Author's Notes: Welcome to Chapter 36! Which seems like a weird thing to say, considering that until quite recently this story had 38 chapters...

Yes, I've gone and deleted some of the chapters that were previously uploaded, when this story went on into Orre. While working on this fanfic for NaNo 2018, I started to realize that the way I'd laid out the latter half of the story didn't make a lot of sense. After leaving for Orre, we'd be heading back to Kanto for a handful of chapters, and then turning right back around to go to Orre again. The more I thought about it, the more it would make sense to finish up everything that needed doing in Kanto; it would cut some unnecessary transitions and fix a couple of pacing issues near the end of the story. I ultimately decided to restructure the middle of the story, retcon a couple of things, and go with a new plan that involves staying in Kanto for a few more chapters than previously expected. This is part of the reason the update took so long.

What this means: I've made some changes to the end of Chapter 35 so that it leads into this chapter rather than the original 36. If you haven't already, you might want to go back and read the new ending so you understand what's going on here. The Orre chapters that had previously been posted aren't totally gonewe'll be seeing them again later, with a few changes so that they make more sense in their new place.

Thanks to everyone who's supported the story over the years, and my apologies for the wait. I know it's obnoxious to see the story get retconned like this, and to lose the progress of those extra chapters, especially when the fic updates so infrequently to begin with. I think that this change will be better for the story in the end, and I hope that you enjoy what's to come. And Malat least you won't have to worry about whether we'll be seeing Nate again.


Chapter 36

The child jolts awake, listening without knowing what it's listening for until a loud crash sounds from downstairs. It's out of bed and down the staircase, feet silent on the old carpet, before it even starts to think about what might be going on. Something in the house. Or someone. More clatters up ahead, followed by all manner of metallic skips and bounces.

Wild pokémon? Wild pokémon. Probably came in through the new hole in the wall. A wall won't stop a determined pokémon, but it will deter the idly curious.

The child's hands thrum with energy as it skids into the kitchen, poised to send an aura sphere into whatever it finds. But something makes it pause, makes it wonder, while it stares at the pokémon struggling amidst toppled cookware.

The raticate throws off a colander with a full-body shake, and then he's up on his hind paws, backing away from the child. He tries to flash his teeth at it, but mostly just ends up showing all the food he's got stuffed into his cheeks.

The child knows this one. "What are you doing here?" it asks.

"Stay 'way f'm me," the Raticate says, shuffling backwards. The child looks at toppled pots, dishes, a spilling box of cereal. Cupboards hang open, and the fridge as well.

"That's my food," the child says, and the energy pulsing through its fingers rises, glow rippling beneath its skin. It wants to blast this raticate so hard he'll never even think of coming into the child's territory again, much less stealing. The normal-type backs up and backs up as the child advances, until he hits the wall. Why doesn't he attack? Something about this raticate, something the other child knows. He isn't acting on his own.

"You're getting food for your trainer," the child says.

"M'bbe," the raticate says, and a block of cheese falls out of his mouth along with the word. He stuffs it back in and edges sideways along the wall, working steadily towards the door. "Stay 'way. Mean it."

"Never come back here," the child says. "This is not your food." Food for his trainer. Does that matter? Why? Why isn't the child blasting him?

No, it doesn't matter. The child raises its hands, and light flashes between them, swirling and condensing into a blue globe. The raticate bolts, losing the block of cheese again along the way, but though he's out the door by the time the child launches its attack, it's not like he can escape. The rat jumps, but the aura sphere swerves to catch him and sends him tumbling, losing food along the way. Probably there's still some left, tucked deep into his cheeks, but at least his face is no longer bulging with it. The child lets him go. If he comes back again it will make its point more forcefully.

For now it gathers scattered gathered packs of gummys, an apple, the cheese, everything else the raticate dropped and takes it back to the kitchen table. It's in the process of eating the lot, just to be sure no one else can get it, when Absol comes padding in. She must have heard the noise, too.

"What happened?" she asks.

"A pokémon came to steal my food," the child says. "I think he got in through the hole Graveler made."

"I imagine so," Absol says. She seems to be waiting for something, but when the child only eats, she says, "Have you told your brother about what happened?"

