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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light [COMPLETE]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Ambyssin, Aug 2, 2017.

  1. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Okay, so I'm not like fifteen chapters behind this time! Let's see if I can keep that up. These chapters have pretty much all centered around Tapu Lele's temple, and Shane's first "face to face" encounter with Necrozma... annnnd he totally fails to figure out what's going on. Necrozma is dropping some pretty big hints, but I think it's understandable that Shane still hasn't made the right connections because, well, he knows Necrozma's been in his head, so there's no reason he couldn't have picked up on stuff about Shane's past life to taunt him with. You probably only have a limited time before his obliviousness starts to get frustrating, though. I'm also looking forward to Shane's reaction when he realizes the truth about Necrozma. That's gonna sting.

    I'm hoping Necrozma at least gets to see some sympathy at some point; I've got to feel sorry for the guy, despite all he's done. Life's definitely handed him a raw deal, even if he hasn't exactly been coping with that fact well. Also, maybe if he feels better he'll stop murdering people. :p

    I thought the battle against the prism clones was well done; Dark Matter in particular was appropriately terrifying. I don't know if how fast Kyurem and Munna went down was commentary on how easy the final fights were for that game or not, but it definitely mirrored my experience. Being axew is OP. :p However, I thought the initial puzzle dragged on a bit. It was fun to see Shane get to apply his video game knowledge to succeed, but maybe you didn't need to put quite as much detail into how they went about solving the puzzle?

    It was pretty satisfying to get to see Silvally fight here. He's about as OP as could be expected, given the ability to cycle through types at will.

    I'm a little curious about why Mimikyu went along with the others on the last mission. Obviously he adds more fighting capability to the team, but you could have written the fights such that he wasn't needed, and he otherwise didn't really do much? Outside of being the butt of an occasional jokey/pathetic moment? I honestly thought he might end up dying and/or sacrificing himself at the part of the fight where Shane was freaking out over Silvally, but then he ended up getting through things all right. I'm guessing he's going to be important later, so you occasionally try to remind us he exists, but all in all he didn't seem to do much over these past few chapters.

    I'm also a little surprised nobody tried attacking Tapu Lele while she was all bouncing around and sparking and whatnot. Stop her from summoning more monsters!

    I wonder what would happen if Shane hit Necrozma with his Z-move? Seeing as it seems to drive out the prism virus. And you're right, there's definitely some interesting hints dropped in those post-battle boss profiles. So pretty much all the big problems in the PMD world have some element of "an ultra wormhole did it," huh? :p

    And some specific lines:

    Shuttered.

    *thud

    You accidentally bolded most of this paragraph, instead of just the dialogue.

    Well that's not ominous. Always ask for the explanation up front, guys!

    Hmmm. Someone else's eye was just glowing all rainbow recently. I don't think Metagross is actually being controlled by Zero, but I wonder if there's some connection there. Something to do with Z-crystals?

    *rein

    Just want to delete "her" here.

    It's pretty dumb how amused I was by this line. Ah, the difficulties caused by weird pokémon biology.

    I knew that was coming the moment Tapu Lele started acting uncomfortable, haha.

    Should be "bated" breath.

    And so now Metagross' secret is out. I guess I was right that he isn't technically being controlled by Zero, but I wasn't really expecting him to be associated with the villains at all. Truly, I just thought he was a jerk with a very "end justifies the means" attitude who had some plan or other that would end up sacrificing a bunch of people for his idea of "the greater good," but in the end I guess he's just selling people out to save his own hide. I'm a little disappointed, I guess, because to me it would have been more interesting to have this other character who wasn't actually aligned with the villains and who was just making things worse accidentally/misguidedly, but that's really just personal preference. I'm guessing he must have met Necrozma when they went down into Glyphic Falls... perhaps Necrozma is actually who killed Incineroar, rather than either Metagross or Braviary? Metagross made a deal that he and Braviary could live if they sacrificed Incineroar and agreed to help out? Or maybe Necrozma offered to let them all live, and Incineroar was the only one who wouldn't compromise his principles, or something.

    It was a little odd to see Metagross acting so... emotive at the end of the chapter, there? Is his usual hyperlogical thing just an act, or is it just that everything going on is getting to him such that it's frying his circuits or something? I also didn't notice any of the rainbow flashing before now, although I may just have missed it earlier. So, not sure whether the sudden changes in behavior are the result of the situation escalating, or maybe have something to do with things getting more strained on the villains' side of things, e.g. Zero having trouble containing Necrozma's spirit and Necrozma starting to go rogue.

    I enjoyed the Awards extra, too. Thanks for answering my questions--you ended up getting a lot of them! And I wish I had thought of asking Silvally how he knew his gender, that's an interesting question, good on whoever sent that one in. It was fun to see a little Incineroar, too; too bad he's dead. (As an aside, of course Gen III is the best. Fine taste, Shane!) Congrats on your awards! You've done a great job with this fic, and if you keep up writing like you have been, I'm sure you can expect plenty of recognition to come your way next year, too. I'm looking forward to following this story to its end. :)
     
  2. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    That was intentional, because Shane is not terribly perceptive and is still feeling rather cautious about rushing to conclusions after the Lycanroc fiasco.

    You won't have to wait much longer. I promise. ;)

    I don't want to say much more other than, again, Growlithe!Nicky getting vaporized is significant.

    I was kind of poking fun at the fact that people consider Gates to be rather on the easy side. Likewise, Dark Matter proved to be the most destructive b/c, even with the most streamlined gameplay, Super doesn't pull its punches. That said, I totally wanted Dusknoir to actually use his weird black hole attack thingy. XD

    I apologize. It really was a one-time thing. Future dungeons will go back to death traps.

    Glad to hear it! As we go forward, some of that "wild/savage side" that popped up in both the omake and this battle will continue to show up. And I hope everyone enjoys it.

    There's, uh, some trivia behind that one. But I can't tell it to you quite yet. Give it a couple of chapters.

    Uh, video game logic? Alternatively, the author's shortsighted and didn't consider that because he can be kinda dumb sometimes. :V

    I know what you're thinking and it would work for... reasons.

    Not entirely. In the case of Rescue Team, the attempt to solve the problem led to an Ultra Wormhole. :p In all seriousness, that chaotic energy has to end up somewhere. And I do headcanon that Bittercold is an Ultra Beast, so I made that Guiding Light canon. The biggest hint is with Prism Dark Matter, though. It ties in to Necrozma... whose picture is still incomplete. ;P

    Yeah, see, that's a huge problem I'm having with XenForo's BBCode. If I mess up a tag, it will bold or italicize everything after the broken tag. Maybe I should switch to the rich text editor? *sigh*

    But that'd spoil the fun. :p

    If a character's eyes get a rainbow glint, they have a certain someone's life energy inside of them.

    It's always good for a laugh.

    It is not that cut and dry. You don't have the complete picture yet, actually.

    That's fair, I guess. I didn't want to go in that direction. The intent was a fake out of sorts, with Braviary acting/sounding like Nuzleaf being a red herring. Metagross is molded after Dusknoir. But there's a difference here. You need to consider what Necrozma's been saying this episode, especially about relationships.

    Again, you don't have the whole picture yet. I'm hoping when you get the full explanation you'll understand. It's not as clear cut as "he's working with/for Necrozma."

    Interesting speculation. You'll have to stay tuned to figure out if it's right or not. ;P

    Again, the reasoning will come later, but the dire situation is contributing.

    It only just started this episode, because he is indeed losing his cool.

    Glad you liked it. I had fun with it! And, yeah, I was expecting someone to ask about Silvally. In-universe, he is not celibate like Legendaries tend to be, but he could never make an egg. The meta answer is that "he's male because I just started writing him with male pronouns." Null appeared before I wrote "Restarting," after all. And I made that Silvally genderless.

    RIP in spaghetti, never forgetti.

    Shane: I see you are a woman of exquisite taste as well!

    Aha ha... ha... no pressure, right? o3o; No, seriously, I'm glad you've been enjoying it so far. It's tough to tell with you sometimes. You're a difficult cookie to read. I hope I can continue to impress and entertain going forward. Lord knows I've got some big plans but I'm terrified of how you guys are gonna receive this stuff. Congrats to you as well and thanks for reviewing! ^^

    On a non-review reply note, I don't think I mentioned this yet but Chapters 41 and 42 have been revised based on your guys' feedback. I hope they're more interesting and engaging for you, now. Again, thanks for all the support! <3
     
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    With this chapter, I elected to try uploading using the rich text editor instead of the BBCode editor, as I've done with the story to date. To that end, if you notice any formatting discrepancies, please let me know. It would be much appreciated! :)

    XxX

    Chapter 48: Sands of Time


    ~High Noon Gulch~

    "Welp. It's been some time, but I'm back in my old stomping grounds."

    Braviary swooped in for a landing as everyone else disembarked from their Sharpedos. He slipped his Safety Goggles on and green light flashed across his body. Once it disappeared, the sand blowing through the air funneled around him.

    "Blech! Plebth! Fffft!" Shane coughed and waved a forepaw in front of his face. "Ugh, how could anyone stand to live in a place like this? This air is so thick and hot! Not to mention full of sand."

    Braviary took in a deep breath. "Eeyup. That's why I like it."

    'Maybe that explains why I don't want to trust him anymore,' Shane thought.

    "I'm willing to bet there are a lot of ground-types living here," Silvally said. Unlike the rest of the group, he lacked Safety Goggles. Instead, he channeled his ground memories, marked by his glowing brown appendages. The dry, sandy air steered clear of his face, brushing instead against his fur and scales. Silvally hummed pleasantly.

    "Right you are, pardner," Braviary acknowledged.

    Umbreon looked around the town, only spotting two parallel rows of small wooden buildings, with a dusty road laying in between them. Most of the buildings seemed to function as both homes and business, with signs bolted to their walls at ground level. Umbreon immediately picked out a post office and a general store sitting side by side. Directly across from them was a building with a wooden Maractus painted on the door. The sign on it read, "The Watering Hole Saloon."

    "So, why exactly did we come here?" he asked. "This place is nothing but empty buildings and cacti."

    "Careful. Some of them may be Maracti," Braviary quipped, drawing groans from the rest of the group. "In any case, we need to grab us some escorts for our trek through the wastelands."

    Shane's jaw stiffened. 'I don't like the sound of that,' he thought. He shot Tessa a worried look, which his partner returned with a shrug. 'Easy there, Shane. Deep breaths. This isn't one of those mobster movies where you're getting taken somewhere off the grid to get killed. Braviary seemed just as confused as to why he was coming as you were.'

    He gulped. 'Unless he's only acting confused and this is totally a trap!'

    "What exactly do you mean by escorts?" Espeon wondered. "Aren't there enough of us here already?"

    "Oh, sure," Braviary replied. "But getting through them desert sands ain't exactly easy for 'mons like us. Heck, the sandstorms are so bad I can't even fly straight in the wastelands. That's why we're getting us some Mudsdales to ferry us across."

    "Mudsdale?" Shane parroted. He looked over at Tessa. "Um, any chance you know what that is? Because I sure don't."

    "Err…" Tessa poked her digits together. "How do I describe it, then?"

    "It's like a Rapidash, but it's a ground-type," Silvally offered.

    Shane blinked a few times, and then conjured up a mental image of a brown Rapidash with a mane of flowing sand. He looked back at his hips. "Ugh, no thanks! I don't want to sit on one of those. I hate sand. It's rough. It's coarse. And it gets in some… sensitive areas."

    "Nonsense." Braviary waved him off. "Mudsdales are very comfortable Pokémon to ride on. Just you wait."

    Shane paused mid-step, a somewhat nauseous look appearing on his face. 'I really hope there isn't a double meaning behind that…'

    Hearing no response from Shane, Braviary turned back around and squinted. "Speak of the devil. Mudsdale!" He flapped his wings about. "Come here, you ol' so-and-so!"

    The sounds of heavy hoofbeats spread through the town. Within a few seconds, Mudsdale's massive frame came into view. He galloped forward, jogging to a stop in front of Braviary. "Well, I'll be an Ambipom's uncle!" he gasped. "Braviary, as I live and breathe. Shoot… put her there, pardner." Mudsdale stuck out a foreleg. Braviary returned the gesture with his own leg.

    "Oh, great. Just what we needed. A whole town of yokels," Shane groaned.

    Tessa raised an eyebrow. "What's a yokel?"

    "That's a story for another time," Shane dismissed, which only served to heighten Tessa's confusion.

    "Gotta say, I figured we wouldn't be seeing you 'round these parts no more," Mudsdale said to Braviary. "Ever since ya done became one of them city-slickers, feels like yer dropping by less and less often."

    "Well, work's been keeping me mighty busy," Braviary said with a nervous laugh. "Ever since Metagross took over, feels like I ain't even had a day off."

    Tessa and Shane exchanged worried looks at this. They immediately looked away, feeling Espeon and Umbreon studying them.

    "I hear ya," Mudsdale said with a sigh. "But, hey, what're we standing around here for? Why don't ya bring yer friends on over to the saloon? We'll have some drinks and catch up on things."

    Braviary sighed. "Sorry, pardner. I'm afraid it's work that's brought me here. We need to head into the wastelands."

    "Oh?" Mudsdale looked behind Braviary, glancing over the assembled group. "This is a mighty large search party you've got here. Is it serious?"

    "I reckon so," Braviary replied. "Some guild members are done stuck in the wastelands. Tried to get into Tapu Bulu's temple and ran into some hiccups."

    Mudsdale's eyes widened. "Yer messing with the Tapus? Oh, lordy." He shook his head. "Yer playing with fire, pardner. That's just begging to have a big ol' curse dropped on ya."

    "But there's no such thing as curses… right?" Mimikyu squeaked.

    Shane held up his forepaw. "Relax. As long as we've got these looplets, we should be fine."

    "But I don't have one," Mimikyu sighed, his head slumping over.

    Mudsdale walked around Braviary and took a better look at the rest of the group. "Hrrrm… well, I'm sure if I grab one or two of my buddies, we can get you through the desert alright. But…" His voice trailed off as he looked over Silvally. "Yer friend here is, uh, looking mighty heavy. I'm reckon we might not be able to help him out."

    "Oh, don't worry. I'm a ground-type, I don't need an escort," Silvally said. He beamed and extended a foreleg forward. "I'm Silvally! Nice to meet you."

    "Uh… luh-likewise…" Mudsdale said, hesitantly sticking out his own foreleg to shake Silvally's. "Yer, uh, quite the interesting sight. You from around these parts?"

    "I'm from Glyphic Falls," Silvally chirped. "I know I look funny, but that's because I'm made of Unown." His tail wagged slowly.

    Mudsdale's eyes momentarily widened. He looked up and down Silvally's body and then stepped back. "I see," he muttered. "Well now." He turned back to Braviary. "You continue to surprise me every time you come back here, pardner."

    "Heh." Braviary rubbed the tip of his beak with a wing. "You don't even know the half of it."

    Mudsdale chuckled. "Well, why don't we save the catching up fer after we've gotten your friends out of the wastelands? C'mon, I'll take ya back to the ranch and let ya pick out a couple of my buddies to join us."

    XxX

    ~Solaris Wastelands~

    Shane and Tessa didn't need to speak to each other to tell they were both a bit uneasy with the idea of riding Mudsdale through the desert. They wondered how they were supposed to hold on to the horse as he galloped through the sands. But their fears were quickly put to rest. As it turned out, Braviary's friend ran a service analogous to the Sharpedo Sailors. Typically, they ferried cargo and supplies across the harsher terrains in southern and eastern Horizon. But, they had specialized booster seats, including ones suited to four-legged Pokémon like Shane, Espeon, and Umbreon.

    They split up into two groups. Shane, Mimikyu, and Tessa boarded the Mudsdale they had met in town. Espeon and Umbreon saddled up with a much larger Mudsdale, jokingly called "Tiny" by the other staff on the ranch. Braviary hopped atop Silvally, with the two of them leading the group and serving as lookouts.

    With logistics settled, they began their trek into the desert. Tessa was quite surprised at how easily Mudsdale moved across the sand. At the same time, she was extremely thankful that his head served as a shield against the air, which had grown even hotter and drier the moment they'd entered the Mystery Dungeon. She glanced over her shoulder and looked out across the sandy expanse. Swirling sandstorms blotted out the sun. Rather than shining bright yellow, it appeared as an orange fireball sitting still in the center of a tan-colored sky that faded to a rusted red along the horizon. The dunes in the distance shimmered from the effects of heat haze.

    "Hey, why is all this sand blood red?" Shane asked, staring down at the ground. Nearby, a small hole opened up in the sand and a Sandile scuttled out. Its face blanched upon seeing the Mudsdale towering over it and it retreated back into its hovel, covering the hole up with sand.

    "Shoot. You mean you don't know?" Mudsdale gasped. "The air here is superheated, thanks to all the sandstorms. Heck, in some parts of the dungeon it gets so bad, the sand turns to glass. Them parts are just crawling with traps and wild Pokémon. We're trying to stay clear of 'em."

    Shane's brow furrowed. "Okay, but what's making the air so hot to begin with? I know it's dry here, but this place is sweltering." He popped open a canteen and gulped down a mouthful of water.

    "Oh, well that'd be on account of all the magma flowing underneath the desert," Mudsdale replied.

    Shane promptly spat out the water in his mouth. "Muh… magma?" He squealed, his fur standing on end. The very mention of the word filled his mind with unpleasant thoughts.

    "Well, yeah. The Volcanic Wastes are just to the east of us. Ain't you supposed to know that if yer an explorer?" Mudsdale asked.

    "You'll have to forgive him, sir. He's not from Horizon," Tessa explained. She turned to Shane. "The Volcanic Wastes are the southernmost part of Horizon. Like the name suggests, the region's littered with volcanoes. But the biggest and most active one is Mount Supernova. That's the one whose magma is running under the desert."

    Shane's ears folded against his face. "Just how big is that volcano for its magma to extend all the way over here?"

    "Well, it's not quite as tall as Solstice Summit. That's the highest point in all of Horizon," Tessa mused. "Dad told me he went there once. He got such a bad nosebleed he had to get rushed back to the Observatory."

    Shane reflexively curled up against his booster seat. "Tuh… tell me… no, promise me we'll never have to go somewhere like that."

    "Not good with heights?" Mimikyu wondered.

    "Of course I'm not! Do I look like a flying-type to you?" Shane growled.

    "Gah! Sorry! I was just asking," Mimikyu whimpered, turning away.

    "Now, now, settle down you lot," Mudsdale chided. "I won't be tolerating no bickering while y'all are on my back, understand?"

    At that, the group fell into silence once again. The rescue party had reached a considerably large sand dune and were now proceeding up it. Silvally appeared to struggle against the harsh winds. But he channeled earth energy into his talons and dug them into the sand. This gave him the traction needed to continue up the steep slope. Tessa found herself watching Braviary as they all hiked up. He stood perched on Silvally's back, scanning the desert. His gaze fixed to his right. Tessa followed his line of sight and saw a sand geyser erupt in the distance.

    "Hrmm. I reckon something's got the Gibles all hot and bothered," Braviary said. "I don't suppose yer packing any ice-type moves, are ya, pardner?"

    "I am! Ice Fang and Ice Beam. Though that first one would be a bit hard to use while you're on my back," Silvally reported.

    Braviary raised a curious eyebrow at this. "That's funny. Ain't never seen ya use them moves before. Ya finally get around to trying out some TMs and tutor sessions with Bruxish?"

    Silvally shook his head. "Nope. I think it's my Memory Looplet. Once I got it working, I suddenly found that I could use a ton of different moves."

    "Well now… ain't that mighty nice," Braviary muttered.

    Tessa noticed Braviary's brow furrowing and started fidgeting with her paws. "Hey, something bugging you?" Shane whispered. "Is there something wrong with Silvally?"

    "What? No… he's fine," Tessa dismissed. "I just… uh…" She gently tugged at Mudsdale's mane. "Um, Mr. Mudsdale, sir? Can I ask you a question… a-about Braviary?"

    "Of course," Mudsdale replied. "Though, I haven't seen him all that much this past year, so I may not be the best 'mon fer the job."

    "That's okay," Tessa mumbled. She now had paws wrapped around her scarf and pendant. "Um… do you…" She cut herself off. "No, that's not right," she whispered. "What I meant to say was…" She squeezed her eyes shut. "Ugh! Why can't I phrase this right?"

    "Hey." Shane leaned forward a put a paw on her shoulder. "Come on. Deep breath. Sounds like you're overthinking this."

    "Right," Tessa said. She did as Shane instructed, and then asked, "Do you think Braviary's trustworthy?"

    Tessa was jostled about in her seat as Mudsdale shook out his head and neck. "Well, 'course I do. I mean, he ain't exactly been living 'round these parts much since he joined the guild. But I've always taken him to be a straight shooter. Heck, without any hesitation, he was willing to tell me that my old lady-friend was done cheating on me behind my back before we tried to mate. And that was after he got threatened by her."

    "I see," Tessa whispered, gaze falling onto her lap. "That's… okay… yeah…" She gulped. "Um, when he's visited you guys in the past, has he ever mentioned anything about an Incineroar?"

    Before Mudsdale could answer, the group felt him buckle. Shane gave a startled yip and grabbed onto his seat. He looked to his right and noticed a small sinkhole forming in the sand. Mudsdale huffed and kicked back with his hind legs. A pained yowl caught the groups attention. They turned to see a Krokorok staggering backwards, hands pressed firmly over his snout.

    "Go on! Git! Or the next kick'll be even harder," Mudsdale warned. Krokorok looked up at Mudsdale, and took note of the three Pokémon sitting on his back that all held some form of advantage over him. He quickly dropped to all fours and ran away, diving back into the sand for cover. "I tell ya, feels like them buggers have been crawling up from the sand more and more often these days," Mudsdale said with a shake of his head. He turned around and trotted ahead to rejoin the rest of the group.

    "Now, what was it you were asking again, li'l missy?" Mudsdale asked.

    "Um, about Incineroar?"

    Mudsdale slowed his trotting. He turned to look back at Tessa. "Well… shoot," he gasped. "I'd only met the feller a couple of times, but I should've realized it sooner. Yer his pup, ain't ya?"

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched and she looked down at her pendant.

    "I'm real sorry about what happened to him. Seemed like a nice feller," Mudsdale said. "Braviary always gushed about the guy. 'Bless him. He can cause me a headache or two, but he'll always find a way to make it up to me,' is more-or-less what he would always say." Mudsdale's brow furrowed. "That said, he did seem a bit concerned about yer mother."

    Tessa stiffened. "He did?"

    Mudsdale's jaw stiffened. He looked up at Braviary, and then glanced back at Tessa. "Err… I weren't supposed to say that out loud."

    "Please, tell me what you meant by that," Tessa begged. "My mom's been gone for the last eight months. I'm still trying to figure out what happened to her."

    "Sorry, li'l missy. Braviary made me swear not to tell," Mudsdale insisted.

    Tessa shot a panicked look back at Shane. 'That certainly doesn't bode well,'he thought. 'Sounds to me like Gallian might've been telling the truth after all.' He poked at the bottom of his seat with a forepaw. 'Poor Tessa…'

    "Hey now. It's not like Braviary has to know," Mimikyu offered. "Why can't you just whisper it to us all quiet-like? Braviary seems preoccupied anyway. C'mon, this is Riolu's mom we're talking about, here."

    Mudsdale sighed. "Alright, fine. But y'all didn't hear this from me, understand?" Tessa nodded vigorously. "Truth is, Braviary thinks yer mom was keeping something from yer dad. Something big. He wouldn't tell me what, but he said he always had a bad feeling about her, and that it had only gotten worse when he found something belonging to her. Told me that when he went to talk to Lucario about it, she done said something like, 'If you say even one word about this to Incineroar, I'll pluck every feather off your body.'" Mudsdale shivered.

    Tessa's aura feelers stood up. 'Mom was keeping secrets from Dad? But why would she do that? They loved each other… like… a lot!' She fidgeted with her scarf. 'Unless… Braviary was trying to make Mom look suspicious on purpose.' She bit her lower lip. 'What if he was just trying to cover his tracks? Gallian said that he and Metagross tried to kill Mom, didn't he?'

    Shane heard her whining and frowned. 'Oh, Tessa. I wish there was something I could do for you. I hate seeing you like this.' He looked up toward Silvally. 'Too bad we're stuck in the middle of this ridiculous mission.' He held up a forepaw and tried to fan himself off. 'Ugh, I can't take this heat for much longer.'

    A loud whistle caused his ears to swivel and drew his attention. Tessa also looked up and spotted Braviary waving a wing at them. "I've got 'em!" he shouted. "They're right on over to the east. Let's get moving!"

    He and Silvally made off to the left. Mudsdale slowly followed along. Together, the group found its way toward the basin of a particularly large sand dune. Unlike the rest of the desert expanse, this area had ruined pieces of a stone building lying around. Shane could make out fragments of stone flooring and pillars protruding from the sand.

    "I think I see them," Tessa said, peering out from behind Mudsdale's head. Shane and Mimikyu followed her gaze and spotted Yungoos standing atop one of the pillars, waving his stubby little forelegs at them. They then saw him lose balance and fall down into a mound of sand. Growlithe and Trapinch both sat in the sand. The former turned and helped Yungoos up. Growlithe draped Yungoos over his back to keep him off the hot sand.

    Mudsdale broke into a gallop, enabling Team Radiance to make it down to their guild mates' location. Sensing a considerable amount of heat rising off the stone and sand, they opted to remain on Mudsdale for their own safety.

    "Thank da Tapus youse found us," Yungoos wheezed. Braviary hoisted him up onto Silvally's back and offered him some water. He gratefully gulped it down. "I was starting to think I was gonna melt out here."

    "Well, we're here now. That's all that matters," Braviary exclaimed.

    "What exactly happened with Tapu Bulu?" Mimikyu wondered.

    "Oh, it was awful!" Trapinch said. "We tried to tell him about the Prism Virus and he got really mad. Next thing we knew, we were flying through the desert air and crashed down over here."

    "Wait." Shane's brow furrowed. "So, then, where's the temple at, huh?" A flicker of light drew his attention and he looked down at his looplet. The gem had started flashing just like in Aurora Vale. "My looplet's reacting. We must not be too far," he said.

    "Mine too," Tessa added. She lifted her paw up and a beam of light shot toward a sand dune opposite them. An intense gust of wind blew across the dune, exposing the temple as an inverted pyramid embedded in the dune as an extension of the stone rubble scattered around the area. Tessa cautiously brought her paw back and held it against her chest. "Um, do we all go in together?"

    "I reckon so," Braviary declared. "Tapu Bulu ought to settle down and listen if'n all of us are together."

    "Are you sure that's really such a good idea?" Mimikyu asked. "Maybe he got mad because three guys went into his temple instead of one."

    "At this point, I'd rather have strength in numbers," Shane said. 'Even if I don't necessarily trust one of them. At least, if he tries to step out of line, there's enough of us that we can take him.'

    "Alrighty then. Y'all better get off yer Mudsdales. No reason to ask them to head inside, right?" He looked over at Mudsdale. His friend nodded slowly, staring transfixed at the temple.

    "Yeah. I'd, uh, rather not set a hoof down in that place. Superstitions and whatnot," Mudsdale mumbled.

    Braviary fluttered into the air. "C'mon, y'all. We'd better get inside, quickly!"

    XxX

    ~Voltaic Crater~

    "Whoa!"

    Serperior jumped back, holding her tail up defensively. A bolt of blue lightning surged inches in front of her. It struck a bright, flashing rock to her left. The lightning then raced back down the path, toward another flashing rock in the distance. Fluorescent blue light streamed up the dungeon's dark-blue wall. "I'm getting real sick and tired of all these charge-stones!" Serperior hissed, rapping her tail against the ground.

    Beside her, Araquanid scuttled away from a cluster of floating charge-stones. "Careful, if you keep yelling like that, you'll wake up all the sleeping Charjabugs," he warned, glancing nervously at half a dozen Charjabugs clinging to the largest floating charge-stone. "And the last thing we need is for them to call for any help. Our report said Totem Vikavolt lives around here, remember?"

    "Quit being such a scaredy-bug," Serperior scoffed. "You're supposed to be a veteran. Act like it."

    "Excuse for me for wanting to make sure this mission goes okay," Araquanid.

    "Both of you be quiet," Milotic huffed, holding her tail up. Her brow furrowed. "I hear something buzzing in the distance."

    Araquanid shuffled backwards. "Crap! It's Totem Vikavolt! Quick, Volcarona, you have to be ready to–"

    A distorted ripple ran across the path, bathing the area in a sinister red glow and freezing the foursome in place.

    "I was wondering what had held you four up. Turns out it was just some petty squabbling."

    Zero floated out from behind a large, flashing boulder. Dark energy crackled in her paws. She thrust them forward just as Teams Captivate and Buzz Buzz regained the ability to move. A pitch-black Dark Pulse raced forward, hammering Milotic and knocking her back into Serperior. They rolled to a stop in a coiled, knotted-up mess.

    "Uwaaaaah! Wh… who are you?" Araquanid gasped. He wasted no time in launching a stream of water at Zero from his bubble. Zero raised a paw and a wall of black cubes formed in front of her. They caught the water, then spat it back at Volcarona. She gasped in surprise and let loose a Flamethrower, vaporizing the water before it could hit her.

    Zero slammed the cube wall with an open palm and it sped forward. Confused by the attack, Araquanid and Volcarona bolted in opposite directions, watching the wall whizz by them. Zero clenched her paw into a fist and the wall exploded, flinging the cubes in all directions. They pelted Araquanid and Volcarona, knocking the latter to the ground.

    "Hey, back off!" Serperior snarled. A Dragon Pulse raced toward Zero. She pivoted, keeping her paw outstretched, and retaliated with a Dragon Pulse of her own. The blue bolts collided in a burst of draconic energy. Smoke spread across the area, prompting Milotic to spit up a torrent of water.

    Zero sensed the attack coming, however, and sped away in the blink of an eye. Her Extreme Speed left her outside the smoke cloud. A red Aura Sphere raced toward Milotic, giving her no time to react. It struck her square in the face and knocked her into a floating charge-stone. Lightning poured over her body. Milotic wailed in agony, body flailing wildly, and then dropped to the ground. Her marvelous scales were charred from head to tail.

    "Millie!" Serperior gasped. She wheeled on Zero. "You're gonna pay for that, you heartless witch!" She slammed her tail into the ground, launching a volley of wind and leaves at Zero. Zero retaliated by bringing her paws together. A ripple of distortion formed in front of her and opened up, sending out a stream of glitchy black cubes that effortlessly snuffed out Serperior's Leaf Storm.

    Serperior stared down the oncoming attack, a look of horror on her face. At the last second, Araquanid hammered her left side, knocking her out of the way and taking the attack in her place. He yelped in pain and collapsed onto his stomach, swirls in his eyes. Serperior shakily got up, looking at her defeated allies. Volcarona weekly flapped her wings but was unable to get airborne again.

    "Pathetic," Zero dismissed. "I had a sneaking suspicion that Dragonair might be the glue that held your unimpressive team together, but I didn't realize things would be this bad without her."

    Serperior's face contorted in rage. "You… you did something to Airy!" she accused. "You're the reason she left! Give her back to us, now!"

    Zero nudged her mask, body flickering in and out of existence. "I can't do that," she said. "Dragonair… or should I say Dragonite has finally found true happiness."

    "No…" Serperior whispered, eyes slowly widening. "What did you do to her?"

    "Nothing. I made her see that she needed to ditch a couple of superficial, self-absorbed blowhards, and channel her abilities into something worth her time and energy," Zero said. "Like, say, killing the Legendaries that keep us mortals fighting amongst one another." She held her right paw out and her staff materialized. "Don't give me that look. Deep down, I'm sure you know I speak the truth. Your precious reputation was built on going into wild Pokémon's homes and beating them within an inch of their lives. I understand... I had made the same folly for many years until I had my eye opened to the truth."

    Zero glanced at Volcarona. She lifted her paw up. A pink glow encapsulated Volcarona as Zero hoisted her into the air. Volcarona squirmed about fruitlessly. "P… please. You don't have to do this! I won't say anything about what happened here. I… I swear!"

    "You see?" Zero continued. "When a Pokémon's back is pressed to the wall, they'll say and do just about anything. This is the kind of society we've created. This is what we've let gods and Mystery Dungeons do to us."

    "You're lying through your teeth," Serperior growled. "I don't believe a word of your garbage!"

    "Well you should!"

    Serperior's blood ran cold. The leaves along her body wilted and she defensively coiled up, shivering. An Ultra Wormhole opened behind Araquanid and a cloud of shadows raced out of it, swallowing him up. The shadows formed into Necrozma, leaving Araquanid's lifeless, colorless body laying upside down on the ground.

    "After all… heeheeheehee… you have your Guildmaster to thank for all of this!" Necrozma cackled. "Your light… it's going to be such a delicious treat!" He looked down at Milotic, licking his lips in anticipation. However, before he got the chance to move in for the kill, a black orb struck Milotic's limp body. It cracked open and red light sucked Milotic into the ball, which then shut and fell to the ground.

    "No, Millie!" Serperior hollered.

    "Skrreeeeeeeeeevp! What do you think you're doing?!" Necrozma snarled. "They're my prey! You don't get to capture them and waste my light powering them up! We never agreed to this!"

    "I said I wanted to replenish my ranks. We lost Espeon and Umbreon… and you got carried away with Musharna. Dragonite's not good enough," Zero scoffed, levitating the black ball over to her. Serperior launched a retaliatory Leaf Storm. But Zero pointed her staff in Serperior's direction. Volcarona drifted in the attack's path and took the Leaf Storm head on. Serperior lashed out with her tail in frustration.

    "At least let me take Serperior, then," Necrozma growled. "Or Volcarona. You don't care about that worthless bug one bit, do you?"

    Zero looked at Volcarona, watching her occasionally twitch in a half-hearted attempt at breaking free. "Fine. Take her." She released her psychic grip. Volcarona didn't even get the chance to hit the ground. A black beam struck her back, sucking the life and colors off her body. They funneled into Necrozma's open mouth.

    "How very spicy," Necrozma declared, licking his lips. He pointed a claw at Volcarona's corpse. Black crystals surrounded it. A series of pops and crunches sounded as the crystals formed a spherical, makeshift cocoon. Necrozma levitated it up into the air and grasped it with both his crystalline hands. "I think I can put this to good use in the future, mistress. You won't be disappointed."

    Serperior was backed up against a neon-blue rock, breath coming in sharp, ragged gasps. "You two… you're a couple of monsters!"

    "Ultra Beasts, actually. If you're going to insult me, get it right!" Necrozma teased. "And really, how is what we're doing that bad? This world… the way it is right now… it's beyond saving! Filled with spineless, miserable fools! You build your flimsy little friendships, talking about how important they are, and then tear them down with reckless abandon!" Rainbow energy flashed in his eyes. "For example: your Guildmaster was happy to offer you up as sacrifices to save his own metal hide!"

    Serperior's eyes widened. "You're lying! Metagross would never do something like that. He works to help Pokémon. We all do!"

    "The only Pokémon your Guildmaster helps is himself," Zero replied harshly. "We were able to find you so easily because he happily revealed your location to us."

    "That's… there's no way…" Serperior stuttered, her resolve faltering. "That's not like him."

    "Is that so? It's not like him to stab his own subordinates in the back?" Zero growled. She shakily reached a paw up, slowly removing her mask. Necrozma leaned over, grinning with interest. "Just like it's not like him… to kill his own friend? And try to kill said friend's mate?"

    Serperior went slack-jawed. "Lucario?" She looked back and forth between Necrozma and Zero. "No… no! Lucario, you have to snap out of it! Think of what you're doing! Think about Tessa and Gallian! They need you! They–"

    "–are nothing more than victims of circumstance. My children…" Zero hissed, putting her mask back on, "… do need me. Because I was taken from them. By gods you're willing to defend, even though they refuse to return the favor." She raised her free paw up. A black ball formed against her palm. Zero hurled it at Serperior, who was in too much shock to dodge it. The ball struck her and, like Milotic before her, sucked her up in a beam of red light.

    Zero called the ball back to her. She plucked it and the one she caught Milotic in out of the air. "Three beautiful maidens to make my beautiful vision of the future into reality. Fitting enough, I'd say," she declared. "All that's missing is their new leader. Speaking of which…"

    She looked over her shoulder, watching as a massive chunk of rock exploded in the distance. Tapu Koko careened through the air, looking extremely worse for wear. A white blur shot out of the smoke, striking him in midair and slamming him to the ground in front of Zero and Necrozma. The dust settled, revealing Dragonite standing triumphantly over Tapu Koko's colorless body.

    "He barely put up a challenge," Dragonite sneered. "So I infected him. And he still couldn't hold his own against me. His light belongs to you now, mistress."

    "Well done, Dragonite," Zero congratulated. She tossed the two balls to Dragonite, who caught them. "I got your friends back. I think you'll find they're much more loyal."

    "No, you fool! Tapu Koko had my light! I was supposed to take his life away!" Necrozma snarled, teleporting in front of Zero and leering down at her. "What is the meaning of this? We had a deal! I help you, you give me my light!" His red eyes flashed. "Are you trying to deceive me? Are you?!"

    "Sorry, Necrozma. I just got caught up in the moment," Dragonite sneered, drawing Necrozma's attention. "It was an honest mistake."

    "Right… of course… an 'honest mistake,'" Necrozma huffed. "You really think I'm going to believe that? People have said that wretched lie to my face time and time again! You two are working against me, aren't you?" Rainbow energy surged around his crystalline torso. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't blow you both to smithereens!"

    "Because if I go down, your Ultranecrozmera goes with me," Zero threatened, pointing her scepter forward. "As does your chances of ever getting your real body and spirit back!" Necrozma floated back, wings twitched and grip tightening on Volcarona's cocoon. Zero turned to Dragonite. "I see you don't have the Dusk Hourglass. Which means he didn't have it, did he?"

    Dragonite nodded. "I searched high and low, but there's no sign of it."

    Zero's eye narrowed. "Necky… where is the Dusk Hourglass?"

    "Me? Why should I know?" Necrozma scoffed.

    "Because I strongly doubt Team Captivate's location is all you got out of the Guildmaster," Zero said. "Tell me where the Dusk Hourglass is… or else."

    Necrozma tucked his head against his right wing. "Bulu has it. It's somewhere in the Solaris Wastelands."

    "Then it would seem we have one last stop to make today," Zero declared. "Dragonite, take your friends back to Celestial Island. Necky and I will return there when we're done."

    Dragonite bowed. "As you wish, mistress." With a mighty flap of her wings, she rocketed into the sky.

    Zero gestured behind her. "Come, Necky. It's time to crash the Temple of Body."

    Frowning, Necrozma opened an Ultra Wormhole in front of Zero.

    XxX

    ~The Temple of Body~

    "Uh… wow. Just… just wow."

    Shane's head lolled to his right.

    "Something the matter?" Silvally asked.

    "Just… um… admiring the décor," Shane muttered. 'Which really leaves something to be desired.'

    "Yeah. Someone's clearly got a high opinion of demselves," Yungoos scoffed. "Look at all dese flexing Tapu Bulu statues. What an eyesore!"

    "Gwoooooooooooooooh!"

    "Eeeek!"

    Trapinch and Mimikyu both shrieked and jumped up in unison. They collided in midair and sank to the ground, stars swirling around their eyes. The door atop the staircase at the back of the room burst open.

    "Who dares enter Bulu's temple without permission?" a deep voice thundered through the room.

    Shane felt all eyes in the room fall toward him. "Well, go on, newbie," Yungoos said. "Youse da one wit' his looplet, aren't ya?"

    Shane looked up at the open doorway and gulped. He stepped forward. "I… I do," he rasped. "Um… I think we've met before. You, uh, gave me this looplet." He shakily held up his forepaw. The gem in the center of his Naturia Looplet sparkled under the light of the torches lining the walls.

    A green blur shot forward from the doorway and Shane soon found himself dangling in the air. His eyes widened as he looked directly into Tapu Bulu's fierce expression. He could see his companions stepping backward. Save for Silvally, who had changed into a poison-type and crouched low to the ground, ready to pounce if things got out of hand.

    But, to Shane's relief, Tapu Bulu released him and lowered him gently to the ground. "It's you!" he gasped. "Bulu remember you. You drowning in ocean, so Bulu save you."

    "I was… drowning?" Shane squeaked, shrinking down to the ground. "I don't remember that."

    Tapu Bulu nodded sagely. "Found you while returning from visit to Fini's temple," he explained. "Big hole open in sky. Drop puny fuzzball into ocean." He thrust his arms apart. "Sploosh! Bulu see splashdown. It… not very impressive."

    'Yeah, well your grammar's not very impressive, but you don't see me complaining,' Shane thought. 'Oh, wait… I kind of am.'

    "So, Bulu linger by water. But puny fuzzball no surface," Tapu Bulu continued. "That's when Bulu sense something off with you."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Shane asked.

    "Bulu think you feel like Solgaleo," Tapu Bulu reported.

    "Well, I think he's tied into how I ended up here… somehow," Shane mumbled. 'At least, I really hope so, at this point. Because Necrozma couldn't have brought me here. I refuse to believe him.'

    "Wait, youse mean to say dat Vulpix was actually telling da truth about dat stuff?" Yungoos gasped.

    Tapu Bulu turned and fixed an angry glare on Yungoos. "You no speak or Bulu throw you from temple again." Yungoos' face paled at that and he promptly hid behind Braviary. Tapu Bulu turned back to Shane and declared, "Bulu not believe puny fuzzball's claims."

    "What?" Shane's brow furrowed and his muzzle stiffened. "How can you not believe me? Search my memories, you'll see that I was a human before I was a Vulpix."

    Bulu shook his head. "Bulu no psychic. Can't do that."

    "Then why are you making such a ridiculous accusation?" Shane growled. His eyes widened when he realized Tapu Bulu was now glaring at him.

