Limited time, limited abilities. Kyurem says she can be cured in exchange for saving those who need saving.
Kephi for best non-human supporting character (serebii)
Best journey fic (bulbagarden)
Virokoe for best pokémon character (bulbagarden)
Best new pokémon-chaptered fic (serebii)
prologue - in the ice cavern
part one. sinnoh
ch. 1. time to start anew
ch. 2. at first sight
ch. 3. playing nice
ch. 4. vainglorious orphan
ch. 5. maps for the getaway
ch. 6. how to take a stand
ch. 7. the center of adrenaline
ch. 8. everybody's fool
ch. 9. a heavy dose of atmosphere
ch. 10. thousands of times over
LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES
in the ice cavern
At the top of a stone cavern graced with nothing but eroding pedestals and dripping icicles, Kyurem waits for her.
She climbs the rugged, glacial steps with a faint strength born from sheer willpower. Tremors echo in the pervading darkness. An icicle falls and strikes the ground next to her with a sharp crack. She moves forward, the small amount of energy she has left used to avoid knee-deep cracks and the ice crystals.
A sense of grandeur is somehow missing, despite the presence of a legendary pokémon. She goes on, and the floor—smooth, glistening, dangerous—seems to propel her forward rather than hinder her progress. The walls, covered with melting water and timeworn rock formations, slowly widen the higher she goes, as if to invite her.
Soon the cold hits her. It's the kind of cold you don't notice until it's already consumed you. The exertion forces her to breathe faster, and puffs of freezing air cloud her vision. When the draft dissipates, icy statues levitate in front of her, blocking her path. The statues look like snowflakes, but with gleaming blue eyes and a soft blue mist surrounding them. One of them reaches out to her with a crystal hanging from its underside, which is warm to the touch. It vanishes in slow motion. The remaining cryogonal float closer to Kyurem to protect themselves from the same fate.
As the cavern's peak comes into view, it occurs to her that she's dreaming. Only in a dream can you truly feel like you're venturing toward the edge of the world and still feel calm. She appreciates the strange atmosphere, and has always, in fact, preferred the winter months for the way they keep her eccentricities under control. She's not sure why, but she's reminded of her younger sister, who begs for a pokémon every Christmas but has yet to receive one. Her younger sister would be jealous of this dream, and she'd give anything to trade places with her...
She's stuck in her reverie until Kyurem speaks to her.
“Annalena Willems,” Kyurem says. The legendary pokémon's voice almost destroys her balance. It knows her name, and she stares at the creature quietly, not least because she isn't sure how or, more importantly, why. Its pointed teeth, its demonic eyes and wings, spiked with ice at the ends... The sight of it might have terrified her in an another time, another place. Here, she can focus on little but how laughable its short arms are, or how it tries to tower over her by standing on two feet.
“Here I am!” she shouts, loud though her body is composed, her mind blank. Suddenly she remembers how tired her parents were by the end of each night of her childhood, and how they wished aloud that her boundless energy would stop burdening them. When their wish was granted, they couldn't look at her without crying. She wants to feel relieved, wants to stay true to herself, but she knows she'll wake up soon and—
“Consciousness is a disease in and of itself, is it not?” Kyurem interrupts.
“...What are you?” she asks immediately, though she knows, has seen the fearsome pictures and heard the horrid stories. But those don't match up with what's here, a melancholy legendary turning its misshapen head, motioning toward nowhere in particular. The cavern is the epitome of desolation, not destruction...
Kyurem ignores her. “The world is full of dishonesty. Humans and pokémon alike go out of their way to do what is easiest for them rather than what is right. You, for example, are lying to yourself even as we speak.”
Kyurem speaks about the world, but she can't remember being part of it. She can't remember the feeling of simple luxuries like the ground beneath her feet, or the sun on her skin. But she must have experienced them at least once. Kyurem has confirmed as much. It also knows that she's accepting of the inevitable consequences of her disease, though that path is not one she chose.
“No one talks about death,” it goes on. “I wonder why that is? Maybe because everyone's frightened. Maybe because everyone's dying at their own rate, and there's no point in discussing the obvious. Wouldn't it be ideal... if you didn't have to die?”
She looks down, shifts her feet against the ice, expecting to fall through. She doesn't. “You're supposed to have great powers, but I doubt they're great enough to grant immortality.”
“Not immortality. Just a longer life. You are dying faster than most. That, Annalena Willems, is the truth.”
