. 1 .

The mewtwo knew there was out there. Deep within Viridian Forest, there was something hiding under the shadows of the ancient woodland. Shazzaud had been told by her sentries that there were shadowy silhouettes of pokémon wandering the Viridian sector. "Eyes glowing purpley," they would say. No one, neither pokémon nor human, knew what was going on. Shazzaud have thought long and hard on this issue for six hours straight. Was it the infamous Orre teams dumping shadow pokémon into Kanto in an attempt to take over the region? Or was there a new challenger to contend with? She would've considered the former, except she caught a whiff of the smell from a scout, whom she had sent in to investigate. The pidgey smelled like oil, almost like old gasoline that had been sitting in a tank somewhere for years. His eyes were black as night, it was like he had taken a bath in a tub of petroleum. Yet there were no oil fields in Kanto, not even oil derricks in the surrounding sea.

"Blind," the former Pewter City Joy explained. "Something blinded this poor bird."

The pidgey shifted on its side and moaned. Pewter Joy pulled back some of its feathers, revealing blackish ear canals. Shazzaud stepped back, then scratched her chin. "Step aside, I want to see something."

Pewter Joy stepped aside, almost pressing her back against the wall. Shazzaud drew her bulbous index finger and placed it on top of the pidgey's head. Hundreds of images flooded her head. She tuned to the most recent. Deep within the recesses of the bird's brain, she caught a glimpse of a pikachu. All black, all electrified. Eyes bright as purple, frowning. And then nothing.

Whoever it was had to be a powerful pokémon, more power than she realized.

Shazzaud pulled her finger aside and stared at it. There was a smudge of black on the tip. "PJ," she said. "Quarantine this bird and monitor it. Give it the best care you can, but be sure he is isolated from everybody."

"Yes, Shazzaud."

Shazzaud held up that bulbous finger. "That means everybody until we can figure out what is going on. You got that?"

PJ nodded, saying nothing.

. 2 .

Shazzaud gathered the Azzure Village chief and her two most trusted servants within the hollow cavern of the Great Tree. Victor Hershstash, a fifty-something year old man who used to be a colonel in a splinter group of Team Rocket. Clair, the battle-tested banette who served as her right-hand pokémon. And then there was Elterra, the old venusaur who served her as a mentor for years, decades even, under Team Rocket's rule. A handful of psychic and ghost-type pokémon circled around from above. Most were young save for a few veterans from the old TR days. They keep themselves hidden. Just out of sight, but watching.

Shazzaud stood on the earthen ledge. Her inner circle stood in the open grassy courtyard. Close enough to be heard, but spaced apart. The roots of the Great Tree snaked everywhere, pulsing with NE, pulsing with life.

"So," she said, "I am sure all of you have heard of the trouble brewing in Viridian."

Hershtash nodded. "Reports of these, Taken, haunt the forest floors. We have refugees from Viridian coming in by the day. We are struggling to house them all."

Clair said, "Death is all I smell from the forest. Old ghost tell me of a powerful mouse with powers that can bend the fabric of reality. Space and time, is that what you call it?"

Shazzaud nodded. "Yes, Clair."

"Should we be worried?"

"Yes, we should be very worried. In fact, we should be very afraid."

Elterra breathed. "Team Rocket had been experimenting with link cables, but I do recall a project attempting to recreate shadow pokémon, just like Team Cipher. Only problem is it was a disaster and it got hushed up. Methinks this is related to the old shadow pokémon project."

Clair floated from above. "Purple eyes, shadows. Darkness is what it is. Pidgey didn't survive unscathed."

Shazzaud said, "How long did it take for the pidgey to be defeated by this mouse pokémon?"

"About five seconds."

"Sounds just like what I sifted out of the bird's mind."

"Flew right in, saw a pikachu, incapacitated."

"I figured as much."

Hershtash said. "Ma'am, should we send a team into the forest to investigate?"

Shazzaud said, "Send a team, but not into the forest. Have them watch from afar. Get a scout on every corner of that sector and make sure they have a good, unhindered line-of-sight of everything. If that darkness spills out, we need to know about it as soon as possible."

"Understood, ma'am."

Elterra said, "We will need to check the pokémon for any signs of the Corruption. The Joy sisters are concerned about a possible pandemic. They don't know if we are dealing with a virus or a mold, let alone something ethereal from the great beyond. As it stands right now, we have not a single clue on what we are dealing with."

Shazzaud tapped her fingers. For lack of a better term, Team New Indigo was in the dark. No one knew if the darkness was either biological or ethereal. No one knew if it was even contagious. And now refugees from a third of the region were making their way toward Azure and the human-controlled sectors of the Quarantine Zone.

Only one thing to do: control the effects of the situation, then figure out the cause.

