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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light

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

  1. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Heh, I wonder if Shane played postgame for Rescue Team. Then maybe he’d realize that he very well could be Gengar, or even the countless failed humans of Infinity. Not every human became a hero. Maybe he’s finally realizing this?


    This whole exchange felt a bit on-the-nose, didn’t it? The villains randomly spouting some terms for the reader to get familiar with, assuming that it would’ve been meaningless for Tessa since they were going to infect her anyway. Oh well, we’re getting new info!


    ___


    Overall, chapter 7 is finally getting things actually happening, so that’s a good change of pace. Took long enough. And! Shane has more doubts, and he finally has a moment of vulnerability and humility. I still know very little about Null despite the meta knowledge that he’s going to be important later, but that’s for another time, I suppose.


    Chapter 8 –




    Okay. Color me impressed. We’re actually getting some proper depth from Shane! It all adds up pretty well, too, though I will admit, I don’t recall any strong hints about it. Ironically, I feel that we’re more in Tessa’s head than Shane’s, despite this being mostly third-person omni.


    Just a random through from the conversation between Tessa and Null, but I’ve been very suspicious of what’s going on with Mags and Null in particular. They’re supposed to be artificial, human-made Pokémon, so there’s got to be something going on with them in particular that I hope gets outlined down the line. It’s too much of a coincidence for it to be anything else.


    I don’t… know what… I expected.


    __


    All in all, this “exposition dump” chapter was good. I usually don’t mind exposition dumps, though, so maybe I just have a tolerance for it. I will note, however, that I thought it was particularly interesting to mix in Shane’s meta-knowledge with Mags’ in-universe knowledge. I’m not sure how significant that silly exchange about two Ho-Ohs is, but I’ll keep it on the backburner, along with the rumors of other duplicate Embodi—er, Legendaries. Heh. Anyway, let’s get to the last chapter.


    Chapter 9

    Shane knows what’s up. Also, he later says that Riolu are cool, and I’m a little surprised that we didn’t get a little quip of reaction from Tessa for that at all! I mean, it’s her species, after all. I feel like she’d at least have a thought about it.

    If these guys don’t wind up being the final battle of this story, I’m going to be highly disappointed.


    __


    And that’s episode 4! Finally, the plot’s picking up, though so far, all we’re doing is taking on some grunts and getting some plot going with Umbry and Espy. Right now, my most pressing question is what’s gotten into those two in the first place, as Shane pointed out, and more importantly, what’s going on with Tessa’s ma’. But overall, I thought it was interesting to see how it all went down. The most important scene out of all of this, that stand out, is the exposition from Mags, and the beginning and end of Chapter 9. Oh, and basically any time Shane is actually not being an idiot.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  2. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 60



    Shane has some of the best lines

    This was a sweet chapter. Silvally really has a way with words, huh? Glad he got through to Espeon. It's pretty sad to think he'll just outlive everyone, though.

    Gallian seems a bit more level headed. I do hope he comes round and accepts Tessa again.



    Is this supposed to be 'stance'?

    Chapter 61

    I'm really glad Espeon got through to Gallian. That was a nice moment there, and it's nice to see his personality become more positive.



    What on earth? XD That made me snort-chuckle

    Tessa and Shane's little moment was lovely, too. They really have come in leaps and bounds. Also... revelation that Shane has Solgaleo living inside him? I didn't see that coming. I thought there'd be some kind of link, but the possibility Shane could disappear when they bring Solgaleo and Lunala back?! Nice nod to the human going back to their own world in PMD games, there! (Although... not sure how Shane might fare without his own body?)

    Just like in the games, I kinda hope there's a way Shane can stay with his new friends.

    Hilarious ending to the chapter with Shane's evolution high! And yes, Shane. You definitely are fabulous!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  3. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner *aromatisse noise*

    Well! Been a while, hasn't it. And a LOT has happened since, to put it mildly.

    So many characters have come such, such a long way, holy heck. Shane in particular has matured like a boss. Team Radiance interpersonal dynamics have experienced quite the evolution, as well, and it's just been so neat to watch them develop both as individuals and a team.

    We've had quite a lot of major bombshells dropped with regard to character identities and backstories, as well. Silvally's and Necrozma's were memorable af, what with the horror elements involved. (Golem, you were one Messed Up Dude.) I think, though, that it's Metagross's that really takes the cake, because holy crap. I don't think I've ever seen the ramifications of a one-sided, nonconsensual fusion evolution before. (Come to tihnk of it, I don't recall seeing literal fusion evolution touched upon much at all in fiction.) It's horrific and tragic all at once. I gotta say, I feel bad for wild!metang, even if they're kind of sort of the alpha mind now.

    And the battles! Lots of 'em. Big ones to boot. Adding in boss summaries is an appropriate touch; several of these scenes had a very authentic sort of boss fight feel to them. (Or a boss RUSH feel, in the case of the Lele battle.)

    Also: the crossover omake made me smile. :D

    Glad to have caught up, and excited to see what's in store!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Namo, I know I already got you elsewhere.

    He's got to defend his Funniest Character title!

    One person on FFN described him as the "team therapist," if I'm remembering correctly. Not necessarily what I was going for... more that he's the big brother of the team and that he is "all-loving," to play off the friendship/happiness evolution. And, yes, the not aging thing is definitely going to come up again, believe me.

    As you can see, that's happened... to some degree.

    Whoops. Though a defensive dance is a funny mental image.

    See? He's not a total edgelord... just a partial edgelord. :p

    I will never tire of making ice-related puns concerning Shane.

    You're absolutely right and I hope to continue to develop things with them the next time they get a quiet moment in Episode 14.

    Don't worry... I'm still saving some of the biggest twists for this subject. Hang on to your hat. ;)

    You'll have to stay all the way until the end for that one.

    Needless to say he won't be forgetting this day anytime soon. Thanks again for reviewing! Good news: you're almost at the sci-fi stuff, so I hope you enjoy it if/when you get there. ^^

    Yes... hopefully I've paced it out well. I've got some flak for my pacing skillz (or lack thereof) as of late. XP

    I'm glad to hear it. I was constantly worried their dynamics weren't getting properly moved forward or made believable and I'm still worried for the stuff I have planned down the road. Hopefully you enjoy it.

    I told you the alchemy stuff will come into play. And we certainly haven't seen the last of it. No sirree.

    Yeah, I had some fun with that. When you get down to it, Metagross is essentially Dusknoir's concept but on steroids. He's so afraid of ceasing to exist that he is prepared to cell out the whole PMD universe just so he can have a moment of peace. At the same time, with Braviary being the anti-Nuzleaf (acted suspicious but was proven to be innocent... if woefully ignorant) I like to think of Metagross as the anti-Dusknoir. Rather than coming to realize his position is wrong, Metagross is doubling down and working even harder toward his goal, regardless of the consequences.

    Thanks. I do think I need to make some improvements in the action department and I will be experimenting with that as I continue revisions and writing future chapters.

    D'aww, thanks. Virgil and Spiteful Murkrow really were very supportive and I can't thank them enough for agreeing to do it.

    I hope I can continue to entertain. Thanks again for reviewing! Glad to have you back. ^^
     
  5. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 66: Electrifying Intermission

    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    Silence hung over the campfire as the various explorers sat there, processing what Luxeira and Sticky had told them. Gallian stared at the ground, brow furrowed and scraping the rocks with his claws.

    "So, you guys lost consciousness inside of an Ultra Wormhole?" Tessa asked. Both members of Team Paradox nodded. "That sounds really rough. How were you able to survive, anyway?"

    "We're not entirely sure," Luxeira said.

    "You didn't wake up right away when after arriving in this world?" Latias said.

    "It's tough to answer that, since we have no idea when we actually showed up in this world… or how the flow of time differs from Ultra Village," Luxeira said. "All I can tell you is that, eventually, we awoke to find a Honchkrow and a Toucannon tending to us. The latter introduced herself as Totem Toucannon. I suspect she's rather important in Glyphic Falls. Anyway, they claimed they had found us at a waterfall basin… trapped inside crystals."

    Zoroark frowned. "From the sound of it, you two were comatose for gods only know how long," he said, resting his arms on his thighs and hanging his head. "This is… a lot to take in."

    "I'll say. Feels like everything I know has been turned upside down," Dusk said. "To think… there are other worlds out there with Pokémon like us… but at the same time not like us. Ugh, I'm getting a headache just thinking about it."

    "What happened when Totem Toucannon found you?" Latias asked, though the worried look on her face suggested she had a good idea what the answer was.

    "She offered us berries to get our strength back," Luxeira said, "but then politely asked that we leave Glyphic Falls to avoid riling her flock up. At least she was willing to give us a ride to the outskirts of some village. From there, we, erm…" She cast a wayward glance at Gallian. "Well, to be honest, I think Gallian could explain it better from here. I don't want to step on his toes."

    Shane shook his head in disbelief. "You mean to tell me that all that crazy stuff happened to you guys when you hadn't even been on the job for a week?" he said.

    "Affirmative," Sticky said. "It was a disastrous endeavor, to be sure."

    "Okay… wow. So, you two are total novices, then. You're even less experienced than me and Tessa."

    "Shane," Tessa said, a disapproving frown on her face.

    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just had to say it. Because it's so… so…" Shane bit down on his lip. "Actually, I'm not even sure what to classify it as. Ironic? Cruel? Some combination of both?" In response, Tessa's look grew sterner. Shane flinched and looked down. "Sorry," he said. "I guess that was inappropriate."

    "Why did you keep so much of this from me?" Gallian growled, getting to his feet. "Don't you think I deserved to know the whole story?"

    "I thought it irrelevant to the matter at hand," Luxeira said. "Our focus was on keeping your ultra aura levels under control and trying to make sense of the world we had arrived in."

    Gallian's eyes flashed red. "Well, fat lot of good that did. If you hadn't acted so mysterious, then maybe we could've been more productive."

    "Gallian," Zoroark said, reaching a paw out toward him. Gallian stepped away.

    "Don't 'Gallian' me!" He pointed his black scythe at Luxeira. "I followed your 'commands' because you identified yourself as a captain. You made it sound like you knew what you were talking about. But you were just lying to me!"

    Luxeira shrank back. "I… well…" She looked at Sticky. "I had to step into the captain role. Sticky and I were utterly lost, so–"

    "I could've given you real leadership if you'd actually taken the time to explain things to me," Gallian snarled.

    "That's enough, both of you," Latias interjected, flying between Gallian and Luxeira with a nervous look on her face. Beside her, Hoopa rolled his eyes.

    "Feh. You're such a buzzkill, always stopping these things right as they're getting interesting," he said, shrugging.

    Latias ignored him. "I think everyone ought to take a few deep breaths and calm down. We're all on the same side, after all." She turned to Gallian. "It's clear that there were a lot of missteps… but that's all in the past. There's nothing anyone can do about it except try not to repeat those same mistakes in the future. Are we clear?"

    Gallian frowned. Latias floated closer to him, looking unamused. "I said… are we clear?"

    "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Get off my back," Gallian growled, stepping back toward his seat.

    "There are still a few concerns I have," Silvally said. "The first one being you, Sticky." He pointed a talon at Sticky, whose expression blanched. "You're acting a lot different than you used to. What happened?"

    Sticky rubbed the side of his head nervously. "I suspect the blow I sustained to my cranium battling Necrozma may have caused some sort of cognitive disturbance. It's not a hypothesis I feel like testing," he said.

    "Fair enough," Silvally said. "Then the only question left is… what happened to Seraph? She was with you when Necrozma blew up your ship."

    Luxeira and Sticky exchanged frowns. "We honestly have no idea," Luxeira said. "As we've gone around the Horizon Continent, we've tried searching for some sort of evidence that she's here… but we haven't come across anything."

    Totem Decidueye stiffened on his perch, brushing the tip of his right wing against Dusk in the process. She looked up at him. "Something the matter, Totem?"

    He tucked his head down, eyes closing contemplatively. "Totem Toucannon found them in a waterfall basin… trapped in crystals," he said. "Excuse me, Houndoom." Totem Decidueye fluttered off his perch, gliding down to a spot behind Luxeira. "Per chance, did Totem Touncannon or Honchkrow tell you anything about what you two looked like when you were found?"

    Luxeira gave Totem Decidueye a confused look. "No… I don't think so."

    "Actually, I think there was an offhanded remark about the crystals 'being very dark,'" Sticky said. "If my memory is serving me adequately, of course."

    "I see," Totem Decidueye whispered. "If that's the case… I believe I may know the location of your missing teammate."

    Everyone turned to Totem Decidueye in stock. "Y… you're kidding!" Luxeira gasped.

    "Hold up!" Dusk barked. She tried to get to her feet, but her injuries strained her movements and she quickly gave up, falling back onto her belly. "You mean you found some frozen alien Pokémon and just hid it from the village this whole time?"

    Zoroark stood up. "You're racing to conclusions, Dusk," he said. "Look at his face. Our Totem just realized what was going on."

    Dusk looked down, wrinkling her snout. "I guess. Still… I'm one of the village's guards. If something bad happens… I'm supposed to know."

    "I'm truly sorry for the mix-up, Dusk," Totem Decidueye said. "To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of the situation. I was returning from a supply run to Midday Valley, when I spotted a peculiar dark stone bobbing up along the surface of the Midnight Sea." He took a step back from Team Paradox and spread his wings out. "I swooped down for a closer look… and low and behold it turned out to be a massive crystal. But it was so dark… it didn't look very valuable."

    "So, Seraph ended up in the Midnight Sea?" Luxeira said. "How did she get there when we were still in Glyphic Falls?"

    "The rivers in Glyphic Falls all run right into the Midnight Sea," Gallian explained. "I guess the currents must have swept her to the south. I'm just amazed some wild water-types didn't go after her."

    "Perhaps they were scared off by the sight? Even in the midst of the harshest storms, crystals don't pop up in the Midnight Sea," Zoroark said, scratching at the remnants of his left ear.

    "Regardless… I was concerned," Totem Decidueye continued. "I could clearly see something inside the crystal… but had no idea what to do with my discovery. So, I stuck it in one of the smaller caves on the south face of the mountain."

    "You mean the part facing the ocean? Don't wild flying-types roost in those caves?" Dusk gasped.

    "Not this one. It's a personal little hideaway of mine," Totem Decidueye said, chuckling. He turned back to Team Paradox. "I'm happy to fetch your teammate for you, but it would take me a little while."

    "Do you need any help lifting anything?" Tessa asked. "I'm happy to–"

    Totem Decidueye shook his head. "After the ordeal you all have been through, I insist you rest."

    "Why not have Hoopa fetch it for you?" Latias offered, to Hoopa's annoyance.

    Totem Decidueye frowned. "While I am humbled by your offer, I must decline. That cave is a… personal area. I'd prefer no one enter it aside from me." He started walking away from the fire pit.

    "What if we waited outside?" Blaziken said, shrugging. "It's nighttime now, right? There could be some wild 'mons out and about, if I'm remembering what I heard about Horizon correctly."

    "Yeah! We can be your backup muscle," Swampert said, holding up a beefy arm. "Or, rather, your only muscle. Cause you don't really look to have any… aha ha ha!"

    Totem Decidueye sighed. "Very well." He looked to Latias, Hoopa, and Team Go-Getters. "Follow me, please." He beckoned them along with a wing.

    As the group left the fire pit, Luxeira shakily got to her feet. "Actually… as long as we're taking a break… I'm going to just… um…" She looked at the tunnel behind her. "I think I'll go down there. I need a minute to myself."

    Panic flashed across Sticky's face. "C-Captain, hang on. You can't just leave me here with–"

    Luxeira was already in the tunnel when Sticky floated up to try and stop her from leaving. He slowly turned back toward Team Radiance, flinching at the sight of Silvally. "I… um… I just realized there's something important that I… erm… really should be remembering… to do."

    Tessa tugged the corner of Shane's scarf. "Hey," she whispered, "come with me. I'm going after Luxeira."

    "Why? She said she wanted to be alone, didn't she?" Shane said.

    "She may have said that, yeah, but her body language suggested otherwise," Tessa countered. Before Shane could retort, she pointed at her aura feelers. "Also, I felt some really unpleasant ripples when she was speaking. I think she needs someone to talk to."

    Shane had no counterargument to her aura powers. He got to his feet, saying, "You should've just led with that."

    "Sorry… I'm still kind of getting used to this aura reading thing," Tessa said, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. Shane bit his lip, worrying he offended his friend.

    "It's fine. Don't worry about it," he said.

    "Hey, where are you guys going?" Dusk asked, poking her head up. "Didn't Houndoom say she wanted to be left alone?"

    "Hang on… if you're going after her then I'm coming with you," Sticky said, only to squeak and flutter back as Silvally walked in front of him, blocking off the path.

    "Let them go," he said, gesturing at Shane and Tessa with his beak. "Judging by what Luxeira told us, you're really not the guy to help her out right now."

    "And you think your teammates are?" Sticky said, his expression growing more restless.

    "I think they understand exactly what's bothering her… and what they can do to help," Silvally said. "Besides… I think the two of us need to chat." As he finished that statement, he turned his gaze on Gallian, Zoroark, and Espeon.

    Espeon's ears stuck up. "Um, Dusk… how long has it been since Totem Decidueye applied those medicinal leaves?"

    "Dunno… a few hours, maybe?" Dusk said.

    "In that case, we'd better change them out," Espeon said. She hopped off her seat and trotted toward Dusk's little perch.

    "Yeah," Zoroark whispered, scratching his mane. "And I think Gallian and I will go after your friends."

    Gallian frowned. "What's the point? You just heard the big guy… they've got things under control."

    Zoroark leaned in close to Gallian, a frown on his muzzle. "Think about it, Gallian. Luxeira probably lost her home and her family… and she just had to sit here and tell that to all of us." Gallian winced, realizing Zoroark was right. "Yeah, this entire time you've know her, she's been shouldering that heavy burden. I'll bet she never said anything about it, did she?" Zoroark said.

    "No, she didn't," Gallian replied. He sighed and got to his feet. "Hey… try not to kill each other or anything while we're gone," he said, casting a wayward look at Silvally before walking toward the tunnel with Zoroark limping beside him.

    "P… please… whatever business you have with me… can't you just drop it?" Sticky begged, voice ripe with worry.

    "I just want to understand something," Silvally said, his psychic memories activating and turning his glowing appendages bright pink. "When we first met… it seemed like you knew me somehow. I want to know why that is. And I want to know why you're always frightened to be around me. I'm not out to hurt you, especially when I barely know you."

    Sticky floated further from Silvally, but it did little good. Silvally marched after him, still wearing a hurt look on his face. Eventually, Sticky brushed up against the cavern wall and slouched over in defeat. "I know what Beast Killers are capable of," Sticky said. "I've heard what your kind do to us Ultra Beasts."

    Silvally frowned. "I don't understand. Are you telling me there are others out there that are just like me?"

    "Yes!" Sticky said, flinching at how loud he answered. "You Beast Killers… are ruthless monsters. You slaughter Ultra Beasts callously. That's what they told me back in Ultra Village, anyway."

    "But I'm not just some 'Beast Killer,'" Silvally said. "I'm…" His voice trailed off and his expression grew stern. "Sticky… the day I broke out of my mask, I saw how I'd been created."

    "To kill Ultra Beasts, I imagine," Sticky said. Silvally shook his head.

    "No. I was made… to kill the gods of our world," Silvally whispered. "And, once they were gone, I was supposed to be this 'protector against evil.' But the Pokémon that created me… he did so by forcibly binding Unowns to spirits that he pulled from the spirit realm."

    "Whether it was science or some arcane art that gave rise to you matters not to me," Sticky said. "After everything I've been through, I don't want to suffer at the hands of a Beast Killer. Even if you're fine now, there's no guarantee you won't fly off the handle and attack me at some point."

    "But I don't want to hurt you," Silvally said. "Especially after hearing what happened to you and Luxeira." Silvally's head drooped, his eyes turning glassy. "Losing your home, friends, and family must have taken a real toll on you."

    Sticky shrugged. "It's really not as bad for me as it is for Luxeira."

    "What do you mean by that?" Silvally asked.

    "Well, to start with, UBs don't really have families to speak of," Sticky said. "When an Ultra Beast grows old, it simply decomposes. Its remains drift toward the edge of whatever world the UB inhabited. Then, there's a chance an Ultra Wormhole will open, exposing the remains to Ultra Space radiation, which catalyzes the creation of a new Ultra Beast."

    "From there, it becomes a matter of whether or not the new UB is taken in by anyone," Sticky continued. "I… wasn't. After floating around Ultra Village aimlessly, I found a shelter. I stayed there. The staff were polite and respectful. They were the ones who actually pointed me in the Ultra Recon Squad's direction."

    "I see," Silvally said. A beat passed and then his jaw dropped. "Wait a second… wouldn't that make you even younger than Tessa?"

    "Perhaps by the standards of time measurement in your universe," Sticky replied. "I prefer not to ruminate on it too much." He sighed again and shook his head. "If anything, my feelings about this whole situation are the exact opposite of what you'd expect."

    Silvally sat down, raising an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I follow."

    "I don't deserve to be here right now," Sticky said. "I didn't deserve to survive Ultra Village's destruction. I barely passed the required examination, then proceeded to fumble my way through basic training. The only reason I wasn't vaporized is because I stuck around Seraph when I'm confident she didn't want me there." He fidgeted with his hands. "I was completely useless. I got knocked out by Necrozma without doing anything to help."

    "I've spent the last few weeks trying to reconcile why Luxeira stopped to grab me as she and Seraph were fleeing," Sticky continued. "And I just can't think of a good reason. Instead, I keep returning to the same thought: if Luxeira had left me behind, she and Seraph might've been able to avoid Necrozma." He lowered his head shamefully. "They could've reached another base and avoided this nightmare."

    "You don't know that for a fact, though," Silvally said.

    "There isn't a lot of evidence suggesting another possibility," Sticky countered.

    Silvally sighed deeply and slumped onto his stomach so he wasn't towering over Sticky. "Trust me, Sticky. I get where you're coming from," Silvally said.

    "Do you really?" Sticky said. "Look at you. You're big and imposing. You're a far more useful asset to your team than I could possibly be to mine."

    "It's easy to feel like you have nothing to offer when things aren't going well in your life," Silvally said, almost as if he was reciting the line from memory. "Those spirits I told you about? Plenty of them had times where they felt useless or, worse, were told how useless they were. But that kind of thinking is a slippery slope." He lifted a foreleg up. "Once you start sliding down it…" He whistled and lowered his foreleg, twirling one talon in a circle. "You'll just keep going and going until you hit the ground hard."

    "I don't believe I comprehend the comparison," Sticky said.

    "My point is that you shouldn't call yourself worthless and you need to stop dwelling on why you're here. Instead, focus on how you've made a difference so far," Silvally said. "I mean… take yesterday, for example. It was your special tile that let Team Paradox get off Mount Supernova with the Sizzle Shard."

    "That's true," Sticky said.

    "And, for whatever it's worth, you were hardly a pushover when we had to fight," Silvally said. "You're more valuable to Team Paradox than you realize."

    "You really think so?" Sticky gasped.

    Silvally nodded. "I know so. I'm sure Latias saw it, too. Otherwise she wouldn't ask you to get involved with finding the Scalebound Shard." He poked his head up and looked to his left. "Speaking of which… I think they're coming back." He glanced at Sticky. "Are you gonna be okay?"

    "I guess so," Sticky said. "I'm just worried about Seraph… and how she'll react to all of this if we can free her."

    "Don't worry. I'm not about to let anything bad happen… to anyone," Silvally said, offering a reassuring smile.

    "… you're a very strange Beast Killer," Sticky mused, floating up beside Silvally.

    "That may be, but I think I make an alright Silvally," he said, winking at Sticky.

    "Um, where did everyone go?" Latias asked, floating up to the fire pit. She was levitating a large black slab beside her. Staring at it, Silvally was immediately reminded of the black monoliths used to infect other Mystery Dungeons. However, upon closer examination, he noticed swathes of yellow and black inside.

    "I see something in there," Silvally said. "I can't really tell what it is, but there's definitely something there."

    "You're right, but I'm not sensing any life energy at all," Latias said, eyeing the crystal with a frown. "Besides, do we even know how we can break this thing open?"

    "I was going to propose Z-Power, since it's worked against the Prism Virus, which also comes from Necrozma," Silvally said.

    Totem Decidueye stepped forward, dusting off his Totem Crystal. "It's been awhile since I've used any Z-Power, but I suppose I could give it a try."

    "Maybe we ought to wait until Luxeira's back?" Espeon said, still tending to Dusk's injuries away from the fire pit. "She's probably the one who's best suited to keeping Seraph under control."

    "… or make everything worse, judging from what she told us," Blaziken said, drawing a bunch of annoyed looks. "What? Aww, c'mon, don't look at me like that. We're all thinking it!"

    XxX​

    Shane and Tessa paused at the end of the tunnel, which had led them to a dead end. Vibrant purple crystals sat in piles lined up neatly around the edge of the room. In the middle stood a hand-made, wooden sign, reading, "Light crystal stockpile. No entry without Totem Decidueye's permission."

    This fact didn't matter much to Luxeira, who was sitting down in front of the crystal pile on the far side of the room. She leaned against one of the larger ones, weeping loudly into it. "Well… are you going to go up to her or what? This was all your idea," Shane whispered, worried Luxeira would snap at him.

    Tessa rubbed the bridge of her snout. "Gimme a sec, here. I'm trying to think of what to say."

    "Why not just pat her on the back and go 'there, there?' Seems pretty appropriate for this situation," Shane said. He figured Tessa would make for a better shoulder to cry on.

    "If you're so confident about that, then go on," Tessa said, gesturing to Luxeira. "I'm sure she'd appreciate it."

    "… I can hear you two, you know."

    Shane and Tessa stiffened, the latter's aura feelers and ears sticking up in alarm. "L-Luxeira, we didn't… err, I meant to say…" Tessa struggled to find her voice with Luxeira's tearful gaze directed at her.

    They couldn't turn back now, so Shane decided to act. "We wanted to come check up on you," he said, taking a step forward.

    "I asked to be left alone," Luxeira growled, flames licking at her jowls. Shane winced and stepped backward, ears reflexively folding up against his head. "Whatever sympathy you plan on spewing… stuff it. You've heard what I've been through. All you can offer me are empty words and meaningless platitudes."

    Shane could tell things were already going south fast, but had no response. "We don't have to talk," Tessa whispered. "We could just listen."

    Luxeira frowned. "I don't have much to say."

    "I'm not sure I believe that," Tessa said, placing a paw on her chest. "My guess is you don't want to hear this… but you have every right to be upset, given what's happened to you. These past few days, I've been… well… struggling to come to terms with my life's circumstances." Her aura feelers tensed up and she shut her eyes. Sensing Gallian's and Zoroark's presences lingering in the tunnel, she continued, "You saw some of that for yourself… when I pummeled the living daylights out of Gallian."

    "What's your point?" Luxeira asked. Shane shot her a worried look. To him, it sounded like Tessa was making Luxeira's situation about her. Something Shane was guilty of doing numerous times before.

    "My point is that you've kept your feelings about everything inside for too long," Tessa said. "You have to let them out… or they're going to turn vicious… just like mine did." She looked down shamefully.

    Tears welled up in Luxeira's eyes again. She whirled around, butting her curved horns against a nearby light crystal. "It's not fair!" she said, breath coming in ragged hisses. "We were doing our jobs! I was trying to make a difference in the world! And what did I get for it, huh? What did the powers that be reward me with for sticking my neck out? Nothing!" She banged her horns against the crystal again. "I lost everything! My home. My friends. My…" Luxeira choked back her tears.

    Then, without warning, she unleashed a black energy beam at the light crystal in front of her. It burst apart, tiny crystal shards flying out in all directions. Shane and Tessa winced, the latter throwing an arm up to shield her face. Tessa took a cautious step forward, only to freeze upon seeing flames gathering in Luxeira's mouth. Shane resisted the urge to bite Tessa's tail and drag her away from a potential fight.

    "That bastard… he took it all away from me! I want him to pay… I want him dead and gone! But I can't do anything because I'm too weak!" Luxeira shouted, then broke down sobbing. Tessa rushed to Luxeira's side, catching her before she collapsed onto her belly. Luxeira bawled her eyes out into Tessa's thigh as Shane watched silently. He wondered how Nicky could do something this horrible. What had Golem's spells done to make Nicky such a vicious monster?

    "It's okay, Luxeira. Let it out," Tessa said. "Nobody should have to experience what you're going through."

    Shane's brow furrowed. Luxeira's situation was awfully similar to Espeon's. It struck him that maybe she should have been the one to talk to Luxeira, but a second voice told him that would only make things worse, not better.

    Everyone stood in place silently for a few more minutes, until Luxeira's sobs quieted into muffled whimpers. "How are you feeling now?" Tessa asked.

    "Upset," Luxeira said.

    Tessa pursed her lips and nodded. "I can see that. I know the feeling. There's this crushing weight all around you. It makes you want to curl up into the tiniest little ball imaginable, close your eyes, and pray they don't open back up."

    Luxeira sighed heavily. "That… sounds pretty accurate. It's like I told you back at the fire pit… I'm living out a bona fide nightmare. No matter how much I wish this were all a dream… it isn't. I can pray that I'll somehow wake up and find myself snuggled up with Silus… but it won't mean anything."

    A few feet back in the tunnel, Gallian watched his sister with a furrowed brow. "I don't understand it," he whispered. "The way Tessa talks… it sounds like she's had a sinking sense of dread in her gut for a while."

    "Probably because she has," Zoroark said.

    Gallian's gaze fell to the ground. "Tessa," he said. Zoroark put a paw on his back, eliciting a wince.

    "Blaming yourself won't do any good, here," Zoroark said.

    "But it has to be my fault," Gallian whimpered. "The way I treated her when I left–"

    "I'm not disagreeing with you," Zoroark said. "She made it perfectly clear that you hurt her."

    "Then why bring it up? To make me feel bad?" Gallian growled.

    "To tell you that you can't look back," Zoroark said. "If you want a good relationship with your sister again, then you have to focus on the present."

    Gallian hung his head. "You make it sound so easy. She's nothing like I remember her. The Tessa I grew up with… was a bundle of sunshine. Bright, bubbly, and eager to please. Now… it's like she's an entirely different Pokémon." He looked back at Tessa, who was helping Luxeira up to her feet.

    "Well, she did evolve," Zoroark said, shrugging off the glare that followed. "Look, she's your sister. If she's that important to you, then I'm sure you'll figure something out… like you're going to do with me, right?"

    Gallian winced. "I'm… uh… I'm working on it."

    Luxeira, Shane, and Tessa caught up with the two of them. "Why are you here?" Luxeira asked. "Were you eavesdropping on us?"

    Gallian bit his lip. "N-no… of course not."

    "Gallian wanted to check on you," Zoroark said. "Maybe you guys didn't have the greatest working relationship, but he does owe his life to you."

    "Y… yeah," Gallian squeaked, shifting uncomfortably. "Are you, y'know, doing okay? Anything I can help you with?"

    Luxeira glanced at Tessa, who gave her a reassuring nod. "I think I'm going to be okay," she said. "Let's go see what Totem Decidueye dug up."

    The group proceeded back through the tunnel and reentered the fire pit. They found their allies huddled around the black slab. "That's dark alright," Gallian said, eyeing it. "But something's off with it."

    "Yeah. It's not sparkling," Shane said, ruffling his tails. "Crystals should sparkle, right?"

    "Seraph's definitely in here, though," Luxeira declared, looking down into crystal. "I wish I could say how this happened, but I'd just be throwing out wild guesses." She hung her head. "If Tori were here, I'm sure she'd know what was going on." Tessa walked up to Luxeira, her face ripe with concern, but Luxeira waved her off. "I'm fine."

    "The Beast Kill– I mean… Silvally had a suggestion for getting Seraph out," Sticky said.

    "Let me guess, Z-Power?" Tessa said, flexing her digits and tilting her head from side to side until her neck cricked. "I guess I'll handle it, then. Everyone stand back."

    Totem Decidueye stuck a wing out in front of her. "Easy there, child. While I can't fault your enthusiasm, we must be cautious. If you were to strike this crystal too forcefully, you might end up killing the lady inside."

    "Assuming she's even still alive in the first place," Dusk said, drawing annoyed looks. "What? Oh, come on. I can't be the only one thinking that."

    "Stuff like that is best kept to yourself," Silvally said, an unamused look on his face. He turned back to Totem Decidueye. "So, how do you want to go about this?"

    "I think using the fighting Z-Move on this crystal is too forceful," Totem Decidueye said. "I think my grass Z-Move might prove effective enough to free Seraph without risking her life in the process."

    Luxeira nodded. "I like that idea."

    "I'm going to need space, though. Would you kindly step back?" Totem Decidueye asked, fluttering his wings and hopping up and down to get his blood pumping. The rest of the group moved back toward the nearby tunnel. Totem Decidueye tapped a wing to his Totem Crystal and orange light encased his body.

    "Kcch! Wow, that's bright when you're in close quarters," Shane said, swishing his long mane in front of his eyes. Silvally shifted his dark memories on and shut his eyes, pressing his face against the rock wall.

    Tessa's muzzle twitched. "Does anyone else smell freshly-grown grass?" she gasped, putting a paw to her nose.

    "Yeah! Look… around the ice!" Swampert gasped, pointing downward. A patch of grassy terrain had formed under Seraph's icy prison. Brightly-colored flowers popped up from the grass, each one emitting soothing aromas that drained the tension from everyone in the group. "Wow … smells like a freshly-blooming garden in springtime," Swampert said, drool trickling from his mouth.

    Blaziken rubbed his stomach. "Suddenly I've got a huge craving for salad and fresh berries."

    Beside them, Hoopa pulled a wedge of iceberg lettuce out of one of his rings and sniffed it. "Nah… this isn't nearly fresh enough," he said. Hoopa tossed it back into the portal, muttering, "Stupid fancy-schmancy Z-Power. If Hoopa had that… he could make his rings even more incredible."

    The flowers all gave off tiny beams of green light, which coalesced together, forming a giant flower made of green energy. It swallowed the crystal up whole. Totem Decidueye then kneeled down, striking the ground with his wings. The flower opened up, releasing an explosive pillar of green light.

    "Too bright," Shane said, turning and burying his head against Tessa's belly. He hoped it would end quickly.

    "H-Hey!" Tessa said. She shoved Shane back, her face reddening. "Warn me if you're going to try something like that." It took Shane a second to process what she meant, but when he did, his face also went red.

    The green light faded, allowing everyone to see that the flowery field had vanished. And, to everyone's surprise, so had the crystal. "That's her!" Luxeira said, cautiously approaching the Zeraora lying on the ground. Nicks, scrapes, and patches of burnt fur lined Seraph's body. Bloodstains still peppered her face from her fight against Necrozma.

    Luxeira frowned. "Is she alive?"

    Tessa jogged up to Seraph and knelt down beside her. She placed a paw against Seraph's chest and shifted to her aura sight. "It's faint, but I've got something," she said. "Her aura's really weak, though. Latias, do you think you could try using Heal Pulse on her?"

    "I don't see why not," Latias said. She raised her claws, releasing soft pink waves that rippled over Seraph's body. One by one, her wounds closed up. New strands of yellow and black fur sprouted up to cover Seraph's burnt areas. While it didn't clean the blood off, Tessa sensed Seraph's aura growing progressively stronger.

    Seraph began to stir. "H… hnnngh," she muttered, eyes opening and blinking multiple times. "W… what happened? Where… am I?" She brought her large paws up to her eyes and rubbed them.

    Tessa beckoned Luxeira and Sticky over. "Seraph? I imagine you must be really confused right now. But–"

    Seraph sat straight up, looking into Tessa's eyes. "Hel -lo," she purred, licking a digit and using it to straighten out her whiskers. Tessa's look of concern was quickly replaced by one of confusion.

    "Seraph… are you feeling alright?" Tessa asked. "Look, your teammates from Team Paradox are–"

    Seraph gingerly placed a paw under Tessa's chin. "I must've died and ended up in the afterlife because you, my dear, are positively heavenly."

    Tessa's eyes widened. "Wait, wha–"

    Without warning, Seraph wrapped her arms around Tessa's shoulders and pulled her into a kiss. Tessa's aura feelers shot up in alarm while, behind her, her teammates' jaws dropped in unison. "W… we should do something, right?" Silvally said.

    "Are you kidding me? This is better than that one dream I had," Shane replied, drawing an astonished look from Silvally. "Err… I meant… it's better than this one dream Solgaleo had. Aha ha… ha…" He silently cursed his poor choice of words.

    While the group stood watching in shock, Tessa finally got her bearings back and socked Seraph in the gut with a glowing fist. Seraph doubled over, clutching her chest in pain. Tessa got back to her feet, aura feelers pulsating. "Okay," Seraph wheezed. "Guess I'm not dead… because that one hurt."

    "Seriously, Seraph?" Luxeira groaned, stepping between Seraph and Tessa and rolling her eyes.

    Seraph looked up at Luxeira. "What? Don't give me that look. Lucario's not wearing anything and neither am I. If that's not sending a signal, I don't know what is," she scoffed, staggering to her feet. "Come to think of it… you've ditched your clothing, too," she said, grinning at Luxeira. "And just what am I supposed to make of this, huh? Getting some pretty mixed messages from you, newbie. I already told you, I don't sleep with co–"

    "Get a grip, Seraph!" Luxeira barked, snorting tufts of fire from her nostrils as a warning. Seraph stepped back, staring at Luxeira's smoke trails. "Look around you. We're clearly not in Ultra Village anymore. Don't you remember what happened?"

    "Of course I do," Seraph said. "We–" She cut herself off, gaze falling on the rest of the group. "Hang on… what's going on here?" Seraph whispered. She gingerly placed a paw up to her forehead and recoiled in horror when she pulled her paw away and saw blood on it. Her eyes widened, pupils dilating in fear. "I… we… we were fighting a Lightless Black," she said. "We got onto a S0L30 because he had irreversibly damaged the Ultra Village Core."

    Luxeira nodded grimly. "The core exploded, jettisoning the Lightless Black, Necrozma, into our Ultra Wormhole before it could close. He smashed into S0L30 and destroyed it. We all fell through Ultra Space and ended up in this world," she said.

    Seraph dropped to her knees, staring at her trembling paws. "We… we should be dead. Ultra Space radiation… without a protective field, it renders an average 'mon like you or me comatose."

    "We were all trapped in big crystals, apparently," Luxeira said. "Sticky and I were found by some locals, but you ended up near this community of cave-dwellers."

    Seraph squeezed her eyes shut. "If… if the core blew up… then Ultra Village…"

    "… is likely gone, yes," Luxeira said, her voice trembling. "I'm sorry, Seraph." Her expression grew strewn. "I realize how bad all of this is for both of us, but Necrozma is still out there. He's in this world now… wreaking havoc and threatening to destroy it. Sticky and I are going to work with these terrestrials to try and stop him. Please…" She held her forepaw out to Seraph. "We could really use your guidance."

    "Get that thing out of my face," Seraph whispered, her paws balling up into fists.

    "Seraph," Luxeira said, frowning.

    "I said get it out!" Seraph shouted, swatting Luxeira's forepaw aside. She bolted to her feet, looking around the cave in a frenzy. "I… I need space." She tugged at the fur tufts on her shoulders. "I need air! I need air!"

    "Wait, Seraph!" Luxeira called, but Seraph had already raced across the cave in a stream of lightning. The current banked off light crystals and entered the tunnel leading to the hot springs area. Luxeira hung her head. "That… somehow went even worse than I thought it would."

    "I did not anticipate her reception to our predicament being very positive," Sticky said, rubbing the back of his head.

    "I suppose I should go after her, then," Luxeira said. Before she started walking, however, Espeon hopped down from Dusk's perch, landing gracefully and curling her tail against her hips.

    "Let me go," Espeon said. "I think I have a good idea of what to say to her." She glanced back at the group. "Besides, you all still need to hear what Gallian has to say, don't you? And I think you should stay to help fill in the gaps."

    "But what about you?" Silvally said.

    Espeon's eyes flashed blue. "I'll get the summary version from one of you later… if that's okay." No one voiced any objections, so Espeon turned and padded off for the hot springs, leaving the group behind.

    Gallian sighed, drawing everyone's attention. "I guess that means it's time for me to pick up where Luxeira left off… so to speak." He sat down in front of the dying fire. Silvally opened his beak and spat out a fireball, reigniting the remaining wood. The rest of the group situated themselves throughout the fire pit. Gallian took a heavy breath. "The truth is… that I didn't discover Team Paradox. They found me."

    He glanced at Zoroark. "And they found me because I gave into my disaster sense… and let it ruin my life."

    XxX
    Next time: we learn what drove Gallian out of Aeon Town... and Tessa's life.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2018
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    [Copied over]

    Despite your protests, I’m gonna look through the Braviary Special Episode anyway to see if I enjoy it. After all, it will at least provide a LITTLE context, won’t it? ‘Murica.

