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A Blond Ray of Sunshine (12/8/2019: Chapter 31)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Antoshi, Sep 21, 2017.

  1. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 7


    “Not bad,” Elise remarked, as she reached for a new Poké Ball. “However, this battle is nowhere near done. Go, Krookodile!”

    From the light of the open ball she threw came a bipedal, red crocodile with black stripes and small, menacing eyes. It remained completely still, staring at Fireball with a savage glare. The look of bloodlust in its eyes served to frighten Fireball. His eyes widened, a sense of dread sweeping through him. Its ability, Intimidate, lowered Fireball's overall physical strength.

    “Krookodile, Protect!” she commanded.

    Like Hippowdon before it, Krookodile's body was embraced by an impenetrable shield of blue light.

    Antoshi heaved a sigh of frustration. At the same time, Fireball's cough was getting worse. The pain of being in the sandstorm gradually bit harder. The duo weren't able to do anything other than wait until Krookodile's shield dissipated. Once it did, Antoshi smirked.

    “Let's give them a little surprise, Fireball!” he said. “Focus Blast!”

    Elise's eyes widened. She was surprised by the sheer variety of attacks the Typhlosion knew.

    While the move's Fighting type would be very effective against Krookodile, it was also inaccurate due to Fireball's lack of experience in using the maneuver. Fireball held his forepaws to one side, spacing them just far enough apart to summon a rapidly growing ball of bright blue energy. Fireball steadied his ragged breathing, taking aim at his target.

    Elise narrowed her eyes, reading Fireball's movements to predict when he was about to strike.

    “Move!” she commanded just before Fireball thrust forth the ball of energy.

    The attack covered the distance between them in a heartbeat, flailing erratically through the air while doing so. Krookodile dove to the side, narrowly avoiding a glancing blow. The energy ball vanished harmlessly upon striking the wall behind Elise.

    “Crunch, Krookodile!” Elise shouted.

    A sense of dread swept over Antoshi. He clenched his teeth, his eyes full of panic as Krookodile sprinted toward Fireball. Krookodile hissed as it opened its long maw, its teeth glowing white with a magical energy.

    ‘Please don't let this be the end …’ the boy thought, bracing at the same time Fireball did.

    Its powerful jaw snapped shut on Fireball's shoulder, digging its rows of sharp glowing teeth in. Fireball shouted in pain, fighting to shove the flailing beast off of him.

    The damage was already done by the time Fireball escaped its jaws. He fell to a knee, holding his bloodied shoulder as Krookodile headed back to its side of the field.

    “Fireball!” Antoshi shouted in concern. “Are you okay?!”

    With a pained look on his face, Fireball forced a grin and nodded.

    Fireball's grueling struggle was obvious. Very rarely had he seen his best friend in such dire straits. It upset him and worried him. Antoshi clenched his trembling fists, pondering a tactical surrender. Yet, Fireball's eyes burned with a powerful sense of surefire confidence. The Typhlosion's gaze stirred up memories of their dream to make it to the top.

    ‘This is our life's work you're facing — our heart and soul!’ Antoshi recalled himself proclaim proudly.

    'We're gonna win it all, and win it big! I can't wait to see how big the tournament stage is at the Indigo Plateau. Are you excited, too?' Fireball had asked him not all that long ago.

    Antoshi slowly exhaled, closing his eyes for a moment to steady his resolve. He looked toward their opposition with a firm, serious expression on his face.

    “All right, Fireball, one more Focus Blast!”

    Fireball's body trembled as he held his hands to one side as before. However, just as Fireball began to charge the attack again, Elise was quick to interrupt.

    “Krookodile, Protect!” she instructed. The beast was once again surrounded by its protective shield.

    Fireball hunched over, coughing loudly while the sand continued to whip hard at him.

    “Hang in there, Fireball …” Antoshi muttered.

    ‘So, he's going to try another Focus Blast,’ Elise thought, holding her chin. ‘There's nothing I can really do to stop it, except to keep Krookodile on the evasive. However, if it does hit, will it be enough? I can't help but wonder just how strong that type of attack from his Typhlosion would be.’

    The moment Krookodile's shield faded, Antoshi was ready to give the order.

    “Now! Focus Blast!”

    Fireball panted, ignoring the excruciating pain in order to charge another Focus Blast. He took careful aim through the endlessly stirring sands before he threw the ball of energy forward.

    “Dodge it again!” Elise said.

    When Krookodile leapt out of the way for the second time, the ball made an unexpected curve straight towards it. Elise and her Pokémon's eyes widened in shock just before the attack connected and exploded violently. The force of the blast shot Krookodile through the air, flying past Elise, before crashing hard against the back wall. Krookodile was unresponsive.

    Elise's was impressed by the sheer power of Fireball's attack.

    ‘So, it does make sense,’ she thought, staring at her fainted Pokémon. ‘Rather than having a full roster of six Pokémon whose gains are evened out with each other, he instead has one Pokémon that garners all of the strength and experience. With the amount of Type coverage his Typhlosion has, it's as if fighting six Pokémon at once. He's a clever Trainer, but strength isn't tantamount to stamina. His Typhlosion is running on nothing but willpower by now.’

    She recalled her Krookodile and grabbed the last Ultra Ball on her hip.

    With only one Pokémon to go, exhaustion had taken its toll on Fireball. He groaned as he fell to a knee again. He let out a hacking cough, holding his injured shoulder, clenching his eyes in the fury of the whipping sands.

    “Fireball?” Antoshi asked, deeply worried. Fireball had taken an incredible toll that pushed him to his very limits.

    ‘It has to be hurting him,’ Elise thought, ‘seeing his Pokémon in so much pain like this. Yet, both of them continue on fighting. They have an incredible resolve. For them to push forward and bring me to my last Pokémon after taking such a beating, … I may not win this one after all.’

    Fireball groaned as he rose to his hind feet once more. Antoshi was incredulous that Fireball was still standing, let alone ready to continue battling.

    “For the sake of your Pokémon's well-being,” Elise said, “are you certain you don't want to forfeit?”

    “Not a chance!” Antoshi shot back. He was bitter over Elise's continual badgering. “Fireball's stronger than anyone I've ever known. If he's ready to go, then so am I.”

    “Remarkable. That you would get this far with just one Pokémon — a Fire-type — is remarkable. Your determination is truly admirable. However, I'm afraid this is where your battle ends.” She maximized the final ball and threw it out. “Go, Steelix!”

    Antoshi and Fireball watched with astonishment as the light gave way to a massive serpent comprised of segmented steel-plated boulders. It towered high over their heads, letting out a roar that rattled the foundation of the building.

    "That's probably not good," Fireball joked.

    “Let's make the first move!” Antoshi exclaimed. “Fire—”

    “Protect, Steelix!” Elise shouted over him.

    Antoshi bit his tongue, scowling in frustration. ‘I can't believe this,’ he thought. ‘They all know Protect? She's definitely come prepared for battles like this.’

    Fireball coughed even harder than last time. He appeared light-headed, unable to steady his feet, especially in the constant winds of the sandstorm.

    “This battle's been going on for some time, young Trainer.” Elise said. “The severe poison has been gradually worsening with every beat of your Typhlosion's heart. How much longer do you think he can hold out?”

    Antoshi's gaze shifted to his friend. As much as her browbeating irritated him, she had a point.

    "No way!" Fireball shouted in defiance, struggling to keep his balance. "We didn't come all this way just to fail. Not after all the training we did to make it this far."

    Antoshi grinned proudly at him. Elise didn't have to understand Fireball's speech to know what he said, she only needed to see the look in his eyes. She smiled and hummed in intrigue.

    “Fire Blast, Fireball!” Antoshi said in the moment that Steelix's Protect dissipated. Give it everything you have!”

    "Now that's the kind of pep talk I like to hear," Fireball replied with a weak grin.

    He brought his trembling claws up to his neck, clasped down, and began to inhale deeply. Small tufts of flame emanated from Fireball's mouth as he summoned up his strength for one final attack.

    Suddenly, Fireball collapsed.

    “Fireball, no!” Antoshi exclaimed.

    The boy's heart sank at the same time Fireball fell to all fours. Fireball groaned wearily, overcome by exhaustion. The poison, the sandstorm, the injures — they had all accumulated to a critical level.

    ‘We can't lose now,’ Antoshi thought, a panicked expression on his face.

    'We're going to win,' Fireball thought.

    Elise took advantage of the situation.

    “Steelix, Earthquake!”

    Steelix gave a mighty roar, its heavy tail stamping the ground and causing it to rumble.

    “Fireball, use Fire Blast!” Antoshi ordered once again.

    Fireball remained on his knees, managing to straightened his back. He steadied himself amid the quaking earth. He reached up again, holding his neck, straining to bring forth every ounce of energy he had left to give.

    The ground abruptly cracked underneath Fireball. With only a moment to spare, Fireball roared as loud as he could. He fired a five-pointed blast of fire from his mouth just before the ground beneath him was smashed to pieces. Fireball thrashed around violently from Steelix's attack. The flames on his back went out.

    ‘Steelix is too large to evade that,’ Elise thought.

    The massive fiery attack struck Steelix's face and exploded violently. Steelix roared in pain, its body toppling backwards from the force of the blast. Just as its Earthquake subsided, Steelix itself crashed into the ground to rumble it further. Its titanic weight created a large crater around its body.

    Both Trainers steadied their footing in the aftermath. Elise was in shock. The heat from Fireball's attack was so intense that it caused the steel on Steelix's forehead to melt slightly. Her Pokémon was defeated.

    The battle was over. The sandstorm finally subsided. All had become quiet on the sand-covered, heavily damaged stadium floor. Elise recalled her Steelix.

    “Fireball!!” Antoshi shouted, ignoring the dangerous, jagged earth jutting around his fallen friend. “Fireball?” he whispered, shaking his friend a bit. Elise walked over quickly to check on them, standing outside the crater. “Fireball, come on. I thought I lost you once before, I can't go through that again!”

    Antoshi's breathing became shaky, running a hand through his hair. Fireball wasn't responding. Elise, too, became concerned. Memories of being cooped up in the police station came flooding back as Antoshi started to fear the worst.

    "Poi… son …" Fireball whispered in a raspy voice. Antoshi gasped in elation.

    “Hang on, buddy, I have just the thing for you.”

    He quickly pulled his backpack off his shoulders, zipping it open. He pulled out a large green spray bottle and immediately began spritzing its medicinal contents all over Fireball's wounded body. It worked fast to miraculously heal Fireball's injuries, as well as dissipate the poison from his body.

    “Good thing I bought a few Full Restores for an emergency,” he said, sniffling. “You wanted me to buy you pizza instead, remember?”

    "Pizza sounds good right about now," Fireball quietly replied with a slight grin. "Starting to feel a little better here. Could you get some of that in my mouth, please? I still have a poison-y aftertaste."

    Antoshi smirked and sprayed the Typhlosion's open mouth. Fireball smacked his lips and shuddered in disgust.

    "That tastes awful, but it's still better than the poison."

    Antoshi sighed in relief, putting the empty bottle away. He slung his backpack over his shoulders and stood up, helping Fireball climb to his hind feet as well.

    Elise smiled at the two as they stepped out of the jagged crater.

    “That was quite the battle, young Antoshi,” she remarked. “You and your Typhlosion are one and the same. You were always on the same wavelength, both of you just as determined as each other. Truly, you're one of the closest and most caring Trainer and Pokémon pairs I've ever seen. You've done a phenomenal job of raising your Pokémon as a partner and a friend.”

    “Thank you, Elise,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “I appreciate it. I'm just really glad Fireball is okay.”

    “You could've stopped the battle if you were so fearful for your friend's safety.”

    “Well, this is our progress of over a year of journeying through Kanto together. We wanted that eighth badge more than anything in the world. Neither of us were ready to just give up — not on this battle or anything else before it. I guess the two of us are just reckless like that.”

    “I understand,” she said, chuckling. “Still, your recklessness brought you victory today.” She took something from her pocket and placed it into Antoshi's hands. “Trainer Antoshi, I confer unto you the Earth Badge. You and Fireball have earned it — and my respect.”

    The two friends looked at the shining new badge, the very last one they needed. They breathed a sigh of relief. After long trials and tribulations, days and weeks and months spent training, and constantly staying on the grind, their Kanto badge quest was finally over. The Indigo League was now open to them. Antoshi's eyes welled up with tears.

    “You're crying, aren't you?” Antoshi asked, before glancing over at Fireball. Tears ran down the sides of the Typhlosion's face as he nodded. “It's okay, buddy, so am I.”

    Antoshi threw his arms out, Fireball bawled loudly into his shoulder. Antoshi grinned, hugging Fireball and patting him on the back.

    “We made it, buddy,” Antoshi reassured his friend. “We made it.” Fireball grabbed Antoshi's shirt and blew his nose into it. “Ugh — okay, come on. Really? I have tissues, you know.”

    "Sorry," Fireball remarked, sniffling and sighing.

    Antoshi shook his head, pulling out his wallet to store away their final badge. He took a deep breath and sighed proudly, wiping the tears from his own eyes.

    “Time to cross that finish line,” Antoshi remarked with a grin. Fireball happily nodded back.

    “Do take care, you two,” Elise told them. “I, and some other Gym Leaders, will be taking a trip to the Indigo League to watch the tournament. Should you make it, I'll be cheering you on from the crowd.”

    “We're going to do our absolute best,” Antoshi told her, smiling confidently. Elise nodded to him.

    With that, the two friends departed from Elise's company and exited the Gym. She then sighed and looked around the heavily damaged stadium floor.

    “Looks like I have some cleaning up to do.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    That evening in the Viridian Pokémon Center, Antoshi and Fireball feasted on all the food they could grab in the cafeteria. Antoshi usually didn't gorge himself like Fireball, but he made an exception for the special occasion. It was an enjoyable rarity, but he knew his stomach was certainly going to regret it later on.

    The mood between them had never been more jovial. They'd finally collected all eight badges. An idea that was once nothing more than a far-off dream had become a reality.

    Afterward, the duo headed back to their room and settled in for the night. Excitement and big hopes for their future swirled through their minds as they drifted off to sleep. Their biggest challenge was yet to come — and they felt prepared.

    Just as in past nights, however, Antoshi experienced another unsettling dream.

    Looking through the eyes of another, he stood at the upper floor of a house that had been severely damaged by an explosion. The home's destroyed walls and roof gave way to the night sky. His legs trembled, falling to his knees. The cool, night air briefly swept past him.

    “What … have I done?” a voice similar to his own asked in disbelief. “What did you make me do?!”

    Antoshi felt overwhelmed by panic, sorrow, regret, and anger. He couldn't stop shaking, his heart pounded, adrenaline surging through his veins. He felt as though his body was about to explode.

    “It was what needed to be done,” the same mysterious voice from before answered. “You have now taken the first glorious step toward—”

    “This can't be real!” the boy shouted in agony. “I—I don't want this to be real!!”

    In the forlorn darkness he let out a loud echoing scream, followed by a burst of black light. The roaring light rapidly expanded out in a massive dome that engulfed and instantly vaporized everything in its path. Once it reached its limit, it exploded violently, quaking the earth for a few moments.

    There was nothing left for miles except an enormous crater of dirt. Having seemingly levitated during the explosion, the boy fell back down to the earth. Unconscious, he was left unscathed in the very epicenter of crater.

    Just as he hit the ground, Antoshi jolted awake from his dream with a gasp. He sat up in bed, in the dark and quiet of the small room, covered in a cold sweat. He took a look at his hands — he was shaking like in the dream. He held his forehead, clenching his teeth.

    ‘Why do I keep having these dreams?!’ he demanded to know.

    He breathed slowly for a short while, calming his racing heart. His head was filled with an endless array of questions. Was he the one in these settings? Were they some kind of premonition? Were they tied to his mysterious powers somehow? Each of those dreams were so jarringly real, as if they were actually happening and that he'd been there. That voice he kept hearing sounded just like his own.

    Once he managed to finally relax, he laid his head back down on the pillow. He stared at the ceiling for a while, trying to cleanse his mind of the images in his dream. He thought about their upcoming trek to the Indigo Plateau instead, smiling at how excited he knew Fireball was going to be once they got there. Soon, he found the peace of mind to fall back asleep.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The following morning, the duo readied themselves for the end of their Kanto journey. With only five days to go before the Indigo League tournament sign-ups closed, they were eager to get moving on to Victory Road. Their next destination's very name filled their hearts with anticipation and anxiousness.

    On their way to the western city limits of Viridian City, they happened across a small electronics store. In the store window, multiple television screens displayed a breaking news broadcast. A handful of people were grouped around, watching the report with great interest. Antoshi and Fireball stopped, curious to see what was going on.

    “… who's live in the outskirts of the small town right now with the latest updates. Ruby?”

    “That's right, Michael. As shown from our sky camera, the small town of Fern was completely decimated today. The town was home to a thriving population of about seven thousand. This morning, it's nothing more than a massive crater.”

    Antoshi's eyes widened in shock as he saw the images of the crater. He felt the wind knocked right out from him. Memories of the previous night's dream came flooding back to him.

    "Oh, wow," Fireball remarked, softly. "That's so terrible."

    “… have no idea how an apparent explosion of this magnitude happened,” the lady reporter continued. “Joining me now is Johto's military commander General Logan.” The camera zoomed back to reveal a tall, stern man wearing a high-ranking military uniform standing next to her. “General, what can you tell us about this unthinkable devastation?”

    “Right now we're in our preliminary investigation,” Logan replied. “At around 0400 hours, we were alerted by local officials who responded to a large seismic disruption and came across what was left of the town.”

    “You told me there were no survivors?”

    “We believed that at first but we've now found one young boy who appears to be in his preteens or early teens, buried under some of the earth. He was discovered in the epicenter of the explosion.”

    Some of the passersby around Antoshi began to mutter.

    “Is the boy conscious?” Ruby asked. “Do you have any information on him?”

    “The boy is still unconscious at last check. He was airlifted from here to the nearest military hospital. For privacy reasons, we cannot release the boy's identity before establishing contact with his family. I'm afraid that's all we have to share for now.”

    “Thank you so much for your time, General. Michael?”

    “Thanks, Ruby,” the male reported in the studio said. “We'll be continuing our coverage on the destruction of Fern Town …”

    "That's awful, don't you think?" Fireball asked his friend, as some of the crowd dispersed. Antoshi, however, gawked blankly at the television as though in a trance. "Antoshi? Are you okay?" Fireball waved a paw in his friend's face.

    “Huh?” Antoshi uttered, snapping back to reality. “Did you say something?”

    "I said, 'are you okay?'" Fireball said, appearing concerned. "You look like you saw a Ghost Pokémon or something."

    “I …” Antoshi started. He bit his lip and sorted through his thoughts. “That—that scene on the news. I dreamt it … last night.”

    "You had a dream about that town on the news?"

    “Yes, and it looks exactly the same as in my dream.”

    "That's— … well, I really don't know what to say. …"

    “I've been having a few similar dreams lately. I've never experienced dreams like these before. They feel so— … so real.”

    "First the glowing, then the light show ball, the flying, surviving a fall from a building, and dreams where you see things that happen in other places? What do you think is going on?"

    “I don't know, … but after what I just saw, it's now definitely making me nervous.”

    As they headed off toward their destination, Antoshi took one more glance at the television screen. The last image he saw was a somewhat pixelated still image of the rescued boy taken from afar. He could only make out the boy's jet black hair.


    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    End of Part 1

    ⁂ ⁂

    Part 2: Sibling Rivalry »

    [​IMG]

    Antoshi & Fireball
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2019
  2. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Okay. To start off with, those dream voices make me think of two things: the original dub anime intro ("It's you and me, I know it's my destinyyy!") and something out of one of the X-Men movies with the hating and unleashing power bit (I read those ones in Magneto's voice for some reason). Following that, we get a happy, tearful reunion. Any questions it brings up (like why they're in the police station, or what happened to Jalyn) are swiftly answered by Jenny, which I'm glad for. I'm a bit surprised that Antoshi ended up with an Ash-like near-death experience, but it just makes me curious to figure out what the heck's happening. It sounds much crazier than your run-of-the-mill human psychics.

    Also, I might be alone in saying this, but I like that Antoshi's first response to being out three days is, "Oh no, how will I get the 8th badge?" I would imagine someone in their late teens or an adult would be distraught at being knocked out for three days, but it seems so very child-appropriate to immediately focus on a tangible goal instead... if that makes sense. Similarly, his ability to (emotionally) bounce back super quickly matches his age well. I feel like if he were an adult he'd have been totally freaking out over the traumatic experience and/or the weird powers.

    And, hey, we're even getting right into the Viridian gym battle too. That was quick. Elise maintains Giovanni's ground-type specialty, I see. You paint a pretty clear contrast in her personality too. She's very forthright and patient, unlike both Giovanni and Blue. And, in stark contrast to Blaire, even though her Gliscor and Hippowdon go down pretty quickly, she's able to employ the tried and true "Toxic/Protect stall strategy" that everyone who Wi-Fi battles hates with a passion. And employing Sand Stream and Dig to add damage and stalling on top of that is both smart and a good use of her gym's typing. I will say, though, that Elise doesn't need to be shouting every single sentence. Some of her dialogue is full of sentences that all end in exclamation points. It kind of lessens their impact when they're used so frequently like that.

    Oh, the finale's coming up already? Wasn't expecting it so soon, but I think you again gave me a pretty nice cliffhanger to get excited about. So, an interesting chapter that took me by surprise by keeping the action up, even if the Rockets were out of the picture.

    One slight formatting thing I spotted:
    Missing a line break here.
     
  3. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Sorry for the bump/double post. I just wanted to let everyone know that the story has been updated with some fairly big changes. Overall, it's the same story though I've tons of small edits to every chapter, from beginning to end. I posted more info in the author notes.

    I want to personally thank Ambyssin, Cutlerine, ChloboShoka, AmethystLeslie, Negrek, Sike Saner, and all the readers of the Serebii Forums and elsewhere for giving my story a read and helping make it even better. Hopefully I don't have to update it much more after this point. Thank you all again!
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
  4. AmethystLeslie

    AmethystLeslie Well-Known Member

    It was a pleasure to be one of your beta readers (assuming i wasn't the only beta reader).
     
  5. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Just going to drop in and give a few thoughts specifically on chapter 7's new, extended ending. Mostly because it's very mysterious and quite the little cliffhanger, kinda like you'd see with some TV shows. The two scenes lead me to suspect that Antoshi is psychically/spiritually linked to the boy from Fern Town. It immediately brings the Eon Duo's sight-sharing to mind, but I strongly doubt there are any Lati-related shenanigans going on here. It'd certainly catch me by surprise if there was. What has me more curious is, of course, the massive explosion. It's totally out of left field (not in a bad way), so it leaves me to speculate what the issue is. Is it Team Rocket? Is some Legendary going berserk (Mewtwo, Yveltal, Groudon, and Necrozma all come to mind here)? Is it something else entirely? Seems like you've set this up to continue in a sequel, so I guess I'll get an answer then.
     
  6. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    You've clearly put a lot of effort into these edits, and I have to say, they've made a huge impact on the story. It's much tighter, for one; the plot picks up quicker and builds nicely towards a climax that feels as big and dramatic as it should do, given the stakes involved and the sudden awakening of Antoshi's extraordinary powers.

    And it's so much richer, as well. That battle against Blaire was a little boring in the first draft, but as it stands it's superb: creative move use (defensive rollout! what a great idea!), intelligent planning by Blaire to work around Fireball's raw power (by blocking with smokescreen) and his speed (by using fire spin), and a good deal of tension. This time around, the victory feels genuinely earned. You can see how Blaire earned her position as Gym Leader, even if she is new and relatively inexperienced; she's a worthy opponent, and Antoshi and Fireball have to work to get their victory. More than anything, it's exciting, and that's what a battle should be.

    The same can be said for the other big plot battles, I think: the huge climactic battle against Matt and Jalyn is much stronger than it was, cutting really effectively into that warm summer holiday feeling that the first part of the fic cultivates and letting that harsher note that you hint at previously in the dreams come to the fore. And chapter seven's battle is a great way to round things off, with Fireball and Antoshi up against an opponent who has both superior tactics and the type advantage – and yet pulling through anyway on the strength of their friendship.

    I think your characters are improved, too: Jenny feels more human, and it's difficult to put my finger on what I'd improve about her – honestly, I think that at this point, it's probably the case that the main way your characters will improve is if you write more and learn as you go. You've definitely made some big improvements there, and if you carry on that way in future then I'm sure your next fic will feature stronger characters still.

    Some of my original points of criticism still stand: the precise nature of the relationship between Fireball and Antoshi, and between pokémon and trainers in general, that kind of thing. But these are things that are just brought up by the premise in itself, and I don't think it's reasonable for me to harp on about them any more than I or any other reviewers have done already. I would add to them, however, that the sting in the tail with the ending doesn't quite work for me; it feels a bit off after the victory rush from the Viridian Gym battle and the realisation that they've made the sign-up window for the Indigo League tournament. I guess to me it feels unfinished, but maybe that's the point – it might be a set-up for a sequel, I suppose. Certainly the way you frame that little bit at the end feels very cinematic, like the ending of a TV series that hopes to get renewed for a second season. If that's the case, I'm probably judging it a little harshly.

    Overall, though – I'm really impressed with the edits you've made. This revision tells the same story as the previous version, but it does it much, much better. If this is the kind of writing you're capable of, I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next!
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
  7. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    I rather like the idea of a move you're unused to having relatively poor accuracy and maybe getting more accurate with practice. Makes sense, that.

    Oh man, homing focus blast. I wish that'd happen whenever something of mine uses it in-game, heh.

    Full restores are a better call than pizza, yeah. :p Although heck, we're talking about a world where soda heals injuries and cookies cure poison. Maybe pokéworld pizza is just a flatter, greasier full restore. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Oh god Fireball, ew. What flows from the nose does NOT go on the clothes. XD;

    And it all concludes on one heck of a hook. In hindsight, I'm not surprised to find that the mysteries raised in this story deserve more than just one book. Congrats on completing this installment (and its sequel, according to your sig!), and thanks for sharing it with us. :D
     
  8. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    Part 2: Sibling Rivalry

    ⁂ ⁂​


    Kanto's neighboring region of Johto thrives by continuously founding new settlements, like any prospering nation. New towns and cities allowed people from far and wide to settle down — to call Johto their home. Fern was one such town.

    Existing for nearly four decades, Fern Town was quiet and quaint. A home of over seven thousand people, it was situated just north of Azalea Town. Its small neighborhoods surrounded by the lush, vibrant green forests made it an attractive prospect to those looking to live closer to nature. Wild Pokémon inhabiting the woods visited frequently, becoming acquainted and friendly with the townsfolk.

    Most of the roads were simple dirt pathways. New stores and small buildings popped up constantly. The residents of Fern Town were happy and lived in warm, intimate communities. The town's school and large playground were situated at the center of the town. It was a loving gesture of the town's founders that their young people were literally their future.

    Yet, one morning, that future was erased in an instant. Everything and everyone was gone.

    The beautiful town stood with its immaculate charm no longer. In its place lay a massive crater of dirt from the aftermath of a devastating explosion. There was no forewarning. There were no survivors, except for a boy with jet black hair lying face-down and unconscious in the epicenter of the crater.

    When rescue personnel and news reporters from the neighboring towns and cities came, it was heralded as an unexplainable freak occurrence. The military, led by General Logan, came to investigate. They took the boy to a nearby military hospital. Remarkably, he had not a single injury, but he remained in a brief coma.

    As government and local officials sifted through the destruction to try to piece together what happened, they soon realized that what occurred was no ordinary explosion. They truly had no idea what happened to bring about the town's complete erasure. Some of the investigators had growing suspicions that the boy was not simply some miracle survivor. In some way they couldn't fully grasp, it was believed that he was the cause of the town's devastation.

    Once the idea became the only plausible explanation left, the boy was no longer treated as a victim. He instead became the culprit of an unspeakably horrific act. One of the very same young people that Fern Town had bet their future on now appeared to be the reason for its demise.

    In the middle of the night, government officials came to collect the boy who was still comatose. They had no place for him in an ordinary jail or a prison. Instead, they airlifted him to a military black site on a tiny island southeast of the Whirl Islands.

    Under round-the-clock maximum security, the compound was the breeding ground for the government's more controversial, highly-classified experiments and tests. It was there that the boy was institutionalized in a high-tech confinement cell.

    The story of the mysterious young survivor quickly faded from the public consciousness. His memory was forgotten, except to those in charge of the compound.

    His memory was also forgotten to him as well.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The boy pounded his fists on the thick, acrylic glass of his cell. His frantic breaths and whimpers echoed around the small room. His hands searched the glass for some kind of handle on the cutout door, or an unlocking mechanism. His heart raced, brown eyes wrought with terror.

    “Please, let me out!” he exclaimed, pounding at the glass again.

    It was his second day after waking up to find himself locked up in the cell. He had no way of telling time, and those two days in solitary confinement felt like weeks. He had no human contact whatsoever. While he was already past the realization of his imprisonment, a million questions raced through his head. Foremost on his mind was why he was locked up, closely followed by why he couldn't recall anything that happened before getting here.

    Having awoken a few days after the explosion, he had no idea who he was or how he ended up jailed. That, coupled with being locked away in a quiet, sterile cell where nobody paid any attention to him, became torturous.

    He kicked at the glass with his bare feet, shouting and screaming in a panicked huff. He knew someone was around. Multiple cameras outside his cell were silently watching his every move.

    He rest his back against the glass, grabbing fistfuls of his dark hair. He slid down onto his seat, huffing and sobbing quietly.

    “Someone help me,” he pleaded. “Someone please help me …”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Some time later, he laid on the cold floor and stared up at the white ceiling. The walls were white. The floor was white. The bed, the toilet, the sink — all white. The bright, white lights cut into his vision. His surroundings became blinding and disorienting.

    He tried to keep himself as calm as possible, and to keep some glimmer of hope in the face of such a dim, depressing scenario. This was undoubtedly some kind of misunderstanding. Someone had to be coming for him.

    A familiar humming noise approached his cell. He gasped in excitement, hopping up to his knees and crawled over to a small cutout at the very bottom of the acrylic glass door. A small hovering robot, holding a tray of food, stopped in front of his cell door. It was the second time the robot had come by that day.

    “Please, help!” he shouted, as the cutout automatically folded open. “Please! Who is it that brought me here? Why are they keeping me? Please bring me someone to talk to!”

    The robot placed the tray on the floor. It slipped a new set of neatly folded white clothing through the slat, followed by the tray of food atop the clothes.

    “Is there like a—a communicator on you or something?” he continued. “Is there anyone that can hear me right now?” The slat snapped shut. The robot turned and hovered away. “No, no, no! Wait! Please, please, come back! Please! Don't leave!” He clenched his eyes shut. “Don't leave …” he whispered.

    He stared at his food, each item neatly placed in its own segment — a cold and detached way of feeding him. He sniffled and wept quietly, unwrapping a bar of oat and grains and chewed on it.

    He was forced to use the sink whenever he wanted to bathe himself. The same robot came by at regularly scheduled times to give him clean towels and clothing. He held on to the hope that someone — anyone — would come and take him away from this nightmare. In the end, however, hope was not enough to keep his sanity.

    On many occasions, he went berserk. He screamed as loudly as he could, punching and kicking every wall. The fits of rage did little to release his pent-up stress and fear. To pass the time, he laid on the floor and counted the number of tiny holes in each ceiling tile. He hummed and made up songs in his head. He thought up simple math problems and counted numbers. He spent many hours trying to remember his life on the outside.

    Most of his time, however, was spent crying.

    With no windows and no clock, it was impossible to know what time it was. He stayed in bed for long periods, sleeping anytime his panicked mind was able to wind down. The bed — stiff and uncomfortable at first — became his place of solitude.

    On rare occasions, the muffled screams of people in agony echoed down the halls. He covered his ears each time. The sounds left him terrified and trembling, his mind racing with terrible thoughts. It only compounded his fear of the facility he was locked in, and what they had planned for him.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Within a luxurious office further inside the base, a stern man quietly sat behind a polished wooden executive desk. He wore a service uniform befitting a high-ranking military official. It was the man that had led the investigation: General Logan.

    He was leaned back in his executive chair, his feet propped up on the desk. He swiveled a small amount of wine in a glass before putting it to his lips. The boy's cell was shown on a slew of monitors on the wall before him.

    Another military official, thinner and wearing glasses, walked into the room. He gave a salute before shutting the door behind him. He laid a folder full of papers on the desk before looking over at the the monitors.

    “Is it time, General?” he asked.

    “No,” Logan replied. “He's not quite ready yet. We'll give him a week in here and see how he fares.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the same time, half a region away, Antoshi and Fireball ventured through the incredibly long and treacherous Victory Road. The cave road was dark, mazelike, and unforgiving. There was no food to forage, save for the occasional cave mushroom. It made Antoshi's pre-planning of stocking up on supplies even more significant. Wild Pokémon were out in force, frequently attacking the passing Trainers who disturbed their otherwise quiet home.

    With the starting date of the event looming ever closer, throngs of Trainers were passing through Victory Road. It ended up being a pilgrimage amongst strangers, which was typical in the week leading up to the Indigo tournament. A number of those Trainers ended up backtracking, giving up on their endeavor in order to spare their Pokémon or themselves. Some used Pokémon that knew Dig or Teleport to escape, while others simply ran back the way they came.

    Despite how terrifying the trek should have been, the duo made their way through Victory Road with eyes full of wonder and hearts ablaze. Antoshi and Fireball were able to get a few battles in with the other Trainers passing through. The battles helped in garnering them some more crucial experience before the tournament.

    It took the duo four days to make it to the Indigo Plateau from Viridian City. Antoshi and Fireball experienced firsthand just how tough and dangerous it was to simply make it to the Plateau. Having done so was — and certainly felt like — an accomplishment in itself.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The final day of the Indigo League tournament sign-ups was coming to a close. Inside of the registration building, Antoshi and Fireball signed in with only a few hours to spare before the cutoff time. They were briefly stopped by a checkpoint inside the building, joining a queue of Trainers waiting to enter. Seeing and hearing the elation of fellow Trainers that successfully made it through Victory Road made them both grin.

    The inside of the building was so plain, almost like an office waiting room. It had a large receptionist's desk, bare walls, and a small handful of bland chairs that contrasted with the colorful apparel and vibrant hairstyles of the Trainers and Pokémon waiting in a single file. Antoshi, meanwhile, was dressed in a more modest white polo shirt and black shorts.

    For the most part, the room was incredibly quiet. Antoshi and Fireball weren't sure if the others were simply as nervous as they were. Each of Antoshi's eight badges were scanned with a special device by one of the several attendants. A microchip inside each of the badges verified they were legitimate via a chime from the device. Afterward, they were instructed to head through a corridor nearby.

    The corridor was surprisingly long. Antoshi and Fireball walked with a handful of other Trainers towards a light at the end of it. They soon found themselves outside, under the clear sky and the glow of the midmorning sun. The pair gasped in awe, standing at one of the entryways of the Plateau's massive stadium. The large battlefield before them was walled off by spectator stands. Uptempo music played over the stadium's intercom system. They looked around with wide-eyed fascination before Antoshi turned to his friend with a huge grin.

    “This is so awesome, isn't it?” Antoshi remarked. “Our very first tournament.”

    "Heck yeah, it's awesome," Fireball replied, "and there's none bigger than the Indigo Plateau!"

    The duo walked around to find a place to relax and wait until competition began. There were hundreds of Trainers and their Pokémon patiently waiting around all over the place. Many stood or reclined on the spacious field, while others took to waiting in the empty stands. More and more Trainers continued to file in behind the duo.

    A chime came over the intercom system, followed by a woman's voice.

    “The Indigo League Committee would like to remind all entrants that impromptu battling is strictly prohibited. Thank you for your continued patience. Registrations will soon be closing.”

    Fireball's eyes darted every which way. He locked eyes with various Pokémon staring at him. There was an intense look in each of their eyes. Fireball bared his teeth, the flames on his back suddenly igniting. Antoshi looked over at him with surprise.

    “You okay?” Antoshi asked, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. Fireball gasped in surprise, extinguishing his flames.

    "Sorry," Fireball replied, calming himself. "I keep feeling every Pokémon's urge to battle around here. There's so many strong Pokémon. It's really something else."

    Antoshi took a closer look around at his peers, greeted by several cutting glares.

    “Oh, I see what you mean now,” he said, surprised. “Why don't we find a place away from everyone else?”

    "That's probably a good idea."

    The duo headed up into the stands, finding a quiet area to sit down at. The much larger Fireball managed to fit himself into one of the person-sized seats. The view from their vantage point was incredible. They were able to take in the sheer magnitude Trainers and their Pokémon all bustling around, and how small they were in the comparison to the massive stadium. Both of them smiled, content yet restless.

    “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous,” Antoshi said, idly tapping his foot to the beat of the music being played.

    "Same here! But, just imagine how amazing it'll be when we win. They'll show us on the news and in papers all around the world! 'Trainer With One Pokémon Becomes Champion.' We'll be super-famous, and I'll get all the food I can eat."

    “That's impossible — there's never enough food for you to eat.”

    "… Fair point!"

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    As the morning went on, the sun started bearing down hard. The clouds hid its glare in small reprieves. A handful of Trainers had packed umbrellas, or had Pokémon large enough to shade themselves in. A number of tournament volunteers walked around around with coolers hanging around their necks. They gave out bottles of cold water, sandwiches, and bags of Pokémon food.

    “Thank you again for your continued patience, Trainers,” the woman on the intercom said. “Registration closes in ninety minutes.”

    Antoshi capped his paper water bottle after taking a long sip.

    “I've been sweating my butt off here,” he said. “but I don't care. We've waited for this for so long. It's kind of like relaxing after crossing the finish line, you know? Plus, the music's kind of nice.”

    Fireball was busy enjoying the food he was given to reply.

    “I see you're still keeping that Typhlosion outside its Poké Ball,” a young man walking up to them said.

    They both turned their attention to him. Antoshi's eyes widened in surprise, standing up with a grin.

    “Cory? I never imagined I'd ever see you again!”

    “Same here,” Cory replied. Both boys laughed as they shared a handshake. Fireball smiled and waved.

    “Wow, it's been a while,” Antoshi said, smiling. “It's so good to see you! You know, I've always wanted to apologize to you for the longest time now, about that incident back in the Cerulean Pokémon Center.”

    “Oh, I apologize as well. I don't think you really need to apologize. If anything, it made me realize I need to step up my training a lot. A Quilava beat my star Mudkip so easily. Since then, I get a talking-to about it from Nurse Joy every time I visit a Pokémon Center.”

    “Hey, so do we!” Antoshi replied. The two laughed again. Cory glanced at the belt on Antoshi's shorts.

    “So, … where are the rest of your Pokémon?”

    “You're looking at him,” Antoshi replied, with a casual point of the thumb to Fireball. Cory was flabbergasted.

    “What? You never got any new Pokémon since the last time we last spoke?”

    “I was originally going to, but … well, it turned out I didn't need to. It's just been Fireball and I all the way.”

    “Wow,” Cory said, scratching his head. “I can definitely respect it — getting all the way here with one Pokémon is unbelievable. Honestly, my first thought was that you were completely nuts.”

    “We get that a lot.”

    “Aside from the 'weird name' thing, huh?” Antoshi laughed and nodded. “It's funny. I like that you refer to yourself as 'we.' Seems like Fireball never leaves your mind. The two of you really are best friends.”

    The duo grinned to each other.

    “Well, Antoshi, it was great to catch up with you. I'm looking forward to seeing you battle but, really, I'd like to face off against you myself.”

    “Same here,” Antoshi replied with a nod.

    The boys shook hands again before Cory took his leave.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Thank you for waiting, Trainers,” the woman on the intercom said. “Registrations have now closed. Stand by for a tournament official to give you further information. Please remember to hang on to your litter and dispose of it in the proper recycling bins.”

    Not long after, a man in white formal attire, complete with a bow tie, emerged from a tunnel at the top level of the stadium. A self-propelled aerial camera pointed at him from a few meters away, lighting up his image on the large display screens at the far ends of the stadium. He wore a headset with a tiny microphone on it.

    “Greetings, everyone!” the man said, as his voice came through the sound system. “My name is Cedric, and I'll be the master of ceremonies for this year's Spring Indigo League Tournament! Some of you are returning challengers so you already know the drill. As for the new faces here, let me tell you how we'll be starting. In just a moment, our hard-working tournament volunteers are going to give you a coded, numbered pass on a lanyard to wear. Please be aware that you need to wear these on you at all times for identification. The number represents what bracket you'll be in for the first elimination round of the tournament. Usually, we try to pull in at least five-hundred and twelve Trainers, but this year we have a little less than that. So, a small handful of you are going to get a 'bye' in order to keep the bracket consistent. Don't take that as a free pass, however. You're not officially in the tournament until you're in the top one hundred twenty-eight!”

    The volunteers started walking around the stadium field and stands, handing out passes to each Trainer.

    “For those of you who don't get a 'bye',” he continued, “you'll have to win two battles to move on to the main tournament! Because of the sheer size of the bracket, we're restricting all Trainers to only using a maximum of two Pokémon! This 'sudden death' style elimination round will test your ability to work with a limited team. So, make those eight badges you earned count! Pick out your team's best two and give it your all!”

    “This is extremely lucky for us,” Antoshi said. “Now we just have to win a couple of two-on-one battles. You know all of the Trainers here probably have a full roster of six.”

    Fireball nodded. "I can't wait to get started," he said, shifting eagerly in his seat.

    “Now, I'm sure some of you can't wait to get started — and you won't have to! The preliminary rounds will commence immediately once everyone has been assigned their numbers.”

    "I think he read my mind," Fireball remarked, awe-struck.

    “I think he read everyone's mind,” Antoshi replied with a smirk.

    “Now,” Cedric said, “if everyone on the stadium floor would kindly make your way up into the stands in an orderly fashion, we can move on to the next phase.”

    Everyone on the field did as instructed. Trainers recalled their larger Pokémon into their Poké Balls while others kept their smaller ones with them. The arena floor quickly emptied out. Once clear, the hum and whir of motors and gears began to rumble through the stadium.

    Antoshi, Fireball, and most in attendance looked on in astonishment. The massive floor slowly descended several dozen meters before coming to a halt. It rotated itself slowly before rising back up at the same pace and locking in its original position. Instead of one large battlefield, the floor was now scored into four smaller fields, each of them numbered from one to four.

    “I'm sure all of you in attendance recognize these stadium markings as the same size you've seen in Gyms,” Cedric said. “That's because they are! The Indigo Plateau's stadium is large enough to hold four simultaneous battles at once. This is how we're going to be zipping right along into tomorrow's main event!”

    One of the stadium volunteers walked over to Antoshi and handed him a lanyard. He looked at his assigned number, 147, before putting it around his neck as instructed.

    The stadium screens displayed four different tournament brackets comprised of one hundred twenty-eight participants each. Every Trainer was represented only as a number on screen, leaving all Trainers unaware of their opponent beforehand.

    “If you direct your attention to the screens,” Cedric said, pointing to one of them, “you'll find your number and the bracket that it's assigned to. The bracket numbers — one, two, three, and four — are all clearly marked on the stadium floor. Once your number is called, you'll make your way to the corresponding battling area for your bracket. That's it for the rules! The matches will start commencing in just a few moments from now, so get ready! Good luck, Trainers!”

    Cedric took his leave and the music resumed playing. The stadium volunteers continued to hand out numbers. Despite the upbeat music, the air around the stadium suddenly became much more quiet and tense. It was time for everyone to get serious. Trainers were staring at their assigned numbers, others trying to look around and see what numbers those nearby had.

    “Oh, man,” Antoshi remarked with a sharp huff. “I'm super nervous now.” He rubbed his hands together, wiping his sweaty palms dry, his leg shaking up and down uncontrollably.

    "I can tell," Fireball replied, watching his friend.

    “It's taken us so long to get to this point. We put in so much work, and we've been anticipating this moment ever since getting our first badge. This is what we've worked for. Feels like everything's moving so fast now.”

    Fireball placed a reassuring paw on his friend's shoulder.

    "We've got this, remember?" Fireball boisterously said. "We're super strong — and super smart! Nothing's going to hold us back now."

    Antoshi took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “You're right. … Thanks for the assist. I can't let my emotions get to me now.”

    "No sweat. I trust in you, buddy."

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The preliminaries kicked off with no delay. With four matches occurring simultaneously, there was a lot happening for the spectating Trainers to take in. They watched and cheered, some even taking note of potential competitors and their strategies.

    Antoshi and Fireball watched anxiously. Many fully evolved and incredibly rare Pokémon appeared on the battlefields. Most of the spectators were in collective awe when a Latios, a Legendary Pokémon, entered the field. Its appearance got a resounding reaction not unlike a celebrity. Antoshi grinned and stood up, having never seen one in person before.

    The competition was fierce, as expected. Everyone fought their hardest for the chance to become Champion, and to have their names etched into history. One by one, Trainers were eliminated from the competition. It was intimidating for them to see the numbers starting to thin out. By the time it was Antoshi and Fireball's turn, almost three dozen of their fellow hopefuls were already out.

    “Numbers 146 and 147,” the woman over the loudspeakers said, “head to field number four.”

    The two friends looked at each other and gave a confident nod, ready to test their mettle. Antoshi huffed sharply, his heart racing as they made their way down onto the battlefield. He rubbed the sweat from his palms again, his legs feeling surprisingly heavy while walking down the stairs.

    They took their place on the opposite end of the field from a young girl with short, purple hair. Fireball prepared himself for battle, igniting the flames on his upper back. The loud sounds and rumblings of the other battles happening nearby were distracting. It was an unfamiliar setting for the pair.

    “Field number four — begin your match!”

    “Nice Typhlosion!” the girl exclaimed as she threw out a Poké Ball. “Hope it's not afraid of the water!”

    From the opening ball came a burst of light that solidified into a long, blue, terrifying sea serpent — Gyarados. A sudden explosion erupted on the battlefield near them. Both Antoshi and Fireball looked over at it in surprise.

    “Don't take your eyes off the prize, kid!” she said with a smirk. “Tiny — use Hydro Pump!”

    The massive serpent fired a large, highly pressurized blast of water from its gaping maw at Fireball.

    “Fireball, dodge!” Antoshi shouted.

    Fireball panicked and leapt to the side. He took a glancing blow from the attack to his lower body. The force caused him to spiral through the air, but managed to land on his feet before spinning around to a halt.

    "… That was pretty cool," Fireball remarked, pleasantly surprised.

    “You okay?” Antoshi asked in concern.

    Fireball nodded firmly to him. Antoshi nodded back, exhaling sharply, trying to block out the distractions all around him and focus on their battle.

    “Fireball, use Thunder Punch!”

    The girl was taken aback upon realizing the Typhlosion had an Electric-type move in his repertoire. Fireball's fist sparked and crackled with bright, yellowish bolts of electricity. He darted toward the Gyarados, giving a shout and leapt up high, nailing the water beast in the face with a hard right hook.

    The serpent shouted in pain as it fell to the ground. Fireball landed and headed back to Antoshi's side. Gyarados strained to get up, visibly worn down from the potent attack. It shook its head, declaring its intent to stay in the fight with an indignant roar. The opposing Trainer smiled at her Pokémon.

    “Attaboy, Tiny!” she said. “Another Hydro Pump! Let's make it count!”

    “Same plan as before, Fireball!” Antoshi said. “Keep moving!”

    Fireball took off running while his opponent took aim at him. With a shout, Gyarados spat up another powerful jet of water. Fireball was suddenly swept away by it. He gargled in surprise, flailing to the ground and rolling to a stop near Antoshi.

    “Oh, no!” Antoshi cried out.

    “Yeah! Nice shot!” she exclaimed.

    Fireball growled as he got back to his feet. The fires on his back had dwindled some. As he shook the water from his fur, those flames exploded back to life.

    "Gonna take more than that to keep me down," Fireball said.

    Antoshi chuckled softly, continuously impressed by Fireball's confidence.

    “Thunder Punch — again!”

    Fireball bared his teeth, summoning forth the same electricity into his paw. Just as before, he rushed the Gyarados and leapt up high.

    “Dodge it, Tiny!”

    Gyarados managed to slither out of the way of Fireball's swing. Fireball quickly spun around, swung again, and nailed the serpent on the back of its head. Gyarados roared in pain, the electricity visibly surging through its entire frame. It fell over, unconscious.

    The girl gasped in shock.

    “No way!” she exclaimed, her jaw hanging agape.

    Fireball went back to his side of the field. He and his friend confidently nodded to each other. The girl humphed as she recalled her Gyarados into the confines of its ball.

    “Fine, then. I guess I'll have to use my ace! Go, Flora!”

    She threw out another ball. From it, emerged a large yet stumpy reptilian quadruped with a massive blooming flower on its back. Across its forehead, it wore a necklace with a strange gem like a cat's eye marble hanging from it.

    Fireball and Antoshi looked to each other in surprise — a Grass-type opponent like Venusaur was fortunate for them. Antoshi found it strange, however. Why would a Trainer competent enough to make it to the Indigo Plateau completely disregard something as basic as Type advantage?

    “Oh, but wait!” the girl added. “There's more!”

    And there was his answer. She pulled the back the long sleeve of her shirt to reveal a bracelet with a smaller gem, similar to the one Venusaur wore, set into it. She ran her fingers across it, causing both gems to glow brightly.

    “Flora — Mega Evolve!” she exclaimed.

    The duo watched in amazement as the gems fired out bolts of magical energy that sought each other out and connected. Once combined, Venusaur gave out a roar and began to glow as if evolving.

    Many of the other Trainers watching from the stands were fully engaged in the spectacle. Once the bright light faded, Venusaur had grown larger and heavier with a pink flower on its forehead and dark green markings between its eyes.

    “Oh, … wow,” Antoshi remarked, nervously.

    It was the first time they had seen a real Mega Evolution up close. The stones needed for Trainer and Pokémon were both exceedingly rare and very expensive.

    Lost in their battle trance, Antoshi and Fireball's eyes were wide with intensity — their excitement rising from the unique challenge before them. They were focused solely on their battle and no longer distracted by the nearby competitors.

    “Flora, Sludge Bomb!”

    The lush beast reared back and opened its maw with a deep, groaning roar. It spat out a large, brown gob of toxic muck that shot in an arc toward Fireball, exploding on contact. Fireball groaned, stumbling back from the impact and turning away to wipe the sludge off his face.

    "This is so gross," Fireball remarked, shuddering. "Why do we keep getting opponents with poison attacks? I'll take getting smashed over the head with a boulder over this any day."

    Antoshi covered his nose from the horrible-smelling poison, staring at their opposition.

    ‘If what I remember about Mega Evolution is correct,’ he thought, ‘Venusaur's durability is increased as well. I could go with Fire Blast, but it's slower and harder to land. Flamethrower is way more reliable, but it'll take more hits to wear Mega Venusaur down. I'd better play this one on the safe side. We can't afford to make any mistakes now.’

    “Fireball, use Flamethrower!”

    Fireball shook himself to remove any more sludge he could. He took aim at his opponent, launching a raging stream of fire from his mouth. The heat of his flames were fueled by the disgust of Mega Venusaur's previous attack.

    “Dodge it!” the girl commanded.

    In a flash, Mega Venusaur darted to the side to avoid Fireball's attack. Antoshi was shocked at how deceptively fast the heavy, stubby monster was.

    “Follow it!” Antoshi said. “Keep pouring it on!”

    Fireball didn't let up on his attack, aiming the fire as best he could at his moving target. He could only keep a single Flamethrower going for as long as his lungs held a breath. The distance between them forced him to predict and try to lead his opponent's movements.

    Mega Venusaur neared the stadium wall. Running out of room to dodge, it leapt back over the pillar of flame. Fireball responded by pulling up, managing to score a hit just before he ran out of air. Mega Venusaur roared in pain, crashing back down to the ground with some of its petals aflame.

