What a strange place.
How long has it been? Weeks? Months? Maybe… Maybe even years?
No… Much longer than that. It's been a lifetime. My entire life has been a road leading up to this.
It is warm, but I'm not melting. The air is stale, but I can still breathe. The center of the Earth is surprisingly gentle… Or perhaps something within this tower is intentionally keeping me alive? If so, what is to become of me once I leave? Ah, here's the next one…
What lies at the end of time?
"There is no end of time," I answer, "Time and space bend into themselves."
It's moving aside! Hah, got it on the first try! Take that, teacher! Fail me in physics, will you…
Physics… I miss those. I wonder, could a place like this even be theorized? Who would have thought this indescribable, physically impossible violation of the senses has lying beneath the mantle of the Earth all this time? Where's all the magma?
Another Riddle. This place has more riddles than Rock Way had rocks. Damn, I hope that's not the riddle, "How many rocks does Rock Way have?" I might have to turn back…
Which is the shortest Pokémon?
"Joltik," I say as clearly as possible. No sense in angering some ancient god by not speaking up, eh?
No response. Oh great, it's going be another one of those…
"Azurill! Budew! Shaymin… The Land forme, you know?" I list up from memory, the sturdy glyph remaining as immobile as ever.
"Natu! Diglett! Cingli…" I keep going, but trail off as the passage in front of me suddenly cracks open.
… Diglett? Really? Huh. At any rate, these riddles are in dire need of being updated. After what I've been through to get here, it would really suck to get stuck on a technicality.
Ahh… How much longer can I continue?
There's no day… There's no night…
Haven't eaten in forever…
Really shouldn't be anything but whitened bones by now…
Something's keeping me going, for sure…
Come on… Be done, already…
This glyph… It looks strange. It looks really shiny and pristine, not ragged and broken like those old ones. And beyond it… What on earth is that? Is this… Am I actually getting close to the end?
Who are you?
"A man," I answer quickly, hoping with all my might that the glyph would disappear. It did not.
"Human," I continue, "A sentient being. Possessor of the consciousness."
Nothing's happening? Damn it, of course they'd save the hardest riddle for last. Oh, don't worry, I've got plenty of time… I just hope there isn't a limit for how many tries I get, like those damn Stadium preliminaries.
"A part of life?" I ramble on, the definitions of humanity all creeping into my skull, "Anti-Pokémon? I think, therefore I am? A miserable little pile of secrets?"
Nothing's working. Stupid… Who am I? How the hell would you know!? You didn't even keep yourself updated on which the shortest Pokémon is! It's obvious who I am, but even if I said it you wouldn't… Wait… Maybe…
"… Ethan?" I state my own name, and much to my surprise, the glyph disappears and a passage is shown.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ethan looked warily at the new path. Whatever it was, it was nothing like anything he had ever seen before, constantly reshaping itself into incomprehensible visions through impossible motions. While he knew he had only gotten this far by being overly reckless, he thought it to be a poor idea to end his journey by being overly stupid. He reached out to try and touch it, noticing just how hairy his arm had gotten over the years.
His body seemed to be the only thing consistent in this abnormal world. Examining himself, he realized that he had barely lost a pound since entering, feeling a little let down considering all the strenuous work he had gone through. It was almost as if the past years had never happened, but the tatters and rags that were once his favorite set of clothes were a proper reflection of what had passed. He hoped a regal appearance was not a requirement where he was going.
It took him a moment to realize that he was now surrounded by the strangeness he had seen behind the glyph. He had not come to the passage quickly enough, so the passage had come to him. Ethan muttered, having hoped to take some manner of break before coming face to face with his target.
Suddenly, everything was starting to move. Hundreds of glyphs swirled past him as he sped through space and time. The feeling of a million particles poking him all over made Ethan shudder, and the vivid scenery which he could still not make sense out of made his heart palpitate.
At the end of it all, he could see a white creature. Everything began to slow down as the large being remained still, the world nudging the two of them closer to one another. It made no attempt to introduce itself, but Ethan knew without a doubt who it was.
"Arceus…" Ethan whispered to himself with both amazement and relief, slowly pointing his Pokédex forward. The high-technological encyclopedia bleeped once as it came to life, letting its metallic voice ring throughout the shapeless void.
According to the legends of Sinnoh, this Pokémon emerged from an egg and shaped all there is in this world.
