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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

The Final Stretch – Chapter 74: Unraveling

They’d been assigned the west side of the region, and despite everything that had happened since yesterday, no plans had been changed, so west side it was.

They headed south into Rainbow Woods, traveling a bit off the beaten path, keeping a silent, wary lookout for anything suspicious. Every movement made Mark’s stomach lurch, his mind preparing to see Rick’s clenched jaw and bloodshot eyes, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. The woods were peaceful and quiet, weak wild Pokémon occasionally flitting between the trees but avoiding engagement.

Rick was probably still in the hospital, Mark reminded himself every time a rattling in the bushes turned out to be a Rattata. There was no reason for him to be here now.

After a few hours of repeated false alarms, that reflex finally started to numb somewhat, and Mark’s mind began to wander to other worries, to their quest and to Mew.

“Hey,” he said eventually. May glanced back at him, her expression unreadable as usual.

“I was thinking,” he went on. “So when Mew…” He paused. “Wait, did I ever properly explain the thing with Mew? Why the Mew Hunter went after me and all that?”

“No,” Chaletwo said. “I had been planning to ask you about that myself. You were thinking something yesterday about Rick giving Mew to you…?”

“Yeah. When I battled Rick, he used Mew, but Mew was resisting the Clone Ball, and I think it freaked him out. He got all weird and angry and then he gave Mew’s ball to me and told me to just take it away.”

“Huh,” Chaletwo said, slowly. “I’d gathered that you’d met Mew a couple of times before, but not like that. I always thought Rick had simply released him.”

“No,” Mark said. “It was me. I switched him to a normal Pokéball, and after we talked for a bit he flew out through my window.”

“And you released him formally through the PC after that?”

“Yeah,” Mark replied. “And I put the ball in the recycling bin and everything. I’ve still got the Clone Ball in my bag somewhere, but obviously that’s deactivated. Nothing that helps us now.”

“The mind-control ball? You kept that?” Faint disgust pricked at Mark’s mind.

Mark shrugged sheepishly. “It seemed like sort of an interesting keepsake, I guess.”

Chaletwo sighed. “Well, it’s a moot point now. What were you going to say?”

“Yeah, so… when I released Mew back there, he told me his home was here. In Rainbow Woods.”

“Oh.” Chaletwo’s telepathic voice was dull. “What Mew calls home doesn’t mean very much. He spends most of his time traveling, seeing the world and observing its inhabitants. Every once in a while he picks a place that strikes his fancy and designates it as ‘home’, but he only occasionally spends much time there. He may not return to it for years, and this is not one of the times that he sticks around. He might come back here or he might not. It’s no more likely than any other place.”

Mark nodded slowly. “Do you think he might return home when his power starts to run out? If he’s too weak to travel like normal – would he come back here?”

“Maybe,” Chaletwo said, reluctant. “That would be cutting it uncomfortably close, but if it comes to that, it might make sense to return here.” That was something, at least – a contingency plan. Chaletwo sighed. “If only we could have gotten that device off Rick.”

May looked away. “Do you have any idea how that thing worked?”

“Mmm. I can’t know for sure, but it’s likely it was something that detected psychic signals. A strong Psychic legendary like Mew gives off an aura. You can only feel it when the legendary is physically close, but theoretically it’s possible he could make a machine that could pick up a much fainter signal, and then he could triangulate Mew’s approximate location from that. That’s my best guess, anyway. Doesn’t help us find him without the device itself.”

“But what about twenty years ago when you first asked him about the War?” Mark asked. “Or when Raudra and Puragon wanted to warn him about us, or Mewtwo – how are they finding him?”

“He wants to talk to them,” Chaletwo said pointedly. “It’s not usually hard for a legendary to find him – wander around looking, don’t make a secret of what you’re looking for, and before long he’ll pop up to greet you. But he’s obviously been avoiding us since we proposed the plan, and he pays close attention to news and rumours of the other legendaries. He’ll know he’s the only one left by now.”

Mark nodded, silent. No shortcuts. They’d just have to stumble upon him, somehow.

One Pokémon in the entire world, and they had… seven groups looking? He’d tried not to think about Mew and how hard it’d be to find him, to push all that back to when they got there, but now they were there and there was nowhere else to push it; all the built-up dread that he’d managed to ignore up to this point was seeping back into his mind, amplified by his general anxiety about Rick.

May just walked on, staring straight ahead. He didn’t think he would ever understand how she maintained that steely composure even now, but somehow seeing her soldiering on after everything gave him some small measure of strength. He hastened to keep up with her, and as they continued their trudge through the forest, he tried to think only of the next step, the next clearing, the next clump of bushes.

-------

They camped out in the woods in the evening. May was quiet as they ate a cold dinner of beans and crackers; Mark persuaded her into another drawing game before they retreated to their tents, though, and she gave a faint smile at his drawing of Floatzel. Weavile offered to keep watch as they slept, silent and devoid of her usual cocky demeanor, grim determination in her eyes.

It was almost completely dark when Mark woke with a start, gripped with a chilling feeling of being watched. Something rustled outside, like footsteps, as an indistinct shadow – Weavile? – shifted on the wall of the tent, flickering in the faint light of the fire. He held his breath, paralyzed; everything was silent now but his thumping heartbeat as he waited for Rick to tear open the tent, silhouetted against the flames, Mewtwo²’s looming, hunched-over form at his side.

