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Gnosia Stella Coronae

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Chapter One - introduction

The dream was a confusing one, as dreams usually are. She was aware of golden feathers, shattered glass, someone holding her and trying to explain something she couldn't understand, then suddenly she was shoved backwards and sent falling towards a great heat, just as someone in the real world pulled her out of bed.

She woke with a jolt the moment she hit the floor and could not suppress a cry of surprise. Disoriented, she rubbed her eyes and tried to recall the dream when it still burned brightly in her memory, but it quickly faded and she only knew that she had dreamed and it had been strange.

"Good morning, Rebecca!" her friend said all-too-cheerfully. "You did say you would come with me to Lavaridge, right?"

Rebecca had not said anything like this recently and her friend knew this very well, but she knew from experience that she was going to be dragged out of the hideout no matter what she said and it was best to go along with it. "Fine," she mumbled, picking herself off the floor. The arm she landed on was throbbing; she had no doubt it would bruise. "Keep it down. You'll wake up the others."

"No I won't," the sandy-haired girl replied. "The only others here are Deena and Morgan, who is not actually asleep and just lies awake in bed all day."

"Fuck off, Rachel," snapped a girl a few beds over. "There's nothing else to do anymore in this god-forsaken hellhole."

"You do realize that this is the same thing you've always done, right?" Rachel said. "Lie in bed all day until someone comes in and yells at you? The only difference now is that you have an excuse."

Morgan fired something back and while Rachel was busy arguing, Rebecca glanced at her watch and found that it was nearly ten thirty. Damn, she really was sleeping late these days. If it were a few months ago, she would have been up by eight, at least.

She glanced at the foot of her bed and noticed that her skarmory was somehow still asleep. She rubbed his crest and he stirred and blinked his eyes open. "Good morning, little guy."

The steel bird glared at her, ruffling his feathers with the sound of metal on metal. Although he was small for his species, he hated being reminded of it, whether it was his trainer doing the reminding or not.

"Okay, fine, good morning big guy. Is that better?"

He clacked his beak and pulled at her long black hair. Rebecca yelped and pushed him to the floor, and the clatter his talons made on the stone distracted Rachel from her argument.

"Right," she said, turning towards Rebecca as Morgan retreated under her blankets. "Do you need help getting ready? Because that's what it looks like."

"No I'm fine," she said. "You haven't been giving me much of a chance to get ready, that's all. Are you in a hurry or something?"

"You had enough time to start getting dressed at least." Before she had a chance to argue back, Rachel kneeled down and grabbed Rebecca's old trainers' bag and started rummaging through it.

"Hey!" Rebecca tried to grab it back and failed, as Rachel simply walked back a few steps out of her reach. "Goddammit, you can't just mess with my stuff whenever you want to!"

"I can when you're being too slow," Rachel replied, tossing her a pair of jeans, a purple shirt and her bag. "Now get dressed. I'm giving you five minutes until I leave without you."

"Do you honestly think I can get ready in five minutes?" Rebecca yelled at her as she walked away. "You know I never said I wanted to go! Rachel!"

"It's no good yelling at her when she's not in the room, little lady," came Morgan's muffled voice. "Now shut up and let the rest of us sleep."

Rebecca managed to restrain herself from throwing her comb at her and instead attempted untangling the knots in her hair. "Little lady" was her unfortunate nickname ever since she came to the team, since when she joined she was both one of the younger members, being sixteen, and squeamish at the mere sight of blood. Although she was eighteen now and mostly gotten over the squeamish part, names tend to stick and she had to put up with it.

After watching her struggle with her hair for a minute or so, Skarmory pulled at her sleeve and gestured with one wing at the clock.

"Yes, I know," she said impatiently. "But you know she won't really leave without us. I could wait half an hour and she would still wait. I know you haven't been outside for a while, but you can wait a few minutes, can't you?"

He glared at her and squatted down to tear at a red jacket that had fallen out of her bag. She snatched it up before he could make any more holes in it. "Stop taking out your anger on my clothes, please! I've already had to replace this twice and this one is already torn!" Fuming, Rebecca stuffed it into her bag with the rest of her uniform. Skarmory clacked his back again and turned his back to her.

He can't possibly still be angry at me, Rebecca thought to herself while gathering up her clothes. I joined Team Magma two years ago, he needs to get over it.

Skarmory, although her first pokémon and her most trusted, did not seem to understand when she tried to explain that what Team Magma was doing was good and right. Humanity needed more land, the world would be better for it. When that argument was met with scorn, she had tried again, saying that at the very least they needed to stop the other team, who wanted more sea for God-knows-what reason. He didn't want them to win, did he?

He thought both teams Aqua and Magma groups of very silly people who had very silly ideas and could not understand why his trainer wanted to be one of those very silly people. He did still trust her, accepting that she could do very silly things sometimes, but refused to go near any of the other members unless it involved harming them in some way. She called him overprotective, but he knew she needed to be protected from all the very silly people, because sometimes they could do horribly serious things.

Rebecca, as usual, ignored Rachel's time limit, and usually, Rachel was okay with this. This time, however, the grunt stuck on guard duty was an ex-boyfriend she was still angry at, and she stood as far away from his possible and stared down the passage, desperately hoping he wouldn't talk to her. Rebecca could not come sooner.

"So, uh, are you and Rebecca going to Lavaridge again?"

Rachel winced. "Of course not," she said, refusing to look at him. "We're going to Sootopolis. Jeez, Mark."

"Right." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "What, can't I talk to you anymore?"

"No. I still hate you, remember?"

"After this long? I – look, I said I was sorry, didn't I?"

"You said yourself that you didn't think you did anything wrong. So your 'sorry' doesn't mean much of anything, does it?"

"Well, I –" Mark raised his hands in defeat. "Fine, you're right, I'm wrong, can I at least say one thing?"


"If you're walking to Lavaridge, or Sootopolis or wherever, won't you be gone the whole day?"

"Probably. That's sort of the point."

"Well, what if there's a debriefing while you're gone?"

"Damn it, Mark, don't start with this again!" Rachel groaned. "We haven't had a debriefing since the whole ancient pokémon incident, we're not going to have one now. We haven't even had role call in almost two months now."

"Still! It could happen, and you'll get in trouble if you're not there."

This was when Rebecca chose to run down the tunnel towards them. "Hi! I'm here!"

"You're ten minutes late," Rachel snapped. Normally she wouldn't be so short with her, but being in close proximity to Mark gave her a temper. "What took you so long?"

"Skarmory wouldn't get in his pokéball."

"And it took you ten minutes to get him in?"


"Okay then. Alright, let's get out of here!"

"Wait a second," Mark said. "The door's been sticking lately, so –"

"Oh, just open it."

He rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine."

Mark pressed a rusted metal button, and the boulder shuddered and slowly ground towards the side until it was halfway open, where it stuck and refused to move, and no amount of kicking and swearing could make it budge.

"Stupid piece of shit." He kicked it a final time and sighed. "I'm going to have to get someone to fix it again. Did you see Ken on your way up here?"

"No. I don't even know if he's still at this base." Rachel stepped back and studied the narrow opening. "Rebecca, I think you can fit, you're pretty small. And I might be able to get through afterwards. Come on, give it a shot."

"Are you sure?" Rebecca stood beside her and frowned. "I mean, maybe me, but..."

"Yep! Let's go!"

Realizing that Rachel was impatient to get out of there, Rebecca managed to squeeze herself through the opening, with only mild discomforted when she scraped her already sore arm. Then it was Rachel's turn, and, with some help, they were both on the other side.

"Okay!" Rachel said cheerfully. "Bye Mark! We'll probably be back in a few hours, three or four maybe. Good luck with the door!"

"Yes," he said absentmindedly. "Damn it, if Ken's not here I'm going to have to fix this myself."

"Come on," Rachel said to Rebecca. "Let's get out of here."

They left Team Magma's base behind, carefully picking their way down the rocky slope of Mount Chimney, while all around them ash fell from the sky.

Their walk was uneventful, to a point. They didn't see any pokémon trainers on the road, even when they were out of range of the falling ash. and the only thing out of the ordinary that happened at first was that Rebecca saw a flicker of something in a puddle and stopped to look.

Rachel walked a few more steps before realizing this and looking back. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Rebecca said, looking up. "I just thought I saw something. It was probably just a leaf, I guess."

"Alright, then. Let's keep going."

After that, whenever she saw a flicker of something out of the corner of her eye, she ignored it.

After another while of walking, a puddle blocked the road.

"Damn it," Rachel said. "I knew this would happen after all the rain we had last night."

"Oh, it's not that bad," Rebecca said. "If we go around this way, it's pretty dry."

"I guess so." Rachel shrugged and followed Rebecca, who was already picking her way over the mud.

This time, they both saw the ripples spread over the surface of the puddle. Rachel glanced at it briefly. Rebecca glanced at it and kept looking, because she couldn't couldn't help but feel that there was something off about it.

"Hey, are you sure you're okay?" Rachel said when Rebecca had stopped again, still staring at the puddle. "Nothing happened while you were getting ready, right?"

"No," Rebecca said, keeping her eyes on the puddle. "It's just... I think there's something wrong with the puddle."

"You think there's what?"

"Yeah, I know it sounds stupid, but... I really think we should get away!"

Then she stiffened, still staring.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"Get away from the puddle," Rebecca said, backing away.

"What? Why?" Normally, she trusted Rebecca, but this? She had to be a little skeptical. This was a puddle, one that didn't even look deep enough to hold a magikarp or something. Rachel glanced at it. Ok, so there was something there, but... "Rebecca, it's just a reflection."

"Please, trust me! Get away from it!"

"It's just an ordinary puddle," Rachel said, and then very abruptly it wasn't.

The blast of air that came from it hit Rachel hard enough to make her stumble, and Rebecca grabbed her hand and ran. Rachel looked back long enough to see a vortex rising from the water and something big and dark writhing inside it, and then they were in the woods and she had to focus on where she was putting her feet.

Behind them, something screeched a long, horrible screech, and Rebecca pulled her down behind a rock. Rachel fell on top of her and they both lay down in the mud, listening as something crashed through the forest behind them. They both held their breath when it came near, but then it went past, and they let out a sigh of relief.

Once it was gone, and all was silent, Rachel finally dared to speak. "What was that thing?"

"It..." Rebecca took a deep breath. "Giratina. It's a legendary pokémon. It lives in an alternate dimension. Back when I lived in Sinnoh, there was a scientist who actually went in there. He wrote a paper on it, that's how I know."

"Okay. A legendary pokémon! That's great! What did it want with us?"

"Nothing, I don't think. We were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Are you sure?" God, how could she be so calm? Now that the experience was over, Rebecca seemed to be back to her old self, while Rachel was still trembling. "What if it was after us?"

"If it had wanted us, it would have found us here. There's no way it wouldn't have heard us.

"Oh, well, good. Or not good. God, I don't know." Rachel leaned back and sighed. "Is it... violent? I mean, if we run into it again, is it going to attack us on sight?"

"I don't know. It's supposed to be territorial, but we're not in it's territory... look, if it had wanted to attack us, we'd be dead, violent or not. It's a legendary pokémon, for God's sake! And not one of the nicer ones, either. It was supposed to be the god of death, I think. I mean, in myths. The paper didn't say that. It called the myths 'hogwash', actually."

"Right. Hogwash." Rachel gripped the ground and tried to get her trembling under control. It didn't work. "I don't hear anything. Do you think it's gone?"

"Yeah, probably. Let's go back to base. I don't feel safe going to Lavaridge with it around."

Rebecca stood up and out of nowhere a black wing fell and pinned her to the ground.

Rebecca screamed. Rachel could only manage a choked gasp. Giratina was a huge basilisk of a creature, with a golden beak and crest, and red-clawed wings. It pinned Rebecca down in the mud, and as Rachel stared, it glared at her with red eyes and screeched.

Rachel's first instinct was to run, but it had Rebecca, and before she could do anything it cuffed her with its free wing and knocked her down. Rebecca yelled something, Rachel tried to get up but Giratina hit her again and she heard it fly into the air.

Rachel sat up.

Giratina was gone, taking Rebecca with it. She was suddenly aware of her shoulder hurting; she touched it gingerly and it was wet with blood. She realized then she needed to get back to the hideout and stood up.

She was hardly aware of what she was doing, she was so in shock. She followed the wreckage of trees that Giratina had left behind until she reached the main road, then she kept walking towards Mount Chimney. Her side was aching and she wanted nothing more than to sit down and rest, but she was dimly aware of the fact that her shoulder was bleeding a lot and if she sat down she might never stand up. So she forced herself to keep walking, until she was struggling up the slope of the mountain and she saw the fake boulder that marked the door of their base. When she reached it, she was exhausted and her shoulder was killing her and she barely had the strength to pound on the door.

"Rachel? Is that you?" came Mark's voice.

"Yes! Open the door!" she shouted.

"No need to yell like that, I'm just surprised you're back so soon –"

"I don't have time for this! I'm bleeding to death out here!"

"You're what?"

It had to be Mark, she thought. Out of all the people who had to be guarding the door today, it had to be Mark. "Shut up! Let me in!"

"The door's still jammed, I can't! Look –" The door made a grinding noise and didn't move. "Are you seriously –"

"Yes, the fucking god of death tore my shoulder open and I am seriously bleeding to death!"

"The what – okay, I'm going to get someone to help, just hang in there, okay?"

"Just break the damn thing open, you have a camerupt, don't you? Damn it, Mark! If I die out here it's all your fault!"

No answer; he had already gone. Rachel swore at the door, sat down against the rock, and passed out.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two - hesitation

"The god of death? Are you sure that's what she said?"

"Yes, sir. She couldn't have been serious, but something did hurt her badly enough to send her to the hospital, and Rebecca still hasn't come back."

"Right. You can go now."

Mark stood up, nodded, then turned around and left. Tabitha sighed. "Well, that tells us absolutely nothing. We already knew all that."

Maxie buried his face in his hands and, once again, went over all the bad decisions in his life that had led him to this moment. It had been eight years since he had ended up founding Team Magma, and it was every bit of a mistake as it had been the first year. He hadn't wanted to be leader, but there hadn't been anyone else fit for the job. Not that he thought he was fit for the job either, but seeing as he was the one who organized the whole thing, he might as well lead it too.

There. There it was, bad decision number one. Now he was responsible for the hundred or so members that were left after the Groudon incident, and one of them had just gone missing.

"I'd like to blame it on Team Aqua, or any other trainer that has... a score to settle with us, but they weren't in uniform, so that can't be it," he said, looking back up. "Which means it was either a random attack by someone, or a particularly strong wild pokémon. In either case, the other girl might be lying out there bleeding to death. You did send someone out to look for her, right?"

Tabitha nodded. "Morgan. She should be back soon. They weren't gone long enough to have gotten very far, sir."

"Don't call me sir. It's bad enough hearing it from everyone else like a broken record, and with you it's worse because I know you do it deliberately."

Despite the situation, Tabitha cracked a smile. "Yes, sir."

"Good Lord." Maxie shook his head. "Fine, do what you want. That's what everyone else is doing. Wasn't this all because these two decided to go out on a walk to Lavaridge? Damn, I need a drink."

"I really wouldn't suggest that, Maxie."

"What else am I supposed to do, then? We've sent out everyone, there's nothing to do but wait until the girl that's in the hospital wakes up, or we find the one that went missing." He frowned. "This god of death business, though... that worries me."

"How so?"

"People don't joke around when they've been hurt like that. If she wasn't being serious, then why? And if she was being serious, what happened to make her talk about a god? Which means we have another problem to worry about."

"Maxie, I'm not sure I understand."

"Tabitha. The only thing I can think of that could be called a god is a legendary pokémon. We've learned not to get ourselves involved with legendary pokémon. If one really did attack these girls, what are we supposed to do if it comes back? Are we going to risk people's lives to protect two girls, one of which might already be dead?"

Rebecca was screaming.

She had been struggling, too, but once the ground disappeared and she found herself staring into an unimaginably vast abyss, she stopped, but she couldn't help the screaming.

Giratina, unmoved, continued its gliding through the world, never once stopping or slowing.

She didn't know how long it was until she couldn't scream and started sobbing instead. Her throat was hoarse and sore and her head was pounding from being held at an upside-down angle for so long and God, she thought she was going to die.

But it hadn't hurt her yet. Rebecca wiped her tears away and tried to compose herself, as terrified as she was. It hadn't hurt her yet. Maybe she would be ok.

Not like Rachel, she thought. She hadn't been able to see what was going on very well, but as she had struggled in Giratina's grip, she had seen blood. And then they were gone, and the last thing Rebecca saw of Rachel was her bleeding. This brought on another round of sobbing that she couldn't control.

"Why me?" she tried to yell, but her voice was so hoarse that it came out as a whisper. "What are you going to do to me?"

Giratina said nothing. She hadn't expected it to.

She must have blacked out after that, because the next thing she knew, she was falling.

Before she could react she had hit the ground hard, and for a moment all she could do was lie there, winded by the impact. Then she scrambled to her feet, eyes searching for where Giratina had gone.

She didn't have to wonder long. Giratina circled above her, glaring down at her in its long, sinuous form. Rebecca froze, unable to do anything but stare back at it. It had changed, she realized, now that they were in its world. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Giratina screeched, and flew away. Rebecca watched its from disappear into the distance, then her legs failed her.

"Why me?" she whispered, lying on her side. "Why me?"

She hadn't done anything wrong. Nothing that would justify a legendary pokémon kidnapping her to do God-knows-what with. Her body ached from the fall and all she wanted to do was lie there and cry.

No. Stay calm, she told herself. You're not going to die here. You know about this place. Not a lot, but more than most everyone else. Maybe you can get out of here.

Rebecca sat up and the sheer impossibility of the land around her made her dizzy, and she has to lie down again. It's ok, she thought, staring at the blades of grass in front of her face. I can just lie here and think for a while until I'm ready to deal with this.

So instead, she thought back to the article. It had been such a long time since she had read it, but it had made such a big impact on her hometown that it had stuck with her.

A scientist and his assistant had been researching an odd phenomenon that was supposedly linked to Giratina, the article said. This led to the discovery of an entire world linked to their own. Right there in Gracidea Valley! Her dad had been so excited to show her, Rebecca remembered. She wondered if she'd ever see him again.

It proved to be very difficult entering the Reverse World, as the two were only able to once they discovered an area stemming from a point near Veilstone City where the border between the real world and the Reverse World was thinner, and occasionally a portal would open on its own. But these were few and far between, and often the portals would be too small for them to go through, so they were usually left to following through the portals Giratina left behind. Otherwise, it was impossible to get into – or out of – the Reverse World. And Hoenn was miles and miles away from Veilstone.

But it wasn't hopeless. Rebecca took a deep breath. If she could find Giratina again, or wait for it to come back, and then just... hide somewhere, she could wait for it to make a portal, and leave through there. It was a long shot, but it was all she had. Unless she wanted to wait and see what it had in store for her.

Rebecca thought she would remember these blades of grass for the rest of her life, with their exact pattern and shape and size, so that if she ever saw their mirror in the real world she would recognize them. Part of her wanted to give up and just lie here forever, and to not face the utter strangeness of the Reverse World, but she knew that she couldn't do that. Even so, she felt so scared and alone that it felt like there was nothing she could do, except to just lie there and wait to die. Was that what Giratina wanted?

But she wasn't alone, she realized. Her pokémon were with her.

She reached down to her belt to make sure, and yes, they were still there. Relief swept over her, and for once, she believed that she would have a chance to live. This gave her hope, and she gathered her courage and sat up.

The sight around her made her dizzy again, but she forced herself to look. All around her were tall, hourglass-shaped spires of land and trees and ice – where was she that there was ice? – all mirrored upside-down on top of each other, blending together to a point where the halves of the hourglass met. The sky was a deep blue, patterned with crystalline purple patches that looked almost like windows into yet another world. Everything hung in the air with no regards to gravity, and as she looked up at a forest of upside-down trees, Rebecca felt like she was going to fall of the small platform of land she was on.

Her own island of land was tiny; just a patch of grass and dirt hanging in the air. Clearly, Giratina didn't want her going anywhere.

Carefully, she took out a pokéball. The sound it made as it released her pokémon made her tense, but Giratina didn't show up, so it must have been out of earshot. Quickly, before he could react, she grabbed Skarmory's beak and held it shut so he couldn't make a sound.

"Shh," she hissed as he let out a muffled squawk and flapped his wings. "Shh! You've got to be quiet! I'll explain everything to you, okay?"

Skarmory swiveled his head around and stared at her. Rebecca smiled weakly in response. Then he folded his wings and she took her hands off his beak.

"Okay," she said as he turned his head left and right, taking stock of the situation. "This is what's going on."

Rebecca explained as much as she could, from her and Rachel's walk to the strange ripples in the puddles and everything she knew about Giratina and the Reverse World. "It must have been following us," she said. "I don't know why, and I don't know what it wants with me, but we need to get out of here before it comes back. Can you hold my weight?"

Skarmory cocked his head. Maybe.

"Can you hold my weight if it means life or death?"

Skarmory cocked his head again, looked at her, then nodded.

"Thank you." Rebecca wrapped her arms around him and held him tight. "Thank you! God, I don't know what's going on or how we're going to get out of here, but we're gonna be alright, okay?"

Skarmory rested his head on her shoulder and Rebecca felt her eyes tear up. She quickly wiped them dry; she had cried enough already. "Okay," she said, standing up. "Let's go."

They separated. Skarmory walked to the edge with Rebecca following him behind. Once there, Rebecca scanned the area for a place to land.

"There," she said, pointing down at an outcropping a little ways away. "Try to head there. Then maybe we can find a way out of here."

Skarmory nodded again as flapped his wings once, which Rebecca took as her signal to get on.

He staggered under her weight, and for a moment she thought it wasn't going to work, but then he regained his balance and flew.

The next moment, they dropped like a stone.

Don't scream, Rebecca told herself, clinging tightly as Skarmory frantically tried to slow their descent. Skarmory can handle this. Stay calm.

Skarmory managed to turn the fall into a downward glide towards the outcropping. Rebecca's hair blew in her face, but she didn't dare let go to brush it away. We're going too fast, she realized with horror, but an instant before they hit, Skarmory angled  up, and they swooped past just in time. He evened out, and Rebecca let out the breath she had been holding. See? We're okay. We're o –

They crashed.

There was a horrible crack and Rebecca was thrown off Skarmory's back, skidding across the ground. Immediately, she got to her feet, wincing at the pain. "Skarmory! Skarmory, are you alright?"

Skarmory was a few feet away from her, hopping on one foot and flapping his wings. She ran to him. "Oh God, are you okay? Your foot – you're hurt –"

She crouched down next to him, putting a hand on his back. He stopped hopping and held out his foot. Rebecca inhaled sharply. "It's broken. Oh God, I'm so sorry, this is all my fault!"

Don't cry. You've done enough crying. Stay calm.

She leaned forward and examined his leg. It was clearly bent at an odd angle, but the skin wasn't broken. That was... good? She wasn't sure. She could try to set it, but she didn't know how to go about doing that, and if she did something wrong, it would only make things worse.

"I'm putting you back in your pokéball," she said. "Don't argue with me!" she said sharply as he shook his head. "You're hurt, and you're not gonna get any less hurt until we get you somewhere you can be healed, and I don't know when that'll be!"

Skarmory squawked at her and backed away. "This isn't an argument! I'm sorry, Skarmory, but I'm not letting you get hurt anymore."

She grabbed his pokéball and recalled him in one quick motion. Once he had vanished in a flare of red light, Rebecca put the ball back on her belt and stood up. There was a narrow opening near her, she noticed, that, once she squeezed through, led to a cave big enough to hide her for a while. She went as far back as she could, then sat down with a sigh.

There. She could rest there for a while, and then keep going. Rebecca acutely felt the aches from the falls she had taken, and realized just how exhausted she was. She could rest a while, she thought, hugging her knees to her chest. If the only way she could get out was through a portal made by Giratina, then she would have to wait for it to come back and make one. The thought of facing it again made her shudder.

You're never going to get out of here, a voice inside her said. Why would Giratina make a portal for you, when it's got you right where it wants you?

She ignored it. She was going to be okay. She had to.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 – intervention

Rachel was going to hurt someone.

After she woke up, she had to explain to Deena what had happened, who had managed to wake up in time to be with her at the hospital. Then she had to make up a story to tell the hospital explaining how she cut her shoulder open, and when she was finally back at base, she had to explain everything over again. Now she was finally sitting in her leader's office, only to be told that they might not be able to rescue Rebecca.

"This isn't because I want to leave her," Maxie said, while Rachel fumed in her seat. "But if what you've said is true, then how do you propose we go into an alternate dimension?"

"You could at least try!" she shouted. "How about, I don't know, going to look! Maybe there's a portal left open or something!"

"We already sent someone," Tabitha said. Rachel wanted to punch him. Hell, she wanted to strangle them both. Inside her head, she was very vividly picturing knocking Tabitha out, choking her leader to death, and going off to rescue Rebecca herself. In her anger, this seemed a very sensible plan. "Morgan reported signs of a very large pokémon that had –"

"I already told you that!"

"Look," Maxie said, "I know you're angry. I'd be angry too, if I were in your situation." He wasn't even looking at her, dammit. He kept glancing over at Tabitha. "But this thing tried to kill you already –"

"It's a legendary pokémon, if it wanted to kill me, I would be dead!"

"So then why did it attack you?"

"Because..." Rachel found she couldn't actually think of a reason why. "How am I supposed to know?" she said loudly.

"It wanted to stop you from interfering. It still could've killed you, even by accident. If we go and interfere some more, it might decide to make sure we stop interfering for good. We need to proceed with caution to make sure we don't lose any more people."

"Any more people?" Rachel said in disbelief. "What the fuck are you talking about? Rebecca's not dead, we haven't lost her, unless –"

Realization hit her like a punch to the gut. "You think she's dead. You're leaving her for dead."

"We're not leaving her until we know for sure one way or the other," Maxie said.

"You're leaving her for dead." Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Rebecca wasn't dead. Rebecca wasn't dead. Rebecca wasn't –

"You have to understand that there's a possibility that Giratina killed her."

Something snapped.

