Pokémon Moon, Episode 17: In Which I Explore The Disreputable Side Of Reality

At the end of the Vast Poni Canyon, the sheer walls open out into an enormous crater, with a stone spire at its centre and a magnificent – albeit ancient and crumbling – staircase leading up to our goal, the Altar of the Moone.  The sun is setting when we arrive, and Hapu and her Mudsdale are already at the base of the grand staircase waiting for us… somehow.
“If you knew a faster way through the canyon, why didn’t you show us?” I complain as we walk up to her.  “This is sort of important.”  I pause for thought.  “Well, to them, anyway,” I add, jerking my head at Lillie and B.
“And deny you the opportunity to face your final trial?” Hapu asks.  “Our history tells us that the Vast Poni Canyon trial was the very first ever to be held… and you did a fine job clearing it, just as expected, Chris!”
“Only ‘fine’?” I respond, to a chuckle from Hapu and eye rolls from B and Lillie.
“Look at the three of you…” Hapu says, contemplatively.  “I think this might just work out… No, I am quite sure of it!”

The climb is long, and somehow feels like just as great a journey as the one we’ve just made through the canyon.  By the time we’ve reached the top of the thousand stairs to the altar, night has fallen and the moon is rising.  I turn to B and Lillie and shrug.  “Last chance to do the sane thing and turn around.”  Lillie balls her fists.
“I’m going to make my mother wake up and see reason.  I’m going to make her hear me; I’m going to tell her how I feel; even if I’m not a trainer, I can still do that much!”
“Suit yourself…” I look at B.  “How about you?  You don’t have to risk your life for Guzma; you don’t owe him a damn thing.”  He opens his mouth to speak, but I interrupt.  “Also, if you get hurt, Plumeria will murder me.  And…” I pause, and he motions to me to continue.  “And… I might let her.”  B looks me straight in the eyes, and his face softens a little.
“I gotta do this, yo.  If Guzma’s boys don’t look out for him, there ain’t no one else left who will.  ‘sides, you’ll look out for me too, right, homie?”  He’s still wearing his Team Skull bandana over his face, so I can’t see his mouth, but I can tell he’s smiling.
“You know, you could also leave, Chris,” Lillie points out.  “There are two flutes… I think we only need two people for the ritual… and you don’t have anyone in the beasts’ world to save.”  I’m tempted.  Very tempted.
“Weeeeeell, I’d like to, but… I may be a snarky, sarcastic, mean-spirited coward, but I still have a Pokémon trainer’s honour.  Besides, Hapu’s still down there watching.” I jerk a thumb at the base of the spire.  “If she sees me ditch you here, I’ll never live it down.”  I sigh.  “What the hell; let’s get this catastrophe on the road.”

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but what happens next was not it.

The appropriate positions for the ritual are easy enough to identify.  In front of us is a circular dais, presumably where the legendary Pokémon will appear when summoned.  Past that, there is a raised stage with channels cut through it, water running from some unseen spring through the channels, around two square platforms, and down into a drain somewhere beneath the dais.  Over it all looms a huge stone disc icon with the ancient Alolan moon sigil carved into it.  On either side of the stage are two obelisks, the one on the right capped with another moon sigil, the one on the left with the Alolan sun sigil – these must mark which flute is supposed be played on which side.  Lillie claims that the Sun Flute feels made for her, so she takes the left position, leaving me to take the Moon Flute on the right.  We start playing together – Lillie producing a haunting, enchanting melody, while I manage a sort of flat, distressed honking noise that makes both Lillie and B cringe.  Fortunately, musical ability turns out to be strictly an optional extra to invoking the powers of the Sun and Moon Flutes.  I suppose I expected that, at this point, Lunala would tear its way into our universe through another Ultra Wormhole, bringing with it the infinite night described in the ancient Alolan texts.  Perhaps there would be a peal of thunder; perhaps the earth would shake; perhaps Lillie would be possessed and try to destroy the world.  Certainly I expected that we might need to battle the legendary Pokémon and subdue it before it would do our bidding.

