Being dead was supposed to be peaceful.
The unobstructed sun beat down on a small roost atop a high cliff. The wind was a loud, but pleasant, breeze. Crisp, cool air filled her lungs. Another heavenly day, just like all the others, and while sometimes dull, she didn't despise it. For an Aerodactyl, the environment was perfect.
She preferred the boring days.
"Brigid? Ya here?"
Her heart fluttered with worry. She didn't like that Pott's voice scared her, because he was the friendliest Scorbunny she'd ever met. But recently, the only deliveries she'd gotten from him were of her son.
"I'm here." She cleared her throat to get rid of the roughness, giving way to a deeper, smoother tone.
"Oh! Good, I didn't miss ya. Heh-heh, Pott's always gotta make the delivery in person! It's the right thing to do, ya know."
With a hop, hop, and one last hop, the fiery Pokémon scaled the final few bounds of the cliff. His feet had little pads wrapped around them to insulate them from the ground—mostly so he didn't accidentally burn anything.
A bag almost as big as he was bobbed on his back, sealed tight yet still somehow in danger of overflowing. Countless letters poked out from the little openings around the backpack. He grabbed one of them, leaning forward with a little flourish. "Here ya go, er… you know. Brigid, you don't have to read these if you don't want to. Just send the word and I'll—"
"I'm keeping these, Pott."
"Y-yes, ma'am." He bowed his head. "It's just, I know how stressed it gets ya…"
"He's my son." Brigid huffed, the air blowing Pott's ears backward. "You know, Pott, you should consider taking on your evolved form if you want to carry a bag that big."
"Aw, ma'am, I'm much happier like this! Makes me feel youthful. Besides, eh, ya know, the upper bodies have some, eh, emotional baggage." He adjusted his backpack. "Nothing but sad memories there. I wanna keep where I'm happy."
Brigid smiled wryly at him. "I wish I could do the same, in a way." She finally opened the letter, using a claw from her wings to slice it open.
I can't remember. I can't remember when I last ate. Mom, I can't remember. There was water. There was the river, there was water. Did I have a berry? I'm so… I'll even have a berry. No, a stupid Paras stole it from me. I didn't eat. I didn't eat! I can't… I can't… Mom, please—
"Brigid, please, look what it's doing to ya…"
"What are you talking about?" She lowered her wings, though they trembled without her consent. "I'm—I'm just fine. You don't know what you're talking about, do you? You're just seeing things. Go on, don't you have other deliveries to make?"
"What did that one say, huh?" Pott asked. "He keeps sending prayers to you, but you can't answer. Just let it settle for a while, alright? Maybe actually rest in peace? That's how the old saying goes, ya know."
"I'll never rest if my son is still alive and suffering."
"What can ya do?" Pott shrugged, but his expression was pensive. "We're dead, Brigid."
Brigid's jaw clenched. Her claws dug a bit deeper into the paper, but when she heard that first crinkle, she stopped. She held it like a delicate flower, staring at the words scrawled onto the page. She made the mistake of lowering it too much, to the point where Pott saw some of it from his vantage point.
"Those are frantic," Pott commented.
"H-how dare you!" Brigid opened her mouth, shooting a single rock toward him.
"Yipes!" He ducked, the rock grazing his ears.
"What kind of letter carrier are you?! I'll have you reported to Zygarde!"
"N-no, please, I'm sorry!" Pott immediately went to his knees in a deep bow. "It just caught my eye, is all!"
Brigid scowled, turning around. In the back of the cave, which slanted downward, was a pile of letters. A pile half as tall as she was, with even more strewn about on the ground, collecting in the bottommost corner of the cave. She placed this most recent letter on the top of the pile, and then watched it slide down to near the middle. It lay half-open, her son's frantic thoughts manifested as shaky writing on paper.
The rude little Scorbunny hopped into Brigid's cave. She tensed, but didn't tell him to go away. Why didn't she? She should. She could easily tell him to leave and he'd listen. He had a bright flame but little fuel.
"Well, I," Pott began, but then stopped himself.
"Guess I'll head out and deliver the rest'a these."
"You should." Brigid shifted her wings. "I'll be fine. I'll be just fine."
"Ya know, saying it twice doesn't make it true."
Brigid raised her wing, but Pott fled in a blazing trail of fire. With a snort, Brigid turned away from her nest, limbered up her wings, and eyed the windy forest below her. It seemed to go on forever, but her sharp eyes picked out the small town far in the western horizon.