"She's not dead!" Rachel yelled. "If Giratina was going to kill her, it would've done it there! She's alive, probably wondering where we are –"

"And if she's –"

"Shut up!" she screamed. "Giratina could be doing God-knows-what with her and you're just sitting on your ass!"

"Rachel," Tabitha said, stepping forward. "Please calm down –"

"My best friend was just kidnapped by some Sinnoh god-pokémon and you're telling me to calm down?" Rachel slammed her fists on the table and stood up. "Go back to sucking our leader's dick, you piece of shit! Fuck you! Fuck both of you!"

She turned and left while both Maxie and Tabitha were too stunned to react, shoving the heavy metal door open right into Morgan's face.

"Morgan?" Rachel said in shock as the girl stumbled backwards with a stream of curses. "And Deena, and... oh my fucking God!"

The small group of grunts, caught in their eavesdropping, had the decency to look embarrassed.

Rachel slammed the door shut, leaving Maxie and Tabitha alone in the room. A moment later, it opened again, and one of the grunts poked her head in.

"Um," she said. "Sorry?"

Maxie slumped face down on the desk. Tabitha looked down at him worriedly. "Maxie? Are you ok?"

"That went as well as could be expected," he muttered.

The grunt quietly closed the door again and left to join the rest of her group, who had followed Rachel back to the girl's bunks.

Deena knocked on the door. "Rachel? Are you okay?"

"Go to hell!" came the muffled shout. Deena sighed and looked down, her hair falling in front of her face. Lifting a hand to brush it aside, she stepped back from the door and turned to the others.

"I don't know what to do, guys," she said.

"She can't stay in there forever," Morgan muttered. "All my stuff's in there." She sighed, rubbing her nose, and looked over their little group. Deena was looking at her like she was expected to come up with some sort of plan, while the other two grunts – Derek and Leo, two ordinary guys who Morgan hung out with sometimes – just stared at the door with a worried expression. And then there was Mark, who tagged along because... Morgan didn't actually know why he was here. She didn't really know him much at all, only that he and Rachel had dated briefly and it had ended badly.

"Hey," she said to him. "Aren't you supposed to be on guard duty?"

He started and stared at her. "Well, yeah, but –"

Morgan waved him away. "Shoo. I don't know much about you and Rachel's relationship drama, but I don't think you being here is going to help at all. So shoo."

Mark glared at her, stuck his hands in his pockets, and stalked away. Morgan heard him say, "What did I even do?" before he turned the corner and was out of sight.

Once that was dealt with, Morgan clapped her hands together. "Wish me luck, 'cause I'm going in.

Deena frowned. "You're just going to walk right in there?"

"Well, yeah! You have any better ideas?"

"Well, no, but she's really upset right now. Maybe it would be better to wait until she's feeling better?"

"Deena, her best friend was just kidnapped by some super-powerful legendary pokémon, she's not going to feel any better for days. I'm going in."

Deena made a face, but moved out of the way. Morgan rolled up her sleeves and opened the door.

Rachel was lying on her bed face down on a pillow. Morgan walked over and sat down beside her. "Hey."

"Go to hell," said Rachel in a muffled voice.

"I'm not going anywhere. Look." Morgan sighed. "I know you're upset, but lying here isn't going to change anything."

Rachel said something into the pillow that Morgan couldn't make out. "Girl, I didn't understand a word of that."

Rachel lifted her head up and glared at her. "What else can I do? He's leaving her for dead! He even said it himself! I'm never going to see her again!"

"Okay, first, I heard most of that conversation and I don't think he said that," said Morgan. "Second, does that mean you're just going to leave her too?"

Rachel's voice raised in pitch. "Don't you dare –"

"The little lady's my friend too, you know. I mean... jeez, I'm just making you angrier, aren't I. What I'm trying to say is that I want to go out and look for Rebecca ourselves."

Rachel fell back down on the pillow.

"Okay, what the fuck? I thought that was what you wanted!" Morgan resisted the urge to scream in frustration – something that Rachel wouldn't take well, most likely – and instead put a hand on Rachel's shoulder. "What's going on here?"

Rachel said nothing, and Morgan felt her trembling. She was crying.

"Oh," Morgan said. "Shit. Um."

She looked down at her skirt and sighed again. "Look, it's okay if –"

"It's not okay!" Rachel yelled into the pillow. "You can't do anything! I couldn't do anything! Giratina just grabbed her, knocked me down, and – we can't do anything!"

She sobbed. Morgan didn't know what to do.

"Look," she said. "This team is a fucking mess."

Rachel's crying quieted.

"It is," Morgan continued. "We're only sticking around because Team Aqua apparently didn't disband when they were supposed to. But we haven't heard anything from them in months, there hasn't been a debriefing in just as long, and we've even stopped doing role call. We're shit. We're really shit. If Team Aqua is still around to fight us, they'd wipe us out in no time."

She took a deep breath. "We're still a team, though. I mean, I've heard of what goes down in Kanto – Team Rocket actually kills people, for God's sake – but us? We tried to do good. I mean, we kind of fucked up spectacularly along the way, but we tried. Sort of. You're one of the ones who believes that expanding the land would actually be beneficial to humanity so I won't say anything more about that."

She heard Rachel snort, and Morgan smiled. Good, she was listening, at least.

"Anyway, um, that kind of got away from me a bit. Sorry. You know how it is, I try to say one thing and end up going on a tangent into some other thing. We're a team. We should help our teammates. And even after seeing what that thing did, I still want to try and help Rebecca. So come on. Get up and let's go."

Rachel lifted her head up, her eyes damp with tears. "You're not gonna quit, are you?" she said.

"No," Morgan said. "I'm not."

Rachel sighed and sat up slowly. "Maxie's right, you know," she said. "Even if we do find Giratina, it'll probably just kill us."

"Then if we do find Giratina, we run like hell."

"I'm not supposed to do anything that stresses out my shoulder."

"Then don't run in a way that does that!" Morgan playfully shoved her. Rachel pushed her hand away.

"Come on," Morgan said. "Let's go."

She took her arm and pulled her out of bed. Rachel wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Sorry."

"You've got no reason to be sorry. This is hard for everyone, but Rebecca's your best friend. It's okay. Really.

Rachel nodded. "Yeah, okay. Let's go."

First, Morgan had to explain to the rest of the group what the plan was.

"Morgan, you made it sound like everyone was ready to go," said Rachel, frowning.

"Yeah, and everyone is." Morgan gave them a look that dared them to suggest otherwise. "There's nothing stopping any of you from going out now, right?"

"I can't," Deena said, taking a step back. "I'm sorry, I just can't. I'm too scared."

"Fine," said Morgan. "Fine. We can go without you. Four people is enough, right? No one else's planning to skip out on us, are they?"

She gave a pointed look at Derek and Leo. They looked at each other, then back at Morgan and Rachel. Rachel stood with her hand on her shoulder, looking down to the side and not meeting anyone in the eye. Morgan had her hands on her hips and was glaring at them.

"Okay," Derek said. Leo shrugged.

"I barely even know you two," Rachel said. "Why are you doing this?"

Leo spoke up this time. "We're a team, right? This is what teams should do."

Morgan stared at him. "Did you overhear me or something? Rachel, I swear I didn't plan this. I mean, it would be great if I had, but I didn't."

For the first time since Giratina attacked, Rachel smiled.

The puddle was still there. Derek scoffed when Rachel pointed it out – "That thing came from a puddle?" – but Morgan hit him and he shut up. The path Giratina had made through the forest was obvious; there were huge footprints in the ground and branches broken off from trees. As the four of them picked their way over the wreckage, the sun started to set, and after a brief discussion between them, they came to the realization that none of them had a flashlight.

"I have my pokénav," Leo said, rummaging around in his pocket.

"A pokénav?" Morgan snorted. "Where the hell did you get a pokénav? Don't those things cost, like, triple our salary?"

"I stole it. From my brother. Long story." Leo flipped it open and a weak beam of light barely illuminated the ground in front of them. "Okay, this is pretty shit."

"We're here," Rachel said.

Morgan glanced at her, then around them. In the dying light, all she could make out was a boulder and more footprints. "Are you sure?"

Rachel nodded. "Yeah. The path goes on because it – it passed us, then I guess it came back." She was trembling; Morgan put a hand on her shoulder, but she pushed it away. "But – we hid behind that rock. I guess it was wrong to think that it would just ignore us."

"Rachel," said Morgan.

Rachel ignored her. "What are we going to do?" she said. "We're here, but... what are we supposed to do? How are we going to find Rebecca if we don't know where to go or what to do?"

Congratulations, a voice said, echoing inside their heads. You've passed the test!

Everyone froze. There was a moment of silence where they all frantically looked around, searching for whoever or whatever had spoken, until Morgan spoke.

"What the hell was that?" she shouted.

"Telepathy," Derek said, his voice shaking. "Probably a psychic pokémon."

"Okay," she said. "Great. What the hell is a psychic pokémon doing here?"

"I think we should get out of here," said Leo.

Try to be sensible, the voice said again, and a flash of light briefly illuminated the area.

The pokémon that hovered in front of them once the light cleared was small and blue-grey, with a large, cyan cone-shaped head that had two earlike protrusions on either side of its face. A red gem gleamed in its forehead, it and the two gems in its tails catching the light of the setting sun, and deep gold eyes surveyed the group, a frown forming on its face.

Not an "it," the voice said, and this time they all knew where it came from, though the pokémon's mouth did not move. A "fae." Just like you two are "he" and you two are "she," I am "fae." Do not make me repeat it, even though I know I will have to because humans have the worst intelligence out of any species I have encountered.

"Hey," said Derek, and he was about to say more until Morgan elbowed him sharply.

"How did you know what we were thinking?" she said. "Can you read minds?"

Only vaguely, said the pokémon. I know you would like to be called "Morgan" and "she" and I know what your intent is in coming here, but little more. By the way, you just confirmed you did indeed think of me as an it. That's very rude, you know, unless that is what someone would like to be called. I would like to say I am disappointed, but I've come to expect this from humans.

"You're Azelf," said Rachel.

The group turned to look at her, including the pokémon, who smiled and clapped faer hands. Excellent! I was expecting everyone in Hoenn to be more ignorant than usual, but it seems I am wrong! Yes, I am Azelf, the bringer of willpower. Thank you for recognizing me!

"You're a legendary pokémon," Rachel said, taking a step forward. "But... you're not like Giratina. You're not going to hurt us. Do you know where Rebecca is?"

Yes, said Azelf, and I have been waiting here for someone to come looking for her. You are her friends, I presume. I already presumed, and no one disagreed with me, so I presume I was right.

"Well, yeah," said Morgan. "So do you know what's going on? Is Rebecca in danger? What test did we pass?"

One question at a time, please. But I did not mention that previously, so you are forgiven this once. Azelf frowned and put a hand to faer face, seemingly deep in thought. Yes, I do know what is going on. No, Rebecca is not particularly in danger. Giratina will not kill her, at least, and I don't think they have any reason to harm her. The test I mentioned was not a test of you personally, but rather a test of the organization you are a part of. I was waiting to see whether they would send a party to retrieve a lost member, and you did! They even sent one of their commanders!

Fae smiled brightly at the group. They looked at each other nervously.

"Um," Leo said, "I think you're confused. None of us here is a commander."

"And they didn't send anyone," Rachel said bitterly. "They were going to leave her to die."

That's strange, Azelf said. Who is that, then?

Fae pointed behind them. They all turned to look.

Tabitha stood there, leaning against a tree and panting, dressed in his full Team Magma uniform. His face was flushed and his hair was disheveled, and he looked like he had ran all the way here from their base. Morgan yelped. "How long have you been there!"

"I just... got here," he said between gasps. "Came to... fetch you... before you got yourselves killed! What's going on here?"

See? Azelf said. He came to retrieve you! So maybe you did not technically pass the test but I do not hold humans to very high standards so I will let it count. Shall we go rescue your friend, now?

Nobody answered. Rachel opened her mouth, then closed it and turned to Tabitha. He stared at them all in disbelief.

"Oh, so I'm in charge now?" he said. "That wasn't what you thought before."

"You're our admin," Derek said. "What should we do?"

Tabitha straightened up and pulled his hood back over his head. "We need to tell Maxie what's going on," he said. "After that –"

"Fuck that," Rachel said. "We have a legendary pokémon on our side now! Azelf, let's go."

Thank you, fae said, and the gem on faer forehead flashed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 – The Case of Rebecca Olski

It was a dull, rainy day, but Rebecca was cheerful despite the weather. It was hard not to be cheerful in Slateport City, a seaside city with a lively marketplace and a bustling port. Rebecca had arrived there early – her brother's ship didn't arrive until the next day – but she wanted the extra time to explore the city.

First off, she had to stop by the Pokémon Center to give her pokémon a rest. Especially Skarmory; they had run into another trainer on their way down and the two of them had battled. Rebecca had won, but it was close, and Skarmory had fought the hardest.

Though, as she walked through the Pokémon Center's doors, she couldn't help but wonder if this was really what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Rebecca had been a trainer for six years, but had only been traveling for three of those years, and her skills were far behind other sixteen year olds. Hell, she had just gone up against a twelve year old, and barely won! For a while now, Rebecca had been doubting her decision to restart her pokémon journey, and she couldn't help but thing there was something more she could be doing with her life.

Now wasn't the time for that. Rebecca placed her pokéballs on the tray the nurse offered. He smiled at her and glanced at the computer as he ran her pokémon through the machine.

"Rebecca Olski?"

"Yeah? That's me. Is there a problem?"

"Your father called the center not too long ago," he said, handing her pokémon back. "He said he needed to speak with you urgently and to call him as soon as you got here."

"Okay." Rebecca couldn't imagine what her dad would need to speak with her urgently about. "I'll go do that."

She remembered walking by the television on her way to the video call machines, seeing a news repost in passing. A storm hitting the coast of Sinnoh. She didn't think anything of it.

Her father's face was twisted in grief, his eyes wide, not even looking at her as he spoke. A mechanical error, he said. Nobody knew the cause. The ship carrying her brother to Hoenn sank. They called him in to identify the body.

Rebecca remembered vividly, his voice shaking with every word, the feeling of the receiver against her face, the cold chill that gripped her heart. She dropped the phone, took a few, shaking steps backwards, not looking at her father, understanding why her father couldn't look at her – and then she ran.

Her brother was dead.

Rebecca kept running, leaving Slateport behind, ran until her legs hurt and she was tripping over roots and underbrush in the forest. She kept running, until she broke out of the forest and onto a beach, water stretching out in front of her. There was nowhere left to run.

Her brother was dead. Her brother had drowned.

She sobbed, tears running down her face, and she collapsed onto her knees and covered her face and wailed. She kneeled there for a long time, the sound of the waves mixing with her sobs.

Her brother was dead. She hadn't seen him for months and months and now she was never going to see him again. What was the last thing she had said to him? She couldn't remember, no matter how hard she tried.

The wind carried the sound of voices to her, chatter she couldn't make out. Rebecca took her hands away, her face smeared with tears, and stood up. She would have to tell her pokémon the news, she realized, and the thought made her insides twist up in grief. She tried to suppress a sob, covering her mouth with her sleeve, but it came out anyway. What had happened to her brother's pokémon? Her father hadn't said, and she couldn't bear to go back and ask.

Her brother was dead.

"Are you alright?"

Rebecca turned around.

The first thing she noticed about the girl was the odd red outfit she was wearing. She had a shirt with sleeves and gloves that completely covered her arms and hands, and a top over it with a black stylized "M" that wrapped tight around her chest. Her sandy-brown hair poked out from beneath a red hood, adorned with two black horns on top of her head. A short red shirt was the only thing that covered her bare legs, and her boots crunched the sand beneath them as she took another step forward, out of the edge of the forest.

"Sorry," the girl said. "I just... heard you crying and wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"I..." Rebecca's mouth felt dry. "My brother is dead," she said, and then she started sobbing again.

"Oh God. Uh." The girl's arms dropped to her side and she averted her gaze. "That's... awful. That's horrible. I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

"What kind of question is that?!" Rebecca snapped, her voice pitched high. "Can you bring my brother back? You can't do anything!"

She took a step back. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I just... sorry."

"Rachel, what are you doing?" someone said from inside the forest. The girl glanced behind her. Rebecca wiped her eyes and saw more people inside the forest, all dressed in the same uniform the girl – Rachel – was wearing. Not exactly the same, she noticed. It looked as if the uniforms were gender-specific, with the boys wearing pants and a looser top. One of the boys stepped forward, looking at Rebecca. "Who's she?" he said.

"Uh," said Rachel.

"Why are you talking to her? We have to report back to base right away. Courtney's waiting for us, you know."

"Who are you?" Rebecca asked.

He glared at her. "Unimportant," he said, at the same time Rachel said, "We're Team Magma."

The other people had moved out of the forest and onto the beach by then, and they had a variety of reactions; some snickered, one girl audibly groaned, and some just shook their head. There were a lot of them, Rebecca realized. Over a dozen, at least. What were they doing here?

"God dammit, Rachel! You can't just tell every person you come across who we are!"

Rachel snorted. "We've already been on the news a couple times, eventually everyone's going to know. Why does it matter?"

"On the news?" This was starting to make Rebecca feel uneasy, and she put a hand on her pokéball belt. "Why?"

"Rachel, keep your mouth shut," the boy said. "As for you, just run on home and forget about us, alright?"


The thought of going back to the Pokémon Center – back to where there was undoubtably a call from her father waiting, going back and facing the news all over again – made her eyes start watering again and her hands start to tremble. "I... I can't..."

"You can't? Can't do what?"

"Rachel, I said –"

"I can't go back," Rebecca said. "I can't... oh, God."

She took her hand off her belt and covered her face. She was crying again, the tears running down her face in the same paths they had taken before, except now it was worse because she was crying in front of all these people. Through her tears, she saw the boy looking uncomfortable, and Rachel glanced at him before walking forward and holding a hand out to her.

"Come with us," she said.

"What?" said Rebecca.

"Come with us," said Rachel. "I mean, Team Magma's recruiting right now, aren't we, Ken?"

"I guess so," said the boy, his earlier hostility diminished. "Man, this isn't the way we typically go about things."

"I don't even know what Team Magma is!" Rebecca said, louder than she intended.

"It's okay," said Rachel. "We'll explain on the way. But if you can't go back home, we can't just leave you here."


Rebecca wiped her face on her sleeve and looked at Rachel's outstretched hand.

"Okay," she said.

Rachel explained everything to her on the way to the base. They were Team Magma, an organization whose mission was to expand the land. Rachel grinned as she said it, gesturing with her hands as she walked. The land was good, right? Humanity lived there, grew food there, built homes there. If there was more land, humanity could reach even greater heights. It seemed like an impossible goal, but with the power of pokémon, what was impossible could be reached. With pokémon, the laws of the universe could be bent and changed.

"Did you memorize Maxie's speeches?" one of the others said. Rachel ignored them.

Most pokémon had too little power to do what they needed, but Team Magma was searching for a super-ancient pokémon that had the power they needed. During their search, they ended up doing some things that might be considered illegal – some of the other members snickered at that – but it was all for the greater good of humanity.

Rebecca listened closely and nodded, and before they had even arrived at the base, she had made up her mind: she was going to join Team Magma.

Rebecca was cradled in a nest of golden feathers, enveloped in a gentle warmth.

Rebecca was on her hands and knees, shattered, multicolored glass spread out in front of her, stabbing her palms.

Rebecca was being held by the shoulders, a dark figure in front of her talking in a low, fast voice. "What?" she said. "I don't understand," and the person stopped abruptly and shoved her backwards, and she was falling, falling, falling towards a heat that grew hotter and hotter under she was burning all over –

Rebecca woke up with a gasp.

For a moment, she just lay there, staring up at a white ceiling, her head resting on a pillow. The bed at base never feels this good, she thought, and then she remembered that she wasn't at base, she was in the Reverse World, except the Reverse World didn't have ceilings or beds or blankets –

She sat up sharply, the blankets falling off her. The room was bare, the only other furniture being a bedside table, a cabinet, and a chair. She sat there breathing hard for a few moments, before she heard someone moving the next room over.

"Hello?" she called out hesitantly.

"Oh, you're awake!"

The door opened and a man she didn't recognize stuck his head into the room, smiling at her. He had a brown, scruffy beard and hair that stuck up atop his head, and his clothes looked ragged and worn. Rebecca just stared at him until he cleared his throat and spoke again.

"I found you in the Reverse World," he said. "I was worried when I couldn't wake you up, so I took you back to the real world. This is my guest room. I was, uh, about to call the hospital, actually. Are you feeling alright?"

Rebecca nodded quickly. "Yes, I feel fine. You don't have to call the hospital."

"Are you sure? It's no trouble for me, I promise."

"I'm sure. I feel fine. Just..."

Skarmory popped into her head, and Rebecca remembered his broken foot. "I need to get to a pokémon center," she said. "My skarmory's hurt."

"What happened?" The man's expression turned serious. "You didn't try to fight Giratina, did you?"

Rebecca tensed. "No! No, I didn't do anything, I don't know – I don't know why – why did – why did –"

Her voice was shaking, and the man's face softened and he sat down on the chair next to the bed. "Where are my manners? My name's Newton. Doctor Newton Graceland. Do you feel up to explaining what happened with Giratina?"

Rebecca nodded. "You're – you're that scientist. The one who first went into the Reverse World..."

His eyes lit up. "You've heard of me? That's great! So you know I've, ah, dealt with these matters before."

"Yeah," Rebecca said," and she took a deep breath and began her story.

Newton interrupted barely a few sentences in. "Wait, you were going to Lavaridge? Isn't that in Hoenn?"

A feeling of dread burned cold inside her. "Am I..."

"You're... not in Hoenn. Don't be alarmed, the Reverse World can do that sometimes. You're in Gracidea Valley, in Sinnoh."

"Oh," said Rebecca. "That's... this is..."

This was where her dad lived, who she hadn't spoken to since the day he had told her her brother died. Rebecca felt sick. "You didn't tell anyone I was here, did you?"

"No, why would I? I mean, I was going to call the hospital, but... is there someone you're trying to avoid?"

"My dad," Rebecca said without thinking. "I mean – it's not that I'm trying to avoid him, I just – it's a story. A long story." Her voice shook. "God, why is this happening?"

She buried her face in her hands, trying to hide the tears she felt welling up. Newton reached a hand towards her, hesitated, and pulled it back.

"I..." He hesitated again. "I don't know what I can do to help you," he said, "but I do know more about Giratina than... well, to be honest, more than I would like to. I might be able to explain why... whatever happened to you happened. Maybe."

Rebecca uncovered her face. "Really?"

"Well, I can't make any promises, but I'll do my best." Newton smiled at her. "I'm sorry for interrupting you, but can you tell the rest of your story?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Okay."

Newton didn't interrupt her again as she recounted what had happened to her and Rachel. Finally, she finished with the last thing she remembered – stopping for a rest in the cave – and Newton leaned back in his chair with his hand on his chin, furrowing his brow in concentration.

"That's... bizarre. The only thing I can think of is that you might've been involved in some sort of incident that polluted the Reverse World, but..."

"Polluted? How?"

"That's the thing!" Newton said, turning to her. "It's very difficult to do! The Reverse World is the mirror to the real world, so when something upsets the balance of things here, the Reverse World reflects those damages with clouds of poisonous gas..."

Newton went on and on, gesturing with his hands as he made his points, but what Rebecca was stuck on was "the balance of things."

The fight between Groudon and Kyogre had come close to sparking a worldwide catastrophe. It was sheer luck that the incident had happened far away on an unknown island instead of near the Hoenn mainland. The disaster was narrowly averted, thanks in part to some kids with a pikachu, according to what Rebecca had heard, and the Red and Blue Orbs were shattered, never to be used again. Had that upset the balance of things?

But Rebecca hadn't even been there – she was stationed back at Mount Chimney when it happened. Why had she and Rachel been targeted? Why not the rest of Team Magma?

"...the resulting fight with Dialga caused Giratina to be temporarily unable to leave the Reverse World, and it was a few days before they regained their full power. But I'm digressing. The point is, you wouldn't be able to harm the Reverse World without the power of a legendary pokémon, and you've never been involved with them, right?"

Lost in her own thoughts, Rebecca hesitated a moment too long.

Newton frowned. "You... haven't, right?"

"Uh..." Rebecca snapped out of it. "No! No I haven't! I'm just – I'm just – uh –"

He stared at her for a moment longer, then closed his eyes and sighed. "Look," he said. "I'm not going to call the police. You don't look dangerous. But it's already suspicious that Giratina kidnapped you in the first place, and if you're hiding something from me..."

"I'm not hiding anything!" Rebecca cried. "I wasn't involved in anything to do with legendary pokémon! I just – I just –"

What would her father think of her running off and joining a criminal organization? Would he look at her like Newton was looking at her now?

She could feel tears running down her face, and by now her nose was running, too. She looked away and wiped her face on her sleeve. "Why would it be me?" she said, her voice trembling.

"That's what we're trying to figure out, isn't it?"

"But... I wasn't even there. I'm just some ordinary grunt. I'm not even an ace grunt. Why me?"

Newton was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "Why don't you start again from the beginning."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – complication

"What?! What, what, what!" Tabitha's voice was pitched high with fear, mixing with Leo's shriek and Morgan's wordless exclamation. Derek seemed somewhat composed, but even his hands were trembling. Rachel stumbled forward, but once she regained her footing, she grinned.

"Is this is?" she said. "Is this where Giratina took her?"

They were no longer standing in the middle of the forest, but at the bottom of a cliff, next to a crystal-clear lake. The sky was cloudless and the stars were reflected on the surface of the water. Azelf hovered nearby, looking pleased with faerself.

"Rachel!" Tabitha shouted, his red eyes burning with fury. "What did you do?"

She didn't do anything, Azelf said. I was going to bring you here anyway.

"Where are we?" Morgan said, regaining some of her composure after the shock of their arrival.

"Who cares where we are?" Leo said. "I want to go home!"

Oh, don't be like that, Azelf said disdainfully. We're at our destination. The lake you see before you is Sendoff Spring, and the cave we are about to enter is Turnback Cave. This is Giratina's domain, now – their only domain in the real world – and if they would be keeping anyone anywhere, it would be here. Shall we enter?

