Juliana was impressed with how quickly the group worked. With everyone pitching in, Arven had Mabosstiff’s sandwich ready within minutes. There was some debate if feeding him three Herba Mystica in one shot would somehow lessen their effects. But given the way Mabosstiff had been eating rather slowly–and sometimes refusing to eat at all–Arven decided the benefits outweighed the risks.
Juliana was the only one Arven allowed beside him when he stood by his bed and brought Mabosstiff out. No hard feelings to any of the others, he emphasized, but Juliana was the one his Pokémon was most familiar with now. Anyone else who wanted to be supportive (which was everyone else, really), could stand in the opposite corner of the lighthouse, away from Mabosstiff so he didn’t feel overwhelmed.
There were no objections, and after some shuffling around, Arven was ready. With a deep breath, he called Mabosstiff from his Poke Ball.
The poor Pokémon was the image of exhaustion as it rested on the carpet. Arven knelt down beside his friend and stroked his deep gray fur. “Come on, bud. Eat up.” He offered the sandwich, but Mabosstiff made no attempt to taste it. Juliana couldn’t be sure, but the Pokémon’s breathing seemed slower than the last time they met. His eyes had lost their golden luster, too.
“O-of course, he’s still feeling pretty out of it,” Arven said. “He’s only eaten two of the herbs so far, and anyway, not like it’s fair to expect every kind of Herba Mystica to have some huge effect. The effect might not even be immediate, you know?”
He inched closer and held the sandwich under Mabosstiff’s big wet nose. “I bet you’ve got the three strongest, best herbs right here. They’re gonna make you all better, I promise. Me, Juliana, and Team Star…we all did our best to get these for you.” He swallowed hard. The silence in the room was painful for Juliana to wait through. She could only imagine the effect on Arven was ten times worse. Every time Mabosstiff didn’t respond, Arven would blurt out whatever was on his mind, as if the silence itself was poisoning his friend.
“We’re gonna play with your favorite ball as much as you want,” he whispered. “Y’know? Just like we used to.”
Mabosstiff weakly opened his mouth and nibbled the end of the sandwich. His muscles quivered with the effort.
“Th-that’s it,” Arven said encouragingly. “Keep going.”
Mabosstiff continued to chew, breaths labored and movements lethargic. Juliana’s chest tightened. Her mind raced with what to say if it happened. If they all stood here and witnessed the worst. If all Arven’s efforts meant nothing.
“Please,” Arven begged, quiet enough that only Juliana could hear him.
His voice lent Mabosstiff the smallest spark of energy. The Pokémon leaned forward and took the remaining half of the sandwich in his mouth, chewing slowly before finally swallowing. He then rested on his side again, chest rising and falling with an uncomfortable wheeze.
Arven reached into his bag and pulled out a bouncy toy shaped like a Poke Ball. With an unsteady hand, he offered it to Mabosstiff. “Please get better. That’s all I want, really.”
Mabosstiff gave a soft whine. His paw twitched. A golden glow enveloped his feeble body, and then…
Nothing. Mabosstiff remained with his eyes closed, his voice silent, his breathing weak.
Juliana swallowed. Maybe she was judging too quickly. Like Arven had said, the herbs might not work right away. To heal such an injury could take time, even for the Herba Mystica. But…the fact that they saw no visible progress, that Mabosstiff arguably looked worse than before…
Arven lowered his head, letting his messy hair hide his face from his audience. “Mabosstiff,” he said, in a voice choked and broken. “You did your best, bud.” He stroked his friend’s fur with his free hand. The ball slipped from his fingers, rolling past Mabosstiff to rest at Juliana’s feet.
Arven stood, his hands on his hips, and faced the corner. Juliana couldn’t fathom what to do next. Her first instinct said to shoo everyone off and let Arven mourn in private. But who was she to tell them anything? Maybe Arven wantedthe company right now.
She stood perfectly still, afraid to move her foot and knock the ball away. Her focus locked on it, waiting for some cue from Arven about what to do next, how they could best make him and Mabosstiff comfortable.
Then a flicker of movement caught her attention. Sluggish and weak, but nonetheless determined. Mabosstiff had lifted his head. His eyes focused on his treasured toy. And slowly, with shaking limbs, he started to get up.
The group held a collective breath.
“A-arven,” she whispered, afraid speaking any louder would somehow disrupt the herbs’ healing power.
Arven didn’t seem to hear her. But before she could speak again, Mabosstiff spoke for her: the gruff but gentle voice of an old friend who’d traveled long and far to spend a little more time together.
Arven spun around and gasped at what he saw. Mabosstiff up and walking, however unsteadily, towards Juliana. Picking up their favorite toy in his mouth and facing Arven with a smile. As much as Juliana and Arven and Team Star had fought for those herbs, Mabosstiff was fighting harder. Of course they all knew it might not be enough. But for this moment, maybe–maybe it had.
