The Quest for the Legends (ILCOEp)

Chapter 76: Chalenor

He was dangerous, they said. He could kill with his eyes. He was taking their power bit by bit, slowly but surely, until they were no stronger than mortal Pokémon. One day he would strip them of even their sanity, watch them blindly tear one another apart until only one was left to revive the world. And he was unkillable, unavoidable, inescapable. He was the incarnation of their doom, Death itself in the flesh.

But Mew was curious, and he was a true immortal; he had nothing to fear. Not until a thousand years from now, anyway – and that seemed like an eternity to someone only a few years old.

And so, he headed out to find the Destroyer, despite the other legendaries’ warnings.

-------

Mew had gotten the impression, from the hushed talk of the others of how even mortals would flee his presence, that the Destroyer must leave a path of corruption and horror in his wake – that she could simply follow some dark, sinister aura to find him. But Death was subtler than she’d thought. They had told her he usually resided in the Black Desert, but it took Mew a few hours of idle searching before she spotted a dark shape lying in the shadow of a rock, curled up in sleep.

She descended, hovering warily above the sand. She had expected a more imposing figure; despite the long, angled, jet-black spikes protruding from its body as a warning sign not to come closer, the creature looked almost like it was trying to be inconspicuous. It was a curious sight, and Mew inched closer, cautious.

Abruptly, without opening its eyes, the creature started awake – a sudden change as it jerked its head up, muscles tensing before it sprang up in alarm, crouching into a defensive position. Its closed eyes somehow locked onto her, staring at her through shut eyelids. “Stay away,” the Destroyer hissed, his spikes flaring with a bright green color.

“Are you him?” Mew asked, tilting her head. She hadn’t expected the Destroyer himself to be so jumpy – the most powerful creature in this reality, murderer of every legendary Pokémon since the dawn of time, starting at the slightest of sounds.

“I am Chalenor,” replied the creature, not moving. “What do you want with me?”

Chalenor. Yes, Mew had heard, vaguely, that that was what the Destroyer called himself. His speech was rough, raw, like he didn’t use it often; it was strange, fascinating. Mew idly floated upside-down, considering. “Don’t the others ever come here?”

The Destroyer’s closed eyes remained fixed on Mew. “Why would they? I’ll kill them all either way. Why are you here?”

The bright green color of his spikes faded into a more tealish hue. Something was off about his hostility. Mew hadn’t expected the Destroyer to be friendly, but the tension in his stance seemed fearful, almost desperate, and he still hadn’t attacked. The creature shifted uneasily, still keeping a wary closed eye on Mew.

“Why do you do it?” Mew asked.

The Destroyer chuckled hollowly. “What is it to you, mew?” he asked. “I am the Destroyer. It’s what I do.”

He used no name emphasis; it was a strange mistake, another thing that was off about his speech. Mew tilted her head at him again, and he stiffened. “Are you afraid of me?” she asked slowly.

The Destroyer’s tail rose, defensive again as the teal glow of his spikes brightened in intensity. His claws were flexed, his muscles taut. “Why should I be afraid of you, mew? I can’t die, no matter what you do to me.”

Again, he didn’t use any name emphasis – and all of a sudden, Mew was struck with her first true inkling of the age of the creature before her as it dawned on her that it wasn’t a mistake. He hadn’t just lived a full millennium, like Iriesce, or two, like she would have by the next War; not even three, like the very luckiest of Creators who survived two Wars in a row. He had seen so many millennia, so many incarnations of Mew, that they were simply a species to him.

Even thinking of that length of time was dizzying and incomprehensible: her entire life thus far, thousands upon thousands of times over. She stared at him as he crouched deeper and started to growl quietly. “I’m not here to fight you,” she said. “Do the others try to fight you often?”

The creature looked warily at her for a moment before he relaxed, tentatively, still watching her, and sat down on his haunches. “Sometimes,” he said at last. “Sometimes they think they can kill me and stop the War. But they can’t. It’s no use.”

“I only wanted to talk,” she said. “Doesn’t anyone ever talk to you?”

The Destroyer hesitated. “A few times,” he said, quietly. “But they always die, and then I wish they’d never come. You should go.”

Mew watched the shifting blue hues on his spikes in silence for a moment. “You can’t help it, can you?” she asked as it dawned on her. “You don’t want to drain our power and cause the War, but it happens anyway.”

He nodded, looking away, his spikes a stark, clear blue.

“Then they shouldn’t hate you,” she said, tilting her head again.

He didn’t answer, still turned away, the blue of his spikes flickering in intensity. She considered doing as he had said, writing this encounter off as a curiosity and going on to explore the rest of the planet. But he was so strange and sad and afraid, this incomprehensibly ancient creature doomed to destroy the world. Even if she left, she knew, she couldn’t simply forget. He’d seep back into her mind, when she curled up to sleep, when she flew over a desert, the flickering colors of his spikes and his shaky speech and the way he averted his closed eyes from her, as if he were terrified of what might happen if he looked at her too long.

