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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light [COMPLETE]

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

  1. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    I mean... it took a little while in Explorers, but ultimately collecting them allowed for a good thing to happen. So, you can make the argument it really has never god badly. :p

    It's a bit of foreshadowing, but also an Easter egg. Here's a visual, if you want:
    [​IMG]

    It is supposed to be like a runaway train, so mission accomplished! :V

    For what it's worth, in the Alola games, some Ultra Wormholes have a tendency to consistently pop up in one general area. ;)

    That's a fair complaint. I went back to make some changes about the 'why' and tried to change the naming from 'good Metang' to 'guild Metang.'

    How you pronounce it is open to interpretation. It was more of a commentary on the fact that teens are nasty little urchins. I was expecting someone who commented on some sight to bring up the "Gaylian" thing, but it didn't happen, surprisingly. Which is fine by me.

    In all honesty, I was kind of drawing a bit from Futurama in that regard. But I know you like things a lot more nuanced, so I'm not surprised you didn't like this. :(

    I did go back to explain that the Volcanic Wastes are a geographically insulated area, so its inhabitants are relatively cut-off from the world compared to Horizon's other communities. If that's any consolation. it probably isn't... *sigh*

    I'll take it! Especially since I'm a filthy casual who could never get through a Souls game.

    And it loves you, too. <3

    Which is exactly why Tapu Fini chewed him out for his behavior. She knows.

    "Bulu not see what wrong with picture."

    I take it that means you've never played a Mario RPG then, because it's almost always seven MacGuffins.

    Fair enough. XD

    I didn't find in that condescending, for what it's worth.

    That's true. Fixed!

    Nobody. She did, however, hear Silvally speak. His voice isn't a guttural baritone like it was with the mask on, but he still sounds distinctly male.

    Hate to burst your bubble, but Serperior did kinda kill Volcanion, so we won't be seeing or learning much of him. In a sense, this fic got a bit meta with how irrelevant Volcanion is as a Pokémon. Anyway, thanks again for reviewing! ^^
     
  2. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Name's Adam.

    Chapter 10 Review

    Well, this chapter revealed to us the team Braviary and Metagross used to be part of: Team Men in Black. Pretty cool name for a team too might I add.

    I liked the fact that Torracat tried to reason with Prisma to stop listening to her abusive captain, even if that made him sound a lot like a shonen protagonist lol, but then again, this fic is about as anime as it gets.

    I also felt for Rufflet for being arguably the weakest of the group, though that's a trend with a lot of two stage flying types. Perhaps he evolved in this special episode? Either way, I can't wait to read the rest of it.
     
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    I have no shame in using that reference in their name. I mean, there are canon teams that just use initials like Team AWD.

    You haven't gotten nearly far enough for the serious anime stuff to kick in. Just sayin' :V

    His evolution will come up, but not within the episode proper. He still manages, though. Thanks for reviewing. ^^

    This update's an important one. Trust me. We've got a big battle and you'll want this song in the background. Alternatively, for something faster-paced try this. Enjoy the chapter!

    XxX​

    Chapter 54: An Explosive Awakening
    Team Radiance stood side by side, tensed and ready to pounce at a moment's notice. Healer and Spike-Skull both wavered, stepping cautiously back toward the path and holding each other's hands. "Why does the Volcano God lack color?" Spike-Skull asked, voice ripe with worry.

    "Because I relieved him of his life," Serperior declared, patting the dead Legendary's back with her bladed tail. "He had something I was looking for, see?" She hoisted her tail into the air, revealing a large crystal fragment that shimmered with gold and silver energy.

    "The Sizzle Shard!" Shane gasped. "You drop that right now!" He immediately shot a sparkling, multicolored beam ahead of him. But his eyes widened as he noticed the attack weakening before it even reached Serperior. She opened her mouth and, to Team Radiance's abject horror, spewed a torrent of fire. It easily suffocated Shane's ice and sent Team Radiance scurrying back to avoid the flames.

    "Simmer down there, hot stuff. Seems to me like you're losing your cool. Wouldn't be the first time, I suppose. You've been nothing but an obnoxious little prick since day one, after all," Serperior sneered. "I'll be honest… from the day I met you, I've wanted to wrap you up and squeeze you until your head pops off your shoulders."

    Shane shuffled backwards, ears folding against his face. 'She doesn't really think that. It's the Prism Virus talking,' he told himself.

    "And that's not the Prism Virus talking," Serperior said, chuckling. A dumbfounded expression overtook Shane's face. His teammates assumed fighting stances as a cloud of black mist surrounded Serperior. "Sneaking around the veterans' quarters? Going to spy on someone in the shower? You're a creep! And I ought to skin you alive!" She flicked her slender tongue at Shane. "But I'm not about to waste my time with you losers. I've got what I need. So, I'm going to be on my w–"

    The mist formed into the shape of a familiar Absol. His glowing-green scythe pierced Serperior's back, causing her to scream in pain and drop the Sizzle Shard. "Gallian?" Tessa gasped, jaw dropping. "What the–? How the–? When did you even get here?" Gallian scooped up the Sizzle Shard and leaped away from Serperior, dodging a retaliatory swipe from her tail. "Wait! What are you doing? We need the Sizzle Shard!"

    "No… you don't," Gallian growled, eyes flickering purple. "Your dopey team getting a hold of these would spell disaster for us all! So, buzz off!" He looked over his shoulder and barked, "Do it, Sticky!"

    Sticky's head popped up from behind a rocky slab. A small rainbow tile fell to the ground and shattered. Gallian turned to give his sister one last derisive snort before he and the Sizzle Shard disappeared in a bright flash of light. "No!" Serperior roared. "You can't be serious here! I did all the hard work. That Dawn Hourglass fragment is mine!" Flames wreathed the end of her tail and she lashed it against the ground, leaving scorch marks. "You explorer-types are nothing but a bunch of lowlife, glory-hogging, ingrates! Nighty was right… you all need to be put in your place!"

    "What are you talking about, Serperior? You're supposed to be one of us!" Tessa said, a hurt look in her eyes. "How can you say something like that? What would Primarina say if he saw you acting like this?"

    "Aha ha ha ha! You seriously think I care about him anymore?" Serperior gave a dismissive shake of her head. "He's washed up, just like this stale, pathetic world. Once we perfect this place, Team Captivate won't be measly explorers. We'll be the vaunted defense force of a Legendary-free world! The dazzling queens of a beautiful new reality." She narrowed her eyes at Team Radiance. "And I'm not about to have a sniveling little Riolu and her sorry excuses for friends stand in my way."

    "Hey! That was totally uncalled for," Tessa growled. Blue flames of aura flickered across her paws.

    "Oooh, yes. That's good. Get all fired up. It'll make this all the more exciting!" Serperior taunted. She lashed the ground with her tail again.

    Before Tessa could respond, however, Shane dashed forward. The gemstone in his Naturia Looplet glowed brightly, surrounding him in orange light. "Not if I have anything to say about it! You don't insult Tessa like that and get away with it!" He hopped into the air. A giant glacier rushed up from the ground to meet him, shooing away volcanic smoke and embers in the process. Shane stood atop the glacier and glared down at Serperior, who twisted her facial features into a sinister smirk.

    "Eat this!" Shane hollered, ice swirling around his body. It coalesced into a huge beam that streamed down toward Serperior. She coiled her body up and launched herself back across the face of the volcano. Serperior landed safely on a sloped patch of rock, watching as Shane tried to steer the subzero vortex toward her.

    Tessa's aura feelers jolted upright. "It didn't work!" she gasped as Shane's attack died out before it could reach Serperior.

    "Aha ha ha ha! What? Nobody said I had to just stand there and take a Z-Move to the face," Serperior said, laughing gleefully. "Why… you'd have to be a complete and total moron to do something that stupid!" She turned her gaze onto Espeon, who wilted at the gesture. "I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this. Say hi to Incineroar for me, Tessa!"

    Flames shrouded Serperior's tail and she swiped the air in front of her. A crescent of fireballs launched toward Team Radiance. Espeon's eyes widened and she shot a psychic beam from her forehead gem. It snuffed out two of the fireballs. Silvally blasted apart four more with a pillar of water. But Shane's pink wave missed their mark. He turned to his right and dove on top of Tessa. They fell onto their bellies, watching the fireballs soar over their heads.

    "Ouch! Watch it!" Tessa growled, shoving Shane away from her. She rolled back to her feet and looked over to where Serperior had been standing. Her eyes widened. "Wait, she's gone!"

    "Auuuugh!"

    "Salazzle!"

    Alarm overtook Team Radiance's faces. They spun around just in time to see Healer crumple to the ground, with Spike-Skull looking on in horror. A sizeable welt sat on her head, with a small amount of blood trickling down her face. Serperior stood on top of her. Volcanic rock had encrusted her tail blade, transforming it into a molten sledgehammer.

    "You fiend!" Spike-Skull roared, brandishing his bone club. Purple shadows encircled it and he threw it at Serperior. She turned around, swinging her tail in the process. It came into contact with the bone club and shattered it into hundreds of white, splintery fragments. Spike-Skull's eyes widened and the fight drained right out of him as the club's remains rolled back toward him.

    "Dude, look out!" Shane shouted, breaking into a run. He shot a frigid aurora ahead of him, but it completely evaporated in the sweltering heat. Serperior bore down on Spike-Skull and brought her tail-hammer crashing down onto his skull. A large crack splintered down it and cinders raced down the sides. Spike-Skull dropped to his knees and flopped onto his stomach, unconscious.

    "Cut it out, Serperior!" Tessa barked, running up toward her. Silvally dashed ahead, golden light erupting around his torso. Serperior hopped backward and slammed her tail into the ground. A large crack wove its way toward Tessa and Silvally, with orange light spilling out of it. Silvally's eyes widened and he quickly dove to his left, knocking Tessa out of the way. Orange rocks jutted out of the fissure, radiating with fiery energy. Silvally's gathered energy raced down his forelegs, covering them in water. He lashed out at the rocks, shattering them and flinging fiery shards in Serperior's direction. She uncoiled herself and slithered forward, deftly dodging the rocks.

    However, this limited her maneuverability, leaving her vulnerable to a Shadow Ball that raced in from her right. Serperior hissed her displeasure but kept up her charge. She coiled back up and opened her mouth, unleashing a stream of fire. Silvally stomped the ground, sending up a plume of water that negated the Flamethrower. Tessa raced out from the hot steam and socked Serperior in the jaw with a glowing fist. Serperior recoiled from the blow, but her tail curled up behind Tessa as she landed. Serperior's tail wrapped Tessa up.

    "Nowhere to run," Serperior taunted. The flames on her helmet grew larger and the blue markings all over her body glowed like neon signs. Serperior's tail heated up, torching Tessa. She screamed in pain, prompting Serperior to squeeze her tighter.

    "Let her go!" Silvally snarled. His cheek bolts whirred in their sockets and green energy made of tiny glowing bugs bathed his forelegs. He reared up and slashed Serperior's side. The bug energy hurt Serperior enough to get her to slacken her grip. Shane popped up to Serperior's left and screeched at her. Tessa fell to the ground as Serperior skidded back along the volcano's rim. She dug her tail blade into the ground and anchored herself into place. Serperior pointed her head forward and a torrent of flaming leaves raced toward Team Radiance.

    "A flaming Leaf Storm? Are you seriously kidding me right now?" Shane whimpered, trying to run outside of the attack's range. He wasn't fast enough to escape. Burning leaves peppered his hide. Shane yipped in pain and fell onto his side, trying to put out the smoldering leaves. Across from him, Silvally had curled up around Tessa, hissing painfully as flaming leaves sliced through his fur. Espeon was the only member of Team Radiance to escape the attack. She fired a retaliatory pink beam toward Serperior. But Serperior pivoted and unleashed another Flamethrower, swallowing up the beam and sending Espeon jumping down from her perch.

    "You suckers are making this all too easy!" Serperior gloated. "I don't know how you managed to accomplish much of anything. Especially if this is the best you can do when you actually like each other!"

    Silvally got back to his feet and opened his mouth. A multicolored waveform beam raced toward a bewildered Serperior. She dug her tail deeper into the ground and a glowing shard of rock shot up and deflected the attack. Serperior withdrew her tail, allowing molten rock to swirl around it and form up another giant hammer. She smashed the rock, sending flaming chunks toward Team Radiance. Shane's eyes flashed pink and rippling psychic waves smashed several of the rocks apart. Silvally and Tessa charged forward in unison, ducking underneath the rocks.

    Serperior's brow furrowed. She turned toward Silvally, figuring him to be more threatening, and swung her tail hammer around. But Silvally screeched to a halt, ceasing the flow of bug energy to his legs and instead shooting air crescents directly into Serperior's face. She swayed back and forth uneasily, groaning in pain. Tessa successfully approached her and hammered her back with her bright-red fists. Serperior flopped onto the ground, tongue falling out of her mouth in the process.

    A sudden burst of orange light spilled out from behind Silvally and Tessa. They looked over their shoulders and both blanched. Gigantic, ectoplasmic arms shot up out of the ground. They quickly ran away from Serperior, who had managed to blink the stars out of her vision just in time to see the ghostly limbs crashing down toward her.

    "Noooooo!"she roared, before the shadowy arms piled on top of her and erupted in a burst of ghostly energy.

    "Wh… what the heck was that?" Tessa gasped.

    "Unnngh… s-so that's what using a Z-Move's like…"

    Tessa looked over her shoulder to see Espeon stagger out from behind a torn-up portion of the ground. Light faded from her Naturia Looplet, leaving the central gemstone colorless. "Nice work, Espeon!" Silvally chirped. "That was some quick thinking."

    "Th… thanks…" she panted. "I figured… if she could dodge the Z-Move… I just needed… to wait… until her guard was down."

    Shane's muzzle stiffened. 'I guess I'd be wise to keep that in mind going forward,' he thought. He walked toward Espeon. "Are you doing alright? You seem pretty out of it."

    "I'm jussssht a bit dazed," Espeon slurred, blinking her eyes rapidly.

    "Nnngggrrrgggggghhhaaaaaaa!"

    The ground began shaking. Team Radiance all backpedaled in surprise, watching in horror as a portion of the ground gave out before their eyes. A flaming Serperior shot out of the hole in the ground, eyes bright red in rage. She unleashed another bloodthirsty screech.

    "B… but that's impossible!" Espeon gasped. "The Z-Move is supposed to cure her of the Prism Virus. That's how it worked for me."

    The fire surrounding Serperior swarmed the end of her tail blade, turning it into a giant, flamng falchion. Serperior drove the blade into the ground. Silvally immediately ran forward, a golden wheel of light surrounding him. But he only made if half the distance toward Serperior when a massive flaming vine jutted out of the ground. It speared Silvally's underbelly. He screamed in pain as he careened across the volcano's rim, coming to a stop by the unconscious forms of Healer and Spike-Skull.

    "I'm not rolling over for your pathetic little Z-Moves!"Serperior snarled. Flames danced around her body and shot down into the hole made by her tail blade.

    "Everyone… run!" Shane screamed and bolted from his location. Tessa and Espeon both shot off in opposite directions. Espeon looked back in horror as another flame-coated vine shot out of the ground where she had previously stood. Her fear intensified as a second vine shot up even closer to her. She turned back around, only to feel the ground give way beneath her paws. Flames spread across her lower torso, followed closely by one of Serperior's vines jutting out of the ground. It speared Espeon's groin, triggering a shrill wail of pain. Espeon sailed through the air and crashed into the ground, writhing in agony.

    Similar pained cries echoed across the rim, as Serperior struck Tessa and Shane with another set of vines. Shane's legs trembled and he collapsed onto the ground, eyes widened in shock. Tessa fell to one knee, clutching the burnt fur on her chest in pain. "S… Serperior. Please… stop this! You've got to fight it!"

    "I don't want to resist this!"Serperior crooned. "You're all a bunch of fools. Fighting a battle for a group of 'mons who don't give a lick about any of you!" She yanked her tail blade out of the ground and dusted debris off her body. "You should just give up. Mistress Zero has no desire to hurt normal Pokémon. If you'd just stand aside and let her do her job, we'd finally know what real peace and happiness are like. You could make friendships that actually matter. Not flimsy little ones where you wander around dungeons and cry into each other's arms every night!"

    "That's a load of crock and you know it!" Silvally snarled, dashing forward in leaps and bounds. Tessa looked at the burnt patches of fur on his underbelly and winced. But she saw Silvally's eyes glowing and his cheek bolts sparking in their sockets. He uttered a battle cry and thrust his head forward. A flurry of wind blades darted toward Serperior.

    Her eyes flashed red and she swung her tail blade around. A trail of fireballs arced ahead of her, burning through Silvally's attack. This only intensified his anger. Silvally roared and fired a waveform beam at Serperior. She retaliated with a Flamethrower. The two Pokémon engaged in a beam struggle, only for it to break off as a wayward pink laser struck Serperior's backside. She screeched her displeasure, but the sounds were hastily drowned out when Silvally's beam struck her lower jaw.

    Shane staggered forward, clumsily firing a psychic blast that served to upend Serperior. He cast a glance at Tessa. "What are you waiting for? You've got the only working Naturia Looplet. Use your Z-Move!"

    "W… what? Right now?" Tessa squeaked. She looked at her right arm and stared into the glowing gem on her looplet. "But… but I thought it's not working."

    "I guess we need to use a Z-Move to make her faint. That's how we freed Espeon and Umbreon," Shane said. He looked over and saw Serperior meeting Silvally's water-coated talons with her tail blade. The two clashed their appendages together and bounced back, staring at each other with vicious hatred spread across their faces. "Come on! Don't just stand there… hurry up!"

    "I'm trying! I'm trying!" Tessa insisted. "C'mon… work you stupid thing." She bonked the looplet with her left paw, but it didn't respond. "How did you get yours to work, huh?"

    Shane gave her an incredulous look. "Are you serious here? I don't know! You just… uh… gotta think about it or something." He looked back as Silvally's pained roar echoed across the mountaintop. Shane flinched at the sight of black blood staining his friend's chest plume. Serperior glanced at the blood on her tail blade and smiled.

    "Some God Killer you turned out to be," she taunted.

    "Shut up! I can't believe you'd do this to us! You make me sick!" Silvally shouted.

    "The feeling's mutual, freak!" Serperior spat. "You guys are a bunch of blind, sorry nobodies! Honestly, you four probably have the single worst track record I've ever seen for an exploration t– AUUUGH!"

    Air blades battered Serperior, slicing through her leafy scales and coating her body in nicks. "Oh, I'm sorry, did I interrupt you?" Silvally said mockingly. "It's just… I was worried if I didn't do something, all this heat would make that swelled head of yours pop."

    A vein bulged out of Serperior's forehead. "Well, aren't you a little jokester? Let's see you say something funny when I rip your tongue out of your mouth!" She slammed the ground with her tail and spires of glowing rock shot up. Shane and Espeon darted forward, each firing off explosive pink blasts. Horror took over Serperior's face as she watched Silvally leap through the dusty remnants of her failed attack. The golden wheel around his body burst into microcurrents of air that swished around his forelegs. He raked Serperior's face with his claws, sending her to the ground, squirming about in pain.

    Shane stepped to the side. "Now, Tessa!"

    Tessa's aura feelers jolted stiff in surprise. "I… I… I…" she stammered, looking down at her looplet. The gem briefly sparked, only to return to its normal, soft glow. "I can't do it!"

    Shane stamped a forepaw on the ground. "Yes, you can. Don't think of this as your old friend. Think of it as Necrozma! Think of it as the guy keeping your mom prisoner!"

    Tessa looked up at Serperior, trying to channel the mental image that Shane spoke of. But to her horror, Serperior got back up, forcing Tessa's teammates to flee and dodge an explosive burst of fire that erupted around Serperior.

    "Aha ha ha! Please… you're relying on Tessa to finish the job? How stupid can you possibly be, huh? Look at her! She's the walking definition of weak. A spineless little runt who wants everyone to feel sorry for how sad her pathetic little life is. She's a disgrace to her mom– no, her whole species!" Serperior locked eyes with Tessa, flames gathering in her mouth. Tessa squeaked and slammed her eyes shut, thinking back to similar sentiments that Shane had voiced about her during the Mellath Bog mission.

    "Th… that's…" Tessa whimpered, paws quivering.

    An enraged roar from Silvally cut her off. He charged Serperior, a killer look in his eyes, but she whirled around and fired the Flamethrower intended for Tessa at him instead. Silvally skidded to a halt and his blue eyes flashed. A water geyser erupted underneath him, carrying him over the Flamethrower to Serperior's shock. Espeon sniped her from behind with another psychic beam, leaving her vulnerable as the water crashed into her from above, carrying Silvally with it.

    Black shadows coated Silvally's beak and he bit down on Serperior's neck. He thrust his head into the air and started jerking it back and forth, whipping Serperior about as if she were a balled-up sock.

    "Silvally, stop! Stop!" Shane shouted, running over toward him. "We're not trying to kill her, remember? If we push her too hard, she'll have the life drained from her like the other infected Pokémon."

    Silvally froze. His pupils expanded out from their feral slits. He slackened his jaw and released Serperior onto the ground, blood trickling from his beak. She violently coughed up a mouthful of blood and tunneled underground, to Team Radiance's surprise. "Are you kidding me? All that and she's still not backing down?" Shane groaned. "C'mon, Tessa! We need you to pull through right now!" He shot a pleading look back at his teammate.

    "I can't do it!" Tessa blurted out, tears streaming down her eyes. "I don't know how! She's right… I just…" She lowered her head. "I'm too weak."

    "Ex… actly…"

    Tessa's aura feelers shivered. She looked up to see Serperior leaning against Volcanion, panting hard. The bite marks on her neck had closed up, leaving dry splotches of red on her scales. "Aha… ha… see? I knew it. You four… you're never gonna succeed. You don't… have the stomach for this. If you were really… committed to protecting… your precious gods… you'd have done me in." She looked down at Volcanion. "But you blew it. And if I can't have… the Dawn Shard…" Her expression darkened. "Then you and the rest of this valley can burn!"

    She spun around and clubbed Volcanion with her tail-blade. His corpse tumbled down the rim of Mount Supernova, falling into the bubbling magma. "No!" Shane shouted, eyes widening in horror. "What have you done?"

    Ruuuuuuuuuuuumble!

    Shane fell onto his stomach and bounced around on the ground. "W-W-What's g-g-g-going on-n-n-n?" he asked, the ground's vibrations making him stutter.

    "What's going on is that this volcano's about to blow sky high! I'm gonna flood the Wastes with lava. And all you worthless Legendary-worshippers will drown in it!" Serperior shouted. "Enjoy the spirit realm, assholes!" She produced an ominous black sphere with the winged heart insignia. Serperior slammed it onto the ground and a black Ultra Wormhole swallowed her up.

    Espeon sprinted toward Tessa, panic strewn across her face. "The volcano's gonna blow! Quick, we've got to use an Escape Orb and get out of here!" Before Tessa had the chance to respond to that, the item in question appeared in Espeon's mouth. She spat it onto the ground and destroyed it with a forepaw.

    As light started surrounding the six Pokémon to carry them off the mountain, Tessa's gaze fell to the ground. 'This is all my fault,' she thought. 'My teammates were counting on me… and I failed them big time!'

    XxX

    ~Volcanic Rim~

    "Dear gods! What happened to you all?"

    Torkoal ran at Team Radiance, looking aghast at the group's sorry state. "M… Marowak!" she cried. "Are you okay? Say something, man!"

    "What are you doing here?" Shane asked. "I thought the tribes were trying to evacuate." Behind him, Tessa tended to Silvally's wounds with mushed bits of oran berry. Espeon hovered over the unconscious forms of Spike-Skull and Healer, pushing Reviver Seeds into their mouths and an oran berry onto Healer's swollen head. They both sat up, clearly looking dazed.

    "The Totem ordered me to wait here in case you all returned. They're still gathering the necessary supplies to–"

    "What?! No way, forget it! This volcano's about to blow! You've all gotta get out of here right now!" Shane hollered.

    KA-BOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    The ground shook so violently that everyone except Silvally fell down. Torkoal looked up at the peak of the volcano and her legs flailed about in a panic. "Th… the volcano!" she shrieked. "Oh, gods… it's not just erupting. It's exploding!"

    Lava didn't merely spew out from Mount Supernova's mouth. Cracks and fissures appeared across the mountainside. Lava geysers burst forth from the inside, blowing apart chunks of rock and sending them hurtling down into the lava pools below. "Ahhh!" Shane's tails shot between his legs. "What are we gonna do? Where do we go? We've gotta get out of here!"

    "B… but the villages…" Torkoal muttered. "We're not ready to leave. The Totems are still helping our tribe."

    "Wait, does that mean Mother's with the Western Tribe?" Healer asked. Torkoal nodded and Healer's eyes widened. "We can't just leave everyone here. We have to do something!" She looked around at the group of assembled Pokémon. "Please… outsiders. I realize I have no place to ask you for assistance. But I must save my family!" She looked over at Spike-Skull. "I must protect our tribes."

    Silvally looked at the lava pouring out of the volcano. "I think I have an idea," he said, glancing at Shane's Naturia Looplet and noting the color had returned to its gemstone. "We transported to a new area. So, all your Z-Moves are back!"

    "How does that help with anything?" Shane said, hopping in place with a panicked expression on his face.

    "We can block the lava!" Silvally declared. "Shane and Tessa will go to the Eastern Tribe. Shane's giant iceberg thingy could cool down the lava and stop it from burning their village. Meanwhile, Espeon and I will go with you three to the Western Tribe. That attack Espeon used when we were fighting Serperior might be able to blast the lava away."

    "I'm not sure I really like this idea," Espeon whimpered.

    The ground started rumbling again. Everyone looked up and noticed the amount of lava making its way down the mountain growing steadily larger. "There's no time to debate this one! Everyone needs to get going now!" Silvally ordered. He shoved Shane and Tessa down the path leading to the Eastern Tribe's village. Both of them ran along the path, their eyes remaining fixed on the metaphorical rival of hot, molten death streaming down toward them.

    "Ohhh… this is terrible!" Tessa cried, throwing her paws up over her eyes and shaking her head. "Why did I have to just freeze up like that? We could've avoided this!"

    "Hey!"

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed in surprised. She poked her digits apart to see Shane looking back at her disapprovingly. "Don't say stuff like that! Serperior was lying through her teeth to throw you off!"

    "Well, then it worked! Which means it's true!" Tessa retorted. "I couldn't do a thing to help you guys in that battle. All because I can't attack if I'm not in close range. Serperior's right… I'm useless to the team like this!"

    The duo had reached the village. Shane ran up toward the edge of the plateau and looked down. Lava was quickly filling up the ravine that used to sit between the village and the mountain. He shot a glance back at Tessa. Her face was a mix of defeat and dread. "Tessa! Look at me!" he shouted, jolting her to attention.

    "H-huh? What is it?"

    "I don't care what Serperior or any Prism Virus Pokémon says! Silvally told me something yesterday. Even with all the ups and downs, we've made it this far together. And it's going to stay that way!" Shane declared.

    Orange light surrounded his body. The various Salandits and Salazzles scurrying away from the mountain in terror paused and looked back with widened eyes as a giant glacier hoisted Shane up off the ground. Frozen air spilled out in front of the giant slab of ice, flash-freezing the surface of the lava. The ice rapidly melted and the lava crusted over, abruptly coming to a stop.

    Shane launched his massive ice storm, sweeping it along the side of the mountain and freezing over the lava pouring down the mountainside. Like the lava filling up the ravine, the ice melted away, revealing massive baubles of igneous rock sprouting out from the mountain like pimples protruding from skin. Steam and smog rose into the air, swirling around each other to thicken the storm clouds lying over the mountain.

    Tessa's jaw slackened as the glacier melted away. The cold water rushed down into the ravine and snaked its way toward the mountain's entrance, crusting over the lava in the process. Shane staggered backwards but managed to remain standing.

    "S… see?" He shakily turned toward Tessa and gave her a smile. "As long as I've got you around… I'm not backing down. Not anymore. I'm… I'm gonna try to do a little better… every day."

    Blood rushed into Tessa's cheeks. She bit down on one of her digits and looked to her left, where the assembled lizards of the Eastern Tribe had burst into applause. Many of the Salandits were hugging each other, while some of the Salazzles scooped up their unevolved brethren and smothered them in big hugs.

    XxX

    ~Eastern Volcanic Wastes~

    "I cannot believe you manipulated me into this!" Totem Salazzle screamed, shoving Totem Marowak away from her. All around her, the members of the Western Tribe piled things into baskets and wooden boxes. They started running away from the mountain, with Spike-Skull directing them toward the hills overlooking the southern part of the village. "You've sentenced us to death!"

    "Mother, control yourself!" Healer shouted, pulling her off of Totem Marowak. "This isn't the time for exchanging petty insults. We have to help the outsiders stop the lava flow or we're all going to die!"

    "Stop it? Stop it?! Look at it!" Totem Salazzle pointed up toward the mountain. "That is not just an eruption. That is the very foundation of the mountain crumbling. Not even Volcanion could stand up to that. We would need Groudon to come to our rescue!"

    "That kind of talk will doom us to the spirit realm," Totem Marowak shouted, slamming his bone club down. "We don't have any other choice here. Our tribes need us. It's time we used these Totem Crystals for what they were intended for." He extended a hand toward her. "Now, are you with me or not?"

    Totem Salazzle looked over to see Silvally and Espeon standing on a ridge facing the mountain. Light from Espeon's Naturia Looplet spread across her body. Her eyes turned bright orange and she flicked her head and tail skyward. Gigantic ectoplasmic arms funneled out of the ground and launched toward the oncoming lava. They started to form up a large dome around the lava.

    Worry spread across Espeon's face. "I don't think this is going to be strong enough to work, Silvally!" she cried.

    Totem Salazzle took Totem Marowak's hand. Their Totem Crystals flared up with bright light in unison and they sprinted toward Espeon. Bright orange auras appeared around their bodies, matching the one Espeon struggled to maintain. They took their positions beside her. Totem Marowak raised his bone club skyward as shadow-fire engulfed it. "Hear me, spirits! I call upon you! Give me strength so we may defend our home!"

    He drove his bone club into the ground. The instant it struck, a fresh wave of spectral arms launched forward, joining the pile made by Espeon. It swelled up, trapping even more of the lava trying to flow down into the village. Totem Salazzle released her grip on Totem Marowak's hand and turned around. Her tail flaps opened up and sickly-purple juices bubbled up on the end of her tail. The toxins dribbled onto the ground, forming a circle around Totem Salazzle. She spun her tail around, launching the circle of poison directly at the giant pile of swirling arms.

    The toxins reached the large hill of ghost energy just as it exploded. Totem Salazzle thrust her tail upward and the ring transformed into a massive whirlpool, drawing in the lava that hadn't been destroyed by the ectoplasmic blast. Espeon and Silvally backed away slowly, eyes widening as Totem Salazzle's poisonous whirlpool swallowed up the lava and dragged it down into the ravine. The lava quickly crusted over, removing any lingering toxins and leaving nothing but thick clouds of black smoke behind.

    Totem Salazzle staggered backward. Her Marowak counterpart immediately appeared at her side, catching her before she collapsed onto the ground. Totem Salazzle's eyes widened at the gesture. "Y… you! I can't believe you're doing this after you manipulated me!"

    "I'm sorry I had to resort to using Attract like that," Totem Marowak exclaimed. "But it was a desperate situation."

    "And look at what happened under your guidance. Everything spiraled out of control. If not for my help… we all would have perished!" Totem Salazzle exclaimed. "I–"

    "That's quite enough, Mother!"

    Totem Salazzle stood back up, watching Healer run up toward her with Spike-Skull at her side. "Don't you get it? The two of you working together… that's what made the difference!" Healer declared. "You combined your Z-Power with the outsider's and saved us from a catastrophe. How can you possibly stand there and continue to judge the Western Tribe so harshly? It wasn't that long ago that we all lived together. There are good Pokémon amongst this tribe. There are," she continued, reaching out and clutching Spike-Skull's hand, "Pokémon that I love here."

    Totem Salazzle's jaw dropped. She stared at her daughter and then at Spike-Skull. She continued swiveling her head between the two of them, saying nothing. Totem Marowak stepped in front of her. "You are not the only one at fault here," he said. "I foolishly let this status quo persist for the sake of my own pride. But perhaps the young ones are right. Perhaps it's time we put this sorry feud behind us."

    "But… but my people. How can I hope to keep them fed?"

    "Well, this might sound silly," Silvally interjected, poking is head between the two Totems, "but in the process of stopping the lava, we turned that ravine into a gigantic stretch of land."

    Both Totems went wide-eyed and turned around. Totem Salazzle walked up toward what had been the edge of the ravine. "There's mostly igneous rock," she said.

    "But there's bound to be sediment mixed in there. Which makes that land a good candidate to use for growing more food," Totem Marowak exclaimed.

    Totem Salazzle looked stunned. She slowly nodded. "Yes… you're right. Why, I think this could even double the size of the fertile land we have in the western half of the Volcanic Wastes." She looked over at Totem Marowak. "But what does this mean? It's so close to the mountain. Wouldn't it be too dangerous?"

    They looked up at the mountain. The once proud peak that jutted majestically into the sky had collapsed on itself. Now it was just an extremely large pile of uneven, pitch-black rocks. "The mountain…" Totem Salazzle whispered.

    "It's entirely possible that last eruption may have caused such a tremendous outpouring of energy that there are few, if any, ley lines left," Espeon said, her brow furrowed. "I'm… honestly not sure what that would mean. But we have a way to get in touch with Tapu Bulu. He could come investigate this."

    The Totems exchanged astonished looks, only for Totem Marowak to hold up a hand. "That would explain the use of Z-Power," he muttered. "So, the Tapus have judged you worthy." He let out a sigh. "You'll have to forgive us. It would seem we made some pretty boneheaded decisions today."

    "It's in the past," Silvally said. "Why don't we go regroup with the Eastern Tribe? Then you guys can start talking about how you're going to move forward."

    Totem Marowak nodded. "I'd say that's a splendid idea."

    XxX

    ~Western Volcanic Wastes~

    Tessa helped Shane back toward the Eastern Tribe's village. "I'm fine. I can walk myself over," he insisted. But when he tried to step away from Tessa, he stumbled. Shane would've face planted had Tessa not managed to grab two of his tails and keep him from falling over. Shane yipped, uncomfortable with having such a sensitive area grabbed.

    "You're not fine, Shane," Tessa scolded. "You've used two Z-Moves pretty close to one another. And that's on top of battling Serperior and climbing the volcano. You must be exhausted." She pulled an elixir from the team's item bag. "Here. This should help you get some of your kick back."

    Shane graciously accepted the vial and gulped down its tangy, glowing contents. The empty elixir dissolved into thin air. Shane nodded his thanks to Tessa. "So, I guess we should find Espeon and Silvally. We have to figure out our next move, after all."

    Tessa flinched, recalling Gallian swooping in and scooping up the Sizzle Shard. 'If we're going to gather them all, then I'm gonna have to face down Gallian again.' She gulped.

    "Hey, what's the problem?" Shane asked. "Wait… you're worried about Gallian, aren't you?"

    "How did you–?"

    Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumble!

    The Salandits and Salazzles stopped cheering. They turned back toward the remains of Mount Supernova, as did Shane and Tessa. "But… but we stopped the eruption from spreading over the village! How could there possibly still be something wrong?" Shane shouted.

    "I don't know. Maybe it's some sort of earthquake?" Tessa proposed, worry plastered across her face. A new crack suddenly appeared in the mountain's remains. It grew wider and wider until it burst apart, launching a gigantic volcanic meteor down toward the Wastes.

    Shane backed away. "No, no, no! After all that… the village is still going down!" He turned to Tessa and the Eastern Tribe Pokémon. "We've gotta run east! If we're lucky, we might get out of the blast range!" He sprinted past his teammate, heading for the Volcanic Rim. "C'mon, Tessa! What are you doing?"

    Tessa stood facing the ridge, watching the meteor slowly drift down toward her. She slammed her eyes shut and balled her paws up into fists. 'This isn't fair!' she thought. 'Every day… every mission. No matter how hard we try – how much we struggle – it doesn't make a difference. We always end up coming up short! And I'm tired of it!'

    She thought of Gallian swooping in and taking the Sizzle Shard, telling Team Radiance to buzz off. Then mental images of Serperior and Totem Salazzle appeared.

    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.

    Aha ha ha! Please… you're relying on Tessa to finish the job? How stupid can you possibly be, huh? Look at her! She's the walking definition of weak. A spineless little runt who wants everyone to feel sorry for how sad her pathetic little life is.

    'Everyone keeps calling me useless,' Tessa thought. 'Team Radiance can barely tread water… and I can't even hold my own in battle. Tapu Lele nearly killed me. And I couldn't even do anything against Serperior…'

    But then the mental images dissolved. In their place, Tessa imagined Shane standing in front of her.

    Silvally told me something yesterday. Even with all the ups and downs, we've made it this far together. And it's going to stay that way!

    'My teammates,' Tessa thought. 'My friends! Even with how bad things have gotten, they still haven't given up on me…'

    "That's enough!" she shouted. Her eyes opened up, revealing vibrant blue irises that flickered like a campfire. "I'm tired of not being able to do anything in these situations! My teammates are right! I'm not weak! I'm… I'm… a strong explorer!" Blue flames encased Tessa's paws and her Naturia Looplet flared to life, bathing her in orange light. "I am not having another day end in complete failure!"

    "Tessa, what are you doing?!" Shane cried, watching in horror as his teammate charged toward the edge of the ridge.

    The orange glow around her intensified. A war cry escaped Tessa's lips and she leaped into the air. Tessa proceeded to rapidly punch and kick the air in front of her. Each move she made resulted in a giant hand or foot made of raw orange energy speeding forward. The giant constructs struck the meteor one after the other, leaving multiple large welts and cracks that quickly connected to one another.

    With the meteor bearing down on Tessa, she wound up and punched the air in front of her as hard as she could. A massive fist of orange energy shot forward like a comet, with a trail of aura streaming behind it. The final fist connected with the center of the meteor, obliterating it before it could strike Tessa. She dropped to the ground, orange steam rising off her body.

    "Oh my god. Tessa, that was amazing!" Shane fawned, running toward her. He slowed his pace, however, as he noticed that Tessa's orange aura failed to die down. Instead she took two shaky steps forward, and then fell to her paws and knees. "Tessa? Is something wrong?"

    Tessa buried her face in the dirt and screamed in agony. White light swallowed her up, orange aura and all. Shane's muzzle went agape. "Th… that light," he gasped. "Tessa… she's…" But Tessa's cries of pain caused Shane to stagger backwards. He stared dumbstruck at the glowing white sphere laying in front of him as it doubled in size. "Tessa! Say something!" he shouted.

    He took one cautious step toward his teammate, only for the light to fade. When it did, the Riolu he had come to know was gone. Tessa's rainbow scarf lay in the dirt. And kneeling beside it was a Lucario. A Lucario with an extra tuft of fur over each ear, rings of black fur around her tail, and aura feelers that went all the way down to her shoulder blades.

    "Tessa, you did it! You evolved! You're a Lucario!" Shane cheered, a big grin erupting across his face. He ran toward Tessa, expecting to embrace her. But he skidded to a halt when he saw her fix her wide-eyed gaze on the blue aura flames flickering in her paws. "T… Tessa?" he squeaked. "Is everything all right?"

    Tessa slowly opened her muzzle, but all that escaped was a weak cough. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she toppled over, face hitting the dirt.

    "Tessa!" Shane cried, tails shooting up in alarm. He sprinted up to his teammate and nudged her repeatedly with his snout. "Wake up! Wake up! C'mon, this isn't funny!" He looked up and noticed the Salandits and Salazzles looking over in confusion. His ears twitched and he realized he could hear footsteps in the distance.

    "Heeeeeeey!" he shouted, waving a forepaw. "Somebody… anybody… help!"

    XxX
    Fiery Maiden, Ultra Serperior
    Exposure to the Prism Virus flooded Serperior's life energy with raging wildfire, resulting in her gaining the fire-type, alongside a hair-trigger temper. She now wields powerful magic, letting her tap into the earth's volcanic core and use it to mold attacks no average Pokémon is capable of. Little does she know, her body is filled with napalm from an explosive Ultra Beast. If she pushes herself too hard, the napalm will spontaneously combust, bringing a violent end to her life. Be careful, Team Radiance!
    XxX
    Yup, that just happened. And next time: some serious changes need to be grappled with.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Chapter 55: Literal Growing Pains
    Everything moved quickly after Tessa passed out. Silvally and Espeon came over from the other side of the Volcanic Wastes, bringing the Totems and the Western Tribe along with them. The cheerful reunions and celebrations were immediately put on hold when they spotted Shane panicking. His teammates descended on Tessa, with Spike-Skull and Healer following right behind them. Even Totem Salazzle looked alarmed at the sight of an unconscious Lucario lying on the ground, aura feelers spasming wildly.

    Silvally scooped Tessa up while Spike-Skull grabbed her now soot-covered scarf. Healer tugged Silvally's neck and gestured toward one of the houses made of igneous rock. As they ran toward the house, Healer started barking orders for Pokémon to gather berries, towels, and rags soaked in water. Shane immediately ran off with Totem Salazzle and Totem Marowak, desperately hoping to get the supplies necessary to help his ailing teammate.

    'I don't understand,' he thought as he watched Totem Salazzle emerge from her home with a handful of blankets and rags, 'evolution is supposed to be a good thing! The games celebrate it with fanfare. The anime had whole episodes dedicated to evolving… with triumphant music and everything!' Tessa's agonized cries flashed through his mind like a bolt of lightning. A mental image of her horrified face stared back at him. Shane shuddered and squeezed his eyes shut. 'Why can't something good happen to Tessa for once? She deserves it, damn it!'

    "Outsider."

    Shane's ears pointed straight up. He found Totem Salazzle looking right at him. "I can see the worry for your lea– err, for your friend in your eyes. You must keep a level head. My daughter has nursed many in our tribe back to health. Lucario is in good hands." She held the rags in front of her. "Now, would you please douse these in your Frost Breath?"

    "Y-yes! Of course," Shane squeaked. He released a cloud of icy air. It made it right up to the rags before the thick volcanic heat choked the attack, leaving the rags soaked in water. Totem Salazzle nodded and dashed off toward Healer's house. Shane followed hot on her heels. He entered the house and found Tessa lying on a straw bed, her rainbow scarf draped over a chair in the back of the room.

    Healer stood beside her at a table, mashing up berries with a mortar and pestle. Spike-Skull coated the tip of his bone club in a colorless, sparkling gel. He proceeded to rub the club against Tessa's neck.

    Tessa initially tensed, before her breathing steadied out. "What's going on? Why did she pass out like this? Is she going to be okay?" Shane asked. "What can I do to help?"

    "Peace, outsider," Healer whispered, raising a hand. "You are giving off far too much nervous energy. That will complicate the healing process."

    Shane whined softly and looked down. Silvally stepped to Shane's side and nudged him. "She's going to be okay," he assured him.

    "You don't know that for a fact," Shane said meekly. He looked up at Healer. "Please," he croaked, "let me do something to help. Anything!"

    "Fan her with your tails."

    Shane blinked in confusion. "I beg your pardon?"

    "You are a Vulpix," Healer said. "Your tails give off chilled air. Lucario is burning up right now. And the hot air of the Wastes will only make it harder for me to help her. Fan her head with your tails. We have to try and cool her off."

    Shane nodded his understanding. He hopped up onto the table and took a look at Tessa. Even though she was unconscious, a grimace lay across her face. Her aura feelers twitched erratically, making Shane's heart skip a beat. He turned around and moved his tails up and down in unison.

    "You're going to have to do it faster than that," Spike-Skull harrumphed.

    Shane intensified his efforts. He looked over his shoulder and his spirits lifted at the sight of chilled air emerging from his tails and gently drifting across Tessa's face. Spike-Skull applied more of the gel around her neck. Tessa's breathing slowed down further. Healer nodded her approval and walked over with some of the wet blankets. She wrapped them around Tessa, leaving only her waist exposed. Shane watched as the twitches in Tessa's aura feelers gradually subsided.

    "I think that's enough," Healer exclaimed, waving Shane off. She took one of her last remaining rags and wrung out a pair of berries over it. She placed the berry-soaked rag on Tessa's forehead and pressed down firmly. Healer snapped her fingers and pointed to the smaller of the two bowls sitting on her table. Shane leaped onto the table and scooped it up in his mouth. In the process, his rainbow scarf fell off. Spike-Skull grabbed it and tossed it over by Tessa's.

    "Okay, what now?" Shane asked as Healer held the small bowl up toward Tessa's snout. She swirled the green powder inside it around. Tessa inhaled some vapors and descended into a coughing fit. Shane's tails shot up in panic. "How is that helping her?" he growled.

    "Patience, outsider," Healer chided. "I have tended to something like this before. Please, just take a deep breath before you start making me nervous." Shane frowned but backed off and did as Healer instructed. "Good. Now, please get me the other bowl from my table," Healer requested. Silvally started to approach the bowl, but Shane once again jumped to the table. He picked up the bowl, hopped back onto the straw bed, and walked the bowl up to Healer.

    "Thank you," Healer said. "However, I'm afraid that's all I can have you do. This next part is extremely sensitive and I must ask that you and your friends step outside and wait."

    "Why?" Shane asked.

