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Galaxies Above - Arc 2

Chapter Text

It’s calm. A cool breeze blows by, ruffling the furry hide of the scarred cubone and picking up her scarf slightly in the air.

Nelvana sat on the ground, leaning back to set her hands on the grass while she stared up at the open blue sky. It really was a nice day, and for now she could relax in the warm rays of the shining sun.

For once, she was alone at the Team Galaxy base, resting out on the lawn. Her teammates were all off doing their own thing, presumably, and that was quite alright for her. After all, there were less missions posted on the board for them to do, now that the disasters were slowly settling down as the world’s balance fixed itself; providing them with much free time to enjoy their future. Though, none of them would ever go too far on their own, and even now Nelvana could relax with the knowledge that her friends were off somewhere around Pokemon Square, and that if she wanted to see them, she would easily be able to.

However, being alone with one’s own thoughts rarely stays that positive for long. Nelvana couldn’t help but find herself thinking over recent and upcoming events.

It had been one week since the meteor that threatened the world’s balance and the very fate of the future itself had been destroyed, and six days since the trio of Nelvana and her two friends that had traveled from that dark future had returned from being erased from time and space itself. Of course, not everything had fixed itself so quickly. While the number of rescue requests that turned up on the board were fewer than before, there were still enough to fill each morning with work, even with there still being other active teams in the area. Many had expected there to be a sudden spike in evolution with the balance being fixed and everyone making up for lost experience, but so far there was still nothing.

On a less world-wide scale, Nelvana missed Gardevoir. Guilt ate away at her for not even really being able to thank the spirit guide for all of her help, and not being able to speak with her anymore felt just as bad, especially after Gardevoir had expressed just wanting to have some company so badly.

Regardless, Nelvana also knew that it would do her no good to continue dwelling on these issues which were currently outside of her control. As much as she longed to be able to do something about them, she couldn’t see any possible solutions, no matter how much she stressed over them.

What was within her control though, was the birthday of her best friend, Keahi. The torchic had been bubbling with excitement for the event for days now, and there were still three days until the day itself. Everyone else couldn’t help but find themselves excited for her as well, especially those who hadn’t really gotten the chance to celebrate anyone’s birthday before, which happened to be most of the team. Keahi, as usual, was fine with explaining how things should go. She had expressed wanting to have a small party with the team, where they could play games, enjoy some cake together, and hand out presents.

Nelvana didn’t want to mess this up. She wanted to show how much she cared for Keahi by getting the best present for her possible, but wondering what that gift would be had been plaguing her mind every since the torchic had mentioned her birthday.

“Hey, Nel! I’m back!”

Just barely as Nelvana’s thoughts wandered back to her partner’s birthday, the very person she was thinking of returned. Keahi beamed over at the cubone, waiting to make sure that she had her attention, before bolting over to her and tackling her into a hug.

“Hey Keahi,” Nelvana hummed, wrapping an arm around the warm torchic. “That didn’t take you long.”

“Of course not! I only went to order a cake from the café, you know that doesn’t take long!” Keahi replied with a giggle. “I hope you weren’t bored while I was gone.”

“Eh, maybe a little bit,” Nelvana murmured, “I was just thinking of what to get you for your birthday,” she admitted, absentmindedly running her fingers through Keahi’s feathers.

Keahi met Nelvana’s gaze, “again? I told you already, I don’t really mind what you get me. It’s the thought that counts after all!”

“I know…” Nelvana sighed, “I still want to make this good though.”

Keahi laughed, “I should’ve known. You really aren’t one to settle for less when you can do more, huh?” she said, “if only I could provide you with a better wish list…”

Nelvana rolled her eyes, “you haven’t provided any wish list!” she responded with a snort.

“That’s because I don’t have anything to wish for!” Keahi replied, lifting up a taloned foot to playfully kick at her partner. “I have everything I could have wanted. My biggest dream was to be in a rescue team, and here we sit as a gold ranked team! I have my home with all my stuff, and the best friends that I could ever ask for. What do I put on a wish list now?”

Nelvana paused, her expression softening after such a response, but then she smiled again and gave Keahi a pat on the head, “alright, fair enough… I’ll just have to figure out something eventually. All the others seem to have ideas anyway, so this isn’t impossible.”

“Actually! That’s a good point!” Keahi exclaimed, standing back up. “Why don’t you go ask the others what they thought of, and they can inspire you to think of something on your own!” she suggested, “and I can even go find something else to do in the meantime so I don’t get spoiled on the surprise,” she added, shaking out her feathers.

“Are you sure?” Nelvana questioned, “I wouldn’t want to just leave you alone.”

“Don’t be silly, I’ll be fine! I’ll just go check on Spinda and Gulpin’s progress again or visit the kids or something!” Keahi chirped, “if this helps you get your thoughts settled, then it’ll be fine.”

“Mm, alright,” Nelvana chuckled, standing up as well.

Nelvana brushed the grass from her fur, then proceeding the pick up her club that she had left resting beside her. Keahi waited patiently for her friend to be ready to go, and then the pair silently left the property and headed down the familiar path towards Pokemon Square.

At Pokemon Square, they were greeted with the usual joyful atmosphere around all the citizens. With summer slowly reaching its end, many of the pokemon were out enjoying the warm days while they lasted, while others were hoping to get the jump on the next season by setting out decorations nearly a month early.

The sight that Nelvana appreciated right off the bat was two of the other Team Galaxy members, Alex the grovyle and Ceebee the shiny celebi, over by the Kecleon Stand. They were the two others that Nelvana had lived with in the future, or as they had currently dubbed as the dead timeline, and who had traveled back in time with her to fix time itself. While Nelvana’s amnesia prevented her from remembering them properly, she still felt the warm familiarity every time she saw her old friends. Those two were usually together anyway, evidently Ceebee felt more comfortable with either Alex or Nelvana than anyone else, despite having become fast friends with the rest of the team and even most of the town.

“Hey, there’s Alex and Ceebee! You can go talk to them. I heard they were thinking of present shopping anyway, so that makes the timing right,” Keahi commented, nudging Nelvana.

“And how would you know what they were doing?” Nelvana asked curiously, raising a brow.

“I overheard them on my way back over to you, but I made sure to hurry on past so I wouldn’t get spoiled,” Keahi told her, “speaking of, I guess I should head on my way again. Good luck with getting inspired! See you later, Nel!” she continued before giving a wave of her wing and hurrying away.

“See you, Keahi!” Nelvana replied.

Nelvana watched her partner head north to Whiscash Pond, before turning her attention back over to the nearby pair, who had noticed her nearby. She headed over to them at the stand, where they seemed to be getting instructions from the two brothers on how to use the roll of colored paper that Alex was holding.

“Hello there Nel!” Ceebee hummed, “what brings you over here?” she asked.

“Oh, I actually wanted to ask about gift ideas for Keahi… but, uh, what are you guys doing?” Nelvana responded, eyeing the paper curiously.

“We’re trying to teach these two to use freaking wrapping paper of all things!” Purple-Kecleon snapped, smacking his hand down on the table dramatically.

“Hey, cut us some slack here,” Alex chuckled, tugging on the wrapping paper. “We didn’t get this in the dead timeline, y’know. Besides, you and your bro will get paid for this either way, so why do you even care?”

“Wrapping paper?” Nelvana repeated, poking at the paper. “What do you wrap with it? It doesn’t look that strong,” she commented.

“This is used to wrap up boxes! More specifically, boxes that have presents inside!” Green-Kecleon answered, “there should be enough in this roll for all of you to wrap up your presents for Keahi.”

“Why do you wrap up the presents?” Nelvana asked.

“To keep it a surprise! It’s half the fun!” Ceebee chirped, fluttering closer to the cubone as she spoke to her. “Er, apparently, at least. Keahi has mentioned it a few times, after all, so it does sound right.”

“Oh, yeah. That does make sense,” Nelvana agreed, “anyway, I came to ask you guys what you’re getting for Keahi. I’m still having trouble thinking of something,” she explained.

“Still? You’re really overthinking this, Nel,” Alex teased as he repetitively experimented with the roll of paper by tugging out some paper before trying to roll it back up again. “I’m sure that whatever you give her, she’ll like.”

“Yeah!” Ceebee exclaimed, “try not to worry so much! But if you’re looking for ideas, you could draw her something. I heard that cards are usually made for birthdays, you could do that!” she suggested.

“Mm, yeah, I considered that,” Nelvana sighed, tapping her club on the ground. “But I feel like I could do more than just a card. It doesn’t feel like much of a gift.”

Alex shrugged, “your choice. I kinda have to agree with you on that thought process though, but also Ceebee is right about the art idea. You are one of the only ones that could take an artistic route on this, and make it look good, so that would make your gift unique,” he said, “Ceebee ‘n I are taking a more practical route on this.”

“That does sound like you, less like Ceebee though. I would have expected you to try making or finding something,” Nelvana responded, glancing up at the celebi flying in place in the air.

“Heh, yup… maybe next time. I think I still need more time to adjust to this… time, before I get that creative with gifts.” Ceebee admitted, “I really wanted to find a plant for her, but she also mentioned that she wouldn’t be good at taking care of it, so I changed my mind,” she continued before holding out a small cardboard box in front of her. “So, I got this instead! It’s a fire gem, she’ll be able to boost a fire-type move with it,” she said in a yell-whisper.

“Oh, that’s really nice!” Nelvana hummed, peeking into the box to view the diamond shaped red gem inside the box, which almost appeared to burn with its own little ember inside the crystal.

“Thanks! I hope Keahi will appreciate it. It’ll make that flamethrower attack go off with a bang,” Ceebee replied, hugging the box close to her. “I just need to wrap it, and then it should be good to go for the big day,” she added, glancing over at the wrapping paper Alex was still fiddling with.

“My gift isn’t quite ready yet. I ordered the TM for rock smash, since Keahi doesn’t have a fighting-type move yet. Apparently torchics don’t even get to learn many fighting-type moves, which is disappointing considering what they evolve into. So, I figured I’d help with that,” Alex explained, “besides, that way we’ll have another team member with a fighting-type move, since we only have you right now, Nel. I was going to look for recycle so we could just reuse brick break, but apparently torchics can’t learn that.”

“Recycle is a pretty rare TM anyway,” Purple-Kecleon chimed in, “I’ve been meaning to get it in my stocks at some point, but it can be a challenging one to get your hands on. I’ll have it here someday, but not in time for your teammate’s birthday, I’m afraid.”

“Eh, don’t worry about it. Just do let us know when that arrives, I believe Rayden can learn it for us,” Alex replied, “now then, about the wrapping paper…”

“As we’ve already explained, it’s pretty easy. Measure, cut, and tape,” Green-Kecleon responded, his voice muffled as he leaned behind the counter to bring out some scissors that were hidden back there. “I’ve got some scissors here, if you’d like to borrow them?”

Alex’s mouth crept up in a grin, “do I need to pay to use those?”

Both kecleon brothers laughed, “only if you break them!”

“Could I cut this… without those?” Alex murmured, his grin only growing as he unrolled some of the wrapping paper again and the leaves on his arms began glowing in anticipation.

“Alex… please don’t cut the wrapping paper with leaf blade,” Ceebee sighed, narrowing her eyes at the grovyle.

“Do it,” Nelvana whispered, a mischievous glint in her blue eyes.

“I’m going to do it,” Alex taunted, shifting his left arm closer to the paper.

“Don’t! You’ve been offered a perfectly useful tool for this! Just use that!” Ceebee hissed, crossing her arms across her chest.

Ceebee’s protests fell on deaf ears as Alex took hold of his impulsive idea and swiped the glowing leaves across the paper in one swift motion. There was the sharp “ssst” sound as the leaf blade move made a clean cut right through the wrapping paper, nicely slicing it so that there was a decently sized piece of paper for Ceebee’s box left in Alex’s right hand.

However, to pull this off as efficiently as he did, Alex had to let go of the actual roll in his left hand, dropping it onto the ground. While Pokemon Square wasn’t known for being built on any sort of hill or slant, the momentum from Alex’s swift movement was enough to send the rest of the paper rolling away, unrolling all the paper wrapped around it as it did so.

“Ah! Shoot!” Alex yelped, watching as the roll easily got too far away from him to simply reach for.

“There it goes!” Nelvana giggled, “that was a good cut though,” she added, looking at the piece that the grovyle had been left with.

“Ceebee, would you mind going to get that with your telekinesis?” Alex asked.

“Ha! Nah, you go get it! This was your idea; you deal with the consequences of your actions!” Ceebee laughed, sticking her tongue out at him.

Alex rolled his eyes, “fine, I’ll go get it, be that way,” he huffed, “take this then, you’re welcome,” he added, shoving the piece of paper at Ceebee before bolting after the runaway roll of wrapping paper.

Nelvana continued giggling as she watched the grovyle hurry after the roll, which had made its way into some bushes by now. Ceebee rolled her eyes, but laughed again as well, beginning to try folding the paper she had been handed around the box.

“Alright, thanks for the help, but I think I’ll try finding the others soon and see what they think,” Nelvana told Ceebee.

“Okay! Good luck with that! Once Alex gets that back, I think we’ll move indoors; just so you know in case you come back,” Ceebee replied.

Nelvana nodded, “thanks for letting me know, I’ll keep that in mind. See you two later!”

Alex glanced back over at that last exclamation, “you’re leaving? Aw, alright. See you later, good luck with thinking of a gift for Keahi!” he responded.

The other two team members of the A Squadron on Team Galaxy were Tsuki the absol and Edgar the duskull. While everyone on the team got along really well, those two especially had paired off nicely; which was extra convenient since neither of them slept often because of their typing, and them getting along meant that they wouldn’t get as bored while everyone else rested each night.

Nelvana could recall having last seen them by the mission board, Tsuki explaining how they would wait and see if any new missions got posted while everyone else was off doing their own thing. Deciding that that would be the best place to start looking for her other teammates, she made her way eastward down the path. This theory was proven correct as she spotted the familiar pokemon hanging around the currently empty board. Tsuki lay beside it with her hind legs tucked under her belly and her chin rested on it front paws, while Edgar floated around, making circles around both the absol and the mission board.

“Hello Tsuki, hello Edgar,” Nelvana greeted, “you’re still here?”

Tsuki lifted her head, sitting up so that she could peer back at the cubone more easily, “hello there Nelvana,” she greeted with a pleasant smile. “Indeed, we’re still here. There were a couple missions added, and we have them now, if you were hoping to get back to work before the end of the day.”

“I actually wanted to ask about gift ideas for Keahi, but if you want, I can go back and let the others know that there are still more missions to get done,” Nelvana replied.

“Don’t worry, there’s no rush! They’re both item finding missions,” Edgar hummed, “we can talk about gift ideas! You having trouble?”

“A bit, yeah,” Nelvana admitted, sitting down beside Tsuki and leaning against the absol’s side. “I already asked all the others, but I figured I’d see if either of you two had anything new to suggest, or if I could get inspired by what you guys settled on for gifts.”

“Ah, I see,” Tsuki murmured, “well, I’m afraid I don’t have much to suggest. You do know Keahi the best out of any of us, so you’ve probably already thought of anything I could think of now,” she said, “however, if you think it will help in your thinking, I’ve decided to find some ingredients for Keahi, since that seems to be an enjoyable hobby for her. She appears to be quite excited each time any of us ask for a cooking lesson, at the very least.”

“Oh, that is a good idea! I bet she’ll enjoy that. What have you found so far?” Nelvana responded.

Tsuki shrugged, “I went back and found some of those chestnuts, as well as some berries and seeds.”

“That’s why she’s been impatient to go through some dungeons,” Edgar added in a playfully hushed tone, “she wants to find more food items!”

Nelvana giggled, “ah, that makes sense. How about you, Edgar? Are you looking for items in dungeons too?”

“Oh! Yeah, kinda! I’ve been finding some lucky items for Keahi to hold onto! Wanna see them?” Edgar exclaimed, already going over to a small sack that he had stashed away behind the sign.

“Sure,” Nelvana replied, despite knowing that he would likely try showing her anyway, it felt better to confirm and let him know that this was fine.

Edgar brought over the sack and set it down in front of Nelvana and Tsuki to show them. It wasn’t tied shut, so when he placed it on the ground it flopped over slightly, spilling a few of the items that had been inside. Just a glance told them that these “lucky” objects were mostly just random things one might find on the ground. There were many rocks, as well as some feathers and leaves. Curious, Nelvana reached in to see what else was included in here, and found a couple shells that were hidden deeper inside.

“I found most of these in the area! Isn’t that nice? They must be really lucky in that case, for me to have found them so easily!” Edgar commented, floating closer to the others. “I heard that finding coins on the ground can be lucky too, but I only found a couple of those laying about, and I gave one of them to Metapod,” he added, pointing to the mentioned coins, which had fallen into the bottom corner of the sack. “Do you think Keahi will like them? Felicity said that items with no price aren’t worth much, but I think she was just in a bad mood. Lots of things with no price have more worth than anything you can buy or sell.”

Nelvana couldn’t help but smile, “yeah, I definitely think Keahi will like these,” she assured Edgar, helping set the spilled objects back into the sack. “And you’re right about the money idea. It doesn’t need to be expensive to be nice,” she continued, “oh, and the rocks with a ring around them are especially lucky.”

Edgar’s eye lit up in a warm glow, “thank you, Nel!” he chirped, “I’ve been working really hard on this!”

“I can tell,” Nelvana hummed, handing the sack back to the duskull. “The kecleons have some wrapping paper and stuff for wrapping gifts, you should go see them.”

“Maybe I will! I haven’t used wrapping paper before, but I heard that it’s really colorful!” Edgar responded.

“Rolls pretty well too,” Nelvana added under her breath.

“Did we help you at all with your own gift ideas?” Tsuki asked, standing up and stretching for a moment before sitting down beside Nelvana again.

“Oh… I’m not sure, sorry,” Nelvana murmured, “I’m probably still overthinking this.”

“You could do some art for her,” Tsuki suggested.

“Ceebee already suggested that, but thanks,” Nelvana sighed, rolling her club back and forth under her hand in the short grass around them. “That might be what I have to fall back on at this point.”

“Well, Tsuki did say that you’re the one who knows Keahi best,” Edgar pointed out, “what’s important to her, that you could maybe make into a present? What really matters to her?”

Nelvana exhaled again, turning her gaze up to the sky, “she… she really loves the stars, and cool colors, and exploring, and battling, and… cooking, like Tsuki said. Keahi loves this team and our work together, and… and she really loves people. She loves us, and her family…”

Nelvana let herself trail off as she thought to herself about the question, and how it could connect to possible presents she could get or make for Keahi. For a moment, she couldn’t help but let her heart be warmed with the thoughts of what her partner liked…

…and then, finally, the right idea came to her as she thought about Keahi’s family, and how much she had always cared for them.

“I think I have an idea,” Nelvana announced, almost a whisper as she worried about second-guessing herself, but the more she kept thinking, the more it felt right. “Yeah, I think I’ve thought of something! Thanks for the help guys!”

“I’m glad that we could help,” Tsuki purred.

“Yay!” Edgar cheered, “I knew you’d be able to come up with something!”

“I’m going to get started, thanks again! Love you!” Nelvana replied, hurrying back off towards Pokemon Square in a spring of energy.

“Love you!” Edgar exclaimed, spinning around again.

Tsuki chuckled, “love you too,” she responded softly, “ah, and if you see the others, let them know that we’d like to get back to work soon!” she added.

“I will!” Nelvana called back over her shoulder.

Nelvana sped back into Pokemon Square, back across the path and past the Persian Bank over to the Kecleon Stand again. This is where she paused, taking a moment to look around and plan ahead again. No one was by the Kecleon Stand anymore, aside from the brothers themselves. Spinning around, she could see Ceebee talking to Keahi over by the café now, the latter of which had found a light blue balloon and was carrying it from a string in her beak.

Alex was no longer hanging around with them, but if Nelvana had been able to remember anything, it was to track down her friends.

She found Alex not at the Team Galaxy base, but just off of the Makuhita Dojo, staring off into the empty fields ahead of him. Nelvana quietly walked up beside him, silently enjoying the view with him for a few moments. There was no need to call out to him, since she knew that he had noticed her gaze the moment she had spotted him.

“Heh, welcome back. You weren’t gone for long,” Alex greeted, glancing down at the cubone. “Did you think of something?”

“Actually, I did,” Nelvana replied, “which is what I wanted to ask you about.”

Alex chuckled, “I assumed so. What did you come up with?”

“I want to make a bracelet. Like the one Combusken has,” Nelvana told him, “do you know where he got it, or if he made it himself?”

“Why are you asking me?” Alex questioned.

“Come on, I know you have an eye for items. You had plenty of time to notice and ask about that bracelet. It’s obviously important to him, which would especially catch your eye,” Nelvana huffed.

Alex laughed, “ah, you got me there! I did ask him about the bracelet. It was made by his boyfriend, Servine, who has sadly passed away. So, I’m afraid that you won’t get much help out of this route,” he explained.

“Oh, that’s… that’s terrible,” Nelvana murmured, the weight of the news dragging down on her mood for a moment. “I… I still want to make it though. I’ll just have to figure something out on my own.”

“I’m sure that you’ll manage. Just do a braid or somethin’,” Alex suggested, shrugging, “actually, won’t this be an anklet? Keahi doesn’t exactly have arms yet, since she hasn’t evolved yet.

“Maybe I will braid it. And yeah, I know she hasn’t evolved. I think she’ll still like it though. She can wrap it around her talons or something,” Nelvana said, “well, I guess I had better go find some string then. Thanks anyway. Oh, did you handle the wrapping paper, by the way?”

Alex scoffed, “I was hoping you would have moved on from that. Yes, I got the roll back, and Ceebee’s present is nicely wrapped. Why don’t you get to work on your’s?”

Nelvana laughed, “I will, I will… see you later then, Alex. Be prepared to get to work later, Tsuki and Edgar have been collecting some missions for us to do before the day is out.”

“Alright, I’ll probably hang out with them then. I’m in the mood for some more dungeon explorin’ anyway. See you,” Alex responded, looking back out onto the horizon.

The string that Nelvana was looking for wasn’t hard to find. While not many pokemon in the area were big crafters, the Kecleon Stand still had some in stock, just in case. She picked out three strings, deciding that braiding would be the easiest, and bought them in blue, purple, and pink, all in similarly pastel shades so that they would hopefully blend together and look nice.

With her few supplies collected for the task, all she needed to do was to find a nice place to get started. Nelvana settled on a patch by the Kangaskhan Storage, after checking with Kangaskhan if it was fine to lounge beside the stand. Kangaskhan gave Nelvana some tips for making the bracelet, as the motherly normal-type had done some crafting herself in the past.

Nelvana sat down, placing her club upright in front of her, and attached the three pieces of string together on it so that they would stay in place. Taking the strings in her hands, she began weaving them together, instinctively repeating the mantra “right over middle, left over middle,” in her mind to remind herself of the steps to this task. The repetition was oddly soothing, or perhaps it was just the simple craft itself that let Nelvana relax more than she had before. Around her, she could still hear the faint voices of various pokemon chatting to each other, which was a constant promise that everyone was doing alright.

Keahi was going to love this gift, Nelvana was confident of it.

Right over middle.

Left over middle.

Blue.

Purple.

Pink.

Right over middle.

Left over middle.

Chapter Text

Impatience rarely brought a good night’s sleep. Keahi knew this well, and found herself experiencing this problem on the night before her birthday. It had been such a long time since she went and celebrated a birthday just with friends, and she found herself more excited than she could remember being in a long time.

Because of this, she now found herself laying awake in her nest, trying to catch just that last hour of rest before dawn. She would chat with Tsuki and Edgar, but Tsuki had insisted that Keahi needed to go back to sleep, so now that pair had gone downstairs as to not become distractions to Keahi trying to go back to bed.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t working out as planned, since the torchic still found herself wide awake with anticipation. Even now as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she found herself staring around at the few decorations that they had set up upstairs for the celebration, or peering out the nearby window to glimpse the stars still lighting up the night sky. She could hear the faint whistle of wind outside, streaming by their window that was barely open a crack for some fresh air; a request from Alex and Tsuki that had been quickly agreed upon by everyone else, at least for as long as the nights stayed warm enough for it.

Turning over in her nest onto her belly and laying her chin on the edge of the small bed, Keahi looked over at the rest of her teammates instead. The hammock at the back of the room sagged under the combined weight of the grovyle and shiny celebi, the latter of which laid peacefully on top of the former. Alex was resting on his back, as it seemed that he always did for whatever reason, though his breathing sounded less relaxed than usual. Either a nightmare or he wasn’t actually asleep, and Keahi couldn’t decide which would be preferable at this point; Alex needed some more sleep either way.

Closer to her was the other nest where Nelvana was sleeping. Or at least Keahi hoped. The cubone was better at hiding whether she was sleeping or not than anyone else the torchic had met. Regardless, Nelvana also lay on her back, but she was a much more restless sleeper than the rest of the team, something that Keahi could see even now with the blanket that was wrapped around the cubone from rolling around throughout the night. Now that she looked closely, she also noted that Nelvana’s headgear had been tilted in her sleep, now laying slightly askew on her head, showing another thin scar on her right cheek that Keahi had only seen a few times prior.

Temptation pricked at the back of Keahi’s mind to see if she would be able to sleep better if she joined her partner, but she turned down the idea in favor of trying not to disturb anyone more than she may already have.

“Keahi?”

So much for that idea.

“Sorry if I woke you,” Keahi immediately apologized.

“Nah, it’s fine,” Nelvana murmured, “I’ve been awake for awhile actually.”

“Another nightmare?”

“Mhmm…”

Now that she had given away that she was actually awake, Nelvana lifted a hand to scratch the fur on her chest before stretching and trying to readjust the tangled blanket on it. Keahi sat up, shaking out her sleep-ruffled feathers before blinking over at her partner again.

“So, were we all just awake but trying to pretend not to be as to not wake up anyone else?” Alex’s voice pierced through the moment of silence.

Keahi couldn’t help but laugh, turning to look across the room like before, “I guess so! Ceebee’s up too?”

“Yup, I’m here!” Ceebee hummed, lifting her head up to meet Keahi’s gaze through the darkness. “Now that we know this was the case, maybe I should have checked telepathically to see who was awake earlier. Good thing Nel spoke up, huh? We would have been left here in sleepless silence until morning.”

“Why are you two awake anyway?” Keahi asked.

“Same as Nel for me,” Alex sighed, absentmindedly rubbing the scar that lay across his muzzle.

“Nice, we get to be nightmare buds,” Nelvana commented with a hint of playful sarcasm to her tone.

“Hell yeah,” Alex replied, lifting his hand to fist bump the air for a moment before dropping it to hang limply beside the hammock.

“Alex woke me up,” Ceebee added, “kinda hard to stay asleep when the person you’re sleeping on starts kicking around.”

Alex let out a quiet huff before sitting up, something Ceebee barely noticed in time to flutter up in the air before sitting down again to avoid being rolled over. Seeing that everyone else had sat up by now, Nelvana pushed herself up to a seated position as well, fixing her shifted headgear and then shuffling in place to angle herself so that she would be able to comfortably be able to continue the conversation with everyone here.

“How ‘bout you, Keahi?” Ceebee asked, “what woke you up early?”

“Impatience,” Keahi sighed, “it’s hard to sleep when you just really want the next day to start.”

“Well, we’re all awake anyway, why not just start the day early? We could take the time to make a big breakfast at the very least,” Alex suggested, already swinging himself out of the hammock, which swung back up with only the smaller celebi left on it.

“It is almost dawn anyway, right?” Nelvana added, peering over at the window she was facing, which happened to not be the one she was closest to.

“Okay! I’m not going to complain about an idea like that!” Keahi chirped, swiftly hopping out of her nest. “Hey Tsuki, Edgar! Turns out that everyone else is awake, so we’re just going to get today started!” she called out down the stairs.

“I’m hoping that they woke up on their own, and that you didn’t just wake them up to pull this off!” Tsuki’s voice came echoing back from the lower floor of the house.

“Don’t worry, we did!” Ceebee assured her before flying downstairs to meet up with the other two.

The remaining three didn’t take long to hurry to join their teammates, and soon they were all preparing their early morning breakfast together. Having all six of them in the kitchen sometimes got crowded, but when two of them could fly around instead of taking up floor space, and making sure that everyone had a proper job and space, the task passed along much easier than it could had they gone about this in a more chaotic way. They had never tried preparing a meal with everyone participating at once before, but everyone unanimously agreed that this was a fun challenge and a good way to start such an early morning. As usual, this large breakfast ended up being pancakes with fruit, since it was not only something that everyone knew the basics of at this point, but could also be made in bulk for the entire team to enjoy a tasty and filling meal. They probably would make it more often if it didn’t require so much time to make.

Just past dawn was when they had completely finished up with breakfast, now hungry for the next activity of the day. While Keahi had expressed in many events that she wanted to take place during this day, she had not set up a proper schedule. To most of the team’s surprise, Keahi told them that she wanted to do a couple missions still, instead of just having a full day off.

“I like going through dungeons with you guys and helping others!” Keahi explained, “besides, I wasn’t actually born until the afternoon, so I want to save all the really fun stuff until then!”

“Well, it’s your day, so it’s your choice!” Nelvana responded.

“Gosh, when was the last time we left for a mission this early? We’ve gotten up early recently, but we still usually wait to get to work. Probably when we went to fight Zapdos and rescue Shiftry, right?” Keahi commented as they walked outside, keeping her gaze on her partner. “That feels so long ago, but it wasn’t really! It’s just that so much has happened since then!”

“Long enough ago that it was just the two of us in this house and that fighting a legendary felt like an impossible task,” Nelvana agreed, swinging her club up to rest on her shoulder. “Yeah, a lot has happened…”

“I think we should get out in the mornings more often,” Alex said, “it’s nice and quiet out here, and you can look around for all the dewdrops.”

“And for the sunrise,” Nelvana added.

Alex nodded, “of course.”

“However, from the perspective of doing our job, there are fewer missions on the board early in the morning,” Tsuki pointed out. “I am certain that in some cases, getting that extra sleep can be more important.”

“Says the one who never sleeps,” Alex chuckled, patting Tsuki on the head and ruffling her fur.

“Says the one who thinks we don’t notice that he never sleeps!” Edgar chimed in, “are you sure we don’t talk too loud? You’re rarely actually get any rest, and Nel isn’t far behind with that problem!”

“Eh, we’re light sleepers, don’t worry about it. We already get a lot more sleep than we used to,” Alex replied, waving away the duskull lazily with a hand.

“How come? It’s because of where you’re from, right? Always staying alert? Why isn’t Ceebee a light sleeper then?” Edgar continued, circling around the grovyle as he spoke.

Ceebee giggled at the sudden endless questioning, “yes, it’s because of where we’re from. I… I found better places to sleep though, and most pokemon don’t want to go out and attack a mythical anyway, so I didn’t… have to be as alert,” she answered, her expression falling slightly as she went on.

“Oh! That makes sense!” Edgar exclaimed, “thanks for answering my questions!”

“You’re welcome, but you know, you don’t need to thank us each time we answer a question,” Ceebee responded patiently.

As they all passed through Pokemon Square, they were quietly greeted by the various shop keepers up early to fix up their stands in time for opening them up for sales. Keahi received birthday wishes from each of them, Kangaskhan being the first to mention it and then starting a chain of every citizen in the vicinity adding on now that they were reminded and the timing felt right.

The mission board outside of the Pelipper Post Office sat nearly bare. Like Tsuki had mentioned, it was hard to find much work in the early mornings. There were still a couple missions left though; an escort and an item delivery. While these were some of the least favored types of missions, it was still work. Plus, it gave promise that things were getting better for everyone. Fewer actual rescue missions just meant that fewer people were in danger.

Team Galaxy completed the two missions that they had chosen before noon, returning to their base to enjoy the rest of their day together. Keahi mentioned that they had gotten back a bit earlier than she had expected, but that it just meant that perhaps they could get started on the celebration sooner.

“Well, the cake isn’t completely ready yet, so I think I’ll be using some of that extra time for that,” Ceebee announced, fluttering over into the kitchen. “Tsuki, do you want to help me? I think you put away the icing anyway and I’m not entirely sure where that went.”

“I want to help!” Edgar chimed in.

With that, the duskull swiftly floated over to join his friend, and Tsuki calmly padded behind him.

“What about the rest of us?” Alex questioned, glancing over at the remaining two with him.

“There are still some balloons we could blow up! Oh! And remember the party hats we found the other day? We could bring those out!” Keahi exclaimed.

“I left the hats upstairs, I can go get them,” Nelvana responded, taking the initiative and began climbing up the stairs.

“Okay! Alex and I can get started on the balloons then!” Keahi chirped, directing the mentioned grovyle over to the living room area.

Keahi tugged a bag full of colored balloons off the shelf, spilling the contents out on the floor. After some struggling with trying to hold one in her wing talons, she managed to bring one over to her beak to use, but then paused and glanced over at Alex.

“Do you know what we need to do here?” she checked, accidentally fumbling with her balloon and dropping it on the floor again. “Ah, whoops!”

“We’re just filling them with air, I know. It was mentioned when we first bought them,” Alex replied, “do you need help?” he added with a snicker.

“I’m fine!” Keahi huffed, “it’s just hard to hold these at first without proper hands. I’ve done this before!”

“Alright, if you’re sure then,” Alex shrugged, turning away from the torchic in order to hide his smirk, which he also covered up by taking one of the balloons in his mouth and beginning to blow into it.

The two of them began trying to blow up the balloons, each experiencing some difficulties of their own. However, it wasn’t long before Nelvana returned, wearing a green and yellow spotted party hat, as well as carrying five other hats with her, most of them hanging off her left arm while two of them were held with her right hand. Leaping over the railing of the stairway, she hurried over to the pair, throwing the red and yellow starred hat at Alex, who easily caught it with a free hand, and plopping the green and blue striped one atop Keahi’s head, causing her to spit out her balloon in surprise, sending it spitting through the air as it deflated.

“Ta-da!” Nelvana giggled, waving her hands in the air before wandering over to the kitchen for a moment to lay down the remaining hats before returning.

“Nel! You ruined my balloon!” Keahi whined as she adjusted the hat on her head.

“Yeah, I was waiting to see how she was supposed to tie a knot with that,” Alex added, putting his hat on his head. “Ack, these are not comfortable,” he muttered.

“Sorry, you can get another balloon though,” Nelvana responded, sitting down with the others. “Aren’t we going to use them all anyway?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Keahi stuck her tongue out at her partner before crawling over to where her balloon had landed and collected it.

“Hey, Keahi, your hat looks kinda like another feather,” Alex pointed out, “if your feathers were weirdly colored and patterned, of course.”

“And cones,” Nelvana added.

“Of course,” Alex repeated.

“Would your feathers all fit under that hat?” Nelvana asked, leaning over to poke the torchic’s hat.

“I mean, they would…” Keahi replied, “wait! I’ve got a better idea! One hat for each of my larger feathers!” she suggested.

“I’ll donate my hat to that cause,” Nelvana agreed, tugging off her hat and strapping it over one of the feathers, before helping her partner strap on her own hat onto one of the other hats.

“Here’s your third one,” Alex said, tossing his hat back over to the other two. “It’s uncomfortable anyway.”

Nelvana caught the tossed hat, quickly strapping it onto Keahi with the other two hats. The strings overlapped and the rims of the hats had to bend each other to all fit, but now the torchic had a party hat over each of her three large, yellow head feathers. There was a pause as Nelvana and Alex looked their work over, before Nelvana couldn’t help but laugh, and soon the rest of this trio joined in.

“What are you three laughing about? I thought you were blowing up the balloons,” Ceebee, who had just hung her hat loosely from her neck, asked from the kitchen.

In response, Nelvana swiftly picked up Keahi from under the wings and brought her partner over to the others, showing the torchic off proudly with all three party hats on.

“It’s the birthday girl!” Nelvana giggled. “Here she is!”

“Here I am!” Keahi continued, flapping her wings about.

“Oh, that’s adorable!” Ceebee squealed, “please tell me that you’re going to keep wearing those hats like that for the rest of the day!”

“I just might! This is kinda fun!” Keahi replied, “since we’re here, how’s the cake going?”

“It’s going good! It’s really fun to decorate this!” Edgar exclaimed, “but no looking yet! Or else you’ll be spoiled! We want this to be a surprise!”

“Alright, I’ve got it,” Keahi hummed, “c’mon, Nel, let’s actually get working on those balloons.”

“Have a good time with that,” Tsuki said after setting down a bottle of frosting that she had been holding in her jaws. “But do try not to let any more of the balloons go, that noise is distracting,” she added, licking her whiskers before glancing away.

“Oh, sorry about that. We’ll try and keep a better handle on things,” Nelvana responded, turning back with Keahi towards the living room.

Once they got focused on their tasks, work went faster for everyone, even enough so that the trio that had been decorating the cake were able to joins the others in finishing up with the remaining balloons. And when the balloons were done being blown up and scattered around the house, they managed to find other forgotten decorations to pull out and use. There had already been some streamers and banners taped up the day before, but there was a confetti popper that had been hidden up until now that they used, after making sure everyone was ready for the bang, of course.

Now with all the preparation was out of the way and the sun had passed its way into the afternoon, the question of lunch arose, and whether they would start actually celebrating Keahi’s birthday now or closer to the evening instead. It didn’t take long for Keahi to answer this quick dilemma, deciding to “get the party started” now rather than later.

No one argued to this, and thus they began to prepare some food, which had been decided to be pasta and beans. Unlike breakfast, it was agreed that it would be better for just some of the team members to make this meal, those members were quickly being Ceebee and Alex, the former of which instantly volunteered with the opportunity to get to try cooking more, and the latter of which decided to join in “just because”; leaving everyone else to start up the party games, of which were mostly just some short and silly activities that Keahi and Edgar had chosen earlier.

Cooking, games, eating, talking, games…

Cake.

“Where did we put the candles?” Nelvana asked, pawing through the various cupboards.

“With the other non-food and dishes items,” Ceebee answered, adding a final frosting touch to the cake that she had just realized that she had forgotten.

“Actually, I relocated them under the sink so that they would be easier to reach,” Tsuki inputted, “I had predicted that I would have to gather them, but I was wrong, sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, thanks,” Nelvana replied, crouching down to the cupboard under the sink so that she could finally find the small boxes of matches. “There we go!” she hummed to herself, approaching the cake. “Here you go, you can set them up if you want,” she told Ceebee.

“Thank you, but you can actually set those up! Just make sure that it isn’t on top of any of the designs we’ve already set up, of course!” Ceebee chirped, fluttering away from the cake and back over to the others.

Blinking in surprise, Nelvana stepped in front of the cake. She hadn’t actually seen it like this before now, all decorated up only for upcoming consumption. The frosting on top was a light-colored vanilla, and all lined up on the edge was a series truffle frosting. There was writing that had the simple message of “Happy Birthday Keahi!” along with the team’s “logo” messily drawn atop the cake. After taking a moment to look this over, bringing a smile to her face, Nelvana began carefully lining up the candles around the cake as well. She used up most of the candles in the small box, fifteen out of twenty to be exact, and then after looking it over once more, she turned around to face everyone else gathered by the island table.

“Alright, I’m done… should I bring the cake over then?” Nelvana asked.

“Yup! Bring it over here, and then you all can sing the birthday song, like I mentioned before!” Keahi chirped, bouncing excitedly on the stool she had seated herself on.

Carefully, Nelvana grabbed the plate that the cake had been set on and brought it over to the table, setting it in front of her excited partner before sitting down in the stool beside her. None of the others had decided to sit down yet, them all either being tall enough to comfortably stand without missing out on anything, or just being able to float around.

There was a pause after the cake was set down, and then Ceebee began singing the short song that, as Keahi had mentioned just moments before, had been taught to them a few times in the prior days. The shiny celebi had presumably sensed Keahi’s anticipation and decided to take the initiative, which no one else would complain about. The singing was awkward and quiet, but not off-pitched or janky. Afterwards, Keahi made sure to cheer and flap her wings about, letting the anxious tension that had built off quickly die off.

“Okay, okay! So, usually we light the candles and then the goal is to blow them all out at once, but as a fire-type…” Keahi hummed, and Nelvana could already feel the fiery heat coming off the torchic. “We go the other way around.”

With that comment, Keahi let a controlled, thin stream of flames come out of her beak; likely a compressed ember move. Carefully, she tilted her head over the cake, letting the fire follow and lick the tops of the candles. The first sweep lit most, but not all of them. With still some breath left in her, she tilted her head back the other way in an attempt to finish the job before running out of steam. She was granted success… but only for long enough to get her hopes up, where after that, one of the candles whiffed out on their own. Narrowing her eyes and letting out a huff, Keahi lit the final candle on the cake, prompting some cheering from the others.

“You going to try blowing them all out at once too?” Nelvana asked.

“Actually, I might. Back at home, usually someone get impatient and either shoves the birthday kid’s face into the cake early or someone ends up accidentally breathing too hard and blowing them all out again,” Keahi laughed.

“We can provide either of those options, if you’d like,” Alex snickered, lazily propping his head up with a hand, elbow leaning on top of the table.

“Let me try first!” Keahi snapped back, but only amusement lit up in her eyes.

Taking in a deep breath, Keahi began blowing cooler air over the candles instead, swiftly snuffing most of them out in one sweep over them. Like when she was lighting them, there are just too many candles to go through after the first sweep, so Keahi tried again, and this time getting the rest of them out; with no fake outs.

And then Alex shoved her face into the edge of the cake.

“I believe there was a chant that we were supposed to do before that,” Tsuki pointed out, disguising a chuckle as a cough.

“Yeah, but that ruins the surprise. I thought surprises were pretty important for this,” Alex shrugged with a sly smirk.

“You just wanted to shove her face into a cake,” Ceebee responded, but she too held no sternness in her tone, despite the words that came out of her mouth.

“Someone had to,” Alex replied, “Keahi told us; it’s tradition.”

“I don’t remember it being tradition,” Nelvana muttered, before looking over at Keahi, who’s face was still in the cake. “Keahi! One bite!”

“Iff r’ally goof h’ough,” Keahi said, the message muffled from her mouth still being full of the cake.

Letting out a sigh, Nelvana grabbed onto the middle party hat that Keahi was still wearing, tugging it upwards and pulling the rest of the torchic, smiling beak and fluffy cheeks smeared in frosting, with it.

“This cake is really good!” Keahi exclaimed, in case the first comment didn’t get through enough.

“Strawberry cream,” Ceebee hummed, more for everyone but Keahi, seeing at the torchic already knew what it tasted like. “Kangaskhan recommended it to us, and it sounded like something that you would like!”

“Arceus, Kangaskhan really deserves some sort of thank you gift someday for all of her help,” Keahi giggled, trying to lick the remaining food from her face.

“She got to adopt Tsuki,” Alex joked, finally taking a seat on one of the stools.

“Alright, alright, I’m going to cut the cake now,” Ceebee announced, lifting the plate back up easily with telekinesis and bringing it back to the counter.

