The moment Penny closed her eyes, she found herself standing in that strange void once again. Wo-Chien stood across from her, but the poor thing looked horrible. In all the images Raifort had shown them, it had a distinct form, like a massive grass-type Magcargo, using wooden tablets as its shell. Now it looked more like an Alolan Grimer, both in shape and color. A shifting mound of dying leaves.
“I need you to come out,” Penny said. “There’s a battle I have to win no matter what. But I can’t reach any of my other Pokémon right now. You’re the only one.”
Wo-Chien quivered and tried to form a more cohesive shape. It lifted itself up until it looked vaguely humanoid, possibly mimicking Penny’s appearance for lack of any other model. Leaves drifted down from its makeshift limbs as it tried to hold itself together.
This new object is strange…and I’m so tired…so thirsty…
It reached its blob of an arm forward. An itch agitated Penny’s mind, trying to pull out all those feelings about Turo. All that desire for revenge.
At first, Penny didn’t know how to react. She couldn’t ask the Pokémon to fight in its current condition. She had to get it healthy first. But to let it tap into her bitterness again? What if she couldn’t hold herself back after it had its fill? What if she became like Ortie and started to attack everyone?
“No!” she told it, with much the same tone she would use if one of her VeeVees tried to bully another. A tone that said, I understand where you’re coming from, but this behavior won’t be tolerated.
“No,” she said again with more sympathy. “You can’t feed on my bitterness anymore. We’ll find another way.”
Wo-Chien moaned and the humanoid shape its had managed to hold melted back into a dull green mound again.
Penny swallowed. She was the one who’d taken the five bosses of Team Star–the ones that the bullies had beaten down so hard, they didn’t think they had any chance of standing–and brought them together so they could lift each other up again. Maybe she didn’t have nerves of steel like Nemona or eternal optimism like Juliana or even any long-term friendships like Arven and Ortega.
But when she wasn’t surrounded by noise or oppressive crowds, she could move people with her words. That had to count for something, didn’t it?
“You know…my history teacher once said that a thirst for revenge can start from a good place…from a sense of justice.”
Wo-Chien lifted what amounted to its head the smallest bit.
Penny continued, “Those feelings you fed on for centuries? That was their source. And there’s nothing I want more right now than seeing a wrong made right.” She held out her hand. “If you can feed on that, I’ll have you healthy in no time.”
Wo-Chien hesitated but then began to raise itself up once more. It again took a humanoid shape, but one much more clear than before. There was no doubt this time it used Penny as its model. She felt like she was looking at a topiary of herself. But creepy as that image was, she could also see a brighter tint of green seep into Wo-Chien’s dying leaves.
“Your new object is still strange,” it said aloud this time. The voice was similar to hers but deeper, and it echoed all around.
“It’s actually still called a tablet,” she said. “And don’t worry. I can help you there, too. It’s basically an extension of my arm.”
Wo-Chien nodded. “Ah. I can understand that much, I think. We will help each other, then?”
“Yeah,” Penny said. “We’ll help each other.”
With that, Wo-Chien reached forward and grasped Penny’s hand. Power surged through her. Her brain felt like she’d downed half a case of energy drinks in one go. And a burst of green light flooded the once dark space.
When Penny opened her eyes again, she felt…different. Much different. She struggled to find the word for it at first, but when she took a step forward, her foot seemed…heavier.
Then the fog in her brain cleared and she saw herself reflected in one of the large monitors on Ai’s desk. Her eyes flashed with tints of orange and yellow. Layers of leaves completely encompassed her. Most were dull and limp, as if on the verge of death. But the ones at her fingertips had brightened, and the effect was quickly spreading.
Even her skin had gone a dull shade of green, though it seemed to be brightening along with the leaves. Her tablet was still encased in moss, and several vines criss-crossed over it, holding it firmly in place against her upper arm. But unlike last time, it didn’t feel like the vines were suffocating her or trying to drag her down. If anything, they felt like a part of her.
Which was both exhilarating and terrifying.
She braced herself and turned to view Arven. She didn’t what she expected, exactly. But like her, his body had transformed to a strange, hybrid form of his Treasure’s distinct element. He looked like a moving, breathing statue made of sedimentary rock. Layers of dirt and stone created earthy gray stripes across his chest. When he turned, his hair and clothes remained stiff, as if they’d been sculpted from clay and gone through a kiln. The molcajete hung from a clay belt around his waist, and his eyes glowed a threatening red.
“I see you got Ting-Lu to come out,” Penny said simply.
He shot her a look like he wanted to Mud Slap her in the face. Which, it occurred to her, he might very well be able to do. “In a manner of speaking, yeah.”