    Fireball coughed up puffs of smoke while trying to catch his breath.

    “You okay, Fireball?” Antoshi asked.

    "Feeling a little lightheaded after that one," Fireball replied in a raspy voice, "but I'm good."

    Mega Venusaur groaned, getting back to its feet. It shook itself off, cinders falling from its body. Antoshi was flabbergasted that it got up again so quickly.

    “Okay, that Mega Venusaur looks in way better shape than I would've hoped,” he remarked.

    The girl laughed. “That's thanks to its ability: Thick Fat! Mega Venusaur takes half as much damage from Fire-type attacks!”

    “I guess we'll just have to hit twice as hard! Fireball, get up close and then use Flamethrower!”

    Both Fireball and the girl were left confused as to what Antoshi was planning. Never one to doubt Antoshi's strategies, Fireball shrugged before he took off running on all fours.

    “Flora, give it another Sludge Bomb!”

    “Dodge it, Fireball!” Antoshi shouted.

    Fireball kept himself as difficult to aim at as possible, weaving back and forth while closing the gap between them. Mega Venusaur roared again before discharging another gob of revolting poison. The arcing attack narrowly missed Fireball, going right over his head.

    The girl gasped as Fireball appeared before her Pokémon. Fireball opened his maw wide, drenching the Grass-type in a direct stream of flames. Mega Venusaur roared in agony, taking the full brunt of the attack. Fireball headed back to his friend. Mega Venusaur slowly shook itself off, appearing far more charred and worn down than before.

    ‘That was a risky plan, and it paid off,’ the girl thought as she glared bitterly at the opposing duo. ‘Sludge Bomb is a single, arcing shot. He was betting on me to use it again, and for Flora's aim to be less accurate if his Typhlosion got in close.’ She glanced over at her Mega Venusaur, who was visibly worn down after the last attack. ‘Now Flora's seriously hurt, even with its Thick Fat. Another one of those and we're done for. …’

    “Time to finish this!” she said. “Flora, use Frenzy Plant!”

    Venusaur's body glowed with an intensifying shade of green. Antoshi was taken aback, unfamiliar with the move.

    “Frenzy Plant?” Antoshi wondered aloud. Unsure of what to expect, his best bet was to play it safe until he and Fireball could make a counter-attack. “Fireball, use Defense Curl!”

    Fireball curled into a ball just before Venusaur stomped the ground hard. Massive, spiked roots violently erupted out of the ground, creating a trail that led toward Fireball. Once they reached the Typhlosion, he was struck hard and flung high into the air with incredible force.

    Initially worried for his friend's well-being, Antoshi quickly realized that Fireball had been thrown at an angle — one that brought him closer to their opponents.

    “Now, Fireball!” he shouted. “Flamethrower!”

    Fireball clenched his teeth. Though injured from the powerful attack, he quickly realized what Antoshi did. Even while in pain and constantly rolling through the air, he kept track of Mega Venusaur's position and waited for just the right moment. He opened his maw and gave an intense roar. The flames on his back flared wildly as he let out a Flamethrower so intense that it stopped his momentum and propelled him backwards.

    The attack charged forth with blazing speed. The weakened Mega Venusaur could not dodge as it did previously. Frenzy Plant had already rendered Mega Venusaur briefly exhausted and unable to move. Drenched in fire, it roared in agony, toppling over backwards. Its Trainer shielded her eyes from the powerful flames. Once the attack finished, she gasped at how badly burned her fainted Mega Venusaur was.

    With Mega Venusaur unconscious, their spirit link was broken. In a flash of light, it returned to its standard form as a Venusaur.

    Fireball landed on his hind feet near Antoshi. He suddenly groaned in pain and fell to a knee. He held his ribs, looking at his paw afterward to find blood.

    “Fireball?” Antoshi asked with concern as he headed to his friend's side.

    "Looks like one of those big thorns got me," Fireball remarked, shooting Antoshi a reassuring grin.

    Antoshi smiled and nodded. He quickly took off his backpack and rummaged through it.

    “Trainer 147 wins,” the woman on the loudspeaker said.

    The opposing Trainer sighed in dismay, recalling her Venusaur into its Poké Ball.

    “Good luck,” she said, before solemnly walking away.

    As Antoshi tended to Fireball's wounds with a spray medicine, they briefly looked over at her. Neither of them could fathom just how disappointed she was, but it was clear she put as much effort as they did into getting to the tournament. They remained mindful that they'd ended the dreams of a fellow Trainer and her Pokémon. It gave them perspective as to just how quickly and easily their dream could end, too.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2019
  9. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 9


    In the early evening, the sky had become a layered mix of bluish-purple littered with long streaks of orange clouds. Antoshi and Fireball sat in the stands. They watched the end of the first round of preliminary matches while enjoying the meal provided for them by the staff. The number of other Trainers had thinned out to half as many as there were hours prior.

    “Trainer 501 wins!” the voice on the loudspeaker said. “That concludes the first round. If you haven't already, Trainers, please heal your Pokémon by your own means or inside the stadium concourse where you'll find our Pokémon Center. The second and final round of preliminary matches will begin in just a few minutes.”

    The giant screens lit up with an updated tournament bracket. Antoshi furrowed his brow curiously when he saw the number of their next opponent: 145. His eyes lit up. The battle involving '145' was one that he'd witnessed from afar earlier. It was a young boy, younger than him, with dark skin and an almost completely shaved head. The Trainer had used a powerful Tyranitar to knock out both of his opponent's Pokémon. It was quite the intimidating sight. Now they had to face off against that themselves.

    “Trainers 1 and 3, report to battlefield one.”

    The bracket process started all over again, only this time with tougher Trainers.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Trainers 145 and 147, report to battlefield two.”

    Antoshi took a deep breath and sighed. The pair nodded to each other, putting their game faces on, heading down to the assigned field. The young boy that Antoshi remembered was already waiting for them. He smirked confidently, tossing a Poké Ball up and down. Antoshi and Fireball stood in their respective positions on their side of the field.

    “Battlefield two — you may begin!”

    “Go,” their opponent exclaimed as he threw his Poké Ball out, “Lanturn!”

    From the ball emerged a cheerful, large blue footballfish with a Y-shaped antenna tipped with glowing orbs. It cried out, raring to battle. Fireball gave his own shout, flaring up the fires on his back. Antoshi wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead, already dreading the impending reveal of the opponent's Tyranitar.

    ‘That's not good,’ Antoshi thought, huffing sharply. ‘Thunder Punch is effectively useless now and Lanturn's Water-type drowns out all of our Fire-type attacks. … Rollout isn't as effective—’

    “Lanturn!” the other Trainer exclaimed, interrupting Antoshi's train of thought. “Use Rain Dance!”

    Lanturn did an adorable shimmy from side to side, singing as it did so. A dark cloud emerged high over their quadrant of the battlefield, a downpour of rain falling upon the two Pokémon. Fireball idly lifted his head and opened his maw to lap up a brief drink of water.

    And he's setting up,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I wonder … if he watched our battle, too.’

    “How do you like that?” their opponent asked, boasting confidently. “Let's see your Typhlosion deal with this!”

    Antoshi hesitated for a moment before issuing their next move.

    “Fireball — use Burn Up!”

    Fireball appeared surprised by the decision. He turned his gaze to Antoshi, who nodded confidently at him. Fireball dropped down to all fours, snarling loudly as his entire body became enveloped in an inferno. The flames were hot enough to evaporate the rain falling upon him. He swiftly charged at his opponent, slamming headlong into it. Lanturn cried out, bouncing and skidding backwards from the force and the intensity of the flames. Fireball headed back to his side of the field.

    The flames on Fireball's back abruptly extinguished.

    "Aw," Fireball muttered, turning to look at his upper back. "That's my least favorite part of using this move."

    ‘Burn Up makes Fireball typeless for the remainder of this battle,’ Antoshi thought, staring intensely at their opponents, ‘so now we don't have to worry about the Type advantage. This'll be a long-shot, but it might just be the best chance we have to deal with his first Pokémon.’

    “Don't worry, Lanturn!” the opposing Trainer said. “We still got this! Aqua Ring!”

    Lanturn closed its eyes and let out a soothing cry. Its body became enveloped by swirling rings of water that rotated around it.

    “Fireball, Defense Curl!”

    Fireball curled up into a ball, suddenly surrounded by a brief glimpse of a bluish shield. The rings of water around Lanturn suddenly healed some of its battle damage.

    “Nice try, fool!” their opponent said. “Your Defense Curl isn't going to matter when Lanturn has no physical attacks! Lanturn, Thunder!”

    Lanturn howled to the sky, sending up a large bolt of electricity from its glowing orbs into the dark clouds above them. The clouds flickered with light and rumbled with the sound of thunder. An even more powerful bolt of lightning came down in a flash, striking its target directly.

    Antoshi shielded his eyes, clenching his teeth as a loud crack of thunder rang out mere meters in front of him.

    “Fireball!” Antoshi exclaimed. “Are you okay?”

    Fireball's fur was frazzled and slightly singed all around his body. Some residual electricity continued to flow around him — a visual indication that Fireball had been paralyzed by the attack.

    "Ye—yeah!" Fireball shakily replied. "Just p—peachy."

    Antoshi recognized the signs of paralysis and felt his heart drop. Frustrated by their stroke of bad luck, he sighed heavily and turned his attention to their opponents.

    “All right, Fireball! Rollout!”

    Fireball revved in place on the rain-slicked ground before dashing toward the enemy.

    ‘That combo!’ the opposing Trainer thought, eyes wide with surprise. ‘So, they know some tricks …’

    ‘If Fireball is unable to attack at any point,’ Antoshi thought, ‘then we're in major trouble …’

    Lanturn's maneuverability on land was almost non-existent. The opposing duo were unable to do anything about the oncoming attack. Fireball slammed into Lanturn, causing it to rapidly flip over backwards until it rolled to a stop. It groaned, shaking off its dizziness before sliding back to its side of the field. Fireball remained in his curled form as he rolled back his side as well.

    The rain momentarily poured down harder while Lanturn's Aqua Ring healed some of its injuries.

    “Lanturn — Thunder, again!”

    Lanturn fired another powerful bolt of electricity into the clouds, which came down and struck Fireball. He shouted in pain, his curled-up body tensing as he was rattled with electricity. His fur was mostly frazzled, singed and charred.

    Thunder was an immensely powerful technique, and the combination with Rain Dance meant it would always hit Fireball. Antoshi clenched his teeth until the lightning faded away.

    “Fireball!” Antoshi exclaimed in concern. “Let me know you're okay!”

    Fireball wasn't moving, causing a moment of tension between both sides. The Typhlosion suddenly heaved a deep sigh, having held his breath. Though his body relaxed some, the electricity of his paralysis continued to flow around him.

    “Come on!” the opposing Trainer screeched. “Faint already, you stupid Typhlosion!”

    "I'm … not going down easily," Fireball said, straining.

    Antoshi grinned proudly.

    “Fireball, another Rollout!”

    Fireball revved up once more and launched himself faster than before across the rain-slicked ground. Lanturn's eyes widened just before being struck. It was thrown through the air, past its Trainer before crashing to a halt. It groaned, suddenly unable to pick itself back up.

    “No!” the opposing Trainer shouted.

    “Yes,” Antoshi quietly cheered, pumping a fist at his side.

    Fireball was still curled up like a ball, leaving Antoshi unable to gauge his friend's status.

    “Fireball, how you feeling?” he asked.

    "Very buzzed," he replied. "Other than that, I'm still good to go."

    Antoshi smiled and stood confidently. The opposing Trainer seethed, yanking the Poké Ball off his belt and recalling his Lanturn in a huff.

    “No more messing around!” he exclaimed. He switched the Poké Ball with an Ultra Ball in the same hand, which he immediately threw out. “Go, Tyranitar!”

    Antoshi's eyes widened in shock. It was the Pokémon he was expecting — and fearing.

    From the ball came a monstrous dinosaurian beast. Covered in thick, green, armored skin, the bipedal Pokémon was abnormally large for its species like Fireball was — and very angry.

    “I don't care if your Typhlosion has no Type right now, you're still going to lose!”

    “It sure didn't look that big from far away,” Antoshi joked nervously.

    "What?" Fireball asked, unable to see anything in his curled form. "What happened?"

    The imposing Tyranitar stomped its foot, causing the ground to rumble under its immense weight and power. Fireball bounced a few inches off the ground from the impact.

    "… Oh," Fireball added. "I don't want to look, do I?"

    “No, probably not,” Antoshi replied, unable to take his eyes away from the imposing beast.

    The Tyranitar let out a powerful roar that grabbed the attention of almost every spectator and nearby competitors. Antoshi turned his attention to the opposing Trainer.

    “Hey, how did you get that Tyranitar anyway?”

    “By catching it — duh!” the Trainer replied. “Stupid!”

    Antoshi was taken aback by the indignant response.

    “… Okay then,” he muttered. “I see someone's not in the mood to chat.”

    From Tyranitar's body, a magical maelstrom of sand kicked up, swirling relentlessly around the two Pokémon. It was its Sand Stream ability. The sandstorm caused the dark clouds and rainy condition to disperse.

    "Ow!" Fireball said, as he was pelted with grains of sand. "Not this again!"

    ‘We have to act quickly here,’ Antoshi thought. ‘Tyranitar's a bit faster than Lanturn, but definitely still slower than Fireball. If we use Rollout again, combined with Defense Curl, it'll have the strength of eight standard Rollouts at this point. But that's not a good enough Type advantage for us to—’ His eyes suddenly lit up. ‘Tyranitar … is Dark- and Rock-Type.’

    “Fireball!” he said. “Use Focus Blast!”

    Fireball groaned in pain as he hopped back to his hind feet. His tired eyes and burns down his belly finally showed how worn down he had gotten after taking two direct Thunder attacks. The opposing Trainer watched carefully, ready to counteract.

    Fireball held his forepaws at one side, charging up a bright ball of energy. However, just as the attack was ready, the electricity around his body surged wildly. He shouted in pain and fell to a knee. The energy in his hands dissipated.

    ‘Oh, no! Not the paralysis!’ Antoshi thought with eyes aghast. ‘Not now!’

    The opposing Trainer smirked, capitalizing on Fireball's misfortune.

    “Tyranitar! Stone Edge! Finish it!”

    Tyranitar let out an immense roar before stomping its foot. Massive rock pillars jutted out of the ground, rushing toward Fireball like a wave. Fireball was struck hard. The violent impact sent him airborne a short distance before crashing nearby Antoshi. The pillars sunk back into the ground.

    “Fireball!” Antoshi cried out in terror.

    Fireball groaned weakly, lifting himself up onto his arms. The Typhlosion suddenly fell to the ground. The wind had been knocked from Antoshi's lungs, placing his hands on his head.

    Yes!” the opposing Trainer cheered. “We won!”

    “Fireball, no,” Antoshi whispered, his eyes welling up with tears. “You can't lose …”

    He exhaled in disbelief, dropping to his knees beside his fallen friend.

    Just as the opposing Trainer was about to recall his Tyranitar, Fireball stirred back to life.

    "Good point …" Fireball replied, weakly, staggering up on his hind feet. "It would be … pretty crummy if we lost now …"

    “What the heck?!” the opposing Trainer shouted.

    Antoshi was equally astonished to see his friend still conscious. He also got to his feet at the same slow pace that Fireball did, quickly wiping away the tears from his eyes.

    "I have … no idea how I'm still in this," Fireball said with a weak smirk. "It kinda feels like I'm dreaming."

    “Well, this is definitely our dream,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “Let's make it come true while you're still conscious. One more Focus Blast!”

    Fireball nodded and hobbled his way back onto the field. He clenched his teeth upon re-entering the tornado of whipping sands. With his trembling paws at one side, he slowly charged up the same ball of energy as before. He groaned, becoming more dizzy and weak as the attack grew in size.

    'Gotta make … this one … count,' Fireball thought. 'I only have one more left in me.'

    With a diminished shout, he thrust his arms forward to fire off the attack before falling onto his behind.

    “Tyranitar — dodge it!!” its Trainer exclaimed.

    Tyranitar leapt to the side with incredible speed that caused Antoshi to gasp in shock. However, Fireball's inexperience and inaccuracy with the move became their saving grace yet again. Tyranitar dodged into the path of the attack.

    Focus Blast struck one of the gaping triangular holes in its chest — a glaring chink in its otherwise impenetrable body armor. The spot was a pressure point, amplifying the damage it received for a critical hit. The impact caused a large, explosive burst of light. The tremendous Tyranitar was sent backward, roaring in anguish. It shook the stadium grounds upon landing and slid to a halt.

    Fireball grinned, laughing weakly at the incredible sight. He couldn't believe how lucky that was. He groaned wearily, falling back onto the wet, sandy ground.

    “Fireball!” he exclaimed.

    Antoshi stopped himself from rushing through the sandstorm to his friend's side — doing so would cause a forfeit. He clenched his teeth in frustration, staring at his friend with deep concern.

    Tyranitar was not moving. Its sandstorm petered out and its Trainer was left stunned, but quickly became outraged.

    No~!!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. He fell to his hands and knees and began sobbing.

    “Trainer 147 wins!” the voice on the loudspeaker announced.

    Antoshi immediately rushed over and knelt down beside Fireball. He scrambled to pull out another Full Restore from his backpack, spraying his friend with it from head to toe.

    “You all right?” Antoshi asked, nervously.

    Fireball grinned slightly and gave him a thumbs-up.

    "I'm just glad that was the last match of the day," Fireball replied, quietly. "We definitely got put through the wringer here."

    “These victories of ours are getting more and more unbelievable — and a lot more slim. It already feels like we're barely scraping by.”

    "I'll bet it's all downhill from here," Fireball joked. They both laughed.

    The other Trainer sniffled and wept as he recalled his Tyranitar. He covered his eyes in shame as he ran off through the stadium tunnels. Despite how abrasive the boy was towards them, Antoshi still felt badly for him being overwhelmed by the sting of defeat.

    After Antoshi and Fireball got to their feet, one of the stadium volunteers holding a clipboard came out to greet them.

    “Congratulations on your victory!” the man said. “Please, follow me.”

    Antoshi and Fireball grinned at each other in elation. They had made it past the preliminaries. They won their way into the official Indigo League tournament.

    The pair were led through a set of large open doors, into one of the areas in the concourse of the stadium. The pair gasped in awe, standing at the entrance of a massive, elegant ballroom. Everything was colored in various shades of purple and blue, accented by white. The walls were lined with couches. The shiny, waxed floor was covered in a plethora of perfectly lined dining tables and chairs. The cool, circulated air was rife with the scent of freshly baked confections.

    There were a dozen or so Trainers hanging around in the room already, some accompanied by their small or human-sized Pokémon. With the amount of tables and seats, it seemed it would eventually get much more crowded.

    “This is the Indigo Room,” the man told them. “It's the main dining and lounging area for those who pass the preliminary matches. You may come here and dine any time of the day or night. Your assigned table number is …” he briefly jotted down on his clipboard, “14! This will also be the number of your sleeping quarters.”

    “Sleeping quarters?” Antoshi asked.

    “Indeed. The Indigo Tournament starts tomorrow and lasts for three days. Until then, all Trainers passing the preliminary matches must stay at the Indigo Plateau until the closing ceremonies.” He handed Antoshi a key card and a pamphlet. “This key is for your quarters. The pamphlet includes information of daily events and maps of the grounds. Be sure to wear your lanyard for identification purposes whenever you're outside of your quarters. I hope you and your Pokémon have a wonderful time here. Congratulations once again on your victories.”

    He gave them a respectful nod of the head before taking his leave. Antoshi took a brief look through the pamphlet.

    “Oh good, another map for me to memorize,” Antoshi joked.

    "This is definitely the fanciest dining room I've ever seen!" Fireball remarked. He looked in all directions while Antoshi quietly studied the information in his hands. "I smell food — lots of food. He never said whether we had a limit or if we had to pay, did he?"

    “He sure didn't,” Antoshi replied with a smirk, “but that doesn't mean you get to eat the entire kitchen.”

    "What other places are there to check out around here?"

    “Well, down the hall on the left there's a large Pokémon Center.”

    "Which way do we go to check out our room?"

    A grin spread across Antoshi's face. He closed the pamphlet and stored it away in his backpack pocket.

    “I was hoping you'd ask that. Come on.”

    Fireball curiously followed his friend through a hallway on their right. They went out another set of large doors leading outside. They had now exited through the opposite side of the stadium from where they originally entered earlier that morning.

    Fireball gasped in surprise. Sprawled out before him was a bustling resort village situated around a large lake. The pair strolled and looked around. Volunteers and staff in all directions kept the grounds and the log cabins that comprised the village tidy. Each of them smiled, waved or greeted the pair as they passed.

    "Wow!" Fireball remarked, waving back to them. "What is this place?"

    “I just read about it on the map. This place is rented out as a vacation resort most of the year. But, when it's time for a tournament, it's lodging for the participants.”

    Fireball's eyes widened in surprise.

    "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean …"

    “Uh-huh!” Antoshi cheerfully replied. They came to a stop in front of a single-story cabin with a sign hammered into the front lawn that read '14.' “We're not staying in a room like the Pokémon Center — we get our own little house to live in.”

    Fireball started hyperventilating.

    "This … is so … freakingcool!" he said.

    Fireball was buzzing with excitement as they walked to the front door. Antoshi slid the key card through the reader, hearing a confirmation beep, and the door unlocked. He chuckled as he opened the door and invited his friend to enter first. Fireball squealed in glee, merrily skipping inside.

    The duo's faces lit up as they looked around.

    “Wow,” they both remarked in awe.

    It was as though they were walking into the distant past. The evening sun flooded the charming home that seemed to be constructed in a bygone age. Warm and cozy, almost everything was made of wood, looking so antique that the duo were wary about touching any of it. From the diamond-shape leaded windows, the patterned drapes, and even a grandfather clock. A wooden display cabinet held plates and candlestick holders. A dining table and chairs sat upon rustic, stone flooring. Any amenities they could need were provided; from a couch, television and videophone to a fully-stocked kitchen, dining room and appliances.

    "This place is amazing," Fireball said, as the two looked around. "I like it a lot more than the Pokémon Center."

    “You don't say?” Antoshi grinned as he asked, sarcastically.

    The boy headed into the spacious bedroom, placing his backpack down next to the bed. Fireball followed, peering around the bedroom from the doorway.

    "Someday, you and I should live in a house like this. Maybe someplace out in the woods like you enjoy."

    “That would be nice.” Antoshi smiled, glancing out the window for a brief moment. They had a perfect view of the sparkling lake behind the house. The beautiful scenery and the splendid peacefulness of the house were far and beyond what he could've ever expected in his many dreams of making it to the Indigo League. “Well, how about we go and do what you enjoy, which is eat?”

    "I'm always ready! Lead the way!"

    Antoshi laughed as they headed to the front door. “The volunteer that gave us a bunch of info never said I had to dress any differently when we go eat. Guess I'll just wear the same thing I have on.”

    "Same here."

    “You would say that, wouldn't you?” Fireball chuckled and nodded. The two of them headed back outside. “One of these days I'm going to get you some clothes.”

    "Ugh, no way! I'm not some dress-up Furfrou."

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    By the time the two got back to the Indigo Room dining hall, far more Trainers were lounging around with each other and their Pokémon. Food was already being served to the hungry victors of the first day of competition. Fireball asked Antoshi to order several courses just for himself. The duo sat down, ordered, and began to eat.

    Aside from the victors, staff, waiters, and volunteers all buzzed around. Antoshi was elated to see so many other fellow Trainers at such a high-class dining room also sitting with their Pokémon. It was an unusual sight, yet it was the norm for the tournament.

    A couple of Trainers walked around the dining room with Pokédexes in hand. One of them, a young man in his teens wearing a purple hat, stopped in front of Fireball, holding up the device that looked like two black handles around a holographic light display. The duo were able to see through it from the opposite side. It lit up with a full-body image of a Typhlosion.

    “You have a really awesome Typhlosion,” the young man said. “How'd you get him?”

    “Fireball was given to me when I was little,” Antoshi replied.

    “Lucky you! … Oh, hey, you're the duo that faced that scary-looking Tyranitar.”

    “That's us,” he said, with a proud grin. Fireball nodded.

    “Wow. You beat a Tyranitar with a Typhlosion of all things. That's really amazing stuff. I didn't see the entire battle, but I definitely saw it after it fainted.”

    “Thank you.”

    The young man looked around. “Well, I see more Pokémon I need entries on. See you around!”

    “See ya.”

    With that, the Trainer took his leave.

    "You know," Fireball said, "I was kind of expecting the Trainers here to be really full of themselves. It's nice to see most of them are friendly."

    “Yeah,” Antoshi replied with a smile. “I was expecting the same, honestly. It's a huge confidence boost for anyone to have earned eight badges and get to the Indigo Plateau. But, with how tough it's been along the way, it's still a humbling experience.” They looked around at all the smiling faces, hearing a couple people in the distance laughing. “They're all probably really happy to make it this far. I know I am.”

    "Same here," Fireball replied, with a mouthful of food. "This is the best dinner we've had in a while!"

    Antoshi shook his head and sighed in content. Their minds were off the jitters they'd inevitably face in the following day's competition. For the time being, they took all the time they could to relax and revel in their success.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Having been on the move and battling most of the day, the duo were ready to call it an early night. Antoshi laughed as an overstuffed Fireball literally waddled his way out of the dining room, attracting the amusement of others nearby.

    “That's one happy Pokémon!” a male Trainer said to them.

    "He's got that right," Fireball remarked.

    They headed back to their cottage to get settled in. Fireball took his usual place resting on the floor of the moonlit bedroom, groaning loudly and hiccuping as he lay on his back. Antoshi emerged from the bathroom, wearing his usual sleeping garments, toothbrush in hand.

    "I know I'm going to sleep really well tonight," Fireball said.

    “I hope so,” Antoshi said, packing his toothbrush away. “Tomorrow's going to be the biggest challenge we've ever faced.”

    He hopped into bed, slipping under the covers. He sighed heavily, followed by a period of silence between them.

    “… It's so incredible to think we finally made it to the Indigo League,” Antoshi spoke up. “We spent so many nights awake just like this, talking about it and dreaming of this moment.”

    "Do you think we'll really make it to the end?" Fireball asked.

    “Of course. We can't think otherwise. Doubting ourselves now doesn't make sense. We always said we were going for the championship — that's where we're gonna end up.”

    "You're right. This is why I listen to you."

    “Yeah, otherwise you end up in the trunk of Team Rocket's car.”

    "Err, … maybe we could chalk that up to a 'youthful indiscretion'?"

    “I'm only joking. I'm the one that taught you that phrase, by the way.” Fireball snickered in response. “Well, we'd better get lots of sleep.”

    "Sounds good to me. Goodnight, Antoshi."

    “Goodnight, buddy.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The following morning, the duo got up at their usual wake-up time of six o'clock. The sun had just started to break the horizon and peer into the bedroom window. They were fueled by a deep sense of determination. Both remained fairly quiet, getting themselves mentally prepared for what was to be the most important day of their lives.

    Antoshi tied his shoes, wearing the same red-and-white polo shirt and shorts he'd worn often. He made sure to put on his identification lanyard on and headed for the door where Fireball was anxiously waiting for him.

    He stopped suddenly, heading back into the room to rummage through his backpack for something. He pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball. He may end up needing it, just in case. He stuffed it into his pocket before leaving the house with his best friend by his side.

    From his other pocket, he pulled out their information pamphlet. After navigating back through the stadium concourse, they entered a large, bright waiting room. It was mostly white, with a few potted trees along the walls and plants set on tables to break the drabness. There were dozens of rows of linked chairs — plenty of seating for the waiting competitors. Large television screens hung on the walls, though they were off for the time being.

    They looked around curiously. Dozens of fellow Trainers had already gotten up well before them. The chatter between them was at a minimum. Some of them kept their Pokémon out of their Poké Balls. All of the Trainers seemed as anxious to get started as they were, and their Pokémon were just as focused.

    Antoshi looked through the pamphlet again.

    “Well, it looks like the gates open for the crowds at eight,” he said. “Opening ceremonies start at ten — that's when all the competitors are brought out to the stadium grounds for a short time. Then, the first match starts afterward. I wonder how they're going to arrange the matches this time around?”

    “Funny running into you again, Antoshi,” a familiar voice said.

    They both turned around and grinned.

    “Cory! Hey!” Antoshi greeted him.

    “Hey there. I didn't think so many other Trainers got up as early as I did. Guess that's to be expected with those serious enough to make it this far.”

    “So, what are you doing this morning?” Antoshi asked.

    “I just came back from breakfast in the dining area. All the food here is amazing, and they make some great waffles.”

    Fireball's whole world suddenly went blank, staring into the distance with eyes wide.

    ‘Waffles …’ Cory's voice echoed in Fireball's head. ‘Wa~ffles …’

    Cory smirked as he looked at the mesmerized Typhlosion.

    “What's wrong with Fireball? Didn't get enough sleep last night?”

    “No, I think it's because you said—”

    "Waffles!" Fireball shouted, rushing off to the dining room.

    “… Waffles.”

    Cory burst out laughing. Antoshi sighed and grinned.

    “Well, I guess we're off to breakfast now. Maybe we'll run into each other again later.”

    “Take care,” he replied, before Antoshi jogged after his friend.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    After getting some breakfast in them, the duo hung around in the waiting area. Antoshi passed the time by reading a book from the reading material provided by the staff, while Fireball relaxed out on several chairs next to him.

    Some time later, the television screens turned on. Those waiting got to watch the morning newscast. One of the reports was about the ongoing events after the destruction of Fern Town. Antoshi idly closed his book, taking great interest in the report. While the chatter in the room was too loud for him to hear it, the text on screen indicated that the cleanup was expected to last months. A makeshift memorial had been set up for loved ones and the general public to leave their thoughts, prayers, and offerings. Hundreds of flower bouquets, cards, and toys were left in memory of the victims.

    Antoshi's chest tightened at the sight of people distraught and crying. It was difficult for him to watch, recalling the incident as it happened in his dreams. Recordings and photos of Slateport City's devastation also came up on screen. Comparisons were made between the two events, leaving the boy to mull over the relation between the two. He didn't have any dreams about the destruction of Slateport. He could only wonder if there really was a connection.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The televisions eventually changed over to the stadium's closed circuit network. Antoshi and others were awe-struck. Live cameras showed them the sheer mass of people waiting to get into the gate and filing into the stands.

    “Wow, that's crazy,” a girl nearby remarked.

    “What is that, like, a hundred thousand people?” another person mused.

    “Has to be. All those people are going to be watching us? Can I just drop out now?”

    There was some boisterous laughing near the front of the room. A male, teenage Trainer hopped to his feet, turning to the others in the room.

    “Cowards — out the door!” he shouted to the group, pointing toward the exit. His antics sparked laughs and playful jeers from others. “Go on! If you're scared of the crowd, head home! You'll make it a lot easier for the rest of us to win this tournament! Go on now!”

    With the images of the crowds filing in, the Trainers were starting to get rowdy as they mentally prepared themselves. Antoshi couldn't help but laugh to himself at the ruckus, while nervously wringing his cold hands.

    Fireball awoke with a yawn amid all the commotion. "Huh? What's happening?" he asked.

    Antoshi grinned at his friend. “It's about to be showtime.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2019
  10. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 10


    As the opening ceremonies neared, the stadium was almost filled to capacity. The noise of the crowd became apparent even from inside the waiting area. Anticipation was growing on all sides. Antoshi had long put away the book, opting to sit and prepare himself.

    Soon, a small group of stadium volunteers entered the waiting room. They informed the Trainers that they'd be escorting them out onto the stadium grounds in orderly lines. The process went quickly and smoothly. Each line of Trainers was led down a hallway. They stopped just at the entrance of one of the tunnels leading out to the stadium. Fireball stood beside Antoshi.

    The stadium's giant screens showed Cedric as he walked out onto the field with microphone in hand.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year's Spring Indigo League Championship Tournament!” he exclaimed. The crowd roared in excitement. “One-hundred and twenty-eight new and returning Trainers from all over the world have proven their mettle in the Kanto League! But, only one will be the victor and move on to face the Elite Four and the Champion himself! Now, without further ado, let's say 'hello' to this year's participants!”

    The first group were led out into the sun-drenched stadium grounds. The floor had already been flipped back over to become a single large battlefield instead of four. As the crowd cheered the Trainers on, some of them chose to wave while others kept to themselves. More volunteers walked past the group, directing each Trainer to stand in neatly spaced gaps between each other.

    As part of the second group, Antoshi and Fireball headed outside. The noise of almost a hundred thousand people cheering was beyond their comprehension. One of the male volunteers standing by spoke to them as they neared him.

    “Stand here, please,” he said, bringing the pair to a halt. He promptly did the same for the next few Trainers behind them.

    The awe-struck duo gazed around the stadium. Nothing could've prepared them for how overwhelming it was to be surrounded by so many onlookers. Pride swelled through them as they soaked in the moment. The tournament they'd dreamed of for so long was starting with them as participants.

    “We're really here,” Antoshi said. “We're finally here at the Indigo League Tournament. After getting our eight badges, seeing all those amazing cities, and all the people and Pokémon we got to meet along the way. Not to mention the insane amount of training we had to start our journey with to get anywhere. A lot of people doubted us, Fireball, but it finally led up to this.”

    "Well, when you sum it up like that, I feel like I'm getting misty-eyed over here."

    Antoshi smiled proudly at his friend. “It felt like this was just an impossible dream for the longest time. I remember the times we both wanted to give up and go home.”

    "I sure am glad we didn't. This is totally worth it."

    Antoshi took great pride in making it this far along with all the other Trainers and their companion Pokémon surrounding him. He felt as though he were part of the upper echelon of Trainers that the Kanto region had to offer. They'd spent countless hours training in all manner of weather, in all different locales, getting dirty and muddy, drenched in sweat and collapsing from exhaustion. Indeed, it made all their grit, determination, and struggle to make it there totally worth it — just as Fireball said.

    Once all of the participants were out on the field, Cedric resumed speaking.

    “Now, let's say hello to our Elite Four!” he exclaimed, to the elation of the crowd. The stadium's cameras shifted to five people seated behind the glass of the stadium's box seats. “First up, the mistress of Water-types, Sharon!”

    The camera zoomed in on a young, blonde woman in a long, elegant, blue dress. She smiled warmly for the camera as it zoomed in on her.

    “Second, the Flying-type genius, Nicholas!”

    A reserved young man wearing large glasses kept his gaze away from the camera, opting to observe each of the competitors on the field.

    “Third, the 'Steel Crusher', Dwayne!”

    A large, muscular man with dark, tanned skin, wearing a bodybuilding tank top sat with his arms folded across his chest. He had a stern look on his face. The crowd briefly chanted his name.

    “Fourth, the vibrant Grass-type prodigy, Rosie!”

    A young girl in a green dress laughed and waved for the cameras with a big grin.

    “And finally, our reigning Indigo League Champion — Kristoffer!”

    A young man with dark hair covering an eye looked over the field with disinterest. Antoshi looked up at the Champion on screen in astonishment, having never seen him before. He was spellbound by the Champion's gaze.

    ‘Whoa,’ Antoshi thought. ‘That look in his eyes. He's definitely a Trainer with some serious experience — I can feel it. He's been through way more than what Fireball and I have.’

    “Now, ladies and gentlemen,” Cedric continued, “it's time to get this tournament underway!”

    The sounds of fireworks went off in the morning sky as flocks of Pidgey and Pidove were released into the air. The duo didn't have much time to enjoy the sight, however, as all the Trainers were escorted back inside the concourse in the same orderly fashion. They were led into a different tunnel than the one they came out from, while adjacent groups headed in the opposite direction.

    The new waiting room they were led into was near identical to the first, only with half as many Trainers and their Pokémon.

    “Greetings, Trainers,” a different, male volunteer politely said, as he entered the room. “The sixty-four of you here are going to be on the red side of the battlefield. The monitor screens provided here will display the tournament bracket, as well as the current battle in progress. We will be starting the first match very shortly. Good luck to you all!”

    The Trainers looked at each of the screens to find their assigned numbers on the tournament bracket. The bracket was also color coded to indicate which matches would be taking place on the first, second and final days of the event.

    Antoshi's eyes went wide, gasping in surprise.

    "What is it, Antoshi?" Fireball asked.

    “We're … the third match up,” he remarked, quietly.

    "That's really soon," Fireball replied, just as surprised as Antoshi was.

    Antoshi exhaled slowly, closing his eyes to becalm his racing heart. Not long after, the screens shifted to the outside camera, showing a smiling Cedric.

    “All right, ladies and gentlemen!” he said. “We're now ready to start the first match!” The crowd erupted into raucous cheers once more. “Trainers 176 and 305 — to the field!”

    A large, burly man sitting in the front row with a pointed beard got to his feet with a sigh. He exited the room while stretching his neck.

    "Wow," Fireball said. "That guy seems pretty relaxed for being the first one up. Right, Antoshi?" He looked over to see Antoshi staring at the screen, lost in thought. "Antoshi?"

    Fireball gently nudged his friend, snapping the boy back to reality.

    “Oh. Did you say something?”

    Fireball chuckled, trying to reassure his friend.

    "Come on, Antoshi, don't worry. We've got this!"

    “I'm sorry,” he replied, rubbing his forehead. “It's just that we've never battled in front of a massive crowd before. The competition here is really intense, too. I'll do my best to keep it together.”

    "You know," Fireball said, grabbing Antoshi's attention, "I noticed that, despite how nervous or excited you've been, that whole 'glowy red light' thing hasn't appeared around you."

    “Yeah,” he replied, looking down at his open hands, “I noticed that, too. I'm not sure what that means. It could be that I've gotten a bit more a handle on it, or maybe … it's just gone.”

    Fireball was surprised by the suggestion, though it seemed possible. While he was always concerned for his friend's well-being first, he was a little disappointed by the thought of Antoshi's miraculous powers simply vanishing just as mysteriously as they appeared.

    Antoshi, Fireball, and the others in the room watched the first match play out on the screen. Back and forth went the two Trainers' Pokémon while the crowd cheered them on relentlessly. At the same time, Antoshi took note of the expressions on their faces. They were confident, eager — not at all nervous like he was.

    “The red side Trainer, Mitch, advances!” Cedric exclaimed.

    The camera zoomed in on the large man from before as he looked out at the cheering crowd with a pleased smirk.

    "Wow, he did it," Fireball said. "I never would've expected a big, tough guy like that to use a Chansey, but it sure was powerful."

    Antoshi observed the next match with intrigue on his face. His hands were clasped against his lips, his gaze almost unblinking. He felt the same sense of wonderment as when he was a child watching the Indigo League Tournament on TV at home.

    “Craig's Walrein takes down his opponent's in one hit!” Cedric said.

    So many different Trainers,’ Antoshi thought as he stared intensely at the screen. ‘So many strategies. I've got to manage to deal with anything. If we were to face that Walrein … well, it's slow-moving, but hits hard and has a lot of durability. I'd have Fireball move constantly to avoid its attacks, which means his stamina would burn fast, so we'd have to finish quickly. Fire-type moves would work because it's half Ice-type—’

    "Antoshi?" Fireball spoke up, interrupting Antoshi's train of thought. "Aren't we up next?"

    “Oh, shoot, you're right.”

    Antoshi closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

    “And Golem goes down!” Cedric said. “The blue side's Craig wins!”

    Antoshi heaved a sigh before looking up at his friend with a confident smirk.

    “Time to make our dream a reality,” the boy said.

    Fireball grinned and nodded back.

    “Trainers 147 and 476 — to the field!” Cedric said.

    Antoshi and Fireball made their way out of the room and down the long tunnel.

    The duo inhaled deeply as they were overtaken by the bright sun and the incredible roar of the crowd. Antoshi couldn't decide whether to wave or to just play it cool. He clenched his fists at his side, doing his best to stay focused.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Oh, crap!” Blaire exclaimed in surprise, sitting up on her couch in the Cinnabar Gym. “Is that Antoshi?! Son of a gun, he really made it!”

    She grinned as she crunched on some snacks, watching Antoshi from a television attached to its own rolling stand. At the other end of the Gym's battle room, a young man was slumped over, groaning in boredom.

    “Are we gonna battle or what?” the Trainer asked.

    “Hey, pipe down!” she snapped at him. “I gotta watch this match and see how it goes!”

    The Trainer sighed in defeat.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The figure of Antoshi's opponent emerged from the far side of the field. He shielded his eyes from the sun to get a clearer view.

    “And, his opponent, a 15-year-old hailing from Saffron City — Cory!”

    Antoshi gasped, his eyes wide in disbelief.

    "That's some coincidence," Fireball remarked, taking the words from Antoshi's mouth.

    Cory stood at his side of the battlefield, smiling as he briefly soaked in the attention from the crowd. He was already holding his first Poké Ball in hand.

    “I hope you're as excited as I am, Antoshi,” he said from the across the field.

    “I sure am!” he replied, smiling back at him.

    “Good! Now I can see for myself just how strong Fireball's gotten!”

    The giant displays overhead lit up with information and an image of each Trainer. While Cory's side of the screen displayed three shaded Poké Balls, Antoshi's only showed one with an image of a Typhlosion over it.

    “As per tournament rules,” Cedric said, “both Trainers may only use three Pokémon from a pool of six in all matches before the semifinals! However, the red side Trainer, Antoshi, is only using one Pokémon!” The crowd burst into shocked murmurs, along with some smatterings of laughter. “Is the young Trainer simply overconfident or does he have prodigal skill!?”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Interesting,” General Logan remarked from inside the military base back in Johto.

    He calmly swirled around his wine. Antoshi's face was displayed on one of the screens in his office. The other screens kept watch on the young boy with black hair, curled up in a corner of his cell. The General looked at the two boys in succession and hummed curiously.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Competitors,” Cedric said, “you may begin!”

    “I choose you!” Cory said, as he threw out his first Poké Ball. “Lucario!”

    From the ball came forth a blue and black bipedal canine. It gave a shout, taking a fighting stance. Lucario held its paw-like hands near its face, eyes locked intensely on Fireball. Fireball responded by lighting the fires on his back. The displays lit up one of the slots on Cory's side with an image of Lucario.

    ‘That is one well-trained Lucario,’ Antoshi thought, watching the Lucario stand totally motionless.

    “Lucario — Aura Sphere!”

    Lucario shouted in acknowledgment, holding its hands at one side. In the space between them, it summoned a bright ball of energy — not unlike how Fireball summoned his Focus Blast technique.

    “Oh, that's not good,” Antoshi remarked. “Fireball, that attack is going to home in on you so move as quickly as you can!”

    Fireball dropped to all fours and sprinted swiftly around the large field. Lucario kept its eyes on its target before thrusting its arms forward. The energy ball chased Fireball for a few moments before exploding at his heels. He shouted in shock, thrown through the air and landing hard on his back.

    “Wow, what an attack!” Cedric exclaimed. “Is this already the end for Antoshi's single Pokémon?”

    "Not even close, announcer guy," Fireball muttered as he got to his hind feet.

    “You all right?” Antoshi asked. Fireball nodded to him. “Fireball — Flamethrower!”

    Fireball inhaled deeply, exhaling a powerful stream of fire directly at his opponent.

    “Dodge it, Lucario!” Cory said.

    Lucario narrowed its eyes and jumped high into the air. Similar to their match against Mega Venusaur, Fireball attempted to follow it, using up the breath left in his lungs. Just before the scorching flames hit, Lucario suddenly vanished.

    Antoshi and Fireball both gasped. Fireball immediately coughed up smoke from gasping in some of his own flames.

    “Your Lucario is fast!” Antoshi remarked, awe-struck as Lucario appeared back on the ground.

    Cory chuckled. “Let's show them just how fast you really are, Lucario! Extreme Speed!”

    Lucario suddenly rushed at Fireball with blinding speed before vanishing once again. The crowd cheered in delight. Fireball and Antoshi had no idea where it went, though its rapid footsteps were audible.

    “How incredible!” Cedric remarked. “Lucario is moving so fast that the red side's Antoshi and his Typhlosion can't keep up!”

    Antoshi panicked, realizing he needed to detect Lucario's whereabouts in order to counter it. It was moving incredibly fast, impossible for his eyes to follow. Antoshi's irises suddenly shifted glowing red on their own accord with the power of his mysterious energy. He gasped upon his senses becoming massively boosted out of nowhere.

    Lucario's supersonic movements around the battlefield clearly became visible to him. His eyes widened as Lucario prepared to strike.

    “Fireball—”

    Before Antoshi could finish, Lucario appeared next to Fireball and punched his jaw hard. It blinked almost instantaneously to Fireball's other side, striking him in the face face again. Afterward, it hopped back to its side of the field.

    Antoshi groaned and shook his head as his eyes and senses returned to normal.

    ‘What in the world just happened?’ he thought. ‘Why did that happen? …’

    Antoshi quickly shifted his attention back to the battle before them. “Fireball — use Inferno!”

    "Oh-ho," Fireball remarked, just after setting his jaw, "this is a cool attack."

    The flames on Fireball's back flared wildly as he gave a loud roar. The ground under Lucario rumbled briefly before a towering pillar of ghostly blue flames spiraled upward. Lucario shouted in pain, consumed in fires that Cory shielded his eyes from.

    When the flames vanished, Lucario was left wincing and holding its arm. Its body was littered with burn marks.

    “An incredible counter by the red side!” Cedric said. “Lucario appears to have suffered a burn! How will this affect the tide of battle?”

    Antoshi nodded to himself. ‘With that burn, Lucario's physical strength is greatly diminished.’

    “Nice move!” Cory said. “That burn is not going to help make this battle any easier, though. We don't need physical attacks to win! Lucario, Aura Sphere!”

    Lucario clenched its teeth, holding its arm at its sides again.

    ‘I wonder…’ Antoshi thought as he narrowed his eyes.

    “Fireball, use Flamethrower!”

    Fireball exhaled another stream of fire in the same moment Lucario launched its Aura Sphere. The two attacks collided. Aura Sphere was absorbed by the fires and almost immediately dissipated.

    Both of their opponents were shocked.

    “Whoa!” Cory exclaimed.

    Yet, Fireball's attack continued onward. Lucario was struck by the powerful flames, shouting in agony as it was thrown for several meters. It rolled a few times before landing on its front.

    Lucario groaned, trembling as it tried to lift itself up before it collapsed.

    “Another great counter!” Cedric exclaimed, amid the cheering of the crowd. “Antoshi's wisely chosen Fire-type attack brings down the half-Steel-type Lucario! The tide of battle may be swinging in the favor of the young Trainer from Saffron!”

    Cory recalled Lucario into its Poké Ball. Lucario's image on the giant displays was shaded out. Antoshi sighed in relief.

    “That was one gamble that paid off,” Antoshi said to Cory. “Good thing you didn't go with another physical attack, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do that!”

    “That was a great gamble,” Cory replied, reaching for another ball on his belt. “Very clever, too. Don't forget I can use two more Pokémon left, with five to choose from!”

    “People always like to remind us of how outnumbered we are,” Antoshi said, laughing. “That's not going to throw us off our game, though. We're always outnumbered.”

    Cory smirked. “You make a fair point.” He threw out his next ball — a Great Ball. “I choose you — Crobat!”

    From the ball emerged a large, bright purple bat with menacing red and yellow eyes. It screeched loudly, flapping its four wings to keep airborne.

    “Crobat, Confuse Ray!” Cory quickly commanded. His Pokémon's eyes shifted to a bright, glowing purple.

    “Fireball, cover your eyes!” Antoshi said.

    It was already too late for Fireball to look away from the mesmerizing glow of Crobat's eyes. His vision became incredibly blurry, unable to formulate a thought in his head. He began to stumble about randomly with a dazed expression.

    “Ohh!” Cedric exclaimed. “It appears the red side's Typhlosion has become confused! What does this mean for Antoshi and his solo Pokémon?!”

    “Great …” Antoshi muttered in dismay. “Fireball, use Smokescreen!”

    "Smokescreen?" Fireball wondered aloud, trying to remember what move that was.

    He momentarily snapped out of his daze. He took a deep breath before exhaling a large plume of black smoke that enshrouded most of their side of the field. Afterward, he groaned and held his head while continuing to stumble.

    “Crobat, Cross Poison!” Cory said.

    Crobat crossed its wings over its face. It summoned forth two swaths of glowing, purple energy in the shape of an 'X' before launching itself into the smoke to deliver it. Fireball stumbled right into the path of Crobat's attack which burst into poisonous bubbles.

    Fireball yelled in agony. The broad, searing attack struck vital points in his torso and abdomen. He was thrown hard enough that he fell out of the smokescreen and rolled to a stop next to Antoshi.

    "… Did I just get hit?" Fireball asked, wearily. The smokescreen faded away.

    “A direct hit!” Cedric said. “Crobat manages to land a devastating Cross Poison despite the Smokescreen!”

    Fireball slowly got back to his feet, stumbling back onto the field. He groaned in pain, holding his chest with one hand.

    ‘That hit took a serious toll on Fireball,’ Antoshi thought. ‘We have to start playing safer. …’

    “Fireball,” he said, “use Defense Curl!”

    'Defense Curl…' Fireball thought. 'Defense Curl? I know this one…'

    Fireball muttered in confusion before suddenly striking his face with his own paw. The crowd gasped in surprise as Fireball gave a goofy laugh.

    "That wasn't it!" Fireball said, laughing.

    “The confusion seems to have taken its toll!” Cedric remarked. “Antoshi's Typhlosion has struck itself in its confusion!”

    Antoshi ran a shaking hand through his hair. Fireball still appeared fine after the self-inflicted damage, but the confusion took away a valuable attack opportunity from them.

    “Aerial Ace, Crobat!”

    Crobat screeched in response, soaring high into the air. It did a backflip before diving at Fireball with incredible speed.

    “Now, Fireball,” Antoshi said, “give 'em a Thunder Punch!”

    'Thunder Punch?' Fireball thought.

    His eyes went wide, his forepaw suddenly crackling with electricity. Crobat momentarily vanished, reappearing as it dashed by Fireball to strike his face hard with its wing. At the same time, Fireball swung hard and caught Crobat in the nick of time with a Thunder Punch to its midsection.

    The result of the traded blows sent Crobat spiraling upward. It smashed hard into the ground, twitching, unable to get back up.

    “What an amazing turn of events!” Cedric said. “Typhlosion snaps out of its confusion just in time! Crobat is down! What an incredible display of skill and strength so far by the red side! What an upset this would be!!”

    Crobat's image on the displays became shaded out. Cory was down to one Pokémon.

    ‘Wow,’ Cory thought, recalling his Crobat. ‘Looks like Fireball is still really strong!’

    He reached for another Poké Ball on his belt. He gazed down at it for a moment, running his thumb over a star messily etched into its red top. He smiled warmly.

    ‘You haven't lost yet, my friend,’ Cory thought. ‘Not since, well, …’ he trailed off, glancing over at Fireball.

    “Now, let's get our long-awaited rematch, buddy!” Cory said. “I choose you, Swampert!”

    Antoshi gasped in surprise, staring down the large, cobalt blue biped. Fireball smirked, giving an acknowledging nod to his old rival. Swampert nodded back.

    ‘Well, shoot,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I certainly expected him to send out his Swampert at some point. It is a great choice on his part, tactically. He has to know by now that Fireball can use Burn Up. But, … should we use it?’ He glanced at Fireball, who appeared to be fully recovering from his confusion. ‘This certainly won't be like the last time we used the move. It's a gamble either way.’

    A breeze passed by as the two Trainers grinned to each other, soaking up the moment of their long-awaited rematch. Their staredown brought back memories of that fateful day when they first met. For a moment in their minds, they were back in the Cerulean City Pokémon Center. Mudkip was facing off against Quilava all over again.