    "It's essential that this berry juice mixture get into Lucario's body," Healer exclaimed. "But since she's unconscious, I can't simply have her drink it." She took a deep breath. "So, I'm going to need to use an… ahem… alternative method."

    Espeon's and Silvally's expressions both blanched and they walked out of the room without a second thought. Shane still didn't understand, however. "What exactly is that supposed to mean, huh?" he asked.

    Healer sighed and rubbed her temples. She leaned over and whispered to Shane. When she finished, Shane's tails shot up in alarm and then curled against his hips. He jumped off of the bed and ran out the door without looking back. Shane found his teammates waiting for him outside. He looked back at Healer's home and whimpered, "Why did this have to happen to Tessa?"

    Silvally frowned. "Because, despite our best efforts, bad things happen to good Pokémon." He hung his head. "I think I'd know better than anyone else. Still…" He locked eyes with Shane. "Tessa's tough. She's going to make it through this. I'm confident."

    Espeon sat down and curled her tail around her legs. "I think I've got a pretty good guess as to what might've happened." Shane looked at her expectantly, while Silvally furrowed his brow for a few seconds before his eyes widened in realization. "I believe Tessa evolved prematurely."

    Shane's eyes narrowed. "That's it? Wasn't it you and Umbreon who suggested she use a Z-Move to kickstart her aura powers and evolve? I thought that was the whole point!"

    "Could you please just let me finish talking for once before you start running your big mouth?" Espeon hissed. Shane's ears drooped and he stepped backward, poking dejectedly at the ground with a forepaw. Espeon took a calming breath. "The fact of the matter is that part of the evolution process involves a Pokémon mentally preparing themselves for the physical changes and influx of spiritual energy that accompanies an evolution. If that isn't done – if something happens to trigger an evolution that a Pokémon wasn't ready for – their mind may not be able to acclimate to all the changes."

    The revelation alarmed Shane. "And what happens?"

    "Usually the Pokémon ends up in such a great deal of pain that their mind shuts down and they go comatose," Espeon declared ominously. "In our research, Umbry and I read papers that claimed Pokémon had died trying to force an evolution before they were properly prepared."

    "What?!" Shane shouted, panic spreading across his face. "Oh my god… Tessa! Tessa!" He tried to sprint back into Healer's house, but Silvally stepped in his path.

    "Shane, you have to calm down. Let Salazzle and Marowak tend to Tessa," Silvally said. "I don't like this one bit, either. But this is the best chance that she has."

    Shane gritted his teeth and looked away, blinking tears out of his eyes. "Tessa," he blubbered.

    "I'm sorry things turned out this way," Espeon said. "I wish Umbry and I had never made that suggestion about using a Z-Move." She looked at Silvally. "Tessa… she had mentioned something about her aura sense being weak, didn't she?"

    "She thought it was underdeveloped for someone her age," Silvally said.

    Espeon sighed. "That must be it, then. You saw the size of her new aura feelers, right? They're larger than your average Lucario's. To go from being underdeveloped to that…" Espeon shook her head. "No wonder she just shut down. And that's not even getting into the physical changes. Doubling in size… growing in new fur… having metal coat her skeleton…"

    "That's enough, okay!" Shane barked, shaking his head. His legs shook uncontrollably. "How can Pokémon stand to evolve if that's what could happen to them? All of this sounds terrifying!"

    "Shane, you have to understand, it's rare that something like that happens," Espeon assured him.

    Shane laughed uneasily. "Yeah… right. Knowing my luck, if I try evolving into Ninetales, I'm just gonna end up dead!"

    "Outsiders."

    Team Radiance snapped to attention. They turned toward Healer's house. She stood there, leaning on Spike-Skull's bone club and clutching the rainbow scarves in her other arm. "I'm finished. Lucario is resting. I think she's going to be okay."

    Shane sped into Healer's home, nearly bowling her over in the process. Inside, he found Spike-Skull cleaning up the supplies. "Careful, Whi– no, Valiant-Bones," he cautioned. "You must let her wake up naturally. The medicine Salazzle used may still be working its way through her system." He carried his armful of supplies into the kitchen area.

    Silvally and Espeon entered the house as Shane went up to the bed. His snout wrinkled at the sight of purple juice dripping off Tessa's hip and trickling down to the floor. He turned his gaze on Tessa's face. The pained grimace had gone away, replaced by a calm expression. Tessa's chest slowly rose and fell, moving her paws up and down along with it.

    "She seems to look a bit better," Espeon observed, forehead gem flickering. "Her life force was unstable when I tried to sense it earlier. It's much steadier now."

    "See? It's just like I told you, Shane. Salazzle and Marowak knew what they were doing," Silvally said. He walked up to Shane's side, looking Tessa over and nodding. "Now we just have to let her rest."

    Shane ignored Silvally and hopped onto the bed. He sat down beside Tessa's head and looked right at her. The longer he stared, the more his vision blurred. Eventually, Tessa faded out entirely, along with the bed. Instead, Shane found himself looking at a lavender cushion. Instead of a Lucario, Lunala rested atop it. Shane focused on her red, spectral eyes, which blinked slowly.

    "How are you feeling?" Shane heard himself ask in a deep voice.

    "Awful," Lunala replied with a groan. She covered her face with part of her left wing. "How could I get food poisoning so easily? I thought we were immune to stuff like this."

    "I did, too." Shane heard a deep sigh. He leaned over and licked Lunala on the cheek. "We're going to get through this. I promise… I'll have you up and flying about before you know it."

    Shane jolted back into reality, shaking his head vigorously. "Something the matter?" Silvally asked, staring at him curiously. "You spaced out for a bit."

    "I'm fine," Shane lied. "I just…" His voice trailed off and he looked down at Tessa. Even though she didn't appear to be in any pain, Shane's heart still sank. He craned his neck downward. Shane whined softly and nudged Tessa's cheek with the tip of his snout. "Please wake up." He whined again and licked the side of Tessa's face.

    Silvally went wide-eyed. "Shane, what are you doing? Salazzle said to let Tessa rest."

    Blood rushed into Shane's cheeks. He took a step back and looked away guiltily. "I… sorry. I just…" His shoulders sagged. "You wouldn't get it." Espeon raised a curious brow at this, but ultimately stayed silent.

    "I know you want to make sure she's okay," Silvally continued. "Trust me, I feel the same way. But this is just one of those things that's out of our control, whether we like it or not." His head crest bristled and the energy blades slightly drooped. "So much seems to be out of control these days. I wish it were different."

    Before Shane could respond, his ears twitched. They stuck straight up, enabling him to hear the sounds of crinkling straw. He looked down at his paws but saw that they weren't moving.

    "Unnnnngh…"

    "Tessa's stirring," Espeon gasped, pointing a forepaw ahead of her. Shane and Silvally both followed her gaze just in time to see Tessa's eyelids flutter open. Silvally's tail slowly wagged as Tessa sat up, clutching her head with a paw.

    "T… Tessa…" Shane squeaked.

    "Shane?" Tessa murmured. She took a look around at Healer's house and confusion spread across her face. "What are we doing in someone's house?" She looked at him with a furrowed brow. "And… did you shrink?"

    Silvally stepped beside Shane, a worried look on his face. "Do you not remember what happened?"

    Tessa frowned. "There was a volcanic meteor coming toward us. Shane was running away from the village but I went up toward it. And then I felt this tremendous surge of energy flowing through my body and…" Her voice trailed off and her gaze fell onto her left arm. She stared at the black fur covering her paw and running up past her wrist. Tessa held up her paws. Her arms trembled as she flipped her paws over and glanced at the metal spikes protruding from her flesh.

    "I… I…" she stammered. She looked down and noticed a third metal spike protruding from her chest. Her cream-colored chest. "I'm a Lucario," she whispered. "But… but how?"

    "It looks like Umbry's theory was right. You used a Z-Move. The energy you channeled jump-started your aura sense and triggered an evolution," Espeon explained. "We found you passed out on the ground with Shane calling for help. Our guides from earlier healed you."

    Tessa's eyes widened. Silvally placed a foreleg on Tessa's thigh. "Hey. I know this is alarming for you, but you don't have to handle it alone. We're all here for you. If there's anything that any of us can do to help… just name it."

    "Yeah," Shane said, stepping into Tessa's field of vision. "We were really worried about you."

    "Some of us a bit more than others," Espeon whispered under her breath.

    Tessa looked right into Shane's watery eyes. "I… I'm doing okay… I think," she said. "Is that true? Were you really calling for help?"

    Silvally nodded. "And he had whipped himself up into a frenzy trying to help gather Salazzle's healing supplies."

    "Oh," Tessa gasped. "Well, uh, thanks."

    Shane sniffled. Without warning, he pressed his face against up Tessa's chest, avoiding the metal spike. Her aura feelers shot up in surprise. "I… I'm just so glad you're okay," he blubbered. "I was so worried! I thought we were gonna lose you!"

    "Uh… well, I'm here now," Tessa said, arms raised and eyes darting about the room uncomfortably. "So, like, there's no need to worry, I guess."

    Sensing Tessa's discomfort, Silvally grabbed one of Shane's tails in his beak and dragged him off of Tessa. "I think she wants a little personal space right now," Silvally muttered.

    Shane's face reddened. "R-right," he stammered. "Sorry. I guess I got a little carried away." He rubbed his eyes with a foreleg. "I meant what I said, though. If there's anything I can do to make this whole situation better for you, tell me."

    Tessa nodded. Her gaze fell back into her lap. "I understand," she said. "I'm sorry if I don't sound like myself. This is… a lot to take in." She held up her paws again and slowly turned them back and forth. "I just can't believe this is happening. I thought… that I was gonna be a Riolu my whole life."

    "Aren't you at least a little bit happy?" Shane asked.

    "I'm not really sure what to feel right now," Tessa said, lowering her arms. She hunched over and her shoulders sagged. "When I was little… I dreamed about evolving, sure. I heard such great things about the 'evolution high' that Pokémon get and how euphoric it is. But this… this is nothing like what I had in mind."

    She looked up and spotted Healer walking out of the kitchen, a basket slung over her shoulder. "Um, excuse me? Do you have a mirror, by any chance?" Tessa asked.

    Healer paused in the doorway. "Yes. I think I keep one in the supply closet. Hold on." She turned and reentered the kitchen. Healer returned a minute later with Spike-Skull in tow. They both carried a full-sized mirror into the room and lowered it to rest against the wall. "Is there anything else you need?"

    "Uh…" Tessa rubbed her shoulder nervously. "Could I request some privacy, please?" She looked over at her teammates. "I need some time to myself… to gather my thoughts."

    "I am not sure that's the wisest decision, outsider. Your life force could run out of control again, if you're not careful," Healer warned. Tessa looked at her pleadingly. Healer sighed in defeat. "Very well. I have work to do, anyway. It's not too important, but it'll keep me away from the house. Promise me that if something's going wrong, you'll yell for me at the top of your lungs."

    Tessa nodded and watched as everyone departed the room, leaving her sitting on the straw bed. She looked over toward the mirror, unable to properly see her reflection. Slowly, Tessa pivoted, allowing her feet to touch the warm rocky floor. Tessa scooted to the bed's edge and cautiously stood up. But the instant she no longer had the bed supporting her, she collapsed onto her side with a startled yelp.

    She propped herself up with her arms and looked down at her feet, wiggling her toes. Initially, they didn't seem too different than what she was used to. However, as she tried to stand herself back up, she realized that her feet now had more pronounced arches than they did before she evolved. Tessa shifted more of her weight onto her toes. She stumbled forward, panic spreading across her face as she braced herself to faceplant. Tessa threw her arms out to either side of her, barely managing to steady herself. She hesitantly took one step forward, remaining upright in the process. Then she took another. And another. Tessa walked up toward the front door, and then casually jogged toward the back of the room.

    'Okay, so I can't rely on the balls of my feet anymore,' she concluded with a frown. 'I sure hope Lucario toes don't get sore easily.' Tessa shakily lifted her right leg up. Her left leg wobbled and threatened to give out from under her.

    Suddenly, a strong prickling sensation fanned out across her aura feelers, which raised up in unison. The instant they all stiffened, the muscles in Tessa's left leg stopped twitching and tightened. She stood perfectly still on her left leg. Tessa raised a curious brow. She then kicked at the air in front of her with her right leg. To her surprise, she kept her balance through the entire motion.

    Tessa resumed standing on two legs. At the same time, her aura feelers relaxed. Satisfied, Tessa walked up toward the mirror. She immediately tensed at the sight of her own reflection. Her eyes worriedly ran up and down the length of the mirror. Tessa's legs grew weak, so she shut her eyes and stepped away from the mirror, whimpering.

    'Come on, Tessa. Snap out of it!' she scolded. 'This is who you are now. And you've got to come to grips with that. Your friends are counting on you to hold your own.' Tessa took a deep breath and gazed back into the mirror. She looked right into her reflection's eyes. Her irises were still red, but her pupils were less rounded. Instead, they were slit-shaped, giving her gaze a hint of ferocity. The thought prickled the fur on the back of her neck, but she steeled her resolve and continued examining her head in detail.

    The only frame of reference Tessa had as far as real live Lucarios went was her mother. Because of that, she was surprised at the lack of any white, diamond-shaped patches of fur on her forehead. Instead, a stripe of black fur ran back from the bridge of her snout. A few quick glances at her body revealed other differences. She still had the extra tuft of fur atop each ear, but her ears themselves were longer and thinner than her mother's. Her shoulders were broader. Coupled with her wider hips, it gave her torso a pronounced hourglass shape to it. She also noticed her thighs were thicker; much closer to Incineroar's in size.

    There were two big surprises awaiting her, however. The first lay on her chest, where the fur surrounding her new spike was black. Thin lines of black fur branched out from her chest spike, giving off the appearance of cracked glass. Tessa winced and pivoted to her right, revealing the second surprise: three concentric rings of black fur on her tail.

    They immediately reminded her of her dad's arms. Memories of Incineroar wrapping her up in warm hugs flooded through her mind. Tessa's eyes watered and she tore herself away from the mirror, rubbing her face with a paw. She stood with her back to the mirror, trying her hardest to stop shivering and slow her breathing down.

    "Why do I have all these extra features?" she whispered. Tessa looked down at her paws and her brow furrowed. Her attention fell on her right paw, which started shaking as she looked at it.

    At first glance, it looked exactly like her left paw. But on closer inspection, Tessa saw something horrifying staring back at her: faint red fur taking the appearance of the winged heart sigil she had seen on Serperior's helmet… and her mother's robes. Her metal spike sat where the eye should've been, but there was no mistaking the sinister horns pointing down toward her digits.

    "No," she squeaked. "Why is this here?" She wrung her paw out, as if she was trying to flick water off her fur. "This… this marking shouldn't be here! I… I'm not infected! I… I…"

    Evolution is proof of an aura sense awakening. Something that you will never understand… because you're a lost cause.

    Tessa looked up, right into the eyes of her mother's ghostly silhouette. The silhouette didn't speak, yet Prisma's voice echoed through Tessa's mind. Tessa stiffened, clasping her marked paw and placing it against her chest.

    "I… I'm not a lost cause, Mom! Please… just let me try again! I'll get it right this time!" A slightly-younger Tessa squeaked.

    The silhouette's eyes flashed purple. I gave you enough chances, Tessa. But you're undisciplined… unfocused. I can't work with you. This was all a mistake.

    "N… no," Tessa whispered. "Please don't say that! It's not true! I–"

    Tessa winced at the sight of the silhouette glaring daggers at her. It's futile, Tessa. Your aura feelers are too small. There's no way they could properly channel the aura surge a Riolu experiences when it evolves into a Lucario.

    "You were wrong, Mom," Tessa whispered, raising up her paw and slowly rotating it. "I did it… on my own. Without you. I'm…" She clenched her paw into a fist. "I'm not a failure."

    The sigil on her paw flashed. Tessa tensed. She looked back at Prisma's silhouette, only to recoil in horror. The mental image distorted. It flickered in and out of existence. Each time it returned, more and more of Prisma's body was covered in black, crystalline armor. Tessa staggered backward, trying to look away from the silhouette. But it kept following her, even popping up in her mind when she tried closing her eyes. Eventually, she found herself looking directly into Zero's lone red eye.

    I gave you light! I gave you Z-Power! It was me! MEEE!

    "That voice," Tessa gasped. Zero raised her left paw and vanished in a swirling cloud of smoke. "Mom, no!" Tessa shouted. She threw an arm up over her face, stumbling backwards as Necrozma flew toward her, wings spread wide and red eyes glowing brightly. The specter looked to wrap its wings around Tessa. She screamed and crumpled to the ground.

    The silhouette abruptly dissolved into the air, leaving Tessa lying on the floor, wracked by shudders. She lost control and broke down crying. Cool metal contacted her shoulder and made her sit up in surprise. "S… Silvally?" she sputtered. "I just tripped."

    "No, you didn't," he said. Tessa looked up into his eyes and realized they were bright pink. "You were in distress. Is it about your mom?"

    "It's... um... see for yourself," Tessa whispered, rubbing her eyes with her arm. Trembling, she held her right paw up. Silvally's jaw tightened.

    "Tessa," he whispered.

    "The same symbol… it's etched into that gem on your looplet, isn't it?" Tessa said, sniffling.

    "It is?" Silvally gasped. He looked down and his eyes widened. "It's faint… but it's there, yeah. I'm not surprised though. It popped up during some of the alchemical spells Golem used."

    Tessa shook her head rapidly. "You don't understand, Silvally. I used Z-Power… Necrozma's power… to evolve," she squeaked, staring into her quivering paw. "I don't…" She choked back more tears. "What's going to happen to me? Have I been infected? Am I going to lose control like Mom? Am I going to turn into another Zero?!"

    "Tessa… I have no idea," Silvally said.

    She placed her paw against her chest, breathing heavily. "I can't… I can't go through that. Zero doesn't even look like a Lucario's supposed to. She doesn't have a tail. Her aura feelers reach down to her waist! I don't want my body to change on me anymore!"

    "Tessa." Silvally scooted closer and offered up his shoulder. Tessa immediately lay against it. Silvally gently brought his beak to Tessa's forehead. Warmth flowed down Tessa's body, stemming from her head. They sat there in silence for several minutes, until Tessa's sobs died down.

    "Your mom never told you, did she?" Silvally asked.

    "About what?"

    "Lucario can take on another form… beyond what they achieve when they evolve from Riolu," Silvally said. "Have you ever heard of Mega Evolution?"

    "Um… maybe? I think Dad mentioned it a few times. Gallian might've, too."

    "Some Pokémon can channel energy from Awakening Emeras to achieve a more powerful form in battle," Silvally said. "From the looks of things, Zero is a Mega Lucario." His eyelids lowered slightly. "Perhaps something in the Prism Virus is keeping her stuck in that form. A Pokémon should never stay Mega Evolved for too long. The risks are…" His voice trailed off as he noticed panic spreading across Tessa's face. "Hey now," he whispered, nudging her forehead again. "We're going to rescue her."

    Tessa looked at her marked paw again. "But what about me?"

    Silvally reached a foreleg up and clasped Tessa's chin. He tilted her head up until their gazes met. "We have each other," he said. "I won't let you turn into someone like Zero. And you'll help make sure I don't lose control… like I almost did with Serperior."

    "Right," Tessa said, but her gaze fell toward the ground.

    "Is something else bugging you?" Silvally asked.

    Tessa rubbed her eyes with a paw. "When Mom started my aura training, she had such high expectations for me. She thought she could get me to evolve with just a year of hard work." Tessa hung her head. "But when weeks turned into months and I couldn't figure out how to use Force Palm, I could see the disappointment all over her face."

    She teared up. "And that disappointment turned into frustration… and then Dad died, so she… she… she…"

    Silvally pressed his face up against Tessa's, bringing her shuddering to an immediate stop. "It's okay. You can tell me anything."

    Tessa sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. "Mom told me… that I was a lost cause." She dug her face into Silvally's hide. "After that, she left me behind to stay at the Observatory until she walked out on the guild."

    "Tessa, I'm sorry," Silvally said. "You know that's not true, right? I mean… look at what just happened."

    "I know," Tessa hiccuped. "It's just… all I can think about is how bad I want Mom to see me like this. But not because I'd expect her to be proud or anything." Her irises flickered blue. Silvally's head crest tensed. "I want her to see me… so I can show her how wrong she was… and give her a piece of my mind."

    Before Silvally could respond, Tessa rubbed her left thigh with a paw. "I'm sorry. I bet this sounds pretty stupid. I'm complaining about evolving. That's, like," she laughed nervously, "a really dumb thing for me to do."

    "I don't see it that way," Silvally said. "This was rough on you. And that's not getting into what else has happened today." He frowned and shook his head. "Speak your mind. Don't let this stuff eat away at you."

    Tessa sighed. "You don't have to do that just for me, you know."

    Silvally nudged Tessa's forehead. "I want to, since I seem to recall our situations being reversed two days ago."

    "Yeah, but it was Shane who convinced me to find you," Tessa mumbled guiltily.

    "You were still there for me. And I want to return that favor," Silvally said. "That's what friends are for, right?"

    Tessa nodded slowly. "Okay." She took a deep breath. "I keep looking at myself – my new self – and remembering all the things I've lost and how bad I want it all back. Except I'll never get it back, no matter how hard I try." Her shoulders slumped. "Gallian always said that he was confident I'd evolve at the guild. He was willing to work with me to help me reach that goal. And when it happened, he'd make sure Dad was around to throw some sort of party." An uneasy smile crossed her muzzle. "I know that sounds super corny, but back then I was stoked at the idea."

    "I don't blame you. An evolution party sounds fun," Silvally said. His tail lightly rapped Tessa's waist. Blood poured into her cheeks. She covered them with her paws.

    "Yeah…" Her voice trailed off. "Only, well, that became an impossibility." She sat up and draped her arm over his back. "I had actually given up, you know."

    "Huh?"

    "When Mom left, I took her words to heart," Tessa continued. "I really believed that I was a failure as a Riolu. And that meant that I'd be stuck as one for my entire life. Weak… frail… no working aura sense…"

    Silvally tensed. Tessa grabbed some of his fur in her digits and yanked it. The gesture made him uncomfortable, but he held his tongue. "Is that, y'know, what made you so depressed?"

    Tessa nodded. "My life became an endless cycle of wishing I could be like my heroes... only to run away every time I got close to the guild. At least, until Shane showed up and started me down this... insane path we've been on."

    "Well, I hope you know that you're not a failure," Silvally said. "I know things aren't great for you at the moment, but we're going to work through this… together. Shane really wants to help however he can, too." He smiled. "He actually told me he's confident you'll come to view your evolution as a good thing."

    "He said that?" Tessa gasped.

    "I was pretty surprised, too," Silvally admitted. "I think you've really changed him."

    Tessa's ears stuck up in surprise. "M-Me? Oh… c-come now… I can't take credit for anything like that."

    Silvally shrugged. "If it wasn't for you, Shane would still be acting like the whole world revolves around him." He turned to show the pink energy blades on his head crest. "Call it psychic intuition, if you want. But I believe you mean more to Shane than you realize. Possibly more than he realizes, too."

    "That's… um… a lot to take in," Tessa said with a nervous laugh. "I'm just happy we're not fighting anymore. Let's leave it at that for now."

    "Fair enough," Silvally said. Tessa slowly got to her feet and Silvally stood up beside her. "Something you want to do?" he asked.

    "Um, kind of," Tessa replied. "I had wanted to do it by myself…"

    "I can leave you alone, if you'd like."

    "Oh, no." Tessa held up her paws and shook her head. "Now that I've had a moment to think on it, I'd rather have someone around in case something bad happens."

    Silvally grew worried. "What is it you want to do?"

    Tessa took a deep breath and her gaze sharpened. "I want to try out my aura sense. Right here, right now."

    Silvally looked back at Tessa, his beak agape. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" he asked, voice ripe with concern.

    "Maybe not," Tessa admitted, rubbing the back of her neck. "I can't exactly explain it well. There's this warmth." She brought her paw to tap her chest spike. "It's in my chest and the back of my head. It feels inviting, like a long-lost sibling that I just want to run toward and wrap up in a big hug."

    Silvally sat down and raised a curious eyebrow. "Huh. Y'know, it sounds familiar when you phrase it like that.

    "Well, it might be because there are Lucario spirits inside you," Tessa said.

    "Probably, but this isn't about me," Silvally dismissed. "If you feel comfortable trying it, then try it. I'll be right here in case something happens."

    Tessa nodded slowly. Her soft expression stiffened to a firm one as she brought her paws to her sides. She took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "Aura is pure… and raw." She balled her paws into fists, and then relaxed them, flexing her digits. "Our spirits are all unique mixtures of the different types of life energy. Psychics sense living creatures as mosaics of different colors."

    She curled both of her arms, bringing her paws up toward her shoulders as she took another breath. "But aura lies at the core of every spirit. Aura produces life energy. We draw on life energy to use our abilities." Tessa clasped her paws together in front of her chest. "With proper training and concentration, you can reach deep inside and pull your aura out!"

    Tessa squeezed her eyes shut. The moment she did, her feelers twitched. They slowly rose up and tensed. Faint blue outlines appeared around them, drawing a surprised look from Silvally. He remained perfectly still, eyes locked on Tessa, wondering what was going to happen. Tessa slowly took in another breath. All she saw was the insides of her own eyelids. Darkness filled her world but she didn't react. She took another breath.

    A silver flicker appeared in her eyelids. Tessa remained still. The light formed into a silver line. In a matter of seconds, dozens of silver lines raced onto Tessa's inner eyelids. Her heart rate spiked. Her head pounded. A wisp of blue fire appeared in the corner of her mental image. But when it did, the pressure on her head became so intense she forced her eyes open. Tessa's aura feelers relaxed and she dropped to one knee, panting heavily. Sweat pooled down her face, matting her new coat.

    Silvally darted toward her. "Are you okay?" he asked.

    Tessa rubbed her forehead with her free paw. "I… uh…"

    "Maybe you should focus on resting. You can always try this again, later," Silvally pointed out.

    "No!" Tessa shouted, eyes widening in surprise at how loud she was. "S-sorry. That was…" She cut herself off and stood back up. "I don't mean to worry you, Silvally. It's just… I need to do this. For myself. If… if that makes any sense."

    Silvally sighed. "It does. I don't like it… but I understand."

    "Thanks," Tessa said. She stepped back from Silvally and closed her eyes again. This time, her aura feelers didn't immediately react. Instead, a memory formed in her mind's eye.

    She was a Riolu again. Standing on the sands of Azure Cape and looking up at Prisma's stern face. "Mom, if aura is supposed to be pure, why is yours red? Aura's blue in all my picture books."

    Prisma's lips twitched, offering Tessa a view of the single fang protruding from her mouth. "It's… nothing you need to be concerned with, Tessa," she replied, looking away from her daughter.

    "Does it mean you're special?" Tessa asked. "Is my aura gonna be red, too?"

    Prisma's expression fiercened. "No," she growled. "Yours won't be red. Neither of us are special. I found a way to change the color of my Aura Spheres to red because it's my favorite color. Nothing more. Nothing less."

    "Will you tell me how to, then? I want make mine a rainbow!"

    "Quiet, Tessa!" Prisma snapped, stomping down on the sand. Tessa skirted back, shrinking toward the ground. "None of this will mean anything if you keep slacking in your training. Understand?"

    "Y… yes, Mom," Tessa squeaked.

    "Good. Don't let me catch you thinking such ridiculous thoughts out loud again."

    Tessa's eyes shot open, her irises smoldering with blue fire. Silvally jumped up in surprise, his gaze fixed on Tessa's right paw. The winged heart was glowing with the same intensity as Tessa's eyes. She turned to her right and, with a shout, lashed out at the nearby mirror. It shattered. Mirror shards dug into Tessa's paw, snapping her out of her trance. Tessa stumbled back from the mirror, looking in horror at the blood on her paw.

    "Tessa," Silvally said, stepping toward her.

    "No! Get back!" Tessa hollered, holding her healthy paw up. Her eyes were still burning blue. "I… I can see it," she whispered, cupping her injured paw against her stomach. She shut her eyes again and took a deep breath. Silver lights streaked through her vision. Her head and paw throbbed, but she refused to focus on them. Tessa remained fixated on the silver lines, watching as they formed a picture.

    Tessa realized she was looking at the very room she stood in. Except the walls and ceiling were just faint silver outlines. Her mental image extended beyond Healer's house into Totem Salazzle's village. Similar houses popped up as faint silver squares.

    "It… it's working," she whispered. Tessa turned to her left and nearly recoiled. A vibrant blue flame that was nearly her height stood right in front of her. She assumed it had to be Silvally. It would make sense for his aura to be large, given he was full of spirits.

    She was focused so intently on Silvally that she wasn't prepared for a second, equally-brilliant flame pop up. Tessa jerked her head to her right and looked right at the door to Healer's house. "Shane?" she asked.

    "How did you know? I didn't even get to say anything, yet!"

    Tessa opened her eyes, but her vision of the room didn't return. She blinked several times, until finally her aura sight faded and her normal vision returned. Shane stared directly up at her, a look of concern on his face.

    "I heard shouts… and glass shattering. So, I sprinted right over," Shane said. He did a double-take at Tessa's bloodstained fur. "What happened, Tessa? Oh god, we've gotta get Salazzle back here right away!"

    "I'm fine," Tessa insisted. She walked back toward the straw bed and grabbed the rag soaked in berry juice from earlier. Tessa wrapped it around her injured paw, taking care to hide the marking on it. "I appreciate you coming to check on me, though. Still," her brow furrowed, "how did I know it was you?"

    "Your aura sense must naturally know the auras of Pokémon you're familiar with," Silvally suggested. "At least, that's what came to mind for me."

    Shane's ears perked up. "Wait, you got your aura sense working?" His tails wagged. "That's really great, Tessa! I'm so happy for you!"

    "Y… yeah… I guess it is," Tessa muttered, rubbing her shoulder. She watched the smile fade from Shane's face.

    "Is something wrong?" Shane asked, voice ripe with concern.

    "Nuh… no! Of course not. I'm just… still a bit out of it, that's all," Tessa lied, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. She glanced Silvally's disapproving look out of the corner of her eye. His pink eyes glowed with psychic energy.

    "Why don't I give you two some space?" Silvally said. "I think you ought to have a chat."

    "Huh? What for?" Tessa asked, only for Silvally to walk out of the house. Her gaze returned to Shane, noting the mixture of worry and confusion in his face.

    "If something's bothering you, you can tell me," Shane said. "Or maybe you just want to vent?"

    "No. I–" Tessa cut herself off. She remembered Silvally's earlier comment about not bubbling up her thoughts. Tessa sighed and slumped back down to the floor. Shane cautiously approached her, but Tessa held up her healthy paw. "Shane, hold up. I need to get something off my chest."

    Shane grinned sheepishly. "I don't think you can get that metal spike out," he quipped. Tessa responded with a scathing look that made Shane wilt. "Sorry… I was just joking."

    "Shane," Tessa said. "I'm a bit worried… about you. About us."

    Shane's ears stuck up. "H-Huh? What's there to be worried about?"

    "When I sensed your aura, I remembered how much you gushed about Riolus and Lucarios when we first met," Tessa explained, fidgeting nervously with her bandages. She crossed one leg over the other, a defensive look on her face. "And after seeing what happened between you and Espeon, I… um…" Her brow furrowed. "Oh, the heck with it. Shane, I don't want you checking me out like you did to Espeon."

    Shane took a step back, looking flabbergasted. "I… wait what? I don't… that's not…" His gaze darted around the room. "T… Tessa, that's not gonna happen." He met Tessa's gaze. But her smoldering blue irises made him look away, biting his lower lip. "You're reading my aura, aren't you?"

    "Yes," Tessa replied. "And it's pulsating wildly. Your heart's racing, isn't it? Just like you said it did around Espeon."

    "I can't help it! It's instinctual!" Shane protested. A tense silence fell between the two of them. Shane's ears and tails drooped. "I'm sorry," he squeaked. "You have my word… I'm not going to try or say anything stupid, okay?"

    "Do you really mean that?"

    Shane nodded repeatedly. "Tessa, I'm being serious here. I…" His voice trailed off and his face scrunched up in thought. "It's more important that we stay friends. I wouldn't want to do anything that would make you uncomfortable and put our friendship in jeopardy." He pawed sheepishly at the ground. "You deserve better than that. With all the stuff you've been through… you're definitely the strongest person I've ever met. And I, y'know, admire that."

    "Shane," Tessa growled, turning away to hide the blush in her cheeks. "You're not keeping your promise."

    Shane shut his eyes. "I'm sorry. The point I was trying to make is that it's not about what you look like. It's the Tessa on the inside that counts. The one who's always nervous, but selfless enough to try and help everyone around her… in spite of all her struggles. That's the Tessa I care about." He shuffled backwards, frowning. "Gah… that sounded so stupid. I'm making this all about me again." He shook his head and looked back at Tessa. "Listen. I know the circumstances around your evolution weren't great."

    "Don't remind me," Tessa said.

    "But I still think you deserve something special," Shane continued. "To celebrate. Evolving is still a big accomplishment. It's something to proud of. You ought to have something nice to remember this by, don't you think?"

    Tessa rubbed the top of her snout. "I suppose you're right."

    "I'm glad you think that."

    Tessa and Shane looked toward the door in unison and found Healer standing in it. "Salazzle, were you eavesdropping?" Tessa gasped.

    "A little bit," Healer admitted. "Sorry, it was getting late and I figured I should pop in and see how you're doing." She lazily flicked her tail to her right. "And, uh, both of you lost your scarves in all the commotion."

    The realization finally dawned on the duo and they brought their paws up toward their necks. Shane and Tessa exchanged shocked expressions. "Tessa, I'm so sorry! I–" Shane started.

    "Relax, you two," Healer said. "I scooped them up. And I figured that, with all the abuse they've taken, I could spruce them up a little bit." She stepped into the house and opened the basket over her shoulder. Two bandanas, each bearing the same rainbow fabric as the scarves Shane and Tessa had, sat inside the basket.

    "You… you changed them!" Tessa gasped.

    "They were starting to unravel, seeing as each one had a frayed edge," Healer explained. "Besides, with these, you'll look the part of seasoned explorers. Or so I've been told, anyway. I even had enough material to make one for your odd-looking partner. Go on, take 'em."

    Shane and Tessa nodded to each other and walked up to Healer. A glimmer caught Tessa's eye. She looked down at her new scarf and did a double-take. "Wait. Did you weave my locket into the new scarf?"

    Shane's eyes widened. "She did? I wanna see!" he said. Tessa picked up her scarf and unfurled it, showcasing the pendant sitting in the center of the moon pattern. "Whoa, that's incredible, Salazzle! How did you do that?"

    "Oh, that? It's no big deal… really," Salazzle insisted. "I've done little patchwork projects like that before. Truthfully, it was a nice way to take my mind off the day's events."

    Shane graciously accepted his new rainbow scarf, smiling at the sun pattern in its center. Tessa helped tie it around his neck. He nudged at it with his snout and then posed heroically. "Well, what do you think?" he asked, tails wagging.

    Tessa smirked. "You look pretty stylish… for a small fry."

    Shane's expression deflated. "S… seriously?" he groaned.

    "Relax, Shane. You're fine," Tessa giggled. "Just a little friendly ribbing. I mean, you are the smallest one on the team now."

    "By like a solid foot, I think," Healer added.

    Shane's ears drooped. "Thanks for rubbing it in, guys."

    Tessa rolled her eyes. She plucked Shane off the ground, much to his complete surprise. "Will you relax? We're only teasing." Minding her chest spike, she pulled him into a big hug. "Besides, you're all cute and snuggly like this."

    Shane blinked in surprise, face turning bright red. "That was... another joke, right?" He shook his head about. Tessa laughed and set him back on the ground. "Okay, well, Salazzle kind of cut in before I had actually finished my thought from earlier." He looked up at Tessa. "So, listen. I talked to Totem Salazzle–"

    "And she listened?" Tessa gasped.

    "Yeah," Shane chuckled. "I was just as surprised as you are. Seems like Totem Marowak really got through to her. Anyway, she said she's willing to whip up a special meal for you, if you'd like."

    "But what about the Sizzle Shard?" Tessa asked. "We have to go after Gallian before he does something reckless!"

    Shane frowned. "And how do you propose we do that? We don't even have any idea where he went."

    "Oh… right," Tessa muttered. "I guess we can just regroup tomorrow, then?" Her stomach gurgled loudly. She clutched it with a paw. "Oh… oh man…" she whispered. "A meal actually sounds really good. I'm positively famished! I don't think I've ever felt this hungry in my whole life!"

    "Then I say we take Totem Salazzle up on her offer," Shane said.

    Tessa nodded enthusiastically. "Definitely!" They started to walk toward the door with Healer in tow. "Think she could make us something with chocolate? I've got a massive chocolate craving right now."

    "Uh, I don't think they keep any chocolate here. It's too hot. It would all melt," Shane mused.

    "That's okay! Liquid chocolate's just as good," Tessa said, licking her lips to the sounds of Shane's laughter. As they walked through the village, they all failed to notice a black-tailed Salazzle leaning against Healer's house. Her eyes narrowed and her eyes flashed, turning her purple sclera white and her irises sky-blue.

    "… so, they're after Gallian, huh?" the Salazzle muttered. "Then I'd better steer them in the right direction tomorrow. They may be my best shot at getting through to him."

    XxX
    This episode wound up getting extended by a chapter. I intended to add in some scenes to this one on revising, but this chapter was long enough already. So, next time...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    "I've finally found it! A Time Gear!"
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Ah, another giant boss fight! I like a giant boss fight. Once again, Team Radiance is undone by the fact that they don't seem to be capable of all attacking a single target at once. More interestingly, it looks like restrictions on how it is that Z-moves can flush the Prism Virus from a pokémon's system are coming into play; I guess it makes sense, given that Serperior is so much tougher and more experienced than her opponents here, that they wouldn't be able to take her out in a single hit as they have done with previous enemies. PMD as a series tends not to care about that kind of thing – in that world, it's perfectly viable to never evolve, so that sometimes I've kept mainstays of my teams at a more aesthetically pleasing stage of evolution without feeling the need to further boost their stats by evolving them all the way – but that's not to say that PMD fic needs to treat all that the same way.

    And then a giant exploding volcano to save everyone from! See, this resolution I quite like, where everyone has to band together to use their Z-power and save the villages from the lavaflow. And Tessa finally starts to get over her anxious self-deprecating hangups. That's nice; I feel like she needed to start moving in that direction sooner rather than later, by this point.

    … I wrote that part before seeing the end of the chapter, obviously. Huh. Well, that was … actually not that unexpected, I think, in that it didn't surprise me; for some reason, I didn't think evolution was going to go smoothly. I wasn't expecting Tessa to evolve here and now, though – like, I felt like evolution was coming soonish, from something you said in passing a few weeks ago, but I thought it might be a few chapters off yet.

    Anyway, I quite like the whole “adjusting to her new form” sequence. Having not read much PMD stuff before, I'm only familiar with the usual bit where a human tries to adjust to a pokémon body, not with a part dealing with the weirdness of changing shape for a pokémon, so that was a neat thing to read.
    “Stuffy” is an interesting choice of word for Shane. The rest of the sentiment checks out, but 'stuffy'? Shane is a lot of things, but I'm not sure I'd have said he's that.
    Is that meant to be “swelled” or “swollen” or something? “Swell” alone doesn't make too much sense.
    This seems … scientifically sort of dubious – I'm pretty sure you need, like, soil and stuff for growing crops, not just bare rock – but you know what, never mind.
    That should be “bearing”, rather than “baring”.
    Two things here: one, I'm pretty sure Silvally is assuring Shane, so that should be “him”; two, there's no full stop at the end of the sentence.
    Missing a full stop at the end here.

    Anyway! Man, that was an eventful couple of chapters, and with Tessa's evolution -- and growing mastery of her aura powers -- it feels like things are definitely moving up to a new and higher level now. Looking forward to it!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  6. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 53

    Okay, I was not expecting Totem Marowak to use attract on Totem Salazzle. That... was hilarious. Beat her at her own game.

    Romeo and Juliet situation going on with Healer and Spike Skull too!



    I'm really going to miss this character after this episode is over!

    More jabbing at Shane and his Espeon obsession, too. I fear he's never going to live that down.



    Gasp! Silvally! Well, I was not expecting such wudeness to come out of his adorable little mouth D=

    What an ending, though. Serperior got Volcanion!

    Chapter 54

    So Volcanion met an unfortunate fate...

    I really liked this battle with Serperior. Her use of a tail-blade reminded me a lot of Glavenus from Monster Hunter. A huge, Godzilla-like creature that uses his tail as a fiery halberd, running it through his teeth to make it white-hot and send out a flurry of sparks. Okay, so she didn't do that. But the image of her tail being somewhat similar in my mind was just awesome.

    Dodging those Z-Moves (and surviving them, to boot!) really shows she's a foe to be reckoned with.

    The description of her at the end doesn't bode well. Napalm inside?! And she's not even aware of that?!

    I do wonder if her words to Team Radiance, particularly Tessa, have any truth to them. Espy and Umbry were fully aware of their actions, so maybe the Prism Virus brings out some kind of truth serum that just makes everyone voice their innermost thoughts. Interesting theory, but I'm probably wrong. Espy did flirt with Shane, after all.

    And Tessa evolves! Evolution causing pain is an interesting concept, and one I've used myself in the past. Those rings on her tail... does that have anything to do with Incineroar being her father, or is it just a little quirk to separate her from other lucario? I do like to think there are differences between members of the same species, otherwise they'd all look alike!

    Chapter 55

    I love the urgency in the opening paragraphs. Blending speech in with the narrative just makes it seem all that more chaotic and frightening.



    Looks like Totem Salazzle is having a change of heart, here. Acknowledging that Tessa is Shane's friend, not his 'leader'.

    We get some details as to why Tessa now looks like she does. I don't think I'd picked up that Zero had no tail and super long aura feelers, or I'd forgotten about it. Interesting that she could be stuck in Mega Evolution. But Tessa having that horned heart symbol? Along with a super creepy Zero-Necky moment? Was he really there, or was Tessa having a terrified hallucination moment? Nevertheless, I'm interested to see how that plays out. Surely she's not infected? Yikes, what if she is? D=

    This was a really sweet chapter with some adorable moments. I really do like Tessa and Silvally together. Their scenes are just too cute, and a little feelsy.



    Uncomfortable how? Does he not like others playing with his fur?



    Gah! Aww! Adorable! Ahem I shall keep reading...

    I'd actually forgotten Gallian stole the Sizzle Shard with all the crazy, fun commotion in the past two chapters. Oh yeh. They need to get that back.

    But I second Tessa's suggestion for food and chocolate. A girl's gotta eat, man.



    Mysterious new character? Zero in disguise? Gallian's Ultra Space friend who's name I have forgotten? I'm itching to find-

    Oh. Zoroark! XD I bet it's him!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    That's a fair point. This time around there were some confounding variables. Most of Shane's best attacks were rendered useless by the environment, while Espeon was experiencing the Mother of All Hangovers and not entirely thinking straight. Tessa and Silvally were attempting to work in tandem, but Serperior's verbal jabs took a lot of the fight out of Tessa.

    Yeah, I can't just have them be the instant win button. In this case, the difference here was, again, the environment. With Espeon/Umbreon and Tapu Lele, the arenas were enclosed and they had absolutely no way to escape the Z-Move. Here, we're on a fairly spacious mountaintop, even with the big pit of magma. Serperior had the necessary room to get out of the way.

    Yeah, that's been the approach here. Team Radiance has steadily gotten stronger, but now their enemies are stepping their games up, too. I'm always hoping I'm balancing things well... or as well as something like this can be balanced.

    I'd like to think I was being clever in having the volcanic explosion coincide with Tessa's temper flaring up in a big way, but I'll leave that for you to decide. ^^;

    In my outline I had left it a bit flexible as to whether it would happen this episode or the next one. I ultimately decided on this one, thinking it would make for some more interesting events next episode.

    Glad you liked it. I enjoyed writing it. Which... probably isn't the best thing to say, since a lot of it involves negative thoughts and bad memories on Tessa's part. :V

    Full confession: I never realized until I read this that "swelled head" was the term. Whoops.

    And believe me they'll be getting put to the test sooner rather than later. Thanks again for review!

    That was always the plan, since it doubles as a reference to the Alola games. Kiawe's trial features a dance that ends with a pelvic-thrusting Marowak. I might not've been able to do a Hiker David equivalent but I had to put something from that ridiculous trial into this story.

    More or less. Spike-Skull is not Totem Marowak's son, just his apprentice. Close enough, though. :V

    As am I, but I think it's one of those gimmicks that's best done in just a handful of chapters. Otherwise I could see it getting grating.

    Certainly not if Espeon has anything to say about it. spoilers: she has lots to say about it, none of it pleasant.

    I mean, the guy's got a thousand spirits sitting inside him. He'd likely be the most lewd character on the team if he didn't have a Lunar Wing.

    To be fair, being a Volcanion is already a terrible fate. You're doomed to irrelevancy. :p

    Glad to hear it. I've certainly seen Monster Hunter in action. In actuality, Serperior's tail has been turned into a flamberge, which she can ignite at will or morph into a molten hammer.

    As shown above, she was just fortunate to have the room to dodge one of them. Future bosses may not be as lucky.

    Well, look at it this way: what's at the heart of the Prism Virus? Given the events last episode, it's highly likely a certain someone tampered with Zero's infection of Serperior.

