I awaken surrounded by darkness.
I can tell immediately that something’s off as I wake up. The darkness is normal, that much I know. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that something’s missing here.
I take a minute to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, only to discover that I’m in some kind of room. That can’t be right. When did this happen? Am I in captivity?
No, wait a minute, that’s not it. There are four ways out of the room. Two to the east, one to the North, and one to the West. Well, if I want to get out, I may as well take one of them. The hallway to the North sounds like there’s some kind of wounded animal that way, so I might want to look at...
Hold on. Something about this is familiar. I’ve been here before.
This was where I was born.
I almost chuckle a little to myself. My dreams are getting creative. Outside the dream, Kim, Julius, and Ampharos are escorting me back down the mountain. It’s been a little under an hour since the fight with the first Darkrai Shard. In the morning, Chance is going to give us the specifics on the location of the one we’ve been chasing.
My face falls a little. After that... Well, either during the fight, or a few months after, my time is up.
I lean against the wall in thought. Either tomorrow or in four and a half months, someone kills me. That’s it. I solve someone else’s problem- badly, I might add- and then I die. It’s not even a permanent solution to the problem. One way or another, though, it’s the end.
I should be angry about it. I should be furious. But at this point, I don’t know. It’s become more and more of a reality the longer I’ve thought about it. A month of talking to that therapist on Star Peak made me realize that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Why worry?
Not in the careless sense, of course. I can’t honestly afford to be careless. But if my anger can do nothing to fix it, then there’s no purpose to the anger. It’s a waste of energy, and there’s a chance that I might take my anger out on my friends. I’ve already put them through enough, what with both of my breakdowns so far. A third might push them away completely. I know my death isn’t going to do wonders for their mental health, but, selfish as it may be, I want someone I know nearby when I die.
The animalistic sounds from down the corridor become louder, and I find myself curiously heading down the hallway towards them. I know that I never found out what was down there, but for some reason, I’m curious what my subconscious will come up with.
To be honest, my friends remain my best reason for going through with this. The Shard put forth a number of really good points about the senselessness of my errand. It’s true that the world could conceivably come to an end minutes after I die because we missed a Shard somewhere, but I would have bought them time. If I don’t have a motivation for fighting this particular Shard, I fear I might not fight my hardest.
And no, the threat of Palkia vaporizing me if I step out of line is far from motivation. I’m going to die, anyway. Why should I be frightened if death decides to come early?
I round a corner, and come face-to-face with a twenty-foot-tall teal, yellow, and magenta... thing. It’s not exactly what my distortion body looks like, but there are a number of features that are similar.
It’s still for a moment, before rearing back, and slamming its weight into the ground. I’m blown backward by the impact, and feel myself begin to unravel. Light covers my eyes, and I’m alone in a field of white. Unlike before, however, I’ve already got a body materialized.
I scan the area, and find Chance standing behind me. She nods as I face her.
“Heath. Listen... Please don’t hold all of this against me. I didn’t know any of this would happen.”
I shrug. “I understand. But just so we’re clear- none of this happens again. Ever. You don’t make any more artificial souls, nor do any of your successors.”
She nods. “Well, you won’t have to worry about me for much longer. Fifty years to perform my magnum opus, and Arceus himself kills me. I know it doesn’t seem like nearly as short as your time, but when you’ve lived for a little over four thousand years...”
I raise an eyebrow. “You’ve lived for that long?”
“Arceus’s servants have extended lifespans, remember? Luck gods like myself are given five thousand under normal circumstances.”
I sigh, shaking my head. “Except you’ve lived over eighty percent of your life. Assuming I don’t die tomorrow, I’ll get to live around one percent of mine. It isn’t the same thing at all.”
Chance is silent for a moment, and then hangs her head. She doesn’t try to defend herself.
It’s another few minutes before I speak. “Can you tell me anything about your magnum opus? Anything at all?”
She answers a bit too quickly. “It will change the world. That’s all that anyone will know until it happens. Sorry, Heath- not even you can know.”
