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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light

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

  1. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    I didn't even have rubber at my school. It was this weird foam...

    BRILLIANT

    Apparently sliggoo slime is acidic, according to the USUM dex, so... *shrug*

    I will never write a zekrom that doesn't embrace the philosophy of maximum ham! :p

    I'm not sure if that would make anatomical sense or not, but I like it! Her legs are definitely not actual blades, though. They're simply elegant. *sparkle*

    We shall see...

    I'd say that's a fine way of thinking about all of this. How deep will the rabbit hole go? Anyway, thanks for reviewing! ^^

    Couple of quick announcements to end of the year.

    First off, the fic now has an ask blog! It's pretty much an extension of the old Q&A from back in April. You can ask questions to the cast and they'll answer in-character. If you're this far along in the fic, you need not worry about any spoilers. But just in case you aren't, there's the #GLspoilers tag, which you can mute to avoid answers that might ruin surprises. Give it a look if you'd like to see some extra, silly interactions between the characters.

    Next, a buddy of mine set up a commission of our main trio, which you can see for yourself here! It's super-adorable and I highly recommend you follow Kori (the artist) if you haven't already. ^^
     
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Well, Jangmo-o and Sneasel have come back, which is … like not something I was expecting, given that they were fairly transparently just minor threshold guardians beforehand. But here they are! And Jangmo-o at least has come back as an actual character, which is a surprise. Like one with a personality and a history and everything. Not that we've seen much of it yet, but I get the feeling it's something that will be explored over the course of this episode.

    It feels like we were long overdue a check-in with Zero and Team Captivate, so that was nice; Serperior's abduction felt a little abrupt, though. Like, Zero and Milotic disappeared from the scene the instant Dragonite snatched her up – I know she flew off right away, but it would have been nice if, say, Serperior had looked back at Milotic and realised she was in on the plan too, or if Milotic hadn't been in on it and she'd shouted out in confusion and shock or whatever. Just something to tie the scene together a bit more.

    Man, Nicky really is pretty far gone now, isn't he? Yelling out the names of his attacks like an anime character. Which is as good a segue as any into the fact that yeah, that degradation of his will and purpose I mentioned last time has really, really set in. It's okay, I guess; I think I find this return all to the void Necrozma a bit less interesting than the much more human Nicky, but that's more of a personal taste thing than a fault with the story. He's definitely of a piece with the rest of his world, and as you've been hinting for a long time, there's a distinction to be drawn between Nicky himself and Dark Matter – which the Christmas special confirms is part of Necrozma as we know him now. Dark Matter is like … my least favourite PMD thing, I think, because it's just such a crappy worn-out idea, but you're making pretty good use of it here, having it worm its way into the very heart of the light through the darkness in his heart and all. Thematic! Aesthetic! Words to that effect.

    'Surrounded by' is an odd way of putting it. 'Covered in' seems like more of a natural way to say it.

    That kind of 'oi' is spelled with an I. Also, 'you scaly bloke' is a really weird usage of 'bloke'; this reads kind of like Lycanroc is deploying it as an insult, which doesn't make much sense.

    The M and G in 'Jangmo-o' have got transposed here.

    I think I'd go with 'giving them an intimidating gleam' here rather than the plural that you went with, but I can't actually figure out why, so like … take it or leave it, I guess? I don't know any more.

    That should be 'hoard', not 'horde'.

    Missing a 'the' here.

    That should be 'weakly'.

    This seems like a very reasonable fear to me; I don't see why spending time with them would have made him any more open to saying it. Telling people that you were created to murder them is never a fun thing to have to do.

    You don't really need 'figurative' here.

    Missing closing speech marks here.

    I'd remove the comma after 'now' and the hyphen in 'more reclusive' – the latter is a comparative adjective, rather than a noun phrase, so it shouldn't be hyphenated.

    This is a weird fusion of 'beat around the bush' and 'avoid the issue'; I think one or the other would work better than this mixture.

    These two paragraphs seem slightly weird together. Like for one, I'm not sure why they're two paragraphs and not one speech, or why Xerneas starts the second paragraph by reintroducing Lunala's name as if she wasn't already speaking about her. It almost seems like these are from two different drafts that haven't quite been reconciled or something? Idk, they just don't quite gel for me.