I did not expect Nebby to wriggle his way out of Lillie’s backpack, float to the centre of the dais, and crack open his metallic “shell” in an explosion of stellar plasma.  Nor did I expect his gaseous body to grow, twist, and condense into a huge, dark bat-like shape, its wings a midnight void sparkling with infinite stars.

Calling him a “mouthy little $#!t” that one time may have been a slight miscalculation on my part.

“Nebby!” Lillie cries, dropping the Sun Flute and rushing up to the dais to speak to Lunala.  “Th-thank goodness… you’re all right… Please don’t ever do that again!”
“Mahina-pea!” Nebby trills happily.  Mahina – I know that word; it means “moon” in several of the Polynesian languages.
“Not in all of my reading… Never did I ever come across any hint that you would evolve into the Legendary Pokémon…” Lillie says in wonderment, reaching up with one hand to touch the hovering Pokémon.  I cough politely.
“We have a job to do,” I remind her.  Lillie looks around, blinks, and then remembers herself.
“Please, Lunala… No… Nebby.  Please.  I need to see my mother!”
“And- and I need to see the boss!” B interrupts.  Nebby glares at B, the stars in his wings shining brighter for a minute.  “Uh… please.”  Nebby floats in place silently for a few seconds, as if deep in thought, then suddenly rises into the air, cries out, and lifts his crescent wings over his head to form a circle.  With another warbling cry, he fires an energy beam at the rock spire, bringing an Ultra Wormhole into being.
“Well, that was easy,” I say, and take a step towards the wormhole.
“Uh… I don’t think that’s what Nebby has in mind,” Lillie interrupts.  I turn around.
“What do you m-?”  Before I can finish speaking, Nebby cries out again and swoops, snatching up me, Lillie and B and flying straight into the wormhole.  We pass the threshold, and reality falls apart around us.

When the world stops spinning and my head is no longer filled with flashing lights, I look down to discover, to my delight, that I still have all my important body parts.  Lillie and B, by the looks of it, still have theirs too – as does Nebby, who is floating serenely above us.  Normalcy ends there.  We seem to be in a vast cavern of grey-black stone, filled with pillars of the same rock studded with crystals in a range of dark greens, blues and purples, all lit from above by a distant opening in the cave ceiling.  The stone under our feet has an odd, yielding and almost organic quality to it, and my body feels ever so slightly heavier.
“…well, we’re not dead…” I say cautiously, worried that saying it out loud will provoke the universe to contradict me.  “Although some warning would have been nice,” I add with a glare at Nebby.
“Mahin-aaaa!” he replies indignantly.
“It’s… more beautiful than I would have expected…” Lillie says, gazing around at the glinting crystal formations.  “But the air is so thick here… it… almost hurts to breathe…”  I take a deep breath through my nose, then rummage in my backpack for a match.
“The atmospheric composition could be different to… well… Earth’s.  Honestly it’s a wonder we’re not all choking to death on chlorine fumes or something.  Maybe just higher oxygen levels…”  I strike the match, and watch the flame, which burns a brilliant orange.  “Could be 35% or so.  We shouldn’t stay too long, but we, uh… should be fine.  I think.”
“This place is lit, yo,” B comments.  “We gotta gank some of these crystals; we can flip ‘em for big bucks when we get back to Alola.”  I look at him curiously.  “Uh… I mean… that Professor of yours’ll be left in the lurch, if we don’t get him some of these to research.”
“No, no, I like the first idea,” I reply.  “Kukui’s never paid me a cent for this $#!t, and I doubt he’s going to start now.”  B chuckles mischievously and starts prodding at one of the crystal formations.  Meanwhile, Lillie is staring out into the cavern.  There are several of the jellyfish-like Ultra Beasts we’ve seen before floating placidly through the air in the distance.
“Do you think the Ultra Beasts really are Pokémon…?” Lillie wonders.
“Your mother seemed to think so; she’d probably know best.”
“But what do you think?”
“…I think we should go and find her.  Come on.”  As we set off into the cavern, Nebby cries out again.
“Mahina-a-a-a pe-e-a-a!”  Lillie turns around.  Nebby hasn’t moved.
“What is it?  Are you telling us you have to stay there?”
“Mahina pea!”
“It’s possible that Nebby has to maintain concentration on a specific time and place in our world in order to return us there…” I speculate.  “If we disturb him too much we could all wind up in feudal Ransei… or worse.”  Lillie’s eyes widen.  “Uh… I’m just guessing, of course.”  Barely reassured, she turns back to Nebby.
“I’m… I’m so grateful to you for bringing us here, Nebby.  Thank you!  I guess I have to go the rest of the way myself.”
“Yo, homies!  Get over here!” B’s voice echoes from around a corner.