The Destroyer.

Chalenor.

She hovered down to his eye level. He shook his head frantically as she approached, rising and shuffling back. “No, no, you should go, you shouldn’t –”

But as she reached her paws out to him, he stopped. She touched the tip of his nose, and he stood still, trembling, as he looked down. “No,” he muttered again, but he didn’t pull away as she carefully wrapped her paws around his muzzle in a small embrace.

“It’s all right,” she said as hot tears streamed from his closed eyes. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

“I’ll kill you,” he said, his voice shaking.

“I know,” she said cheerfully, not letting go. “But that’s a thousand years from now.”

-------

The day went by in a blur. Mew asked him what he liked to do, where he liked to go, but Chalenor said he didn’t do much of anything, so Mew took him to his own favorite places instead. Chalenor knew them all, had been to them before – of course he had, in so many thousands of years – but he didn’t complain; they rolled around in the lush, dew-coated fields of Hoenn, and they raced each other down the slopes of Mt. Silver, and Chalenor tried his best to follow Mew through the maze-like caves of the Acaria Mountains until his spikes caught on the ceiling for the eleventh time and he gave up, apologizing, shrinking back outside, earnestly surprised when Mew followed him back out, laughing, and teleported them to Sunset Beach instead. Chalenor shivered with lingering cold from the snowy mountains; Mew produced a flame to warm him, and they sat together for a while until he eventually stopped shivering, his green spikes slowly fading to a calm bluish-blackness.

“Did you have fun?” Mew asked, tilting his head as Chalenor gazed at the brilliant sunset. In truth, he already wanted to do more, show him more, go on a real adventure somewhere he’d never been before, but he could tell Chalenor didn’t want to go anywhere else at the moment.

Chalenor nodded distantly, another flicker of blue passing across his spikes.

“Should I come find you again tomorrow?”

“I… I don’t know.” Chalenor looked down, silent. Mew wished he could have really felt what was going on in his mind, but to his psychic senses, Chalenor was a dark void, like a murkrow or scorplack or houndour – if he closed his eyes it felt like he wasn’t there at all, unless he listened for his breathing or his heartbeat.

“Then I will,” Mew decided anyway, and Chalenor didn’t object.

-------

At first, Mew was cautious. Maybe Chalenor really didn’t want her to return; he had said no before, and perhaps she had been too pushy, too excited. She flew over the Black Desert, looking for him, and some part of her expected him to be gone, hiding somewhere she wouldn’t find him again.

But no, he hadn’t gone; he was waiting in the same place he’d been the previous day, awake, tense, looking around, and as he spotted her he relaxed visibly. He liked all the places she took him to, all the new areas she hadn’t explored yet. In a couple of places, he commented softly, sharing brief, vague memories from previous times he’d been there. When she asked if he’d had anyone else with him, though, he grew quiet.

They met every day after that, traveling to new places, playing little games that Mew came up with on the spot, talking about the world. She listened with fascination every time he shared something from thousands of years ago – the fields that were here before this lava flowed, the island these mountains used to be when the sea was higher. Her mind spun to think of it, how long he’d been quietly observing this ever-changing planet; he’d seen everything, knew everything, watched the eons work their merciless work upon everything that ever had been. The other legendaries seemed dull in comparison, still cautiously coming into their roles, learning the ways of the world – even Iriesce, who had always seemed so impossibly wise when she talked about the era before. Mew was learning things they could never have dreamed of.

And for a while, she simply enjoyed that thrill of discovery and companionship, of having someone who would come with her, teach her things, indulge her wildest curiosities.

-------

One day, though, he wasn’t in his usual spot in the desert. Mew jolted out of a happy reverie, thinking for a moment that Chalenor must have finally grown tired of him, only to notice him a short distance away, pawing at something in the sand. Mew approached, puzzled; Chalenor started, shuffling back as he looked up, then sagged as he recognized Mew, looking down again.

“What are you doing?” Mew asked, hovering near his head.

By Chalenor’s feet lay a squirming Pokémon – a trapinch, helpless on its back with stubby legs flailing in the air. He gingerly turned it over with his paw, and the trapinch scuttled away across the sand before burying down into it some distance away.

“Just… helping,” he murmured as he watched it disappear.

Mew tilted his head. The Destroyer, helping mortal Pokémon. None of it made any sense. “Why? Do you do that often?”

“Sometimes,” Chalenor said, turning his head away. “I don’t always. Helping one can hurt another. Sometimes there’s nothing I can do that’ll help, not really.”

And that bothered him. Mew stared at him, at the tension in his stance, his downcast gaze. “But mortal Pokémon die so easily,” Mew said. “They hunt one another. Even if you help, it won’t last. Maybe that trapinch dies tomorrow.” And he was so old. Their tiny, fleeting lives had to be mere blips to him, brief flashes of existence gone before he knew it, and yet here he was, helping a trapinch to its feet, simply because he could.