    'For good measure' doesn't seem to fit with the rest of this sentence. Like, he's not adding to his point or anything, he's just scratching his cheek.

    Switching to Xerneas' viewpoint like this doesn't really work, I think – we're deeply and consistently embedded in Nicky's POV throughout, and I think it'd be best to stick with that all the way through. You can absolutely show her difficulty in deciding what to do without switching POV, I think.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  3. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    All caught up! Hurrah! =D

    Chapter 75

    Wow, so much happened in this chapter! Poor Manaphy! I also feel a bit sorry for Serperior being used as bait like that.

    Also, Lugia... no ='( That part was awful! (So you clearly did well making me feel that... argh, the feels...) I really like Lugia. I also kinda liked Marshadow, and he didn't exactly go down without a (verbal) fight either.



    Oh, she's going to be devastated...

    Small typo I noticed:



    'Hear'. Oh... wait... this is Necky. Ahem... 'HEaR!'

    Bonus #17

    Oh boy. The chapter I've been waiting for! This was heart wrenching, knowing it doesn't end well for him. I really liked how Xerneas, after hearing all that, still wanted to be with him. Her wariness was completely understandable, but she was willing to look past all that.

    It also explained that what Nicky has become isn't necessarily really him. It sounds like that Void thing has taken over, which explains the winged heart. I'm also glad it explained what went down with Arceus, and confirms the 'Necky vibes' that monstrosity gave me. They're practically the same thing. At least, in as much as I've understood it.

    Lunala still fighting back is somewhat reassuring. But I feel Nicky is in a similar boat to Shane in this regard (except he's got two creatures living inside of him), and I'm really beginning to wonder if he's ever actually going to survive all this. I can still hold out hope, though. Maybe he'll return, if not as Light, then as that little growlithe. (I know... I'm pretty sure his growlithe body was obliterated... I'm clutching at straws for the poor guy!)

    Looking forward to seeing how things play out in future updates! =D
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    It's funny, but people who picked the story up later were actually wondering if these guys would have a role to play late in the story. Be careful what you wish for...

    Aw, nerts, might have to check that. It was abrupt, since Dragonite is supposed to be very fast. Like, she's flying away too quick for Serperior to really comprehend anything. But I see where you're coming from.

    There's a reason that he's only answered to "Necrozma" or "Necky" since he lost his light. And, yeah, I admit I wanted to (attempt) to deconstruct the whole "doomsday villain" thing, but I know people like more relatable, realistic villains. So, this was square peg/round hole from the get-go. DX

    Yes, I fully concede I wanted to try and do the Dark Matter thing better. Partly b/c I wanted to have it involve an actual pokémon antagonist and partly because I'm a huge Kirby fan, so I'm going to embrace Dark Matter (who is also a villain in that series). Thanks again for reviewing! I will get to the typos and stuff when I can. ^^

    Well, she's almost a worm of sorts... :p

    Good, then it was the right kind of gut punch. *evil laugh*

    Part of it comes from the fact that she's incredibly flawed, herself. I think I can safely say I've diverted far from canon when it comes to her. XP

    I'd say you're on the right track with your thinking!

    And you'll have to stick around if you want an answer. Thanks for reviewing!

    Content advisory: this chapter contains alcohol and drug use. It's also the start of the three silliest chapters in the entire story, but I'm not apologizing for them. :p

    Chapter 76: Party On, Shane!

    ~Sunset Shoals, Entrance~

    Team Radiance walked through the tunnel, with Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu following behind them. It was slow going for the team, with everyone preoccupied staring at the walls and ceiling. The occasional cluster of gemstones broke up the gray, crater-filled rock lining the tunnel. Each gem glimmered with a different color of light. The colors blended together, forming an array of circular spotlights that moved around the tunnel like it was one gigantic stage.

    "Wow. This is, uh, colorful. Kinda hurts to look at it for too long, though," Tessa said. She cupped a paw over her eyes.

    Silvally followed some of the colorful circles, cycling memories and repeatedly changing his colors. "I like it! It's way more vibrant and lively than the dank, depressing caves we've spent the last few days in," he chirped, fish tail wagging.

    "Please. This cave's better because it isn't trying to kill us," Espy deadpanned. After a beat, she added, "For now, anyway."