    “All is quiet on the battlefield as both sides size each other up,” Cedric said, in a hushed tone. “The crowd has also fallen to a hush in this moment of tension. What could these two outstanding Trainers be planning?”

    “Fireball,” Antoshi said, making the first move, “Flamethrower!”

    Fireball roared as he fired a powerful stream of flames at his opponent.

    “Guard!” Cory said.

    Swampert shielded its face with both arms just before the flames consumed it. Once the attack petered out, Swampert thrust its arms out at its sides. While its naturally moist skin was mildly singed, it appeared no worse for wear.

    Antoshi was shocked.

    ‘That is definitely not good,’ he thought.

    “Swampert, Muddy Water!”

    Cory's Pokémon smacked its hands on the ground, causing a rush of dirt and water to bubble up. The water came to life and quickly began spiraling around Swampert's body like a small maelstrom. It swirled around with increasing ferocity while expanding outward. Once it reached Fireball, it lashed hard at him. Fireball struggled to maintain his ground against the powerful waves of thick, dense water. The water thrashed violently and tore at his body. It felt similar to the sandstorms he recently weathered — with the added torture of being underwater as well.

    “Hang on, Fireball!” Antoshi said, shielding his eyes just the same as his friend was.

    The water abruptly lost all of its energy, splashing harmlessly upon the ground. Fireball was left soaked and covered in dirt. The flames on his back had dwindled severely. He was hunched over, his breathing ragged.

    “Fireball, you okay?” Antoshi asked in concern.

    The Typhlosion responded by shaking the muddy water out of his fur. With a grunt, the fires on his back came to life once more. He was intensely focused, keeping his eyes affixed to Swampert. Antoshi nodded in understanding.

    “Fire Blast!” Antoshi said.

    He brought his hands up to his neck, clasped down tightly, and took as deep a breath as he could muster. With a tremendous shout, he exhaled an intensely bright, five-pointed blast of fire. The flames roared as they raced toward its target. Cory shielded his eyes once again just before the impact of the attack. It exploded violently, echoing around the entire stadium. A cloud of smoke and ash concealed Swampert's frame.

    ‘Whoa,’ Cory thought.

    Antoshi, too, was surprised and impressed. He had never seen Fireball summon forth such intensity in that attack before. He knew just how much this battle meant to Fireball. Not just because of the tournament, but because of the pride at stake against the one Pokémon he considered to be his rival.

    As the smoke cleared, both Antoshi and Fireball gasped. Swampert was standing, its arms covering its face yet again. It slowly dropped its defensive stance, still looking to be in good shape.

    ‘That Swampert went through some incredible training,’ Antoshi thought. ‘Maybe … even more than Fireball.’

    Fireball gnashed his teeth furiously, the fires on his back flaring up as a visual testament to the fire in his heart at that moment.

    “Swampert,” Cory said, “use Waterfall!”

    Swampert gave a shout before it rushed forth with incredible speed that a Pokémon of its size seemed incapable of. As it quickly closed the gap, its body suddenly became enveloped in a jet of water.

    “Fireball, dodge it!”

    Fireball's eyes went wide, unable to get out of the way in time. He was tackled hard, stuck to his opponent's body as Swampert began to soar high into the air. Fireball groaned loudly, trying to free himself from the powerful momentum. He managed to roll away, but it was to no avail as his opponent darted back down. A large stream of water trailed behind Swampert, reminiscent of a waterfall.

    Fireball was again struck headlong by Swampert, helpless against the momentum as they plummeted together. Fireball crashed to the ground hard on his back with Swampert's head firmly buried in his chest. Swampert swiftly hopped back to its feet and ducked out of the way. Fireball was consumed by the falling tower of water, crushed further into the ground from the weight as it rained down upon him.

    Fireball!” Antoshi shouted.

    Swampert returned to its side of the field. Fireball grunted, struggling to lift himself up. Antoshi was awe-struck as Fireball's fires burned even brighter than before. The Typhlosion's resilience was beyond his belief. If Fireball could just hold out for a bit longer, he'd most definitely outlast Swampert's stamina. Fireball slowly turned to the boy, grinning and giving him a weak thumbs up.

    Suddenly, Fireball collapsed. The fires on his back completely went out. Antoshi's heart sank into his stomach. Everything went silent in his head for a moment.

    “Down!” Cedric exclaimed. “Antoshi's Typhlosion is down! The blue side's Cory is the victor!”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the Cinnabar Gym, Blaire dropped her bag of snack chips in dismay.

    “Seriously?” she wondered aloud. “Well, … I guess it couldn't be helped. They got way further than a Trainer with a single Pokémon probably should, and they put up a heck of a fight.”

    Blaire offered a round of applause for the two, while her awaiting challenger grumbled.

    “Can we battle now?” he asked.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi fell to his knees, the world around him seemed to move in slow-motion. The words of their defeat spoken by the announcer echoed in his head. His jaw quavered, clenching his fists, his eyes filling with tears. Their dream had come to a sudden, abrupt ending. Those eager hopes got a cold dose of reality.

    Yet, with tear-stained eyes, he looked to his fainted friend who had fought with everything he had for so long. He couldn't help but smile. He sniffled and closed his eyes, breathing a slow and shaky sigh of relief.

    ‘It's over,’ he thought. ‘Just like that, our long journey in Kanto is over. It didn't end the way we'd hoped, Fireball, but you and I knew we were taking a huge risk going into this just the two of us. We didn't win every battle we faced, but we always persevered. If there's anything I've learned from you, it's that there is nothing you and I can't eventually overcome. We'll overcome this, just like every other obstacle we've had in our way. We did our absolute best. The journey may be over for now, but it's also the beginning of a brand-new one.’

    Antoshi took Fireball's Poké Ball from his pocket and stared at it for a moment.

    ‘I wonder how long it's been since you were last inside here? Six months? Maybe seven? I hate to put you back in, but it looks like I have to. Just for a few minutes, so I can bring you to the Pokémon Center to get you all healed up.’

    He held up the ball, pulling his unconscious friend into it in a crimson beam of light.

    “Fireball, … return.”

    With one hand, he casually wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up as the crowd began to cheer louder. With a long sigh, he faced them. He smiled as proudly as he could, taking his loss with grace. He held Fireball's Poké Ball tightly as he turned and walked away.

    “Antoshi!” Cory called out, recalling his Swampert. He jogged over to his opponent, stopping as Antoshi turned to him. “Thank you for battling me. You and Fireball were one of the best teams I've ever faced. I respect both of you a great deal.”

    Antoshi smiled gently and gave him a nod.

    “Let's hear it for Cory!” Cedric said, prompting those in attendance to applaud and cheer.

    As Cory waved to the crowd, Antoshi disappeared back into the stadium tunnel.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    As he promised his friend, it only took a few minutes for Antoshi to reach the stadium's Pokémon Center. He handed Fireball's Poké Ball to Nurse Joy before taking a seat in the nearby empty waiting room.

    Nurse Joy soon called him back over once the Typhlosion was fully healed. He thanked her and took the ball back. With a smile, he held the ball out and summoned Fireball from its confines in a bright light.

    Fireball immediately looked to Antoshi with a guilty expression.

    "Antoshi," he quietly said. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't strong enough, I—"

    Antoshi silenced him when he hugged his friend as tightly as he could. Fireball was taken by surprise, but smiled and hugged his friend back. Tears rolled down both of their faces.

    “You don't have to apologize for anything,” he said, his voice trembling. “You're my best friend. I love you, Fireball.”

    "I love you, too," he replied.

    The two lamented for their loss, letting out their emotions as they wept together. It was the end of their long journey in Kanto.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2019
  11. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 11


    The duo rested for a short time in the Pokémon Center, sitting together on a couple of chairs. Antoshi idly played with the identification lanyard he continued to wear. Fireball playfully swung his stubby legs, which couldn't reach the floor. They watched the next battle get underway on nearby television screens.

    Just then, someone rounded the corner.

    “Ah, here they are,” a staff member said, smiling, as he waved an unknown party over. “147?” he asked the duo. Antoshi nodded, confused. “You have some visitors.”

    The pair's jaws simultaneously dropped as Antoshi's parents emerged. The boy rose to his feet.

    “Mom? Dad?” he asked, grinning ecstatically.

    “Oh, Antoshi!” his mother responded with a sorrowful expression.

    Antoshi ran over and threw his arms around her. Both of his parents held and consoled him as he cried into his mother's shoulder. It felt like forever since he'd been in their embrace. There was an indescribable sense of relief inside him, brought on by the familiar scent and warmth that only his parents could provide. It was more than enough to mend the hole that their loss left in his heart.

    “It's all right,” his mother reassured him, with tears in her eyes. “You and Fireball put up an incredible battle out there. I was so proud watching you both give it your all.”

    “I'm sorry,” he said, sniffling and wiping his eyes. “You're right, we did give it our all. I … shouldn't cry over that.”

    “No apologies necessary, son,” his father replied warmly, stroking the back of his son's head.

    “How, uh, … how long have you been here?” Antoshi asked, clearing his throat. “You said you were busy with work. I didn't think you were coming.”

    “Oh, honey,” his mother said, “we could never be busy enough not to be here for you on the most important day of your journey! Of course, we still wanted to surprise you, just in case you won the whole shebang. We're so excited and so proud that you made it this far. To think, our son was on TV for the entire world to see. Ooh, you're like a celebrity now!”

    The others laughed. Antoshi smiled gently and nodded.

    “Thanks, Mom,” he softly responded. “I needed that, … and I really needed to see you both right now.”

    “Antoshi, you're an incredible Trainer,” his father said. “I'm so proud of you and Fireball for your dedication. You could've given up and gone home at any time, but you stuck with it all the way. You made it to the Indigo Plateau and got to compete in this tournament seen all around the world. You're always going to be the best Trainer I've ever known, son.”

    Antoshi grinned, wiping residual tears from his eyes.

    “Thanks, Dad. I'm so lucky to have the two of you always encouraging me and helping pick me back up. We never would've gotten this far without you both behind us all the way.”

    His mother giggled and hugged him tightly.

    “You're still going to come home after the tournament wraps up, right?” she asked.

    “Absolutely. I can't wait to come back home.”

    “Your mother's already got the house all decorated,” his father said. “There's balloons and a banner hanging out in the front yard for you when you get back. … I just hope the balloons are still inflated by then.”

    “Me, too!” his mother said with a laugh.

    Antoshi grinned and chuckled quietly.

    “I love you guys,” he said.

    “We love you, too, Antoshi,” his mother said.

    Antoshi took a moment to breathe a relieved sigh. He looked up at Fireball with a smile.

    “Well, Fireball, are you ready to watch the rest of the tournament with Mom and Dad?” he asked.

    Fireball grinned and nodded before pointing to his open mouth. Antoshi laughed as he pulled away from his mother.

    “I know, I know. I could go for some snacks, too.”

    “Let's all go for some snacks!” his mother said.

    With that, the four of them headed off, chatting and laughing together.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    After their loss, the duo spent the rest of the three days taking it easy with Antoshi's parents. Their run was over, and so they watched the rest of the matches from the spectator seats. As expected, Fireball got to eat plenty all throughout each day.

    At one point, Antoshi both ran into and introduced his parents to Elise, who showed up to watch the tournament in-person as she'd promised. He got her thoughts on several of the tournament match-ups, and talked over different strategies with her.

    Antoshi and Fireball cheered loud and proud for Cory as he continued to advance through the brackets. By the end of the tournament, Cory had made it to the semifinals before finally being eliminated. He was disappointed about the loss, but very proud to have made it to the final four.

    On the evening of the final day, all of the participants were called out onto the field once again. The crowd was treated to an extended fireworks display and showers of confetti in celebration of the tournament winner.

    "So, what happens to the guy who won?" Fireball asked over the noise of the crowd and fireworks.

    “He gets up to six months to challenge the Elite Four,” Antoshi said. “It's one gauntlet, all the way to the end, with no breaks in-between. If he wins all four battles, he gets to face the Champion. If he wins again, then he becomes the Champion.”

    "That's really cool!"

    Antoshi smiled as he looked at the winner standing on a pedestal in the very center of the field. He was as close as he'd ever gotten to making it there himself. They hadn't won this time, but it was only their first attempt. The fires still burned in his heart to keep on trying.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    "Gimme the window seat," Fireball said. "I want the window seat."

    “You always want the window seat,” Antoshi replied, voice hushed. Fireball quietly snickered.

    It was the following morning. The duo climbed aboard one of the cars of a train. Rather than walking back, the duo and Antoshi's parents opted to take transportation home together. It was the same mode of transport his parents had used to get to Viridian City. The high-speed train station in Viridian would take them back to Saffron, with some stops along the way.

    Antoshi and Fireball chose a seat together, with Fireball expectedly sitting by the window. Antoshi's parents sat together nearby. Antoshi sighed in relief, dropping his backpack to the floor between his legs and leaned back. It was a relaxing end of their long journey across Kanto.

    “This is so much fun!” his mother remarked nearby.

    As they waited for all the other passengers to head on board, an elderly gentleman in the seat behind Antoshi eased forward to grab his attention.

    “Hey there, youngster,” the gentleman said.

    Antoshi curiously turned around to face him. “Hello,” he replied.

    “I saw you on the television during that tournament. You did an incredible job getting that far with just one Pokémon.”

    “Thank you,” he said with a proud smile.

    “I was a Trainer like you once when I was younger. I'd never seen anyone use just one Pokémon before. Trainers with one Pokémon achieving great success were always something of a myth to myself and my companions. You're the only one I've ever seen make it to the Championship tournament. There's never been a Champion with a single Pokémon before.”

    “Fireball and I were aiming to be the first.”

    Fireball heard his name being spoken. He peered over the seat and waved. The man chuckled.

    “Well,” the gentleman continued, “I certainly hope this isn't going to make you second-guess yourselves.”

    Antoshi shook his head. “It's not. Fireball and I aren't giving up. We're going to keep on trying, and get a lot stronger.”

    “That's the spirit! I really hope to see you on that grand stage again!”

    “I hope so, too,” he replied with a warm smile.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    It took just a few hours for the duo to be back in the suburbs of Saffron City. The pair smiled proudly as they got out of their family car with Antoshi's parents. Their house was a moderately spacious, two-story affair with several bedrooms, a pool in the backyard, and a sprawling front lawn. Antoshi's neighbors waved to him. He smiled happily and waved back.

    “Welcome back!” one of them said.

    “Thank you!” he replied.

    The cul-de-sac hadn't changed a bit. Everything was still just the way he remembered. Amid a perfectly clear sky, the afternoon sun shone just right, casting its glow upon their quiet, suburban neighborhood. It felt good to be home again.

    A couple of youngsters — a boy and a girl — were throwing a ball back and forth in their front yard. They turned and gasped in excitement when they spotted Antoshi.

    “It's Antoshi!” the girl squealed.

    “Antoshi! You're back!” the boy said.

    “Hey there, Jack! Hey, Jade!” Antoshi greeted them. They'd sprouted up a lot since the last time he'd seen them. It made him feel as though he'd been gone for ages.

    Antoshi's parents chuckled as the kids rushed up to him.

    “We'll meet you inside, Antoshi,” his mother said, before she and her husband parted their company.

    “Wo~ow!” Jack said. “Fireball really grew up!”

    Jack and Jade looked up at Antoshi and Fireball with wide grins and enthused gazes. The two youngsters certainly appeared to idolize them as their neighborhood heroes. Antoshi smiled and placed a hand on Fireball's back.

    “He sure did. We both did a lot of growing up on our journey.”

    “That's so cool!” Jack said. “Next year, when I'm old enough, I want to go off on a Pokémon journey like you did. I want to be an amazing Trainer just like you, Antoshi!”

    “Me, too!” Jade added.

    “Well, I'm not so amazing,” Antoshi said, grinning coyly.

    “Oh, come on!” Jack said. “You collected all eight badges — and you went to the Indigo League! We saw you on TV!”

    “That is our greatest accomplishment,” Antoshi replied, “… so far. Fireball and I can't get it out of our blood, though. We're ready to do it all over again.”

    “Awesome!” the two children said in unison.

    “I'm so excited!” Jade said. “I can't wait to be a Pokémon Trainer and go off on adventures!”

    “It's definitely the experience of a lifetime, and I hope the two of you have an unforgettable adventure like we did.” Antoshi and Fireball nodded to each other before parting ways with them. “It was good talking to you two! We'll see you again soon!”

    “See ya!” they exclaimed, waving to them. “Bye!”

    Antoshi and Fireball laughed when they saw the balloons and banner: 'Welcome Home Antoshi'. It was all laid out on the front porch, just like his parents said. They sighed happily, opening the front door and walking inside.

    The duo were finally home.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “I just … want to … go home,” the boy with black hair muttered, mindlessly.

    He laid in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. After suffering through a week of solitary confinement, he was in a constant state of dull emptiness. He felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing. He was catatonic, as though sleeping with his listless eyes open.

    Inside his office further inside the military base, the General watched the sable-haired boy on the monitors before him.

    “It’s been a week now,” he said. “I think he’s had enough time to stew in there.”

    With a soft groan, he pushed his chair out and got to his feet.

    “Should I accompany you, General?” the other man asked.

    “No, that won't be necessary, Colonel Nolan. He's been without human contact for far longer than a young boy should. I'll talk to him alone first.”

    “Very well, sir.”

    The General walked to the door, grabbing his service cap from the hat rack and put it on before departing his office.

    The overwhelming silence surrounding the boy gave way to the sound of footsteps echoing down the hall — and they were getting closer. He groaned softly, breaking out of his trance. He sat up, still dazed and confused.

    “Hello there,” a voice spoke from beyond the cell window.

    His sunken eyes twitched. He had a weary, dumbfounded expression on his face. It was the first person he'd seen.

    “You … are—are you real?” the boy asked. He stood and pressed his hands against the glass.

    “I am real, I assure you,” the General replied, smiling.

    One of the hovering robots came by, placing a chair behind him to sit down. Once he sat, the robot handed him a clipboard and pen. The boy's eyes shifted between the General and the robot, his jaw hanging agape in awe. He was oddly impressed over the General's control of the robots, which he himself couldn't get to do anything for him.

    “Who are you?” the boy asked. “Are you here to get me out? Where are my parents? Can—can I go home now?”

    “Easy, easy,” he reassured the boy. “First, let me introduce myself. My name is General Logan. I'm in charge of this facility. I'm gonna do what I can for you but, right now, leaving is a privilege.” He clicked the pen before jotting on the clipboard.

    “A privilege? … What do you mean?”

    “Well, let's start with the basics. We couldn't find any identification on you, so why don't you start by telling me your name?”

    “My name?” he asked. His eyes shifted from side to side, trying to recall his memories. “I—I'm not sure. I can't remember.”

    The General took a hard look at the boy.

    “I see. … Well then, can you recount the events of that night in Fern Town?”

    “Fern … Town? Is that where I live? I don't … remember.”

    “You don't remember the … explosion or what led to it?”

    “Explosion?”

    Logan went quiet, studying the boy's worried expression. He wrote on the clipboard again.

    “Are you proficient with any weapons? Improvised explosives? That sort of thing.”

    The boy ran a hand through his hair, groaning in frustration.

    “I don't know. I can't remember anything.”

    Logan pondered to himself. He stared at his notes while clicking the pen a few times.

    “Well then, young man, I'm afraid there's nothing more for me to do.”

    “That's it? I—I can go home now?”

    Logan got to his feet. The same robot promptly took the chair and carted it away.

    “Sorry, I need you to cooperate with me first before we can accommodate you. Maybe the next time we speak—”

    “No!” the boy shouted, panicked. “Please don't leave me here! I'm telling you, I can't remember! Please, I'll do anything to get out of here!”

    “Whether you remember or not is irrelevant,” the General replied, slipping the pen into his uniform's coat pocket. “Until you can give us a statement that helps us in our investigation, you're going to stay right here — no matter how long it takes.”

    The General took his leave, followed closely behind by the hovering robot.

    “No! No, don't go!!” he shouted, rapping his hands on the glass. His eyes quickly welled up with tears. “Please let me out! Please, please, let me out. …”

    The boy shut his eyes, falling to his knees as he wept.

    “I just want to go home …”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Two months passed in the blink of an eye. The boy with dark hair was still locked in his cell. He lay upon the cold, white floor; his legs propped up vertically on the wall. His eyes were empty, almost devoid of life. Stricken by mania, left to do nothing else but ramble to himself. Hallucinations came and went, oftentimes talking to invisible people. The solitary confinement was working to soften the boy up, but not to give General Logan the answers he was looking for.

    Everything was still the same — the horrible, stagnant, routine, sterile same. He had long since gone past all stages of grief, resigned to living out each day in nothingness. Despite how cold, empty, and powerless he felt, he never lost his will to go on. The endless monotony and solitude had affected his psyche so brutally, and yet he hadn't given up the tiny glimmer of hope that rested in his heart. He could only dream about what the world looked like outside the constricting four walls of his cell.

    There was a deep, churning swell of emotions underneath his pale, listless gaze. So much anger, sorrow, and fear that had built up inside of him. He was especially vengeful toward the General — his only human contact since his imprisonment. The man had been so uncaring, only wanting to pry memories from the boy which he still could not recall. He never gave the boy an ounce of humanity, nothing to make any attempt to lift the boy's spirits. His mind swirled with terrible thoughts and imagery of revenge against the General. Yet, Logan was the only person who could give him his freedom. He remained amiable towards the man for that reason alone.

    A short time later, General Logan came to his cell once more. He was flanked by a slightly taller creature.

    “General … Logan?” the boy muttered, in a daze. He slowly got to his feet, his jaw hanging. He pressed his hands to the glass wall between them, as he usually did.

    “I brought a friend this time,” Logan said. “This is Slowking. He's a Pokémon.”

    The boy chuckled, wearily. “Hello, new friend…” he remarked, mindlessly, in a singsong voice.

    “He's going to help you. He's going to see what can be done about your memory problems.”

    “Keep your eyes on me,” the Pokémon spoke in a gentle voice. “Just relax.”

    Slowking closed its eyes for a moment. They glowed a mesmerizing shade of blue as it opened them again. The boy groaned wearily, his eyes glowing the same color.

    “What do you see?” Logan asked.

    “Emptiness,” Slowking replied. “Emptiness, giving way to … anger. Such anger. Beyond that, there's … something before I can reach his memories. It's like wading through a dense, pitch-black void. So much … darkness. I've never seen anything like this before. This is something much more than simple amnesia. Something is—aahh!”

    Slowking shouted as a bolt of blackish energy struck it between the eyes and staggered it backward.

    “What happened?” Logan asked, concerned.

    The boy slid down to his knees, groaning and shaking his head.

    “There's was … something there,” Slowking said, trembling as it held its closed eyes. “Something inside of him that didn't want me probing around his mind. It was dark; inexplicable. It seemed to be slumbering at first when I was inside, but … I fear I may have awoken it — jarred something to life that was better left alone. It was no Pokémon. A monster, perhaps. A monster … sleeping inside of this young boy.”

    “Come, let's get you healed up,” Logan said, helping escort his blinded Pokémon away.

    The boy became aware of his surroundings again just as they left.

    “No, wait, please!” he exclaimed. “You said he was going to help me! Please let me go home now!” The pair were gone. He all alone — once again. “I just want to … go home. I'll do anything to go home.”

    'Would you?' a deep voice asked. The boy gasped and jolted in surprise.

    “… Who said that?” he asked cautiously, taking a seat on his bed.

    'I did. Do not worry, I am here to help you.'

    The boy sighed in relief, closing his eyes. “Oh good, it's just another one of the voices in my head.”

    'I assure you, I am much more than just a voice.'

    The boy opened his eyes in shock. “Wh—what? You mean, … you're real?”

    'As real as I can be. However, the first thing I need from you is to watch your jaw movements. Look closely at the cameras outside.'
    He lifted his gaze to the surveillance in question. 'They have no way to pick up sound. They cannot hear anything you say because they do not care to hear you cry for help. They only want to observe you. Keep your jaw movements minimal and they will never know you are talking to me.'

    He turned his face away from the cameras as instructed.

    “I … understand,” he said with some confusion. “But, who are— … uh, I have a lot of questions right now…”

    The voice quietly chuckled.

    'As is to be expected. I will simply start by stating that I am here to help you unlock the mysteries of your past, and within yourself.'

    “You know … who I am?”

    'Indeed. I know a great many things about you. Things you didn't even know before you lost your memory. Heed my guidance, for I will guarantee that you are never locked in a cage ever again.'

    The boy was completely spellbound by the very idea of freedom. For the first time in a long time, a genuine smile crept across his dry, chapped lips.

    “Will I … be able to go home? To see my family?”

    'In due time. However, we will continue this conversation later. Be patient; we must plan things slowly and accordingly. First, you must rest. Recollect your thoughts, get your strength back. I will return you again soon.'

    “No, please don't leave!” he exclaimed louder than intended. The motions of his mouth and body, talking to someone, were captured on video.

    'It is all right,' the voice reassured him. 'I will never be far from you. I am always here with you. … Always.'

    With that, all was quiet once again.

    His eyes shifted back and forth, mulling over what in the world just happened and trying to make sense of it. He sighed gently, opting to follow the voice's suggestion. He slipped under the white sheets of his bed to rest his eyes. Though it was hard for him to sleep, being catatonic most of the time, he felt some comfort in having someone he could talk to — even if they were just a disembodied voice in his head.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    General Logan returned to his office alone. Colonel Nolan was watching the boy on the screens. The General closed the door behind him, taking his seat and sighed heavily. He popped open the crystal decanter on his desk to pour himself a drink.

    “To be completely honest with you, Nolan,” Logan said, “that boy frightens me. There's something so unnatural about him. It shakes me to my core every time I have to talk with him. That Slowking sent to us was supposed to be the best extractor of the mind we have. Instead of finally getting results after two whole months, the kid just … I don't know, attacks him with his mind or something.”

    “Why are we still holding him, though?” Nolan quietly asked. “He's just a child that wants to go home. It feels wrong to lock him away for so long.”

    Logan exhaled after taking a sip of his drink. He kept his glass in hand, thinking for a moment.

    “There's definitely something going on under the surface with him. He's got some kind of power, some secret he's hiding. There's no doubt in my mind about that after what I witnessed today. Whether he's doing so on purpose or not, I have no idea. That child is the only witness to, and possibly the culprit of, a mass murder. Thousands of people are dead, not to mention the millions more that died in the Slateport attack over a year ago. There's too much similarity. There's so much more at work here. … So many questions and not enough answers. I want to know what kinds of weapons we're dealing with here.”

    “Weapons, sir?”

    The General nodded. “The fate of his home town and Slateport are nearly identical — Slateport's was just on a much grander scale of devastation. He may be using weapons, or he may be a weapon himself, but he's definitely hiding something. Some crucial piece of evidence is locked up in that boy's head. Doesn't matter how long it takes to find out. Higher-ups don't care. The other problem is that we don't know anything about him. All of Fern Town's records were destroyed in the explosion. Our database doesn't have any birth records in Fern Town matching his description and approximate age. As far as anyone's concerned, he doesn't exist.”

    “But on what conditions do we release him?”

    The General chuckled, taking another sip of his drink. “That's the funny part, at least to me. It's not a matter of when to release him. The higher-ups don't want him released. They never want him to see the light of day ever again. They don't care how long it takes for him to regain his memories. They just want his secrets. They want to find out how he did what he did. After that, there's no more use for him. He's to be erased.”

    The Colonel appeared somewhat surprised by the remarks, composing himself quickly so as not to let it show.

    “Understood, sir.”

    Nolan turned to watch the sleeping boy on the monitor.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The next morning, the mysterious young boy stirred awake from his sleep. He sat up and yawned, stretching his arms over his head. His eyes and expression looked more alert and attentive than the previous day.

    'You are awake,' the voice said, startling him. That was something he needed to get used to. 'You have gotten a full night of rest. Are you feeling better now?'

    He took a deep breath, looking at how steady his hands were.

    “Yes, I am,” he sighed. “I haven't gotten much sleep since being locked up — just little naps here and there.”

    'That is excellent. I can sense that your energy has improved.'

    “'Sense?' … What does that mean?”

    The voice chuckled. 'It is something you will come to understand more in time. For now, though, you should start to feel yourself returning to normal day by day. You need to get more sleep on a regular basis. Eat whenever they feed you to keep up your strength, and to keep your mind alert.'

    “Sounds easy enough so far. … Who are you, anyway?”

    'You may call me 'Lazarus.' As previously stated, I am here to help you.'

    “Help me how?”

    'I will answer your question with a question. Tell me, do you ever dream of doing great things?'

    “You mean, aside from the obvious 'wanting to get the hell out of here'? … Sure, I guess.”

    'Once you are free from this prison, what would you do if you had the power to make the world a better place?'

    “Well, I— … wait, can we backtrack for just a sec'? You think I actually will get out of here?”

    'I know you will, because I will help you to earn your freedom.'

    A grin spread across his face, pumping his fists. “You'll … help me? What do I have to do?!”

    'Settle down, firstly,' the voice said, firmly. 'I told you to keep your movements discreet — remember?'

    He quickly placed his hands on his lap. “Right, sorry.”

    'I want you to listen closely to what I am about to tell you. … You are far stronger than you can comprehend. You have a unique destiny to reach where you will perform incredible things. You have an astonishing power within you that far eclipses the limits of normal human ability. I want to help you access that power. In doing so, you will earn your freedom from this place.'

    “Freedom…” he whispered in awe.

    'You do not know it yet, but fighting is in your blood. So, you will fight. Fight to get yourself out from this empty prison. Fight to make yourself stronger, to sharpen your focus, your senses, and your resolve. Fight to become something far greater than any of the pathetic people that locked you in here. You are above them, and you will show them that. To do that, however, you must fight.'

    An impassioned look came across his face. He found Lazarus' words inspiring and began to draw strength from the mysterious voice. He clenched his fists, nodding.

    “I'm ready to start doing whatever it takes to get out of here.”

    'Excellent. We shall not delay in setting things into motion. First, sit up on your bed with your legs crossed and your hands folded. Make sure you are comfortable.'

    With a content sigh, the boy did as Lazarus instructed. “Now what?”

    'You must learn how to mentally focus your energy through meditation. It is the only way you can train inside of this box. The process will be slow, but undoubtedly worth it. Now, close your eyes.' The boy complied yet again. 'Focus yourself on your goal of freedom. Let not a single distraction creep into your mind. Eat, sleep, train — this is going to be your regimen every single day until you become strong enough to leave. All the while, remain focused on your goal. Continuing to do this will gradually strengthen your resolve and improve your senses.'

    “This seems kind of boring. Am I supposed to start feeling something soon or what?”

    'Remain focused. Clear your mind. Breathe slowly and naturally. Believe me, this will not be boring. You will understand more soon.'

    He remained calm and still for a few moments before sighing in exasperation. He was hoping for faster results.

    “I can't do it. I keep thinking about why I'm here and if I'm going to ever get out.”

    'You must learn to block distractions in your mind. Remember — the path to your freedom starts with this training.'

    He sighed again, shutting his eyes and breathing slowly as the voice had instructed. After a few minutes, he felt an unknown energy began to swirl inside and invigorate him ever so slightly. His eyebrows twitched in response.

    “I feel … something. It's like a really warm energy inside me.”

    'Very good. Now, channel your emotions. Think back to the anger, the sadness, the despair you felt from being locked up here. Think about how painful it was for you to be neglected and forgotten. Remember your frustration of having no memories, and how your words fell on deaf ears.'

    His breathing gradually became more intense. The horrible memories of his confinement for something he didn't recall doing became a much needed spark. That spark ignited the welled-up fuel: the latent anger in his heart that had simmered under the surface for so long. Soon, a transparent dark light began to envelop his body. As he concentrated deeper on those feelings, the light came alive. It flickered gently around his body, like a weak flame.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    As the day progressed, the boy continued to focus and meditate while keeping his negative emotions forefront in his heart. As Lazarus had told him, he only stopped his training to eat, or to use the restroom. Each time he opened his eyes, his broken concentration dissipated the fiery energy around his body. As such, he remained unaware of its existence.

    By the end of the day, the boy was becoming exhausted. It became clear that there was so much more to his meditation than simply sitting on a bed for hours. He felt as though he'd been outputting constant physical exertion.

    'That is enough for today. You are starting to overexert yourself.'

    “I can keep going,” the boy said, struggling to sit upright. “If it gets me out of here faster, I'll—”

    'Enough!' the voice shouted loudly enough to make him jump. 'I will tell you when you have reached your limit, and you will stop. Is that understood?'

    “All right, all right. … I got it.”

    'Very good. We will resume tomorrow.'

    “Wait. Before you go, I have one last question to ask. … What is my name?”

    'Your name? Why, you only need look into the recesses of your mind. You will find it if you try to remember.'

    The boy struggled to sift through the murky depths of his memory. Slowly, something waded to the surface. It was the image of a piece of paper on a table. He recalled himself taking a closer at it, able to make out a name in print.

    'LATOSHI'.

    He gasped, his eyes lighting up. “La— … toshi?” He was awe-struck and overjoyed to remember his name. However, his joy quickly turned to skepticism. “That … sounds like a made-up name. Maybe I'm misremembering.”

    'I assure you, the memories you recall are real.'

    The boy strained himself to dig up any other memories.

    “I can't … seem to remember anything else, though.”

    'Your memories will come back in time. For now, get some rest. Tomorrow, I will teach you more of what you wish to know.'

    The young boy, now known as Latoshi, settled into bed. He grinned from ear to ear, staring at the plain white ceiling. He was overjoyed, finally able to recall a modicum of his life before his horrible imprisonment. Remembering something as critical as his name was momentous for him. It was just the first piece of the puzzle toward regaining his memories. He wiped a tear from his eye, continuing to smile as he fell asleep.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The next morning, Latoshi awoke to a strange ringing tone. He shook his head, picking his ear.

    'Excellent, you are awake,' Lazarus said. 'Let us not delay in resuming your training efforts.' After yawning and stretching for a few moments, Latoshi got into his meditative position. 'As promised, today I will further your teaching. Resume focusing your energy and concentrating your emotions. Remember your goal.'

    With a long, slow exhale, he did as he was told. It wasn't long before the same black aura began to gently flicker around the boy's body.

    'Now, keep your mind focused while you open your eyes slowly.'

    Latoshi did so, and immediately gasped upon seeing the mysterious black light around him.

    “What … is this?” he asked, awe-struck. He kept himself from moving, worried that it might disappear at the slightest twitch.

    'I will answer your question after we try a small visual experiment to show you what it is you are trying to develop. Cup your hands as if you are trying to collect water.' The boy again complied. 'Now, focus the energy you see around you into your palms. Will it so that you can shape it into a sphere.'

    The boy concentrated into doing so for a few moments. With some effort, he was able to complete his task as Lazarus had asked him. To his surprise, a shimmering orb of black light hovered above his hands.

    “Whoa,” he remarked.

    'This, Latoshi, is the energy that you possess — the energy you are building toward strengthening. It is the energy of your spirit. It is your 'Ki'.'

    Latoshi admired the energy he created for a short time. It gave off a warmth that he found comforting. In some way he couldn't understand, the energy felt like a weapon of phenomenal power.

    'Now do you understand? This is only a small fraction of what you are truly capable of.'

    An enthused grin spread across the boy's lips.

    “I'm ready to keep training. Now that I've seen it for myself … I can't wait to see the level of strength I can reach.”

    'Good,' Lazarus replied. 'Very good…'

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Over the following weeks, Lazarus continued to train the boy. As Latoshi's strength grew, so did his confidence and sense of self. He felt so much more relaxed and at ease, allowing his personality to finally shine through. He was no longer the cowering, terrified child when he first awoke in his cell. Having someone to talk to and learn from was immensely helpful in coping with his solidarity — but it also meant the mysterious voice in his head was his only confidant and moral guide.

    General Logan continued to occasionally visit the boy. His visits had previously been an event that Latoshi looked forward to with great eagerness. Now, Logan's words fell on deaf ears. Latoshi's meditation was deep enough that he was oblivious to Logan speaking to him. The boy had become incredibly focused and centered within those weeks — a far cry from the rambling, singing, and blank staring he previously engaged in to pass the time.

    Day after day, Logan and Nolan were baffled by the boy's steadfast meditation as they watched him via the monitors. Logan himself was becoming increasingly frustrated that the boy continued to ignore him.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    'Another impressive day of training,' Lazarus said as Latoshi lay in bed. 'You have excelled greatly in such a short time span. Your focus has become completely unwavering. You are as sharp as a knife. Your muscle mass has become more lean and defined. How do you feel?'

    Latoshi held a hand up to his face, smirking as he summoned some of his energy. His hand also served to conceal his mouth movements from the nearby camera.

    “Stronger than I probably have been in my entire life. … That is, if I ever do remember my life before this dump.”

    'I know you will regain your memories in time. For now, just focus on your task at hand.'

    The boy scoffed in amusement. “That prick Logan seriously offered to let me go home if I talk to him.”

    Lazarus chuckled. 'Do not listen to their lies. You know who the only one you need to listen to is.'

    “Of course I do,” Latoshi replied with a cocky smirk. “I never would've gotten this far without you. You pulled me out of a dark hole, Lazarus. I owe you my life for that.”

    'As I said when we first spoke, I am here to help you. Now, get some rest. Tomorrow is the day of fate; the day you gain your freedom.'

    Latoshi closed his eyes with a content smile on his face.

    ‘I know my name,’ Latoshi thought. ‘I know my power, I know what I'm capable of. I know my destiny. Thanks to Lazarus, I'm finally getting out of here. Just one more day. One more day, and then I'll be out of this hellhole. I'll make every person in here pay for keeping me locked up. Starting with you, Logan.’

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Over the three months that passed since Antoshi and Fireball came home, life had been calm and serene for both of them. The duo relaxed and enjoyed their time taking things easy at home. They watched plenty of TV together and Antoshi got to brush up on his video gaming skills. Fireball got to have all the snacks he wanted, anytime he wanted. Antoshi shared tons of stories with his parents about their journey at the dinner table — a place where Fireball was welcome to sit at. Antoshi was also happy to catch up with over a year's worth of work from his home schooling. For him, schoolwork was fun, and he enjoyed doing it.

    They kept their battling prowess from waning by doing some training in the woods, similar to how they'd train when they were younger. On most days, they could spent hours outside just finding as many different wild Pokémon as they could to battle with. Occasionally, they found a passing Trainer to spar with as well.

    Preparations were underway that morning for Antoshi's birthday. His mother hung a colorful, decorative banner on the wall — one of many she'd placed around the house.

    “I'm so excited!” his mother said. “My boy's going to be a teenager!”

    “He sure is,” his father replied, tying off a balloon. “Do you think maybe you're going a little overboard with the fanfare this year, Nikki? It seems … extravagant.”

    “Of course not! This is a very important milestone in his life. You're only thirteen once.”

    “That's what you say every birthday,” he replied with a chuckle.

    Antoshi emerged from his bedroom wearing pajamas. He stopped suddenly, his groggy eyes slowly panning around the decorated living room.

    “There's our birthday boy!” his mother said. “Surprise! I hope you like the way we dressed the place up.”

    “I … am definitely surprised,” the boy replied, walking around with a grin on his face. “These parties get more and more extravagant every year.”

    His father laughed. “That's what I said!”

    “Well,” his mother responded, “we didn't get to see you for your twelfth birthday since you were out on your journey. So, I'm making up for it with double the decorations!”

    Fireball appeared as well, having the same reaction Antoshi did.

    “I'll bet Fireball's never seen so many colors in his life, huh?” his father asked with a grin.

    Fireball nodded to him, his eyes wide in astonishment.

    “You did an amazing job, Mom,” Antoshi said, smiling, “like you always do.” He walked up to her to share a brief hug.

    “Ohh, thank you, sweetie. I'm so glad you like it.” She pointed to the nearby dining room table. “There's a present over there you can open now. Don't worry, there's more presents to come!”

    Antoshi and Fireball headed over to the gift. They grinned as both of them shared the responsibility of tearing away the neatly-wrapped red paper. Antoshi opened it and looked inside.

    “Oh, wow, clothes! … Again!” he said, feigning surprise. He took out the garment on top: a bright, red t-shirt. He was surprised his parents would get him something so casual. “… Hey, this isn't one of the usual collared shirts you get for me.”

    “I know!” his mother said. “I remember you telling me here and there that you liked t-shirts more, so, I got you some! In your favorite color, too!”

    “I like how it looks,” the boy remarked, inspecting it front and back. “This reminds me of my eleventh birthday when you got me a bunch of clothes to start off our Kanto journey.”

    “Can you believe it, son?” his father asked. “Tomorrow marks two years since you left to become a Pokémon Trainer. Time sure flew, don't you think?”

    “Yeah, funny you should mention that,” Antoshi said, with a nervous chuckle. He put the shirt down and turned to his parents, grabbing their attention. “Fireball and I have really been enjoying the time we've spent at home. However, we decided that … we want to get back on the road again. … Tomorrow.” Both of his parents were shocked. “This time, … we want to go on a journey through Johto instead.”

    There was a moment of silence. His mother dropped the streamers in her hand.

    “… Oh,” his mother said, nervously wringing with her hands like Antoshi would, “I see.”

    “I'm sorry for dropping this on you both so suddenly, but … well, it's something we wanted to be totally sure of before I said anything.”

    “You could stay at home for just a couple more months,” she said. “Then you could try the Indigo League tournament again in the fall.”

    “I know, but … Fireball and I have been missing that sense of adventure we had going through Kanto. Seeing all-new towns and new scenery, and trying new foods was so much fun for us.” Fireball nodded, enthused. “Johto is a whole new place with a brand new attitude. We want to experience that all over again, and we really don't want to wait around for the next tournament — especially not after how quickly we lost the first time. The next time we try, we want to be way better than we are now. We think that training through Johto will give us that boost of experience.”

    Both of his parents smiled proudly. Antoshi's mother had tears in her eyes.

    “I think I can speak for both of us for a minute,” his father said. “We are very proud of you, son. We're always willing to support you in making your dreams come true.”

    “Absolutely,” his mother said, sniffling.

    “I'm sorry, again,” Antoshi said. “I hope this doesn't spoil the party.”

    “Oh, don't be silly!” his mother replied, wiping a tear from her eye. “We were just a little surprised, that's all. You know we love you and, like your father said, we're always behind you in your decisions.”

    “Thanks, Mom,” he replied, grinning.

    “Now, who wants breakfast?!” she said. “I think it's a waffles day — what do you think?”

    Fireball's ears perked up. He shuffled over to his usual seat at the table and eagerly waited. The others laughed.

    “That's a 'yes,'” Antoshi replied.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi's birthday party went off later that day with the bang of party poppers. It was a small, casual affair with just some of his extended family and some friends from the neighborhood — including Jack and Jade. The two young siblings eagerly showed Antoshi the Pokémon that they'd just started training: a pair of Eevee. They soaked up all the knowledge he had to share with them about being a Trainer.

    Antoshi was very thankful upon opening all of the gifts he'd received. He was overjoyed to be surrounded by friends and family on the day before he and Fireball set off on a whole new journey. Fireball himself snuck bites of as many cupcakes and snack chips that he could whenever no one was watching or petting him.

    At the end of the day, after everyone went home and all the decorations were taken down, Antoshi and Fireball got ready for bed. Antoshi's new backpack, which was also red, was stocked full of supplies as it sat by the bedroom door. The duo smiled as they stared at the ceiling.

    “This bed is always so comfy,” Antoshi remarked. “I was just getting used to it, too.”

    "Yeah, I'm gonna miss this floor," Fireball replied. "All the other floors I've slept on just don't feel as warm as this one does."

    Antoshi laughed. “Goodnight, Fireball. Sleep tight.”

    "Goodnight, buddy."

    They closed their eyes with smiles upon their faces, eager for the journey ahead of them.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the same time, back in Johto, Latoshi's eyes opened upon completing his meditation for the day.

    'It is time,' Lazarus said.

    A devious smirk spread across the boy's face.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
  12. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 12


    General Logan marched around the hallway corner, nearing closer to Latoshi's cell. He was in no mood to be ignored this time, ready for a confrontation with the boy. His superiors, despite their previous willingness to keep the boy locked up for life, were becoming impatient with him. He'd shown absolutely nothing for his efforts in the past three months. Because of that, they turned up the heat on him — results, or consequences.

    However, Logan was surprised to find the boy sitting on the side of the bed. Latoshi was staring intensely at him, as though he'd been expecting him.

    “Well, now,” he said, “I finally have your attention for once.” He held up a clipboard full of papers up against the bulletproof glass. “Do you see this? These are discharge papers. They're already filled out — all they require is my signature. Once I do that, you're completely free.”

    A hovering robot came by, placing a chair for Logan to sit down. Perturbed, the General kicked the chair away. The robot hovered quietly in place.

    “You just have to work with me,” Logan went on, “it's all I ask for. You've been in here for over three months now. You're without your family, who've probably given up hope looking for you. Why don't you just tell me anything? Give me something. I'm trying to help you, but first, you need to help me. Okay?”

    Latoshi grinned, almost cackling at the General's remarks. “Help me?” Latoshi asked, edging forward a bit. “The moment I was put in this cage was the moment all help was impossible. You, and whoever else you're working with, you don't give a damn about me. You were willing to lock up a kid for the rest of his life as long as it means you get your results in the end. I already know that I will never get out of here — not as long as I don't have my memories back, and you continue to refuse to believe me. It doesn't matter anymore, though. The only help I need now is from Lazarus.”

    “Lazarus?” the General asked, confused. “Who is Lazarus?”

    Latoshi smiled, slowly getting to his feet. He pressed his hands against the glass while the black light of his energy formed around him.

    “You can't even see this, can you? This aura around me?” The General appeared puzzled. “Exactly as I thought. You have no idea how strong I am now, how infinitely stronger I've become since you locked me in here to rot. The pain and torture you've inflicted upon me only served as a catalyst to drive me forward.”

    “Pain?!” the General shot back, posturing intimidatingly in front of him. The boy grinned arrogantly in response. “How about all the pain you inflicted on those victims' families? What about the torture that they go through every day and night knowing they can't even bury the loved ones that you killed?!”

    “I told you I can't remember anything!” Latoshi shouted. “But that was never good enough for you! You spent these last three months acting as my keeper — watching over me, studying me, never giving me a moment of privacy!”

    The General chuckled. “You think you're entitled to anything. No, your rights were gone the moment you caused that explosion. Your rights are gone because you refuse to tell us what we want to know. This prison cell is your coffin. You will never get out of here.”

    Latoshi's blood boiled. The situation was exactly as he assumed. It only took a bit of pressure to get Logan to finally come clean and validate all of the hatred the boy had welled up inside of him. He had no regrets for what he was about to do.

    “And that's where you're wrong,” Latoshi said, bitterly. His black aura flickered wildly around him. His brown irises shifted to a shimmering black as he glared into the General's eyes with contempt. “You rotten bastard! I'm going to kill you! I'm going to kill all of you!”

    He screamed in a rage, slamming his fist against the glass, instantly shattering the otherwise impenetrable barrier. Suddenly, there was nothing separating Latoshi and the General. As the glass broke, a blaring alarm and blinking red lights went off throughout the compound.

    “No,” Logan said, backing away in fear. “That's … unreal! No kid's that strong! No one is that strong!”

    Latoshi laughed, boisterously. “It's very real. And now, I'm very free.”

    “Prisoner escape alert!” a male voice rang out through the facility. “High-value prisoner escape in section A-3! All units are ordered to subdue and capture prisoner! Use of lethal force is authorized!”

    “'High-value', huh?” Latoshi remarked with an amused grin. “Wow. Guess I was something of a celebrity around here.”

    The General quickly turned and ran, leaving Latoshi to his fate.

    'Ignore him for now,' Lazarus said. 'It is time to exact your revenge and earn the freedom you worked so hard for.'

    A sinister smirk spread across the boy's lips, rushing down the hallway opposite to where the General ran. As he looked around, he finally saw more of the facility. It was all as cold and white and sterile as he'd been accustomed to. The bright, white lights rolling past disgusted him. He wished never to see lights like that ever again.

    He turned another corner. A military policeman in full tactical gear was standing in his way. He came to a halt, shocked, as the man pointed an assault rifle at him.

    “Down on the ground!” the man yelled at him. “Now!!”

    'Well?'
    Lazarus said to the boy. 'Are you going to give up already and submit to them or … will you test the level of skill you achieved from the fruits of your labor?'

    Latoshi narrowed his eyes. With a shout, he tapped into a level of speed he was unaware of and suddenly vanished. The shocked policeman looked around for a moment before realizing the boy was behind him. He quickly turned around, eyes filled with fear.

    “How—how did you …” He suddenly raised his weapon.

    Latoshi automatically responded by holding a hand out in front of him. The man was confused.

    “What do you … think you're doing?” the man asked. “Put your hands behind your head — now!”

    Latoshi sneered, summoning forth the black energy of his spirit that had been forged from the anguish inside of him. His eyes went wide and the muscles in his body tensed. He shouted again, firing a large stream of energy from his palm — enough to cover the entire hallway.

    In an instant, the man was completely vaporized.

    The energy continued on, striking the far wall and exploding on impact. Latoshi lowered his arm, staring blankly in disbelief at the destruction he'd wrought.

    “Did I … did I just …”

    'End him?' Lazarus chimed in. 'You most certainly did. Consider that the fate of any others who would dare stand in your way. Now, continue your—'

    “It came from over here!” a nearby voice shouted.

    A handful of officers rounded the corner. They immediately raised their weapons upon spotting the boy.

    “Get on the ground!” one of them shouted.

    “Time to go,” Latoshi said.

    'Wait,' Lazarus stopped him. 'Stay where you are.'

    “What?! They have guns. You know, those things with bullets inside them? Now seems like a pretty good time to run.”

    'On the contrary. I want you to use this as an illustration of just how invulnerable you are.'

    “On the ground! Hands behind your head!”

    'Ignore their commands,'
    Lazarus reassured him. 'Continue to defy them until they open fire.'

    Latoshi swallowed nervously before scowling at the men.

    “Get on the ground, hands on your head, or we will open fire! You have three seconds to comply! One! … Two! … Three!”

    Latoshi gasped as the sound of gunshots rang out. His irises glowing, his perception of time suddenly slowed down. The bullets whizzed toward him before striking the flaring black aura of energy surrounding his body. They were stopped as though striking a solid steel wall.

    The smoking brass bullet casings clattered on the ground around the officers. The bullets themselves fell at Latoshi's feet. Latoshi and the men looked on in disbelief, both sides realizing the boy hadn't been harmed.

    'Finish them,' Lazarus said.

    “Ha!” Latoshi chortled in amusement, raising an open palm to the men. A twisted grin spread across his lips. With a shout, he fired another large blast of energy to extinguish the men. The attack caused further explosions and destruction to the base.

    'More of them will likely continue to file in like ants,' Lazarus said. 'They are a waste of your talents. Now is the time to display the true extent of your destructive power. Escape through the roof.'

    Latoshi looked around. “I don't know where the exit is.”

    'You may make your own exit, Latoshi. You need only use your imagination.'

    He thought for a moment. He looked up, firing an energy blast to punch through the ceiling.

    “Hope this works,” he muttered.

    With some effort and straining, the black aura around him flickered intensely. He uttered a cry of surprise, kicking his legs as his energy slowly pulled him up off the ground. He carefully maneuvered through the gap he made. He gasped as a gust of wind swept over him — real, outside air.

    “I—I'm flying?” he remarked, dumbfounded. “I'm … outside?”

    He trembled in awe, hovering hundreds of feet in the air on his own accord, taking in the new sights around him.

    'Do you now see what fantastic abilities your power affords you?' Lazarus said. 'This is only just the beginning. First, however, you must rid yourself of the past. Eliminate this facility.'

    Latoshi gazed down at the multiple long buildings that made up the military black site.

    'Recall the memories. Channel those emotions you felt. Remember how helpless you felt. Remember how tortured and agonized you were.'

