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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light [COMPLETE]


Winter can't come soon enough
Uuugh, wow. I had no idea how very behind on this story I was. I definitely read substantially farther than the last review I gave, soooo I guess I was just being lazy and not leaving any comments? =/ Let's fix that.
Well, lightning hasn't struck me down, so you're free to play catch up whenever you feel like it. ^^;

This episode is one you expect to see in pretty much any PMD 'fic: the main characters need to join the guild, and often they have to clear some dungeon-related mission in order to prove them. This episode was a solid execution of the idea and introduced us to a lot of interesting characters that I'm sure will be important later on.
I did have fun thinking this up. I know it's a rather basic concept, so I tried to make it as enjoyable as I could.

Null is probably the most interesting to me thus far; he really sticks out amidst a lot of generally cheerful, happy-go-lucky people, and of course his backstory suggests that he's going to have larger significance later on. I also like Guildmaster Metagross a lot. His continual deadpan and mind-reading abilities strike me as having a lot of fun potential.
I'm surprised at the response Null has gotten, because a lot of the stuff involving him came about through revisions. He was originally going to be much more of a background character, and I was worried my biases would cause me to really handle him poorly. As for Metagross, I really just wanted to make him about as opposite to Wigglytuff and Ampharos as I could.

It is always cool to see how writers adapt game mechanics to their stories, and you've obviously put a lot of thought into how the guild functions in this world, but I felt like the second chapter got a bit mechanics-heavy.
That's a fair point. I probably should've just stuck to character introductions and not much out. I'll fully admit that I might've gotten a bit carried away with that one.

I did like that you addressed the pokémon naming convention thing, although it did seem off to me that Shane was so skeptical of pokémon looking different from each other. He's a gamer, surely he's aware that the sprites/models all look the same because it would be hugely resource intensive to program in/make assets for a bunch of different variations?
I'm gonna chalk it up to Shane just assuming that, yes, this world would function like his games, so all Pokémon of one species would look identical.

(On the other hand, the bit at the beginning of the dungeon where he wanted to take the "wrong" path because there might be treasure is SUCH a gamer thing, it made me smile.)
I knew I didn't want dungeon crawling to bloat this fic, but I wanted to make this joke, so I knew I had to sneak it into the early parts of the story.

One last peeve... This is something that might have improved in later chapters but which stuck out a lot to me here are dialogue tags that are redundant with the dialogue themselves.
Point taken. I'll definitely need to keep an eye out for that in the future, so I don't continuously muck it up. Sorry! ;~;

This episode is only two chapters long, but quite a lot went on! A lot of exposition, but I expect things to pick up more in following episodes now that Shane and Tessa are in the guild and we've laid some ground rules for how things work here. It'll be fun watching the two of them struggle through their early missions, because as Yungoos pointed out, yeah, their teamwork kinda sucks.
That was definitely the intention. I do love the PMD games and the player/partner dynamic, but I didn't want "find a stranger, new best friend," with this story. They have to really work for it!

A bit less going on in this episode. There's foreshadowing both in Shane's dream sequence at the beginning and Tessa's conversation with Milotic, but the actual mission-related stuff in the middle didn't feel like it was really building towards anything larger than itself.
That's a fair criticism. And it's entirely my fault, because I was definitely still trying to find my feet with writing this, so to speak. And I was still taking cues from the Explorers games, so I kind of followed that basic structure (do a basic mission, fight an outlaw), but with the deviation of Team Radiance struggling with their teamwork.

It was nice to see Shane seeing some consequences for his actions, particularly with regard to Tessa. It's great to see her stand up for himself and not take Shane's nonsense. The development in their relationship is something valuable that I think went on in this episode, although I think you might have been able to integrate it with some more plot-relevant stuff than the missions showcased here. (Although I could of course turn out to be totally wrong, and Lunatone/Solrock/the pearls may end up being super important later on!)
Nah, you're not wrong. The Solrock and Lunatone were just there because I wanted to use those species. I just felt like I needed to start things off in a relatively low-stakes scenario, before going on to introduce the main threat and have things build up from there. But I can see how it might read a bit slowly.

I have to say I really enjoy the celestial theme you've kept up throughout the story, with the guild also being an observatory, all the sun/moon-themed livery, solrock and lunatone appearing in this episode (seriously, why were they not in SuMo), the Solgaleo and Lunala-themed music on the jukebox... It gives Horizon a strong sense of identity, and those sorts of heavenly-body-related references give things give me a mystical, high fantasy kind of vibe that I enjoy.
Aww, I'm really glad you like it. I'm always worried I'm overdoing it (i.e. "We get it, Amby, this is drawing from Gen VII"), but I really wanted to emphasize the sun/moon motif to this.

I also like Team Captivate. Snaaaake teeeeeam~
Yes! Snakes! <3
If only Arbok had been in the Alola Dex at the start, I could've put one on Team Captivate. *sigh*

One thing you might want to look out for are transition scenes that don't really do anything but move the characters from one place to another.
I see what you mean. Looking back, the earlier chapters have far more scene transitions than the current ones, so I'd like to think those transition scenes aren't happening as much. But you'll have to be the judge of that. <.<;

Ahh, now this is a more meaty episode. Lots of interesting things going on in this section, plot-wise, character-wise, and lore-wise, too.
That's sort of why I wanted to have Episode 3 be lower-stakes. So that the stuff in Episode 4 would leave a greater impact. May have had mixed results, though.

I really appreciated Chapter 8 in particular; while, yeah, it was basically all exposition with a bit of character development, I thought it was all interesting stuff, and with the amount of chaos that's been going on in the surrounding chapters I found it to be a nice breather.
I'm happy it ended up working out that way. I knew a lore-dump would be needed eventually, and thought this made sense as the right time.

In particular I liked the additional insight into Shane's character--that he's kind of a mopey, negative-nancy type in the human world, and the upbeat, arrogant attitude he projects in the pokémon world is overcompensation in an attempt to get people to like him more.
One of the things I'm desperately trying to avoid is wandering into Mary/Gary Su territory and making my heroes perfect. But, at the same time, I don't just want to shoehorn flaws into them. I'm always worried about making a believable balance. If that makes any sense. ;~;

The lore development in that chapter was also good, I think. I don't mind reworking some canon events to fit with the story if the result hangs together well enough, and nothing really seemed off about what Magearna said. Then again, I've never played Super and don't know PMD lore that well, so it may just be my ignorance talking there.
The only reworking to canon is that Horizon existed, but avoided the brunt of Yveltal and Dark Matter due to its isolation from the rest of the world. Everything else (i.e. the events of Rescue Teams, Explorers of Sky, Gates, and Super) happened as they did in the games proper.

I thought the delivery was fine, too. Sure, it was just several paragraphs of exposition, but I don't know how you could have avoided that. Sometimes you just have to let characters talk for a while!
Well, Magearna's exposition mode can be quite efficient, if she can get it to work. :V

I also appreciated more focus on Null. He clearly has some larger plot signinficance, and I also think he makes a great contrast to Shane and Tessa.
I think that's ultimately how he got thrown in with them for the revisions. That, and the idea of a few instances of a big chimera essentially babysitting an arguing Vulpix and Riolu seemed pretty funny.

I was also frustrated by how vague Tessa's mother was being about what she was up to. "I can't tell you because it would be too risky" does make some degree of sense, but is also one of the most overused excuses for why characters can't talk to each other, so it still grated a bit for me.
Good, because, as I'm sure you're starting to realize with some of the later chapters, something doesn't add up between what Prisma's telling Tessa, and what you're seeing play out elsewhere. Your theories in the following paragraph are pretty much all the guesses I was wanting people to make.

Speaking of, I'm not sure whether you intend for the infected pokémon we've seen so far to be intimidating, but thus far I haven't really been feeling it.
Sorry about that. To be honest, I'm not going for purely intimidating. In fact, the original inspiration for the whole Prism Virus idea was, in fact, the Shroobs from Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. So I was trying to emulate the "creepy appearance, but their actions and mannerisms are actually more comical/nightmare retardant," feeling that the Shroobs had. As for the Espy/Umbry bit, those are simply pet names (pulled from their species names) that they call each other, though I'm guessing you've already realized that.

I loved that Shane had basically the same reaction to hearing them talk about Entercards that I did, though. If they are, presumably, the Espeon/Umbreon from Gates, they've clearly gone through something pretty drastic since that plot wrapped up...
Correct! And, actually, it'd be more like since Super wrapped up since, technically, you can recruit them. Hell, Nintendo (UK?) did this really weird Super promotional trailer where these Jellicent brought the two of them in and apparently stated they were siblings and also madly in love with each other and I'm gonna shut up now. @.@

Likewise, I wasn't getting the real visceral sense of horror from the infected munchlax. The concept of them being sort of fused with Guzzlord was creepy, but they reminded me of Daleks more than anything (with the whole "Infect! Infect!" thing).
Everyone's interpreted the Prism Virus Pokémon but, as stated earlier, I was going for creepy appearance, not necessarily frightening with dialogue and actions. I was also trying to reflect that, despite the proper UB's having nutty appearances, they act really silly in the games (Buzzwole's flexing, Xurkitree's happy-wiggly dance and skipping around its Ultra Space, etc.)

I'll also touch briefly on the bonus chapter here, since I think it fits in more with this episode than it does with the next... The legend itself works well enough as an origin story for a particular mystery dungeon, but I have to say that Zekrom and Tapu Koko's personalities seemed a bit too over-the-top exaggerated for my taste and seemed sort of out of place in what would presumably be a story passed down across generations, where I wouldn't expect things like dialogue quirks to get passed down.
That's perfectly alright. I had a bad feeling it wouldn't be received perfectly. My approach to Legendaries is to veer more on the over-the-top side because I strongly believe that, at least as far as this universe in concerned, they are a bunch of children and behave as such, with a few actually acting reasonable.

But, overall, this is probably my favorite episode yet. Like I said, there's a lot going on here, and it all points towards interesting conflicts and plot developments in the future. Definitely getting out of the set-up portion and into the real plot with this episode!
That was pretty much the intention behind this one.

Kind of funny that, while this is framed as an episode focused on Braviary, to me it feels like the real meat of this part is giving some more backstory on Tessa's family. Which is perfectly fine, it just struck me as a little funny.
It may be funny, but that's actually exactly the angle I wanted to go for. The whole point behind that special episode (and the remaining two that haven't been posted) is to answer the question "What's the deal with Tessa's family, anyway?" And to do so from different perspectives. I couldn't very well use Incineroar (since he's dead), and Metagross would've been beyond my abilities. Prisma was also not an option (b/c she may or may not be the focus of one of the later special episodes :V). So, that left Braviary.

So now we have a more complete picture of her whole family situation: her father the incineroar is dead, and both her mother and her (adoptive) brother have faffed off for unclear reasons. And the whole "name" thing seems to be restricted to the Prisma clan, plus Shane.
Correct. At least, as far as inhabitants of the PMD world are concerned. Ultra Space is an entirely different matter, as you've seen from Team Paradox.

Prisma's backstory appears to strongly imply that she's also human, and that would make sense, if nicknames (despite what Tessa told Shane earlier) really aren't a thing for pokémon, or are so rare that Rufflet's never encountered anyone else with one. Tessa presumably isn't somehow human, but her mother carried the naming tradition on with her...
Exactly. And, as you discover later, the names are given for a very specific reason.

Which leaves Gallian.
Those are all a lot of strong guesses and good ideas. I'm not going to say anything, of course, because there's still stuff you don't know about him.

Anyway, the episode itself. I actually didn't mind the extended use of Braviary's accent here, although I am known to be a lot more tolerant of odd speech patterns than other people, heh. I think you pulled the first person narration off just fine overall; in particular I liked how frustrated Rufflet was with Torracat's interest in Prisma the whole time.
Glad to hear it. I did have fun with it, though I can see Cutlerine's point that I got a tad bit carried away with it.

You maybe went a bit heavy-handed with how terrible Feraligatr was to Prisma the entire time, though.
Yeah, it may have been too Saturday morning cartoonish. That's kind of the inspiration I was using for this special episode.

A small random thing, I enjoyed how Rufflet was uncomfortable being buried under jewels. I mean, most of them aren't technically rocks, but close enough that I can see how Rufflet would be uncomfortable with them. An unexpected observation, but one that struck me as cute and spot-on.
I figured I needed to bring it up. I don't own a bird, but I seem to recall something about them doing really bad with tight spaces.

One thing that stood out to me in this section was how battle-heavy this 'fic can be at times. There was a major battle in every one of these three chapters, and tbh not a lot went on besides fighting, aside from the puzzle sequence and intro/outro... Your action scenes aren't bad, but they take up a lot of space and I find it a little exhausting to have one pretty much every chapter.
That was definitely me getting a bit too carried away. I'm hoping that things have balanced themselves out a lot more with these more recent groups of chapters (Sp Episode 2 not withstanding). But if not, raise the complaint again. I should warn that the end of the fic will probably get battle-heavy too. But that's the "endgame" so to speak, so I'm hoping you'll be willing to overlook it and enjoy.

I'm liking the developments with Gallian here. Again I have to wonder whether he's working for Necrozma (while apparently Necrozma-aligned, he doesn't seem infected) and potentially against his mom. I wonder if his freaking out about Tessa not joining the guild was his way of trying to prevent Tessa from coming into contact with Shane, or if it's something else entirely.
Well, you now know who he's working for, but you still don't know why he doesn't want Tessa joining the guild.

It is pretty frustrating to see him being just as vague as Tessa's mom about what he's up to/what's going on, though. Some justification that he may not fully understand himself/his visions don't really cover that, but Tessa's family issues are starting to feel like one of those situations that could be resolved if the people involved would just sit down and talk to each other, which is annoying.
Right, I see what you mean. I guess I was trying to get across that Gallian's not willing to sit down and talk with Tessa, but maybe I didn't end up putting in a part where the idea of doing that sets off his disaster sense. Because it does, and the point is that he's fanatically devoted to it.

I also liked Shane really starting to feel the impact of his (I will admit that I totally missed the moment where Shane flashed back(?) to the human world until you mentioned it in a review response; I was thinking dimensional scream or something going on there.) It did kind of feel like he snapped right back to his usual self as soon as the Crabrawler's Café thing happened, though, which was a bit disappointing. I assume we'll get more exploration of his conflicting personalities and coming to grips with not being the awesome chosen one he was thinking of later on in the story.
Yes, the point with that snap back was to partially set the dominoes for things to go really wrong in Episode 6, which leads to things getting worse in Episode 7. I won't say anything more than that.

This and no stepladder reference? For shame.
I'm sorry. Forgive meeeeeeeee!

I just wanted to take a moment to convey that SHANE, THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS! Confirmation bias is bad!
And he still wouldn't care, if he can make himself look good. :p

I also really enjoyed this moment of game mechanic savvy coming through. Kecleon being super-powerful terror creatures will never cease to amuse me.
Because we've all been stupid enough to steal from a Kecleon, am I right? :V

I like this SE better than the last one. For one thing, I think you definitely did a better job of balancing the action with elements of the story, and as a result I found it more interesting to read the battles that actually were there. That was the big thing, really; having fewer action pieces (kind of ironic, given what genre you were going for here) gave the rest more room to breathe and for us to spend more time with the characters.
The first half was more conspiracy-oriented, I'll admit, so I was going for a tenser, suspicion-filled atmosphere.

And more backstory on Null! As soon as there was talk about waterfalls, I had a feeling that was where things were headed. His backstory here works quite nicely; pretty close to his canon backstory, but modified to work in this different world. It'll definitely be interesting to see how the team's discovery affects things going forward.
And then Team Captivate gets clobbered by a Buzzwear. :V

And presumably this suggests the Expedition Society may play a larger role in the story later on? Seeing as they have Null's memories now, figuratively speaking, and I imagine that's going to have to come up again later on.
That is correct. It may not be canon characters you were expecting, however. Generally speaking, I feel fine giving canon characters from Gates and Super more prominence (since those games and there stories are divisive in the community), while Rescue Team and Explorers will mostly be cameos or brief appearances (because they're fan-favorites, and I don't trust myself to do those characters justice).

I also noticed earlier how two members of Team Radiance's little group are happiness evolutions... Will we bet getting a couple Big Damn Evolutions at pivotal moments of self-actualization and character development? You could definitely get some Crowning Moments of Awesome/Heartwarming going on with that if you play your cards right.
Dang it, Negrek. Now you've got me nervous I'm just going to disappoint everyone in the end! ;~;

You also definitely did a good job of setting Team Captivate up as more seasoned explorers than Tessa and Shane. They clearly have a better idea of what they're doing and, in general, think things through a lot more completely and coherently than the other two. And, of course, they have much better teamwork, despite their minor squabbles.
Which makes me glad I moved this episode, since having it take place after they got their tails handed to them by Buzzwear would probably cheapen things a bit.

I did think that you kind of undermined that at times by having the characters overexplain... Like, when Milotic was leading Marshadow on, and you have Dragonair literally explaining to Serperior what's going on, it feels like that bit is in there mostly to reassure the audience that you know what you're doing and haven't forgotten what happend earlier in the episode.
Ah, nuts. I may have to go back and look that part over, then.

I'm also not sure that you needed to devote as much space as you did to Chapter 16. It was cool seeing where Team Captivate crossed over with the "main plotline," but other than that a lot of the chapter was kind of administrative stuff in terms of getting them to the right place and hearing Zoroark's side of the story, plus the mission that ended up being a red herring anyway. To me this was definitely the least interesting of the chapters and where I might look to cut down on things a bit.
Okay, I see what you mean. Again, probably need to reexamine that one.

I was also slightly confused about the dungeon mechanics here. Zoroark left marks indicating how to get to the catacombs, but in an ordinary mystery dungeon story we'd expect those to be meaningless, because the layout would have changed by the time Team Captivate got there. But clearly it hasn't. Is that the difference between "wild" and "managed" mystery dungeons in the story? Like the tapus occasionally rearrange things, but otherwise keep the dungeon layouts static, whereas ones outside their control do much more of the mysterious rearrangement?
You've almost got it right. Since Horizon is a chunk of landmass that drifted across the ocean, it's been anchored to the seafloor. Most of the dungeons (on the surface) get their terrain altered by the Tapus whenever they feel like doing that (otherwise they're static). However, Glyphic Falls and the Nocturnus Catacombs (which are very deep underground) are permanently static. If their layouts were altered, the Tapus would risk destroying the continent's foundations and sending it drifting into the ocean again. But, as it is, both places are pretty big and labyrinth like, so they've never been fully mapped out.

But like I said, overall I think this episode works pretty well... It's entertaining as well as clearly being plot-relevant, and it's nice to step back and see things from other perspectives now and again. And I think you did get the secret agent/action movie feel down right!
Glad to hear it. I did so very enjoy blasting James Bond music in the background while writing some of this. XD

A great follow-on to Episode Five, another one of those jam-packed episodes that I love. There's a ton going on here, and it's been great watching it unfold. More than anything we have a lot of great consequences here, and it feels like even extremely stubborn, change resistant characters like Shane are really starting to feel the impact of what's been happening and are kind of wavering towards maybe kind of actually not snapping back to the way they were before.
That's how I wanted it to happen, hence why Shane initially snapped back at the end of Episode 5.

I definitely saw the parallels between Lycanroc and the "Team Skull joins the guild" bit from Sky, but I love how you made it so that Shane had been wrong all along, and only his heckling of Lycanroc eventually made the guy get so frustrated that he acted out just to spite him.
I really did want to invert that chapter from Sky. And I thought Midnight Lycanroc, being portrayed as super prideful, would be the best Pokémon for that.

Like, he does know from the games that they are (were once) solid pokémon, but he even floats himself the idea that they've been controlled, in which case... It felt like he had a real personal investment in their characters that in turn informed how he behaved towards Lycanroc, but I didn't really understand where that deep investment had come from or why he was so committed to it.
It's his firm belief that he can take out the Big Bad and free them without any sort of confrontation. As to the personal investment, I'm going to point to the joking comments multiple characters have made about him having a crush and ask that you hold that thought for awhile.

What I said earlier about the infected pokémon being a little more hammy than intimidating continues to hold true with the bewear fight in this episode. I definitely like the fight itself; I thought there was a real sense of danger, and the feeling of overwhelming odds against Shane and his crew. However, at times I did think that the more comical aspects of the bewear sort of undermined its scariness and felt a little out of place with the tone of the fight.
I know you're right. It's probably, again, a result of me sort of game-ifying things a bit and, again, taking that approach with these bosses. I know things have gotten a lot darker/serious as of late, but at its core I'd intended for this fic to be overall more of a humorous one than a frightening/horror one. With that said, I'll keep this in mind. There's one more Prism Virus boss that's going to be hammy (in fact, it's coming in the next chapter). But, going forward, I'll try to make them a bit more serious.

I also do really love that this fight has serious consequences. The magic healing available in the various pokémon canons is kind of taken for granted most of the time, so it's an interesting twist to have a character actually suffer through injuries for any length of time.
Yeah, I wanted a literal shock to Shane's system, so messing with his nervous system felt like a good way to make that happen.

On the one hand, that's not how the immune system works, but on the other hand apparently pokémon don't know what viruses are? And healing is pretty much limited to status effects and battle-related injuries? If that's the case, how does comfey even know how to deal with a fever? How could she know what an "immune system" even is?
I imagine I got a bit too Magitechy here. But I do believe I mention (possibly in the next chapter) that Comfey learned things from her predecessor (Blissey). So, yeah, first aid stuff is something trained Pokémon teach to one another.

I have to admit that I'd completely forgotten about Shane's rainbow scarf until Espy brought it up in the bewear chapter. Assuming it's going to work out important to the plot, maybe make a point of mentioning it every now and again to remind readers it exists?
Your wish will be granted. It'll be mentioned again this episode (and the next one, and the next one...)

In a similar vein, this bit felt a little forced to me
I think you are right, I just wasn't sure of a good way to have them pop back up into Shane's mind after he gave them no real thought for awhile.

There are a lot of plot elements, in particular, that look interesting. What on earth happened in Lucario's study is definitely one of them. Did she really pop back in there for a frenzy of research, or was it someone else going through her stuff, trying to piece things together? Whoever did it wasn't exactly subtle and/or very good at covering their tracks (and why wouldn't they have taken the stuff with them? Presumably they're going to need those diagrams etc. later?), but it's nicely ambiguous as to what's really going on there.
That was pretty much what I was going for. That being a sense that, yeah, something really, really wrong here, so more pieces start to fall in place as to what Prisma might've ended up doing around the time she left the guild.

And what that research was about... definitely Ho-Oh related, of course, and Incineroar is the most obvious candidate for the "he" that could get brought back with the sacred ash, though I wouldn't rule it out being somebody else, perhaps Ho-Oh himself. If it *is* Incineroar, it more strongly suggests it was either Lucario or Gallian who was messing around in there... Although Braviary or perhaps even Metagross are also potential suspects!
Yup. It's like we're playing Clue up in here!

And Tessa is honestly thinking about dissolving the team and joining up with Null instead! It's been a long time coming, and tbh I was kind of surprised that Tessa didn't take her mom's warning earlier as the perfect excuse to get the hell away from Shane, but it's great to see it finally happening and knowing that even if Tessa ends up changing her mind in the end, there's a big shake-up down the line for her relationship with Shane. That was something that really needed to change (as Dragonair was so kind as to point out, lol), so it's gratifying to see things moving in that direction.
The point was that Null was the means allowing that to happen. Because, with him, Tessa feels confident enough to continue working at the Guild. Previously, she was sticking with Shane because she knows she needs to have a partner to make this work.

Finally, there's probably the biggest reveal of this episode, that being of Dawn Wings Necrozma. Unfortunately my ignorance of the mechanics of USUM is going to make it harder for me to say what's going on here...
Dawn Wings Necrozma is indeed a proper fusion of Necrozma and Lunala. Like the Kyurem forms, it keeps Necrozma's stats/nature/IVs/EVs/moveset, but gains the signature move of whichever Pokémon it fuses with. And while yes, this fic is rolling under the assumption that there are plenty of other Lunalas lingering about in the depths of Ultra Space, I'll just straight-up say that I'm not doing the "it's from another world" thing. That is our Lunala that has been incorporated in Dawn Wings Necrozma.

And Ultra Necrozma's speech pattern strongly suggests that the Solgaleo Shane's been talking to is Necrozmafied... And apparently there's some "mistress" who's actually directing Necrozma and company? Mysterious and even less good!
Correct. When the story was outlined, I left this part open. And when TPCi confirmed that we were indeed getting Necrozma forms, I filled out the outline to accommodate that information. Necrozma's firmly in control here.

It was interesting to see Espy/Umbry's take on Necrozma's plan, too. From the way they interact with Necrozma it seems like they're mostly going along with the guy out of fear of what will happen to the other if one of them resists, but the description of the dark world "where everyone will be equal" is also intriguing.
Essentially, the "equal" bit takes some inspiration from Dragon Ball Super. It's an inversion of Zamasu's "Zero-Mortal Plan."

So, yeah, definitely a lot of cool developments here. For what it's worth, I didn't think that your descriptions of the battle were too intense or anything... There definitely has been a shift towards a more serious tone, though, and I look forward to seeing how that develops over time... I imagine things are going to get more dark before they start to lighten up again!
Ah, gotcha. I guess I was just paranoid (or worried the thread would suddenly get deleted if I messed it up). There will be some bad stuff coming (for starters, Null nearly causing Shane to drown).

I love how much more vitriolic Shane and Tessa are towards each other here. You really get the sense that they're just totally done with each other at this point, and any friendliness there might have been between them has been completely eclipsed by resentment and disgust. Love it.
I'm really happy to hear that. This episode just has made me beside myself with worry. It's supposed to be a turning point for the main characters, but I fear that I'm going to whiff or that it's not going to be believable. ;~;

tbh I don't even know that I'm really rooting for them to decide to stick together... I think they might benefit from some time to themselves to kind of sort out their own stuff, and then maybe they can try again at a friendship or team-ship that's maybe built on more solid principles than Shane deciding Tessa must be his partner because she found him washed up on a beach and that's how these things work.
As you can see, they're getting time apart. I'm just warning you upfront that it's not going to be super long. But, if I do my job right, it serves an important purpose and will get Shane to learn a crucial detail that catalyzes some needed changes for him.

I also like the more depth we've gotten for Shane for the past couple episodes and how you go deeper with it here. The revelation that he's actually kind of bad at the Pokémon games he loves so much and generally has to cheat to win is spectacular and was totally unexpected for me.
I'm glad to hear it. I was keeping that one rather close to the vest. :p

It's been fun watching him start to abandon that recently... I definitely started out preferring Tessa, but Shane has gotten considerably more interesting in recent chapters where we've gotten to see other aspects of his personality shining through instead of just the obnoxious put-on he was keeping up. Not that his more humanish personality is all that much more pleasant...
Happy to see you're getting invested with it. Like I said, I really didn't want Shane and Tessa to be your typical "friend to everyone," archetypes that the PMD player/partner usually are.

I also really like this bit. Don't honestly know why, for some reason the idea of getting sent to the PMD world being karmic retribution for wasting time on video games as a human really tickles me.
Heh heh... and just think. We still don't know exactly how/why Shane is here to begin with. ^^

I feel so bad for Null in the most recent chapter... And people say I'm mean to my characters. XD
To be honest, I wasn't sure people would go along with the whole "in constant pain," bit. Nice to be wrong on that bit.

I think you maybe go a little too hard on people being immediately repulsed by him, though. I mean, Type: Null is pretty weird-looking, but really, a lot of pokémon are somewhere in the range of "pretty weird-looking" to "seriously creepy."
I see what you mean. I should've been focused less on the overall appearance and more on the idea of "Dear god, I've never seen anything like this before. Is this even a Pokémon?" In Shane's case, it's more the size differential in combination with Null's mannerisms scaring him.

In any case, now that Null's been made aware of his experimental nature, I have a feeling we're going to be seeing some repercussions.
Yes indeedy, though the full scope of that will become more apparent a bit later.

At least Tessa likes him! The introduction of the Ultra Recon Squad is also an interesting wrinkle... presumably this is an all-mon version of the one seen in the games.
They're based off the USUM group, but Luxeira and Sticky aren't directly based on any of the four URS members. Like, "Ultra Recon Squad," just sounds like the perfect name for an Ultra Space version of rescue/exploration/expedition teams.

And then, since you updated AGAIN after I'd finished this section, some quick natter about 27: this chapter actually brings up something I'd been wondering about constantly with Bruxish: how are fish pokémon getting around in this 'fic?
It's a case-by-case basis. Much like the games (especially Gens VI and VII), I believe that fish can exist out of water and look like they're hovering a bit, so to speak. But their maneuverability is greatly limited. Bruxish is an exception. As a psychic, he can levitate, so he can float wherever he pleases, provided he's focusing enough.

So this is where Null finally stops being able to resist his killer side and goes after Shane. :( Definitely a big Gollum vibe going on here, with Null's audible arguing with himself and obviously not really wanting to do this.
Yessir. After all, if Sticky's to be believed, Shane's got a noticeably large ultra aura... for some reason.

And then Tessa and Shane actually turn on each other for real! Things really do keep getting worse for them... I can't see how this mission is going to end with anything but the two of them going their separate ways (and one or both of them getting kicked from the guild, holy ****) unless something truly dramatic happens on this mission. At this point Shane in particular obviously cares more about getting back at Tessa than successfully completing Metagross' assignment, and in turn his position in the guild.
Aaaaaand this is very much why I'm nervous. I really, really, really hope you find the resolution to all of this satisfying. I don't want to disappoint you; especially when you're clearly putting a lot of thought into all of this. ;~;

I'm eager to see what happens with Oranguru. Is he really that much of an oblivious, crotchety old man, or is he totally trolling the team?
Actually, I'm surprised, because I did use an Ace Attorney character as a reference for Oranguru. If you figure out which character it is, you might have a stronger idea of what's about to happen.

A quick word in here on the most recent extras: the one with Tessa's family was very cute, and I enjoyed getting to see Prisma and Incineroar's relationship in particular. I was also very amused by the mention of the sandygast sandbox, because that sounds like the fridge-creepiest sandbox shape possible, heh. (Enjoy your souls while you still have them, kids!)
Cute was what I was going for, there. And, I didn't consider that Sandygast bit. o.o;

Bonuses five and six felt a little scattered, although I generally liked the individual scenes.
That's fair. Probably a result of me approaching these bonuses more as "deleted scenes" and just kind of splicing them together. I'd say it's best not to focus on it as a chapter, but that's a weak excuse and I'll need to try and do better for future bonuses.

This is where we get to see very clearly that Solgaleo doesn't talk like "Solgaleo" in Shane's dreams, but DWN does, uh oh.
This is just silly on my part, but as a Mega Man fan, I read this and read DWN as "Dr. Wily Number," b/c that's the serial code system Dr. Wily uses for his Robot Masters. DWN-800: Necrozma Man! :D

Likewise, I thought the Shane scene at the beginning of six was out of place. We get to see that little Shane had a friend (!) and is bad at Pokémon (lol), but it doesn't really fit with Prisma's scene
Fair enough. I'd just ask you hold onto that scene; keep it tucked away in your memory. Trust me on this one.

On the other hand Prisma's scene is very interesting. So Gallian definitely isn't a former human, he just has a human name because Prisma has been trying to recreate her human family in the Pokémon world holy **** Prisma that is so ****ed up.
Yup, ****ed up is 100% what I was going for. I did say it was probably not what you were expecting in a Christmas special. XD

Now, the story overall. I definitely think you've improved a lot since you started writing this. In my opinion, the story kind of came into its own around the fifth episode, and it's been roaring along since then. In particular I think you've gotten better at using battle scenes than at the beginning, when they happened a lot, and also making appropriate use of tropes/meta humor.
Happy you think I'm improving. Of course, if I veer off course, don't hesitate to smack me up and put me back in line!

But there are some elements that still seem a bit over-the-top hammy for the more complex, morally-gray tale you say you're going for, and the elephant in the room there is definitely Necrozma.
I want to say something about Necrozma's motivations, but I'm going to stay mum. As far as behavior, he is supposed to be ridiculous. As Dawn Wings, he is based off of Aku from Samurai Jack; so, yes, super-hammy is what I'm going for. But that's to contrast another character that hasn't appeared yet. And, hopefully in the next couple of episodes, you'll understand why he's acting pretty stupid.

The general subversions of the PMD genre you've been doing have been really great, though.... In particular you've gone in a very different direction with the partner relationship than in most stories...
Wonderful! I know it's my first fic (and I'm not versed in what deconstruction fics are, to be honest), but I was setting out to defy a lot of the PMD story conventions. Why? Mainly because I thought it'd be fun. Yes, I know I'm crazy.

Null continues to be my favorite character, although as I said, Shane's grown on me quite a bit. Characters are another area where I think you may get a little silly at times, with the very pronounced speech quirks and all, but all the important players are solid in terms of their complexity. I also continue to like the guildmaster, even though I strongly disagree with some of its leadership decisions (I don't care what it says, punishing somebody's partner for them being a ****up is bullshiiiiiit).
Glad to hear it. And, yes, the Guildmaster's leadership decisions are questionable by design. And there's a reason for that!

I haven't been talking about the prose much since this is a more bird's-eye-view kind of review. It's generally pretty solid, but you do end up with some awkward turns of phrase, and that dialogue tag thing I mentioned way back at the beginning of the review, while it's gotten less prominent, still isn't gone. There are also some words and phrases that you consistently misues. "Shirk" is a big one: you don't "shirk" back or away from something, you "shrink" away from them. Shirking is blowing something off.
Ah, dang it. That was just a blatantly stupid mistake on my part that I'll clearly need to pay attention to. So thanks for bringing all that to my attention. And thank you for all the feedback. I consider it a little birthday present that made my heart flutter. :3

(responses extended into next post b/c arrrgh character limit y u do dis?)


Winter can't come soon enough
Ah! Chapter 25 is certainly an interesting one with regard to what it says about Gallian, isn't it?
Yes, Gallian continues to remain a complex case. But I know some folks earlier had asked about how the stolen TM's would factor into the overall story. And now the answer's finally out in the open: he got them for Pokémon who barely know how to protect themselves. I thought it'd be a good way to channel the Ultra Recon Squad's absolute pathetic battling abilities from USUM. Like, god was that an anti-climax.

I do like the extended treatment of Shane's convalescence; it helps to solidify the edge you've slowly been adding to the world as the story continues. I can see why you wanted more on Shane in the infirmary in the previous chapters now – although if I'm honest, I think this section would stand alone perfectly well without those; they were kind of comedy asides, whereas this, while leavened with jokes, is definitely serious. Tonally, they feel quite separate, and this doesn't necessarily need all of the groundwork you laid previously.
Fair enough. As I said, I was kind of just experimenting a bit with more comedic elements that have an overall dour nature to them, but it seems that they were more misses than hits.

Speaking of tone – I feel like Tessa's interaction with Shane was treated a bit too quickly and glibly for it to have the weight it needed. I like that Tessa kept it brief – that feels real – but, possibly because we see very little of Shane's thoughts here, and because he moves on so quickly to bantering with Comfey instead of brooding on it at all, it doesn't have as much impact as it might otherwise do.
Hmm. I'll probably have to go back and see if I can extend that up a bit, then.

I think the fact that the ensuing debate with himself is framed in comic terms also takes away from it – which is not to say that I think you should change that, necessarily, but like, Shane seems to be in fine snarky form and not like someone who's just been told something really serious that he didn't quite believe would actually happen.
At the same time, maybe I can touch up a couple of Shane's lines to give them more of an upset tone than a snarky tone.

The Christmas special is interesting, too. Feels familiar too, in a lot of ways; I've been in that particular hospital room, with a version of Izzy and her parents, and you certainly nailed the atmosphere: that relief, that quiet reminder at the end that by the way, everything is still there even if you get to leave for a while.
Ah, yeah. Right. My apologies if I dredged up any unwanted memories. Sadly, I'm pulling from personal experience myself here (both as a health care provider and as an infusion patient). The hospital was actually based off the nonfictional Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse, NY, which has a cancer center, among other departments.

And then of course there's the dubious behaviour Prisma has been engaging in, creating a copy of her old family in her new world. I like that you present it without commentary; it's much more effective that way.
Happy to hear it. I was a bit uncertain as to the best way to show all of this off would be. But it looks like I did it in an entertaining way.

It'll be interesting to find out what happened in between her arrival in the pokémon world and the events of the first special episode; she seemed much older and more competent back in the human world than in her first appearance as one of Braviary's opponents
That may very well get expounded upon... but faaaaar into the future. As to the bit about changed appearances, do note that Shane debuted as having a full-time job and being old enough to drive a car, and then proceeds to act like a spoiled little kid once he becomes a Vulpix.

The developments with Sticky in the next chapter put me on edge in that way that miscommunication plots do (that okay but if you guys would just talk to each other feeling), but it's to your credit that it wasn't too unbearable; the miscommunication arises as a result of the characters involved, rather than being imposed on them by the plot, and that makes it much more palatable.
Yes, I admit a lot of the Team Paradox stuff has cases of "poor communication kills," but there continues to be mitigating circumstances that butt in on the group.

Which is something that continues into the next chapter, in fact; just after I thought that, Tessa ended up pretty much explicitly saying it herself, if in reference to something else. The options are there, always. And Shane keeps refusing to take them. I'm not entirely sure, at this point, how many chances he can reject and how much further he can descend before he starts to lose what sympathy the reader still has for him
Like I've said, we've hit rock bottom. And we'll hang there for a bit. But this episode is meant to be a major turning point of sorts. So, like I said with Negrek, I just hope you can find the resolution to be satisfying. ;~;

but, having said that I'm also not sure that this isn't what you had planned. It might even be what Metagross had planned; the picture we have of him is emerging more clearly now, and he's definitely a much sketchier presence than he initially seemed.
You're thinking the right things about Metagross, for sure.

At any rate, watching Shane slowly burn his life down is compelling in a way. I don't know how far you plan to take it, but at this point I think the story will most certainly work either way. I very much look forward to seeing what path exactly you take this down from here on out.
And I do so hope you'll like it. It was a lot of fun to draft, but I know you're forming pretty high expectations and I really don't want to let you down. <3

Oh come on, Shane, they're sometimes okay. Resident Evil 4 did a superb job with escorting Ashley Graham. That … that's actually the only good escort mission I can think of. Okay, maybe he kind of has a point.
RE4 was certainly great. Too bad Shane's never played it. :V

And thanks for the corrections, including the verb/adverb thing. I'll keep an eye out for that and make the changes when I'm not feeling like my head's going to explode. Again, I know I'm practically a broken record, but I really appreciate all the feedback and that you're taking the time to read this. It's humbling, considering your reputation.
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Winter can't come soon enough
Behold. The longest chapter in the story to date. I hope you enjoy it! ^^


Chapter 28: Cut Down to Size

~Mellath Bog~

To Shane's pleasant surprise, a significant degree of the fog shrouding Moonrise Marsh disappeared when he entered the Mystery Dungeon. However, it didn't take long for Shane to wish for the fog's return. "I… really don't like the look of things here," he said, swiveling his head back and forth as he walked. The entire dungeon glowed purple, with the leaves serving as the source for the unnatural light. He turned to Oranguru. "Is this place radioactive or something?"

Oranguru raised a curious eyebrow. "I'm afraid I don't quite know what you mean."

Shane frowned. "Right, sorry. That's a human thing. Is this supposed to be a toxic swamp?" He stopped at the point where the path branched out in front of him, encircling a small lagoon. Unlike the marsh, this pond was filled to the brim with fluorescent purple liquid. It was even thicker than the swamp water. Shane gave a frightened squeak and quickly backpedaled as a large bubble formed in the lagoon and burst. Some of the fluid splashed ashore and dissolved, leaving darkened patches on the ground.

"This is definitely not how I remember this place looking," Oranguru said. "The dungeon used to have clear water. And it housed wild Pokémon like the Goodra and Lanturn families."

As if on cue, the pond's surface rippled. A fish lunged out of the water. At first glance, it looked unrecognizable underneath all the purple sludge. Its only distinguishing feature was an antenna that ended with a white, spike-covered ball of crackling electricity.

"Infeeeeeeeeect," the fish moaned. Shane wasted no time in sending a pink, telekinetic burst forward. It struck the sludge-covered monster, blowing it off the trail and into the woods. Shane heard a splattering sound and winced.

"The Prism Virus is here," he concluded. "And it's not just infecting Pokémon this time. It's polluting this entire Mystery Dungeon!"

"Would it not be wiser to wait for your friends to recover and join us, then?" Oranguru proposed.

A scowl crossed Shane face. 'No, I'm not chickening out here. I don't want Tessa's or Null's help.' He resumed walking down the path. "They're not my friends," he said. "Now, let's get moving before that mutated Lanturn wakes up."

Oranguru lumbered along after Shane. Both Pokémon took in their surroundings. The dark purple trees gnarled and twisted around each other. Some trees sported dozens of pointed spines. They pulsated with some sort of red and black liquid. Shane grimaced and fixed his attention to the pathway. But even that couldn't extinguish the unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. The numerous cracks in the soil glowed the same shade of purple as the leaves and water.

"You can do this, Shane," he whispered to himself. "You're the human here, remember?"

"There's strength to be had in numbers, you know," Oranguru said. "Why, there was this one time where my lovely mate tried to venture into Rem Canyon on her own. A tribe of dragon-types captured her, for the wild Pokémon living there are not fond of us civilized folk. Naturally, my first inclination was to dash in after her. But it was your Guildmaster who advised I wait so he could gather the personnel necessary for a rescue mission. Ah, what a kind soul he was."

"Guildmaster? You mean Metagross? Is that how you know him?" Shane asked, eyes still fixed on the ground.

"Guildmaster Metagross?" Oranguru said, raising an eyebrow. "I think you are mistaken, child. He is the top explorer in the Horizon Guild, sure. But I'm talking about Incineroar!" Oranguru smiled. "Such a charismatic fellow. He could light the room up with his infectious smile. And not just because he was a fire-type. Ho ho ho!"

"You're clearly just doing this to bug me, aren't you?" Shane huffed in frustration. "I have no idea what an Incineroar is, but I know for a fact that Metagross is our Guildmaster. He's the one who sent us down here to help you."

Oranguru stopped in the middle of the trail. "That cannot be," he said. "I've been exchanging letters with Incineroar for the last few weeks. Perhaps Metagross simply conveyed the order on Incineroar's behalf?"

Shane's brow furrowed. "Look, you said yourself you haven't been out of the marsh in a while, dude. So, I don't know what to tell you. I'm still pretty new to the guild myself, but everyone there acknowledges Metagross as the Guildmaster. Maybe Incineroar stepped down and didn't tell you? It doesn't matter. Less talking, more walking."

He glanced over his shoulder and saw Oranguru standing there, frowning. "But he is such a close friend. My wonderful mate and I have gone on many excursions with Incineroar and his mate, Lucario." He scratched his head. This revelation caused Shane to stumble.

'Wait… so Tessa's dad is this Incineroar guy?' Shane gasped.

"Hmm… come to think of it… Riolu could've been their pup," Oranguru muttered. "I never met their children in person, you see, but Incineroar loved to talk about them. Oh, how I long for the good ol' days when my aura-sensing abilities were up to snuff."

"For god's sake." Shane puffed out a cloud of mist. "Look, sir, there's clearly been some sort of miscommunication here. Tessa told me herself that her mom and dad have been in the Grass Continent for quite a while. And neither of them will be returning to Horizon anytime soon. Let's put the issue to rest and get go–"

"But, there's no way we could have communicated so frequently if he's in the Grass Continent," Oranguru said. "This is quite perplexing."

"No, it doesn't matter," Shane growled. "Look, we're wasting time standing here and talking. You want to see your 'lovely, wonderful, fabulous mate,' right? Then we should be booking it through this bog. So, come on, already!"

Oranguru stretched out his neck. "Yes, I shouldn't keep my darling mate waiting, should I? Sorry, these old bones can't move as fast as I'd like them to." He arced his back and then proceeded forward.

Shane bit his lower lip. 'This is getting weird. Why would Metagross deceive this old geezer? He's not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.' He started walking after Oranguru. 'And what about that Incineroar business? I guess Metagross is just acting as Guildmaster in his absence, then? But how could Tessa not think to mention her father is the actual Guildmaster. That's a pretty big detail to leave me in the dark about this whole time.'

Shane scowled and shook his head. 'No. You know what? I'll bet she did that on purpose. If her dad's the actual Guildmaster, then exploring really is in her blood. So, the only reason she's acting like this is because she hates me and wants to be rid of me!' A glare crossed his face. 'I'll bet she's probably not in any danger of getting expelled. Metagross wouldn't want to upset 'Daddy's Little Girl,' after all.'

He gnashed his fangs together. 'Well, we'll just see about that. When I get back to the Observatory and show Metagross that Tessa's willing to defend a would-be killer, there's no way he'll let her stay. And with any luck, Null will get the boot too.'


~Moonrise Marsh~

Null's eyes slowly opened. Groaning, he struggled to stand up against the weight of his helmet. "What… happened?" he muttered, finally righting himself. Null surveyed the foggy wetlands. All he spotted was the luminous orb hanging from its tree and a small patch of blue ground giving off a fine mist.

"We fell unconscious!" Null found himself shouting. "The beast escaped us again."

Null jerked his head to his right. "No… shut up. That… that wasn't a beast. That was… a teammate." He clawed at his helmet. "I… attacked Shane."

Null stiffened. "Of course we did. He has an ultra aura. That makes him a beast. All beasts must be destroyed."

He walked over toward the tree, continuing to shake his head. "I don't… know what you mean. He's just… a little Vulpix," Null growled.

Again, his head jolted straight up. "We will not stand for this. Prove that purple beast wrong. Destroy Vulpix! Show him this infernal contraption can't contain us! Show that we are not some failed experiment!"

Null stiffened. He turned and banged his helmet against the tree, making a considerable dent in the rotting wood. His head throbbed in pain, but he also felt the hissing voices retreat from his mind. Null sighed in relief and sat down in front of the tree. He figured his best course of action was to find Tessa.

He got back to his feet and proceeded forward, approaching the blue mound in the wetlands. As Null got closer, his eyes widened at the sight of Tessa lying on her belly, encased in a thick sheet of ice. "What happened here?" he wondered. Null raised a foreleg and chipped away at the ice. He continued digging until he exposed Tessa. A layer of brown, hardened mud caked her entire body. Patches of ice clung to the mud. Null reached in and yanked Tessa out of the frozen mud pit.

Tessa didn't stir. Null cautiously placed a foreleg on her chest and felt it slowly rise up. That drew a relieved sigh, until Null noticed the item bag was missing. He did a quick scan of the wetlands, but saw no sign of it. Null hung his head. He then lay down next to Tessa and slowly curled his body up around her. Cold, slimy mud brushed against Null's fur and scales. He willed his discomfort away and tucked Tessa up against his shoulder.

Null continued lying there, trying to forget about his splitting headache. If he started shaking his head, he'd strike Tessa, and that would make things worse. Eventually, he felt Tessa stirring. Null slowly uncurled, allowing Tessa to wake up and roll onto her knees.

"I… am going… to kill him!" she seethed, digging her digits into the sod.

"What happened to you?" Null asked, drawing Tessa's attention. Her eyes blazed with anger.

"Vulpix totally lost it and attacked me," Tessa spat. "I was just trying to come over and help you out, but Vulpix flipped out, charged me down, and knocked me into the mud. He pinned me to the ground and then froze me solid!" She lumbered to her feet. "Before I passed out, I heard him say he was taking our hard-earned items and ditching us to take Oranguru to Sunflower Meadows." She stepped forward and grabbed the brim of Null's helmet. "He's going to try and get us kicked out of the guild. And all because he wouldn't just stop and listen to me for a minute!"