It was easy for the cake to be cut up into sixths and then distributed to the entire team, and soon everyone was chowing down on the delicious cake. Edgar was the only one who didn’t finish his slice, and seeing as he had been trying to eat a bit of everything today despite being a ghost-type that doesn’t require eating, it made sense. Though, even if he was full, he was also fully energized and was soon zooming around the base and excitedly chattering about what they would be doing next together.

Next, as it turned out, ended up being some unexpected visitors knocking at the door.

“It looks like our B Squadron!” Ceebee chirped, her antennae flicking back and forth with a slight psychic glow to them.

Opening the door only confirmed this statement, as the rest of Team Galaxy stood at the doorway. Rayden was floating the closest to where the door had been when it was closed, so evidently they were the one who had knocked. Gathered around and behind them was the other four; Pearl and Bobo standing underneath the magnemite, close to the doorway, while Hiram and Baguette waited behind everyone else. Clearly, they were more well-versed in birthday traditions, and sang a little song for Keahi before pulling out a card.

“BZT! WE DID NOT FIND ENOUGH TIME FOR INDIVIDUAL PRESENTS, SORRY. HERE IS A CARD THAT WE ALL WORKED ON THOUGH,” Rayden explained as Pearl brought out the card and handed it to the torchic.

“Don’t worry about it!” Keahi chirped, accepting the card. “I’m glad you all decided to show up! You know, we do have some games in here, you guys could join us!” she offered.

“Ooh! Could we?” Bobo exclaimed, glancing up at Rayden before turning back to look at the others.

With a disappointed sigh, Hiram shook his head, “sadly, no. We picked up a longer escort mission, and are supposed to get started in five minutes. We’ll be out of the area for a few days on this,” he explained before looking down at the paras. “And you know that,” he hissed quietly.

“Yes, sorry about that. We would love to spend more time with you all, but the client called us to let us know that this got bumped up a day, so we’re in a bit of a rush now,” Pearl added.

“It happens!” Edgar hummed, “at least you still took the time to visit!” he continued, “good luck on the mission though!”

“Where are you escorting this ‘mon to, anyway?” Alex questioned.

“Ah! Just a lil’ bulbasaur who missed their herd going east! A shy fellow, they only bumped up the dates because they had written them wrong in the first place,” Baguette explained.

“BZZ BZZ. HE DOES NOT SEEM TO LIKE FIGHTING MUCH THOUGH. THAT IS WHY HE ASKED FOR AN ESCORT. USUALLY HE HAS HIS HERD TO HELP, BUT AS BAGUETTE SAID, BULBASAUR MISSED IT. BZZ,” Rayden chimed in, “WE HAVE AGREED THAT WE ALL SHOULD HEAD OUT ON THIS ONE.”

“Very well,” Tsuki murmured, “well, we wish you all luck out there.”

“Yes! Good luck!” Ceebee said, “and do try to enjoy yourselves out there!”

“Thank you, and we will,” Pearl hummed, “now, we should be off now. You all have a nice day, and happy birthday again, Keahi.”

Giving more goodbyes and last birthday wishes, the B Squadron was off again, heading off towards Pokemon Square to pick up their client before heading off on the mission. Now, it was just the A Squadron left in the base again as if that interaction had been taken place to begin with, aside from the new card sitting with the others on top of the bookshelf.

And with that, it was decided that the presents would be distributed next. All of them, except the one from Nelvana, had been carefully wrapped and set aside for this moment. The bracelet that Nelvana had made was too small for any box or bag, so she had decided to hide it until she had to actually give it to Keahi.

“Oh! Can I go first? Can I?” Edgar exclaimed, clearly still bouncing on that sugar high.

Keahi could only let out a laugh in response, “alright, go ahead.”

Letting out an excited cheer, Edgar dove over to collect the large box that he had wrapped up. There were a couple lines where the wrapping paper didn’t quite meet up, clearly the half-blind duskull misjudging how much he needed, but otherwise it was well-done. The box rattled with the various contents as he picked it up and brought it over to Keahi, setting it down in front of her to open up.

She paused to look it over and then smile up at Edgar, before beginning to claw it open with her wing talons. The wrapping paper fell off easily, and Keahi opened up the cardboard box to reveal all the various trinkets inside. There are much more than when Nelvana had peeked at the collection a few days ago, and she can’t help but think that moving everything to a box rather than that sack was for the best. Keahi’s beak parted open in a look of surprise, and she gingerly reached inside the box to sort through all the items.

Unable to contain himself any longer, Edgar begins speaking again, “they’re a bunch of lucky items I found for you! Look! Nel told me that the rocks with rings around them are lucky, so I found a lot of those, and Spinda said that his nephew likes feathers, so I found some of those by the cliffs!”

Keahi’s beak closed into a smile, “these are really nice, thanks Edgar. I think I’ll have to use some of these to help decorate the house a bit more,” she hummed, “spreading the luck around,” she mused.

Edgar giggled cheerfully, pleased that his gift was accepted.

Without a word, Tsuki brought her present out next. She had been unable to wrap it herself, and had enlisted Nelvana’s help to get it done, since the cubone wouldn’t be wrapping her gift anyway. It was another large box like Edgar’s, but it didn’t make any noise when moved, and when Keahi opened it up, she could see that the cooking ingredients that Tsuki had gathered for her present were neatly organized inside.

“I still don’t know that much of cooking, but I figured you would find some use to these ingredients,” Tsuki murmured.

“Oh! These are great! Kecleon doesn’t even sell some of these herbs; where did you find them?” Keahi exclaimed, doing her best not to disturb the orderliness in this present while still looking through all its contents.

Tsuki only gave a knowing smile and a shrug of her shoulders in response, silently prompting the next person to present their gift.

Ceebee took this silent prompt, heading over to where she had placed her much smaller box. It was the same box Nelvana had seen her with three days ago, and it was in the same red and orange striped wrapping paper that Alex had cut and dropped. She carefully set this in front of Keahi as well, patiently waiting for her gift to be revealed. It was swiftly opened like the others, showing the fiery red gem left inside.

“Is this… a fire gem?” Keahi asked, almost hesitant to even touch the item.

Ceebee nodded, “yup! One use item, boosts a fire-type move. We haven’t run into any close calls lately, but… just in case, you know? It’ll make for a real nice flamethrower, no matter where you end up using it!”

“I’ll have to make sure to save it then,” Keahi said in awe, closing the box again and setting it aside with the two larger ones.

After a quick glance over at Nelvana, Alex walked over to where the last of the presents that had been set out was left. Despite being just a square envelope, he had wrapped it in wrapping paper like the boxes. Ceebee had told Nelvana that Alex had thought that everything had to be wrapped, but part of Nelvana thought that he just wanted a chance to try using the wrapping paper properly. This was opened faster than the earlier gifts, only requiring a sharp slice with one of her wing talons to open up the top of the envelope, and a bit of shaking to get the TM to fall gently on the ground in front of Keahi.

“TM94?” Keahi read aloud, “that’s rock smash!”

“I figured we needed some more fighting-type moves in the party, especially since you will become one if you evolve,” Alex commented, “I figure a lot of torchics in your family have used that move before…?”

Keahi nodded, “yeah! Since we can’t really learn much better until evolution, you know? I think we even had the old HM version of it until it got lost for good a few years before I hatched. This will be really handy… I’ll actually go ahead and learn it now!”

As she had done with the last TM that she had learned, which had been flamethrower, she slammed her head down onto the disc instead of picking it up and bringing it to her forehead. Ceebee and Edgar, who had never seen this before, flinched in surprise and began worriedly checking on the torchic, but the laughter from the other three soothed any nerves from this action. The TM glowed beneath Keahi’s feathers, and then cracked.

And then it was Nelvana’s turn. Standing up, she went over to the bookshelf where she had hidden the bracelet in between the pages of her book like a bookmark. A simple hiding spot, but one she knew that Keahi wouldn’t check if she wanted to see any presents early. This was her book, and because it was written in the human language it was rarely picked up by the half of the team that still didn’t understand that tongue. Carefully, she pulled out the braided string from its place, pausing to look it over one last time before turning back around and giving it to her partner.

Keahi’s expression was hard to piece together at first. Of course, it takes a moment to register exactly what is being handed over, that’s a given for any item. Then, she carefully took the bracelet, carrying it between each of her wing talons and looking it over. One could almost see the gears moving in her mind as she continued studying the simple bracelet, her beak slowly parting open again with recognition and her brown eyes become filled with understanding.

“Did you make this?” she finally asked softly, looking back up at Nelvana.

“Yeah…” Nelvana managed to answer, crouching down beside Keahi again, tempted to give an explanation of her choice like the others but finding her voice stuck.

Keahi’s face twisted up into a familiar wide smile, and Nelvana felt relief come crashing down onto her at the sign of approval.

“It’s beautiful,” Keahi whispered, “it’s… it’s like what Combusken has, but it’s mine and you made it for me and you even went and found the right colors…” she continued, emotion bubbling up from inside. “Thank you.”

There are no more gifts after that. All the cards that were given had been gone through, and no one in Pokemon Square had managed to pull off anything more than that. They threw out most of the wrapping paper, and then that was the end of presents for this birthday.

Afterwards, there was still some time for everyone to get involved in some games before having to even think about supper. They replayed some of the better ones, but made sure to try everything that Keahi and Edgar had come up with first.

When supper did come up, they ended up simply having some corn chips with salsa, and later a card game was brought over to play while they ate. During this, Kangaskhan visited briefly like the B Squadron had done a few hours ago. She only had a few minutes before she would need to leave for her supper and then return to the storage stand, but she was able to give some kind words and more birthday wishes before leaving the group alone with each other again.

“I wish I knew how to make pozole,” Keahi mused, “that would have been really good.”

“This is still pretty good!” Ceebee responded, taking another chip and dipping it into the salsa almost as if to make an example of her statement.

“Yeah I know! But pozole is super tasty, and I really like showing you guys new dishes,” Keahi sighed, “but that’s one recipe I never managed to pick up from my mom… I guess I’ll have to wait for a couple days.”

“…what’s happening in a couple days?” Alex questioned, raising a brow before playing one of his cards.

Keahi blinked in surprise, and then began nervously laughing, “oh, I guess I was thinking about it so much that I forgot to actually tell you guys… I want to go visit my family again in a couple of days. Maybe celebrate my birthday there, maybe just… visit them again,” she explained.

“Ah, that’s fair,” Alex murmured, his expression relaxing only slightly.

“I’d just be gone for the day, I’m sure you all can handle yourselves without me,” Keahi added.

A few more hours later, and everyone was ready to turn in for the night. It would be good to get some more rest before another more work-filled day, especially since they had all woken up so early. However, while everyone else got settled down in their own sleeping spots, Keahi curled up beside Nelvana in the cubone’s nest. This didn’t happen terribly often, but often enough that Nelvana was adjusted to suddenly getting a warm bundle of feathers shuffling under the blanket beside her.

“Hey there,” Nelvana whispered, patting the hatless head feathers of her partner.

“Hello!” Keahi softly chirped, nestling up closely to the cubone.

“Would you call this a good birthday?” Nelvana asked.

“Mhmm, I had a good time,” Keahi hummed.

Nelvana smiled, “that’s good…” she mused, trailing off as several thoughts spun around in her mind. “You know, I’ve been thinking…”

“About?” Keahi prompted, blinking up at Nelvana.

“I want to do something about bringing back Gardevoir,” Nelvana sighed, “I know that we can’t do anything about it without… Shinobi, or Gengar, or whoever… but I dunno, I want to do something. I feel like there is still something we can do.”

Keahi paused, her brows furrowing as she mulled over this information, “me too… it was Gardevoir herself that said that it wouldn’t be possible without him though, right?”

“Yeah,” Nelvana confirmed, nodding.

“Hm… maybe, if you really want, we can ask Ceebee to use telepathy and get in contact with Ninetales, so we can ask more about it,” Keahi suggested, “later though. We should just get some rest for now.”

“Alrighty then, goodnight,” Nelvana murmured.

Chapter Text

As a local gold-ranked team, Team Galaxy had had their fair share of people knocking on the door with a mission for them. Sometimes it was just someone who wanted a high-ranked team to work for them, just to say that they’ve met a rescue team that has traded blows with legendary pokemon, while other times the missions that came in were dangerous and important. Regardless, they would take any mission, even if they disliked the client’s attitude.

However, knocks rarely came early in the morning, and rarely from a member on another rescue team.

Nelvana was the one to answer the door when there was a knock the morning after Keahi’s birthday. She wasn’t the only one awake, but only her and Keahi had decided to actually come downstairs yet, and had been comfortably chatting with each other before being interrupted by the unexpected noise.

What was even less expected, was who she saw on the other side of the door, which she hadn’t opened fully to even begin with.

Gengar blinked down at her, managing a small smile, “uh, hi-“

Instinctively, Nelvana slammed the door shut and threw on the lock before Gengar could even finish his greeting. Just barely over her heart pounding, she could faintly hear him grumble under his breath, but she didn’t hear his footsteps leaving, telling her that he was still there.

“Who was that?” Keahi asked, approaching her partner with concern flecked on her face.

For some reason, all the tension left Nelvana with a chuckle, “it’s Gengar. I… kinda acted without thinking, to be honest,” she told her.

“Oh… well, considering everything, I understand that kind of reaction, to be honest,” Keahi responded, “but, why bother locking the door too? He is a ghost-type, so he can walk through walls.”

Before Nelvana could reply, they could hear Gengar knocking on the door again. Nelvana couldn’t help but let out another chuckle at this.

“I don’t think that he knows that,” she said, lifting a hand to her face almost as if trying to hide her growing smile at the continued knocking.

Despite her less than best efforts, Keahi began snickering at this too. Unfortunately, the knocking only continued, and drew in attention from upstairs. Alex was the first to peek his head over the railing, but the red glowing coming from behind him signaled that Edgar would be the next to show up.

“Why aren’t you opening that door?” Alex asked, irritation prickling in his tone.

“It’s Gengar,” Nelvana answered.

“Oh, carry on then.” Alex shrugged, turning back to look upstairs as if he was going back to the upper floor, but he changed his mind and walked the rest of the way down the stairs.

“W-Wait! What do you mean? Why aren’t we going to open the door?” Edgar questioned, following the grovyle over to the others.

Tsuki padded down the stairway next, stopping at the last step and looking over at everyone else, “I’m afraid I didn’t catch the first answer. Who is it at the door?”

“Gengar,” Nelvana repeated courtly.

Tsuki scowled, sitting down on her haunches, “oh, no wonder I was getting a headache.”

“Gengar? That same Gengar that you told me about? The one that was part of Team Meanies, which was a team who wanted world domination? And the same one who tried having Nel killed or run out of town but had it backfire when he was proved to be a liar?” Ceebee, who apparently had joined everyone else without being noticed, commented, shifting her gaze from the doorway to her teammates.

“That’s the one,” Keahi replied, preening her feathers absentmindedly.

“B-But wait! Isn’t he also the same Gengar who helped out in the spirit realm?” Edgar pointed out.

Nelvana furrowed her brows, “yes…” she admitted.

“Wait, he actually did something good?” Alex questioned with a scoff. “Wonder if this means he wants us to repay that favor, as if he thinks that doing one good thing makes us in debt to him, despite everything he did,” he spat.

“I’m not!” Gengar called through the door. “I just want to talk!”

“About what?” Keahi called back.

“I… I do need your help,” Gengar admitted, his voice hard to pick up with the combined quietness of the sentence and the fact that he was outside.

“Knew it,” Alex huffed, crossing his arms across his chest.

“But it’s important!” Gengar continued, making sure to speak up. “I want to bring back Gardevoir! A-And I need you to take me to Ninetales!”

There was a moment of silence amongst the team, none of them quite expecting this to be the help that Gengar was looking for. They all had to take some time to process this statement, and how they should react to it.

Nelvana’s hand lifted up slightly, as if she was considering opening up the door, but she reconsidered and dropped it at her side again.

“I mention that once last night and here he comes knocking at our door the next day…” she grumbled under her breath, looking down at the floor.

“Why can’t you just get your team to help you out?” Tsuki growled, hunching over slightly with a narrowed gaze. “You do have a team too, do you not?”

“I disbanded that team!” Gengar snapped, and for a moment his fist flickered through the door before losing the ghostly ability and popping back outside. “Besides, they still wouldn’t have been enough to get to Ninetales,” he added in a quieter voice.

“Well, at least he admits that,” Keahi muttered, scuffing the floor with a foot. “Why did you disband the team? And why do you want to rescue Gardevoir now? And why come to us, anyway?”

Nelvana let out a sigh, lifting up her hand to the doorknob again, “you know what… talking through the door isn’t efficient. I’m going to let him in. Besides, if he actually wants to rescue Gardevoir… we do need him for it to work,” she told her teammates quietly.

After another moment to wait for any objections, of which there weren’t any, Nelvana opened the door. Gengar, who had been resting his hands on the door after knocking for so long, almost stumbled forward at it finally being opened up. Sighing again, Nelvana stepped aside, silently inviting Gengar inside. However, the moment he stepped in, Tsuki leapt onto her shaking feet, snarling at the ghost-poison-type. Gengar jumped back as if the absol was about to pounce onto him and claw him open, but she stayed in place.

“You… You are still filled with disaster,” Tsuki hissed, “I had hoped I would not have to deal with you like this, but you have not changed since I saw you last.” She pawed at the ground, tossing her head in an attempt to rid her of her headache. “Augh… Tell me how this goes later, I need some fresh air,” she grumbled.

Tsuki took a step forward, towards the door so that she could exit the house, but stopped herself midway seeing that Gengar was still in the way and that she would have to approach him to leave. She spared a glance at the kitchen window, almost considering if jumping outside from there would be a better idea. But in the end, she turned and stomped back upstairs, disappearing into silence.

“Well that was a good start,” Alex remarked, turning his gaze back over to Gengar instead of in the direction of his teammate.

“What does being filled with disaster even mean?” Gengar questioned stiffly, his ear flicking in irritation.

“You are troubled,” Edgar answered softly, “I can see that, and so can she, but in different ways. Your past haunts you like your own shadow.”

“That’s… a good way to put it,” Ceebee mused.

“So, what’s this plan to rescue Gardevoir anyway?” Nelvana asked.

Gengar scowled, “I… I’m not sure how to bring her back yet, which is why we need to ask Ninetales about it. I can’t make the journey on my own.”

Alex chuckled, “not strong enough?”

“Don’t know the way,” Gengar responded, though the way he avoided the grovyle’s gaze told them that the other answer was also correct.

“So, you decided to ask us because we’ve been on that path before?” Keahi asked, her feathers slightly fluffing up reflexively.

“And because I know you have a connection to Gardevoir, yes,” Gengar replied, glancing over at Nelvana. “Look, I don’t have time to play twenty questions! I want to save Gardevoir, and you’re the best team to handle it with me! So, are you in, or not?”

“I’m sure that you have plenty of time to answer any of our questions,” Alex hissed, leaning towards Gengar with narrowed eyes.

“He does… have a bit of a point though,” Nelvana admitted quietly before shaking her head. “We do want to save Gardevoir, yes. You have to understand that we need to talk this through,” she added, looking over at Gengar again.

“Do you have any other plan aside from just going to Ninetales?” Ceebee asked patiently.

“Well, I-“ Gengar waved his hands in front of him, sputtering about for a few moments as he gathered his thoughts. “Yes. Gather all the items today, and leave tomorrow. Ninetales tells us how to break the curse, and then we do. Diddly darn done in a few days. You go back to your lives and I go back to mine, Gardevoir can do what she wants,” he told them.

“Pretty basic, but I guess it works…” Keahi mumbled, “Nel and I should go, in that case,” she decided, “Nel has actually spoken to Gardevoir before, and I mean, I have too, but only once… But I can back her up in the Frosty Forest when the typing gets rough.”

“I’ll go,” Alex insisted.

“But-“ Gengar began, only to get cut off before he barely made a sound.

“You hate Gengar the most and can’t handle the area typing as well. You’d be better off leading in our place while we’re gone,” Keahi countered, “Ceebee has the typing problem as well, plus neither she nor Edgar actually know much on the situation or the location, so they can keep working back here too. Tsuki can’t be within five feet of Gengar, so obviously she has to stay behind too.”

“No,” Gengar loudly hissed, “only Nel gets to come.”

“What?” Alex snapped, “what kind of stupid bargain is that? I can understand me having to stay behind and take over here in the meantime, but at least take Keahi with you!”

“Why do you only want Nel to go with you?” Edgar questioned.

“Because! She’s one of the only ones who can tolerate me! No one else would have even let me inside this blasted house!” Gengar yelled, “besides, she’s spoken to Gardevoir, so she actually has a proper connection to this! Plus, I know she’s strong enough on her own, so we don’t need anyone else,” he continued.

“You do realize that wanting to only take one of us with you is extremely suspicious, right?” Ceebee commented.

“That doesn’t matter, because I get to call the shots here. You need me to bring back Gardevoir, you even admitted it yourself. Without me, this mission is useless,” Gengar insisted, “I won’t go if you try taking anyone else with us.”

Alex’s pupils shrank into slits, “you little-“

“Can we… discuss this privately?” Nelvana asked.

“Fine,” Gengar huffed.

The group gathered in the living room area, leaving Gengar alone by the door. They stayed silent for a few seconds to make sure everyone was together and in the right mentality, and then Ceebee’s eyes lit up in a soft glow and her antennae twitched as she began using her telepathy to truly ensure a private conversation.

~*We… seem to actually be a bit stuck here,*~ Ceebee admitted.

*Arceus, what a piece of grimy dung…* Alex’s mental voice came in dry and bitter. *He thinks that he can come in here making those kinds of demands-*

Nelvana cut the grovyle off again, *but he can. I hate to admit it, but he’s right. We do need him to pull this off, so he can make demands like this and just not help us if we don’t help him.*

*We could kidnap him,* Alex suggested.

*He may be a criminal around here, but that’s still illegal, Alex,* Keahi pointed out, *but… there has to be a way to convince him otherwise though, right?*

*Maybe I could go with you! I don’t hate him, despite… uh…* Edgar chimed in, only to trail off as he lost his train of thought and Ceebee almost lost her grasp on connecting him with the others through this telepathy link.

~*He seems pretty stubborn on this, I doubt we could convince him to change his mind,*~ Ceebee responded, ~*and forcing him wouldn’t work either. I get the idea that breaking this curse will only work if he’s cooperative.*~

*So… what do we do?* Keahi asked.

*I’ll just go,* Nelvana relented, *I can handle it. If it turns out he just wants to kill me, I can beat him. I’ve beat him in a fight before, I can do it again. And if this proves too difficult alone, I can just use the badge to get back, easy peasy.*

*W-Wait, are you sure?” Worry flitted in with Keahi’s thought, and her expression of surprise matched the message being delivered.

*I want to rescue Gardevoir, and this is a risk I can take,* Nelvana insisted.

Alex cursed under his breath, shuffling his feet underneath him in his currently crouched position. Nelvana kept her gaze calm, looking over each of her teammates in their small circle they had put themselves in. Keahi still looked worried, her eyes scrunched up as she sought out a better solution to this dilemma. The glow faded from Ceebee’s eyes as she took a break from her psychic abilities for a moment, staring ahead pensively. Only Edgar looked over to Nelvana, meeting her eyes with an approving glow from his.

“I think you should go,” Edgar said aloud, evidently having given up trying to work through the telepathy link with Ceebee. “This is important, and… and I think that Gengar really does want to help.”

Nelvana smiled, “thank you.”

“I can keep tabs on you with psychic,” Ceebee slowly offered, as if thinking over each word that came out of her mouth. “If you get into trouble, I’ll be able to catch you and help bring you back,” she continued.

“Are you… really sure about this?” Keahi spoke up, turning to fully face Nelvana. “I… I trust you, and this is important of course, Gardevoir deserves to be free, but…”

“I promise I won’t leave you guys for good,” Nelvana assured her partner after a moment’s pause.

Keahi hesitated before giving a small smile and then nuzzling into the cubone’s side, “alright, go ahead then,” she whispered, “I trust you,” she repeated.

Nelvana leaned her head down, gently bumping her forehead against Keahi’s; a comfort action that she had learned was typical in the torchic’s family. After slowly running her fingers through the warm feathers, she lifted her head up and turned her gaze over to Alex; the only one who hadn’t spoken about this aloud yet. He stared down at the wooden flooring with a narrowed expression, before sensing the cubone’s eyes on him and looking up at her.

“…if… if Tsuki thinks that it will be a good idea, then I suppose so,” he mumbled.

“Okay,” Nelvana replied, nodding in understanding.

After giving Keahi a soft pat on the side to prompt her to stand up, Nelvana stood as well and began heading for the stairs. Alex stood from his crouch and followed, as did the other three. As they passed by Gengar, who was stiffly standing in the general area they had left him, the grovyle sent him another glare.

“We’re going to speak with Tsuki,” Alex told him, “you stay right here,” he ordered before turning away again and continuing to head over to the upper floor.

Gengar didn’t respond, and the group of five continued the rest of the way over to their sixth member of the team. Fortunately, Tsuki had decided not to jump out of a window yet, and was instead found resting on her mat with her head in her paws. Hearing her friends arrive, the absol lifted up her head slightly to look over at them.

“He is still here,” Tsuki stated, “what does he want?”

“Gengar wants help to go see Ninetales about breaking the curse on Gardevoir, but he only wants me to go with him,” Nelvana explained.

“We wanted to check to see if you think it’s… a safe idea,” Alex continued, “do you sense anything connected to this yet…?”

Tsuki shook her head, “it would be too soon to say for sure. All I can sense right now is that he has caused disaster and it still lingers on him like a plague.”

“What do you think then? Should Nel go on this mission, with just Gengar?” Ceebee asked.

“Everyone but Alex thinks it’s worth a try,” Keahi added quietly.

Tsuki said nothing at first, only blinking ahead before turning her head downwards again and staring down at her paws with a thoughtful gaze and tired expression. She mulled this over for a few moments before speaking again, without looking up.

“Will it rid him of the disaster that lingers on him?”

No one answered right away, unsure of how to answer a question like this. This confusion didn’t last long, for Edgar floated closer to Tsuki and gave a response.

“It will,” he told her, “I can tell. This curse is what drags him with… disaster like this. If the curse is broken, he’ll be able to move on.”

The absol and duskull locked eyes for a few seconds, red meeting red. Then, Tsuki managed a very small smile, and nodded slightly, averting her eyes to look over at the others as well.

“Very well, go on then,” Tsuki murmured, “I trust you to be strong enough to achieve this outcome, and it would sound to be very much worth it.”

“Okay…” Alex let out a sigh. “Seems we’re all in agreement then. Go save Gardevoir.”

Nelvana couldn’t keep a smile from creeping on her face, “alright, thank you guys. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be able to handle this.”

“I’m sure you will,” Alex replied, only honesty coating his words.

With this decision finally made, Nelvana turned around and began heading back downstairs with the rest of her team, except Tsuki still, following. They quickly returned back over to Gengar, who had not moved from his place yet, evidently having taken Alex’s order to heart. Though, the ghost-poison-type’s ears perked up at their return, knowing their private discussion had to be over by now.

“Alright, Gengar, I will go with you to see Ninetales and rescue Ninetales,” Nelvana told him, “and we accept the terms of me being the only one to go with you.”

“Really?” Gengar exclaimed before stiffening again and correcting himself. “Er, great then,” he coughed.

“You said Team Meanies is disbanded, right?” Nelvana asked.

Gengar nodded, “yeah.”

“Alright. I’ll just have to register you as my client then,” Nelvana responded, rubbing her thumb over the thin cracks on her bone club.

“So, we should be good to head out tomorrow morning then… right?” Gengar asked, unable to keep the hope from his voice.

“We should be,” Nelvana replied, “depends on if we need to order anything in preparation or whatnot. Do you have a bag packed already?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Gengar responded proudly.

“Do you have it with you right now…?” Nelvana clarified.

Gengar exhaled, “no,” he admitted, “but I can go get it, if you’d like.”

“I would,” Nelvana confirmed courtly.

“Why didn’t you bring it with you?” Edgar questioned curiously, approaching Gengar slightly.

“I didn’t actually know if you’d agree to this,” Gengar answered after a moment reserved for frowning. “Plus, there was always the chance you would just beat me up and take what little I have,” he scoffed.

Keahi’s eyes widened, and then narrowed in anger, her feathers puffing up indignantly, “jerk! We would never even think of doing something like that! We aren’t you and your freaking world domination team!” she snapped, “what would even give you that kind of idea?”

“He would do it,” Gengar responded, pointing an accusatory finger at Alex.

Alex shrugged, “you can’t prove that,” he replied coolly.

“You aren’t even trying to deny it!” Gengar yelled, waving his arms in the air.

“Arceus, I’m messing with you,” Alex groaned, rolling his eyes. “I wouldn’t actually do that. I have standards, you know.”

“Maybe you should just go get your bag now,” Ceebee sighed, pinching two of her fingers between the space between her eyes.

“Maybe I should,” Gengar huffed.

With that, Gengar spun back around, opening the door and leaving the base, the door slowly closing on its own after him. For a little bit after this, the base stayed silent aside from the quiet footsteps of some of the members moving around the house. Including Tsuki, who poked her head down the stairway.

“He left?” Tsuki checked, slowly reaching a paw forward to the first step.

“He’ll be back soon!” Edgar replied, “he just left to go get his bag,” he added.

“Ah, I see. I shall have to return when the air is clear then.” Tsuki murmured, turning around and disappearing back in the upper floor.

“So… you’re really sure about this then?” Alex asked, looking back at Nelvana.

Nelvana groaned, “why does everyone keep asking that…? Yes, I do. I was thinking of trying this anyway, and while I would have preferred someone else with me too, I can handle this.”

“Alright, sorry to pester,” Alex replied.

“I’ll be fine,” Nelvana assured him.

“I know… I just… like to make sure,” Alex mumbled, pulling out a stool and sitting down on it. “Habit.”

Nelvana sighed, and then nodded, “I understand,” she murmured, “if it makes you all feel better, I can try getting that glitchy messaging system on these badges to work again, and I can just send some updates every night so you don’t have to worry as much.”

“That would help, actually!” Keahi chirped.

“The badges have a messaging system?” Edgar questioned, zooming around to try and find his own badge so that he could examine it with this new information.

“Yeah, but it’s really limited,” Keahi answered, “so we don’t usually use it unless we have to, and we haven’t had to for a long time, especially with Ceebee around.”

“I could still use telepathy to communicate,” Ceebee commented, “you still don’t need to use those if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t know! It could be kind of fun, actually,” Keahi replied.

“As long as they don’t break on us,” Alex added.

“Yeah, that! If that happens, then we can always fall back on telepathy!” Keahi hummed, flapping her wings around.

“Hey… I was wondering, if Gengar really did all those bad things and is a criminal, why didn’t you arrest him?” Edgar asked, “I mean… it’s kinda nice that you didn’t, but you really seem to not like him.”

“Eh, if there’s one thing that he’s good at, it’s running away,” Alex scoffed in response.

Gengar returned only a couple minutes later with a large shoulder bag carried with him. Just by looking at it, it was apparent that this bag was nowhere near to being filled all the way up. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise most of them if the contents of that bag could easily fit into their own, smaller team bag with room to spare.

Nelvana had opened the door for him again, and gestured for him to bring the bag over to the table so that they could look through it. Opening the bag confirmed any suspicious about its contents, or rather lack thereof. A few berries rolled out, along with the continent map and dungeon map, an escape orb, an already cracked TM, and a couple light sleep seeds.

“That… isn’t that much,” Alex commented, “did you really think that this would take you all the way to Ninetales?” he questioned.

Gengar rolled his eyes, “no, of course not. I’m not stupid-“

“Are you?”

“Shut up, greenie!”

“Ah, you need to work on your insults there, bud.”

“Anyway, I was hoping to either be able to collect more items,” Gengar huffed while glaring daggers at Alex, who only smirked back at this point.

“Or… borrow from us,” Nelvana said, staring down the bickering pair.

“Well, maybe,” Gengar admitted, “I don’t need that much anyway, ghost-type privileges. You just get what you need for yourself, and we can work from there, okay?”

“Alright, fine. May we borrow your bag to store that stuff in then?” Nelvana responded.

Gengar hesitated, but then sighed and pushed the bag closer to the cubone, who carefully picked it up in her arms rather than trying to swing the large item over her shoulder.

“Thank you! Now, we’ll have to go gather some stuff from storage, and unless you want to go say hi to everyone over at Pokemon Square, I’m afraid that you’ll have you hang around here,” Nelvana said, shifting her grip on the bag slightly as she spoke. “Keahi, Alex, you’ve made this journey with me before, want to come with me on this little trip to make sure that I don’t miss anything?”

“Sounds good to me,” Alex hummed, hopping off the stool he was sitting on.

“Sure!” Keahi agreed, bounding over to stand beside her partner. “You two, and Tsuki, will be fine with Gengar here, right?”

“Right!” Edgar exclaimed.

“Great, we won’t be gone for long, don’t worry!” Nelvana responded.

After waiting for any last comments, the trio exited the base and began heading down the path towards Pokemon Square. Midway there, Alex offered to carry the bag for Nelvana, which she hesitantly agreed to. She hadn’t been really having many troubles with it, but it was a bit awkward at such a size.

They arrived at the small town without any troubles, and decided to head for the Kangaskhan Storage first. With any luck, they figured, it could be their only stop.

“Good morning, dearies! Did you miss something for a mission today?” Kangaskhan greeted them cheerfully.

“No, just preparing for tomorrow,” Nelvana responded, “I’m heading back out to see Ninetales,” she added.

“Oh goodness, you are? What for?” Kangaskhan questioned, looking over the three of them.

Nelvana exhaled, “just… asking about curses.”

“We’d like to learn more about breaking Gardevoir’s curse, like in that legend,” Alex added, “plus, we have a client wanting to head out that way anyway, so Nel decided to head out there.”

“Just Nel?” Kangaskhan gasped.

“I’ll be fine,” Nelvana assured her.

“I’m sure that you will, you’re a very strong child... Don’t mind me just fretting over you all, sweetie. Just… a mother’s instincts, I suppose,” Kangaskhan sighed, “well, in that case, all your winter clothing is still in storage from before. What would you like to take out right away?”

“Well, let’s see…”

Chapter Text

“So, you ready to head out now?”

Nelvana couldn’t remember the last time she had had to travel without her friends before. Even with amnesia blocking her access to most of her memories, she felt fairly certain that she had only started traveling as a human after she had met Alex.

So, knowing that she would be heading out on a dangerous path with someone she had very few even okay interactions with didn’t fill her with that much confidence. Not that she would admit it though, because she knew that they didn’t need to stir up more conflict for this situation. Plus, as she reminded herself and her teammates, there were plenty of backup plans if it came down to it.

“Yeah, as long as you still have everything in that bag.”

She would just have to tolerate him for the time they had to work together. It could be worse.

“Of course I do, I don’t often lose my belongings that easily,” Gengar huffed, adjusting the strap of the large bag over his shoulder.

“Our,” Alex corrected, “remember, you happen to be carrying the supplies for the two of you on this trip.”

“Yeah, of course,” Gengar sighed, narrowing his eyes.

“You guys are leaving now?” Edgar asked, his eye flickering for a moment in the left socket of his skull.

“Looks like it,” Nelvana told him, subconsciously tugging at the ends of her scarf, tightening the fabric around her own neck.

Keahi bounded up next to her partner, leaning in close against the cubone’s side.

“I’m ready!”

After some more negotiating in the afternoon of the previous day, Keahi had been allowed to accompany the other two up until Scorched Plains, where the torchic would leave them to be visiting her family there. After that, it would just become Nelvana and Gengar traveling to the Frosty Forest.

“You didn’t even need to pack,” Nelvana chuckled, wrapping her arm around the torchic and holding her closer to her.

“So, I was ready that much faster!” Keahi giggled in response, reaching up and loosening the scarf around her partner’s neck slightly from the extra tightened state it had been in. “And I am bringing the bracelet you made me, so that’s something!” she added, shifting her position to show Nelvana the string bracelet tied around the torchic’s shoulder.

“I guess so,” Nelvana hummed, “well, I’m assuming the rest of you will want to say something before we head out then?” she asked, looking over the rest of her team.

“You assumed right,” Alex replied, stepping forward. “May I?”

“Sure,” Nelvana responded before looking back down and ruffling Keahi’s head. “Alright, cutie, I’ll be back in a sec,” she murmured before walking away from the torchic and over to the grovyle.

“Oka- hey! C-Cutie? Where did that come from? Nel? Nel!” Keahi sputtered.

Nelvana held back her chuckles at Keahi’s reaction as she joined up with her other partner, who lead her a few feet away from the rest of the team so that they could talk more privately. Alex paused for a moment, considering… something that Nelvana couldn’t quite pinpoint right away.

“So, did you just want to tell me to be careful out here, or did you have something important to tell me?” Nelvana teased, crossing her arms in front of her.

Alex laughed, shaking his head, “no, but I suppose that wasn’t a bad guess. But I know you’ll be careful. I know you, and I can trust you to handle yourself out there,” he told her, “I… I have to admit that I’m concerned regardless, but that’s just instinct at this point. We always look out for each other.”

“O-Oh, thank you, Alex,” Nelvana murmured, taken aback slightly. “Well… what did you want to tell me then?” she questioned after a few seconds.

“Eh, a lot of things, if I’m honest…” Alex muttered, glancing away for a moment before meeting Nelvana’s gaze. “I’ll save it for later though, and just give you this instead.”

Reaching into his own satchel, Alex brought out a tattered piece of purple cloth, passing it over to Nelvana.

“The mobile scarf?” Nelvana questioned, smoothing out the fabric with her thumb as she looked it over.

Alex nodded, “yeah! You’ll definitely find more use of it out there then we will over here,” he chuckled, “plus, I’m sure Gengar will have a good reaction to seeing that thing again,” he added.

Nelvana couldn’t help but laugh, “alrighty then Alex, thanks,” she said, carefully tying the torn scarf around her left hand. “Was… Was that it, then?”

“I… I guess so, yeah. For now,” Alex sighed, “I’d say good luck, but I doubt you’ll need it. Just don’t let Gengar give you a hard time, alright?” he continued.

“I won’t, don’t worry,” Nelvana hummed, “thanks, again.”

“No problem.”

The pair rejoined the others, Nelvana being immediately approached by Edgar, who swiftly flew directly in front of her face. He bounced in the air in front of her for a bit before actually speaking.

“Nel! I wanted to say goodbye too!” Edgar exclaimed, “and I think Tsuki did too, but she couldn’t come outside… with her headache and all. But I think she would want to wish you luck too! And we know that the two of you will be able to bring back Gardevoir together!”

Nelvana smiled, “thanks Edgar, and you can pass my thanks and goodbye to Tsuki too.”

Edgar shook up and down in a sort of nod, but did not say anything else at first. When he stopped moving, he locked eyes with Nelvana, the glow in his eye darkening slightly. In that moment, Nelvana couldn’t help but wonder if Edgar had only ever gotten this physically close to her in this interaction so that no one else would be able to notice this change.

“Look… just between you and me, I think it’s a good thing that you’re the only one going on this,” he whispered softly, “I believe that Gengar can become a better person, but the others are going to judge him too harshly and prevent him from pulling that off properly. We know though. He helped you in the spirit realm; he can do good things. And you’re the right person to help him with that.”

Nelvana blinked back at Edgar, taken aback by this whisper. While it was still spoken in the same soft tone and just in a quiet voice, the message carried meaning that she usually didn’t hear from the cheery duskull. Almost seeming to worry about this, he flinched, the light returning to his eye as normal.

“A-Ah! Don’t worry! I believe in you!” he assured her, “we all do!”

Nelvana let herself relax again. This was still the same Edgar; he hadn’t meant to startle her like that. He probably just didn’t understand how unnerving doing something like that could be... Though, she had to stop underestimating how much he picked up on too.

“Thanks, Edgar,” Nelvana replied, offering him a small smile.

“Well, I’m not sure what else there is for me to say at this point!” Ceebee giggled, crossing her legs in a seated position while she continued flying in the air. “You’re going to do great out there, Nel! Just remember that we’re all back here supporting you the entire way!” she cheered.

“I will!” Nelvana exclaimed.

“Does this mean we can head out now?” Gengar complained impatiently, “you guys take forever to just say goodbye. It’s just one word, no need to add any extra comments to it.”

“Be patient, Gengar!” Keahi huffed, “just because we actually care for each other as teammates doesn’t mean you have to be mean about it!” she continued, sticking her tongue out at him.

Gengar rolled his eyes, crossing his arms against his chest and glaring down at the ground. Nelvana exhaled, before walking over to those two and standing up beside them. For a moment, she couldn’t help but think about what Edgar had told her. If Keahi, or most of the team for that matter, had been coming with them… would these types of interactions just take up the entire journey?

“Alright, I think I’m actually ready to head out now,” she told them.

“Finally!” Gengar gasped dramatically, earning him a glare from Keahi.

“Goodbye everyone! We’ll see you again soon!” Nelvana called back, waving to her teammates as they headed away from the team base and down the familiar path towards Scorched Plains; their first stop.

The walk from the land of and surrounding Pokemon Square over to Scorched Plains had never been a long one. Certainly not as long as the journey that Gengar and Nelvana would soon have to make. Regardless, at a relaxing, slower pace Keahi would be able to accompany them for about a half an hour.

During this time, Nelvana steered her partner towards the topic about birthdays again, and what the torchic would do with her family for it. There was mention of pozoles again and pinatas, as well as a few more songs that the cubone was certain that she had never heard of before. Judging by some of the comments and expressions Gengar gave in this conversation, he probably hadn’t heard of those traditions either.

A faint smile grew on Nelvana’s face as the grass faded over into the fiery colored fields that she had grown familiar with despite only walking through a few times. Instinctively she thought back to those times as she turned her gaze upwards to the morning sun in the sky. She couldn’t help but think to herself about how they should come out here more often.

“Well… we’re here,” Keahi said, yanking Nelvana back out of her thoughts.

They had arrived to the mouth of the large cave that Keahi’s family called home. It seemed to be a quieter day for them, considering it took a moment for Nelvana to pick up the voices of the habitants there.

“They aren’t expecting you, are they? It’ll be a nice surprise for them; they’ll be happy to see you again,” Nelvana hummed, turning her gaze from the entrance and back over to her partner.

Keahi smiled, “yeah, so will I,” she agreed, “y’know, you could go in to say hi at least. I think they’d be happy to see you too,” she added.

“That’s a tempting idea,” Nelvana admitted, idly rocking herself in place on her feet as she considered the idea. “But…”

“But no?”

“Gengar is getting pretty impatient,” Nelvana sighed, glancing back to where her client on this mission was standing just a few feet away. “And we both know that he can’t go in. Besides, it would be for the best to not have to be traveling through the night. So, no delays. Sorry.”

“It’s fine, I understand,” Keahi murmured, “I was just hopeful. So, this is where we have to part ways?”

“Only for a few days.”

“Hey, that rhymed!”

The pair laughed at the observation for a few moments before fading away again.

“It’s only for a few days,” Nelvana repeated, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“I know…” Keahi mumbled, scuffing at the dry grass with a foot. “It’ll still be weird without you around.”

“The others will be there,” Nelvana continued.