    Everything Lazarus had to say resounded powerfully within him. The words stirred his emotions, causing his aura to surge wildly. The boy's expression turned sour, his black irises shimmering.

    He clenched his trembling fists tightly, summoning forth his energy once more. He held both hands out in front of him, taking aim at the site. With an echoing shout, he fired a couple of large spherical blasts of black energy that spiraled downward and punched holes through the building he'd just escaped from.

    There was a brief moment of calm before violent, shattering explosions rang out. Those explosions set off chains of other explosions throughout the structure. Latoshi looked on with an amused grin, wild-eyed. The power he held inside of him was beyond what he'd ever imagined would come from the results of his training.

    'More!' Lazarus said in a jovial tone. 'Raze the entire island down to nothing but ashes!'

    Latoshi laughed wildly. He sent wave after wave of energy at everything down below, leaving almost none of the site untouched. Before long, the buildings were crumbled, consumed in fire and explosions. It was a beautiful sight for him to behold.

    Just then, a military chopper ascended out of the smoke. He narrowed his eyes. From afar, he managed to clearly see the pilot along with both General Logan and Colonel Nolan inside. He scowled at the sight of his captors attempting to flee.

    In an instant, Latoshi appeared in front of the helicopter with his arms folded across his chest, smirking and oozing confidence. The people inside were terrified.

    “Impossible!” Nolan shouted.

    “No…” Logan replied. “It was him all along. He did destroy Fern Town. Now, I finally understand how he did it.”

    Latoshi held a hand out. The energy he summoned and subsequently fired at the rotor was invisible to the passengers. The people inside screamed in terror as the top of the vehicle exploded, sending them spiraling helplessly to the ground.

    He laughed, watching the flaming remnants explode.

    “You know, I kind of hope they survived that!” Latoshi remarked. “I want them to suffer a little longer before they burn to death.”

    'You have now earned your freedom. There is no limit for you at this point. You possess ultimate power.'

    He gazed at the energy in his palm, exhilaration surging through him. His captors were killed, his prison confinement totally obliterated. They held no power over him, and they could hurt him no longer.

    “Yes,” he replied, grinning. “This power is incredible. I'll be able to make a real impact for good in the world — just like you said I could. Best of all, no one's going to lock me away ever again. There's nothing anyone can do to stop me.”

    A vision suddenly flashed in his mind. A massive dome of his black energy rapidly expanding out of his body.

    “What … was that?” he wondered aloud. “A memory?”

    'Do not worry about it. I told you before, your memories will come back in time. For now, savor your victory.'

    Latoshi nodded, gazing down at the destruction he'd reaped with a proud smirk.

    'From here, we will work together to change the world for the better. People like these — these parasites who delight in the cruel, suffering misery of the weak — they will be purged. We will cleanse the world of its filth and build the foundation of a new world. You, Latoshi, will serve as its king.'

    Latoshi paused for a moment, giving thought to the proposition.

    “After all of the pain that they put me through. … That pain and despair and hopelessness is a suffering no one else deserves to go through. I'm more than happy to rid the world of those like them. I have the power to do so. I will do it, Lazarus. I'll gladly do it.”

    'Excellent. Let us return to the mainland of Johto. That is where we will begin our efforts.'

    Latoshi turned and flew off toward the city of Goldenrod. At the same time, dozens of military helicopters were on route toward the island from afar.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Back in Saffron City, Antoshi jolted awake in a cold sweat. He sat up in bed, having witnessed the military base's destruction through Latoshi's eyes.

    ‘Another one of those dreams,’ he thought, horrified. ‘But why? It's been months. Why did I … see that?’ He laid back down, staying awake for a short while. ‘That couldn't possibly have been … something else that really happened? … No. It's too horrible to be real.’

    With a look of concern, he rolled onto his side. He closed his eyes until he could find solace in sleep once again.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The next morning, Antoshi's Dodrio-shaped alarm clock crowed at six. He rolled over and pressed the 'snooze' button.

    “Fireball?” he muttered, still half-asleep, “… Are you awake?”

    "Sorta," his friend replied with a yawn. "Waking up early again is going to take some getting used to. We've been sleeping in a lot since coming home."

    Antoshi sat up and stretched before rubbing his eyes. “We're about to start a whole new adventure,” he said with a smile. “Are you ready?”

    "Absolutely," Fireball replied. The Typhlosion suddenly rolled over onto his side and yawned again. "Just give me five more minutes before we start our adventure."

    Antoshi chuckled and shook his head. He slid out of bed to get ready.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi slowly awoke to a strange ringing noise once again. Laying on the roof of a tall building, he stared groggily at the morning sky for a short time. The pinkish hue of clouds drifting overhead were illuminated by the rising sun. He was left in awe of a sight as simple as the sky. To him, it was the most breathtaking scene he could ever imagine, with endlessly more color beyond the blinding white of his cell. The cries of congregating Spearow echoed in the distance.

    His lips curled into a sleepy smile, taking a deep breath of the outdoor air before sitting up. His white clothes had been stained from the black gravel on the roof.

    'Morning breaks on our quest for justice,' Lazarus said while the boy stretched. 'For now, we will lay low and plan carefully, just as before. We shall wait until nightfall when most of the insects crawl out from their shadows.'

    “How exactly am I supposed to bathe?” he asked flatly, disregarding everything Lazarus just said.

    'There are all manner of public restrooms with sinks for you to use, are there not?'

    Latoshi’s eyes went wide with fear, recalling the memories of his prison cell. “Absolutely not. I'd rather reek than ever bathe out of a sink again.”

    'Your personal hygiene has no bearing on me.'

    “Yeah, I guess it wouldn't.”

    He walked up on the rooftop's edge, gazing out at the sprawling city of Goldenrod. The morning sun behind him illuminated the city's countless structures. His expression was warm, full of wonder — reflecting the feeling in his heart.

    “I can't believe how … happy I feel,” he remarked. “I thought I would never see anything outside of that white room for the rest of my life. There's so many things I want to see and experience. Something out there might just end up jogging my memory. I have to find my home again. I have to find my family.” His stomach suddenly rumbled. “I … also have to find food, too. I need new clothes, so I can get myself out of this stupid, white clothing, and I'll need shoes. What'll I do?”

    'Use your power, of course. There is nothing you cannot accomplish. Such trivial tasks do not require explanation.'

    Latoshi quietly laughed. “Yeah. It figures I would end up stealing things with my powers.”

    He walked along the narrow edge of the rooftop with precise balance, especially for someone that had done very little moving around in three months.

    'The world will owe everything to you, and then some. All the riches and spoils you want will be yours when the humans see you for the deity that you are compared to them.'

    Latoshi shrugged. “I guess you're right.”

    He casually leapt off the side of the building with no regard for his safety. He yawned briefly as his black hair and white clothes whipped in the wind, descending several dozen stories down a dark alleyway. He landed with almost no impact, but scared away the handful of Pikachu scavenging nearby. He stood tall before heading out to the street.

    For a few moments, he was overwhelmed by the handfuls of people and Pokémon walking by him. He was surrounded by far more individuals than he was used to. Some curiously glanced at him as he stood in the middle of the sidewalk with a dumbfounded expression. Eventually, Latoshi began his stroll down the street, his eyes wide and full of naiveté. He soaked in all of the sights and sounds and smells around him.

    ‘This all feels … so new,’ he thought. ‘It's like I've never done this kind of thing before, or … maybe I've never been here before?’

    He crossed the street behind a small group, happening upon an outdoor market. Various vendors were setting up their stock for the morning. Displays full of souvenirs, flowers, clothing, and food were all laid out before him. He humphed in amusement.

    “Well, this is convenient,” he said, quietly. “Everything I need is right in front of me. How do I even go about this, Lazarus? I can't just start blowing up everything in sight.”

    'As I told you before, you need only use your imagination.'

    His eyes shifted back and forth, considering what course of action to take. His eyes lit up with an idea, before his irises began to glow black. He suddenly ran as fast as he could, weaving in and out between the pedestrians and the shops faster than any of them were able to see. The vendors all gasped and shouted as a mysterious wind blew past them.

    It took only several seconds for him to obtain what he needed. He appeared at the far end of the market, calmly strolling away with an assortment of fresh fruit stacked atop a handful of new clothes.

    'Good work,' Lazarus said. 'You are learning how to apply your abilities. The level of precision you showed there was impressive.'

    “It's weird,” he remarked. “I moved quickly like that last night, but it's like … I somehow already knew how to do it.”

    'That is because you have prodigious natural talent. With my guidance, you will unlock it as quickly as possible.'

    Latoshi chuckled to himself, heading into another alleyway to change.

    The next time he reappeared, he wore a green t-shirt and similar, lighter colored shorts. He took a bite of a peeled banana, his other arm cradling the rest of the fruit. The people at the market seemed to be none the wiser that he'd stolen from them. He gazed down to admire his brand new zebra-striped sneakers.

    “These shoes are pretty nice,” he remarked.

    'There will be many more nice things for you to reap. You may continue to enjoy your newfound freedom this morning. We will continue your training later on.'

    “Sounds good to me,” Latoshi replied.

    He was happy to break in his new shoes, playfully skipping and dancing down the sidewalk.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Fireball sat on the bed while Antoshi looked at himself in his closet mirror. He wore his new red t-shirt and a pair blue jeans — a fresh, casual change of pace from his usual style of attire.

    “I really like this look,” he remarked.

    "You do?" Fireball asked, curiously.

    “Yeah. After all those collared shirts and shorts I went through in Kanto, it's nice to finally change it up.”

    "Don't forget the occasional tank top with a million colors."

    Antoshi smirked, setting his backpack on the bed next to Fireball. He unzipped it, and they both took a look at the strikingly similar sets of clothes inside.

    "Wow," Fireball said. "How many different kinds of red shirts did your mom pack for you?"

    “Well, she knows red is my favorite color,” he replied, zipping the bag back up.

    "Hope you remembered your toothbrush."

    Antoshi chuckled and slung the bag over his shoulders. “Come on, let's get going to Johto!”

    "All right!" Fireball exclaimed. The duo eagerly headed to the front of the house together.

    “I just hope the Pokémon Centers in Johto don't have us logged as troublemakers like the ones in Kanto.”

    "Hey, I thought we agreed that was a 'youthful indiscretion!'"

    Antoshi's mother and father waited for him by the front door. He hugged them both, his mother responding by giving him a smattering of kisses. His parents followed the duo as they headed outside.

    “You have your ticket?” his mother asked.

    “In my pocket,” Antoshi replied.

    “Call us as soon as you get settled into Goldenrod City,” she said.

    “I will. I love you guys!”

    Antoshi and Fireball nodded to each other before heading off to their next destination.

    “We love you, Antoshi!” they both said.

    His father put an arm around her. They watched the duo head off with pride in their eyes.

    “And keep your hair neat this time, Antoshi!” his mother called out. “I put a comb in your backpack for a reason!”

    “I make no promises!” Antoshi replied, playfully. “Bye!”

    “That boy,” she remarked with a cheeky grin.

    “He must be going through 'teenage rebellion',” his father joked as they headed back inside.

    “If not combing his hair is teenage rebellion, then we got very lucky, Ralph.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Within a couple of hours of walking, the duo reached Saffron City's Magnet Train station. The indoor station buzzed with people and slews of Pokémon walking in all directions. Everything was kept neat and tidy, even despite the large amount of foot traffic. Glass roof panels provided the building with natural light.

    Antoshi glanced at his ticket, then at the large clock overhead.

    “Looks like it won't be long now,” he said. He looked over at Fireball, who hopped up and down. “… What are you doing?”

    "I can't wait!" Fireball replied. "There's gotta be thousands of things for us to do and see, especially in a place we've never been to before. I wonder what kind of Pokémon we'll see there. What kind of food do they have?!" He threw his head back and roared, "I'm so excited!"

    His shouting caused a brief moment of silence throughout the entire station. Upon realizing everyone nearby was staring at him, he quickly recomposed himself.

    A police officer standing beside the pair cleared his throat. Antoshi turned to him, catching a stern glare from him. The boy laughed nervously.

    “All right, Fireball, settle down,” he said, patting his friend on the back. The officer humphed and marched away.

    "Sorry. This is just really awesome. We're going on another adventure! Maybe you'll find a girlfriend in Johto!"

    Antoshi cut his eyes at Fireball. “Guess I'm lucky I'm the only one who can understand you,” he grumbled.

    Soon after, the train approached the station and slowed to a stop. The silvery train was much longer and sleeker than they imagined.

    “Whoa,” the two awe-struck friends remarked in unison.

    Once its doors opened, commuters began getting off while new passengers simultaneously boarded. Antoshi handed his ticket to the train conductor, allowing them inside. Both of them could barely contain their excitement as they entered the elegant, well-kept car. Fireball eagerly took up a dual seat by the window. Antoshi sat in the rear-facing seats just in front of him.

    "This is great!" Fireball said, grinning as he looked out the window. "We're not even there yet and I feel like I'm going to explode!"

    “Please wait until you're off the train before you explode,” Antoshi joked, smirking.

    After the passengers were on and seated, the train made a slight yet startling jump, levitating off its magnetic track. The train headed back the way it came from, quickly picking up speed after departing the station. Antoshi and Fireball were in awe at how fast the train was. The ride was unerringly smooth, as though they weren't moving at all. They smiled, spotting some of the locations they'd visited on their exploration of Kanto.

    "I wonder if we'll ever go visit Hoenn someday," Fireball remarked.

    “One step at a time, Fireball. Don't forget, Slateport City still isn't fully rebuilt.”

    "Hasn't it been over a year since that happened?"

    “Yeah. It was so sad, too. It reminds me of—”

    He stopped suddenly, recalling the images of Fern Town's destruction, as well as the military base being consumed by flames.

    "It reminds you of … that town on the news. The Johto town?"

    “… Yeah,” he replied, staring out the window.

    "Antoshi, there's something I wanted to ask you." The boy looked over at him. "About part of the reason you wanted to go to Johto in the first place, it's … because of the dream you had, isn't it?"

    “It is,” the boy admitted with a sigh. “Ever since that night, something's been telling me that I should go to Johto. It's like there's something there that I need to see.”

    "Well, whatever it is, I hope it doesn't ruin our totally awesome experience in Johto."

    Antoshi smiled to his friend. “I hope so, too.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The ride into the neighboring region took several hours on the incredibly swift train. By the time they were passing by the enormous Mt. Silver in the distance, Fireball had curled up for a nap. Antoshi rested his legs across the seat next to him, passing the time by reading a book he brought with him. It was the story of two brothers who went to war with each other over a misunderstanding.

    He sighed, closing the book and sitting up in his seat. His fingers curled around his lips, lost in thought as he stared out the window. An odd, tingling pressure in his muscles nagged at him every so often. It became more intense the closer they were to their destination.

    Fireball awoke and took a look out the window. "Antoshi?" Fireball said to the inattentive boy.

    “Huh?” Antoshi uttered, snapping out of his daze.

    "Look, I think we're slowing down."

    The train soon came to a stop once again. For a few moments, they sat and stared in awe that they had made it to Johto.

    Once they headed off, they realized the station was nearly identical to that of Saffron's. They headed up a flight of stairs until they were greeted by the warmth of the afternoon sunlight. The two gawked at their new surroundings with bright eyes and brighter smiles.

    They were in the mecca of Saffron's sister city — Goldenrod.

    The city was just as busy as in Saffron. Under the shadows of tall skyscrapers were the sounds of countless people, Pokémon, and cars bustling every which way around them. It was just the daily norm for the hectic city. Residents were out enjoying the warm, summer air and pleasant weather. Planes and blimps carrying various advertisements hovered in the blue sky above. A handful of taxis were parked outside the train station for busy commuters to get around. Businesspeople were chatting away on their cell phones, and tourists like them walked about to take in the sights. The city was like a well-oiled machine moving in constant harmony — and they loved everything they were seeing.

    They began their new journey down the bustling streets, taking in the new, yet somehow familiar, sights. Antoshi laughed as a handful of Pichu suddenly dashed by him. Across the street, a kid's show in the park was in full swing. A Delibird handed a small girl a present. She gleefully opened it, and the gift gave off a loud pop before showering her with confetti and streamers. The children and Pokémon all laughed.

    “This city almost feels like one big party,” Antoshi remarked, grinning. “I'm really liking it here. It feels like home.”

    "Hey, Antoshi!" Fireball exclaimed from a short distance away. "Come on, I'm getting swept away by a tidal wave of people!" The boy realized Fireball didn't hear a word he'd said.

    “Coming!” he replied. As he turned away to rejoin his friend, he bumped shoulders with a passerby. “Oh, I'm really sorry! I—”

    He went silent, standing before a lovely young woman with long, brunette hair. He had no words, staring into her violet eyes like a deer in headlights. Of all the pretty girls that he'd gone awkwardly silent in front of, she was the prettiest by far.

    She responded with a warm smile. “Don't worry about it,” she said. Her voice was like that of an angel's to his ears. “Take care.”

    He continued to stare at her, dumbfounded, as she strolled away.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball shouted.

    The boy quickly snapped back to reality. “Okay, okay, Fireball!” He gave one last glance back at her before shuffling back to his friend.

    As they resumed their trek of the city together, Antoshi's gaze was focused more on the ground than their surroundings. The image of the young woman turning to him, her long hair swinging behind her, replayed over and over in his head.

    "Seems like you have something on your mind," Fireball said.

    “Oh,” he distantly replied. “Yeah, well, I …”

    "Come on, you're not thinking of keeping another secret from your best friend, are you?"

    “No, it's just, … well, when we got separated outside the train station, I … ran into a girl.”

    "A gir~rl?" Fireball asked with a cheeky grin. "Was she pretty?"

    Antoshi quietly chuckled. “Yeah.”

    "Sounds like someone has a cru~ush."

    Antoshi smirked and turned to his friend. “You're never going to get tired of doing that, are you?”

    "Not a chance!"

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the same time, a few miles away, Latoshi was in the midst of a deep meditation. He sat comfortably with his legs crossed on a park bench, completely calm and focused. His dark aura gently flickered in the breeze, though none of the people nearby were able to see it.

    He did, however, get quite a few strange stares from passersby. They were curious at how the boy was able to sit so perfectly still for so long. It got to the point where people assumed he was a street performer and began to drop money in front of him.

    “I found my true calling in life, Lazarus,” Latoshi joked, opening his eyes with a grin. “I can make money by entertaining the masses with just my meditating.”

    The voice did not answer him, causing him to roll his eyes. He groaned in frustration, reaching down to scoop up the money he'd earned.

    “How long are you going to give me the silent treatment?”

    'Until you stop fooling around and take your training seriously.'

    “I can't help it,” Latoshi said. He casually jingled the coins in his hand before flinging the money into a nearby fountain. “I just got back out into the outside world. There's so much stuff for me to see. It's hard for me to concentrate for as long as I did in that cell where nothing ever happened.”

    'Remember what your purpose is — or I will remind you.'

    Latoshi furrowed his brow, displeased with the remark. Alas, he closed his eyes and sighed in defeat. He took a deep breath, relaxed and centered himself, returning to his meditation.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the same time, Antoshi and Fireball ate together a nearby diner. They were seated in a booth near the window, allowing them to continue gazing upon the sights of the brand new city. Antoshi frowned, casually rubbing his arm as the twinging pressure came back.

    Once finished with their dinner, the duo got up. Antoshi cinched his backpack over his shoulders and led Fireball back outside.

    “That was great!” Antoshi said. “I really like the food here.”

    "Yeah! I never would've imagined Apricorn guacamole being a thing, but it was delicious! Bu~ut, I bet you would've enjoyed it more if that girl you saw earlier ate with us."

    Antoshi shook his head. “Y'know, all the excitement of being in Johto means I'm not going to get upset by your teasing today.” Fireball snickered. “Let's head on over to the Pokémon Center. Hopefully they still have an extra room for the night.”

    "That'd be nice. Sleeping on the couches they have in the main area is fun, too."

    Just a few blocks further, the automatic glass doors of the Pokémon Center slid open for the duo.

    "Wow," Fireball remarked. "This place is … literally exactly the same as the ones in Kanto."

    Antoshi chortled. “Well, I guess it helps make them feel like a piece of home for us.”

    Antoshi spoke to Nurse Joy behind the counter and registered to stay a night in one of the Center's rooms. The duo breathed a sigh of relief and grinned at each other when she did not remind them of the Cerulean incident.

    Antoshi thanked her as he took the key card to the room from her. They found a free videophone to give Antoshi's parents a call, letting them know they had gotten there safely. Afterward, they headed into their room to get settled in for the night and get some rest.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    In the dead of night, when the park was completely desolate, Latoshi's eyes finally opened once again from his meditation. More change had been left out at the boy's feet.

    'You know what you must do,' Lazarus said.

    Latoshi nodded in agreement. “So, it begins,” he replied.

    He got to his feet and stretched. He looked around for a moment, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his shorts before going on a trip wandering about the city.

    With most people asleep, the streets were much quieter. He kept an apathetic expression while he passed by a bar. A handful of bikers stood around chatting and laughing. One of the larger men with a mullet looked down at the boy and scoffed.

    “Better run on home, kid,” one of them said. “The streets are dangerous at night.”

    “For you, maybe,” Latoshi replied with a smirk. The men laughed boisterously.

    A couple of Sneasel chased a rat into an alleyway. Latoshi stopped suddenly, gazing down the same alley. There were voices emanating from it. Something about people talking in an alley so late at night felt resoundingly suspicious to him.

    'Go,' Lazarus instructed him.

    Latoshi shrugged and headed into the shadows. The air reeked of rotten food and stagnant water. There was a flickering firelight from a larger opening in the distance.

    “… I didn't know what to do,” a man's voice said.

    “Well, you know how women are,” a second man replied. “Let's go get a drink or something.”

    Latoshi emerged into the light of the burn barrel the two men stood in front of, catching their attention. They were both pale, disheveled, homely, wearing extremely worn and dirty clothes. They looked at him with shocked expressions.

    After a moment of silence, the first man whistled.

    “Wow, I didn't expect a birthday present so soon.

    The other man chuckled. “Hey kid,” he said. “Why don't you spend some time with me and my friend here? We could have some real fun together.”

    The two advanced toward him. Latoshi's irises shimmered black. His lips curled into a devious smile.

    “Fun?” Latoshi asked. “Yeah, I like fun.”

    “That's good, we—”

    “Although~,” he sang, keeping the men at bay momentarily, “I don't think my kind of fun is the kind that you would enjo~oy.”

    The two men chuckled at each other.

    “Well, why don't you show us how you have fun?” the first man asked. “Then, we can show you how we have fun.”

    Latoshi snickered in amusement, keeping his eyes affixed to them as they neared closer. The two men had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

    “If you say so,” he replied, softly.

    Latoshi suddenly lifted the first man up by his neck with one hand before they realized he'd even moved. The other one looked on in shock as his partner thrashed wildly, gasping for air. Latoshi stared at him, his lips curling into a cruel grin.

    There was a sudden, loud snap. The man's body fell limp.

    The second man screamed. Latoshi tossed his friend's lifeless body aside into some bags of trash. A fitting burial, he felt, for someone who would prey on kids. He casually glanced at the grime on his hand before wiping it on his shirt. He looked at the terrified second man with the same, cold grin.

    “So, do you want to have fun, too?”

    The man's expression turned bitter. “You little freak,” he replied, pulling out a handgun tucked away in his pants. “I'll put you down!”

    Latoshi laughed boisterously. “Oh, that's not going to save you.”

    The man clenched his teeth as the boy sauntered toward him. He screamed in frustration, emptying the entirety of the gun's clip at him. Latoshi moved so swiftly, he appeared to the man to be flickering from side to side, moving quickly enough to casually avoid every bullet.

    The man's eyes went wide with horror. “What in the hell?!” he exclaimed.

    He suddenly let out a croak as Latoshi grabbed him by the neck as well, pinning him to the ground.

    “No! Please!” he screamed, struggling. “Let go of me!”

    “Why are you so frightened?” Latoshi asked curiously. “After all, we're just having fun — right?”

    He laughed, holding his flailing body down, pointing an open palm at the man's face while gathering energy into it. The man screamed in horror — a bloodcurdling scream that echoed around the entire block.

    Moments later, Latoshi departed the alleyway as calmly as he entered. With his hands in his shorts pockets, he left their bodies behind without a second thought. Various bystanders soon rushed over to where they heard the screams, only for them to scream in horror at what they found.

    He grinned in satisfaction, continuing to travel down the streets of Goldenrod.

    'That was an exhilarating display,' Lazarus said. 'This is only just the beginning. …'

    Latoshi chuckled to himself, walking down a nearby side street, disappearing under the cover of darkness.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2019
  13. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 13


    The following morning, Antoshi and Fireball both awoke at their usual wake-up time. Antoshi yawned loudly, stretching at the same time his friend did.

    "Our first morning in Johto!" Fireball said merrily. Antoshi turned to him, looking and feeling exhausted. "You … get enough sleep last night?"

    “Not really,” the boy remarked with a groan, sliding out of bed. “I've been … getting these weird sensations since coming to Johto.” Fireball went to speak. “Do not make a 'puberty' joke.” Fireball smiled and buttoned his lip. “It's like a weird … ache in my muscles that just comes and goes. I don't understand why it's happening, but it kept me up for a little while last night.”

    "What if it's—" He stopped suddenly as Antoshi glared at him. "I was going to ask if it's your powers acting up again?"

    Antoshi paused for a moment. “I suppose that would make sense. I haven't used them in a while, and it is the reason behind every unexplainable event that's happened to us so far.” He took a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Well, it could also turn out to be nothing. Come on, let's have some more fun around the city.”

    "Sounds good to me!" Fireball said.

    Antoshi took a few moments to stretch, as did Fireball. In the bathroom, the boy splashed some water on his face to wake himself up after the lack of sleep he'd gotten. On their way out the door, Antoshi stopped and headed back to his backpack. He collected Fireball's Poké Ball from it.

    “I'd better take this with me again,” he said. “Just in case.”

    "You're leaving your backpack here? I guess that means we're staying another day?"

    “Sure, why not? Hopefully, Nurse Joy lets us stay again. Otherwise, we'll have to find another place to stay the night.”

    The two headed out to get some breakfast from the cafeteria. Afterward, they approached Nurse Joy at the front desk to talk to her. After a moment of consideration, she agreed to let them to stay another night, much to their enthusiasm. Antoshi put the key card and Fireball's Poké Ball in his pocket, and the two headed out to explore more of the city.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Some time later, they came upon a commotion just outside of an alleyway. They headed on over, curious to see what was going on.

    The area was cordoned off with police tape. Several police and rescue vehicles were parked along the sidewalk. Traffic cones were set on the road, forcing passing cars to move away from the scene. Dozens of curious early morning onlookers crowded around the taped area.

    "Wow," Fireball remarked, as they neared closer. "What do you think happened here?"

    The pair found a small gap in the crowd for them to take a peek, although there wasn't much for them to see. Crime scene officers took pictures of small, numbered placards they'd placed on the ground. There was a small crater in the asphalt that other officials appeared particularly intrigued by.

    Antoshi gasped quietly. The officers were standing in the middle of a faint, black mist, yet none of them seemed aware of its presence.

    “Do you see that?” Antoshi asked.

    Fireball blinked, looking all around the alley. "… See what?"

    Antoshi's eyes widened, his irises instinctively glowing a bright red. The faint traces of darkness became much clearer to him. It was splayed all over the alleyway — on the ground, the wall, even hovering in the air. A trail of it led down another alley exit. He curiously shuffled off to follow it.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball called out, chasing after him. "Where are you going?"

    Down at the other side of the alley, there were no crowds or police. The area was only blocked off much further inside. The mist tapered off just before reaching the sidewalk. Antoshi knelt down, wafting his hand through the thin traces. Touching it gave off a cold, ominous feeling that sent chills down his spine.

    Fireball caught up to him. "What are you doing? Swattin' a bug?"

    “You don't see this sorta foggy stuff right in front of me?”

    Fireball shook his head. "Not seeing anything, sorry. You must be more attuned to whatever it is than I am."

    “I guess it's more faint than I realized.”

    Antoshi frowned, biting his thumbnail as he stared at the strange mist.

    "What are you thinking?"

    “I think … someone else is here in Goldenrod. Someone … with powers like the ones I used back in Kanto.”

    Fireball gasped. "Wow, that's—! … Er, what does that mean?"

    “I really don't know,” he replied, standing up. “On one hand, I'm kind of excited to know someone else like me is out there, but … at the same time, this energy is … well, it's all wrong somehow. It's like … it went rotten, I guess? I get a sinking feeling every time I touch it.”

    He gasped suddenly, his mind's eye recalling his dream of Fern Town being destroyed, the news broadcast they saw, and his recent dream of the military site. In some what he couldn't understand, he knew the energy in the alley was similar to those incidents.

    "Maybe it's just someone's fart you're seeing," Fireball joked, chuckling to himself. The boy had a blank look in his eyes, his jaw hanging. "… What is it, Antoshi?"

    “This might be bad. I don't understand my own powers well enough to comprehend what's going on here, but … whoever was here, I think it may be the same person that … destroyed Fern Town.”

    Fireball was shocked. "Seriously?! What should we do? Tell the police?"

    “I have no idea, Fireball. Like I said, I'm only just getting used to these powers. I don't know what to do or what to expect.”

    Antoshi's attention suddenly snapped in a different direction, sensing a powerful pressure in his muscles again.

    "What's up? Did you hear somethin'?"

    “No, … it was that odd muscle ache again. It felt really intense this time. Something's telling me to check around over there. Let's see if we can find anything.”

    "Cool, we're detectives now!"

    Antoshi briefly smiled, leading his friend away.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Nearby, Latoshi smirked to himself before biting into a sweet roll.

    "I'm sure that bakery store won't miss this one bun," he said, with a mouthful of food. He swallowed before continuing. "Man, all of the food around here is a million times better than that crap they were feeding me in that prison."

    'Do not forget, your freedom comes at a cost,' Lazarus said. 'You did good work last night. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Tonight, I want you to slaughter a dozen of the parasites in this city.'

    "Not a problem — especially if they're soulless freaks like the last two."

    'Excellent. …'

    Latoshi strolled along, casually, while continuing to take in the sights of the city. He suddenly bumped hard into a passerby heading toward him, causing him to drop his food. Latoshi glanced down at the sweet roll, before cutting his eyes at the person that bumped into him.

    His expression turned to disbelief.

    "I really have to stop bumping into people," Antoshi muttered, while Fireball kept walking away. "I'm really sorry, I—"

    Antoshi stared into the other boy's confounded look, just as taken aback as he was. Fireball looked around, realizing Antoshi wasn't with him. The Typhlosion turned and gasped at the scene.

    Antoshi was speechless. The person staring back at him had the same facial features and brown eyes as he did. If not for the black hair, Antoshi could've sworn he was looking into a mirror. Both boys stared at each other for several moments.

    'Who is this boy?' Lazarus asked, curiously.

    "Do I … know you?" Latoshi asked. The other boy sounded just like Antoshi as well.

    "Uh, … that's a good question," the blond boy replied with a chuckle. The two of them fell completely silent again. They suddenly burst out laughing in unison. "This is crazy! I've never met anyone that looks so much like me before!"

    "Same here, … I think," Latoshi replied, chuckling nervously. The boys turned their attention to the approaching Fireball. "Is this your Pokémon?"

    "He sure is," Antoshi proudly replied. Fireball waved to the new boy with a bewildered expression. "This is Fireball. He's my best friend, and my only Pokémon."

    Latoshi stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Hey, that's pretty cool. I don't know anything about Pokémon myself."

    Antoshi's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "You don't?!"

    "Yeah. I'm pretty sure I've never owned a Pokémon before, either."

    "'Pretty' sure?"

    "Well, truth be told, I'm actually having some, … err, memory problems. I've been walking around the city trying to see if I can remember anything, but, so far I got nothing."

    "Oh, man, I'm so sorry to hear that. Would you like to hang around with us for a while? We were just exploring the city ourselves."

    Latoshi shrugged. "I don't have anything better to do, right?" The two shared another laugh.

    "Come on, we'll check out the sights together," Antoshi said. "What's your name, by the way?"

    "Oh, … I'm Latoshi," he replied, casually. Both Antoshi and Fireball were stunned.

    "La— toshi? …" Antoshi uttered, staring at him in disbelief.

    Latoshi sighed. "Yeah, I know. It's a weird name."

    "No, no, it's not that, it's—it's just that, well, my name is … Antoshi."

    "What?" Latoshi asked, scoffing. "You're messing with me."

    "No, I'm serious! My name really is Antoshi. Here, I'll show you." He quickly pulled out his wallet to show the sable-haired boy his Trainer Card. Latoshi was surprised.

    "Wow, look at that. You really are named 'Antoshi'. I didn't think there was anyone out there with a … a weird-sounding name like mine."

    Antoshi laughed, putting his wallet away. "Trust me, I've gone through the whole 'weird name' thing more times than I can count. So, Latoshi, what do you say we walk around and blow peoples' minds with our odd names?"

    "Sounds good," Latoshi replied, smiling warmly.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi and Fireball resumed their tour around Goldenrod with their new companion in tow. Their investigation into the mysterious energy was temporarily put on hold. They traveled to the southeastern edge of the city, where the sprawling Ilex Forest was in sight.

    "I could go for some chocolate chip ice cream," Fireball hinted.

    Antoshi chuckled and nodded to his friend.

    “I like chocolate chip, too,” Latoshi replied, casually. Antoshi and Fireball looked at each other in shock, both of them coming to a sudden halt. Latoshi hummed curiously, turning to them. “What's up?” he asked.

    “Did you … just understand what Fireball … said?” Antoshi asked.

    “Yeah, why? Is that, like, something weird?”

    “Well, I wouldn't really call it 'weird' as much as it's … just something that Fireball and I have never known any person besides myself to be able to do. No one else we've met can talk to Pokémon, and people typically think I'm crazy when I do it.”

    “… Oh,” Latoshi replied, moderately surprised. “Well, if Fireball likes chocolate chip ice cream, he's the kind of Pokémon I wouldn't mind talking to.”

    "This is really cool!" Fireball said. "Finally, someone else that understands me besides Antoshi." He sniffled dramatically, covering his eyes with a paw. "I never thought this day would come."

    “All right, you,” Antoshi said, patting Fireball's back playfully. “Settle down. I will admit, Latoshi, it is really amazing. Fireball can join in on conversations now. I know he gets antsy when he has to stay quiet for a while.”

    Fireball hopped up and down in excitement, shaking Antoshi's shoulder when he noticed an ice cream shop nearby. Antoshi smirked and rolled his eyes before Fireball ran off to head inside.

    “Want to join us, Latoshi?”

    “Of course, it's ice cream!” The two boys laughed, following Fireball into the shop. “I'll probably just sit with you guys. I don't have any money.”

    “That's okay, I'll buy for you.”

    “You, … well, you don't have to do that. I don't want to put you out.”

    “It's no problem, really! You don't even have to pay me back.”

    Latoshi was stunned. “… Seriously?”

    “Seriously,” Antoshi replied with a smile. Latoshi smiled back.

    “Nice to know there's people out there that'll help me out.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    After the three of them got their ice cream, they found an empty table to sit at. Fireball eagerly began scarfing down his towering ice cream cup with a paper spoon. The two boys ate theirs with a little more restraint while they talked.

    “So, Latoshi,” Antoshi said, “you're walking around a big city with no money, and memory loss. … Isn't that dangerous? What have you been doing around the city?”

    Latoshi chuckled. “You don't want to know. Besides, I can handle myself. I'm way stronger than I look.”

    “Same here,” Antoshi replied with a smirk.

    “What do you guys do?”

    “Well, we came from Saffron City to travel and train in Johto. Back in Kanto, Fireball and I collected every Gym badge and got to the Indigo Plateau. We were part of the top one hundred twenty-eight Trainers in the most recent Indigo League Tournament.”

    “And, that's a … good thing, I'm guessing?”

    Antoshi laughed. “Yes. We're really happy with how much we accomplished.”

    “That's cool. Like I said, I don't know anything about Pokémon or training.”

    “Well, if you hang around with us, I could help you learn about Pokémon. We can find Pokémon for you to catch and maybe you can become a Trainer yourself.”

    Latoshi smiled warmly. “You know, I … kinda like that idea.”

    “It's better than wandering around by yourself, right?”

    Latoshi chuckled nervously. “Yeah, … by myself.” He stared down at his ice cream, casually stirring it with his spoon.

    Both boys were pleasantly surprised at how they became such fast friends. It was nice for them both to have someone their own age to talk to. Fireball sighed happily after finishing his ice cream.

    "I love ice cream!" Fireball said. "That chocolate chip was great — right, Latoshi?"

    “Yeah, this is the best ice cream I can remember,” he joked. Antoshi and Fireball laughed, causing him to smile.

    'We need to have a chat,' Lazarus said, firmly. Latoshi jumped in response.

    “What's up?” Antoshi asked him.

    'Leave these two and go find someplace private — now.'

    “Uh, I just gotta use the restroom real quick,” Latoshi said. “Be back in a sec'.” He promptly got up from his chair and walked away.

    "Antoshi, he—he understood what I said!" Fireball said, giddy. "That's so amazing! … I know this sounds a little out there, but I get the feeling that maybe you and Latoshi just may be related. You might even be … brothers!" Antoshi was surprised at his remark. "You look the same, you sound the same — you also walk the same, by the way — and you both can understand me. Those are a lot of coincidences, don't you think?"

    “Well, yes. I … definitely got the sense of maybe being related when he told me his name was 'Latoshi' of all things. He seems really nice and all, but … him being my brother just seems too crazy. How could I possibly have a brother I've never known before?”

    "Well, if he's going to hang out with us, you two'd have all the time in the world to figure it out. I can't wait to watch you show him the ropes about being a Trainer."

    Antoshi smiled, albeit briefly. “I keep getting an odd vibe about him, though. Maybe it's just the shock of finding out his name.”

    "Hey … what about finding the person that left that foggy stuff you mentioned?"

    “I'm not sure. I guess we'll just have to look around along the way. Probably best not to tell Latoshi — I don't want him to worry about it.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi glared at himself in the bathroom mirror as Lazarus began to scold him.

    'What do you think you are doing?! This is not part of your mission. I told you that your freedom came at a cost. You already took the first step when you escaped your captors. Your hands are stained with the blood of the guilty. There is no turning back now! So, say 'goodbye' to these two and get back to your training!'

    Latoshi shook his head. “Antoshi's the only person I've been able to talk to. He and his friend want me to go traveling with them. I can do that and cleanse the filth along the way. We can cover more ground this way.”

    'You cannot do both, you idiot! Do you think you can keep mysteriously vanishing from your friend and he will not get suspicious?! Or do you think he will just stand by and watch as you purge the parasites from this world?! He will leave you the moment he finds out what you have done!'

    “Enough!” Latoshi shouted in anger, causing his black aura to momentarily flare out. “This is my life! You aren't going to tell me what to do forever! I'm the one with limitless, ultimate power — remember? I can choose when and where I enact my revenge!”

    Lazarus chuckled. 'We shall see very soon. I will teach you about your future.'

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi gasped suddenly, feeling that odd pressure again — and it was strong. It pointed his attention to the bathroom that Latoshi just retreated to, and reminded him of the dark energy in the alleyway. It was then that he recalled the last image he saw from the first news broadcast after Fern Town was destroyed. The boy that was rescued from the crater — a boy with jet black hair. The same hair as Latoshi's. The energy in the alley was the same as in Fern Town's destruction. It didn't take long before Antoshi put it all together.

    “It couldn't be,” Antoshi whispered. He slowly got up from his chair, a concerned expression on his face as he stared in Latoshi's direction.

    "What is it?" Fireball asked.

    Antoshi quickly shook it off, smiling at his friend. “There's … something I just thought to ask Latoshi. Why don't we wait outside for him?”

    "Okay, … sure thing," Fireball replied, with some confusion.

    The duo headed out onto the street for a few moments. Antoshi had a very intense look in his eyes once Latoshi emerged outside. The sable-haired boy sighed in relief, rejoining them with a smile.

    “Well, that was fun,” Latoshi remarked. “Where should we go next?”

    “Hey, … Latoshi,” Antoshi said, hesitating. “I, … err, have a weird question for you. Would you … happen to know anything about, well, strange energy?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean, have you ever … felt a strange source of energy that just … well, appeared around your body in the form of light?”

    Latoshi narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “That's oddly specific. Why do you ask?”

    “Well, I— … this is really awkward. I have … let's call them these weird 'powers'. And, well, I'm able to sort of see and feel the same kind of energy that I can put out — kind of like a sixth sense.”

    Latoshi's eyes widened. Lazarus gasped.

    'This boy has powers, too,' he hissed. 'Uncanny. …'

    “Earlier today,” Antoshi continued, “we were looking for someone that can also use those kinds of powers. I think it's the same someone that's been doing some pretty horrible things lately. Would you know what I'm talking about?”

    Latoshi glanced over at Fireball, who seemed very confused by the line of questioning. Suddenly, the mood was not so jovial between the two boys.

    “Why don't we head on over to the Pokémon Gym here?” Latoshi replied, idly. “You can show me what being a Pokémon Trainer is like.”

    Antoshi was surprised that Latoshi decided to avoid the question. It did nothing to clear Latoshi's name. Antoshi continued to press him. “Someone hurt a lot of people, Latoshi. I'd really like to know if you know anything about it.”

    “What about other Pokémon?” Latoshi asked, looking off in the distance. “I wonder what kind of Pokémon live around here?”

    Antoshi clenched his teeth in frustration. “You also wouldn't happen to know anything about … the destruction of Fern Town, would you?”

    Latoshi turned away, hiding a bitter scowl. The name 'Fern Town' immediately reminded him of the General and his repetitive line of questioning about said town. Hearing it again labeled Antoshi as an enemy in his mind.

    “I think … that you and I should talk, Antoshi.”

    “Talk?” Antoshi asked, cautiously. “… About what?”

    “About this …” To the duo's surprise, Latoshi suddenly dashed away faster than they could follow.

    Their eyes went wide in shock. Latoshi was on the other side of the street and across an open field, a distance of several hundred meters, in less than a second. He casually glanced over at them before walking into the Ilex Forest.

    “What …” Antoshi uttered.

    "Just … happened?" Fireball added.

    “Come on, we have to go after him,” Antoshi said, heading across the street. Fireball followed close behind him.

    "Not if he runs away like that again!"

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The duo headed in past the trees near the same place Latoshi disappeared. By the time they got there, heavy clouds were starting to drift over them. The forest, already incredibly dense with foliage, became even darker as a result.

    They looked around cautiously while walking further in. Latoshi was nowhere in sight. Large, dark, pine trees loomed over them, creaking and rustling with the wind.

    Fireball held onto his friend's shoulders, staying behind him. "This is really creepy, Antoshi," Fireball said, quietly. "Where could he be?"

    “I'm not sure. I can't sense his—”

    “What do you know about 'strange energy', Antoshi?” Latoshi said, interrupting him. The duo gasped, turning around. He emerged with a smirk, casually leaning his shoulder against a tree with his arms folded over his chest. “I wasn't sensing anything from you before, mostly because I wasn't keeping my guard up. But, now that I know what I'm looking for, I can see that you've also reached spirit awareness.”

    “Spirit … awareness?” Antoshi asked, confused. “What is that?”

    “Awareness of your Ki, of course — that's your spirit energy.”

    “Ki? Spirit energy?” Antoshi looked at his own hands in confusion. “So, that's what that light is that appears around me?”

    “It is,” Latoshi replied. “Judging from your reaction, though, I take it you know very little. You've never trained to strengthen it, control it, and harness it. I have.” Antoshi and Fireball were in awe at the revelation. “When was the first time you were able to use it?”

    “Uh, … it was when Fireball was falling off of a steep cliff. I panicked and grabbed him and I suddenly found my arms totally enveloped in a red light.”

    “That's incredible. Your powers awakened in a moment you needed to use them for good — as did I.”

    Antoshi was bewildered by Latoshi's claim. Latoshi grinned, holding his head down. He began chuckling — a chuckle that morphed into a hysterical laugh. Antoshi and Fireball looked to each other in concern.

    “What's … so funny?” Antoshi asked, cautiously.

    “You don't know how liberating this is for me, Antoshi!” he exclaimed, grinning in elation. “You're the first person I can finally talk to about this! The first person to really understand! The first person I can look at as an equal! Antoshi, you've been so kind and friendly toward me already. We only just met, and yet, I feel such a powerful bond with you. I want to tell you all about my solution to the problems of the world.”

    “'Solution?' … What do you mean?”

    “There are so many awful people in this world, Antoshi. Unlike you, they care only for themselves. They don't give a damn about others. They inflict pain and suffering and torment. They're heartless, soulless monsters. They are a blight upon the world. It doesn't have to be that way, though! I can use my powers, and I can cleanse the world of evil! Cleanse it of the parasites, the immoral, the perverse! Don't you see? I'm doing them a favor by ending their pathetic existences! Without their evil hearts, everlasting peace will become a reality!”

    Fireball and Antoshi were both shocked and horrified. Antoshi again recalled the images from his dream about the military base's destruction. He had felt Latoshi's relief and elation amid the chaos. He knew Latoshi wasn't joking with his proposal. Latoshi truly was cruel beyond anyone he'd ever met before.

    “You wanted to teach me to become a Pokémon Trainer,” Latoshi continued. “I can teach you how to use your powers and do so much more good in the world! This is why we were given these powers! Join me, Antoshi. Together, we can do so much good for this world. We’ll make the world a better place … as brothers. What do you say?”

    Latoshi's black aura began to flare around his body. It reeked of blood and killing intent. The deaths of his previous victims hung in the air. It seeped all around Antoshi like an icy embrace.

    It terrified him.

    What's more, that feeling of tingling pressure came back stronger than ever. Antoshi finally understood it was Latoshi's energy that had been causing it all along.

    “No,” Antoshi said, quietly, shaking his head. “No, I won't do it.” Latoshi was genuinely surprised and dismayed. “You're talking about killing people, Latoshi. Nothing about that is 'good.'”

    “What are you talking about? They're a festering plague on the earth! They're parasites! They need to be ended! That's what Lazarus made me understand!”

    “Lazarus? Who is Lazarus?”

    “My conscience, of course,” Latoshi replied, confidently. “It gave itself a name.”

    Antoshi and Fireball became even more deeply concerned.

    “Your … conscience speaks to you?” Antoshi asked.

    “Well, he's a lot wiser than I normally am. Lazarus led me to discover my powers. He helped me strengthen and train and focus myself enough to get me out of the hellhole I was locked away in, and to lay waste to everyone and everything there.”

    “So it was you,” Antoshi remarked, solemnly. “You killed those people in Fern Town, and those people on that … island base.”

    “How do you know about—” Latoshi stopped himself. “I can't remember anything of Fern Town, but the military base … yes, that was me. They were horrible people, Antoshi!”

    “They … they must have had families and people who cared about them and—”

    “Are you kidding me?!” Latoshi snapped, bitterly, surprising the duo. “I can't believe you, Antoshi! You're being such an apologist! No, they got what they deserved. You have no idea what they did to me. You think because you have your perfect, happy little life traveling around with your best buddy that you can pass judgment on me? Like that makes you, … what, a moral authority? I was locked up in that facility … for months. I had no idea where I was and they never told me. They never helped me. They just kept me jailed like a wild animal.”

    There was no justification for Latoshi's actions in Antoshi's mind. The blond-haired boy only kept his solemn gaze affixed to the ground. Latoshi scoffed in disgust, his black aura flaring around him.

    “You think that everything is just so black and white, huh?” Latoshi continued. “Everything just … fits into your life's neat, little compartments. 'Latoshi is awful, he killed all those people, that makes him the bad guy.' I'm the bad guy? And you talk about how they had families? What about my family?! What about the people who cared about me?! Who the hell are you to try and guilt me?!”

    “I couldn't ever take anyone's life like you have,” Antoshi retorted, glaring into Latoshi's eyes. “I just couldn't, no matter how awful I felt inside.”

    “Gee, wow, what an upstanding person you are, Antoshi — bravo,” he shot back, sarcastically. “Never say 'never.' You don't know what it's like. You don't know how far you would go. No memories, not knowing where your family is, or if anyone is looking for you. Locked up against your will, nobody telling you why, where you are, or even who you are. You don't know how you would react or whether you would do the same thing in my position. I waited for so long. I gave them the benefit of the doubt more times than I can remember. I kept thinking, 'They'll bring someone in soon. Someone will come for me. They'll realize it's all a big misunderstanding and then I'll go home.' I just wanted … to go home, Antoshi. After a while, I didn't know if I was ever going to leave or if they would even keep me alive. … I had to do it. I had to get out of there. I had to survive.”

    “You could've escaped without killing anyone!” Antoshi shouted. The bitterness upon his face masked the tears welling in his eyes. He felt deeply for Latoshi's situation, and had no reason not to believe him. It did nothing to take away the sting of knowing someone whom he'd seen the good in, someone whom he'd already bonded with, could be such a cold-blooded murderer. Fireball placed a forepaw on his friend's shoulder in an effort to console him.

    Latoshi shook his head. “Maybe you're right. But, that's not what I did. I was terrified out of my mind. I kept thinking that, if I broke out, they were going to find me again. They'd bring me back to that awful place and then they'd make sure I never got out again. I have no regrets. I would gladly go back in time and do it again. I would look into their eyes and I would slaughter them all — and I would do it with a smile on my face.”

    “This isn't the way, Latoshi. You don't have to be alone. What about your friends? Your family? Don't you still care about them?”

    “My family?” Latoshi wondered aloud.

    “You told me you were lost and couldn't remember anything. I can help you find your family.”

    “You would … help me?” Latoshi asked, awe-struck. “Even after … everything I just told you?”

    “Of course,” Antoshi replied, softly, “because it's what's right. This, all of this you're talking about, the killing, the 'cleansing', the destruction, … that isn't right.”

    Latoshi appeared conflicted. He turned his gaze to the ground. Antoshi was a real, living person standing before him, with real emotions that he could feel. He was so much more than some voice in his head, telling him to kill. “I—”

    'Do not listen to his lies!' Lazarus shouted. Latoshi gasped in shock. 'Remember who it was that you trusted, who gave you strength when you had none, who gave you freedom when you thought it was impossible. He is trying to lead you astray. Do not listen to him, Latoshi!'

    Latoshi pondered it over for a moment. He chuckled and smirked at Antoshi. “That's true,” he replied, leaving Antoshi confused. “I understand now. Good try, Antoshi. I see right through your little charade. You're trying to get me to let my guard down and do what, just give up my ideals? Just like that? You don't even understand a fraction what I had to suffer through.”

    “It isn't a charade, Latoshi! I'm—”

    “Save it,” Latoshi snapped. “You know, I've changed my mind. You're not fit to help me with my efforts for peace. You're expendable, Antoshi, just like a~ll the rest of the people in this world. No one compares to my strength, and no one can stop me. You're just a stepping stone on my ascension to greatness.” He flared out his black aura again. “I'm going to turn this world into a peaceful paradise by any means necessary.”

    “No,” Antoshi replied, calmly. “What you're talking about, … it's a fool's paradise.”

    Latoshi scoffed. “Saying that just makes you a parasite, too,” he said, flatly. “You need to be cleansed from this world, like any others who would dare get in the way of my ascension.”

    “I don't want to fight you, Latoshi. We can talk—”

    “Good!” Latoshi said, in a jovial tone. “That'll make killing you so much easier.”
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2019
  14. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 14


    The heavy clouds rolling in overhead gradually became darker, setting an ominous stage. Antoshi narrowed his eyes, watching his adversary, cautiously.

    “I'm just going to warn you beforehand,” Latoshi said, smirking confidently, “I won't be making this quick and painless. This is definitely gonna hurt.”

