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Finding himself surrounded by shadowy trees that hung in the air like smoke, and staring down a massive waterfall that drew from a pool at his feet and ran upwards into the sky, Ford decided that he was getting really damn tired of gravity anomalies.

You’d think that falling through a punched hole in spacetime would be a singular sensation, unmatched by any other experience — but one of the first lessons Ford had had to learn was to never underestimate the vastness of the multiverse. There would always be yet another dimension where every too-light step would remind him of being lifted off the ground by a humming, crackling portal behind him, of bolts of blue-white electricity winding around him while gravity’s pull rendered him just as immobile and helpless as a Thunder Wave would —

At his side, his Ninetales let out a soft warning growl that jolted him back to reality, just in time to glimpse a shadow shoot across the clouded, dark blue sky. It vanished the span of a single pounding heartbeat, and Ford couldn’t help but look back to Ninetales, hoping for some confirmation that he hadn’t imagined the sight —

An ear-splitting screech filled the air, inhuman and indescribably enraged. Ford dove into the grove of spectral trees, Ninetales close behind him, but as his hand passed through one, they all faded away completely, leaving him no cover.

Yet as painfully exposed as he was, neither the shadow nor the screech returned. The dimension was left eerily silent, aside from the almost peaceful gurgling of the waterfall.

Ford stomped to the center of the floating platform, and yelled to no apparent target: “What is this place? Why did you guide me here?”

Naturally, there was no apparent reply. The waterfall kept gurling, and the illusory trees kept swaying in an intangible wind, but the dimension seemed almost completely devoid of any sentient life.

Except the shadow, of course — and Ford was already forming a hypothesis about that shadow, just as he did about nearly everything, but it seemed almost too incredible to believe. He wasn’t even sure if he would be thrilled to be proven right, or terrified.

He would make up his mind soon enough.

***

On many a rainy autumn afternoon back home, Ford would curl up in the top bunk with Rowlet and Vulpix while Stan would build a pillow fort beneath him with Meowth and Zorua, and they’d just sit peacefully together, drinking hot chocolate and sharing little tidbits from whatever they were reading at the time. Stan preferred comic books, loved the adventures of Crobatman and Captain Braviary and the Green Lanturn, but Ford…

Ford was always into mythology.

“Get this, Stan! There’s a Pokemon called Giratina that can travel between dimensions — and takes on different forms in the different worlds!”

“Huh, neato.”

“And here’s the coolest part — they say that in at least one of its forms, it has six legs and six spikes on its wings!”

“Really? Wow, sounds like you should try and catch one!”

“Well, according to the legend in this book, there’s only one in the whole universe — so catching it is probably off the table, but I’d still like to meet it. Except… except it doesn’t look like I’ll get a chance to, because…”

Ford’s face fell as he skimmed the next few paragraphs. “They say it mostly stays in a world on the reverse side of ours, because it was… banished there. It was just too… violent and destructive for our world, I guess…”

He didn’t say it, but he thought: Too much of a freak.

“Hey, lighten up! That just sounds like a spooky bedtime story someone made up to try and scare their kids into behaving,” Stan told him. “Or their little siblings. It seems kinda like something Shermie would come up with, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Ford said quietly. “These myths are usually pretty credible. I think it’s real.”

“Well, then I bet it’s just misunderstood,” Stan declared, unfazed. “You know, I bet you will meet Giratina one day — ‘cause you’re gonna clear its name! Find it an alibi! Show the world what makes the freaks and the weirdos the coolest of all of us, not the scariest!”

That got a smile out of Ford. “You’re right. And, you know… I always have wanted to travel to other dimensions…”

***

Ford quickly discovered that not all of the trees were illusions — but not before confidently walking into one and getting a faceful of rough, paper-thin leaves. He didn’t hear or see any more signs of Giratina — if that even was the shadow’s true identity. He still wasn’t sure if he wanted it to be.

True, he had kept seeking out more myths about the Renegade Pokemon well into his college years, and would always be thrilled upon discovering a new tidbit of lore of even the most dubious credibility; and true, he had always clung to the improbable, self-indulgent dream that he might one day encounter Giratina itself and discover its true nature for himself —

But here in a dimension that bore an uncanny resemblance to the elusive Distortion World, subject of both shrouded legend and scientific speculation; here outside of idealistic childhood fantasy; here in reality where a hostile Legendary Pokemon could hurt or more likely kill him with ease, where his demise could spell the end for the whole universe’s best shot at escaping a demon’s tyrannical reign… here, Ford couldn’t help but be terrified.