She needed to take her mind off of things.
Welcome to Kilo Dream!
The town in the crater offered no nostalgia to the Aerodactyl. She never grew up there; she hadn't known a thing about Kiloan culture outside her little village until her later stages of life. She had ended up learning about it through its replica in death. Kilo Village in the world of the living, renamed Kilo Dream in her new prison.
Buildings of carved stone lined the rocky streets. Grass covered most of the ground, cutting off at the entrances to each building in favor of solid rock, concrete, or sometimes even marble. Ethereal lights glowed from a few buildings—the one reminder that, yes, she was dead.
The spirits typically preferred to ignore that fact.
But now that she was here, she had no idea where to go. She just wanted to clear her head, but where would she do it?
She let out a deep sigh. Perhaps she could just get a drink. Socialize. Pokémon-watch; Ludicolo Café? That would do.
Brigid passed by unfamiliar faces while walking through town, looking at the perfectly managed grass roads with a grimace. She quickened her pace, keeping her head down when she passed by a Sunflora and Exeggutor. A fruity smell guided Brigid the rest of the way—mostly Pechas this time. Ludicolo Café wasn't very crowded today. A Sudowoodo and a Talonflame sat and perched respectively on a corner table of wood. Two Ludicolo—mother and daughter, if she remembered right—stood at the other end of the bar. Both waved at her.
Brigid didn't understand the strange, assumed friendship that Pokémon of Kilo gave her, but she waved back awkwardly anyway. She sat on a table on the opposite corner of the pair, tensing when the younger Ludicolo danced her way over.
"And what can I get you on this fine day?" she asked.
"Er—do you have a special?"
"Got ourselves some savory veggie stew, if you're interested in that."
"Throw some meat in it and I'll be happy."
"You bet! I'll head on back and whip it up for you."
"Thank you." Brigid relaxed when the Ludicolo spun away. At least nobody questioned her that time. Sure, she was dead. And sure, she didn't have to eat. And sure, eating meat had some connotations. But did that matter here? It was all fake. It was all a song and dance. That Ludicolo would slip into the back, materialize the stew from nothing, and return as if it had been prepared the way of the mortals. And all the while, the Ludicolo would dance and play like dying had never happened, just like she did in the café for all the patrons.
If it was that easy, her living son wouldn't be starving. He didn't deserve that. And what was she doing here, in this cushioned not-life, while he suffered, confused and alone and lost?
A Smeargle slipped into the restaurant, sitting at the table opposite to her. The other Ludicolo danced her way toward him and took his order; after a brief exchange that Brigid couldn't hear, she spun away again. At almost the same time, Sudowoodo and Talonflame left their seats and bid farewell to the two Ludicolo, who had gone to the back room to prepare the food.
Brigid froze in place, eyes darting left and right. This was a nightmare. Nobody. Nobody else was here except for that one Smeargle. Perhaps it was better that those Ludicolo took the fast route to make her food, but no, it looked like they were actually trying to imitate the living world's wait time.
Don't look. Don't look. Don't look.
She looked. The Smeargle was inspecting his tail, poking at a small clump of paint before flicking it away. Finding interest in the table again, Brigid poked at the wood with her left wing's claws. She stuck her claw in one of the more noticeable imperfections in the table.
When she looked up a second time, their eyes met. She suppressed a chirp and looked back down again. If anything, this is the same awkwardness of the living world. I should be happy, shouldn't I?
Perhaps against her better judgement, she dared to steal a glance again. This time, she maintained eye contact for a bit longer—it slowly dawned on her that he hadn't looked away, or perhaps they looked away at the same time. With nothing better to do, she twitched her wing in a halfhearted greeting.
Smeargle replied with a grin so powerful that Brigid flinched.
Radiant. She'd never seen such a person before—or had she just not been paying any attention? She couldn't look for long. It burned. Nobody came out from the back, yet. What exactly were they doing, taking so long?!
Looking again felt like the only thing that would take up her time. But I shouldn't. I shouldn't. I shouldn't.
Outside, a youthful Litleo tackled a giggling, gray Meowth. Brigid winced, claws digging into the wood enough to leave small markings. She bit down on her tongue—hard—and finally looked up again, eyes fierce.
