Sara sprayed him down with a potion, thanked him for handling the steenee, and made her decision. She took one bag, slit the top open, and gave Titan the nod.
"Come on. We just have to make it to the forest," she said.
She stepped from the equipment tent and straight into the path of wild pokémon. They stopped, and Sara stopped, and Titan bumped into the back of her leg. For a second they all stared at each other, Sara and Titan and a sewaddle and two nidoran. Then Titan ran forward, and the sewaddle made a weird chirping noise, and Sara fumbled the first pokéball she pulled from the bag, dropping it on the ground.
The next throw sucked the pokémon into the ball, though, and seeing that, its companions scattered. Sara heard the pokéball pop open again behind her, but she was already running, Titan following after.
She threw balls at pokémon before they even noticed her, the seconds they spent struggling to escape enough for her to get safely past. One passimian went into the ball for only a heartbeat before exploding back out, then shied away from the spent pokéball in the grass, fur bristling, and ran off screaming. The pokémon here weren't used to pokéballs like the ones at home. Maybe they didn't even realize such things were possible.
Sara didn't have time to stop and contemplate that, nor the pokéball that actually locked shut around a woobat, or how Titan coughed and then dribbled an ashy scattering of embers over a persistent nidoran. The bag of pokéballs was growing light in Sara's hands, but the trees were growing closer, too.
One of the guard pokémon, a rapidash, fought near the edge of camp, flames leaping high. She kicked and bucked to dislodge swarming pokémon, a mass of wild creatures trying to pull her down. Some of her fire had escaped into the undergrowth, flames sluggish in the jungle damp but growing larger all the same.
Sara veered left towards a break in the fighting, where wild pokémon poured into camp in ones and twos and no one remained to stop them. She hurled pokéballs at a golbat, a darting panpour. Titan struggled along behind her, panting smoke. Still he turned aside a snivy with only the suggestion of an ember. Sara pushed through screening bushes into the black and white world of the floodlights' glare.
She didn't feel safe to stop until they were out of the light and into the forest proper, where Sara heard the click of bugs and creaking of trees instead of sounds of violence. She sprayed Titan down with potion and tried to catch her breath, not that it made her feel much better. It was like she could only now realize how much she hurt and how much she wanted to go right back to bed.
The trees beckoned, spookily. Sara counted five pokéballs left in her bag. That would have to be enough.
"Mew!" she yelled, expanding her lungs so it hurt, driving the name out with as much force as she could. "Mew, I need you! Where are you? Mew!"
She tried thinking it as hard as she could, her own psychic call. Come to me! Mew! I need you! Help! Titan made cries of his own, his tail-flame bobbing ahead of her to light the way.
The jungle was treacherous in the dark, the bouncing circle of her flashlight illuminating only what lay immediately ahead.. Sara practically rushed into a gulch, had to grab for a sapling clinging to its edge, feet slipping in mud. Titan didn't even notice, racing down one slope and then laboring up the other, claws scattering dirt clods and stones. He stood on the far side yelling back across at Sara, urging her to hurry.
"Mew!" she yelled. She let go of the tree and picked her way down the slope, lost her balance and fell on her butt with enough force to drive tears of pain from the corners of her eyes. She slid almost all the way to the bottom.
"Mew!" It came out breathless, and Sara stopped to take searing gulps of air. "Mew!" Croaky and too soft, but by now she was saying it almost just to say it. What were the chances Mew would ever hear? What were the chances they'd ever find it, out in the great big jungle? What were the chances it would come, even if it knew it had been called?
Sara stumbled up against the far wall of the ravine, hunks of mud coming out under her hands when she tried to pull herself up. Trying to support her weight with her arms had to be the worst, the most painful thing she'd ever done. Titan ran back and forth on the edge of the bank overhead, yelling encouragement.
There was a throaty noise in the air, something like wind but deeper. A rush and crackle. Red and orange glowed through the trees in the direction they'd come from. The fire was spreading.
Sara threw herself against the wall of the ravine, fingers slipping off mud-slimed roots, feet kicking free hunks of loose earth. She slithered up the side more than climbed, scrambling for new holds as the old ones dissolved. Somehow she made it to the top of an incline no more than twice her height, breathing raggedly, muddy all over. Titan grabbed her arm when it came over the edge. He pulled, which didn't actually help but did make Sara kick harder until she could pull herself all the way up.
No sign of Mew. Sara wasn't calling anymore. "Can you feel anything?" she rasped.
Titan shook his head but turned and padded away, slashing through low stems as he went. It was obvious which way they had to go. Behind them fire billowed and danced.