"Quarantine the refugees," Shazzaud said. "Keep them under guard and only allow the Joys and their assistants examine them. Lock down the gates and increase guard patrols. If this is the start of something, then we need to be ready. More than that, we need to figure out what this thing is, and fast."

. 3 .

Shazzaud stood on the balcony of her private study. The moon was out in full. Only the brightest stars were shining. Shazzaud closed her eyes and let the moonlight wash over her. Her study was built on the top of the Great Tree, giving her a bird's eye view over all of Azzure. She gripped the edge of the balcony and breathed. Her town, Azzure, built on top of the ruins of old Cerulean. The Great Tree itself planted and grew over the building of its former battle arena. Shazzaud had to make sure Misty, the former gym leader, was sealed in tight in the basement of the Cerulean City Police Department building. She'd been down there for two years, sealed within a tangled mess of roots and bark. No way would she ever be free again, and the threat of a human-led revolt was sealed with her.

Azzure stood tall with the green shade of the New World Order, and now it was threatened by something from the great beyond. What a shame too, Viridian Forest had the highest pokémon population in the Kanto region and was in the Top Five in the world. Shazzaud closed her eyes. Viridian's refugees were pouring in from the west. Lots of bug and grass-types along with a few other pokémon. Some electric mice pokémon clans. A few human trained pokémon from the cities. All of them had the same constant thoughts: panic, fear, depression. They all were blended into a slurry that made her mind numb. She couldn't even hear her own thoughts. The refugees needed to be tuned out.

The mewtwo sat back in a leech chair and reached into a crook within the root-bound balcony and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. Alcohol was one of the few human luxuries that seemed to work in fighting off the constant noise. It was hard to get though. Harder than she would like. Officially Shazzaud placed the ban because sifting through drunken minds were a nightmare. Unofficially, it gives her an excuse to grab whatever precious bottle she could find. Once they get NE wine production up and going she would consider lifting the ban. For now, it is what it is.

Shazzaud popped the cork off and, without hesitation, downed a mouthful.

She tapped into the collective conscious network again. This time the thoughts of spooks run through her head. The ghost and psychic-types were worried as much as she was. They could see into the fourth dimension. They could see the threat in Viridian. Shazzaud dialed in to her old mentor. Elterra, poor old friend, his mind had nothing left going on in there. Just a minor hiss. Maybe he was meditating, like all older lifeforms do. Then again, few can ever tune her out of their minds. Only one she recalled can. That girl, what's her name? And her ghost pokémon?

Shazzaud downed another mouthful. Sometimes whiskey couldn't kick in fast enough. Had to rush it, but not too much.

"You remind me of my old chu," a voice from the either spoke, "who drinks for the hell of it."

Shazzaud's eyes shot open. What the fuck?

"You thought you were the only powerful pokémon? You thought you were the only genetically modified pokémon to breathe life-giving air? God-like you are, but you're not immortal. Not like I."

"Who are you?!" Shazzaud barked.

No response. Shazzaud stuck the bottle back into its crevice and got up. Her foot caught the edge of a root and she hit her knee against the floor. She swore as she grabbed the ledge and pulled herself up. She scanned the room, pinging her psionic mind scan. No one else in the study or hiding among the Great Tree. Not even the spooks.

"I'm not actually there. In fact, I'm nowhere near you or your little treehouse. Tell you what, I'll cut to the chase. Come pay me a visit, in my father's old homeland, so we can speak in person. Come alone. If there's anyone in your company, however, I will come in myself and take them like I did with the other pokémon here."

"Or else what?"

"Or else I come there myself and seize your village. Your psychic and ghost types are no match for me. They will not protect your commune. But you, I think you are a match for me, not that it matters."

"Who are you and what do you want?"

"I'll tell you in person, when you're sober."

"What the fuck are you?!"

Shazzaud climbed to her feet and popped her joints. She breathed. Great, she was an all powerful mewtwo and a single fall brought her down. What a way to remind herself of her own mortality. Shazzaud crawled back to her bed and dropped onto it with a thud, and with that the world blacked out around her.

. 4 .

Shazzaud's eyes flickered open. She lied on her bed. Her head was throbbing and her gut was twisting itself in a knot. She squeezed her eyes shut. Not again. Not fucking again! She rolled herself out of bed and crawled across the floor and onto the balcony. The mewtwo stuck her head between the root rails and purged her stomach. White entrails drifted down to the city below. The entrails splattered. A spook screamed. Someone broke out crying. Shazzaud groaned. Midnight and whiskey never go well together.

She pulled herself back to her feet and fetched herself a bottle of water from the cabinet, then drank the whole bottle dry. Then downed a second. Shazzaud dropped it on the counter and pressed her back against the wall. She slid down to the floor and grabbed her face. Okay, she thought. The world can go to the very bowels of Agartha for all I care, but this bullshit will not stand!