    "Err… f-forgive him, Tapu Bulu," Tessa said, hastily stepping up beside Shane a cupping a paw over his mouth. "He's not feeling that well. Y'know, we did have to trek through the desert to get here. Desert heat doesn't go well with Vulpixes." She took a digit and twirled it around her temple in a cuckoo gesture.

    "Bulu know that. Why wimpy blue puppy think Tapu Bulu put temple in middle of desert? No want annoying visitors," Tapu Bulu scoffed.

    "And we totally understand that," Tessa said. "It's just, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but there are problems going on in Horizon, right now."

    "Bulu know," Tapu Bulu said, crossing his arms. "But Bulu's turf no having problems, so Bulu remain here."

    Tessa and Shane exchanged nervous looks. "Well… um…" Tessa muttered. "See, that's kind of why we need to talk to you, though. We… um…"

    "Dark forces are after the Dusk Hourglass. We need to make sure it's safe," Silvally declared. Tapu Bulu sized him up, an unamused look on his face.

    "Bulu not like your tone," he harrumphed. "Bulu look after Dusk Hourglass well. Too well. Bulu think he deserve medal… or at least really, really big cake. But Bulu no get such things. Not even thank you card. It sad... really."

    "The proof is that the Dawn Hourglass got shattered into pieces and Tapu Lele's dead," Silvally declared.

    "Wait, WHAT?" Trapinch's eyes widened. "When were you going to tell us that, huh?"

    Tapu Bulu slammed into the ground, causing it to shake. Braviary fluttered into the air, squawking. Silvally angrily took a fighting stance in front of his teammates.

    "Enough!" Tapu Bulu thundered. "You barge into Bulu's home. You question Bulu's thinking. Now you tell Bulu he bad at job? You try to say Lele dead? Bulu not stand for this! Bulu will make you–" A tiny beam of light flickered by his eyes, causing him to abruptly stop shouting. He looked down at Tessa and his brow furrowed. "Wait. That looplet. Lele give you Naturia Looplet?" He hovered back into the air. "But Lele not mention anything about gifting a Naturia Looplet at last family dinner." He glared at Tessa. "Where wimpy blue puppy get that?"

    "I got it from Tapu Lele," she squeaked. "And… and she gave it to me right before she was killed by Necrozma!"

    Tapu Bulu snorted out white clouds. A vein seemed to bulge out of his forehead. "Oh, real smooth dere, Riolu. Youse done pissed him off for reals!"

    Tessa winced. "That wasn't my intention."

    "Wimpy blue puppy lies!" Tapu Bulu shouted. "Necrozma long gone from this world. Solgaleo and Lunala banish him after he go on rampage."

    "Well, he's not banished anymore," Silvally said. "He attacked Tapu Lele in her temple, then sucked the life right out of her."

    "Bulu no believe you."

    "It's the truth!" Silvally growled. His mechanical cheek bolts whirred in their sockets, generating purple sparks. "He drained the color off her body, turned her into a gem, and smashed her into itty-bitty pieces." Tapu Bulu's facial expression hardened at this. "I know you said you're not psychic, but isn't there some way you can try to reach out the other Tapus? Don't you have some sort of connection? You've got to believe us. We're worried that you might be next!"

    "… wait here."

    Tapu Bulu turned and floated out of the room. He disappeared into the open doorway. Silvally turned to his teammates, a pleased expression on his face. "Well, I think that went rather well."

    "What part of that do you consider 'going well,' huh?" Shane scoffed.

    "The part where we didn't get flattened into pancakes or thrown out of the temple by some sort of creepy magic voodoo," Silvally chirped in response, tail slowly fanning back and forth.

    "GWOOOOOH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

    Tapu Bulu streamed out of the doorway, arms flailing about in a panic. He wasn't watching where he was floating, however, and crashed into one of his statues. It careened to the ground and broke into several large chunks. Tapu Bulu floated about in a daze and shook his head out.

    "Hey, can I burn the broken statue?" Growlithe wondered. His answer came in the form of several glares from his guild mates. "Okay, okay, I get the memo. Sheesh."

    "This… this not possible…" Tapu Bulu muttered. "Lele gone. Dawn Hourglass… broken."

    "So, you believe us now?" Silvally asked. "Because, we're trying to prevent the Dusk Hourglass from falling into Necrozma's clutches. We're hoping that we can find the broken pieces of the Dawn Hourglass, too. But we need you to be willing to work together with us."

    Tapu Bulu's brow furrowed. "What does beak-face have in mind?"

    "Well…"

    "The Horizon Guild has protective barriers up around Aeon Town," Braviary jumped in. "If'n ya come back with us, and bring the Dawn Hourglass along, we can keep ya safe."

    Shane raised a skeptical brow at this. 'Wait, he actually wants us to take the Tapu back with us to Aeon Town?' He bit his lower lip. 'I'm not sure I like the sound of that.' Thoughts of Metagross flashed through his mind and he shuddered.

    Tapu Bulu floated forward until he hovered over Braviary, who immediately tensed up. "You want Bulu come with you? To town of mortals? How that safer than temple? Bulu can camouflage temple. Bulu can reshape desert to throw off Necrozma."

    "And that clearly didn't help Tapu Lele," Shane retorted. "Necrozma found his way into her temple and was able to attack her. Do you really think you're totally safe here?"

    "We've got other guild members talking to the other Tapus as well," Braviary added. Tapu Bulu glared at him again. Braviary clamped his beak shut.

    "If Bulu come to Aeon Town, how Bulu supposed to manage the ley lines here?" Tapu Bulu asked. "Bulu still have important job to do."

    Braviary's beak stiffened. "Err… that's… well, I'm a bit unsure about that one. I'd have to run it past the Guildmaster and see what he comes up–"

    "You don't have to come with us," Silvally said, cutting Braviary off, much to his chagrin. "If you think you can take Necrozma, then we can't stop you. But we can't risk letting the Prism Virus take the Dusk Hourglass. Would you at least be willing to give it to us for safekeeping?"

    Tapu Bulu's eyes widened and his brow immediately furrowed. "Please, sir," Shane begged, stepping forward. "We really need your help here."

    Tapu Bulu glanced at Shane's Naturia Looplet. "And puny fuzzball is sure magic barrier can keep Dusk Hourglass safe?"

    Shane nodded slowly. 'I mean… I'm not entirely sure I trust Metagross. But Magearna designed the shields, right? She hasn't done anything to seem untrustworthy. This is the right thing to do,' he tried to convince himself.

    Tapu Bulu sighed "Very well. Bulu get Hourglass. Give to puny fuzzball. Then you mortals leave Bulu's home." He once again turned and floated out of the room.

    Shane turned to Silvally. "Thanks for the help, big guy. I think you were able to win him over… somehow."

    "Not a problem. Glad I could make a difference," Silvally trilled.

    "Don't y'all go patting yerselves on the back until we're back in Aeon Town, safe and sound," Braviary harrumphed.

    Tapu Bulu reappeared from the doorway. Floating beside him was an hourglass about half his size. Its framework was black and the sand inside of it was purple. A gemstone styled to look like a crescent moon sat notched into the top of the hourglass.

    "This be Dusk Hourglass. Handle it carefully. If it breaks, pieces will scatter," Tapu Bulu warned. Shane stepped forward, gulping. He watched the Dawn Hourglass slowly float down toward him. He began to reach a paw out toward it, only to freeze up. His heart rate spiked and a sharp, throbbing pain struck his right temple.

    'Ow… my head!' he groaned. 'Why do I suddenly have such a splitting headache?' He tried to grab the Dawn Hourglass, but his arm locked up.

    "Shane, what are you doing? Just take it so that we can go already," Tessa whispered.

    "I… I'm trying," Shane hissed back. 'C'mon, stupid brain. What's the problem here?' He winced as his headache intensified. He again reached for the Dawn Hourglass. This time, warm energy brushed against his forepaw.

    Claaaaaaaaaaaaaang!

    Shane's heart skipped a beat and he jumped, turning around to see that the front door had been blown wide open. To his horror, thick black smoke poured in from the desert outside.

    "Looks like we showed up at just the right time! How wonderful to see you again… Shane!"

    XxX
    Next time: the Prism Virus brings the guild to its knees... and permanently splits up a brother and sister.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2018
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Okay, time to catch up! And there's a lot to catch up on, huh. Big fight against a bevy of bosses, an appearance from Zero, a couple of dead legendaries and – the big one – Metagross showing his true colours. I was all set to go “funny how the 'I have no emotions' act gets dropped as soon as he needs to make an appeal to someone's feelings”, but then I read on a little and figured the time for subtlety was past. I wonder how he and Necrozma actually came into contact with one another? Either way, I suspect Prisma's not going to be thrilled about it when it all inevitably comes to light, which may or may not work to Team Radiance's advantage, I guess.

    But the bulk of these chapters is people fighting, and they're pretty cool fights; I think I'm with Negrek in not quite getting why Mimikyu was there, but you made good use of him – I particularly liked your use of Destiny Bond, which, like many of the more niche status moves, doesn't often make it into fic but which has great potential for turning a fight around. I did feel like Kyurem and Munna came out of nowhere, though – the other waves of bosses were introduced, while those two just sort of appeared mid-action as if we all already knew they were there, which was a bit confusing. Possibly my not having played Gates to Infinity accounts for this; I didn't notice you were going through game bosses until Dark Matter showed up. Speaking of which, I did like the little bit in the boss bios where you tied Guiding Light into the back end of the game plots; that was a nice touch.

    Some minor criticism: not sure I quite get the Tarzan voice you've gone for with Tapu Bulu; is it because it's … vaguely jungly, with its mastery of plants? Anyway, it strikes me as odd, given that apparently the Tapus meet up regularly and consider themselves some kind of family, that Bulu and Lele would have such wildly differing speech patterns. Also, and this is an even more minor point than that, I feel like Mimikyu's shadow claw got deflected by Medicham's barrier but not by Celebi's, which is odd – was there a reason there that I missed or something?

    And, finally, a whole bunch of typos and reactions:
    I don't think this quite works – probably it's referring to the Play Rough cloud as “animated” that does it; though this fic is clearly cartoonish in style, it's not actually a cartoon, it's a written story, and calling something “animated” in the sense of “someone drew this and made it move” kind of jars when you read it, and it's not worth doing for just one incidental reference. Possibly just describing it as kicking up a massive cloud of dust or something would work better.
    Missing a comma after “then”.
    I'm with Necky here; Shane's obtuseness is starting to get a little bit played out now – honestly, it seems really difficult to believe he won't get it sometime soon.
    “Djinn” is plural; you want the singular, “djinni”.
    Man, Braviary is so bad at jokes it's almost a whole new skill of its own. This has all the structure of a joke without actually being one, which is kind of an impressive failure on his part.
    I have so many questions about the order in which the sciences of “astronomy” and “naming explosive mountains” apparently arose here in Horizon, but I have a feeling they're probably best left unasked. :p
    This is really hard to visualise, beaks being what they are, and I'm not quite sure what you mean by it. Obviously I get that the cartoon logic you're going by means that beaks can bend, but I still don't really know what its stiffening is supposed to signify.
    It feels like two different ways of saying the same thing have crashed into each other here, with the result that you've got this odd, unnecessary repetition of “area”.
    That should be “Silvally's” rather than “Silvally”.
    I think you might mean “gratefully” rather than “graciously” here – it seems to make more sense, anyway.

    And with that, I think I'm all caught up! I have to say, it's still an enjoyable read – I don't think you need to be concerned about taking the zanier route; Guiding Light has never pretended to be anything else, and there's absolutely nothing to stop you having both over-the-top cartoonish action and also serious character drama. Looking forward to more!
     
  5. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    To be fair, there's still something you don't know about Metagross. It'll get brought to light by the end of the episode, though. And hopefully it'll make sense for you.

    Perhaps a future special episode will touch on this. ;)

    See the note down at the end of the chapter. That should answer your question.

    Yeah, I admit it's hard to work status moves in. But Destiny Bond is one of those I really wanted to do. And I wanted to make it extra ironic by having it get used on a ghost. :p

    They didn't come out of nowhere. They had a build up, complete with Tapu Lele announcing she was summoning them. The difference is that Team Radiance was properly prepared for them that time

    Glad to hear it. I liked the idea of the canon events having some serious consequences.

    It wasn't so much supposed to be Tarzan as kind of a caveman-ish style of "all brawn, no brains." Tapu Lele (or, at least, the fake one Zero killed) had a valley girl routine going on and if you remember way back when, Tapu Koko spoke like Bill & Ted (or a generic surfer dude, take your pick). I admit it's rather silly, but that's kind of the point. The Halloween special might not be canon, but the way it depicts Legendaries (as a bunch of selfish brats) was canon. It's supposed to lend credence to Zero's belief that the gods are worthless.

    Ah, yeah, I didn't specify it. I run on the anime logic of Reflect (which Medicham used) deflecting physical attacks and Light Screen (which Celebi used) blocking ranged attacks.

    Changed to a cloud of fairy dust, instead.

    Wish granted! See below if you don't believe me.

    Ah, thanks. Didn't know that. Learn something new everyday! ^^

    I thought to myself "how could I make a Pokémon dad joke?" and sort of went with it.

    A Xatu did it. :p

    Fair enough. *changes*

    And that was a typo.

    It's tough to tell, sometimes. Y'all are a difficult bunch to impress and it feels like the more recent chapters have been less well-received. Still, thanks again for reviewing! ^^

    A quick preface for this chapter. So, this entire part had to be rewritten from scratch. It was a combination of the original version being an incoherent mess (the bulk of it was written following a chemo infusion that really scrambled my head) and wanting to incorporate the feedback I've gotten from you guys (e.g. "Shane, no one is possibly this dense."). I hope you all find the result satisfying, because I worked rather hard to pull this together for you all. <3

    XxX​

    Chapter 49: Divide by Zero
    Necrozma popped out of the black smoke, with Zero by his side. "Trying to run off with the Hourglass while my back is turned, huh? Well, too bad! It's my light and I'm here to take it back!"

    Braviary took off into the air, making for the Dusk Hourglass. At the same time, he yanked an Escape Orb from his satchel. Necrozma noticed this and disappeared in a burst of black smoke. He materialized in front of Braviary, eliciting a frightened squawk. Braviary gave a powerful flap of his wings, bringing his forward momentum to a screeching halt. However, he couldn't maintain a grip on the Escape Orb. A Shadow Ball met the falling item in midair and blew it into multicolored dust.

    "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I didn't make myself clear. None of you fools will be leaving this place in one piece! All of your light belongs to me and only me!" Necrozma bellowed. His red eyes flashed pink and the entrance to the temple slammed shut seconds before Tapu Bulu would have escaped through it with the Dusk Hourglass in his arms. A set of black, cast iron chains exploded out of the wall and wrapped themselves tightly around the door. Padlocks appeared in the chains, bearing Necrozma's star icon.

    Tapu Bulu fled away from Zero, eyes widened in panic. "This no make sense. Why you look like Lunala?" he asked.

    Necrozma frowned. "You can thank her for that," he hissed disdainfully, glaring at Zero. "She took the tiniest fraction of my spirit and shoved me inside this insipid body… forcing me to leech off Lunala's light or wither away into another awful stasis!"

    "Now, now," Zero said, "if you're looking to point fingers, they should go in the right direction. Zero turned to Braviary. "After all, if it wasn't for this winged Neanderthal and his miserable excuse for a boss, none of this would've happened."

    A volley of Air Slashes, a Flamethrower, and a small sand vortex all raced toward Zero. A massive pillar of yellow light blew the attacks apart like they were nothing. "Don't you dare try to attack her!" Necrozma snarled. "I won't see more of my precious light wasted on you fools and your asinine, uphill battle." He folded his wings over his chest, covering up his spasming arms.

    "I don't take kindly to varmints who call me things I don't right understand!" Braviary shouted. "And I especially can't stand insensitive clods who insult the guild!"

    Necrozma thrust his wings apart. Crimson energy exploded out all around him, forcing the various guild members to retreat farther into the temple. Tapu Bulu couldn't float away fast enough and the shockwave struck him from behind. It didn't appear to hurt all that much, but its intensity knocked him into one of his own statues, smashing it to pieces. Tapu Bulu kept a tight grip on the Dusk Hourglass and tried to fly for the door leading deeper into the table. Like the main entrance, however, it had been sealed shut with chains and heavy padlocks.

    "Was… was that Night Daze?" Shane gasped. "As in, Zoroark's move?"

    "You can't get mad at the truth, Braviary," Necrozma sneered. "After all… the only reason we're here right now is thanks to your wonderful, trusted Guildmaster."

    Shane's and Tessa's hearts were up in their throats. They both looked at each other, eyes filled with horror. 'No, that has to be a lie!' Shane thought. 'I don't want my worst fears confirmed! I want to be wrong about Metagross! Please, god, just let me be wrong!'

    Braviary didn't back down. Instead, he slung more wind blades toward Necrozma and Zero. Yungoos and Trapinch back him up with volleys of sand, Growlithe added a Flamethrower, Mimikyu contributed a purple Shadow Ball, and Umbreon sent a Dark Pulse rifling forward. The attacks coalesced into a swirling, dark gray vortex. Necrozma spread his wings in front of Zero. Multiple Shadow Balls surrounded him, brimming with pink energy. Necrozma thrust his arms in front of him. Bursts of psychic waves launched the Shadow Balls forward, destroying the guild members' combined attacks.

    "I told you to knock that off!" Necrozma sneered. "You can act as angry as you want, it won't change the fact that your Guildmaster told me where you would be. He was practically begging me to take your light for myself!" He cocked his head to the side. "He sold you out. He sold all of you out! Your guild will soon be nothing but a memory!"

    "I've already taken Team Captivate firmly under my possession," Zero exclaimed. "I think that they, like me, realize how futile it is to be an explorer. To prop up a world where we're at the mercy of ley lines and Mystery Dungeons."

    "And those pathetic bugs provided a juicy little meal for me on the way over!" Necrozma added, licking his lips. "A nice palette cleanser after I got through that yappy rodent and the stupid fish with the obnoxiooooooooous voice!"

    Shane's chest tightened. 'No way. He got Bruxish and Togedemaru, too?' He staggered backward, looking despondently at his teammates. 'This is horrible! We've played right into their hands!' He tugged Tessa's arm. "We have to get out of here. Grab an Escape Orb and get on Silvally. Then make a mad dash for Tapu Bulu."

    "B-But… what if they attack us?" Tessa squeaked, shivering violently. "I… I can't stand up to them. None of us can!"

    "If we stay here, we're as good as dead," Shane said. "There's nothing else we can do."

    Espeon and Umbreon both overhead their conversation and exchanged nervous looks. "C'mon, Umbry. Surely, you've got something in mind that we can do, right?"

    "I… I…" Umbreon got choked up on his words. He shut his eyes and looked away from Espy. Worry spread across her face.

    "Umbry, what are you thinking about?"

    "I have a plan," he croaked. "Just lay low for a moment. I have to see how this plays out."

    "What do you mean you have a plan?" Espeon hissed in a whisper. "You're going to tell me what it is, right? Right?" Much to her horror, Umbreon stepped forward. "Umbry! Talk to me, Umbry! This isn't like you at all. We're a team, remember?"

    "I know. Which is why I need you to trust me," he said, though he refused to make eye contact with her. "This is going to work. I can feel it in my bones." He took another cautious step forward, ignoring the growing fright in Espeon's expression.

    In front of them, Braviary lashed at the air with his talons. "Y'all don't know what yer talking about," he squawked. "I know Metagross better than anyone and–"

    CLANG!

    Zero slammed her staff into the ground. "No, you don't. None of you do. Because he pulled the wool over your eyes. He kept the guild functioning, so no one bothered to question him. Everyone was complacent. This whole wretched hive of a world is complacent!" Distorted ripples raced across her body and afterimages flickered around her. "No one questions the Legendaries. No one's held them accountable for the destruction they've wrought… for the lives they've ruined!"

    "They've created a situation where a repugnant creature like Metagross can go out and murder a selfless, innocent man for seemingly no good reason! And then turn around and stalk his victim's mate when she tries to get to the truth… culminating in an attempt to permanently silence her, too!" Zero snarled. "Your whole organization is a sham! It's photographic evidence that this world is sick. It must be cured. Your gods – your world's persistent, intractable infection – must be purged. That is my purpose! It's why I'm here!" She pointed her sparking scepter right at Braviary. "And it's why I have no qualms about stripping you spineless cowards of your lives right here and now!"

    A square beam made of glitchy black cubes raced toward Braviary, Mimikyu, Trapinch, Yungoos, and Growlithe. "Everybody move!" Braviary shouted, flapping his wings as hard as he could to ascend. Mimikyu shot his ragged arms out, shoving his guild mates to the side and barely skirting Zero's attack.

    "Guys, we have to help them!" Silvally shouted. His cheek bolts spun about intensely in their sockets and lightning crackled across his body. He launched Thunderbolts toward Zero, but Necrozma popped up in front of her in a cloud of black smoke.

    "Stop attacking, mistress! You're wasting my light! If anyone's killing these nobodies, it's me!" Necrozma thundered, snuffing out the electricity with pulses of pink psychic energy.

    "We've gotta move in! We've got the numbers!" Braviary shouted, pointing a wing toward Zero and Necrozma. "We ain't letting your varmints do a doggone thing to us, is that clear?" He smacked his wings together and Air Slash crescents rippled forward. They were joined by a Dark Pulse, Flamethrower, Shadow Ball, and two plumes of sand. On the other side of the room, Silvally launched his own stream of razor-sharp wind blades. Shane added a multicolored Aurora Beam while Espeon contributed a pink Psybeam.

    "I… said… that's… enough!"

    Necrozma brought his arms crashing down into the ground. Another crimson dome exploded out around him. It raced forward, harmlessly passing by Zero but greatly weakening the two combined attacks the guild members had put together. Zero pushed him aside and stuck a flickering paw up. Distorted red waves raced ahead of her, dispelling the remains of the guild's attacks and leaving everyone standing there with mixed looks of shock and confusion.

    The lone exceptions were Shane and Tessa, who sprinted along the side of the expansive entrance, trying to get to Tapu Bulu. He was feeling around at the walls with one of his arms, looking for a means of breaking it apart and making an exit. Zero caught them in her line of sight and hurled a red Aura Sphere forward as fast as she could. Silvally jumped into the air, a golden wheel encompassing his body. The wheel burst into surges of orange energy that coated his forelegs. He slashed the Aura Sphere in half and its energy flickered out harmlessly.

    "Don't just float there, Necky. You're so adamant about all of this… do something!" Zero barked, charging up another Aura Sphere.

    "We ain't gonna give you the chance!" Braviary shouted. Another combination attack spiraled toward Necrozma, whose wings twitched and armed spasmed.

    "You… you fools… you will not keep all this light away from me!" Necrozma roared. He thrust his arms and wings apart. The former's light-blue coloration suddenly grew blindingly bright. Six glowing balls of light encircled Necrozma's body. A stream of blue energy raced from each ball to the center of Necrozma's body.

    "I'll annihilate you all!"

    A massive beam of light-blue and distorted black energy raced out of Necrozma's body. It not only effortlessly swallowed up the guild members' attacks, it continued heading toward them, growing steadily larger.

    Yungoos' eyes widened. "No! NOOOOOOOOOO!"

    "Get outta there, y'all!" Braviary hollered, desperately beating his wings.

    "It's useless! Witness the raw power of Moongeist Beam and die!" Necrozma screeched. His attack completely engulfed Yungoos, Growlithe, Trapinch, and Mimikyu. Silvally looked up and saw the beam strike Braviary's right wing.

    Braviary screamed and spiraled down to the ground, smoke funneling off his limb. "Hang on!" Silvally shouted, racing toward him at top speeds.

    "Foolish Legendary knock-off! I won't let you get between me and my prey!" Necrozma snarled. Two purple Shadow Balls rifled toward Silvally, but the chimera deactivated his Memory Looplet. They harmlessly struck him as he caught Braviary out of the sky. Braviary had completely lost consciousness, but Silvally looked at his injured wing.

    "Ah! Your wing's totally crystallized!" Silvally gasped. He turned around, blowing the smoke from Necrozma's Moongeist Beam away. What he found were four piles of sickly-black crystals, each of which sucked the light of the room away. Silvally turned back to Necrozma, his silver eyes glowing brightly. "You monster! None of them deserved to die like that!" He shook Braviary off his back. "I'll rip you apart! I'll tear you to shreds! I'll–"

    "Heeheeheehee! Now that sounds more like a proper God Killer," Necrozma taunted, licking rainbow-colored juiced from his lips. "But it's utterly meaningless. We're cut from the same cloth, you and I. We're both monstrosities… immortal monstrosities. None of these Pokémon here should mean anything to you!"

    "Even if you somehow stopped me… you'd end up having to watch as the friends you claim to love so much die one by one until you're left all alone!" Necrozma ranted, his red eyes flashing erratically. "And then what will you do, Silvally? Go slink off and spend your existence alone in some cave like the Legendaries you were molded after? Or will the losses prove too heartbreaking? Will you drown in the depths of your own despair… and end your life like I did?"

    Zero paused in the midst of charging an attack to strike Shane and Tessa at the far end of the room. The attack faded and she stepped away from Necrozma, her lone eye narrowing. Across the room, Shane abruptly skidded to a halt, tripping Tessa up in the process. His eyes slowly widened. "No…" he whispered. "No… it can't be! That's… this… there's no way…" His gaze fell to the ground and he started making dry heaving motions.

    "Shane? What's wrong?" Tessa asked, waving a paw in front of her face. "You're scaring me!"

    Necrozma paid them no mind. He leaned forward, leering at Silvally with a wide grin on his face. "Well, go on. Tell us!" He gestured toward Shane and Tessa. "Look your 'friends' in the eyes and tell them that, as they wither away into dust, you won't look any different than you do right now."

    Silence fell over the room. Zero held her scepter close to her, opting to keep her eye trained on Tapu Bulu, who continued to ignore the conversation and move his free arm along the room's far wall.

    "N… Nicky?"

    Necrozma disappeared from Zero's side, teleporting over to Shane's location. Tessa yelped and scrambled backwards, aura feelers pulsing in step with her heartrate. "What's that? Speak up… we couldn't hear you over in the cheap seats!"

    "Y… You're Nicky," Shane rasped, his voice filled with dread. "I'm so stupid. I should've realized it before." He looked up at Necrozma. "Dude, I can't… I… what happened to you?"

    "… Nicky's dead," Necrozma replied coldly. "You made sure of that."

    A stabbing pain gripped Shane's chest. "N… Nicky…"

    "That name is meaningless! Nicky died centuries ago! I am Necrozma… Devourer of Light!"

    Necrozma turned to his right and launched a red and black beam toward Tapu Bulu. The Land Spirit floated out of the attack's path. He raised an arm up and giant, ethereal vines shot out of the floor, looking to skewer Necrozma. Shane remained standing there, dumbstruck, as Necrozma used bursts of psychic energy to turn each of the vines aside and shatter them. Tessa, meanwhile, ran away from the scene as fast as she could.

    "Nicky, you have to stop this! I… I'm sorry!" Shane begged. "I didn't know how you were feeling, I swear. I never realized the bullies had gotten to you so badly. I–"

    "Of course you didn't know! Because you only care about yourself!" Necrozma roared. He pulled his right wing back. Three dark orbs resembling tiny meteors crackled into existence against his wing's membrane. Necrozma pointed toward Tapu Bulu. Two of the meteors streamed toward him, leaving trails of dark smoke. The remaining one went toward Espeon and Umbreon, forcing them to flee to the opposite corner of the room.

    Shane's jaw dropped in shock. "Th… that's… just like... Drac–"

    "Heeheeheehee! If I'm going to be stuck as a bat… I may as well make the most of it, right?" Necrozma said, a big grin on his face. In front of him, Tapu Bulu formed two pronged horns made of green energy. He raced toward Necrozma, skewering his dark meteors and hurtling them into a wall, where they exploded.

    Zero took advantage of the ongoing struggle. She pointed her free paw at Tessa and clenched it into a fist. A red circle surrounded Tessa, distorting the space it occupied. Tessa looked around and her aura feelers rose in alarm as she realized something was terribly wrong. Silvally noticed what Zero was doing. "Hey, you leave her alone!" he shouted, launching a Flamethrower toward her.

    "This doesn't concern you, mutt," Zero growled. She pivoted and the red dome that had encircled Tessa went with her. Silvally's Flamethrower sailed inside the dome. Zero brought her fist to her chest and the dome collapsed, snuffing out the flames. But Silvally charged toward Zero, claws brimming with golden energy. He swung a foreleg at Zero, but she parried the blow with her staff.

    Silvally's superior weight nearly left Zero open to a second strike from his other foreleg. But she raised her free arm up and absorbed some of the strike with the black claws protruding from her paw. The collision made her stumble backward. Silvally immediately readied another Flamethrower. "You're making a huge mistake," Zero hissed. "Though, if you're really molded after the Legendaries, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you're this willing to protect them."

    "This is about protecting everyone! I'm not going to let you ruin the world!" Silvally cried and breathed out another Flamethrower. Zero pointed her free paw forward, unleashing a gray stream of liquid metal. The attacks met in midair and stalemated, resulting in an intense burst of heat pushing Zero and Silvally back.

    "I'm not ruining the world. I'm the one who's going to fix it!" Zero barked, her eye sparking with blue fire. Tessa noticed the blue glint in Zero's eye and tensed up, bending over and clasping her paws to her chest. "Fix it so that there will be no more heinous crimes. And no more humans dragged here against their wills!" Zero pointed toward Tapu Bulu with her scepter, who was busy parrying more dark meteors from Necrozma with his energy vines. "Look at that. All Tapu Bulu cares about is himself. He's fighting for his own survival."

    "That's not true! He gave Shane Z-Power which can put a stop to your awful schemes!" Silvally spat. A current ran over his fur and electricity jumped off his head crest, streaming toward Zero. She tapped her staff to the ground and a wall of black cubes formed in front of her. It absorbed the Thunderbolt, turning red in the process. The wall collapsed and hastily reformed to Zero's left. When it did, it launched the Thunderbolt in Tessa's direction. She yelped and fell to her belly, dodging the attack by a hair.

    "It was a half-baked gesture he did on a whim to suit his own fancy. These Tapus are all fickle-minded cretins," Zero spat. "One of them is happy to give some worthless Vulpix a Naturia Looplet. But when I went to Tapu Fini, begging for an audience with Ho-Oh to restore a life that was unjustly snuffed out in its prime, you know what I got told? To shove off!"

    Zero raised her glowing paw skyward. Giant red cubes formed in the air over Silvally and fell to the ground. Silvally sprinted over toward Tessa, dodging the avalanche of cubes as they struck the floor, sending out shockwaves of dark energy. He couldn't move fast enough, however. The last cube hammered him into the ground, leaving him writhing in pain in a crater.

    "Tapu Fini told me that I was 'impure.' She called my soul tainted and told me she'd never grant such a ridiculous request," Zero continued. "What right did she have to judge me? I had come to her with noble intentions and was turned aside like a piece of filthy trash!"

    Tessa dropped to her knees, staring at the floor in disbelief. 'Zero… the way she's shouting…' Tessa glanced up at Zero and her aura feelers scrunched up painfully. "That's Mom," she whispered. "There's nobody else it can be. Mom's totally lost it." Tessa looked over her shoulder, watching Shane stagger backwards from Necrozma. "Necrozma… he did something to her! He had to have!"

    "Nicky!" Shane cried out again, making Tessa jump. "You don't have to do this, anymore. I'm here! I understand now! We can just forget about all of this!"

    "Forget? There is no forgetting!" Necrozma shouted. He thrust his wings apart and another blue and black Moongeist Beam gathered around his chest. He launched the attack at Tapu Bulu, who barely managed to dodge. Shane looked at the wall the attack struck, noting a huge cluster of black crystals in its place.

    Necrozma whirled on Shane. "While I was trapped in the Ultra Nexus, I had a very, very long time to think about everything that happened to me," he said, banging his arms against his wings. "About how laughably one-sided our friendship had become." He pointed an accusatory arm at Shane. "And it all falls back on you."

    Tapu Bulu struck the ground with his free arm. A shockwave rippled toward Necrozma, but he teleported higher into the air, dodging it. Luckily for Shane, it fizzled out before it could strike him or Tessa. "I… I wasn't doing anything wrong!" Shane squeaked. "Maybe things weren't perfect, but I never realized how badly you felt."

    "LIAR!" Necrozma roared. "You knew exactly how bad things were. You just didn't care. Because you're a self-serving, manipulative jerk!" He turned back toward Tapu Bulu and launched three Shadow Balls at him, driving him back. One of the Shadow Balls clearly missed its mark, but Necrozma struck it with a psychic pulse, pushing it into the far corner in an attempt to strike Espeon. Umbreon jumped in front and blew the attack apart with a Dark Pulse.

    "But we had fun together. You never told me there was something wrong between us," Shane said, voice growing more unsteady.

    "I couldn't do that! Because you, being a conniving wretch, knew exactly all the buttons you needed to push to guilt trip!" Necrozma accused, eyes flashing with anger. "No matter what kind of situation I was in – even ones that didn't involve you – you could twist the issue around to make it about you!"

    Tessa turned to Shane, her head tilting. "That's not true!" Shane fired back, voice filled with uncertainty. "I was… I was confused and scared because you were upset and wouldn't tell me why."

    "Don't give me that crap. The truth is that you were– no, are masterful at playing the victim card!" Necrozma thundered. "In your eyes, you can do no wrong. Everything bad happens to you, but never because of you." Necrozma shook his head. He turned around, using a blast of psychic energy to repel Tapu Bulu and shatter his Horn Leech prongs. "I had stuck by you because we had shared interests… things that no one else in our class liked. But by the time I chose to end it, you were browbeating me into sticking by your side… always making me feel guilty enough to think I was at fault when the problem was really you!"

    Shane was backed up against the wall now, heart hammering in his chest. "I…" he started but couldn't figure out anything else to say. "I've changed. Even if that stuff was true, it's not anymore."

    Necrozma whirled around, slamming a fist into the wall above Shane. Debris rained down on Shane's head. His tails shot between his legs. "Yes, it is!" Necrozma bellowed. "Because you've done the exact same things to Tessa, your so-called 'new best friend.'" He fixed his gaze on Tessa, who jolted stiff. "You dug into her so badly you made her want to kill herself... just like me." Necrozma's head lolled to the side. "But don't worry. I'm going to fix that. Once I have my real body back, I'll make you into the perfect friend. And we will destroy this worthless world and every miserable creature living in it!"

    Before Shane had the opportunity to respond, a blinding flash of light erupted across the room. Necrozma screeched, throwing his arms up over his face. Zero likewise staggered backwards, rubbing her eyes. "Necky, what are you doing?" she shouted.

    "That wasn't me, mistress!" Necrozma hissed.

    "Well, get rid of the light! I can't see a damn thing!" Zero barked.

    Necrozma's red eyes flashed a red crescent moon appeared on his forehead. He sucked all the white light in the room toward him. Only, with the light dispelled, he immediately realized something was wrong. "What the–?"

    "U-Umbry, what are you doing?!"

    Necrozma and Zero looked up. Umbreon stood in the center of the room. His head was bowed in resignation and stardust coated his black fur. Far behind him, Team Radiance, Espeon, Braviary, and Tapu Bulu sat in the corner of the room, the latter clutching the Dusk Hourglass tightly. In front of them sat an activated Entercard. It spun in place, opening up a shimmering blue portal that started to swallow the group up.

    "No! NOOOO! I'm not letting you escape again!" Necrozma snarled. But a Dark Pulse struck his wing before he could teleport. It folded up against his body, sending him crashing into the floor.

    "Umbry, get over here!" Espeon shouted. "We're not leaving without you!"

    Zero sprinted toward the corner, using a burst of Extreme Speed to try and close the gap. However, Umbreon blocked her path. Zero ran right into him, knocking him backward. Umbreon got to his feet and looked back at Espeon. "I'm sorry, Espy. This was the only thing I could think of."

    "No, Umbry! I'm not leaving you here!" Espeon cried, tears welling up in her eyes. "Hurry! There's still time! You can still make it! You can't leave me alone! You said we're a team!"

    "It's too late for me, Espy," Umbreon said, firing a black beam from his mouth to force Zero away from the portal.

    "UMBRY!"

    "I love you, Espy. Take care."

    The Entercard portal vanished in a pillar of light, just as Necrozma teleported over it. He flew directly into the corner of the room and bounced off the wall, clutching at his head in pain. "You ingrate!" Zero snarled. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"

    "Yes. I've kept the Dawn Hourglass away from you," Umbreon replied, glaring defiantly at her.

    Zero raised her staff, dark energy crackling around it. "Well then, I think it's only fair I take something from you in retribution."

    She didn't get the chance to attack him, however. A cloud of shadows engulfed Umbreon, drawing a frightened howl. The clouds materialized into Necrozma. He floated in the air, one hand firmly gripped around Umbreon's throat and the other pressing down on his forehead, cutting off his means of channeling energy for an attack.

    "Do you think what you did is noble?" Necrozma hissed in a whisper. "This is no heroic sacrifice. I see your futile gesture for what it really is: a spineless, feeble whelp who's turning his back on his sister… on his mate!"

    Zero stiffened and Umbreon's eyes widened. Necrozma squeezed Umbreon's neck, drawing out a garbled gasp. "Oh, please. There's no need for the looks. It was obvious... not that it matters. Egg-making is nothing like how humans have kids. There's no DNA and no worries. But I digress." Necrozma pulled Umbreon close, so their foreheads were touching. He locked eyes with Umbreon. "You abandoned her… because you couldn't stand to be around her anymore."

    Necrozma held Umbreon away from him. "It's just as I've come to expect from you all. You don't care about each other. You'd rather face my fury than spend another second with your precious Espy."

    "That's… not… tr… ue…" Umbreon wheezed.

    "Lying fool!" Necrozma hissed. "If you don't have the spine to admit your treachery, then you can disappear like every other soulless mortal!" He leaned over again. The crescent moon on his forehead disappeared, only to be replaced by a red eye that looked right at Umbreon, who cried out in pain.

    "Wh… at… are… you?"

    Zero tilted her head curiously, watching as tiny fragments of Necrozma's crystal armor fell to the floor. Rainbow light radiated out from his torso, forming a peculiar pattern against the wall: a winged heart, with two demonic horns sprouting out from the top like a crown and a piercing eye in the center.

    "Heeheeheehee! I thought the Expedition Society would've made it clear to the world, but it seems I was wrong. I'll need to spell it out for you, then," Necrozma said. "As long as there's a single ounce of negativity in the world…"

    Necrozma tightened his grip on Umbreon's neck. Umbreon gasped and tried to paw at Necrozma's arms to no avail.

    "… there will always be a Dark Matter," Necrozma whispered. He dug his claws into Umbreon's neck. Tears welled up in Umbreon's eyes.

    "I wanted to help people… and then, after being brought here, I was willing to help Pokémon, too. But when the time came for them to return that favor, they ignored me! I hoped things would be different here than in the human world, but I was wrong! No matter what world you're in, you'll find nothing but a toxic cesspool of negativity!" Necrozma ranted as he slowly siphoned Umbreon's life energy.

    "They brought me here to protect this world. But it cannot be saved! The only way to protect it is to burn it all down. So, I will fulfill Dark Matter's vision! I will regain my light and erase this world, leaving nothing but chaos behind!"

    Necrozma snapped Umbreon's neck. The last of Umbreon's light trickled into Necrozma's mouth and his head slumped against his shoulder. Necrozma tossed his colorless body to the ground. "Shall we get going, mistress?" He turned around, only to find Zero wasn't standing there. The door to the temple had been forcefully opened and Necrozma's locks lay shattered along the ground.

    "Oh? Well now… this should be interesting," Necrozma whispered, disappearing into the shadows.

    XxX​

    "She's gone."

    Shane blinked in confusion, his gaze fixed on a tearful Lunala. "Wh… what do you mean? Who's gone?"

    "Cresselia!" Lunala blurted out. "She passed away last night."

    "Oh. Uh… that's… I'm sorry to hear that," Shane whispered, except his voice was much deeper than usual. "I know you two were close."

    "Of course we were close! We were best friends!" Lunala sobbed. "She was one of the few Pokémon who was active at night. But she didn't even tell me she was ready to pass on! No goodbye… not even a letter!" She threw a wing up over her face. "And now she's gone… forever!"

    "I mean, that's not technically true," Shane muttered.

    "We both know her daughter doesn't give a lick about either of us," Lunala said, rubbing her eyes with her wing. "She cares about Darkrai… and only Darkrai."

    Shane shook out his unusually heavy, metallic body. "Yeah… the less said about that guy, the better." He stepped toward Lunala. "I'm sorry for your loss." He saw her shiver. "Listen, you want to talk about it?"

    "With you? Please. You weren't close with Cresselia like I was," Lunala dismissed, giving him a shove.

    "Maybe not, but I am close to you," Shane said. "If you're hurting, then I want to help."

    Lunala pulled her wing away from her face. "Do you really mean that? Or are you just saying that to make yourself look better?"

    Shane winced. "I…" He paused. "We're partners, Lunala. We stand by each other, no matter what," he whispered. "Whatever you want to say… say it. And if you'd rather sit in silence, we can do that too."

    Lunala sighed. She pulled Shane into an embrace and rested her head on his shoulder. "Just give me a minute," she said.

    "Of course."

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    Shane's body jerked forward. He looked to his right and spotted the Dusk Hourglass sitting next to him. A fine black mist evaporated off of the artifact, some of which brushed his fur. He took a few hesitant steps back. Suddenly, his ears twitched and folded against his head.

    "UMBRYYYYYYYY!"

    He turned around to find Espeon sprawled out of the ground. Tears poured out of her glowing eyes, while pink vapors streamed out of the broken gem on her forehead. She thrashed about from underneath Silvally. The chimera had his dark-type form active, absorbing the energy Espeon tried to channel.