    See, right in the first paragraph I already caught something interesting – it seems like a Litten line was Gallian, maybe? That’s my first guess just based on that quick paragraph. So, not the Absol after all, hm? Though I could be mistaken.

    …Upon reading further, it appears that’s not the case, since not only does he not go by that name, but he has a father, which I figure is not the case for most humans-turned-Pokémon. At least, not a Pokémon father.


    I will admit, Torracat does seem pretty quick to point something out like that, but at the same time, since he’s being introduced in this Special Episode, it’s perfectly reasonable for him to be that sort of bleeding heart, as he had been described as previously. Still, it feels quite obvious where this is going, particularly with the species and the opening scene and all. I’m curious if the way Tessa’s mother will join up with MIB will be what I’m predicting (she abandons her abusive group in the final chapter) or unexpected in some way.

    #NeverOverprepared

    With so many Revivers, I figure they could’ve lost as many heads as they wanted to that Guillotine.

    __

    One thing that I thought was particularly interesting about these chapters in general was how the narrative voice was literally just how Rufflet talks, heh. I imagine that might annoy some folks, but I personally enjoyed the flavor it gave the episode.


    I thought the puzzle scene was a bit clever in chapter 2 of the episode. I don’t think it went on for too long, even if my berry knowledge is lacking, so I sorta just gave little mental nods assuming what they did was correct. Puzzle scenes like these are always odd for me to read about, since they’re so short-term and I can’t imagine the reader trying to figure it out before the characters do.

    I feel dirty, and I don’t even keep a diary.
    __

    Well, that was an interesting battle you did. MIB managed to free a twisted soul enraptured by its own materialistic greed and we learn a bit about Ninteales in the process! Or something. At first I thought it was just some sort of one-off whatever backstory, but your flavor text for the boss suggests this might actually be relevant down the line, so that’s cool! Okay. There’s still more to read, so I’ll see what the final chapter (unless that bonus chapter is something else, too) has in store…

    So, this is a bit of a random thought, but it occurred to me that I’m not sure where that Pump is coming from. I’m sure it could be some perhaps some kind of Water Sac or other similar source, but at first I was envisioning little Oran bits mixed in with the water due to, uh, you know. Same hole.

    …Wait a second…

    __

    And that’s the end of the special episode! So that answers ONE question, kinda—Gallian was adopted, and Lucario was the one who was human! So I was close on the mark… and I suppose that also explains why Tessa referred to Gallian as Gallian and not Dad. Unless I missed that detail and only realized it now, in which case, whoops, my bad.

    Now then! As for the special episode itself? Yeah, sure, it probably could have been condensed to just one chapter, but I thought it was an interesting little jaunt through the past. I know you aren’t too happy with it, perhaps because most of it is irrelevant or could have been explained in some other way, or just faster, but it was still interesting to see a young future-Guildmaster regardless. That in particular was interesting, and I’m also curious about Incineroar’s story, which I imagine will be explored in future chapters one way or the other, seeing as he “perished” somehow. I imagine that, too, is important.

    Overall, I'd say this special episode was a little longer than it should have been, but it still introduced some important context that I feel I would have really missed out on if I skipped it outright.

    I'm glad I read it.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  7. Phoenixsong

    Phoenixsong you taste like fear

    Hey there! Continuing my theme of actually trying some new things as I review, I think I'm eager to give another PMD fic a shot (it's not a genre I've really read before!). Looks like I'll have a fair bit of catching up to do, but might as well jump right in and have a go at the prologue, eh?

    Just wanted to say that this part kinda clicked because I have recently been spending my free time on some poking around with games and not getting what I wanted instead of Anything Else I Should Be Doing Right Now, haha. Ouch.

    It is a bit odd that Shane seems to be beating himself up (even if only a little) over not getting the right starter in a PMD game, though. Frustrating sure, but idk, something about this reads like a tiiiiny bit of an overreaction? Also feels a bit odd to call out the exact time and date, although that one I suspect is actually going to be significant, ha.

    Very curious about how the italicized bits are going to be relevant to the story going forward—probably not much to Shane right this second, in this prologue, but surely something meaningful, eh?

    Okay, this feels a little less like an overreaction. I dunno, maybe the frustration about the game would've seemed a bit less melodramatic had some other, more "reasonable" sign of bad luck happened first? Or maybe it's just me; always a possibility.

    I do notice that you occasionally devote some lines of description to things that don't seem to warrant much mention. The stone pillars in the parking garage, for example—unless something about those pillars is important, most readers are going to assume they're there since you've said we're in a parking deck, and can picture that themselves without drawing attention to them unnecessarily.

    Overall, though, the description is pretty solid—you do a good job of varying up word choice without sounding like you're leaning on a thesaurus or getting overly florid. There is a bit of reliance on filter words here, though. There are a fair few "Shane began to X" or "He started to Y" constructions that would be better served by dropping the initial verb there. If you're doing something the fact that you've started it is implied, and it sounds less passive to boot.

    Aaaand then a car accident! We're back to solid here. The pace is snappy, the action is hard and punchy, and you can almost feel some of the impact.

    Hm… given the lion's roars and the talk of light belonging or not belonging to someone, I'm assuming Solgaleo and Necrozma are somehow involved in this? I'm having a little trouble telling which of the two might be speaking here, or more generally whether the roar is coming from the fireball with wings (a description that doesn't really match either one… I'm sure the fireball is symbolic, probably the sun, but wings make me think Lunala) or somewhere else. Shane just got hit by a car and is hurtling through a vortex with a likely end destination of PMD-Land, though, so some disorientation isn't exactly out of place here.

    That reads a bit like a tense disagreement. I think you want "he'd lost…" there instead.

    Hm, from being blasted by the sun to drowning… I guess Necrozma(?) is trying to drown Shane here, uh-oh.

    This is quite the start here! Just a prologue, obviously, but one that does a good job of raising questions and setting things up for Shane to presumably meet his partner (who is likely not the one who just saved him from drowning) Like I said earlier, most of your writing is strong; Shane did come across as a little whiny, with whining that seemed varying degrees of justified, but that's just how some people are, I suppose. Should make for an interesting protagonist, at least, different from the usual stoic PMD protag from the games.

    Definitely a lot more catching up for me to do, but color me intrigued, definitely!
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  8. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Oh man, it's been too long! Sorry about that. I kind of let my Serebii reviews get away from me over the past couple of weeks month, and now here I am with like four chapters to do all at once. One day I'll be good at keeping up with fics. But that's something for Future Me to worry about! Present Me just has to say some things about this interesting brace of chapters you've got here.

    I like how different Ultra Space is to the world you've established so far, right the way down to the fake-sciencey syringe-based healing, which comes from a completely different genre of game to the PMD games. I mean, there's still a wide cast of characters with comedy names and/or voices, but like, that's just how things go in this story. Unless you're human, I guess, in which case you have a decent shot at a regular name, although you might end up being called Prisma. I wonder if that was originally short for something?

    Anyway, Ultra Space is cool, and the characters themselves are strikingly different to their incarnations in the story proper; I was expecting this to be set much further in the past, to explain why Sticky and Luxeira were so different, but like, this was apparently just last Tuesday for them (which I suppose is why they appear to be so constantly out of their depth), so I guess I had some questions there. Luxeira's persona I can most certainly buy as an act, but Sticky is … well, kind of inconsistent. I know Silvally calls that out; however, “I got hit on the head” isn't the most satisfying explanation ever. I wonder if there's more information to come there that will help make more sense of this?

    I like the stuff about fallers, too; it made me realise how much Gen VII does for the internal coherence of the PMD world and its regular cross-dimensional shenanigans. It did raise a bunch of questions, but like, so does the games' treatment of the subject and if Game Freak didn't see the need to answer those then I guess I can't blame fanfic for following suit.

    And I like Seraph, which is possibly surprising but I guess I just have a soft spot for characters who can sustain their overwhelming arrogance even as they are repeatedly torn down. Also for the kind of idiot who comes out of a coma to see a naked stranger and immediately decides that the best course of action is to kiss them, I guess? Like that makes no sense, but it makes perfect sense for Seraph. And honestly, that combination of supreme confidence and supreme dumbassery commands a certain kind of respect.

    It's interesting too that there are apparently a bunch of necrozma out there; I kind of assumed, from the way Golem built Nicky's new body, that he was basically a one-off. But then there are apparently a bunch of Type: Null too, all created in different ways, and while it seems weird that they'd all end up being mostly the same I guess it kind of makes sense that these processes might get repeated in other worlds. More interesting to me is the fact that the common term for necrozma in Ultra Space is Lightless Black, which implies that they're usually only encountered in prism mode, so to speak. I wonder how all these necrozma lost their light? That's probably not a thing I'm going to figure out any answers to, but you never know with this fic; it's one of the things I like about it.

    Moving on to the bonus, I absolutely agree with you that it's past time we saw more of Nicky as a character, and this certainly hit the spot; I think it might have been more effective to show him and Xerneas hanging out in an early bonus, perhaps, so that we didn't just have this relationship created and then destroyed in the space of a single chapter but instead had time to see this thing grow while also being aware that it could only ever end badly, but like, given when you chose to introduce this information, it's done pretty well. It's a nice chapter. Some fun lore related in an interesting way; some glimpses into Nicky's psyche (his fear of intimacy, of touching, the uncontrollable intensity of his memories as they impinge upon the present, his terror of doing anything at all that might turn people against him) – all good stuff.

    I think your metaphor and image game is getting stronger and stronger, too; there were definitely quite a few throughout these last few chapters that I felt were really quite striking, and certainly more so than the ones you were using at the start of the story. So that's excellent! At this point, the main thing that gets in the way of my reading the story are the occasional awkwardnesses of phrasing and stuff (which is something I think I've got slightly more to say about when we get into the notes I made as I read along, so hold that thought for a second), and that's always an encouraging place to be at with your writing!

    I think that might be meant to be regime.

    That should be due rather than do.

    Both of these sentences need to have a had between 'Luxeira/she' and 'learned/used'.

    Man, Luxeira, for someone who wants to be on the surveillance team, you sure do take a while to cotton on, don't you. (Nothing wrong with this, really, it's just that 'as if' seems a very indefinite way of referring to something that I'd imagine seems very definite to Luxeira at this point.)

    You kinda have to wonder how clothes became a thing in a world where like 80% of the population physically can't dress themselves.

    Wow, Tori. First of all, you can't have three polar opposites; second, this makes very little sense even to me, and I am very committed to the cause of bad jokes.

    While Seraph sure does have a lot of flaws to file, I think she's probably working on her claws rather than her flaws right now.

    That should be were rather than where.

    Are cars a thing in Ultra Village? If not, this is odd, given how embedded we are in Luxeira's POV here.

    Three sentences in a row here start with It or Its, which is kind of jarring.

    You don't need that in there, unless maybe it's meant to be 'crackled in Luxeira's ears through her helmet'. I also think that this could be less awkwardly phrased in general – like, there has to be a way of condensing this into one sentence. Something about her voice crackling through the helmet, muffled by her oxygen mask.

    As usual, I have many questions about how these worlds work and fit together, especially with our own (or the facsimile of it that Shane and the other humans hail from) but you know what, I'm gonna leave it, I don't think it would be helpful for any of us to start loosing the worms from that particular can.

    You know, based on the cast of this story, I'm starting to suspect that someone likes the fox pokémon. Anyway, I like all the comedy names! That's fun.

    That should be an rather than in.

    I hope they have a proper auditable system!

    … I say, sounding like the most boring person in the world. But seriously, something like the Ultra Recon Squad needs a proper database with well-structured process pathways, for both internal recording and accountability purposes. (This perspective brought to you courtesy of my day job. It has literally never come in handy for fic reviewing purposes before, but hey, there's a first time for everything.)

    Man, if there was ever a time to drop your cutesy vocal quirk, Magnum, this was kind of it.

    There should be a paragraph break before that line of dialogue begins.

    That should be kit there.

    Metal doesn't really do that, especially not when exposed to extreme heat, as in a lightning strike; one of its defining characteristics is that it's ductile rather than brittle.

    Plink is kind of an onomatopoeia for a bullet (or equivalent hard thing) glancing off something; acid globules wouldn't make that noise, I think. Not that I've ever seen an acid globule bounce off a rolling ball. Anyway, I feel like it would probably splash on the ball and be flicked out again by the ball's movement.

    That should be speed, not speeds.

    The expression is throwing caution to the wind, rather than into.

    The repetition of eyes here is a bit jarring.

    Is that a high school thing? Fascinating. Here, it's pretty much exclusively a university thing.

    Something about that reads rather oddly, though I'm not sure what. It may just be an unusual way of phrasing it.

    Velvet and linen feel like they might be mutually exclusive, as two different kinds of cloth. Unless this is a use of linens with which I'm not familiar.

    This is a rather unnatural way of speaking; Xerneas speaks formally, but not stiltedly, and I feel like just demeanor would come across a bit better.

    That should be graciously.

    Though this is technically correct, this phrase is usually used to refer to someone unwilling to sell/give away a thing, which makes this read strangely as it's Xerneas who's going (or not), rather than the tree.

    Great image! I like the sense of a pickled, unnaturally extended life uneasily animated made up of dead matter. It just seems kinda weird – like, mummies are corpses, so they don't really rise from their corpses. Maybe it's intended to be something like rising from a sarcophagus, or possibly coming back to life after being just a corpse for a while?

    That should be heart.

    A hovel is specifically a poor house or cottage, and I don't think it's what Decidueye means here. This place seems to be more of a hideaway or home away from home for him.

    That should be a question mark, rather than a full stop.

    That looks like a typo for fire pit to me.

    This seems way too convenient to be plausible to me. And I also don't think it's necessary; Silvally's conversation with Sticky is a great coming-together kind of talk, and it works so well on its own that this other attempt at forging a connection comes across badly by comparison.

    I'm not sure why Silvally's doing this comedy boredom thing. It's like a ninety-second explanation, tops, and Silvally actually asked Sticky to explain, so he really just seems like he's being gratuitously rude by reacting this way.

    I can see how Silvally would see glints of yellow inside a black crystal, but I find it hard to visualise something glinting black inside a black object.

    That should be at rather than on.

    Oh, Shane. You know what people are like, know what they were like to Nicky, and you still think evil magic is to blame here? C'mon, dude.

    This seems like a really awkward way of phrasing it, and I'm not sure it's totally grammatical – something like 'He realised that Luxeira was dealing with similar demons to Espeon' would work better, I think. Actually, while I'm on the subject, this is kind of what I meant by the occasional awkward phrasing; often they're characterised by you sort of saying something twice (like Luxeira/similar demons), which distorts the sentence and ends up making it a bit harder to get at the meaning than it might otherwise be.

    And there we go! I really enjoyed catching up on this. But this review is almost 2500 words long, so I'm going to stop now before I inflict too big a wall of text on you. D:
     
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  9. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Hoo boy... apologies for the delay with these replies. I'd say my excuse is chemo week, in which I'm generally weak and not paying attention to much of anything, but I don't know if anyone's gonna believe me. In any case, I've also got the next chapter here. It's a bit shorter than what you've been used to of late, but that's because this chapter has a minimalist cast compared to what you're used to with this story. And with that comes a lot more introspection. Let me know what you think!

    Well, I can't go back in time and stop you, that's for sure.

    Yeah, it looks like you're mistaken and got your wires tangled a bit here.

    Yeah, I designed Torracat/Incineroar to be just that all-around nice guy who wants to help everyone even if that ends up putting him in harm's way.

    Had to reference the classic tendency to stockpile Reviver Seeds. It's essential in this world, after all. :V

    It has been very divisive, to be sure, which is why I'm never writing something accented like this ever again.

    Yeah, after doing another puzzle scene in a later chapter I learned that puzzles don't translate well to non-visual mediums. So, they really won't be showing up anymore.

    Scandalous...

    If you're referring to curses and spirit-manipulation, then it will definitely be essential down the road.

    I admit I didn't exactly give the anatomy a thought in that department. I've usually interpreted Hydro Pumps as having a magical basis, not coming from some water sac.

    To clarify: Incineroar and Prisma are the birth-parents of Tessa (the Riolu) and the adopted parents of Gallian (the Absol). Gallian will be very relevant to Episode 5, hence why he's shown here.

    Well, glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll be going back to make changes at some point, but it's likely to be in the far future, once this story is done. Thanks for reviewing! ^^

    Well, I hope you choose to stick around. I know the size is intimidating, that's why it's broken into episodes. They make good start/stop points!

    You're not the first person to say that, believe it or not. ;)

    The reaction is overblown and speaks to Shane's character. Without giving too much away he does have a... condition that greatly hinders his social skills. Where the average person would think it's an overblown reaction, for Shane it's perfectly normal.

    They're referring to the tria prima of alchemy. Since the fandom had a raging hard-on for alchemy when speculating about Gen VII, I thought it'd be fun to put alchemy into the story.

    It's supposed to be catastrophic thinking on Shane's part. I.e. no, he really doesn't have the worst luck in the world, he just thinks he does.

    Ah... I was initially told I was underdescribing things, but maybe I swung too far back in the other direction?

    Oh, drat. I don't think I had realized how often I was doing that until later on in my writing. I'd been trying to remove as many of those as I could when revising, but I missed some.

    Glad to hear it!

    It is supposed to be vague, as what exactly is happening in this scene is one of the big mysteries (heh) of this story. Even now, it hasn't been fully addressed.

    D'oh! Thanks for pointing that out.

    That's a reasonable guess.

    Yes, fair warning that Shane is a strong case of a base-breaking character, so to speak. Like I said, he has a specific condition (I can talk more about it privately), but his behavior in these early episodes have turned plenty of people off this story. ;~;

    Well, if you do stick around, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reviewing! ^^

    My big intent was to make Ultra Space a lot different. Sort of the science-fantasy counterpart to the pure fantasy magitek that is the PMD world.

    Not short for anything, I'm afraid. Prism translates to Prisma in several languages... it was meant to be one of those clues that you'd end up dismissing because its way too obvious. It turns out that PRISMA is also an important acronym in the medical research community, which I learned through my job. Given Prisma was a doctor, it was a happy accident! :V

    It was supposed to be a combination of hard hit to the head and not coming out of a crystal-induced coma 100% correctly. But, during the conversation with Silvally, he was starting to shift back to some of his more nervous mannerisms from the flashback.

    Yeah, that's one of those rabbit holes that will just get more confusing the further down it I try to go. ^^;

    Well, considering how my attempts at other weird characters have fared with you, I'll take this as a win! :p

    The idea is that they're similar, and yet different. You won't find another Necrozma that can summon chains to wrap around other Pokémon and have them do his or her bidding, for example.

    That's one of the common terms. The others were "Radiant One" and "Blinding One," so some folks have seen Ultra Necrozmas, while others have seen the base forms.

    Well, I admit that this was, essentially, a teaser for what's to come in the next special episode, as their relationship will be explored... along with some other questions, especially pertaining to the gods and why they gave Necrozma the cold shoulder.

    Well, thank you kindly!

    Huzzah! And apologies on the awkward phrasing. That seems to be a hold-over from my conversational skills offline, where I sometimes trip over my words.

    I was kind of going with the medical version of paradoxical: things that oppose each other... or a set of symptoms that don't seem to fit together, yet a patient is having all of them.

    That's true... but I'm going to save that typo for possible future use. Because "filing your flaws" sounds like one of those cool and unusual punishments.

    Yup. That is definitely not a subject I'm prepared to explain.

    Oh, yes, they definitely keep proper paperwork... including hard copies, digital copies, backups of the digital copies... and backups of the backups on separate servers because heaven forbid something bad happens and it would take too long to deliver hard copies in person.

    In the US, caps and gowns are frequently used even in high school.

    Fair enough. *changes*

    Also fair enough. XP

    Hang onto that thought for, like, a few weeks. ;)

    Don't worry, it was already super effective. XD Thanks again for reviewing!

    XxX
    I want you to understand something, Tessa. Just because Mom took care of us and did fun activities with us doesn't mean that she loved us. She was doing it for Dad's sake. I'm sure of it. You only got a glimpse of it with your failed aura training, but when it came to work, Mom was a completely different Pokémon. She had laser focus, adopting a serious tone and never letting her emotions show through. The one exception was when she was with Dad. Then she'd make wry jokes and laugh like there wasn't anything wrong. The rest of the time though, being around her in the guild made me exceptionally nervous, like she was judging every little thing I did.

    It was particularly bad for me at the start, because Braviary had Vaporeon handle my training. That first week in the guild was full of me discovering things about myself I had never even considered. I wound up having to go see Dad and talk through all my concerns. When I did, I brought up the fact that Mom made me uncomfortable. Dad waved it off, saying something about how Mom's just very strong-willed and she shows that through her work.

    I guess that's why the months following Dad's death were so jarring. Because Mom went from being stoic and distant to all over the place emotionally. She gained a hair-trigger temper. Little things now set her off. Like I told you back in Sunrise Village, she'd repeatedly tell me how insufferable you were. I didn't even know how to react to something like that. My own Mom badmouthing my little sister? It was awful! But, despite that, I was too scared to do or say anything. So, I kept my head down and went about my business.

    Then Mom went away on what she called an "important mission." When she got back, however, she flew into a rage. That's when I saw her stomping about her room, tearing the place up and muttering things angrily to herself. A couple of weeks later, she told me she's going away "on guild business." Then she just walked out. No saying good bye. No hug or "I love you." None of that.

    At first, I didn't think much of it. Mom went away to do guild stuff all the time and none of us batted an eye about it. But the days wore on and Mom didn't return to the Observatory, so I got worried. I tried to talk to Braviary, but he didn't really have anything he could offer me. Then I asked to speak to Guildmaster Metagross. He said he didn't have the time and slammed his office door on me. At that point, I figured I had to take matters into my own paws.

    With the way Mom had been behaving, I suspected that maybe she was actually looking into Dad's death. Braviary and Metagross had told us there was an accident, so my best guess was that Mom didn't believe them. Thus, I found myself setting out for Glyphic Falls, hoping to find some answers…

    XxX

    Chapter 67: Run Away, Wayward Soul

    XxX

    ~Glyphic Falls~

    Roaring rapids and the pounding of waterfalls rose to a crescendo as Gallian padded his way through the dense evening fog at the area's base. Ahead of him, several different pathways fanned out in a semicircle, each one snaking along a river with a sharp current. Some of them immediately shot up, disappearing into the fog, while others remained at ground level.

    Gallian figured the only way he could get to the bottom of things was to reach higher ground, since his dad fell from a cliff. He swiveled his head around, biting his lip as he looked at each separate pathway. Gallian wished he had an idea which way Incineroar had gone when he was here, but nothing sprang to mind. Not helping things for him was the fact that nighttime served to reduce his visibility even further.

    'Maybe I have an emera that could help with this?' Gallian thought. He opened up his satchel and stuck his snout into it. But what emera could light up the falls? Galian ruled out clairvoyance ones, since they're for picking up items. 'Think, Gallian, think! Remember Magearna's big spiel about emeras.' He shook his head. That wouldn't be possible. He had nodded off the moment Magearna launched into exposition mode.

    Gallian's eyes widened. There was something he could use: a sun's blessing emera! He sighed in relief as the gem in question materialized in his mouth. Gallian pulled his head out from his bag and fastened the gemstone into the looplet around his left foreleg. It clicked into place and emitted a green aura.

    A vibrant orange fireball materialized in front of Gallian. After a few seconds hovering in place, it rose up into the air, flooding the basin with warm light. Some of the heavy mist moved away, offering Gallian a clearer view of the different paths. He could even see that some of them continued branching off further ahead. Most of them climbed upward until they were out of range of the artificial sun his emera had created.

    "Auuugh! That light… it's dreadful! Get it out! Get it out!"

    Gallian jumped in fright, looking about desperately to identify the source of the loud, screechy voice that had echoed through the area. Before he could offer a response, a chorus of angry cawing rose up from all directions. Gallian shrank back toward the fog near the entrance, looking about ready to bolt from the scene.

    "Light! Bad light!"

    "Turn it off!"

    "Make it go away!"

    "W… who's out there?" Gallian cried, teeth chattering. "I'm… uh…" He gulped. "I'm an explorer in the Horizon Guild. I'm just passing through and I'm not looking for trouble!"

    Under the fireball's light, Gallian spotted multiple shadows along the different paths. He squinted and made out the forms of a dozen Murkrows. They all took to the air in unison, fluttering up to his artificial sun with disgruntled looks on their faces.

    "No trouble, huh?" a portly Murkrow harrumphed. "Then what're you doing setting off this doohickey?"

    "Yeah! It hurts my eyes and makes it hard to fly straight," an extremely skinny Murkrow chimed in.

    "That's because you can't fly straight even in nighttime, doofus," a Murkrow with red tail feathers taunted. She turned to Gallian. "In any case, you better put this thing out right now!"

    Gallian winced. "I… um… I don't really know how," he squeaked. An angry round of cawing met him in response. Gallian held up his left foreleg. "It's my looplet! My looplet, see? I already activated the emera… and there's no way to get it out until its effects fade. I'm sorry, guys! Please… just let me pass through and the light will move with me."

    "Not good enough!" Red-Tail said. "If you take the light with you, you'll disturb the rest of our flock. Either turn the light out or leave!"

    "I already told you guys I can't do that," Gallian said. "I have to get further. Just let me go on ahead."

    "No!" the Murkrows all cawed in unison. He saw movement to his left and jumped back, clumsily dodging a pair of Murkrows who dive-bombed him from his right.

    "C'mon, guys. We really don't have to do this!" Gallian begged.

    "That's enough… all of you!"

    The Murkrows froze in the middle of their jeers and looked over their shoulders. A red-crested Honchkrow swooped in above Gallian's fireball, flapping his wings to hover in place above all the Murkrows. "Now, what's all this shouting about? For pity's sake, I can hear you lot all the way up north. You're disturbing the sleeping members of our flock."

    "Sorry, sir," Red-Tail said. "But Absol brought this awful light into the falls. Look at how bright it is!"

    "It's disturbingly bright," the skinny Murkrow said, rapidly flapping his wings to stay airborne.

    "That's no reason to go causing such a ruckus," Honchkrow scolded.

    "But we want Absol and his light to go away," Red-Tail said. "He's with the guild. Why would they be running missions in the dead of night, anyway? That's our time, not theirs!"

    Honchkrow scowled at Red-Tail, prompting her to flutter back with a look of embarrassment on our face. "Clearly, I'll have to handle this," Honchkrow said, sighing. "You there!" He pointed his wing at Gallian. "Don't move a muscle. I'm coming down."

    As Honchkrow glided to Gallian's spot, both of them heard a scratchy female voice calling out, "Dear? Did you figure out why our brethren were making so much noise?"

    Honchkrow descended to the ground as fast as possible and stood at attention. Likewise, the Murkrows landed behind him and arranged themselves in a neat, single-file line. Gallian heard loud wingbeats overhead and looked up. A Toucannon flew into view. On her head sat a crown made of various feathers encompassing an array of different colors. Gallian spotted a rainbow crystal in the center of the crown and gulped.

    'Oh gods, I've really gone and screwed this up,' he thought. 'They brought their Totem out and everything!'

    Totem Toucannon landed beside Honchkrow. "I was actually attending to the noise issue, sweetie," Honchkrow said. "There really was no need for you to drag yourself out of the nest."

    "I was already awake thanks to that lot's incessant cawing," Totem Toucannon said, fixing a disdainful look on the Murkrows. They all shuffled about nervously, poking the ground with their feet.

    "It was her idea!" Portly Murkrow said, pointing to Red-Tail.

    "Me? You're the lout who got whipped up into a frenzy by Absol's light ball!" Red-Tail said, flapping her wings.

    Totem Toucannon's beak began glowing and radiating hot air. "I don't care which one of you started it. Only that you all prolonged it. Now, be quiet so the adults can talk."

    Red-Tail and Portly Murkrow stepped back, looking down guiltily. "As I was saying," Honchkrow continued, clearing his throat, "it appears Absol here created some sort of artificial light. I recognize the badge and the band on his leg. He's with the guild."

    "I see," Totem Toucannon said. She glanced at the fireball in the sky and then hopped around to face Gallian. He could only stare down the length of her large beak for a few seconds before shrinking back. "That was a bit brash of you, don't you think?" she said, pointing to the artificial sun. "Generally speaking, my flock tries to stay out of the way of you civilized 'mons. We have an understanding, after all. You let us go about our lives and we stay out of your business."

    "But this is… rather intrusive of you," she continued. "It's hard keeping order in a flock where the Pokémon are active at different times of day. In the past, I tried to make it clear to you all to stay out of our domain at nighttime. You see, despite my mate's hard work, the night-fliers are much more easily startled. And I really don't want any misunderstandings spiraling out of control."

    "Suh-Sorry, Totem… ma'am… m-miss… err… something like that," Gallian said, wincing. "I wasn't trying to rile anyone up. H-Honest!"

    "Then tell us… what was so important that you had to come here at night?" Honchkrow asked, eyeing Gallian skeptically.

    "That's… um…" Gallian bit his lower lip. "It's hard to explain."

    Totem Toucannon sighed. "You there!" she called to Red-Tail, who immediately saluted her with a wing. "Take your friends and go the watering hole in the east." Red-Tail opened her beak to protest, which she immediately cut off with a, "Quickly, please."

    Red-Tail nodded rapidly, shooing the other Murkrows off with flutters of her wings. She then flew off after them, disappearing into the mist. Totem Toucannon nodded. "There. Perhaps now you'll be a little less nervous." she said.

    "I think you're the one who made him nervous, to be honest," Honchkrow said, chuckling.

    Totem Toucannon was not amused by the joke. "Be serious here, dear. Civilized or not, I am deeply uncomfortable with an Absol being in our midst." She locked eyes with Gallian. "I'm sorry, but I have to look out for my flock's best interests. And that would involve getting you out of here quickly. So, either give me a reason why you're here or leave."

    Gallian flinched. "It's my mom," he squeaked. "She's a Lucario with the guild. I… um… I think something bad happened to her here." He mustered up the courage to look Totem Toucannon in the eyes, only to wilt in the face of her unconvinced expression. "She came here a couple of weeks ago to poke around the place and hasn't come back to the guild since. I'm just trying to figure out what might've happened."

    "So, you're here on nothing more than a hunch?" Honchkrow said, shaking his head disapprovingly. "That sounds like a prelude to bringing trouble upon us. You don't seem that aggressive, kid, but we know what Absols are capable of. Why you're not living in the mountains where you can't cause any trouble is beyond me."

    "I have to press onward," Gallian said, squeezing his eyes shut. "My mom only came here because of my dad: Guildmaster Incineroar. Maybe you've, y'know, met him before?"

    Both birds tensed up, exchanging nervous looks. "You're Incineroar's kid?" Honchkrow gasped. "That doesn't make a lick of sense if your mom's a Lucario."

    "They found my egg left in the middle of a winter storm," Gallian explained. "But that's not the point. About six months ago, my dad came here to do… something. I'm not entirely sure what. But… but there was an accident and my dad died! I think my mom came here because she's not convinced there was any accident. That's why I need to investigate."

    Honchkrow looked expectantly at Totem Touncannon. He fluttered over to her, holding up a wing to shield his head from Gallian's view. "Um, dear. Not to alarm you, but doesn't that sound an awful lot like what I told you about? When I got caught in that nasty storm?"

    Totem Toucannon nodded. "It does."

    "What should we do, then? If Absol's the guy's kid, we should tell him what happened, right?" Honchkrow said.

    "Can you even still accurately remember what you saw?" Totem Toucannon asked.

    "Well, I think Absol helped clear things up a bit. I wasn't honestly sure what to make of that night until now," Honchkrow said.

    "Then go ahead," Totem Toucannon said. "Just be prepared for the possibility he might get upset."

    Honchkrow nodded and lowered his wing. Behind him, Gallian shuffled about nervously. "Did… did I do something wrong?" he asked.

    "No," Honchkrow said. "I just needed to consult with my mate for a moment. The truth is… I think I know what you're talking about with your dad."

    Gallian stood up straight. "You do?"

    "Several months ago, a nasty storm fell over the area. As it got worse, my mate noticed that members of the flock were missing," Honchkrow explained. "I volunteered to head out into the storm and locate the missing birds. Flying proved difficult, but I managed to find them as the storm was dying down. In the process of returning to our flock's home, however, I got turned around in all the fog and rain."

    Honchkrow took a deep breath. "As I tried to find my way back, I stumbled upon a scene that… confused me. There was an Incineroar standing at the edge of a cliff. I couldn't really tell what was happening at first, but then I heard a loud clan. Metal legs shot out from the fog and struck Incineroar. He stumbled back and dropped off the cliff. I couldn't do anything to save him, because I was still carrying the younglings."

    Gallian tightly clenched his jaws, breath coming in short, ragged gasps. "You saw… metal legs?" he said. That couldn't be right. There was no way Metagross could be the one responsible for his dad's death. He was at the guild all night with Braviary. That's what he was told. "Did you… um… see anything else?" Gallian asked.

    "Well, there were a pair of glowing eyes," Honchkrow said. "They lit up a metal cross… so I guess there was another Pokémon there with Incineroar? I'm sorry, but that's about all I know."

    Gallian inhaled sharply and descended into a raucous coughing fit. Totem Toucannon tensed, slightly unfurling her wings. "What's the problem here?" she said. "You look as if you're staring death in the face."

    "We have a Pokémon like that in the guild," Gallian wheezed. "But that's… he's…" He shook his head. "Metagross was Dad's friend. He'd never… kill him. This has to be… some mistake. Another Metagross, maybe?"

    Honchkrow shrugged. "I'm sorry, kid, but that's all I know… honest. A Pokémon with metal legs sent an Incineroar off one of the cliffs. I didn't bother hanging around to check out what else happened. I was too worried about the flock."

    Gallian squeezed his eyes shut, scraping his claws against the rocky ground. This couldn't be right. Everyone loved his dad. Why would Metagross do something so drastic? Gallian took a cautious step back from the birds. "Thanks for the heads up… I guess," he said.

    "Does this mean you'll be leaving?" Totem Toucannon asked.

    "Yeah," Gallian whispered. "Sorry for disturbing you." He turned and walked into the fog around the entrance, a neutral expression on his face. As he made his way deeper into the mist, the green glow from his emera faded. Gallian emerged from the fog into a clearing. There were a couple of wood cabins on either side and a rocky incline leading down to a set of docks.

    Gallian made it about halfway down the hill before doubling over in pain. His eyes went wide and darted around the clearing. Gallian's heart pounded faster and faster while his chest constricted. His breathing lapsed into an irregular wheezes.

    What was happening? Why did his head hurt so much? Gallian cupped his shaking forepaws over his head, wincing as they brush the fur on his neck. It was all standing on end!

    'Why do I feel so afraid? It's like I'm staring down an avalanche… and I'm just rooted to the spot!'

    Gallian stiffened. He forced his eyes shut and a single thought flickered through his mind.

    'Disaster.'

    His eyes shot open. Disaster? But what was going wrong? He looked around clearing, panic spreading across his face. Was something about to happen to him? He had no clue, which only served to make him more nervous.

    Gallian looked over his shoulder. Off in the distance, thunderhead clouds gave off clusters of white light. There was no doubt in Gallian's mind. He had to leave. It wasn't safe here. Gallian reached into his satchel and produced a flare for the Sharpedo Sailors. He fired it into the air, where it erupted in a bright blue flash.

    As he waited for his lift, Gallian paced back and forth. What could he do? Where should he go? He paused. The Observatory was the obvious answer, but the thought made his chest tighten again. He hunched close to the ground, gasping for air. Gallian shook his head about and stumbled backward.

    'No, I can't go there. It's… it's a bad idea,' he thought.

    Gallian froze once again, blinking rapidly. What was he saying? A huge storm was coming straight for him! He couldn't just stand around and get caught in it. There was no choice. He had to back to the Observatory for his own safety.

    This time, Gallian's scythe crackled with black energy. He dropped to his belly, brushing his forelegs against his head. That idea didn't sit right with him. The Observatory wasn't safe. Not with Metagross around. Because if Honchkrow had told the truth, then Gallian knew he couldn't stand up to Metagross. Besides, what could he possibly say against the guy?

    "Ahoy there! You need a lift?"

    Gallian sprang to his feet, a nervous look on his face. A Sharpedo bobbed in the water in front of Gallian, a gray cross on his forehead instead of a yellow one. "Y-Yessir!" Gallian said. "I've… I've got to go to… um…"

    The sky rumbled overhead. "I suggest you think quickly, lad. That storm brewing in the distance looks mighty fierce. You're probably my last fare for the day," Sharpedo said.

    "Coming," Gallian said, trotting up to the dock and hopping onto Sharpedo's back. He fastened himself into the specialized seat. "Can you… um… get me to Sunrise Village?" Gallian asked.

    "Sure thing, lad. There's a small inlet I can follow from the Midnight Sea," Sharpedo explained. "Off we go!" Sharpedo swam into the night, cutting through the large waves. Their sharp angles led to numerous plumes of water spraying Gallian in the face, to his serious displeasure. "Sorry about that. That storm's really churning the sea up something fierce! You hanging on back there?" Sharpedo said.

    Gallian pursed his lips and repeatedly spat out saliva, trying to get rid of the salty taste in his mouth. "I'm fine," he lied, suppressing a shiver. Each wave that washed over Gallian made his heart skip a beat. His chest kept tightening no matter how much Gallian tried to take deep, calming breaths. He made the decision to stay away from the Observatory, so why did he still have a sinking sensation that something was going to happen?

    He shut his eyes, trying to focus on the anxiety running rampant through his system instead of the frigid water dousing him every minute. Before he knew it, his teeth were chattering. Gallian tried to push that thought from his mind. What was the problem? Was Sunrise Village still too close to Metagross? And wasn't his dark-typing supposed to keep him safe from Metagross' mind-reading?

    Gallian tensed up, expecting a fresh round of stabbing pains in his torso. But nothing happened. Which meant he wasn't on the right track. Gallian just had to think harder! Why was he going to Sunrise Village? To lay low at Sylveon's house. 'She'll surely be there,' Gallian thought. 'As will Eevee and Tes–'

    Despite being soaked to the bone, Gallian's fur stood on end. It was like his ribs had grabbed hold of his lungs and squeezed. "Argh!" he cried.

    Sharpedo slowed down. "Whoa! Everything alright back there?"

    "I… I'm fine. Keep… going," Gallian wheezed. Sharpedo increased his speed again. Gallian took a few sharp breaths.

    Tessa was the problem. It had to be. Gallian's chest was so tight, he thought it would explode!

    He opened his mouth to speak, when Sharpedo struck a particularly sharp wave, bouncing into the air. Sharpedo kicked up sea spray that flew into Gallian's mouth. Gallian turned to his right, coughing and spitting into the choppy ocean. "Sorry again, lad. The storm must be getting close," Sharpedo said. "I don't even think I'll be able to make it back to my cave at this rate."

    This was bad. Worse than bad, even. Gallian couldn't survive a night stuck with Tessa. Not in this much pain. He wouldn't survive until morning. All it would take is Tessa starting to talk and he envisioned such searing pain in his head that he would drop dead on the spot. In fact, his head was throbbing right this second! He shook it, wincing.

    A second later, Sharpedo passed through another wave. Cold water splattered across Gallian's face. The salt water stung his eyes, but thankfully took his focus off his aching head. That shift in focus brought a sudden moment of clarity, with his scythe flickering bright-pink.

    The problem wasn't just Tessa. It was Tessa and the guild. Gallian knew she wanted to join it. But after what he heard, he couldn't let Tessa get anywhere near Metagross. If he had killed Incineroar, he could have done the same to Prisma. So, what would stop him from going after Tessa? Or both of them?

    'What can I do about that, though?' Gallian wondered. Could he really look his sister in the eyes and tell her the Guildmaster had killed Incineroar?

    An involuntary tensing of his claws against his seat told him that no, he didn't have the guts to try something like that. And before he could give the situation any more thought, the rough waters died down around him. Sharpedo swam up to a small stream on the edge of Azure Cape and proceeded through it. The water jets he used to propel himself forward easily let him maneuver against the current.

    "We're pretty much here," Sharpedo announced. A few seconds later, a grassy path came into view. Even with storm clouds covering up the moon, Gallian could spot the white and pink outlines of Sylveon's house sitting in the distance. Sharpedo pulled up to the stream's embankment. Gallian got off Sharpedo's back and produced several coins from his satchel.

    "Stay safe out there, lad," Sharpedo said, before turning and swimming back down the river. Gallian watched him go, tensing from the lightning flashes going off in the distance.

    He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. 'You can do this, Gallian. Just go up to her… and tell her that she can't try to join the guild because it's too dangerous.'