Shazzaud tapped into the mind ether. Azzure went silent. They all heard that, of course. They always heard that. Hershtash was holding his ground near the human sector. PJ had her back against the wall. Clair, what the fuck was she doing? Elterra, being Elterra, still slept inside the Great Tree courtyard. Shazzaud scrambled to her feet. She grabbed a root sticking out of the wall and held on tight. The refugees were screaming out from the top of their lungs. The spooks were scrambling all over the place. All of the other humans and pokémon were holding her breath as if the whole place was going to burn down. Shazzaud skimmed through every brain, every mind, and every neuron in every human and pokémon body within the line of sight of her tree. No darkness, or anything ethereal. No disturbance within the fourth dimension either. Nothing happened last night as far as the village was concerned.

"Clair!" Shazzaud's call rang out across the cognitive sine waves.

It took a few seconds, but Clair's voice echoed through the air. "Yes, Shazzaud?"

"Get Hershtash, bring him down to the courtyard. Emergency meeting, now!"

. 5 .

"You can't be serious," Hershtash said.

"There isn't any other way," Shazzaud said. "I go in. Alone. No one can face him but me."

Clair said, "Revolution not mature. Will die with you. Let me at them. I can uncover our adversary."

Shazzaud said, "No, Clair. If you go out there, alone or otherwise, then I cannot help you if he takes you. And when I say takes, I mean turned into one of those things. So no, I can't risk losing more bodies. We already lost too many from the mishap last spring. I need you here, Clair."

Clair frowned. "So will it be. Bummer. I hate to see you not return."

Elterra added. "Are you sure this pikachu is an equal? How are you sure he's another psychic?"

"He contacted me last night, same way I would contact anyone for that matter. His voice sounded clear, a bit aged, experienced. This is no rookie. He made himself clear that I have to pay him a visit, or else he will come here. I'm not testing him. I'm going to go see him for myself." Then she asked, "What's the latest reports over that sector?"

Hershtash said, "The darkness is bleeding out into the sky. We aren't sure if it is liquid darkness, or an actual rift in space and time. It's like smoke, but pure black. Volcanic even."

Shazzaud asked, "Did the scouts report in yet?"

"They did."

"What are their findings?"

"The major road that runs through Viridian had been sealed off by rocks, abandoned freight trucks, and felled trees. However, there is a path that leads into the forest from the east. It is pitch black. Dark as a cave. Not even the pokémon with night vision can see into it. None of them dare to venture in, but one of our human scouts shined an NE flashlight into the void and it defeated the darkness. 'It was like shining a light into a cave,' he said. We aren't sure where it leads."

Shazzaud thought for a moment. "I have an idea.

. 6 .

How bad it could be? Bad. The whole forest seem fine on the outside, except for the smoke shimmering over the tree canopy. Shazzaud stood at the hill and scanned for minds. She couldn't pick up any besides a handful of her scouts, all of whom were instructed to watch but not interfere. No wild pokémon. No humans. No minds but her own and her servants. Great, she was going in blind. What a good position to be in.

Since she was going against an electric-type, who had god-like powers, she will need light sources independent from electricity. Dr. Sumina, one of the human eccentric inventors, hand-made chem sticks for her to use. Made out of NE extract and poured into a biodegradable corn starch tube, the chem sticks should glow when broken. The mad scientist had dozens of them being made for weeks and gave Shazzaud more than enough to make her way through the forest. He also handed her some conventional flares and chem sticks from the Old World Order in case the NEs didn't work. He then tried to get Shazzaud to wear a helmet, which looked like a cross between a samurai and a ballistics helmet with a mounted light. She fumed. The helmet looked silly. Why would she, a legendary pokémon with unimaginable power, need a helmet?

She shook a fist at Sumina. "Just make me a 90-degree angle flashlight and stick it on the strap of the backpack I'm carrying everything in!"

He gave her two lights. Both of which were conventional tactical lights, except they were fitted with NE cells the size of 18650 lithium ones. One was the 90-degree angle light she requested. The other was a smaller backup. Both of which should put out more than enough light, the doctor had said. He had already tested the NE cells and they were just as good as their lithium counterparts.

Shazzaud adjusted her backpack and set foot into the forest. The air got cooler the moment her foot stepped into the woods. There wasn't just a void in the psychic veil, there was an actual void here. Shazzaud got around ten feet into the forest before the wind changed direction.

"Welcome to Viridian Forest," that voice said. "Note that it is kind of dark, so watch your step. Just follow the trail, it will take you straight to me."

The mewtwo took a deep breath. She clicked on her mounted light. The path before her lit up with neutral white light. Everything else remained pitch black.

Here goes nothing, or everything.