    You're not far off the mark. Remember, in episode 7, Serperior was rather angry with Shane.

    The tail rings are a result of Incineroar being her father. In Tessa's case, her evolution added more quirks to her appearance to differentiate her from a prototypical Lucario.

    Glad to hear it. ^^

    See? I told you she'd come around eventually! (Editor's note: Amby never actually said that.)

    It wasn't explicitly stated, but it was never mentioned that she had a tail. Basically, with her crystalline body, there's fur dangling around her hips. Think Riku's outfit when he's corrupted by darkness in Kingdom Hearts.

    It was just a terrified hallucination. What the ramifications of it are... well... you'll have to stick around to find out. *evil laugh*

    Feelsy is what I'm going for, so that's a win in my book.

    She grabbed his fur and yanked. So imagine someone suddenly pulling your hair. Lemme just fix that real quick...

    I wonder if that's going to be coming up soon? ;)

    Food is always good, yes. It wouldn't be a PMD story if the day didn't end with gorging on food.

    Can't pool the wool over your eyes, huh? Thanks again for reviewing! ^^
     
  8. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Chapter 56: Time Forms All Wounds
    "Oh, for god's sake… another Monster House, game? Are we serious, here?" Shane hissed in a whisper, staring down at his 3DS in dismay. "See, this is why I used an EXP multiplier to get Discharge quickly." He tapped the A-button lazily and leaned back in his chair. "This better stop. I'm trying to move the story forward, here."

    WHAM!

    Shane jumped in his chair, dropping the 3DS on the table in the process. A large thumb pressed down on the power button and then the rest of the pale-white hand closed the system. "H… hey!" Shane protested. "I was in the middle of something. What's the big id–"

    The rest of his sentence got caught in his throat as he looked up to identify the source of the hand. Shane's face paled. "G… Geoff," he whispered, shrinking down in his chair. "Um… can this wait for a better time? I've, uh, got a meeting to run to."

    Standing before Shane was a much taller, broad-shouldered boy. Geoff's brown hair was in a crew cut and his hazel eyes were sizing Shane up. A gray hoodie with the school's emblematic C hung loosely around Geoff's torso. "A meeting with what… this useless hunk of plastic?" he said, lifting up the 3DS and shaking it around.

    "Put that down right now… or I'm going to the principal," Shane threatened, gripping the arms of his chair to the point where his knuckles turned white.

    Geoff set the 3DS down and slid it toward Shane. "All I want to know is who the hell you've been talking to and what you've been saying," he said, narrowing his eyes at Shane. "You seeing a shrink about Prissy Nicky or something, huh? Everyone knows he was your only friend, dude. No point hiding it."

    Shane blinked. "I… wait, huh? You're confusing me, here. Please go away." He turned his chair to his left and hastily stood up, ready to make an exit. Geoff blocked his path.

    "Answer my question, buddy," Geoff growled. "Who are you talking to, huh?"

    "I don't know what you're talking about," Shane said, looking around nervously. "Mr. Esposito said that you and your friends have to leave me alone or you're getting in trouble."

    Geoff raised his hands but the angry look didn't disappear from his face. "I ain't done nothing wrong here. Just like I didn't do nothing to Prissy Nicky. Which is not what your lying ass is saying behind my back, is it?"

    "Guh… get out of my way, Geoff. I'm late," Shane stammered, squeezing his eyes shut.

    Geoff turned, pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, and slammed it down on the table. "Not until you tell me what kind of whacko stunt you're pulling here. Why am I getting ordered to speak to some lawyer guy, huh?" Geoff took a step toward Shane. "You trying to have me arrested or something? I didn't do anything wrong! It ain't my fault you were too dense to realize something was wrong with your boyfriend until it was too late."

    "N… Nicky wasn't my b… boyfriend," Shane muttered.

    Shane looked down at the page in Geoff's hand. He recognized Rory's signature on one of the lines and hastily looked away. Geoff stepped back into Shane's field of view. "Tell me what you're up to, Shane. I swear to god, if you do something to get my scholarship pulled I'm gonna make your life a living hell. Just because your life's on the fast track to nowheresville doesn't mean you get to drag me or my friends down with you."

    "This has nothing to do with me, Geoff. What about Nicky's parents, huh? They could be doing stuff," Shane said.

    "Bull-freaking-shit!" Geoff spat. "You're the guy who followed Prissy Nicky around like a sad, lost puppy dog. And you say tons of weird shit that makes no sense all the time." He grabbed Shane's 3DS again.

    "Put that down right now!" Shane shouted, and then shoved Geoff's chest. Geoff raised his hands up innocently, still clutching the 3DS.

    "See? You've got it out for me!" he accused. "You lost the only guy who'd play these gay-ass games with you and that made you mad, didn't it? Mad enough to start lying about how it was me and my friends' faults that Nicky died. He made his choice, man. You've gotta live with it." Geoff put the 3DS back down on the table. "And one last thing to keep in mind, buddy. People like me. Which is more than I can say for you. So, go on, keep spreading your lies." He turned away from Shane. "We'll see which one of us walks away from this smelling like a rose."

    Geoff stomped away, shoving his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. Shane looked around the hallway, noticing a couple of students had stopped to take in the conversation. They had now gathered up and were whispering excitedly among each other. Shane sat back down in the chair, limbs trembling. He grabbed his 3DS and barely managed to shove it back into his bag.

    Shane shakily produced a flip phone from his bag but dropped it on the ground. He fell to his knees trying to pick it back up. After a few failed attempts at pressing the right buttons on the dial pad, he punched in a speed dial code and hit the green SEND button. The phone rang a few times, with Shane squeezing his eyes shut.

    "H-Hello… Mr. Gardner? It's… it's Shane. I need to see you… like, right now."

    He paused, waiting for a response. But static greeted him, only to fade and be replaced by a deep voice roaring at him.

    This isn't who you are! Wake up… remember your true self!

    XxX

    ~Western Volcanic Wastes~

    Shane shot up, his eyes wide and his pupils dilated. In front of Shane, Silvally's faint outline expanded and shrunk with each sleeping breath. Shane looked around the room, but could hardly make anything out. There was a faint orange glow lying on the other side of a shuttered window.

    "Not again," Shane groaned, only to cup a forepaw over his muzzle and look around in worry. To his relief, he didn't see any movement from Silvally's outline aside from breathing. 'Ugh, why can I never remember my inner monologue when I need it?' He cautiously felt around him until his forepaw brushed a strip of bare rock. 'This looks like a safe spot to stand.'

    Shane inched his way forward until he was off of his cushion and got to his feet. He took a hesitant step forward. Carpet fibers brushed his paw pads. Shane looked over his shoulder and squinted. Silvally's energy blades flickered, allowing him to glance Tessa's outline. She couldn't curl up into a ball anymore, but she still slept against Silvally, using his side as a makeshift pillow.

    Satisfied his teammates were asleep, Shane crept across the floor, inching toward the small bit of light streaming in through the closed window. When he reached it, he paused and glanced through a crack in the blinds. 'Hmm… I'm pretty sure it's still nighttime. Tough to tell with all these storm clouds.'

    He bared his fangs and huffed out a cloud of frost. 'Ugh, I can't believe this. Even after such a delightful meal, I still can't get a decent night's sleep.' Shane's ears and tails drooped. 'I'm so exhausted. I just want to sleep through one night… one night without all these awful memories and that voice screaming at me. It's going to drive me crazy!'

    Shane took a deep breath. 'There's nothing I can do about this. We have to get the Dawn Shards. I have to stay focused… can't drag the rest of the team down with my sleep problems.' Shane shook his head. 'Oh, how I wish there was a way to make it stop.' He turned toward where he knew Silvally was sleeping. 'He's so lucky. What I wouldn't give for a Lunar Wing right now. Hell, I'd take Darkrai trapping me in a nightmare if it meant I could sleep longer than a few hours.'

    "… just shut up! You… you don't know what you're talking about!"

    Shane's ears stuck up. His tails curled against his hips and he shrank up against the wall. 'Someone's out there,' he gasped. 'Is… is it trouble?' Shane again looked at his teammates, wondering if he should say anything to rouse them.

    "That's not true. I tried my best. I saved lives today! I'm… I'm doing better!"

    'Wait… I know that voice! That's Espeon,' Shane realized. 'But who's she talking to? I don't hear anyone else out there.' He got up on his hind legs and gently nudged the window shade open with the tip of his snout. Shane was able to make enough of a gap to stick his head through and peer outside.

    A few yards away, Espeon lay on the ground, batting at the air in front of her with her forepaws. "Stop it!" she whimpered. "I'm… this is the best I've got. I swear! I'm going to save you guys! Please… just hold out a bit longer!"

    Shane frowned. He looked around for some sign of who Espeon was talking to, but there wasn't a single soul out in the village. Shane ducked his head back inside, the shade shutting behind him. He sank down to the floor. The scene he just witnessed was familiar. After a couple of seconds, it dawned on him that he had encountered a similar situation back at the Observatory. He found Espeon in the assembly room, shouting at someone he couldn't see.

    'Maybe she can sense something?' Shane proposed. 'But if that was the case, then Silvally and Tessa would know about it too, right? Can ESP and aura sense work while you're sleeping? I feel like it would, anyway?'

    "Get away from me! I hate you… you stupid Void Shadows! Give me back my friends! Give me back Umbry!" Espeon cried.

    'Wait… Void Shadows? Here? But that's impossible!' Shane gasped. He heard a loud, elongated snort, followed by raucous coughing. Shane sprang to his feet and hopped up toward the windowsill again. He looked outside and found Espeon standing all alone in an empty part of the village. She was doubled over, face scrunched up in pain and coughing loudly.

    Shane was about to head for the door when he glanced movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned back on the windowsill and watched Espeon levitate a small cloth bag into her satchel. Faint multicolored sparkles littered the ground around her. Something immediately seemed off with Espeon. Her eyes were bloodshot and her white, hollow irises constricted. Espeon's tail twitched and erratically jerked back and forth. As she stumbled forward, Shane got a closer look at her face and gasped.

    'Is that blood on her snout?' he wondered, trying to lean forward on the window sill. Espeon's ears twitched and, before she could look up, Shane ducked back inside Totem Salazzle's house. He fell to the floor, blinking in confusion. 'I don't understand. What was Espeon doing?' Shane clenched his jaw tightly. 'Did she inhale something? I heard a snorting noise, after all.'

    Shane waited a few minutes before daring to poke his head out of the window again. When he did, there was no sign of Espeon as far as he could see.

    'Did… did she just walk out on us? After everything we did for her?' he thought. 'No… there's gotta be another explanation… right?'

    XxX

    ~Quicksand Cave, Underground Lake~

    "Mesprit, I know you're out there! Come out and face me!"

    Dragonite stomped across the rocky alcove overlooking a glistening lake, lightning crackling through her arms. All around her, sand streams trickled down stone walls, piling up at the edges of the lake. Small rock platforms littered the water, with a circular arrangement positioned in the middle. There, a green compass-like rune sat, glowing brightly. Mesprit floated above it, a look of worry on her face.

    "You're…" Mesprit started, before her tails flashed and alarm washed over her face. "What are you?"

    "The ones who will be taking that Time Gear."

    Dragonite stepped to her side, allowing Zero to walk past her. She pointed her scepter at Mesprit. "Hand it over, Mesprit. You have failed as a god in protecting this world. We are here to relieve you of that Time Gear… and your life."

    Mesprit's eyes narrowed. Her tails rose up, brimming with psychic energy. Dragonite wasted no time in speeding forward, bolts of electricity streaming behind her from her scales. She failed to reach Mesprit, however, before a wall of sand rose up in front of her. Dragonite skidded to a halt. Blue energy shrouded her body and she charged the wall. Dragonite bounced off of it, a look of surprise on her face.

    "Wait… that's not sand anymore. It's… it's more like glass, but a lot harder!" Dragonite said. Dragonfire gathered in her mouth and she shot an explosive, blue-violet meteor at the wall. The meteor burst apart, showering the wall with dragonfire. Dragonite floated back, jaw agape at the sight of the wall sitting there, completely unharmed. Some spots on the mysterious glass twinkled.

    Zero's eye widened. "Dragonite, get back!" she barked. Dragonite zipped backward in an electric stream. Seconds later, pink baubles of energy erupted where Dragonite had previously hovered. Zero stepped toward the edge of the lake, tightening her grip on her staff. "Future Sight… clever. But not good enough." She pointed her scepter forward and a black beam raced toward the wall.

    The wall glowed bright pink. Zero's beam bounced off of it, heading directly back toward her. She held up her free paw and batted the attack aside, leaving it to strike a part of the nearby wall and blow it up. Sand poured into the lake from the missing chunk of wall. "Interesting," Zero said, looking at the sand stream. "And where were these tricks when Darkrai was making his move on Temporal Tower, hmm? If you and the other gods had actually put in effort toward stopping him, crises would've been averted. Lives would've been saved!"

    What are you talking about? Mesprit's voice echoed through the chamber. Everything worked out fine thanks to Team Poképals!

    "Lies!" Zero spat, metal swirling around her paws. Her scepter disappeared in a flash of light. She thrusted her paws forward, sending out a wave of liquid metal.

    "Lightning Javelin!" Dragonite shouted, bringing her right arm up like she was about to throw a ball. Electricity shot down from the ceiling, forming into a crackling spear in Dragonite's hand. She threw it forward, where it coalesced with Zero's metal wave. The attack struck the glass wall. This time, cracks appeared in the wall. They spread out from its center, much to Dragonite's satisfaction.

    The wall suddenly exploded. Multicolored stars streamed toward Dragonite. She zipped to her left, leaving a trail of electricity. But the stars immediately altered course. They peppered Dragonite's armored hide, forcing her back.

    Zero retaliated with a black energy beam, which flew toward the dusty cloud left behind by the destroyed wall. Water geysers erupted from the lake, forcing Zero to cut off her attack and leap backward. As she did, her aura dreadlocks tensed. Seconds later, a crushing force struck her from all sides. Static blurred Zero's body as she dropped to one knee. She braced herself until the sensation faded. Her eye darted about the room.

    "Another Future Sight," she growled. "She's got us in a game of cat and mouse, here." She got back to her feet. "Impressive, Mesprit. For a god with little reputation in battle, you've managed to put on a more impressive display than Zapdos. Which only heightens my disappointment in your inability to take action."

    I hear a lot of words coming out of your mouth, whatever you are, Mesprit said. But it's all hot air if you ask me.

    Zero's aura dreadlocks twitched. She pivoted, her paws flickering in and out of existence. Red cubes descended from the ceiling, eliciting a frightened scream. "There, Dragonite!" Zero shouted, pointing a distorted paw forward.

    With a burst of electrically-charged speed, Dragonite was at a dazed Mesprit's side. Another electric spear appeared in her hand and she slashed Mesprit in the face. The electricity froze Mesprit in midair, body spasming wildly. Then the force of the blow kicked in and knocked Mesprit back into a sand stream.

    Dragonite wasted no time in prepping her next attack. She brought her hands up to her mouth and unleashed a blue-violet energy stream that took the shape of a winged dragon. It corkscrewed forward, only to meet a pink shield. Mesprit howled from the strain of trying to keep her shield up against Dragonite's attack.

    Zero raised her right paw up. Staticky black cubes swirled over Mesprit's head, forming a small vortex that immediately exploded. Mesprit's shield shattered and Dragonite's attack struck her simultaneously. Her charred, smoking body fell into the water with a small splash. Dragonite dove right in, a trail of lightning fanning behind her. She zipped out of the water seconds later, only to bank in midair and dash to the edge of the platform Zero stood on.

    Dragonite dropped Mesprit's scorched, bloody form. Mesprit rolled to a stop in front of Zero. "And so it ends," Zero said, raising a paw brimming with red energy. But before she could fire her attack, her aura dreadlocks crinkled up. Zero turned to her right just in time for a barrage of pink explosions to race over her and Dragonite. She skidded across the ground, digging her crystalline claws into the ground to keep herself from falling into the lake. Dragonite spread out her wings to steady herself.

    "What the heck?!" Zero barked. She looked toward the spot where Mesprit was supposed to be lying, only to find the smoldering remnants of a Ninjask, its chitin burnt to a crisp. "How is this possible?"

    Sorry, that's a secret, Mesprit's voice echoed through the cavern. After the whole situation with Temporal Tower, I decided to take whatever steps I could think of to better protect this Time Gear from malevolent forces. You're part of this 'Prism Virus' thing I've been hearing about, yes? I don't know what sorts of twisted ideas have poisoned your mind, but I'll defend this Time Gear with every ounce of my power!

    The room rumbled. Pink ripples spread across the remaining parts of the lake. Dragonite gasped and lightning-dashed back toward Zero. Tan-colored crystals jutted out of the lake, rising higher and higher until they hit the ceiling, effectively cutting off the rest of the room from the Time Gear.

    "Oh… clever. Very clever," Zero declared, employing a sarcastic slow clap. "You learned Uxie's feeble parlor trick. Tell me, why did you not think to use this against Darkrai? Why was there no effort made to protect Temporal Tower?!"

    I don't owe you any explanation, Mesprit said.

    "Yes, you do!" Zero snarled, afterimages popping up around her as she angrily nudged her mask. "Thanks to you and your fellow gods failing miserably, lives were ruined!"

    What are you talking about? I already told you–

    "I'm not talking about Pokémon, here!" Zero barked, a rainbow glow brimming underneath her helmet. "I'm talking about humans. How many innocent humans fell victim to the Ultra Wormholes that Primal Dialga's rampage spurned? How many were torn from their homes… from their families… only to end up in some wretched, alien world? Assuming, of course, they were lucky enough to survive in the first place!"

    Ultra Wormholes? I have no idea what you're talking about!

    "Again, you spout lies! They've been plaguing this world for as long as Solgaleo and Lunala have occupied it!" Zero hissed. "Thousands upon thousands of humans have unwillingly had their lives destroyed as a result of your failures at keeping this world safe and under control! And that doesn't even begin to get into all the anguish and sadness your shortcomings have brought to the Pokémon of this world. You are all failures. When humans fail at their jobs… we dismiss them. It's only fair I do the same here. I must have that Time Gear, so that no one ever has to suffer injustice again!"

    Zero snapped her digits. "Dragonite, go! Dispose of this futile barrier!"

    Dragonite zipped to the edge of the platform, a grin plastered on her face. You won't lay a claw on that barrier! Mesprit shouted. The temperature in the room dropped drastically. Dragonite crouched low, seeing every breath she took.

    "Dragonite, get back here!" Zero shouted. She threw her paws up, creating three walls of black cubes. Dragonite surged toward Zero, but even her lightning-dash wasn't quick enough to avoid the massive snowstorm that suddenly erupted throughout the room. Zero closed the cube walls together into a triangle, shielding her from the gale-force winds.

    Dragonite hissed in pain and dropped to one knee. Ice crusted over her body, freezing her to the ground. When the howling wind died down, Zero dropped her barrier. Her eye narrowed at Dragonite's frozen form. She pointed her paws forward. Red cubes circled around Dragonite, unleashing a ring of fire that thawed her out.

    "You're going to pay for that one, stupid pixie!" Dragonite snarled. Electricity and blue energy crackled down her body. A royal-blue aura erupted around her. In the process, a metallic ring formed behind Dragonite's wings. Atop the ring sat three crystalline dragon heads, their eyes glowing and their maws filled with blue-violet light.

    "Now, Dragonite! I'll shield you," Zero barked. Dragonite zipped into the air, more energy gathering in the crystal dragons' mouths. Pink baubles raced across the room from all directions, threatening to close in on Zero and Dragonite. Zero punched the ground with a glowing fist. A black shockwave raced out, pushing the psychic energy away from Dragonite.

    "Take this… Ultimate Meteor Swarm!" Dragonite shouted. She thrusted her hands forward and the crystal dragons unleashed multiple volleys of dark blue meteors, each brimming with blue lightning and purple dragonfire. The meteors battered Mesprit's barrier one after another. Initially, pink hexagonal shields snuffed the meteors out. But they quickly shattered, letting the meteors pound away at the crystals.

    "Huuuuurrrrrrrrrrrgh… yaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Dragonite yelled, and then launched three gigantic meteors from the crystal dragon heads. They collided with Mesprit's barrier, resulting in a massive explosion of lightning and dragonfire that Dragonite had to dash away from.

    At the same time, Zero hurled a red Aura Sphere into the explosion. She clenched her open paw into a fist, intensifying the explosion. Glitchy red cubes surged around the room. "Get rid of the dust, Dragonite," Zero ordered.

    Dragonite flapped her wings, whipping up a whirlwind that cleared the room right up. Mesprit's crystal barrier was completely destroyed. With the water in the lake having been used to make the barrier, the Time Gear now sat in a crater. The glowing rune accompanying it had vanished. Mesprit lay face down next to it, her body covered in lacerations. Dragonite zipped down and nabbed the Time Gear. She banked off the crater and rebounded back toward Zero.

    The instant Dragonite landed, the entire room shook. "Time's about to freeze in this area," Zero declared. She held out her right paw, summoning her scepter, and pointed it at Mesprit. "You cost me a great deal of energy, you worthless god. Time to make up for it. Consume!"

    Zero fired a red and black beam at Mesprit. It struck her, siphoning the colors off her body and sending them up to Zero's helmet. "Come, Dragonite. Let us take our leave and make for the next Time Gear. Treeshroud Forest should be our next stop." She raised her free paw, summoning a black orb. Zero shattered the orb, leading to a black portal appearing at her feet. She calmly walked inside it, with Dragonite flying along after her.

    Seconds after the portal closed, ripples of white energy raced throughout the room. The tan coloration of the rocks and crystals faded. The few sand streams remaining after the battle instantly stopped flowing and the gray blood seeping from Mesprit's wounds paused. Blood droplets hovered around her body, inches from the floor.

    Then a crackle of white light appeared above her. A purple Ultra Wormhole burst forth in the middle of the room. Necrozma flew out of it, only to spread his wings out and screech to a halt.

    "Huh?" He looked around the room. "Blast it! Must've taken a wrong turn somewhere! This is…" His voice trailed off and his gaze fell on Mesprit. "Oh?" he whispered, grinning. "Do my eyes deceive me? Mesprit, guardian of Quicksand Cave's Time Gear, lying dead before my non-existent feet?"

    Necrozma floated down toward Mesprit. He reached his right arm down and plucked her off the ground by her head. Necrozma brought his left arm to his chest, trying to keep it from spasming. "Alas, poor Mesprit! I knew her, Lunala, a pixie of most excellent fancy!" he shouted. Necrozma brought Mesprit up to eye level. "We had some good times together, did we not?" he said. "Remember the tea parties with Uxie and Azelf? The many games of tag with Mew? Those were great fun… weren't they?"

    He squeezed Mesprit's head, digging his claws into her skull. Black crystals slowly encased her corpse. "But, in the end, those 'sweet memories' were just lies. Because when I needed you to save my spirit, you ignored my call! And now I return to this world and what do I find? You're sitting guard over some wretched artifact forged from my stolen light!"

    Necrozma finished encasing Mesprit in crystals. He held her up and throttled her violently. "Did Dialga ever tell you how he made these Time Gears? How he used my life energy after all of you let me get tossed aside like a piece of insignificant trash? Well… did he?!" Silence followed. "Oh, right, you can't answer me. You're dead! What a waste of good light." He haphazardly tossed Mesprit over his shoulder. She struck a wall and shattered, the fragments of her corpse raining down onto the frozen ground.

    "So, Mesprit's gone… and time's come to a stop in this room," Necrozma said. His wings twitched and his eyes flashed. He held up his right hand and black shadows swirled around his claws. "How did the tale go, again?" His head lolled to one side. The shadows coalesced forming a black, miniature Dusknoir in the palm of Necrozma's hand. He lifted it up to eye level.

    "When a Time Gear is removed, the flow of time slows in its region," Necrozma recited, manipulating the tiny Dusknoir like it was a hand puppet. "As many more are taken, time slows in an ever-larger area. Eventually, the planet's flow slows down so much that it stops entirely." His opened his mouth and drool trickled off his tongue. "In a world where the planet has become paralyzed… no winds blow… the day never comes… neither spring nor summer ever comes… it's a world of unrelenting darkness…"

    A smile crept onto his lips. He crushed the Dusknoir copy in his grip, leaving only shadowy wisps in its place. "That's the story and everyone really believes it. But a paralyzed planet… heeheeheehee… it still has form… function… life. It is not true chaos. It is not the destruction I seek," Necrozma said, giggling excitedly. He raised his right hand again, pausing as it spasmed in protest, and then wiggled his claws.

    The shadows swirled around in front of him. This time they combined into small, ethereal representation of Dialga. "Pokémon can still live on a paralyzed planet… all because of you." His grin widened. "Dialga… the Temporal Pokémon. It is said that time flows when Dialga's heart beats."

    He glided up toward the phantom he created. "Heeheeheehee… look at you. You arrogant fool of a god. Controlling all of time and yet you needed months to fix your precious Temporal Tower when it should've taken mere seconds," he whispered. "You say you heard your savior's suffering, but it took you half a year to decide to restore his partner. But... at least you did it. You gave Team Poképals a happy ending. Everyone got what they wanted… bright, joyful futures together."

    Necrozma leveled himself with the illusion's empty eyes. "What about me? What about the things that I did for you? For everyone in the world?!" he snarled, his spittle falling through the shadowy Dialga copy. "You sensed my suffering. I know you did. Any of you useless gods could've sensed it. Yet you ignored it. You took no action to help this world's true savior! There wouldn't have been an attack on Temporal Tower if I hadn't brought light back to this world! Instead everyone would've drowned in the despair of endless night… including you!"

    "If time flows when your heart beats, then it stands to reason that if I devour your light, I won't just paralyze the planet… but every creature living on it! Heeheeheehee!" Necrozma cackled, folding up his wings to contain their protesting twitches. He swiped at Dialga's phantom, tearing holes in the cloud of black shadows. "No… I'm not giving you enough credit, am I? After Darkrai's attack, you surely realized what a fatal flaw that was."

    "It doesn't matter, though. Paralyzing everything still leaves order. It leaves a way to undo that damage. I want destruction! I crave total oblivion!" Necrozma continued. He raised his arms high. Two orange circles brimming with runes containing demonic eyes formed around his wrists. The paralyzed ground trembled. Holes suddenly opened under Necrozma. Black, cast-iron chains popped out of the holes, pointing their ends at the spectral Dialga.

    "Primal Dialga will stop at nothing to maintain an irregular flow of time. If he were to come under someone else's control… if I used ley lines to subdue him to my will…" Necrozma pointed his hands forward. The chains descended on Dialga's phantom, wrapping around it and squeezing it. It popped like a balloon, the shadows evaporating into the air. "… then I could destroy time itself and bring this world to ruin! Heeheeheehee!"

    His red eyes flashed and the chains retreated into the ground. Necrozma turned to his right and tore open an Ultra Wormhole. "Now then, let's not take any more detours this time. Otherwise, I risk missing my ride!"

    With a flap of his wings, Necrozma flew into the Ultra Wormhole, giggling excitedly.

    XxX

    ~Invern Mountains, Base Camp~

    "Lycanroooooc, my tootsies hurt! How much further do we have to keep walking, huh?"

    A vein bulged out of Lycanroc's forehead. He whirled around on Jangmo-o and held up a fist. "We keep walking until I say we're done walking, mate!" he barked. "Ain't you recognized where we are yet? We can't stop here!"

    He gestured behind him to a fork in the path they were on. One direction continued forward through the clammy gray grass that rippled against the harsh winds. The other path disappeared in a dense gray cloud. In front of the cloud, a pair of stone houses faced each other. Neither had any windows, likely due to the blustery winds rolling through the area. However, each house's roof had a small layer of frost on it.

    "Of course I recognize this place. It's the Invern Mountains. A paradise for ice-types like me. Kweh heh heh!" Sneasel declared. "It's the perfect place to lie low until we get another crack at Snowy!"

    "Shut yer trap, featherhead! I ain't staying around here. It's bloody cold. And the Invern Mountains ain't nothing but a load of snowstorms," Lycanroc growled. "So, quit your moaning and keep walking."

    "Aw, jeez, ain't there somewhere we can stop for a break or something?" Jangmo-o sighed, trudging forward with his head slumped over. "Surely you know somewhere we can crash, right?"

    A rock formed in Lycanroc's paw and he hurtled it into Jangmo-o's snout. "Owie! Not the schnozzle!" Jangmo-o squealed, eyes tearing up and snout throbbing. He dropped to the ground and rubbed his face against the dirt.

    "Use your head for just a minute, you ditz," Lycanroc said. "We're wanted outlaws who got out of jail. Do you honestly think there's anywhere we can go?" He threw his paws up in exasperation. "Trust me, I'd love to go crawling back to bloody Cosmic Cavern, but Totem Decidueye ain't no dunce. He keeps up with outlaw postings. He'll turn us in without a second thought."

    "Then what's the point of walking anywhere, huh?" Sneasel wondered. "If we've got bounties, then there's nowhere we can go that we'll be safe."

    A smirk crossed Jangmo-o's face. "At least we've got bounties. That makes us hardened criminals! Nobody's gonna cross us anymore except dumb old Snowy."

    "Will you shut your trap? You're as hard as wet paper, mate," Lycanroc sneered. "Can't even beat up a sorry Vulpix pup."

    Rrrrrrruuuuuuuuuuuuuumble!

    Jamgmo-o froze mid-step. "S… Sneasel? That was your tummy doing that, right?"

    "Kweh? What are you talking about? I've got an iron stomach, it never growls!" Sneasel scoffed.

    Jangmo-o winced. "Then what was that rumbling all about?"

    A multicolored explosion knocked Team Fang skyward. All of them shouted in surprise, flailing their limbs around desperately. They fell back to the ground. Sneasel faceplanted, while Jangmo-o landed atop Lycanroc, his tail draped over Lycanroc's mane. Lycanroc's eyes widened.

    "What the–?! Get your scaly arse out of my face, you stupid worm!" he barked. Lycanroc swatted Jangmo-o, knocking him to the ground.

    "Oww! Hey, don't yell at me. That wasn't my fault!" Jangmo-o squealed.

    "Well then what was that drivel all about, huh?" Lycanroc snarled.

    Not here… no Hourglass…

    Team Fang sat up in unison, stoic expressions on their faces. "Hey, Sneasel. Ain't that voice familiar?" Jangmo-o asked. Lycanroc tackled Jangmo-o to the ground, cupping a paw over Jangmo-o's snout. They all turned toward the large storm cloud, watching as a quartet of multicolored, crystalline limbs appeared.

    "Mmmmffrrrgh hrrrkkk," Jangmo-o said, his voice muffled by Lycanroc's paw.

    "That's… the Metagross guy from the guild that poisoned the berries," Sneasel gasped. Lycanroc turned around. His arms slackened in surprise, releasing Jangmo-o in the process.

    "He's all sparkly and colorful now. Like he's made of gems," Jangmo-o said, a twinkle in his eyes. "We should totally try to rip off part of his hide and flip it for a profit!"

    Metagross hovered out of the clouds. Team Fang's jaws dropped at the sight of the extra four limbs sticking out of his back and the large, crystal spike jutting out from his chin. His body had become completely translucent, allowing Team Fang to see rainbow energy swirling around Metagross' insides.

    Hourglass… find… must get… Metagross muttered, his rainbow eyes twitching. He pivoted to face where Team Fang sat in the grass.

    Sneasel's eyes widened. "W… whoa now! I didn't sign up for none of this! Jangmo-o… plan R… on the double!"

    Metagross raised his upper limbs, which started glowing. "You don't need to tell me twice!" Jangmo-o squealed.

    "Run away!" they shouted and sprinted back down the path.

    Lycanroc's eyes widened. "H… hey! Where do you think you're going, mates? Don't just leave me here!" He sprinted off after them, stealing glances back at Metagross as he ran.

    XxX

    ~Treasure Town~

    Two Chatots stood on the shores of the town's beach. Infernape and Feraligatr were behind them, talking to Mawile. Several yards in front of them, Magearna's special barrier projected up from the water, filling the sky with a bright green glow. It reflected off the water, giving the Lapras stationed on the shoreline an ethereal appearance.

    "… and so I'm asking for your permission, Elder Chatot," Lapras said. "I'd like to bring my family here and let them stay in that small alcove near Beach Cave." He gestured to his right with a flipper. "It wouldn't be long, hopefully. Just until we're sure it's safe." He looked expectantly at the Chatot on his left, whose feathers were duller and whose musical note head showed signs of graying.

    "Say no more, Lapras. We would be more than happy to accommodate you for the time being," Chatot said, nodding repeatedly. "Isn't that right, Guildmaster?" He glanced over his right shoulder, where a Wigglytuff stood, eyes open wide and staring off into the distance. "Erm… Guildmaster?" Chatot repeated, waving his right wing.

    "He's conked out, Dad," the younger Chatot said. Unlike his father, his beak was bright blue and he had a matching ribbon tied proudly around his neck.

    "Oh dear," Elder Chatot sighed. "Cresselia, I hate to be a bother, but could you wake the Guildmaster? Gently, of course."

    "Mwee hee hee hee! Why not let me take a crack at it, sir?"

    Haunter materialized up from the beach next to Elder Chatot. Misdreavus and Drifloon appeared at his side. "I can wake him up... no problem!"

    "Hrrrmph... absolutely not!" Elder Chatot squawked. "Magearna and Latias may have vouched for your team, but I've still got my eye on you, buster. Don't think I haven't forgotten the trouble you gave Sunflora and Exploud all those years ago. 'The Invincible Haunter'... pah!"

    Haunter recoiled, flipping upside down. "Aww, come on, my outlaw days are far behind me. I've turned over a new leaf and everything! Isn't that right, you two?" He glanced at his teammates, who nodded along.

    Elder Chatot fluttered his wings at Team Specter, shooing them backwards. "Even so, I have it on good authority you're still a bunch of tricksters. So, back away from the Guildmaster!"

    "Boy, tough crowd," Haunter said, slumping over. "We never should've left Horizon."

    "Golly, Haunter, I don't think we would've had to do that if you hadn't messed with Tapu Fini," Misdreavus said.

    "Aww, come on! Swapping out an oran berry for an oren berry is a classic prank! How could she not have liked that?" Haunter complained.

    "That's quite enough out of you lot," Elder Chatot said, putting a wing to his beak. "Cresselia, are you ready yet?"

    Cresselia's blue, swan-like form floated out from behind Infernape and Feraligatr. Her eyes flashed blue. Moments later, Wigglytuff slowly blinked his eyes and yawned. He looked over at the Chatots and then at Lapras. "Oh, what's this, a friendly visit?" he asked. "Friendly visits are always welcome, especially from old friends!" He grinned at Lapras.

    "Erm… Guildmaster… I was just saying that we would be happy to house Lapras and his family here in Treasure Town until the Prism Virus crisis passes," Elder Chatot exclaimed. "I trust you have no qualms about that?"

    "Of course not. It'll be great having Lapras here," Wigglytuff declared, drawing surprised looks from Feraligatr, Infernape, and Mawile. "Friendly friends always make things better."

    Both Chatots looked at each other, blinking. "Err… yes, of course," Blue-Beak said.

    Lapras smiled. "Thank you all very much. I'm going to go get my family and bring them over. I should be back in a few hours, tops. The current's quite favorable today," he said, and then turned and sailed off. Lapras paddled through the water. Eventually, he reached the barrier. A small hole opened in it, allowing Lapras to pass. A tingle ran down his spine when he emerged on the other side and glanced the barrier closing behind him.

    'I wonder how they got that to work, anyway,' Lapras wondered. He continued forward, with Treasure Town growing father and farther away. Lapras kept his speed steady, a small wake trailing out from the water behind him.

    After about half an hour of swimming, Lapras lost sight of Treasure Town on the horizon. It was at this point that bubbles formed around Lapras. His brow furrowed. "Huh? Is someone down there?" he called out.

    The bubbling was quickly replaced by a swirling torrent. Lapras gasped as a forceful current grabbed hold of his body and tossed him to the right. He swirled around the newly-formed whirlpool, yelping in pain as his body was dragged down toward the bright, purple portal lying at the center of the wormhole.

    "Wh… what's going on heeeeeeeere?!" Lapras shouted. He slammed up against a jagged rock jutting out from the ocean floor. The blow left a bruise on his membranous neck. The whirlpool tossed him into several more rocks, each one eliciting a cry of pain.

    "What's going on here… is that you're coming with me! Heeheeheehee!"

    Lapras' eyes widened seconds before his body reached the edge of the portal. It sucked Lapras up and then disappeared. The whirlpool settled down, restoring the ocean to normal.

    XxX

    ~Brine Cave Pit~

    Salty water slowly lapped up against the cavern floor, leaving a dark outline against the brown rock. Sunlight trickled in through the opening out to the ocean, shining directly on the Relic Fragment insignia carved into the cave's wall. Water droplets trickled off the stalactites jutting out of the ceiling, creating soft pitter-patter noises that echoed through the cave.

    But the tranquil scene was abruptly ruined by an Ultra Wormhole flickering into existence right over the Relic Fragment rune. The portal expanded, pulsating with intense bursts of white light. A terrified scream sent the wild Omastars crawling around on the ceiling fleeing up into higher floors of the cave. The portal flashed white and Lapras' bruised, scuffed-up body fell out of it. He struck the ground and tumbled across it, coming to a stop half a foot away from the water's edge.

    Trembling, Lapras raised his head. The cave's shoreline lay a couple of feet ahead of him. He hopped forward, wincing in pain. "Have to… escape. Gotta get back to… Treasure Town. Tell the others that– Gnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!"

    Crrrraaaaack!

    A powerful pink blast slammed Lapras' body against the ground. He shakily turned his head back and the color drained from his face when he realized the knobs had been blasted off his shell. Lapras' vision flickered, blurring his view of Necrozma, who now floated right behind him.

    "What's this? Trying to run out on me, are you?" Necrozma asked. "And after I went through so much trouble to find you?" He shook his head disapprovingly. "Seriously… I wasted precious light tracking you down. Did you never think to make a second Relic Fragment? You mortals really don't plan for contingencies."

    "Wh… what do you want… from me?" Lapras wheezed.

    Necrozma grinned. "Isn't it obvious? You're Lapras. You give lifts across the sea. What do you think I want, fool?"

    "I can't… I can't help you," Lapras coughed, eyes tearing up. "Please… you can fly. Leave me alone. I… I have a mate! And two kids!"

    Necrozma teleported next to Lapras and grabbed his head. He yanked Lapras into the air, muffling his cries with his large black arm. Lapras dangled there, limbs flailing uselessly. "You think a sob story about some family I've never met is really going to make me go away? If they were really so important, why weren't you with them when I found you, huh?"

    He leaned in to Lapras' horrified face. "Are you really a loving father? Or do you just show up sporadically and give your kids empty, meaningless platitudes about how much they mean to you? Considering how often you ferry explorers around the world, I bet it's the latter. You're just another buoy floating uselessly in the sea of pathetic, miserable parents."

    "Mfffrgh! Rrrrghhh!" Lapras grunted loudly. Necrozma unceremoniously dropped him to the ground, where Lapras landed in a heap.

    "You want to know what my favorite part of school was?" Necrozma asked, floating up to the edge of the water and spreading his wings to block Lapras from moving forward. "The field trips! I loved the changes of scenery and the freedom they brought. No homework… no studying for tests. Not to mention, getting to sit in the back of the bus with Shane and keep to our own devices without any obnoxious classmates butting in and judging us."

    Lapras stared up at Necrozma in confusion. "I don't... know what you're talking about," he wheezed.

    "Don't you get it?" Necrozma bellowed, grin widened. "You're here to help me recreate that magical feeling... and give me some tasty light to blunt this pain, in the process."

    "What are you–?" Lapras started, only for Necrozma to bring his black arms crashing down. They connected with Lapras' shell, splintering it. Lapras' eyes widened. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. His eyes blanked and the colors on his body darkened. Necrozma raised his hands, tracing pentagrams in the air with his claws.

    Two large black chains shot out of the ground. Necrozma grabbed them and yanked them into the air. He whipped them down onto Lapras, where they attached to the large crack in the middle of Lapras' shell. Necrozma's red eyes flashed and the Relic Fragment rune glowed the same color. A white beam shot out toward the water, creating a small twinkle far off in the distance.

    Necrozma floated higher into the air, gripping the chains like a pair of reins. Lapras' body seized up. Necrozma flew forward, jerking Lapras into the water with a small splash. Lapras swam forward, Necrozma controlling his limbs with the chains.

    "Heeheeheehee! Next stop… the Sea of Time!"

    End of Episode 11

    XxX
    Necrozma is parodying Shakespeare and then quotes Dusknoir from the Explorers games verbatim. That's about the best source citing I can do for this chapter. *nervous laugh*

    Next time: grab your spelunking equipment, because we're off to Cosmic Cavern!
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2018
  9. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 56

    I feel for Shane in this opening flashback. That Geoff guy even made me feel anxious. More hints that Shane might not be human, and having the wrong memories?

    Shane witnesses Espeon in one of her worrying moments. I have to admit, I thought she drank something the previous time. This time, I'm not so sure. Either way... yikes!

    Burn!



    Mesprit is good! Although... a Shedinja might have been a better option, all things considered. Then Zero and Dragonite would have very little chance of actually beating it XD



    Yeh, but... killing them? Humans just get dismissed from work, not life. Unless Zero came from some kind of dystopian universe, I think she's got her wires crossed! (Or a very warped view of 'dismissing'...)

    Zero's warped ideals aside, Mesprit did put up a pretty good battle.

    Ah, Necky spoofing Shakespeare! To some extent, he's a tragic character. I really hope the other legends have a good reason for not helping him, given they likely could have done. I mean... he saved all of them, and they just let that happen to him?

    The descriptions of him struggling to control Lunala's body give him a bit of a floppy image in my head. It makes him appear a bit deranged, and it suits him.

    Yikes, what's happened to Metagross?! That doesn't even sound like his mega form. Has he merged with another metagross or something? And he's so sparkly now... (I have to admit, I forget about Team Fang, but their antics are funny to read!)

    Oh yikes no, Lapras D= Dang, Necrozma is super harsh with his words. He seems to make everyone sound like they're... well, unpleasant!

    Some typos:



    I think this should be 'shuttered'?

    Extra 'd' at the end.



    You gave his name a comma here, where it's been spelled previously with a hyphen. Not sure which is the right one.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  10. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Yes, that opening scene was a bit difficult to right. Especially because I had to self-censor to keep the T-rating. There should've been waaaay more F-bombs in there.

    She did drink the previous time. This time around it was more analogous to cocaine use.

    That's true... however given they were in Quicksand Cave, I limited myself to only the 'mons you can encounter there. And Ninjask is the only one that can fly.

    Her sense of fairness/right and wrong is very warped right a bit now.

    I wanted to give Mesprit at least a moment in the battling limelight, as the fandom ignores it in favor of Uxie and Azelf when it comes to usefulness.

    Yes, they did. As you've seen throughout the story, Legendary Pokémon are not exactly paragons of virtue and righteousness.

    Floppy is maybe a bit over-exaggerated. It's more like Dawn Wings Necrozma's idle animation in USUM, where it's twitching uncontrollably.

    He is Mega Evolved, however his appearance is more along the lines of a living emera. Sort of a "you are what you eat" moment. :p

    Well, as has been shown, Necrozma doesn't believe relationships have a lot of value. Pretty much everyone he's targeted has had some significant relationship he views as worthless. Thanks again for reviewing!

    Time to start another important episode. Here's some backing music for Cosmic Cavern. Enjoy!

    XxX​

    ~Wigglytuff's Guild~
    "N-No!" Latias gasped, her glowing eyes wide in shock. "Tell me you're kidding. This is all just a sick joke, right?"

    Cresselia shook her head, frowning. "I wish from the bottom of my heart it was true, Latias, but I know what I saw." She poked her tiny hands together. "Time has completely stopped over Quicksand Cave. Worse, I couldn't pick up the faintest trace of Mesprit's aura."

    All of the Pokémon standing in attendance gasped, as did the flickering images of the Pokémon taking part in the conversation through Latias' sight-sharing. "Th… this is unthinkable!" Elder Chatot squawked, hopping up and down and fluttering his wings. "Can anyone here confirm this report? Not that I wouldn't trust Cresselia, of course, but we need to know the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt."

    "I concur," Mawile said. "Latias, would you be able to sense Quicksand Cave from our location?"

    Latias gulped. "It… um… it'd be a struggle, for sure. Especially with the sight-sharing. But I can certainly try!" She squeezed her eyes shut. The group of projected Pokémon disappeared from the guild's assembly area for a few seconds as Latias concentrated. Eventually, she opened her eyes back up, restoring the connection.

    "It's true," she whispered meekly. "I'm not getting anything."

    A ring portal opened beside Latias. Hoopa popped out. "Yeah, time is definitely frozen there. Hoopa saw it for himself," he declared.

    "Oh… right… we should've just asked Hoopa to do that from the get-go," Delphox said, projecting through Latias' mind. "So, what does this mean, exactly?"

    "That someone's after the Time Gears," Infernape said. "The 'who' and 'why' are the big questions for me."

    "I'm willing to stake my claim on it being the Prism Virus," Mawile exclaimed. "If it is after Legendary Pokémon, acquiring the Time Gears would give it the means to cause a mess of trouble, would it not?"

    Latias bit her lower lip. "Wait." She tucked her head into her paws and shook it. "Ugh, how could I not have seen this coming?"