This time, Smeargle flinched, blinking at her. Brigid mirrored it—she didn't mean to be so antagonizing. Perhaps she needed to loosen up. Look at me. I'm in a bar and I'm more stressed than any mortal would be…
Smeargle tilted his head, resting the tip of his tail just below his chin. When he took it away, a small, green blotch remained.
Still no food. Maybe they forgot. Or perhaps she was finally losing her sanity, and no time had passed at all. She watched Smeargle carefully; he made subtle motions while he sat, like he intended to stand up. Brigid tensed, wondering if coming into town was a bad idea. She could just go back to her nest and sleep. Sleep for another few days, perhaps. Start over and hope this Smeargle would forget about this incident.
But then the Smargle hesitated, a bit of that light fading, poking his digits together. He nervously adjusted his hat-like fur.
Brigid's leg twitched. No. What are you doing. Brigid? The Aerodactyl hopped off of her seat, making the Smeargle perk up with curiosity. Brigid, you need to get out of your rut. Holed up in your cave day in and day out—look at you! You've gone stagnant. Brigid shook her head. No, stop walking toward him. Why does he matter? He's just some goofy—
She was already there. So stunned that she'd lost track of herself, she only stared at Smeargle, wordless.
Smeargle cleared his throat and bowed, tugging at the hat atop his head. "My name is Late Angelo."
"A pleasure to meet you, Brigid. Sorry if I was staring; I tend to Pokémon-watch when there's not much else to do and, ah, it was just you here."
"Mm." Brigid stood in place and didn't realize it until Angelo motioned to the seat across from the table. She shook her head and sat at the seat adjacent to him instead. By the time she realized her mistake, she didn't want to get up to correct it again.
"Come here often?" Angelo asked.
"Sometimes," Brigid replied. Then, after a quick silence, she amended, "Usually to relax. It's not always this empty."
"Quite strange, isn't it? Must be a bit of a lull today."
Lull indeed. Though, she supposed the quiet was nice, if it wasn't for the fact that she wanted to relax. She let out a steady sigh. "So, Late Angelo? Aren't we all late?"
"Yes, but I'd rather honor my son's title, you see. If he's Angelo, now, then I must be Late Angelo."
Brigid felt a pang of jealousy, but she pushed it down. Instead, it manifested as a small smirk. "And when he dies next? What will you be then?"
"Hm, perhaps Later Angelo?"
She squinted at the Smeargle, waiting for the laugh. But he didn't. Not even a giggle.
"Is something wrong?" Angelo asked.
"Was that a joke?"
"What was a joke?"
"Soup!" Breaking between their chat, both Ludicolo approached and set their bowls down, easily adjusting to Brigid's new location.
"Ah, wonderful! Thank you," Angelo said, even after Ludicolo set down a pan of buttered toast to go with their meal.
"Thank you," Brigid said, and then spun away. Two more Pokémon entered the café, this time a floating Eelektross and a Buizel riding on his back.
She reached for a piece of bread, accidentally gripping it too hard with her claws. It cracked into three pieces, one falling onto the table in a small mess of crumbs. "Oh, bubbles," she muttered. Awkwardly, she tried to gather up the crumbs and the main piece, dipping it into her soup first.
Angelo gave her an odd look that she tried to ignore. The soup had a spicy, yet rich taste to it. The ingredients—she could tell they were fresh. And most of all, it wasn't too hot or too cold. At first, she wished that it would be too hat, so she could remember what it meant to burn her tongue, or understand the payoff of waiting for it to get to just the right temperature.
"Prefer living, I imagine?" Angelo asked, taking his piece of bread next. His didn't crumble; instead, he carefully broke off a quarter and sampled his helping.
Brigid glared at her soup. "I'll bet you think it's silly."
"Oh, not at all," Angelo said, breaking off another piece. "What did you bet?"
Brigid glanced at him, then tore away another piece of bread. The crumbs collected in her soup, forming a very thin, speckled layer of swollen puffs. Angelo's soup, meanwhile, showed no signs of crumbs, like his bread hadn't even touched it. "I didn't bet anything."
Angelo dipped again, leaving no crumbs behind, and finished his first slice. She heard the crunch of it echoing around in his skull, yet despite that, he was very polite about it all. He turned away to wipe his mouth; he delicately picked up his spoon and silently drank his first few drops.
"Well, there's nothing wrong with a bit of mortal nostalgia," Angelo said. "It happens to all of us. After it's taken away from you, suddenly all those struggles become desirable. It's a curious phenomenon."
Brigid clenched her teeth, looking at her soup again like it had offended her.