But nothing happened. After several minutes tense and frozen in the dead quiet, taking shallow, silent breaths, Mark finally dared to fully exhale. He sat up, slowly, and carefully unzipped the front of the tent. “Weavile?” he whispered.

“Someone was here,” she said. The glow that remained of their campfire reflected in her eyes and her gleaming claws. “They bolted when I noticed them.”

Mark shivered, staring into the darkness. Rick? But why would he have run off without a fight?

Weavile glanced away, then back at him. “Sleep,” she said. “I’ll wake you if there’s trouble. I won’t let him get you too.”

“No, let’s… let’s move,” Mark said weakly, his mouth dry. “We can’t risk it, not with Mewtwo² around. It can hurt Dark-types.” If only they’d thought to take its ball off Rick while he was unconscious – but of course, they’d been in no state to think that far.

Weavile averted her eyes, but didn’t object. Mark crawled out of his tent to wake May, shaking with both cold and adrenaline.

“I never used to have anyone I wanted to protect,” Weavile muttered, and Mark turned around. “And now that I do, I can’t.”

“You helped us escape,” Mark said.

“Didn’t help Floatzel. Couldn’t have helped Floatzel.”

Mark tried to shrug. “You… you can’t always help.”

Weavile didn’t answer. Mark shivered again as he turned back to May’s tent.

You can’t always help.

-------

They moved to a different campsite. Mark didn’t get much sleep after that, but there was no further sign of their visitor. In the morning, they searched around Alumine, tired and exhausted, but found nothing. They camped in the woods again, after wading through a mess of undergrowth and a thicket of trees, lighting no campfire so they’d be less likely to be seen. Again, the night was quiet. Nothing happened, no one attacked – but that didn’t ease his mind much.

The next day was similar. May still said nothing, staring distantly around the forest as they searched as if on autopilot. The silence was deafening, but what could he say?

“Draw Mew,” she said when they’d eaten dinner that night.

“It’s too dark,” Mark said. Again they had no fire, no light, and even though their dinner was early, the trees obscured the diminishing light of the setting sun.

May shrugged slightly. “We can use my torch inside one of the tents.”

Mark couldn’t help compulsively worrying – wouldn’t the beam be visible through the fabric of the tent? – but by the time they were huddled together over his sketchpad by the flashlight, he could forget about all that for a moment. In his drawing, Mew was sleeping, peaceful, serene.

“Did you know,” he said absent-mindedly as he shaded the tiny body, “back in Scorpio City after you got stung by that Scorplack – Mew came there?”

May blinked. “Huh?”

“I was sitting there alone with you, Mitch left to check on some blood test, and Mew just… appeared.”

“Why?”

Mark shrugged. “He said something about… fate, and appearing because he felt he should? I asked him to heal you but he said he couldn’t because Scorplack is a Dark-type. Then he just left again when Mitch was about to come in.”

“Did it say anything else?”

“Not really.” Mark shook his head, turning the memory over in his mind: it was pretty odd, wasn’t it? “He was only there for maybe twenty or thirty seconds. Didn’t do anything.”

“Weird.” May looked at the drawing again. “Chaletwo, you got anything?”

“It sounds like Mew,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “Banging on about fate, appearing at random. He likes to show himself more than to be inadvertently seen, so appearing to you but leaving before someone else walked in sounds typical.”

May stared unseeingly at the paper. “Why would he go somewhere for such a short time, if he didn’t do anything while he was there? What was the point?”

“You can’t reason about Mew. He works in mysterious ways. I’ve never been able to figure him out.”

Mark shrugged, but he could see May, her gaze distant, still mulling it over while he finished his drawing.

-------

As February wore on, they spent a few days searching near Alumine, then a few in the forest, then a few around the Lake of Purity. By a silent, implicit agreement, they didn’t get too close to Cleanwater City itself. Mark thought to himself, without knowing if it was true, that Mew probably wouldn’t want to spend time in a city where he’d been trapped and mind-controlled for three years, either. If Chaletwo thought otherwise, he didn’t object.

Mark initially wasn’t sure about covering the northwest corner of the region, near his hometown: surely, if all wild Pokémon avoided the area, Mew would too? But Chaletwo was unsure, so they searched around Sailance, too. There was a knot in Mark’s stomach as they skirted around the edges of town, as he tried not to think of what would happen to his parents if they couldn’t find Mew. Could he save them, get them into Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter before it was too late? Would it be enough? What about everyone else, who wouldn’t have a shelter?

At May’s suggestion, they slipped into a clothing store after they restocked on food and bought large, hooded wind jackets, hats, and scarves that obscured their features from afar. Mark wasn’t sure it would stop Rick, but he still felt safer, wrapped in warm, concealing layers. They still hadn’t had a nighttime encounter since that first night. Perhaps they’d shaken him off.

After Sailance, they headed back past the Lake of Purity and through the forest, then threaded the beaches west of it. They were back near Alumine, a couple of weeks into the search, when something was different about the atmosphere as they packed up their tents in the morning; May was distracted, fidgety, in a way she hadn’t been before, and even Chaletwo was radiating a faint sense of apprehension from somewhere in the back of his mind.