    Gallian nodded and walked toward Sylveon's house, leaving a trail of water droplets behind him. But with every step he took, his heart rate steadily rose. By the time the front door was in full view, Gallian's heart was racing so quickly, he thought he might pass out. He froze and then took a cautious step backwards.

    This was a bad idea, he was sure of it. If he went through with it, Tessa would ask questions. Questions he had no answers to.

    His eyes darted about the grassy road. What could he do? What could he say to her to keep her away from the guild?

    A raindrop fell into Gallian's eye. He shut it and shook his head violently, flinging water off his fur. Another rain drop struck his tail, then another hit the tip of his scythe. Within seconds, the heavens opened. Sheets of rain poured down on him. Soaked white fur draped over Gallian's eyes, blocking his vision. He stumbled forward, only for his left forepaw to strike a newly-made mud puddle. Gallian lost his balance and toppled over, taking a face full of mud.

    It mostly washed off when he got back to his feet, as the torrential downpour showed no signs of stopping. Gallian's breathing quickened, growing heavier and heavier the longer he stood in the rain. He shakily approached the door to Sylveon's house, barely able to make out what was in front of him with the mud and water in his eyes.

    Gallian walked right into the door, his scythe knocking against the damp wood. He stumbled back, heart hammering in his chest.

    What had he done?

    His chest was so tight, he couldn't breath.

    'Run, you idiot! Run!'

    The door creaked open, but between his blurry vision, the damp fur in his face, and the dark of night, Gallian couldn't make out who stood in the doorway until they started speaking.

    "Gallian, is that you?"

    It was Tessa.

    Tessa was standing there.

    And now Gallian had a choice to make.

    'Get out of there!'

    "Gods, you look awful! Come inside, quickly. You're gonna catch a cold if you stay out there," Tessa said. She reached out, flinching as she grabbed his looplet.

    "Nuh… no… I can't," Gallian said, tugging his foreleg back.

    'Run away!'

    Tessa frowned. "Well, you can't stay outside. It's late enough already and this storm's showing no signs of letting up. C'mon, Gallian, I don't want to see you getting sick." She again reached out toward Gallian's looplet. "I'm sure Sylveon wouldn't mind you spending the night here. Anything's better than trying to trudge back to the guild in this weather. What if Mom comes home to find you sick, huh?"

    '… sick? From staying out in a storm?'

    Gallian snapped. Without warning, he headbutted Tessa. She staggered backward, rubbing her damp snout with her paws. "G… Gallian?" she squeaked, eyes tearing up. "Why did you hit me like that?"

    'Get out! Run! This is your chance!'

    Gallian stood there, hyperventilating. Pink energy flashed in his eyes and his scythe. He pointed the scythe right at Tessa. "You have to stay here!" he shouted. "Stay here… a-and don't follow me! Not to the guild! Not anywhere!"

    'I have to do this.'

    Tessa stared down the tip of Gallian's scythe, blinking in surprise. "I… I don't understand," she whispered.

    'This is for her own good.'

    "Listen to me, damn it!" Gallian snarled, stomping a forepaw on the ground and spraying mud onto Tessa's legs. She fell back on her rear, shivering in fright. "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 turned and sprinted away, never looking back. He made it several yards before slipping and falling. Gallian slid across the ground, brown muck caking his wet fur and his scythe. He staggered to his feet, spitting out a mouthful of mud and then forcefully coughing as if he were choking on something.

    The coughs grew louder and more violent. Gallian tasted copper in the back of his throat. He staggered forward a few more steps in the rain, before his legs shook so aggressively that he collapsed onto his side. Gallian curled up into a ball, trembling uncontrollably. All the while, rain drops pounded on his side, each one stinging like a Pin Needle. He lay in the mud, teeth gritted and breath coming in short, irregular gasps.

    Black spots soon dotted his vision.

    'I did… what I had… to do…'

    All Gallian remembered before passing out was the sensation of the rain easing up on him.

    XxX
    Blades of muddy grass tickled Gallian's nose. He sneezed loudly, eyes shooting open. Shock appeared on his face when he realized he was lying on the side of the road to Sunrise Village. Gallian tried to get to his feet, only to slip and fall. His face landed right in a semi-solidified mud puddle. Gallian slowly sat up, blinking his eyes repeatedly.

    How long was he out for?

    After a few more seconds of blinking, Gallian's vision slightly cleared up. He used his shoulder to brush his muddy fur out of his eyes. Orange light spilled across the road. A cursory glance upward told Gallian the sun was making its way up higher into the sky.

    Gallian stood up and shook himself out. Much to his dismay, his actions did little to lighten the extra weight dragging his fur down. Gallian spotted a puddle and walked up to it. He grimaced at the sight of his reflection. His fur was matted, with numerous knots present that would take more than a quick shower to deal with. The fur on his forehead had unfurled and dangled in front of his face, which was completely caked in a thick, grimy layer of brown mud.

    His heart sank. He found himself drifting back years ago, to days when he and Tessa would dash out of Aeon Town following a storm and play around in mud puddles. Those times always ended with the two of them rolling about, laughing joyfully and sometimes getting an earful from their exasperated mother.

    Instead, Gallian had put the fear of the gods in Tessa. He thought back to the last thing he said to her before turning tail and running off into the storm. It was all he could think of to make his unease– no, make his pain stop. He had no other options.

    For a moment, Gallian considered turning back toward Sunrise Village and going to apologize to Tessa. But his neck fur prickled and pressure grew in his skull. Gallian lowered his head, eyes shut in resignation.

    There was no turning back. He couldn't return to Tessa. Not now. Not ever.

    'But then, what am I supposed to do?'

    Gallian glanced at the puddle again. At the very least, he could go clean himself up. Azure Cape wasn't too far away and it would keep him away from Sunrise Village and the guild.

    His mind made up, Gallian broke into a run.

    'I'm sorry, Tessa. I hope you can forgive me someday.'

    XxX
    I decided to essentially treat Gallian's disaster sense like an aggressive panic attack. Hopefully that showed through, but if not, let me know!

    Next time: Gallian attempts to go into hiding, but runs into more trouble than he bargained for.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
  10. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 68: Starting Over from Scratch

    ~Azure Cape~

    Gallian walked across the beach, a dismayed look on his face. Damp sand caked his paws, filling up the bridges between his digits. He paused to glance at his right shoulder, sighing heavily. After leaving Sunrise Village behind, it took him until his arrival at the beach to realize that his satchel and looplet had gone missing. He considered the possibility that they had been stolen while he was unconscious, but quickly dismissed that idea. After all, Sunrise Village was rather peaceful and he couldn't imagine any outlaws staying out in last night's storm.

    'Which means they must've fallen off when I was slipping and sliding through the mud like an idiot,' he concluded, a frown on his face. Gallian briefly considered going back to try and find them, but a shudder racked his spine in response. If he went back, he risked Tessa seeing him. And after last night, that would be a huge problem.

    So, Gallian plodded toward the shoreline. The sand went from damp to wet. Each step produced an audible squelch and left a deep pawprint. Seconds later, a wave drifted in, washing away Gallian's prints and some of the dirt and sand on his paws. The cold water made him wince, but he knew he had to bear it. If he tried to go anywhere looking so ragged, he would be mistaken for a wild Pokémon. Nothing good would come of that.

    Gallian sucked in a deep breath and charged forward, gradually sinking into the water with each step. He ducked under the surface. The salt water forced the grime off his body, dirt and sand grains brushing against his fur. After staying submerged for half a minute, Gallian popped back out. Dirty water streamed off his torso. He trudged back toward the shore, shaking out his fur once he was past the shoreline.

    To Gallian's annoyance, his wet paws attracted sand as he walked back across the beach. Had he showered back at the guild, this wouldn't be an issue. But just the mere thought of the guild made his head throb. Gallian's scythe crackled with dark energy. He had to stop thinking about the guild. The only thing he could do now was leave all that stuff behind.

    He turned to look out at the water. Sure, leaving Aeon Town sounded nice. The problem was that he just lost all his stuff. Gallian's bag had his money. Without it, he couldn't pay a Sharpedo Sailor to take him anywhere. Gallian mulled his predicament as he walked onto the road connecting Aeon Town and Sunrise Village.

    'I guess I could go see what I have stored in Dhelmise Depot,' he thought, only to freeze mid-step, fur standing on end.

    He couldn't do that. Someone would surely recognize him and tell the guild he was there. Then Metagross would send someone to track him down and–

    Gallian shook his head, panting. Now wasn't the time to let his thoughts run out of control. He needed to focus. Gallian shut his eyes, trying to envision a map of the Horizon Continent. He realized he could avoid Aeon Town entirely if he went south. But what places were south of him? Gallian scrunched his face up. The answer was on the tip of his tongue. He just had to think a little harder.

    After several seconds, Gallian's eyes snapped open. He had his answer: Borea Heights! Gallian was confident Grandpa Lycanroc didn't have friends left in the village that would remember what he looked like. Especially since he looked pretty scruffy.

    His mind made up, Gallian proceeded down the path heading back toward Sunrise Village. But before he got anywhere close to any of the buildings, he ducked into the small forest standing opposite the massive row of trees marking the boundary of Dewdrop Woods. Gallian dashed through the trees and bushes, wincing from the occasional branch that grazed his side.

    'Hopefully I can find someone willing to give me a ride further south,' he thought. While he didn't have the most concrete plan, he had something in mind. Once Gallian exited the small forest and was free of Sunrise Village, he continued at a slower pace, again pulling up a fuzzy mental map of Horizon. Gallian tried focusing on the southeastern part of the continent.

    'What was it that Dad told me, again?' Gallian wondered. 'There was something about quiet communities nestled into mountains and caves. That sounds like it could work out well for me.' The further he walked, the more he toyed with that idea. He could offer himself up as a guard or patrol nearby Mystery Dungeons to keep the community safe. Gallian figured if he lived on the outskirts of one of these towns, he could avoid unwanted attention. After all, he had helped Steenee prepare meals plenty of times at the Observatory. He could tend to his own meals.

    The one issue that he found himself stuck on was something he had no control over. And that was just how the Pokémon living in the mountains would react to him. Memories of his unwelcome reception at the hands of Totem Toucannon surface. Gallian grimaced. Clearly, Absols weren't well-liked. There was a good chance no one would let him into their town. If that happened, what would he do?

    A shiver ran down his spine. There were the Invern Mountains as a backup. Wild Absols lived there, but Gallian feared he wouldn't last a week with them. And could he even muster the stamina to get up to Solstice Summit by himself, with absolutely no supplies?

    At the thought of no supplies, Gallian's stomach growled. He wondered if he would be able to find food in Borea Heights. It struck him that he had no idea if he could even make it there by nightfall. 'How long of a walk is this, anyway?' he thought.

    His stomach growled again. Gallian lifted his head high and took a big whiff, hoping he could locate nearby berries. To his delight, he smelled pecha berries off in the distance. He trotted after the scent and located the bush in question. Gallian downed several pecha berries, hoping they would serve him well until he reached his destination. Then, he continued on his way.

    The rest of his trek proceeded quietly. Occasional swathes of trees popped up on either side of the path, but, for the most part, Gallian continued following the waters of the Midnight Sea. The grassy road eventually turned into dirt and gravel. As the ground got more uneven, hills popped up around Gallian. The path itself wove between the hills, sometimes following one up and down.

    Eventually, the forest patches disappeared. Instead, rock formations surrounded Gallian, with the ones on his left blocking his view of the water. He hit a part of the trail that went steeply uphill. At the top of the hill, Gallian spotted rock faces in the distance. The sky above the rocks had brief flashes of rainbow trails.

    'That must be Aurora Vale,' Gallian thought. 'Which means Borea Heights should be close by.' He craned his head to his left and, sure enough, found a cluster of stone buildings. The sight of his destination filled Gallian with renewed vigor. He trotted the rest of the way to the town, stopping only to gulp down some water from a tiny brook.

    Gallian arrived at the outskirts of Borea Heights just as the sun was beginning to set. Orange light swept through the town. Gallian had to shield his eyes from the light bouncing off the buildings and the cobblestone pathways. When he finally got a good look at the place, he realized the town's roads were empty. He knew that older folks lived here, but they couldn't all have turned in this early. Gallian wondered if the town had some place for visitors to check in.

    "You! You there! You scruffy, unscrupulous fellow! What do you think you're doing?"

    Gallian jumped in fright and whirled around, frowning. "You're… um… a Drampa, right? Is… is there something wrong?"

    Drampa stomped toward Gallian, his large head bobbing up and down with each step. "Yes! There are many things wrong. Many, I tell you!" he huffed. "First off… it's Town Supervisor Drampa, you filthy mongrel. And second off, you are sullying my lovely town roads. I go to great effort to keep them clean. If you cannot show the same level of effort to your own coat, then you don't deserve to walk these streets. Which brings me to my most important point…."

    Drampa cleared his throat. "Borea Heights does not welcome wild Pokémon," he said. "I don't care what Mystery Dungeon you decided to crawl out of. You are not welcome here! So, out, out, out!"

    "H-Hang on a second," Gallian said. "I'm not a wild 'mon. I–"

    "Ha! Likely story. Your appearance says otherwise," Drampa said, snorting out tufts of smoke. "Absols cannot live outside Mystery Dungeons. Your kind brings misery to tranquil communities like mine. I will give you thirty seconds to march your rump out of my village before I use my authority as Town Supervisor to give myself permission to use excessive force!"

    Gallian gulped. What was up with this windbag? He was acting far more aggressive than Totem Toucannon did. And if Gallian told Drampa that he was with the guild, Drampa would surely contact Metagross. Then he would really be in for it.

    "Well, what are you waiting for?" Drampa huffed. "If you're looking to switch dungeons, Aurora Vale is that-a-way." He stuck his neck out and pointed toward the other end of town. "Get marching! Your thirty seconds are up and I'm about ready to Dragon Pulse your face."

    "Listen, sir, I don't want to stay," Gallian said. "I was just trying to find a lift to get me to Eastern Horizon. My money was stolen from me, see, so I can't afford a Sharpedo Sailor."

    Drampa eyed Gallian skeptically. "Hrmph. You really expect me to believe such a bold-faced lie, Absol?" He shook his head. "Odds are you take one step near the Midnight Sea and you'll send a tidal wave crashing over my beautiful town. I will not have it! Into the Mystery Dungeon with you!"

    A stream of dragonfire raced toward a flabbergasted Gallian. He got his bearings straight just in time to dive to the ground and safely avoid the attack. "Nrrrgh! Stand still you hoodlum! That's an order from a Town Supervisor!" Drampa said.

    "Seriously? Look, just order me a Sharpdeo Sailor and I'll be out of your hair forever!" Gallian groaned, collecting dark energy in his scythe just in case things escalated. This geezer had clearly lost it!

    Drampa froze. "Hrrrrrmmmm…" He tapped his claws in thought. "You're asking me, Town Supervisor Drampa, to dip into either my precious personal finances or the town's funds? Absolutely not! What a ridiculous idea!"

    "Isn't it worth it to rid your town of the risk of disaster?" Gallian said, rolling his eyes.

    Drampa shuffled backwards furrowing his brow. He shut his eyes in thought for a full minute. "Alright… fine," Drampa said. "I will get you a ride to Eastern Horizon. It should be a simple feat for a Town Supervisor like myself." He turned and waddled away from the town's entrance. "Well? Don't just stand there. Come along. You're wasting my time."

    'Somebody must be jealous of the Totems,' Gallian mused, following Drampa. To his surprise, Drampa moved quickly toward the docks bobbing along the edge of the Midnight Sea. By the time Gallian reached caught up, there was already a Sharpedo waiting for him. Gallian double-checked and confirmed it wasn't the same Sharpedo he had last night. Unlike his previous ride, this Sharpedo had extra notches on his dorsal fin.

    Drampa was conversing with Sharpedo as Gallian walked up to them. Sharpedo nodded and turned to Gallian. "Ready to set sail, kiddo?"

    "Yeah," Gallian said. He stepped onto Sharpedo's back and turned to nod at Drampa. "Thanks for your help, Town Supervisor Drampa."

    "Yes, yes, best of luck and all that," Drampa said, shooing Sharpedo away with flicks of his tiny paws. Sharpedo sped off across the water. Gallian watched the coast disappear behind him. The setting sun cast an orange glow across the normally-black Midnight Sea, resulting in a harsh glare that Gallian abruptly turned around to avoid.

    "So, uh, I don't know what Drampa told you, but I've heard there are some quiet villages in the southeast part of the continent," Gallian explained. "Think you can take me there?"

    "Aye. That won't be any trouble," Sharpedo replied. "Just hang tight, kiddo. With any luck, we won't be there too long after sundown."

    Satisfied, Gallian nodded and sat back in his seat, focusing his attention on the rolling waves. Looks like he would be able to get to the mountainside after all. Yet, the thought didn't make him as happy as he was hoping. He was too worried that other Pokémon would react to him like Drampa did. Which would make his entire trip completely pointless.

    Gallian shook his head. He would just have to figure something out. The Horizon Guild had trained him, even if those days were now over. A pang of guilt struck him as thoughts of Tessa filled his head. No matter what he did, he kept coming back to her. He took a deep breath. 'She'll be fine. She's got Sylveon and Eevee,' he told himself.

    His stomach growled again. Gallian ignored it, fixing his gaze upward. Far in the distance, there was a small mass of storm clouds giving way to a wall of thick black smoke. As Sharpedo continued speeding through the water, he grew progressively closer to the smoke. At first, Gallian grew concerned that Sharpedo didn't actually know where he was going. But it wasn't long before the two of them passed by the jagged rocks sticking out of the water, leaving the wall of smoke behind.

    When the last remnants of the sun disappeared in the west, Sharpedo slowed down. Gallian sat up straight in his seat and looked around. To his confusion, he didn't spot any docks. Was Sharpedo getting tired? "Um, excuse me? Do you have any idea how much longer we'll be travelling for?" he asked.

    "Oh… yeah. We're nearly there," Sharpedo replied. "There's a small dock nestled within those rocks sticking out of the water. It's just to the right of us."

    Gallian turned his head in the direction Sharpedo indicated and frowned. "What are you talking about? I don't see any–"

    Without warning, Sharpedo unleashed a burst of speed. Gallian gasped as the sudden shift in momentum made him lean back. Sharpedo then stopped and bucked his body forward. Hollering in surprise, Gallian careened into the Midnight Sea, landing with a large splash.

    Sharpedo bobbed in the water, a look of regret on his face. After several seconds, he spotted bubbles on the surface. Gallian's head popped up, gasping for air. "W… what the hell?!" he sputtered. Though his vision was blurry, he could just make out Sharpedo in front of him. "Don't just float there. H… help me!"

    "Sorry, kid, but I ain't trying to get myself jinxed or cursed or nothing," Sharpedo said, moving away from Gallian. "You Absols are nothing but bad news. Especially wild ones thinking they can pass for a civilized 'mon."

    "But I–" Gallian started, only to duck underneath the surface of the water as a wave swept over him. He thrashed his limbs about and managed to push himself up once again. When he had steadied himself, he noticed that he was all alone. Salt water in his eyes kept him from seeing that Sharpedo swimming away at breakneck speeds. Gallian's heart pounded.

    It was all a trick.

    Drampa hadn't gotten him a ride. He had laid a trap… and Gallian walked right into it! He was a goner! He was going to drown! What could he do?

    Land! He had to find land! Somehow… someway…

    Gallian swept his legs around in circular motions, all while trying to keep his head above the surface. Eventually, a cliff came into view several yards away. It was steep, but it was the closest stretch of land available. Gallian didn't have a choice. With a deep breath, he doggie-paddled through the water.

    It was slow going, but the water eventually grew shallower. Gallian was soon able to stand up and trudge the rest of the distance to dry land. He had to dig his claws into the rock to stop himself from sliding under the surface and onto his belly. Gallian glanced up the steep slope, flinching from the painful gurgling of his stomach.

    There was a trail a long way up the cliff. Surely, it had to lead somewhere. And that meant Gallian had to climb up it. With a loud groan, Gallian sprang out of the water. He dug his claws into the cliff face, legs screaming in protest from the exertion. Gallian was able to stop sliding down with his tail dangling inches above the water. He hung there, taking in big gulps of air. His stomach growled loudly. Gallian shook his head and, with an effortful grunt, swung his left foreleg up, digging his claws into a crack in the cliff.

    It was actually working. Maybe he really could do this! Gallian moved his right foreleg up to join his left. Gallian braced himself, but it proved unnecessary. He found a foothold that kept him from sliding down. Gallian's sense of relief was fleeting, however, when his stomach cramped up again, growling its discontent with the current situation.

    'Just hang on for a little longer,' Gallian told himself. He continued scaling the cliff using slow, deliberate swinging motions with his forelegs and claws. Every so often, he would make himself a foothold by channeling dark energy into his scythe and firing it into the cliff, taking out a chunk of rock. Each time he did that, however, he would have to hang from the cliff, trying to catch his breath.

    After what seemed like an eternity to Gallian, he succeeded in dragging his damp, raggedy body over the edge of the cliff and onto a dusty path that curved around the mountain. Gallian lay on his side, panting heavily. His limbs shook and his stomach flared up with a fresh round of cramps. "N… nnnnrrrggggh," he groaned, writhing about in pain. "Gotta get up… gotta move… can't just… pass out here…"

    With considerable effort, Gallian staggered to his feet. He tried to take a step forward, but almost collapsed in the process. Gallian stood on the edge of the trail, legs locked in position, worried that any sudden movement would cause him to pass out. His stomach lurched and his vision went fuzzy.

    'No…'

    Gallian's head pounded.

    'I just can't…'

    His vision flashed white.

    'I can't move another step.'

    His chest tightened up.

    'This is it… isn't it?'

    "Hey, you okay there, Absol?"

    Gallian blinked rapidly, but he couldn't get the fuzziness out of his vision. He saw a black figure moving toward him, carrying a bright, circular light and waving a limb at him. Gallian slowly opened his mouth and weakly coughed out a, "Help me… please."

    "Oh, gods… you don't look so good," the figure gasped, his male voice sounding rather quiet to Gallian. He closed the distance with Gallian, revealing himself to be a Zoroark with streaks of red fur across his chest. Zoroark got down on one knee and held the Luminous Orb he was carrying in front of Gallian. "Absol, you still with me? Can you walk?"

    Gallian coughed again and crumpled onto his side. Zoroark dropped the Luminous Orb and barely managed to catch Gallian's head before it hit the ground. "Crap! No, no, no! C'mon, buddy, stay with me here!" He bent over and, with a loud grunt, hefted Gallian up over his shoulder. Zoroark adjusted his positioning so he could grab his Luminous Orb and then took off sprinting down the mountain path.

    "Dusk! Dusk!" Zoroark shouted. "We've got trouble!"

    Several yards down the path, Dusk turned to look at Zoroark. "What's going on?" she said.

    "I found a wild Absol and he's in real bad shape! Run back into the village and wake Totem Decidueye! We're gonna need his help," Zoroark ordered. Dusk nodded and disappeared into the cave behind her. Zoroark glanced at Gallian, whispering, "Hang in there, Absol. I don't know what happened, but we'll get you patched up. That's a promise."

    Zoroark ran through the entrance tunnel to Cosmic Cavern, ducking light crystals at every turn. After several minutes, he entered the village. He sprinted up the path to his right without a second thought. Zoroark rounded a bend to another ramp that took him even higher. Once he was up on the third floor, he walked past some homes nestled into the rocks. He reached a narrow bridge extending to Totem Decidueye's moss-covered lookout.

    "Totem? It's Zoroark. I've got someone here who needs your help," Zoroark said as he entered Totem Decidueye's home. He found Totem Decidueye standing beside Dusk and a Midnight Lycanroc. Next to them sat a table carved out of stone. It had been cleared of all its contents, save for a thatched, green and brown tablecloth.

    Totem Decidueye examined the newcomer lying limp on Zoroark's shoulder. "An Absol? And you found him out on the mountain?" he said.

    "Yeah, I did. What's the problem?" Zoroark said, laying Gallian down on the table and hunching over to catch his breath.

    "We don't have wild Absols around here," Totem Decidueye said. "They all live in the Invern Mountains."

    "And for good reason! You've heard the stories, ya git. They bring disaster wherever they go," Lycanroc growled, looking disdainfully at Gallian. "Rack off with him, Zoroark. Otherwise he's gonna bring the cavern ceiling crashing down on all of us!"

    "Midnight, that's quite enough," Totem Decidueye said, waving him off with a wing. "I'm well aware of the superstitions."

    "You're not just going to ditch him because of that, are you?" Zoroark said. "You can't do that, Totem! He's…" Zoroark looked down at Gallian. "He's kind of like me."

    "I'm no hypocrite, Zoroark," Totem Decidueye said. "Of course we'll tend to Absol."

    Lycanroc stepped back from the table, piercing red eyes staring down Zoroark. Dusk shifted about uncomfortably next to him. Zoroark fixed his attention on Totem Decidueye. He expected his fellow guards to react like this, yet it still irked him. Zoroark bit his lower lip. He had to focus on Absol. That's all that mattered.

    Totem Decidueye approached the table and leaned down, gently placing a wing on Gallian's chest. "Alright, he's still breathing. By the looks of things, I'd say he took a dip in the Midnight Sea."

    "But Zoroark found him up on the mountain trail," Dusk said, frowning. "How could he have gotten up there?"

    "A bad run in with a rogue flying-type?" Zoroark said.

    "Don't make me laugh, mongrel," Lycanroc sneered. "I'll bet someone tossed him in there for a good reason."

    "Butt out, Midnight," Zoroark hissed, scraping his claws against the table.

    "It's all rather curious," Totem Decidueye said. "If Absol did indeed come from the Invern Mountains, then he left that Mystery Dungeon. But why would he do that?"

    "How would a wild Pokémon even be able to get all the way to the other side of Horizon?" Zoroark said.

    "I'm not sure. And that's where the problem lies," Totem Decidueye said. "Look here." He lifted one of Gallian's forepaws. "Even if they're dirty, these claws are filed. I don't think Absol is wild. I think he came from another town."

    "Piss off with that nonsense! What Totem has enough of a death wish to let an Absol live in their midst?" Lycanroc said, drawing disapproving looks from his colleagues. "Don't look at me like that. "Every minute he stays here, it puts the village at greater risk of a bloody catastrophe!"

    "Dusk… Midnight… why don't you two return to your patrols?" Totem Decidueye said, though his tone made it sound far more like an order than a suggestion. Dusk hastily left while Lycanroc followed behind her, glaring at Zoroark.

    Once Lycanroc was gone, Zoroark sighed in relief. He thought he'd have Lycanroc shouting in his ear all night. Now, he could actually focus on helping Absol.

    "Zoroark, do I have an elixir anywhere in my supplies?" Totem Decidueye asked.

    Zoroark knelt down to look into a wicker basket sitting on a smaller table. He pulled a glass bottle out of the middle of the basket. "Right here, sir," he said, waving the tonic around. "Want me to give it to Absol?"

    "No. Take that bowl over there and mix the elixir with mashed oran berry. Absol's stamina is depleted and I fear his health is suffering as a result," Totem Decidueye said. Zoroark grabbed the bowl and the oran berry and used a stone pestle to mash the latter into a paste. He poured in the elixir and stirred it around with his claws.

    "How's this?" he asked, holding up the bowl.

    Totem Decidueye examined Zoroark's handywork. "It'll do," he said, grabbing the bowl from Zoroark's hands. "Now, lift Absol's head up for me and hold his mouth open. We're going to have to force this down."

    The prospect made Zoroark queasy. "Eww. You're not gonna, like, feed it to him, are you?" he said. "Because you're a bird, so–"

    "I had you mash the berry for a reason, you know," Totem Decidueye said, chuckling. Zoroark walked back to the table, looking embarrassed. Using lifted Gallian's head up by the scythe, grabbed his jaw, and yanked it downward. Totem Decidueye poured the mixture into Gallian throat. When he finished, Zoroark closed Gallian's mouth and lifted his head up higher, making sure the medicine went down his throat and not his windpipe.

    The effect was immediate. Gallian coughed loudly and his eyes fluttered open. Zoroark lowered Gallian to the table and stepped back, kneeling until he was eye level with Gallian. "Hey there, Absol. You awake?" Zoroark whispered. He waved a paw in front of his face.

    Gallian blinked several times, trying to get his bearings straight. He fixed his gaze on Zoroark and his mouth hung open. "Uh… uhh," Gallian said. A red tint fell over his cheeks. He tried to cup his forepaws over his face but flinched in pain from the gesture.

    "I'm going to see if I have any more oran berries," Totem Decidueye whispered to Zoroark. "Keep him occupied in the meantime." He walked out of the room, leaving Zoroark alone with Gallian.

    Zoroark reached out and gently placed a paw on Gallian's shoulder. Gallian's eyes widened in surprise. 'Who's this guy? And… did he bring me to his house?!'

    "Shh… it's alright," Zoroark coaxed, holding his free paw out in front of him. "I'm sure you're a bit confused. Let me explain. You're in Cosmic Cavern. I'm Zoroark, one of the villagers here. I'm a guard, see, and I ran into you while patrolling the mountainside. You passed out, so I brought you back here to our Totem's house."

    "Zoro… ark," Gallian said. "You're… you're…"

    He figured this had to be some sort of dream.

    "Take your time. I don't exactly know what happened to you, but it can't have been good considering how haggard you look," Zoroark said, offering Gallian a reassuring smile.

    "You… you saved me," Gallian rasped.

    Zoroark's ears twitched. "Oh… aha ha… it was nothing, really," he said, rubbing the back of his head. "Just a part of the job, that's all."

    "No," Gallian whispered. "I was so exhausted… and so hungry. I thought I was a goner for sure." Gallian slowly sat up and glanced around Totem Decidueye's house. It was relatively plain, housing a couple of chairs, a shelf with some pottery, and a green carpet that was made entirely of feathers. He glanced out the window, where light crystals twinkled in the distance.

    Everything was so… quiet. Quiet and calm.

    "This place… it's a village, yeah?" Gallian said.

    "Yup."

    "And it's in a cave?" Gallian said.

    "Yeah," Zoroark said, raising a brow. "Um, you know, if you want to talk about what happened, I'm happy to–"

    "Do Pokémon like it down here?" Gallian said. "I mean, you don't get any sunlight. Wouldn't that get gloomy? Then again, I guess Zoroarks would prefer nighttime…" He stopped himself and blinked. "I'm sorry. Were you saying something?"

    Zoroark scratched his head. "I was just going to ask if you were okay telling me what happened to you. But it seems like you have other things on your mind and I don't want to pry," he said.

    Gallian stiffened. Of course this guy would want to know what happened. "Well… it's just… complicated. I was trying to reach a place like this… because I wanted somewhere quiet to live," he said.

    "Are you from the Invern Mountains, then?" Zoroark asked.

    "Um… I…" Gallian bit his lip and looked away. What was he supposed to say to this guy? Zoroarks were expert liars, so Gallian was sure this one would know if he was lying. Yet, he couldn't just talk about the guild. If he did, the Totem here would contact Metagross.

    Zoroark frowned and looked away. "I… I'm sorry," he whispered. "You've been through a lot. I shouldn't have tried to pry." He twiddled his claws nervously. "It's just… you know… you're a dark-type with a bit of a dubious reputation. Kinda like me. I figured we oughta look out for each other." He glanced toward the back room in Totem Decidueye's house. "Maybe I should just go help the Totem? I can't imagine why it'd be this hard to find another oran berry."

    "N… no," Gallian said, reaching a foreleg out. He misjudged the angle, however, and his paw brushed against Zoroark's waist. More blood rushed into Gallian's cheeks.

    Zoroark looked back at him in concern. He'd really gone and mucked things up now! Gallian knew he had to say something to make things less awkward.

    "I… well… c-can you keep a secret?" Gallian asked, wincing as his voice cracked.

    Zoroark knelt down again, his sharp blue eyes meeting Gallian's gaze. "Hey, like I said, us dark-types gotta stick together." His ears twitched and he glanced over his shoulder. "Hold that thought. Totem Decidueye is coming back."

    Totem Decidueye reentered the room, carrying the same bowl as before. "I figured I may as well mash this berry up, too," he said, setting the bowl down in front of Gallian. "Here. You need to get your health back."

    Gallian tried to reach for the bowl, but his aching head refused to budge. "I've got it," Zoroark offered, gripping the bowl and gently placing it up by Gallian's snout. Gallian graciously lapped up the berry paste, trying to avoid eye contact with Zoroark. He was sure Zoroark could tell he was flustered. The last thing Gallian wanted was for things to go south because he felt like ogling a stranger.

    He squirmed around on the table, his joints popping loudly the more he moved around. "How are you feeling now? Do you think anything's broken?" Totem Decidueye asked.

    "I'm just… sore," Gallian said. "My legs are throbbing and my head's pounding. But there isn't any massive pain or anything." His heart was also racing, but that was for an entirely different reason he didn't want anyone knowing about.

    Totem Decidueye nodded. "That's good to hear." He tucked his head down. "I must confess, Absol–"

    "Gallian."

    "Huh?" Zoroark said, raising a brow.

    Gallian lapped up some more berry juice, then said, "My name. It's… it's Gallian."

    "I'm not sure I follow," Zoroark said, brow furrowed.

    "W-well…" Gallian's voice trailed off and he bit his lip. "There's, uh, a Lucario in my family. Apparently, they gave each other names in ancient times, so it's kind of a family tradition."

    Totem Decidueye's brow furrowed. "So, you are a civilized 'mon, then," he said.

    Gallian stiffened in alarm. Why did he have to open his big mouth?

    Zoroark noticed the shift in Gallian's demeanor and stepped in front of him. "Um, hey, Totem. Why don't you let me take Absol back to recover at my place?" he said. "I know you're worried about the superstitions… and you've got to lead the village, so you'll be busy. I've got spare medicine from my last trip to Midday Valley, so I can tend to him and do my guard shift at night."

    Gallian's jaw slackened. Zoroark was willing to take him in? No strings attached? That was a huge step up from being willing to keep a secret! Gallian caught the corner of Zoroark's gaze and Zoroark winked at him reassuringly. Warmth spread across Gallian's face again.

    Gods, what was he doing? If he didn't control himself, then he was going to turn Zoroark's kindness into another Vaporeon situation. 'Deep breaths… deep breaths… stop staring at him, for pity's sake!' Gallian told himself.

    Totem Decidueye hummed in thought. "I don't have a problem with that offer, Zoroark. I'm just… concerned. Y'know, about what the other townsfolk will think if they see Absol in your presence."

    Gallian winced. Sure, this was more like what happened with Totem Toucannon than with Drampa, but the prospect still hurt. Would the other villagers really try to run him out just because of superstitions?

    Zoroark looked about ready to defend Gallian, but Totem Decidueye held up a wing. "Relax, you two. I am not going to kick a wounded Pokémon out of the village," he said. "I still remember hearing about the exploits of Team Go-Getters. They befriended a wild Absol and things turned out fine for them." He looked at Gallian. "You don't come across as hostile. Far from it, actually."

    "My den's the perfect spot for him. It's in the corner of the village, so I can keep him out of sight," Zoroark said. "The only real issue is getting him there. You can't walk, right?"

    Gallian strained to lift his head up higher and flopped back against the table. "I'm sorry. I've never been this tired before," he croaked.

    "Then I'll carry you," Zoroark said, pounding his chest. "I got you all the way here, didn't I? It'll be a piece of cake."

    Gallian bit down on his tongue in a half-baked effort to keep his runaway thoughts under control. "Well, Absol? Is that agreeable?" Totem Decidueye asked.

    "Y… yeah. Sure. Of course," Gallian replied, perhaps a bit too quickly and enthusiastically. He mentally kicked himself. What part of staying calm didn't he understand?

    Totem Decidueye gave him a skeptical look and shrugged. "Very well, then," he said. "Zoroark, I'll have Midnight cover your shift tomorrow. I think it's best you focus on getting Absol up and walking again."

    "If that's what you think is best, I won't complain," Zoroark said, nodding. He leaned down and scooped Gallian up. Gallian tensed up, squeezing his eyes shut. "Everything okay there?" Zoroark asked.

    "I'm fine. T-totally perfectly fine," Gallian squeaked.

    'Don't think about him… don't think about him… don't think about him…'

    "Okay then. Let's get going," Zoroark said. He hoisted Gallian over his shoulder and walked out of Totem Decidueye's house. Gallian was relieved at the change of scenery, since it offered him a distraction. He looked down at the different levels of the village.

    "The Pokémon here made their homes within these rocks?" Gallian asked.

    "Yeah. We can hollow out parts of the cavern walls to make homes for 'mons who want them," Zoroark whispered. "Try to keep your voice down, by the way. We don't really get sunlight in here, but most 'mons manage to sleep during the night."

    "Sorry," Gallian whispered back, taking in the sights of the tiny light crystals embedded into the rocks all around him. "Um… so, you said you're a guard here? How does that work?"

    "Oh, that. It's nothing special, really," Zoroark said, chuckling. "See, our village is inside of a mountain, right? Well, there are other parts to the mountain. Some of which may house wild Pokémon or offer a good hiding spot for outlaws. I patrol the mountainside and make sure that trouble doesn't come to the village."

    Gallian raised an eyebrow. "Is that everything? Because it sounds like there's more to it than that," he said, hoping he was right. Zoroark's job sounded perfect for him. It was the exact idea he had thought about earlier.

    Zoroark chuckled again. "You're a sharp one, there. Fitting with the scythe and claws, I suppose." Gallian snorted, a result of trying to hold back laughing. Zoroark turned and shushed him again. "Yeah, there's more to my job. Sometimes I help make supply runs to Midday Valley or go there to get information on things like weather patterns or changes in outlaw status."

    "I suppose the biggest part, though, is going into the Cavernous Depths," Zoroark said, glancing toward a tunnel opening behind them.

    "Is that a mystery dungeon?" Gallian asked, looking at the shadowy mist swirling around the tunnel.

    "Yup. Strange things pop up there, so I need to go explore it," Zoroark said. "Sometimes I'll find supplies or an unruly wild Pokémon that needs calming down." He shrugged. "It might not be as glamorous as, say, working for the Horizon Guild. But it's a solid job and I'm happy with it."

    Gallian stiffened against Zoroark's shoulder. That was exactly what he did over at the guild. Gallian didn't see any reason why he couldn't be a guard here. If he did that, maybe the villagers would accept him.

    Zoroark reached the village's ground level and made his way toward the nearest outcropping of rock. "Here we are," he announced quietly. Zoroark carried Gallian in through the door. "You'll have to, uh, excuse the mess. I'm not really used to having guests." He walked to the back of the room and laid Gallian down on a straw bed. Gallian winced, his sore muscles objecting to the prickly fibers bristling his legs and underbelly.

    Gallian had a look around the room. There were some bowls and cups made from clay positioned on a pair of tables, caked with the remnants of past meals. Like Totem Decidueye, Zoroark had a carpet. This one was black and shaggy, however. In a sense, it resembled the fur on Zoroark's chest. Open books lay scattered around the floor. Zoroark dashed toward them, scooping them up in his arms and sticking them in his mane.

    "Anything I could get you that'd make you more comfortable?" Zoroark asked. "I could make some tapu cocoa for you. I'm not as good with the recipe as Totem Decidueye is, but it's great for trying to relax."

    Gallian's face grew hot and he rested it against the straw. "I think I'm okay," he whispered. His eyes fell on a small square cloth situated in front of him. Like Zoroark's dishes, the cloth had crusty patches on it. Before Gallian could examine it further, however, Zoroark's arm swiped it off the ground. Gallian glanced up and watched Zoroark stuff the cloth in his mane, an embarrassed look on his face. What was so important about a dirty piece of cloth, anyway?

    "So… uh…" Zoroark tapped his claws together. "I guess I'll let you get some rest."

    "Where are you gonna sleep?" Gallian asked.

    Zoroark jerked his head toward a doorway to his right. "I've got some towels in there. I'll make myself a little mat in my dining nook. If you need me… uh…" His voice trailed off and he looked around the room. He grabbed one of the used bowls and set it down by Gallian. "Just hit this with your scythe. I'm kind of a deep sleeper, so I apologize in advance if I don't wake up."

    "Okay," Gallian said. He tried to curl into a ball, but his legs refused to budge. Zoroark nodded and walked out of the room. He came back moments later with towels in his arms and walked toward the only other doorway in the house.

    "Sleep well, okay?" he whispered.

    "Thanks. You too," Gallian said. Zoroark disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Gallian alone on the straw bed. He stared into the darkness, a mental image of Zoroark lingering in front of him.

    'If I could stay here… with him… maybe all this trouble will be worth it.'

    XxX

    ~Cavernous Depths~

    "An Absol? A bloody Absol? Has the Totem completely lost it?!" Lycanroc snarled, pacing back and forth by the black cloud marking the way back to Cosmic Cavern. "I mean… I knew he was a sucker for Zoroark, but to bend over for him like this… it's bloody unforgivable!"