It’s another minute before either of us speak again. She turns to me, and seems like she’s about to apologize before deciding against it. Instead, she takes the conversation in a direction I didn’t expect.
“Do you want help?”
After seeing my skeptical look, she shakes her head. “No, not me. I can barely win fights I have an advantage in. But I can find you help. If you give me until dawn, I can round up some reinforcements for you. No reason you should run headfirst into a fight that you’ll have difficulty winning.”
I tilt my head to the side. “First off, how can ordinary Pokémon fight a space/time distortion? You showed me- the corpse is still dangerous.”
She nods. “Dangerous, yes- but not fighting back. You just need to get to the corpse before it destabilizes. After that, easy absorption.”
“I thought the destabilization was instantaneous.”
She shakes her head. “No- it takes a few minutes. The instantaneous breakdown I showed you was merely a device to show how it remained dangerous. If they kill it, you’ll be able to absorb it with no issue.”
It’s my turn to shake my head. “Even if it would improve my chances, I don’t want to get anyone else mixed up in this.”
She smiles. “Well, I guess I’d better pick from people already involved. One of them even hunts these things professionally.”
It’s a moment before something connects. “Wait, you don’t mean...”
“I do. The remnants of the Light Brigade will be the perfect protection here.”
Before I can protest, Chance fades away, and I’m alone in a field of white.
She’s involving more people. Why? This is my task- having my friends along is enough of a risk.
I sit down on the ground, and find myself just wanting to wake up. And as soon as I think it, the world around me breaks as the image of a mountain projects itself onto my eyeballs.
After last night, the four of us made our way down the side of the slope. We’d made it to the bottom by the time Kim was ready to stop for the night. On the way down, I’d informed them that the Shard had been found. Reactions had varied- I think that Kim may have been the most reasonable about it, simply nodding, and saying that she had confidence in me.
I sit up, and examine the camp. The others are still asleep. The sun’s still not out yet, so that’s unsurprising.
I pick myself up, and head for the outskirts of the camp. It’s mostly trees for a while, but it’s only a short way to the edge. I lean against a tree, and am alone with my thoughts for a while. Unfortunate that they seem to be trapped in a cycle.
Why? Why is Chance roping more people into this? Why can’t I be strong enough to do this without help? Why do I have to die- no. I can’t be thinking like that now.
I don’t know how long I’m out there, but eventually the sun rises. I hear a twig snap behind me, and see Julius approaching me. He leans on a tree next to me, and nods towards the sunrise.
“You know, I remember hearing about how the sunrise inspired Grovyle the Thief. Have you ever heard that story?”
I shake my head, and he continues. “See, Grovyle came from a grim version of the future where time had stopped. The sun never rose or set.”
“Unless you were in a part of the world where it was earlier or later?”
“You’d think that, but no. The stoppage of time resulted in large-scale volcanic activity that produced enough smoke- I’m getting off-topic here. The point is, when he arrived in the past while trying to restore time’s flow, he saw his first sunrise. Its beauty rendered him speechless. He resolved to protect that sunrise, and make it so that it would never permanently disappear.”
I shrug. “Good for him. I’ve already got my motivation, though- I don’t need any more.”
He raises an eyebrow. “You have? What?”
It’s only as he asks that I realize that I haven’t talked about anything that happened in my battle with the first Shard. I’m about to fill him in when I realize something. Should I be telling him that I’m dying for nothing? It would be safer for him, but it could cause a lot of problems- I don’t want Palkia attacking him over an insult...
After a moment, I shake my head. “I’d like to keep it private, if that’s okay.”
He seems for a moment as though he wants to pester me about it, but steps back after a moment. “Fair enough. Anyway, has Chance spoken to you yet?”
“Only enough to tell me that whether I want them or not, she’s recruiting reinforcements.”
Julius’s jaw drops. “Wait a minute- she’s actually helping you out?”