Sara tried to move faster, but her body didn't seem to want to listen to what her head said anymore. The tall black columns of trees, the lumpy abstract shapes of undergrowth, the shifting orange light—it was like a dream-world, something invented by fever.
Was Titan following any kind of trail? Was he just going wherever he felt like, or moving away from the flames? It didn't really matter. And maybe she should have realized that even if Mew didn't hear her pathetic calls, it was bound to come and see about the growing fire.
"Char!" Titan yelled. "Charman, char!"
The legend was high overhead, front paws resting on a branch, feet dangling below. Sara snapped back to awareness, felt the tingle of psychic-ness on her skin. Mew turned in the glare of Sara's flashlight, blue eyes narrowed. The feeling in her head was unmistakably that of, And what are you doing here?
"Mew!" Sara yelled. "We need your help. The wild pokémon attacked us—all the humans. They're mad because you came to see me, and they're too strong for us. You're the only one who can stop them."
Mew flicked its tail and went back to gazing at the fire. Sara swallowed a hot surge of anger and went on. "It's because of us that everybody's in danger. We have to fix it. Please help. I know you don't want to, but if you don't, people are probably going to die. I might die," she said, only then thinking it. Even if she'd escaped from the fighting at the camp, what was she going to do, all by herself in the forest?
Mew shoved at her mind, pushing her away. The air was shot through with its annoyance, and anger rose again in Sara's chest. She tried to cling on to it, to use it to keep her voice steady. "Then if you won't help," Sara said, "I'll have to catch you. I'll show you I'm strong enough to be your trainer and that you should listen to me. When we go and save the camp, that can be our first battle together."
Mew let go of the branch and came jetting down, hovering just above Sara's head. Titan hissed at her side, showing teeth, showing claws. Of course. What pokémon didn't get excited about a battle? Sara gripped an empty pokéball tight in one hand and said, "Titan, go."
He jumped, he spat fire. His claws passed through thin air, his embers showered nothing. Mew scooted back, and up, and then tossed him into the side of a tree no different than before. Of course it could never have been any different. No matter how determined he was, no matter if he could use his fire now, he'd never had a chance.
"If he can't battle you, I guess I'll have to do it myself," Sara said, and she felt wild, gripping her knife tight. Mew must have been surprised when she jumped at it, but it moved anyway. Sara hit the same tree Titan had, practically landed on top of him, breath forced from her lungs and then kept out by the pain that flared whenever she tried to inhale.
She lay dazed, the knife gone from her hand. Mew hadn't liked it when she hurt earlier, and she'd hoped, somehow, that might stop it from hurting her itself. But it hovered over her now, radiating frank displeasure.
Suddenly desperate, desperate like she hadn't been before, when she only thought she was desperate, Sara dug in the bag of pokéballs and hurled one with a quick snap of her wrist. Mew caught it in midair, held it slowly revolving. Sara growled and threw another, and Mew caught that one, too.
It floated over her, waiting for—what? An apology? For Sara to do something else entertaining and futile? She drew burning breath, eyes stinging with tears. "You don't care," she said. "We're all just humans who are going to die soon anyway. We're not special like you. Why should you go out of your way to help us?"
Mew drifted off, shedding inscrutable murmurs. Sara pushed to herself to her feet. "What do you want?" she yelled after the legend. "You're right, I'm weak. I don't deserve to be your trainer. Probably nobody does. You're right, you're strong and nobody can make you do anything if you don't want to. So what do you want? I'll do it. Just help us, please."
Even as she said it Sara realized: of course there was nothing Mew wanted from her. It had lived longer than she could imagine and seen things she probably wouldn't even understand. And it was leaving, unmoved by her words if it was even listening at all.
"Then, then—stop! Then don't do it for me. Do it because... Because of the stories. Like what they used to tell about you. When there was that city, they all told stories about you, didn't they? All the things you did?"
Mew turned back to her, murmuring nonsense in her head. "That's right. But now nobody knows you're here. Nobody remembers. And if you save them... If you save us, everybody will know. They'll tell stories about you again. It won't just be me, it'll be everybody. Even people a lot stronger than me. You're the only one who can help us, and everyone will remember if you do."
Mew rolled over slowly in the air, keeping its gaze fixed on Sara all the while. It felt more mystified than anything. What else could she say? Nothing else. That was all she had. "Please."
That hadn't done anything, she thought. Mew stayed where it was. But then, with one of its too-abrupt movements, it jetted forward, stopping right in front of Sara's face with a mental outburst like a giggle. Sara stared, and Mew tapped her head with its tail, and they both disappeared.