"… no. It's… it's my fault," Null rasped. "After battling that… little guy… in the tunnel… the voices… they burrowed into my mind. They were screaming at me. I couldn't... make them stop. So... I ran off. I thought… if I hid somewhere… they would go away." He lowered his head. "But… they got so loud… my head was hurting so much. Before I knew it… I was attacking Vulpix. I couldn't… control myself."

"Don't you blame yourself," Tessa scolded. "You couldn't help it. It was just like what happened with Bewear, right?"

Null nodded. "… yes. I… the voices…" He clawed at his helmet. "I… started speaking… what they were saying. I… was shouting… that Vulpix needed... to be destroyed."

"And I tried to explain your problem to Vulpix. But he refused to listen. And that's when he got mad and attacked me!" Tessa growled. "C'mon, we need to go after him."

"Are you sure… that's a good idea?" Null muttered. "What if… I lose control… and attack him… again?"

Tessa placed a paw on Null's shoulder. "I'll be there to help keep you calm. I'm not going to let anything happen to you." She gazed off into the fog. "And I'm not about to roll over and let Vulpix get away with this. We can get a fresh start, the two of us. All we need to do is catch up to him. I think if he's dealing with both of us, he'll keep quiet and listen."

She walked off toward the fog. Null jerked his head to the right and jostled his helmet around. "… okay. I trust you. Please… please make sure... I don't snap again."

Tessa approached Null's side and the two of them ventured off toward the marsh's exit.


~Mellath Bog~

Shane forcefully exhaled, sending frosty air spilling out in front of him. The icy attack splashed up against a wall of thorny, pulsating, red vines. To his utter horror, his attack harmlessly bounced off the foliage. Worse, the red glow strengthened and the vines pulsated faster. Shane slumped over, panting heavily.

"It's… it's no good. I can't break through them," he said.

"You should take some time and think about how to approach this from another angle," Oranguru suggested. "A clear mind can tackle the toughest of obstacles, you know."

Shane's left eye twitched. "In case you haven't noticed, we don't exactly have the time to dawdle here!" he growled. "This place is crawling with infected Pokémon. And these vines are definitely growing out onto the path."

A thorny-red vine launched out from one of the purple trees. With a startled bark, Shane sprawled out on his belly. The vine shot past him and dug into the existing wall of plant life. Small roots emerged from the new vine and wrapped around the wall. It wasn't long before red and black liquid started pumping through the new roots.

Shane rolled out from underneath the vine, his legs trembling. He stuck his snout in the item pouch and brought an apple out. Shane hastily devoured it. "See what I mean? We can't stick around here. This place is crawling with the Prism Virus."

"Prism Virus?" Oranguru parroted. "What in heaven's name is that?"

"It's… complicated," Shane muttered. "The quick version is it's an evil force turning Pokémon into sick, twisted monsters. Which is exactly what we'll become if we stay in one spot too long." He turned back toward the vine wall. "So, are you going to give me a hand with this thing or not?"

"I'm afraid I don't think my hands would do much good with that thing, child," Oranguru muttered. "My lovely mate, on the other hand, had quite the iron grip about her."

"I didn't mean literally! How stupid are you, huh?" Shane hissed. "Can't you use your psychic powers to boost up my Frost Breath? We might be able to get through that way."

"I'm not sure how much help I'll be," Oranguru said. "I don't quite have that spring in my step nowadays."

"Well, we're not getting through here if we can't bust this down," Shane said. He sucked in a deep breath and spewed a large gust of frost. As his cloud of frozen air struck the vines, a pink glow overtook it. This amplified the blast of cold and, to Shane's delight, froze the vines solid. Shane spun around and kicked the base of the wall with his hind legs. A large crack weaved its way through the frozen wall, and it came tumbling down.

"Finally! Now, let's get going," Shane ordered, proceeding forward. 'This is it. We've gotta be getting close now. And not a moment too soon. This swamp is absolutely terri–'

Shane abruptly stopped, squeaking in surprise. "W-What the–? What is this place?"

Oranguru lumbered up beside Shane and started stroking his beard. The duo found themselves looking at a rounded area similar to the lagoon near the bog's entrance. However, there was no body of water. Instead, a basin sat in the center of the clearing. Pitch-black crystals peppered the basin floor. Each one crackled with ominous red energy. Similarly, crystal roots extended out from the basin, heading into the forest.

"Is this what's corrupting the Mystery Dungeon?" Shane gasped. "What are these things?"

"I couldn't say," Oranguru muttered. "Look closely. The light is distorting over there. I daresay this is not natural."

Shane gave Oranguru a look of disbelief. 'Gee, you think?' he sneered. Shane cautiously took a step toward the basin. As he did, his eyes fell toward its center. There, a pointed black stone jutted out from the ground. Shane followed it upward, until he spotted a red, winged heart insignia burned into the top of the stone. The heart had horns poking out of its top and a piercing eye in its center.

'This is no crystal. It's a monolith!' he realized. 'Someone had to have put this here. Don't tell me Espeon and Umbreon did this.' He took a deep breath. "Well… this doesn't concern us. Let's keep going."

Shane walked around the basin, only to freeze mid-step when the ground started trembling. He scrambled backward, yipping loudly. Seconds later, a pink, drill-like structure popped out from the spot Shane had been standing in.

"It's carving time! Kekekeke!"

Shane's heart leaped up into his throat as he watched the newcomer unfurl her limbs. "An… an infected Scyther?" Shane gulped.

"What are you talking about, child? That is definitely a Lurantis," Oranguru corrected him. "And here I thought my eyesight was getting lousy."

"Lurantis? Like, a praying mantis?" Shane said. "Because, where I'm from, they don't have four giant pink swords for arms. And they're not that big!" His tails shot between his legs. "Dear god, why is it so big?"

Oranguru stroked his beard. "Well, Moonrise Marsh is led by Totem Lurantis. If you're with the guild, surely you know how Totem Pokémon work, yes?" Shane was not in the mood to give Oranguru an honest answer. Oranguru dismissed Shane's silence and offered Lurantis a friendly wave. "Lurantis, how are you doing? I noticed you did not drop by for tea, yesterday. Were you busy here in Mellath Bog?"

In response to this, Lurantis pointed her upper arms skyward and shot a ball of red light above her. Shane's tails jolted stiff and he prepared to book it, only to notice the fireball had stopped and was now hovering above them. It bathed the clearing in orange light.

Shane's eyes widened in realization. "Wait… Sunny Day? So, it's grass-type, then. Perfect!" He sucked in a breath and blew out a steady stream of frost.

"Kekeke… I'm going to slice you up like a loaf of moldy white bread!" Lurantis cackled. Her four arm-blades flared to life with vibrant green energy. She swung her lower limbs forward to absorb Shane's attack. Shane ceased his attack and sprinted backward. But Lurantis swung her upper limbs forward, causing two massive beams of light to pummel Shane into the ground.

"Agggh! Wha… what did she just hit me with?" Shane hollered.

"Solar Blade," Oranguru said. "It has been quite some time since I've seen that attack in action. And using Sunny Day to remove the charge-up time? Quite the strategy. Why, if my lovely mate were here, I'm sure she'd be complementing Lurantis… despite her aggression."

"Nnnrrgh… you're not helping!" Shane hissed through gritted teeth. He lumbered back to his feet. "Give me a little backup, here," he ordered.

"I'm afraid I'm not much for fighting these days," Oranguru said, shrugging. "Ah, if only you'd seen me in my youth."

Lurantis raised her upper right arm. Shane's eyes widened at the sight of a target reticle appearing on the ground and slowly approaching him. "News flash, you old geezer. This thing's trying to kill us! I don't care if you're old, just help me out!" he yelped and sprinted away from the targeting reticle. It instead maneuvered toward Oranguru. The second the reticle contacted Oranguru's body, it turned red. Lurantis' eyes gleamed and her raised arm shot forward like a pointed rocket.

Oranguru barely managed to form a sparkling blue shield around him, blocking the attack. Lurantis whipped her limb backward, causing her arm to retract. "Your shields will fall, you worthless scum. Kekeke!"

"Hmm," Oranguru hummed, stroking his beard, "why would Lurantis be able to use Smart Strike? That doesn't sound quite right. What is going on here?"

Shane quickly shot a gust of icy air forward while Lurantis continued to focus on Oranguru. It successfully struck her right side, sending her stumbling backwards with a hiss. Her attention immediately diverted to Shane. He took off, glancing into the item pouch. "C'mon, c'mon. There's gotta be something in here I can use to deal with he– meeeep!"

Shane skidded to halt and a giant blade of green light slammed down in front of him, missing his snout by inches. He looked up and saw a second green blade careening down toward him. Shane gritted his teeth and leaped over the Solar Blade that had missed him. He just barely managed to clear the beam of light and land safely on the other side.

"Hey, old man! Now's your chance!" Shane yelled. He opened his mouth and spewed a large cloud of frost in Lurantis' direction. Lurantis stuck her limbs out. To Shane's utter horror, her arms started spinning around her body while her head and legs remained stationary. Her spinning blades easily parted his attack. But they proved to be useless against a sudden blast of psychic energy that erupted behind her.

Lurantis gasped and abruptly stopped her spinning. "Rrrr… why won't you let me slice you up?" She stomped her feet about angrily and raised her upper limbs. Two targeting icons started moving toward either side of her. Shane immediately stuck his snout into the item pouch.

'I've just gotta think about what I want, right?' he figured. 'C'mon… stun seed, where are you? I know Tessa's bound to have at least one after that Parasect business.'

Something sharp contacted Shane's tongue. He hoisted his snout out of the pouch, only to realize the targeting reticle was about to lock onto him. He sprinted to his left and spat the stun seed forward. Lurantis saw this coming, however, and raised up one of her lower limbs. Green energy crackled across it and she sliced the seed at a diagonal angle. Lurantis' cursors contacted both Shane and Oranguru and she launched her upper arms forward.

Shane was astonished by the speed of the attack and had no means to evade it. Lurantis' metallic blade smacked him on the side of his head, making his entire world go white. 'No… not again! I can't have this happen again!' He staggered forward in a daze, desperately snapping at air while he tried to get into the item pouch.

"Kekeke! First, I'll slice off your silky little tails. Then I'll skin the fur off your hide and knit it into a beautiful vest," Lurantis giggled, withdrawing her limbs. Shane's vision returned to him and he plucked an oran berry from the item pouch. At the same time, another small blast of psychic energy struck Lurantis. She stumbled to her left. "Oh, you want to be infected first?" she said, looking up at Oranguru. "Your fur isn't silky soft, but I can still slash it up real nice."

All four arms flared up with giant green blades. Lurantis slammed her lower arms together, looking to squish Oranguru. Her upper limbs spun around, attempting to clothesline Shane. He yelped and dropped to his belly, the solar-powered energy grazing his hair. Shane looked over in Oranguru's direction, only for his eyes to widen.

Oranguru stood clear of Lurantis' arms, perched atop Null's mud-soaked back. Panting heavily, Null sat down to let Oranguru climb off. Tessa sprinted out from behind Null, paws glowing bright blue, and smacked Lurantis' lower arms. Lurantis recoiled and withdrew her limbs.

"What are you doing here?" Shane growled.

"Saving your ugly hide, that's what," Tessa sneered. "Actually, scratch that, we're here for Oranguru. You're just collateral, as far as I'm concerned."

"I had everything under control here," Shane hissed. "I gave you that Escape Orb. Why didn't you just use it?"

Lurantis shook the stars from her vision. "Newcomers? Fantastic! I'll paint the soil into a beautiful mosaic of fur and blood. Kekekeke!" She stuck out her four arms and four reticles appeared along the ground. Null stepped forward and hurled an air blade at Lurantis. It struck her chest and promptly knocked her into the basin. The reticles immediately evaporated.

"Because they only work inside Mystery Dungeons, dipstick. And in case you forgot, Moonrise Marsh isn't a dungeon," Tessa growled. "Once again, you acted impulsively and look at all the trouble it managed to cause. Bravo!"

"Me? What about your hideous friend over there?" Shane snarled. "He tried to kill me. And you were justifying it! What is wrong with you?"

"Hey! Focus!" Null roared, turning to face the basin. Lurantis had managed to stumble out of it. She glared at Null.

Tessa and Shane stared each other down. "… fine. I'll deal with you later," Tessa said.

"Likewise!" Shane snarled, turning away from her to face Lurantis.

"Mind if I cut in?" Lurantis shouted. Her arm-blades suddenly lit up with vibrant blue energy. She leaped forward and slammed her upper two limbs downward. Tessa quickly sprinted to her right, avoiding the attack. Shane was not as fortunate, however. Lurantis' arm struck his side. Shane hollered as the blow sent him reeling. He careened back and slammed against a tree. Shane slumped down to the ground, his eyes shutting.

"Okay. Anybody know what attack that was?" Tessa asked. Lurantis left no time for an answer, though. She thrust her lower limbs toward Null and Oranguru. The latter managed to form up a blue shield and deflect the attack, though he dropped to one knee from the effort. Null could not move fast enough and got speared in the chest. Like Shane, a powerful force sent him rolling back across the ground, skidding to a stop by the edge of the clearing. He struggled to get back to his feet.

"I've certainly never seen anything like it," Oranguru said. "Ah, the wonder of seeing a move in action for the first time. If only my lovely mate were here to see this."

Shane staggered over toward Tessa, flanks heaving. "Sacred… Sword. It knows… Sacred Sword," he wheezed.

Tessa raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me? Did you just make that attack name up or something?"

"No. It's one of those things I know because of my 'stupid human game stuff.' Not so stupid now, is it?" Shane said, voice filled with spite.

"Considering you still got hit by the attack, yeah, it is," Tessa replied.

"Huh? But my slashes should've left you for dead. How can you still be standing?" Lurantis gasped, stomping about in a fit.

"Reviver Seeds," Shane replied.

"My Reviver Seeds!" Tessa corrected. "That you stole from me, by the way."

"Hey, it'd still have gotten used on me even if you were holding the pouch. So, back off!" Shane barked. Their bickering was abruptly halted as an elongated green energy blade flattened Tessa from above. Shane had enough time to look up and whimper before he too was pounded by a blade of green energy.

"Rrrrgh… this is… all your fault!" Tessa yelled, her right eye now swollen shut. "If you hadn't stormed off, we wouldn't be in this situation."

"No, it's your fault for following me!" Shane countered, rolling back to his feet and shooting out a frosty gust.

Lurantis cackled and spun in place. Her arm-blades effortlessly diverted the attack. Likewise, the crescents of air Null shot forward were easily dispelled, leaving him hissing in anger. "You think you have all the answers for my attacks, don't you?" Lurantis growled. "Well, if I can't slice you into ribbons, I can at least tear the ground to shreds and swallow you up in the process!" She hefted her upper arms above her head and pointed her lower arms down.

"Kekekeke! Take this… Prism Drill Breaker!"

Lurantis started spinning, transforming into a giant, pointed metallic top. Team Radiance could only look on in confusion as Lurantis tunneled her way underground, disappearing from view. They immediately felt the ground rumble.

"Tell me she's just using Dig," Shane whined, tails drooping between his legs.

Cracks appeared in the ground, with plumes of dirt shooting up between them. Seconds later, Null roared in pain. Shane and Tessa looked up in time to see Null flying through the air, limbs flailing. He crashed into a nearby purple-leafed tree. Null fell to the ground, landing in an unmoving heap.

The ground shook once again. A sharp tip of gray metal poked out in front of Shane and Tessa. Their eyes widened. "It's not Dig! It's not Dig!" Shane yelped, scrambling away from Lurantis. Tessa booked it in the other direction. Lurantis disappeared underground once again.

"How curious," Oranguru muttered. "That's a surprisingly long time for a Pokémon to stay underground."

"Yo, old-timer, look out! She's heading right for you!" Shane barked.

Oranguru looked down, where a small fissure was zigzagging toward him. He took a few cautious steps backward and raised a glowing hand. A portion of the ground in front of him exploded, showering dirt in all directions. But there was no sign of Lurantis where his attack had struck.

"How's this for an impression? Back Slash!"

Oranguru looked over his shoulder to see Lurantis leap out from underground, two green blades raised above her head, ready to nail Oranguru in the head. Oranguru formed up a shield, but it immediately shattered when the first blade struck. Lurantis swung the second one toward Oranguru and he braced himself.

Only it didn't make contact. Instead, Lurantis was the one giving an agonized cry. Oranguru opened his eyes and spotted Lurantis lying on the ground a few feet away. Null lay on top of her, pinning her on her stomach with his superior weight. He proceeded to strike her in the back repeatedly with a set of glowing talons.

"Agh! Agh! Get off! You're hurting me!" Lurantis whined.

"Shut up… beast!" Null hissed, then struck her even harder with his claws. The black crystals coating her back splintered. Lurantis appeared to stop struggling after that strike. Null didn't take notice of this, however. He raised his claws to hit her again.

"Enough, Null! You got her! She's down!" Tessa hollered, sprinting over toward her teammate. Null froze in the midst of his attack. He blinked a few times and looked at his glowing talons. Null groaned and shook out his head.

"See, what did I tell you? The guy's dangerous," Shane growled. While Tessa tended to Null, Shane went toward Oranguru.

"My, my," Oranguru muttered, leaning over and panting heavily. "That certainly… got the ol' ticker started. Haven't had a workout like that… in several years."

"Whatever, I'll give you an oran berry in a second," Shane whispered. "For now, let's ditch those two creeps and get a move on."

"Really? After they kindly rushed in to help us? That's certainly not very noble," Oranguru said.

"I told you I had everything under control," Shane growled. "Now, get a move on!" He pushed his head against Oranguru's backside. Oranguru stumbled forward. Shane spotted the other end of the clearing. "I think I see some light trickling through the fog. That must be the exit to this place," he said. "C'mon, we're almost there."

"Hey! Just where do you think you're going?"

Shane looked over to see Tessa charging him down. Null trudged along behind her, still looking a bit dazed. "I wasn't going anywhere," Shane lied. "Just tending to Oranguru's injuries, that's all."

"Fat chance. You were trying to run off again!" Tessa accused. "I can't believe you. And after Null and I saved you from Totem Lurantis. You disgust me!"

"I don't recall asking for your help," Shane spat. "And I made it pretty clear back in the marsh that I'm not spending another second with you and your freaky-deaky boyfriend over there."

Tessa glared at him. "Then why don't you use an Escape Orb? Null and I can finish this on our own!"

"Because I need to keep Metagross pleased. Unlike you, Miss 'My dad's actually the real Guildmaster, but I'm not going to tell my partner because I'm a gigantic tool who plays everyone around her to get sympathy,'" Shane bellowed. The fight immediately drained from Tessa's eyes. Her limbs locked up and her gaze fell toward the ground.

"Yeah, that's right. I know all about your dad. Surprised? You can thank our travelling companion." Shane jerked his head in Oranguru's direction. "You think Incineroar would be proud of what you're doing? Defending a psychopath?"

Tessa's paws balled up into fists and she started shaking. "Sh… shut up," she muttered.

"Oh, have I struck a nerve?" Shane sneered. "Good. Because that's exactly how I feel! I don't know how the daughter of a Lucario and a Guildmaster could end up with such a warped sense of right and wrong. You don't deserve aura powers! You deserve to remain stuck a sad little Riolu for the rest of your life!"

Tessa's face contorted in anger, but Shane continued, "Hey, here's a thought. Maybe your parents didn't leave because they felt like exploring the Grass Continent. I'll bet they never actually loved you. And they went away because they were tired of putting up with your bull!"

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Tessa shrieked. She charged toward Shane, fists glowing bright blue. Shane's eyes crackled with pink, psychic energy. But before either could launch an attack, the ground in front of them gave way. Both Pokémon could only gasp in fright as a large gray drill emerged from the ground.

"Kekekeke! Surprise! Heeeeeere's Lurantis!"

Lurantis spread her four limbs out and blue energy blades encased her arms. She launched her left arms at Tessa and her right arms at Shane. At such close range, there was nothing either canine could do to stop the attack. The blades struck them both, shooting them back in opposite directions.

Shane crashed into a set of thorny, corrupted vines. Lurantis raised her arms triumphantly. "And now for the finishing touches!" she yelled. Lurantis approached the unconscious Shane. The black diamond encasing her chest crackled with red energy. It formed into the shape of a winged heart. "Kekekeke! Enjoy your new life as an Ultra Beast, kiddo," Lurantis bellowed.

She thrust her chest forward and a spiraling beam of black-and-red energy shot out. Lurantis grinned as she watched it fly toward the edge of the clearing. But at the last second, Oranguru suddenly jumped in the beam's path. He had formed up another blue shield. It absorbed the beam and promptly shattered. Oranguru tensed up and dropped to his knees.

"Okay, that's fine. You know what they say: the more the merrier," Lurantis declared. She started charging up more energy in the black diamond, but a furious roar drew her attention. Lurantis didn't even have the time to turn around before Null's metal-coated helmet speared her in the back. The crystals draped over her shoulder blades shattered on impact. Lurantis crumpled to the ground.

She looked down to see the color fading from her legs. "No… no! I can't get cut down! I'm supposed to infect! Mistress Zero, please don't take my spirit! I can still fight! I can still–"

Lurantis looked over at Oranguru and raised a trembling arm. However, it immediately dropped back to her side, as the rest of the crystals on her body shattered. The remaining color drained off her body, leaving her a gray lump in the middle of the clearing.

Null stepped backward and exhaled deeply. "… it's over."

Shane stumbled out of the vines' remains. The thorns had taken off patches of his fur, and there were pink splotches in the fur that remained. "This is officially the work week of my life… ever," he said. He stuck his snout into the item pouch and emerged with an oran berry that he hastily downed. The pink spots disappeared from his fur. "You okay, old-timer?"

He looked at Oranguru, who remained down on one knee, breathing slowly. "Okay, I'm-a take that as a no." He walked forward, using his snout to pluck another berry from his bag. "Here, this ought to get your strength back up." But to his surprise, Oranguru raised a hand. He descended into a raucous coughing fit and brought his other hand to his chest. "Take the berry, for god's sake. You clearly need it."

"I'm afraid… I must decline… your generosity," Oranguru grunted.

Shane's muzzle stiffened. "Why, because you have your own items?"

Oranguru looked over at Null, who was walking toward Shane with an unconscious Tessa draped across his back. "If I could… just get your help… big fella," he muttered. Null pointed a talon at himself, prompting Oranguru to nod. Null shuffled forward. Oranguru used Null's shoulder to stand up. He leaned heavily against Null, who flinched from the sudden weight on his shoulder.

"It shouldn't be very far to Sunflower Meadows," Oranguru declared. "But I'm going to need a little support, iff that's okay with you."

"… I guess so," Null muttered.

"You know, that wouldn't be an issue if you just took the dang oran berry," Shane said.

Oranguru shook his head. "I'm afraid you'd just be wasting it on me."

'Well, yeah, duh. But I'd rather waste a berry than fail this mission after all this trouble,' Shane thought. 'Why's this geezer suddenly being so stubborn?'

He noticed Oranguru and Null slowly trekking forward. Shane sighed and walked off after them. As he passed Null, he noticed Tessa starting to stir. Shane quickened his pace to avoid dealing with her.


~Sunflower Meadows~

Team Radiance emerged from the exit of Mellath Bog and shielded their eyes. "Cripes, is it sunrise? We really spent all night heading through that horrible swamp?" Shane groaned.

Tessa yawned, then leered at Shane. "Well, we could've gotten a good night sleep if someone hadn't thought it'd be a good idea to try and ditch his teammates to sneak off with our client," she said.

Shane's muzzle scrunched up. "I'm sorry. I don't make it a habit to stick around Pokémon that want to tear me limb from limb!" he barked, shooting Null a nasty look. Null turned his head away shamefully.

"It wasn't his fault, Vulpix. He really can't control his actions when his headaches get too intense," Tessa said. "If you actually took the time to talk to him instead of bullying him, you'd have known that! But, no, it's much easier to make fun of him... and to put down a scared little Riolu."

"There you go, begging for sympathy again," Shane scoffed. "I've seen through your routine, Tessa. How many favors did it win with you with your folks, huh?"

"You take that back right now or I'll–"

"… please… be quiet…" Null hissed, shaking his head.

Shane turned away. "Okay, well, here we are. Plenty of sunflowers," Shane huffed. He looked at Oranguru. "So, where's this mate of yours that you're meeting? There aren't exactly any hiding spots here. Don't tell me she wound up ditching."

Oranguru lapsed into a coughing fit before pointing a shaky arm in front of him. "There," he wheezed. "On the edge of the shoreline."

"But there's nobody over there!" Shane growled. "You're totally delirious, aren't you? Just let me give you a berry." Null helped Oranguru limp forward. Shane rolled his eyes and trotted along after them. "I swear, if this was all just some stupid ploy by Braviary to try and get us killed," he muttered, only for his voice to trail off as he approached the shoreline. His brow furrowed.

"What… what is this?" Tessa squeaked. Oranguru pushed away from Null and stumbled forward. He sat down in front of a small array of colored beads that encircled a large, plump, green berry.

"This is it," Oranguru whispered.

Shane's eyes widened. "Wait… your mate's… she's…"

"Already passed on to the spirit realm," Oranguru whispered. He reached a shaky arm out and placed it on the berry. "Passimian and I, we loved each other so very much. I was a staff member at the Horizon Guild when I met her. At the time, I was helping Guildmaster Incineroar and his assistant, Leafeon, make an important delivery."

"Guildmaster… Incineroar?" Tessa whispered, shrinking back. Her gaze fell toward the ground. Shane huffed and rolled his eyes.

"Yes, your father was the one to introduce us," Oranguru said. "That's just the kind of Pokémon he is, always putting other's feelings ahead of his own. Words can't express how grateful I am that he introduced me to Passimian." He gently rolled the berry back and forth across the sand. "He agreed to let me depart the guild to start a new life with her. Together, we took in all the sights Horizon had to offer. But this place…" His voice trailed off as he descended into another coughing fit.

Null stepped forward, but Oranguru raised a hand. "I'm alright," he insisted, taking a deep breath. "We always considered Sunflower Meadows special. Most Pokémon stay away, because they do not feel the trek is worth it. Nevertheless, we made the journey. And it proved to be a very special trip."

Oranguru reached into his fur and produced a yellow, crescent-shaped feather that dangled from a star. "Somehow, we had managed to run into a kind-hearted soul. I'm not sure why, but she looked the two of us over and gave each of us a feather. She said to think of them as symbols of our love. Ones that will dispel the darkest of thoughts and dreams."

'That's a Lunar Wing,' Shane realized. 'Big whoop. What does that matter?' He stole a glance over at Tessa and noticed her clasping her shoulders with her paws and shivering. He vaguely thought he saw her mouthing something. 'And what's she being so melodramatic over, huh?'

"We ended up retiring to Moonrise Marsh so we could come here frequently," Oranguru continued, setting the Lunar Wing down. "One morning, however, I woke up and found that Passimian was terribly sick. I tried to offer her medicinal berries, but she refused. 'Take me to Sunflower Meadows,' she said. 'I'd like to watch the sunset there one last time.'"

Oranguru took a deep breath. "I must apologize to for deceiving you all."

"What do you mean?" Shane asked.

"When I made the escort request with the guild, I left out the part about this being a one-way trip," Oranguru said. He hunched over, breaking into another coughing fit. Shane quickly stepped forward.

"What are you talking about, old-timer? You seemed just fine up until that battle," Shane said.

"I wanted a team to escort me here… so that I could join my beloved Passimian in the next life," Oranguru said.


Shane looked over his shoulder and saw Tessa running toward them, wild-eyed. "You can't… you can't do that!"

"I've been on my own for a couple of years now," Oranguru wheezed. "And I have grown so very, very tired. I'm afraid that it's simply my time to go."

Tessa's eyes teared up. "Puh-Please… can't you just wait another day? Or wait until we leave, at least?" Shane gave his teammate a look of disbelief.

"I understand that this is a lot to take in," Oranguru said. "I had expected that Incineroar would send a veteran team… not his own daughter."

Tessa stumbled back. "My dad… sending a team?" she squeaked, aura feelers twitching.

"Yes, he's the one I made the request to, after all," Oranguru said. Tessa sank down to her knees, staring at the dirt. Oranguru started coughing again. "I fear… that my time here is up. But, there's one thing I'd like to do before I leave." He looked over at Null and beckoned him forward.

"… what do you... want me for?" Null asked.

Oranguru held up the Lunar Wing. "Please, keep this safe for me."

Null's beady, gray eyes widened. "… but why me?"

"I don't need to be psychic to sense that you all are deeply troubled," Oranguru said. "I believe this can help you three find peace of mind." He reached over and stuck the feather into the sling binding Null's head crest. Oranguru patted Null's helmet. "Thank you all for your help," he said. "It was nice to meet you three."

He turned and stole a glance at Tessa, who was now sitting with her head buried in her thighs. "Give my regards to your parents, Riolu," he said.

A golden glow overtook Oranguru's body. Shane and Null quickly backpedaled into the field of sunflowers. The light became so intense, they had to look away. A brilliant, golden flash spread across the meadow. When the light faded, all that remained were the string of beads and the berry.

Shane's muzzle twitched. "I guess that's it, then," he whispered. He took a step forward, only for his forelegs to unexpectedly give out, bringing him to his knees. His breath rushed out of him and his vision grew blurry.

'No… something's wrong,' he thought. He tensed up, whining loudly. 'I'm… I'm…'

He tilted his head toward the sky and bellowed, "Help me!"


I know a few reviews mentioned not being sure what would be happening to the main threesome here. And that it could take a bombshell to actually keep them together. I hope that "unknowingly bringing a Pokémon to his death bed," managed to catch you by surprise. You may have seen this coming, particularly if you're a fan of Ace Attorney, because I drew some inspiration from Spirit of Justice character Tahrust Inmee for Oranguru. And I hope you now have some more concrete thoughts about how Metagross operates.

The point is, for as nasty as Shane's gotten, there was one line that he never crossed, and that was bringing up Tessa's MIA (as far as he knows, anyway) parents. And, as you can see, he finally went there. Which means there's gonna be some fallout. I hope I didn't jump the shark for you guys here. This is the episode I've fretted over the most because of how negative it is in tone compared to everything else so far. If you didn't find it up to snuff, please let me know what you think can be improved

Next time: emotional scars are torn right open.
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Winter can't come soon enough
Content advisory: this chapter contains heavy themes of depression and suicide


Chapter 29: Bitter Realizations

Null was at a complete loss for what to do. Both of his teammates were unresponsive. Tessa sat curled up in a ball, rubbing her paws against the ground. Shane had collapsed on his side, breathing heavily. Null took a step forward, only to freeze as Shane's widened eyes met his. They frantically darted around in his skull. Shane stuck a forepaw out.

"P-Please… sir," he croaked. "Help… I need help!"

Null shuffled backward, shutting his eyes. "No, wait, don't go!" Shane hollered. "Call the police! Call EMS! There's been... an accident. I'm being crushed! Please, sir… my car…" Shane's forepaw fell to the ground, along with his head. His chest rose and fell rapidly.

Something stirred in in the back of Null's mind. Null reached a foreleg up and clawed at the base of his helmet, groaning.

He's vulnerable. We can take him out!

Null staggered backwards, shaking his head rapidly.

Don't ignore us. We know you want to. It's what we were created for!

Null stumbled forward, wheezing. As he did, however, a strange tingling sensation bristled his head crest. It faded quickly, only to be replaced by warmth spreading throughout his body. The whispers in Null's mind receded. He blinked several times and his gaze fell toward Shane once again. Null lumbered forward until he towered over Shane. He raised a foreleg, only to pause as Shane gasped for air and brushed a foreleg through the dirt.

Null closed his eyes and gently lowered his limb. He nudged Shane with a talon. "… hey… wake up," he muttered. "You're… having a bad dream… I think…"

Shane groaned. Null carefully stepped over him and found the item pouch. He stuck a foreleg into it and managed to pull out an oran berry. He rolled it in Shane's direction. At first, Shane didn't acknowledge the berry. Null bent over and pressed the fruit up to Shane's lips. A bit of drool trickled down Shane's snout.

"Hrm… what… what happened?" Shane groaned, blinking slowly. His blurry vision cleared up and he found himself looking directly at Null's helmet. With a holler, he pushed himself back across the beach. "Get away from me, you monster!" he shouted, scrambling to his feet. "I don't want you anywhere near me ever again, you understand?"

Null looked down at the berry in his talons. "I was just… trying to give you this," he whispered. He kicked the berry over to Shane and slowly walked backward, looking away guiltily.

Shane looked skeptically at the fruit. "And how do I know this hasn't been spiked with poison or something?" he said, leaning over and sniffing it.

"… I only… wanted to help," Null said. "You and Riolu… you both… slipped into shock… after Oranguru disappeared…" He looked over in Tessa's direction, confirming that she was still curled up in a tiny blue ball. Her body trembled, bits of dirt and sand trickling down her fur.

Shane reluctantly nibbled at the berry. "I don't know what her problem is," he said. "But what are we supposed to do now?" He looked back, cringing at his damp, muddy coat with numerous patches of fur missing. "We all look miserable. And after your little stunt back in the marsh, we're pretty much guaranteed to fail this mission." He narrowed his eyes at Null. "So, nice going, big guy. You sure helped a ton."

He glanced back at Tessa and shook his head. "I told her not to bring you along. She's got her friend Eevee's house to go back to. But what about me? Once we're kicked out, I'll have nowhere to live!" Shane's lips curled up into a snarl. "And Tessa called me the selfish one."

A series of metallic clangs caused Shane to abruptly jolt to attention. He turned around and his tails fell between his legs at the sight of Metagross approaching them. "Guh-Guildmaster?" Shane whimpered. "What are you doing here?"

Fact: there is a shortcut to Sunflower Meadows located in Tethys Tunnel. Fact: I did not tell you about it because you cannot reach it once you get to Moonrise Marsh.

Metagross' reply struck Shane as rather odd, but he didn't feel like questioning him. He looked at his damp, scratched-up, mud-caked fur and whined. "Guildmaster, please. This… this isn't what it looks li–"

Silence, Metagross said. Shane shrank down toward the ground. Null stepped back, rubbing his helmet against his shoulder. Metagross looked at Shane and his eyes flashed blue. Fact: your team encountered significant hardships during this mission. Fact: there were multiple points where you even attempted to abandon your teammates.

Shane winced. "I… I can explain…"

Unnecessary. I have read your mind already, Metagross scoffed. Your callous disregard for your teammates created a hostile environment and nearly resulted in your death.

"That wasn't my fault!" Shane blurted out, but Metagross' glare quickly silenced him. He buried his head underneath a patch of sunflowers. "Go on then," he said, soil muffling his voice. "Kick us out already. That's what you're here for, isn't it?"

Metagross turned away from Shane and Null. By all accounts, I should remove you three from the guild. But I will not.

"Really?" Null gasped, beady eyes widening.

Affirmative, Metagross replied.

Shane's head poked up, muzzle agape in shock. "But you said that if we act out–"

Fact: I was referring to acting out toward Oranguru. Fact: analysis of your memories leads me to conclude that Oranguru was treated… adequately. Fact: you successfully brought him to Sunflower Meadows, per instruction. Conclusion: your team passes the assignment... by the skin of your teeth.

"You're kidding," Null rasped, legs tensing.

Shane's eyes narrowed. "I… I don't understand," he whispered. "We did horrendously."


"And you lied to us!" Shane said, getting to his feet and baring his fangs. "You never said anything about taking Oranguru here to die! What kind of sick, twisted punishment was this?"

Metagross' eyes flashed blue again. You will be silent or I will change my mind and expel you, Metagross said. Fact: careful analysis led me to conclude that, regardless the assignment given, you and Riolu would argue to the point of creating a schism in your ranks. I realized that the only way to put an end to your caustic behavior would be to give you both an assignment that would ultimately shock you to your cores.

Shane's jaw dropped. "But that's… that's…"

Metagross stomped a foreleg on the ground, crushing several sunflowers. I run the Horizon Guild. I must work for the greater good. I do not care what sort of reputation I garner... only that I run a well-functioning institution. Your team was not well-functioning. Now that you properly realize the gravity of exploring in Horizon, I expect you to cease your reckless behavior and nonproductive squabbles.

"How… how could you?"

Behind Metagross, Tessa had somehow snapped out of her stupor. She was on her feet, paws balled into fists. Her arms and aura feelers shook with anger. "You knew… you knew about all of this! And you didn't tell us. Why?" she said.

Metagross eyes glowed blue once again. I made it very clear when giving this assignment. The purpose was to show you both that exploration is something to be taken seriously. That lives can hang in the balance.

Tessa's eyes snapped shut. "You could have at least told us what Oranguru wanted! Maybe then we wouldn't have been at each other's throats the whole time," she said. "And… and…" Her gaze fell to the ground. "You pretended to be my dad! That's…"

I had my reasons, Metagross said, facial expression unreadable. Oranguru had always confided in Incineroar. I wanted to have this mission available in case your teamwork failed to improve, which is what happened. Therefore, I had to forge your father's handwriting to correspond with Oranguru. Yes, I resorted to deceitful methods, but I deemed it necessary for the greater good.

The blue glow in his eyes faded. Order: this discussion is over. Fact: your new badges and equipment will be conferred to you upon return to the guild. He produced an Escape Orb, which wrapped the foursome up in bright, multicolored light.


~Aeon Observatory~

Team Radiance stood in silence, watching Metagross open the Observatory's entrance. Fact: we will proceed to my office in order to finalize the team dissolution.

Shane looked down at the dirt. 'If we really succeeded, then why does this feel like such a crushing defeat?' He glanced at his teammates. Tessa stood facing away from him, arms wrapped around her chest. Null was completely spacing out. 'Oh… right, because I'm going to have to try and sleep tonight, knowing that right down the hall is a guy who wants me dead! And my ex-teammate is practically willing to help him.'

He looked up toward the sky. 'What were you thinking bringing me here, Solgaleo? This is all your fault! My human life may not have been anything special, but at least I could feel safe going to sleep.'

Metagross looked back at them. Order: proceed inside. You are wasting my time, he said.

Tessa shuffled away from the group. "I… I'm sorry… I can't," she whimpered. "I need… I need to be alone for a while." She abruptly turned around and took off running down the hill.

"Tessa? Oh, come on, you can't be serious right now. I'm exhausted! Let's just get this over with," Shane said, approaching the top of the hill. He spotted Tessa running down toward Aeon Town's central fountain. "For god's sake, I just want to go to sleep and forget all of this already! Get back here!"

He gritted his teeth as he broke into a run. His lungs screamed in protest and his legs burned with every step. "Tessa!" he wheezed. "Tessa, stop!" Ahead of him, the tip of Tessa's blue tail dipped into a side street. Shane tucked in his head in the hopes of increasing his speed. He glimpsed Tessa going around a corner and ran after her. "Cut it out, Tessa. You're being childish," he shouted in between gasping breaths.

Shane rounded the corner and found himself looking at a few houses arrayed out on either side of the little street. A brown house had its red, wooden door wide open. Shane slowly approached it, trying to catch his breath. "Tessa," he said, "Enough is enough. Suck it up, and get back to the Observatory so we can dissolve the team."

He heard no response. Instead, whimpers echoed from inside the house. "Seriously? You're crying? Quit being such a baby," Shane hissed. He stepped through the doorway, only to freeze up. Immediately, Shane's nostrils twitched from all the dust in the air. It took every ounce of his willpower not to sneeze. Despite the lack of light in the house, the living room was clearly lined with a thick layer of dust. It covered up every piece of furniture and every item in the house.

More whimpers sounded from a back room in the house. Shane cautiously made his way forward, passing a long, knee-high table covered in dirt. He reached a doorway flanked by a dust-covered bookshelf on its right side and a rusty metal stand holding a broken luminous orb. Shane proceeded through the open door, entering a circular room that, lacking windows, was even darker than the living room. He blinked rapidly, struggling to adjust to the complete lack of light.

"Tessa?" Shane called. "Get up. We're going back to the Observatory."

"… get out."

Shane's muzzle stiffened. "Quit it, Tessa. This is getting ridiculous," he said, stomping a forepaw on the floor. "I already feel miserable enough. So, can you stop acting like such a brat and do this team breakup thing so I can get on with my life?"

"I said get out!"

Shane's eyes widened and he jumped to his right. A picture frame whizzed past him and struck the wall next to the door. Glass shattered all around Shane. The picture frame fell to the floor. Shane looked up and spotted Tessa's outline. After a few seconds, she came into focus standing next to a dust-covered bed. She stared at the ground, arms shaking, and aura feelers pulsating wildly. Shane shuffled over toward the broken frame and looked down at it.

There, in the bits of broken glass, sat a photo. He immediately recognized a younger Tessa and Gallian. Tessa sat on her brother's back; both had smiles on their faces. Behind them stood a Lucario. Her expression was relatively stoic, though she had the faintest hint of a smile. Next to her was a Pokémon that Shane assumed was Incineroar, given his cat-like appearance. Incinceroar's arm lay draped over Lucario's shoulder. Shane quickly realized Incineroar wore the same rainbow scarf he and Tessa each had halves of.

His brow furrowed. "This is about your parents, isn't it?" Shane muttered. "Yeah, Metagross shouldn't have pretended to be your dad, but it's in the past now. Don't drag me down even further because you've got such a big problem with this."

Tessa looked up. Shane's anger continued to build when he saw the devastated look in her eyes. "You… you don't understand," she squeaked. "I… I never wanted to watch a Pokémon die right in front of me. This wasn't what I signed up for. I can't deal with this!"

"And I don't care," Shane said, snorting out snowflakes. "Suck it up and move o–"

Tessa walked toward him, her eyes tearing up. "I can't just do that!" she shouted. "Why… why did he bring up my dad?"

Shane rolled his eyes. "How should I know? Look, why don't you just have Comfey help you?"

"She can't help me! Nobody can just help me," Tessa said, getting right up in Shane's face. "Because… because…"

Shane shuffled back against the wall. "What, is it because you're the Guildmaster's daughter or something? Does 'Daddy's Little Girl' get some sort of special treatment?"

"No! I'm not the Guildmaster's daughter! And I never will be…" Her lips trembled. "Because my dad's dead… and it's all my fault!"

Her voice cracked at that last statement and she burst into tears. Shane gasped as Tessa shoved him against the wall. The air rushed out of him, causing him to drop to a seated position with his tails pinned under his hips. Tessa fell forward, burying her face against the side of his neck.

Shane's flinched from the contact, his anger abating in an instant. Two statements bubbled up from his recent memory.

You know, you're not the only one with problems. Err… I mean, your whole 'stuck in another world and another body,' dilemma is pretty big. But it's not like all the Pokémon you've met lead perfect lives. We have issues too.

If you really intend to do right by Riolu as her partner, then you need to start respecting her boundaries. She's been through a lot. More than you can possibly know.

'Oh my god… this is what they meant, isn't it? This is why Tessa's family is such a bitter subject for her,' Shane realized, Tessa's sobs making his ears fall flat against his head. Guilt bubbled up inside him. 'And I totally snapped and told her that her parents left because they didn't love her!' His eyes widened in horror. 'What have I done?'

"I don't… I don't know what to say," he whispered, but Tessa didn't hear him. She continued to cry, sliding down from his neck to his shoulder. Shane looked around the room, desperately hoping for some sort of way to get out of this situation. He found Null standing in the bedroom's doorway, his gray eyes looking even more heavyset than usual. Null bowed his head down and slipped back from the doorway.

Shane awkwardly reached a forepaw out and tried to pet Tessa on the back. "Uh, there, there. Everything's… going to be okay?" he squeaked, though his statement was laden with uncertainty. "Do you, um, want to talk about it or something?"

A shove indicated that no, Tessa didn't want to talk about it. Pain shot through Shane's tails, but he remained seated as Tessa bawled her eyes out. 'Why is all of this happening? There isn't supposed to be this level of heartbreak until the end of these things,' Shane thought. 'Tessa… I'll bet she's been thinking about her dad from the very beginning. And I dragged her along through all of this.' He shut his eyes. 'I really am a pathetic excuse for a hero. Everything I've done has just hurt the Pokémon around me…'

Tessa's cries quieted into soft, shudder-filled whimpers. She slumped to the ground and buried her face in her arms. "It happened just about a year ago," she said, voice muffled. Shane didn't relax a single muscle in his body. He clamped his muzzle shut as Tessa took in a deep breath and continued, "I had been playing outside with Eevee, despite Sylveon telling us not to. We got caught in a big storm. Sylveon brought us inside… but I caught a terrible cold."

"Mom had started to take care of me, when Dad showed up, saying he needed to go to Glyphic Falls," Tessa said. She managed to push herself into a seated position but her head remained bowed somberly. "He said it was crucial guild business. Mom tried to go with him for support, but he refused. He told her it was more important that she take care of me." Tessa rubbed her eyes. "Mom tried to convince him otherwise. She suggested bringing me to the Observatory and leaving me with Comfey. But Dad…"

Tessa grabbed her mud-soaked rainbow scarf and tossed it to the ground. "… he said he couldn't have her do that. He knew that she'd just end up worrying about me if she came to Glyphic Falls. And he didn't want to stress her out... because he loves her too much to do something like that."

"So, he gave us both a kiss, and walked out," Tessa said. "And… and…" Her eyes teared up again. "That was it. That was the last time I got to see him. I couldn't even get out of bed to give him a hug or anything!" She dug her paws into her thighs.

"What happened?" Shane whispered.

"I don't know," Tessa said, her voice cracking again. "The next day, Braviary showed up, looking grimmer than I've ever seen him look. He told us that there had been an accident." Tessa shook like a leaf. She grabbed her muddy scarf off the floor. "He said this scarf was all that he and Metagross found when they went to look for Dad."

Tessa turned away from Shane. "Gallian, Mom, and I were all at home when this happened. I've tried so hard to forget how they reacted. They were always so calm... so level-headed. But when they heard the news…" More tears ran down her face and Tessa gritted her teeth. "They were so upset. Mom… Mom lost it." Her gaze drifted over to the bedroom doorway. Tessa rubbed tears from her eyes. "That table you walked past? Mom broke it when she heard about Dad. She… she broke a lot of things."

"And what about you?" Shane asked.

Tessa brought her knees up toward her head. "I was scared!" she hiccuped. "Scared, and confused, and tired. Mom was so angry. I sensed her aura for just a second," she shuddered, "and I blacked out."

Shane tried to get up and move toward Tessa, but she shoved him away. She turned away from him. "It's my fault! All my fault! If I hadn't gotten sick… if I'd listened to Sylveon and stayed indoors that day… then Mom could've gone with Dad. And he'd still be here! Everything would be fine!" She wiped snot from her snout.

"Nobody gets sick on purpose, you know," he said, tails curling against his belly.

"Mom blamed me. I know she did," Tessa said, grabbing a fistful of fur in each paw. "I could feel the anger in her aura after Dad died." She released her fur and used her scarf to dry her eyes. "She stopped training me after that... and she barely came home from the guild. Sometimes she'd remember to bring me to Sylveon. But other times…" Her voice trailed off and she shook her head.

"I tried to make it up to her. I tried to train on my own. To show her what I taught myself when she did visit me. I told her that I loved her." She lowered the scarf and her ears drooped. "She would tell me that she loved me back... but it always sounded like she was lying."

Shane bit his lower lip. 'This is just too much. She's gotta be exaggerating. She just has to be!' He looked Tessa over, but everything about her body language screamed sincerity.

"And then, almost eight months ago, Mom up and left," Tessa continued. Shane thought back to the times he'd caught Tessa going into her mother's room. Then, he remembered his attempt to look inside it, only for Braviary to catch him and take him away. "She told me she was doing a quick assignment for the guild... and that she'd be back soon."