“I know,” he murmured, looking away.

That night, after a day of exploring swamps and jungles and volcanoes, Chalenor spoke out of the blue when Mew was about to go. “I don’t always help mortals even when I can,” he confessed, his voice raw and desperate, not quite looking Mew in the eye. “Sometimes I think if I help, it’ll make it harder to know that they’ll die, so I don’t.”

Mew gazed at him in the flickering teal light of his spikes. He thought of all the mortals he met every day, tiny beings with tiny concerns, living their little lives, that he didn’t give a second glance to, because they were mortals, common, unimportant, and before he knew it they’d be gone.

“It’s all right,” Mew said numbly. “You don’t have to help everyone. That doesn’t make you bad.”

“I still wish I did.”

Mew could sense the confusion and anxiety and loneliness in Chalenor’s mind even without psychic powers. He considered leaving like he had meant to, returning tomorrow for more fun and excitement, and forgetting about all this and about the strange weight that was settling in his chest. But yet again, he wasn’t sure he could.

He descended gently down to the ground and looked up at Chalenor, wrapping his tail around himself. “I don’t understand,” he said, quiet. “Why do you care so much about mortals?”

Chalenor looked back at him, silent for a moment. “They’re alive, and their lives are just as precious to them, even if they are short.”

Mew blinked. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around that, but he couldn’t quite come up with a direct objection, either. “But there are so many of them,” he said instead. “You can’t possibly help every mortal doing anything in the world.”

“That’s true,” Chalenor said, looking distantly up toward the stars. “And their needs clash. In the long run, I can’t change anything that matters, for even a fraction of them. But I still feel for them.”

And then he would cause a deluge of horror and destruction.

“You said sometimes you don’t help because it’ll be hard when they die,” Mew said.

Chalenor looked down, wincing. “Everyone I know dies. It’s easier when I never got to know them.” He shuddered. “I wish I was braver.”

Mew stared at him, at the Destroyer who valued mortal lives and wished only for the courage to help more of them, and at the blue patterns flickering across his spikes. “You were brave enough to get to know me.”

Chalenor’s spikes flared bright teal for a second. “I’m still afraid,” he whispered.

“You did it anyway.”

Mew stayed, talking to him, about life and mortality and right and wrong, until Chalenor fell asleep, head resting on his paws, his spikes faded to a dull, peaceful black. Mew curled up against his side and lay awake, unable to sleep, thinking of the mortals, of Chalenor, of everything he knew about the Destroyer, and a nagging sense of injustice began to grow in his heart.

-------

“Iriesce?”

Her tree was a magnificent redwood that towered high above the landscape, her nest planted at the top. She was asleep, beak tucked peacefully under her folded pearlescent wings, but at Mew’s psychic prod she looked up and smiled.

“What is it, child?”

“Can you tell me the story of why Arceus created the Destroyer again?”

The smile was gone, abruptly, but that was all. Iriesce took a deep breath and began, in her usual quiet tone. “Back in the distant past, Arceus’s hatching created the universe. He appointed the first Mew and Celebi as the Creator and Preserver, and left them the task of creating the mortal Pokémon and lesser legendary Pokémon and protecting the world from there. But after the creation, Arceus was exhausted. He entrusted the world to his legendary immortals and slept.

“When he awoke, thousands of years later, the legendary Pokémon had grown arrogant and selfish. In their greed, they ruled over the mortal Pokémon as tyrants, thinking themselves invincible and above them. To punish them, Arceus told them from now on they would know weakness and mortality and fear it every day of their lives. And because the same would only happen again with their successors, he created an incarnation of his punishment, a creature who could remind them of what they had done and enforce his will for eons to come by unleashing the War upon them. He named it the Destroyer. And when Arceus had spent the last of his strength creating the Destroyer, his soul was shattered, and he fell back into his eternal slumber.”

Mew hadn’t paid too much attention the first time Iriesce had told her about this. The details hadn’t seemed all that important, not when it was a thousand years before any of this would matter. This time, though, she listened intently, brow furrowing.

“And the Destroyer that he created is Chalenor?”

Iriesce shifted uneasily in her nest. “I suppose that’s what he calls himself.”

“But he doesn’t want to punish anyone. He’s so kind.”

Iriesce’s eyes narrowed; when she spoke, her voice was harsh. “When I woke up, before I created you, he was there. Did you know that? He stood there splattered in the blood of my closest friends and said nothing as I cried for them. Do you know what it is to be the Creator, Mew? It means that you murdered everyone you ever cared for, and he made you do it.”

Mew flinched away from her words. Iriesce was gentle, always patient and serene; she’d never seen her quite like this, tense and vicious and angry. “Chalenor didn’t want to make you do it,” she protested, quietly. “It wasn’t his fault.”

“What does it matter if he didn’t want to? Maybe he has no control over any of it. That doesn’t change what he is.” The other legendary looked away, fixing her gaze on a loose twig in her nest, picking restlessly at it with her beak. “So you’ve been speaking to him?”