"No!" Tabitha said forcefully, stomping his foot. "We are not going anywhere without adequate preparation!"

"Like you care," Rachel said, not bothering to hide the bitterness in her voice. "You were going to leave her for dead."

Tabitha squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Based on the information we had, there was no reason to believe Rebecca was alive. Now there is – but we are woefully unprepared to go against a legendary pokémon to get her back. Do you want the rest of us to die trying to rescue her?"

"We're not gonna die! We have a legendary pokémon on our side now!"

Thank you, Azelf said. Besides, you've missed one important point.

"And what might that be?" Tabitha said, turning to glare at faer.

I won't teleport you back to your home until we're done here.

Tabitha didn't react for a few long moments, just stood there glaring at Azelf. Then he closed his eyes, let out a long sigh, and turned to the rest of the group .

"You heard them," he said.

Faer! You heard faer.

"Faer, sorry." Tabitha shook his head. "Let's all go get ourselves killed."

"We're not going to die," Rachel said.

"Says you. Alright, let's go."

Tabitha walked into the entrance of the cave, Rachel following close behind. Azelf hovered in the air, looking at Morgan, Leo, and Derek.

Morgan glanced at faer, then looked away. "This is really not what I expected when I went to drag Rachel out of the base," she said.

"What did you expect?" said Derek.

"Uh, not this?"

Are you going to go in or not? Azelf said impatiently.

"Do we have a choice?" Morgan rolled her eyes. "Alright guys, we're going in."

She took hold of Derek and Leo's arms and pulled them along with her as she walked inside. Azelf darted in ahead of her, and all of them were swallowed up by the blackness of the cave.

Inside, the fog was so thick they could hardly see. They went inside at different times and quickly became separated, so it took a lot of shouting and calling each other's names before they were able to all find each other and huddle together, Azelf hovering above their heads.

"Which way do we go?" Rachel asked.

I don't know, Azelf said. Reality is distorted here. Paths don't always lead to the same place. Be reassured that I can teleport you out of here in an emergency, no matter how deep we are in this cave.

"That is reassuring, actually," Leo said.

Thank you.

"So you have no idea where to go," Tabitha said dryly. "Well, all we need now is for Giratina to get here, and then this can't possibly get worse."

He took a few steps forward, stumbled, and fell hard onto one knee, swearing loudly. Rachel stifled a giggle.

Tabitha snarled. "Do not laugh at me! When I report back to Maxie, you are going to have to answer for this!"

"You know what?" Rachel said. "I don't care. All I care about is getting Rebecca back safely, and then you can fire me if that's what you want!"

"Don't test me, or that's exactly what I'm going to suggest!"

"Fine! Fire me! It's not like I want to be part of a team that leaves its members for dead!"

"You're still on that? Would you rather the rest of us died? You have no idea how hard it was to make the decision we made!"

"So you admit it! You left her for dead!"

Tabitha threw his arms out to his sides in a wide, angry gesture. "We had no idea if she was alive! We wanted to believe she was, but unless you've forgotten, you nearly bled to death! We had no reason not to believe that the same thing hadn't happened to Rebecca!"

Rachel opened her mouth to issue a rebuttal, but Tabitha continued.

"We  didn't want to leave her! But the fact is, something targeted two Team Magma members, and there was a possibility that the rest of us would be targeted as well! Capturing Rebecca and attacking you could've been an attempt to lure more of us out – and it worked, thanks to you and your –"

Rachel turned and ran.

"Hey!" Tabitha shouted. "Get back here! We need to stay togeth -" He cut himself off mid-word with a groan. "Rachel!"

Morgan took a step in the direction Rachel had gone, then hesitated. "Should we follow her?"

Tabitha glared at her. "What do you think? Of course we should! Do you want her to get herself killed?"

He set off at a brisk walk after her, the rest of the grunts following behind, glancing around at the foggy cave nervously.

Azelf watched them go, making no move to follow them. After a moment had passed and they were out of sight, fae vanished.

Rachel kept running until she could no longer hear Tabitha and the others calling after her, until the light from the entrance had faded away and she had to watch her step in the darkness. She slowed to a stop, waiting to see if they were still close by, and when she heard nothing, she relaxed.

It was too dark to see anything; Rachel took out one of her pokéballs and released the pokémon inside. "Claydol, use flash."

Claydol hummed in response and began glowing with a white light. The cave was illuminated around them, and Rachel blinked a few times to get her eyes to adjust to the light.

"Fucking Tabitha," she muttered. "Didn't want to leave her... 'course they did, they just didn't want to... didn't want to..."

"Do you want the rest of us to die trying to rescue her?"

The tears that had been welling up since Tabitha yelled at her finally spilled, and she covered her mouth to muffle a sob. Claydol hummed at her, in a way that she figured was meant to be comforting.

Rebecca was alive, Azelf said so, so why was Tabitha...

She lost her train of thought when she saw the body.

The man lay on his side against the wall facing away from her, his skin deathly pale, a few scraps of torn clothes hanging on him. He had a dirty mop of white hair, tangled and matted with – was that blood? There were dark spots on the ground around him, and Rachel felt bile rise up in the back of her throat.

The body moved, barely.

"Oh my God," Rachel said, and she ran over to him, Claydol hovering behind her. "Hello? Hello? Are you – oh my God!"

Up close, Rachel could see that he was in worse condition than she initially thought. His skin and hair were encrusted with dried blood, and he was horribly thin, almost skeletal. He moved again, rolling onto his back as Rachel knelt down next to him. Blinking, he opened their eyes, revealing yellow irises. He looked up at her, opened his mouth, and croaked something unintelligible.

"It's fine, it's fine," Rachel said, not knowing what, if anything, was fine. "We're going to get you out of here, okay? God, my God... hey, guys?" she called out, looking up. "Guys?"

"Rachel?" The voice was distant, but unmistakably Tabitha. "I can't believe you! You can't run off like that!"

"Sorry! I'm sorry! I – I need help!"

"Who... who are..."

Rachel looked back down at the man, who closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and repeated it. "Who... are you?"

"Rachel. Others we'll be here soon. We have – we have a legendary pokémon, Azelf, with us, they – uh, fae can teleport you out of here. Who are you?"

"Z- Zero," he said after a moment's pause. "I'm... nothing. I'm Zero."

He shuddered, and his eyes closed.

Rachel turned away. "Guys, hurry!"

Tabitha appeared into the room, his face flushed like he'd been running again. "I'm here! Rachel, what – who is that?"

"He said his name was Zero, I think," she said. "I just – I just found him here! I think he's hurt, I don't –"

She looked down at him again. His only movement was the rise and fall of his chest. "We need to get him out of here," she said. "Where's Azelf?"

Tabitha ran to the two of them, kneeling down beside Rachel, his eyes wide. "My God – Morgan? Leo? Derek? Where's Azelf?!"

Morgan leaned against the wall of the cave, breathing hard. "Jesus, you can run fast when you want to – I think Azelf's with us? Hey, Derek, where's Azelf?"

"Uh –" Derek stumbled into the room, then looked back behind him, where Leo was following. "I don't see... I don't know. They were right here..."

Silence. Rachel felt fear creeping up on her. "Where did fae go?"

Tabitha closed his eyes and put a hand on his forehead. "What is going on here? I, Tabitha, cannot..." He shook his head. "Fine! This is fine! First order! We all need to exit this cave! Without Azelf, we are in grave danger! Rachel, I will not tolerate any insubordination from you!"

"Okay!" Rachel tried to pick up Zero – he was unsettlingly light, but she didn't know how to hold him without hurting him. "Tabitha, sir, I need help, I –"

With a sigh, Tabitha took Zero from her and stood up. "We're going now," he said. "I trust one of you knows the way back?"

Claydol squawked loudly. Rachel turned to them, started to ask what was wrong, but was cut off when she saw what Claydol was staring at.

Giratina was hunched down in a dark corner of the cave, staring at them all with glinting red eyes.

"What is it?" Morgan said; she and the others couldn't see from where they were standing. "Guys, what's wrong?"

"Morgan," Tabitha said, his voice shaking. "All of you, you need to get out of here."

"What? What about you?"

Giratina let out a long, slow hiss. Morgan paled and took a few steps back, towards Leo and Derek.

Zero shuddered in Tabitha's arms and curled inwards. Tabitha glanced down at him, then passed him to Rachel. "Here. Hold him like this."

"Tabitha, what –"

"For once in your miserable life, listen to me!"

Rachel flinched, but didn't object, taking Zero in her arms. Tabitha turned away and took out a pokéball. "Camerupt, come on –"

Giratina lunged at them.

"Claydol, protect!" Rachel shouted. Claydol put up a shield around them just in time, Giratina crashing into it with a force that made the whole room shake. Screeching, Giratina raised its claw-tipped wings and slashed at the barrier over and over until it shattered.

By then, Camerupt had been sent out. Tabitha pointed at Giratina with a trembling hand and shouted, "Flamethrower!" Camerupt obeyed, breathing a stream of fire at Giratina, but Giratina faded into nothing, and the flamethrower scorched the wall behind it.

Tabitha yelped. "Where did it go?!"

Zero mumbled something almost incomprehensible. "Sh... Shadow Force..."

"Wha –"

Giratina reappeared and crashed into Tabitha, knocking him over, and slammed its front legs onto him to hold him down. Rachel screamed – she could hear the others screaming too, they still hadn't left. Camerupt roared, and the room shook with the force of his earthquake attack, and yet Giratina seemed unaffected. Rachel, with the extra weight of Zero, nearly fell over as the floor shook, and she put him down for the time being.

"Claydol," she shouted, "do something!"

Claydol began glowing blue, the light mingling with the light of their flash attack, but Giratina shot a blue ball of fire at them before they could unleash their attack, and sent them skidding across the room. They crashed into the wall and fell onto the ground, their arms dropping to their sides as the telekinesis that held them together failed. Rachel recalled them just as Giratina sent another fireball at where they had been. The cave went dark.

Camerupt roared again and slammed into Giratina's side. Giratina reared up and slashed him, leaving bloody clawmarks in his side. Camerupt staggered and collapsed.

Tabitha lay there in a daze, struggling to breath with Giratina's weight on him, but the sight of Camerupt bleeding snapped him out of it. Twisting around, he managed to get his hand on his pokéball. "Camerupt, return!"

Just as Camerupt disappeared back inside the pokéball in a flash of red light, Giratina's beak clamped down on Tabitha's arm.

Rachel grabbed another pokéball. "Mightyena –"

Giratina twisted its head and pulled –

Tabitha's scream barely sounded human. Giratina dropped the detached limb and bent down again.

Rachel didn't know what she was doing. She forgot about sending out Mightyena, forgot about sending out any pokémon, just ran towards Giratina and took hold of its head, stopping it from grabbing Tabitha's other arm.

"You – you –" Rachel stammered. "You get off him!"

Giratina hissed, and she could feel its hot breath. She swallowed hard – and then she heard Leo shout.

"Pokéball, go!"

It was almost anti-climatic. Giratina dissolved into red light, and was sucked into a pokéball that clattered to the ground. Rachel staggered forward, thrown off-balance, and immediately fell to her knees beside Tabitha. "Sir!"

Tabitha was mouth was set in a thin line, and he was trembling and clutching the bleeding stump where his left arm had been. Rachel swallowed hard. "Oh my God –"

"Leo! You can't do that!" Derek shouted.

"Giratina's a pokémon, right?" Leo said, his voice shaking. "Is that not what you do with poké –"

The pokéball exploded, and Giratina reappeared. Screeching, it spread its wings out wide, then its eyes fell on Rachel and Tabitha. Not knowing what else to do, she covered Tabitha with her body.

Pain tore through her as Giratina's claws ripped through her side, and then everything went black.

Rachel collapsed on top of Tabitha. Neither of them were moving. Morgan made to run forward, but Derek grabbed her arm. "Morgan, don't! You'll just get yourself killed!"

"So what?!" she shouted, her voice shaking. "We're gonna die anyway! Now that Azelf is gone, we can't fight against Giratina! We're – we're gonna –"

I found you! I found you!

Morgan, Derek, and Leo whipped their heads around. Azelf hovered behind them, staring at them with wide eyes. I tried to follow you, but Giratina did something to the cave, and I got horribly, horribly lost! Where are the others?

Morgan pointed at where Giratina stood over the three motionless figures, bending over them with its wings spread. It hadn't seemed to notice Azelf yet.

Azelf nodded. We'll rescue your friend some other time, fae said. It's time to go!

The cave around them warped and changed.

"What the – oh my God!"

Morgan lurched to the side in the sudden brightness, putting a hand on the rocky wall next to her. In front of her, Maxie jumped to his feet, staring in horror at Rachel and Tabitha. They were in his office, she realized, and then her legs gave out from beneath her.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: information

They couldn't take Tabitha to the hospital. He would be recognized as an admin of Team Magma and be arrested. Team Magma had the resources to take care of its members in an emergency, but nothing like this had ever happened before.

Maxie stood outside the door the doctors – or at least, the closest people Team Magma had for doctors – had taken Tabitha behind, staring at the blood on his hands. He had helped carry Tabitha down from his office, Tabitha being in no state to walk down himself. He had been conscious, but unresponsive, staring straight ahead and keeping a tight grip on the stump of his left arm.

Rachel was still in Maxie's office. The pokémon – Azelf – had insisted fae would take care of her, and then had kicked everyone else out. Seeing her injuries, Maxie had to think it was for the best. If a legendary pokémon couldn't help her, who could?

The other three grunts hadn't been injured, but were understandably shocked by what they had been through. Morgan kept apologizing over and over for having the idea to leave in the first place. Maxie thought back to when he had ordered Tabitha to go after Morgan and the rest, to bring them back safely. If he hadn't done that, if he had just waited for the grunts to return, things might have turned out differently. He had ordered everyone to stay inside the base, but by now the order was useless – after this, who would want to leave?

The man they had brought back was a mystery.

He had been drifting in and out of consciousness ever since they had arrived in Maxie's office. Not knowing what else to do, Maxie had ordered that he get treated along with Tabitha – though he had no injuries that they could see, he was clearly in horrible shape. They didn't know why he had been in that cave or anything about where he had come from. They only knew his name: Zero.

How long had he been standing there? Maxie shook his head and raised a hand to adjust his glasses, only to stop when he saw the blood still on it. He needed to wash that off. Change his clothes, too, he noted; there was blood all down his side.

Tabitha had lost a lot of blood.

Maxie took a deep breath. Tabitha would be fine. Surely there had been others who had gone through worse and survived. Others who had access to better medical attention than what Team Magma had to offer.

He forced himself to walk away.

Once he reached the washroom, Maxie cleaned off his hands and washed his coat off as best he could in the sink. He would have to go into his office to get new clothes, but as far as he knew, Azelf was still in there. Still, after making himself as presentable as possible, he walked back to his office door with his coat tucked under his arm.

Morgan was sitting against the wall, hugging her knees. When Maxie approached, she looked up and quickly got to her feet. "Sir, I –"

Maxie held up a hand to stop her. "How is Rachel?" he said.

She hesitated. "I don't know. Azelf said she would be fine, but... they've been in there for a while now, and I don't know what's going on. Sir."

"That's... fine. I'm certain Azelf will take care of her." Maxie paused for a moment to remember how to formulate Azelf's pronouns. "When we left them, fae didn't seem... worried. If Azelf thought there was a chance that fae wouldn't be able to save her, fae wouldn't have been so sure of faerself."

Morgan turned away and slumped against the wall. "Okay."

"Stand up. I need to discuss the situation with you and the others that went with you."

"But..." Morgan glanced back at the door. "What about Rachel?"

"I'll speak with her once she recovers."

"That's not what I meant! What if something happens and I'm not here?"

"There is nothing you can do that Azelf cannot." Maxie sighed. "Morgan, this is non-negotiable. If you haven't noticed, there is something very serious going on, and I need more information to formulate a plan of action."

Finally, she relented. "Fine," she said, straightening up and following Maxie back down the hall.

The three grunts were tense, standing close together in an unused room of the base. The room was small, and the floor was uneven; by the time it had been dug out of the rock, the ancient pokémon incident had been resolved, and there was little motivation to complete rooms that there was no longer any purpose for. Maxie paced the room in front of them, his hands folded behind his back.

"I called you here to discuss the situation with Azelf and Giratina," he said. "I'm certain that Azelf knows more than fae is letting on."

Leo wrinkled his nose. "I'm not gonna get used to those pronouns."

"Get used to them. That's an order. Another thing I'm certain of is that Azelf's going to be involved with us for a while longer, and I'm not going to be responsible for explaining to an angry legendary pokémon why my team keeps misgendering faer."

Stiffening at Maxie's reprimand, Leo quickly nodded. "Yes, sir."

Maxie rubbed the bridge of his nose. "That aside... you said Azelf said there was a test, correct?"

"Yes, sir," said Morgan.

"A test implies some degree of control. Did Azelf set this whole situation up as a test for us?"

"Fae wouldn't do that," Derek said immediately. "Legendary pokémon don't –"

"Legendary pokémon have kidnapped one of our members, mutilated another, ripped one of my admin's arms off –" Maxie stopped himself before he reached the level of shouting, and took a deep breath before continuing. "Azelf has already sent you into danger," he said. "Forgive me if I have no intention of trusting faer."

None of the grunts seemed keen on responding, and Derek was clearly shaken by Maxie's display of anger, however mild. Maxie waited for a few moments, but when nobody said anything, he spoke again.

"We have no idea what Azelf's motive is in cooperating with us," he said. "We don't know what Giratina's motive is, either. It's possible that the incident with Groudon and Kyogre may have something to do with it, in which case, we are all in danger. Nobody is to leave the base until we know for certain Giratina won't attack again. I will give the same orders to the secondary base once I am in contact with them."

Leo shuffled his feet nervously. "Leader Maxie, sir," he said. "Could I ask a question?"

"Go ahead."

"Are you saying you haven't told Courtney and the others what happened yet?"

Maxie's expression betrayed nothing, but there was a long moment before he answered. "Courtney's been... troubled, lately," he finally said. "I don't want to worry her."

"If we're all in danger, shouldn't you, uh... do that?"

Maxie frowned and stared off at the wall, averting his gaze. "Yes," he said. "I should."

Another moment passed before he said, "That's all I wanted to say. You're dismissed," and without waiting for the grunts to move, he left the room.

No amount of preparation would make Maxie ready to call Courtney and tell her what had happened, so he decided not to prepare at all and went directly to the communications room. There was only one other person there, who sat up straight in their chair as soon as they noticed Maxie entering the room and pretended they hadn't been playing computer solitaire.

Maxie dialed their secondary base on the video phone, took a deep breath, and sent the call.

Courtney picked up almost right away; she must have been in her office. Her usual stoic face appeared on the screen. "Leader Maxie," she said.

"Courtney. I have some bad news."

By the time he was done explaining the situation, from Giratina capturing Rebecca to the results of the attempt to retrieve her, Courtney's mouth was set in a hard line. "I understand," she said. "I will be there as soon as –"

"No!" Maxie said, harsher than he intended. "I mean – Courtney. Giratina has targeted Team Magma once already. We've already seen the consequences of encountering it. We don't know if it will attack again. Do not leave the base. Do not allow anyone else to leave the base. One of our members is missing and two were nearly killed. I will not let any more incidents happen under my lead. Are we clear?"

Courtney didn't react at first. Finally, she nodded. "Yes," she said. "None of us will leave... until instructed otherwise."

"Good. You should be safe in the base for now." Maxie ran a hand over his face. "Hopefully. I don't know what Giratina is capable of, and the presence of Azelf... worries me. Right now, Azelf seems to be on our side, but..."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Information. We need information on Giratina and Azelf. News articles, ancient myths, anything you can find. Before she... was injured, Rachel said there was an article published by... some scientist who studied Giratina, she didn't give a name. See if you can find that, and report back here with your results."

"Understood. What should I tell the grunts stationed here?"

"That a very dangerous legendary pokémon is targeting Team Magma, and to stay inside the base."

"Is there any other way I can be useful?"

"There's nothing else you can do that won't put you in danger. Try not to get involved, if you can. If a legendary pokémon appears, don't trust them, but do what you need to do to keep yourself and everyone else safe. Stay alive. That's all I ask of you."

"Will Tabitha recover?"

The question caught him off guard and he took a second to figure out how to respond. "He will," he said. "He will, because I will never forgive myself if he doesn't. That's all I wanted to tell you. You're dismissed."

Courtney nodded solemnly, and hung up.

Maxie stared at the blank screen for a few moments before hanging up himself. There was nothing more for him to do here.

"Sorry, I still don't know why Giratina targeted you."

Rebecca squeezed her eyes shut, willing her tears away. "You mean, even after everything I told you, there's still no reason for it?"

"Not any I can think of." Newton sighed, leaning back in his chair. The two of them had moved to his kitchen and were sitting at the table together. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust, and Rebecca found herself idly drawing lines on the surface. "If Giratina really wanted to punish your team for interfering with balance of nature and polluting the Reverse World, they would have gone after your leader, or someone more heavily involved – and we still don't know if that's what happened. I was in the Reverse World around the time of the incident you told me about, and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. It could be that the incident didn't pollute the Reverse World any more than usual. Sorry, I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"It's fine," she said. "I just..."

She wiped her eyes and sniffed. Newton sat up. "Are you crying?" he asked.

"I'm scared," she said. "What if Giratina comes back for me? What do I do then?"

Newton's face twisted into a pained expression and he looked away.

"I..." He took a deep breath. "I don't know. The last time..."

He fell silent. Rebecca waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she spoke up, in a trembling voice: "The last time what?"

"The last time..." Newton covered his face. "Giratina... they... there was a close friend of mine, he..."

He shook his head. "Giratina... took him. The last anyone saw, he was taken into the Reverse World. I've been looking ever since."

“That’s…” Rebecca didn’t know what to say. “That’s awful. I… is the same thing going to happen to me?”

“No,” Newton said forcefully. “I won’t let it happen. I won’t let that happen again, not to anyone else. You’ll be safe, I promise.”

She nodded, her eyes welling up with tears. “Thank you.”

“So let’s get you home as soon as possible.” Newton stood up, putting his hands on the table. “How do we contact these Team Magma folks?”

Maxie was about to leave the communications room when the grunt stationed there looked up and said, “Sir, we’re getting a transmission from Sinnoh.”

“Sinnoh?” Maxie frowned. “Who would be contacting us from there? How would anyone there know how to contact us?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Well, respond. Audio only – we don’t want to attract suspicion.”

The grunt nodded and adjusted the microphone on their headset. “Hello? Who is this?”

There was a moment’s pause before the grunt straightened up and blurted out, “Rebecca? You’re okay?”

Maxie crossed the room with a few large steps to stand beside them. “She’s alive?”

The grunt covered the microphone with one hand and spoke to him quickly. “Yes! I don’t know how, but she’s alive, and she’s in Sinnoh, somehow!”

“Let me speak to her. I need to inform her of… recent events.

They nodded and spoke into the microphone again. "Rebecca, Maxie would like to speak with you. Yes. Do you have video on your end? No? Alright, I'll switch to speaker mode."

Maxie waited as the grunt changed modes, and Rebecca's voice came out of the speakers. "H – hello, sir."

"Rebecca," he said out loud. "Are you unharmed?"

"Yes, sir!" Maxie rubbed the bridge of his nose. Hearing "sir" over and over again was really starting to get on his nerves. As if he was worthy of being in a position of authority.

At least this was good news. "What happened after Giratina captured you?"

"I – I – " Rebecca took a deep breath. "Giratina lives in an alternate dimension, called the Reverse World. That's where – where it took me. I – I tried to get out on my own, but – I didn't get very far. I passed out, and someone – his name is Newton, he found me and brought me back out. I'm staying with him now."

"Where are you calling us from?"

"Uh –"

Oh, God. Maxie inhaled sharply. "Listen, Rebecca, we have enough trouble without having the police discover us. If you end up reported – "

"He said he wouldn't! He said, uh – " There was a distant voice on the other end, and Rebecca went quiet for a moment. "He – he says he's had enough trouble with the police already."

Oh, God. "Is he listening to this conversation?"

"Only – only my side, sir."

Dammit. Maxie squeezed his eyes shut, and wondered how much Rebecca had told this Newton person.

"Well," he said, "It's good that you're not hurt. That's... better than expected. I will be honest with you, we expected the worse when Rachel told us what happened. 

"Is she okay?" Rebecca asked quickly. "I – Giratina attacked her when it – captured me, and – she's okay, right? Sir?"

Maxie took a deep breath and braced himself.

"The situation has only gotten worse since you were captured," he said. "Rachel and three other grunts went out to try and find you. They, along with Tabitha, encountered another legendary pokémon, Azelf, at the place Giratina attacked you. Azelf told them fae would bring them to rescue you. We now have reason to believe that Azelf lied and deliberately placed them into danger."

He paused, thinking hard about how to phrase his next sentence. He could hear Rebecca's breathing on the other end of the line, waiting for him to speak.

"Azelf took them to Giratina's lair," he said. "Giratina discovered them and attacked. Rachel and Tabitha were both seriously injured. The others were unharmed. We were told by Azelf that fae would heal Rachel. I – " His voice faltered for an instant. " – I have faith that both her and Tabitha will recover."

For a moment, Rebecca didn't say anything. When she spoke, her voice was shaking. "So – Giratina attacked again?"

"Yes," said Maxie, "and we have reason to believe that we are all still in danger. My orders are for no one to leave the base. I have given the same orders to the secondary base. We are unable to retrieve you, given your location, and it may not be safe for you to return on your own. If you are somewhere safe, my orders are to stay there, and stay in contact."

"I – I understand, sir."

She was taking the news remarkably well, from what Maxie knew of her. He didn't know much – there were too many members for him to remember all of them, even after the Groudon incident – but he recalled Tabitha having to console a sobbing sixteen-year-old girl after her friends had ended up in jail for a few days. Rebecca was one of the younger members, wasn't she?

There was movement on Rebecca's end of the line. Maxie could hear Rebecca's voice and a deeper, unfamiliar one, but he couldn't make out what they were saying. He frowned. "Rebecca, what are you doing?"