"Heheh," Ethan snickered to himself, "How trivial. I suppose no mere description could match one such as yourself."
Ethan had seen very, very many peculiar works of nature in his time as a Pokémon trainer, but none had been quite as alien as Arceus. It stood on four legs and had a head at the end of a long neck, but every bit was as foreign as they possibly could be. Its legs were like spears that ended on feet as small as buttons, and Ethan knew they would be incapable of keeping balance in a world where physics prevailed. The head was long and slender, even more so than the neck it sat perched upon. If the back part was simply a nice hairdo or perhaps served as containment for its brains, Ethan did not know.
What caught his attention the most was a large star-shaped insignia attached to Arceus' stomach. It twisted itself to the side, and when it did all the white fur on the creature rustled and reformed itself into hard steel plating. Ethan barely had time to admire the now fully mechanical being before the star turned again, and the steel melted into glistening sweat, dripping off every edge and smelling like a gentle sea breeze.
"Ethan of man," Arceus suddenly spoke, "Know that I am no god of yours."
The voice was unlike anything Ethan had ever heard before. It was a mighty roar and a quiet whisper, invoking a sensation similar to that of when one hears a familiar piece of music played out of tune. It was a chirp from a Chikorita, a mutter from a Mismagius and a grunt from a Geodude all at the same time. Even so, there was not a trace of unease within Ethan, for he knew he had finally found who he had been looking for so long.
"You are Arceus," Ethan said and placed the Pokédex back at his ragged belt, refraining from rudely pointing too long at the mightiest Pokémon of all time, "You are what you are. Titles don't interest me."
"Alone, you have sought me," Arceus continued speaking, eyes unmoving as they suddenly shifted color from green and yellow to red and blue, "Alone, you have found me. Your desires are unclear."
"I have no intention of capturing you, or revealing your existence to the world…" Ethan responded, having spent quite a lot of time rehearsing what he was about to say, "I only ask for your assistance in a small matter of mine… Something only you can do."
Arceus stared at Ethan for a moment, its greenish body now sprouting plants and mushrooms all over. It was not the kind of stare that examined his appearance, but rather pierced right through him to determine what he was thinking and feeling.
"You are wise and have persevered," Arceus responded in an almost sad tone, "I shall heed your request."
Ethan smiled as he took a deep breath.
"Everything I know about Pokémon…" he spoke clearly, "… Make me forget it. Make it go away."
As difficult as it was to tell which manner of expression Arceus was wearing, Ethan had a feeling that his request surprised the ancient being.
"Why?" the old god asked, although there was not even a hint of curiosity present in the many voices it spoke.
"B-Because… Reasons," Ethan stammered, taken aback by the response, "You would care to hear the plight of a simple human? Can't you just make it happen?"
"No," Arceus said bluntly as his body shifted to a deep tone of black, the star around its stomach transforming into a complete void of light, "Prove that your wish is pure."
Ethan marveled at the Pokémon's display, realizing that Arceus was shifting between types at a whim. The idea that such ability would be far too overpowered for competitive battling crept into his mind before he cleared his throat and began to explain himself.
"In the beginning, Pokémon was but a fun game…" Ethan whispered while thinking back to his younger days, "I remember being so happy after receiving my first Pokémon… Defeating my first trainer… Winning my first badge."
His battle against Falkner was a memory that would never fade. It had been ferocious, no Pokémon to his name but a single Geodude and Chikorita. He had been forced to make do with what he had, and hung on by the skin of his teeth thanks to his own ingenuity and new discoveries about Pokémon. Comparing his humble beginnings to times not quite as distant, he found himself in possession of hundreds of Pokémon, all perfectly suited to combat any situation. The difficulty that had originally spurred him on had disappeared, and so had the excitement.
"I constantly fought stronger and stronger trainers in order to get a challenge…" Ethan continued as he wiped away a bit of sweat forming on his forehead, "But now, I've reached the peak. I'm the champion of the world. Now there is nothing left for me when it comes to Pokémon!"
Arceus remained silent, and Ethan wondered if the god even knew what he was talking about.
"Sure, I could go to a new region, find some new Pokémon, collect eight badges and beat the local Elite Four…" Ethan muttered before shaking his head and raising his voice, "… But I've done it all before! Several times! It will never be as exciting as the first time, so why bother!?"
He could not believe that this is where he had ended up. How could he have predicted that years after getting stomped by Whitney's Miltank, taking on Team Rocket with the help of Lance and facing the mighty Lugia in combat, he'd be wishing none of it had ever happened.