    "The thumping's getting louder, too. We're going to have to listen to that the whole time we're in the Mystery Dungeon, aren't we?" Tessa said, rubbing an aura feeler with her right paw. "If only Magearna had given us those sound dampening thingies she was working on back at the Observatory."

    "… it's electronic music," Shane said, ears swiveling back and forth. "I've gotta give whatever's making it props. This baseline is pretty damn sick… even if I can't completely hear it." His teammates returned his comment with blank looks. "What, did I say something wrong?" Shane asked.

    "More like nonsensical. What the heck's a 'sick beat' supposed to be, huh?" Espy said.

    "Yeah. How can something that isn't alive get sick?" Tessa wondered, raising an eyebrow.

    "Pretty sure it's another human expression," Silvally said. "Let me guess… it has to do with the music sounding pleasant?" Shane nodded. "Heh. Guess I'm getting pretty good at reasoning out Shaneisms," Silvally said, puffing his chest out.

    "I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at the fact that we're at a point where we need a name for his weird comments," Tessa said, shaking her head.

    "Har, har, you guys are a real pack of comedians," Shane said. "Well, nuts to you three. I'm going to enjoy these sick beats." He stuck his tongue out at his teammates, then strutted to the front of the line, shaking his hips and swishing his tails from side to side.

    Espy walked up to Tessa and Silvally. "Hey! Focus, you two! We've got trouble up ahead," she said, cracking her tail in the air like a whip.

    Shane stopped dancing and looked down the tunnel. There was a small basin with a doorway leading into bright-pink fog. Next to the door sat a small, ovoid, dark-green rock with neon-yellow bumps protruding from its top. "What are you talking about?" Shane said, squinting. "There's no danger. All I see is a sea cucumber."

    "No, that's a Pyukumuku," Tessa said.

    "Gesundheit," Shane said, turning back toward Tessa.

    "What did you just say to me?" Tessa growled, eyes narrowing.

    Shane's ears stuck up in surprise. "I, uh, you sneezed, didn't you? That's how we acknowledge someone sneezed in the human world," he said, turning away to avoid Tessa's annoyed look.

    Tessa rubbed her temples. "I didn't sneeze. I said that we're coming up to a Pyukumuku."

    "See? You just sneezed again," Shane said, turning back toward her.

    "Oh, for the love of—" Silvally shook his head. "Shane, that green rock is a Pokémon and its name is Pyukumuku. They're water-types that can spew their sticky insides at you to attack. It's… not a pleasant experience."

    "Yeah, we get wild Pyukumukus washing ashore a lot. They sit in the sand… wasting away in the hot sun. So, we make a game out of tossing them back in the water so they can survive," Kahuna Raichu said. "We call it Pyukumuku Chucking, yeah!"

    Shane blinked in surprise. Even with all the weird sights he'd seen in Horizon, that one caught him off guard. "Still, what do we have to worry about? There are six of us and only one Pyukumuku."

    "I'd guess again. I count at least nine clinging to the ceiling up ahead, waiting to get the drop on some unsuspecting 'mon," Espy said, tail flicking back and forth.

    Shane walked backward toward his teammates. "Why don't you guys go ahead, then? Since you clearly know what we're dealing with, here," he said, a nervous grin on his face.

    "Gee… my hero," Tessa said. She led the group toward Yellow-Bumps.

    "Whoa, hold up there!" Yellow-Bumps shouted. His white innards spilled out, forming the shape of a giant hand. "This here is an exclusive gig. If you aren't down with Primarina's Ultra Deluxe Medley of Magnificent Splendor then scram. We don't want you here! Or, better yet, surrender and we'll get you fit to party with our posse."

    Shane had to fight off the urge to laugh. Ridiculous name or not, this confirmed Primarina was behind the mind control shenanigans. Shane figured it had something to do with his singing.

    "Oh, we're totally down and ready to party till our legs fall off!" Silvally said, hopping up and down eagerly. "Isn't that right, team?"

    Yellow-Bumps tapped the side of his body with his innards. "Ehh, I'm not sure I see it. I mean… I don't know what kinda 'mon you are, Beaky, but you don't radiate style. And a Ninetales that can't take the time to give himself a proper grooming is a disgrace," he said, pointing a white finger at Shane and wagging it.