“Do you not want me to?” Mew asked, a strange, unfamiliar dread clutching at her chest.

Iriesce exhaled slowly, like she was reining herself in. “I won’t stop you,” she said finally. “But be careful. He is a creature created to torture us, whether he likes it or not. He will kill you, and me, and everyone else, and none of us can do a thing about it.”

There was a bitter tremble to her voice. Mew gave a small nod, thanking her before turning away.

-------

“I tried to talk to some of the others about you,” he said a few days later, as he had settled into his usual sleeping spot, tight against Chalenor’s body.

“Don’t,” Chalenor murmured, shuddering, his spikes flaring teal. “It’ll… it’ll only make it worse.”

“I don’t understand,” Mew said. “They won’t hear it when I tell them you don’t want to cause the War. Iriesce was so angry.”

Chalenor’s body trembled. “She should be angry. I killed everyone she knew.”

“But it’s not the same,” Mew protested. “What’s the use in being angry at you, when you can’t help it? They really killed each other, but they couldn’t help it, and you couldn’t help it either. It was Arceus who made you this way.”

“Arceus hasn’t been seen in eons,” Chalenor murmured. “All the legendaries he wanted to punish are dead countless times over. It’s still happening because I’m still here.”

Mew sighed. “Why was Arceus so sure the legendaries would all be the same and he’d have to keep punishing them? The ones after the first War were completely different. We’re not ruling over the mortals as tyrants. Iriesce would never do that.”

There was a long pause. “He was upset,” Chalenor said, his voice quiet. “At that moment, it felt true to him. I don’t think he meant for me to have a soul, either. But his mind was clouded with rage and grief and agitation, and I came out wrong. His soul shattered and I got one instead.”

Mew made a small noise of discontent. “It’s not fair,” he said after a moment. “It’s not fair that you make the War happen even though you don’t want to and it’s not fair that they act like it’s all your fault. It’s not fair that you’re the Destroyer. You didn’t want to be. I never asked to be the Preserver either. None of it is fair.”

Chalenor was silent for a moment. “What is it like?” he asked softly. “Being the Preserver?”

“I don’t know.” Mew thought back, to Iriesce’s first words to him; she’d been shaking, exhausted, drained, her pearlescent feathers streaked with tears and her mind radiating shock and horror and grief, and yet she’d softened as she looked at Mew, her eyes kind and motherly and her voice gentle. It was painful to think of that Iriesce now, when he couldn’t erase the livid, hateful Iriesce from today from his mind. “When I was created she told me I should watch over all life. Find Pokémon in need and help them, even humans. Look out for any greater evil and try to prevent it, if I can.” And he had tried. But between helping mortals, creatures that would die soon anyway, and exploring the wonders and splendors and horrors of a living, breathing, eternal planet…

Chalenor chuckled softly. “That sounds nice,” he murmured.

Abruptly, for the first time, Mew felt ashamed of his ambivalent feelings about his role. Here he was, Mew, an incarnation of the original Creator, and the Destroyer would have made a better Preserver than he did. Everything Iriesce had told him that day, everything he was meant to embody – he’d never truly cared, and somewhere deep down he’d assumed no one did. And that wasn’t true.

(In the back of his mind, it struck him too, as an afterthought, that Iriesce cared. She’d been angry because she cared.)

Perhaps that didn’t mean he was bad. But then again, maybe it did. Maybe he was selfish and uncaring, every bit as conceited and arrogant as the legendaries of old.

“You’d have been a good Preserver,” Mew muttered, and with a burning sting in his heart, he wished he was better.

-------

When she awoke the next morning, something had shifted. The sting in her heart had settled into a strange kind of resolve. She should be better; she could be better. What was stopping her? All she had to do was try to do what Chalenor would, to try to live up to who he was.

She woke him with a playful, gentle tug on his tail. “Chalenor, I want to help someone. Where do you go to help mortals?”

Chalenor started at first, still jumpy, but chuckled as he saw her, shaking himself as he rose. “I don’t usually look for people to help,” he said. “But maybe we can go somewhere a lot of Pokémon live and see if we find anyone in need.”

They teleported around between places he suggested, teeming with life, hot jungles and lush fields and stretching beaches. Eventually, in the thick, wild woods of Unova, they helped a deerling find its mother. Mew’s heart pounded in giddy excitement as it squeaked a quick, intimidated thank you, and Chalenor actually smiled as they turned to walk away, along the river running through the forest. This was good. This was rewarding. It might be even better than exploring.

“We’re heroes!” Mew trilled, twirling in the air. A young poliwag flopped helplessly on the rocks by the riverside; Mew teleported it into the water and waved cheerfully as it stared back in wonder. Would it go back to tell its family and friends it had met Mew?

“I don’t know,” Chalenor said, but he was smiling faintly. “Heroes? Just for this?”

