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Melting Gelid Roses

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It's very dark.

Buzzing…there's this buzzing noise…almost like a yell that was longing to be released.

I feel like I was pushed back, but I don't get by what. Wind? Waves? It feels like I'm falling, but I don't understand why I have this…suspended feeling…?

"An…ear ee…?"

"…Impa…ull-orce…"

What is that…?

"…ut eh ee…?"

"…ill I?"

"Oh."

Can't make out…whatever those…are they voices?

It feels hard to breathe for a minute. I can't really tell if it's because the wind was knocked out of me, or because of this…sinking feeling…and I can't shake it. Why can't I get it to stop…?

Out here, it's cold…is my body shaking…is that the air or the weather? It's so cold…

Something's covering me. I can feel it over my legs, but what…? And now something else just traced down my arm, like a pine tree needle…

There's a white light, but I can't do anything, and it's gone.

"…inja…"

That's…that's my name…

[Greninja]

Everything is between black and blue. When I look up, the sky, or the ceiling, I don't know for sure, but it's black. Everything else is hazy, but there's a blue glow that filters it out. It's really multiple blues, I guess, bright and dark. There are crystal-like columns around, and I feel like I'm somewhere both familiar and not at the same time. That doesn't make sense, but that's how it feels.

My head is numb.

Whenever I look around, everything seems to be blurred, more than it already is. Some parts clear up a bit, and it feels like I'm in a world that's broken up, but I don't know how to put it back together.

Why do I think that I can?

There's a wind that blows; I can't feel it, but I see some wooden wind chimes that dangle and sway, and they're outstretched from a pillar. Something feels like it's behind me, and I twist back, but nothing is there, no one is there…

That must be wrong.

…Is it?

Though I think I'm moving, I can't feel anything. Not the floor below my feet, which looks just like a solid and deep blue surface of nothing. Can't feel a wall that I touch in front of me…wait, it's a door. Or, something that pushes open. Why did I open it?

Inside the next room is a mirror. I don't want to look at it; I hate mirrors. But here I go, heading right towards it. Something almost pulls me toward it.

Breathing is harder, I don't know why, but my throat has gone dry.

Looking into the mirror, I see myself. I think it's myself. But I'm not sure. We're similar, but different. Am I taller? The reflection is smiling a bit, or there's a slight curve up on the lips, past the tongue. Something or someone larger is standing behind the reflection, and there are shadowy arms that hold the shoulders. They touch each other, there's this calm between them, and yet it doesn't put me at ease.

It's me, but it's not me. My heart's racing.

Shadows disappear as the reflection loses focus and disappears. My hands reach out and I don't want to lose them. There isn't even a mirror to feel or pretend to feel when my arms go out. Even as I can process that, as desperate as I am for that to remain and not change, I can't stop it, and they're gone.

A white light fills my eyes, but it lasts just a moment before going back out.

There's a small ringing. I can't really hear that, but there's a vibration that reminds me of it. When I pivot around, I expect to see a bell, but nothing is there when I look.

An empty pit settles into my stomach and my heart slows. It feels like it's sinking into my stomach, or maybe being swallowed by it.

More faint buzzing sounds, and my hands grip at my head.

He's standing in front of me. Big, kind of round, bulky, his face is white…no, that's fur. Some brown is there too. Green. Love…why is that what comes to mind? Wait a minute. That's Chesnaught!

A grin forms on his face, and my lips curve up as well.

But I blink and he's far away from me. I blink again, and he's gone.

Where did he go?

…Where am I?

My legs seem to give out, and I stumble like I fall over nothing. But when I turn around, there's a trident on the floor. Actually, the floor is darker now. My hand goes for the trident, but a wave pushes it away from me.

Instead of following it, I turn to the side. There's a big bell there. I look around on each side of this space…room I think?

Bell tower.

…Why did that come to mind?

White light…and it's gone again. Then I'm back in this room space.

An invisible force pushes me back. I don't get what that is, but I can't fight it. Shards and debris fly around me, and I think I'm falling, but I still feel upright. Nothing is keeping me from the drop, but the air isn't whipping past me.

That buzzing, faint yell…it's in my head, and it hurts more now…

Water flies up around me, and I think it's covering me. Am I drowning? It's weird, because it feels like a blanket or a curtain. That's not how water feels.

Should my breathing be worse? Probably.

My heart's racing from that thought.

Am I dying?

My heart hammers.

If I am, why can I feel that?

"Greja…ar…kay?"

Who is that? Why does someone keep talking, and why can't I hear them?

Something is peeled or pulled off of me. It's the water. And now that's gone. The world around me is black again. The faint blues have gone darker than ever; I think they're almost gone entirely.

But now there's a bright blue bit drifting down to me…it's dancing around, spiraling as it falls. It's…a petal, right? Holding my hand out, I wait for it to fall and land on me, but it spins past and I miss it. Another cascades down, and I move my arm around to catch it. But I don't know if I do, as another comes, and then another, and several more.

Are these rose petals?

It's like they're raining down around me. Blue rose petals. They're kind of like not rain, but maybe…snow. And they're pouring down, slowly, but because of how they spin and fall, everything looks rapid.

"…ninja?"

I have to know who that is.

Pain washes over my head, but it numbs out after a moment. For a moment, everything feels numb at once. It's dark, but then something is white.

My eyes open. Everything is bright and I squeeze them back shut again. My hands go up over them and I gradually drag them over my face.

Blinking a bit, everything still seems blurry. I'm in a bed and the sheets are white.

"Greninja?"

"Mm."

Rubbing my face again, I roll over and Chesnaught's there on a chair. His shoulders drop, and his face falls, but he doesn't seem very relaxed. My hands cover my eyes again; why is everything so damn bright?

"Ches…naught?"

"Are you awake?"

"…Yeah." A yawn escapes me and I drag my hands over my mouth to cover it as well as I can. "Kind of."

"That's more than before."

Before?

"Huh?"

"You woke up a few times, but you weren't really responsive." He sighs. "They told me to just let you rest."

"…What?"

"It's been a little while, and you've been sleeping." My hands drop, or I pull them down; I don't know which. His eyebrow is raised and his dark eyes are looking me over, gazing into mine. "…Are you ok?"

"What happened?"

"Do you remember anything?"

"From what?"

"Um." There's just this slight twitch to his body, taken aback. "We…" His eyes quickly look over the floor…no, my bed…wait. "Where should I start…?"

Pushing myself up against the backboard, I shove the pillow…pillows up behind me. Two, I guess to prop me up higher. Chesnaught's worried eyes dart back to me, but I'm looking past him in that blue chair that seems too small for him. There's a desk behind him, bookshelf…no, those are shelves, but there are vials and…cabinets, it's a desk with cabinets on it. It's weird, because the furniture there is wooden, but there's this icy glass that keeps the potions and vials inside of it. Why does it…?

"Is that medicine?"

"Huh?" Chesnaught twists around. "Oh. Yeah." He faces back to me. "You're in the Empire's medical room."

"Empire…"

Iceberg Empire.

"The Iceberg Empire…?" He utters that much, but it's already clicked for me.

"We're in the emp…"

We were in the Iceberg Empire after we were sent from the Grass Fields Kingdom, and there was a war that broke out—the war. The bell tower was where I fought. Who was it? Empire. Emperor. Emperor Empoleon. Wait a minute, wait.

My eyes shift wildly over the room and push back further against the bed. Chesnaught reaches out and gently touches my arm, as my eyes settle on another occupied bed.

"Who is that?" But I'm already taking in the yellow fur and pointed ears.

