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Written Story Johto Teen Mon The Phoenix: A Crystal Nuzlocke

Thread Description
I'm gonna change you like a remix! [Updates most Wednesdays! Chapter 40 posted May 27]

cyndakip

there goes my luck
🌱Featurer
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
23
Caught
Jun 9, 2019
Messages
280
Location
Lilycove City
Nature
Hardy
Pronouns
they/she
Pokémon Type
Fire, Water
Pokédex Entry
Part Cyndaquil, part Mudkip, entirely tired.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #121
@MouseWithADinosaurTail Me too! I think we've been in Pallet long enough. Having already done the E4 with five myself, I was fairly confident I could handle this. I always tend to be very slow to build up teams rather than just using the first 6 Pokemon I catch, and I'm never in a rush to replace them unless I feel I really need to. So we'll see!


@Bowser's Family Vacation Oh, I feel you there... I've had some very sweet cats but none of them have actually been cuddly :(

Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt too. Looking at everything I had to face, I figured my team could handle it, but that doesn't mean I wasn't worried about it! And I deliberately picked this instead of HGSS because there were less mechanics to worry about, haha. The grinding, though...


@QuietGuardian I'm glad you appreciate smaller teams too! But I'm also quite concerned... did something terrible happen there, or are there just not many red Pokemon in some games?

I’d definitely like to use a Slowking someday! But here, I ultimately decided it wasn't worth taking extra steps to evolve Calvin, especially when my main reason for using him was Ice Punch. Even as a Slowking, he wouldn't learn Psychic before he could really get any use out of it. Not to mention that Tessa’s already had a very smart psychic type on her team, and I wanted to write a different sort of character this time!
This time, I wake to many pairs of eyes.

My entire team is smiling at me, even Inferno, who's already awake and curled up snugly on top of my chest.

<Good morning!> Cora sings. For a moment, I almost believe her.

I don't get out of bed, not yet. There's something I need to talk about. “So... I've got five spots already. I'm allowed to have six.” Several pairs of eyes widen. Laurel, Cora, Arthur -- even Maren's here. “None of you are allowed to fight, since you've already won a league championship, but... if one of you wants to come with me, just to keep me company…”

Arthur immediately backs off, not a fan of being prohibited from fighting and not convinced of his own ability to be comforting (which is much better than he thinks it is). Maren shakes her head, preferring the peace of Pallet Town. Laurel, my starter, my constant source of comfort... she wants to say yes, I can tell, but she has a job.

“They wouldn't mind letting you go for a little while.”

She shrugs sadly, indicating her own body with her vines -- Venusaur take up a lot of space, and are very susceptible to freezing in everyday winter conditions, let alone the Ice Path and the mountains of Blackthorn.

“All right then, Laur,” I say, knowing it wasn't going to work out. “I'll get out there and win for you, I promise.” Those vines stretch out and wrap around my hands. A promise sealed.

Inferno gives me a slightly hurt aren't you winning for me look? I laugh and lean forward, pressing our foreheads together. “Haven't you noticed that so much of this is for you, Ferno? Besides, you can win for yourself.”

The hesitant psychic nudge makes me lean back again. <Me?>

“If you want to, Coco.” I look at the Butterfree, hovering in her red haze of uncertainty. “You can train Calvin as we go, keep teaching him new things after he evolves.” Calvin looks happy about this, but then again, Calvin looks happy about everything.

Cora’s eyes burn with determination. <Won't let you down.>

“You never have.” It's going to help, having her around. She can calm me down with her empathic powers.

And so, with the decision made, I get out of bed.



***​



The sky is clear when I step outside, surrounded by half my team -- including Isra, who’s perched on Laurel’s back and supported very gently by vines. With any luck, she’ll be almost ready to fly again by the time we return. The ones who are coming with me have already disappeared into their Pokeballs, even Inferno.

It's time to go.

Isabel's waiting, gentle smile on her face, wings spread wide. I'm going to fly on her again, but now she's mine. It's surreal, not to mention terrifying.

Professor Oak has come down from the lab just to see me off, and he does so with plenty of well-wishes and a steady stream of advice that I do my best to absorb.

Gary hugs me before I go, clinging tightly for just a moment. “Safe journey, Tess. Get out there and win for me.”

I've got a lot of people to win for, so I'd better not lose.

I climb up onto Isabel's back -- still a familiar motion, after all this time -- and look down. “Thanks for everything, Gary.”

Where would I be, without Gary Oak?

For once, he's at a loss for words. Just nods, tries to smile, looks away.

I don't want to start crying again, so I whisper “Let's go, Iz,” and I watch him disappear as we ascend into the sky.