Lillie and I dash in the direction B’s voice is coming from, and find him face to face with Guzma – evidently in the middle of an argument.  Guzma hears our footsteps and looks over at me.
“You too?  How in the world did you even get to this place?” he demands.
“Same way as you did,” I reply.  “Nebby.”  Guzma doesn’t seem to hear me, just shakes his head and starts pacing in front of us.
“I think the boss is losin’ it,” B says quietly.  “This place is gettin’ to him; we gotta get him out of here.”
“It’s all dark here…” Guzma says fretfully.  “There’s beasts everywhere… I tried to catch one of those… those things!”  He jabs a finger towards the Ultra Beasts floating in another part of the cavern, then laughs uneasily.  “But it… it possessed me!”
“Possessed?” I ask.  Guzma’s head snaps around and he looks straight at me, eyes wide.
“My body!  My mind!  They started running wild, and I couldn’t do anything about it!”  He wrings his hands.  “It was like I became someone else, and I finally felt what fear feels like!”
“Your mind?”  That’s worrying.  “Listen very carefully, Guzma; this could be important – when you say ‘possessed,’ do you mean the creature actually entered your body, or that it manipulated you from afar?  Were you physically unable to control your body, or did you actually find yourself thinking and wanting things that you normally wouldn’t?  Could the same thing have happened to the President?”
“The President?!” That somehow scares him even more.  “She’s on another level!  She’s way far gone!  And the rest of us will be too if we stay here!”
“Yo, boss-” B says, trying to calm him down.
“This place’ll get us all; we’ll all go mad-”
“-and we’re all gonna die here, or worse!”
“There’s no one scarier than big bad Guzma, and those things that live here, they- they turned my head inside out, man!  It’s game over!  We-” Suddenly, so quickly I hardly see it, B curls his right hand into a fist and punches Guzma square in the face.  Guzma flinches back, clutches a hand to his face, but says nothing – just stares in shock at B… and promptly collapses, unconscious.
“Shut up!” B shouts.  Lillie gasps and looks back and forth between me and B, her eyes begging me to say something.  B notices her shock.  “He had it coming,” he explains with a shrug.  “I’mma haul this fool back to Nebby ‘fore he wakes up.”  I just stare, gaping, at him as he grabs Guzma by the feet and drags him back in the direction we came from.  Finally, I turn to Lillie.
“…I hope you were paying attention there; it’s your mother’s turn next.”