Angelo babbled on. "Frankly, as much as the thrill of living was, I don't miss it. Too many inconveniences, too many ways that things can go wrong. The stagnation of here is not exactly ideal, but you find ways to whittle things along. One day at a time, yes? And, well, I certainly must thank Zygarde's generosity with the letter system. Even if we can't quite send anything back, I do appreciate—"
Brigid abruptly left the table, and then the café.
She didn't remember returning home, but she did.
And she didn't realize she had fallen asleep until she woke up. There she was again, in her nest, with a pile of letters behind her. While she was asleep, Pott had apparently come by for the morning's deliveries, because there was a small letter left at the front of her nest, lodged inside a few of the twigs. Her chest tightened, but she reached out a quivering wing to the letter, clawing it open.
Dear Brigid, it began, and confusion overtook her shortness of breath. I'm terribly sorry if I offended you yesterday. If you would be so generous as to see me again, I would like to meet you at the Southern Seaside. The one with the white sand. The signature was three green marks to resemble the wheel often depicted around Arceus' abdomen. Regards, Angelo.
She sighed, tossing the letter in the air. It puffed,becoming a small, white ember, disappearing into nothing.
In the back of her cave, where her steps made little echoes every time her talons scraped the rocks, her pile of her son's letters remained as it always did, one paper bigger every few days. Sometimes multiple papers. Near the bottom of the pile, Brigid knew of older letters, sobbing cries for her to come back, cries of denial that she was gone. And then, the middle of the pile, when the messages were much further apart. Like he had forgotten about her, or perhaps he simply didn't think too often of her.
She wished it had stayed that way.
The top of the pile had scrawls of frantic thoughts on each piece of parchment. Some of them were so garbled that Brigid wasn't even sure how they had become letters. Many letters were unopened, too. She couldn't bear to open some of them on those days, left effectively undelivered. And they kept piling up until she didn't even know when they had been delivered. Perhaps one day, she could open them, or… toss them… No. She could never toss them.
The papers had no smell, but they reminded her of him any time she got close. She wrapped her wings around the pile and sighed a quiet, primal cry, letting out a low rumble against a few of the stray rectangles. As her eyes closed, the papers compressed beneath her like a pile of leaves. Something brushed against her back in a gentle caress. Something shuffled behind her. She heard a weak, affectionate growl. With a gasp, she spun around.
Nothing. Just a few papers that had fallen from the pile over her head. The sound was her own feet. The growl was in her head.
Her legs shook and her vision blurred and she couldn't find her breath—after only a few wobbling, aimless steps toward the mouth of the cave, she collapsed in a trembling pile of sobs.
Sunlight colored the ocean, bouncing off the white sand into Brigid's eyes. She couldn't look directly at any of it, focusing instead on her shadow and the way the grains wrapped around her talons. Wingull flew in the sky, accompanied by Swellow and other feathery fliers.
Angelo had said that he would be here. Where was he? Brigid looked left and right, seeing a shoreline peppered with Pokémon large and small enjoying the afternoon warmth. Among the crowd, she spotted the Smeargle in question, sitting by the sand, building a castle. Despite how big it was getting, the tide would wash it away soon.
"Hello," Brigid greeted, sitting next to him with a little sigh.
"Ahh, good! You're here. Would you like to help build this?"
"Thank you, but I'm… not the best with construction."
"Not a problem." Angelo returned to crafting. "I'm very sorry if I offended you yesterday."
"No. It's my problem. It had nothing to do with you."
"Ah, I see."
There it was again. That tense silence between them. No, it wasn't tense, was it? It just seemed that way. Angelo was happy as could be, building his castle of sand even as the waves came ever closer.
"You probably shouldn't have built the castle so close to the shore. Tide's coming in," Brigid said.
"Ah, but too far, and I can hardly build anything at all in the barren sand."
"But now the castle's going to fall." She pointed at the advancing waves licking at the castle's crumbling base.
"Well. It's been built for quite a while. And it's only sand." Angelo pat the sides of the castle, packing in the walls a bit more, and then looked back at Brigid.
Another wave chipped at the bottommost portions of the castle.
Brigid looked away from the sand, focusing on the waves next. "Why did you call me here if it wasn't just to apologize?"
"Ah, well, I merely wished to continue our conversation, really. It felt unfinished."
"I don't really want to talk about letters," Brigid said, narrowing her eyes at the horizon.
