Ruined Chances
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“Tell me again about these strange Pokémon forms.”

The coffee had arrived, and for a minute both ladies forgot about the request. They took their time to enjoy each sip. Minerva’s was black with only a hint of cream, Kris’ with steamed milk and two sugars. Her half-rimmed glasses fogged up as she drank and Kris momentarily took them off. Her sapphire blue eyes, a shade darker than her hair, stared at Minerva kindly. Two scientists, of a kind, catching up and sharing discoveries.

A summer sun was slowly rising, as if to peek its head from beneath the earth and see if it was safe to come out again. It was early Sunday morning and the Battle Café was quiet, even outside where the two women sat. Empty chairs and tables awaited on the cobblestone street for customers, although at this hour the only customers the Battle Café would be serving were Marina “Kris” Arbutus and Minerva.

Minerva put her coffee down and finally addressed the earlier remark, raising an eyebrow. “My strange Pokémon, or the ones I found at your Temple?”

“Let’s start with yours,” Kris answered, pulling out a notebook and searching for an empty page. She grabbed behind her ear and pulled out a pen that nestled in her thick hair before continuing. “I must admit, Minerva, that I didn’t quite think you were of such sound mind the first time we talked. I apologise for not having paid more attention the first time.”

Minerva nearly snorted into her drink.

“Don’t even worry about it. Put in the same position I think I’d have ignored myself too.”

A teenage boy with shoulder-length hair walked by them and entered the Café. He paid the two women no mind, but that suited them just fine. Minerva and Kris smiled as they caught each other’s eyes. Young love takes hold of even the best of people, and Brandt was no exception.

“The truth is, I know more about your strange Pokémon forms than I know about mine. Mine are…just different? Not only their looks, but also typings, movesets, and natural habitats. But, you know ‑ I arrived here before anyone could find out more, and I haven’t been able to get in touch, obviously. They’re the reason I’m here…”

Kris toyed with her empty mug for a bit before asking, “And the ones at the Yangtze Temple? Are they not the same?”

“Do you mean to tell me,” Minerva asked, raising both eyebrows this time, “that you haven’t even been to see it?”

“Can you blame me? You’ve experienced first-hand the ridicule people place in anyone that takes that Temple seriously. Compared to the Arceus Temple in Nyasa, this one’s a tourist attraction, if that. Cultural Trubbish. Except that recently I’m not so sure…”

“What? Not sure that it’s all nonsense?”

“Well, yes,” Kris said, carefully pausing to wipe her glasses on a cloth from her pocket. “I don’t know that there’s anything relevant there anymore, but I’m starting to think there might be something more. No matter what people say, it’s quite an old place. It wasn’t built as an art gallery. If anything, it’s safe to assume that someone in the distant past believed these variants existed. Like you do.”

“You want me to have a deeper look.”

It wasn’t a question.

“It couldn’t hurt. Aria’s told me there are deeper components to it. Sealed ruins. Ones we never opened to the public, because they’re not entirely safe. But you can have access, you’ve proven more than once you’re capable of handling yourself.”

“Aria knows? About me?” As excited as Minerva was at the opportunity of finally finding answers, she had worked hard to stay anonymous in Vesryn. Too many questions could lead to the wrong ‑ or right ‑ conclusions.

“It’s hard to keep anything from her, you know. She’s not the Champion for nothing. Don’t worry, I haven’t told her anything you’ve said in confidence. Us foreign gals gotta stick together.”

“I’ll drink another coffee to that,” Minerva said, clinking her own empty mug against Kris’.

The rest of Minerva’s day was filled with the brightness of summer and possibilities.

***

Walking through the Ruins gave Kris the chills, and it was only partially due to the cold.

Winter was not kind to Yangtze Town, originally built as a small settlement by travellers who had braved the oceans to the north. Snow piled the rooftops of every house precariously high, and the gardens were blank white canvases. Residents and tourists alike could be spotted wearing heavy fur coats and thick gloves, with scarves hugging their faces tightly.

There was a stark, breath-taking quality to the purity of Yangtze’s winter, but staying too long to enjoy the view was likely to result in frostbite.

Underneath the town, below the Temple, were the Ruins. Icicles and stalactites hung from the cavernous ceiling like glittering decorations. A stray Vanilluxe hid between them, surrounded by the flying shadows within the cavern. Minerva and Kris each held a lamp, the light of the flame dancing between the icicles and casting an eerie glow in the darkness.

Rough carvings embedded nearly every available surface on the walls, depicting strange variations of familiar Pokémon. Alien symbols filled the open spaces between the crude drawings, a language lost to the cruel fetters of time.

A shiver ran down Kris’ spine and her body shook violently, though her body was plenty warm from the layers. Her glasses quivered but held to her face, the snow that had gathered on them from above tossed aside.

“This place gives me the creeps,” she whispered, her breath frosty. “How did you manage to stay here for six months?”