“What’s up?” Mark asked, looking at May.

“Nothing,” she said immediately, stuffing the minimized box with her tent into her bag, then pulling the hood of her jacket further over her head. Mark’s gaze lingered on her. She still wasn’t talking much, but she watched him draw most nights, hugging her knees close, making quick suggestions like she was trying not to think about them – always Pokémon. He was never sure what she was thinking or how he could help.

She glanced back at him, then away again. “It’s…” she began, her voice quiet. “It’s my birthday.”

Mark blinked at her. She busied herself with zipping up her bag, as if she expected that to be the end of the conversation. With a sting in his gut, Mark recalled his own last birthday: Sparky throwing him a party, May and Alan helping to make him a cake. Now, here they were, hiding in the woods, subsisting on bottled water and dry crackers and cold beans and cereal bars.

“Hey,” he said, willing himself to smile as she looked up again. “Happy birthday! Thirteen, right? So you’re… you’re a teenager. Congrats.”

He laughed as she grimaced exaggeratedly. “Don’t remind me.”

“How about we go somewhere and celebrate?” Mark said. “There’s a café at the edge of the woods. They might have cake or something.”

“Really?” May gave him a sceptical glance.

He shifted on his feet. “There’s… nobody’s been following us lately, and we’ve got our disguises. It has to be okay for just maybe an hour, right? Some proper food?” Mark really hoped he was right. “It’s your birthday.”

May looked away, still hesitant. In truth, Mark wasn’t quite sure either; images of Rick bursting in and Mewtwo²’s empty eyes flickered in his mind, underlined by the faint buzz of tension and fear and guilt in the back of his skull.

“If…” Chaletwo said abruptly, “if it would help, you can switch me to an active ball. If Rick did appear, you should have time to let me out before he could pick you out of the crowd, and I could teleport us out of there. It should be fine.” May blinked in surprise. “You... you both deserve this,” he added awkwardly. “Happy birthday.”

Mark grinned in disbelief, looking back at May. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “Sure.”

-------

They reached the café around lunchtime. Mark couldn’t help being apprehensive again as they approached it, but Chaletwo’s ball was comforting in his hand; even though it was unlikely it would come to that, knowing they had a backup plan if something went wrong calmed him down.

The little red door was friendly and welcoming. They frantically scanned the other customers as they entered, but once they were sure they hadn’t just barged in on Rick, May led the way to a corner booth, sitting down on the side that faced towards the door. Mark took a seat opposite her; as he sank into the cushion and dropped his backpack down on the floor next to him, all the pent-up tension and worries of the past weeks seemed to lift off his shoulders as well. They were okay. They were here. They were going to have some nice food again, in the warmth of a house, because it was May’s birthday, and for the moment that was all that they had to think about. He’d needed this break, really needed it; he hadn’t realized how much so until now.

He inhaled deeply, rolling his sore shoulders, relishing the smell of food. A waitress approached the table, smiling, and took their order. For a minute he just sat back with his eyes closed, feeling the tension melt out of his muscles; then he opened his eyes again and glanced at May where she sat gazing at nothing in particular. The interior of the café was cozy and nostalgically familiar.

“It’s weird to be here again,” he said, smiling at May. “Still seems bigger on the inside.”

“Last time we were here, you thought I’d stolen your Pokémon,” May said.

“Did I?” Mark laughed; he could just about remember it, but the thought seemed alien now, like something that had happened to someone else.

“Yeah. It was when the Mew Hunter took them. You freaked out at me because you thought I’d wanted to steal Dratini.”

He did remember that. Back when he’d caught him, May had tried to argue that Dratini should be hers because she’d brought the tools to fish him out of the lake. “And then you said you didn’t really want him anyway, because…” He trailed off as he caught himself, the humour of the situation dying down into an awkward silence. Because she had Larvitar.

They looked at one another for a moment before May averted her gaze. Thankfully, just then their waitress arrived with the food, smoothly disposing of the subject.

Halfway through his grilled cheese sandwich, Mark spoke again. “I was kind of a jerk back there,” he said. “We both wanted Dratini, but I just took him and ran while you were distracted. I’m sorry.”

May shook her head; she was eating her sandwich with a knife and fork, one meticulous bite at a time. “You were the one who caught him. I just made up some dumb reason I should get him instead because I was jealous.”

Mark blinked at her, surprised by her bluntness. Not that he hadn’t guessed; it occurred to him, fleetingly, that it was no wonder they hadn’t noticed anything off about Larvitar, because they’d both been too busy being childishly excited about having pseudo-legendaries.

“I guess we’ve both grown up a bit since we started out, huh?” he said. “Happy birthday again.”

May poked the bottom of her glass of cola with her straw, absent-mindedly, her face expressionless. “I never really used to have any friends,” she said, without looking up. “I had Spirit, but the New Bark Town kids never liked me. I told myself it was because they were idiots, but I guess actually I was the idiot.”

Mark looked at her, unsure how to react to a confession like that. “I… I don’t think you’re an idiot.”

“You didn’t like me either,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t actually start trying to be friendly until after the Dratini thing. And even then I wasn’t very good at it. Remember how I just left you behind in Scorpio City?”