There are five of the jellyfish-like Ultra Beasts in the next chamber of the cavern.  Lillie and I approach cautiously.  It’s hard to tell whether they can sense us, since they don’t have any visible eyes and don’t really acknowledge us – until I start hearing their otherworldly demonic whispers.  I can’t distinguish any actual words or language, but an impression of their meaning comes across anyway: curiosity, tempered by recognition of something familiar, and a troubling sense of acquisitiveness.  They dance around each other for a few moments, then line up in a column and abruptly disappear into thin air.  Seconds later, one of them reappears – with Lusamine at its side.
“Look at it…” she says, making a sweeping gesture.  “The world of my Ultra Beasts… So beautiful… This is the real paradise… A world where the only thing that exists is the love between Nihilego and myself.”
“Nihilego,” I repeat.  “That’s what you’re calling… it?  That’s its name?”
“Of course… the Aether Foundation hypothesised Nihilego’s existence and assigned it a name months before we observed it directly, and we’ve learned so much more since then…”
“Nihil… ego…” I repeat again.  “That which annihilates the self…” The creature’s distant voice whispers around the corners of my mind.  I sense acknowledgement, satisfaction in an apt description.  Lillie and I exchange an apprehensive glance.  Lusamine notices, and laughs.
“You think I’m in danger here, don’t you?  What a preposterous notion.  Just leave.  I don’t need you here.  Look around you!  Look at this beautiful world that I’ve finally come to!  You can’t really expect me to go back!”
“You always do this…” Lillie says sadly.  “Only thinking of yourself and what you want…”
“And why shouldn’t I!?” Lusamine retorts.  “I can live here in a world filled with only the things that I love!”
“Because life isn’t about being surrounded by things you love,” I admonish her.  “Life is about resentment, ennui, and pain.”
“Wh-?  No it isn’t!” Lillie protests.  I flash her an indignant glance.
“Whose side are you on?  Ma’am, if you don’t come back to Earth to keep making Lillie’s pathetic existence a living hell, I’ll have to do it, and I deeply, sincerely cannot be bothered.”  Nihilego starts whispering past the insides of my ears again.  This time I sense haughty amusement and icy indifference.  “Listen, without conflict and change, all growth stops.  If you hide in this world from your duties, from your responsibility for your past actions, you are surrendering your potential and your power for an illusion.”  I pause for thought.  “I mean, unless you’re raising an army of Ultra Beasts to conquer the Earth.  Like, in that case I’d have to respect your ambition, and I guess the world could do worse as far as tyrannical dictators go…”
“Whose side are you on!?” Lillie demands.
“Keeping my options open,” I mutter to her.  “You never know; there could be a sweet Dark Princess gig in it for you.  The white may have been a short-sighted fashion choice, but we can work with it.”  Speaking aloud to Lusamine again, I continue.  “Are you really willing to give up every chance you could have of changing the world, for better or worse?  The world your son will grow up in?  Your daughter?”  Lusamine responds with a haughty harrumph.
“I don’t care if she is my child or not.  I don’t even care anymore if she was loyal to me or not!  She is irrelevant!  She’s simply not beautiful enough to be worthy of my love, and I don’t need her!”
“What does that even mean?  What kind of whacked-out standards of beauty are you applying here that your vision of the sublime is a faceless demon space-Tentacruel!?” I pick up a surge of abject confusion from Nihilego, a sense that it should feel insulted but isn’t quite sure why.  Lusamine just turns up her nose.
“I don’t expect you to understand.  Being exposed to Nihilego’s perfection can be overwhelming for people with… limited abilities.  Just look at poor, useless Guzma back there.  Only my boundless love is worthy of its beauty… just as only it could ever be worthy of me.  I’m just sick and tired of lesser beings… sick of Guzma, sick of you, and most of all, sick of my so-called daughter.”  She turns her head away and waves her hand as if to dismiss us, but Lillie is having none of that.
“I am the one who is sick of you, mother!” she explodes.  She seems to have caught her mother’s attention again, but just barely.  “Children are not just… just things that belong to their parents!  Cosmog and I are not things for you to collect, like in your horrible stasis vaults!  We’re not made for you to just discard when you get bored with us!”
“How am I different from any Pokémon trainer?” Lusamine counters.  “What do you do with a Pokémon you can’t use?  You remove it from your party, as you please – just as I did with you.  Back when you were small, and would listen to everything I said, you were adorable to me!  But you’ve become ugly.  Ever since you met this boy… and learned to defy your own mother!”
“Uh-?  Wait, leave me out of this one!  Lillie stole Nebby and ran away before she even met me; you are way overestimating my influence on her there!  Uh, ma’am.”  Lusamine glares at me, as if only now realising who I am and why I’m here.
“Chris!  You hateful little trainer!  How dare you intrude upon this world that was meant for Nihilego and me!  It is not to be borne!”  Nihilego’s psychic whispers turn hostile and acidic.
“Meant for-?  Ma’am, with all due respect, you’re a scientist; you’re an ecologist, for goodness’ sake!  You don’t belong here, none of us do; you must know that.”  Lusamine laughs, high and mocking.
I don’t belong here?  Finally I am exactly where I belong!  And with Nihilego’s power, I will show you how wrong you were to come here!”  The Nihilego floating next to her flickers out of existence, and its dark whispers instantly retreat from my mind, leaving an ominous silence.  Lusamine draws a strange electric-blue Pokéball from inside her dress, and throws it high into the air above her, releasing another Nihilego – this must be the one she summoned at the Aether Paradise.  I prepare for battle, motioning to Lillie to get behind me, but Lusamine seems to have other ideas.  Instead of ordering an attack, she lifts her arms into the air towards Nihilego, grinning widely as it descends towards her.
“…what is she doing?” I ask Lillie, but she just shrugs helplessly.  Abruptly, Nihilego drops over Lusamine’s head, enveloping her body in its hanging tentacles.  Its blue-white body goes dark, and Lusamine’s hair shimmers as it goes from blonde to purple.  Nihilego’s tentacles bulge, becoming muscular and powerful, and the two of them rise up into the air together.  “…oh $#!t.”  Lusamine laughs, and her voice echoes through our minds like Nihilego’s, but a dozen times louder and more forceful.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to discuss an amicable-”  Lusamine gives a crazed shriek of laugher and hurls another Pokéball, calling out her Clefable, before sweeping one of Nihilego’s tentacles around to create an energy eddy that condenses around Clefable in the form of a blazing aura like those of the Totem Pokémon.  “If we die here, I swear I’m going to kill you,” I warn Lillie.  “With something heavy and covered in spikes.”