The trip through the forest was uneventful. In fact, there wasn't anything going on around her. No chirping of bug pokémon. No rustling in the bushes. No faint calls of distant pokémon. The forest was so sterile of life that there weren't any spook pokémon. However, someone was watching her. That chu with the psychic powers. Shazzaud scanned the void in search of his mind, but found nothing. Either he cloaked it pretty well, or he wasn't here at all. Shazzaud held her breath. Oh he was listening in on her alright, he was just keeping his mouth shut. Smart pokémon. In fact, he might be the only other smart pokémon besides her in the Kanto region.

Shazzaud cracked a chem stick and dropped it on the ground for every ten meters. She measured out each meter with the pace of her steps, making sure she was around that ten meter mark. Shazzaud then stopped and listened. Silence, a quiet as an unused soundproof room. It was right there as she stood on the darkened path where she felt a gnawing sense of doom growing in her heart. The feeling was foreign. This wasn't fear. Far from it. Something was telling her, either in her head or somewhere out in the void of the forest, that there was a high chance she might die. Shazzaud glanced over her shoulder. The chem sticks glowed a bright green, but they seem a little too far apart.

Better tighten those sticks to eight meters. At least Sumina's printed tech works.

She kept on going until she reached a small clearing. Pools of liquid darkness lined the clearing, shimmering smoke. Shazzaud squinted, she swore she could see stars through them. Maybe they were stars, as the pools of darkness had unveiled all matter and show what was behind them. She stepped into the center of the clearing and glanced up at the sky. Nothing but tree leaves above. The sun couldn't penetrate this deep. Shazzaud walked around the clearing, dropping some sticks at the edges until she formed a ring. There was no telling if that would do anything, but it wasn't electronic, so the chu couldn't blast it with an EMP and kill the lights.

Shazzaud stepped back to the center of the clearing and breathed. "Okay, I'm here. Where are you?"

The air exploded at the edge of the forest, shooting black shimmers of dark matter in all directions. Standing in its place was a pikachu, and it was one hell of a chu. It wasn't fat as its counterparts. It had muscle, quite a bit of it at least. It even have purple lightning decals all over its body and forehead, all with an orange border. The chu's eyes shimmered purple for a few seconds before fading, replaced with its natural marble eyes. "Shazzaud, I presume?"

"The one and only."

The chu shrugged. "Thales Westinghouse."

Shazzaud spread out her hands. "And you caused all this?"

"I pretty much can bend the fabric of the universe to my will. What you see is dark matter, which is everywhere in the universe. You just can't see it in its normal state. Dark matter is the friction of the universe that keeps it together. Ever wonder why starlight is so fuzzy in the sky? Dark matter distorts it."

"Yes, I'm very aware what dark matter is. Just why is it pooling like this?"

"I have no idea, all I know is that I can make it pool. I'm a neuroscientist, not a theoretical scientist."

Shazzaud said, "Neuro? So you're researching brains? Is that why you're contacting me? For a meeting of the minds?"

Thales said, "Not quite, I just want to see if you're worthy."

"Worthy? Me, a mewtwo? Of course I'm worthy!"

Thales smiled. "I haven't told you what you could be worthy for yet."

The pikachu burst into a cloud of black smoke, it contracted into itself, leaving nothing behind. Shazzaud stepped back and braced herself. He was no ordinary pikachu, she knew that, but now she knows that he's more than just powerful. What was this, some sort of game? What did he mean by worthy? And for what?

"Bullshit!" Shazzaud said. "Who the shit are you?! What are you?! Some kind of god?"

The shadowy figures let out banshee wails. Shazzaud winced as she clapped her hands over her ears. The first of the Taken leaped out and unleashed an ethereal equivalent of a Thunderbolt. Shazzaud raised both hands. Rainbow plasma light blasts out from both palms and struck the monster in the centermass. The Taken burst into black smoke before collapsing in on itself like a black hole. She fired a second time. Two more Taken caught the beam and disintegrated. More emerged from the darkness beyond. Howling. Screeching. Acting like the monsters they had become.

Either she was dreaming and this was some sort of nightmare she was having, or she was awake and was having a nightmare anyway. Shazzaud stepped back into the middle as the Taken surrounded her. The former pokémon gnashed their teeth as their ethereal white eyes glowed from their sockets.

Shazzaud balled her fists.

They both glowed purple as multiple shadow balls formed overhead. She took a deep breath and threw her fists up. The shadow balls launched themselves up into the tree canopy. They disappeared for a few seconds before coming down around her like missiles. Purple-black energy detonated upon impact, blasting Taken back into the darkness from whence they came. A few Taken missed the shadow ball barrage, so Shazzaud finished them off with Psybeam.

That was too easy. Way too easy. She didn't even break a sweat. Shazzaud held her ground and listened. The forest around her returned to pure silence. The mewtwo scanned her surroundings. She knew this ploy. Shazzaud pulled this trick before on an outsider at Azure. It was an illusion. No special abilities involve. Make the opponent think they have won, and then come out with a crippling counterattack. She thought she was ready for it. Ready for a whole swarm of those things crawling out of the shadows.