Terrified and frustrated, that was, as he walked into the same damn tree for the second time.

“We’re just going in circles, aren’t we?” he realized aloud, and Ninetales gave a low murmur of agreement. “Just big, spacetime-defying circles. Shit, what do we do?”

As if on cue, something lit up near the edge of his peripheral vision. He instinctively whirled around to face it, but the light — a pulsating blue sphere, reminiscent of ball lightning — was already darting away, erratically weaving between floating trees and leaving behind a meandering, faintly glowing trail that arced between floating slabs of earth and across sideways lakes.

It was a familiar sight to Ford, having led him to this world in the first place.

“Azelf?” he whispered. There was no reply aside from the trail growing just the slightest bit dimmer.

“Fine,” he finally muttered. “I’ll follow you one more time.”

***

On many a day spent while wandering the multiverse, far from home and even further from peace, Ford would catch himself wondering if it was for the best.

Growing up, it would have taken more than twelve fingers to count all the times Ford was told he was cursed, or a bad omen, or simply a “monster.” Often, it wasn’t to his face — just whispered to his parents, or sometimes even his brothers, when the accuser didn’t think he was listening — but it was an omnipresent, inescapable constant of his childhood, something he had to learn to either tune out or shrug off.

Ironic, then, how it was only now that he was starting to believe it.

Now that he’d seen the lives he’d ruined. Now that he’d seen the destruction he’d invited in to his world. The way he’d torn Fiddleford away from a young and loving family and traumatized the poor man into starting a cult, the way he’d been so wrapped up in his own ego that he ignored all the words of warning from his friend, from his Pokemon, and eagerly put himself to work for an ancient entity of pure chaos and malevolence… “bad omen” didn’t even begin to describe the way he endangered everything and everyone he grew close to, the way he ruined everything he laid a hand on.

And yes, he was doing everything he could to fix his greatest mistake, to construct a weapon capable of destroying Bill, but his conscience simply would never allow him to do anything else. And yes, he sought out leads for ways he might one day be able to get safely home again, after Bill was dead and gone, but that was for his Pokemon’s sakes, not his own. He had left a world that he had never fit into, never done anything but endanger, and had he been adrift in the multiverse alone… he wasn’t sure he’d ever go home, even if given the chance.

***

Ford called Ninetales back into its Pokeball for a time, as he leapt between stepping stones across an unnaturally calm lake. Two twin rivers fed into it, twisting down from above like a double helix and generating a froth of bubbles that dissipated quickly, leaving the surface pristine like a giant mirror. For a moment, he thought that he saw a massive shadow reflected in it, looming and angular — but then he blinked, and it was just an all-too-familiar face that was staring back at him.

(His face, but not his face. Gaunt with exhaustion and weary from fighting off despair just like his, but not for the same reasons.)

Then the surface began to ripple, so subtly at first that Ford couldn’t quite pin down what was wrong, even as his instincts screamed at him to run. Cautiously, he crouched down and lowered his head to the water’s level —

Another screech tore through his ears, and he jerked his head up to see an invisible shape burst through the helical tributaries. Based off the massive explosion of water it displaced, Ford surmised it must have been gigantic, easily taller than he was and maybe as much as three or four times as long…

And now it was barreling straight towards him, its path made visible by the V-shaped wave it churned up as it flew. The spray from the lake seemed to interact with its body for a few brief seconds, revealing a glimpse of a set of long, thin wings — six of them, by Ford’s count.

He took a step backwards, nearly toppled into the lake, and then made a split-second decision as he righted himself. The creature had to be flying only just above the surface, in order to leave such a large splash in its wake —

Just before the point of the V reached his stepping stone, Ford jumped as high as his legs could carry him and slammed against something solid.

***

When Ford had nearly drowned while hiding from pursuers at the bottom of a lake, his oxygen tank leaking at an alarming rate, the hidden entrance to a submerged cave full of breathable air had felt like divine intervention — and the stories of lake-dwelling spirits, representing knowledge, willpower, and emotion, that he remembered reading as a child only reinforced that feeling.

Yes, it may it may have been a bit naive, a bit too optimistic, of him to get his hopes up for an encounter with Uxie in particular — but he couldn’t stop his mind from leaping to the possibilities that a favor from the Being of Knowledge would offer him. He could ask for information about Bill Cipher’s history, or weaknesses, or even where in the multiverse he could find some of those stubbornly elusive components of his quantum destabilizer…

And besides, he was Stanford Pines. What lake guardian would take an interest in him, if not the one representing knowledge, and truth, and memory, and by extension science?