    "LEMME GO! I HAVE TO GO BACK! UMBRY! UMBRYYYYYYYYYY!" she wailed, turning to try and bite Silvally's foreleg. He quickly moved it back, out of range of her snout.

    "You can't do that, Espeon," Silvally said. "You'd just be walking right into certain death."

    "I don't care!" Espeon screamed. Silvally squawked loudly, hind legs tensing. He looked back to see Espeon brushing her tail against the base of his. She tried to seize on his momentary discomfort and slide out from under him. But Silvally dug his talons into the ground, and she went nowhere. "Get off of me!" she hissed. "I need to go back for him! I can't lose him too! Not after today… not after I've lost everything else!"

    "Espeon, you need to be reasonable," Tessa pleaded. "I know this is bad, but trying to go back to the temple isn't going to bring Umbreon back."

    "DON'T SAY THAT!" she shouted. A Shadow Ball raced toward a wide-eyed Tessa, only for pink energy to detonate it prematurely.

    "Espeon, what are you doing? You have to calm down," Silvally begged. "I know this is bad… but… but we can work through this… together."

    "SHUT UP!" she screeched, again trying unsuccessfully to escape Silvally. "You don't understand. Umbry was all I had left. And now he's… he's gone too! How he could do this? We said we'd always be there for each other! But now he's gone and I'm alone and…"

    Espeon burst into tears, burying her face in the ground. Shane stepped away from his teammates, biting his lower lip. He thought back to his overnight conversation with Umbreon.

    I've tried to do the best I can to support her. It's tough sometimes.

    'Wait…' Shane's brow furrowed. He looked back up at Espeon, who shuddered as Tessa rubbed one of her shoulders.

    She's unbearable! And, after all that stuff with Zero, it's just too much for me to handle. I'm afraid of what the future holds for her. I can't keep her grounded anymore. I'm exhausted. And I really don't know what to do.

    'No,' Shane thought. 'He couldn't have done this on purpose, could he?' His gaze fell back toward the ground. He squeezed his eyes shut. 'But, did he really need to sacrifice himself like that? Oh god… oh god!' He shook his head rapidly. 'No, please don't tell me I let it happen again. I can't have let someone just throw their life away again!'

    His chest tightened. 'Nicky… how did this all get so out of control? That couldn't… you were like a completely different person!'

    I see you've returned with the Dusk Hourglass… and Tapu Bulu.

    Shane's fur crawled. Before he had the chance to turn and look to his right, Silvally sprang off of Espeon. He channeled his dark memories and sheathed his forelegs in black shadows.

    CLANG!

    Silvally's shadowy talons met Metagross' foreleg. The chimera bounced back, black shadows streaming out of his eyes. A shockwave of dark energy raced forward, leaving Metagross with no means of countering. The Guildmaster's legs buckled, black bolts crackling across his body.

    Wh… what is the meaning of this?

    A weak cough drew Metagross' attention. Braviary stood propping himself up against a wall. "Guildmaster…" He shuddered. "No… Mets… what have you done?"

    Metagross stepped back toward his office, and then lunged for Silvally, his forelegs glowing bright orange. Silvally jumped upward, dodging the Hammer Arms and landed on top of Metagross. He bit down on Metagross' head with his blackened beak. Shadows raced across the Guildmaster's vibrating body.

    Get off of me. This behavior is unacceptable!

    "No, it ain't!" Braviary cawed. "You sent us out to that desert to get slaughtered!" He pointed his good wing at Metagross.

    Negative. I sent you all in anticipation of a Prism Virus attack.

    "Liar!" Silvally snarled. He raised his shadow-covered talons to strike, but Metagross knocked Silvally off of his head. Metagross then kicked Silvally in the stomach with his hind legs. Silvally rocketed back into the office door, bouncing off of it with a sickening crack.

    "We heard everything… you done turned traitor on us! You told the Prism Virus everything!" Braviary accused. "We lost almost everyone. Look at what happened to me!" He tried to raise his crystallized wing to no avail. "I'm ruined! I'm never gonna fly again! And it's all yer fault!"

    Multicolored glows overtook Metagross' eyes. You have no right to stand there accusing me! You were trying to kill me first! You… and Incineroar… and that wretched human-turned-Lucario…

    "Wait, what?" Tessa gasped, looking like she'd been punched in the gut.

    you all had it in for me. All of you wanted me dead! Incineroar left me to flounder while Dark Matter wreaked havoc. Only sheer dumb luck prevented my death, but I know that you all kept scheming, Metagross continued stomping toward Braviary, whose eyes had gone wide. Silvally let loose a Flamethrower, but Metagross spun around and pushed the flames back with a blast of psychic energy.

    "How could ya ever think that, Mets? I've been yer best pal for ages! We were teammates! We–"

    CLANG!

    Braviary's head hit the wall and rebounded off it. His beak opened and closed a few times but no words came out. Trembling, he placed his good wing against his head and then let go. He glanced at the blood staining his feathers. His eyes then rolled back into his head and he slumped down onto his side, drool trickling out of his mouth.

    "It was you…"

    Metagross turned around, locking eyes with Tessa. She pointed right at him with a shaky paw. "Gallian was right. You killed Dad."

    Of course I did! He tried to have me killed. Just like you all! You all want me to disappear, but I refuse. I deserve to live! I will not disappear! Metagross said. Necrozma was supposed to destroy you all. Then I could forge a path toward a new life... in a new reality. Away from all of you and your minds. Your obnoxious minds! No more intrusive thoughts! No more intrusive people! And no more threats to my existence!

    "You're totally delirious!" Silvally spat. "Nobody's been trying to kill you at all!"

    LIES! Metagross shouted, slamming a foreleg on the ground. It was Incineroar who got the ball rolling. Ever since he evolved, I knew he had it out for me. Everyone has it out for me! He took a step toward the Dusk Hourglass. I will be taking this. If you dare to oppose me, then I will strike you do–

    Silvally sprinted across the room as fast as he had ever run. Dark energy erupted around his forelegs. He slashed the center of Metagross' face, shattering the metal cross and exposing the gray plating underneath. Metagross stepped backward, eyes flashing a multitude of different colors and screaming in a voice that constantly shifted its pitch.

    That will be quite sufficientary, criminal.

    A pink gas washed across Metagross' body. His eyes turned black and he collapsed onto his belly, not moving a muscle. Silvally looked up to see Magearna standing by the hallway leading toward her workshop, an arm pointed at Metagross.

    "What did you do to him?" Silvally asked.

    I applicated a sleeping agent, Magearna declared. This should hold him until Officer Magnezone gets here. Then he'll be out of our lives for good. She held up her other arm and a grappling hook shot out of it. It wrapped tightly around Metagross. Magearna started walking toward the stairs.

    "Do you, uh, want any help with that?" Silvally asked.

    I'm alright, Magearna replied. Right now, you all need to focus on recovering. I think you've been through quite the ordeal. She paused and peered over the stairway railing. Comfey, could you tend to Braviary and our guest? They need immediate attention.

    Team Radiance watched Comfey float out of the northern hallway. She did a quick double-take at the sight of Tapu Bulu, before levitating him and Braviary and taking them back toward the infirmary. Once she was gone, Magearna disappeared up the stairs, dragging Metagross' limp body behind her.

    Tessa's shoulders, ears, and aura feelers drooped. "This is… unbelievable," she whispered. "What are we supposed to do now?" Thoughts of Zero's angry comments filled her mind. 'Mom is Zero. How can I possibly fight the Prism Virus knowing that? Did she know about Metagross and Dad? Is that what really led her to leave me behind?'

    Silvally looked between Tessa and Shane, who was similarly lost in thought. "G… guys? Are you, um, doing okay?"

    Neither of them responded. They both continued to stare at the floor. "Umbry," Espeon suddenly sniffled, drawing everyone's attentions. "Why did you have to go? You'd know just what to do right now." She rubbed her face against the floor.

    "This… I…" Shane stammered, immediately looking back down at his feet. 'Everything's spiraling out of control. I can't deal with this! I want out. I've had enough. If Nicky's the one behind all of this, then I can't go forward anymore. The Prism Virus can have this world… just send me home!' he thought, shuffling backward. In the process, his right hind food brushed against the Dusk Hourglass. It wobbled from the contact. At the same time, some of the purple mist swirling around it raced up Shane's leg.

    His fur stood on end and his tails shot into the air. A tingle raced up toward his head. Shane's jaw fell open and a weak gasp of air escaped. The assembly room melted away around him, replaced by the vast expanse of outer space. Stars twinkled around him and, in the distance, a bright yellow fireball hovered there. Solar flares raced around it, making Shane's eyes sparkle.

    Shane looked about in a panic, only for a loud roar to echo in his mind. A burning, lion-shaped silhouette charged out from the fireball, drawing closer and closer to Shane with each step. He tried to move, but his limbs failed him. All he could do was squeak in fright as the flaming lion charged into him. The instant he did, Shane snapped back to reality. His pupils dilated and he doubled over in a coughing fit.

    "Shane," Tessa gasped, looking concerned. "Are you okay? You look like you're about to puke."

    Shane opened his mouth, trying to say something. But instead of words, he gave a single, violent cough. With that cough came a large, bright-red fireball. It flew across the room, grazing an unsuspecting Espeon's tail before hitting the far wall and burning a hole in the purple tapestry.

    Silvally turned to look at Shane. "Did… did you just breath fire?"

    Shane's legs trembled. He took a few shaky steps forward. "I… I don't…" His voice trailed off while his eyes darted about the room in confusion. He looked over at Tessa, but she seemed just as confused as she did.

    "You… you stupid… stupid loser!"

    Shane jumped from Espeon's angry shout. He looked over to see her staring at the blackened end of her tail. She turned and locked eyes with him. "This is all your fault!" she accused, stepping toward him. Her eyes turned blue and her irises vanished. "You did this to us! You're the reason Necrozma's here! You're the reason the Prism Virus is terrorizing all of us!" Tears poured out of her eyes. "It's all on your head! If you had just given up, then everyone in Pokémon Paradise would still be alive! Umbry would still be alive!"

    "Espeon, wait. I'm sorry," Shane said. "I swear, I could never have known Nicky would end up here! Everything's just–"

    "I hate you!" she shrieked, smacking a forepaw on the ground. "You ruined my life! I want you gone! You hear me? GONE!"

    Pink energy leaked out of Espeon's cracked gem. More splinters appeared in it as Espeon levitated Shane into the air. Shane flailed his limbs about in vain before Espeon tossed him down the southern hallway.

    Craaaaaaash!

    Before Silvally could try to subdue her, Espeon turned and sprinted off toward the housing wing, sobbing uncontrollably. Silvally and Tessa stood in stunned silence. They traded looks with each other, but neither of them could find their voice. The silence persisted, until they heard a groan coming from Shane's direction.

    "We should go help him," Tessa muttered. Silvally stepped in her path, blocking off the southern hallway.

    "What about Espeon?" he asked. "We shouldn't just leave her alone while she's…" His brow furrowed. "… like that."

    "Then you deal with her," Tessa said. "I'm not going anywhere near her until she's simmered down."

    Silvally blinked. "But…"

    "Look, things are… everyone's in a bad place right now," Tessa said. Her mind was filled with thoughts of her mother, but she forced herself to push them aside. "Shane's our teammate. We should tend to him first," she insisted. Tessa moved to shove Silvally out of the way, but he stood firm.

    "Tessa," he whispered. "Think about what's happened to Espeon today. I'm not saying it was okay for her to attack Shane like that. But… I think she has a right to feel that awful. Don't you?"

    Tessa again thought about Zero. But then thoughts of Gallian popped up in her mind. She tucked her head against her chest and fidgeted with her paws. "I… I guess."

    "I don't think there's anyone here who has a better idea of what she's going through than you do," Silvally said. "Which is why you should go talk to her."

    "But what about Shane? I should–"

    "I'll go help him," Silvally said. Tessa's fidgeting intensified. Silvally crouched down and leaned in toward her face. "Please," he whispered, gently bopping her snout with his beak. "She needs a friend right now."

    'And so do I,' Tessa thought.

    Silvally frowned. "Is there something wrong?"

    Tessa stiffened. "It's just… I'm not Espeon's friend," she whispered meekly.

    "Then, as cheesy as it sounds, just give her a shoulder to cry on," Silvally said. "I'm not the right Pokémon to help her. You are. I'm just asking you to trust me on this one."

    Tessa sighed and nodded slowly. "Okay," she said. "And you're sure you can tend to Shane?"

    Silvally nodded. "You have my word."

    The two exchanged silent looks, before slowly turning and departing down different hallways. Tessa knew she would have to confront the truth about Zero, since those thoughts were racing through her head.

    'But maybe, if I can calm Espeon down, I can start to feel better, too.'

    XxX
    Okay, now for the end notes. First, to answer questions about Mimikyu, the fact of the matter was that the original plan was that he would survive and accompany Team Radiance as a tag along. However, after writing the battle with Tapu Lele, I realized that I had pretty much had no plans for the guy beyond having him just be there. On top of that, his cowardice schtick had gotten quite aggravating to write. Which resulted in him getting the axe (or the Moongeist Beam). And I didn't want to rewrite the other chapters to remove him, so I just left him in. I hope that makes sense.

    On the flip side, the fake-out with Espeon's death last episode was deliberate... because this was going to happen instead. I realize there's a lot of character killing go on but, well, that's intentional. Because Super Mystery Dungeon did it, too. And I did say this episode would really shake up the status quo. Usually things don't go wrong for the guild until near the end of the story. Needless to say, I wanted to change that. I hope you liked it. I'd appreciate feedback either way.

    Next time: the healing process begins.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2018
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  6. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Content Advisory: while nothing is explained in detail, a method of suicide is brought up in this chapter.

    Finally, a quieter chapter. But that doesn't mean there won't be a lot of intrigue. For those of you music-listeners, might I suggest this backing music, here? Anyway, onto the update!

    XxX

    Chapter 50: Ties That Bind Us

    Silvally heard wood creaking as he walked toward the sentry station. Upon entering, he discovered that Shane had broken the table. His tails stuck out of its remains. "Hey. Uh, are you okay?" Silvally asked.

    One of Shane's tails twitched. Silvally walked forward, pushing wooden fragments aside with his beak. He finally found Shane at the bottom of the rubble. Shane's fur was disheveled and had clusters of splinters sticking out of it. Silvally repeated his earlier question.

    "No," Shane whimpered. "I'm not okay." Silvally frowned, but still offered a foreleg to help Shane to his feet. Shane stumbled out onto the floor, trying to shake the splinters from his fur to little avail. "None of this is okay," he said. "Necrozma is right… I'm a miserable failure."

    "Shane, you can't beat yourself up over this," Silvally scolded.

    "It's not beating myself up if it's true," Shane responded, lashing out at one of the broken planks of wood. He pulled his paw back and glanced at the splinters that had gotten caught on it. "Everything's spiraled out of control. Pokémon are dying left and right at the hands of the guy who used to be my best friend. I'm seeing all these memories from Solgaleo, who's apparently dead. And it… it…" He collapsed onto his belly, shivering.

    "What is it? What's the problem? Tell me. I wanna help!" Silvally begged.

    "… it feels like my humanity's slipping away."

    Silvally's jaw stiffened. "I don't understand."

    "I don't either!" Shane cried, smacking his head against his forelegs. "Ever since Mellath Bog… there's been this little voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that this is all wrong. That I'm not Shane. I was never Shane. That my mind is filled with memories that are mine… but aren't mine. And… and…" He threw his forepaws over his head and started rubbing his temples. "It's getting worse! Because Necrozma… he said all this stuff about me that I know is true… but then that other voice starts screaming in my mind that it isn't! I don't know what to believe anymore!"

    Shane looked up at Silvally. "Is this what it's like for you?" he whimpered.

    "Well, not anymore," Silvally replied. "You guys helped me with that." He let himself slide down to his belly and shuffled next to Shane. "We can get through this together, though."

    "Nuh… no…" Shane whimpered. Silvally could feel him shaking. "We can't do this," he said. "The Prism Virus is too strong. I'm too weak. Even with Z-Power, I can't face down Zero. I can't face down Necrozma… I mean Nicky. I mean… ugh, see? I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore." He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "It's just like Espeon said. Everything's my fault."

    "Shane…"

    "Look, I get it. We can't not do something about the Prism Virus. But, like, you guys should come up with a plan that doesn't involve me," Shane insisted. He lay his head on the ground. "I'm just… I'm not going to be of any help here."

    "That's not true. You have Z-Power. That can undo the effects of the Prism Virus," Silvally reminded him.

    Shane sniffled. "It won't matter if I don't get the opportunity to actually use it. And, let's face it, with how badly I'm getting my butt whupped, that chance isn't going to happen again. Nicky knows my weaknesses… he'll just end up making me more useless than I already am."

    Silvally's brow furrowed and he gave Shane a concerned look. "So, everything Necrozma said is really true?"

    Shane flinched, squeaking loudly. He tried turning away from Silvally. But Silvally grabbed Shane's shoulder with his talons and turned him so they were face to face. "Shane, you can tell me. I want to help. And I can't do that if you're keeping secrets."

    Shane's eyes glossed over. "Please don't make me say it," he said, choking up.

    Silvally sighed. "But if you don't say anything, this will keep eating at you and making you feel even worse. I don't want to see you like this."

    "It's not your problem," Shane said. "Don't you get it? I want you and Tessa to stay safe, not worry about me. I'm… I'm a nobody. I don't matter." He winced. "Wait… that just sounds like I'm playing the victim, doesn't it? See? Nicky's right…"

    "Shane, we're a team," Silvally said. "And you're my friend. I want to see you happy again." He lowered his head to Shane's eye level. "It's just like back when I tried to quit the guild. You wouldn't give up on me. So, I'm not giving up on you."

    Shane's muzzle stiffened. "Ugh… you just had to pull that line out, didn't you?" he said, blinking tears out of his eyes.

    "What can I say? I have quite the memory now," Silvally mused, gesturing to his looplet.

    Shane couldn't help but laugh. "Okay… I'll give you that one," he conceded, his tone bittersweet. "I just… give me a second to gather my thoughts." He slowly rose into a seated position. "If Necrozma's really Nicky… then, yes, he killed himself. And I didn't realize it until it was too late to save him."

    "What happened back in the human world?" Silvally asked.

    Shane sighed and shook his head. "Nicky and I were really close. He was… pretty much my only friend that I had growing up. I mean… I tried to make friends. I really did. My parents… they even made the people running my school try to help. They set up these social group thingies that they made me go to. But it never worked. I'd say something stupid… or do something that would make people laugh at me. Not Nicky, though. He never seemed bothered by it."

    He paused to see if Silvally had any comments. When Silvally remained quiet, he continued, "But I had a problem. See, everyone's interests changed as they got older, while mine… I dunno… just sort of stayed the same. Nicky was the same way, too. We had a lot in common and we kept a lot in common, including loving Pokémon." Shane hung his head. "But… that was a big mistake. I should've stopped paying attention to Pokémon. We both should have."

    "Why?" Silvally wondered.

    "Well, like I said, people's interests changed as they got older. A lot of people around me thought it wasn't okay to like Pokémon."

    Silvally looked confused. "Why should they care what you like?"

    "Because that's just what humans are like, okay?" Shane snapped. Silvally recoiled, frowning. "They're judgmental! Nothing you do will ever be good enough for them. They'll do whatever they think is necessary to put you down and make themselves look better." Shane rubbed tears out of his eyes. "I was too stupid to realize that. I thought if I ignored people I didn't like, they wouldn't bother me. I focused my attention on Nicky… or things that I could do by myself. And when I did that, my problems just disappeared."

    Shane glanced at Silvally, who was still frowning. "I… sorry, I just. This is hard for me." He took a deep breath. "The older Nicky and I got, the more it seemed like everyone around us made friends with each other. I didn't like that. So, I spent more and more time by myself. And that made me happy. At the same time, though, I still tried to see Nicky when I could. Because I had the most fun playing Pokémon with him."

    "The only problem was Nicky got busier," Shane said, ears folding against his face. "I would beg him to come hang out with me. He'd usually say yes, but sometimes it felt like his mind was someplace else. I never said anything to him about that, though. I figured if I did, he'd get upset. And I didn't want to lose my one and only friend."

    "Eventually, I noticed other people would come up to me and Nicky… and say hurtful things," Shane whispered, poking at the ground with a forepaw.

    "You mean, like the things you used to say to me?" Silvally whispered.

    Shane winced. "Worse," he mumbled. Silvally leaned in curiously, but Shane pushed his face away with a forepaw. "I'm not saying anything else," he growled. "I don't want to remember that stuff, got it?" Silvally nodded. "Good. Because it made me upset. But my parents had always told me that if I got upset, then the bullies would win. I just needed to ignore them. Then they'd get bored and stop. So, I tried ignoring them and told Nicky that nothing was wrong. Except, Nicky started to push back against our classmates. He'd get upset when they said mean things." Shane shook his head. "I didn't really think much of it. I was still having fun with Nicky. And I was worried if I said something, we wouldn't be friends anymore."

    "But one day, after one of our classmates broke something important to Nicky, he called me out of the blue," Shane said. Silvally started to open his beak, when Shane cut him off. "We humans have something like the Gear-Coms. That's what he used." Silvally shut his mouth, nodding his understanding. "Anyway, he called me up. And… he seemed off. But I was on my way to my job. So, I brushed him off. I told him I didn't have time to deal with him." Shane's eyes snapped shut.

    "Wh… what happened after that?" Silvally asked, though he had a pretty good idea of what the answer was.

    "I got home from work… and Nicky… he…" Shane's breaths came in sharp shudders. Tears trickled down his cheeks. "My mom told me… Nicky had been rushed to the hospital. He had taken a bunch of pills and gotten hold of his parents' vodka."

    A confused look spread across Silvally's face, but he remained silent.

    "Nicky… didn't make it," Shane croaked. "Died in the emergency room. And I let it happen." Shane rubbed his head against his shoulders, trying to stop snot from trickling out of his nostrils. "All because I was too afraid of making people upset."

    "I… uh…" Silvally looked away. "That does sound pretty rough."

    "I'm not looking for sympathy!" Shane growled, catching Silvally by surprise. "Nicky's the one who suffered. I was his friend and I didn't do anything to help him!" He shook his head. "That's why he said all that awful stuff. And that's why you and Tessa shouldn't be wasting your time with me. Because all I know how to do is turn my back on people. I'm not a hero. I was never meant to be one. I'm just a loser… no matter what universe I'm in."

    "I don't believe that."

    "Because you barely know me!" Shane shouted. This time he shoved Silvally, who stumbled to his feet with a concerned look on his face. "I had nothing going for me as a human. Every youth sport I tried, I sucked at. Every gym class I went to, the teams practically fought each other not to have to pick me. Whenever there was group work in school, I was always the odd man out. I either ended up working with the teacher or by myself. I couldn't even get into college after two attempts. I just… found some random job and spent whatever free time I had locked away in my room. Nicky was the only bright spot and I didn't lift a finger to help him because I was too scared!" Shane collapsed onto the ground, ears folding against his head.

    Silvally stepped toward Shane, but he turned away, crying into his forelegs. "When I woke up here… I thought it meant that finally… finally I was going to be something special. That something good was going to happen to me. But it's the exact opposite. This isn't a gift. It's a punishment!" He racked his paws across his cheeks. "A punishment for being a horrible person who tries to milk sympathy out of everyone! I mean… that's what I'm doing right now, isn't it?"

    "And Tessa… oh gods… I treated her worse than Nicky," Shane bawled. "The things I did… the things I said. I'm… I'm not friend material. I brought all these problems onto her. I brought Necrozma onto this world. If I had just listened to Nicky… everyone here would be safe. This is my fault."

    He looked up at Silvally, his eyes red and puffy. "You should take Tessa and Espeon and leave. Please! Maybe you guys can still live out a peaceful life somewhere. But that won't happen if you stay around me. So, stop trying to help me. Because I deserve whatever Necrozma has planned for me. I deserve to disappear forever."

    "I don't believe that!"

    Shane tensed up. Silvally wrapped him up in an embrace, nestling his head underneath Shane's. "Stop. Don't say that stuff anymore," Silvally whimpered. "Please… you can't think like that. You can't believe those lies."

    "I don't know what to believe anymore," Shane blubbered, his voice cracking. "It's too confusing. And Tessa… and her mom… and Nicky… it's too much to deal with. I can't handle this responsibility. I was an idiot to think I ever could."

    Silvally pressed his head against Shane's neck. "I told you… you're not in this alone. Not anymore. As long as I'm standing… I'll be here to help you. You and Riolu."

    "And what about the fact that you almost got yourself killed today, huh?" Shane sniffled. "I almost cost Tessa her best friend. If there was no Necrozma, then Tapu Lele wouldn't have attacked and you wouldn't have gotten blown up."

    "Shane, you're blowing that out of proportion… no pun intended."

    Shane gave Silvally the evil eye. Silvally sighed. "Look. I'm sorry that I scared you. I didn't think things through back in the temple. I just saw you guys in trouble and leaped into action. I couldn't stand the sight of you two in pain." Silvally blinked tears out of his eyes. "I thought about the mask and how much it hurt… and before I knew it I was running at that Dark Matter clone. Nothing else mattered but trying to make your pain stop."

    "Is that what you're thinking right now?"

    Silvally's jaw stiffened. He pulled out of the embrace to look Shane in the eyes. "Yes," he conceded. "It's because of what you said to me when I broke my mask. I want to use my powers to do good. I… I want to make other Pokémon's pain go away." Silvally's eyes watered. "I know things are far from perfect, here. In fact, everything sucks right now. But I refuse to give up hope. We can make things right… but only if we stick together." He slowly traced a talon along Shane's foreleg. "I mean… that's what's gotten us this far, right?"

    Shane's shoulders slumped. "I guess. I just chalked it up to dumb luck," he whispered. He shook his head. "I can't believe you're this willing to act like this when I was such a jerk to you before."

    "I left that stuff behind with that awful mask," Silvally said.

    He offered up his head. Shane leaned forward, craning his neck against Silvally's in a tight embrace. "Thanks," Shane said. "I really don't think I deserve a friend like you."

    "And I really don't think you deserve to keep putting yourself down like that," Silvally whispered. "That's part of what got you into this mess. It's one thing to be nervous… and maybe lack self-confidence. But you beat yourself up so badly that you make it hard for anyone around you to say anything other than 'I'm sorry.' I think... with everything that happened to you as a human... that you've managed to convince yourself that the only way you can get anyone to pay attention to you is by trying to earn their sympathy... instead of their friendship. That's where you've been messing up."

    Shane winced. "I've… I've really done a lot of that, haven't I?"

    Silvally nodded. "I know I'm being blunt, but it's for your own good. There's a good person inside you Shane. I believe that you're capable of changing for the better... of becoming that person. You can get down on yourself when you're feeling blue. That's fine. And I'm not saying you need to go back to your old, cheerful self. But trying to milk people's sympathy... that's not how you make friends. You make friends with kindness and caring."

    "I just don't know how to stop it," Shane said. "This is who I am. And it's gotten steadily worse since Nicky died."

    "But you can change. You have changed. Remember Tessa's hatch day party? That was all you. You are capable of doing good when you put your mind to it. That's what you have to focus on," Silvally said. He brushed his beak against Shane's neck. "This kind of change won't happen overnight. So, take it one step at a time."

    Shane broke off the embrace. "What does that mean?"

    "It means that, with each passing day, you should resolve to be a better person than you were the day before," Silvally replied. "Even if it's just doing one teeny, tiny good deed more than you did yesterday, it still counts. That's how you can change. By making small, gradual improvements in your thinking and behavior."

    A tingle slowly spread across Shane's face. "Uh… okay. I think… I see what you're getting at." He took a deep breath, suppressing a shudder. "In which case… we should really start by telling Tessa about her mom. After all, it is the right thing to do."

    Silvally nodded. "I can help with that. We just have to go see if she's doing okay with Espeon."

    "Wait, Tessa went after Espeon?" Shane jumped to his feet, wincing as his splinter-covered paws contacted the floor. "What were you thinking letting her do that?"

    "That she understands what Espeon's going through right now," Silvally replied. Shane opened his mouth to respond, only to close it and nod in understanding. They exchanged one last look and walked down the hallway in silence.

    XxX​

    Espeon's crying echoed throughout the housing wing. Tessa walked forward, all the while trying to rehearse what she could say to make Espeon feel better. But she was drawing a total blank. 'I don't know how I'm supposed to do this without coming off as selfish,' she realized, thinking of Shane's previous half-baked attempts at offering comfort. 'Maybe I'm better off just keeping silent?'

    She reached the door to Espeon's room and hung outside of it. A few rounds of hiccupping interrupted Espeon's sobs. "I know you're out there!" she shouted. Tessa backed out of the doorway, biting her lower lip. "I don't want to talk to you or your friends, got it? Leave me alone!"

    Tessa recalled their most recent encounter in Sunrise Village. She shuddered at the memory of watching Espeon blast the fur off Shane's body. 'If I don't listen to her, she could do the same thing to me,' she thought. She threw her paws up to clasp her shoulders and shuffled back from the door. 'What was I thinking? I can't talk to her alone. Not like this…'

    She hung her head in defeat and turned away from Espeon's room. Espeon resumed crying. Her mournful wailing made Tessa's fur prickle and aura feelers scrunch up. 'Come on, Riolu. You said you'd handle this,' she scolded herself. 'Now, go in there and help her. She's counting on you… even if she doesn't realize it right now.'

    Taking a deep breath to steel her resolve, Tessa marched into Espeon's room. Espeon lifted her head up and fixed her watery eyes on Tessa. "I told you to leave," she growled. "Get lost!"

    "No."

    Espeon glared at Tessa. "Leave, or I'll blast you clean across the hallway," she said threateningly.

    "Then go ahead," Tessa said, her tone shaky. She spread her arms out wide. "I wouldn't blame you."

    Espeon blinked in confusion. She brushed her head against her foreleg. "What is this?" she asked. "What are you up to? I don't like it when Pokémon screw around with me."

    "I'm not up to anything. I want to help," Tessa said adamantly. "I get what you're going through." She looked down. "I'll bet it feels like the ground is giving out from under you. And that you're tumbling head-first into a deep, dark abyss…"

    "… and there's nothing I can do to save myself," Espeon gasped. She pursed her lips, and then looked away from Tessa. "I see what this is about," she sniffled. "You're here to tell me this is karma, aren't you? That Umbry and I deserve this after all the trouble we caused." She laughed bitterly. Tessa's feelers curled up against her head, bristling her fur to make their displeasure known. "Well, you're right," Espeon admitted. "So, go on… say your fill. Tell me why I'm an awful Pokémon."

    "I'm not going to do that," Tessa insisted. She sat down across from Espeon. "Because you're hurting."

    "It's not like Umbry and I were brainwashed," Espeon scoffed. "We knew what we were doing. We didn't care."

    "It sure seems like something happened to you," Tessa said. "But this isn't about that. I can't change the past… no matter how much I want to. I can only focus on the present." Thoughts of her mother lingered in the back of her head. Tessa forced them away. She scooted forward, but Espeon rolled away from her and faced the wall. "Talk to me, Espeon."

    "Why? You barely knew Umbry. He was… he was…" She blinked tears out of her eyes. "… he was everything to me. Family… my closest friend… my sou– err, the Pokémon I could confide anything and everything to! And now he's gone." Tessa managed to crawl over to Espeon's side in time for her to bury her face in Tessa's chest and resume bawling her eyes out. "He's gone. I'm all alone!" she wailed. "We've always been together… since the day we hatched! Even when we were staring Yveltal down… and we knew the end was coming… we were together."

    She looked up at Tessa, eyes brimming with tears. "So, why? Why would he just throw himself at Necrozma like that? He knew how important he was to me… and he did it anyway!" She pressed her head against Tessa's chest. Tessa grunted and rubbed the top of her sternum. She wanted to say something, but continued to hold her tongue. Espeon rubbed her face against Tessa's fur. Her crying quieted. "What if… what if I did this to him?" Espeon whispered.

    "Huh?"

    "What if I drove him away?" Espeon wondered. "Oh, gods… what if there was something wrong between us? And… and he didn't tell me because he didn't want to upset me?" A horrified look spread across Espeon's face. "This is terrible! It's really all my fault. I must've driven him to do this. We've been arguing so much since we joined up with Zero." She shook her head. "I've made a terrible mistake. Umbry! UMBRYYYYY!"

    This time Tessa couldn't keep her balance. She fell back to the floor, a sobbing Espeon lying on top of her. "Urk… you're kinda heavy," she wheezed, trying to push Espeon to the side. Tessa quickly realized it was a futile effort and simply lay there, awkwardly patting Espeon's shoulder. "I don't… think it's your fault…"

    "But you don't know that. Umbry and I have been here for all of two days," Espeon said.

    "He still… cared about you…" Tessa grunted. She lightly shoved Espeon and managed to push her down toward her lap. Tessa sat up, taking in a big gasp of air. After she caught her breath, she continued, "When Silvally brought us back from Glyphic Falls, Umbreon ran all the way back here to check on you, didn't he?"

    "Y… yeah…" Espeon admitted.

    "And he's stayed with you both nights you've slept here, hasn't he?" Tessa asked. Again, Espeon nodded. "So… I'll bet he did this to make sure that you were safe. Maybe he was thinking of the time you guys encountered Yveltal. It seems to me like he wanted to make sure you made it out alive… no matter what."

    "Umbry…" Espeon sniffled. "You didn't have to do this."

    Tessa got to her feet. "I know you're in a rough spot right now. A few days ago, I felt exactly like you did. Like there was nothing left for me. Like I didn't even have a reason to wake up." Espeon looked away from her. "But then my friends stepped in and showed me that I was wrong." She poked her digits together. "I know we're not your friends. And that, well, they're gone too. But, I don't think any of us want you to suffer through this alone."

    "Team Radiance… we're a right mess. But, in spite of that, we haven't given up. I know I'm not about to turn away from a Pokémon who needs help. And I'm sure my teammates feel the same way," Tessa continued. "I doubt Umbreon would want you to just give up, right?"

    Espeon rubbed the snot off her nose and nodded slowly. "I can't join you guys. It's just… it wouldn't work."

    Tessa frowned. "I guess I can't force you to do anything. But your situation makes you a lot like the three of us. We're all alone. And we're all just trying to keep pushing forward."

    Espeon shook her head. "It would be too awkward," she whispered. "Your teammate, Vulpix. Did he mention he's got a crush on me?"

    Tessa's eyes widened. "He… he does?"

    "Yeah. Snuck into the showers to try and peek at my hidden parts and everything," Espeon muttered.

    "Oh…" Tessa squeaked. "I had no idea." She closed her eyes and stuck out her paw. "Then… I think we should have a chat. The four of us."

    "I don't like the sound of that."

    "Could you at least give it a try?" Tessa said, a pleading look in her eye. "My teammates really want to help you. I do too."

    "… fine," Espeon sighed. She rose to her feet. "Lead the way."

    They walked out of the room in unison and headed down the hallway. Shane and Silvally stood in the assembly area. Shane was speaking with Tapu Bulu and Comfey, but the moment Tessa and Espeon entered the room, Comfey brought Tapu Bulu back toward the infirmary. Silvally tugged at Shane's fur and gestured in their direction.

    "O-Oh… uh… hi," Shane greeted, shifting uneasily. "Um, are you feeling any better?" Espeon shook her head, and Shane looked away guiltily. "I'm sorry," he whispered, voice cracking.

    "I thought it might be a good idea if we all just talked for a bit," Tessa exclaimed. "Shane, maybe you should start? Because Espeon told me something… rather interesting."

    Shane's eyes widened and he looked between the two girls. Silvally gave him an encouraging look. "Okay," he sighed. "Where do you want me to start?"

    "Do you have a crush on Espeon?" Tessa asked.

    "Yes," he admitted, head hung down. "But… it's not what you think!" He relayed the same spiel he had given Silvally about the voices in his dreams. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's true." He looked at Espeon. "The louder the voice in my head that says I'm not human gets, the stronger my feelings for you grow."

    "And I told you last night that's no excuse," Espeon said with an indignant flick of her tail.

    "I know, I know," Shane said, squirming under Espeon's glare. "And I'm sorry. About everything! You've had such a rough time of things… you don't deserve to stand there and listen to me say stupid stuff like this." He shuffled back toward Silvally. "I just… I want you to know that I talked with Umbreon last night."

    Espeon stiffened. 'Did he walk into the showers after I left? Ugh, I wish my psychic powers were working.'

    "And he, um, said that he knows things have been rough between you two. But you're still his sister. And that makes you the most important Pokémon in his life," Shane said. Silvally raised an eyebrow at this. "I can't say for certain, but I think he stood up to Necrozma for your sake. Because he didn't want you to have to relive what happened with Yveltal."

    Espeon teared up again. Her legs shook. "He didn't have to do that. It's more important to me that he stayed by my side."

    "… I know," Shane muttered. "And that's why I want to try and get him back for you."

    Espeon's ears pointed up. "What are you talking about? You've seen what Zero and Necrozma do. There's no coming back from that!"

    "Just like there's no coming back from getting turned to stone by Dark Matter?" Shane pointed out.

    Silvally nodded. "I agree with Shane. I think there's a way. If we can stop Necrozma, then somehow… someway… we can bring back everyone we've lost. It may take a miracle, but we've had no shortage of those around the world." He stepped toward Tessa and Espeon. "However, if we're going to make that happen, we need all the help we can get."

    He nodded at Tessa, who placed a paw on Espeon's shoulder. "If the situation were the other way around, don't you think Umbreon would do whatever it would take to get you back?" Tessa asked.

    Espeon bobbed her head up and down. "He would." She sighed heavily. "You guys are really gung-ho about this, aren't you? I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure how much help I could really be to you three. I don't have the same resolve that I did back in the days of the Bittercold."

    "That's fine," Silvally said, offering up a reassuring smile. "Team Radiance has always managed to have each other's backs… no matter how chaotic the situation."

    Espeon laughed bitterly. "Gods, the way you talk, it sounds like the three of you are some stupid, dysfunctional family. That's hardly a good thing to say about an exploration team."

    "Well, yeah, we're far from perfect," Silvally said. "But I won't let that stop us. I'm going to keep pressing forward. Because that's all I can do right now. Right, guys?" He looked to his teammates, who both nodded.

    "And… um…" Shane stepped forward. "For whatever it's worth, I figured this might be able to help." He stepped to the side and kicked a looplet over to Espeon. She looked down at it, face scrunching up in confusion.

    "But… this is your Naturia Looplet."

    "Not quite," Shane said, sticking out his left foreleg. "Mine's still stuck to me. I asked Tapu Bulu to give you one of your own."

    Espeon's jaw dropped. "I… I don't deserve this. I've already misused power like this working for the Prism Virus."

    "Team Radiance is all about second chances," Silvally chirped. "Also, the more Z-Power we have, the better our odds are against Necrozma, right?"

    Espeon gingerly rolled the looplet back and forth under her forepaw. "I… I guess so." She shot Shane a suspicious look. "This isn't some sort of stupid love gesture, is it?"

    Shane rubbed the beck of his neck, squeaking when Espeon glared at him. "No, wait, it's not like that!" he insisted. "I mean… yes, it's a gesture of love. But it's your love for your brother. Nothing to do with me. I swear!" Shane shuffled backward, giving Silvally a nervous look.

    Espeon slid the looplet along her right foreleg. The instant it wrapped around her thigh, a tiny beam of light flickered on her forehead. Her ears stuck up in surprise. "Hey! I can feel my psychic powers, again," she gasped. "They're not quite where they used to be… but I'm actually sensing stuff."

    She received smiles from Team Radiance. "Okay," Espeon said. "I'm still a bit iffy on you, human. But… you're right. I can't give up on Umbry. This world has had its fair share of miracles. And I guess it's up to us to make another one."

    "That's the spirit!" Silvally cheered. His teammates looked at him and he sheepishly brushed his talons along the ground. "Aha… sorry, I got caught up in the moment, there."

    Tessa walked forward and hugged Silvally's foreleg. "It's okay," she said. "I'm just happy you were here to help smooth everything over."

    Silvally's tail wagged. "Well, what can I say? I had the perfect partner for the job." He winked at Tessa, whose face grew hot. "Um, but there is one other thing I wanted to bring up… as long as we're all here." He looked to his right. "Or, rather, Shane wants to bring it up."

    Shane stepped toward Tessa, a nervous look on his face. "Hey," he said, his voice rather quiet.

    "Hey," she whispered, rubbing her shoulder. "Rough day today, huh?"

    Shane's ears drooped. "We make sandpaper look comfortable." An awkward silence fell between them. Silvally nudged Shane's flank. He squeaked and cleared his throat. "First, I want to apologize," Shane said. "I, uh, haven't been at my best these past couple of days."

    "Because of Espeon?" Tessa asked.

    Shane lowered his head, avoiding Espeon's gaze. "Yeah."

    "You really like her that much, huh?"

    Shane's face grew warm. "Well, if it helps, she kinda stomped my heart into pieces last night," he squeaked. He shut his eyes and shook his head. "The point is, that behavior is hurting the team. So, I'm going to try and stop thinking about her, y'know, in that way. Which is why I need your help."

    "Oh?"

    "I need you to hold me accountable," Shane said. "Like, if you see me… y'know… staring at her… tell me to stop." He glanced at Espeon. "I guess that goes for you, too."

    "So, smack you in the back of the head then?" Tessa proposed with an amused grin.

    Shane's tails scrunched up. "Err… if you really have to…" he mumbled. They lapsed into another round of silence. Their gazes met for a moment. Shane bit his lip. "Um, Riolu? Have you, y'know, given any thought… to what I mentioned yesterday?" Tessa gave him a blank look. "Before we fell underground, we were talking about those dreams you had with your mom in them."

    Tessa's paws balled up into fists. She had managed to keep herself distracted helping her teammates, but now there was nothing stopping memories of Zero from flashing through her mind. Tessa lingered on that pivotal moment in Aurora Vale, where Zero had her locked in place with her psychic powers. Her pupils dilated in fear and she squeaked in fright.