And then the chem sticks surrounding the clearing died.

Next thing the mewtwo knew something big shot out of the forest and smashed into her, sending her flying into a dead oak and dropped on her rear end. The thing crashed on its feet, shaking the earth. Shazzaud's eyes went wide. It looked like a mouse pokémon, and it was huge. Well, for a mouse at least, as it was only just a meter and a quarter tall. Shazzaud tried to get back to her feet, but the monster leaped up and pinned her down with its foot. It was like she had a freight truck slapped onto her stomach. Shazzaud fought and pounded at its foot, but the beast wouldn't budge. It didn't roar. It didn't scream. It just stared at her with those massive purple spotlights. Spotlights that were supposed to be eyes.

Thales came strolling up around the beast. "He's a rikachu," he said. "My nephew here has been through a lot in his former life. Amazing he still has power."

Shazzaud barked. "Get him off me!"

The rikachu pressed down harder, Shazzaud let out a yelp.

Thales said, "How about you play nice? I've seen enough of your handiwork. Your moves and such. I can spawn an endless horde of Taken to send against you. You'll just be wasting your strength. Don't you see that you are within the Twilight Zone? My Twilight Zone?"

Shazzaud gritted her teeth. "Okay, fuck! I'll play ball, just get him off!"

The Taken rikachu released his foot. Shazzaud slumped forward and grabbed her stomach. She has the strength of a darmanitan, how the fuck did this thing beat her? Shazzaud pulled herself back to her feet. Her muscles strained under her own weight. Mewtwos were supposed to be unbeatable legendary pokémon, but Thales changed the rules. She changed the laws of physics in Viridian Forest and put her at a disadvantage. This wasn't a game of rock, paper, scissors of pokémon types anymore. She should've seen the hint the night before from that crazy dream, assuming it was even a dream at all.

Thales said, "We have a common adversary. Team Rocket, it seems. Tell you what, you seem to be busy with your cult. I'll cut to the chase. I'm looking for some hard drives. CSDs that have found their way into your things, I believe. They have no value to you, though, but I can utilize them."

Shazzaud held up her head. "I hate to break it to you, bub, but I'm don't have CSDs lying around."

"That's because they're not technically lying around. They're in the Cerulean City Pokémon Center. Hidden among the PBMS server towers, ergo, they're there and I want them."

"There's nothing left on those drives."

"Actually, there's only one drive. Crystal-State Drive Number E-35. The Nurse Joy who used to run it before your apocalypse forgot all about it. Just go in, grab it, and bring it to me in person."

"What's it to you about this drive?"

"There are some mice pokémon on there, from what I have been told. I wish to acquire them."

"Bah, you rodents always look out for your own!"

"They're not my own, but you have a point."

Shazzaud climbed back to her feet. "Why do you want them? Are they that important to you? Are these strangers family to you?"

"Maybe, I'll tell you once I have the drive in my hands. I don't need to remind you what I can do if I don't get them."

Shazzaud groaned. "Fine, I'll get you your stupid drive. The Joys who work there do my bidding anyway."

Thales said, "I prefer you be discreet. Bring no attention to said drive. Believe me, you will want no attention. Do that, and I will be long gone. I swear an oath on it."

The mewtwo balled her hands. "Great, just great. Okay, deal. I'll get you your drive and you leave my plebs alone."

The pikachu said, "That is what I like to hear."

. 7 .

Shazzaud left Viridian the same way she came. The scouts posted in the hills rushed down to greet her. She said nothing. Instead she teleported back to Azure. However, her energy was so drained that she flopped on the balcony of her study and slept there till nightfall. Her spooks sensed her arrival and alerted the human and pokémon populous. Rumors began to fly. Everyone held their breath, wondering what would happen next.

Shazzaud woke up. Her energy had returned. Time to get this job done. She hadn't run errands liked this since her Team Rocket days. The night was as bitter as the forest. Better get to it.

She teleported down to the old Cerulean City Pokémon Center, then slipped through the front door. Leech tech plants covered the walls and floors of the lobby. A mixture of old and new world orders. The pokémon wanted the pokémon center to remain in operation and its Nurse Joy spared. She had no intention of purging them to begin with, but the pokémon do make a point. Pokémon come here to be treated of injuries and be cured of illnesses. Back then it was all from dreaded pokémon battling. Now the injuries are more sporadic and unpredictable. NE poisoning was the top offender. Shazzaud expected the Cerulean City Nurse Joy to be at wits end, and then her sister from former Pewter showed up.