“Oh.” Mark scratched the back of his head. “I figured you’d just moved on, though. It wasn’t a big deal.”

She grimaced. “You can tell I wasn’t used to having friends.”

She put her glass down, still not looking him in the eye. Mark hesitated before opening his mouth again. “I’m glad we ended up traveling together.”

May looked up. “Why?”

“You helped me with battling a lot. I’d never have gotten so far at the League without you, or caught any of those legendaries. And… you’re not perfect, but we’ve been through a lot and I just… I’m glad you’re here.”

May looked at him for a long moment. “Well, thanks, for… coming to my birthday party, I guess.” She glanced back towards the counter. “Anyway, didn’t you say they had cake? I want cake. Screw the money.”

She called over a waiter and ordered two large slices of chocolate cake, which arrived quickly. Mark wasn’t too hungry after the sandwich, but he ate his slice anyway, almost as an act of solidarity.

“What was that Sparky said again?” May asked when she’d finished, putting her fork down. “Make every birthday the best you’ve ever had because it might be your last? Seems apt.”

“Don’t say that,” Chaletwo said. “We only have Mew left. We’ve got to find him eventually.”

“Yeah,” May said. “Sure.”

Mark felt a sudden, abrupt flash of intense anger in the back of his mind. “No! You will not undermine everything we’ve worked for at this stage in the game. We’re almost done. Do you understand what we’ve accomplished? We’ve captured every legendary but one!”

May blinked at him, her brow furrowing.

“Mew is just one more. We’ll get him. Not one more word of this. It’s your birthday! Talk about… presents or school or whatever it is you talk about on birthdays.”

Mark shared a glance with May, a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Chaletwo?” he asked under his breath.

“I just…” The legendary’s psychic sigh reverberated through Mark’s mind, trembling. “My power loss is slowing down. That’s what happens near the end. We may have somewhat less time than I thought.”

“What?” Mark’s ears rang with a strange, otherworldly static. “How much time?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really know to begin with. I was hoping we had until May at least. I’m not sure anymore.”

“So what, it could just… happen any day now?”

“No,” Chaletwo said. “I’ll know when it’s getting very close. We probably have at least a month or two. It just… made me concerned.”

May pressed her lips together. “I guess we should get going,” she said and started to push her chair away from the table.

“But…” Mark trailed off; May stopped. “Can we… can May at least have her birthday?”

“It’s fine,” Chaletwo said, sighing. “You lose far more time at night than you do here. I wasn’t going to tell you until after this.”

“No,” May said after a moment. “Let’s go. The cake’s done, anyway.”

-------

They kept on searching. Mark kept a close eye on May, concerned after all she’d said at the café, but she was actually less quiet than before, commenting dryly on the search, the weather, the Pokémon they encountered. Every night now, she suggested a new Pokémon for him to draw: an Espeon, a Milotic, a Lapras (he looked at her when she said it, and her lips were tight but she said nothing).

After another week or so, Chaletwo persuaded Mark to message the others through May’s Pokégear. There was a knot in his stomach as he typed: Been a few weeks, should we spread out?

Heard of more sightings in Ouen, Leah replied back. Better stay here. Keep doing what you’re doing, everyone. I’ll contact Mary and get her over here too.

Roger, came Alan’s answer. Take care, guys.

Mark felt anxious for the rest of the day, compulsively checking the Pokégear while at the same time dreading it, his throat tight, but the others never responded. The device showed they’d gotten the message, at least; they had to trust that they were still searching.

They went up and down the coast, through the woods again, back beyond Sailance, around the Lake of Purity, down to Alumine; then they combed the whole area again but found nothing. Chaletwo’s apprehension was a steady throb in Mark’s skull, growing little by little every day into a constant, maddening tension that left him restless and unable to relax, constantly shaking with nerves.

In the evenings, he continued drawing, the quiet sessions with May becoming the only times he could temporarily escape that relentless anxiety, an anchor of comforting tradition that kept him going: Pidgeot, Salamence, Blaziken, Mutark, Flygon, Raichu, Butterfree. Charmander. Quilava. Spirit.

It was April when, after several exhausting nights of fitful sleep interrupted by flashes of alien terror, Chaletwo muttered, “I think I should get out of your head.”

Mark felt his brain grinding clunkily out of a state of autopilot, a strange mixture of relief and dread bubbling up in his head. “Is… is it close?”

“Not… not that close, I think. I just… I just think it’s best if I conserve my power from here. I could still teleport you somewhere, and it’s good if I can in an emergency.”

Mark swallowed. “How are we going to know if it’s too late?”

“I’m… I’m sure I’ll be able to tell if you release me for a moment, maybe once a week. I’ll let you know. It’ll be fine.”

Mark and May looked at each other, silent. “All right,” Mark said, hesitant.

“This is… this is goodbye for now, then.” Chaletwo’s voice was forced and unsteady. “You’re sure the storage system’s Pokéball farms are safe?”

Mark nodded, his mouth dry. “Yeah, they should be.” But…

“Good. Just put me on the PC and –”

“No,” Mark said, his voice tight. “I’ll keep your ball with me until you tell me it’s too late. We might need you to teleport quickly again. And…” He hesitated, an uncomfortable stinging in his gut. “I need to know that you’ll really tell us. I… maybe I want to call my parents.”