    In an instant, Latoshi closed the gap between them. Antoshi gasped, his eyes going wide in shock. The red hue of his spirit energy ignited quickly within his irises, his senses increasing exponentially. Before Antoshi could make a move, Latoshi suddenly delivered a swift knee into his abdomen.

    Antoshi croaked in pain, falling onto his knees, holding his stomach and gasping for air. Tears welled up in his eyes. It was a level of physical pain he was extremely unfamiliar with. This was the first real fight he'd ever been in.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball cried out in shock.

    Latoshi stood tall and proud, is black aura flaring. He appeared pleased with himself. “Well, you've already proven to be very durable. A hit like that probably would've killed a normal person.”

    Fireball turned to Latoshi, snarling and baring his fangs. "Stop this, Latoshi!"

    “I'd suggest you don't get involved here,” Latoshi said to Fireball, casually. “I'm not interested in harming Pokémon, but I may just make an exception if you don't back down.”

    "If you think I'm going to stand by and watch you hurt my best friend, you're out of your—"

    “Fireball, wait,” Antoshi interjected. He took a moment to steady his breathing before getting back to his feet. He wiped his eyes and a small trail of blood on his mouth with the back of his fist. He closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a sigh of defeat. As much as he wanted not to resort to violence, he knew he had no choice. “You're always fighting the physical side of our battles. Let me handle it this time.” He gave his friend a reassuring smile.

    "This isn't … as simple as a Pokémon battle," Fireball remarked, with deep concern in his eyes.

    “I know, but I think this is something that only I can deal with.”

    Latoshi laughed. “Let's see if that ends up being the case,” he said before dashing at him again. He struck Antoshi on the bridge of the nose with a headbutt, drawing a shout from the blond-haired boy. He again gave Antoshi no time to react, using his superior quickness to strike him with a couple of hard punches to the face.

    Antoshi stumbled back, reeling briefly before shaking it off. Latoshi grinned, having far too much fun engaging in an actual fight for once, coming at him again with the same volley.

    The sight of Antoshi getting knocked around was torturous for Fireball. He was completely tensed up in rage, forced to watch from the sidelines.

    “You're really not going to fight back, huh!?” Latoshi asked in amusement. “At the very least you're resilient as hell — like a really sturdy punching bag!”

    With every strike, Antoshi's eyes began glowing brighter as rage built up inside him. He gave off a sudden scream. His own, red aura ignited almost like an explosion around his body — the force and pressure of which pushed Latoshi away slightly. Latoshi hopped backward a short distance. He was intrigued by the long-awaited emergence of Antoshi's power.

    Now it's getting interesting,” Latoshi remarked.

    The two boys stared each other down for several moments. Antoshi groaned and shook his head. His vision was blurred from the hits he took. Latoshi used to opportunity to quickly race toward him. He shouted, throwing a punch with more force behind it than before. Still dazed, Antoshi reacted instinctively by blocking the punch with his forearms. The impact dug Antoshi's heels into the ground and caused a small shock wave that shook the nearby trees. Both boys were stunned, as was Fireball.

    Latoshi shouted continuously with each subsequent strike at him. With no formal experience fighting or using his powers, Antoshi was forced to quickly learn and adapt to the difference in power and skill. He at least managed to continue guarding various points of his body from Latoshi's superhuman punches out of sheer instinct. His rage continued to increase, manifesting in his red aura which burned more ferociously than before. He despised having to fight Latoshi, no matter what the circumstances were. His body continued to fight on, but his heart was aching to stop.

    Latoshi reared his fist back, throwing one last, powerful strike. Antoshi clenched his teeth, his eyes glowing brighter, his adrenaline surging. He leapt back in a sudden instant to avoid the attack, leaving Latoshi bewildered and wide-eyed. He had moved just a few paces away, yet did so faster than Latoshi could process.

    ‘Was he actually trained as well?’ Latoshi thought. ‘Where is this speed suddenly coming from? …’

    With Latoshi momentarily confused, a counter-attack opportunity appeared. Antoshi held his hands out in front of him. A ball of bright, red energy gathered in his palms. He was briefly taken aback by its presence, realizing it was the same sort of orb he had shown to Fireball. He quickly focused back on his target, gave a shout, and fired it like a projectile at his attacker.

    Latoshi gasped in surprise. He narrowly dodged the blast, causing it to impact a large pine tree behind him. The resulting explosion was powerful enough to break and topple the tree, falling away from the group with loud cracking and a hard thud.

    Latoshi backed away to regroup himself, narrowing narrowed his eyes at his rival. ‘What secrets is he hiding? How does someone as soft as him know how to fight like that? Is he playing me for a chump right now?’

    Antoshi, meanwhile, gazed down at his palms in disbelief at what just happened.

    "Whoa," Fireball uttered. "Antoshi, that was … amazing! I—I had no idea you could move so fast! And that … that bullet thing you shot from your hands! It was just like the light show ball!"

    Fireball, too, had recognized it. Antoshi didn't have an answer for Fireball.

    ‘I … can use that light like … a weapon?’ Antoshi thought.

    Latoshi's eyes shifted over to Fireball. ‘The Typhlosion is way too surprised with Antoshi's skills. He has to be doing all of this out of instinct. He's greener than my shirt. …’

    'Foolish child,' Lazarus said. 'You are holding back too much. Do not go easy on him.'

    Latoshi scoffed. “Whatever. I was just feeling him out.”

    Upon realizing Latoshi was speaking to the wind, Antoshi and Fireball both stared at him with puzzled gazes. ‘Is that his 'conscience' he's talking to?’ Antoshi thought.

    “So, Antoshi,” Latoshi said, “you seem to have some mastery over your abilities, huh?”

    “I …” Antoshi trailed off, clenching his fists and standing confidently. “I do.”

    “Interesting,” Latoshi said, “bu~t I think you're lying. You and Fireball were just as surprised as I was when you used that attack. The fact is, you've only just begun to start harnessing your power, and realizing what you can do with it. I've had plenty of continuous training, so I have much more control over my energy. I'm at a level way greater than what you're capable of.”

    Antoshi scowled, feeling empowered by his earlier ability. He suddenly dashed toward Latoshi. “Let's find out!” he exclaimed.

    Latoshi's shimmering black eyes widened in shock, taken aback at just how fast Antoshi was. It was a speed beyond what either of them had displayed thus far. Rather than going for an attack, Antoshi instead decided to dash all around Latoshi in a random pattern. His speed was great enough that he left fading after-images of himself, giving the appearance of a handful of clones surrounding his opponent.

    'He is surprisingly quick,' Lazarus remarked.

    Latoshi looked all around in every direction with a confused expression. He was overwhelmed by Antoshi's quickness. Fireball watched in awe at the superpowered young people, astonished by how fast they were able to move and react. Yet, for the two locked in battle, the normal flow of time seemed to be reduced to a snail's pace.

    Antoshi leapt forward, striking Latoshi with a kick to the back of the head. Latoshi shouted and stumbled, immediately turning and swinging a fist to counter. Antoshi was already long gone — back in the vortex of after-images. Antoshi's hand glowed red as he summoned forth the energy needed to produce another blast.

    'Defend yourself!' Lazarus shouted.

    With a bitter scowl, Latoshi crossed his arms in front of him. Antoshi came to a sudden stop, firing the powerful blast of energy in Latoshi's face. It exploded violently enough to send his adversary careening a short distance away. Latoshi grunted in pain, managing to use his momentum to flip backward and land on his feet.

    "Awesome, Antoshi!" Fireball cheered. "That was so cool!"

    Latoshi looked down at his forearms, finding burn marks left from the energy's impact. He seethed, glaring viciously at his adversary. Antoshi kept on him, realizing he was dictating the pace of the fight. He dashed toward Latoshi swiftly enough to dodge a punch that Latoshi threw at him. He continued darting around him, leaving after-images once more. Using his quickness, he managed to land several shots to Latoshi's head.

    Latoshi became bitterly frustrated. He roared, his aura intensifying.

    'Focus, you dunce!' Lazarus shouted. 'Do not just stand there — feel his energy out!'

    Latoshi put all of focus into watching his opponent's movements, though difficult they were to follow. The next time Antoshi threw a punch, Latoshi spotted it and blocked it with a hand. The blond-haired boy didn't think much of it, keeping up the pace of his assault. Latoshi's eyes began to further adapt to Antoshi's overwhelming speed. He took some further shots, but deflected and avoided most of them.

    Their speed was evolving as the fight went on. It became too fast for Fireball to keep up with. However, Latoshi soon became the one dictating the pace. As he realized it more and more, he shot his rival an increasingly confident smirk. Despite his speed, Antoshi saw his rival's arrogant expression clearly.

    After having his attacks blocked consistently, Antoshi leapt away to get some space. He hunched over, panting heavily. He wiped the sweat off of his forehead, a stern expression on his face. He did not let Latoshi out of his sights.

    Latoshi threw his head back and laughed. “Look at you! You're more winded than I am, and I've been on the defensive! Guess you reached your limit, huh, bro?”

    Antoshi heaved a sigh and stood up straight. “I am not your brother.”

    “Well, that's just a silly remark. It's inexplicable, but I know you sense just as well as I do that we have to be related.”

    Antoshi scowled. “Not a chance. Fireball is more of a brother to me than you'd ever be.”

    “Oh, and why is that? Because he's nice to you? Because his ideals align with yours? Sorry, that's not how life works. I'm certain that we are brothers. No matter how much you dislike it, you're certain as well. I mean, just look at us, Antoshi — it's like looking in a mirror! We're not just brothers, we're twin brothers!”

    Antoshi glanced away. “How can that be? I—I've never even met you before.”

    Latoshi shrugged. “I don't know any more than you do. But, what I do know is that you should join me. I'll forgive your earlier remarks towards me. Come on, we can work together. We can make this world a much better place, you and I. You have so much potential that you don't even see! I'll help teach you how to gain control over your powers. We'll be totally unstoppable!”

    “Over my dead body,” Antoshi spat.

    Latoshi laughed. “That's a very interesting response,” Antoshi gasped as his adversary appeared beside him, driving a fist into his gut, “because it's one that I can definitely follow through with if you refuse my generous offer.” Antoshi struggled to breathe, hunching over, hugging his abdomen. The strike was unexpectedly more vicious than any of Latoshi's previous hits. “You know I've been taking it easy on you, right? There is absolutely no way you're going to win this fight. I think it's in your best interest to concede.”

    “I'm never going to stop fighting…” Antoshi replied. He stood up straight with a groan, stumbling back a few paces. His stamina had been draining much faster than he realized. “Especially … if it means stopping you from harming us and putting an end to your insane idea of a 'perfect world'.”

    Latoshi shook his head and chuckled. “Go on, then. You can keep on fighting, Antoshi. The problem is, you're far less trained to deal with your energy than I am. You can't control it and regulate it well, and you have no stamina built up. It won't be much longer before you run completely dry.”

    The two boys stared each other down momentarily. Antoshi panted, sweating intensely, swallowing the dry lump in his throat. His hair and clothing were starting to mat to his body. Latoshi's words resounded with him. He began to seriously question whether or not he actually could deal with the sable-haired boy. He trembled in anticipation of Latoshi's next move.

    “Would you like to see just how outclassed you are, Antoshi? Don't blink now.”

    Without moving from his position, Latoshi threw a jab at him. Antoshi looked on in confusion, until the shock wave from it suddenly struck him in the face. Latoshi laughed, continuing to send long-ranged punches at him for a short time. Antoshi clenched his jaw, guarding his face with his forearms. The moment they finally stopped, Antoshi dropped his guard to find Latoshi standing in front of him.

    “Boo,” Latoshi said with a cocky smirk. He suddenly disappeared. “Whoops, I'm behind you!” he said before landing a punch in the small of Antoshi's back. Antoshi fell to his knees, holding his back with both hands, wincing in pain. “This is a pretty wild case of sibling rivalry, huh?! I may be the only one thinking this, but we seem to have a bit of a dysfunctional family.”

    “Yeah, … good one,” Antoshi strained out a sarcastic reply.

    Latoshi kicked Antoshi's side hard enough to punt him forward through the air. Antoshi shouted, the sheer force of his momentum snapping several large trees in half as he crashed into them.

    Latoshi laughed in amusement. “Well, this is so much more fun now.” He looked down at his hands, enveloped in his black aura, flexing and clenching them into fists rhythmically. “I feel so much stronger now for some reason,” he added with a cocky smirk.

    Fireball snarled, fuming. His agitation of being forced to the sidelines was at its peak. With a clear opening between himself and the distracted Latoshi, he let out a sudden, powerful Flamethrower. Latoshi turned his attention to the oncoming attack in time to shield his face with one arm, just before he was consumed in a stream of flames. Latoshi shouted, part of his shirt burnt, along with the skin on the side of his torso. His aura flared to life around him. The spiritual energy around him effectively acted as a shield around his body, protecting him from the full wrath of Fireball's attack.

    "I won't let you hurt Antoshi any longer!" Fireball roared. As was the case with the Rockets, Fireball was willing to attack humans if he felt they were rotten to the core.

    Yet, despite being burned, Latoshi's expression slowly turned to amusement. He laughed hysterically, seeing Fireball's attack as nothing more than a joke. He grinned while inspecting the relatively minor burns that scorched some of his shirt and the skin beneath.

    “You think some little Pokémon attack is going to stop me? You're even more delusional than my brother is! This burn doesn't hurt in the slightest. You have absolutely no grasp of the level of power you're facing. Antoshi's a complete amateur with his abilities, so you and he have never seen anything like what I—” Fireball abruptly summoned up another Flamethrower, firing it directly at Latoshi. The boy jumped out of the way to avoid it. “… Now, that was just plain rude,” Latoshi scolded him playfully. “What, did you think you'd get me again?”

    "No, I'm just tired of hearing you speak," Fireball spat.

    Latoshi clicked his tongue. “Well, that is a shame. I can make things easier on you, though. I'll make it so you can't hear me ever again.” Latoshi held an open hand toward Fireball. “After all, you tend to lose your sense of hearing when you don't have a head.”

    Fireball stared into Latoshi's cold, black eyes as the boy sneered at him. As Latoshi summoned his energy into his palm, Fireball quickly braced himself.

    'No,' Lazarus said. 'Do not harm him. Not yet.'

    “What?” Latoshi wondered aloud, his arm faltering. “Why is that?”

    'Because I have something else to deal with this nuisance.'

    Fireball was left confused, but knew there had to be some kind of unpleasant retribution in store for him yet. Lazarus began chanting an incantation in a strange language that neither of them had heard before. Its voice emanated from Latoshi's mouth — though Latoshi's lips were not moving. Latoshi was shocked, curiously clasping a hand over his mouth. It did nothing to alter the volume of the voice speaking through him.

    From the ground, a black mist began to seep. Latoshi and Fireball looked on in bewilderment as the mist slowly rose up and formed into the shape of a four-legged beast. Curled horns sprouted out from its distinctively canine head. Its long tail extended out with a pointed, triangular tip. Once its body had finally taken shape, and Lazarus' chanting ended, its form became apparent.

    It was a Houndoom — yet far unlike a normal one. Its body appeared eaten away, hollow and rotted. Bones were visible through gaping holes in its chest and its legs. Its eyes were completely black with small, red, pinprick pupils. It slowly opened its mouth, revealing its forked tongue and razor-sharp, jagged teeth. Fireball was horrified by its appearance.

    “What the hell is that thing?” Latoshi asked, bluntly.

    'This is Lucent,' Lazarus said. 'He is my most obedient and faithful servant. He is also very much as undead as he looks. I have decided to let him have some fun.'

    “You expect me to just play nice with the doggy over there and let him do all the work? I can easily deal with this Typhlosion, you know.”

    Lucent's cold eyes slowly rolled over to glare at Latoshi. Latoshi scowled, expressing his disgust for the beast.

    'I am well aware of that. Your battle with Antoshi is not over yet, though. This way, you will not have to waste your energy on the Typhlosion.'

    Latoshi sighed in frustration. “Fine. Well, Fireball, it was nice knowing you and all but it seems like 'zombie pooch' here is about to tear you into very fine, very bloody ribbons.”

    'Sink your jaws into the Typhlosion, Lucent!' Lazarus commanded. Lucent's head snapped upward in attention, Lazarus' voice ringing through his head as well. 'Make him suffer!'

    Lucent gave a horrible, raspy bark of acknowledgment before darting at its target. Fireball stood in place, stricken with fear. His eyes went wide as Lucent lurched at him with its decaying jaw open.

    Antoshi suddenly jumped in the way, causing the dog to bite his forearm instead. The boy cried out in pain, tensing all the muscles in his arm as he fought to pull away from the dog's grasp. Lucent locked its jaw in tight and began shaking its head around. Antoshi held up his other hand, firing a blast of his energy point-blank that exploded Lucent's face. The attack sent the Houndoom a short distance away.

    Lucent's body had gone totally limp before it rolled to a stop. The demonic dog calmly rose to its feet, glaring at Antoshi. It took its time licking the blood off of its chops. Antoshi inspected his badly injured, trembling arm. He gasped, horrified by the amount of blood he was losing. He had never been injured so severely.

    “What's the matter, Antoshi?” Latoshi asked with a laugh. “It's just a little blood!”

    "Antoshi…" Fireball uttered, deeply concerned for his friend's safety.

    Antoshi held a hand out to him, letting him know he was all right. His hand trembled as he grabbed his wound, clenching his teeth. The others looked on as Antoshi summoned his energy into his palm. He screamed in agony, his injured flesh sizzling to effectively cauterize his wound. Fireball was left in shock.

    “Fireball,” Antoshi said, quietly, as his hand fell away. “Rolling Fireball.

    The command took a moment for Fireball's mind to register. Once it did, he gave a confident smirk. "Looks like we're back in business," he remarked. He curled up quickly, and began revving in place. The fires on his back engulfed him, catching the opposing duo off-guard. Neither of them had seen anything like it.

    Fireball took off like a bullet toward Lucent. The undead Houndoom snarled just before being impacted hard. It was sent a short distance away again, landing on its belly. Lucent got back to its feet, staring Fireball down, coldly. The Typhlosion turned around and prepared to strike again. Latoshi appeared in the way suddenly, kicking Fireball away like a ball.

    “That's about enough from you!” Latoshi exclaimed. Fireball shouted in terror as he spiraled through the air, coming to a violent stop against a large tree. He fell to the ground, unconscious.

    “Fireball!” Antoshi shouted, panicked.

    “I really don't like having to work with this dog,” Latoshi remarked, “so I might as well get some enjoyment out of it.”

    Antoshi scowled, turning his attention to Latoshi. He shouted in rage, racing toward his adversary, his red aura flickering wildly. Latoshi grinned in the face of the oncoming attack. As Antoshi threw a punch, Latoshi countered with a hard shot to Antoshi's cheek. The impact sent the blond-haired boy backward into the dirt, flailing and skidding to a stop near his motionless best friend.

    Antoshi quickly shook himself out of his daze. He gazed over at Fireball with concern, dragging himself toward him.

    “Fireball,” he uttered. “Come on, Fireball. … Please, wake up!”

    “How perfect it is to have both of you together like this,” Latoshi remarked. He held his wrist, taking careful aim with his open hand. “It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel!” Latoshi laughed as he fired dozens of spherical energy blasts at the duo.

    Antoshi's irises burned bright red as his eyes widened in horror. He quickly knelt with his back facing Fireball, crossing his arms over his chest. He used his aura to shield himself and Fireball, just like Latoshi did earlier, as the attacks impacted him and everything around them. He grunted from the sheer power of the blasts, gradually inching back from the immense barrage. Explosions rang out upon the ground and nearby trees, toppling them over.

    Fireball awoke to the noise. His eyes came into focus, making out the image of his friend using himself as a shield to protect him.

    "Antoshi …" he whispered. The overwhelming show of force came to an end. Fireball groaned and got to his feet.

    Antoshi collapsed face-first, panting, his aura severely diminished. His chest had been burned, his shirt left in tatters. Fireball was horrified. He had never seen his best friend so seriously injured.

    Latoshi sucked his teeth. “One of you falls, and the other gets up. It's like a really annoying carnival game.”

    With a vicious snarl, the fires on Fireball's back came alight with intense fervor. He glared at Latoshi, who arrogantly smirked back at him. He roared, charging at him on all fours. However, he was abruptly struck by a headbutt to his side from Lucent — denying Fireball his chance to attack the boy.

    Lucent pinned him down. Fireball roared as he blasted Lucent in the face with another Flamethrower. The Houndoom whined and jumped away. As Fireball got back up to his hind feet, Lucent charged back in, ramming Fireball hard with its horned head and tackling him to the ground once again. They clawed and bit at each other, both Pokémon fighting with all the strategy and savagery of wild animals.

    Latoshi casually turned his attention back to Antoshi. “Well, this is just getting sad. Why don't you concede now and join me already? That'll make all this pain stop.”

    Antoshi strained, looking up at his rival with bitter loathing in his eyes. Latoshi chuckled before kicking Antoshi in the face, snapping his head back. The blond-haired boy shouted, holding his face as blood seeped from his nose.

    "Leave him alone!" Fireball shouted. He managed to shoving Lucent off of him, giving him enough of a reprieve to attack Latoshi with another Flamethrower.

    Latoshi grinned, calmly holding a hand out, using his aura to deflect the scorching stream of fire. Lucent put a swift end to Fireball's flames, lurching forth and biting the Typhlosion across the throat. Fireball's eyes went wide, choking. He struggled to release the undead dog's grip on his neck.

    “Well, that was convenient,” Latoshi remarked, nonchalantly. “Now, where was I? … Oh, right!” He stomped hard on Antoshi's chest, drawing an agonizing scream out of the blond-haired boy. He stomped several more times before putting his full weight down on him. Antoshi strained, grabbing Latoshi's shoe. “You know, I think this is pretty symbolic of how you're nothing more than a stepping stone on my way to greatness — just like I told you earlier.”

    As Antoshi struggled, he turned his gaze to Fireball. Lucent jaws were still clamped down on Fireball's neck, with the Houndoom shaking its head back and forth. Fireball's struggling slowly ceased, going limp. The sight terrified him to the core, unaware if he just witnessed Fireball's death.

    Fireball, no!” he called out. He abruptly screamed again as Latoshi put more weight on his chest.

    “Oh darn, Antoshi!” Latoshi said, feigning concern. “I think you might have a few broken ribs there!”

    Antoshi reached a shaking hand into his pocket while Latoshi continued to stomp on him. His breathing became ragged and shallow, unable to draw a full breath. Straining and ignoring the pain, he pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball. Getting Fireball out of there and into the safety of his Poké Ball was all that mattered to him. He maximized it, weakly pointing it at his friend. Latoshi took his foot off of Antoshi's chest to stomp the ball instead, shattering it into pieces.

    Antoshi looked on in helpless agony. His heart fell to pieces much like the shards of Fireball's Poké Ball. “N— … No …” he whispered. His eyes quickly welled up with tears.

    Latoshi laughed in amusement. “You're pathetic,” he remarked, spitefully. “You're way too emotional. All you do is cry over every little thing, like a baby. Killing you almost seems like a waste of energy now.” Lucent let go of the unconscious Fireball. It backed away, licking the blood off of its chops. Latoshi glanced over at the Pokémon briefly, his eyes lighting up with an idea. “I know what I'll do. First, I'll kill your Typhlosion, and let you watch. The look on your face when he's nothing but ashes will be very satisfying.”

    “No …” Antoshi whispered once more. “No, … no …” His gaze shifted between the shattered ball, over to his best friend. Fireball was in worse shape than he'd ever seen. It was impossible to tell if Fireball was still breathing or not. He reached out for him, whimpering, tears rolling down his face.

    “Then,” Latoshi continued, “I think I'll track down the rest of your family in Saffron City and I'll kill them, too.” He looked down at Antoshi, smirking cruelly.

    Antoshi momentarily froze in place. Images of his family, and the memories of his journey with Fireball, raced through his head. His family was the most important thing to him. Not his journey, the badges, the scenery, winning battles, or even the people they met. All of that paled in comparison to how crucial family was to him. Latoshi had crossed a line that Antoshi was not going to forgive.

    Antoshi's heart pounded, yet his breathing became deeper and more relaxed. His emotions — from the anger he felt toward Latoshi, to the love for his family — all swirled together. His eyes began to glow a much brighter red. Latoshi looked on in surprise while Antoshi found the strength to slowly rise to his feet.

    “Damn … you, … Latoshi…” he muttered. “You monster!” His aura exploded back to life, more intense than before. Latoshi shielded his eyes. The sheer pressure of Antoshi's Ki was strong enough to push him back slightly.

    'I see now,' Lazarus remarked. 'The greater the lives of his loved ones are in danger, the harder he fights.'

    “You're very interesting, Antoshi,” Latoshi said. “You'll make the perfect partner!”

    Antoshi couldn't give a damn what Latoshi just said. He screamed, his bitter eyes glowing intensely. He immediately closed the gap between them, throwing dozens of punches at Latoshi in a matter of seconds, fueled by the emotions burning inside him. Resentful hatred upon his face, tears continued to stream down his face.

    Yet, despite the blond-haired boy's sudden resurgence, Latoshi was grinning to himself. He put his arms up, able to shield himself from the strikes — even as they inched him back. There was no spirit energy behind Antoshi's attacks — the boy still did not understand how to use it to fight. With Latoshi's more powerful aura shielding him, Antoshi's punches were no more than angry slaps from a baby having a tantrum.

    Antoshi's blitz did not last long. His stamina was still heavily drained from earlier. His body couldn't keep up, his speed faltered, his vision becoming blurry. He staggered against Latoshi's superior defense, panting and sweating heavily, his body hunching over. Latoshi found his opening amid what was left of Antoshi's petering onslaught. He landed a sudden upward blow to Antoshi's chin, sending the boy rolling and flailing to the ground.

    “You were destined for greater things, Antoshi,” Latoshi said, “but you could never hope to compare to me!”

    Antoshi laid face-up, gasping for air. His entire body throbbed with pain. His eyes had returned to normal, his aura vanished; his Ki was almost totally depleted. Latoshi used his phenomenal speed to appear atop him, slamming a knee into his stomach. Antoshi strained as he cried out, blood flying from his mouth.

    With a cruel grin, Latoshi grabbed Antoshi by the hair. He viciously punched the boy's face again and again. Antoshi shouted in pain with each blow, unable to defend himself. Lucent sat and watched with disinterest, yawning as the boy was brutalized. By the time Latoshi was done, Antoshi's face was a bloodied mess. He calmly let go of his blond, bloodstained head. Antoshi lay almost lifeless as Latoshi stood tall and triumphant.

    “This was just too easy,” he remarked, wiping the blood from his hands. “You just don't get it, Antoshi. You are not as skilled as me. Every single one of those punches and kicks you gave me this entire time, … they weren't fueled with spirit energy. You can't possibly hope to defeat someone like me, trained to use their Ki, with simple, physical blows like that.”

    Antoshi groaned weakly. Every inch of him was in excruciating pain. He managed to open one of his eyes, the other swollen shut. He made out the blurry image of Latoshi standing over him. He clenched his teeth, struggling to get up. Latoshi quickly shoved a foot into his chest, pinning him back down.

    “No, no, don't get up,” Latoshi said with a chuckle. “You look like you're pretty injured.” Antoshi groaned in pain again. Latoshi squatted down beside him. “Well, so much for this little 'fight' you decided to put up. It was okay, but, in the end, the person with real training won here. You couldn't have looked any more like a deer in headlights during that fight if you tried.”

    Antoshi coughed up blood, struggling to breathe. “… Don't … have to do this, … Latoshi.”

    “Sure I do. I explained everything to you already, no need to go through it all again. My offer still stands, though. Why don't you join me, huh? I can help you learn how to hone your abilities. Lazarus can help you just like he helped me. You and I … we can have anything we want, go anywhere we choose. Best of all, there'll be no one in our way that can stop us if we work together. So, what do you say, brother? Partners?”

    “Not a chance. … I'll never buy in to your … insane ideals. I will … never join you, Latoshi.”

    Latoshi clicked his tongue, rising to his feet. “Well, I guess I have no other choice.”

    With terror in his eyes, Antoshi watched, helplessly, as Latoshi took aim at his head and summoned his energy into his palm. Latoshi's eyes widened, keeping his gaze affixed to Antoshi's face. Lucent looked on with an icy stare, completely motionless.

    'Do it,' Lazarus commanded. 'Without him, nothing will stop your ascension.'

    The corner of Latoshi's mouth curled into an enthused smirk, but it quickly faded. There was glint of concern in his eyes, and just a tiny spark of regret in his heart.

    ‘Wow, look at that,’ he had said earlier. ‘You really are named 'Antoshi'. I didn't think there was anyone out there with a … a weird-sounding name like mine.’

    ‘It's no problem, really!’
    he recalled Antoshi saying to him. ‘You don't even have to pay me back.’

    ‘You're the
    first person I can finally talk to about this! The first person to really understand! The first person I can look at as an equal! Antoshi, you've been so kind and friendly toward me already.’

    The fear in Antoshi's eyes was like his own reflection in that unbreakable glass of his prison cell.

    ‘I just want to … go home. I'll do anything to go home.’

    Antoshi clenched his eyes shut, tears rolling down his face.

    'Do it now!!' Lazarus shouted, angrily. Latoshi screamed in frustration before he fired a blast of energy.

    A moment later, Antoshi's uninjured eye shot open. Latoshi was still standing over him.

    “Let's just call that a … 'parting shot',” Latoshi said. Antoshi's slowly turned his head to see a crater of dirt mere inches away. “You have a lot to think about after this ordeal. But, I think you'll find it wise to reconsider my offer. Just be aware that I could've done that to your head.”

    Latoshi calmly turned and walked away, slipping his hands into his pockets. As he strolled by Lucent, the undead dog closed its eyes. It returned to its ethereal form, sinking back into the earth.

    Antoshi watched in disbelief as Latoshi simply left. However, his concern immediately turned to the health of his best friend. With a ragged gasp, he looked over at Fireball, who still hadn't moved at all.

    “Fire … ball …” he whispered. He groaned in pain, reaching out for him once more. He needed to be with his friend, to help him, to get him to safety. If he could just do that, then everything would be fine.

    Antoshi's eyes abruptly rolled closed and his body went limp, falling unconscious.

    Once Latoshi was a short distance away from the duo, he smirked to himself proudly. “Guess I really am as strong as you said, huh?” he asked Lazarus.

    Suddenly, a crippling ringing noise blared out in his ears. His eyes shot wide, grabbing the sides of his head, screaming in agony.

    'You simpering little coward!' Lazarus shouted over the noise. 'The next time you ever disobey my orders, your punishment will be much, much worse!' Latoshi gasped when the sound came to an abrupt end. 'I will take my leave for a while. Continue your training and do not disappoint me again.'

    Latoshi panted, visibly sweating, dumbfounded at what just occurred. “I'm sorry,” he whispered. “I— … I'm sorry. …”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi groaned as he briefly regained consciousness. The sun shined brightly through a break in the clouds. A girl with long, brunette hair was knelt beside him. He was barely able to make out her face and violet eyes. It was the same girl he bumped into outside the train station.

    The sunlight appeared like a halo around her head. She looked at him with a smile. Her hands glowed with a warm, pink aura, gently pressed against his chest.

    “You're going to be just fine,” she softly said.

    Just as before, her voice sang to him like an angel. Her words echoed in his head as he groaned and passed out again.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi awoke with a startled gasp, jumping up into a sitting position. The clouds had mostly cleared up. The evening sun had already set in. He panted fearfully, looking around, spotting Fireball unconscious nearby. He panicked, crawling over to check on him. Fireball was merely asleep, and with no visible injuries on him. A wave of relief swept through him. He sighed heavily, hunched over as he sat down in front of Fireball.

    He mulled over everything that had transpired, hoping to somehow wrap his head around it all. He patted his chest, feeling no pain after the torturous battle he went through. Miraculously, like Fireball, he also didn't have any injures. His clothes, however, were still tattered and dirtied.

    He suddenly recalled the blurry image of the girl. Her hands were glowing, as though she also had control over spirit energy.

    ‘Did she … heal me?’ he thought. ‘There are others, then? Others like Latoshi and myself who can use their … 'Ki' as he called it. But, who is she? Does she know Latoshi somehow?’

    His eyes widened — she was the girl he bumped into outside the train station. He groaned in frustration, running a hand through his hair. The questions were piling up and becoming too much for him. For the moment, he turned his attention back to his best friend.

    “Fireball,” he said, gently shaking him. “Wake up.”

    "Huh?" Fireball remarked, opening his eyes. He gasped and sat up quickly the same way Antoshi did earlier. He looked around for Latoshi and Lucent. "Where— … what happened? Weren't we just in a big fight?"

    “We were, but … it's over now,” he replied with a weak smile. “Come on, let's head back to the Pokémon Center.”

    Fireball was momentarily taken aback. The two of them had just nearly been killed. Latoshi, Lucent, and Lazarus were still lurking about somewhere. Yet, Antoshi got to his feet and casually inspected at his tattered clothes. The boy seemed oddly distant — as if none of it fazed him. It reminded him of how the boy didn't give much thought to the fall that he survived in Viridian. Still, Antoshi's demeanor felt … different this time.

    Fireball got to his hind feet. "What about Latoshi?" Fireball asked. "Shouldn't we … go after him or something?"

    Antoshi shook his head, turning his distant gaze away. “There's no point,” he muttered. “I can't sense energy like he can. He's way stronger than I am. I'm just not as good as him.”

    Fireball was shocked. Antoshi had never been so defeated before. "But, … you're not going to just give up, right? As long as you're going to fight, I'll fight, Antoshi. The two of us working together has always got us through."

    “That's not going to help this time!” he snapped, turning a bitter gaze at Fireball. “This isn't some Pokémon battle where we can just shrug off a loss and move on! Our lives are on the line!” The boy was visibly shaken, breathing heavily. He was angry — angrier than Fireball had ever seen before. He turned away and sighed. “I'm sorry, I just— … come on, let's get going.”

    "All right, … sure," Fireball replied, quietly.

    Antoshi took one more look back at the remnants of Fireball's shattered Poké Ball. He said nothing of it, walking away, idly wiping his eyes. Fireball followed along in silence a short distance behind him.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi took a deep breath before slowly sighing in content. He opened his eyes, having finished his meditation. He unfurled his crossed legs to sprawl out a bit, resting his back against the large tree behind him. Crickets chirped all around in the quiet peace of night.

    “Do I really have to hide in the woods like this?” Latoshi asked.

    'Yes,' Lazarus replied. 'For now, we will keep a low profile. Until you grow much stronger, we will stay in the shadows. You may be able to wipe out a large tower with your Ki now, but we will constantly aim even higher. The next time you and Antoshi should face, I want you to utterly decimate him and his Typhlosion. Is that understood?'

    Latoshi paused for a moment. “Lazarus, I'm sorry about earlier. I just didn't want—”

    'Is — that — understood?' the voice demanded an answer.

    Latoshi sighed. “Yes, Lazarus,” he replied, quietly, turning his gaze away.

    'Excellent. Always remember who pulled you from nothing and made you extraordinary. Remember who will continue to make you even stronger still.'

    “Right,” he replied, while pulling out some nearby grass and tossing it aside. He sighed amid the quiet of the forest. Lazarus' voice had left him. “And, … now I'm all alone again.” He scooted forward to lay down on the ground, staring up at the night sky, his mind swirling with thoughts.

    ‘I wonder what it would've been like, if I … had actually gotten to know Antoshi instead of fighting him. Maybe the two of us could be talking about Pokémon stuff right now. That would be pretty normal. Kind of like … a family.’

    Latoshi suddenly caught a vision of a man and a woman smiling proudly, standing over him. He gasped in surprise, sitting up. His heart swelled with excitement and a sense of warmth. ‘What was that?! Could it be? Was that … a memory?’

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    On the floor in their room at the Pokémon Center, Fireball rolled over in his sleep and smacked his lips. He awoke for just a moment to check on Antoshi. The boy wasn't there.

    “Antoshi?” Fireball called out, quietly. He sat up, looking around for him.

    Just outside, Antoshi stood on the sidewalk, his mind blanking out nearby cars and passersby. He clenched his fists, trembling with anger, while staring up at the full moon with rage. His irises glowed an intensely bright red.

    ‘I'll stop him,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I will stop him — no matter what it takes…’


    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    End of Part 2

    ⁂ ⁂

    Part 3: Intervention »

    [​IMG]

    Antoshi & Latoshi
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
  15. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    Part 3: Intervention

    ⁂ ⁂​


    A scream, echoing in the forest. Sounds of explosions all around. Nostrils clogged with the scent of blood. Terrible, mind-numbing pain in every nerve. The horrifying image of Fireball near death.

    Fireball, no!’ Antoshi cried out.

    Latoshi's laugh echoed all around him. The sable-haired boy's sneering expression was so clear — cold, vicious, methodical.

    “Join me, Antoshi,” he said. “Let's make this world so much better by cleansing it of evil.”

    “I already know how to make this world better,” Antoshi spat, “by cleansing you out of it!” He and Latoshi shouted as they rushed toward each other.

    Antoshi gasped, jolting back to reality, sitting on the edge of a messy bed. Even though he'd only dozed off for a few minutes, he had to recollect himself and remember where he was: the hotel room they were staying. They were safe — far away from the site of the horrific battle between himself and Latoshi.

    Only a couple of days had passed since his fight with Latoshi. He'd gotten almost no sleep since then. His thoughts had been consuming him and drawing him into dreamlike dazes, pulling him back into that point in time, causing him to relive the horrors of their fight over and over again. The brutal extent of their confrontation rendered him unable to think about much else. The lack of sleep left him agitated.

    He looked over at Fireball. The Typhlosion stood staring out of the room's large windows, high above eastern Goldenrod City. It was a bleak afternoon, the sky was cloudy and overcast. The duo had opted to lay low for a while, staying put in their room. Their exploration of the city, and their Johto journey as a whole, was on hold, indefinitely. The mood between them had been abnormally quiet and somber as of late.

    ‘What is this power inside of me?’ Antoshi thought. ‘Why? … Why was I given this?’

    "So," Fireball said, turning to face his friend, "Latoshi … broke my Poké Ball?"

    “Yeah,” Antoshi replied. He looked down at the new, unblemished Poké Ball in his hands, slowly rotating it. “I should've stopped him. I should've … done more to make sure that you weren't hurt, and that your Poké Ball was safe. Now, all that history and those memories with that ball, the one that brought you to me for the very first time, are gone.”

    The Typhlosion turned his gaze to the floor. "That's why you went out earlier and bought a new Poké Ball," Fireball remarked with a weak chuckle. "After I saw you with it, I thought maybe … you were ready to get back on the road. I thought you were planning to catch a new Pokémon for the first time, or … maybe even a bunch of new Pokémon."

    “We can't get back to traveling yet. I have to deal with Latoshi first.”

    Fireball took a seat on a second bed across from Antoshi. His concerned gaze met with Antoshi's brown eyes. "Antoshi, you can't blame yourself over what happened in that fight. You don't have to feel like it's your responsibility to take him on."

    “How can I not? I know I'm the only one who can stop him.”

    "That's true, but … how? What can we do? You heard him before, he kept going on and on about his training and experience. He— … he beat you … badly."

    Antoshi cut his eyes at him. “I know he beat me, Fireball,” he said, raising his voice, “you don't have to keep reminding me, okay?”

    "Okay, okay. I—I'm sorry, Antoshi. I didn't mean to …" he trailed off.

    The mood turned quiet again. Fireball sighed, looking at the Poké Ball in Antoshi's hands. He reached out and grabbed it with a paw, smiling to his friend, reassuringly. Fireball's body was quickly reduced to a reddish light, pulled into the open ball before it promptly snapped shut. Antoshi watched the ball gently wobble, while the front button glowed red and blinked for a moment. Once it stopped glowing, the new home of his best friend was officially set.

    The blond-haired boy sighed, staring blankly. He pondered for a moment, hesitating to let Fireball out again. He placed the ball on the bed, and walked away.

    ‘I don't want to fight you,’ he recalled saying to Latoshi.

    ‘Good!’ Latoshi replied back. ‘That'll make killing you so much easier.’

    Antoshi sighed, getting into a fighting stance, raising his fists. He grunted, throwing a few straight punches in the blink of an eye. He expressed bitterness. He found himself back in the forest, envisioning Latoshi standing over him with the same arrogant smile.

    ‘Well, so much for this little 'fight' you decided to put up,’ Latoshi said to him. ‘It was okay, but, in the end, the person with real training won here.’

    Antoshi narrowed his eyes, letting those words sinking in. He stood up straight, eyes widening with the spark of an epiphany. He grabbed Fireball's Poké Ball and held it out to finally release him. Fireball materialized, sitting on the bed again.

    "Um," Fireball began, "should I … ask why you waited to let me back out?"

    Antoshi had a serious expression upon his face before he turned away. “Come on, Fireball,” he said, heading for the door. “Let's get going.”

    "Oh. Okay, sure," Fireball replied with some confusion. He followed Antoshi as they exited their hotel room.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Outside, Antoshi marched eastward through the city streets toward an unknown destination. His eyes were fueled with determination, irises glowing brightly with the red hue of his spirit energy. Fireball remained behind his friend as opposed to his typical designation by the boy's side.

    The mood continued to be unusually quiet and tense. Antoshi had become fairly distant toward Fireball ever since the fight with Latoshi. A gloomy air hung over the boy. It wasn't the Antoshi he knew and loved. Fireball wanted to say something about it to him, but he was too afraid that it would only anger Antoshi further.

    Soon, the city's Gym came into view. Fireball's eyes lit up, gasping in elation.

    "Oh, hey! Goldenrod City Gym!" Fireball said. He stopped in front of the white pathway leading to the doors of the large, yellowish building, grinning eagerly. "Man, I can't wait to—"

    He looked over to see Antoshi was still walking away. Fireball gave chase after him. "Antoshi? The Gym's over here!"

    “We're not going to the Gym,” he replied, keeping his bitter gaze forward. Fireball was stunned.

    "Oh. … Where are we going?"

    “Just follow me,” he said, flatly. “I'll explain later.”

    "Oh, uh, all right then…" Fireball replied, nervously fidgeting with his claws.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Once they reached the wooded outskirts of the city, Antoshi led Fireball into the first open clearing he found. A small flock of Starly flew off upon his arrival. Fireball was surprised, curiously staring at him. Antoshi took a slow look around. The environment was similar to that of the battle with Latoshi. The memories again came flooding back to him.

    ‘Let's just call that a … 'parting shot',’ Latoshi said. ‘You have a lot to think about after this ordeal. But, I think you'll find it wise to reconsider my offer.’

    "So," Fireball said, bringing Antoshi back to reality. "What … are we doing out here in the woods?"

    “Training,” Antoshi replied calmly.

    "Oh, sweet!" Fireball said, with a relieved sigh. "You know, you had me worried for a sec' there. I'll bet you want to make sure we're strong enough to beat all of the Johto Gyms, huh?"

    “We're not training you, Fireball,” Antoshi replied. “I already told you, we can't start traveling again yet. I'm the one who's getting training.” The boy stretched out his neck and rubbed his hands together.

    Fireball was left confused. "… Huh?" he uttered, bewildered. Antoshi walked a few paces away, turning around to face his friend.

    “Come at me,” Antoshi said. “I want you to attack me just like you'd attack an opponent.”

    Fireball's jaw hung in disbelief. "Antoshi … what? What are you asking me here? I can't … hit you. You're not my opponent, you're my best friend."

    “We don't have time for this, Fireball!” Antoshi shouted, causing the larger than average Typhlosion to jump. “Every second we waste allows Latoshi to get stronger. He's scheming, plotting, waiting to attack us again. He could very well be watching us right now.”

    "Antoshi, … is this really the right call? Are you really going to train to … fight him again?"

    “This is the only thing I can think of, Fireball. I don't know exactly what Latoshi's training consists of, but the fact is, like you said earlier, he did beat me … badly. I thought that my powers were strong enough for me to do anything. I could fly, I could pick up cars, but Latoshi's power and skill … were on a whole different level I couldn't even comprehend.”

    "I thought that you wanted to try to talk him out of this whole, err, whatever it was he's trying to accomplish."

    Antoshi laughed weakly. “We're probably way past being able to talk things over with him at this point. The only language Latoshi understands is fighting.” He spread his stance a bit, loosening himself up. “Now, let's train. Come at me.”

    Fireball looked at his friend with deep concern in his eyes. He sighed, looking away for a moment before nodding in acknowledgment. The fires on his back came alight. He made the first charge at Antoshi, growling, swiping a claw at his chest. His attack completely missed, however, as Antoshi had already maneuvered behind him. Fireball turned around, eyes wide with surprise.

    “Come on, Fireball,” he said, with a perturbed expression. “I know you and your strength better than anyone. You're holding back already. Don't. I can take whatever you dish out at me. And, well, if I can't … I think you know what that means.”

    "Yeah, … that's what I'm most afraid of."

    “This isn't the time for us to be worrying about 'what if's. Now, stop messing around and strike!” Fireball hesitated for a moment. “Fireball, use Rolling Fireball!” Fireball was shocked by the command. Antoshi took another few paces back and gestured for him to come forth.

    With a bitter growl, Fireball curled himself up. Revving in place like a spinning tire caused the fires on his back to ignite his entire frame. Antoshi's eyes glowed bright red, clenching his jaw, watching Fireball blast towards him in an instant. He leapt over Fireball's first attack. The Typhlosion quickly spun around, coming at him again with greater speed than before. Antoshi side-stepped the next pass, and the one after it. After which, Fireball's speed continued to increase to a phenomenal pace.

    Not content to simply dodge, Antoshi decided to take a risk and test his own strength. He braced himself, holding both hands out. He grabbed the spinning Typhlosion, his feet digging into the ground from the impact as he slid backward. The intense flames seared at his hands. He strained with effort, the force of Fireball's attack pushing him back less and less. He quickly managed to slow Fireball's momentum to a complete halt.

    Once the flames on Fireball's back went out, Antoshi let go of him and took a few steps back. Fireball leapt up into a vertical standing position.

    "You okay, Antoshi?" he asked.

    Antoshi inspected the ash collected on his trembling palms before patting them clean. His skin had ended up raw and red from the heat of the flames. He felt no pain from it, and was otherwise fine.

    “Yeah,” the boy replied, with a slight chuckle. “Luckily.”

    Fireball smiled in response. "That was definitely not something a normal person should be able to do."

    “Almost nothing over the past few months has really been 'normal' for me, … no matter how much I wish it were.”

    "We still don't have to do this whole 'training' thing if you don't want to."

    Antoshi shook his head. “Latoshi … threatened your life, he threatened mine. … He even threatened Mom and Dad.” His expression turned bitter, staring at his clenched fists. “I can't let anything happen to my family. Not when I have the ability to protect them.”

    "He could've just been bluffing."

    “And what if he wasn't?” he shot back, surprising Fireball. “You saw him just as well as I did, Fireball — he's insane! He hears voices in his head that tell him to … to go out and—and murder people? No, I have to stop him. I'm the only one that can. That has to be why I kept having those dreams about him, and what he did to Fern Town. I know if I try hard enough, I can find the strength to beat him. I have to do this.” He closed his eyes and sighed in sorrow. “I have to.”

    Fireball turned his gaze away, unable to offer a response. Antoshi looked over at his friend with a serious expression.

    “Now, come at me with Return.”

    Fireball's eyes widened. "You want me to use Return on … my Trainer?"

    Antoshi scoffed, grinning slightly. He guarded his chest with his forearms. “I'm aware of the irony in that. Keep on hitting me and don't hold back.”

    Fireball shook his head with a groan of defeat. He narrowed his eyes before taking aim, swinging at Antoshi with enough force to stagger the boy back. Antoshi clenched his teeth, grunting through the powerful, clubbing strikes. The pain he felt was echoed in his expression and his glowing irises.

    ‘I've been too coddled,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I've never had to fight for myself. I've always depended on Fireball or my parents, ever since I was a child. I can't be a child anymore. I can't sit by and let everyone else take care of my problems for me, not when Latoshi is out there after threatening their lives.’

    He shut his eyes tight, his arms glowing bright with his red energy, continuing to defend.

    ‘Latoshi was right. I can use my power for good, to do great things in the world. Now, I'm going to use them … to put an end his madness…’

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi was not the only one focused on training, however. At the southern end of Goldenrod City, not far from where they fought, Latoshi was busy honing his skills within the seclusion of the woods. He stood still, his eyes closed, breathing calmly. His transparent, black aura gently fluctuated around him. There were no Pokémon anywhere near him. The ones that did show themselves quickly fled after gazing upon his ominous, dark energy.

    'Now,' Lazarus instructed him.

    His eyes shot open, irises shimmering black. He brought his clenched fists up at his sides and gave a long shout. His aura flared wildly, extending further out around his body.

    'Concentrate,' Lazarus said.

    The boy briefly closed his eyes, his expression turning bitterly serious. A large multitude of energy orbs, each about the size of his fist, suddenly burst from his aura and hovered around him. Latoshi broke his focus to look around at them in awe.

    “Whoa,” he remarked. “That's unreal.”

    He brought a hand up, which caused some of the orbs on that side to move up. He gasped, waving his hands around, prompting the orbs to do the same. Smirking confidently, he thrust both hands forward. The energy he summoned responded by shooting out in front of him. He kept his sense of amazement as the orbs violently exploded on contact with the trees and ground.

    Once the dust had settled, a flat clearing of earth lay before him. Everything for several dozens of meters had been completely ravaged to nothing. Having the power to destroy at a moment's notice made him feel all-powerful, capable of guiding his own destiny. Yet, taking it out on a bunch of harmless trees left him with a feeling of emptiness.

    'Outstanding. You successfully improvised a new technique. Your fight with Antoshi strengthened your abilities far quicker than meditation ever could. You truly have excellent potential, Latoshi.'

    He curiously gazed down at his hands, summoning up some of his energy to them. “I don't feel much stronger,” he remarked.

    'Of course not,' Lazarus snapped, as if to chide the boy. Latoshi furred his brow in concern. Lazarus quickly lightened his tone. 'This is your new baseline of power. Of course, it would not feel any different for you.'

    “Well, if you say so.” Latoshi put his hands in his pockets, strolling casually through the destruction he wrought. “So, where do I go from here?”

    'As I have told you, your power is limitless.'

    “Yeah, … you have said that,” he replied with disinterest.

    '… Is there a problem?'

    “I just keep— … err, never mind.”

    'Tell me. I will not have you keep secrets.'

    “It's … about Antoshi. I keep thinking about when we met, and the things he's said, and … I don't— I mean, I just want to talk to him again.”

    'You are not to speak to him. There is nothing that needs to be said to him, and nothing he could say will ever matter.'

    “But, if I could just—” Latoshi was interrupted by a piercing noise ringing out in his head again — Lazarus' method of punishment. His eyes shot open wide, letting out a scream of agonizing pain. He fell to his knees, covering his ears.

    'I told you not to disobey me anymore, did I not?' Lazarus spoke, calmly, over the terrible noise.

    Latoshi gasped once the noise suddenly stopped. He panted quietly for a moment, scowling. “I don't think that's necessary to get your point across,” he remarked, bitterly. He was very quickly getting fed up with Lazarus asserting authority over him.

    'Let me tell you what is 'necessary': putting your full faith in me. I will not lead you astray. Antoshi is weak. He is unskilled, he is a coward. You are none of those things. I have already proven my loyalty to you. Now, you must do the same.' Latoshi's gaze was fully focused on the ground like a scolded child. The mysterious voice had a point — he did owe Lazarus a great deal. He settled into a sitting position with his legs folded. 'No distractions. Nothing will stop us from our goal. Nothing. Is that understood?'

    “Yes, Lazarus,” Latoshi replied, quietly.

    'Very good. Now, return to your meditation. You are to continue honing your new abilities until they are as sharp as a sword.'