“Yeah, I know,” Keahi huffed, “it isn’t the same though. I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. But I’m not gone for good, I promise I’ll be back, and I’ll check back in on everyone when I can.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

There was a pause where neither of them spoke. Nelvana’s mind seemed to spin in circles as she racked her brain for something else to tell Keahi, but nothing right came up. Finally, she leaned down and rested her forehead on Keahi’s, who slowly relaxed and exhaled.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Nelvana hummed, “love you.”

Keahi smiled, leaning back to make eye contact with the cubone, “love you too.”

“Goodbye. See you soon.”

“See you.”

Keahi took the first step away, towards the entrance of the place she had called home not that long ago. Nelvana gave her partner one last pat on the head before turning away, walking back over to Gengar.

“Hey, Nel!” Keahi called back, “you come back soon, you hear me! And make sure to bring back Gardevoir safely with you!” she cheered.

Nelvana looked back, seeing the torchic with a wide, encouraging smile and bright eyes again.

“You’ve got it! I will!” Nelvana responded.

Right away, Nelvana found Gengar… an interesting person to have to travel with.

He was fast enough; she could give him that. However, he clearly didn’t know how to pace himself properly. Impatience seemed to tempt him to speed up, but then he would end up asking for breaks more than not. Eventually, Nelvana grew tired of this pattern and forced Gengar to stay behind her so that he would have to follow her pace instead.

And of course, he wasn’t much for conversation. Not that Nelvana knew what to talk to him about besides this mission, so it worked out for the better anyway. Part of her was tempted to start asking him more questions, but she decided against that for now. He was obviously already in a bad mood, and she decided not to possibly make this journey start of on even worse footing.

“Hey, can we take another break?” Gengar requested.

Nelvana paused; he hadn’t asked for a break in awhile… she glanced around at her surroundings again, judging where they were currently and comparing that information to when she was here last.

“Let’s get up that hill, and then we can,” she decided.

It was simple for her to pad over to their little “checkpoint”, and she glanced back to watch Gengar trudge after her. Once he had joined her, he sat down on the grass and leaned back.

“I didn’t know ghost-types could get tired,” Nelvana commented, eyeing the ghost-poison-type.

Gengar narrowed his eyes at her, “we can. Don’t you have a ghost-type on your team? That duskull?”

“Yeah, that’s Edgar. But he hasn’t really gotten tired yet,” Nelvana responded.

“Well, I can get tired, alright?” Gengar huffed, “I haven’t had to travel like this in a long time, okay?” he added in a mutter.

“When was the last time then?” Nelvana asked.

The only response she got was Gengar unintelligibly muttering under his breath. Nelvana didn’t bother asking him again, letting herself take in and enjoy the quietness out in the open air.

After five minutes, Nelvana decided that they would continue forward again, only to have Gengar speak up again to voice a question.

“Are… Are you sure that you don’t need longer?” Gengar asked, “l-look, I can’t have my escort fainting because of hunger of all things.”

Nelvana sighed, “I know how to take care of myself. Let’s keep going.”

It was only a bit over an hour before Nelvana could spot their first dungeon on this journey; Lapis Cave. Spotting the cave up with its bright blue rocks decorating it ahead brought a smile back to her face.

The rock that she had collected the last time she was here now sat up in their bedroom, now joined by some of the various items that Edgar had given Keahi for her birthday the day before. The rock that Alex had collected from here was still in his bag. He had never found the right spot for it, and it was a pretty object to just be able to pull out on the go anyway.

For a moment, Nelvana wondered if Gengar would even be able to take interest in this, but as they approached the dungeon, she could see his eyes widen at the sight. She let them pause for a moment again, letting the both examine the outside of this cave.

“I… I don’t think I’ve seen a, uh, pretty dungeon before,” Gengar whispered, crouching down to peer at the crystal-like surface more closely.

Nelvana smiled, “yeah, it’s nice out here,” she hummed, “Alex and I took a couple of the broken pieces from the ground. You can throw one in the bag too if you want.”

Gengar didn’t respond, but out of the corner of her eye Nelvana could see him pick up one of the small jewels from the grass and stuff it into the bag.

“There are fourteen floors here, and it’s mostly poison-types,” Nelvana said, “they aren’t that strong, we should be able to pass through here easily.”

“Mhmm.”

Nelvana was correct with this statement. Any dungeon pokemon only needed a quick bat with her club to be knocked out, so they could mostly stroll through the cavern. Fourteen floors later, they headed back out under the open sky and onto the trail without too much excitement.

After another hour or so, they could see the next dungeon coming up in the distance; Mt. Blaze. It hadn’t changed much from the last time Nelvana was here either. The huge mountain still had lava pouring out from it and pooling in the surrounding area.

“That’s a lot of smoke,” Gengar commented, “so, we tackling this today, or shall we set up camp?”

“Set up camp. Let’s not stretch things,” Nelvana responded, despite part of her wondering if they would be able to cross the mountain in the remaining daytime and just get a full night’s sleep by the Frosty Forest.

Setting up camp didn’t actually require much effort out of either of them. Nelvana sought out the tree that she had rested by before, and the two of them sat down in its shade to enjoy a meal while watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon. It was only when it started to get dark when a complication came up.

“Can we… have a campfire?” Gengar asked.

“A campfire?” Nelvana repeated.

“Yeah.”

“…why? We have enough light and warmth coming from Mt. Blaze over there. There isn’t really much of a point-”

“I just want one, alright!” Gengar snapped, “you don’t have to question all my choices, alright?”

For a moment, Gengar expected Nelvana to continue pestering him about this, or to just flat-out deny him. However, she stood back up, stretching again before exhaling and nodding.

“Fine. If you can find enough sticks, I’ll get us a firepit here.”

Gengar was more than happy to oblige, scurrying back off to find some of the other dry trees to collect tinder from, leaving Nelvana alone by their camp. Considering the surrounding area and upcoming dungeon, it was easy enough to find some branches that would suffice for a fire.

By the time he returned, Nelvana had prepared a spot where they would be able to safely light a fire without it spreading and becoming dangerous. She set right away to stacking the sticks in a pyramid formation, adding some of the dry grass under and around it.

Gengar was about to ask how she was going to light to fire, but the cubone had already carved out a block of wood with her club, and began spinning one of the stronger sticks in the small hole she had created. He could only watch with awe as she expertly drilled until smoke began streaming out, and even continued a bit after at before setting the warm sawdust in the fire pit and blowing a fire to life.

Sitting down against the tree, Gengar watched as the fire crackled and danced in front of him. He could feel himself relax with its glow, keeping the growing darkness of the night at bay. While he refused to admit it to his braver companion… he had wanted the fire so that he wouldn’t have to fear the dark.

Speaking of his companion, Gengar glanced across him, across the fire to see where Nelvana was still crouched. The cubone was leaning forward, her blue eyes lit up in the warm light of the flames in what could only be described as a look of fascination. It was an odd sight to him, to see such emotion in someone that he usually knew as being serious and more guarded. Here, she was relaxed, and almost vulnerable. He was hesitant to break this trance, but he couldn’t help but speak up again.

“You know, for someone who was so reluctant to set up a campfire, you really seem interested by fire.”

Those were not the words he had wanted to say.

Nelvana looked up, “mm? Oh… well, it’s not that I don’t like fire. I just… don’t find the chance to really have it around often. I guess it’s fine now though; just instinct holding me back.”

“What do you mean?” Gengar questioned.

“Usually a bright light will just attract the wrong kind of people,” Nelvana sighed, shaking her head. “Why did you want a fire so bad, anyway?”

“Are we really back to this?”

“Ah, it’s different now. I already answered your question about fire.”

“Hmph, okay, you win,” Gengar huffed, crossing his arms. “It’s… kinda for the opposite reason. I find that fires keep away the wrong kind of people,” he explained.

“Hm, interesting. Different histories, I suppose.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

This time it was Nelvana who didn’t respond, instead going back to watching the fire. Eventually, she pulled up her badge and began messing around with some buttons before setting it, and the end of her scarf, back down again.

Later, she would decide to get some rest and leave Gengar to guard. After a quick comment to Gengar about what she was doing, she climbed up the tree they had prepared camp by, settling on a couple of the branches and going silent again. Gengar questioned her sleeping choice, but she didn’t respond again, leaving him alone with the night.

Chapter Text

“I shouldn’t have left you to guard us for the night.”

Nelvana watched as Gengar shot awake at her statement, rubbing his eyes at the rising sun’s light before glancing over at the cubone.

“Hm?”

“You fell asleep,” Nelvana pointed out in a matter-of-factly tone of voice. “I thought ghost-types didn’t need sleep?” she continued, raising a brow at him.

“They… usually don’t,” Gengar muttered, “what difference does it make anyway? There was no reason to be on guard; there is no one but us out here!” he added.

“How would you know that? You fell asleep and weren’t on guard,” Nelvana snarked, turning away. “Well, if anyone did come by, I probably would have woken up, so at least there’s that,” she sighed.

Gengar rolled his eyes and stood up, stretching briefly before looking back at his escort again. Nelvana had turned her attention to the firepit, no longer with a lively fire burning in it, and swirled her club around in it, spreading apart all the coals before hitting them with her club and swirling them around again.

“We don’t have any water to drown this with, so hopefully this will do the trick and we won’t end up starting a wild fire,” Nelvana muttered, tapping her club on the ground a couple times to rid it off the ashes before meeting Gengar’s gaze. “Anyway, let’s eat and then we can head on over there,” she said.

“Great.”

Nelvana had found that muffins were in fact easy to pack and good for a quick morning meal, so that was what they had prepared. She instinctively checked the rest of their inventory, satisfied to find all their dungeon supplies and other snacks and items still where they had been left in the bag. After drinking some water to finish off their breakfast, the pair was back on the trail again.

Being so close to the mountain already, it didn’t take long for the temperature to start rising. It was then that Nelvana realized that Gengar was a heat sink. Just by being around him and where he had been instantly gave off a cold feeling, as if there was just a hole in the hot air giving away to a chill.

“Are you aware that you’re a walking heat sink?” Nelvana asked, poking a foot tentatively to where Gengar had just walked, feeling where there was still a cold spot left behind.

“I am,” Gengar huffed, “you aren’t the first one to point that out.”

“Hm, I suppose not,” Nelvana murmured, “that will be useful here. Not in Frosty Forest, but at least here.”

“I’m not going to be your cooler,” Gengar told her sharply, rolling his eyes.

“I wasn’t asking for that,” Nelvana replied, “I happen to be able to handle this fairly alright, but the fact of the matter is that this quirk will make this part of the journey a bit easier.”

Gengar only turned away again, his ears lowering slightly. Nelvana let out a sigh, taking the lead again and continuing their path over to Mt. Blaze. It wasn’t long after that short conversation that their walk began uphill; up and round as the path began winding around the mountain. The rocks were rough and warm under Nelvana’s feet, but her claws were built for an earthier terrain so she was able to continue on alright. Gengar seemed to struggle a bit more, though he kept his mouth shut about it, only the rocks tumbling behind him and a quiet curse under his breath gave away that he was having any difficulties.

With the storage statue in her sights up ahead, Nelvana sprung up the rest of the path over to the chest. While she didn’t expect much new that they would need to be stored in there, there would at least be some more water and possibly food, so it was worth checking out. Sparing a glance back to Gengar before opening the chest, Nelvana found the predicted extra water and snacks, as well as the unpredicted piece of paper sitting on top. She handed the items over to the one with the bag before taking the note, recognizing the handwriting on it as Alex’s. Seeing as Gengar would likely be uninterested in this, Nelvana read it silently in her head.

‘Hey Nel, this is Alex. I’m writing this after you had sent your message to us with the badge, so hopefully you should get it by the time you start Mt. Blaze. If Keahi didn’t mention it in her reply, she decided to stay the night at her family’s place. She had to forward us your message, and then we didn’t know what to do with it after that. Anyway, I figured I should leave this note and some extra water and food for you guys anyway. I’m not sure if Gengar eats more like Edgar or like the rest of us, but it’s always for the best to not let your client faint; from hunger especially. I do hope he isn’t causing any trouble there. You said that he had been pretty quiet, but Gah, I hate writing letters like this… just, good luck out there, and do keep your eyes out for Moltres. There’s always the chance that they’ll turn up again.’

“Are we heading in now, or what?” Gengar questioned impatiently, glancing over Nelvana’s shoulder.

Nelvana narrowed her eyes, hugging the paper close to her so that Gengar couldn’t read what it said, “we are going in, just give me a moment,” she growled, “I thought you’d like the break anyway considering how many you took yesterday.”

Receiving no response, Nelvana turned her attention back to Alex’s note. She scrawled in a quick response before placing the paper back into the box. She was about the close the box when she remembered the mobile scarf still wrapped around her knuckles. She couldn’t help but wonder how Gengar hadn’t actually noticed it yet. Deciding to lower the chance of it being noticed even more, she took the fabric off her hand and set it loosely around her neck with her actual scarf. Then, she closed the box with a small pat. After staring at the statue and chest for a few moments, a question clicked into her mind and she turned back to Gengar.

“Did you have to collect everything out of storage before disbanding your team?” she asked curiously.

Gengar scowled at the question, but began to speak anyway, “yeah. Almost had to fight the other two for the good stuff though. I only really managed to snag what I had when I first showed you my bag.”

“You had to fight them?” Nelvana repeated.

“It was mostly just a lot of shoving. Not many actual attacks where used since most of us resist each other’s moves. There was no good way to divide everything evenly, so of course they all just wanted the best stuff,” Gengar scoffed, “they actually wanted to just leave me with a couple oran berries, but I wasn’t having that.”

“Why did you disband Team Meanies, anyway?”

“I… I just stopped agreeing with the team’s actions and goals, alright? I didn’t want to be apart of that anymore, and didn’t want to just leave Ekans and Medicham to fool around on their own with the title. Can we just head in the dungeon now?”

“…Fine by me.”

Part of Nelvana hadn’t been expecting them to even be able to walk inside the dungeon. After the earthquake that had torn apart the ground to the lava around it… she had been worried that that was permanent. However, as they walked into the cave, she found that nothing had changed aside from the layout of the tunnels and rooms. It was as if nothing had been damaged in the first place, and despite her previous worries she couldn’t help but wonder if it shouldn’t have fixed itself so efficiently like this.

Regardless, she kept these thoughts to herself and silently lead on through one of the tunnels leading off the first room. The first dungeon pokemon awaited on the way, and she let herself slip back into a more serious mentality needed for a mission like this. Without her team, she would have to handle all this without messing up. Gengar fell back to silence again, and Nelvana couldn’t help but be thankful that he didn’t break her focus.

At least, until they had reached the fifth floor. After knocking out a numel and watching it disappear from sight, Gengar seemed to no longer be able to keep silent like this.

“Hey, if no one lives out here, how are there so many pokemon with dungeon sickness?” he asked, “it’s kind of spooky…”

“These pokemon don’t have dungeon sickness,” Nelvana answered, “they’re just dungeon spawn.”

“Dungeon… spawn? That’s a thing?” Gengar questioned, “what’s the difference, anyway?”

“Dungeon spawn aren’t alive,” Nelvana responded somberly, “they’re just created by the dungeon and then their energy is recycled for more spawn when they’re defeated.”

Gengar’s eyes widened, “wha… how?”

“It starts with the dungeon sickness, if you’re in there for long enough, then the dungeon claims you. Once the dungeon starts learning what energies the different pokemon have, it can begin replicating that and even modifying it to be better at fighting. Trapping any travelers in here so the cycle continues,” Nelvana explained, “here, let’s use this dungeon for example. This is just full of dungeon spawn. And… let’s use that numel we just saw for this example too. Once upon a time, there was likely a whole village of numels living in this area. They would cross the mountain maybe just to explore, or even to visit Moltres. One day, a dungeon pops up, and no one notices right away. A few numels head in, get lost, and get infected. It takes awhile for anyone to take note, but eventually they send a search party. If the first few are strong enough, they can take out the search party too and keep building their numbers that way. Clearly by the fact that no one lives in this area anymore means that enough of them got stuck that the rest of them had to leave, or the rest of the village got too intimidated by being near a dungeon in general. And even if just one of those original numels that got stuck stay in there long enough to completely lose themself to the dungeon, the dungeon will know what they’re like. As the dungeon gets stronger, it will start creating its own numels,” she continued, “that’s why there are usually the same kinds of pokemon in each dungeon. Those are just the pokemon that the dungeon has learned to remember and replicate.”

This explanation struck Gengar silent for a few moments, but he gathered himself and spoke again, “where… did you learn all this? I’ve never heard of that before, and I was on a rescue team. Is it rare?”

“It’s not… rare, but I suppose most people are used to a rescue team being able to rescue everyone before the sickness gets that far,” Nelvana murmured, “Keahi didn’t know either. Alex, Tsuki and I had to explain it to her… hm, I wonder if Edgar knows then… this isn’t a fun topic to have to explain.”

“So, you and Alex know from… that dark future you’re from, right? Did more people lose themselves to the dungeons then?” Gengar clarified.

“Where did you hear about the dead timeline?” Nelvana snapped back.

“I was there after you guys destroyed the meteor! How else was I supposed to get to you so quickly in the spirit realm? So… I heard your explanation to Edgar,” Gengar told her.

Nelvana sighed, “alright, yeah… fair enough,” she muttered, “and before you ask, Tsuki knows too despite not being from the dead timeline because she is from the Frosty Forest, which is similar to here in that there is no one else around and the dungeons just have dungeon spawn at this point. I suppose if you want to know about that specifically more, you’ll have to ask her.”

“Okay…” Gengar mumbled, “what is the difference between pokemon with dungeon sickness and just dungeon spawn? Like… physically. How do you tell the difference?”

“Why are you asking?” Nelvana questioned.

“Because! I’d rather be hitting the ones that aren’t actually alive harder than the ones that are just normal pokemon being trapped!” Gengar answered, “they all just look like dungeon pokemon to me.”

“Fine. Do you happen to have a stun seed with you then?”

“A stun seed? No… I don’t think so.”

“Alright. Looks like we have to do this the hard way.”

Before Gengar could ask what the “hard way” was, Nelvana had begun wandering off across the large room that they had found themselves in. A magby come in from one of the tunnels and spotted the cubone, beginning to snarl and spit fire at her. Through a couple swift movements, Nelvana leapt behind the pokemon, grasping her club in front of them with both hands before pushing it back against the magby’s throat and lifting it off the ground.

“What the-“

“There, I got one, come on and look!”

Hesitantly, Gengar headed over to Nelvana and the captured dungeon pokemon. The magby struggled in her grip, clawing at her arms and kicking about; thick black smoke sputtering out from their mouth with bits of embers.

“You can come closer. They can’t spit fire like this, and them clawing won’t hurt you; since you’re a ghost-type,” Nelvana continued, “and if you’re concerned for them, this doesn’t hurt. I’m just restraining their ability to spit fire is all.”

“I’m… what about you? Aren’t magbies like, 1,100 degrees? And they’re clawing at you!” Gengar sputtered, waving his arms at the cubone. “How are you so calm about doing this?”

“First of all, that’s a myth. They aren’t that hot,” Nelvana huffed, “and second of all, they aren’t cutting that deep. An oran berry would even be much for something as little as this,” she continued, “anyway, it will be easier to point things out if you come a bit closer.”

Gengar slowly stepped closer, “alright, if you say so…”

“Okay, good. Now, if you want to be able to tell the difference between dungeon spawn like this and just pokemon with dungeon sickness, you’ll usually have to do it at a glance because they’ll both just immediately attack you. However, it’s easier to point out differences up close so that you know what to look for,” Nelvana began, “if you do get a chance like this to look at them up close, you’ll see that their eyes are slightly glazed over, and will always carry only ferocity in them; if you’re someone that tries spotting emotion.”

“Eyes are the gateway to the soul…” Gengar muttered, “okay, got it.”

Nelvana blinked, seemingly a bit surprised by this attentive response, but she continued regardless, “the bigger thing to note is that dungeon spawn are built for the dungeon and for battling. Starting with that second point, you’ll see that this magby for example has sharper claws and teeth, and they seem to spit more embers, though I’m not one hundred percent certain about that last bit.”

“Yeah about that… How are still just treating this like nothing? It’s starting to get fire on your club.”

“Now, as I said, they’re built for the dungeon as well. Again, with this magby, they have had to be strengthened for this volcano dungeon. As you can see, their lower body almost resembles magma, and that likely helps it resist fire more so that it can run on the lava,” Nelvana continued, ignoring Gengar’s comment.

“Run on lava? That’s actually a thing?” Gengar asked.

“Kinda. You have to be constantly moving on it or else it will just start acting like normal lava, and of course you’d have to be a fire-type. Keahi tested that when we were here; she didn’t like it that much. Said it burned her feet. Obviously here the dungeon has taken that into account and has made it easier for dungeon pokemon to run along it,” Nelvana explained, “anyway, to recap… you mostly have to keep an eye out for those which look stronger and fiercer than average, and more adapted to the terrain. Alright?”

“Yeah… I think I’ve got it,” Gengar mumbled, looking over the struggling magmar.

“Great, because this guy is really wriggly,” Nelvana responded.

With that, she tossed her head back before knocking it against the magby. They slumped upon impact, disappearing in a beam of light a couple moments later. Arms free, Nelvana rubbed away some of the blood on her hands before leaning her club against her right shoulder and looking up at Gengar.

“Yo, that was really hardcore,” Gengar whispered.

“You know, you could help with some of these battles,” she pointed out.

“That wasn’t really a battle,” Gengar replied.

“My point still stands. Maybe this is a bit strong for you, but it would be nice to at least get a little bit of help. You’ve been in a rescue team; you are capable of battling,” Nelvana said.

“Fine… I’ll see what I can do,” Gengar sighed, looking away.

They found the stairs to the next floor in the room right beside them, and easily made the climb up. While Gengar continued to simply follow Nelvana around for that entire sixth floor, he seemed to finally gain enough confidence to try battling on his own, shown as he stepped forward when a torkoal showed up.

“That’s dungeon spawn, right?” Gengar asked.

“I mean… all the pokemon here are, but yes,” Nelvana responded, “are you offering to fight it, or-“

Nelvana’s question was answered before she even got the chance to finish speaking, cutting herself off midway as she spotted the attack that Gengar was preparing. Purple sparks crawled up his arm, charging around his fist before he punched the air with that energy. Over by the torkoal, a ghostly fist appeared, harshly hitting the fire-type. Nelvana flinched at the sight, and in a haze, she barely registered that Gengar used the shadow punch on the torkoal again to knock it out.

“There, I did it!” Gengar cheered.

Nelvana shook her head, trying bring back her focus and calm herself, “y-yeah… good job.”

Gengar frowned, “you know, if you’re going to act like that each time I use that move then I might as well not bother,” he huffed, “you acted like that in Sinister Woods too-“

“I know! I know, I know… Look… do you maybe have… have another move you can just use instead?” Nelvana responded, finding herself wrapping her arms around herself and looking away.

“Why would I do that? Shadow punch is my best move, it never even misses. It’s the most useful,” Gengar replied, “what’s even your problem with it anyway? It’s just another move.”

“It’s…” Why was it only now that the air burned her throat? “It was used by a bad person. I’m not used to having that attack not be used against me or my team,” she managed to answer.

“Well that’s silly. You know I’m helping you here. You shouldn’t be judging just based on the move I’m using,” Gengar snarked.

“Oh, that’s rich coming from you,” Nelvana muttered, storming off through the rest of the dungeon, hoping that Gengar wouldn’t notice that her hands were still shaking.

Gengar didn’t help Nelvana in battle for the rest of Mt. Blaze. She didn’t comment on it again though. In fact, they had gone back to their silent way of traveling for all of the remaining floors of the dungeon. At least she knew that she would be able to handle these pokemon on her own. While help could still have been nice… she didn’t bother. It didn’t feel worth it.

After another six floors, they had arrived at the special floor. Its Moltres statue still stood the same as before, though Nelvana didn’t pause to examine it closely like she had before. She only broke their silent streak by asking for the bag so that she could have some of the water and a quick snack, and then they headed onto the next floor.

The next two floors passed on as the ones before, aside from Gengar being spooked by the fact that there were arcanines in this dungeon. These larger pokemon, especially with their added dungeon spawn traits, as Nelvana was quick to point out, were quite the intimidating surprise. Fearows startled him as well, but less so knowing that his typing would partially protect him. Nelvana defeated both of these pokemon regardless without much other comment from her about it.

Finally, they arrived to the peak of the mountain. Nelvana wondered if she should mention to Gengar that Moltres could be here… and while part of her considered not bringing it up at all and letting Gengar be spooked again, she reconsidered and spoke up.

“In case you’ve forgotten or never heard, this is the home of Moltres. They are awake and might try swooping by, so don’t freak out,” she muttered, more dryness coming off her voice than intended.

Gengar nodded, his gaze turning upwards to scan the smoky sky in an attempt to spot the flaming legendary. Nothing did show up at first though, leaving them to wonder if they would get all the way across this last floor and down the mountain without any other interruptions.

That thought was suddenly halted when the flapping of wings could be heard in the distance. The pair stopped their walk to wait for Moltres to arrive, which only took a few more moments. Moltres landed in front of them, bowing their head slightly to show that they weren’t here to fight.

“Hello again… human,” Moltres greeted.

“Hello Moltres,” Nelvana replied courtly.

Moltres didn’t respond for a few moments, avoiding looking at the pair as if they were trying to work up the right words to tell them.

“I… I have to admit, that I was wrong. About you. And the legend,” Moltres finally uttered, “I apologize for that, and for attacking you and your friends because of it.”

“I accept your apology,” Nelvana responded politely.

What she wouldn’t say was that she didn’t forgive Moltres. Attacking a trio of teens just because they were under the assumption that one of them was dangerous was a flimsy explanation at best. However, she still appreciated that they had come forward and apologized when they could have just ignored her passing by. And of course, she knew that she should be polite with legendaries regardless.

Moltres nodded in return, sitting up straighter now that that was out of the way, “thank you. Now, what brings you and this stranger through my mountain?” they questioned sharply.

“This, is my client, Gengar. We were just passing by to visit Ninetales about the legend again,” Nelvana told them honestly.

Moltres’ beak opened, and then closed again with a click; again, considering something. Eventually anger flashed in their eyes, which narrowed as they reared back and flapped their flaming wings.

“Gengar? You… You wouldn’t happen to be the one that started that rumor in the first place?” Moltres accused, “I cannot allow someone like that to pass through my home!” they spat, “Why does he walk through here; with you? He should not walk at all!”

Nelvana narrowed her eyes, hitting her club against the ground, “calm down! He isn’t here causing trouble; I’m making sure of that. He needs to speak with Ninetales though, and we intend to break that curse that the legend spoke of,” she snapped, “let us pass.”

There was yet another pause, and the pair couldn’t help but wonder if Moltres was going to just disregard Nelvana’s words and just attack them. However, the large bird seemed to slowly let the tension out of their body again.

“Go then,” they hissed.

Gengar happily obliged, hurrying away from Moltres and back towards the path down the mountain. Nelvana glanced at both pokemon, before following the ghost-type away from Mt. Blaze. Not long after she had caught up, Gengar let out a shaky breath and made eye contact with her as they walked.

“You… you defended me,” he gasped, “why…?”

“I wasn’t going to just let them attack you like that, even if you are a jerk,” Nelvana responded, as if the answer has been laying out as clearly as the rocks around them. “No one should be attacked because of that kind of judgement.”

Gengar only blinked back at her, and Nelvana managed one of the few laughs of that day.

“What? Did you think I was just going to say that I only did that because I need you to bring back Gardevoir?” Nelvana chuckled, “while I suppose that is partially true, that wasn’t my reasoning for that. That would just be selfish. There was no way I was going to have Moltres kill you in cold blood for that.”

Leaving that response to hang in the air, Nelvana continued her way down the path. Gengar, however, had his pace slow as he was left to think that over. Why… after everything; her first answer wasn’t for her own gain.

“Hey, when we get to where we’re setting up camp, could we have another campfire?”

“Sure, but we won’t get there for awhile…”

“Just thought I’d ask.”

Chapter Text

“So, when are they coming back?”

“Keahi, you know this already. It’s only been a couple days; they’ll only be getting to the Frosty Forest by now. If they have to same pace as we did when we were there last, then they won’t even get to Ninetales until tomorrow.”

Keahi let out a sharp huff, fluffing up his feathers with displeasure at this answer. He turned to glance out the window for a moment before facing the grovyle again, who was leaning against a wall again.

"I don’t know why you expected the answer to suddenly change,” Alex chuckled, “you know, I thought I was the impatient one here.”

“You’re both pretty impatient when it comes to who and what’s important to you,” Ceebee, who was fluttering closer towards the kitchen, pointed out, “Alex, you refused to wait for Keahi to come back from his family home for messaging with the badge properly, and wrote a note to put into storage instead. Don’t act like you’re above this,” she sneered, crossing her arms.

“And you’d be keeping a constant eye on them with psychic if it were easier for you to actually pull off and keep up with for extended periods of time,” Alex countered.

“Does this really have to be a competition? We all want to make sure that the mission is going well,” Tsuki sighed, padding into the living room with Edgar following right behind her to join the others.

“Yeah! And there haven’t been any problems so far, right?” Edgar added, his gaze shifting to Tsuki for confirmation before continuing. “So, it’s been going fine! Nel has been updating us on the progress every night!”

“Yes, that is true! Nothing seems to have gone wrong,” Ceebee agreed.

Alex shifted his position, glancing about the room before speaking, “Tsuki, do you sense anything about it?” he asked.

Tsuki met his gaze for a moment before sitting down on her haunches and shaking out her fur, “no. Nothing has turned up,” she assured him, “though the headache from Gengar’s visit seems to just barely still be lingering in my head,” she added quietly, “that might interfere with this.”

“Where will Gardevoir stay when she gets here?” Edgar asked, sharply changing topics. “Will we get another bed for her?”

“If she wants to stay here, then yeah, I guess so!” Keahi replied, “we do have enough room upstairs for another bed or some sort.”

“Should we order one in advance?” Ceebee suggested.

“We don’t know what kind of bed she would even want, or if she actually will want to stay here,” Alex pointed out, “so probably not.”

Keahi sighed, “mm, yeah, that’s true…”

“You know, I wonder if Gardevoir will be able to do anything about Nel’s amnesia once she is free from her own curse,” Alex mused, leaning his head back to stare at the blank ceiling as he spoke.

“Hopefully!” Ceebee chirped, “or at the very least, be able to help me with it! But… curses are hard to break. We’ll just have to see.”

“Didn’t Nel say that Gardevoir got that ability to turn her into a pokemon from Ninetales? Maybe they’ll ask her about that!” Keahi chimed in, “I think she would be happy to be able to remember you guys and her family properly again.”

“She definitely would be,” Alex agreed, looking back at everyone else again. “Moving on from that though… did you two find anything?” he asked, turning to Tsuki and Edgar specifically now.

“Well, Edgar and I have checked the board and did not find anything new from when we looked earlier. Peaky told us that there had been other jobs, but some other teams claimed them,” Tsuki said, reaching with one of her hind legs to scratch the back of her head. “Apparently there are still some struggles with monster houses in dungeons that they shouldn’t be in,” she added quietly.

“So, we have a day to ourselves then?” Ceebee clarified.

Tsuki nodded, “indeed.”

“Hey, Keahi, you said you didn’t get the chance to practice your new attack in Scorched Plains, right? You could get some training done now,” Alex offered.

“Oh, uh, sure! I guess I could do that,” Keahi responded, blinking.

“Were you hoping that you could train with Nel, since she has a fighting-type move?” Ceebee asked playfully.

“Kinda, yeah...” Keahi admitted, “but doing it now at the dojo will be fine!

“Hey! This just means you’ll be able to show it to her when she gets back!” Edgar pointed out, floating closer to the torchic. “You’ll be able to… smash rocks! Yeah!”

Keahi laughed, “alright, thanks for the enthusiasm, Edgar,” he replied, “Looks like that’s what we’re going to do today then! Off to the Makuhita Dojo!”

“Oh, this is exciting! I haven’t been inside the dojo yet!” Ceebee exclaimed, opening the door with telekinesis so that they could all just head out without pausing, making sure to close it behind her once they were all outside.

“Me neither! Makuhita is pretty nice though! I talked to him a few days ago!” Edgar cheered, “he offered to let me train but I didn’t really feel like it at the time!”

“And that’s always fine,” Tsuki responded, “however, if you do ever feel the need to train yourself and would like some company, I am certain that any of us would be willing to join you,” she added.

“Okay!” Edgar replied.

As they passed into Pokemon Square and began heading south towards their destination, they made sure to greet the others lingering around town as usual. However, Alex found himself examining the citizens with a more critical look than usual; finally turning back to the group and speaking up again.

“No one here has evolved still…” he muttered, “hey, Keahi, has anyone in your family evolved yet?”

Keahi turned back to make eye contact with the grovyle before shaking his head, “no, actually! We even have an evolution stone in Scorched Plains, but it still hasn’t reactivated yet…”

“Evolution stone?” Tsuki repeated, “I am afraid that I’m unfamiliar with that.”

“Oh! Evolution stones are these crystals that appear in some areas, usually caves, that help with evolution! Some pokemon even need them to evolve, so there are some pokemon that carefully harvest smaller rocks to sell for those that don’t have on in their area,” Keahi explained, “usually they are only for certain types, but there are some that work for all types!”

“But other pokemon can still evolve naturally, correct?” Tsuki added.

“Yeah, but even here it can be pretty rare,” Alex responded, “I evolved naturally, but I haven’t met anyone else who has aside from my parents for one of their stages each. For the other they still had to find a grass stone.”

“Pokemon used to be able to evolve naturally more often, but that changed in the last hundred years or so!” Ceebee chimed in, “if I had to guess, in another century or so, everyone will always have to use the stones.”

Alex shuddered, “let’s hope not.”

Makuhita was not just standing outside of the dojo as he usually did. In fact, there was no sign of him in the area; at first. Just as they were all considering whether they should yell or knock, the door opened, and Makuhita came outside with a stack of flattened boxes, which he set in a bin before turning over to greet the group.

“Hello there everyone!” Makuhita hummed, “sorry ‘bout that, I was just loading in some new equipment. I hope I hadn’t been keeping you all waiting out here for too long!”

“Don’t worry! We just got here!” Keahi replied, “I… I had been hoping to practice my new rock smash attack, would you have anything specific for that here?”

“You happen to be in luck! You’re not the first one to ask for some rocks to be added in here,” Makuhita chuckled, “for some, weights are ‘just too fancy’ for them. But you can definitely use some for breaking if you need to, just be careful yourself!”

“Okay! Thanks, Makuhita!” Keahi replied.

“No problem there, Keahi,” Makuhita hummed, “now then, how about the rest of you?”

Alex dismissed Makuhita with a wave of his hand, “we’re just spectating for now, don’t worry about us.”

“Alright there, just let me know if you need anything. Sorry to just greet and leave, but I’ve still got some work to get done with the new stuff I brought in,” Makuhita responded, “I can trust you all up here alone. Just holler if you need me for something, got it?”

“Got it!” Edgar chirped, “thanks Makuhita!”

“Anytime,” Makuhita said, turning back inside the building.

The quintet followed the fighting-type in, stopping in the main gym area while Makuhita opened a door leading to the downstairs of the dojo. While for a moment the thought came up that they didn’t actually know where the aforementioned rock would be, it didn’t actually take that long to find where a large sized rock was stored. Alex dragged it out into the room, placing it out on the middle of the floor.

“Alright, there we go,” Alex exhaled, brushing the dirt off his hands. “It should work out long enough for you to actually learn how to use the move, then we can either get another rock or just one of those sand bags.”

“Punching bags,” Keahi corrected.

“Sand bags,” Alex insisted.

“Just start kicking the rock,” Tsuki sighed, laying down by a wall and resting her head in her paws.

Keahi shook out his feathers, “alright, alright. Give me some space then.”

Shrugging, Alex headed over to where Tsuki had settled herself and crouched down beside her. Edgar and Ceebee were quick to follow, hovering around their two friends while they watched Keahi from their spot by the wall.

“Pst, shouldn’t we sit on the bench?” Edgar whispered, his eye shifting attention to one of the wooden benches sitting against the wall nearby.

“Doesn’t matter,” Alex mumbled in response.

Keahi scuffed his feet on the flooring, shuffling in place as he prepared himself for his first attempt. Starting to learn rock smash with an actual rock was risky, considering if one failed, they would just be running into stone, but it was the way his family had learned and he wanted to learn the same way.

Gathering up the courage to make his first attempt, Keahi rushed towards the rock. He tried thinking back to the other attacks he had used and how that felt, and to whenever Nelvana had used brick break. For the speedy torchic, it didn’t take long to get close enough to strike the immobile object. Hesitation struck first though, and when he swung his foot around to kick, it barely tapped the stone.

Without a word, he spun back around to walk back to where he had started so that he could try again. He had known that this wouldn’t work after just the first time, so he didn’t feel to discouraged about this. All he had to do was make sure not to hesitate this time.

“Let’s go, Keahi! You can do this!” Edgar cheered.

He smiled back at the duskull before sprinting back towards the rock again. This time, he made sure to remind himself to hit with full force. That thought process worked out in keeping him from hesitating like the time before, but he almost wished that it hadn’t because he hit the rock with the full force of an ordinary kick instead of one powered by a fighting-type move.

Keahi inhaled sharply in pain, but did he best not to show it as he crawled back over to try again. Perhaps he was kicking wrong? Or perhaps it wasn’t the right fighting spirit. Unsure, he decided that he would like to try stomping on the rock instead. The attack never specified kicking, so as long as he hit it properly, it should work.

For the third time, Keahi ran over to the rock that still sat in the center of the gym. Instead of kicking it this time, he decided to try his plan of stomping of it, so once he got close enough, he sprung upwards and landed one foot on top of the rock. Unfortunately, this yielded no new results, and Keahi had to hop off of the rock to try again.

“Perhaps you should ask Makuhita for fighting-type advice,” Alec suggested.

“I can do it on my own!” Keahi called back sharply, “this is only my fourth try,” he muttered as he prepared himself to try again.

“Should we have made him start with the punching bag instead?” Ceebee whispered, glancing over at the others. “I’m worried that he’s going to hurt himself doing that.”

“We do have healing berries,” Tsuki murmured, lifting up her head only to stretch out one of her paws in front of her.

“Still…”

“Alex,” Edgar began in a hushed voice, floating closer to the grovyle. “Do you really think that something will go wrong in that mission?”

“Gengar is bound to mess up somewhere,” Alex scoffed, “it all depends on if he can manage not to drag Nel down with him.”

“That’s not a very positive way to think about it,” Edgar replied.

“I don’t trust him,” Alex responded courtly.

The light of Edgar’s eye flickered, almost as if blinking, before silently he turned away to watch Keahi’s practice again. At this point, he seemed to be able to focus enough energy to start a light glow around his foot, but it wasn’t damaging the rock yet.

“Tsuki, are you doing alright?” Ceebee asked.

Tsuki blinked slowly before turning her gaze over to Ceebee, “this headache should have gone by now… it’s draining me.”

Ceebee’s expression softened, “do you know what it’s about…?”

“…no.”

“Do you need a nap?”

“I’m not tired. Just… drained.”

Ceebee offered her friend a small smile, “well look, if you need us to do anything to help, we will, alright? I hope that headache passes by you soon.”

“Thank you, so do I,” Tsuki sighed, resting her head on her paws again. “It hasn’t focused itself on a specific even yet, so I hope that it might just be an ordinary headache.”

Keahi shook out his feathers and sore feet again. He was getting somewhere; he could feel it… or at least he hoped. He had never used a fighting-type move before, it already was a lot different from any of his other moves, and the descriptions that he was hyper focusing on from Nelvana didn’t tell him as much as he wanted. Either way, he did seem to be making some sort of progress. There was a crack in the rock now.

“Alright, here we go again…” Keahi whispered, taking one last moment to prepare himself before sprinting forward.

As he ran, he readied himself for the moment where he would actually attempt to kick the rock again. A slight white glow began growing around his foot, and right when he spun around to strike, the glow disappeared and was replaced by a stronger, orange one. Keahi hit the rock with as much force as he could muster, and the satisfying sound of a crack filled the room as the rock finally broke in half.

Tsuki’s head immediately shot up, her eyes wide with more than just surprise and her claws scraping the floor. Ceebee looked from Keahi to the rock, double-checking where the sound actually came from before her face spread into an excited smile. Alex sent over a proud smile and a thumbs up. Edgar spun around it the air and let out a cheer before zooming over to Keahi.

“You did it! I knew you could! Look! The rock’s even in half now! That must have been pretty strong!” Edgar exclaimed, continuing to spin around the torchic.

“Good job!” Ceebee called over.

“Thanks guys,” Keahi giggled, “I was bound to get it right eventually. I have to admit though, I’m actually pretty tired from all that, ha…”

“We can always take a break if you want. Maybe you could stand to have an oran berry smoothie,” Alex responded, standing back up.

“That sounds like a good idea!” Keahi agreed, “we can just clean up here first, and maybe if there are some missions on the board now, I can keep practicing out on the field!”

Ceebee nodded, “nice plan! Hey Tsuki, you can get some more missions done! Maybe that will help keep you mind off… of things,” she began her excitement dying down as she actually looked at the absol, who was still frozen staring blankly at the wall. “Tsuki? Are you okay?”

It took a moment for Tsuki to respond. At first, it seemed that she hadn’t even heard what Ceebee had said; just numb to the world around her, still staring ahead with wide eyes and with bristling fur and claws doing their best to dig into the solid ground.

Then, she did react. By jumping to her paws with a yelp and sprinting outside, forcing her way through the closed door with her body weight. She stumbled a bit from this obstacle, but then continued running off in her frenzy.

“Tsuki!”

Ceebee disappeared from sight, reappearing at the doorway and beginning to fly after Tsuki. Edgar followed suit, zooming into the ground so that he faded into the shadows. Alex sprinted directly after the absol, dropping to all fours and following through the open door. Keahi stiffened at the suddenness of everything, but gathered himself and quickly followed behind everyone else, deciding to take the time to close the door behind him, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to catch up in time to make a difference anyway.

Alex’s natural speed managed to surpass everyone else despite any head starts or shortcuts, and without thinking, he threw himself in front of Tsuki to block her path. She barreled right into him, but he managed to hold his ground and didn’t crumple onto the ground. Fortunately, this action seemed to stop her panicked escape without needing to restrain her, and she stood in place; staring down at her shaking legs and panting.

With this, everyone else managed to catch up, and carefully gathered around their friend, trying to do their best not to startle her despite not knowing what had caused this to happen in the first place.

“We… We have to do something! It! It’s- they!” Tsuki stammered, tossing her head upwards again and shifting in place, as if she was about to try bolting again.

“Tsuki, Tsuki, it’s okay… can you try taking some deep breaths?” Ceebee instructed softly, slowly making her way beside Alex in front of Tsuki.

“N-No!” Tsuki yelped, desperation ripping through her voice in a way that was normally unheard of from the absol. “We have to stop them! W-We…”

“Did I do something wrong…?” Keahi whispered, glancing at each of his teammates with a worried look of teary eyes.