    The realization that a glorified sea cucumber said he lacked style made Shane seethe. He briefly wondered if this was one of the "bad trips" he had heard so much about back in high school. Before he could offer a retort, Tessa stepped in front of Silvally, resting a paw on her chest spike.

    "Then we'll prove we can get down with your 'posse,'" she said. Tessa whipped her arm to her right, grabbing hold of Shane's left foreleg.

    "Hey, what do you think you're do— wah!" Shane hollered as Tessa pulled him toward her, hoisting him up on his hind legs. Shane lowered his tails over his waist, looking nervously at Tessa.

    "Showing that we've got style, obviously," Tessa said, shifting Shane's forepaws so that they rested on her shoulder. She raised her right paw up and snapped her digits, shouting, "A-one, two, three…"

    Tessa wrapped her left arm around Shane's torso and put her right paw against his shoulder. They shuffled left, and then right. Tessa then spun to her left and used her paws to spin Shane around with her. Shane yelped as he tipped over and fell toward the ground, only for Tessa to catch him with her left paw. She yanked him upright and pulled him in close, smirking at him.

    "M… maybe this is a good time to mention I think I have four left paws," Shane mumbled, face turning cherry-red.

    Tessa ignored him, moving her paws toward his midsection. She squeezed him tight and thrust her paws upward. Shane yipped in surprise as Tessa launched him skyward. He spun around three times in the air. His limbs smacked his belly. Tessa caught Shane before he hit the ground. "Now, strike an end pose," she whispered.

    Shane let his head and forelegs drape down and winked at Yellow-Bumps. Tessa turned and flashed Yellow-Bumps a flirtatious grin. The rest of the group stared at them, awestruck. Silvally's beak fell open in disbelief.

    "Well, what did you think of that? Pretty slick, huh?" Tessa said, lowering Shane gently so he could stand up straight. She dusted her paws off against her waist, trying not to let her embarrassment show.

    Yellow-Bumps stood there, his tiny black eyes blinking slowly. "Looks like I had you pegged wrong. Primarina's music is definitely flowing through your veins. I ain't seen a two-legged and a four-legged 'mon dance together like that, yet." He hopped to his right. "Yeah, you need to get down there and start tearing up the dance floor, pronto!"

    The mention of a dance floor made Shane's brow furrow. If Yellow-Bumps was serious, then Sunset Shoals would be another infected dungeon and Primarina would have caught the Prism Virus. Shane couldn't imagine what an infected Primarina even looked like.

    "You got it," Tessa said, running a paw through her aura feelers. "When we're done with the dance floor, it'll be unrecognizable."

    Yellow-Bumps' innards spilled out, taking the form of a thumb's up. "I'm-a hold you to that, Lucario. Primarina will be happy to have you lot on his side," he said.

    "And we can't wait to see him in action," Silvally said. "Come on, gang. Let's get going." He trotted off into the pink fog. His teammates followed him, along with Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu.

    XxX

    ~Sunset Shoals~

    Nothing could've prepared Team Radiance for the sight awaiting them on the other side of the fog. They emerged into an expansive, circular room filled with purple haze. Luckily, it was thin enough to let them see across the room. Coral formed the walls and ceilings. Smaller Pokémon sat inside openings in the coral, some exchanging pleasant conversation while others thumped their limbs along to the music, which had grown loud enough for Team Radiance to fully make out.

    "Are those… lyrics?" Silvally wondered, turning to look at a large, sun-shaped speaker dangling from the ceiling. It sparkled with multicolored light, combining with the other speakers in the room to make a flashy rainbow on the floor. "I can't really tell what the song's saying."

    "It's an electronic music thing, I think," Shane said, turning to marvel at a porcelain statue of Primarina. Glowing neon rocks surrounded it. The colors flowed through the statue and refracted onto the floor. It was like the statue was a giant disco ball.

    "What do you mean?" Espy asked, joining Shane in staring at the statue.

    "If I remember right, it's called sampling. Whoever's making the music takes a sample of something, like another piece of music or somebody talking. They then slip it into the song, but make it subtle," Shane said. His brow furrowed. "I don't think I'm explaining it correctly. Still, I want to know how Primarina's able to do that. Is it the music crystals? They can't be that powerful, can they?"

    "Oh, hey there. You two just come into the party?" a Starmie with a green gem asked, floating up to Shane and Espy.