So when he noticed a pulsating blue light shining on the cave walls — not the golden-yellow of Uxie, which he’d been so desperately hoping for — he was taken aback. He froze in place reflexively as a glowing blue orb darted out from around the corner and circled him erratically, stopping inches away from his face for a second before teleporting a few feet back and taking on a less luminescent, more defined form. Two resplendent red gems rested near the tips of two long, flat tails, and another between bright, intelligent golden eyes that seemed to be constantly shifting, looking Ford over.

Azelf, Being of Willpower, was not the first Legendary Pokemon Ford had ever encountered, but it may very well have been the most unexpected.

“Why you?” he blurted out. “Can you help me defeat Cipher?”

Azelf took off in a flash, so quickly that Ford momentarily thought it had left the room before he noticed it behind him, circling one of the the larger puddles like a glowing, crackling blue whirlwind. He took a step towards it, and realized the puddle seemed oddly reflective — his mirror image was bright and vividly colored, albeit warped and distorted by ripples.

Azelf zipped by once more, narrowly missing his face, and he tried to take a step back but his legs felt as heavy as lead. With horror, he watched as the puddle in front of him sunk into the ground, creating a roughly conical and ever-widening depression that he almost immediately found himself on the slope of.

“With all due respect, Azelf,” he growled as he was dragged towards the center, “what the fuck?!”

After a moment of frantic fumbling, while continuing to slide towards the apparent portal — a cylindrical hole in spacetime itself, starlight from Arceus-knew-what galaxies flashing from within the tunnel’s navy blue walls — he managed to procure a grappling hook from his bag, and aimed for a jagged formation of stalagmites a few feet beyond the outer edge of the conical whirlpool. But his shot was instantly pulled off course as the wormhole’s gravity caught it, redirecting it down and into the distortion as Ford felt a violent tug on his end of the line. For the first time since the portal had appeared, he felt his feet move — dragged down the side of the cone and into the portal, where his vision went white and his body went weightless.

When he felt solid ground beneath his feet again, he was surrounded by gravity-defying waterfalls and wispy illusory trees.

***

His attacker became visible as Ford landed on it, his hands running over a red and black-striped back that felt rough, yet oddly immaterial. The sensation of touching rough scales was undoubtedly present, just not as vivid as it should have been to Ford’s senses. He nearly lost his grip as the creature — no, as Giratina, there was no doubt anymore — writhed and screeched in apparent surprise, but Ford somehow managed to turn himself around and grab one of the yellow ridges where its wings attached to its body, straddling its serpentine neck awkwardly as the six wings beat furiously around him.

Half-blinded by the spray as Giratina flew through another waterfall, Ford was guided by experience and instinct alone as he reached for a Pokeball on his belt. His Decidueye appeared in a flash of light, dodging red-spiked wings and a lashing tail to fly along Ford’s side.

“Use Spirit Shackle!” Ford yelled. “Immobilize the wings!”

Decidueye perched briefly on a floating stone and let three arrows fly. Two of them were lost to the gravity anomalies, deflected off in unpredictable directions, but the last one flew true — piercing through two of six smokelike wings, which spasmed as a purple aura spread down the tendrils. Giratina immediately careened off to one side, and Ford instinctively tightened his grip — a mistake, he realized a few seconds later, when the two of them crashed into the mirrorlike surface of the lake below and the force of the impact tore through him, ripping him off of Giratina’s back and plunging him into the water.

The cold hit him first, a wave of icy pins and needles that swept down his body, trying to inject him with numbness, with that atmosphere of lifelessness and hopelessness that permeated this dimension. He spluttered and thrashed, desperately trying to breach the surface, to find a handhold to pull himself to shore, but as second after precious second crept away without oxygen, he realized: there was no sense of buoyancy in this lake, no tug pulling him towards the surface. No way to know which way was up.

He forced his eyes open, and saw glowing red stripes lighting up the darkness. They coiled all around him, above and below and to every side, as two gleaming crimson eyes floated ever closer —

Enveloped in a bright blue aura, Azelf zipped through the water between them. It touched one tail to Ford’s forehead and the other to a spot right between Giratina’s eyes, then disappeared before Ford could even process what had happened.

“What —” he gurgled, opening his mouth reflexively and not closing it fast enough to stop the water from surging into his lungs. He hacked and coughed, trying to whack himself in the chest with one hand and reach for his Pokeballs with the other, but he failed on both counts as his limbs grew heavy, and blurry spots danced across his already obscured vision —

Something lifted him above the surface and he gasped for breath, taking longer than he should have to realize that he was now kneeling upon Giratina’s head, just behind its golden crown.