"What, this gym leader focuses on Electric Pokémon that are immune to ground-types?" Ethan grunted with an annoyed shrug, "Big whoop, I've already figured out 36 different counters, half of which I can pull off with Pokémon located right outside their doorstep. The Elite Four aren't challenging me anymore, I'm challenging them! Obsessing over a hobby like this… Is this the way life's meant to be? There must be more to it than this! How can I even dream of fulfillment when a single life is not nearly enough!?"
Ethan felt himself start to shake, finally being able to reveal what he had kept hidden to himself all this time. The pressure in the room seemed to be increasing, Ethan wondering if it was Arceus' doing or just his own waning strength. The god seemed unmoved as usual, but continued listening nonetheless.
"I've had enough of winning… I see no point in losing…" Ethan growled as he clenched his fists, "How long has it been since I felt defeat? How long has it been since I felt achievement…!? It's just an empty void now, one that has grown too big to contain and consumes my being! My head's so full of strategies, evolutions, movesets and type matchups, I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!"
As if on cue, Ethan felt the weight of his long travels hit him as his legs gave way, making him fall down to his knees. A sudden pang of sadness hit him, washing away his rage with regret.
"In the end, after all I did… I'm still nothing," Ethan wheezed as he lowered his head, "My Pokémon are stronger than me. My Pokémon are smarter than me. I'm just a simple brat with powerful friends…"
Keeping his head low in despair, a sudden smile cracked open on his face.
"… Hah… 'Friends'…" he muttered ironically, "I captured them and forced them to do my bidding in order to further my own ambitions. No matter how I look at it, my existence can only be holding them back from true greatness… Greatness I hoped to achieve one day, but never will…"
As much as he loathed frailness of his human body, he could not help but realize that the journey he had gone through would have killed him three times over if not for the sudden revitalization when entering the tower. He suddenly began to fret over his fate were he to ever leave it, but decided to keep pressing.
"Erase my mind," Ethan repeated while keeping his head low in a display of respect, "Cleanse it of everything involving Pokémon… I beg of you."
"I understand," Arceus finally said, a ripple causing its body to wave as if it were as hollow as the wind. At long last, it moved. It stepped towards Ethan with its long legs and on its impossibly small feet. Ethan stood up quickly, taken aback by the legendary's sudden decision.
"Wait, before that… While I'm here…" Ethan suddenly said as a thought hit him, "Could you… Make death an optional thing? Just for me?"
"No," Arceus replied, moving closer.
"R… Rid the world of disease?" Ethan stammered, taking in the imposing figure before him.
"No," Arceus repeated, moving closer still.
"There's, uh… No one higher up I can talk to about this, no?" Ethan whispered as Arceus was now directly in front of him, so close he could touch it. Not that he wanted to, seeing how the ancient being's body was now bubbling like lava and emanating enough heat to scald his face off. Hoping Arceus knew what it was doing, Ethan closed his eyes to shut out the final shred out doubt creeping into his mind.
In an instant, Ethan was overcome by the strongest feeling of déjŕ vu in his life.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
There he was, a little boy at the beginning of it all. A warm world full of smell and sensation. After much waiting and pleading, Ethan had finally been let in beyond the walls of Professor Elm's laboratory. Before his juvenile eyes stood a wide stretch of grass, trees and Pokémon beyond his wildest imagination.
"Amazing, is it not?" the young professor Elm boasted with a bright smile, "Not as big as Oak's, but size is not all that matters! This compressed environment allows me to study every step of Pokémon's evolution, which I use when continuing my work regarding…"
Ethan could not hear what the professor was saying, his heart pumping so hard he felt like he was going to faint from the pressure. A group of smaller Pokémon had spotted them and headed their way, Ethan trying vainly to take it all in as they stood and looked at him with curiosity.
"Come now, don't be scared!" Professor Elm while noticing the boy's nervousness, "They can tell if you're scared!"
Ethan knew, but could not help it. He had waited so long to get in there, and now part of him wanted to turn tail and run as far away as possible. His mind racing with conflicting wishes, something suddenly zoomed past his vision with blinding speed and grazed the top of his head, making him fall back in surprise.
Looking ahead, Ethan saw a slender, striped and fuzzy Pokémon running around in a circle. On its head was a very familiar black and yellow cap.