    Shane's ears stuck up, and he took a cautious step backward, wincing. "Riolu." He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, but we have to talk about your mom. Because… because I'm confident that she's actually human."

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched. They scrunched up, brushing her fur and causing her to shiver. "You… you don't know that for a fact."

    Shane slouched over, ears drooping down. "It has to be true. Why do you think she calls you Tessa and your brother Gallian, anyway? Did that idea really not occur to you this whole time we've been together?"

    Tessa's locket rubbed against her neck. She clasped it in a paw, repeatedly flicking it open and shut. "Mom told me… that it was an old Lucario custom," she squeaked. "No one ever said anything otherwise." She shut her eyes and shook her head. "You can't say that you're right for certain," she insisted. Tessa had no idea why she was saying that. Deep down, she believed Shane. And yet, she had immediately jumped onto the denial train.

    Shane took another deep breath. This was it. He had to lay it out in the open now. He figured this was his best chance to tell her what he thought. "Tessa…" he whispered.

    "Why are you calling me that?"

    "To hammer home my point," Shane said. He looked over at Silvally and shook his head. "I… I'm sorry, Silvally. I just don't think I can do this."

    "Yes, you can," Silvally insisted.

    "Wait… you think my mom's human, too?" Tessa gasped.

    Silvally sighed. "It's not just that. Shane and I… we think your mother's Zero."

    A blank expression set in on Tessa's face. Her gaze drifted toward an empty spot in the stone wall. Her jaw hung open uselessly and she stood in front of her friends, practically dead to the world around her. "T… Tessa?" Shane squeaked.

    "… so, you realized it, too?"

    Espeon's eyes widened. She looked at Shane and Silvally, both of whom seemed dumbstruck at Tessa's response. "Wait, you mean you've known about this the whole time?" Shane gasped.

    Tessa's eyes narrowed. Her irises flashed blue. Shane suddenly felt as though he had ice in his veins. "What do you mean 'the whole time?'" Tessa growled. Her irises flashed blue again. This time, wisps of blue fire crackled in her eyes. She looked between Shane and Silvally. "How long were you two thinking about this?"

    "Uh… w-well… th-that is…" Shane's voice trailed off. He whirled on Silvally, anger flashing across his vision. "I can't believe I managed to let you talk me into this! I knew we shouldn't have told her anything."

    "Excuse me? We agreed we had to tell her. And we decided this was as good a time as any," Silvally said, frowning.

    "Answer my question!" Tessa shouted, stomping the ground. This time, the blue flames remained in her eyes. Identical licks of blue energy crackled around her paws, making her aura feelers flap up and down. "How long were you two thinking about this?"

    "Since the moment we encountered Zero!" Shane confessed, a pang of guilt stabbing at his chest. "It just… it made too much sense," he said. "Zero knows about all sorts of human ideas. She dresses like a human. And your mom seemed to do a number of things that humans do. Unless there's some other human-turned-Lucario running around this world that none of us know about, it's got to be her."

    Tessa's paws were balled up into fists. "Why didn't… you say anything?" she seethed. "You knew how much I'd been worrying about her. You knew how important she was to me. Why did you stay quiet?"

    Shane pawed at the ground. "I'm sorry. I was afraid this was how you'd react. And that's why I didn't want to say anything." He looked up toward Tessa, expecting some kind of rebuttal. Instead, she stepped back, grabbing her head with her paws and shaking it wildly. "T… Tessa?" he squeaked, shooting a panicked look at Silvally.

    "Give her some space," Silvally said, extending a foreleg to block Shane off. "She needs to process this."

    "That's not… really Mom… is it?" Tessa whispered. She shook her head about violently. "But… with the aura training… and after Dad died…" Tessa smacked herself in the head. "No, it's gotta be Necrozma, right?"

    Hearing Necrozma's name made Shane's tails stick up in alarm. He jumped over a surprised Silvally's foreleg and ran over to Tessa. "Tessa, listen to me," he said, hopping up on his hind legs and putting his forepaws on Tessa's shoulders. His resolve momentarily faltered under the piercing gaze of her glowing-blue eyes. He took a deep breath.

    "Look at me," he whispered, tilting Tessa's tear-soaked face to look him in the eyes. "I don't think she's doing this willingly. It has to be Necrozma. He's controlling her. I don't know how. I'm not entirely sure why, either. Still, you can't let it get to you. I know I've been wrong about a lot of things, but you have to trust me on this one."

    Shane shook his head. "No, you have to trust us," he said, looking at Silvally and Espeon. "We'll get her back. We'll free her from Necrozma's control. But the only way we can do that is as a team." He dropped back down to all-fours and stepped back.

    The blue glow dimmed in Tessa's eyes. "Tell me why…" she whispered. "Why didn't you tell me this from the start?"

    "Because I was scared, that's why!" Shane blurted out. He looked away from Tessa. "Silvally wanted to tell you from the get-go, but I was too worried you'd… well…" His gaze fell to the floor. "I thought if we told you, you'd try to kill yourself."

    Shane squared his feet on the floor. "I'm sorry that I ever thought I should keep that a secret from you. That was a mistake. If you want to be mad at anyone, be mad at me. Because it's my fault." He took a deep breath. "And if… if you're really looking to take you anger out somehow, then… then I'm prepared to suffer the consequences." Shane immediately shut his eyes and gritted his teeth.

    Silence fell over the quartet.

    WHAM!

    Shane's right foreleg buckled. He toppled over onto his side, hissing loudly. "I… deserved that," he said through clenched teeth. Shane poked his head up, noticing Tessa's glowing blue fist hanging over him, along with Silvally's and Espeon's astonished expressions.

    "That," she said, pulling her paw back, "was for doubting me." A look of confusion spread over Shane's face. "I made you a promise… that I would never go to such a dark place again." She rubbed her shoulder. "Hearing all of that stings. My heart's aching. But, if it's really true…" Her voice trailed off. Tessa took in a shuddering breath. "I can't just run away from this and hide like I used to. Even if I want to. Even if my gut is screaming for me to. There's too much at stake here." The blue glow faded from her eyes and paws. She stepped toward Silvally and rested her head on his shoulder. "Besides, I want to help my friends any way that I can."

    Silvally smiled and leaned over to nuzzle Tessa with his beak. Shane's tails curled up and his face grew hot. "R… right…" he said, voice cracking. "That's… that's really good."

    "There is one thing I want to know, though," Tessa said. Her expression grew serious. "I get that Necrozma was your human friend. But was he telling the truth?"

    Shane gulped. "About what?"

    "Did you really help me because you felt guilty about what happened to him?" Tessa asked.

    The wind rushed out of Shane, like he had taken a punch to his gut. "Riolu, I… of course not!" He stepped toward her, but misjudged the distance. His snout bumped Tessa's. She stumbled back, throwing a paw up to rub her nose. "S… sorry," he squeaked, face reddening. "I just… you caught me off guard, that's all."

    He shut his eyes and shook his head. "Riolu, this has nothing to do with Nicky. I hurt you and wanted to make up for what I'd done. But, more importantly, I just wanted you to be happy. Even for a tiny bit."

    Shane rubbed his forepaws together. "It feels like I should just give up on this Prism Virus stuff. But I'm not going to do that. You deserve to get your mom and brother back. And if that means stopping Necrozma, then I guess that's what I've got to do." He looked up at Silvally. "The big guy's right. We can't give up hope yet." A warm smile crept onto his face. "Do I have to break out the team motto?"

    "No. I get your point," Tessa whispered. She took another deep breath. "Which is why I need to stop trying and forgetting like my past didn't happen." She smiled back at Shane. "So, if it's alright with you, would you start calling me Tessa?"

    Shane's eyes widened. "Are you sure?"

    Tessa nodded. "Yes. I clung to being called Riolu because I thought I could make everything bad that's happened go away. But, the more I've tried to pretend like that stuff never happened, the more my past has reared its ugly head. So, no more hiding. It's time to make a stand." She pulled her arm up to look at her looplet. "I'm going to get my Z-Move working. And… and I'm going to tap into my aura and evolve."

    Silvally raised his brows at this. "You really think it'll work?"

    Tessa shook her head. "No." She leaned her head against Silvally's thigh. "But I have hope. And I have you guys. It's a start, right?"

    Shane's tails slowly fanned up and down. "You've got that right." He stepped forward and joined his teammates in an embrace.

    Groooooooowl!

    Tessa clutched her stomach with a paw and turned away. "Aha ha. I guess it has been awhile since I've eaten anything."

    "Thank goodness… someone finally brought it up," Espeon said, walking past them. "I could eat an entire berry bush… branches and all."

    In response to that, Shane's stomach growled even louder. Tessa put a paw to her snout, stifling a giggle. Shane rolled his eyes. "Let's just go get some dinner," he said. "It's been a long day… and we could do with a moment to decompress."

    His teammates nodded their agreements and the group set off down the eastern hallway.

    XxX
    Next time: a new bonus seeks to fill a leadership void on the Horizon Continent.
     
    git-it likes this.
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    It's time for the next canon bonus. Like the last few, this one's a bit experimental in nature. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Enjoy!

    XxX

    Bonus #11: Taking Charge

    I am stupid.

    So, so stupid.

    So super, terribly, awfully, extremely stupid.

    But what else is new?

    I couldn't believe it. I was there. I was right there... watching everything happen. I could've stepped in. I could've intervened before Braviary got clubbed upside the head. I should've done something to make absolutely sure they were all safe.

    But I didn't.

    Instead, I hid in Bruxish's pond… paralyzed by fear. Hoping I'd be able to keep myself invisible and silently praying that something would happen so that I wouldn't need to get involved. My prayers were answered, but that didn't make me feel any better at the time. Instead of leaping into action, I just sat in the water while Silvally – someone who, by all means, shouldn't even exist in the first place – fought Metagross off.

    And when everything settled down, did I reveal myself? Did I offer to help Team Radiance, when it clearly looked like they were struggling? No, of course not. Because I was still afraid. Afraid of getting chewed out for doing nothing. Of sitting by while everything spiraled out of control. I'd done exactly what the Prism Virus complained of: nothing. All I could think about was getting out of there and trying to clear my mind.

    Except Hoopa had gone away to rest and I was there by myself. So, I made for the guild's entrance, keeping my cloak up. I passed by Magearna and Metagross. That's when I made my next big mistake: reading Metagross' mind. I figured, since he was unconscious, it would offer me the best possible chance to figure out why this had happened.

    Instead, it only served to show me how dumb I really am… how right Rayquaza was to talk down to me all the time.

    I was an explorer. I knew that the only way a Metagross could exist was if two Metangs fused together… uniting their minds and their spirits. Naturally, I had assumed that Horizon's Guildmaster found a willing partner to fuse with and everything was peachy keen. It didn't even occur to me that maybe, just maybe, there was foul play involved.

    In other words, I was proven wrong. Again.

    One of the perils of being an empath is encountering someone whose mind and spirit are completely twisted. It can be overwhelming. When I was staring down Yveltal, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the head from every conceivable angle. It was awful. There were many nights after Dark Matter's attack that I would just lie awake, remembering that feeling, begging fate to keep me from ever experiencing it again.

    Thanks to Metagross, that wish never came true.

    My glimpse into his mind was so shocking, it nearly made me drop my invisibility. Things grew fuzzy around me. An intense pressure surrounded my head. I thought my skull was going to be crushed for a second. Before I could black out, I sped out of the Observatory and away from Aeon Town. I triggered my Mega Evolution as soon as I was on the other side of the forcefield. The intense surge of energy kept me from passing out.

    I shot forward, leaving the Horizon Continent behind in a matter of minutes. Even if Hoopa wasn't around, I knew I needed to get back across the ocean as fast as I could. Still, it was tough to fly straight with my mind still reeling. I couldn't stop myself from thinking about what I'd seen… trying to piece it together like the puzzles big brother and I did when we were hatchlings.

    Metagross wasn't the explorer who had started with the guild as a Metang. He was someone else entirely.

    His memories played out in the back of my head. He had grown up in the wild… in Voltaic Crater… constantly battered by wayward electric currents. It fried his brain. He slowly lost his grip on reality. It got so bad that he firmly believed that everyone and everything was out to kill him. I was flabbergasted, to say the least. Over where I lived, we knew that most wild Pokémon in dungeons weren't real, genuine living beings. They were constructs formed from the constantly shifting ley lines. To see that Horizon's wild Pokémon were real... and that they could suffer so horribly in these dungeons... I couldn't help feeling bad for Metagross' plight.

    I shook my head about. What was I saying? This guy had blood on his hands! Figuratively speaking, of course. No, I needed to concentrate. I still didn't have the whole picture, did I? Where had I left off, again?

    Right, Voltaic Crater. Beldum turned into Metang and dedicated his life toward trying to figure a way out of the Mystery Dungeon. But he couldn't. Every direction he levitated… every time he made progress… there would be another surge. His vision would fail him. He'd collapse to the ground and loose all sense of himself.

    It was in one of those bouts of confusion that Team MIB's Metang stumbled upon him. This Metang was everything he wasn't: composed, confident, and knowledgeable about what he wanted. Except, instead of offering help, he attacked.

    I felt another round of intense pressure and nearly dropped out of the sky. I shook my head about again. That was the moment they fused together and became Metagross. Except… since one of the Metang was unwilling, the resulting evolution wasn't a union of the Metangs' minds and spirits. Instead, the two fought for control. The wild mind grew steadily more panicked the longer Metagross was in the guild. And when Dark Matter attacked and sent Horizon into a panic…

    "AHHHH!"

    My eyes widened and I fired an intense Psychic straight down. It propelled me upward. I floated in midair, heart hammering in my chest, staring down at the ocean I'd nearly crashed into.

    It was plain as day to me that I couldn't think about this stuff anymore. I had to make it back to Lively Town. I sped off again, trying to focus on the sky in front of me. But Metagross' memories kept trying to worm their ways into my mind.

    Arrrgh! Why did this have to be so hard? I was tired enough from jumping between different sides of the world. This flight needed all my attention, but it was slipping away with every passing second. And… well… passing out while speeding over the ocean was not an option. If the impact didn't break every bone in my body, I'd probably drown!

    I forced myself to go on, trying to remember the game that Jirachi had been teaching me a few weeks ago as a means of distraction. It did the job. Before I knew it, Lively Town popped into view on the horizon. I gave a sigh of relief and sped forward, drawing closer and closer. The moment I breached the town's forcefield, I twisted the gear in the center of my looplet. The Awakening Emera dissolved into thin air.

    My Mega Evolution faded. The sudden withdrawal of energy struck me like a tidal wave of fatigue. I fell out of the air much faster than I intended. Which was bad news for poor Slurpuff. He was so soft and fluffy-looking, I couldn't stop myself from using him as a makeshift crash pad.

    "Ow! Goodness, Latias. It's not time for breakfast yet. And I don't have any snacks on hand."

    "S-Sorry," I squeaked. "I wasn't watching where I was going." I floated off of him, shaking dust off my feathers. "Listen, I'm in a bit of a hurry right now. Where's Ampharos?"

    "That's a good question," Slurpuff said.

    I groaned far louder than I meant to. "You… don't know where he is, do you?"

    "Do I look like Mawile to you?"

    It was times like that where I wished my arms were actually long enough for my paws to reach my face. I'd have facepalmed sooooooo hard. But there was no time to throw a hissy fit. There was serious work to do! I sped off into our headquarters.

    "Heeeeey! Anybody home? I need to speak to Ampharos right away!" I shouted. To my surprise, the main assembly area was empty. I didn't even think that was possible.

    "Sis?"

    My ears perked up. I spun to my right and saw Latios floating in a doorway, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "What are you doing back here?"

    Big brother! I chirped, turning to my telepathy without even thinking. I flew right toward him, wrapping him up in a big hug.

    Ah! Ahh! Hey, stop it! Th… that tickles! Latios said, squealing and squirming around in my grasp.

    Sorry, I said, backing away from him. It's just… after seeing what happened to the Mist Continent, I was really worried about you. And you weren't here when I came to get Hoopa.

    I was sleeping, Latias, big brother said, looking concerned. Is your ESP on the fritz or something? You should've been able to sense me easily.

    I blinked a few times. Metagross' memories tried to crawl back into my mind's eyes but I shoved them away. I… uh… am having some empath issues, actually, I admitted. I read someone's mind over in Horizon and saw something… that I wasn't supposed to see. Worry spread across big brother's face. I winced. I hated seeing him worry like that.

    Did something happen to you? Latios asked. Spirits above, you're not actually planning to go back to Horizon this time, are you?

    I… I have to, I said, audibly squeaking. Ampharos and Mawile are counting on me to support them over there.

    But if something bad's happening, you need extra help, Latios said. Why don't you talk to Ampharos about it?

    My patience was starting to wear a bit thin at big brother's worrying. Why do you think I came back here, huh? I winced again when Latios frowned at me. Sorry. I'm just… in a bit of a hurry. Is Ampharos here?

    I think he's upstairs tending to an important visitor, Latios said, looking up at the ceiling. I can't sense anything up there. It's like someone put up a psychic block.

    I followed his gaze and squinted. Sure enough, instead of sensing bright, vibrant balls of life energy hovering above us, I only got an energy void. That can't be good, I said, gulping. You don't think someone's about to attack us, do you?

    More worry flashed across Latios' face. Evidently, he hadn't considered that avenue at all. No way! If that's the case, we need to get you out of here, now! He flew toward me, trying to push me toward the main entrance.

    No, wait… I can't leave yet! I have to talk to Ampharos, I said, trying to fly around Latios. C'mon, big bro, this isn't funny.

    I'm not being funny. I'm trying to keep you safe, Latios insisted. I don't want to screw up like I did with–

    "Don't say it!" I hissed. A second of silence passed and I tucked my head down to my belly, covering my mouth with my paws. S-Sorry, big bro. I shouldn't've shouted like that…

    Latios floated back from me. No. You're right, he said. You're in the middle of an important assignment. I've… uh… I need to respect that. I'm overstepping my bounds again. He bowed his head and moved to the side. Just know that I'm here if you need anything.

    Thanks, I said, giving him a short hug. I then flew off up the stairs. About halfway to the upper level, an intense pressure struck me from above, nearly knocking me to the ground. I looked about in a panic, eyes wide in surprise. But nothing was there. To make matters worse, I was inside the energy void. I couldn't even sense Latios' spirit anymore.

    Taking some deep breaths to steel myself, I flew up into the Pokémon Nexus' room. There, I found Ampharos and Jirachi standing in front of the machine. Their backs were turned to me.

    "U… um… Ampharos, sir? I… I need to talk to you!" I squeaked, waving my hands around.

    What are you doing here? This is a private meeting. Get lost!

    "EEEEP!"

    Mewtwo teleported in front of me. His face twisted into a nasty glare that brought Rayquaza to mind. All my feathers prickled and I floated back toward the stairs.

    "Leave her be, Mewtwo," Ampharos said, waving him off. "Latias is just following up on an errand I had her running." He walked past Mewtwo and rested a hand on the base of my left wing. "So, how fares your assignment?"

    Which part? I telepathed, casting a wary glance at Mewtwo.

    His glare intensified. You can drop the cloak and dagger routine, Latias. Your nervous looks betray whatever words you're trying to keep hidden. And I'm well aware about this ridiculous plan to hide folks from the Prism Virus. Mewtwo turned his angry scowl on Ampharos. Do you honestly expect something so ridiculous to work? Legendary Pokémon are what this world needs to combat this threat.

    Ampharos kept up his calm smile, much to my shock. "You're also exactly the group of Pokémon the Prism Virus is after. The key here is to trick this 'Prism Virus' thing into believing that it's accomplishing its goals."

    And making us disappear is the best thing you can think of? Mewtwo growled. He narrowed his eyes at Ampharos, only to float back with a confused look on his face.

    "So, let's focus on that first, Latias," Ampharos said.

    My feathers prickled. He was really just going to ignore Mewtwo like that? Was he trying to get us both killed or something? That look in Mewtwo's eyes said we were making a huge mistake. "Um, you mean the Legendary stuff, right?" I whispered, trying my best to avoid Mewtwo's gaze.

    "Correct."

    I tapped my claws together. "I was able to swap Zapdos and Tapu Koko out for their replicas before the Prism Virus got to them… but I wasn't quick enough for Tapu Lele."

    Replicas? What sort of drivel are you referring to? Mewtwo demanded. I squeaked and flinched back at his harsh tone. He raised a glowing hand. I suggest you explain yourself right this second.

    "It's simple," Ampharos said, keeping his calm, goofy grin, "we're gathering Unown and getting them to band together to copy different Legendaries. Latias and Hoopa then replace the actual Legendaries with these replicas and send the real ones through one of Hoopa's rings into a small pocket dimension."

    Mewtwo's eyes flashed blue. I shut my eyes, bracing myself for some sort of attack. To my relief, nothing happened. I poked an eye open and watched Mewtwo float there, looking completely baffled. Your mind, he said, addressing Ampharos, is completely and utterly empty. This is nonsensical! You really expect the rest of my cohorts to agree to this ridiculous idea? He looked right at me. Well, the ones who actually matter, anyway.

    My wings drooped. "I'm just trying to help…" I whispered meekly.

    "I don't expect everyone to agree. That's why I have contingencies in place," Ampharos said. I don't know how he kept up such confidence with Mewtwo staring him down. It was honestly awe-inspiring.

    What contingencies? I can't see anything in that mind of yours. It's as blank as a Claydol's expression! You're making this all up, aren't you?

    "The plan's success is predicated on everyone knowing as little as possible… including me," Ampharos said, grinning broadly and puffing out his chest.

    But… that… I… Mewtwo stammered, his right eye twitching. Well, answer me this. What if Hoopa is found by the Prism Virus? Mewtwo asked.

    "That won't happen," Ampharos said. "We know the Prism Virus can move around using portals. But so can Hoopa. In a sense, he's beating them at their own game."

    "Trust me, Mewtwo. It's best not to think about how Ampharos works. You'll just give yourself a giant headache," Jirachi said, chuckling.

    Mewtwo scowled at the two of them. Hmph! Your plan is asinine and I'm not interested. I'm the world's strongest Pokémon. If the Prism Virus tries to face me, then I will defeat it. I'm sure any other Legendaries who turn you down feel the exact same way.

    And with that, he teleported out of the room, leaving the three of us there. "Well, he's a real charmer, isn't he?" Jirachi quipped.

    "I had a feeling I'd get responses like that," Ampharos said, sighing. "Oh well. We'll just need to press on, anyway. Which reminds me, Latias, did you manage to salvage anything from Tapu Lele's death?"

    "Jeez, that's a bit morbid of you to ask, don't you think?" Jirachi scoffed.

    "Um, actually…" I mumbled, futzing through my bag. My claws grazed across a cluster of jagged crystal shards and I pulled them out. "I did manage to get these." I passed them over to Ampharos, noting the skeptical look on Jirachi's face. "Um, exactly what are these for?"

    "My contingency, of course," Ampharos said, his goofy smile returning.

    Jirachi looked at him in confusion. "And that contingency is…?"

    "A secret, naturally," Ampharos replied. "It's our Trump Card… figuratively speaking. It doesn't involve Eevee in any way." He chuckled at his own lame joke.

    My jaw dropped in disbelief. How could he possibly be acting so nonchalant about all of this? I heard these stories about how the great Ampharos had managed to outwit the likes of Dark Matter with a brilliant plan. And yet, here he was, in the face of another crisis, acting like there wasn't a thing wrong. Was he like this during Dark Matter's attack, too? Or had the victory made him overconfident?

    "Latias, you seem troubled," Ampharos spoke up. I squeaked and shrank back toward the door, unsure of what to say. "Come now, if something's bugging you, I'm all ears."

    "Uh… well… the thing is…" I fidgeted with my claws. "The Horizon Guild… it's… um… kind of done for."

    "Eh?" Jirachi titled his head in confusion. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    I couldn't contain my worry any more. I drew on my psychic powers and poured the memories of what I had witnessed in the Aeon Observatory out into Jirachi's and Ampharos' minds. When I finished, I lowered my head. "I'm sorry, Ampharos. I completely panicked. I saw what was happening with Metagross and froze up. Just like I did with Dark Matter." I wrung my paws out nervously. "It was stupid of me. How am I supposed to go back there and face them now?"

    "Hmm… you did put yourself in a bit of a bind," Ampharos said. "But you've grown a lot since you joined us. I have faith you can come up with a plan that'll turn things around. Especially since I'm drawing a bit of a blank myself." He laughed nervously.

    "S… seriously?" I gasped, biting my lower lip. "Couldn't you at least give me some backup? Hoopa's not enough here. I can't bounce any ideas off him or anything."

    This time, Ampharos' smile disappeared. "I wish I could, Latias. But we're really stretched thin right now. The Mist Continent is a total mess. Wormholes popping out of nowhere and dropping innocent townsfolk into Mystery Dungeons. It's happening here, too. The folks in Pokémon Square are having significant problems with the weather, as is the whole Grass Continent."

    "We tried to put out a request for volunteers, but nobody responded," Jirachi said. "People are just afraid right now."

    "What about Raichu and Haxorus?" Latias asked.

    "Working in the Mist Continent," Jirachi replied.

    "And Team Gaia?"

    "They took off for Purifying Cave. Apparently, it's flooding and they're trying to find a way to get the water out," Jirachi said.

    My heart sank even lower. "What about big brother?"

    "We need Latios as a relay 'mon right now. He's our fastest means of getting to the different continents, especially since you're working with Hoopa," Ampharos said. "I'm sorry, Latias, we're just out of options right now. Trust me, the instant things calm down, here, I'll be sure to make someone available to help you."

    "We're keeping in touch with Guildmaster Wigglytuff. He's, um, aware of the situation," Jirachi said. "I sent Mawile over there, though. Frankly, uh… it's the best way for us to get reliable information since Wigglytuff's a bit of a basket case, to put in nicely."

    I was tempted to point out the irony in that statement, considering who we were working for, but I held my tongue. Instead, I just sighed. Loudly, I might add. "I understand," I said. "I guess… I'll just have to come up with something. Thanks anyways."

    "Best of luck, Latias. I have full confidence in your abilities," Ampharos said, giving me an enthusiastic nod.

    "Right," I whispered, turning to float dejectedly out of the room. I wanted to go talk to Latios, but to my disappointment, I couldn't sense his life force. My brow furrowed as I tapped into my ESP. Big brother, where are you? I asked.

    No sight-sharing popped up, but I felt a faint presence in the back of my mind. Sis? I'm sorry, I can't talk right now. I'm flying to the Sand Continent. There's a huge sandstorm that's threatening to blow in on Sahra Town and I need to help contain it.

    Oh. R-right… good luck!

    The mental link quickly faded, leaving me floating in the stairwell. Without hesitating, I flew out of the building, darting up through the forcefield around Lively Town. When I reached the shoreline, I dove into the ocean. Normally, the cool water running across my feathers would feel refreshing. Instead, it intensified the sinking feeling I had in my stomach.

    Come up with a plan, huh? What was I supposed to do? Me… the little dragon that the other Legendaries laughed at… saying that I would never be able to defend myself. The girl Rayquaza called a disgrace to dragon-kind. The klutz who couldn't fly straight and crashed into Pitfall Valley… and shamefully needed a rescue team to come to her aid. The coward who ran from Dark Matter, instead of taking a stand and fighting…

    Amidst the whirlwind of unpleasant thoughts running through my head, I finally managed to find what I was looking for: a sharp, spiraling current cutting through the water. I braced myself and flew threw it. Once inside the current, I sped forward. Eventually, the ocean grew warmer. The water around me sparkled with an ethereal quality, signifying I was in the Sea of Wonders. I flew through the current until it petered out.

    With a loud splash, I popped out of the water, emerging in the Sea Shrine's basin. The familiar stone pillars and dark blue rocks greeted me. It took me a second to get my bearings straight, however, so I didn't immediately realize whether this trip was going to be worth it or not.

    "T-Tia?"

    My heart fluttered in my chest. I turned to my left and spotted Lugia poking his head up from his nest. Oh… how I had missed those deep blue eyes and shimmering silver-white feathers of his. I raced toward him without a second thought. But that jubilation disappeared when I got close enough to see the black splotches on his neck.

    "Lugia… your neck…" I squeaked.

    Lugia slid down into his nest. "It's nothing."

    "My left wing it's nothing!" I hissed, trying to float over the nest to get a better view. Lugia anticipated this and rolled onto his belly, throwing his wings up over his neck.

    "You have to stay back, Tia," he said. "Please. It's for your own good."

    His cryptic behavior made me gnash my teeth together. Spirits above, how I hated it when he did this. "You can't just keep in the dark like that, Lugia," I said. "I'm not some dainty hatchling in need of your protection. I'm your mate and I deserve to know what's wrong with you."

    Lugia eyed me waywardly. "You're stressed out," he said. "Did something happen in Horizon?"

    "Yes, something happened in Horizon! And I'm here because I need your support right now, but you're doing your stupid 'I'm a big sea god, I can take care of myself,' routine," I said.

    The last thing I wanted was to get into an argument with him. But he could be so stubborn sometimes! Couldn't he see that I needed help right now? Why was he being so defensive about this?

    "Oh… uh… s-sorry…" Lugia stammered. "You just surprised me with your visit, that's all."

    "That's all?" My temper started to falter. The constant travelling back and forth had worn me out. "Lugia… I'm not in a good place right now. I need you. Please tell me what's wrong. I'm a healer, remember? I can help you! But only if you let me."

    "Tia, I can't ask you to waste your energy on me when the world's in danger."

    "It's not wasting my energy if it's going to a worthwhile cause!" I shouted. My voice echoed through the cave. Trembling, I approached him. "Stop being distant. This isn't helping anyone, least of all you."

    "I want to keep you out of trouble, Latias. You won't be able to stay focused if you're too busy worrying about me."

    "THEN LET ME HEAL YOU!"

    My psychic powers flared up, blowing bits of wooden branches and sand out of Lugia's nest. "You're treating me like a kid again! I… I…"

    I couldn't hold it back anymore. I burst into tears, dropping to the ground next to Lugia's next. "I'm a coward… I'm a screw-up! The Pokémon in Horizon needed me and I was too scared to lift a claw to help them," I blubbered. Lugia looked at me in alarm. "Rayquaza was right. And you're right to treat me like a hatchling. It's all I'm capable of."

    "Tia, that's not true," Lugia cut in sternly.

    "Yes, it is! See for yourself." Psychic power flowed into my head and I shared my memories about Metagross with him. "I don't know what to do," I said the moment the sight-sharing faded. "Things are out of control there. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. Ampharos has no backup for me. I'm on my own. With Hoopa! Hoopa! The guy's great for travelling, but he won't lift a finger to help me. I can't do this, Lugia. I can't help them… it's too much for me."

    Through my blurry vision, I could see Lugia studying me intently. "Is that really what you think?" he asked.

    "Y… yes…"

    "I disagree," Lugia said. "You're letting your past mistakes weigh you down. Rayquaza's condemnations have gotten stuck in your head. It seems like everything you do, good or bad, your mind drifts back to what he said to you after Dark Matter." He craned his neck over his nest to get to eye level with me. "Latias, let me ask you something. Do you want to help the Pokémon in Horizon?"

    What kind of question was that? Of course, I did!

    "Yes," I whispered.

    "Then you need to focus on that. You joined the Expedition Society to help Pokémon, didn't you?" Lugia asked. I nodded. "I might not agree with your decision. But I do know that this is your chance to make that dream a reality. You're acting as your own biggest roadblock here. You need to focus on that desire to help Pokémon and go from there."

    "But what should I do? What can I do?"

    Lugia sighed. "For starters, you have to get them out of there."

    "You mean Team Radiance?" I asked.

    "Anyone who isn't Metagross. Get them out of that guild and somewhere safe," Lugia said.

    "But Metagross is getting arrested. The Observatory should be perfectly safe," I said.

    Lugia shook his head. "Tia, do you really think that'll keep Team Radiance safe?"

    "I… well… maybe not," I whispered. "Where would I take them, though?"

    "That's where the other part comes into play," Lugia said. "You need to find out where the pieces of the Dawn Hourglass ended up. Surely they emit enough energy for you to get a vague idea of where they are, even if they're in Mystery Dungeons."

    I let that idea roll around in my head for a minute. "That's not too unreasonable," I said. "If I can get Hoopa to wake up, then we can cover all of Horizon pretty quickly, I'd imagine."

    Lugia smiled. "That sounds more like it."

    "You really think this'll work, though?"

    "Well, you might have to improvise a bit," Lugia admitted. "But that's where you need to remember to focus on that burning desire to do good. Don't let Rayquaza's harsh words drag you down, Tia."

    "But weren't you the one telling me I didn't owe the Pokémon in Horizon anything?" I pointed out, a frown on my face.

    "That was… before I realized the gravity of the situation," Lugia said. He shifted in his nest and stood up. Not only could I see the black splotches on his neck, but I could see that they were coming from a swirling black stain on his chest. I gasped, feathers bristling. "Lugia… your chest… is that a puncture wound?"

    Lugia brushed a wing against his stomach. When he lifted it up, sticky, dark-red liquid clung to his feathers. "Lugia, what happened?" I asked.

    "I got… thrashed around… by a cyclone off the coast of the Air Continent," Lugia said. "I got tossed into a rock spire… it stabbed me in the chest. That's also where the black marks came from. I fell back into the water and got wrapped up in some poisonous undersea reeds. I'm pretty sure the toxins are contagious… that's why I don't want to touch you." He shook his head. "You were right to be worried, Latias. Something is very wrong. That was no ordinary storm. The ley lines… they're out of control. My powers over undersea currents aren't enough to keep them in check."

    "Lugia…" I whispered, tears brimming in my eyes. "Come with me, then. Come to Horizon. We can work together on this! Please! I don't want to see you get hurt. I… don't want to lose you."

    "Tia… I can't go now. Kyogre has barricaded herself deep in her undersea home. Someone has to try and keep the tides at bay. Otherwise… towns will be destroyed… lives will be lost." Lugia looked toward the water. "Sorry, Tia, but my place is here. I've got a job to do."

    "Then hold still," I whispered, lifting my claws into the air. Concentrating, I drew on my psychic powers. Warm healing energy gathered in my claws and I sent the Heal Pulse right at Lugia. It hit his chest and washed across his body. His injuries faded in a flash of pink light.

    "T-Tia! I told you I–"

    Without thinking, I flew right into him, knocking him to the ground. I pressed my snout against his as hard as I could and brushed my claws against his shoulders. Lugia accepted my kiss, his muscles slowly relaxing as he sank back against his nest. "I told you… I can't lose you," I whispered.

    "And I don't want to lose you, either," Lugia whispered back. He brushed a wing along my back, sending a shock through my system. "We have to have faith. We can get through this."

    I nodded, rubbing my cheek against his. "I hope so," I whispered. "I really do."

    I knew I had to get back to Horizon. But that could wait a few more minutes, while I stayed in his embrace.

    XxX
    Next time: laying the foundations for a quest to reclaim the Dawn Hourglass!
     
    git-it likes this.
  8. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Well, it's been way too long, but at least that means I've got a lot to read! And it's interesting stuff. Giant battle, tons of long-standing secrets coming out into the open – and a little more of a Tessa focus, too, which is nice; I feel like she and her perspective have taken a bit of a back seat recently, and it's good that at this moment of all moments, when the fact that her mother is Zero has been revealed, she comes to the fore again.

    There's some interesting variance in tactical acumen on display in that chapter; Braviary constantly using special attacks rather than physical seems super unwise, though I suppose he didn't want to get close enough to Necrozma to risk it. Magearna, on the other hand, is smart enough to put Metagross to sleep, which kind of makes you think that these people should be less reliant on items (which opponents are constantly breaking or stealing) and more on support moves.

    I think this was a good time to have Shane's lack of perception finally come to an end, too; I sort of get the impression that part of him kind of knew already, since he got it from the suicide thing – as if it only took one last thing for all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. Also, I like how much better at figuring stuff out Tessa is. Shane needed several chapters' worth of clues; Tessa just needed one or two. The contrast is kinda hilarious, even considering how grim all these revelations actually are.

    Anyway, that next chapter is rather heartwarming; it strikes me as pretty necessary and healthy at this point – possibly the most healthy thing these guys have done in a long time. I think sometimes they might say slightly too much, though; in this chapter, they have this tendency to declaim their emotions and motivations, which doesn't strike me as something that people actually do. One example might be when Tessa says why she didn't want to use her name – this feels like too full an explanation for someone to give of their own motivations, for some reason? But then again, they are all making an effort to be really open and stuff, so maybe it's okay. I'm not sure. I guess I'll just skip ahead to the line-by-line stuff now.

    The repetition of 'in front of him' here is kinda awkward.

    Aw, Braviary, you really grow on a person.

    Nice zeugma!

    Finally, a word about the bonus: good to know Latias has survived, I guess – as with Zapdos and Koko. I suspect a few more legendaries are going to get bumped off yet, but it looks like there are at least some contingency plans in place for if the Prism Virus does threaten them. I also like this little glimpse into the crisis gripping the world and its guilds; they're all spread so thin, all their members scattered across the world as they try to put out all the fires. They're all so tired and so anxious; there's a real sense that the stakes are getting higher here!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  9. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Bonus#7

    I have a fair bit of feedback backlog! Hopefully I can remember some things.

    The two letters here are interesting. The insight into Prisma and Rory's relationship and her feelings was quite surprising, although given she'd had a marriage in her human life it does make a lot of sense. Naming her pokemon children after her human children shows a real unwillingness to let go.

    I'm still not convinced Incineroar's friends killed him. I'm wondering if what infected Prisma did that. (Or Null? Please don't be Null...)

    Saying how she has nothing – zero – is a great way of explaining how she changed her name.

    Then there's Nicky's story. Man, I really feel sorry for him.

    The pair of them really are tragic characters.



    He really is very sinister...

    Chapter 37

    I feel so sorry for Espeon and Umbreon. To still have the memories of all they'd done, while under the influence of that virus... that's really harsh. And having some kind of PTSD from Dark Matter to top it all off.

    Confirmation he totally isn't talking to Solgaleo.



    Oh, Shane... XD

    That total flip-out with Espeon and Umbreon was both emotional and hilarious. Shane outright shoved Espy into Bruxish's pond XD but to know Sylveon and Eevee can't come back from all that... I was really hoping there might be some way.

    No... no, I'm still hoping.

    Not telling Tessa that they know Zero is her mother can only go badly later when she finds out they already knew. I both feel they should tell her, yet understand why they won't since so much bad stuff has happened to her already it might just tip her over the edge.

    Chapter 38

    The Lugia and Latias shipping is adorable.

    Haha xurkitree rearranging furniture! XD And then Necrozma kills them... there goes that fun.



    This is only standing out to me the second time I'm reading over it. Why hadn't I taken this in before? So the ultra part of Necrozma has basically possessed Prisma, and what's left of him is having to parasitically take over Lunala? Like... how did that happen? O__o

    Oh, so Necrozma is responsible for the car accident?! D=

    Was the memory Shane was having actually fake? The umbreon and espeon dolls seem pretty key to something. Wondering if that will come up later.

    Looks like Espeon is sleep walking. And sleep Shane-attacking.



    Shane's friends were right. I guess he does indeed have a crush on Espeon!

    Oh no, Zero did indeed get to Dragonair =(

    At least she didn't go down without a fight. But urgh... Zero evolves her and infects her. Man, I hope she can be saved like Espy and Umbry. Come on, Shane. Put that Z Power to use.

    Chapter 39

    Hmm, so Shane hasn't been talking to Necrozma's Lunala form. But an infected Solgaleo (or another small part of Necky taking over Solgaleo?) The truth is now out! He's being lied to.



    Oh boy...

    So Team Captivate are to be left behind this time. Man, they're cut up about Dragonair =( I really hope they get her back soon.



    Shane's fanboying!

    Metagross acting as a fantastic bodyguard, keeping those fanboys at bay.

    Null really is insisting on going along on this mission. I'm kinda glad he does. Team Radiance won't be the same without him!

    That's a good point actually. If Necrozma did indeed cause that car crash, maybe Shane is infected in some way? He has an ability Alolan Vulpix just doesn't get, and Null keeps thinking he's an Ultra Beast...



    Celescannon? Tousteela? Man, that must be creepy. I don't think much to Celesteela at the best of times. It's a thing of nightmares. Possibly because my own rendition of it is pretty dang creepy...

    And it breaks Null's mask a little more...



    Oops...?

    Chapter 40

    Gallian causing trouble...

    I'd love to know what's causing Team Radiance's escape orbs to not function. Being stuck in this place is a nightmare.

    The unown are outright creepy. I wouldn't want to run into them in a dark alley. Forming into other pokemon is pretty imaginative though. I would never have guessed they could do something like that.

    Even after Gallian's row with Metagross and Braviary, I still don't believe they killed Incineroar.


    XD They even have little personalities! Kind of removes the creepiness.

    Shane's plan to blast through the barrier with all the power they have seems precarious. But if it'll get them away from the Unown's attack...



    Ahh, yikes D= You really do put these eeveelutions through the ringer...

    Chapter 41

    I'm not entirely sure what Gallian is doing in Glyphic Falls, but he's pretty niggled at that toucannon.

    I honestly, truly thought Espeon had been killed. Shane reviving her with morning sun was not expected. I'm glad she's okay. We've already lost Sylveon and Eevee.

    I was not expecting Null's back-story to end up the way it has. The list of descriptions they found sounded just like it would be a form of DNA splice. The way Golem did it, I could only describe it as an elaborate alchemical DNA splice. (I will be honest here, as a slight deviation from your story. I do not understand where people are pulling alchemy from as a plot/inspiration idea for Gen 7. I didn't come across a single hint of it. It was all sci fi with mild fantasy elements to me...)

    However, your explanation that the pokemon didn't have the technology to perform scientific DNA splicing doesn't make sense. This is a gripe I will raise, given that the pokemon still had lasers available. So there was advanced technology. I would personally remove the lasers to keep things making sense in this regard, or explain how they could function without technology available? Maybe you did and I've not noticed it? Powered by emeras, or something? I might be overlooking this.