“Ah. Let me guess. You gave it a heartfelt speech about how fear originates from a desire for safety, and with its help, you can create that safety for everyone?”
Arven’s stony jaw went slack. “How do you know this stuff?”
“Heh. Programming and logic are my jam, remember? That means I have the answers to everything.”
“Um, hello?” Giacomo waved his arms at both of them, despite the fact that he only stood a few feet away. “Is anyone going to give us some answers here? What the hell did you two do?”
Arven pointed at Penny. At least he could move his fingers independently. “Hey, this was her crazy idea! I–“
Another blast of cold shot through the room, and the entire lab shook from its force. Penny’s skin burned with the chill, and the color drained from some of her leaves. She heard a soft voice panting behind her, almost ethereal in its tone. Ortega’s Hatterene. The poor thing looked exhausted.
Vanessa gave Hatterene a pat on the head. “She was firing off Dazzling Gleam after Dazzling Gleam while you two were…” She looked Arven and Penny over and waved her hand like she was dismissing their atrocious sense of fashion. “…doing whatever this is supposed to be.” Her gaze shifted to the ice wall, and she frowned. “I dunno how much damage it did, but it sure wasn’t enough to get in there.”
“We’ll make a path for her,” Penny promised. “Arven, cover me.”
With that, she sprinted towards the ice wall. The gap between the walls had narrowed. She could just catch a glimpse of Ortega inside, but what state he was in was anyone’s guess.
Penny stretched out her hand. She’d never felt so strong before. This might have been Raifort’s dream come true, but to her, it was terrifying.
“I need an attack here,” she muttered, unsure if she was speaking to Wo-Chien or herself. Also unsure if there was even a difference between them right now. “Power Whip, come on!”
It felt like insane–like chanting a spell in some play or role-playing game and expecting it to actually work. But sure enough, the vines around her arms extended to hit the wall with a resounding crack. It certainly put a nice dent in the ice, but it wasn’t broken. Not yet. And the next barrage of icicles flew right in her direction. She jumped back and hit the ice with a second Power Whip before she had to fully retreat to avoid being frozen on the spot. Slick patches littered the floor, and Penny nearly lost her footing.
Arven jumped in and caught her before she fell backwards. “Hey, I know I’m no battle genius, but aren’t we at a serious type disadvantage here?”
“Ice is super effective against ground and grass, but it doesn’t resist them,” Penny said. Which wasn’t a thank you, but her mind was elsewhere at the moment. She backed towards the corner where Turo still cowered, being completely useless. If she could get a wider view of the attacks, maybe she could find a path through them.
Arven followed. “So that means…?”
“It means don’t get hit!”
As she said it, a chunk of ice flew at Arven next. Hatterene moved in and pointed at the air, summoning a Reflect. The ice crumbled to harmless snow. Arven thanked the Pokémon, clambered to his feet, and rushed over to Penny’s side. Hatterene floated behind, still panting.
“So what do we do, then?” Arven asked. “Summon an earthquake?” He paused and muttered his last words to himself again. “Wait. Can I summon an earthquake?”
“Don’t you dare!” Ai called out.
Penny winced. She hated following Ai’s direction on anything, but it wasn’t as if the robot could do anything about the way it had been programmed. If they damaged the lab along with breaking the icy wall, Ai might be forced to do much worse than lock down their Poké Balls. As things stood, it took all her strength to resist pulling out whatever Pokémon she had to attack them and Ortega indiscriminately.
Turo brushed his hair out of his face with his still-bleeding hand, watching his son in awe. “Y-you made new Treasures…how?”
“I dunno!” Arven snapped at him. “Through the freakin’ power of friendship, okay? Now shut up so I can focus!”
Turo hung his head. Penny thought at first he was ashamed. But when he spoke, it sounded more like he was focused–struggling to piece together a puzzle that had eluded him for a long time. “There’s a voice in my mind…a young woman…she keeps telling me about this king she robbed a long time ago…”
In his mind? Penny thought. Meaning his ghost hasn’t left yet. Then whatever presense Vanessa’s Mismagius sensed before must have been–
“Yeah, she’s the ghost possessing Chi-Yu’s treasure and feeding it her jealousy for several hundred years,” Arven snapped. “What part of ‘shut up’ didn’t make sense to you?”
“Hold on.” Penny held up a hand. “Our ghosts were connected, right? Turo’s and Ortie’s could be, too. If he releases her–“
“–then he probably goes on a rampage same as Ortega did!” Arven said. “The guy isn’t exactly in a good spot with his emotions right now.”
Penny ignored him. For the first time, it felt like she could talk to Turo…well, not as a person she respected or even trusted, but at least as someone she could reason with. If any part of him wanted to fix this mess he’d created, now was the best opportunity he’d get. Maybe, just maybe, she could use that.