"But she hasn't returned," Shane said. Tessa shook her head.

"A couple of weeks later, Gallian left. That's when he threatened me, saying he'd strike me down if I set foot in the guild," Tessa said. Tears welled up in her eyes again. "I… I've been alone for so long now." She fell to her side, curling up into a ball. "I'm not even sure why I keep waking up in the mornings, anymore."

Shane's head pounded. His view of Tessa momentarily faded out, replaced instead with a page from a newspaper, showing a smiling, brown-haired boy with freckles peppered across his face. A stabbing pain gripped Shane's chest. "Tessa, no. You can't… I had no idea," Shane whispered, eyes darting about the room.

"Don't call me that!" Tessa shouted, causing Shane to jump back. She looked up at him with tearful eyes. "You want to know why I don't want Pokémon calling me Tessa anymore? It's the same reason I refuse to call you anything but Vulpix. Every time I hear 'Tessa' I think of Mom and Dad and Gallian! It's because of my family that everyone called me Tessa instead of Riolu. And I don't want to be reminded of them... because the only thing that comes to mind is the memory of Braviary showing up and telling us that Dad had died!"

Tessa dug her paws into the floor. "Not like it matters. All I can think about when I'm in the Observatory is Dad dying and all the bad things that happened afterward. I've had enough. I can't..." She looked over at the remnants of the picture frame. "I don't want to do any of this anymore." Tessa staggered to her feet, swaying uneasily from side to side. Slowly, she approached the glass fragments littered on the ground.

"Tessa, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry," Shane said. "If you had just told me–"

Tessa whirled on him. "You really think I was going to tell a total stranger that I'm frightened of guild work because my dad died?" she said, her face a mess of tears and snot. Shane flinched and turned away. "Mom was right," Tessa muttered. "I should've gotten as far away from you as possible."

Shane's head pounded once again. "What? But I thought you said you don't know where your mom is?"

Tessa stuck her right foot out, poking the remnants of the picture frame with her toe. "I don't. But she's… reached out to me. Through my dreams," Tessa said. "Yeah, I didn't want to say anything. Especially with how everyone reacted to you saying Solgaleo was giving you dream visions. But it's true. Mom told me that she's trying to protect Lunala… my guess is from the Prism Virus."

"She wanted me to ditch you. She said that if I stuck with you, I'd surely keep running into danger," Tessa continued. "But I was stupid. I hoped – I don't know why, but I hoped – that maybe you could make me feel better. That you could make me feel like I actually matter to other Pokémon." She shut her eyes. "But you did the exact opposite. I don't feel better. Instead, I left the only two Pokémon I get along with reasonably well. The closest thing I have to a friend now is Null."

"I never intended for any of this to happen," Shane whimpered.

Tessa knelt down, putting her paws on the floor. "I don't care. Mom told me that she doesn't want me to look for her. She would rather leave me alone to defend Lunala, when there are plenty of Pokémon up to the task," Tessa said with a sniffle. "And, thanks to you, I now realize why. It's because she doesn't love me... and I'll bet she never loved me."

Shane's throat went dry. "I… no… I was just…" He struggled to form a coherent sentence.

"No," Tessa cut in, her voice bitter. "Thank you, human. You finally made me realize just how worthless I am. I know exactly where I belong: nowhere."

Shane stood up and his tails jolted into the air. "That's not true! You're… ah…" He bit his lower lip. "C'mon, surely there's something I can do to help? Just say the world. I'll get you whatever you need. Anything! Just… just stop talking like that!"

"I don't have anything else to say to you. I never want to see you again," Tessa whispered. She reached a trembling paw toward the largest glass shard on the floor.

"No!" Shane cried, opening his mouth and spewing a gust of chilled air. Tessa fell to the ground, throwing her paws over her face and howling in frustration. Shane turned toward the glass shards, focusing his cold air on them until he had frozen them solid. He then sent out a small psychic ripple, turning the frozen shards to dust.

Tessa sat up, her gaze fixed on where the broken glass previously lay. "You... you..." She rubbed her fists against the floor.

"Please," Shane whispered, legs trembling. "Please let me help you."

"No," Tessa said, lowering her head. "You want to help? Then just… go away." She lay down on the ground, gripping her stomach with her right paw. "I'm not going back to the Observatory. In fact, I'm not going anywhere. I'm just going to stay here. I'm already starving, so I imagine it won't take long for my spirit to start ebbing away. Just a few hours... and it'll all be over."

"Riolu, don't–"

"What are you complaining about?" she snarled. "You're going to get what you wanted. I'll be out of your life." She took in a shuddering breath. "I'll be out of everyone's lives."

Shane's vision flickered. The newspaper picture flashed through his mind, and then his eyes teared up. "No... Tessa, I can't leave you here like this," Shane said.

"Fine," Tessa said, rolling over so her back was to Shane, "then you can watch as the hunger saps every last bit of my strength."

Shane's ears drooped. "But–"

"Goodbye, Vulpix," Tessa said, cupping her paws over her ears and pressing them against her head.

Shane opened his mouth to offer a retort, but nothing came to mind. His ears twitched and his heart skipped a beat at the sound of a raspy cough. He looked over his shoulder and again saw Null in the doorway. Null backed out of the doorway upon glimpsing Shane's frightful expression. Shane looked back at Tessa and, after a moment of hesitation, followed Null out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

"How much of that did you hear?" Shane asked.

"… everything," Null said.

"Then you know what you need to do," Shane said, stepping away from the door. Null's head cocked in confusion. "Tessa's hurting badly. She needs…" He shuddered. "She needs a friend right now. And… that's not me. I don't think it'll ever be me. She needs you."

Null blinked. "… what can I… possibly do… for her?"

"Just be there with her. You don't have to say anything. But lay down next to her. Maybe rub her back or something. Go in there and don't leave as long as she's awake. Make sure she doesn't do anything rash. You're her best friend. You have to do this," Shane said.

Null nodded slowly and then lumbered toward the door. He pushed it open and slipped inside the bedroom, leaving Shane alone. The second the door closed, Shane collapsed onto his belly. His whole body ached and he felt a huge, crushing weight against his forehead. He tried to lift up his head, but the whole room spun. He lay on the ground, trembling; face buried in the dirt. The colors of the spinning room faded. The brown of the house's floor gave way to bright, flashing, red-and-blue lights. Black shadows moved across his field of view.

I've got a pulse, but his airway's collapsed. We have to intubate. Where's that paramedic?


Sir, sir! Are you okay? Can you hear me?

'Please… help me!'

No pupillary response. He's got fluid in his lungs.

'I don't want to die!'

We've got him boarded up. Start the EKG and let's get him to the ER. You there! Page trauma. He needs surgery ASAP.

The sound of a door closing jolted Shane from his stupor. He sat up, breath coming in ragged gasps. He looked over at Null, who stood frozen in front of the doorway. "Wh-What are you… what are you doing out here? What happened to Tessa? H-How long was I out?"

"… not long," Null rasped. "Riolu… cried herself to sleep," he reported. He sat in front of the door like a grotesque gargoyle. Shane staggered to his feet, his head hung shamefully. "Are you… leaving?"

"I don't know," Shane whispered. "I just… I'm so confused. Everything's gone so horribly, horrendously wrong!" He blinked a few times. "Wait, why am I even saying this to you? What do you care?"

"… what happened… back in Moonrise Marsh… I didn't want that," Null said. "I don't… want to hurt you. And I don't… want to hate you."

Shane's lips quivered. "Well, it's a bit late for apologizing, isn't it?" He sat down opposite Null. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I do need to be taken out. I've done nothing but screw up since I got here. You'd all be better off without me."

"… I don't… think that's true," Null said. "I think… you're trying to make the best… of a difficult situation. I can… sympathize with that…"

Shane's eyes teared up. "Can you? Look at what I've done to Tessa. I broke her spirit. I… I made her–" He cut himself off, shaking his head in disgust. "All this time, she's really just been depressed because she lost her family. It's probably why she was so hesitant to go to the guild! So, what did I do? Pressure her and pressure her until she cracked and went to the very place she shouldn't have set foot in in the first place!"

He smacked a paw on the ground. "All this time… all this time she's been trying to put on a brave face. And I just brushed aside the signs that something was wrong because I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to believe that things were different here than in my games." He began crying. "I've been thinking like a selfish human since the moment I woke up, when… when I should've been thinking like a Pokémon."

He flopped onto his belly, burying his head under his forepaws. "Metagross was right. There are real lives at stake. And here I am thinking I can just waltz along and have everything be fine!" He looked up at Null with tearful eyes. "I never even beat the games fair and square, you know. I always resorted to cheating because I got too frustrated, but that's not possible here."

Shane smacked his head against his forelegs. "Everything I've done so far has had consequences. And they're not the kind I can simply erase by hitting a power switch and forgetting that they ever happened. I can't preserve a happy scenario in a stream of data, because this is all real!" he sobbed. "The damage is done. I'm… I'm… I'm not a hero. I'm just… a screw up."

Null slowly exhaled. "… you do realize… it sounds like… you're making Riolu's struggles… all about you… right?"

In response to this, Shane got up, walked over to the table, and bashed his head against it. "Yes, because I'm dumb!"




A welt popped up on Shane's head, which he lowered shamefully. "You're absolutely right. You want to know the worst part of all of this?" Shane whispered, causing Null to lean forward. "Today's Tessa's birthday… sorry, 'hatch day.' This is supposed to be a happy day for her. And I managed to go and turn it into the worst day of her life."

"I think… you're overreacting… just a smidge," Null said.

"I'm not," Shane whimpered. "I know this all sounds selfish, but this is really my fault. If I hadn't flown off the handle at Lycanroc... if I'd just trusted all of you instead of thinking I knew better… then I wouldn't have gotten in trouble. And then Tessa wouldn't have gotten in trouble. We'd have never gotten sent on this awful mission that put us at each other's throats and ended with Tessa having to watch a Pokémon die right in front of her… and one year after her dad died, to boot!"

Shane stepped back from the table. "I can't even blame Metagross. It's not like he was controlling how I acted."

Null slowly sat up and walked over toward Shane. He sighted heavily. "… when you put it that way… I guess it is your fault. But… it's not like you were the only one… acting badly on that mission. I think we all… did and said things… that we feel horribly about…"

Shane rubbed his snout with a forepaw. "Are you trying to compare us, here? There's no comparison to make. I deserve all the vitriol Tessa gave me. I…"

He flinched as Null sat beside him. Shane looked away, whimpering. Null muttered, "I'm saying… I understand… how awful you feel. But… I think… that's exactly why… you need someone to lean on for support… just as much as Riolu does."

Shane blinked tears out of his eyes. "Well, forget it. I'm not worth your trouble. Tessa's your friend, not me. Right now, she needs your undivided attention."

"… but I'd like you to be…"

Shane froze. "Huh?"

"… I want… to be your friend. I know… we haven't had… a very good relationship," Null muttered. "I'm sorry… for staring at you... back in the sentry station. It was never… my intent… to scare you. But clearly… that's what happened."

Shane turned away even further. "A bit late to be asking for that, considering what happened, don't you think?"

"… I really wish… I could make it up to you," Null wheezed. "Which is exactly why… I refuse to turn my back on you." He poked a foreleg at the ground. "And… from what it sounds like… you're not ready... to give up... on Riolu."

Shane winced, his ears folding against his face. "I just… I have to do something to help her. It's my fault all of this happened. I need to make things right. But," he sighed and shook his head, "I can't think of anything. Every attempt I see myself making is just going to make her even more upset."

"Is there really nothing… you can do?" Null wondered.

Shane squeezed his eyes shut and scrunched up his snout. "I… I," he whispered. His eyes suddenly shot wide open. "I've got an idea," he said, getting to his feet. "If it's Tessa's hatch day, then we should throw her a party."

Null stared blankly at Shane. "Like… a surprise party?"

"Ideally, yes," Shane said. "She said that she's depressed because she feels alone, right? Well, this is the guild's chance to show her that, just because her family's not in the picture, doesn't mean she's alone. Not as long as she has them."

"But… she didn't mention… her hatch day… to anyone," Null pointed out. "I'm not even sure... how you found out."

"I heard Team Captivate talking about it," Shane said. He dried out his eyes. "They wanted to do something for her, but were too hesitant." He looked out the window. "If I leave right now, I think I can still make morning assembly. And if I can get everyone on board, we might have a chance at getting something set up by tonight."

"Do you… have a plan?"

"No… not really. I'm sort of winging it here," Shane whispered. "Like, Tessa's friends with Sylveon... and she's a baker. She could make treats. And we could have her work with Steenee and anyone in the guild who feels like helping to make food." Shane started pacing back and forth. "Then, we can get supplies from the Kecleon Shop and a couple of other places in town. I'm sure folks had some gift ideas in mind for Tessa, too." His brow furrowed. "Maybe with a little bit of begging and pleading, Crabrawler will let us borrow the Sky Jukebox from his Café?" He took a deep breath. "No, no, I can't get ahead of myself. First, I have to concentrate on getting everyone in the guild to help. It's the only way I can make this work."

"Is there anything… I can do?" Null asked.

Shane nodded. "You need to keep Tessa busy," he said. "She's gonna wake up. She's really fragile right now. And I don't want her coming to the guild and seeing what we're doing. If anything, you're the best Pokémon to try and lift her spirits. Maybe try taking her out to Azure Cape or Sunrise Village? That should at least help her clear her mind."

"I'm not… really good… at making small talk," Null said, tapping a claw on the floor.

Shane frowned. "I need you to do this. Don't let her back in Aeon Town until after sundown, got it? Even if you have to carry her away while she's still sleeping." He paused. "Okay, maybe don't do that one. But still, I…" He took a deep breath. "I trust you to do this."

Null's eyes widened. He nodded his head slowly. "I'll do my best," he said.

"Great. Then I'd better get running. There's a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. And we need this to work," Shane said. He trotted over toward the door and out onto the street. Null watched him disappear around a corner.

"Good luck," Null whispered. "For Riolu's sake, I'm rooting for you."


All I can say is that I really hope this didn't read as too melodramatic for you guys. I fear I may have gotten carried away. But if it does (or if there's something else wrong), please don't hesitate to let me know. Since I know some of you have expectations in mind for this.

Next time: trying to get things back on track.
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Gone. Not coming back.
Ah, yeah. Right. My apologies if I dredged up any unwanted memories.

Nah, this was a loooong time ago, and I meant it as a compliment. You got the atmosphere right, but more than that you got it right in a very concise way, which is more impressive still.

As to the bit about changed appearances, do note that Shane debuted as having a full-time job and being old enough to drive a car, and then proceeds to act like a spoiled little kid once he becomes a Vulpix.

I mean, there are people at that age who act like Shane does here, so that didn't necessarily strike me as a contradiction; I guess I assumed that that kind of jerkishness couldn't have come out of nowhere, and that Shane probably wasn't the best company even in his old life. But what you say does have interesting implications.

Again, I know I'm practically a broken record, but I really appreciate all the feedback and that you're taking the time to read this. It's humbling, considering your reputation.

I'll be blunt: I wouldn't be still reading nearly thirty chapters in if I wasn't enjoying the story. You can take some credit for your ability to retain a reader's interest, you know. And, also – I'm kind of just a person, you know? I happen to have been writing for a while, and people like what I write, but that's all. And like, I'd be wary about finding anyone's attention humbling. I don't believe that anyone has the right to make someone else feel humbled by their mere presence, like at all, and I'd certainly not want anyone to feel like it was a concession on my part to speak to them, or anything like that. Whatever my reputation might be, I'm still just some person with opinions and an internet connection, and there are more of those than anyone wants or needs to count.

Onto the review proper, then. It seems wildly optimistic of Metagross to assume that this mission was going to have the results he expected, even with his vaunted calculating power, but I think I've already made my thoughts on his ability to deduce (abduce? that's not a word, as far as I know, but maybe it should be) the future clear; possibly I just have an antipathy to the kind of character who has sufficiently advanced deductive capacities that they essentially have precognitive powers. Anyway, I don't think you need to be concerned that this chapter is going too far, really. It's entirely in keeping with what's being happening so far; it doesn't seem forced.

The same could be said of the next chapter. Shane is … well, he acts exactly like Shane, which to me feels like a sign that you haven't pushed the characters so far for the sake of the plot that they've deformed at all. He tries to do better, he makes it all about him, he reacts to being told this by doing something that makes it all about him a bit more, and then when he finally gets around to trying to fix things, he resorts to cliché. Tessa, too, is very much herself in this chapter. Sure, things are more severe than they were, but that was always going to happen – you were pushing things in towards a certain destination, and that they have arrived at it seems natural, not forced. It's hard advice to take to heart, I know, but you can have a little faith in your ability to structure a narrative to withstand readers' expectations.

My main criticisms are really only stylistic – like, that clinical edge to things that several people noted in the early chapters is still there. It takes a lot of different forms, but a couple of examples would be substituting 'the X' for a character's name or pronoun a bit too readily – you can get away with repetition much more than you think, and it reads more naturally, too – or saying things like 'Physical and emotional exhaustion set in' rather than saying what Shane actually felt. Characters quite often get kind of divorced from their bodies, too. You write that Null 'saw [Tessa's] body trembling', or that Shane 'looked across his body', for instance, and in both cases I think it'd be more natural to just use pronouns instead of the word 'body' – Null 'saw her trembling', and so on. Not a major issue, but like since at this point your technique's developed quite a bit from where it was when you started, I figure it's worth pointing out as something to keep an eye on from here.

Shane gasped as the Riolu shoved him against the wall. The air rushed out of him and, next thing he knew, Tessa fell forward, burying her face in his chest.

I can't quite imagine how their bodies are interacting here – like, they're acting like humans here, and while Tessa's body works on the right sort of lines for that, Shane's doesn't.

He's needs surgery ASAP.

You've got 'He's' for 'He' here.

He sat up, breath comings in short gasps.

Superfluous S on the end of 'coming' there.

But yes. Good couple of chapters! They do what you want them to do, and very competently, I think. Which – I feel like that sounds like damning it with faint praise, but I think doing something competently is a technical achievement, and I do mean it as a sincere compliment on your ability to write character and its interplay with plot.


Winter can't come soon enough
Nah, this was a loooong time ago, and I meant it as a compliment. You got the atmosphere right, but more than that you got it right in a very concise way, which is more impressive still.
Ah, gotcha. I caught the complement, it just hadn't really occurred to me that somewhere out there, someone might be reading this going through something similar at this very moment. In which case, it could've been upsetting. Glad you thought it was concise though. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit in that kind of environment (and know a few too many oncologists).

I mean, there are people at that age who act like Shane does here, so that didn't necessarily strike me as a contradiction; I guess I assumed that that kind of jerkishness couldn't have come out of nowhere, and that Shane probably wasn't the best company even in his old life. But what you say does have interesting implications.
Very fair point. Hadn't really considered that, to be perfectly honest. But, yeah, I've been writing this with the basic idea that if an adult were to get pulled into the PMD world, you'd expect them to end up in an "age appropriate body." So, either an evolved Pokémon or a base stage evolution that's got some signs of aging (i.e. a Vulpix with a taller body and longer tails).

It seems wildly optimistic of Metagross to assume that this mission was going to have the results he expected, even with his vaunted calculating power, but I think I've already made my thoughts on his ability to deduce (abduce? that's not a word, as far as I know, but maybe it should be) the future clear; possibly I just have an antipathy to the kind of character who has sufficiently advanced deductive capacities that they essentially have precognitive powers.
I'm not exactly sure how to respond to this one. Namely because I'm not entirely sure if this means you A) don't like the way Metagross is written, B) don't like these types of characters in general, or C) just don't like him. I think I think I said this earlier, but it's my intention to make Metagross as much of an opposite of the affable but lovable Wigglytuff and Ampharos as possible. So, if he's rubbing you the wrong way, then I'd say I've done my job right.

Anyway, I don't think you need to be concerned that this chapter is going too far, really. It's entirely in keeping with what's being happening so far; it doesn't seem forced.
Glad to hear it. I wasn't sure if I had jammed too much into Chapter 28 or not.

The same could be said of the next chapter. Shane is … well, he acts exactly like Shane, which to me feels like a sign that you haven't pushed the characters so far for the sake of the plot that they've deformed at all.
That's pleasing to see, since I think my biggest concern with this episode was that the main trio would fall out of character.

He tries to do better, he makes it all about him, he reacts to being told this by doing something that makes it all about him a bit more, and then when he finally gets around to trying to fix things, he resorts to cliché.
I, uh, yeah, I guess his plan is a bit on the cliché side. Perils of writing with an outline, I suppose? I know some folks were rooting for the possibility of Shane and Tessa actually splitting for real. But I hadn't outlined it that way, so I never considered what that might actually look like.

Tessa, too, is very much herself in this chapter. Sure, things are more severe than they were, but that was always going to happen – you were pushing things in towards a certain destination, and that they have arrived at it seems natural, not forced. It's hard advice to take to heart, I know, but you can have a little faith in your ability to structure a narrative to withstand readers' expectations.
You're probably right. The impression I got from the one writing class I did in college was that I do not have that ability, which is probably why I made an outline for this before I started. ^^;

My main criticisms are really only stylistic – like, that clinical edge to things that several people noted in the early chapters is still there.
I think I see what you mean. It doesn't look like I made quite enough revisions so I did go back (at least into Chapter 29, where that stuff seemed to be at its worst) and applied some touch ups that will hopefully make it read smoother in the future (and hello to you happy people reading this in the future, by the way).

I can't quite imagine how their bodies are interacting here – like, they're acting like humans here, and while Tessa's body works on the right sort of lines for that, Shane's doesn't.
Whoops, that's definitely a mistake. Went back and changed that paragraph up.

But yes. Good couple of chapters! They do what you want them to do, and very competently, I think. Which – I feel like that sounds like damning it with faint praise, but I think doing something competently is a technical achievement, and I do mean it as a sincere compliment on your ability to write character and its interplay with plot.
That's okay, I'm generally don't perceptive enough to picking up damning with faint praise anyway. I'll take it as a win. Thanks for reviewing. ^^


Winter can't come soon enough
Chapter 30: A Real Team Effort

~Aeon Observatory~

"I don't really have all that much to tell y'all this morning," Braviary said. "Just a bit of a recommendation. Try to keep yer workloads light today. I've given Comfey a bit of a break–"

"Because Vulpix ran her ragged wit' his dumb injuries!" Yungoos cut in. "I ain't never seen her looking so tired."

Braviary rolled his eyes. "We don't need to be discussing no specifics, pardner. Point is, she's got the day off. So, I don't want any of y'all getting banged up out there, understood?"

The crowd of assembled guild members muttered their approval. "Good." Braviary nodded. "Now, anyone out there got something they need to say?" Silence followed. "Alright then. Yer dis–"

"Wait! Please wait!"

All eyes in the room turned toward the staircase, where Shane stood, panting heavily. "My goodness!" Bruxish said as Shane stumbled down the stairs. "What happened to you, dahling?"

"Yeah, you look like you got swallowed up by a Muk, chewed on, and then puked back up," Trapinch observed.

"Never mind that," Shane said. "I need everyone's help, like, right now!"

No sooner did he say that than Yungoos moved to block him off. "Youse need our help? After the stunt ya pulled last week? Buzz off! Helping you is a virtual death sentence, bub. And youse still owe me a berry sorbet, anyway. So, I doubly ain't helping."

"But… but this isn't about me. It's Tessa!" Shane said.

"And why should we believe you, huh?" Growlithe asked, limping to Yungoos' side. "As I recall, when I offered to help, I ended up charging into battle against a mutant Bewear with no plan of attack. All because you had no Escape Orbs to bail us out. And what did I get for that decision? A broken leg, that's what." He stuck his snout up in the air. "You've burned up your good will, buddy."

"This is serious, you guys," Shane insisted. "Tessa… she's hurt… really bad. I screwed up, okay. And now I need to make things right!"

"Oh, what a surprise. It's your fault, huh?" Serperior scoffed. "And you're saying you want to fix it, but the reality is we'd just do the work and you'd try to take the credit. I'm sensing a pattern here. One that I really don't like. Whatever you did, you can figure out a fix for yourself." She turned to her teammates. "C'mon girls, we're leaving."

"Will you all just shut up and let me speak for two seconds?" Shane barked, his eyes snapping shut. "I get it, okay. I'm very, very bad at this. I've made dozens of mistakes and it's gotten a lot of you hurt. I'm sorry. Really, truly, honestly sorry! And… and I wouldn't be coming to you guys if I wasn't absolutely, one hundred percent sure that I need your help. But I do!"

"Your mouth's moving, kid, but all I hear is 'blah, blah, blah.' How many times have you said the same things to Riolu, huh?" Serperior asked. "Talk is cheap. If you're really sorry, then prove it."

Shane teared up. "Tessa… she's super depressed because of me," he said. "I know, it's terrible. I don't need you guys beating me up over it. I just need some help to make her happy again. Please…" He looked up at the group with watery eyes. "I can't do this by myself."

Yungoos' brow furrowed. "Don't bother, rookie. Turning on da waterworks ain't changing my mind. Youse ain't trustworthy no more, see?"

Shane glanced Trapinch backing toward the southern hallway out the corner of his eye. "Um, yeah. No offense, Vulpix, but how do we know this isn't going to end like your other ideas?" he said.

Shane's ears folded against his head. "You don't understand," he whispered. "She's holed up in her house. And she refuses to leave."

"Finally realized you're bad company, huh? Took her long enough," Togedemaru heckled.

"That's not it!" Shane said. "She's… she's…" He squeezed his eyes shut and turned away from the group. "She's refusing to move. I think she's trying to starve herself to death."

A flurry of shocked looks followed. Shane poked one eye open, just in time to notice the surprise disappear from his guild mates' faces. Under the combined weight of a dozen glares, he shrank back toward the wall.

"Do you have any idea how stupid you sound right now?" Serperior growled. "Gods, it's the 'Lycanroc is evil' routine all over again. I can't believe you're willing to lie like that just because you can't make things work with your partner."

"Um… guys? Maybe we should hear him out?" Mimikyu mumbled, trying to push his way past Togedemaru.

"I'm not lying!" Shane shouted, his voice cracking. He hung his head. "It's true, okay. I did this to her. Our mission went so badly, I flew off the handle and told her that her parents never loved her."

A tailfin blindsided Shane, leaving an imprint against his muddy fur. Milotic's tail coiled around his body and hoisted him into air. Shane squeaked as Milotic pulled him up to meet her at eye level. Her normally soft eyes were filled with rage. "How could you do something so insensitive?" she barked, thrashing him about in midair. "I ought to blast you with a point blank Hydro Pump for that!"

"Put him down, Milotic," Mimikyu cried. But he was drowned out by Yungoos' and Togedemaru's shouts of encouragement.

Shane jammed his eyes shut and looked away from Milotic, expecting a sudden wave of pain.

"All y'all, be quiet!"

Shane lifted his head up and his ears twitched at the sound of shuffling. Braviary pushed Yungoos and Growlithe aside. He walked up to Milotic, with Mimikyu trailing behind him. "I'm disappointed in y'all. I sure as heck know I didn't train y'all to act like this. And if the Guildmaster were out here, he wouldn't stand for this malarkey."

"But Braviary, you and Metagross hate him too, don't ya?" Togedemaru said.

"Personal thoughts ain't important right now," Braviary said, waving her off. "What is important is that everyone gets to say their piece." He looked down at Mimikyu. "Go on, now. Speak up, pardner."

Mimikyu nodded slowly and took a deep breath. "Guys, I think we should help Vulpix out. He sounds sincere to me." Several guild members turned to look at Mimikyu. "I know you say you don't want to work with him, but he's already said that this isn't about him. It's about… uh…" His disguise head lolled off to one side. "Wait, who's Tessa again?"

"Riolu," Shane said.

"Right!" Mimikyu's fake head bobbed back and forth. He turned toward the other guild members. "Look, maybe the crying was a bit much, but Vulpix actually put his pride beside him to come to you guys and beg for your help. I may not technically be an official explorer, but that seems like a pretty big thing for him to do."

Mimikyu pivoted back and forth. "I know that I'm willing to trust him this one time. So, are you guys really going to stand here and tell me you'll let Riolu stay depressed simply because you're determined to hold grudges against Vulpix? That… um… doesn't really seem in line with your guys' philosophy." He shuffled back toward Shane and Milotic, stealing nervous looks at the guild members.

"Well, he ain't exactly wrong," Braviary said. Milotic looked over at her teammates. Serperior clearly looked unconvinced, but Dragonair nodded slowly, prompting Milotic to release her grip on Shane. He dropped to the floor, looking up at Milotic nervously.

"So, just to clarify, Riolu's feeling miserable... and choosing not to eat because of it?" Milotic said. Shane nodded. "And you want to try to do something to fix it?"

"Well, I'd at least like to try and make her feel better," Shane said. "See, the problem is, Tessa– sorry, Riolu feels unwanted and alone. Namely, because none of her family's around anymore." Dragonair's eyes narrowed, causing Shane's to panic. "Those were her words. Not mine. I swear! She dold me about her tad– I… I mean told me about her dad." He looked away and rubbed the back of his neck. "The point is that I thought, maybe if we all pitched in and worked together, we could show her that there is somewhere that she's wanted. Namely, right here in the guild."

Braviary flew over to Shane and landed in front of him. "Well, what did ya have in mind, hoss?"

"Um…" Shane pawed at the ground. "Today's actually Riolu's hatch day."

Murmurs rose up from the group. "Hey! How did you come to find that out? Because I strongly doubt she'd tell you that," Serperior said with a suspicious glare.

Shane winced. "I overheard your team talking about it," he admitted. He squirmed about uncomfortably as Braviary gave him a stern look. "And I heard it because…" He took a deep breath. "I heard it because I was sneaking around the veterans' quarters by myself." He slid down onto his belly, trying to avoid Serperior's scathing look.

"Seriously? You were spying on us?" she hissed. "You little perv! What else did you hear, huh? And what did you see?" She shot her vines at Shane, but Braviary batted them away with a wing.

"It's alright, y'all," Braivary said, holding up a wing, "I've already handled his little eavesdropping problem. So, what's Riolu's hatch day got to do with yer plan, pardner?"

"I want to throw her a surprise party," Shane said. "Tonight."

"Haaaa ha ha ha ha!" Yungoos broke out in laughter, only to abruptly stop. "Wait, youse actually serious? Get outta here! Ain't no way we can get a whole entire party set up in a day. We're explorers, not magicians. Do youse see Hoopa around here? No. It'd take da whole day just to get da supplies for a halfway-decent party." He shook his head. "I shoulda known you'd be t'inking crazy."

"You're right. Anyone would have trouble setting up a party in one day… if they worked alone," Shane said, "But if everyone chips in, I think we can get it done." He looked up at Braviary. "I, um, don't exactly have a concrete plan–"

"Gee, there's a big surprise," Togedemaru said sarcastically, only for Braviary to give her a disapproving look.

He gave Shane a nod to continue. "Err, yeah. Anyway, I was thinking some of us could go into Aeon Town and buy supplies to get this place set up. And, um, maybe some gifts along with the supplies?"

"And what about food?" Growlithe asked.

"Well, I was kind of hoping you would fly me over to Sunrise Village, Braviary," Shane said. "We could ask Sylveon and Eevee if they wanted to help prepare stuff for Riolu. I'm sure they'd say yes."

"And they're more than welcome to come here and use our kitchen!" Steenee said, waving a wooden spoon. "I'm assuming you'd like my help too?" Shane nodded. "And will anyone else want to prepare treats?"

"Oh! Oh! I will… I will!" Mimikyu said, waving a raggedy arm about excitedly. "Err… if that's okay with everyone, I mean…"

"I'd be happy to have you aboard," Steenee said, causing Mimikyu to perk up.

"I was also thinking we could rent out the Sky Jukebox from Crabrawler's Café," Shane said. "Crabrawler still owes me a favor for finding his missing recipe. I'm sure he'd be willing to help. But what I don't know about is how we'll move it all the way up to the Observatory."

"What about Null? He seems perfect for a heavy lifting job," Milotic said.

"Sorry. I've got him keeping Riolu busy," Shane said, frowning. "Trust me, he's in the best position to do that." He looked at Braviary pleadingly. "Do you think maybe the Guildmaster would be willing to levitate it up here?"

Before Braviary got a chance to answer, metallic footsteps jolted everyone to attention. Fact: I am capable of moving the jukebox. Offer: I will move it, provided I am told when the Jukebox is secured.

A metal door slammed shut and relief washed over Shane. "Okay… okay. I think we can do this. It might be tough, but we've gotta try," he said.

"And I think youse is crazy," Yungoos said. "But, fine. If it's for Riolu, I guess I'll give it a shot."

"I like parties! Especially ones with cake. You can put candles on them!" Growlithe said. "So, as long as I get to pick the candles, I'm in."

"Well, we were thinking of trying to do something," Milotic said. "I suppose we could help out as well."

"I'm more than happy to help with the set-up, daaaaahlings. I'm sure my levitation could be veeeeery helpful," Bruxish chimed in.

Braviary nodded. "And I'm ready to fly you over at a moment's notice. Just say the word."

A smile crossed Shane's muzzle. "Great. Let's get to work!"


~Sunrise Village, Sylveon's House~

"You don't exactly look like you're in any condition to be planning a party, Vulpix."

Sylveon's ribbons moved back along a table, grabbing some uneaten berries and placing them into a basket. "Covered in mud. Patches of fur missing. And your eyes are bloodshot." She shook her head. "Are you having trouble sleeping? Because I know a really nice Hypno who could help with that."

"I'm fine," Shane insisted, quickly biting down on his tongue to hold back a yawn. "We could really use your help setting things up for Riolu. You're an amazing baker. I'm sure she'd absolutely love it if you made her a cake."

Sylveon's brow furrowed. "Normally, I wouldn't think twice about it. But the other week, Riolu made it pretty clear she doesn't want to do anything for her hatch day." She looked over and noticed Eevee's head poking up over the counter. He was trying to reach for the basket. Sylveon extended a ribbon and pushed him back onto the floor with a stern look. "I'm sorry. I'm just not comfortable with going behind her back like that. She's really sensitive about that sort of thing."

"Please, you've gotta help me," Shane said. "Look, she's an absolute wreck right now because she's thinking about her dad–"

Sylveon frowned. "She told you about Incineroar."

Shane looked down guiltily. "It, uh, it might've come up in conversation." He shook his head. "Look, the point is, she needs us to show her that she's not alone and that there are people who care about her. This was the best thing I could think of. So, please… would you lend a paw here?" He turned to the dirty item pouch still slung across his torso. "I don't have money on me right now, but I could easily get some from Dhelmise Depot on the way back to the Observatory."

"There's no need for that," Sylveon said. "Are you really telling the truth, though? Is Riolu depressed?"

"It's worse than that. She had me leave her as a sobbing mess," Shane said, pawing at the ground dejectedly. "I know I haven't been very good to her. So, I'd just like one chance to make things right…"

"Very well," Sylveon said. "But I have one condition."

"What is it?"

"You need to adjust your thinking," Sylveon said. Shane watched her pluck Eevee off the ground in her ribbons. "Wanting to make up for how you treated Tessa is great. But, saying this is about how you treat her is self-centered. And frankly, you've come across as rather selfish since I've met you." Shane flinched. "So, if you talk to anyone else about this, I want you telling them that you're doing this to lift Tessa's spirits. Nothing more and nothing less," Sylveon said.

"I… I can do that," Shane said, once again trying to fight off a yawn.

"Great." A smile appeared on Sylveon's face. One of her free ribbons shot toward a cabinet and pulled out a piece of paper. "Truthfully, Eevee and I were thinking of dropping something off at the Observatory for her. I've got a perfect recipe in mind. Though, I imagine I'll have to use a lot more ingredients to make the cake big enough for everyone." She grabbed a scrap of paper off the counter and looked at it. "Yeah, I'd say if I multiply everything by twenty, the cake should be large enough.

Eevee's eyes sparkled. "Does that mean there's gonna be twenty times the batter left over in the bowl for me?"

"Sorry, Eevee, it doesn't work that way. Besides, the bowl I'll be using is so big, you'd fall inside it if you tried to lick the batter," Sylveon said, giggling. Eevee's slumped over in his mother's ribbons. "Well, I think we'd better get going."

"Braviary's waiting right outside," Shane said, leading Sylveon out of the house.


~Aeon Town~

Serperior and Milotic moved down a store aisle in tandem. "What color ribbons do you suppose Riri would like?" Milotic asked. "I was thinking blue, but maybe that's too obvious?"

"She wears a rainbow scarf," Serperior said. "If anything, that's our best option." She turned toward the front of the store. "Yo, Kecleon! Got any rainbow ribbon in stock?"

Kecleon appeared at the end of the aisle, broom in hand. "Hmm, I'd have to check in the back. I don't get party supplies delivered all that often. Give me one second." He disappeared behind some shelves.

"So, you think Vulpix is being sincere this time?" Serperior asked.

"I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt," Milotic said. "Still, there's a part of me that feels uneasy about all of this. You saw how he looked. What do you suppose happened to him on that mission? And do you think Riri had a similar experience?"

"I'm guessing she probably did," Serperior said. "And, not going to lie, I don't trust him to throw a good party. I feel like he's just doing this more for himself than for Riri. So that he can turn around and say that he's amazing because he planned such a great party, or some nonsense like that. You can bet I'll be keeping an eye on him. If he steps out of line…" Her voice trailed off and she whipped one of her vines out against the air. A loud crack sounded through the store.

Milotic nodded. "That does sound like him. Want me to Hydro Pump him if he tries a stunt like that?"

"Only if I get to Dragon Pulse him, too," Serperior said with a laugh.

"Good news, ladies!" Kecleon called. "I found some rainbow ribbons in storage. Come have a look!"


~Dhelmise Depot~

"Hiya, Dhelmise. I need to grab my Super Special Surprise Sparklers out of storage, please," Growlithe announced. He dropped his explorer's badge onto the front desk, where Dhelmise collected it up using a lump of seaweed.

"What exactly do these sparklers look like?" Dhelmise asked.

"They're a big pile of multicolored sticks!" Growlithe said, tail wagging.

"Okay. I'll be back shortly." Dhelmise turned and disappeared into another room.

"Seriously? Super Special Surprise Sparklers? What are those?" Araquanid said.

"My special brand of fireworks. I made them myself," Growlithe said, only for a gray tail to smack him in the back of the head. "Err, I mean, Togedemaru made them. But I provided tactical support!"

"He sat around eating spicy peppers," Togedemaru scoffed. "Nearly lit my tail on fire, too."

"Hey, I can't plan when I get indigestion," Growlithe quipped.

"Is it safe to use fireworks in the Observatory, though?" Araquanid said.

"Of course. At least, with ones this small, we should be fine," Growlithe said. "Now, my 'Big Bad Mamma Jammas,' on the other hand… they'd probably blow the Observatory up." He looked around the building. "And maybe half of Aeon Town, too."

Araquanid looked at Togedemaru. "Do I even want to know?" he asked

"No. You don't," she deadpanned. "Why are you even helping, anyway? You don't know who Vulpix and Riolu are. And trust me, there are much better ways to spend your time than helping out this stupid human."

Arauqanid shrugged. "He seemed like an okay guy from what I could tell. Well-meaning, if not a bit careless. Besides, parties are fun. And I joined the guild to help others. That includes my guild mates." He narrowed his eyes at her. "If you're so angry at this guy, why are you helping, then? Seems like this kind of thing isn't up your alley."

Togedemaru looked a bit flustered. "Well… that's… I…" She scratched at her head and looked away. "It's just because, in the unlikely event he's actually telling the truth, I don't want to be known as the girl who turned her back on a Pokémon at the end of its rope. Know what I'm saying?"

"So, you have a guilty conscience," Araquanid said. "Did you fail to act in a situation like this before?"

"What? No! I just–" She sighed and lowered her head. "Let's just say that, before I came here, I knew what it was like to not fit in."

"Oh? Care to elaborate?" Araquanid said.

"What do you want, a sob story?" Togedemaru said. "Look, I came from Circadian Coast. My parents expected me to be a performer like the Totem and his daughter and when I told them I wasn't interested, they decided to ignore me 'until I started thinking straight.'" She poked her nubby arms together. "One day I caught a glimpse of Team Captivate in action... and, next think you know, I'm packing my bags and sneaking off to Aeon Town in the dead of night."

"So, yeah, I think I know a thing or two about what it's like to not feel welcome somewhere," she said, shrugging.

Araquanid nodded. "There's no shame in that, you know. Sounds like you really do have a good reason to help."

"Whatever," Togedemaru said. "Just don't tell Vulpix I said that. Wouldn't want to inflate that head of his any bigger."

"Here are your things, Growlithe," Dhelmise said, and dropped a pile of sparklers onto the desk. It was such a large pile that some of the sticks rolled onto the floor in front of Growlithe.

Araquanid's eyes widened. "Duh-doesn't that seem a bit excessive to you?"

"Excessive? Hardly!" Growlithe said. "If anything, this isn't enough."


~Crabrawler's Café~

Shane slumped over. "You're… you're kidding me!"

"Fraid not, lad," Crabrawler said. "The thing's been on the fritz since yesterday. And my old man never showed me how to fix it. I'm sure a mechanic could be here to fix it in, say, a week or so."

Shane crouched over, pulling at his ears with his forepaws. "I don't have that kind of time!" He started coughing.

"Are you okay, Vulpix? You look weary," Crabrawler said. "And that's to say nothing of your appearance. You're lucky I don't throw you out for tracking mud in here."

"I'm fine!" Shane insisted. "Look, what if I brought Magearna over? She's a top-notch mechanic. Maybe she can fix it."

Crabrawler shrugged. "Can't hurt, I suppose." Shane nodded and ran out of the café, wincing as he went. Crabrawler sighed and shook his head. "Poor lad is going to make himself sick running to and fro like that."

Shane staggered back into the café about five minutes later, Magearna walking along behind him. Good morrow, Crabrawler. I trust business is boominating as usual.

Crabrawler nodded, only for Shane to shove Magearna. "Listen, we don't have time for small talk, okay? Go take a look at the Sky Jukebox and see if you can fix it." Magearna gave him a blank look, to which he groaned. "… please?"

Of course. Please, give me some room. Magearna approached the jukebox. Her arms retracted into her body, and out popped a glowing rod and a screwdriver. She knelt down and started looking inside the base of the machine.

"Well, see anything?" Shane asked.

Yes. There a few loose bolts and a severed wire that I must repair, Magearna said. I suggest you go and get the Guildmaster. That way, he can move the jukebox when I'm done.

"You… you want me to go back now?" Shane said, lapsing into another coughing fit.

In the interest of preservating time, yes, Magearna replied.

He groaned and stumbled out the door.


~Azure Cape~

"… we're here…"

Tessa slowly slid off Null's back, landing in the sand. She stumbled forward before dropping down onto her knees. "Why did you take me here? I want to go back home."

"… I think… you need some fresh air," Null said. "We could both use it… after all that time… underground…" He sat down next to Tessa. The two of them stared at the ocean in silence, watching sparkling waves lap up against the shore. This continued for several minutes, though Null interrupted the silence with the occasional jostling of his mask. Beside him, Tessa slowly rotated so she was sitting as well. Eventually, she scooted over and came to rest her head against Null's hip.

"… how are you feeling?"

Tessa rubbed her snout. "Horrible. And you?"

"… horrible," Null said, "but what else is new?"

"I know that you didn't mean to attack Vulpix in the marsh," Tessa said. "I wish I could've been there to calm you down, so that things didn't escalate."

"… it's okay," Null said. "We've already… talked about it." Tessa looked up at him in concern. "It's not something… you need to bother yourself with. You should… focus on yourself right now. And how you're feeling…"

"But you're hurting… like really, physically hurting. I think that trumps anything I'm feeling," Tessa said, frown deepening.

"Don't worry… about me. I've… been in pain… since I woke up… at the guild. I'll probably… be in pain… forever," Null said, sliding down onto his belly. Warm sand brushed against his fur and scales. Grunting, he rubbed the bottom of his helmet in the sand.

"Did you, like, feel anything weird when, y'know, you were attacking Vulpix?" Tessa asked.

"Just… headaches… searing, splitting headaches," Null said.

"Do you think, maybe, something's contributing to your pain? Like, say, hunger?" Tessa said. Null looked right at her. "Err, you know what, that was a stupid question." She rubbed the back of her head. "But, um, I have been curious about that since I've met you. Aren't you, like, starving? You can't eat anything with that helmet on, can you?"

Null shook his head. "I don't know. What does hunger feel like exactly?"

Tessa's eyes widened. "Are you joking? What kind of question is that? You get pain in your stomach... and sometimes your mouth starts to drool."

"My… my mouth," Null wheezed. "I don't…" His voice trailed off and he clawed at his helmet. "Nnngh… my head…" He shook his head around. "What if… what if I'm off base? What if… this helmet can't come off… because it's actually my face?" He lay his head down on his forelegs. "You heard… that purple guy. He called me… a failed experiment."

"If that's really true… then Shane is right. I'm not a Pokémon… I'm just a freak…"

Tessa put her paw on Null's side. "I don't believe that. For one thing, when you shake your head, your mask rattles around. There's got to be a face under there."

"Then… why can't I feel it?"

Tessa tensed up. "What do you mean?"

"The only things I can feel up here… are headaches. This helmet… just feels… really heavy… on my neck... and shoulders," Null said. "Other than that… nothing. If I really… have a face… under here… I have no idea… what it looks like. I can't… remember anything… about having a face. Why do you think… it's so hard… for me to speak? I can't… feel my own mouth... assuming it exists…"

Tessa rubbed his side. "I'm sorry, Null," she said, sighing. "Trust me, if I could trade situations with you, I would." Null looked at her and narrowed his eyes. "If I had to give up my memories so that you could get yours back… I'd do it in a heartbeat."

Null coughed loudly. "… this is… about your family… isn't it?" he said. Tessa looked away. "Riolu… you shouldn't… bottle this stuff up. It's just going… to make you… feel even worse."

Tessa's aura feelers drooped. "You… you heard what I told Vulpix," she said.

"I'm sorry… for eavesdropping," Null said. "I just… wanted to help you… feel better."

"I don't want to talk about this," Tessa muttered.

"You've already… talked quite a bit about it," Null said. "Surely there are… still a few things… you'd like to say… right?"

Tessa crossed her arms against her chest and turned away from him. "No. I said I'm not talking about it. And I mean it. My mind's already made up."

"… then I won't... make you talk," Null said.

"Good. Then I'm going back home," Tessa growled, getting to her feet. But Null's hind leg shot out behind him, forcing Tessa back down onto the sand. She gave her friend a look of disbelief. "You're really going to try and stop me? I'm not even doing anything! I just want to lie down in the dark… alone."

Null shook his head. "I'm sorry… I'm not letting you walk off." He turned to look at her. "I saw you... reach for that glass. I can't just… brush that aside…"

"Why not? Vulpix obviously did," Tessa said.

"He got… pulled away… for something important," Null said. "Believe me… he's just as concerned… about what he saw… as I am."

"He is?" Tessa whispered, flinching.

"Yeah. And I imagine... that's pretty hard for him... given what happened in the marsh," Null said, nodding.

Tessa stiffened, grabbing sand with her paws. "What do you mean by that?" she whispered.

"Well... it's hard... to put it... into words," Null rasped. "Things just... got out of control... down there. But... the thing is... even if I didn't mean... to attack Vulpix... I still did. He nearly drowned... because of me. Because... of those voices. And... from what it sounds like... you brushed that all aside..."

"What are you talking about?" Tessa said, aura feelers shooting up. "I managed to stop you, didn't I? That's all that matters, right?"