    Nevertheless, it was a truly unexpected twist. As for the unown, that would explain their shape shifting. Are they in some way forming up Null's body using the various elements described in the experiment plan? If so, that's a pretty unique use of unown.

    And now we know why Null hears voices! I do feel terrible for him. He never asked to exist, and is tormented for it. That Golem...

    Poor Tessa though. Oh man, she's going through a real rough time.

    Chapter 42

    And here is experimenting on humans! Nicky is pulled from his own world, turned into a growlithe, then turned into Necrozma! All shiny and golden.

    This plot line really has shown why Necrozma is how he is. First he feels like he has no friends in his human world, no one who cares about him. Then he befriends the legends, much to Golem's gripes. So Golem strips him of his light...

    I can really see the tragic bad guy character developing here.

    Golem meets his demise, bringing his evil to an end, and what is left of Necrozma escapes.

    I don't quite get the reference behind the growlithe being destroyed, though? Is that basically killing what was left of Nicky's sanity?

    And Null finally gets shut of his helmet, and saves his friends! But he actually gets through to the unown, bringing the battle to an end.

    Then he carries his friends back to the guild, warring with himself. Oh man, poor Null.

    Gallian wants to go after Null, and his team do not. So he leaves. Wonder how this will play out?

    That ending... =(

    Chapter 43

    The Guild are realising the Horizon Legends are incorrect, and poor Tessa is in a fit because she feels it's her fault Null realizes he's a monster. Shane feels awful for ribbing the poor chimera all this time, too. And they believe he's gone forever. The feels.

    I'm so relieved that, thanks to Latias, they find him.

    The lunar wing works, and oddly Null seems rather different without that mask. More playful and much more energetic. Although that helmet was rather heavy, clearly slowing him down considerably. But now he's like a playful pup! It's kinda cute, not gonna lie.

    Reading over bits again, I'd forgotten Latias had welded the lunar wing to Null- I mean – Silvally's looplet! (Awesome little nicknaming scene, btw! Tessa coming up with the nickname is just too cute.)

    Bonus #8

    There's really a gradual change here from the start with Silvally's memories of his creation, right through to the end. Going from someone who wants to destroy, all the way to having friends he genuinely cares about.

    I like how the lunar wing has really calmed those voices down. That he's having pleasant memories and not violent ones. Part of me deeply hopes it stays that way, but I can't help but worry he'll go violent again at some point...

    The ending with Tessa and Shane was super cute. I'll hang onto that thought for now.

    Bonus #9

    Okay, so this special was nothing short of hilarious and fantastic! Pirate town, pokemon with nicknames, a mothim... okay, sold.

    Shame the mothim was a bad guy D=

    The whole thing was an epic rescue mission to save Silvally from... well, whatever those pirates wanted to do with him. Mistaking him for a Protector and ditching catching Lugia in preference... poor pup! The world was well described. I love the Venice feel. And pretty much all of the characters were memorable! At times there was a real sense of danger, and it made me wonder if this was a sub-plot in itself rather than an April Fool's special!

    Shame Shane wasn't as impressed with it as I was!

    Chapter 44



    You see, there's a reason I don't like Necky. This just adds to it.



    This is possibly one of the most hilarious scenes in this entire story. Shane even comes clean, admitting his crush. I feel bad he got beat down, but nontheless this is totally memorable. Shane dealing with the trials of being in a pokemon's body...

    By the way, the mentions of those memories possibly being lies, and Shane's doubts that he was ever human, now has me doubting the exact same thing.



    So these guys are back! They really are the Meanies of the bunch, huh?

    … kinda feel bad I often forget about them.

    … I hope they don't get in the way.

    Chapter 45

    I can kinda see Zero and Necrozma's relationship breaking down, and I won't be remotely surprised if they part ways.

    Dragonite seems to be enjoying her new role. I desperately hope that's just the Prism Virus talking.



    Given how he used to be, Silvally feels out of character now XD so glad he's happier without his helmet!

    Team Radiance seems to have gained a new member with Mimikyu. Little guy is pulling his weight here.

    The puzzles are another imaginative addition to the dungeon crawl that is PMD. Along with a pretty unique dungeon, to boot.

    Oh snap, they've met Necrozma. Yanno, I dread the moment when Tessa finds out both Shane and Silvally know Zero is her mother. Necrozma has even hinted at it and Silvally tells her to ignore him... yikes.

    That was a super entertaining scene with Necrozma, and so many details dropped. He's the one who pulled Shane into Horizon... to save him! Well... Necrozma wants saving... from what? Himself? Or to get his light back? Hnh... I'm leaning towards the latter.

    Bonus #10

    I don't think I've read this yet. Is it not on FFNet, or did I totally skip over it? Oh well, here goes!



    Oh my goodness XD

    This was actually pretty great. Yeh, I kinda ship Tessa and Silvally too, so that little scene was adorable XD

    Some typos I noticed:



    Missing 'in'



    'Shane's'



    I think you need to remove 'of'?



    "I think I'd say so, yeah. I'm a lot more comfortable around him that I was."

    'than'

    Chapter 46

    That battle with Tapu Lele's 'puppet show' was fantastic! Such an innovative twist!

    The bitter cold and the dark matter... the latter being a huge threat! Poor Silvally. Shane's 'secret power' comes through again!

    That room Tapu Lele was in. I didn't realise it the first time, but was that Stakataka? The mention of the red eyes in the shuttering glass? It did mention Xurkitree as the cables, so I was kinda stuck on that. Maybe it was both? D=

    Zero mercilessly killing Zapdos... oh wow...

    Edit - I don't know what's going on with the random quote breaks. I'm trying to fix it, but it just seems to keep adding them =D
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2018
    Ambyssin likes this.
  10. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Sorry for the delay with these replies. May is not a fun month... even when you work and don't have school. DX

    QUOTE="Cutlerine, post: 18567529, member: 258590"]Well, it's been way too long, but at least that means I've got a lot to read! And it's interesting stuff. Giant battle, tons of long-standing secrets coming out into the open – and a little more of a Tessa focus, too, which is nice; I feel like she and her perspective have taken a bit of a back seat recently, and it's good that at this moment of all moments, when the fact that her mother is Zero has been revealed, she comes to the fore again.[/QUOTE]That shift is entirely intentional in light of something big that'll be taking place next episode. ;)

    You're correct. Braviary doesn't want to get anywhere near Necrozma, especially since the latter can teleport. Unrelated, but I've actually gotten a few questions about this. Since Necrozma is possessing Lunala, I've given him full access to her arsenal of moves. Hence why he can teleport and use Dazzling Gleam and Night Daze.

    That is true. You can blame the author for that one... or if you want an in-universe explanation, the fights being a bit too frenetic for anyone to stop and think about a good plan.

    Glad to hear it. It... hadn't started that way. But given everyone's feedback, I thought it made sense to incorporate the dual realizations in.

    To be fair, Tessa's always had her thinking cap on while Shane is far more impulse-driven.

    See, they're making improvements! :V

    You're probably right, but I do like it as is. My intention was to emulate Xenoblade Chronicles' heart-to-hearts. But I may have gotten carried away. I say that because there's going to be other chapters like this in the future. Then again, you're the expert at characters talking through their feelings, so...

    I know, right? Shame the author crippled the guy; he doesn't deserve it.

    That suspicion may very well prove true. The contingencies were originally going to be addressed in this next chapter but I decided to move them into this bonus instead.

    And it's only going to get worse. Just check tomorrow's chapter, you'll know what I mean. :p

    Thanks again for reviewing! ^^

    Yes. It was all done deliberately. Prisma's steadily been losing it since she showed up here.

    Well, you're entitled to speculate how you please. But you'll have to read on to see if you're right or wrong.

    Zero's name has, like, four different potential origins. Prisma, too, is significant in more ways than I realized when I gave her that name. XD

    Well I wanted something that stood in start contrast to these "Rawr, I'm-a big destructive evil thing" final bosses from the actual games. I'd like to think it worked, but we're not done yet.

    It is not an easy road for them... and it's not going to be getting better in the chapters you haven't read.

    Correct!

    I'm not saying anything in that regard. :p

    Glad you can see it both ways. That's the moral quandry I was going for.

    It's apparently a legit pairing on that massive list of Pokémon pairs. It's GuardianShipping, for the record.

    To be fair, Xurkitree make horrible interior decorators.

    So, the full explanation is coming in future episodes. But, essentially, Necrozma's core (the rainbow triangle prism think from the USUM title screen) is the Ultranecrozmera (he made the name up). It's wedged in Zero's eye socket at the moment. She expelled a small amount of Necrozma's life energy onto Lunala, forcing him to possess her and giving her control of her body with access to some of Necrozma's powers.

    Basically, she's fighting off his spirit from within, but is also relying on his life energy to survive. Necrozma, on the other hand, needs Zero safe or he risks have his core destroyed/depleted. Unless he can find a way to get rid of her and keep his core safe in the process.

    Indirectly. But he pulled Shane's dying spirit through an Ultra Wormhole.

    Nope, it was mostly real, aside from Solgaleo yelling at him. That was more of a nightmarish situation.

    Correct!

    It remains to be seen what'll happen to her. Seriously... haven't gotten that far in drafting yet.

    Nah, it's just Necrozma messing around in Shane's dreams. He's not really Dusk Mane, just pretending to be.

    That's certainly an interesting way to look at it.

    All the grumpiness of Toucannon with the firepower of Celesteela. A strange combo, indeed.

    It relates to the Unown.

    I kind of just took inspiration from Spell of the Unown. Only I made their "illusions" a lot more real.

    Fair enough.

    I couldn't put in a bunch of Unown and not make at least one letter-related pun. That'd be criminal.

    Send all your complaints to ambyssinhateseeveelutions@notarealemailaddress.com.

    It was a close call, to be sure. And, uh, it was set up that way... given something that'll happen in a few chapters from where you are.

    It is a whole bunch of alchemy, yes.

    I think it has to do with Solgaleo and Lunala? I dunno, there's a million different YouTube theories about it.

    The implication is that the lasers are powered by emera ores, since they're scattered throughout the lab.

    Yes, it also plays up the "failed Arceus clone" to a logical extreme by having Null literally be made of discarded pieces of Arceus' original form.

    Sad times to be had for all. DX

    I was trying very hard to embody that trope of "From Nobody to Nightmare." Looks like it came across alright.

    He doesn't so much escape as Solgaleo and Lunala appear and imprison him... somewhere.

    You're on the right track. Think of it more like the embodiment of Nicky's positive attributes getting vaporized.

    I did revise it (on Serebii) to make it a bit more heroic and friendship-y. I don't think I put those changes on FFN yet... I think I may have also gotten rid of the laser and if you only read the FFN version, that'd explain the issue...

    Only in Guiding Light can we turn evolutions into heartbreaking moments. >:3

    I don't want to make things completely hopeless and depressing. That wouldn't be fun for me to write, to be honest.

    The Lunar Wing finally does what it exists for: giving someone peace of mind!

    It was about as close to accurate to Gen VII as I could get. Since Gladion comes up with the name and he has a Lucario...

    That's what I was going for!

    His dex entry does not he can have a bit of a wild streak.

    Yes, you should very much hang onto it. >:3

    Send your thanks to @Spiteful Murkrow and @Virgil134 since this is crossing over with their work. <3

    I think the term you're going for is "notary." And, well, he's not my character, so I've got to be loyal to the source material.

    The case and setting are all from Fledglings. They're not pirates, they're a royal navy. It's a seafaring/ocean punk adventure.

    *in Emperor Palpetine voice* Goooooood... let the hatred flow through you.

    The point was to stomp his heart into a hundred pieces.

    Good. Hold onto that thought. ;)

    More like the Team Skull of Horizon, if that makes sense.

    Funny you should mention that... *cough*

    I'll leave you to speculate on that one.

    That was always the plan. Team Radiance needs a cheerful optimist to give them some hope.

    Uh... yeah... about that... *coughs louder*

    Glad you liked it. I'm probably not going to do anything that complex again, though, based on previous feedback.

    That moment's already been posted, lucky enough! You'll have to find it, though.

    He's looked to Go Beyond Plus Ultra, naturally.

    It wasn't put on FFN because, as a Q&A, it technically violates the site's rules as to what constitutes story content. Sorry!

    All ships are welcome here. Except Gummi Ships... never was a fan of that minigame.

    Glad you liked it. It was drawing inspiration from some Kirby bosses, naturally. XP

    Bitter Cold actually doesn't make an appearance, just Kyurem and Munna... who were more memorable for me, anyway.

    Y'know, that wasn't entirely my intention, but sure, I can roll with it! :V

    She does blame him for Incineroar's death, to some degree.

    I think it's a XenForo thing? Don't know what to tell you there.

    Anyway, thanks again for reviewing. Glad you're enjoying things!
     
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Boy, it seems like we've been on this episode for two months. Let's finally wrap it up, shall we?

    Content Advisory: chapter contains unhealthy alcohol consumption.

    XxX

    Chapter 51: The Planning Stages


    ~Solaris Wastelands~

    Night was falling over the desert dungeon. Harsh sandstorms swept across the dunes, blowing red sand in all directions. The sand combined with the deep purple light from the oversized moon to cast an eerie lavender glow throughout the sky. Zero stood in the middle of a trough between three dunes, surrounded by lifeless, colorless Sandiles, Krokoroks, and the occasional Gible and Gabite. She leaned over on her staff, panting heavily and scanning the area for any sign of movement beneath the surface.

    A flicker of light drew her attention forward. She stood up straight, watching as Xatu toppled over into the sand. His wings were spread open, each one coated in a thick layer of ice to prevent them from moving. His beak was frozen shut and his torso peppered with small stab wounds. Xatu remained motionless even as Dragonite stepped on his back. She raised a hand over her head. Electricity swirled around it, forming a javelin-like spear. Dragonite lowered the spear, pointing the tip against Xatu's neck.

    "No sudden movements, birdie. You got that?" she said.

    "So, your trip to the Air Continent was successful," Zero said. Her four, tentacle-like aura feelers lashed at the air. "Milotic, Serperior, quit hiding behind Dragonite. I want to make sure you both made it here in one piece."

    Milotic and Serperior slithered out on either side of Dragonite. "We're here," Milotic said. She hoisted up her tail, showing off her icy-blue scales and the ice-coated, hexagonal blade that sat where her tail fins should have been. The tail blade had a snowflake carved into its center, which emitted frosty air that evaporated in the harsh desert heat.

    "Why do we need this old geezer again?" Serperior scoffed, using her own tail blade to flick up a clump of sand with an annoyed huff. Hers was a wavy sword that crackled with bright-blue flames, matching the blue, fire-shaped markings along her body.

    "We need to make an adjustment to our plans," Zero said. "And I want to be absolutely sure that my new idea can safely come to fruition." She glared at Xatu, who returned her gaze with an empty one.

    "That's a bit cryptic, don't you think?" Serperior sneered.

    "Don't talk to Mistress Zero like that!" Dragonite barked. She rapped Serperior on the back of her head, knocking her emerald helmet askew. The mohawk-shaped stream of green fire shooting out from the helmet weakened, until Serperior readjusted it. The flames then resumed their normal intensity and the small sigil on the helmet's brim glowed. Zero immediately recognized it as the same one Necrozma had on his torso when he killed Umbreon: a winged heart, with demonic horns protruding from its top and a piercing eye in its center.

    "No, I'm with Serpy, here," Milotic agreed. "I'd like some details… since we did just join the team, after all."

    Zero glanced at Milotic, staring at her helmet. It was shaped similarly to Serperior's, except it was bright blue, with a mohawk of icicles jutting out of it. The same insignia was carved into the helmet. Zero glanced down and noticed the red strip of cloth hanging from her waist also had the same sigil. It was even on the Prism Armor sitting over Dragonite's chest. Zero tightened her grip on her staff.

    "We're ditching the Hourglasses to go after the Time Gears," Zero said. "After that business with Tapu Lele, I suspect that Ampharos and Guildmaster Wigglytuff may be attempting to replicate their success in going around Dark Matter. Though they are god-abetting fools, we shouldn't underestimate them. To add to that… Necrozma cannot be trusted anymore."

    "Wait… you just let him go?" Milotic gasped.

    Zero balled her free paw into a fist. "… yes. But he won't go after us. As long as I have his core, he won't try anything directly."

    Dragonite crossed her arms. "So, what, that just means he'll be looking for a way to get rid of us indirectly?"

    "Perhaps," Zero said. "However, with the Time Gears, I may have a way to fulfill our goal and be rid of Necrozma… permanently." She pulled the book Dragonite had given her out from her robes. "Dialga forged the Time Gears from Necrozma's life energy. If I bring them to the top of Temporal Tower, I should be able to use the alchemical spells in this book to alter the fabric of time."

    "Wait, seriously? Alchemy is a forbidden art for good reason," Serperior said. "Bad things happen if you use it–"

    "Because alchemy draws on the power of ley lines," Zero said, cutting Serperior off. "Which can, of course, have disastrous consequences. My plan is to use that power to erase ley lines from history. And, of course, take the gods out with them. Not only will that kill them off… no one will remember they existed in the first place. Aside from us, of course. So, not a single Pokémon will be upset." She gazed into her octahedron. "Beyond that, I can repair all of the damage Necrozma has done… and ensure he disappears while maintaining his powers."

    "Is that where Xatu comes in?" Milotic asked, poking Xatu with the edge of her tail blade.

    "Correct," Zero said. She marched up to Xatu and knelt down in front of him. Then she grabbed his head with her free paw and hoisted him up. "Alright, I know you're listening in there. Tell me what I want to know. Can I gather the Time Gears and safely rewrite history with these spells?"

    Xatu didn't respond. Zero shook him, shouting, "Answer me, bird!"

    You can… but you will not succeed in making a world safe for all mortal Pokémon.

    Zero's lone eye flashed blue. "That doesn't make any sense. If I rid the world of ley lines, it will be perfectly safe. Mystery Dungeons are the cause of all our misery. If I eliminate them–"

    You can only keep the ley lines at bay for so long. They will return in time, Xatu said, his gaze drifting off toward the sky.

    Zero tightened her grip, shattering the ice around Xatu's beak. "Not if I erase them from history!"

    You are mistaken in your logic. Ley lines were not born of this world, Xatu replied.

    Zero slammed Xatu's head into the sand. "I see what you're doing," she growled. "You're being cryptic to try and cover for your worthless gods. I have no intention of sparing them. They have done nothing but perpetuate the ley line epidemic. To think a 'trusted' seer like you would be ensnared by their collective grip on this world… how disgraceful."

    Won't work… Xatu groaned. Need gods… to keep ley lines… under control.

    "My vaunted team and I are more than enough to keep this world safe once it's free of its gods," Zero snarled.

    Not sufficient, Xatu said, finally coughing as a sign of distress. The ley lines will overwhelm you.

    "Lies!" Zero hissed, digging Xatu's head into the sand. "Give me the real truth or I'll take your life right this second."

    Void… too strong. Only gods… can repel… Xatu croaked.

    "I've heard enough of your worthless lies. Consume!" Zero shouted, cupping her paw over Xatu's eyes. The ice encasing his wings shattered and the colors rushed off his body. They spiraled up Zero's arm and spread across her mask. A rainbow ripple overtook her body and then disappeared. Zero released Xatu's head. He fell into the sand as she got back to her feet.

    "Well, this won't be a complete loss," she exclaimed. Zero held her free paw up. Black cubes flickered around her paw, forming into a glass orb with the winged heart sigil on it. "Thanks to Xatu's life energy, I should be able to get us around much quicker. No need for Necrozma… and no worry about wasting time traversing the world."

    "So, what's the plan?" Dragonite asked.

    "Milotic, Serperior, you're to stay here and search out the fragments of the Dawn Hourglass," Zero ordered. "They're not what I'm interested in, but I don't want Necrozma getting his clutches on them. If he does, he could easily throw a wrench in our plan." She turned to Dragonite. "You and I will make for the Grass Continent and begin gathering the Time Gears. With any luck, we'll have all five with minimal effort."

    "Meaning… I get to take down their guardians?" Dragonite said, an eager grin on her face.

    Zero shattered the orb in her paw. A distorted black portal appeared behind her. "Correct. Uxie, Azelf, and Mesprit will be swept aside by the Prism Virus."

    Dragonite licked her lips in anticipation. "This should be fun," she said, cracking her knuckles. She followed Zero inside the portal, which shut behind them. Milotic and Serperior nodded to one another and activated an Escape Orb, vanishing in a pillar of rainbow light.

    For a full minute, gusts of wind blew clouds of sand through the area, until a single plume of black smoke formed on the ground where Zero had previously been standing.

    "So, that's your ploy, is it, mistress?"

    Necrozma rose out of the cloud, draping his wings over his body to settle his spasming arms. "Heeheeheehee… you want to make me disappear, huh? I should've known… you were never going to give me my light back," he growled. "Everyone just takes and takes and takes while giving me nothing! But it's okay… it's fine."

    He spread his wings apart and took off into the air.

    "If you want the Time Gears, then I'll go right for their source, instead!"

    XxX​

    Rory Gardner, Attorney at Law

    Shane stood in front of a door made of fake wood. The kind that looked convincing at first glance, only for the illusion to quickly fall apart. A small indentation sat in the center of the door, housing the name placard that Shane was reading over. For the past five minutes, he had been trying to muster up the courage to knock on the door. But the best he could manage was raising his fist up to chest height, only to have it flop back down uselessly.

    "Hey, Rory. You in there? There's a kid waiting outside your door."

    Shane jumped. He hadn't even heard the woman walking up behind him.

    "Whoops. Didn't mean to scare you, kid. You know, I'm pretty sure Rory's just in his office. All you've gotta do is knock."

    As Shane reached up toward the door, it swung inward. Shane stumbled forward, nearly bumping into the man standing in the doorway. Luckily, he managed to catch himself before any collisions happened. To Shane's complete surprise, instead of a fierce, intimidating man standing before him in an immaculate suit like he had firmly expected, he found a bald, lanky, middle-aged man with a goatee and a slight five o'clock shadow. And, in place of formal business wear, he had on gray khakis, an orange belt with a flame-shaped buckle, and a red flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up. An orange bow tie sat neatly around his neck.

    "Oh, good, you made it," Rory said, extending a hand toward him. "Rory Gardner, come on in." Shane looked at Rory's hand like it was an alien object. An awkward silence fell between the two of them and Rory withdrew his hand. He nudged up his thin, wireframe glasses. "Not a handshaker, huh? I don't blame you. It's flu season and my wife's been going on and on about how easily it'll spread… and how I'm not safe even with the vaccine."

    "Yeah," Shane mumbled as he walked into Rory's office. He hadn't exactly set foot inside a lawyer's office before. But his parents were huge fans of law procedural shows, so he'd seen plenty of them on TV.

    Rory's was nothing like that. There were no solid oak desks or fancy office chairs. No tray filled with expensive alcohol whose brands Shane would never recognize. And no glimmering, golden picture frames proudly showing off Rory's degrees. Instead, there were plain white walls, a window to look out over a parking lot, an old leather couch with an accompanying coffee table, and a modest-sized desk sticking out of the wall. Papers and files were haphazardly strewn across it, some of them sitting on top of Rory's laptop computer. A metal tray housed various office utensils and writing instruments, though it was hidden underneath a half-eaten deli sandwich poking out of its wrapper.

    "Go on, have a seat," Rory said, gesturing toward a small leather sofa. Shane walked over to it and sat down, looking at the shelves across from him. Legal textbooks and publications lined the shelves, with framed pictures sitting neatly in front of them. In one of them, a small girl smiled back at Shane, arms wrapped around a stuffed Pikachu.

    "Your kids like Pokémon?" Shane asked. A beat followed, and then he realized he had said that out loud and abruptly looked toward the door, doing his best to avoid eye contact with Rory.

    "Of course they do," Rory said with a laugh. "My wife and I are fans, too. You know, when the originals came out, we gave each other copies as an anniversary present." Rory sat down, sighing contently.

    "But that doesn't make any sense," Shane said. "Why would you like Pokémon? No offense, but you're kinda old."

    "True," Rory said with a nod. "But, speaking as a legal expert, there are no laws written anywhere saying you can't like Pokémon once you're past a certain age." His statement made Shane flinch. Rory frowned. "Of course, the high school court of public opinion does tend to operate by a different set of rules." He shuffled some of the folders around on his desk, producing a clean yellow notepad. "My son's actually starting high school next year. He's excited, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous for him."

    Shane scowled. "You should tell him to keep his head down, then."

    "Well, we're not in the same school district as you," Rory said. "But, let's drop that subject for the time being and focus on the here and the now." He clicked open his pen and leaned forward. "First off, let me just start by saying that I'm real sorry to hear about what happened to Nicholas."

    Shane winced again. "It's not like you knew him."

    "Well, I did get to meet him a few times," Rory exclaimed.

    Shane grabbed the backpack he had dropped to the floor and threw it on his lap. "Remind me why I'm here, again?"

    "The Eisenbergs hired me, Shane," Rory replied. "They just want some answers about what happened to Nicholas. And I was hoping that you could help me out in that regard." Shane squeezed his backpack tighter. The opened zippers slid a little bit farther apart and a plush Umbreon ear popped out of the bag. Rory raised an eyebrow.

    "Shane, did you ever notice any of your classmates say anything hurtful to Nicholas?"

    Shane didn't reply.

    Rory nudged up his glasses. "It's alright. Take your time, if you have to."

    "… yeah," Shane muttered. The whole head of the Umbreon doll was out of his bag, which was sliding down toward the floor again. He held the toy in his hands and hunched over, pulling it into his gut.

    "Do you think you could tell me the stuff that they said to him?"

    Shane shook his head. "… no."

    Rory clicked his pen a couple of times. "Is that a 'no' because you don't remember?"

    "No," Shane sighed. "I don't… want to say that stuff. It made Nicky upset. I didn't like it when he was upset."

    Rory took a deep breath. He placed his pen against the notepad and got up from his chair. He walked over to the couch and kneeled down in front of Shane. "Shane, I get that this must be very hard for you. I can't imagine how you're feeling."

    "Yeah, you can't," Shane mumbled.

    Rory put on a hand on his shoulder. "I understand how difficult this can be. But… I need you to look at me and listen." Shane hesitantly lifted his head. Rory continued, "Let me tell you a little bit about what I do. See, schools like the one you go to have a responsibility. They're supposed to provide safe, welcoming learning environments for kids like you and Nicky." His expression stiffened. "But when they fail to do that, parents can turn to me. I do some digging. If I find out that schools knowingly created an unsafe environment, then I take action."

    "You mean you sue them," Shane said, eyeing Rory skeptically.

    Rory stood up. "Not necessarily. And, in this case, all I want right now is just to get a better understanding of what happened to Nicholas." He sat back down at his desk. "Shane, this isn't like one of those shows you see on TV. I can't magically produce perfect pieces of evidence or set some trap to get someone at your school to confess to bullying Nicholas. No… for me to do my job, I need help from folks like you."

    "What could I possibly do to help you? I'm just a nobody."

    "No, I know that's not true," Rory scolded. "For starters, you were one of Nicholas' best friends. And, I'm sure that, if the chips were down, he would do whatever he could to help you out, right?"

    Shane looked his Umbreon doll in the eyes and nodded slowly. "I guess he would."

    "Now, I can't force you to do anything you don't want to do, but I think it would mean a lot to Nicholas' parents if you answered some of my questions. That way, I have somewhere to start in trying to help the Eisenbergs," Rory said.

    Shane took a deep breath in. "Okay," he whispered. "What do you want to know?"

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "Shane. Wake up, Shane," Tessa whispered, shoving him hard with both paws.

    "Nnnnrghh… I'm a real human. I'm… a real human," Shane groaned, brushing a forepaw across his snout.

    Tessa dug her fists into his ribcage, pressing down with all the weight her upper body could muster. Shane's eyes snapped open and coughed, producing a sound similar to a balloon getting deflated. "Gah!" He sat up, looking around the room. "What is it? It's the middle of the night… lemme sleep."

    "You were having a nightmare," Tessa muttered.

    Shane felt cold metal on his rear. He sprang to his feet, yipping. "Shhh, keep your voice down," Silvally hissed in a whisper.

    Shane blinked. "What's going on?"

    "Officer Magnezone is tending to Metagross and we're leaving," Tessa replied. She draped Shane's scarf around his neck.

    "Leaving? To go where?" Shane asked. In response, Tessa pushed his head to the right, where one of Hoopa's ring portals hovered in front of him. Shane whimpered, tails curling against his underbelly.

    "Trust me. I'm confused, too. Latias said she'd explain when we're safe," Tessa said.

    Shane tried to issue a rebuttal, but Silvally pushed him into the portal. He and Tessa followed along after Shane and the ring shrank out of existence.

    XxX

    ~The Temple of Balance~

    Splash!

    "Are you freaking kidding me?!"

    Shane popped out of a chest-high pool of water. Silvally fell out of the portal with a surprised squawk, flattening Shane and sending him underwater. Tessa slogged to the edge of the pool and climbed out, shaking water off her fur.

    "What was that all about?" she groaned, peeling off her scarf to wring it out.

    "Mwee hee hee! Oh man, did you see Snowball's face before Silvally struck him? Gold, I tell ya! Pure gold!" Haunter cackled. "I told you putting the portal there was a good idea."

    Hoopa had a hand over his mouth, suppressing a giggle fit. "You were so right. Hoopa likes you. You have a good sense of humor."

    "I. Am. Going. To. Kill. You."

    A dripping-wet Shane stood in front of Haunter, giving him the most enraged look that he could muster. "Ah, ah, ah." Haunter waved a finger at him. "You can't kill me. I'm a ghost. I'm already dead! Mwee hee hee!"

    "Haunter!"

    "Zoinks!" Haunter snapped to attention and floated to the side, allowing Braviary to limp past him.

    "I expect better of ya," he scolded. Haunter frowned and poked his index fingers together dejectedly. "Say yer sorry to Team Radiance."

    "I'm sorry to Team Radiance."

    Latias flicked his ethereal ear. "Ow. OW! Okay, sheesh, I'm sorry." His eyes comically teared up. "You guys take all the fun out of everything… just like Tapu Fini. Waah!" He flew away dejectedly, settling inside a blown glass vase in the corner of the room.

    "I don't believe this," Shane growled. "Out of everyone who could've survived the Prism Virus' rampage… it had to be those three."

    "Wait, did Haunter say Tapu Fini?" Tessa gasped. She finally took in her surroundings. Aside from the many pools of water lining the room, there were several mirrors on the walls. Ornate blue tapestries hung beside each of them. At the other end of the room, she spotted Tapu Bulu laying down next to a similar creature, with light blue hair, and a purple shell enclosing her body.

    "We're… at another temple? Why? How?" Tessa looked up at Braviary. "And what are you doing here?"

    Latias floated next to Hoopa. "I'm sure you're all a bit confused right now. To put it simply… we needed to get you out of the guild."

    More specificatory, we needed to get away from Aeon Town, Magearna exclaimed, walking up to join the group. Team Radiance noticed Comfey, Steenee, and Espeon at her side. We left Metagross behind, in Officer Magnezone's custodiary.

    "You mean… everyone's gone except him? Why?" Tessa asked. She shot a panicked look back at Shane. "You don't think this is because of–"

    Braviary interrupted her with a long, drawn out sigh. "I was a fool," he exclaimed. "I don't know what got into the Gu–" He cut himself off. "Sorry… what got into Metagross. But, something ain't right with him. I thought it pretty strange that he'd send so many of us to the desert, but to have expected Necrozma to attack like that… and not even care about who we lost…" He shook his head. "How could I be so blind to think nothing were wrong?"

    Shane frowned. "What do you mean by that?"

    Latias put a paw on Braviary's good shoulder. "If I may?" she said. Braviary nodded. "I had a look at Metagross' memories." Team Radiance looked at her skeptically. "I was actually there… in the guild… when Metagross was flying off the handle."

    "And you didn't do anything?" Espeon growled.

    Latias winced. "No… I didn't," she said. "But I'm going to try to make up for that. Starting with telling you guys that Metagross' behavior is the result of an evolution gone awry."

    Tessa tilted her head. "I'm sorry… what?"

    "Two Metangs fuse together to make a Metagross," Latias said. "Normally, the two do so willingly, making a Metagross that is a combination of two minds, two bodies, and two spirits. If that doesn't happen, the two spirits will wind up fighting each other for control of the body. Said mental war could last a Metagross' entire life."

    "So, the Guildmaster was really two Metangs' spirits waging battle in his body?" Shane gasped.

    "Not exactly," Latias said. "It's… um… I could show you the memories, but I think it might confuse you guys more. So, I'll try to explain it as best I can." She glanced at Braviary. "You joined the guild with a Metang, correct?"

    "Yeah. He and Incineroar were my best friends," Braviary said.

    Latias' wings drooped. "I thought so. See, when I read Metagross' mind, there were barely any traces of thoughts or memories from that Metang. Instead… I mostly saw memories of a Metang that had lived in Voltaic Crater."

    Shane's tails shot up in surprise. "You mean this whole time, the Guildmaster was some upset wild Pokémon?"

    "Yes," Latias said. "Admittedly, I couldn't believe it at first. Because overseas, most of the wild Pokémon we find in Mystery Dungeons are really just figments made from ley lines. Here in Horizon, however, they're all real, living creatures."

    Tessa's muzzle stiffened. "Of course they're real. Why wouldn't they be? And where are you going with this, exactly?"

    "The wild Metang was subject to years of harmful electric shocks from living in the dungeon. They were so intense that they warped his mind and his psychic powers," Latias said. "He believed that everyone and everything in the world was out to kill him."

    Shane's jaw slackened. "You can't be serious. How could a psychic… who can read minds… possibly think that? Wouldn't he just have to read our minds to see that we mean him no harm?"

    "He had become too delusional," Latias said. "The guild's Metang snuck up on him and forced him to combine."

    "Why would he need to do something like that?" Tessa wondered.

    "I'm not entirely sure about that," Latias replied.

    "Jealousy, maybe?" Espeon mused. She turned to Braviary. "Hey, you. Tell me... what order did you and your teammates reach your final evolutions in?"

    "Well, that ain't a toughy," Braviary said. "I became a Braviary first. Then Incineroar evolved from Torracat a few weeks later. And then I seem to recall it taking a bit of time for Metang to..." Braviary's voice trailed off and his gaze fell toward the ground.

    "I thought as much," Espeon scoffed, flicking her snout upward. "You didn't coordinate evolving with your teammates, did you? I've seen more than my fair share of wedges get driven between exploration teams over this kind of stuff."

    "But Metang never mentioned nothing about being jealous," Braviary said, his throat dry.

    "And I'm willing to bet neither you nor Incineroar ever bothered bringing the subject up with him," Shane said. Braviary nodded slowly.

    "Let's be real here, human. If you were him in that situation, I doubt you'd have done that, either," Espeon dismissed. She turned back to Latias. "So, is it safe to say that an unexpected bout of jealousy set off some disaster dominoes?"

    "I'd say so," Latias replied. "The wild Metang was forced into evolving. That caused such an intense degree of panic that the wild Metang was able to completely overwhelm the rival spirit and win complete control over his new body."

    "And the guild Metang's spirit... never tried to reach out for help?" Shane asked.

    "He never got that opportunity," Latias replied. "You may as well think of it as Metang dying while he tried to evolve, with an impostor taking his place."

    Tessa's gaze fell to the ground. "But that doesn't make any sense," she whispered. "Metagross seemed totally put-together when we met him. Heck, he had to have acted composed for years. Otherwise someone would've realized something was wrong!" She looked back and forth between Braviary and Latias. "How could no one have realized what had happened?"

    "Because he hardly said nothing to nobody," Braviary whispered, his eyes slowly widening in realization. "He'd spend almost all his time hiding in his room unless Incineroar gave him an assignment. But once he became Guildmaster, he was always in his office."

    Latias' ears and wings drooped. "He did it because that was how he could feel safe. Locking himself in his room shut out all the people he thought were trying to kill him. But Incineroar kept giving him orders as Guildmaster… so Metagross killed him and took over." She looked at Braviary. "He delegated all his responsibilities to you and the other staff, yes?"

    Braviary nodded, a stunned look on his face.

    "As I thought. This let him hide away in his office… until he realized that Lucario was trying to get answers about Incineroar's death," Latias said glumly.

    "So… so it's really true, then? Metagross killed Dad? And he tried to kill Mom, too?" Tessa squeaked, her eyes tearing up. "Is… is he the reason she's Zero, now?"

    Latias winced. "I don't know for certain. He pushed Lucario off a cliff, expecting her to fall to her death like Incineroar did. But then there was an explosion…" Her voice trailed off and she shuddered. "His memories turn into an absolute mess after that. The only thing I could pick out was that he was actively trying to get rid of you three." She pointed at Shane, Silvally, and Tessa.

    "Us?" Shane said.

    "He wanted you to leave the guild, first," Latias said. "When that didn't work, he sent you to Mellath Bog, tracking your movements in secret. It was tough to squeeze this out, but he banked on Tessa bringing Silvally. He expected Shane to bully Tessa to the point that she'd drown herself in the swamp… and then Silvally would kill Shane in retaliation and flee to live in isolation."

    The three Team Radiance members looked at each other in horror. Each of them wanted to say something, but no one could find the right words. Instead, Tessa whirled on Braviary. Her irises flared up and blue aura crackled through her paws. "You," she seethed. "You were there… this whole time…"

    "T… Tessa?" Shane said. "Are you okay?"

    "No, I'm not okay!" she shouted, tears streaming down her face. "How could you fail to see that something was wrong, Braviary?!" she shrieked, stomping the ground. "You… you were Dad's best friend. He trusted you… and you let him down! I want to know why… why did you think there was nothing wrong?"

    "I… I…" Braviary tried to shuffle back, but Espeon stepped in his path. Her forked tail flicked beside her, as if it was challenging Braviary to try and make a move in his current condition. Braviary's legs gave out and he dropped to the floor. "It was Dark Matter! Dark Matter, I tell ya! It's all that varmint's fault. He… he cost me my friends!"

    The room descended into silence, until Tessa growled, "You really expect me to believe that?"

    "Y'all don't get it! Ya weren't around fer it," Braviary said. "When we heard Dark Matter threatening to turn us all to stone, we panicked! Nobody really knew what to do. Metagross and I… we turned to Incineroar fer help. But all he did was tell us to start getting folks underground and then he sprinted out of the Observatory, shouting fer Lucario at the top of his lungs."

    "I ain't never seen him so worried as I did in that very moment," Braviary continued. His voice grew more unhinged the longer he rambled. "Metagross and I were left to try and deal with all the folks panicking in Aeon Town until he got back. Neither of us were prepared to do that. It was total chaos!" He gazed off into the distance. "When Incineroar finally got back, he made sure Lucario could get safely underground. Then, he told Metagross and me to keep an eye on her and ran off!"

    "Maybe he was just trying to make sure you guys would be safe?" Shane said.

    "I was too angry to care… or notice anything was off with Metagross," Braviary said. "Incineroar was my best friend… and it felt like he had completely abandoned me just fer Lucario's sake!"

    "So, you were mad… at Mom?" Tessa hissed. "But she didn't do anything wrong!"

    "Of course I was! She was distracting Incineroar… stopping him from doing his job," Braviary squawked, weakly flapping his good wing. "I never raised a stink about it, because I didn't want to upset Incineroar. Then one afternoon, out of the blue, Metagross told me that Incineroar needed to go to Glyphic Falls. Wouldn't tell me why, he just said it was extremely urgent. Then he looked me right in the eyes and done said to tell anyone who asked that he had been in the Observatory the whole day!"

    "You mean you just lied to cover for him? What is wrong with you?" Shane snarled.

    "I didn't think anything of it at the time, alright?" Braviary shouted. "Cause Metagross done stomped into my room that same evening, asking where Incineroar was and why he hadn't come back. I thought fer sure that there weren't a thing wrong. He seemed completely surprised when we found yer dad's scarf in Glyphic Falls."

    "It really didn't occur to you that he might be tricking you?" Shane said. "My god, how dense can you possibly be?" He glanced at his teammates, expecting one of them to berate him for badmouthing Braviary. But, to his surprise, Silvally and Tessa continued to stare Braviary down, looks of disgust on their faces. Espeon still stood behind Braviary, narrowing her eyes.

    "What d'y'all want from me?" Braviary croaked. He sank down to the ground. "I admit it, okay. Something felt off about that day. But I didn't do anything. Because Metagross stepped into the Guildmaster slot and just kept me busy tending to all y'all. I never got the chance to ask him about what had happened." He shook his head. "And then… Lucario had her meltdown and stormed out of the Observatory. Metagross… he left a little while later. Saying he was gonna try and see to her." He flinched and looked at the floor. "And, well, he came back. But she didn't. That's when he started talking all funny like."

    "What is that supposed to mean?" Tessa asked.

    "Y'know. It's when he started doing that 'Fact' and 'Order' nonsense of his," Braviary said, letting out a deranged laugh. "It should've clicked fer me. Something had to have happened at Glyphic Falls. Something that knocked him completely off his rocker."

    "So, you just let Metagross go after my mom? Are you serious?" Tessa snarled. Silvally had to restrain her, activating ground memories to negate the electricity surging toward her fists. "Gallian was right!" she hissed, blue irises flashing. "You… you helped let this happen! Dad was never really your closest friend, was he? I'll bet you stopped caring about him when he fell in love with Mom!"

    "Well, what'd ya really expect?" Braviary shouted, slamming his wing on the ground. "Yer dad had blinders on. Big, huge blinders! He threw caution into the wind! He wouldn't even listen to me try to tell him that Lucario was a human!"

    Tessa's temper snapped. She wriggled out of Silvally's grasp and charged toward Braviary, screaming at the top of her lungs. But a psychic force knocked her to the ground. "Beating him up is not going to help this situation, Tessa," Espeon chided.