The child pauses, swallowing the last of the gummys and reaching for a crushed and crumbly packet of crackers. "No. Why would I?"

"You have been avoiding him," Absol says. "You cannot leave him trapped forever. If you plan to go to Orre, he would want to know. He may be able to help you."

"I haven't been avoiding him," the child says, which is the obvious truth. It hadn't even remembered Mewtwo until Absol brought him up. All it's thinking of, now that it's finished the crackers, is the spilled cereal on the counter.

"Perhaps now might be a good time to speak with him, then."

The other child is better at talking with Absol, the same as with most people, but even now the child can recognize a command. "Okay."

In the study the child can feel Mewtwo's psychic field even while reaching to pull open the master ball's drawer. Mewtwo starts complaining immediately when the child picks the ball up, and the child's talking at the same time, so Mewtwo's words overlap the sound of its own voice in its head. It could understand him if it wanted, the words are clear even though they should be buried under the child's own, but it doesn't see any reason to pay attention to them. Instead it finishes what it's saying, which is, "Mew might be in Orre. That is where we are going next."

What? Orre? Mewtwo squawks in his too-small voice. Let me out of here. What have you been doing? You shut me up in here for days and you come back to me with this?

"Yes," the child says. Obviously. It sits on the floor with its hands resting in its lap, the master ball held loosely between. Absol slips into the room and settles down with her side up against the child's back, curved gently around behind it.

What happened? Mewtwo demands again. What's this babble about Orre. Orre. I hardly even know where that is. Where is all of this coming from?

Okay, it does make sense that the other child doesn't like talking to Mewtwo. The child grows tired of explaining after maybe the third sentence, and Mewtwo makes things even worse than they have to be, demanding more detail about everything, raging about how many mistakes the child made, acting like everything it did was bad. The child looks askance at Absol, who's been lying there patiently, listening the whole while. "How is this supposed to help?" it asks her.

I have absolutely no idea, the master ball snarls at the child in its squeaky two-inch-tall voice. Since you won't even let me out when I might be able to do something. Those fools never would have been able to destroy that computer if I had been there.

Well, maybe. The child doesn't see the point of being mad about it when it's over and done with anyhow. It can remember well enough, even though it was a long time ago now, what happened the last time Mewtwo came out to "help." Forget the computer, it might not even have a house anymore if Mewtwo'd had a say in things.

How do you propose we get to Orre? Mewtwo asks.


How are you planning to get to Orre? It's far away, isn't it? Will you have to take a plane?

The child hadn't even been thinking about that. It doesn't really want to now, either. Navigating the human world is so much work. Can they fly to Orre?

"No..." the child mutters. "That won't work." Why? Because of... security. You can't bring pokéballs on planes. Mewtwo can't go into the storage system. Someone would notice the moment he got deposited. That means the child will have to bring his master ball with it physically instead of using the transfer system.

"We can't fly on a plane," the child says, with more conviction this time. "Could you fly us both?"

Imbecile! Mewtwo snarls. Let me out!

That probably means no. And people might see him if they did that anyway. Could the child swim? That would be a long way. Farther even than it is from here to the mainland. How would it know which way to go? Would the pokédex's map work in the middle of the ocean? The child doesn't know. It honestly doesn't know.

How long are you going to sit there thinking? Mewtwo says. What's the problem with flying? Let me out of here. It's clear you can't possibly plan this on your own.

"You don't need to come out. You can tell me anything you want to from in there." It's frustrating—the child gets the sense that this would be much easier to think about if it were its other self. That other child wouldn't want to talk to Mewtwo, though. It wouldn't even want to be in the same room as him.

And what do you think you're going to do, leave me in here for the rest of my life? Mewtwo asks. You need me. And what good am I to you, trapped like this?

He isn't helping now, that's for sure. Why did the child come in here again?

Absol's there, watching. That's why. Well, it did what she asked, didn't it? And Mewtwo clearly can't help. "That's all I wanted to tell you," the child says to the master ball. "If you don't have any other ideas, I will think about it and tell you what I figure out."

What? You're leaving? No. You can't go racing off without any idea what you're doing. Where are you going?