"Ah." Angelo nodded dutifully. "Of course."
No. She wasn't going to let the silence fill the void again. Think, Brigid, what are you supposed to say? This stupid Smeargle is trying his best to be cordial, and you're just replying with—
"How long have you been here, Brigid?"
"A-ah—not—particularly long. I've lost track, honestly."
"Oh, not decades. Not decades."
Brigid hesitated. "I don't think so, no."
"Recent death, then."
"In the grand scheme of things."
Brigid smiled wryly. "In such a grand scheme, aren't we all recent?"
"Ah." He stuck a claw in the air and poked in front of the Aerodactyl. "Good point. But I came to this iteration of Kilo Village near the beginning of the era cutoff, you see. So I'm a bit of an old soul in regards to this particular section of the spirit world."
Brigid nodded. He must have had more experience with that helpless feeling. She squeezed her claws in the sand again, and then looked back at Angelo. He still had those bright eyes of his. "Then how do you deal with it?"
"Being here, and everyone that you perhaps knew and loved is still there. That it's all… that you can't ever return. And they're without you. How do you… deal with that?"
"Ah." Angelo looked at the castle again. The outer wall was softening, despite how firmly he had packed the sand. "Well, we all knew how death worked. Pokémon are born, they live, they die. It wasn't as if our demise was a surprise, no?"
Brigid sank down a bit, using the spade of her tail to carve a line in the sand behind her. "I want to be there for my son. Is that too much to ask?"
"Well, if everybody had their way there, Kilo would be overrun with immortal Pokémon. Parents taking care of children, taking care of children, endlessly. It simply isn't feasible for the mortal realm. At some point you have to depart."
"Well I certainly wished I had the choice," Brigid snapped, digging her tail a foot into the sand.
Angelo jumped slightly, adjusting his fur-hat. "I see your point. But death is death. Be grateful that we at least get the thoughts of those who call out to us."
"And yet we cannot reply."
A large wave smashed into the castle, sliding the entire front half into an unrecognizable pile of wet sand. Angelo prodded sadly at the fallen structure. "So that's what it is."
"My son is suffering day in and day out, and I'm just here, lounging my eternity away. It's cruel. I'd rather have oblivion than see him that way… I sleep. That's all I do just to… make the day when he'd come by faster. But his letters always wake me up."
"You could always refuse them," Angelo said.
"How could I refuse my own son's prayers?!"
With a loud crash! a huge wave washed over Brigid's knees and Angelo's chest. He slid back, bracing himself against the current as it returned to the ocean. The castle was gone.
Brigid felt her heart pounding against her chest, and the lump in her throat grew. "I… I just want to send him one message. One message. Is that so much to ask?"
"Zygarde is very adamant about keeping balance between the worlds of the living and the dead," Angelo warned. "We aren't allowed back. Even if we tried, it isn't as if we have bodies to return to."
"But we have thoughts. We can… we can send something to them, can't we? We have thoughts from them becoming letters to us. What if—what if I wrote a letter, and sent it back through the aura sea?"
Angelo's expression darkened. "Prayers follow a river that goes in one direction. I don't think you'd want to upset Zygarde by going against that current."
"And what does he know?" Brigid said, breath quickening. "He doesn't have children. He doesn't have a family. He simply is. How can he possibly understand?"
"It's not our place."
"As if I care about our place!" Brigid stood up, trembling. "I…" She stared down at the Smeargle.
He didn't make eye contact with her. He prodded at the wet sand, eventually rising to his feet. "Perhaps spend a day thinking about it," he said. "Consider what those actions would require, and what the fallout would be."
Brigid stared at him more, but he didn't look up. With a huff, she turned around, spread her wings, and took off. What a pointless conversation.
She ended up sleeping again. For how long, she wasn't sure. She woke up to the sound of rustling leaves and branches. When her eyes opened, she saw the flaming pawprints where Pott had stood, and two letters. She rolled her eyes, tempted to destroy whichever one was from Angelo, but…
The first letter was tattered again, and she had the sinking, yet certain feeling that this one was from her son. It was unmistakable. Her hands trembled, digging her claws into the upper side of the letter. Hastily, she tore it open, then pulled the writing inside.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm—
Brigid slammed the paper down, squeezing it into a tight crumple. She clenched her jaw until her teeth cracked. She gasped, pushing the letter deep into her nest, until she pulled it back up. She felt dizzy, but that passed. The bleeding stopped. Her teeth were back to normal.