“Bud!” Arven’s legs gave out from under him. Undeterred, he crawled on hands and knees to his friend. Mabosstiff waited patiently and when Arven reached him, he dropped the ball into Arven’s palm.
“Woof,” he said again, stronger than before.
Arven looked at the ball in his hands and nodded. His eyes filled with tears and he threw his arms around Mabosstiff like he would never let go again. “I know! Me too, bud! Me–”
With the force of a blasting trumpet, someone in the group blew their nose. Arven went quiet, aware once again of how many people were watching him. Still hugging Mabosstiff, he lifted his head to take in everyone’s reactions.
They might have been standing at a distance, but their emotions were unmistakeable. The five bosses of Team Star stood there with red eyes, tear-soaked cheeks, sniffling and sobbing with nothing held back. Juliana’s face was far from dry, but these five took it to an entirely different level.
Arven gave Mabosstiff one more friendly pat on the head and sat back on his mattress. “Thought the whole point of you lot being here was emotional support,” he said. “What am I supposed to do when you’re crying worse than I am?”
“N-not our fault,” Eri blubbered, taking care to rub her eyes without smearing her face makeup into them.
“Yeah,” Giacomo said with a hiccup. “Who wouldn’t cry at something like this?”
Atticus pulled down his mask and dabbed at his own damp eyes with his sleeve. “Verily, t’would be a stone-hearted wretch who could hold their tears at such a display.”
Mela’s eyeliner dripped in gray streaks down her cheek. “Sorry if this is awkward, but can I give you both a hug?”
“Can I bring you some tea?” Eri offered. “Or a pillow, maybe? How about some soup?”
Arven recoiled at the suggestions. “Whoa, whoa. What am I? The woobie of your collective hurt/comfort fanfiction?” When no one offered any words of contradiction, Arven backed farther away. He found the end of the bed occupied by Koraidon’s snout, its chin rested on the mattress.
“And what do you want?” Arven asked.
Koraidon responded by giving him a pathetic puppy face to rival Mabosstiff’s. Its goldenrod eyes shimmered. Its lower lip quivered. Arven half-expected the brute to borrow a tissue from Mela.
“I think he wants a sandwich,” Juliana laughed, rubbing away the tears in her own eyes. “You did give him some those other two times we beat a titan.”
Arven sighed. “That tracks, I guess. But, seriously, am I the only one who knows how to make food around here?”
No one offered any words of contradiction to that, either.
Juliana ultimately stepped forward and offered Team Star some sandwich pointers. At least long enough so Arven could use the shower to wash his hair. Penny and the Team Star bosses set up dual picnic blankets outside the lighthouse, with half of them preparing the food, the other half setting out flatware, and the big boss on alert for any reality ripples that might ruin their meal. Penny admitted the great outdoors weren’t so great in her mind, but Atticus and Eri seemed to love it.
Arven was pleasantly surprised when he came back out–now smelling a little less like peanuts and a little more like cheap shampoo. He still had corrections to make on their picnic techniques, of course–the blanket was wrinkled right here, the tomato slicing was uneven there…and why did someone put out spoons when they were eating sandwiches? All in all, though, he couldn’t hide the happiness on his face.
“Hmm…” Penny stood a bit of a distance away from the group, prodding at the empty air. “Interesting. My hand doesn’t go past this point. Porygon can go through fine, but none of the wild Pokémon seem to be able to touch us.”
“Yeah, picnics are weird,” Arven agreed as he plopped down on Juliana’s blanket between her and Giacomo. “Or at least, they’re weird whenever I’m in one.”
“Hey, quit taking all the credit for our crumbling reality!” Ortega teased from the opposite blanket. “This could all be my fault, too!”
Arven smiled, though it looked a tad more forced than before. He turned to Penny. “So, how are the results coming on that…whatever-ma-jig of yours?”
Penny took a seat beside Giacomo, where her own meal waited for her. “My portable system isn’t as efficient as the desktop in my dorm,” she explained. “It’ll take some time to execute a full analysis and compile the results.” She picked up the sandwich from her paper plate. “Also, I’m hungry. Food first, talk later.”
“And the Big Boss has spoken!” Giacomo declared. He took a massive bite of his sandwich, and the rest of the group followed suit. Whatever awkwardness Arven had brought to the table soon faded.
Dawn had broken once again, making their cliffside view of the ocean worthy of a Paldean postcard. Sunlight caught the peaks of the gentle waves like a golden trim on a rippling curtain of blue. Paired with the buzz of friends chatting, the luscious scent of fresh bread, vegetables, and spices…it was easy to forget what a crisis they all faced.
At least until a stranger approached their picnic spot.
“Well, isn’t this a cozy little set-up.”