“We made new Treasures because we both found items important to us that resembled the old Treasures,” she explained. “And we were able to channel the ruinous Pokémon into those new Treasures because we had the same feelings they fed on. If you can redirect Chi-Yu to a more positive source of energy, you might be able to use its power without causing any harm.”
Arven stared at her like this was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever suggested. It was quite the silent accusation, given their situation, their current forms, and their methods of attacking–all largely stemmed from her other insane ideas. But they were running out of options. Penny couldn’t take those ice attacks, and neither could Arven. Not without some backup.
Turo finally seemed to notice the injury on his hand. The bleeding had stopped, and he wiped the remaining line of blood onto the side of his lab coat. With all the other smudges and smears on the fabric, it was barely noticeable.
“You know,” he said. “I’ve come to realize it hasn’t just been Sada I’ve been envious of. When I was watching you all on your adventures from down here, I felt a sense of jealousy. For your freedom. For the choices you had. I wanted my path in life to be open again.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a necklace with a trio of ancient-looking beads.
Arven’s eyebrows rose at the sight of it. “That’s Mom–Sada’s…”
“I’m happy you’ve found people you’re willing to fight for, Arven,” Turo said as he closed his fingers around the jewelry. “I wish I had been there to watch you grow. I wish I had been a better father.”
“You…” Arven shook his head, his hair stiff in position as before. “You can’t just go and say a thing like that now.”
Turo cupped his opposite hand over the one holding the necklace. “I suppose you’re right. I am sorry.” A familiar, ghostly mist began to rise from his shoulders. Although it was not nearly as clear as it had been out in the quiet meadow, Penny heard the distinct sounds of laughter mixed with tears–of two long-separated spirits being united once again.
Instead of speaking to Arven, Turo now turned to Penny. “I know I was the source of your bitterness. And yet you’re able to speak to me with full control. I do not think I have such capacity for change. My desire has always been for my own success. But maybe…” A spark of heat cut through ever-present chill in the lab. “…maybe I can use that to do one good deed in this life.”
Penny looked down at Turo’s lab coat to see small flames licking the edges. She gasped and moved back. But there was no smell of smoke. The coat was simply vanishing, and the growing flames were taking its place.
“I can get your friend out of that prison he’s built,” Turo continued. “But I do not think I can help calm him. That will be on the two of you.”
“S-stop it!” Arven said. “Whatever stupid thing you’re trying to pull, stop it now!”
Turo turned his gaze to his son one last time. “It is a little sad, but I’m afraid this is good-bye. Farewell, Arven…my free adventurer.” The flames rose, still not burning, but taking Turo all the same. For a moment, Penny had a mental image of the Kantonian variant of Moltres–not a bird that could breathe fire or attack with fire, but a creature whose body was comprised of fire. As Turo’s form vanished, the only thing left unconsumed was the necklace. In the man’s place stood a pillar of flame in human shape, the necklace floating near his hand, as if wrapped around his wrist. When the figure glanced backward, the flickering shades of red and orange gave the unmistakable impression of Turo’s face. He gave Arven a brief smile then charged forward. His attacks against the wall of ice were clean and direct. Just running a hand over it broke huge cracks where Penny had merely made dents. Steam rose wherever his fingers landed. Icicles rained down on him, but he didn’t so much as flinch. In seconds, the wall of ice crumbled away to nothing.
Ortega stood at the center of his fallen miniature fortress. His lavender-pink hair had turned silver, his skin a pale, metallic blue. Frost coated his clothes, making it look from a distance like they were made of soft white fur rather than pastel fabric. His pupil-less slate blue eyes reminded Penny of the sky before a storm. And his posture was one of pure fury, shoulders tensed as he seethed, hands gripped tight around the two broken halves of his ice-coated staff. He pointed one of the halves at Turo, firing off a blast of white light.
Turo took the hit, but unlike the ice-type moves, this one seemed to genuinely hurt him. His head tilted. His body began to twitch and convulse. The soft expression he’d given Arven before he’d charged forward contorted with anguish and rage.
The leaves running down Penny’s back stiffened, much like hair raising on her arms when she wasn’t in a weird Poké-human hybrid state. “He doesn’t have control,” she said. “He didn’t redirect Chi-Yu. He just fed it as much envy as it wanted.”
Arven didn’t react with surprise or dismay at this realization. In fact, he barely reacted at all. “It was the only thing he knew how to do. His only chance to help were the moments he had before Chi-Yu took over.”
As he said it, Turo threw a blast of flame in Ortega’s direction. Ortega managed to sidestep it and counter with another Icicle Crash, but Turo made no attempt to dodge. He simply took the attack with seemingly no effect. It didn’t take a genius to figure out how this fight was going to end if they couldn’t stop it.