    They exchanged nervous looks. "Yeah. We, uh, heard Primarina's singing and we just fell in love," Espy said. "We knew we needed to come here ASAP."

    "Right on, right on," Green-Gem said, spinning his blue body around. "Primarina's big performance should be coming up pretty soon. For now, just kick back and chillax!" Green-Gem levitated a white pouch up in front of them. "You two want a little stardust? If you take it right before the concert, you'll have yourselves a heavenly time. I guarantee-hee-hee it."

    Espy looked down into the pouch, noting the twinkling, multicolored powder. "I… uh…" Her tail scrunched up. She pawed nervously at the ground.

    "As tempting as it sounds, we'll have to pass for the moment," Shane said, pushing the pouch away with a forepaw.

    Green-Gem hovered in place. "Oh. Like, I get it. You two, like, want a little quality time together, don't'cha?" he said. "Yeah, like, stardust is great, but I hear it, like, takes some of the magic out of mating." He pointed his rightmost spoke toward a tunnel at the northern end of the room. "If you go down there… you'll, like, find the couples' lounge. Have fun!" Green-Gem turned and floating off, leaving Shane and Espy standing there, their faces bright red.

    "Uh—" Shane started.

    "We're not going down there," Espy said, flicking her snout skyward.

    "A… absolutely!" Shane squeaked. "Wait… I mean…" He shook his head. "Let's just rejoin the others, okay?"

    "Agreed," Espy said. They both retreated to the center of the room, where the rest of the group stood back to back, examining their surroundings. Cosplay Pikachu had swapped into a new outfit consisting of a red leather jacket with black fur on top, spiked armbands, sequenced black pants, a red belt, and a black shirt with a lightning bolt insignia.

    "Man, this place is absolutely pumping," Cosplay Pikachu said, thumping her head from side to side in time with the music.

    "Yo, nice moves, little Pika-dude," an Electrike shouted from across the room, offering a friendly wave.

    Cosplay Pikachu flashed the Electrike a V sign. "Thanks, buddy!" she called.

    A half foot away from her, Silvally stood close to Tessa, glancing around at the various Pokémon eyeing him suspiciously. "Tessa, I don't like this. Everyone's staring at me. What do I do?" he whimpered.

    "Uh, I don't know," Tessa said, rubbing her shoulder. Her attention was fixed on a Smeargle with gray ears and a Hawlucha with a dark blue beak. Each of them held a glass brimming with fluorescent green liquid. Tiny umbrellas stuck out of their drinks. Blue-Beak held up his glass and winked at Tessa. She immediately stepped closer to Silvally, clinging tightly to his shoulder. Her aura feelers pulsated rapidly. "I'm not getting hostile vibes from any of these Pokémon. But I'm nervous," she said.

    "Let's move forward as a group. Shane and I heard that there's a couples' lounge to the north. I'm pretty sure that's a dead end. So, let's head west," Espy said. She pointed a forepaw at the tunnel on her left, where a beige-fisted Primeape and pink-chested Politoed had disappeared behind purple haze. The group followed her along. They passed three crystalline tables. Each one had small coral fixtures on it, pulsating with neon light in time to the music playing. The tables had bowls filled with berries that were luminescent like the coral.

    At the last table, a Smoochum with hot-pink lips stood in front of a punch bowl filled with fizzling, bright-pink juice. She used a ladle to scoop up some juice and pour it into her cup. Pink-Lips downed the glass in one quick chug, then sank to the ground, sighing contently. Tessa cringed at the sight. "What do you think they're putting in that stuff?" she whispered to Shane.

    "I don't know, but it seems pretty potent," Shane said, brow furrowed. These sights were making him feel like he was in the middle of a party scene from one of many teen movies his sisters dragged him to. Shane bit his lower lip. What would make Pokémon act like they were at a human party? Because Shane didn't think Primarina's hypnosis could do this.

    A Machoke with a navy belt popped up behind the juice table. "Ha! That's a good one, Lucario," Navy-Belt said, pounding his belly as he laughed. "If y'all are here for the concert, you know we're packing the concessions with stardust!" Navy-Belt opened his right hand, spreading multicolored dust over the punch bowl. He stirred the contents around with the ladle. "After all, we've gotta get our strength up so Primarina's songs can supercharge us to take down the Prism Virus!"