    "How could you stand there and say that?" Shane growled, watching Silvally tend to Tessa. "Didn't you just hear him? This whole time, he's known Tessa's mom was a human. And he never said anything!"

    "She threatened me!" Braviary cawed. "Said she'd done try to kill me if I ever told anyone in her family. And Metagross… I didn't wanna get on his bad side. Especially not after whatever happened to him and Lucario at Glyphic Falls!"

    The room descended into silence.

    "… you have no one to blame for your current state but yourself."

    Tapu Fini floating up to Braviary, a stoic expression on her face. "You have an explorer's spirit and body, but the mind of a coward. This past year has been one of imbalance for a broken creature like you. And fate has seen fit to grant you a broken, useless body to match such a sorry state."

    "N… no…" he rasped. "Please don't say that. I never meant to hurt anyone!"

    "Meaning is irrelevant," Tapu Fini scoffed, flicking her hand dismissively. "Your actions led to harm. And your mental justifications are… lacking." She narrowed her eyes at Braviary. "And if your acquaintances cannot find a way to reverse the damage to your body, then you'll have the rest of your life to lament your poor decision-making."

    Braviary slumped over in defeat. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

    "If you were really sorry, you'd have done something earlier," Shane growled.

    "Silence, human," Tapu Fini said, hovering in front of him. Shane's tails scrunched up.

    "Me? What did I do?"

    "You are in no position to judge this miserable soul," Tapu Fini said, eyeing him suspiciously. "As bad as he is, you are a far more tainted being."

    Shane whimpered. "Wh… what's that supposed to mean? Do you know why I keep having nightmares?"

    "I do not," Tapu Fini replied. "I sense that every facet of you is warped. Your body is alien, just like every human who has passed into this world. But unlike them, your mind and spirit are fragmented. You are so out of balance, it's a wonder you're up and walking about."

    "Wow… rub it in some more, why don't you?" Shane whined, ears folding against his face.

    Silvally put a foreleg in front of Shane. He stepped in front of him protectively. "Don't get me wrong, Tapu Fini. We appreciate you extending your home to us, like this. But, if you're just going to float there and talk down to my friend – to Team Radiance's leader – then I think we'll just take our chances forging on ahead by ourselves."

    He looked to Tessa and Espeon, who both gave hesitant nods. "L… Leader?" Shane parroted, the surprise in his voice making it crack. His stance slouched. "But… but I'm not…"

    Tapu Fini stared down Silvally. "I see your point," she said. "Arguing is not going to get us anywhere. Despite the dreadful imbalance that all of Team Radiance is, well, radiating–"

    "Boooooooooooooo! That was awful!" Hoopa jeered, only to be silenced by a scathing look from Latias.

    Tapu Fini cleared her throat and continued, "Though I dislike how your team carries itself, you may use my domain to shelter yourselves from the Prism Virus while you figure out the best way forward."

    "And what are you going to do in the meantime, huh?" Shane wondered.

    "Tend to the ley lines," Tapu Fini replied. "With Lele and Koko gone, Bulu and I have to work the portions of the continent they were watching over."

    Shane didn't look pleased with that response. Tessa put a paw on his shoulder. "We won't be able to stop the Prism Virus if the continent sinks into the ocean."

    Shane flinched. "Oh… yeah. Right. I keep forgetting about that." His tails drooped. The room descended into silence once again.

    "Wait! There is something you can help us with," Silvally said. "Tell us about Necrozma."

    Tapu Fini gave Silvally a confused look. "Necrozma?"

    "That what Guiding Light call himself," Tapu Bulu shouted from across the room.

    Tapu Fini's stoic expression descended into one filled with worry. "Wait… the Guiding Light is back? Is that the strange presence I was sensing in your temple? It was so out of balance… I thought I might faint."

    Espeon took the opportunity to explain about the footage Team Radiance saw in the Nocturnus Catacombs. "Do you know if Necrozma's really telling the truth? About Solgaleo and Lunala? And Z-Power? And… and…" Her voice trailed off and she looked down at the ground.

    "Yes, he is," Tapu Fini replied bluntly.

    Espeon's ears twitched. Her tail shot between her legs. "You're kidding," she squealed. "But he… he looked so powerful."

    "When he restored the sun and moon to our world, Necrozma gave us a new Solgaleo and Lunala to watch over them," Tapu Fini explained. "A short while later, he gathered us up in my temple and presented us with a gift. He transferred some of his energy to us. In essence, he gave us what you know as Z-Power. He said we could use it to help Pokémon in trouble. He hoped it would make lots of Pokémon happy."

    "But that caused his creators to imprison him and pull out his, uh, core, for lack of a better word," Silvally exclaimed.

    Tapu Fini nodded. "That is what I was told. While none of us were there, we heard about it from Solgaleo and Lunala. Necrozma was stripped of his light by his creators in retribution for helping us. The explosion of light that resulted led to the creation of all the stardust that falls from the sky. That's how much energy was drained from him."

    "It's really true then? All of our equipment is made from Necrozma's life force?" Tessa gasped.

    "Correct. Orbs, wands, looplets, and emeras are all derived from the stardust Necrozma unwillingly created," Tapu Fini said. "The Totem Crystals that Totem Pokémon hold are also imbued with Necrozma's life force."

    "Totem Crystals?" Shane cocked his head to the side.

    "They contain Z-Power, much like a Naturia Looplet," Tapu Fini explained. "They're wielded by Totem Pokémon as a sign of their authority."

    "But we ran into a Totem and she didn't have any crystals," Shane muttered.

    Silvally's expression saddened. "We've only seen an infected Totem. I'll bet Necrozma took the crystal's powers back for himself."

    "It wouldn't surprise me," Tapu Fini said. "Apparently, Necrozma's core went berserk as a result of being drained of its light."

    "We saw. It formed up some grotesque zombie body from Necrozma's remains and started shooting rainbow lasers everywhere," Shane recalled. "That's when Solgaleo and Lunala appeared and tossed Necrozma into some sort of portal."

    "And now he's back," Tapu Fini said. "No doubt, Necrozma is looking to regain the power that was taken from him. He wants to become the Guiding Light once more."

    "That's what this must be about," Espeon gasped. "The Prism Virus… it's not trying to make things better for Pokémon like us. It's just trying to make things better for Necrozma!" Her brow furrowed. "He's targeting Legendaries because I'll bet he thinks they have enough life energy to fix his broken core."

    "And he's using my mom to try and throw us off," Tessa whimpered, aura feelers drooping. She hung her head and the group lapsed into another round of silence. "Shane… I know we need to gather the Dawn Shards. But where do we even start? Do we have any idea where they are?"

    "I do," Latias spoke up. "Hoopa and I tracked strange energy patterns while we were preparing to get you guys out of Aeon Town. We think we know where to look."

    Magearna nodded. Correct. According to Latias, the Dawn Shards ended up in the Volcanic Wastes, Cosmic Cavern, Circadian Coast, and Rem Canyon.

    "So, there's four of them, then?" Shane said. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Typical. Every time a band of heroes needs to gather magical doodads to save the world, it's always four or seven. Four or seven. It's the Warriors of Light and the Elemental Fiends all over again."

    "What are you talking about?" Tessa asked. "Aren't there five Time Gears?"

    "Sounds like another human world thing," Silvally mused.

    "Well, for the sake of avoiding confusion, I suggest we name each Shard," Shane said. "Based on the areas Magearna mentioned, I'm thinking Sizzle Shard, Subterranean Shard, Seaside Shard, and… uh…"

    "Scalebound Shard," Silvally offered. "Because Rem Canyon's full of dragons."

    "I like it!" Shane chirped.

    "None of that's important," Espeon dismissed. "If I remember what Zero told me, aside from Circadian Coast, those places aren't hospitable to travelers."

    Tessa's expression blanched. "R… really?" she squeaked.

    Silvally nodded. "Yeah, I agree. There were some pretty painful memories that flared up at the mention of Rem Canyon, in particular."

    You are correct in that regard, Magearna said. In particular, the Volcanic Wastes and Rem Canyon can pose issues for even the most experienced explorers.

    Shane's tails drooped. "Dare I ask the reason behind that?"

    Topographologically speaking, the Volcanic Wastes are isolated from most of the Horizon Continent. They're bordered to the west by the Solaris Wastelands and to the east by harsh mountain terrain housing Cosmic Cavern, Magearna explained. Not only that, large pools of lava make it impossible to access the Volcanic Wastes from the Midnight Sea. Sharpedo Sailors have to take you out to the ocean to the south. Even then, you have to trek a few miles through uneven terrain.

    "I can see in some of my memories that the community living there is pretty insulated," Silvally added. "They're not very receptive to anyone from outside the Volcanic Wastes."

    Magearna nodded. And that goes double for Rem Canyon. It's a Mystery Dungeon that houses a tribe of dragon-types with a fanatastical devotion to Rayquaza.

    "Well, I can't blame them there. Rayquaza's super awesome," Shane mused, not noticing Latias wincing behind him.

    Yes, but they are hostile to any Pokémon that isn't a dragon-type or displays dragon-like qualities, Magearna continued. Living in a Mystery Dungeon, they rarely have contact with us civilized 'mons... and it's rarely ever pleasant when it happens.

    Shane groaned loudly. "Great... just great. How does anyone possibly expect us to put the Dawn Hourglass back together if that's what we're up against?"

    Well, on the bright side, those areas all border one another. Which means you can just traversitate them in succession, Magearna noted.

    "Hoopa and I are happy to get you where you need to go," Latias exclaimed. "Assuming we're available, of course."

    "Can't you help us fly in and grab the Dawn Shards?" Shane sighed.

    "I'm sorry, but we can't," Latias said. "I can coordinate things for you, but I'm still needed back overseas and Hoopa…"

    "Hoopa needs to keep his reputation as hide and seek champion of the world!" Hoopa declared.

    Shane blinked in confusion. "Okay, fine. Still, if the Shards are just out in the open, what's stopping Necrozma from swooping in and grabbing them while we're here? I mean, the guy can just put portals into Mystery Dungeons, can't he?"

    Panic flashed across everyone's faces as the realizations from Shane's comment sank in. It's the barriers, Magearna declared. I designed them to mask ley line energy signatures. If Necrozma can't read the ley lines of our Mystery Dungeons, it stands to reason that he shouldn't be able to warp into them.

    Shane gulped. "I really hope that's true. Because we can't afford to run into him again. Not like this." His stance wilted. "We're not strong enough to take him."

    Silvally nudged Shane's chin up with the tip of his beak. "Then we focus on what we are strong enough to do. And that's traverse the continent and get the Dawn Shards back."

    Shane blinked. "R… right."

    A fair warning, however, Magearna cut in. In those four locales, the communities all have Totem Pokémon to speak of. Odds are, if you're going to have any successination, you will need to win them over.

    "Assuming they haven't already been infected," Espeon stated grimly.

    Magearna nodded. Also a truthity. She blinked her mechanical eyes. Now, I understand there is significant urgitude to gaining the Dawn Shards, but you four are not exactly fighting fit. My suggestion is you rest up tonight and be ready to leave in the morning. Latias, will you and Hoopa be available at sunrise?

    "We're needed back in the Water Continent, but I think we can make that work," Latias replied. "Right, Hoopa?"

    "Aww man, is Hoopa gonna have to miss his beauty sleep?" Hoopa pouted. Latias gave him a stern look. He scowled and crossed his arms. "This all you can eat donut party better be worth it," he muttered under his breath.

    Tapu Fini turned and floated over to Tapu Bulu. "Unfortunately, this temple has only one bed, and it's mine. I could bring some spare cushions out here, if that will make you mortals more comfortable."

    "Thanks. We'd really appreciate that," Silvally said. Tapu Fini nodded and then floated through a doorway, carrying Tapu Bulu with her. Magearna also broke away from the group, leaving Team Radiance in the middle of the room.

    "So, I guess this is it, then," Shane said. "One last night with a roof over our heads before god only knows what." He laughed nervously. "Um… Silvally? About that 'leader' comment… you were just joking, right?"

    Silvally shook his head. "No. That'd be an awfully strange thing for me to joke about."

    Shane's tails curled up against his hips. "But I'm not meant to be a leader. I don't know how to do anything but make bad decisions."

    "Yes, you've certainly made a lot of missteps. But, well, all of us have," Silvally said, looking at Tessa and Espeon. They both nodded glumly. "The fact is that Team Radiance wouldn't exist if it wasn't for you. So, yeah, that kind of makes you the leader in my eyes." He gave Shane a reassuring smile. "And I think the Dawn Shards are the team's chance to finally turn things around."

    "I see your point," Shane said. "Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the kind words." Silvally wagged his tail at this. "But… in my eyes… I don't match up to you guys. We're a team, yeah. But I can't be its leader. If anything… you deserve that title. You're so supportive and encouraging… like a leader should be."

    "Um," Tessa whispered, "Given our situation, I think we're more like a family. I mean, all we really have is each other."

    "… feh. If this is a family, then it's the most dysfunctional, gloomy, and unlucky one I've ever been a part of," Espeon huffed. She turned and walked toward a nearby hallway, exiting the room just as Tapu Fini arrived with cushions floating beside her. Espeon walked down the hallway, passing blown glass sculptures of Tapu Fini and purple tapestries hanging from the ceiling.

    As she reached the end of the hallway, her breath grew ragged.

    That wasn't very nice of you.

    "B… be quiet…" she whispered, ears folding against her head.

    You hate them, don't you? Just like you hate me.

    Espeon looked to her right and flinched. A black shadowy cloud had formed up beside her, taking the shape of Umbreon. "N… no… you're not real. You're… not real…"

    Of course you would say that. After all… I'm gone because of you.

    "That's… no…" Espeon curled up on the ground, cupping her forepaws over her face. "No… you did this… because you cared about me."

    The phantom leaned down, hovering beside Espeon.

    You killed me, Espy. Your angry rants… your unstable mood… it was too much for me.

    "U-Umbry, I'm–" Espeon started, only to lash at the air with a forepaw. "No! You… stupid Void Shadow… get away!"

    Why did you push me away, Espy? the Void Shadow said.

    Isn't it obvious? Because she's totally useless, a new, female voice declared. Espeon poked her head up and saw a phantom of Virizion standing beside Umbreon, glaring at her.

    "N… no… get away…" Espeon mumbled, pushing herself up against the wall. Her satchel brushed up against her shoulder.

    What are you going to do when this new team runs into danger, Espeon? Virizion's Void Shadow wondered. I bet you'll throw a tantrum… and leave them behind to suffer at Necrozma's hands… just as we did!

    "Th… that's not true. That's not true," Espeon whimpered, tears welling up in her eyes. "Umbry, I'm going to get you back, I–" She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "This isn't real. This isn't real!"

    You can't ignore us, Espy! Umbreon's Void Shadow shouted, taking a step toward her.

    We're going to make you pay for leaving us out to dry, Virizion's Void Shadow hissed.

    "P… please… stop this…" Espeon squeaked. Forelegs trembling, she opened her satchel up. A small metal bottle tumbled out of it. Espeon glanced at the Void Shadows, who glared at her with glowing red eyes. She lunged for the bottle, yanking the cork out with her mouth and guzzling down its contents so quickly she broke down coughing from the bitter taste.

    The Void Shadows evaporated into fine black mist, leaving Espeon laying there, her heart rate steadily slowing until she passed out, body wracked with tremors and drool trickling from her mouth.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~
    CRAAAAAAAAAASH!

    The assembly room's ceiling gave way, sending slabs of stone dropping to the ground. Two jagged metal balls dropped down in the center of the rubble, each one emitting wayward electric sparks. A large gray figure dropped atop the metal orbs and kicked them away, revealing that Magnezone's body had been cleaved in half.

    It's empty, Metagross said. He staggered forward, rainbow glows flickering in and out of his eyes. Metagross opening his mouth, but only static came out. A small twinge of electricity jumped off Magnezone's corpse. It hit Metagross' leg, turning black and racing across his body. The rainbow glow completely overtook his eyes.

    Hourglass... gone...

    Metagross stomped forward, more static escaping his lips. He looked around the destroyed room.

    Must get... back...

    Metagross pointed a foreleg at the wall. Successive rings of pink energy rushed out from his foreleg, widening the further they traveled. The wall exploded, sending dozens of glimmering gemstones racing on the floor. Their multitudes of colors blanketed Metagross' gray body.

    Must escape... he muttered, walking up toward the giant pile of emeras. Must find Hourglass... escape world... escape everyone...

    He reached the pile of emeras and began scarfing them down, the rainbow glow in his eyes intensifying with each bite he took.

    End of Episode 10

    XxX
    Next time: Team Radiance's adventure is about to really heat up! ... because they're going to a volcano, duh. Get your heads out of the gutter. :p
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  12. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I'm now all caught up! Let's go!

    (Come on, quote tags, don't let me down this time...)

    Chapter 47

    So the Dawn Hourglass is shattered, and Necrozma kills Tapu Lele D= Well I definitely wasn't expecting either of those!



    Why is Shane lying here? I don't get it. Does he blame himself and not want his friends to know in case they ditch him?

    You've done a fantastic job of making Necky just downright creepy. His actions make it seem like he's either completely insane or can't fully control the body he's in. But given the way he speaks and laughs, I'm gonna go with insane.



    I, erm... he wants Shane's help to annihilate the world? Just so he can keep Shane to himself? Necky, I think you might be a tad over-attached.



    See? Even Necky ships it



    I've never seen the Hoopa movie. Is this catchphrase canon? Whichever it is, it's absolutely genius and I love it XD

    It really amused me how he pwned the thugs waiting for Shane.



    10/10 best quote ever. I kinda wanna nominate this for next year's awards.

    That rainbow in Metagross' eye, and his willingness to send exhausted pokemon out on another mission, just screams 'bad stuff'.

    I gotta say I am absolutely stunned to find out that Metagross is behind Incineroar's death. I legit thought that was going to turn out to be Gallian being mislead the entire time. He sounds really paranoid. I'm itching to find out why on earth he did that and what on earth is wrong with him. And he's working with Necrozma as well?! That rainbow though... I wonder if he's been influenced by the Prism Virus or something?

    Chapter 48



    Given Tapu Bulu's sombrero, this western theme fits like a glove and I love it. Although, one would expect the area to be all lush and green and filled with flowers. I'm trying to recall if he was the one found in a desert environment in the games? Nevertheless, it's a contrast with a suitable western theme and it's awesome.



    Firstly, that's an epic Delta Rapidash idea. Secondly, oh Shane...

    Hmm, something shifty is going on with Braviary huh? I was so hoping he'd turn out to be good. I like him! Maybe he's a bit of an anti-hero trying to put a stop to Prisma before she became Zero, only to end up in some sort of mess – or a bad light – because of it all. I wonder how much he knows about Metagross' alliance with Necrozma?



    Missing 'said'



    Oh, knot again! shot

    Man I wasn't expecting Zero to take all of Team Captivate. Or to basically kill team Buzz Buzz!! Poor Araquanid =( and I dread to think what will become of Volcarona. Turned into one of Necrozma's Prism Virus Toys, I guess.

    And Tapu Koko is dead now, too?! These poor Tapus don't stand a chance, do they? I like Koko, so I'd have hoped he'd have put up more of a fight. It does go to show, though, that Golem's legend-killing, living weapon really does work.

    Off to the same location Shane and co are in now, huh? Wonder what will become of Bulu...?



    Little typo. Should be 'and'.



    I really like this Bulu.

    Hmm, I wonder why Shane can't touch the hourglass? That's odd. Because he's mortal? Or something to do with his strange ability, given he's not your every day Common Garden Alolan Vulpix?



    Oh, good grief. There's, like, no hope is there?

    Chapter 49

    Firstly, love the chapter title.



    You're missing a set of closed-speech marks here, just after 'direction'.



    Is this supposed to be 'temple'?



    What?! No! No! I will not stand for this!! ='( Chris Jericho style 'Necrozma? You just made the list!'

    Did he then just kill Trapinch, Growlithe, Yungoos and Mimikyu?! I'm gonna need a list just for Necrozma alone!



    A very... VERY big list...

    Oh my goodness, this chapter. So much revealed. Shane realises Necrozma is Nicky at the same time Tessa realises Zero is her mother! And then Espeon loses Umbreon and totally loses it with Shane, blaming him! Oh my goodness, blame all around on poor Shane. I dread to think what will happen when Tessa finds out both he and Silvally knew Zero was her mother all along.

    Silvally totally trashing Metagross, and shattering his cross, was wildly unexpected! I don't think we've seen the last of him though. Questions were answered, to. He killed Incineroar and we now, sorta kinda, know why. I still really want to know what sent him off on such a paranoia trip though.

    I totally hope Braviary's wing is healed. With the state it's in, I won't be surprised if it gets amputated. I'm relieved to hear he's not the bad guy, much to Shane's suspicions. Especially after his argument with Metagross, that seemed to have set things aside for me.

    This was an intense and fantastic chapter. Both this and the previous one were amazing. I really hope everyone recovers a bit from this. It's been a real shell shock for our main cast.

    I also feel the urge to draw some fan art, given how vivid some of your descriptions are. Such as the moon symbols on the padlocks. I'm totally tempted. If I do (and if you're happy for me to) I'll send it your way.

    Typos:



    'Overheard'



    'arms'

    Chapter 50

    Gah the feels, straight off the bat. I have to say, I love how forgiving Silvally is. He's awesome, and Shane really needs that. Shane needs to know it's not his fault all this is happening. He couldn't have known Nicky would take his own life. I remember he had a bad feeling after that phone call, and it was likely the unintended knock that pushed Nicky over the edge.

    As things stand, Shane, in some way, has a second chance at pulling Nicky back from that. Especially since when Nicky woke up as Necrozma, he was good at first. I wanna see that Nicky come back. I don't know how likely that is though.

    Well, that discussion about Tessa's mother went a lot better than I expected. She seemed pretty niggled yet understanding about why they'd kept it from her. Then smacked Shane one for doubting her! I'm so glad it wasn't damaging to their friendship.



    Boop! Guess having a snout isn't something a human is used to? (Also, for a moment, I legit thought he'd accidentally kissed her in the process XD that would have been a hilarious ice breaker!)

    So Riolu wants to be called Tessa again. I like that, and her reasoning behind it. Sweet little chapter and a nice breather from all the chaos of the previous chapters, giving the characters time to process things (and grab a bite to eat!)

    Bonus #11

    Interesting about Metagross. That answers some questions. I was hazy as to who forced who to evolve though. The wild one, wanting out? Or Metang looking for an evolution partner? Either way, it looks like Braviary and Incineroar lost their friend in the process as the wild one's paranoid brain took over.



    What?! So Zapdos and Tapu Koko are still alive? What an unexpected relief!



    lmao!!

    Aww, more Latias and Lugia. Those two are adorable. Is the rebuking from Rayquaza game canon? I really need to finish Super.

    Small typo:



    'Nest'

    Chapter 51

    Huh, kinda surprised Zero is the one leaving Necrozma. Kinda thought that it would be the other way around with his hissy fit towards her in an earlier chapter.

    Is there a hidden significance in the espeon and umbreon dolls? If I remember right, the umbreon is the one Nicky gave to Shane? Just noting how he had it with him, and looked it in the eyes when he answered Rory in that flashback.



    Ah, so it was Metang who forced the wild one!



    So he didn't send them solely to accompany Orangaru and teach them a lesson, then? He sent them to basically kill each other? D=

    Is Espeon basically haunted by Dark Matter? I can't quite tell if all that was in her head, or if those shadowy things were actually there taunting her? She clearly doesn't handle the situation well, though, drinking herself into a stupor. That little scene explains her change of attitude pre-story, though.

    And Metagross is back, and a bigger threat than ever. That rainbow energy is from him eating emeras? I'm guessing his cross hasn't grown back? I'm not sure how Metagross even work, biologically! He's become an intriguing character though, wanting to get out of the world. Hmm...

    Small typos:



    Missing a 'he', but it amused me a bit given that as it stands it sounds like his eyes coughed and deflated XD



    'Floated'



    'Opened'

    Man, this story is an epic roller coaster. The characters are memorable, and I'm in love with the speech patterns. I am absolutely loving it, and I am so looking forward to the next update! Thanks so much for weaving such an amazing tale =D
     
  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Always expect the unexpected with this fic, :p

    He is indeed blaming himself and worried his friends will ditch him if they learn the truth.

    It's not insanity, per se. It might have something to do with that tidbit he mentioned about negativity and Dark Matter. ;)

    It's less of an attachment thing and more a destruction for the sake of destruction thing.

    That is, indeed, his English catchphrase.

    <3

    It was intentional. A bit of bizarre Dex logic at work.

    Latias mentioned something about him getting caught up in an explosion. And Prisma had something collide into her when she was falling to her apparent death.

    His temple is normally in a big desert in the Alola games.

    Time will tell what becomes of all of them!

    In fairness, it was Dragonite who killed Tapu Koko, not Necrozma.

    It does have to do with the latter... and it made him genuinely afraid to touch it. Given what happens, his fear was pretty justified.

    I warned folks this episode would have a high body count. ^^;

    I hope it left you on the edge of your seat... without falling off, of course.

    Well, you got your answer. I did sort of base Metagross on Dusknoir. It's "I don't want to disappear" taken the absolute extreme.

    You'll have to wait and see what becomes of his wing.

    Indeed, it was meant to be a wham chapter within a crazy episode.

    If you want to, go for it. Those, as a word of warning, all references to moons will likely be changed to the winged heart you saw mentioned in this chapter when I do revisions. You can check the story banner on the first page to see it drawn out.

    Silvally is a very good boy. :3 As for Nicky, the allusions to a certain other antagonist are supposed to indicate that salvaging Nicky may be impossible for Shane.

    Again, it may be less likely than you're hoping for. *shrug*

    The eyes turning blue was the most significant part... I may've been hinting at something to come in this upcoming episode.

    It may have been a massive tease on my part. :p

    Metang wanted an evolution partner. But we'll never really see his side of it, since he's been effectively snuffed out.

    Ampharos works in mysterious ways.

    It's not canon. It's headcanon. I've always imagined the PMD universe and anime universe Rayquazas being extremely disappointed in their worlds' respective Latis... and acting accordingly.

    It has to do with his ranting. Zero read between the lines and realized staying around Necrozma was a death sentence.

    Just a little nod toward the species that have shown up in the PMD world so far. ;)

    Correct. Metagross is not quite as benevolent as you thought.

    She is hallucinating Void Shadows from her time in the Voidlands after being killed by Yveltal.

    The cross is still gone, yes. And munching on emeras cannot be good for your health in the long run.

    And thank you for taking the time to review it. Glad you've enjoyed it thus far! ^^

    I realize I'm putting this chapter up right at the start of E3 (unless you're reading this sometime in the future, of course). So, if you're taking the time to read this, I really do appreciate it. <3

    XxX

    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    Gallian crept through a narrow tunnel. His eyes darted to each and every glowing gemstone that passed him by. A few of them brushed against his fur, but he refused to flinch. He marched forward, keeping his head low and his expression firm.

    "I do not understand, Gallian," Sticky spoke up. He trailed a considerable distance behind Gallian. The purple-colored gems held his attention and he stared at them intently. "Exactly what is the purpose of you coming here?"

    Gallian's brow furrowed. "It's none of your business," he growled. "Didn't I already tell you? I'm through with all of this. So, just go away. Take your captain and get out of my life."

    "We can't do that, rookie," Luxeira growled. She stood in between Sticky and Gallian, looking at the latter's backside. "If we're not around to monitor your ultra aura levels, the corrupted Z-Power you've absorbed could run rampant and turn you into an Ultra Beast just like that Toucannon you vanquished."

    "Tch. What do I care?" Gallian growled. "There's nothing left for me here. I'm tired of my disaster sense firing. I'm tired of feeling like I can't do anything to make it stop. I'm…" He dug his claws into the rocky path. "I just want to be alone, okay?"

    "Which is why you went into a cave?" Sticky asked.

    Gallian sighed in defeat. "Cosmic Cavern… is where I used to live. Before I had my little run in with you two." Luxeira and Sticky frowned in unison. "I had food. I had a shelter. I had a job. I…" He sucked in a deep breath. "I had someone to come home to. Someone who made me feel like I mattered." He turned slightly, fixing an angry eye on his teammates. "And then you both happened. My disaster sense started acting up so badly, I fled. Because that's all I'm really good at!" He lashed out at a nearby crystal with his scythe. Tiny glowing fragments crumbled to the ground beside him. "It doesn't matter how hard I battle. In the end, I only know how to run away and save my own hide."

    "… so, that's how it is, huh?"

    Gallian tensed up. He hunched low to the ground and red light sheathed his scythe. Sticky put a hand up against his visor. "Captain, we're definitely not alone!" he gasped.

    "Z… Zoroark…" Gallian whispered. His legs quivered. "You're… you're up and walking again?"

    Sticky and Luxeira peered over Gallian's shoulder. A single blue eye hovered in the shadows ahead of Gallian. A furry black arm shot out of the darkness. Red claws dug into a light crystal sticking horizontally out of the cave wall. "Yeah, I'm walking," Zoroark whispered, limping forward to brace himself against the crystal. Jagged claws marks ran down the left side of his face, across his stomach, and around his left thigh. Blotches of scar tissue peppered his left eye, funneling out from the dull gray iris.

    Gallian's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, gods," he whispered. "Zoroark. This is… this is worse than I thought." He squeezed his eyes shut.

    "You wanna say that a little louder?" Zoroark hissed, turning his head to show off the stump of flesh sitting where his left ear should have been. "I'm not hearing things so great these days."

    "Captain. It appears these two are connected," Sticky whispered. "You don't suppose Gallian did all of that, do you?"

    Gallian gritted his teeth. "Well… I hope you're not expecting an apology," he growled. "I told you not to follow me."

    "Yeah… you did," Zoroark said. "That's not what I'm pissed about." He leaned over and bared his fangs at Gallian. "I'm pissed… because you ran out on me. And now I know why. For all your tough talk… for all that strength you claimed you had… you're really nothing but a giant coward."

    "Gallian, what is this terrestrial referring to?" Sticky asked, tilting his head in confusion.

    Gallian whirled his head around. Psionic energy made his scythe ripple. "Butt out! This doesn't concern you." He turned back to Zoroark. "You don't understand. My disaster sense–"

    "Oh, shove off with that disaster sense drivel, Gallian," Zoroark growled, scraping his claws against the crystal. Team Paradox all cringed from the noise. Zoroark's right arm trembled against the crystal. "You said…" He choked up mid-sentence. "You told me I was more important. That you cared more about me than whatever your stupid disaster sense told you." He smacked his right paw against the crystal. "I offered myself up to you, Gallian. We were mates! That's a sacred bond. You don't just get to break that bond because a little voice in your head tells you to."

    "Look, I was scared, okay!" Gallian cried, shutting his eyes and looking away from Zoroark. "I… I just saw you lying in the healer's hut. And all the blood and…" He grimaced. "I panicked! I didn't… I couldn't handle it, alright? So, I ran." He lowered his head in shame. "I'm not asking for you to forgive me. I'm just asking you to let us pass."

    Zoroark looked at Sticky and Luxeira. "And who are these freak shows, huh? Houndooms are a pretty decent catch, sure. But you told me you only had eyes for other guys." He narrowed his eyes at Sticky. "And I don't even know what to make of that pinhead over there." He glared at Gallian.

    "They showed up when I was fighting the thing that attacked you," Gallian muttered. "And now they won't leave me alone."

    "We're here for this terrestrial's safety. As well as yours," Luxeira exclaimed. "I'm Captain Luxeira of the Ultra Recon Squad's Team Paradox. This Poipole is my subordinate, Sticky."

    Zoroark looked down at Gallian. "Are you lying to me?" he seethed. "Because between the purple guy and your freaky-deaky harnesses, it sure looks like you ditched me to go fulfill some crazy fetish you never told me about."

    Gallian's face burned and he looked down. "I'm not in love with either of them," he growled. "You're the only guy I want to be with, Zoroark."

    Sticky floated next to Luxeira and whispered, "Captain, am I missing something here? I did not think it possible for Pokémon of the same sex to procreate. Does this world contain some sort of unique reproductive mechanism?"

    "Quiet, Sticky," Luxeira ordered. "It's not our place to comment or judge."

    Zoroark stepped back, crossing his arms. "You'll have to excuse me if I don't believe that. If you really cared about me, you wouldn't have run out on me."

    Gallian winced and shrank toward the ground. "I know," he croaked. "I screwed up. But… but I had to come back here."

    Zoroark looked unconvinced. "For what?" In response, Gallian walked up toward Zoroark, his fierce expression softening. Zoroark shrank back, warning Gallian with a growl. Gallian ignored him and continued walking forward. Zoroark's good eye flickered red and he clubbed Gallian upside the head.

    Gallian fell to the ground, touching a forepaw to his cheek. He looked up to see crimson energy retreating from Zoroark's claws. "What the heck is your problem?" Zoroark snarled.

    "You don't understand," Gallian whispered. "Zoroark… something's happened. I… I'm dying."

    XxX

    Episode 11: The Sizzle Shard Scramble

    Chapter 52: Split Decisions

    XxX

    ~Volcanic Rim~

    One of Hoopa's rings opened up and tossed Team Radiance onto a flat stretch of igneous rock exuding a faint orange glow. Silvally skidded to a stop, kicking up plumes of black volcanic ash in the process. He looked down and flicked soot off his talons with an annoyed huff. "Well, this place is rather dusty," he exclaimed.

    "I don't think that's dust," Shane replied, looking in dismay at the tips of his forepaws.

    "Ugh, what's with the awful smell?" Tessa whined, throwing her paws up over her snout. Beside her, Espeon wrinkled her snout and grimaced.

    "That'd be sulfur and brimstone, I imagine," Shane said. "So, uh, is that Mount Supernova?" He pointed a foreleg upward. His teammates all looked up. The rock they were standing on was a relatively small circular islet. Lava flowed in on either side of them. The two lava streams merged just south of them, forming a large, slowly-moving river that trickled down several yards before the lava started to cool, forming up a circular wall of igneous rock.

    Ahead of them, rocky steps led up to a cliff face. And that cliff face gave way to a massive mountain jutting into the air. Gigantic black rocks protruded from the mountain, several of which had streams of lava trickling down from them and gathering by the cliff face. Numerous plateaus were stationed on the mountain, some of which had emera ores sitting proudly atop them. Lava flows crisscrossed between the plateaus. Many had massive fireballs leaping out of them to douse nearby rock beds with molten lava. The volcano's peak wasn't visible from Team Radiance's current vantage point. All they could see was a mix of smog and dark purple thunderhead clouds that sporadically flashed white. They coalesced to form a vortex with a pitch-black eye.

    "Yeah, that sure looks like it," Tessa whimpered. Behind her, a glob of lava struck the edge of the rock islet. Molten rock spilled onto the platform. Tessa squealed and scrambled forward, clutching Silvally's foreleg in terror. "How are we ever going to find a Dawn Shard here, huh? I'll bet the volcano's not even safely navigable."

    "But, it's a Mystery Dungeon, isn't it?" Shane asked.

    "Yes. Tapu Bulu told me he constantly makes new plateaus and trails to get to the peak," Espeon explained. "He seemed pretty confident that there was something off with Mount Supernova's ley lines. Odds are, that's where the Sizzle Shard ended up."

    Shane's stance slouched. "How much you wanna bet it's all the way up at the summit?"

    Tessa's eyes bugged out. "No way. I'm not about to go up by the mouth of an active volcano. We've had too many close calls to try something so ridiculous," she said, squeezing Silvally's leg tighter. "Besides, Mount Supernova is plenty big as is. The Sizzle Shard could easily be somewhere else."

    Shane sighed. "I wish I could believe that, but it never seems to work that way in artifact quests." His teammates gave him confused looks.

    "So, do humans need to summit volcanoes regularly to get what they want? That seems like a pretty wild lifestyle," Silvally said, adding in a chuckle.

    Shane's shoulders sagged. "Okay, no, but in every video game ever made, the precious item that the heroes need is always at the top of the volcano. And we haven't exactly had the best luck with easy missions."

    Espeon flicked her tail. "We're burning daylight sitting here squabbling about locations. The only way we're gonna find out for sure is to head onto the mountain." She walked up toward the steps at the other end of the islet. Silvally raised a curious eyebrow, noting Espeon swayed back and forth uneasily as she walked.

    Espeon managed to put a forepaw on the bottom step when the ground began to shake. "Eh?" Her eyes widened and she hopped off the stairs, trying to steady herself. "What's going on? An earthquake?"

    CRACKA-THOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    Lava and fireballs rained down from the heavens, striking the sides of Mt. Supernova, and setting some of the rocks on fire. "The volcano just erupted!" Shane gasped. He turned around and spotted two additional sets of stairs leading to another cliff face further away from the base of the volcano. "We have to get higher ground or we're gonna die! Quickly, up here!"

    He sprinted up the closest set of stairs, beckoning his teammates to follow along. Tessa dashed up after him. Silvally ran up to Espeon and bit down on her tail, stopping her from falling off the shaking ground.

    "Thanks for the save," she sighed in relief. Silvally nodded and hoisted her onto her back. But by that time, a burst of lava had shot out from the molten river and set the stairs that Shane and Tessa had used ablaze.

    "Silvally!" Tessa cried.

    "Espeon!" Shane shouted. "Hurry, use the other stairs!"

    Silvally looked to his left and spotted a swell of lava racing toward him. He bounded forward and leaped onto the staircase on his right. Espeon grunted as Silvally impacted the middle stair, jostling her. She grabbed his head crest to avoid falling off. Silvally hopped up the remainder of the stairs, landing safely on the cliff face. Espeon slid off him and watched lava buffet the stairs they had just used.

    "That was… closer than I would've liked," she squeaked, tail curling up against her underbelly.

    Silvally's gaze remained fixed on Mount Supernova. The eruption had stopped. But it left new rivers of lava in its wake. They slid down the mountain, merging with the existing pools of lava to enlarge them. More fireballs jumped out of the lava, with tails of orange flames trailing behind them. "And there goes our path to the mountain," he said. "Now what are we supposed to do?"

    "Nothing!"

    "Huh?" Silvally looked over his shoulder just in time to see a bone wreathed in flames clobber his skull. His legs gave out from under him and he collapsed onto his side. Espeon's eyes widened seconds before a second flaming bone connected with her sternum. The wind rushed out of her and she fell unconscious on top of Silvally.

    "Hey!" Tessa shouted. "Get away from my friends!" Blue aura encased her paws and she prepared to run down her teammates' unknown assailants. But Shane's pained cries caused her to turn around in surprise and find him lying unconscious at her feet. Burnt fur peppered his body. "W… what the–?" Tessa gasped, only for a cloud of purple gas to surround her on all sides. She dropped to her knees, coughing loudly. Tears clouded up her vision as she struggled to take in a gasp of air. Swathes of blue, black, and dark gray appeared inside the cloud.

    As the last of Tessa's consciousness faded, she heard a deep, wheezy voice cackle, "You two, tie 'em up. I'm going to tell Totem Salazzle we found the outsiders who're ruining the Volcanic Wastes!"

    XxX

    ~Western Volcanic Wastes~

    Tessa awakened with a gasp to find a dark gray tail jabbing her chest. "Ah! W… what? Huh? What's going on here?" She blinked in confusion. "Why is there a Salandit tail in my face?"

    Salandit turned around, looking at Tessa with his beady-blue eyes. His tongue flopped out of his mouth. "Good. Good, you're awake. I'll go tell the Totem." He scurried off down a dirt pathway, passing by numerous huts made of dark onyx and agate crystals.

    "Wait a second. Where am I?" Tessa asked, looking around. Behind her, she found identical rounded huts to the one her captor had passed. They stopped just before a cliff that dropped off, with nothing but smoldering ash emerging from behind it. Tessa squinted, making out glowing lava flows from Mt. Supernova in the distance. She turned her attention in front of her, where a fire crackled in a fire pit. Two Salandits stood next to the fire, staring her down.

    Tessa tried to move, but found her arms and legs tied together. "Lemme go, you jerks! I didn't do anything wrong. Silvally? Espeon? Shane? Someone… help!"

    "Mmmmmrrrggghhh!"

    Tessa's eyes widened and she looked up. A wooden pole sat beside her, wedged into the dirt. Shane was suspended halfway up the pole. Ropes extended down from the top of the pole, keeping his forelegs and tails restrained. His rainbow scarf was fixed over his muzzle, acting as a makeshift gag. "Shane? What happened to you?" Tessa gasped. Shane squirmed in midair, trying in vain to break free of his restraints. Tessa looked accusingly at the Salandits. "What did you do to him?"

    "Keh heh… we tied him up for the Totem," the larger of the two Salandit exclaimed. "She'll decide if he'll get put to work… or tossed into the lava to appease Volcanion."

    Shane's eyes widened. "MRRRGH! MRRRRRRRGH!" he cried, his scarf muffling him. He thrust his body forward but couldn't break free of the ropes. He then tried to breath out an Aurora Beam, only to inhale microfibers from the scarf and descend into a coughing fit.

    "It won't do you any good to struggle, outsider. After all, my knot-tiers didn't get their jobs by sheer, dumb luck."

    Shane and Tessa stiffened at a booming, authoritative female voice. They looked back to see the Salandit from earlier walking back toward them. A significantly larger lizard walked beside him on all-fours. Her backside was a far darker shade of gray than the Salandits'. And she had a purple underbelly with pink markings strewn across it. She had additional symbols painted along her arms and legs, to go with the spiked choker around her neck, spiked wristbands, and spiked anklets. A gem-encrusted headdress sat atop her head, with a rainbow diamond in the middle.

    'Wait a second,' Tessa thought, 'That diamond… it has some winged heart icon on it! Is that a Totem Crystal, then?' She gulped. 'If that is… she's Totem Salazzle!'

    Totem Salazzle stopped behind the fire. "Heralder… to me!" she bellowed.