***​



I shouldn't do it, but I land in Ecruteak anyway.

The Tin Tower still stretches up towards the sun, gleaming in the light. But the trees are stark and barren, all their leaves dead and cast aside, suffocated by snow. It doesn't feel right -- now that I've stopped hiding, it should be spring, a new start, a revival, but the cold of winter still clings to the region.

I don't feel what I felt when I was here before. There's nothing but a numb silence, a complete absence of warmth.

“Why?” I yell up at the tower. “Why did you let this happen? Weren't they worth saving, too? Why abandon me now? Were you ever even here at all?”

Silence.

I'm struck by the absurdity of it all. Here I am, alive, crying and yelling at an empty tower. Why am I wasting my time here? I climb back up on Isabel. I need to move on.

You can't sit around forever waiting for spring to come. Sometimes, you have to go out and melt the ice yourself.



***​



The Ice Path isn't melting anytime soon, though.

It feels even colder this time as I step inside, having already recalled Isabel so she won't freeze. Inferno squirms a bit in my arms, wanting to get out and slide around, but not wanting to leave me without any warmth.

I let him go anyway, and he slides away with grateful glee.

We’re here for Calvin, so I send him out, along with Cora, who immediately starts shivering.

<It's cold!>

“It's the Ice Path in winter. I don't know what you were expecting.”

She frowns at me as her psychic aura flares up around her, protecting her from the frosty air.

“Can you go keep an eye on Inferno? I need to work with Calvin.”

Cora immediately brightens up at being given such an important job to do, and she zips away in a blur of red. I turn back to Calvin, who... is nowhere to be seen.

How did I manage to lose a Slowpoke?

Before I can panic too much, I manage to pick up a vague thump not too far away, and quickly slide in that general direction. Skidding around a corner, I spot Calvin lying on his side by a wall, grinning. Guess Inferno's not the only one who enjoys sliding. It must be quite a thrill for someone who normally moves so slow.

“You like the ice, Cal?” I ask, a smile tugging at my lips. “Why not learn to punch with it?”

That can't happen until he evolves, but he seems to be able to sense that evolution isn't far off. He seems a little more alert than usual (which is still very unalert), and when he takes off sliding again, it's like he knows where he's going.

I wobble after him, having not improved much at traversing the ice since I was last here. Thankfully, I manage to stay upright as I round yet another corner and find a slightly less cold area of the cave, where the ice has actually been shattered towards the end. I back up a bit as a precaution, but Calvin almost literally dives right in. He slides right up to the hole in the ice and slowly lowers his tail down into it.

And then we wait.

I sincerely hope there are Shellder in this part of the cave, otherwise we're waiting for nothing. Soon enough, Inferno slides in with Cora hovering overhead.

“Stay away from the holes in the ice,” I say automatically. Inferno gives me the do-you-think-I'm-stupid look and climbs into my lap, where he won't have to worry about melting his own hole into the ice.

<How long?> Cora asks, a hint of impatience already in her psychic voice as she watches Calvin's unmoving figure.

“Until a Shellder shows up and decides it wants to spend an indefinite amount of time biting his tail. So... who knows?”

<Why?> She seems genuinely curious.

“Slowpoke evolution is unusual,” I begin, relishing the opportunity to pass the time by explaining science. “They can only become Slowbro if a Shellder bites on their tail. It's one of the most fascinating examples of mutualism, actually! The Shellder feeds off the substance that the Slowbro's tail produces, and the Shellder's teeth stimulate the Slowbro to move faster and think more clearly. It's a difficult choice for a Shellder to make: do they stay independent and evolve into Cloyster, or do they take a more passive role that offers them a comfortable life? What's even more interesting is that it's actually reversible! If a Shellder ever decides to stop biting the tail, they both revert to their previous forms, which is almost unheard of in evolution. And don't even get me started on SlowkingI”

I am about to start on Slowking, despite the fact that Cora's eyes have glazed over and Inferno seems to be falling asleep, but I'm interrupted. I don't see the moment that the Shellder latches on, but the bright flash of light is hard to miss.

Calvin stands up, the same smile now showing on a larger and bulkier body. His tail is covered by a spiraling gray shell that blinks its eyes at me.

I grin. Time to prepare him for punching some dragons.



***​



Calvin takes to his new form and Ice Punching quickly -- well, as quickly as a Slowbro can, at least. It's not long before we emerge on the other side of the Ice Path feeling as confident as possible, which for me is not nearly as confident as I would like.