"Sorry, sir, I was just – just asking where I could stay. There's a Pokémon Center nearby, but – I can't make calls to Hoenn from there."

"Is there any possible way you can stay where you are now?"

Rebecca didn't answer right away. "Yes, sir," she said after a long moment, "but only for a few days."

Maxie rubbed his eyes. It was getting very late. God, he was exhausted. "That will have to do for now. Look into other options in the meantime. Stay safe. You are dismissed."

"O – okay, sir."

Rebecca ended the call. Maxie said his goodnights to the stationed grunt and left the communications room. First, he would check to see if Azelf was done with Rachel, and then he would go to sleep. It had been a long, horrible day, and somehow, he didn't think tomorrow would be any better.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – conversation

Tabitha was asleep by the time Maxie was able to see him. Asleep or unconscious, Maxie didn't know. Either way, Maxie took his position on a chair next to the bed, and readied himself to stay by Tabitha's side for the rest of the night.

He wasn't the only one there; one of Team Magma's quasi-doctors was there, too, to keep an eye on Tabitha in case any complications arose during the night. Lottie was her name – Maxie had confirmed it, just to be sure he was remembering correctly – and they spoke in quiet voices while the clock ticked away the hours.

"Tabitha will be fine," Lottie said. "He did lose a significant amount of blood, but we were able to perform a blood transfusion, and he should recover just fine."

"That's good to know." Maxie sighed and his gaze drifted to the sleeping figure on the bed. "I was worried we wouldn't have adequate resources."

"We've dealt with... well, no, I won't say we've dealt with worse. But we've dealt with pretty bad."

Lottie was on her feet, bending over to use her computer at her desk and walking back and forth to Tabitha's IV drip. Making sure everything was running properly, Maxie presumed. He was very, very tired. Eventually, she sat down in a chair across from him.

"Do you know what happened there?" Lottie asked.

"Somewhat." Maxie remembered vividly what Morgan, Leo and Derek had told him. He could picture it vividly, too. Morgan looked like she was going to throw up when she told him what Giratina had done to Tabitha, describing in perhaps more detail than was necessary the way Giratina had grabbed hold of his arm and pulled it off like a toy. It didn't look real, Morgan had said. Like it was just a bad dream.

At least Rebecca was safe. Unharmed, even. He had managed to tell Morgan and the other grunts that before they went to bed and he went to stay with Tabitha.

But if Rebecca was safe, then had Azelf really meant to take the others to rescue her?

The more the situation progressed, the less Maxie trusted Azelf.

Lottie was still looking at him, presumably waiting for him to elaborate. Maxie shook his head to clear his mind. "I'm sorry," he said. "Do you not know what happened?"

"You haven't told the team much. All we know that a so-called 'god of death' kidnapped Rebecca, and then attacked Tabitha and the others when they went out to try and find her." She paused. "Also, there must have been teleportation involved, since they somehow appeared in your office after leaving the base."

Maxie rubbed his eyes. Well, there was no sense in hiding things. "That's more or less correct," he said. "You're also correct in that I haven't said much. I was planning to do a role-call tomorrow morning and inform everyone of the situation then, but there's no harm in speaking about it now. There is another legendary pokémon involved – are you familiar with the legendary pokémon Azelf?"

Lottie nodded. "Yes, I've heard of faer."

That was surprising, both that Lottie knew of Azelf and that she knew faer pronouns. "Have you met faer before?"

"No, I read about faer and faer siblings in the news. Something happened with them in Sinnoh a few months back, someone else trying to harness the power of legendary pokémon." She smiled grimly for a moment. "The article was good, though. Used their pronouns correctly. Seems it was the first recorded time in hundreds of years that the three of them had appeared to humans."

"The three of them?"

"Yes, Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit. Azelf is the being of willpower, Uxie the being of knowledge, and Mesprit the being of emotions. Together, they embody the human spirit." Lottie shrugged. "At least, that's what the myths say."

"You know more about them than I do."

"My family lives in Sinnoh. I try to keep up with what goes on there." She crossed her legs and leaned forward. "So you met Azelf. What did fae do?"

Maxie sighed. "Nothing good," he said bluntly. "Fae took Tabitha and the others straight into Giratina's lair, claiming that they passed a test by going to look for Rebecca, and that fae was going to take them to rescue her. Azelf then disappeared, leaving them defenseless when Giratina attacked. Fae reappeared just in time for faer to teleport them into my office, and as far as I know, is still there."

"Why? What is fae doing there?"

That was right, he hadn't told anyone what had happened to Rachel. "Rachel was badly injured. Azelf said fae would heal her."

Lottie frowned. "And fae's taken this long? That doesn't make sense."


"Well, I mean..." She leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling. "Azelf... well, fae's a legendary pokémon. Fae has far more power than a ordinary pokémon. But even an ordinary pokémon..." She hesitated. "Well, I don't know anything about the situation. I don't know how Rachel was injured. But an ordinary pokémon with the power to heal... when trained properly, they can heal even the worst injuries in less than an hour."

"That's..." Maxie searched for the right word. "...worrisome. Thank you, though. For telling me."

On the bed, Tabitha stirred.

Lottie got to her feet immediately, crossing the width of the room in a few large steps to be at his side. "Looks like he's waking up," she said, and raised her voice to a regular volume. "Tabitha, can you hear me? How are you feeling?"

Tabitha didn't respond at first, keeping his eyes shut. His face contorted in a grimace, and he reached for his bandaged stump with his one remaining arm. Lottie gently took his hand and moved it away. "How are you feeling?" she repeated.

Tabitha opened his eyes and blinked, slowly. "Bad," he said weakly. "What... happened?"

Lottie looked at Maxie, and he realized he was supposed to answer. "Giratina attacked you," he said. "Azelf teleported you back to the base. You're in the medical facilities now."


"Yes, Tabitha?"

Tabitha turned his head until he was looking at Maxie. "I..." He closed his eyes. "...can't remember."

"That's fine," Maxie said, unsure if it was the right thing to say. "It's fine, Tabitha. Just..."

He trailed off. Tabitha didn't respond.

"We should let him rest," Lottie said. "He'll be fine, don't worry."

Maxie didn't say anything, just kept staring at Tabitha. After some time, he realized that Tabitha had lapsed back into unconsciousness. He sighed. "Is it alright if I stay here?" he asked, turning to Lottie.

"It's fine with me, but shouldn't you be getting some sleep?"

"I'll be fine." Maxie turned back to Tabitha. He and Lottie didn't exchange any more words for the rest of the night.

Maxie woke up to the sound of voices. He opened his eyes and shifted his position on the chair; his back was aching from the way he had slept, and he was annoyed with himself for having fallen asleep in the first place.

The room was empty apart from him and Tabitha, who was still asleep. The voices he had heard were coming from just outside the door.

"He's doing alright, then?" said Lottie's voice.

"As far as I can tell." Maxie couldn't place a name to that voice, but it must have been one of the other doctor-like members of Team Magma. "He came in here looking like a corpse, but... well, there's not much we can do but treat what we can. I don't know how to help him."

They definitely weren't talking about Tabitha; they must have been talking about the strange man they had brought in, the one who called himself Zero. Maxie had forgotten about him, what with everything that had happened.

"What are we going to do with him?"

"I don't know. That's for Maxie to decide. Hopefully he'll have somewhere to go that's not here."

Maxie looked at Tabitha, his eyes drifting to the bandages covering the upper half of his left side. The horror of the situation was finally starting to sink in. God, Tabitha had lost an arm. Both he and Rachel had been nearly killed. What was Maxie supposed to do? Just continue playing along with Azelf until something worse happened?

Not that he could do anything else. If Giratina was attacking everyone who left the base, then there was nothing they could do without Azelf assisting them.


What was most certainly a bad idea took root in Maxie's mind, and with one final glance at Tabitha, he stood up and left the room.

After assuring Lottie that he was only going to bed, Maxie went straight to the base's exit. There was no one standing guard at the door; Maxie made a mental note to reprimand whoever was supposed to be on guard duty, and then pressed the button to let himself out.

He climbed up the mountain without letting his pokémon out to help him up some of the more steeper parts, even though there were places where he stumbled. For some reason, he felt as if he had to make this journey alone. The night was dark, but there were signs of morning light on the horizon, from what he could see through the trees.

Finally, he made it to the peak.

Mount Chimney was quiet today. There was only the faintest hot glow emanating from the crater. Maxie walked as close as he dared and looked down, but he was still too far away to see the lava inside.

There was a noise behind him. Maxie turned around.

Giratina was there, perched on a boulder and staring at him.

Maxie had looked up pictures of Giratina, back when Rebecca had first gone missing. They didn't compare to the real thing. An enormous basilisk with a grey body and six legs, black-and-red stripes going down its chest and underbelly, huge dark wings with red claws on their tips, glowing red eyes behind a golden beak and crest. Maxie was frozen in fear.

Giratina was not. It spread its wings and lifted off the boulder, flying in a curve towards him. Maxie forced himself not to back away, conscious of how close he was to the edge of the crater. Giratina landed in front of him, towering above him, and craned its neck down until it was looking him in the eye.

Instinctively, Maxie raised his hands between them. Giratina did nothing. Maxie gritted his teeth.

"Well?" he said, his voice shaking. "What do you want with us? What do you want with Team Magma?"

Giratina answered by headbutting him hard, sending him stumbling backwards, over the edge of the crater.

Maxie fell on his back on a slope and slid a few feet before coming to a stop. His first thought was, God, it's hot down here. His second thought was, I'm not dead. He lifted his head up slightly, just as Giratina crashed down on the slope in front of him and its beak clamped around his neck.

When he came to, he was standing in a pure white, featureless void. Maxie swallowed hard and looked around, but it truly was featureless. He couldn't even tell where the sky ended and the ground began. Was there a ground? He was standing on something solid, so there must have been.

He was dead, he realized. He had gone out to confront Giratina and now he was dead. What the hell had he been thinking? That he could somehow convince Giratina not to kill Team Magma's members? That he could defeat Giratina in a pokémon battle? He was dead. He was fucking dead. That was the only explanation for what he was experiencing.

Maxie took a step forward. Giratina appeared, circling around from behind him.

Something in Maxie's head failed to process this. He knew he was dead, he could see Giratina there, but he couldn't make a connection between those two things. Fear overwhelmed him, and he took a step back before turning to run.

Giratina slammed into him from behind and knocked him to the ground.


Giratina had spoken to him, Maxie thought. This was beyond understanding. He closed his eyes and waited to wake up.

Their weight pressing into him, Giratina growled softly. "Listen," they said. "Do as I say, and I will put you back as I found you. Refuse, and you will remain here forever. Do not ask questions."

They lifted off him. Maxie lay there for a moment longer before shakily getting to his feet. Giratina slowly circled around him in their new, serpentine form.

The first word out of his mouth was, "Why –"

Giratina reared back and roared: "DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS."

Maxie shut up.

Giratina coiled up and glared at him. "You want to know why?" they said. "Because Azelf and faer siblings are using you. They are manipulating you. It is because of their choices that I was forced to take action against you. Their true business is with me."

They fell silent, staring at him. Maxie had to think carefully before speaking again. "I don't want to be involved," he said, his voice shaking. "I will do what I have to to ensure that those I'm responsible for stay safe."

"Then you will do as I say," Giratina said, "and everyone under your command will live to see the end of this."

Maxie closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. It suddenly occurred to him that he didn't know if he had been breathing before now.

"I will do as you say," he said.


Giratina uncoiled and began their slow, curving flight in a circle around him.

"First, you will not speak of this to anyone," they said. "You will not speak of it to yourself, even. The moment you speak aloud, you will be heard. Do not speak of this."

Maxie nodded. Giratina continued.

"Next, you will return what you have taken from me."

"Wh –" Maxie remembered he wasn't supposed to ask questions and stopped himself.

They growled. "You know who I speak of."

"You mean – the man we found –"

"For now, keep him with you," they said, cutting him off. "Treat him as you will, but do not let him leave. I will tell you when it is time to return him."

This wouldn't be the last time they talked, then. Maxie nodded again, unable to do anything else lest he lose control of his fear. It was remarkable he was even able to stand.

Team Magma, all the members he was still responsible for – he had to keep them safe. He would not let any more incidents happen under his lead. That was the most important thing. He had to stay in control and prevent himself from breaking down under the stress and fear.

"Lastly," Giratina said, "Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit will make demands of you. Obey them. If they suspect something, they will change their tactics and make it more difficult for me to stop them. They know we have spoken. Convince them that you are still on their side. You must see their plan through to the near end before you betray them."

Giratina ceased circling and reared themself up before him, glaring at him with narrow red eyes.

"Do not fail."

Maxie woke up in a cold sweat.


Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – The Case of Rachel Yancy

Rachel woke up with the memory of pain. Upon regaining consciousness, she blinked her eyes open, squinting in the light, and slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position. She was in Maxie's office, she realized. Shouldn't she be back in the cave?

The recollection of what had happened struck her like a bolt of lightning. There was a strange person in the cave. Giratina attacked her and Tabitha. Tabitha lost an arm. And she –

Rachel ran a hand over her body. Her clothes were ripped and crusted with blood, but her skin was smooth. She didn't hurt anywhere. Not even her shoulder hurt.

Oh good, you're awake.

Her head snapped up at Azelf's voice, and she found faer hovering above her, looking down with an unreadable expression. Of course, fae said, it was never an issue whether you'd wake up or not. I have the utmost confidence in my abilities.

Azelf wasn't there when they needed faer, but Rachel was beyond anger. "You left us there," she said.

No, said Azelf, annoyed, I got lost, and it took me a long time to find you. There are many distortions in Giratina's domain. It's a wonder you humans were able to stay together.

Rachel looked down at herself again, bloody clothes, undamaged skin.

Also, I healed you. You're welcome.

"Is Rebecca dead?" It was all she could think about. In the end, they hadn't found her, and Giratina had tried to kill them. If they hadn't had another legendary pokémon on their side, they would all be dead, most like.

Then again, if they hadn't had another legendary pokémon on their side, they would never have been there in the first place.

No. I doubt Giratina has any intention of harming her.

"Then what is Giratina going to do to her?"

Azelf frowned. I cannot say. There are some things even we do not know. Be aware that my siblings are also searching for her.

"Why her?"

You ask too many questions.

Rachel fell silent. Azelf turned away from her, faer tails slowly curving back and forth.

No, fae said after a long moment, I will answer your question. We had business with her. Giratina became aware of this, and interfered. That is not the full answer. The rest will come later. Do not ask any more questions.

Rachel had a thousand more questions, but all she said was, "Okay."

Good, good, Azelf said, and with a sudden flash of light, fae was gone.

For a long while, Rachel sat there on the floor, listening to the clock tick on and on. Eventually, she checked the time, and found that it was past midnight. Standing up gave her a head rush that made her vision blur, and it took her a moment before it passed and she was able to leave.

The lights were all off in the hallway. Rachel kept one hand on the wall as she made her way to the girl's bunks. She saw the light spilling out from under the door before she could make out the sign, and hesitated, not wanting to announce herself to the rest of the team just yet. But there was no other option – she needed a change of clothes at the very least, and all her things were at her bed.

So she walked up to the door, hearing quiet chatter from inside, and knocked.

The chatter stopped. One loud voice spoke up. "Deena, if that's your fucking boyfriend again –"

"It can't be, it's like, one in the morning and he said he was going to bed –"

"Well, I'm not answering it!"

"Fine, I'll answer it, just please –"

Deena opened the door, looking back at someone behind her, and her eyes widened when she turned and saw who was standing there. "Oh my God, Rachel!"

"Hey," said Rachel.

Suddenly all her emotions overwhelmed her at once and she felt tears welling up in her eyes, even as the other girls began to crowd around the door, and without even stepping inside, she covered her face and began to sob.

The room the team had gathered in for role call was buzzing with quiet voices.

"Did you see how awful Maxie looked this morning?"

"I don't blame him, did you hear what happened to Tabitha?"

"I heard there were two legendaries involved."

"At least that other girl's okay."

Eventually, Maxie stepped into the front of the room. The team hushed, waiting for him to tell them what was going on. Instead, he cleared his throat, shuffled the papers he was holding, and began role call. "Gil Abbott?"

It took a moment of surprise before the grunt in question said, "Here."

Role call went as it usually did as Maxie worked his way through the roughly seventy members at the base, until he called out, "Tabitha Harlan?"

There was only silence before Maxie realized his mistake. "I mean –" He swore softly and continued. "Ken Himura?"

They were almost at the end when he slipped up again. "Rachel Yancy? Oh, goddammit –"

A voice spoke quietly. "Here."

Maxie looked up sharply towards the source of the voice. Rachel hunched over and looked at the floor. Maxie stared at her for a moment longer before looking back down at his papers. "Alright," he said. "Deena York?"

Deena gently patted Rachel on the back before responding. Rachel barely felt it. She felt emotionally numb, out of sync with the rest of the world and the events happening around her.

When role call was over, Maxie flipped through his papers, then tucked them under his arm. Straightening his back, he looked out at the group, and spoke:

"My order remains," he said. "None of us are to leave the base, except in the case of an emergency. I don't know if our members at Courtney's base are being targeted, but I have given her the same order. I am doubling the amount people on guard duty, to hopefully avoid anyone slacking off like they did last night."

Maxie paused and shifted his feet. "Most of you already know what has happened by word of mouth," he said. "I am going to clarify what we know so far, to avoid the spreading of rumors.

"Yesterday, two of our members were attacked by a legendary pokémon, Giratina, who kidnapped one and injured the other. Later that day, several grunts went out against my orders to attempt to rescue the missing member. Tabitha went to retrieve them, and the group met a second legendary pokémon, Azelf.

"Azelf told Tabitha and the rest that fae would take them to rescue Rebecca, and teleported them to a cave that fae called Turnback Cave. There, they were separated from Azelf and attacked by Giratina." Maxie stopped to take a breath. "Tabitha will recover," he said, "and everyone else is fine now. Azelf reappeared in time to teleport the group out and into my office.

"After this occurred, we received a call from Sinnoh. Rebecca had managed to escape Giratina and contact the base. She is unharmed, and we believe she is safe where she is."

Some of the grunts started to murmur to each other before they were quickly shushed into silence. Rachel didn't react. The other grunts had already told her that Rebecca was fine.

Maxie took another deep breath before continuing.

"Because of this, I do not believe Azelf intended to rescue Rebecca, or at least, that was not the only motive. I believe that Azelf had faer own intentions for putting members of our team into danger, and I do not trust faer.

"However," he continued loudly, cutting through the whispers that were starting to rise up again, "Giratina is by far the greater threat. Azelf may have been the one to put Tabitha and the others into danger, but fae is not attacking or kidnapping everyone that leaves the base. The safest option is to cooperate with faer, and go along with faer plans."

He paused and looked out at the crowd. "There is one other matter before we end," he said, when nobody had any comment. "There was someone else in Turnback Cave that was brought back with the group. We don't know much about him. He was in very bad condition when he was found, and is currently recovering. He's only told us that his name is Zero."

One of the grunts gasped and stuck their hand in the air. Maxie looked at them, then shook his head. "This isn't a schoolroom. Please save any comments you have for later."

"But sir," the grunt squeaked. "This is important! I know who Zero is!"

Maxie frowned. "Fine, then tell us."

Some of the grunts surrounding the one that had raised their hand took a step back, clearing the area around them. The grunt in question – Rachel vaguely remembered them, their name was Joey, wasn't it? – put their hand down and took a deep breath before speaking.

"Zero is a scientist," they said. "He's from Sinnoh. He was the assistant of another scientist, and they were studying Giratina's Reverse World together. They split up, and a few years later, Zero used a machine to take Giratina's powers for himself, killing Giratina in the process. I mean, it was supposed to. Obviously it didn't."

Maxie was silent for a moment. "Thank you," he said. "That's –"

"Wait!" Joey interrupted. "There's more! After that he was in jail for, uh, that, and a few months after that, Giratina attacked the jail and took him into the Reverse World again, and nobody's seen him since. Until, uh, now, I guess. We're talking about the same Zero, right?"

There were a few snickers from the other grunts. Rachel didn't see what was so funny. Maxie closed his eyes for a moment. "Thank you," he said. "I believe we are, in fact, talking about the same person. I may ask questions of you after this is over."

Joey nodded, their face flushed. Maxie turned his gaze back to the general crowd and spoke again.

"Zero will stay here for the time being," he said. "He's in no state to be going anywhere, and even if he were, I would not allow him to leave. If Giratina does have… history with him, leaving the base would only put him in danger."

Maxie took out the papers he had tucked under his arm and looked them over. "That is the situation as it stands," he said. "Nobody is to leave the base. If Azelf appears, you are all to do as fae says. And for the love of God –" He stopped and put a hand to his face. "I'm sorry," he said, taking his hand away. "What I meant to say was please make an effort to learn Azelf's pronouns. I don't know if legendaries have different feelings about pronouns than humans do, but I don't want to risk angering a legendary pokémon because my team won't stop misgendering faer. You are dismissed."

With that, he turned away. It took a few moment for the grunts to begin dispersing, what with the abruptness of Maxie's dismissal. Rachel didn't bother leaving; she was certain that Maxie would want to talk with her, so what was the point in trying to go back to the girl's bunks?

The grunts filed out of the room, leaving Rachel, Morgan, Leo, Derek, and Deena there with Maxie. Even Joey had left, having apparently forgotten that Maxie might have had questions for them. Maxie himself was shuffling his papers, over and over, without any indication that he was reading them. Every so often, he glanced up at the group, then looked back down again. After what must have been several minutes of silence, he sighed and looked up at them.

"Is there something you need?" he asked.

Rachel opened her mouth and found that nothing would come out. The rest of her group shifted uncomfortably and said nothing.

Except Morgan. "What the hell?" she said. "That's all you have to say? What about, 'I'm glad you're okay,' or, 'Thank you for stopping Giratina from taking Tabitha's other arm' – because Giratina was about to do that, and Rachel –"

Rachel found words. "Shut up, Morgan."

Morgan closed her mouth. Her hands were clenched in trembling fists. Rachel looked down at the ground.

"I'm sorry," she heard Maxie say. "We are all under a lot of stress. I am glad to see you well, Rachel. If there's anything I can do for you…"

Rachel shook her head. "Azelf told me something," she said without looking up. "After fae healed me. Fae said that faer siblings were looking for Rebecca, and that they had – had business with her. Fae said that Giratina found out about it, and that's why Giratina kidnapped Rebecca. Azelf called it 'interfering.'"

She couldn't bring herself to look up from the ground. None of her friends were saying anything. Maxie didn't even say anything for a few moments.

"Azelf's siblings," he said. "Those would be Uxie and Mesprit."

"It's just… I don't know."

Rachel trailed off, still looking at the ground. Anything she could say seemed… not enough.

"Rachel," said Maxie. "You were the last person to speak to Azelf. If fae told you anything about what faer purpose was in coming here, anything about when fae would be coming back, anything that could possibly be of importance, then I would like to hear it."

You ask far too many questions for your own good.

Maxie, Rachel, and the rest of them jerked their heads around to the source of the voice. Azelf hovered in the meeting room, glaring at the group. Deena squeaked in fear and took a step back.

"You've got a lot of fucking nerve –" Morgan started, but Derek quickly shushed her and gestured to Maxie, who was standing up straight with his hands behind his back.

"Azelf," he said. "Thank you for saving Rachel's life, and the lives of the other members you brought to Giratina's cave."

Save it, said Azelf. We have other matters to discuss.

"If you are talking about the speech I just gave," Maxie said, his voice steady and collected, "then I need you to know that even though we cannot trust you completely, we –"

Oh, yes, Azelf interrupted. Your speech. You say you'll cooperate with us, and yet you met with Giratina hardly six hours ago.

"Yeah, right," Morgan said – but Rachel was looking at Maxie, who had gone paler than he already was. Deena, Leo, and Derek were looking at him in disbelief.

Yes, correct, Azelf said. Your leader went out in the early hours of morning to the peak of Mount Chimney, where Giratina tore his throat out, and now he's here as if he can pretend that nothing has happened. But something did happen, didn't it?

Maxie's expression shifted slightly, and he put a hand to his brow momentarily. "I encountered Giratina, yes," he said, each word spoken like it had been very carefully calculated.

You encountered Giratina and now you're working for them, Azelf said.

"I am not," Maxie snapped, refuting Rachel's fears before they could become reality. "I may not trust you completely, but I trust Giratina much less. I am responsible for the entirety of Team Magma, and I will not let those I am responsible for fall further into danger."

You are working for Giratina. Do not try to deny it.

"I am not working for Giratina. They attempted to murder two of my team's members. Why would I ever agree to anything that devil says?"

Maxie's voice was low and dangerous. Rachel could sense the emotions brimming beneath the surface, like a volcano about to erupt. He really had been under a lot of stress.

So you admit you spoke to them, Azelf said.

"Yes, Giratina spoke to me."

Azelf thrashed faer tails. If you are to be believed, Giratina tore out your throat, spoke to you while you lay there dead, and then resurrected you to let you come back and give this speech of yours. You can see why this is impossible.

"I am not pretending to know why Giratina didn't leave me to rot," Maxie said. "For all I know, they want to keep me alive to watch as the rest of my team is murdered around me. Do you think they didn't threaten me?"

If they did, why are you not working for them? Aren't you afraid of what they will do to you? What they will do to everyone you're responsible for? Everyone you care about, or used to? Aren't you afraid of what will happen?

"Do you have any idea what Giratina asked of me?" Maxie gritted his teeth. "They told me to give up Rebecca and Zero to them. I will not do that. I don't trust Giratina when they say they won't harm Rebecca, and they made no such promises with Zero.

You don't even know Zero.

"He was scarred, starved, and filthy when he was retrieved from Giratina's cave. He hasn't been responsive since then. I won't send him back there.

Two people, said Azelf. For two people, you would risk the lives of your entire team. This is unlike you.

Maxie raised a hand to his forehead and said nothing for a moment, his mouth pressed in a hard line. "You are leaving me few options," he finally said. "I refused Giratina, and I doubt I would go unpunished if I went back and agreed with them. Yet you are unreceptive to me working with you. What do you want me to do?"

You are insufferable, Azelf said. Fine. I will choose to believe you for now. Do not meet with Giratina again.