Crazy she was, yet most adaptable. She figured out how NE works inside the body far sooner than expected, and so used that knowledge to treat the pokémon for NE poisoning. It all had to do with blood-type for the most part. Type A and Type B blood reacts to NE in all sorts of ways. Type AB gets the worse. Type O does almost nothing. The Rhesus factor determines how much NE gets stored or flushed out. Pewter Joy learned all this just days, maybe even weeks before Pewter fell to her forces. Shazzaud kept her around because the pokémon loved her, and she goes out to rescue pokémon in need. Even Elterra loves her. In the end, Shazzaud knew that Pewter Joy will be working against her. Maybe she already was. She came back after taking that blasted girl out of the region and resumed operations with her sister. Shazzaud had considered imprisoning her as she was a clear threat to her power, but didn't. Pewter wouldn't do anything, couldn't do anything to oppose her. However, by letting her do as she always do, she had uncovered a part of her network. And it was growing. This Elm in Johto will have to be dealt with at some point, but not now.

Another bonus in leaving the Pewter Joy to do her job was that she always collects stuff. Actually, she hoards it. On occasion, she would leave Azure for rescue operations. The leech tech she provided her allowed her to be a mobile pokémon center, and so she goes out and brings back pokémon that would have died without the treatment she provides. All the while, she somehow managed to get time to collect stuff. Perhaps she had collected a drive that this Thales wants. Perhaps it was installed into the old PBMS system. Where else would it be?

Ever since Shazzaud installed that NE to AC power generator into the pokémon center, the Joys performance increased. The mortality rate dropped. More refined NE berries are being produced, which in turn fuels the bioreactor to make more power. Shazzaud stared at the ceiling lights. They were set to moonbeam mode, giving the lobby a nightlight feel. She held her breath and closed her eyes. All of the chanceys have gone to bed, Soyev's serperior was also asleep. Cerulean Joy was asleep, but not Pewter. She was up and about, working on something. Half-buzzed, too. Shazzaud would've been able to see what she was doing if the Joy was sober.

She would wipe Pewter Joy's memories of the last ten minutes if she were to discover her, but she keeps all sorts of notes and hid it somewhere. Best leave her be and not spook her. Shazzaud crossed the tiled floor and approached the back door to the basement. She didn't bother trying the door. She knew it was locked. Shazzaud closed her eyes and teleported through and materialized in the basement.

The whole room had multiple server towers for the PBMS. The computers weren't hooked up. Shazzaud hadn't banned them to use them per se. They just consumed too much power, and without an outside connection, there was no point in powering them. Bummer. Shazzaud would've loved to see the old computer system up and working again. She could get some rotoms to route the network to Azure and seize pokémon from faraway places. She planned on making sure that the generator is refined so it produces more power than a nuclear reactor, but she doubted the Joys will be willing to hook up the computers.

What was it? E-35? Shazzaud stepped up to Row E, then opened up the panels of the first tower. It was full of CS drives. All of which were empty. The pokémon they once contained had been evacuated elsewhere before the lines were cut. The big question was, why was this drive still contained pokémon, and are the Joys aware of it? Something wasn't adding up.

Shazzaud squinted and opened up the other cabinets. Some of the drives were missing. Seems that the Joys had a few of them removed when they first learned about her, and knew what she was going to do to them. No matter. When it comes time to take the next town, she will be sure to cut the lines beforehand before seizing that pokémon center's drives. Shazzaud closed the cabinet and moved on to the next one.

She opened the third cabinet and found the 35th drive. Shazzaud grabbed it and pulled it out. She checked every corner of the drive to make sure it was the right one. Row E, 35. No signs of damage. Something was telling her there was something wrong with it. The way it felt in her hands. She put it under some faint lighting to get a better look. Right there on the surface were several symbols going across the side. Shazzaud blinked.

Unown script.

The script was familiar to her. She had learned about it when rooting around Team Rocket's archives. She studied the e-books after she had seized power in Cerulean City. The Unown were pokémon that take the form of letters. They are so timid that they prefer to stay within their own dimension. They never leave it unless they fell out by accident or someone drags them out. Control enough of them and you can control the world and reality itself, but the Unown were so hard to get that it was next to impossible to even acquire one.

She can read the script, but the arrangement wasn't familiar to her.

O

T

S

What the fuck does this mean?

Shazzaud tucked the drive under her arm. Maybe Thales will answer that question for her.

She exited the basement the same way she came. Shazzaud crouched and listened for the Pewter Joy. Just silence echoed in the pokémon center. The mewtwo crept across the lobby floor and stepped back outside, making sure the door didn't slam on the way out.

. 8 .

Shazzaud placed the drive by her bedside and sat down on her porch. She reached into the crevice and pulled out the whiskey bottle. After downing a mouthful, she stared out toward the direction of Viridian Forest.