Somewhere it can think without people interrupting all the time. The child stands and opens the desk drawer, only for Mewtwo to snap, "No! Don't put me back there. Stop, listen to me!"

The child blinks down at the master ball. "I can put you on top of the desk instead."

"No," Mewtwo says, "you don't understand. Other pokémon, their pokéballs put them to sleep, or so I've been made to understand."

"That's right," the child says, the hand with the master ball hovering just above the surface of the desk. What's the point of this?

It doesn't work on me, Mewtwo says. How do you think I've been talking to you this entire time? Even this master ball isn't strong enough to contain my mind. Do you understand me? I spent days waiting for you, and I was awake the entire time. Alone, in darkness, with no idea when you would return. Would you leave me to that again? At least take me with you so I can see through your eyes, if you won't let me out of here.

"Maybe later," the child says after a moment lost in thought. "I'll probably have to go to the mainland to find transportation. It would be safer for you to stay here."

Stop! Don't leave me in the dar— The clone's desperate reply is cut off when the child shuts the drawer, and it thinks nothing more on him. Absol follows it from the room, immune to Mewtwo's psychic words even if she'd wanted to hear them.

"Do you know what you need to do?" she asks.

"Yes," the child says reluctantly. It needs to change how it thinks so it can finish planning, can handle whatever tedious human nonsense this journey will involve. It doesn't want to, particularly. The other child is so flighty, so concerned with utterly pointless things, distressed over nothing. The child wishes it could be itself for longer. But with Absol there staring, it knows it won't get any peace if it doesn't do what she wants.

Even after the child goes out and finds a boat to Orre, even after it explains its plan to Absol, she still hangs around underfoot, the way she does when she wants it to do something and thinks the best way to make it happen is to stare meaningfully. The child does its best to ignore her, but sometimes it feels like she's the shadow of the thoughts it can't get out of its head, memories that shouldn't have come back to the surface.

"They don't send boats to Orre every day," the child says sternly, scraping another dollop of peanut butter out of the jar. "Not enough people want to go. I got the earliest one. It's only a few days away."

Absol doesn't blink.

"I'm not going to argue with Mewtwo about it. I'll tell him when it's almost time to leave so he can get my pokémon, and that's it. He's been a jerk the entire time we've been here. If he wanted somebody to talk to, he could try being nice." Nice for real, not like pretty words whispered in the dark of your skull, I'm so lonely. I'm so afraid. Won't you let me out? I won't hurt you, I promise. We can be friends. Nothing's changed, has it? No one who'd heeded that voice is around to remember it now.

The child shudders and digs deep in a box of Marshmallow Pebbles, coming up with multicolored flakes stuck to the outside of its fingers and balled up in its fist. It dumps everything onto the sandwich, then uses one finger to pick up a few pebbles that skittered over the edge of the plate, licking them off while it tamps down the top slice of bread. More pebbles scatter when it picks the sandwich up and holds it carefully, flat on one palm.

"Are you coming?" the child asks Absol, who stares. She doesn't follow when it leaves, goes out of the house and down the steps and into the humid jungle, carrying the sandwich like a waiter with a fancy covered tray. It doesn't know where it's going, at first, but has no trouble finding its way.

The great Nathaniel Morgan is hard to see in the shadows beneath the trees, but entirely easy to smell. His broken arm's up in a ratty kind of sling made of torn fabric the child doesn't recognize. It looks too dirty to be anything coming from the child's house, so maybe it's the remains of some toy or bag or piece of clothing left outside and forgotten about. Scattered all around the human are wrappers and boxes and bits of glinting foil—the remnants of Raticate's food expedition, the child imagines. It can't help but frown, just a little bit. My food.

The child speeds up when it catches sight of the great Nathaniel Morgan, then slows down, a lot, suddenly nervous. How is it going to do this, exactly?

It shouldn't have let itself get preoccupied. It should have heard Mightyena earlier, before she was running flat out towards it. The child ducks away from her leap but stumbles, off balance. It nearly drops the sandwich, grabs it with both hands to be sure, and now of course the great Nathaniel Morgan's heard and is getting to his feet. This isn't how the child wanted things to go at all.