“No, it’s isn’t… not that, not you…” Tsuki mumbled in an almost far-away voice, now stumbling back and forth in place. “The mission! Their journey! We have to stop it! Bring them back!”

Edgar flinched, “w-why?”

“Someone’s going to die!”

Chapter Text

Ninetales was going to be harder to reach this time. Nelvana knew that.

She carefully sat in her perch from a pine that they had decided to camp by. It was one of the few sturdy trees that sat in the ecotone between the burning Mt. Blaze and the freezing Frosty Forest. From up here, she could see where the land began to become covered in a thick layer of ice and snow, where the temperature would only plummet from here.

This time, she would have none of the advantages that had helped her before. She would not have Alex’s speed, Keahi’s warmth, or even Tsuki’s guidance. In fact, Gengar’s “ability” to absorb heat along with her ground-typing might complicate this even further.

None of these concerns had been brought up to her traveling companion, or her teammates back at home. Despite the dread building up inside her at the thought of having to pass through this area again, she didn’t want anyone else to worry. While she could not remember it, she felt like she had been through worse anyway.

Quietly, Nelvana made her way down the tree and onto solid ground. Between the heated area they had just passed and the frozen area they were about to head into, not much grass was able to grow. She glanced over at Gengar, still sleeping and undisturbed from the cubone’s movement.

Deciding to give him a bit more resting time, she wandered over to their lifeless firepit to check the coals. She hadn’t stirred it to properly make sure no fire would restart yet, and procrastinated this task even longer as she picked up one of the coals to test its warmth. With disappointment, she found that they had already naturally gone cold from the chill of the night. Nelvana had had the sudden idea to take some coals with her for extra warmth, but evidently that wouldn’t work now. Perhaps if they had located themselves where the wind was blocked more, then she would have been able to put this plan into action.

Brushing out her hands and scattering out the remaining coals, Nelvana stood up again and turned back to her client, still sleeping. She wondered if she was actually quieter than she thought, or if Gengar was just a really deep sleeper. Regardless, she knew that they would have to continue on this journey soon. Risking having to still be in the Frosty Forest when night returned felt like sealing their defeat. They couldn’t waste this daylight any longer.

“Gengar.”

Nelvana stared at Gengar, waiting to see if he would respond. Nothing. This had been easier the previous night; what made this different this time?

“Gengar, come on, we need to get up and going,” Nelvana insisted, louder this time.

For a moment it looked like he was actually going to wake up, but he just rolled over instead. Curiosity ebbed at her at the idea of seeing if she would be able to get away with stealing the bag without him waking up, but she didn’t feel willing to waste that much time for curiosity’s sake.

“Gengar I’m going to throw one of these coals at you if you don’t wake up.”

A woman of her word, Nelvana waited a few moments to give Gengar a chance before she turned back around and picked up one of the coals that weren’t buried in the dirt. She even waited for a couple more seconds before following through and chucking what was basically stone at this point at the sleeping ghost-poison-type.

Now, he shot awake, “w-wha- Hey! What was that for?” Gengar snapped.

“I warned you,” Nelvana chuckled, “you wouldn’t wake up, and I’m afraid that you stealing my body heat when I try to shake you awake right before we go to possibly the coldest place on this continent is not how I wanted to start this morning.”

“So, you threw a rock at me,” Gengar stated bluntly.

“A coal, actually,” Nelvana corrected, before pausing. “Sorry though, I didn’t mean to hit that hard.”

Gengar narrowed his eyes, but then relaxed again and exhaled instead of giving her another retort. One of his ears twitched irritably before he seemed to gather himself enough to speak again.

“Fine, let’s eat and then head out then,” he sighed, pulling the bag onto his lap to search its contents.

There was only the food for this morning meal and a bit extra to carry over just in case, which was fine with the knowledge that another storage statue would be coming up soon. If they didn’t have that to help them out, Nelvana would have made sure to pack more food to begin with.

“Alright, so we’re going to have to keep our distance more now,” Nelvana announced as they began heading out on the trail again. “Otherwise, I will freeze here,” she gruffly admitted.

Gengar nodded with an amount of understanding and respect that continued to surprise Nelvana. Once again choosing not to mention that confusion, she continued to lead them off into the Frosty Forest, allowing herself to go further ahead of her client than she normally would. She would check over her shoulder every once in awhile to make sure that she hadn’t accidentally lost him, but fortunately he was diligently following every step of the way.

No snow fell from above even as it seemed to appear on the ground. In fact, the skies were clear with a nice sunny day. This would have made them feel better if it didn’t make the snow gleam dangerously into their eyes. Nelvana had to squint as she trekked forward; wishing that she had sunglasses with her instead. At least the shadows coming off the edge of her skull helmet’s eye sockets provided her with some slight assistance against this.

Regardless, the snow only continued to mount up as they continued, each misstep sending one’s feet sinking deeper and deeper into the white flakes. There were no signs that anyone had travelled here lately; any previous footprints covered up in the most recent layer of snow. Nelvana was running on her memory of her last visit through here and her general sense of direction to make sure that she wasn’t putting them off path in any way.

It was nearly two hours since they had departed that morning when they had arrived at the storage statue together. Nelvana shivered from the cold and had been able to see her own breath in front of her every since they spotted the first snowflakes on the ground; so, she was incredibly thankful when they made it to the iced chest. Gengar stood behind her at a respectable distance as she opened up the box, rummaging through it for proper winter supplies.

Inside the chest were all the cold-weather clothing they owned, of which Nelvana swiftly donned the sweater and tail warmer she had used before, as well as the gloves that Alex had bought from Kecleon. Said gloves were made for those with one less finger than she had, but she with fine with putting two of her fingers into one of the finger holes of the glove for the extra warmth it would provide in the long run, over skipping out on the clothing entirely. She did also try using the hat that Alex had worn, but there was no real good way to fit it over the other headgear that she already wore; and considering the skull also covered her face from the wind among other things, she preferred to keep it on over the hat.

As she pulled the sweater over her head and began readjusting her scarf, she felt the fabric of the mobile scarf tickle her neck. She couldn’t help but chuckle at this, and she pulled out the purple object. It was almost funny how she hadn’t needed it thus far, and continued forgetting about it even being with her. Would it have been possible to accidentally walk through a wall? Nelvana doubted it, but imagining how that would go down was an interesting thought.

However, she felt like she should hold onto it in a more secure place. Nelvana couldn’t see it being needed for its intended function; but at least it was extra fabric, meaning it had the potential to provide extra warmth. She took off her left glove so that she could wrap the tattered scarf on its usual spot around her knuckles before tugging the glove back on her hand.

Unfortunately, there was no other clothing that had been made for this sort of mission. Which, considering the suddenness of the entire thing, Nelvana couldn’t say that she was surprised. All of the winter clothes that were left were the other warmer and the hat, leaving Nelvana with an odd feeling of incompletion with them…

“Hey, Gengar, will you need anything too?” Nelvana asked, glancing behind her. “There’s a hat and… tail warmer left if you’d like,” she offered.

Gengar shook his head, “nah, I can take the cold pretty well, don’t worry about me. Do you have everything you need?”

“Almost… just give me a few more moments, alright?” Nelvana responded, earning a quick “mhmm” as a reply.

Turning back to look inside the chest, Nelvana made sure to bring out some more food, knowing that walking through deep snow took more effort than an ordinary hike though. She quickly passed these items over to Gengar with the bag before continuing to search the chest.

When pushing aside some of what she deemed less important items, she found some stones carefully wrapped together with some cloth. It was already warm to the touch, so Nelvana opened it up to see what was inside; finding some hot stones collected up together. A smile grew on her face at the sight, and the thought that someone from home had put this together to help make this part of the journey just a bit easier. She had no idea how long these would last, but they would help for however long they stayed heated. For now, she would just hold them in her hands to help the blood circulating through them without just freezing.

“I think that’s it!” Nelvana hummed, closing the box and looking over at the entrance of the dungeon before turning back to Gengar. “There were some heated stones in there too, so hopefully that will help out.”

“Heated stones?” Gengar repeated, “from Keahi then,” he clarified.

“Probably,” Nelvana agreed, “if it was him, I’m glad he decided to help keep us warm despite not being here himself,” she continued.

“Wait, ‘him’? Isn’t Keahi a girl?” Gengar questioned, “did I miss something here?”

“He’s genderfluid,” Nelvana corrected, “so, sometimes he is a girl, and sometimes neither a girl or boy, but right now he is a boy,” she briefly explained, “this most recent change was mentioned in part of the message from last night, so I guess you wouldn’t have known.”

“Oh, uh, alright…” Gengar shrugged, his tone suggesting that he didn’t entirely understand, but that he was willing to accept it regardless. “I’ll keep that in mind, I guess.”

Nelvana blinked, and then turned away again, “okay… we should get going though. It will do us no good to just stand around here,” she murmured.

“Got it!” Gengar replied, waiting for Nelvana to enter the dungeon before continuing to follow. “I didn’t actually know that the badges could do that, the messaging thingy, before I noticed you guys using it.”

“Really?” Nelvana quirked a brow. “How long were you in a rescue team, and you didn’t mess with all the functions of your badge?”

Gengar scoffed, but it was almost friendly this time, “we didn’t use anything we didn’t need. What use is figuring out a messaging system when everyone is in the same place and you have a psychic-type anyway?”

“But you’re interested in it now,” Nelvana pointed out.

Gengar sputtered at this statement, but instead of getting frustrated or just flustered, he ended up laughing it off, “alright, you got me. None of us ever really learned how to use the badge in general.”

“You’re… in a good mood today,” Nelvana finally couldn’t help but mention.

“Maybe so!” Gengar shrugged again. “I mean, we are almost there!”

“Well, hate to tell you this then, but it will still probably take another day to actually get to Ninetales,” Nelvana told him, “there is a fair bit of distance from this dungeon to the next.”

“We are still getting closer than before, at least!” Gengar replied.

Nelvana flinched as a furret scurried in from around a corner, but made quick work of the dungeon spawn by punching it with brick break. Shaking her head to herself, she continued to the next room and up the stairs, keeping an ear out for Gengar’s footsteps as he followed her.

“So, you’re a pretty good, uh, fighter,” Gengar commented.

“And…?”

“That’s… cool!”

Nelvana turned around to give Gengar a perplexed look, and found him smiling stiffly. If he was capable of sweating, she betted that he would be right now. While she once again bit back any comments about this, she couldn’t help but find this behavior really confusing for him. What was Gengar up to?

“All that winter… stuff. You got that from Kangaskhan, right?” Gengar asked, deciding to speak up again.

“Yeah,” Nelvana replied, “the clothes, at least,” she added.

“That was really nice of her,” Gengar responded, “Kangaskhan is really nice…”

“She is,” Nelvana agreed courtly.

Gengar clicked his tongue, and without even looking Nelvana could tell that he was trying to think of a way to keep up this weak conversation. There was silence for about a minute, enough time to bring them to the next floor, but then Gengar spoke up again.

“So, that skull of your’s. Does it ever get uncomfortable to wear?” Gengar asked, “I can’t imagine that you would have worn something like that all the time as a human.”

Nelvana swallowed, “no… it’s actually nice to have. Fits nicely, adds extra protection…” she murmured.

“Huh, that’s, uh, nice,” Gengar said.

“Y-Yeah,” Nelvana replied, her teeth beginning to involuntarily chatter from the cold.

There were no more attempts for conversation after that, Gengar letting out a sigh of defeat, and they just continued making their way through the dungeon.

While it wasn’t apparent at first, their pace did not stay very consistent, only slowing as they went on. They had gotten through the early third of the dungeon in under even a half hour, and yet they hadn’t since arrived to the safe room on the ninth floor after an hour of continued exploring afterwards.

Gengar only ended up realizing this when he zoned out and accidentally caught up to Nelvana despite not believing to have started walking faster. And while he had to admit to having a terrible sense of direction, he couldn’t help but wonder a few times if that was the same tree that they had already earlier on this floor…

“Hey, Nel… er- Nelvana, you alright?” Gengar called ahead, surprising himself with the worry in his tone.

“I’m f-fine!” Nelvana responded, another unmistakable chatter of her teeth in her reply.

This answer did nothing to stop the dread building up in the pit of Gengar’s stomach. Why hadn’t he taken note of her shivering frame only intensifying before now? Should he stop her, or would movement help keep her warm? She had packed extra food; did that mean something? She hadn’t asked for anything yet… All he knew for sure is that whatever he did, he had to stay back or risk making things worse…

He didn’t want to though. The just watching and doing nothing helpful felt all too familiar in a way, and how Nelvana was forced to drag herself through all this snow was weighing down on his consciousness in a way that felt less familiar and more uncomfortable.

But he would have to. Have to hope everything would turn out alright without him interfering.

At least… Nelvana was still fighting. While her reaction time wasn’t the best, and perhaps she wasn’t hitting them as hard as usual, any dungeon pokemon still would usually go down in a single hit, making them the least of the worries here. They could focus on just finding the stairs and moving forward instead.

Finally, they managed to climb their way up to the safe floor. Here, they paused for a moment for some snacks, though like any other break, it was brief.

Nelvana also passed the stones that had been given to her from Keahi over to Gengar to put in the bag. When he touched them, he found that they were only warm at best now; obviously useless to be held onto for warmth now, but could be saved for another time.

Gengar couldn’t help but notice here that Nelvana had stopped shivering. He hoped that was a good sign; that she was warming up on her own. No other reasoning came to mind on why the shivering would have stopped. She seemed to be oddly tired now, but perhaps that was just stress…?

He shook himself out of his thoughts as he spotted Nelvana beginning to head out of the room. Only a few more floors… and then to shelter, he assumed. Gengar would have to ask later. She had mentioned there being a cave that she had rested in the last time her team was there, so he could only assume that that was their next destination after they completed this dungeon. Hopefully it wasn’t too far away.

They hadn’t gotten too far into the next floor before Gengar felt the presence of a psychic-type. He flinched at the suddenness of this; especially after having not had anyone speak to him through telepathy in a long time.

~*Calm yourself, it is just me,*~ Ceebee’s voice faintly sounded in Gengar’s mind.

“Ceebee?” Gengar blurted aloud in confusion, glancing over at Nelvana, who oddly didn’t seem to have noticed anything, before taking in a breath and trying to respond through his thoughts. *Why are you speaking to me?*

~*…I unfortunately must warn you of something. I would have gone to Nelvana, but it would seem that she isn’t in the right mindspace for telepathy right now,*~ Ceebee told him.

The aggression coming off this statement sent a shiver through Gengar, *we’re just almost through Frosty Forest! She’s cold, but it’s fine…* he responded, hoping to convince her that everything was okay despite that not entirely being the truth.

~*”It’s fine”? Gengar, Tsuki just sensed danger that we still haven’t been able to calm her down from that is related to your mission, and now I can sense that Nelvana has stage two hypothermia!*~ If it was possible to yell through telepathy, Ceebee was definitely doing that now. ~*It had better be fine soon, because we can’t be taking any sorts of risks with this. Look, I’ll let you keep going for now, but the moment that anything else goes wrong, you had better use Nelvana’s badge and get back to base, got it?*~ she ordered.

*G-Got it.* Don’t ever try lying to a psychic-type, even in the slightest.

~*Good. I will check in later then. I would be keeping a constant eye on you two, but unfortunately it is not the most pleasant thing to have to use telepathy with a ghost-type. So, you are on your own for now. Until we speak again, goodbye Gengar.*~

Gengar couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief when the mythical’s presence faded from around him. Telepathy wasn’t the most comfortable for him, either. Now that he had his thoughts to himself again, he mulled over the message that had just been brought to him. Ceebee was definitely forceful about this, though despite her best efforts, he could tell that she only threatened him out of worry. Team Galaxy was really worried about them… well, probably more Nelvana than Gengar.

Realizing that he had stopped walking, Gengar hurried to catch up with Nelvana, who thankfully hadn’t gone too far away in that short telepathic conversation. His ears drooped as he watched the ground-type continue pushing herself further through the snowy dungeon.

“H-Hey, Nelvana? How many floors do we have left?” he called out.

It took a few moments, but Nelvana did quietly respond, “three… eugh, maybe fouur?” she mumbled.

“Okay, thanks!” Gengar replied, feigning cheerfulness at this answer.

The next room presented the stairs, and they made their way up to the next floor again. This next floor opened up to a larger clearing, and in the distant end of the room, a metang floated with its back to the pair. Nelvana slowly lifted her head to look over at the dungeon spawn, and stiffly shifted her grip on her club. Gengar blinked at the sight of this larger pokemon, and his gaze shifted from his ally to this foe before he hesitantly stepped forward.

“Um… Actually, I think I want to try fighting again, alright? You can hang back for this one,” he said.

Nelvana gave Gengar a confused look with her eyes before accepting this decision, letting herself relax again tiredly as she took a clumsy step away. Seeing this, Gengar took in a deep breath and approached the metang. He had never had to fight something of this size… Regardless, he knew that he was going to have to try, despite his fears. Backing out now would not only be foolish, but likely the sort of risk Ceebee had warned him against.

Gengar readied himself in a loose battle position, readying a fist to attack the metang. He knew his shadow punch move would be reliable, even having the type advantage here.

However, he stopped himself right before he was about to charge the move. Nelvana… wasn’t comfortable with that move. Perhaps it was one of his better moves, but he also knew that if he used it now, it would just make this experience worse for her… and perhaps, she deserved better than that. He had other attacks to try.

At this point, Gengar had stalled enough for the metang to notice him standing there, and the steel-psychic-type began its advance. He stiffened at the sight, trying to recall what other moves that he could actually use here. There’s… lick? No, that move is super awkward. What else…

When it dawned on him, Gengar almost felt like slapping himself for not remembering sooner. He knew sucker punch, which was also super effective. Plus, this metang was predictably about to throw themself at him to attack, so this move would be a safe bet.

He could feel the dark energy readying itself around his fist, only growing stronger as the metang dove towards him with their steel claws glinting in the sunlight. Gengar’s attack landed first, and he punched the larger pokemon, forcing them a few feet away.

Unfortunately, any victory felt at this was short-lived, as the metang was not defeated and still ready to use their own attack. Gengar stiffened again, realizing he was now fully vulnerable to this dungeon spawn, without any more ideas of attacks to use. He curled into himself, turning away from his foe and awaiting the impact of the metal claw move.

The loud clank of bone against steel was what greeted him instead. Gengar looked back up just in time to see Nelvana’s club plop into the snow, and the metang to fall over before disappearing in a flash of golden light.

“O-Oh, hey! Thanks!” Gengar blurted out, turning around to look over at the cubone.

Nelvana was crouched on the snow with her tail curled around herself and her right arm laying limply in front of her. She seemed to make the tired effort to smile in response, but made no other movements or noises. Gengar’s own smile fell slightly, and the thought crossed his mind that normally the bonemerang attack was supposed to return to the user.

“Heh, that fight worked out alright at least…” Gengar continued, idly scratching his arm. “You know, we actually handled that pretty well, together! Er, well… Here, let me just grab your club and then we can continue. You said three more floors, right?”

“Three or two left now…” Nelvana mumbled, nodding slowly.

“Great, let’s hope it’s that second one,” Gengar replied.

Reaching down, Gengar pulled the long bone weapon out of the snow and shook any remaining cold flakes off of it. He was about to just walk over to Nelvana and hand her her item, but then flinched back at his own foolishness; if he got too close, he would just end up absorbing her warmth.

“Uh, I’ll just slide it over to you then…” he murmured, setting the club back onto the ground and pushing it towards its owner.

Nelvana barely seemed to acknowledge this until the club bumped against her foot, causing her to blink and actually look at her. She shook her head before grabbing it and pulling herself back onto her feet, beginning to take the lead through the dungeon again.

“You still holding up alright?” Gengar couldn’t help but ask her.

“’mm jus’… really tired,” Nelvana admitted, “but it’s jus’ the cold, I know I hafta stay awake… come on.”

Gengar let out a sigh; at least Nelvana knew how to take care of herself, even like this. If he could feel the cold as badly and was as tired as she probably was right now, he wouldn’t be surprised if he would have just given up at this point; clicked the button on the badge and teleported back to a home full of warmth and relaxation.

There were only two more floors after that one, fortunately. Gengar made sure to keep his word and kept trying to battle the dungeon pokemon, leaving Nelvana to hang back and just throw in her club if it was ever needed as a last resort.

With this strategy, they managed to pull through the rest of the dungeon, exiting out and into the open air and sky again. An icy gust of wind blew by them, but there was still no falling snow from the sky. It seemed that through the dungeon they had managed to climb all the way up to a large, rockier clearing, with the snow-drowned pine forest stretching all around them.

Nelvana didn’t mention Articuno; but after Moltres, the expectation was still there for the other bird legendary to arrive before they would be able to properly get out of here. And sure enough, there was the distant flapping of wings that only grew louder as they approached and landed in front of the pair.

“Greetings,” Articuno said, holding themself more composed than Moltres had carried themself. “What brings you back through my domain?”

“We’re gonn’ to see Ninetaless again…” Nelvana responded, doing her best to keep any tired slurring of her words out of her speech. “Need t’ask ‘er about the curss again, with him,” she added, gesturing vaguely to Gengar.

Articuno nodded, “I see… Your client here, Gengar, you are the same that spoke to Skarmory about the false rumors before, are you not?”

Gengar flinched, “h-how did you…?”

“Moltres decided to pay me a visit late last night to inform me of your arrival here,” Articuno told him, “but have no fear, I have no intentions of threatening you like they did. I trust that… Cubone will keep you in line if you do try anything; though I do hope that you are on your best behavior here.”

Gengar could only nod as quickly as he could in response. He did not want to piss this bird off in any way, especially since he wasn’t certain if they would actually be able to beat Articuno in this scenario.

“Before I allow you to continue, however…” Articuno began, looking back over at Nelvana. “How does Absol fare with your team?”

“’suki is doing good,” Nelvana responded, managing a small smile. “S-Sorry shee wassn able t’ come.”

“That is pleasing to hear,” Articuno hummed, “Absol is quite the honorable person,” they added, “I shall not keep you two here any longer. You may continue on your way now. Farewell, and best of luck to the both of you on your journey.”

“Thankss,” Nelvana replied.

Deciding not to waste anymore time here, Nelvana accepted this dismissal and began to sluggishly make her way down the pathway again. Gengar waited for her to get some distance as he had been throughout this area, but then hesitated.

“Actually, hold on for a second!” he called, watching for his ally to stop walking before he turned back to Articuno. “H-Hey, could you, uh… do us a favor?”

Articuno blinked, “what sort of favor are you requesting of me?”

“W-Well… Look, this is sort of a time-important mission and we already have a lot more to go ahead of us,” Gengar stammered, trying to figure out how one was supposed to ask a legendary for help. “It’s… It’s really cold here too, it’s kind of taking its toll on us, so…”

“Go on,” Articuno prompted, their feathers ruffling with amusement.

“Would you mind giving us a lift to Ninetales?” Gengar finally asked, “you know… Nel’s team did kind of save the world, it would be-“

“Cease your rambling,” Articuno ordered, causing Gengar to jump in surprise. “I will take you both to see Ninetales; no need to attempt to convince me with your stammers.”

Gengar’s eyes widened, “r-really?”

“Indeed,” Articuno assured him, nodding.

“This is great! Thank you!” Gengar exclaimed; he had done something right! “Nel! Nelvana! Come back! I got us a ride!” he called out again.

Some of Gengar’s excitement faded when he met Nelvana’s gaze again. Confusion flickered in her eyes for a moment, as if she hadn’t completely caught up to what he had told her, and there was almost a sense of being lost with her tiredness.

However, she continued pushing onward, and dragged herself back up to the others again. Articuno crouched so that the two of them would be able to climb onto their back with more ease. Nelvana managed to clamber her way up, and Gengar followed suit, doing his best to sit as far away from her as possible.

Articuno stood back up again, spreading out their wings and taking off into the sky again. Nelvana stared with lidded eyes at the land that they were now above. It was… peaceful up here. She distantly wondered if she had flown with someone like this before, but couldn’t recall anything right away and let the thought fade away in the back of her mind. This had been a good idea at least; they would be able to-

“-vana? Come on, we’re here,” Gengar pleaded.

Nelvana opened her eyes; though she couldn’t remember when she had closed them. They were here already? Hadn’t they just taken off…?

She shook her head, sliding off the large bird’s back and landing her numb feet into the deep snow again. Articuno said something that she couldn’t pick up, and then took off again and disappeared into the clouded skies, leaving the pair alone again. Taking a moment to look around where they were now, Nelvana remarked how this place was quite unfamiliar to her for once on this journey.

“Alright, this is the Frosty Peak…” Gengar muttered to himself, “how do we get in…? Oh, this… is the top,” he continued, his ears drooping with this sudden realization. “I told Articuno to bring us to the top, but we were supposed to go through a dungeon; now we’re just at the top of this peak and the top of the cave! Dammit! Why did his have to get messed up…”

Gengar continued to talk to himself for a few more moments, and Nelvana let herself zone out of his rambles. This predicament was definitely worrying, and distantly she was aware that she probably should be stressed about it or just try to help think of a solution… but somehow, she couldn’t work it up in herself to care anymore.

“…I guess I could go through the wall, or teleport in. But I would have to hold onto you to bring you with me,” Gengar continued, “maybe there is a back entrance somewhere?”

“Through the wall…?” Nelvana murmured.

“What? Oh, yeah, ‘cause I’m a ghost-type. But you aren’t, so that wouldn’t work…” Gengar replied.

While Gengar continued pondering up a way to actually get into this cave, Nelvana slowly began fumbling with her left glove. It took a few seconds, but she managed to tug it off, and she looked over the purple fabric still wrapped around her knuckles.

“Wait, is that my mobile scarf? Where did you-“

Nelvana didn’t pay attention to the rest of Gengar’s questioning. Instead, she did her best to focus on the special item, and threw herself at the cave wall, fazing right through it to the other side.

Distantly, she was aware of Gengar letting out a yelp as she disappeared indoors, but his voice was cut off the moment she made it inside. Not making much of an effort to land properly, Nelvana crumpled onto the stone ground, her club clattering on the floor not far away from her. It was immediately much warmer in here, almost trying to lull Nelvana to rest… But she forced herself up on her feet again, gently tapping on her arm to hopefully keep herself awake for just a bit longer.

Gengar tumbled in not long afterwards, landing not any more gracefully than Nelvana had, despite probably trying more than she had for it. He grumbled to himself for a moment before glancing over at Nelvana, checking her condition with a quick look before turning his gaze away again to scan his surroundings.

He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped himself, the spikes on his back nervously bristling. After a couple more seconds to gather his courage, he opened up his mouth to try speaking again.

“N-Ninetales? We… We’re here!”

Chapter Text

There was silence that followed Gengar’s yells; and for a moment there was doubt that anyone would respond to the calling at all.

Before he could consider trying again though, the soft sound of slow paw steps could be heard making their way over to the pair. Out from the shadows deeper in the caverns, Ninetales padded towards them, a scowl already growing on her greying muzzle.

“Well, I didn’t expect I would hear from you anytime soon, Sh-“ she began, stopping her own sentence midway as her gaze turned from Gengar and over to Nelvana. “Dear Arceus, what happened here?” she gasped, carefully approaching the weakened cubone. “What have you done?” Spinning around to look at Gengar again, her voice suddenly turned accusatory.

Gengar stiffened, shrinking back at Ninetales’ glare, “I… We… W-We just…”

Ninetales shook her head, “if you will not explain, Shinobi, then I will have to ask Nelvana when she is doing better,” she huffed, “coming here without Blaziken’s child and with that heat sink of a pokemon instead…” she then muttered under her breath, shaking her head again.

Once she had arrived close enough to the cubone, Gengar shuffling away from Ninetales as she approached, the fox pokemon laid down and gently wrapped eight of her nine tails around Nelvana, leaving the last tail idle on the ground. Gengar flinched up at this action, and even Nelvana had a moment of hesitance, trying to step back for a moment before letting herself sink into the warm fur.

“H-Hey wait! Your… Your tails-“ Gengar blurted out in alarm.

“Do you not think I have full control over my actions and powers?” Ninetales scoffed, looking sharply over at Gengar again. “Only foes who touch my tails get cursed; Gardevoir’s chosen will be alright,” she continued.

With that explanation provided, though ignoring that odd nickname for now, Nelvana let herself relax more. The tails weren’t as warm as she had expected, in fact it seemed likely that Ninetales had purposely sucked all the heat out of them so that she wouldn’t warm up Nelvana too fast, but they were still much warmer than anything she had felt for awhile.

Distantly, she tried to think of first aid for hypothermia so that she would be sure to be treated properly. Should she not be wearing these wet clothes? Should she eat something warm? In the end, Nelvana was too tired to collect this information from her mind for now, the thoughts blipping in and out of her head again like trying to count raindrops as they fell from the sky. She would have to trust that Ninetales knew what she was doing on her own.

Gengar carefully watched the pair, trying to let himself relax after that confrontation. He could only find himself fortunate that Ninetales hadn’t just decided to flamethrower his face the moment she had seen him. It was obvious that even after hundreds of years, many of those years he wasn’t even present in, Ninetales still hated him.

As he took another step back though, Gengar’s foot bumped against something on the ground, causing him to reflexively jump at the touch. After calming himself down again, he looked down at what it actually was; and found Nelvana’s bone club.

He picked up the club and held it close to himself.

This warming up process was slow, and silent. Ninetales would glare at Gengar every once and awhile, sending him shrinking back again, but she did not speak to him. Gengar only made an attempt to speak when Nelvana winced from the heat returning to her limbs, but he ended up being intimidated to silence again. Nelvana didn’t make of an effort to talk; though a few times she was tempted too.

But finally, she felt awake and warm enough to stand up on her own again and move away from Ninetales. The fox pokemon blinked at this movement, but then smiled softly at the cubone.

“How are you feeling?” Ninetales asked, slowly rising to her feet as well and shaking the pebbles out of her fur that had been picked up while laying down.

“Still tired… but definitely more awake, if that makes sense. And warmer,” Nelvana answered, adjusting her scarf. “Thank you, Ninetales.”

“Do not worry about it; this isn’t the first time I’ve had to warm someone up from hypothermia… Though, you were a bit of a surprise, Gardevoir’s chosen. The last time you were here you had a larger and more… proper group, and yet this time you just bring him. Why was that?” Ninetales responded.

Taking a step in Gengar’s direction, she glanced at him and then back at Ninetales, “we’re here to ask more about Gardevoir’s curse, and more specifically on how to break it,” she told her, “and the others aren’t here because… uh…”

Nelvana trailed off, unable to come up with a reasonable excuse. Her hesitance had already made it too late to believably lie, and the truth just dug Gengar deeper in his hole. Ninetales already hated him, and this would add more fuel to the fire, despite it being the honest answer that it was his fault that she had come with him alone. All she had done was agree to the terms, which was something that Ninetales would surely overlook.

Despite this, Ninetales seemed to put the pieces together for the correct answer on her own. Gengar’s guilty expression at the question and Nelvana’s hesitance to answer had only just confirmed her suspicions.

“I see,” Ninetales muttered, sitting down and curling eight tails around herself. “I suppose it should be no surprise that Shinobi was the one with the idea to come here as just a pair, and that you would agree just for a chance to help Gardevoir,” she continued, narrowing her eyes.

“Quit calling me that!” Gengar suddenly yelled, seeming to gain a burst of courage enough to defend himself.

Ninetales’ growing scowl shifted to a grin, “calling you what? Shinobi? You mean your name?” she laughed, “look, Shinobi, you might think you can just shove that past under the rug and do whatever you want without your human sins, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Gengar shrank back once more, his previous courage instantly being drained from him. Nelvana stiffened, glancing at him to Ninetales again while pulling at the strings of her sweater; suddenly noticing the lack of her bone in her hands.

“I don’t think wanting a different name means shoving your past under the rug,” Nelvana spoke up, “he’s acknowledging that past right now by coming here; can we just respect his name choices?”

“Ah, you miss the point here,” Ninetales sighed, shaking her head. “But let us get to the point of your arrival, yes? You wish to save Gardevoir… I’m afraid that you are unable to; it would be best to return back home now instead.”

“Wait, you’re saying we can all this way and the curse can’t even be broken?” Gengar exclaimed, narrowing his eyes at Ninetales, though still keeping his distance.

Ninetales shook her head, “I never said that it can’t be broken, I just said that you are unable to,” she clarified, “you see, Shinobi, you lack what is needed to break the curse, and unfortunately, it can’t be broken without you... So, without you having what is needed…”

“What is needed, then?” Nelvana asked.

“Actually,” Ninetales began with a sigh, “the requirements on breaking this curse are actually a bit similar to returning you and your time travelling friends back here,” she murmured, “Keahi has what Shinobi lacks. So, she was able to rescue you, but he will not be able to rescue Gardevoir.”

“And… what is that exactly?” Gengar asked, “did Keahi ever tell you what sh- he needed? To bring back you guys…?” he continued, looking hopefully at Nelvana, but only earning a defeated head shake in return.

“It is nothing you will have, Shinobi. I know you well enough to say that,” Ninetales spat, “this has to do with who you are as a person; nothing you can ask, borrow, or… steal from others.”

“W-Well! Why can’t you just break your own curse? Why can’t you do it?” Gengar sputtered desperately, “what’s the point of being able to create curses if you can’t break them?”

“It doesn’t work that way!” Ninetales snapped hoarsely, “and even if it was… I have used up all the power in these tails. I have already done everything I can for Gardevoir.”

“How does the power in your tails work?” Nelvana asked, “I wasn’t aware that they could even run out.”

Ninetales sighed again, letting some of the tension out of her body, “when a vulpix evolves into a ninetales, each of their tails become fueled with a mystic power. Left idle, this power makes a ninetales stronger, and provides us with our thousand-year lifespan. However, when needed, power can be taken from a tail, usually in the form of a curse. It is rarely anything else. We are very skilled in curses. We cannot preform miracles; we only do curses. However, this power will never come back to us, so a ninetales can only ever preform a maximum of nine curses in their life time,” she explained, “in the case of the curse from touching one of our tails, it is a defense mechanism; though it does use up the power in that tail. For Gardevoir, I tried revoking as much of the curse as I could in that moment, but once one is cursed…”

“That’s why you called for Gengar,” Nelvana realized, “you wanted him to break the curse from the start.”

“Indeed,” Ninetales replied, nodding. “But he fled instead, and now I know he doesn’t have what’s needed to break the curse. At the very least, I was able to revoke enough of the curse on my own that Gardevoir wasn’t sentenced to a thousand years of pain, and just became a spirit guide.”

“Then what about the power you granted Gardevoir? She told me that you gave her the ability to turn me into a pokemon,” Nelvana continued, “how did that work?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Nelvana spotted Gengar stiffen at this new information, but she kept her gaze trained on Ninetales, who smiled again.

“Ah, yes. It doesn’t surprise me that you would want to know about that eventually,” Ninetales hummed, “that was still a curse, just executed a bit differently than the average curse. I had never given someone else the power to pass along a curse before, but I knew it could be done.

When Gardevoir came to me that day, desperately asking for the ability to bring a human here as a pokemon, I was surprised, but knew that she was right. The absol had told me that there was a disaster that could change everything coming soon, and I realized that only the power of the soul of a human would be able to truly fix things; especially if all the gods had decided not to bother helping. However, I only had the power of one tail left. I could either give Gardevoir the curse of bringing a human to this world, or turning a human into a pokemon. I chose the latter, hoping there would be some other way a human would arrive here. It was such a pleasure to learn that I had made the right choice in the end, and that you were Gardevoir’s chosen,” she explained.

“So, the amnesia then. Was that… intentional?” Nelvana hesitantly asked.

“Of course! Everything I do is intentional, after all,” Ninetales answered softly, “though, the amnesia was supposed to be complete. It seemed that Gardevoir managed to hold back enough for you to remember your name and being human,” she added.

“But why?” Nelvana questioned, feeling an ache in her heart at her confirmed suspicions; she had been meant to forget everything.

“Because most humans are untrustworthy pieces of garbage,” Ninetales growled, her tails lashing behind her. “I knew that because I had chosen the latter option, Gardevoir might not get much of a choice on what human to transform; just whoever showed up first. I couldn’t risk that whoever being someone like Shinobi! The amnesia was an added failsafe. Whoever the human was would accept their identity as just an amnesiac pokemon, and then would end up wanting to help save the world out of self-preservation, at the very least.”

Nelvana’s ears rang at this news, her mind whirling as she watched and listened to the way Ninetales described her reasoning with no guilt at all at having almost intentionally taken away someone’s identity. Her arms and legs shook, trying to fix the former by wrapping her arms around herself and digging her claws into herself through the sweater.

All she could think about was what would have happened if it had worked, if she had forgotten everything and just become Cubone. Would Alex have even- no, he would have found her, and that somehow made it worse. What is she didn’t recognize him at all? Would he be forced to leave, despite knowing his partner was just in reach? Then Ceebee; Ceebee would have been so heartbroken. And they wouldn’t have even met Tsuki, Nelvana realized, since they had gone to Ninetales because Nelvana was human.

How much could they all have lost just because of this one “failsafe”?

Seeing this reaction, especially as Nelvana began stumbling away from the fox pokemon, Ninetales seemed to realize an error in her explanation. She heaved herself back to her paws, carefully approaching Nelvana again with an attempt at a soft smile and comforting gaze.

“No, but you see, you aren’t like most humans! You had stepped up to help right away, and- and I’m glad that Gardevoir let you remember that! Look at how well everything worked out because it was you who came here,” Ninetales insisted, continuing her approach despite Nelvana standing beside Gengar now. “You’re better than other humans; you really are Gardevoir’s chos-”

“Stop,” Gengar growled, coming off more forcefully than anything else he had said to Ninetales yet. “Can…” His eyes darted around for a moment before focusing on the older ‘mon again. “Can the amnesia be taken away then?” he asked.

“No, it cannot. If you wanted to cure that then you would have to break the entire curse and turn her back into a human too. You can’t just pick and choose,” Ninetales huffed, “only the gods could pull off something like that.”

“…fine,” Gengar muttered, “l-look, I don’t care if you don’t think… think that I can do it, but we’re going to still try to go rescue Gardevoir, so at least you could help the odds by giving us some instructions or something useful,” he continued, steering the conversation back to their initial mission.

“We’ve already come this far,” Nelvana added quietly.

Ninetales looked over the duo for a few moments, before exhaling and seeming to relent to their wishes, “very well. To rescue Gardevoir, you will need to speak with the ‘judge’. They will be the one to pull Gardevoir from the spirit realm after you meet the other requirements,” she told them, “now, do you have a map?”

Nelvana nodded, and Gengar pulled their map out from his large bag, setting it down on the cave floor. Ninetales studied the markings for a few moments, before reaching a forepaw out and scratching a line into an island marked south-east of where they currently were.

“You will find them on the last floor of the dungeon known as Murky Cave, on Remains Island. Here-“ She drew another line on the edge of the continent. “-you will find Gull Village, where you will be able to get a ride to the island.”

“Is that it?” Nelvana asked, “do we need anything else to get to this… judge?”

Ninetales paused, something gleaming in her eyes for just a moment, “…no. No, there is nothing else.”

“I guess we’ll be leaving then…” Gengar said, rolling up the map to put back in the bag. “Oh right, here’s your club, Nel,” he added, handing the weapon over to his ally.

“Ah, that reminds me. Since you are here, there is something I should return to you,” Ninetales said, “wait here,” she instructed, turning around and began to hobble further down the cave.

“We should leave while she isn’t looking,” Gengar whispered to Nelvana.

Nelvana shook her head, “as much as I’d like to… this could be important, we should just see what she has for us.”

A couple slow minutes later, Ninetales returned, carrying something in her jaws. Once she was in the same room as the other two again, she tossed her head, throwing the object over to them, landing at their feet. It was an odd item, appearing to be two hollow half circles, connected to each other by a hinge. The top half was a faded red while the bottom was a stained white, a button seeming to be attached to the top.

Gengar jumped back at the sight, but Nelvana couched down beside it curiously. Upon closer inspection, the inside of this ball was dark, but seemed to have some sort of technology working it together. There was also a single line dug into the top half, just above the button. She could tell it was a purposeful mark, likely someone had taken a knife of sorts to etch it on. While it seemed to have once been able to open and close, Nelvana couldn’t get it to close perfectly again no matter how much fiddling she did. If it could close though, she figured that it would be about the size of an orange.

“Why do you have this?” Gengar demanded, his voice wavering again.

“You had left it behind in your haste to escape,” Ninetales told him coolly, “I knew I’d see you again, so I held onto it until then. You may have it back now; and please do take it. I don’t want such a revolting item around me anymore.”

“What is it?” Nelvana asked, continuing to examine it in her hands.

Before Gengar could explain, Ninetales spoke up, “that, is a pokeball. This one in particular was for Gardevoir. It fell off of Shinobi’s belt when she broke out to protect him. Humans back in Shinobi’s time would use pokeballs to capture pokemon inside of them, trapping them in there only until the humans needed them. And sometimes, they would never bring those pokemon back out, just leaving the balls in machines, all alone.”

“T-That isn’t it!” Gengar exclaimed, “they would used to hold onto the pokemon so everyone could get around easier, and so that they couldn’t get hurt outside of battle,” he insisted.

Ninetales scoffed, “I don’t suspect such sugar-coated lies will convince Gardevoir’s chosen.”

Nelvana opened her mouth to speak, but Gengar snatched the pokeball out of her hands and sharply spun away from Ninetales, beginning to walk away.

“We’re leaving. Is there a back exit to this place?” he muttered.

“Yes, you’re going in the right direction,” Ninetales responded, “please do not return, Shinobi. I hope that will be the end of our business together for a long time. Though, if you ever wish to return, Gardevoir’s chosen-“

“Yeah… I get it,” Nelvana sighed, “thanks… for your help, Ninetales.”

“Anytime.”

As they walked back out of the cave to the swirling cold, Nelvana found herself annoyingly aware that she had lost her left glove somewhere. However, she stubbornly decided not to go back in to look for it, and continued her way to catch up to Gengar, and eventually pass in front of him, resuming their earlier sort of marching order.

“Wait a minute… there was always the entrance there,” Gengar realized, “dammit! We didn’t have to go through the ceiling!” he cursed.

Nelvana chuckled, “yeah, sorry ‘bout that. I probably would have mentioned it if I remembered it myself. At least we got in there, and now we can get out of here.”

Fortunately, it only took around an hour to get into warmer territories. The ground stopped being coated in ice, and the trees had shed the last of the snow from their needles as they progressed into a different forest; Thicket Shoreline, according to the map. If they just followed these woods around any dungeons, they would hopefully be able to make it to Gull Village by the next day.

For now though, the both of them agreed that setting up camp early after all that would be for the best. After getting rid of her winter clothing, Nelvana began preparing another fire for the night. Thankfully, since she had packed extra food for the Frosty Forest and didn’t end up eating a lot of it, she figured they would have enough to last them to the village without having to search for a statue.

“Hey Gengar.” Nelvana spoke up for one of the first times after leaving Frosty Peak. “Were you really honest about the pokeballs?”

“Yeah,” Gengar answered immediately, but then hesitated. “But… I guess Ninetales was kinda right too.”