"Oh, it's—"

"Delphox?"

"Yeah."

"What…?"

"He, uh, he got hurt. Hexed." Chesnaught takes his arm back and I hear him scratching, maybe his head or arm. "We had a rough battle."

His blanket is covering up most of him, so I can barely see his shoulders, which don't look covered up in his robes like usual. Something, a cloth or bandage, is over his eyes. I can barely tell if he's breathing. His fur looks messy, including the red-orange from his ears, and that seems pressed down. I whirl back around to Chesnaught as he puts his hands back on me.

"It's ok, he's alive," reassures Chesnaught. "Mienshao and I saved him."

"Mienshao…?"

There's a picture, or a scene, something that plays in my head…Mienshao's twisted form turning into a dark fox…

"Zoroark was masquerading around as him," explains Chesnaught, and I'm brought back to him. He's got one hand holding mine, and the other rubbing my opposite shoulder. "But the real Mienshao was trapped inside the palace, forced under a hypnosis curse."

"Hypnosis…"

Dark purple eyes with lavender veins…no, a brighter purple with red-violet veins…those are images that hit my mind.

Abomasnow. And Emperor—

"Emperor Empoleon." I try to force myself from the bed, but Chesnaught gently holds me back. "He's—"

"Safe. Alive." He smiles. "You did that."

"I did?"

"Yeah, and…" He looks down. "I saved you after."

"After…?"

"The explosion?"

From the bell tower. That was a bomb.

"There wasn't any fire," I murmur. "Just a yell of some kind…"

"Yell?"

"Maybe a supersonic wave…?"

"Well, that could be strong enough," realizes Chesnaught. My hands launch to my head and I latch on. "Greninja?"

"That hit me…"

"Yeah, it blasted you out." His hands are against my chest. "Are you ok?"

"This buzzing…" That's the vibration. Is that an aftershock? "The war…for the Empire…"

"Right, there was a siege from invaders—"

"Wait a minute." I release my head and carefully lower my hands. "That was the last, I just fought…" Blinking, I shake my head. My eyes slow and find Chesnaught, who seems to sink down. "What happened? And what did I miss?"

"Everything's over now," reassures Chesnaught. "Just relax—"

"Chesnaught, what happened?" I reach for his chest, the tips of my hands finding his fur. "Why are Delphox and I in here without anyone else?"

"Froslass comes in to help keep you guys treated and checked," informs Chesnaught. His hands rub at me. "Otherwise, you get some periodic visitors, and I've pretty much stayed here the entire time."

"You…" I lean over the bed, and there's a fallen blanket around his feet and the chair's legs. "…How long has it been?"

"A little while."

"How long is that?"

"Almost a week."

My shoulders sink and I tense up, almost freezing. A quick blink and I shudder. Another blink for my eyes, and this one is harder and longer. His grip loosens so I can flinch back, taking a second to process.

"And I was—?"

"In and out of consciousness," reveals Chesnaught. "You would wake up at some points, but you weren't really moving around or anything." He shrugs. "Just…up, and then we would try talking, but you would drift back off." Chesnaught reaches for my head and strokes my cheek. "You didn't seem like you could hear for a while. I thought that would be permanent, but Froslass never seemed to think so."

"Hearing…" That must be why everything sounded so muffled the whole time. Was I talking louder than usual? I'm not sure now. "So then…what else happened?"

"Um." Chesnaught blinks and his hand slides down my body. "We can go over that later."

"Are you joking?" I shake my head. "I need to know."

"But—"

"Please." My eyes are wider and searching his. Everything about him seems to be hesitating. "You have to tell me."

Chesnaught waits a moment, staring into my eyes and biting his lips shut. He glances to the door and then turns more to it, expecting for someone else to appear. No one does. Closing his eyes, he sighs and turns back around to me.

"We won," he leads with. "But…it doesn't feel great."

"Emperor Empoleon made it though?"

"Yes." Chesnaught perks up a bit and smiles. "He told me that he was hypnotized, like Mienshao, and that he struggled while he was forced to fight you." He pats me and his beam broadens. "But you both pushed through, and you were able to get him out of the bell tower before the explosion." Chesnaught shifts in his seat and looks back, frowning. "But, that's also when you fell out, and I was below, so I jumped off the palace to save you."

"Wait, you did what?"

"Yeah."

"But you're afraid of heights!"

"I know."

"And you dove off to get me?"

"You were falling," reminds Chesnaught. "I didn't think, I just made an opening and jumped after you."

"Holy gods," I manage, and then lean forward to cup at his face. His smile softly returns and I grin back. "Thank you." He takes my hand and brings it to his lips, gently kissing at me. "Good to know that you love me."

"Of course," he reaffirms. A chuckle escapes him. "We actually went over the waterfalls."

"We what?"

"The falls of the iceberg," specifies Chesnaught. "I grabbed you and we dropped into the water, and then we went right over them." He smirks. "Not exactly like how we did back home."

"Those were nothing!" My arms fling around him. "Chesnaught, I'm so sorry you had to do all of that."

"Honestly, I haven't really thought back to it much until now," he admits. "Now it makes sense how everyone kept going on about how crazy and heroic that was."

"Easily!" I pull back and beam to him. "People always call their partners their heroes, but you literally are one for me!"

"Ha, well, we're even finally," decides Chesnaught. "You saved me, after all."

"Huh?"

"Back from when I was poisoned."

"Oh, that." I shake my head. "That was retaliation."

"If you didn't fend off the bandit, he could've killed me before his poison did," recalls Chesnaught. "So, you did save me."

"Ah, well…" I struggle a chuckle. "Guess that's a boyfriend thing." He laughs.

"Guess so."

"So then." I lean back, and I exhale some tension away. "What else happened?"

"Uh…a lot." Chesnaught glances down at my bed. "If we go over every battle—"

"Hold on." I sit back and stare down at my arms; I didn't even notice the bandages on them or my body until now. "There were multiple."

"Yeah. It was a war."

"No, I…I was in multiple fights."

"What?"

"There was…um." I sink back and close my eyes. "We had…we all split up."

"Right, I had each of us in different groups."

"That's right." My eyes open. "We swam around the…" We…my group was… "Oh no."

"Greninja—"

"Chesnaught, Poliwrath and Politoed were…they were—"

"Killed?" He deflates as I wince and nod. "Yeah. We figured that out when they didn't come back."

"They're…they should be in the water…" I look up to him. "Did no one fish them out yet?"

"We…didn't really know where they had died," reveals Chesnaught. "So, no."

"Then we have to go get them."

Just as I start to push out of the bed, Chesnaught grips me and holds me in place. I gaze at him, ready to plead with him, but he looks like he's ready to do the same with me.

"Look, you're not ready to head out yet," explains Chesnaught. "Froslass has been giving you some treatments for discomfort, mostly magical, so you shouldn't be feeling much right now." He guides me back against the bed. "But you're definitely injured, and you shouldn't be moving around, let alone swimming."

"But they're—"

"It's ok, I'll let someone know." He forces a smile. "Carracosta might be able to get them."

"Carra…is he ok?!" I jerk up again. "His family, I went to help, but I—"

"You saved them." Chesnaught's grin comes easy again. "Blastoise told me about how you came out of nowhere and stopped Vigoroth."

"He…I killed him," I remember. "I…I threw…I had to—"

"You did." Chesnaught holds me together. "You saved Carracosta and his family, and they've been worried sick about you ever since." He rubs me, but his grip doesn't loosen much. "Carracosta regularly checks on you, daily I think." There's a tray that he points to on the desk behind us. "He and Blastoise made us some meals." Chesnaught bites his lip. "Well, I guess…mostly for me." He tilts his head. "Are you hungry?"