    "Take down… the Prism Virus?" Espy gasped, double-taking at the punch while her tail curled up against her flank.

    Navy-Belt narrowed his eyes at Team Radiance. "Wait a tic. You lot meaning to tell me you don't realize this is Primarina's Ultra Deluxe World-Rallying Concert? Then what are you doing here, huh?" He leaned over on the table, digging his fingers into the crystals. "Don't tell me you all… are party-crashers?"

    Numerous angry expressions turned in Team Radiance's direction. "Did someone say party-crashers?" a white-finned Finneon gasped.

    "N-no, no, no!" Shane said, jumping in front of his teammates. "You've got it all wrong. We're totally down with Primarina's groove. In fact… uh…" His tails curled up. "We were so enamored with it we kind of zoned out. Because this beat is positively thumping!" He swished his mane over his shoulder. "Yeah, this is the kind of tune you could drop a Knuckles Rap to and everything!"

    Tessa's eyes widened. "Shane, what are you doing? You're gonna give us away," she hissed in a whisper.

    "I need you to trust me. I think I know what's going on, here," Shane whispered back.

    Navy-Belt blinked in surprise. "What d'ya mean by 'Knuckles Rap,' huh?"

    Shane feigned shock by letting his jaw drop. "You mean you don't know? I guess you're not as down with Primarina's beats as you thought you were," Shane said.

    "Oh yeah? You're such a blowhard, show us what you mean," Navy-Belt said. He turned to the crowd of onlookers. "Am I right, gang?"

    "Yeah!" they cheered in unison.

    "Fine," Shane said, fanning out his tails and strutting forward. "Prepare to be amazed." He cleared his throat, silently praying his brain not to let him down. Shane tapped a forepaw to the beat of the song and bobbed his head up and down.

    "Yo, this is your boy, Shane.
    We're kicking it down in Sunset Shoals!
    Got my friends at my back.
    Our bonds are pure as gold!


    Prism Virus… is what we seek to stop.
    So we're chilling out, waiting for the concert to pop!
    Team Ra-di-ance, that's my gang's name.
    Here to bask in Team Harmony's fame!"


    Silvally cocked his head to the side. "For pity's sake, what is he doing?"

    "I… have no idea," Espy said, watching Shane shake his mane out from side to side. "Even by Shane's standards, I'm speechless." But as she looked at the other Pokémon gathered around their team, she saw looks of interest on their faces. Some were tapping legs or tails in time with Shane's lyrics, while others bobbed their heads with him.

    "Our moves can't be beat.
    You might call 'em obscene.
    We can bring the heat.
    We're battling machines!


    Prism Virus, look out.
    You treading on thin ice,
    Like a weak-ass 'Karp,
    Your attacks won't suffice.

    We're bringing Lucario power,
    Flinging Aura Spheres left and right.
    With Primarina supercharging us,
    Our foes will drop before our might!"


    "Hey, what are you dragging me into this for?" Tessa said, aura feelers shooting up in alarm.

    A pink glow encircled her muzzle, which then clamped shut. "Quiet," Espy said, holding up a forepaw. "Whatever he's doing, it's actually working." She pointed across the room, where the Finneon that had gotten on their case earlier was now waving her fins in time with the music. Behind her, two Lumineons with glowing purple stripes on their bodies raised their fins and waved along with their unevolved friend.

    "Uh, why don't you guys stay with your friend, yeah? Pikachu and I are going to scope out the place we were trying to get to earlier," Kahuna Raichu whispered. He hoisted Cosplay Pikachu onto his shoulder and slowly hovered back from the circle gathering around Shane. In the process, he almost bumped into Silvally, who stared alluringly at Shane, his eyes slowly moving back and forth in time with Shane's tails.

    "Been walking around Horizon,
    Searching day after day.
    For the perfect solution,
    To make our troubles go away!


    It's been a real struggle, yeah,
    Pushing our team to the brink.
    But now that we're chilling here,
    We're gonna be alright, I think!


    Primarina will show the way,
    That he's guaranteed.
    And that bastion of hope,
    Is all Team Radiance really needs!"


    Shane hopped on his hind legs and spun about, then landed on all-fours and swished his mane to the side, winking toward the crowd of gathered Pokémon. At first, no one responded. Then, Navy-Belt began clapping. In a matter of seconds, other Pokémon joined in. Those without limbs, like the Finneon and her Lumineon companions, offered encouraging shouts.