    Latoshi closed his eyes, heaving a sigh before he returned to his training.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    A day later, there were a few small breaks in the heavily clouded, mid morning sky. Antoshi and Fireball's roles had reversed as they continued to train in the woods. Antoshi was on the offensive, while Fireball dodged away from each of the boy's punches and kicks. Antoshi was struggling to land a strike on his battle-hardened Pokémon, especially with his mind continually distracted by the same haunting memories. Nonetheless, he remained ever persistent.

    As they pressed on throughout the day, and as Antoshi managed to focus more, Antoshi's speed gradually made significant progress. That improvement came with the intensifying red glow in his eyes, brought about by the fiery emotions stirred up by thoughts of Latoshi's viciousness and arrogance.

    ‘You're pathetic,’ Latoshi remarked in his memory. ‘You're way too emotional. All you do is cry over every little thing, like a baby. Killing you almost seems like a waste of energy now.’

    Antoshi was still not able to tag his target. The constant failure, the lack of sleep, his inability to let go of his memories — it was all wearing on him. He gave a frustrated yell as his red aura exploded to life around his body. In an instant, he suddenly grabbed Fireball by the throat and pinned him to the ground with a violent slam.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball strained.

    “You think I'm a crybaby?!” Antoshi shouted, enraged. He reared a fist back that burned with the energy of his aura. “Let's see how funny it is when I make you cry!”

    "Antoshi, please, stop!"
    Fireball exclaimed. Antoshi's eyes widened as he snapped back to reality. He quickly let go of Fireball, his jaw hanging in disbelief.

    “Fireball, I'm … so sorry. I …”

    "It's all right, Antoshi," he reassured him.

    He and Antoshi sat down in front of each other. The boy was crestfallen. Fireball knew Antoshi was hurting inside over Latoshi, and what Latoshi had done to him. He was disappointed that his friend chose to manifest that pain as anger. It was so unlike him. Antoshi had always been so kind, friendly, and caring. This rage wasn't like him at all. His best friend was unrecognizable. He was no longer a blond ray of sunshine.

    "We've been training like this for hours," Fireball said. "Maybe we should take a break for now. It's a miracle that nobody's come by here yet to see you darting around like a bullet."

    “Maybe,” he replied, his voice low. He was unable to look his friend in the eye. “I'm really sorry, Fireball. I went too far there.”

    Family was, again, the most important thing to Antoshi. Lashing out at his family made him finally understand how badly misplaced his heart had been. He hadn't seen the situation from Fireball's perspective. He took a moment to steady his breathing, so he could think clearly.

    "It's okay, Antoshi. This whole 'Latoshi' thing is getting to you. Why don't we just, you know, go and get something to eat?"

    Antoshi grinned and scoffed in amusement. “You never miss a chance for food, huh?” he joked. Fireball grinned. “Still, food sounds good right about now.”

    The two of them got up, idly brushing at the dirt and scuff marks littering their bodies.

    "You have a little something right here," Fireball remarked, pointing at a glob of mud under Antoshi's eye.

    “Oh, I do, huh?” Antoshi smirked, rubbing his cheek, smearing the mud around. “Did I get it?”

    Fireball chortled. "Yep, you're fine," he replied, stifling a laugh.

    Antoshi grinned and sighed. “I guess that means we should go get cleaned up before we eat. Better call Mom and Dad, too. They probably want to know what we're up to in Goldenrod.”

    "Sounds like a good idea."

    As they ended their training session for the day, they were unaware that they were being watched. In the shadows of the nearby trees, stood the mysterious girl with long, brunette hair that had healed Antoshi's injuries. She smiled warmly, watching the pair as they left. With a quiet, content chuckle, she turned and headed off in her own direction.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The duo were back in their hotel room, having cleaned up and gotten something to eat. The clouds had almost completely cleared up by noon. The room's wide-open curtains allowed the bright light to pour in. Antoshi was visibly nervous as he sat at the videophone in their room. Fireball stood behind him as usual. Both of them did their best to put up a convincing front while the phone automatically dialed Antoshi's parents.

    “There's our amazing Pokémon Trainer!” his mother greeted him. Both she and his father waved to them.

    “Hi, Mom and Dad,” Antoshi replied, offering his parents an embarrassed grin.

    “Ooh, I'll bet the two of you are enjoying the sights as usual, huh?” she asked.

    “Are the Trainers there tough?” his father chimed in.

    “Yes, and … err, yes,” he replied with a nervous chuckle. “Fireball and I have been really distracted here in Goldenrod.” Fireball nodded.

    “Well, Goldenrod is as big as Saffron City,” his mother said. “You two will have tons of things to do and see there!”

    “How's the food?” his father asked.

    “It's great. Fireball and I really enjoyed the—” Antoshi recalled his memory of being in the ice cream shoppe with Latoshi. “The, um, ice cream,” he added with a convincing smile. Fireball was surprised at the remark, realizing where the boy's mind was. “I just wanted to let you guys know that we'll probably be in Goldenrod for a little while longer. We're busy training, and I don't feel like we're anywhere near ready to challenge the Gym here yet.” Fireball nodded again.

    “Oh, that's perfectly fine, Antoshi!” his mother said. “Have fun and take all the time you want there. Just remember to keep in touch with us. Your father and I just want you and Fireball to have a wonderful time and remember all the experiences you have in Johto.”

    “I'm definitely going to remember all of this,” he responded, with a worried chuckle, as his eyes faltered away.

    “Antoshi?” his mother spoke up, grabbing his attention. “Is everything all right? You seem more distracted than usual.”

    “Oh, I … I don't know, I guess I just feel a little homesick again. I've been thinking about both of you a lot lately.”

    “That's no problem, son,” his father said. “Anytime you want to come home just let us know and we'll set it up for you, okay?”

    “Thanks, Dad,” he replied, with a grin. “I really appreciate you both being there for me.”

    “Love you!” his mother said.

    “See you soon!” his father added.

    Antoshi and Fireball both waved to his parents before the call ended. As the screen went blank, Antoshi hung his head down with a heavy sigh.

    "Are you okay, Antoshi?" Fireball asked, quietly.

    Antoshi rhythmically drummed his fingers across the videophone's desk. He pondered a response for a moment, before scoffing in amusement.

    “I'm lying to my parents, …” he muttered, “all to keep this a secret. All to keep them from worrying about me. All because I'm worried about them getting hurt. … It's kind of funny when you think about it.” Fireball did not take his concerned gaze off of his friend. “I hate this feeling, Fireball. I just want this nightmare to be over….”

    "So do I," Fireball said, placing a reassuring paw on his friend's shoulder. "But … what do we do?"

    “Stick to my initial plan. We have to train — I have to train. I have to get much better than I am now if I want to stand a chance against Latoshi.”

    Fireball sighed in defeat, his claw falling away. "Are you sure?"

    “Definitely,” Antoshi replied. He got to his feet and stretched.

    "Do you want me to train with you again?"

    Antoshi turned to his friend with a smile. “I know how uncomfortable you are with this. You don't have to come with me, Fireball. I'll figure something out sooner or later. … I always do.”

    "Should I … stay here and wait for you to come back?"

    “You can hang out wherever you like. Just … don't go too far, okay?”

    "You don't think I might get kidnapped by Team Rocket again, do you?" Fireball joked.

    “I want to believe it's unlikely. Still, you're a rare Pokémon, Fireball — the kind that Trainers would jump at the chance to catch.”

    "Gotcha."

    “By the way, I ma~y have heard there's a buffet happening in the hotel lobby today.”

    Fireball's eyes lit up like fireworks. He quickly headed for the door, pushing Antoshi in front of him. "Man, just look at the time, Antoshi! You're losing sunlight here! Better get to that training right away!"

    Antoshi laughed as they headed into the hallway. “Fireball! I don't even have my shoes on!”

    Fireball quickly reached back in to grab the boy's shoes by the door, before shutting it behind him.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    That night, Latoshi was focused intensely upon his meditation. His dark aura flickered calmly around him. As per Lazarus' instructions, he performed mental exercises. He envisioned himself in the midst of a violent struggle with Antoshi. They fought in the same location as their initial battle, both of them ducking and weaving through the trees, steadily making their way toward each other.

    Antoshi was fast — that much he was sure would continue to be the case. Latoshi snapped his head from side to side to keep his mind's eye on him. Antoshi threw the first punch, but Latoshi was swift and strong enough to block it. Latoshi clenched his teeth as Antoshi followed up with a kick to his chest, which was hard enough to stumble him back.

    'Yes, that is good,' Lazarus said to him. 'You must prepare for Antoshi's inevitable return. You must be wary that he will likely be stronger than before. But, also know that he can never defeat you — not with my guidance.'

    Latoshi smirked confidently. Lazarus' words once again empowered him. In his vision, he produced the same mass of hovering energy orbs around him as before. Antoshi appeared to be shocked.

    'Perfect. The element of surprise will be key. Let him believe he has the upper hand, and then … strike!'

    Latoshi launched his attack at Antoshi, who attempted to shield himself. Just as the blasts were about to connect, a voice called out suddenly, breaking his concentration.

    “Declan?” a woman called out in the distance. Latoshi's eyes shot open in surprise. He turned toward the source, his eyes scanning the nearby woods.

    No one was there. He looked around while getting to his feet.

    “Declan!” he heard again, behind him. He turned around, finding nobody once again.

    “Who's there?” he called back. He waited for a short time, but no one appeared or responded.

    ‘What the hell was that?’ he thought. ‘Am I hearing voices … again? Was it some kind of memor—’ His eyes went wide with shock. ‘Am I— … am I remembering something? Something from my past? …’

    'Focus yourself, Latoshi,' Lazarus said. 'Do not break away from your training unless I tell you to.'

    “Lazarus, I … I think I just had a memory come back to me,” he said, with an elated grin. “I think … I just might be remembering someone.”

    'You must not dwell on trivial things,' Lazarus replied. 'Your training and the rise of your power are the most important—'

    “Wait a minute,” Latoshi cut him off. “You told me before that my memories would come back in time. Now that they might be starting to, … why are you so eager to distract me from them? I thought you would at least pretend to be happy for me.”

    'Because you do not have time to reflect on the past,' he said, becoming audibly cross with the boy. 'Do not interrupt me again when I speak. Return to your training, is that clear? Or shall I remind you of what happens when you disobey me?'

    Lazarus' inquisition came with the creeping sound of low ringing in the boy's ears. Latoshi scowled, bitterly pursing his lips. He obliged Lazarus, returning to his meditative sitting position.

    'Now, I will give you different scenarios for you to react to. You will continue your image training for the next four hours. Am I understood?'

    “Yes, Lazarus,” he replied, disdainfully.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2019
  16. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 16


    Several days later, the duo were still checked in to the same hotel room. With the dim, early morning sun peering in through the curtains, Fireball awoke in his own bed to the smell of food. He looked over at Antoshi's bed.

    It was empty. The boy was gone — again. A breakfast plate rested upon the nightstand for the hungry Typhlosion.

    Fireball sighed in defeat. He sat up, scratching his side. Left to reflect upon their situation in solitude, he reached for the plate and eagerly partook of the food left for him. Antoshi had been on a gradual return to form over the past few days. His mood had improved immensely, though he continued to keep himself occupied with the singular goal of getting stronger. The boy was still a bit distant, lost in thought from time to time. Antoshi still had not gotten much sleep since the fight.

    Fireball could only hope for the best, wishing for nothing more than to be done with this ordeal, and for his friend to be himself again. Once he finished with breakfast, he quickly hopped out of bed and made for the door.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Out in the same clearing in the woods as before, Antoshi was in the midst of training. With an intensely focused expression, his limbs blurred while punching and kicking in succession. Training his speed, he ran laps from one tree to the next and back continuously. He was clearing several hundred meters in heartbeats — not unlike what Latoshi had previously shocked them with when they first met.

    "You're at it really early today," Fireball spoke, as he approached. Antoshi broke his focus, coming to a halt, smiling to his friend. "You didn't even wait for me to come with you."

    “Sorry about that. Training is all can I do lately to keep myself from going stir-crazy. Sleep is pretty much an afterthought for me at this point. I woke up super-early this morning, brought you some food, and headed out here right after.”

    Antoshi turned away and balled his fist tight, his body surging with the red energy of his aura. He gave a shout, throwing a punch as hard as he could. His aura flickered intensely, energy exuding off of his fist. The forest's foliage swayed before him, as though a sharp breeze had passed. He was gradually catching up with the abilities that Latoshi had displayed to him. However, he wouldn't be satisfied unless he could far surpass what he knew Latoshi was capable of already — let alone any improvements. After all, Latoshi was undoubtedly training, too. He needed something more, to give him the best chance at soundly defeating his rival.

    "Whoa," Fireball remarked. "You sure have learned how to use your energy a lot better."

    Antoshi reached down and grabbed the towel he'd brought from the hotel room. “I've been working hard at it,” he replied, wiping the sweat from his face, “considering how many times Latoshi kept pointing out my faults. I'm more comfortable with using my energy offensively now. There's still one little problem, though. I can flail my arms and legs all I want, but … I still don't know how to fight.”

    "That … is an issue."

    “The only fighting styles I've ever seen were from Pokémon, … as well as getting beat up by Latoshi. I don't think any of that is going to help me very much.”

    "What are you going to do?"

    Antoshi slung the towel over his shoulder. “The one thing I've ever been good at — learn.”

    "Oh, no," Fireball remarked, horrified. "Don't tell me…"

    “That's right. It's time to go visit … the library.”

    Fireball covered his ears and shut his eyes. "No! Not books! Anything but books!"

    Antoshi smiled, patting his friend's side, as they walked off together. “Come on, you. Books never hurt anybody.”

    "That's not true. There was that one time when a book on the shelf in your bedroom hit me on the head."

    “Oh yeah, you're right! I forgot about that.”

    Fireball came to a sudden halt. "Antoshi, wait up a second." Antoshi stopped, turning to his friend, curiously. "I've been meaning to tell you that … well, I'm a bit worried."

    Antoshi sighed and looked away. “Yeah, so am I.”

    "Not about the fight, really, as much as I'm worried about … you." Antoshi expressed his confusion. "You've been really obsessing over this lately. When this is all over, … and, supposing we both make it out of this alive again, … will we be able to go back to normal?"

    “I understand what you're saying, Fireball. I'm sorry, again, for losing myself recently. This … fight with Latoshi is the only thing I've been able to think about. It's only made worse by how I can just barely feel Latoshi's energy every so often. It's so … faint, but it's there. He's far away, but not far enough. It seems almost like he's taunting me.” They both turned their gazes to the ground. “To answer your question, though, I do hope we'll get back to our normal lives. I hope so just as much as you.”

    Fireball gave his friend a slight smile. They continued on back to their hotel room.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    After Antoshi took a shower and changed clothes, the two headed out for the library, which was only a couple of blocks away. Once they were inside, Fireball curiously followed Antoshi around, while the boy curiously browsed the aisles. He picked up several books on martial arts, as well as on self-defense. He found an empty table nearby to place them on, before going back to find some more.

    With a few, small stacks of books piled up on the table, Antoshi sat down to start reading through them. Fireball, meanwhile, continued to meander around the library. The Typhlosion was trying to find anything to entertain him in the painfully quiet, uneventful building. There was not much besides nonspeaking people scattered randomly through the aisles, some with their Pokémon, and librarians to help others find what they were looking for. That, and books — lots and lots of books.

    Given that Fireball himself could not read, he was out of options. He headed back to Antoshi, sitting across from him. Antoshi looked up, briefly, greeting his friend with a smile.

    "Why didn't you use a computer to look up the stuff you wanted?" Fireball asked, keeping his voice hushed.

    Antoshi pointed a thumb behind him, casually. “That's why.”

    Fireball looked over and saw every one of the dozen or so computer terminals occupied, as well as a line of people waiting for them to free up.

    "… Oh," the Typhlosion remarked, feeling silly.

    Antoshi laughed, softly. “I learn better with a book anyway. The Internet is too distracting.”

    "That's true. Don't forget to follow the 'Safe Browsing Rules' that your parents taught you."

    Antoshi smirked and rolled his eyes, while Fireball snickered. “Trust me, they're drilled into my brain at this point.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The minutes of studying rolled on into hours. Antoshi was fully engrossed in his reading, setting each book aside as he finished gathering information that was relevant to him. At various points, he would look at two different books simultaneously to compare information. He was enlightened to the basics, like fighting stances, and the proper way to throw a punch, before gradually stepping up the learning curve. He read how to keep from wasting movement, how to block and parry, pressure points to aim for, and how to read bodily movements to predict opponent's attacks.

    Fireball gradually slumped over in his seat more and more until he was resting his head and forelimbs on the table. He curiously watched his friend mimic some of the fighting poses in the books.

    "I'm so bored," Fireball eventually spoke up.

    Antoshi heaved a sigh, and smiled reassuringly at his friend. “I know, Fireball.” He glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Let's take a break for now. We can go walk around the park nearby for a while.”

    "Sounds good to me!"

    Fireball eagerly got up and headed for the exit. Antoshi deposited all but one of the books into a nearby collection bin. He took the one he was reading with him, checked it out with the librarian, and joined his friend outside. The midday sun hung out with the puffy clouds littered high in the sky. The duo stretched their arms up, taking a deep breath of the outside air, before they set off for the nearest crosswalk.

    “It is a really nice day out,” Antoshi remarked. “Good idea getting us outside, Fireball.”

    "You said it. Hey, maybe there'll be an ice cream vendor at the park."

    Antoshi chuckled. “I know you'll keep your eyes peeled.”

    They crossed the street safely and headed down a nearby pathway that led into the aforementioned park. It was a much quieter park than the one they saw outside the Goldenrod train station. Nevertheless, there was plenty of activity around them. Joggers along the path, people sitting together on the grass, and a young man playing fetch with his Growlithe. As the duo walked side by side, Antoshi's nose was firmly buried in his book.

    Fireball inhaled and let out a content sigh. "I remember you used to call nice days like this a 'good omen' back in Kanto."

    “Yeah, now it's more like 'the calm before the storm',” Antoshi joked, with a laugh.

    Fireball expressed his disappointment at the remark. Despite making light of the situation, his friend still didn't come off to him as being back to his old self. Antoshi was too busy reading his book to notice's Fireball's reaction.

    “Did you know,” Antoshi went on, “in some old civilizations, women were the ones that developed and mastered different forms of martial arts? That's so cool. I've never even seen a girl fight before. … Though, I haven't seen much combat between people at all.”

    "You seem pretty excited about this whole 'fighting' thing."

    “Yeah, well, it's almost certain at this point that I'll have to fight Latoshi again soon. It scares the heck out of me, but … I don't really have a choice. I might as well get as excited about it as I can.”

    "Antoshi?" Fireball said, grabbing his friend's attention. "I just wanted to say it's nice to see you … mostly back to normal. You seem a lot more confident now. You're not so, … well, angry as you were a few days ago."

    “I'm as normal as I can be, given the circumstances,” he replied with a grin. “I'm just … doing my best to keep my feelings in check.”

    “Hey, you!” the nearby voice of a youngster called out. “Book Kid and Typhlosion!” The duo turned toward the boy. “Want to battle?”

    They both looked to each other with the same expression of elation. “You up for it?” Antoshi asked.

    "When am I not?"

    Antoshi slipped a Furret-shaped bookmark into his book and closed it. Fireball eagerly took his position a few meters in front of his friend, standing between him and the youngster.

    “Cool beans, dude! I've lived in Johto my whole life and that's only the second Typhlosion I've ever seen!”

    “Well, I think you'll find that Fireball here is the best Typhlosion you'll ever see, too.” Fireball's eyes lit up, turning to his friend with an enthused grin in response to his friend's confidence. They gave each other a thumbs up.

    “Awesome! I love a challenge!” The boy pulled a Poké Ball from his belt. “The name's Gabriel. What's yours?”

    “I'm Antoshi, from Saffron City.”

    “Antoshi, huh? Weird name!”

    Fireball and Antoshi grinned to each other. “Good to know some things never change,” Antoshi remarked.

    Gabriel tossed out his first Pokémon from the confines of its ball: a Gurdurr. The stocky, muscular Pokémon gave a cry, raising a large steel girder over its head for a moment before holding it at its side.

    “So, are you ready to battle or what?” Gabriel asked. Folding his arms across his chest, he flashed Antoshi a cocky smirk. Antoshi's eyes widened in shock, his heart rate raising substantially. The way Gabriel smirked caused him to recollect images of Latoshi's arrogant expression. “Hey there! Antoshi-dude!” Gabriel said, snapping Antoshi out of his daze. “I said, 'are you ready'?”

    “Oh, … we're definitely ready!” Both he and Fireball nodded in unison.

    “All right! Gurdurr, give 'em a Rock Slide!”

    Gurdurr spiked its girder into the ground, raised its arms up, and gave a long shout. Amorphous orbs of energy appeared high over Fireball. The orbs solidified into rocky boulders.

    “Fireball, keep moving!” Antoshi said.

    Fireball quickly sprinted around on all fours. "Finally getting a good stretch in after all that sitting!" he remarked.

    The heavy boulders slammed down to the ground in a seemingly random pattern. Antoshi studied said pattern, carefully. Each one missed Fireball by a short distance, but were gradually closing in.

    “Fireball — stop!”

    The Typhlosion immediately did so, coming to a halt mere inches from one final boulder that rattled the ground in front of him.

    ‘That wasn't bad!’ Gabriel thought, with a look of surprise. ‘They know what they're doing.’

    “Fireball, use Flamethrower!”

    Fireball hopped on top of that last, massive boulder. He inhaled deeply, before opening his maw to send a powerful stream of fire at the Gurdurr.

    “Gurdurr — defend!”

    Gurdurr held on to the back of its metal girder, which was still firmly planted in the ground, using it as a shield from the flames.

    “Full breath, Fireball!” Antoshi said.

    Fireball shut his eyes tight, pouring out as much fire as he could give. The girder glowed red-hot. Before Gabriel's eyes, the metal started to bend and melt. Gurdurr shouted in shock, dancing around in a panic, the intensely hot flames lapping at its feet and sides. Once Fireball's attack finished, he inhaled deeply before sighing in relief, exhaling a large puff of smoke. Gurdurr hopped away from the smoldering streaks of fire on the ground. It swiftly patted out the flames on its body.

    Gabriel had a look of concern as he inspected the melted steel. ‘That was pretty scary,’ he thought. ‘Just how good are these two?’

    Fireball hopped down from the rock and returned to his position in front of his Trainer.

    “Gurdurr, return!” Gabriel said. He held up its Poké Ball, which retrieved it into its confines, along with its melted steel girder. “All right, Antoshi-dude! Your Typhlosion is really strong, so I'll just send out my best Pokémon! It'll be a clash of the titans!” Gabriel switched out for an Ultra Ball on his belt, which he enlarged and tossed out. “Go, Houndoom!”

    Antoshi was shocked by the presence of the emerging black-furred demonic dog. His mind immediately recalled the horrors brought about by Lucent, the undead Houndoom aspect that aided Latoshi in their fight. Fireball, too, was not terribly happy to see another Houndoom so soon. He turned to Antoshi, greeted by a blank look in the boy's eyes.

    “So, what do you think of my Houndoom?” Gabriel said proudly, his hands firmly on his hips.

    Antoshi was on another plane of reality, unable to respond as he stared at the opposing Pokémon. Unlike earlier, Antoshi was not able to snap out of his daze this time.

    “Aha,” Gabriel said, “you're giving that 'calm and stoic' reaction, huh? Well, we're not gonna be intimidated by you! All right, Houndoom, use Rocket Fuel!” His Houndoom whimpered and rolled its eyes. The boy laughed. “You hate it when I call it that, huh? Okay, okay. Flame Charge, Houndoom!”

    Houndoom gave a snort of fire from its nostrils, its body quickly becoming enveloped in flame. It darted swiftly toward Fireball while Gabriel looked on with pride.

    ‘Flame Charge isn't Houndoom's best attack,’ Gabriel thought, ‘but, at least it'll give me a good idea of how strong that Typhlosion really is.’

    Fireball stood in place, confused, waiting for Antoshi to make the next call. Antoshi, however, was frozen in place at the sight of the Houndoom rushing toward them. His heart raced, trembling fearfully. He recalled Lucent lurching toward Fireball, and how he intervened to shield his best friend with his own body. The smell and the sight of blood running down from his gaping wound were still fresh in his mind.

    ‘Fireball,’ he recalled his words, after his friend had been knocked unconscious by Latoshi. ‘Come on, Fireball. … Please, wake up!’

    Fireball was about to be struck by Houndoom's Flame Charge. The Typhlosion turned around in concern, and gasped at the sight of his friend suddenly enveloped in his red aura.

    ‘How perfect it is to have both of you together like this,’ Latoshi had said, ready to strike the two with blasts of energy. ‘It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel!’

    “No!”
    Antoshi shouted, aiming his open palms at the Houndoom. In his stupor, he fired a potent blast of spirit energy at the ground between Fireball and Gabriel's Houndoom. The resulting explosion knocked the two Pokémon backwards several meters.

    The blast was heard and felt by nearly everyone in the park. Passersby and their Pokémon screamed in terror, some of them running away.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball exclaimed, over the sound of falling dirt and debris, finally pulling his friend back to reality. "Why did you do that?!"

    “What was that?!” Gabriel shouted. His Houndoom got to its feet and returned to the boy's side.

    Antoshi was terrified by what he'd just wrought. People all around him were gawking and staring at the sight. A large crater, the size of an automobile, sat between the two Trainers, and beneath a cloud of dust. Antoshi had no idea what to say to Gabriel, or to any of the bystanders.

    “Fireball, let's go,” he said, shuffling away from the scene, quickly. Fireball got up and followed, lagging behind him. The duo were too nervous to look at anyone.

    “What happened?” a voice in the crowd asked.

    “Was it from a Pokémon battle?”

    “I think it was some kind of old, unexploded land mine,” another person remarked.

    "Antoshi!" Fireball said, as he caught up to his friend. "Are you okay?"

    “I thought I was,” the boy replied, solemnly, “but I realize now that I'm definitely not.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi and Fireball headed straight back to their hotel room. They opted to stay put, uneasy about going out for the rest of the day. Antoshi kept his book from the library, continuing to read and study it in silence while he laid on his bed. Fireball passed the time by resting, looking out the window, and eventually turning on the television. Antoshi sighed, closing the book for the time being. He opted to watch TV with Fireball during the evening news broadcast.

    “And, in other news tonight, an explosion rocks Sunset Park in eastern Goldenrod,” the news reporter said. The duo's eyes widened. “Witnesses say an unknown explosive ordnance detonated in an area where two young Trainers were having a Pokémon battle. The Trainers and their Pokémon were unharmed, but the blast made a sizable crater. Police have cordoned the area off. They could not give any further details on the situation and are still investigating.”

    “Great,” Antoshi remarked, burying his face in the mattress. “That's all I need now — for the police to come and ask me questions about what happened. What do I even tell them?”

    "What's wrong with telling them the truth?" Fireball replied.

    Antoshi looked up, gawking at his friend in disbelief. “You want me to tell them that I did that?”

    "Of course! Do you really think they're going to believe you when you tell them 'a giant ball of energy came out of my hands and destroyed the ground'?"

    Antoshi pondered for a moment. “That … might be crazy enough to work,” Antoshi said, grinning. “The story is way too insane. They'll think I'm nuts and leave me alone. Even though, … right now, I definitely am going nuts.” The boy sighed as he rolled over onto his back, staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea when Latoshi's going to make a move. It was just dumb luck that I bumped into him after sensing his energy the first time we met. I can't pinpoint exactly where he is, not unless he outputs a lot of energy. Right now, he's keeping his energy restrained. I can't do anything until he's ready to seek me out again.” Antoshi scoffed. “I'm sure he'll make that point loud and clear whenever he does show….”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    That night, Latoshi was in the midst of his meditative training once again. His thoughts, however, were distracted.

    ‘Who is 'Declan'?’ he thought, furrowing his brow. ‘Is it someone I knew? Someone … I was close to? Was it … me?’ He growled softly in frustration. ‘If I could just remember. … If I could remember that woman's voice. She was calling out. 'Declan.' … 'Declan.' …’

    “Declan!”

    Latoshi gasped at the sound of the woman's voice again. He immediately sprang to his feet, looking around. There was no one around. He exhaled slowly, closing his eyes and clenching his fists.

    ‘Concentrate,’ Latoshi thought. ‘Try to remember. Remember … Declan …’

    “Declan!” the woman exclaimed. This time, however, he didn't open his eyes. He kept them closed, putting all of his effort into trying to scratch and claw his way through to his subconscious. Latoshi recalled a gradually clearing image of a woman with long, wavy blonde hair. He gasped again, trembling in excitement. It was a breakthrough unlike anything he'd had before. His heart fluttered at the very idea of recollecting his memories, and finally being able to tie himself to his forgotten past.

    The woman was angry. She was angry at him. He walked up to her, trying to get past her, as she stood at the front door of a house. She blocked the doorway, and he responded by angrily pushing her aside.

    “Declan, that's enough!” she said.

    “Stop it now!” a man next to her shouted, trying to grab his arm. He immediately yanked his arm away and stormed up a flight of stairs.

    “Get lost!” Latoshi shouted back. “I won't listen to you! You're not even my real parents!”

    “Declan!”
    they both called to him.

    His vision abruptly turned to darkness. Latoshi fell to his knees, panting and trembling. Tears welled in his eyes as he slowly opened them.

    ‘Why?’ he thought. ‘Why did … I do that? Why do I feel so much sorrow? Why can't I … remember everything?’ He hunched over, pounding his fists into the dirt as he wept. ‘Damn it.’ He inhaled, shakily, tears falling to the ground. ‘Why can't I remember?’

    'Because I will not let you,' Lazarus replied, startling him. 'Oh, so sorry. Did I interrupt your thoughts?'

    “Lazarus?” he wondered aloud, falling back into a sitting position. “You … can hear my thoughts?”

    'Of course. I have been able to hear and see your thoughts since the very beginning.'

    Dread suddenly swept over the boy. “What— … what did you mean you won't let me remember?”

    Lazarus chuckled in amusement. 'Ah, I knew this would happen eventually. I knew the truth would have to come out someday.' Latoshi had a puzzled look on his face. 'You truly believed you had amnesia. All those months locked in that prison. You believed me, just like I knew you would, because of what a stupid little child you are. So easy to manipulate and do my bidding.' Latoshi slowly got to his feet, trembling in rage. 'The truth is, … you never had 'amnesia'. I have been blocking your memories and holding them hostage.'

    The wind was knocked from his lungs. “My … memories,” he remarked in disbelief. “Give them back, Lazarus. You have to give them back! You're in my body, and relying on me to get stronger! I'm not going to do anything you say until you give me what I want!”

    Lazarus cackled loudly, leaving Latoshi confused once more. 'How stupid are you?! You think that you are the one in control? How do you think I was able to see your vision training earlier? I have become just as much a part of you as you are, Latoshi. So, you will never get what you want — I get what I want all the time!'

    Latoshi was frightened and bewildered.

    'You have never had a moment to yourself this whole time! I know everything that you think and say, so you cannot hide anything from me! You thought you could scheme and plan against me, go against what I tell you, like some rebellious little delinquent? I know that you have been trying to muster up your memories, and bits and pieces of them have slipped through the cracks of the barrier I built around them. But that is not a problem — I can just reset your memories again!'

    “No!” Latoshi shouted, grabbing his head.

    'Yes, Latoshi! And while I am at it, I shall block out all those fond little memories you made with Antoshi and his stupid pet! You will do my bidding as long as I want you to, and there is nothing that you can do about it because I can continue to lock your memories away again and again! I am the only one you will listen to for the rest of your life! Every time you think you think you have the upper hand with your disobedience toward me, I always have that as my ace in the hole!'

    “Please, no, Lazarus! Please, don't take away my memories!”

    'Oh, it is too late for pleading now, Latoshi. I cannot let you know of my true plans for you! I did not want to have to resort to this because of how loyal you were, but you have left me no choice! Now, get stronger for me, my puppet! Dance for me as I pull on your strings!!'

    Lazarus' cackling echoed through Latoshi's head as he stared at the sky, blankly. All of the positive memories he made, the positive emotions he felt, and the memories of his past life he rediscovered were ripped away from him once again — just as Lazarus had done to him before he awoke in the military base.

    When all was said and done, Latoshi stumbled and fell onto his behind. In the quiet of the night, he continued to stare, vacantly, at the ground for a short time.

    'Now then,' Lazarus spoke again, calm and collected. 'I think you have had enough time to train, Latoshi. Your power has grown exponentially since you began your tutelage under me. Those men slain by you in the alley some time ago were just an appetizer. I think the table is set for you to enjoy the main course.' A twisted smile of elation slowly crept across Latoshi's lips. He rose back to his feet with aplomb, gazing at the city in the distance. 'The time has come for you to begin purging the evil from this world. Cleanse it in your image, Latoshi. Lay the groundwork for what will become your utopia.'

    Latoshi chuckled, stretching out his neck. “Sounds good to me. I feel like I've got a ton of pent-up frustration for some reason, and it needs to be taken out on someone.”

    The boy ascended high into the air. He took off, soaring around the city, looking for any individuals whom he deemed unworthy to live.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi scoured dozens of miles of city streets from way up high. Frustration began setting in, as all turned out to be far quieter and peaceful that night than he'd like. There were no guilty souls for him to pass his judgment upon.

    'If they refuse to come out,' Lazarus said, 'you must seek them out.'

    “They're hiding like cockroaches,” Latoshi remarked with a bitter expression. “Where would I find these parasites? People who commit crimes, and have hearts of ice? …”

    His eyes lit up when he spotted a large compound near the western edge of the city. He flew toward it, its bright spotlights pointing to the sky, drawing him in like a moth. The long facility was surrounded by multiple rows of steel gates topped with barbed wire. His chest swelled as he noticed the sign at the front: 'Goldenrod Penitentiary, Maximum Security'.

    'Very resourceful, Latoshi. However, you must remain cautious. These facilities tend to employ advanced technology in their security, not unlike the one you were imprisoned in.'

    “What should I do?”

    'Move quickly and quietly, if you plan to enter. It is very likely they have heat, motion, or sound detection — even outside. Whatever plan you decide on, make sure it is something their normal, human eyes cannot detect.'

    “Then, I should use my Ki,” he remarked. “Those disgusting creeps in the military base couldn't see it when I used it then.”

    'Of course. Only those with spirit awareness are able to detect it. So, what do you plan to do?'

    Latoshi thought for a moment before chuckling in amusement. His dark aura emanated and briefly flared around his body. He held both hands out toward the prison walls.

    “Knock, knock,” Latoshi muttered, grinning, before firing a large blast of energy. The attack caused an explosion that ripped through the solid concrete, shaking the entire compound, demolishing a massive section of the wall. Distant screaming from inside the building followed immediately after. Alarms rang out through the prison.

    “Security breach!” a voice said over the loudspeakers. “Southeast corridor security breach!”

    “Now, then,” he muttered to himself, “how many of you scum want to party?”

    The boy waited patiently as the cloud of dust started to settle. He hummed curiously when he saw a prisoner emerge soon after. Wearing a yellow jumpsuit, the man climbed over the rubble, and ran for the first barbed wire gate. The field he passed through was particularly long, and his yellow clothes made it easy for the guards in the towers to spot him. Amid the chaos, however, there were no guards aware of his escape.

    Dozens more prisoners began to follow, forming a few large groups that raced down the field. Latoshi laughed, beginning his descent toward the ground.

    “I knew it,” he remarked with a smirk. “Just like cockroaches, they scatter. Don't worry, I'll give you all an early release from your sentences…”

    The first man panted heavily, scrambling closer to the first gate. Latoshi suddenly landed in front of him, causing him to come to a startled halt.

    “Who—who the hell are you?!” he shouted.

    Latoshi gave his response in the form of an amused grin. He disappeared in an instant, leaving the man bewildered until the boy made a dash past him. Latoshi just barely nicked the man's neck with his hand, which burned with a thin layer of his dark energy. Though minor, the strike was more than enough to slice his throat like the edge of a razor-sharp blade. The man's eyes shot open wide with horror, clasping the open wound with both hands. He fell to the ground, choking and gagging, while Latoshi quickly went after his next victim.

    He rushed toward a very brawny man who was nearing the first wall. Latoshi appeared behind him, grabbed him by his jumpsuit, and threw him with such force into the metallic wall that he was killed by the impact immediately. His body made a large dent in the wall before he slumped to the ground. Latoshi turned around and fired wild blasts of energy at the groups of fleeing prisoners. The ones that were unfortunate to be struck had their bodies, or parts of them, instantly burned to ashes on contact.

    The guards in the towers finally noticed the prison break. They were too perplexed by the sight of the prisoners quickly dying off before their eyes to react. Latoshi moved through the rest of the people in the field, slaying and felling every single one with conviction. Endless screams rang out from his victims. His lips were ever curled into a pleased smirk, blood spattering all over his body and clothes.

    Yet, despite how effective and thorough he was, his eyes carried a deep emptiness. It was an emptiness that only became more pronounced as his rampage continued on.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  17. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 17


    The following morning, Fireball awoke with a noisy yawn. He sat up in bed, sighing contently as he stretched. The early sun peered in through a gap in the drawn curtains.

    "Looks like another nice morning ahead," he remarked. "Guess we didn't have to worry about the police questioning you after all, huh?" He turned to Antoshi, who stared back at him with a deeply serious expression. Fireball immediately became concerned. "You okay? What's wrong?"

    “I sensed him,” the boy replied, staring at his bedsheets. “I finally sensed where he was. His energy was so clear to me last night, it was like he was right next to me. It was that same, rotten energy I felt before. I don't know what he did, but … it felt like he used a decent amount of power to do it.”

    "What should we do?"

    Antoshi chuckled, weakly. He got out from under the covers and sat up. “Nothing now. Honestly, though, his energy seemed really intimidating — and I don't even know if that was his maximum power that I sensed. Whatever training he's been doing, … it's certainly working out for him.” He let out a heavy sigh before perking up, giving Fireball a reassuring smile. “Still, now it means I have a better idea of where his level of strength is. I don't think I'm ready to take him on, yet. I'll just have to do my absolute best to train even harder if I want to show him up.”

    "That sounds more like the Antoshi I know," Fireball replied, smiling back. "Just don't leave me out of your training. I'd like to watch, at least!"

    “All right, fair enough,” Antoshi said, chuckling.

    The boy proceeded to call the hotel's room service to have their breakfast sent up to them. He got up, and got dressed in his newly favored outfit of a red t-shirt and blue jeans. As they waited for their food, the two friends joked and laughed, helping to lighten some of the dour mood they'd been going through as of late. Despite the storm that was Hurricane Latoshi swirling in the distance, Antoshi finally felt like things were at least getting back to normal between himself and Fireball. Just by being there for the boy, Antoshi recognized how much Fireball was helping him to feel whole in his time of need.

    Once their food arrived, Antoshi brought it over to the table and chairs set up in the room's small dining space. Fireball turned the television toward them and turned it on before eagerly shuffling to his seat. He licked his chops at the sight of several plates of food before him. Antoshi chuckled, idly turning his attention to the TV as a newscast resumed.

    “We want to take you back now to the scene at Goldenrod Penitentiary,” the lady reporter said. “If you're just joining us, seven officers and one hundred twelve inmates were found dead, with dozens more injured. Part of the wall of the prison, as you can see, has been completely blown away.” Antoshi and Fireball were stunned by the sight. The grassy field outside the prison was littered with plastic yellow tarps and evidence markers. “At this time, officials do not have any suspects or any possible motives in mind. No explosives or any sort of explosive device was found at the scene, though there is some speculation that there may be multiple perpetrators at large, given the swiftness of how the scene unfolded. Officials tell us that these victims were all slain within a matter of less than a minute.”

    Fireball turned to his friend. Antoshi's hand was trembling as he held his glass of orange juice.

    “Latoshi, …” the boy muttered. “This is it. This is part of his horrible 'plan' to exterminate people he believes are evil. … What better place to strike than a prison?”

    “None of the officials on scene could give us a cause of death for any of the victims,” the reporter continued, “however, a police spokesperson has said they're investigating whether there may be a connection with the explosion at Sunset Park yesterday.”

    "You and Latoshi are making news reports for all the wrong reasons," Fireball remarked. Antoshi sighed, sharply, getting up from his seat. "You okay?"

    “I'm fine,” Antoshi replied, retrieving his shoes by the door and heading back to the table to put them on. “It's just that, … well, I know the police have to investigate these things. I just wish they weren't involved. I'm worried more people are going to end up getting hurt or killed over this pointless war between Latoshi and myself.”

    "Yeah, I understand," Fireball said, quietly. "This is all so terrible…"

    “I better get started training as soon as I can,” Antoshi said, getting up from the table once more.

    "But, you didn't finish your breakfast!"

    “That's all right. I'm not really hungry after what I just saw, anyway.” He got up and headed for the TV. Fireball quickly scarfed down as much food from both of their plates as he could.

    “City and regional officials are asking for the public's help,” the reporter said. “If you have any information—”

    After Antoshi shut off the TV, he turned to his friend. Fireball quickly got up, wiping his maw with a napkin which he quickly tossed onto the table. Antoshi slung a towel over his shoulder before they headed out once again. He was eager to put into practice what he'd learned in his books.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    A few hours had passed after the start of Antoshi's rigorous training session. The two friends fell onto their backsides, facing each other, panting from exhaustion.

    "Nice moves, Antoshi," Fireball remarked with a grin.

    Antoshi smiled back. “Thanks.” He grabbed the towel and wiped the sweat from his face.

    "You've gotten way faster and way stronger since that fight with Latoshi already. You learned a lot of really good stuff. I know I'm not going to doubt the power of books ever again." Antoshi chuckled. "By the way, thanks for taking it easy on me. I could tell based off our previous training sessions that you pulled your punches this time."

    “I don't want you to get hurt anymore, Fireball. That's the whole reason I'm even doing this.” Fireball nodded in understanding. Antoshi gazed down at his open hands, scuffed with dirt. “I want to keep others from getting hurt, but I have to fight with Latoshi. I hate not being able to resolve this peacefully, but I have no choice.”

    "I know how bad you feel having to do this. I'm sure you'll beat him this time, though, Antoshi. Then, you can put it behind you."

    “Maybe. I mean, I certainly hope so. If there was a way I didn't have to fight him, I'd rather take that road instead. At the same time, I still have … so much anger. I still feel that rage every time I think about what he did to you, what he said to me, and about my family…” Antoshi's irises glowed bright with the shimmering, red hue of his Ki. He clenched his fists tightly, his aura suddenly erupting to life around his body in an almost explosive fashion. Fireball was taken aback by the sheer pressure being given off by the boy's fiery energy. “The police can't do anything about this — they don't even know what they're looking for, or where to start. They're just going to end up as more potential casualties. I can't let things go on this way.”

    "Antoshi," Fireball said, grabbing his friend's attention. "I care about you, and what happens to you. You're my best friend. This anger, though, it isn't like you at all. … I don't want you to lose yourself."

    Antoshi sighed and shook his head. His aura faded from his body. “If that's what it takes to defeat Latoshi, then … I may just have to.”

    The boy got to his feet, walking away to resume his training. He threw a few rapid-fire combos of straight punches and jabs with such speed that it made them audible. Fireball sat and watched his friend with concern.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Across the city, Latoshi also continued his training in solitude. The blood from his victims the previous night had been cleaned away from his body. He wore a new set of clothes, strikingly similar to his previous green shirt and green cargo shorts. With no memories to distract him, he was solely focused on the task before him.

    In his usual spot in the forest clearing he'd created, the boy ducked and weaved, throwing punches and kicks at an invisible target. His strikes, though not as swift as Antoshi's, were strong and significant; powerful enough to cause brief, small shock waves.

    'Keep up that pace,' Lazarus told him. 'You will go for as long as I tell you in order to build your stamina. Put your image training to use, and keep your target visualized.'

    Latoshi envisioned his blond-haired adversary's nimble movements, relentlessly following them, striking with each opportunity for an opening. He maneuvered in the same endless loop, grunting and growling with each subsequent attack.

    'Good. Now use your Ki. Let him see how outclassed he is.'

    He came to a sudden halt, while his irises glowed a shimmering black. Holding his hands out, he summoned forth a quick barrage of energy blasts at his imaginary target. He gave a loud shout before firing one final, much larger, shot.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At that very moment, Antoshi's eyes went wide. He stopped what he was doing, his attention fixated somewhere in the city. Fireball got up on his hind feet.

    "What's up, Antoshi?"

    “I just sensed someone's energy,” he replied, much to Fireball's shock. “Latoshi is nearby.” The boy quickly marched back toward the city limits.

    "Hold on — wait!" Fireball called out, while chasing after him. "Shouldn't we, … you know, think this over? You can't just charge at him the first chance you get. What if there are people around?"

    “I'll have to figure something out quickly,” Antoshi replied, narrowing his eyes, bitterly. The duo moved with purpose through the city streets, weaving around passersby and their Pokémon. Antoshi was fixated on his target. He was terrified, but wouldn't let it show. His stern, serious stare contrasted with Fireball's nervous expression.

    They rounded the corner of a city block. Antoshi slowed down, his eyes carefully scanning around the immediate area.

    ‘He's in that café,’ he thought.

    Antoshi headed for a small coffee shop in the middle of a business strip. The welcoming bell rang sharply as he barged through the door. All the faces inside stared at him in confusion. He walked further in, toward a quieter corner of the establishment. He clenched his fists, irises glowing red in anticipation of a confrontation that was about to happen in front of onlookers. He gasped in shock, his eyes going wide. He nearly crumbled to pieces upon realizing that it was not Latoshi who he was chasing.

    It was the mysterious brunette girl that had healed him.

    She quietly sipped from a cup of tea, before setting it down on a plate near a tea kettle. The young woman looked over at him with a warm smile. She wore a shirt with horizontal orange and white stripes, beneath a long, white jacket with floral patterns. Her shirt just barely draped over her tight, white pants and matching, white shoes. Sunglasses casually sat atop her head. Her violet eyes brought back the blurry memory of her knelt beside him. Fireball finally caught up to his friend. He was left puzzled by the girl that Antoshi was blankly staring at.

    “It's … you,” Antoshi remarked, quietly. “Okay, … so, you weren't a figment of my imagination.”

    She laughed quietly. “Yes, I am real,” she replied. “Please, sit.” Antoshi remained in place, clenching his fists. He eyed the young woman suspiciously. She responded by laughing again. “If you'd like to stand, that's fine, too. Although, you'd be blocking the aisle. I promise you have nothing to fear from me. You don't have to have your guard up like that.”

    “I do, if you're working with Latoshi,” he said. Even though he didn't get a sense of animosity from her, there were still too many unknown variables with trusting this complete stranger.

    The girl smiled and shook her head. “I don't work with anyone.”

    “You're not … going to fight me, too?”

    “Of course not. That would be a bit silly for me to heal you just so I could fight you, don't you think?”

    Antoshi sighed in defeat, slumping down into the seat across from her. “I don't know what to think anymore,” he replied, running a hand through his hair.

    Fireball sat down on a third seat beside them, his eyes shifting between the two. The girl greeted Fireball with a smile. He smiled back, still very much confused as to what was happening.

    She took an empty tea cup from a holder on the table, pouring the contents of the kettle into the cup. “You've gotten stronger since the last time I saw you,” she remarked, sliding the tea in front of Antoshi. “You look to be in good condition, physically. Your spirit, though, is very unsettled.”

    Antoshi stared, strangely, at the tea cup before looking to her. “What is this?”

    “It's chamomile tea. It's perfect for dealing with stress.”

    “No, I mean what is all this? Who are you? Why do you have powers, too? Why was I able to sense you? Do you know me or Latoshi?”

    She chuckled in response. “I understand this is all very confusing. You must have a million questions.”

    “Yeah, try two million questions.”

    “My name is Serenity. I'm not here to upset you or harm you. You were able to sense me because I output just enough of my spirit energy for you to do so. I wished to bring you here simply to talk. I'm more than willing to answer the questions that are clearly stressing you.”

    Antoshi sighed, heavily. “… You think I'm having stress issues?”

    “I know you are. Your aura is agitated. It's churning around your body constantly like a swelling sea. Your heart is filled with terrible anger.”

    “You can tell all of that just by … looking at me?” he wondered aloud, before taking a look at himself. “How are you even able to see my aura? I can't even see it.”

    “Your aura is always around you, faintly, protecting your body like a second skin. In fact, aura is always around most people — they just don't know it exists or how to use it, like you can. In time, once you get stronger, I'm sure you'll be able to see what I see.”

    “Stronger,” he mused. “So, I can reach a level even higher than I'm at right now?”

    “Absolutely.”

    Fireball cleared his throat, tugging on Antoshi's sleeve to grab his attention. He pointed to the girl, covertly.

    “Oh, right. Sorry for ignoring you, Fireball. This is the person that healed our injuries after the fight with Latoshi. She's … actually the same girl that I bumped into outside the Goldenrod train station.”

    Fireball's eyes lit up in surprise, turning to her. She smiled, and extended a hand to him.

    “It's very nice to meet you, Fireball,” she said.

    Fireball smiled back, gently shaking her hand, before turning to his friend. "Quick reminder that you told me she was pretty," he whispered, "and she is!" Antoshi kept his gaze locked on her with a forced smile, ignoring Fireball's remark.

    Serenity laughed. “You can communicate with Fireball, can't you?” she asked, much to the duo's shock. “Don't worry — I, myself, can't hear what Fireball is saying. However, being able to do so is just a natural part of your abilities using your Ki.”

    “I keep hearing that word — 'Ki'. What does it mean?”

    “It's the energy of your spirit. Some people call it ki or chi. The strength of your vital essence, and the ability to apply that strength in various ways. It's an amalgamation of your vigor, courage, mindset, and tenacity.”

    “Oh,” Antoshi remarked, looking down at his open hands. “Well, how does spirit energy work?”

    “Spirit energy is, as you may have guessed, fueled by the spirit. Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit and can, therefore, make the strength of your spirit energy explode in a pinch — like gasoline on a fire. Love, sorrow, fear, anger; these are all powerful emotions that can ignite ones' aura or serve as a catalyst to unlock ones' latent abilities. Very few people can actually tap into these abilities, though. It also depends on how these emotions are channeled that determines the weight of ones' spirit.”

    “You mean if someone turns out … 'good' or 'evil'.”

    “Yes. If your abilities are used for pure intentions, then your aura will shine with radiant color. But, if you use your Ki for cruel and selfish purposes, your aura becomes corrupted and reflects the darkness in your heart. I believe you may know who I'm referring to.”

    “I do,” Antoshi replied, shifting his gaze downward. “I remember my … powers unlocked when I panicked over the thought of losing Fireball forever. If Latoshi's aura is corrupted by darkness as you say, … does that mean he's beyond saving?”

    “Only if you think so,” she replied.

    He was taken aback by her statement. “Is it … wrong for me to think that way?” he asked, with guilt in his voice.

    “Yes,” she said, before taking another sip of her tea. Antoshi's heart sank, as he and Fireball looked to each other in concern. “That's because there's something critically important about him that you must know before you encounter him again. It's the main focus of why I brought you here to talk.” She took another sip of tea, leaving the duo in suspense, before setting the cup back down. “What if I were to tell you that you're not actually fighting against Latoshi, but, rather, something inside of him?”

    Antoshi furrowed his brow in thought. “… Lazarus?”

    “That's correct.”

    “But … that's a voice he said he hears in his head.”

    Antoshi suddenly recalled the sound of Lazarus' voice in the dreams he had of Latoshi. There were two voices: Latoshi, and someone else he was talking to. However, Antoshi never saw who it was coming from.

    “Lazarus is not just a voice. Lazarus is a parasite.” The duo were floored by the revelation. “Latoshi is being controlled by a dark spirit, one that uses people like a parasite would.”

    “A spirit … parasite?”