She rolled the crumpled ball behind her and deeper into the cave. She looked at the letter that remained. It was much more composed. Elegant… Certainly Angelo's again.
Gingerly, she ran her claw through the opening flap and pulled out the letter.
Entering a new era!
Brigid blinked. She'd never seen a header like that before. She kept reading, realizing this might not be Angelo.
A lot of time has passed in the world of Kilo, and with it comes new times and new eras. In one year's time, the passage of the aura sea will close to this realm and will move on to the next. If you are awaiting the arrival of loved ones still alive, that is where they will go. Please be sure to make proper accommodations.
Brigid lowered the letter. It was just like Angelo had said. He was at the beginning of the era, and she was at the end… and her son, therefore, would be in the next. A sickening thought crossed her mind for just an instant—that if he died today, there wouldn't be any complications. It twisted her stomach into so many knots that she nearly threw up. She hurled the letter into the wind, where it evaporated into white fire.
It was a minor inconvenience. The most minor. She could just move eras. But that just made her realize that her son would spend such a long time without her, suffering.
He had taken care of her all her life. During her illness, her tremors, and all the abuse from his father… all for it to end with her dying earlier than she should have. It wasn't fair. She deserved to at least give him one last message, and surely Zygarde and the powers that be would allow that much. Her son didn't deserve to be so lost to an unfair world.
She had sent her own prayers to him before, but each one surely went undelivered. It was as Angelo had implied: the letters only flowed in one direction.
But not if she forced it.
If prayers and thoughts from the real world became letters in the spirit realm, then it would only be reasonable to assume that the reverse was possible.
She didn't know if longer letters were harder to transfer, or if it didn't matter, but she didn't want to take any chances. If anything, it would be an opportunity for her to say what she wanted, a final goodbye to him so he could actually hear her. There was no way that she would get the same opportunity again.
She wrote down the simplest, quickest message she could think of. Stay strong for me. That was all she wanted to send. She held the letter in her right wing, slipping past a Houndoom and Accelgor in the streets.
The gateway into this world was at the southern end of Kilo. It was unassuming, like a little path that led out of the village and down the mountain, but there was rarely a time when someone would want to leave through it, usually to go to another era's world. But that was based on thoughts. What would happen if she tried to go across the aura sea instead?
Little leaflets flowed out of the wall of light by a wind that only affected the papers, gathered by various Pokémon who made a game out of it. Among them, Brigid spotted Pott, taking great leaps to grab every piece of parchment that flew out of the gateway. They met eyes for just a moment. The Scorbunny waved; Brigid did not. She was too preoccupied with someone else at the gateway.
Several heads shorter than her, the four-legged Legendary of black and green stood at the edge of the gateway, a circle of white light that led into a similarly white void. But it wasn't just one Zygarde. There were several—ten in total, five on either side, all standing by the gateway. There were always ten, every realm. Most of the spirits paid him no mind. Some even gave a friendly wave or a nod on their way through, and Zygarde would reply with a flicker of his hexagonal eyes.
He was everywhere. There was no telling if he was around the corner, of simply mingling with the spirits in his idle time, whatever that meant. It was hard to get a read on him. Brigid had only met him in person once, when she had first died, and his routine tone hadn't settled well with her. "Hello. In case you are still unsure, you have died. If you would like an orientation, move left. Otherwise, move right. Counseling is always available." It had been said to the whole group, like some sort of assembly.
The Aerodactyl shook her head; just ignore him. He didn't mind. Or, if he did, he didn't show it. Didn't show anything, really.
She passed by the first pair of Zygarde. They did nothing. Then, she passed by the second pair, and she involuntarily stumbled. That caught the third pair's attention, both pairs of ears flicking to face her.
Now she had to say something. "This is the way to the new realm, right?"
The left Zygarde of the fourth pair spoke. "Yes. Just think of that new era and you shall go there if you keep walking."
The tightness in her chest loosened somewhat, but then redoubled when the right Zygarde of the final pair moved out of his line and approached Brigid.
What happened if she was caught? What punishment was there for…?
"Brigid. Are you feeling well?"
"I—I am. How do you know my name?"
"I am familiar with all spirits present. It is part of my job. Forgive me for not acknowledging you sooner; I was recalling memories of you."
She had stopped walking, but she couldn't bear to be so close to the other nine Zygarde. None of them followed, leaving her with some form of relief. But there was still the single one following her, on her right, slightly behind.