This confidence only dwindles further as I stare at the view in front of me. Enormous mountains, stretching up so high that they seem to brush the clouds. I don't have to climb very far up them, but just seeing them makes me feel impossibly small and want to go running back to Pallet Town where things are safe.

Inferno's flames light up the evening sky with wonder. Nothing's safe for him, and yet he keeps going.

I have to do the same. I step forward.
Not a very long chapter, and not too much to say about it, either. Like Isabel, Cora doesn't represent a new catch; I just figured having an incomplete team would be a good excuse to bring one of the old characters along for the ride!

I'm not sure if the next chapter will be ready on time, since there are a lot of things I want to adjust there. You might have to wait an extra week for that one, but I can't say for sure yet.

Can you believe there are only six chapters left? ...Well, probably not. I bet those of you who haven't looked at the chapter count on AO3 never would have guessed we were quite that close to the end. But we are! It feels strange to me, too, because there's still so much that happens... I hope my pacing isn't off. But for the most part, I'm quite happy with what's coming up, and I hope you enjoy it too!
 

Bowser's Family Vacation

Johto League Champion
Writer
Team Delta
Pokédex No.
301
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
975
Nature
Rash
Pronouns
She/her
Pokémon Type
Dragon, Cool
Pokédex Entry
"Am I Mario's babysitter? Are you going to call me every time that guy blows his nose, or what?"
Tessa: "Keep me company... but you can't battle."
Arthur:

I'm glad Tessa got a volunteer, though! Cora, show Calvin the psychic ropes!

Everyone: "Win for me, Tessa!"
Inferno:


No, don't talk the science talk, Tessa! It's cool..! T-T

Calvin at ice:
 

cyndakip

there goes my luck
🌱Featurer
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
23
Caught
Jun 9, 2019
Messages
280
Location
Lilycove City
Nature
Hardy
Pronouns
they/she
Pokémon Type
Fire, Water
Pokédex Entry
Part Cyndaquil, part Mudkip, entirely tired.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #123
@Bowser's Family Vacation If there’s one upside to not having a full team, it’s that it gives me the opportunity to bring someone from the old team along in the story!

There really should be more science talk in this story, all things considered…

Here's another interlude-style chapter! I originally wrote it in third person but it didn't quite feel right (plus it got a bit confusing towards the end), so it's second person time again!

You get your first Pokemon when you're five years old. A Nidoran, just like your father’s, because back then you still wanted to be like your father. Back then, you still thought your father was someone to look up to.

It takes you far too long to realize that he isn't.




***​


You aren't allowed to be a real trainer, of course. You can't be a real trainer until you’re ten, but your father and his friends teach you how to battle anyway. You don't like his friends much, but they’re good at fighting, so you pay attention to the lessons.

You name him Needles, and with all the hours of training, he soon becomes a Nidoking. Everyone keeps offering you other Pokemon, but who needs those when you have a Nidoking? Besides, most of the other Pokemon are stolen, and something about it makes you uncomfortable. You understand that Team Rocket needs Pokemon, but they don't need that many, right? Isn't it unfair to take any more than you need?

You’re not really sure
why Team Rocket needs these Pokemon, either.



***​



You're never good enough. Too weak. Too soft-hearted. Too girly. You don't want to be weak or soft-hearted, but what's wrong with being girly? You like the way your hair tumbles down your shoulders when it gets long.

So of course your mother always cuts it off.




***​



Needles is your only friend. Can a Pokemon be your friend? You’re not sure, but since the alternative is having no friends, you decide that the answer is yes. You take care of him, and he takes care of you, and you think that's what friendship might be like.



***​



The plans are starting to be carried out. More stealing. Attacks. Killing. Your father keeps trying to get you to join in, but the more you see, the more you hate it. You just want to go out with Needles and fight the gyms, but you have a responsibility to the organization.

That's what your father always says. “A responsibility to the organization.” Because you're his -- no, not his son. You don't really understand what you are, but it isn't that. You try to say as much, but nobody ever listens.

You know it's because nobody cares.




***​


And then it all falls apart. Your stupid father does some stupid things and gets arrested, and you're happy, because it means everything is over, right?

Wrong.

Everyone else is still around. Your mother, who never liked you. Your father's friends, who never liked anyone. They’re all talking about rebuilding, and how you’re supposed to help with it.

You know more than ever that you don't want to.




***​



You can't stop Team Rocket by yourself. You know that. That's why it's not weak to run away. You're going to run away, and you're going to tell everyone that Team Rocket hasn't been defeated like they think.

But you’re guarded at all times. Supposedly for your own protection, but you know it's to stop you from doing things like this.