"Maybe?" My stomach does feel empty, but I'm not in any hurry to eat. "I don't know if I can right now."

"Hang on, at least drink a little."

Chesnaught twists around and gets up to grab a cup and pitcher from the tray. He pours out water into a small mug and brings it back over. For a moment, he goes to hand it off, but then keeps his grip on it and brings it to my lips.

"Drink." I do so, and it's more refreshing than usual. "Good?"

"Yeah." It's not finished, but I can't. "Thank you."

"Sure." He sets it down on a table near the bed. "Do you want anything else?"

"The rest of the details."

"Gods, you're focused," he teases. "Ok." He waits a moment, and picks at the quilt. "But, what else do you remember?"

"We fought for the city," I recall. "Uh…Golduck, the brothers, and I fought against Exploud, Magmortar, I killed Vigoroth, and then…" My shoulders sink. "One of them, it was that Zangoose, he…he killed Poliwrath and Politoed." I feel that pit in my stomach as I grab at my chest. "They…they died saving me."

"What?"

"There were shuriken," I remember. "They were coming at me as I turned, but Politoed and Poliwrath pushed past me on either side, and they…they took the hits…" Tears drop from my eyes, and I rub them as they fill my sight. "They died for me."

"Greninja…"

"I should've been faster, I shouldn't have—"

"Stop, stop." Chesnaught's got his arms around me as I sob. "You're not invincible, no one is." He cradles me as I stifle myself. "They wanted to protect you, and they acted as quick as I would have." He pauses. "As I did. With the jump."

"But…but—"

"Sshh, it's not your fault." He pulls me closer, and I lean into his chest. "It's ok."

Another tear slips from my eye, and I gasp as I inhale air. They were just starting to change, they fought less, and they defended me until the end. And no one got either of the bodies back this whole time. I cough and tears slide back from eyes. Chesnaught's rubbing at my back, but I don't want to stop.

"It's…it is—"

"No, it's not." Chesnaught keeps me close. "You didn't throw the shuriken. That's not on you."

"But-but I killed his…his…"

"And they started the war to begin with," reminds Chesnaught. "None of that was your fault."

It takes another minute for my blubbering to settle, and Chesnaught slowly pries himself from me, still keeping his hands on my waist. I rub and my eyes, and he hands me tissues. Another minute to control myself, and I heave to quiet down.

"There's more," I force out.

"We don't have to—"

"Please."

"…Golduck," brings up Chesnaught. "He's…alive."

"General Abomasnow fought him." I try to think back to the frozen hall. "He stayed behind when we got in, and sent me after Emperor Empoleon."

"So that is what happened." Chesnaught nods. "Abomasnow put it that way, but he's been in such a mess over Golduck and the others…" He lets out a deep sigh. "That hypnosis did him in badly. I don't know which of them took it the hardest."

"Wait, them?" I look to him as Chesnaught sucks in his cheek. "Which of…how many of us were hypnotized?"

"…Four," discloses Chesnaught. "General Abomasnow, Emperor Empoleon, Mienshao, and Froslass."

"What?"

"Malamar used his powers against three of them, Froslass included," he carries on. "She was used to fight Weavile, and she's…really torn up from that."

"She fought Weavile?"

"And Weavile barely won by breaking the mind control, yeah." Chesnaught rubs behind his neck. "I think that, when that happened, they killed Malamar, and they had killed Kricketune before, so…that must be what helped."

"…But Empoleon wasn't controlled by Malamar," I put together.

"How did you—?"

"His eyes were different from Abomasnow's." I looked to Chesnaught as his mouth hung open. "Um. I kind of got close to both of them."

"Clearly." His hand claws at the side of his head. "And you were alone against Empoleon, I…I should've been there."

"You were fighting too," I remind him. "You saved me. And…" I turn back to check on my friend. "…You're the one that saved Delphox?"

"Sort of, but Mienshao is the one that calmed him," reveals Chesnaught. "I, uh, I…I killed one of them too. The enemy."

"Who?"

"Marowak." I twist back to Chesnaught as he hangs his head. "I kept trying to talk sense into him, but…that Gengar witch…"

"She messed with him?" He slowly nods. "Then you were never getting to him."

"I almost did."

"But?"

"He…I don't know." Chesnaught's hands gripped at the edge of the bed. "She got in his head, I couldn't reach him, and then he…he…"

"He did that to Delphox?"

"No, Gengar hexed him." Chesnaught tapped at his temple, and then moved it further to his eyebrow. "She got his eyes."

"Oh, so then—"

"Marowak kept attacking him, and he was swinging his club at Delphox's head." He deflates. "I don't know if he would've killed him, but I couldn't risk it, and I…"

"You saved Delphox." I force a smile and rest my hand on Chesnaught's. "You saved him and kept him alive."

"Barely."

"Not barely, he's right there," I point behind me. "Chesnaught, he could be dead or worse off from whatever happened, but he's not."

"It's pretty bad," maintains Chesnaught. "He hasn't been able to uncover his eyes since then. We keep trying new approaches, but nothing's worked." He finally picks his head up and looks past me to Delphox. "They've kept him here with you so that they can treat him, and they're helping him get some rest." Chesnaught lowers his head again. "He keeps going on about how his eyes still burn. And I was there, but—"

"Magic isn't your specialty," I assert. "The witch hexed him. Even if you could do anything, she probably knew how to ensure it happening."

"…Maybe…"

"Hey." I scoop his head up. "He's still alive. That has to count. Gardevoir will be happy."

"She'll be pissed."

"She'd be devastated if he was dead." I guide my hands up to his cheeks. "But he's not."

"I know, I know…" He takes my hands back and kisses them. "Thank you."

"Of course."

"Anyway, that was my big showdown," surmises Chesnaught. "I was right on the palace that whole time too, so I…I could have been—"

"Come on." I lean into him. "You saved Delphox, found Mienshao, and then saved me."

"Well, Mienshao really found and rescued me," admits Chesnaught. "He came in as Gengar got an upper hand, and that's how I was able to get to Delphox."

"It worked out," I persist. "And it did again when you saved me too." My smile is easier. "So, that all worked out."

"Yeah, that much did." He's still not over it, but I'm not over anything either. Still, he perks back up a bit. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." I exhale. "So, how did Quagsire take that?" Chesnaught pales and sinks back down. "…Not well?"

"Not at all."

"Why?" I shake my head. "He had to understand—"

"No, I mean, he didn't hear about anything, and he…" Chesnaught twists at the blankets. "He's gone too."

"What?"

"Outside of the city, there were…they had cannons," gathers Chesnaught. "Delibird was with him at the time, and one of their soldiers flew in. And all Delibird remembered was that before he could do anything, he was launched away."

"But then…that doesn't mean—"

"Quagsire never came back," forces out Chesnaught. He shakes his head. "Delibird went back out to where they were, but all he found was a massive chasm. No cannons, no enemy, and no…no Quagsire either."

My hands went back to my head. This can't be happening. Quagsire was so gentle and kind, how could they…?

"Was…was Quagsire the one who…?"

"I don't know." Chesnaught forces himself to look at me, and holds back on the tears welled up in his eyes. "Delibird couldn't find the cannons, so I guess he stopped them."

"But then he…"

"Maybe he couldn't get away, I don't know, but…" Chesnaught closes his eyes and shakes his head. "Delibird searched until nightfall a few days ago. He couldn't get down far enough to find anything."