"Wait! Stop! I don't want to fight!" The child sidesteps another lunge from Mightyena, smooth and easy this time, but she pivots immediately on landing, teeth snapping much too close to the child's elbow.

"Stay away from Nate!" she snarls. "Stay away from my human!"

"I'm not going to hurt him, I pro—" Something hits the child from behind, and it lands on one knee with a hand bracing in the dirt, the sandwich curled protectively towards its chest in the other. Mightyena comes at it from the side, then, while Raticate clings to the child's back, sinking teeth deep into one shoulder. "Stop!" The child shakes to throw Raticate off, but all that results is tearing pain as the rat's teeth rip sideways without letting go.

The child squeezes its eyes shut, grits its teeth, and a wave of cold passes over it as shadows peel away from its body, swirling around Mightyena and Raticate. To the child's relief Raticate's teeth loosen, then release at the same time Mightyena sinks down, growls trailing off to nothing as her eyes fall fully closed. Lucky for the dark void to take them both. The child pushes Raticate aside and stands up, the gash left by the rat's teeth already closing beneath its fingers.

"Shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and the child's attention snaps to him. He's edging away from his tree, eyes darting left and right as he looks for an escape.

"I do not want to fight," the child says, softly, while it steps away from the slumbering pokémon. "It is okay. I need to talk to you."

"Fuck that," the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls. "Raticate! Raticate! Mightyena! Wake up!" He looks down, scoops up an apple core with his good hand, and tosses it at Raticate. The child blocks it without thinking and only realizes afterwards what he was trying to do.

"Just listen to me. I want to fix your arm. I am not going to hurt you."

"Yeah, sure, I believe the hell out of that one! After you fucking murdered a guy right in front of my fucking face!"

"I did not murder anybody!" The child stops itself before it can go any farther than that, before it can say any of the other words that are crowding in its skull. It can't get angry again. Not now. Instead it raises the sandwich, which is a little squashed, less a bit of filling, but still edible. "I brought food."

"I don't want your fucking food! Get lost and you won't get fucking hurt!"

This is ridiculous, and what's worse, Mightyena's already twitching and whining. It won't be long before she wakes up, and the child has no time to try and talk the great Nathaniel Morgan down from whatever it is he's angry about this time. The child clenches one hand into a fist, conjuring spores.

The great Nathaniel Morgan lets out a muffled curse when the child tosses a cloud of powder in his face, blocking his mouth with his arm. It's not enough to protect him, though, not from that many spores, and he sinks shakily down, trying to stumble away until his blinks turn at last to eyes-closed slumber.

The first order of business is to get his pokéballs. The child plucks them from his belt, trying one and then another until it recalls both Raticate and Mightyena. The last one is empty, so presumably Graveler is off on her own as usual. Hopefully she won't get wind that her trainer's in trouble this time.

The child crouches down to inspect the great Nathaniel Morgan's sling-wrapped arm. It will probably have to set that before giving him a soft-boiled, and he's going to make it difficult, isn't he? The child ponders, staring absently at the great Nathaniel Morgan. He looks uncharacteristically peaceful, sleeping soundly and still covered in a pale dusting of spores. It's hard to predict how pokémon attacks will affect humans, but if he's as deeply asleep as a pokémon would be, then the child should be able to move him at least a little bit without him waking up.

The great Nathaniel Morgan sleeps on while the child props him against a tree, and it's able to wrap him in a spider web, too. That should stop him from slumping over while asleep or starting trouble when he wakes up. It's not until the child takes his broken arm that the great Nathaniel Morgan wakes with a yelp. He tries to move, finds he can't, and launches into a diatribe that the child ignores while it feels for the break. Yes, here's the lump where the bone's slid out of line. The child keeps one hand over the fracture and grabs the great Nathaniel Morgan's wrist with the other. Meanwhile the human's trying to reach for the child, straining against the webbing, but whatever complaint he's going to make is cut off by a roar of pain when the child pulls on his wrist. It's easy enough—the child has to be careful not to pull too hard, if anything—and once the bone's slid back into proper alignment the child keeps it braced with one hand while conjuring a soft-boiled in the other.

