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.
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."
"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.
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?"
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,"
"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."
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?"
"Walk on water? No. But I
Solgaleo said as Shane winked. He started to extend a forepaw out over the water.
'Not gonna… forget,'
"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
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.
"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."
," 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, 'Bit
ch, 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.
Next time: planning, plotting scheming, maneuvering and other synonyms I'm too lazy to look up. Don't miss it!