“Of course we are. We’re helping.” Mew floated upside-down in front of him. “Isn’t that what you like to do?”

“I suppose,” Chalenor replied, looking away. “I never thought of it that way.”

“Then I’m thinking it for you. Heroes!” Mew dived into the river and splashed water in Chalenor’s face. He shook himself as Mew giggled, then leapt after her into the river.

They swam, and laughed, and talked, and everything seemed better. Mew could get used to this. Perhaps she could be good, after all.

It never quite came to her like she suspected it came to him. But slowly, over the years, it became instinct to wonder what Chalenor would do, and even if it wasn’t quite the same for her, doing it made her happy. More importantly, it made him happy – or perhaps not happy exactly, but when they rescued some lone Pokémon it was as if he forgot everything for a moment, like the heavy melancholy that hung over him always was lifted for just a bit. And that meant more than anything.

-------

“You’ve had other friends before, haven’t you?” Mew said. They’d put out a forest fire; Mew sat propped against his side in the barren remains of what had burned. Chalenor was often most comfortable being where the minimal number of mortals would be disturbed by his presence. “What were they like?”

Chalenor shivered for a moment. “Different,” he said. “Most were legendary Pokémon, like you.”

“You had mortal friends?”

“Sometimes. Not in a long time.” He paused. “In a way it’s easier, when it won’t be me that kills them, and they don’t care much about the War, if they can tolerate being near me. But they go so quickly. Some of them I grieved longer than I knew them. In the end I couldn’t anymore.”

“What about the legendaries?”

Chalenor was silent for a few seconds. “Some of the ones in the first cycle befriended me. We thought we could find a way around it.” The fact that they hadn’t went unspoken. “Later the legendaries became resigned to it, but back then it seemed so unreal. We thought there couldn’t simply be no way to stop it. That with a thousand years to think and plan, we must figure it out.”

And then they had died anyway. A flicker of blue passed across Chalenor’s spikes. “Were they the only ones who thought they could stop it?” Mew asked.

Chalenor shook his head. “No. But Arceus’s plan was built to stamp out that hope. Creators who had tried would pass on to their creations where they had failed. In the end the message became not to try. That no one could stop it. That all they could do was wait for it.”

There was something a little strange in his voice, but Mew couldn’t work out what it was. He looked away. “Were there others after that? Friends?”

“Sometimes.” Chalenor laid his head out on his paws, exhaling. “They were usually more like you. Legendaries who didn’t worry about the future much.”

“It’s so many hundreds of years!”

Chalenor smiled faintly. “Not many of them think like you. Not for long. Some of them did, at first, but stopped coming when it drew closer. I don’t blame them.”

“I won’t abandon you,” Mew said firmly. “Never.”

There was a pause. “I know.”

-------

Iriesce never quite looked at Mew the same way these days. Mew still visited her sometimes, but Iriesce’s gaze was wary and suspicious, after so many bitter arguments, tensing if Mew so much as mentioned his name anymore.

Chalenor kept telling her it was all right, that she didn’t have to talk about him. But she could sense the others’ discomfort beneath the veneer of politeness even when she didn’t say his name. They all knew who she spent her time with, and were scared of him, and all she could think at their nervous glances was how much she wanted to scream: He’s a good person, a better person than me, and you, and he deserves more than any of us.

Sometimes she did speak up, and it only ever made them more awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes, reluctantly, they’d admit he probably wasn’t exactly evil, or a villain, or at fault. But they still feared him, didn’t want to meet him, didn’t want to hear about him. They feared him, because he was the Destroyer, and they didn’t want to die, and there was nothing she could do.

When she told him, Chalenor would say that that they were right to be afraid, and Mew would tell him no, no, they’re not right, it’s not happening for several hundred more years.

Three hundred more years. Two hundred. One hundred.

In the end she gave up. The others never sought her out anymore, and the prospect of their increasingly anxious glances and awkward silences and the way Iriesce had begun to snap at her if she brought him up was more painful than the alternative.

As she curled up next to him in the night, tighter than usual, Chalenor asked her in a guilty murmur why she didn’t just let him go instead, and she replied, “Because I’d rather have you than any of them.”

-------

Mew bounded across the grassy landscape, heart beating furiously in his chest. He hovered nimbly over a hill, then dived into a valley, swerved to the right and ascended to confuse his pursuer. Up into the treetops, down in another direction, and then speeding straight ahead: he must be unpredictable, random. He looked quickly over his shoulder; had he shaken him off?

And then all of a sudden came a black shadow from the other side, crashing into him and throwing him aside. Mew struggled to get away, but a paw had pinned him down before he could escape, and a huge, fanged mouth locked around his body.

“Fine. You win again.”

Chalenor released him carefully and shook himself, panting. “Even after all this time, sometimes I still can’t believe how fast you are.”

Mew swooped away without warning, and Chalenor pounced, just barely missing him. Mew circled a playful victory loop around his head and then gave his cheek an affectionate nudge with his head, gingerly avoiding the spikes.