The great Nathaniel Morgan's mouth is, conveniently, open to admit his yell of pain, so it's no trouble to shove the soft-boiled in and then hold his jaw shut while he chokes on it. The arm the child's holding glows briefly, deep under the skin, and then the child figures it safe to let go. The great Nathaniel Morgan promptly uses the healed appendage to grab the child before it can straighten up.

"You bastard!" he snarls. "What the fuck is this?"

"I fixed your arm," the child says. It pulls out of his grasp as easily as ever, and though the great Nathaniel Morgan struggles against the spiderweb, fingers clawing after the child, he doesn't come close to reaching. "You must be hungry. I brought you a sandwich." It's sitting on the ground behind the child, out of range of all the excitement.

"I don't want no goddamn sandwich! Where the fuck do you get off, tying me up and shoving one of your shitty soft-boileds down my throat?"

"I needed to fix your arm and you were making it difficult. If you were not weird about everything I would not need to tie you up just to heal you."

"Oh my fucking God. I tell you to piss off and leave me alone, you piss off and leave me alone, you piece of shit. If I wanted your healing bullshit I would tell you! You ain't got no right to fucking dick me around like this."

"You wanted to sit around with a broken arm for a few weeks?"

"I wanted you to piss off when I told you to fucking piss off." His head jerks around as though he's suddenly remembered something. "Where the fuck are my pokémon?"

The pokéballs are back by the sandwich. The child points, and the great Nathaniel Morgan's face settles into a determined scowl. He grabs at the webbing holding him in place, trying to tear it apart with his fingers. "You should not do that. Your hand is going to stick."

"Eat my entire ass," the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls, and then his hand gets stuck and he falls into incoherent swearing, wrenching his healed arm back and forth in an attempt to pull his fingers loose.

The child sighs. "If you hold still I can get rid of the web."

"Piss off, you murderous fuck. Just leave me the fuck alone!"

"I did not murder anybody!" The child can't let itself get angry, but it can't just let that go, either. "It is just the forest! If Leonard Kerrigan cannot make it home from there, it is his own fault. He is not even very far from the route."

"I can almost believe you're stupid enough to actually think that, but it don't mean shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Whether you meant it or not, dude'll be fucking lucky as fuck to get out of that alive."

"I am tired of you saying I murdered him. That is not true, and you know it."

"And you know what the hell happens to people who land in the deepwilds without protection. Yeah, not a bad set-up, you didn't even have to get your hands dirty, did you?"

"Why do you care? You do not even like Leonard Kerrigan!"

"I like him a hell of a lot more than you, you little bastard."

The sheer unfairness is blinding. "I fixed your arm, I did not murder Leonard Kerrigan, I do not like Mewtwo either but I am going to help him save Mew and I bet you murdered a lot of people and you were definitely in Team Rocket so do not even try to act like I am a bad person. Stop saying I murdered Leonard Kerrigan, stop lying, stop being a jerk!"

The great Nathaniel Morgan appears to have given up on anything more ambitious than simply unsticking his newly-healed arm, which after all is only gummed up in the spider web because of his own stupidity. He looks up from his efforts with a glare that holds the child fast for a second with its sheer venom. "You're as bad as that fucking clone, you know that?"

And that's it, isn't it? The child did what it came out here to do, which was only ever to fix something it did on accident, and which was more than the great Nathaniel Morgan deserved. Because it is a good person. And because it's a good person, now it turns away instead of incinerating him. It stalks back out of the forest and across the beach, hands clenched tight in fists that itch to burst into flame or frost or lightning. It spends it doesn't know how long walking up and down the water, until at last its anger's ebbed and it can turn its weary footsteps home.

That should have been the end of it. The boat to Orre is on Wednesday, and it soon turns into Sunday. The child only has a couple days of freedom before it has to get to work on finding Mew again. With Mewtwo. Even the thought of the clone makes bile rise at the back of its throat. As bad as that fucking clone. And what would he know, anyway? That stupid human. He has no idea. He didn't have to live with Mewtwo while he was messing with people's heads, killing people, burning everything. As bad as Mewtwo, that's so dumb.