"Not to Vulpix," Null said with a heavy sigh. "He has to live... with the memory of what happened to him... of this big, scary monster... trying to rip him to shreds... compounded by his other teammate... trying to make it seem... like it was his fault." Null shook his head. "I can't blame Vulpix... for lashing out... like he did. If I were in his place... I'd have done the same thing."

Tessa couldn't believe she was hearing this. She blinked tears out of her eyes. "But... but what about the stuff he said to me?" she squeaked.

"Don't get me wrong... it was uncalled for," Null said. "But... by that point... everything had spiraled... out of control. We all got... swept up... by our own emotions... that we just... fell apart... at the seams. The stress... that Totem Lurantis added... certainly didn't help. If she wasn't there... if that purple guy wasn't there..." Null shifted about uncomfortably. "So many things... went wrong down there. Honestly... I'm not sure why... the Guildmaster did this."

Null looked at Tessa, who sat there, head bowed silently. It was true. She was sure of it. Everything Null said made too much sense. Her desire to win Null's friendship was so strong that she was willing to look past Shane's near-death experience at Null's talons just to make him happy. The realization made her chest tighten.

"You're right," Tessa whispered. "I... uh..." She put her paws on her shoulders and shivered. "Maybe it's a good thing my family's gone." Tessa slouched over. "I guess... I really should just disappear, then. I'd be doing everyone a favor. Even if I could muster the courage to go back to the guild, I can't face Vulpix. Not after what you just told me."

Null nudged Tessa with his helmet, but she pushed him away. "Riolu," Null whispered. "I think... you understand... what I was saying... right?"

"Yeah," Tessa said. "It's why I should stay away from the guild... forever."

"I can't... make that decision for you," Null said. "But what I can tell you... is that... understanding where things went wrong... is a good first step... to making amends."

Tessa refused to meet his gaze. Null figured he couldn't press the issue any further. He lay his head in the sand and took in a deep breath. His ribcage pressed against Tessa's side. Several minutes of silence followed. All the while, Tessa fidgeted with her paws and stole glances at Null. She knew what he said made sense, but there was a mental block in the way. Her gaze wandered off to the water, where she watched small waves roll up against the sand.

"When I was little, there was nothing I wanted more than to join the guild," Tessa whispered. "Dad always brought guild members over to visit. They looked so happy and were always super friendly to me." She repeatedly traced a circle in the sand with a digit. "Gallian and I always talked about how we were going to become Guildmasters… together." Tessa rubbed the bridge of her snout. "When he joined the guild, he'd come home so excited and full of energy. It was the happiest I'd ever seen him."

"And then it all came crashing down last year," she continued, her voice shaking. "After Dad died, I figured that joining the guild was the only way to get Mom and Gallian to pay attention to me again." She lowered her head. "But without anyone to train me, I didn't really make any progress. And, to make matters worse, I couldn't work up the courage to go toward the guild. I'd just think about the morning that Braviary showed up... and the rampage that Mom went on when she learned Dad died."

"I don't blame you… for having trouble. Something like that… has gotta be tough to live with," Null said.

Tessa nodded. "But it just got worse from there. Everyone I'd grown close to dropped out of my life," she explained. "The guild members stopped visiting. Then Mom left, with Gallian following shortly after. Sylveon and Eevee were all I had left." She rubbed her shoulder against her eyes, blinking away tears. "But, what was I supposed to do? Sylveon had her job to worry about and Eevee had other friends in Sunrise Village. He tried inviting me to come with him, but…" Her voice trailed off.

"You didn't go with him?" Null said.

"I tried… once," Tessa squeaked. "But his friends wanted to do practice battles. And I… I wasn't very good at battling. So, they laughed at me... and I ran back to Sylveon's house," Tessa said.

"What happened next?" Null asked.

Tessa's ears and aura feelers drooped. "Every day, I'd walk to Aeon Town. Every day, I'd get a bit closer to the Observatory. Then I'd think of all the bad things that happened since Dad died. And I'd run off. Sometimes I'd go to my parents' house and sometimes I'd come out here."

Null curled his body up so he could face Tessa. She dragged her knees up toward her head and stuck her face in her lap, desperately trying to avoid making eye contact. "And then Vulpix showed up," she said. "Right off the bat, he confused me." She shook her head. "I should've put my foot down. I should've told him to go get help somewhere else."

"But you didn't," Null said.

"Right. And look where it got me," Tessa said, flopping onto her belly. "Look where it got us. I feel so... small. Small and undeserving of any support."

"Riolu... I know that stuff I brought up... was harsh... but I did it... because I still care about you," Null said. "If you hadn't… joined the guild… with Vulpix… we wouldn't have met…"

Tessa winced. "I…" She bit her lip. "I would've worked up the courage to join… somehow."

"If that's… really true… then why did you partner up with Vulpix?" Null asked. "There has to be a reason."

"Because I owed him for getting my scarf back," Tessa said, gently nudging the rainbow scarf with her right paw.

Null looked at her skeptically. "No... there's more to it..."

Tessa's aura feelers stiffened. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"If that was… the only reason... you wouldn't have… stayed partnered with him… as long as you did," Null said.

Tessa dug her paws into the sand. "Th… that's… I… don't… um…"

"It's okay… just take your time," Null said.

"I believed him, okay!" Tessa shouted, then stuck her face into the sand. Null leaned forward and gently nudged her back up. Tessa hastily turned her head, refusing to make eye contact. "Despite some of the stuff I said to him, deep down – really deep down – I wanted him to be right. I wanted him to be this special chosen one. Because then I could be special by extension... just like my idols."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm so stupid. I let myself get taken in by the idea of becoming a world-famous hero. I can't believe I was dumb enough to think that I could have stories made about me." She rubbed her eyes with an arm. "I told myself to put up with Vulpix because the reward would be love and admiration. From the guild… from the townsfolk… heck, from the whole world. Everyone knows about Team Poképals, Team Gaia, and the others." She hung her head shamefully. "And I let Vulpix convince me that I could be just as famous as them if I stuck with him."

"It's not your fault," Null said. "That stuff… does sound tempting. Especially if... you're feeling lonely."

Tessa shoved Null's hip. "You're just saying that to make me feel better," she muttered dejectedly. "Vulpix was right. And that's exactly why I can never face him. I am a sad, sorry little Riolu who uses sob stories to get people's attention. I don't deserve anyone's love. All Vulpix and I managed to do was bring out each other's bad sides... until everything exploded." She turned away from Null. "That's why I can't go back. That's why I'm just done with all of this. It feels like I'll only be able to do more harm than good from now on. And besides, I don't matter to anyone. I just…"

She stuck her head back into the sand, letting out a muffled cry of, "I just want to see my dad again."

"You matter to me."

Tessa poked her head up, sand cascading down her face. "Null, you don't have to say that to make me feel better."

"I mean it," he said, scooting toward her. "You're the first person… who's made me feel like... something other than a burden. Everyone else… keeps their distance. But you… you want to talk to me." He pressed his mask against the tip of her snout. "I… I have fun… being with you. When you're around… the pain… it doesn't feel as bad. It feels like… I can handle it…"

"Null," Tessa whispered, her eyes sparkling.

"Please don't leave me," he begged. "We can… help each other… together. Starting with... making sure... you and Vulpix are square." He shuffled backward, his gaze falling toward the ground.

"Okay." Tessa took in a deep breath. "If it's for you… I guess I can try to do that." Her ears twitched at the sound of a relieved sigh. The sand around her shifted as Null lumbered to his feet. "H-Hey, where are you going?" she squeaked.

"… to the ocean," Null rasped. "I'm… sick of all… this muck on me. I'd like… to clean it up…"

"But the ocean's salt water! It'll make you all sticky," Tessa said.

"… better than… being covered in mud," Null said, trudging toward the water. Tessa sat up and watched him wade into the ocean. As he lay down, a wave rushed across his body. The water swept the grime out from his fur and scales. He dipped his mask down, letting water splash across it.

Tessa got to her feet and slowly walked forward. She stood at the edge of shore, wincing as cold ocean spray tickled the soles of her feet. Tessa cautiously inched closer to Null. Each successive wave went a little further up her leg, removing the mud in the process. A sense of relief washed over her, like the waves were carrying her sorrows away with the filth her body had accumulated underground.

Then, suddenly, an unexpectedly large wave struck her. Tessa yipped in fright. She stumbled about and fell into the water, flopping around like a beached Magikarp. Tessa got back to her feet, coughing and sputtering. "Wha-What the–?" She brought her paws up to rub her eyes, only to hiss and blink rapidly. "Ow! Ow! Salt… in my eyes!" she whimpered.

Finally, her blurry vision faded. She noticed Null had shifted so he lay parallel to the shoreline. "Did… did you just splash me?" she said

Null looked right at her. "What? Of course not."

"Don't lie to me. There's no way a wave that big would just come up out of the blue like that," Tessa said. "Okay, maybe a wild Pokémon could do it, but they don't tend to get this close to the shore."

"Hmm. Well… I suppose… I could've done… something like this…"

A rush of wind grazed Tessa's sides before another wave drenched her, knocking her onto her back. Null let out a low, rumbling laugh while Tessa scrambled to her feet. "Hey! You totally soaked me, you… you…"

"… hey… at least you're cleaner now," Null said.

"Oh yeah? Well, let's see how much you like it!" Tessa said. Her right paw glowed bright blue and she slammed her palm into the water. She gave a confident smirk, but it faded when her splash failed to make it to Null. He retaliated by sweeping glowing talons across the surface of the water. Tessa tried to avoid the wave, but the silt on the ocean floor weighed her down. The wave swept her up and pulled her under the surface again.

Null lumbered to his feet, water dripping off his underbelly. Tessa popped back up, trying to shake the water off her fur. "You're not going to get away from me!" she declared, charging after her teammate. Or, rather, she would've, if the silt didn't trip her up and make her stumble. She fall forward, disappearing under the surface with a tiny splash. Null's laugh rumbled through the air

"… you okay, Riolu?" he asked, when he noticed she hadn't resurfaced. He was then taken completely by surprise, as Tessa lunged out of the water from beside him.

"Now I've got you!" she hollered, throwing all of her weight into an attempt to tackle Null. To Tessa's shock, she struck his side, unceremoniously bounced off of it, and fall back into the ocean. Null blinked and shook his head.

"… yeah… that's not… going to work," he said. Seconds later, he felt something yank one of his forelegs forward. Null hopped around, before slowly collapsing into the water like a falling tree. Tessa resurfaced, spitting out a mouthful of saltwater.

"Ha! See? I told you I had you," Tessa boasted, watching Null get back up and shake out his body and tail. The two stared at each other in silence, before breaking down laughing. They went back ashore, and resumed laying under the sun. When Tessa felt completely dry, she stood up and arced her back.

"So, it's getting kind of late," she said. "We should probably get going."

Null looked up toward the sky. "I think… we should go to the Observatory…"

Tessa's smile vanished. "I'd rather not go back there. At least… not right now."

"… I know. It's just… there's something there… that I want you to see," Null said. "We don't have to… stay long."

Tessa sighed. "Okay." She nestled up against Null's side. "But don't leave me alone, understand?"

"… I wouldn't think of it."


A much quieter chapter here. But I thought it was needed. I had fun with the fluffy bits at the end here, so sorry if they're not you're bread and butter.

Next time: will the party go off without any hitches?
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Bonus 3: Welp, now I'm helplessly imagining Dialga as a huge KITTY CAT. :p And Giratina as a massive huge dog. And a massive huge DORK to boot. XP

Chapter 17:

All right, now you KNOW where my mind's gonna go when you start talking about someone building a pokémon out of spare parts. Maybe it's a ruse. Maybe it's just misdirection. But yeah, instinct = Null. Maybe less an intended beast killer this time and more an intended god killer. We'll see, I'm sure.

"Let's hold off on that until we're deeper into the cavern," Milotic said. "The paths may get more convoluted and trap-riddled, for all we kn–"


PFFF, that timing. Just had to tempt fate like that, didn't you, ya silly eel? :B

I'm already liking Marshadow, particularly his manner of speaking.

Chapter 18:

She remained in the entrance while Dragonair slithered toward one of the nearby ores to get a better look at it. She glanced over at the ground and managed to find a pebble. Wrapping it up in her tail, she gently tossed it against the giant emera. A bright flash of purple light burst forth from the gemstone, causing Dragonair to shirk back.

"Okay, that was a bad idea," she concluded.

PFFFFF. Yeah uh, throwing rocks at things is... generally not the best way to investigate them, you silly dragon. XP

Looks like there's a couple more ticks in favor of God Killer Null. I wonder if the dear remembers the crystal. If not, I wonder how remembering might affect said chimera.

"Second attempt", though. Now what could that be referring to...?

Still not entirely willing to rule out misdirection re: Null, but that's just me hedging my bets, really.

"Hey, back off, you big lug," Serperior barked. "You're outnumbered now. Give up or you're gonna end up like your friends over there."

Probopass merely raised its floating limbs in response.

When one hasn't exactly got the means to flip the bird, one has to improvise.

Chapter 19:

Throughout the scene where they were riding the river I had this playing in the back of my mind.

Giga Drain tendrils speared him in the back and dragonfire washed across his legs.

Interesting depiction of giga drain there. Interesting, and kind of brutal. I like it. :D

Millie, please. The guy's been here half a year now and nothing's happened. If he was going to attack Team Radiance, he would've done it by now," Serperior said.

vaguely wonders if the Null we're familiar with was actually the second attempt

OH HI LATIAS. Didn't see that coming. :eek:

Bonus 4:

"Of course! I can focus really good," Tessa said. "Look, here's my focused face." She furrowed her brow and stared intently at the remains of her sandwich.

That poor, poor sandwich. :p

Chapter 20:

Ok bearzwole sounds awesome. That was a nice, brutal transformation to boot--and all while the kid watched helplessly, which makes it all the better. 8D

Shane lunged forward to cover up Bruxish's mouth.

Braver than I am. I ain't going anywhere near those teeth.

Bird-bothering wolf-howl was certainly suspicious... or maybe it was just meant to seem that way. I'll reserve judgment.

"Werewolves! They're creepy, two-legged wolves in the human world that are triggered by full moons and tend to give off these loud, creepy howls," he explained. The Vulpix craned his neck skyward and belted out an, "Arrrrrroooooooooooo! … kinda like that."


A rotten berry hurtled out from a building window and splattered across Shane's left hip.


"Ah, don't pay Snowy any mind." Lycanroc gave a dismissive wave. "His tails are all twisted up cause I gave some purple nectar to an Oricorio who asked him to find some. It was just a coincidence." He craned his head to the side. "By the way, you've uh, got a little something on yer side there, mate." He brushed a paw along his hip.

Omg it's still there. I'll bet that smells just lovely. :p

Chapter 21:

The booming roar knocked Shane off his feet and he tumbled across the sand.

I'm picturing this, basically.

"Yo, Arceus, if you're really up there doing whatever, how about a sign?"

"… hurry up, human…"

Null, your timing is godly. ;)

Leaning toward trusting Lycanroc at this point, or at least toward distrusting Shane's assessment of him.

Chapter 22:

She kept switching between flexing and trying to wipe the dirt from her eyes.

The flexing. XD Buzzwole can be such dorks. I love them.

I'm inclined to suspect Gumshoos was an ultrafreak at some point prior to going all... comatose and desaturated. :p I wonder what sort.

"… momma?"

A tiny squeak drew Shane's attention. Null didn't seem to notice. He remained next to the tree while Shane proceeded forward. He only made it a few steps before stopping. Stufful had walked out from behind Bewear, and was sniffing her torso.

"Momma?" Stufful squeaked again. He nudged Bewear's limp form with his muzzle. Bewear failed to move.

'No. C'mon, little guy, go away!' Shane thought. 'You shouldn't be looking at this.'

"Momma? Momma?" Stufful tried to shove Bewear with his forelegs, but to no avail. Shane watched his eyes tear up. "Mommaaaaaaaaaa!" He started rubbing his face against Bewear's hide.

Welp. :( That's certainly sad, now isn't it.

Magearna nodded. Her stomach compartment opened up

and there was ice cream!

I had to

Bonus 5:

Awww, Solgaleo's a sweetie. Quite a difference from the loud, blustering presence in Shane's dreams. Makes me wonder if they're really one and the same...

Tessa jutted out her lower lip. "Aww, c'mon. Can't I have another?"

Gallian shook his head.

"Pweeeeeeeeeeeeease?" Tessa begged, leaning over and brushed her head against Gallian.

"Well… when you put it that way…"

Gallian grabbed the marshmallow bag and slid it back into his satchel.

"… no."

applauds him

Ok, that last scene makes me all the more suspicious of Shane's "Solgaleo"... which is to say, I'm inclined to suspect said solgaleo isn't anything of the sort.

Chapter 23:

It's interesting. Even now, I'm reluctant to just say "okay Shane was 100% right and that is that". I don't imagine this is a cut and dry situation. Dude could've been right about some things and dead tf wrong about others.

Tessa's snout stiffened. She shut her eyes and nodded. "Yes, Vulpix. He really wanted to help us with this Prism Virus situation… until you insulted him. Your big mouth turned him against us. So, congrats. You were right in the end. I hope you're happy."

Fact: in insisting that Lycanroc was an outlaw you created a self-fulfilling prophecy, Metagross stated. Fact: I will address this with you in your disciplinary session once you have properly healed.

I'd wondered. Kind of brings a Coheed lyric to mind: "And now I play your enemy/The only word you could find for me"

Chapter 24:

"Can you hear me?" Comfey asked. She leaned in toward Shane, only to freeze at the sound of Shane weakly gasping for air.

"Help… me…"

"Vulpix, are you alright?"

The Vulpix met her gaze with a dazed look in his bloodshot eyes. "Car… crushing… me…" he wheezed. "Hurts… everything huuuuuuurts…"

Comfey frowned. "What's a 'ca-hurr?' Oh dear. I think the fever's made you delirious."

"So… much… pain…" Shane whimpered. A shiver ran along his body. He again tried stretching out a foreleg but it merely twitched unresponsively in place. The Vulpix started to hyperventilate.

Dang, poor guy. Not the kind of memories I'd want to have, even if they only cropped up in dreams.

Speaking of Shane, his (useless) efforts to stay out of the bath were pretty amusing.

And yep, thoroughly convinced now that it's DW Necrozma pestering Shane in his sleep, not Mr. Magic Space Lion. Meaning that Necrozma is a DORK. Dorkrozma. :B

(Or maybe there's also a DM Necrozma in the mix somewhere, and that's what's been pestering him? Hmm...)

Chapter 25:

Ultra Recon Houndoom.

Ultra Recon Houndoom.

That's kind of adorable somehow.

"Um…" Mimikyu shifted about, sensing the awkward silence. "I, uh, thought you might be hungry. So, I brought you a treat." His spectral arm appeared from underneath his disguise, carrying a small plate. "It's a 'Get Well Soon Muffin.' I made it myself!"

Shane looked at the "muffin," which actually appeared to be several brown lumps held together by a red paste. "I know it doesn't look that good," Mimikyu admitted. "But Steenee tried one and liked it." He set the plate down next to Shane's head.

...do I even wanna know what that thing's made of XD

"Haunter! I know yer hiding 'round here. Make yerself useful and go wrassle up Riolu fer me," he ordered. Shane looked to his right and saw a pair of eyes materialize in the wall.

"Aww, but it was just getting to the good part!" Haunter whined. His eyes vanished into the wall.

...Was he spying on Shane, or on... something else?

Bonus 6:

Well then.

Uh... okay, now I'm not one to automatically dismiss the possibility of coincidence, at least not most of the time. But. Well. I... daresay this answers the "where did Prisma come from/was she ever not a pokémon" question? Maybe? Probably? Let's go with "probably" bordering very heavily on "almost certainly".

What a cheerful pack of thoughts that is if indeed that's the case. She remembers the past. She named her pokémon kids after her human kids. I love it.

Chapter 26:

The Riolu gave a frightened yip and dove to the ground to dodge Carracosta's falling form.

Well that was rather doggy of her.

"Well, I was hoping we wouldn't have to fight anyone. But you got that creepy purple guy all hot and bothered. Because you can't seem to open your mouth without making someone mad," Tessa hissed.

Shane glowered. "You certainly didn't help things! We don't need to protect Null. Didn't you hear the alien? He's some sort of failed experiment. In other words, a waste of our time and energy!"

Null skidded to a halt in front of the two canines just as Shane finished that statement. He whirled on the Vulpix, an enraged look in his eyes. "Oh, don't give me that. You know it's tr–"

These two. These two. At this point they're beginning to look a lot like Groudon and Kyogre and I'm very much empathizing with Rayquaza. :p

Chapter 27:

Shane wobbled about on the lily pad. He looked around at the bubbling, dark-gray swamp water spreading out across the marsh and grimaced. "Blech. Looks like Pacifidlog got visited by a Garbodor horde." His snout wrinkled and he threw up a forepaw. "And everything smells moldy and mildew-ridden. Like my grandma's house." He glanced at the nearest tree. "It's gotta be these trees. It looks like mold spores are growing on them instead of leaves."

Oh god I could practically smell it myself. XD; I would NOT want to live there, let me tell you. I've had more than enough of the smell of mold for a lifetime...

And gosh dang. Gosh. Dang. I daresay Shane and Tessa really could do with a Rayquaza-esque figure in their lives, or something. I legitimately wonder if they'll ever be able to stand one another again.

Chapter 28:

Immediately I have to wonder if the person Oranguru's been writing to really is Incineroar or if the poor old ape's been had. With his aura senses having deteriorated, it'd be easier than it might've been in the past to pull one over on the guy.

Shane forcefully exhaled, sending frosty air spilling out in front of him. The icy attack splashed up against a wall of thorny, pulsating red vines. To his utter horror, his attack harmlessly bounced off the foliage. Worse, the red glow seemed to strengthen, and the vines pulsated faster. Shane slumped over, panting heavily.

"It's… it's no good. I can't break through them," he said.

Clearly you're meant to flee from them and return with the Eclipse Torch

Was definitely not expecting Oranguru's motives to be what they were. Poor dude. :( But at least he got what he wanted, I suppose. And of course a nice, heavy scene like that really puts Tessa and Shane's bickering into perspective, doesn't it. Break it up, you two--although good luck with that, now that Shane's said what he's said. I'll be legit amazed if these guys can make amends at this point.

Chapter 29:

Null was at a complete loss for what to do. Both of his teammates were unresponsive. Tessa sat curled up in a ball, rubbing her paws against the ground. Shane had collapsed on his side, breathing heavily. The chimera took a step forward, only to freeze as Shane's widened eyes met his. They frantically darted around in his skull. He stuck a forepaw out.

"P-Please… sir…" he croaked. "I need… I need help!"

Null shuffled backward, shutting his eyes. "No, wait, don't go!" Shane hollered. "Call the police. Call EMS! There's been... an accident. I… I'm being crushed! Please, sir… my car…" Shane's forepaw fell to the ground, along with his head.

Regardless of what he's said, regardless of what he's done, I can't not feel sorry for him when he's in this mode. :(

Metagross stomped a foreleg on the ground, crushing several sunflowers.

RIP Flowers

Guess I was right about Oranguru being deceived. Not sure how I feel about Metagross's methods but I kind of get the feeling I'm meant to be uncertain? It's a complicated matter, after all.

Chapter 30:

Null and Tessa's interactions are so sweet. ;A; So freakin' cute. They're so good for each other. Possibly even good enough to make a mutual evolution situation come about, come to think of it. I suppose we'll see!

I'm very glad to have caught up; this story just keeps getting better and better. It's evolved into a very feels-inducing drama while still retaining lighthearted elements. In short, I love it. <3


Winter can't come soon enough
Welp, now I'm helplessly imagining Dialga as a huge KITTY CAT. :p And Giratina as a massive huge dog. And a massive huge DORK to boot. XP
Yesssss, bask in the headcanon. I will make cheerful, dorky Giratina a thing! XD

All right, now you KNOW where my mind's gonna go when you start talking about someone building a pokémon out of spare parts. Maybe it's a ruse. Maybe it's just misdirection. But yeah, instinct = Null. Maybe less an intended beast killer this time and more an intended god killer. We'll see, I'm sure.
If you think that's fun, just wait until you see where the spare parts are coming from. ;)

PFFF, that timing. Just had to tempt fate like that, didn't you, ya silly eel? :B
Tempting fate is pretty much a requirement to be an explorer in this day and age.

I'm already liking Marshadow, particularly his manner of speaking.
Thanks! I took inspiration from Loki in Bayonetta 2 for his speech mannerism. Thought it would help him seem a bit smarmy.

PFFFFF. Yeah uh, throwing rocks at things is... generally not the best way to investigate them, you silly dragon. XP
I guess she didn't feel like using her head. :p

Looks like there's a couple more ticks in favor of God Killer Null. I wonder if the dear remembers the crystal. If not, I wonder how remembering might affect said chimera.
At present, he does not remember anything beyond waking up at the guild with the control mask on. Poor guy needs a hug.

"Second attempt", though. Now what could that be referring to...?

Still not entirely willing to rule out misdirection re: Null, but that's just me hedging my bets, really.
Not to worry. There will be an answer to the "second attempt" question in Episode 9!

When one hasn't exactly got the means to flip the bird, one has to improvise.
Very true. Though, Probopass could store plenty of birds in its luxurious 'stache if it felt like it.

Throughout the scene where they were riding the river I had this playing in the back of my mind.
OHH GOD NO BAD MEMORIES MAKE IT STOP AHHH ECCO WHYYYYY.Uhh, I mean, there are some great Ecco speedruns. :V

Interesting depiction of giga drain there. Interesting, and kind of brutal. I like it. :D
Thanks. I wanted something a bit brutal since, like, you're literally sucking the life out of your enemy.

vaguely wonders if the Null we're familiar with was actually the second attempt
Well, Sun and Moon had three of 'em. But here, it's a mystery (dungeon)!

OH HI LATIAS. Didn't see that coming. :eek:
That was the big sudden twist of the special episode so, yay, I got ya. :V

That poor, poor sandwich. :p
Guiding Light doesn't treat food all that well, admittedly.

Ok bearzwole sounds awesome. That was a nice, brutal transformation to boot--and all while the kid watched helplessly, which makes it all the better. 8D
I was going with 'Buzzwear,' but Bearzwole works too. And, yeah, this is where the Metroid influences started taking a more central role in shaping the story.

Braver than I am. I ain't going anywhere near those teeth.
Well, for all you know, Shane could've been a dental assistant as a human. XD

Bird-bothering wolf-howl was certainly suspicious... or maybe it was just meant to seem that way. I'll reserve judgment.
Totally meant to be suspicious, to get folks thinking like Shane's thinking.

I'm picturing this, basically.
Pretty accurate, I'd say. )")b

Null, your timing is godly. ;)
YEEEEESSSS! Your puns give me life. <3

Leaning toward trusting Lycanroc at this point, or at least toward distrusting Shane's assessment of him.
Which means you'd do better than Shane in this situation, I'd imagine.

The flexing. XD Buzzwole can be such dorks. I love them.
I love it too. I really had to resist the urge to try and write Buzzwear as sounding like Jorgen von Strangle.

I'm inclined to suspect Gumshoos was an ultrafreak at some point prior to going all... comatose and desaturated. :p I wonder what sort.
As you saw at the end of the episode with Necrozma, nah, he just got the light/life force sucked out of him.

Welp. :( That's certainly sad, now isn't it.
We couldn't stay in happy fun times forever. Hence why this episode got switched with special episode 2 in the lineup.

Awww, Solgaleo's a sweetie. Quite a difference from the loud, blustering presence in Shane's dreams. Makes me wonder if they're really one and the same...

Ok, that last scene makes me all the more suspicious of Shane's "Solgaleo"... which is to say, I'm inclined to suspect said solgaleo isn't anything of the sort.
Everything happens for a reason...

It's interesting. Even now, I'm reluctant to just say "okay Shane was 100% right and that is that". I don't imagine this is a cut and dry situation. Dude could've been right about some things and dead tf wrong about others.
I had written it out to be a bit of a gray area, with Metagross really not helping in that regard.

I'd wondered. Kind of brings a Coheed lyric to mind: "And now I play your enemy/The only word you could find for me"
I, uh, may have to look that one up. XP

Dang, poor guy. Not the kind of memories I'd want to have, even if they only cropped up in dreams.

Speaking of Shane, his (useless) efforts to stay out of the bath were pretty amusing.
I'd say they're less dreams and more panic attacks on his part. As for the antics, I may have drawn some real life inspiration there (at least, the polar plunge part, though unlike Shane I actually did them).

And yep, thoroughly convinced now that it's DW Necrozma pestering Shane in his sleep, not Mr. Magic Space Lion. Meaning that Necrozma is a DORK. Dorkrozma. :B

(Or maybe there's also a DM Necrozma in the mix somewhere, and that's what's been pestering him? Hmm...)
Eeyup. I'm hoping that, within the next few episodes, everyone will come to understand just why Necrozma is a massive dork who's acting... outlandish, for lack of a better word.

Ultra Recon Houndoom.

Ultra Recon Houndoom.

That's kind of adorable somehow.
Not just Houndoom, but shiny Houndoom! Y'know, because the Ultra Warp Ride gives you positively ridiculous shiny odds.

...Was he spying on Shane, or on... something else?
I'll just leave that up to interpretation. ;P

Well then.

Uh... okay, now I'm not one to automatically dismiss the possibility of coincidence, at least not most of the time. But. Well. I... daresay this answers the "where did Prisma come from/was she ever not a pokémon" question? Maybe? Probably? Let's go with "probably" bordering very heavily on "almost certainly".

What a cheerful pack of thoughts that is if indeed that's the case. She remembers the past. She named her pokémon kids after her human kids. I love it.
Yes. No need to overthink this one. That is indeed our Prisma and she did indeed try to recreate her human family (right down to Incineroar matching up to Rory).

Well that was rather doggy of her.
Riolus are still puppies, even if they stand on two legs. XP

These two. These two. At this point they're beginning to look a lot like Groudon and Kyogre and I'm very much empathizing with Rayquaza. :p
At least they don't destroy a whole region with their arguments. :V

Oh god I could practically smell it myself. XD; I would NOT want to live there, let me tell you. I've had more than enough of the smell of mold for a lifetime...
Aww, sorry to hear that. ;~;

And gosh dang. Gosh. Dang. I daresay Shane and Tessa really could do with a Rayquaza-esque figure in their lives, or something. I legitimately wonder if they'll ever be able to stand one another again.
Mmm... perhaps the next chapter will answer that question? ;)

Immediately I have to wonder if the person Oranguru's been writing to really is Incineroar or if the poor old ape's been had. With his aura senses having deteriorated, it'd be easier than it might've been in the past to pull one over on the guy.
He was had. Poor guy had absolutely no idea.

Was definitely not expecting Oranguru's motives to be what they were. Poor dude. :( But at least he got what he wanted, I suppose. And of course a nice, heavy scene like that really puts Tessa and Shane's bickering into perspective, doesn't it. Break it up, you two--although good luck with that, now that Shane's said what he's said. I'll be legit amazed if these guys can make amends at this point.
Well, I'm certainly trying to wave the magic wand and make it happen.

Regardless of what he's said, regardless of what he's done, I can't not feel sorry for him when he's in this mode. :(
Then I guess that means I've done my job! ^^

Guess I was right about Oranguru being deceived. Not sure how I feel about Metagross's methods but I kind of get the feeling I'm meant to be uncertain? It's a complicated matter, after all.
It is. If you're suspicious, good. Hold on tight to that feeling.

Null and Tessa's interactions are so sweet. ;A; So freakin' cute. They're so good for each other. Possibly even good enough to make a mutual evolution situation come about, come to think of it. I suppose we'll see!
A girl dog pupper and her dogchimera

I'm very glad to have caught up; this story just keeps getting better and better. It's evolved into a very feels-inducing drama while still retaining lighthearted elements. In short, I love it. <3
Glad you're enjoying it. I'll admit I was uncertain as to how the feelsy stuff would be received. But it seems like everyone's liking it. Which makes me very happy. Thanks for the review! ^^


Winter can't come soon enough
Content advisory: themes of depression and suicide.


Chapter 31: Turning a Corner

"Nicky. Dude, what are you doing calling me? You know I start my shift in, like, five minutes."

"Can't you just clock in a bit late, Shane? This is important. I really need to talk to you."

"Sorry, buddy, no can do. Boss has been breathing down my neck all week."

"You're a
part time employee, man. What could possibly be so important that you can't take a moment for your best friend?"

"Ugh, fine. Whatever. You wanna talk? Then, go on. If something bad happens to me, it's on your head."

"… you know what? Never mind. Forget it. It's not important."

"No, no. I already said I'd clock in late. Don't be shy. Tell me what's wrong."

"… it's nothing. I'm just… overthinking things again."

"Is this about what happened at school this morning? Dirk got detention, you know. I'll bet his mom will pay to fix up your 3DS. Or get you a new one. I think the SD card's fine, so–"

"That's not what I–"

"Not what, Nicky? You're confusing me, here."

"Forget it. It's fine, Shane. Just go to work."

"You sure?"

"I'm not looking to be a bother."

"Uh, okay then."

"And Shane? Just in case I don't see you this weekend… happy birthday."

"Huh? I thought you said you were coming over!"

"Yeah… something popped up. I'll try to make it. But… no promises. I'm heading to drop your gift off right now, actually."

"Nicky? Dude... you're scaring me."

"Don't worry about it. I'm fine. Take care… Shane."

"Nicky, wait!"

The line went dead.


~Aeon Observatory~

"Vulpix? Oy, for crying out loud," Yungoos said, waving a paw in front of Shane's face. He grabbed one of Shane's ears and shouted, "Yo, human!"

With a holler, Shane snapped to attention. He stumbled forward, rubbing the ear that Yungoos had just yelled into. "Ow! What the heck was that for?" he said.

"Youse was spacing out on us," Yungoos scoffed. "Ain't youse finished with… whatever it is youse is doing? It's getting ta be late in da afternoon."

"Right," Shane said. "Lemme go check in on the food." He turned and made for the dining area, shaking his head. Shane knew he couldn't afford to draw comparisons at a time like this. After all, he had an opportunity to do the right thing this time, but that chance would slip away if he lost focus. He paused in front of the dining table and sniffed the air. A fragrant, fruity aroma wafted in from the kitchen. Shane followed it, pausing in the doorway to gawk at the giant cake sitting on a cart. Chocolate frosting lined every square inch of it.

"Wow," Shane said, mouth watering.

"Well, what do you think?" Steenee asked, walking over with a wooden spoon resting on her shoulder. She wiped her chocolate-covered hands on her apron. "Not bad, huh?"

"It's twice as big as you," Shane said. "Are we sure we can get it through the doorway?"

"Absolutely!" Mimikyu said, scuttling over with a tray of Solrock and Lunatone-shaped cookies balanced on his head. Like Steenee's apron, flour and frosting peppered his costume. "Sylveon measured the door just to be safe. She's going to use her ribbons to help the cake stay balanced. Oh… uh… sorry… you must be here because you need something. Forgive my rambling."

"It's okay," Shane said. "I just wanted to check and see how the food was coming along. It's getting pretty late and I'm starting to think Riolu will be here soon."

Sylveon maneuvered a couple of plates onto a different cart. "In that case, would you mind bringing these treats out for me? That way I can tend to the cake."

"Not a problem," Shane said. As he walked over toward the cart, he noticed the giant metal mixing bowl on the table vibrate. It spun around slightly, before falling onto its side. Eevee tumbled out onto the floor, covered in chocolaty batter from head to tail. He looked up at Shane and wagged his tail excitedly.

"You need to plan more parties in the future!" Eevee said. "That way I can go swimming in Mommy's cooking!"

"Eevee, did you seriously jump into that bowl while my back was turned?" Sylveon said, shaking her head. "Great, now we'll need to get you cleaned up."

"Actually, I think it's an improvement," Shane quipped, smirking as he watched Eevee turning to lick batter off his shoulder.

Sylveon lightly rapped the back of Shane's head with a ribbon. "Don't encourage him," she scolded. Shane rolled his eyes and pushed the dining cart out of the kitchen, heading toward the assembly area. His legs ached and the back of his mind begged him to lie down and go to sleep, but Shane willed those thoughts away. He could rest after the party, for better or worse.

Shane arrived in the assembly area. His guild mates gathered several tables together to hold the buffet. They even managed to fit a single, purple and gold tablecloth over everything. Shane's ears twitched at the murmurs of faint conversations taking place behind him.

"Um, can someone help me put this food on the table?" Shane asked. He turned around and found himself looking at the bevy of ribbons and balloons scattered about the room in decoration. He blinked a few times, but soon felt his vision growing fuzzy.

'That's… weird. Why does this feel so familiar?' he thought. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them back up. However, the room remained blurry. And it grew even blurrier, until his everything went completely white.


Shane was moving. He wasn't sure how. He wasn't sure why. But he was walking forward. His field of vision bobbed up and down with each step he took. His gait was much heavier than he had grown used to as a Vulpix, furthering his confusion. Blue walls lay on each side of the hallway he was walking through. Shane passed marble pillars and wondered why he was seeing them when he was supposed to be in the Observatory. The soft carpet under his paws also struck him as out of place. Before Shane could try to begin piecing together what had just happened, someone spoke.

"Remind me why I need to keep my eyes closed again?"

Shane looked to his left, identifying the crescent moon-shaped bat gliding beside him as the source of the unfamiliar voice. He felt his mouth start to move, but the voice that emerged wasn't his.

"I already told you, Lunala. It's a surprise!"

Upon hearing the name, Shane immediately tried to ask a question. He was talking to Solgaleo's partner, after all, and the Pokémon that Tessa's mom was supposedly protecting. He figured if he could get her some answers, that would surely make her feel better. However, his mouth refused to budge. In fact, Shane's body wasn't listening to him at all. He kept walking down the hallway, passing more marble pillars.

The only thought that came to Shane's mind was that he was having a dream vision. He began to panic, wondering if he had passed out before the party could start.

"That's not helping your case here, you know. Your surprises are almost always of the unpleasant variety," Lunala said.

Shane looked ahead, spotting bright colors at the end of the hallway. He stepped into the light, but was unprepared for the sight in front of him: Legendary Pokémon filling up the entire circular room, most positioned around a circular table with a half-orange, half-blue cake.

Shane involuntarily nodded and the assembled chorus of Legends belted out, "Surprise!"

Lunala's eyes shot open and her jaw dropped. "What the–? What are you all doing here?"

"Why, we're here to celebrate, of course!"

"Luh-Lady Ho-Oh? Is that you?" Lunala gasped, bowing her head. "Forgive my rudeness."

A glistening rainbow aura drew Shane's attention. He looked to his right and watched Ho-Oh walk up to him. She smiled at him. "Of course it's me," she said. "And no need to be so stiff, Lunala. Today's the fiftieth anniversary of the day you two were made from the ashes of your predecessors, after all."

"And I thought it would be fun to throw a party," Shane said, though his voice was still much deeper than he was used to. "C'mon, I thought it'd be fun. Look at everyone who came out to celebrate with us."

"Ho-Oh informed me that there would be merrymaking! If I find that I was lied to, I shall smite someone in retribution!" Zekrom shouted, slamming an arm on the table.

Reshiram stepped beside him and flicked the tip of his snout with a talon. "Do us all a favor, Turbine Butt, and give that big mouth of yours a rest, will ya?" she said.

"… hmph. My mouth is not big… it is perfectly proportioned for my well-toned physique," Zekrom said, putting his hands on his hips. "You're just jealous beca– mfgrh!"

Reshiram grabbed Zekrom's muzzle and clamped it shut.

"Get a cave, you two!" a voice heckled from the background. Reshiram's face went bright red.

"So, what do you think?" Shane asked. "Up for a little fun with some friends?"

Lunala chuckled. "Of course I am. Just because I'm dedicated to my job doesn't mean I'm unwilling to cut loose for a few hours. Who do you take me for, Dialga?"

The room burst into laughter at this.


Water splashed across Shane's face, forcibly jolting him back to reality. He doubled over in a coughing fit.

"Are you suuuuure you're okay, dahling?" Bruxish asked.

"He's obviously not," Serperior scoffed. "Look at the bags under his eyes. He's sleep deprived. I'll bet he's hallucinating." She rubbed her forehead with her tail tip. "Great. We've spent all day taking orders from this doofus."

"I'm… fine," Shane wheezed, shaking water off his face. "I just… um… zoned out for a second."

"Yeah. A really long second," Yungoos said.

Before Shane could say anything else, Trapinch scrambled down the stairs to the main level. "They're coming! They're coming!" Trapinch hunched over, struggling to catch his breath. "Why did I have to be to the lookout guy again?"

"Cuz youse didn't volunteer to do somet'ing else quick enough," Yungoos said.

"Alright then. I guess that means it's showtime," Shane said, silently wondering if the guild had really done enough or if this plan would fall flat. "Can we cut out the Luminous Orbs for a little while?"

Metagross' eyes flashed blue and he dimmed the orbs scattered around the room. Shane shoved his way past his guild mates, making his way toward the eastern hallway to help Sylveon deal with the cake. The other guild members stood around, waiting in silence.

"Did Vulpix tell anyone what we should to when Riolu shows up?" Togedemaru asked.

"That would be a no," Serperior said. "Guess we should just wait until we see some shadows on the stairs and say surprise."

It took a few more minutes, but they eventually heard footsteps above them. "That's really strange." The group immediately recognized Tessa's voice. "I can't believe no one's around to let us in."

"… maybe… they all went somewhere?" Null said. "In any case… let's head downstairs…"

The guild members heard footsteps that gradually grew louder. "Hey, who killed all the lights?" Tessa asked.

The Luminous Orbs flared to life, followed by everyone shouting, "Surprise!"

A yipping Tessa jumped backward, aura feelers shooting straight up. "What are you all doing?" she asked.

"Happy hatch day, Riolu!" the guild members declared. Several sets of streamers and balloons suddenly fell down from the ceiling, while Tessa looked about in shock.

"Th… this is… a surprise party? But, I didn't tell anyone today was my hatch day," Tessa squeaked. Sure, there were guild members who probably knew, but she told Team Captivate she didn't want them doing anything.

"We know," Growlithe barked. He marched forward with several of his special fireworks sticking out from a harness on his back. "But we were able to find out and thought it would be fun to throw you a party. Check out the cake. It's bigger than me!"

Behind him, Shane, Steenee, and Sylveon, wheeled out a rather large cake. Shane stayed hidden behind the dining cart and, as soon as it came to a stop, bolted for the east hallway before Tessa could see him. Though he wanted to see Tessa's reaction, he also didn't want to risk her seeing him and getting upset.

Tessa looked up at the towering dessert. "Is that–?"

"Molten chocolate cake with a nanab berry glaze in the center. Your favorite," Sylveon said. A ribbon extended forward, holding a slice of cake with a candle sticking out of it. "We all got together and decided that, just because your family's not around, doesn't mean we can't pitch in to help you have a fun hatch day."

"Yeah!" Eevee chirped, still covered in cake batter. "You're such a good friend. Which is why I wanted to help, too." He stepped to the side to show the plate full of Solrock and Lunatone cookies. "I made these with Mimikyu! And I got you a gift, too."

"Go on," Sylveon said. "You ought to make a wish."

Tessa gingerly took the plate from Sylveon's ribbon and stared at the piece of cake. "R-Right… okay… h-here goes nothing." She shut her eyes tight, blew the candle out, and opened them back up. Though she had thought of a wish, she was confident it stood no chance of coming true.

"Great!" Growlithe said. "Now we can get the festivities started!" A round of cheers followed as Sylveon and Braviary went about cutting up the cake. Steenee and Mimikyu made rounds to set out the other dishes that they had prepared. Shane brought the remaining food items from the kitchen, disappearing back into the east hallway each time. Steenee tried to offer him some cake, but he refused. His stomach growled in protest, but Shane ignored it. This was Tessa's moment and he had to do everything to keep it that way, even if that meant not partaking in the festivities.

While everyone ate, they traded talks of recent assignments and took part in a few card and board games that Team Specter had managed to gather. Naturally, since the ghosts had gotten a hold of them, it didn't take very long for some folks to realize that Haunter was attempting to cheat. He tried to play the accusation cool, but Misdreavus quickly ratted him out, prompting him to call everyone a bunch of spoilsports and go sulk inside of a nearby balloon.

Despite all the conversations taking place, each guild member went to great length to keep Tessa included. At first, she dismissed it as them playing along with whoever's idea the party was. But, the more she talked, the more those thoughts went away. Eventually, Tessa found herself laughing along with her fellow apprentices as Growlithe recounted the time he burnt one of Braviary's treasured keepsakes to cinders.

As the games winded down, Tessa rejoined Null. "I… I just can't believe this is all happening," she whispered.

"… see? It's just like… I told you… at the beach. More folks care about you… than you think," Null said.

Tessa looked up at him. "You took me to the beach so this could all get set up, didn't you?"

"… guilty," Null said. "But… it was important. Besides… it worked… didn't it? You seem to be… in better spirits…"

"I… I guess so. This is all just a lot to take in," Tessa said.

"… I think… you deserve it," Null said, nudging her with his mask.. "C'mon… just try to relax… and enjoy yourself…"

"Augh! Haunter, seriously?"

Tessa looked over her shoulder. Shane staggered back from the buffet table, a plate firmly pressed against his face. "Sorry, Vulpix. I guess that cake just slipped through my fingers," Haunter said. "But look on the bright side. You're… much sweeter now! Mwee hee hee hee!"

Hold on. I will procurtain a towel for you, Magearna said, then walked out of the room.

"Huh. Why hasn't Vulpix cleaned himself up from the mission? He looks horrendous," Tessa said.

"I think he mentioned… the shower not working… or something," Null said. "I wouldn't… bring it up with him. You know how he gets… about his fur…"

"Yes. It's one of the few things he does that's actually entertaining," Tessa said, chuckling.

Null sighed. "How about… you open some gifts?" He jerked his head to the side, where Tessa spotted several wrapped objects sitting in a small pile.

"Those are all for me?" she gasped.

"Pretty sure… yeah…"

Tessa got up and made her way toward the presents. Her guild mates noticed this and followed her. A gift unwrapping session followed. Tessa received a few practical items, like a new looplet to replace the one she had gotten when she joined the guild. She also got stereotypical gifts, like a red bow to wear on her head. Then, there were the strange gifts, like the tube of novelty fur dye Serperior gave her. It was promptly tested, when Serperior used a vine to smear the gel across Tessa's tail, turning it a bright, gaudy shade of yellow.

Finally, Sylveon stepped forward, holding a small box. "Here's the last gift," she said, nudging the box toward Tessa. "It's not from me, but apparently someone's got cold feet, so I'm giving it to you in their place."

Tessa took the lid off the box. "It's a locket," she whispered. Tessa reached inside and delicately pulled the jewelry out, clasping the sun-shaped pendant in a paw.

"Go on. Open up the pendant," Sylveon said. Tessa looked at her in confusion. Sylveon nodded.

Tessa slowly opened the trinket, only for her breath to rush out of her. There, looking back at her, was a small, sky-blue gemstone. Her paws trembled. She recognized this! "Dad... he kept a gem just like this in the house," she said. "Where did you get this? How did you do this?"

That is the same gem your father owned. I used my patented Geartronic Gemstone Shrinkifier to resize it, Magearna explained.

"Youse totally just made that up, didn't ya?" Yungoos said.

Of course not. I inventified it ten years ago, Magearna insisted, crossing her arms.

Tessa stared wide-eyed at the open locket. Sylveon frowned. "Do you not like it?"

"What? Nuh-No! Of course I do," Tessa said. "It's… it's beautiful." To think someone had actually gone and worked with Magearna to craft a memento of her dad that she could always carry with her.