"Poor Quagsire," I manage. "Does…does Mewtwo know?"

"Yes."

"Is he—?"

"He's ok." Chesnaught picks himself back up and forces a smile. "Delibird actually helped rescue him from Lucario."

"That's good."

"Yeah." Chesnaught pressed his lips together. "Mewtwo didn't seem shaken up from that one."

"Didn't Lucario do anything to him?"

"I don't know." Chesnaught slowly relaxes himself. "I still need to talk with him."

"Haven't you by now?"

"Not really, not about that." He smirks and looks to me. "He's been busy comforting me about you two."

"Oh." I sink back. "Sorry."

"My choice, don't worry." Chesnaught gently squeezes at my leg. "I wouldn't leave you."

"Thank you." I sink back into the pillows. "He was just getting used to being out of the wilderness, and we brought him into a hellish world."

"Yeah, I know." He drops his head. "And we thought we were helping him." Chesnaught sighs. "Mewtwo was just starting to open up, and he lost one of the few that was getting there with."

"And Weavile?"

"She's mostly doing better, physically," elucidates Chesnaught. "I think she's trying to bury her emotions, though, since she knows how hard everyone else got hit with everything."

"But she had to fight Froslass," I bring back up. "Hasn't anyone talked to her about that?"

"Honestly, I think she's busy helping anyone else that she can," explains Chesnaught. "She's checked in on us, obviously. Emperor Empoleon tried talking with her, but she told me that he went hysterical on her, and she had to calm him down." He gripped at his head. "I tried at one point when she was here, but she wouldn't let me focus much on her, and kept turning it around to check on me."

"Guess that's just her way of handling it for now," I decide. "But, once I'm up and going again, let's help her out too."

"That's a good idea," agrees Chesnaught. "Oh, I didn't even mention how she keeps talking with Froslass too, but I think Froslass still has what she did weighing on her."

"What? But none of that was her fault," I protest.

"Did that stop either of us from our guilt?"

"…No…"

"Weavile told me that it was Froslass who killed Malamar, and she was furious when she did it," unveils Chesnaught. "We both assume that it was more for having her fight Weavile than it was for manipulating her."

"Makes complete sense." I smirk. "I did the same thing when you got hurt."

"Ha, yeah, but…" He trails off and shrugs. "Well, things happen."

"Froslass must be really strong," I determine. "She went through all of that, but she's been here helping Delphox and I. That's really nice of her."

"Yeah, I've thanked her daily." Chesnaught smiles a bit. "I think it's annoying her, but she's been pretty helpful regardless." He glances down as his smirk wavers. "She's a lot quieter these days though, at least in here."

"Respectful, maybe?"

"I…don't think that's it." Chesnaught grips his arm. "Not according to Weavile either."

"Hm." I shrug. "Well, she'll be ok, though, because we can help her out now."

"As long as she doesn't beat me up for repetitive gratitude, sure, that should be fine too." Chesnaught grins. "I'm sure she'll be happy to see you up soon."

"Yeah!" I beam back to him. "And…wait a second." I blink and tilt my head. "Has Froslass been the only one helping us?"

"No, everyone's pitched in a lot—"

"But you only mentioned Froslass treating us with magic." I straighten my head. "Isn't Alakazam able to help too? I'm sure he knows spells that can help."

Chesnaught's smile vanishes immediately. "Um. He, uh—"

"Machamp can't distract him that much, right?" My lips curve up. "How are they doing?"

"They…" Chesnaught looks to the door. "They're…"

"…Chesnaught?" He flinches. "What—?" As he turns back to me, tears line his eyes. "…No."

"They…I'm sorry." One tear slips from his eye, and then another. He musters out once more, "I'm sorry."

"No." They're our best friends. "No…" Chesnaught's arms go around me. "No, no, no, no, no…" They can't be gone.

But Chesnaught shudders as he pulls me in close, tightly grips me, and I hear him sob against me.

Everything feels still as I go numb. Tears slide from my face. My body shakes and I can't keep myself up as I lean into him.

And then I let everything go.


[Chesnaught]

At least an hour passed, if not longer, as Greninja and I took turns crying.

Outside on the upper levels' walkway, I leaned against the railing that wasn't broken, and gazed out over the Iceberg Empire. Even from here and while rebuilding had started, I could see the damages done to the city. Broken buildings, gaps where there should be statues, holes from cannonballs or fire…all still there.

A claw rested against my waist, as Weavile came up next to me. She waited, as we looked out from palace, still in desperate need of repairs as well.

"Sorry that we came in," she started. "Froslass and I didn't mean to interrupt—"

"He needs more rest," I interrupted. "Neither of you would've come in if the door hadn't creaked."

"Yeah, but…"

"Grieving doesn't last a day," I reminded her. "We've all been through it before."

"Your Queen…"

"She's not the only one I've lost." Exhaling through my nose, nothing eased my tension. "And Greninja…well he hasn't…we haven't talked about it, but—"

"He's a ninja," brought up Weavile. "He knows death by now. It probably hits him regardless of who it is."

"…Yeah…"

"But he's lost closer?" My answer was caught in my throat. "Sorry, I should be getting your mind off of this."

"No, it's…it's fine."

"It's not though." Weavile took her hand from me. "None of this is ok."

"There is some good—"

"Whatever some there is, that doesn't erase the bad," asserted Weavile. "We lost. Yeah, we won the fight, but we still lost all that we did." I looked down to her, but she didn't look at me. "It sucks. It doesn't go away, and sometimes, you just have to let that stay with you."

She was right. I turned back from her, having nothing to add, and stared back out. Clouds rolled in front of the fading sun. The cold air wasn't strong enough to bother me today; it hasn't been for a little while, even after so long inside.

"…Do you want to talk about it?"

"What's to talk about?"

"Anything." I glanced down to the bridge below. "Weavile, you went through this too."

"Yeah."

"Isn't anything on your mind? Something you want to get out?"

"…It's not going to come out."

"Not if you don't let it—"

"No, Chesnaught, talking about it doesn't make it go away," she reiterated. "I killed someone out there that hated me because we had different social standings, and I couldn't talk her out of that. My best friend was possessed by a vicious maniac and hunted me down to kill. And then I watched her kill him for it." I turned and looked down as she gazed out to the docks below. "It hurts. It all hurts, and it's all different kinds. And still none of that…none of it…"

"Weavile?"

"…Machamp was my friend too." She dug her claws into the railing. "He was nice to me before any of the other knights, just him and Froslass to start." A breath escaped her as she tempered herself, refusing to lose control of her wavering voice. "You know how he was, cheerful and all that? And even being a total opposite to him, that never bothered him much." She shrugged. "I don't know if Alakazam helped him get used to that, or if he's just…if he was just always that nice." Weavile wiped at her eye. "And I never really got to thank him for that. Didn't really think it over until recently, and I should have sooner."

"You couldn't have known—"

"Doesn't matter." She twisted away as I reached out. "I should've done something good for him sooner."

"He had you as a friend."

"Wasn't good enough."

"Weavile—"

"Don't." She shook her head. "I can't do this yet."

"If not with me, then will you talk about it with Froslass?"

"…Hopefully." Weavile folded her arms and held herself together. "I can't even get her to talk about anything for long, even not about what happened." She looked up at the mokoshi. "And I have no idea how I'm supposed to bring up Alakazam for her, because she had a unique relationship with him that I don't even understand, but they were close enough for her to be broken by this."

"So are we."