Chalenor returned the nudge, exhaling, and then sat down to rest, curling his spiked tail around himself. The sun was setting over the sea in the west, painting the sky in brilliant pinks and oranges, stray purple clouds hovering lazily over the ocean; it was as beautiful a sunset as Mew had ever seen, despite everything. He sat down too, wordlessly, to watch it.

“It’s going to end soon,” Chalenor said quietly after a while.

Mew nodded; his gut stung at the thought, but he knew showing that would only make it worse. “We always knew it wouldn’t last.”

There was a long silence.

“What do you think happens to the souls of the dead?” Chalenor said after a while, a distant thoughtfulness in his voice.

Mew took a deep breath. “I think they go to somewhere better,” he said. “Don’t worry about me. There will be others who’ll see you for who you are. They’ll probably be better than me.”

“I don’t want to replace you,” Chalenor said softly.

Mew winced. “Neither of us wants this,” he said. “But you have to move on. You’re going to live forever, really forever, and I won’t.”

Chalenor was silent for another few seconds. “What if I won’t either?”

Mew looked up at him, wary. “What do you mean?”

There was another pause as Chalenor gathered his thoughts. “Every cycle has more legendaries with more power than the last,” he said. “Every War takes a bit more of my power to match theirs. I was weaker during the last War than during any before it, and… my healing didn’t work right. I was hurt when Iriesce killed the last of them, at the end, and it didn’t fully heal until she came to and my power was returning.”

Mew blinked up at him in incomprehension. “It took your true immortality? But–”

“I didn’t understand what it meant then,” Chalenor said. “I don’t think Arceus meant for this to happen when he made me. There were a lot of things he didn’t mean to happen. But I think… this War might make me mortal.”

Mew stared at him, mind racing. “A loophole? But that means…”

“This War could be the last,” Chalenor finished, his voice quiet, trembling. “If I’m in harm’s way. I’d… prefer if it was you.”

Mew looked away, quickly, fixing his gaze on the distant sunset instead, his heart thumping. “Ending it,” he whispered. “We could end the War, forever.”

Chalenor turned his head slightly towards him. “So do you think there’s somewhere else?” His voice was an unsteady murmur, his spikes flaring teal. “Somewhere we could meet again?”

Mew nodded, not taking his eyes off the setting sun. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. There has to be.”

Chalenor was still, silent, undetectable, but in Mew’s peripheral vision, wild, rapid patterns of light flickered across the surface of his spikes, throbbing, restless, pained.

“Hey,” Mew said, hovering in front of him. “We’ll end it. Together. We’re heroes, remember?”

Behind those ever-shut eyelids, Chalenor stared at him. “Heroes,” he murmured as he looked away.

“Heroes.” Mew nestled on top of his head, and they watched the sunset in silence. Slowly, slowly, as Mew suppressed the sickening feeling creeping up his lungs, the light of Chalenor’s spikes began to fade into a calm, soft blackness, and that was all that mattered.

-------

Mew wasn’t sure if she really believed the dead went anywhere at all. But believing it was all she could do.

Every morning, she awoke gripped with icy terror after nightmares of bloody war and catastrophe and Chalenor lying dead among the carnage. She told herself they were going to stop the War, and that was worth it even if there was nothing beyond death, but then she looked at the other legendaries and felt a rush of hatred towards them, them who all despised Chalenor for how he’d been made, and she didn’t want to save their successors. She looked at the innocent Pokémon with their short, mortal lifespans, and some part of her didn’t want to give up her life, his life, for them.

Her life was void either way, of course; there was no way out of the War for her, whether it was this one or the next. But Chalenor could live. He was never meant to be mortal at all. Normally the legendaries wouldn’t even attack him, if he just stayed out of the way. He could live.

And what if the War didn’t end? Was Arceus so easily fooled? Wouldn’t he simply rise from his eternal sleep and make another Destroyer, one who would truly remain immortal?

It ate at her, bit by bit. She tried to smile and pretend to Chalenor that nothing was wrong – she couldn’t take this away from him, the measure of true hope that their plan had given him – but it became harder and harder. She stopped being able to sleep; she would lie awake in the dark and hallucinate rivers of blood and armies of Destroyers and Chalenor’s severed head with gaping, empty eye sockets, and one day she started out of a deranged vision with a wild resolve that she had to know, she must see how it really worked out, no matter what they said about time travel.

She closed her eyes and reached a thousand years through time; everything swirled for a moment, and then it was cold and rainy.

She opened her eyes, shivering, and saw a strange Pokémon, large and gray and leathery with a long, purple tail. He turned around as she stared at him in confusion – there was something eerily familiar about him, almost as if he were a twisted version of her – and then he said, like he knew her, “Mew? What brings you here?”

“Who are you?” she blurted out, because it was the first thing that occurred to her.