Sylveon nodded. "Good to hear. I'm sure the Pokémon that made it for you would be happy to tell you more about it," she said, shooting a look over at Shane. He froze in the midst of loading plates onto one of the dinner carts.

"What are you looking at me for?" Shane said. "Talk to Null. He was beside himself with worry over the idea you wouldn't like it. He did choose it for you."

Tessa looked at Null. His helmet hid his widening eyes. "You made this?" she said.

"Yeah," Shane said. "He wanted to get you the perfect gift to cap off this party. It was his idea, after all."

The side conversations taking place abruptly stopped and all eyes fell on Shane. A few guild members turned and exchanged surprised whispers with one another. Shane resumed pushing the dinner cart toward the east hallway, but Steenee snatched it away from him and pointed toward his teammate. Shane hung his head and trudged back across the room. Null briefly looked at Shane before Tessa walked up to him.

"I… I don't know what to say," Tessa whispered. "This is really kind of you. Did you plan all of this out while I was sleeping?"

"Yup. He barged right into morning assembly and told us that we should all come together to throw you a surprise party," Shane explained. "It's all thanks to him."

Tessa smiled at Null. "You didn't need to go to all this trouble just for me."

"But you had a good time, right?" Shane asked.

"Absolutely," Tessa said.

"And are you feeling better than you did this morning?" Shane said. Tessa vigorously nodded. "That's… that's good to hear." He stepped back, relief flooding through him. "Well, uh, I'm sure you want to get back to the festivities. So, uh, I'm just going to go outside… get a little fresh air. Don't mind me." Shane turned and made his way toward the stairs. The sounds of laughter gradually faded as he reached the Observatory's entrance. Shane walked outside, craning his neck up to look at the star-filled, twilight sky.

His idea had worked. The guild lifted Tessa's spirits and he was able to keep his involvement in the idea hidden from Tessa. 'Nicky... this is what I should have done for you,' Shane thought, tilting his head down and taking in a shuddering breath. Like at Tessa's house in the morning, a newspaper page flashed through his mind.

Westhill High School teen dies in apparent suicide.

'I turned Nicky away when he needed my help the most,' Shane thought, eyes watering. 'And I almost made an even worse mistake with Tessa.' He thanked the stars that the guild was able to pull Tessa back from the brink. The article was replaced with a mental image of Tessa smiling at Null. 'Seeing her happy like that... I think it's the best thing to happen since I got here. Probably the only good thing that's happened, too,' Shane figured.

He took another shuddering breath. 'I'm sorry, Nicky. And I'm sorry, Tessa. It's a good thing you're dissolving the team. I don't deserve to have friends.'

Feathers draped across Shane's back and he involuntarily flinched. He looked up and saw Braviary's blurred outline beside him. Shane quickly rubbed a foreleg across his eyes. "I was… I just wanted to get some air. That bog did a number on my sinuses," he said.

Braviary dropped a small metal object at Shane's feet. Shane looked down and saw a silver badge sparkling in the moonlight. He knew it was an apprentice badge. Shane had coveted it since he'd gotten into the guild. Yet, he couldn't even smile at the sight of it.

"Son, I wanted ya to know how proud I am of what you did back there," Braviary said. "That was mighty big of you. So, on behalf of the guild, congrats on reaching apprentice rank."

Shane frowned. "How can you be proud of me? After what happened on our mission, I wouldn't be surprised if no one in the guild wants to speak to me again." He looked away from Braviary. "I'm sure Metagross must've told you what happened."

"I got a terse summary beamed into my noggin," Braviary said, causing Shane to wilt like a flower. "This ain't about that. It's about what you did today. It was generous and selfless. And you didn't even use the opportunity to try and make yerself look good. I admit, I had my doubts about how sincere you were with this gesture. But it looks to me like you did it out of the kindness of yer heart, and not as a means to an end."

"I wouldn't have needed to do this if I hadn't screwed things up so badly to start with," Shane said. "I wanted to make things better for her, so she could happily start over with Null." He remembered Sylveon's instructions to him from earlier and bit his lower lip. "Err, scratch that. We did this together, to help Riolu see that the guild can be a second family for her."

"I'm glad to hear that. I mean... look at yerself, hoss," Braviary said. "Yer positively filthy... and exhausted in ways most of them folks in there couldn't begin to imagine." As if to emphasize this, Shane descended into another coughing fit, spitting up a mouthful of sticky green phlegm. Braviary cringed. "Err, anyway... not once this whole day did I hear you complaining about how you look or how you feel. Considering how you'd been acting before, that's a mighty impressive attitude adjustment."

Shane's ears folded against his face. "I don't need sympathy right now, okay. I'm just spending some time out here… alone. After all, I'm going to need to get used to that from now on. So, I might as well get started."

Braviary withdrew his wing. "Son, I may not have saved the world or nothing, but I do know one thing. You don't gotta be called a hero to do the right thing, but heroes are remembered as the folks that do the right things fer the right reasons. Sure, getting rewards fer completing missions is great. And, yeah, maybe it'd be nice to have stories passed on about yer days in the guild. But that shouldn't be yer motivating factor to go out and help others."

He pointed a wing at his chest. "Nah, that's gotta come from the heart." Shane looked away again, so Braviary stepped into his field of vision. "Listen. Folks like us make our livelihoods helping other Pokémon. And we do it because it makes us feel good to see them happy. Ain't that what yer thinking about Riolu right now?"

Shane nodded.

"Then, sounds to me like yer finally thinking like one of us," Braviary said. "I can't say what things were like fer you back home. But out here, we all face a lot of challenges. Especially with Mystery Dungeons constantly popping up and changing around. That's why we need to work together."

"I understand," Shane whispered. "No more walking around, acting like I own the place. I need to take this stuff seriously. Because bad things happen to good Pokémon when I don't."

Braviary nodded approvingly. "Just keep those thoughts in mind, and you'll do great from here on out. I can feel it in my bones." He looked back toward the Observatory. "So, ready to go back inside yet?"

"Almost. I just need a few more minutes to myself," Shane said.

"Alright, but it's getting late. And we should really try to clean up before heading off to sleep," Braviary said. He walked back into the building, leaving Shane to look out at the stars.

'Do the right things for the right reasons, huh?' Shane thought. By that logic, Shane figured that he shouldn't try to stop the Prism Virus because a voice in his dreams called him a chosen one. Instead, he needed to stop it so that Pokémon can continue living peaceful lives. 'And so that families like Tessa's aren't torn apart.'

There was one problem, though. How was he going to fight the Prism Virus without any partners? The Bewear incident proved he wasn't strong enough to beat an infected Pokémon along, even with all the training in the world. 'So, what do I do now?' he thought, shoulders sagging.

The question continued to linger in Shane's mind as he returned inside and went about helping his fellow guild mates clean up. He was particularly adamant that Tessa and Null not get involved, as he continued sticking to his story that all of this was Null's idea. When Braviary was satisfied with the cleaning job and dismissed him, Shane staggered back to the housing wing.

Each step became slower, making Shane's legs tremble. His eyelids grew heavy and muscles burned, threatening to give out from exhaustion. A thick fog overtook Shane's mind. When he stumbled into his team's bedroom, he tensed up. "Hmm? When… when did I get in here?" he asked, yawning. His gaze fell to his pillow in the middle of the room. Never had a single cushion looked so inviting to him as it did in that very moment. "Maybe Tessa wouldn't mind… if I just slept here one more night," he mumbled, walking toward the pillow.

"… hey."

The soft whisper roused Shane from his half-asleep stupor. He rapidly shook his head, trying to fight back the urge to pass out. Tessa stood in the doorway, her newly-received locket sitting on her neck, over her scarf. "Oh, uh, hi," Shane said. "I was just, y'know, checking to see if I left anything in here. Since, um, I guess I'm supposed to switch rooms with Null or something?" He scratched his head. "What room does that guy even sleep in, anyway?"

Tessa rubbed her shoulder. "I know," she said.


"I know that this whole thing was your idea," Tessa said. "Null told me the truth."

"Uh, I don't… I have no idea what you're talking about," Shane said, shuffling back. "Must be the berry juice. I told Serperior not to spike it with anything."

"You do realize Null can't eat or drink, right? Now, stop lying," Tessa said. "You made this locket for me, didn't you?"

"Well, honestly, Magearna did the bulk of the work. So, if you want to get technical–"

"Why wouldn't you want to take credit for any of this?" Tessa said. "This… all of this clearly took a lot out of you."

Shane poked the ground with a forepaw. She was right, but any desire for Shane to say that was dampened by what Sylveon had told him. "Because this wasn't about me. This was about you. You said that you're alone... and that nobody cares about you. It's not true. Everyone in the guild… they pitched in to make this happen. Because you are loved," Shane said. "I stayed out of it because I didn't want to ruin everyone's hard work."

"Vulpix," Tessa whispered, clasping her newly-obtained locket.

He hung his head. "If you had known that I was the one overseeing all of this, it might've made you more upset. So, I decided to give the credit to Null. After all, he's your best friend. And if you two want to start a team together, I figured the least I could do is try to start the two of you off on the right foot."

"Vulpix," Tessa said, a bit more forcefully.

He walked toward the door, avoiding Tessa's gaze. "I know this is probably a meaningless gesture, but I want you to know how sorry I am. For everything. From the moment I met you, I've been a real jerk. Because I thought that I somehow knew better than you, an actual Pokémon who's lived here her whole life." Shane's stance slouched. "If I had known the truth, I'd have never pushed you to come here."

"Vulpix, that's enough," Tessa said, putting a paw on his shoulder. Shane jolted stiff in surprise. Had he said something wrong? Was he about to put all his hard work to waste by sticking a paw in his mouth?

"Um... is there a problem?" Shane whispered.

"You can stop talking, Vulpix," Tessa said. "I can see how sorry you are... and I appreciate it. But the truth is that I owe you an apology just as much as you thought you owed me one."

Shane finally turned and looked Tessa in the eyes. She wanted... to apologize? That didn't make any sense!

"But... I attacked you," Shane said, looking down guiltily. "I froze you in a mud puddle and, if that wasn't awful enough, I said your dad didn't love you."

"I know," Tessa said. "But it's not like I was much better. I shoved a teammate dissolution notice into your face after you woke up from a coma. Then, I spent the start of the mission demeaning you until I completely overlooked the fact that Null attacked you."

Shane stiffened. Where was this coming from? Did Braviary pull Tessa aside? Because Shane couldn't imagine Metagross talking with her about this. And he had told Null to cheer Tessa up at the beach, so there was no way he could've brought this up. Unless that was what Tessa had meant when she said Null told her the truth.

"Um... Null said he had talked with you about what happened," Tessa said, poking her index digits together. "I don't exactly know what you said but... well... as bad as I was feeling this morning, I can't even imagine what must've been going through your head in Moonrise Marsh." Her ears and aura feelers drooped. "I'll bet you were terrified. And I... I blamed that attack on you."

So, it was Null, then. Shane's tails curled up. The memories of the attack had lingered in his mind. Heck, he was thinking about them when he was outside. Despite that, he wasn't sure he was really prepared to talk about it.

"Y... yeah," Shane said, tracing a forepaw along the ground. "I... well..."

He couldn't help himself. Tears welled up in his eyes.

"Ri... Riolu... I was so scared," he squeaked, brushing snot against his shoulder. "I'm still scared, though I'm sure the Lunar Wing will help him. I just..." His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "I'd never felt so... so powerless! The reeds dragging me under the swamp... the weight of my fur... struggling just to be able to breathe. I... I..." Shudders racked his body. "When I saw you there... going to him... comforting him... and blaming me, I snapped. I just... I'd never felt so angry before. I wanted to hurt you... I wanted you to know exactly what I felt like. It... it was..."

"Instinct?" Tessa said, lowering her head shamefully.

"Yes," Shane said, ears drooping. "I... freezing you in the mud was so satisfying in the moment and I hate myself for thinking that... but it's true. After that... I don't even know. Seeing you pop up in Mellath Bog stirred those same feelings. I was... I let my hatred just take the wheel and drive things out of control."

Without warning, a teary-eyed Tessa stepped forward and embraced Shane. "I did, too," she whispered, brushing her head against his neck. Shane flinched from the contact, tails shooting upward. "I'm sorry," Tessa squeaked. "After Lycanroc, I wanted nothing to do with you and I took those feelings to the extreme. I was so desperate to get Null to like me that I made a terrible mistake down in Moonrise Marsh. Even if we weren't on good terms... you didn't deserve that. I just... I'm so sorry."

"I guess... we both screwed up big time, huh?" Shane said, lowering his head.

"You know what's really stupid? Null told me... I should try to be a role model for you," Tessa said, laughing bitterly. "If I really wanted to earn his friendship, that's what I should've done. But instead I went and did the exact opposite. And look where it got us." She broke off the embrace and stepped back sighing.

"Yeah," Shane said. Now he was sure all the good vibes from the party had been undone. Yet, a part of him was happy that he was able to get this all off his chest. Tessa even apologized to him, which he wasn't expecting at all.

"Really... I don't think I deserved this big party. Least of all... one spearheaded by you," Tessa said, rubbing her shoulder. "But, well, we can't exactly turn back time and take it all away."

Shane nodded, unsure where Tessa was going with this.

"I guess that just means... that I'm going to have to find a way to make it up to you," Tessa said, extending a paw toward Shane. He looked at Tessa's paw like it was a lethal weapon.

"Wait," Shane said. "But what about the team dissolution?"

"Give me the form and you'll see," Tessa said, flexing her digits. Shane gave her a blank look but ultimately obliged. Tessa grabbed the paper out of his mouth and tore it in half. Then she tore those halves into fourths and the fourths into eights. She continued ripping away until the form was a handful of paper scraps. Then she tossed them behind her nonchalantly.

"I… I don't understand," Shane said. "Are you saying, you want us to stay together? Even after yesterday?"

"Yes," Tessa said. "Assuming, of course, you still want me as your teammate. After all that's happened, I honestly wouldn't blame you if you just asked Metagross to draw up a new form." She fidgeted with her locket. "I really do mean it when I say that the party you threw was amazing. I wish I could put into words what it means to me, but I don't think I can. And I want to find a way to pay you back for it... partner."

Shane blinked in surprise. He was stunned. With the way the conversation was going, he couldn't have predicted such a turnaround. Did he still want Tessa as his teammate, though? After all, it wasn't like they had really had any fun together. Still, maybe this was the opportunity he needed to start off fresh? If he could take Braviary's words to heart, maybe Tessa could be the friend he sorely needed in his life. There was just one small matter he had to clear up.

"Well, I can think of one way you could pay me back." He reached his forepaw up and clasped the tip of Tessa's chin. "Please, promise me you won't ever go to such a dark place again."

Tessa blinked. "What do you mean?"

"Starving yourself," Shane said. "Or doing anything else to hurt yourself, for that matter. Promise me that, whatever happens to us, you won't ever try something like that."

His paw trembled against her chin. "I… well… yeah, okay. I promise," Tessa said.

"Good," Shane said, relieved. He backed away from her, ears folding against his head. "I don't want you to feel miserable anymore. I know you've lost your family, so to speak. I've lost people who are important to me, too. So, yeah, I know what it feels like to think that there's no one you can turn to." Another blush overtook his face. "… but maybe it doesn't have to be that way?"

Tessa nodded in understanding. Shane continued, "I know this will sound crazy, but do you think we could maybe start over? I'm not saying we need to be best friends or anything. But, at the very least, I'd like to leave the past where it is... and be a partner that you can depend on. It might not be perfect." He looked down. "Odds are, I'm going to screw up again, so I'll need you to call me out on it, like what Null did for you. Otherwise, I'll never learn. But... I'm going to try my best to be a better Pokémon."

"And I'm going to try my best to be better, too," Tessa said. She extended a paw toward Shane. "Through darkest night, and brightest day."

"Team Radiance always finds a way," Shane said, bumping her paw with his. "Partners?"

"Partners," she replied. And the two moved forward to embrace once again, only for Shane to hold up a forepaw.

"Wait a second," he said. "Yo, big guy!" He turned toward the doorway. "I know you're out there. Don't just stand there... come in."

Tessa's aura feelers stood up as Null's helmeted head appeared in the doorway. "… I didn't… want to interrupt," he rasped.

"You're part of this team too, right?" Shane said. Null shook his head. "Okay, yeah, I mean your name's not on the contract or anything. But it might as well be. After all, you're a lonely misfit with a spotty past, just like the two of us. The way I see it, you're more than qualified to join the team… officially."

Null blinked. "You… you really mean it?" he croaked. "Even after... what happened?"

"Yeah," Shane said. "I know things between us are... rocky. But I think the only way that'll change is if we work together." He poked the ground with a forepaw. "Besides… it's not a group hug unless everyone participates."

Null's gray eyes widened. "… are you sure… about that?"

"I'd just go along with it. You know how stubborn he can be," Tessa mused.

"Very true, very true," Shane agreed, playing along. "It's a wonder I didn't end up a rock-type when I came here." Tessa fought to hid a giggle. Null plodded into the room and leaned over. This allowed both Tessa and Shane to contact the sides of his helmet as they embraced.

A click sounded.

"Awwwww, isn't that just the cutest, Serpy?"

Shane and Tessa stiffened and backed away from each other. "Milotic! We're having a private moment here," Tessa hissed.

"I know, and it's positively adorable!" Milotic said.

And I got it on camera! Magearna said. This is definitely going in my 'Album O' Splendiferous Guild Moments.'

Shane's face reddened. "Wait, what?"

"Mwee hee hee! Look, little Snowball's blushing," Haunter cackled, appearing out of the wall alongside Drifloon and Misdreavus. They flew out of the room, laughing amongst themselves.

"Seriously, you guys? Way to kill the moment!" Shane said.

"Relax, Vulpix. We're happy for your guys," Milotic said, smiling. "But we'll leave you alone. It's time we got some shut eye anyway." She turned and departed into the hallway, but not before Shane heard her say, "Hey, Magearna, make sure to make me a copy of that photo, okay?"

"Forget it. I'm too tired to stay mad at them. I need sleep… badly," Shane said, yawning.

"You also need, like, four showers," Tessa said.

"Oddly specific number choice, there. But it's on the agenda for tomorrow. I think we could all use a real day off, don't you?" Shane said.

"I think this is the first time we're in agreement on something," Tessa said. "Guess we're getting off to a good start already."

They both approached their cushions and Shane immediately passed out. Tessa looked back toward the doorway, where Null lingered. "You're free to join us, you know."

"… right. Lemme just… go grab my pillow," Null said. He backed into the hallway. When the light struck his mask, Tessa saw something that made her aura feelers stand on end.

'Null's helmet… there's a crack in it!'


~Great Canyon, Hill of the Ancients~

A golden fox approached the canyon's summit and fanned out her tails. She could just barely make out a silhouette against the rising sun. "Xatu? It's Ninetales. I got your summons. What did you want to ask me?"

Ninetales paused her ascent, expecting to hear Xatu's voice echo through her mind. But nothing happened. She continued walking up, keeping her gaze fixed ahead of her. "Xatu, can you hear me?" She reached the top of the canyon and approached Xatu's side. She found him staring directly out at the sun.

Sighing, Ninetales gently shoved Xatu.

… hmm? Oh, Ninetales. How nice to see you. What brings you to Great Canyon?

"You summoned me here. Or did you forget again?" Ninetales said.

Did I? Xatu blinked slowly. Oh… yes… I believe this is the time I foresaw you arriving. My apologies. I'm afraid my mind was elsewhere.

"Yes, yes, I've heard it all before," Ninetales said. "Well, I'm here. You said you had something you wanted to ask me? Something that needed me to be here in person?"

… I see. Excuse me… I must recall what it is I summoned you here for, Xatu said. Ninetales rolled her eyes. Ah! Yes… a glimpse into the past has allowed me to remember what I wanted to ask. Tell me, Ninetales, have you been commiserating with the spirits in the Tree of Life as of late?

"Of course I have," Ninetales scoffed. "Don't tell me that's why you wanted me here?"

… I foresaw such an attitude, Xatu said, earning another eye roll. No, what I wanted to know is if any of the spirits have ever mentioned something called the 'Lightless Black.'

"Lightless Black?" Ninetales said. "Can't say I've ever heard of it. What's the significance?"

I am unsure, Xatu said. But, lately, my glimpses into the future have turned up nothing.

Ninetales' eyes widened. "Are your powers fading?"

No. Rather, at a certain point, I simply cannot see anything. There is only darkness, Xatu said. I probed this subject further to try and craft some form of explanation. What I got instead was a premonition. And, frankly, I do not know what to make of it. So, I thought it best to consult you. Would you permit me to share my vision?

"By all means, go ahead," Ninetales said.

Very well, Xatu said. He spread his wings out and his eyes glowed bright blue. Ninetales shut her eyes and soon found a series of words spreading out across her mind's eye.

A faller rises.
And a Lightless Black blots out the sun.
Wings of dawn blanket the horizon,
The Devourer of Light has his fun.
Zero will strike. Gods will fall.
And Mystery Dungeons shall number none.

Ninetales blinked and staggered backward. "That... well... I'm a bit confused. Frankly, it sounded like a bunch of contradictions. How does something rise up when it falls? And dawn leading to 'devouring of light?' That doesn't make sense. Dawn leads to daytime... and daytime is flooded with light." Her brow furrowed. "Am I to understand that you think something is going to happen to our gods?"

I am sorry. Like you, I am unable to discern meaning from this vision, Xatu said. I apologize for bringing you all the way out here. Would you prefer it if I teleport you back to Mt. Freeze?

She nodded and placed a paw on his wing. The two disappeared in a burst of blue light.


~Celestial Island~

Groaning, Necrozma rubbed an arm across his armored eyes. He glided past black cubes floating in limbo until he reached a cloud of black static flickering in and out of existence. A single red eye stared back at him, along with an eye-shaped purple gem sitting in the middle of a Nemes headdress.

"I was in the middle of a nap, Zero," Necrozma grumbled. "What do you want?" The red eye narrowed at him. "Oh... right... sorry about that. Let's try again. What do you want... Mistress?"

"An Ultra Wormohle to Aurora Vale," a garbled, heavily-distorted voice responded. As Zero spoke, the cloud of static pulsated faster.

"Do I look like a ferry service to you?" Necrozma said, third eye flashing. "Each wormhole you make me summon wastes more of my precious light. If you're not going to give me my core back, then you can walk!"

A glimmer of rainbow energy pulsated from Zero's right side. Necrozma floated backward, arms twitching. "Nrgh... fine," he said. "But I want a little something in return!"

"What did you have in mind?" Zero asked.

"Musharna. Give me her Beast Ball," Necrozma said, licking his lips. "I have need of her... abilities."

"Fine," Zero said. Black shadows swirled in front of Zero, producing a black and red ball with a checkerboard pattern running across it. "Now, the Ultra Wormhole, please."

Necrozma opened his wings and pointed his right arm forward. An Ultra Wormhole opened up behind Zero. "Have fun. Oh... and if it's not too much trouble, bring me back a souvenir or two. Like some delicious light! Heeheeheehee!" Necrozma said, levitating the Beast Ball toward him as Zero walked into the Ultra Wormhole. It remained open, despite Zero disappearing.

"Wakey, wakey, Musharna," Necrozma said, opening the ball up. Musharna appeared in a stream of red light. She lay on the ground, wheezing. Necrozma picked her up in his claws. "Oh, come now, you're perfectly fine," Necrozma said. He squeezed Musharna, who shrieked in fright as pink mist funneled out of her blowhole. Necrozma dropped her to the ground, eyes flashing blue. The mist swirled into a spiral.

"Heeheeheehee! Perfect!" Necrozma declared. He clapped his hands together and the mist formed up into a Lucario with a white diamond on her forehead and a fang sticking out of her mouth. "Let's see if I can drive in the wedge that will pry the intrepid heroes apart for good!" Necrozma said.

He pointed to the Ultra Wormhole and the Lucario diligently walked into it.

End of Episode 7


I hope you enjoyed the episode, even if you found this last chapter too cheesy/sappy for your liking. I had a lot of fun with it but it's time our heroes stopped fighting each other and started fighting the real threat. Rest assured, things aren't going to be all sunshine and rainbows for the main trio. If I do my job right, their new relationships will be put through the wringer, so to speak.

Next time: we meet the face (or lack thereof) of the Prism Virus.
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Gone. Not coming back.
Nice to see Shane finally get slapped – honestly, I'm almost surprised it took someone this long to give in to the temptation. It's also nice to see his response to it: nothing. It's exactly the right response for Shane at this moment in time; he's accepting the blame, and it's partly out of selfishness (“I am the cause of all the trouble”) and partly out of a genuine sense of the truth of the situation (“I approached a sensitive situation very badly”). Neither completely one nor the other. Which isn't much of a change, but it's a start.

Tessa and Null are sweet, too, though imperfect. I like that about them; it really shows up Shane in a way that not so many other characters do. Like, a lot of the supporting cast are either just kind of ethically neutral in the way they treat others, or imperfect in morally ambiguous ways, which means there's not so much to be gained from comparing them to Shane – but you can definitely do it with Null and Tessa. Neither say all the right things in this conversation, but they keep having the conversation anyway, and they get to the right place in the end through approximating the right answers. It's very sweet. And, y'know (stepping back from the cute for a minute), nice structure and all that, with the two parallel relationships playing out this way. Everything Shane needs to learn is right there, and – I was going to say he refuses to see it, but then I read the next chapter and he totally does see it, at last, so that shows me, I guess. Good. It's been long enough. I'm not totally sure how I feel about Tessa's immediate impulse towards reconciliation, but then, I guess she is that kind of person, and with the direction you took the last part of the chapter in (and the general arc of the fic), it seems fairly plain that there are still going to be significant strains on the relationship yet; there won't be any easy answers here. Which is always … I was going to say 'a good thing', but 'a true thing' is probably more accurate. It's harder for a story to be true than good, anyway, so it's definitely a plus.

All that aside, though – we all know what friendship does to Type: Null! Definitely looking forward to that, when it comes. Looking back over my notes, it seems I was too absorbed in actually reading the chapters to write down much in the way of critique, so, uh, oops, I guess you just have my reactions this time around, plus these little other bits and pieces:

Team Poképals

Oh my god, I'd forgotten that was the default team name back then, that's so … well, like, it was unintentionally hilarious then and it's even more unintentionally hilarious now, as this little note of saccharine canon in an otherwise much more nuanced story.

"Do you have any idea how stupid you sound right now?" Serprior growled.

You're missing an E in the middle of 'Serperior' there.

"Hey, I can't plan out when I get indigestion," Growlithe quipped.

Is that meant to be 'owt', as in 'anything'? Unless 'to plan out' is an idiom I'm not aware of, I feel like there might be some homophone confusion there.

"Sylveon measure the door just to be safe.

The terminal D in 'measured' is missing there.

But yeah, other than that, nothing much. I guess it's a good thing – if the story's strong enough to distract me like that, you're definitely doing something right!


Call me Del
Sorry I'm a bit late on catching up here!

Chapter Two

That was a pretty neat battle sequence. I love how Shane doesn't know he's an ice type right away XD I also totally didn't put together they could change targets and have a type advantage. I really enjoyed that battle =)

Things I noticed:

He dashed forward, spewing another Powder Snow forward.*

Second 'forward' seems a bit redundant. Suggest 'towards the Jangmo-o' or 'ahead of him', or drop the second 'forward'?

Tessa clutched the scarf around her next.*

Is that supposed to be 'neck'?

I really love the interactions between the characters. They're like chalk and cheese, and it's really entertaining! Shane is becoming a lot more likeable. Some of the stuff he comes out with... XD

The image quickly faded, only for a new one to replace it in her mind: a four-legged, white canine with a scythe-like blade sticking out his forehead glaring at her with as much contempt as he could muster.

"Don't you ever let me catch you setting foot in that guild. If you do, I won't hesitate to strike you down!"

Absol? D= Only one of my favourite pokemon! But I can't decide if I'm excited about this, or worried for the main cast! What he said sounds somewhat ominous...

"Alright! This is gonna be great!" He stuck out a forepaw toward Tessa. "Uh? You gonna fist-bump me or not?"

"No," Tessa replied.*

Girl! Don't leave a fist-bump hanging! D=

It will be interesting to see what happens when they join the guild =D

Chapter Three

Shane blinked rapidly, trying to process her list. "That… seems like overkill," he confessed. "You seriously bought a bunch of dead-weight*rocks?"

"Why not? I've heard they can sock an enemy pretty well if you toss 'em right," Tessa said.

NGL. I used that strategy a LOT. It works. (In Mystery Dungeon. Not real life. Just to clarify.)

"Now let's stop lollygagging and get to the guild already. It's time to meet some fresh, friendly faces!"

I LOVE some of the language you use XD

Things I noticed:

“Look, just here me out for a moment. If we*know*which direction to go...”


Another neat chapter =) I was a bit confused about the Nuzleaf reference at first, but I'm guessing it's referring to his English voice from Super Mystery Dungeon? I've only played it in Japanese and can't remember it from Let's Plays XD I might have to watch one again to refresh my memory.

Wondering if that reference is setting up for Braviary being a bad guy though? Hmm...

Chapter 4

He ducked a plume of dirt from Yungoos and fired a wave of snowflakes directly at the ground. Yungoos started slipping and sliding about.

Lmao Yungoos on ice!

This was a really good chapter. So many interesting character introductions. Love how Shane got pwned by an irritated Togedemaru.

Magearna has an... interesting way of speaking. It's like she's making up words. Interested to see what part she plays in the story.

I feel sorry for Null, though. That helmet giving him issues. Poor guy =( Since he's arrived randomly like Shane, I wonder if he's human...


Name's Adam.
Review for Chapter 5

This chapter was fun. Nothing major really happened to say the least other than the cryptic dream at the beginning. Team Fang's return was kinda funny, though they posed even less of a threat than the last time they showed up.

A minor nitpick, but I think the tone sort of clashes a bit whenever the story switches between comedy to seriousness and vice versa like towards the end when Tessa was frustrated over Shane's previous actions. Albeit, this is an early chapter, and the overall tone of the story could've been cemented by the most recent chapters.


Winter can't come soon enough
So, here's something we haven't seen in awhile. Review replies in the same post as the chapter. I wanted to get to these earlier, but this was just a bad week for me work-wise. That said, your comments all brightened things up considerably for me! ^^

Nice to see Shane finally get slapped – honestly, I'm almost surprised it took someone this long to give in to the temptation.
Technically speaking, Tessa's come up with some creative alternatives (she pelted him with mud in Episode 3, and then Force Palmed him in the chest in Episode 6). But I just thought it'd be appropriate, especially since Milotic's tail fins are perfect for that job.

It's also nice to see his response to it: nothing. It's exactly the right response for Shane at this moment in time; he's accepting the blame, and it's partly out of selfishness (“I am the cause of all the trouble”) and partly out of a genuine sense of the truth of the situation (“I approached a sensitive situation very badly”). Neither completely one nor the other. Which isn't much of a change, but it's a start.
Bless him, he's certainly trying. But he just can't help but try to focus things on himself to a certain degree.

Tessa and Null are sweet, too, though imperfect. I like that about them... Neither say all the right things in this conversation, but they keep having the conversation anyway, and they get to the right place in the end through approximating the right answers. It's very sweet.
I'd like to say I was trying to be realistic, but I'm not sure how true-to-life I can get here. I think I was channeling my inability to hold anything other than an awkward, broken conversation. Sometimes it's successful and often times it results in me just shutting down. I know the supporting cast isn't a good measuring stick for comparisons. Admittedly, maybe I've made some of them a bit too much like teenagers in stereotypical young adult media. <.<;

Everything Shane needs to learn is right there, and – I was going to say he refuses to see it, but then I read the next chapter and he totally does see it, at last, so that shows me, I guess. Good. It's been long enough.
See, he can learn. Maybe there's hope for him yet!

I'm not totally sure how I feel about Tessa's immediate impulse towards reconciliation, but then, I guess she is that kind of person, and with the direction you took the last part of the chapter in (and the general arc of the fic), it seems fairly plain that there are still going to be significant strains on the relationship yet; there won't be any easy answers here. Which is always … I was going to say 'a good thing', but 'a true thing' is probably more accurate. It's harder for a story to be true than good, anyway, so it's definitely a plus.
It's fair if you're feeling iffy about that. Since that was the part I was worried would be too cheesy and melodramatic to be believable. I hope that the stuff that's in store for them in the future will show you that things are far from perfect for them. I just felt this had to be the turning point, since I'd never even planned for the idea that they would split.

All that aside, though – we all know what friendship does to Type: Null! Definitely looking forward to that, when it comes.
As am I. Since I'm hoping it may catch a few folks off guard.

Looking back over my notes, it seems I was too absorbed in actually reading the chapters to write down much in the way of critique, so, uh, oops, I guess you just have my reactions this time around, plus these little other bits and pieces
It's alright. I'm just glad you were that engrossed in it. ^^

Oh my god, I'd forgotten that was the default team name back then, that's so … well, like, it was unintentionally hilarious then and it's even more unintentionally hilarious now, as this little note of saccharine canon in an otherwise much more nuanced story.
Yes, as ridiculous as it is, I'm playing things as close to canon as possible. Which is why the Red/Blue and Explorers pair that showed up (or were referenced) in the Halloween special were Blaziken/Swampert and Feraligatr/Infernape. Those were both the teams from the mangas, so that's what I went with.

But yeah, other than that, nothing much. I guess it's a good thing – if the story's strong enough to distract me like that, you're definitely doing something right!
Thank you kindly. And thanks for the typo corrections.

Sorry I'm a bit late on catching up here!
I wasn't aware you could be late to reviewing. I know the update schedule's a bit too fast. You can take your time. This isn't going anywhere. ^^;

That was a pretty neat battle sequence. I love how Shane doesn't know he's an ice type right away XD I also totally didn't put together they could change targets and have a type advantage. I really enjoyed that battle =)
Thanks! That one actually got some considerable revisions (thanks to Negrek and Cutlerine for pointing out the weak spots), so I'm glad to see they worked.

I really love the interactions between the characters. They're like chalk and cheese, and it's really entertaining! Shane is becoming a lot more likeable. Some of the stuff he comes out with... XD
He is a massive dork, and I have no shame in making him a dork.

Absol? D= Only one of my favourite pokemon! But I can't decide if I'm excited about this, or worried for the main cast! What he said sounds somewhat ominous...
Well, Absols have a dubious reputation in this universe. But you'll have to read more to find out. :p

NGL. I used that strategy a LOT. It works. (In Mystery Dungeon. Not real life. Just to clarify.)
I don't know, I'm sure there are some real life situations where this might be helpful. Like, I don't know, shooing pigeons off the roof of your house. (Disclaimer: author does not actually endorse throwing rocks at wild animals. Stick to Pokémon GO.)

Another neat chapter =) I was a bit confused about the Nuzleaf reference at first, but I'm guessing it's referring to his English voice from Super Mystery Dungeon? I've only played it in Japanese and can't remember it from Let's Plays XD I might have to watch one again to refresh my memory.

Wondering if that reference is setting up for Braviary being a bad guy though? Hmm...
You're correct. Nuzleaf got a southern accent in the English release of Super. So, yes, Shane's suspicious of him because of that.

This was a really good chapter. So many interesting character introductions. Love how Shane got pwned by an irritated Togedemaru.
I don't know why I made Togedemaru so sassy. It just... happened. I'd blame the Sun & Moon anime... but I don't think that's fair. XD

Magearna has an... interesting way of speaking. It's like she's making up words. Interested to see what part she plays in the story.
Whatever is this commentator saying? I only use 100 percent existifying words!
Magearna's basically the Jirachi of the Horizon Guild. I.e. the inventor/mechanic/research specialist. Except, y'know, she's a bit more attentive on the job.

I feel sorry for Null, though. That helmet giving him issues. Poor guy =( Since he's arrived randomly like Shane, I wonder if he's human...
Oh-hooo, you ain't seen nothing yet. *evil laugh*

And thank you for the typo notices, and the Review! ^^

This chapter was fun. Nothing major really happened to say the least other than the cryptic dream at the beginning. Team Fang's return was kinda funny, though they posed even less of a threat than the last time they showed up.
Yeah, we're still in the introductory chapters at this point. I wanted one "normal" day in the guild before I decided to start deviating a bit. Team Fang are purely comedy relief right now, so they're not meant to be much of a threat.

A minor nitpick, but I think the tone sort of clashes a bit whenever the story switches between comedy to seriousness and vice versa like towards the end when Tessa was frustrated over Shane's previous actions. Albeit, this is an early chapter, and the overall tone of the story could've been cemented by the most recent chapters.
It's a valid complaint, I suppose. I'd like to say that it's supposed to be that way to highlight how serious Tessa is taking things right now versus how not serious Shane is taking things. But this may be the result of me having started writing this with the mindset of it being more of a comedy. And somehow, the more I've written, the more serious things have gotten. So the early chapters will be a bit on the awkward side to go back to. Nevertheless, I hope you'll continue to enjoy things. Thanks for the review. ^^

Alright, on with the show!


Tessa plodded forward and found her mother sitting on a small rock atop a violet cliff face. She walked up and sat down beside her. Prisma's aura feelers twitched and she opened her eyes. "I just thought I'd check up on you," she began. "When last we spoke, it seemed like you had hit a bit of a rough patch. Have things gotten any better?"

Tessa rubbed the back of her head. How much was she prepared to tell Prisma? "It's, um, all a bit confusing, to be honest," she said.

Prisma crossed one leg over the other. "Well, maybe I can help you make sense of it."

"No, that's not necessary. Everything's fine, I guess. I just had to go on a very difficult mission, that's all," Tessa said, concerned because she had brought her thoughts on Prisma up to her teammates. "I… well… my team ended up taking a Pokémon to Sunflower Meadows... so that he could die."

Prisma's eyes widened. "What?" She turned around and plucked a squeaking Tessa off the ground. "Dear god... you didn't actually see this Pokémon die, did you?"

Tessa nodded solemnly and Prisma's muzzle went agape.

"Why would you agree to something like that?" she barked, practically shaking Tessa in the process. "Oh, you must be feeling miserable!"

"We didn't exactly know all the details of the mission, Mom," Tessa said, struggling in Prisma's iron grip. She had seen that familiar spark of anger in Prisma's eyes. "It was a disciplinary assignment. I would've gotten kicked out of the guild if I didn't do it. My team only learned the truth when we got to Sunflower Meadows."

Growling, Prisma dropped Tessa to the ground. Pitch-black energy crackled across Prisma's clenched fists. Tessa's aura feelers shot up in alarm, her fears proven true. "This is… an outrage!" Prisma seethed. "How could Braviary and Metagross do that to you? They know full well what we've been through."

Prisma's eyes narrowed. "No… wait… this was probably intentional," she whispered. "The more things change... the more they stay the same."

Tessa's aura feelers throbbed. She was right. Her mom
was displaying the same anger she showed following Incineroar's death. Tessa hesitated to press on the issue, but this was her dream space. She should be safe, right?

"Did you say something, Mom?" Tessa asked.

Prisma's eyes widened, but she quickly regained a neutral expression. "Metagross has a history of employing backwards logic," she said. "If he's treating you badly, I think you ought to quit."

Tessa's brows raised. Did Prisma say she was proud Tessa had made it to the guild in a previous conversation? Why did she jump to that idea so quickly?

"I can't quit, Mom," Tessa said.

"Why not?" Prisma asked.

"It's… um… it's complicated," Tessa said.

Prisma frowned. "Well, try me. I'm here now. Let me see what I can do to help."

Prisma reached a paw over to Tessa, but she scooted away. She rubbed her shoulder. "Mom," she whispered, taking a deep breath. "You blame me for Dad's death, don't you?"

Shock flashed across Prisma's face, but she hastily furrowed her brow and resumed her stern expression. "Sweetie, I would never do anything like that. You're my daughter. Whatever would give you such a ridiculous idea?"

Tessa didn't believe her. She grabbed one of her aura feelers and rubbed it. "You always told me that aura never lies." She looked up at Prisma. "Before you left, I sensed a spark in your aura. Something that wasn't there before Dad died." Her gaze fell to the ground. "It's okay, Mom. You can tell me the truth. If I hadn't gotten sick, Dad would still be here."

"Don't say that," Prisma barked. Tessa stiffened, worried Prisma might lash out. "You can't blame yourself for getting sick. If you want to blame anyone… blame Zapdos."

"Zapdos?" Tessa gasped. "But he's a Legend. What does he have to do with this?"

Prisma's expression darkened. "After your father's death, I spoke with Magearna. That day, the forecast in Sunrise Village called for clear skies." She clenched her fists, grabbing pawfuls of fur. "Zapdos decided to make an unexpected flyover. And he brought a thunderstorm with him." She turned back to Tessa. "You're innocent in this. It's Zapdos' fault. Zapdos… and… and…"

Red aura crackled across Prisma's paws. It disappeared when she took a deep breath. "Sorry for startling you, Tessa. It's just... you know I'm under a lot of stress right now."

"… yeah. Protecting Lunala must be pretty important," Tessa whispered, unsatisfied by Prisma's response to her concerns.

"How about we just drop this subject?" Prisma said. "It sounds like you've been through an ordeal. I'm not here to try and make that worse. I could calm your mind, instead, if you'd let me."

"I'm okay, Mom," Tessa said. "My teammates helped me get through it."

Prisma raised an eyebrow. "You mean the human? What could he have possibly done?"

"He got the entire guild to throw me a hatch day party," Tessa said. "Thanks for remembering, by the way. I'd have liked at least a letter or something."

Prisma's eyes narrowed. "I don't know where this sudden attitude of yours cropped up from, but I suggest you adjust your tone. I made it crystal clear I can't do
anything to give away where I'm hiding," she said. "I'm sorry, Tessa, and I wish there was another way, but…"

"It's okay… Mom," Tessa growled, trying to keep her temper in check. "You keep working on Lunala. In the meantime, Vulpix and I are going to do what we can to help the Pokémon in Horizon deal with the Prism Virus." Her aura feelers tensed. Anger flashed in Prisma's eyes again. Tessa was sure of it. Something had to be wrong with her mother.

"Very well," Prisma said. She got to her feet and approached the edge of the cliff. "Then I'm afraid this is where we have to part ways."

Tessa frowned. "You mean no more dream communication?" Her mother nodded. "Why? I haven't done anything wrong."

"I already told you, Tessa. That human will keep attracting trouble. And I cannot risk the Prism Virus stealing your dreams and using them to find out where I am," Prisma said. "Besides, I should be getting back to Lunala anyway." She stuck one leg out over the cliff.

Tessa dashed toward her. "Wait, you're really going to leave me? Just like that? What about Gallian? What about–"

Prisma turned to give her daughter one last look before pushing her other leg off the cliff's edge. Tessa watched her mom plummet into a purple void. Then her whole field of vision went pitch black.


Episode 8: Viral Infection

Chapter 32: A Frosty Reception


~Aurora Vale~

Frightened chittering echoed through the foliage scattered around the deepest recesses of a sprawling valley. Several bushes burst apart and dozens of rocky, meteor-like spheres floated away at a frenetic pace. Close behind them, blistering cold air swept across the valley floor. The air entrapped the trees and bushes, stripping them of their leaves and instantly freezing their bare remnants. A slick layer of sparkling white ice spread out across the ground. Some of the frost descended on a pair of nearby streams. The rushing water came to a stop and, in a matter of seconds, the streams were nothing but lines of splintering ice sheets.

"Uhuu huu huu! Isn't it grand, Umbry? In just a few hours, we'll take this dreary little dungeon and turn it into the most amazing ice-skating rink in the world. Great Glacier won't even hold a candle to our pristine, wintry paradise!"

In the center of the area, Espeon pranced around a cluster of onyx crystals. They pulsated with tendrils of crimson energy, sending waves of cold air across the valley and thickening the glacial frost that covered the ground.

"… hmph. Personally, I can't wait to demolish Great Glacier. It's a sickening place, just like Glacier Palace," Umbreon sneered. "Why did we have to coat this place in ice anyway? Couldn't we have just poisoned it like we did with Mellath Bog?"

"Of course not. We've got to be original!" Espeon said, swishing her hips. "Doing the same old thing every time is hardly fun. Where's the excitement? Where's the panache? We want all these Pokémon to be mystified in their last moments before the Prism Virus changes their lives forever." Umbreon rolled his eyes. "Also, you know Zero told us the best way to alter these Mystery Dungeons is to go by basic type effectiveness. Ground resists poison, but ice beats ground. So, I turned this dusty old valley into a winter wonderland," Espeon said, smirking.

Umbreon glared at her. "Well, then these stupid crystals need to hurry up. I'm tired of waiting around for Tapu Lele to show up. And I hate the cold. Just like I hate that frosty Vulpix that slipped through our paws back in Dewdrop Woods. In fact, just being here makes me think of him. And that makes my blood boil."

"Aww, don't say that, Umbry. It just makes our little game all the more fun," Espeon said. "Besides, if your blood's boiling, you should be perfectly warm."

"… no, Espeon. Your partner has the right idea."

The joyous smile on Espeon's face immediately vanished. She stopped dead in her tracks and shrank down onto her belly, ears and tail folding against her body. Likewise, Umbreon's angry expression simmered down, replaced by a frown. Behind the cluster of crystals, purple sparks materialized out of thin air. They spiraled around, until they formed a portal with white, checkerboard lines running through it. The sounds of ice crunching echoed through the valley.

A golden metal staff struck the ground in front of the Eeveelutions. They both flinched. "Huh-Hi… Zero," Espeon squeaked. "You… um… you didn't tell us you'd be dropping by!"

A black, crystal-coated foot stepped down on Espeon's left forepaw. Her tail shot into the air and crumpled up as pain raced across her body. "Get up," Zero ordered. Next thing Espeon knew, metal claws dug into her back. Zero hoisted her to her feet and shoved her away. Espeon stumbled to the side, keeping her weight off her left limb.

"Um… a little advance notice would've been really appreciated," Espeon said. "We haven't finished setting things up here, so–"

Zero pointed her staff forward. The black octahedron sitting atop it started glowing red. Espeon hopped backwards, turning her gaze away from the scepter. "I don't recall ever needing to inform you of my actions," Zero said, straightening out the strip of red, Egyptian-styled cloth dangling from her waist. She gazed at the winged heart stitched into its center. "I wanted to check in on your progress." Zero swung her staff in front of her and gazed into the gem. The red energy's crackling intensified. "It seems the infected Lurantis in Mellath Bog was disposed of."

"What?" Umbreon gasped. "But we just infected her the other day. Who could've–?" He abruptly cut himself off and his eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me, it was Vulpix and Riolu again?"

Zero placed her right paw on her black, crystalline mask and nudged it up. Espeon focused on Zero's left eye – her lone eye – and then looked away, biting her lower lip.

"… hmph. It's good to see at least one of you has a decent head on their shoulders," Zero said, brushing snowflakes off the red spike protruding from the star insignia on her gem-encrusted chest. "With Lurantis done in, we've lost our best shot at subduing Tapu Fini. Not that it really matters, since it seems she never had the Dawn Hourglass to start with. That said, I'm not taking any chances this time around. Which is why I've come to speed things up a bit here."

"That's very proactive of you," Espeon said, grinning awkwardly.

"Silence," Zero hissed. Her eye flashed dark blue. "I would not need to be doing this if you two had done as I'd ordered and taken care of the human." She raised her left hand and black sparks crackled around it. "The Prism Virus has no use for disobedient Pokémon."

The color drained from Espeon's face. "Now, now, there's no need for that," she squealed, her voice cracking. "As you can see, everything's going swimmingly here. Look, we've even got the wild Miniors fleeing in terror. See?" She jerked her head upward, looking at a Minior pair floating off toward the sky.

