Limited time, limited abilities. Kyurem says she can be cured in exchange for saving those who need saving.
- prologue - in the ice cavern
chapter one. time to start anew
chapter two. at first sight
chapter three. playing nice
chapter four. vainglorious orphan
chapter five. maps for the getaway
chapter six. how to take a stand
chapter seven. the center of adrenaline
LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES
Find what you love and let it kill you.
– Charles Bukowski
in the ice cavern
At the top of a dying stone cavern, adorned with nothing but eroding pedestals and dripping icicles, Kyurem waits for her.
Her movements are automatic. She climbs the cavern's steps with an unrecognizable, sudden strength that comes to her out of sheer willpower. Her legs shake due to the tremors echoing in the pervading darkness. It takes most of her energy to avoid the knee-deep cracks in the rocky floor. Things are not that simple, here, says the presence of a legendary. The emptiness of her surroundings emphasizes how a sense of extravagance is missing.
It's cold, too, the kind of cold you don't notice until it's already consumed you. Puffs of freezing air cloud her vision as exertion forces her to breathe. Soon she sees statues blocking her path as they levitate in front of her. They look like snowflakes, but she sees gleaming blue eyes as well as a soft blue mist wafting about. They must be ice-type pokémon. She gets the feeling they don't see humans all that often. One of them comes near her, and a crystal hanging from its underside reaches out. It's warm to the touch and then it vanishes, leaving steam in its wake. The rest of the cryogonal ignore her and float around, growing closer and closer to Kyurem.
As she reaches the cavern's peak, it occurs to her that she's dreaming. The realization explains why she's unusually calm, and she appreciates the dullness. She's always liked the winter for the fleeting, boring moments amidst her eccentricities. Holidays are a special bonus. She's reminded of her little sister, who begs for a pokémon each year but always opens her presents with clear disdain. Her little sister would be jealous of this dream, and she would give anything to trade places with her sibling. She's confident in this decision until Kyurem speaks to her.
"Annie Willems," Kyurem says. The legendary's harsh voice almost destroys her balance. It knows her name, and because she isn't sure how or why, she stares at the creature quietly. Sharp, damning teeth jut out of its mouth. What's more menacing is its demonic yellow eyes and its wings, spiked with ice on the ends. Without these features, she doubts that Kyurem would be as foreboding as it wants to be. Its short arms are laughable and it wouldn't be so tall, were it not standing on two feet. This is the image she holds on to, though it's not difficult to stay composed.
Kyurem howls, as if it can read her thoughts.
"Here I am!" she says. There goes her wild side again. Her parents always wanted to keep it contained. When they finally got their wish, they couldn't look at her without crying. It feels good to be herself again, but she knows she'll wake up soon and return to normal, whatever that means for her.
"Do you know why you are here, Annie Willems?" it asks, turning its misshaped head around like she's supposed to notice something. She doesn't notice anything except the other pokémon staring at her with anticipation and the way the place is shaking. Crumbling.
"This is a nightmare disguised as a dream of sorts, I would say."
"I can assure you that that is not true. This is real." She expected for Kyurem to say as much. "I've brought you here for a special reason," it continues. "I need you, Annie Willems. I need you to do something important for me.”
It seems cliché, too unreasonable to be true. What can she do but laugh? She doesn't laugh because Kyurem has lulled her into a state of passiveness. It's as if she's encased in a sheet of ice taken from its massive body, and she's afraid she'll break if she makes the wrong move. She has no choice but to play along if she doesn't want her sense of well-being to stray further away.
"And what's important task you have for me?" she says, trying for a hint of sarcasm. It feels unnatural and real at the same time, and she's not sure what to make of it. The cryogonal release a buzzing noise that grounds her to the present moment. The tremors stop, and suddenly it's just the two of them.
"Tell me that you are paying attention, if you would." Kyurem sounds forlorn. If she were a legendary pokémon, she would appreciate her antics in the middle of a serious situation.
"Of course I'm paying attention. You can't tell? Aren't you supposed to have great powers or something?"
"My powers have become weak. Do you know anything about my kind?"
"Is there more than one of you?" She shivers at the idea, but then maybe her little sister could have her own version of this dream...
"There should be. I am a pokémon that values truth and ideals above all else, but the world is now full of dishonesty. Humans and pokémon alike go out of their way to do what is easiest for them rather than what is right."
She wants to think of examples from her own life, but her memory is, at best, scattered. Images merge together and skew her past. She can only remember specific things, such as her favorite cartoon from childhood and the color of her mother's hair. No one would believe a story like that if she told it to them a million times. If Kyurem gave her the choice, she would escape this place and say none of it ever happened.
She nods. With that alone, she can understand, but then it hits her. Before fate twisted her in a different direction, she wanted to be a therapist. She wanted to help people overcome obstacles and reach impossible goals. She nods again, this time with more effort.
"I have been watching you, Annie Willems. This I will admit. ...I know you are sick. I know you do not want to go on a pokémon journey as well, but I must ask you to do that for me."
"What does that have to do with anything?" She can't look at Kyurem as she says this. Her sickness is something she had pushed aside up until this point. The pokémon journey is more appealing, but not by much.
"I am asking you and many others like you, Annie Willems. You have certain admirable traits that make you vital to this world. I need you to 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 being malicious or self-destructive.
"But what about—"
"Your life? What about your life? Aren't you working with limited time... and limited abilities?"
Kyurem's tone strikes down like a hammer. She bites her lip. When she wakes up, she will sit up and immediately feel drained. She will struggle to speak, eat, read and write. She will look 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.
"True," she says, sighing. There's not much else to add when Kyurem knows how to hurt her.
"If you do this for me, I will promise a reliable, speedy recovery. And if you succeed, I will provide a cure for the underlying problem."
"You can do that?" The words are out of her mouth before she can think them through.
"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 start over and pick up where she left off. Kyurem looks at her with a serious expression. She knows that she needs to answer fast or the chance will slip through her fingers, as dreams often do.
She tries to grin. "Will my first pokémon be a regular starter?"
At this, Kyurem frowns. "A... starter?"
"You're a legend and you don't know? I'm from Sinnoh. Trainers start with, uh, chimchar, a penguin, some grass-type... Pretty standard, really."
"I have chosen you not only for your personality and tactics, but also for your location. You will know the pokémon you must help when you see them. They are pokémon native to Unova, stuck in Sinnoh for varying reasons. Seek them out. Capture them. Redeem them before it's too late. And I will reward you with what you want most."
"I have nothing to lose, so..." She shrugs, unsure of what to say next.
"It's time to start anew, Annie Willems," Kyurem interrupts. "Best of luck to you."
"Wait! I have a few more questions..."
“We will meet again soon.”
An agreement from her is all Kyurem wanted. The legendary takes a deep breath, and in less than a second she's blown away. The cryogonal spit out ice beams and create a statue of her, as if they don't want her to leave. Then 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 time.
She prays that it's just the first of many.