Chaletwo was silent for a long moment. “All right. I’ll talk to you in a week. Keep searching.”

And then, all of a sudden, he was gone. The presence in Mark’s head vanished, a smothering weight of oppressive emotion abruptly lifted from his mind, leaving behind a strange void. He felt lightheaded for a moment, followed by a weird pins-and-needles sensation, and then, finally, normal. No Chaletwo. They were on their own.

“Is he gone?” May asked, and Mark nodded. They looked at each other in silence for a few more seconds; neither of them wanted to voice the obvious, like it would somehow make it more real.

Mark forcibly pushed it out of his mind, turned and prepared to go on autopilot again, to just stare at the ground and the bushes and not think about anything.

“Wait,” May said suddenly. “I… I want to get Spirit and Floatzel back.”

-------

The nurse from Cleanwater City was visibly relieved to see them when they called her on the videophone in the Alumine Pokémon Center. She looked quickly from side to side before leaning in closer, lowering her voice. “I’m so glad to see you safe. How are you doing? Did you find your Growlithe?”

It took Mark a moment to remember what she was talking about. “Yeah, we did,” he said as his brain caught up, feeling a little guilty again for lying to her. “We’re okay. We’ve been keeping a low profile.”

The nurse nodded. “Good. Your Pokémon are doing well; they’ve made a full recovery, more or less. Your Ninetales has been concerned after not hearing from you for so long. Rick’s been out of town since he got out of the hospital, probably searching for you. I hoped the fact he hadn’t returned meant he hadn’t found you, but we couldn’t know for certain.”

“What about Floatzel?” May asked.

“She said you’d never let him catch you.” Nurse Joy smiled. “They’ll both be glad to be back.”

They kept it brief. Spirit and Floatzel were transferred over and they said goodbye to Nurse Joy before heading back out into the woods, until they felt safe again. They sent out all the Pokémon they could to welcome the pair back; May hugged Spirit close, while Weavile practically jumped on Floatzel with a playful Quick Attack as soon as she was out, the sea otter cackling with glee as she retaliated.

“Thanks,” May said as she let go of Spirit, looking towards Floatzel but not quite making eye contact.

“Only what you do for a trainer, isn’t it?” Floatzel said, cocking her head. “I get battles and food and I protect you. That’s how it goes, yes? A deal’s a deal.”

May stared at her a moment as Spirit eyed her grimly; then Weavile pounced again, and Floatzel turned, darting out of the way and preparing a countering Aqua Jet. May took a deep breath. “There’s more,” she said, looking over the group of Pokémon. “Chaletwo’s gone from Mark’s head. Apparently there’s not that much time left. So if… if any of you want to leave and find a safe place now, you can go. Mrs. Riverstone had a shelter.”

Floatzel laughed and returned to the playfight. The other Pokémon murmured to each other, but nobody stepped forward.

“Are you sure?” May asked, clenching her fists. “You don’t have to stay.”

“We’ve come this far,” Butterfree said. “We can’t quit now.”

“How long do we have?” Flygon asked, his wings twitching.

“We don’t know,” Mark said. “He said we should release him once a week and he’ll say if it’s coming.” The knot in his stomach tightened. Weeks. Everything might be ending in weeks.

The Pokémon looked at each other. “Then,” May’s Flygon said, tilting his head, “we can think about leaving if Chaletwo says that.”

The other Pokémon murmured in agreement. Nobody objected.

May stared at them in silence for a few moments. “Well, then let’s go,” she said, reaching for her Pokéball necklace again. “Better not waste any more time.”

-------

A week passed, slowly but far too quickly. Chaletwo said that it was okay, it was fine, there was still time.

Another week went by, and May asked Mark to draw some of his favorite Pokémon. So he drew Lugia, Articuno, Moltres, legendaries he’d adored since he was a little kid staring wide-eyed at the illustrations in his picture books. Back then, they’d seemed impossibly big and beautiful, perfect, immortal beings that he could only dream of seeing from a distance one day – but they were just Pokémon, weren’t they? Just a bunch of beautiful, undying, flawed, scared Pokémon that were doomed to destroy one another, unless they succeeded on this strange quest. He wondered again, for the first time in a while, why Mew, who already knew about the War, didn’t want it stopped. Had Mew and Chalenor tried to stop it before? Exactly what had happened before the last War, a thousand years ago?

One more week, and Chaletwo told them to contact the others again. There had still been sightings in Ouen, all over the place, scattered throughout the region in no discernible pattern. There was nothing better to do than to keep doing what they’d been doing. The lack of a change, a plan, of any sense of progress, was maddening, but they kept going, walking the same familiar woods and beaches and edges of cities.

“Draw Tyranitar,” May said quietly at the beginning of the next week, and Mark drew him as he successfully stood up to Mewtwo²’s power in the League finals, not weak, that one glorious moment when it had seemed like she would win. The next day, when May asked him to choose, he drew Letaligon, roaring in triumph after her evolution. Where was she now? The rest of the week’s drawings were more victories, successes, happy moments frozen in time with everything that came after them forgotten: bringing down Thunderyu, winning badges, Jolteon holding his own against May’s Flygon, Waraider when he agreed to be captured.