So you wait. And plan. And get friendly with some of the stolen Pokemon, who don't want to be here either.

And one night, you make a break for it.




***​



It was never going to end well. A bunch of highly trained Rockets against one kid? The Pokemon on your side fight valiantly, but they all fall, one by one. You're supposed to think of them as weak, meaningless, but tears still fall along with the corpses.

You run. Needles roars behind you, fighting valiantly. You know he'll catch up. He's just buying you time. Don't think. Don't look back. Just run.

You look back anyway. You see the man with the cold eyes, see the explosion.

And then you don't see Needles anymore.




***​



He was weak. Weak Pokemon deserve what they get.

That's what you were always told. And still you cry anyway, tears streaming down your face as you run away from everything you've ever known, into a world you've never experienced.

Team Rocket is going to pay for this.




***​



Clothes are the first thing you steal. You can't go running around in a Rocket uniform, so you grab some stuff off a clothesline when no one's looking. You know how to steal, of course, so you don't get caught.

You manage to grab a skirt, and while it might not be the most practical thing for sneaking around, the swish of it against your legs feels like freedom, so you don't take it off until it eventually gets torn to shreds from slinking through the forest and you need to find something else.

You steal food, too. Every day, if you can, because otherwise you're reduced to foraging for berries. You don't feel bad about stealing it, because nobody needs it more than you. All these people have houses and money and families who care about them, and they're not going to miss a little bit of food.




***​



You decide you're heading south. You've heard about those small-town Pokemon professors with their labs full of starters, and that's where you're going. It's going to take a strong team, and few Pokemon are stronger than starters.

It's not hard to get there -- follow the hills and mountains downwards -- but you steal a map anyway, just to be sure. That guy didn't need it.




***​



There's a girl in the yard. A trio of Pokemon scamper around her, battling.

Or trying to, anyway. The Chikorita and Cyndaquil are clearly weak. It's only the Totodile that's worth taking.

The girl turns, and you instinctively shrink back when you see her face. It's
her . The one who helped scatter Team Rocket to the wind. Would it be wrong to steal from her, if she hates them too?

No. You need that Pokemon more than her. More than anyone who would otherwise end up getting it.

Besides, she clearly likes the Cyndaquil best. She can keep that useless thing.




***​



You get caught. You never get caught. Why did it have to be now? You need that Totodile.

You run away with your prize while she's distracted with her stupid Cyndaquil. That's what being weak will get them.




***​



Why won't she leave you alone? You don't need her. She doesn't understand.



***​



She helps you out anyway, and it's still not enough. He's there, the man with the cold eyes, and he smiles as he kills Thorn, the same way he smiled when he killed Needles.

Weak. All of you. You have to be stronger.




***​



Stupid Ecruteak. Stupid tower that you're not allowed to climb.

But no one said that you can't go to the ruined one, so you do. You've heard the legends. Powerful gods lived here, the sort that the Rockets were always after.

So you're going to get there first, and you're going to get the beasts to destroy Team Rocket.

Three statues that don't look like statues. They look alive, glowing red-blue-yellow with power, and then they
are alive, soaring overhead, filling you with glorious power--

And then everything collapses.




***​



You called them. You called the beasts, and they showed up.

So why won't they show up again? Team Rocket has to be destroyed. Don't they know that?

Days spent wandering, ordering, begging.

Nothing ever happens.




***​



It's on the rocky shores of Cianwood that the north wind starts to blow. You've been wandering by the edge of the water, watching the unmistakable figures further down the coast. They don't know you're there, and that's how you like it. You're just watching them in case they’ve managed to get a few good training techniques that might inspire you, but it's not worth actually going to talk to her and her Pokemon.

The wind is a welcome distraction. You watch the rough waves get tamed into serenity, watch the blue streak race across the water.


Stop! What are you doing? You need to help me fight them!

Suicune pauses, turns their head, radiates disappointment at the figure on the shore.

And vanishes into the horizon, after a glance at the figures further down the coast.

You don't follow.




***​



You don't want to go back to Mahogany, ever. It's not safe, but that's where the hideout is, and so you have to go back, even though the gods won't cooperate and destroy everyone with divine wrath.

Please?

A bolt of lightning strikes the tree behind you, making you jump. You turn and catch a glimpse of fangs and glowing eyes -- they came after all, came to help -- but no, there's another lightning strike, closer, and then you take off running, silent feet chasing you.

You're running through the streets of the town now, running until --

Is --was -- that the souvenir shop? It's just a pile of rubble, but people are gathering around it.

You turn back to Raikou, hoping they've come to destroy everything, but there's no one there.