“Hm.”

“So, there aren’t any pokeballs where you’re from, right? You seemed pretty confused with this one.”

Nelvana nodded, “yeah, no pokeballs,” she replied, “though, based on the description of what pokeballs do, I guess we had something similar to that. Apricorn balls.”

“Oh, we had some of those too. Pokeballs worked better though,” Gengar mused.

“Mhmm, not many people even used them. Too hard to make, and they rarely even worked. Plus, if you did catch a pokemon, they were unlikely to listen,” Nelvana continued, “befriending them is just better in every way; I’m glad the apricorn balls didn’t work out.”

“Did you ever use an apricorn ball?” Gengar asked, blinking as he realized what a silly question that was. “Oh, I guess you wouldn’t remember-“

“Once,” Nelvana answered, much to Gengar’s surprise. “Alex and I came across one that was abandoned, and I thought it would be a good idea to use it to protect Alex. I could just return him, get somewhere safe, and then let him out again. He didn’t like it much though, so I left it behind… wait.” She sat up straighter, eyes widening as she thought over what she had just said. “…how did I remember that?”

“Oh woah, that’s pretty good though, right? You must be recovering memories!” Gengar exclaimed.

“Doesn’t make any sense though…” Nelvana murmured, “how… and why?”

“Maybe it’s because Gardevoir tried revoking the amnesia or somethin’. Does it really matter though? You have a chance to remember your past!” Gengar continued.

Nelvana seemed hesitant, but finally relaxed again, “I guess I’ll figure it out later…”

Despite saying this, Nelvana couldn’t help but continue silently thinking this discovery over, and repeating the memory in her mind as if she would forget it all over again if she stopped thinking about it. Eventually, she was able to let the excitement trickle in with this. It meant that there was a chance to remember her past; there was hope!

Even later still, she managed to pull her thoughts away enough to actually use the badge to update her teammates. There was a text limit, so she had to think over what to tell them. She decided to skim over the Frosty Forest journey; they didn’t need to know much about her hypothermia. She also ended up skipping a lot of Ninetales’ odd behavior in her summary of that interaction, but made sure to mention where Gengar and her would be headed next on their journey. Despite her best efforts, there didn’t seem to be enough space left to include her possible memory recovery. Perhaps it would be better to tell them in person anyway… she decided, sending the message.

It wasn’t long after that when other thoughts entered Nelvana’s mind; other voices.

~**You’re okay!**~

Nelvana couldn’t help but chuckle to herself; looks like they wanted a telepathy conversation. That suited her fine. It was nice to actually hear from her friends again anyway…

*I’m fine, don’t worry. How are things over there?*

Chapter Text

“You know, Ninetales turned out to be a lot worse than I had thought she was,” Nelvana commented.

“Me too, to be honest,” Gengar responded.

Nelvana paused from walking for a moment, looking up at the ghost-poison-type with an air of slight surprise at this response.

“I would have expected that you would never have liked her to begin with,” she told him, continuing to walk at her usual pace again.

“I mean… you’re right; but she was still worse than I expected,” he replied, “I always thought cursing everyone who touches your tails is a bit extreme, but I didn’t think she was someone to just curse willy-nilly and not regret anything about it.”

She let out a slight hum in response, falling silent again to think things over, again. After she “talked” with her teammates for awhile, she had gotten some rest. Then the two of them cleaned up camp the next morning, and continued on their journey like the previous days. Keahi had helped estimate that it would probably take about a day to make it to Gull Village. Since there were no dungeons on the way, this meant that it would be just an entire day of walking.

However, unlike the other times they had been to walk for long distances, both of them felt more inclined to upholding a conversation. Evidently, there were more for them to actually talk about; and the silence was getting boring anyway.

“Her favoritism of me was unnerving,” Nelvana finally continued, shaking her head at the memory.

“Yeah, it’s pretty weird. Especially since she really hates humans,” Gengar agreed, “like, really, really hates humans. An absurd amount of hate. I wonder if she had… other bad incidents with humans to make her think that way to us.”

Nelvana shrugged, “I think she only really likes me because of Gardevoir. She must have put in a good word for me,” she murmured, “they must be on friendly terms with each other; Gardevoir seemed to speak highly of Ninetales.”

“Must not be that good friends; Ninetales didn’t really want us to go do this,” Gengar huffed, kicking a pebble away in his path as he walked.

“No… I don’t think that she didn’t want us to do this; she just hates you too much,” Nelvana corrected.

Gengar scowled, narrowing his eyes at the forested ground and folding his ears back. If he had pockets, Nelvana betted that he would have stuffed his hands in those. She studied him for a few moments before speaking up again.

“Why did you touch her tail, anyway?”

It took him nearly a minute to answer. He shifted his gaze to Nelvana, and then the ground again, his scowl only deepening as he thought about the event; burning fresh in his mind as if it had just happened the day before.

But just as Nelvana would have thought he would never answer at all, he spoke.

“It was just a stupid dare,” Gengar growled, “this old guy warned us, myself and some friends at the time, about touching the tail of a ninetales, and we didn’t take it seriously. My friends dared me to go touch the tail, and I agreed. It would be cool and fun, we thought! We thought nothing bad could come from it; it was just another exaggeration that adults would use to scare little kids.”

Nelvana didn’t say anything right away, simply silently prompting him to go on, which he did.

“When something bad did come from it, I was too cowardly to accept it, and ran away,” he spat, “it… I didn’t even learn from it then. I didn’t… It didn’t take long for me to even stop thinking of Gardevoir. I just kept blaming everyone but myself from what happened, and thought she was stupid for doing that,” he admitted, slowly getting quieter again as he went on. “Arceus, I feel so bad for thinking that now. Gardevoir never deserved that. She never…”

Nelvana quietly stepped up onto a fallen log in her way and beginning to walk on it as Gengar spoke, but kept her focus on him to assure him that she was listening. She casually set her club over her shoulders, hanging her hands off it as she carefully continued her way across.

“At least you learned now,” she assured him.

He blinked, his expression softening from his scowl into a worried frown, “I’m scared that… past me, Shinobi, wouldn’t have actually helped Gardevoir if I, he, had stuck around to hear what Ninetales had to say, and had been given that option.”

“That would have been a horrible thing to do,” Nelvana stated bluntly, “something I don’t doubt that Shinobi would have done,” she continued, “however… I don’t think that Gengar would have done that.”

Gengar flinched back at the first comment, turning away from the cubone, but he slowly blinked and looked back at her as she continued. Standing on the log gave her the extra height needed to stand slightly taller than him, and she gently smiled down at him.

“You’ve changed from when I first met you; which definitely means that you’ve changed since you were human,” Nelvana told him, “One of the first steps to becoming a better person is to admit to your mistakes; which you just did. Then the second step is to work to make up for them; which you’re working on now,” she explained, “and you’ve been doing pretty good with that so far!”

“Wha…” Gengar’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding, right?” His question almost came out as a statement; seeming to already have mentally chosen an answer.

Nelvana laughed, hopping off the log down onto the forested ground, “no, I wouldn’t joke about that sort of thing. You’ve actually been improving, don’t worry.”

She swung the club back off her shoulders, holding it comfortably in her right hand by her side. Pausing for a moment, she looked back up to Gengar, who quickly blinked and turned away as she looked at him. He coughed, quickening his walking pace as if to tell Nelvana to just keep moving along.

“Are… you going to cry?” Nelvana questioned, almost in a dramatic gasp fashion.

“N-No way!” Gengar snapped, rubbing his eyes. “I’ve just got something in my eyes. There’s… a lot of dust and dirt in here,” he insisted, but then looked at Nelvana again and began laughing. “You don’t believe me at all, do you?”

“You’ve always been a terrible liar,” Nelvana told him, snickering. “But relax, it’s not like I plan on bringing every detail up when I let my team know how the day has gone.”

“You had better. There are much more important things to talk about,” he huffed, still smiling though. “But… um, thanks. For… helping me go out and do this. Means a lot ‘n stuff,” he added quietly.

Nelvana smiled softly, “no problem.”

They continued their path through the wilderness, Nelvana leading them close enough to the shore to be able to keep hearing the waves wash over the sand through the overgrowth, but not quite close enough to see it. Despite the forestry being thick over their heads, sun crept through the leaves and provided them with plenty of light to continue navigating with.

A bit after noon, Nelvana brought them back into a thinner part of Thicket Shoreline, letting them stop to eat. Gengar hadn’t been complaining about walking for a long time, she hoped this meant he was getting used to travelling so long again; but she could tell that he was getting tired anyway and decided to let them take a break. They ate, and then moved on again. Using up as much of the daylight as they could to get to Gull Village before nightfall was the goal.

“So, what prompted this to begin with?” Nelvana finally asked; the question having been on her mind since the very beginning. “Why decide to go bring back Gardevoir now?”

“I didn’t realize she could be saved,” Gengar croaked, “I had thought about it a lot after, uh, being run out of Pokemon Square, but I had always thought she was just… dead. Gone. But then…” He coughed. “I broke into your house and looked into your dreams and found out Gardevoir was actually alive and could possibly be saved?”

Gengar looked away from Nelvana guiltily, almost hoping that he had spoken fast enough that she might not have picked up what he had said. But Nelvana had good ears and had picked up on every word. She let out a sigh, shaking her head.

“I already knew that you had done that, you don’t need to try to hide it,” she told him, “why did you do that, anyway?”

“I…” Gengar hesitated, but soon relented under Nelvana’s stare. “…I was trying to find some dirt on ya.” He adjusted the strap of his bag. “I thought that if I could pin you down for some other crime, then they would let me and my team back in.”

“But instead…”

“Instead, I found my own crimes staring back at me. And I guess that was the final push to make me realize how much I’ve screwed up, and that if I didn’t change then I wouldn’t actually get anywhere.”

Nelvana fell silent, not certain of what to say in response to that. Thankfully, it seemed that now that Gengar had gotten started with talking about this, he was just on a roll. Perhaps he had needed to talk about this after all.

“It was really scary, to realize that. But… I’m tired of running away, really tired of it,” he continued, “so, the first thing I did was go to the Hill of the Ancients again. Being probably the only gengar with teleport, I figured I’d be useful in making the teleport gem. I hoped that I could still get there early enough that Alakazam wouldn’t spot me, and then I could leave before he arrived. It didn’t work out, but somehow, he didn’t decide to arrest me right then and there. He told me that we had a mutual goal, which I can only assume was about the gem; so, I guess he thought my help was worth it…? The way he said it kind of makes me wonder if it was something else though…”

Something turned in Nelvana’s stomach at that last part, and she bit the corner of her lip as she thought about it. Part of her wondered if that mutual goal had to do with Team A.C.T. going along with Gengar’s obviously false accusations about her… did the elite team really not like her and her team?

He paused, biting his lip. “Okay, I’ll admit that I did that mostly because I was scared of dying to the meteor. That’s besides the point,” he said, “I stuck around the area to see how it would turn out. And when Edgar mentioned the spirit realm, I realized that I could help there to! So, I went in to look for you.”

“For me specifically?” Nelvana questioned; unsure of how she was supposed to feel about something like that.

“You were my only link to Gardevoir! I wanted to make sure that you would get out alright!” Gengar blurted out, frowning and then turning away afterwards. “Nevermind that, it doesn’t matter,” he growled afterwards.

Deciding to let that matter go, for now at least, Nelvana sighed again, nodding at him to continue.

“A little while after… all that, I disbanded Team Meanies. Ekans and Medicham kept wanting to keep going like we used to, hurting others for our own gain. But my heart wasn’t in it anymore. We argued about it for awhile, and then I threw out the team name and told them to get lost,” he explained, “after that, I decided that I wanted to fix my biggest mistake so I could finally actually move on.”

“Breaking the curse.”

“Of course. That’s when I went to go find you.”

“So, Ekans and Medicham are just… gone now?” Nelvana asked.

“Well, it’s not like I could arrest them without turning myself in,” Gengar scoffed, “but yeah, I have no clue where they went off to. Probably trying to dominate the world on their own of something, ha. It’s not like they’ll be able to form another team though; so, they can’t reap those rewards anymore.”

“What was your goal with world domination, anyway?” Nelvana held back a snicker at her own question; always finding the very idea of old Team Meanies ruling the world both impossible and ridiculous.

“Just… to rule the world?” Gengar’s face scrunched up in thought. “We didn’t think that far ahead.”

Now Nelvana laughed, “of course you didn’t.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes before Gengar hesitantly spoke up again.

“You know… I was still there when you guys, uh, disappeared,” he mentioned quietly, “I was actually… really upset by that, for all of you.”

“Really?” Nelvana found that hard to believe, especially since he confessed earlier to only have helped her in the spirit realm because she was connected to Gardevoir.

“Yeah. It surprised me too,” Gengar admitted, “but you guys are a really good team; it’s honestly pretty, uh, admirable. Especially the bond you guys all have with each other. I was pals with Ekans and Medicham, sure, but I think we all knew that we would turn on each other if the right opportunity presented itself. You all… care for each other. It’s… nice,” he mused, “the bond you have with your partners is especially nice.

You and Keahi are so close, I swear it’s hard to remember when… when he wasn’t dragging you around Pokemon Square. And Alex, he searched super hard to find you. I remember glimpsing him around the outskirts of town. I had dismissed him as some weirdo grass-type at the time, but I guess looking back, he was always just trying to find you. He didn’t give up when you were separated, or when he found out you had amnesia. And you’re always helping them and… That’s how all partners should be,” he continued, “not like how I treated Gardevoir,” he added in a mumble.

Nelvana blinked, feeling her ears burning from the compliment, “o-oh, thank you…?” she responded, “but… Hey, if you wanted, there is always a chance to rekindle your partnership with Gardevoir.”

“No there isn’t,” Gengar sighed immediately, “she wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, forgive me for what I’ve done. She deserves a better partner than me anyway.”

“That isn’t true,” Nelvana assured him, “Gardevoir doesn’t hate you for what you did, and you can always work to be that better partner she deserves. You’ll get another chance at this.”

Gengar’s eyes widened, but then he ducked away again, his ears flattening. He stayed like this for a few moments, flexing his fingers and grimacing, before turning back to face Nelvana once more.

“You know what? You’ve asked enough questions about me; I should get to ask some about you,” he announced, “why the hell didn’t you tell everyone who I really am? About me being the human from the Ninetales’ Legend? I know you knew about it; there was no way you wouldn’t ask Ninetales about it the first time you were there.”

Nelvana exhaled, “because despite everything, that wouldn’t be fair to you. I wouldn't want to force that danger onto someone, especially since I knew they would be mad enough without that information,” she explained, “I know better than most about that,” she added.

This answer seemed to stun Gengar to silence again for a few moments, but once again he bounced back quickly and spoke up.

“Alright, well why do you have my mobile scarf?” he asked.

“Oh, you left it on our lawn,” Nelvana told him proudly, showing him the tattered item. “Consider this compensation for breaking in and trying to snoop in my head,” she hummed, putting it away again.

“Come on! I saved your life, give that back!” Gengar yelled, “I need that!”

“And I saved your’s,” Nelvana countered matter-of-factly, “besides, if you only do those selfless things expecting a reward…” she trailed off, leaving Gengar to connect the dots on his own. “And anyway, why would you need this? You’re a ghost-type, you can already travel through walls.”

Gengar sputtered for a few moments, unable to put together a proper response to this comment. He scowled, and finally exhaled as he relented.

“Fine, keep it. It’s in bad shape anyway.”

Nelvana paused; if he really wanted it that bad, she wouldn’t have minded giving it back to him. She really just wanted to know why he even would want to use this item. For now though, she decided to keep holding onto it. He would either get a new one, convince her to give him this one, or just move on.

Aside from their conversations that would pop up and then fade away to silence again, nothing memorable happened during their journey through Thicket Shoreline. Through the leaves above them, they could slowly watch as the sun slid downwards and disappeared into the evening, and then night. Despite the oncoming darkness, neither of them made any moves to set up a campfire right away; feeling stubborn enough to see if they could make it to Gull Village within the same day.

Just as Gengar considered making Nelvana stop to let to rest for the night, the forest thinned out again to reveal just what they had been looking for. Gull Village was a small beach town, only having a few houses, stores, and a boardwalk to its name. Regardless of its general size and apparent population though, it was evidently really well sustained, from the strong buildings to the well-kept land surrounding it.

Spotting the docks, Nelvana lead them over, and then entered the closest building to it. Inside was a well-lit cozy store, sporting some tourist souvenirs off to one half of the room, and a dewgong at a counter at the front. The ice-water-type waved over at the pair politely, prompting them to go over and speak to them.

“Hello there, welcome to the Gull Village Docks!” Dewgong greeted cheerily, “how may I help you two today?”

“Hi, we’re looking for a ride over to Remains Island?” Nelvana responded, glancing back at Gengar to make sure she had gotten the name right.

“Oh, that’s a place I haven’t heard anyone mention in awhile!” Dewgong commented, “but don’t worry about it! We have two guides who know the route well, Corviknight and Lapras. I believe Corviknight is busy giving someone else a ride, but Lapras is mostly certainly available!”

“Great, we’ll get a ride with them then,” Nelvana hummed.

Dewgong provided them with a price total, and once Nelvana had paid, their tickets. The counterwoman eyed Nelvana’s badge for a moment as the cubone reached over to pass to coins to her, but she didn’t comment on that despite her evident curiosity.

“Alright, just head right outside and to your right. You can’t miss him!” Dewgong told them, “have a nice trip! Safe travels!” she called out as they headed back out the door.

Following her directions lead them out onto the wooden docks themselves, and over to the much larger pokemon waiting there. He was humming a tune to himself as they approached; a band marked with the logo they had seen inside the building wrapped around one of his front flippers could be seem as he swished back and forth along with his wordless song. A bit delayed, Lapras turned his head to look over at them as they walked up.

“Ahh, greetings!” Lapras called out, “tickets, please?”

Nelvana silently showed him their two tickets, holding them up for him so that he could read them over. After a few moments, he leaned down and somehow bit a tiny hole into each of them.

“Perfect! Welcome aboard!” he hummed, gesturing for them to climb on his back. “I haven’t headed out to Remains Island in awhile; this will be quite the treat! It’s a nice spot, despite most people not hearing of it!”

“Well, thank you for being willing to take us out there, Lapras,” Nelvana replied, carefully pulling herself onto the shell of the ferry pokemon, Gengar following suit.

“Oh please, no need for formalities! Just call me Larry, alright?” he responded.

“Ah, well, I’m Nelvana, and that’s just Gengar,” Nelvana told him.

“Pleasure to meet you two!” Larry cheered, “now then, if everyone is comfortable back there, let’s be off!”

Larry began carefully swimming out to sea, and looking behind them only showed Gull Village getting smaller and smaller behind them, before the entire landmass disappeared from sight; swallowed up into the view of just the wide-open ocean.

Chapter Text

Nelvana silently stared down at her team badge before exhaling and shifting her seated position on top of Larry’s shell. She had just finished sending her message out to the rest of Team Galaxy, and now had nothing better to do than just wait for them to arrive to Remains Island.

“So, how far is it to Remains Island?” Gengar asked.

Larry glanced back at the two, causing alarm to spike in Nelvana for a moment at the thought that he wasn’t looking at where he was going anyway, but relaxed again realizing how silly that probably was.

“Oh, don’t worry! It isn’t that far; we should get there much before dawn!” Larry told them, “you’ll have some time to even catch up on sleep if you aren’t someone who likes sleeping on the water!” he added with a laugh before turning back to face where he was going again.

“Are you fine staying up this late?” Nelvana questioned; she might have been fine with something like that, but she had learned that most jobs in this time didn’t expect one to work for too many hours of a day.

“Yes!” Larry hummed, “some ‘mons would mind, but I don’t. If I never took people out this late, I wouldn’t get as many chances to see the night sky!”

Looking up… didn’t show that much compared to other nights. A thick layer of clouds had moved in, blocking out all the individual stars from being seen. Some of the light snuck in between, giving the sky colors ranging from green to purple with the texture of the clouds around to top it off.

Despite it looking pretty in its own way, Nelvana quickly found herself missing the stars. Seeing the sky like this gave her a somber feeling that she couldn’t quite place.

“Well, I suppose this isn’t the best example of that,” Larry admitted, “but it’s still nice! That bein’ said though, I’ll probably take a nap once we get there! Dewgong will understand if I’m a bit late getting back; everyone needs their sleep after all.”

Gengar blinked, “wait, wouldn’t you rather go home to sleep though?”

Larry chuckled, “I don’t have a home!”

“You’re homeless?” Gengar questioned, despite knowing full well that he didn’t have a home either.

“Ah, that’s a strong word. The entire sea is my home!” Larry replied, “I used to travel around on my own for days; creating my own map in my mind. One day I landed at Gull Village, and figured that I could volunteer as a ferry ride for a few days. Turns out, I have a knack for the job and really took a liking to it, so Dewgong officially hired me!” he explained.

“That was… a longer answer than I expected,” Gengar muttered.

Again, Larry laughed, “apologies, I tend to ramble quite a bit! Just let me know if you’d prefer some silence!”

“Got it.” Gengar looked over at Nelvana. “So, I’m assuming you’ll be sleeping on the way there then?”

Nelvana shook her head, “no, I’ll stay up.”

“You… will?” Gengar questioned, flicking one of his ears. “You aren’t a ghost-type like me, you’re supposed to sleep at night, you know,” he added.

“I’ll be fine,” Nelvana sighed, rolling her eyes. “This isn’t the first time I’ve stayed up late like this. At least there’ll be time to rest when we get there.”

Gengar’s face scrunched up as he thought, finally letting out a sigh and seeming to relent to Nelvana’s plans. He leaned back against one of the spikes on Larry’s shell, staring up at the sky for a few moments before lowering his gaze back over to the cubone.

“Alright, well in that case, I had been wondering a few things,” he began.

Nelvana opened up her mouth to speak, but then hesitated, “…about what?”

“About where you were from; you, Alex, and Ceebee,” Gengar clarified, “you guys are from the dead timeline, what was that like? I know you wouldn’t remember much, but you must know something.”

Silence met his questions at first. Nelvana furrowed her brows and bit her lip, before finally turning back to look over in Larry’s direction.

“Is it true that lapras can read minds?” she asked.

“We can, but only after much practice and training! I’ve only met a few who can do it properly,” Larry answered, “if you’re wondering if I can, I cannot! I have been trying to learn, but I don’t get to meet with someone who is well trained in telepathy enough to get proper advice, ha! It’s fine though; it would be impolite to go reading the minds of any travellers anyway!” he added.

“Okay, thanks,” Nelvana murmured, nodding.

She furrowed her brows again, letting out a sigh as she changed her grip on her club. Thinking back, she wondered why she had even bothered asking. If he did have telepathy and was nosy enough to try reading her mind, the psychic shield from Ceebee would block him. But he didn’t even seem like that kind of person anyway.

Yet, despite knowing this, she couldn’t help but be on edge out here. She doubted anything would actually go wrong, but still felt tense for reasons she was unable to place.

Deciding to focus back on Gengar’s question, Nelvana did her best to find any memories that might have suddenly resurfaced, but was unsuccessful. In a moment of panic, she wondered if she forgot about what had happened with the apricorn ball, but slowly relaxed again when she was able to replay the event in her mind again.

“No, I don’t really remember much still,” she slowly began, instinctually shifting her gaze back to Larry again. “But I know it was… really dark, the sun didn’t shine at all. And everything was all greyscale; the land had no colors. Some places you’d go the water in rivers would just be frozen in place, or leaves stuck floating in the air.”

“That’s… really freaky.” Gengar shuddered. “Sounds like something out of a horror movie.”

“A what?”

“You haven’t… you know what, nevermind that. Doesn’t matter.”

Nelvana decided not to respond to that, and went quiet. Gengar seemed to have run out of questions for her as well; and Larry respected the growing silence, not speaking up as well. It stayed like that for a long time, the only sounds coming from the soft ripple of the waves as they went by.

After a long time, Gengar stretched out in place, changing his seated position. Realizing that she didn’t have to stay still, Nelvana stretched as well, and then rolled out onto her belly to look out at the water. The ocean was dark in the night, darker with the lack of stars or much moonlight to shine over the waves. Because of this, it wasn’t hard to make out her reflection looking back at her, though distorted by the water moving as Larry swam through it. She could see her eyes from behind her skull headgear staring back at her, and her arms holding the club out in front of her. It wasn’t focused enough for her to make out the scars that should have been visible on her arms and shoulder, and she couldn’t decide if she liked it that way or if it just made her more uncomfortable.

She decided that despite the soothing allure of the calm water, she didn’t want to keep staring at it, and by extend, herself. Nelvana pulled herself back to sitting up, and then back to leaning on the same shell spike she had been before, curling her tail around it for support. Turning her gaze in the opposite direction as before, she looked up at the sky instead.

“I wish there were stars out tonight,” Nelvana whispered without thinking as she stared wistfully out to the sky.

“Yeah… I guess it’d be pretty to see a starry sky in the middle of the ocean,” Gengar agreed, though he definitely was not longing for it as much as Nelvana was.

“You can see the stars really well back at the base,” Nelvana continued, not daring to tear her eyes from the sky, as if the stars would start coming out any minute. “Keahi knows a lot of good stories about them. He said that he learned them from his family. They’re really good stories… Keahi is a good storyteller.” She paused. “I miss him.”

“You’ve only been gone for a few days.”

“I know.”

“You’ve even been messaging them with the badge thingy.”

“I know. That doesn’t mean that I can’t miss him, alright?” Nelvana snapped, “I miss being at the base with the others and doing missions like that, okay?”

“You’re homesick?” Gengar questioned, sitting up.

“I guess so,” Nelvana mumbled, staring down at her club and rubbing her thumbs on it, tracing little invisible circles in the bone.

“Why don’t you just get Ceebee to connect you all with telepathy or something?” Gengar suggested nonchalantly. “At least you could talk to them all.”

“No… it’s late at night, I wouldn’t want to bother them.”

“Why don’t you just go to sleep? Pass some time.”

“I don’t feel like sleeping. Not comfortable enough.”

“Then… tell me one of the constellation stories.”

“I don’t think I can remember them well enough to recite in detail. I’m not that good at telling stories anyway.”

“Jeez Nel, then what do you want?” Gengar hissed, narrowing his eyes. “I’m trying to help, but you keep turning down my ideas!”

Nelvana blinked, looking back over at Gengar, “I don’t know. Sometimes you don’t know what you want, or nothing can be done at the moment anyway. And that’s fine,” she told him, “besides, I never said I wanted anything. But… I guess it’s nice you tried to help anyway,” she murmured.

Gengar stared at her for a few moments with a look of frustration and perplexion on his face. Slowly though, he began to relax again, sliding back to lean on the shell spike again with a quiet grumble and crossing his arms.

“Fine, whatever,” he huffed, avoiding Nelvana’s gaze.

“You could sleep too if you want,” she offered, stretching again with a small yawn.

“I don’t wanna,” Gengar replied.

Nelvana couldn’t help but chuckle, “now you should like what you were just complaining about with me.”

Gengar rolled his eyes, but he didn’t argue with her comment looked back over at the cubone again. Letting out a sigh, he uncrossed his arms and pulled himself out of his slouch.

“If you’re that bored though, you could tell me a story about what things were like in your time or something,” she suggested, glancing back at Larry again, who seemed lost in his own little world at this point.

“Honestly, would if I could, but I can’t,” Gengar replied, “I don’t actually remember much of my past either,” he admitted.

“Really?” Nelvana had expected Gengar to have his entire human life to remember, and if she didn’t know what him lying sounded like then she would have suspected that he was making this up.

“Yeah, I…” Now Gengar peeked over at Larry, and only once he reached the same conclusion Nelvana had that the lapras wasn’t listening, he continued. “It’s weird; I can remember the, uh, Ninetales incident vividly, but the farther away I, or time, gets from that incident, the foggier the memories are. Especially the ones that happen after that. I don’t think I can remember much more than a few years after that happened, but I can remember more events from a few years before,” he explained, “it isn’t really amnesia like you, but…”

“But you’re still missing memories,” Nelvana finished quietly, “that’s strange… It’s like all your memories you got to keep surround that event in your life. Do you still remember some of the people in your life though?”

Gengar nodded, “I remember my mom, and some of my friends, and some of the other pokemon I travelled with. But often I remember a lot of faces and not names, or names and not faces.”

“Do you wish you remembered more?” Nelvana asked.

“Yes? No? I don’t really know… I want to remember more, but at the same time I doubt it would be worth it. I’ve accepted that what I remember is fine for me at this point.” He shrugged. “It’s fine. I don’t feel like I’m missing much of my old life.”

“Oh… that’s good,” Nelvana murmured, her gaze drifting out over the water for a few moments as she thought before turning back and making eye contact with Gengar again. “Maybe it’s because that’s when she cursed you. If Ninetales can intentionally cause amnesia, maybe she made you… specifically remember everything around the time of the curse, or something.”

Gengar blinked, “you know, I think I considered that idea at one point, but then dismissed it. But I think you might be right.”

“It could also explain why when you came here you were the same as when the curse happened; maybe your spirit is from that specific time,” Nelvana continued, “wait, how old were you when that happened? Do you remember that?”

“I think I was…” Gengar leaned his head back, sharply taking in air through his teeth. “…like, thirteen years old or something? Or I guess I still am, that does feel like the right age.”

Nelvana’s eyes widened, “you’re only thirteen?” she blurted out.

“Maybe fourteen. Why? How old are you?” Gengar responded.

“I’m fifteen,” Nelvana answered, “I honestly thought you were older than that though.”

“Really? How come? How old?” Gengar questioned, leaning forward.

“I don’t know! At least older than thirteen,” Nelvana told him, “Around in your middle or later teens, maybe. A weird adult with their life in shambles who keeps bothering kids about world domination.”

Gengar leaned back again, “jeez, thanks.”

“What? Did you think I was going to say I thought you were older because you’re mature?” Nelvana teased, “in retrospect, I guess thirteen makes more sense. If it makes you feel better about yourself though, you said you had a few memories of a few years after the curse, so you’re sort of older than that.”

“Glad to hear that,” Gengar groaned, dragging his hand down his face.

“You’re the one who asked why and how,” Nelvana reminded him.

“Does everyone else think I’m that old then?” Gengar asked.

“I don’t know. That isn’t exactly something we talk about in our spare time,” Nelvana answered, “don’t stress too much about it though, okay? Age is going to be weird for you no matter what; you are a ghost-type.”

“Thanks.” This time, he wasn’t completely sarcastic about that.

The next time silence began creeping in, it didn’t last long. Not because of another conversation, but because Larry began humming, similarly to back at the docks. It was a tune unfamiliar to Nelvana, and judging by how Gengar scrunched up his face again, he hadn’t heard it before either.

Slowly though, the tune grew into a song, a song that Larry sang out loud, straight from the heart. It was a fast, joyous song, one that seemed to invite others to dance to it. Despite that, neither Nelvana nor Gengar got up to dance to it; but Nelvana did gently tap her club along with the beat once it felt familiar enough to her to follow along with.

When Larry finished, he glanced back at the pair with a wide grin on his face. Nelvana politely smiled back, and after a moment, Gengar gave a couple claps.

“Sometimes you just have to cure silence with a good sea shanty!” Larry said, “would you like to hear another one?” he then offered.

After receiving confirmation to go ahead, Larry turned back to face where he was going and began singing another song. This was more energetic than the last, but he seemed to respect the quiet aura from the night and didn’t sing too loud, despite the song’s energy.

It was around what Nelvana believed to be the chorus when she heard Gengar begin clapping along to the beat. When she looked over at him, he simply shrugged and smiled, and then gestured for her to clap along as well. She didn’t feel like setting down her club and risking it rolling into the water, so she decided to keep tapping with it along to the beat as well, louder than how she had been doing it in the other song.

This time when that song finished, another started right away. Larry was evidently familiar with many songs, and confident to sing them on his own like this. Though, he was a beautiful singer, making that confidence warranted.

He kept this up, going from one song to the next. Sometimes Nelvana and Gengar would try keeping up a beat, and sometimes they wouldn’t. It was challenging to keep repeating the same action over and over, especially to the rhythm of something they weren’t familiar with.

Eventually though, Larry seemed to run out of the high-energy songs, and shifted to some calmer, quieter singing instead. It was soothing, and let everyone relax a bit after the excitement of the shanties.

This was for the best anyway, since it didn’t feel like much longer after all that that they landed at the shores of Remains Island. Not far from the rocky beach, they could just barely see a village not far out of their way; shrouded in the dark blanket of the late night. A few small, flickering lanterns gave away enough light to illuminate the shapes of some buildings, but not much else.

Now at solid ground again, Nelvana and Gengar climbed off of the shell of the lapras and stepped onto the land.

“Now then, as I said, I’ll probably stay here for the rest of the night. If you have an idea of when you’d like to head back, I could come back here then and give you a ride back,” Larry told them once they were off.

“It’s alright, we have our own way back. Thank you though,” Nelvana replied.

“Hey, so you said we could get some rest here, would you happen to know if there’s an inn open this late…?” Gengar asked.

“There is no inn, sadly. This just isn’t a busy enough spot for visitors for ‘mons here to make one!” Larry answered, “but, there is a dojo just a little bit off of the village, run by Mienshao. He usually helps out the visitors that do show up!” he added.

“Okay, thank you,” Gengar responded.

“Thanks again!” Nelvana hummed.

Lapras nodded, waving one of his large flippers at them, “safe travels! Until next time!”

As they walked away, Nelvana couldn’t help but glance back at where Lapras was staying. She wondered how he could feel so relaxed, just resting right in the open like this. While she doubted that any of the villagers here would cause him trouble, there was endless possibilities of someone or something else showing up to attack.

Then, she realized, he did this for a living, so it was probably used to it. His job was to give rides to strangers, who could decide to attack him if they wanted, being that those rides appeared to go through secluded areas often. He must have been well prepared for the worst-case scenario.

Following their view of the village, it didn’t take long to start walking through the paths between houses and gardens. Even in the darkness they could tell that this was quite the cozy spot, making it surprising how it sounded like barely anyone ever bothered coming by here unless they lived here.

However, they didn’t have much time to explore the area right away, and continued on their way in search of the dojo. Thankfully it wasn’t hard to find; once they were in the village, they could see a silhouette of another building atop a hill. One of the paths led to it as well, so even if it turned out not to be the dojo, it seemed worth checking out anyway.

Getting closer revealed that this was in fact, the dojo. It appeared awfully similar to the Makuhita Dojo, the main difference being that this dojo was larger than the one back at Pokemon Square. This made Nelvana wonder if all dojos had to follow that architecture style.

When they walked up to the door, they stood there waiting for about a minute, silently wondering if the other would be the one to knock. Nelvana finally took the initiative, using her club instead of her hand to carefully tap on the door. Then they waited again, to see if someone would actually show up. If it came down to it, Nelvana figured that she could probably convince Gengar to camp it out again.

It didn’t come to that though, and the door slowly creaked open to reveal Mienshao standing on the other side. His movements were calculated, peeking out before fully opening up the door to them.

Similarly to Ninetales, a few grey hairs grew at the end of his muzzle, silvery and dark on otherwise white fur. His eyes also shone with an air of power; and while there were a few small scars littered around his fur, there were less than one might expect from someone who evidently had a lot of experience. Despite the late hour, he didn’t appear that sleepy, and was surprisingly alert enough to act and speak as if he had been up for awhile already.

“Greetings,” Mienshao purred, “you are up quite late, hm? I suppose you’re looking for a place to stay then?” he continued.

“How did you know?” Gengar questioned, eyes widening in surprise.

Mienshao smiled, “I know every pokemon on this island. I have never seen either of you before,” he answered, “you may explain your visit here later. For now, it would be good to get some rest. You must have come a long way to get here.”

With that, Mienshao waved a paw for them to enter. Gengar headed in without any hesitance, and after taking in a deep breath, Nelvana followed as well. The door was softly closed behind them.

They were led down the corridor, gently lit with lanterns that hung off the walls. Mienshao’s claws quietly clicked on the wooden flooring as they walked, filling the otherwise silent halls as the only sound. Passing by some doors, including a couple nice sliding double doors, he brought them over to a stairway and then up to the second floor.

Going down another hallway, Mienshao opened one of the doors, leading into a small, dark room. He entered into the shadows, grabbing a candle and carefully lighting it before setting it back down on a small table. Now with some light, the room was revealed to have a few mats scattered on the ground. Nelvana noted that they weren’t completely unlike the one Tsuki would use back at home.

“Here we are,” Mienshao hummed, “you may stay here for the night, and we will speak more tomorrow.”

“Ah, thank you,” Nelvana replied after a moment, blinking tiredness out of her eyes.

Mienshao nodded, and then exited the door, softly closing it behind him.

“Bleh, mats. I was hoping for a nest at least,” Gengar mumbled, but laid himself down on one of the mats anyway and curled up there.

Nelvana didn’t respond, instead beginning to study the room a bit more. When she didn’t find anything that she hadn’t already spotted when entering, she selected a mat of her own to lay down on. Even still after that, she lay in silence, listening to everything around her until she slowly drifted off.

Chapter Text

A sharp knocking at the door sounded in the early morning, startling Nelvana awake all at once. She sat up immediately, heart racing as her mind tried catching up to recent events. Eventually as she recalled where she was and how she had gotten here, she began to slowly relax again.

In the back of her mind, she realized that this only building she could remember that she had stayed in aside from the team base. But she shook her head, chasing the thought back away for now.

The knock came again, and Nelvana focused her attention to the door, and then to Gengar, who was still asleep despite the noise. Without looking, she patted at the floor in search of her club, grasping it tightly once she felt her fingers bump into it. Leaning over to her ally, she nudged him with the bone, slowly stirring him to wake.

“May I come in?” Mienshao called out from the other side of the door.

Sparing one last glance at Gengar, now grumbling tiredly, Nelvana nodded. When it occurred to her that Mienshao wouldn’t have seen her nod, she sighed at herself and then spoke up.

“Yes.”

Receiving permission, the door slowly creaked open and Mienshao stepped inside, his paws clasped in front of him. Hearing this, Gengar forced himself to groggily sit up and face the doorway, letting out a yawn.

“I apologize if you are not used to waking this early,” he began, eyeing Gengar. “I simply find that it is best to get the most out of every morning.” He smiled, looking out a window displaying the early morning light. “There is some tea and a light breakfast downstairs if you would like, and we could discuss your purpose here; but I understand that you had a late night if you’d prefer some more rest,” he explained.

“We’ll have some breakfast now, thank you,” Nelvana replied.

Gengar glared over at her for a moment, clearly preferring the second option, but didn’t argue with her about that, yet. Mienshao either didn’t notice this or chose not to comment, and simply nodded instead.

“Very well, I will see you down there then,” he hummed, “second door on your right once you arrive on the first floor,” he added for clarification.

Giving one final look over the pair and the room, Mienshao turned around and left them be, leaving the door still open a crack. Gengar groaned, burying his face in his hands and leaning away from the light, while Nelvana let out a sigh.

“Augh… you should have said we wanted more sleep,” he mumbled, “how are you already so alert? You aren’t even the ghost-type here…”

“Perhaps more sleep could be good for the both of us, we can catch up on that when we get home. I’d rather not impede on Mienshao any more than we have to,” Nelvana told him, “come on, let’s maybe see if he can help us find Murky Cave, at the very least.”

“Fine, fine…” Gengar grumbled, heaving himself up to his feet.

Nelvana adjusted her scarf and grabbed her club before leading Gengar back out of the room and over to the stairs. Despite being in the dark before, which would have confused the direction of some, she retraced their steps back down to the first floor, and then followed Mienshao’s instructions over to the second door on the right, which was slightly ajar.

Peeking in before opening the door the rest of the door, Nelvana saw small dining area-like room, with a counter that evidently had a kitchen behind it. A large, round table sat in the middle of the room, with three chairs already set up around it. Mienshao was pouring some tea from a kettle into some mugs, and he looked up as he spotted them slowly enter.

“Ah, that did not take you long! Welcome,” he greeted, pausing from his pouring. “I was just finishing up here; feel free to sit down.”

Accepting his invitation, they approached the table. Gengar took one of the seats on the end, and Nelvana decided to sit on the side; or by the way things were technically set up, in the middle. Once Mienshao finished filling up the mugs and placing out a basket of biscuits, he sat down at the other end of the table.

Nelvana sniffed the tea, only catching the relaxing scent of herbs from the beverage. She hesitated a bit long before drinking it though, instinctively waiting for someone else to take a sip before she actually gave it a try. Gengar didn’t seem to share the same carefulness that Nelvana did, and tried taking a sip right away to try not accidentally offending Mienshao, only to end up burning his tongue instead.

“Oh, my apologies. I should have warned you that it will still be hot,” Mienshao said, eyes widening in concern as Gengar did his best to hide the pain in his mouth.

“’s fine,” Gengar responded, setting the mug back down on the table and going for one of the biscuits instead.

Mienshao nodded, seeming to trust Gengar’s response, “very well. Now then, whenever you are ready, we may discuss the matter of your visit here. We rarely get many who just want to sightsee here, so you must understand my curiosity in this instance.”

“We’re here to rescue a friend. We’ve been told that a ‘judge’ at the Murky Cave will be able to help,” Nelvana told him, sticking to honesty but keeping the story short for now.

Gengar nodded, swallowing his bite of food, “yeah, she’s been, uh, trapped as a spirit guide,” he added.

“A spirit guide?” Mienshao repeated, “who would be the one who knew her in life, then?”

Frowning, Gengar slowly raised his hand, just silently hoping that Mienshao wouldn’t ask too much into it from here. Fortunately, for now Mienshao seemed content to just nod along with it.

“I see.” Mienshao carefully took a small sip of his own tea. “You must know, Murky Cave is an incredibly dangerous dungeon. Because of that, it is my job to watch over it and make sure that only those who are capable enter,” he explained, “if you wish to enter, you must either show me the Fallen Angel Crest, or pass my test to prove yourselves worthy.”

Gengar looked over at Nelvana and then back at Mienshao, “…crest? Ninetales didn’t mention a crest, did we need that?”

“Ah, you’ve met with Ninetales? She’s a good friend of mine, though we have not been able to visit for many moons. As much as she doesn’t like to admit it, her age is getting the better of her; and I won’t be far behind,” Mienshao murmured with a smile. “But yes, the Fallen Angel Crest. If you spoke with Ninetales, she may have called it the Nine Tail Crest; she mistook the nine feathers on it as tails from one of her kind and kept calling it that since. The Fallen Angel Crest is required to open the entrance of the dungeon itself,” he told them, “Ninetales holds on to a few herself; if she didn’t give you one then that means she doubts your worthiness herself.”

Nelvana’s heart sank at Mienshao’s words; when she had asked if they were missing something, they were, and Ninetales knew that. This was done on purpose. They were never meant to succeed, at least in Ninetales’ eyes.

While Nelvana fell quiet, Gengar had an opposite reaction. During the moments it took for him to process what this meant, his eyes widened and then narrowed, his fingers flexing before curling into fists. Fury took hold of him and he suddenly stood up, pushing his chair away and slamming his hands down onto the table.