    Dusk sat on her haunches and curled her tail around her waist. "I don't know, Midnight. Don't you think you're overreacting just a little bit to this?" she said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm worried, too. But I don't think Zoroark would do something to intentionally bring trouble to the village."

    Lycanroc whirled on Dusk, his crimson eyes gleaming in the shadows. "What are you talking about? The guy's a total drongo! Everything he does is suspicious," Lycanroc barked, shaking his right fist at Dusk.

    "Midnight… you're letting your anger get the better of you, again," Dusk said, sighing and lowering her head. "We've talked about this… you've got to control your temper."

    "I'll control my bloody temper when Totem Decidueye mons up and gives Absol the boot!" Lycanroc growled, kicking pebbles in Dusk's direction. "I ain't about to go to sleep tonight knowing there's a disaster-bringer in our midst… staying in the company of a two-face, conniving prick of a dark-type!"

    "That's enough, Midnight," Dusk said, getting to her feet. Her green eyes flashed red. "Look… I know you're still upset about what happened at that party, but you have to move past it. You can't keep holding grudges like this, Midnight. The other villagers are sick of it–"

    "Holding grudges? Moving past it?!" Lycanroc hissed, hunching over so his paws rested on the ground. He flashed his canines at Dusk. "That root rat almost claimed me! How am I supposed to look past that? Even if he was a sheila, I still wouldn't want him!"

    "You're blowing it out of proportion… again," Dusk said, shaking her head. "It was one kiss–"

    "He groped my arse!" Lycanroc snarled, paws glowing blue.

    "Yeah, well, both of you were drunk and you were teasing him after I told you not to," Dusk said, taking a hesitant step back. "Look, Midnight, I'm trying to stick up for you around the others. But you're making it really hard. If you could just control your temper–"

    Dusk never saw Lycanroc's glowing fist coming. She fell to the ground, wondering how he had closed the gap so fast. Lycanroc grabbed her bloody snout and yanked her up. "S… stop! Midnight… please!" she squealed. "I'm… I just want… to help. You're my… friend. I… I…"

    "I shouldn't need to worry about my bloody temper. If I'd evolved into Midday like I wanted… then maybe I wouldn't be so angry all the time," Lycanroc hissed. He threw Dusk to the ground. "All of this is your fault!" he shouted, nostrils flaring. "You had already evolved! You could've taken those Geodudes! Instead, I had to bail your ass out… and look what happened! Why weren't you paying attention?!"

    Dusk didn't answer. She lay on the ground, shuddering, with Lycanroc panting above her. Finally, she squeaked, "I'm sorry. I got distracted. It was a mistake."

    "A mistake that ruined my bloody life," Lycanroc snarled.

    "Midnight, please… you have to calm down," Dusk begged, lifting her head up. "I know the playful, energetic Rockruff I had a huge crush on is still in there somewhere. Let me help you find him!"

    Lycanroc hocked up a loogie and spat it into Dusk's face. "I don't want your help," he whispered. "If you're not going to convince Absol to leave, then stay out of my way." Lycanroc turned and marched into the black fog, leaving Dusk lying on the ground, clutching her injured snout.

    XxX
    Some of you may remember that, during the Q&A event, Lycanroc said he wanted to evolve into Midnight form since it let him walk on two feet. While not Sakurai levels of trolling, that was indeed intentional misdirection. Hey, nobody said all the answers would be honest. :p

    Next time: the ship officially sets sail!
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Finally getting back into this. Time for a review of episode 5.

    Are you real.


    As an aside, glad that I finally see Absol Gallian! Kinda. Seems that your Disaster Sense interpretation is to sense any kind of disaster, not just a matter of weather or things of that nature. It’s borderline psychic, just in a vague sense. Like Shulk without actually knowing what’s coming, just that it’d be something bad.

    Wow it has been a while since that happened, in terms of narrative. I think in hindsight I see why it seems a bit excessive to have such a long, multi-part special episode in the middle of the story like that. I wonder if the other special episodes are similar? They’re quite long.


    __


    Well, we have another interesting boss fight against another Ultra Pokémon, though we still have no real idea what the Prism Virus really is, or anything else related to that sort of thing. Still more mook fights, basically. Was this chapter at all of any context? I have my doubts, but I do at least appreciate it bringing my back up to speed after the three-part Special beforehand.

    I still question the authenticity of a furred creature sweating in this way. Imagine the inconvenience! Can they even cool down via evaporation this way? I can imagine for a scaly creature, but fur? I feel like I’m nitpicking at something wholly inconsequential.

    I mean, this isn’t your first failure or anything…

    …Actually, this is a valid point, all things considered.

    ………..I’ve got my eye on you. I’m getting vibes, and not good ones.

    This line is a tad confusing. I’d do a paragraph break after the first sentence to separate out Tessa’s line from Shane’s action.

    Thanks, Shane. As of now, the vibe I’m getting from this guy is basically a 1:1 with Lillie’s brother. Doesn’t help that we have Null around to complete the set.

    Okay but how though? Mmhh, this exchange spells out what’s already known to me, but the main thing here is that it doesn’t really give a hint on direction on where this is supposed to go. Gallian the enemy? I’m not super sure about that. Maybe an anti-hero that is suspected of being the enemy, until I get further information on the matter.

    Wasn’t there an actual Absol all the way back in Rescue Team that didn’t have that? I guess Horizon is behind the times…

    Huh, so you decided to change the tone midway, huh? I guess that explains the sudden shift, though I hope it isn’t too jarring. You’re quite a bit far in to do that. Frankly I was enjoying the relatively lighthearted nature, even with the looming darkness going on.


    __

    Hmm, Nicky from the human world. It’s obviously important if it’s being included. Still, nothing else to go by.

    UNCULTURED SWINE.

    You are not doing this. Oh my god, you’re actually doing this.

    Okay, actually, legit question, since when did Shane actually become smart? Was he always like this? This seems weirdly level of him, unless he’s just trying to BS his way into accusing Gallian because of that hunch? Even then, the deductions are weirdly too clever.

    I always thought it was weird that there are emeras outside of Dungeons. I recall in Super they can only exist within the anomalies, but I suppose things are different here. In general, things like that give me pause, when the canon is modified in such a way, but it isn't done as a premise. By now, we're faaaar and away from premise territory, five episodes in, so changes in canon for the convenience of the plot and narrative--which, if I recall, happen down the line as well from your talks on discord--are a bit concerning, especially since Shane has been accurate with his knowledge of the past, down to the odd trivia of dual Ho-Ohs. It's... inconsistent.


    __


    Lycanroc…? Why does that sound familiar…? Hmm… oh! From the special episode! Though I get the feeling this may not be the very same one. Well, isn’t that curious. That being said, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see in the next episode what that all means.


    Overall, I have to say that this special episode only had one truly important thing worth noting – the introduction of Gallian. Everything else was more or less a repeat of what had happened before, just reiterated another way, and that includes the little dream with Solga. Oh, and that brief dream as a human. I guess I’ll see if Episode 6 has anything more substantial to provide, and, as mentioned in that final chapter, if the tone shift isn’t too jarring down the line, either.
     
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    I sometimes find myself asking the same question.

    Yes the other special episodes are multi-parters because I get carried away and apparently don't want this story to have an audience on forums. <.<;

    It was pretty much designed to put Team Radiance in an unwinnable scenario since, despite some clumsy slip-ups, they've been successful battling up to this point.

    I'm pretty much just running on anime logic, here.

    But it is there most serious one yet.

    I'll take it! :V

    "Aww, isn't that sweet. Look, I'm sure you're a real nice guy and everything, but I've got myself a squeeze already, so I'm good."

    Whoops. Guess that's going in the edit queue.

    I mean, you're not wrong. :V

    Well, that is a good question to ask. How much do you trust the voice in Shane's dreams that's not proving to be any help at all so far?

    Uh, well I was going by the Ginji's Rescue Team canon in which it is suspected of bringing disasters a la Absol's dex entry. I like to think of it as him living near Mt. Freeze so that he's isolated from civilized areas and, thus, his disaster sense is pretty quiet and tame. Horizon Absols are the same way, living secluded lives in the mountains. Remember, Gallian's egg was found in the middle of a snowstorm. Absols aren't typically raised a civilized 'mons.

    Not exactly. I knew I'd be changing the tone as early as the second chapter. But since I had a 10-chapter backog, I wasn't just going to shoehorn in things that would bump up the rating (swears, blood, crude humor, etc.).

    This was put in on advice of a friend who said it was necessary to prevent future diabolous ex machina.

    Hey, vacations to Hawaii are expensive.

    You can thank Negrek and diamondpearl876 for the suggestion. :p

    This is his obsessive personality taking hold. Like, he's played the Ace Attorney games so many times he can quote lines off memory. And watches crime shows obsessively, too. So naturally he's going to jump at the chance to try and make something like this happen.

    Again, I think you've got the wrong idea. While the major events of the games happened here, the foundations that make up this world are fundamentally different, if that makes sense. It's going to be more apparent what the differences are the further the story goes. But, with the emera example, it was mentioned in an earlier chapter that stardust falls from the skies and is used to make emeras. Keep that tucked away because it'll be important down the road.

    Well, that was a Midday Lycanroc acting as Tessa's grandpa. This is a Midnight Lycanroc. The differences will become apparent soon enough.

    Well, I can promise that Episode 6 is quite substantial. Thanks again for reviewing and sorry for the delayed response.

    May as well throw in a little post-Missing Mod Madness ditty. It's not as extensive as what Del did... but it's something!

    XxX

    This is an omake... please don't take it seriously!

    ~Cosmic Cavern~
    Silvally trotted out of an Ultra Wormhole, stopping by the swirling cloud of black fog marking the entrance to the Cavernous Depths. "Well... that was... quite the ordeal," Silvally said, sitting down and scratching at his right cheek bolt with his right hind leg. "And here I thought that stuff in Anyilla was wild. At least I got to do something heroic instead of getting kidnapped by pirates."

    "There you are! We've been looking everywhere for you!"

    Tessa ran up to Silvally, followed by his other teammates and Team Paradox. "You had us worried," she said, hugging Silvally's right foreleg.

    "Aha ha... sorry about that," Silvally said, tail wagging and glowing parts turning yellow. "I'm back. That's all that matters."

    "What happened to you, anyway?" Shane asked. "We saw you get dragged through an Ultra Wormhole."

    "Oh, it was totally wild," Silvally said, head crest fanning out. "Remember how we got sucked into that world of seafaring 'mons? Well, this time I got sent to some sort of library with all these books." His colors shifted to pink. "There are way more realities out there than I could've possibly imagined!"

    "Other... realities?" Luxeira said, raising a brow. "You mean, like the worlds lying in Ultra Space?"

    Silvally shook his head. "No, that's all part of our reality. But there are other realities out there and I got to meet some of their inhabitants. I even traveled to this one reality that had space pirates fighting Ultra Beasts. I commandeered their ship to travel through Ultra Space! It was... a giant Wishiwashi, for some reason."

    "Whoa, whoa, slow down. You lost me," Tessa said, aura feelers throbbing.

    "Wait... giant Wishiwashi ship?" Shane said. "Ah! That was you we saw in the Cavernous Depths?"

    Silvally cocked his head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

    "When you went missing, we went into the Cavernous Depths to search for you," Espeon said, tail drifting lazily back and forth. "In the basin, we spotted a giant Wishiwashi disappearing into an Ultra Wormhole with Necrozma."

    "It was quite baffling. I've never heard of someone traversing Ultra Space in a Wishiwashi ship," Sticky said, turning upside down and draw a Schooling Wishiwashi in the ground with his purple ink. "Though, I must admit, it's a pretty funny mental image." He looked at his drawing and chuckled.

    "After you left, we got swarmed by these black, slimy creatures," Shane said. He turned and swished his tails at Silvally, showing the trails of black sludge caking them. "My tails are absolutely ruined thanks to those assholes!"

    "Oh, hush, Shane. You'll live," Tessa said, waving him off. "Besides, there isn't a day that's gone by since you got here that you haven't gotten gunked up. You're, like, the worst Ninetales on the face of the planet."

    "It's not my fault this world hates me," Shane said, ears folding against his head. "I'm trying to be fabulous, but the powers that be are just like, 'No, this guy needs to get tossed into another mud pit.'"

    "I take it the aliens weren't any problem for you guys, then?" Silvally said.

    "Right. They were great target practice," Tessa said, punching the air. "I'm, uh, still trying to improve my aim on my Aura Spheres."

    "Yeah. She almost hurled one right into my face," Luxeira grumbled, leaning over and brushing her curved horns with a blue forepaw.

    "You're fine. It's like my grandpa always said: 'Almost is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades,'" Shane said. The rest of the group collectively rolled their eyes.

    "So, did you meet anyone interesting?" Espeon wondered.

    "Oh, absolutely! The space pirates were pretty cool... though their Mawile captains was so grumpy he made Gallian look like a bundle of sunshine and rainbows," Silvally said, chuckling.

    "Now that's a funny mental image," Shane said.

    "I heard that!"

    Flinching, Shane turned to see an Absol head poking out from the window of a nearby house carved into the rock walls of the cave. "You're a grump and you know it," Shane said, flicking his snout and tails upward. Gallian leered at Shane before ducking back inside the building.

    "Anyway," Silvally said, clearing his throat, "I also some some bona fide humans. Like... standing on two furless legs and everything!"

    Shane doubled over in a coughing fit. "Say what now?"

    "Yeah. At least, I'm pretty sure they were human," Silvally said. "There was this one guy who wouldn't stop swearing, though. 'The Great Nathaniel Morgan' or something like that. Shane, do all humans have such absurd names where you come from?"

    "What? No, of course not," Shane scoffed. "Okay, well there were a lot of people who appended 'The Great' to their names. Alexander the Great... Ivan the Great..."

    "Wow. Humans sound like pretty egotistical folks," Sticky said, frowning.

    "Well, there were also plenty of Pokémon there, too," Silvally said. "I got to see Cabot again. We didn't really have any time to speak, but he seems to be doing okay."

    "He didn't hold our last meeting against you?" Tessa gasped. "I mean... we kind of froze his ship and made a lot of people mad."

    "I'm surprised you didn't attack him. His crew did kidnap you," Shane said.

    "Water under the bridge," Silvally said, waving it off. "Besides, at least he helped battle Necrozma when the guy went on a rampage. Which is more than I can say for Palkia."

    "Y... you met Palkia?!" Tessa gasped, aura feelers shooting up in alarm.

    "Wow, seriously?" Shane said, stars in his eyes. "What was he like?"

    "Total dick," Silvally said. "And that's not just a comment on his phallic appearance." Espeon's ears and tails stuck up at that. "Like, the guy seemed to take joy in watching everyone scramble in a panic. What a bitch! Hell, he was just sitting back and watching us try to fight Necrozma... though apparently after I blacked out he finally decided to do something."

    "Well, I've heard stories about the guy," Espeon said. "Apparently he dragged Team Poképals from their home kicking and screaming because he believed Darkrai's lies. Never even apologized for the mix-up, either."

    "I don't think he was the Palkia of our world," Silvally said. "But it sounds like Legends are bad no matter what reality you end up in." He shook his head. "At least it wasn't all bad. I got to use that Groovibomb you talked about, Shane."

    "Are you kidding me? I missed that?" Shane gasped. "Damn it... this totally blows!" He stomped a forepaw angrily on the ground, creating tiny ice ripples.

    "And... uh... there was this one guy who caught my eye," Silvally said, glowing parts turning red. "Or, rather, I'm interested to see what he'll become. He was only a Charmander, but apparently he evolved into a Charmeleon. I caught a glimpse of it reading this Pikachu's mind and, well, I liked what I saw. I'd be interested to track him down and see if I can't turn him into a Charizard."

    Shane and Tessa exchanged confused looks while Espeon stood there, jaw hanging open and tail curled against her waist. "Uh... well... that all sounded delightful," she said, coughing loudly. "Seems like you had quite the trying ordeal. Why don't we get you some sleep?"

    "Sounds good to me," Silvally said, yawning.

    XxX
    "Nyaaaargh!"

    An Ultra Wormhole opened and Necrozma tumbled out of it, black slime trailing off his body. He splashed down into the ocean and sank under the surface. A slick black trail formed where he hit the water. After a few seconds, bubbles frothed up next to the ooze and Necrozma shot out of the water, third eye glowing brightly. He thrust his wings apart, scattering water droplets in all directions.

    "JaMBlAsTeD aLIeNs! RuINiNg mY vICTorY aND mY CHanCe At PAlKia's LIGht wItH sTUpiD DeuS eX maCHiNA!" Necrozma screeched, clawing at his armored forehead until the glow faded from his third eye. "But... it wasn't a total loss, I suppose. No... not at all. Heeheeheehee! I fought Palkia to a standstill. I was this close to obliterating him. That means... nobody can stop me! My power... is unrivaled!"

    His tongue lolled out of his mouth and he licked his lips. "Even better... I know there are other realities just as wretched as this one," he said, third eye flashing. "Some... abandoned and in decay. Not worthy targets, but ones that must be purged so chaos can spread. But others... heeheeheehee! So many worlds brimming with life that I can bring to ruin! My portals can tunnel through these realities... all I need is my core and I can effortlessly wipe everyone out. Just as the Destroyer of Worlds wants. Chaos... across every reality!"

    Necrozma hunched over, drool trickling onto the black slime layering the ocean. "Heeheeheehee. I think I know where to start, too," he said, rubbing his hands together. "That twerpy little lizard. So bright-eyed... so full of hope and optimism... how sickening!" His third eye shined brightly. "I will take my core back and I will rip off that cheerful mask like the pathetic facade it really is! I don't care how much you pray... or say your comrades give your strength... in the end, all relationships are suffering! The only true joy to be found in any reality... is chaos!"

    He pointed his arms ahead and shot a ball of light in front of him. An Ultra Wormhole formed and Necrozma flew into it.

    "Mark my words... I will not stop until each and every world is left in ruin! No one is safe from Necrozma! Heeheeheehee!"

    END
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Surgeon General's warning: chapter contains fluff levels higher than your recommended daily allowance. Consult your doctor before reading.

    XxX

    Chapter 69: The Bond Phenomenon


    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    After one of the deepest sleeps in Gallian's recent memory, he awoke to cloth bristling his fur. He shifted on the straw bed and noticed a dark gray blanket draped over his back. Gallian wondered where it came from.

    "Morning, Absol," Zoroark greeted, jolting Gallian to attention. He turned around to find Zoroark sweeping up the floor in front of him. "I didn't wake you, did I?" Zoroark said.

    Gallian shook his head. "How long was I sleeping for?"

    Zoroark walked over to a closed window and opened it. He glanced outside, craning his neck to look up toward Totem Decidueye's house. "Hmm… with the way the light looks it's probably early afternoon," Zoroark said.

    "E… early afternoon?!" Gallian gasped. He really was slipping away, then. If Zoroark hadn't found him, he'd probably be dead.

    "Oh, hope you don't mind the blanket, by the way," Zoroark continued, not noticing the worried look on Gallian's face. "I was about to lie down and go to sleep when it occurred to me that no one had really dried you off. I didn't want you to catch a cold so I warmed that blanket up and draped it over you."

    Gallian blinked slowly. He lowered his head, trying to stop Zoroark from seeing him blush. Of course the first guy he would meet would be super nice and good-looking. Gallian figured it was going to be even harder to avoid another Vaporeon situation.

    "It's alright," he said. "I'm still sore, to be sure. But at least I can move around."

    "That's a relief," Zoroark said, smiling. "But don't overdo it, okay? Anything you want, you just let me know." He scratched at his right ear. "Which begs the question of what happened to you to put you in such a sorry state." Zoroark squatted down so he was eye-level with Gallian. "Do you think you could tell me?"

    Gallian flinched. This guy was good at puppy dog eyes. It must've been a perk of his species. Still, Gallian wasn't sure just how much to tell Zoroark.

    "All I can say… is that I traveled a great distance across Horizon. I wanted to find a quiet, tucked away place like this, but I ran into trouble. I ended up in the Midnight Sea… and scaled a cliff up to the path you found me on," he explained.

    Zoroark frowned. He wanted to help, but couldn't fault Gallian's caution on the subject. "Okay, I won't pry any further, then," he said. Zoroark walked out of the room, leaving a bewildered Gallian sitting on the straw bed.

    That conversation went poorly. Gallian was sure of it. He stayed too tight-lipped and now Zoroark was pissed at him. 'Nice going, dumbass! This guy's bending over backwards for you–'

    He cut his thoughts off with a cringe. That was a poor choice of words. Now, Gallian had to clear that image out of his mind. Zoroark was going out of his way to help. He couldn't push Zoroark aside like a piece of dirt. Gallian was thinking up a way to apologize when Zoroark walked out with a bowl in his hands.

    "I took an oran berry and boiled it in ginseng," Zoroark said, setting the bowl down. "Totem Decidueye's done this for me when I've gotten hurt in the past. Hopefully I did this right, but if you, like, turn green or something, then I guess I'll have my answer." He laughed nervously.

    Gallian stared at his "breakfast" as if it was ready to sprout legs and walk away. A bubble pooled in the soup-like liquid. Gallian leaned down just as the bubble burst. Red juice splattered across his face, drawing a chuckle from Zoroark. Gallian thanked the gods the juice was red to hide the blush falling over his cheeks. He lowered his head back toward the bowl and lapped up the piping hot mixture. The oran berry's juiciness was backed by a surprisingly potent kick, which Gallian suspected the ginseng.

    "Wow, this thing's pretty strong," he whispered, lifting his head up and repetitively puckering and unpuckering his lips.

    "Hmm… might've used too much ginseng," Zoroark said. "I could add some water to weaken it, if you want."

    "I'm okay," Gallian said, slurping up more of his meal. "It's making my insides tingle, but in a good way. Like, the fatigue's fading away a bit, if that makes any sense."

    Zoroark smiled. "Great, that means it's working." He sat down in a chair a few feet from the bed. "I've still got awhile before I have to start my guard shift, so if there's anything you want, just let me know."

    "Um… can I ask you a question?" Gallian wondered.

    "Technically you just did," Zoroark said, a wry grin on his face.

    Gallian snorted mid-drink. More juice splashed across his face, this time striking his forehead and leaving the faintest red tint in his dirty white fur. Zoroark's grin widened. "Okay… you got me there," Gallian said, trying not to let his embarrassment show through. "Can I ask you several questions, then?"

    "I don't see why not," Zoroark said.

    "It's about this place, actually," Gallian said, gulping down the last of his breakfast and pushing the bowl away. He lay back down on the bed, hoping Zoroark had good things to say about his home.

    "Cosmic Cavern?" Zoroark asked.

    "Ah, yeah. Spaced on the name," Gallian said. "Have you… um… lived here your whole life?"

    Zoroark raised a brow. "That's a bit personal, don't you think?"

    Gallian stiffened. "Oh… oh gods… I'm sorry! I shouldn't–"

    "Relax, Absol," Zoroark said, holding his hands up. "I'm not upset or anything. Judging from what you said earlier, I take it you don't really want to leave when you're healed up, do you?"

    'Wow, he's good,' Gallian concluded. "I guess I wasn't doing a good job hiding it," he said, picking at the straws around him.

    Zoroark twirled a lock of hair around in his claw. "In that case, I don't see the harm in talking with you about the village," he said, to Gallian's delight. "I've lived here most of my life, but I wasn't born here."

    Gallian bit his lip. Zoroark was living alone. Did that mean he had no family in the picture? Gallian glanced toward the shelf on the other side of the room, looking for anything that offered a vague hint. All he found were book spines and oddly-shaped rocks.

    "Um… so… it's just you here, then?" Gallian asked.

    "Yeah," Zoroark said. "Lemme guess… you want to know about my family?" Gallian winced, but Zoroark waved him off. "Don't get yourself worked up. I don't have any trouble talking about those assholes."

    The harsh language was a surprise. "Did… did something bad happen?" Gallian said.

    "My moms were notorious outlaws. When I told them I didn't want to take up the family business, they tossed me into the Midnight Sea and left me for dead," Zoroark said stoically. "I can assure you, I'm happy Officer Magnezone's team caught 'em and put 'em behind bars. It's where they belong."

    "Y… you're kidding," Gallian said, his jaw dropping. Zoroark's family abandoned him, too? The similarities were getting creepy. It's like the gods themselves arranged their meeting. Gallian's neck fur prickled and he settled himself with a deep breath. He had to avoid making things awkward.

    "Totem Decidueye rescued me from the Midnight Sea and brought me here," Zoroark continued. "Well, okay, technically he didn't bring me right here." He pointed down to the floor, drawing a chuckle from Gallian. "He took me to his house and raised me until I evolved."

    "Wow, that was really generous of him," Gallian said. "The only Totem Pokémon I've met who I can remember is Toucannon. She… wasn't really a fan of me."

    "I hear you there, Absol," Zoroark said, ears drooping.

    "Um, my name's Gallian. I mentioned that when we were in Totem Decidueye's house," Gallian said, poking at the empty food bowl. This routine hadn't gone over well last night, but he figured he owed it to Zoroark to say something about his personal life.

    "Oh... yeah, you did," Zoroark said. "I just thought you were confused because of how tired you were. Besides, you look like a 'Sharp-Scythe' to me," he said, sticking a claw up over his head.

    "It's like I said last night, there's a Lucario in my family," Gallian said. "She gave me the name and I never questioned it."

    "Huh. Well, okay. If it makes you feel more comfortable, then 'Gallian' it is," Zoroark said, shrugging.

    Gallian wondered how one Pokémon could be so accommodating, then kicked himself for letting his thoughts run wild again. "Err… what were you saying before we got off track?" Gallian asked, clearing his throat.

    "Oh." Zoroark sat up straight. "Well… um… it's nothing."

    "Did I do something wrong?" Gallian said.

    "No, of course not," Zoroark said. "Your Totem Toucannon comment… reminded me of something, that's all."

    Gallian considered pressing further, but didn't dare risk upsetting Zoroark. There was a knock at the door before he could say anything.

    "Oy, Fuzzhead! Open up, you git! I got words for you!"

    "W… who's that? He sounds upset," Gallian whispered, sitting up.

    "Midnight Lycanroc," Zoroark said. "He's one of the other guards. We, uh, don't get along well." He sighed and got to his feet. "Stay there. I'll go see what he wants." Zoroark marched up to the door and swung it open. His frame blocked the doorway, preventing Gallian from seeing Lycanroc for himself.

    "What's this I hear about you taking Absol into your care, Fuzzhead?" Lycanroc snarled. "If he's all patched up, then give him the boot. I'll be damned if I let Absol spend another minute here!"

    Gallian winced and shrank down onto the bed, burying his head in straw. Zoroark glanced this out of the corner of his eye and spread his arms out to keep Lycanroc at bay. "I'm nursing him back to health, Midnight," Zoroark said.

    "Yeh? Well, you're a drongo for wanting to keep him around these parts. None of us want him here. So, tell him to buzz off!" Lycanroc said, red eyes flashing.

    "No," Zoroark said, leering at Lycanroc. "I'm not about to turn my back on a Pokémon that needs help. That's why I chose to be a guard."

    "Bugger off with that nonsense," Lycanroc growled, shoving Zoroark. "You're a guard because we don't want you around us any longer than you have to be, you root rat." He tried to peer over Zoroark's shoulder but Zoroark stood tall, using his mane to further block Lycanroc's view. "And that goes double for Absol. Piss off, Absol! You ain't wanted here!"

    Crimson energy crackled across Zoroark's claws. "You're the one who needs to 'piss off,' Midnight. You've got a problem with what I'm doing? Take it up with the Totem. He already approved this, so I doubt he'll see things your way."

    Lycanroc swung a glowing paw at Zoroark, who caught it and smushed Lycanroc's arm against the doorway. "Let… go," Lycanroc grunted. "I'm… trying to keep… the village safe."

    "No, you're not. You're trying to spite me… like always," Zoroark growled. "I'm giving you one chance to walk away."

    Lycanroc wrenched his arm free. He stepped back, brushing a paw across his snout. "Tch. Fine. Keep the mutt. It's only a matter of time before you end up in the Tree of Life with every sorry spirit that ever trusted an Absol," he growled. Lycanroc turned and stomped away from the house, casting nasty looks back in Zoroark's direction.

    Zoroark closed the door and turned back around to Gallian, frowning. "I'm sorry you had to see that," he said. "Don't listen to him. The guy's a dick. He picks fights with anyone in town who so much as looks at him funny. And he holds grudges for the stupidest reasons."

    Gallian stared at the floor in disbelief. They hadn't even known each other a day and Zoroark was willing to stick up for him like that. Guilt welled up in Gallian's gut. He didn't deserve something like this. All he had done was run away from home.

    "You didn't have to stand up for me like that," he whispered.

    "It's not a big deal," Zoroark said, shrugging. "Nothing Lycanroc said was new to me."

    "What do you mean by that?" Gallian wondered.

    "You don't know?" Zoroark said. "It all goes back to Dark Matter's attack." He slumped over, resting his forearms on his thighs. "With how easily Dark Matter was able to control Yveltal and Nuzleaf and get them to do its bidding… dark-types got bad raps once things died down."

    "We did?" Gallian squeaked.

    "Yeah, of course," Zoroark said. "Were you living under a rock before you came here? How could you have avoided running into trouble for so long?"

    Incineroar came to mind. Gallian's dad must've shielded him from getting treated badly. The realization only intensified Gallian's guilt. He couldn't even muster up an answer for Zoroark.

    "The short version is that there are plenty of 'mons out there who think dark-types are trouble. They must believe we're, like, secretly working to bring Dark Matter back," Zoroark explained. "In my case, when I try to be nice to the villagers, some of them assume it's because I'm looking to hurt them or steal something." Zoroark leaned back on the table, lying on his mane and sighing. "You'd think after all these years this wouldn't happen anymore, but it does."

    Gallian's chest grew heavy. "So, the reason you joined the guards…"

    "… is because I wanted to help the village," Zoroark cut in tersely. He sat back up, scowling. "I thought I could hold my own in battle after evolving, so joining the guards was a natural conclusion for me.

    "Got it," Gallian said, wincing. 'Way to piss him off, idiot. Say something to fix this.' He fiddled with straw at the edge of his bed. "Um… for what it's worth… I think you're nice," he said, regretting his inability to come up with something better.

    "I appreciate the thought, though you'll have to forgive me if I think you might be a little bit biased considering what happened yesterday," Zoroark said. Despite his comment, he smirked at Gallian, who wasn't sure if he should laugh.

    After a moment of indecision, Gallian smirked back and said, "Guilty as charged, I guess." He yawned loudly and sank down deeper into the straw. "Ugh… the sluggishness is back."

    "You're probably still fatigued," Zoroark said. "You should get some more rest."

    "But I've already slept so long, I–" Gallian started, only for another yawn to cut him off. His eyelids drooped and his blinking slowed.

    Zoroark closed his window, shrouding the room in darkness. "I'll give you the room," he whispered and retreated to the kitchen.

    An invisible force weighed on Gallian's chest again. "No… c-come back," he said, but his voice was so hushed there was no way Zoroark could hear him. Gallian blinked a few more times before his eyelids stayed shut and he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

    This pattern continued for the next several days. Gallian would sleep through most of the day and night, awakening in short bursts to take in a meal. Sometimes Zoroark was there, in which case Gallian would pepper him with questions related to his guard work and the Mystery Dungeon he got to patrol. All the while, Gallian tried to keep his thoughts in check and his gaze focused on Zoroark's eyes, fearing what would happen if he let it drift somewhere else. Other times, Gallian would wake up to find himself alone, with a berry placed on the table next to a note from Zoroark.

    Eventually, Gallian was able to get himself out of bed and walk slowly around the house. At which point, Zoroark led him on walks through Cosmic Cavern's entrance tunnel. They'd proceed in silence, with Gallian staring mystified at the light crystals. With each walk, Zoroark did his best to judge Gallian's energy level. Whenever Gallian slowed down, Zoroark turned him around and took him back home.

    Three weeks after his arrival in Cosmic Cavern, Gallian finally made it out of the cave. He and Zoroark stepped out onto the mountain. In front of them lay a sprawling sunset. Orange light twinkled through the rippling waves of the Midnight Sea. Off in the distance, storm clouds formed a single black spot in the orange sky. Smoke trails rose into the air, creating a foreboding scene that sent a chill down Gallian's spine.

    "This is… wow," Gallian whispered. "All these mountains are breathtaking. We never had a view like this at Ae–" Gallian caught his mistake and cut himself off. "I mean… we never had a view like this back home."

    Zoroark shot Gallian a curious look. By the sound of it, Gallian was from Aeon Town. Zoroark wanted to follow up, but sensed Gallian still wasn't ready to talk about his home. Instead, he took a deep breath and said, "Yeah, I like taking shifts out here because of this view. It's nice. Makes you appreciate what the Tapus have given us."

    "Yeah," Gallian said. "Um… you think we could walk a bit further?"

    "Are you sure you're up for it?" Zoroark asked, a look of concern on his face.

    Gallian nodded. "Seeing this gave me a second wind. Come on." He smiled at Zoroark and walked along the mountain path. Zoroark went along with him. They proceeded in silence at first, until Gallian said, "Zoroark, I'd like to be a guard."

    "You would?" Zoroark said, freezing mid-step.

    "Yes, I've made up my mind. You were spot-on when we first spoke. I do want to settle here," Gallian said. "The quiet caves… this incredible mountainside view… this is what I was looking for. A secluded place to start anew."

    "Well, I appreciate the offer," Zoroark said, scratching his right ear, "I'm just not sure you're healthy enough to do that, yet. And… um…"

    "You're worried about what other villagers will think of me, aren't you?" Gallian said. He should've known better. Why had he opened his trap?

    "Midnight's already told the rest of the village about you," Zoroark said. "Totem Decidueye assured them that everything's fine… but I've gotten more nasty looks than usual."

    Gallian felt stupid. How could he not think about what his decision would do to Zoroark? He stopped walking and turned around. "I'm sorry," Gallian said. "That was a rude suggestion on my part. I've… already imposed on you a lot. Cosmic Cavern is your home. I couldn't bear the thought of making it uncomfortable for you… especially after all that you've done for me."

    To Gallian's surprise, Zoroark walked up to him and put a paw on his shoulder. Gallian jumped, his heart racing and his fur prickling. "Easy there, buddy," Zoroark said. "It's nothing I haven't dealt with before." A warm smile crossed his face. "Besides, I'm grateful to have had your company this past month."

    "Th… that's good to hear," Gallian said, trying not to think about Zoroark's claws brushing his fur.

    "Tell you what? Why don't I bring it up with Totem Decidueye?" Zoroark said. "I'm not really sure what you're capable of in battle, but the Totem isn't one to look down on a generous offer. Does that sound good?"

    "Uh… yeah! Totally! One hundred and twenty percent!" Gallian shouted, his voice cracking. He quickly turned away from Zoroark, aware he was acting like a total buffoon.

    "Great," Zoroark said, chuckling. "For the time being, though, let's enjoy the sunset." He gazed out over the Midnight Sea. "It really is beautiful this evening."

    Zoroark failed to notice Gallian staring at him, focusing on his mane gently swaying with the sea breeze. "Yeah… it really is," Gallian whispered.

    XxX

    ~Cavernous Depths~

    After a prolonged back and forth, Totem Decidueye agreed to Zoroark's proposal and added Gallian on as a town guard. This turned out to work quite well. Totem Decidueye partnered them up, meaning Zoroark no longer had to take shifts with Lycanroc. Instead, Lycanroc worked with Dusk.

    Their first few assignments were basic patrols of the mountain and proved uneventful. After a week of official work, Totem Decidueye gave the duo the okay to explore the Cavernous Depths. He requested they do a routine patrol and make sure nothing bad was happening to the wild Pokémon. Zoroark led Gallian down into the dungeon, guiding him through tunnels filled with sparkling rocks and light crystals.

    "This is surprisingly pretty for a cave," Gallian said. "I like how the crystals kind of look like stars."

    "Oh, good, you noticed it, too," Zoroark said, smiling at Gallian. "When I made a similar comment to Lycanroc my first time down here, he just brushed it aside. Glad to see I've got a partner with a good eye on him." He winked at Gallian, who turned to examine a nearby rock.

    The sounds of rocks scraping together caught both their attentions. Zoroark held up his left arm and crept forward. "I'm seeing a few Geodudes up ahead here. Give me a moment." Zoroark lowered his arm and took a deep breath. A red ripple raced down his body and he disappeared before Gallian's eyes. In his place, a Geodude sat on the floor. His galvanized bristles poked out of his light blue head, adding extra light to the area.

    This was Gallian's first time seeing Zoroark's illusion powers in action. They were every bit as impressive as he expected. Zoroark rolled down the tunnel and caught up to the other Geodudes. He conversed with them, turned away, and rolled back up to Gallian. Zoroark led him down a side path, then dispelled his illusion.

    "Ugh, I hate having to roll around like that," Zoroark grumbled, grasping his mane and furiously blowing on it.

    "That was amazing! I saw you transform, but I was still completely fooled," Gallian said, running up to Zoroark. "It must be so awesome having illusion powers."

    "Yeah," Zoroark whispered, his voice lacking in enthusiasm.

    Gallian's smile vanished. "Is there something wrong?" he asked.

    "Huh? No, no, not at all," Zoroark dismissed, returning his attention to his dirty mane.

    "Is it something about your illusions?" Gallian asked, hoping he hadn't stumbled on a touchy subject by accident.

    "I just… I don't like using them. I hate that everyone expects me to use illusions all the time because I'm a Zoroark," he growled, crossing his arms.

    "I thought it was pretty cool," Gallian whispered, poking at the ground.

    "Don't get me wrong. It's a great technique," Zoroark said. "It's very useful against wild 'mons." His shoulders sagged. "But relying on them frustrates me." He leaned against the cave wall. "Illusions are so… so fake. Why should I have to hide who I am from others? If I don't use my illusions, people treat me badly. If I do use them, then the interactions I have with others are meaningless. I'll never know how they actually feel about me."

    "And while some 'mons value me for my illusion powers, those same powers make them act guarded around me." Zoroark threw his paws up in exasperation. "I'm stuck in this endless cycle where, no matter what I do, I feel detached from everyone around me." Zoroark sank down to the ground, burying his head in his thighs. "I'm so sick of it, but I don't really know what I can do about it. I've tried to show people that I don't mean any harm. Only Totem Decidueye really trusts me, but he can't be around all the time."

    Gallian was by Zoroark's side in an instant. "I… I'm so sorry. If I'd know, I'd never would've brought it up."

    "Don't be sorry. You've done nothing wrong, here," he said. "Frankly, it's… nice to have someone giving me attention like you do."

    "Err, well, I'm really glad you've helped me out so much," Gallian said, his heart skipping a beat. "And… uh… you strike me as a genuinely nice guy. I don't think any of this is an act."

    "I appreciate that," Zoroark said, smiling at Gallian. Silence fell over the duo, their gazes locked on one another.

    Gallian's heart raced. Zoroark was looking right at him. It wasn't just some casual smile. There was a sense of knowing behind it. Gallian was certain! Had he slipped up? Did Zoroark think he'd developed a crush?

    "Gallian," Zoroark whispered, "I… uh…" He shook his head and got back to his feet. "I think we've dawdled here long enough. We should really get back to our patrol."

    "Huh?" Gallian said. "Oh… right. Yeah, that's a good idea." All the adrenaline that had built up during the silence rushed out of Gallian's system, leaving him standing there, legs trembling.

    "You feeling alright?" Zoroark asked. "You look pretty out of it, all of a sudden."

    "I'm okay," Gallian lied. In reality, he had blown the perfect chance to say something. How hard was it to look Zoroark in the eyes and say that he loved him? Gallian watched Zoroark walk down the tunnel and hung his head.

    'I'm never going to be able to tell him, am I?'

    XxX

    ~Cavernous Lagoon~

    A couple more weeks passed, during which time Gallian and Zoroark continued their guard work. On lighter days, they opted to trek down to the end of the Cavernous Depths and spar by the small pond. For Gallian, it was a good opportunity to improve his moves and dodging abilities, since he hadn't battled too much in his time at the guild. While Zoroark mopped the floor with him initially, Gallian gradually showed improvement.

    After another quiet patrol through the Cavernous Depths, Gallian and Zoroark made their way down to the basin. The small pond twinkled under the glow of the star-shaped light crystals. At the other end of the pond, a stream trickled toward a cloud of black fog. Gallian already knew from his conversations with Zoroark that that fog hid a tunnel leading to Circadian Coast. He figured the stream led out to either the Midnight Sea or the ocean.

    "Up for a little spar?" Zoroark asked. "I was thinking we would try something different."

    "What did you have in mind?" Gallian said.

    Zoroark repeatedly moved his arms back and forth, crossing them over his chest. "The winner will be whoever can pin his opponent on their back for three seconds," he said.