"No, you two got even closer than we did." Finally, she turned back to me. Her expression was normally blank, but this whole time, it's been strained from her hiding sorrow. Not now. "You guys were the best friends they ever had, and you helped them get together when none of us could even figure out their full story. Machamp never stopped bringing up how happy he was with Alakazam, and how great you guys were as new friends…" I squeezed my eyes shut and brought my arm up. "I'm sorry. I just…that was too sweet to keep to myself."

"That's ok, I…I'm glad." Not exactly at the moment, but it was nice to hear. "Thank you."

"Sure." She waited as I lowered my arm, but she shook her head. "I can't do this. Not with you."

"Sorry."

"Don't, you're fine." She twisted back from me. "I'm just…you and I came out better than most, and yet we're still complete basket cases." Weavile shook her head. "If we can't keep ourselves together around each other, then everyone else…"

"You can express your pain and sorrow too, Weavile," I offered.

"Yeah. Thanks." She deflated. "But I can't, not yet." She glanced back at me. "If you saw how everyone else was doing…"

"I have."

"No, you've seen them while you were at Greninja's side." Weavile turned around. "They were more put together for that."

"Makes sense," I relented. "Still…"

"Look, I'm going to have a good cry over Machamp, and then another one over Quagsire," decided Weavile. "I can't even talk about how unfair losing him is. And that's not even mentioning the other three." She started off. "I need to go pick up my pieces, because the others are going to need me at my best."

"What about who you need?"

"Don't worry about it," she insisted. "Just let it be, Chesnaught. …But thanks."

As much as I wanted to follow her, I knew she wouldn't want me to. I watched as she disappeared back inside.

But now she's got me worried about everyone else, and I take the opposite way back inside of the palace.

My eyes catch some broken figures and statues on the desks as I pass. A portrait had fallen over, and I couldn't see what it was of. Empoleon, maybe. One of the desks had lost a leg and was slumped over. A banner had draped over it and along onto the floor. I turned back around, looking at a hole in the palace's wall that was poorly patched up; they could add a stronger coating of ice to it, but were probably waiting until later to do so.

Heading back for the stairs, I glanced at the library doors. Part of me wanted to go see if Mewtwo was in there, but I had a feeling that he wasn't.

Before I could return to the main hall and descend, I spotted Froslass drift from below, and she sailed up to the second floor. She floated away from me, but I chased after her. My footfall must have been too heavy, and she spun around before I could near her.

"Greninja's fine and resting now," she reported before I asked. Unlike before the siege, her voice was far more subdued, matching her forlorn expression. "Delphox woke up, and we talked a bit before I tried treating him."

"And?" She shook her head. "Still no good?"

"Whatever hex that Gengar used, I haven't a clue how to reverse it, if it's even possible. At least I can soothe him back to resting, for now anyway." Froslass sank lower to the floor. "I keep trying to look through my notes and scrolls, I've checked the library, but I can't find anything on it."

"Have you reached out to anyone?"

"Not yet." She shook her head. "Haven't really…" A thought seemed stuck inside of her, but she let it go.

"Do you want to talk?"

"About everything that happened?" Froslass lowered her head. "No."

"Oh." I scratched at my arm. "You know, Weavile was outside—"

"She came back in, I saw her before I came up here."

"Ah. She's fast."

"Yeah…"

"…Um—"

"Chesnaught, I know you're trying to be nice, but I can't do this," persisted Froslass. "I've lost friends before, but these hurt more because of how it happened. And sooner or later, Emperor Empoleon will want…" She hesitated as she trailed off.

"What?"

"He'll…send me out," revealed Froslass. "…For signs of life, or to absorb residual energy remnants."

"What?"

"They can be useful, but I can't go into detail about their uses." Froslass deflated. "You'll think less of us if I do."

"No, it's ok; you've mentioned that before, and I forgot." I sighed. "If it's to help everyone else, then I can understand."

"Good for you." She sank further down. "Because right now, I can't."

"Froslass…"

"Look, I…I'm sorry. This…hurts me in a different way—I mentioned that already."

"Yeah."

"Sorry."

"That's ok."

"Thank you." She lifted her head back up and forced up a smile. "You're actually really sweet when we get to know you, huh?"

"I try."

"Doesn't seem like you need to." She dropped her head back down. "I did. Now, though, I can't even bother…not anymore…"

"If you need me, I'll be here."

"Thanks." She sank down into the floor, disappearing below it. "Maybe we'll talk more later. At least about your friends."

"Oh, thank you for—"

"You're welcome, yet again."

"Ha, sorry."

"No worries."

She slipped through the floor and vanished from sight. Her smile used to be something so bright, even if she struggled with maintaining it. And now, she lost any purpose behind doing so. And now that's more jarring to me than her whimsical behaviors from before.

Finding the staircase, I descended it and looked around the main hall. There were still some ice chunks that hadn't been broken down and brushed away from General Abomasnow's battle with Golduck. In fact, the columns in here still needed to be reinforced again, probably soon. But since I can't freeze anything, I can't do it for them.

"Hey there, Chesnaught!"

The voice interrupted my thoughts, and I twisted around to find Carracosta strolling back inside. Compared to most of us, he was a lot more upbeat, a reversal from how he'd been before too. Or maybe he was still the same, and the rest of us sank past his most pessimistic moods.

"Good to see you walking around a bit!"

"Hi Carracosta." I forced up a smile. "How's your family?"

"Not too bad. Got our little igloo mended enough to sleep in again," he joked. "But, I think Blastoise wants to expand it, or maybe move somewhere else." He shrugged. "My husband's a bit fickle, I suppose."

"Can't blame him."

"Bah, that's true." He sighed. "Squirtle won't let me go out without giving him the longest hugs I can offer."

"That makes sense too."

"Yeah." Carracosta shook his head. "Last thing I ever needed him to see was one of his fathers getting cut up and nearly…" He shook his head. "But that's nothing, in the long run." He forced his smile back up. "How's Greninja?"

"He woke up."

"Did he?" His beam broadened. "And he stayed up?"

"Yep."

"That's fantastic!" He ambled over and shook my hands. "Aw, now I want to run back home and tell the family! He must've been happy that his boyfriend kept him safe all the while!"

"He was for that," I started. "And so was I, but…"

"…You told him everything." I nodded. "Ah, I guess you can't keep secrets in forever. Not that it was ever going to be one, but…" Carracosta sighed, deeper than before. "I can't imagine that it went over well at all."

"Not even close."

"Didn't think so." He lowered his head. "It still isn't going well with me, either, if I'm being honest." Carracosta stared at his flippers. "Blastoise tried talking with me about it some, but he's not over what happened with us either, so…we don't get far."

"Sorry."

"That's all right, I'm still managing." He picked his head up, still frowning. "You know, I feel really sorry about those brothers. I think Poliwrath and Politoed were just getting to a better place with each other, and then…" Carracosta lowered his head. "And then…" He trailed off and couldn't bring them up.

"It's hitting me the same way," I offered.

"No, it's got you harder, Chesnaught." He reached up and patted at my shoulder. "Gods help me, if I could find a way to take the pain away…" I think there were some tears in his eyes, but he was nowhere near letting them out. He hasn't since the first time he saw Greninja in the medical room. "Sorry. I know that it was supposed to be a triple date, but Blastoise and I were still hoping to take you and Greninja out somewhere nice for a dinner." He paused and cleared his throat. "When he's on the mend and much better, of course."

"We will, I'll bring him around to it," I promised. "Thank you, Carracosta."

"You're welcome." His smile softened. "You got anything that you want to go over?"