“You know what? Ninetales only doesn’t think that we’re worthy because she’s being a judgemental krabby,” Gengar snapped, “no, not even we, me. She thinks that I don’t have what it takes to save Gardevoir, and isn’t even willing to let us try now; she wasn’t even willing to freaking explain what I have to do! This isn’t fair!”

At first, this outburst was met just by silence. This wasn’t the first time Nelvana had heard Gengar yell like this, yet she still didn’t know how to respond. Mienshao appeared to be met by the same sort of dilemma, but finally he spoke up again.

“If I believe in anything, it’s that anyone can become a better person,” he began softly, “though, it does not surprise me that Ninetales still does not think that way. She has always been so stubborn and prideful.” He took another sip of his tea. “Sometimes, she can be too judgemental. You mustn’t take her words too harshly. Personally, it is quite the joy to see someone like you trying to make things right, Shinobi.”

Gengar stiffened as he realized that he might have said more than he wanted to in his outburst. Regardless, he decided to just slowly nod in response. It made sense that Mienshao would have figured it out though; he did know Ninetales too.

“Despite that though, I’m afraid that I am not allowed to just give you the crest,” Mienshao sighed, “it is merely a safety issue, you must understand. There are no rescue teams out here; so, it would take too long to call in for help, and many pokemon who live here do not have enough battling experience to rescue someone themselves,” he explained, “you may still take the test though, if you wish.”

“Hold on, I’m part of a rescue team,” Nelvana stated, “my team is Team Galaxy; we’ve fought legendaries before. Can that be enough to prove my skill?”

Mienshao shook his head, “I’m afraid I cannot simply take your word for it. The name does sound familiar, I must admit, despite news not often travelling out this far, and I can tell that the badge you wear is real,” he said, “however, even if I am to trust that all of what you say is true, we must remember the key word here is team.”

Nelvana could tell where this was going, “and I don’t have my team here with me.”

“Exactly.” Mienshao nodded. “I would still need to test your skills as an individual.”

“Alright,” Nelvana relented, “I’ll take your test. I am escorting Gengar anyway.”

Mienshao looked over at Nelvana. He studied her for a long time, past what she considered uncomfortable and teetering where most would consider it uncomfortable, before nodding again.

“Very well. We shall finish our breakfast, and then I will take you over to the gym,” he said.

While her appetite was long gone, Nelvana knew that she hadn’t actually eaten since their lunch break the day before, and decided to at least finish off her tea and nibble on some of the biscuits to keep her strength up. There was a lot more weight on her shoulders now, and she didn’t want to drop it all and have everything break apart.

“Now then,” Mienshao began as he led them down the hallway, “this is a simple test of battling skills. In this test, you will just face me in battle. While of course fighting me is not the same as fighting the dungeon spawn, it will give me an idea of your capabilities. It is not a battle to whoever faints, but to whoever yields.”

He opened one of the double doors, revealing a large, open room. It appeared similar to the inside of the Makuhita Dojo, with its large space and benches lined up on one of the walls; but this room had less equipment, and instead of more benches at the other wall, there was a counter with some berries, drinks, and a cabinet with a red cross marked on it. Mienshao gestured for Gengar to take a seat on one of the benches, which he did, and then he led Nelvana over to the middle of the room.

Gengar watched at the other two stood a few feet apart, facing each other. It appeared as if Mienshao was still speaking to her about something, but he couldn’t quite put the words together from here. He would just have to wait until the battle began.

The only cue Gengar got that it would start was when Mienshao took a step back and bowed slightly towards Nelvana. After a moment, she slowly mirrored the movement, likely out of politeness, before shifting into a far more battle-ready position. She clutched her club in front of her and kept her gaze focused on the fighting-type across from her.

Even after that neither of them moved to attack for many slow seconds, until finally Mienshao took the initiative and made the first move. There was no battle cry, not even a single sound as he suddenly lunged forward in an instant. Nelvana leapt away the very moment Mienshao’s feet left the ground, and yet he landed mere inches from her.

Before she could make a swing of her own at him, he snapped one of his wrists back, whipping the long fur on his arm and hitting her in the head. The attack only made contact with her skull helmet, likely not causing much actual damage to her, but the movement caused her to flinch.

Mienshao had used fake out, Gengar realized with sinking spirits. This meant Nelvana had already missed an opportunity to attack; this battle was already not going well for their side of this.

Spinning back around, Mienshao followed up his first attack with a strong kick. Nelvana, fortunately, had recovered from the fake out by now and was able to change to the defensive, using her club to block this attack. She pushed off afterwards, shoving Mienshao away. For some, this may have upset their balance, but he simply jumped backwards and landed properly.

Unwilling to give Mienshao another chance to attack her, she made the next move. Diving forward, she swiped her club, aiming low to trip him up. Mienshao was too quick for this as well, and leapt over this attack. He aimed to kick again, but Nelvana had thought ahead, and headbutted him the moment he jumped upwards, throwing him back again instead.

The very moment Mienshao landed again, he bolted forward once more, aiming for a punch this time. Nelvana took the hit, sharply inhaling as the damage was brought back to her foe and healing him. But she wasted no time in following through with her next move, swiping at him with her club again and this time landing the hit.

Dark energy began to gather around Mienshao’s paw, forcing Nelvana to jump back this time to dodge out of the way of the knock off attack.

He didn’t lunge forward again this time, instead taking a moment to close his eyes and use a status move instead. Nelvana could see psychic energy this time gathering around him as he cleared his mind. Instead of going for the attack, which she figured he was expecting, she took this moment of calm to focus as well; aiming for more critical hits.

With his short meditation over, Mienshao leapt into the air, higher than the last time but still aiming to kick. Nelvana’s eyes widened, but she acted swiftly and began to scurry out of the way. The attack missed, Mienshao almost crashing into the ground, but he caught himself and pushed himself back up on his feet. Nelvana spun back around, ready to face her opponent on even ground again.

Gengar watched as this battle continued in this fashion. Mienshao was usually just too fast for Nelvana to hit normally, forcing her to plan ahead and sometimes let herself be hit so that she would be able to make sure she would deal damage as well. But at the same time, she paid close attention to detail, and was often able to predict what Mienshao was going to do next, meaning that he wasn’t hitting her much either.

It was practically a game of back and forth, two fighters skilled in different ways forced to dance around each other in a struggling battle.

That was, at least, until Mienshao shifted directions. He had just landed a successful attack that had engulfed him in a sharp green energy as he attacked. U-turn, Gengar realized absentmindedly. He didn’t think much about that choice of attack until he realized that Mienshao had turned around, and wasn’t aiming for Nelvana anymore.

He was aiming for Gengar.

Green faded as the previous attack did, being replaced with the dark energy of knock off as Mienshao lunged towards his new target. Gengar’s eyes widened, finding himself caught on a position where he didn’t know where to go, how to dodge, it was all happening too fast

Nelvana realized what was about to happen before Gengar did, and acted immediately. Her mind blurred with fury as she chased Mienshao across the dojo, gripping her club tightly in her hands. She intercepted in time, bringing her club down on Mienshao’s muzzle with a harsh crack that echoed in the large room.

Mienshao dropped down to the floor, catching himself before he fully fell over, reflexively bringing a paw to his nose as it began dripping blood. The ferocity that burned in Nelvana’s eyes flickered for a moment as the metallic scent grew stronger, but she kept her expression firm and position stiff.

“Yield,” Mienshao told Nelvana, holding up his free paw at her. “I yield,” he repeated, voice stuffy with his broken nose. “Just excuse me for a moment as I clean myself up.”

Nelvana’s eyes narrowed, but she stayed put beside Gengar as Mienshao moved across the room over to the counter to fix himself up. She remained silent, staring attentively over at the fighting-type while he ate an oran berry and bandaged his muzzle. Gengar didn’t say anything either, his mind still whirling at what just happened.

It didn’t take too long for Mienshao to return, with a bandaged face but cleaner fur. Nelvana still glared at him, her evident anger at him not having settled in that time it took for him to heal up.

“Why did you attack Gengar,” Nelvana growled, “he wasn’t in this fight, he was just watching. This was between you and me.”

“I apologize for breaking that trust. You had told me that you were escorting him, so I had to test your defensive skills in that area as well,” Mienshao explained, his voice clearer than previously, but still not as much as at the beginning of the day. “It wouldn’t have worked if you knew it was coming; dungeon spawn certainly will not give you a warning.”

“You aren’t dungeon spawn,” Nelvana snapped, shifting her weight from one foot to another, but managing to remain in the same spot. “I understand what you were trying to test, but that doesn’t make that a good thing to do,” she added after taking in a breath.

Mienshao sighed, “I am aware of that, and apologize again for doing that.” He bowed slightly again. “However, now that the test is complete, I can give you your evaluation whenever you are ready.”

“I’m ready,” Nelvana replied nearly instantly.

“Are you sure?” Mienshao questioned, his expression softening. “You have just been through a stressful battle, I would recommend at least some water first,” he told her.

“I’m fine,” Nelvana insisted, though she found now that the adrenaline was beginning to die down, she realized how bruised and sore she was feeling.

“I’ll get some for you regardless, in case you change your mind,” Mienshao responded with a knowing glint in his eyes.

Once again, he walked over to the counter across the room. This took him less time than before, and when he returned, he handed Nelvana a glass of water and an oran berry for her to nibble on while he spoke.

“Now then, I shall begin with the evaluation,” Mienshao hummed, “you clearly have a lot of battling experience on your hands, and have learned well from it. It isn’t common for me to get to battle someone your age with such a bright mind,” he began, “but you also seemed to have been holding back? You were using false swipe quite consistently. That isn’t a move I see often.”

“Yeah, it was just to yield; I didn’t want to really cause damage,” Nelvana mumbled.

Gengar blinked. He had noticed that she had been using a new move, but it hadn’t occurred to him what it was, and hearing it now surprised him. If anyone had been holding back, he would have suspected that it would have been Mienshao, not Nelvana.

Mienshao nodded, “I am glad to hear that. Knowing when to hold back and when to use more power is an admirable talent to have,” he replied, “though, I suspect I got to know more of that power in that last attack, when I had gone to attack Gengar. May I inquire as to why then?”

“I’ll always protect my friends,” Nelvana growled courtly.

“You seem to have a lot of experience with that as well,” Mienshao commented.

Gengar leaned over to Nelvana, “I’m your friend?” he asked with astonishment.

“I don’t know, I’m still stressed,” Nelvana muttered back.

“In any case,” Mienshao continued, drawing the pair’s attention to him again. “I would say that you have certainly proved yourself. I must ask though, why you have come out here to break Gardevoir’s curse as well.”

“Gardevoir is my friend too,” Nelvana told him, “I want to help break this… this unfair curse.”

Mienshao smiled, “I see. Very well then, Nelvana, I believe that I understand now.”

Nelvana’s eyes widened and she stiffened; she had never introduced herself to Mienshao.

“How did you…”

“You are the time travelling human known as Nelvana, are you not?” Mienshao responded, “that, is where I am more familiar with you. Not for your skills on your rescue team, but from your skills in the other timeline.”

“But where did you hear about that?” Nelvana questioned, doing her best to keep the alarm out of her voice.

“The judge has told me about you, you and your friends,” Mienshao answered, “the judge knows of the other timeline, and has told me of it.”

“The judge knows? How? Who even is the judge?” Nelvana asked, tightening her grip on her club.

“Perhaps, it would be for the best to ask them yourself, hm? After all, they do know more than I do,” Mienshao hummed, “I have seen your skills and am sure of who you are, I know that you can be trusted to go and speak to them. I trust that you will be able to protect Gengar as well; he will not have to do the test. You may have the crest.”

Nelvana didn’t say anything, her eyes still wide and throat dry at all this. Excitement wanted to creep in with the confirmation of her success; she had passed the test; they would get the crest! But part of her was still shocked from hearing that the judge already knew of her, and by extension, Mienshao. How long had she suspected who she was?

“Wait.” Gengar stepped forward. “Look, I’m really thankful that you trust her enough to give us the crest, but… I want to prove myself.”

Mienshao raised a brow, “you do?”

Gengar swallowed, nodding, “I want to prove myself, that I can protect myself,” he insisted.

There was a silent minute as Mienshao considered this, but eventually he nodded and directed Gengar over to the center of the room where he had done the test with Nelvana. Unlike the previous battle though, Mienshao said nothing. He simply bowed towards Gengar like he had done before, and readied himself to fight. Gengar paused, anticipating something more, but when he realized that he wasn’t getting it, he got ready to fight as well.

Once again, Mienshao made the first move. Preparing his knock off attack, he lunged forward at Gengar, who was realizing that watching Mienshao fight was a lot different than actually fighting him.

Reflexively, Gengar teleported out of the way, reappearing only a few feet away. Despite the short distance though, it took a lot of out him, leaving him dizzy for a moment.

A moment was all that Mienshao needed. He prepared another knock off attack, and dove over at Gengar again. Gengar turned to see the incoming attack, but realized much too late that he couldn’t think of anything to stop it, and braced himself for impact instead.

Impact never came, as Mienshao stopped himself mere inches away from hitting Gengar. He exhaled, and stepped back.

“The fight is over,” Mienshao told him.

Gengar blinked, looking back up at Mienshao, “no, wait! You didn’t even hit me! The fight isn’t over! I can keep going!”

“If I had hit you, we would have needed a reviver seed,” Mienshao stated coolly.

“Wha- Come on! I can fight! Why don’t you trust that we could actually battle?” Gengar demanded, spines bristling.

“You say that you can fight, and yet why did you need an escort to get here?” Mienshao asked, and when he was met with silence, he continued. “Not being a skilled fighter isn’t a bad thing, many cannot hold their own in battle, and many just need more training,” he said, “besides, despite that, I did learn about you from that battle.”

“Really?” Gengar groaned.

“Indeed. You know the move teleport, which no other gengar knows,” Mienshao told him, “you really are Shinobi then.”

Gengar scowled, “what kind of connection is that?” he questioned.

“When Ninetales was first telling me about you and what had happened with Gardevoir, she told me about her next curse, to turn you into a pokemon. She had warned me to beware if I ever met a pokemon that wasn’t meant to learn teleport,” Mienshao explained.

“Ninetales gave me teleport on purpose?” Gengar asked.

Mienshao nodded, “I am not exactly certain of her reasoning for including that, but it was intentional. Ninetales is a very calculated person; nearly everything she has done has been intentional.”

Gengar scoffed, scuffing his foot on the floor. Somehow, hearing that made him think less positively towards his unique skill as a gengar.

“Now then, why do you want to break the curse?” Mienshao asked, keeping his gaze focused on Gengar.

“I…” Gengar paused. “I want to fix my mistakes, and… and let Gardevoir have a proper chance at life.”

Mienshao looked Gengar over again, before slowly nodding with a smile. He extended a paw out to Gengar, who after a moment of confusion and hesitation, placed his hand onto Mienshao’s, only to have something placed in his hand. Mienshao closed Gengar’s fingers around the item, and then gently pushed his now closed hand to him.

“You failed the battle, but you have not failed the test. Take the Fallen Angel Crest, speak to the judge, and bring back Gardevoir.” Mienshao looked back at Nelvana. “Both of you. I believe in the both of you; you can do this. Murky Cave is eastward from here, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Gengar looked at the object that had been placed in his hand, uncurling his fingers to reveal a shiny golden badge in the shape of a wing, with nine feathers. Three red gems lined up the center, which shone in the light. They had received the Fallen Angel Crest.

Mienshao bowed again, “good luck. I wish you only the best.”

Chapter Text

“I still don’t understand what made him think to give this to me; he said I failed the battle,” Gengar said for what felt like the hundredth time since they had left Mienshao’s dojo.

“He was testing for you something else,” Nelvana sighed, long tired of hearing those doubts. “Maybe even the same thing Ninetales said you didn’t have. Consider this a good thing. We have the crest and even some directions now, that’s good.”

Gengar huffed, flipping over the crest in his hands. The other side, as they had discovered, was darker in color than the top, and lacked the three red gems that decorated it. He kept flipping it over and studying the object restlessly. It had been placed in the bag as they had left the building and headed off again, but he had since then taken it back out to continuously look over.

“It’ll go fine,” Nelvana assured him, “oh, this must be the place…”

Since leaving Mienshao’s dojo, they had wandered through fields dotted with trees every other few meters before the forestry grew more crowded around them. Now they had managed to find there way over to what at a glance could be passed off as just a boulder covered in moss with some more trees growing nearby. But they could tell this was what they had been looking for. One side of this “boulder” was clear of moss and flat just like a wall, with a single indent shaped like the crest Gengar was still holding.

After a moment to look this over, Nelvana nodded Gengar towards it. He paused, and then stepped forward and placed the Fallen Angel Crest in the indent in the wall. With a loud rumble, the wall slowly slid away to the side, disappearing behind the other rock and moss around it.

Now that nothing was in the way, they could see that the inside of this dungeon was dark aside from some bioluminescent mushrooms growing from inside. It resembled as if it had once been perhaps a stone building, but had since decayed to ruins and overgrowth. What had been fine limestone walls were now dull and cracked, with roots crawling out between them. The cobblestone flooring suffered a similar fate, with grass attempting to grow through without that much success. Between the glow of the mushrooms and a thick, low hanging fog, everything was bathed in an odd purple.

“Well, here we go,” Nelvana murmured, “Murky Cave, here we come.” She took the first steps into the dungeon, waving for Gengar to follow. “Stay close to me for this one, alright?”

Gengar nodded, not that Nelvana was looking behind her to see him, “got it,” he replied, following right behind her.

Once they had gotten a few feet into the dungeon, they could hear the wall begin to groan and slowly slide back to where it had been before. The pair spun around at the sound, and Nelvana hurried back over to it. She swiftly reached around the wall and tugged the crest back out, pulling her arm back inside before the wall completely closed.

“Looks like we’re really in this now,” Gengar commented, blinking to adjust to the lighting.

“Yeah, but if all goes well, we’ll be using the badge to get out of here,” Nelvana responded, walking back over to him. “Plus, I got the crest back too, if we ever need to come back here for… whatever reason.”

“Oh! Good thinking,” Gengar exclaimed, “can I hold it in the bag for now?”

Nelvana nodded, handing the Fallen Angel Crest back to Gengar, “sure, just make sure not to lose it.”

“I’m not going to lose it, come on, have a bit more faith in me than that,” Gengar hissed, accepting the crest back and carefully placing it back in his large bag. “Alright, whatever, let’s get going.”

Nodding again, Nelvana proceeded into the depths of the ruinous caverns. Not far around the first turn, they discovered that there were some pools of water in some spots, glowing with the same bioluminescent energy as the mushrooms still growing around them. Neither of them recognised what this liquid could be or what had affected it to make it shine in this way, but they both silently agreed to do their best not to touch it.

The next corner ended any sort of peace that was being held, as a roserade leapt out in front of them. The sweet scent from the grass-poison pokemon cut through their senses, causing Gengar to relax. Nelvana shook her head, trying to clear her mind, before lunging forward and headbutted the dungeon spawn, who hissed in response.

Not quite defeated and still raring to battle, the roserade created thorny whips from their arms, snapping them at the cubone. Nelvana used her club to block, not willing to risk the poison that this attack was likely laced with. She headbutted the roserade again, managing to finish them off.

Gengar blinked, the aroma fading from around them with the dungeon spawn now gone. Nelvana glanced back to him, checking to see if he had recovered himself, before she continued forward into the next room.

This room wasn’t as large at the actual dojo room at Mienshao’s place had been, but it wasn’t much smaller than that. Aside from a small pile of coins off to one side, the room stood void of any items or pokemon.

“Wait, what was that?” Gengar questioned, rubbing his head and following his escort.

“The roserade line attracts prey with the smell from their flowers,” Nelvana told him, “we’re just lucky they have bad defense and this one happened to go for the whips over trying to poison me.”

“And you could just ignore it; that smell? If it’s because of your type, I am a poison-type so that should have given me some sort of advantage,” he pressed.

“I have experience with pushing through that sort o- Ack!”

Nelvana flinched as the ground she stepped on suddenly revealed an odd tile under her feet; her distraction causing her to miss spotting this trap ahead of time. The tile had a question mark on it, and before they knew it, four more pokemon had suddenly joined them in this room.

“Dammit! Pokemon trap, get ready!” Nelvana warned, brandishing her club offensively in front of her.

A toxicroak was the first to attack, leaping towards Nelvana with a hand raised and venomous knuckle claws ready to kill. She shifted her position, readying herself just in time to whack her opponent away with all her might. The dungeon spawn was flung backwards, landing on the floor a few feet away and sliding backwards afterwards. They slowly began to rise back to their feet a few moments after landing, though their struggle to do so was evident. The toxicroak’s sac on their throat began to bugle and swell with poison as they began croaking and trying to drag themselves back into the fight.

For now though, the muk right in front of them was Nelvana’s next opponent. She stepped backwards and swung her club down on the giant, living pile of purple sludge. It didn’t go down in one hit either, but fortunately it was slow, and the second ground-type attack made it disappear in defeat in a flash of light before they had a chance to try landing their own first move.

The third pokemon that had spawned from the trap though, a skuntank, seemed less interested in attempting to battle the cubone, and set their sights on Gengar; who was beginning to look like he would rather be elsewhere. Their claws shone a dark purple, and they reared up on their hind legs to attack, but missed their mark when their target disappeared and reappeared onto the other side of the room.

Unwilling to give the skuntank to figure out that Gengar hadn’t actually gone far and was dazed momentarily from teleporting, Nelvana stepped up towards them next; but not before realizing that the toxicroak was still crawling over to her, and using bonemerang to finish them off before they had the chance to become a problem. The skuntank sprayed out a vile fluid from the tip of their tail at her, which she barely managed to duck in time from the poison, which splattered on the back wall of the room.

Standing back up fully, Nelvana made her first swing at the skuntank, hitting them square in the head. The second hit, however, the skuntank managed to catch in their teeth, forcing her to headbutt them instead to make them let go.

“Uh, got a problem over here!” Gengar called out.

Four pokemon had been summoned with the trap, and now the last of them, the crobat, had decided to set their sights on Gengar like the skuntank had tried to. Unlike the sluggish muk and slow skuntank, this was a swift pokemon, giving Nelvana no time to change her opponent over to them, especially when this close in melee already.

The crobat spread their wings, speeding towards Gengar. In retaliation, he tried using his sucker punch attack to throw them off, but the dark move barely seemed to even make this dungeon pokemon react, and they continued on course all the same. Their wings sliced into his side as the crobat flew by, making a clean cut that drove deep into him and instantly spouted out a red blood from the wound.

Gengar didn’t even had a moment to gasp, or to really mentally register the hit, or even to clutch his injury before slumping over onto the floor, defeated in one hit. The crobat turned around in their flight, looking over him with a vague disinterest now.

Nelvana’s eyes widened as the world seemed to slow around her and her vision blurred.

Her first worry was if he was even still alive, but she forced herself to hold out, to not jump to that conclusion so fast; there was no way that one attack could have just killed him, right…?

Her next thought was how she had failed, she had failed to protect him and they were barely over five minutes in this dungeon. Mienshao had been wrong; why had he put so much faith into her if she had failed so fast. She was supposed to be Gengar’s escort and she couldn’t hold off just a few pokemon.

Her third thought on this was barely a thought, and just the sudden realization that Gengar’s blood was red; more like a human than a ghost or poison-type. The stench of just blood seemed so vivid over all the other fogs and poisonous gases in the room, and her stomach churned and her mind spun from it all.

All of her thoughts were suddenly cut off by claws scraping against bone, and Nelvana’s head being forced down to the floor by the skuntank. The sound of an alarmed beeping sounded out soon afterwards; her badge warning her that if she didn’t heal her client soon, then it would automatically send them back to base.

The skuntank breathed heavily on her neck, and Nelvana knew that if she didn’t pull herself together and act soon, they would go to finish her off next. All her previous fears and anxieties at this situation began blurring together in anger. Anger at this dungeon, at these traps, these poison-types that thought they could get the jump on her. And anger at herself not only for messing up, but for getting too caught up in her mistakes.

Nelvana let out a loud snarl, turning herself around the best she could and kicking the skuntank right in the muzzle with one foot, and then following it up with the next after a momentary delay. Unable to handle this attack on top of the previous damage, the skuntank rolled over to their side and disappeared like the other defeated dungeon spawn.

She pulled herself up to her feet again, spinning around and racing to the crobat, who seemed to have the same intentions of attacking. Nelvana met the crobat head on, literally, by slamming her head into the bat pokemon before they could land their attack. The crobat fluttered backwards, doing their best to keep flying despite the heavy hit, but Nelvana was ready to follow up her previous attack with a new one. Instead of using her club, she lifted her foot and stomped down on the crobat, sending them to the ground. When they didn’t disappear and showed signs of getting back up, she stomped again, finally making them faint and disappear.

Slowly, Nelvana’s mind began to clear again as she breathed heavily. As she let herself think more about what just happened, it occurred to her that she hadn’t used that move before. While powerful, it had… scared her.

The beeping only quickened, drawing her back over to where Gengar was. She rushed back over to him, not hesitating in digging in his bag with one hand until she found one of the reviver seeds they had collected and shoving it at him.

Much to her relief, the golden seed glowed and then faded to a dull brown as the beeping from her badge stopped, and Gengar groggily opened his eyes with a groan. He winced with pain, trying to turn away and close his eyes again, but Nelvana nudged him to get his attention.

“You are not going down this fast, not when we’re this close,” she hissed, but she couldn’t hide the worry in her voice. “Stay awake; I’m going to bandage you up.”

“Gah… what did tha’ thing hit me with?” Gengar slurred, slowly opening his eyes again.

“Keep your eyes open but don’t look at the wound,” Nelvana instructed instead of answering, digging through the bag again and pulling out a roll of bandages along with an oran berry. “Are you able to lift your head up a bit?”

“Yeah…”

Gengar craned his head up slightly, trying to prop his arms to keep himself up better as he did so. While he did this though, his gaze drifted down to where he was feeling pain from, and he paled at the sight.

“I said don’t look!” Nelvana insisted firmly, shoving the oran berry at Gengar. “Eat this instead; stare at a wall and count as high as you can if it helps you.”

“How am I…” Gengar trailed off, taking in a deep breath and deciding to follow Nelvana’s instructions rather than keep asking questions.

With Gengar now more stable and, albeit mildly, distracted, Nelvana began working with the bandages. She didn’t have much with her here, so she figured this would have to do for now. The oran berry would definitely help, among other things, so she trusted that it would be fine.

Without anything to properly clean the wound though, she was forced to sacrifice some of the bandages to pat away from of the nauseating blood first.

“Okay, can you sit up now?” Nelvana forced her voice to be calmer, focusing on her own breathing nearly as much as this task.

Gengar obliged, trying to sit up too quickly at first and wincing, but then succeeding on his more careful, second try. Nelvana began gingerly wrapping the bandages around him and his wound, finding herself acting without thinking about what she was actually doing at this point. Distantly, this reminded her of fixing up Octillery’s injuries from Magma Cavern, but even then, that had reminded her of something she still was unable to remember.

Finally, she finished wrapping up the wound, and after ripping off the extra and rolling it back into the bag, she patted her handywork to see if it would actually hold. Gengar appeared more alert now, and seemed to have decided that it would be alright to watch the last steps in fixing up his cut.

“There, that should hold for the rest of the dungeon,” Nelvana said, though part of her doubted the truthfulness to her own claim. “How are you feeling?”

“Better…” Gengar murmured, hesitantly tracing a finger over the bandages. “At least, better than when you first got me up. The oran berry helped for sure.”

Nelvana exhaled with relief, “that’s good to hear. Normally I’d say you should try taking it easy, but you might not be given that choice. Just do your best to stay careful, alright?”

“Alright,” Gengar replied.

Deep down, Nelvana awaited something more. For him to tell her to be more careful, to confirm her own self-doubts about her ability to keep him from getting hurt here. However, he said nothing more on the matter, and appeared more focused on trying to stand up on his own instead.

Once Gengar was back to walking around on his own, they continued through the dungeon in silence. Nelvana was more thankful than this than ever, using this time to focus on hearing the dungeon pokemon and spotting traps before they got stepped on.

They managed to get up to the second floor, and Nelvana’s stomach twisted at that count. Mienshao had told them there would twenty floors in this dungeon, and they had only completed one percent of that number. Never had that number felt so impossible to climb to. She ached for the presence of her teammates to help make the last stretch of this journey just go by better.

Their next opponents were a dustox and toxapex, the former fluttering in from one of the other pathways and the latter rising out from one of the pools of liquid. Nelvana’s clenched her teeth at the sight, and then glanced backwards at Gengar.

“Actually, I’ve got a good idea, how about we go through the walls for some of this? It’ll make me a bit hungrier and whatnot but that’s easier to recover from than so many battles,” she suggested, rubbing her thumb over the mobile scarf tied around her knuckles again.

“Uh… maybe not? Come on, you can take these guys!” Gengar responded, “you aren’t scared of them, are you?” he pressed, but Nelvana cued in to how he sounded more scared than she did.

“I’m not scared,” she lied, “but even if we don’t use this idea now, it would be good to use in the future.” Nelvana insisted, “Besides, they can’t hit you in the walls. It’s safer for you, at the very least.”

“Nah, I’m perfectly fine out here,” he lied back, “just… don’t feel like going into the walls right now.”

Nelvana opened her mouth to question Gengar, but the dungeon pokemon weren’t about to let the pair keep having their discussion on their own, and she realized she was going to have to deal with them. Both the dustox and the toxapex went down with some well thrown bonemerangs, leaving only the scattered poison dust from the bug in their wake.

“Why don’t you really want to go in the walls?” Nelvana questioned, spinning around to face him properly. “Look, if it’s a fear or something, I get it, but that ability is something that’s really handy and you-“

“I can’t!” Gengar blurted out, curling his hands into fists. “You happy? I never figured out how to travel through walls. I managed shadows, but that’s… weird,” he snapped, “I never learned how to float, either,” he added under his breath.

“That’s it…?” Nelvana paused, and then unwrapped the tattered fabric that was around her knuckles before handing it over to Gengar. “Someday you’re going to need to learn on your own, but for now, I value your safety more than that lesson. You can hold onto this again.”

Gengar blinked, “wait… really? Just like that? But what about you?”

“I’ll manage. Just take it,” Nelvana sighed.

After another moment of hesitation, Gengar accepted his mobile scarf back. He immediately went to tie it around his arm like he used to, but after discovering that it had been torn again and no longer made it the full way around, he settled for tying it around one of his spikes instead.

“Great, let’s keep going,” Nelvana said, turning around and heading into the next room.

They made it through the second floor, and continued onto the third floor and the ones after that. Now for every battle, Gengar would use the mobile scarf to slip away into a nearby wall, leaving Nelvana to handle however many foes where there to herself. Once the danger was gone, he would come out again to walk behind his escort through the hallways of the dungeon.

They were stronger than any of the spawn back at Mt. Blaze and the Frosty Forest, but their common poison-typing seemed to give Nelvana the right advantage to even that difficulty out, at least somewhat. Their numbers certainly seemed to just make matters worse though. Though it somehow didn’t make her feel good to admit it, fighting was a lot easier when Nelvana didn’t have to worry about her client getting beat up.

Traps were still an issue though, as Nelvana couldn’t always figure out where each one was ahead of time, and sometimes Gengar wouldn’t follow directly behind her and step on something she hadn’t gotten the chance to warn him about. The traps varied from hitting them with chestnuts or a gust of wind, to confusing or putting whoever had stepped on them to sleep, and of course, spawning more pokemon. Nelvana was thankful that none of them had been too bad so far though, all things considered; there was always the chance of finding either of the two possible traps that would split them up, or one of the traps that would outright drain all of one’s energy.

While they expected monster houses to be a big problem, those were surprisingly easy to avoid. As Nelvana realized, before actually walking in, thankfully, only the rooms with a monster house would have items other than a few coins. Though Gengar seemed tempted to snatch some of the TMs, he understood the danger of that enough not to actually go in; even if he could just go hide in a wall. So, this meant that they were always avoidable; unless that happened to be the room with the stairs to the next floor.

Which of course was bound to happen sooner or later.

After getting lucky with nearby stairs for a couple floors up to the ninth, and then that luck completely turning around and forcing them to search the entire floor, they found the stairs in a room practically filled in every floor space with various items.

Nelvana let out a sharp hiss as she looked over the room, eyes just narrowing at all the orbs and TMs littered about; something that she could only bitterly think that would make Kecleon swoon in awe. Gengar peeked over her shoulder to see what was up ahead, and his mouth slowly turned down in a worried frown as he pieced together what this meant.

“What are we going to do?” Gengar whispered, leaning back away from the opening to the room.

“Well, I’d rather not face an entire monster house on my own…” Nelvana mumbled, stretching her arms. “So, I’ll have to try sprinting through. You hide in the walls, wait until all the spawn get thoroughly distracted before going for the stairs,” she explained.

“Are you sure…?” Gengar questioned, looking over the large room. “That’s a lot of distance to cover.”

“Well, unless you have any better ideas, this is what we’ll have to go with,” Nelvana replied, reluctantly; she didn’t actually enjoy this idea much either, but she wasn’t going to try facing a horde all at once.

“You…” Gengar paused, trying to think of something. “You could wait for them to come to you in the hallway, and use bonemerang to knock them all out one by one.”

Nelvana considered the idea, but eventually had to regretfully shake her head, letting out a small sigh.

“I’d like that, but I could run out of energy for the move,” she told him, “and if something comes behind me, it’s all over from there,” she added, “it’s alright, I’m ready for this. You go ahead and hide in the wall.”

Gengar stared at her, still reluctant to follow through with this idea, but slowly he stepped back and faded into the wall behind him. Nelvana stared back at the space where he once was before turning back to look into the room. After preparing herself, focusing her energy just in case, she bolted in.

Instantly the room shook around her as various dungeon spawn seemed to drop out from the ceiling around her. Nelvana forced herself to ignore them and keep running, diving in and around the other pokemon before they had the chance to really realize that she was there.

Once they did realize though, an entire crowd had their eyes trained on her, the mere feeling of it making her throat tighten at the instinctive feeling that tore at her mind and memories, both forgotten and still clear as day. Despite this pushing more fear deep within her, it also pushed her to run faster, honing in on her path towards the stairs.

A scolipede charged at her, ramming their head at her side and forcing her to the ground, but Nelvana clawed her way back to her feet again and forced herself back into the same sprint. A muk swiped a hand at her as the ran, but she spotted it out of the corner of her vision and managed to leap over the attack. The poisonous gas of various pokemon began filling the room, clouding her senses and only burning her lungs even more.

It wasn’t until the dungeon pokemon seemed to at least vaguely get the idea to team up that Nelvana really ran into trouble though. When another toxicroak leapt from behind her, aiming a kick to the back of her head, and a seviper posed themself right under foot that she fell down again. When the seviper then coiled itself around her body that she couldn’t get back up right away. When she wasn’t running, the dungeon pokemon began closing in.

Nelvana wrenched her arm with her club free, hastily bashing it into the seviper’s head to get them away from her so that she could stand up again. But even at that point, what once could have been considered a clear path to the stairs was now blocked by the rest of the pokemon, surrounding her.

“Nelvana!” Gengar yelled out.

She didn’t turn her head to look right away, she didn’t want to get distracted in a moment like this, but the thought crossed her mind that she shouldn’t be able to hear Gengar if he was still in the wall.

Hurriedly, she shoved her way through the pokemon in her way, earning herself poisoned spikes in her skin and claws raked across her fur in response as she forced her way through. Even as she made her way through that part of the crowd and steps closer to the stairs, her head was beginning to swim under the effects of the various venoms that were trying to make their way in her system.

Suddenly another weight barreled its way into her, and before she could react properly, the world warped around her. Her previous spot fell away from her, and after what felt like being spun around like a whirlpool, she found herself suddenly shot back onto solid ground, but now in front of the stairs.

The weight was still on her though, and the way her warmth drained out from her the more it remained on her made Nelvana realize that this was Gengar, and he had just teleported them closer to their destination. Blinking through the dark spots that bubbled in the corners of her vision, she looked back at her ally, who seemed to be experiencing the same sort of post-teleportation daze she found herself in.

But past that, she could see that the monster house wasn’t about to just give up on them after that.

Pulling herself together, Nelvana crawled away from Gengar’s weight that was leaning onto her, but grabbed his hand to try dragging him up the stairs.

“Get up! We’ve just got the stairs and then we’re safe!” she called.

Fortunately, Gengar dragged himself up as well, and the two ran the rest of the way up the stairs.

Nelvana could feel the air become clearer on the next floor, and as she took in deep breaths, the poisons slowly left her body. They were lucky to have no more foes up on this new room on the next floor, and took a moment to catch their breath.

“Hah… good job there,” Nelvana commented, “I didn’t know you could teleport more than just yourself. That… That was really weird, but it definitely worked.”

Gengar rubbed his forehead with one of his hands, “I didn’t know I could do that either,” he admitted with a laugh, “I was just running in there with no plan; so, I’m glad that worked out for the better.”

“Oh, well, me too,” Nelvana chuckled, shaking her head at that last part.

“Next time though, I’m grabbing some of those items,” Gengar joked, letting out a wheeze between his laughter at his own joke.

“I really hope we don’t have to concern ourselves with a next time here,” Nelvana replied, rubbing her sore side from being shoved around so much.

They remained there for a few more seconds, before Nelvana stretched again and stepped forward, ready to continue through the dungeon. Gengar silently followed over to stand by her side, but not before untying the mobile scarf from around his spike and handing it to the cubone.

“I think… I think that I want to try your plan,” he told her, “I need to learn how to go through the walls on my own; it’s safer that way.”

Nelvana blinked, but accepted the scarf, hesitantly and slowly tying it back around her knuckles “are you sure?” she asked him.

“Yeah, but, uh, if you think we have the time, I’d like to practice a bit first,” Gengar responded, glancing back at one of the walls.

“Oh, of course! Go ahead; maybe I’ll see about adjusting to this thing too,” Nelvana replied, “we shouldn’t take too long though, just to get used to it, alright?”

Gengar nodded, and so they took some time to practice going through the dungeon walls. After many minutes of Nelvana going in and out, trying to not stumble in a daze at every exit, and then helping Gengar make his way in without the use of the item, they began managing the strategy.

Once Gengar figured out what he actually had to do to enter the wall, he was able to learn how to stay in and grow more comfortable quickly. It took a lot of work to get there though; Nelvana trying to get him to think about how it felt to use the mobile scarf to hopefully get him cue in to some of his ghost-type instincts.

Getting the time to practice wasn’t that easy either. Dungeon spawn would eventually wander their way in, and Nelvana would have to swiftly handle them before they could become an issue to the training pair. Plus, eventually they got an ominous feeling that they had stayed on the same floor for too long, and had to run along to find the next set of stairs so they would be able to continue practicing without that danger.

Eventually though, Nelvana and Gengar agreed that they would be able to at the very least get through the rest of this dungeon using this plan. Taking in a deep breath, Nelvana stepped into a nearby wall once more, the mobile scarf tingling around her hand as she did so, beginning to lead the way for their exploration of this dungeon with a new perspective.

Walking through walls for an extended duration of time was something she found that could only be really described as tight. Everything felt so constricted around her, and trying to move only ate away at her energy, making her feel hungrier. She could still see though, and in fact could see outside of the wall, giving everything outside a ghostly appearance.

Glancing backwards at Gengar told her that he was having less troubles with this. His biggest struggle had been to get in, and stay in, in the first place, and not how the experience felt. It was more natural to someone with the ghost typing anyhow.

Thinking it over, Nelvana wasn’t sure if this allowed them to cover ground faster. They had to pause every once and awhile for her to catch her breath and nibble on one of the apples they had, and it wasn’t as if this showed them to the stairs more efficiently. However, it worked for her plan of avoiding the pokemon here, and that was what she felt mattered more in this instance. It wasn’t foolproof, they still were forced to battle, but it was better than the alternative, she found. At the very least, this meant that there were less traps to find.

Gengar followed behind Nelvana, glancing out at the main hallways and rooms whenever he could. He watched them pass by rooms with more items but also the promise of a monster house, as well as just other dungeon spawn wandering about. Seeing the former irked him slightly, the temptation of nabbing some of those items always nibbling at the back of his mind. Who knew what kind of rare TMs were gathered around here…?

“Pst, Nel,” Gengar called out, hurrying up to get closer to the cubone. “I was thinking… since we can hide from the pokemon like this, maybe we could grab some items from a monster house room?”

Nelvana shook her head, “don’t get overconfident,” she told him.

“Okay, but what if we just set it off, and then wait for all of them to get bored and leave the room, so we can safely grab whatever is in there?” Gengar continued.

“I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not sit in here any longer than I need to,” Nelvana replied, taking in a gasp of breath as they hopped out from one wall, across a hallway a bit, and into the next wall.

Gengar sighed, shaking his head at himself. He couldn’t believe that he had almost forgotten that this wasn’t as easy for her as it was for him, for once. If he really wanted those items, he would have to do it in a way that didn’t put either of them in risk; which was nearly impossible.

“Well, you may have gotten your wish, in a twisted way,” Nelvana groaned, looking out to the next room. “This room is another with the monster house and stairs. And here I’d hope we could make it through the last couple floors without this kind of trouble…”

“Oh.” Gengar bit his lip, part of him feeling guilty for having wanted something like this to happen. “We could just run through, if you want.”

“I do want that,” Nelvana responded, “but, if you think that you have enough of that shadow traveling ability down or a good teleport ready, I think I can trust you to grab one or two things before we make that break for it,” she added.

“Uh… I think I’ll go for teleport.” He teleported more than he used his shadow traveling ability.

“Okay, I’ll be back here,” Nelvana replied, meeting Gengar’s eyes for a moment before looking out to the room ahead of them.

He nodded, and then nodded again to stall for time to work up his own confidence. He tried mapping out where he could go; there were a few items already close to where they were that he could probably get safely, but would it be too reckless to go grab that one further ahead?

Finally, he shook his head this time, and made his first steps out into the room, activating the monster house around him. Gengar quickly grabbed the TMs he had planned for, and then decided to risk trying to go for one more, and took another step forward.

The ground changed into a tile with an electrode under his foot. Before he had a moment to teleport or turn around to ask Nelvana what this was, the trap exploded.

Gengar was flung away from the trap by the force of the blast, tumbling a few meters away from it. He lay there for a moment, his ears ringing and head throbbing. His side where the crobat had hit him earlier stung in an agonizing pain again, but he could still thankfully feel the bandages safely wrapped around his injury. Slowly though, he pulled himself up, staggering as he looked around at the results of the explosion trap.

The wall that Nelvana had been hiding in was destroyed from the detonation, and the cubone herself was taking in deep breaths as she recovered from the blast herself. Many of the spawn that had been around the area were either stunned or defeated, though those who had been outside of that radius were completely unharmed.

It occurred to Gengar that he couldn’t hear anything aside from the ringing in his ears, despite seeing that Nelvana seemed to be trying to yell something. Was she calling out to him? He couldn’t quite tell. He rubbed his ears to see if that would help his hearing.