***​



The bonfire has nearly burned itself out, but you stubbornly stay outside and keep watching. Everyone else has drifted away, either inside or back to their own homes, but you don't want to do anything but stand and stare at it. Why are you here? Why is everyone being so nice? Why won't the beasts do anything?

A sudden roar -- fire, or beast? -- and the flames blossom in front of you, making you scramble back, illuminating a hazy outline in the darkness.


Why?

Entei lingers for a moment, glowing with comforting warmth, then disappears, taking every bit of heat and light with it.

Nowhere to go but inside, now.




***​



None of them show up on that day, that horrible day when you're just barely in the wrong place at the right time, standing uselessly in a tall building when another one is unknowingly under siege.

You weren't there to protect her. They weren't there to protect anyone. What do gods care for mortals?




***​



It's a long time before you go back to Ecruteak, but you have to. The world is an unsteady place now, free of Rockets, free of help from gods, free of three innocent Pokemon who were --

No. Not weak. It takes strength to save that many lives. Strength you don't have. Strength the gods are too selfish to share.

Morty is waiting outside of the tower, as if he knew you would come. You're prepared to fight your way past him, but he just nods and beckons you forward.

You climb, alone. Up a winding staircase in an ageless tower, every footstep a challenge, every breath a prayer. The sun is hot and bright even in the darkness, suffocating and comforting.

The sky sings when you reach it, the wind dances with joy, the light softens into something pure.

You keep scowling, anyway.

Three figures wait at the pinnacle, standing on silent paws.

You find your voice.
Why? One word, with so much meaning.

Because , the three say in unison.

You were lost.

You needed guidance.

You had to find your way.


You're angry. How did you help? I had to fight without you.

Yes
, the trio hums in melodic affirmation.

You did not need us to fight for you.

You needed to learn how to fight for others.

You are stronger when you join forces, as are we.


Tears, sparkling in the sun. So why didn't you join forces with me?

We did,
they sing.

We are guides, pointing you in the right direction.

We show you only what you need to see.

We were not created to destroy.


You look up into the light, defiantly, angrily. What's the point of being gods if you get mortals to do everything for you?

What is the point of being mortal if the gods do everything for you?

What is the point of living if you bring nothing but death?

What is the point of anger if you do not know joy?


The three shapes blur into a whirlwind, a storm of fire and lightning and waves. The three voices blend together in a chilling howl.

Few are as lucky as we have been, to know life twice. Do not forget what it means to live, Silver. Make the most of your time. Go forth with our blessing, and remember what is important.

As one, the three vanish into the light, back to their life in the wild of the wind and the thunder and the flames, until all that remains is one small figure, trembling and staring at the empty air.

And one rainbow feather, ablaze with sunlight, gently drifting like a leaf in the breeze.
Do you ever just get almost to the end of the story and then remember that you need to do something about a plot point that you spontaneously introduced ages ago? Yeah. Silver’s connection to the beasts was something that I wrote into the story because why not, and then I kind of put off deciding what to actually do about it. ...So now we have this! I'm not sure how much sense it makes, but I like how it turned out stylistically, at least. that's kind of how I’m starting to feel about this whole story tbh... mistakes were made but at least I wrote some pretty stuff

Anyway, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore Silver's backstory! I hope you liked it too. Next time on The Phoenix... there be dragons!
 

JavierE64

Masks are so 2016!! 31 Minutos FTW!!!
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
310
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
497
Location
Perú
Nature
Modest
Pronouns
He/Him
Pokémon Type
Grass, Water
Pokédex Entry
The Master of both Light and Darkness; who loves the Violent and Dramatic, and the Fun and Adorable.
Wow, Silver's been through a lot. But Is nice to see things are looking better for them.

The Legendary beast were the best guides for the character, one they needed for so long.
 

Bowser's Family Vacation

Johto League Champion
Writer
Team Delta
Pokédex No.
301
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
975
Nature
Rash
Pronouns
She/her
Pokémon Type
Dragon, Cool
Pokédex Entry
"Am I Mario's babysitter? Are you going to call me every time that guy blows his nose, or what?"
The context of Silver's escape puts their reaction to the "first death" in perspective.... :(
 

cyndakip

there goes my luck
🌱Featurer
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
23
Caught
Jun 9, 2019
Messages
280
Location
Lilycove City
Nature
Hardy
Pronouns
they/she
Pokémon Type
Fire, Water
Pokédex Entry
Part Cyndaquil, part Mudkip, entirely tired.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #126
@JavierE64 Yeah, growing up in Team Rocket is certainly not an easy life... at least things can only get better from there. Especially when you have a bit of godly help!