I shake my head. “She’s signing up more people to die. She’s told me that it’s going to be Madame Lucario, Jaroda, and Melchior. If she can convince them at all-”
“They’re going to come. Madame Lucario cares about us, Jaroda sees you as tolerable, and Melchior refused to kill you when Palkia- the god of Space, I might add- told him to. And I wouldn’t count on them to die. Melchior, at least, fights these things as his day job. He’ll support them.”
I nod. “Yeah. But this thing is smart enough to fly under the radar for months. It’ll know who to target first.”
Julius shrugs. “You honestly think that Melchior won’t see that coming? You don’t think that he hasn’t been targeted by Shards in the past?”
I think to myself for a moment, but before I can reply, Julius continues. “Besides, we have no clue how powerful this one is. It could easily be three times as powerful as the one you just killed. However, just as likely is the idea that maybe, just maybe, this thing that’s spent the last few months in hiding might be far weaker. For all you know, this may be a simple matter of catch-and-kill.”
There’s every chance that he’s right, but I don’t know how safe it is to agree. At the same time, is there any chance he’ll let it go if I don’t? I sigh, and nod, and this seems to satisfy him.
“Look, Heath. We can just do this quickly, and then you won’t have to worry about anything for several months.”
He winces after finishing, but doesn’t say anything after that.
The pair of us are both silent for a good long while. He begins to speak a number of times, but always cuts himself off before he manages to speak. Before he can actually start, Ampharos approaches us from behind.
“Heath, Julius? We’re both awake back in camp. Are the pair of you ready to start moving?”
Julius nods, and the pair of us follow him back to the camp.
It’s a good, long time before the terrain begins to shift back towards the familiar plains of Ceangal. It’s around midday before Kim slows to a stop, and points.
“About ten miles off that way is Quest Plaza. Did you want to make one more stop, Heath?”
I shake my head. “I don’t need to do anything there. Besides, it’s not like more than one or two people would be interested in seeing me.”
There’s more to it than that, of course. I’m holding onto hope that Jaroda and Madame Lucario won’t accept Chance’s offer, and I don’t want to accidentally sway them towards coming with us. Melchior is the absolute maximum I think I could deal with, but I’d still rather not get him involved if I can avoid it.
Kim nods in response. “I see. Speaking of which, has Chance filled you in on the location of the Shard?”
I shake my head. “All she’s told me so far is that she’s going to try to recruit some help. Every time I’ve tried to contact her, all she’s said is for me to start heading towards Nexus.”
I hear a sudden swooshing behind me, and I turn to see the source. To my dismay, Melchior has just landed behind us. He waves sort of awkwardly to me.
“Hello, Heath. It’s been a while.”
I take a moment to figure out how to reply. “...Melchior. How are you?”
He grimaces awkwardly. “Er, I’m fine. Um... Yourself?”
“Oh, you know. Gradually decaying, and menacing the world with my mere presence.”
He winces. “Ah... Sorry about... last time. I didn’t know what you were, and the things I hunt look a lot like you, and...”
He trails off, and tries to avoid eye contact. I’m about to try and change the subject when he suddenly peers off into the distance. “Hmm... Looks like I’m not your only backup.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Chance didn’t mention that she tried to recruit your entire team?”
Melchior’s eyes widen. “You... you can’t be serious. Samson, running around unchecked?”
Kim tilts her head to the side. “Samson? Is that what Jaroda used to be... hey, where are you going?”
Melchior suddenly lifts off, and rockets off towards a pair of specks that I can only now see approaching. I see him close rapidly on one of them, and then a massive, green tornado explodes out of nowhere. Melchior is enveloped by it, and tossed to the side.
Ampharos turns to Julius. “Do we go check and see if they’re alright?”
Julius shakes his head. “One of them is a famous hero, and the other just threw him onto the ground. Short answer? Not in a million years.”
Kim seems to ignore the two of them, and cautiously approaches the approaching figures. A second tornado flashes in and out of existence as an icy blue blast flickers near the center of it. I turn to look at the two of them, and then scamper after Kim, trying to catch up.