Shit, that was a place she wanted to control. So rich in pokémon life, and biomass too. Shazzaud would've turned the ancient woodlands into a bustling trading outpost for pokémon everywhere in Kanto. So much potential now gone thanks to the rodent who can break the fabric of the universe. What an insult, telling her what to do, and what much choice did she have? None. Why? Because the so-called doctor would crush her citizens and undo all of her work.

Shazzaud leaned forward and tapped her fingers. She was a mewtwo. Trained, educated, and powerful because of those two. A psychic-type like her works with minds, but Thales works with reality. She needed information of him. As it stands, Shazzaud was in the dark, and the doctor pikachu owned the darkness. The mewtwo stood up and emptied the rest of the whiskey into her stomach, then she faced the skyline.

She held the bottle back, readying herself to throw it.

It slipped out of her fingers and clattered to the floor.

Shazzaud grumbled and turned around. Standing before her were two dozen unown, all of which in an array of human letters. Shazzaud froze. The unown weren't anything like she remembered. Their eyes were just glowing balls of light, their outlines bleeding off into the night.

Taken, they were all taken.

She couldn't get off her Psybeam in time as the Taken unown lined themselves into two rows, then begin spinning around her to form two rings. The air kicked up, roaring like a motor going a hundred kilos per hour. Shazzaud clapped her hands over her ears as the world flashed white.

. 9 .

Shazzaud's ears rang. It was like someone took a jackhammer and split her head open. She pulled herself up and groaned. Sunlight was shining through the windows and the open balcony. Shazzaud pulled herself onto her bed and crashed her head onto the pillow. Either all that had happened or she had dreamed all that from her drunken coma. The whole world just sucks. Everything sucks. Shazzaud rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. What was all that about and what did it mean? She didn't know, and she hated not knowing. Shazzaud closed her eyes and summoned up her power.

The mewtwo teleported within Elterra's courtyard. The old venusaur was sleeping where he always sat. Shazzaud stared at her old mentor for a full minute. Elterra just snored on without a care in the world. She probed his mind to see what was going on in there. Nothing in his head but static.

Best do this the old fashioned way.

"Elterra," Shazzaud said.

The old venusaur let out a yawn, then got up. "Old friend, I was worried last night. You were making all sorts of noises up there in your tree. Then again, you always make noises up in your tree every night, but this time it was not right."

"It was from Viridian Forest," she said.

"Nobody heard from you since you left yesterday. What did you find?"

"A pikachu, a genetically-modified pikachu, with powers that can bend the fabric of reality, and he has amassed an army out of pokémon."

"How bad is it?"

"No words can describe it, Elterra, which is why I need your help."

Elterra wrinkled his nose. "Well, describe what they are. These pokémon, and who is their leader?"

"Does the name Thales Westinghouse mean anything to you?"

"The name means nothing to me."

"He explained that he's a doctor in neuroscience."

"Doubtful for a pikachu to even have a doctorate."

Shazzaud said, "He stripped the souls out of pokémon and filled them up with some sort of ethereal dark matter. Their bodies literally bleed darkness, their eyes are glowing, and if you were to look at them, I swear to you that it's like they're pulling light out of your eyes."

Elterra said, "Hmm, dark matter?"

"The Taken, as he called them."

His eyes lit up. "Taken. I've heard about them before. They are creatures that should not be trifled with. They are dead things, just husks. They're not whoever they used to be. They're puppets, Shazzaud. Your power cannot overcome them, not even NE."

"Can I stop it at the source?"

"You can stop the source, but the Taken will always be here no matter what. Once they come in, they can't be removed."

"Great, and how in the world do you know this?"

"Orre," Elterra's voice croaked. "Orre was experimenting with Shadow Pokémon. A completely different process involving pokémon's hearts to be locked down, making them living robots. I heard that Team Cipher had their equipment crushed and blueprints to their dreaded machines stolen, but that was a long time ago. If memory comes to serve, Team Rocket had mentioned creatures bearing your description."

"And now the perpetrator is right on our front door."

"What does he want?"

"He wants me to give him a drive from the pokémon center, saying they hold some of other mice pokémon on it. I found the drive and it had writing on it, in Unown script."

Elterra chuckled. "Oh, that explains the noises you were making then."

"Should I be worried?"

"First, tell me this. Have you plugged the drive in and checked to see what was on it?"

"No."

"Can you remember what was written on the script at least, before the Unown ambushed you?"

Shazzaud squeezed her eyes shut. "Actus meus invito, factus non est meus actus."

"Sounds like a language from another world."

"Yeah, that's what I have figured."

"Shazzaud, you should get the drive to Thales and hope for the best. I'm sorry, friend, there isn't much for me to go on. You will have to play it by ear."

"And that is what I'm afraid of."

Elterra nodded. "Remember that, Shazzaud. Fear reminds you that you're still alive."

. 10 .