    "Doesn't that give you an advantage? You have arms… I don't," Gallian said.

    "The point is to make it a combination of standard attacks and a physical struggle," Zoroark said. "You never know if an opponent may get up close and personal… leaving you no time to use a proper attack."

    Zoroark had a point. Gallian just wished he'd phrased it differently. "It's still easier for you to do stuff like that," he said.

    "Okay, fine. You can have an added win condition: if you knock me in the lagoon, I'll count it as a pin. Sound fair?" Zoroark said, rolling his eyes.

    "Would we be disturbing any wild Pokémon swimming in there?" Gallian said, glancing at the water.

    "Pretty sure there aren't any in there, but I'll check to be safe," Zoroark said, walking up toward the edge.

    A smirk crossed Gallian's lips. "Big mistake, tough guy," he whispered. Gallian released shadows from his mouth. Zoroark's ears twitched and he dove to his right without even looking back.

    Gallian charged forward, his horn brimming with green, bug-like baubles. Zoroark raised a paw, shooting a black beam of his own. Gallian lowered his horn, trying to absorb as much of Zoroark's attack as possible. But the green baubles quickly faded and the remaining dark energy struck Gallian's face.

    Zoroark hopped away from the water. "I can't believe you tricked me like that!" he said, his voice a mixture of shock and laughter.

    "Well, I can't believe you actually fell for it," Gallian said, grinning cheekily.

    "You ass, I'm gonna get you back for that one," Zoroark said, eyes flashing red.

    "Oh, crap," Gallian groaned, crouching low and preparing to move. Four Zoroarks fanned out around him. Gallian shuffled backward, wincing when his tail struck rock. The Zoroarks launched fireballs at Gallian.

    A gleam twinkled in Gallian's eyes as an idea formed in his head. He jumped up and spun around, digging his claws into the bedrock. The fireballs passed underneath him, grazing the tip of his tail. Gallian crouched down and sprang off the wall. He soared over Zoroark and his duplicates. Gallian landed and lashed out, slicing through the clones with a blade of dark energy.

    Only the real Zoroark remained, raising glowing arms high. Acting on instinct, Gallian spun around and kicked Zoroark with his hind legs like he was a white-furred donkey. Zoroark stumbled backwards, gasping for air.

    Like earlier, tiny, bug-shaped energy pellets coated Gallian's horn. He jumped to Zoroark's side and speared him in the gut. Gallian jerked his head upward at the last second, flinging Zoroark into the air. Zoroark sailed backwards, limbs flailing. He fired a black beam at the ceiling, but failed to change his momentum.

    Zoroark threw his arms up over his face seconds before he splashed down. The resulting water plume made Gallian wince. "Huh, that worked a lot better than I was expecting," he said, walking up to the edge of the lagoon. "Yo, Zoroark, you okay in there?" he called.

    A few seconds of silence passed, then bubbles formed on the surface of the water. Zoroark popped out, his drenched mane plastered over his face. He spat out a mouthful of water and tried to brush his mane to the side. It flopped back against his snout, sending him under the surface again. Gallian burst out laughing, his eyes tearing up. Zoroark resurfaced and swam toward the edge.

    "Okay, you got me there," Zoroark said. "Your Megahorn hits a lot harder than I remember it. Have you been practicing on your own?"

    "I was just extra motivated today, I suppose," Gallian said.

    Zoroark paused at the edge of the lagoon, treading water to keep himself afloat. "Oh? What… did my little rules change fill you with sudden determination?"

    A flush fell over Gallian's face. The answer was yes, but he'd be damned if he said that out loud.

    Zoroark blew on his mane, but it failed to budge. "I get it. You just wanted to see me all dripping wet, didn't you?" he said. "Well, go on, get your yuks in. Laugh it up, fuzzball."

    Gallian turned away, trying to compose himself. Why was Zoroark always able to read him like an open book? "Actually, I just wanted to mess up your mane after you spent so much time brushing it this morning," he said.

    "And now I'm gonna need another hour of brushing to get these new tangles out. So, thanks for that," Zoroark said, pouting. "Now, you gonna give me a paw here or not? This water's a lot deeper than it looks."

    Gallian stuck a foreleg out and Zoroark grabbed hold of it. He dug in his heels, attempting to give himself traction to hoist Zoroark out of the water. Only, instead of Zoroark rising out of the water, Gallian found himself being pulled toward the water. He caught a mischievous glint in Zoroark's lone visible eye. Gallian tried to yank his forepaw free, but to no avail. Zoroark had an iron grip and used it to drag Gallian over the edge and hurl him into the lagoon.

    Zoroark hoisted himself over the edge and sat there, daintily crossing one leg over the other and swishing his soppy mane around in one paw. Gallian surfaced, white fur from his forehead having fallen over his eyes. Like Zoroark did earlier, Gallian tried blowing his fur out of his face. His vision was too blurred by the water to see the giant, shit-eating grin on Zoroark's face.

    "Boy, did you walk right into that one," Zoroark said.

    "I thought… you didn't like… conforming to Zoroark stereotypes," Gallian grunted, trying to doggie paddle his way to the water's edge.

    "I don't… unless it's to get back at a friend who punked me," Zoroark said, wringing out his mane. "I'm just surprised your disaster sense didn't alert you to what I had in mind."

    "It doesn't… work that way," Gallian said. He reached the edge and dug his claws into the rock, panting heavily. "It's not a lie detector, you know."

    "Well, I know now," Zoroark said. "Come on… you got me good. And I got you back. Now we're even."

    "I really didn't want to go for a swim this afternoon," Gallian grumbled. "This water's so damn cold." He shook his head dry.

    "Yeah, cave water can be like that," Zoroark said. "Tell you what… how about we head for the hot springs? Everything's quiet down here and we didn't have any other assignments to do today. So, that ought to warm us right up." He offered his paw to Gallian.

    "And why should I trust you to pull me out safely?" Gallian said, frowning.

    Zoroark uncrossed his legs and raised his arms innocently. "Because I got my licks in. I'm satisfied. Come on… truce?" He stuck his paw out again.

    Gallian sighed. "Yeah, I can't stay mad at you over this. It's pretty trivial," he said. "And… you're right. You did get me good." He added a chuckle for good measure and grabbed Zoroark's wrist. Zoroark pulled him out of the water.

    But as Zoroark stepped back, his wet foot slipped. He tumbled backward with a holler and Gallian, who was still gripping his wrist, fell down with him. Zoroark landed on his mane, which squelched loudly as a puddle formed underneath him. Gallian landed atop him. His momentum made his head bonk against Zoroark's. In the process, his lips touched the tip of Zoroark's muzzle.

    Zoroark sucked in a surprised gasp, his eyes widening and his pupils dilating. For Gallian, it was as if he had taken a Thunderbolt to the spine at point-blank range. "Aha ha… whoops," Zoroark said. "Should've watched what I was doing. You okay, Gallian?"

    Gallian sat up, his jaw clenched and his eyes darting around the room. He thought his heart might burst out of his chest that very second. It was only an instant, but that spark was incredible! He'd never felt anything like it. Gallian was so lost in the moment that his actions failed to register until he met Zoroark's confused gaze.

    'Wait a second. Our lips met… our lips… oh, gods, what've I done?! I'm such an idiot!'

    "Um, Gallian? You all right?" Zoroark asked, waving an arm in front of Gallian's face. "Are you going to get off me?"

    Gallian looked down at Zoroark's chest and scrambled to his feet. "S-Sorry," he said. "I… I… sorry…"

    "What's there to be sorry about? I slipped and we fell. It's nothing to get worked up over," Zoroark said, chuckling.

    "N… no," Gallian whispered, his gaze falling toward the ground. "I… we… that is…" He thrashed his head from side to side. "I'm sorry! I messed up big time!" he shouted, and then turned and sprinted back into the cave.

    Zoroark's eyes widened. "Gallian? Hey, Gallian, where are you going? I'm the one with the Escape Orb, remember?" He waved his arms about. "What do you think you're doing? Hold up! Wait for me!" Zoroark took off running.

    XxX
    Next time: from hate to date to mate!

    ... I'll show myself out.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
  14. Umbramatic

    Umbramatic The Ghost Lord

    Disclaimer: This is a review of the prologue and Chapter 1 to Chapter 12 and Bonus 2

    I've been reading a lot of PMD fics haven't I. And the author is one of the few Discord regulars I haven't read the fics of sooooooooooooo

    My favorite thing about this fic full stop are the protagonists and their dynamic. Shane is absolutely hilarious in how cocky he is and how he thinks he knows everything about this world when he doesn't (the meta humor behind him not knowing what a Generation 7 is in particular cracks me up every time it comes up). And Tessa is a perfect counterpart to that - timid and unsure of herself to contrast him, but full of enough snark to keep Shane on his tiny, furry Vulpix toes.(Also I want to give her hugs. So many hugs.)

    I'm also fond of your assorted gaggle of side characters - Metagross, Null, and Braviary in particular. I actually really liked Braviary's special episode, changed narration at all, especially as it brought us some insight on Tessa's parents. (I did think Torracat started showing sympathy to Prisma a bit too early but oh well it serviced the plot.)

    You've got some nice worldbuilding going on, with what is essentially a PMD fan region in the canon universe. I also find it interesting you justify the main games' lack of nicknames with the notion that the social construct of names is just... Alien. That's actually really intresting.

    Also yipes that Necrozma virus or whatever is really sinister. Hope there's a cure. ._.

    Overall this fic has the vibes of a Saturday morning cartoon in a good way and I absolutely love it. I can't guarantee I'll be reading it particularly fast but I'm definitely going to continue reading this.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Glad to hear it. As base-breaking as Shane seems to be, people keep enjoying the dynamic with Tessa, which makes me smile. And, yes, I never tire of using meta humor like that. There are still instances it's popping up even now.

    It's almost like I wrote her as a teenager or something. *nervous laugh* And I don't think you're alone on the hug thing. Might have to take a number and wait your turn. :p

    Thanks. The side characters are, admittedly, a bit too game-like for an actual fic, but I'm at least glad some people seem to like them. ^^;

    That was the point. He's a bit of a bleeding heart type of guy.

    Ah, good, you caught that. My intention was to make it seem very odd and backwards. There'll be some other strange PMD world customs as the fic progresses.

    "Heeheeheehee. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Were you not impressed by my performance in Mod Madness? Pah! You mortals are so ungrateful."

    Well, this is a PMD fic so things are going to be darker, but there will still be some pretty zany stuff down the pipe. The episode I just finished drafting is easily the most ridiculous one in the whole story... just from the premise. Anyway, thanks for reviewing!

    Originally, there were two more chapters of this flashback and three left in this episode. But, well, it's clear this has gone on for quite awhile and I get the sense everyone's getting tired of it. So, I managed to cut out an entire chapter, meaning this will be the last flashback chapter. Next chapter will be a transition to shift the focus back onto Team Radiance. This one's now more action-oriented than it was originally, so I hope you enjoy!

    XxX

    Chapter 70: Ground Zero

    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    Gallian sprinted out of the Cavernous Depths' entrance, water dripping off his fur. He couldn't show his face to Zoroark again. Not after something so humiliating.

    A tingle ran down his spine. Without even thinking, Gallian skidded to a halt. His eyes widened at a glowing white paw narrowly missing his head.

    "What the hell?!" Lycanroc snarled, his momentum making him stumble. He turned back around a pelted Gallian with rocks.

    "Ow! Ow! What was that for?" Gallian growled, whirling on Lycanroc.

    "I warned you… I told you we didn't want you here," Lycanroc barked, hurling more rocks. Gallian sliced through them with shadowy-black claws. "If you're not going to leave, I'm making you leave!"

    "You can't do that!" Gallian barked, shooting a black beam from his forehead. Lycanroc dove right and rolled back to his feet.

    "I can do whatever I want," Lycanroc hissed. "This was my home long before it was yours, bastard. I ain't letting you ruin it with your gods-forsaken voodoo!"

    Lycanroc smacked the ground, sending rocks flying toward Gallian. He tried to blast them apart, but there were way too many. Gallian staggered back, eyes watering in pain. Lycanroc rushed him, paws glowing.

    "I don't want to fight with you," Gallian said, turning tail and running for the entrance tunnel.

    "And I want you out of my life! Out of all our lives!" Lycanroc spat, lunging for Gallian but missing his rear by a good margin. Gallian disappeared into the tunnel, stealing a glance back at Lycanroc.

    By now, other villagers had come out of their homes. Golbats, Gravelers, and a trio of Rockruffs looked down silently at Lycanroc. "Oy! Any of you blokes got a problem, say it to my face!" Lycanroc barked, shaking his fist. "Face it… you all wanted him gone, too. You just didn't have the guts to do anything about it."

    The villagers shrank back toward their homes. Lycanroc lowered his paws to the ground and took off running after Gallian. He wasn't expecting a black beam to whiz by his right shoulder. A light crystal nearly clotheslined him in his attempts to dodge.

    "You're going to pay for that one!" Lycanroc barked tossing two pawfuls of rocks at Gallian.

    Silently cursing, Gallian scrambled through the tunnel. It wasn't good enough to outrun Lycanroc's attack. Gallian stumbled about, pain shooting through his hind legs. Why was this guy being so persistent? Gallian had barely even had a conversation with the guy, yet he was out for blood!

    "That's right! Keep running, bitch!" Lycanroc shouted.

    Gallian turned around, firing a black beam. It blew apart some of the rocks flying toward him, but a couple rebounded off light crystals and conked him in the head. Gallian stumbled backwards. It was no good. Lycanroc knew how to fight in these tunnels. He'd only ever sparred with Zoroark in open spaces. Gallian needed more room to move around.

    He sprinted down the tunnel, jerking left and right to avoid the larger light crystals. Lycanroc's footsteps grew quieter, but rocks continued whizzing toward him. One struck his right hind knee. Gallian crumpled to the ground with an anguished howl.

    "I've got you now!" Lycanroc shouted.

    Gallian struck a nearby light crystal with pink energy blades, shattering it. The rubble battered Lycanroc. Gallian stumbled to his feet and resumed running. How much further was it? Surely the exit was close.

    He rounded a bend in the path and found orange light spilling down it. This was it! He was home free. Even if the trails were wide, Gallian would still have more room to move in open air. He ran the remaining tunnel length, gritting his teeth as pain shot up from his injured knee. Gallian emerged from the tunnel and bounded up the trail. He turned, funneling dark energy into his scythe and waiting to pounce.

    Lycanroc emerged, staying low to the ground. Gallian lunged, scythe at the ready. Gallian struck Lycanroc's shoulder. "I'm not going anywhere!" he shouted, rearing back to strike again.

    "Big mistake… mate."

    A glowing paw hammered Gallian's chest. The wind rushed out of him. Gallian staggered back, staring at Lycanroc's outstretched fist.

    Counter. The guy knew Counter. Gallian thought he had found the perfect time to strike, but instead he had leaped into a trap!

    'No.' Gallian's world went fuzzy. 'How could I be so careless?' He opened his mouth, meekly gasping for air.

    Lycanroc approached Gallian, clutching his bloody shoulder. "You've got two choices here. You can walk down the mountain and never come back," he said, jerking his head behind him. "Or we have ourselves a little accident and you end up where you should've been… at the bottom of the Midnight Sea!"

    A black beam hit Lycanroc from behind, knocking him onto Gallian. Zoroark charged forward, eyes flashing crimson. He grabbed Lycanroc by his spiky fur and hurled him off Gallian.

    "I've got an even better option," Zoroark said, crimson energy crackling in his claws. "You leave us the hell alone and I don't haul your ass up to Totem Decidueye and have you exiled for assaulting my partner!"

    Wincing, Gallian rolled onto his stomach. Zoroark had come for him? Even after what happened at the lagoon? It didn't make sense. He was supposed to be upset. But, no, here he was, sticking up for Gallian yet again.

    "You don't have the right!" Lycanroc snarled. "This is my home… not yours! Not either of yours! I was born here… not you! I won't stand around and let a pair of crooks ruin it."

    "Oh, step off it," Zoroark hissed. "This isn't about protecting the village. In never was. This is about that stupid party." He shook his head. "How many times do I have to apologize before you put it to rest, Midnight?"

    "I don't want empty apologies. I want you out of my life!" Lycanroc barked.

    "Then you go somewhere else," Zoroark said. "Nothing's stopping you."

    "No. I ain't letting you bully me out of my own home," Lycanroc said, red eyes flashing.

    "Bullying? Have you looked in a mirror, lately?" Zoroark said. "What do you call this, huh?" He gestured at Gallian. "I've tried to be civil with you, but you refuse to let go of things that can't be changed."

    "You're the one who snogged me out of nowhere. This is all on you!" Lycanroc howled, throwing a half-dozen rocks at Zoroark.

    "Don't pin this on me," Zoroark said, blowing the rocks apart with a dome of crimson energy. "We were drunk! And you were coming onto me pretty hard for someone who says he's only got eyes for ladies!"

    Gallian shot up. Had he heard that correctly?

    "Step off it, drongo!" Lycanroc snarled. "You used your damn illusions to seduce me."

    "That's enough, Midnight!"

    Dusk leaped over Gallian and Zoroark. She landed between Zoroark and Lycanroc, nearly losing the stuffed satchel over her shoulder.

    "I didn't do anything," Lycanroc said. "Look at what that arsehole did to me!" He pointed to Gallian, then to his injured shoulder.

    "Only because you did something to provoke him, didn't you?" Dusk said, glaring at Lycanroc.

    "Yeah. He attacked me out of the blue when I left the Cavernous Depths," Gallian explained, limping to Zoroark's side.

    "I had to do it! I'm trying to keep the damn village safe," Lycanroc said.

    "I don't believe you," Dusk said. "I'm taking you to see the Totem."

    Lycanroc socked Dusk in the cheek. The blow slammed her into the mountainside, shattering whatever was in her satchel. Glass shards fell to the ground. Dusk looked down at them, her green eyes going wide. Lycanroc rubbed his snout. "… tch. That's your fault. I told you to stay out of my way," he growled.

    "Alright, that tears it!" Dusk screamed. Her green eyes turned bright red. She barreled into Lycanroc at breakneck speeds, sending them both to the ground. Dusk sank her fangs into Lycanroc's arm, refusing to let go even as he howled in pain.

    She stood up and jerked her head back, flinging Lycanroc into the rock wall. He bounced off it and landed unmoving at Zoroark's feet. Gallian and Zoroark stood in stunned silence. Dusk's eyes faded back to green and she shook her head. "Ungh… I'm sorry… you had to see that," Dusk whispered, blood trickling down her chin. "The Totem said… I needed to keep my temper from firing off like that, but I guess Midnight finally wore out the last of my patience."

    Dusk walked up to Lycanroc. "I'm taking him to the Totem. With any luck, he…" She took a shuddering breath. "Hopefully, he'll be out of our lives come tomorrow."

    "You were doing a supply run to Midday Valley," Zoroark said, frowning. "And now everything's broken."

    "Don't worry about it," Dusk said, dragging Lycanroc toward the tunnel.

    "No, wait. At least let me help you carry him," Zoroark said, jogging toward Dusk.

    "What about me?" Gallian said. His hind leg still hurt, so he sank down to his belly.

    "Stay out here. I'll be back," Zoroark said. "Besides, I think we should talk." He hoisted Lycanroc up and followed Dusk into the mountain.

    Gallian's heart sank. If there was even a glimmer of hope that Zoroark was willing to look past what had happened in the lagoon, it was gone now. With every minute he lay there, alone, the sinking feeling in his gut grew worse. His fur prickled and his heart rate kept spiking no matter how much he tried to stay calm. Gallian told himself Zoroark wasn't mad, but it didn't help. In his mind, he already knew this was going to end badly. A part of him wanted to just run down the mountain and never look back.

    He was so lost in thought, he failed to see Zoroark reemerge from the mountain, clutching a basket filled with fruit. "I'm back," Zoroark announced. Gallian jumped. His heart raced even faster, but slowed down when he noticed the fruit basket. Zoroark sat down next to Gallian and put the basket between them. "Here. I brought you some dinner," Zoroark said, looking out across the ocean.

    Gallian cautiously reached for an oran berry and took a bite out of it. The sweet juices filled his stomach and settled the lingering pain in his knee. Zoroark took a pinap berry from the basket and sighed. "I guess I owe you an explanation," he said. "Totem Decidueye holds an annual Summer Solstice party. The party after I evolved, I got a bit too eager to try fermented berry juice for the first time."

    "What happened?" Gallian said, unable to meet Zoroark's gaze.

    "Truthfully, I don't remember. After the fact, I was told I walked up to Midnight, who was also drunk," Zoroark said. "We were talking for a bit… apparently my voice gets all squeaky and high-pitched when I'm drunk. Midnight and I started flirting and, well, I ended up grabbing his ass and kissing him right on the muzzle."

    Gallian tensed. So, Zoroark had kissed another guy before. Just like what happened at the lagoon. He wanted to say something, but was convinced he was reading too far into things. Zoroark was drunk, after all.

    "Even if I don't remember it, I'm confident it happened," Zoroark continued. "I woke up the next morning with a few lumps on my head, a black eye, and dried blood all over my fur."

    "I'm… uh… sorry?" Gallian said, wincing.

    "Don't be," Zoroark said, tossing a piece of figy berry into his mouth. "I don't regret it. I had a crush on the guy since the day he evolved. I was always praying that one day he'd simmer down and I could take a chance with him."

    Gallian grabbed a sitrus berry and bit into it to keep his jaw from dropping. He wasn't overthinking things. Everything made sense, now. All this time, Gallian freaked out about what Zoroark would think if he knew the truth when Zoroark was just like him. That explained why Zoroark often picked the strangest positions when lying down or sitting in one of his chairs.

    'He was trying to see if he could get a rise out of me… in more ways than one,' Gallian realized. Now was the time. He needed to say how he really felt. And yet, there was still a mental block in his way.

    "You okay there? You're spacing out on me," Zoroark said.

    Gallian knew what the problem was. And if he wanted a future with Zoroark, he needed to swallow his fears and tell Zoroark everything. "Zoroark… I'm sorry," Gallian said, earning a confused look. "I've dodged the question of where I came from for too long. And that's not fair to you. Not when you've been so welcoming to me. I… I'm ready to tell you about how I ended up in Cosmic Cavern."

    Gallian explained everything, leaving no subject untouched. He began with his family and the roles they played with the Horizon Guild. Then he addressed the string of events that led him to Zoroark's feet, starting with Incineroar's dead and ending with Drampa's trap that led to him scaling the mountainside. When it was all over, Gallian hung his head.

    "All this time, I've grown so close to you. I really do think you're amazing," Gallian said. "But I was a coward. I was terrified of what would happen if you learned my past, so I kept my mouth shut." He sighed. "Well, go on, say it. Call me a horrible person. I deserve it."

    Zoroark leaned back, bracing his arms against the ground. "I refuse," he said.

    "Huh?" Gallian said, blinking in surprise.

    "You're right, I am upset you couldn't bring yourself to say this stuff earlier," Zoroark said. "And I'm concerned about your sister."

    Gallian winced. He had to bring up Tessa. Gallian didn't think he had the stomach to see her again, even after a couple of months had passed.

    "The thing is… I get it," Zoroark continued, to Gallian's surprise. "There are so many things I can't wrap my head around. An Absol's disaster sense is one of them. It sounds to me like, through all of that, you were panicking." Zoroark twiddled his claws. "If I were in your situation, I'd probably have done something similarly reckless. Possibly worse," he said. "I might've been dumb enough to stomp up to Metagross and demand answers. I'd have probably gotten myself killed."

    He sat up and leaned forward, draping an arm over Gallian, whose eyes went wide at the gesture. "There's something I want to tell you, but I need you to promise me something first," Zoroark said.

    "What is it?" Gallian asked.

    "Promise me that, eventually, we'll go check in on your sister," Zoroark replied. "Say, before the next Winter Solstice?"

    Gallian's chest tightened. "I… uh…"

    "We can even bring her here to live with us," Zoroark said. "I know I'd like to get to know her at some point."

    "Well… um…" Gallian pawed at the ground, trying to shake off the mental image of Tessa's frightened face. He looked into Zoroark's bright-blue eyes and exhaled. "I guess I could do that. I might need some time, but I think I can make it happen before the year ends." He paused. "Wait, what did you mean by 'we'll go check in on your sister?'"

    "In all the time we've spent together, I've grown really close to you," Zoroark whispered. "And after what happened at the lagoon, I can't keep this bottled up any longer." He took a deep breath.

    "Gallian… I love you."

    Those three words echoed in Gallian's head like a church bell. Gallian slumped forward, clenching his jaw as tightly as he could to stop it from dropping. His heart pounded. His vision blurred. What was he waiting for? Zoroark said what he'd wanted to hear all this time!

    'Tell him you love him, too! Hurry!'

    Gallian turned to Zoroark, opening his mouth to talk. But instead of words, Gallian coughed weakly. 'Oh no,' he thought, heart thundering in his chest.

    The sinking feeling was back.

    His head rang and bright light filled his vision. Gallian's fur prickled. Even his scythe tingled. He sat there, frozen. It was just like back in Glyphic Falls.

    "Gallian, are you okay?" Zoroark asked, a look of concern on his face.

    "I… I…" Gallian wheezed. He tried to get to his feet, but in his shocked state he misjudged where the ground was in front of him. Gallian brought a forepaw down on empty air.

    Open water filled his vision. And it was getting closer. He was falling! Gallian shouted, but the ocean swallowed him up seconds later.

    "Gallian!" Zoroark shouted, looking over the cliff face. He knew from experience Gallian was not a good swimmer and the sight of the Midnight Sea's choppy waters made his blood run cold.

    "H-Hang on, Gallian!" Zoroark called. Without thinking, he lunged head-first off the mountain. Zoroark had just enough time to see Gallian stand up in the shoulder-deep water and realize his mistake before splashing down. The water wasn't deep enough to stop Zoroark's head from smacking the bedrock.

    Gallian turned to his right just as Zoroark disappeared underwater, still dazed from the fall. The sight of bubbles frothing next to him jolted him out of his stupor. "Zoroark?" he gasped. "Oh, gods, Zoroark! He must've hit his head!" Gallian said. He lowered his head and upper body into the water, feeling around for Zoroark.

    It was all his fault! Gallian panicked like an idiot and Zoroark likely cracked his skull open trying to save him.

    Gallian's paw brushed against wet fur. He lowered his head even further until he was able to successfully scoop Zoroark onto his back. Gallian struggled to get his head above water again, Zoroark's wet fur weighing him down. He was barely able to make it to water's edge and anchor his claws into the cliff before descending into a raucous coughing fit. Gallian needed a way back up to the path or they were sunk.

    He looked around frantically, trying to find some sort of foothold or a way that he could get up out of the water while carrying Zoroark. Something caught the corner of his eye and he turned to his right. His expression brightened at the sight of a portion of the mountain path dipping down toward the water.

    Gallian wondered how he had missed that before. He dismissed it as having to do with the tides and pushed off the rock wall. He slowly walked toward the path, taking care to keep Zoroark positioned on his back. By the time he reached the path and staggered onto it, his legs ached. Gallian forced himself along the trail, struggling to keep Zoroark supported on his back. As the trail sloped upward, Gallian found each step getting progressively more difficult to take. How would he get Zoroark back to the village?

    He lowered Zoroark onto the trail to ease the pain on his back. Gallian sat down next to him, panting heavily. Gallian nudged his satchel, which had somehow stayed around his neck through the fall into the water. It was soaked. Everything was useless. Gallian shakily got to his feet and looked up the trail. Had he missed a shortcut?

    Gallian paused, narrowing his eyes at a small gap in the rock wall. Wincing, Gallian proceeded a bit further up the trail, stopping every few steps to check on Zoroark. He reached the gap he had spotted and, to his delight, found a small cave inside of it. Perfect for tending to Zoroark!

    With a great deal of strain, Gallian returned to Zoroark and hoisted him up. Gallian trudged back up to the gap in the rocks. He barely fit through the opening with Zoroark on his back. Gallian gently lowered Zoroark to the ground and then removed the satchel from his neck.

    'Come on… please let there be something in here I can still use,' Gallian prayed, nudging the satchel open. A waterlogged oran berry rolled out, ready to fall apart at any second. Thinking quickly, Gallian moved Zoroark beside his bag. He parted Zoroark's mane with his claws, trying to see his head. Gallian grazed a welt right between Zoroarks' ears.

    Gallian swept his other foreleg along the ground. The berry burst open against Gallian's leg, so he hastily pressed it up against Zoroarks' head. Gallian rubbed in the berry juice as best he could, then withdrew his paw. The juices sank into Zoroark's head. Some of the swelling subsided, drawing a sigh of relief from Gallian.

    'What else do I have in here?' Gallian wondered, poking a forepaw into his bag. A flicker of light drew his attention. Gallian reached further into the bag and dragged out a glowing orb with a sun-shaped rune etched into it. He realized it was a drought orb, which wouldn't help.

    Yet, Gallian didn't put the orb away. He glanced at the puddles of water that formed under him and Zoroark. The orb could dry them off and warm Zoroark up!

    Gallian shattered the orb. A column of steam erupted around him, startling him. He braced himself, curling up into a tight ball. The steam quickly disappeared, leaving Gallian laying there, perfectly dry.

    "Mmmrrrgggh…"

    The orb worked! Gallian shoved his bag aside and nestled up next to Zoroark.

    "Zoroark, can you hear me?" he whispered.

    "Ungh… w-what happened?" Zoroark groaned, opening his eyes and blinking slowly to adjust to the dim cave. He turned to his left. "Gallian? I thought…" Zoroark rubbed his head and groaned a second time.

    "Shhh, it's okay, Zoroark," Gallian said, offering a shoulder to help Zoroark sit up. "You dove into the Midnight Sea after me and hit your head. The tide must've been really low, because the water was super shallow."

    "That'd explain this miserable headache," Zoroark said. "Wait… if I blacked out, then how did we get here?"

    Gallian sheepishly traced a claw on the ground. "I… uh… I realized what had happened. You were trying to help me after I totally freaked out." He lowered his head. "Hearing you say you loved me set off my disaster sense."

    Zoroark frowned. "It did?"

    "Yeah," Gallian said, wincing. "But seeing you disappear underwater like that…" Gallian shook his head and took a deep breath. "I fought it off."

    "Huh?" Zoroark said, ears twitching.

    "The disaster sense… the thing telling me to bolt… I fought it off," Gallian whispered. "I got you out of the water and brought you up here. I used a drought orb and an oran berry to dry you off and heal you up."

    "Thanks," Zoroark rasped. He scooched back along the ground so that he was leaning against the cave wall. "How did you fight it off, though?"

    Gallian's face flushed. "I… uh… well…" He tapped his claw on the ground and sighed. "I love you too, Zoroark. At first, my disaster sense made me think all of this was a bad idea. But after that accident, I realized that you're more important." Gallian took a shaky breath. "I'm not going to listen to a little voice in my head telling me to turn away from you… if that makes any sense."

    Zoroark sat there, mulling over Gallian's statement. A smile slowly formed on his muzzle. "Then are you saying what I think you're saying?" he asked.

    Gallian scooched next to him. "I don't know. Did you think I was gonna say that, yes, I do want to spend my life with you?" he whispered, placing a paw on Zoroark's lap.

    Zoroark smirked. "That might've been my guess, yeah," he said. "So, now that that's out in the air, what do you think we should do about it?"

    The two stared into each other's eyes, until Gallian broke the stare down by climbing on top of Zoroark and wrapping him up in the best embrace he could manage without any arms. Gallian nuzzled the side of Zoroark's neck.

    "I say we make this moment count," Gallian whispered.

    A huge grin spread across Zoroark's face. "I think that's a wonderful idea."

    XxX

    ~Midday Valley~

    Neither of them slept much. They were both too giddy from what had happened. Before dawn came, they returned to Zoroark's home. Gallian finished patching up Zoroark's head, then they ate breakfast together. Zoroark suggested the two go to Midday Valley to replace the supplies Dusk had broken when she stepped in to help with Lycanroc. Gallian initially hesitated, but remembered his promise to Zoroark. If he was going to work up the courage to see Tessa again, the nearby village was a good place to start. Zoroark even offered some moral support in the form of disguising himself as a red-spotted Absol. After getting the list of supplies from Dusk, they set out down the mountain.

    To Gallian's surprise, the forest surrounding the village was denser than it appeared from the mountain path. The evergreens were thick but spaced far enough apart to allow sunlight to filter in over the gravel path. Two rows of ferns lined the road, one on each side. However, as Gallian and Zoroark pushed onward, the ferns gave way to berry bushes. Gallian glanced at the bushes to his right and found nothing but empty stalks and the occasional premature berry, far too small and bitter to pick.

    "Looks like someone recently cleaned up here," Gallian said. "Is this how the village grows its berries?"

    "It's something the villages do for the wild Pokémon," Zoroark said.

    "You mean wild 'mons live in this forest? But this doesn't seem like a Mystery Dungeon," Gallian said, blinking in surprise.

    "It's not, but there are some wild Pokémon around. Just not that many. I can't tell you exactly why they'd live out here," Zoroark said, brushing his fake scythe against a bush to his left. "If I had to guess, they were probably born here and it's where they're most comfortable living. Surely you could sympathize with that, right?"

    "Good point," Gallian said. "I think I see the town up ahead… there's a red-brick building."

    "That'd be the hardware shop we need to visit to get the rope," Zoroark said. He shifted his right shoulder to adjust his bag. Gallian stopped and turned around.

    "Okay, hold up. I'm sorry, but I have to ask this or it's going to drive me crazy," he said, an exasperated look on his face. "How are you doing that?"

    Zoroark blinked. "Doing what?"

    "That!" Gallian said, pointing a forepaw at the fake Absol in front of him. "Walking on all fours like that. If it's an illusion, then you wouldn't be able to move around that much, right? I… sorry… this is totally coming out of left field, isn't it? I guess I realized that I don't entirely understand how your powers work."

    "You and me both, buddy," Zoroark said, laughing.

    "Seriously?" Gallian said.

    "Well, to be more specific, there are parts of my ability I don't quite understand," Zoroark said. "But Totem Decidueye was able to find me a book on Zoroarks after I evolved and I gave it a read. Turns out that whoever dubbed our ability 'Illusion' is a total dumbass. It's shapeshifting… plain and simple."

    "It is?" Gallian gasped.

    "Yeah. Apparently Zoroarks used to be able to do a lot more back before alchemy became a forbidden art. Nowadays all we can do is change our appearances."

    "Then wouldn't that just make it Transform?" Gallian said.

    "Not quite," Zoroark said. "That's where it gets a bit hard to follow. See… y'know how we all have auras?"

    "Yeah. Mom used to bring that up a lot. Everyone has life energy and aura lies at its core. Something like that," Gallian said, shrgging.

    "Right. When a Ditto or Mew uses Transform, they're not just shapeshifting, they're morphing their life energy to match their target's," Zoroark said. "From what I read, the amount of strain that would put on your average Pokémon would make them faint on the spot if they tried to do that. But it works for Dittos because they're incapable of doing anything but Transforming. And, well, Mew's a Legend, so I know he has the stamina to do that."

    "What does changing your life energy mean, exactly?" Gallian asked.

    "It means a Transformed 'mon can use the moves of whatever species they transformed into," Zoroark said. "Sadly, I can't. Just the act of shapeshifting into the guise of another 'mon requires a lot of focus. It takes a lot of life energy to get it to work, too. Which is why I can't change my aura. So, in theory, a powerful psychic-type or an aura reader like Lucario would know that I'm a Zoroark, even if I was transformed."

    "Isn't there a Hypno living in Cosmic Cavern?" Gallian said.

    "Yeah, but when I said 'powerful psychic-type' I mean pow-er-ful. We're talking Legends or really experienced psychics… like Team ACT's Alakazam," Zoroark said. "Most of the time, I can fool 'mons with my disguises. But the other thing that sets us Zoroarks apart from Dittos and Mew is that it's easy for our illusions to collapse because we have to focus so intently on keeping them stable."

    "How easy are we talking?" Gallian wondered.

    "If I so much as trip and stumble, then I risk shifting back to normal," Zoroark said. A beat followed, then a suspicious look appeared on his face. "Wait just a second. Are you asking me all this to figure out how to get the upper paw on me if I break an illusion out during a spar?"

    "What? Of course not!" Gallian scoffed, turning around to continue walking down the path. "You're putting words in my mouth."

    "I can hear you holding back laughter over there, you bitch. You're totally lying!" Zoroark said. He charged forward and speared Gallian's rear with his scythe. Gallian hopped forward with a yip and an annoyed look on his face. Zoroark ran by, sticking his tongue out at Gallian. "Serves you right, traitor!" he teased.

    "Traitor? I was just asking innocent questions," Gallian insisted, running after Zoroark. He had just about caught up when a chorus of squawking drew his attention. Gallian skidded to a halt, as did Zoroark, losing his illusion in the process.

    "Whoa, that was odd," Zoroark said. "Sounded like some really startled Spearows." He glanced at Gallian. "Think we should go see if the village is okay?"

    Zoroark waited for a response, but Gallian's gaze had locked in on the direction the squawking had come from. He stood there, frozen, even as a half-dozen Spearows fluttered high into the air, flanked by a pair of Fearows. Before Zoroark could ask what was wrong, Gallian crouched low to the ground. A twinge of black energy briefly encircled his scythe, then Gallian took off, zigzagging through the forest.

    "Gallian? Hey, Gallian! Wait up! Where are you going?!"

    Gallian ignored Zoroark's cries and charge on ahead, weaving through the evergreen trees. He came upon Pinecos lying upside down, unconscious and covered in scorch marks. Something was wrong, here. Gallian was sure of it.

    He leaped over the Pinecos, landing atop a rock. Like the unconscious forest-dwellers, the rock's side was completely charred. The nearby evergreen trees were stripped of their bark and branches. Scorched remnants of pine needles littered the ground, along with the bare remnants of numerous fern bushes.

    Gallian concluded that the Pinecos Self-Destructed. But what made them do that? A tingle ran down his spine and his fur bristled. It was time to turn back.

    But the moment he turned around, Gallian recoiled. An invisible force pushed down on his head. "Not again," he whimpered. Gallian looked back through the forest, trying to see if Zoroark had followed him. When he failed to spot his mate, he jumped off the rock and pressed on deeper into the forest. He left the blast zone behind. His scythe tingled. Gallian looked to his right and found black mist rising between some of the trees.

    He took a step back, heart racing. Gallian wanted to bolt from the area, but his legs wouldn't listen. He stood there, locked in place, wondering what was going on.

    "Skrreeeeeevp! Wh… what… do you think… you're doing?!"

    Gallian flinched, his heart skipping a beat upon hearing the angry shouts ahead of him. He hesitantly stepped forward, only to recoil when pine needles crinkled under his forepaw.

    "I want you… out of my head!"

    This time a different voice yelled out and Gallian's head shot up.

    'Mom?!'

    It was impossible. She had disappeared, hadn't she? Gallian bounded into the black mist, forcing it aside with short, quick bursts of psychic energy from his scythe. He emerged on the other side, only to freeze up once again.

    A few feet in front of him, Lunala writhed about on the ground. Black crystals inched across her body, tearing into her wing membranes and her bony torso. Her eyes randomly flickered between different colors. A Lucario knelt behind Lunala, a paw placed against her head. Gallian recognized the single fang protruding from her mouth, but little else suggested this was the mother who had raised him. Her right eye was gone. In its place sat a triangular gemstone brimming with the different colors of the rainbow. Light spilled out of the gem, racing down Prisma's blackened arm and onto Lunala, where it fed the growing layer of black crystals.

    Prisma was burned beyond all recognition, her body a mess of angry scar tissue and the occasional patch of black fur. The most consistent strip of fur lay around her waist, where Gallian expected her tail to be. Instead of aura feelers, four gnarled dreadlocks fanned out behind her, jerking about in different directions like they wanted to detach from her skull and fly away.

    Lunala screeched, clumsily flapping her wings forward. They fell back onto the ground. Black diamonds clamped onto each wing's edge, sucking in the sunlight shining down on Lunala. Gallian staggered backward, ready to make a break for it, when Prisma locked eyes with him.

    "You," she hissed, her raspy voice making Gallian's skin crawl. "You shouldn't… be here…"

    "M-Mom," Gallian squeaked, utterly uncertain how to respond to the scene in front of him. His temples throbbed and his vision flickered. A voice inside him screamed at him, telling him to run, while another egged him to stay and say something to Prisma.

    Lunala let out one final gasp, arcing her back to hoist her chest off the ground. Two onyx arms burst out of her chest. Black armor quickly filled the holes in her gut. The last remaining crystals trickled down onto Lunala's face, where they formed a triangular helmet. Inside the helmet sat a distorted, flickering, red eye where Lunala's third eye was supposed to be.