    "I gotta admit, I was wrong. You and your crew are clearly here to party it up," Navy-Belt said, holding his hands up. He glanced back toward the tables holding the food. "Anything you want, you've got."

    "Thanks. We'll keep that in mind," Shane said, nodding. Navy-Belt turned and walked back toward the tables.

    "Wow! You sounded great!" a Luxio chirped, jumping beside Shane. Her hot-pink tail wagged side to side enthusiastically. "And you're the first Ninetales I've ever seen." She got closer to Shane, rubbing her side up against his. "What I'm saying is… you're quite a catch," she purred.

    Shane's ears stuck up. "Oh. Uh, who would be catching me? And which sport are we playing?" he said, gaze darting about the room.

    Silvally and Tessa dashed to his side, the latter shoving Pink-Tail back. "Back off, he's with us," they shouted in unison, before turning to look at each other in surprise.

    "Hmm? Oh, a love triangle. How tacky," Pink-Tail scoffed, rolling her eyes. She gave one last glance at Shane and, with a wink, told him, "When you're ready to ditch these two, you know where to find me." Pink-Tail sauntered off across the room, sitting down next to the Primarina statue.

    "I'll have you know that at least one-thousandth of me is a Luxio!" Silvally hollered, electricity crackling around his yellow cheek-bolts. He turned to Shane, shaking his head. "Honestly, the nerve of these 'mons. Acting like you're a ripe berry dangling from a string."

    Shane continued staring ahead, blinking slowly as he struggled to process what was happening. He didn't think his rapping was that good, so why had Pink-Tail been so eager to coddle up to him?

    "Hey. Focus!" Tessa said, snapping her digits at him. "This whole display thing was your idea!"

    "Uh… right," Shane said. He shook his head and turned toward his teammates. "Sorry about that. But at least this proved my theory right." His tails wagged independently of one another, only to stop when Tessa and Silvally exchanged frowns. "What's the matter? You guys are acting like I did something wrong," Shane said, pouting.

    "Well, it's just that you do have a bit of a history with, y'know, wild theories," Silvally admitted, tracing a claw across the ground. "This isn't going to get us hurt, is it?"

    "What? Of course not," Shane said, ears drooping. "It's a much more grounded the– oof!"

    Shane stumbled forward, his head hitting Silvally's chest plume. The sudden contact triggered Silvally's fire memories and turned his glowing parts red. He looked up to see a black-nosed Drowzee walking past, levitating a plate with brownies on it.

    "Whoops. How clumsy of me," Black-Nose said, smirking as her gaze fell toward Shane's tails. "I should really watch where I'm walking."

    Silvally growled a warning, embers popping up from his cheek bolts. Black-Nose walked away with a chuckle. Sighing, Silvally nudged Shane off his chest. "Sorry about that. What were you saying?"

    Shane blinked a few times, gaze fixed on Silvally's feathers.

    "Shane, you're zoning out again," Tessa said, waving a paw in front of his face. "If you think you know something that can help us deal with Primarina, then out with it. We have no idea when this concert's going to start, but when it does, I imagine our jobs will get a lot tougher."

    "S-sorry," Shane mumbled, his tails curling up around his waist. "Anyway, as we were walking by that food table, it struck me that all of this feels… familiar." He walked toward Espy and his teammates followed him. "Then I saw Machoke putting stardust into a bowl of punch and I realized that this is like a human party."

    Espy raised her right brow. "That would explain why so much of this stuff seems alien to me," she said.

    Shane nodded. "Exactly. Remember how we think the Dawn Hourglass comes from Necrozma? Well, he was human. If Primarina is using the Hourglass' power to make his tunes hypnotic, then it's reasonable to suspect that maybe he's channeling some of Nicky's old human memories and modelling this after a human party."

    "But then, why would all these Pokémon seem so familiar with the idea?" Tessa wondered, rubbing her shoulder.

    "Because they're eating and drinking things laced with stardust," Shane replied. "We're pretty sure Necrozma's the source of all stardust, right? So, the same logic applies." His brow furrowed. "Okay, hearing it out loud does make it sound a bit… ridiculous. Still, I've seen this stuff before. People walking around, stealing glances at places they shouldn't be looking, drinking weird beverages, eating questionable food, and enjoying music with a thumping baseline. There were parties like this held at my old high school all the time."