Zero pivoted to follow Espeon's gaze. A sudden gust of wind ruffled the black fur around her rear and the four, waist-length dreadlocks sticking out of her head. With an annoyed growl, Zero raised her staff and the red energy swelled to fill the entire octahedron.

"Infect," she said. A red waveform beam raced forward. The Miniors turned around and screamed in fright as the beam swallowed them up. Zero lowered her staff and looked up. A pair of black, jagged crystal lattices with glowing red cores now floated where the Miniors previously were.

"There. Much more appropriate, wouldn't you say?" Zero said. The infected Miniors floated down toward them, dark energy crackling around their edges. "Let's see, Minior is hardly a threatening name. Henceforth, you are Necrospheres." Zero waved the Necrospheres off and turned to look at Espeon and Umbreon. "No objections, I trust?"

"Of course not! Of course not! Wonderful names for such lovely little additions to our growing family. Uhuu huu… huu…" Espeon's tail curled up against her flank. Umbreon remained silent.

"Good. Then let's dispense with the idle chatter and cut to business," Zero said. She raised her scepter high and slammed it into the ground. Espeon and Umbreon jumped in surprise and scrambled back. From the center of the crystal cluster, a black monolith jutted out of the ice. A red, winged-heart insignia appeared atop the monolith, matching the one stitched into Zero's robes and Nemes headdress. Ice streamed out in all directions, quickening the pace of the valley's freezing. Umbreon looked over his shoulder to find more Miniors transforming into Necrospheres.

Zero adjusted her mask. "Now then, I do think it's time our dear friend Tapu Lele joined us, don't you?" she said, turned to look over toward the end of the valley.

"Um… what do you want us to do?" Espeon asked.

Zero walked to the other side of the crystal cluster. "You're going to be a distraction. Get behind the crystals. I'll order you to use Shadow Ball and Dark Pulse when I think the time is right. Until then, don't move a muscle. Don't even so much as speak. I'll keep our VIP entertained." She finished circling around the crystals and stood at attention. In the thick, wintry fog brought on by the ice, Zero spotted a round outline growing steadily larger.

"Come to me, Land Spirit, so that my Prism Virus can cleanse this world of your worthless filth," she said. Tapu Lele appeared from the fog, a look of anger etched in her face.

"Like, what's with the chilly reception?" she said, looking around. "Is this your doing?"

Zero bowed mockingly. "I'm ever-so-humbled that you took notice."

"This is, like, totally uncalled for!" Tapu Lele barked. "You return this land to the way it's supposed to be. Or better yet, scamper off before I blow you to smithereens and use your hollowed-out body as a raft to float along the stream that's supposed to be here."

"Tempting offer," Zero mused. "But, if I may issue a rebuttal…" She held up her free arm and snapped her crystalline digits.

"Eh?" Tapu Lele's eyes widened at the sight of the Eeveelutions lunging out from behind the monolith. Espeon had a ball of spectral energy gathering in her forehead diamond, while Umbreon's red rings pulsated with black and purple bolts. They fired their attacks toward each of Tapu Lele's sides.

"Like, I'm going to turn you creeps into carpeting for my temple," Tapu Lele said, summoning pink barriers to effortlessly deflect the attacks. They ricocheted into nearby ice walls, exploding and showering the area in frosty shards.

"I'm going to, like, sooooo thoroughly enjoy this," Tapu Lele cackled, vines of white energy stretching out toward the ground. Before she could generate her attack, however, a beam of silvery metal struck her and sent her spiraling backward. Zero raised her left hand and clenched her fist. A strange, distorted red wave raced forward, turning everything it spread across bright red. As it passed over Espeon and Umbreon, they froze in place, flickering like broken television screens. The wave struck Tapu Lele, slowing her down to a crawl.

Static encased Zero's free paw. On either side of Tapu Lele, towers of red cubes formed up from the ground. Another red wave then raced forward, returning the area to its normal, icy-blue coloration. The towers toppled over, swallowing Tapu Lele up and drowning out her screams. Zero walked toward the downed Land Spirit, readying her staff.

"What the–?" Zero gasped. She tapped her staff on the ground and the cubes evaporated into pixelated streams. All that remained of Tapu Lele was a splattered puddle of pink slime. "A Ditto?" Zero snarled.

"Uhuu huu huu! Well, isn't that a surprise. Looks like Tapu Lele's a craftier critter than we thought, huh?" Espeon said. Zero abruptly turned around and held up her left paw. Several spiked cubes floated ominously around it, pointing at Espeon. "Meep!" Espeon ducked for cover behind the monolith. The cubes dissipated and Zero turned back around, nudging up her helmet.

"It seems the rumors of her deceptive nature are true after all," Zero said. "It's no matter. She can only delay the inevitable for so long. My Legend-free world will become reality."

"Does this mean we can leave now?" Umbreon growled. "I've grown sick of the cold."

"On the contrary," Zero said. "That just means it's time for you two to get this place ready for our guests of honor." She turned around and walked over to Umbreon.

"Seriously? Look, the bait didn't work," Umbreon said, ears twitching angrily. "Tapu Lele's onto us. If you want to destroy all the gods then I suggest we go for more vulnerable o–"

"Shut your mouth," Zero hissed, backhanding Umbreon. Espeon shrank back as her partner crumple to the ground. "I have made it expressly clear why we're focusing on the Land Spirits. One of them holds the Dawn Hourglass – Tapu Lele, it would seem – and it's the key to perfecting the Ultra Entercards. Then, I can beam into any spot in any Mystery Dungeon I choose. No spells, magic barriers, or manipulated ley lines will stand in my way. With this power, each and every Legend will fall before the might of the Prism Virus."

Zero knelt down. She dug the metal claws protruding from her paw into Umbreon's chest and hefted him into the air. His breath rushed out of him and his fur frazzled. "Now listen closely," Zero said. "You two will go to Sunrise Village and kidnap two residents: Sylveon and Eevee. That should bait the sniveling coward, Riolu, and her human leech out from their stupid guild. Have them come here and then dispose of them."

"Uhuu huu huu huu! Sounds like fun," Espeon said, wagging her tail. "How about we find us a snuggly Sandslash and give him a dose of Celesteela? No, wait! Wait! We should totally do–"

Zero slammed her staff against the ice. Her right arm phased out of existence, leaving distorted air in its place. "You're mishearing me, Espeon," she seethed, her arm returning. "I told you to dispose of them. No more infected Pokémon. No more of your pathetic, so-called games. Take care of this mess yourselves."

Espeon's ears drooped. "Y-You want us to battle them? But… but if we lose, then…"

"The Prism Virus consumes your life energy and gives it to me," Zero said. Espeon's tail fell between her legs. "Wipe that sniveling look off your face, Espeon. Or should I simply take your spirit here and now? Such spinelessness will not do any good."

Zero dropped Umbreon onto the ice and stepped back. She brushed fur off her paw and then lifted it up, allowing dark energy to swirl around it. A black ball with red, web-like lines appeared in it. She pointed the ball at Umbreon and he immediately looked away, panic flashing across his face.

"You are both my Pokémon," Zero said. "I captured you fair and square. You are my property. And I have trained you to wield powers you never would have discovered on your own. If you cannot win a simple battle against the opposition, then you will be discarded. I am trying to ensure this world has a prosperous future. At this point, setbacks are unacceptable."

Espeon bowed, fixing her gaze on the ground. "Yes, Mistress Zero, of course. We won't fail you this time."

Zero pressed a paw to her mask. "… hmph. Actions speak louder than words." She swung her staff around and looked into the octahedron. It started glowing. "Necky!"

A moment passed, followed by a loud, garbled, "What? What is it? I'm trying to finish setting up my room!"

"Return me to Celestial Island," Zero ordered.

"Hang on! If I open another Ultra Wormhole, I'll be too tired to levitate this stuff around."

"I'm sorry. Did it sound like I was asking you?" Zero snarled.

"Ugh, fine. Now I'm going to recruit some Ultra Beasts to do it for me. Hope you're happy."

Purple energy ripples gathered behind Zero and a portal identical to the one she arrived in opened up. Zero stepped toward it and vanished in the blink of an eye. Espeon and Umbreon looked away as a dazzling white light swallowed up the portal.

"Well, you heard her, Espy. To Sunrise Village we go," Umbreon said.


~Aeon Observatory~

"… you really don't… need to waste your cash… on me…"

Team Radiance sat in front of Bruxish's pond while their fellow apprentice went about assembling his special cauldron.

"Well, I guess we don't have to," Shane said. "But it wouldn't hurt to spice up your move set, would it? Seriously, have you even learned a single new move since you got here?"

Null shook his head. "I figured… that the helmet… or the headaches… were just going to stop that from happening."

"Ah." Shane's brow furrowed. Null had a good point. "But the helmet's got a crack in it. So, maybe that's going to change?"

"That's rather optimistic of you," Tessa said. "A bit surprising with how you've acted the rest of the week. This doesn't mean the old Shane's back, does it?"

Shane shook his head. "No. I... um... want to try and start being positive and, y'know, actually meaning it. I figured something like this is a good place to start." He blinked and then looked over at Tessa. "Hey, you actually called me Shane."

"We're starting things over, right?" Tessa said. "May as well call you by what you want to be called, even if I don't quite get it." Shane's tails thumped against the floor. "So, Bruxish, how would this work exactly?" Tessa asked.

"Oh, it's veeeeeeeeery easy, dahlings," Bruxish said. "I can use my scalding cauldron to glimpse a Pokémon's spiritual energy. From there, I can use the old thinker to determine both your ability and some of the moves you can learn." He tapped his forehead.

Null looked down at his forelegs. "Um… did I mention… that none of the other psychics… have been able to read my aura?"

"Yes, I'm well aware of that snafu," Bruxish said. "Not to speak ill of the Guildmaster, but he likely only tried to sense your aura. And that's a bit too basic. Your spiritual energy incorporates more than your aura. It's the essence of your being, dahling. This cauldron can drag that out for me to see thanks to a few haaaaaandy spells I learned growing up. It hasn't failed yet."

Bruxish looked down into the boiling cauldron and rubbed his fins together. "Okay then. Let's get started, shall we?" He lifted his fins upward and his eyes glowed a deep, navy blue. The water in the cauldron bubbled faster. Shane and Tessa craned their necks to see over the top.

"Hey, the water's not changing color," Shane said. "Isn't it supposed to be changing color?"

Bruxish lowered his hands and looked down into the cauldron. "This is odd," he said. "I've never seen this happen before. Different colors show up to relate to the different types of moves a Pokémon can learn. But Vulpix is right. Null has a venerable absence of color. It symbolizes absolutely nothing."

"You mean… I can't learn anything else?" Null rasped.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that, dahling," Bruxish said. He closed his eyes and pressed his fins against his face. "Nnnngh." He opened his eyes and shook his head. "Goodness gracious. It seems like there's quite literally a block on your life force. Something is jamming my ability to read it." His levitation faltered momentarily. "Urgh. Did the Guildmaster mention experiencing any disorientation when trying to read your mind, dahling?"

"Uh… I don't know," Null said.

"Huh. Well, that just deepens this mystery," Shane said. He looked at Null, but stayed quiet because he wasn't sure how to properly express sympathy over Null's situation.

Tessa scooted over beside Null and rubbed his back. "It's okay, buddy. Maybe we can try some TM's on you later?" she said.

"… I suppose," Null said with a heavy sigh. Shane nodded. He was glad Tessa was around. She knew how to get through Null.

"Well, as long as we're here, how about you take a gander at me?" Shane said, scooting toward the cauldron. "For one thing, I'd really appreciate knowing what the heck my ability is. Or what it could be, for that matter."

"Oh, well of course. Just stand still for me, dahling," Bruxish said. Shane stood in front of the cauldron, looking up at Bruxish as he went about activating the cauldron. Shane sucked in his gut as droplets of boiling water scattered around the cauldron, narrowly missing his fur.

"This can't be right," Bruxish said, opening his eyes. "Perhaps the cauldron is on the fritz?"

Worry overtook Shane's face. That was the last thing he had wanted to hear. "Is something wrong?"

Bruxish floated upward. "Magearna! Oh, dahling, could you come here? It seems my cauldron is acting up."

It is? But I just did a diagnostic on it yesterday and it was fine, Magearna said, before disappearing into the north hallway, leaving Shane wondering how anyone could run a diagnostic on an oversized cooking instrument.

Bruxish's brow furrowed. "Hmm, well if that's the case, I suppose I just have to take these findings at face value. Even if they don't make sense."

"Not to be rude here, but I really don't like the sound of that," Shane said. What sort of bad hand was fate dealing him now?

"Sorry to spook you, dahling. It's nothing life-threatening or anything," Bruxish said. "But according to my cauldron, your ability is Clear Body. And that doesn't make a lick of sense."

Shane blinked. That didn't sound like anything to make a fuss over. "What's wrong with Clear Body? Regice has Clear Body and they're an ice-type too," he said.

"I'm sorry, dahling. But Vulpix in Horizon are meant to have Snow Cloak, with a select few knowing Snow Warning. Your ability is more like an impossibility!" Bruxish said, shaking his head.

Null and Tessa looked over at him. Shane wore a confused expression on his face. Why would he have a unique ability? Did it tie into how he ended up in the Pokémon world?

"Don't look at me. Maybe Solgaleo did it to me?" Shane said, shrugging. "I strongly doubt I had anything to do with it. I don't even remember how I ended up here in the first place." He looked over at Bruxish. "Is there anything else off about what your cauldron's saying?"

"Yes," Bruxish said. "I saw traces of fire-type energy in your life force. Actually, it was more than just traces. It seems like you should, theoretically, be able to learn multiple fire-type moves. But, again, that's totally implausible."

"Maybe the fact that he's actually human prevents your cauldron from working properly?" Tessa said, scratching her chin. "I mean, sure, Shane has the body of a Vulpix, but his spirit should still be the same one he had as a human, right?"

Shane nodded. "Yeah. That's gotta be it. Remember, I only knew of fire-type Vulpixes as a human. So, maybe those memories are corrupting your magic cauldron," he said, thinking that had to be the right explanation.

"It's certainly poooooooossible," Bruxish said. "But I can't say for certain."

Shane sighed and slumped over. "It's okay. Thanks for the help, anyway." He turned and walked over to Null.

"Huh," Tessa said, raised an eyebrow.

"What? Is there something on my face?" Shane asked, briefly going cross-eyed.

"No. It's just… I'm surprised. I figured you'd be dancing around the place singing your own praises. I mean, you have a unique ability. Doesn't that make you special, just like you wanted?" she said.

Shane blinked a few times. "Oh," he said, looking down. "Well… I mean… you said it yourself. Fresh start and all that jazz. Even if I did think this was cool–"

Null groaned loudly and shook his head.

Shane realized his unintentional pun and cringed. "My bad," he said. "As I was saying, even if I thought that was good news, I wasn't about to make a scene over it. I'm trying not to be like that anymore."

Tessa frowned. "So, wait. Are you upset about your ability, then?"

He shook his head. "I'm not upset. Just confused, that's all," he said, choosing his words carefully. "At the very least, it's better than what I'm supposed to have. Snow Cloak's only helpful if it's snowing out, which means I'd need to learn Hail. And I don't want to do that for the exact same reason why I wouldn't want Snow Warning." He pawed at the ground. "It would hurt you and Null."

"Actually, I think Magearna has some kind of device that can keep us explorers safe in inclement weather. But I appreciate the concern," Tessa said, chuckling as Shane faceplanted into the floor. If only he had known that earlier. So much for trying to make a sweet gesture.

"Well, at least now I can't have my strength or endurance lowered by other Pokémon's moves," Shane said, getting back to his feet. "But, whatever, not much to do about that if we just stand around and talk. How about we take on a couple of simple missions? I can't believe I'm saying this, but after the last week I'd kill for just a normal day on the job."

Tessa nodded approvingly. "I agree. Lead the way. Maybe if the morning goes well, we can take on a higher-paying job," she said.

"Ah, Team Radiance! Where's Magearna?"

Trapinch sprinted out of the southern hallway, a panicked look on his face. "Whoa, where's the fire, dude?" Shane said.

"It's the Pokénector. Something's wrong with the Pokénector! I need Magearna to look at it ASAP. Is she in her workshop?" Trapinch said, anxiously trotting in place.

"Chill out. She just went back to it," Shane said. "Why don't you just call her out–"

"Thanks for the heads up!" Trapinch said, dashing off toward the northern hallway.

"… aaaaaaaaand he's gone," Shane said with a sigh.

"You don't suppose we should stick around and see what the problem is, do you?" Tessa asked.

"Nah, we should be fi–" Shane started, only to cut himself off and instead say, "that was a rhetorical question, wasn't it?"

Tessa smiled at him. "Yes. But hey, you're picking up on my tone of voice much better."

Shane didn't have the opportunity to mull over that complement because Trapinch reappeared in the hallway, with Magearna following along. I strongly doubt the Pokénector would just up and break on us. It's been perfectly functionalible since I upgraded it last month.

"You've just gotta have a look at this," Trapinch said, heading for the southern hallway. "I can't even explain it. Part of the globe just blacked out."

Blacked out? Magearna said. That's not possachievable. Show me.

Despite Shane's silent begging not to get involved, Team Radiance followed their fellow guild members down the southern hallway to the sentry station. They all assembled around the Pokénector, giving Trapinch and Magearna enough room to stand by the portion mapping out the Horizon Continent.

"Wait," Null said. "Look… there are two black spots." He turned to Tessa. "Isn't that one… toward the northern part of the continent… where we were the other day?"

Tessa pulled out the team's Wonder Map and unfolded it. Her eyes widened. "Ah!" she gasped. "The Wonder Map… it's…"

Shane walked over toward her. "What, did you rip it or something?"

"It has black spots in the same places," Tessa said, showing it to her teammates.

"Yeah, those parts are totally blacked out. Like someone spilled ink on them," Shane said. "But why would it do something like that?"

Simple. Your Wonder Maps are synchronisified to the Pokénector, thanks to some handy spellcasting on my part, Magearna explained. I have developed the Pokénector to map out the changes to the landscape that the Tapus create. And that, in turns, updates everyone's Wonder Maps. She turned back to the Pokénector. But this is like nothing I've ever seen before.

Shane's jaw stiffened. Magearna's explanation didn't sit well with him. Magical maps that could change on a whim? The thought made his fur prickle.

"This all sounds dubious," Shane said. "So, if that northern area is Moonrise Marsh and Mellath Bog, then what's that place in the southwest?"

Aurora Vale, Magearna said.

Tessa's aura feelers tensed up. "I… I know that place," she whispered. "It's supposed to be the most beautiful Mystery Dungeon in all of Horizon, because you can always see an aurora in the sky above it." Her gaze fell toward the ground. "Dad had always promised that, once I joined the guild, he'd take me there and we could explore it together."

Thinking back to yesterday morning, Shane looked over at Tessa in concern. "Hey, are you going to be okay?" he asked.

"It's… it's fine," she said, taking a deep breath. Tessa looked over at Magearna. "Do you think this means something's wrong with Aurora Vale? Maybe the Tapus are doing something to it?"

I can only launch a speculation algorithm on the matter, Magearna said. But I doubt that will assistify us much.

"… maybe… it's been infected," Null muttered ominously. Shane shot Null a worried look. "Think about it. When we were in Mellath Bog… the whole place had been corrupted… by strange energy…"

As much as Shane wanted to issue a retort, he couldn't escape the sinking feeling that Null was right.

Is that a fact? Magearna said. Hmm. Well, I suppose the way to definitatively know would be to investigate Aurora Vale. She looked at Team Radiance. I don't suppose you three would be willing to go? It sounds like you have experiasity with such situations.

Shane and Tessa exchanged nervous looks. It was all they needed to tell each other they didn't want a repeat of their time underground. "I, uh, don't know, Magearna," Shane stammered. "We're still shaken up from Mellath Bog. I'm not sure if we're the best ones for the job. What about Team Specter or Team Captivate?"

They're both out, Magearna replied. It wouldn't be long. In fact, I'm not even requesticating that you go into the Dungeon. Just glimpse over it and ring me up on the Gear-Com to tell me what you see.

"Well, I guess that's okay," Tessa said. "But, we're still going to stock up on supplies, just in case." Behind her, Shane and Null both nodded their support.

That is fine. Just get going as soon as you can. My worry levels have surged to 47.3%, and I fear my ability to repairate the Pokénector will decrease if my worry levels keep rising, Magearna said.

"Right." Tessa walked toward the hallway and her teammates followed her along. "So, um, are we going to head out right now?"

"I guess so," Shane said. "Do you even know where we're going?"

"Yeah," Tessa said. "There's a small community near Aurora Vale. It's called Borea Heights, I think. With any luck, we won't need to venture past there."

They headed upstairs to the guild's entrance. But as they proceeded toward the door, it suddenly slid open. In flew a yellow bug with a white face, white hips, and a black scarf slung around her body. She promptly collapsed onto the ground, groaning loudly.

Shane cocked his head. "Huh?"

Tessa's aura feelers twitched. "T... Totem Ribombee? What happened to you? You look terrible," she said.

"Totem?" Shane looked down at the bug and thought of his encounter with Lurantis. His tails shot between his legs. "Is... is she the leader of Aeon Town, then? And did she just get infected?"

"No, she's the Totem of Sunrise Village," Tessa explained, kneeling down beside Ribombee. "Hey, can you hear me? Can you tell me what happened?"

Totem Ribombee's eyes fluttered open and she grimaced. "Sunrise Village… attacked. Sylveon's house… destroyed. She and Eevee are… gone."

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she lost consciousness.

Tessa looked up at Shane with a panic-stricken expression. "We've gotta go to Sunrise Village right away!" she said.


And thus, we are officially introduced to our primary antagonist: Zero. Design wise she is based off Dark Enerjak, from Sonic Universe. As you can see, she is molded more in the archetype of Darkrai/Bittercold/Dark Matter. Her name's also a nod to Dark Matter (Kirby fans will know what I mean). And I thought it would be fun to have the typical angry/serious PMD antagonist play off of Necrozma's, well, utter lack of seriousness.

Next time: a rival showdown in Sunrise Village. Don't miss it!
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Gone. Not coming back.
Aw, Shane's trying. That's … surprisingly sweet, actually. I mean, it's basic courtesy, but you know, when someone's been so far off basic courtesy for so long, even that bare minimum of effort is pretty heartening. And the fact that I think it's sweet is a good sign that you didn't make Shane so much of a jerk that I wasn't happy to see him improve as a person after sinking right down to the bottom, so that's nice.

It's also interesting to see Prisma's opinions on Braviary and Metagross – particularly on Braviary; he hasn't seemed as overtly and egoistically manipulative as Metagross up to now, honestly, and I'd kind of assumed he just trusted Metagross more than he should, like many of the other Guild members seem to. But the possibility that he's a significant player rather than just a stooge is an interesting one.

One tiny little thing that struck me as odd was Zero's plan to have Umbreon and Espeon nail Tapu Lele on either side with shadow ball and dark pulse – Tapu Lele's only weak to one of those attacks, and given how meaty its special defence is (and how unimpressive Umbreon's attacking stats are) I'd sort of expect Zero to plump for two super-effective attacks rather than just one.

Other than that, I've really just got the usual little things to point out – I think this chapter held together better than some of the other ones split between different locations, since both halves dealt more or less with different perspectives on the same situation. So that was nice.

"Um… a little advanced notice would've been really appreciated,"

The phrase is “advance notice” – you don't need the D on the end there.

Zero pointed their staff forward.

There's some inconsistency about Zero's pronouns here – usually you use she/her, but in this line you've used they. I don't think that's intentional?

Zero's free paw started to glitch out.

While I know what you mean here, I feel like the phrase “glitch out” is maybe a little too specific to its original context to work for me when you use it in reference to an object in the real world. Possibly it's also that it isn't very descriptive? I mean, there are all kinds of ways in which something on a screen could glitch out – maybe saying what it is exactly that the thing does, and then saying something along the lines of “like an object on a screen glitching out” would more clearly represent what it is that you intended.

Several, spiked cubes floated

You don't need the comma there. “Several” doesn't really work that way – I wish I knew enough about grammar to explain why properly, but I think it has to do with it being quantitative rather than qualitative? Like, it's not that the cubes are both several and spiked, it's that there are several cubes, which are spiked. I don't know if that makes sense to you. I'm not sure it entirely makes sense to me.


Winter can't come soon enough
Hoy, small fries! It's time for the next chapter. You can find it after the break.

Aw, Shane's trying. That's … surprisingly sweet, actually... And the fact that I think it's sweet is a good sign that you didn't make Shane so much of a jerk that I wasn't happy to see him improve as a person after sinking right down to the bottom, so that's nice.
Yay! And at the same time, aww. I really wish I could've gotten the last episode up before the clock struck 2018. Ah well. That's life.

It's also interesting to see Prisma's opinions on Braviary and Metagross – particularly on Braviary; he hasn't seemed as overtly and egoistically manipulative as Metagross up to now, honestly, and I'd kind of assumed he just trusted Metagross more than he should, like many of the other Guild members seem to. But the possibility that he's a significant player rather than just a stooge is an interesting one.
Yes. Though remember those are her opinions and, well, I'm sure you can see that she might have a bit of a skewed perspective on the matter.

One tiny little thing that struck me as odd was Zero's plan to have Umbreon and Espeon nail Tapu Lele on either side with shadow ball and dark pulse
Ah, well I think I could really chalk that up to me not explicitly saying they're nothing more than a distraction, which I've now added in. Frankly though, Umbreon's attacking stats are so poor to start with, it really wouldn't make a lot of sense for him to know Shadow Ball as opposed to Dark Pulse, since they're (mostly) going to hit the same with the same Pokémon. Tapu Lele just happens to be one of those exceptions. ^^;

Other than that, I've really just got the usual little things to point out – I think this chapter held together better than some of the other ones split between different locations, since both halves dealt more or less with different perspectives on the same situation. So that was nice.
Glad to hear it. Though I guess at the same time this means the split chapters tend to be a bit awkward? Maybe the shorter chapter length plays into that a bit? In any case, with the direction the story's going, we're not really going to be jumping between different factions nearly as much as earlier chapters (especially the last episode). From here on out, it's mostly just following Team Radiance with the occasional look at our villains and one other group that I'm not mentioning for spoiler reasons.

The phrase is “advance notice” – you don't need the D on the end there.
Whoops, I was actually not aware of that. Thanks for pointing it out.

There's some inconsistency about Zero's pronouns here – usually you use she/her, but in this line you've used they. I don't think that's intentional?
And that was just a brain fart.

While I know what you mean here, I feel like the phrase “glitch out” is maybe a little too specific to its original context to work for me when you use it in reference to an object in the real world.
I think I see what you mean, so I changed both the "glitching out" instances.

You don't need the comma there.
My bad. There was another word after 'Several' that got removed during revisions, but I guess I forgot to take the comma with it. Thanks for pointing it out. And thanks for the review. ^^


Chapter 33: A Paradox to Unravel

~Sunrise Village~

"Sylveon! Eevee!" Tessa shouted, sprinting down the dirt road leading into the village. Shane struggled to keep up with her on account of still being sore from the Mellath Bog mission. He looked up, spotted a column of smoke rising in the distance, and gulped.

'Ugh, was it too much to ask to just get a nice, normal day for once? I officially take back all the bad things I ever said about the filler chapters and side quests in the games,' Shane thought. Null lagged behind him, his mask slowing him down considerably.

"W-Wait up, please!" Shane wheezed. He gritted his teeth and tried to run faster, but his burning legs refused to make up any of the distance. Then, as the smoke column grew close, Tessa inexplicably stopped. Shane's sense of relief proved fleeting. Tessa's aura feelers were standing on end, which meant something had spooked her.

"What's the matter?" Shane asked, trotting up to Tessa's side. "Do you sense something hostile? Like the Prism Virus?"

"I sense… Gallian," Tessa squeaked. "B-But why would he–? How could he–? Sylveon and Eevee were supposed to be his friends, too!"

Shane's eyes narrowed. "It's just like I told you. He's infected. You can't think of it as your brother doing this stuff. You have to think of it as a creepy alien force using him to do awful things!" He figured he could've phrased that better, but it was the only thing that came to mind.

"That doesn't make it feel any better," Tessa whimpered. Before Shane could say anything else, both of their ears twitched in unison, with Shane's pivoting forward.

"… traces of ultra aura here, Captain."

"Did you hear that?" Shane whispered. "It sounded just like that purple alien guy we ran into in Tethys Tunnel."

"Please, I could have told you that without needing some geeky scanner. I want to know where they ran off to. The longer they stay missing, the greater the chance of something terrible happening. I can feel it in my bones."

"And that's definitely Gallian," Tessa said, fidgeting nervously with her locket. "W-What should we do? Sneak attack them?"

Shane shook his head. For once, he didn't want to blindly charge into battle. "No, let's lie low and hear what they have to say. Maybe they'll let slip where Sylveon and Eevee are. Then we can scamper off without any sort of conflict."

"… huh. That's the first time… I've heard you suggest… holding back… instead of leaping into the fray," Null said, joining his teammates. "I'm in agreement. We couldn't handle Gallian alone. We can't take him… and the purple guy…"

"But it didn't sound like they know where Sylveon and Eevee are, either," Tessa said.

"I'm afraid the trail runs completely cold, Rookie," Luxeira said. Her unfamiliar voice prompted Team Radiance to exchange confused looks. "Whatever entity did this appeared right in this exact spot, only to disappear from it soon after. It's not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that Ultra Wormholes were used, considering the strong ultra aura readings."

"Did you hear that?" Shane asked. "Didn't the purple guy mention something about ultra auras when we met him? And what's an Ultra Wormhole? Some kind of alien transport method?"

"Beats me," Tessa said, shrugging.

"Well, look harder, then!" Gallian growled. "I can feel impending disaster growing stronger every minute we stand around doing nothing. And all you two seem to know how to do is stand around and do nothing!"

"Oh, puh-lease. You terrestrials say the most ridiculous things," Luxeira said.

"My disaster sense is not ridiculous. It can save lives. But only if we take action!" Gallian barked.

"Huh. I guess you're right, Riolu. Sounds to me like Gallian might not have had anything to do with this," Shane said. But if it wasn't Gallian, then who could it be?

His eyes widened. "Ah! Don't tell me… this was Espeon's and Umbreon's doing?" His gaze fell toward the ground. "If… if that's the case, then Lycanroc might've been right the whole time. They are masterminding all of this chaos." His ears folded against his face. "Ugh, I've been such a blind idiot."

"Beat yourself up later," Null said. "I think… we should head back to the Observatory… and try to find some backup…"

"C… Captain Luxeira! My radar is detecting an ultra aura spike," Sticky said. "I do not believe we are alone."

Shane's tails shot up into the air. "I think it's time we made our exit, guys," he said, walking backwards. However, a sudden rush of air made him freeze up. Tessa's aura feelers jolted up as high as her ears and she spun around. The color drained from her face at the sight of Gallian glaring right at them.

"This doesn't concern you three. Buzz off!" he hissed. "And you," he snarled, looking directly at Tessa. "I thought I made it abundantly clear that you needed to ditch the guild. Evidently that failed to sink in. Guess you're just as dense as Dad was."

"What are you saying, Gallian? Sylveon and Eevee are good friends. This absolutely concerns me. I want to get them back. And I want my teammates to help me," Tessa said. "So, tell us what you know."

"… hmph." Gallian's eyes flashed purple. "You're not getting involved in this. Any scenario with you trying to save them is going to end badly. Trust me. You're not strong enough. And neither are your little friends. So, step aside, and let a real explorer handle this."

"I am a real explorer!" Tessa fumed. She pivoted to show the silver badge on her scarf. "Our team made apprentice rank the other day. And that's at least half a year before you did."

Gallian's forehead scythe flickered red. "And you think that makes you special? I'll bet you were just given it out of pity. After all, this is around the time Dad died. Metagross probably did it to keep you three away from him." He shook his head. "Honestly, how can you stand working for that hack?"

"Hey! You don't just get to insult him like that," Shane said. "He's actually trying to keep Horizon safe, like we are. Which is more than I can say for a punk like you."

"Rookie, is there an issue here?"

Team Radiance stiffened at the sight of who they assumed was the "Captain Luxeira" that Sticky had addressed earlier. They watched the Houndoom stride forward, taking notice of the skin-tight white suit and the helmet that obscured everything on her head except her blue snout. Like Sticky and Gallian, a black harness sat around her chest, with a sparkling stone embedded inside it.

"What the heck are you supposed to be?" Shane asked. "An astronaut Houndoom? I didn't think this world was advanced enough to have a space program."

"… curious," Luxeira said, lights blinking on her helmet's visor. "It would seem your analysis is correct, Sticky. That terrestrial is exhibiting unnaturally high ultra aura levels."

Gallian looked over at her. "So, that stupid Vulpix is from the same place you guys came from, then?"

Luxeira shook her head. "I strongly doubt it. No, his ultra aura levels far surpass those of an average Ultra Village resident."

Sticky nodded. "I got the same readings when I encountered these terrestrials while doing reconnaissance work in Tethys Tunnel. He must be an Ultra Beast. Though, I do not know how he managed to disguise himself as an ice Vulpix."

Shane narrowed his eyes at them. He didn't understand the whole conversation, but he didn't like what he was hearing. "Excuse me? I happen to be a human, thank you very much," he said. "Whatever you freak shows are doing, you need to stop. You're only making this whole Prism Virus situation worse."

"Negative. If anyone is escalating any sort of current crisis, it is your squadron," Sticky said, shaking his head. "After all, you have a Beast Killer in your ranks. And with the ultra aura you are giving off, it is a miracle you are even still breathing."

Shane and Null abruptly looked away from each other, allowing Sticky to see the crack running through Null's helmet. "Ack! C-Captain… the restraining mask!" He pointed frantically at Null. "It's coming undone."

Luxeira turned to look at Null. "Then our course of action is clear." She turned back to Shane and Tessa. "Relinquish this failed experiment into our possession posthaste, terrestrials. We of Team Paradox will apply a sealant to that mask, to restrain the Beast Killer's power and hostility."

"Null is not hostile!" Tessa said. "He's our friend and teammate. You can't have him. Stop trying to let your companions beat around the issue, Gallian! Tell me everything you know about what happened to Sylveon and Eevee."

"Hmph. If you really cared about them, you would still be living with them. And then you could've protected them," Gallian scoffed. "But no, you'd much rather run around the guild with those other blind idiots."

"Wait, wait, wait. Everyone hold up for a minute." Shane turned to Luxeira. "You guys are an exploration team? Is this a joke?" he asked. "What guild would possibly let you in?"

"You misconstrue our words, terrestrial," Luxeira said. "We are Team Paradox. We are a unit of an Ultra Recon Squad hailing from a pocket world known as Ultra Village. We are not an exploration team, we–"

"Okay, you used one too many 'Ultra's' in that sentence," Shane said, rubbing his temple. "I'm just going to say you're a crazy alien and call it a day."

"Enough!" Gallian said. "You're wasting your time explaining things to these idiots." His scythe flickered red.

"Easy there," Sticky said. "Even if we are on different sides, it is important that we do not allow the situation to escalate into violence. Perhaps we can come to some sort of agreement? If you hand over the Beast Killer, we will give you the information we have gleamed from our surveillance of this residential building."

"Are you serious? What a joke!" Shane said. "Any goodwill you could've had went completely out the window when you attacked us back in Tethys Tunnel!"

Luxeira turned to Sticky. "Is this true?"

"I spotted the Beast Killer and attempted to subjugate it. I did not anticipate that these terrestrials would step in to save it," Sticky said, head tilted down shamefully.

Luxeira sighed. "You know our Ultra Recon Squad policy, Sticky."

"No combat engagement with terrestrials unless the situation poses risk of physical or mental harm," Sticky said. "But it was a hostile situation, Captain. That terrestrial with the massive ultra aura threatened me."

"Only because we knew you were working with Gallian," Shane said. "Look at him. The guy's certainly not radiating any friendly vibes. Why would a couple of aliens like you even hire him?"

Gallian's eyes flickered. "You do not get to call me that, pipsqueak," he hissed. "I've got my own reasons for working with these two. And I'm certainly not going to be nice to anyone who's triggering my disaster sense."

"Oh brother. I strongly doubt you've trained well enough to have a flawless disaster sense. So, did you ever consider the possibility that maybe you're just wrong?" Shane said, ignoring Tessa's wide-eyes look. He realized his mistake when Gallian's scythe glowed pink.

"My disaster sense is the truth!" Gallian snarled. "And I know for a fact that letting you three saunter off after Sylveon and Eevee will end badly. So, if you're not going to stand down, then I'm going to do what I should have done back at that blasted Observatory."

Sticky's face blanched. "Y-You don't mean–?"

"Unfortunately, I agree with his assessment," Luxeira said, shaking her head. "My apologies for reprimanding you earlier, Sticky. It would seem that these three do indeed create a threatening situation. We must act accordingly." She pressed the jewel in the center of her harness and whispered, "Let's just hope these Technical Machine devices really work as advertised."

No sooner did she finish saying that than a flamethrower raced forward from her snout. Gallian added purple crescents to the mix. Team Radiance scattered in different directions. The two attacks collided, spreading fire in all directions. Fireballs pelted Shane from behind. He fell to the ground with a holler, rolling around to cool off his fur.

Across from Shane, Null flung air blades at Sticky's face. Luxeira leaped up and snagged the recoiling Sticky in her jaw. She landed back on the ground and said, "Watch your back. You know full well what Beast Killers can do to your kind."

"… what… do you mean… Beast Killer? Are you saying… there are others… just like me?" Null said.

"That is not information we would think of disclosing to you," Sticky said.

"... that sounds... like a yes to me," Null said, pawing at the ground.

Sticky floated back up and scattered purple tiles appeared around the area. One of them popped up right in the path that Tessa was running along to avoid Gallian's purple waves. Poisonous spikes jabbed her thighs the moment she stepped on it. Tessa staggered to a halt, gasping for air. "Need a lum berry," Tessa said, reaching into her item pouch.

"Fat chance of that!" Gallian roared, covering Tessa in pink mist. He stood over her sleeping form, gathering red energy in the diamond on his forehead.

"No! Get away from her!" Shane shouted, spewing frosty air.

"Butt out, shorty. This is a family matter," Gallian hissed, dodging Shane's attack. He retaliated with more purple waves. Shane struggled to dodge with Sticky's toxic traps in the way. Why didn't he try to knock Sticky out first?

Shane's thoughts were interrupted when he found himself staring down the barrel of a fiery tunnel! He flopped to his side, howling in agony as flames brushed his right flank. Luxeira quickly backed away from him, catching her breath. "Target down," she said. "Eh?" She tilted her head in confusion as Shane stumbled back to his feet.

"You're not… getting rid of us… that easily," he panted.

"Captain! Gallian told me that the Pokémon of this world can stockpile specialized kernels to revitalize them if they faint in battle," Sticky shouted. He then turned around, shooting poison from his head tips at Null. But Null barreled through the attack using his steel-coated helmet. Panicking, Sticky pulled a rod from his harness. A whirlwind flung a screaming Null into the trees. Where did Sticky keep getting these things from? Had Gallian stolen a ton of items?

Sticky turned to his right, where Tessa was weaving through psychic crescents to get to Gallian. She thrust her aura-coated fists at Gallian, who countered with his glowing scythe. Gallian skidded across the ground, hissing. Sticky launched poison globs to back up his teammate, but Tessa unleashed a burst of speed and appeared underneath Sticky. She socked him with an electrically-charged fist.

Yes! She had finally gotten a hit in! And, even better, she knocked Sticky into Gallian. She couldn't let up now! Tessa charged Gallian down, but banked off to her right instead when she heard Shane crying for help.

"Nnnghr… get off me!" Gallian roared, shoving Sticky to the side. "And quit getting in my way. Focus on your friend in the mask. I don't need your help. Got it?"

"Very well," Sticky said. "At least let me heal you–"

A wind blade to the face blew Sticky across the ground. Null ran toward Gallian, mask turning to metal. "... tch. Amateurs," Gallian said, getting to his feet. Null missed his headbutt and Gallian slashed him in the side with shadow-coated scythe. Gallian produced a wand from his harness as Null dropped to the ground, hissing in pain.

"Get petrified, freak," Gallian said, showering Null in blue energy that rooted him to the ground. With Null out of the way, he turned his attention toward Tessa. But he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and jumped back, narrowly avoiding a reeling Sticky. He turned right and charged.

Shane had no time to prepare for Gallian. His shadowy scythe raked Shane's back, slicing through his fur. Blood splattered across the soil next to Shane. Out of all the places to hit, Gallian had to get him in the back. Now his whole body was screaming in pain!

"I don't know what Tessa sees in you, pipsqueak," Gallian scoffed. "You can barely hold your own out here. Frankly, it's pathetic."

Shane fought through the pain, scrambling to his feet. "How could you say that about her? She's your sister, dude!"

"Yeah, and look what good her family did for me!" Gallian snarled. Shane tried to snuff the psychic energy out of Gallian's scythe with frosty air, but Gallian dissolved into the shadows. Shane's eyes widened. That looked nothing like the Feint Attacks he had seen other dark-types using. What was Gallian up to?

His answer came in the form of something hard and sharp stabbing his rear. Shane tumbled to the ground, triggering one of Sticky's poisonous traps. "W-What the–?" Shane said. "Just what the hell kind of move was that, huh?"

"It wasn't," Gallian said. "You really are an idiot." He dissolved into a black puddle, with Luxeira taking his place and staring Shane down.

"Don't even think about it, terrestrial," she said, flames gathering in her mouth.

Tessa knew she had to help Shane right away or he was toast! But Gallian lunged out of the shadows, raking his black talons across her chest. She fell into a poison trap. Tessa couldn't believe she let Gallian catch her off guard like that. How infuriating he was! She barely managed to pull out two lum berries and hurl one toward Shane.

Tessa's eyes widened and she tried to use Quick Attack to reach Luxeira in time. But Gallian popped out of the shadows and Night Slashed her across her chest. This upended Tessa, and caused her to crash into a Toxic Spike trap. Her body seized up as the poisons took hold. She barely managed to pull out two lum berries, hurling one toward Shane.

Shane shrieked, pushing Luxeira away before she could unleash her flames. He scarfed the berry down, wondering what he could do to possibly fend off an opponent with such a strong type advantage.

An idea quickly popped into his mind. "H-Hey!" he said. "You… you better stop what you're doing right now. Or, uh, I'm gonna unleash my ultra aura or whatever and blast you into smithereens."

"Your tone of voice suggests you're bluffing. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about," Luxeira said.

Shane swore under his breath. She didn't take the bait! Shane sprinted to his left, dodging a pitch-black beam and retaliating with frost breath. Luxeira stood tall, not even flinching in the face of the frigid air. Shane's jaw dropped. Surely that had to have done some damage, right?

"Perhaps my scanner is malfunctioning. I have minimal experience with this 'battling' concept, but even I can see that you don't seem to rise to the threat level your ultra aura suggests is possible," Luxeira said. "We'll be taking the Beast Killer. And I cannot allow you interfere with that."

In the face of an impending flamethrower, Shane could do nothing but run for his nearest ally, Null. As Shane neared Null, he realized his teammate was in rough shape. But Sticky looked weary, too.

"Even with the restraining mask, it is clear you are still a serious threat," Sticky said. "Although, battling is not exactly my strength. So, this was going to be a struggle from the beginning."

"Then… quit it. I don't… want to hurt anyone!" Null said, thrashing his head around.

"I do not believe you. And I will put a stop to your endeavors," Sticky said. Another wand popped out from his harness and he blasted Null with a dim, red light. Nothing happened at first, but then Null yawned and slouched over.

"What… did you do?" he said.

"Unless I am mistaken, I have modified your ability to Truant," Sticky said. "Your capacity to form up the energy necessary to instigate an attack is now greatly redu–"

Psychic rings knocked Sticky to the ground, then ice-cold air froze him to the spot. "You okay, Null? We really need to give Tessa a hand," Shane said. Null answered by lunging forward, tackling Shane to the ground. He shielded Shane from a flamethrower, only to collapse unconscious on his side. Shane looked up in horror to see Luxeira staring him down.

This was it. She was going to hit him with the orb in her mouth and run off with Null! Gallian was right. Shane wasn't strong enough. There was nothing he could do to win...

'No! I refuse to give up here! Not after everything we've been through!'

Luxeira released the orb and Shane fired psychic rings from his forehead. He knocked the orb back at Luxeria, who barely blasted it apart in time with a black beam. Shane followed up with a gust of icy air. He sprinted away from Luxeira, hoping to outrun any attacks she launched. The flames that swallowed him up seconds later proved him sorely wrong. He only had an instant to mull his failure before blacking out.

Null saw his teammate fall and charged Luxeira in a blind rage. He upended her with a swipe of his claws and pounced, landing atop a howling Luxeira.

"Please… you have to relent," she wheezed. "We're just doing our jobs."

"… so am I," Null snarled. He raised a foreleg and hammered the top of Luxeira's helmet. She immediately stopped struggling. Any relief he felt dissipated when he heard Tessa's cries of pain. He slapped his talons angrily against the ground. He had forgotten about Gallian!

Null lumbered to his feet and stomped toward Gallian. Shane trotted after him, back up thanks to a Reviver Seed kicking in. Gallian stared them both down, shadows dancing around his legs. "You have to cut this out, Gallian," Shane pleaded. "You're not helping anyone. We're wasting time that we could be using rescuing Sylveon and Eevee!"

"I don't want your help. I want you all out of my life!" Gallian snarled, scythe glowing bright-green. Shane scrambled to his right, narrowly dodging Gallian's horn. But Gallian lunged through a cloud of Shane's frost breath, ready to drive his horn through Shane's chest. Shane's legs locked up.

There was nothing he could do. Gallian was too quick. This was it! A crazy Absol was going to be the death of him!

Shane braced himself for the ensuing pain, when a glowing-blue paw struck Gallian's shoulder and sent him to the ground. Gallian turned and glared at Tessa. "You just don't know when to quit, do you?" he barked. "Why won't you listen to me? You cannot go after Sylveon and Eevee. Let me handle it!"

"Couldn't we just work together on this?" Tessa said. "You're supposed to be part of the guild, Gallian."

"I'll never work with them again!" Gallian cried, unleashing a volley of pink crescents from his horn. They didn't get far before bursting into clouds of black smoke. Gallian stood there, dumbstruck, as Null lunged out from the smoke, talons glowing. Null struck air, however. Gallian materialized behind Null, but Shane came to his teammate's aid, dousing Gallian's right flank in icy air.

Tessa ran after Gallian, aura gathering in her paws. Hissing in pain, Gallian dissolved into the shadows. But Tessa refused to back down. She leaped onto Null's helmet, grabbing his head crest.

"... tch. If you're gonna hide behind your freakish friend, then I'll cut Vulpix down to size!" Gallian cried, emerging next to Shane.

Null hurled air slash blades at Gallian, but Gallian simply jumped out of the way. He wasn't prepared for Null thrusting his head forward and launching Tessa directly at him. Gallian had a moment to shout before Tessa cannonballed into him, launching him back across the field.

Tessa landed safely on the ground and dropped to one knee. Panic washed across Shane's face. "Are you okay? That was totally nuts! Where did you come up with that idea?" he said.

"I'm fine," Tessa said, getting back to her feet. "And I took inspiration from you, you reckless dummy."

Wincing, Shane gave her a weak smile. "Aha ha... just warn me next time you're going to do something like that," he said. "I thought my heart was about to stop."

"Says the Vulpix who got squished by a Bewear," Tessa mused. She regretted her words when Shane shrank back from her. "Oops, sorry. I really shouldn't have brought that up, should I?" she said. Shane nodded.

"… guys… Gallian disappeared on us… again," Null said. Team Radiance circled up with their backs to one another. Gallian materialized in front of them, a scowl on his face.