We’re about two hundred feet away from where Jaroda and Melchior are fighting when a massive dark blue orb materializes above their battlefield, and slams into the ground. The earth shakes underneath Kim and I, and appears blasted apart near the center of impact. Melchior is blasted off to the left, and Jaroda lands upright a few feet away from Kim and I.
He picks himself up, and nods in our direction. “Heath. Kim. Good to see you. Excuse me a moment.”
He looks up towards Melchior, who has gotten to his feet, and lifted off again, heading towards Jaroda. He’s roughly twenty feet away when my skin begins to crawl. Jaroda sneers, and speaks.
I see Melchior’s eyes snap open, and he tilts off to the side, crashing into the ground a moment later. Jaroda doesn’t even blink before slithering over in front of him, and looking him dead in the eye. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not, but his eyes almost appear to be glowing a dull red.
He slides his tail under Melchior’s chin, and lifts the Dragonite’s face closer to his. “Now that I have your attention, Melchior, allow me to explain why I’m out and about. The world’s in danger, and I happen to be one of those who is qualified to aid. I don’t expect you to like me, or just forgive me for what happened all those years ago. I just expect you to co-operate for the time being. And I’ll tell you what- you can even be the one to bring me home Hogtied, even, if it’s what you want. Until then, let’s just focus on the mission at hand. Understood?”
I raise an eyebrow. Jaroda’s not supposed to leave town? I thought he went there of his own volition...
Melchior nods, apparently unable to speak. Jaroda grins, and drops his fear aura. “Good. I will say, though, you telegraph your punches a lot more than you did when we were adventurers.”
Melchior looks as though he’s been slapped. He takes a moment before speaking. “It’s not like I needed to hide my moves from you. You react slowly, and your Leaf Tornado doesn’t pack nearly the punch it used to. Honestly, I’d be more worried about my safety if I was fighting Melanie- her strength hasn’t deteriorated at all.”
Jaroda doesn’t even blink before responding. “And yet that first one sent you flying. What’s the matter- are you just clumsy now, or did you really think I’d be that easy of an opponent?”
Melchior opens his mouth and closes it a few times. “You... I... If Melanie hadn’t intervened, I would have had you! You wouldn’t have had time to use that aura of yours!”
Jaroda’s actually laughing now. It seems... surprisingly normal. “We never agreed that it was a one-on-one fight. Besides, it’s not as though us killing each other would help Heath.”
Both of them are suddenly looking at me, and I remember the whole reason they’re here. I focus for a moment. Chance? Are you there?
Rather than a reply, Chance herself opens a door out of the aether, nodding to me as she appears. "Good, everyone's here. Was the trip okay?"
She knows, doesn't she? I was in constant contact with her the whole time. Before I can remind her of this, Madame Lucario catches up with the rest of us, and nods in Chance's direction. "Apologies. I was helping break up a fight. You'd be that luck goddess, right?"
Chance nods, and is about to speak when Madame Lucario leans in, and wallops Chance across the face.
Chance groans, and slowly picks herself up, cradling a developing bruise. Madame Lucario stands upright, growling. "I didn't expect Kim or Heath to raise a hand against you, but you really had that coming. Now, tell us where the Shard is so that Heath can try and enjoy his last few months."
It's a moment before Chance speaks. "...Fine. It's in Geal Tower. Where exactly in the tower, I'm unsure. Palkia is on standby in case something goes wrong. We're certain that he's going after the darkness room."
Without saying another word, she vanishes. Kim looks up at Madame Lucario, adoration on her face. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that."
Madame Lucario shrugs. "If someone gives you a genuine reason to hit them, you shouldn't hold back. Just try and make sure they really deserve it ."
I notice Jaroda avoiding eye contact with her as she finishes. Instead, he turns to Melchior. “Geal Tower, then? Been a long time since we were there. Wasn’t that one of our later missions? The one with the Ursaring?”
Melchior shrugs. “I don’t really remember. Anyway, Melanie? Is it okay with you if I lead?”
Madame Lucario nods, and we change course, heading in the vague direction of Geal Tower, where one way or another, my life is effectively over.