He paused as he looked at her. “It’s me, Mewtwo,” he said. “Is everything all right?”

He must know the Mew of this time, she thought – but that wasn’t important. “The War,” she said urgently, knowing she didn’t have much time; she already felt her power diminishing, trying to draw her back to the past. “Is the War gone?”

“The War? You said it was drawing closer,” he said warily, and she wanted to scream. “Mew, we were talking about this only a month ago.”

“What happened?” she said, frantic. “What happened in the last War?”

“You were the victor,” he said, hesitantly, and that was all he said, like it had just been an ordinary War and she had…

“Chalenor,” she said urgently, pleading, as if he could change the truth if he took pity on her. “Where’s Chalenor?”

He hesitated. “Chalenor is dead,” he said. “You said he died in the War. Are you all right?”

She stared at him as she tried to comprehend what had happened. They had failed. The War wasn’t gone. And… he was dead, while she lived on, a true immortal, for a thousand more years.

“No,” she said, shaking her head, looking wildly around. “No, no, everything is wrong–”

“I’m sorry,” the other said, as if it meant anything.

“This can’t happen, it can’t.” Her voice shook. She felt her power dwindling and knew she couldn’t stay for long. “We have to fix it. Chalenor – Chalenor has to live, and–”

And, she realized in a rush of wild hope, she was going to win the War. She would live. If they just canceled the plan, they’d have another thousand years together, and they wouldn’t have to worry about the War again for a long, long time–

But of course, this was only one possible future, and now that she knew it, had been changed by the knowledge of it, there was no guarantee of the outcome anymore. What was this future? What had she done in this past? What if a change meant she wouldn’t win?

She shook her head again. “No, we – we need to escape,” she said, “insurance – I need insurance.” And suddenly it dawned on her that she was standing in front of a new legendary Pokémon, one she hadn’t recognized, one nobody in her time would. What if…?

“What?” said the other in confusion, but she had no time to explain. She drew upon all of her remaining strength as the Preserver and formed a duplicate of the strange Pokémon in front of her, and she managed only to grab tightly on to it before she couldn’t hold the anchor anymore and was whisked back in time.

-------

“Chalenor,” he said, “Chalenor, wake up, we have to change the plan–”

“What?” said Chalenor, his black spikes flickering slowly to life as he raised his head, drowsy. “Why are you wet?”

“I went to the future. You were dead, and I’d won the War, but it was still happening – the plan fails, it’s all going to go wrong – but then I realized that if I can just win the War and you stay out of the way, then…”

“What?” Chalenor hesitated, his spikes brightening, blue and teal. “I… but what if you don’t win?”

“I figured it out,” Mew went on eagerly, heart thumping. “I took the body of a future legendary that the others don’t know and have no reason to attack – if I’m killed, you can resurrect me in that body before I disappear. An immortal body! And we can find another one in the future before the next War. We can both – we can both live on forever – we don’t have to…”

“But…” Chalenor stared at him for a long moment, his spikes flickering restlessly, blue and green and blue again. “I’m not sure I want that,” he murmured.

“What do you mean? We’ll both live!”

Chalenor shuddered, looking away. “I… I don’t think I want to live on forever.”

Mew blinked. “But it’s still going to happen even if you die!” he said. “It doesn’t work – the plan doesn’t work! The War keeps happening! You dying won’t accomplish anything!”

“I…”

Chalenor stared at the ground, his spikes roiling with an intense, turbulent blue. Slowly, hesitantly, he looked up. “I’m… not sure I really want to accomplish anything.”

His voice was quiet, shaking; Mew stared at him in incomprehension.

“If I’m dead, it’s not me doing it anymore. That’s all I want.” He let out a trembling breath. “I’m not a hero. I’m a coward. I just don’t want to be the Destroyer. I don’t want to have to see all that suffering, over and over and over again, and know that I made it happen. That’s all. That’s why I wanted to do this.”

He looked away again, the light of his spikes brightening, flickering. Mew stared at him, his lungs burning with creeping despair and anger and terror. “Don’t you see?” he pleaded as his ears rang with a strange white noise. “We can live.”

Chalenor shook his head, slowly. “While all the others die around us? It’s torture to watch, every time, and it’ll be worse when one of them is you. I should know. I’m sorry, Mew, I’m so sorry.”

Desperate tears burst out at the corners of Mew’s eyes. “But…”

“You can live,” Chalenor said, his voice softening. “Like in the future you saw. You said you won the War. Please, live and be happy for another thousand years – maybe you can come up with a way to survive the next too.”

“No!”

“Thank you for everything,” Chalenor went on in a murmur. “These were the happiest thousand years I’ve ever had. But I just… I just want it to end. Forget about me. Please.”

“No!” Mew yelled, tears streaming down his cheeks. “You can’t just die!”

“Mew, I…”

“Souls don’t go anywhere!” Mew’s voice broke into desperate sobs. “They don’t go anywhere! They just fade away and disappear!”