"Not right now," I admitted. "So much came out when I was talking with Greninja, so I'm ok at the moment, and I'm trying to see if I can help anyone else."

"You're a good lad, you know that?" Carracosta laughed. "Don't you worry about anyone, Chesnaught; just keep an eye on your boyfriend!"

"Sure, I'll get back to that." I smiled. "Thank you again, Carracosta."

"Anytime you need me, it's my pleasure, Chesnaught!" He patted me again. "You and your boyfriend are my family's heroes! Just let us know if you ever need anything at all."

"Thanks."

He wandered down the right corridor, glancing back as I waved him off, and laughed a bit as he continued off. He's definitely more positive and more open than ever before.

As I turned back to return to the medical room, I spotted a sleeve dragging across the floor and disappear down the left hall corner.

Following after him, I tried to hurry along, but slowed as General Abomasnow exited from the throne room behind me.

"Chesnaught?" I spun back around to him. "You all right?"

"Yeah, I'm just out to stretch my legs a little bit," I lied. Well, it was true earlier.

"How's Greninja?"

"Good, resting."

"Same as always, then."

"Oh, no, he woke up today." Abomasnow waited a moment. "I mean, he stayed up and I talked to him and everything."

"Ah, really now? That's wonderful!" He seemed to smile a bit. "That's really great news, I'm glad he's finally coming around."

"Little by little."

"Hey, anything that we can get!" He chuckled a little, but it died out quickly. "Well, uh, I'm glad for you." He shrugged. "How about Delphox?"

"He's the same," I relayed.

"No improvement then."

"Not from before, no."

"I see." He waited a moment. "Golduck's not better either."

"Still got him in your chambers?"

"Yeah. Least I can do for him after…after I…" His eyes were a bit vacant as he stared off past me.

"That wasn't you, General."

"Huh? Oh, no, I…I know." He slouched. "Some of it was, though."

"Beyond your control."

"Shouldn't have ever let it get that way, though." He exhaled. "Here I thought that I had let my guard down with training all of you, when really, I slipped with how I worked myself."

"General—"

"Don't worry yourself, Chesnaught, I'll manage." He forced himself back up. "Should probably go around and start fixing this place up, huh?"

"Eventually, but there's no need to rush." We've had this part of the conversation repeatedly all week.

"Maybe so, but I want to be the one to fix it up." He gazed around the main hall. "Certainly made one of the bigger messes." Abomasnow nodded. "I'll get to it in a little bit. For now, I'm off to check reports with the city."

"Carracosta just came back in," I informed him. "You could talk with him about it."

"Oh, true, that's a good idea." He started off, but stopped short. "You know, next week, I'm going out there myself. I need to see if I can help those city folks too. They're Empoleon's citizens, so I'm sure they'll be happy to see either of us."

"Take it easy, General," I persisted. "One day at a time."

"Yeah, yeah, you're right…thanks, Chesnaught." He turned down for the right corridor, but spun back to me. "He went this way?"

"Yes."

"Got it. Thanks again!"

As he wandered away, I spun back and around the corner, looking for Mienshao.

It didn't take long. He was in the training room, and stood in the middle of the arena, whipping wildly at a target that he placed in the center. Well, his motions seemed wild to me, but as he spiraled around and smacked at the dummy, I realized there was a heavy focus on his motions. And no matter what, he kept moving around the target, refusing to remain still.

He brandished his kabutowari and started ripping into the dummy. He tore at it, shredding it as he swiped and slashed it. Glancing around as he worked it down, I spotted three more in a pile not far from me.

Turning back as a sharp yell rang out, I watched Mienshao tear down the last of it into a messy pile. He panted and knelt down, slowly catching his breath and steadying it.

"Were you just planning to watch the entire time," he questioned, "or did you need something, Chesnaught?"

"Sorry, I just…I didn't want to interrupt."

"Very kind of you." He took a moment before he stood up, but still wasn't facing me. "Actually, I was looking for you in the medical room. Emperor Empoleon is looking to speak with you."

"Oh ok, I'll head to him in a bit."

"You shouldn't keep him waiting."

"But I came here looking for you." I rubbed behind my neck as he glanced over his shoulder to me. "I wanted to see how you were doing. Are you ok?"

"Perhaps you shouldn't ask questions that you would rather not know the answer to," cautioned Mienshao. "Sometimes we prefer those kinder platitudes that society's standard social conventions have instilled into us."

"Uh…but—"

"Truly, you have nothing to worry about regarding me."

"Besides you tearing apart that training dummy? Or one from this pile?"

Once he released a heavy sigh, Mienshao finally turned fully to me. There was a dark look behind his eyes, but it vanished as soon as he settled on me, and walked over. He brushed the furry sleeves and twisted his whiskers a bit as he neared.

"Fair enough: I can admit that I have some unresolved aggression buried within me, and it's best resolved in here, doing this."

"About that, I…I'm sorry for any that I might have caused."

"What?" Mienshao jerked his head back and raised an eyebrow at me. "What do you mean?"

"Before, when you came out, I accused you—"

"As you rightfully should have, given the circumstances." Mienshao shook his head, swinging his kabutowari around. "Your apology is appreciated, but unnecessary."

"Still…"

"Chesnaught, I have far more to be enraged over than you protecting Delphox from a potential threat, and we were able to work together in the end," reminded Mienshao. "Believe me, we have no quarrel."

"Then, why stay in here and work away on those dummies?"

"Everything is hitting me all at once, and I navigate the choppy waters like I used to excel in doing," revealed Mienshao. "Delibird was in tears before he was sent off. Froslass and Weavile can barely talk with one another, let alone anyone else. You and Abomasnow are attending the bedridden, which we have three of. I dare not picture what's going through Emperor Empoleon's mind—"

"Yes, Mienshao, war changed us, and it's hard on everyone right now," I had to cut in. "But it takes time, and we'll recover."

"Five of us won't."

His icier tone hit hard, but even as I winced, I could only think of how much harder he was taking it. And he reminded me why.

"We lost my friends, my people, all while I was shoved away in a closet," he ranted. "This was my home, and I could do nothing to defend it!"

"But you did, as soon as you were able—"

"That was cleaning up, not defending, not saving."

"Mienshao, that's not fair."

"None of it has been," he agreed. There was a very delicate balance to his voice that I couldn't trace well; it was wavering between his usual serenity, yet tracing something darker. "Ever since the beginning with me, it feels like nothing has ever been fair at all." He lowered his eyes, slowly closing them. "Because the most frustrating part is that I've been through this before, I've lost my home to a war of sorts before." He opened his eyes, glaring hard at the floor. "But last time, I could at least fight, helpless as it turned out to be. The temple fell, but even as useless as I felt back then, that pales in comparison to this."

"It could have happened to anyone—"

"Oh, and it did, it happened to four of us," assessed Mienshao. "Yet of us, I was the least able to fight it off."

"Your Type—"

"Shouldn't stop me. And will I never let alone do what they did to me again." Mienshao whipped his sleeve. "But that's enough on it. You need to see Emperor Empoleon, and then return to the others." He forced himself to straighten out. "I trust they are doing better?"

"Greninja woke up today, and I told him everything that he missed," I relayed. "He, uh—"

"Don't trouble yourself over it," insisted Mienshao. "I can put that much together."

"Right."

"Perhaps you should go."

"Sure, but—"

"Worry not, Chesnaught," persisted Mienshao. He twirled a kabutowari around. "I shall be fine."

"We've never talked about your time at the temple," I brought up. "Would that help?"