    "Wh… what happened? Why do… I feel so… strange?" Lunala said, though Gallian recognized the voice as being the one he first heard screaming. He was in complete shock. His mother was with Lunala. Worse, Prisma had somehow corrupted her!

    He had to do something… right?

    "I got rid of you… Necrozma," Prisma growled, lowering her outstretched paw and staggering backwards. "My mind… my body… they're mine again," she wheezed, dropping to one knee. "I've trapped you. I put… just enough… of your spirit… in Lunala… to regain control." Prisma slowly got to her feet, clutching the right side of her head in obvious pain.

    Necrozma hovered into the air, looking down at his arms. "This light… it's familiar… it's powerful. But there's something missing here. I can't use this light to its fullest effect!" He brought his arms up to his face and clawed at his helmet. "My core? Where is my core? What did you do to it?!"

    Prisma shakily brought her paw off her face, revealing the gem in her eye socket. Before Necrozma could protest, static enveloped Prisma's right shoulder. It funneled down her arm, culminating in black cubes flickering into existence and launching themselves at Necrozma. The cubes struck Necrozma's face, blasting him onto his back with a screech of anger. Necrozma lay on the ground, arms and wings flailing in pain. Prisma looked at her distorted paw, her lone eye going wide at the afterimages trailing behind it.

    "This… this power," she said. "It's nothing… nothing like what I've felt… as a Lucario." Her eye darted around the forest and a crooked smile appeared on her lips. "I… I can use this power… use this power to make things right…"

    Without thinking, Gallian blurted out, "Mom! What are you doing?"

    Prisma stumbled forward, her head jerking forward so her eye met Gallian's gaze. "I'm… I'm…" Like a broken puppet, Prisma's head bobbed down to stare at her paws. Her pupil narrowed into a feral slit as she raised her right paw up and pointed it at Gallian.

    "I'm correcting a mistake," she whispered coldly.

    In the face of the oncoming aura sphere, Gallian was completely petrified. He could only stare at the red orb as it grew closer and closer…

    "Gallian!"

    Fur enveloped Gallian. He was on his back seconds later, staring at the ground in front of him. Zoroark hastily got him to his feet, nuzzling him in concern. "Do you have any idea how much you worried me when you ran off like that?"

    Prisma lowered her paw. Her head lolled to her left side. "What is this?" she growled, her hoarse voice cutting through the air like nails on a chalkboard.

    Gallian shoved Zoroark back. "You have to go! Get out of here!" he said, a look of panic on his face. Prisma saw Zoroark. She saw Zoroark nuzzling him!

    "Are you kidding me? You think I'm gonna leave my mate out to dry like that?" Zoroark said. "We're in this together, remember?"

    "Mate?" Prisma said. The distortion spread from her arm, enveloping her whole body. All that was visible was the gem stuck in her skull, faintly flickering with multicolored light. Necrozma weakly raised his head up, but a wisp of black lightning ran across the ground and caught his armored tail. He seized up.

    "I knew it," Prisma's now-distorted voice proclaimed. "You… you worthless, miserable failure. You're… a blight… upon my existence! You… Tessa… such disappointments! Mistakes! Neither of you should exist! You're nothing but reminders of what I had taken from me!"

    "What is this crazy thing talking about, Gallian?" Zoroark said, while raising a paw and firing off a black beam. Prisma stalemated the attack with a black wave of her own, resulting in a burst of dark, staticky smoke.

    "I… I don't…" Gallian's voice trailed off. His legs trembled, but otherwise refused to budge. His mind was a total blank, unable to process what was going on in front of him.

    Zoroark wasted no time in firing a second dark energy beam through the smoke. However, there was no cry of pain signifying he had hit anyone. Instead, the sounds of splintering wood echoed through the area. Zoroark's ears twitched and he looked to his right. Prisma staggered out of the smoke, still enveloped by a static veil.

    "Gallian, get down!" Zoroark shouted, lunging for his mate. He was able to knock Gallian to the ground right before a half dozen crystal blades sliced up the left side of his body. Blood spurted out of the newly-formed wounds. Zoroark screamed and fell to his stomach, clutching the left side of his head in agony.

    His anguished cries roused Gallian from his stupor. Gallian sat up and saw Zoroark lying at his feet, blood staining the soil underneath him. "Zoroark? Zoroark!" he cried. "No, no, no!" Tears formed in his eyes.

    "Don't touch him!" Prisma shouted, her voice so heavily distorted it sounded male. At the same time, the static surrounding Prisma intensified. She whipped her arm forward, having seemingly lost control of the limb. A red and black energy beam shot toward a wide-eyed Gallian.

    'Move! Run away!'

    Gallian lunged right, but the blast grazed the left side of his body. Gallian landed awkwardly, toppling onto his side. He lay still for a few seconds, before an intense shocking pain gripped every square inch of his body. Gallian curled up into a ball, screaming, but his cries were muffled by the electricity surging through his fur.

    Prisma stumbled backward, her arm falling limply to her side. "Aha… ha… what… did I just do? That… wasn't… a Dark Pulse." She tried lifting her arm up, but it wouldn't budge. Prisma didn't get the opportunity to contemplate the turn of events any further, however, because Necrozma flew right toward her.

    "Give me back my core right now!" he screeched, opening his new, fanged mouth wide like he meant to bite Prisma's head. Rather than trying to run, Prisma instead lunged at Necrozma, matching his yell with a furious cry. The two collided in a midair burst of black shadows, static, and distorted red cubes. They tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs, each one trying to wrestle the other into submission. Neither of them noticed the ring of energy forming around them until the Ultra Wormhole was complete.

    They fell into the open portal. Their frustrated cries grew progressively more distant until the Ultra Wormhole shut, leaving Gallian and Zoroark lying on the ground, each one writhing about in pain.

    "I heard the shouts coming from over here!"

    A gust of wind blew through the area, whipping up soil, dead grass, and twigs. A Noivern flew in, thrusting his wings apart to stop and hover over Gallian and Zoroark. "Oh, gods," he whispered. Noivern turned around, tensing his speaker-like ears, and thundered, "I need Chansey over here, stat! I've got 'mons here and they're fatally wounded!"

    Frantic footsteps followed Noivern's cry. Bushes flew apart, revealing a Pangoro carrying the Chansey in question on his shoulders. She had a shoulder bag on bearing a heart-shaped insignia. Pangoro glanced Zoroark's blood-stained form and bounded over to him without a second thought.

    "Good gods!" Chansey gasped. "Everyone, stand back, I'm using Heal Pulse!"

    "You're gonna have to spam it if this guy's got any hope," Pangoro said, throwing a paw over his eyes to avoid looking at Zoroark. Chansey knelt down, releasing soft pink light from the tips of her arms. The light spread across Zoroark's body, forcibly tugging fur together and slowing his bleeding.

    "It's not good enough," she said. "Okay, desperate times mean desperate measures." She reached into her stomach pouch and pulled out the egg sitting in it. Chansey rolled Zoroark over, recoiled from seeing his wounds, and cracked the egg open. Yolk spilled across Zoroark's head and torso. Chansey shook the egg shell out, dribbling bits of yolk onto Zoroark's left leg. With a sour expression on her face, she went to work rubbing the yolk against Zoroark's lacerations.

    "What about Absol? He looks like he's in a lot of pain, too," Noivern said, fluttering above him.

    "Are you kidding? It's an Absol! Touch one and you're gonna doom yourself to the Tree of Life," Pangoro huffed. "I'll bet he's the one who did this to Zoroark in the first place."

    Noivern's ears twitched. He turned toward the bushes behind him. "Hey! Come out here… whoever you are!"

    Luxeira stepped through a nearby evergreen tree, drawing a surprised squawk from Noivern. "What the–? A blue Houndoom? And what's with the freaky jumpsuit?"

    "Sir, please don't be alarmed," Luxeira said. "Absol is… an acquaintance of mine. I know what's wrong with him, but I need you all to leave me alone so I can help him."

    Noivern gave Luxeira a funny look. "I'm not really sure I buy that, Houndoom," he said.

    "Forget Absol!" Pangoro shouted. Noivern turned to see Pangoro cradling Zoroark in his arms. Blood and egg yolk covered Zoroark's fur and medicinal leaves lay over his wounds, including the bloody stump where his left ear had previously been. "We've gotta get Zoroark back to the village for emergency treatment. Chansey says he's from Cosmic Cavern, so you've gotta fly up to the mountains and get a hold of their Totem, got it?"

    Noivern looked back at Gallian and Luxeira. "Come on, Noivern! If Houndoom wants to waste her time on Absol, let her," Pangoro said.

    "Oh, all right," Noivern said. With a few hearty flaps of his wings, he ascended, disappearing through the trees. At the same time, Pangoro and Chansey retreated to the direction they came from. Luxeira sighed in relief, then knelt beside Gallian.

    "Sticky, the coast is clear. Get out here… quickly!" Luxeira said. She pressed the gemstone on her harness. Her helmet rematerialized over her head. At the same time, a similar-looking harness formed on the ground next to her.

    "Luxeira, are you sure you can touch him safely? These readings are seriously abnormal," Sticky said, his visor flickering with light.

    "I'm aware of that," Luxeira snapped. "But we have no time to lose. There's corrupted Z-Power flowing through his system and if we don't stop it from spreading, then he'll lapse into a bloodthirsty rampage and that entire village will be in jeopardy. Now, give me a hand!"

    She bit down on the spare harness and, straining considerably, hefted it over Gallian's trembling shoulders. Gallian snarled in protest and snapped at the air in front of him. "Luxeira, look! The horn on his head… it's sharpening!" Sticky gasped.

    "Then hurry up and help!" Luxeira barked. Sticky floated beside her and they tugged back on the harness, forcibly pressing it to a howling Gallian's chest. Luxeira reached out and touched the gemstone with a forepaw. A hissing noise sounded, following by metal scraping against metal. The harness set itself against Gallian's frame. At the same time, the lightning faded from Gallian's fur. He slowly stopped thrashing.

    Luxeira stepped away from Gallian, sighing in relief. "Well, that was close," she said. "Good job, Sticky."

    "Err… you're welcome," he said, making a mental note of it being the first time Luxeira had actually said anything remotely complimentary toward him. "But what exactly are we going to do now? We cannot simply allow this terrestrial to roam about unchecked. That is a very important piece of equipment for us. It's the last remnants of our world's technology."

    "Yes, I know," Luxeira whispered. "It looks like we're going to be saddled with a new travelling partner."

    "Are you serious?" Sticky gasped.

    "At least until we can figure out a way to get the corrupted Z-Power out of his system," Luxeira said. "Just play it a cool for a bit. I'll do the talking, all right?"

    Gallian sat up, blinking slowly. Luxeira dematerialized her helmet and walked in front of Gallian. "Um… hello? Are you doing okay, sir?" she asked, waving a forepaw in front of him. She didn't get a response. Instead, Gallian tensed up. His eyes flashed red and crimson light brimmed along his now-serrated scythe. Luxeira took a cautious step backwards. "Sir, try to stay calm. You were in an accident, but my partner and I came to your rescue."

    Gallian swiped at Luxeira with his scythe. She barely jumped out of the way. Gallian fell to his stomach, putting his forepaws on his head.

    "Mom… Zoroark… why? Why?" he growled. Gallian noticed the harness on his chest. "What is this?" he whispered. "What's going on here?" Gallian saw bloodstained soil over his shouler. "Where did he go? Why am I by myself? I… I…" He brushed his head with his forepaws. "My head… why does it hurt so much?"

    He swung his head to the right, forcing Luxeira to jump as black sparks raced along the ground. "Luxeira, I don't think this is working," Sticky whispered, hovering nervously by her shoulder. Luxeira took a deep breath and stepped in front of Gallian.

    "Listen, sir, I understand that this must all be very troubling to you, but I need you to listen to me," Luxeira said. Gallian looked up at her. His brow furrowed and black shadows swirled around his scythe. He jumped to his feet. Luxeira's tail stuck up in alarm, but she stayed rooted to her spot. "Something bad has happened to you. I need you to follow me out of this forest, so I can take you somewhere safe."

    "Somewhere… safe?" Gallian repeated, and then shook his head. "But… but I'm safe. There's no… there's no…"

    His voice trailed off. The pounding in his head intensified. All the recent events flashed through is mind. Lunala's corruption. His mother's hand. Zoroark's blood spilling across the ground. Gallian shot up. Zoroark was in peril! He had to go! His mate needed him.

    'I have to… I have to…'

    Gallian's throat went dry. His chest tightened. The blood… the wounds… he couldn't get them out of his head. Zoroark was going to die. All because of him. He ran off and found Prisma, then stood there uselessly while she tried to kill him!

    "No!" Gallian wailed, thrashing his head back and forth. Luxeria and Sticky backed up even further, avoiding black sparks jumping off Gallian's body.

    'I did this. It's my fault. I led Zoroark… into disaster!'

    His vision flickered.

    'But he's my mate. I can't… I can't leave him. I need him!'

    Gallian's throat constricted.

    'No… I've already ruined his life. I can't bring even more disaster upon him.'

    Luxeira jumped in front of Gallian. "Hey!" she barked. Gallian stiffened, locking eyes with Luxeira.

    "Wh do you… want from me?" he rasped. "I don't… I can't…"

    "Sir, your life hangs in the balance, here," Luxeira said. "My partner and I put that harness on you to stop the pain from spreading any farther. You have to come with us so we can monitor you. Otherwise, we can't guarantee your safety… or even your survival! I know it's confusing, but as soon as we have you somewhere safe, I can explain everything in greater detail."

    Hearing the part about survival snapped Gallian to attention. His eyes widened, his pupils dilated, and his jaw locked. He stood in front of Luxeira, legs so tense he thought they might pop out of their joints. Gallian kept shifting his gaze in random directions, trying to avoid eye contact with Luxeira. All he could see in his mind was the memory of Zoroark lying in front of him, bleeding out. The image kept flashing in front of him no matter where he looked. Each time it did, stabbing pain gripped his chest. Eventually, Gallian doubled over, gasping for air.

    'Survival… I have to… survive. Otherwise… it's disaster…'

    When he caught his breath, he looked up at Luxeira. "Where do you plan on taking me?" Gallian whispered, voice full of resignation.

    "We've been hiding in a small cave at the base of the nearest mountain," Luxeira said, jerking her head behind her.

    "We?" Gallian said, a concerned look in his eye.

    "Yes… my partner and I," Luxeira said. She gestured to Sticky, who floated over cautiously. Gallian tensed upon seeing him. What sort of Pokémon was that?

    "Puh… please! Do not attack! I mean no harm!" Sticky shouted, throwed his arms over his face.

    Gallian looked between Luxeira and Sticky. "Just what are you two, anyway?"

    Luxeira sighed. "It's a long story… and it's best told back in the cave."

    XxX
    I think it's pretty obvious by now that if a chapter title contains "zero" in it, someone's gonna have a bad time. :p
    Next time: well, would you look at that! It's almost Halloween. Guess that means it's my time to shine. Mwee hee hee hee!
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Copied over from bulba, a look at Special Episode 2!

    Well, that’s worrisome.

    Oh, that’s an interesting interpretation. How about for Zorua, then? I don’t think they have those… hair bead things. Maybe they’re just weaker illusions or something.

    Also, regarding their whole thing about showing an illusion, why don't they just poke her? Note that after reading through the whole SE, I see why that wouldn't have worked, but that does seem like something they'd want to try out.

    ****, I knew I wasn’t original.

    Hahahahahahaha… Oh man. Sorry, it’s nothing. This is great. Good job, Null. I know exactly where this is going, and I know it because I did the same damn thing, at least in essence.

    __


    By the way, this special episode feels a lot faster for me, as I’m reading it. It’s not because there’s less being written down or anything. I’m just having an easier time reading it, since it kinda feels like important stuff, or at least somewhat important stuff, is taking place here. We’ve got word about the anti-Legendary plot that went on in this version of the setting. Also interesting.


    I mean, anyone who knows anything about Type:Null’s trivia would find this as no surprise.

    This is a useful line to drop, so good job on that. Reviver Seeds aren’t a self-activating senzu as depicted in the normal game canon here. It was the first thing I thought when she mentioned a Reviver while also being so badly injured, so the timing was spot-on.


    Also, regarding "Zoroark" claiming that they need to recover that reference image of the artifact, why doesn’t she just make an illusion of the official record /picture and have someone recreate it from the illusion? Surely she’s been looking at it long enough to cast the illusion, unless there’s something more to it, or something along those lines. I actually wonder if that would actually work, being able to copy-edit just by transformation and disguises alone...


    Are you familiar with Addam from Xenoblade 2: Torna - The Golden Country? Because that’s what this guy sounds like in my head right now. English dub.

    Something about this line feels weird. I feel like those thoughts are too many to have and still put on a façade at the same time without arousing suspicion, if that makes sense. I think it might make more sense to flip them, such that she whines at first, but then thinks shortly after, rather than the other way around like it is here.

    Hang on a second. Why does this feel familiar? You mentioned this to me a while ago, actually, so let me just… check around if… Wait. Winged heart, eye, horn. That’s… isn’t that… literally the Jamba Heart symbol from…?

    Frankly I’d be more concerned about them all exploding under their weight like little wall-mines, but I suppose falling is also a concern. But won’t the wilds just attack? Ooh, tricky, tricky.

    __

    I’m not really sure what to think about this mook battle, really. It’s certainly exciting, but it draws along for a while for what is basically just a bunch of randos that they have to deal with inside the ruins that they quickly dispatch of before the real challenge—escaping quickly—begins.

    Oh, that chapter ends pretty suddenly. Mid-battle, mid-dialogue, and it doesn’t actually quite feel like the chapter ended, either. More like it was just sliced in two. Still, the line itself has a similar effect to the line I just quoted above, which is probably why its effect felt oddly diminished. Kinda like a second blow after the first. I was still more or less adjusting to the shock of them having to climb. And while “let’s blow up the ceiling” is more shocking, “Let’s climb the ores” was already that first shock.

    I feel like I’m zeroing in on something really inconsequential, so I’ll just move on, hah! Anyway, I think you did a good job at the short-term uncertainty of Marshadow. He was shady, but at the same time, I wasn’t really certain, at least until he started asking about some sort of bootleg Arceus wheel.

    Also, OUCH! It doesn’t seem very painful for them, but I can’t help but wonder how tightly wound you need to be to be tied together like that. Serpents are only so flexible, and they’ve still got spines in there, so if you tie ‘em too tight, you’re basically breaking their lower halves. Too loose, and they can slither forward and untangle naturally that way.

    Anyway, time to get to the final chapter of this episode.

    Well hey, at least they waited politely for them to be at the very top!


    ____


    Ahh, very clever, using their own attack to slow their descent and simultaneously soften the water that they would ultimately hit. I think I remember seeing Avatar do something similar to this, actually. I had a feeling that’s what they’d do! Okay, enough with this tail-tied business, I wanna see how they can, if at all, find Marshadow after that whole mess.


    I’m not sure if this counts as racist or not. Typist? One way or the other, it worked. Leave it to Team Captivate to take advantage of emotional weaknesses.

    This exchange gave me like three rounds of emotions. At first, I thought it was reckless of them to hand over the obviously-important artifact over to Zoroark despite it not being a part of the mission. Then, Zoroark starts talking about disguises, and I was pretty sure this guy was a baddie all along. And THEN, it’s Latias… and she actually IS with Mawile and co.?! I guess the Legends want to keep a low profile after all…

    __


    Okay, this was an interesting special episode. Much more relevant compared to the first one, which was more or less just backstory, but I still really liked it. Marshadow was a bit underwhelming in the final showdown, but I think that was the point, right? They caught him off guard, and once a thief loses their element of surprise, I think they’re pretty underwhelmingly weak. He should’ve run away when he could, but it seems the taunt did its trick.


    One thing that does confuse me, though, is that Escape Orb. Was it just chucked randomly? Did I miss something? I doubt Marsh would intentionally blow his cover like that. Did someone else throw it, or some other mysterious assistant? Maybe I missed something…


    Anyway, I definitely enjoyed this, but once again after going through a Special Episode, I’m kinda antsy to finally get back into the main story again. Glad that’s happening next.


    Also, that bonus episode was adorable, and I’m pretty sure the secret Tessa’s mom is keeping is probably that she used to be human, or something along those lines, and also her involvement with whatever’s going on with Shane’s affiliation with Sol. But that’s for later, as of now it’s just a tease.
     
  17. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    They are. Complete with Zorua parts, like their tails, still being visible.

    It would. But, like, that's a surefire way to get someone mad at you or goad them into doing something hostile.

    Oh, you'll see. It's a lot different than you think. ;P

    I guess the fact that it's tangential to the plot instead of flashbacks might help in that regard... *glances nervously at special episode 3*

    Yeah, I thought it was necessary to go with that. Because, like, the idea that you could bounce back perfectly fine from, say, getting impaled just by downing a Reviver Seed didn't sit right with me.

    While I won't be explaining it for awhile, Zoroarks in this fic cannot conjure illusions out of thin air. Their ability is far closer to what it is in the games (basic "shapeshifting") than what it is in the anime (seemingly conjuring solid materials out of thin air).

    I am not. Marshadow's inspiration is Loki from Bayonetta 2.

    You're probably right. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future.

    Go oooooooon... :V

    That's... certainly possible. Seems to be a recurring issue of mine, me thinks. I blame FFN.

    It didn't actually end mid-battle unless I mucked something up with copying things somewhere. The enemies are cleared out and they're just standing around coming up with a (very reckless) plan.

    Glad to hear it. I think is something people have actually been in agreement, which surprises me. I didn't think it was that ambiguous in the moment, though that may be author foresight clouding my judgment.

    Try to think about it too much. :p

    I haven't watched Avatar or Korra in a very long time, so it was unintentional... but I'll take it!

    Yes, that kind of backwards thinking can be troublesome. But, well, world full of cute magical critters can have its imperfections.

    Uh... kind of? Mawile is fully aware of who Latias and Latios are. In this fic, they're the same duo from Rescue Team (and the ones who got turned to stone early on in Super). They agree to join the Expedition Society as thanks for saving them, so I ran with that. This'll come up again later, I promise.

    It was indeed the point. His whole routine is based on the element of surprise and Team Captivate managed to suck him out of it by, well, using surprises of their own. But, who knows, maybe he'll be a bit more terrifying the next time we see him?

    Well, it's not like he knew there was anyone there. This was a spoof of action fics, so there had to be some Bond Villain Stupidity in there somewhere. :p

    I'd say that's a very accurate guess. Thanks again for reviewing! ^^

    It's that time of year, beasts and ghouls! The pinnacle of spookiness. Last time, we had Giratina "terrorizing" a bunch of assorted characters. This year, I'm opting for something a bit more low key... and canon, to boot. This is entirely self-contained. So, if you don't care for this chapter and want to skip it, you're more than welcome to. If not... enjoy!

    XxX

    Bonus #15: Specter of Change

    ~Craggy Coast Entrance~

    I see you trying to stray from the path. Cease your foolish actions or I will employ Thunder Wave and return you to the prison.

    Electricity crackled in Magnezone's appendages, frightening the Haunter floating in front of him. "Yeesh! Sorry, sorry, I'm just tired, that's all," Haunter said. He floated down the gray, dirt-filled path, passing puddles of water dripping from the ceiling. Ahead of him, two slightly-larger members of his species floated in single-file line behind a Magneton deputy. Light shined from the end of a tunnel.

    Sir, we've arrived at the entrance, the deputy announced, turning around and flashing his six magnets.

    "Excellent! At long last, we're finally free! Kee hee hee!" the largest of the three Haunters said, bursting out of the tunnel entrance, only to shrink back immediately with a hiss. He wrung his hands out until black smoke stopped trailing off them. "Urgh… geez. You louts couldn't have brought us out after sundown?" he grumbled.

    Negative, Magnezone replied, fixing his central eye on the three Haunters. In the past, former inmates have used the cover of night to slip away and return to their criminal ways. We are no longer taking that risk.

    "Eee hee hee! Now, now, there's no need to worry about that," the last Haunter said, his black tongue flopping out of his mouth. "We're fully rehabilitated! No more sneaky thefts for us. Isn't that right, Chief?"

    The largest Haunter nodded, his eyes bouncing in his spectral sockets. "Of course. Of course. Kee hee hee!" Chief said. "We'll promise to be good, well-meaning ghosts from now on. After all, who'd want to end up back in Craggy Side Path Prison again, anyway? It reeked in there."

    "Yeah! And that's coming from guys without nostrils," Haunter said, waving a hand in front of his face. Chief had made it clear to him that he needed to be on his best behavior so they could head back into the world without drawing any suspicion from Officer Magnezone's team.

    You know the rules, Magnezone said, shoving Haunter forward. We escort you on this trail until we're one mile from Treasure Town. Provided you behave appropriately, you will be free to go.

    "We're well aware, Officer Magnezone," Black-Tongue said. "We'll leave it to your… uh… wonderful deputy to lead the way.

    Oh. Why… thank you for the complement, Magneton said, chuckling robotically.

    Haunter followed his teammates out of the cave, shaking his head. These idiot cops were so dense. If it wasn't for the explorers lending them a hand, they'd be completely ineffective. In fact, just hearing mention of Treasure Town dredged up unpleasant memories of their defeat and humiliation at the hands of that gods-awful Wigglytuff Guild. What kind of chumps couldn't take down a 'mon they had a type advantage over?

    He looked to his left, focusing on the waves rolling across the ocean. Haunter heard some smacking up against the cliffside path they were on. Sea spray occasionally drifted right by him. The mist felt great after the many months locked away inside a cave. Of course, he would never admit that to his teammates. Ghosts were supposed to like dark, dreary places. But that prison somehow sucked the life out of him.

    The group continued forward in silence. Haunter kept switching his gaze between the ground and the ocean. He was pretty sure his partners tried to get his attention a few times, but he ignored them, lost in his own thoughts.

    So, what's the game plan once we're free, Chief?

    Kee hee hee! Are you serious, dude? What do you think it is? We're gonna make a comeback, of course. "The Invincible Haunter" will strike again!

    Oh… uh… right. Yeah, how silly of me. Mwee hee… hee…

    Oy, what's the matter with you, Purple-Tongue? Where's your haunting spirit? I guarantee you we'll find some saps to scare with our routine and it'll be utterly hilarious!

    Haunter shook his head. Of course he wanted to scare people. That's what he lived for!

    'But does that really mean we have to go back to the same routine that got us put in here in the first place?' he wondered. It was around the time that the path turned inland and a small forest took the cliff's place that Haunter finally stopped mulling over that conversation and reached a conclusion.

    He didn't want to use his scaring prowess to harm other Pokémon anymore.

    Attention: we have reached the designated drop off area, Magneton announced, his limbs humming with vibrations. Ahead of them, the path sloped down. However, their vantage point at the top of the hill allowed them to see a beach, as well as several thatched buildings and tents. A large pink tent styled to look like a Wigglytuff stood on a second hill in the distance. There was no mistaking it. Treasure Town was right nearby. No doubt bustling with Pokémon going about their day to day lives.

    Both of Haunter's teammates frowned. "Well, as much fun as this little sightseeing moment is, I think we're going to have to bring it to an end," Chief said. He turned to Magnezone. "You said we'd be free to go once we reach this spot."

    Correct, Magnezone said.

    "Then, we'll be taking our leave," Chief said, grinning so widely his mouth outgrew his body.

    I expect you three to behave yourselves from now on, Magnezone said. The last thing any of us want is to place you all under arrest once again.

    "Yeah, yeah, message received," Chief said, waving Magnezone off. Haunter followed Chief down the path until the police force was safely out of view. Chief turned around, rubbing his hands together gleefully. "Kee hee hee! At long last, we're free!" he said. "You know what this means, right?"

    "We're going to find us some chow that doesn't taste like puke?" Black-Tongue said, contorting his body into a question mark.

    "What? No!" Chief said, slapping Black-Tongue hard enough to revert him back to normal. "It means it's time for us to start planning our big comeback."

    Haunter grimaced. Chief was ready to do that now? "Uh, can't we at least take a couple of weeks to enjoy our freedom? Get used to life outside again?" Haunter said.

    "Are you kidding me? What, do you just want to lay around in the shadows of a tree or something? That's not fun at all!" Chief said. "There are Pokémon out there waiting to be scared away from their belongings. The world is begging for the return of 'The Invincible Haunter.' Kee hee hee!"

    "But Chief, you don't really expect us to be able to go back to our old routine here, do you?" Haunter said. "The guild blabbed about our secret. The Glameow's outta the bag. We're just gonna end up back in jail."

    Chief turned to Haunter, frowning. "You can't be serious here. Of course I'm aware of that! Which is exactly why we're going to take our act on the road," he said, contorting into an arrow and pointing at the forest. "Time to leave the Grass Continent behind and head for greener pastures."

    "Eh? I thought the Grass Continent had the greenest fields across the world," Black-Tongue said.

    "Oh for the love of–" Chief smacked his forehead. "It's a figure of speech. I mean we need to move to a place where nobody knows who we are. Now, I was thinking either the Air Continent or the Mist Continent. I don't think either place has established guilds, so we should be able to settle there without any issues. Which one would you guys prefer?"

    "Mist Continent… duh!" Black-Tongue says. "If there's nothing but mist there, we'll be able to blend in so masterfully we'll make Dittos jealous." His body dissolved into a stream of mist that wrapped around a nearby branch. Black-Tongue's eyes appeared on the edge of the branch, looking down at his partners.

    "And what about you?" Chief asked Haunter.

    "Uh… well…" Haunter's voice trailed off and he rubbed the back of his head. He wanted more time to figure out what to say to his teammates, because he hoped he could convince them not to go back to lives of crime. "Here's the thing, Chief. I don't want to return to the Invincible Haunter schtick," Haunter said.

    Chief threw his head back, laughing heartily. Likewise, Black-Tongue fell out of his tree branch, laughing. "Kee hee hee! That's hilarious! Nice one, Purple-Tongue, but save the funny jokes for our would-be targets in the Mist Continent," Chief said.

    "It wasn't a joke," Haunter said, frowning. The smiles disappeared from his teammates' faces.

    "What are you saying? That you want to back out?" Chief said, narrowing his eyes.

    Haunter sighed. This was it. "Yeah," he said. "I've had enough of being a crook and I certainly don't want to risk getting tossed back into a jail cell."

    "You can't back out of this!" Chief said. "You're a ghost. If you're not spending your time scaring folks, then what else are you supposed to do, huh?"

    "I'm not saying I'm giving up scaring," Haunter said, shaking his head. "I'm just saying that… well… I don't think I have to be an outlaw to scare folks. And… um… you guys don't, either." Haunter knew that wasn't an eloquent attempt to appeal to his friends. Still, he hoped they'd at least hear him out.

    Chief and Black-Tongue looked at each other, then burst out laughing. Comically large tear streams shout out of Black-Tongue's eyes. "H… hey! What's so funny?" Haunter said, puffing up his cheeks.

    "You!" Black-Tongue said. "That's gotta be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

    "Yeah. You think 'mons want to be scared by ghosts like us? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous!" Chief scoffed, shoving Haunter lightly. "You've gotta be an outlaw if you want to scare someone… it's the only way you'll be taken seriously."

    "I don't believe that," Haunter said. "I think we can find a way to scare folks and help those who need it." His teammates continued laughing to the point where they sank into puddles of purple goo on the ground. "I'm being serious!" Haunter fumed. "Like, why can't we stalk outlaws and scare them into turning themselves in? If anyone deserves a scare… it's a crook!"

    "Pfbt! Yeah, sure, like that would really work," Chief said. "Look, if you want to go frolic with the goody-goody losers in Treasure Town, then go right ahead." He gestured down the trail. "We can find someone else to pick up the slack. You were always the weakest one out of us three, anyway."

    Haunter recoiled. There was no way that was true! They were on equal footing with each other. That's what made their trick work so well.

    "Yeah, I never said anything, but I always thought you were holding us back," Black-Tongue said.

    Haunter slumped over, eyes and mouth dropping to the ground. His friends had brushed his suggestion off without even giving it a fair shake. "So, you guys are just gonna leave?" he whispered.

    "Duh," Chief said. "I'll give you one last chance to join us. Or do you mean to tell me you really think you can fit in in a place like Treasure Town?"

    "I can fit in," Haunter said, picking his eyes and mouth up. "Heck, I can do better than that. I'm going to be an explorer! I'll use tricks and pranks to solve other Pokémon's problems… and prove you two wrong."

    "Oh, brother," Black-Tongue said, rolling his eyes.

    "Yeah, tell me about it. Gag," Chief said, tongue falling out of his mouth. "Black-Tongue and I are leaving. Keep your ears open, because it won't be long before you start hearing about the return of the Invincible Haunter! Kee hee hee!"

    "Eee hee hee!" Black-Tongue added. He and Chief then melted into the ground, disappearing from Haunter's view. Haunter continued to float there for a few minutes, then dropped to the ground, sighing.

    What was he supposed to do now? He had no money, no resources, and no one to turn to. The obvious choice was to go to Wigglytuff's Guild, but he doubted he would get a warm welcome there after the trouble he caused. As much as he didn't want to admit it, his now-former teammates were right.

    If he wanted a fresh start, he would need to move.

    Haunter dissolved into a cloud of mist and snaked through the shadows of the trees flanking the trail. All the while, he considered his options. There were other towns in the Grass Continent he could go to, but none of them held a candle to Treasure Town. As far as he knew, it was the hub for explorers. Sure, the Air Continent to the north had some rescue teams, but they were all self-contained and kept to themselves. His best shot was with an established organization.

    'But all that leaves me with is Wigglytuff's Guild,' Haunter concluded.

    He continued drifting aimlessly through the forest, mulling over his apparent lack of options. Haunter was so lost in thought, it took the burning rays of the sun to make him release he'd left the safety of the forest and found himself in Treasure Town's beach. He ducked into the shadows of a rock to avoid detection.

    It was from that hiding spot that Haunter heard voices. Close examination revealed a familiar Sunflora and Loudred standing with a small group. It was Wigglytuff's Guild! Haunter creeped along the shadows, eavesdropping on the group as they conversed with two Pokémon he had never seen before: Incineroar and Lucario. As he listened in, he learned they were from a continent he had never even heard of. Better yet, Incineroar ran a guild of his own. Haunter briefly wondered if fortune had actually smiled upon him.

    Throwing caution – and his pride – into the wind, Haunter went up to the group and proceeded to beg Incineroar to take him back to Horizon. He employed every trick in his arsenal, from large pouty eyes to giant tear streams. Haunter won Incineroar over, despite his mate's suspicions. She tried to tell him Lapras wouldn't have any room and they didn't have the supplies for an extra passenger. Haunter waved it all off. He was a ghost and, as such, could go several days without eating. Haunter also offered to coil himself around a spoke on Lapras' shell to make sure he wasn't taking up any room.

    Lucario eventually acquiesced. Just like that, Haunter had a plan. Sure, he had no idea what an entrance exam was supposed to entail, but Incineroar seemed confident in him. What could possibly go wrong?

    XxX

    ~Dewdrop Woods~

    "Augh!"

    Haunter struck a tree, ending up as nothing more than a purple splat on its bark. His eyes and mouth tumbled to the ground, followed by the rest of his body. How could this have happened? The test sounded so easy! He had to get a looplet back from this forest. But then he got jumped by an angry Leafeon and everything went south. How could he have lost? He resisted her strongest attacks!

    "Well, I think that settles that," Leafeon said, walking toward Haunter. "The treasure is mine."

    "But I need… nrrrrgh," Haunter groaned, unable to pick himself up off the ground. He didn't even have the strength to phase into the dirt.

    "You're not getting it," Leafeon said. She walked past Haunter and disappeared behind a large tree root. She popped back up seconds later wearing a sunny-yellow vest with a platinum guild badge on it. "The fact is that this was all part of your test. And… you failed," she said. "I'm not exactly in the prime of my youth, but you couldn't even land a single blow."

    Haunter looked up. Sure enough, the tips of Leafeon's ears and tail were yellow instead of green. A clear sign Leafeon was entering her later years. "You're kidding," he whispered. "P… please! You've gotta give me another chance. I'll… uh… I'll do better next time, I swear. I'm still tired from the trip, that's all."

    Leafeon produced an oran berry from her satchel and rolled it over to Haunter. "It's not my place to say whether you can have another chance. I'm afraid that's up to the Guildmaster," she said, pulling out an Escape Orb. "Now, eat up, so I can take you back to Aeon Town."

    To Haunter, the berry might has well have been rotten. It was a sad consolation prize for failing to meet his goal. It looked like he had traveled halfway across the world for nothing. As soon as he was back in Aeon Town he'd be back to square one. No, it was even worse. He'd be at square zero.

    "Look, the sun's setting. Either you can come with me or not," Leafeon said, flicking her tail. "You wouldn't be the first 'mon to go wild after failing our exam."

    Haunter ate the berry whole and floated dejectedly beside Leafeon. Together, they warped back to Dewdrop Woods' entrance. Haunter marveled at the wall of impossibly tall trees, with just a small black gap in the middle marking the way into the dungeon.

    "Well, this is where we part ways," Leafeon said. "You're welcome to drop by the Observatory any time to see if you can try again." She walked off, leaving Haunter floating by the trees.

    He thought this was all rather harsh. Failure meant getting left alone in some place he didn't know? Though, it stood to reason that the only folks who had failed this test before him were Horizon natives.

    Haunter was prepared to sink into the ground and wallow in his misery when he spotted two bubbling puddles of purple ectoplasm in front of him. "Eh? Look… if you've come to spread the good word about Giratina or some nonsense like that, I ain't interested," he said, flicking a hand dismissively at the puddles.

    "Oh, golly, we're not here for that!"

    A Misdreavus with hot-pink tips at the ends of her ghostly hair popped out of one puddle. The other puddle produced a Drifloon. "Yeah, we're here because we were looking for you," Drifloon said.

    "Me?" Haunter said, pointing at his face. Were Haunters a rare sight in Horizon?

    "Hoo-whee, you got it," Misdreavus said, nodding vigorously. "We were just hanging around in the alleys in Aeon Town and heard Leafeon and Incineroar coming by, yup yup. When we saw you with them, we both waited around to see what would happen. A half-hour later, we saw you floating off to Dewdrop Woods, so we figured you were trying to join the guild." Her expression deflated. "It looks like you didn't do so hot on the entrance exam, huh?"

    Haunter blinked. They knew about the guild's entrance exam? Were they gossipers? Did this mean he was going to be a laughing stock in Aeon Town?

    "W-Wait a second," Haunter said, panic spreading across his face. "It's not my fault! I came from overseas, so I was just tired, that's all. With a little rest… I'll be ready to tackle the test and emerge victorious!"

    "Golly! You're quite determined," Misdreavus gasped, hair shooting up. "Shucks, I wasn't trying to insult you or anything."

    "Yeah, we came out to offer some support," Drifloon said, extending a string toward Haunter. "As fellow ghost-types who failed the guild's entrance exam, we're here for you." Drifloon looked around the area. "Actually, why don't we buy you something from the café in town. You sure look like you could use a pick-me-up."

    Haunter blinked in surprised. He wasn't expecting the first ghosts he met in Horizon to be this friendly. Was it a trick of some sort? Haunter looked them over, but didn't see anything malicious in their eyes.

    "I think that sounds pretty good," Haunter said and followed them down the trail.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Town~

    Difloon and Misdreavus emerged with what they called a berry sorbet. Haunter thought it looked like colored ice, but a single spoonful assaulted his tongue with a mixture of sweet berries. He dropped his spoon into the bowl in sheer surprise.

    "I think he likes it," Misdreavus said with a giggle.

    "I'll say," Drifloon said as Haunter eagerly downed the rest of the treat. "I don't think I've ever seen a ghost tear through food that quickly. Maybe we should've gotten him a malasada instead?"

    "Heh, you're right. That was a good pick-me-up," Haunter said, spoon sticking out of his mouth like an oversized toothpick. "Err… I don't have any money right now, but if you give me time–"

    "Golly, you don't have to pay us back," Misdreavus said. "Like we said, we were looking for you. Consider it an introductory gift, of sorts."

    Haunter wasn't about to question the good fortune. Instead, he lazily drifted down into the grass and rested up against a tree. Drifloon and Misdreavus did the same, the latter lying on a tree root.

    "So, you both want to join the guild, too?" Haunter said, tracing the spoon through the dirt. They nodded in unison. "Does that mean you guys joined together?"

    "Nope. We only met a few weeks ago," Drifloon said.

    That surprised Haunter, given how chummy they acted. "Right," he said, trying to think of something else to ask to avoid making things awkward. "Um, are there a lot of ghosts in Horizon?"

    "If you know where to look, there can be," Drifloon said. "Most of us prefer to be active wherever it's dark. And, well…" His voice trailed off and he hovered into the air. Haunter looked in Drifloon's direction and saw a dim glow surrounding many of Aeon Town's buildings. "Most of the communities in Horizon aren't what you would call 'ghost-friendly,' so we tend to stick to the wild… or even the Mystery Dungeons."