It's a typical Sunday, nothing good on television, and the child is bored and restless flopped out across the couch. It lies on one side and then the other, draws knees in or sticks its feet way out, unable to find a comfortable position in the sticky heat of the day. It tries sliding down to the floor, picking up action figures or blocks or art supplies, but it's too hot to bother with anything, too hot to concentrate. The child wishes Rats was here, or Togetic, or anyone, really, to play with, to break the day's monotony. The child even wishes Raticate would come sniffing around again. This time it won't hesitate to send the rat running. The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't want its help, clearly, so he's welcome to live on coconuts and maybe catch some fish or something. The child bets it would be funny to watch him try.

Which is a good point: it totally helped him. It fixed his arm, even though it didn't have to, and even if it did break it in the first place, it was an accident and anyway he totally deserved it. Not to mention that it saved his life in the first place, which was obviously a huge mistake and the child still can't believe Absol made it do that. The point is it's stupid for the great Nathaniel Morgan to say the child is like Mewtwo, they're clearly completely different in every way. He has no idea. He just has no idea what he's talking about.

When Absol comes in the child's back up on the sofa, chin on the armrest while it stares moodily at the wall and ignores sitcom laughter emanating from the TV. It draws its legs in close to clear Absol's spot on the couch, and she jumps gracefully up to lie there. That at least is nice. The child wishes she would get over whatever she's annoyed about and play with it, though.

"Is something wrong?" Absol asks, and the child wonders how she guessed. It's not like it's acting any different than usual. Sometimes Absol just knows things.

"No," it says, pressing its face down into the couch's fabric so the word comes out muffled. Absol seems content to leave it at that, and the child is annoyed. Not that it actually wants to tell her what it's thinking, but she could at least ask.

"Do you intend to keep your brother in confinement the entire time you're here? And during your boat journey as well? That seems a long time for anyone to spend in a pokéball."

Oh, there it is. She's not really worried about the child, she just wants to talk about Mewtwo, as usual. The child's stomach clenches at the thought of the master ball waiting, radiating malice in the dark. "He can't come out on the boat," the child says. "Everybody would realize he was there." There's no reason to let him out earlier, either. What's he going to do besides be mean?

Don't leave me in the dark!

The child harrumphs to itself and turns onto its side. Well, it will have to let Mewtwo out so he can go get Titan and everybody, and Absol will have to be satisfied with that.

The great Nathaniel Morgan still thinks Mewtwo has his steelix, too. Maybe Mewtwo will lie again and say something to make him think he'll get Steelix later. Or maybe he'll figure it out at last. Which would serve him right. Of course it would. He shouldn't... shouldn't be a bad person. If he wants people to be nice to him.

He doesn't have to find out, though. The child could go and find his steelix. It probably wouldn't even be hard.

"What about before the boat?" Absol asks, but the child isn't listening.

The great Nathaniel Morgan would never thank it for doing that. He would never be grateful, and he'd probably still call the child a bad person. He'd be wrong, though. Obviously wrong. And he'd know it, even though he wouldn't admit it. He'd know the child was nicer than Mewtwo. Nicer than the great Nathaniel Morgan, too.

The child rolls sideways off the couch, suddenly animated, and Absol's head turns sharply. "Where are you going?" she asks, while the child struggles out of its swim trunks, fur already prickling down its limbs.

"Rock tunnel!" If the police released all the pokémon they found at the Viridian base, perhaps the great Nathaniel Morgan's steelix simply went home. "I have to go, Absol! We can talk about Mewtwo later!"

Absol heaves herself to her feet and jumps down, but the child never sees her land. An idea this good simply won't wait—especially not for someone to try and talk the child out of it. With a thought the child is gone, racing back to the Kanto mainland and definitive proof that the great Nathaniel Morgan is wrong about everything.

Down beneath the mountain and into Rock Tunnel, Kanto's roughest cave. It's a shortcut only, officially unmaintained by the League and not advised for trainers. They're supposed to go around, approach Lavender Town from west or south or take a ferry from Cerulean Cape. The tunnels were here long before proper routes, carved out by onix migrating for inscrutable onix reasons. The onix are still here, of course, and still carving, but they mostly stay away from the upper tunnels, which are filled with trainers ignoring official guidelines, lighting their ways with their 'navs, challenging each other to low-visibility battles, and otherwise taking advantage of the dark.