Juliana didn’t even notice the young woman approach. She walked like a dancer getting on stage–silent, graceful, and deliberate. She stood about the same height as Mela with pale skin and a thin, almost bony frame. Huge sunglasses concealed her eyes, and her pink hair was done up two large, tight buns.
Oh, no. Is she with the police? Juliana thought. On second glance, probably not. The visitor wore a silky yellow tank top with black leggings–not exactly officer-appropriate attire. But who else had any reason to come out here?
“Vanessa!” Ortega exclaimed. He pushed his plate aside and stood, dusting the crumbs from his fancy jacket. “There you are! Why didn’t you meet me here when I texted you?”
Vanessa frowned and removed the sunglasses. Her round pink-and-yellow eyes matched Ortega’s almost perfectly. They couldn’t have claimed to be unrelated if they tried. “Oh, let me think,” she said, then made several exaggerated taps on her phone. She put a finger to her chin in a mock impression of the world’s deepest thinker. “Ah, yes! It was because you didn’t say to meet here. You said to meet at the summer house.” She stepped forward and shoved the text chat inOrtega’s face.
He broke immediately into a sweat. “Ah. S-so I did. Sorry about that. It was nice of you to come looking for me, though.”
“It may feel less nice when I decide what to do about the fact that you ditched me. Does my busy schedule mean nothing to you?”
As Vanessa spoke, Juliana tilted her head. “I could swear I know that voice.”
“Yeah, me too,” Mela said. “And your face looks familiar, too. I mean, beyond you’re-related-to-Ortie familiar.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes, stood, and made two Vs with her fingers. When she brought them up behind one of her hair buns, it looked just like a Magnemite. She slipped into a super chipper voice and recited, “Whosawhatsit? Your eyeballs are mine, caught in my Electroweb!”
Eri’s jaw went slack. Mela squealed and pointed but struggled to get any actual words out, “Th-th-that’s– Y-you-y-you’re–”
“Iono?” Giacomo gasped. “The actual, real-life, Iono Zone Iono?!”
“Unless there’s a clone of me walking around, yeah. But don’t go shouting my stage name when I’m off camera. Got it?”
The group chimed back with a chorus of “yes” and “of course” and “whatever you say, m’lady!” They then gathered in a circle around her, ooing and ahhing and hammering her with questions about her livestream. Juliana had to admit, she felt pretty excited herself, even if she hadn’t been a follower for as long as the others had. Iono had a wide fanbase not only in Paldea but in Galar as well. Even Penny looked a bit curious.
The only one who showed zero interest in chatting up Iono was Arven. Instead he sat on the blanket preparing Koraidon’s sandwich from the picnic leftovers. “I’m sorry, who are you again, and why should we all care this much?”
Giacomo stared at him like he’d grown more heads than a Hydreigon. “You seriously don’t know who this is?”
“I get she’s Ortie’s sister,” Arven said with a shrug. “But I don’t see why the rest of you are acting like she invented the freakin’ sun.”
“She did better!” Mela sighed with glittering eyes. “She invented the Iono Zone!”
To Mela’s disappointment, this did not stir Arven to join them in honoring the grass blades Iono had tread upon. He called Koraidon out of its napping spot by the lighthouse. When the ride Pokémon came up to Arven with its tongue lagging, he made a show of feeding it the sandwich with his back to the star-struck Team Star.
Koraidon swallowed the sandwich whole without so much as a sniff. For a moment, it had no reaction. Then its scales flashed with a golden light. It jolted and reared up on its hind legs. A guttural cry escaped its throat.
Everyone stood protectively in front of Iono, Juliana included, but as quickly it had started, the effect faded. Koraidon settled down and shook itself off like nothing odd had happened.
“Um…is that thing okay?” Mela asked.
Juliana didn’t know how to answer that, but before she could try, her ringtone interrupted them. She pulled out her phone and winced at the caller’s name.
“Um…Arven?” she said, turning the screen towards him. “It’s from your mom.”
Arven frowned. “Hang up.”
“Answer it,” Penny said at the same time.
Juliana gripped the phone, lost on who to listen to. On one hand, Arven’s opinion carried more weight. It was his mother, after all. On the other, Penny was the expert on Paldea’s anomalies. If she thought talking to the professor would be helpful, maybe it should override Arven’s wishes after all.
“Oo, did I get here in time for drama?” Iono asked eagerly. “I love drama. I vote put it through.”
“No one asked you!” Ortega hissed.
With no one reaching an agreement, Penny’s Porygon took matters into its own code. It floated over Juliana’s phone, leaned forward, and tapped the green “answer” button with its beak. Static buzzed for a moment, but Professor Sada’s voice came through clear enough:
“You children certainly have a slow approach to task completion,” she said. “But I must put that aside for now. It seems Koraidon is back to its full strength. Which means you have everything you need to help me save this world.”