Lusamine’s Pokémon are powerful, and her bizarre demon magic makes them nearly overpowering.  Her Clefable trades Moonblasts for my Toucannon’s Beak Blasts for several minutes, constantly healing itself with Moonlight, before eventually being worn down.  My Decidueye takes a nasty hit from her Mismagius’ Mystical Fire, but manages to strike it down with a Spirit Shackle.  After the bout with Clefable, my poor abused Toucannon only manages to wound Lusamine’s Lilligant before being splattered with a Petal Dance, leaving Golisopod to finish it off with First Impression.  Golisopod reaches an almost total stalemate against the embodiment of evil, Bewear, thanks to Brick Break’s pathetic damage against Bewear’s cloth body and the stalling power of Bewear’s Pain Split.  Eventually I decide to revert to the universal stratagem – Kill It With Fire – and send in Salazzle to burn it to a crisp.  Finally, Lusamine’s Milotic comes out, and manages to hold out for a while against my Decidueye thanks to its Recover technique, but never manages to take the offensive for long and eventually falls.  Lusamine herself grows more and more incensed with every loss.  After recalling her Milotic, she assaults my psyche with another eldritch scream and surges forward to join the battle herself.
“HOLD IT, HOLD IT, HOLD IT!” I yell at her, holding up one hand in a ‘time out gesture.  She freezes in mid-air.
“WHAT!?” she demands in her terrible echoing voice.
“You’re the trainer.  You’re not supposed to be part of this battle.”
“Even so, it’s cheating for a trainer to directly engage his or her opponent’s Pokémon, according to the official rules of the International Association of Pokémon Leagues, section 33, paragraphs 6 through-”
“YOUR PETTY REGULATIONS ARE OF NO CONCERN TO US!”  Lusamine lifts one of Nihilego’s tentacles, gathering power for some kind of energy attack.  “NOW YOU DIE!”
“Well, it was worth a shot… Brace yourselves!” I shout to Lillie and Decidueye.  But… the blow never comes.  With a piercing screech, Nebby flies in out of nowhere and pulls up in front of Lusamine, who flinches back in shock.  His wings incandescent with an infinity of stars, Nebby screams his lungs out in Lusamine’s face and bombards her with waves of moonlight.  Nihilego’s body begins to tremble, and Lusamine looks down at herself in rising panic.  I’m half expecting her to shout “no, this cannot be!” when finally, in a burst of violet light, Nihilego separates from her and retreats to its Pokéball.  Lusamine, standing alone, sways and collapses on the ground.  Lillie rushes forward.
“Mother!  Mother!”  She kneels at Lusamine’s side and leans over her, trying to tell whether her mother is breathing.  Lusamine’s eyes flicker open.
“Lillie…” She reaches up weakly and strokes the side of her daughter’s face.  “When did you… start becoming beautiful…?”  Her hand falls and her eyes close again.
“Is she…?” I ask.  Lillie frantically reaches down and feels for a pulse.
“She’s alive… But we have to get her out of here.”
“We gotta get ourselves outta here, homies!” B shouts, rounding a corner and dragging Guzma’s limp body by the leg, bouncing like a ragdoll.  Three Nihilego float after him, emanating an eerie pulsing glow.  “We done overstayed our welcome, no joke!”
“Uh… Nebby?” I ask.  Another two Nihilego blink into view ahead of us; we’re surrounded.  “We got what we came for.  Time to go!”  Nebby lifts his crescent wings into a circle and cries out, and reality shatters around us all over again.