"Furret, no!" Elm chided, "That is not how we treat our guests!"
"Hey, that's mine!" Ethan yelled as he got to his feet, running towards the Furret who easily slipped out of the way. The other Pokémon were making mocking noises, obviously laughing at his plight.
"My mom gave me that, give it back!" Ethan pleaded as the Furret wiggled its butt at him and swiftly ran off, followed by the other Pokémon. He could not bother to give chase, feeling very weak in the knees. He had waited so long to be able to interact with Pokémon, and then they had turned out to be just as bad as the bullies he was trying to get away from. He sat down on the grass in defeat as Elm stood and scratched his head, not sure on what to do.
Suddenly, something bumped against Ethan's arm. Looking to his side he saw a Pokémon staring at his jacket, a Pokémon so small that he had missed seeing it up until now. Its green body blending well against the grass beneath, he would probably still not have been able to see it if not for the large leaf sitting on its head.
"Ah, a Chikorita! Perfect timing!" Professor Elm chimed with relief and gratefulness, "See? Pokémon are great, aren't they? You should definitively try to learn more about them, and one day you'll be a professor like me, both distinguished and a contributor within the…"
Ethan was not listening, focusing entirely upon the Chikorita next to him. He reached out and stroked its head which had a softly furry texture to it, feeling like pussy willow. Noticing his touch, the Chikorita looked up and stared at him with its glossy eyes, both tinted red.
"H-Hello," Ethan stammered, meeting the Pokémon's gaze. The Chikorita quickly leaped back and continued looking at him with wide eyes. He was not certain, but he got the distinct feeling that he had frightened it somehow.
"Oh, right, this one was born just recently!" Elm explained as he observed the Pokémon's behavior, "She's probably as curious about you as you are about her! Imagine that, Pokémon wanting to find out more about humans. Makes me wonder if there are Pokémon professor out there that are actually Pokémon… Hmm, I suppose they would call them human professors? Perhaps we could research…"
Once more Ethan zoned out as the Chikorita approached him carefully, the leaf on her head moving in the wind. He kept himself calm this time and held out his hand in a gentle gesture.
"Here," he said, suddenly noticing that he was smiling.
"Chiko?" the Pokémon chimed, looking at his arm.
"She… Cow?" he tried to emulate her, remaining as still as possible. The small Pokémon made no effort of moving closer, warily observing his arm as if it were to extend further and lash out at her. Ethan wanted to pet her again, but didn't know what to do.
"It's OK!" he said reassuringly, "I'm a grass-type, too!"
Leaning back, Ethan lay down flat on the grassy ground, stretching out his arms.
"She-Cow! She-Cow!" he called out, hoping he was making himself out to be a grass-type more than he thought, "I love grass!"
"It's pronounced Chi-Ko-Ri…" Elm started, but suddenly stopped himself. As unusual as that was, Ethan thought to look up to see why, when he suddenly felt a light weight tap down on his right leg. The tapping continued all the way up his body until he was staring at the Chikorita standing on his chest.
"Chiko?" she asked, obviously wondering what on earth he was doing.
"Chica!" Ethan tried to repeat, the small Pokémon stumbling as his chest moved and she lost balance.
"Ch-Ch-Chiko!" she stammered while trying to regain her footing.
"Ch-Ch-Chica!" he continued, causing even less stability as the Chikorita fell off him. Ethan quickly sat up to see that she had not been hurt. She had fallen on her back and seemed confused, looking up at him. A mischievous smile slowly cracked open the Pokémon's face as she wiggled to the side, before jumping up and tackling Ethan in the chest. He lost his breath as he was knocked onto his back again, the Chikorita eagerly jumping up and down on him.
"Again!?" Ethan gasped in surprise, gaining confidence in a second, "You're on! Ch-Ch-Chica!"
"Ch-Ch-Chiko!" she stuttered as she tried keeping her balance more steady this time. In just a few moments she had fallen off, both of them laughing wildly.
"Alright, you're getting good!" Ethan said as the Chikorita climbed on top of him once more, "Oh yeah, I gotta get my cap back! Can you help?"