You're Infernape now, making your own light. You need to be able to talk to pokémon without anyone finding it strange. With hands and feet bare you can feel the grinding passage of onix deep below, making new tunnels, collapsing old ones. Unregulated as it is Rock Tunnel shifts and changes from year to year.

You follow tremors, down and down, until at last an onix comes bellowing out from a rough stone corridor, fresh-dug so you can still smell the minerals in the newly-turned earth. "I don't want to fight," you say into the onix's howling face, and then leap aside so he rushes past like a freight train. Couldn't hear you over his own noise, maybe, or didn't care. He tries to ram you up against the wall of the cave, simply crush you with his bulk, but you jump and skip across the boulders that make up his body. They roll and twist under your feet, moving much too fast for anything their size. You light the dim of the tunnel with glowing focus blasts, the onix too large to miss despite his thrashing. One blast smashes into the onix's cheek, sending rock chips flying and knocking him into the ground. He stays down, cracked and cratered by your attacks, and slowly draws in his coils. "I yield," he rumbles sourly. "Not trained, are you? What are you doing down here?"

You perch on one of the onix's heaped-up boulders, unable to resist showing off the smallest bit. The rock you're crouched on is bigger than your whole body, and this onix is still small compared to the great Nathaniel Morgan's steelix. "Not trained. Have you seen a steelix around here recently?"

"Steelix? They don't live here. Too close to the surface. Why are you down here if a trainer didn't send you?"

"I'm looking for a steelix who got separated from his trainer. I thought he might have lived here when he was an onix and decided to come back. You haven't seen any steelix down here? You're sure?"

"Let me think," the onix says, and the word dissolves into a prolonged rumble, a scraping, clacking noise of grinding rock. It goes on and on, for over a minute.

"Umm, are you okay?" you ask, having to raise your voice above the grating sound. "Why are you making that noise?"

"Thinking," the onix growls. "All you surface-dwellers, so hasty. Wait. It will come to me."

You wait, and wait, and wonder whether it would be impolite to cover your ears. For whatever good that would do—the onix's thinking-noise bombards you like something physical, rebounding from the close stone walls.

"Steelix with a trainer," the onix says at last. "Maybe. Came down here sometimes with a geodude, graveler, rattata-raticate, a dark dog. And a human."

"Yes! That's him! Have you seen him? Is he still down here?"

"When I last saw him," the onix says, and you tense in anticipation of another grinding interlude. This time, though, the onix only ponders for a minute, maybe, and emits nothing more than a faint, regular click. "Perhaps, oh, two years ago?" the onix says. "Maybe less than that. A year, two."

"Two years?" You'd almost hoped there, for a second. "I said 'recently.' You haven't seen him since then? You're sure?"

"Is that not recent?" The onix asks, raising his head to look at you properly. "I suppose you must be one of the short-lived ones. The flame... What are you, anyway?"

"Like an infernape. You haven't seen him in the last year? Especially the last month, if you saw him in the last month, that would be good."

The onix's coils grind and rasp against one another as he shifts, and you brace yourself on all fours. "I only just woke up. I haven't been awake for... months. I don't know. It is hard for me to tell surface-time."

"How long have you been here? In Rock Tunnel? Were you born here?"

The onix laughs, the sound booming from the walls. Passing zubat scatter in crazy, disoriented patterns. "Born here? In exile? No, I haven't been here long. I wish to find a trainer, to see the surface. There's no other reason to come here."

"Oh. You've been looking for a trainer for two years?"

"No, no. I've been here perhaps... thirteen? Eighteen? Maybe eighteen years."

"Eighteen years? And you haven't seen anybody you like?" You settle down in a seated position, curling your tail around your body. "Shouldn't you try looking somewhere else? There are a lot of trainers around here, so if you haven't found anyone by now..."

"What do you mean? I'm not about to take the first human who waltzes up to me with a pokéball. I'd want to take at least a century to think it over," the onix says. He stretches up further and doesn't appear to notice or care when his side scrapes against the wall of the tunnel, dislodging hunks of stone. He looms over you. "And what are you doing down here, all alone? A pokémon like you, you can't live in this cave. Isn't there a human with you?"