"I have no plans to."

Good, said Azelf, and fae vanished.

Maxie's tense posture did not relax. After a few moments with the grunts standing there in shocked silence, he said, "I'm sorry you had to be here for that."

"You met with Giratina?" Morgan said in horror. "Why?"

"It was… a lapse in judgement. I wasn't sure if I would even encounter Giratina when I left. When I did, they spoke to me. I refused their offer, and…" Maxie took a deep breath. "Despite faer hostility, I believe that working with Azelf and faer siblings is the best option."

"Were you ever planning on telling us?"

"To be frank? No. This wasn't something you had to know. This isn't something the other members have to know, either. Do not tell anyone else."

"But –"

"I understand," Rachel said. "We won't tell anyone else."

She turned and left without waiting for the others. She heard Deena call out to her, heard Maxie saying something she couldn't make out, and then she had left the room and blocked out all sound.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 – limitation

Something was different.

He didn't feel the hard rock of the cave floor. He didn't feel the chill in the air. He didn't smell blood and stone and shit. Instead, he felt – warm, he was laying on something soft. He could hear distant sounds, voices, footsteps. He hurt, but the pain was less, as if his wounds had been allowed to heal.

He remembered – someone had been there, there had been others –

An impossible thought entered his mind: had he been rescued?

Zero opened his eyes.

The walls were stone, but they weren't the stone of the cave. There was a soft light in the room, illuminating the surroundings. Zero lifted his head up to see. He was in a bed, with an IV in his arm, and a tall machine he recognized as something medical next to him. Was he in a hospital? What hospital was in a cave? The room was almost empty, and there was a file cabinet in the corner that only served to confuse him further.

It was impossible. No one would have looked for him. No one would have found him. No one would have been able to get him out.

It couldn't be real.

There were footsteps coming closer. Zero turned his head towards the door. An unfamiliar person in a white lab coat stepped in, looking back behind them and talking to someone. "He's been unresponsive since he was brought here," they said. "I can tell you what I know, but I don't think you're going to be able to talk to him anytime soon."

"That's fine, Lottie," said a voice from behind them. "I just wanted to see him."

"Alright, I –"

Lottie finally saw Zero looking at her and cut herself off with a small gasp. "You're awake!" she said, and crossed the room swiftly until she was next to him. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

Zero blinked. Whoever Lottie had been talking to outside the room didn't come in.


He didn't know what to say. When he failed to continue, Lottie spoke again.

"Our…" She glanced at the doorway. "…leader would like to speak with you. If you're unable to, that's fine. Do you need anything?"

"Your… leader." Zero barely comprehended what was being said to him. He heard a quiet movement behind the doorway, but he couldn't see who was there.

"Yes. He wants to ask you some questions. Is that alright with you?"

Zero couldn't answer.

"Don't worry. You don't have to." Lottie straightened up and began to move away. "I'm going to –"


Attempting to speak forcefully took a great deal of effort, but it still came out pathetic. It got Lottie's attention, at least, and she went back to him.

"I'll…" He swallowed. "I'll talk to him. Your leader."

A man stepped through the doorway, with red hair, pale skin, and a stern expression behind a pair of glasses. He wore a long red-and-black coat and a darker red turtleneck underneath, which Zero found odd, considering how warm it was. He himself was only covered by a thin sheet.

The man sat down in the chair next to him. "Hello," he said. "I am Maxie. My…" His mouth twitched. "My team found you while we were looking for one of our members. You're in our base now."

"Your team." The only teams Zero knew of were Rocket and Galactic, but Galactic had fallen apart some months ago, and this man didn't look like a Rocket leader.

"Yes. Team Magma." Maxie put a hand to his forehead momentarily. "I will be honest with you, we are what most would consider a criminal team. We – I sought to gain the power of a legendary pokémon, and nearly caused a calamity."

Zero nodded, unsure of how to react.

"By my understanding, we are similar in that regard."

A shudder ran through him, and Zero squeezed his eyes shut.

Maxie continued talking, but the only word Zero heard was "Giratina" before he was back there, with Giratina's clawed wings carving into his flesh, being torn apart and put back together only to be torn apart again – sometimes he screamed, sometimes he sobbed, sometimes he didn't have the strength to do anything but wait in agony for it to be over.


But it would never be over, Giratina would always come back, torturing him endlessly, and there was no one left alive who would even try to save him –


There were hands on his face, uncut nails digging into his forehead. It wasn't until someone gently pulled them away that he realized they were his own. Lottie was pressing her fingers into his wrist, and he could feel his pulse throbbing.

"You're going to be fine," she said. "You're going to be fine."

"I'm sorry," Maxie said. "I didn't mean… I'll leave you alone."

"No," Zero choked out. "I…"

He opened his eyes. Maxie had paused, just beginning the motions of standing up. Zero pulled his hands out of Lottie's grasp and let them fall back on the bed. He opened his mouth, tried to say – something, God, he didn't know what, but all that came out was, "You sound like him."

"I sound like…" Maxie looked confused. "…who?"

The only person I ever gave a damn about. The only person who ever gave a damn about me. The only beautiful person in this filthy world. The only person Giratina knew to take away from me –

"My friend," Zero said, such a pathetic summation of their relationship that he wished he had never spoken at all.

"Ah," says Maxie, as if he could have possibly understood. "Regardless, if you are unable to answer my questions, that's fine. Your recovery comes first. But I can't stay – I am responsible for the entire team. I can't…"

He stopped himself. "Zero," he said, and it was something about how he said it that sounded like him. "I want to help you. Giratina has been targeting the members of my team for reasons I don't understand. I need to keep them safe. If you have any information that can help us… please, I need to know. In return, I will do everything in my power to keep you away from them."

Zero nodded, slowly. He didn't have words.

Maxie took a deep breath. "I suppose it's only fair to tell you the situation first," he said.

Zero listened as Maxie explained his team's encounters with Giratina. They were… unusual. Giratina had appeared randomly to kidnap one member and injure another, half a year after the team had interactions with any other legendaries. Another legendary had appeared the same day, Azelf, who had taken a group to a place called Turnback Cave, claiming that fae would help them rescue their missing member. There, Azelf had vanished, they had found Zero, Giratina had attacked, and Azelf reappeared just in time to teleport them all back to the base – including Zero.

Maxie stopped talking abruptly, pausing for a moment with his mouth open. He closed it and shook his head before continuing. "Rebecca – the girl who had been kidnapped – she had already managed to escape Giratina and was safe at the time Azelf brought the others to Turnback Cave. I knew that Azelf had faer own motives for putting my team in danger, but I didn't know what. Now I believe I know, at least partially."

Zero realized what he was talking about. "Azelf wanted me."

"Well, fae certainly wanted to retrieve you, otherwise fae would have left you there. I don't know what fae wants with you specifically." Maxie leaned back in his chair. "That's all I know of the situation thus far. Now it's your turn."

"My turn?"

"I want to know everything about your situation. I know very little about you, other than you were a scientist who studied Giratina and the Reverse World before trying to take their power for yourself. I need to know anything that could possibly help us."

He fell silent. Zero looked at his hands.

"I…"  he began. "…I studied Giratina and the Reverse World for… several years. My professor –" Just saying his title felt like a knife through his heart. "– we worked together to try and understand it. We were going to build a machine to duplicate Giratina's powers, so we could enter and leave the Reverse World at will, instead of waiting for the portals that appeared on their own, or the ones that Giratina left behind."

He spoke slowly, his voice weak. "The project was cancelled when Newton – when he realized that the machine would drain all life from Giratina during the scan." Maxie made a soft "huh!" noise when he said Newton's name. Zero ignored him. "I… I couldn't accept that. We…" Even after all this time – it would be approaching six years now, wouldn't it? – he still vividly remembered their screaming fight. "We separated. I built the machine on my own, over the course of five years. I wanted… to take the Reverse World for my own.

"It didn't work, of course." He laughed bitterly. "I'm not sure if it ever would have worked. Giratina lived through the scan, and I was stopped by Newton and a group of kids. Giratina left. I was taken to jail. A few months after that –" His voice shook. "– Giratina came back. They destroyed the prison looking for me. They –" His hands were shaking too, and the memories of being in that cave were threatening to overwhelm him. "They –"

"You don't have to tell me…" Maxie hesitated. "What you went through. Not if you're… not ready."

Zero took a deep breath to try and calm himself. "Then that's all I have for you," he said.

Maxie leaned back in his seat, frowning. "Your professor's name is Newton?" he said. "That's the name of the man Rebecca's staying with."

He said it so casually, as if unaware of the sheer impossibility of his statement. Zero couldn't speak for a moment. "That's impossible," he finally said, his voice shaking.


"Newton is…" Giratina had slammed their tail down on them over and over. "He's…" Newton hadn't been moving when they were done. Zero had refused to accept it, had clung to his body as Giratina tried to separate them. "Giratina…" His eyes had still been open, unblinking, as Zero twisted in Giratina's grasp to catch one last glimpse of him, reaching out to him, screaming his name. "He's dead."

Maxie was silent for a moment. Then he turned in his seat and looked at Lottie. "What I am about to say does not leave this room," he said.

"Understood, sir."

Maxie nodded and turned back to Zero. "Last night – this morning, rather – I left the base and encountered Giratina."

Zero looked away from him.

"They…" Zero heard him swallow. "They killed me. Tore my throat out. While I was dead, they spoke to me – and I woke up without a mark on my body."

It was impossible. This man, Maxie – he didn't know what he was saying. Newton couldn't possibly be alive, not when Giratina wanted to take everything from him –

"I don't know what you saw, or what you went through. But someone named Newton was in the Reverse World, and he brought Rebecca out of there. And Giratina has the power to bring those they've killed back to life."

Maxie took a deep breath. "Rebecca is still staying with him," he said. "I gave her orders to stay in contact. Next time she calls, I will ask to speak to Newton. Should I tell him you're here?"

None of this could be real.

Newton had attempted to make pancakes, judging by the burnt smell that woke Rebecca up. After changing from the pajamas he had loaned her to yesterday's freshly-washed clothes, she came out of the guest room to find Newton eating dry cereal.

"Good morning!" he said brightly. "I'm afraid I don't have any milk. It, uh, doesn't keep for that long. The cereal should be fine, probably. Did you sleep well?"

Rebecca's eyes fell on the dirty pans in the sink, but she decided not to call attention to them and just nodded.

"That's good!" Newton smiled at her, but his smile seemed strained, somehow. Rebecca herself couldn't bring herself to be cheerful. She sat down at the table and silently took the bowl and cereal box that was offered to her.

"We need to get your skarmory to the pokémon center," Newton said before she had started eating. "That could be a problem."

"A problem? How?"

"Well, if Giratina is after your team – and that certainly appears to be the case – then it might not be safe for you to leave the house." Newton frowned, tapping his spoon on the table. "Come to think of it, it might not be safe here. Giratina knows I've been in the Reverse World lately, and if they notice that both of us are gone, they might put two and two together and come here."

"Giratina knows where you live?" The thought gripped Rebecca with horror.

"Maybe? I'm not sure, actually. If they do, they're not interested in me enough to try to –" Newton cut himself off with a cough. "Anyway," he said, "I don't think there's a guaranteed way to ensure your safety, but if I come with you, I should be able to do something if Giratina appears."

Rebecca wasn't convinced, but what else could she do? She couldn't leave Skarmory with a broken foot. "Okay," she said. "We should go soon."

"Right," said Newton. "Let's leave once we've finished eating."

Rebecca nodded and halfheartedly put a spoonful of cereal in her mouth. It was stale.

Midway through eating, there was a muffled pokémon cry from outside. "Zone! Magnezone!"

Rebecca started. Newton stood up. "Sorry, that's… my friend's pokémon. I haven't got them updated on what's going on. Just give me a few minutes."

He quickly left the room, and Rebecca heard a door open and close shortly after. She couldn't make out what Newton was saying, as muffled as his voice was through the walls, but judging by the loud cries of the magnezone, the pokémon didn't like it.

She had finished her cereal by the time Newton reentered the room. "Sorry about that," he said. "They're a little upset." He paused. "Or… he's a little upset? I know magnezone are genderless, but Zero always used 'he…'"

"Zero?" The name was familiar, but Rebecca couldn't place a face to it. "Is that your friend?" The one you told me was taken by Giratina, she thought, but didn't say.

Newton seemed to hesitate, averting his gaze. "Yeah," he said. "He…"

There was a long moment of silence while Rebecca waited for him to continue. Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke. "I'll find him," he said. "We need to get to the pokémon center."

Rebecca nodded, feeling dread inside. "Yeah."

The instant she stepped outside, Rebecca was mobbed by magnemite. She yelped in surprise as they darted down towards her, raising her arms up to protect her head.

Newton quickly intervened. "Hey!" he said sharply, stepping into the magnemite's way. "What are you doing? Don't attack her!"

The air was filled with the magnemites' tinny little voices – "Magne! Magnemite!" – and they darted around in the air like a cloud of flies, with the magnezone hovering right in front of Newton. Rebecca's heart was pounding, and she kept her arms covering her head.

"Settle down!" Newton shouted. "Magnezone, what did you tell them? We'll continue searching soon enough, you know that!"

"Zone!" the magnezone cried.

"I promise, this will only be for a few days, and then we'll go back."


"I don't like this either, but I can't just –" Newton looked back at Rebecca. "Sorry about this," he said. "It's not your fault, really. "

Magnezone began sparking with electricity. "Magnezone!"

"Stop it!" Newton snapped, turning back to them. "I'm not going to let Giratina take someone else away to do God-knows-what with! I'll do what I can to get her back home, and then we're going to go back and get Zero home, too! Now get out of the way!"

For a moment, the human and pokémon stared at each other, neither one moving, save Magnezone's slow hovering up and down. Finally, Magnezone turned and slowly rose off into the sky. "Magne."

Newton let out a sigh of relief as the remaining magnemite and magneton followed behind. "Sorry," he said again. "Let's head to the pokémon center."

Rebecca lowered her arms and straightened up. "Okay," she said. Her voice shook, and to her dismay, Newton noticed.

"I mean it, this isn't your fault. I may not know why Giratina's targeting your team, but…" He took a deep breath. "You don't deserve it," he said. "None of you."

Rebecca looked away.

Newton wasn't talking to her, was he?

They made it to the pokémon center without incident. Newton didn't go inside, saying something about "not attracting attention," so Rebecca went in on her own.

Whatever she had feared – that she would be recognized as a Magma grunt, that her dad would be there somehow – it didn't come to pass. She told the nurse that her skarmory had broken his foot, handed over the pokéball, and sat in the waiting room.

She hadn't been here in over three years.

Rebecca looked around. The waiting room hadn't changed much, but it was hard to remember what it looked like before – before she left for Hoenn. Were the framed pictures on the walls new? The carpet was the same, probably. Dread still weighed on her like a heavy sheet. She didn't want to be here. Rebecca wanted to be – she gripped the fabric of her jeans, thinking of the stone walls of the base, the room she shared with a dozen other girls – home.

She couldn't stay with Newton very long, anyway. The scene with the magnemite made that clear.

Eventually, she heard her name called, and she went to retrieve Skarmory from the nurse. "He's all good now," the nurse said, smiling at her. "Be safe out there!"

Once she was back outside, she didn't see Newton right away until he waved at her, standing a little ways off the road. "All set?" he asked as she approached him. "When we get back, do you want to call your –"

"Don't," Rebecca said, glancing around for anyone who might be eavesdropping. None of the passersby paid them any mind.

"– your friends, sorry." Newton rubbed the back of his head. "Anyhow… they said to keep in touch, right? So if you think you should…"

"Yeah," Rebecca said. "Yeah. I'll call them."

Newton grinned. "Alright! Let's head back, then."

On the walk back to Newton's house, he struck up conversation. "So… what's it like?"


"Your…" Newton waved his hand in the air. "You know. Your, uh, friend group."

Rebecca looked around, but this far from the center of town, there was no one to eavesdrop on them. "You mean my team," she said.

"Yeah, that. You don't have to tell me, I'm just curious. It doesn't seem nearly as bad as those Galactic folks."

"God, no." Rebecca shuddered. "They were bad. No, Team Magma is like…"

She hesitated. "Well, we did some bad stuff," she said. "Some stealing. Sometimes we stole pokémon, even. I never got sent out on those missions, though. I was pretty young when I joined, and I wasn't very good at stealth or anything. They had me help out the scientists a lot."

"You have scientists?" Newton seemed genuinely interested.

"Yeah. Well, we did. A lot of the first members were scientists, I don't know why. I helped them with getting stuff for their research, doing some field experiments… it was nice. But a lot of them left after…" She cleared her throat. "The thing."

She was not ignorant of how Team Magma – along with Team Aqua – had almost ended the world. Everyone could have died because of their actions. She supposed she didn't fully grasp the reality of it, otherwise she would have left.

Newton nodded, as if he understood. "Right. But you stayed?"

"Yeah. I mean, my friends stayed. Most of them, anyway. I didn't really have anywhere else to go."

He gave her an odd look, almost pitying, and Rebecca realized she had spoken too much. "I mean, I, uh…" She took a deep breath. "I had my reasons."

"Right," said Newton. "What do you do now, though? If you're not going after legendary pokémon anymore."

"Not much, honestly," Rebecca said. "Originally we were going to disband. We only stayed together because we heard Team Aqua was still active and still going after Kyogre, but we haven't heard anything from them in months."

"Huh," Newton said. "That's strange. That they'd still be doing that, I mean. You would think after seeing the damage they could cause…"

"Yeah, I know!" Rebecca said. "I mean, Team Aqua's leader got, like, possessed by the blue orb somehow, maybe that messed with his head. He seemed okay afterwards – at least, that's what I heard – but I guess you never know."

Newton made an odd expression and looked away. "I guess so," he said. "But… I don't know, it's not…"

He trailed off. Rebecca frowned.

The gears in her head were slowly starting to turn: Newton had found it odd that Giratina had gone after Rebecca when she, personally, had very little to do with what Team Magma did. She could deduce from that that Giratina had gone after people who did do something to… "upset the balance of things," as Newton had put it. And Newton had a friend, Zero, who was taken by Giratina.

"Newton, why…" She hesitated. "Why did Giratina take your friend?"

Newton looked down at the ground and didn't answer. They walked in silence until Newton's house appeared in sight, and Rebecca tried to ask again. "Newton –"

"I'd really rather not talk about it," Newton said.

A magnemite darted above them, and Rebecca decided to drop the topic.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: affirmation

Rebecca called that very afternoon. Maxie gave quick orders to have her wait until he was able to talk to her, then went back down to the medical facilities to fetch Zero.

Zero was lying in the bed and staring at the wall. Lottie was still there with him – did that woman ever sleep? Maxie cleared his throat and they both turned to him.

"Zero," Maxie said. "Rebecca has called. Do you want to talk to Newton?"

Zero looked back at the wall. "It's not really him," he said in a trembling voice. "It can't be. I was there. I…"

He trailed off. Maxie waited for him to continue, and spoke only after a long moment of silence. "We could ask him if he is the Newton you know, to make certain this isn't a coincidence."

"…damn you."


Zero turned towards him again. "Damn you," he repeated, though there was no malice in his tone – only sadness. "I was there when he died. I know he's gone. And now –" His voice hitched. "– now I want nothing more than to be wrong. Damn you for giving me hope."

Maxie didn't know what to say to that.

Maxie returned to the communications room while Lottie prepared Zero to move; the man was so weak he could barely sit up, much less walk. Maxie waited as the stationed grunt informed Rebecca he was there and put her on speakerphone.

"Rebecca," he said before she could speak. "The man you are staying with is Newton, correct?"

"Y – yes."

Maxie thought back to the newspaper article he had looked up. The photo of two men in lab coats, one with brown hair and a scruffy beard, the other with white hair combed down over one eye, both beaming at the camera. "Newton Graceland?"

"Yes? How did you –"

Maxie interrupted her. "Could we speak to him?"

"…I think so. Let me, uh…"

There was some movement on the other end, and after a few moments, an unfamiliar voice spoke. "Hello? What is it?"

"Hello. I am Maxie, the leader of Team Magma." Maxie paused, unsure of how to begin. "Thank you for assisting Rebecca," he said. "We are grateful that you've been keeping her safe."

"Right," said Newton. "Is that all?"

Maxie took a deep breath. "There was a man in Giratina's cave," he said. "He was brought back to the base. When I spoke to him, he mentioned you by name. Do you know anyone named Zero?"

For a moment, Newton didn't respond, and Maxie thought that he was wrong, that the person Zero had spoken of really was dead. He cursed himself for giving the poor man false hope – and then Newton spoke.

"You… you found Zero? Oh my God, you found Zero? Is – is he okay? Is he hurt?" Newton's voice was shaking. "Oh my God, he's – he's really alive, oh my God – please, tell me what happened – do you know?"

Thank God, Maxie thought. "We found him in very bad shape, and he's still recovering," he said. "He wasn't responsive until this morning. We don't know what he went through, but it was clearly…" He thought for a moment for the right word. "…traumatic."

"Oh, God – but he's safe now? He's not going to go back there?"

"Of course he won't," Maxie said. "We would never send him back, not after seeing the condition he was in when we found him. But…" He hesitated. "I can't promise that he's safe. Giratina knows where our base is, and, as you know, has assaulted the people who leave. We are keeping him here until we… find a solution."

Newton took a deep breath, the sound scratchy over the phone. "Thank you," Newton said. "Thank you so much, I can't… I can't even begin to express my gratitude. Just… thank you for – for saving him."

"You saved one of our members," Maxie said. "I consider us equal."

He heard the sound of wheels over the rough rock floor – Lottie must have managed to find a wheelchair for Zero. "Would you like to speak to him?" Maxie asked.

"I – can I? Is he alright to – is he – yes, yes, please!"

Maxie nodded, a pointless gesture given that there was no video component of the call. "He'll be here in a moment," he said, and he turned and walked out.

As Lottie wheeled Zero into the communications room, Maxie nodded to him. He saw Zero's eyes widened as they passed each other, before Maxie had left him behind, walking briskly to his office.

It was only when the office door was closed and locked behind him and Maxie had sat down at his desk that he allowed himself to drop the act, to let himself slump forward onto the desk and bury his face in his hands, allowing himself a show of weakness that he only ever displayed in front of Tabitha.

That would have to stop. He had to be strong for Tabitha now. But alone, he could be weak.

Giratina had commanded him to return Zero to them. They had made it very clear. "Azelf and faer siblings know that I want him," Giratina had said, during the conversation they had had while Maxie lay dead on Mount Chimney. "That is why they took him from me. They think I would be willing to bargain with them to get him back. I will not, but you must allow them to believe they have won."

Maxie nodded. He almost asked what he should tell them – but Giratina had forbidden him to ask questions.

They seemed to know he had thought the question anyway. "Azelf will know we have spoken. Tell faer I asked you to give me both the naught and your girl," they said. Maxie was confused for a moment before realizing they meant Rebecca.

"Do not worry," Giratina continued. "I have no interest in her. But you must tell faer I wanted her, and that you refused to give me her or the naught. Fae will not believe you. You must continue to insist that you are telling the truth, no matter what fae says.

"Remember. Do not speak of this. The moment you speak aloud, you will be heard. Your members must believe you are working with Azelf. The naught and his fool of a partner must believe you are protecting him from me up until the very end."

Giratina reared themself up and glared at him. "I care nothing for your team," they said. "What you have done doesn't concern me. Whether your members live or die – it does not matter. But know this: if you fail, I will kill them all.

"Do not fail."

And then Maxie had been brought back to life, left alone to climb up the slope and return to the base, where he lied over and over – to Azelf, to his entire team, to Zero and Newton.

The emotion in Newton's voice, when he had thanked Maxie for rescuing Zero –

You are failing every lie detector test in the world, and you are not even speaking.

Maxie jerked his head up.

The pokémon that hovered in front of him was like Azelf – a small blue-gray body, piercing golden eyes, two tails with red gems in their tips – but was clearly someone different, with a magenta head and four fleshy antennae curved down, framing the being's face.

My sibling sent for me, fae said – because this was one of Azelf's siblings, certainly, and Lottie had told him that the three used the same pronouns. Azelf was supposed to deal with your team faerself, but there are some things you cannot solve through willpower alone. I am Mesprit, the being of emotion. Now tell me, what is your lie?

Maxie couldn't speak for a moment. "You think I'm working for Giratina," he said, barely managing to keep his voice steady.

I have been watching you, Mesprit said. Your emotions give you away every time you speak. Fear. Guilt. Resignation. Those are the emotions that rule you. Those are not the emotions of someone who is being truthful.

"I…" Maxie swallowed. What was he supposed to say? Giratina had given him no instruction on how to lie to someone who was a living lie detector. "I'll admit to fear," he said. "Guilt, too. Giratina threatened to kill everyone I'm responsible for. Still, I refused to work with them, and why? Because I have faith that Azelf will protect us? Azelf hasn't done anything but put us in danger. I have effectively doomed the entire team."

That does not explain the complexity I am sensing in you, Mesprit said.

"Are you just going to hover there and accuse me? I am not working for Giratina."

Mesprit frowned. I am not angry with you, fae said. You want to protect those you are responsible for. That is understandable. But you don't need to make bargains with Giratina to stop them from killing your team. We can protect you.

"I have not made any bargains with Giratina – but I damn well should have!" Maxie gritted his teeth. "Azelf couldn't – or didn't – do anything to protect Tabitha and Rachel, and now Tabitha's lost an arm! Giratina made it clear that they would get what they wanted, either by me handing Rebecca and Zero over to them, or by them murdering the entire team – if I had agreed to their terms, maybe I could have saved the ones I'm responsible for!"

Mesprit continued frowning. Maxie forced himself to look faer in the eye.

I believe you, Mesprit said.

Maxie couldn't hide his disbelief.

Oh, you are certainly hiding something, Mesprit said. But I believe you when you say you are not working for Giratina. Why are you so surprised?

Maxie took a deep breath. "I was not under the impression you would believe me so easily," he said.

Is there a reason we shouldn't? Mesprit said.

"No," said Maxie, but when he tried to continue, he found he couldn't say anything.