    Drifloon's revelation made Haunter accidentally toss the spoon behind him in surprise. It banked of a tree and fell into the bushes. "Wait, hold on. You guys live in Mystery Dungeons? How is that possible?" Haunter said, sticking his tongue out to scratch his head.

    "Oh, golly, we're sorry," Misdreavus said. "We assumed you already knew how Mystery Dungeons work here in Horizon."

    "Uh, not quite," Haunter said. "Think you can give me a quick rundown?"

    "Of course," Misdreavus said. "See, the dungeons here are landscapes. Occasionally, our continents' guardians, the Tapus, reshape the terrain. It's safe for wild 'mons to live in them as long as they take shelter when the Tapus tell them to." Haunter didn't respond, so Misdreavus covered her mouth with a tendril of spectral hair. "Err… that wasn't too much for you to take in, was it?"

    "No… I think I get it," Haunter said. "So, you two both lived in the wild, then?"

    "Actually, I'm from Dewdrop Woods, yup yup," Misdreavus said. "That's the dungeon you did the exam in."

    "And I used to live in Aurora Vale. It's a pretty dungeon. There's always an aurora in the sky," Drifloon said, lazily floating hire until he phased through a tree branch.

    Haunter found their answers strange. Why would a couple of Pokémon who had lived in Mystery Dungeons suddenly decide to join a guild? How did they even find out about it? Haunter tried to think of the best way to phrase his questions without sound rude, but eventually decided to take the blunt route.

    "Why would a couple of wild 'mons want to be explorers?" he asked as Drifloon poked his body out of the tree branch.

    "Golly, I bet you'll think this sounds dumb, but I wanted to meet other people," Misdreavus said, her hair tendrils knotting up. "When I woke up, I was alone in Dewdrop Woods. I drifted around aimlessly for such a long time. It was dreadfully boring. So, the first time I saw other 'mons, I was so excited! I flew up to them, eager to talk, but…" She melted part way into the tree root. "They got scared when they saw me… and ran away."

    Misdreavus sighed loudly. "And that's pretty much how it went for a long time… until I managed to find the entrance to Dewdrop Woods," she said. "I was curious, so I went through it and soon found myself in Aeon Town. That's when I heard about the guild from listening in on Incineroar. I didn't exactly understand what being an explorer meant… but it sounded like a perfect way to meet people."

    Haunter wasn't sure how to respond. When he woke up in his shadowy body, he found Chief and Black-Tongue within days. He hadn't even considered the possibility that there were lonely ghosts out there. Luckily for Haunter, Drifloon took the silence as his cue to speak up.

    "For my part, I was just looking for a change in my routine," Drifloon said. "Something different, y'know?"

    Haunter did know, but thought it polite to interrupt, so he nodded.

    "Aurora Vale's a nice place. There were all these Miniors floating about that I could interact with whenever I wanted," Drifloon said. "But, well, they weren't much for conversation, so it was hardly interesting." He twisted his strings around. "The most interesting things that happened were when explorers from the guild came into the dungeon on missions. I'd follow them around… pretending I was part of their group. But I was always too afraid of actually saying anything to them."

    "One time, Leafeon showed up," Drifloon said. "She was… well, she's really pretty. I couldn't help but try saying something to her. She seemed a bit annoyed that I snuck up on her, but she was willing to talk with me about the guild. Eventually, she agreed to take me out of the dungeon so I could try and join."

    "Interesting," Haunter said. Their motives weren't exactly the same as his, but the idea of wanting something different out of life certainly resonated him. "To be honest, I understand where you guys are coming from," he said, then lapsed into an explanation of what brought him to Horizon in the first place.

    "Golly! That's quite the tale," Misdreavus said when Haunter was finished. "It's a bit unnerving to hear I'm talking with a guy who used to be a criminal, but I'm glad you changed your mind. It's good knowing there are other ghosts out there who aren't looking to be so mean, yup yup."

    "Yeah! And those two teammates of yours sound positively rotten," Drifloon said, blowing a few leaves away with a gust of wind. "Don't you worry. I'm sure you'll get into the guild and prove them wrong."

    "Well, what about you guys?" Haunter said. "You took the exam too, right?"

    "We sure did, yup yup! Failed spectacularly, too," Misdreavus said, her enthusiasm betraying the glum look on her face. "I couldn't even last thirty seconds against Leafeon."

    "I didn't do much better. Only managed to nick her rear with one attack. And that was the one part of her I didn't want to hit," Drifloon said, sighing. "I had type-advantage on my side and it didn't do a thing."

    Ignoring the strange part about Leafeon, Haunter blinked in surprise. He didn't feel all that bad about failing to get a hit in, anymore. Instead, another thought came to mind. "Wait, so all three of us failed the exam against Leafeon?" he said. Haunter received nods in response. "Huh. Has anyone else tried to join the guild and succeeded?"

    "Yeah. There was a Brionne who passed about a month ago… and an Eevee passed just last week," Drifloon said. "Neither of them looked like they had that tough of a time."

    "What? Are you kidding me?" Haunter said, eyes bugging out of his head. "Of course Leafeon's gonna let an Eevee join." He didn't know what a Brionne was, but he imagined it wasn't a ghost-type. Haunter pondered things for a minute, before sighing. "I think I might have an idea what's wrong."

    "Oh?" Drifloon said.

    "Well… it's just, we are ghosts," Haunter said. "When it comes to battling, we're pretty fail. If we can't get solid hits in our foes… we don't tend to do very well."

    He hated admitting it, but it was true. When he was the Invincible Haunter, he never needed to win, because his team's trick would suck the fighting spirit out of anyone who he battled. Haunter imagined that, from what Difloon and Misdreavus told him, they didn't have any real battling experience to speak of. No wonder they all got swept aside by Leafeon!

    Haunter rubbed his chin. Maybe he had gone about this the wrong way. After all, the reason he was successful as an outlaw was because he had backup. Likewise, Sunflora was able to arrest him and his teammates because Loudred stepped in to help her when she needed it most. Perhaps, if he was to make his dream a reality, he needed new friends for this new continent.

    "So, are you two still interested in joining the guild at all?" Haunter asked.

    "Hoo-whee, I sure am," Misdreavus said.

    "You betcha," Drifloon said. "It's just… how am I supposed to get past Leafeon, huh? Misdreavus and I met up after I blew it on the exam a couple of weeks back. We've been trying to practice our attacks with each other, but I don't think it's helped all that much."

    "Well, what if we all tried to join together?" Haunter proposed. "Y'know… be a team."

    "An exploration team?" Misdreavus said.

    "A spooky exploration team," Haunter said, beaming. "Think about it. I may not know everything about the exploring business, but one thing I know pretty well is that most 'mons don't want to go out at night. Well, what if someone needs help around that time? Who better than a team of ghosts to do the job?"

    Misdreavus and Drifloon looked at each other in a way that suggested the thought had never crossed their minds. "That's a good idea, yup yup," Misdreavus said.

    "Totally. With the three of us working together, I'll bet we can take out Leafeon for sure," Drifloon said, raising a string into the air.

    "So, you're with me?" Haunter said. The other ghosts nodded. "Mwee hee hee! Excellent! Come tomorrow… Leafeon won't know what hit her!"

    XxX

    ~Dewdrop Woods~

    A metal tail hammered Haunter into his teammates, turning them into a giant purple puddle with their three grimaced faces mixed up among one another.

    "O… oogh. No… not again," Haunter groaned.

    "We blew it, didn't we?" Drifloon said.

    "Yup yup," Misdreavus whispered.

    "Well… that was… something," Leafeon said, shaking her head. "Did you three even try to come up with a plan or did you just blindly charge into battle hoping the extra numbers would make all the difference?"

    Haunter and his teammates struggled to pull themselves apart. They each exchanged eyes until they knew they had the right ones and fixed them back on their bodies.

    "Uh… well… let's say, for the sake of argument, that I picked the second option," Haunter said, blowing on his right eye and rubbing out the dirt. "What would happen?"

    "I'd give you my 'I'm not mad, just disappointed,' look," Leafeon said.

    Haunter stuck his right eye back in its socket. "And that's bad because…"

    "It's broken more than a few hearts at the guild," Leafeon said. She frowned, jutted out her lower lip, and shook her head disapprovingly.

    "Oh gods, you're right! It's awful! Awful! I'm sorry!" Haunter said, cupping his hands over his face and writhing on the ground. "Just put it away, please!"

    Leafeon resumed her stoic expression and dug three oran berries from her bag. "Well, I suppose you could always try again. I'm not sure what the Guildmaster sees in you three that he's willing to keep giving you chances, but I do appreciate the exercise. It can get so stuffy in the Observatory," she said, rolling the berries toward the ghosts.

    They ate their consolation prizes in silence, and then Leafeon warped them out of the dungeon and back to Aeon Town. She left them behind without another word. "Golly, so what are we supposed to do now, huh?" Misdreavus said. "That went about as badly as it could've gone."

    "Yeah. Even in a three-on-one, we couldn't do anything," Drifloon said, tearing up slightly. "I guess this just wasn't in the cards for us."

    Haunter frowned. For the second time, he and two teammates were beaten by a surprisingly-strong grass-type. And Leafeon didn't even have any backup. He was glad his ex-teammates weren't around. They'd never let him live this down. Still, Haunter didn't want to give up. There had to be something they could do to get the upper hand on Leafeon.

    "Wait, that's it!" Haunter shouted, his teammates backing away in surprise.

    "Hoo-whee, sounds like you've got yourself an idea," Misdreavus said. "What is it?"

    "We went about it the wrong way," Haunter said, slamming a fist into an open palm. "We can't just bum rush Leafeon and hope for the best. We're ghosts, dang it! Sure, we're not the toughest fighters around… but who said anything about having to fight?"

    "Uh, it's part of the requirement for the test," Drifloon said.

    "No. The requirement is we have to get the treasure back from the 'unruly character' that took it," Haunter said. "I say, we stop trying to think like your average exploration team… and start thinking like folks who stick to the shadows!"

    "Golly, what are you saying, Haunter?" Misdreavus asked.

    Haunter beckoned them to follow him into the shade of a nearby tree. "I'm saying… that we should try to make off with the treasure. Y'know… swipe it out from under Leafeon's nose," Haunter said.

    "Can we do that?" Drifloon wondered.

    "Well, we can certainly try," Haunter said. "We found that totter seed in the woods today, right?"

    "Got it right here, yup yup!" Misdreavus said, holding up the seed in a tendril.

    "Hang on… are we allowed to use items?" Drifloon said. "I don't want to get disqualified or anything."

    "Incineroar didn't say we couldn't use items," Haunter said. "That totter seed could be a good way to disorient Leafeon, so we can make off with the treasure."

    "Err, not to say I don't like the idea or anything, but wouldn't it be kinda hard to find the entrance to the dungeon again?" Drifloon said. "Especially if Leafeon gives chase."

    "Well, we do get a map," Misdreavus said, pulling the scroll out of her hair with another tendril.

    "And that's assuming we don't automatically win by 'snagging' the treasure," Haunter said. "It's at least worth a shot, isn't it?"

    "I'd say so. I'd rather not get thumped by Leafeon's Iron Tail… even if it is a wonderful view," Drifloon said, twisting his strings around.

    "Maybe we should try to strategize, then?" Misdreavus said. "We can figure out a way to try and draw Leafeon away from the treasure box."

    "That's a good idea," Haunter said. "Let's do some brainstorming, team."

    Their strategy session wound up lasting well past sunset. The result being a three-tiered approach. Haunter planned to try and grab Leafeon's attention with loudmouth antics. If that failed, Drifloon would use his Ominous Wind– not to attack Leafeon, but to darken the area and hopefully restrict her visibility. Misdreavus would try and use Mean Look to freeze Leafeon in place. If those all failed, they had the totter seed at the ready.

    They emerged from the forest, looking to practice their routine in an open clearing, when a loud shout rang out.

    "Stop, thief!"

    The ghosts exchanged panicked looks and ducked inside of a nearby tree. There, they spotted two blurry shadows running along the trail. A sword-shaped leaf emerged from the farther of the two shadows, but failed to connect with the closer one. The first shadow drew closer.

    "Is that red berry… walking?" Haunter whispered.

    "Berry? Golly, no, that's a Pokémon," Misdreavus said.

    "Yeah… and I recognize her, too. It's Tsareena! She was on one of the boards in the Observatory," Drifloon said.

    "And look… that's Leafeon chasing after her," Misdreavus gasped.

    Tsareena bounced skyward, shrouded in blue energy. Leafeon's grassy blade missed by a mile. Tsareena slammed Leafeon from above. Her pained cries reached the ghosts' ears.

    "S… stop this," Leafeon said. "I… I won't…"

    "Hmph. It's past your bed time, granny," Tsareena said, driving a foot into Leafeon's skull. Leafeon went still. Tsareena stepped off her back, smirking. She tore Leafeon's vest and satchel off. "Hmm… this fabric's pretty decent," she said, running a hand across it. "And this badge should help keep the cops off my back." Tsareena shook Leafeon's bag. "Doesn't look like there's much in here, but at least it can carry my prize."

    The ghosts caught sight of a jingling sack as Tsareena placed it in Leafeon's bag. "Nighty night, granny," Tsareena said, patting Leafeon tauntingly on her bruised head. She slung the satchel over her shoulder and took off down the path in a brisk jog.

    Haunter popped out of the tree and looked at his teammates. "We've gotta go after her," he said.

    "Are you crazy? She beat Leafeon," Drifloon said. "We've got to go get some help."

    "Who are we gonna be able to find at this hour?" Haunter said, contorting into a giant hand to point up at the full moon. "Anyone who's awake isn't going to want to chase down an outlaw in the dead of night. And that's assuming we can get the guild to believe us."

    Truthfully, he didn't want to go after Tsareena, either. She seemed much more malicious than either of his ex-teammates. A real hardened criminal, by the looks of it. But he couldn't just let her get away. Tsareena had made off with Leafeon's stuff. Not to mention all the money she had taken. Besides, wasn't this what he had come to Horizon to do? To try and stop Pokémon like Tsareena?

    "We don't have to fight her," Haunter said. "Our plan… we'll have to make a few modifications on the fly… but we'll use it on her."

    "G-Golly… I don't know," Misdreavus squeaked.

    "C'mon, guys," Haunter said. "Look, I'm scared about this, too. But we have to try. It's the right thing to do, isn't it?"

    Drifloon and Misdreavus exchanged looks. After a few seconds, they both nodded. "Okay, we're with you," Drifloon said. "What's the plan?"

    Haunter explained things to them as they floated after Tsareena. As luck would have it, they didn't have to go terribly far. Tsareena had veered off the path into one of the small patches of forestland opposite Dewdrop Woods. She sat behind a tree, counting the coins she had managed to snag.

    "Alright, gang, it's showtime," Haunter said. He pointed his teammates twoard two tree roots extending in Tsareena's direction. Then, he worked his way up into the tree trunk opposite Tsareena so he was staring her down.

    "Tsareena! I saw what you did, you vile, sinful crook!" Haunter bellowed, deepening his voice and using the tree's trunk to make it reverberate.

    Tsareena stiffened. She bolted to her feet, jamming the coins inside Leafeon's satchel. "Who said that? Show yourself!" Tsareena barked, crouching low to the ground. "Did that pathetic explorer call for backup?"

    "Backup? Ha! You wish I was merely backup. The fact is that I'm right in front of you!" Haunter said. He glanced in Drifloon's direction, hoping his teammate was keyed into the plan. Sure enough, thick black fog drifted up from the ground around Tsareena. The Ominous Wind didn't hit her, but it darkened the area to the point where Tsareena could only see Haunter's tree.

    "Oh, I see. A Trevenant, huh?" Tsareena said. "Well, I don't care about some stupid ghost who wishes he was a tree. Stand aside or I'll make you move." To emphasize this, black shadows enveloped her legs.

    Haunter tensed. That was dark energy. She had a dark-type attack? If she connected, he would be knocked out in one blow, for sure. Haunter shook his head. He couldn't back down, now. Haunter had to amp up the routine.

    "Foolish mortal! I am not a Trevenant. I am the Forest Spirit!" Haunter declared. "And I have come to make you pay for your crimes!"

    "Forest Spirit? You've gotta be kidding me," Tsareena said, laughing. "Nice try, Trevenant, but you're not fooling me. Prepare yours– augh!"

    Tsareena faceplanted into the ground. Misdreavus had used one of her tendrils to wrap Tsareena up. She stuck her head out of the ground, focusing her glowing eyes on Tsareena. A red aura encased Tsareena. When she tried to stand up, she found herself rooted to the ground.

    "Wh… what the heck? I'm stuck!" she hissed.

    "How cute. You were trying to put on a brave face. But I won't have it!" Haunter said, a deep laugh rumbling in his throat. "Tapu Bulu… he heard the pleas of the Pokémon you attacked! And with his powers… he created me to see to it you are punished for each and every nasty deed you've done. Hoo hoo ha ha ha!"

    Haunter shook inside the tree. This translated to the trees' branches rustling, scattering leaves all around Tsareena. She tried to stand up, but the red aura intensified, rooting her to the ground. Misdreavus popped up beside her and smacked her with the totter seed. Tsareena's eyes widened. All around her, the black shadows of Drifloon's attack morphed into faces staring back her.

    "N… no… what's… going on?" she wheezed. In front of her, strange colors swirled around Haunter's tree.

    "What's going on is the beginning of the end for you, Tsareena," Haunter said. "You see, just as you have taken from many Pokémon, so shall I take from you. I'm going to take your soul! I'll rip it out of your body and devour it right before your eyes! Then… I'll eat your empty husk. Hoo hoo ha ha ha!"

    "That's… impossible," Tsareena said. One of Misdreavus' hair tendrils wrapped her left leg. To Tsareena, however, it looked like a thorny vine had wrapped her up instead. In fact, numerous thorny vines were surrounding her. "L… let go of me! You can't kill me!" she hollered, legs twitching unresponsively.

    "Hoo hoo ha ha! It's no use… you can't escape me! I'm going to savor the delicious taste of your flesh in my gullet," Haunter said.

    "T-tree… can't… eat," Tsareena said. Her vision was filled with strobing lights and swirling colors, turning the static brown tree trunk into a hideous blob that pulsated and writhed about. She struggled against Misdreavus as more tendrils wrapped around her. The shadows grew, looking as if they would swallow Tsareena up.

    This was it. Time for Haunter's big moment. He sucked in a breath and spread his shadowy body as far down the trunk as he could manage.

    "Oh, I can't eat, can I? Tell me then, Tsareena, what do you make… of this?!"

    Giant, glowing red eyes and a red mouth filled with jagged teeth appeared in the middle of the blob monster. Tsareena's eyes slowly widened. Her jaw trembled against Misdreavus' hair.

    "Surprise! Mwee hee hee hee!"

    Tsareena shrieked so loudly she scared Pikipeks out of their roosting spots several yards away. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed on her side, body racked by shudders.

    Their plan had worked. They had taken down an outlaw

    "We did it! Mwee hee hee hee!" Haunter cackled, flying out of the tree and circling around.

    "Wow, she's really out cold," Drifloon said, floating

    "Golly, Haunter, I had my doubts, but we actually pulled through," Misdreavus said. "I… I feel kind of bubbly inside knowing we stopped a crook!"

    "Yeah!" Drifloon said. "But… uh… what are we supposed to do with her, now?"

    Haunter floated over with Leafeon's satchel. "There are some healing items in here," he said. "Drifloon, think you can take this bag back to Leafeon and tell her what happened? Me and Misdreavus should stay here to make sure Tsareena stays immobilized."

    "You got it," Drifloon said, taking the bag in his strings and floating out of the forest.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    The ghosts watched as Magnezone and his deputy took Tsareena down the hill leading away from the guild's headquarters. All of them had been silent throughout the entire exchange between Magnezeone, Incineroar, and Leafeon, perhaps it was still disbelief that they had actually been successful. Haunter couldn't help but feel it was beginner's luck, yet he didn't question it.

    Sure, his naysaying ex-teammates weren't around to see this, but he had succeeded. Or, rather, he and his new teammates had succeeded. They had scared an outlaw into submission. Not some innocent Pokémon, but one they had seen hurt someone and steal their stuff. And Haunter agreed with Misdreavus. It felt great.

    Incineroar turned to the ghosts, clearing his throat. "I've got to say, I'm impressed. I mean, that was a bit reckless of you three. You could've come here to get help," he said, scratching his chin.

    "Err… we were worried that no one was going to listen to us," Haunter said.

    "We're sorry if we acted irresponsibly, sir," Misdreavus said.

    "Don't worry about it," Incineroar said, smiling. "All of us at the guild have had our fair share of reckless moments. You'll fit right in here."

    "Wait… does that mean what I think it means?" Haunter said.

    "It does," Leafeon said. "I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about you three, but it looks like your hearts are in the right places. Even if your methods are a bit… unorthodox."

    "Yeah. I don't think we've had a ghost in our ranks during our time here," Incineroar said, chuckling.

    "Guess that means we'll have to keep a close eye on them," Leafeon said. All three ghosts looked hurt at that statement. "Oh, relax. As long as you three follow the rules, there won't be any problems. Besides, you did help me out in a pinch. At the very least, that gets you all a freebie in my books."

    "Careful, Leafeon. I'll never hear the end of it from Prisma if I let these guys run wild in the Observatory," Incineroar said. Leafeon nodded, then walked back into the Observatory.

    "So, I can get you guys your badges inside," Incineroar said. "Any ideas on a team name?"

    "Should we go with your idea, Misdreavus?" Haunter said, looking at his teammate.

    "Golly, that'd make me so happy," she said.

    "Mwee hee hee! Then it's settled," Haunter said, nodding. "From here on out… we're Team Specter. Just because we're caring…"

    "… doesn't mean we won't stop scaring!" Drifloon and Misdreavus added. Together, the new team followed Incineroar into the guild.

    Happy Halloween, from your friends on the Horizon Continent!
     
  18. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Incoming Review Spam. Hold onto your hat!

    Chapter 62

    Oh, here's Lapras! Under Necky's control as some kind of 'noble steed'. Whatever has happened here, it doesn't seem good for Necrozma. Sounds like he's entered somewhere lacking a time gear. Somehow I think he'll get out of this unless there's something bigger and badder on the horizon...



    Okay, I guessed wrong. But it's weird timey-wimey stuff nontheless!



    This is glorious! XD



    Guy has his priorities straight, it seems. Using his abilities for the greater good 'n' all that.

    I want a donut now.



    Oh boy. I can already hear Tessa's fangirl squeal.



    I was not disappointed!

    This was a fun and interesting chapter. I'm guessing the 'real pal' Zero is planning to 'recruit' are Team Pokepals. Which, uhm... is kinda worrying. How far is this woman willing to go?

    Looking forward to learning a bit more about our so far enigmatic Team Paradox duo.

    Chapter 63



    'Was'? 'Were'? Oh dear, sensing an ominous and tragic end here already...

    This chapter is packed with a whole host of fun characters! I also love the description of the Ultra Recon Squad building. Super sci-fi setting! =D

    Magnum is ultra-fun and ultra-funny. I love his ultra-flexes! Given Sticky can speak, it shouldn't come as any surprise to me that the ultra beasts all seem capable of fluent coherent speech. It's a nice way of making them all seem equal to the pokemon around them. They get along nicely, and it's sweet (Luxeira's gripes aside). I do wonder where the voice comes from in a xurkitree, though, I mean... where are their mouths? D=

    It totally surprised me that Luxeira and Sticky don't get on right away. They seem pretty close in the main story. Little Sticky being a klutz is a surprise, too (although like he said it could just be first-day jitters). I wonder what happens that makes them accept one another?

    Not sure what I make of Seraph. She seems like the typical high-school bully popular girl you see in teen movies. I'm also wondering how things are gonna pan out with her.

    Typos:

    Just pointing out 'experience' has stolen 'ruined's 'd'.



    'Movement'



    I think this should be 'their'?

    Chapter 64

    Sticky seems rather timid compared to how he is in the main story. I've no idea how much time has passed between this story and now, but he clearly pulls himself together a fair bit. Either time, or something big happens to spark in him some confidence?



    I have no words

    I love the SOL30 units. They're an amazing little addition! Having a seat specific for floating pokemon as a neat (and convenient!) amenity.

    Getting stuck in a void can't be a reassuring situation to find oneself in. Tori seems to have a knack for putting Seraph in her place (even if the stubborn cat doesn't listen...)

    Oh look, a team of cute foxes! Sitting on Necrozma! (I've... already read ahead. I'm just catching up with my reviews XD )

    Chapter 65

    That Necrozma was a THREAT. I guess he's our Necky? I'd like to know what got him stuck in that void in Ultra Space if it is. Also... if that were the case, Team Paradox would kind of be unintentionally responsible for everything's that going on. Which would be a major twist...

    Using the three legendary beasts as weapons is reminiscent of the beware/buzzwole using milotic to lash Shane and co. I'm not sure how everyone is going to recover from this... I can assume many lives were lost, and Seraph, Luxiera and Sticky are three of the few survivors? Also... what happened to Team Foxtrot? D=



    Yeah... this has GOT to be our Necky...

    Bonus #14

    Oh my goodness, that bonus! It offered a real insighed into Necky. Man, I really want to know what his relationship with Xerneas was like. You could really sense her struggle as she tried to keep him away, and push him away.

    All those flashbacks from Rebecca, too... I think we know who put the final straw on the camel's back to break him, huh?

    Hit in the feels. He really is a tragic character. I know I've said this before, but I can keep hoping there's some level of hope for him at the end of all this...

    Chapter 66

    I'm gonna be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Team Paradox now. Their back-story gives the enigmatic team an entirely different dynamic. I might be siding with Gallian on this one. They acted like professionals despite being newbies, but they clearly had Gallian's best interests at heart (I've read ahead!) I wouldn't say they strung him along, as he was in a very bad way and needed help. But I have no idea how much they know about Necrozma and the Prism Virus, given – if my memory serves, as I read it a few days ago now – they didn't even know what a necrozma was until they found one.

    Also, I'm mildly disappointed Sticky's 'pulling himself together' is down to him hitting his head. Like... he had a personality change and Luxeira's attitude towards him changed. I'd kinda hoped there was more to it than that, like they'd bonded over both being survivors. Although the canon reason is a bit amusing.

    And Seraph has been found encased in crystal? Oh boy, the cast is getting huge! How do you keep up? (Speaking from experience!) XD It will be interesting to see what she can offer to the story. I'm glad she survived. Also... I hadn't quite twigged the pokemon in her world wore clothes outside of the Ultra Recon Squad uniform. That's... kinda cute, actually.

    Chapter 67

    Gallian's back-story is one we've already had nutshelled from Zoroark, but a bit more depth is definitely welcome. It puts his pushing-away of Tessa into a different light entirely, given we've only really seen Tessa's feelings towards it. I guess his disaster sense threw him and turned his plea for her to not join the guild into a threat?

    Also, portraying his disaster sense as a painful panic attack? That's a unique twist on it!

    Already we have a hostile reception to absol from the get-go. So much was revealed about their species in this special episode. They only live in the wild? So basically Gallian was an abandoned wild egg. Some interesting world-building here.

    Chapter 68

    Drampa basically paying a sharpedo to kill him, too? Everyone is just brutal. Gallian's trust of the sharpedo service was already established, so my guess is Aeon Town are very accepting of him. Well, he is the former guild-master's son.

    Zoroark and Decidueye put a huge contrast on this, and with good reason given their own back-story. I'm not entirely sure why Gallian nearly died. I'm gonna guess he borderline starved to death, and never slept, as there was a lot of emphasis on his hunger.

    And wow, Midnight turned out to be a real jerk here. A huge change to how he acted back in Aeon Town. I really feel sorry for Dusk. You did a good job of making Midnight's character just plain unpleasant...

    Mod Madness Special



    Macro wakes up from his nap: 'For some reason, I'm suddenly real mad at Silvally...'

    I also like the nod to Casting Off, here, too. I know these crossover specials aren't canon to the main story, but that reference kinda puts them into their own little canon universe. It's sweet.

    Just a heads up, you might want to send Negrek a link to this. They're putting together a list of the Mod Madness stuff in the main thread so people can find them =)



    … Stay away from my mawiles, Necky! D=

    Chapter 69

    I don't have a huge amount to say on this chapter. I like that we get more of a look at Zoroark's character, and his reasons for opening his door to Gallian. Both being persecuted dark types after the issues with Dark Matter is interesting.

    Also, more of Midnight's angry shenanigans. Zoroark doesn't fear him at all.

    It's lovely Gallian finds a place in Cosmic Cavern. I wonder where he'll go, though, once this all blows over? Given he's made amends with Tessa now?

    Also... you do like your slapstick fluff moments, don't you? I might have to go back and count how many times a character has slipped/tripped/stumbled and kiss-booped another character XD I'm still amused by that Shane monologue moment when he stepped forward and accidentally kissed Tessa, and continued on rambling after a quick 'sorry!'

    Chapter 70

    Good grief, Midnight... well, I don't imagine Decidueye is gonna let him stick around after that. I do hope he manages to calm down a bit by the end. Like I said earlier, it's a real difference to how he appeared to Shane and the gang. I get the impression he was trying to change a bit back then, until Shane made him snap.

    Zoroark encouraging Gallian to pay a visit to Tessa... Yes, Gallian needs to hear that. He's clearly cut up about it, and things didn't go as well as he'd planned.

    The huge thing about this chapter was that battle. Some much needed insight into Zero. Wow, she was basically fighting Necrozma off and by the looks of it, she forced him into Lunala! The entire scene with that was so well described. Gallian just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. First, he finds out Metagross killed his father, and now he actually witnesses Zero attacking a legend?! And then she turns on him?! Yikes. So Gallian is basically the first pokemon to be infected with the Prism Virus? (Not counting Prisma, here, given she's like... a walking plague carrier of it.)

    It's alarming to see her witnessing all this happening to her for seemingly the first time. Seeing those after images following her paw, and using what she thought was dark pulse only for it to do something else entirely.

    That battle was brutal. Poor Zoroark. And poor Gallian! Those medic-'mons just shrugged him off and left him to die? I like how Noivern cared and seemed genuinely reluctant to leave him behind. But it does show the stuff absol have to put up with.

    And Gallian having those image flashbacks... I'd like to know how long Luxeira and Sticky have been in Horizon prior to this, as they knew what to do. How would they have known that their harnesses could halt the Prism Virus's spread and control? Interesting little gadgets.

    This special episode was the right length, imo. I'm aware you compressed the final two chapters into one, which I think was a good move. You've given enough insight, and I generally enjoyed it. I wasn't itching to get back to Shane and Tessa, so you've kept me hooked with this. It will be nice to get back to the main plot line, and I look forward to more Shane Shenanigans! But it was nice to learn a bit more about Team Paradox and Gallian. And Zero. Wow. Just wow.
     
  19. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    A trip back in time to meet baby Gallian, huh. Like okay, he's still a kid at the time of the story's present, sure, but here he's all hesitant and nervous. You can really see how this could've developed into the anxious fury we know from the main plotline, and it's cool to finally see the confrontation that drove Tessa away from the Guild, especially from an unexpected perspective like Gallian's. It's nice, if maybe a bit more long-winded than necessary. I do think the decision to cut the flashback short and return to the present was a good one; it's fun to dip into Gallian and Paradox's respective backstories, but when the flashback starts to take over, as this one, it can become a little bit of a drag. It might have worked better to separate Paradox's story from Gallian, so that instead of one giant flashback there were two shorter ones, one here and one later on. It's just a bit much to have all together like this.

    And wow, it seems like he and Zoroark had a front-row seat to the consumption of Lunala. That seems fun. By which I mean completely traumatising, obviously! And they really didn't get to hang out for very long either, did they? I'm sure it was a bit longer than this, but with the compression of the story it feels kinda like this all happened in a few days. Like one day Zoroark married this cute guy with anxiety and the next he got murdered by his mother. That's got to sting.

    It's good to see some of the less savoury parts of the PMD world's society, too. Is the anti-absol sentiment an established PMD thing, from like Red and Blue Rescue Teams? Or is it just extrapolated from all those pokédex entries that go on about how people don't like absol? Anyway, I like how it's folded in with that general mistrust of 'wild' pokémon, which iirc isn't a kind of pokémon we've seen too much of, except as faceless goons to be beaten up by the protagonists. Regardless, Branch Manager Town Supervisor Drampa is a fun kind of jerk, in his pointlessly shallow egoism. Gallian really is having an exceptionally bad day.

    I'm in two minds about the Lycanroc thing. Like, this does make sense for him, but I also feel like it kinda weakens the original Lycanroc story to have him just be a completely irredeemable dick here; what made the first story work was the ambiguity, the way he was kinda rough and mean but also at least 45% decent. This representation undercuts that ambiguity, imo. Maybe he changed between now and then? But I don't know, given the sequence that events are presented to us here, it strikes me as kinda off.

    Also, Honchkrow literally witnessed a murder and didn't even come back to check the scene after the storm passed. That's … I guess I shouldn't be surprised by how apathetic the inhabitants of this world can be sometimes, because lots of them have a very human tendency to just sort of ignore horrible things happening in the hope that someone else will deal with them, but that one did surprise me a bit.

    Based on context, I assume that's meant to be 'wouldn't.

    Either something is missing from the second half of this bit or one of those verbs should be deleted.

    This seems like a weird way of putting it – I think it's the use of the word 'diet' that does it.

    Not sure I've ever seen 'he's' as a contraction of 'he was' before; it makes it seem like this is 'he is', which isn't grammatical.

    Missing 'more' after 'way', and that 'possible' should be 'possibly'.

    I feel like that should be 'a while' rather than 'awhile', but, uh, I couldn't possibly tell you why, so perhaps you should ignore that.

    That should be 'would' rather than 'do', I think.

    'To' seems like the wrong word here. Maybe 'with' would work better? I'm trying to think how I'd phrase it if I said that to someone and now I can't work it out.

    Missing 'back' after 'arms' here. Also please, Gallian, this is the most blatant come-on I've ever seen, just ask him out already.

    I presume that either 'fist' or 'paw' is missing here.

    Wow, big words to just come out with like that, huh! I'd sort of expect them to, like, I don't know, consider themselves dating or whatever for a while before this, but sure, Zoroark, go for the jugular right off the bat. (That's, uh … a weird mixture of metaphors, but you know what I mean.)

    Oof, Gallian too. 0 to 60 in half a second: one moment he thinks this guy's cute, the next he's like I'll spend my life with you. I can't tell if this is just a pokémon thing – like I can tell that the whole soulmate thing might encourage people to be like this? – or something that they're doing because they're kids and don't know how to navigate their affections yet.
     
  20. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Apologies @Cutlerine, @DeliriousAbsol, I promise I'll get to your reviews when I'm not completely swamped. ;~;

    XxX

    Chapter 71: Bridging Some Gaps


    ~Cosmic Cavern~

    "So, that was it, then?" Tessa asked, leaning over and resting against Silvally's shoulder while she fought off a yawn.

    Gallian nodded. "Yeah… that's all I've got to say, really."

    Another round of silence fell over the group, much like when Team Paradox's story had finished. Tessa looked down at her lap, trying to process what she had learned. Gallian was planning to come for her, but by a stroke of bad luck, he ran into their mother. She tried to kill Gallian and, from the sound of it, she was closer to succeeding than when she had Tessa in her clutches in Aurora Vale. Yet, from what Tessa heard, it sounded like her mom really was a vessel for Necrozma, just like Lunala.

    The thought didn't bring her any relief, though. She knew Gallian was right. Something was wrong with Prisma. Even if Tessa could free her mother from Necrozma's control, she wouldn't want to see her again. Not after everything she had learned about how cold her mother really was when Incineroar wasn't around.

    Shane was lost in thought, too. Albeit he was stuck on an entirely different subject. "I need to ask you something," he said, sitting up to make eye contact with Dusk.

    "Me?" she said, raising a brow.

    "Yeah. It's about Midnight," Shane said. "What happened to him after you dragged him off?"

    Dusk glanced at Totem Decidueye, who nodded. "The Totem kicked him out of the village," Dusk said. "He was going to take Midnight away from the mountain, but Midnight stormed off into the Cavernous Depths. I was supposed to look for him the next day but, well, that's when Zoroark got hurt and things got a little… hectic."

    "To make a long story short… I managed to find Midnight in the Cavernous Depths after a few days of searching," Dusk continued. "I told him that Gallian had disappeared and Zoroark had nearly been slaughtered by an unknown assailant. When he heard about Gallian he had this smarmy look on his face, but…" Her voice trailed off. "That changed when I brought up Zoroark. He seemed… upset, actually."

    "What happened after that?" Silvally said, concerned with the guilty looks on Dusk's, Zoroark's, and Totem Decidueye's faces.

    "Dusk brought me to Midnight," Totem Decidueye said. "And I… well, I gave him permission to return to the village."

    "You what?" Gallian growled, eyes flashing purple.

    "Please understand… I couldn't just rely on Dusk to be the lone guard for the village," Totem Decidueye said, holding up a wing. "And I set very specific conditions for his return. He had to remain in his home unless he was working, apologize to Zoroark for his actions, and help Zoroark recover from his injuries."

    Gallian shot Zoroark a worried look. "Err… yeah… he was… around," Zoroark said, nervously twirling a lock of his mane. "But he was surprisingly quiet. I figured his one-day exile had shaken him up."

    "And things continued that way until one day… when Midnight finished his shift and stomped up to my house, saying he found these suspicious characters planting crystals and needed backup," Dusk said. "When I went with him, though, we didn't find anything. I told him I wasn't in the mood for jokes and returned home. The next day… he was gone. And I haven't seen him since."

    Shane frowned. He had a bad feeling and this confirmed it. Midnight was the same Pokémon that he had given such a hard time to at the guild. His teammates had come to the same conclusion and were looking at him, expecting a reaction.

    "What made you curious about Midnight, anyway?" Dusk said.

    "Well, we sorta… kinda… might've met Midnight," Shane said. "I think he came to our guild after leaving Cosmic Cavern. And… uh—"

    "We know what happened," Totem Decidueye said. "I make it a habit of keeping in touch with Officer Magnezone so I'm prepared if any outlaws wander near our mountain."

    "Oh," Shane said, ears folding against his head. "I… um…" He looked at Dusk. "I'm sorry. I was the one who sent Midnight over the edge. I acted like an ignorant jerk toward him."

    "It's not your fault. It's mine," Dusk said, sighing. "Truth is I had a bit of a crush on the guy back when we were Rockruffs. He wanted nothing more than to evolve into a Midday Lycanroc but I… I got careless and I ruined that dream for him. The resentment he had about his evolution… I don't think he ever got over it. It stewed inside of him… bubbling up. I thought that maybe his brief exile shocked the anger out of his system, but that wasn't the case."

    That didn't make Shane feel better, considering the Lycanroc fiasco set off a disastrous chain of events for the team. Shane kept those thoughts to himself, however. He didn't want to be insensitive toward Dusk.

    Luckily, Silvally jumped in to change the subject. "If we could just backtrack for a minute… because I'm still a bit confused." He looked at Gallian. "What happened after Team Paradox showed up?"

    "I went back to the cave these two were hiding in. They gave me the low down and we wandered around Horizon searching for ultra aura signals," he explained. "I stole TMs from Aeon Town after we had a close call with a nasty cluster of Charjabugs in Voltaic Crater. I figured these two needed to be able to defend themselves reliably."

    He hung his head shamefully. "In hindsight, I made so many mistakes. I know you don't want to hear this from me, but my disaster sense… it kicked into overdrive." He shuddered. "You don't know what it's like… waking up every day with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Day in, day out, I found myself worrying… fearing that my disaster sense would act up. I was so desperate to keep it subdued that I threw all logic out the window."

    Zoroark sat back, sighing. "Was it really that bad?" he asked.

    "The headaches… the chest pain… the spotty vision and the ringing in my ears… it was unbearable," Gallian said. "Sometimes, if a flare up was really bad, I'd struggle to breathe." He looked at Zoroark. "Still… it probably wasn't as bad as you were feeling, huh?"

    "Um, if I might ask, what happened after you passed out, Zoroark?" Silvally said.

    "I woke up in Midday Valley. The resident healer, Chansey, was tending to me," Zoroark said. "There was a lot of pain, yeah, but that hardly compared to the surprise of finding out that half my eyesight was gone." He pointed a claw at his left eye. Its grayed iris and scar-covered sclera made Silvally cringe.

    "A Noivern from the Valley flew up here and alerted me to Zoroark's condition," Totem Decidueye added. "I dropped what I was doing and went down to check on him. It was… a troubling sight, seeing him lying in Chansey's office, covered in blood and Softboiled yolk."