"No. I came here by myself," you say. "I told you, I'm looking for a steelix."

"And? What of the human who was supposed to be his trainer? Where has it gone off to?"

"He can't come," you say. "This is something that I... have to do."

The onix makes another one of those protracted grumbles. His stony face is expressionless, but you can tell he's curious. Your tail twitches in agitation as the onix's voice rattles you, and you look away into the dark margins of the tunnel, where your fire's light casts fluttering shadows on the rock walls. "Is there anyone else down here who was awake more recently?" you shout, finally, when it starts to feel like the onix's noise is never going to end. "Is there anybody else I could ask who might have seen him?"

The onix lets out a great rush of air, something like a moan. "Who? I can't think. If you have to ask, you might as well ask everyone."

"I don't think I have time to talk to everybody," you say. "Isn't that a lot?"

"It doesn't take so long," the onix says. "You send a message, and those who hear will pass it on. It takes time for it to ring through all halls, but most are prompt enough with their replies."

"I don't think I understand."

The onix gives another gusty moan and slams his tail against the ground. The cavern trembles, a passing cubone hustling for cover. "Send a message through the earth. All who live within will hear it. All the chosen are connected in this way. We are not like you surface-dwellers whose voices carry only through the air."

"So if you ask like that, all the onix around here will be able to hear? And they'll send you a message back if they've seen him?"

"All the onix in this world, eventually. The steelix as well, though they live far deeper. Your steelix will hear it himself, if he's awake. All will hear, and they will say if he's been seen. It would help to know his name."

"Oh." It's hard for pokémon to pronounce each other's names, and the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokémon simply call him "Steelix." "I don't really know."

The onix rumbles, and you can't tell if he's irritated or expressing sympathy. "I'll do my best," he says. "Come back later, I suppose. I can tell you what I've heard."

"Yes! Great! Thank you!"

"Of course." The onix stares at you for what feels like a very long time. "It would be best for you to get off," he says eventually.

"Get off? Oh, um." You scramble to your feet and leap down from the onix's tail. There isn't much extra room in the tunnel, and you scoot sideways along the wall, back the way you came. "So you'll start soon, or—?"

The onix slams his tail against the floor, shaking the entire tunnel. You crouch, enduring tremors, flames leaping high. Does he want to fight? Was all that conversation a roundabout way to keep you preoccupied while he recovered? The onix raises his tail again, and you brace yourself, poised to dodge.

The onix brings his tail down, shaking everything but coming no closer to you than before. He growls something so loud and low that you can't properly hear it, even while the sound waves rattle in your bones. The onix goes on and on, paying no attention to you whatsoever, and the noise beats against you until you decide that this must be your cue to go. You stagger back out of the tunnel, the floor periodically jumping beneath you when the onix slams out another downbeat. Wild pokémon join you, disoriented and cranky and headed up and out. A few add to the racket by tossing what they think of the onix's communication system over their shoulders.

You don't stop shaking until you're well out of the cave, your steps hesitant and uneven, still expecting the ground's spasms. You don't know if the beat's been shaken into you or if you really can still feel the onix's earth-shattering roar, even this far away, even though you aren't an onix yourself.

Adrenaline keeps you jangling alert even after you return to the night-shrouded island. That was good! It isn't hard to imagine Steelix hearing all that ruckus, no matter where he is. And if not, someone must have seen him, someone who can rattle out an answer back. You'll go back tomorrow and see if there's been a reply.

The child heads out to the ocean with its body still buzzing, hoping a swim will calm it enough for sleep. Getting its feet off the earth is bound to help. Way off down the shore, around the island's curve, a couple of black specks mar the smooth arc of the beach.

The child squints at them, then smiles to itself. The great Nathaniel Morgan and his pokémon. Soon they'll have their friend back, and they'll see how wrong they were about the child, all of them. And after that, it will never have to deal with them ever again.

The water is warm and the moon is high, dancing brilliant on the waves. The child swims out far, and deep, until the dark closes over its head and it's floating in black, alone, still feeling the pulse of a far-off rhythm in its chest.