You are terrible at keeping secrets, Mesprit said. You have your own motivation for working with us. Your emotions are clear in that. But I do not believe you are working for Giratina. In that way, I am trusting you.

This was a trick. It had to be. Mesprit knew the truth and was pretending to believe his lies so he would reveal himself. Maxie's hands were shaking – he couldn't let faer find out. If Giratina thought he had betrayed them, if he failed to deliver Zero to them, then everyone – Rachel, Courtney, Tabitha

"What could I possibly hide from you?" he found himself asking.

Oh, many things, said Mesprit. Uxie may be called omniscient, but even fae cannot see into the depths of your mind. Even I, when it truly comes down with it, can only get a glimpse of your identity. And yet, I think I know something about you.

Mesprit slowly hovered closer to him, faer eyes big and gold. You truly care about your team, fae said. All the ones who stayed, even if they had nowhere else to go – especially if they have nowhere else to go. You feel responsible for them, and you would do almost anything to protect them. That is why Azelf thought you were working for Giratina.

But that is not everything about you. You are angry, petty, and selfish, and you had the bravado to awaken an ancient legendary pokémon. Even if it endangered your entire team, I don't think you would have agreed to work with someone who nearly killed the one you love.

The one he loved – ? That could only be –

Mesprit smiled. I have always seen the best in humans, fae said, and with that, fae vanished.

Left alone, the silence was overwhelming. Maxie took a deep breath and stood up. It was time to see how Tabitha was recovering.


"Zero, oh my God, Zero –"

It was him.

It was really him.

Zero gripped the arms of the wheelchair, hardly remembering Lottie and one of the other Magma members were in the room as Newton kept talking. "I – I'm so glad, I –" Was he crying? His voice was distorted over the connection, it was hard to tell. "I looked for you, but I – I couldn't find you, I'm so sorry, I should've –"

"I thought you were dead," Zero said, his voice trembling.

Newton inhaled sharply. "Oh no, no, Zero – I don't know how to explain it, I was dead when they brought me to the hospital, but I – I'm here now, I'm here, I'm okay, I'm – I'm alive."

Zero nodded, his vision blurring with tears. Newton was alive. Newton was alive.

A strangled sob escaped his body, and Zero found himself crouching forward, holding his face in his hands. Tears ran freely down his cheeks, and Lottie leaned over him, quietly asking if he was alright. Zero barely heard her.

"It's okay, Zero, I –" Newton was definitely crying now, his voice shaking, his breathing erratic. "– I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I should've – I should have found you, I –"

"Don't," Zero said, with as much force as he could muster. "Don't – don't apologize. Not for that."

"But – I could've done better, I wasn't even able to start looking until two weeks after the hospital released me – you were gone for three months, Zero, and I should've –"

"Please," he said between sobs. "Stop."

Newton stopped.

Zero uncovered his face and looked up, but Newton wasn't there, Newton was miles and miles away from him, and there was no video component to the call.

"For three months," Zero said, "I thought you were dead. I thought there was no one left who would – who would even remember me. But – you're alive. And you were looking for me, I – do you have any idea how much that means to me?"

"Of course I do, Zero," Newton said. "It's as much as – as hearing your voice means to me."

Zero couldn't speak, could only sit there with his mouth open and tears streaming down his face.

"Zero," Newton said. "There's – there's something I have to tell you."

"No," Zero said, the word falling out of his mouth almost without thinking. "I need to tell you something first. Newton…"

He couldn't say it at first, suffocated by the pain and guilt. When he finally got the words out, they were so distorted that he wasn't sure if Newton would understand them. "I'm sorry."

"Zero," said Newton. "Zero…"

"I'm sorry," he said again. "For everything I did."

"Zero, it's okay. I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago."

"You shouldn't have," Zero said. "What I did was unforgivable."

"Zero, there's nothing you could ever do that I wouldn't forgive."

Stop it, Zero wanted to say. Stop it. Stop being so nice to me. I don't deserve it. I don't deserve anything good in any world.

You are NOTHING.

Giratina had made that very clear.

"I mean it, Zero, I – I care about you. God, it's more than that – Zero, I…" Newton's voice hitched. "I love you."

It was as if Zero had been physically struck, the words stabbing into his heart.

"N – no," he choked out between sobs. "Don't – don't do this –"

"I love you, Zero," Newton repeated. "God, I – I need to see you, I need to – to tell you for real, I – I love you, I love you –"

"I don't – I don't deserve –"

"That doesn't matter, I – I'd give you everything I have if I could, I love you –"

"You shouldn't!"

The effort of shouting sent a wave of nausea through him and he doubled over and retched. Nothing came out, but pain shot through his stomach and he barely heard Newton crying his name through the haze that descended on him – God, how did he ever think Maxie sounded like him?

The wheelchair was moving – Zero took deep, gasping breaths, struggling to stay conscious. "I'm taking him back to the infirmary," Lottie was saying, her voice sounding like it was coming from the other side of a canyon. "He'll be fine, he just needs time."

"No," Zero said. "Please, I need to –"

"You need to recover. I promise you'll get to talk to him again."

Lottie wheeled him away, and he didn't have the strength in him to fight her. Exhaustion crept up on him, and Zero closed his eyes and let the world go dark.

Except now, there was a spot of light.

Newton was alive

– and Zero found it within himself to smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: adaptation

"How are you feeling?"

Tabitha frowned. "Not great," he said. "I don't think the painkillers are working."

The doctor, Zach, shook his head sternly. There were only two people left in Team Magma who had medical training, which explained Lottie's lack of sleep. She and Zach were both working very hard. "You would be in much more pain if they weren't working," he said.

"I know, I know," Tabitha said in annoyance, like he had heard this all before. "It just hurts, okay?" He reached for his bandaged stump, then caught himself and dropped his hand to his side. 

Maxie gripped the fabric of his pants. "I'm so sorry this happened."

Tabitha turned to him and managed a pained smile. "It's not your fault," he said. "It's not even Rachel's fault. She saved my life, did you know? At least, she saved my other arm." He shuddered. "God. This is awful."

Maxie made a mental note to talk to Rachel and make sure she was doing alright. Maybe he could arrange with her to talk with Rebecca the next time she called.

To Tabitha, he said, "I'm here to fill you in on what's happened since. Lottie has told you some things, hasn't she?"

Tabitha nodded. "Rachel's okay, Rebecca's safe, and we're working with Azelf now." He didn't sound at all happy about the last part.

"I'm not going to lie, I am not finding it easy to trust Azelf after what fae did." Maxie frowned. "But we don't have any other options. We need someone who can protect us from Giratina."

"So it's definitely targeting Team Magma."

"Yes. That much is clear." Maxie took a deep breath. "There's more I should tell you."

Maxie explained everything that had happened while Tabitha had been in the infirmary, from Rebecca staying in Sinnoh to Zero's story of how he had ended up in Giratina's cave. After a moment's hesitation, he told Tabitha how he had encountered Giratina himself on the slopes of Mount Chimney, and braced himself for his admin's reaction.

Tabitha's eyes widened. "My God, Maxie – are you alright?"

The question caught him off guard. "I'm fine," he said. "All they did was speak to me."

"Giratina spoke – what did it say? Or – fuck, I should stop calling Giratina 'it,' shouldn't I?"

Giratina had given off an air of not caring what they were called, but Maxie nodded anyway, distracted by the dread of what he had to say.

"Giratina told me to give Rebecca and Zero to them," he said, "or else he would murder the entire team. I… I refused. Tabitha, I'm so sorry, I…"

I'm lying to you. I'm lying to everyone. If I don't lie, I'll lose you – you and everyone else. I can't let any more incidents happen under my lead. Please, Tabitha –

He was jerked out of his train of thought by a touch on his knee.

"Don't apologize, Maxie," Tabitha said. Maxie could feel the warmth of his hand even through the layers he was wearing. "I… I can't imagine how hard that must have been."

"I'm putting all my trust in the pokémon that caused you to lose an arm," Maxie said. "If Azelf fails to protect you, I'll never forgive myself."

"And you would have forgiven yourself for sending Rebecca to her death?" Tabitha shook his head. "You would blame yourself for any decision you had to make. I understand."

There was no possible way Tabitha could truly understand what Maxie was going through, but hearing him say that – it was a comfort nonetheless.

"Are Courtney and the others safe?" Tabitha asked.

"I believe so," Maxie said. "I spoke to her the day before yesterday to inform her of the situation, and to give the same orders I gave here – that no members are to leave the base."

"So what are we going to do?"

"I…" Maxie hadn't received any instructions from Azelf or Giratina. "All we can do for now is wait, keep the grunts from growing restless, and stay in contact with Courtney and Rebecca."

"Right," Tabitha said. "Once I've recovered, I'll assist in any way I can."

"Once you've recovered," Maxie said sternly. "Not a moment before then."

"I'm having this conversation, aren't I? That's much better than I was yesterday. By this rate I'll be out of here by tomorrow."

Maxie glanced at Zach, who shrugged. "That… might not happen."

"I can't stay here forever," Tabitha said. He frowned. "For that matter, neither can the rest of the team. How are we going to replenish our supplies if we can't leave the base?"

Maxie didn't know. "We'll manage," he said.

It wasn't that Rebecca didn't trust Newton, but then again, she barely knew him. Sure, he had saved her from the Reverse World, and probably wouldn't call the police on her, but even after watching him sob on the phone while he talked to Zero, Rebecca still felt that she didn't know much about him.

So it was strange, staying in his house. Newton told her she could stay as long as she needed. "The only reason I wanted to leave was to look for Zero, but –" He wiped his eyes. "God, he's alive, he's safe – there's no way I can ever thank you and your team enough. If there's anything I can do for you –"

"It's fine," Rebecca said quickly. "I don't need much, really."

"I mean it. Anything at all."

"It's enough that you're letting me stay here."

Newton smiled at her. "It's the least I can do. But… if you won't accept anything else, at least tell me what you'd like to eat. I need to go grocery shopping."


Rebecca didn't know how to cook, and she wasn't about to ask Newton to cook for her, so she ended up just shrugging and saying that any microwavable food would be fine. After she politely declined the offer to go with him, Newton left, and she was left alone in the house.

Well, not quite alone.

Skarmory appeared out of his pokéball in a flash of white light, flapping his wings and swinging his head back and forth, his talons clacking on the hardwood floor. Rebecca waited for him to adjust to his surroundings, then held out her arms to embrace him in a hug.

"I'm sorry," she said, Skarmory resting his head on her shoulder. "I should've – I should've let you out sooner, should've told you – we're safe now. We're safe."

Skarmory crooned, gently running his beak through her hair. Rebecca smiled, feeling tears well up in her eyes.

"Let's have everyone out," she said, letting him go and leaning back. Skarmory nodded and took a few steps backwards, giving her space. Rebecca took out her four other pokéballs and opened the first one.

Luxray appeared, blinking and shaking his mane. His paws padding softly on the floor, he turned in circles before facing Rebecca and sitting down, tilting his head at her.

"Hi," she said. "I'm just… we're just hanging out, I guess."

Luxray stood up and stretched, baring his teeth in a yawn, then ambled over and pressed his whole body against Rebecca with a low purr, nearly knocking her over. He made a soft noise of confusion when she started crying, and Skarmory stepped in, squawking at him and presumably explaining what had happened.

Rebecca sniffed and wiped her eyes before sending out the next two, Numel and Mightyena. Mightyena looked around, saw Luxray, and bounded over to him. Luxray growled and she stopped in her tracks, her tail down. Numel padded over to Rebecca and headbutted her side, whining softly. Rebecca pat her, smiling sadly. Skarmory didn't like the pokémon she had received from Team Magma, either. There had always been a divide between them and the pokémon she had captured on her journey through Sinnoh.

Her last pokémon burst from her ball and immediately started flying around the room, swooping down to fly circles around Luxray and Skarmory while ignoring Mightyena and Numel. After a few moments, Chatot flew down, landed on Rebecca's head and began to preen her feathers.

"Hey, Chatot," Rebecca said.

"Hey, Chatot," her pokémon mimicked. Rebecca smiled.

"A lot of stuff has happened," she said. "Me and Skarmory will fill you all in."

She explained everything. Giratina appearing during the walk to Lavaridge. Newton rescuing her from the Reverse World. The calls she had made back to the base. "Azelf's involved, too," she said. "I think the team's working with faer, now. And we can stay here for as long as we need to. But I just –" Her voice shook, and her tears were threatening to spill over again. "I just don't know why this happened. It doesn't make any since. There's nothing special about me, so why…"

Chatot started chittering again and flew down to Rebecca's lap, pressing her beak up against Rebecca's chin. Numel put her front feet over Rebecca's leg and sat like that, the warmth from her belly noticeable even through Rebecca's jeans. Even Luxray and Mightyena put aside their differences to sit on either side of her, Luxray rumbling affectionately. And Skarmory…

Skarmory was staring at the passage to the entryway, facing away from her.

Something was wrong. Rebecca was about to ask what when there was a loud series of thumps against the front door.

"That must be Newton," Rebecca said, despite knowing that Newton had a key to the house and would not have to knock. She removed Numel and Chatot from her lap and stood up, and despite Skarmory's protests, she walked to the front door and opened it.

A stream of magnemite poured in, darting past her into the house. Rebecca quickly moved to the side as a few magneton joined them, staring in confusion. It was only when Magnezone got stuck in the door that she snapped out of it.

"What's going on?" she demanded of them.

Magnezone sparked and squirmed in the doorway. "Zone!" they said. The magnemite in the house took up the cry.

Cutting through the noise, a horrible screech sounded from outside, and a frozen horror gripped Rebecca's heart.

Giratina was back.

The magnemite became more frantic, their cries mixing with those of Rebecca's own pokémon. Skarmory ran to her, his talons clicking on the floor, and tugged at her sleeve, trying to pull her away from the door. Rebecca took a few gulps of air, trying to calm herself, and pulled her arm away from him.

"We need to get them inside!" she said, pointing at Magnezone, who was still stuck in the door. Without waking for a response, she grabbed their metal body and started pulling. She could feel the electricity coursing through them, making her hair stand on end. She closed her eyes, barely aware of Skarmory brushing past her to help, Giratina's screeching the only sound she could hear, until –

With a wooden crack, Magnezone tumbled inside, Rebecca falling over with them. Skarmory was at her side immediately, cawing and flapping his wings. Rebecca got to her feet and tried to close the door, but the doorframe was broken and it wouldn't latch. Skarmory pulled her away with all his strength, bringing her back into the house.

Giratina screeched again, louder, closer. Rebecca couldn't breathe. Her pokémon surrounded her, crying for her, and all she could do was fall to her knees, hugging herself.

She wasn't anyone special.

Why was this happening?

She didn't know how long it was before she heard Newton's voice shouting, "Rebecca? Rebecca? Are you alright?!"

Newton stumbled into the room and stared at the scene – Rebecca curled up in a ball on the floor, surrounded by her pokémon and the magnemite. "Oh, thank God," he said. "I ran back as soon as I heard – God, I'm so glad you're safe!"

Rebecca didn't feel safe at all. "The door's broken," she said from the floor.

"That's –" Newton glanced behind him at the broken doorframe, splinters of wood littered in the entryway. "That's fine, it's not like Giratina would care about the door. They'd just – take the damn roof off. God. Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yeah," she said, and she forced herself to sit upright. Her pokémon pressed against her sides, Numel trying to climb into her lap again. Somehow, she felt calmer. Giratina must have gone, she thought, though she had no evidence that was the case.

She was right, though. Newton spent the remainder of the day in tense anticipation, as if he expected Giratina to come crashing down on the house at any moment. It never happened. Rebecca stayed quiet, feeling how nervous he was.

She couldn't sleep that night.

"I told you," Lottie said, rapidly losing her patience, "you can't walk yet. You'll hurt yourself if you try."

"I'll be fine," Zero said, and continued his attempt to get out of the makeshift hospital bed. He was still weak, and Lottie was able to stop him easily.

"I'm serious. You need to regain your strength."

"I'm not going to get stronger if I don't –" His vision wavered, and he closed his eyes to focus and finish his sentence. "– don't – don't try."

"You'll get there. We have no intention of keeping you trapped here forever."

Zero didn't know what the trigger was – maybe it was the idea of being trapped forever that brought back memories of lying on the stone ground, pain wracking his entire self, unable to walk or even move, and the only thing his useless, useless body could do was inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale – Lottie had a hand on his shoulder, and he struggled to pull himself back to reality.

"Breath," Lottie said. "You'll be fine. But please get some rest for now."

Lottie had been fairly enthusiastic about leaving Zero alone for a while, now that his condition was at a stage where she was no longer worried he'd croak in the middle of the night. It wouldn't be fair to her if he went and hurt himself, taking away her chance for a full night's sleep.

So he agreed to stay put, and waited until after Lottie had left to get out of bed.

He was able to sit up, now, but his legs wouldn't support his weight. It was less getting out of bed than it was a controlled fall. His vision went black for a few moments when he hit the floor, and he lay there with his head pounding until the darkness cleared.

Well, he was out of bed now. Next step was to stand. Zero grasped the edge of the bed and tried to pull himself up.

It turned out that standing required a number of steps, each one a struggle. He ended up on one knee, using the bedframe to hold himself up, his legs unable to complete the final step to stand. His whole body trembled, and Zero – Zero cursed himself, cursed his weak, pathetic body, couldn't walk, couldn't even stand –

He was supposed to believe Newton loved someone as broken as this?

The thought sent a stab of pain through his heart, so vivid it was almost as if it was real and not an emotional reaction. Of course Newton loved him. Newton Graceland, the man who had broken down sobbing on the phone, the man who had visited him in prison, the man who had pulled him out of the wreckage of the Minirig, despite everything he had done.

It hurt more to know he was loved than to pretend he wasn't.

Zero took a deep, shuddering breath, and pulled himself to his feet.

He was on the floor the next moment, his body aching from the fall. Zero closed his eyes and tried to will his head to stop spinning. Dammit. Dammit. Goddammit.

The door opened.

"Are you hurt?"

Zero didn't recognize who was staring down at him through squinted eyes. A large man in a hospital gown and sweatpants, with one arm missing and medicinal gauze covering the remaining stump. Something about him was familiar, but… Zero remembered the man in the cave having both his arms.

The man frowned. "Did you fall? Should I get Lottie?"

"No," Zero said. "I'm fine." He considered trying to get back into the bed, decided he had little chance of success, and instead elected to pull himself up to a sitting position, propped against the bed.

They stared at each other for some time, with no sound other than a distant, mechanical hum. Finally, the man cleared his throat. "Do you mind if I sit with you?"

"Who are you?" Zero asked.

"Sorry, how rude of me not to introduce myself." He cracked a smile. "I'm one of the admins of Team Magma. My name is Tabitha. You are Zero, correct?"

Zero nodded. "You look familiar," he said.

Tabitha's mouth twitched. "You don't remember? I was one of the ones who found you in Giratina's cave."

It took a few moments for his brain to process the statement, and longer for Zero to find words, struggling to overcome the wave of emotion that engulfed him. "You… saved me?"

His smile vanished, and Tabitha averted his gaze, looking uncomfortable. "I wouldn't say it was me. Azelf was the one who teleported us out of there. I had to be saved, too."

Zero looked at him, at where his left arm had been. Realization dawned on him. "I'm so sorry," he said. It didn't come out right – he hadn't used the right tone, his voice sounding stoic and void of emotion. He hoped the intention came through anyway.

"It's fine," Tabitha said, in a way that conveyed how absolutely not fine the situation was. "Would you like company?"

Not particularly, Zero thought. "I wouldn't mind," he said instead.

Tabitha nodded and stepped into the room proper, closing the door behind him. He sat down on the floor next to Zero, and they stared at the wall together. Zero was unable to think of any conversation topics. He had never been good at talking to others.

Tabitha spoke first. "We – Team Magma – seem to have made ourselves enemies of Giratina."

Zero knew that. He nodded, unsure of how to respond.

"It is not an encouraging development. We've spent nearly a year attempting to atone for our mistakes. Is that not enough? Or is Giratina after us for different reasons entirely?" Tabitha sighed. "They've made demands of us, you know."

He had not known that. "Demands?"

"Giratina has demanded that our leader give up one of our members and return you to them." Tabitha was still staring at the wall, not looking at him. "You'll be glad to know that he refused. Now Giratina has promised to murder the entire team and take what they want from our remains, and we can only pray that Azelf is able to…"

Zero couldn't silence the sob that escaped him, and Tabitha trailed off. Zero wrapped his arms around himself, hugging his weak, pathetic body, and turned his head away.

"I'm sorry," Tabitha said. "I don't regret saving you. I only wish it had gone differently."

"I didn't deserve to be saved," Zero said, his voice coming out strained. "I'm not… I'm not…"

He wasn't worth it. Zero wasn't worth anything. He knew this, as much as he knew that the ground beneath him was solid and the feeling of tears running down his face, knew it to be an inherent truth of his reality. And yet, even knowing he didn't deserve it, knowing he was nothing – Zero still wanted.

He wanted to be safe. He wanted to not hurt anymore. He wanted to live a life where he didn't have to fear Giratina dragging him back into hell. He was a worthless child, wanting all sorts of things he didn't deserve to have.

"I'm not a good person," Zero said. "I don't think anybody is."

He could hear Tabitha's breathing, with how quiet the room was, could hear the breath he took before speaking.

"Some people are," he said. "Good, I mean. I don't know you, but… there are people that… that try their damnedest to do good, to make life worth living for everyone else. There are people who stand up to the devil and – and refuse, even if it means nothing in the end."

Zero thought of Newton, standing in front of Giratina. He wondered who Tabitha was thinking about.

"I was never one of them." Tabitha sighed. "I should be happy we were able to save you. Instead, it just… hurts. I mean it when I say I don't regret it. But it still hurts. Painkillers don't do shit to stop it."

There was silence between them for a few moments. Zero swallowed and turned to look at him.

"If you could do it over again," he said. "What would you do?"

"Oh, that's simple. I'd tie Azelf to me by the tail, so fae couldn't get 'lost.'" Tabitha grimaced. "At least, I would confront faer about… all of this. I don't trust faer. People say that legendary pokémon are supposed to protect the world… but I know for a fact that's not the case."

Another silence fell between them.

"What would you do?" Tabitha asked.

Zero hadn't been expecting the question, but he had an answer all the same.

"I'd do it right," he said.

Tabitha didn't ask him to elaborate, and neither of them spoke again until morning.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: The Case of Tabitha Harlan

The night after he got fired from Devon Corp, Tabitha went to the bar and got drunk off his ass. He ended up going home with some guy, God, Tabitha couldn't even remember his name or what he looked like, only that he found Tabitha's body desirable and that was such an unexpected, wanted thing that Tabitha ignored everything else.

Afterwards, Tabitha was kicked out onto the street. He crumpled to the ground in an alley, feeling sick and dizzy and fucking drunk, too exhausted to get his useless ass up and on the train to go home.


Oh, God. Tabitha closed his eyes and pretended he hadn't heard them.

Then there was someone in front of him. "Hey, it is you! Tabitabi! You feeling alright?"

Who was this? Some asshole, probably. People were all assholes, and this one knew his nickname. He picked the first name that popped into his head. "Fuck off, Hayate," he said.

There were more people, all keeping their distance. Only Hayate – had he gotten his name right? – was standing much, much too close, crouching down to be closer to eye level.

"C'mon, don't be like that," Hayate said. "We're both having shitty nights, right? We just got laughed out of a meeting. What happened to you?"

"I got fired," Tabitha said, and he lifted himself off the ground enough to vomit on Hayate's shoes.

Hayate jumped back. "Aw, shit – alright, alright, we'll leave you alone. Get yourself home, alright?"

Finally. Tabitha let himself fall back on the ground, about ready to pass out and deal with – with whatever the world had left to throw at him.

"Are you actually going to leave him there?"

That was a new voice. Tabitha didn't care. God, if only they would leave him here. He felt like shit and he was pretty sure he had gotten vomit on his hands and he just wanted these assholes to leave him alone.

"Look, Maxie," Hayate was saying, "I've worked with Tabitha, he's a good guy, I guess, but he's not… well, he's not a team player, let's put it that way. If he doesn't want help, there's not a lot – hey, uh…"

Tabitha felt a hand on his shoulder, heavy and firm, and he gasped, squeezing his eyes shut, his whole body tense with anticipation. Nothing happened.

The man, the person Hayate had called Maxie, frowned at him. He was a skinny, pale, redhead, peering at him through thick glasses with an expression Tabitha couldn't label as concern or contempt. "Where do you live?" he asked. "We'll take you there."

"Maxie, we can't," Hayate said, "he lives on the other side of the city. It's too far away to –"

"If it's too far for us to go, then it's too far for him. Tabitha, where do you live?"

Tabitha could still taste bile. "I'm fine. Go away."

"I can't leave you here like this. Hayate, where does he live? Do any of you know where he lives?"

"Fuck off. Go away."

"If you can't stand, I'll carry you."

Tabitha squinted at him, making sure he had heard him right. The man had no muscle to speak of. "You can't fucking carry me," he said.

"I can't," Maxie said. "But I'll damn well try."

Dammit. Dammit. Another wave of nausea overwhelmed him and he threw up again moments before passing out. Some people just didn't know when to quit.

Hayate had told him what happened after that. Nobody knew his address beyond "the other side of the city," so Hayate, Maxie, and the rest of the group that formed the beginnings of Team Magma had brought Tabitha back to Maxie's apartment, where they laid him on the couch and went into another room to discuss the team's future now that Devon Corp had rejected them.

Tabitha had slept through most of it. Apparently, during their discussion, they had talked about him in particular. Maxie didn't say what, but when Tabitha woke up the next morning he was given a job offer. Hayate filled him in later.

"So Maxie asked about you," he said. "Just what kind of work you did, stuff like that. We told him you were pretty smart, good at your job… just kinda difficult to work with, 'cause you get angry real easily. Gibson pissed Maxie off, though. He – Maxie, I mean – wanted to hire you, and nobody really wanted to say no to him, except Gibson. He went on about how Maxie couldn't go picking people off the street. How we'd be no better than Rocket, that way. Maxie told him to get the hell out."

Tabitha asked Maxie about that, back when he was still a grunt, shortly before he prepared his admin application. "Why did you let me stay?"