Chalenor backed away, shaking his head as Mew closed in on him, his spikes bright teal. “We don’t know,” he whispered. “We don’t know that.”

“We have a new plan now!”

“Mew, no–”

“We have a new plan! It will work! All you have to do is…”

Chalenor’s spikes flared with a piercing yellow, and with a desperate roar, he smashed his one of his tail spikes into the limp legendary body lying beside Mew, into its heart, ruining it, destroying it–

“There,” Chalenor said, a manic, pleading desperation in his voice as he raised his tail again, “what if we can’t use this body anymore? Let’s go back to the old plan, Mew, please, please let’s go back to the plan–”

No!

Chalenor lowered his tail, startled. Mew’s vision swam in a delirious combination of horror and rage and suffocating fear, he was going to die he was going to die no no NO–

“Mew?” Chalenor took a trembling step closer, his spikes bright teal again. “I’m sorry–”

A shrill, hysterical screech sounded somewhere from the depths of a void of hot, indescribable terror. Before Mew knew what he was doing, he’d produced a blinding, searing Moonblast between his paws. Chalenor cried out in agony, flinching under the burst of energy, and retaliated with a pulse of deep darkness that made Mew’s entire being shudder with cold and nausea.

“Fine!” Mew shouted, his vision shrouded in blotches of darkness. “Fine! Go and die in the War, you coward, and I’ll live on for as long as–”

Chalenor screamed, and this time there was something different about it that Mew couldn’t place, something that made the hairs rise on his body. He didn’t know how, but somehow he knew that he was releasing the War, that it was early, that somehow Chalenor was making it happen now when they should still have a few more months, a few more precious months of life and laughter and joy–

“No!” he yelled into the darkness. “Chale…”

And then a hazy red mist covered everything, and his last thought before he tore his only friend apart was I’m sorry.

-------

She shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up – she shouldn’t have expected it to work. But her heart still wrenched in agony when the creature created from Chalenor’s eye wasn’t him. She fumbled to give him a name, to stop her mind from screaming so he could hear, to explain that his eyes were dangerous and he mustn’t open them. Midway through she realized that because he’d been her first creation, that meant he was the Preserver, the one who must work with her to protect life and oversee the world for the next thousand years, and she wished she hadn’t done it, hadn’t foolishly created an eternal, immortal reminder that Chalenor was dead and she had killed him.

She knew they had work to do, that they would have to recreate all the legendaries, fix the world, bring everything back to normal. But the thought was insurmountable when she was still shaking, grieving, fumbling to remember what living was meant to look like. She told Chaletwo – she wished she hadn’t given him that name, but it was too late, too harsh to try to take it back from him – that they would start in the morning. She knew humans and Pokémon were dying out there, would die while they waited, but the thought seemed abstract and distant; she knew she ought to care, ought to be out there saving lives and undoing the damage, but right now she couldn’t convince herself it wouldn’t be better if it all burned down.

(She’d never been a good Preserver.)

Chaletwo sat beside her, contemplative, staring at the fire she’d created for them through the permanently shut eyelids that still reminded her of him. His childish, unpracticed mind spilled psychic fragments of thoughts and emotions that he couldn’t yet contain, wonder and curiosity and a timid wariness. Despite her best efforts, he had sensed her agitation, the resentment that she’d tried so hard to conceal because, in the end, it wasn’t his fault.

“Mew?” he asked at last, hesitant. “Why are my eyes dangerous?”

Her heart stung. “I… I made you with the power of someone called Chalenor. It gave you his eyes.”

She could feel his apprehension, confusion, a twinge of fear. “Who was he?”

She stared into the distance. The wind was cold, the world empty. Everyone was dead. Everyone who had known him. Everyone who had hated him.

“He was the Preserver, like you,” she said, staring at the fire as a new resolve took hold. In her mind she heard his voice, his laugh: That sounds nice.

“Oh.” Chaletwo was surprised, but relieved, curious. “What was he like?”

Mew took a deep breath.

“He was kind,” she said. “All he ever wanted was to help others. He was braver than he thought. Stronger than I’ll ever be. And…” She took a trembling breath, wishing she had better words to say, but she had never been good with words. “And he was my friend.”

Chaletwo’s curious admiration gave way to concern, worry, sadness. “What happened to him?”

“He died.”

He looked down. “I’m sorry.”

She nodded faintly. Sympathy emanated from his mind; she’d told him what death was, that that was what was happening to all the creatures around them. The soul severing from the body, leaving an empty husk behind to be uselessly mourned. And then, after a little while, ceasing to exist.

(Or, perhaps, it just went somewhere else. Somewhere better. She supposed believing that was all she could do.)

A creeping edge of confused, nervous apprehension tinged Chaletwo’s emotions. He hesitated, anxious, looking up at her again.

“Am… am I going to die?” he asked.

Mew stared out at the ruined world, avoiding the sight of Chalenor’s mangled body.

“No. Never.”


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