    “Yes. As you already know, its name is Lazarus. It is a being of pure, spiritual energy that seeks out hosts with awareness of the spirit. It latches on to the host's spirit, essentially becoming a part of them. In order to do that, though, it searches for people whose hearts are easily corruptible, or influenced by negativity. From there, Lazarus coaxes its host into trusting it. The most important reason for why it does this, is that it feeds off of the spirit energy of its host, taking said energy for itself. Latoshi may believe that Lazarus is helping him, but the reality is that Lazarus is stealing Latoshi's energy. The greater Lazarus' power becomes, the more it will be able to force control over its host.”

    Antoshi was left in a daze, as was Fireball. All of his thoughts, judgment, and bitterness had been directed at the wrong person all along. He sat silent for a moment before replying. “H—how do you know all this?”

    “I've dealt with Lazarus before. I came to Goldenrod because I sensed his energy lurking about. It was either fate, or sheer coincidence, that I also bumped into you outside the train station. Once I witnessed your struggle with Latoshi later on, it was critical for me to tell you that Latoshi is not the evil person you've been led to believe he is. He is being controlled.”

    Antoshi's hands trembled as he rested them on the table. Serenity poured herself another cup of tea, giving the boy a few moments to assimilate what she just told him.

    “Are you all right?” she asked, taking a sip of her tea.

    Antoshi let out a long, shaky sigh and nodded. “Yeah, I … it's just really … I'm not sure what to think.”

    “It's all right,” she reassured him with a smile. “This is a lot for you to take in at once. I can understand the position you're in. You've only recently learned about your powers, learning about Lazarus, dealing with it and Latoshi. It's a lot to bear.”

    “Would you also happen to know if … Latoshi is my brother?”

    “I don't have the answer for that, unfortunately. All I know is what I've seen so far of you both. It certainly seems that way to me. The two of you look almost identical. Maybe someday the two of you will stop punching each other long enough to figure out the answer for yourselves.”

    Antoshi nodded gently. “I'll still have to fight him, … and I'll have to give it everything I have, won't I?”

    “I imagine so. I think Latoshi is too far gone under Lazarus' influence to be willing to hear you out. If you do fight, you'll be fighting against Lazarus — not Latoshi.”

    “You seem to know so much about everything that's going on. Can't you … fight alongside me, at least?”

    Serenity grinned and laughed. “I knew you would eventually ask that, but it's not my place to intervene. This is your fight, Antoshi. The actions you take from here on, and the consequences of those actions, are what will determine your future. You and Latoshi both have incredible power. I know that letting fate run its course is the right thing to do. You've only just taken the first steps in unlocking your power, Antoshi. You and Latoshi have far more potential than you realize.” Antoshi's eyes widened with awe. She took another sip of tea. “You won't unlock your true potential until something happens that causes you to push yourself to your limits, similar to when you first unlocked your powers.”

    “How … much potential do I have? Is it enough to beat him?”

    “I'm not sure, I just know it's there. Everyone's Ki eventually reaches a limit or plateau, but you have a lot left to discover. You can become far stronger than you are now. It depends on your mindset, your emotions, and your vigor. As he is now, Latoshi does not have total control over his powers, or himself. He's only following what Lazarus tells him.”

    Antoshi went silent again, taking a short time to process everything again. Fireball looked over at his friend with concern.

    “I can feel the sorrow in your heart, Antoshi,” she said with a warm smile. Antoshi immediately perked up and looked at her in surprise. “I know it sounds strange, but with enough spirit awareness it is possible to feel the emotions of others. This entire situation is something you dread, and you don't want any part of it. However, you still feel a responsibility to keep others safe. Am I right so far?”

    “Well, … yes.”

    She smiled and nodded. “In exchange for all the information I told you, I want you to promise me something.”

    “All right. … What is it?”

    “Promise me that you'll help Latoshi. He desperately needs help, and I believe that you're the only person who can. Would you be willing to do that?”

    Antoshi turned his gaze away for a moment. He recalled the bitterness that their fight created — the pain Latoshi caused him and Fireball, the threats he made, the arrogant smirk on his face. He sighed, also recalling the short, yet pleasant time they spent together as friends, taking a stroll through a new city. A brief smile crept into the corner of his lips, remembering sitting with Latoshi and Fireball in the ice cream shoppe.

    He turned to Serenity and nodded. “I promise.”

    “Good,” she replied. She reached for a small tote bag hanging on the back of her chair, searching through it.

    “But … how? How can I help him?” he asked. Serenity placed some money down on the table.

    “I know you'll find the best solution if you look into your heart,” she said. “Don't stress yourself over dealing with this. Just prepare yourself as best as you can. When the time comes — act.”

    Antoshi scoffed in amusement. “You have more faith in me than I do in myself right now,” he remarked, glumly.

    Serenity slipped the bag over her shoulder and got up from the table. “I've only just met you, Antoshi, but I already know that you are a good person with a kind and caring heart. I think you'll be an excellent leader. You just need to take a step back, quiet your mind, and decide the best course of action for you.” She smiled and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Take care, Antoshi.”

    The duo watched as Serenity put on her sunglasses and exited the establishment, leaving them to mull over everything she told them. Antoshi and Fireball turned to each other.

    "What do you think?" Fireball asked.

    Antoshi chuckled, weakly. “Think about what? I had tons of questions, and she answered almost all of them. There's lots to think about. … If you mean about what she said, … I guess I don't have any reason to doubt her.”

    "I agree. She sure was cool, huh? She was so relaxed, like nothing in the world gets to her — and she seemed super-smart, and nice."

    Antoshi chuckled. “I suppose all of that's true. It's just, with all the insane stuff that's been happening lately, I can't help thinking she's bad news somehow.”

    "Do you think she really is bad, and she's just putting on an act or something?"

    “I don't know, … maybe.” He sighed, heavily. “I did make her a promise, though. I intend to keep it.”

    "Hey, you didn't drink your tea."

    “… So, I didn't,” he replied with a smile. He picked up his tea cup and took a sip from it. “Mm, hey, this actually is pretty good.” Fireball chuckled as Antoshi continued to enjoy the tea.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    As the next few days rolled on, Latoshi continued stepping up his attacks on the public. He created a trend of going after various correctional facilities, using a combination of his otherwise invisible Ki energy and his immense speed to remain undetected. He tore away walls and even whole sections of each compound, leading to the deaths of hundreds more prisoners. Goldenrod was starting to stir into a state of panic because of the unsolved attacks.

    But, as Latoshi kept on killing, there was a growing expression of regret in his eyes. He couldn't understand it, but he felt a shallow emptiness inside him. His heart was calling out for something, but he did not know what. Latoshi ignored it as best he could, continuing to follow Lazarus' orders of training during the day, and slaying the parasites of Goldenrod City at night.

    Antoshi, meanwhile, had still not been sleeping much. The constant air of dread looming over him every time he thought about Latoshi kept him on alert. He and Fireball continued to hear of Latoshi's actions on the news. It drove him to push harder, each subsequent story fanning the flames of his spirit; steeling his resolve. From time to time, Serenity dropped in to watch Antoshi from afar, curious to see how his training was progressing.

    Each day became tougher to bear on both boys. Antoshi felt he was finally ready and prepared for a confrontation, but he could not discern Latoshi's location. As evening fell on the third day after meeting Serenity, Antoshi wasn't remain content to stay in his room — he wanted to end this waiting game. He and Fireball made a deliberate tour around as much of the city as they could. Even under the dark of night, they continued to trek further and further in all directions. Antoshi tried desperately to feel out his adversary's energy. The search endeavors ultimately ended up fruitless for the duo.

    ‘If he would just show himself already…’ Antoshi thought, bitterly. The growing anticipation of his inevitable encounter with Latoshi was wearing on him, and on Fireball as well. Watching his best friend in such a contemptuous mood was not something Fireball enjoyed.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The following evening, back in their hotel room, Antoshi had a video call with his parents to check in with them.

    “Antoshi,” his mother said, with worry in her eyes, “are you doing all right? We've been hearing terrible stories about attacks in Goldenrod.”

    He reassured her with a nod and a weak smile. “I'm fine, Mom. It is a little scary, but … Fireball and I shouldn't be in Goldenrod for much longer anyway.” Fireball, standing behind him, was surprised by his friend's remark. He couldn't figure out exactly what the boy meant by that.

    “You look so stressed, son,” his father said. “Try not to let it get to you. I know you'll be safe, as long as you stay inside. Plus, you have Fireball to protect you.”

    “I sure do,” he replied, smiling to his compadre.

    “Get some rest,” his mother said. “Okay, honey? I agree with your father — you do look exhausted.”

    “You're right, Mom. I will. Sorry for worrying you both.”

    “Oh, don't be silly. We have faith in you, Antoshi. We know you'll always make the right decisions.”

    He became lost in thought for a moment, thinking back to the promise he made Serenity. He smiled and nodded to them. “Thank you both,” he warmly replied, much to their delight.

    “We love you!” they both said, before the call was ended.

    Antoshi turned away, rubbing his tired, worn eyes. His lack of sleep had gotten to the point where others could see it in him. He thought he should've been overwhelmingly tired after going so long with so little sleep, but, for some reason, he felt oddly energized. He sat in silence for a few moments, to reflect on what his parents said. With an empowered huff, he quickly got up from the video phone, heading over to the door to grab his shoes.

    “I can't stay here,” he said, sitting on the bed to slip them on.

    "What do you mean?" Fireball replied. "Where are you going?"

    Antoshi stood up and gazed out the window. “I have to go out again. I have to try and find him. I'm not going to get any sleep until I do, Fireball. I have to keep searching for him, so I can finally put an end to this insanity.”

    "I want to come with you," Fireball said.

    Antoshi smiled, turning to his friend. “I want you to come with me, too.”

    With that, the duo headed downstairs, out onto the streets in the early night hours. The streets were still fairly busy with people and their Pokémon passing on by. They made their way directly west for a few blocks.

    "Antoshi?" Fireball spoke up. "At … the risk of making you upset with me again, I think that maybe your parents are right. You shouldn't stress out this badly."

    “I really am trying not to let it get to me, Fireball. Talking to Serenity, and understanding so much more now, has made me feel a little better. Still, … what else am I supposed to do? I can't take this situation easy. Latoshi's out there, and he's killing people. It feels like he's mocking me, … like he's trying to get me to react.”

    "Do you really think this is a message to you?"

    “I'm sure of it,” Antoshi replied, narrowing his eyes, as his irises briefly flashed red.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    The duo continued on their westward trek for a couple of hours. They stopped to rest, get some snacks and drinks, and use the restroom along the way. They traveled further through the city than they had the entire time they'd been in Goldenrod.

    At the same time, Latoshi stood up from his meditation. He sighed in content before stretching his neck out.

    'Excellent work,' Lazarus told him. 'Now, we should continue forth in our righteous crusade.'

    “I'm all for crusading,” Latoshi replied, “but … maybe I could go crusading somewhere a little more scenic? Like, … the beach, perhaps?”

    'Hrm, … I suppose that will be fine for one night. The humans are likely increasing security around those filthy prisons, anyway. They will be expecting another attack on one of them tonight.'

    “Exactly. Might as well take the time to take in the scenery.”

    'Very well. I expect you to increase your training when you return here later. You are not to slack off.'

    “Of course, Lazarus,” he replied, slyly. Latoshi laughed in amusement, as he took to the sky once again. Before long, sandy dunes and the gentle lapping of the ocean waves along the shore came into view. He headed in the direction of the beach, grinning from ear to ear.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    "I only wish there was some way I could help more," Fireball remarked.

    “You already are,” Antoshi reassured him, smiling. “Sticking with me, being my shoulder to cry on, helping me deal with this and understanding this whole situation. … I appreciate all of it, Fireball, more than you know. You've been keeping me sane.” The duo smiled at each other. Afterward, Antoshi came to a halt, sighing, heavily. “I suppose we should head back now. It's gonna take forever for us to get back to the hotel at this point and—” the boy stopped suddenly, his eyes widening in shock and horror. “His energy,” he remarked, trembling. “I … I can sense it!”

    Fireball was equally as shocked. "Are you sure it's not Serenity again?"

    “No, I'm definitely sure. It was there for just a second, but the pressure being giving off, it's corrupted. It's … rotten, just like what I sensed from him before. Latoshi is nearby, …” he turned and pointed in the direction of the beach on the west edge of the city. “That way.”

    Both of them stood in place for a moment, taking in the realization that their long-awaited confrontation with Latoshi was now imminent.

    "So, you found him," Fireball remarked. "Are you sure you're ready to go through with this … again?”

    Antoshi exhaled sharply, punching his open palm. “I've had an entire week to do nothing but get ready. It's all I've been able to think about. You definitely know that by now.”

    "I know, I just … well, like I said before, I don't want to see you get hurt."

    “I've already been hurt by him — physically, mentally, emotionally. It was more pain than I could've ever imagined, and it's been gnawing at me ever since. I've gotten used to it now.” Fireball lowered his head and nodded. “Fireball, … I've been waiting until he shows up to say this. There's one thing I need you to promise me.”

    The Typhlosion perked up again. "Of course, Antoshi. Anything."

    “I need you … to promise that you won't get involved in this fight at all.”

    "… Okay, anything but that."

    “Fireball, please. I know you're concerned about my safety, … but I'm just as concerned with yours.”

    "Fighting is what I'm good at — you know that better than anyone."

    “You're an amazing fighter, Fireball, … but, this isn't an ordinary fight. I'm the only one that can deal with him. I'm the only one that should.”

    "Well, what about Serenity? She seems like she knows a lot. Maybe she knows how to beat him. You could … call out for help to her with your energy or something."

    “No, I can't involve other people in my problem. She even told me I have to deal with this on my own. I have to face him myself, Fireball — that's what I've been training for. There isn't any other way. Latoshi is going to come for me again, eventually, whether by his own choice or with that voice in his head telling him to. I have to put all of this to rest. So, promise me you won't get involved, okay?”

    "… All right. I promise."

    Antoshi sighed in relief, turning his attention to where Latoshi's energy was. “Let's get going. Hop on my back, I'll get us there as fast as I can.”

    Fireball looked at Antoshi, strangely, for a moment as the boy dropped to a knee. Fireball made sure no one was around to see them before wrapping his short forelimbs around Antoshi's neck. The boy hooked Fireball's hind legs under his arms and stood up, wearing the Typhlosion not unlike how he would wear his backpack. Fireball's otherwise heavy weight felt like nothing to the boy.

    “Looks like the calm is over,” Antoshi said. “The storm's finally beginning. Time to find out if all that training paid off.”

    In an instant, Antoshi took off, down the city streets. Fireball cried out in shock, while holding on for dear life. The boy weaved in and out of people, cars and obstacles with almost pinpoint precision. Those he passed by were shocked and bewildered by the sharp gust of wind that staggered them.

    “I'll get us close enough that he won't see us!” Antoshi spoke over the rush of air around them, “but you have to stay there, okay?”

    "I think I heard what you said!" Fireball replied. "I'll stay put!"

    Antoshi closed in on their destination, covering a distance of a hundred miles in less than a minute.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi strolled along the beach, casually, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his shorts. Neither of them were aware that Antoshi was approaching them very rapidly.

    “This is nice,” he remarked. “Very tranquil.”

    'Soon, it will all be yours,' Lazarus replied.

    Latoshi laughed. “My very own beach property, huh? That would be nice.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi slowed to a halt in the middle of an empty parking lot near the beach. Fireball groaned weakly, stumbling onto his hind feet.

    "That was a little too fast for me to deal with," Fireball said, rubbing his eyes.

    “This is where you have to stay. Please, … don't leave from here, okay?”

    Fireball bit his lip, forcing a nod. "Please be careful, Antoshi." The boy smiled to his friend, walking up and sharing a hug with him for a moment.

    “I'm not going to let him win,” Antoshi said, as they let go of each other. “Not this time. No matter what.”

    Fireball looked on as Antoshi ran toward his destination at normal running speed. Being forced to the sidelines tore him up inside, as did not knowing what would happen. He sighed, heavily, tears welling up in his eyes.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi turned his attention to the sound of a girl shouting in the distance. Curious, he headed over to its source.

    “No, stop!” the girl cried out. “Let go of me! Please, I just want to go home!”

    As Latoshi approached, the girl, and a large man dressed in heavy black clothing, came into view. Within a thicket of tall beach grass, he held the girl by her wrists.

    “I can't let you go now!” the man replied with a chuckle. “You were so rude to me! I think you need to repay me!”

    “Well, now!” Latoshi exclaimed, making his presence known. Both of them gasped, turning to him. “Isn't this convenient? Another parasite, right here on the beach. There's an endless supply of you disgusting freaks at every turn.”

    “Get the hell out of here, kid,” the man said, brandishing a gun at him, “or, you're next.”

    “Ooh, but I do want to be next!” Latoshi said, playfully, jumping up and down, waving his hand in the air. “Please, pick me right now!” The man looked at him in disgust.

    “What's wrong with you? Are you screwed up in the head or something? I'm telling you I'm gonna blow your damn head off!”

    “Please,” the girl remarked, “don't get hurt because of me…”

    A cruel grin spread across the boy's lips. “Don't worry about it,” Latoshi replied to her, his irises turning black. “The only one getting hurt here … is him.”

    In an instant, Latoshi closed the gap between them, and grabbed the man by his neck. The man gagged and croaked, struggling in vain as Latoshi lifted him with one hand. He dropped his gun to claw at the boy's arm. The girl fell onto her seat, horrified by what she was witnessing.

    “Let— … let go!” the man choked out.

    “Sorry, I think you need to repay me,” Latoshi replied with a twisted grin.

    “Latoshi!” a voice shouted to him.

    Latoshi froze in place, his eyes widening in surprise. The voice was so very familiar. His heart raced as he slowly turned his gaze to find Antoshi standing nearby. The sable-haired boy smiled, his eyes crazed with excitement.

    “Well, this is an even better surprise,” Latoshi said. “If it isn't my brother! I thought you'd be too busy cowering somewhere.”

    “Latoshi, stop it! Let him go!”

    Latoshi turned his attention to the struggling man, sighing in defeat. “Okay, fine,” he replied, before suddenly snapping his neck. Both Antoshi and the girl shouted in horror.

    Latoshi smirked, tossing the man's lifeless body near the girl. She screamed, scrambling to her feet and running away.

    “You can thank me later!” Latoshi called out to her. He shook his head, turning his attention to Antoshi. “Can you believe the nerve of some people? So ungrateful.”

    Antoshi clenched his fists, trembling with anger. “Why do you have to do this? What good does killing people bring?”

    “… Well, 'hello' to you, too,” he replied, in jest. “I believe I already explained all of this to you before: people with evil hearts, cleanse them to rid the world of bad, yadda yadda, you got the gist of it the first time. So, what brings you to this neck of the woods? If you say it's to—”

    “I'm going to stop you, Latoshi,” Antoshi replied, bitterly.

    “I had a funny feeling you were going to say that. Yeah, that's not happening, Antoshi. It wasn't happening before, and it's certainly not happening now. You're making a very serious mistake showing your face to me again. I'm so much stronger than I was the last time we fought. You're lucky I spared you last time, so, get lost now, or you won't be that lucky again.”

    As the two boys stared each other down, a mysterious presence came to a stop at a nearby beach access pathway. It was a shorter figure, wearing a long, old-fashioned trench coat, wide-brim fedora, and sunglasses that gleamed in the light of a lamp post overhead. The unknown party watched the conflict between the boys, with great interest.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
  18. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 18


    While Fireball continued to look off in the direction that Antoshi had gone, Serenity unexpectedly appeared beside him.

    “Hello again, Fireball,” she said, warmly.

    Fireball jumped in surprise, looking at her in disbelief. 'Whoa,' he thought, 'where the heck did she come from?'

    Serenity gazed off into the distance. “Looks like the two of them are getting ready to square off again. It's hard to see anything from here, though. Would you like to move somewhere else to watch?” Fireball nodded with enthusiasm. Serenity smiled and held out a hand to him. “In that case, grab on.”

    Fireball hesitantly placed a claw in her hand. She took hold of him, and the two slowly ascended together. The larger Typhlosion flailed momentarily in a panic while she guided him through the air.

    'She can fly too?!' he thought. Serenity brought him up to the roof of a nearby building. They were in a direct line of sight of where the two boys faced off.

    “I think is much better, don't you?” she asked. Fireball nodded to her, his eyes wide with surprise. She gently laughed in response.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “So,” Latoshi continued, “I can see you're not here to take me up on the offer I left you. You're not going to score any bonus points trying to look tough in front of me or your Typhlosion pet. Where is he, anyway? Trying to get the jump on me or something? … Come on out, Fireball!” Latoshi looked around with a smirk.

    “He's not here,” Antoshi replied, bringing Latoshi's focus back to him. “I'm giving you the chance to make peace. Latoshi, I promise that I'll accept you as my brother, as long as you agree to stop this insanity.”

    Latoshi was thoroughly surprised. “Wait, you'd … actually do that?”

    ‘I wonder what it would've been like,’ Latoshi suddenly recalled his thoughts from over a week ago, ‘if I … had actually gotten to know Antoshi instead of fighting him. Maybe the two of us could be talking about Pokémon stuff right now. That would be pretty normal. Kind of like … a family.’

    Latoshi looked away. ‘What was that? Is Antoshi messing with my head with some new power? Or was that a m— a memory? …’ The sable-haired boy shook it off, turning to his rival with a bitter glare.

    “Tell me, Latoshi, what are we fighting for? We've got to end this war!”

    Latoshi scoffed. “Don't start thinking that sentimental crap will work. It might work on your pet, but, not on me.”

    “I already know about Lazarus,” Antoshi said. Latoshi tilted his head curiously. “I know that Lazarus is controlling you. He's manipulating you. This isn't who you really are. Fight against it, Latoshi! Listen to me, and get Lazarus' influence out of your head!”

    “Oh, man, whoa!” Latoshi replied, sarcastically, pretending to stumble around. “You—you got me, Antoshi! I—I can feel myself coming back to normal! You saved me! Oh, you saved me!” Latoshi made a bursting motion with his hands next to his head, and an exploding noise with his mouth. Antoshi scowled, unimpressed, while Latoshi laughed at him. “Gee, you sure have everything neatly figured out, huh?” he asked, amused. “But, there you go, again, trying to be the moral authority, thinking you know what's best for me. What kind of epiphany did you have to figure me out so perfectly?”

    “I have a new ally now. She told me all about Lazarus and who—err, what it is.”

    Latoshi scoffed. “Some girl? You're following the words of someone you don't even know? Someone you can't even trust?”

    “You mean like you and Lazarus?” Antoshi shot back.

    Latoshi was surprised at first that Antoshi would reply so impertinently. He narrowed his eyes, coldly. “You dare speak down about Lazarus? If not for him, I would still be locked up in that damn prison cell! He's done a hell of a lot more for me than you have, Mr. High and Mighty! Lazarus taught me everything I needed to know to earn my freedom — and, here I stand now, on the cusp of greatness.”

    “You don't look all that great,” Antoshi replied, “especially not with some voice telling you what to do, rather than thinking for yourself.”

    “Shut your mouth!” Latoshi shouted, vengefully, his irises flashing black. “I will kill you where you stand, Antoshi! Don't test me!”

    “You couldn't go through with it last time, Latoshi. You had too much remorse, and you spared me. What I've been saying all along is getting through to you, so, I know you won't do it this time, either.”

    Latoshi narrowed his eyes in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about? I didn't have remorse for you. I left you with one last chance to think things over and join me. Looks like you blew it.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Something is wrong,” Serenity said, shaking her head. “I witnessed their fight. Latoshi showed genuine concern in the moment just before he was about to kill Antoshi. He most certainly would've remembered that, and yet he doesn't. That means Lazarus is suppressing his memories.”

    Fireball looked at her with shock. 'Suppressing his memories? It can do that? Man, Serenity really does know a lot about Lazarus. … But, how the heck can she even hear what they're saying from all the way up here?'

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “I know you want to end this, Latoshi,” Antoshi said, “and I still want to help you. Helping you regain your memories and finding your family — I'm still willing to do that. I know it's what you want, too.”

    Latoshi furrowed his brow and looked away. ‘What is he talking about? Help me find my family? Why don't I remember him saying that? …’

    'Antoshi is just trying to distract you!' Lazarus shouted, startling the boy. 'Do not take your eyes off of him! He has your guard lowered and will go on the attack!'

    Latoshi panicked, taking a battle stance as his aura flared to life. He fired a blast of energy at Antoshi, in response to Lazarus' presumption. The blond-haired boy swiftly avoided it with a tall leap. The subsequent explosion caused a crater in the sand.

    Antoshi landed on his feet. He looked back at the aftermath before looking at Latoshi, taken aback. The sable-haired boy was still unnerved for a moment; staring, wild-eyed, at his adversary. He exhaled slowly, stood up straight, quickly regaining his cool.

    “Nice try,” Latoshi said, uttering a soft chuckle. “I see what you're doing, and it's not going to work.”

    “The only thing I'm trying to do is avoid another fight,” Antoshi replied. “I'm still willing to find a peaceful resolution, just like before. I don't want to fight you, Latoshi. I never wanted to fight you.”

    “And, just as I made it clear last time, you're not going to change my mind — no matter what you say.”

    Antoshi hung his head and sighed, before giving a nod of understanding.

    “At least tell me … why? Why would you would be so cold as to kill all those people?”

    “As if their pathetic lives even mattered. I'm ascending to godhood where I belong. They're just insects that have to be crushed along the way.”

    “Insects?! You killed hundreds of people, Latoshi! Innocent people who had nothing to do with you or your 'ascension'.”

    “'Innocent?' Well, that's just silly. They were all parasites and criminals. But, there you go again, trying to fill my head with lies that—”

    “I'm not lying to you, I—”

    With lies that only serve to impede my glory. I see past you, Antoshi. My eyes are open. My path is clear. The only voice I listen to is that of Lazarus.”

    “It all comes back to Lazarus again, huh? You just believe what he says without question.”

    “I do.”

    “You think that Lazarus isn't taking advantage of you? You think that Lazarus isn't leading you astray?”

    “Of course. Lazarus doesn't lie — certainly not to me.”

    Antoshi scoffed in disbelief. “It's incredible how blind you are. The truth is right in front of you and you can't even see it. You refuse to see it.”

    “I don't care what your version of the 'truth' is, Antoshi.”

    “I don't know what's happened to you, Latoshi, … but I know this is where your campaign ends. You have no remorse for anything you've said or anything you've done. Consider this an intervention. I'm going to stop you from walking down this path.” Latoshi laughed, hysterically.

    “That was a good one. Still, think about this for a minute, Antoshi. Just consider what it is you're trying to stop.” Antoshi tilted his head, eying him warily. “I'm offering a world free of violence and evil, where no one preys on the weak. Peace and harmony for everyone. You're the one standing in the way of this just cause. Yet, you refuse to back down and then call me the 'blind' one?”

    “Like you said, we already had this conversation before,” Antoshi replied. “This isn't the way to go about your ideals. There are so many better options that don't involve senseless killing. You could use your powers to do so much good for people. That is something I would gladly work with you on.”

    Latoshi scoffed again. “Do you really think all those horrible people are worth saving?”

    “Yes. I do.”

    “What a shame. Still as naive as you were before. People never change, Antoshi — you're proof of that. Your idea is a waste of time.”

    “Then that's where we disagree,” Antoshi said. He limbered up his legs, taking a battle stance, keeping one fist in front, the other fist at his side. “This time around, I'm not afraid to stake my life on stopping you. I'm also not afraid to end you.”

    End me?” Latoshi replied with a laugh. “You're trying to be threatening now? You really don't scare anyone, Antoshi — certainly not me. You're too much of a bleeding heart; a boy scout. You care too much, you cry too much. You don't have what it takes to get rid of me. You look like a harmless child in your little fighting pose there. Oh, and, need I remind you? The last time we fought, I left you in a pool of your own blood. You can't beat me, Antoshi. You never will.”

    “Shut it,” Antoshi snapped. Latoshi grinned in amusement.

    The two boys flared their auras out — an initial display of their power. Neither one was impressed or intimidated by what they saw from their opponent. The boys had naught but the pale light of the full moon to illuminate the dark beach. It was more than enough light, as both of them were fully capable of sensing each other's energy. The staredown between them lasted for a few moments, witnessed intently by Fireball and Serenity on the rooftop, as well as the mysterious, trench coat-clad person.

    “You have no idea what you're getting yourself into, Antoshi. You have no idea how powerful I really am.”

    “The same goes for you, Latoshi. You have gotten stronger, Latoshi — I can tell. But, so have I.”

    Latoshi swiftly flew at his rival. Antoshi shielded himself with his arms crossed over his face, while Latoshi punched at him, laughing wildly. Their eyes shone brightly with their respective colors. Antoshi grunted as he was pushed back with each hit. The scenario was not unlike how Antoshi trained his defense with Fireball

    ‘His strikes are so intense,’ Antoshi thought, ‘even after all that training Fireball and I did. I have to do my best to keep away from him, if I want to gain the upper hand.’

    Latoshi suddenly darted behind him, catching him off-guard. Latoshi kicked his counterpart's back with intense force, sending Antoshi diving into the sand, a short distance away.

    “Well, that was disappointing,” Latoshi remarked, standing tall. “I thought you were supposed to be 'stronger' now.”

    Antoshi climbed back to his feet, slowly. He took a moment to brush the sand off his clothes. He recomposed himself, looking at his foe with a confident smile. He wanted to make it clear to Latoshi that this fight was only just getting started.

    “I sure hope you weren't holding back just now,” he said, “because that wasn't very impressive.”

    Latoshi was befuddled. ‘That hit had enough force that would've instantly ended our last fight,’ he thought. ‘I guess he has gotten a bit tougher.’

    'Do not dwell on it,' Lazarus said, 'and do not let up! Keep the pressure on him — now!'

    Latoshi gave a shout, going on the offensive once again. Antoshi's eyes glowed brighter, opting not to defend, but to evade. He continuously hopped backward, weaving back and forth to keep just out of reach of Latoshi's swift, powerful punches. Latoshi clenched his teeth, snarling furiously, as he put more effort in his attempts to land a single blow.

    Antoshi's eyes remained wide, carefully studying Latoshi's attack pattern. ‘Watch him,’ he thought. ‘Focus, stay calm, watch his movements. That's how you'll beat him.’

    ‘What the hell?!’ Latoshi thought. ‘Why can't I hit him?! There's no way he should be able to keep up with me after all that insane training I went through!’

    Latoshi held his hands out in front of him, summoning his energy forth. He aimed for a moment, before firing a blast of energy. Antoshi gave a shout, launching his own energy blast to cancel it out. The colliding red and black energies exploded, creating a brief cloud of smoke. Using said smoke as a diversion, Latoshi managed to dart behind his rival.

    “Remember this one?!” Latoshi shouted. He threw a punch into the small of Antoshi's back. His fist, unexpectedly, went through nothing more than a blurred image of Antoshi's body, making no contact. Latoshi was stunned.

    'Behind you!' Lazarus shouted.

    Before Latoshi could react, Antoshi countered with a strike of his own to Latoshi's spine. The sable-haired boy groaned in pain, hunched over while holding his back.

    “Yeah, I do remember,” Antoshi replied, acrimoniously.

    Latoshi seethed in rage. He grabbed handfuls of sand before slamming a fist into the ground. He was being made a fool of, even after the gains to his power and skill. “Damn it!” he shouted. Latoshi leapt back to his feet, turning to Antoshi with a bitter scowl.

    “This isn't some game, Latoshi,” Antoshi said, “and I am not your pawn.”

    Latoshi spat on the ground. “You're never going to convince me to back down and see things your way. This whole stupid, naive ideal you have of 'everyone deserves to live' makes me want to retch. You have no idea who I am, or what I'm capable of!”

    Latoshi took aim at his foe with open palms once again. He shouted, angrily, firing off a multitude of energy blasts, forcing Antoshi to leap high to evade. The explosions kicked up sand dangerously close to the mysterious onlooker, who gasped and turned away, shielding their face with both arms.

    When the sand settled, the onlooker, Latoshi, Serenity, and Fireball all gawked at Antoshi. Instead of landing, the boy remained stationary in the air. He glared down at Latoshi, his red aura flickering wildly.

    'Antoshi is … flying?' Fireball thought, awe-struck and grinning. 'He hasn't done that since he saved me from Team Rocket. … Awesome! I finally get to see him flying!'

    “So you can fly,” Latoshi remarked, ascending slowly into the air to match Antoshi's altitude. “But, are you as swift in the air as you are on your feet?”

    “Why don't you find out?”

    Latoshi sneered for a brief moment, before seemingly disappearing. Antoshi's eyes narrowed, glowing bright, following Latoshi's movements as he moved so fast, it was as if he blinked around through the air. Latoshi laughed, his voice coming from all directions.

    Antoshi's gaze snapped upward, throwing a jab that connected with Latoshi's own punch. They were both surprised, finding their fists in a deadlock. The two boys threw rapid-fire punches at each other, connecting one after the other with near-perfect precision. Fists striking fists, they both gave a long cry as their auras flared out and their strikes became more intense. The shock waves from their attacks caused the sand below them to kick up.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “Do you see that?” Serenity said to Fireball. “Their skills become more obvious the longer this goes on. Latoshi has been struggling to land a blow, but, when he does, the impact is much more intense than when Antoshi strikes. That means Antoshi is faster, but Latoshi is stronger. Speed versus power — it's an interesting dynamic. Both of them came prepared, and I think their unique skills put them on equal footing. This is going to be much harder to call than their previous fight.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi's spirit burned with vengeance. His attacks became much faster, managing to slip a punch through every so often that struck his rival's face and chest. Unlike before, Antoshi was now aware of how to weave his Ki into his strikes — thanks, in part, to Latoshi's previous gloating over his own ability to do so. It caused Antoshi's strikes to have immense impact as compared to before. The burning Ki seared at Latoshi's flesh, tearing away at the very essence of his black Ki, gradually wearing the sable-haired boy down in a way that Antoshi could not do in their previous showdown.

    Latoshi roared, incensed, suddenly grabbing Antoshi's fists. Antoshi was stunned, taken aback by the overwhelming grip strength keeping him in place. As they struggled for control, their shimmering eyes glared at each other. Their respective red and black auras clashed with each other; vying for dominance, while sending flares of colored energy outward.

    Latoshi pulled him closer, suddenly ramming a knee into Antoshi's stomach. The blond-haired boy's eyes went wide, groaning as the wind was knocked out of him. Latoshi laughed, releasing him, kicking his adversary's chest hard enough to send him plummeting toward the ground with a large impact.

    Antoshi coughed as he sat up. He held his abdomen, staring up at Latoshi, who hovered high above him with a proud smirk on his face.

    ‘Okay, so, testing his strength was definitely a bad idea,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I really do have to avoid his grabs and strikes as much as I can.’

    In an instant, Antoshi was airborne once again. He weaved around in random patterns around Latoshi, using his superior speed to misdirect the sable-haired boy, and find openings to strike at his unguarded areas. Latoshi struggled to block or deflect. The scene was similar to their first fight, only in midair.

    ‘He's like an annoying gnat!’ Latoshi thought, before he also opted to fly around in a likewise pattern. The two boys clashed each time they got close, trading quick jabs and blocks. To the spectators, their auras appeared as red and black streaks darting around in the night sky.

    'Enough fooling around!' Lazarus spoke. 'Use the upper limits of your strength and put this fight to an end!'

    “He's not worth that much effort!” Latoshi replied. Antoshi narrowed his eyes, realizing his rival was conversing with Lazarus.

    'Do not be a stupid child!' Lazarus snapped, surprising the boy. 'I am your master, and you will follow my orders! Is that clear?!'

    Latoshi's concentration was broken upon suddenly remembering the first time Lazarus yelled at him. ‘This is my life!’ he recalled himself saying. ‘You aren't going to tell me what to do forever! I'm the one with limitless, ultimate power — remember?’ Latoshi stared blankly, bewildered by a memory he was unfamiliar with.

    'Pay attention, you buffoon!' Lazarus shouted at him.

    Latoshi gasped, shielding himself with one arm, just before an energy blast collided with him. The subsequent explosion pushed him back, slightly. He growled in frustration, glancing at the noticeable burn mark left on his arm. He turned a cutting glare to Antoshi, before flying into him. The two began another deadlock of punches and kicks, using their superhuman speed to avoid the other's strikes.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    “For someone who's been opposed to fighting,” Serenity remarked, “Antoshi certainly has a natural talent for it. They both do.”

    Just then, she noticed a couple of young people strolling across the beach together with a Pokémon. They were unknowingly headed in the direction of the fight. Her gaze suddenly shifted to the other side of the beach, where another small group of kids were also making their way in the same direction.

    “That's not good,” Serenity remarked. “Antoshi must have told you to stay behind, didn't he?” Fireball nodded in response. “Well, it seems there are some innocent bystanders down there.” Fireball looked along the beach in shock. “This stretch of the beach is supposed to be closed to the public after sunset. I guess they didn't get the memo, … or, they don't care. They're going to be hurt, or worse, if they get too close. But, I think there is a way you and I can help Antoshi during his fight. …”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Antoshi and Latoshi struggled for dominance once again. Their hands were clasped together in another test of strength. They scowled at each other, trying to push each other back. Their auras burned against each other, sending off more flares of energy. However, Antoshi found himself once again on the losing end of the duel.

    ‘I should really stop getting lured into these situations,’ he thought. He gave a long shout, amplifying his aura severalfold, and increasing the output of his Ki to the point where they remained deadlocked. His eyes abruptly widened in surprise, sensing something peculiar. ‘Fireball?’ he thought. ‘Serenity, too? Why are they both getting closer? And why can I sense them getting closer? … No, it's not just them. There are … some other people around. People visiting the beach. I can't even see them, but I know they're there. That's crazy. I'm totally aware of everything around us, while still focusing on the fight.’ Antoshi strained with effort as Latoshi clamped down on his hands. ‘Serenity … and … Fireball are trying to get those people away from here. I have to help them. I need to bring Latoshi someplace where innocent bystanders aren't going to see us, or get hurt.’

    Antoshi gave another shout, conjuring dual blasts of energy to his palms. Latoshi looked on helplessly as the boy's red Ki shined bright between their hands. He cried out in pain; the resulting explosion burned his palms. Antoshi used the brief distraction to quickly fly away, over the open waters.

    'Stop getting outclassed!' Lazarus shouted. 'You are letting him make a fool of you! Now, go after him!'

    Latoshi gave another frustrated shout, taking off after his counterpart.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Serenity, having landed out of sight, walked up to the pair of young people and their Pachirisu. “I'm sorry, folks,” she said, in an authoritative tone, “I'm afraid you're going to have to go back the way you came.”

    “What?” the young man asked. “Why?”

    “Yeah, this beach is public property,” the young woman added, flippantly. The Pachirisu on her shoulder complained, loudly.

    “We're fully aware of that, but, unfortunately, a large toxic spill was just found on this beach. It's been shut down by order of the Goldenrod City police.” The young woman was shocked.

    The young man, however, found her claims suspicious. “I don't see anyone else here,” he said.

    “That's because we've cleared the beach of any civilians,” Serenity replied. “Cleanup crews are on the way.” Serenity shooed the two away, insistently. “This area is extremely dangerous right now. For your own safety, you must leave immediately. Failure to comply will result in your arrest.”

    The two muttered to each other, while Serenity stood tall with her hands folded behind her back.

    “All right, fine,” the young man said, before they turned around to leave. The Pachirisu turned to Serenity and stuck its tongue out. Serenity chuckled, quietly, before looking to the ocean where the two boys were.

    ‘Well, this area is extremely dangerous right now,’ she thought. ‘That much is true.’ She noticed, and turned her attention to, the mysterious onlooker in the trench coat. “Hey, you!” she called out, startling the person. “This beach has been shut down by order of the Goldenrod police! Please leave right away!” The person turned away in a panic, shuffling away.

    Serenity turned to leave as well, but stopped, suddenly. She looked at the stranger with an inquisitive expression. She glanced down at her palms, rubbing them together to remove some moisture. She hummed, thoughtfully, before jogging down the beach.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    On the other side of the beach, Fireball ran out on all fours to greet the group of incoming young kids.

    “Whoa, it's a Typhlosion!” one of them said. The others fawned over the rare sight.

    Fireball, however, glared at them, menacingly. He slowly advanced toward them, growling loudly, baring his teeth, and igniting the fires on his back.

    “It doesn't look too friendly,” another kid remarked, nervously. Fireball stood up on his hind legs, boasting his exceptional height. He took a deep breath, and exhaled a powerful stream of fire onto the sand in front of them.

    “Run away!” one of the others said. The kids screamed and ran away as quickly as they could, leaving Fireball to roar at them from afar.

    Once they were far enough away, he sighed in relief. 'I hate to do that to those kids, but I don't want them to get hurt. I know Antoshi doesn't want that, either.'

    Serenity met up with Fireball. They nodded to each other before they headed further inland, away from the fight.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi let out a long yell as he closed the distance between himself and his foe. Antoshi turned around, just before his rival struck him. Latoshi ended up going through another after-image, his fist striking nothing but the light of the moon before him. He stopped, shocked that he'd been outmaneuvered once again. Antoshi suddenly flew at him from above, delivering a powerful heel kick to the back of Latoshi's head. The sable-haired boy shouted, briefly, sent deep into the water with an enormous splash.

    Seeming to have a moment's respite, Antoshi sighed, looking out to the shore. ‘I can't sense those people anymore. That's good. Fireball and Serenity must've gotten them to safety.’

    In the dark, under the water's rippling surface, Latoshi was fuming with rage. His facial muscles twitched, scowling, while a school of Remoraid calmly swam by him.

    ‘I won't be made a fool of like this,’ he thought. ‘I'm going to make him suffer before I kill him!’

    He turned his attention upward, able to make out Antoshi's image hovering in the air. He took careful aim, holding both hands out, firing off another barrage of multiple energy blasts that swiftly tore through the water. Antoshi was taken by surprise, shielding himself with both arms, the blasts colliding with his aura and exploding.

    Latoshi capitalized on the distraction, appearing before Antoshi with a cruel smirk. He spun around, striking at Antoshi with the back of his elbow. Antoshi barely managed to block the attack with his hands, but was still sent soaring a short distance away from the intense blow.

    Latoshi quickly sped after him, breaking waves on the surface of the water with his momentum. Antoshi came to stop, facing his advancing foe. Latoshi threw a volley of rapid punches at him, each of which were swiftly evaded or deflected. Antoshi suddenly grabbed Latoshi's arm, turning around and throwing him over his shoulder with a loud shout, sending him back toward the shore.

    Latoshi spiraled through the air for some time, finally regaining control by the time he was over land. He hunched over as he hit the sand, his hand raking through it, sliding to a halt. He stared down his counterpart with contempt. Antoshi flew back to the shore, landed, and stood before him.

    The bitter scowl on Latoshi's face abruptly softened into amusement. He placed a hand on his forehead and started laughing, hysterically. Antoshi remained unfazed, keeping a stern, serious expression. He wasn't going to fall into some kind of distraction by Latoshi.

    “You think you have the upper hand now, huh?” Latoshi asked, amused. “Don't bother answering — it was a rhetorical question. It was rhetorical because I'm about to show you exactly why you're wrong.”

    Latoshi threw his arms out to the side, grinning smugly, summoning forth a larger volume of energy from his deep well of Ki. Antoshi took a defensive stance, while Latoshi's aura flared out intensely. Latoshi let out a loud shout, creating countless energy orbs that hovered around him — the same attack he'd practiced. Antoshi's eyes widened in disbelief. The onlookers were equally stunned as him.

    “While you were off doing your own so-called 'training',” Latoshi said, “I was pushing myself beyond your comprehension. This is a little attack I created myself. I call it 'Shooting Stars'. Make a wish!”

    Latoshi swiftly clapped his hands together. In response, the masses of energy were sent careening toward Antoshi at blistering speed. Antoshi gasped, his eyes going wide. The internal engine that was his spirit revved up with blazing energy, causing his irises to burn red-hot, pushing his abilities further. Rather than fleeing or defending, he instead charged directly into the swarm of Ki. He instantaneously stepped, hopped, and pivoted around the blasts as they darted past him. The boy's body blurred in and out of the oncoming field of black orbs, managing to evade every one of them.

    Latoshi was left in shock by Antoshi's incredible speed and dexterity. His shock, however, quickly turned to anger.

    ‘This can't be!’ Latoshi thought. ‘There's no way he's gotten this good!’ As Antoshi continued to maneuver around the energy, Latoshi clenched his shaking fists. ‘I won't let you, Antoshi. … I won't let you win!!’

    Latoshi shouted in rage, firing a much larger blast into Antoshi's path. Antoshi gasped, unable to react in time. The attack exploded in his face, violently, sending him flying backward into the sand. The previous attacks he'd dodged erupted along the beach, kicking up sand in all directions. Countless small craters were left in their wake.

    Antoshi cried out in pain, his hands cupped over his eyes. He got back to his feet slowly, his hands falling away to reveal burns around his tightly shut eyes. He groaned weakly, straining to open them.

    “Aw, what's the matter, Antoshi? Can't see anything?” Latoshi asked, in a patronizing tone. “Well then, this just got a whole lot more interesting.” Antoshi clenched his teeth, trembling in pain while taking a defensive stance.

    Having gotten close enough to see the fight more clearly, Fireball cried out in horror at the turn of events. Serenity remained stoic, carefully watching every detail of the encounter. The trench coat-clad spectator had returned, in the same spot as before, to continue watching the fight unfold.

    Latoshi, meanwhile, laughed at his foe's misfortune. Oozing arrogance as usual, he raced toward Antoshi. Though unable to see, Antoshi still sensed Latoshi's energy nearing. He attempted to block, but his body was suddenly racked by the blunt pain of Latoshi ramming a knee into his gut.

    As Antoshi hunched over, straining to breathe, Latoshi clasped his hands together and raised them high. He slammed his fists down, across the back of Antoshi's head, viciously driving his opponent to the ground. The blond-haired boy shouted in pain. In an instant, Latoshi punted him like a ball across the beach. His body violently rolled around in the sand, ending face-up. Latoshi kept up the pace, hovering over Antoshi and delivering hundreds of punches to his rival in a matter of seconds. Latoshi laughed wildly, Antoshi's body being thrashed around from the ferocity of his assault.

    Fireball swallowed a lump in his throat, his claws anxiously fidgeting. He wasn't sure if this was the end, but seeing his friend being brutalized still terrified him, regardless.

    Antoshi groaned, weakly, once the barrage was finished. Latoshi, however, left one last statement in the form of a hard knee to his stomach once again. Antoshi croaked loudly, coughing up blood.

    Latoshi hovered himself back up to a vertical base, proudly looking over his handiwork. “Now, everything is as it should be,” he remarked, smirking cruelly. Antoshi coughed weakly, holding his midsection with both arms. “Antoshi, I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to see you as pathetic as you are now! I knew you were no match for me — I just needed to find that one opening. Now, here you are, at my feet and at my mercy, yet again.”

    'End him this time,' Lazarus instructed, sternly. 'Do not let him rise from the ashes once more!'

    Latoshi smirked as he held a hand out, summoning forth a large amount of Ki into his palm. It was enough energy to make his arm tremble at the sheer power he was holding. “Don't worry, Antoshi,” Latoshi said coldly, “I'll put you out of your misery quickly. That's just how benevolent I am.”

    Antoshi trembled and clenched his teeth. ‘Damn it, not again,’ he thought. ‘I have to fight back, but … in my condition, he can just put me down if I even try to move. I can't run; I can't defend myself. He has the advantage. I'm not sure what moves I have left here. It's over for me…’

    Fireball suddenly raced toward them. "Antoshi!" he called out. Serenity continued to remain behind, watching from afar.

    Latoshi turned to the Typhlosion, scowling. “So, your little pet did come with you.”

    Antoshi panicked, uncertain of which way Fireball was coming from. “Fireball, no!” he exclaimed, in a raspy tone. “Get away from here, now!”

    Latoshi shifted the aim of his palm from Antoshi to Fireball. “A little target practice, huh? Why not.”

    The Typhlosion gasped in shock, just before Latoshi fired a blast of energy at him. The resulting, large explosion sent Fireball soaring backward — right into the arms of Serenity, who caught him just before he hit the ground. As with Antoshi, Fireball's weight was like nothing to her.

    She laid him down, letting his head rest on her lap. Fireball's body was littered with injuries, groaning in pain, just as Antoshi was. Latoshi narrowed his eyes in confusion, left to wonder who the girl was. He correctly assumed that she was the girl that informed Antoshi about Lazarus, but, he had no idea how she could know, or anything else about her.

    “Just stay put, Fireball,” Serenity spoke, gently. “I can heal you like before.” Her irises and hands glowed with the pink hue of her aura. She started to treat Fireball's wounds, simply by resting her hands on his chest.

    "Antoshi is … going to die!" Fireball said, his eyes welling with tears. "Please — you have to save him! I know you can!"

    Serenity offered him no response, only watching the scene unfold with the same, seemingly detached demeanor.

    “It's okay, Antoshi,” Latoshi said, turning his attention back to him, “you're just a failure. You did a lot better this time, but, once again, you're nowhere near as good as I am. Don't worry, though. Once you're dead, I'll make good on my promise and kill everyone you know so that they don't have to grieve over you.”

    Antoshi gasped in a mix of horror and rage. The engine, which had been stalled out from Latoshi's assault, began to sputter back to life, and shift into overdrive. His blood felt like like it was boiling, his body surging with power. A sudden, massive rush of Ki swelled to life within him. The resulting wave of pressure was enough to cause Latoshi to stumble backward. The sable-haired boy grunted, shielding his eyes with one arm, as he looked on in bewilderment.

    Antoshi was actually rising to his feet.

    “Latoshi, …” he said, his voice trembling, clenching his fists tight, “You're not … going to have your way again!” His vengeful cry was accompanied by another wave of spirit pressure that pushed Latoshi back even further. Latoshi snarled in frustration, struggling to keep his footing. “I'm not going to let this go on any longer! I won't let you hurt anyone else — especially not my family!!” His red aura exploded in a wild frenzy that was beyond anything the others had witnessed from either of the two. All of the muscles in his body tensed, visibly bulging around his lean frame.

    "Whoa!" Fireball exclaimed, shielding his eyes. ‘Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit,’ he recalled Serenity explain to them. ‘Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit and can, therefore, make the strength of your spirit energy explode in a pinch — like gasoline on a fire.’

    Antoshi's aura whirled and surged brightly far outside his body. His bitter, glaring eyes glowed intensely as he slowly opened them. Latoshi looked on in disbelief. Antoshi had regained his eyesight. It was as if every bit of damage he'd done to Antoshi had been undone.

    “What's happening?!” Latoshi shouted. ‘This—this pressure! It's unreal! How … when did he gain all this power?!’

    'I don't remember Antoshi ever being this strong!' Fireball exclaimed, in thought.

    “Finally,” Serenity remarked with a smile, “he's discovering how to tap into the energy of his emotions.”

    Latoshi turned his gaze to Fireball and Serenity. With a devious grin, he held out an open hand toward them. Antoshi's eyes went wide in shock.

    “So much for all that power you have,” he exclaimed, firing a large blast of energy. “I can just exploit your weaknesses instead!”

    As the attack neared, Serenity calmly closed her eyes, while Fireball panicked and shielded himself.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2019
  19. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    Chapter 19


    Just as the blast was about to hit them, Antoshi appeared to intercept it. He swatted the dark energy away, sending it flying off and exploding harmlessly in the air. Serenity was pleasantly surprised at his speed. Fireball slowly opened his eyes, curious as to what happened. He gasped in shock, seeing his friend standing tall before them.

    Latoshi was fuming with rage. ‘He seriously closed the gap between him and his friends before my shot hit them!?’

    “My friends are not a weakness, Latoshi!” Antoshi said. “They're my strength!”