    A short, squat Salandit raced forward, with a rolled-up piece of paper in his mouth. He dropped it to the ground, where it unfurled. He loudly declared, "Welcome the mightiest of all Totems… whose beauty and power are unmatched throughout Horizon. Let her love envelope you and be utterly transfixed by her infectious presence. Presenting our vaunted leader… Totem Salazzle!"

    Totem Salazzle snapped her fingers. "Applauders!" Three Salandits ran in from behind her and erupted in a thunderous round of applause. Totem Salazzle bowed to Shane and Tessa. "Thank you. Thank you all so much. You are dismissed."

    She reared up on her hind legs, resting one hand against her chest and the other down on her thigh. "So, outsider. My patrollers caught you in our domain, angering the mighty Volcanion. What say you to such charges?" She gazed fiercely at Tessa, not even bothering to pay attention to the fact that Shane was thrashing about even harder in his restraints.

    Shane succeeded in forcing off his rainbow scarf and groaned loudly. Totem Salazzle's tail flicked in surprise and she looked toward the pole. "Okay. No. Time out," Shane said, looking down at Totem Salazzle. "Someone has to say something for the sake of common decency."

    "Shane, what are you talking abo–?"

    "The lizard lady has breasts! And a thick rear!" Shane shouted, swinging around on his restraints. Totem Salazzle's eyes narrowed in anger. "That is so many levels of wrong, I could write an essay about it."

    "You dare to open your mouth at me, boy?" Totem Salazzle hissed.

    "Yes, I dare," Shane growled. "You look like you jumped out of a Victoria's Secret catalog, for god's sake! I can't be the only one who thinks this is weird, right? Not even Grovyles and Sceptiles look so, uh, voluptuous."

    Totem Salazzle opened her mouth and spewed a massive fire stream. Flames swallowed Shane up, stifling his cries of pain. The attack burnt his restraints, sending his charbroiled body crashing into the ground. Totem Salazzle snapped her fingers and her Salandit flunkies surrounded Shane on all sides. She returned her gaze to Tessa. "I will never understand why you outsiders cannot keep your man-servants in check. This type of behavior is completely unacceptable."

    Shane somehow found the strength to let his jaw drop to the ground. "M… man-servant?!" he shouted. A Salandit tail broadsided him across the head, and its owner hissed at him.

    Totem Salazzle remained fixed on Tessa. "You would do well to instruct your man-servant to remain silent in my presence. In the Eastern Volcanic Tribe, men may not speak freely. They exist to serve us women in all capacities. Nothing more." She flicked her snout skyward dismissively.

    A stoic expression took over Shane's face. "Okay, I think I see what's going on here. You're another Vespiquen, aren't yo– OWW!" He cut himself off with a yelp and looked to see two Salandits had bit down on two of his tails. He tried to shake them off, to no avail. The other Salandits leered at him.

    Totem Salazzle shook her head dismissively. "Honestly, why you would keep a Vulpix with such a barbed tongue is beyond me, outsider," she scoffed. "But the way he so brazenly disregards our customs… I am sure this is what has angered Volcanion and brought wave after wave of volcanic eruptions to the Wastes." She dropped down to all-fours and glared at Tessa. "Tell me, who sent you? Was it that infernal Western Tribe? Figured they would try a stunt like this."

    "No, wait. You're making a huge mistake," Tessa insisted. "We don't know anything about a Western Tribe or Volcanion or frequent eruptions. We just got here a short time ago. We're from the Horizon Guild." She craned her neck to the side to show off the explorer's badge pinned to her scarf.

    "And you expect that to impress me?" Totem Salazzle scoffed. She stood back up on her hind legs and snapped her fingers. "Where is my insulter?"

    A plump Salandit wearing a pair of black sunglasses awkwardly waddled forward and saluted her.

    "Laugh at the outsider for me. I do not wish to waste my noble breath on the likes of her," Totem Salazzle declared.

    Insulter Salandit nodded. He pointed at Tessa and belted out, "Keh heh heh heh! What a dumb thing to say."

    Totem Salazzle's tail conked Insulter over the head. "I said laugh, not speak," she growled. Insulter bowed his apologies and scurried back. "Many of your kind have made their presence here in the past and angered the Volcano God. Therefore, my tribe does not acknowledge your guild's authority."

    "Wait… please, wait!" Shane blurted out, finally kicking the Salandits off his tails. "You don't understand. The world's in danger! The Dawn Hourglass is broken and we're trying to repair it before it's too late. We need your help!"

    Totem Salazzle turned and glared at Shane. The Salandit guards around him all blanched as she walked up toward him. She unfurled the scaly flaps lying across her tail and released a pink vapor into the air. It surrounded Shane and trickled into his nostrils. "G… guh…" Shane grunted. His jaw fell open, then his tongue lolled out of his mouth and drool trickled off it.

    Tessa stared at the scene in confusion, only to realize the Salandit guards had the exact same dopey looks on their faces. One of the Salandits held up his tiny hands to form a heart. "You see, outsider? This is why I do not acknowledge any man. They are driven by their most basic instinctual urges," she scoffed.

    She plucked a woozy Salandit guard off the ground and planted a kiss on his forehead. He went as straight and rigid as an arrow. Totem Salazzle dropped him to the ground, where his tail became lodged in the dirt, making him stick out of the ground like a road sign.

    "But my partner's telling the truth, ma'am," Tessa said, a pleading look in her eyes. "There's a dangerous threat out there trying to destroy Legendary Pokémon. It's been transforming dungeons and changing Pokémon into monsters called Ultra Beasts. You have to let us go, so we can find the Sizzle Shard on Mount Supernova!"

    Totem Salazzle narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "You want free access to Mount Supernova? Out of the question!" she hissed, tail lashing against air. "I'll bet that's exactly what the Western Tribe wants you to do. You go up to the mountain, trigger an eruption, and send lava coursing into our village to destroy our land."

    "What?" Tessa gasped. "No, I'd never think of destroying a village. That's crazy talk. Please, you have to listen to me."

    Totem Salazzle shook her head. "The interests of my tribe come before anything else. Even if there is merit to what you're saying, then that means we, the Eastern Tribe, must acquire this Sizzle Shard before the Western Tribe can lay claim to it." She walked forward, shouting, "Royal Advisors, to me!"

    A flurry of footsteps echoed through the village. Tessa watched as a quartet of smaller Salazzles marched up to their Totem in unison. They formed up a circle with Totem Salazzle and proceeded to talk to one another in hushed whispers. "You're making… a mistake!" Shane grunted, coughing up a mouthful of smoke. "I'll bet the whole reason your Volcano God is angry is because of the Prism Virus!"

    One of the Salazzle advisors turned to give Shane a scathing look. He gulped and looked over at a trio of snickering Salandit guards. "What's so funny, huh?" he growled.

    "Keh heh heh. You talk crazy," a slender Salandit said. "Being a man in this tribe is easy. You just do what you're told and you get quality time with one of those beauties over there."

    Shane's snout wrinkled in disgust. "You and I have a very different definition of what constitutes beauty," he growled.

    A second Salandit turned to his friends and made a cuckoo gesture. "He don't know what he's talking about, bro," the Salandit exclaimed.

    "I have reached a decision!" Totem Salazzle declared as her circle of advisors parted. She walked up toward Tessa. "Given your statements, and the fact that my guards reported two others were taken by the Western Tribe, I believe you are telling a half-truth."

    "What?!" Shane shouted, prompting two Salandit guards to muzzle him.

    "The Western Tribe has hired you in an attempt to help them seize our land," Totem Salazzle declared. "No doubt they will try to climb Mount Supernova and take the Sizzle Shard, since this plan of theirs failed. Therefore, we shall ascend the mountain to acquire the Sizzle Shard with you in tow…"

    Tessa let out a sigh of relief.

    "… so that we may also toss you two into the volcano's mouth and appease the mighty Volcanion," Totem Salazzle finished, to Tessa's utter horror. "Guards, prepare to move out!"

    Before Shane or Tessa could protest, swarms of Salandits descended upon them. They quickly muzzled Tessa and tied her up against a pole. The remaining Salandits dragged Shane over to the pole and proceeded to tie him up on the other half. Totem Salazzle snapped her fingers and her royal advisors hefted the pole up into the air. They started marching up toward the cliff face.

    "We'll take the back entrance," Totem Salazzle said. "With any luck, we'll get the jump on the Western Tribe for sure."

    XxX

    ~Eastern Volcanic Wastes~

    "Hey. Boneheads. Wake up!"

    A large white bone jabbed Silvally square between the eyes. They shot open and he immediately tried to bite down on the bone, only to find a ring made of bone clamping his beak shut. He narrowed his eyes and hissed at the black lizard towering in front of him, gripping a bone in his hands. A white skull sat over his face, making his expression unreadable. A black, flame-like marking sat in the center of the skull, while charcoal insignias littered its sides. The middle of the flame drawing held a Totem Crystal in it, bathing the lizard in a red aura.

    Espeon, who lay next to Silvally, raised an eyebrow at the Totem. "You're a Marowak?" she gasped. "Did the volcanic ash turn your scales black?"

    Silvally looked at Espeon and shook his head. Totem Marowak rested his bone on his shoulder. "Your flesh… it houses not the bones of a Horizon-born," he said, staring down Espeon. "You are not just an outsider, but a far outsider."

    "Well, yeah, I'm from the Mist Continent," Espeon said. "But that's unimportant. Why'd you tie us up? We weren't doing anything wrong!"

    Two smaller Marowak peered out from behind their Totem. The one on Totem Marowak's right brandished a flaming bone at Espeon. His skull had spikes protruding from the center of its forehead. "You really expect us to believe such a boneheaded lie? You were walking right up to the volcano and it erupted. You're a psychic. You clearly did some sort of voodoo to it," he accused.

    "What? I did nothing of the sort!" Espeon said, eyes widening when she saw a glob of spit fly out of her mouth and land at Totem Marowak's feet. Silvally gave her a horrified look while Espeon sat there, face reddening.

    "I'll pretend you didn't just do that," Totem Marowak said. He looked to his left. "Go ahead. Speak your mind."

    "Yes, Totem. See, there's the matter of this… this thing the outsider brought along with her," the other Marowak exclaimed. Unlike his two partners, his bone had a metal wire around it, with different-colored feathers dangling off. "I'll bet such unnatural bones forced the Volcano God awake, leading to the eruption." He turned to Totem Marowak and asked, "Do you think the Eastern Tribe put these outsiders up to this?"

    "Eastern Tribe? We don't know anything about any tribes," Espeon insisted. "We were going up to the volcano because we're from the Horizon Guild and we need to check out the Mystery Dungeon. We think a piece of the Dawn Hourglass is stuck in–"

    Totem Marowak slammed his bone club down in front of Espeon. Shadowy flames erupted from its end, sending Espeon scooting back along the ground. Nervous beads of sweat rolled down her face. "Silence," Totem Marowak ordered. "You will not speak. The Dance of Revelations shall make your true motivations clear for all to see."

    Espeon pursed her lips. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

    "Quiet, you!" the spike-skulled Marowak hissed.

    Totem Marowak held his hand up. "There is no need for shouting," he insisted. "Remember, she is an outsider. I wouldn't expect her to understand our customs." He turned back to Espeon. "I lead the Western Tribe of the Volcanic Wastes. We pay tribute to our god, the mighty Volcanion, through the sacred art of dance. The dances of the Western Tribe have been passed down through the generations. Dance is a window into the soul. And once our High Priest and his most devout students complete the Dance of Revelations, we shall know for sure if you are friend," his expression darkened, "or foe."

    He turned to the Marowak with feathers on his bone club. "High Priest, do you have everything you need?"

    The High Priest nodded. Silvally's eyes widened and he started to look about nervously. This wasn't lost on the spike-skulled Marowak. "You have something to hide, Odd-Bones?" he asked. Silvally shook his head, trying not to let his nerves show through. "I'll believe that when I see it in the dance," Spike-Skull scoffed.

    He turned around and leaned against his bone club. Two additional Marowak had joined the High Priest. Each of them had painted their skulls. The Marowak on the High Priest's right used shades of red and purple on his skull, while the Marowak to the High Priest's left had orange and yellow swirls around her mask.

    "Then, let us begin the Dance of Revelations!" the High Priest bellowed. "Oh, great Volcano God, slumbering beneath earth's crust. Hear our pleas. Show us the truth behind these outsiders' appearances." He raised his bone club above his head and glanced over his shoulder. Behind him, a row of Cubones sat behind homemade drums. They all raised their bone clubs in unison and began to strike the drums.

    Flames engulfed the bone clubs of the dancing Marowak trio. The High Priest began spinning his club in his hands, while his two students twirled slowly away from him. His spinning rapidly increased, to the point where it looked like a ring of fire encased his head. The High Priest transferred his bone club to one hand and used the other for a hand stand.

    His students stood an equal distance away from him. Each one planted their bone club into the ground. They slowly walked around them, keeping their left hands placed on the clubs and their right hands held up into the air. When they finished their circle, the High Priest tossed his flaming club up into the air and, with a surprising amount of upper-body strength, pushed off the ground with his other hand.

    He caught the bone club in the middle of its descent. His students turned and pointed their bone clubs at the spot the High Priest would land on. Two jets of fire raced out. Espeon's and Silvally's eyes widened as the white flames swallowed the High Priest. But the flames quickly formed into a spiral that coalesced at the tip of the High Priest's bone club. His students dropped to their knees, bowing and resting their bone clubs on their shins.

    The High Priest finished by pointing the bone club directly at Espeon and Silvally. The Cubones gave one loud, final beat of their drums and held their smaller bone clubs high. Silence fell over the area. The High Priest opened his eyes and stared into the fire on the tip of his bone club. "Hmm… I see," he muttered.

    "Well, High Priest? What do the spirits have to say about these outsiders?" Totem Marowak asked.

    "They are telling the truth. They did not arrive with malicious intents toward Mount Supernova. And they do not know of the Eastern Tribe," the High Priest announced. The assembled Marowaks and Cubones whispered to one another in surprise, while Silvally and Espeon sighed in relief.

    "However," the High Priest continued, silencing the crowd's murmurs, "these outsiders are not entirely benevolent. Espeon's frail bones have brought destructive forces to Horizon. And Odd-Bones is a creature born of forbidden magic. He would seek to strike the mighty Volcanion down if he were to have free reign to explore Mount Supernova."

    "Wait, no!" Espeon cried, as the crowd erupted into concerned murmurs. "Listen, you don't understand. We're here to help save Horizon. Not destroy it!" She squinted her eyes, trying to call on her psychic powers, but her vision blurred and her forehead gem didn't respond.

    Totem Marowak slammed his bone club down in front of her. "The Dance of Revelations has spoken, outsider," he exclaimed. "We know everything we need to make a decision about what to do with you and Odd-Bones."

    "Ffrrrghh eerffghh!" Silvally barked, his gag still muffling his speech.

    "No, you don't," Espeon countered. "Listen, I brought destruction to Horizon because I was being controlled by someone. An awful, terrifying pair of Pokémon want to destroy all Legendaries and plunge the world into chaos. I was working for them unwillingly. We're trying to get the Dawn Hourglass to stop them, but it's broken. And one of the pieces is on Mount Supernova. Please, you have to let us go get it back!"

    Totem Marowak looked over to the High Priest. "Do the spirits say her bones speak the truth?"

    The High Priest stared at his bone club. Its white flame grew in size, making his eyes widen. "Yes, Totem," he declared. A fresh chorus of confused murmurs came to life in the crowd. Totem Marowak raised his bone club and silenced his tribe. "Totem, if I may?" the High Priest said. Totem Marowak nodded. "Frail-Bones, about how long ago did these Pokémon start to terrorize Horizon?"

    "Hmm… it'sh been almost a couple of monshh," Espeon muttered. Her face stiffened as she realized her speech was slurred. She shook her head rapidly. "Err... well... the Dawn Hourglass was just broken yesterday."

    Totem Marowak shut his eyes and rested his chin on his fist. "It all makes sense now," he whispered. "The past several weeks, Mount Supernova has been far more volatile. That eruption you witnessed was the third one in the last day. We believed the Volcano God was angered. But perhaps it's the Dawn Hourglass' unstable power at work?"

    "Sir?" a Torkoal said, stepping forward. She wore a helmet made to look like a skull. "I know it's risky, but maybe we ought to help these outsiders? Our wall needs to be refortified. It can't withstand any more eruptions. We'll lose the whole village if we don't do something."

    Totem Marowak crossed his arms. "Is that so? That is quite troubling news," he muttered.

    "What about the Eastern Tribe?" the female dancer asked. "Didn't they take two outsiders as well? If they learn about the Dawn Hourglass, they might try to trigger an eruption and destroy our village!"

    Espeon's eyes widened. "What? Why would they want to do something like that?"

    Totem Marowak sighed heavily. "Because they know the land they occupy is rightfully ours." He turned toward Silvally. "If I remove your restraints, you swear you won't attack?" Silvally nodded.

    Totem Marowak removed the gag and bindings from Silvally's limbs, allowing him to stand up. He opened and shut his beak a few times, taking in large gulps of air. At the same time, the dancers removed Espeon's restraints, allowing her to stand up and stretch out. Silvally noticed her balance seemed off once again but decided not to comment on it.

    "Thank you," Silvally said. "Oh, by the way, Odd-Bones is a weird name. You can call me Silvally. If you'd just let me move, I could've showed you guys that I don't mean any harm."

    "My apologies… Odd-Bones," Totem Marowak said. Silvally fell over in disbelief, forelegs twitching. "It appears we need to make for Mount Supernova, then. We cannot allow the Eastern Tribe to bring ruin upon us once again." He raised a fist and shook it. Turning back to his tribe, he declared, "I want our best dancers and battlers coming with me up the mountain. We must be prepared to confront those foul Eastern Tribe Pokémon!"

    Silvally and Espeon exchanged concerned looks. "But, if the Eastern Tribe has Shane and Tessa… then they could be in trouble, too," Silvally said. "What are we supposed to do?"

    "I guess we have to figure out what's happened to make these two tribes hate each other," Espeon said. "And see if we can stop them from fighting long enough to get the Sizzle Shard."

    Silvally nodded. "Right. Not the easiest way to get the Sizzle Shard. But, at this point, I'm used to it."

    "Odd-Bones! Frail-Bones! We're leaving," Totem Marowak announced, beckoning them over with his bone club.

    Espeon's ears drooped. "I get the feeling we're in for another long day."

    Silvally gave her a reassuring grin. "At least it's bound to be exciting, right?"

    Espeon gulped. 'That's exactly what I'm worried about.'

    XxX
    Next time: tempers flare as the two parties make their ways up Mount Supernova... and find a sizzling serpent waiting for them!
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  14. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 52

    So Gallian has some corrupted Z Power that could cause him to turn like that toucannon? Is that what's affecting the other pokemon-turned-ultra-beasts?



    D= what?! Yikes, poor Gallian...

    I love the description of the volcano and its eruption. They narrowly missed the danger there. Those fire balls jumping out of the lava were very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog lava levels!



    Man, that sounds like Necrozma's symbol. So either he gave the Totems their power before he had his light taken away, or she's corrupted in some way D=



    Oh my goodness XD that's both cute and hilarious!

    I really love all her little salandits with their unique jobs! That Insulter, though XD

    The second tribe didn't seem as intimidating as the first (or as hilarious lmao). I did wonder where the bones had come from. I hadn't put two and two together that the tribes would be Totem Salazzle and Totem Marowak. That's really cool.

    I'm glad there's some understanding for Espeon and Silvally. Let's just hope Tessa and Shane can make it up the mountain with his fur intact!

    Couple of typos:



    'do'



    Missing a 'said'.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Yup, that's correct. Remember, it was Necrozma who originally bestowed Z-Power to the Tapus... and his light is also the source of items like emeras, wands, and orbs. So, a corrupted variant of his life energy is what lurks at the heart of the Prism Virus. What caused the corruption? I think you can make a pretty reasonable guess. ;)

    To be fair, that's a hallmark of plenty of different platformers besides just Sonic. Since I've had Kirby and Metroid on the mind with these locations, the Volcanic Wastes have dual inspiration. The exterior is based on Dangerous Dinner from Kirby's Return to Dreamland
    [​IMG]

    And Mount Supernova's interior (which we'll be seeing shortly) was inspired by Magmoor Caverns from Metroid Prime:
    [​IMG]

    I'd say the first one is a pretty good guess. ^^

    I had a lot of fun writing the scene with the Salazzle tribe. I could've easily dragged that stuff out longer but this fic is long enough already, so I needed to move their stuff forward. At the very least, I can say that Totem Salazzle draws inspiration from the Amazonians in Futurama.

    The point is that Totem Marowak's tribe is supposed to be the more reasonable of the two, despite the dance-based customs. Looks like that came across pretty well.

    I think you'll be a little bit surprised about how things turn out when the two sides meet up. Hopefully it's a good surprise, since that's what I'm aiming for. Thanks again for the review! ^^
     
  16. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Here, we have a short (and hopefully sweet) little bonus. The next proper chapter will be posted ahead of its usual weekend update, because I will be attending Too Many Games next weekend. Enjoy!

    Content advisory: chapter contains some adult themes, but nothing is described in detail.

    XxX

    Bonus #12: Father & Son


    ~Aeon Observatory~

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    Incineroar pushed his large, striped, wooden chair away from the small, circular table at the back of his office. He stood up and walked across the carpet, passing a hand-stitched quilt hanging up on the wall, baring the guild's insignia. Next to it sat a pair of fluffy black cushions, which matched up with the office's red carpet to resemble Incineroar's color scheme.

    Knock! Knock! Knock!

    He reached the office door just as the second set of knocks finished and swung the door open. Incineroar smiled at the Absol standing in front of the door with his gaze fixed on the ground. "Hiya, Gallian. What can I do you for, son?"

    "You, um, asked to see me… Guildmaster," Gallian muttered, stealing nervous glances back at the assembly room.

    "Oh-ho, right," Incineroar said, chuckling. "It wasn't anything urgent, kiddo. Just, y'know, wanted to check in on your first week here, that's all."

    Gallian winced. "Ah… gotcha…" he whispered.

    "Something bugging you, Gallian?" Incineroar wondered. He stepped to the side. "We can always talk in private, if you'd prefer."

    "I don't want any special treatment, Guildmaster," Gallian said.

    "Ha ha! There's nothing out of the ordinary about this, son," Incineroar said, giving Gallian a thumbs up. "I check on all my new recruits as they're settling in. And you're no different."

    Gallian's expression brightened a bit. "O-Oh… uh… okay. In that case…" His voice trailed off and he walked into Incineroar's office. "… I guess privacy is better." Gallian stopped in the middle of the office and looked around. His attention fell on a shelf opposite Incineroar's quilt. It was lined with an assortment of different knickknacks. Gallian was particularly drawn to a porcelain Cresselia figurine, some wind chimes carved out of bamboo, and a pair of custom-sculpted clay bracelets.

    "Geez, Guildmaster…"

    "Come on now, kiddo. When we're alone like this, you can drop the formalities. 'Dad' will do just fine," Incineroar said, approaching one of the cushions on the floor. He sat down and patted the open cushion with his paw.

    Gallian crept up to the free cushion and hesitantly sat on it. "R-Right… sorry, Dad." He looked back toward the shelf. "You, um, have a lot of stuff."

    Incineroar grinned broadly. "Ah, noticed my little collection, did ya? I'm awfully proud of it!"

    "A collection?" Gallian said, blinking in confusion.

    "You bet! I've gotten a souvenir from every community I've visited, including the ones overseas," Incineroar said, winking at Gallian. "Like that Cresselia figurine. It was a gift from Team Poképals over at the Wigglytuff Guild."

    "Wait, they gave that to you? I don't remember you mentioning that you when you told us about meeting them," Gallian said. "You've got to tell Tessa about this. Do you have any idea how floored Tessa would be? You know how much she idolizes them."

    "Shh, keep your voice down," Incineroar said, putting a finger to his lips. "To be honest, I wanted to keep the figurine a surprise."

    "Why's that?" Gallian asked.

    "I was thinking of giving it to Tessa as a gift… y'know, for when she joins the guild," Incineroar said. "A little something to get her jazzed about exploring." He winked at Gallian again. "Can I trust you to keep it a secret?"

    Gallian frowned. "Well… I guess so. I don't really like keeping things from Tessa, but I suppose it's okay in this instance. You'll make sure to let me see her reaction, right?"

    "Of course!" Incineroar said. "Granted, it may still be a few years until Tessa feels she's ready to join us. I don't want to push her into doing this, even if she says she wants to."

    "Yeah, I agree," Gallian said. "Just so you know, if she does join, I want to help her out as much as I can. I don't plan to get veteran status anytime soon."

    Incineroar raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

    "Well… I think that I'd be most helpful to Tessa as an apprentice. That way, we could room together at the start," Gallian said.

    "You don't have to do that, Gallian," Incineroar said. "I could always make some tweaks to the rooming rules."

    Gallian shook his head. "I don't want you treating me special because you're my dad," he said. "It's more important that I earn my keep here… the old-fashioned way."

    Incineroar smiled. "I think we're gonna make a heck of an explorer out of you, son," he proclaimed. Gallian's face reddened at this. Silence fell over the duo. "Hmm… right. I suppose that's enough friendly chit-chat." He sat up straight on his cushion. "What's on your mind son? Anything I can do to help?"

    Gallian pawed at the corner of his cushion. "I'm… um… I don't really know, Dad."

    Incineroar rubbed his chin. "Sounds like this is pretty serious." He adjusted his positioning so he was sitting cross-legged on his cushion. "Let's see if I can tease out what the problem is. How did your first few assignments go?"

    "Fine, I guess," Gallian muttered.

    "That's what I thought," Incineroar said. "I didn't see anything out of the ordinary in the paperwork Braviary gave me. And I trust Vaporeon's done a good job introducing you to everything?"

    Gallian stiffened, biting his lower lip. "Yuh-yeah! He's been great," he squeaked, voice cracking. Gallian realized this happened and sank down against his cushion, burying his head in the soft fabric.

    Concern spread across Incineroar's face. "Did something happen between you and Vaporeon, son?" He rubbed the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. "Hold on… I didn't mean to sound so forceful there. What I should've asked was, 'Are you sure?' Because I'm here if you need me. You know that, right?"

    Gallian nodded. "It's… really not what you think, Dad," he whispered. "Vaporeon's fine. The problem is me."

    Incineroar's face scrunched up in confusion. "I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that, son."

    "I… well… um…" Gallian stuttered. After stumbling to try and form up a sentence, he swiped at his cushion's edge in frustration. "I just can't stay focused around him, Dad! He's just… those sparkling scales… and that glitter on his crest… and his soft blue eyes… I just… uuuuurgh!" He buried his face in his cushion and shook it. "I'm sorry, Dad. I bet I sound like such an idiot…"

    Incineroar took in Gallian's words, nodding slowly. "I see," he said. "Y'know, that's quite the bold claim. What would make you think you're sounding like an idiot?"

    "Listen to me! I just said I think I like Vaporeon. Whenever I'm around him, I just can't stop thinking about him. He looks so good… it's hypnotizing! And… and that's a problem, isn't it?" Gallian picked his head up from the pillow, a frown on his face. "I'm a guy. Vaporeon's a guy. I'm not supposed to like him that way… right?"

    "Whatever gave you that idea?" Incineroar asked.

    "W-Well… all the couples I know are one guy and one girl. There's you and Mom… Primarina and Serperior… and Sylveon's mate was a guy too, right?" Gallian said. He shook his head. "I was hoping that maybe something was wrong… like I was sick. But Comfey checked me out and said everything was fine."

    "Gallian…" Incineroar said.

    "I don't want another reason for people to look at me funny," Gallian said. "I already get enough nervous looks just for being an Absol. But an Absol that isn't attracted to girls? That just screams 'messed up.' I mean… for all I know… this could all be from my egg getting abandoned in the snow. What if my head's all screwed up from the cold?"

    Incineroar leaned over and draped an arm over Gallian, who flinched at the gesture. "Shhhhh… it's okay, kiddo. You're beating yourself up for no good reason," he said. "Gallian, I want you to look at me." He put his free hand under his son's chin and hoisted his head up so they were making eye contact. "There is nothing… I repeat… nothing wrong with being attracted to the same gender."

    Gallian blinked in confusion. "I don't understand. Don't you need two Pokémon who are opposite genders to make an egg?"

    "Not at all," Incineroar said. He pulled his hand back from Gallian's chin and proceeded to rub his son's back. "All this means… is that you're growing up."

    "I thought I was finished growing," Gallian said.

    "Maybe physically, yeah, but not emotionally," Incineroar elaborated. "You're making the transition from kid to mature adult. Those feelings of attraction? They're a natural part of that process. Let me ask you something: do you really love Vaporeon? Like… from the bottom of your heart?"

    Gallian's tensed. "Um… maybe?"

    "Well, what is it you like most about him?"

    "His… uh… his looks," Gallian said, face growing hot.

    Incineroar nodded. "Uh-huh. And is that it?"

    Gallian's brow furrowed. "Now that you mention it… I guess so."

    "Then it sounds to me like you've got yourself a crush," Incineroar said, offering up a reassuring grin. "And that's nothing to be ashamed of. Crushes are a normal part of growing up. Plenty of Pokémon have them."

    "E-Even if the Pokémon's the same gender as you?" Gallian wondered.

    "Heh…" Incineroar rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I guess it's about time the two of us had 'the talk.' I mean, your grandpa gave it to me not long after I had joined the guild, so it only seems right. Especially with what you've told me."

    "What do you mean?"

    Incineroar scooted his pillow across the carpet so he was facing Gallian. "I'm talking about love and mating." He paused until he saw a degree of understanding in Gallian's eyes. "See… what sets 'mons like you and me apart from mechanical 'mons like Metagross and Magearna is our ability to form a loving bond with someone we care deeply about and express that love through an intimate relationship."

    Gallian pursed his lips. "Is that like the time I walked into your room and saw you in your bed, lying on top of Mo–"

    Incineroar's face flushed and he threw a paw up over Gallian's muzzle. "Aha ha… ha… I guess you know a bit more about this than I thought." He took his paw off Gallian's snout and sat back. "Huh… guess your Mom's aura sense isn't always on if you could sneak in on us like that."

    "Um… did I do something wrong?" Gallian asked.

    "Err… it's in the past, son," Incineroar said, laughing awkwardly. "The point I was trying to make is that, now that you're getting older, you're going to start finding that you may have feelings about other Pokémon around you… regardless of what their gender is." He put a paw on Gallian's shoulder. "You see… when it coves to love… every 'mon has some degree of attraction for both guys and girls. Which one a 'mon prefers… well, it depends on a bunch of different things."

    Gallian blinked slowly, taking his dad's explanation in. "So… there isn't anything wrong with me if I… um… like other guys?"

    "Not in the slightest," Incineroar said.

    "Then how come I've never seen any couples made up of two guys?" Gallian asked.

    Incineroar rubbed his chin. "It's just a matter of you having not traveled around enough. Give it some time while you're in the guild. Heck… I'm pretty sure I know some mates who are the same gender. I've got a lot of acquaintances… it can be hard to keep track of them all sometimes."

    Gallian's brow furrowed. "Mates," he repeated. "That's what you and Mom are, right? Is that different from love?"

    "Oh… I forgot to explain that, didn't I?" Incineroar said, chuckling. "See, 'mate' is actually just slang. It's shorthand for 'soulmate.'" Gallian parroted the word at him. "Basically… when two Pokémon are convinced they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other… they mate with one another." Incineroar paused. "That's… um… what you saw your mother and I doing that one time."

    "The–"

    "Yes, yes, there's no need to say it out loud," Incineroar said, looking a bit flustered. "The point is… the act of mating binds two Pokémon together physically and spiritually. Breaking that bond is something..." His expression grew serious. "... it's something our society frowns on. It should only ever happen under extenuating circumstances."

    Panic washed over Gallian's face. "W… what do you mean by that?"

    "Well, I've read reports of Pokémon getting exiled from their villages for violating the sacred soulmate bond," Incineroar said.

    Gallian's gaze fell to the floor. "And… and you're absolutely, positively sure I can have a mate who's a guy?"

    Incineroar nodded.

    "What about having an egg? How would that work?" Gallian asked.

    "Eggs are made when two Pokémon combine their spiritual energy. Many of them choose to do that while mating, sure. Doesn't change the fact that, yes, you can have an egg if your mate's the same gender," Incineroar said. "Trust me. Your grandpa told all of this stuff to me back when I was a Torracat. I don't think he'd steer me wrong."

    "Okay," Gallian whispered, taking a deep breath. "Okay. I… yeah. That… that sounds okay."

    "Sounds to me like there's still something bothering you," Incineroar said.

    "It's just… how am I supposed to know?" Gallian said, looking up at his dad. "Like, when will I know I really love another guy… versus just liking the way he looks?"

    Incineroar rubbed his chin. "That's a bit more complicated, son. It depends a lot on what's going through your head. Even if I was a psychic, I doubt I could give you a straight answer."

    Gallian frowned. "Well, what about you? How did you know that Mom was, y'know, the one for you?"

    "I thought I already told you that story," Incineroar said.

    "Could you just give me the main points?" Gallian asked, smiling meekly.

    Incineroar playfully nudged Gallian in the side. "I suppose I can. Let me think for a second here." He shut his eyes and rested his head on his hand. "At first… I felt bad for your mom. I didn't think it was fair what was happening to her with the scavengers. But once we got her out of that situation and into the guild… I just noticed little things. Her smile… the way she looked at me… how she could make me laugh. But it grew from there. Seeing her out in the field... genuinely dedicated to helping others... it just made my heart flutter. The joy she expressed when other Pokémon thanked her always brought a smile to my face."

    "Eventually, it got to a point where, every time I was around her, there was a tingle that would run down my spine. My heart would race and my palms would get all sweaty, too," Incineroar said. "And it didn't really have much to do with how your mother looked. It was just her thoughtful personality that ended up winning me over. I realized that, deep down, I could see myself making a life together with her."

    He sighed. "Sorry, son. I'm not sure how helpful that was," Incineroar said. "I think, when it gets down to it, it's all about what your heart tells you." He reached out and tapped Gallian's sternum with a claw. "Listen to it… and I'm sure that you'll find the right guy."

    Gallian slumped over. "That makes one of us," he said.

    "C'mon, son. That sounds nothing like the Gallian I know," Incineroar said.

    "I'm serious, Dad. What if… what if there isn't a guy out there for me," Gallian whispered. "I mean… I'm an Absol. No one's going to want to date me given the superstitions." He bowed his head solemnly. "Maybe… maybe there's a reason my egg was abandoned."

    "Son, I want you to listen to me," Incineroar said, his voice growing stern. "You are a kind, sensitive Pokémon who wants nothing more than to help others. You're nothing like the stereotypes folks make about Absols." He scooched over and wrapped an arm around Gallian. "Any guy would be lucky to have you as his mate. And I'm not just saying that because I'm your dad. It's the truth."

    Gallian sniffled. "You really mean that?"

    "From the bottom of my heart," Incineroar said. "And I like to think I know a thing or two when it comes to relationships," he added, winking.

    "Heh…" Gallian rubbed his head against his shoulder. "Thanks, Dad. I feel… a lot better now."

    Incineroar leaned over and nuzzled Gallian's neck. "Don't mention it, kiddo. And you know that, if you ever want to talk, that you can drop by any time, right?"

    Gallian nodded. "I do now." He paused. "Just... um... do me one little favor."

    "What did you have in mind?"

    "Um... could you please not tell Mom about any of this?" Gallian asked.

    Incineroar frowned. "If that's really what you want, then my lips are sealed. Can I ask why, though?"

    "It's just, well, from what I've seen so far... Mom is, like, a completely different Pokémon around the guild," Gallian whispered. "She seems really uptight and serious... it kind of scares me a bit."

    "Oh... that!" Incineroar said, chuckling. "There's no need to worry about it. Your mom is a very headstrong Pokémon. When she gets focused on her work... she really gets focused. I can't fault her for the enthusiasm, really."

    "R-Right..." Gallian squeaked. "But I've been getting nervous whenever I'm around her. I'm worried she might get upset if I tell her... y'know... that I want to date another guy."

    Incineroar closed his eyes in pensive thought. "I can't think of any reason why your mom would get upset at that. But I can see that this is bugging you... so I won't say a word about this to her. Just understand that there's going to come a time when you'll have to tell her."

    "I know," Gallian said, taking a deep breath. "I just want to wait for the right moment to do that. Maybe a time when we're back home and Mom isn't so focused on her work. I promise I'll tell her... just not right now."

    "And you know I'm here to help if you need it, right?" Incineroar said.

    "Yeah," Gallian whispered.

    "Good. In that case…" Incineroar's voice trailed off as he got to his feet. "How about we grab some dinner and see what everyone else is up to?"

    Gallian got up beside his dad. "Sounds good to me."
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2018
  17. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    This was an interesting and insightful chapter. I have to admit, I was surprised about Gallian's confession in the previous chapter. This flashback to that allowed more insight into the characters, especially Incineroar since we only see him in flashbacks. Just a genuinely nice guy who cares about his family and the Guild. And Gallian himself has changed drastically, too. Stress? Anger? The fact he's dying? The Prism Virus, given he has corrupted Z-Power? So many questions, but I guess we'll find out.

    Hearing Tessa being a fan of Team Pokepals - I'm not sure if that's come up before or not. But it goes to show just how eager she was to join the Guild before all the chaos pre-story.

    I also like how the creation of eggs comes into it. Given Necky brought that up earlier on, that they're not created the way humans know them to be, knowing in some way the mechanics behind it is very interesting. Seems to hearken to the main games - 'Your pokemon was holding an egg! I have no idea how it got there, but you want it don't you?' The naivety of the daycare staff can be ruled out now! XD
     
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  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    It was meant to be surprising and out of left field, for a few reasons. But that's a story for another time. You're spot on that this is more of Incineroar being a nice guy. I thought it important to show him being sweet and caring, given that some of what Gallian's said about Prisma might lead you to suspect she's... on the other side of the spectrum, so to speak.

    It may be a combination of different factors. Though, having a disaster sense certainly doesn't help things.

    Only a couple of vague allusions to them have been made. But she grew up hearing the stories of these world-savers, so you can bet she's a fan.

    Yeah, that's definitely part of it. The other part is that I wasn't comfortable with the standard breeding mechanics showing up here. Because that would mean that the only way Braviary would exist is if another Braviary bred with a Ditto. Just the idea of Ditto breeding alone made me opt for an alternative means of egg creation. Thanks again for reviewing! ^^
     
  19. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    For those of you playing music alongside your reading, I'd like to offer this piece for Mount Supernova's exterior and this for the interior.

    XxX

    Chapter 53: Turning up the Heat


    ~Mount Supernova, Eastern Face~

    Thunder rumbled throughout the mountainside as lightning danced across the storm clouds swirling around the volcano's peak. Espeon had to stop herself from veering to the right as she walked.

    "Keep it moving, missy," Torkoal ordered.

    Espeon continued forward, positioned between Totem Marowak and Torkoal. She looked to her left, where the pathway abruptly dropped off. There, lava flowed freely, descending down the mountainside. Behind her, Silvally looked at the lava pond bubbling to the right of the path. A giant, meteor-like fireball remained suspended above the ground. Flames licked at its edges, bathing the black onyx of the mountainside in a soft orange glow.

    "Um… are floating fireballs normal here?" Silvally asked, an uneasy look etched on his face.

    "No," Torkoal said. "Totem, have you ever seen something like this before?"

    Totem Marowak shook his head. "It would seem that something unruly stirs deep within the rock-bones of this mountain. Strange magics, perhaps?"

    The fireball vibrated and spat out two solar flares. The High Priest and Spike-Skull both widened their eyes as the flares careened toward them. Silvally turned around, channeling his water memories. He dragged his right foreleg across the ground and a wave of water swept forward, extinguishing the solar flares and creating a wall of gray steam in their place.

    "What the–?" Torkoal's eyes widened. "Did you just change into a water-type?"

    "I did," Silvally chirped. "I mean, if there's gonna be fire everywhere, it kind of makes sense, right?"

    "Are you some kind of Legendary?" Torkoal wondered.

    "No, I'm just Silvally," he replied.

    "Eyyyaaaaah!"

    Silvally and Torkoal turned around to find Espeon and Totem Marowak staring down a pair of floating globules of black paint. The paint blob duo each had a single, hollow white eye. They turned and floated slowly toward the path. Espeon stepped forward and rifled off a pink beam from the gem on her forehead. It sliced through the blobs. They exploded in tiny puffs of multicolored dust.

    "What manner of Pokémon was that?" Totem Marowak asked. "I haven't seen such strange bones striding this mountain in my entire life."

    "Those definitely weren't Pokémon," Espeon said. "If anything… they might've been tiny little Ultra Beasts."

    Totem Marowak scratched the top of his skull. "Ultra Beasts? Did you just make that up?"

    "No," Espeon replied. "It's what the Prism Virus calls these powerful monsters that it turns Pokémon into. I don't suppose there are Slugmas or Magcargos living in the lava here, are there?"

    Totem Marowak shook his head, sighing. "Not in this volcano. Well, I suppose we just need to continue forward." He beckoned the rest of the group with a wave of his bone club, toward an area where the path steepened considerably. Totem Marowak slowed his pace, minding his steps so as not to go tumbling off the side of the mountain. The lava pool to the left gradually shrank away. Instead, there was a sharp drop off to a set of jagged rocks jutting out from the lava pool at the base of the mountain.

    "Everyone, watch your step. The lava has broken through the path," Totem Marowak announced, hopping from one section of the pathway to another. However, the part of the ground he landed on immediately broke apart, with pieces sinking down into the lava. His eyes widened as he slowly fell back, limbs flailing. Espeon shut her eyes and concentrated. A small pulse of telekinetic energy wrapped Totem Marowak up from behind and pushed him forward. He stumbled and fell to his belly, heart pounding in his chest.

    "Are you all right?" Espeon asked as Totem Marowak shakily got to his feet. "It doesn't look like the ground up here is all that firm."