Suddenly, as he watched Nelvana try fending off some of the recovering foes, it clicked in Gengar’s mind what kind of a situation they were in. She was fifteen, he was thirteen! What were they doing, risking their lives all on their own? Nelvana had already had to fight legendaries; why was a young teenager out fighting the gods of this world?

What were they doing?

“-ut of it! We can’t just stand around here, come on!” Nelvana cried out, tugging on Gengar’s arm.

Gengar blinked, everything coming back into focus all at once as he was dragged over to the stairs. There were still some dungeon spawn lingering in the room, but at a glance it appeared like Nelvana had decided to finish off any of them that had been affected by the trap. He did his best to pull himself back together, following Nelvana up the stairs and to the next floor.

“Hey Nel, do you think that since I have some memories of my future human self that I might act based on those memories sometimes?” he blurted out, thinking back to what had just gone through his mind.

Nelvana looked back at him with a look in her eyes that he couldn’t quite place, “I… I don’t know, maybe? Why are you asking me this now?”

“I just… got thinking about age again,” Gengar murmured, “do you realize how young we actually are to be out here?”

“No…? What do you mean?” Nelvana questioned, glancing around the new room they had arrived in.

“Well… you know what, nevermind. I kinda lost my train of thought anyway,” Gengar replied, “also, you can let go of my arm now.”

Nelvana paused, blinking at that last statement. She looked back, realizing she was still, in fact, tightly gripping Gengar’s arm. She let go, moving that hand to fidget with her club instead.

“Right, okay… this should be the last floor, come on.”

Deciding to stick with the hallways for a bit, Nelvana didn’t enter a wall right away and began walking down one of the paths naturally presented ahead of them. Gengar followed along as usual, letting his confusion at his own question fade away to the back of his mind.

The goal of one last flight of stairs to go pushed them forward, finally reaching their destination after exploring many dead ends and other rooms on this floor. However, when the reached the base of the stairs, Nelvana spun around to face Gengar.

“Alright, so… this is it,” she announced.

“Yeah? I know that,” he responded.

“Look, I don’t know what Ninetales thinks that you don’t have, or what Mienshao thinks that you do have, but I know something,” Nelvana told him, “and that’s that Gardevoir forgives you for what you did, and I think that that counts for something. And… I think that I forgive you for what you did to me too. I’ve been looking back and thinking that over, and I think… A lot of things came out from that, and a lot since then. I think that I can forgive you for the bad out of that now,” she continued.

Gengar blinked, mouth silently parting open slightly from surprise at Nelvana’s forgiveness, which sounded incredibly sudden to him.

“But at the same time… I need to ask you something. Do you forgive yourself?” she asked.

There was a long silence, and when Nelvana realized that Gengar didn’t have an answer for her, she simply nodded and turned back around.

“You don’t need to tell me, but I get the feeling that it’s important to think about,” she said, “but, we shouldn’t be wasting anymore time. Let’s go see the judge.”

With that, she began climbing up the stairs. After a pause, Gengar followed her again.

Chapter Text

Stepping up to the last floor of Murky Cave greeted them with a large, open room that bore a similar appearance to the dungeon, except more well-kept. There were fewer roots growing through the walls, but there were still enough mushrooms to bask the room in a comfortable light, especially without as much of the fog up here. The general structure held up better as well, all the walls and flooring solid around them, with less cracks and overgrowth to betray its strength.

Surprisingly, there were many items in this room. There were many wilted flowers, some older food items, and many other miscellaneous objects scattered about; including odd carvings, shiny crystals and stones, and feathers. Though, all these were piled either to the sides of this room or together at the very back, leaving a still clear path for the pair to walk through.

“Where did all this come from…?” Gengar muttered, looking over the collection.

“I’m not sure…” Nelvana responded, but then as the words left her mouth, it clicked. “Tributes.”

“To who?” Gengar whispered back.

“The judge, probably,” Nelvana told him, shivering as a chill went down her spine at the thought; were the villagers here really paying tributes here?

They stopped in the center of the room, continuing to examine their surroundings. All things considered, it wasn’t that large of a room, quite a bit smaller than some of the other safe rooms Nelvana had ended up in at the end of other dungeons.

There also didn’t appear to be anyone else in the room aside from the two of them, even though Nelvana was getting the feeling of being watched. Even with all the tributes around the area, there wasn’t much space someone could hide in. She wondered if maybe the judge was invisible, or hiding in the walls or shadows like a ghost-type, waiting to see what they would do first.

“Maybe they aren’t home?” Gengar wondered, having reached a different conclusion.

Nelvana shook her head, “no… someone is definitely here,” she replied in a hushed voice, finding herself gripping her club tightly instinctively.

“Are we supposed to leave a tribute?” he continued, looking over all the items again.

There was a pause as Nelvana thought the question over, part of her wanting to say no simply on the part of her being uncomfortable with the idea of paying tribute for an unknown entity. Mienshao would have told them about this if they needed to bring something anyway, right?

Before she could form a proper answer though, a deep rumble of a laugh sounded from the room. The sound was disconnected from any source and it felt like the walls themselves were creating the noise. Nelvana tensed at the sudden noise, but slowly allowed herself to relax when no harm came. Gengar appeared startled, but did his best to remain silent for now as well.

“Ah, do not worry about that,” the voice hummed, the laughter fading as they spoke. “Tributes are not necessary; in fact, I must admit them to be saddening. All these gifts and I cannot even accept any of them…”

“Who are you?” Nelvana asked, finding a spot on the wall that she guessed would be the best for an attempt at eye contact.

“Who am I does not matter. To you, I am the judge, the one you have been looking for. Welcome to the Murky Cave,” the voice answered, “you have nothing to fear from me. I mean no harm and cannot reach the physical plane from here regardless,” they assured them.

“But… you can still help us, right?” Gengar questioned, glancing around the room.

“Indeed. You are here for Gardevoir, correct? It would be complicated to explain how, so I’ll spare you of the details. Just know that I am able to lift the curse and bring back your friend,” they responded, “only under certain circumstances though; as I am sure that you have already heard.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that, just not exactly what circumstances,” Gengar huffed, “why is that the case, anyway? You seem to be of some sort of high status; can’t you break the curse on your own?”

“…no, I cannot. Perhaps once upon a time, yes, but not now, and not for any time soon. I will be able to bring Gardevoir to you, but only after you have broken the brunt of the curse,” the judge told him.

Gengar sighed, “alright, so what do I have to do then?”

They chuckled again, “nothing much, do not worry. I must simply… evaluate you. No, not like Mienshao’s tests, nothing of that sort. All that I need are for some questions to be answered,” they explained, “you must bear your true feelings to me.”

“Bear my true feelings to you?” Gengar repeated, “look, I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I can answer some questions if that’s all you need.”

“I appreciate that sentiment,” the judge said, “however, it will not be you who will answer the questions, Shinobi. It will be Nelvana.”

“W-What?” Gengar stiffened, looking down at Nelvana, who was equally surprised by this.

Suddenly, the room seemed to lurch around them, spinning around the pair in a blur before settling into a green void; one that Nelvana recognized from her dreams. That familiarity confused her though, since she had only ever arrived here in the past when she had been asleep.

That concern was swiftly overshadowed when she realized that she didn’t hear Gengar anymore. Looking around, Nelvana discovered that a large, dark rose-colored crystal had appeared behind her, and that Gengar had been trapped inside. She crouched down in front of it, pressing her hands to its sides. The crystal was almost perfectly smooth, and solidly in place. Gengar moved his mouth, but she could hear no noise coming out. Even when he pressed his hands on the sides as well and tried pounding on them, not a single sound came out.

“I can’t hear you,” she told him, hoping he would be able to hear her despite that fact; and fortunately, he did seem to react to what she said, eyes widening before narrowing, with his teeth gritting.

Her hands reached to grip her club, leading her to discover that it had gone missing. Alarmed, she patted her neck, finding her scarf to be missing as well. When she looked into the crystal again, she found that the bag that Gengar had previously had was also gone.

It made sense when she thought about it; she had never had any items when she had spoken to Gardevoir. In fact, it almost surprised her that they hadn’t been brought to their true soul forms as humans like she had seen in their reflections in the spirit realm. But even if it made some sense, the realization still startled her and only served to raise her anxiety on the situation.

If she wanted to break Gengar out of this, she was going to have to use her bare hands. Before she went to attack the crystal though, it occurred to her that this was probably done on purpose. Spinning around again, Nelvana searched the space around them. Despite them being in a new realm entirely, there was still no sight of the judge, and she couldn’t figure out if that made matters better or worse.

“What did you do?” she demanded, yelling out into the empty void.

“I do apologize if I have startled you.” The judge’s voice still came from all around them instead of just one source. “Do not fear, Shinobi… or, I suppose he would rather be called Gengar, correct? Regardless, he is not harmed in there, and I will be releasing him when we are done,” they assured her, “Gengar’s heart is interwoven with conflicting emotions. I cannot trust him to speak the truth. However, I can trust you, Nelvana. That is why you will be answering for him,” they explained, “I had to place him in that space so that he may not influence your answers. It is soundproof. You cannot hear him, but he can hear you.”

Nelvana swallowed, a chill going down her spine at the response. The judge using her name did confirm what Mienshao had said about them knowing her, but that part didn’t have an explanation yet. She glanced back at Gengar, who appeared scared for more than just himself being trapped now. The responsibility of this mission had shifted to her more so now, and she could feel the weight of this pressure on her; and the knowledge that Gengar could still hear her and judge her answers didn’t help.

Regardless, she knew that she had to do this. There wasn’t any time to question herself or Gengar, or to just back out of this entire situation now. She would just have to do her best.

“…alright, I’ll answer the questions,” Nelvana reluctantly replied.

“Thank you. Now then, it is time we begin. First of all… why does Gengar wish to break this curse?” they asked with a hum.

“To help Gardevoir, and to give her another chance at a proper life,” she answered right away, recalling the answer from when both herself and Mienshao had asked before.

The judge laughed, “that’s a lie, isn’t it?” If they had a physical form, Nelvana would have sworn that the judge would be circling her as they spoke. “Gengar abandoned Gardevoir a long time ago, and always could have helped her, but he did not. Why would he have changed his mind now?”

“Because, he didn’t realize how it affected her before.” Nelvana paused, realizing that she could have worded that better. “He didn’t understand how much that would have harmed her, he was only thinking for himself; and then when he did learn, he didn’t know that she could be helped.”

“So, you are saying that he has come to understand Gardevoir’s feelings? That he realized that he had done harm when he abandoned her?” they questioned.

Nelvana nodded, “yes, exactly.”

“Then what are Gardevoir’s feelings? How does she feel about this? Is he really aware of that?”

“She still cares for him. Gardevoir forgives him and does not hate him for what he’s done.”

“You know that because she told you. But does Gengar know?”

“Yes, I have told him about how she feels.”

“But does he believe that?”

“…no.”

She glanced back at Gengar again, trying to gauge his expression. His hands were still pressed against the glass-like crystal wall in front of him, and his eyes met her’s desperately.

“Hmm… Gardevoir bore the curse that was meant to harm Gengar, and was forced to become a spirit with no physical body. Yet, she never has stopped caring for him,” the judge mused, “and even if Gengar does not believe that she forgives him, he wishes to make things right. Interesting…”

There was a pause, and Nelvana found herself having to stop herself from subconsciously holding her breath in anticipation.

“However, until now, Gengar had forgotten completely about Gardevoir, correct? But now, all of a sudden, he wishes to save her. Gardevoir may have forgiven him, but does he deserve it? Is this not asking of a lot?” they continued, voice low.

Nelvana’s breath hitched, her mind hurriedly searching for the right answer to this question, “…maybe it is asking a lot, but he is willing to give a lot to break the curse. He has been working to become better.”

“But does he deserve forgiveness?” the judge persisted.

“I have forgiven him for what he has done to me in the past, but it is not my place to decide if he deserves forgiveness from Gardevoir. If she thinks so, then I am willing to trust that judgement,” she told them.

“I understand,” they responded, “my questions are done, thank you for answering with honesty, Nelvana.”

Despite that response, the void remained the same, with the pair still in it. Nelvana turned back to look at Gengar again, and he was still trapped. Anxiety rising within again, she awaited the judge’s sentence.

“It is with my deepest regrets that Gardevoir will not be freed from the curse. She will remain as she is now, and for hundreds of years still.”

Nelvana’s heart sank, her mind and eyes growing clouded with this news. That was it, just like that? Part of her wanted to yell and scream, to claw her way out to another, better result, but the rest of her had already sunk to resignation. After all they had done to get here… a few questions and they just couldn’t bring back Gardevoir. She didn’t dare look at Gengar now, she could already predict the mess of emotions running through him right now.

“Oh, I do truly apologize… I do wish there was something that I could do,” the judge spoke up again, voice softened with genuity. “And Nelvana, please do not take this too harshly on yourself,” they added, sensing the cubone’s evident despair. “You truly did answer the questions well; that is not the reason that the curse cannot be lifted. You did well.”

That mentioned “reason” hung in the air; unsaid, yet understood by everyone. Gengar was still missing that something that Ninetales predicted that he did not have.

He stared, wide-eyed out through the crystal he was trapped in. Nelvana wasn’t looking back at him now, but he could still see the corners of her eyes beginning to collect with tears, and his throat seemed to swell up; he hadn’t seen her cry since she had to be separated from her team.

No, he couldn’t accept this. This wasn’t right, he couldn’t just watch as everything they had worked for for the past several days came up to nothing. Gengar curled his hands into fists and pounded against his prison, again and again and again. He kept this up, punching at the crystal over and over with all of his might pushed into it.

Until finally, the crystal shattered. And with it, the void warped and spun again, shooting the pair back into the tribute room where they had been before, with all of their items with them. Nelvana spun back to look at Gengar, whose face scrunched up in a teary rage. His hands were sore and his entire body felt tense, but he didn’t care.

“NO!” Gengar screamed, “this isn’t fair! You can’t just do that! Not after… Not after we’ve worked so hard! I’ve dragged Nelvana all this way just for you to tell me that I’m just not enough to bring Gardevoir back! This isn’t fair to them! If not for me, just bring back Gardevoir for herself, and for Nelvana! They’ve done so much, and forgiven me so being a selfish… a selfish jerk, and you mean to tell me it’s for nothing? Please! Just… I’ll do whatever! Anything! Just tell me what I need to do to break the curse, I’ll do it! What am I missing? Please!”

Gengar dropped down to the ground on his hands and knees, his head drooped low. Unlike the other outbursts he had had in the past, he was now sobbing. His body shook as he hiccupped and gasped for each breath between tears. The anger had flooded out for him, leaving him with an aching desperation. Tears poured out from his eyes, soaking his cheeks and dropping down into a puddle on the floor.

“That. That was what was missing.”

As the judge’s voice faded out again, a golden orb appeared in the room. It floated lazily around, its glow flickering as it did so. That orb was followed by many others, suddenly fading into sight and gathering together on the floor. When they all finally faded away, Gardevoir was there, laying unconscious on the floor.

“Gardevoir!” Gengar blurted out, hesitantly reaching out a hand, as if she would break if he touched her.

“Yes, there she is. The curse has been lifted. She is unconscious right now, but she will get up just fine soon,” the judge told them.

Neither Nelvana nor Gengar spoke for a few moments, both shocked at the sudden shift to their success. Finally though, Gengar’s eyes lit up and he looked over at Nelvana with the widest and truest smile she had ever seen from him.

“We did it! Oh Arceus, we did it! Gardevoir is okay!” he exclaimed.

He suddenly stood up again, rushing towards Nelvana and wrapping her in a tight hug. She could feel herself grow colder, but she didn’t mind this time. She couldn’t hug him back with his arms holding her’s tightly against her sides, but she rested her head on his shoulder to let him know that she returned the embrace.

“We did it, we did it…” Gengar repeated in a gasp, “thank you, Nel… thank you…”

Gengar began crying again, but this time there was no sadness brought with it. His joyful tears wet Nelvana’s scarf and fur, but she still just smiled. She was just as excited as he was at these new results, and wasn’t about to squash his happiness.

Eventually though, Gengar seemed to realize that he had been holding Nelvana for a solid minute, and quickly released her from his grasp, wiping his eyes and looking away from her with embarrassment.

“Eh, s-sorry-“

“I’m really glad too, it’s alright,” Nelvana assured him, “I’m really glad too, don’t worry about it. Gardevoir’s finally free… You did great; bringing her back.”

He nodded, finishing with clearing his eyes, “but… I still don’t get it. What had been missing? Was I really just supposed to get on my knees and beg?” he chuckled at himself for the last question.

The judge laughed as well, “no, that was not a requirement, though I suppose it helped,” they responded, “what you needed was gratitude. Gratitude and compassion. That’s what you had been missing, and in your little ‘speech’, you proved that you could feel that towards others. Well done, Gengar.”

“R-Really…?” Gengar looked back down at Gardevoir, who appeared as if she was just in a peaceful sleep. “Thank you” he told the judge, “for helping us.”

“Ah, no need to thank me. I simply provided passage for Gardevoir and her restored physical form. The both of you did the rest,” the judge replied.

“Mostly Gengar though,” Nelvana hummed.

“Yes, but you certainly played a valuable part in this, Nelvana. Because of Gardevoir’s connection to you, it made it easier for her to be safely brought here,” they told her, “and, of course, you answered my silly questions,” they added with another laugh. “I expect the both of you would like to head back home now, but there is one more thing I should tell you. Gengar, Gardevoir will not be aware that you are her old trainer.”

Gengar blinked, “she won’t?”

“No, she will not. She is unaware that you ever turned into a pokemon at all, in fact,” they said.

“That… may be for the best,” Gengar sighed.

Nelvana frowned at him momentarily, “you won’t be able to hide that from her forever.”

“I… Yeah, I know. Can I just… have a bit where she doesn’t know? So that she can get to know me again?” Gengar requested, meeting Nelvana’s gaze. “I’ll tell her eventually, I promise. Just… let me do it, okay?”

“Alright, but take it from experience, you shouldn’t be hiding something that important from her like that, not for too long at least,” Nelvana replied.

Gengar nodded slowly, “got it, alright… I guess we should be going now then?”

“Stop right there!”

Spinning around, the pair found the source of this sudden voice to belong to… Ninetales. The bedraggled fire-type crawled into the room, legs shaking as she did her best to keep herself up. Various cuts and scrapes bleed out, and her previously well-cared for fur was matted and dirty. Her limp, which had once been barely unnoticeable in her leg, now had to be dragged with her to get anywhere. Despite all this though, she managed to hold her head high as she snarled at Gengar.

“How? How did you break the curse?” Ninetales snarled, her voice hoarse. “You aren’t worthy; you haven’t changed!”

“Wha… how did you get here…?” Gengar questioned instead, stiffening but not backing away.

“I tracked you!” she snapped, “your scent is easy to follow and I know the way here anyway.”

Pushing aside the uneasiness at being so easily followed, Nelvana spoke up, “look… maybe we should just calm down. Are you okay? That dungeon is really bad. You look like-“

“I… I am fine,” Ninetales insisted, “I have been through Murky Cave before, and I will do it time and time again. Forget about that. Answer me, Shinobi! How did you break the curse?”

“Excuse me,” the judge began, “but I assure you, Ninetales, that there would be no way to break the curse if he had not-“

“Silence, devil!” Ninetales interrupted, glaring at the walls for a moment before turning it back to Gengar. “Now, how did you do it? Lie? Cheat?” she continued.

Gengar raised his hands in front of himself defensively, “look, I have no idea what you’re talking about. We even almost failed but managed to pull through! Like… the judge even says it would be impossible to lie for,” he told her, “why do you even care, anyway? Gardevoir is free now, isn’t that what matters?”

“Not to her…” Nelvana murmured, the realization slowly dawning on her. “You think that he hasn’t been punished yet. You don’t think he deserves this, do you?”

Ninetales nodded, smiling, “yes, of course! I am glad to see that at least someone is catching on.”

Nelvana furrowed her brows, displeased by this “compliment”. Ninetales didn’t appear to notice, however, and continued speaking.

“You were supposed to be ‘put in the shoes’ of a pokemon, to experience our struggles,” Ninetales growled at Gengar, “The idea was that humans would still be around, and you would be caught, but I suppose this could have worked out just fine…” She paused, licking her nose and taking in raspy breaths. “except that now, you’ve gotten everything you’ve wanted! You’ve got some nice friends and you haven’t paid for your crimes!”

“But… he kinda has been punished,” Nelvana pointed out, “Gengar isn’t welcome in Pokemon Square anymore; he was lucky to convince me to come along here in the first place.”

“Not enough,” Ninetales huffed courtly, taking in another deep breath.

Her mouth opened, her tongue lolling out as she finished speaking. Weak flames flitted out from her open maw, growing stronger before she quickly shot a stream of flames towards the group. Gengar flinched, and then teleported across the room, out of the range of the attack. Nelvana’s muscles tensed as she prepared to dodge, but then she realized that if she moved, Gardevoir still would be in the way. Not having enough time to move herself and Gardevoir, she ducked her face away and blocked the fire from her friend. The heat burned at her fur, licking over her body, but none of it touched Gardevoir.

“H-Hey Nel! Are you okay?” Gengar called out, eyes widening with alarm. “We still have some rawst berries and orans if you need them.”
“I’m alright,” Nelvana rasped, wincing in pain from the burns, “maybe a rawst would be good, but not… right now.”

Gengar, seeming to accept this, turned to glare over at Ninetales, “what the heck was that for?”

“I was proving a point,” Ninetales purred with no shame, “you will always, always, abandon others, even those you pretend to call ‘allies’.”

“Look, I…” Gengar trailed off, his expression faltering as he couldn’t find a way to properly defend himself in this case.

“That’s why I gave you teleport, after all,” Ninetales continued, “so you’d always be able to run away.”

His spikes bristled, “w-well! What if Nelvana had run away then? Would you have just hit Gardevoir?”

“But Nelvana didn’t run away. She has more loyalty than you do, Shinobi,” Ninetales responded, “and if she had fled, I would not have hit Gardevoir. Even the youngest of vulpix are capable of controlling fireballs. Do you not think that I have control over my own flames?”

“Then why did you hit Nelvana?” Gengar sputtered, waving his hands about.

“I knew she could take the hit. Besides, for as smart as she is, she still has decided to trust you. I had to prove to her that you are not to be trusted. Even if you have fooled this… this devil into thinking that you are compassionate, I know that is not the truth, and I will do my best to prove that to others,” Ninetales answered coolly, her tails slowly swishing behind her.

“Then how do I prove to you that I have changed? Why can’t you just… consider the idea that I can become a better person?” Gengar snapped, taking a step towards Ninetales.

“Enough,” Nelvana groaned, turning back to face Ninetales. “Ninetales, this is ridiculous. Nothing is going to make you happy here, right? If Gengar had stayed to defend Gardevoir, you would have just questioned why he had never done that before.”

Ninetales smiled again, “you are figuring this all out nicely, Gardevoir’s chosen,” she purred, “though, you shouldn’t be defending him, you know that. You know what he has done.”

“Hey! If there isn’t anything, I can do to prove myself to you, then why are you arguing with us?” Gengar yelled, “if you want to just fight me, then let’s fight! I accept that challenge!”

“There is no need for something so barbaric here,” the judge’s voice butted in, “besides, Gardevoir should awake soon. You two should head back home now. It would be best for her to wake in the comfort of a home with friends rather than in the middle of an argument in a dungeon,” they pointed out.

“But… fine,” Gengar sighed, “it’s probably for the best,” he mumbled staring at the floor now.

“I guess so. It doesn’t feel right to just leave with this unsettled, but there are better places to have this discussion,” Nelvana agreed, “we’ll see you later, Ninetales.”

Gengar headed back over to Nelvana and Gardevoir, making sure to hand the cubone a rawst berry before they headed anywhere. Taking a bite to get herself started, Nelvana crouched down beside Gardevoir, gently placing a hand onto her friend. She clicked the correct button on her badge, and the trio disappeared from Murky Cave.

Leaving Ninetales as the last one on the journey.

Ninetales scowled, swiftly turning away from the room and beginning to make her way back the way she came. One of her forelegs suddenly buckled under her own weight, but she caught herself and restabilized her balance.

“You won’t make it out of here,” the judge commented.

“Silence, devil!” Ninetales snapped, heaving herself forward.

“There is no back exit to this dungeon. You would have to go through all the floors again,” they continued regardless of Ninetales’ attitude.

“I know that,” Ninetales growled.

She didn’t get much further than that though, her limbs buckling again, sending her down to the ground. She tried lifting herself up again, but while she could prop her legs up in preparation to do so, she could barely just get her nose off the ground before her pounding head and aching body forced her to lay down again.

“You have lived for a very long time, but your strength seems to be running out,” the judge pointed out.

“Do not patronize me,” Ninetales snarled, glaring at the wall that was the easiest to see from her position.

“I am not patronizing you,” they assured her, “I am merely speaking the truth. The power of your tails is what grants you your long life, but that power has run out,” they stated, “if you try going through that dungeon again, you will die.”

Ninetales exhaled, “I… am aware of that. But I refuse to simply lay down and die here! I still… have work to do, and I will not just give up now!”

“Work to do?” the judge repeated, “such as hiding away in a cave where you only get visitors maybe once a year?” they huffed, “you’ll be fine here, Ninetales. I promise you that. But if you go in that dungeon and die, then your body will be lost forever.”

“Better than dying in here with you,” she spat, “you can’t stop me from leaving,” she growled, attempting to stand up again.

“You know, Gengar truly has become a better person,” they said, shifting the topic. “You may not want to believe that, but he has. You know that there would have been no way for your curse to be lifted had that not been the case.”

Ninetales didn’t reply this time, instead focusing her energy on trying to stand up again. When she still didn’t achieve success, she began pulling herself across the floor, scraping her claws on the stone.

“You’re going to hurt yourself.”

“Leave me alone.”

“There is always time for someone to change.” The judge again moved back to Gengar and becoming a better person. “You could even change, even in these last moments here.”

“What are you blabbering on about?” Ninetales groaned, pausing from her struggles.

“Did you know, that if you die with unfinished business, you can come back as a vengeful spirit?” they mused, “you are holding on too many grudges, Ninetales. There is still time to let them go, and just rest peacefully.”

Ninetales narrowed her eyes, “you know nothing.”

“You’re in denial,” they sighed, “you know Gengar has become a better person, so why do you cling to that grudge against him? It’s okay to let it go.”

Again, no response from Ninetales. However, now she lacked the energy even to keep dragging herself forward, and simply lay there silently. There was a pause as the judge let her think before they continued this time.

“It’s okay to rest. That doesn’t make you weaker. Everyone reaches their end at some point,” they told her, “and it’s okay to let go. Gardevoir and Nelvana will be fine. Gengar has learned, and if he goes back to how he used to be then they will handle it themselves.”

There was still silence. This time, the judge remained quiet, leaving Ninetales alone to her thoughts. Every once and awhile, she would try standing up or dragging herself forward, but after many minutes she still didn’t get much farther.

“If I die here…” Ninetales said quietly, “I will not go to your realm, that is correct?”

“That is correct,” the judge hummed, “I am not in charge of where spirits do go, but I can assure you it will not be where I reside. You have lived a good life; you will go to a good place.”

If Ninetales had the strength to nod, she would have, “okay…”

“Mienshao will likely come by soon. He will have heard that you came by here, and will want to make sure you aren’t lost to the dungeon itself,” they told her.

“…thank you,” she whispered, “I… I didn’t mean to hurt her,” she whimpered, unable to stop the tears from building in her eyes. “I just wanted everything to go right.”

“I know. I will tell Mienshao when he arrives too, if that would make you feel better,” they replied.

Ninetales didn’t reply again, and she didn’t speak again at all. Instead, she thought over her life; what she still wanted to do, and what she had done.

She wondered if, perhaps, Shinobi had become a better person, even without the punishment she envisioned. Perhaps, even if everything had worked out for him in the end, it hadn’t come for free. After all, he had been bandaged up when she had seen him, and Nelvana had insisted that the Pokemon Square had shunned him; probably for accusing her of doing what he had done.

Ninetales asked herself if she was proud of what she had achieved in her life, and she knew that she was. Looking back, perhaps there was something else she could have done to make things even better… but there was nothing she could do to change that now.

And perhaps, that was okay. It was okay to let go of the past if all it was doing was harm.

Closing her eyes, she exhaled. Slowly, she let herself relax and fade away to rest, never to wake again. Ninetales died peacefully at the end of Murky Cave. The journey was over.

Chapter Text

Temporal Tower stood out far away from any of the continents, though closest to the Grass Continent. This structure was built on a single, floating stone island. A few other of these islands surrounded it, but none of them had the same mass as the one that had to support the Temporal Tower.

Standing at the top of this tower, was the legendary pokemon of time, Dialga. They slowly looked over their home, leaning down to peer down the sides to make sure everything was holding strong. This was a routine they had developed for themself; only after they were certain that the Temporal Tower wasn’t going to crumble and that all the time gears were in place that they would allow themself to relax.

With that morning task out of the way, Dialga was able to breath out a breath of relief and simply stare out into the horizon. If they completed this early enough, there would still be time to watch the sunrise. Staring out into the peaceful morning always brought ease to their very being, so they would often stand still in place until the sun had fully risen.

However, this morning there were some difficult thoughts plaguing their mind. In fact, as much as they disliked admitting it, this had been worrying them for many days now, and they had just elected to ignore it. As selfish as it was, they had just wanted to be able to relax for just a little bit longer. It was absolutely irresponsible, and they knew it, but part of them had been hoping the problem would fix itself. At this point though, it was becoming painfully obvious how much of a danger this could become.

Dialga let out a sigh, “Celebi, it’s time we speak about the world’s balance,” they announced.

From behind Dialga, the green pixie pokemon fluttered over to the much larger pokemon. Celebi wasn’t even anywhere near the size of the god’s head, but they still made sure that they were noticed by their companion as they moved. Celebi did not make eye contact with Dialga, instead choosing to hover beside them and stare out into the horizon as well.

“Ah, finally,” Celebi murmured, “where would you like to start?” they asked.

“As I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Dialga began, “the world’s balance has not been properly restored. It should have restored itself with the flow of time righted, however something has been delaying it. Something, or someone, has been keeping the world still out of balance.”

Dialga spoke aloud in a hushed voice, as to not be deafening in comparison to their smaller friend. In the past, the pair would communicate through telepathy to solve this problem, but in recent times Dialga had come to prefer speaking out loud. It was comforting to them to hear themself able to properly speak softly, instead of hearing abysmal roaring. While they had not said so, Celebi seemed to agree, and begun speaking as well to avoid it sounding like a one-sided conversation.

Celebi nodded courtly, “yes, I have noticed that. It is Palkia’s doing.”

Again, Dialga sighed, turning away this time, “…I knew that,” they admitted, “I had just hoped that it would not be the case.”

“Denial will not help us any,” Celebi told them, “Palkia is most certainly the cause.”

“The question is… why?” Dialga questioned.

“That, I am not certain of quite yet…” Celebi now turned to look at Dialga. “I assumed you would have known. Can you not sense anything from your kin?”

Dialga slowly shook their head, “no, I cannot. It would seem as if Palkia has found a way to completely block me off.

“I… didn’t think that was possible,” Celebi commented, blinking. “They must be aware of what they’re doing then. Revenge, perhaps?”

“Palkia isn’t the sort to go for revenge. And even if so, their quarrel would be just with me,” Dialga replied, “no need to involve anything, or anyone else. Seeing as they’ve been delaying the restoration of the world’s balance, this must be more than just revenge.”

“What do you suppose then?”

Dialga opened their mouth only to close it. Their throat was dry. They looked down at their feet, which were the same as ever. Blue, just blue, no orange, no glowing. The tower still stood solidly under them. As a quietness from the lack of either of them speaking crept in, Dialga could listen to their heartbeat. Always keeping the same rhythm, the same strength. They took in a deep breath, slowly exhaling as they sorted out their thoughts.

“I believe… Palkia may be going primal,” Dialga finally answered.

Celebi paled, “you think so…? But how come? Nothing has happened to prompt that.”

“It’s just… it’s just a theory. I’m not sure if it’s the case,” Dialga responded all too hastily. “I’m not sure why that would happen, but there aren’t that many other possibilities.”

“I see.” Celebi swallowed, looking away again for a moment, but their gaze was drawn back to the worried legendary. “Either way, there is not much we can do about that at the moment. We shall have to see how this all goes,” they continued.

“We cannot just sit back on this for much longer though,” Dialga murmured.

“Agreed. For now, we will collect more data on the situation. You know that if Palkia has gone primal… you won’t be able to beat them in a fight,” Celebi replied, “you may need to collect more allies if it comes to a fight.”

“I have you,” Dialga pointed out, looking back up.

Celebi laughed, but it carried no joy with it, “you and I both know that I am not much help against a primal legendary,” they said darkly, their expression creasing back into a small frown.

Dialga’s throat felt dry again, “you would still be a help.”

“Hm, I suppose so,” Celebi hummed, crossing their arms behind their back.

There was a pause between the pair; the strain of their relationship hanging in the air. Dialga knew what Celebi meant with those comments. Celebi had died in the other timeline to Primal Dialga, after all. The both of them were connected to the flow of time, they both clearly remembered what happened. And no matter how many times they could apologize, they would never have the same friendship as they had had before.

Again, Dialga opened their mouth to speak, but then reconsidered and closed it again. They opted to stare out into the horizon again, which had long since faded into the plain blue of the sky decorated with puffy white clouds. Celebi, however, kept their gaze focused on the temporal pokemon, working up the courage to speak instead.

“There is something on your mind. Speak up,” Celebi instructed firmly.

Dialga chuckled quietly at themself; of course it would have been foolish to try hiding their feelings from a psychic-type, especially one that knew them so well.

“You said that we should be considering gathering more allies… truth be told, I have been thinking over that myself,” Dialga began.

“And?” Celebi prompted.

“There is someone… from the other future, who I’d like to bring back here for a second chance,” Dialga told them.

Celebi furrowed their brows with displeasure, “him?” they questioned, already knowing who this “someone” was. “You think that he deserves another chance on this plane?”

“Yes, I do,” Dialga replied confidently, lifting their head up. “Dusknoir was not the best person in the time he got to live, but that was because he had the misfortune of being under… my influence. He could become a better person if given the opportunity.”

“Mm... Sure, let’s say I believe that. Why bother bringing them back? We can find allies elsewhere; without risking ruining the world’s balance more than it already is,” Celebi huffed, bringing their arms up to cross them in front of their chest.

“Because,” Dialga sighed, “they were incredibly loyal, and they got nothing out of that. I feel that I should repay that somehow,” they told them, “and, while your concern is understandable, bringing him back won’t destroy the world’s balance completely. I know how to do that safely. There have already been four pokemon brought back from that realm; he won’t tip everything over.”

“Four?” Celebi repeated, “I thought there had only been three.”

“Ah, you are thinking of the time travelling heroes. Yes, there were three in that group. The human, the grovyle, and… your successor. They were all brought back, but that was weeks ago,” Dialga responded, “recently, a fourth was brought back. Not someone from that timeline, but a cursed spirit guide. The curse was broken ahead of its time, and they have been brought back to life.”

“Hmph, so you’re certain then that bringing Dusknoir back would not harm the world’s balance?” Celebi asked.

Dialga nodded, “I am.”

Celebi paused, thinking this over before shaking their head, “I still do not agree with this. He should not be brought back, even if you think he should be blessed with such a second chance,” they told them, “this is a bad idea.”

“What makes you think that?” Dialga questioned, leaning closer to their companion. “You are my advisor; I’m always willing to listen if you think.”

“I…” For once, Celebi seemed to be having difficulties forming together their thoughts into words. “He’s a murderer, Dialga. Have you forgotten? He felt no guilt for killing hundreds, directly or indirectly, just because you told him to. You may not have been in your right mind, but he always was,” they spat.

“He can change,” Dialga insisted.

“How do you know?” Celebi snapped, whirling to fully face Dialga. “How do you really know? He was just a servant to Primal Dialga, you don’t know him.”

“Neither do you,” Dialga responded.

“I know enough to know that this is a bad idea,” Celebi growled, turning away again and letting out a sigh. “But you know what? Fine. You do what you want. I can’t really stop you. I never could.”

“Celebi.” Dialga stepped over to have the smaller pokemon be facing them again. “I don’t appreciate you trying to manipulate my decision by guilting me.”

Celebi barely noticeably stiffening at being called out, but slowly relaxed again. Dialga sighed, reminding themself to relax again as well. They didn’t want to lose their temper.

“However,” they continued, “I do want to respect your opinion on the subject. I will think this over some more. You are right, it is an important decision to make. And… if it does turn out poorly, know that I will accept the consequences of that and do my best to fix it,” they assured them, “I’ll add as well, that if Palkia really does go primal… being picky about our allies won’t help us any.”

“…fine. I’ll trust you on this,” Celebi finally replied, “and I apologize for acting in such a way. I just…”

“I know. It’s alright; I understand.”

Chapter Text

Tsuki laid in the shade created by a tree just off from Pokemon Square, her head resting on her paws. Periodically, she’d dig into the dirt with her claws, but otherwise the most movement that come out of her was the rise and fall of her breathing.

The rest of Team Galaxy wasn’t far, and they weren’t up to much either. Their last message from Nelvana had been from the previous night, explaining about how they were almost to Remains Island, where they could go through Murky Cave to bring back Gardevoir. Considering how it usually didn’t take an entire day to go through a single twenty-floor dungeon, the entire group was silently and impatiently waiting for their friend to return. No one felt comfortable risking going off on a mission and miss Nelvana’s return.

Though, that wasn’t the only source of their impatientness. Tsuki racked her mind to see if she could get any closer to figuring out exactly what was going to happen, who was going to die, but she could never come up with anything past it being someone on that journey. It frustrated her, but this wasn’t the first time she ran into this wall. Dangers and disasters both could be hard to get the exact details of; her ability wasn’t that precise. She could specifically remember when she predicted a battle when Nelvana, Keahi, and Alex had arrived to the Frosty Forest for the first time, and how she only ever got close to figuring out when exactly it would happen by the time it was too late and that sableye had gotten in.

Suddenly, just as she finished thinking over that memory, something clicked in her mind. No, the headache wasn’t gone yet, but she knew something more. Tsuki lifted her head up and stared out into the distance, only vaguely aware that now she was being watched by her teammates.

“It wasn’t them,” Tsuki murmured, “Nelvana and Gengar both, they’re okay.”

“They are?” Keahi responded, an excited smile beginning to cross his face before it faded as he thought about this new information more. “Then… who is it?”

“It isn’t Gardevoir either,” Tsuki answered instead, sensing the other unsaid question hanging in the air. “Someone else must have joined them on their journey…” she continued, standing up.

Without another word, Tsuki began walking away. Her feet led her back onto the path, and over towards their team base. Behind her, she could hear the others scrambling to their feet to follow her. She felt trancelike, her body moving herself without her really knowing where she was going and why.

Her distant confusion would be answered soon, as she finally stopped in front of the building she called home. At first, everything looked as it had when they had left earlier that day; nothing had changed. But moments after she stopped moving, a flash of light appeared, revealing the return of her teammate and the pokemon she had been escorting, along with the one they had been looking for.

Nelvana stood up from crouching beside Gardevoir, stretching as she did so and glancing around as she did so. When she spotted her teammates not far, her eyes lit up with excitement, creasing at the edges as she smiled. There was some dried blood and scorch marks stuck on her fur, but otherwise she didn’t appear to be in that poor of a condition. Gengar had some bandages wrapped around his belly, and Gardevoir laid on the ground unconscious, but everyone was still healthy, still alive.

“Nelvana! You’re back!” Keahi called out, forgetting about the earlier worries in favor of greeting his partner back home.

Keahi bolted over, leaping at Nelvana in one of his traditional tackle hugs. Nelvana caught the torchic, dropping her club on the ground and wrapping her arms tightly around him in return. He was warm; she missed him.

“I missed you,” Nelvana murmured into her partner’s feathers.

“I missed you too! We all did!” Keahi replied, nuzzling his beak carefully over her shoulder. “You guys were gone for awhile!”

“Yeah, well, sometimes that happens,” Nelvana sighed, “but hey, we managed to bring back Gardevoir!”

Keahi had to squirm slightly to try getting a better look, so Nelvana decided to set him down completely. The torchic leaned down to look over the unconscious pokemon, watching for the slow rise and fall of her breathing.

At this point, most of the others decided to come closer as well, Alex being the next to stand right up to Nelvana, placing a hand on her head and silently smiling down at her for now.

“She is okay, right?” Keahi questioned softly, glancing back at the others.

Nelvana nodded, “yeah, just unconscious right now. Apparently getting put in a physical body for the first time in several hundred years can be taxing. She should wake up soon though,” she explained.

Keahi let out a sigh of relief, “oh, that’s really good to know… I mean, I doubt you guys would have brought her back dead, but…”

“But what?” Nelvana asked, looking over each other her teammates, and then back at Gengar.

Tsuki shook out her fur, “was there anyone else who travelled with you two?” she asked.

“No… it was just us,” Nelvana answered, glancing back at Gengar again to make sure, to which he nodded. “Why do you ask?” she questioned, and then paused. “What didn’t you guys tell me?”

“Nel, remember when we mentioned that Tsuki had sensed a danger, and that you should be careful?” Ceebee spoke up, “it was a bit more… specific than that. We didn’t tell you because we knew how it could have affected things. Tsuki predicted that someone would die.”

Gengar choked on his own breath, “die?” he blurted out, shrinking back slightly as he felt the attention drawn to him. “B-But… shouldn’t we have known?” he continued hesitantly, “we could have done something about it!”

“You couldn’t have; that was the issue,” Tsuki sighed, “maybe you could have, but only by leaving the journey altogether. Once an absol predicts a disaster, it will happen. It is incredibly difficult to deter such fate; often the best that can be done is to avoid the situation until it blows over, or get it at the root,” she explained, “Alex and Ceebee said Nelvana would be too stubborn to just give up on the mission then, and then that thought would plague her for the rest of the journey if she kept going. That’s why we left it as a warning.”

“We’re really sorry! We hoped it would be enough to keep you guys safe; we didn’t consider that someone else might join you and be in danger,” Ceebee added in a whimper, tugging her hair.

Nelvana’s throat felt up, and her mind raced to think over who they had spoken to in their journey. They had travelled with Larry for a period of time; had he not made it back to Gull Village safely? He was the only one they were really uncertain about what had happened when they left, him and…

“Ninetales,” Nelvana gasped, “Ninetales tracked us to Murky Cave; she must have counted as being a part of the journey,” she realized.

“But she was fine! She… had to be…” Gengar trailed off as he too realized that Ninetales hadn’t been in the best condition when they left her; they hadn’t even gotten the chance to give her an oran berry for her wounds. “There had to have been a back exit to the dungeon, right? She could have just gone back to Mienshao and gotten her injuries healed,” he insisted; unable to grasp the idea of such a powerful and intimidating figure being gone just like that.

“Injuries? What happened?” Keahi asked, pale under his feathery face.

“Yeah, we should… explain what you guys missed. Before that though, is there still a way we can help Ninetales? You said if she stops being on the journey, maybe?” Nelvana responded, turning back to Tsuki.