    Meganium looked at Delphox in concern. "What's wrong, Latias?" Delphox asked.

    "It's the creature that's at the core of the Prism Virus… the Guiding Light," Latias said.

    "Guiding… Light?" Cresselia repeated. "That's not ringing any bells." She turned to the shadowy specter hovering in the corner. "I could always ask Darkrai, but I doubt he'd know anything."

    "I wouldn't expect anyone to know about it," Latias said. "It's… um… tough to explain."

    "Of course it is! Because you're practically speaking in riddles," Haunter suddenly shouted, hovering with his teammates by a bubbling cauldron in the room's northwest corner. "We don't know what it is because it's alien. Team Radiance calls it and its flunkies Ultra Beasts. Pretty fitting since, even putting them against our weirder species, they're... ultra-hideous! Mwee hee hee… hee… hee…"

    He looked around at the room and shrank toward the ground. "Boy, tough crowd," Haunter whispered, stealing glances at a Sunflora and Exploud eying him suspiciously from across the room.

    "Erm… yes…" Latias whispered. Her blue eyes flashed yellow and she produced a psychic projection of Necrozma's true form. "This is the Guiding Light. He's a human spirit that was infused with the power of ley lines, resulting in what you see here."

    "Eek! He's totally scary-looking," Sunflora gasped, wrapping her arms around Exploud. Other Pokémon wore similarly-concerned looks on their faces.

    "How does that connect him to the Time Gears?" Delphox asked, eyeing the projection nervously.

    "His creators fractured his spirit when he disobeyed them and befriended the gods. Huge amounts of his life energy spread throughout the world, falling to the ground as stardust," Latias explained.

    "H-Hang on a second!" Feraligatr jumped in, taken aback by Latias' statement. "Stardust… as in the stuff that makes orbs, wands, and emeras?" He looked at the band around his right arm. "Does that mean I'm going to go crazy if I don't get rid of these things?"

    "I think you should be fine, buddy," Infernape said, sweat drops rolling down the back of his head.

    "The key point I was trying to make is that Dialga used stardust to forge the Time Gears," Latias said.

    Elder Chatot's face blanched. "But… but that would mean that… the Time Gears we hold in such high regard…"

    "… are actually fragments of the Guiding Light's broken spirit," Mawile said. "That's the logical conclusion, yes."

    Latias dispelled her psychic projection. "As I'm sure you all know, Post Town and Pokémon Paradise were ravaged by what appeared to be Lunala. I've come to learn that it wasn't Lunala's fault. Rather, the remnants of the Guiding Light possessed her. He calls himself Necrozma, Devourer of Light."

    "Needless to say, we can't let him or his flunkies get any more Time Gears," Mawile said. "Ampharos, I propose we pool our resources to secure the other four Time Gears."

    "Now wait just a second!" Elder Chatot interjected, flapping his wings frantically. "I still recall the gr– err, that fiendish Dusknoir's words. If we remove every Time Gear from its proper place, it will result in no less than the planet's paralysis!"

    "And if Necrozma gets his hands on them, then the exact same thing will happen," Infernape countered. "At bare minimum, we must go to their hiding spots."

    "Agreed," Delphox said. "If this Necrozma guy could dispose of Mesprit so quickly, I doubt Azelf, Ditto, or Uxie stand much of a chance. And then there's the unguarded one in Treeshroud Forest."

    "Shouldn't we be forging a plan to confront Necrozma?" Feraligatr wondered.

    "Oh my gosh… I don't really think I could even begin to fathom how to stop a Pokémon that can possess a Legendary like Lunala," Sunflora said.

    "Not to worry, everyone! Latias is on top of things in that department," Ampharos declared, a broad grin on his face.

    All eyes – real and projected – fell on Latias' horrified face. "Err… um… well… it's kind of a work in progress. Team Radiance is in pursuit of the Dawn Hourglass. We think it has the power needed to stop Necrozma." A bunch of confused stares met her in response.

    "Mwee hee hee hee! I can't believe we're pinning our hopes on the human, Riolu, and whatever the heck Silvally's supposed to be," Haunter said.

    "There's a human in Horizon?!" Infernape, Feraligatr, and Delphox all shouted in unison. They exchanged surprised looks.

    "Eh heh heh… did that not come up in conversation?" Latias said, grinning sheepishly. "My bad."

    Infernape's brow furrowed. "And this Riolu that Haunter mentioned… her dad wouldn't happen to be–"

    "Incineroar? Hooo-whee, you're spot-on, buddy. She's our old Guildmaster's daughter, yup yup," Misdreavus declared.

    "Ah," Infernape said, scratching his head nervously. "That's… quite ironic, I must say."

    "Is she the one that kept sending us fan mail?" Feraligatr whispered. Infernape nodded. "Oh… huh. That is ironic!"

    "Let's try to stay focused, everyone," Mawile said. "I think we reached an agreement, yes? We'll split up to protect the Time Gears?"

    Ampharos nodded. "I'm all for bringing them back to Lively Town or Treasure Town for safekeeping."

    "Agreed. Any incident the Time Gears would cause would be temporary. All we'd need to do is bring them to Temporal Tower once everything's safe," Infernape declared.

    Elder Chatot's brow furrowed. "And what say you to this, Guildmaster?" He glanced at Wigglytuff, who stood beside Blue-Beak.

    Wigglytuff puffed out his chest. "The safety of the Time Gears is paramount! We'll put all our resources toward grabbing them before these misguided miscreants! Yoom-tah!"

    Blue-Beak pulled his wings off his head. "And there you have it, Dad."

    "What about the folks in Horizon?" Latias asked.

    "As I said before, they're your responsibility," Ampharos said. "But I have full confidence in your abilities."

    Latias' wings drooped. 'That's what I was worried you'd say.'

    XxX

    Episode 12: Family Matters

    Chapter 57: Cosmic Congregating

    XxX

    ~Western Volcanic Wastes~

    Shane tried to fall back asleep but gave up after a fitful hour of tossing and turning. He walked outside of Totem Salazzle's house and sat down to watch the storm clouds overhead. Eventually, he spotted Espeon approaching the house. Dried blood sat on her snout and her tail twitched erratically. He opened his mouth to say something but Espeon walked inside, completely ignoring him.

    Eventually, Tessa and Silvally woke up. Shane preoccupied himself with helping them prepare to depart the Volcanic Wastes. Totem Marowak arranged to restock the team's supplies using resources both tribes had gathered, but never found a use for. He even offered up some Awakening Emeras for Tessa, which she took with a great degree of hesitation. Once she pocketed them, she lifted Shane up and positioned him on her shoulder. Team Radiance then proceeded toward the edge of the village.

    "Man, I think I see why Pikachu liked riding on Ash's shoulder so much. This is pretty comfy!" Shane chirped, tails thumping against Tessa's shoulder blade. "Thanks for the lift! Any special reason?"

    "No. But as long as you're my passenger, I expect you to behave yourself," Tessa exclaimed, crossing her arms.

    "I'll bet she did it to stop you from trying to look somewhere unsavory," Espeon exclaimed stoically. "That's what I'd do if I walked on two paws instead of four."

    Shane's ears drooped. "Are you going to hold that over my head the whole time we're travelling together?"

    "Yup," Espeon replied.

    "You know she's doing that to get a rise out of you, right?" Tessa whispered. "I think she's just teasing."

    "I still don't like it," Shane whimpered.

    Silvally stepped between Tessa and Espeon. "Now, Espeon. Let's be fair, here. It's got nothing to do with that." He looked over at Tessa and smirked. "Tessa's just a smart cookie. She's using Shane's tails to cool herself off."

    Espeon's ears and tails stiffened. She abruptly stopped walking and blinked several times. "That's… that's…" She slumped over. "… brilliant."

    Silvally and Shane burst into laughter. Tessa's brow furrowed, the joke having gone over her head. "Actually, now that you mention it, the heat doesn't feel as awful as it did yesterday."

    "That's the point," Silvally whispered. "A Vulpix's tails can give off chilled air. Think of it like a layer of insulation from the heat."

    Tessa's eyes widened in realization. "I think we might have to make this arrangement permanent, then. Sorry, Shane, looks like you won't be evolving anytime soon if I have anything to say about it."

    Shane rolled his eyes. "Please. You're a Lucario now. You can carry me with your aura-powered super strength. Ninetales are mostly fluff anyway. I bet I'd barely weigh a thing."

    "Yeah, but Ninetales also curse anyone who touches one of their tails," Tessa said, putting on a scary face and waving her arms around comically. "I'm not looking for any curses in my near future. I'm already saddled with you, after all."

    Shane nearly face faulted right off her shoulder. Tessa stuck her paw up to catch him. "Okay, ouch. Did your evolution come with a boost to your sarcasm stat or something?"

    "It's a possibility," Tessa said, sticking her tongue out.

    "You guys are such dorks," Espeon scoffed, rolling her eyes. Karma quickly caught up with her, as her forepaw struck a small depression in the ground. She yelped in surprise and fell to the ground. Espeon shot back up, her face and chest covered in ash. She held her snout up and sauntered forward, silently willing everyone to forget what they just saw.

    "Actually, speaking of cool aura powers, doesn't this mean that you can use Aura Spheres now?" Shane asked, looking at her expectantly.

    "Um… I'm not actually sure," Tessa said. "I don't even know how to try."

    "Oh, that's an easy one!" Shane exclaimed. "I know exactly what you need to do." He leaned over and whispered into her ear. Said ear twitched and Tessa's face scrunched up in disapproval.

    "Absolutely not," she said. "That sounds completely ridiculous. I'll bet you're lying to me."

    "I'm not," Shane said.

    "You totally are. There's no way that the key to learning Aura Sphere is cupping my paws together and thrusting them forward while shouting 'Kamehameha' at the top of my lungs," Tessa scoffed. "Where did you even pull that idea out of, huh? Is this another one of your weird human tricks?"

    "Yes," Shane mumbled, pouting. "But… c'mon… couldn't you just do it once! You'd be making one of my biggest dreams come true."

    "No."

    Shane batted his eyelids at Tessa. "Pretty please with berry glaze on top?"

    "No!"

    "I'll be your bestest friend in the whole wide world!" Shane said, awkwardly forming a little heart with his forepaws. Silvally's head crest fanned out in surprise.

    "Oh, well when you put it that way…"

    Shane's eyes sparkled in anticipation, only for Tessa to shove him off her shoulder. He unceremoniously tumbled into an ash pile.

    "… the answer's definitely no."

    Silvally dusted Shane off and helped him to his feet. "I'm no expert here but maybe you ought to lay off the aura subject. At least until Tessa's figured out how to get that stuff working completely."

    "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I was just trying to have a little fun," Shane muttered. "Lesson learned."

    Before he and Silvally could resume walking, Tessa froze. Her aura feelers rose and she held up a paw. "Guys, I think Latias is flying toward us. And she's going really fast."

    Silvally looked over his shoulder just in time to see a red and white blur zooming toward him. He quickly jumped to his right, barreling Shane over in the process. Latias slammed her metaphorical brakes, screeching to a halt with an embarrassed look on her face. "Sorry. I, uh, am usually much better at stopping."

    "Are you kidding? That was great!" Hoopa cheered, popping up from Latias' back. "You're way more fun than Hoopa remembers the last Latias being. Let's go again!"

    "Another time, maybe," Latias said, sweat drops rolling down the back of her head. Her eyes fell on Tessa. "Oh, congrats on evolving." She shook her head. "I'd love to hear about it. Really. But we've got a serious situation, here."

    "I'll say," Shane huffed, looking in dismay at his soot-covered right flank. "Where's the fire? Y'know, besides down in the lava pits?"

    Latias fidgeted nervously with her claws. "It's the Underground Lake. No, wait… Quicksand Cave!" Shane ears stuck up and he fixed a worried look on Latias. "Time's frozen around the whole dungeon!" Latias blurted out.

    "What?!" everyone on Team Radiance shouted in unison. Tessa looked the most confused of the group, while Espeon, Shane, and Silvally were starting to panic.

    "N… no way. Someone took one of the Time Gears?" Shane squeaked, his gaze falling to the ground.

    Latias nodded glumly. "They didn't just take the Time Gear. Mesprit… she's gone."

    "It has to be the Prism Virus," Silvally said.

    "But that doesn't make any sense," Espeon said. "Zero said she had no intention of trying to mess with the flow of time like that. She wants the world to function just like it does now… but with no gods."

    "Zero may have said that, but Necrozma is another story entirely," Shane declared ominously. "There are just too many possibilities to consider."

    He started pacing back and forth. "Maybe he needs to combine them with the Hourglasses to execute whatever the Prism Virus' plan is for wiping out Legendaries. Or it could be a giant smoking gun. A red herring that'll get us to stop looking for the Dawn Shards. Think about it. If we dropped everything to go protect the Time Gears, then Zero can just swoop in and grab the Dawn Shards unopposed." Shane shook his head. "If the whole point behind those things is that the Prism Virus can use them to remove all the protective forcefields around the gods' domains, then we can't just stop looking for them."

    "But we also can't let the Time Gears fall by the wayside either," Silvally said. "Don't you guys remember Espeon telling us that theory that the Time Gears were forged from stardust?" His teammates eyes slowly widened. "If that's true, and the stardust that falls from the heavens is really the life energy Necrozma lost to Golem, then he might be after the Time Gears to get that energy back."

    Latias' face blanched. "But… but if that's the case, he's probably already destroyed the Time Gear he has!" She started hyperventilating. "Oh no… oh no… this is bad. This is bad!"

    "Do the guilds overseas know about this?" Shane asked. "Do they have any kind of plan to deal with this?"

    "I… uh… it's really confusing to keep track of all this!" Latias blurted out. "Yes, we're trying to do something about the Time Gears. But then Ampharos said that that means I need to figure out a plan of action about Horizon and so I had Hoopa portal us over here without even taking the time to think about anything and I'm not a leader in the slightest and I don't know how to make big decisions and this is all just–"

    Espeon reached a forepaw up and tapped Latias on the snout. "Easy, Latias," she said. "I thought you were gonna stop breathing for a second, there."

    Hoopa crossed his arms and pouted. "Aww, you should have let her continue. Hoopa wanted to see her face turn blue."

    Espeon glared at Hoopa, who stuck his tongue out in response. "Let's just take this one step at a time. Now, you said the Expedition Society has a plan?"

    "Y… yeah," Latias stammered. "They're working with Wigglytuff's Guild. I think Hoopa transported different groups over to the four remaining Time Gears' dungeons. But I'm not sure if they're going to just stay there and protect them… or bring all of them back to Lively Town."

    Shane frowned. "It shouldn't matter, should it? If they're stuck guarding the Time Gears, then that leaves everywhere else open to a Prism Virus attack!"

    "But the towns' forcefields are still working, right?" Tessa asked. She sighed in relief when Latias nodded. "Okay, then it sounds like it's smarter to bring them back to Lively Town and stall until we can get the Dawn Hourglass back together."

    Latias frowned. "I wish it was that simple. But… but I'm pretty sure I need to take some precautions here. This is…" She gripped her head and shook it.

    "It's okay, Latias," Espeon assured her. "We're all on the same side, here. Let us know how we can help."

    "No!" Latias cupped her paws over her mouth. "Sorry. I didn't mean to shout." She took a deep breath. "I need you four to keep looking for these Dawn Shards. That's still important. You did find the one that was here, right?" Deflated expressions appeared on Team Radiance's faces. Latias' wings drooped. "You… didn't get it?"

    "It was taken from us," Tessa said, "by my brother."

    "Dun dun daaaaaaaaaaaa! What a twiiiiiiiist!" Hoopa shouted, waving his hands around enthusiastically. Five scathing looks met him in response. "Hoopa was just trying to lighten the mood. Sheesh."

    "Hoopa, can you just be quiet for a few minutes?" Latias groaned. "Um, listen, can I just read someone's mind? I think it'd get me up to speed much quicker." Espeon nodded her approval. Latias' eyes flashed blue and she sifted through Espeon's memories of the previous day. Doing so added an even greater degree of exhaustion to her expression. "Unbelievable. So, Gallian made off with the Sizzle Shard? Has he totally lost it?"

    Tessa's shoulders slumped. "The only times I've seen him in the last, like, eight months have been with those two alien Pokémon calling themselves Team Paradox." She cupped a paw over her eyes and rubbed her temples. "I don't know what's come over him. He's become so detached… and he keeps spouting off about his disaster sense but he won't take the time to stop and explain why his disaster sense is going wild." She frowned. "All he does is take one look at me and dismiss me as a waste of his time. And I'm his sister! He never used to be like this, I swear."

    Latias frowned. "Hold that thought," she said, to Tessa's surprise. "Hey!" Latias shouted, floating through the group and looking back toward the village. "Quit hiding and trying to spy on us! I know you're out there, Zoroark! Show yourself!"

    Shane's tails ducked under his legs. "A Zoroark? And it's been stalking us?"

    Tessa shut her eyes. Her aura feelers tensed and she gasped. "I do sense someone nearby." Tessa grabbed her ears and pulled them against her forehead. "Ohhh… how could I be so blind as to miss something like that? They could've gotten the drop on us and I'd have been none the wiser."

    "It's not your fault," Silvally assured her. "You just started learning how to use your aura sense." He turned toward the village, watching a Salazzle pop up from behind a very large boulder, hands raised in surrender.

    "Hold up! Hold up! Please… this is just a misunderstanding," the Salazzle exclaimed. A blue ripple raced across her body, revealing a male Zoroark. Team Radiance's expressions blanked at the sight of his scars, missing left ear, and damaged left eye.

    "Dear god, what happened to that guy?" Shane gasped.

    "Careful," Espeon said, frowning, "it could be a trick to get us to lower our guard."

    "I said get out here!" Latias shouted, dragon fire licking at her lips.

    "No… wait! Stop! I've got a bum leg! I'm serious!" Zoroark begged. He limped away from the rock, wincing with every step he took. Zoroark dropped to his knees, keeping his arms raised high. "C-Come on… you don't really think I'd be stupid enough to challenge a Lucario and two Legendaries, do you?" he rasped.

    "It's tough to read Zoroarks since they're so keen on hiding everything... including their intentions," Espeon sneered. "Maybe start with telling us why you were snooping in our conversation."

    "Okay, okay," Zoroark said, nodding vigorously. "Just call off Latias! And, uh…" His voice trailed off and he glanced at Silvally. "Tell your friend to ease off the suspicious glare. He's… he's kind of frightening."

    Silvally took a step back, raising a skeptical brow. "He sure seems rather nervous. I was expecting him to be a smug, quick-witted jerk."

    "… like the Zoroark inside of you?" Shane wondered, drawing a nod from Silvally. "Remember, it could just be an act."

    "I followed you guys because I heard you mention Gallian," Zoroark confessed, avoiding everyone's gazes by boring holes into the ground. "I was trying to keep tabs on his whereabouts yesterday. But, well, I can't move around all that great. By the time I got here, I saw him and his freaky colleagues fleeing Mt. Supernova with some sparkly stone.

    Shane's eyes widened. "That's the Sizzle Shard!" he gasped. "Did you see them? Which way were they going?"

    Zoroark sighed. "I was too tired to give chase, so I figured I'd lay low with the Salazzles until I could get my strength back. But then I heard you guys bring Gallian up, so I thought I'd follow you and see why you were looking for him. As for where he is… I'm extremely confident he's back in Cosmic Cavern."

    "Cosmic Cavern?" Tessa parroted. "But how would you know that? And, for that matter, how do you even know Gallian, huh?"

    Zoroark got to his feet. "You're… you're the little sister, aren't you?" he asked. He gripped some of the fur on his chest and twisted it around his claw. "Oh man… and you just evolved yesterday, didn't you? I, uh, was really hoping we'd be able to meet under better circumstances."

    Tessa tensed up. "What's that supposed to mean? Answer my question!"

    Zoroark winced. "I… I know Gallian because I'm his mate. Or at least… I was his mate… until he ran out on me."

    Silence fell over the group. Tessa stumbled backwards, clutching her chest like someone had just given her the hardest gut punch she'd ever felt. "Y… you're his… mate?" she squeaked. "Oh… oh gods… I think I'm gonna be sick."

    Silvally darted over to Tessa's side, offering up his shoulder for her to lean against. Tessa braced herself against his side and shuddered. "Jeez, Tessa. Don't you think you're overreacting a bit?" Shane said. "So, your brother had himself a boyfriend. Is that really a big deal?"

    "Is your fur blocking your hearing, human? He didn't say boyfriend, he said 'mate.' As in soulmate," Espeon exclaimed, giving Shane an icy look that'd make a Glaceon jealous.

    Shane's resolve faltered a bit. "Is there some kind of difference?"

    "Yes!" Espeon said. "There's a huge difference! How could you not know that?"

    "Uh, hello! Human, remember?" Shane said, looking rather hurt. "Seriously. If it's really that big a deal, then just explain it to me."

    Latias floated down to him and placed a paw on his shoulder. "Human… soul-mating is a gesture that two Pokémon use to show their eternal commitment to one another. It bonds a couple together for life. Breaking that bond is taboo, unless there are dire circumstances surrounding it."

    Shane blinked a few times. At which point, Latias' message finally became clear. He took a few shaky steps backwards. "D… dear god. So, mating is like marriage… but dialed all the way up to eleven!"

    "Oh, so you do understand it?" Espeon said. "Then maybe now you realize why Tessa's so shocked?"

    "Y… yeah!" Shane's gaze darted back and forth between Zoroark and Tessa. "I mean… if I ever learned from one of my sister's spouses that they had gotten married, never told me, and then broken it off, I'm pretty sure I would pass out on the spot."

    Zoroark winced. "I'm sorry this is how you had to find out, Tessa. Trust me… this isn't the direction I'd wanted my life to go in."

    Tessa looked right at Zoroark. Then, to everyone's surprise, she burst out laughing. Tessa slid down Silvally's foreleg until she was sitting on the ground. "I… I'm sorry. I can't… I shouldn't…" She doubled over, kicking her legs against the ground. "It's just… this is… oh gods… why can't I stop?"

    Silvally looked down at her in concern. "Are you sure you're okay?"

    Espeon blinked in surprise. "Tessa, seriously? Pull yourself together!"

    "Do you realize how hypocritical that sounds coming from you?" Shane scoffed.

    "Not the time, human," Espeon hissed.

    Tessa's laughter slowed down. She dabbed tears out of her eyes. "I'm sorry, guys. Really. I just couldn't help it. I mean… look at this!" She gestured at Zoroark. "Just how screwed up is my life going to get, huh? I find out I have a spirit-brother–"

    Shane raised a forepaw in question. "That's what you call your sibling's mate," Silvally whispered. Shane nodded in recognition and lowered his forepaw.

    "–And it turns out that not only has Gallian gotten to be as screwed up as me, but he passed it on to him!" Tessa continued, throwing a paw over her muzzle to try and choke back her laughter. "This is totally ridiculous. My life's a mess. My family's an even bigger mess." She slowly got back to her feet and took a few deep breaths. Her gaze fell on Zoroark, whose eyes flickered angrily. Tessa realized what she had just said.

    "Oh gods," she whispered. "Zoroark, I'm so sorry! I didn't…" She bit her lower lip. "That came out wrong!"

    Zoroark drew his muzzle back in a snarl. "That's your best apology? You just said I'm screwed up!" He narrowed his eye at her. "You're just as callous as your brother's gotten!" He threw his arms up and turned away from Team Radiance. "Why did I think trailing you all would be a good idea? All it managed to accomplish was getting egg thrown on my face!"

    "Wait, wait, wait!" Shane shouted, dashing toward Zoroark. "You've got this all backwards. This is a big misunderstanding." Shane skidded to a halt. "Listen, my friends and I have been under a huge amount of stress lately. And that's before we ran into you. I mean, you know that Tessa evolved yesterday. So, you've got to understand that she's really not herself right now. I know that she's really sorry. Trust me… Tessa's my best friend. I know she'd never insult you on purpose."

    Tessa did a double-take at the mention of "best friend." Zoroark turned back around and Tessa rubbed her shoulder. "Um… I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot," she squeaked. "Could we start over, by any chance?"

    Zoroark crossed his arms. "I'm not one to give second chances freely. Just ask your brother."

    "Then, um, how about revising your first impression?" Tessa said, fidgeting with her paws. "Please, Zoroark. If… if you really were involved with Gallian, I don't want to push you out of my life. I want you in it!" Her gaze fell toward the ground. "My family's crumbling all around me. Gallian wants nothing to do with me. Team Radiance… is pretty much all I have now."

    "Well, I don't know what to tell you," Zoroark said. "Heck, the whole reason I was following you guys was because I was hoping maybe you could be the ones to talk some sense into him. But it sounds like you're having just as many problems with him as I did yesterday." His shoulders sagged. "It's hopeless then, isn't it? He's… he's too far gone."

    "You can't think like that," Silvally said. "I know how much Gallian means to Tessa. And I'm sure he means the world to you, too. If we all put our heads together, we can come up with a way to get through to him. We need that Dawn Shard. And you deserve to have your mate back… the way you remembered him."

    Zoroark gripped his shoulder and looked away. "That's just it, though. I'm not even sure I want him back. Not after he left me."

    "Yaaaaaaaawn. This is sooooo boring," Hoopa cut in. "Where's the drama? The intrigue! The make-out sessions interrupted by slaps across the face? You guys suck at romantic relationships!"

    "Hoopa!" Latias scolded. She sighed loudly. "Listen, guys. I really shouldn't be hanging around here. Hoopa and I are happy to portal you over to Cosmic Cavern, if you're going to go there. But otherwise, we have to get going. I need to get to the Temple of Balance, because I have an idea and it's time-sensitive in more ways than one."

    Tessa looked at Zoroark. "Are you okay going with us?"

    Zoroark nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess so." He looked at his scarred leg. "It sure beats walking back, that's for sure."

    XxX

    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    Hoopa's ring deposited Team Radiance on the edges of a cliff overlooking the Midnight Sea. Jagged rocks lay scattered along the cliff face. In the distance, they could see the storm clouds and thick black smoke encircling the Volcanic Wastes. "In here," Zoroark said, beckoning them toward a small tunnel. They all proceeded inside, with Silvally having to duck in order to maneuver safely through the cave.

    "It's a bit of a cramped fit," he complained.

    "Nothing much we can do about that," Zoroark said. "Just try not to smack your face against any of the crys–"

    Wham!

    "Ow!" Silvally squawked, dropping to the ground and rubbing his beak against it.

    "Never mind," Zoroark said, sighing.

    "So, um, Zoroark?" Tessa asked. "What was it like… for you and Gallian?" She frowned when Zoroark froze. "Err… I mean… you don't have to answer that if you don't want to!"

    "No. It's fine," Zoroark dismissed. "You're his sister. You deserve to know." Zoroark shuffled forward, bracing himself against the cavern wall. "Gallian was… the guy I needed in my life." He craned his head back, his scarred eye falling on Tessa and making her look away. "I'm not sure if you're aware about the stereotypes my kind tends to carry."

    "That you're malicious tricksters never to be trusted?" Espeon said. Silvally gave her a disapproving look. "Oh please. Don't act like you weren't thinking that."

    Zoroark dragged his claws against the rock wall, making Espeon's fur stand on end. "Yeah, nobody's more aware of that than me," he rasped. "Probably why my folks ditched me. Because I wasn't interested in trickery. Or thieving. Y'know, the 'usual' Zoroark stuff."

    "Your parents just abandoned you?" Tessa gasped. 'Just like Gallian's egg…'

    "They kicked me into the Midnight Sea and fled," Zoroark muttered grimly. "I'll bet they were hoping I drowned. I didn't know how to swim when I was a kit." He paused at a fork in the tunnel and gestured to his right. Team Radiance followed after Zoroark, moving slowly to accommodate his injured leg.

    "I owe my life to Totem Decidueye," Zoroark said. "He rescued me from the water and took me in. The guy raised me up from a little pup when he didn't know the first thing about Zoruas or Zoroarks. He even got the other villagers to treat me alright." He sighed loudly. "But, even with all the good he did, I never felt a real connection to him. He's our Totem. He always had a lot of work to do. So, I spent a lot of time by myself. Sure, it gave me plenty of time to practice illusion-making. But… I was never big on using them."

    "Why not?" Tessa asked.

    "Because they're meaningless fakes," Zoroark growled. "I want people to like me for, well, me. What's so bad about that, huh? I love my body. Or, at least, I did, before…" He pivoted to show Team Radiance his scars. "I suppose I should start using illusions to make myself look uninjured, but my heart wouldn't be in it." He lowered his head and shook it. "Sorry, I went off on a tangent, didn't I? You wanted to know about me and your brother."

    "If it's not too much trouble," Tessa whispered. "Gallian… he walked out of my life eight months ago. Angrier than I had ever seen him before. I just want to know what happened to him to make him so cold and distant."

    "I honestly wish I could tell you, but I'm just as confused about that one as you are," Zoroark admitted. "When he showed up out of the blue yesterday, he was nothing like the guy I'd fallen for."

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed. A heavy, unseen force tugged against them. She looked up at Zoroark. 'Is this what it's like to see someone's emotions play out?' she wondered. It made Tessa's heart sink. She shut her aura sense off and broke eye contact with Zoroark, biting her lip. "Um, what was he like? When you were together, I mean?"

    Zoroark rubbed his eyes. "When he first stumbled into Cosmic Cavern, he was scared… and confused. I was working as a sentry at the time, so I came across him first. He passed out from exhaustion. I brought him to Totem Decidueye and helped nurse him back to health." Zoroark limped forward. "I was the first guy he saw when he woke up. And he…" Zoroark started chuckling. "He was so flustered. Like, I was so used to people avoiding eye contact with me. Because folks always find me intimidating-looking. Gallian was the exact opposite. Guy couldn't take his eyes off of me. He was the one who had been through an ordeal, but he was asking me all the questions. About the village… the role I played in it… what things were like here…"

    "He wound up staying with me," Zoroark continued. "Even offered to help me with my sentry job. I really appreciated it. My shifts were either lonely or annoying. But having Gallian there to talk to changed all of that." He rubbed his shoulder awkwardly. "Sure, I couldn't get him to talk much about himself, at first. But after years of lingering in the background, I appreciated the attention."

    Zoroark passed underneath a light crystal. Tessa noticed his longing gaze and shut her eyes. But that kicked on her aura sense. Zoroark's melancholy thoughts weaved through her body, exhausting her.

    "Hey, watch it!" Shane barked, jolting Tessa to attention. "You nearly stepped on me." He scrunched his tails up against his hips and gave her a concerned look.

    "You okay back there?" Zoroark asked, pausing to lean against the cavern wall and catch his breath.

    "I'm fine," Tessa insisted. "Sorry to interrupt you. Continue."

    Zoroark's brow furrowed. "What else do you want to me say?"

    Tessa poked her index digits together. "Well, how did things get from working together to… y'know…"

    "Sleeping together," Shane interjected, ignoring Tessa's surprised squeak.

    Zoroark ran his claws through his mane. "I guess after a few weeks with Gallian by my side, I started to see him in a different light. He wasn't just this guy who had stuck around because he owed his life to anyone. As we got closer together, we started doing things other than sentry shifts together. Like sparring, for example."

    "I kept trying to prod into Gallian's past, but he would always dodge the issue. One night, I took him out to that ridge your friends dropped us off at. We had dinner together on the cliffside." Zoroark took a deep breath. "That's when he told me about what had happened to him." Zoroark bit his lip. "I was concerned when he told me he'd left you with some family friends, so I made him promise that we'd go to visit you at some point."

    "You... you did?" Tessa gasped, nervously rubbing the mark on her right paw.

    "Yeah. That's when I went for broke and told Gallian I loved him," Zoroark replied.

    "So, you did the whole love confession in front of a sunset routine? Sheesh, never would've taken a Zoroark to be such a romantic," Shane mused. "I suppose it beats the Lucario and Zoroark couples that were omnipresent back in the human world."

    Silvally's face scrunched up in confusion. "Wait, how can there be couples like that if Pokémon are fictional where you're from?"

    Shane grinned sheepishly. "Never underestimate the power of fandoms and shipping, big guy."

    "That… really doesn't answer my question," Silvally griped.

    "Do you guys mind?" Tessa growled. Her teammates went quiet and looked down guiltily. "Sorry, Zoroark. You were saying?"

    Zoroark scratched at his dismembered ear. "Yeah, I told Gallian I loved him. He had already let slip that he was attracted to guys after our snouts had accidentally touched during a spar. But I didn't say anything at the time." Zoroark's eyes glazed over. "His response… wasn't what I was expecting. He panicked, actually. I still remember how terrified he looked."

    "His disaster sense?" Tessa wondered.

    "Yeah," Zoroark replied, nodding. "He was so spooked that he tried to bolt." Zoroark cringed. "But he misjudged his steps and wound up tumbling down the ridge and into the Midnight Sea."

    Tessa's eyes widened. "Oh gods! What happened?"

    "I jumped in… thinking I'd need to save him," Zoroark admitted. Embarrassment spread across his face. "Turns out he landed in a shallow part where he could stand. Which was bad news for me, because I smacked head-first into the ground underwater." He rubbed his forehead.

    Shane couldn't help but laugh. "Wow, so in the process of trying to avoid disaster, Gallian had actually managed to cause it? That's pretty hilarious." But a scathing look from Tessa made him regret opening his mouth. He shrank down and dejectedly flicked a pebble down the path.

    "I blacked out after that," Zoroark confessed. "Seeing me get hurt must've given Gallian the kick he needed to work past his disaster sense, because I woke up in a little grotto, lying by a fire. Gallian had dried me off and tended to the lump on my head." Zoroark blinked tears out of his eyes. "When I asked him if he saved me, he told me that he realized some things were more important than his disaster sense. The rest is history, I guess."

    Tessa tilted her head. "Meaning?"

    "We were soulmates before the end of the night," Zoroark said, turning away from the group so they couldn't see his satisfied grin.

    "Ah," Tessa said, cringing. "I think I get the point."

    Zoroark stopped walking and held his arm up. "We're here," he announced, shuffling forward to let Team Radiance have a look at his home. They filed in behind him, with Shane getting up on Silvally's back so he could see.

    Light crystals lay embedded in the ground and walls. But a small bit of natural sunlight trickled in near the cavern's ceiling, making the higher-up rocks sparkle. Unlike the villages Team Radiance was used to, Cosmic Cavern didn't have any buildings to speak of. Instead, there were outcroppings of rock that had doors and windows carved into them. Some of the abodes were located above ground. Shane looked to his left and right and spotted two paths that curved upwards in opposite directions to reach the cavern's upper level. Large crystals jutted out into the air, forming bridges that connected the two sides.

    "I think I see another level to this place," Tessa gasped, craning her neck to make out a second set of crystal bridges even higher than the ones the group could plainly see. "Is it annoying to go up and down all the time?"

    "Well, it certainly is now," Zoroark conceded. "But it wasn't so bad when I could walk fine. The only important thing up at the top is Totem Decidueye's lookout, anyway." Zoroark pointed a claw up and to his right. Off in the distance sat a circular expanse of rock. Grass and moss were piled atop it, as if they were a hood and the rock itself was someone's head. Someone had carved two windows into the rock and circled them with orange paint, almost making them look like eyes.

    "So, should we go up there and talk to your Totem?" Shane wondered, continuing to scrutinize the building.

    "What do you mean you're not letting anyone in the Cavernous Depths? I have to get in there, now!"

    "That's Gallian!" Tessa gasped, aura feelers throbbing. Zoroark's demeanor immediately changed. He hunched over, fur prickling. A growl rumbled in his throat.

    Silvally stepped in front of them. "Keep it down. If we're too loud, we're just gonna make him mad." He glanced at Zoroark. "We haven't been able to face down Gallian without things descending into a battle."

    Zoroark scowled. "I really wish you'd have mentioned that earlier."

    The group looked ahead to see Gallian storming out from one of the rocky domains, a wild look in his eyes. Sticky and Luxeira appeared behind him. "Sir, I understand your reservations, but Captain Luxeira and I specialize in investigating these matters. If this dungeon is really full of such strange abnormalities, then we would greatly appreciate it if you could grant us permission to conduct reconnaissance inside it," Sticky said.

    "I'm sorry, but the answer's still no. Especially to you outsiders," a deep, unfamiliar voice exclaimed. "These pools of water that popped up everywhere have made the ground too unstable to traverse. I will not have well-meaning Pokémon falling to their deaths on my watch."

    Sticky and Luxeira moved away from each other, allowing a white, owl-like creature to stride forth between them. His brown wings sat over his body like a cloak. And a leafy-green hood lay over his head and neck, with a single white feather protruding from it. At the feather's base lay a sparkling rainbow Totem Crystal.

    "That's Totem Decidueye?" Shane gasped. He grinned amusingly. "Lemme guess. He can shoot arrows made of leaves? Maybe we ought to call him Robin Hoot. No… wait… I've got something even better: Owliver Queen! Aha ha ha ha!"

    Gallian heard Shane's laughter and looked up. His eyes flashed purple. "You!" he snarled, leering at Shane. "What are you doing here?" Gallian glanced to his left, where the sight of Zoroark made his expression soften considerably. "Zuh… Zoroark," he rasped. "When did you get here?" His eyes darted back and forth between Zoroark and Shane. Anger slowly overtook his expression once again. "Wait… did you bring them here?"

    "I did," Zoroark replied, not backing down from Gallian's glare. "Because you need help, Gallian. And if you won't listen to me, then maybe your sister can talk some sense into you."

    Gallian stamped a forepaw on the ground. His eyes and scythe violently flashed red. "You complete and utter idiot!" he roared. "Do you have any idea what you've done? Get them out of here… now! Just having them around is pushing this whole village to the brink of complete disaster!"

    "Rookie!" Luxeira gasped. "You can't just say things like that. We already knew there were problems stemming from the Mystery Dungeon. Their arrival changes nothing."

    "It changes everything!" Gallian snarled. Dark lightning surged across his body, spiking up his fur. Zoroark gasped in surprise and staggered back, heart pounding in his chest. Sticky and Luxeria exchanged concerned looks. "They're here to take the Dawn Hourglass fragment we got… and snag the one in the Cavernous Depths," Gallian accused. He turned back to Team Radiance. "Well, you can't have them! Any of them! If you want to get your grubby paws on them so badly, you'll have to pry them from my cold, dead paws!"

    "We need those Dawn Shards," Shane said. "We have to use them to stop the Prism Virus!"

    Totem Decidueye stepped in between Shane and Gallian and held up his wings. "Both of you need to calm down and explain yourselves," he commanded. "Are you telling me the Dawn Hourglass is broken? And one of its pieces is here?"

    "Yes!" Shane said. "We're from the Horizon Guild. We're trying to get the Dawn Shards back so we can stop a vicious monster called Necrozma from killing all the Legendary Pokémon. But Gallian swiped one of the shards and ran off with it."

    "Is this true?" Totem Decidueye gasped.

    "No!" Gallian spat. "I mean, yeah, I have a Dawn Shard. But those guys won't help anyone if they get all the pieces!" His eyes and scythe flashed red. "If the whole Dawn Hourglass falls into their paws, we're all finished! They'll doom the whole world to the worst disaster imaginable!"

    "That's enough, Gallian!"

    Tessa stormed out from behind Silvally, fists clenched and face contorted in a venomous glare that was on par with Gallian's. Blue flames blazed in her irises. "I'm so tired of hearing you trash us every time we run into you. All it is with you is 'disaster this!' and 'disaster that!' But not once… not once have you taken the time to stop and say what you think the problem even is! Gods, Gallian, are you even listening to yourself right now? You sound like a rambling maniac!"

    She stomped toward him, the sigil on her paw flickering. "Stop this nonsense! Fork over the Sizzle Shard and… and come back to me!" She looked over her shoulder at Zoroark. "Come back to us. Please, Gallian. I–"

    "Tessa, look out!"

    Silvally turned on his dark memories and leaped forward, tackling a yelping Tessa to the ground. Seconds later, pink crescents peppered his body, exploding into harmless clouds of pink mist. "Gallian!" Zoroark gasped, looking in horror toward his former mate. What he saw only furthered his surprise.

    Gallian's eyes were wide and his pupils dilated in a frenzied panic. He staggered back across the ground, fur standing up on end and jaw quivering. His gaze remained locked on Tessa as she got out from underneath Silvally. "G… get away from me…" he rasped, shuffling toward the blocked off tunnel that led down into the Cavernous Depths.

    Tessa regained her wits and focused on Gallian. "Gallian, what are you doing? Stop! Nobody's trying to hurt you. We just want to talk!"

    Gallian thrashed his head about. Black energy surged across his body. "No! Get away!" he roared. Without warning, Gallian turned and shot a black energy beam out of the gem on his forehead. It destroyed Totem Decidueye's barricade with little effort. Gallian sprinted forward, not even flinching from the charred wood splinters raining down on his body.

    "Gallian, no!" Tessa shouted, dashing off after him.

    "Young lady, what are you doing? You can't go down there!" Totem Decidueye shouted. He flew toward Tessa, but she raced out of his reach with a burst of speed. Likewise, a streak of red and black whooshed by Totem Decidueye. Zoroark stumbled out of his illusionary fog, a pained expression on his face.

    Next thing anyone knew, they both disappeared into the tunnel, leaving the others standing in the village, shocked at the sudden turn of events.

    XxX​

    So, out of curiosity, I checked the big ol' list of pairing names (https://shipping.bulbagarden.net/listaz.html). Turns out an Absol/Zoroark pair is known as DangerWolfShipping. For what it's worth, an Espeon and Ninetales pair is EternalmindShipping, Riolu/Vulpix is BlazingAuraShipping (so, FrostyAuraShipping for Alolan Vulpix, I suppose), Lucario and Ninetales is KamiShipping, and Lugia/Latias is GuardianShipping. The more you know, right?

    Next time: a conclusive brother-sister showdown you don't want to miss!
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  11. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    And we're back to the human world for a bit, it seems. Honestly, I'm surprised that Shane even plays video games at school, especially if this is the kind of reaction he gets. I'd be surprised anyway – although maybe that's just me; I never wanted to take my console anywhere in case it got lost or broken or stolen – but like, he knows what people think of him and his interests. And I know he's not always the best at making decisions, but I can't see him as the kind of guy who deliberately gives his bullies more ammunition.

    And then we have a pretty great battle, honestly, with a whole lot of interesting new powers on display; I was going to say it was weird that Dragonite kept yelling the (very obviously made-up) names of her attacks, but like, this is also the person who just narrated the fact that the sand had turned into glass, so you know, at least she's consistent about her weird need to tell the world about the things that she is seeing and doing in real time. It's quite fun, too; I like how Zero yells 'What the heck?' in a desperate attempt to preserve the T rating despite the fact that she's standing over a charred, blood-splattered corpse. (One weird thing, though: while it's cool that Dragonite has done some research into what is presumably human(?) history to name her lightning spear, partisans aren't really the kind of weapon you throw; I'd definitely call them polearms rather than spears.)

    And you know what, the rest of this review kind of got away from me, so instead of nicely-written-out paragraphs, I'm afraid you have a bunch of disjointed thoughts strung together without much rhyme or reason:

    You know, I never knew Cresselia had hands before. How weird. It's not a brilliant design either way, but that makes it slightly worse.

    Man, it's weird to see Wigglytuff in this kind of context. This is a world in which like real people exist, and yet he's … you know, this weird joke character who has no depth beyond the gimmick of being perfectly childlike and perfectly lethal. Good decision to keep him mostly out of the conversation, I think; he'd make things weird, and not in an interesting way, just in a way that would make the story harder to swallow.

    And Metagross is on the loose, in some form! Some sort of astral projection, maybe? And he's mega evolved, too, which is always interesting; mega metagross has never made much sense to me – where did the extra beldum/metang come from? where do they go at the end of the battle? – but it's definitely a very striking design, and while I admit I might have forgotten something (one of the hazards of reading this fic at like, three-week intervals), I don't think we've been shown any hint that Metagross could either mega evolve or free himself, up till now. That will be an interesting thread to follow.

    Yeah, actually, one thing I will say about chapter fifty-six is that it feels really loose; there's a whole bunch of different locations and plotlines all jammed in together, without much that holds them together – it feels a lot like a chapter that's bridging the gap between two more self-contained episodes. Which is fine, I think – honestly, that's going to happen with serial media of this length at some point, you know? – but it's something to be aware of.

    Gallian and Zoroark are sort of sweet, I guess, although I have to say I have to fight my instinctive ugh, soulmates, what a dangerous concept to which to bind living beings impulse in order to feel that way. I don't think I have much else to say about them, honestly. It'll be good to see what it is that's made Gallian so obstructive – and more than a little self-destructive – after all this time.
    For maximum OTT Aussie energy, you probably want to go with 'arse' rather than 'ass'. ( … what a sentence. Let's just admire the circumstances that meant that I ended up saying that to someone.)
    'Glance' doesn't behave the same way as 'see'; it needs to be followed with 'at', and it also can't be used of someone happening to catch sight of something – glancing has some kind of purpose to it, if that makes sense. You glance at things that you know are there, or in specified directions that you knew about in advance. 'See' would be a better fit for this context, in which I think Lapras is noticing these waves for the first time rather than with intent. Also – 'trickling' is a strange word to use for waves; that implies a thin stream of fluid, moved by gravity rather than its own power. Waves aren't either of those things.
    I don't quite see the connection Haunter is trying to make here – there's nothing that really links the words 'ultra beast' and 'ghastly'. 'Beastly' would make sense, but of course that gets rid of the gastly pun.
    That should be 'brakes', not 'breaks'.
    That seems like a weird stereotype for zoroark. If anything, they seem extremely cautious; their whole thing is not being seen as they really are.
    Yeah, you see, that makes more sense. Also c'mon, Espeon, you have four feet and so far this chapter you've managed to put every single one in your mouth.
    Oh, come on, Shane, you're so bad at reading context cues.
    That should be 'role', not 'roll'.
    This doesn't quite make sense. Are there words missing, maybe?