Everything was featureless, including the ground. It felt like soft, fluffy sand. Her feet sank into it up to her ankles.
Zygarde trotted after her; despite his size, he kept pace with her easily. "I believe this is your first time traveling through the gate."
"It is. It isn't difficult, is it?"
"No. It is not. What are you carrying?"
Brigid silently cursed. She should have brought a bag to hide the letter, but it had been in her wings the whole time. But that would have been suspicious, too. "Memento from my son," Brigid lied.
"I see. You must care for him dearly."
Brigid didn't answer. She kept walking. How long was he going to follow her? "Is something wrong?"
"I am merely assisting in guiding you. This is your first time through the gate. Do not be nervous."
"Sorry." Brigid held her tongue, not wanting to say that he could probably be a bit more expressive.
"I apologize if I am not very expressive. It is something I am working on."
Brigid felt the need to glance back at him. Zygarde's face was contorted into… she thought it was a smile. She shuddered. He was better without an expression.
Zygarde's ears pinned themselves to the back of his head. "Is it unsettling?"
"You forgot to stop smiling."
The smile reverted to neutrality, though his ears remained down. "It seems I still have some work ahead of me."
The ground was so soft that she couldn't hear her steps. She couldn't hear anything but her own breathing. But if the gate worked like Zygarde said, then that meant she just had to think about the aura sea, and she'd go there, instead.
How strong was Zygarde? How fast was he, truly? She had never seen him fight. Perhaps he was weak. If she could, perhaps, stun him… No. She couldn't imagine the fallout if she failed—or if she succeeded. She could run, instead.
"There is a strong line between the living and the dead. For most mortals, there is no exception to this rule. If I had my way, there would be no exception at all."
Brigid froze. He knew. He knew the whole time. What was she supposed to do now? With a shuddering breath, she looked back to see his expressionless face again. "That's very interesting."
His glowing, hexagon eyes flashed. "If mortals so regularly mingled with spirits, their finite time in such a unique position would be trivialized. They must grow and learn and struggle without the assistance of those who have passed."
"Even for those who have lived an unfair life? For those who just a single thought could help them grow, and not 'trivialize' your system?"
"One exception leads to many. We must be strict."
"Then I call it cruel."
"Life, unfortunately, can be cruel."
"Yet you do nothing to stop it?"
"Gods are best left not interfering with their lives for the same reason the dead shouldn't."
Brigid huffed through her nostrils again, wing-claws squeezing her letter. "Well," she said. "I don't care."
She beat her wings and kicked up a cloud of aether from below, obscuring any vision she had of the Zygarde. No footsteps followed her, but then again, with the soft ground, how could she tell? Her speed increased with every wingbeat. A patch of darkness faded into her view ahead; her heart leapt into her throat.
That was the aura sea. The great void that spirits passed through from the world of the living to the dead. It flowed in one direction, despite having no true current. But if she had enough momentum, perhaps she would be able to fly through anyway. All she had to do was get to the other side. She'd send her letter through, and her son would hear her.
The darkness overtook most of her vision; the ground beneath her washed away in more of the void. Little cyan wisps flew through her; she bumped into a few, which spewed out golden light. She heard thoughts.
Oh, that felt weird.
Wrong way, lady!
She flew against the flow, bumping into more of the spirits. With each golden flash from the embers, she heard the startled thoughts from those spirits. She looked back. The white gateway was just a large blotch in the void, now.
She kept flying. She didn't even know if there was air in this place, but seeing as there was still some forward momentum, something was right. She just had to go faster.
A bright, golden light waited at the edge of the void, where all of the flowing spirits poured out from. The flow seemed to be going against her, but not enough to slow her to a stop. A dumb grin spread across her face and she held the letter a bit tighter. She just had to send it to him. That was all. Just one thought, and—
Where was the letter? She couldn't feel it.
She knew it had been there seconds ago. In a panic, she turned to her flapping wing, shrieking at what she saw.
Her wing was on fire. Bright, blue fire. And the letter had burst apart into nothingness. "No—that's—how—"
She couldn't move her wings anymore. There weren't any wings to move. Her legs were gone, too, and she wasn't even sure if she had a mouth to speak with. It all happened so quickly—or did she not even notice until it had been too late? It didn't burn; but the way it all disappeared, it went from the thrilling sensation of flying to… nothing.