"I'll bet you think you're hot stuff, don't you?" he growled. "The only reason you had any upper hand was you had Reviver Seeds and I didn't. But no amount of them will let you three rescue Sylveon and Eevee. Don't you get it? You're going to fail. I can guarantee it. My disaster sense hasn't been this strong in weeks. It's absolute certainty."

"Oh god, please tell me he didn't just make a horrible pun there," Shane said.

"How can you say such awful things?" Tessa said, arms trembling and paws balled up into fists. "I'm your sister, Gallian. We're supposed to have each other's backs. Why won't you just come back to me? Please!" Her arms stiffened against her sides. "I… I miss you so much…"

"Oh brother, are you really going to pull out the waterworks on me? Gods, you're such a crybaby," Gallian scoffed. "No wonder Mom got so fed up with you."

Tessa's aura feelers jolted up. That was the last thing she wanted to hear from him. "W… what do you mean 'fed up?'" she said.

"Wow, are you dense or what?" Gallian said, rolling his eyes. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If you had a decent head on your shoulders, you'd be as far away from the guild as you can get."

"I don't understand," Tessa rasped.

"There's a big surprise."

"Hey!" Shane barked, stepping beside Tessa. "Here's an idea, you conceited prick, instead of putting Tessa down, why don't you just grow a pair and tell her what the problem is, for god's sake?"

Anger flashed across Gallian's face. His scythe flared up purple, but Null shot a warning air slash blade across his flank. Gallian locked eyes with Tessa. He drew his lips back into a snarl. "You really want to know what the problem is? You really want to know why I left?" he growled. "It's Dad. And Metagross and Braviary. He's gone because of them!"

Tessa stiffened. Her heart shot up into her throat. Her legs grew weak and, before she knew it, she had fallen to her knees. Was Gallian saying her dad's friends were responsible for his death?

"There's no way that's right," Shane said. "Tessa told us it was an accident!" He looked over at Null, who nodded his agreement.

"What do you expect? She doesn't know any better," Gallian said. "But I do. They killed him! I'm sure of it! They got rid of him… and they tried to get rid of Mom, too!"

"What?" Tessa squeaked. "But I… that…" She leaned forward, pressing her paws on the ground. "Why wouldn't she tell me? We've been speaking. She never even said anything. She blamed Zapdos," she said.

"Of course she'd never tell you anything. Mom thought you were insufferable," Gallian said, shaking his head disapprovingly. "After Dad died, she'd constantly show up at my room, ranting about how you were suffocating her. How you constantly wanted her attention, when all she wanted was peace and quiet." He started pacing back and forth. "Heck, I even went down to the veterans' quarters once and saw her losing her mind. She scribbled all over her maps and papers, angrily threw books around her room, and screwed up a bunch of family photos. All the while she was shouting some nonsense about how she was 'going to make them pay. Make them all pay.'"

A stabbing pain shot through Tessa's chest. All the strange sights she had found in her mom's room... were her own doing? And not Gallian's?

Tessa squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "I don't believe you!" she yelled. "Mom loved both of us! She just–"

"Please, stop deluding yourself. She couldn't stand the sight of us," Gallian said. "You're so pathetic. I was right. You were only made an apprentice out of pity. I'll bet it was Braviary. He's probably guilty he offed his so-called best friend." His scythe flashed purple. "Why do you think I left? Just the thought of being around them made my skin crawl!"

"So? It's not like you've said your disaster sense is all that accurate," Shane said.

"It had to be them!" Gallian barked. "I had to leave. I didn't have a choice. I couldn't stay around them. I'm sure they knew I'd found out about their crazy plan! So, I left. And I threatened you because I figured you'd try to go to the guild. You've been so desperate for attention since Dad died... and that's the best place to get it. I thought if I threatened you, you'd actually listen." He shook his head. "Guess I was wrong."

"Stop it!" Tessa hissed, stomping a foot on the ground. "Shut up. I don't… you stop saying that stuff right now." She gripped her head and shook it back and forth.

"I'm only telling the truth," Gallian growled. "Mom never cared about us. I'll bet she only paid attention to us to make Dad happy."

"Shut up, Gallian!"

Shane put a forepaw on Tessa's trembling shoulder. "Don't listen to him. He's just saying that to rile you up," he whispered. "You can't give him the satisfaction." He silently cursed himself out for not thinking of anything better to say to support his friend.

"But… but I told you the exact same thing about Mom the other day," Tessa whispered back with a somber whine.

She was right. Still, he refused to let Gallian keep putting Tessa down. He turned back toward Gallian and said, "You can take your emo mommy issues and shove off! Tessa's my friend. And if she wants to rescue Sylveon and Eevee, I'm going to do everything I can to help her out. Because Pokémon are meant to work together! Isn't that what you're doing with those two aliens?"

Gallian glared at Shane. "I already said I have my reasons for working with these two. Otherwise, I'd be on my own," he hissed. "The guild showed me that you can never trust another Pokémon under any circumstances. Because, even if we say we help each other, deep down we're only looking after ourselves."

Shane's blood run cold. How could one Pokémon harbor so much enmity for everyone around him? Could this actually be the Prism Virus' doing?

Gallian noticed his teammates stirring and walked over toward them. "You want to go rescue Sylveon and Eevee? Fine. Then you're going to have to beat me to it," he said. "I don't have any intention of letting the three of you get within a mile of them. Don't come crying to me when you ultimately fail."

"Uhuu huu huu huu! Isn't this such a touching, lovely family reunion? Really pulls at the ol' heartstrings."

Beside Gallian, Sticky and Luxeira tensed up. "Captain, are you seeing these readings? They are astronomical!" Sticky said.

A swirling, red and black vortex opened between the two groups. Espeon and Umbreon leaped out of the portal. "Well, well, well, haven't we all been a bunch of busybodies?" Espeon said. "We should've brought snacks, Umbry. This is quite entertaining!"

"You two… you're working for it, aren't you? That armored thing," Gallian said, scythe flashing pink.

"Working would imply I'm not having any fun. And this is loads of fun! So, no, I'm not," Espeon said with a giggle. "And judging by your appearance, I get the feeling you didn't want to get with the program?" She shook her head. "News flash: Legends are out of season. The Prism Virus is going to make things better for Pokémon like us."

"You call what you did to Mellath Bog better?" Shane shouted. "Or how about Bewear? Or Lurantis? Or Parasect?"

Umbreon leaped in front of Shane, sending backpedalling with a yip. "You're a bit delusional there, Snowball. We were making them stronger. Powerful enough to take down the Legends that plague all of us," Umbreon said. "You and your band of idiots are the reason they're just cold, empty shells."

"Identify yourselves," Luxeria said, staggering forward. "Which Ultra Space pocket are you hailing from? A normal Pokémon wouldn't be expressing ultra aura levels like you two are."

"Uhuu huu huu! Look at you, trying to sound all authoritative," Espeon said, tail wagging. "Umbry and I only answer to the Prism Virus. Besides, we're not here for you. So, take your silly costumes and go someplace else. Though, feel free to leave Pinhead over there behind. He looks so adorable! I'm sure I could have fun with him."

"Captain, I think they've lost their sanity. They must be possessed by Ultra Beasts," Sticky said, gulping.

"No, these readings don't show any Nihilego neurotoxins," Luxeira said, frowning. "In fact, now that I think about it, these energy signatures are remarkably similar to the Lightless Black."

"Then I would advise an immediate retreat," Sticky said. "We don't have the necessary means to deal with the Lightless Black or any terrestrials it may have projected its power onto."

Gallian whirled on his teammates. "Wait, you want to leave now? No! We need to get information out of these two," he said.

"Espy already made it clear we have no intention of saying anything to you," Umbreon scoffed. "Unless you're planning to attack. And frankly, you three look like you're in no condition to do that."

"Try me!" Gallian snarled, sprinting forward. But he barely made it a yard before a card made of red and black energy appeared in front of him. Gallian fell onto his rear and dug his hind legs into the ground. He failed to stop his momentum, however, and slid right into the card. A second card opened up far across the field, over the remains of Sylveon's well. Gallian fell into the hole with a yelp. A splash permeated the area while the cards disappeared into thin air.

"W-What the–?" Shane gasped.

"Gallian!" Tessa cried. Luxeira and Sticky quickly exchanged looks and dashed away from Espeon and Umbreon.

"Bye! Don't forget to write," Espeon sang, waving a forepaw at them mock mockingly. She turned back to Team Radiance. "Ah, thank heavens we got rid of those party-poopers. Now, we can all have some fun together!" She gave them a sickeningly sweet smile, only for it to abruptly fade. "Well, all of us except the big guy over there. He's the very definition of buzzkill."

"… what did you do… to Absol?" Null asked.

"It's none of your concern," Umbreon said.

"Yeah. Besides, a good magician never reveals her secrets!" Espeon said, giggling. "But I'd be more than happy to give you a little demonstration up close and personal if you want." She winked at Null, who looked away, shaking his head violently.

"Where did you take Sylveon and Eevee?" Shane said, snorting out ice tufts.

"Oh, you sound all fired up. I bet you'll be lots more fun than the last time we met," Espeon said, flicking her tail back and forth.

"Sylveon and Eevee are in Aurora Vale's deepest recesses," Umbreon said. "And you're not getting them back. Period."

"You leave them out of this!" Tessa barked, bearing her fangs. "They have nothing to do with any of your Prism Virus stuff."

"You didn't let me finish," Umbreon growled. Tessa's ears and aura feelers drooped. "We're never going to let you break them out of the prison we've set up. With that said, Espy and I would be happy to let them leave of their own free will for, shall we say, an equivalent exchange."

"Whatever you're asking, no deal," Shane said. "I can't believe you two would do something like this. And to your own kind, no less! What happened to the Espeon and Umbreon happily working with their friends in Post Town to solve the mysteries of Magnagates, huh? Surely you remember those fun times, don't you? Why would you want to get rid of them?"

Shane's answer came in the form of a blast of psychic energy so strong it ripped a sizeable part of his fur coat off his body. The blow knocked him back across the ground. His ears rang and his world went fuzzy.

'This is it...'

"Oh, come on! Even after that... his scarf is still on? You've gotta be kidding me," Umbreon growled.

'One blow. She... she took me out in one blow!'

As Shane's world darkened, he saw Lunala in his mind's eyes. Black crystals enveloped her body each team his vision flashed, until Necrozma's helmeted face stared Shane down, a grin plastered on his face.


Tessa's cry jolted Shane back to reality. He scrambled to his feet, eyes widening upon realizing that Espeon had appeared right beside him.

"Remembering the fun times, huh?"

Shane scrambled backward, but Espeon lunged to his side.

"The only 'fun time' I remember," she hissed, as Shane squealed and jumped back in fright, "is Kyurem terrorizing the continent, making me fear for my life! All while a bunch of Legends sat around being useless. And the ones that were actually on the Mist Continent? Worthless!" She stomped a forepaw on the ground and dark energy raced up to the diamond in her forehead. "Victini cared more about playing with his stupid toy. Virizion was too busy sulking and moaning about how her fake friendships. And don't even get me started on Keldeo. What a total dweeb!"

Umbreon's red rings crackled. "You ask us why we want to be rid of the gods? Simple. We've finally woken up... and realized just how little our research means," he said. "Because, at the wave of a paw, we could have it all stripped away from us. Simply because some Legendary Pokémon doesn't like it."

"But… but you two are heroes," Shane whimpered. "You helped stop the Bittercold. Parents tell their kids stories about you!"

Another psychic blast struck Shane, ripping more fur off his body. Espeon walked up to him, pink energy pouring out of her glowing eyes. "And what good did that really do, huh? A few years later, Dark Matter showed up and sent everyone into a panic," she said. "Umbry and I worked ourselves to death trying to help Pokémon take refuge from Yveltal. Meanwhile, what did the other Legends do? They sat in their homes, silently wishing the problem would go away."

"That's not completely true," Shane whispered meekly.

"Oh, of course. How stupid of me to forget," Espeon said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Yes. Entei, Suicune, and Raikou were such big helps. Running about the continents like blind idiots! And, oh, if that wasn't bad enough, when the rest of them finally decided to take action, it didn't do anything! They all got turned to stone!" Her eyes watered. "Umbry got turned to stone! I got turned to stone. I don't care what you claim to have experienced as a human. Nothing compares to the horror of the Voidlands. Do you hear me? Nothing!"

Espeon backed away, rubbing her eyes. "Way to go and suck all the fun out of this," she hissed. "I guess I'll just get to the point, then. You and your cowardly Riolu friend surrender and come with us to be infected. Then Umbry and I let your precious Sylveon and Eevee go. Do we have a deal or not?"

"Ah... ab... absolutely not," Shane said, struggling to stay on his feet. Tessa nodded slowly, though her gaze had fallen toward the ground.

"I told you they'd refuse," Umbreon scoffed.

"No. They just need time to think it over," Espeon said. She walked up to Shane again. "Sunrise tomorrow. If you and your sorry teammate aren't at the end of Aurora Vale, I will personally take pleasure in infecting Sylveon and Eevee. Heck, I'll even let you bring the masked weirdo along for company. I'm just that nice." Her expressed immediately darkened. "If anyone else from your so-called guild even takes so much as a step into Aurora Vale, then it's bye-bye Sylveon and Eevee. Do I make myself clear?"

Shane's tails fell between his legs. "Oh, come now," Espeon said, her cheerful demeanor returning. "Being infected isn't bad. It's a good thing! Look at how much stronger Umbry and I are now." She walked beside Shane and slid her tail across his neck to touch his cheek. "And think of how much fun we could have together."

Shane's eyes widened and he scrambled away from Espeon. A grin spread across her muzzle. "Aww, what's the matter? You're not getting cold feet, are you? That'd be embarrassing for an ice-type." She shook her head. "So much for that spark of defiance earlier. I'll be waiting for you in Aurora Vale… cutie. Don't disappoint me." Her eyes flashed red and an Ultra Entercard appeared between her and Umbreon. They both jumped into the ensuing vortex, which closed right behind them.

Shane's legs gave out and he collapsed on his belly, heart hammering in his chest. Again, his vision went dark. Necrozma popped up, spreading his wings apart.

Don't worry. We'll finally be together again… real soon. Heeheeheehee!

Who was he kidding? They were in over their heads! He was nowhere near strong enough to save Sylveon and Eevee.

Shane curled up into a ball, shivering in fright. Null walked up to Tessa, who continued to stare silently at the ground. "What are we... what do we do now?" Tessa squeaked. "I can't take those two. But I can't let them hurt Sylveon and Eevee."

"… we should… go back to the Observatory. We all… need to be healed. At the very least… the guild could help us… plan our next move," Null said.

Tessa gulped. "But what about what Gallian said? About Braviary and Metagross?"

Null stiffened. "I... I don't know," he said. "But if... if they try anything funny... I'll tear them to shreds."

His promise did little to quell the sinking feeling in Tessa's gut. But it wasn't like she had other options. Certainly not with Gallian acting the way he was. She nodded slowly and joined Null as he walked up to Shane. He slowly staggered to his feet, avoiding eye contact with his teammates.

"… do you… want me to carry you back?" Null said.

"No," Shane whispered. "I can walk. I… I'm fine. It's going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay. We'll think of something. Somehow. Some way."

But as the team set off down the path to Aeon Town, Shane's own words rang empty in his head.

'Who am I kidding? We're hosed!'


Next time: another corrupted Mystery Dungeon awaits our heroes! Can they survive it?
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Name's Adam.
Review for Chapter 6

This chapter was fun. I enjoyed the battle against that outlaw, and it goes to show that you've been improving when it comes to writing battle scenes in specific, and I like that! I also totally dig the exploration team with the ghost types, and I must say, you're quite creative when it comes to crafting exploration teams. I can't help but look forward to all the other yet to be introduced teams.

Solgaleo and Lunala finally get name dropped, and that all but confirms that this story will be full of Ultra Space madness sooner or later. I sure am excited to see what you'll do with them. Should be fun


Winter can't come soon enough
You might want to wear some warm clothing if you're going to read this chapter.

Review for Chapter 6

This chapter was fun. I enjoyed the battle against that outlaw, and it goes to show that you've been improving when it comes to writing battle scenes in specific, and I like that! I also totally dig the exploration team with the ghost types, and I must say, you're quite creative when it comes to crafting exploration teams. I can't help but look forward to all the other yet to be introduced teams.

Solgaleo and Lunala finally get name dropped, and that all but confirms that this story will be full of Ultra Space madness sooner or later. I sure am excited to see what you'll do with them. Should be fun

Glad to hear that you liked it. That is definitely one of the earlier battles that I enjoy a lot, probably due to Solrock being able to manipulate the beach against Team Radiance. I also do have a lot of fun with Team Specter.
Though I find the key to them to be in limiting their appearances, so their gimmicks don't get too worn out too quickly. If that makes any sense.

And there will most definitely be plenty of Ultra Space madness to come. Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for the review, as well. ^^


Chapter 34: Fearsome Frozen Hazards


Shane found himself yanking a metallic foreleg backward, a stinging sensation rushing across his body.

"Oh, brother. Quit being so squeamish," Lunala chided. "If you hadn't tried to pick a fight with Volcanion, this wouldn't have happened."

Shane looked down and noticed his foreleg was burnt to a crisp. What had happened? Wasn't he supposed to be back at the guild with his friends?

"Yuh-yeah? Well, it's his fault for trying to cover southern Horizon in volcanic ash!" Shane said. "Seriously, what was he thinking trying to send all of the lava in Mount Supernova toward the Midnight Sea? We let him settle down in the Volcanic Wastes and this is how he repays us?"

"You're just lucky Tapu Koko showed up when she did," Lunala said. She levitated a cloth toward his injured leg. Shane looked at it and tensed up. "Come on. You used up all your energy for Morning Sun. You've got to let me apply this ointment or you'll be a three-legged Solgaleo before you know it."

Shane sighed. It looked like he was seeing one of Solgaleo's memories. But why would Solgaleo choose to share this now? Was this even relevant to his situation?

"Just hurry up and put it on," Shane growled. "I just want to put this all behind me."

"Then quit resisting, already." Lunala gently lowered the cloth onto Shane's leg. Searing pain rushed up his limb. An agonized roar sounded, then everything dissolved around him.


~Aeon Observatory~


Tessa's hissing snapped Shane back to attention. She jerked her leg back, causing Togedemaru to stumble and drop the cream-covered gauze she was holding.

"C'mon, Riolu, you've got to hold still," Togedemaru scolded. "You scuffed your thighs and knees up pretty badly. If you want the fur to grow back, I need to use this stuff."

'Okay, this is weird,' Shane thought. 'This is practically identical to that memory I just saw.' He then became aware of his injuries and doubled over in pain. His exposed fur burned as if he had spent way too long sunbathing without any lotion.

"B-But that medicine really hurts," Tessa said, frowning at Togedemaru.

"Well, consider yourself lucky. You didn't get the worst of things," Shane grumbled, noticing he stood beside Comfey's large water bucket. Instead of being filled with ice water like last time, it held a viscous purple fluid with sparkling bits of fairy dust strewn throughout it. "What's with the goop?"

"That's for you," Comfey said.

Shane's jaw dropped. "Seriously? Are you really going to put me in that stuff?"

"Hmm, I suppose I don't have to," Comfey said. "If you don't want your fur back, of course. I can't speak to whether or not you being human messes with normal Vulpix health. But my predecessor taught me that a Vulpix's fur coat is essential to maintaining its internal body temperature and, by association, calling upon its ice-elemental powers."

Shane looked over the rim of the bucket and poked the surface of the liquid with a forepaw. It wobbled about like gelatin. Bile rose in the back of his throat. "It's disgusting, though," he said. "Hell, it reminds me of that Gak stuff they always advertised on kiddie channels back home. What's even in this, anyway?"

"There's a very delicate ratio of pamtre and sitrus berry extracts to promote rapid, healthy regeneration of your fur," Comfey explained. "However, in order to stabilize everything, I suspended the mixture in the slime shed by Goodras and Sliggoos–"

"What?! Nuh-uh. No way am I bathing in slimy dragon sheddings," Shane huffed, flicking his snout skyward. Barely a day had gone by when he hadn't ended up soaked or covered in grime and he had to draw the line somewhere. And that somewhere was bathing in dragon slime.

"You didn't let me finish," Comfey said, sighing. "I used a spell to coat the berry extracts with the slime, that way it can spread across your body so your coat is uniform. I'd have thought your Vulpix instincts might appreciate something like that."

In truth, a part of him did like that idea. But said part was dwarfed by the overwhelming urge to vomit at the sight of medicine. "You thought wrong," Shane said, turning to leave the room. Null blocked his path before he could get more than five steps. "What? What do you want?" Shane said.

"… we need you… at your best," Null said. "I know it sucks… but just go along with it…"

Shane's ears folded against his face. How could Null understand? That mask probably blocked his sense of smell. "I don't want to," Shane whispered. "It'll make me look like an idiot."

"Do you really think... you look okay... the way you are... right now?" Null said, wheezing. Shane glanced down at his bare forelegs. Flaky bits of dead skin sloughed off and drifted to the floor between his paws.

"I guess not," Shane said, wincing. "It's just... it looks disgusting. And smells even worse!"

"Maybe I should do it with him?" Tessa said. "I need to get the fur back in my thighs."

"I suppose I don't see why not. It'll save me some of the cream, at the very least," Comfey said, shrugging.

Tessa hopped off the bench and limped over toward the bucket. "C'mon, Shane. Let's just go in together," she said. Null lowered his head and nudged Shane's rear toward the bucket. It looked like he didn't have a choice.

"Alright, alright, I get it. I'm going. I'm going," Shane said, walking up to the bucket. "The things this universe is making me do..."

A psychic grip took hold of them and slowly slid them into the bucket. "Oh god! This is awful! It's all gooey and sticky. I can feel it between my tails," Shane whined before his and Tessa's heads disappeared under the surface. Null grimaced and looked away from the bubbling slime. Seconds later, they both reappeared, covered from head-to-toe in purple goop. Comfey set them both down. Tessa held a paw up to her muzzle, trying not to hurl. Shane stood there, shivering.

"How do you feel?" Comfey asked.

"It feels like my body's on fire!" Shane said, registering each and every bit of goo that moved on him. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in a corner and forget this ever happened.

"Sometimes Pokémon experience a mild burning sensation. Particularly if they have large patches of missing fur," Comfey said. "I'll need you two to stay still while the suspension restores your coats."

"Aww, c'mon! Get this stuff off of me," Shane pleaded.

"Dangummit, Comfey! How many times I gotta tell ya to keep this door closed if'n yer doing sensitive stuff like this?"

Braviary lingered by the infirmary doorway, holding a wing up over his face.

"It's perfectly fine. You can come in," Comfey said.

"Yeah, great. Why not invite the whole guild while you're at it? Let's all laugh at the Vulpix," Shane said, trying not to look at Braviary. After Gallian's outburst, he wasn't sure how to act around the guy.

"Aww, c'mon. It's not so bad. I think you look good in purple," Tessa said. She then threw her paws over her muzzle. Her cheeks puffed up. Shuddered, she swallowed hard. "Okay, yeah, I think I just ate some. This stuff's hitting my gag reflex pretty badly. This doesn't mean I'm going to grow fur inside my belly, does it?"

"Of course not," Comfey said. She turned to Braviary. "Did you need me for something?"

Both Shane and Tessa went rigid. Tessa's tail crinkled and her aura feelers stood up on end. Recalling her earlier conversation with Gallian, she looked right down at the floor, squeaking in fright. Shane sighed. He wanted to do something to help her, but given Comfey's order not to move, nothing came to mind.

"Um, do you think you could come back later?" Shane asked, his voice cracking. "This is a bad time."

Braviary raised an eyebrow. "What's with the frightened looks, you two? Y'all are looking at me like I killed a 'mon."

Shane's tails shot into the air, flinging bits of slime around the room. One of them struck Togedemaru on her cheek. "I really… hate that guy," she hissed, right eye twitching.

Sensing the unease in the room, Comfey floated in front of Braviary. "You know what? Maybe you ought to give the three of them a bit more time. I think they're still recuperating from battle," she said, to Shane's and Tessa's relief.

"If'n y'all ain't in the right frames of mind to talk, then why'd ask fer me, huh?" Braviary said. "Null said y'all had something important you needed to bring to my attention."

Shane and Tessa exchanged panicked looks. They were both hoping they'd have more time to think about this conversation. "Y… you tell him," Tessa whispered.

"Um… I'm not exactly sure how to explain everything," Shane said, ears drooping.

Before he could say anything else, a splash echoed through the room. Null stood beside the water bucket, his head stuck in the purple fluid. "Hey! Hey! I did not okay you to do that," Comfey scolded. She floated over and angrily slapped her tiny arms against Null's side. "Get out of there right now. Do you have any idea how long it takes me to prepare this stuff? I don't want to waste a drop on someone who doesn't need it!"

Null withdrew his head. His helmet now matched the composition of his teammates perfectly. "… sorry. I thought… maybe it could… help break this mask," Null said.

"Ugh. I swear you three have the worst two-week infirmary record of any team I've ever encountered," Comfey declared before draping Null's helmet in a towel and floating over to Braviary in a huff.

Braviary raised a confused brow. "Right. Uh, if'n y'all are done acting like hatchlings, tell me just what happened to get y'all roughed up like this. Shoot, I've seen Mudbray stampede victims looking less worse fer wear."

Tessa realized that Null's childish gesture was likely an attempt to buy them time to think. Unfortunately, it had failed, which meant they had to fess up. Luckily for her, Shane was up to the task. He recounted the events at Sunrise Village, leaving out the things Gallian said about Braviary and Metagross. Tessa's fidgeting intensified through the explanation. She watched Braviary, wondering how he would react to this.

Once Shane finished his recap, Braviary said, "That's mighty concerning." He tapped his talons on the floor. "So, y'all got ambushed by Gallian. And Gallian's working with aliens that know something about the Prism Virus. On top of that, Espeon and Umbreon are escalating whatever crazy plan they've got."

"When I ran into them in Dewdrop Woods last week, they mentioned something about taking out all the gods,'" Shane recalled. "But what would corrupting Mystery Dungeons have to do with that?"

"Most Legends make their homes in Mystery Dungeons, son. I figured you oughta know that, with the way you run that mouth of yours," Braviary said. Shane looked away in embarrassment. "If'n they disrupt the balance of a Mystery Dungeon's natural energy, they're sure to disturb whatever Legend may be sleeping there."

"Wait. If they're doing that, then they might try to attack Temporal Tower. Or the Tree of Life!" Shane said, eyes widening. "If that happens, this world's totally screwed!" It struck him that, if something like that actually happened, he could disappear in the blink of an eye, without even knowing. He couldn't help but shudder.

"… but they've only… done stuff in Horizon… right?" Null said, dropping his now-purple towel to the floor. His helmet still had a purple tint to it. Tessa would've found it funny if she wasn't in the same room as Braviary.

"I suppose we oughta call up the Expedition Society to make sure that's the case," Braviary said. Shane frowned. Would that really solve anything? "What're ya giving me that look fer, son? It's the best idea I can come up with on such short notice," Braviary said, waving his wing. "Besides, we need to talk about the situation in Aurora Vale. Ain't no way I'm letting the three of you mosey on into an obvious trap like that."

"But they said if anyone else shows up in Aurora Vale, they're going to infect Sylveon and Eevee," Tessa cried, aura feelers tensing. "Espeon's psychic-type. She'll surely know if we bring someone along."

"Riolu, ya don't really think them varmints are gonna keep their word, do ya?" Braviary asked. "I reckon that the moment y'all show up there, they're gonna attack you and infect Sylveon and Eevee anyway. From what I've heard, they don't exactly sound like a reasonable pair."

"N-No," Tessa whispered, her gaze falling. "I… I can't lose them too. Not now."

Shane's tails drooped. He wanted to hug Tessa, but knew it would end badly because of the medicine. Instead, he turned to Braviary and asked, "Isn't there anything you could do to, I dunno, power us up or something? Like a special emera or one of Magearna's inventions… anything to help give us a fighting chance against Espeon and Umbreon."

"Strength in numbers, hoss," Braviary replied. "That's the only way yer getting through that kind of situation. Y'all have taken quite a whupping as of late. Frankly, I have half a mind to make y'all stay here."

Shane bit his lip. To him, it sounded like Braviary was setting them up for failure. He shot Tessa a worried look. "You can't keep us here!" Tessa said, getting Shane's memo. "P-Please… you have to let us go after them."

"They're Riolu's friends, Braviary," Shane added. "You're nuts if you think we're going to sit around while Espeon and Umbreon have them. Right?" He looked at Null, who nodded his agreement.

Braviary sighed. "I reckoned you would say something like that. Look, I think y'all are misunderstanding me. I ain't got no intention of sending other guild members in there." Tessa and Shane exchanged confused looks. "But I am going to be flying over the Vale and keeping an eye on y'all," Braviary said. "And I reckon stationing Team Captivate at Borea Heights shouldn't be no problem. That way, I can swoop in and grab them if there's any trouble."

Shane raised a skeptical brow. "Wait, you can just fly into a Mystery Dungeon. Then what's the point of having us exploring these places, huh?"

Braviary lifted his left wing, revealing a small, metallic plate with an electrode sticking out of it. "No way I could just fly into a dungeon on my own without getting attacked or hopelessly lost," he said. "But with this puppy, it's possible. Err… now what did Magearna call this thingamajigger again?"

My Geartronic Dungeon Penetratorizer, Magearna said as she walked into the infirmary. And as I told you the last time you swiperated it from my workshop, it is just a prototype. I have yet to get it to work properly. The most recent tests ended up with a 14.3 percent error margin from the target coordinates.

"Yeah, I've still got the marks from where that Crobat bit my butt. Thanks for that, by the way," Togedemaru said.

You are welcome, Magearna stated, before blinking a few times and saying, wait, that was supposed to be sarcasm, was it not? Drat. I am now at a 31.25 percent sarcasm detection rate for the month.

"Aww, come now, Mags," Braviary said. "There's a first time for everything, ain't there? Including this warp doohickey putting me in the right spot in Aurora Vale."

That is hardly scientific, Magearna said. Not to mention, I haven't fully stabilitized the energy consumption of that device. If you use it improperly, it may melt… or explode.

Sweat drops formed on Braviary's head at this. "Ya don't think ya should've mentioned that earlier?"

I did the last time you tried to use it, Magearna said. Why do you think I had Togedemaru testing it?

"Well, uh…" Braviary preened some feathers on his wing. "If'n Team Radiance is going in, then I'm willing to risk trying this doodad out. Hopefully I won't end up medium-rare as a result."

Shane looked skeptically at the device. "That's your big plan, then?" he asked.

"I reckon so," Braviary said. "Team Captivate and I will escort y'all to Borea Heights. The town's got the entrance to Aurora Vale that's closest to its deepest recesses. Not to mention, a lot of retired explorers live there. They may have some supplies to offer up."

Shane looked over at Tessa. "What do you think?" he asked. "Are you okay with this idea?"

Tessa's gaze switched between Braviary and Shane. Eventually, she nodded slowly. "It's for my friends," she said. "As long as you guys are staying out of Aurora Vale, then I guess we're keeping our part of the deal. So, let's start getting ready."

Comfey cleared her throat. "Would you mind saving the preparations until after I've cleaned the medicine's remnants off you two?"

Tessa looked down at her slimy body and shuddered. "R-Right… getting rid of this stuff would be nice."


~Borea Heights~

"H-Holy Karp! W… what happened here?" Serperior gasped.

The rescue party found themselves standing on the outskirts of the town. Serperior's jaw dropped as she scanned the area. The place was covered in a thick layer of ice. Yellow-brick buildings, dirt paths, and the town square were all frozen solid. A huge slab of ice protruded from what once was a fountain.

"Did we get any word Articuno or Regice were coming to Horizon?" Milotic said, brushing frost off her looplet.

"No," Braviary said. "And if'n one of them is having a temper tantrum on our turf, you can bet the Guildmaster will be making an angry call overseas."

"Wait, is there normally not supposed to be wintry weather here?" Shane asked. "The dungeon's name is Aurora Vale. I was expecting tons of ice."

"You're off base there, Vulpix," Dragonair said. "It's called Aurora Vale because the magnetic flux generated by all the Miniors populating the dungeon makes it so that you can always see an aurora in the sky." She slither up toward the town, cringing as ice brushed her scales. "Plus, this is mostly a retirement community. Older Pokémon wouldn't do so well in cold weather."

"Couldn't've said it better myself, Dragonair," Braviary said. "This is mighty strange."

"Which is exactly why I had the residents evacuate their homes."

The group turned to see a blue-green serpent shuffling forward. He had wool clothing draped over his white, fluffy tail and the white fur covering the base of his torso.

"Who's this old geezer?" Shane whispered to Tessa.

"That's Drampa. One of the residents of Borea Heights, if I'm not mistaken," Milotic replied.

"Hrmph. It's Town Supervisor Drampa, thank you very much," the old dragon huffed. "And you all have a lot of nerve taking this long to show up. I sent my SOS request to your base hours ago."

"Err, apologies, Drampa–"

"Town Supervisor Drampa."

"–Uh, right. Anyway, we've had some pressing matters of our own to attend to," Braviary said. "But we're here now. Ain't that what's important?"

"Hardly!" Drampa snorted. "What could possibly be more important than the entirety of Aurora Vale turning to ice... and said ice encroaching into my precious town?" He raised a paw and stroked his mustache. "The answer is nothing, I tell you. Nothing! Oh, what a miserable day this has turned into. No doubt, they will blame me for this horrifying malady. My approval rating is going to tank because of this."

Shane rolled his eyes. It seemed that, even in the world of Pokémon, he couldn't escape obnoxious politicians.

"Um, Braviary?" Tessa said. "Before we went off to Sunrise Village this morning, Trapinch showed us that something was wrong with the Pokénector. It had this part of the continent blacked out."

"Say what? The Pokénector's never broken before," Serperior said.

"… I think… I might've been right," Null wheezed, rubbing his helmet against the ground "Aurora Vale… is infected. And that infection… is spreading through this town…"

Drampa caught sight of Null and his eyes widened. "W-What in Destiny Tower's name are you supposed to be, boy? And what is this nonsense about 'infection?'" He turned to Braviary. "If you know what's happened to my town I want answers. Answers, I say!"

Shane figured now was as good a time as any to say something. "You ever hear of Espeon and Umbreon? The researchers looking into Entercards?" he asked, walking toward Drampa. The ice was oddly soothing on his paw pads. Shane figured it was his ice-typing at work.

"Of course I have. I'll have you know, I was quite the spry fellow back in the days when the Bittercold was terrorizing the Mist Continent," Drampa said.

An exasperated look overtook Milotic's face. "He acts like it was decades ago," she muttered under her breath.

"Well, we weren't in the guild yet when that stuff happened," Dragonair mused.

"Ladies, can you cut the chit-chat?" Shane growled, silencing them. "Espeon and Umbreon have, um, gotten hold of some sort of otherworldly energy. And they're using it to turn Pokémon into terrifying monsters. Lately, they've expanded to transforming the landscapes of Mystery Dungeons."

"Crabapples!" Drampa spat. "This is one kooky recruit you've got here, Braviary. Any Horizon-dweller knows the Tapus control the Mystery Dung–"

"I'm telling the truth, sir," Shane said, hissing out the last word. "Will you stop thinking about your reputation and listen to me for a minute? This is serious! My teammates and I were in Mellath Bog the other day and it had been turned into a toxic wasteland. We were lucky to get out of there with our fur attached. And now the same thing is happening to Aurora Vale."

"You need to leave, Mr. Drampa. It's not safe to be here," Tessa added. Why couldn't this guy see reason?

"Bah! I'm not about to let a couple of kids and a weirdo who's too afraid to show his face tell me what I need to do," Drampa said, furrowing his oversized brow. "I give out the instructions around here. Not anyone else."

Ice shattered in the distance, jolting everyone to attention. "Ah, look!" Serperior said, pointing her tail forward. "That building just blew apart."

Shane's tails shot into the air at the sight of half a dozen Necrospheres emerging from the rubble of a frozen building. They floated about in erratic patterns, plasma sparks racing across their bodies. "B-Braviary… please tell me those are just the Minior things Dragonair mentioned," Shane said.

Braviary spread his wings apart, shielding both exploration teams. "Son, you could search the whole darn planet, but you ain't finding no Miniors looking like that," he said.

Shane's ears folded against his head. That's what he was afraid of.

The Necrospheres rotated so their glowing-red cores faced the entire group. One of them turned toward its counterparts and let out a robotic beep. Shane's ears stuck up in fright.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing, you fools?" Drampa roared, shoving Braviary aside. "This here is a private residential community! Vandalism is not to be tolerated!"

All the Necrospheres looked about at one another. They sounded a single, high-pitched beep in unison.

"W-Why are they letting out such weird noises?" Tessa whimpered, paws clasping her ears and pushing them against her head. The tone made her skin crawl. She wanted them to stop.

"Are you hooligans listening to me? I'm the town supervisor, here. And I'm about to write you all up on citations! Hoo-hoo, Officer Magnezone is going to have his hands full. But I will not allow my town to fall victim to thugs, even in the midst of chaos!" Drampa declared, stomping about angrily.

The lead Necrosphere hovered forward and looked at its cohorts. It beeped in a lower pitch. The other Necrosphers followed it, their red cores glowing brighter.

"Hey, I don't like the looks of this," Serperior said. "Do we attack them or what?"

"Absolutely. Give 'em yer best shots. In unison, of course!" he ordered, pointing a wing forward. Water, fire, ice, wind, and blue lightning coalesced into a huge beam.

But the guild members' attacks proved useless. Each Necrosphere formed up a hexagonal shield of hard light and brought them together. The stalemate led to a smoke eruption that drove everyone back. "You stupid guild folk are worthless, I tell you! Worthless!" Drampa huffed. "You're wrecking my wonderful town."

The smoke cleared, revealing the Necrospheres had surrounded Drampa. He looked around at them and his aggravated look quickly disappeared. "Hey now. You… you can't attack me. I'm a town supervisor! I'm an authority figure." He gathered blue energy in his mouth.

The Necrospheres all sounded their high-pitched tones in unison. Black and red beams shot forth from their cores. Drampa cried out in pain, collapsed on belly, and then began to tremble. The Necrospheres ceased their attacks and turned on the guild members.

Braviary's brow furrowed. "Listen to me, Team Radiance. Y'all get a move on. Head into Aurora Vale. Leave everything here to us," he said.

Behind them, black crystals encased Drampa's torso and hair. "Are you nuts? We need to help you. Look at what's happening to Drampa!" He pointed a forepaw ahead of him, showing the membranous, purple wings emerging from the crystals on Drampa's body. The fur shed from his tail, leaving a large, purple bulb that ended in a giant gray needle. Purple ooze squirted from the its tip.

"Grrroah! Must... infect!" Drampa roared. The Necrospheres replied with a round of beeps.

"Oh gods, is this what made Bewear into a giant monster?" Serperior said, her face paling.

Braviary turned toward Team Radiance. "Why are y'all still standing there gawking? Go on! Git! Leave these no-good fellers to us." He turned around and sped forward, a bright, shimmering light encasing his body. A roaring Drampa released a blue bolt from his mouth. Braviary skirted the beam and hammered Drampa at the base of his neck.

Tessa winced as Drampa screeched like a angry bird. While she was worried about Team Captivate's safety, she had no desire to fight Drampa. Not with Sylveon and Eevee waiting in Aurora Vale. She nodded at Null, then leaped onto his back. Null lumbered over to Shane and Tessa plucked him off the ground by his tails.

"W-What the–? Hey, put me down! We need to help them," Shane said, thrashing in midair as Tessa pulled him onto Null's fury, scaly backside.

Null ran toward a wall of blue haze. "You heard Braviary. Besides... we can't waste our strength... right now. Otherwise... we'll be easy pickings... for Espeon and Umbreon."

Tessa took one last look back at Borea Heights. "I really hope Braviary actually has their backs," she whispered. "Stay safe you guys."


~Aurora Vale~

Ice shavings kicked up along the path as Null skidded to halt. He looked behind him. The dungeon's entrance, two pillars of rock encased in ice, had long since disappeared behind a layer of icy haze. "I think… we're safe," he wheezed.

Tessa disembarked from Null, only to squeal as her paw contacted the ice and she slipped. Her tail jammed against the ground. "Ow, ow, ow, ow!" she cried, eyes bulging out. Shane gingerly got to the ground, gripped the scruff of Tessa's neck, and hoisted her up. Tessa skittered about trying to find her balance, but eventually stood up without support. "Th-Thanks, Shane."

She brought her arms up to her shoulders and rubbed them. "This… is horrifying. I… I've never been so cold. This ice hurts," she whimpered. "My paw pads are in so much pain... and we haven't even been here five minutes!"

"Yeah, this isn't pleasant," Shane said, looking down at his feet. "This ice is unnaturally slick, if you ask me." He glanced at Null. "Hey, big guy. Think you could try to carve some of the ice ahead of us up with Air Slash or Crush Claw?" Shane waited for a response. What he got instead was the sound of raucous coughing.

"Null! Are you okay?" Tessa gasped. She tried to walk over to him, only to slip again. Her muzzle smacked the ice and her eyes widened to the size of melons. "Ow! My nose," she whined, bringing her paws up to grab her throbbing snout. Shane stepped over toward Null, who was on his knees in a coughing fit.

"Chest… hurts…" Null groaned. "Can hardly breath… feels like… the helmet's… suffocating me…"

Shane frowned. This was bad. They hadn't even started looking for Espeon and Umbreon and the cold was already doing his teammates in. Shane would have to put on a brave face if they had any hope of getting through this place in once piece.

"You don't think your mask's possessed or something, do you?" he asked. Null shook his head. "In any case, we can't sit around here. What if more of those floating rocks show up? We're sitting Duckletts like this." Shane helped Tessa back to her feet again. "I hate to ask this, but do you think you could carry Riolu? I don't want her catching frostbite."

"Frostbite?" Tessa said, looking worriedly at her feet. Shane flinched. He probably could've phrased that better.

With a few deep breaths, Null was back on his feet. Tessa grabbed hold of his fur and hoisted herself up. She gripped the back corners of Null's helmet and dug her knees into his sides.

"Okay, we'd better get moving," Shane said, cautiously walking forward. It didn't take long for the ice to grow even slicker, however. Shane bent his knees to stop himself from sliding forward. The path turned into a small hill that he rode down into an icy basin. He quickly stepped to his side to make sure Null didn't slam him from behind. Null used his talons to halt his progress.

"There are a bunch of… big icy rocks… sticking up here," Null observed.

"Yeah, they're ice boulders," Shane said. His brow furrowed as he looked out across the basin. It all looked disturbingly familiar to him.

Shane's eyes widened. "Argh! I know exactly what this is. It's a god damn ice sliding puzzle! These aren't supposed to be here!" he hissed.

"What do you mean?" Tessa asked.

"The ground's way too slick to walk on. As soon as one of us takes a step forward, we're getting whisked off in whatever direction we're facing, and we can't change our course," Shane explained. "We need to use the boulders to plot the right course to the other side of the basin."

"Well, which way do we go?" Tessa asked, poking her head out from behind Null's mask.

"Um… well…" Shane bit his lower lip. "I'm not really sure. I was always terrible at these things back home. It always took me half an hour just to solve the Snowpoint City Gym puzzle." He gnashed his teeth together. "Of all the mechanics that could wind up here…"

"Guess we just... need to employ… a little trial and error," Null said. He took a step forward and slid across the ice. He came to a stop by one of the boulders and proceeded to adjust his course. Null slid off to his right, striking the side of the basin. Tessa squeaked as snow fell on her from the edge of the basin. She hurriedly brushed it off her fur, shivering. "Sorry about that," Null muttered.

"Null! That's definitely the wrong way," Shane said. "If you go north or south, you'll just end up in a loop that brings you back here."

Sighing, Null slid off to his south, looking to return to Shane. However, when he hit the ice boulder in the corner, it shattered. Three Necrospheres fluttered out of it. They fixed their glowing cores on Null. Electrically-charged rocks gathered up around them. Null encased his helmet in steel. With vigorous shakes, he deflected the projectiles.

A burst of psychic energy struck the Necrosphere on Null's left. It hit its teammates like a line of dominoes and their crystallized remains fell into clumps of snow on the rim of the basin.

"Looks like… there are enemies… lurking here," Null said, coughing.

"Do you think Espeon and Umbreon placed them there as part of a trap?" Tessa wondered, rubbing her paws together.

"Undoubtedly," Null said. He slid back over to Shane's location and relayed Tessa's thought.

Shane frowned. "Great, so we get penalized for doing this puzzle wrong. That's awful!" He rubbed his cheek with a forepaw. If only he could get a better vantage point. After a few seconds thinking, Shane's eyes widened. "Wait, that's it," he said. "Riolu, I need you to stand on top of Null's head and see if you can spot a path across the basin."

Tessa forcefully exhaled into her paws and rubbed her shoulders. "But I'm so cold… I can barely even move," she said.

"C'mon, Riolu. You're a head taller than I am. And you've done a great job with navigating in the other dungeons. We really need you here," Shane said, hoping the words of encouragement would help. Tessa nodded shakily and climbed atop Null's helmet. Null stuck his neck upward as best he could, though he was visibly straining from the combined weight of Tessa and his mask.

"I think I've got something," Tessa said. "We all assumed we needed to go up, down, right, or left to start this. But it looks like the key is to move diagonally." She pointed her paw ahead of her, where a particularly large ice boulder jutted out from the ground. "That's where we should go first."

"Okay. Then, I think it's best if I go first, so Tessa can stay here and give directions. If it's the right way, you guys follow me," Shane said. He stepped onto the ice and slid forward, coming to a stop by the large boulder. Tessa continued relaying instructions as Shane zigzagged about the area. One of the rocks he hit turned into another Necrosphere trap. But Null disoriented them with air slash blades from afar, allowing Shane to freeze them solid. They dropped to the ground and shattered on impact.

"You're almost there," Tessa said. "Just head over to your right, then go straight forward. That should bring you to the clearing."

Shane slide forward to his right. His paw brushed against a lump in the ice, leading to a click that made his blood run cold.

'Did I just trigger another tr–'

The ice exploded, jettisoning Shane forward with a howl of terror. He struck the far wall basin with a sickening crunch, knocking off a mound of snow that piled on top of him.

"Shane!" Tessa gasped, the image of his blackened belly and legs burned into her retinas. "Come on, we've got to help him."

"But he broke… one of the rocks we needed… to reach him," Null said. "Which way… am I supposed to go?"

The combination of frigid temperatures and adrenaline made Tessa shake while her vision went blurry. She had to get to Shane. She just had to.

"Up and to the left," Tessa said, sitting down on Null's back. He stepped onto the ice and slid across in an effort to catch up to Shane. However, his talons grazed another lump in the ice, leading to another loud click.

The ground fell out from beneath Null's hind legs. Tessa screamed and grabbed hold of Null's feathery head crest for dear life as he slid into a pitfall. Growling, Null dug his talons into the ice. Null managed to stop himself, but not before the lower half of his body dangled over the edge of the ice, leaving Tessa dangling. She looked down the pitfall and her eyes widened at the sight of strange, flickering red light.

"Pull us up, Null! Pull us up!" she shrieked, kicking her legs wildly. "There's something down there and I don't want to find out what it is!"

"I'm… trying," Null hissed, straining his limbs to try and hoist them back up.


Null looked up and his eyes widened. "Wha… what was that?" Tessa asked.

"Skarmories," Null grunted, watching the trio of metal birds circling overhead. With considerable effort, he managed to get his whole body back up on the ice, but immediately crumpled to his side, wheezing loudly.