@Bowser's Family Vacation It sure does… while it’s been hinted at that Thorn wasn't the first death, this is the first we get to see of exactly how things were back then...
Blackthorn City is ancient and isolated, a small cluster of buildings nestled in a hollow in the mountains as if a giant dragon claw had reached down from above eons ago to carve out a place for humans to live. It’s said that all dragon-types originated here, and I can almost believe it -- countless dragons are flying overhead or simply sunbathing on the rocks, enjoying what warmth they can get in this cold mountain climate. I can't even begin to guess how many might be hibernating in the caves.

Dragon masters from all over the world come to train here, which is why there's far more than just Dragonite in sight. Flygon, Garchomp, Hydreigon... I'm suddenly very thankful that the Johto league doesn't allow any Pokemon that aren’t native to this island in official matches.

Even with that restriction, it's no coincidence that this is the least-visited gym in the region.

I've already made my appointment to fight Clair, which was a good excuse to motivate me to actually get here. I could do some last-minute training before tomorrow, but right now, I just want to drag myself into the Pokemon Center and sleep.



***



I wake up in the middle of the night, which is the inevitable consequence of going to sleep in the afternoon. My Pokemon are still asleep around me. Hazel and Inferno curled up at the foot of the bed, Cora perched on the bedpost, Finn floating in a tank in the corner, and Calvin snoring loudly (but slowly) on the floor. After a long internal debate, I had let Isabel stay out with the other dragons. Having her out of my sight is terrifying, but she deserves the opportunity to socialize with her kin.

And Team Rocket is gone (again), and when they did steal her, it was when she was helpless in a Pokeball. She's safer without me.

They would all have been safer without me.

Still, I also hate leaving the rest of my team unattended, but right now I'd rather be outside , this room suddenly feeling cramped and confining. As soon as I set one foot out of bed, Inferno's eyes snap open.

“Want to come outside?” I whisper, and he's on the floor in a split second. Hazel opens her eyes, too, but decides that she'd rather be in a comfortable Pokemon Center room than outside with a whole city's worth of dragons. Which is good, because she can tell the others where we've gone if they wake up.

It is safer in a locked Pokemon Center room. I know this.

But I still worry as I close the door behind me.

The air is cold and clear as I step outside, so sharp that it nearly takes my breath away, making me look down at Inferno in concern. He's a little hesitant, and he lets me carry him, but I can feel the reassurance of every breath. Although we're not very high in the mountains, it still makes a difference to him. I'm just glad he won't be fighting while we're here.

Blackthorn's pretty small for a city, not to mention old-fashioned, so without a lot of light pollution, the night sky is an incredible view. A long stretch of blue-black, thoroughly speckled with stars and interrupted only by the jagged outlines of mountain peaks. The full moon glows bright above my head as I wander somewhat aimlessly, eventually ending up near a clear lake where its reflection glows equally bright in front of my feet.

I sit down on a rock by the shore, staring across the water to the cave entrance that's been framed by torches. No one guards the Dragon's Den, because no one's foolish enough to enter without permission.

Even at this hour, some dragons are still around. A Noivern flies by overhead, and a Salamence seems to be dozing on a nearby peak. Resisting the urge to scan the skies for Isabel (she's fine, she's safe, she'll be sleeping somewhere warm and comfortable, everything's fine), I run a hand through Inferno’s fur, and for a moment, we just breathe , taking in the tranquility of it all.

Regina would have loved the chance to fight dragons . That thought splashes into the calmness as quickly as if I had thrown a rock into the unmoving pool in front of me. For a moment, I want to, want to scream and throw things until I feel better about them being gone, but I know it won't help.

Almost without thinking, I trace the lines on my hands, the idea of even touching a rock making me shudder. Inferno notices and cuddles closer, and I put my hands back into the safe warmth of his fur.

The Salamence’s eyes are still closed, and yet I feel like I'm being watched.

“I know that's you.” My voice ripples forcefully through the quiet night.

The eyes open. Only because I wanted you to. Great wings unfurl, and the not-dragon glides down to meet us. Their shape doesn't change, although I don't think there's anyone around to notice if it did.

“Took you a while to show up.” A flat statement. Not angry, not relieved, not judging. Just a fact.

I thought it would be best if I stayed away.

“Why? Because you didn't want me to yell at you? To blame you for everything?”

And then they do shift, as if it's too difficult pretending to be someone else right now, shrinking down into a small and vulnerable pink shape. Maybe I should have. I would rather you blame me than yourself.

“It wasn't my fault.” Empty words, with never enough belief to fill them.