At the end of the week they sent Chaletwo out, in the thicket of the forest, and he was silent.

“How long do we have?” May asked.

“Stick to the forest,” Chaletwo said after a few seconds. “You said his home is here. He’ll come back. He must come back. Search it better.”

A cold, invisible hand clutched at Mark’s insides. He didn’t know what to say, but even if he had, his throat ached with weeks of built-up looming horror finally latching on and settling in, making him want to curl up and scream until it was over.

“How long?” May repeated.

“It’s… it’s fine. Just keep looking. By this point he’d be getting weak. He’ll be back to the forest.”

“Are you sure?” May asked. Her voice was level but firm, her fists clenched, knuckles white.

“Yes. Yes! I’m sure. It’s not yet. We’ll find him when he returns to the forest. It’s fine.”

“So…” Mark began, his tongue sticky and uncomfortable in his mouth, “what you’re saying is… I should put you on the PC and call my parents?”

“I’m…” Chaletwo hesitated. “No! No, it’s… it’s not yet. Not quite. It’s not less than a week. It can’t be. He’s coming; I know he’s coming here. Just keep looking!”

And he recalled himself back into his ball.

May looked at Mark, her fists still clenched tight.

Chaletwo hadn’t actually asked to be sent to the PC. That had to… that had to mean he believed it. Didn’t it?

His parents. Was he actually going to call them, show them he was alive only to tell them the world was ending? Would they believe him? Would Mrs. Riverstone’s shelter actually keep anyone safe? If they did survive a legendary apocalypse, what kind of life would be waiting for them afterwards, with maybe thousands or millions dead? All these questions seemed abstract and unreal; his mind went blank trying to imagine it, flinching away from the idea, retreating back behind a barrier of safe, sane normalcy: Chaletwo didn’t ask to be sent to the PC. Mew is probably coming back here. We can find him. We’re going to find him.

Even if he could save his parents or other friends or family members, could he really do that, knowing so many others were doomed?

Was the time he was wasting here thinking about it time in which they could have found Mew?

“So are you calling home?” May asked.

“I…” For a moment he stood there speechless, his parents’ faces at the edge of his mind, never quite in focus as some desperate part of him insistently pushed them back, behind that safe barrier. “Not… not yet,” he said, numb. “Let’s try for at least a few more days.”

May nodded slowly, without responding.

“We should message the others,” he managed to add. “Let them know. And our Pokémon.”

She handed him the Pokégear, and he typed a message with shaking hands: It’s coming soon. Mrs. Riverstone wanted Robin home. There might be room in her shelter. We’re still searching.

Despite everything, none of their Pokémon wanted to leave. May’s Flygon looked uneasy, curling his tail around himself, glancing anxiously from side to side, but when no one else volunteered, he didn’t either. May asked if he was sure, twice, staring at him like she wanted to make him go, but he insisted he was staying, at least for now, and that was that. Stantler asked if they were okay, if they were going to contact anyone, but Mark said no, and May shook her head. For a brief moment he wondered about her family, why she didn’t want to call them, but that train of thought took him back towards his own, and within moments, before he could take that horrible plunge into nightmarish finality, the barrier was back, banishing the thought. They could do it. They could do it. They’d stop it. Everything would be fine, somehow. It had to be.

And then they had to go. There was no more time to waste. May kept Spirit out, saying if they found Mew they’d need a quick Mean Look, and they set off yet again, the Ninetales staying close by her side.

“You know what’s funny?” May muttered that night as they were hastily pitching their tents. “Part of me doesn’t mind.”

Mark shivered. He wanted to respond, but there was nothing he could say that wasn’t painful and terrifying.

There was no more drawing after that.

-------

And then, after five more days of restlessly combing through the forest, shaking, unable to stop or think or sleep more than a few hours, there was a change.

A soft, familiar tingling brushed by the back of his mind, something light and warm and feathery, and he knew what it was. He hadn’t really registered it back then, but just the same, he recognized it instantly, some subconscious memory surfacing for air from the depths of everything, a sudden ray of hope out of the darkness.

May and Spirit noticed, too, stopping, holding their breaths. Everything was hazy and unreal as Mark led the way towards that gentle guiding signal, the soft psychic aura of the last legendary.

And then they were there, pushing aside the branches of a tree to reveal a small clearing where Mew lay curled up in sleep inside a pink protective bubble, hovering lightly just above the ground.

And then, before Spirit could step forward and use Mean Look, before any of them could start to process what was happening, the red recall beam of a Pokéball shot towards Mew from the bushes to the side, and the legendary was absorbed into it and disappeared.

Mark’s heart stopped, his body frozen and numb with shock. Behind the bush, an all-too-familiar man in a trench coat with a thick, unkempt beard rose to his feet and chuckled in disbelief, gazing at a black Pokéball in his hand. A Kabutops stood by his side, staring at Mark.

His brain could think one thing and one thing only. “How?” he croaked. “How do you have a Clone B…”

The Mew Hunter looked up, sharply, as if he hadn’t noticed them, taking a step back behind his Kabutops. He hesitated a moment, his eyes darting back and forth, but then a gloating smirk broke out on his face. “Don’t you recognize it?” he said. “It’s yours. I heard you say you still had it and then nabbed it from your bag at the Rainbow Café, when I finally had a chance.”