Tessa looked up and went bug-eyed as the Skarmories swooped down, talons at the ready. She meekly threw her arms up and braced for pain. But a high-pitched shriek echod through the basin, followed by a crash and furious squawking. She peeked an eye open and saw the Skarmories lying in the remains of an ice boulder.

"You guysh okay?"

Tessa turned to see Shane standing on top of the snow pile that had buried him. The collision with the wall had left him with a blackened right eye, a swollen snout, and a very large welt on the right side of his head. She grimaced at the sight of specks of red on his chest. Shane swayed back and forth uneasily.

"Y-Yeah. We're fine," Tessa said, looking over her shoulder to confirm Null had gotten back to his feet. "But you're totally not."

"Ish fine," Shane said, his swollen face slurring his speech. "Jusht a shlite concushion. Don't… y'know… let me fall ashleep or anything. You can totally shlide over here, now."

"We'd better… hope these berries… can fix him up," Null said. He extended a foreleg to let Tessa climb aboard and slid over to the mound of snow. Tessa got a pair of sitrus and lum berries out and handed one of each to Shane. As he nibbled away at them, Tessa squished the other berries against his face.

"Ach! That stings!" Shane hissed. The juice quickly crusted over in the frigid air. Then, it vanished, leaving Shane's face mostly as it was before triggering the trap. "What was that for?" Shane asked.

"Comfey said berry juices can sometimes help heal injuries in the field. Like first aid, or something," Tessa said. "You look much better now." Sure, there was still see some black and blue around his eye. And he reeked of burnt fur. But that was better than the alternative.

"Well, let's just move forward. Those Skarmories are going to be very mad once they can untangle themselves," Shane said. The trio slid their way across the last bits of ice and quickly departed the basin. Fog blanketed the path behind them, leaving the previous area nothing but a memory for Team Radiance.

Shane looked up, past the frozen trees, to stare at the sky. "Hey, Riolu. Is the aurora over this valley supposed to look purple and red?" he said.

"How should I know?" Tessa said, following Shane's gaze. "W-What the–? But it was barely early afternoon when we arrived at Borea Heights. How could it become nighttime so quickly?"

"I don't think… the sun's actually set," Null said. "Something else… is messing up the sky… over this place…"

"Probably the same thing that's turned this dungeon into a Glacier Palace wannabee," Shane said.

Just then, a wall of red energy formed up at the other end of the path. A black, winged-heart insignia appeared on it. Team Radiance all turned around to see an identical barrier behind them. "And we're trapped," Shane said. "Which means…"

A few of the frozen trees burst apart and a pack of Necrospheres floated out. Behind them, a pair of Skarmory flew in. Unlike the ones the group had left behind, these Skarmories had black bodies and serrated wing-blades. They landed in front of the Necrospheres and spread their wings out, cawing defiantly.

"Yup. Monster House, right on schedule," Shane said, groaning.

"I'm starting to get the feeling… Braviary was right… about Espeon and Umbreon… not planning to stick to their end of the deal," Null said, lunging for one of the Skarmories. It took off, dodging Null's talons, while its counterpart drilled into Null's side with its black beak.

Opposite Null, Shane and Tessa hopped about, dodging red lasers from the Necrospheres. "If one of those hits us, we could be in a ton of trouble!" Shane said, looking at the smoking crater left by one of the lasers.

"Well, what are we supposed to do? I have to get in close to hit these guys," Tessa said, hunched over and shivering. "And... I can barely move... in this cold."

Hearing his teammates' concerns, Null backed away from the Skarmories. But they followed him, trying to slash him with their wings. Null lunged at a Skarmory, jerking his head as he made contact. His teammates delighted to see the Skarmory strike the Necrospheres. Despite their shields, half of them exploded on impact.

Relief gave way to panic on the part of Shane and Tessa. "Look out!" Shane barked, lunging for Tessa. They slid across the ice and struck the base of a nearby tree. Shane donkey-kicked Tessa out of the way of falling icicles. The resulting pain was awful, but he could bear it knowing he had gotten Tessa out of harm's way.

Except the second Skarmory had gotten around Null and now looked to spear Tessa from behind. "Riolu, look alive!" Null shouted, but it wasn't soon enough. Tessa smacked the tree and sank onto her belly.

Shane looked down at his injured teammate, her face twisted into a grimace. With a snarl, Shane shrieked at Skarmory. Null leaped up and slammed his metal-coated helmeted into his disoriented foe. Skarmory's teammates barely avoided it careening back through the air.

"I think they're up to something," Shane said, staring at the other Skarmory and its Necrosphere buddies. He silently prayed a Reviver Seed would kick in for Tessa soon. Otherwise, he wasn't sure if he could protect her.

Cawing, the lead Skarmory swung its legs forward. Red, glowing, spike-covered cubes shot out toward the ground. The Necrospheres fired electricity at the cubes. "Jump!" Null cried, lunging into a nearby snowbank.

Lightning struck the cube farthest from Shane, sending a current across the ice. Shane kicked Tessa behind the tree and flatted himself against the trunk. Electricity grazed the tips of his tails. Eyes watering, Shane bit into the frozen tree without even thinking. He curled up his tails, trying to will the electricity away. But it wouldn't die down. At least Tessa was back on her feet, though she also clung to the tree, eyes widened in panic.

Frenzied caws made Shane's ears stick up. The Skarmories were coming for him! He was sure of it! He had to attack. It was Extrasensory or bust. 'I need a miracle!' Shane thought, squeezing his eyes shut.

A tiny seed struck a Skarmory, then an explosion engulfed them. Shane released his stored psychic energy, intensifying the blast. The remaining Necrospheres vanished in bursts of napalm, leaving only red and black smoke trails behind.

Shane released his grip on the tree trunk and slid to the ground, relieved that the enemies were gone and, with them, the barrier halting their progress. Shane rolled onto his back, breath coming in ragged gasps.

"Buh... berries... please," he wheezed.

"Um... why do you think those guys didn't, y'know, turn all colorless like the other infected Pokémon?" Tessa said, rummaging through her item pouch.

"They might not... have been real," Null said, limping over to his teammates. "Espeon and Umbreon... probably made them... somehow..."

Tessa's fur prickled. If those two could conjure up all of these enemies, what chance did they even have against them? She knew she shouldn't think like that, but she couldn't help it. Tessa busied herself offering healing items to her teammates.

"I guess we've got to forge on ahead," Shane said, looking up at the sky once again. A shiver ran along his back. He actually found himself wishing he was back in Mellath Bog. At least there, he was underground, with no black sky to intimidate him.

"Hold up… Shane…"

He stopped mid-stride and looked over his shoulder. Tessa lay on the ice, curled up in a shivering ball. "I… I can't… t-too cold," she whispered trough chattering teeth.

"Hey, hey!" Shane said, trotting to her. "You can't lay down on the ice. It's just going to make it worse. Pick her back up, Null."

Shane leaned over, only to flinch from hearing Tessa's sobs. "My whole body hurts, Shane. I can't take this cold anymore!" she said. "Please... make it stop."

Null bent over and, to Shane's surprise, curled himself up around Tessa. She squeaked in surprise but, after a few seconds, her teeth stopped chattering. "Is that… any better?" Null asked. Shane's ears twitched at the sound of Tessa's heavily-muffled voice, but he was unable to make out her response.

It wasn't long before Null uncurled, however, allowing Tessa to climb onto his back yet again. "Looks like we're… good to go," he said.

Shane nodded and took his place beside his teammates. The team continued forward, disappearing into the fog once again.


Next time: it's time to duel! Wait, what franchise are we in, again?
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Gone. Not coming back.
Oh! A move towards clearing up the misunderstanding! Yes! … but obviously things degenerate into a slugging match anyway because god forbid anyone in this world actually be open to new ideas before they start a conversation. (That's not a complaint, by the way, it's fairly well handled, I just. am too nervous a person. to be fond of miscommunication as a device.) It's kind of interesting how often this happens; maybe it's intentional or maybe it's a side-effect of having like a battle as the centrepiece to most chapters, but I'm tending towards reading it as a culture thing. Pokémon are all about fighting, and their main method of conflict resolution does appear to be martial. Possibly this is being skewed by the fact that most of the cast are essentially semi-professional soldiers in a mercenary outfit.

A thing I like: the way Gallian's emotions are visible in the colours moving across his blade as different attacks charge inside it. That's a really nice way of adapting a character's body language to their unique physiology, and I kinda wish there was more of it; it's cool. Often the characters blush or sweat or whatever as if they were human, but it really adds something when their body language reflects their species.

A point of critique: I think that there's still occasionally a rather formal or clinical bent to the language, which can take away from the drama. Maybe a way of counteracting that would be to aim to bring your narration a little closer to Shane or Tessa's dialogue – because the dialogue itself is usually really natural and free-flowing, while the action sometimes drags a little. Particularly in fast-paced battle scenes, it might also help to vary your sentence length and structure a bit more; there are a lot of medium-length sentences that go “The X did Y [with the result that Z]”, and a lot of follow-up sentences that go “This caused A, and B also occurred”. Mixing things up a little would do a lot to make the action feel more active.

No, his Ultra Aura levels far surpass those of an average Ultra Village resident."

Aw, Ultra Village. That's so cute, probably because of the clash of scales. Ultra! … Village. Nice.

"In any case, we can't sit around here. What if more of those floating rocks show up? We're sitting Duckletts like this."

Is it intentional that Shane has started using pokémon-specific idioms instead of the human equivalent? If it is, that's actually really cute that he's starting to pick up influences here and going native. If not, you could just claim it was intentional anyway, I guess.

It struck Luxeira's right side, though the Houndoom didn't exactly seem too phased by the attack.

That should be 'fazed' rather than 'phased' – the former is for being bothered, the latter is for moving through solid objects.

Gallian couldn't hit the breaks in time and ran into the card.

That should be 'brakes' rather than 'breaks'. Also, it seems slightly weird to me that you use this metaphor in a world that seems pretty much devoid of the kind of machinery that has braking mechanisms – I guess it kinda makes sense since we're loosely following Shane's perspective and he knows what brakes are, but it still seems sort of odd.

"Remembering the fun, times huh?"

That comma looks like it should be after 'times' rather than 'fun'.

And the ones's that were actually on the Mist Continent?

That should just be 'ones', I think.

"Can hardly breath… feels like… the helmet's… suffocating me…"

That should be 'breathe' rather than 'breath'.

a broken snout

I feel like I need more context on that – you can't just swap out a broken nose for a broken snout, because the way a fox's head and a human's are constructed make them completely different things. So I guess I'm struggling to picture what this is supposed to look like.

Shane shove Tessa out of the way just in time to avoid the icicles that fell from the jostled branches.

Missing a D on the end of 'shove' there.

But, all that aside! Things are really ramping up now; it looks like people are staring to get past their initial mistaken ideas and seeing that everything is much more complicated than they thought – though there's still a way to go yet. Whatever happens next, it's definitely going to be exciting.


Winter can't come soon enough
Oh! A move towards clearing up the misunderstanding! Yes! … but obviously things degenerate into a slugging match anyway because god forbid anyone in this world actually be open to new ideas before they start a conversation. (That's not a complaint, by the way, it's fairly well handled, I just. am too nervous a person. to be fond of miscommunication as a device.)
No, that's fair. I did change the chapter up significantly in order to make some progress and, at the very least, have Gallian say why he was acting so sketchy. I realized he was pretty much just being vague for no reason by this point.

It's kind of interesting how often this happens; maybe it's intentional or maybe it's a side-effect of having like a battle as the centrepiece to most chapters, but I'm tending towards reading it as a culture thing. Pokémon are all about fighting, and their main method of conflict resolution does appear to be martial. Possibly this is being skewed by the fact that most of the cast are essentially semi-professional soldiers in a mercenary outfit.
I think I see what you're saying. Part of the thing with the PMD games is that whatever current world crisis is happening sets Pokémon on edge and makes them prone to just attacking. In this instance, I'd like to say the culprit is really Gallian. If he wasn't there, they might've been able to talk it out. But he really is that angry (and that attached to his disaster sense).

A thing I like: the way Gallian's emotions are visible in the colours moving across his blade as different attacks charge inside it. That's a really nice way of adapting a character's body language to their unique physiology, and I kinda wish there was more of it; it's cool. Often the characters blush or sweat or whatever as if they were human, but it really adds something when their body language reflects their species.
Ah, yeah. I kind of thought I could get away with the human-esque body language because, well, it's in other fanfics and the games do it in the little character mugshots that accompany dialogue. But if it's really that jarring, I guess I could consider changing it.

A point of critique: I think that there's still occasionally a rather formal or clinical bent to the language, which can take away from the drama. Maybe a way of counteracting that would be to aim to bring your narration a little closer to Shane or Tessa's dialogue – because the dialogue itself is usually really natural and free-flowing, while the action sometimes drags a little. Particularly in fast-paced battle scenes, it might also help to vary your sentence length and structure a bit more; there are a lot of medium-length sentences that go “The X did Y [with the result that Z]”, and a lot of follow-up sentences that go “This caused A, and B also occurred”. Mixing things up a little would do a lot to make the action feel more active.
Ach! I didn't even realize that. I, uh, may need some examples, but I did go through with this chapter and try very hard to, uh, vary the sentence structure. Let me know if you think it works.

Aw, Ultra Village. That's so cute, probably because of the clash of scales. Ultra! … Village. Nice.
Believe it or not, it's a bit of a double reference. For one, all Ultra Space Pockets in USUM are "Ultra X's," so I kept the naming convention. The other half is referencing Pokémon Village, a location from one of the JPN-exclusive WiiWare Mystery Dungeon games. ^^;

Is it intentional that Shane has started using pokémon-specific idioms instead of the human equivalent? If it is, that's actually really cute that he's starting to pick up influences here and going native. If not, you could just claim it was intentional anyway, I guess.
Yes, very intentional. In fact, I'd say "picking up influences" is the right train of thought for that. Just, y'know, hold onto that thought for later.

I feel like I need more context on that – you can't just swap out a broken nose for a broken snout, because the way a fox's head and a human's are constructed make them completely different things. So I guess I'm struggling to picture what this is supposed to look like.
My bad, there. It was supposed to say swollen. Thanks for pointing out the other typos, too.

But, all that aside! Things are really ramping up now; it looks like people are staring to get past their initial mistaken ideas and seeing that everything is much more complicated than they thought – though there's still a way to go yet. Whatever happens next, it's definitely going to be exciting.
And I hope you find this part exciting. Thanks for the review. ^^

It's time for the big showdown of the first half of the story. I've worked rather hard on this chapter, so I hope you all enjoy it!


Chapter 35: Heart of the Entercards

The Monster House gave way to more ice sliding puzzles. All the while, the oddly-colored aurora filling the sky progressively disappeared. After navigating a longer maze, Team Radiance looked up and found the sky had turned completely red. Black lightning bolts raced across their heads. Each one made Tessa's aura feelers jump.

"Guys, this doesn't feel right," Tessa whispered. "I don't want to be here anymore. I want to leave!"

"But what about Sylveon and Eevee?" Shane said.

Tessa squeaked and threw her arms up over her chest, shivering wildly. Of course she wanted to rescue them. Yet, something felt wrong. "The air here… it's suffocating," she said.

"All the more reason… to press onward," Null wheezed.

"Look, I just think we need to stop… and come up with some sort of plan," Tessa said.

"But a plan for what, exactly?" Shane wondered, sitting on the snow.

"I don't know," Tessa said. "That, maybe?" She pointed a paw skyward. "It just feels like something's going to pop up in the sky and blast us to smithereens or… or suck the life out of us like what's happened to the infected Pokémon we've fought."

Null tapped her on the shoulder. "What? What's the matter?" Tessa said.

He pointed the same talon forward. "Is that… what's making you flip out?" he asked

Tessa looked over her shoulder and her eyes went wide at the sight of a black monolith, surrounded by a cluster of crystals. Its winged heart sigil glowed prominently against the dark sky. "Oh no. Not again," she squeaked.

It was exactly like Mellath Bog. Shane figured the monolith had covered the dungeon in ice. "This must mean we're at the end," he said, turning to Tessa. "See? We can't turn back. We're this close to saving Sylveon and Eevee. Then we can get the hell out of here and never come back."

Tessa clasped her paws together and nodded slowly. Shane was right. She couldn't give up here. Tessa shuffled forward, taking care to stick as close to Null as possible. The trio slowly approached the monolith, stopping on a very large patch of icy ground. "Ah, look! There they are," Tessa said, pointing a shaking arm forward.

Shane gulped. Tessa's friends were trapped inside one of the black crystals. How could Team Radiance free them from something so alien?

"Well, what do you know? You actually showed up. Wonderful! I do love Pokémon that can satisfy me."

All three members of Team Radiance tensed up as Espeon emerged from behind the crystals. Umbreon tailed along after her, wearing his usual look of disinterest. "I'll admit, Umbry and I had our doubts. But I should've known better. You three always know how to surprise." She fixed her gaze on Shane. "And I love what you've all done with your fur. Purple and black looks great on you! I take it this means you're going to accept my lovely offer?" She batted her eyelashes at him.

Shane's heart skipped a beat. Was she... flirting? With him? Why? Shane shook his head. He had to focus. Tessa was counting on him!

"Even if we were considering it, there's no way we're joining up with you two after seeing what you left waiting in the wings for us back there," Shane said. "I'll bet you never even planned on keeping your end of the deal, anyway!"

Espeon feigned a hurt expression. "How could you say that to me? After all we've been through together, I thought we had something special between us." The forked ends of her tail formed into a heart. Shane's face went bright red and he abruptly looked away, biting his lower lip.

"Drop the act, Espy," Umbreon snorted. He jerked his head toward the monolith. "We're not here to play games. You know that."

"Fine. Here I wanted to be all welcoming, since we're going to be on the same team soon. But some Pokémon–" she gave Umbreon a vindictive look, "–can't be bothered to show some manners. So, let's hit the fast-forward button, shall we? Ahem…"

She stepped to her right, mimicking Tessa's nervous look. "You, like, give me my friends back, like, right now! O-Or… um… or else we're gonna, like, attack you and stuff."

"Hey, I do not sound like that," Tessa said, but her voice cracked. She looked away in embarrassment.

Espeon stepped back to her original position and shook her head. "It appears we're at an impasse, then. You want your friends. We have orders not to give them up unless you and your human boy-toy come and join us."

"Wait… orders? So, you are being manipulated!" Shane said, though the revelation wasn't as relieving as he had hoped. "Who's calling the shots here? A Legend? Invading alien forces? Tell us. We can help you guys!"

Umbreon glared at his partner and shoved her to the side. "Espy, you dolt! You're giving too much away," he hissed.

"Oh, p'shaaw. What's the problem? Once they're infected, they'll know the full story. I'm just giving them a short teaser. Zero will be happy not to waste her time explaining everything to them," Espeon said.

Black lightning from the monolith struck the ground beside Espeon, leaving it charred black. Espeon's face blanched and she skirted close to her teammate. "See? We've talked enough already," Umbreon scoffed. "Last chance to lay down those scarves and surrender, punks."

Shane still wasn't sure why his scarf was so important to them, but he didn't care. "Not a chance," he said. Shane looked over at his teammates. "You guys ready? I get the feeling this isn't going to be easy."

Null hunched over and brushed the ice with a foreleg. Tessa took in a deep breath and raised her fists. With their guild mates preoccupied, there was no one to bail them out. It was up to them to win the fight on their own.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Espeon said, shaking her head. "I suppose you three can't be blamed for any of this. You're ignorant. Just like everyone else."

She and Umbreon hopped down from their perch, eyes flashing red in unison. Heat sent Team Radiance scrambling forward. Shane looked back and saw red, hexagonal, hard-light tiles forming a wall behind him. Identical walls encased each side of the icy arena, climbing until they were higher than the monolith. A ceiling of black tiles appeared, blocking out the vortex in the sky and bathing the battlefield in dark red. Flashes of light erupted on each wall as Necrozma's star icon appeared on them.

"By the time this is over, we'll make sure you understand just how worthless the gods really are," Espeon said. A red glow encased her body and she lifted a forepaw. Four life-sized, holographic cards appeared in front of her, each bearing a winged heart icon inside differently-colored symbols.

Shane's eyes widened. He recognized those symbols! A heart, spade, diamond, and a club. Just like human playing cards.

"Once you've seen just how powerful our Ultra Entercards can be, you'll be as excited for the Legend-free world as we are," Espeon declared. "Isn't that right, Umbry?"

Umbreon snorted in response. He slammed a forepaw on the ground and all four cards flipped over, revealing four different colored wormholes. Umbreon leaped into the blue one, disappearing from the fight. The cards vanished. Team Radiance huddled up, utterly baffled as to what was happening.

"You're battling on our terms, now," Espeon said. "And, in this scenario, the house always wins! Uhuu huu huu!"

As soon as she finished laughing the diamond on her forehead flashed. Several tiles disappeared from the walls and lined the arena. Espeon fired a pink waveform beam toward the nearest tile. It reflected toward Team Radiance

"Hit the deck!" Shane shouted, sprawling out onto his belly and sliding forward on the ice. Tessa fell beside him but Null leaped back instead. Espeon grinned and flicked her tail. Her attack banked off another tile. Null hit the ice with a groan and a heavy thud.

Thinking it safe, Tessa stood up, only to blanche in the face of the ricocheting Psybeam. She rolled left, only for an entirely different blast to blow her into the far wall. Red electricity surged through her body, drawing an agonized howl. Tessa crumpled to the ground, a smoldering blue ball.

Shane's eyes widened. The wall was electrified? He couldn't think over this predicament for long, however. Something hard struck his side. Shane was flying into Espeon's attack! Psychic energy pummeled him into the ground. That was one attack. One attack and he hurt so bad he could barely move.

"That's right, roll over and take it, human. You rank amateurs don't realize how utterly outclassed you are," Espeon hissed. "You said it yourselves. We've faced the Bittercold's forces. We've had to look Kyurem right in the eyes. And that was without the power boost from the Prism Virus. Do you really think you can even so much as land a hit on us? Don't make me laugh! What a fever dream!"

Air crescents flew in from Espeon's right, but the red, heart-bearing card sucked the attack into its vortex. Null slapped the ice in frustration, only for the card to reappear next to him. There was no time to dodge. Air blades battered his hide. The pain forced him to the ground.

Shane flinched. He couldn't lose his nerve, even if they were outgunned! Shane needed to get some offense going, but he got choked up trying to conjure icy air. The blue Entercard was right in front of him! He had to move, now!

Black wisps poured out of the card. Shane was defenseless. Umbreon barrled into him. Shane skipped across the ice like a living rock on a riverbed until he skidded to a stop far from his teammates. His flanks burned. Why did these attacks hurt so much?!

Umbreon charged ahead, racing past Tessa's meek paw strikes. He disappeared into the green Entercard while his partner's eyes glows. The card split into four copies that fell on the ice. Shane and Tessa struggled to their feet, exchanging panicked looks. What were they supposed to attack?

"Is this supposed to be Double Team?" Tessa said. "Which one's the real one?"

As if on cue, the card on their left flipped over. A black glob floated upwards and split in six. Shane and Tessa bolted in opposite directions. That looked nothing like a Shadow Ball or a Dark Pulse.

"Ha! Nowhere to run, kiddies," Espeon shouted, eyes flashing blue. The blobs exploded, bathing the arena in dark energy. Tessa yelped and threw her arms up. Intense winds buffeted her, yet there was no pain.

"H-How?" Tessa gasped, opening her eyes. It was Null! He had shielded her!

Null stood in front of her, firing air crescents despite his fatigue. Shane raced awkwardly toward his teammate. He had to do something to help. Shane mustered the best cloud of frosty air he could manage. His heart sank when Espeon negated Null's attacks with the yellow Entercard while Umbreon popped out of the real green card and vaporized his Frost Breath with a black beam. That was the last thing Shane saw before pain filled his world and everything went black.

"No! Get up, Shane!" Tessa called. Sure, they had Reviver Seeds, but would they even work?

"Worry about yourself, bi[size=4t[/size]ch," Espeon growled, leaping into the yellow card.

Tessa looked around frantically. Where was Espeon going to pop up? She had to be ready. Tessa couldn't withstand another psychic blow.

"Left!" Null shouted, helmet hardening into iron. Tessa turned and her world erupted in a brilliant white flash. It was even strong enough to envelop Null. The fairy energy was too overwhelming. Like Shane, they both collapsed in unconscious heaps.

"That was so easy, I almost feel sorry," Espeon scoffed, flicking her snout skyward. "Guess Zero was right. We should never have bothered toying with you three."

"Excuse me. What's this 'we' business all about? I wanted to attack them like this from the beginning," Umbreon said. "Besides, look." He pointed a forepaw down to the ice, where all three members of Team Radiance were staggering back to their feet.

"I guess we couldn't touch your Reviver Seed stock after all," Espeon said. "No matter. Because there aren't enough Reviver Seeds in the universe to help you if I break all your legs!" This time, Espeon disappeared into the red card.

Umbreon shot a black beam toward Null and Tessa. Null shoved Tessa away and jumped over the attack. He was going to get a hit in this time, he was sure of it!

"Uhuu huu huu! Nice try, big guy!"

The red card was level with him! Null couldn't escape in midair. A pink blast shot him into the wall, where he seized up from the electricity. Null dropped to the ground, where the ice cracked beneath him.

Shane's blood boiled. This had become a complete disaster. Without even thinking, he blew icy air at the red Entercard. It was supposed to be a show of frustration, so imagine Shane's surprise when the card shattered like a dropped pane of glass. Espeon fell screaming to the ground. Shane looked at the wall on right, where the star icon had turned completely black.

There was something they could do, after all. "Guys! We have to attack the Entercards! It's the only way to stop Espeon and Umbreon from moving so fast," Shane declared.

"Not going to happen, human!" Umbreon bellowed, disappearing into the shadows. Next thing Shane knew, he was sprawled out on his belly, pinned under Umbreon's forelegs. "Time to shut you up," Umbreon growled, black energy gathering in his forehead ring.

"Back off!"

Tessa charged in, fists at the ready. The yellow Entercard was at Umbreon's side, ready to keep him safe. Tessa threw caution to the wind and hurtled her fists forward. She punched right through the card. Umbreon lost his concentration, yelping. Shane had an opening! He tickled Umbreon's belly with his tails.

"Augh!" Umbreon hollered, weakness shooting through his legs. Shane shimmied to freedom, then buffeted Umbreon with icy winds. Yes! He had finally gotten in a clean hit. And Espeon's pained wails made him realize he wasn't the only one.

Behind him, Null silenced Espeon with a swipe of his glowing claws. To Null's satisfaction, her forehead diamond splintered. It served her right. Except the diamond was still glowing. Null jumped back. His right hip tingled. He looked at it and growled. Her Psybeam had still gotten him. Worse, it was heading right for Tessa. Null couldn't get to her fast enough. He prayed she could dodge it, safely.

Tessa tried to backpedal, but slipped on the ice. She spun helplessly across the ground. Espeon seized her chance and opened the blue Entercard next to Umbreon. Tessa knew what was coming. "Help me!" she shouted. She had to stop or else–

It was no good. Shadows filled her vision, followed by searing pain. She was sliding even faster across the ice, now. She couldn't stop. The wall was approaching. Tessa was going to get electrocuted for sure!


Tessa hit something fluffy and came to a stop. Oh, thank the gods, Shane had made it to her in time. Shane whirled around on instinct and spewed frosty air. He thanked his lucky stars when his ice destroyed the blue Entercard. Shane felt a perverse satisfaction seeing Umbreon hit the ice face-first. Hopefully, Umbreon wouldn't remember this once Team Radiance had won and freed him.

"You may have some new tricks, but the two of you were always researchers first and battlers second," Shane said, while Tessa stepped up and struck Umbreon's chest with her palms. Umbreon hit the wall and Shane froze him solid while he was seizing up. He hoped that would keep Umbreon quite so they could focus on a single target.

Shane and Tessa were dismayed to see Null lying unconscious at Espeon's feet. Likewise, she didn't take kindly to the life-sized ice cube that was her partner. "Okay, you want to play dirty?" she said, eyes glowing pink. "I can play so dirty it'll make a Trubbish blush!" Ice swirled around her. Shane and Tessa knew they needed to attack, but were completely dumbstruck by the sight of Espeon molding an ice sculpture of herself.

"Umbry's a great partner and all that. But sometimes, you've just got to learn to love yourself. Know what I'm saying, handsome?" Espeon said, locking eyes with Shane. He tensed up. Why did she keep saying stuff like that? "Of course you do. I'll bet the only love you're used to getting is from your own rosy paws," Espeon continued, smirking. "Now, if you'd like to give up, I'm sure I can rectify that."

Espeon looked up and saw one of the two darkened stars had refilled with light. With a psychic blast, she launched her ice-double at Shane and Tessa. Neither had an answer for the attack, so they fled. The double erupted in a whirlwind of snowy air seconds later. By the time they'd gotten their bearings again, Espeon was already gone.

"Quick. We need a little healing session," Shane said. Tessa handed him a pair of berries, looking around in a panic. Espeon would never give the a chance to heal.

The yellow card appeared on her left. "Run!" Tessa shouted. Her warning was too late. Pink light erupted around her. Then there was a painful shock. Shane hit the ground next to her right before she passed out.

Null was finally back on his feet, but Umbreon's icy prison was breaking apart. He had to strike quickly. But Entercards appeared on his left and right. Null jerked his head right, praying his guess was correct. Blood splattered against his metallic mask. Espeon took a few steps backward. Null had knocked the wind out of her. Now, he just had to finish her off.

Dark energy hammered Null's side, knocking him across the ice. Umbreon was by Espeon's side in an instant. "Espy! Are you okay?" he said.

"Do I look okay to you?!" she shrieked, whirling on Umbreon to show a pair of black eyes, a bloody snout, and the shattered diamond on her forehead. "How could you let yourself get frozen? Are you trying to lose? Do I even need to remind you of the consequences, here?!"

"I'm trying my best," Umbreon said, stone-faced.

"Well, try harder, damn it!" Espeon screeched, smacking him across the cheek. "I'm not getting the life sucked out of me again. I can't deal with that again! Back me up, here!"

"Don't you take that tone of voice with me, Espy!" Umbreon snarled. "What do you think I've been doing? That human caught a lucky break figuring out the trick with our cards. We can still win."

"Cover me while I heal," Espeon hissed. She shut her eyes and a small, orange ball appeared above her head.

Shane had managed to revive again, only for his jaw to drop.

Espeon had Morning Sun. After everything they had done, she barely looked any worse for wear!

"No!" Shane roared, releasing sound waves. Umbreon thought he could dispel them with his green Entercard, but Tessa ran through it with a burst of speed. Shane's sound waves blew Espeon and Umbreon away. But any hope he had of sending them into the electrified wall was dashed when they tumbled into the newly-repaired blue Entercard instead.

"Brace yourselves, guys!" Shane said, looking about the arena. They were going to appear someone for a surprise attack. But where? Where?

"Red card over by the crystals!" Tessa barked. Shane turned to find two Necrospheres floating out of the red Entercard. He frowned. Where did they come from?

The Necrospheres wasted no time in bombarding Team Radiance with bright-orange fireballs. Shane and Null failed to snuff them out with ice and wind. They were way too large! Shane bolted from his spot, running about in a frenzied panic. The Necrospheres weren't stopping! Volley after volley of fireballs rained down on Team Radiance. Their legs aches, but none of them wanted to see how badly a fireball would hurt.

"Oh, for the love of– this is why everyone hates bosses that summon flunkies," Shane growled. "For god's sake, I'm in a Mystery Dungeon, not Gradius level!" Someone had to make a move on them, even if it meant getting hurt. Shane threw caution into the wind and ran toward the Necrospheres, nearly getting scorched in the process.

"Take this!" he shouted, shooting psychic ripples from his glowing eyes. They had to hit. Otherwise, he was sure to get burnt to cinders!

A loud clang made Shane's ears stick up in joy. He'd hit a Necrosphere and knocked it into the wall. It looked ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. But, wait, something was wrong. The Necrosphere wasn't breaking. It was falling... right toward him!

"Get out of there, Shane!" Tessa shouted.

Shane tried roaring at the Necrosphere. It was no good. He turned to run, but electricity rooted him to the ground. Shane's eyes widened. He had forgotten about the other Necrosphere! Shane bowed his head, praying a Reviver Seed was strong enough to keep him safe.

The broken Necrosphere exploded. Napalm and molten metal washed over Shane. For a brief moment, Shane felt each and every hair fiber burning away. Then, he blacked out.

Tessa held her paws up to her muzzle. Shane was careening through the air, charred beyond all recognition. She dropped to her knees. This couldn't be happening. Not when they had finally patched things up with each other!

"Cover me!" Null said, running off to try and catch Shane. Tessa looked up to see the other Necrosphere looking to attack the defenseless Shane. Her blood boiled.

"Don't you dare!" she barked, using a burst of speed to close the distance and then striking the Necrosphere's core with a glowing palm. Cracks splintered across its body. Tessa used the newly-formed fissures to grab hold of it. She wouldn't let this Necrosphere get away with the same devious trick. She hurled it into the Entercard that had summoned them. Its destruction did nothing to lift her spirits.

Null succeeded in catching Shane. He placed Shane on the ground. Tessa ran toward him, praying for a Reviver Seed to work its magic. She sucked in a breath as Shane's eyes slowly opened. He was in pain. With his fur coat gone, he had no protection against the cold. Shane was shivering intensely. Tears streamed down his eyes, freezing against his bare cheeks.

"This is bad," Tessa said. "At this rate, we'll run out of Reviver Seeds and those two will be no worse for wear. What do we do?"

"I don't know!" Shane panicked, blinking tears from his eyes. "They're too fast. And the cards make them move faster and give them stupid, unfair enemy-summoning powers. We have to... I..." He was at a complete loss. It really did seem hopeless.


White light followed Espeon's voice out of the blue Entercard. Shane's frightened cry was cut off by a force jerking him backwards. Something itchy was underneath him. He blinked the light out of his eyes. Null had put Shane on his back. And not a moment to soon.

"What are you doing?" Shane gasped, a bewildered Tessa sitting beside him. "You're making us into easy pickings."

"No… I'm taking their maneuverability… out of the equation," he growled. Null slammed a foreleg on the ice, splintering it. "Hey! You want us? Come and get us!" he roared, before turning to his teammates and whispering, "Ready your attacks, and strike the cards when they appear."

The blue and red Entercards popped up on either side of Team Radiance. Air blades and icy winds destroyed them both, revealing Umbreon. Tessa hopped off Null's back and slammed into Umbreon's spine. She retreated onto Null's back, expecting Espeon to have a trap lying in wait.

Her prediction was proven correct by the yellow Entercard appeared behind Null. Tessa lunged and punched it apart with a fistful of electricity. "Now, Shane!" she shouted, pointing at a dazed Espeon. Shane got the memo and breathed out so much frost that Espeon resembled the ice sculpture she had previously made of herself.

Tessa knew this was her chance. She doubled back toward Espeon, mouth open wide. Tessa sank her blackened fangs into Espeon's shoulder, willing her opponent to black out. She was getting Sylveon and Eevee back!

Hissing, Espeon summoned the green Entercard beneath her. Tessa realized Espeon planned to drag her into the card. Luckily, her teammates were already by her side. Shane stuck out a forepaw and Tessa grabbed it. He and Null hoisted her back out of range of the Entercard's vortex.

It wasn't a complete victory, however, as Espeon sniped Tessa's tail with a pink beam. Tessa yipped, rubbing the singed fur at the base of her tail. She downed an oran berry, trying to stifle a newfound urge to rip Espeon's tail off in retribution.

"Nice job," Null said. "But Umbreon… took advantage of Espeon's distraction." Null's teammates looked around his head to see a soft, white glow fading from around Umbreon's body. The scuffs that Tessa's earlier attacks dealt him had disappeared, leaving him healthy and able to glare daggers at Team Radiance.

Shane groaned. How could he not of seen this coming? Moonlight to match Espeon's Morning Sun. "This isn't funny, you know!" he growled. "I don't care what universe I'm in, healing bosses will always su–"

Null unexpectedly took off to dodge a black beam from Umbreon. Shane was forced to bite into Null's scaly, furry back to avoid flying off his teammate. It took every ounce of willpower not to hurl. Null dug his claws into the ice and spun around. He shut a bevy of air blades in Umbreon's direction.

Umbreon smirked as multiple Entercards appeared around him. "Quickly, attack," Null said, pivoted so his teammates faced the cards. Shane let loose psychic ripples, blowing apart the cards. Tessa sprang off Null and struck a socked a bewildered Espeon with an electrified fist. Even if Espeon and Umbreon could heal themselves, their unconventional attacks were taking a toll on them. Team Radiance, on the other hand, had elixirs at the ready

Umbreon jumped up and used a hastily-summoned barrier to catch Espeon before she struck the wall. They landed, only to gasp in shock as chilled air turned them into living snowmons.

Seeing them frozen brought a smile to Shane's face. "Ha ha! Nice try, but you just activated my Trap Card: 'Winter's Coming.' It lets me bypass all cards in play on the field for a direct attack!" he said.

"Seriously, Shane?" Tessa groaned. It's not like things were going terribly well for them.

"I'm sorry, I had to do it," Shane said. "After all the crap they've given us, that was so satisfying!"

Tessa rolled her eyes and hit Umbreon with a glowing palm. Howling, he hit the wall. He collapsed into a smoldering pile of black fur beside an equally-charred Espeon.

"Enough is enough, you two. Please!" Shane said. "You're not like the other infected Pokémon, are you? You can fight this crazy Prism Virus thing. I know it. Remember all the good you've done!"

A glob of spit smacked Shane in the face. He looked down in shock to see the two Eeveelutions disappearing into the red Entercard. Espeon held one of her lower eyelids down with a forepaw and was sticking her tongue out at Shane. "Oh, real mature, you bitch!" he growled. "You're so off my top ten favorite Pokémon list when this is all over."

"Seriously, Shane? You really think we can actually reason with them now?" Tessa said. "We're well beyond that point." She turned around and tensed up. "Let's keep sticking together. It seems to have knocked the two of them out of their rhythm." She jumped onto Null's back. Then the yellow Entercard opened, and out flew a trio of Necrospheres.

"Crap! Not again!" Shane hissed. Null immediately fired off air blades, but it did no good. The Necrospheres bombarded the arena with an onslaught of fireballs. Shane had no desire to try and get close to one this time. Null realized this and set Shane and Tessa down.

"What are you doing?" Tessa said.

"Wait here," Null said. His mask hardened to steel and he ran the Necrospheres down.

"Look out! We can't sit around," Shane said, shoving Tessa out of the way of a fireball. The two stuck together while Null leaped through multiple fireballs and brought the Necrospheres down with his head crest and claws. Null struck the ground hard, limbs quaking.

"Everyone… doing okay?" Null said, staggering to his teammates. "We've to stay on our toes… because they might–"

The red Entercard opened up and Espeon shot out of it, a wicked grin on her face. "Thanks for the time to heal, idiots!" she said with a laugh. "Now I'm ready to end this!" Her momentum carried her into Tessa, sending the two of them skidding across the ice. Espeon bored into Tessa with her forepaws. "Say buh-bye to your ugly scarf, Riolu!" Espeon snarled. She opened her mouth wide, showing off glistening fangs, and bit down on Tessa's scarf.

"No! You can't have that," Tessa squealed, grabbing hold with one paw and using the other to backhand Espeon across the cheek. Espeon momentarily stumbled and lost her grip on the scarf. But Tessa couldn't get to her feet of her own accord. A second set of fangs grabbed the scruff of her neck and hoist her into the air.

Her eyes widened in terror. They had her. She was in Umbreon's grasp. Tessa thrashed about. Umbreon had to let go. She couldn't get infected. Not after everything she'd been through!

"Tessa!" Shane cried. Ignoring his body's protests, he sprinted forward. But the blue Entercard appeared in front of him. "No!" Shane cried. Bright pink light erupted around him. A fresh wave of pain enveloped him. When the stars cleared from his vision, he was near the wall. Null lay behind him in an unconscious heap.

"N... no... Tessa," Shane wheezed. He had to help her.

Shane staggered forward. Each step was pure agony. No, he had to hang on! His teammates– no, his friends needed him!

His vision flickered.

'C'mon... move, legs, move!'

"You know what, I take the insults back. You're not green at all. In fact, you're a lot tougher than I had you pegged for," Espeon said. She bit down on Tessa's scarf and continued, "Of course, that's only because our precious creations hardened you up into a Pokémon worth infecting. And, to think, this is how you ended up repaying us."

"Lemme go! Lemme go! Help! Help!" Tessa shrieked. Umbreon pinned her down, bringing her thrashing to a stop. Espeon grabbed Tessa's arm with her telekinesis and forcibly yanked them behind her. Tessa's shoulders popped out of their sockets. Tears pooled in her eyes. It was all over. Her teammates were down. They had lost. And now they were going to be infected!

"What are you looking so sad for?" Espeon said, shaking her head. "This is going to be the best thing that's ever happened to you. In fact, there's someone who can't wait to see you on our side! She hasn't stopped talking about it since she recruited us." The diamond in Espeon's forehead crackled with red and black energy.

Shane took a single step forward, but his legs buckled from the fatigue.

It was all over.

"Somebody help me!" Tessa wailed.

"Quit shouting. That's exactly what I'm going to do!" Espeon said.

"No… p-please… don't do this," Tessa croaked. Espeon's menacing grin faded behind the red glow from her broken diamond.

Shane saw the glow and forced himself back to his feet. "Get away from her!" he shouted. He needed to keep them distracted. It was the only way.

Espeon swiveled to look at Shane. "Butt out of this, Snowball. You'll get your turn in a minute!" she hissed.

'I... I can't give up. I can't lose Tessa. I have to... I have to save her!'

Ice gathered around Shane's paws. The numbness in his legs melted away. They stopped trembling. Shane's fatigue faded. He was so invigorated, now! Something was stirring deep inside him. Shane focused intently on this spark of energy. His looplet responded by glowing brightly and surrounding him in orange light.

This was it. The chance he needed to save Tessa!

"I said… get away!"

The ground rumbled beneath everyone's paws. Espeon and Umbreon looked at Shane. The energy from his looplet had given him a second wind. He ran Espeon and Umbreon down. All he could think about was Tessa. Shane was so focused, he didn't notice his looplet shimmer with bright white light. A fresh coat of pristine, snow-white fur settled across him. Shane paid it no mind. The energy was still building. He had to harness it... and quickly!

"What the–?" Umbreon gasped. Espeon's infectious beam faded and she fired a pink blast at Shane, only for it to harmlessly fizzle out. Shane stopped in front of the two Eeveelutions, a thick layer of frigid air swirling around his body. He was ready. It was time to put these troublemakers out of commission. He'd give them the biggest ice attack he'd ever used!

Shane glared at the two of them, revealing sky-blue light pouring out of his hollow eyes. "Let her go!" Shane roared.

Espeon whirled on her partner. "Don't just stand there gawking! End him! Destroy him! Don't let him do whatever he's planning to do!" she screamed, dousing Umbreon in spittle.

Shane howled in fury. A massive ice column rocketed him skyward. Bone-chilling air rushed out and destroyed the arena's walls. Shane had no idea what was going on, but he didn't care. This power was incredible!

Null staggered backward, dropping to the ground and throwing his forelimbs over his head, hissing madly. Tessa took advantage of Umbreon's shock to buck him off and run away, clutching at her neck and scarf. Espeon looked up and saw Shane perched atop the ice, a whirlwind of snow racing around him. She fired the biggest Psybeam she could muster, only for her jaw to drop in horror as it evaporated against Shane's massive iceberg.

"No… no!" she said, staggering backward. "Do something, Umbry! I don't wanna disappear! I don't–"

Shane opened his mouth and unleashed a gigantic ice beam. It blew through Espeon's and Umbreon's counterattacks with ease. It destroyed their Ultra Entercards like they were nothing but tissue paper. Espeon's blood-curdling scream lasted only a second. Then the ice swallowed her and Umbreon up.

A high-pitched screech echoed through the valley. Shane's ice column melted back into the ground, lowering him to safety, where a shell-shocked Tessa stood with a blank expression on her face. The energy rush had faded, leaving him with such painful aches he couldn't help but collapse. Luckily, Tessa caught him before he hit the ice.

"Sh-Shane! That was… what did you–" she said, heart pounding against her chest. She looked down and saw the white light on his looplet flicker a few times, then disappear. The gemstone in the center had lost its color. "Where did that come from, Shane?"

Shane blinked and looked at the large mound of ice in front of him. Espeon and Umbreon lay trapped inside, not unlike what they had done to Sylveon and Eevee. He was in disbelief. That was his attack. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before.

"I… I don't know," Shane whispered. "I just… I saw you in trouble… and I suddenly felt this huge burst of energy flow through my whole body. It was like I could lift up an entire building all by myself."

"Well, you saved me," she said, fidgeting with her paws. "I… I guess I owe you my life now, huh?"

"All that matters is that you're safe," Shane said, blinking tears out of his eyes. Sure, they had only officially been friends for one day, but it didn't lessen Shane's relief. He fixed his gaze back on the remnants of his attack. Specifically, he focused on Espeon and Umbreon.

Shane's eyes widened and he nudged Tessa with a foreleg. "Check it out. Their black armor pieces are gone," Shane said. "And they both still have all their color!"

"You don't think that's because you froze them, do you?" Tessa wondered.

"Well, there's one way to find out," Shane said.

Tessa caught on and her eyes widened. "Are you crazy? They just tried to kill us!" she said.

She was right, yet he couldn't bring himself to listen to her. "I still think we have to free them," he said. "They might know something about the Prism Virus that could help us." He then looked at the black monolith. "Besides, we have no idea how to break Sylveon and Eevee out of there on our own. Aren't they the whole reason we came here?"

Sighing, Tessa nodded. "Okay. I just hope you know what you're doing."

Shane also hoped this wouldn't prove a reckless decision. He looked over in Null's direction. "Yo, big guy! Think you can help us break that ice?" he said.

Null nodded and followed his teammates toward the ice mound. "Here goes nothing," he whispered, and shattered the ice with swipes of his glowing claws.


~Celestial Island~


Necrozma shot up from the table he was lying on. He looked down to see his arms trembling.

"What… what's going on? It feels... like someone tore off part of my body." He reached a hand up and rubbed his temple. His eyes flashed and his confused frown slowly morphed into a wide grin. "Oh… what's this?" He hunched over and rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Do I sense... Z-Power? Yes... yes! Heeheeheehee! Someone's used Z-Power. My Z-Power! From my light!"

He floated up from the table and looked around at the floating black cubes and prisms surrounding him.

"Could it have been you... Shane?"
Necrozma said, scratching at his chin with the tip of his wing. "I really hope so. After all... you're of no use to me as a measly fox. I need you to be something better. Much better! Heeheeheehee! Yes... you're going to make good use of my gift and, in return, you'll gift me with the return of my true form. My real power!"

Necrozma sank back down onto the table and folded his wings over his body.

"It's just a matter of time until I get to see the light fade from your eyes. It won't be the perfect spectacle I was hoping for, but I'll cherish it all the same."


Next time: news of Espeon's and Umbreon's defeat travels quite quickly.

EDIT: Forgot to add in the post-chapter blurb when I posted, but in the original outline, Team Radiance's rainbow scarves were supposed to trigger temporary evolutions a la the Harmony Scarves in Super. That was phased out when I had decided to incorporate Z-Moves into the story and give them to the heroes. Additionally, jokes aside, the inspirations for Ultra Espeon/Umbreon's fighting style are a pair of dual bosses: Pandora and Prometheus from Mega Man ZX, and Copy Zonda from Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. Both bosses involve the foes constantly swapping places with one another, and the Entercards are similar to Zonda's mirrors in their function.
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