It wasn't, Mew echoes. No one's fault but the guy who decided to try and blow up an entire building. You can't blame yourself for being there.

“I can blame you for not being there.”

Yes, Mew says sadly. It's a popular trend.

“Most people who blame you for things don't know you. They haven't been saved by you before.”

Do you think this is easy for me? A fragile whisper echoes in my mind. To sit back and do nothing while everything goes wrong with the world? This is what it means, to be a god.

“I haven't seen you do much nothing.” I can't stop my tone from turning accusatory. “You did a lot three years ago.”

That was personal. An involuntary flick of that long tail. And even then, I did too much. You know what can happen when gods get too involved.

“So Mewtwo can destroy an entire island and Lugia can bring an avalanche down on a cave full of Rockets, but you can't save a few Pokemon from an explosion?”

Don't forget that you were saved from Lugia simply because you knew me. They look away. And Lugia was acting in self-defense. Team Rocket wanted to enslave them, which would have had disastrous consequences for the world had they succeeded. What Lugia did was not meddling.

“There's your favorite word. Meddling . What's the matter, afraid Arceus is going to arrest you for meddling crimes?” I know I shouldn't be saying that, but... I can't help taking the opportunity to direct my anger at someone else for once.

Mew’s eyes flash. Do not speak to me of Arceus. I have defied them enough for your sake already.

Yup, definitely shouldn't be saying that.

“I'm sorry,” I say, and I mean it, because I don't want to be angry at them. “I know I'm lucky to... know you at all. It's just hard to have you stand back and watch when you could prevent all of this.”

I could, Mew agrees. I could manipulate the entire world into doing everything I want. But I wouldn't like that better, and neither would you. We have these rules for a reason.

I know that, but it doesn't make things any less frustrating.

I got too involved, they continue, words tinged with sadness. It's easy for me to visit and have fun while nothing important’s happening, but then it becomes more difficult when I can't help you with the real problems.

“Did you know?” I can't stop the question from coming.

While I like to come across as knowing everything, I have to admit that's not actually the case. A sad smile. I'm not Celebi. I can't see the future. I didn't know you'd be there in that exact moment until you were, and I didn't know he wouldn't be able to save all of you. Not for certain.

I believe them. I don't want to, but I do.

But do I forgive them?

For a moment, everything is quiet and still again. The moon on the water, the tears on my cheeks, the Quilava in my lap, the god floating in front of us.

I know who I can't forgive, and it's not Mew.

Figuring that the two of us have had enough time to talk, Inferno jumps to the ground and bows before his god -- then straightens up and smiles at his friend. He doesn't know Mew nearly as well as I do, has all the more reason to be angry, but he can forgive, too.

Thank you, they say with a smile. Both of you. I haven't liked staying away, but I do have to leave again for a while. Just remember that you don't need me. Mew’s eyes find each of us in turn. You have a lot of battles still to come, but you're more than up to the task. Don't doubt yourselves.

And with that generic advice that isn't the easiest to follow, they disappear.

“What do you think, Inferno?” I'm not even sure what I'm asking him.

His response is to smile and jump back into my arms, giving me something to hold on to. The only answer I ever need.



***​



Blackthorn's gym couldn't possibly be more different from the city itself. Far from cold and serene, it's hot in there, allowing the dragons to move more freely. I've heard rumors that Clair wanted to fill the gym with lava, but it wasn't allowed. Even Blaine in his fire-type gym that was carved into a volcano never had any actual lava, so I don't know why she thought that would work out for her.

Clair doesn't need lava to be intimidating, though. She's a striking figure posing in her tall boots on the other end of the battlefield, cape streaming from her shoulders.

Intimidating, yes, but Gary's right -- she's not as cool as Lance, and she proves it as soon as she starts talking.

“Tessa Linden,” she scowls. “Other gym leaders have been foolish enough to give you badges you didn't deserve, but don't think I'll go easy on you just because you're some big hero. Prepare to face the world's greatest Dragon Master!”

I'm torn between I don't want anyone to go easy on me ever and please go easy on me I can't handle this and I never wanted to be a hero . So I say nothing. I'm not so fragile that her words can break me, but objectively, that's a pretty terrible thing to say to someone like me, and I'm going to enjoy defeating her all the more because of it.

...Also, “world's greatest Dragon Master”? Who does she think she's kidding? She's not even Johto 's greatest Dragon Master.

One Pokemon. That's all she would let me have on the sidelines, which means no Cora around to calm me down. But Inferno’s all fired up next to me, glowing with the heat from the gym and staring down Clair.

One Pokemon. That's all I hope I'm going to need for this fight, so I throw Calvin's Pokeball and trust in him.