    And that's the end of my notes! Nicely done. I like coming back to this fic every couple of weeks; it's like returning to a favoured coffee-shop and finding that the hot chocolate is just as good as you remembered.
     
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  12. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 57

    So it was Zoroark!

    I had to flick back to find why Zero wants the Time Gears. I hadn't really given it much thought until Espeon questioned it, but after looking back I understand it more now. I hadn't quite twigged she wants to re-write time. Is she gonna try to write out Necrozma? Doesn't she ever watch any sci-fi? You can't just re-write time without nasty consequences, Zero!

    Also... wasn't it Null who attacked Zoroark? If so, even without his helmet, Zoroark should recognise him. I don't believe it went into detail, so I'm really curious there! Maybe it was something else entirely! D=

    I think someone needs to have a chat with Hoopa. He seems to have some warped ideas.

    I already like Totem Decidueye, and I approve of Shane's jokes =P I really hope Decidueye doesn't succumb to the prism virus!

    I'm wondering now if Gallian is more worried that he's going to bring disaster on those he cares about, especially given he appears to be infected himself. And that may be why he's being so harsh. But I'd really love to know why he thinks Team Radiance is going to cause disaster by gathering the Dawn Shards...

    Some typos:



    'At'



    'Sticky'. Although, the typo has amused me XD



    I think this should be 'specialize'?



    I'm not sure what's trying to be said here.

    Loved this chapter! Looking forward to the brawl in the next one! =D
     
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  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    So, perhaps I didn't describe things well enough. The intention is that Shane found a small desk in a secluded hallway to play the game in the stern hopes nobody he knew would catch him. This is, unfortunately, a true-to-life situation that yours truly was extremely guilty of, even as a teenager. <.<

    Yes, cursed language restrictions! Then again, I seem to recall saying I didn't intend to start having swearing popping up and ended up backing off on that... so joke's on me, I guess! As far as Dragonite yelling attack names... hmm... perhaps her newfound hamminess can be linked to a certain something? Or a someone?

    Drat! That was supposed to be a javelin!

    Yeah... I always saw her as having little hands clasped in a prayer pose. I don't know why. I imagine she doesn't get much use out of them. Then again, it doesn't stop her from being terrifying in VGC.

    Admittedly I don't think I specifically planned it to work that well at first, but I seem to have made the decision to keep goofballs like Wigglytuff and Ampharos in the background in favor of more level-headed canon characters like Chatot and Mawile.

    There was a stinger scene at the end of episode 10 that showed Metagross breaking Magnezone in half and blowing open his office to start devouring emeras. In a sense, he's become a walking, talking "you are what you eat" situation. :V

    No, I knew full well this was going to be a somewhat disjointed chapter. I had wanted to put the Zero and Necrozma scenes at the end of the previous chapter but that would've made it way too long for my liking, so I held those scenes back and wrote up all these extra scenes (the flashback, the stuff with Espeon, the stuff with Team Fang, and the stuff with Wigglytuff's guild) to have a proper chapter. There will be future villain-centric chapters but I think (hope?) they'll come across as more focused.

    No, no, you're absolutely (pun intended?) inclined to think it's dangerous. I feel that way, too, and put it in anyway. I realize that it's backwards and has some bad implications, but that's kind of the point. I didn't feel comfortable writing a world where love and relationships open and free from any sort of judgment. So, for to balance out the more progressive side we'd already seen there's the less logical soulmate thing.

    Yes, I had a feeling this part might not be your cup of tea. You're just much better at writing relationships than I am, I'm afraid. I suppose the lack of experience really doesn't help my position XP

    whoops :eek:

    Double drat! I don't know what happened with that sentence. Also, do you know if there's a word that you call the remnants of a wave as it moves up the shore after crashing? Because I don't. ;~;

    Triple drat! XP

    That's a fair point.

    It's almost like she's not thinking straight or something. ^^;

    Again, this is sadly true to life as I had about as many poor context moments as he did. <.<;

    Quadruple drat! >.<

    Uh... the dog ate my keyboard? ^^;

    Am I to take this to mean you drink hot chocolate in the summer? That's... kind of amazing. I'll never understand how anyone can tolerate a hot beverage; my mouth breaks out in sores. I realize this isn't what you meant, but it's the first thing that came to mind. :p Thanks again for reviewing!

    Correct!

    You're absolutely write in that she intends to rewrite time! Or, more specifically, she intends to write the gods out of time. Would that have nasty consequences? I dunno... the Time Gears can do some craaaaaazy stuff.

    Zoroark's assailant will remain a mystery until this Saturday. :p

    "Hoopa takes offense to that! Hoopa has the best sense of humor... especially after trading notes with BackDoor!"

    Totem Decidueye is meant to be the most levelheaded authority figure we've run across in the story so far. Not that he really has much competition. Still, I hope he came off as reasonable.

    You just might be onto something there...

    Thanks! And thanks for reviewing, as well. ^^
     
  14. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Chapter 58: Settling a Sibling Rivalry
    "Well, what are we waiting for? We have to go after them!" Silvally barked. He marched toward the Mystery Dungeon's entrance, only for Totem Decidueye to step into his path and hold up a wing.

    "Not so fast," he said. "Those two might've gotten by me, but I'm still Totem around here. I will not have a… uh…" His voice trailed off and he stared at Silvally in abject confusion. "Actually, what the heck even are you?" He glanced over at Team Paradox. "One of their cohorts, perhaps? I'll admit… I still don't fully understand what's going on. Gallian refused to explain anything. But I'm not letting anyone else run off into the Depths."

    "He is not affiliated with us!" Sticky blurted out, clinging frightfully to Luxeira's harness. "That is a Beast Killer and you must get it away from me right this second!"

    Silvally turned and narrowed his eyes at Sticky. This only made Sticky cling tighter to Luxeira. "You need to cut that out. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm worried about Tessa," he said. "So, if you're not going to offer anything to help us out, then stand aside and let some real explorers handle this."

    Sticky looked at Luxeira in a panic. "You can't let him go in there. He will sense Gallian's ultra aura and fly into a berserk rage."

    "No, I won't!" Silvally snapped, stomping a foreleg on the ground. His cheek bolts spun in their sockets. "You're wrong about me. I'm stable. I've gotten everything under control. Your hostility's not helping anyone."

    "Wait, Gallian has an ultra aura?" Shane gasped. "So, we're sure he has the Prism Virus?"

    Sticky refused to answer that question, turning his back on Team Radiance. Luxeira chomped down on his tail and spun him around to face the group. "Buck up, Sticky. That's an order."

    "C… captain?" Sticky stammered.

    "Everyone needs to step back and take a deep breath," Luxeira said. "You've let the events of the past few days rile you up. Team Paradox is still an Ultra Recon Squad unit. When there are problems stemming from uncontrolled Z-Power, it's our job to investigate."

    Shane cocked his head in confusion. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up a second. I only got, like, half the stuff you were saying, there. What's this about Ultra Recon Squads?"

    Luxeira sighed. "I'm afraid it's a long and complicated story. One that's better told in a less dire situation." She stepped toward Team Radiance. "To keep things brief, I'll just say that, yes, Gallian is afflicted by the same corrupted Z-Power other Pokémon here have succumbed to. Luckily, we managed to get a hold of him before his ultra aura ran out of control. We fitted him with our extra harness. It suppresses ultra auras and negates Z-Power."

    Espeon frowned. "But if it negates Z-Power, then how can we purge the Prism Virus from his system?"

    "We're still investigating if that's possible," Luxeira replied.

    "But it is possible!" Espeon exclaimed. "I'm living proof!"

    Luxeira looked at Espeon in confusion. "Wait, have we met before?"

    "Yes. In Sunrise Village. I attacked Gallian while I was under the Prism Virus' influence," Espeon admitted.

    "Oh my," Luxeira gasped. "I'm sorry. I should've recognized you sooner. It's just, your energy patterns are nothing like they used to be. I figured you were a different Espeon." She turned to Shane and Silvally. "Does that mean you know how to get rid of the Prism Virus?"

    "Yes," Shane said. "We're pretty confident that if we knock an infected Pokémon out using a Z-Move, that removes the Prism Virus. It's already worked a few times." He held up his left foreleg. "This looplet lets me use a Z-Move. Tessa and Espeon have them, too."

    Sticky floated up to Shane, his visor flashing. "Ah, he's right! They're both giving off significant Z-Power readings, captain!"

    "You have Naturia Looplets?" Totem Decidueye gasped. He stepped back from the group and pecked at his shoulder in thought. "Hmm… what to do? I don't want more folks going into the Cavernous Depths with the state it's in. But if the Tapu have judged you worthy, that's another matter entirely. I would be betraying my position by slighting them."

    "Please, sir. You have to let us through," Shane begged. "We're with the Horizon Guild, see?" He pivoted to show the explorer's badge on his bandana. "This wouldn't be the first time we've been in a warped dungeon. Plus, we really need to get in there. One of–" He cut himself off and frowned. "Oh, wait, if Gallian's in there, I guess that means two of the Dawn Shards are in there. And we really need to get them!"

    "Dawn Shards?" Totem Decidueye raised an eyebrow. "As in… the Dawn Hourglass? It's really broken?"

    "And Gallian just ran off into the Cavernous Depths with a piece of it," Silvally said. "Now do you understand why we need to get in there?"

    "Absolutely!" Totem Decidueye exclaimed. "This is extremely serious. I would have liked to formulate some sort of plan, but it looks like that can't be helped." He turned over his shoulder and shouted, "Lycanroc, get out here!"

    Shane's tails shot between his legs in alarm. "Di… did he just say… Lyacanroc?" He shuffled next to Silvally, whining loudly. But to his surprise, the wolf that appeared look nothing like the one he had a falling out with. She stood on four paws and her lithe body was a bright, gaudy shade of orange. However, her white mane greatly resembled Midnight Lycanroc's, right down to the brown, rocky tip. "Wait, that can't be Lycanroc. It looks completely different," Shane said. "What's going on here?"

    The new Lycanroc sized Shane up. "You're yanking my tail, right? How can you be in the guild and not know Lycanrocs have three different forms?"

    "Uh… um…" Shane stammered. "I'm human, so…"

    "Guys, we really don't have time for this," Silvally cut in. "That's a Dusk Lycanroc, Shane. There, satisfied?" Shane nodded, but stayed close to Silvally.

    "You can call me Dusk if it makes it easier." She turned to Totem Decidueye. "What did you need me for, chief?"

    "I need your help to take this group into the Cavernous Depths," Totem Decidueye exclaimed.

    Dusk's eyes widened. "I thought no one was allowed in there." She turned around and stiffened upon seeing the busted barricade. "Oh… we've got trouble, huh?"

    Totem Decidueye nodded. "It's Gallian. You remember him, right?"

    "Of course I do," Dusk said. "He finally came back?"

    "Guys, seriously?" Silvally growled. "Every second we're talking is time we're wasting!" He stomped toward the tunnel. "We've got to hurry up! Tessa could be utterly lost in there, for all we know!"

    His teammates nodded their agreement and filed along after him. "You two coming?" Totem Decidueye asked, looking at Team Paradox.

    "Absolutely," Luxeira replied, much to Sticky's chagrin.

    XxX

    ~Cavernous Depths~

    "Will you… please hold up… for a second?"

    Zoroark staggered to a stop, sweat frazzling his already-disheveled mane. He leaned against a nearby rock slab. Tessa turned around, an impatient look on her face. "I didn't ask you to follow me down here, you know. You're really in no condition to be waltzing through a Mystery Dungeon," she said. "I have to catch up to Gallian!"

    "I want to help him, too!" Zoroark insisted, hunching over as he struggled to catch his breath. "Besides, you don't know this place like I do. When I was a sentry, I did patrols down here with Gallian." He slowly righted himself. "And I can tell you already that something's very wrong here."

    "Really? You mean the part of the ground we passed that gave way to a giant pool of water dropping off into an abyss isn't a normal part of this place?" Tessa scoffed. "I've already dealt with stuff like this. We just have to grin and bear it."

    "Well, I haven't," Zoroark exclaimed. "So, this is all pretty surprising to me." His eyes suddenly widened and he lunged for Tessa, shouting, "And so is that!" He wrapped a startled Tessa up in his arms, wincing from her chest spike, and fell back onto the ground. Tessa landed on top of him.

    "What the heck was that for?" she barked.

    WHAM!

    Tessa yipped and jumped to her feet, landing on Zoroark's chest in the process, much to his discomfort. She looked over her shoulder and her aura feelers shot up in surprise the moment she glimpsed the giant, spiked metal crusher that had dropped from the ceiling and smashed into the spot where she previously stood. The crusher was covered in yellow and black stripes and had flashing red lights all around it. Her tail twitched in fright.

    "Dear gods," Tessa whispered, "what is that thing?"

    "No idea," Zoroark croaked, rubbing his chest and groaning in pain. "But if this place is filled with stuff like that, then we can't just charge on ahead. We'll be walking into certain death." The crusher detached from the ground and slowly retracted back into the ceiling. Tessa grabbed Zoroark around his wrists and ran forward, dragging him along with her. "Ow… ow! Hey, hold up! You're hurting me!"

    "We don't have time to hold up," Tessa growled. "Did you even listen to yourself? If you and I don't know about these traps, then that means Gallian's probably just as confused! The longer we leave him on his own, the greater the chance of something bad happening to him. Now, come on!"

    "Will you at least let go of me?" Zoroark huffed. Tessa released her grip and started running off without a second thought. Zoroark's shoulders sagged. "Wait up! I didn't mean for you to just ditch me like that! Seriously?"

    "I'm not ditching you. I'm trying to scout ahead," Tessa exclaimed. She paused and climbed up onto a stalagmite, scanning the area. "Just what happened here?" she wondered. There were the typical hallmarks of a cave: rocks everywhere, with some random light crystals embedded in the walls, floor and ceiling. But unlike Cosmic Cavern, the rocks in the Depths were a dark shade of lavender. They had small twinkling lights inside them, making Tessa feel like she was completely surrounded by the night sky.

    The uniformity of the dungeon only served to make the things that weren't normal in the cave brazenly stick out. Up ahead of her, parts of the rocky floor had disappeared entirely. Pools of water sat in their places and shot up into the ceiling, forming columns maintained by some unseen force.

    "None of this makes any sense," Tessa growled, digging her paws into the stalagmite. "In what universe can a body of water suspend itself into a pillar like that?"

    "Beats me," Zoroark said, looking at the upcoming parts of the tunnel with a frown on his face. "Tapu Bulu would never do something like this. If he did, Totem Decidueye would surely know about it." He crossed his arms and scowled. "Just what is going on here?"

    "I think I've got a pretty good idea, but that explanation's gonna have to come later," Tessa said. She hopped off the stalagmite and sprinted forward, arms out by her sides. "Come on! At this rate, we're gonna fall behind him!"

    "Unnngh, seriously?" Zoroark groaned, rubbing his left thigh. "Sprinting through here won't do us any good. It won't be long before we're gonna hit branching paths. And there could be more traps waiting to be sprung."

    No sooner did Zoroark finish saying that then Tessa stepped on a part of the rocky ground. It glowed bright red beneath her foot. The area in front of her suddenly erupted in two bursts of dust and debris. Tessa barked in surprise and fell back on her rear. Her aura feelers immediately tightened and her ears folded against her face.

    Whiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrr!

    Tessa looked up to find two red, mechanical arms sticking out of the newly-made holes in the ground. Each one was topped by a spinning circular buzz saw. The arms rotated so the blades faced Tessa, then shot toward her. Tessa screamed and scooted back along the ground. The saws impacted inches in front of her, shaving off strands of black fur from the sole of her left foot. Aura feelers throbbing, Tessa looked down at her foot to confirm it was still in one piece.

    "Don't just sit there gawking! Get up! Do something!" Zoroark shouted, pointing frantically ahead of him. Tessa continued to stare dumbstruck at the buzz saws, which had detached from their arms and were now revving up in the ground. Just as they started to move forward with the intent of slicing through Tessa's legs, a fireball struck each one of them, melting them into slag.

    Tessa scrambled to her feet, backpedaling from the molten metal as it spread out and cooled. "Okay, even by Prism Virus standards this is nuts," she said, shivering wildly.

    "Were you listening to me? Why'd you freeze up?" Zoroark growled, walking up to her. "You're a Lucario, for pity's sake!"

    Tessa wheeled on Zoroark "Hello! I just evolved yesterday, remember? I don't have any ranged attacks to deal with those things!"

    Zoroark's jaw slackened. "Seriously? And you just thought it'd be a good idea to charge into this Mystery Dungeon without any backup?"

    Tessa bit her lip. "Okay, so this wasn't exactly my finest moment. But it's too late to turn back now. I'm not willing to risk something bad happening to Gallian! Now, come on!" She waved Zoroark forward and the two continued ahead, minding the holes in the ground. The mechanical arms had ducked back inside them, much to Tessa's relief.

    However, they got about half way toward the clearing at the end of the tunnel when said mechanical arms popped back out of the ground, wielding fresh buzz saws. "Oh crap! Run, run, run!" Tessa shouted, ducking her head down and sprinting forward. Zoroark turned and spewed a wall of fire behind him. But this time, the blades were spinning so fast they dispelled the flames. With a look of disbelief, Zoroark stumbled after Tessa.

    The arms placed their blades into the ground and they shot toward the duo. Zoroark's eyes widened. He braced himself, expecting the blades to run through him. Instead, Tessa grabbed hold of him and yanked him to the side. They both fell down into the clearing, watching the spinning blades shoot right past them. Tessa scrambled to her feet and pointed both her paws forward.

    "Go, Aura Sphere!" she shouted, aura feelers rising and eyes flashing blue. However, blue flames meekly flickered around her paws, then quickly subsided. "Oh, come on! That's not fair!" she groaned. The saw blades made their ways across the clearing and climbed toward the ceiling.

    "They're coming back around!" Zoroark panicked. He looked around the room, scowling. "Arrrgh! There's too many different ways to go! How are we supposed to find Gallian like this?"

    Tessa glanced up at the buzz saws moving around the ceiling. She grabbed Zoroark and shoved him toward the spacious room's corner. The buzz saws descended from the ceiling and once again harmlessly passed them by. Tessa squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. 'Come on, aura sense. Show me something. Anything that'll give me a hint about Gallian!'

    Her aura sight activated. With each beat of her racing heart, Tessa saw ripples of ley lines spreading out all around her. She gasped, nearly losing her concentration. 'Focus, Tessa! Look for Gallian!'

    "Hey, what are you doing? Those blades are making another pass," Zoroark said, tugging at Tessa's shoulder. She swatted his arm away and scrunched her face up.

    "Come on… come on…" she whispered. Zoroark turned to run away from Tessa when her eyes shot open. "Over there!" Tessa shouted, pointing to the tunnel behind them. "Gallian went that way!" She scooped Zoroark up in her arms, much to his complete surprise, and hopped over the buzz saws as they descended from the ceiling. This time, however, they spun around on the ground and doubled back toward her. "This is getting ridiculous!" Tessa groaned, running for the tunnel. "What are we supposed to do?"

    "I have an idea!" Zoroark said. "How strong of a swimmer are you?"

    Tessa blanched. "I… I can't swim," she squeaked.

    Zoroark frowned. "Then you're just gonna have to trust me… and hold your breath."

    "Wait, what's that supposed to me– AGGGH!"

    Zoroark jumped out of Tessa's arms and kicked her in the back. Tessa stumbled forward, entering a suspended column of water with a loud splash. Zoroark sucked in a breath and lunged in after her. He wrapped his arm around the thrashing Lucario's neck and scissor-kicked his legs, propelling them higher in the column. The buzz blades charged into the water after them. In doing so, their blades interlocked, jamming both of them. Zoroark swam forward, reaching the end of the water column. He dropped down to the ground and released Tessa.

    Tessa stumbled forward, coughing loudly. Cold water streamed off her sopping fur, forming a puddle around her. Zoroark didn't look much better, with his wet mane plastered against his face. "Wh… what the heck?" Tessa sputtered. "Are you trying to kill me?"

    "No. But I needed a way to get rid of those blades," Zoroark replied. He hunched down on all fours and shook himself out. Tessa yowled in protest, throwing her arms up over her face. Zoroark ignored her glare and looked behind him, confirming the buzz saws had been stopped. "It worked, didn't it?"

    Tessa looked at the stalled blades and bit her lip. "I guess so," she said. "But why did it have to involve going for a dip?" She tried to shake out her limbs, but it did little to dry her off given the cave's damp atmosphere.

    "You think I wanted to do that?" Zoroark huffed. He flicked his mane around and it smacked against his rear. "This thing gets rather heavy when it's wet. And it's a right headache to deal with."

    Tessa rolled her eyes at Zoroark's pun. "Well, hopefully we can just blast apart any more blades that we come across."

    WHAM!

    "Oh, for crying out loud! What is wrong with this miserable cave?!"

    Tessa's aura feelers tightened up. "That's Gallian!" she realized. "Come on!" She waved Zoroark along and the two of them took off down the tunnel. In the process, they were forced to dive through two more water columns. Tessa again relied on Zoroark to get her through them. After the second water tunnel, another metal crusher came into view. Gallian stood in front of it, an annoyed look on his face.

    "Move, you useless hunk of metal!" Gallian snarled, swiping the crusher with his serrated horn. It clanged off the crusher. The noise sent Gallian stumbling back. Likewise, Tessa's and Zoroark's ears scrunched up in displeasure.

    "Gallian, cut it out!" Tessa called. Gallian turned around, regaining his frenzied look from before he ran off into the dungeon.

    "Get away from me!" Gallian snarled. He thrust his head up and glowing pink crescents arced toward Tessa. She dropped back behind Zoroark, who let the attacks harmlessly strike him. Gallian growled disdainfully, digging his claws into the rock.

    "Gallian, please. Don't do this," Zoroark begged. "We don't want to hurt you. All we want to do is talk."

    "Liar!" Gallian roared. "You brought her here. I can't trust you anymore!" He vanished in a swirl of dark shadows. Tessa was unable to see him against the darker backdrop of the Cavernous Depths, but her aura feelers tensed, tugging her head to her right. Without much thought, Tessa turned to her right, aura swirling around her right paw and obscuring the mark burned in her fur. Just as Gallian rematerialized, she struck him on the nose with her palm. Gallian hit the wall and scrambled backwards, whining in surprise.

    Tessa looked at her outstretched paw in horror. She held it behind her back. "Gallian, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to–"

    Gallian's eyes flashed red with rage. "I knew it! You're just like her now! I want you gone, do you hear me? Get out of my life!" His forehead gem crackled with dark energy. Tessa dropped to her belly right as a black energy beam with red stripes surrounding it shot forward. Zoroark was left completely vulnerable. The attack blindsided him, striking his chest and leaving a smoldering mark in his fur.

    Zoroark staggered back, gasping in surprise. After he took two steps, ever muscle in his body locked up, freezing the shocked expression on his face. Gallian's face blanked. Tessa used the opportunity to smack his sternum with a flaming-blue paw. Gallian fell backwards, tumbling down the tunnel and coming to a rest against the metal crusher. The moment he felt cold steel on his back, he scrambled to his feet.

    Tessa bounced up, only for her aura feelers to shoot up in panic at the sight of Zoroark. She looked down at Gallian in complete shock. "You… you petrified him!" she gasped. Her eyes slowly widened. "You were… going to petrify me! What the–? How the–?"

    The metal crusher started to retract into the ceiling. "I don't owe you any explanations!" Gallian shouted. "Not when you're looking like that… like Mom!" He squeezed himself underneath the crusher. Tessa's eyes narrowed. She shoved Zoroark against the wall, the impact freeing him from the petrification.

    "Hurry up! We're gonna lose him again!" she cried, beckoning him forward. The two of them dashed down the tunnel. But Tessa noticed the crusher was about to reach the ceiling. She grabbed Zoroark by the mane and flung him out into the clearing. Then she tucked her head in, spread her arms out, and propelled herself forward with a sudden burst of speed.

    WHAM!

    The crusher slammed into the ground seconds after Tessa ran into the clearing. "Gallian, stop!" she shouted, seeing him running toward the tunnel on the far side of the room. She reared her paw back, producing a stun seed, and hurled it at her brother. Gallian whirled around, scythe brimming with psychic energy. But Zoroark acted quicker, blowing a stream of fire that forced Gallian to retreat. The stun seed struck the tip of Gallian's nose. His joints immediately locked up, leaving him standing there with a disdainful glare on his face.

    Tessa walked forward, a frown etched on her face. "Why do you keep trying push me away, Gallian? I'm your sister! I don't want to hurt you!" she said, voice straining. "And what's with the comparisons to Mom? Is it because I'm a Lucario now?"

    Gallian tried to move his mouth, but his muscles twitched unresponsively. "Let me guess," Zoroark growled, hunching low to catch his breath, "you won't tell us anything because 'it'll bring disaster on you!'" He leered at Gallian. "I can't believe that this is what you've turned into."

    Zoroark's shoulders sagged. "You said I was more important than your disaster sense… that's why you rescued me that night out on the ridge! I believed you! I… I…" He shut his eyes and shook his head. "You were my soulmate! We were supposed to have a life together! You were the first Pokémon… the first one who accepted me for me! And then you threw that all away! Why, Gallian?"

    Again, Gallian tried to move. But the effects of the stun seed kept him rooted to the spot. Zoroark limped up to Gallian, orange energy running down his right foot. He swept his right leg around, kicking Gallian's shins as hard as he could. Zoroark's kick swept Gallian off his feet and sent him crashing to the ground. Zoroark immediately fell on Gallian, locking the Absol's forelegs up with his arms.

    "Nnnrrrrgh! Get… off of… me!" Gallian howled, thrashing on the ground. His scythe flickered with bug-shaped bits of green energy, but he couldn't point it in Zoroark's direction. Tessa watched the scene unfold with a growing look of concern.

    "Not until… you answer me!" Zoroark panted. He kneed Gallian's back, drawing out a pained howl. Tessa's aura feelers crinkled, sensing Gallian's pain. "Why did you leave me behind?"

    "I had to," Gallian said. Tessa recognized the black shadows overtaking his eyes. With a twinge of regret, she socked Gallian in the snout with an electrified fist. The contact broke Gallian's concentration, preventing him from shadow melding to escape Zoroark's grasp.

    "That's not a good enough answer, Gallian!" Zoroark snarled. "Why did you leave me?"

    Gallian's breathing quickened. His pupils dilated and he opened his mouth wide, showing off gleaming fangs. Red energy spilled out of his eyes. Electricity surged across his fur. Zoroark yelped, his grip slackening. Gallian dissolved into a cloud of shadows that raced behind Zoroark. He reformed and speared Zoroark in the back with a bright-green horn.

    "Because I didn't want to die!" Gallian cried.

    Zoroark's eyes widened in agony. He fell to the ground, gripping his back, and passed out immediately. Gallian stood over Zoroark's unconscious body, eyes hollow and fur bristling with electricity like a Pikachu's cheek-pouches. "G… Gallian!" Tessa gasped, aura feelers throbbing. She looked down at Zoroark, and then back up at her brother.

    "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" Gallian shouted. "You…" He narrowed his eyes at Tessa. "You're just like Mom. Just like she was… when she tried to kill me!" Gallian ran forward, melting into a wave of shadows mid-stride. Tessa staggered backwards, utterly unsure of how she could stop him. Blue aura encased her paws. She raised them up, scrunching her face and grunting in concentration. But the aura failed to coalesce into an attack. Seconds later, Gallian's shadowy scythe raked her shoulder, leaving a noticeable gash.

    Tessa stumbled backward, clutching a paw to her bleeding shoulder. Her eyes went wide and the throbbing in her aura feelers intensified. She shakily grabbed an oran berry out of her bag and smooshed it against her wound, making a liquid sealant. But when she looked back at Gallian, she saw him charging up to use his energy beam attack again. He fired right at her. Tessa dove to her right, hitting the ground and rolling back to her feet.

    She pulled a sleep seed out from her bag and threw it. Tessa didn't expect it to hit, but it did manage to preoccupy Gallian. Again, she thrust her paws forward, trying to reach into her reserves of energy and call on her new aura powers. However, she got no response, leaving Gallian time to prepare to strike again.

    "Wait!" she begged, throwing her paws up. "We don't have to fight like this, Gallian. Please! Just… just talk to me. Why did you say that Mom tried to kill you? Did you notice that something was wrong with her, perhaps? That maybe she wasn't acting herself?"

    "Idiot! You know nothing!" Gallian roared. He zigzagged toward her, readying to strike with his black scythe. Tessa gathered aura around her paws and thrust them into Gallian's scythe. The blows knocked each battler back. Gallian bounced to his feet quicker than Tessa did. "I found her… in the valley near these mountains. And she… she flew off the handle at me!" Gallian said, energy gathering in his forehead diamond. Tessa took off running around the edge of the room. Gallian anticipated her movements and fired a beam ahead of her.

    But to his shock, Tessa saw his trick coming. She doubled back toward him, using blinding speeds to close the gap between them. An electric fist struck Gallian's diamond. The sight of it shattering brought a frown to Tessa's face. Gallian stumbled backward, the blow rippling through his body. His eyes narrowed in rage. Tessa immediately found herself on the defensive, trying to duck swipes of his pitch-black horn and turn him away with a palm strike. After pushing her halfway across the clearing, Gallian slashed her chest. His horn clanged off her metal spike and he stepped back.

    Tessa's eyes fell to the expanding bloodstain on her black and tan fur. She threw her left paw over the wound and shuffled back, producing a berry in her other paw. "Gallian, how could you do this? I'm your sister. Why are you trying to kill me?" she said.

    Eyes twitching manically, Gallian dug his claws into the ground. "I want you out of my life. You… you're bringing disaster. Lucarios are scum! They've made my life an endless nightmare! They…" He shot a despondent look at Zoroark. "Mom used Zoroark as the tipping point… the excuse she needed to try and kill me!"

    Tessa smashed the berry against her chest and hunched over, trying to catch her breath. "I still don't understand. I mean… I know now that she's Zero. Are you saying Zero tried to kill you?" she asked

    "Who's Zero? It was Mom!" Gallian shouted. Pink crescents raced toward Tessa. She rolled to her right, wincing from the pain in her chest and shoulder. Tessa arrived beside Zoroark and hastily stuffed a tiny reviver seed into his mouth. Zoroark's eyes shot open and he sat up, coughing loudly. His eyes fell on Tessa, widening at her injuries. Gallian noticed Zoroark was awake. He thrashed his head about in a poor imitation of Silvally when his helmet was on.

    "I told you… Mom never cared about us," Gallian growled, crouching low to the ground. "I heard her… I heard her call me a mistake. I heard her call us mistakes." He glanced at Zoroark. "She saw Zoroark running over and embracing me. Next thing I know, she's screaming about how disgraceful I am. How her life's ruined. And then crystal blades flew right at me."

    "Cry… crystal blades…" Zoroark gasped. Tessa looked back at him in alarm. Gallian seized on the opportunity and shot a red energy beam toward Tessa's head. She fell onto her back, stretching out her good arm to drag Zoroark down with her.

    "It was Zero, then," Tessa gasped. "Gallian, you have to listen to me. I–"

    Gallian stomped toward them, his fur crackling. Tessa cut herself off. "Zoroark took the attack for me." Tears welled up in his eyes. "Can you imagine it? Falling to the ground, watching blades draw the blood of the Pokémon you love? Feeling like a failure… like you couldn't protect him… like you brought disaster upon him?"

    Zoroark stiffened. "No. Absols don't bring disasters. It's superstition," he whispered.

    "It's not!" Gallian keened. He lunged for Tessa, claws outstretched. Tessa retaliated with a glowing palm to Gallian's underbelly, knocking him backwards. "Look at yourself. I did that to you!" Gallian shouted, tears streaming down his face. "I just sat there… useless. I couldn't move. I couldn't attack. I just watched… watched Mom shoot this beam toward me. It felt like something was trying to rip me apart from my insides. Next thing I know, I'm in this weird harness, Zoroark is gone, and those two alien weirdos are by my side."

    Tessa's eyes slowly widened. "You really are infected," she realized. Tessa threw her paws up. "Gallian, please listen to me for a minute! I know this all sounds bad, but I know why Mom did this. She's being controlled, by an evil Ultra Beast called Necrozma!"

    Gallian's eyes flashed with rage. "You mean that dumb 'Lightless Black' thing my partners keep harping on about?" He shook his head. "You're deluding yourself, Tessa. I was there in the guild with her. Mom always hated us, but she liked Dad. So, she had to pretend she was a kind, loving mother." He stomped a forepaw on the ground. "Don't be dumb. Think about it! I know you hated your aura training sessions. You always told me how mean you thought Mom was being."

    The realization was a figurative stab in Tessa's chest. "I… but… she always told me that it was necessary. That that's how Riolus are supposed to learn." Her face scrunched up, recalling how she had lamented the way Prisma made her feel bad. 'Gallian's right,' she concluded.

    "Okay… so maybe that's true. I still think there's some good inside her," Tessa said. "Otherwise, she never would have worked as hard as she did for the guild. We can free her from Necrozma… together!" She took a step toward him, offering a paw. "Gallian, I know how to make what Mom did go away. I can cure you with Z-Power."

    "That won't work," Gallian snarled, stepping back from her. "This harness blocks Z-Power. It's the only thing that's keeping me from completely losing control!"

    "You've already lost control! Please take it off and let me use my Z-Move. I promise, I can fix this!" Tessa said. "Give me a chance."

    Gallian looked toward the ground, then to Zoroark, and then back toward Tessa. His eyes turned pitch-black and his scythe flared up with dark energy. Tessa gasped, hopping backwards to dodge Gallian's slash. "Back off!" Gallian howled. "You want to take my harness off? I knew it! You're trying to drag me into the pit of disaster with you!" He again slashed at her. Tessa sucked in a breath and Gallian's swipe missed her by inches.

    "Gallian, stop!" she begged.

    "No!" Gallian snarled. "We can't work together, because we're not good for each other! All we'll do is bring endless disasters upon ourselves! And you know exactly why!" He dissolved into shadows, which blanketed Tessa, drawing a frightened cry.

    Zoroark took a step toward the black cloud, only for Gallian to reform with Tessa pinned to the ground. The serrated part of Gallian's scythe lay against the tip of her snout. "Trust your sister, Gallian," Zoroark pleaded. "Do it for me!"

    "I won't!" Gallian barked defiantly. "I don't trust her to cure me of whatever Mom did. Because she's a failure… just like me!"

    Tessa abruptly stopped squirming. "W… what did you just call me?"

    "You heard me! We're failures!" Gallian spat. "Every time we've tried to put our best paws forward, we've missed the mark… ruining lives in the process!" He looked at Zoroark. "That's why we need to stay as far away from each other as possible. No good will come from us working together. Only disaster."

    "That's quite enough!"

    An ectoplasmic arrow whizzed through the air. Gallian hopped off his sister, dodging it. But the arrow looped around and embedded itself in the ground. Purple wisps raced out of it and struck Gallian's left flank. He growled in displeasure, shaking out his fur. "What the–?"

    Zoroark looked to the end of the clearing he and Tessa had come from. Team Radiance stood there, flanked by the other folks he had encountered in the village. Totem Decidueye was at the head of the group, holding up his wing as a makeshift bow. "How did you all find us?" Zoroark gasped.

    "I tracked your scents with Odor Sleuth," Dusk boasted. "And the big guy here could sense your auras." She rapped a paw on Silvally's knee. He trilled happily, brandishing his bright pink head crest for Zoroark to see.

    "Tessa? Tessa! Are you okay?" Shane cried, running forward.

    "Get back!" Tessa shouted, making Shane jump. She slowly got to her feet, arms trembling and paws balled up into fists. "I don't want any of you getting involved!"

    "Are you nuts?" Dusk cried. "You're clearly in rough shape, girl!"

    "I said stay back!" Tessa snarled, whirling around to show the blue flames burning in her irises. The sigil on her right paw crackled with white light, leading aura wisps to swirl around Tessa's palms.

    'It's just like back at the Volcanic Wastes,' Shane realized, tails twisted in worry. 'All those pent-up frustrations are finally bursting out of her!'

    "You," Tessa seethed, turning toward Gallian. "You ran out on me! You left me alone… when I needed someone with me! And now you're just going to stand there and call me a failure? Do you have any idea what I've been through since you left? Do you?!"

    "That stuff doesn't matter," Gallian growled. "My disaster sense tells me everything I need to know."

    "No, it doesn't!" Tessa shrieked. She bolted forward, striking Gallian's ribs with her knee. The wind rushed out of him, as did a mouthful of spittle. Gallian fell to the floor, groaning in pain. "I'm done sitting around listening to you talk down to me!" She lunged for Gallian, striking his harness with a glowing palm. "I'm done letting Pokémon walk all over me!" Tessa shouted, hitting his harness again. The crystals started to splinter. A glowing orange rock flew out of the harness, landing by Espeon.

    "I've got the Sizzle Shard!" she shouted, scooping it up into her small satchel. Warmth spread across her flank and her fur tingled.

    "Wait, what are you doing?" Sticky gasped. "If you break that harness, he's going to lose control and succumb to the Prism Virus!"

    "No, he won't!" Tessa thundered. She stood up and cupped her paws together. "Because I'm tired of people telling me I can't succeed!"

    Tessa thrust her paws at Gallian. A sphere of fiery aura gathered between them and shot forward. It hit the central gem in Gallian's harness and exploded in a brilliant blue blaze. Shane and Silvally shot each other alarmed looks. They were about to rush forward when Espeon stepped in their path. "Don't get involved," she said, looking toward Tessa. "This is something she wants to do for herself."

    The dust cleared, revealing Gallian writhing about on the floor. His harness lay in pieces all around him. "Ahhhhhhhhhh!" Sticky gasped, visor going askew. "The harness. Our technology! She totally trashed it!" He whirled on Luxeira. "Captain, how can you be so calm in this situation? That was some of the last bits of our home we had left!"

    "I'm sorry, Gallian. But this is for your own good!" Tessa shouted. She crossed her arms in front of her face. The winged heart flickered with rainbow light, and then her Naturia Looplet flared to life. Orange energy surrounded Tessa, forcing her friends to look away. Gallian glanced up at her, terror etched on his face. Before he had the chance to escape, Tessa vanished. A pillar of crimson energy erupted all around Gallian. He screamed as paws and feet slammed into every square inch of his body, knocking him about like a rag doll.

    After several seconds, the blows ceased. Gallian slumped over, out for the count. The purple arrow sitting in the center of the room dematerialized. Tessa stood over Gallian, her back turned to the group. Orange steam trailed off her body, making her aura feelers flow like locks of hair in the wind. After a few seconds, she turned around and knelt down. The glow faded from her eyes and her marked paw. A relieved expression washed over her face.

    "It's gone… the Prism Virus is gone," Tessa said. "Look. His scythe isn't messed up anymore!"

    A flood of relief washed across everyone's faces, especially Zoroark's. He lumbered forward, nearly falling to his knees. "You can wake him up, right?"

    "Yeah," Tessa said, scooping up a tiny reviver seed. She opened Gallian's mouth and shoved it inside. A few moments passed, then Gallian's eyes shot open. He clubbed Tessa across the cheek with the flat of his scythe. "Ow!" she hollered, putting a paw on her cheek. "What the heck was that for?"

    "Get away from me!" Gallian shouted, his eyes widened in primal fear. He scrambled to his feet, booking it toward the nearest tunnel. "All of you… stay away!"

    "Oh, come on! Seriously? This routine again?" Shane groaned. This time, he ran forward without hesitation. Silvally sprinted ahead of the group, trying to halt Gallian, but it was too late. Gallian disappeared down the tunnel. Moments later, his screams of terror echoed through the room.

    "So nice of you to join me down here, Gallian! I've been looking forward to our reunion!"

    Panic spread across Silvally's face. "That was Milotic!" he realized.

    Shane's eyes bugged out. "Wait, there's still the Subterranean Shard down here! Crap!" He turned to the rest of the group. "Everyone, this way! And get ready to attack!" He beckoned them forward and sprinted into the tunnel, flanked by his teammates.

    XxX​

    Paradox Enforcer, Gallian
    The first Pokémon to be infected by the Prism Virus, Gallian was spared the full effects thanks to a certain Lucario's inability to control her corrupted Z-Power at the time. The limiter harness Team Paradox placed on him prevented the Prism Virus from fully morphing him into an Ultra Beast. However, Gallian still experienced significant changes. His disaster sense was kicked into overdrive, firing at instances when it otherwise would be calm. And he inexplicably gained the power of Yveltal's Oblivion Wing. Why did this happen? Could his mother really have been fully responsible for these changes?

    I decided to take a few creative liberties at the end, here. As a Lucario, Tessa's version of All-Out Pummeling is based on the Shun Goku Satsu (aka the Raging Demon) from Street Fighter. Make of that what you will. :p

    Next time: an ultra-nasty battle leading to a startling turn of events for an unprepared Shane. Don't miss it!
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
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  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Surprise bonus part! See the author's notes at the end for more details. Here's some backing music.

    Content Advisory: mental health, depression, suicide allusions.

    XxX

    Bonus #13: Shane & Tessa

    I wish you could understand that it's hard for me to think straight, but I'm worried that, if I tried to explain myself, I wouldn't make any sense. I'm not sure Pokémon can study their minds the same way humans can. Like, in the human world, we have ways of looking at brain activity. In the Pokémon world, I guess it falls to psychic-types… but I don't know how reliable that is.

    As a human – hell, as a Vulpix, too, I suppose – my thoughts were always racing. My mind jumped from one idea to another. It didn't stop. It couldn't stop. Anything that seemed remotely appealing… it would latch onto, even if it didn't entirely make sense. Once a thought was in my head, I had to share it. I had no filter. The thought went into my brain and out through my lips… no matter how ridiculous it was. I never understood that people didn't want to hear what I was thinking. It didn't "click."

    A lot of things didn't "click" for me. I wish I could show you that I'm… not a good representation of what humans are really like. That I'm strange. That there's something wrong with me. Or, at least, that's what people told me. I just refused to believe them… until Nicky died.

    I wish I could tell you that I never understood other people. That's probably still true, even now. I couldn't connect to other humans… much like how I didn't really connect with you or Silvally, at first. I wish I had an answer why, but I don't. I'm too afraid to say anything. How can I make a Pokémon understand that I couldn't grasp why socializing is important? I figured it didn't matter. It's not like I didn't try talking to people. They just didn't seem interested in what I had to say. Looking back on it now, I finally realize that my big problem was that I always needed to share my thoughts.

    I wish I could find a way to properly express how it felt to have this compulsive urge to say whatever was on my mind. The best way I can think of describing it is like an itch that will never go away no matter how much you scratch it. But I get the feeling you wouldn't really believe me if I said that to you. I wish I could show you how uncomfortable I'd get when someone forced me to stay silent… but I'm too worried it would freak you out.

    Why? Because it freaked other humans out. I know it did. If I didn't get to let my thoughts out somehow – talking, writing, drawing, playing a game – bad things would happen. When I was much younger, I'd scream. As I got older, I'd just shut down. I wouldn't respond to anyone. I'd just stare at the floor, silently willing whoever or whatever was bothering me to leave me alone. That made it hard to "function." Would a Pokémon understand "function" in that context? I'm not really sure, but I wish there was a good way for me to explain it. Sadly, nothing comes to mind.

    I wish there were Pokémon like me. I know there are humans that are like me in some respects, but that was information I didn't have as a kid. It might've helped me a lot, but my parents were determined to keep that knowledge away from me. See? Yet another reason I'm too afraid of bringing this stuff up in front of you. I know about your family issues… and I don't want to make you feel even worse about them.

    It's not that I don't like my parents, I just don't understand why they were so insistent that I try to be "normal." In the Pokémon world, normal's just a type. But in the human world, "normal" is something much more dangerous. It was a state of mind... some you had to conform to, or face consequences. At least, that's how I think of it. I could be wrong. I'm wrong about lots of things. But my parents used "normal" to justify a lot of stuff they made me do… and I never stood up for myself against it.

    "We're just trying to make sure that you can have a normal, happy life, like your sisters," they'd say, but would never tell me what exactly a "normal, happy life" was. I guessed it meant going to a good college, getting a well-paying job, finding a wife, and starting a family. All things that never crossed my mind because I couldn't connect with others.

    So, my parents intervened. I wish I could accurately explain what they did, but none of it was stuff that exists in the Pokémon world. They'd send me to these groups after school where I was supposed to learn how to socialize better. It didn't work. They forced me to try out for different sports: football, soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, cross-country, and tennis. Not a single one worked. They never sat well with me. They always felt like attempts to force me to stay silent and bottle up whatever I was thinking. So, sometimes I screamed and other times I shut down.

    The more I think about it, the more it feels like it's all my fault. I wish I could've been more flexible back then, but I wasn't. When I had to do something that I didn't like, it made me extremely upset. I never effectively communicated why, it just did. How could I ever make you understand that? I can't… which is why I haven't said anything.