They were back at the edge of camp, and suddenly the fire wasn't far-off noise and light, but here, and roaring, beating against Sara's face with its heat. The trees burned, and a couple of the tents, too. The lights were out but Sara hardly noticed with the fire's glow.
Mew kicked away from her, floating up and over the tents. A pink bubble of light flickered around it, then expanded, a glowing ring of psychic energy pushing outward. It knocked Sara to the ground, ripped tents from their stakes and hurled them over, toppled light poles and sent pokémon flying.
In the sudden confusion Mew dived down. Sara could only see its silhouette against the flames, and when it turned towards her the pink glow of eyes. Pokémon ran now, picking themselves up from the dirt and fleeing into the trees, away from the fire and from Mew.
The legend spun pokémon into the air with psychic force, then slammed them hard into the ground, into trees, into each other. It attacked with swirling shadow balls and black scythes of power, forking lightning and creeping frost. Here and there pokémon fought back, leaping at Mew as it swooped past, reaching with claws and vines. Mew hardly seemed to notice, and the one time Sara saw a lucky flame burst graze Mew's side, the legend crushed the pansear that had hurled it into the ground without so much as slowing down.
Wild pokémon rushed back into the jungle like a receding tide, while the trained pokémon, slumped with exhaustion, watched their opponents flee. Not that their being trained meant anything to Mew; Sara saw Rapidash collapse from a casually-tossed shadow ball, and winced. Some of the skulking humans had caught on and were recalling their pokémon; the others might just be too shell-shocked to think of it.
Mew shot along close to the ground, letting a terrified pair of pansage make it almost to the treeline before blasting them into unconsciousness, then doubling back to fire lazy dark pulses at a noctowl. The bird went through desperate banks and dives until finally it couldn't dodge fast enough and plowed into the dirt.
Evidently bored with the wild pokémon, Mew soared up, up so Sara lost sight of it, but a moment later a cold blast of wind sent scraps of flame licking ever farther out into the jungle. Then there was a roar, a huge growling of thunder, and the trees swayed and groaned in storm-winds. The rain came a second later, slashing and blown near-horizontal with the force of the wind. It came down heavy, hard, stinging against Sara's skin, drenching her through in seconds.
What tents hadn't already been knocked over by Mew's psychic blast toppled as guylines snapped, some pinwheeling crazily across the ground until they fetched up against piles of equipment or crashed into the trees. The rain beat down, the wind howled, and at first the fire flared and leaped, but then slowly, slowly the rain pounded the flames into the ground, left nothing but smoky mud and splinters.
The storm passed as quickly as it had come, thunder grumbling away into the distance to leave the camp in unnatural quiet, and dark, so Sara fumbled with her flashlight, banged it against her palm until it flickered alive again. It felt like she'd been running around all night, but the whole attack couldn't have lasted more than, what, half an hour? She didn't know. Maybe everybody was okay. She had to find Mom.
Sara jumped and gasped when something appeared in the air in front of her, a sudden pink glow and clamor in her mind. Mew wriggled with delight, turning loop-the-loops. Her laughter pealed around the camp, echoing soundlessly in the minds of dazed researchers. Sara found herself laughing, too, painfully and wishing she wasn't. But why not? It was over, wasn't it?
"Thank you," she said to Mew, who bubbled smugly in reply. "Thank you. That was... That was..."
Tents were upended everywhere, tangles of canvas and metal poles. Unconscious pokémon littered the ground, and smoke billowed up through dripping branches. Mew giggled and spun, as delighted as Sara'd ever felt her.
Sara had dropped the bag of pokéballs at some point, and they gleamed bright and wet in the flashlight's beam. Sara bent down slowly, gritting her teeth against pain, and picked one up.
Mew squiggled down, peered at the pokéball like it had never seen one before. It scooped the ball from Sara's hand with the tip of its tail, balanced it there, held the ball steady and spun around it, inspecting it from every angle. It flicked the ball into the air, bounced it off foot and nose, laughing again. One last toss and the pokéball flew up high, lost in darkness.
Mew looked down at Sara, great blue eyes inscrutable. It caught the ball as it came back down, daintily with the tip of its tail, square on the button. In a flash of light the pokémon was gone.
The ball did shake, twice, after landing back on the ground. Sara held her breath and stared. When the light had gone out and she picked the ball up again it was wet beneath her fingers, but a little heavier, too. Faintly warm.
Sara held the ball close to her chest and thought of championships, of cheering crowds. The rising smoke stung her eyes. It took Sara some time to believe it, and even longer to tell anyone. But for a long time, even after all of that, she never put the pokéball down.