Clair is quick to respond with a Dragonair, and it's quick to start attacking. Calvin's not exactly quick, but he's faster than he used to be, so he's able to dodge a surprising amount of dragon fire. And when he does get hit, he doesn't even seem to notice .

It's hard to hit a fast-moving Dragonair without strategy, so it's a good thing we've got strategy.

Blast it with a jet of water. Ice Punch while it's stunned. Stand back and watch it faint. Practical. Safe. Easy.

Clair scowls as she sends out her next one. Second verse, same as the first.

Except it's not. I barely hear her yell Thunderbolt before the lightning rips through the arena, lighting up my Slowbro, and I scream, and he --

Is fine. He's fine. He shakes it off, smoldering slightly, and punches the stunned Dragonair right in the face. I can't stop from cheering as Clair's scowl deepens.

“You can't just punch this one!” she snarls, sending out a Kingdra.

Sure, it takes a few hits, and Calvin gets bombarded with dragon fire in the process, but we do punch it, and when it's all over, the Kingdra’s collapsed and Calvin’s still standing, if barely.

I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. I'm still here, I can still do this, it's still fun . Extra fun to be defeating arrogant snooty gym leaders, even. I suppose I should apologize to Bugsy, since that Slowpoke just might be exactly what I needed. I run over and throw my arms around Calvin while he continues smiling, and Inferno jumps around happily.

But Clair's not finished. “That's not fair!” she shrieks. “I can't lose to you! I won't ! I demand a rematch! Fight me with a Pokemon other than that lump, you coward!”

She's worse than Whitney, and that's saying a lot. I'm prepared to do it, too, prepared to throw Finn and Hazel and even Inferno at her, because right now I feel more unstoppable than I've felt in a long time.

I don't get the chance. There's a sudden flash of movement in the audience, the billow of a cape as someone vaults over the railing and lands dramatically on the sidelines. I step forward, straining to make out the words until Clair's microphone is close enough to pick them up.

“--enough,” Lance is saying, eyes flashing. “Don't make a fool of yourself, Clair. You lost, and that's all there is to it.”

“Oh, of course you take her side,” Clair sneers. “You don't want me winning! You don't want me to be a threat to your title.”

“I assure you, I'm not threatened,” Lance says. “Not while you continue to have that attitude. I'm sure the masters of the Dragon’s Den would agree. In fact, they might be inclined to remove you from your current position. I don't think you need reminding that it's not me who picks Blackthorn's gym leader.”

Clair flinches at that, as if it's a sore subject. I expect her to fire back, but all she does is throw a badge on the ground and storm out of the arena.

“Sorry about that,” Lance says as he picks up the badge and strides over to me, looking a bit embarrassed. “You deserved a better experience than what you got here.”

I crack a smile as he places the eighth and final emblem in my hand. “I'd say such a decisive victory was a pretty great experience.” Inferno grins, backing me up.

Lance starts smiling, too. “It's good to have you back, Tessa. I'm looking forward to battling you at the league again.”

I feel a spike of mixed emotions at that -- anticipation, fear, doubt. Are we ready? Am I ready? Will I ever be?

I'll have to find out soon enough.
I hope you weren't expecting a super exciting gym battle... Slowbros with ice punch are just too OP, what can I say? I feel like the important part of this chapter is the scene before, anyway. Still, that being said, I'm sorry this wasn't the most thrilling fight... battles are still something I need to work on, I know. But I'd like to think I make up for it with at least one or two of the league battles, which are coming up soon! Probably sooner than you think, actually...

As for how exactly the battle went in-game, well... I got pretty lax with my note-taking after That Incident (not that I’m ever the best note taker anyway), so this is all I have for a certain portion of the game:

“Went back to Slowpoke Well, CAUGHT Calvin, lots of grinding, evolved to Slowbro, Ice Punch, destroyed Clair.”

Thanks, past me.

I didn't even write anything in my notes about the Bell Tower (which I meant to talk about last chapter, seeing as it was actually relevant, but I totally forgot), but I didn't have any trouble catching Suicune! I couldn't use it in battle according to my rules, but I did slap Whirlpool and Waterfall on it since, of course, I had free space in my party and there was no point in burdening Finn and Calvin with extra water moves they don't need!

What did give me trouble at the Bell Tower, though, was one of the Sages... see, sometimes you really need to train up your Slowpoke, but you forget that Flareon can learn Bite, and it gets a crit, and...



A screenshot to commemorate my heart attack.

If he had died there, I honestly don't know what I would have done. Good thing I didn't have to find out!
 

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