    I suppose all of this contributed to me getting engrossed in games. Fantasy became more and more appealing as reality became more unpleasant and made me more and more uncomfortable. Online, I could express my thoughts as much as I wanted. Sure, some people wouldn't like it. But others would say things that felt encouraging… validating, even. It was relieving. In some respects, it was invigorating! The more I did stuff online, the less obnoxious that itch felt. But that just meant that when I had to go do something else – schoolwork, extracurriculars, family dinners – the itch became a raging inferno that wouldn't die down.

    I wish I could find something in the Pokémon world to compare my experiences to, but I can't. Human towns and cities – with their loud cars, crowds of people, flashy lights, and strange smells – were too overwhelming. My human house was safe. It was quiet. That's all I wanted, so I couldn't understand why I needed to go out into places that unsettled me so much.

    Conflicts were even worse for me. I couldn't stomach getting in an argument as a human. Even the slightest hint of someone raising their voice caused such an intense degree of panic I'd completely shut down. It was the same online, too. If people started fighting, I'd do whatever I could to avoid having to see it. That's all I was capable of; ignoring the problem and hoping it solved itself. I wish I could convey that sense of powerlessness to you, but it wouldn't make sense. I'm still trying to figure out how I'm still alive when I was such a meek human. By all accounts, I never should've offered to chase after Team Fang with you. I guess my Vulpix instincts managed to fight through my human hesitancies? That's the only thing I can think of.

    I wish I could make this all clear for you, so that maybe it would make sense why I had started off as such an awful Pokémon. I had promised myself I'd stop making the same mistakes I did with Nicky, but I only wound up finding new, stupid ways to act on my impulses. I'm pretty sure that's what happened with Nicky, too. As we got older, he was trying to set me straight and help me fit in. I didn't like that, so I resisted… and fell back into a routine I knew I liked. All the while, I failed to see that something was wrong with Nicky. Throughout high school, he offered me fake smiles that I stupidly assumed were real.

    … and then, just like that, he was gone.

    In the weeks that followed Nicky's death, I gave in and started believing the things that other people said about me. That there was something wrong with me… that I was sick… that I was some sort of freak. But instead of trying to make any positive changes to my life, I simply doubled down… devoting more time to hobbies. My online activities became an obsession. Anything that took time away from my interests frustrated me. And since a lot of those things involved other people, I became frustrated with them. That frustration turned into negativity… and everything spiraled out of control from there.

    I wish there was a way for me to safely talk about this stuff with you, but there isn't. Not after hearing what Nicky had to say back in the Temple of Body. He was right. I'll take any opportunity to play the victim. Any way I look at it, a conversation about my troubles would just amount to me begging for sympathy… because it's true. I want sympathy. I crave sympathy. It's the only way I could get other people to pay attention to me when I was human, without devolving into put-downs or nasty comments. That frightens me a lot... because I was so uncertain about all of this when I was human, but now that I'm a Vulpix it's suddenly so clear. Could it be because that voice haunting my dreams is right? Is all of this fake? Am I human? Am I... something else entirely?

    More importantly, though, I don't want to say anything because I get the sense you're not okay… that there's still this cloud of sadness lingering over you. Seeing you lay into Gallian like you did… it made me worried. Even though we're not fighting anymore, we haven't had that many good things happen to us. You've been put under such tremendous stress that I fear you're starting to crack. I really do want to help, but I'm too afraid that anything I try will make things worse, not better.

    I guess that's why, above all else, I wish for you to be happy… Tessa. Because no one deserves it more than you.

    XxX
    I made a promise to you not to let myself go into a dark place again. But the truth is, I'm not sure I ever really left.

    I've talked a bit about it with Silvally, but I've avoided the subject around you. It's not that I don't want to tell you or anything… I'm just nervous. The two of us… we call each other friends now… but our relationship has had a lot of lows. Silvally told me that our bonds come from the challenges we've all faced together. I can understand where he's coming from, but I have trouble seeing it for myself.

    It's probably because I'm not "okay." There've been a few moments these past couple of weeks that have actually made me smile. But they were fleeting glimpses of happiness. Within a few hours, they were always gone… and I would sink right back down into the middle of this gloomy pit right in the center of my mind. I don't want to be here. I want to have hope. I want to envision a day we can wake up and just be together… enjoying each other's company without the threat of something trying to kill us. But every time I try, it's like there's this invisible rope that wraps me up and drags me back into the depths of despair.

    I still haven't told you or Silvally that the morning of my hatch day wasn't the first time I tried to end things. Before I met you, there were a lot of lonely days spent lying under my covers at home or standing in the middle of Azure Cape… trying to find the energy to walk into the sea and let the tide carry me out. One time I acted on the urge and… well… I'm still here, aren't I? I'd like to think that means someone is really looking out for me, but I doubt it. It was just a coincidence. The Midnight Sea is full of wild 'mons, after all, and one just happened to spot me.

    I wonder if your human friend felt the same way I do. Would he understand what it's like to wake up in the morning just as exhausted as you were when you went to bed? Were there days when he'd feel so heavy that he just couldn't help but cry? Did he spend waking hours lying about, unwilling to get up and do something productive? I'm not sure and I get the feeling you wouldn't know. Given what I've seen of Necrozma, I doubt he would really give me a straight answer, anyway. The only thing I'm confident about is that he, like me, had days when he would think to himself, "What if I just disappeared? Would anyone really care? Do I matter at all?"

    Maybe he does know exactly how I feel. After all, the Prism Virus mark is a part of me, now… burned into my fur as a permanent reminder of what should have been a happy moment, but instead was twisted into something unsettling. I showed it to Silvally, but you haven't caught on yet. I don't want to talk about it with either of you. I'm too terrified of the connotations. Especially after what I did to Gallian. Am I losing control? Am I going to slip and become a deranged monster like Necrozma? The mere thought makes me want to hurl.

    I don't know what to think about being a Lucario. In some respects, I resent it. Those days I spent lying in my house, alone? Sometimes I'd find myself wishing I could have hatched a Litten instead of a Riolu. Being a Lucario... makes me feel like there's an impossible standard everyone's going to expect me to live up to. Lucarios stood up against the warring gods in ancient times. The Air Continent named their highest rescue team rank after us. I can't meet those expectations! It's just... just setting me up for failure. Your enthusiasm about my evolution doesn't help in that regard.

    Truthfully, I'm still nervous around you because I haven't fessed up to the fact that, initially, I was just trying to ride your coattails to success. I know I always acted skeptical of your "saving the world" remarks, but I did buy into it. The four human-Pokémon teams are my heroes. When I was younger, I sent fan mail to Team Go-Getters and Team Poképals, asking how I could be like them. However, when my aura training went badly, I gave up hope of ever being somebody who mattered… until you came along. You reignited that drive in me, only it wasn't healthy. I convinced myself that becoming a world-saving hero was the only way I could find happiness. Otherwise, I'd be alone and miserable for the rest of my life.

    So, in that regard, I contributed to the early tension in our relationship. I was determined to keep your head on straight because I couldn't bear the thought of us failing. I was desperately clinging to the idea that I could be the next Swampert, Feraligatr, Raichu, or Delphox. That's why I got so upset when the Lycanroc-Bewear situation blew up and the guild's impression of you soured. I figured you had blown our chances… and that I had failed.

    I've seen the differences, though. I can tell you're trying to do better, but I'm just too nervous to talk with you about all of this. I mean, in some regards, we are living out my fantasy by fighting the Prism Virus. It's just… I finally realize how much I sensationalized the heroes' stories. I can't believe I was dumb enough to think that the other humans and their partners were never bothered by any of the hardships they faced. Nevertheless, that happened.

    Now, as we run along after Gallian and face the prospect of another grueling battle, I find myself receding into that dark part of my mind once again. The same thoughts that have weighed me down at other points in our journey are coming back with a vengeance. Can we really win? Can we really bring back those that we've lost? And, above all else, how am I supposed to live with everything that's happened? Because, even if we do succeed, that won't erase the horrifying experiences I've had. I can't just forget seeing Necrozma killing our guild mates… or the footage we saw of Silvally's creation… or, worst of all, my mom standing there, strangling me with her psychic powers.

    I'm frightened for what the future holds for us. The temptation is there to just lay down and quit… and yet I can't bring myself to do that. I keep wondering why and it falls back to you and Silvally. Even though my mind is trapped in this deep, dark pit, when we get quiet moments together, it doesn't seem so bad. Heck, sometimes I think that there might be a way to break out. It's just that we don't get enough of those... or I'm too worried about how I should act around you. I guess that's why I can't give up, even though everything's overwhelming.

    Because if we can find a way – if we can succeed – then we can have those quiet moments together. And I can finally get to know you for you… Shane.

    XxX
    Exactly one year ago, with no prior creative writing experience, I posted the prologue for Guiding Light. At the time, I had no real expectations and an outline that looks very different to the one I have now. I had started with the intention of writing a story that pokes fun at Mystery Dungeon tropes, by using Gen VII mechanics. Based on your guys' feedback, the story instead morphed into a hard look at the nature of relationships... just told through cute, magical creatures instead of prototypical humans. I hesitate to call this a full-on deconstruction fic, but it seems like that's the direction we ended up going. Sure, there's been a lot of zaniness and craziness, but I did not expect to end up writing as many serious moments as the story has had. And I certainly didn't expect those parts – or the story as a whole – to get the feedback that it's gotten.

    So, I whipped up something special for this ficaversary. I was waffling back and forth on whether to go the silly or serious route. Ultimately, since I did something silly after the fic awards, I decided to go for somber and serious. I made it similar to the Valentine's Day special, only focusing on our main protagonists, instead of our main antagonists.

    With that in mind, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your continued support. From the guests and lurkers who've silently kept up with the story to those of you who've left reviews or offered some comments through other mediums like Discord, you've all blown me away. I hope you continue to enjoy what I have to offer as the story enters its second year. There's still plenty of adventure to be had, with ups, downs, and all arounds, as Sonic the Hedgehog fans would say. Who knows? We may just end up here for a second anniversary special. ;)

    Next time, for real: Ultra Milotic makes a splash!
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
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  16. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Chapter 59: Frozen in Anticipation

    ~Temporal Tower~

    Dialga stood perched atop his domain, looking out across the Hidden Land. Swathes of light brown sat arrayed far below him, representing the many floating rocks and islands combining to form the path to Temporal Tower's entrance. In the distance, patches of green lay interspersed between fluffy yellow clouds. Dialga knew that under one of those clouds sat the Old Ruins, housing the one means for mortals to reach him.

    He stepped back from the edge of the gray tower, huffing and dragging a foreleg across the floor. "You sense it too, don't you?" he muttered, looking over his shoulder. "The faintest traces of Lapras swimming up the Sea of Time."

    Mewtwo floated a body length behind Dialga, eyes shut, arms crossed, and tail flicking back and forth impatiently. Except this aura is like no Lapras I've ever laid eyes on, he said. Certainly not one I could see you entrusting with the means to reach the Hidden Land.

    "I don't like it," Dialga growled. "That corrupting force suffocating Lapras' energy… I don't want it setting foot in the Hidden Land."

    Mewtwo drifted beside Dialga, eyes opening and psychic energy pooling in his hands. You want me to roll out the welcome mat? For all we know, this could be the alien force that's gotten the other gods in such a tizzy. He tilted his head to the right, neck cricking satisfyingly. I'm eager to show this strange visitor what real power looks like.

    Wait! You can't do that!

    Dialga whirled around, raw blue energy gathering in his mouth. Hoopa's ring portal crackled into existence in front of Temporal Tower's shrine. Latias sped out of the portal, with an amused Hoopa tagging along after her. Mewtwo's and Dialga's eyes widened in utter shock. "Latias?" Dialga scoffed. "What is the meaning of this? How are you even here? Nothing can penetrate my barrier!" His eyes glowed red and he leered down at Latias, who shrank back in fright.

    Please just listen for a second, Latias squeaked. This is an emergency! Surely you've realized something's off with the Time Gears, right?

    "Of course I have!" Dialga snarled. "Are you implying I don't know how to do my job? That's a bit rich, coming from you!"

    Latias wilted, wings drooping. I… I'm sorry for showing up announced, Dialga, but desperate times call for desperate measures. She reached into her satchel and produced the Dusk Hourglass. Both Mewtwo and Dialga did doubletakes.

    "Why do you have that?" Dialga growled. "You're not supposed to have that. You're a careless worrywart. Go bring that back to Horizon right this sec–"

    No, Latias said, trembling. Dialga and Mewtwo inched closer to her. This is what I used to get here. The life energy inside is powerful enough to let Hoopa's rings bypass the shielding around Hidden Land.

    "You worthless cur!" Dialga spat. A shining blue bolt of energy raced toward Latias. She blanched and threw up a pink barrier, barely able to stave off his attack. "You would show up here for nothing more than a meager demonstration? I should strike you down for such insolence!" He shook his head. "Clearly Rayquaza was right. You're a know-nothing miscreant who can't be trusted to keep her snout clean!"

    I am not! Latias replied, regaining some of her resolve. Will you stop talking down to me like I'm some little kid and listen for a few minutes? I'm trying to help, here.

    "I don't want your help," Dialga snorted, "because you're useless. You thought you could run from Dark Matter. And I'll bet that's why you're here, too."

    Enough, Dialga, Mewtwo interjected, sticking his right arm out. Hear her out.

    Dialga glared at Mewtwo. "You're really siding with her?"

    Not necessarily, Mewtwo replied. But I think she deserves the floor. After all, she's worked with the mortals since Dark Matter's defeat. A similar group to the ones who rescued you from the brink of insanity, if I'm not mistaken.

    Dialga's eyes flashed dangerously. "You watch your words, Mewtwo. You are here as my guest. If you upset me, I won't hesitate to rescind that generosity."

    "Oh, for pity's sake, pull your head out of your ass, Dialga!" Latias snarled, abandoning her telepathy. Dialga looked as if he'd been slapped across the face.

    "What did you just say to me?" he growled, tail rapping the ground as a warning.

    Hoopa rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Ooooooooh! This is getting exciting! Hoopa wishes he brought some popcorn."

    "You heard me! You're. Being. An. Ass! But what else is new?" Latias seethed, stunning her counterparts.

    "Hey, language! You're hurting Hoopa's sweet virgin ears!" Hoopa said, sniggering into one hand. A stream of dragonfire whizzed by him in response, shutting him up.

    "I'm here because one of the Time Gears was taken," Latias said. "I already knew Mewtwo refused to go along with the Expedition Society's plan, but I needed to see whether or not you were staying behind, too."

    "Of course I'm staying behind. Temporal Tower is my responsibility! I will not let it fall again!" Dialga sneered. "So, turn your feathery rear around and leave before I make you sorely regret demeaning me in my own domain."

    Latias huffed out tufts of blue-purple fire. "You're kidding me, right? You really think that sitting around and waiting until the Prism Virus gets here will keep Temporal Tower safe? I don't believe this! You… you learned nothing from Darkrai's actions, did you?"

    Mewtwo teleported directly in front of Latias. She squeaked in surprise, staring at the purple sphere held inches in front of her snout. I'm starting to agree with Dialga. You say you want to help us… yet you come here spouting hypocrisy. You say we're patronizing you but all I hear is you talking down to Dialga. Even with Mega Evolution, you could not stand up to either of us. I've grown tired of this abhorrent waste of time.

    "Boooooooooo! That was an awful pun! You should feel ashamed!" Hoopa heckled, drawing Mewtwo's ire toward him. He backed away, whistling innocently.

    "You… you're right," Latias sighed, wings drooping. She rubbed her bloodshot eyes. "I'm sorry. I've been under a lot of stress and haven't gotten much sleep. I wasn't prepared for this Time Gear business to pop up." She took a deep breath. "Will you please let me say my fill?"

    "… you have thirty seconds," Dialga sneered. "And I will tell Rayquaza about this injustice." Latias' horrified gaze fell to the ground. "Well, go on, you're already burning up your own time."

    "Team Poképals is working with the Expedition Society to relocate the Time Gears to Lively Town. We have a forcefield there," Latias explained. "It's going to freeze time for parts of the world, but better a temporary disruption in time than the Prism Virus getting the Time Gears." She looked up at Dialga. "I came here to tell you that… so you would remain calm when it happens."

    Dialga's brow furrowed. After a moment of silence, he nodded. "Very well. I… err… appreciate the forewarning," he said. "As long as I am here, I suppose I can mitigate the effects of removing the Time Gears from their pedestals and keep ley lines from running haywire. Is that all?"

    Latias shook her head. "Err… well… that was all I wanted, but I can sense trouble swimming up the Sea of Time." She tapped her claws together. "You have to repel it, Dialga."

    We already have a plan. I shall confront this anomaly and dispose of it. It will be quick work for the world's strongest Pokémon, Mewtwo scoffed.

    "No, you shouldn't do that!" Latias blurted out. Mewtwo raised his brow skeptically.

    Are you questioning my power? he said.

    "Not at all," Latias squeaked, voice cracking. "It's just… that's not going to work. Necrozma doesn't behave like a normal Pokémon. You can't just draw him into a battle and expect things to go okay." She tried to peer past Mewtwo and look at Dialga, but Mewtwo continued blocking her gaze. "If you really want to repel him, then you're going to have to get involved, Dialga."

    "By doing what, exactly?" Dialga asked.

    "Make some sort of temporal distortion," Latias said, hastily turning her head to the side to avoid Dialga's shocked expression. "If Necrozma gets to the Hidden Land, you can freeze him in a time pocket, couldn't you?"

    Dialga's tail again rapped the ground angrily. "Yes, I could. But do you have any idea how unstable a time pocket is? Especially one where time isn't moving at all? Why, it would generate so many ley lines that wild Pokémon would sprout up everywhere and turn the Hidden Land into a giant battlefield!" He narrowed his eyes at Latias. "You honestly expect me to pick an option like that over sending in Mewtwo?"

    "Yes, because you can't underestimate Necrozma!" Latias said. "Or maybe I should call him what you remember him as… the Guiding Light?"

    Dialga's exhale turned into a surprised snort. "The Guiding Light… here? Impossible! Solgaleo and Lunala–"

    "–are gone, Dialga," Latias cut in. "In fact, Necrozma's possessing Lunala to go about his destructive rampage. He and his flunkies would've killed Tapu Koko and Zapdos if the Expedition Society hadn't intervened. Heck, they've already taken out Tapu Lele and Mesprit." She frowned at Dialga. "Need I honestly remind you about the last time a possessed Lunala was allowed in here?"

    To Mewtwo's surprise, a shudder ran through Dialga's metal spine. He looked up toward Temporal Tower's shrine. "He knows," Dialga rasped.

    What are you muttering about? Mewtwo asked.

    "The Guiding Light… he must know about the Time Gears! I forged them with remnants of his life energy," Dialga elaborated. He looked back at Latias. "Why didn't you just cut to the chase from the get-go? We could've avoided a lot of unnecessary hostilities if you'd just led with that bit."

    "I'm sorry! I told you, I'm really stressed and I'm not entirely thinking straight," Latias said. "I still have to follow up with Tapu Fini and Ampharos after this."

    Dialga rolled his eyes. "… hmph. Seems your training didn't amount to much if flying and talking are enough to make you so tired." He turned away from Latias. "But… I see your point. I'll trap Necrozma in a time pocket. Mewtwo, I may need you to 'handle' the wild Pokémon onslaught should things get out of hand."

    Mewtwo crossed his arms. Hardly a fitting challenge, but I'll accept.

    Latias sighed in relief. "Okay, Hoopa, let's get going."

    XxX

    ~Cavernous Lagoon~

    Silvally reached the end of the tunnel first. He skidded to a halt, kicking up gravel, and scanned the area. He had arrived in a purple basin. The room had an ovoid shape to it, with only one other tunnel present. It lay on the other side of the room, across a small lagoon that twinkled under the purple glow of star-shaped rocks and light crystals. He didn't take in the view for long, however, because a strained cry drew his attention to his right.

    "Gallian!" Silvally gasped. He narrowed his eyes, electric memories coursing through him, turning the white parts of his body yellow. "Let him go, Milotic!"

    At the edge of the lagoon stood Milotic, clutching Gallian in her axe-tipped tail. She dangled Gallian over the water so the edge of his tail bobbed in and out of it. Milotic turned and fixed her vibrant blue eyes on Silvally, showcasing her ice helmet with the mohawk of spikes. Silvally frowned upon seeing the glyph carved into it: a broken heart, with wings on either side, devilish horns protruding from the top, and a piercing red eye in the center.

    "I think not," Milotic said, lowering Gallian so his rear touched the water's surface. Gallian thrashed in her grip, flinging water droplets all around him.

    "Gallian!"

    The rest of the group caught up to Silvally. Tessa held her marked paw up to her snout in surprise. "Milotic, what do you think you're doing?"

    "Teaching your stupid brother how to swim the old-fashioned way: by tossing him into this lagoon!" Milotic sneered.

    "Nnngggrhh… st… stop!" Gallian wheezed. "Wh… why are you doing this?"

    "Your little sister and her merry band of screwups have something I want," Milotic said venomously. "And you're here to foster a little exchange." She turned to the group, locking eyes with Tessa. "Well, kiddo, you've got a choice to make. You hand over your Dawn Shard, you get your prickly brother back. Refuse…" She narrowed her eyes and lowered Gallian into the water further.

    "Agggh! C-c-c-cold! So cold!" Gallian howled, trying to swing his lower body up and out of the water.

    "… and we all get to find out how long an Absol can survive frigid waters."

    Electricity gathered around Silvally's cheeks. "You wouldn't dare. We have numbers on you!"

    A grin weaved its way onto Milotic's face. "You do, huh? Well then… I better fix that." She turned around and whistled loudly.

    "Krrr-rrr-rrr-rrr!"

    Everyone but Milotic dropped to the ground, clutching their respective heads in pain. "Oh god, it's like a hundred nails are scraping a chalkboard!" Shane howled.

    "C… captain! We've got incoming Nihilegos!" Sticky panicked, one hand pressed firmly against his visor. Luxeira shakily looked up, jaw locking. Two Nihilegos had funneled out of the other tunnel and were now lazily floating above Milotic.

    "Krrr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" they chittered, rubbing their tentacles together.

    "What the–?" Shane's tails shot up in panic. "What kind of sorry imitation Tentacruels am I looking at, here?"

    Silvally gnashed at the air in front of him, eyes sparking. "Ultra Beasts," he hissed. "Real, genuine Ultra Beasts."

    "You mean that's what the Prism Virus mashes Pokémon with?" Shane gasped. He turned back to Milotic. "You're horrible! How can you do something like this?"

    "Easy. I just think about how great things will be when the gods are erased from history and take all these hideous Mystery Dungeons with them," Milotic scoffed. She looked up at the Nihilego. "Now, attack!"

    As soon as she said that, the room erupted into udder bedlam. The Nihilegos turned in opposite directions and hurtled massive balls of purple sludge in front of them. They both darted after their attacks, one making for Shane, Sticky, and Luxeira while the other floated toward Dusk, Totem Decidueye, and Zoroark. Silvally didn't bother with either Nihilego, instead funneling electricity to the tip of his head crest and launching it directly at Milotic. A disdainful look appeared on her face. She threw Gallian back toward the water.

    "No!" Tessa hollered, sprinting forward without a second thought. But to her surprise, Milotic stood tall, taking Silvally's attack. With an effortful grunt, Milotic turned and slammed her tail against the surface of the water. Tessa skidded to a halt, watching in horror as ice spread across the entire lagoon. "Gallian, get out of there!" she shrieked.

    Milotic turned around, her tail whipping the air. Large shards of ice arced out in different directions. Tessa was too close to Milotic and took a blow in her right leg. She collapsed onto her side, howling in pain and clutching the injured limb. Silvally screeched angrily and blew the remaining ice shards apart with lightning. Beside him, Espeon's face scrunched up in frustration at the sight of Milotic swatting a sickly-purple energy ball effortlessly aside.

    In the water, Gallian's eyes widened in terror at the oncoming ice. But all he could do was thrash about uselessly. He squeezed his eyes shut, expecting his world to black out. Instead, a pair of claws dug into his back. With a powerful, flap of his wings, Totem Decidueye took off. Gallian broke the surface of the water just seconds before the ice passed him by. He looked down at the frozen lagoon, shuddering in Totem Decidueye's grip.

    His sense of relief proved fleeting, however. A purple tendril speared Totem Decidueye's wing. It involuntarily buckled and the pain made Totem Decidueye release his grip on Gallian. He plummeted to the ground. One of the Nihilegos flew forward, looking to intercept Gallian and wrap him with its tentacles. A large orange rock collided with the Nihilego, preventing it from capturing Gallian. He struck the ground and Zoroark raced to his side. Opposite them, the Nihilego hit the frozen pond. Its assailant landed in front of them, revealing a curled-up Dusk. She hastily got back to her feet, starting Nihilego down.

    "Hmph! You uncouth vermin really know how to louse something simple up, don't you?" Milotic scoffed, glaring at the downed Nihilego. To her left, the other Nihilego had Shane, Sticky, and Luxeira pushed back toward a corner. "Perhaps I just need to fully embrace a divide and conquer strategy."

    Milotic held her tail aloft. The icy snowflake glowed sky-blue. Within seconds, the frozen pond shattered into thousands of pieces. Milotic thrust her tail forward and the icy fragments spread out. Silvally's eyes widened. He shifted his steel memories on. Iron encased his head and he charged forward, looking to ram Milotic and cut off her attack. But a stream of water and ice lofted Milotic into the air. Silvally charged right through it, his momentum disappearing from the sudden cold exposure.

    "Ahh! No way… she's separating us!" Tessa cried, looking around in horror. On either side of her, massive sheets of ice extended from the ground all the way to the ceiling. They were so thick that Tessa couldn't even see through to the other side. Espeon wasted no time in turning and shooting a pink beam right at Milotic.

    "Oh, please. You think that boring little attack can hurt me?" Milotic scoffed. She hopped off the column and struck it with her tail. The ice surged forward, snuffing Espeon's beam out and forcing her to backpedal lest she be buffeted with subzero water. Milotic saw Silvally getting ready to pounce and swung her tail underneath her. Frigid air gathered all around it. Silvally blanched and backed off, switching back to his electric memories and charging energy up in his cheek bolts.

    As he expected, Milotic struck the ground. The impact drove her tail blade into the floor, generating plumes of chilled air all around her. "Everyone, fire now!" Silvally barked, letting loose a stream of electricity. A smirk appeared on Milotic's face. She didn't bother trying to dislodge her tail. Instead a veil of water and ice surrounded her. Milotic sprang forward, corkscrewing her body as she moved.

    The rotating water and ice turned Silvally's lightning aside, along with Tessa's aura sphere and Espeon's ectoplasmic blast. The trail of water Milotic left behind her erupted in a line of ice shards. Silvally was caught off guard and speared on the tip of his beak by one of the ice shards. He stumbled backward, shutting his eyes and shaking his head. Milotic reached the other side of the room. Her water veil disappeared, leaving her standing on the ground, trying to catch her breath.

    Espeon and Tessa wasted no time in launching more attacks at her. A ball of blue fire collided with a pink beam right in front of Milotic. The explosion sent her reeling. She struck the wall with an audible splat and slowly peeled off of it, a dazed look in her eyes. Silvally ran up to join his teammates, launching more lightning in Milotic's direction. She was too dizzy to dodge or counter this time, so the electricity shocked her slender form. Milotic dropped to the floor, convulsing rapidly. Lingering plasma wisps stung her wet scales.

    "Tessa, try a Z-Move based on Thunder Punch," Silvally suggested. "Quickly, while she's still out of it."

    "I can't!" Tessa said, looking despondently at the grayed-out gem in her looplet. "The only way the looplet recharges is if we leave the dungeon, remember?"

    "But I still have Z-Power," Espeon declared, stepping toward Milotic. "Let's see how much she likes thi–"

    A sparking blue energy bolt struck her in the chest. Espeon dropped to her knees, face scrunched up in pain. She shakily looked up to see Milotic back on her feet. Soft white light covered her body, making her rainbow scales glisten. "Oh crap! She's using Recover!" Silvally hissed, sending more lightning bolts racing toward her. Milotic swiped her tail upward. A pillar of ice rose from the ground, absorbing the blow and breaking in a cloud of mist.

    Milotic sprang forward, shooting through the cloud of mist tail-first. "Get down!" Silvally barked, shoving Tessa out of the way and channeling his steel memories. Metal encased his head and torso. Silvally dug his legs in, grunting as Milotic's tail struck him right in the gut. She rebounded off of him, landing gracefully and swinging her tail around in an attempt to slice through Silvally's legs. He reared up just in time to dodge her. Tessa brought her lightning-coated fist around, only to meet Milotic's tail blade and stumble back, wringing out her paw in pain.

    Searing water then battered Tessa, flinging her into the ice wall. She bounced off it, leaving a Lucario-shaped imprint, and hit the floor. The blow knocked the wind out of Tessa. Milotic sprang to her right, dodging a ball of purple shadows. She dug her tail into the ice, leaving her suspended in midair with ice and water gathering in her mouth. The sigil on her helmet glistened with a rainbow hue.

    "Eat this!" she cried, attack garbling her speech. Milotic spat a stream of rime toward Tessa. Tessa ran forward without any hesitation, but to her horror, the flash-frozen water rebounded off the wall, all while Milotic continued to pump out more of it. Espeon threw a bright-pink barrier up in front of her, but the rime beam shattered it and swallowed Espeon up, drowning out any cries of pain.

    "Espeon!" Tessa gasped, only to suck in a breath and throw herself against the wall as the water torrent rebounded a second time toward her. It continued zigzagging across the ground, forcing Silvally to backpedal. He failed to judge his distance properly, however, and his left hind foot slipped off the edge of where the lagoon used to be. Silvally tumbled downward, clawing at the rock with a distressed squawk.

    Milotic ceased the attack and dropped off the wall, struggling to catch her breath. Tessa dislodged herself from the wall, visibly recoiling upon seeing the lump of ice that stood where Espeon was supposed to be. Milotic took advantage of Tessa's distraction, launching herself backward and wrapping herself around a light crystal. More rime gathered in her mouth and she unleashed it.

    Tessa's ears and aura feelers twitched. She threw herself to the ground, foot tingling as ice water grazed the tips of her toes. Like before, the rime rebounded toward the ceiling, only to strike it and double back toward Tessa. She crab-walked across the ground as fast as she could, barely getting out of the attack's range. Tessa scrambled to her feet. White-hot pain shot up her leg. She looked down and noticed her left foot encased in a thick layer of ice.

    "What's the matter, Tessa? Getting cold feet?" Milotic quipped. "If you ask me, that's the perfect representation of your life right there!"

    Milotic lunged off her perch, a water veil swirling around her. Tessa desperately hurled a blue fireball forward but Milotic's spinning barrier shattered it. She threw her arms up, bracing for ice-cold pain. Instead, something heavy slammed her from behind, knocking her to her belly. Her chest spike struck the floor and sent a jolt through her. The heaviness quickly subsided. Tessa rolled onto her back and sat up just in time to see Silvally standing opposite a dazed Milotic. Ice shards peppered his sopping-wet torso. Black blood oozed from a gash running across his face.

    "You're going… to pay for that one…" Milotic wheezed, looking rather winded. A large crack had split her ice helmet.

    Silvally didn't respond. He deactivated his Memory Looplet and lunged for Milotic, who was too out of breath to dodge him. Silvally pinned Milotic to the ground, digging her face in with his talons. "E… Espeon!" he shouted, pressing harder on Milotic's face as she writhed under his grip. Milotic tried summoning an icy cloud to get Silvally off her, but he retaliated by clamping his electrified beak onto one of her hair-like fins. She screamed in agony, her attempts at an attack fizzling out.

    "Don't just stand there, Tessa! Break Espeon out of the ice!" Silvally barked.

    "R… right!" Tessa squeaked. She sprinted ahead, throwing a lum berry at Espeon. It hit the ice and its juices started bubbling. Espeon thawed out, stumbling forward with a foggy look in her eyes.

    "What happened? Why… why am I… so cold?" she asked, teeth chattering.

    Tessa enveloped her in a hug, wincing from her cold, wet fur. "Milotic froze you," she said. "Silvally's got her pinned down, though."

    "Espeon!" Silvally shouted again. "Use your Z-Move… now!

    "Huh?" Espeon blinked. "But I don't want to hit you."

    "I'm a normal-type now. Use that Z-Move from the Volcanic Wastes. I'll be fine!" Silvally insisted, before biting Milotic's neck. She abruptly stopped squirming and tensed up, screeching in pain.

    "Right! Okay! Just… uh…" Espeon looked down at her looplet. "Gimme a second."

    But before Espeon could channel any Z-Power from the looplet, the ice wall beside her started to break apart. Tessa's aura feelers shot up. She looked right into the widening crack. "Everyone… take cover!" she cried, sprinting for the empty water basin. Espeon ran after her, tucking her head in.

    Silvally looked up at the ice wall. Pink light streamed out of the widening crack. Silvally slammed his eyes shut and pressed all of his weight down on Milotic. "What are you doing, you idiot?" she screeched. "You're gonna get us killed! Lemme go!"

    Before Silvally could answer, the wall exploded.

    XxX​

    "Don't just stand there gawking, idiots. Do something! Attack!"

    Dusk dashed to her left, trying to draw Nihilego's attention. It didn't take the bait, however, instead launching three balls of purple sludge at Totem Decidueye. His maneuverability was cut off, with Zoroark and Gallian standing petrified on either side of him. Totem Decidueye drew back his wing and shot out shadowy arrows as fast as he could. But he only managed to stop two globs of gunk. The third one splattered across his face. Totem Decidueye fell onto his back, trying to wipe the poison off with a wing before they set in.

    "Idiots!" Dusk howled. She launched herself skyward, curling up into a ball. Dusk moved far too quickly for Nihilego to react, hammering its head and flinging it back across the cave. Dusk landed safely, uncurling and glaring at her cohorts. "You two are supposed to be sentries! I know this thing's a freak of nature, but you need to buck up and start attacking!"

    "N… no…" Gallian rasped, staring up at Nihilego in horror. "It'll just… disaster… that…"

    Gallian's incoherent mumbling snapped Zoroark out of his stupor. He shot Gallian a frustrated glare. "Oh, for heaven's sake, you're still on about that nonsense? I thought your sister got that all out of your system." Zoroark stepped forward. Crimson energy crackled through his claws. "Wake up, Gallian! You're in danger! We need you here!"

    Zoroark slammed the ground. A dome of crimson energy exploded out around him, striking the reeling Nihilego and knocking it back into the cave's far wall. Nihilego hit it, producing a noise that mimicked shattering glass. Zoroark got down on all fours. A blue ripple raced across his body, leaving him standing there in a perfect copy of Gallian's appearance. He turned and locked eyes with his former mate. "You're still just standing there? Gods, I can't believe you!" he spat.

    "I can't," Gallian whispered, looking at his mirror image with a hurt expression in his eyes. Far ahead of him, Nihilego launched a bevy of glowing rocks forward. Dusk backpedaled, leaving Zoroark and Totem Decidueye to try and stop Nihilego's attack. A volley of spectral arrows and what looked like pink crescents sailed through the air, blowing Nihilego's rocks apart. It abruptly screeched to a halt, swaying back and forth.

    "Krrr-rrr-rrr?" it chittered, looking between Gallian and Zoroark and scratching its head in confusion.

    "Now's your chance," Zoroark whispered, glancing at Dusk.

    Dusk charged forward, metal coating her fluffy white tail. Nihilego was too preoccupied trying to work out why two Gallians stood in front of it. Dusk's tail blindsided it, knocking it into the ice wall. Totem Decidueye drew a wing back, conjuring up a purple ball. He hurled it at Nihilego, but to his shock Nihilego parried it aside with one of its tentacles.

    "Krrr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" Nihilego shrieked. Even more glowing rocks rose out from the ground. Nihilego slung globs of poison onto the rocks and launched them forward. Dusk sheathed her tail in iron, trying to bat the rocks away. But she misjudged her swing and two rocks beaned her in the head, knocking her to the ground. Totem Decidueye couldn't fly up out of their trajectory and also got hit. Purple splotches peppered his wings as he dropped to one knee, panting heavily.

    Zoroark looked to be in the clear when his left hind leg spasmed. His illusion collapsed, leaving him to get pelted in the back by three rocks. Zoroark's howls of pain snapped Gallian to attention. He looked down, seeing his former mate lying at his feet, grimacing and clutching his left thigh.

    "H… help me…" Zoroark wheezed, looking up into Gallian's eyes.

    "Krrr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" Nihilego shouted. It swam through the air, toxins gathering in the tips of its tendrils. Totem Decidueye shakily raised a wing, only for his eyes to widen as a volley of liquid lances raced down toward him.

    "Totem!" Dusk shouted, tackling him to the ground and spreading herself across his torso. The poisonous tendrils speared her back and legs, tearing holes open in her fur. Dusk's agonized cries echoed through the small part of the cave the quartet was stuck in. The bloodstains on her back made Gallian recoil in horror.

    "No," he whispered. "This isn't happening." He lowered his head and shook it rapidly. "I can't have done it again… I can't have brought disaster to you guys again!"

    Nihilego rubbed its tentacles together, conjuring up more poisons. Gallian looked between Zoroark and Dusk. The sight of the two canines lying there made him flash back to the shallows of the Midnight Sea, where a soaked Zoroark floated in the water, completely unconscious. Gallian envisioned himself padding through the knee-high water and scooping Zoroark up and onto his back.

    "I don't care how crazy my disaster sense drives me… I'm not leaving you. Not now. Not ever. You're more important to me."

    Gallian looked up, where Nihilego prepared to hurtle purple toxins at the hapless Cosmic Cavern residents. His eyes flashed red with rage and pink energy brimmed along his scythe.

    "You get away from them right now!" Gallian snarled, thrusting his head forward. Psychic blades arced into Nihilego from both sides, battering its body and knocking it backwards. Gallian charged forward, funneling more of his energy into his scythe. "I'm not going to let you or anyone else bring disaster on these Pokémon when they've done nothing but try to help me!"

    Gallian leaped up, swiping the air in front of him with his scythe. More pink blades spun forward, striking Nihilego's tentacles and slicing them clean off its blanket-like body. Nihilego shrieked, flailing about in midair. Green fluid shot out of the stubby remnants of its limbs. Some of it splattered across Gallian's face and chest before he landed back on the ground. A rotten, nauseating scent overwhelmed him. He staggered back a couple of steps before turning and puking on the ground beside him.

    Nihilego crashed into the bottom of the empty lagoon. A puddle of green liquid pooled around it. Its glassy-white body progressively grayed until it dissolved into the puddle, which then crusted over. Zoroark approached the edge of the lagoon, flinching upon seeing Nihilego's remains.

    "We got it," he wheezed. Zoroark turned back to Gallian, watching him desperately trying to rid his fur of Nihilego's noxious slime. "You going to be okay there, Gallian?"

    "No!" Gallian hissed. "Don't just stand there… find a way to break that ice wall down!"

    Zoroark frowned. "Geez, you didn't have to yell," he mumbled. Zoroark turned to the ice wall, only to step back in surprise. "Guys, the wall's melting!" He looked over at his companions. "You've gotta move back or all that water's gonna spill onto you!"

    Visibly struggling to fight through the poison sapping his strength, Totem Decidueye slung Dusk over his shoulder and limped away. However, Gallian stood his ground, digging his claws in as the ice liquified and came crashing down onto him. A veritable wave of ice water raced across the floor, fading to a trickling puddle by the time it reached Zoroark and Totem Decidueye. Zoroark looked over in a panic. To his relief, Gallian stood there. He was soaked and shivering, but all traces of Nihilego's juices were gone.

    "Gallian! Oh, thank the gods, you're okay!"

    Before Gallian could process what was happening, Tessa wrapped him up in a huge hug. Zoroark's brow furrowed. He looked over and did a mental head count of the Pokémon that had been on the other side of the wall.

    "Wait a second… where'd Vulpix end up?"

    XxX​

    "What are you guys doing? If you know what this Nihilego thing is, then you should be hitting it with everything you've got!" Shane hissed, running away from Luxeira and Sticky. He skidded and spun around, shooting a multicolored aurora at Nihilego. It raised up its tentacles and shot two streams of poison forward, snuffing out his attack.

    "There isn't much we can do here," Luxeira barked. She opened her mouth, spitting a black beam toward Nihilego. It struck Nihilego's back but did little to phase it. Nihilego continued focusing on Shane, swinging its body forward. Glowing rocks materialized all around Shane. He barked shrilly, hoping to push Nihilego away. But it was too high in the air, so Shane missed his mark. Nihilego swayed to its left. The rocks battered Shane from all sides. He crumpled to the ground, ears ringing and head pounding.

    "Captain, my attacks are entirely poison-based," Sticky said. "There's nothing I can use against it!"

    "Then you'll need to provide support," Luxeira ordered, glancing at Shane with a wince. "Start by getting that terrestrial back up on his feet." Sticky nodded and floated over to Shane. Nihilego screeched an objection and launched a volley of rocks toward Sticky. Luxeira stayed rooted to her spot, pivoting to rifle off short bursts of fire. They proved strong enough to destroy Nihilego's rocks before they could hit Sticky.

    Nihilego whirled around. Poisonous arrows streamed toward Luxeira. She ran to her left, barely dodging the attack. Luxeira skidded to a halt, firing another black beam at Nihilego. This time the attack hit Nihilego in the center of its dome-shaped head. Nihilego hurtled back through the air, squishing up against the edge of the cave. "How are you holding up, Sticky?" Luxeira barked.

    In response, a pink shimmer rippled across Nihilego's body. Psychic energy exploded all around it, propelling it into the ground where it landed with a sharp crack. "Krrr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" Nihilego hissed, waving its tentacles around hysterically.

    "Don't you have any sort of projectiles you can use?" Shane asked, looking up at Sticky. "You had plenty of them when we were fighting."

    Sticky frowned. "I mean, I do, but…" He glanced at Nihilego, who was shakily rising back into the air. "Even if it's not thinking straight, it's still a fellow Ultra Beast. I don't want to harm it."

    Nihilego swung its body forward, launching purple globs around the area. Shane's tails shot up in alarm and he rushed toward the corner of the room, tripping and falling to the ground in the process. "Hurry… do something!" he cried, scooting up against the wall. A sludge ball struck the ground in front of him, leaving a bubbling purple puddle that threated to lap up against his tails.

    Sticky moved into the path of another pair of sludgy globs. They hit him in the head but their toxins harmlessly splashed across his face. He wiped them from his visor. "Please, Nihilego. Cease this reckless endeavor. If you don't, I'll… I'll be forced to take action!" He produced a sparking orb from his harness.

    Beside him, Luxeira shot a black beam at Nihilego's head. Nihilego was prepared this time, however. A shimmer of rainbow light encased its body. The beam struck Nihilego's face, but instead of sending it reeling, Luxeira's attack raced down toward Nihilego's tentacles. It pointed them at Luxeira and a stream of blinding white light raced out. Luxeira was frozen in shock. The blast engulfed her, flinging her into the wall by the basin's entrance. The impact shattered her visor and helmet, leaving a gash in the middle of her now-exposed forehead.

    "Captain!" Sticky gasped. He whirled on Nihilego, throwing the orb at it. "If you can't see reason, then I must neutralize you!"

    "Krr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" Nihilego chittered. It raised its tentacles, stopping the orb in midair with a ripple of pink energy.

    Sticky's eyes widened. "Nuh… no… that's impossible!" Nihilego pivoted to its left. A second psychic ripple washed over the orb, flinging it in Shane's direction. Shane poked his head up right before the orb struck him square between the eyes.

    Booooooooooom!

    "Eyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!"

    A brilliant explosion filled up the corner of the basin. Sticky's tail and shoulders sagged. "Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no! That wasn't supposed to happen!" he panicked.

    "Krr-rrr-rrr-rrr!" Nihilego trilled, drifting lazily back and forth. It wasted no time in summoning more glowing rocks and hurtling them at Sticky. He yelped and darted about through the air, pausing only to blast an occasional rock with a stream of poison.

    "Terrestrial! No, wait, human! Are you okay?" Sticky shouted. Dust had settled from the blast, revealing a giant whole venting thick back smoke. Sticky blanched. "That's… that's not good." He glanced over his shoulder and saw Nihilego preparing to launch another volley of glowing rocks. Sticky groaned and continued flying forward, hoping to keep Nihilego away from the hole in the wall.

    "Hey! Hey! I'm over here!" Sticky shouted, waving his arms around. Nihilego turned and hurtled the rocks at him. Sticky sucked in a breath and zipped about, zigzagging erratically in the air in an effort to confuse Nihilego and throw off its targeting.

    While this happened, dust and pebbles tricked out of the hole left in the wall by the explosion. Shane rolled about inside the crevice, clutching his bloody head in agony. The ringing in his ears had returned, now so loud it deafened the sounds of Sticky's struggle with Nihilego. Shane's eyes were open and blinking rapidly, but all he could see was white.

    "H… help me…" he coughed. "Somebody… please help…" Shane shut his eyes, hoping that could stop the white light burning his eyes. It didn't. Instead, his head throbbed in time with his steadily-rising heartbeat. "Make it stop!" he whimpered. "Make it stop! I don't… I don't want to die!"

    Shane tried to roll over, but white-hot pain flashed through his back, eliciting an anguished howl. When the pain subsided, however, Shane's tails curled up against his hips. Intense warmth pooled inside his lower body. 'Oh god… oh god… this is it!' Shane thought. 'I'm bleeding out! I'm a goner! I couldn't help. I wasn't strong enough. Silvally… Tessa… I'm sorry!'