Everything spun around in Mark’s head. Him. He’d been following them, for weeks. He’d been the nighttime visitor. “It… it was deactivated! I know I…”

“I reactivated it,” the Mew Hunter said, his voice cool, holding the ball close to his chest. “The recall data isn’t permanently lost on deactivation. It can be recovered, if you know how. I studied Pokéballs, remember.” Oh. “I removed Rick’s repulsive mind-control hardware, of course. I need better tools for the Mean Look modification, but once I get home I’ll make it a ball fit for Mew.”

“Okay,” May said, and Mark looked back at her in alarm. “Okay. It’s fine. You can have it. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t send it out for a while, okay? If you just keep it in there for –”

The Mew Hunter’s lip twitched. “You think I caught Mew to be a mere prize in my collection? To let it rot in a ball? No! I caught it because I understand. I’ll give Mew friendship and happiness. I care about it. I care more than anyone! That’s why I was destined to be Mew’s trainer. I’m the only one who can save it!”

“Give her to us,” Spirit snarled. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

“Look,” May said, keeping her voice level. “There’s this periodic disaster –”

“I’d die before giving Mew up to the likes of you!” the Mew Hunter growled, pulling four Pokéballs off his belt. “I’d sooner release it now and find it all over again than let you get your filthy hands on this ball. Cover me!”

As he took off running through the woods, four bursts of light formed around him, his Feraligatr, Sandslash, Sneasel and Fangcat joining Kabutops, looking back and brandishing claws and fangs as they ran alongside him in a protective formation. May glanced at Mark as they sprinted after him, Spirit bounding ahead. They could beat his Pokémon easily, of course – they’d taken down legendaries. But if he felt threatened and threw that ball and Mew teleported away, to some far-off region…

Mark grabbed Chaletwo’s ball from his belt, but before he could throw it, one of his other balls popped open.

“Rob!” Scyther called as he materialized in front of Mark, and the fleeing man froze in his tracks, his Pokémon whirling around to face them.

The Mew Hunter turned, slowly. “You… you’re with them?” he asked limply, his voice quiet and shaking as he lowered Mew’s ball. “You joined them for good?”

Scyther nodded warily, glancing at the five Pokémon surrounding his former trainer. “Rob, what are you doing?”

“Does he ever talk to you, like I did?” the Mew Hunter said, his voice low. “Spend evenings washing the blood from your self-inflicted wounds and trying to give you comfort and warmth? Let you drink and vent and forget?”

“He doesn’t have to,” Scyther said.

“I gave you everything!” the Mew Hunter barked, his eyes wide and shining. “I saved your life! I loved you. I did everything I could to help you. How could you abandon me just when I could finally live again, only to join up with...” He waved a trembling hand at Mark. “...with these slave-drivers who want to destroy everything that’s important to me?”

Scyther took a breath. “I loved you too, Rob,” he said. “I’d be dead if it weren’t for you – you taught me a way to cope when I had nothing. But my head’s cleared a lot since I left you, and I don’t think it was the right way anymore. I wallowed in my own worthlessness instead of questioning it, instead of getting anywhere. And I did that because that’s all that you did.” He hesitated, staring at the Mew Hunter, then at his Pokémon again. “You don’t need Mew. You can have a normal life with your Pokémon, who would die for you. Rob, you can let go. I swear you can. All Mew’s ever given you is misery. Just… just give that ball to Mark and walk away. Please.”

The Mew Hunter cradled the ball tightly against his chest. “Why should I give it to him?” he snarled. “He’s done nothing to deserve Mew. Either it comes with me or it goes free.”

“He doesn’t want it, Rob,” Scyther said, sighing. “We just need Mew to be in a ball for a while, until it’s safe. There’s a…”

“What are you talking about?” the Mew Hunter snapped. “Mew shouldn’t be trapped in a ball. Do you remember how I didn’t even keep you in a Pokéball unless I had to, because you didn’t like it? Remember how at first you wanted to escape but then I let you stay outside your ball and watch me with the others for as long as you needed until you grew to trust me? How is Mew going to trust me if I don’t send it out?”

“There’s a legendary war that happens every thousand years,” Scyther continued. “If every legendary is inside a ball, it won’t happen, but if even one is out there, the world could be destroyed. We only wanted to capture Mew to prevent it. Mew, and the others, will be released when it’s safe. If you followed us, you must have heard them talk about the War. That was what they meant.”

The Mew Hunter’s Kabutops shifted uncomfortably, looking back at his trainer as his other Pokémon stared at Scyther. The man’s gaze remained fierce and suspicious. “How do I know you aren’t just lying to make me give it to you and your filthy new trainer?”

Scyther sighed heavily. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Rob.”

“You betrayed me.” By the Mew Hunter’s side, his Kabutops winced, looking back at Scyther. Feraligatr and Sandslash glanced at each other.

“I didn’t betray you,” Scyther said softly. “You were you when you caught me, when you thought Mew was lost. But once you saw it again in Cleanwater City, you turned into someone who’d threaten a kid and wanted me dead for questioning you.”

“Mew is worth it!” the Mew Hunter shouted. “I can save it. This is what was meant to be!”