    "And, of course, I lost an ear, too," Zoroark said, scratching at the fleshy stump that remained. "Though I couldn't tell at the time, thanks to Chansey. That yolk numbs you up surprisingly well."

    "How long did it take you to realize Gallian wasn't with you?" Espeon asked.

    "A couple of weeks, actually," Zoroark said. "I was really out of it… drifting in and out of consciousness that entire time, until my wounds scarred over."

    "That's something I find shocking," Latias said. "A few rounds of Heal Pulse should've been good enough to seal the gashes completely. It wouldn't give you your sight or your ear back, but there wouldn't be scaring."

    "It probably has something to do with what Mom used to attack us," Gallian said, frowning. "Those crystal blades… they weren't anything like a normal Pokémon's attack."

    "Oh dear," Latias whispered, face blanching. "So, um, I guess we should keep that in mind in case Zero or Necrozma show up again." Various members of the group nodded to each other in agreement.

    "There's something else I'm still not sure about," Shane said, swishing some of his tails around so he could brush them with a forepaw. "How did you end up coming back here, Gallian? And what brought you over to the Volcanic Wastes?"

    "After confronting the guild in Glyphic Falls, I was… tired," Gallian said. "Whatever dark power was inside of me had intensified. I thought I was losing control, so I went back to Cosmic Cavern, hoping that maybe Zoroark could keep me from totally snapping." Gallian glanced at Zoroark and winced. "Except I wasn't prepared to… well… to see him looking like this." He gestured at Zoroark with a forepaw.

    "Our conversation was… terse," Zoroark said. "I was upset and I let it show. Gallian told me that he was dying and my response was to turn around and walk off. I kept going until I was far enough away to safely turn into a Joltik. I scuttled back through the tunnel and heard Gallian arguing with his teammates."

    "Yeah, after that conversation, I was agitated," Gallian said. "My disaster sense fired again… and all I could think of to get it to calm down was heading for the Volcanic Wastes."

    "It was quite the sight, honestly," Luxeira said. "He weaved his way through the mountains, refusing to stop and rest. When we got to that large volcano, Sticky and I were picking up strange signals. We ascended the volcano and encountered your infected friend. Gallian made us all hide and watch for an opening. I think you know the rest."

    "Sort of," Tessa said. "I take it once you had the Sizzle Shard you hightailed it out of there?" Gallian nodded at her. "Why did you come back here, then?"

    "Take a guess," Gallian said, sighing.

    "Oh, I've got it! Is it his disaster sense? It's totally his disaster sense, right?" Swampert said, drawing a bunch of annoyed looks. "Aha… ha… he was being rhetorical, wasn't he?" Swampert said, grinning sheepishly and poking his flippers together.

    "Gallian came into the village and found me tending to the barricade over the dungeon's entrance," Totem Decidueye explained. "A… erm… heated discussion followed, then you all showed up."

    "And Zoroark ended up in the Volcanic Wastes by following Gallian?" Latias asked.

    "In a manner of speaking," Zoroark said, looking dejectedly at his scarred leg. "I tried to follow him, because I was hoping I might get some answers, but I lost track of him quickly. You guys already know the rest."

    "Then… I guess that clears everything up," Tessa said, nodding.

    "You don't look very happy about it," Shane said, nudging her shoulder in concern. "What's the matter?"

    "It's a lot to digest, that's all," Tessa said, rubbing her temples. "A world getting destroyed… Necrozma wielding Pokémon as living weapons… Mom looking mutilated and trying to kill Gallian. How do you think I'm supposed to feel about this?"

    "I… uh… yeah. You're right," Shane said, ears folding against his head. "It really doesn't make our chances sound great."

    "Whoa there, Frosty," Blaziken cut in. "You can't go thinking like that, because it's a surefire way to screw your whole team over. If you expect to fail, then you're not going to be able to give it your all when your teammates need you."

    Swampert nodded in agreement. "Oh, definitely. There were way too many times when I almost fell into that trap. Like when the meteor was barreling toward the planet and we learned we had to get through to Rayquaza to save our hides, I was ready give up. I thought we were all hosed." He smiled at Blaziken. "If this guy wasn't there to pick me up and remind me how much good I'd already done, I don't think I'd have been able to face down Rayquaza."

    Latias winced and twiddled her claws nervously. "Um… yeah. I know the odds seem… overwhelming. But you do have a plan of some sort."

    "Right!" Silvally said. "Look on the bright side. If we're successful tomorrow, then we'll have the entire Dawn Hourglass back together. Which means we'll have both Hourglasses at our disposal. That should give us all the power we need to stop the Prism Virus." He turned his smiling face toward Shane. "Doesn't that sound a lot better?"

    "Y-yeah," Shane whispered. He looked down, poking at a pebble with his forepaw. If they succeeded tomorrow, then what would that mean for him? Shane had a solid guess, but it left a sinking feeling in his gut.

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched. She sat up and put a paw on Shane's back. "Try not to worry too much about it," she whispered. Shane didn't respond. "Hey," Tessa said, leaning over and rubbing Shane's back. "Whatever happens… you know we've got your back, right? Through darkest night and brightest day, Team Radiance always finds a way." She winked at Shane, whose cheeks immediately reddened.

    "I think it's time that everyone settled down for the night," Totem Decidueye declared. He grabbed dirt in his talons and tossed it on the remnants of the fire, snuffing it out. "It's been an exhausting day and I expect you all need to be at your best tomorrow."

    Blaziken and Swampert exchanged frowns. "Oh, crud… I don't feel tired in the slightest," Blaziken said. "There's no way I'll be able to fall asleep."

    "I can help you out with that," Totem Decidueye said. "The real question is how we split lodging accommodations. Zoroark, how much extra room does your house have?"

    "Uh… I suppose Team Radiance ought to bunk with me, since we're all going to Circadian Coast. I'm pretty sure they'll fit in the living room," Zoroark said, scratching a facial scar.

    "Hoo boy, looks like I get to try out sleeping as a Ninetales in close quarters," Shane mused, knowing it didn't actually matter, since he struggled to sleep more than an hour or two.

    "I don't see what the problem is. We sleep together with Silvally, so we don't take up that much space," Tessa said. Several astonished looks met her in response, including one from Silvally. "What's the matter?" Tessa asked.

    "You… uh… might want to rephrase that one," Dusk said, sniggering.

    "Huh?" A beat followed, then Tessa recoiled. "Oh… oh, gods, no! I didn't mean it like that!" She threw her paws up and waved them in front of her face.

    "Mean it like what? I don't get it," Shane grumbled.

    "Never mind," Zoroark said as Gallian helped him to his feet. "Let's turn in for the night."

    "In that case, Hoopa and I need to head out," Latias said. "I've synched up to your Gear-Com units. Call us when you're ready to move out."

    "Sounds like a plan," Blaziken said. Hoopa opened a ring portal and he and Latias flew into it, disappearing in a flash.

    "Not to keep anyone from well-deserved sleep or anything, but what about Espeon and Seraph?" Luxeira said. "They haven't returned. And given Seraph's… erm… demeanor, I'm tempted to go and find her."

    The rest of the group exchanged concerned looks. "I'll go with her," Shane said.

    "Are you sure that's a good idea?" Tessa asked.

    "It's fine," Shane said. "I'm having trouble sleeping as is. May as well try to be productive, right?"

    Tessa bit her lip. "Okay, but be careful. Seraph seems… uh…"

    "Unpredictable?" Silvally said.

    "That's putting it mildly," Dusk deadpanned, hopping off her perch and landing with a wince.

    "Relax, guys. I get the feeling I'm not her type, so I think I'll be free from any surprise smooches," Shane said. "Just, y'know, focus on getting some sleep. That's what's most important, right?"

    His teammates nodded. Gallian and Zoroark led them back toward the village. Shane turned to Luxeira and signaled he was ready to go. Together, they set out for the hot springs area.

    XxX​

    As Gallian recounted his story, Espeon walked along a tunnel, weaving through light beams made by the crystals embedded in the walls and ceiling. She spotted a thin veil of steam ahead of her. Espeon hesitated briefly, trying to see if she could pinpoint Seraph's location. It wasn't difficult. Espeon found Seraph by the edge of the large, rightmost pond, exactly where Shane and Tessa were the last time she was here.

    Seraph stared at her reflection, arms crossed tightly over her chest. Espeon winced at Seraph's unhealed cuts and the scorched remnants of her ponytail. She got about halfway to the pond when Seraph held a paw up, claws crackling with electricity. "I could hear you coming, you know. What do you want?" she growled.

    "To talk," Espeon replied, tail calmly drifting back and forth.

    "Well, buzz off, Pinky. I don't have anything to say to you," Seraph said. More electricity surged across her arm as a warning.

    "Fine then," Espeon said, standing her ground. "But I'm not leaving. This is a public area. I'm perfectly welcome to be here." She strode forward, head and tail held high in a defiant display. A growl rumbled in Seraph's throat but she lowered her arm. Espeon cautiously approached Seraph, who turned away from her, huffing in annoyance.

    "You seem like you could use something to take the edge off," Espeon said, sitting down beside Seraph. She flipped her satchel open and levitated out a silver flask. Seraph eyed it skeptically.

    "… tch. I don't know whether to call you generous or stupid. You do realize I'm not from your world, right?" Seraph scoffed. "For all I know, drinking that will poison me or make my fur fall off." She looked down at her chest. "Or what's left of my fur, I guess."

    "It's fermented berry juice," Espeon said. "They didn't have that back in Ultra Village?"

    "They did," Seraph said, gingerly grabbing the flask with a paw. "You sure you want me to have this? Seems like it's hard to come by."

    "I'm trying to lay off the sauce, actually," Espeon said. "Just be warned, it's pretty—"

    Seraph uncorked the flask and chugged its contents down in a matter of seconds. Belching loudly, she dropped the flask to the ground. Seraph sat down, draping her legs over the edge of the pond and into the water.

    Espeon looked down at the empty flask, blinking in surprise. "Uh… okay. I was about to say that juice is strong, but I guess it doesn't matter anymore."

    "Thanks for the concern, Pinky, but it's unwarranted," Seraph said, rolling her eyes. "I'm an experienced drinker. This stuff's not too hard."

    "Right… gotcha," Espeon said. The two of them lapsed into another round of silence, until Espeon broke it by whispering, "Um… I'm sorry about what happened to your home."

    "… tch. Wasn't my home," Seraph said, leaning over and resting her head on her paws.

    "It wasn't?" Espeon gasped.

    "I'm from a different Ultra Space pocket," Seraph said. "I had a life there, with wonderful parents and a little brother that, yeah, got on my nerves, but was loveable in his own dorkish ways." Her expression darkened. "One day an Ultra Wormhole opened up above our city and a pair of Guzzlords popped out. They're—"

    "I know what they are," Espeon said.

    "Huh. Well, alright then," Seraph said. "So, yeah, rabid Guzzlords devoured the city. They ate my friends… their houses… my house…" Seraph bit her lower lip. "My parents… they tried to buy time so my brother and I could run away." She lowered her head, shutting her eyes. "But they didn't stand a chance against two Guzzlords. And as my brother and I were escaping, he tripped on some rubble. By the time I realized what was happening…" Her voice trailed off and she shuddered.

    "That really does sound awful," Espeon said, ears drooping.

    "An Ultra Recon Squad finally appeared and neutralized the Guzzlords, but the damage had already been done," Seraph said, her voice shaky. "I was one of the few survivors of the attack. The Recon Squad took me to their base. They planned on sending me to this special center filled with 'mons who lost their homes to UB attacks… but I refused."

    "What did you do instead?" Espeon asked.

    "I joined the Ultra Recon Squad, of course," Seraph scoffed. "I wasn't about to forgive those Guzzlords for what they'd done." She raised a crackling fist. "I wanted to make damn sure that any UB or 'mon that stepped out of line paid dearly for it. So, I worked my ass off to get assigned to a combat unit."

    "But you somehow ended up in Ultra Village," Espeon said.

    "… tch. That's because the higher-ups didn't approve of my 'methods,'" Seraph sneered. "They got pissed at me for snapping at the UBs they had working for them. What were they expecting? UBs are unstable… they can turn on us at a moment's notice. I had to keep them in line! The brass was a bunch of idiots for not recognizing that." Seraph bared her fangs. "They got tired of my behavior, so they sent me to Ultra Village to help form a new Recon Squad base. Needless to say, I wasn't pleased."

    "Luxeira mentioned you got a lot of write-ups for excessive force," Espeon said.

    Seraph leaned back, crossing her arms. "Only because those pussies in Ultra Village were squeamish," she sneered. "I did what I had to do to neutralize the threats I was faced with… until the Lightless Black showed up, of course."

    "So, the reason you got so upset back around my teammates… it didn't have to do with Ultra Village getting destroyed?" Espeon said.

    "Nice deduction there, Pinky," Seraph said, applauding Espeon sarcastically. "I was only upset because it drudged up the memories of losing my home and family to the Guzzlords. I was helpless back then… and I was helpless against Necrozma."

    "I see," Espeon said. "Well, we could really use someone like you helping us out. We're trying to put a stop to Necrozma, because now he's terrorizing our world."

    "Ha! You want my advice? Get the hell out of dodge. Your world's hosed, Pinky," Seraph said, kicking up water with her right foot. "I've seen what Necrozma can do with my own eyes. Even by UB standards, it's not normal."

    "Necrozma is anything but normal," Espeon conceded, gazing at her rippling reflection in the pond. "He was created by other Pokémon… on this very continent."

    Seraph turned her head, directing a surprised look toward Espeon. "You've gotta be shitting me. You can't just make something like that," she said.

    "Well, it happened," Espeon said. "Our world has alchemy… a dangerous, forbidden magic that taps into chaotic energy dwelling in the planet's core. Centuries ago, a group of Pokémon used alchemical spells to turn a human into Necrozma."

    "Human?" Seraph said. "I saw pictures of humans when I was training. To think you could turn one into something so destructive..." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head. "It's unbelievable. Are you sure you're not pulling my leg?"

    "It's true," Espeon said. "I've never seen what a human actually looks like, though. We have a few humans in this world, but they were all turned into Pokémon."

    "Sounds like you've got a faller problem, then," Seraph said, snorting.

    "Is that some sort of Ultra Space slang?" Espeon asked, brow furrowed.

    "It's a technical term for someone who's been displaced from their home by an Ultra Wormhole," Seraph explained. She then laughed bitterly, to Espeon's discomfort. "To think a faller would be capable of causing so many problems. That just makes this Necrozma stuff all the more ridiculous."

    "We're trying to stop him, though," Espeon said. "Your two teammates are willing to help us."

    "Bully for them. They're worthless," Seraph sneered.

    "I'm not too sure about that. They fought my teammates in the past and held their own pretty well," Espeon said. "Besides, are you really in a situation to question them right now? What do you even plan on doing?"

    "I already told you, I'm gonna look for a way off this crummy world," Seraph said. "It's only a matter of time before Necrozma manages to blow it apart like he did Ultra Village. If you were actually a smart psychic, you'd be trying to escape, too."

    "I don't want to escape. This is my home," Espeon said, ears drooping. "Besides… I've already caused enough problems."

    "… tch. If you think I'm interested in whatever sob story you've got cooked up, then think again," Seraph said, rolling her eyes. "You're a stranger. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the booze." She lifted the empty flask up and shook it. "But cheap gestures like this aren't going to earn my friendship."

    "I figured as much," Espeon said, sighing. She wanted to get through to Seraph, but Seraph's stubbornness was wearing her down.

    "Although… you look like quite the catch," Seraph said, stroking her chin and sizing Espeon up. She leaned back, her eyes clearly wandering down Espeon's body.

    "If you've got something to say, say it to my face," Espeon said, pivoting. "That Ninetales you saw at the campfire can attest to the fact that I'm not a fan of wandering eyes."

    "Hey, you should be grateful," Seraph said, innocently raising her paws. "I've seen some pretty nice tail in my day, but you're the first Espeon I've gotten up close and personal with. And I definitely like what you have to offer."

    "I'm flattered," Espeon said, voice as dry and empty as the Solaris Wastelands. Seraph had made a sudden shift from stubborn to sultry and it made Espeon's blood boil.

    "Don't look at me like that. You're the one trying to get me to open up," Seraph said, smirking. "If you really want that to happen, then we ought to find somewhere private, don't you think?" She glanced out across the pond. "Though I suppose a swim is one way to—"

    Espeon drew on her psychic powers to shove Seraph forward. Her thighs sank into the cold pond. With wide eyes, she dug her claws into the ground and hoisted herself back into the same position she'd been sitting in. "What was that for? You struck me as the type of girl who likes a stronger advance," Seraph huffed.

    "Wow," Espeon said, getting to her feet and glowering at Seraph. "I never thought I'd end up looking through a cracked mirror like this."

    Seraph's mischievous smirk vanished. "And just what is that supposed to mean, huh?" she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

    "Talking with you has made me realize what an awful bitch I've been," Espeon said, looking at the ground. Taking the remark as an insult, Seraph's expression darkened. "No wonder things fell apart for Umbry and me… I was burning bridges with everyone around me when I should've been building them. If Silvally hadn't stepped in… I imagine I'd turn into you: a cynic who's resentful toward everything around her."

    Espeon shook her head. "Boy, that was an eye-opener. I guess I ought to thank you for giving me a glimpse at how much worse things could've gotten for me if I continued pushing people away," she said.

    "Are you implying that you're better than me, Pinky?" Seraph growled, clenching her fists. "I'd like to see you deal with the shit I've put up with."

    That was it. Espeon was done with Seraph's attitude.

    "I have dealt with it," Espeon barked, stomping a forepaw on the ground. Her forehead gem crackled with psychic energy. "I've watched the world come to the brink of collapse twice. I've stared down Legendary Pokémon radiating hopelessness and despair."

    "I had a cave tunnel collapse on me, leaving me on death's doorstep. Hell, I was turned to stone and had my spirit sent to some demonic hellscape!" she continued, growing angrier with each word. "The sights I saw there still haunt me! It's only thanks to an act of a god that I'm even standing here! And I've done nothing but squander that miracle! I pushed everyone I cared about out of my life… including the Pokémon closest to me!"

    Slowly, Seraph's angered expression melted away. All she could do was stare in stunned silence as Espeon took a few calming breaths, the pink glow fading from her forehead gem. "So… go ahead. Try to find some way out on your own," Espeon said, turning her back to Seraph. "You'll learn the hard way how rough things here can be when you have no one by your side."

    Espeon marched back toward the tunnel, head bowed in remorse. She thought that she could draw on some of her experiences to help Seraph, like she did with Gallian. But Espeon had failed spectacularly. Maybe Silvally was wrong. Perhaps some Pokémon weren't capable of changing. Maybe, deep down, Espeon was just a cynical bitch and would end up staying that way.

    She was nearly at the tunnel's lip when her ears twitched. Espeon turned, eyeing Seraph skeptically. "What was that? You're gonna have to speak up," she said.

    "What do you want from me?" a stone-faced Seraph asked. "I tried to fight Necrozma. I even had help. Look how that turned out."

    Espeon blinked. Her outburst had actually gotten through to Seraph?

    "You had one other Pokémon capable of battling," Espeon said, pawing at the ground. "The group you saw when you woke up may not look like much, but we're steadily growing. More and more Pokémon are realizing the danger we're in and lending us their support. This world… has had improbable things happen to it before."

    Seraph lifted her legs out of the pond and tucked them against her chest. "Like what?" she asked.

    "I'm talking the likes of a Torchic and a Mudkip calming an enraged Rayquaza… or a Chimchar and a Totodile defeating Dialga in a battle to save time itself from collapsing," Espeon said, while a slack-jawed Seraph stared back at her. "Trust me… I know what it feels like to want to give up when you're faced with odds like these." Her ears drooped. "It's something I'm guilty of doing… multiple times." Espeon steeled her facial expression. "But no more. I'm tired of making mistakes. I want to make a difference… and create some meaningful change, for once."

    'I want to have hope again.'

    "Meaningful change, huh?" Seraph said, staring at her thighs.

    "I realize that's easier said than done at this point," Espeon said. "But we have a plan." She paused and bit her lower lip. "Well, it's some semblance of a plan. Still, that's better than nothing."

    "The Blaziken and Swampert I spotted before… are they—"

    "Yes, they're the ones who stood up to Rayquaza," Espeon said. "You'd be working with them, by the way. So, I'd like to think you'd have more support than what you're used to." She approached the rightmost pond, praying that Seraph was reconsidering.

    "So, you want me… to help them," Seraph said. "By doing what, exactly?"

    "Accompanying them into a Mystery Dungeon," Espeon replied. "It's… um… well, I think you'd be going to a canyon filled with aggressive dragons."

    "Great… dragons. One of the types I'm not worth much against," Seraph groaned, looking at her claws. "Not to mention, Swampert and Blaziken wouldn't be all that helpful, either."

    "Yeah, I get that it's not an ideal situation, but we need a group to go explore the canyon," Espeon said, returning to Seraph's side. "We believe there's a piece of an important artifact there. Something with the power to stop Necrozma. We've already got half of it assembled. Tomorrow, we plan to split up so we can get the remaining two fragments."

    Seraph reached a paw and scratched at the remains of her ponytail, frowning. "So, I'm just going with some strangers into a canyon to look for a mystical object? That's pretty… vague."

    "That's all I can really tell you," Espeon said, brushing her right forepaw against her left. "Your teammates will also be going. And I think a couple of other Pokémon will join you to provide some tactical and medical support."

    "How many teammates will I have?" Seraph asked.

    "At least six, I think," Espeon replied. "You'll also have items to work with."

    "Except I have no idea what you terrestrials use for supplies," Seraph said. "But, eh, it's whatever. You're right. I don't know a damn thing about this world and I sure don't have anywhere to go. If I really want off this place, then I figure I've gotta lend you folks a paw."

    Espeon supposed that was one way to look at it. Even if Seraph's motives were on the selfish side, Espeon was glad to hear she had changed her mind. "I'm sure my teammates will appreciate your help," she said, glancing back at the tunnel. "Speaking of which, I should probably go back to them. You coming?"

    Seraph rolled to her feet. "Just a sec, Pinky," she said, strolling across the cave to the hot spring pongds. "I still reek. There may not be any pressurized showers here, but I'd like to clean myself up."

    "Suit yourself," Espeon said, sitting down in the middle of the cave. Seraph hopped into the hot water with no hesitation. She surfaced a few seconds later, running her claws across her forehead.

    "Ah, that's a bit better," she said, kicking her way toward the edge of the pond and leaning up against it. Seraph rested her arms and head on the ground, locking eyes with Espeon. "I take it you're not gonna join me?" she said.

    "You really think I'd say yes after that little display earlier?" Espeon scoffed, pointing her snout up indignantly. She wasn't sure if this was better or worse than realizing Shane was spying on her while she showered.

    "I'm not going to try anything, honest," Seraph said. "All I'm saying is you look ragged."

    "Then I'll do something about it later," Espeon said, getting to her feet. "I was going to walk you back to the village, but I get the sense you're going to be a while. So, I'll come back and check on you lat—"

    A blob of electrified water arced toward Espeon. She blew it apart with a pink energy ring, only to flinch as a cloud of mist rushed past her. Static lingered in the air, prickling Espeon's fur. Espeon looked down at Seraph's smirking face.

    "Whoopsies… my paw slipped," Seraph teased, lifting her right paw out of the water and laying it against the edge of the pond. "You might want to do something about that, sweetie. I hear statically-charged fur is bad for psychics."

    Espeon wished she could slap Seraph like she did to Shane. Instead, she sat down, wincing, and stuck the tips of her forked tail into the ground. Blue wisps crackled through her fur, then surged toward her tail, where they fizzled out harmlessly against the rock. Espeon got back to her feet and marched toward one of the unoccupied springs. She removed her satchel, then waded into the water with an unamused grunt.

    "Wow, really? You're no fun," Seraph said, tracing a claw through the dirt.

    "I don't appreciate funny business… especially from pervs," Espeon said, sinking lower to the point where her snout was even with the surface of the water. She wouldn't let Seraph fluster her. Especially not after giving Seraph all her berry juice.

    "It's not pervy," Seraph said, pouting. "It's just… a difference in cultures. I mean, I can't help but be surprised when none of you terrestrials are wearing any clothes."

    "We don't have to, because anything unsightly is covered by our natural coats. Y'know… fur, scales, feathers… whatever," Espeon said. "There's certainly clothing out there, but I've only seen that kind of stuff worn when 'mons want to look fancy."

    "Huh, interesting," Seraph said. "Maybe there's more to this world than I thought."

    "I already told you, this world's full of surprises," Espeon said. She sank even lower in the hot spring, blowing a stream of bubbles along its surface.

    "Well, someone looks a bit more relaxed," Seraph teased. "You're welcome, by the way."

    "It's been… a very stressful last couple of weeks," Espeon said.

    "Yeah, well try waking up from a coma in some alien world and then talk to me about stressful," Seraph said, throwing in a bitter laugh for good measure. "My life's been turned upside down."

    "It could be worse, you could've been turned into an entirely different creature like Shane," Espeon said.

    "Is that Ninetales' name?" Seraph asked, to which Espeon nodded. "Huh. Gonna level with you, Pinky, I've never actually heard of someone having a one-syllable name. It's so... short. Sounds weird to say it."

    "Perhaps human naming conventions are different from what you're used to," Espeon said.

    "They must be in whatever world this Shane guy is from," Seraph said, shrugging. "It'll take getting used to, that's for sure."

    "I mean, most of the Pokémon here just go by their species name. If there are multiple of us in the same place, we use unique attributes to identify ourselves," Espeon explained. "For example, another Espeon might call me Ruby-Gem, because my channeling gem's coloration precisely matches that of a ruby." She pointed to her forehead gem.

    "Wow. That's… uh… pretty damn primitive, if you ask me," Seraph said, choking back laughter. "Then again, I didn't see any real tech around. Maybe if we stop Necrozma we can flag an Ultra Recon Squad to come here and bring you guys up to speed."

    Espeon actually liked that idea. After all, every time the world was saved, people went back to their old routines. Maybe they needed some real change to move things in a more positive direction. At the very least, it could help her not feel so cynical all the time.

    Her tail brushed across a steam jet and she shimmied across the edge of the pond to reach it. Espeon settled herself against the wall, positioning her rear over the steam jet. She sighed satisfyingly and soon found her eyelids growing heavy. Espeon yawned loudly, a gesture which Seraph caught.

    "You drifting off on me there, Pinky?" she called. Espeon's eyes snapped open.

    "It is rather late here," she muttered, frowning. Having just gotten comfortable, Espeon was reluctant to move, let alone leave the pond. But she knew that she couldn't just spend the night here. Not to mention, she was a bit nervous about falling asleep with nobody but Seraph around. With a pang of regret, she hoisted herself out of the pond, taking care to face Seraph as she shook her fur dry.

    "Hey, Espeon! You doing alright?"

    Shane and Luxeira stood at the edge of the tunnel, the latter looking around the cave. "Yeah, we're okay, I think," Espeon said. "Seraph's over in that spring." She pointed a forepaw to her right. Seraph opened her eyes as Luxeira walk over to her.

    "Oh… it's you, rookie," Seraph said. "Gimme a sec here." She pushed down on the ground with her arms and climbed out of the water. Seraph got down on all fours to shake her fur out. Luxeira shuffled backwards with an irritated groan. "Alright," she said, standing back up. "I know what you're here about, so let's cut to the chase. This whole situation blows, but it doesn't make any sense for me to wander around this primitive world on my own."

    "So, you've been informed of the situation?" Luxeira said, expression firm.

    "I have. You want my help to run around a dragon-infested canyon and nab a mystical artifact," Seraph said, studying her claws. "I'm not what you'd call a dragon-buster, but I don't see any alternatives. I'll help you guys out."

    "Good. We plan to set out tomorrow morning," Luxeira said. "Until then, you need to rest. I imagine you're still injured from fighting Necrozma."

    Seraph responded by stretching out her arms. "Actually, this hot spring helped a lot." She glanced back at a cloud of steam. "Yo, Pinky, is there something in the water here?"

    "Well, caves in our world are known for having mineral water," Espeon said. "Maybe that did something? In any case, I'm beat. If you two are fine, I'm heading off to sleep."

    Luxeira nodded. "We'll regroup before parting ways, correct?" she said.

    "I imagine so," Shane said. "We plan on using Hoopa to get us to our destinations faster, remember?"

    "Hoopa?" Seraph said, looking at Luxeira. "Uh… maybe I've got more to get up to speed on than I thought."

    "We'll go over it," Luxeira said. After a satisfied nod from Seraph, the two walked into the tunnel, leaving Espeon and Shane standing together.

    "So… uh… I take it this means you got through to her?" Shane said, keeping his gaze fixed on the ground.

    "I did, yeah," Espeon said. "I think it was good that I got to talk to her. It helped open my eyes."

    Shane's ears twitched. "Oh, what do you mean by that? If… uh… if you don't mind me asking."

    Espeon walked up to Shane, sighing. "I've been doing things the wrong way for a while. I've had enough of pushing people away." She froze, shooting a nervous glance over her shoulder. Espeon closed her eyes and shook her head.

    "You're seeing Void Shadows again, aren't you?" Shane asked, frowning. Espeon's answered consisted of a heavy sigh. "You know I saw you outside last night… doing something." Shane's tails curled up against his side. "Look… I don't want to push the issue or anything, but I'm worried about you."

    "It's okay, human," Espeon whispered. She put a paw under his chin and gently nudged his head up. With a brief flutter of telekinesis, she brushed the silky white fur out of Shane's eyes. "I… uh… I appreciate the concern. What I was doing last night was… wrong. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't care." Espeon winced. "Snorting stardust… was euphoric. It was one of my go-to methods to get rid of the Void Shadows."

    "You were… snorting stardust? Like… the stuff that came from Necrozma?" Shane said, fur bristling.

    Espeon shivered. "I did, yeah. I was that desperate. But… I'm done with it." She paused. "My life's… not in a great place right now. That's why I should be looking to someone like you for support, instead."

    "L… like me?" Shane gasped. "What do you mean?"

    Espeon didn't reply. She hadn't anticipated getting Shane alone like this. Now that they were together, she didn't want to press the subject that was on her mind. Shane looked at her, eyes brimming with a mixture of curiosity and worry. Espeon sighed heavily.

    "I have to ask you something," she said. "It's… about Necrozma."

    Shane sucked in a breath. Was Espeon going to blame him for all of this, like she had done after Umbreon died?

    "What are you thinking about him?" Espeon said, staring into Shane's eyes.

    "I'm… not sure I follow," Shane said, trying to avoid her gaze. His tails twitched nervously.

    "If we have to face him in battle… what are you going to do?" Espeon said, her voice almost a whisper.

    Shane's eyes widened and Espeon's chest tightened. That wasn't the immediate response she was hoping for. Espeon wanted Shane to say that he would hold nothing back. But it looked like Shane hadn't even thought about this subject.

    "I… well…" Shane's tails curled up. "I'm… uh…" He bowed his head. "We have to stop him… don't we?"

    Espeon felt a pang of guilt. Given the day's events, she shouldn't have sprung the subject on Shane like that. But it had been eating away at the back of her mind since their last encounter with Necrozma. A small voice told her to back off, but she ignored it.

    "Shane," she said, causing Shane to meet her gaze. He was surprised to see Espeon actually refer to him by name instead of calling him a human. "Do you still see Necrozma as your human friend?"

    "I… yeah, I guess so," Shane whispered, wincing.

    "I see," Espeon said. That was what she was afraid of. "There's no easy way for me to say this, Shane, but… you need to stop thinking like that."

    Shane's ears stuck up. He shuffled backward, staring at the ground.

    "I know you don't want to hear it," Espeon continued. "I just want you to understand… that if we have to fight him, we're counting on you to do your part. You have to be able… and willing… to battle your hardest. And I'm worried that… if you still think Necrozma's your friend… you won't do that."

    The realization slowly spread across Shane's face. "I… um… well… yeah, you've got a point," he said. "It's just… I still feel like it's all my fault."

    "Do you really think that you can somehow redeem Necrozma?" Espeon said, a bit more forceful than she had intended. Shane shrank back, adding to the guilt bubbling in Espeon's stomach.

    "I don't know," Shane squeaked. "But… shouldn't I at least try?"

    "I can't give you that answer," Espeon said, ears drooping. "In my mind, you shouldn't. I think he can't be reasoned with. And I feel like you need to stop seeing Necrozma as your old friend and start seeing him as the monster who… who…"

    Tears welled up in her eyes. This was exactly what Espeon didn't want. She had gotten too emotional, but she couldn't just cut the conversation off.

    "… killed all my friends in Post Town… and took Umbry away from me," Espeon said, blinking the tears out of her eyes. She took a calming breath. "That's what I think. But, well, you've seen how pessimistic I am. Maybe it's wrong of me to think that way."

    "N-no… you lost your brother," Shane said. "But I guess that's my fault, too. I was part of the problem… with Nicky. I'm not trying to get any sympathy or anything… it's just a fact." He hung his head. "Though, you might not have to worry about what I think of Necrozma. If Solgaleo's spirit gets restored… he'll probably take control and fight Necrozma. Then, it won't be up to me."

    "Right," Espeon whispered, rubbing her forelegs together nervously. "Shane, I'm… sorry for being so hard on you." Shane's ears stuck up in surprise. "The truth is that… when we first met, I hated your guts. And when you freed me from the Prism Virus… I was determined to keep hating you." She curled her tail around her waist. "That even extends to our… um… little moment in the showers. I mean, yeah, what you did was wrong, but I wasn't really upset by it. I was just looking for an excuse to give you a tongue lashing."

    Shane stood there, processing Espeon's rambling. He had no idea how to react. What had he done to make her so upset in the first place? That's what he wanted to know more than anything.

    "Why did you hate my guts?" Shane asked, a hurt look on his face.

    "It's… complicated," Espeon whispered. "But… you deserve to know." She sat down and traced her right forepaw in a circle. "It goes back to the Bittercold, really. Before that whole incident, I was a lot like you. A bit of a dork… with a tendency to put her paw in her mouth and speak before thinking. I loved working with Umbry as much as I liked to crack a cheesy joke or two."

    Her ears drooped. "But then Munna and her allies showed up. Their constant chatter about how negative the world is and how it's futile to struggle protecting an existence that's ultimately hopeless… it wore me down," she said. "Under the stress of helping Team Paradise… I cracked. I let Munna's words twist my heart… I embraced those ideas. The world I saw… wasn't a beautiful one that I got the privilege to explore with Umbry. It was something wretched and ugly."

    "That's why… instead of trying to lend support to Team Paradise while they fought the Bittercold… I did something else," Espeon said, her voice almost a whisper. "I pressured Umbry into mating with me."

    Shane's eyes widened. He had to use every ounce of willpower not to interrupt Espeon, even though he wanted to know why she lied to him about the tabloid articles.

    "When the Bittercold was defeated, everyone went back to their old routines," Espeon said. "Even though we talked about Hydreigon taking our human savior away, nobody wanted to talk about the Bittercold. That made the negativity grow… and it was all exacerbated when Dark Matter showed up." Espeon hung her head. "I hated your guts… because you reminded me of the old me. Before the Bittercold's attack. Even in tense situations, you had this carefree demeanor. Heck, even now you still have some goofball tendencies."

    Shane wasn't sure if he should feel flattered or insulted. He stayed silent, nodding.

    "That's why I was so upset with you," Espeon said. "And Silvally, too. Your cheerful dispositions… they were walking reminders of something I thought I'd never be able to get back. I told myself I'd never accept either of you as my friends…" Her voice trailed off and she bowed her head. "But the truth is you're exactly the people I need in my life."

    She took a shuddering breath. "I want to be able to look out at the world and have hope again," she said. "There are a lot of things about this world I wish I could change, like the whole soulmate concept. But… before anything can change, we have to stop Necrozma. We have to get back the people we've lost. Then… maybe we can finally think about moving forward and making progress."

    "Okay… I've said my fill. Sorry for rambling like that," Espeon said. "This was all pretty selfish of me, but I wanted to get it off my chest."

    Shane had sat down during the conversation. He now stared at his forepaws, jaws clenched tight. What was the right thing to say in the face of all this information? Should he pat her on the shoulder and tell her he's sorry, too? What good would that possibly do?

    "Shane?" Espeon said, tilting her head.

    "Espeon… I don't know what to say." Shane lifted his head up. "I guess… um… if you want someone to stand by you, then I can try my best. It's just… I'm still trying to learn how to be a good friend, so it'll be far from perfect." A nervous grin shakily spread across his muzzle. "But if I can help bring at least a little of the old Espeon back… then it's worth a shot, right?"

    Shane looked down, fearing Espeon wouldn't respond well to him. He was caught off guard when she leaned over and embraced him, running her head across his shoulder and pressing it against his neck. His silky mane brushed against her velvet fur, making his tails stiffen.

    "I don't need you to be perfect," Espeon whispered. "Just be yourself… even as you keep growing. Hopefully, I can grow with you."

    "Uh… um… okay," Shane said, blinking in surprise. "Should we go back to the others, though? It's getting late… I think."

    Espeon broke off the embrace. "Yeah. Sorry. I had said I was tired, but then I'm the one who kept you here," she said, face flushing.

    "It's okay, Espeon," Shane said.

    "… Espy," she said. "Call me Espy… if that's okay."

    After a couple of seconds, Shane smiled. "Of course it is."

    XxX

    ~Dewdrop Woods~

    With a frustrated growl, Solrock blasted a small, thorny bush apart with psychic energy. She was supposed to be past the hard part. Somehow, she had managed to nab keys off a Magnemite guard and escape the underground prison. Solrock hadn't expected to emerge in the middle of a Mystery Dungeon. If only she had been awake when Officer Magnezone's team had taken her to jail, then she would at least have a vague idea of which direction to go.

    Solrock dropped out of the sky and nestled between two massive black tree roots. She was tired, but she had to keep moving. The police force surely knew she had disappeared by now. There were probably Magnemites flying around, looking for her. Sighing, Solrock hovered back into the air and floated deeper into the forest. Eventually, she lost sight of the trail she had been following.

    "Heeheeheehee! Yes, drink up, Volcarona. Take the last bits of Yveltal's light so we can break that stupid cocoon."

    Solrock froze upon hearing a distorted voice. Did it mention Yveltal? Her ESP picked up a surprising energy spike. Solrock cautiously floated toward its location, staying close to the large tree roots sticking out of the ground. Whatever she had heard, it didn't sound very friendly.

    It didn't take long for Solrock to find the source of the commotion. Several trees lay in ruins in front of her. She spotted a large, Y-shaped creature in the middle of the trees' splintered remnants. Its body was completely grayed out, save for its head. Above it floated some sort of brown rock. Magma bubbled underneath its cracks.

    What was going on here? Was this giant bird Yveltal? Did the strange rock attack it? Solrock had no intention of saying anything. She pressed herself up against the tree root.

    "How fitting. A worthless god that looks like giant bacon strips gets devoured. If only we had some scrambled eggs and home fries… then this would've been the perfect meal."

    Necrozma drifted above the rock and placed his claws around it. It glowed, then proceeded to suck the remaining color off of Yveltal's head. When the last bits of red had detached, black crystals covered every inch of Yveltal's body.

    Solrock had seen enough. Whatever was going on here, she wanted no part of it. She floated away from the scene, sticking as close to the trees as possible.

    "And just where do you think you're going, hmm?"

    Necrozma popped up in front of Solrock, a broad grin on his face. Solrock froze in midair, eyes wide in terror. "I… I didn't see anything!" she said. "I'm a fellow outlaw… y-you can trust me. I won't rat anything out to the cops!"

    "An outlaw, huh? Okay, I believe you," Necrozma said.

    "Y… you do?" Solrock said. A flash of light erupted behind her. Solrock turned around in time to see the strange rock burst apart, showering the ground with ash and cinders. She caught a brief glimpse of a tiny, luminescent-orange butterfly taking to the skies, before Necrozma grabbed her from behind and spun her around to face him.

    "Yes. In fact… I find you so believable, that I'd like you to join my little game," Necrozma said, his grin widening.

    Solrock's eyes darted about in a panic. All she had to do was play along and she'd be fine, right? "Wh… what do… I have to do?"

    "Oh, it's very simple," Necrozma said as black chains rose out of the ground behind Solrock. "Just do exactly what I tell you to… and everybody wins! Heeheeheehee!" He shoved Solrock back into the chains. They ensnared her, breaking her body apart as they dug inside of her.

    Solrock didn't even have time to scream.

    End of Special Episode 3

    XxX
    Next time...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    ...
    Hello.

    It seems we've come a long way.

    If you're here, then I suppose you deserve to know.

    How everything started. Where all the lies originated from.

    But it's not my tale to tell, even if I'm in it.

    No.

    You must stare into the face of the void, through the eyes of this world's oldest Pokémon.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2018

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