    The warmth spread up across Shane's torso. Only, instead of sapping the last of his strength, the sensation reinvigorated Shane. It replaced the pins and needles in his forelegs, giving him the freedom to move them without any pain. The warmth spread around his trunk, soothing his aching back. Finally, it spilled into his face, silencing the ringing in his ears and dulling the white light eroding his vision.

    Shane slowly opened his eyes. In doing so, he identified the source of the warmth: a sparkling, golden rock fragment lying embedded deep within the cave's wall. "That's… the Subterranean Shard," Shane realized. Without even thinking, he reached over and pressed both forepaws against it.

    A weak gasp escaped his lips. An unseen force grabbed hold of his head and tails and yanked them in opposite directions. Shane couldn't muster the energy to scream. His field of vision erupted in a blazing orange fire. Loud, furious roaring echoed inside his pounding head.

    'What's happening to me?' Shane panicked. 'Where's that awful noise coming from?' He tried to take his forepaws off the Subterranean Shard but found they wouldn't respond. The warmth flowing through him grew steadily hotter. Shane's breathing quickened until he was hyperventilating, preventing him from calling for help.

    In the center of the orange flames, a pair of fierce blue eyes stared back at Shane. 'Huh? Who's there? Is someone watching me?' Shane tried shouting, but all he managed was a forceful exhale.

    Find the other shards! Get our power back!

    'Huh?' Shane blinked, but the flames didn't subside. 'Are those eyes… talking to me?' The flames flickered in his vision, producing a dark blue circle around the pair of eyes. A third, compass-like eye appeared in the center of the circle. It steadily glowed brighter and brighter until its shimmering blue light filled Shane's whole field of vision.

    "Ah!"

    Shane briefly found his voice just in time for the psychic force pulling on his head and tails to yank him upright. "W-What the–?! Hey! Put me down!" He tried to move his limbs but they seemed to have developed minds of their own. His forepaws rose up, still grasping the Subterranean Shard. Its marvelous golden light spilled onto his looplet and spread across his body.

    "Wait… stop! This is not okay!" Shane hollered, squinting his eyes shut and turning away as the golden light grew brighter. 'Too bright! Too bright! My eyes! My–' Shane's face scrunched up. 'Hold up. Why is it suddenly getting colder? Everything felt super-warm a second ago.' His breathing quickened again. 'I don't like this! I'm totally losing my mind, here!'

    Shane opened his eyes. His looplet vibrated against foreleg, clanging against the Subterranean Shard. 'Why is the Shard white now?' he wondered, blinking in surprise. 'No, wait… there's a second rock here. It's… it's… a white stone? But how did it get here?' Shane had little time to ponder that thought, because his right forepaw slipped off the Subterranean Shard and grabbed hold of the stone.

    The moment he did, the psychic force grabbing onto him intensified. Shane's forelegs and hindlegs were violently pulled away from each other. His torso elongated, producing loud pops and snaps that reverberated through the crevice, drowned out by Shane's screaming. The tugging stopped, only to be replaced by a set of invisible hands grabbing hold of his hips and yanking his tails apart. Splotches of white energy peppered his rear, giving rise to three new tails that shot out behind him.

    All the while, his looplet continued shining brightly. So brightly that it dispelled all the smoke from the explosion. The light pooled out of the hole in the wall, drawing Sticky's attention. He abruptly stopped flying. "Huh?" Sticky put a hand up to his visor and his jaw dropped. "I'm picking up Z-Power readings… and they're completely off the charts!"

    He turned back to Nihilego, who had frozen in place. Bright white light surrounded its body. It suddenly lurched violently in midair and slammed against the ice wall. Nihilego struggled against an invisible force. The white light faded to pink. Lines of psychic energy raced out from Nihilego's body, spreading across the ice wall. Sticky backed away from it, grabbing Luxeira by her horns and dragging her as far up against the opposite wall as he could.

    The lines stopped forming and lit up bright pink in unison. Then, psychic energy erupted from every line, producing such intense forces that the ice wall exploded. Having been pinned up against it, Nihilego was crushed by the combination of ice shards and psychic energy. Its battered body fell to the ground, where it melted into a puddle of toxins that immediately crusted over.

    Sticky poked his head up from behind Luxeira's unconscious body. There, he saw Tessa and Espeon racing toward a battered, bloody Silvally, who lay under a pile of ice chunks. He also noticed Milotic splayed out on the ground a short distance from them. He floated into the air and shot a stream of poison right at Milotic, fearing she would attempt to hit Tessa and Espeon while they were preoccupied.

    However, to Sticky's surprise, Milotic rolled out of the way of the attack. She produced a black orb and smashed it to pieces with her tail. An Ultra Wormhole formed underneath her, swallowing her whole. "You fools, you let her get away!" Sticky shouted, pointing wildly at the spot where Milotic had been standing.

    As soon as he said that, the ice entrapping Silvally melted, leaving him sprawled in a puddle of chilly water. The room then shook as the remaining ice wall broke apart, crashing down on the far side of the cavern as a wave of ice water. Tessa paused in the middle of helping Silvally to look up. She spotted Zoroark and Totem Decidueye, the latter carrying Dusk on his shoulder and wobbling back and forth unsteadily. But, more importantly to her, Gallian stood a few yards away from her, shivering wildly.

    "Gallian! Oh, thank the gods, you're okay!"

    Tessa sprinted forward and embraced Gallian, hoisting him off the ground in the process. Gallian's eyes widened and he kicked his legs about. His pleas for Tessa to put him down were snuffed out against her shoulder. Tessa nestled Gallian with her snout. "I thought… I thought you were done for. I thought I was going to lose you."

    "Mffffrrgggh! Frrrrffgh hhrrrrgggh!" Gallian said, Tessa's fur muffling his speech. She realized she was inadvertently covering up his snout and set him back on the ground. Gallian fought to catch his breath. "Tessa? I still don't really understand what just happened. It was all moving so quickly," he said.

    "It doesn't matter now," Tessa insisted. "It's all over. You're safe now. We're safe now."

    "Wait a second… where'd Vulpix end up?" Zoroark said, a frown on his face.

    Tessa's relieved look abruptly vanished. She whirled around, scanning the cave. "How could he not be here?" She turned to Sticky. "He got trapped with you, didn't he? What happened?"

    "Well… I threw an explosive device and Nihilego deflected it into the human, so–"

    "You did what?!" Tessa gasped, eyes widened in horror.

    "Tessa, wait! Look over there!" Espeon shouted, pointing a forepaw toward the farthest corner of the cave.

    "Hmm?" Tessa followed Espeon's forepaw, only for her aura feelers to shoot up into the air. "No way," she squeaked.

    Silvally's beak fell open. "I don't believe it," he whispered. "Shane… he's…"

    Four snow-white paws gracefully glided toward the rest of the group, carrying a svelte, pale-blue body. Nine glistening tails fanned out behind Shane, combining with his newly-formed mane and tuft of chest fur to make him look like an elegant, walking nimbus cloud.

    "H… hey guys," Shane said, chuckling weakly. "What did I miss?"

    XxX​

    Bitter Cold Maiden, Ultra Milotic
    Infused with the icy energy of an Ultra Beast familiar to this world, Milotic has attained the power of cryokinesis. By channeling Z-Power through her head and tail, she can manipulate water and ice to suit her whims. Little does Milotic know that if she pushes her spirit too hard, these same abilities are likely to freeze her body solid from the inside out. Could Zero really have done this to her or are there more malevolent forces at play?

    And with that, our main trio is fully-evolved! No more cute little fuzzballs here, but it was necessary to keep the story moving.

    Next time: verbal confrontations!
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
    git-it likes this.
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I like how inconsistent you make Gallian during the fight with Tessa – how he goes back and forth about whether it's all Lucario he has a problem with or just their mother, and whether it's the fact that Tessa's changed species or the fact that she resembles their mother that he insists is causing the problem. There's really no reasoning with him in that kind of state, although Tessa's not exactly doing great herself; still, I guess this is better than them murdering each other. That would be a fairly unproductive way of getting over their family issues.

    Then we come to the anniversary chapter, which is an interesting one. I don't think it says too much that hasn't at least been implied in earlier chapters, but it's quite nice to have it all laid out like that, after all this time; with the level the action has been at since the Hourglass broke, there haven't been a lot of opportunities for anyone to take a step back and just, like, let everyone know how they're feeling. I think it's probably deliberate that Shane's section in particular is extremely repetitive – “I wish I could X, but I don't know if it would make sense/if anyone would understand” recurs a lot – but even so, it felt like that structure was maybe used slightly more often than necessary. I mean, after a certain amount of repetitions, the reader gets what you're trying to do, and then when it keeps going after that it's a little bit grating.

    And then it's straight back into the action! Another fight, another series of attacks turned aside by overwhelming power; you have to give Team Radiance full marks for effort, but it's starting to seem like they can barely even get one or two hits off on the erstwhile Captivate members per fight. Your fight choreography is getting really good, though – I like the way you divide this battle up into the three individual fights, each one interrupting another at a cliffhanger moment. That's pretty great!

    And of course, Shane had to evolve sooner or later, to match his team-mates. I half expected it was going to happen like this, just in time to turn the tables in a difficult fight, but that doesn't mean it wasn't satisfying to see. Nicely done!

    Finally, here's the usual list of typos and things:

    Possibly there's an 'as' missing in here. Something needs to be changed for the first part of the sentence to make sense, anyway.

    Missing an 'at' here between 'look' and 'it'.

    I think I know what you mean here, but describing it as 'liquid ice' just makes it sound like water.

    You only need either 'blur' or 'ripple' here, not both.

    I think that might be meant to be 'wall' rather than 'way'.

    That looks like it's meant to be 'sapping', rather than 'seeping'.

    That should be 'Sticky's', rather than just 'Sticky'.

    EDIT: Wait, how could I forget? One year! One year of Guiding Light. That's quite an achievement; this story, and you as a writer, have developed so much since you started this, and it's been really great to see. Congratulations, and I look forward to another year of these idiot kids getting themselves in trouble.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
    Ambyssin likes this.
  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Thanks. I did draw a bit from real life. Namely, my own foolish (and sometimes irrational) behaviors.

    Agreed. Also, I think I've murdered enough characters for the moment. We deserve a break from all the death for one episode.

    Ach, I've been worried about things skewing too heavily toward the action, but I suppose that comes down to my thinking, where I only count proper battles as "action" and dungeon crawling as a sort of in-between. We'll be taking a break from the action for the next five or six chapters, I believe.

    It was deliberate, given the experimental nature of most of these bonuses. Looks like I overdid the repetition, though. Darn! *snaps fingers*

    Huh... I didn't think it was that badly skewed. For that part of the fight, I could've sword I at least had Tessa and Silvally get a few clean hits before the latter pinned Milotic down. The idea was to branch it. Team Radiance fared the best against Milotic, the Cosmic Cavern residents struggled a bit, but ultimately eked out a win, and Team Paradox's performance was laughable. They'd have been Nihilego food if Shane hadn't been blasted into the Shard. But I guess I'll have to watch out for that with the next boss.

    Well, at least I got that right. Hooray!

    Glad to hear it. I was worried it would be a bit too choppy and disorganized, but it seems to have worked out.

    And, of course, one more year of typos and mistakes I'll keep needing to correct lol. No, but seriously, thanks for the continued support. I hope you enjoy the trouble these idiot kids get into. ^^
     
  19. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Chapter 60: Serious Attitude Adjustments

    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    A pillar of golden light surrounded the center of the village, depositing the entire group in front of the entrance to the Cavernous Depths. Espeon brushed the dusty remains of her used Escape Orb off her foreleg and quickly dispensed healing items around to the Pokémon that needed them.

    Everyone else's attentions remained fixed on Shane, who held the Subterranean Shard in his mouth. He dropped it to the ground. "What? What's everyone staring at me for?" He swiveled his face around for everyone in the group to see. "Do I have rock in my teeth?" He paused when he noticed Tessa and Silvally staring back at him in disbelief.

    "Uh, Shane, you do realize you're a Ninetales now, right?" Tessa spoke up.

    "Well, yeah, but it's not like a Ninetales is some sort of super-incredible sight or anything," he dismissed. "Even if I've never seen one with white fur." His brow furrowed. "Or, I guess I'm kind of blue now? Must be channeling my inner popsicle." Shane did a quick turnaround to inspect his fur. "So, seriously, what's with the staring? I'm getting a little worried."

    "It's just… y'know… you evolved," Silvally said. "How are you feeling? Happy? Upset? Invigorated? Some bizarre combination of all three?"

    Shane sat down, tilting his head in confusion. "I, uh, don't actually know, honestly." He scratched at his right ear with his right hind leg. "Maybe my brain hasn't fully processed that this has happened yet? I mean, Tessa didn't pick up on her evolution right away." He winced, realizing he might've said something to upset her. "Err, sorry, I didn't mean to bring that up."

    "It's fine," Tessa insisted.

    Espeon cleared her throat. "Hey, guys? Hate to interrupt, but the rest of the group's broken apart."

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed. "Wait, what?" She turned around, scanning the area for any signs of her brother. All she saw was a Golett, Golurk, and a pair of Graveler staring down at her from the second level. She looked away from them, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. "Where did Gallian go? I need to talk to him."

    Espeon pointed a forepaw toward an outcropping of rock near the village's entrance. "Zoroark limped off into that den and Gallian followed after him." She craned her head upward. "Totem Decidueye took Dusk and Team Paradox up there. I'm assuming they're all going to his home to recuperate. Houndoom and Dusk were in pretty rough shape. I think Houndoom even lost her helmet. She might have a concussion that needs tending to. From what I could see, Dusk looked like a bloody mess, too."

    "Then… I have to go," Tessa said. She clasped her paws against her chest and walked toward Zoroark's home. Tessa paused, turning back to Shane with a frown. "Um… sorry I'm walking out. We can talk later or something. I just…" She rubbed her shoulder. "I've got some words for Gallian. Like… a lot of them."

    Silvally was at her side before she could move any farther. "Tessa, are you sure that's a good idea right now? Maybe we should go with you?"

    "No, I have to do this myself," Tessa said. "He's my brother. It's time I set things straight with him."

    "I understand," Silvally said. Still, he blocked her path. "But if you're going to go in there by yourself, I need you to promise me you'll keep a level head."

    Tessa blinked in surprise. "What's gotten into you? Why would you think I'd fly off the handle at him?"

    Silvally frowned. "Tessa… we saw what happened when you were battling Gallian. You've had quite a few of those outbursts ever since we got back from Tapu Bulu's temple." Tessa's brow furrowed. Silvally stepped toward her, nudging her muzzle with his beak. "I just don't want you to lose control. You rescued your brother, yeah, but getting him to warm back up to you is another story entirely."

    "I know," Tessa sighed, shoulders slumping. "Still, I'm going to try. I deserve to say my piece after he walked out on me." She put a paw up onto his shoulder. "I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine. Really."

    "Okay," Silvally said, stepping to the side. "Good luck."

    Tessa nodded and continued forward, entering Zoroark's house. Silvally turned back around, only to find that Shane had walked away, taking the Subterranean Shard with him. Only Espeon still remained in the area, eyes closed and head bowed in silent thought. "Hey, where did Shane go?" Silvally asked. He channeled his psychic memories and did a scan of the area. It didn't take him long to sense Shane's life force a few dozen yards away.

    "He walked off in that direction," Espeon replied, pointing her tail toward a staircase that had been carved into the rocks. A sign indicated they led to natural hot springs. "No idea why he'd slink off over there, but I wasn't gonna ask."

    "Ah. I see," Silvally muttered. He stood in front of Espeon, poking a pebble with one of his talons. Silvally kept looking up at her, wanting to say something, but unable to gather his thoughts properly. Finally, after a minute of silence, he said, "Espeon, are you alright?"

    Espeon's ears stuck up. "Huh?"

    Silvally walked up and sat down next to her. Espeon flinched and tried to scoot away, but Silvally craned his neck down so he was at eye level with her. "I'm serious. How are you holding up?"

    "I'm fine. What does it matter, anyway?" Espeon said, turning her head away. Silvally got up and stepped in her field of vision. She shrank back defensively. "Hey, mind backing up? You're creeping me out, here."

    "I just want to know that you're doing okay," Silvally whispered. "With everything that's happened today between Tessa and Gallian… I couldn't help but think about you."

    Espeon frowned. "I don't need your pity. We've barely spoken to one another."

    "I know. I'm sorry about that," Silvally said. "But you're part of the team. Shane and Tessa really care about you and I do, too." He sat down again. "You've got something on your mind, don't you?"

    "Are you reading my mind?" Espeon growled, taking up a defensive dance.

    "No, of course not!" Silvally insisted. "I just… I figured that seeing Tessa and Gallian fight… might've made you think about Umbreon." Silvally immediately knew he hit the nail on the head, because Espeon looked away from him, eyes glazing over and tail falling between her legs.

    "That's… not something I want to talk about," she whispered. "You wouldn't understand."

    "Try me," Silvally said. "Plenty of my spirits had siblings. And many of them had shaky relationships. I think I would understand pretty well." He scooted back, giving Espeon a bit more breathing room. "Just because I'm not your closest friend doesn't mean I'm not willing to hear you out."

    "Okay, fine!" Espeon relented. "Yes, I admit it. Everything that's happened today is upsetting. Very upsetting! I look at Gallian and… and… I see myself." She bowed her head guiltily. "I see him making the same mistake that I did: acting out toward the people trying to help him. Worst of all, he's pushing Tessa away. Just like…" She sniffled and rubbed her head against her shoulder. "Just like I did to Umbry."

    Espeon dropped to her stomach, burying her head in her paws. "So, yes, I'm upset. And I'm jealous. Gallian… he has a doting sister, a mate that was willing to fight through some nasty injuries for him even after he walked out of the guy's life, and biggest of all… he has a chance to fix his life. To set everything right with the people who love him." Espeon took in a shuddering breath. "And that's a chance… I'm never going to have."

    She fixed her watery eyes on Silvally. "There, I talked about it. Happy now?"

    Silvally laid down in front of Espeon. "I'm so sorry. I couldn't have imagined that's what you thought."

    "Ha! Oh please, do you think I buy that garbage?" Espeon sneered. "You're a psychic-type… in a manner of speaking. You probably knew about this all along. You just wanted to hear me say it." Her eyes narrowed at Silvally. "You honestly think that you can help everyone around you, don't you? It doesn't work that way. People help each other… because they expect to get something in return. Guilds take job requests to earn a living. It's not about warm, fuzzy feelings, it's about getting by in life, plain and simple."

    "I don't really believe that," Silvally said. "I think anyone who willingly chooses the path of an explorer does so because they care about the Pokémon around them."

    Espeon laughed at him. "You're so naïve. Tell me something, then. What are you getting out of this?"

    Silvally shrugged. "The satisfaction that comes with seeing my friends happy."

    Her gaze fiercened. "Yeah, right. I don't buy it. I heard what Necrozma said to you the other day. No matter how much 'good' you do, it's not going to change the fact that you'll outlive everyone you claim to care about. We'll just be more memories to add to your massive collection." Her tail drifted to her side, as if it was a second head joining her in staring Silvally down. "It's guilt, then, isn't it? I mean, you're pretty much Legendary in my eyes. The way I see it, you're trying to pick up the slack for the gods. That way you don't have to think about the fact that the only reason you exist is because they all suck at their jobs."

    Silvally sighed. "Well, yeah, I admit that I'm a bit stuck on what's going to happen to you guys… and to me." He blinked slowly. "But that's far into the future and not worth worrying about. Right now, I'm focused on helping you guys because I think we can make this world a better place, together. It all starts by beating the Prism Virus."

    "You can keep saying that as much you want. It's not going to change how I feel about all of this… and about you," Espeon countered. "Not everyone's going to want to be your friend. And not everyone's going to be grateful to have you around. Sooner or later, you'll realize that, despite your best efforts, you can't do it all. My advice? Start picking and choosing your battles." She turned her head away from Silvally. "Or you're just going to end up getting burned."

    "No wonder Zero persuaded you to join her," Silvally whispered, frowning.

    Espeon's ears stuck up. "What did you just say to me?" She turned back around, only to tense up as Silvally stared her down, a hardened look in his eyes.

    "I thought that Tessa had gotten through to you back at the Observatory, but I guess I was wrong," Silvally said. "You're not just cynical… you're bitter and spiteful." His pink eyes glowed. Espeon shuffled back, narrowing her eyes at Silvally. "There's a part of you that wants things to completely break down between Tessa and Gallian, isn't there? I can't believe that, after Tessa tried to help you when you needed it most, you'd think like that. It's disgusting."

    "Of course a part of me wants to see it!" Espeon yelled, jumped up to her feet. "Because I screwed up with Umbry! And if Gallian torches his relationship with Tessa, then I don't have to feel like the only 'mon on the planet who ruined her sibling's life!" She couldn't hold her tears back any longer and collapsed back on the ground, crying.

    Silvally's expression relaxed. He scooted over toward her, offering up his shoulder. Espeon leaned against it, shuddering with each sob she made. "Shhhh… it's okay. Just let it out," Silvally coaxed. "I understand… really."

    "No… no you don't," Espeon blubbered. "The human– I mean Shane… he said Umbry sacrificed himself for my sake, but the more I think about… the less it makes sense. I was… I treated him so badly. I was a mess… no, I am a mess. Hoarding spiked berry juice… finding stardust to sniff up… stomping around Post Town, cursing everyone out. I said Umbry and I had friends on the Mist Continent… but really, I burned those bridges. Burned them to ashes."

    "That stumbling around you did yesterday… you were hungover, weren't you?" Silvally growled. Espeon lifted her head off his shoulder, a guilty look on her face. Silvally frowned disapprovingly. "And you were acting pretty nasty this morning, too," Silvally accused. "Were you drinking again?"

    "No. You were all asleep last night. I had some stardust from Mount Supernova, so I went outside Totem Salazzle's house and used it," Espeon said, to Silvally's displeasure. "What? Don't give me that look. You wouldn't understand. I need that stuff. It… it keeps them away."

    "Keeps who away?"

    "The Void Shadows!" Espeon said, looking around nervously. "They've been following me ever since Dark Matter attacked. I can't always see them, but I can hear them. Taunting me. Ridiculing me for all my failures." She curled up against Silvally again. "They told me it's my fault Umbry's gone. I was so pushy and callous toward him, that I broke his spirit." Her ears folded against her head. "I made him so miserable, that he would rather suffer at Necrozma's hands than spend another moment with me."

    "That's not true. He really cared about you," Silvally said.

    "Because he didn't have a choice," Espeon countered. "I… we…" She scrunched her face up. "We were mates."

    Silvally stiffened. "Oh. I… uh…" His brow furrowed. "Not gonna lie to ya, I kind of figured that was the case."

    Espeon's tail crinkled up. "Y… you knew? But… but that's not…" Her voice trailed off and she reached up to rub the gem on her forehead. "Of course," she hissed, "thanks to that stupid cave-in, I can't mask my life energy all that well." She shook her head. "Great! Wonderful! I'll bet Tessa can sense Umbry on me, too. What isn't going wrong in my life, huh?" Espeon rolled onto her back, kicking at the air in frustration. "I tried so hard… so damn hard to keep that under wraps. I figured when I convinced Shane that nothing was happening, my work was done."

    "The problem there is that Shane is rather… dense. But that's straying off topic," Silvally said. "I don't understand. Why were you trying so hard to keep that hidden?"

    "Because it was a stupid mistake," Espeon fired back. "Neither of us were thinking straight. The world was crumbling around us. It was just so cold. We started to huddle together and one thing led to another and… well… I think you get the idea." She rolled over to her side, angling herself so she faced away from Silvally. "You know how it works. Once you have a mate, you're bound for life. Even if we both wanted to break it off, we'd have been looked down on by everyone."

    "But what would have been so bad about folks finding out?" Silvally wondered. "You're not the only relatives to end up as mates, you know."

    "That wasn't the problem," Espeon growled. "The problem was that if people found out, they'd want details. I wasn't about to stand there and tell my friends about that stuff. How, instead of offering support against the Bittercold, we mated to forget about everything that was falling apart." Espeon rolled back into a sitting position, a defeated look on her face. "Only, when all the dust settled, Umbry bounced back and returned to his usual self and I… just didn't."

    Silvally bowed his head solemnly. "I guess you're right. I can't imagine what was going through your head back then." He flinched. "Well, I guess I could see it for myself. But even if I read your mind, I don't think I'd have the full picture." He stood up and walked over toward her.

    "Don't–" Espeon started, only for Silvally to lay down next to her. "Ugh, when will you just give it a rest? Haven't I said enough, already?"

    "Espeon, look at me," Silvally said. When she turned away from him, Silvally poked her between the shoulder blades with his beak. Espeon gasped and turned around, an angry look on her face. "I wasn't finished talking to you," he said, drawing a scowl from Espeon. "Look… will you just hear me out for a few minutes? If you really don't like what I have to say, then I'll walk away and we don't have to talk to each other like this ever again. Sound good?"

    Espeon curled her tail around her legs. "I'm listening."

    "It's easy to let your mind drift to the worst-case scenario… and convince yourself that it has to be true. Especially when your life's not on solid footing," Silvally said. "I get it. Really, I do. So many of these spirits inside me died angry and upset because they felt like they weren't in control of their own lives. When the mask was on… that's exactly how I felt, too." He inched closer to Espeon. This time she didn't shrink back. "Still, I want you to take a good, hard look at your life with Umbreon. I get the taboo behind leaving your mate, but don't you think that, if he really, truly thought you were making him miserable like you're claiming he did, he would have walked out years ago?"

    "N… no… the stigma, it's…"

    "It hasn't stopped other Pokémon," Silvally cut in. "You remember Sylveon, from Sunrise Village?" Espeon's winced, sending a pang of guild through Silvally's chest. Silvally focused on his breathing to steady himself. "Tessa told me her mate walked out on her. Didn't even say why. She thinks he ran off to Solstice Summit with a Glaceon." Silvally's words irritated Espeon. He coughed nervously. "A-Anyway… the point I'm trying to make is that you've let your negative thoughts take hold of your life and drive all your actions. I think that's why these 'Void Shadows' are driving you mad."

    Espeon blinked slowly. "I… uh…" Her jaw hung open.

    Silvally opted to continue. "You need to start pushing back. Umbreon stuck by you through all the rough days, arguments with friends, and questionable choices." He grasped the tip of Espeon's muzzle with a talon and lifted it up. "And, from what I can gather, you two kept up some degree of intimacy. Otherwise that gossip article would've never existed, right?"

    "Th… that was just a mistake," Espeon said, sniffling. "I… I told him mating would make me feel better. He believed me."

    "You're letting those negative thoughts win again," Silvally said, his gaze sharpening. "For all you know, he did it because he genuinely, truly loves you." He let go of Espeon's muzzle and stepped back. "I know it's hard for you to hear this, but what you're doing right now… it's not working. It'll never work. You can get as much stardust and berry juice as you want, but it won't drive the Void Shadows in your head away. It's a temporary solution, at best." Silvally lowered his head. "Like shaking your head around… or bashing your helmeted skull against whatever wall you can find."

    Espeon's looked straight at Silvally, eyes widening.

    "I know this is hurting you, but the only way to make the pain stop is to make a change," Silvally continued. "In your case, you have to challenge those negative thoughts."

    "I already tried that. It didn't work," Espeon muttered.

    "Then, you need friends by your side to support you," Silvally said.

    "I don't have any friends left. Even if they were willing to forgive me, Necrozma made sure that'll never happen."

    "Yes, you do," Silvally said. "You have me, Tessa, and Shane." Espeon frowned and looked away again. "Hey." Silvally hopped to the side, reentering Espeon's field of view. "I used to be like you. Convinced that nobody could possibly help me… and no one would understand what I'm going through. But then I met Tessa… and everything changed."

    Espeon didn't respond, instead fixating on her satchel. Silvally sighed. "Okay, I get the message. You're done with me." He turned away from her. "I guess I'll just… I dunno… go check on Tessa."

    "… don't go."

    Silvally froze mid-step. He craned his neck back to see Espeon staring down at her bag, into one glistening side of the Sizzle Shard. "Please," she whispered. "Stay with me. You're right… I don't want to be alone. I want," she choked back tears, "to feel like I fit in somewhere again." Espeon looked up at Silvally. "What… what do you think I need to do… to make all these bad thoughts go away?"

    Before Silvally could respond, he and Espeon heard footsteps. They both looked back toward the village and watched Gallian walk out of Zoroark's house with a neutral expression on his face. He glanced at the two of them and then took off for the tunnel leading outside Cosmic Cavern. Seconds later, Totem Decidueye glided down from the upper levels and walked into Zoroark's den.

    "I think going after Gallian might be a good place to start," Silvally said. "You said you saw some of yourself in him, right? Well, now's your chance to make sure he doesn't make the same mistake you did."

    Espeon's ears drooped. "But I don't even know the guy. What if he lashes out at me?"

    "I'll go with you," Silvally offered. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you. You're a teammate… and a friend." He extended his foreleg to Espeon. "What do you say? Are you willing to give it a try?"

    "Yeah, I guess so."

    XxX​

    Gallian entered Zoroark's house. His former mate lay on a straw bed, rubbing his scarred abdomen and leg and groaning loudly. "You shouldn't have followed me," Gallian said. "This wouldn't have happened if you'd just stayed back here." Gallian shook his head. "You tailed me all the way to the Volcanic Wastes, didn't you? What were you thinking?"

    "I don't… really want to talk about that… right now," Zoroark replied.

    "Well, I'm not just gonna drop the issue," Gallian said. "You can answer me now… or later."

    Zoroark laughed bitterly. "Seriously? After everything that's happened today… you're gonna try and throw it all on me?"

    Gallian shrank back at this. "I–"

    "Gallian."

    Tessa appeared in the doorway. Gallian jumped up, yipping in surprise, and scrambled toward the far corner of the room. He whirled around to face Tessa, adopting a guarded stance. "What's your problem? I want some privacy. Go away!"

    Anger momentarily flashed through Tessa's eyes. Zoroark sat up, muzzle stiffened, while Gallian crouched lower to the ground. In doing so, however, pain shot through his legs and he collapsed on his stomach. "Gallian, I don't want to fight with you anymore," Tessa said. "Stop trying to push me away. I'm your sister and I just want to talk."

    "I… I don't have anything to say to you," Gallian whimpered.

    Tessa stomped a foot on the ground, making Gallian's fur stand on end. "Yes, you do," she said. "You're just… you're just… beyond stubborn." Tessa shook her head in disbelief. "Like… I just don't understand it. How could you go from the warm, caring brother I spent nights on the beach with to… to… this angry guy spouting off nonsense about impending disaster?" Tessa got down on her knees so she was at eye level with Gallian. "Please, help me see what happened. Because you're nothing like the guy I remember. You're not the brother I love anymore."

    Claws scraped against rock and Tessa's ears twitched. "I already told you," Gallian said, voice cracking, "Mom tried to kill me."

    "You said that back in the dungeon, too," Tessa said. "But that would've happened after you left the guild. I'm talking about earlier than that… when you stormed up to Sylveon's house, locked eyes with me, and, with the scariest-sounding voice I'd ever heard from someone other than Mom, told me, 'Don't you ever let me catch you setting foot in that guild. If you do, I won't hesitate to strike you down!'"

    Gallian flinched. "I had to keep you safe."

    "By threatening me with violence?" Tessa countered, a glare spreading across her face. Gallian recognized the look in her eyes and gulped.

    "My disaster sense," Gallian whispered, his defiant attitude from earlier having completely vanished.

    "That's not a good enough answer, Gallian," Tessa said. She nearly slapped the floor with her paw but managed to stop herself and instead rest it on her thigh. "I want to know why. What was going through your head that you thought you needed to frighten me? Mom had made me feel awful enough in the months after Dad died. When you showed up, I thought you were there to lift my spirits." Her ears folded against her head. "And then you yelled at me. You scared me. And I… I felt so miserable after that."

    Gallian scooted back on the floor. "I… I didn't have a choice. It was the only way… the only thing I could think of that didn't set off my disaster sense. I needed to stay away from you… and the guild," he insisted. "It's all because of Metagross. I found out that he killed Dad. Mom ran out on us because of him."

    "Why didn't you just tell me that?" Tessa asked, a hurt look in her eyes. "If you said that, don't you think I would've heeded your advice and stayed as far away from there as possible?" Tessa leaned back, resting against her heels. "I looked up to you back then. You were my role model. I wanted to be just like you: confident, caring, and brave." Her eyes glazed over. "Hearing you say that stuff… tore a hole through my heart. One that's only just started to heal."

    Tessa scooched backwards, giving Gallian some more breathing room. "I panicked," Gallian admitted. "I just… the disaster sense was so strong. I wasn't sure who to trust or what to do. I thought if I told you what had happened, that you'd try to investigate yourself." Gallian's brow furrowed and he looked away. "I was trying…" He took a shuddering breath. "I wanted to keep you away from a potential disaster. But in doing that… I just brought disaster on you, didn't I?"

    He slowly shut his eyes and hug his head. "How bad was it?" he asked. "You still had Eevee and Sylveon, right?"

    "That wasn't enough," Tessa said. "Besides… they're gone now, thanks to Mom."

    Gallian winced. "I see," he whispered.

    Tessa put a paw up to her rainbow scarf. "It was bad, Gallian," she said. "I kept sinking lower and lower… and then I met Shane. Things spiraled out of control after that."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I was–" Tessa cut herself off. She could feel Zoroark studying her from his bed. A part of her wanted to ask him to leave, but this was his home. He was her spirit-brother. It didn't seem like the right thing to do. So, Tessa took a deep breath and said, "I was going to let myself starve."

    Gallian finally met Tessa's gaze, a shocked look on his face. "Tessa," he said. "No. You… you shouldn't stay stuff like that! You–"

    "It's true, Gallian," Tessa whispered. "Shane and Silvally… they stopped me from going through with it."

    Tessa's ears twitched at the sound of footsteps. Zoroark's arm slung across her shoulder. She involuntarily tensed. "Are you okay, now?" Zoroark asked.

    "Well, things aren't spectacular," Tessa said. "But I'm hanging in there. Besides, I made a promise to my friends… that I wouldn't go to such a dark place again."

    Gallian had scooched closer to the wall, still looking completely baffled at Tessa's confession. "This doesn't make any sense," he muttered. "You're a Lucario now. Riolus evolve when they're happy. How–?"

    Tessa held her left arm up, showing off her Naturia Looplet. "The Z-Power from my looplet jump-started my aura abilities… and made me evolve prematurely." She paused. "Or, I guess, I kind of evolved pretty late into life, but it's still premature because I wasn't mentally ready." Tessa rubbed her head. "Espeon explained it a lot better."

    Zoroark nodded. "I'm just glad to hear you're okay. That's… nobody should have to experience that kind of sadness." He looked over at Gallian. "Isn't that right?"

    Gallian's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them. "I, uh, yeah."

    "I knew it," Zoroark said, brow furrowing, "you're still putting up barriers."

    Gallian bit his lower lip and looked away. "Gallian, nobody's trying to hurt you," Tessa said.

    "It's… this is all my fault," Gallian croaked, shutting his eyes. "Mom was right. I'm a failure. I'm the worst kind of Absol you can be: one that brings disaster onto everyone who comes across him."

    Zoroark frowned. "What happened to some things being more important than your disaster sense?" he asked. "That's what you said to me. I know you still feel that way… somewhere deep down. Why can't you pull those thoughts back up again?"

    Gallian's eyes flashed pink. Zoroark and Tessa tensed. "Weren't you the one who told me, 'You really expect me to welcome you back with open arms after what you did?'" Gallian said, directing a glare at Zoroark.

    "I said that because you hurt me, Gallian," Zoroark said. "I laid my life on the line for you… and you ran away… because you were scared. Your disaster sense told you bad things were happening. So, you listened to it… instead of me." Zoroark's ear drooped. "That's how I interpreted what happened. You lied to me… after we'd bared our souls to each other. That pain… it cut deep. Deeper than what your Mom did, as cliché as it sounds." He sat down next to Tessa, crossing his arms and legs. "I deserve an explanation… and a sincere apology."

    Gallian's response consisted of him brushing his scythe against the wall. "It was because you were infected, right?" Tessa said. "That's what drove you away. It had to be." She glanced at Zoroark. "I'll bet you were just worried that you might attack him or something." Tessa leaned over but stopped when Gallian shrank back toward the corner. "Go on, Gallian. You don't have to keep it a secret anymore."

    She reached her paw out toward Gallian. He sat up, looking intently at the wall. "I had to follow those two. They said it was the only way they could monitor the harness… and keep me from going totally crazy," Gallian whispered. "I didn't want to do it. Zoroark… I meant what I said. Really." He turned and buried his head in his shoulder, trying to muffle his sniffles. "But hearing what those aliens had to say just… it terrified me. I ran off with them. I thought… I thought if I told you that I was leaving…"

    "… there would be disaster?" Zoroark said, raising an eyebrow. Gallian bowed his head and nodded it slowly. "Seriously? I just…" Zoroark rubbed his forehead. "Okay. It's clear there's been a lot of miscommunication. I'm… not sure where we can really go from here, to be honest."

    Gallian tensed. "What do you mean by that?"

    "Gallian… I want to forgive you," Zoroark said. "Now that you're back… I'm starting to imagine a life with you again. Only…" He rubbed his shoulder. "I'm worried you'll run out on me as soon as something bothers you." He swished his mane in front of him and fiddled with locks of his hair. "I can't go through that again, Gallian."

    "So, what, do you want me to promise I'll always stay by you or something?" Gallian grunted. "I can do that… I guess. If it'll make you feel better."

    "That's not good enough," Zoroark said. "I need to see it for myself. Prove that you're willing to stand by me. I…" Zoroark gripped his mane tightly. "You have to earn my trust back. It's the only way we can go forward as mates."

    A spark of green energy raced across Gallian's scythe. Tessa got on one knee, ready to intervene if things got bad. "What exactly did you have in mind, then?" Gallian asked, unable to meet Zoroark's gaze.

    Zoroark released his mane and gently traced his scars with his claws. "I want to go with your sister."

    Gallian turned around, a defiant look in his eyes. "What, are you crazy? You've seen what she's dealing with! That's a recipe for–"

    "–disaster. Yes, I'm aware," Zoroark said. "I'm certainly not in top battling shape, that's for sure. But now that I know what's going on, I can't just sit by and do nothing." He frowned. "How could the two of us even have a future together if these Ultra Beasts are allowed to run wild? They'll bring the world to ruin, won't they?"

    "Maybe," Gallian muttered. "But there's not much we can do against them. I might've had a shot if I was still infected, but I lost all my special powers."

    "I could contact Latias and see if we could get you a Naturia Looplet of your own," Tessa offered.

    Gallian's eyes widened. "You met Latias?" He shook his head. "I've really missed a lot, haven't I? This is just too much to take in."

    "You asked me what you needed to do to win my trust back and I gave you my answer," Zoroark said. "So, are you willing to join me or not?"

    "I… I…" Gallian looked between Tessa and Zoroark. He shuddered, fur prickling along the back of his neck. Gallian suddenly got to his feet. "I need to step out. F-For some air…"

    "Gallian, wait!" Tessa called. But her brother walked right past her, staring off into space. He silently departed the house. Gallian walked up toward the village's entrance and disappeared into the nearby tunnel. Tessa hung her head, aura feelers drooping. "Great. Well, so much for that."

    "I'm sorry," Zoroark said. "I thought for sure we had gotten through to him. Guess I was wrong."

    A shadow appeared outside the doorway. Tessa got to her feet, but she immediately relaxed upon seeing Totem Decidueye landing in front of her. He knocked on the side of the doorway with his wing. "May I come in?" he asked.

    Zoroark staggered to his feet. "Of course, Totem," he said. "Can I get you something? A berry or a cup of water, perhaps?"

    "I'm quite alright," Totem Decidueye said. "I just wanted to come check on you, that's all. Things got rough in the Cavernous Depths."

    "Ah. Well, I'm about as good as I can get," Zoroark said, limping over to a chair and sitting down in it.

    "How is Team Paradox doing?" Tessa asked.

    "Hmm? Oh, you must mean the alien and the blue Houndoom," Totem Decidueye said. "They're alright. I did have to tear off Houndoom's outfit to better tend to her wounds. She's a bit shaken up, for sure, but she'll be fine. Dusk is also doing okay. I got her the proper berries in time to close her wounds."

    "That's a relief," Zoroark said, leaning over to rest his head against his arm. "She looked especially worse for wear. That Nihilego thing really roughed her up."

    Totem Decidueye nodded. "You know Dusk, though. She's too proud to admit when something's wrong. I get the feeling we'll need to have a conversation about all of this, eventually. But for right now, she's just sleeping." He walked farther into the house. "And how about you, Lucario? I understand you're Gallian's sister."

    "Yes," Tessa said, nodding. "Please, c-call me Tessa. It's, um, an old Lucario custom."

    "If that's what you wish," Totem Decidueye said, bobbing his head. Tessa looked over his shoulder and spotted Espeon and Silvally walking toward the tunnel exiting the village. Silvally briefly locked eyes with her and gave her a reassuring nod. He and Espeon then trotted into the tunnel.

    'I guess they saw Gallian head there. They must have something in mind for him,' she thought.

    "Now that the dust has settled, I was hoping that maybe you could fill me in on exactly what happened with Gallian… and what brought your team here," Totem Decidueye asked. "I have a number of questions, but I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable."

    Tessa sighed. "I guess I could try," she said. Tessa explained the circumstances surrounding the Dawn Shards and then discussed the events that happened to her family. Totem Decidueye nodded along slowly while Zoroark sat up in his chair.

    "Gods, you've really had it rough, haven't you?" Zoroark said, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry, Tessa. Gallian barely ever brought you up. If I'd known how bad things were, I'd have tried to come and find you right away. Honest!"

    "It's quite alright, Zoroark," Tessa assured him. "You don't have to apologize for anything. I appreciate all your help today."

    "Well, I'm still going to try and make it up for it," Zoroark said. "I know I'm not the first Pokémon anyone would turn to when they need help, but–"

    Tessa shook her head. "I don't care about your species' reputation. I'm sure my teammates don't, either. We're really not in a position to turn down outside help."

    "I guess not," Zoroark said. "I just hope Gallian can see it the same way. I don't want to lose him again, but this isn't something I can turn my back on."

    Totem Decidueye tapped a foot on the ground. "From what I can gather, Gallian is conflicted," he said. "He can't reconcile his feelings for you and Lucario with the abject fear he has about this whole situation." Totem Decidueye closed his eyes in thought. "Even just hearing what you had to say has left me quite stunned. To think that we've actually lost two of the Land Spirits to these Ultra Beasts."

    "That's why we have to gather the other two Dawn Shards as quickly as we can," Tessa said. "Every day that passes is a day where the Prism Virus could be getting closer to achieving its goal." She sat down on the arm of Zoroark's chair. "I wish Gallian could come around. I think he's stronger than he gives himself credit for... even without his extra powers. It's just…" Her voice trailed off and she sighed. "I don't think he can come to the terms with the fact that our mom is causing a lot of this destruction."

    "Have you?" Totem Decidueye asked, looking right at Tessa.

    Tessa shut her eyes and shook her head. "No… I don't think I have," she whispered. "I've been clinging to the idea that Necrozma did something to corrupt Mom... and that I don't have to fight her, I just have to stop Necrozma. That will free her… and make her the kind, loving Lucario that I sort of remember." She sighed heavily and slumped back. "The problem is that, the more I think about, the less plausible that idea sounds."

    "About your mom getting corrupted?" Zoroark asked.

    "No… that she loved me," Tessa whispered. "I want to believe she does. After all, she made the choice to have my egg. It's just… more and more unpleasant memories keep popping up surrounding her. It's at a point where I feel like the only times she was actually loving to me and Gallian were when Dad was around."

    Totem Decidueye shuffled in place. "I think you may have hit on the issue," he said.

    Tessa's head titled to the side. "Huh?"

    "The mental block your brother's facing… is you," Totem Decidueye said, a grim look in his eyes. "Before today, your brother only knew you as Riolu, yes?" Tessa nodded slowly. "Therein lies the problem. As it stands right now, Gallian can't separate you, his sister, from the only Lucario he's previously known: your mother."

    Tessa recalled the accusations Gallian had made toward their mother, along with the frightful look he had given Tessa when she freed him from the Prism Virus. She held up her right paw and stared at the marking on it. "But… but I can't do anything about that," she whimpered. "Is it hopeless, then? Will Gallian just be afraid of me his whole life?" She lowered her paws, looking at Zoroark. "I don't… I want my brother in my life. He's family… and I love him."

    Zoroark's ear drooped. "Totem, isn't there anything we can do?"

    "Give it time," Totem Decidueye said. He turned back toward the doorway. "Your friends, they went after Gallian, yes?"

    "I think so," Tessa replied.

    "Then it's best to put your faith in them for the moment," Totem Decidueye said. "Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to get a Pokémon to change how they view a certain situation. I know both of your hearts were in the right place, but Gallian couldn't look past the unpleasant memories he had associated with each of you. But your friends… he doesn't have any real connections to them. If they can make him see how important it is that you're both a part of his life, perhaps he will come around."