The unown letters on the drive were gone. So they were real pokémon afterall, or were pokémon. Whatever is the case, they were gone. Good riddance

With the drive in hand, Shazzaud started off for Viridian Forest again. The black smoke was still there, still puffing out of the ancient woodlands like a forest fire. The woods were colder on her second trip. Way colder. Shazzaud could even see her breath. There was just no heat. No energy. Thales had stripped the whole place with whatever life it had left. He had grown stronger in less than a day.

The pikachu himself sat on a tree stump in the same old clearing. No Taken pokémon in sight, however. Shazzaud held up the drive to where he should have no problems seeing. Thales nodded. "You waited, did you?"

"Waited for what?"

"You waited till today, rather than turning in the drive to me the following night. How do I know that? I heard you scream like you've sunk your feet in ice-cold water, and the next thing I knew there were all these unown flying out of your Azure Village."

"You know about the unown?"

"Kind of. Were they Taken?"

"Shadowy, glowing eyes?"

Thales breathed. "Just what I'm afraid of."

"Are they yours?"

"No, they roam on their own."

Shazzaud handed the drive to Thales. He sat it on his thigh and ran his fingers over the edge. "This is it, alright. This is the drive."

"Is that all? Are you going to leave my village alone now?"

Thales said, "I'll pull up roots and leave, but those unown, I can't guarantee that they won't be a problem."

"So how am I going to defend against them?"

"The Taken are fragile, especially in a well-lit environment. Shine a light at them and they will stay clear." Thales sat the drive next to him and leaned his arm on it. "You remind me a whole like my father. Grumpy at all the bullshit, drinking because of the bullshit. Unsatisfied, always bored."

"Oh?"

"He's been victimized by Team Rocket, just like you. I think you two will get along quite well." Thales stood up on the stump. "Anyway, you did good. Didn't try anything, didn't pull any stunts. I see how you are in a leadership position. Not because you're a mewtwo, but because of you being you."

Shazzaud said, "Why thank you."

"Sarcastic too, I see."

"Isn't that obvious enough?"

"How about this: I owe you one. I'm an immortal being, I have all the time in the world and so on. If you were to find yourself against the wall, your empire crumbling and your forces dwindling. I can provide you a way out. Just know you are not the only pokémon who is attempting to craft a country for pokémon. There are other pokémon who wish to have their little plot of land in the world, such as the zangoose tribes in Hoenn. Just hope that you don't need my help, ever."

Shazzaud asked, "What about your mouse commune? Where's that?"

"Not in this world, in another universe. My own. I am just passing by, and my purpose here is concluded. But don't worry, I always have an ear here."

Thales stretched his arms and legs, then turned. "Oh, and one more thing. Just to keep you busy, I think I know of someone who might help you in your cause. If you know of a mawile named Reily, look for her. She's been cast out, rejected, and like you and me, is a test-tube baby. She might help you, or not."

"And how will she even cooperate with me?"

"Tell her that I referred you to her. We're both good friends, but I haven't seen her in five years. Last I heard, she's somewhere in your village. Perhaps you should talk to her. She's always looking for friends to hold on to."

With that, Thales burst into a ball of light and disappeared. The whole world grew brighter and warmer. Everything smelled like flowers and there was light shining through the leaves again. The darkness had been lifted from the forest, but there was still silence. It will be some time for pokémon life to return to Viridian. Who knows, it might make things easier to set up that outpost and expand her territory. Some of the refugees came to Azure afterall.

Hmm, Shazzaud thought. That give me an idea.

. 11 .

"So," Elterra said as Shazzaud approached. "You took care of it?"

"Took care of it," Shazzaud said.

"You don't seem so sure."

"There might be more problems in the future, but nothing I can do now. As of right now, the threat in Viridian is dealt with and I'm done for the day."

Elterra said, "Thought you should know, Clair had wandered off again."

Shazzaud asked, "What's that banette up to this time?"

"No clue, she snuck out right after you left for Viridian."

"I'll have a word with her later. Good day, Elterra."

"Good day."

The venusaur let out a yawn and sat back down to sleep. Shazzaud returned to her quarters and sat back down on the balcony. She closed her eyes and scanned the village for the usual mindtap. Nothing besides the usual gossip. Some humans had noted that Viridian Forest returned to normal. Besides that, there wasn't anything she needed to worry about. Shazzaud scanned the psychic field for Clair. There were essence traces left behind by the banette near her little hideaway, but no sign of the ghost herself. Shazzaud groaned, typical weekly bullshit.

As she was letting her mind trail off, a blip of psychic energy rippled through the psychic veil. Shazzaud's eyes shot open. She sat up and made out what looked like some of the Taken unown from the night before just outside the village. They faded out of existence like they weren't even there. Whatever they were, it was clear she wouldn't hear the last of them anytime soon.