There was no response. The warm world of smell and sensation began to disappear as thousands of future memories piled up on one another. Years of Ethan's life flashed by in a second, each event causing Chica's happy laughter to trail off. Then, everything stopped.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
There he was, a grown man at the end of it all. Having just ditched the crowning ceremony that would have pronounced him the greatest Pokémon trainer of all time, he found that his victory over Brendan and Red was the last thing on his mind. Since the beginning of the day, he had been busy releasing every Pokémon to his name. Watching his once vast empire crumble was nothing compared to the pain of saying farewell to all his friends. Many had been reluctant, and so he had begged… Lied… Even used force to make them to go out on their own. He had long been preparing himself for this day, and even though the bulk of it was gone, the most difficult part still remained.
"Only you left…" Ethan whispered, tossing away the deactivated Pokéball. The sun was setting in the distance, Ethan sitting on a rock out in the wilderness. Next to him stood his longtime companion and lifetime friend Chica, now a Meganium with a worried expression belying her great strength. She was not so small anymore, rather quite a bit bigger than he was. He remembered all too well how she had once been barely a quarter of his size as a kid, walking around on his stomach or lying in his lap and dozing off.
"So… You can go now," Ethan muttered, having no idea on how to say what had to be said, "Settle down… Raise a family… All that."
Unsurprisingly, Chica looked at him as if he was insane, vehemently shaking her head in disagreement. She had also known this day was coming for a while, and was not about to give up so easily.
"Please, Chica… Try to understand…" Ethan whispered and sighed, "I've matured. I used to be so naďve, travelling the world, fighting and capturing anyone I could find without a second thought…"
Chica shook her head again and said something in return. Having spent so many years with her let him understand the gist of it.
"You're right, I never did want to catch 'em all…" Ethan said while thinking of his past reasoning, "I always told you about unwritten rules… That some Pokémon were better off left alone…"
Shame ran through Ethan, thinking about what he had done. Standing up, he turned his back to his old companion, not sure he could continue talking if her were to see her saddened face for one more second.
"But… I was wrong!" Ethan said loudly while clenching his fists, "They were ALL better off left alone! I shouldn't have captured ANYONE!"
An unmistakable gasp from behind told him this is not what Chica had expected. He had told everyone else lies before releasing them, keeping them in the dark as to not hurt their feeling. But Chica, his oldest and most loyal friend deserved to know the truth.
"I wanted more Pokémon, more victories, more badges, more money, more adventure, more recognition…" Ethan counted up wearily, "I dragged you all around with me and had the audacity to think… To think I was doing you a favor…"
His voice broke up with the last sentence, making him realize that he was on the verge of tears. His heart pounded quite hard, and he wondered why it was so painful to openly admit something he had been thinking for so long.
"Even you… My best friend…" Ethan continued, making an effort to keep his voice steady, "You were given to me! You had to be with me whether you wanted to or not, to do my bidding until the end of times! Of course you would… Try not to hate me…"
This time, Chica protested. He could tell her voice was growing hoarse as she pleaded and begged with him, the words lost to him but their meaning all too clear. He was able to pick up one thing she said - That he that he was the best thing to ever happen in her life.
"That's… That's because I owned your life…" Ethan said with a bit of struggle, "I'm everything there is to it… And what your life could've been… I stole that away from you!"
Forgetting himself, he did the mistake of turning around. Instantly he turned back, the vision of Chica's devastated and crying face burned into his retinas. His confidence wavered as he thought of how much pain he was causing his oldest friend. Through the blistering peaks of Mt. Silver, they had stuck together. Within the murky darkness of Rock Way, they had stuck together. In unfamiliar territories with enemies on every side, they had stuck together.
This time, Ethan could not stop his tears. He knew all of that had been a result of his ambitions, his journey. Had he even once followed her? Gone somewhere she wanted to go? Endured hardships for her sake?
"I-I forced you to follow me around wherever I went…" he stammered weakly with regret, "If… If only I had asked… Where you wanted to be…"
Everything around him felt cold and dirty. Crying like a fool, he started shaking. Shaking in fear of leaving everything behind. Shaking in disgust at himself for how he had treated his so-called friends. Shaking in rage at fate for placing him in this cruel position.
Two vines wrapped around him as Chica came up from behind and leaned against him. She felt warm, and quickly Ethan's shaking subsided.
"… It would not have made a difference…" Chica whispered, her words as clear as the moon reflecting in her tears, "I… Have always been where I wanted to be…"
Ethan turned to face her, a forced smile reaching between her wet cheeks. He wished to make out every detail of what he was seeing, but the memory was coming to an end and the world around him was losing focus. Returning to the shapeless void, Chica's final words echoed through his head…