When we rematerialise at the Altar of the Moone, Hapu is there waiting for us, and helps us see to Lusamine and Guzma.  Guzma quickly comes to, and gives B an aggrieved look that is immediately stifled by an ominous stare.  Looks like Team Skull is no longer his personal plaything.  Lusamine seems to be in much worse shape.  Her breaths are shallow, her skin clammy, and she doesn’t respond when we try to wake her.  At Hapu’s command, the chastened Guzma helps B to lift Lusamine and carry her down the steps of the Altar.  I’m about to follow, when Lillie calls me back to the dais, where Nebby is waiting expectantly.
“Listen, Chris… Nebby and I have been talking it over, and… I want you to face Nebby as only a trainer can.  I want you to give him a ball to call home.”  I stare at her in confusion for a few seconds before it clicks.
“What, you mean a battle?  And… capture Nebby?”  She nods solemnly.
“I know that Nebby… doesn’t want this journey to end.  And I want you to grant that wish!”
“Um.  Not that I’m not flattered by the offer, but… what about you?  You’re basically Nebby’s trainer already; capturing him is sort of a formality at this point.”
“But I’m not a trainer.  I can’t take Nebby on adventures, or give him fierce battles… I-”
“Sure you can.  He can be your starter Pokémon.”  I look up at Nebby, floating peacefully above the summoning dais, basking in the light of the full moon.  “I mean… he’d be an… unconventional choice, I’ll give you that, and in any other region the Pokémon League would probably kick up a stink, but the Alola League is basically just Professor Kukui at the moment.  And besides, there are… extenuating circumstances.”
“Happens more often than you’d think.  Kids with Pokémon-related backgrounds – whose parents are trainers, or professors, or whatever, or there was this one kid back in Kanto one time who was raised by wild Kangaskhan…” I shake my head.  “Story for another time.  The point is, sometimes kids befriend wild Pokémon before they’re old enough to be trainers, and the Indigo League takes a relaxed attitude if they decide to become partners when the time comes, even if they’re… not what you’d call traditional starter Pokémon.”
“But- but I’m not ready to be a trainer!  And… I’m not ready to go on another journey.  My mother… I need to stay with her, make sure she’s all right…” I sigh.
“Fine, fine, I get it.  Nebby comes with me.  I’ll take care of him.”  Lillie smiles widely and starts to thank me, but I hold up a hand to silence her.  “But let’s make one thing clear; I am just watching him temporarily, until his real trainer is ready to travel with him again.  Deal?”  Lillie gets a worried look on her face for a second, but then smiles again.
“Deal.”  I pull a spare Pokéball from my bag and hold it up to Nebby.
“Deal?” I repeat.  Nebby trills happily, does a loop in mid air, and vanishes into the ball.

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