Tsuki shook her head, “whoever it is, Ninetales or not, they are still alive right now… but unless you have a way to quickly get back to where she is, there is nothing we can do about that.”

“I could fly over… but that would still take hours to get there, and then there’s the dungeon itself; that’s too long, isn’t it?” Ceebee murmured.

“Probably.” Tsuki nodded, “I get the feeling as well… Ninetales has lived an incredibly long time. Even if we brought her back here, her injuries you mentioned from the dungeon may be too grave for someone of her age,” she added softly.

“But still! It would be better than leaving her alone! She would have our company,” Keahi pointed out, “I… okay, if there’s nothing we can do, we should go inside and you can tell us what happened. Gardevoir should probably rest somewhere comfier anyway,” he mumbled, slowly relenting to the thought of Ninetales’ passing and moving forward.

“My hammock is open for now; we can ask what she wants when she gets up,” Alex said, gesturing to Gardevoir with his comment.

“Okay,” Nelvana sighed, “let’s go in then.”

“Well, I guess I should head off then,” Gengar announced, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Thanks for the help, but I-“

“Nope, you’re coming with us,” Nelvana interrupted, grabbing his arm.

“I am?” Gengar questioned, glancing at the rest of Team Galaxy.

“He is?” Alex repeated, raising a brow.

“Look, I don’t think they want me here, I’ve stuck around long enough,” Gengar whispered, leaning down to the cubone. “Gardevoir will be fine with you guys, I trust you all to handle that.”

“You’re sticking around a bit longer,” Nelvana insisted, “come on, no more running away.”

Relenting, Gengar let Nelvana bring him inside. While a few of the other Team Galaxy members exchanged pointed looks, no one else was about to argue with that just yet. Alex paused for a moment to pick up Gardevoir and bring her in as well, taking her upstairs while everyone else began settling around the island table.

Once Alex returned and everyone was ready, Nelvana began to explain what had happened after she had sent her last message to them, when she and Gengar had begun their ferry ride off to Remains Island. How that had gone safely, and they had made their way to the dojo next to rest up, meeting Mienshao there. She showed them the Fallen Angel Crest, explaining how they had to complete tests to be considered worthy to have it, since Ninetales hadn’t given it to them herself.

Trying to go light on the details as to not worry them, she proceeded to describe how they had gone through Murky Cave itself, commenting with a dry laugh that it would have been so much better with the rest of the team. While she figured she had to bring up Gengar’s wounds considering how visible bandages were, she evened out the negativity by pointing out how he had helped out with his teleport move. She also mentioned how they had been able to travel through the walls, growing excited as she was able to feel a bit of pride at being able to figure out the tiring item and get things to work in her favor.

She made sure to calm herself down as she moved on from that point, bringing up how the actual interaction with the judge had gone. She described the tributes in the room as well, commenting on the uneasiness and oddity of such a sight there. But she didn’t want to dwell on that for too long, and mentioned how they never saw the judge instead. Following that point up, she explained how she had to answer questions in place of Gengar for the judge so they could bring back Gardevoir. Part of her wanted to skip how they had almost failed, but she forced herself to mention that anyway so she could be able to fully describe how Gengar managed to prove himself in the end; explaining that what he had been missing before turned out to be gratitude and compassion.

Once again having to lower the tone after reaching a higher moment, Nelvana continued to say how Ninetales had showed up, refusing help for her injuries and picking fights with Gengar. Clearly, Ninetales had gone through that entire dungeon on her own, which in hindsight would of course really take its toll on someone her age more than someone their age. She explained how they hadn’t been able to get through to Ninetales, and were forced to just come home instead.

“…and that’s it,” Nelvana sighed, finishing off the long summary of events.

Gengar hadn’t said much during all that; he didn’t add any details to the story. Instead, he stiffly and silently sat as Nelvana spoke for them both, doing his best not to get the possibly still angry attention from some of the other team members.

“Ninetales attacked you…?” Keahi gasped before slumping down on the table, dragging a wing over his face. “Arceus, this had been quite the busy day for you guys, huh?” he mumbled with a chuckle.

“Yeah, it has been,” Nelvana responded, propping her elbow on the table and resting her head in the palm of her hand. “Sorry if that’s a lot to take in… I’m still thinking about everything, especially now that you guys add that Ninetales is probably not going to make it in there,” she mumbled.

Alex exhaled, “nah, it’s alright. Not the craziest thing to happen; we’ll figure it all out eventually,” he said, “and what happened with Ninetales wasn’t your guys’ fault anyway. At least you managed to bring back Gardevoir, despite everything.”

“I still wish we could do something for Ninetales though.” Keahi pouted and turned their head to look at the grovyle from the table. “Can we maybe comfort her through telepathy or something?”

Ceebee shook her head, “I’m afraid my telepathy doesn’t reach out that far.”

“I don’t think she’d want to hear from us anyway,” Nelvana added, turning her gaze down to stare at the table.

“I’m sure she would! She was probably just… really stressed about this,” Keahi offered, lifting his head back up again.

There was a somber pause, no one quite sure where to go in the conversation from there. Even for those who had never met Ninetales, or who didn’t like her much, they could still feel the weight hanging in the air knowing that she was gone. There was something so abrupt, so unfinished about it all. It had been so unexpected, and no one could deny the effect that that alone had.

Slowly though, Gengar stood back up, beginning to shuffle away before Nelvana grabbed him, this time by the ear, to prevent him from leaving the building.

“Ow, hey! Let go!” Gengar yelped, which, to his surprise, Nelvana obliged. “Look, you don’t need me here anymore, can I just go now?”

“No, we aren’t done here,” Nelvana told him firmly, sitting up straighter and exhaling as she looked over the entire group. “I think that Gengar should stay at the base,” she announced, “here, with us.”

“Nelvana, we share two languages with each other and this was neither of them,” Alex deadpanned, “we’re listening though; why do you think he should stick around?”

Nelvana sighed, “look, he has really been improving, and I think there will be a benefit to keeping him around! If we just send him away, h-he doesn’t have anywhere to go; what if he just turns back to what he knows?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence in me,” Gengar muttered, crossing his arms uncomfortably.

“You can see where I’m coming from though. Pokemon Square isn’t keen on welcoming you back, and there isn’t another town anywhere nearby. Unless you’re prepared to brave traveling alone, you’ll go back to hiding in the shadows around here to get by,” Nelvana pointed out, to which Gengar didn’t have much of a defense for. “Besides, those bandages will need to be changed soon.”

Gengar reflexively looked down at the wrappings, “I… I can do that myself,” he replied, without much confidence to the claim.

“Also, you promised that you would tell Gardevoir about you being her old trainer; you can’t do that if you run off,” Nelvana continued.

“I…” Gengar exhaled, “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

“You can be more transparent than a poliwag’s belly sometimes,” Nelvana murmured, snickering softly and shaking her head.

“Wait, hold on, Gardevoir doesn’t know who Gengar is? Or was?” Keahi blurted out, “and why aren’t we going to tell her right away?”

“I guess no one ever told her before,” Nelvana told him, “I never did, though at one point I wanted to, and-“

“I want to tell her myself,” Gengar answered hesitantly, speaking up before Nelvana could answer for him. “Just… not right away.”

“Why not right away?” Alex questioned.

“Because! I want… the chance for her to get to know me as me, especially if I’m going to stay around here,” Gengar explained, flexing his fingers at his sides.

“I think it would be nice to have Gengar around for awhile!” Edgar, who had previously been uncharacteristically quiet, chimed in, “I haven’t really gotten to know him, and I trust Nelvana saying he’s become a better person. If he needed gratitude and compassion to bring back Gardevoir and he did that, he can’t be that bad now!”

“I think I’ll have to agree with that,” Tsuki murmured, “it will be interesting to try fitting someone else into this house, but it is a minuscule hurdle to help someone out. If after just that journey Gengar comes up as a lot less disastrous, then I believe that this will be quite beneficial.”

Gengar blinked, “thanks… but also, I just realized, this is the longest you’ve stayed in a room with me,” he commented, looking over at Tsuki.

Tsuki paused, and then began laughing, “that is true! I have not gotten a headache; that’s why I kept having to leave in the past,” she said, “well then, I suppose this would be our first time properly meeting then. It is good to meet you, Gengar.”

“Oh! You too, Tsuki,” Gengar responded.

“Well… I trust you, Nelvana. And if Tsuki is feeling better about Gengar too, I think that’s a pretty good sign of change,” Keahi sighed with a smile. “Let’s try this out.”

“You definitely aren’t the worst person I’ve met,” Alex chuckled, stretching. “And the others do bring up some good points. I’m up to giving you hanging around here a go; I’m curious to see how this will turn out. But know that if you step out of line…”

Gengar shuddered at that last part, “Arceus, I wouldn’t dare.”

Ceebee giggled, “even if I was about to argue, looks like I’d be outvoted! I don’t sense any malice coming from you, Gengar, and I have nothing against you aside from second hand information anyway. So, you can stay here if you want!”

“Well?” Nelvana turned to fully face Gengar. “Would you like to stay here? At least long enough to get yourself figured out and to talk to Gardevoir some.”

“I… Arceus, you guys are too nice.” Gengar rubbed at one of his eyes. “Yeah, I think that would be good. I’d… I’d like to stick around.”

Edgar let out a loud cheer, zooming over to Gengar and giving him a friendly headbutt, staying floating in front of him afterwards with their foreheads touching each other.

“Hooray! I’m so glad; I’ll finally get to know you!” Edgar exclaimed; his eye bright. “Welcome to the… uh, house?” he giggled, “what do we call him in relation to us?”

“House guest, probably,” Alex answered, “definitely not teammate,” he added with a snort.

“Would that even be allowed? Since he disbanded his own team, I don’t think he can join another, at least not for a long time,” Keahi commented, tilting his head to the side.

Gengar waved his hands in front of him, taking a step back, “hey, look, you don’t even need to think about that; I wasn’t planning on asking to join your team or anything. I’m fine as just a house guest or a helper,” he clarified.

“That’s fine! You don’t need to join the team to be a friend!” Edgar chirped, bouncing in the air.

“Uh, actually though… since I’ll be here for awhile, I had been thinking…” Gengar swallowed, building up his confidence to speak about this. “I don’t want to be called Gengar; it’s weird for a human, first of all, but more importantly to me… it reminds me too much of what I did before. Shinobi too. Arceus, if I never heard that name again, I’d be more than happy.”

“Oh yay! A name! I knew you would want one eventually! That’s why I told you Nel is really good at thinking of them,” Edgar responded.

Nelvana leaned her head back, “please don’t put me on the spot,” she groaned, “were you thinking of any names for yourself? Before I start having to make suggestions?”

“Ah, no… I didn’t have anything in mind,” Gengar admitted, “I’m terrible at thinking up of names. You know, back in, uh, my time, trainers would think of nicknames for thei- the pokemon travelling with them, and I could never think up of anything,” he rambled, “if you don’t mind, some ideas would help.”

“Alright, let’s see…” Nelvana hummed, sitting back up straight. “Marcus?”

Gengar shook his head after a moment, “no, doesn’t feel right.”

“Gavin, maybe?”

“Not that either.”

“How about Barney.”

“Okay, now you’re just messing with me.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Nelvana laughed, “Damien?”

“Damien?” he repeated, rolling over how the name sounded on his tongue. “That could work. Yeah, I think I like that.”

“So, Damien then?” Nelvana verified.

“Mhmm,” Damien confirmed with a smile, “thanks.”

“Damien!” Edgar called out, testing out the name himself. “That’s a good one! I’m glad you’re happy with your name now, Damien!”

Damien chuckled with a nod, “yeah, me too.”

Tsuki suddenly stiffened, “oh, I apologize for interrupting… but what was left of my headache is gone.”

Keahi frowned, “does that mean…?”

“Ninetales has passed away now,” Tsuki finished with a somber nod.

The heaviness from before returned to the room, crushing the excitement and joy they had managed to climb up to in an instant. It threatened to linger this time, without anything for everyone to move on to for conversation, until the silence was broken by the sounds of faint footsteps above them. Eyes turned over to either look right up at the ceiling or over at the stairs, staring for a moment before hearing another quiet creak in the wood.

“Gardevoir’s awake,” Nelvana gasped, hopping off from her seat.

Chapter Text

Nelvana was the first to start hurrying up the stairs, but if the sound of several other footsteps was any indication, the others were following closely behind her. They arrived at the second floor of the house to spot Gardevoir awake and standing up only a few feet away from Alex’s hammock where she had been resting before; now leaning on a wall with one of her arms. She lifted her head up to look over to where the stairs were when hearing that she wasn’t about to be alone anymore, and her eyes lit up as she spotted the cubone first.

“Gardevoir! You’re up!” Nelvana called out, swiftly approaching her friend, but deciding not to hug right away judging by how Gardevoir appeared to be having trouble standing. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m… I’m not sure. I think I’m alright; just pretty tried. I’m mostly confused as to how I got here; this is your base, right?” Gardevoir responded, managing a smile.

Nelvana nodded, “yes, welcome to the base! It’s a bit of a long story, but Ge- Damien here and I managed to break the curse; that’s why you’re here,” she told her.

At being mentioned, Damien nervously stepped forward, a bit shocked to actually be able to see and hear Gardevoir properly again. Though, it was less that he stepped forward, and more than Alex gave him a gentle shove over to the other two, and after that encouragement he made the rest of his way over.

“You… you really did?” Gardevoir gasped, her wide-eyed gaze flitting over from Nelvana to Damien. “I’m sorry, I don’t even know what to say… thank you so much; I didn’t think I would ever get to be… here, alive, again,” she murmured, wiping away tears that were already forming at the edges of her eyes. “Especially for you, Damien. We haven’t even met before, and you went to… who knows how much trouble just to bring me back here. That’s incredibly noble of you.”

Damien paled slightly at the comment; though fortunately for him, Gardevoir didn’t seem to notice, “oh, kekeh, yeah… no problem,” he replied, “I’m just glad to see you’re alright.”

“Are you a new member of the team?” Gardevoir asked, deciding to slide down the wall and sit down to carry on with this conversation.

“Ah, no, no I’m not. Just… in the area, y’know,” Damien answered, shrugging stiffly.

“Well, that just makes it all the more chivalrous. Thank you, again.” Gardevoir smiled.

“Would you like to get to finally meet some of my other teammates though?” Nelvana offered, sitting down beside Gardevoir.

“Oh, yes, I’d love to!” Gardevoir replied, looking up towards the others, who had gathered at the top of the stairs together. “It’s amazing that I’ll finally get to know all of you!” she exclaimed.

Taking this as permission to finally rush up to Gardevoir as well, Keahi bounced up in place before hurrying over to where the three had settled by the wall. Afterwards, the rest slowly shuffled after him.

“Hello Gardevoir! It’s really good to get to see you again,” he greeted, smiling broadly and practically vibrating with excitement. “Do you remember me?”

“Of course I remember you, Keahi,” Gardevoir giggled, “it’s good to see you again too; how have you been?”

“I’ve been doing great! Especially now that Nel is back from that mission and you could come back too!” Keahi responded, “it was my birthday recently too, and that was fun!” he added.

“Well, happy belated birthday then. Sorry I missed it,” Gardevoir hummed.

Keahi laughed, “it’s alright! You’re here now.”

Edgar, being just as excited as Keahi to get to know Gardevoir, floated right up next to the torchic in front of her to join in the conversation properly.

“Hi! I’m Edgar!” Edgar exclaimed, “I remember you from when you helped us out; thank you for that!”

“Oh, I believe that I remember you as well! It’s nice to put a name to a face; hello Edgar. You’re quite the observant one, aren’t you?” Gardevoir responded, “you noticed me both times I managed to visit from the spirit realm while you were with the team.”

Edgar merely giggled at the question, “I guess I am!”

“Well, unlike these two, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Alex, it’s nice to meet you, Gardevoir,” Alex spoke up, crouching down beside Nelvana, trying not to crowd around Gardevoir too much.

“Hm? But I believe we have met,” Gardevoir corrected.

“Really? When was that?” Alex questioned, eyes widening in surprise.

“When I was bringing you, Nel, and Ceebee back here. We spoke for a bit before I was able to properly return you to this plane,” Gardevoir explained.

Alex sighed, “ah, I guess that would explain it. I’m afraid that none of us remember that, or anything during that time at all. Apologies for that.”

“That’s alright!” Gardevoir assured him, “I’ll admit, my own memories of that event are a bit hazy, so it makes sense,” she said.

“Well, in that case, I suppose I’ve got a mix of Edgar and Alex’s experiences when it comes to knowing you,” Ceebee giggled, “I’m Ceebee, though you may have already known that.”

“Yes, I did, but it is good to meet you properly anyway, Ceebee,” Gardevoir replied, “I must admit, I have never met a legendary or mythical pokemon before,” she added.

“Oh, please spare any formalities; no one has done that for a long time and it would just be awkward,” Ceebee told her hastily, waving her hands in front of her. “Just treat me as you would anyone else, alright?”

Gardevoir seemed to hesitate, but then nodded, “very well, I’ll make sure to do that then, if that’s what you’d prefer.”

Tsuki, being the only one without any previous ties to Gardevoir, hung back a bit at first from introducing herself. However, she wouldn’t be able to just sit back and wait for much longer, and would need to walk over and actually join the conversation.

“G-Greetings,” Tsuki finally said, taking a hesitant step forward. “I am Tsuki.”

“Oh, hello Tsuki! You may be one of the only ones here I haven’t actually met before yet!” Gardevoir commented with a chuckle, “it’s nice to meet you then, I know you know, but I’m Gardevoir.”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Tsuki replied softly, glancing down at her paws for a moment.

While this was unusual behavior for the usually more serious and well-kept together absol, no one commented on this for now. They all individually hoped and assumed it was just nerves at meeting someone that everyone else was already friendly with.

In reality, Tsuki was dealing with the unfamiliar feeling of her heart seeming to swell and her face heating up. She had never seen or spoken to Gardevoir before now, and she could only think about how she wished she had; she felt like she had missed out on so much already. The urge to get to know the newcomer was slowly but surely building up, but so was the fear that they wouldn’t be able to be good friends.

“Anyway… Gardevoir, we all discussed this beforehand so don’t worry about if it’s okay, but if you need a place to stay, you can stay here if you’d like,” Alex announced, breaking though the silence that had started to build in the room after Tsuki’s introduction.

Gardevoir blinked, “really…?” She paused, and then laughed. “Well, I suppose it would have made sense for you to decide that. You all must have realized I don’t currently have anywhere to go. Thank you, I’d love to stay here if you have the room.”

“We built this place to have the room! Of course you can stay!” Keahi responded with a laugh of his own. “What kind of bed would you like? It might take a bit to order, but if you decide now we should be able to get it soon.”

“Ah, well, I haven’t really thought of that before…” Gardevoir murmured, taking a moment to think. “I think a normal bed would do just fine; if you could get one of those.”

“I’m sure the kecleon brothers can order one from somewhere! Or we can make one,” Keahi chirped.

“Oh! Damien will be staying here too! What kind of bed do you want, Damien?” Edgar exclaimed, turning his attention back to the gengar.

Damien stiffened, being caught off guard, “I, uh… I’m not sure. I think that I’ve gotten pretty well adjusted to nests at this point; that probably wouldn’t take up that much space anyway.”

“But what would you prefer?” Nelvana interjected.

“…probably a normal bed too. Yeah…” Damien mumbled.

“We can order the two beds together! That would be easy!” Edgar hummed, floating closer over to Damien again. “And of course there will be enough room for both of the beds! Like Keahi said, this base was built to have room for more ‘mons!” he added.

“We could put our beds beside each other!” Gardevoir offered cheerfully, “or bunk beds! I haven’t seen bunk beds in a long time; do you have them around here?”

“I’m… not sure about that,” Damien responded.

“Ah.” Gardevoir sounded slightly disappointed. “Well, that’s still alright, of course. Will you all be wanting to go, ah, order the beds now? Or can we keep talking?”

“There’s no reason why we can’t do both,” Alex pointed out, “or, we could even split up a bit, some could go to the Kecleon Shop, and others could stick around here.”

“We could show you around the area, Gardevoir,” Tsuki offered, standing up straighter. “That’s what the others did when I first arrived here, and then what we did for Ceebee and Edgar as well,” she continued, “if you feel up to it, of course.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea!” Nelvana agreed, sitting up as well.

Gardevoir smiled, “yes, I agree. I think… I could use some food and water in me first, but it would be good for me to stretch my legs a bit.”

“Actually, I was wondering if I could take Gardevoir, just myself,” Tsuki blurted out.

Keahi frowned slightly, tilting his head a bit to the side, “huh? How come?”

“Well… I know Gardevoir the least out of all of us, s-so it would be a good opportunity for us to get to know each other a bit,” Tsuki stated, swallowing a breath after she had finished.

“I think that may be a good idea! I would like to get to know you a bit more, Tsuki,” Gardevoir responded, much to Tsuki’s evident relief as she visibly relaxed.

Keahi blinked, and then smiled as something seemed to click in his mind. Shuffling closer to Nelvana, he whispered something briefly to her, and then she nodded in understanding.

“Alright, that does sound like a good idea. I think Damien and I could use some time to rest after our journey anyway, and the others can work on getting the beds. You can go ahead and give Gardevoir the grand tour,” Nelvana told Tsuki.

“Great, thank you,” Tsuki purred, “I’ll get you something to eat first, and then we can head out if you’d like,” she told Gardevoir.

“Oh! Well if the plan is to eat first, we should make something together!” Keahi blurted out standing back up, “this will be your first time eating in… years, right? It should be special,” he continued, shooting Tsuki an awkward smile.

“I could help with that too, Keahi, if you’d like,” Tsuki volunteered politely.

Gardevoir lifted a hand in front of herself, chuckling softly, “you’re all very sweet, but I don’t need anything special. I’m not even sure how much of an appetite I really have.”

“It’s okay; I like cooking! At the very least, it can be a welcome back meal for Nel, and Damien!” Keahi responded, “come on, let’s head downstairs and Tsuki and I can make something for everyone!”

Leading the way back down the stairs, Keahi headed straight over to the counter to see what he could make for a lunchtime meal for everyone. Sparing a glance at everyone else, Alex made the decision to swiftly follow next; Ceebee and Edgar following suit, as well as Damien after another moment looking back at Gardevoir. Tsuki lingered a bit longer, appearing antsy on her paws, but knowing that she had already volunteered to help Keahi with the food, she reluctantly turned and walked away as well.

Nelvana stood back up, stretching out her tired muscles again as she did so. She looked down at Gardevoir, who slowly made her way back up to her own two feet as well.

“You sure you’re alright there?” Nelvana asked.

Gardevoir smiled, “yes, I am. A bit shaky to walk again, but I’m alright; I should be able to walk on my own at least,” she assured her.

“Okay, just making sure…” Nelvana hummed, “I’m glad you’re feeling alright. It’s… really nice to actually have you here.”

There was a pause, and Nelvana looked over at the stairs before turning back to Gardevoir. Before she could suggest that they should head down to the others soon, Gardevoir suddenly bent down and tightly hugged her friend.

“Oh… I’m really glad to be here as well. I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am,” Gardevoir gasped, “thank you, Nel.”

It took a moment for Nelvana to process Gardevoir’s words and the action linked to them, but once she collected herself again, she wrapped her arms around Gardevoir as well; hugging her back. They stuck together like that for a few seconds, enjoying the moment of actually being together in person instead of in dreams, before finally letting go.

Not wanting to worry everyone else, Nelvana gestured for Gardevoir to actually follow her downstairs to join the others. The pair quietly entered the kitchen, Nelvana sitting down on one of the stools while Gardevoir chose to lean on the counter; wanting to keep standing up more instead of sitting for now. Tsuki stared at them slightly longer than usual when they entered, but she then turned her attention back to helping Keahi with the food.

With both Keahi and Tsuki working together to make a tasty, yet simple meal, getting the food out on the table for everyone didn’t take that long. Soon the group began chattering to each other, telling those who hadn’t been around for awhile about different stories, ranging from Keahi and Edgar cheerfully talking about the team’s adventures and the torchic’s recent birthday, to Nelvana and Damien once again having to retell their journey to bring back Gardevoir.

Of course, the latter of those stories brought Gardevoir to remember Ninetales, and it occurred to everyone else that they hadn’t gotten the chance to mention the old ‘mon’s passing, but that they would have to soon.

“Has Ninetales heard that you guys succeeded then? She’ll probably be so excited that I’m free from that curse!” Gardevoir exclaimed, unaware of the sadder answer to her question. “I guess it would be a bit challenging to get in contact with her now; I wonder if I can still walk through telepathy dreams same as before…?”

Alex was the one to speak up about it, “Gardevoir. I… Look,” he exhaled, mulling over how to phrase this. “Ninetales died,” he finally said, deciding to be blunt about it.

Gardevoir’s expression dropped, “she… she is?” she gasped, “but you just said you spoke to her before going to Murky Cave…?” she questioned in disbelief.

“This was… very recent,” Nelvana murmured, scratching the back of her hand.

“But how?” Gardevoir pleaded, pressing her hands down on the table and leaning over it.

“We aren’t exactly sure,” Ceebee chimed in, “none of us were actually there when it happened. We only know that it did because Tsuki was able to sense it,” she explained.

“None of you were there…?” Gardevoir repeated in a hushed tone. “But… does that mean she was alone then? I… She always spoke to me and helped me out, I should have been there for her.”

“She wasn’t alone… probably. There was the, uh, judge. The same that spoke to Damien and me about breaking the curse. If she stayed in that room, then they would have been there too,” Nelvana told her.

“Then… could we speak to them? Is there a way we can know if she… she at least went away, went away peacefully?” Gardevoir responded hesitantly, “telepathy. Ceebee, can your telepathy reach that far…?”

Ceebee shook her head solemnly, “I’m sorry, but I cannot. I would have done that if I could, but…”

“Then… I want to try; I need to try. Ninetales and I were connected, I should…” Gardevoir whispered, mostly to herself at this point.

As she trailed off, Gardevoir exhaled and relaxed with purpose; focusing on her psychic abilities. Everyone was silent as they waited for her to finish, an unsaid anticipation hanging in the air.

However, after a few moments Gardevoir furrowed her brows, almost with puzzlement, and turned to face Nelvana instead. Part of Nelvana expected to feel the familiar mental probing that she had associated with someone trying to connect with her through telepathy, but there was nothing.

After some more time passed, Gardevoir let out a groan, slumping down and resting her head in her hands.

“Are you alright?” Tsuki asked, speaking out the question that had immediately crossed everyone’s minds.

“I-I… I can’t…” Gardevoir slowly lifted up her head again. “I can’t use my telepathy. I-It isn’t working. I can’t even… It feels like I was never able to do it in the first place.”

“Is it possible for a psychic-type to lose their abilities?” Keahi asked, turning to Ceebee.

Ceebee shook her head again, “no more possible than for any other type.”

“You can lose proficiency with some moves without practice,” Alex pointed out.

“Ah! That must be it!” Ceebee exclaimed, snapping her fingers. “You haven’t had to actually use any of your abilities for hundreds of years; you’re just out of practice. That, and having a new body must have some effect on it!” she continued, moving closer to Gardevoir as she spoke. “It’s alright though; I can train you! As a fellow psychic-type, I should be able to help you relearn your powers!” she offered.

Gardevoir blinked, “you will?”

“Of course! It’s no bother at all; in fact, it’ll be fun!” Ceebee responded cheerily, “I’m sure the others can handle some missions without me for a bit; after all, they did before I made it here and joined the team! It’ll be plenty alright.”

Damien leaned back in his seat slightly, “y-yeah… it would give you something to do too, Gardevoir,” he said, slightly uneasily. “So you aren’t… uh, bored, when the others are working.”

“Yes, that is a good idea… Thank you, Ceebee, I’d like that, the training,” Gardevoir murmured, nodding. “But Damien, now that you mention it, will you be bored if I train with Ceebee?” she asked.

Damien hastily shook his head, “nah, I’ll be alright. I’m… used to not having much to do,” he told her.

Ceebee chuckled, “you can always watch us train if you’d like. I’m sure you would have some suggestions too,” she said, a knowing look in her eyes.

“Well, since we have finished eating now, would you be up for the tour now, Gardevoir?” Tsuki spoke up, shifting topics rather abruptly.

“Oh, right! Yes, that sounds good,” Gardevoir answered, standing up straighter. “Best while the day is still bright and warm, after all!” she hummed, seeming to have cheered up slightly since the earlier stresses.

“Wait!” Edgar blurted out, floating over to the departing pair. “Before you go, I wanted to ask something! Gardevoir, if you’d like, we could help you think of a name for yourself,” he suggested.

Gardevoir turned to look at the smaller pokemon, smiling softly at him, “that’s very sweet of you to offer, but I’m quite fine as just Gardevoir,” she told him, “after all, it’s been what I’ve been called for so long; if I’m happy with it, why change it now?”

“Oh! That’s alright! I’m glad you’re happy as you are,” Edgar replied, “have fun on the tour then!”

Keahi chuckled, “yeah, have a good date!” he added.

Tsuki didn’t comment on Keahi’s farewell, thought part of her wanted to. Her face burned again in embarrassment, but slowly allowed herself to relax again as she noticed that Gardevoir hadn’t reacted much to this.

Determined to make sure everything went right, Tsuki decided to follow experience and take Gardevoir around the area the same way Nelvana, Keahi, and Alex had done for her when she had first arrived to Pokemon Square. She felt tense having to introduce Gardevoir to everyone; socializing had never been her strong suit. However, Gardevoir was polite and friendly, making all the interactions go by smoothly around town.

Next, Tsuki made sure that her companion was up to checking out some dungeons. Gardevoir expressed some nervousness because she probably couldn’t use any of her moves anymore, but still seemed enthusiastic to explore some more, especially after explaining that she didn’t actually know much about mystery dungeons. Tsuki assured her that she would be able to handle the fighting, and with that she led the way to Tiny Woods first. She considered stopping to get some jobs to do on the way, but decided that it would be better to focus on the tour.

Now knowing that Gardevoir didn’t have much experience in the dungeons though, Tsuki made it her next step to explain the basics of how these strange places worked. Gardevoir was a fast learner, understanding the concepts quickly for someone who had likely barely ever even heard of them before.

With that, they were able to move on from Tsuki simply explaining things and actually get to know each other. Tsuki was hesitant; not knowing right where to start with this, as it wasn’t as linear as just speaking of facts to a location. However, once again Gardevoir showed her socialising side and managed to keep a conversation going long enough for Tsuki to get more confident in herself.

Gardevoir was beautiful; Tsuki found that from the very beginning. But actually getting to know her for what was inside was even more astonishing. She was incredibly sweet and curious, eyes opened wide to this new world around her and these people she could meet; which were of course traits Tsuki had seen in others before, but Gardevoir almost seemed to put a whole new spin on it that just felt perfect. Tsuki learned that Gardevoir enjoyed long walks, as they reminded her of past adventures, and that she had always wanted to learn to dance. When she laughed, Tsuki felt her very soul lift up and prompt her to at least smile back.

Tsuki was in love, she realized. The feelings were hard to pinpoint because of her lack of many past crushes, but once she considered the thought, she knew it had to be the truth.

This realization though, came with many doubts and worries. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to do from here. She knew that she wanted to just tell Gardevoir, honesty was always good anyway, but nerves had also built up inside like a fluttering swarm of beedrills. Was it wrong to have fallen so hard so quickly?

Regardless, by the time they were wandering through Thunderwave Cave, Tsuki couldn’t stop thinking that she had to at least say something related to the matter. She hated keeping secrets, especially ones that felt as large as these. Hiding that danger from Nelvana and Damien during that mission had already been bad enough, and she didn’t want to have to hide something important again; at least not for a long time. Her thoughts clawed at different ways to engage in such a topic.

“Tsuki? Is something wrong?” Gardevoir asked hesitantly, shaking the distracted lesbian from her thoughts. “You’ve been quiet for awhile now.”

Tsuki blinked and shook out her fur, “ah, apologies for that; I got distracted,” she replied briefly, feeling her face heat up again.

Gardevoir nodded, smiling, “a coin for your thoughts?” she requested.

“Pardon?” Tsuki questioned, “I’m afraid that I haven’t heard of that saying before.”

“Oh, sorry! I guess it was a bit of a human saying I might have picked up,” Gardevoir admitted with a chuckle, “it’s just a way to ask what someone is thinking about.”

Before Tsuki could have the chance to even consider how to respond, a nidoran burst out from around a corner, lunging at the pair. The blue pokemon missed her mark despite having the element of surprise, the lunge coming up short and having her land simply nearby instead. The nidoran arched her back, trying to display the poisonous spikes in an intimidating way, though not quite succeeding at that either.

Tsuki narrowed her eyes at the smaller pokemon, swiping out with one paw and hitting the dungeon spawn. This being in one of the weaker dungeons, the absol’s even slight hit was enough to knock it out and cause the nidoran to disappear in a flash of light.

Turning back to check on Gardevoir, Tsuki was met with another bright smile that made her legs feel like jelly. Tsuki knew she would have to speak up sooner or later.

“When Nelvana, Keahi, and Alex were showing me around, they talked a lot about…” Tsuki coughed, nerves making her want to stop speaking, but she pushed on. “…about different genders and sexualities,” she finished, smiling back at Gardevoir now. “That was what I was thinking about; this was reminding me of that,” she added, biting back the full truth like poison from the nidoran she had just defeated.

“Oh, yes! I’m familiar with that,” Gardevoir replied, following Tsuki down another corridor.

“You are?” Tsuki blurted out, feeling her heart soar at the possibility. “Do you have anything in particular you identify as; if you don’t mind me asking?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“I do, actually!” Gardevoir hummed, “I am aromantic and asexual. How about yourself?”

Tsuki barely caught Gardevoir’s question as she felt nearly all of her earlier joy being crushed. She could recall exactly what being aromantic and asexual were from Keahi’s explanation weeks ago, and knowing that that meant that Gardevoir would never love Tsuki, or anyone, romantically, was more heartbreaking than she had expected or could possibly describe.

“I am a lesbian,” Tsuki answered, though her own words sounded hollow in her ears now. “Again, if you don’t mind me asking… what is it like, to not experience romantic attraction?” she then asked, unsure of why she needed to ask the question and just that she did.

“Well…” Gardevoir paused thoughtfully, staring over at one of the walls for a bit as she did so. “I’m not quite sure how to answer that,” she finally admitted, “I just don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love people; just not romantically or sexually. It’s always been just as simple as that for me, and it suits me fine.”

“Do you ever wish that you could love someone romantically?” The words are out of her words before she could think about them, and Tsuki winces internally at hearing it back to her.

Gardevoir frowned momentarily, but then giggled, “no, I don’t. As I said, this suits me quite fine!” she responded, “I suppose, to put it in perspective, do you ever wish that you loved males romantically?”

Deciding to take a moment to ponder this question, Tsuki considered the possibility. For as long as she could consider the idea of having a mate, they were always female. Now that the thought was brought up though, she attempted to imagine the idea of being with a guy…

“No, I do not,” Tsuki decided.

“And do you ever think that you’re missing out?” Gardevoir continued.

“No, I do not,” Tsuki repeated, letting out a sigh. “You do bring up a good point. I apologise if that was impolite to ask you.”

“Don’t worry about it! I’m not offended,” Gardevoir assured her with another soft chuckle. “I may never take a mate, but I want to have many friends, and I want to pour out so much love to them. Nelvana was my first friend besides Ninetales for a long time, and I think that her bringing me back here and having me meet all of you was the best thing that has happened to me; at least for centuries. I love you all already, platonically, but it’s always still love. There are many ways to love someone.”

“I understand.”

Tsuki didn’t touch much upon the topic after that, letting it fade back away to conversation about getting to know each other otherwise. She did her best to hide her disappointment at being rejected; even though Gardevoir didn’t seem to realize what the actual feelings behind those questions in the first place. Tsuki didn’t want to hurt Gardevoir or ruin their friendship, so she knew it would be best to respect this outcome, even if it made her feel like she was twisting her heart apart.

Eventually, they finished up Thunderwave Cave and Mt. Steel, and Tsuki teleported the both of them back to the base with her badge. Ceebee was the only one outside and around the base, and the smaller pokemon turned around to face the pair as they returned.

“Ah! You’re back! How did things go?” Ceebee asked, fluttering close to speak to them properly.

“It went great!” Gardevoir chirped, “it was amazing to get to explore all these places, and it was really nice to get to know Tsuki.”

Tsuki nodded in agreement, but felt a bit too drained by the day’s events to give a proper response right away. She noticed Ceebee’s smile falter for a moment, clearly noticing something off with the absol, but the celebi went right back to her cheer to continue this conversation.

“I’m glad to hear that!” Ceebee responded, “most of the others are speaking to the kecleons. Damien and Edgar are inside right now though; I believe that they’re trying to take measurements for the beds. Maybe you should join them, Gardevoir, I’m sure they could always use the extra help!” she suggested, “or maybe you’re a bit tired. We aren’t about to stop you from resting either!” she added.

“Oh, those both sound like good ideas,” Gardevoir admitted, giggling, “I guess I’ll just head in and see what I can do from there.”

“That’s alright! We’ll be out here if you need us?” Ceebee replied.

“We?” Tsuki repeated, turning up to fully face Ceebee.

Ceebee nodded, “yes! I actually wanted to talk to you for a moment, Tsuki. Unless you had something else to do…?”

Tsuki sighed, “no, I did not. We may speak, if that’s what you’d like.”

“Well, I’ll leave you two to that then. Thanks for showing me around, Tsuki!” Gardevoir said, waving as she turned to enter the rescue team base.

Both of them waited and watched until Gardevoir had gone inside and close the door behind her before turning to each other again, Tsuki regarding Ceebee with an air of slight puzzlement. Ceebee merely smiled, before flying down to the grass and sitting down on it.

“Join me! Your legs must be at least a little bit tired from all that walking and battling. I know my wings are a bit tired from flying around all day; you’d be surprised how much energy that can be,” Ceebee said, patting the grass beside her in invitation.

Hesitantly, Tsuki obliged, sitting down beside Ceebee in the grass beside the base. Part of her had expected Ceebee to tell her to follow her somewhere else, so to have them both just sit down here was mildly surprising.

“So, you didn’t answer my question earlier. How did the tour go?” Ceebee asked once Tsuki had settled down beside her.

Tsuki shrugged, “it went alright. I’m glad I got the time to get to know Gardevoir, and she understood any of my explanations about dungeons quite quickly,” she told her.

“But…?” Ceebee prompted, leaning forward knowingly.

“There is no but; that was it,” Tsuki insisted firmly.

“You know, even though you’re a dark-type, I can tell when you’re troubled,” Ceebee stated, “is it about your crush on her?” she asked, saving Tsuki of some fluster by quieting her voice as she asked the question.

“…what gave it away?” Tsuki relented to the question, not willing to try lying to her friend.

Ceebee giggled, “no offense, but I think nearly everyone picked up that you have a crush on Gardevoir right away. Maybe even everyone except Gardevoir. You weren’t exactly hiding it well,” she told her.

Tsuki’s face burned again, “oh.”

“Nothing wrong with that! It was actually pretty cute,” Ceebee added, “are you trying to think of how to maybe confess?”

“No…” Tsuki sighed, “I… I ended up asking what her sexuality is, and she is aromantic and asexual.”

“Oh…” Ceebee held onto the ‘o’ sound long in understanding and realization. “That is fine though, to be aromantic or asexual, you do know that, right?” she said.

“I know that.”

“But… you wish that she was also a lesbian, or maybe bi so that she could maybe love you back.”

“…perhaps. That is selfish though, is it not?”

Ceebee furrowed her brows, “a little bit, yes. But it’s also a very natural feeling. What really matters is where you go from here with that though.”

“I still want to be her friend, at least,” Tsuki told her.

“That’s good.” Ceebee nodded. “I’m guessing it still hurts though, hm?”

Tsuki pawed at the grass underneath her, “yes. I’ve known her and had a crush on her for less than a day, but it still hurts terribly,” she murmured, “do… do you know how long it takes to heal from heartbreak like that?”

“Well… let me tell you about one time that I fell in love,” Ceebee announced, laying back in the grass and staring up at the sky as she spoke. “It didn’t take that long for me to fall in love either. Like you, I hadn’t spoken to many others before that point and had chances to fall in love. So, I fell and I fell hard,” she began, chuckling at the last sentence.

“But they didn’t love you back,” Tsuki predicted, earning her a slow nod of confirmation.

“Right. But I still wanted to be his friend, like how you want to still be friends with Gardevoir. So, I had to push those feelings aside and respect his wishes to stay platonic,” Ceebee continued, “I still love him now, and he still doesn’t love me that way. It’s fine though. I’ve since accepted it at this point, and what matters is that he’s happy.”

“So, it can still work out?” Tsuki asked.

Ceebee nodded again, “it takes a long time to stop hurting, but you obviously care and like a lot of traits about them to fall in love, so if they’re willing to be friends, then be friends. It’ll work out, even as ‘just friends’. Just always make sure to respect them, and even if you can’t become mates, you can become great friends.”

Tsuki exhaled, but then nodded as well, “very well. Thank you, Ceebee, for taking the time to tell me about that. I’ll keep it in mind.”

“No problem,” Ceebee replied, and then paused. “Do you want to know who my crush is?”

“Do I know him?” Tsuki asked, blinking in surprise. “I thought you would have known him from the dead timeline,” she added.

“I do. It’s Alex.”

“Alex?” Tsuki repeated, closing her jaw which she didn’t realize had fallen open from hearing that answer.

“I hope that wouldn’t be that surprising!” Ceebee laughed, but then exhaled. “Yes, I love Alex; believe it or not. I won’t bore you with my reasons why; it’d be a little embarrassing how much I’d gush. But he has never loved me back, and I don’t expect him to at this point, honestly. That’s fine though. I’ve long accepted that,” she explained, “I confessed to him a few months after we had met, but he told me that he didn’t return the feeling. And either way, we all knew that for out plan to succeed, we would disappear, so… sometimes he felt reluctant to make long lasting relationships in fear of losing them. So, about a week ago actually, I brought it up again. He still doesn’t love me romantically. And, again, that’s fine. You can’t force feelings. And in some ways, it may be for the best that we stay at friends.”

After all that, Tsuki wasn’t quite certain on how to respond, and the pair fell silent for a few moments until Ceebee exhaled again and fluttered up into the air.

“Ah, sorry about rambling for a bit there! I don’t think that I’ve actually told anyone all that before,” Ceebee said with a small giggle, “I do hope that my experience may have helped you somehow.”

Tsuki nodded hastily, “it’s alright. Thank you again for telling me that. I think… it definitely helps me, yes. Thank you,” she assured her.

“That’s good to hear. I’d hate to have gushed all that out for nothing,” Ceebee responded, “anyway, I should go check on the others a bit, and maybe you should too. Or maybe we could get started on supper, since the evening is approaching us.”

“I believe that I’d like to speak with some of the others a bit before preparing more food. I’ll admit I may have been so caught up in my own feelings that I didn’t properly catch up with Nelvana,” Tsuki decided, standing up and ready to follow the celebi.

“Sounds good to me! Come on then, let’s go out to town again and see what we can do!” Ceebee replied.