    "I see that," Totem Marowak muttered. "But it's so strange. The rock-bones up here are supposed to be strong enough to withstand the lava flows."

    The High Priest poked his head out from behind Silvally. "Do you think the Eastern Tribe figured out some method to weaken the rock-bones of the mountain?"

    Torkoal frowned. "I wouldn't put it past those conniving jerks."

    "How are we supposed to get across, though?" Spike-Skull asked. "That gap is too far to jump." He rubbed the back of his helmet. "And, I am ashamed to admit I have not been practicing my bone-vaulting much, recently."

    "At least you can jump," Torkoal said. "I'm pretty much useless in this scenario. Totem, what should we do? I think there are a couple of Talonflames living amongst us. Should we seek their aid?"

    "There's no need for that," Silvally said, puffing his chest out. "Have no fear, because Silvally's here!" He hopped to Torkoal's side and bent down. "Get on. I'll ferry you across."

    Torkoal's eyes widened. "Are you crazy? There's no way you can jump across carrying me."

    "Try me," Silvally said. Torkoal looked uneasily at Silvally's back. But the mountainside started rumbling. The lava pools farther down the path bubbled and more black paint blobs rose out from them.

    Torkoal's eyes widened. "Oh… this is so not how I wanted to spend today," she groaned, climbing onto Silvally's back. He got a running start and lunged across the gap. Totem Marowak gasped and stumbled backward to prevent Silvally from crashing into him. Silvally landed, skidding to a halt. He knelt, letting a queasy-looking Torkoal climb off. Silvally nodded his approval and jumped back across the lava, where Espeon and the two Marowaks worked to keep the black blobs at bay. They hurled their bone clubs forward while Espeon charged them with psychic energy. The bone clubs effortlessly smashed through the blobs and returned to their holders.

    "Get on. It looks like things are getting a bit too dicey down here," Silvally said. The trio hopped onto his back. Silvally broke into a run but got tripped up as the path crumbled behind him. A larger, dark brown blob emerged from the lava. Some of the brown paint parted to form a mouth with an outline of jagged teeth. The blob roared loudly and, next thing Silvally knew, portions of the broken path were flying toward him.

    "Run! I'll take care of these," Espeon said. Silvally resumed running, while she turned around and blasted the rocks apart with a ring of psychic energy. The attack fizzled out before it reached the brown blob. It hissed its displeasure and flew after them. Silvally landed safely on the other side, turned around, and swept a wave of water at the blob. The wave crashed on top of it, dissolving it into brown dust that disappeared amongst the thick volcanic smoke.

    "Well, that was certainly unexpected," Silvally said. "You guys must lead pretty exciting lives here if you're coming up this mountain all the time."

    "This is not something that we are used to dealing with," Totem Marowak harrumphed. "Clearly, the Dawn Hourglass is messing with the volcano's integrity. Perhaps it has done something to Volcanion?"

    The ground trembled beneath Espeon's paws. "Guys? Maybe we ought to talk less and walk more?" she squeaked, trying to push her way toward the front of the group. Everyone else got the message and continued forward. They managed to reached a part of the mountain where the path leveled off, when the ground began rumbling again.

    "Now what's going on?" Torkoal groaned.

    "Look, over there!" Silvally gasped, pointing a talon at the face of the mountain. A crack had appeared in its rocky foundations and it was rapidly spreading out.

    "Run!" Espeon shouted. She tucked her head in, only to stumble and fall on her belly. Espeon shot back up, ignoring the suspicious look from Silvally, and sprinted up the path. Silvally followed suit, along with the rest of the Western Tribe. They looked back in time to see the rock wall burst apart. A geyser of lava shot out, washing across the path and cascading down the mountain toward the fiery depths below.

    Totem Marowak's eyes widened. "This is very bad," he said. "If the mountain's foundations are crumbling, then our village doesn't stand a chance."

    "But what should we do, Totem?" the High Priest asked.

    Totem Marowak sighed. "My bones shudder to even say this, but we might need to prepare everyone for fleeing the Volcanic Wastes."

    "What? No way!" Torkoal gasped. "This is our home. We can't just leave it behind like this."

    "Would you rather drown in lava?" Totem Marowak snapped, pointing his bone club at Torkoal.

    "But… but where would we go?" Torkoal asked.

    "I don't know," Totem Marowak said. "I was just thinking out loud, that's all."

    "Aha! I knew it! You unsightly Western Tribesmon were up to something!"

    The assembled group all tensed up in unison. "Oh no… that voice…" Spike-Skull muttered. "It's Totem Salazzle!"

    Totem Salazzle proudly strode toward them, flanked by two of her attendants and a horde of her Salandit minions. Silvally's eyes bulged out at the sight of Shane and Tessa tied to a large pole. "Hey!" he shouted, eyes narrowing and cheek bolts whirring in their sockets. "Put my friends down right now… or else!" Golden energy swirled around his forelegs, bristling his fur.

    "I think not," Totem Salazzle exclaimed. "They are my prisoners. And, bizarre appearance or not, you are a male, and thus your words are meaningless."

    Silvally screeched and charged forward. Totem Salazzle's attendants moved in front of her and both released clouds of pink gas into the air. Silvally moved right into them and his running slowly stumbled to a stop. "G… guhhhh…" he grunted, staggering backwards.

    Totem Marowak's shoulders slumped. "So, even Odd-Bones is not immune to their hypnotic pheromones."

    "Call of your attack mongrel, Marowak," Totem Salazzle ordered. "Or I'll take his two accomplices here and drop them into the lava." Shane's and Tessa's eyes widened in unison. They struggled against their restraints, but a pair of Salandit slapped them across their faces.

    "You can't!" Espeon begged. "Those are my teammates!"

    "We know," Totem Salazzle exclaimed. "And we caught you all in the act of trying to sabotage Mount Supernova." She narrowed her eyes at Marowak. "To think you'd go to such extreme lengths to take our land from us. You are a shining example of why males cannot be trusted, you worthless Totem!"

    "You spout nothing but lies!" the High Priest accused, pointing his bone club forward. "We are just as unfamiliar with these outsiders as you are. But the Dance of Revelations has cleared them. They seek the fragment of the Dawn Hourglass lying within the mountain. We think it may be responsible for upsetting Volcanion."

    "Ha! So, you know about the Sizzle Shard, as expected," Totem Salazzle scoffed. "Well, my tribe acknowledges no stupid customs created by a pack of barbaric males. You're just lying to cover up your own heinous acts. Now, stand aside and allow us to pass. We will appease Volcanion by sacrificing these outsiders to him. And he will reward us with the Sizzle Shard, allowing us to protect our land from the likes of you."

    Totem Marowak slammed the ground with his bone club. His eyes blazed. "There you go again, spitting upon our dances. Do you not see the hypocrisy in your words? You dismiss every male you come across, but your tribe sings praises to a god who is male!"

    "I cannot help it if Arceus was mistaken when she created Volcanion," Totem Salazzle exclaimed, shrugging. "Even the mighty creator is prone to lapses in judgment. Thus, we forgive her, and move on."

    "Arceus is male, too, you cretin!" Spike-Skull barked.

    "Prove it," a Salazzle attendant countered.

    "It's written in the stories of the heroes who defeated Dark Matter," Torkoal replied. "But you wouldn't care about that, would you? After all, you're the crook who took our land from us while Dark Matter wreaked havoc upon the world!"

    Espeon raised a curious brow. From their bounded positions, Shane and Tessa turned their wide eyes on Totem Salazzle. Her right eye twitched. "I only took… what was rightfully mine… in the first place," she seethed. Flames gathered around her mouth. "This is your last chance. Stand aside or we'll mow you all down!"

    "Heh heh heh. Look at this heartwarming little reunion going on here. It's almost as sizzling as this volcano!"

    Silvally turned to his right and frowned. "That voice… it sounds familiar. But something's off with it."

    "It very well should sound familiar, Beak Boy!"

    "Totem, watch out!" Spike-Skull shouted, lunging to grab Totem Marowak's tail. Silvally looked up and spotted a large orange meteor streaming down toward the entire group. He slammed his forelegs on the ground and a plume of water shot into the air. It struck the meteor, but only managed to put a few cracks in it. Silvally staggered backward, eyes widened in terror. A trio of bone clubs smacked the meteor in unison, accentuating the crack. The meteor shattered, shards of fiery rocks raining down on the ground.

    "Meat shields!" Totem Salazzle called, snapping her fingers. A group of Salandit scuttled in front of her and climbed up on one another's shoulders. They spat globs of poison forward, disintegrating the rocky shards heading for the large group. The remaining shards fell into the scattered pools of lava. Totem Salazzle turned and glared at Totem Marowak. "See? Your presence is driving the volcano to anger once again. Get out of here, before you cause any more wanton destruction."

    Totem Marowak snorted. "Always quick to accuse me, aren't you?"

    "My accusations have merit! Things were going perfectly fine for us before you and your ragged ilk showed up on the mountain," Totem Salazzle scoffed. "I'd smite you for these transgressions… if I hadn't left my smiting staff back in the village."

    "Our village. That you took from us!" the High Priest hissed.

    "Heh heh. Yes! Excellent! Rip each other apart! Tear yourselves to pieces! You'll just be making my job all that much easier."

    Panic overtook Silvally's expression. "Wait a second… Serperior? Is that you? Are you okay? We heard you were captured by the Prism Virus yesterday!"

    Totem Marowak whirled on Silvally. "Serperior? Is she another one of your outsider friends?"

    A Salandit tapped Totem Salazzle's knee. "My Totem… look up there. On that alcove." He pointed his free arm skyward.

    The rest of the Eastern Tribe followed it. They found Serperior sitting coiled up at the edge of a rock spire jutting out from the lava, blue flame markings, fiery helmet, and all.

    "Serperior! Oh gods, no!" Tessa gasped. "What happened to you?"

    "Me? Well, quite a lot, actually. We found Airy… or should I say 'Nighty?'" Serperior mused.

    "She's infected," Silvally whimpered. "And by the sounds of it, Dragonair's the one responsible."

    "I think you mean Dragonite," Espeon corrected, shrinking back and looking away from Serperior. She shut her eyes and shook her head. "We, um, need to snap her out of it, right?" Her tail curled up against her rear and she whined loudly.

    "What are you saying?" Totem Marowak asked. "Is Leafy-Bones connected to all of the damage being done to the mountain?"

    "Without a doubt," Totem Salazzle declared. "And it was these outsiders who brought her here. Yet more evidence of your skullduggery. We should toss them into the volcano and placate Volcanion!"

    "No!" Tessa cried. "This isn't our faults, we swear. Serperior, you have to snap out of it. Think about what you're saying. That's not what Team Captivate's about!"

    "Shut your pie hole, you sniveling coward,"Serperior hissed. "Nighty and Mistress Zero have opened my eyes. Team Captivate was superficial. Meaningless! But now… now I have a sense of purpose. With the Prism Virus' power, I am the epitome of grace. A maiden that will help create a perfect, Legendary-free world." Serperior looked over her shoulder. "Wouldn't you agree, Volky?"

    An orange, membranous cocoon floated in the air next to her. Small cracks ran through its scaly exterior, giving off rainbow flashes of light. The cocoon pulsated. Red liquid trickled out of some of the cracks and dripped onto the ground. "Wait a sec," Tessa whispered. "'Volky?' As in… Volcarona? What did you do to her?"

    "Nothing," Serperior scoffed. "Necrozma got his grubby hands on Volky. I heard him say something about a 'shining metamorphosis.'" She looked down at the Eastern Tribe. "Though, from the looks of things, you won't be around long enough to witness it for yourself."

    "You there," Totem Marowak barked, pointing his bone club forward. "Remove yourself from our sacred volcano at once! You are disturbing the mighty Volcanion."

    "I know. That's the point," Serperior said, grinning wickedly. "I want to wake him up and bring him out here… so I can kill him for Mistress Zero. I think I've done a pretty good job messing up this place already, wouldn't you say?"

    "You're the one who's making the floating meteors? And the weird blob monsters?" Silvally gasped.

    "Necrozma prefered to call them 'Emeravegers.' All I did was add Z-Power to the emeras I found. And… voila! Instant Ultra Beasts! Pretty slick, huh?"Serperior explained. "I'd love to stay and chat with you more, but I have a Dawn Shard to find. So, I think I'll just have to send you all back from where you came." Serperior uncoiled herself and raised her tail. Blue flames engulfed her wavy tail blade. She turned to left and swung her tail down against the ground. The free part of the rock spire split off and exploded, creating a volley of meteors that hurtled toward both tribes.

    "Later, losers!" she shouted, disappearing into a wall of volcanic smoke.

    Silvally shrank down and whimpered. "I can't destroy that many of them. We have to run!" He tried to turn around, but a jet of fire washed across his shoulder. He looked down at his singed fur in shock.

    "This is all your fault!" Totem Salazzle accused. "You brought these outsiders in and led havoc into our valley. We'll never forgive you for these transgressions. We'll–"

    Ka-boooooooooom!

    The meteors exploded right above the two tribes. Smaller rock fragments rained down on them, while other chunks landed in the lava, splashing some up on the path. The two tribes quickly descended into utter chaos. They stopped leering at one another and started running in opposite directions. But the meteor fragments destroyed both halves of the paths they had used to get to this point. The array of Salandits all screeched in terror and scurried back toward their Totem. In the process, they dropped Shane and Tessa, who fell to the ground and struggled against their restraints as the crumbling ground worked its way up toward them.

    Silvally noticed this and raced forward, ignoring Espeon's cry of, "What do you think you're doing?" He lowered his head and rammed the advisor Salazzles standing in his way. Silvally stuck his beak out and clamped it down on the pole holding Shane and Tessa. He lurched his neck backwards and dragged the duo back onto stable ground. Shane looked back, whimpering at the sight of his tails smoking from their close proximity to the lava.

    "Totem, what should we do? The ground up here could give way at any moment. And Leafy-Bones destroyed the path leading farther up the mountain," the High Priest said, panic filling his voice.

    Totem Marowak shut his eyes, deep in thought. A second later, they opened back up. "The secret passage!" he gasped. "It's been weeks since Tapu Bulu reshaped the mountain. It should still be there." Totem Marowak hoisted his bone club into the air and threw it toward a rounded rock spire jutting out from the lava in front of him. It struck the rock, making it sink down into the lava. A strip of lava fizzled, giving way to a narrow path leading to the mountain wall. Part of the mountain face sank down into the lava, revealing a dark cave.

    "Everyone, get across," Totem Marowak said, pointing his bone club forward. "Quickly!"

    He was about to step onto the path when Totem Salazzle shoved him aside. "Out of the way, you worthless man. Come, Eastern Tribe. We must take shelter within the mountain!"

    Totem Marowak glared at her as she ran across the secret path. The rest of her tribe quickly followed suit. "Ugh, you mean we're going to be stuck in the mountain with them?" Spike-Skull groaned. "Could this day possibly get any worse?"

    Ruuuuuuuuuuumble!

    The spire that Serperior stood on earlier exploded. A geyser of lava shot out from inside the mountain, sending molten rock plummeting toward the group. Totem Marowak shoved Spike-Skull onto the secret path, saying, "You just had to open your big mouth, didn't you?" He ducked his head down and ran across the path. His cohorts followed suit, with the newly-reunited Team Radiance bringing up the rear.

    They all disappeared into the cave entrance. The ground immediately grew even warmer than the paths they had used outside the volcano. Shane started hopping about from paw to paw, whimpering loudly. "This hurts to walk on. It's burning my feet!"

    "It's probably the magma flowing underneath us," Espeon said, swaying uneasily and blinking her eyes rapidly to acclimate to the cave. "Look, there are cracks in the floor with orange light streaming out of them."

    Shane's tails fell between his legs. "Do we really have to use this to get up the rest of the volcano? This heat has been bad enough already. I'm not sure I can take much more of this!" They proceeded deeper into the cave and the orange glow intensified. The cracks in the floors grew even larger. Team Radiance found themselves pausing in the middle of the cave, as jets of fire shot out from the cracks in the floor. "Yeah, you know what, I think I can officially say I'd take a Monster House over thi— OW!"

    A welt appeared on the back of Shane's head and his eyes teared up. He looked back to see Totem Marowak brandishing his bone club. "You would do well to keep that trap of yours shut, lest you bring more misfortune upon us, Whiny-Bones."

    Shane's ears folded his against his face. "Whiny-Bones? Aww, c'mon, that's not fair. I'm not whining… I'm complaining!"

    "What's the difference?" Spike-Skull scoffed, walking past the group.

    Shane's stance slouched. 'Man, and here I thought I'd never be more humiliated than the time they had to run me under the emergency shower in chemistry class.'

    "… I don't care if we're all stuck inside the mountain. My tribe got here first. Take your sorry tails and march over to the other side."

    Totem Salazzle's voice carried through the caverns. Team Radiance managed to find their way closer to the center of the mountain's interior, where a bright orange glow washed over them. The pitch-black walls had given way to red and orange rocks radiating massive amounts of heat. Small streams of magma drifted through parts of the pathway that spiraled along the mountain in either direction. Occasional walls of magma flowed down from higher areas, making the walls unsafe to stand near.

    "We can't just march over to the other side," Torkoal growled, trying to crane her neck up to get in Totem Salazzle's face. "We'd have to go right through the mountain's molten core. And that'd kill us!"

    "That's no scales off my bones," Totem Salazzle scoffed. "Because it's all your faults that we're in this mess. You brought in these outsiders. You've brought ruin to my tribe! Just like you did when my mother was in charge."

    "That's an egregious lie if I ever heard one," Spike-Skull said, raising up his bone club and sheathing its ends in fire. "You would hold us accountable for an eruption that not even Volcanion could contain? You have a lot of nerve!"

    "It was your faults! You angered Volcanion! You didn't take action to keep the entire Volcanic Wastes safe," Totem Salazzle hissed. Flames liked the corners of her mouth. "And now you're doing this again. You've put us all in grave danger!"

    Totem Marowak stepped forward. "My tribe would do no such thing. Salazzle, please, this issue has become bigger than a quarter-century feud. You saw what Leafy-Bones was capable of. She must be stopped. She is bringing ruin to Mount Supernova. And that could put an end to our beloved home."

    Totem Salazzle responded by shooting a stream of fire directly at Totem Marowak. He brought his bone club up and spun it, rapidly dispelling the flames. Totem Salazzle merely smirked and snapped her fingers. An advisor Salazzle had managed to get beside Totem Marowak. At Totem Salazzle's command, she unfurled the flaps on her dorsal tail and released a cloud of green gas.

    "Totem!" the High Priest shouted. He leaped in front of the green cloud, tackling Totem Marowak to the ground. In the process, he inhaled the pheromones. The High Priest's body relaxed, and his eyes turned pink. "Oh… oh my!" he said, getting back to his feet. He walked up to the advisor Salazzle, swaying from side to side. "I'm sorry. Did I interfere? That was quite rude of me. Please…" He got down on one knee and extended an arm toward the advisor. "… accept my humblest of apologies."

    The advisor smirked and planted a kiss on the brim of the High Priest's snout. His body went totally rigid and he collapsed onto his side. "You see?" Totem Salazzle sneered. "Your actions betray your words. You cannot protect the Wastes if you are so easily distracted by our pheromones. And that is why I demand you unruly boneheads get off the mountain and let me finish sacrificing the outsiders to Volcanion!"

    "Oh, come on. Not this nonsense again!" Shane groaned, immediately causing the Salandits to jump in front of their Totem and hiss a warning at Shane. But, much to his surprise, Tessa stomped up toward the Salandits.

    "Will you just shut up already?" Tessa shouted. The Salandits all craned their necks forward, readying fireballs in their mouths. "You," she growled, pointing at Totem Salazzle, "are not helping anyone in the slightest! Least of all these Salandits and Salazzles that depend on you. Don't you get it? We're all in danger, here. We need to stop arguing and start working together! This is exactly what Serperior is counting on! For you guys to fight amongst yourselves when you need to be fighting her!"

    Totem Salazzle leered at Tessa, but Shane noticed the other Salazzle advisor in the group shrinking back and fidgeting uneasily. She had a spiked, pink collar around her neck, much like the Totem's.

    Tessa took a deep breath and continued, "I'm sorry that we showed up at such a bad time. And I'm sorry that one of our fellow guild members is wreaking havoc on the mountain. But this is not our faults! Serperior is being controlled… by a wicked Ultra Beast called Necrozma. And if we don't get the Dawn Shard that she's looking for, too, then a lot worse stuff is going to happen not just here… but everywhere!"

    Tessa's arms trembled. "You don't like us. I get it. But could you please just stop insulting us and let us do our jobs?"

    Totem Salazzle drew her lips back in a snarl. "You would dare raise your voice at me like that, you measly pup?"

    "I am not just some measly pup!" Tessa shouted back, catching her teammates by surprise. Espeon's tail went as stiff as an arrow at the sight of Tessa's eyes flashing bright blue. "I am an explorer! I've stared down creatures the likes of which you couldn't possibly understand! So, when I say to listen to me… I mean it!"

    Shane took a cautious step back. 'Whoa. Where has this Tessa been the entire time?'

    "Totem," the collar-wearing Salazzle croaked, "perhaps we should listen to the outsider? She seems to know what she's talking about."

    Totem Salazzle shoved her advisor back. "Has the heat rotted your brain? She is but a child! Even if she is female, her opinion is not worth my time and energy. Perhaps if she were a Lucario, her words might hold meaning. But the day I trust a baby Pokémon is the day I turn over my Totem Crystal."

    WHAM!

    A Force Palm struck Totem Salazzle's belly. She toppled over, landing on half a dozen Salandits, who all groaned in unison. Aura swirled around Tessa's paws like two tufts of blue fire. "You better stay down!" Tessa screamed, her paws balling into fists. "Or I'll hit you as many times as it takes to shut you up!"

    Silvally and Shane were at Tessa's sides in an instant. "Tessa… deep breaths," Shane coaxed. "You're losing your temper."

    Tessa hung her head. The aura faded as she turned to Totem Marowak. "I'm sorry, sir," she said, "but that Pokémon, Necrozma. He has our friends. And…" Her eyes teared up. "And he has my mom. I'm not going to sit around and be distracted by Salazzle… Totem or not. Is there anything you could do to get through to her?"

    Totem Marowak sighed. "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this. But I see that she refuses to listen to reason."

    "Impudent outsider," Totem Salazzle hissed, getting back to her feet. "Nobody strikes the Totem of the Eastern Tribe and gets away with it!" She smacked the ground with her tail. "Don't just stand there gawking, you dunderheads. Get her!"

    Before any of the Salandits could attack, Totem Marowak brought his bone club down in front of Totem Salazzle. Her eyes widened and she looked over at her rival. Totem Marowak lifted the bone club up and began to twirl it around in his hands. Fire sheathed the bone club, creating a massive flaming circle as Totem Marowak continued twirling it. He started dancing around in a circle, shaking his tail back and forth at Totem Salazzle.

    Tessa's brow furrowed. "Wait, what's he doing?"

    'Oh god, please don't let this be some sort of weird mating dance,' Shane thought, craning his upper body down and cupping his forepaws over his eyes.

    Totem Marowak spun around faster, increasing the speed that he twirled the bone club. The Eastern Tribe looked on, their jaws slackening in sequence. Finally, Totem Marowak shouted and brought his bone club down to his waist. At the same time, he pelvic thrusted, and a flurry of bright pink hearts flew out in front of him. Tessa and Espeon realized what was happening and looked away. They both pressed their faces against Silvally's hide, drawing a discomforted grunt.

    "What is the meaning of this nons–?" Totem Salazzle started, only for one of the hearts to smack her right in the face. Her jaw dropped. A bit of drool trickled out of it, landing on a poor Salandit standing right below her.

    "Hey!" the Salandit whined. "What's the big idea?"

    "T… Totem?" another Salandit said, looked up in concern. Both Totem Salazzle and her lankiest advisor slowly approached Totem Marowak. The choker-wearing Salazzle hung back, a hand covering up her eyes.

    "You," Totem Salazzle whispered, leaning in toward Marowak, "have gorgeous eyes."

    The Salandits tails all shot up in alarm and they started whispered among themselves nervously.

    "She… complimented another man?" "And the Western Tribe's Totem, to boot!" "What's wrong?" "I'll bet he did something to her!"

    Totem Salazzle pressed a hand to Totem Marowak's chest. "… and you are such a good dancer. Shaking that tail of yours around like it was nothing. You ought to teach me sometime."

    Now it was the Western Tribe's turn to have its members' jaws drop in unison. Even Team Radiance seemed stunned at the display. "Okay, I didn't think Attract was that strong," Espeon gasped.

    "Maybe there was something in the dance that Marowak did that bolstered its effectiveness," Silvally mused. "There's at least a small part of me that found that dance alluring." His tail slowly swayed back and forth in a gesture of agreement.

    "Shut up, shut up, shut up," Shane groaned, cupping his forepaws over his ears. "God, I'm really starting to think one of those Tapus drugged us while we were sleeping. This whole day has 'bad trip' written all over it."

    "I'm pretty sure all of our trips have been bad," Tessa muttered.

    Shane facepalmed. "Not the right kind of trip, Tessa."

    "Then what–?"

    "I'll tell you when you're older," Shane deadpanned, turning away from his partner and ignoring the flabbergasted look on her face.

    "As nice as that sounds, Salazzle, I think we'd best spend our time preparing to evacuate, don't you?" Totem Marowak said, fluttering his eyelids at Totem Salazzle and her assistant. They both nodded vigorously.

    "Oh yes! Yes! Absolutely!" Totem Salazzle said. "How can we have some quality time if lava burns us to ashes? We need to get back down to the Volcanic Wastes right away!"

    Totem Marowak nodded. "That's a fine idea." He turned to Spike-Skull. "You stay with the outsiders and help them. If they run into Leafy-Bones again, they may require some extra muscle."

    "I'll help too!" Choker Salazzle offered, waving a hand.

    "Of course, of course," Totem Salazzle said. "You kids go have fun."

    Sweat drops trickled down the back of Shane's head. 'She's totally lost it,' he thought, as Team Radiance's newly-assigned helpers walked up beside them.

    "Outsiders," Totem Marowak said, "we leave this to you. Please stop your friend from driving Volcanion to anger. Our home cannot take another eruption."

    Ruuuuuuuuuuuuumble!

    Silvally stuck a foreleg out to stop Tessa from falling flat on her face. "And it doesn't look like we have a lot of time to spare," he said. "This volcano's stirring again."

    "Great. A treasure hunt inside an active volcano," Shane groaned. "I'll bet the other human heroes didn't have to deal with nonsense like this."

    "Come on," Choker Salazzle said, beckoning Team Radiance forward, "I know a shortcut through the caves. The group exchanged skeptical looks, but then they noticed Spike-Skull walk up to the Salazzle and place an arm around her shoulder.

    "I'll watch your six," he said. "Lead the way."

    A smirk crossed Choker Salazzle's face. "That better be all you're watching, big guy. I've gotten Dragon Pulse down since our last spar, you know." They both chuckled as they started walking forward.

    Shane's brow furrowed. "Wait a sec… aren't these two supposed to hate each other? Don't tell me they're actually…"

    "Seeing each other? We are," Choker Salazzle said, cutting Shane off. "And we're doing it behind my mother's back."

    "You're Totem Salazzle's daughter?" Tessa gasped. "But that's…" She grabbed her aura feelers.

    "Guilty as charged. I'm her daughter… and her eventual replacement. But right now, I'm merely the village's healer," she replied. "Mother and I… we don't entirely see eye to eye on stuff."

    "And you couldn't put in a single word to stop her from tying us up?" Shane fumed.

    Spike-Skull turned around and glared at Shane. "You make it sound so easy, Whiny-Bones. Tell me, have you stood up to a Totem Pokémon before? With the Z-Power they wield, they are nigh unbeatable in battle!"

    'If that's the case, then how did we beat a Totem Lurantis, huh?' Shane thought, ultimately holding his tongue.

    "I can't just defy Mother like that. I'm not looking to get exiled," Healer squeaked, quickening her pace. "I'm sorry about all the trouble. Really. But I'm afraid it's a delicate situation."

    "Well, we've got some time to kill while we're walking," Silvally said. "Maybe you could fill us in? All we want to do is help."

    "I don't know. It's not really my place to tell outsiders about our tribes," Healer said.

    Spike-Skull stroked his chin in thought. "Mmm… but perhaps this is the out that we've been looking for? A way to finally get rid of the wedge stuck between our tribes." He put a hand on her shoulder. "We can do this together."

    "Okay." Healer took a deep breath. "The thing is… our two tribes… used to be one and the same." She paused, expecting Team Radiance to react. "You're not surprised?"

    "Uh, well, let's just say I had a really strong feeling about it," Silvally said, laughing nervously.

    "I may have gleamed that from a cursory glance at your life energy," Espeon admitted, her speech slightly slurred.

    "Your auras seemed to suggest something like that," Tessa said, rubbing her shoulder.

    All eyes fell on Shane. "What, me? Please, I've watched enough TV to see that 'we used to be all together' plot twist coming from a mile away." Shane got a bunch of bewildered looks. "Err… maybe you oughta just continue talking."

    Healer nodded. "Basically, the Volcanic Wastes used to be one continuous strip of land lying at the base of Mount Supernova. Our two tribes were one. In ancient times, we had united under the leadership of two Totems who had emerged from a brilliant flash of light to save our land from a rush of lava."

    Healer Salazzle placed her hand on a part of the rock wall and peered ahead. She beckoned Spike-Skull and Team Radiance forward. They continued along the path. It spiraled upward, with interior wall getting more cracks in it the higher they went. They glanced bubbling pools of magma on the other side.

    "Things were great for all of us… until the natural disasters started plaguing the world," Spike-Skull continued.

    "I thought Horizon was mostly safe from that stuff," Silvally exclaimed.

    "We were. The Tapus did a fine job protecting us," Healer said. "But an earthquake struck the Wastes. And, in the process, multiple volcanoes erupted, including Mount Supernova." She shuddered. "There was nothing we could do to stop the lava. It split the Wastes in half. And, in that desperate scramble, our tribe was split in half. The Salazzles and Salandits were left in the east, where fireballs rained down from the sky and replaced the fertile berry-growing grounds with rock."

    Spike-Skull sighed. "My father told me that they tried to get across and help, but the lava rivers proved too harsh. And Mount Supernova wasn't safe to traverse. So, they focused on building a new village. Eventually, they got used to not having any Salazzles or Salandits around. When we finally could cross over, we realized that we didn't have enough land to accommodate the Salazzles and Salandits. So, our Totem at the time struck an agreement."

    "An agreement which Mother grew more and more upset with when the years went on," Healer continued. She paused and held her arms out. Healer pointed ahead, where Team Radiance spotted a couple of Emeravagers floating around in the tunnel. Silvally stepped forward and shot a water globs at them, blowing them apart. He waved the group onward. They continued on the path as it went sharply uphill. The gaps in the interior wall grew larger, exposing more of the bubbling magma down below.

    "The magma level's rising!" Shane gasped. "It's not that far away from us. I don't think we have that much time." He quickened his pace, looking nervously over his shoulder.

    "It should be alright," Healer insisted. "Even with the mountain unstable, it would take a solid half hour for the magma to rise from that point to where we are. And we still have a bit more of a climb."

    Espeon sighed in relief. "So, how did your tribes end up switching places, then?" she asked.

    Healer and Spike-Skull exchanged frowns. "Dark Matter," they replied in unison.

    Espeon's look of relief vanished. Her tail shot between her legs. "What about it?" she squeaked.

    "When word of Dark Matter's threat reached Horizon, panic gripped my tribe," Spike-Skull said. "Everyone was fearful. When the guild showed up to evacuate us, nobody even gave it a second thought."

    "Mother didn't see things that way," Healer sighed. "She believed that this was a sign from Volcanion that the fertile land in the west was rightfully ours. Instead of fleeing underground, she ordered us all to march into the Western Tribe's village and occupy it for ourselves." She fidgeted with her choker. "When the Western Tribe came out of hiding, we sprang an attack on them."

    Spike-Skull's shoulders sagged. "There was nothing we could do. We gave up and fled to the unoccupied land in the east. After that, our Totem tried to negotiate with Totem Salazzle. She would dismiss him every time."

    "And Mother was not as eager to supply the Pokémon she viewed as enemies with any berries that we grew," Healer added. "Needless to say, tensions rose very quickly."

    "Soon, our Totem was making attempts to take the land back by force. But we couldn't deal with their toxic attacks, so eventually we gave up," Spike-Skull exclaimed. He shot a nervous look over at Healer. "Err… no offense."

    "None taken," the Salazzle assured him. "I'm aware of my species… reputation." She placed a hand on her hip. "The gods gave me these powerful pheromones. And I'd rather use them for love… not war."

    Shane made an audible gagging noise. Tessa elbowed him in the ribs with a disapproving look. "Hey, don't elbow me. We both know what she said was so stupidly mushy it borders on cliché. And… it's probably double entendre, too." He shuddered.

    "You know, you could stand to learn something from her about how to make connections with those around you, Vulpix," Espeon said icily. "If you were a Salazzle, I bet you'd be using those pheromones nonstop."

    Shane's ears drooped. "I thought we'd moved past our little misunderstanding."

    Espeon again stumbled to her right, earning an annoyed look from Silvally. She composed herself and pointed her snout skyward. "If that was really the case, then why do you keep slowing down when you catch up to me?" she asked.

    Shane's tails shot into the air and he shrank backwards. He saddled up to Silvally, trying to position himself in a way so that he couldn't see Espeon's and Tessa's disappointed looks. Silvally smirked. "Forgive me for being blunt, but I don't think it's a good idea to dodge Espeon by ducking behind my rear. You're kind of just proving her point." He turned and gave him a wink, adding, "Not that I don't appreciate the flattery or anything. If you really want to see the exciting stuff, you'll have to wait until we can find some privacy."

    Shane came to an abrupt stop and looked away, face cherry red and left eye twitching. 'Okay, it's official. This is the most humiliating day of my life.' He gritted his teeth and looked ahead toward his Marowak and Salazzle guides. "Hey, how much further do we have to go, anyway?"

    Spike-Skull suddenly disappeared behind a rock wall, leaving Shane to tilt his head curiously. He poked his head out about a minute later, beckoning the group forward. "I see the path leading up to the volcano's mouth. It's right through this tunnel."

    Team Radiance followed their guides through a hot, rocky cavern much like the one that had brought them inside the mountain. Fewer cracks ran through the foundations and those that did only vented off jets of heat and the occasional ember. Shane still went through it as quickly as he could, looking increasingly uncomfortable with each jet of heat he ran across.

    The group emerged onto a thin stretch of trail. Tessa gulped at the sight of the long, steep drop in front of her. The volcano's base was no longer visible, lost amid a sea of thick black smoke and flames. Lava falls inched down the mountainside, giving off occasional fireballs that added to the smoke. Above them, the swirling storm clouds had gotten much closer. Every crackle of lightning now produced an audible, ominous rumbling that sent a chill down Tessa's spine.

    "Quickly. Follow me," Spike-Skull said, beckoning the group forward. He guided them along the path as it sloped upward. After a minute of hiking, it flattened out, and Team Radiance found themselves confronted by an intense wall of heat. Their eyes collectively widened as they took in the sight in front of them. The ground sloped downward, giving way to a gigantic hole that led down to the magma they saw bubbling up earlier.

    "Beautiful sight, isn't it? It's quite the view to take in when you're all at the end of your ropes!"

    "Crap! Serperior beat us up here," Shane groaned.

    "Ahhhh!" Healer shrieked. "Marowak, look over there!" She tugged on his shoulder and pointed to her right. Team Radiance all looked over their shoulders and immediately tensed up.

    "Under Serperior," Shane gasped, "is that…?"

    Spike-Skull nodded. "It is. That fiend got Volcanion."

    XxX
    Next time: a showdown with Ultra Serperior leads to a shocking conclusion that will change a certain someone's life forever! You don't want to miss this one, trust me. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2018
  20. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I'm not five chapters late or anything Time Gears, huh. Well, going after those never went badly for anyone. I don't know what 'Jamba Heart' is in reference to (it sounds like a flavour of soda); I feel like Zero's anger is getting in the way of her long-term planning here, since she murders Xatu for short-term gain instead of keeping him around to benefit from his knowledge. Not that this is anything new. The more we see of her, the less she seems to be in control of her plan, such as it is; it feels like a great big idea barrelling along like a runaway train, dragging her along with it. Which appears to be borne out by how consistently she underestimates Nicky. Just like … talking about offing him when she really should know he's probably hanging around listening in.

    Also, man, it's weird how interlinked all these people's lives were before they got sucked into the pokémon world. I wonder if there's something about this area that makes dying and waking up as a pokémon more likely? Maybe all the formerly human protagonists of the PMD games came from here.

    The point about the two metang combining is a little confusing, I think – I'm not sure I quite get why this happened, even if you explain how. Throughout this segment, people call the guild Metang the “good” one, but he tried to forcibly combine with a wild metang, which doesn't strike me as something a good person would do – or a sensible one, given that he must have known the risks that Latias outlines about being stuck in a mental war for the rest of his life. Am I missing something here? Because everyone talks about it in the story with such fluidity and confidence that I feel like the deficit is with my understandingness, rather than the story's understandableness.

    Moving on from blatantly made-up words, Gallian! I'm guessing that was the character you were talking about having an obvious pun on his name that you were surprised nobody had made, right? I think the reason I couldn't figure that out is because I've been pronouncing that like “galleon”, so the pun really didn't suggest itself at all. Okay. Mystery solved. Neato.

    The Salazzle/Marowak sequence is … okay, I guess. It feels a bit obvious, in some ways? Like, I seem to have seen this scene a thousand times before, where the heroes are captured by people who insist they're the ones to blame for everything going wrong, because apparently these people live under a rock and haven't noticed the massive, world-shifting events going on right under their noses. You did such a good job of showing how the effects of what's happening have rippled right the way across the world in previous chapters that these weird, insular societies of sexy volcano lizards (terrible amazing band name: Sexy Volcano Lizards) and dancing bone enthusiasts (less striking, but still acceptable as a band name) falls a bit flat by comparison. Perhaps that's just me. I don't think I'm the intended audience for this sort of thing, particularly all the supposed comedy around attraction and manipulation and petty tribal rivalries that turn out to be historically baseless because the two groups used to be one. I find that stuff tiresome at the best of times, so I feel like I was never going to enjoy it here, no matter how well it was executed.

    The bonus is kinda mostly there to give us some lore, I suppose; a lot of it is just Incineroar explaining things to Gallian. Which is fine, honestly – that's really one of the purposes of a bonus, right, to shove in a few other bits and pieces that you can't really justify spending time on in the main story. Can't take anyone to task for infodumping when it doesn't even happen in the story itself!

    Ooh, lightning spear. I'm a big fan of lightning spears; I think we should have them in more media. The Souls buff in me is also tickled by the idea of a dragon of all things wielding lightning spears, but that's not really relevant.

    Missing some manner of punctuation mark after “times” here.

    That apostrophe shouldn't be there.

    This sentence is missing a full stop.

    Missing a space between “bully” and “Tessa”.

    Look at this abomination of a contraction! I love it.

    Wow. Yeah, you know, my sympathy for Braviary is rapidly disappearing – if my friend suddenly started acquired a baffling verbal tic (and granted, this is a world in which almost everyone has a weird verbal tic, but they're usually consistent about it), I think I'd suspect something was up. I mean, Braviary's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I didn't have him down as that unobservant. He can't have not noticed – and that means he deliberately didn't react to it, which makes him not only criminally irresponsible but also a bad friend.

    There is something very Bulu about deciding to yell at someone from the other side of the room instead of getting up to join in the conversation like a normal person.

    I dunno, Shane, sometimes it's three or five, too. I'm actually not sure I've ever seen seven. Frankly, that seems excessive.

    I mean, that's kind of every family, but okay, Espeon, maybe you just got lucky.

    This is a mite hard to visualise – what do you mean by 'sonar-like'? I mean, sonar is invisible, being sound.

    The apostrophe here should be before the S, not after.

    This from someone who has got into multiple fights that took place pretty much entirely due to errors of judgement. Gotta love that total lack of self-awareness.

    Bedsheets? I'm not sure why there are bedsheets here. It doesn't look like a typo, but it doesn't make any sense to me, either.

    Aw, she's trying to join in. That's adorable. (That, uh, sounded less condescending in my head.)

    Seems weird and sort of ridiculous to wait literally years to tell Tessa about meeting Team Poképals. I'd feel odd about it, if I were Tessa, and I'm not sure it makes too much sense for the kind of dad Incineroar is, either – I get the impression he likes his kids more than he likes the idea of arranging lives, and this particular thing feels like it comes from someone who has those things the other way around. Might be more natural for him to have told his kids about meeting their heroes, but keep the Cresselia figurine back to give as a gift later on.

    This might be one of those cases where a regularised form of an irregular verb is more acceptable in one region than another, but I've never seen “kneeled” before – I would have thought it'd be “knelt”.

    How. How on earth could she have told this. Seriously, who exactly can look at a being so foreign it's difficult to even tell what taxonomic order they belong to and immediately divine something like that?

    *rimshot*

    She's accusing multiple people, but it should still be “fault” rather than “faults” – “fault” in the sense of “blame” is an uncountable noun.

    That should be “complimented” rather than “complemented”.

    And with that, I am finally all caught up! Whew. I should really stop letting myself get so far behind; this review took ages. Anyway, I'm intrigued to see what's going on with Volcanion; I am only really tangentially aware that that's a species that even exists, since as far as I know it's like never once been referenced in a single game. Which is weird, even for an event-exclusive. I guess meloetta is similar? But like, people do say the odd thing about it here and there, mostly to let you know that they're capable of changing its form for you. Volcanion, on the other hand, I don't even have a clear mental image of. I had to Google it to make sure it was the thing with the hoop on its back, and when I saw the picture I realised that that was literally the only thing about it that I recognised. I even thought it was a different colour. Guess the next chapter is going to be an education for me, huh.
     

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