"No." Mienshao turned away. "To talk about that, I need to have a clear mind and be in the mood for pain, as I will with recounting these events going forward." He lowered his head. "That was at least something supernatural, though. This…this just makes me furious."

"Mienshao…"

"Please, you've doted on me for far too long already." He glanced back and forced a smile. It was small, likely intentional, but still seemed disingenuous. "Emperor Empoleon must not be kept waiting, after all. And then hurry back to Greninja and Delphox. They both need you still, I'm certain."

Though I knew that I hadn't helped Mienshao well enough, I didn't want to risk making him feel any worse. Nodding to each other, we turned away, and I exited the room.

Heading into the throne room, Emperor Empoleon was already standing in the front of his throne, waiting as I entered. I leaned down to bow, but he cleared his throat.

"There's no need for that."

Straightening myself back up, I raised an eyebrow and approached him. I folded my arms behind my back.

"Emperor."

"So Mienshao found you, then."

"Actually…"

"You found him."

"Same results though, right?"

"Perhaps, yes." He twisted around and gazed beyond his throne, checking the decorated room. "It's all very done up, isn't it?"

"Um."

"That's a polite yes that you're trying to withdraw." He chuckled and pivoted back to me. "King Nidoking has such well-mannered soldiers, it seems."

"Uh, not all of us are," I recalled. "Or, uh, were. Sorry."

"That's quite all right." He twisted to the side and wandered down a bit. "I owe you and the other two a tremendous deal for your efforts assisting our city and home."

"It's our duty," I insisted. "We hope to continue to serve you well, Emperor."

"How kind," remarked Empoleon, with a slight chuckle. "It almost makes my decision regrettable, but…I must."

"Sire?"

"You and your friends will be going home," informed Empoleon, and my mouth parted. "I have sent word with Delibird to Nidoking, and you will return soon enough." He lowered his head. "Provided that Greninja and Delphox will have healed soon."

"Emperor, please," I started up. "You can't, not yet. We need to help."

"Each of you already have," countered Empoleon. "None of this should have ever been your problem to deal with."

"That's not—"

"There's no need for you to contest this," insisted Empoleon. "I have soldiers who have history here, and they'll want to be home for this." He lifted his head and gazed into my eyes, past the tears forming in his. "And you should return to your people, who will surely be begging for your return."

"But…but everyone here…we're not done yet," I protested.

"Funny." He…smiled? "I doubt you wanted to be here more than your friends, simply judging by your distaste for the colder climates." Empoleon closed his eyes and chuckled. "It does take time to get used to it. And yet now you're insistent on staying." He opened them back up and smirked to me. "Have we come to mean much to you?"

"Greatly so, sir."

"As you three have us…all of us," emphasized Empoleon. "In your respective ways, each of you has helped us grow and develop more out here, perhaps more than we've given back." He sighed. "We're absolutely indebted to you for your service in defending our city, our Empire." Again, he focused back on me. "But that will need to be repaid another day, and I would be remiss to force you three here any longer."

"You're not forcing—"

"Please don't make this more difficult." Empoleon smiled again, and…shivered, just a bit. "I can only hope that I will never be able to repay the three of you, and that we find a resolution for what transpired. You deserve to be home while we try, though. I suspect this will become a much greater problem than we're imagining…"

"Isn't that all the more reason we should be here?"

"To pick up the pieces of a broken Empire? No." Empoleon gazed behind him. "You will be needed by Nidoking, who will prepare countermeasures in our stead."

"We don't even know our enemies."

"Not yet. And it's become a much more dangerous world." He brushed at his eyes. "But then, we have to keep going in whatever ways that we can. For those that can't, and for those that need us still." Empoleon faced me again. "I need your efforts put where they are needed most. And contrary to what you may believe now, in the long run, those would only be wasted here, in spite of it all."

"Emperor…"

"…You remember my family, or what I've mentioned, correct?" I nodded. "Good. I miss them, by the gods, not a day passes that I don't think of them, and I live in a hall, a world, of reminders." He heaved his next breath. "I think so often of them, and how desperately I want them back home."

"Perhaps you should?" I shrugged. "Enemies will come no matter what. Carracosta learned that the hard way, so, shouldn't you have them returned?"

"It's a very different situation where a soldier's family is targeted by circumstance, versus an imperial leader's family likely to be targeted with extreme prejudice," maintained Empoleon. "My heart would only have broken more if he had lost his family, and he is right to change his ways with them, spend most of his time with them now."

"Shouldn't you?"

"Given this desecration of my city, no, I shouldn't. And it must remain that way, for their safety, and to keep my judgments clear…for them, as always, and no matter the cost." His head fell. "Still, I've lost several soldiers before, by their efforts to help this Empire. But none hurt the same way as having them ripped from me, and for reasons that I don't fully understand." Pretty sure that I spotted a tear finally slip away from his face. "They were good, they were still young, and they deserved much better. So many of them did, but these five…"

"Sire…"

"I am sorry that you've been burdened by sharing in our losses."

"They are ours," I corrected. He laughed and brushed at his face, picking himself back up.

"Yes, by now, they must be," he agreed. "And I am so sorry. To think…I was reduced to a mere puppet, a pawn for them."

"You were definitely more than that."

"Was I? Perhaps, but possibly not." Empoleon folded his wings behind his back. "It matters little, as the end was still waking to a nightmare." His body deflated. "Gods, I thought…hearing that blast, after having Greninja push me out…"

"He woke up, though," I reported. "He's resting again, but he was up for a little while earlier."

"That's wonderful news. I can only hope for Delphox to gain such fortunes as well, but…I realize it's different." His head tilted back down a bit. "Golduck will take longer than either, I'm certain. Just as well…"

"Do you at least want us to help rebuild the palace?"

"No, but thank you." Empoleon gathered himself back up. "We will rebuild, and we will recover from this, no matter how long the wounds remain. If I learned anything from all of this, it's that we do endure, and we will rise stronger. We have before, and will continue to." He nodded to me. "Perhaps, though, I will also keep in mind to open up with my forces more, to not drown myself in my own miseries, but rather, to be out there, back in the world." Empoleon scanned the room around us. "For too long, I've let everything carry on as it has, but as we return to form, I will use what I have learned from you three, what I have learned from my soldiers, and I will do better for this city, if they'll still have me."

"They will."

"Your confidence in me is kind, but perhaps not well placed."

"It is." I smiled. "Maybe not everyone will see it, but as long as you remind them that they are not alone, they will follow."

"I can only hope." He studied the room past me, gazing outward. "To laugh and live, to bleed and cry…to know my people, close and far…I should take that back upon myself again, even with the risks."

"That does show how you live among us," I agreed.

"Quite right." Empoleon smiled and returned his attention to me. "If nothing else, I will take comfort that I do have allies to the south, and that I can trust in them." He nodded. "King Nidoking will certainly be delighted to know that we're definitely allied once more."

"Not by the costs."

"Certainly not, as you and I know his familiarity with them," reminded Empoleon. "But, as we previously discussed, he will have an unwavering ally in me, especially thanks to you." His smile remained. "It's now that I truly see and understand why he chose you first. And I thought I had understood it before."

"Sire?"

"Just recalling what we discussed before…" Empoleon nodded. "I still stand by my assessment of you, in case you wondered."

"About…?"

"The legendary swords we spoke of, and that you might be a chosen hero," reminded Empoleon. "I think, even if you cannot wield one, you are certainly a hero worthy of stories, without question."