The legendary pokémon lifts its head high, unhurriedly, to gauge her reaction. What can she do but laugh at the absurdity of this dream? Her thoughts drift, influenced by the opaqueness, the frigidity of everything around her. She imagines she's been encased in a sheet of ice taken from Kyurem's massive body. She worries that if she makes the wrong move, if she says the wrong thing, the sheet of ice will break and destroy her with it. There's no choice but to play along. Not if she doesn't want her sanity to stray further.
“I don't know what you want from me, but you can't have it,” she says, trying for a hint of sarcasm. Her words come out closer to a stutter, and she's not sure what to make of it. The cryogonal buzz, and the noise brings her back to the present. Kyurem stomps its foot, and the vague tremors stop. Suddenly it's just the two of them. Disoriented, she feels lost once more.
“I am a pokémon that values progress above all else,” Kyurem says. “The truth is that there are limits to the amount of progress you can make. The ideal situation is that you stay ambitious throughout the course of your life, so that you do not lose heart and consequently lose yourself.” A pause. “You have lost heart, Annalena Willems. But I have brought you here so that I may assign to you a special task. You won't refuse. ...You won't because you can't,” it adds, its voice low, like an apprehensive growl.
An icicle, thorny and narrow, collides with the floor of the cavern, and the shattering sound summons an unwelcome reminder pertaining to her studies and desired career. Before fate twisted her in a different direction, she wanted to be a therapist. She wanted to help people overcome glaring obstacles and reach impossible goals. You won't because you can't. So said a part of her that believed that one's existence encompasses a fixed personality.
Kyurem's tone changes, now sour with a tinge of sincere concern. “I will admit I have been watching you. I know that you have acquired a certain... disinclination toward the concept of pokémon training, but you must endure a journey of your own.”
She makes an attempt to avoid Kyurem's gaze, but her neck is too stiff to move. Tears play at the corners of her eyes, and she blinks them away. She wonders which is worse, intrusive thoughts or knowing that trying to forget the past is useless. The trick to fighting the former, she knows, is not to resist, but to consider just the opposite.
“...I could also not hate pokémon, and actually enjoy going on a journey.”
“You, and many others like you, possess several traits that are vital to the success of this world. You will find and reform a team of pokémon that are dangerous to themselves and everyone around them.”
"Reform... pokémon?" It seems absurd. Pokémon are powerful, yes, but she can't imagine them acting maliciously or being self-destructive.
"But what about—"
"Your life? What about your life?”
The emphasis it places on each syllable causes her to flinch. She bites her lip. When she wakes up, she will struggle to do something so simple as sitting up. She will struggle to express her emotions, chew her own food, hold objects and even write her own name. She will gawk at her family and not have a clue about what they're feeling, even if it's obvious. She will not go to school anymore, or work toward her future.
It's only a matter of time until she dies.
The tremors return. She sighs in resignation. There's not much else to add when Kyurem knows how to hurt her.
"I promise to you a reliable, speedy recovery. If you succeed, I will provide a cure for the underlying problem."
"You can do that?" she asks, far too quickly.
"Yes. ...I will find a way."
If this is a dream, she will wake up disappointed when it's over. If not, she has a legitimate chance to redeem herself, in body and in spirit. But how does she know if she can trust Kyurem?
“Truth and ideals, Annalena Willems. Both revolve around trust, and everything that comes with it.”
Unconvinced, she whispers, “I'm going to die, aren't I?”
“I do not know that.”
“I'm going to die. Tell me how it happens.”
But Kyurem ignores her, its expression unreadable. “Seek out these pokémon. Capture them. Redeem them before it's too late. And I will reward you with what you want most.”
“I have nothing to lose, but—”
"Keep in mind that, should you fail or lose heart again, I will interfere in a way I think is most appropriate. ...With that said, it's time to start anew, Annalena Willems. Best of luck to you.”
"Wait! I have a few more questions!"
But an affirmation from her is all Kyurem had wanted. “We will meet again soon,” it says.
The legendary takes a deep breath, and in less than a second she's blown away. The cryogonal, which seemingly appear out of thin air, spit out ice beams and create a statue of her. As if they don't want her to leave. They aim the ice toward her and she screams, not from the danger, but from the familiar confusion in her muddled brain. It's the first true physical and emotional act she's portrayed in a long, long while.
She prays that it's just the first of many.