Scyther shook his head, slowly. “That’s only what you’ve been telling yourself. Mew is a legendary Pokémon and doesn’t even know who you are. Why would he befriend you? We only did because we had nowhere else to go. I’m sorry, Rob.”

The Mew Hunter’s eyes widened as his face contorted in rage, his Fangcat hissing at Scyther from his side. “No! You know nothing! Mew will understand me! Mew will know! Mew will give me a chance! Just watch, you –”

And he pulled back his arm as he prepared to throw the Clone Ball. Mark froze, his heart lurching in panic; by his side, Spirit growled, preparing to attempt a Mean Look –

– and then, suddenly, a deep, powerful tremor shook the ground. Everyone looked up in alarm as a massive shockwave blasted through the forest, knocking leaves from branches and the kids off their feet. Mark lost his grip on Chaletwo’s ball, and it sailed through the air as the Mew Hunter too lost his balance, fell forward and sent the Clone Ball flying.

Chaletwo materialized on the ground, looking frantically around. Mew emerged in mid-air, blinking, his gaze turning from confused to worried.

“That… that was it!” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with nervous excitement. “The... the Destroyer’s pulse! Before Mew came out! We did it!”

Mark blinked in incomprehension as he crawled to his feet. It was over? They were done? They’d saved the world?

Mew turned sharply. “No, no, no,” he muttered. “No! Why!”

“No?” Chaletwo repeated, his voice fierce and incredulous, whirling towards Mew. “No? I’ve just saved the whole world from destruction, including you, that’s why! You should be thanking me on your knees!”

Mew just shook his head. Chaletwo continued, heat growing to a furious pitch in his voice. “What, are you going to tell me now that you had some great reason to oppose the plan all along? That we’re actually all going to die now, is that it? Because you’ve had twenty years to tell me to stop and the only reason you ever managed to give was some dumb crap about destiny!”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Mew said, his voice trembling.

“No, of course I wouldn’t. I’m not Chalenor, am I, so how could I ever understand –”

“You never even knew Chalenor!” Mew interrupted, desperate tears in his eyes. “Why are you talking about him? You have no idea who he even was!”

Mark’s heart thumped; there was something strange in the air. He didn’t understand what was going on anymore. Why was Mew so upset? Something was off, he could tell, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“I know enough!” Chaletwo spat. “You kept on telling me about him, about how he was the Preserver before me and your best friend in the world and no one could ever compare –”

Mew squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head bitterly – and then, suddenly, Mark recognized the strange feeling in the air, the oppressive psychic pressure that was growing, magnifying, smothering everything, like but so unlike Mew’s light footprint, only so much stronger than he’d ever felt it before. Chaletwo’d stopped speaking, turning his head sharply as Mew looked around in wonder. “Oh, no,” Chaletwo said, his voice quiet again. “Oh, nonononono. What is that?”

“I’m sorry,” Mew whispered, trembling.

“That’s… that’s Mewtwo²,” Mark breathed, heart hammering in his chest.

“What?” Chaletwo stared at him through his eyelids. “Oh, no. He was out. Rick had him out. This can’t happen. This can’t happen!”

“Isn’t… isn’t there anything we can do?” Mark asked, numb.

“I…”

“Hold on,” May said, pale. “It’s already got a ball. It’s got a ball that mind-controls it. Maybe if it’s recalled, then…”

Chaletwo whirled towards her. “Yes. Yes. We can still stop it. We can still stop it. Come on!”

And before Mark had any idea what was happening, Chaletwo had grabbed Mark and May by the shoulders. May only just managed to place her hand on Spirit’s head, clutching her mane, before he teleported them away.

-------

Razor might have been left behind, but he knew where he had to go. There was a tangible shift in the psychic interference if he turned, an unmistakable pull towards the east. If he just flew straight and followed that pull, he would find them. Mew was looking in that direction too, fiddling anxiously as if conflicted.

“Mew,” said Rob hoarsely, still on his hands and knees on the ground. “I will protect you. I understand. Come with me. I can help you.”

Mew shook his head, staring into the distance. “There is nothing you or anyone can do to help me.”

And then, stopping, Mew took a deep breath, closed his eyes and vanished, without giving Rob so much as a second glance.

“Goodbye, Rob,” Razor said quietly. “I need to help my trainer.”

“Mew, please,” Rob muttered. “Don’t… don’t go.”

His Pokémon were silent. Fangcat growled quietly, nudging his leg, but he didn’t react. Kabutops looked up at Razor, hesitating.

“You know this is mad,” Razor said. “You’ve always known.”

“Yeah.” Kabutops sighed, looking away. “It’s just how he is sometimes. You never knew him back the first time around.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.” Razor glanced between his former teammates. “I meant what I said before. It’s possible to let go, even if it doesn’t seem that way. I… I met Nightmare again. I realized the Code was wrong. I found a reason to live.” Kabutops stared at him in wonder. “You can break free.”

Feraligatr and Sneasel nodded silently, glancing at their trainer again. Rob heard everything they were saying, Razor knew, but he didn’t respond or even look up.

“Goodbye,” Razor said. “Try to… try to help him.”

And he took a deep breath, turned around and took off, heading towards the source of that terrible looming power.

The Mew Hunter was left lying on the ground with his Pokémon, sobbing quietly.


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