Maxie barely looked at him, busy looking through a stack of paperwork. "We needed members, and though I didn't know you personally, you seemed competent enough. You've more than proven yourself in that regard."

"But you kicked Gibson out. Why him and not me?"

"Gibson was an asshole. Most of our grunts now are 'off the street,' and they're fine members." Maxie put down the papers and folded his hands in front of them. "I didn't plan it this way, I'll be honest. But what would I do? Kick them out, and keep all the Gibsons? Most of them don't have anywhere else to go."

Maxie fixed his gave on him. "Tabitha, Team Magma's mission is to improve human society. Certainly, expanding the landmass is an important step, but it's not the goal. I want to make the human life worth living. I want people to have somewhere else to go, so they don't have to turn to groups like Rocket. Gibson would not have brought us closer to that goal."

Tabitha nodded and said, "Thank you, sir."

There had never been a future for Tabitha at Devon. Oh, certainly, there was a future at Devon, but not one for him. Tabitha had slaved away at building a future that he would never have a place in.

That Maxie's vision of the future had a place for Tabitha, and all the others like him –

– that meant more than he could ever put into words.

The first day he was let out of the medical facilities, Tabitha assumed he could go back to work. Even Lottie and Zach seemed to think he could handle it. He made it through roll call and then spent fifteen minutes in the bathroom vomiting and sobbing, his hand pawing uselessly at where his left arm had been.

The second day was better.

He didn't talk to Zero much, after the one conversation they had. The other man seemed to be recovering fine. A few days after they let Tabitha out, Lottie and Zach allowed Zero to eat in the cafeteria with everyone else. He still needed a wheelchair at first, but his strength was returning rapidly – soon enough, he could abandon the wheelchair and use crutches instead. As soon as he reached that milestone, Zero started taking his food out of the cafeteria and eating alone in the communications room. Tabitha ordered the grunt stationed there to keep an eye on him, but otherwise let him be.

Newton and Rebecca called frequently. Rebecca was doing fine. Rachel still hadn't spoken to her. Tabitha tried to ask her why, but she wouldn't tell him. Tabitha hadn't forgotten how she had saved his life, back in Giratina's cave. He would like to think they had a connection now, some sort of mutual understanding after both being nearly killed by Giratina. They didn't. She mumbled Yes, sirs and No, sirs and Can I go now, sirs? and Tabitha couldn't stand it.

He encountered Azelf just once after the incident in Giratina's cave.

Fae had teleported into the kitchen with what appeared to be the contents of a small grocery store, terrifying the crew in charge of the dinner that night. Maxie had rushed in, and Tabitha, not knowing what else to do, had followed him.

This should last you a few weeks, Azelf was telling faer audience, the grunts frozen in fear. Hopefully the issue should be settled by then. If not, I or one of my siblings will provide you with another delivery. Oh, you're healed.

It took Tabitha a few moments to realize the last few words were directed at him. "I –" he began, then took a moment to collect his thoughts and start again. "I lost a fucking arm," he said.

Watch it, said Azelf. Your leader is on very thin ice. You ought to watch your mouth.

"Your issue is with me," Maxie snapped. "Leave him out of this."

You are being very disrespectful towards me. Azelf whipped faer tails back and forth and growled, a strange, physical sound contrasting with faer telepathic words. Me, who has been warding Giratina away from this base for days now. I don't know what you told Mesprit, but I do not trust you. You are a liar, and if you are not careful, your entire team will die for it.

Fae vanished.

Tabitha's face was flushed with anger, and his hand was clenched hard enough for his knuckles to turn white, while pain shot through the arm that wasn't there anymore. The grunts in the kitchen were staring in horror, and he took a deep breath and turned to Maxie.

Maxie hadn't taken his eyes off where Azelf had been, his face deathly pale. Tabitha's anger towards Azelf only grew, but he pushed it down to make room for concern towards Maxie. "Sir," he said, forgetting for a moment how much Maxie disliked it when Tabitha called him that. "Are you –"

Maxie held up a trembling hand. "I'm sorry," he said. "I need to be alone for a time. Please instruct the grunts to organize the food."

He turned and left before Tabitha could say anything to stop him.

Courtney called shortly afterwards. Tabitha answered her, deciding that if Courtney wanted to talk to Maxie, she could request to, and if not, Tabitha could notify him of the report afterwards.

Courtney's usual stoic expression lit up in a smile when she saw Tabitha. "It's good to see you," she said, and Tabitha realized that they hadn't spoken since before his encounter with Giratina. "How are you recovering?"

"Well enough," he responded. "Maxie's kept you updated of the situation, correct?"

She nodded. "I am calling… to report an incident."

Tabitha stiffened. "An incident? Was anyone hurt?"

"Nothing of the sort. One of Azelf's siblings appeared, identified faerself as Uxie, the being of knowledge, and teleported an assortment of food items into the base. I called once fae had left."

Tabitha let himself relax. "That's… good. Azelf did the same here."

"I see," Courtney said. "It… alleviates some of my concerns of food shortages. I am… worried, though. The grunts are starting to feel…" She paused for an extended moment. "Trapped."

"It's only going to get worse the longer this situation goes on." Tabitha sighed. "Maxie's orders are to wait for instruction from Azelf or one of faer siblings, but when will that come?"

"How is Leader Maxie faring?"

"Not well. He's… exhausted. I've never seen him like this before."

It was as if the strong, confident leader who had led his team to Groudon was a persona that was starting to break down.

"You are telling me," Giratina said, continuing their slow circle around him, "that Azelf and faer siblings have yet to give you any sort of instruction."

"Yes," Maxie said, struggling to keep his voice steady.

Every night, Maxie was jolted awake by a burning pain in his chest, gasping for breath, unable to move or cry for help as darkness descended upon him. When his consciousness returned, he was in the same featureless void where Giratina had first spoken to him. There, he received further instruction, further warnings. Further threats. When it was over, Maxie woke up in his bed, covered in sweat, his heart beating again.

This time was different. Maxie had barely managed to lock his office door before Giratina stopped his heart. Standing in that void, he prayed that nobody had heard him collapse, that nobody would break down his door to find him lying there dead.

Giratina growled, snapping him out of his thoughts. "They suspect something. Action must be taken."

"What –" Maxie swallowed and began again. "I am prepared to take… whatever action you need from me."

"You will do nothing." Giratina twisted around to face him, pausing their circle. "I have been staging attacks on this base, letting Azelf think fae is fighting me off. Clearly, it has not been enough.

"Here is the play we will put on for Azelf and faer siblings. They know I have been speaking to you. They do not know what I speak of. You will say that I have continued to demand the naught and your girl. You will say that my threats have escalated. That I have made a hostage of your most trusted member."

If Maxie's heart had been beating, it would have stopped there.

"No," he said.

He expected anger from Giratina, but their reaction was almost amusement. "No," they repeated.

"You can't – you can't take him. You –" Maxie could almost feel himself coming apart. "You told me –"

"I told you that if you did as I say, everyone under your command would live to see the end of this," Giratina said. "I promised nothing more."

"Tabitha doesn't know that!"

"Ah, so you have someone in mind?"

Maxie couldn't speak.

"What you fail to understand," Giratina said, beginning to circle again, "is that you do not have any say in this matter. You are to do as I say. Do that, your members will live. Disobey me, and they will all die – including your Tabitha."

Tabitha didn't know. Tabitha thought that Maxie had refused Giratina's demands. Giratina had nearly killed him once already –

"There has to be some other way," Maxie said. "Please – not him. I can –"

"I will keep him alive for as long as you obey me," Giratina said. "You have no right to ask anything more from me."

"But –"

Giratina snarled.

"I know your kind. You think I can be manipulated, you think I can be persuaded, you think I can be molded to your image, just like your Groudon. You could not control them; how do you expect to control me?"

Maxie shook his head, tried to speak –

"I will take him," Giratina said. "and if you disobey me, I will kill him. And I will tell him all while he dies that it was you. That he will die for your failure. And then I will keep you alive, long after the land crumbles and the sun burns out and everyone you ever knew, everyone you could ever know, is dead. Knowing this, will you still fight me? Will you still refuse?"

Giratina was close now, their face mere inches away from Maxie's own. Maxie stared into their burning red eye and prayed for forgiveness.

"I will do as you say."

"Good," said Giratina, and the white void faded away as sensation returned to Maxie's body.

Maxie picked himself off the ground, taking deep breaths and feeling the pulse in his ears. He leaned against the door, listening to the clock tick, and went over all the bad decisions he had made that had brought him to this moment. Starting the team. Leading the team. Somehow convincing Tabitha that he was good, convincing so many people that he was a person worth following, even as Groudon's roars echoed in his ears, even as the sun scorched the earth.

He didn't know how long he had stayed there ruminating when the screams started.

Chapter Text

Tabitha had passed Zero on the way to the kitchen, the other man struggling to balance a plate of food while on his crutches. Tabitha would have offered to help, if all his previous offers hadn't been refused. They passed without a word.

When he got back to the kitchen, the grunts on meal duty were putting away dinner. Tabitha cracked a smile. "You didn't save any for me?"

The two grunts, Gil and Joey, nearly jumped out of their skin. Joey started stammering uncontrollably, and Gil took a moment to clear his throat and said, "Sorry, sir, I think what Joey's trying to say is we thought you had already eaten."

Tabitha hated how the grunts acted around him now. He could see how they felt, uncomfortable and unsure, and he hated how he could feel their eyes drifting to his missing arm, no matter how hard they tried not to stare. He had lost an arm, not his fucking awareness.

He kept the smile plastered on his face. "Well, let me help you clean up."

"But if you didn't eat –"

"I'll get something later. It's no problem."

He moved towards the dirty dishes before either of them could protest further. He saw Gil shrug out of the corner of his eye, and the two grunts got back to work.

It was hard to keep the pots still while he scrubbed them; without another hand to steady them, they wouldn't stay still. Tabitha gritted his teeth and wedged the pot he was washing under the faucet. It worked, but he could feel it shifting, ready to slip away at any moment.

He felt so useless.

Gil and Joey kept their distance, cleaning the rest of the kitchen while Tabitha struggled with a single pot. Finally, he gave up on scrubbing it and turned the water on to rinse it. He had done good enough, he thought. The pot was clean enough that he could see his reflection in the metal.

His reflection wavered, ripples of another world spreading out. Tabitha caught a glimpse of something moving –

The pot hit the sink with a clatter. He hadn't even noticed dropping it.

The grunts looked over. "Sir," Joey asked. "Are you alright?"

Tabitha took a deep breath. His stump was throbbing. "Yes. I need to report to Leader Maxie."

The door was across the room. It seemed so far away. Tabitha forced himself to move. Just a few steps.

He didn't make it to the door.

Zero practically lived in the communications room. He would sleep there if he could – not that Newton would call in the middle of the night, but… it was silly and childish, but staying in there made him feel like he was closer to him. To Newton.

Mostly, he just tolerated conversation with Callie, the Magma grunt who was most always assigned there. Callie went by singular they pronouns, and was the second person in Team Magma to do so that Zero knew of. The first was Joey, who was apparently very interested in alternate dimensions, had followed his and Newton's research closely, and was terrified to approach him.

"Good," Zero said, stirring the food on his plate. "I'm not interested in talking to them."

"Don't be like that," Callie said. "I bet they'd love to talk to you."

"I'm not interested in discussing my past research." Zero picked at the collar of the red turtleneck he had been loaned; the only spare clothes Team Magma had were their uniforms, which were uncomfortably warm inside the volcano they had made their base in. How did the others manage? At least he had turned down wearing the hooded jacket that went with it. "It's not something I want to think about, let alone talk about it with a kid."

"I mean, that's fair, I guess. Joey's nineteen, though. That's not a kid."

"That age? They're definitely a kid."

"How old are you, anyway?"


Callie raised their eyebrow. "Seriously? You look way younger."

Zero decided not to respond to that and continued eating. The food was surprisingly fresh, leaving him to wonder how they were getting groceries.

"You know," Callie said, "if you're going to sit in here to eat every meal, you might as well talk to me."

"I come here because it's quiet," Zero said. "Talking would be counterproductive. And I don't want to talk about myself."

"Then we can talk about me. Why don't you ask me questions?"

Zero rolled his eyes. "Why did you join this team?"

Callie hesitated for a moment. "Wow, uh, guess I should've seen that coming."

Zero went back to his food, assuming they wouldn't answer, but Callie spoke after a few more moments. "My parents cut me off after I came out as trans," they said. "I mean, they cut me off financially. And in pretty much every other way, I guess. I was an okay trainer, but, y'know, not every trainer can make a living from it. I wasn't earning enough money from pokémon battles to feed myself or my pokémon. Then Team Magma had a recruiting thing in Rustboro, and I figured it would be better than dying on the street."

Zero stared at them, finding himself at a loss for words.

They met his eyes and shrugged. "I think it worked out okay. I have friends here. I get food and a place to sleep. Hell, the boss even pays all of us, though the salary's way less than it used to be. Makes sense, really. I don't even know how Maxie makes money."

"Did the other members join for similar reasons?" Zero asked.

"Nah," said Callie. "I mean, kind of? I don't know everyone's story. Most people either joined because they thought it was a good idea, or because they had no other options. Leo got into a fight with his family and ran away. Morgan just wanted to rebel, I think, but after the whole incident her parents disowned her and she had to stay here. Penny – oh man, Penny's story is hilarious, actually. She was an Aqua spy who defected to us 'cause she liked us better. I mean, it was probably more complicated than that, but it's funnier to say it that way."

"An Aqua spy?"

"Yeah, you know Team Aqua?"

Zero shook his head. "Are they like you?"

"Holy shit, you don't know Team Aqua?" Callie leaned back in their chair. "Okay, they were – still are, if they're still around – a rival team to us. Their leader, Archie, was Maxie's rival, I guess? They definitely knew each other before they formed the teams. So while Magma wanted to increase the land, Aqua wanted to expand the sea, and they were going after the legendary Kyogre while we went after Groudon. So we fought them a lot. They're actually the reason we haven't disbanded. We were gonna, after nearly ending the goddamn world, but Penny's old friends warned her that Team Aqua hadn't disbanded, even though Archie and Maxie both agreed they were going to, and that they were still going after Kyogre. So Penny told Leader Maxie, and he told everyone we had to stop them. Lots of us left anyway, but like I said, there's a lot of us who didn't have anywhere else to go."

Zero opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by screaming.

A burst of wind exploding from the pot, strong enough to knock him over. Tabitha hit the floor hard, hearing dishes shatter around him and Gil and Joey screaming. He grabbed the edge of a counter and struggled to pull himself up with one arm.

Someone – Gil, he realized, after a moment of panic – took hold of him and pulled him to his feet. "Joey!" Gil shouted. "Help us get out of here!"

Where the pot had been, a portal now took up most of the sink. Tabitha recognized two strands of darkness stretching out of it as the same substance Giratina's wings were made of. The blood drained out of his face, watching the wings snake closer and closer, and Tabitha couldn't move, frozen in place even as Gil tried to pull him towards the door.

He spotted Joey, on the other side of the kitchen, pressing themself against the wall, their face white, as one of the dark strands crept closer and closer to them. Tabitha swallowed hard and pulled his arm out of Gil's grasp. "Joey!" he said. "Stay calm. Don't make any sudden movements. Gil, go get Leader Maxie."

"But sir –"

"Go!" Tabitha snapped, keeping his eyes on Joey, who was trying to edge away from Giratina's wing. Finally, he heard Gil run out the door, and he grabbed the longest item within arm's reach, a long metal ladle. Wielding it in front of him, he took a step towards Joey and jabbed the ladle into one of the wings.

Instantly, the wing coiled around the ladle and yanked it out of his grip, dragging it into the portal. Tabitha stared at his empty hand, dumbfounded, then grabbed another serving utensil lying on the counter. There was still the wing threatening Joey, almost touching them. Tabitha stepped forward again and –

The wing wrapped around his arm and pulled

Joey was screaming. Tabitha stumbled, dragged towards the portal, desperately leaning his weight away. The door was slammed open and he heard Maxie yell wordlessly before his leader had wrapped his arms around his waist, halting Tabitha's progression towards the portal.

But Giratina still pulled, and his arm screamed in pain, and for one, horrible moment, the memory of being pinned under Giratina's body in their domain, their beak around his left arm, the pain unimaginable – it overwhelmed him, and out of the pain, one thought rose to the surface: I'm going to lose my other arm.

He screamed –

"Maxie, let go!"

And maybe he had been taken by surprise, maybe he didn't realize what Tabitha had been thinking, but whatever the case – Maxie did.

In the last moments before he was swallowed by the portal, Tabitha looked back and saw the horror on Maxie's face, still reaching towards him.


The portal was gone. Maxie pressed his hands against the stone wall above the sink, solid and unforgiving. He slammed his fist against it. "Tabitha! Tabitha!"

He could almost hear Giratina's voice in his head, praising him for the show he was putting on. What a realistic display of pain! Surely, if he had already fooled the being of emotion, this would solidify the lie. Who would doubt that Magma Leader Maxie was not working for Giratina? Didn't this prove it?

"Damn you!" he shouted. "Damn you, damn you! Give him back! Give him back!"

Someone was crying. Maxie was fairly certain it wasn't him. There were more of the grunts in the kitchen now, all talking at once, and he couldn't – he was a fool, a fool for ever thinking he could lead the team, for ever thinking he could protect them. A bunch of kids with nowhere else to go.

His hand was bleeding. Slowly, rhythmically, he kept hitting the wall, feeling the pain but not fully processing it. Everything was numb. "Tabitha," he said. "Tabitha. Please, God, please…"


The telepathic voice cut through his thoughts like a knife. Maxie stiffened, his breaths coming out in gasps. He could recognize Azelf's voice, knew fae was there behind him, but he couldn't face faer. Please, God, he just wanted to tell the truth. He just wanted his team to be safe. God. God!

This is not helpful, Azelf said. Regardless of what you are lying about, we know you have been speaking to Giratina. If you want to have any chance of saving him, you will tell us what they said to you.

It was time to lie. Lie, and maybe, Giratina would spare Tabitha. Maybe he could still save him. But seeing Tabitha disappear into that portal – Maxie's hands were shaking. This wasn't an act. None of this was an act. 

"Giratina is going to kill him," he said, "and you didn't do anything."

Azelf let out a breathy snort. You have no idea what we have been doing, fae continued telepathically. Giratina has been attempting attack on this very base for days, now, and who has been warding them off?

Maxie gritted his teeth. "None of this should have anything to do with us," he said, forcing his voice to stay steady. "We shouldn't be cowering in the base. We shouldn't be terrified of mirrors. None of the members of Team Magma should be fearing for their lives. And you have told us nothing."

You do not need to know everything.

He had to stay in control. He couldn't let his emotions overwhelm him. Maxie couldn't speak for a moment.

"You have told us nothing," he repeated. "You put our members into danger –"

I saved your member's lives!

"You abandoned them in Giratina's cave –"

That is not what happened!

"Why was Rebecca taken?!" he said, his voice rising in volume. "Why did you want to rescue Zero?! I am finding it hard to believe you give a damn about his wellbeing!"

These are not things you need to know!

Maxie whirled around. "We deserve to know!" he shouted, staring right into Azelf's glaring eyes. "We deserve to know why we are being targeted, at the very least! You are using us! You are manipulating us! Giratina is going to kill us all, and you have told us nothing!"

He slammed his fist on the counter, rattling the dishes. Azelf lashed faer tails, faer face twisted in a snarl. There was a crowd of grunts crowded around the entrance to the kitchen, all keeping their distance – except for Joey, who was quietly sobbing on the kitchen floor. Maxie spotted Zero just outside the door, then forced himself to meet Azelf's eyes again.

Fine, Azelf said. You want to know? I will tell you. We are going to end the cycle of birth and death. We are going to break down the barriers that trap us in mortality, in entropy, in inevitable end. This world – Azelf whined, the sound high-pitched and piercing. This world –

Azelf, enough.

The new voice pierced their minds with a tone of authority. A new being had teleported into the room, with the same body as Azelf and Mesprit, but with eyes serenely closed and a large, grooved yellow head. This was Uxie, Maxie realized, the third member of the triad of will, emotion, and knowledge.

Uxie, why are you here? Azelf said. I told you I would –

You are getting too emotional, Uxie said. You will not make things better if you continue alone. You may stay here while I talk to them, or you may leave and return once you have calmed.

Azelf made a noise, a soft zuull, before turning faer back to Maxie and vanishing. Uxie faced him instead, and despite faer closed eyes, Maxie had the sense faer gaze was affixed on him.

You have been a long time with questions, Uxie said. You are right that you deserve answers.

Maxie felt tears beginning to form; he squeezed his eyes shut to will them away. He couldn't break down. Not in front of all the grunts, practically children. He straightened his posture and folded his arms behind his back. "Damn right we deserve answers," he said, opening his eyes. There were still tears. He ignored them. At the very least, he could keep his voice steady.

Ask your questions, but understand that I will not answer everything. Uxie was nearly motionless, faer only movement being faer tails swinging back and forth. We do not fully trust you, as you do not fully trust us. Regardless, I believe we can work together.

Maxie nodded. "Why was Rebecca taken? Azelf told Rachel that you had business with her, but what did that have to do with Giratina?"

Uxie was quiet for a moment. It is a long story, fae said. Much like a prophecy, Rebecca was chosen. We had a large group of potentials that we narrowed down over the course of several years, until she was the last who remained.

"That only raises more questions. What was Rebecca chosen for?"

It is a long story, Uxie said again. Rebecca knew Giratina as a god of death. This is not strictly true. Giratina, as a being existing between borders, can manipulate the boundary of life and death. They can take people out of life and bring them back, but only if they are the one who killed them, and then only if they purposefully remain in control of their soul. Once a soul passes into the afterlife, Giratina can do nothing. Even so, Giratina is the closest to death, and the only one who could enact our plan. We approached Giratina and told them what we wanted to do. We asked them to cooperate. Giratina refused.

"And what did you want to do?" Maxie's chest hurt. There was a lump in his throat. Tears were still leaking out of his eyes, running down his cheeks.

It is a long story. Part of the reason we chose Rebecca was because she has lower willpower than average. She is most comfortable following the instructions of others, within normal human limits. After losing control of her, Giratina presumably attempted to persuade you to their side because they know Rebecca will listen to you. They know she will follow your orders. When it comes to a difficult decision, your voice will be a strong influence in what she chooses.

"You are avoiding my question."

I am attempting to answer your question as best I can. Being part of a team that is loyal to its members gives Rebecca more power and resources than she would have outside Team Magma. If she had left, back when she had that decision, we would not have chosen her. Who else would have the structure necessary to look for her? Who else would have the strength and determination to enter Turnback Cave? Uxie paused. I am sorry for what happened there. It is true that Azelf misled you. Fae was unsure your members would be willing to risk their lives to find a stranger, but they were willing to enter that cave to find Rebecca. So fae lied. I am sorry for that. It is impossible to tell whether things would have been better if we had been more open from the beginning, but at the very least, our relations would be better.

Uxie was still not answering his question – frustration was building inside him. Maxie gritted his teeth. He forced himself to wait. Surely Uxie had a reason for telling him all this.

His patience was rewarded. Giratina has immense power over death, moreso than any other being we know of, Uxie said. We need to harness that power to understand death, to understand mortality. It is the only way we can bridge the gap between life and what lies beyond. Azelf has already revealed our goals. We want to change the world. We want to end death.

Maxie's first reaction was a failure to process Uxie's statement. It didn't feel real. Like he was living in a fairytale. Death wasn't something you could end; death was the end. The universe itself would eventually die and even the so-called immortal legendary pokémon would cease to be.

His second reaction was to suppress a sob. His breath caught in his throat. Another tear fell from his eyes. The grunts had certainly noticed he was crying. The only thing he could do was stay in control as best he could.

His third reaction was to close his eyes and think back to the speeches he used to give. How legendary pokémon could make impossibilities realities. How Groudon could bend the laws of the universe and bring new prosperity to humanity. It had been true, hadn't it? Groudon's powers defied the laws of physics. The sun burned bright in the sky and the water – it didn't evaporate to fall down as rain, it disappeared. If Groudon had been unchallenged –

Tabitha had helped him off the ground, had held him up when his legs refused to hold the weight of what he had done. I'll stay with you, Tabitha said. If you find the resolve to accept responsibility for your actions, to set right your wrongs, then I will serve at your side forever.

His heart ached. When he opened his eyes, he could see all the grunts staring at him, Uxie hovering in place in front of him. Waiting for a response. What could he say? What could he possibly say in response to the notion of ending death?

"What are you asking of me?" he said.

Uxie frowned. At this point, there is little you or your team can do. We must wait.

"I am not going to sit and do nothing. There must be something." Maxie clenched his fists. "I need to get him back."

He didn't say his name, but of course Uxie knew who he was talking about. What did Giratina say they were going to do to him? fae asked.

"What do you think?" Maxie took a deep breath. It was time to lie. "Giratina told me they would give me one last chance to agree to their terms," he said. "If I refused, Tabitha would die. I have until tonight to give them my answer."

I see, Uxie said. My siblings and I may be able to separate them before then. We will be waiting the moment Giratina leaves the Reverse World. If we do not, you may tell Giratina you agree to their terms, if it will keep Tabitha alive longer.

Maxie nodded, unable to find words.

Please be prepared for the worst. Giratina may not believe you. They may insist on keeping Tabitha until you deliver Rebecca and Zero to them, which you must not do under any circumstance. They may kill him anyway. We will do what we can.

"And there is still nothing I can do," Maxie said.

Not immediately, but you were right. There are some things. Uxie turned faer head down. We will return with instructions. It was not right to leave you so long without them. I am sorry.

He wouldn't be able to keep himself together for much longer. Tears were still falling. "Is that all you have for me?" he asked.

I will leave you for now. I will return soon.

And with that, Uxie vanished.

Maxie did not waste any time. He fixed his gaze on the group of grunts. "I want all of you out of here," he said.

Joey got to their feet, their body shaking with repressed sobs. "Sir," they choked out.

"That was an order. I want everyone out of this room now."