She tried to gasp, but she had no mouth. There wasn't even a means for her to turn. Instead, the Aerodactyl, reduced to nothing but an ember in the sea, flowed back to the white light of the spirit realm.
How… how did I fail? Just like that… I… Why didn't it work? Is that… why Zygarde didn't chase me? Because…
She floated in complete silence for a while. The void accompanied her, along with a few other spirits in a gentle flow. It was like she had died all over again, and she wasn't sure which one felt worse.
No. This was worse. It became worse when her ember floated in front of Zygarde specifically, his indifferent, neutral expression completely unchanged since they'd first seen one another. "Hello," he greeted. Brigid did not have a means to reply. So, he continued. "The flow of living to dead is absolute for mortals. I am sorry, but we cannot tamper with such a balance so freely and so openly." He held a paw up. Brigid felt a brief tension around her whole being. "I am going to return you home now."
Everything went white.
Several days passed, or perhaps it was moons. It felt like moons. There was a permanent mark in her nest from where she refused to move. Only the wind accompanied her. There was a letter on her nest that had been from Zygarde, announcing that the era's gate had been closed. No new spirits would pass into this realm by default. Time had moved on. Perhaps she should, too?
But it couldn't have been that long, because she hadn't gotten any letters aside from that one—not from Angelo, and not from her son. The Smeargle always sent one every few days, and that Smeargle—he seemed persistent. She would surely get something useless from him in the coming days.
The distinct, soft slaps of fluffy, flaming feet finally awoke her from her torpor. She opened one eye glaring at the fluffy feet of Pott.
"Eh," he began awkwardly, "Pott's delivery, at your service, Brigid. Hope, eh, you're doing alright. I heard about what happened, ya know. Had a message I wanted to send, but, well… I guess you got it eventually."
Brigid glanced behind her. Now she remembered. That message had been another from her son. She didn't remember what it said. Did she even open it? It got lost in the pile. Everything was blurry after she tried to escape.
"Counseling is always an option," Pott said quietly, setting his larger-than-life bag down by the edge of her cave. "There are lots of Pokémon who have to deal with this sort of thing. You aren't alone. I… I had to deal with that sort of thing, too. Maybe not… as badly…" He rubbed his arm, eyes downcast. "I just thought it might be good for you, instead of spending all this time here."
Once again, there was no reply to Pott. Instead, the Aerodactyl curled her claws tighter. The feeling of everything dissolving away, that total helplessness while she stared into Zygarde's soulless eyes—the memory burned into her like a brand.
"A-anyway, two letters for ya." He set them both down next to her nest. "Um, and Brigid… would you like to, ah… ah… never mind."
Brigid looked up with just her eyes. "Like to what?"
Pott had turned around, but he stopped when she spoke. His ears twitched. "Nah, was just talking to myself. Say, are ya gonna try that counseling? Or maybe… anything? I could take ya to do some sight-seeing. I know ya didn't bother going around to all the replicas of places Kilo had to offer. Could be fun. Heard about that Angelo fella, too. We could all go."
Brigid looked forward emptily again. Then, she closed her eyes, breathed through her mouth, and thought about it. She heard Pott picking up his bag again—slower than usual. She wanted to say, she'd consider it. But would she? Did she want that? She couldn't find the energy to agree.
"Well, see ya next time. Take care, yeah? I'm gonna bug ya otherwise." He hopped away.
Another gust of wind blew past. The letters rustled against her nest. She closed her eyes tighter, but the irritating little papers rustled harder. Her heart rate went up. That tightness in her chest. And then she remembered her wings fading again—and for a second, she couldn't feel them. She jolted in her nest, gasping for air she didn't need, and sat up.
Her wings were shaking. Everything was shaking. She pulled herself tight, roosting in a little ball, before she finally built up the energy to glance at the letters again.
One was tattered, almost completely illegible. The other was perfectly white aside from a glob of green paint on the corner.
She reached out to both of them, holding one in each wing. And there she stood, frozen even to the wind. Her grip on the papers were loose. Very loose. It would carry them away if she let go.
She closed her eyes and lifted her wings. She loosened her grip further, still not looking. Another gust of wind blew by; one of her claws suddenly tensed. The other letter slipped out. Her first instinct was to grab it again… but a tiny thought stopped her. Rather than reach for it, she sighed with relief, bringing her wings down to look at the surviving message.
Gingerly, she ran her claw through the opening flap and pulled out the letter. The other one dissolved into the breeze.