    Latoshi huffed, incensed by the remark. “Oh, you sound like such a walking cliche, you little boy scout!” His eyes widened as Antoshi marched toward him, calmly. The sheer amount of pressure Antoshi's energy was giving off, and the sense of righteous fury that came with it, was overwhelming. It was a level of power he simply could not match. Latoshi's spirit was already beaten back.

    “You threatened my life,” Antoshi said, his voice returned to normal and filled with confidence, “the lives of my friends and those of my family. You tried to kill Fireball. You tried to kill me. Now, you're going to have to face the consequences.”

    Trembling, Latoshi scoffed in amusement. “Consequences?” he replied. “I'd love to see what kind of c—!” Before he could even finish, Antoshi shot toward him and punched his cheek. At the point of impact, however, a tiny ember of Latoshi's black aura curiously manifested itself inside Antoshi's aura.

    "Wow," Fireball remarked, awe-struck. "Antoshi's fast." Serenity's brow flexed slightly, showing a minute amount of concern.

    Antoshi yelled in rage as he gave Latoshi the same barrage of punches as he'd received earlier — multiplied tenfold. Thousands of punches rattled the sable-haired boy around like a rag doll.

    ‘What the hell is happening?’ Latoshi thought, fading in and out of consciousness. ‘He shouldn't … be … this strong!’

    Antoshi struck Latoshi hard enough to spike him into the ground. Latoshi shouted in agony, as an eruption of sand billowed up around him, leaving him in a crater. The crater was further exacerbated when Antoshi flew into the air and fired off a hail of energy blasts at him.

    ‘This pain,’ Latoshi thought, the energy burning at his flesh, tearing at his clothes, ‘how could I be in so much pain? …’

    Antoshi's offensive came to a sudden halt. He landed on his feet, catching his breath for a moment. Having gotten to their feet again, Fireball and Serenity surveyed the aftermath. Fireball's previous wounds had been completely healed.

    'Is … he dead?' Fireball wondered, concerned.

    Latoshi coughed, weakly propping himself up with his forearms. Antoshi walked up to him, reached down, and grabbed him by the throat. The sable-haired boy struggled and choked, kicking and swinging at him. A few hits landed, but they were in vain. Firmly on a whole new level of power, Latoshi's strikes no longer did any damage to him. Antoshi gave him a deathly serious glare.

    “You were right, Latoshi,” he said. “It really is nice to see your enemy in such a pathetic state. Now, I get to end your corrupt ways for good.” Latoshi spat at him. Antoshi responded by punching him in the face hard enough to send him a short distance away. He marched after him to continue his offense.

    Fireball looked on, incredulous. 'I can't believe it,' he thought. 'Antoshi, my best friend. All this time you've had this inside of you. This power, this skill, … this rage. I've never seen you like this before…'

    ‘This is Lazarus' doing,’ Serenity thought, biting her lip. ‘Its evil influence is starting to corrupt Antoshi as well. I can only pray Antoshi realizes that before it's too late.’

    Latoshi grunted in frustration, shaking, trying to will himself to get up once more. As he looked at Antoshi stalking him again, he abruptly recalled memories of the two of them and Fireball taking a stroll around Goldenrod City together.

    ‘What … the hell are these memories that keep popping up?’ he thought. ‘Are they from … before I was in that prison? No, … they're more recent than that. But, why do I know when they happened?’

    'You stupid child!' Lazarus shouted at him. 'Focus! Harness your anger! Unleash the rage that burns inside of you!'

    “I … I can't,” Latoshi whispered in response.

    'Worthless little weakling! I have to do everything for you!'

    As Antoshi neared, he charged up a blast of energy into the palm of his hand. Before he could strike, however, he was suddenly overcome by a wave of rotten, dark spirit pressure that stumbled him back — just like what he had done to Latoshi earlier. Antoshi and the others watched curiously as Latoshi got to his feet, hanging his head down. He stretched his arms out, rotating and cracking his joints as though he'd awaken from a long slumber. He inhaled deeply, tilting his head back to the sky, letting out a long, hissing exhale. The boy came off as unnaturally relaxed and spry for someone who'd just taken a violent beating.

    “Now I am the one in control,” Latoshi said. Lazarus' voice had audibly fused with the boy's. Their voices were combined as he chuckled, staring Antoshi down. His eyes were fully consumed by the dark energy of the parasitic spirit within him.

    “Just what is that supposed to mean?” Antoshi responded, flatly, with an apathetic expression.

    “I found it interesting that you would say you are going to finish me,” he said, calmly, “when you have not seen the extent of my power yet.”

    Antoshi and the others quickly picked up on Lazarus' method of speaking, and how it differed from Latoshi's. Yet, Antoshi trilled his lips, fully consumed in his own hubris. “I've seen the 'extent' of your power, and how you never shut up about how great you are. You won't beat me this time, Latoshi. I can still outwit you, no matter what you try.” Suddenly, Latoshi was in front of him, throwing a punch that ended up being just barely blocked by Antoshi's hands. The impact caused a brief, but noticeable, shock wave.

    Latoshi grinned at him, his eyelids hanging low. Antoshi grunted, holding Latoshi at bay, as the sable-haired boy continued to press his fist into him with great force. He was baffled by his adversary's sudden boost in speed.

    “It appears you were not expecting that,” Latoshi remarked. “Your body defended out of sheer instinct. So much for being able to outwit me.”

    Antoshi's hands glowed red as he summoned his energy to his hands again. Latoshi cooed in surprise, smirking, as he responded in kind. They fired their attacks simultaneously. Their dueling Ki exploded, leaving a cloud of smoke, staggering Antoshi back. Latoshi burst through the smoke, rearing a fist back. Antoshi went to counterattack, but stopped abruptly. His eyes went wide, sensing his opponent's energy elsewhere. He instead jumped high, avoiding a straight kick by Latoshi from behind. The initial image of Latoshi's body swiftly faded away.

    Although believing he was out of harm's way, Antoshi was suddenly caught by a punch to the cheek from above.

    ‘How?!’ Antoshi thought, mid-strike. ‘Out of nowhere, he's become faster than I can follow!’

    Antoshi impacted and rolled uncontrollably across the sand, his body getting covered in it. Latoshi flew after him, while Antoshi regained control of his momentum. He bounced up on his hands, springing high into the air, narrowly avoiding a hard punch from Latoshi. The sable-haired boy's strike hit the ground, the impact knocking up a burst of sand. Latoshi continued to follow him, while moving so fast it was as though he were disappearing and reappearing. The same, twisted grin remained omnipresent on the sable-haired boy's face.

    ‘He's not going to attack from the front,’ Antoshi thought, panting heavily, keeping his attention away from Latoshi's position. ‘He's using his speed again to—’ Much to Antoshi's shock, however, Latoshi did strike him from the front.

    While Antoshi was dazed and reeling, Latoshi grabbed the collar of his shirt. He spun Antoshi around, violently, before sending him crashing hard into the sand again. Latoshi kept on him, giving the blond-haired boy no quarter. He appeared before Antoshi, landing slow, yet powerful, punches to Antoshi's face. Each thunderous strike caused sand to billow in all directions. He cackled wildly, as Antoshi cried out in pain.

    “It does not look like you are outwitting me at the moment,” Latoshi remarked. “You seem to be too busy thinking over your strategy. Nevertheless, I have faith that you will come up with something good eventually!”

    ‘What's happened?’ Antoshi thought, his face being bloodied. ‘It's like his whole personality and his fighting style completely changed. I … can't read his movements the same as I did before!’

    ‘Lazarus has shown itself,’ Serenity thought, clenching a trembling fist. ‘It's managed to absorb enough energy to manifest itself, taking control of Latoshi's body. With its host's body, it's gained the upper hand against Antoshi. Latoshi wasn't strong enough before to allow Lazarus to possess him. Lazarus must have really pushed Latoshi to his limits in order to store up this much Ki in such a short amount of time.’

    Latoshi pulled Antoshi's exhausted body up, by his shirt collar once again. Antoshi grunted, weakly, scowling at his grinning adversary.

    “How sad,” he remarked. “You almost had me. You had all the tools and all the power to do it, but, you still could not finish the job when you had the chance — just like Latoshi. I will admit, your sudden bursts of power had me worried for a while. Regardless, it would appear I made the right choice when I chose Latoshi as my vessel.” He broke out into a cackling laugh. Antoshi strained, trying to wrap his head around what Latoshi just said. With a shout, Latoshi suddenly flung him into the air. “Now then, I think I shall use Latoshi's new trick to its full effectiveness. What was it called again? Ah, yes. Shooting Stars!”

    He shouted again, creating the same mass of Ki orbs from his aura. Laughing wildly, he took aim at Antoshi while bringing his hands forward. Diminished, and unable to dodge like before, Antoshi screamed as the orbs exploded violently on contact with him. The ones that didn't make direct contact ended up bursting around him, adding to the damage with powerful shock waves. His protective aura flickered, weakly, leaving him vulnerable to the attacks. The dark energy burned him and tore at his clothes, which quickly became tattered like Latoshi's. His adversary continued laughing, watching as Antoshi fell along the shoreline.

    "Antoshi, no!!" Fireball exclaimed. Latoshi turned his head, grinning proudly at Fireball. The Typhlosion bared his teeth, trembling, forcing himself to remain on the sidelines after what happened last time he tried to get involved.

    Latoshi's attention shifted to Serenity. A bitter expression suddenly came across his face, before he looked away.

    ‘Yes, I'm well aware that you remember me, Lazarus,’ Serenity thought.

    Antoshi strained, weakly lifting himself onto his hands and knees. His body was terribly bloodied. He coughed up some of the wet sand that was also stuck to his face.

    “Ah, so there is still some life in you,” Latoshi said. “Well, not for much longer. I think I shall stomp out those last, pesky, flickering embers now.” He leapt high, aiming at Antoshi's head with the heel of his shoe as he came back down. “Quite literally!” he added.

    Without looking, Antoshi suddenly caught his adversary's foot. Everyone else was left stunned. He looked up at Latoshi, glaring menacingly.

    “I may be down,” Antoshi said, his trembling hand glowing bright red, “but I sure as hell am not out!”

    Latoshi jerked his foot away in a panic, just before Antoshi fired off his Ki. The energy blast zipped past, within inches of his face, and spiraled harmlessly into the air.

    ‘What the hell?’ Lazarus thought. ‘That attack had undeniable vigor behind it. How? Why … can he not just give up and die?!’

    The two opponents ascended into the air again. They were nearing their limits; sweating profusely, breathing hard, their shirts torn and tattered. Yet, they fought on, going after each other with a barrage of kicks and punches that was shockingly reminiscent of earlier on.

    'This is crazy!' Fireball thought. 'The two of them are … going at it just like before! It's like they hit the 'reset' button on their fight!'

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At that moment, Latoshi awoke with a gasp, as though he'd been starved for air. He found himself floating in an endless void of darkness, helplessly drifting. His whole body felt paralyzed, unable to move.

    ‘Where am I?’ he thought. ‘My head feels like … there's a huge cloud around it. I can't think clearly. I can't … keep myself … awake. Am I dreaming? Am I … dead?’

    Before him, he stared at the images of the ongoing fight with Antoshi through his own eyes, as if they were television screens in the distance. They were the same eyes that were currently under Lazarus' control.

    ‘I'm … fighting? I can feel my arms and legs burning — my Ki is surging! But, … I'm just here in the middle of nowhere. What is going on? Who is … controlling my body?’ He thought it over for a moment, blankly staring at the fight. ‘La— … zarus? Is … Lazarus controlling me? How can that be?’ Latoshi's consciousness began to stir. ‘No. I don't want … to be controlled. Lazarus can't control me. Give me back my body, Lazarus. Give back my body!’

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi's body abruptly seized up. He grunted with effort, struggling to move. ‘Damn!’ Lazarus thought. ‘The boy is starting to regain consciousness. I have burned through too much of this child's energy already! I cannot hope to fight and keep Latoshi's spirit restrained at the same time! I'm not ready to go back yet! Damn it all!!’

    Antoshi studied him, curiously, for a moment before taking advantage. He struck the restrained Latoshi with a hard shot to the face, propelling him backward. Latoshi continued to struggle, while falling rapidly.

    “I am not done with you!” Latoshi screamed.

    “Oh, you're done, all right!” Antoshi replied, following him to the ground.

    Latoshi found enough strength in time to land on his feet. He gasped, suddenly finding himself face-to-face with his opponent. Antoshi immediately laid into him with another blistering barrage of punches to his head, arms, and torso. Latoshi was thrashed around helplessly from the relentless assault, blood gushing from his mouth.

    Despite the beating, Latoshi grinned, weakly. ‘Very well, then,’ Lazarus thought. ‘If that is the case, then my protégé can endure this pain in my stead. After all, I have a new apprentice who is about ready to join me…’

    Latoshi gasped again, his eyes suddenly returning to normal. The boy was in full control of his body once more, regaining consciousness in the midst of Antoshi's brutal assault. ‘What—what the hell is going on?!’ Latoshi thought, panicked, as he was beaten, relentlessly. Fireball and Serenity looked on with concern.

    'That's enough, Antoshi,' Fireball thought. 'He's finished! Please stop!'

    Antoshi knocked him upward before spinning around and kicking his sternum hard. Latoshi groaned, sliding to a long halt on his shoulder blades before coming to a rest, sprawled out on the ground.

    Their fight was finally over.

    Fireball and Serenity followed at a distance, while Antoshi stalked his fallen foe. The blond-haired boy had an intense look in his glowing eyes. He grabbed Latoshi by the neck, lifting his limp body up high enough to face him. Latoshi's eyes opened, slowly.

    “All that bragging,” Antoshi remarked. “All that confidence, all that cockiness — it looks like you left it scattered along the beach. What a shame, huh? What do you have to say now?”

    Latoshi offered no words, only pained groans, and shallow breaths. Antoshi scowled in rage.

    'Yes~,' the hiss of Lazarus' voice suddenly became clear to Antoshi. 'You have defeated your nemesis. Bathe in the glory of victory. Revel in your newfound power and might. He will never be able to best you, Antoshi.'

    “I am better than you,” he said to Latoshi, in response to Lazarus' remarks. His irises began to darken, shifting from their trademark red into a lusterless black. “There's no doubt now. You are insignificant to me.”

    'What has he ever done for you? Caused you pain?'

    “You put me through so much pain since we met, Latoshi.”

    'Misery?'

    “I'll never forget the misery you caused Fireball and I.”

    'Torture?'

    “I've been living in torture, fearing the moment I had to see your face again.”

    'Threats against your family, your loved ones.'

    “Threatening everyone I hold dear to me is inexcusable.”

    'You have the power to make it all stop.'

    He aimed an open hand at Latoshi's head. “The time has come for you to pay for everything you've done, Latoshi. I've been waiting for this moment: the moment I can finally put an end to this horror.” Antoshi's flickering aura slowly became corrupted with the blackness of Lazarus' spirit. Tendrils of black energy seeped their way into Antoshi's spirit, the parasite beginning to take its hold over him. “I'll make you pay, Latoshi. I'll make you eat all your arrogant words. You're the pathetic one now … and you will never hurt me ever again!” He charged an amount of burning Ki into his hand that was much larger than any of his previous attacks. “I'm going to make sure of it. …”

    Serenity looked on, with a serious gaze. ‘Antoshi,’ she thought. ‘this moment is going to define the kind of person you are for the rest of your life…’

    'Very good,' Lazarus continued. 'Hold on to that anger. Let it ignite your spirit. You hate Latoshi — you want him to stop. All you have to do is burn him away to ashes. Free me from this weakling, Antoshi. You are so much stronger than he is. And you can still be so much more. …'

    "Antoshi, no!"
    Fireball shouted, fearfully. "Don't do it! Please!" Antoshi gasped, turning his attention to his best friend.

    “Fire … ball?” he uttered, lost in a trance. He saw Serenity standing by Fireball. Her earlier plea suddenly replayed in his mind.

    ‘Promise me that you'll help Latoshi. He desperately needs help, and I believe that you're the only person who can. Would you be willing to do that?’

    ‘But … how?’
    he recalled asking her. How can I help him?’

    ‘I know you'll find the best solution if you look into your heart. … When the time comes — act.’


    He turned to Latoshi once again, whose eyes were welled up with tears. The sorrow and fear in his eyes were utterly apparent. “I'm … sor— … sorry …” the sable-haired boy spoke in a raspy voice.

    Antoshi was horrified with himself. He immediately let go of Latoshi, rescinding the energy in his hand back into his aura. Latoshi stumbled back, on trembling legs. Tears fell from Antoshi's eyes as the two boys stared at each other in shock. He panted, fearfully, looking down at his bloodied hands.

    ‘What … have I done?’ Antoshi thought. ‘I almost … I almost killed him! I'm not like this, I … I shouldn't be this way. This isn't what I promised Serenity. I was supposed to help him, not to …’

    As Antoshi snapped out of his vengeful trance, regaining conscious thought, his eyes returned to normal. The fragments of Lazarus' spirit that had infested his aura slowly burned away. He fell to his knees, trembling and sniffling.

    Despite his own injuries, Latoshi gazed upon him with concern. “An—Antoshi,” he spoke, grabbing the mournful boy's attention. “I … I really am—”

    Latoshi's remarks were interrupted when he grabbed his head, shouting in agony. Lazarus' ear-splitting ringing noise had returned to punish him. The others looked on in confusion, as Latoshi stumbled back.

    'Leave now!' Lazarus commanded. 'There is nothing more for you here! Leave!!'

    Latoshi immediately did as he was told. He took off into the night sky, while continuing to hold his head and groan in pain.

    “Latoshi!!” Antoshi shouted after him. Serenity appeared beside him, grabbing his shoulder in the instant the boy attempted to follow.

    “Stop,” she said. “There's nothing more you can do now.”

    Fireball was stunned. He looked to his side, realizing Serenity had dashed over there faster than he could think. He jogged over to the two.

    Antoshi's shoulders slumped over. He gazed at the ground, defeated. “… I heard him,” he remarked.

    “Lazarus?” Serenity asked. Antoshi nodded.

    “His voice was so clear to me, like he was inside my head, … just like Latoshi told me. It was such a … hypnotic and soothing voice. He was telling me everything I wanted to hear, feeding all of my negative feelings.” Antoshi looked to the sky, where Latoshi had fled to. “I finally understand now. I understand what Latoshi is going through. I know … how he truly feels. I saw everything in his eyes for just that brief moment. He's been pleading for help this entire time. The honesty in his eyes … it reminded me of his eyes when we first met. That short time we spent that morning when we were actually happy together.” Serenity smiled, letting her hand fall away. “… I almost killed him, Serenity. Lazarus' influence was so powerful that I didn't feel any different at all. I just felt all of my anger boiling over. I … forgot about the promise I made to you. I … I almost did something that I would have regretted for the rest of my life.”

    “It's all right,” Serenity reassured him. “That's what Lazarus does. It amplifies your emotions and makes it impossible for you to think clearly. It's exactly what Latoshi's had to deal with all this time. For you, hearing Fireball's voice broke through that barrier and you came to your senses. Latoshi doesn't have anyone like that to help him.”

    “We have to save him,” Antoshi said, his aura flaring back to life. “I have to go find him. I—I have to make this right. I have to help him.”

    “You've done all you can,” she told him. He looked at her in confusion, his aura receding. “You defeated him in battle, you made him reveal his true emotions. After this, he'll certainly make him question how effective Lazarus truly is. You planted the seed of doubt in him, and so your job is done. Now, it's on Latoshi to take the next step. He has to deal with on his own from here on out. Only he can remove Lazarus' influence. It has to be his decision. The problem is, Lazarus has the ability to block the memories of its host, which keeps its host loyal.”

    Antoshi was left stunned for a moment, his eyes going wide. “So, … that's why he seemed so different when I first spoke to him earlier. Lazarus is keeping his memories from him. … That's why Latoshi doesn't remember anything about his past!”

    Serenity nodded, gently. “Now you understand the method to Lazarus' influence.”

    “All this time, … I've been so angry and so bitter towards him. I thought he was the one I should focus my hatred at. I never knew what he was enduring. Every word of anguish he's spoken about other people — how evil human hearts can be, how cruel people are, … he meant every bit of it because of how hurt he's been all along. I can't believe I … didn't figure that out myself until now.” He turned to Serenity, his eyes full of regret. “You were right, Serenity. He does need my help, more than I ever realized.” Serenity closed her eyes, nodding to him again.

    Antoshi stood in reflection for a moment. Afterward, he sighed heavily, closed his eyes, and began sulking away. Fireball and Serenity looked on in bewilderment.

    "You still won, Antoshi!" Fireball said. "You saved who knows how many peoples' lives from that evil creep controlling Latoshi."

    “That was no victory, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, dismayed. “Not this time. … Not when my heart feels this empty.”

    “Antoshi, wait,” Serenity spoke up. “Let me use my powers. I can heal you again in no time.”

    “No, Serenity,” he replied. “I think, this time, I should suffer through the pain, … so that I don't let this happen ever again.”

    Fireball and Serenity looked at each other in concern. Her expression quickly shifted to a thankful smile.

    “Thank you for your help, Fireball,” she said, squeezing his paw, gently. “I hope, someday soon, the three of us can get together again under calmer circumstances. Take care of him, okay?”

    Fireball nodded to her with enthusiasm, before quickly following after his friend. Serenity looked toward in the sky for a few moments, lost in thought. She eventually took her leave, walking further down the beach.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Latoshi landed in his usual clearing outside the forest, immediately collapsing to the ground face-first. He panted, groaning and straining, weakly.

    “Why?” he whispered, between ragged breaths. “Why did you … force me to leave?”

    'You do not question my decisions,' Lazarus said, 'you follow them.'

    “You—you took over my body. You took … took control of me.”

    'That is because I am the master and you are my marionette! You dance when I pull your strings!'

    “You said I was 'stupid' … and 'worthless',” he added, his eyes welling with tears. “After I've done everything you asked without question, … no matter how much I hated doing it. I'm sick of all of this. I don't want to do it anymore. I don't … want you in my life…”

    Lazarus laughed in amusement. 'You do not have the strength to eject me from your spirit, Latoshi! I own you!' Latoshi gasped, panting fearfully. 'Do you think that I am going to sit back and let you defy me, child? Do you think that I am going to let you keep these memories of your rebellion against me?!'

    “My … memories?” he mused, quickly becoming terrified. “No, you can't … you wouldn't take away my memories! You can't! You …”

    Latoshi lay completely still and silent for a few moments, staring blankly.

    'Now, tell me who it is that you seek to destroy.'

    “… Antoshi,” he replied, in an almost robotic tone.

    'And who is it that you owe your life and all of your energy to?'

    “… Lazarus. I owe it all to … to Lazarus.”

    'Very good. Tomorrow you will find new clothing, and then you will resume your training while you heal your injuries. This is only a minor setback for us. Together, we will emerge triumphant — no matter how long it takes to get it right.'

    Latoshi's lips curled into a slight smirk. He closed his eyes, his voice weary. “Yes, Lazarus. … Whatever you … say.”

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    In the dead of night, Antoshi and Fireball spent hours walking back to their hotel room. They were incredibly quiet and incredibly exhausted. Fireball showed constant concern for his best friend. Neither of them complained about the length of their trek, how tired or hungry they were, or how long it took. They merely put one foot in front of the other, and kept on moving. By the time they'd reached their hotel, it was almost morning.

    The mysterious figure in the trench coat appeared, emerging from the shadows across the street. Having followed them all the way from the beach, the unknown party silently watched them, as they finally went into the hotel to retire.


    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    End of Part 3

    ⁂ ⁂

    Part 4: Family Reunion »

    [​IMG]

    Serenity
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  20. Antoshi

    Antoshi Imagination Station

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂

    Part 4: Family Reunion

    ⁂ ⁂​


    Only a day passed after Antoshi's second, vicious fight with Latoshi. A doorman held the door open for them, as the blond-haired boy, and his best friend, exited the front door of the hotel they'd been staying at for the past two weeks. Antoshi quietly thanked the man, who tipped his hat, and headed back inside. Under the warmth of the midmorning sun and the cheerful, blue sky, the duo finally checked out, ready to move on. If nothing else, they wanted to get back to continuing as much of their carefree exploration of Johto as they could. A decision was made to save Goldenrod Gym as their final challenge, so that they would be able to head back home on the Magnet Train afterward.

    In the aftermath of the brutal encounter, Antoshi was still fatigued — physically and mentally. The duo had taken an entire day of rest to recuperate. The boy wore a fresh change of the same red t-shirt and blue jeans he'd worn before, along with his backpack. Despite the severity of the injuries Antoshi received, his body had been healing at an astounding rate so far. He still showed some scars of battle, however. His face and blond hair were no longer bloodied, his scratches and bruises were nearly gone, his posture remained tall and straight — not favoring any part of his body. Faint burn marks remained on his arms and around his eyes.

    Even though his physical injuries had almost fully healed, the internal scars from the battle left him dejected. Fireball showed deep concern for his friend, who hadn't spoken at all since the conflict's conclusion.

    Antoshi had come to the realization of what Latoshi had to endure, and digested that knowledge over the past twenty-four hours. He was being controlled, manipulated, and lied to by the parasitic spirit Lazarus. It had been blocking Latoshi's memories, forcing the boy to believe what it told him, and to obey its commands without question. All along, Antoshi had firmly believed that Latoshi was the mastermind of his own doing. It pained him to think that Latoshi was being treated like a slave, to a force none of them could even see. The regret and sorrow that Antoshi carried was exacerbated by Serenity's warning that Antoshi could not help Latoshi at all. Latoshi had to deal with Lazarus on his own. That did not sit well with him. Neither did the image of Latoshi's eyes, full of sorrow, looking to him as if pleading for help before Lazarus forced Latoshi to leave.

    The duo briefly stopped by the library, in order for Antoshi to drop off the book he'd checked out days prior. After that, they proceeded to make their way northward to Goldenrod's city limits.

    The morning sky behind the skyscrapers was wonderfully picturesque. Towering pillars of clouds were illuminated by the pinkish hue of the rising sun. Happy tourists stopped on the street nearby to get a group photo with a Dragonite statue sitting in front of a store. A couple of small children laughed as they chased after a rogue Drifloon. None of the cheerfulness around him helped to perk up Antoshi's dreary demeanor.

    “What was the point?” Antoshi finally muttered, catching Fireball off-guard.

    "… What do you mean?" Fireball replied, quietly. After everything they'd gone through since coming to Johto, he kept his voice low in the hopes of keeping his friend from becoming any more upset.

    Antoshi bit his lip. “Why did I even bother … trying to learn how to fight? It was useless.”

    "But, that's not true at all. You became way stronger and confident in your abilities. You know how to defend yourself so much better now."

    “I can't do anything for Latoshi,” he said, as the children and the Drifloon passed by them again. “I can't help him. I can't share his burden. … My brother's burden.”

    Fireball was shocked by the remark. "Your …" he trailed off.

    “Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I've never said it before. I never wanted to say it, or admit it. … You know, at this point, I don't even care if he's not my brother. Considering what we've been through already, he might as well be. I keep having this sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about that moment before he flew off. The way he looked at me, … it was like he was family all along. I just can't explain it.”

    "It's okay, Antoshi — you don't have to. I'm your family, too."

    The boy sighed, shakily, on the verge of tears as he momentarily glanced up to smile at his friend. “I know you are, Fireball. What Serenity said, about how Latoshi doesn't have anyone to confide in like I do, it only makes me appreciate what I have even more.”

    Fireball placed a reassuring paw on Antoshi's shoulder. "He's strong," Fireball said, prompting a curious gaze from the boy. "Latoshi is strong. Obviously, I don't know him very much, but even when he was kicking our butts, he did it with everything he had. He has heart, just like you do. I think it's safe to put faith in him and believe he'll kick that creepy spirit's butt very soon."

    “You're right, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, wiping a tear from his eye. “I should have faith in him. I'm sorry for putting you through so much lately. It's been really hard for me ever since I started using these powers. Since coming to Johto, I found out I have … a brother whom I've never known before, who then beats us up. Then, I thought I just had to defeat Latoshi and we'd be able to move on and live happily ever after. Now, everything is so much more complicated. … I'm not sure how many more of these twists and turns I can take.”

    "At least we'll take 'em together."

    Antoshi stopped, suddenly, heaving a sigh before he embraced his best friend. Fireball was initially taken aback, but hugged him as well. It helped to ease some of the dull pain in Antoshi's chest. The Typhlosion's larger than average stature ended up acting as a blockage in the middle of the sidewalk. Neither of them cared about the accessibility of the passersby and their Pokémon that had to walk around, as they were too busy sharing a moment confiding in each other.

    The blond-haired boy had achieved enormous strength and was capable of phenomenal feats. He had become stronger and faster than Latoshi — who had completely devastated him the first time they clashed. Fireball knew him as a strong leader that planned his moves, kept a level head under pressure, and always came up with a solution to any problem.

    Yet, he was still just a 13-year-old kid.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    At the southwestern edge of Goldenrod, in his usual clearing in the woods, Latoshi sat, gazing up at the morning sky. He, too, had also changed into new clothing. His eyes were glazed over, a weak grin spread across his lips, seemingly lost in a daze. He felt something off inside of him, something he couldn't explain. It was almost like a tickle in his chest. He gave a soft chuckle, which gradually shifted into a loud guffaw, as though he'd heard an exceptional joke. He continued laughing, holding his forehead, unable to stop himself.

    'Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted.

    Latoshi gasped, loudly, bringing his laughing to an abrupt end. He groaned and shook his head, rubbing his temples.

    “Yeah, I'm-I'm awake,” he replied.

    'Good. I see that your injuries are healing as quickly as expected.'

    Latoshi stretched his arms up high, suddenly uttering a grunt of pain as he held his ribs. “Mostly,” he said, sighing. “That bastard Antoshi got me good. Damn good. How did he get so strong?”

    'He is not stronger than you, Latoshi. He is merely faster and he appeared to have formulated a better strategy. That boy is much more clever than I would have expected. However, there is one thing you need to be aware of: Antoshi, either consciously or not, has managed to tap into the energy of his emotions. It happened after you threatened his family again. Because of that, Antoshi has grown substantially more powerful. It is for that reason that you, too, must learn to harness the power of emotion.'

    “Well, how do I do that? I already feel like I have a ton of pent-up rage inside me, so I'm ready.”

    'Very good. I already taught you the basics back in that prison cell. Now, we progress further. Close your eyes, and focus yourself like you do with your meditation.' Latoshi folded his legs, heaving a sigh, doing as Lazarus instructed. 'Now, visualize your enemy. Visualize the moments when he struck you down — when he dared to lay a hand upon you. Feel the anger and rage that seethes through your heart and permeates your spirit. You must hold fast to that emotion. You must truly believe in it with all of your being. Your emotion gives you strength. Your anger is your power.'

    Latoshi focused for a few minutes. He clenched his teeth, straining, ultimately finding himself struggling to concentrate. “I can't seem to focus like you're telling me to. I can't grasp my rage. It's like … water that I'm trying to squeeze in my hands; it's all over the place.”

    'That aggression inside you stems from your loss to Antoshi. It should be directed toward him. Harness it; weaponize it.'

    Latoshi's aura turbulently flickered around while he strained and seethed. He balled his fists, hunching his back. His output of Ki refused to rise. Eventually, his aura dissipated altogether.

    “I can't do it,” the sable-haired boy remarked, sighing. His forehead glistened with sweat. “It's too difficult. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.”

    'If it is too difficult for you right now, then you will work at it. I already gave you your instructions, now you must apply them. You are not to move from this spot until you get it right. You will not eat, drink, rest, or relieve yourself. You will stay in this position on this very patch of dirt until you achieve results. Is that understood?'

    Latoshi was shocked. “But, I can't—” His remarks were swiftly interrupted by Lazarus' torturous method of punishment. A deafening, high-pitched tone caused Latoshi to cover his ears and crumple over, while shouting in agony.

    'Is that understood?' Lazarus asked, over the terrible noise.

    “Yes!” the boy cried out. Latoshi gasped as the sound came to an abrupt end. He panted, sitting up straight once again.

    'I hate to do that to you, Latoshi, but you require focus. You need direction. Listen to me, and I will never lead you astray.'

    Latoshi closed his eyes, scowling bitterly, resuming his mental training.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    By the afternoon, Antoshi and Fireball headed across one of the many streets of the increasingly busy metropolis. Fireball smelled food nearby, so the duo stopped at a hot dog cart to grab a quick meal. Antoshi smiled, getting his with his favorite: just ketchup on top. Fireball insisted on having everything on it, causing the vendor to engage in some serious stacking skills. The duo went on their way, eating their food as they walked. Unsurprisingly, Fireball made a mess all over his claws and fur. It was one of the simpler things that Antoshi had missed on their journeys.

    Not long after, they were finally nearing the last few miles before reaching the city limits. Goldenrod would soon be behind them. Antoshi had a rather stern expression, however, brought on by a suspicious vibe he was feeling.

    "So, what do we do about battling other Trainers?" Fireball asked.

    Antoshi glanced over at his friend with a reassuring smile. “I know how much battling means to you, Fireball. Considering how our last Trainer battle went, I'm really not ready to try again for a little while. Let's just take it easy, until this whole situation cools down.”

    "Of course I do love battling, but I don't want to anything that you don't. If you want to take it easy for a while, then there's no complaints here." He cleaned off some dried relish on his chest before he grinned to his friend. Fireball immediately became concerned upon realizing Antoshi had a rather serious look on his face. "Is everything okay?"

    “I guess you haven't noticed,” Antoshi replied, leaving Fireball befuddled.

    "Noticed what?"

    “… We're being followed,” he said, quietly, narrowing his eyes. Fireball was surprised, turning his head to peer back. “Don't look. It's someone in some weird clothing that completely covers themselves. I don't know what they want, but I'm not okay with being stalked. Not after everything we've dealt with lately.”

    It was the very same stranger that had watched Antoshi and Latoshi's fight along the beach. They strolled along at the same pace behind them, still wearing the same long trench coat, large fedora, and sunglasses. In the bright daytime, their ensemble was fairly conspicuous. The clothing was starkly different compared to how almost everyone else on the street was dressed for the summer weather. Whoever they were caught a number of curious glances and murmurs along the way.

    Fireball kept his gaze forward with the same serious expression as his friend. "You think it's … someone from Team Rocket again?"

    “No idea. I know it's not Latoshi, though. I definitely would've sensed his energy if he was this close.”

    'Antoshi's senses have gotten really sharp,' Fireball thought, surprised. 'I never would've noticed that person following us around like that. I don't know if it's from how much stronger he's gotten or … how much more on edge he's been lately.'

    “Let's head down this next alleyway,” Antoshi said, casually pointing to it. Fireball nodded.

    The duo abruptly changed direction, turning down the gap between two businesses. Their mysterious stalker gasped, stopping at the entrance of the alley. They appeared nervous, looking around for a moment. After a brief pause, they ultimately followed on through, not far behind the pair.

    The stalker slowed their pursuit as the alleyway became darker, quieter, and more eerie the further they went in. After turning a corner within adjacent alleyways, Antoshi and Fireball had somehow vanished. The person stepped quietly, looking around for the duo.

    When the stranger passed by a recessed wall, Antoshi leapt out at them. The mystery person cried out in shock, as Antoshi dragged and shoved them against the far wall. The impact caused the person's sunglasses and hat to shift slightly. He kept his forearm across their collarbone, trapping them in place. The larger Fireball emerged from the shadows behind Antoshi, curiously staring at their suspicious stalker.

    “Who are you?” Antoshi asked. “Why are you following us?!” He eased off a bit upon seeing their wide, terrified, brown eyes staring back at him. “Tell me!”

    The stalker suddenly shoved him away as hard as they could. While Antoshi reeled, the stalker bolted further down the alley. Antoshi grumbled, as he and Fireball quickly gave chase.

    “Stop!” Antoshi called out. “I'm not going to harm you! Just tell me why you're following us!”

    Instead of running back out onto the streets, their stalker made a sharp turn down another nearby alleyway. Antoshi and Fireball turned to follow, finding their mystery person staring down a dead end a short distance away. The stalker panted, fearfully, hands scouring the dark wall for any kind of escape route. The stranger turned around to face the duo as they stood at the mouth of the alley.

    “Listen — we just want to talk, okay? Fireball here isn't going to let you go until you explain yourself.” Fireball smirked, pressing his claws up against both walls of the alley to act as a blockade. “Don't try to shove him, too, 'cause he's a lot heavier than I am.”

    The stranger panted and trembled in fear, as Antoshi slowly advanced toward them. Just then, the stranger caught a glimpse of a slow dripping faucet on the wall near them. The running water trickled into a small storm drain. The stalker quietly gasped in surprise. Antoshi stopped as the stranger suddenly peeled away from the wall. They turned on the faucet, letting the water rush out. Antoshi and Fireball watched, curiously, as the person knelt down, letting the water flow over their hands.

    “I don't think splashing water at us is … going to help you here,” Antoshi remarked in confusion.

    The person just chuckled in an oddly, raspy tone, as though they were trying to disguise their voice. Antoshi and Fireball both gasped in shock. The water from the faucet inexplicably bonded and flowed into the stranger's body. Their entire frame became as translucent as the water itself — including their clothes. The stalker gave the duo one last glance, before their body melted down into a large puddle of water and flowed into the storm drain.

    Their stalker was gone. Antoshi and Fireball stared in stunned silence for a few moments.

    "What … in the world … just happened?" Fireball finally spoke up. Antoshi walked over and pulled the small storm drain lid off to look inside. There was nothing but water, grime, and darkness.

    “I have no idea,” Antoshi replied, replacing the lid, “but, this is definitely one of those 'twists and turns' I said I wasn't looking forward to.” With a heavy sigh, Antoshi made his way out of the alley. Fireball followed alongside him.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    A few hours later, as the sun was starting to get low, the duo reached their next checkpoint. After being in Goldenrod much longer than expected, Antoshi finally had his Trainer Card scanned by the guard at the gate between Goldenrod and Route 35. The process updated his current location, which would also send an alert to his parents' tracking device. The guard was as friendly as any he'd met in Kanto, sending the pair on their way with a farewell. Exiting out from the automatic doors, into the pristine canopy of the large, wooded route, they both took a deep breath. Handfuls of passersby came and went past them while they took a short time to soak in their new surroundings.

    "It's been so long since we've camped in the wilderness," Fireball remarked. "It's almost like our home away from home."

    “You say that about every place we stay,” Antoshi replied, with a smirk. Their mirthful mood was short-lived, however.

    "I can't stop thinking about that weird … water … person," Fireball said, as they resumed their trek.

    Antoshi sighed heavily. “Same here. I don't know what's going on anymore. I don't know if I should be concerned about this person or not. Although …”

    "Although what?" Fireball asked, as the boy kept him in suspense.

    “… I know it sounds weird, but, just when I tackled them in the alley, I—I dunno. I got the sense that they were peaceful somehow. They didn't want a confrontation with me. It's the same sense I got when we first met Serenity.”

    "Maybe it wasn't a person. Maybe it was a Pokémon."

    Antoshi's head cocked back in surprise. “That's … actually a possibility. There's no way a person could just transform into water like that.”

    "I bet we'll get answers out of them, eventually. They found us before, they'll find us again."

    “Maybe so,” Antoshi replied. He abruptly stopped, and took a look around. “Well, I suppose we should start looking for a nice spot to camp out.”

    Just then, the pair heard a sudden rustling in the bushes along the side of the road. Fireball and Antoshi immediately turned their attention to its source.

    "What was that?" Fireball asked, as the duo curiously walked up to a tree where the sound came from.

    “Maybe it was just a Pokémon we scared off.”

    Antoshi found a hastily written cardboard sign taped to the tree that read, 'Free Food and Shelter for Pokemon Trainers!', with an arrow pointing further into the woods.

    "What's that say?" Fireball asked.

    “A place with free food and shelter for Pokémon Trainers,” Antoshi replied, musing.

    "Free food?" Fireball grinned in elation. "What are we waiting for?"

    Antoshi hummed in thought. “I'm a little worried about staying in houses in the woods.”

    A look a dread suddenly came over Fireball's face. "Oh. You mean … the ghost house."

    “I do mean the ghost house. We were both lucky to get out of there without having our souls ripped out of our bodies.”

    Fireball shuddered in disgust. "I'll never trust another Ghost Pokémon ever again. … But, hey, what are the chances there are two houses like that? Don't forget, that was back in Kanto. Plus, you're a super-strong fighter now who can kick butt."

    Antoshi sighed in defeat before nodding. “All right, we'll check the place out. But, if it even feels like the place is haunted, we're sleeping by a campfire.”

    "Good call. Free food isn't worth my soul. … Most of the time."

    The duo headed into the woods, following a hastily beaten path through the trees.

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    It wasn't long before they neared their destination. However, Fireball suddenly screamed in horror. Antoshi turned to his friend, panicked.

    “What is it, Fireball?!” he asked with eyes wide.

    "Spider!!" he squealed, frantically tearing away a spider web from his face. "There's spiders! I walked into a spider web and now they're all over me! I'm gonna die, Antoshi! I feel them crawling! They're gonna get me!"

    Antoshi watched, quietly, as Fireball ran in circles, swatting at his face with his forepaws. The boy tried his best not to laugh. He walked over, grabbing the Typhlosion by his shoulders to bring him to a halt.

    “Stand still,” he said, quietly. “Let me see.”

    Fireball whimpered and trembled while Antoshi preened the webbing away from his friend's fur.

    "I hate spiders," Fireball whispered. "I hate spiders, I hate spiders …"

    “You're all right, Fireball. There's no spiders on you. You must've ran into one of their vacation homes or something.” Fireball sighed in relief. “Feel better?” Fireball nodded to him, expressing his embarrassment. Antoshi chuckled, patting his friend on the back as they continued on their way.

    The pair soon came across a quaint, wooded cabin within a large forest clearing. They crossed a properly beaten dirt road for vehicles that led out into the woods. As they neared the one-story cabin, there was another cardboard sign, identical to the first, taped to a wooden beam on the front porch.

    "This is really nice," Fireball remarked, as they walked up the porch steps. "Doesn't look haunted so far."

    Antoshi chuckled as he knocked on the wooden front door's segmented, frosted glass pane. “Hello?” he called out, trying to look through the glass for signs of life. “Anyone home? We saw your sign along the pathway.”

    The door opened, and the two were greeted by a younger girl, just a bit shorter than Antoshi. She wore a long-sleeved, white shirt, and a pleated, dark blue skirt. Her long, bright, electric blue hair draped down past her midriff.

    “Welcome, Trainers!” she exclaimed. “Ohh, just one Trainer this time, huh?”

    “Yep. My name is Antoshi, and this is my best friend, Fireball.” Fireball waved to her.

    “He's so well-mannered!” she remarked. “But, which one of you was I talking to — right?” She laughed, boisterously, waving for them to come inside. “Come on in. I was just about to make supper. I'll bet the two of you are starving!”

    “Fireball here is always starving,” Antoshi said with a smirk.

    The girl laughed, heading into the modern style kitchen, her bare feet shuffling across the glossy, maple wood floor. Antoshi set his backpack and his shoes near the front door. The inside of the cabin was warm, cozy and clean. The space before them flowed as one, large, open area. The walls were paneled with oak. Bright lights in the vaulted white ceiling overhead illuminated the large living area to their left, and in the ceiling of the kitchen to their right. The left wall seated a couple of tall, four-pane windows, spread apart from each other. On the far wall from them were two open doors which appeared to be bedrooms, a hallway directly facing where they stood, and a third door along a wall to the right of the hallway. The cool, circulated air smelled of pine.

    “Well, my name is Mimi, and I'll be your chef this evening,” she joked. “Please, sit.”

    Antoshi and Fireball looked at each other with a grin. They took a seat on two of the four pewter gray bar stools, set in front of the kitchen island's white marble countertop. As the stool strained under Fireball's weight, both of them gazed at it in concern. He hopped down, opting to stand instead, as he was more than tall enough to reach over the counter.

    “Thank you very much, Mimi,” Antoshi said. “Both of us appreciate it. If there's anything we can do to repay you, we'll be more than happy to.”

    Mimi filled a pot with water from the sink and placed it on the nearby gas range. “No payment is necessary,” she replied. “It gets a bit lonely out here, so the company of nice guests like you two is the only payment I need.” She turned a knob to get the water heated before reaching into a nearby pantry.

    Antoshi took a look around while Mimi dropped some pasta into the boiling water. “This is a really nice house. I've always wanted to live someplace like this — a quiet, little home surrounded by nature. I really like the peace and quiet of nature compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. Is this place yours?”

    “Err, well, yes and no,” she replied, stirring the pasta. “This is a vacation home my parents rent in the winter.”

    “Wow. Your parents let you stay here all alone? How old are you — if you don't mind me asking?”

    “They sure do! They trust me more than I trust myself, honestly. I'm eleven, since you asked. I'll be twelve in a few months!”

    The group heard a shuffling noise nearby. They turned to see a Pokémon slowly sliding out of the far-left bedroom. It was a Lapras, who was being careful not to let the shell on its back touch the door frame. In its fin, it held a feather duster.

    “Whoa!” Antoshi remarked, awe-struck, getting to his feet. “I've seen tons of Pokémon, but never a Lapras. They're so rare!”

    Mimi laughed. “That's my company all the way out here, and my best friend. Say 'hello' to Bubbles.”

    “Hello there, Bubbles,” Antoshi said, grinning as he waved. The Lapras smiled coyly and turned away, sliding itself into another room nearby.

    “She's a little shy,” Mimi said. “It takes her a while to trust new people.”

    Antoshi took a seat once again. “Oh, I see. I know a thing or two about being shy.” Mimi chuckled.

    A few minutes later, she slid a couple of plates full of spaghetti with red sauce in front of the two boys.

    “I hope you two enjoy it,” she said.

    “Wow, looks great!” Antoshi remarked, picking up his fork.

    Mimi sat down on a stool next to Antoshi. Fireball wriggled his claws in anticipation. The Typhlosion picked up his own fork to begin eating along with the other two. Mimi looked over at him and laughed.

    “You taught Fireball table manners?” she asked.

    “Yeah. He's been a part of our family forever. Whenever we eat at home he sits at the table with us, so my parents and I taught him.”

    “That's really cool. I bet you have just about a million stories to tell about your life.”

    “Fireball and I have been through some pretty crazy adventures, … especially lately.”

    “Why? What's happened lately?”

    Antoshi sighed. “A lot of complicated … drama and nonsense. It's nothing worth talking about. It's just been a really wild ride since we got to Johto over a couple weeks ago.”

    “Where were you before that?”

    “Before that, Fireball and I traveled from our home in Saffron City and went all around Kanto. We beat all eight Gyms there and then competed at the Indigo Plateau.”

    She gasped in astonishment. “Really?! Did you win?”

    Antoshi laughed. “No, unfortunately. We managed to make it past the qualifying bracket, but we lost in the first round of the actual tournament. Still, top one hundred twenty-eight out of all the Trainers in Kanto is pretty nice. We had some amazing moments to go along with it, too.” Fireball smiled and nodded in agreement. The Typhlosion eagerly went back to twirling more pasta around his fork. “What about you, Mimi? Where do you come from?”

    “Well, when I'm not here, I'm at home with my parents in a little neighborhood north of Olivine City.”

    “Olivine City? I've always wanted to see what it looks like there.”

    “You should definitely go sometime! You can meet my parents, too — they're super nice.”

    The two young people chatted away about anything that came to mind while they ate together. They continued to sit together and talk after finishing their food. Mimi laughed, playfully nudging Antoshi's shoulder with her own.

    “You are so funny!” she remarked. At that moment, Bubbles emerged from the room she had been in.

    "All of the bedrooms are cleaned now," the Lapras said, quietly.

    Antoshi froze in shock upon hearing it speak. He was at a loss as to why.

    “Thank you, Bubbles,” Mimi said, smiling to her friend. “Would you like to spend some time with our guests?”

    "Oh, … no, thank you. I think I'll return to my Poké Ball for the night."

    “All right. Goodnight, Bubbles.”

    Bubbles nodded. She turned her attention to a Poké Ball being held in the cradling hands of a small statue on a nearby table. Pressing her nose against it, her body was reduced to a mass of red light that was pulled inside the confines of the ball. Mimi sighed in content, turning to her guests with a smile. She noticed the stunned expression on both Antoshi and Fireball's faces.

    “What's up?” she asked, curiously.

    “Did you … just talk to your Pokémon?”

    “Oh, … yeah, I did. I know, a lot of people think it's weird or impossible, but Bubbles and I have been able to communicate since we met. I … hope you don't think I'm crazy,” she added, nervously.

    “No, I don't,” Antoshi replied, much to her relief. “Actually, to tell you the truth, I can talk with Fireball, too. Isn't that right?” He smiled and turned to his friend.

    "That is right!" Fireball replied. "We have the best conversations together."

    This time, it was Mimi's turn to be stricken with shock. “Wait, I—I just heard Fireball speak.” Both of them looked at her in disbelief. “He said … you have the best conversations together. That's … so cool! I've never been able to hear any other Pokémon besides Bubbles speak.”

    The duo looked at each other in awe. “Well, now that you mention it,” Antoshi said. “I … may have heard Bubbles talk when she said she was finished cleaning the rooms.”

    “This is unreal!” Mimi exclaimed, joyful, surprising the duo. “Fireball, what's your favorite, … um, ice cream?”

    Fireball's eyes lit up. "Ice cream? I love all kinds of ice cream! My favorite is 'chocolate banana brunch crunch.'"

    “Ohh, that's a good one. I've had that before!”

    Antoshi grinned in amazement, watching the two of them converse back and forth. His expression suddenly turned to thoughtful curiosity, as he recalled a very similar conversation play out with a certain sable-haired young man.

    “Well, I'm gonna get these dishes cleaned up,” Mimi said, hopping down from her stool to collect their plates and silverware.

    “Are you sure?” Antoshi asked. “We'd be fine cleaning up for you.”

    “It's fine!” Mimi reassured him. “I'm just gonna put them in the dishwasher anyway. It makes the funniest noises, like brr-brr-brr and bum-bum!” she added, laughing. The pair smiled in amusement.

    “Well, in that case, Fireball and I are gonna go outside and get a little exercise.”

    “Oh, that's fine. Whenever you come back, we can have dessert and chat some more!”

    “That sounds good! See you in a bit!”

    Fireball followed his friend to the front door, where Antoshi slipped his shoes back on. Mimi waved to them as they headed out the door together.

    Outside, Antoshi and Fireball walked out into the forest clearing.

    "You want to train some more, don't you?" Fireball asked.

    Antoshi laughed. “You know me well, Fireball. I'm feeling better after that great dinner.”

    "Yep," he replied, casually brushing his snout, "I'm pretty smart when it comes to my best bud. So, are we training you or training me?"

    “How about … a little of both?”

    Fireball gasped in surprise. "I'm definitely ready to get a good workout in. Man, that Mimi sure is nice, huh? She's already the best host we've ever stayed with."

    “She sure is,” he replied, distantly, briefly lost in thought. “… Well, anyway, let's get to it.”

    "Watch out, wild Pokémon! Here I come!"

    ⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

    Back inside the house, Bubbles re-emerged from her Poké Ball. Despite being contained within, she remained consciously aware of what was happening around her. She slid along the floor, making her way over to her friend. Mimi greeted her with a smile. The two of them looked out the kitchen window, watching the boys head into the woods.

    "So, … that's him?" Bubbles asked, softly.

    “That is him,” Mimi replied, sighing happily. “I can't believe how nervous I was! I barely kept it together when he first showed up.”

    "Did you … take down the sign?"

    Mimi giggled. “I sure did. They didn't even realize the sign on the house was the same one that was on the tree.”

    "Are you going to tell him why you brought him here?"

    “Not yet, Bubbles. … I just have to wait for the right time.”
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019

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