Someone else started to speak. Maxie gritted his teeth. "Get out!" he shouted, and finally, the grunts nearly tripped over themselves in their rush to get out of the kitchen and nearby hall. Zero didn't move at first, until someone pulled on his arm and he let himself be led down the hall and out of sight.

Alone, Maxie crouched on the ground and covered his mouth in an attempt to muffle his sobs.

Chapter Text

Tabitha screamed, he struggled, kicked his legs in the air, desperately tried to wrench his arm out of Giratina's grip. Giratina kept their beak clamped around his arm as they glided through the Reverse World, letting him dangle from it, and his shoulder was screaming in pain – "Let me go!" Tabitha shouted, despite the dizzying void beneath him. "Let me go!" – But of course Giratina ignored him.

When he was dropped, Tabitha knew better than to think his desperate protests had anything to do with it.

Tabitha hit the ground hard and for a moment he could only lie there with pain wracking his body. The next moment, Giratina had crashed down on top of him, and the pain became too much for his body to cope with.

He was on his knees in a featureless white void, staring down at what passed for a ground, refusing to lift his head up to see –

"Useless child, worthless child, did you ever have potential, or were you always destined to be a waste of resources?"

Tabitha gritted his teeth, feeling a familiar rage rising up inside him, desperate and painful –

"What could you ever hoped to accomplish with your short, miserable life? Surely more than what you've done?"

A strangled sob escaped him and he clamped his hand over his mouth, tried to will himself into silence –

"What have you done? Helped lead the world to ruin, almost, following a man almost as pathetic and weak as you –"

The rage overwhelmed him, and he couldn't remain silent any longer. "No!" Tabitha shouted, and he jerked his head up, confronting – he could see nothing, but there must have been someone. "You're wrong! Maxie is strong, stronger than I am, and – strong enough to defy you!" Laughter filled his ears – Tabitha raised his voice. "He can do great things, he truly cares about the world, he – he – stop laughing!" Still the laughter continued. "Stop laughing! Stop laughing!"

He kept shouting as the world faded away, until even his voice faded and there was only Giratina's laughter ringing in his head.

He woke up with a gasp.

"Oh thank God, you're alive!"

His mind was still hazy. Tabitha struggled to wake up and comprehend his surroundings. He was in a cave. His head hurt. His uniform felt sticky and hot. There was someone leaning over him, some young person with striking blonde hair.

It had been a dream. It had to have been a dream. Why did it still burn so brightly in his memory?

"Are you alright? You're alright, right? Oh, God –"

Tabitha grimaced and managed to push himself up to a sitting position, the person quickly moving out of the way. "'m fine," he mumbled. "Who are…"

He trailed off when he got a good look at the person, small and skinny, who averted their gaze and fidgeted with the fabric of their blue-and-white striped shirt. The shirt, although dirty, was still recognizable as part of the Team Aqua uniform, along with the slate blue shorts that ended just above their knee. And Tabitha had been wearing his admin uniform when he had gone into the kitchen that day –

"Yeah," the person squeaked, their face flushed. "I'm a member of Aqua. And I, uh, know who you are."

Tabitha nodded, slowly. "Well," he said, "I can't say the same for you, mister…?"

They winced. "I'm, um, nonbinary."

"Oh. Sorry."

"I mean, I guess it doesn't really matter, we're just both stuck here and I didn't want you to think of me as a guy this whole time but we're the only people here and I don't know and –"

Tabitha interrupted him with a wordless exclamation, having just then noticed he had blood all over his uniform.

"I'm sorry!" the person cried, while Tabitha tried to take deep breaths and calm his racing heart. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean –"

"It's not you," Tabitha managed to say. "It's – what did Giratina do to me?"

The person looked away, towards the mouth of the cave. Tabitha followed their gaze to what lay outside. Floating chunks of land, twisted up into repeating hourglass shapes, otherworldly patterns filling the sky.

"They killed you and brought you back," they said. "Like they did to me."

Tabitha looked down at himself. His uniform didn't appear to be torn, but there was blood splattered all over the front. He put his hand to his throat, and realized the neck of his shirt was in shreds. His heart was pounding.

"So," he said, his voice shaking. "Giratina has been targeting Team Aqua… just as they have targeting Team Magma."

"I don't know," the person said. "I – they just – they just grabbed me off the boat and took me here, and I don't know if – if everyone else is okay, or if Giratina went back, and sometimes I think they're all dead – but why would Giratina keep me alive if –"

They stopped rambling when Tabitha cleared his throat. "What is your name?" he asked.

"Marcus." They looked down and started twisting their hands in their shirt again. "I know it's a boy's name and I probably should've changed it, but – I don't know, I just –"

Tabitha couldn't help but laugh. "Marcus," he said, "I'm a man named Tabitha. You can have whatever name you want."

Marcus still looked uncomfortable and wouldn't meet his gaze. "I'm sorry," they said.

"For what? I ought to be thanking you."

"You probably don't want to be stuck here with me."

"I'd rather be stuck with you than be left on my own." Tabitha thought he knew what the problem was, and decided to rip the bandage right off. "I don't care that you're an Aqua member. Our teams aren't as different as we'd like to think. Penny told me that, once."

Marcus snapped their head up. "You know Penny?"

Tabitha cracked a smile. "I know all the Magma grunts."

They smiled, too, just a little. "Leader Archie was so mad when she left. Why did your leader even let her join?"

"I wasn't there, but…" The memory of Maxie, so long ago, brought with it a pang of sorrow. "…he told me about it. Apparently she confessed to being an Aqua spy and he didn't believe her."

"No way!"

"He thought someone was making her fake a confession as some sort of practical joke. We had fixed the 'mistake' of her not being in the member database, so she was officially a member by then. Maxie didn't realize she had been serious until some of your members recognized her on a mission."

Marcus covered their mouth to suppress a giggle. "He's not – I mean – he really didn't think she was serious?"

"It was hard for him to believe. She fit in so well. She still does." Tabitha glanced at the mouth of the cave again. There was nothing outside but the Reverse World itself, no presences other than him and Marcus. "I don't see her often now, though. She's been stationed at Courtney's base."

"Courtney's still there?"

"Why wouldn't she be?"

"Shelly left," Marcus said, and their eyes widened. "I mean – um – sorry, I probably shouldn't have –"

Tabitha shook his head. "I can't say I'm interested in knowing all of Team Aqua's secrets while we're trapped here," he said. "You can tell me everything once we get out."

Marcus' face drained of color. "I – I –"

"That was a joke. I don't expect you to tell me –"

"No," they said. "We can't get out. I've – I've tried. I've been here for weeks. We can't."

"I don't intend to wait here for Giratina to come back and kill me."

"No!" Marcus said. "You don't – maybe it's because they killed me once already, maybe it's because we're in their world, but –" Their voice hitched. "I got close to the portal out and my heart just stopped. My body just – it just died. And when Giratina brought me back the portal was gone."

Tabitha pondered this for a moment. Marcus swallowed and continued.

"They don't – if they wanted us dead, we would be dead right now. They can kill us any time they want. We can't get out."

The hopelessness of their situation was beginning to make itself known. Tabitha fought it off.

"I can't accept that," he said. "I need to go back. I can't – I can't –"

The horror on Maxie's face as Tabitha was dragged into the portal –

"– I can't sit here and do nothing," he said, and he stood up.

Marcus was on their feet in an instant. "Don't go!" they pleaded. "Please, I can't – I don't want to be alone again – please –"

"I can't stay here!" Tabitha said, louder than he intended. He twisted his face in a grimace and struggled to regain his composure. "Giratina told Maxie they would kill all of Team Magma if he did not do as they said. No doubt I am meant as a hostage." There were phantom pains in his missing arm again. "I can't stay."

"Giratina isn't going to let you leave!"

"There were two others who were taken!" Tabitha snapped. "They both got out! They were both rescued! Giratina can't keep us here forever!"

"I've been here for weeks," Marcus repeated, their eyes welling with tears. "Please, I – I started seeing things, hearing voices, talking to nobody. You're the first real person I've seen here. Don't leave me alone."

Tabitha took a deep breath. "Then you're coming with me," he said. "I don't want to be alone either, but I'm not giving up hope. I will drag you out if I have to."

Marcus flinched backwards. "But – I can't, Giratina will –"

"I helped save one person from Giratina already," Tabitha said firmly. "I'll save you, too. Even if –" His voice faltered. "– even if I have to lose my other arm."

He saw Marcus' eyes flick to his empty sleeve and back to his face. Tabitha forced himself not to break eye contact.

"But –" Marcus broke off the gaze first, staring down at the ground. "You don't know me. I guess I don't really know you, either. You – you would really – for me?"

"Well, I wouldn't do it for Archie." Tabitha smiled.

Marcus didn't seem to find the joke funny. They screwed up their face and put a hand to their mouth, a sob escaping them.

"…I'm sorry," Tabitha said, dropping the smile from his face. "I shouldn't make cracks at your leader like that."

"It's not that." Marcus turned away. "I – I told you. It's been weeks, and you're the first person – the first person who – who –" They sobbed again. "I don't think anyone's looking for me," they whispered.

There had been a conversation with Maxie, shortly before everything had gone to hell, or perhaps when the hell had just started. "There's nothing we can do," he had said, sounding tired and much older than he was. "We've sent someone to search the area and found nothing. What else can we do? How do we know this legendary pokémon hasn't killed her already? I know it's hard, Tabitha, but –"

"No, Maxie, I agree," Tabitha had responded. "Even if we found a way to follow Giratina, if it reacts with the same violence, or worse… it's hard, and it's awful, but we have to at least wait for more information."

Rachel accused them of leaving Rebecca for dead, and it had not been inaccurate.

"You really won't leave me alone?" Marcus said quietly.

"Of course not," Tabitha said, and decided not to elaborate.

"Okay," they said. "Okay. I'll – I'll come with you."

"That's good." He smiled again, and Marcus managed a smile back. "Let's go."

"It's not your fault, Zero," Newton said. "You know that, right?"

"With all due respect, Newton," he responded, "Giratina specifically requested me to be returned to them."

"Not just you! You and – uh, the other… person."

Undoubtedly, Rebecca was within earshot on, so Newton wouldn't want to specify her by name. She was already upset upon hearing the news that Tabitha had been taken – did she know that Giratina had wanted her, too?

"I can't help but think a compromise could be reached," Zero said, his voice oddly calm. "If I –"

"No, Zero!"

"If it's me or dozens of others –"

"I can't lose you again!"

The obvious pain in Newton's voice should've been enough for Zero to stop. A better person would have. But Zero had never been a good person, nor had he tried to be.

"I would rather go back there than live knowing I've doomed these people to what I went through," he said. "Newton –"

"Dammit, Zero! If you go back there, I'll rebuild the damn Megarig and kill Giratina myself!"

Silence followed his words. Zero stared wide-eyed at – at nothing, Newton's homebuilt phone rig wasn't capable of video – and desperately searched for something to say.

"I've thought about what happened then," Newton continued, his voice shaking. "How it could've gone differently. How maybe if I hadn't run off like that – disappeared for five years – we could've repaired our relationship. Found different ways of researching the Reverse World. Maybe we could've developed a Megarig that would've worked the way we – the way I wanted it to. And then I think –"

"Newton," Zero managed to whisper.

"– and then I think – I could've stepped back when you captured them. I could have let Giratina die. And then I think – God, Zero. I should have stayed with you. I should have – I should never have deleted those blueprints."

What could he possibly say in response to that?

He still had to sleep in the medical facilities. Zero supposed it was better than sharing a room with a dozen other people, like Team Magma's grunts did. The only single rooms belonged to the leader and the admin, and Zero did not hate himself or anyone else enough to ask for Tabitha's vacated room. Bad enough the idea had manifested in his mind.

He stared at the stone ceiling, the sheet draped over him. It didn't make any sense. If Giratina could reach into Team Magma's base from the Reverse World – why hadn't they taken him back? Zero considered again that he could pull off the cloth draped in front of the mirrors and stand there and wait for –

Dammit, Zero! If you go back there, I'll rebuild the damn Megarig and kill Giratina myself!

None of this would last. Zero knew this. Giratina would come back for him and drag him back into Hell where he would suffer for eternity and never see Newton again. He knew this.

So why hadn't it happened? Why was he being allowed to hope, to want, to heal?

Zero rolled over and covered his head with the pillow.

The only answer he could come up with was that Giratina was toying with him.

Chapter Text

"I think you owe me an explanation," Morgan said.

Rachel poured herself cereal and turned away.

"Seriously!" Morgan followed her to the corner of the cafeteria, where Rachel sat on the floor with her back to the wall. Morgan sat down beside her. "You've been avoiding all of us for days now! I've heard you haven't even talked to Rebecca at all! Even I've talked to Rebecca!"

"Leave me alone," said Rachel, looking down at her bowl.

"Rachel, I swear to God, if you want me to leave you alone for good and never talk to you again, I will, but not if you don't give me a reason. I know I'm a jerk, but – dammit, you're my friend! I don't want to end our friendship like this!"

"I'm not –" Rachel lifted her head up for a moment, then averted her gaze. "I don't want to end our friendship," she said. "I just need some time alone."

"If you don't want to end our friendship, then talk to me! Tell me what's going on!"

Rachel didn't say anything. She hadn't gotten a spoon, Morgan noticed. Was she planning to eat the dry cereal with her bare hands? Or, more likely, Morgan had distracted her and caused her to forget it.

"You are a jerk," Rachel said. "For making me do this."

"Do what? Talk to me?"

"Yes!" Rachel snapped, a burst of anger Morgan wasn't expecting. "I want to be alone! I want to – God, I just want to disappear! I don't want people to care about me the way they do!"

"Rachel –"

"I keep thinking – there must have been something I could've done. Something different, so Rebecca would still be here and Tabitha wouldn't've lost an arm and – and he would still be here too, but –" She wiped her eyes. "There's nothing. Considering the information I had – I did the best I could. I looked for Rebecca, I tried to save Tabitha – I did everything right and all these horrible things are happening anyway."

"It's not your fault," Morgan said. This only seemed to make Rachel angrier.

"I know that! There's nothing I could've been expected to do better – not without knowing – it was all out of my control. It's still out of my control. There's nothing I can do but sit here and do nothing." Her voice hitched. "How am I supposed to face Rebecca like this?"

"Rachel, it's not your fault –"

"What the fuck did I just say!"

"Listen, dammit!" Morgan shook her head. "It's not your fault because it's not your responsibility, okay? Not you alone. A single person can't do shit. That's why Leader Maxie has a team and didn't try to get Groudon on his own."

"What are you even saying?"

"It's like – a single person and a group of people are entirely different… things, you know?" She spread her hands out in a pointless gesture. "A group has responsibility, I guess, 'cause a group's the only thing that can do anything. A person doesn't have the same responsibility. It's just different, okay? I don't know how to explain it."

"Clearly," said Rachel. "I guess I get it, kind of. At least the part about one person not being able to do anything. I guess I'm not special in that way."

"What, did you think some individuals were special? That they could do shit without anyone else's help? Nobody's like that, Rachel."

Rachel turned away. "Legendary pokémon are," she said. "I know that much."

Morgan didn't know how to respond to that.

"Will you leave me alone now?" Rachel said, and Morgan realized she hadn't helped at all.

"I guess, yeah," she said. "Just remember – you're my friend, okay? Rebecca's friend, too. You don't have to avoid us all like this."

Rachel stood up. "I'm going to get a spoon," she said, and she walked away. Morgan decided not to follow.

Obviously we're not trying to literally bring everyone back to life, Azelf said, clearly annoyed. We're not trying to stop people from dying, either – if we succeed, mortal bodies will still stop functioning and rot. What we aim to do is to open the gateway between this world and the next, to open up communication, maybe even travel, between the realm of the living and the dead. That is what we mean by ending death – the concept of death as we know it, the concept of losing someone, will cease to exist.

Maxie took a deep breath. "That certainly sounds more reasonable than ending death entirely," he said. "But you're going off assumptions about the nature of death that I have no way of knowing are true."

We know that people do not cease to be when they die, Azelf said. That is not an assumption, that is fact. The dead can be brought back to life. You know that.

His office seemed cramped and crowded. Odd, considering the only other being there was Azelf. Maxie sat at his desk while the being of will hovered in front of him, slowly waving faer tails back and forth. Fae seemed much calmer than the last time they had spoken, though there was still an irritable edge to faer telepathic voice.

"I can still…" He frowned. "I still think there are issues with this," he said. "Can you explain to me how you would accomplish this?"

Giratina has command over boundaries, to a limited degree. The most obvious, and the one they have the most power over, is the boundary between the real world and their own. Uxie told you this. Azelf lashed faer tails. You are undoubtedly familiar with their power over the boundary between life and death. Giratina is one of the only beings with any sort of power over this boundary. There are those who can take people across the boundary, of course – Yveltal kills, Xerneas resurrects – but Giratina is the only one who can manipulate the boundary itself.

"But – manipulating the boundary, what does that mean?"

Giratina can keep people alive past when their body would have shut down. They can also push people into death before their time and without a mortal injury. Manipulating the boundary, moving the line between life and death. Again, Giratina's power over this is limited, and can only be manifested under certain conditions.

"None of that tells me how you could accomplish ending death."

Azelf grinned, an oddly human expression on the legendary pokémon. We are going to take Giratina's power. We will take this power from them and amplify it, strengthen it until the boundary of life and death bends to our will.

Maxie blinked. "You are… taking their power." He didn't know how he was able to keep his voice steady.

Yes. They did not agree to give it up willingly, so we will take it by force. This is one of the natures of our conflict. Azelf leaned down, putting faer face right in front of Maxie's, who instinctively leaned away. We did not plan to involve mortals in this, let alone humans, fae said, faer eyes wide. But it is true what Uxie said. We needed resources that we did not have. I will be honest with you, Magma Leader Maxie, the others you call legendary were not receptive to our ideas.

"I…" Maxie struggled to process all the information given to him, spoken casually as if it were things he was expected to know. "I was not aware there was much communication between the different factions of legendary pokémon."

Not all of them, Azelf said. There is a sort of council. My siblings and I are part of it. Others are part of it. Giratina chooses not to be. We broached the idea to this council, and we were met with negativity, leading us to believe that we should attempt our plans with them knowing.

Maxie tried to think of it in terms he could understand. Perhaps what Azelf was doing was as if a fraction of Team Magma made plans to overthrow the leadership. Or, no – if a fraction of Team Magma split apart from the rest to resurrect their own legendary pokémon in secret. But such comparisons… Azelf wanted to change the world in ways Maxie couldn't comprehend. What would the world fae spoke of look like? A world where death wasn't the end, wasn't a black hole from which no one could hope to return without legendary intervention.

Maxie shook his head to try and get his thoughts in order. It didn't help.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked.

Whatever he expected from Azelf, it wasn't, Go to Sootopolis.

"Go where?"

Azelf flicked faer tails. We intend to trap Giratina in Sootopolis, where we will perform the ritual to take their power and control it. We need you there with Zero, where you will meet with Newton and Rebecca. You may bring whomever else you choose.

Maxie struggled to find words. "What will we be doing there?" he managed to ask.

I know you are still in contact with Giratina. I cannot tell you everything.

"You can't possibly expect me to go off to Sootopolis without knowing why."

I do, in fact, expect you to do just that.

Maxie had no argument against faer. He said nothing for a few moments before clearing his throat and asking, "When?"

Within the week.

"You understand that this is very sudden. Both I and the team need time to prepare."

You have days. Azelf turned away. You wanted to receive orders from us, did you not? You wanted to do something other than sit here and wait. This is it. We have everything we need for this final phase of our plan.


Our plan began decades ago. Your team is only involved in the late stages. Rest assured that you will not be involved for much longer, regardless of it's success.

"Could you have possibly found a less threatening way to word that?" Maxie said, and instantly regretted it.

Azelf giggled, hiding faer mouth behind faer paw and letting out a breathy "ze-heh-hel." You have such strong will! Be careful with it.

Fae left.

The next step was, of course, telling Giratina everything Azelf and Uxie had told him.

"Sootopolis," Giratina said, drifting in their slow circles. "Very well. I will be there."

Maxie said nothing. Tabitha, he thought. Was Tabitha alive. Was he okay. What was he thinking, at that very moment. Could he ever, ever forgive Maxie, for everything he had done in a situation spiraling out of his control. All he could do was hope that Giratina would do as they said, and that Tabitha would live to see the end of this.

"You have done as I wanted," Giratina said. "I will reward you for this. You may ask one question."

"I –" Maxie took a deep breath that he isn't sure he needed, in that strange space between life and death. "Please, I need to see Tabitha. I –"

Giratina growled. "A question, not a demand. You may not see him. You may not make demands of me. You may ask one question."

He needed to think strategically. He needed more information, needed to know what was happening so he could make the right choices. But what choices could he make? He couldn't defy Giratina.

Maxie had no options, and yet he was continuing to look for a way out.

"You are taking too long."

Maxie swallowed. "I… I don't know…"

Giratina flicked their tail. "Save your question. We will have more meetings, in the time before Sootopolis. You will continue to tell me everything you have been told."

Nothing mattered. He had no options. Maxie was trembling, his hands clenched into fists. His question didn't matter, because all he was going to do was whatever Giratina told him to do. He might as well waste it on something else that didn't matter.

"What happened to Team Aqua?" he asked.

Giratina was quiet for a few long moments. Their circling stopped. They stared at Maxie, who forced himself to meet their gaze. "The last we heard was that they hadn't disbanded," he said. Why was he being so assertive, to a demon like Giratina? It didn't matter. It didn't matter. "That's why we're are still a team. We needed to stay together for this – this unknown threat, this idea Team Aqua was still around, still planning something. What happened?"

"An interesting question," GIratina said. "Very interesting. You are correct, they have not disbanded."

Maxie took another deep breath.

"That's all I wanted to know," he said. "Thank you."

Giratina laughed, and Maxie woke up.

"Sootopolis," Zero repeated.

"Yes," Maxie said. "That's where we're going to meet with Newton and Rebecca. I'll let them know once they call again – if they don't already know. It's not a stretch to say that Azelf or one of faer siblings would have contacted them already."

Zero nodded. He could feel his heart pounding, while Callie's eyes darted between them and their leader. He barely paid attention to them, his thoughts concerned with only one thing:

He was going to see Newton again.

"Azelf told me we will leave in three days. I do not know yet how we'll travel – I imagine teleportation will be involved." Maxie took a deep breath. "I am still deciding who I would like to take with me. Callie –" The Magma grunt stiffened at the sound of their name. "– if you would like to come, I will take your feelings into consideration, though I can not make promises. I don't know how dangerous it will be, or how much information Azelf and faer siblings are willing to depart on us."

"Uh," Callie said. "I'll… think about it?"

Maxie nodded. "That's all I wanted to say. I'll leave you two be."

He walks out.

Even after their leader left the room, Callie didn't relax – their hands trembled, they picked at the neck of their uniform, they took fast breaths. Zero frowned. He had never seen them so high strung.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"Is anyone?" Callie said, and they cough. "I mean – I'm terrified, honestly. All of this…"

"I've been…" Well, no, it wasn't that he tried not to think about it. Zero thought about it constantly. "…Lord, I don't know how I've been coping."

"I know how I've been coping," Callie said.



Zero laughed. "Same here, then."

Callie laughed too, but only for a moment before the smile slid off their face. "Do you want me to come?" they asked.

"Do you?"

They took a deep, shaky breath. "I told you," they said, "I'm terrified. I don't know what's going to happen if I go – or if I stay. But… we're friends, aren't we? If you want me to come, I can do that for you."

Zero opened his mouth and said nothing.

"I mean, it's not for certain," Callie quickly added. "Leader Maxie didn't say – well, you heard what he said. But… it wouldn't hurt to ask, right?"

Zero shook his head. "I… I don't not want you to come," he said, "but I don't want you in danger, either. Please don't make me choose for you."

He didn't want Callie to come with him to Sootopolis. He hoped they were too afraid to ask Maxie to choose them. He was so, so tired of people doing things for him, not when he didn't deserve it, not when he didn't deserve even this brief respite from hell –

He said none of this.

Callie was his friend, after all.

"Okay," Callie said. "I'll, uh… think about it."

"I would like to be there," Courtney said over the video screen.

"No," Maxie said. "You will stay where you are."

Courtney's frown deepened. "Leader Maxie… I would like to be there."

"Courtney, listen. With Tabitha –" His voice faltered. "– unavailable, and with Azelf requiring me to go to Sootopolis, you will be responsible for the entirety of Team Magma. I cannot have you leaving the base at this time."

"But –"

"I'm not going to argue about this. Stay in the base, Courtney. That's an order."

He waited for Courtney's response. Courtney said nothing, her emotions unreadable behind her frown. Finally, she nodded. "I will… stay where I am."

Maxie breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Courtney. I will stay in contact as best I can."

"…understood. Is that all?"

"Yes. We'll speak again before I leave. You are dismissed."

Courtney nodded again, and the video feed ended.

"Sootopolis?" Rebecca asked. "Why there?"

The powers beneath Sootopolis are necessary for our plan to succeed, Uxie said. We will meet in the city, and begin the final phase. Afterwards, you may return home.

Home, Rebecca thought. Back to Mt. Chimney. She took a deep breath.

"And Zero will be there?" Newton asked yet again. "And he can come home with me? Is he alright with that? Is he –"

You and Zero can make your own arrangements – however, all of you must remain in Sootopolis for the duration of the final phase.

Newton nodded. "That's – that's fine, as long as – as long as we can – God, as long as we can see each other, be together, God…"

He shook his head. Rebecca looked down at her hands.


She snapped her head back up to stare at Uxie.

I know you must have many questions, Uxie said. Why you were chosen. What our goal is. Why your team has been so thoroughly embedded in this situation. You are very brave, Rebecca.

Rebecca opened her mouth, closed it, said nothing.

I cannot answer these questions just yet. Do know, Rebecca, that you must continue to be brave for a few days more. Your role in Sootopolis is vitally important, but you will not be alone, I promise you.

"Okay," said Rebecca.

That is all I have as of yet. Steel yourself. I will return in three days.

Uxie vanished.

Soon, Rebecca thought. The final phase would begin and whatever Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit wanted of her would be over. She would do it; she had no other options, no matter what it was.

All she had to do was be brave for a few more days.