“Oh, you’ve gotta see it when it’s warmer. The amount of details in these designs…”

Kris ran her hands across a carving of a Houndoom. It was surrounded by fluffy fur, as if it had gotten in a fight with a snowstorm and lost. The tip of its tail held a candle with a flame larger than its snout. And beside it, the strange markings describing how ‑ or why ‑ this Houndoom looked so different to the one she was so familiar with.

She held her notebook in one hand, grabbed a pen from behind her ear with the other, and started writing with a furious speed.

“How long did it take you to decipher the runes?” she asked, not looking up from the notebook.

“This is pretty far out of what I’m used to. Turns out you can’t fight ancient text into being more readable.” Minerva laughed a little before pulling out her own notepad, waving for Kris to join her. “I even bought one of these! It took a while, but with a lot of determination – and headaches – I was able to make some progress. That’s why I wanted you to see this. I think I finally have something.”

She pointed towards a section of the wall that was mostly runes and hieroglyphics. There was excitement in her voice, but Kris also noticed fear etched in the lines of her forehead as she spoke. Maybe she was just as spooked down here in the dim cave.

“The first thing I did was try to figure out how far back these ruins date, because maybe then I could cross reference symbols from similar eras in history. But it turns out they’re far older than I thought. The machine I used nearly fried itself trying to give me an answer, and Wilson promised me it was his best one! I actually think this place dates back further than anything in any history book. And that’s crazy that it’s been this long and no one has noticed.

Minerva pointed to notes scribbled down and then at the wall again. “Then I spotted a few symbols that looked familiar and I cross-checked them, and started building a passable translation…”

Her breath hitched in her throat from the cold, and she paused before continuing. Or was it a genuine emotion she was holding back?

“The Pokémon depicted on these walls have different typings than the ones we’re familiar with, and the reason is…well, time. Time seems to be at the center of everything here. As far as I understand, this is what these Pokémon looked like originally. Through some natural state of evolutionary acclimation to their surroundings, they changed. It explains why they look different but not entirely unrecognizable. In some cases, like the Houndoom you were looking at earlier, it’s still a Fire type, but instead of Dark it’s also Ice.”

Kris looked up from her notebook but continued scribbling notes. “But how did it become a Dark type, then? What changed the Ice?”

“We might never know. These original versions of the Pokémon are extinct, I think. Probably forever. In all the history books I’ve looked through – and my god was that a bore – there is not a single mention of these variations, which makes me think the change happened before humans started documenting history. Maybe even before humans ever interacted with Pokémon.”

“It’s even possible interactions with humans were what triggered some of these changes,” Kris said, before turning back a few pages in her notebooks and writing a single word on the top of the page, circling it a few times.

Minerva leaned in to look, curious.

Origin.

“Origin?” she asked Kris, testing the word out. “I suppose that’s as good a name as any to give them.”

“It’s the simplest and clearest way to label them, really.” Kris looked at Minerva, a light giggle escaping her and echoing in the cave. “Besides, it sounds much better than ‘Delta Form’ or something silly like that!”

“Hmm.”

Minerva looked at the drawings of the ancient cave again, her thoughts almost visible on her face. She broke into a smile and gave Kris a nod. “I knew you’d love these drawings too! I just wish I understood more of them. Although at this point I’d rather leave it for the real scientists to figure out, I’ve had enough studying to last me a lifetime.”

“I know it’s your discovery ‑ this is just the name that sprung to mind. But I’m glad you like the term. Maybe it’ll stick.” Kris paused for a moment as something fell into place. It wasn’t what Minerva had said so much as what she didn’t. “But…if what you say is true, it means ‑”

Just like that, the mood had broken.

It wasn’t Kris’ fault, and Minerva had been dreading the confirmation since she’d discovered it. Still, it wasn’t easy hearing it said out loud. This time as she looked at the drawings on the wall, her stare was hard, almost accusatory.

“I found answers. Just not the ones I was looking for.”

“I’m sorry.”

***

They made their way out of the Ruins slowly, the cold biting their skin. They parted ways, travelling in different directions.

Minerva watched as Kris disappeared in the storm. She stood by the edge of the road beside a large tree whose branches were struggling to hold on to the snow, as more of it kept piling on from the constant flurries. With an anger that had been building up for days, she yelled into the white nothingness around her.

“Damn it!”

She turned to punch the tree once with a fury rarely seen in Yangtze Town. The only thing she accomplished was hurting her hand, leaving red splashes in the snow from the shallow cuts to her knuckles. With a grunt she kicked the tree trunk, eyes welling with unwanted tears.

The snow on the branch above teetered and fell, narrowly missing her. She pulled out something from her bag, nursing her hand, regretting her decision to punch the tree.

A picture.

Seeing it dissipated the anger, replacing it with a longing ache in her heart.

Looks like it’ll take longer than I hoped, she thought, staring at the picture as a lone tear froze on her cheek.

I’ll find a way back. I promise.

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