Penny turned to Hatterene. “Can you use Dazzling Gleam again?”
Exhausted as she was, Hatterene did her best to summon one more blast of fairy-type energy. But it was no good. She’d already drained herself trying to get past the ice wall.
“What are her other moves?” Penny asked of no one in particular.
Vanessa shrugged her shoulders. Thankfully, the team’s battle expert did her job well. “Reflect, Shadow Ball, and Psychic,” she answered.
Right, Penny thought. Reflect might be helpful, but the other two moves are useless. She rapidly tapped her forehead in debate. Which felt like tapping against the smooth bark of a birch tree–a fact she vehemently strived to ignore. Arven had the type advantage against fire. He might not like the idea of attacking his own father–if the figure in front of them could still be called Arven’s father. But they couldn’t stand there and let Ortega get hurt either. Not while they still had a chance to save him. Penny refused to believe her friend was a lost cause, too.
“Okay, Arven,” she said. “Turo is pretty fixated on Ortie right now. If we come at him from behind, maybe we can–“
Turo’s convulsions hit again with full force, and he fired off three more lines of flame in Ortega’s direction. Two missed, but the third one hit, and Ortega cried out in pain.
Before Penny could even process how to react, a rapid clack of heels approached from behind.
“Hey, STUPID! You keep away from my baby brother!”
Penny saw only a flash of purple as something flew through the air and smacked Turo on the back of the head. Penny wasn’t sure at first how a physical object had managed to collide with a creature made only of flames. But it all fit together when she saw what Vanessa had thrown at him.
It was a Master Ball. A red glow surrounded Turo…or maybe Chi-Yu was the more accurate name for him now? He yelled and grunted in protest, but the Master Balls didn’t get their nickname as the ultimate capture device from nowhere. The grunts and growls of frustration faded as Turo/Chi-Yu was swallowed by the red light and pulled into the Master Ball. It shook twice before it gave its familiar ping of a successful capture.
Vanessa stood frozen in her mid-throw stance. Her eyes widened. “I-I was trying to distract him!” she squeaked. “I didn’t think that would happen!”
You think we did?, Penny thought, just as stunned. What could she do or say after witnessing that? Thankfully Vanessa still had her priorities. She left the Master Ball sitting on the floor and took a step towards Ortega.
“Hey, there, prince–” she began.
Ortega instantly shot an icicle in her direction. It sliced right through the band holding her thick braid together. Her aqua and pink locks untwisted from each other from the release in pressure.
“Okay, okay, Ortie,” she said. “Listen, it’s me. You have to calm down, okay? You can’t stay like this.”
Ortega’s eyes widened for a moment. He seemed to genuinely hear her. But Penny soon realized that might work against them.
“Get away!” he screamed in a voice that shook the room every bit as much as his icy attacks had. “I hate you!”
“Of course you hate me!” she answered. “We’re siblings!”
He attacked her again. This time, the icicles glazed her arm and left a wide slit in the sleeve of her sweatshirt.
Vanessa bit her lip and inhaled sharply. “And I screwed up big time, all right? You needed me, and I bailed to do my own thing! But that’s why I’m not leaving you now!”
Ortega hesitated at first but then raised his staff to attack once more. Hatterene rushed to Vanessa’s side and managed another Reflect attack to protect her. But when it reached out and called to its trainer, Ortega ignored its pleas every bit as much as he’d ignored Vanessa’s. There was still plenty of fight in him. And if they had any chance of getting him back to normal, they had to wear him down first.
We have to battle him, Penny realized. It’s the only way. She rubbed at her eyes. She was Team Star’s leader. And the group needed direction right now. She could shed tears after they won.
“I’m working as quickly as I can to get the security system out of defense mode,” Ai said. “I shouldn’t need much longer, but the more damage this place takes, the more difficult it is to convince the system there isn’t a threat.”
“Right,” Penny said. “So we can’t fight in the lab. We have to get outside.” She turned to her friends. “Nemona, come on! You’re going to direct us.”
Mela nudged Nemona with her elbow. “You’re the freakin’ battle genius, aren’t ya? Why wouldn’t you go?”
Nemona stammered out a bunch of incoherent syllables. Which Penny took as an agreement to her plan. She ran towards Ortega, the vine around her arm quickly unwinding itself and stretching forward. She slammed it down hard at Ortega’s feet, scaring him and forcing him back.
“You want to fight someone, Ortie?” she said. “Follow me. I’ll give you the fight of a lifetime!” And with that, she turned and ran for the door. The unmistakable click of Ortega’s ice-coated heels followed close behind.