"Oh, sir, no—"

"Absolutely, and you simply will not change my mind." He laughed. "But, that is a story to be told another day, history yet unwritten." Empoleon nodded. "To rule by love, especially in the face of fear…"

"Emperor?"

"Just reminding myself of what you've inspired in me," determined Empoleon. "That should be all for us, Chesnaught. Please, see to your beloved and your friend."

"Is that all for you, milord?"

"Likely not, but do not burden yourself with more than you need." Empoleon maintained his smirk. "You've done more than enough for us, Chesnaught. Please let us take the remaining time to attend to you and yours."

Nodding to him and relenting, I turned and made my way from the throne room. Just before I left, I glanced back, as Empoleon nodded to me, and I left him with that.

Just outside of the medical room as I retuned, Mewtwo waited, looking a bit lost. His expression changed as he spotted me approach, though not by much.

"Hello Chesnaught." His tone seemed even, as usual. "How are you today?"

"Ok, I suppose." I lowered my head a bit. "Sorry, Mewtwo, I meant to actually find you, but instead I went around—"

"That is fine," he soothed. "I have been mostly alone by choice these past few days."

"And that makes me feel worse."

"This was not my intention, and I apologize." Mewtwo's tail swept a bit around the floor, and I checked how long it was. "Sometimes, I still do my best thinking when I am alone, and have time to myself, so, that is why I would choose to do so."

"Makes sense." I rubbed behind my neck and looked back up to him. "Still, I'm sorry. I should have been with you sooner. Everything here must still be new and unfamiliar, and after what you've been through…"

"It is quite the shock, and to be honest, I am still…processing it all," he admitted. "But the losses that we have learned of, those…will haunt me."

"They'll do that for all of us."

"But you did all that you could to help." I raised an eyebrow as Mewtwo held himself together and looked away. "I feel that I did not."

"Mewtwo, you shouldn't have dealt with any of this." I lifted my hand to his shoulder, and he turned back to me, still forlorn. "Absolutely nothing falls to you."

"There is…power that dwells within me," assessed Mewtwo, as he gazed down at his hands. "It is power that I am not fully aware of, but I know it resides within me. And I did not take the proper steps to channeling it, to best defend everyone here, to help."

"But Mewtwo, they almost took you away." I shook my head. "It's better that they didn't know what powers you have, and it's bad enough that you were involved so much."

"If I had known more, though," he continued, "perhaps that could have made the difference we needed. Machamp cautioned me, and Alakazam comforted me, but I did not do what I needed to."

"Maybe, and maybe we all could have done more, or done differently." I shrugged. "But in the end, maybe we could never have been fully prepared."

"…Perhaps not."

"Don't take on the weight and burdens of war to yourself, Mewtwo," I pleaded. "We all do that, but it's not right for you." I pulled my hand back and lowered my head. "In fact, if we hadn't gone out to find you, and if we just left you alone, then maybe…"

"It is likely that I would have died eventually, had you and Greninja never arrived."

My head jolted back up, and yet Mewtwo didn't even flinch. Not from my movement, and not from his assessment.

"Though I was surviving out there, I did need this town to maintain my livelihood," recalled Mewtwo. "Truthfully, I was no better out there than anywhere else. And, when we think about it, those invaders may have come after me all the same."

"That's…possible," I admitted.

"The losses pain me, and losing those that I was just getting to know is…immeasurably awful," he settled for. "All of this war, it has certainly scarred me."

"I'm sorry."

"It is not your fault," Mewtwo echoed to me. "Far from it. Had you and Greninja never come out for me, I would never have even known friendship, or kindness." He smiled, just slightly, as we looked to one another. "Though I would wish for more peaceful living, and I wake at nights, begging for this to have had a different outcome, I will take solace that I was able to experience such fortune as finding you and getting to know everyone here." Mewtwo nodded, still smiling. "It is better, to live and to learn with others, rather than entirely apart from them."

"Mewtwo…"

"There is more to the world that I wish to learn, more than I need to discover," he determined. "Even if I must experience pain with it all, I must know of all that I can. And, furthermore, I must do whatever part I may to help others, in every way that I can offer to them."

"That's not…you don't need to."

"No, but this is what I want to do," decided Mewtwo. "There is still so much left for me to explore, and I will do so."

"Then…where will you go?"

"…Go?"

"The world is really, uh, expansive, Mewtwo," I elaborated. "There are a lot of places that you can travel to. And, I know that you still have mysteries here about your life that you want to uncover."

"Correct."

"You won't be able to find everything here, and you may need to leave this continent entirely some day," I determined. "I don't know where you'll need to go."

"Neither do I," confessed Mewtwo. "But I do not expect to go as far as you claim."

"Wait, so, you think more answers are here?"

"Not within the Empire, no," decided Mewtwo. "But somewhere across this land, I do believe so."

"So, then…"

"You are leaving for your home kingdom, correct?" I jerked up at that. Mewtwo shook his head. "Do not fear, I was merely told by Emperor Empoleon earlier when he came to check on me."

"Oh. So he…well, yeah, we're being sent back, once Greninja and Delphox are able," I explained. "We won't be here for too long."

"Then, neither shall I."

"Huh?"

"Emperor Empoleon told me of his decision to send you back because he suspected that I would have intentions of leaving with you and Greninja, my first friends," revealed Mewtwo. "He was correct."

"You want to come with us?" I smiled at first, but frowned a bit. "Mewtwo, I can't promise that will be the safest path to tread."

"None are," determined Mewtwo. "But I will go where I feel that I…where I belong."

"Mewtwo…"

"There is nowhere better that I can think to be than with my friends," he continued. "Even if I find no more answers to who I am, and even as we encounter more adversity, I shall take comfort that I am with you, and I will do what I can to remain with you."

"That's…really, really nice of you," I confessed. "But, are you sure?"

"I have given it thought for quite a while, even when I did not know where we would all go after all that has happened," elucidated Mewtwo. "This, I feel, will be my best option, though." He smiled. "It is time that I travel, and it will always be time to be with good friends."

"We'll be happy to have you for sure, Mewtwo." I grinned to him. "I could show you a lot about the Grass Fields Kingdom, when we finally do get there."

"Yes, I imagine that you and Greninja will have much to show me. And I hope to explore and learn more for myself when we get there."

"Sure, King Nidoking will definitely let you…uh…" I thought about how the enemies had hunted Mewtwo here, and wondered how Nidoking would react to Mewtwo. "Well, he'll still…he will be happy to have you."

"Chesnaught, I am not a child, and I do understand that I am still very much a target for attempts on this seer," reminded Mewtwo. "King Nidoking will be wary with what I do, as Emperor Empoleon has been."

"Then maybe we should rethink this," I admitted. "I don't want you feeling confined all over again, like you were in this palace."

"As long as you are beside me, I will not be," determined Mewtwo. "Do you think poorly of your king?"

"No way! He's great."

"Perhaps I shall arrive to the same conclusion." Mewtwo smiled. "Emperor Empoleon, in spite of everything, has been good to me, and to everyone."

"He really has."

"There is good in the world, to counter the evil," Mewtwo reminded me. "So, I will be open minded to finding the better sides to everyone."

"We'll help you with that, I promise."

"Thank you." He nodded. "You are a wonderful friend." Somehow, that felt better to hear than Empoleon calling me a hero. "Come, let us check on Greninja and Delphox. I hope they will recover well."

"Greninja was awake before, so he's already on his way."

"Excellent. Let us see that he continues to improve."

Mewtwo pushed the door open and entered the room. I moved to follow, but turned back, and gazed out to the broken hall of the Iceberg Palace.

As cold as it's been, this has been home.