    Tessa fidgeted with her paws. "I… I guess so," she whispered. "Silvally's my best friend. I trust him to help. But Espeon… can be a bit problematic."

    "It won't do you any good to continue fretting over this," Totem Decidueye said. "Especially not when you should be recovering." Tessa frowned at him. Totem Decidueye raised his wings up innocently. "I'm not saying drop the issue entirely. Just… wait and see what happens. If your friends can't get through to Gallian, I'll have some words with him." He walked toward them. "In the meantime, how about some drinks to take the edge off? I can have some tea ready in seconds."

    Tessa and Zoroark exchanged unimpressed looks. "Err, sorry, Totem. I'm not really in the mood for tea," Zoroark said.

    "What about some tapu cocoa, then?" Totem Decidueye offered.

    Tessa's ears stuck up. "Um, do you have marshmallows?" she asked.

    "Ha! What kind of stick in the mud wouldn't have marshmallows sitting around for making tapu cocoa?" Totem Decidueye said, chuckling.

    A small smile appeared on Tessa's muzzle. "In that case, I think I'd really like some. Um, but could I perhaps ask a favor?"

    "Oh? What did you have in mind?"

    "Could you make a fourth cup? There's someone I'd like to go see," Tessa said, looking out into the village.

    Totem Decidueye nodded and walked off into the kitchen.

    XxX
    Next time: even more heart-to-hearts! ... wait, seriously? Who's writing this drivel? And when did they turn it into a Xenoblade fanfiction?!
     
    git-it likes this.
  20. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Well, looks like this fic stumbled its way over the 20,000 view mark... somehow. My guess is still that there are fair number of bots involved, but I'm flattered anyway. To those of you guests or silent readers lurking, you have my thanks. On with the update. Here's some flavor music, for those who want it.

    XxX

    Chapter 61: Time for Reflection

    Gallian sat perched on the ridge outside Cosmic Cavern's entrance. He stared out across the Midnight Sea, watching the rippling orange semicircle reflecting off the water's surface. Gallian flicked a pebbled with his claws. It skipped off the cliff face and tumbled into the water, producing a tiny splash. He lay down on his belly, sighing loudly.

    "I see why you guys call this place the Horizon Continent. That's quite a breathtaking sunset."

    Espeon appeared in the entrance tunnel. Gallian stood up, his forehead scythe flashing pink. "What do you want?" he growled.

    "To talk to you, that's all," Espeon said.

    Gallian lowered his scythe. The pink glow turned pitch-black. "Do I even know you?" He narrowed his eyes at Espeon. "Wait… you're the one who kidnapped Sylveon and Eevee!" Gallian stepped toward Espeon, who shrank back with a wince. "You're the reason they're gone!"

    "I… I know," Espeon squeaked, tail curling against her belly. "I did so many awful things before your sister and her friends freed me from the Prism Virus." She pawed nervously at the ground. "But I'm not here about that. I'm here about you… and Tessa."

    Gallian turned away from her. "I don't have any intention of listening to you. Buzz off."

    Espeon winced again and looked back into the tunnel. Silvally gestured toward Gallian with his head, giving her a reassuring nod. Espeon took a deep breath and said, "No."

    "No?" Gallian turned back, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

    "I'm not going anywhere. I'm here to stop you from making the biggest mistake of your life," Espeon said. "Don't push Tessa away. The bond between a brother and a sister… is special. It's something you don't realize the importance of… until it's gone."

    Gallian's brow furrowed. "Hold up," he muttered, "wasn't there an Umbreon with you the last time we met? Where–"

    "Umbry was my brother. He's gone now," Espeon said. "He… sacrificed himself to save me from Necrozma." Gallian was taken aback by this. Espeon slowly walked out to the ridge. "And for the past few days, I haven't been able to stop thinking about how bad a sister I was to him." She hung her head. "Umbry stuck by me, despite my attempts to push him away. I didn't see it for myself until it was too late to try and make it up to him."

    "… that's not my problem."

    "I know," Espeon said. "But what you're doing right now… it's a lot like what I did to Umbry." She reached the ridge's edge and sat down beside Gallian. He immediately scooched away from her, fixing his gaze back on the Midnight Sea. "You're self-destructing."

    Gallian tensed up.

    "Don't act like it's not true," Espeon said. "I know what that kind of behavior looks like. Because I'm guilty of it, myself."

    "That makes you a hypocrite," Gallian huffed, flicking his snout up indignantly.

    Espeon smirked. "Perhaps, but that's not going to get me to shut up, because I'm also pretty stubborn." Gallian resumed staring stone-faced into the water down below. Espeon sighed. "Look, the point I was trying to make is that you might've convinced yourself that you're actually helping Tessa by keeping her at arm's length. But you're not. You're hurting her."

    "No… I'm keeping her from disaster," Gallian whispered. "That's all I am… Absol, the walking disaster." He lowered his head. "It was stupid to think I could be anything else. Absols live in solitude for a reason." He shut his eyes.

    "There's no law out there saying you have to conform to stereotypes," Espeon said.

    "Then why did my parents… or, rather, my real parents abandon my egg, huh?" Gallian asked. "They must've known I would bring disaster to them, so they left me out in the snow… hoping I'd freeze to death."

    Espeon blinked in surprise. She looked at the cave entrance. Silvally nodded at her. "You don't know that for a fact, Gallian," Espeon said, turning back to him. "I think it's far more likely they lost your egg to, say, an avalanche."

    "Which just proves my point. Disaster follows me wherever I go," Gallian said. "I brought it on my real parents… I brought it on the family who raised me… and I brought it on my mate. That's why I can't go with you guys. Tessa is better off forgetting that I existed. She can live a long, happy life that way."

    Espeon stepped on Gallian's forepaw. He yanked it back, wringing it out and giving her a vindictive look. "What was that for?"

    "For doing exactly what I accused you of before: self-destructing," Espeon said. "If I brought the rest of Team Radiance out here, I think they'd all agree that you aren't the direct cause of those things. However, your poor decisions created problems for the people you care about most." She got up and stared Gallian down. "If you leave Tessa, it'll break her heart. She's your family. And, I get it, families aren't perfect. Most have problems, even if they're not like yours. Yet, from what I've seen of Tessa, she's a kind-hearted, doting sibling. She loves you and wants you in her life. Do you really think you're going to help her by leaving her behind?"

    Gallian dug his claws into the ground, kicking up some dirt that trickled down the ridge. "It's for her own good."

    "Can you really say that for a fact?" Espeon asked. Gallian opened his mouth to answer, but Espeon's gaze sharpened. "When I say really, I mean do you have proof that you're acting in her best interests? And, for that matter, are you doing what's best for you?"

    "I… I…" Gallian lowered his head in defeat. "I guess not."

    "Tessa's not a Riolu anymore. It may take you some time to come to grips with that change, but I think it'll end up good in the long run," Espeon said. "Of course, that won't mean a thing if you just walk away from all of this. Besides, you've seen for yourself how dire things are. Team Radiance will keep gathering the Dawn Shards. So, Tessa will find herself in trouble no matter what you end up doing." She tilted her head to the side. "Wouldn't you rather help us? At this point, we'll take what we can get as far as allies go."

    Gallian frowned. "I'm not too sure I'd be all that much help against these Ultra Beasts."

    "I thought the exact same thing when I joined the team," Espeon admitted. "But, here I am, a few days later, and I've held my own." She flashed her looplet at him. "I've even got Z-Power. If it wasn't for this thing, my psychic powers wouldn't work."

    Espeon stepped back from him. 'Huh, I guess I hadn't really considered the good things that've happened since we left Aeon Town. I blocked it all out because of Umbry.'

    "Tessa mentioned something about trying to get me one of those looplets," Gallian said. "Do you really think I could actually work with you guys? What if my disaster sense keeps going off so badly that I can't think straight?"

    "You'll have us there to support you," Espeon said. "Even if we were to split up, there's no way you'd end up on your own. I'm sure those alien teammates of yours would come with us, for example. Maybe Zoroark would, too."

    "He already says he wants to," Gallian exclaimed. He took a deep breath and got to his feet. "Alright, you've made your point loud and clear." Gallian turned away from the ridge and walked past Espeon. "There's just one thing I'd like to take care of."

    "Oh?"

    "If we're going to work together, you guys deserve to know exactly what happened to me. And to Team Paradox, for that matter. Who knows? Maybe you can learn something useful about Necrozma," Gallian said. "I'll talk to Luxeira and Sticky. I can hopefully convince them to say their parts." He reached the start of the tunnel and found Silvally standing there. Gallian jumped back in surprise. "What the–? Were you there the whole time?"

    Silvally chuckled. "Guilty as charged," he said. "For what it's worth, I think you're making the right decision."

    They began walking back through the tunnel. Gallian's neck fur prickled. "No offense, but hearing you say that doesn't exactly fill me with confidence."

    "I understand," Silvally said, sighing. "I know I'm a pretty unusual sight."

    "Pretty unusual?" Espeon guffawed.

    "Okay, very unusual," Silvally said, rolling his eyes. He turned back to Gallian. "Look, I realize I'm not the Pokémon you'd have wanted to be your sister's close friend–"

    "That's putting it mildly," Gallian scoffed.

    Silvally cleared his throat. "The point is that I'm really glad I met her. I think you're going to be impressed with how much she's changed in the last couple of months."

    Gallian's brow furrowed. "Okaaaaay… I feel like you're trying to preface something, here. What… is she in a relationship or something?" His eyes widened. "Oh gods… you two don't have a thing going, do you? Mom and Dad mated as soon as they were evolved… maybe Tessa's apple didn't fall far from the tree." He did a quick visual inspection of Silvally's frame. "I mean, your physique ain't half-bad, but your mish-mash appearance is a turnoff. And that size difference ought to make things pretty rough... assuming, of course, you have the… ahem… equipment for that kind of stuff."

    Espeon let loose a stream of snorts, actively trying to hold back laughing. "I did not just hear you say that," she said.

    Silvally ignored her jab. "Well I, for one, appreciate the thought," he said, grinning. Espeon tripped on her own paws and nearly faceplanted. "As flattering as your comments are," Silvally continued, addressing Gallian, "we're just friends." He then leaned over and whispered, "Besides, now that Shane's evolved, too, your sister's gonna have some real eye candy around."

    This time it was Gallian's turn to stumble. Silvally stuck a foreleg out to catch him. "Wait… did you just call your team's leader hot?"

    "Of course not. Shane's an ice-type," Silvally replied matter-of-factly.

    "Dude, seriously? I thought you three were at each other's throats?" Gallian said. "What did I miss?"

    "It's not really my place to tell. A lot can happen in a couple of weeks," Silvally mused. "That's just the nature of exploring, I guess."

    Patches of light caught their attentions. The trio emerged from the tunnel, stepping into Cosmic Cavern's village. Gallian's gaze immediately went to Zoroark's den. The Pokémon in question stood in the doorway, speaking to Dusk and Totem Decidueye. Zoroark caught Gallian's eye and his ear stuck up in surprise.

    "Zoroark!" Gallian called, bounding toward his former mate with youthful vigor. He had to skid to a halt to stop himself from crashing into Zoroark.

    "Gallian? What's going on? You seem so lively all of a sudden," Zoroark gasped.

    Gallian seated himself in front of Zoroark and offered up his forepaw. "My answer's yes," he said. Zoroark cocked his head in confusion. "I'll do it. I'll go with you."

    Zoroark stood there, clasping Gallian's forepaw in his claws. "You really mean it?" he whispered.

    "Absolutely," Gallian responded.

    It took a second for Zoroark to process the awful pun. When he did, a goofy grin wove its way onto his face. Zoroark leaned over and embraced Gallian. "Thank you," he whispered, nuzzling Gallian's cheek.

    "Anything for you," Gallian replied, returning the embrace. "Now, uh, do you know where Tessa went?"

    "She headed over to the hot springs," Zoroark said. "But I don't think she wanted anyone to follow. I'd give her some time, if I were you."

    "Gotcha," Gallian said. "So, uh, want to go for a walk in the meantime? I need to talk to Luxeira and Sticky."

    Zoroark broke off the embrace and gestured to his side. "Lead the way." The two of them proceeded off toward the upper levels of the village. Totem Decidueye and Dusk nodded to each other and silently departed in the other direction.

    Silvally turned to Espeon, a grin on his face. "See? Doesn't it feel nice to help out?"

    "Yeah… it does," Espeon said. She traced a forepaw in the dirt. "But I don't think I'd have been able to do this if you weren't there to back me up. So, uh, thanks… y'know, for believing in me and stuff."

    "What are friends for?"

    XxX
    The natural springs area consisted of a large, circular cave. The left side had a series of small ponds stationed on ledges. Each one vented steam, obscuring the rocky path that sloped up to the various ledges. The right side had a much larger body of water. It went the entire length of the cave, starting shallower on its edges and getting deeper toward the middle. It was also very wide, extending all the way to the wall. Rock shards hung off the ceiling, most of them slowly dripping water into the pond. Each drip created a small ripple that distorted the reflection of the cave's twinkling ceiling.

    Shane sat on the edge of the cavern's lake, staring at his distorted reflection. His new mane hung daintily over his right shoulder, brushing against his large tuft of fluffy chest fur. His tails – far longer in proportion to his body than they were as a Vulpix – sat by his side. It hadn't taken him long to discover that his tails had a new level of freedom. They were more mobile than his old tails, having greater flexibility and muscular coiling. He easily curled them around his legs, making his reflection look like a white ball, with two blue dots for his eyes and a green one to represent his looplet.

    He craned his newly-elongated neck up to stare at the twinkling rocks in the ceiling. Then his gaze returned down to the lake. He continued watching his reflection, noting the subtle expansions and contractions of his chest with every breath he took. The longer Shane stared, the more he found his mind drifting. Initially, he caught himself, jolting stiff and returning his attention to the water. But after several minutes of silence, the lake grew fuzzy.

    The twinkling lights suddenly faded. Shane looked up, blinking in confusion as the cavern walls and ceiling dissolved all around him. Swathes of dark green and indigo swirled about through the air, painting a nighttime landscape in front of him. Trees sprouted up, each one filling up with luminescent blue leaves. They cast a gentle glow on the lake, as did the reflection of the bright-blue moon.

    Shane stood up, examining the moon with a furrowed brow. Upon closer inspection, he realized there was something in the center of the lake, hidden in the moonlight. A pair of soft, cerulean eyes gazed out at him. The eyes moved toward Shane, causing him to take a cautious step back. He froze, however, when the eyes exited the moonlight and a lithe, blue figure came into view.

    "S… Suicune?" Shane gasped. "What are you doing here?" He looked about in confusion. "And where the heck am I?"

    Suicune gracefully strode across the lake's surface. Each step she took released white ripples from her paw pads. They spread through the water, enveloping the lake in a heavenly glow. She approached Shane, stopping a foot in front of him.

    "This is rather unexpected of you, Solgaleo," Suicune greeted. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

    "Wait, what? Are you blind? I'm a Ninetales!" Shane said.

    Suicune didn't appear to hear him, however. Instead, to Shane's complete surprise, an invisible force took hold of his snout and forced it open. "My apologies for the unannounced arrival, Suicune. Lunala wanted some alone time on Celestial Island to meditate. I had stumbled across this lake on past visits to the surface and thought it would make a nice to spot to retreat to until she's done."

    Though it was Shane's mouth moving, the voice that emerged was not his own. It was several octaves deeper and carried a sense of warmth to it. Shane tried to open his mouth and speak but found that his body wouldn't cooperate. Instead, Shane unwittingly stepped toward the edge of the pond, making eye contact with Suicune in the process.

    'Okay, so I'm seeing another one of Solgaleo's memories. But it feels so real this time! And I know I'm not asleep. This doesn't make any sense. The only reason I should be looking like this is...'


    "If this is too much trouble for you, I could just take my leave," Solgaleo said, once again speaking through Shane's mouth. "I wouldn't want to impose, after all."

    "It's quite alright," Suicune said. She finished walking to the edge of the pond and stepped out right beside Shane. In doing so, her mane brushed against his hide. To Shane, it was like a stream of water gently brushed his metal coat. She scooted next to Shane, who shuddered as her mane rested against his flank. "Truthfully, I'm actually glad you found this place," she whispered.

    "What is it, exactly?" Solgaleo wondered. Shane looked out at the glowing lake again. Translucent wisps of white energy streamed upward from the water's surface.

    "This is the lake where I first learned to use my water-purifying powers," Suicune said. "Every day, my mom would bring me out here to train. She'd fill the water up with dirt, rocks, dead grass, and other icky things."

    A laugh rumbled in the back of Shane's throat. "Really, Suicune? 'Icky?'"

    Suicune nestled her forepaw up against Shane's. His cheeks immediately flushed and he turned away from her. "Yes, 'icky.' I was just a pup back then, after all."

    "True. It's just weird hearing such a dainty Pokémon use such a silly word," Solgaleo said. Shane chuckled again.

    "It's nostalgic for me. This whole place is," Suicune said, looking out across the lake. "Whenever I want to try a new technique, I come here. When Entei and Raikou are getting insufferable, I come here." She bowed her head solemnly. "And when I find those awful, insidious memories of the Voidlands popping up… I come here."

    Shane immediately turned back to Suicune and put a forepaw on her shoulder. She looked up at him. "It's in the past," Solgaleo said. "Dark Matter is gone… and it can never come back."

    "I know," Suicune said, shuddering. "It's just… tough sometimes. The memories still seem so fresh. I've done my best to keep busy, but…" Her voice trailed off.

    "Sounds like you could benefit from joining Lunala in those meditations," Solgaleo mused. To Shane's surprise, he leaned over, nuzzling Suicune's cheek with his own. "What if I talked her into letting me bring you up to Celestial Island on occasion? The view's quite remarkable, you know. We don't have any lakes, sure, but it's great for clearing your mind."

    Suicune turned and licked Shane's cheek. If Shane had control of his body, his tail would've stuck straight back like it was an hour. "I think I'd like that," she said. "But you better not forget to ask."

    Shane raised a forepaw. "I'm not gonna forget. It'll be the first thing I do when I get back… I promise." He got to his feet, Suicune watching him curiously. "As long as I'm stuck down here, though, care to take a stroll?" Shane gestured out to the shining lake.

    "You can do that?" Suicune gasped.

    "Walk on water? No. But I can levitate," Solgaleo said as Shane winked. He started to extend a forepaw out over the water.

    'Not gonna… forget,' Shane repeated.

    "I'm… Solgaleo…"

    "Shane? Shane, what are you doing?"

    The moonlit plains dissolved around Shane in a swirl of dark colors. For a split second, a smoldering violet eye formed in the darkness. However, it disappeared the instant Shane looked at it. Shane then found himself back in Cosmic Cavern, staring at his Ninetales reflection in the water. One of his forepaws hung in the air. Shane retracted the forepaw and fell back onto his rear, grunting in surprise.

    "T… Tessa? Is that you?" Shane asked, blinking rapidly to reacclimate to the cave's dim lighting. He turned around to find his teammate standing behind him with a look of concern on her face. She held a clay mug in each paw, both of which gave off trails of steam like the hot springs on the other side of the cave.

    "I wanted to check up on you," Tessa said, walking carefully up toward him. "In all the commotion after getting back to Cosmic Cavern, we left you by the wayside." She paused beside him. "So, uh, how are you feeling?"

    "Pretty good, I'd say," Shane responded, turning his gaze between Tessa and his own reflection. "At first, I was a bit miffed with how girly I looked. But, you know what? After mulling it over for a while… I honestly like what I see. I'm so happy that I don't look like a puffy marshmallow anymore. I think it's a more pleasant appearance than my fire-type counterpart has." He stuck his snout up proudly and swished his mane about. "Yeah, I think I look great, actually! Don't you?" Shane flashed Tessa toothy grin.

    "Uh… y… yes," Tessa whispered, lifting up the mugs to hide her face.

    "But enough about me," Shane said. "How are, y'know, things between you and Gallian?"

    "It's… complicated," Tessa said.

    Alarm spread across Shane's face. "Oh no," he said. "Do you want to talk about it?"

    Tessa exhaled loudly. "There's not much to say. Gallian needs some time to adjust to, well, everything," she said, looking down at her chest spike. "But I have faith he's going to come around."

    Shane pawed at the edge of the lake. "That's a good thing, right?"

    "Well, for once a day is ending and I'm not bursting into tears. So, yeah, I'd say it's okay," Tessa said. "Maybe Silvally's optimism is finally rubbing off on me." The two exchanged a brief laugh. "Anyway, I brought you some tapu cocoa," Tessa continued, offering Shane the mug in her left paw.

    "You brought me what now?" Shane gasped as Tessa set the cup down next to him. "Oh, it's hot chocolate," he realized, looking into the cup. Tiny marshmallows bounced around inside it.

    Tessa sat down next to him, crossing her legs so they didn't drop into the lake. "Is that what humans call it? Seems rather strange… since chocolate's a solid, not a liquid."

    "Never mind," Shane said, leaning over to lap up some of the drink. His eyes widened. "Wow… this is really good. It's warming my insides up."

    "Um, wait, isn't that a bad thing if you're an ice-type?" Tessa wondered, pawing at her aura feelers. "Then again, you haven't had any problems with hot showers, so…" Her voice trailed off and she facepalmed. "Forget it. If I keep this line of thinking going, I'll give myself a headache."

    "Y… yeah," Shane mumbled, sipping up more hot chocolate.

    "Is something the matter, Shane?" Tessa wondered, aura feelers twitching. "You seem distressed."

    "It's… um…" Shane's gaze fell back on his reflection in the water. He frowned. "Tessa, I… uh… there's something I need to confess to you."

    "O-Okay," Tessa said, brows raising in surprise. "This is kind of sudden. Should I be worried?"

    "I don't know," Shane whispered. "I'm a bit confused myself, to be honest." He looked at the Subterranean Shard sitting to his left and sighed.

    Tessa clutched her mug with both paws. "Shane, you're scaring me. What's going on?"

    Shane gulped. "Tessa… I think I might be Solgaleo." He immediately turned away and winced, expecting an astonished reaction from his teammate. Metal clinked against stone, making his ears twitch. Shane hesitantly turned back to Tessa, only to see her staring at him. Her cup trembled in her paws and her eyes flickered with blue flames.

    "Tessa? Oh gods, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. I–"

    "That's why your aura is so vibrant," she whispered. Tessa shakily set her mug down and massaged her temples. "I'll bet that's why there's a voice telling you your human memories are fake, too."

    Shane's jaw dropped. "I hadn't considered that," he whispered.

    "Sh-Shane… I, uh, I mean Solgaleo. No, wait…" Tessa pulled her ears flat against her head and shook it. "I'm sorry, this is a bit confusing."

    "Well, I'm still shaky on the details," Shane admitted. "My best guess is that Solgaleo's spirit is trapped inside of me. It's probably Necrozma's doing." He nudged the Subterranean Shard with one of his tails. "I don't know how to describe it, but when I touched this shard, those feelings… the ones that said I'm not human… they surged through my mind." Shane bowed his head solemnly. "I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it at first, but I just experienced one of Solgaleo's memories and it was so real. It felt like I was there… like I had lived through it."

    "When you called out to me, I noticed my looplet." Shane turned and offered his left forepaw up to Tessa. "Look at the gem in the middle. See that compass-shaped rune? It wasn't there before."

    Tessa nodded. "What does that have to do with Solgaleo, though?"

    Shane lowered his paw, frowning. "I… um… you'll have to brush my mane aside to see it for yourself."

    Tessa's face flushed. "Are you serious? I can't–"

    "It's okay, Tessa. You have my permission," Shane said. He leaned over toward her. His wavy locks of snow-white hair made Tessa's eyes bulge. She gingerly reached out with her right paw and pushed Shane's mane aside. Intense tingling swirled around her paw as she did this. To her horror, Necrozma's sigil momentarily flashed with rainbow light. Tessa was tempted to let go but forced herself to hold on. She noticed a circular outline faintly glowing on Shane's forehead.

    "Shane, isn't that the same symbol that's on your looplet?" Tessa gasped.

    "It is," Shane said, leaning back. "I remember seeing it on the picture of Solgaleo that Magearna showed me. It was right in the middle of his forehead… almost like a third eye."

    Tessa clasped her marked paw against her chest. "Then, what does this mean?"

    "That's the part I'm… um…" Shane trailed off, shuddering. Tessa's aura feelers tensed while Shane squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "Touching the Subterranean Shard made this happen," he whispered, pointing to his forehead. "Now I've got a burning desire to find Espeon and grab the Sizzle Shard."

    "Okay," Tessa said. "Isn't this what you wanted, though? To be some sort of chosen hero who gets to save the world?"

    Shane flinched. "Not anymore," he said, shaking his head. "This is not what I want. It's scary!"

    He opened his eyes, fixing a now-tearful gaze on Tessa. Her aura feelers scrunched up. "Shane, what are you saying?"

    "If we succeed… if we fix the Dawn Hourglass… then Solgaleo will come back," Shane said. "But if Necrozma destroyed his body… and his spirit's stuck inside me… then that must mean… that I'll be his new body. And the only way that'll happen… is if I disappear."

    The realization slowly spread over Tessa's face. "O-Oh," she whispered. "I hadn't… considered that."

    "Tessa," Shane squeaked, "I don't want to disappear. I want to stay w-with you… and Silvally, too. I can't–" He cut himself off with a sniffle. "I finally feel like there's somewhere I belong… but now it doesn't look like I get to stay."

    "Shane, I don't know what to say," Tessa whispered.

    "I need you to tell me that I'm not thinking straight," Shane blubbered, shivering. "Tell me… tell me that this is another Lycanroc situation. Say that I'm just rushing to conclusions. Please!" Shane reached out toward her, only to stop himself. His forepaw trembled in midair.

    "I'm not ready to leave you," he whispered.

    Tessa's brows raised. Her eyes darted about the room. "I, um, well…" She poked her digits together nervously. "You might be wrong, yeah. It wouldn't be the first time. It's just… this isn't like when you compared things to your games back in the human world. Hearing you say that stuff… my gut tells me that you're right."

    "No… please don't say that," Shane whimpered, eyes brimming with tears.

    "I'm sorry," Tessa said, ears drooping. "I don't like hearing it. I agree with you. I know we've had more downs than ups together… but after everything we've been through this past week…" She closed her eyes and rested a paw on her chest spike. "I don't want to lose you either." Tessa took a shuddering breath. "But maybe… maybe you don't have to worry too much."

    Shane's ears twitched. "I don't follow."

    "Well, we've already lost so many people," Tessa said. "We're holding out hope that we can bring back everyone the Prism Virus killed, right?" Shane nodded slowly. "In that case, why couldn't the same thing happen to you?" Tessa rubbed her shoulder. "At the risk of sounding like you… every other time the world's been in danger, one of the heroes had to disappear… except they were always brought back. So, I don't see why that doesn't apply to you."

    "I wish I could believe that," Shane said, blinking tears out of his eyes. "But we both know that the Prism Virus… this is all so much different from the other times the world was in danger. Besides, I'm not really a hero. I wasn't brought here intentionally to save this world." He hung his head. "It was an accident, just like you told me the night we met. Nicky brought me here for his own reasons."

    "And yet… you've found a way to rise to the occasion," Tessa said. "I know things have gotten… rough, to say the least, but look at how we've rebounded since leaving Aeon Town. We held our own against our infected friends. We've gotten Z-Moves down. We got half the Dawn Hourglass. We've evolved, Shane."

    Tessa looked out at the lake. "I know the odds are overwhelming. Heck, I'm not sure we really can stop the Prism Virus. Still, we keep finding a way to win… together. Bit by bit… we're beating back those odds. I thought Silvally was talking crazy when he said not to give up hope, but I think I'm starting to understand. I see a path forward. It's narrow. Frankly, I don't think we can navigate it. Still, it's better than the total failure I thought we were destined for."

    She turned back to Shane and smiled. He blinked in surprise. "I guess… that's true," he mumbled. Shane sighed and slumped down onto his belly. "I wish I could go back… and do everything over again. I honestly want to just kick my own ass for how badly I treated you. I made so many mistakes when I first got here… now I'm on a timer." He looked up at Tessa. "All I want is to be able to wake up to a day where our backs aren't up against the wall. I want to have fun with you. Silvally, too. But… I'm not going to get that opportunity, am I?"

    Tessa's brow furrowed. "You're trying to drum up sympathy again."

    Shane blinked. His ears drooped. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure how to phrase it, really. I just want you to know that you mean the world to me, Tessa. I don't know if I'm ever going to get over what I did to you in Moonrise Marsh."

    "Stop it, Shane," Tessa growled, crossing her arms over her chest.

    "Huh?"

    "You're putting me on a pedestal. I asked you not to do that," Tessa said. She tucked her legs up to her chest and rested her head on her knees. "I'm not special. I don't want you singing my praises."

    "That wasn't my intention," Shane said, wincing.

    "It's the Lucario thing, isn't it?" Tessa asked. "Be honest, Shane."

    Shane leaned over and lapped up some of his drink. "What do you want me to say?"

    "I want the truth, Shane," Tessa said. "Necrozma… he mentioned something about strange pictures on a 'comb-pew-fur.' Does that have anything to do with me?"

    Shane's ears stuck up in alarm. He pulled himself away from his drink, coughing loudly. "N… no!" he sputtered. "That's… it's… something else entirely," he said.

    Tessa frowned, unconvinced by his behavior. "Shane… I promise, I won't get mad at you. Whatever you have to say, I'll hear it out. I need to know what's going through your head. If I don't, it'll keep eating at the back of my mind. It's going to get in the way of our ability to work together. So, please…" She blinked slowly. "Do it for me.

    Shane pawed nervously at the ground. After a minute of silence, he sighed loudly. "The truth is…" He hesitated for a moment. "… yes, I do like Lucarios a lot. And I did when I was human, despite the fact that they weren't real." He looked down into his hot chocolate, fearful of seeing Tessa's expression. "I tended to daydream a lot as a human… about Pokémon being real… and being able to befriend a Lucario. Sometimes I'd have those dreams while I slept. Then I'd wake up in the same old bed… and just feel sad that those dreams would never be real."

    Tessa picked her cup back up and sipped her hot chocolate silently, as if she could will Shane to continue. After lapping up a few mouthfuls of his drink, Shane sat back up. "So, I spent a lot of free time playing games where I could pretend to be a Riolu or a Lucario. And that… they were fun. I was happy when I got to do that stuff."

    "You pretended… to be a Lucario? Like, with your human friend?" Tessa asked, fidgeting nervously with her scarf.

    "Sometimes," Shane replied. "But as we got older, Nicky was less willing to do that. So, I found other people I could play games with."

    "Really? I thought you struggled making friends." She winced when Shane frowned at her comment. "S-Sorry for being so blunt."

    "It's okay," Shane assured her. "In the human world… I had ways to stay in touch with people all over the world. Kinda like our Gear-Coms… but much, much more powerful."

    "Is that the 'comb-pew-fur' thing Necrozma mentioned?" Tessa asked.

    Shane nodded. "It's pronounced 'com-pew-tur.' But, yes, you're right. It's also where I could find pictures of Lucarios… and read stories that other humans would write about them."

    "Humans wrote stories… about Pokémon?" Tessa gasped.

    "They were so much fun to read," Shane said. "I could just get lost in one of those stories. All my troubles would melt away," he looked down, "until I had to stop reading. Then, I'd just be reminded of how that stuff was nothing but a fantasy."

    "Except it's not a fantasy for you anymore," Tessa whispered. She traced a digit along the rim of her mug.

    "That's why I gravitated toward you so strongly," Shane said. He finally met Tessa's gaze again. "You… I saw you… and I was overjoyed."

    "You thought you were dreaming at first," she reminded Shane.

    "Yeah. Because I had dreamed about stuff like this so often," Shane said. "When I realized it wasn't a dream, I became determined. I had a chance… to live out my greatest dream: to have you as a friend." A flush fell across his face. "I acted bold and brash… because I thought that if I was my usual negative self, you'd hate me. So, I behaved the same way I did when I played games with Nicky or with people on my computer."

    His eyes watered again. "The problem is… that behavior was bad. At times, other people tried to tell me how bad I was being. But I didn't listen to them. They were getting in the way of my fun and that made me upset… so, I ignored them." Shane swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. "Tessa… I admit… I was excited to see you evolve… because of my old dream."

    He shuddered. "And... and the fact that I can see that... and understand it... when I couldn't as a human..." His voice trailed and the two sat in silence. Then, Shane said, "What if I haven't changed?"

    "I beg your pardon?"

    Shane scrunched his face up. "What if the only reason I've been acting different – acting nicer – is because of Solgaleo's spirit? What if... deep down... I'm really still the bitter, angry Shane who bullied you in Moonrise Marsh?"

    "I don't know what to tell you," Tessa said, rubbing her shoulder. "Somehow... I don't believe that. Even if Solgaleo's spirit is stirring, you're still the one in control. You're still spouting off things about the human world and your human life. So, no, I think you're wrong. These changes... you made them happen."

    "That's because I had a great reason to want to change," Shane said. He hesitantly scooched closer toward Tessa. She got a glimpse into his blue eyes. They weren't quite the same as when he was a Vulpix. Instead, they had a spectral appearance to them, almost like she was looking up at the starry night sky.

    "Shane," Tessa whispered. "I'm not someone to look up to. I'm far from a good example of a Lucario." Her shoulders sagged. "Dad always told me stories of what Lucarios did in ancient times. How they rushed around the different continents, saving lives imperiled by the Super-Ancient Pokémon's battles. They rallied other Pokémon together to help forge a truce between Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza."

    "Wait… that really happened?" Shane gasped.

    "It must've. Why else would the Air Continent chose to name its highest rescue team rank after my species?" Tessa growled, her paws balling up into fists. "Don't you get it? I can't live up to those kinds of expectations! They're astronomical! Everyone's going to look at me and deem me a failure of a Lucario."

    "Tessa, that's not true."

    "It is," Tessa replied harshly. "Shane, look at what my mom's doing. Sooner or later… the world will find out that I'm Zero's daughter. And then what am I supposed to do? For the rest of my life, I'll be the daughter of the Lucario who tried to slaughter the gods that Lucarios worked alongside in ancient times."

    "That shouldn't matter," Shane said. "You're fighting against her. You'll be remembered as the Lucario who took a stand against her own mother in order to save the world. Why would you even think about something so awful?"

    "It's my temper," Tessa squeaked, shrinking back from a frowning Shane. "I… I'm scared, Shane. You've seen it for yourself. The way I reacted to hearing about Zero… shouting at Totem Salazzle… a-and n-now… with Gallian…" She ran a paw across her eyes. "It's just like what happened to Mom after Dad died." Tessa turned her tearful gaze on Shane. "I don't want to lose control, Shane. The anger… it's frightening." She put her paws up on her shoulders and shivered. "When I saw what I'd done to Gallian in a fit of rage…"

    "You saved him," Shane countered.

    "That was luck," Tessa whispered. "I just kept hitting him and hitting him and hitting him." She punched her right palm with her left paw repeatedly, shaking her head. "I could have killed him, Shane. My own brother!" Tessa slumped over, her aura feelers falling across her shoulders. "That's why I don't want you putting me on a pedestal. All you're going to make me do is think of the Lucarios in the stories Dad told me and how I'll never be like them…"

    "I don't want you to be like them."

    Tessa's ears stuck up. "Wh… what do you mean?" Shane scooched close enough to Tessa to put a forepaw on her shoulder. "Shane," Tessa gasped, looking at his paw uncertainly.

    "Tessa, I don't like you solely because you're a Lucario," Shane said. "I like you… because of your spirit. You could turn into a Muk for all I care… and that wouldn't change how I feel." He paused. "Okay, wait, that's a lie." Tessa frowned. "Look, as I said before, a part of me does like you for being a Lucario. But it goes beyond that. Tessa…" He gazed into her eyes.

    Tessa's eyes slowly widened. Her aura feelers tensed. "Sh… Shane… what are you doing?" she squeaked.

    "You've taught me what it means to be a real friend," Shane said, offering her a warm smile. "It's not just about having fun… or forgetting your troubles. It's about enjoying the good times… but also being there for each other during the bad times. It's about sticking up for one another, but also having the trust and comfort to respect each other's boundaries. True friendships… survive all the ups and downs."

    Tessa's aura feelers slowly relaxed. "I never said anything like that to you."

    Shane shook his head. "You didn't have to. I saw it for myself in the things you've done. Like how you bonded with Silvally… or how you helped Espeon after Umbreon died… or even yesterday, when you stood up to Totem Salazzle for me." He scooted across the ground so that he was nestled up against her. "That's why I don't want you to think about those stories. Because I like you for you."

    He closed his eyed and took a deep breath. "I know the future is murky right now. Maybe I'll have to disappear… and maybe I won't. That thought scares me, but," his eyes fluttering open, "regardless of what happens… I'm really glad I met you. My biggest regret is that it took me so long to realize how amazingly strong you are."

    Tessa leaned forward, wrapped her arms around Shane's shoulders, and nestled her head against his neck. "That means a lot to me," she hiccupped.

    Warmth spread down Shane's spine. They held the embrace for a minute, before Shane brushed his cheek against Tessa's. "I'm just telling the truth. That's what you wanted, right?"

    "Heh…" Tessa ran one of her paws through Shane's mane. "Espeon's right. You really are a dork sometimes, you know that?"

    Shane pulled his head away to flash her a toothy grin. "Oh, I know. But I'm not just a dork anymore… I'm a stylish one!" He sprang to his feet, stepped toward the lake, and gazed at his reflection. "I can actually look someone in the eye and shout, 'Bitch, I'm fabulous!'"

    He flipped his mane back behind his head and fanned out his tails. They released a tiny cloud of snowflakes that fluttered across Shane's body, making it sparkle under the cavern's dim glow. Tessa blinked at the sight, utterly dumfounded. Then she put a paw up to her face, trying to stifle her giggling to little avail.

    "You two sure sound like you're having fun."

    Tessa's aura feelers rose up. She and Shane turned to see Espeon and Silvally approached them. Tessa sighed. "Man, I'm still struggling with this aura reading thing. I didn't even sense you guys coming."

    "It's tough to read energies early on," Espeon said. "With time and practice, you'll learn to do it passively so you can pay attention to other stuff."

    "Is everything okay?" Shane asked.

    Silvally looked at Espeon and grinned. "I think we're doing pretty well, yeah?"

    Espeon nodded. "And you two? How are things?"

    Tessa got to her feet. "We're doing pretty well, too," she said.

    "That's great!" Silvally trilled. "And I've got news that'll make it even better. Gallian's agreed to come with us."

    "Really?" Tessa gasped. Silvally nodded. "Oh, that makes me so happy to hear!" She rushed forward, embracing Silvally.

    "Glad to hear it," Silvally said, "but the credit ought to go to Espeon. She's the one who got him to come around."

    Tessa stepped away from Silvally. "Is that true?" she asked.

    "I guess so," Espeon said. "Oh, that reminds me… this is for you three." She nudged her satchel open and levitated out a large ripe apple.

    "A Perfect Apple?" Shane gasped.

    "Everyone should have the chance to try one at some point," Espeon said. "I found it while we were going through the Cavernous Depths." She levitated the apple toward them. "Consider it an apology from me."

    "What for? You haven't done anything wrong," Tessa said.

    "My attitude," Espeon said. "I haven't really gotten in the team spirit since we left Tapu Fini's temple. I want to change that." She glanced at Silvally. "I think that, deep down, I've missed being a part of an exploration team. I wish Umbry was here, but I'm going to try to make the most of this. Maybe then, when we bring him back, he'll be able to recognize his sister."

    Tessa nodded, smiling. "I think that sounds pretty good. What about you, Shane?"

    "Uh, does this mean you're going to stop calling me a pervert?" Shane muttered. "Because it's gotten annoying."

    "I'll see what I can do," Espeon mused, giggling when Shane's expression deflated. "I was kidding. I brought you the apology apple, didn't I?"

    Silvally sliced the Perfect Apple into four pieces with his talons. He offered one up to Shane and Tessa before presenting the fourth piece to Espeon. "Well?" he said.

    "But I saved that for you three," she said.

    "And I think it's better off if we share it as a team… together," Silvally said.

    "You'd better take it, Espeon. He's quite persuasive," Tessa said, chuckling.

    "O-Okay," Espeon whispered, grabbing the apple slice with her telekinesis.

    Silvally held his piece aloft. "To Team Radiance!" he said.

    "To Team Radiance!" Shane and Tessa repeated, sticking their apple slices out so they touched Silvally's.

    Espeon looked at them in surprise. After a few seconds of indecision, she levitated her piece to touch the other three. "To Team Radiance," she said. The quartet then happily dug into their apple slices.

    "Ah, so this is where you four ran off to."

    Sticky floated over toward them, continuously casting suspicious looks on Silvally. "When you're done with your… uh… whatever it is you're doing… Gallian and Captain Luxeira would like to see you. It's not urgent, but they'd like to talk before you all retire for the night."

    "What for?" Shane asked.

    "We think it's time you knew about what happened to us," Sticky said. "Namely, how we lost our home to the one you call Necrozma."

    A clear understanding silently passed through Team Radiance's members. Each one scarfed their Perfect Apple portion down quickly. "Alright, I guess we'll head back to the village, then," Tessa said, then started off toward the tunnel. Sticky and Espeon tailed along after her. Silvally paused in the middle of a stride and turned back toward Shane.

    "Aren't you coming with?" he asked.

    "Y… yeah," Shane said, his breathing growing heavy. "Just… just gimme a sec…" His brow furrowed. Shane leaned over, brushing his forepaws against his face. "Nrrrrgh," he groaned.

    "Shane, what's wrong? You were looking great a minute ago," Silvally said, trotting toward him with a look of concern.

    "I… I don't know," Shane panted, shaking his body out. "Suddenly I'm feeling really restless." His tails lashed out in different directions. A flush fell across his face. "I don't understand. It's like my body's screaming at me to go climb a mountain!" He looked up at Silvally. "What's wrong with me? Was there something in that apple? Are Perfect Apples bad for ice-types?"

    "I don't think so," Silvally said, tapping a talon on the ground. "It's a bit delayed, sure, but it sounds to me like you've gotten hit by the evolution high."

    Shane huffed out clouds of frost. "Well, how do I get rid of it? It's annoying!" He hopped up and down, his gaze darting about the room.

    "You need to burn the energy off," Silvally said. "Some Pokémon do it through battling, others through dungeon-crawling. Oh, you could try mating…"

    Shane landed and stumbled forward, a wide-eyed look on his face. "Excuse me?" he gasped. "Is that supposed to be a joke?"

    "Not at all," Silvally said. "I… uh… okay, thinking about it, maybe I shouldn't have suggested that last one. Not that I don't think you'd make a good partner or anything, but–"

    "Okay, no, stop! Quiet! Don't say anything else!" Shane growled, pawing at the ground and spewing a cloud of frosty air. It drifted harmlessly over Silvally's head. "The more you talk about it, the more there's a tiny voice in my head yelling at me to do it. So, suggest something else… please."

    "If you insist," Silvally said. He walked up to Shane, whose tails shot up in alarm, and promptly headbutted him. Shane skidded across the ground with a surprised holler, coming dangerously close to the edge of a nearby hot spring. His hind legs slipped out from behind him and Shane fell into the water with a splash and a frightened yip.

    Silvally cautiously approached the hot spring. "Sorry about that. I figured this was an okay alternative… y'know, a way to loosen you up a bit?" he said. "It was the best I could do on such short notice." He looked down into the water, where bubbles formed on the surface. Shane popped up, his sopping mane plastered over his face. "Err… uh… you doing okay there, buddy?" Silvally asked, laughing nervously.

    Shane shook his head back and forth, his hair smacking his shoulders. "Actually, I do feel a bit better," he conceded. "So, I guess I can't be too–"

    He suddenly doubled over, his blue eyes glowing brightly. A pink outline surrounded Silvally, hoisting him into the air and then flinging him back across the cave. Limbs flailing, Silvally careened into the cold-water pond, splashing down with a startled squawk. The noise roused Shane to his sense, who promptly hopped out of the hot spring with a nervous look on his face.

    "Silvally? Oh, gods, Silvally!" he gasped, scrambling toward the other end of the cave. "Are you okay?" he called. "I didn't mean to attack! I'm not even sure what happened!"

    Ripples appeared in the pond and Silvally surged into the air, his appendages flashing blue as he channeled his water memories. To Shane's surprise, Silvally landed on the surface of the water and hopped across the pond. Silvally didn't judge his angle correctly, however, and barreled into Shane. In the process, his beak pressed up against Shane's lips.

    The two exchanged wide-eyed looks, before Shane scrambled backwards, rubbing his snout in the dirt. "I... uh..." Silvally's voice trailed off.

    "If anyone asks, that didn't happen," Shane said, brushing his snout with a forepaw.

    "R... right," Silvally said.

    "Well, at least that little system shock seemed to have made the restlessness go away. So, thanks, I guess," Shane muttered. "I still don't understand what happened there, though."

    "That makes two of us. Because I have never heard of a Ninetales that could use Psychic," Silvally said, eyeing Shane skeptically.

    Shane tensed up. "Th… that was… Psychic? Not Extrasensory?" he stuttered. Silvally nodded. "Uh… um…" He glanced toward the tunnel. "We should really get back to the village… before anyone thinks something's wrong."

    Before Silvally could press Shane further, he took off toward the tunnel.

    XxX
    Next time: planning, plotting scheming, maneuvering and other synonyms I'm too lazy to look up. Don't miss it!
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2018
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