You need to breathe? a raspy and faintly echoing, yet surprisingly soft voice asked him.

“Most humans do,” he choked out automatically, spitting coughed-up water back into the lake and recalling a concerned-looking Decidueye back into its Pokeball before the nature of the conversation sunk in. “Wait — Giratina? You saved me?”

Yes. Giratina went silent for a while, as it lazily drifted across the surface of the lake — how it could float despite the disorienting lack of buoyancy, Ford wasn’t sure.

Why are you here? it finally continued.

That was a good question, Ford thought, and also a question he wasn’t sure how to reply to. It was tempting to simply blame Azelf, but given how it was Azelf who had evidently opened up their current line of telepathic communication, that didn’t seem wise.

In a roundabout way, he’d ultimately ended up here for the same reason he ever traveled to any dimension, Ford figured, so that was how he decided to reply.

“I’m looking for a material that will help me save the multiverse,” he stated slowly.

Why does the burden of saving the multiverse fall to you?

It wasn’t the response Ford was expecting — though it may have been one that he deserved.

“I made a mistake. I was the one who endangered my home dimension in the first place, and now I need to fix things.”

Giratina didn’t respond immediately. What is the material? it eventually asked.

“Well, there are a few different components I’m looking for… do you have anything small that distorts spacetime either far more or far less than its mass would indicate?”

Yes. Hold on tight.

Giratina spread its wings and lifted into the air, Ford still perched atop its head. Columns of water and floating rocky islands flew past them as they ascended, and raced towards the blanket of foreboding purple clouds that stretched across the sky from horizon to horizon —

And then, they’d breached it, and were surrounded by stars — white dwarfs and red giant and everything in between, binary pairs dancing waltzes together while supernovas exploded into sizzling plumes of plasma. Yet they all ranged just from the size of a fist to a basketball, and floated by within arm’s reach of Ford, so close that he could feel their heat drying out his sopping coat.

Instinctively, he held out an arm to run a hand through a glowing red-orange nebula, and streams of gas danced around his fingers, swirling together to consolidate in his palm. He made a fist, and the contents of his hand immediately caught ablaze under the pressure — not quite hot enough to singe him, but bright enough that rays of white light escaped from the cracks between his fingers, illuminating all six of them like a beacon in the night sky.

Giratina dove back beneath the layer of clouds, and as they slowed to a more leisurely pace, Ford opened his hand again to see a system of six tiny stars all orbiting each other as they hovered just above his palm.

Will that work?

“...It’s perfect.”

They drifted past the double helix waterfall once again, close enough for Ford to make out his distorted reflection in one of the streams.

Life isn’t meant to stay in this world, Giratina told him. We should part ways soon… but before, I can open a portal nearly anywhere in the multiverse for you…

A pause. You know, I could open a portal to your home.

Ford looked down at the star system in his hand, and then back to his reflection… and then over his shoulder, to the still nowhere-near-complete weapon strapped across his back.

“I deeply appreciate the offer, but my team and I can’t. There are still things we need to do that… we need to keep traveling between dimensions to accomplish.”

You are banished by your own choices, then…

Giratina nearly came to a complete halt for a moment, and Ford cringed, so preoccupied with worrying he’d misspoken that he hardly noticed the sphere of ball lightning descending from the sky just a few feet from his face.

You have a fierce stubbornness inside of you. Azelf’s voice was loud and resonant inside Ford’s head, completely unlike Giratina’s hesitant, rasping whisper. And when you embrace it, it may often turn out to be to your detriment…

It shed the sphere of blue lightning, revealing its true form. Warm golden eyes fixated on Ford, and its tails twitched as an oddly human smile spread across its tiny face.

But our flaws often stem from our greatest strengths, and you possess exactly the dedication and endurance that are needed to save this universe.

“Thank you, Azelf,” Ford whispered. “I’m sorry for doubting your judgement.”

Have you decided where you wish to go, if not home? Giratina asked him.

“I suppose… Dimension 61-6,” Ford decided. That was the dimension he’d encountered Azelf in, a place that he still hoped would contain many more resources to help him in his fight against Cipher.

Alright. Giratina opened its mouth and breathed out a whirlwind of shadows that bore into the surface of the lake below, carving a conical depression in the water. A white glow lit up at the bottom of the funnel, flickering faintly as if beckoning Ford towards it.

“I’d be so lost without your help, Giratina. Thank you so much.”

Giratina’s head bobbed slightly, as if nodding.

I wish you luck with your quest… friend.

Before he could change his mind, Ford jumped through the portal.