    "Which means you should know exactly what's going to happen here, right? Since you've been to parties like this before," Tessa said.

    Shane shrank toward the ground, his ears folding against his head. "I— uh, not exactly," he whispered, voice cracking.

    Tessa frowned. "Then how do you know about this stuff?"

    "Look, I wasn't the type of guy who was, y'know, liked enough to ever get invited to any parties," Shane said, pawing at the ground. "But, in the human world, we had movies that featured plenty of parties. They almost always ended with the hero either having sex or running home in tears. Sometimes both."

    When he looked back up, he found his teammates' eyes widened in alarm. "W-wait, wait… it's not what it sounds like. There's no guarantee something like that's going to happen here!" Shane said, his voice cracking. He silently cursed his poor choice of words.

    "The way you're talking, you almost sound like you're hoping that will happen," Espy said, eyeing Shane skeptically.

    Shane shrank back from his teammates. "Ugh, y'know what? Forget I said anything. What happened to Raichu and Pikachu?"

    "We're right here, yeah!" Kahuna Raichu said, floating over to join them.

    "While you had everyone distracted, we scoped out the room at the end of the hall," Cosplay Pikachu said, jerking her head behind her. "Didn't look like there was anything there that led to Primarina, though."

    Silvally frowned. "I guess that means we have to keep trying these rooms and seeing what happens," he said, glancing at the tunnels sitting on either side of Primarina's statue. "Shall we head off that way?" He pointed a foreleg ahead of them.

    Espy shook her head. "No. I think I have an idea that ought to speed things up a bit," she said, pushing past Tessa and Silvally. Espy sauntered up toward the refreshment table, swaying her tail from side to side. She managed to catch Navy-Belt's attention. Just as he turned around to face her, she leaned forward, sticking her hips up and resting her head against the table.

    "Hey there. Listen, in all the commotion my friend kicked up, I forgot where Primarina will be going onstage," she purred. "Do you think you could slip me a little reminder? I'd like to go stake out my territory before it gets too crowded." She stood back up and batted her eyelashes at Navy-Belt.

    "Oh, uh, of course," Navy-Belt said, pinching his cheek. "Primarina's performing on B5F. But I'd hurry if I were you. I reckon that floor will get filled to capacity soon. Then you'll be stuck listening through the speakers." He gestured to the nearest speaker dangling from the ceiling.

    "Thanks!" Espy chirped. She turned and strolled back toward the group. "You guys get that?" she said. Her teammates nodded. "Good. Then, let's get going. No idea why this place is only five floors deep, but I'm not going to complain."

    "Horizon dungeons aren't known for their verticality, remember?" Tessa said as they made their way across the room.

    XxX​

    Like the first floor, the second and third sublevels of Sunset Shoals had bright, flashing lights, glimmering statues of Primarina, tables filled with stardust-laden refreshments, multicolored dance floors, and sun and moon-shaped speakers nestled into the walls and ceilings. Team Radiance did their best to stay out of the way of the other Pokémon they came across, quickly locating the stairs.

    By contrast, the fourth sublevel was underwhelming. Immediately upon entering, the group found the staircase leading down to the next level. A Passimian's tail disappeared down it. "Huh," Shane said, stepping out into the empty, circular room. Unlike the other floors, this one lacked any sort of bright lights or decorations. Instead, there were walls made of dark-blue coral. The ceiling was dark gray, with small patches of black coral clinging to it.

    Aside from Team Radiance, very few Pokémon occupied the empty room. A pair of Sunkerns lay on the floor, staring up at a cluster of coral on the ceiling. And on the other end of the room, near the stairs leading down, a scruffy-looking Mawile and Granbull sat on the ground. They stared each other down, each one holding small cards in their hands. A tiny Ribombee drifted lazily over the Granbull's right shoulder, while a Pachirisu sat beside the Mawile, staring at his cards.

    "Hey, Shane! C'mon, there's nothing here. Let's get a move on," Silvally said, beckoning him toward the stairs. His voice drew the attention of the Pokémon playing cards, who all looked at him skeptically before returning to their card game.

    "Hold on a second, yeah. Something's not sitting right with me, here," Kahuna Raichu said. He floated away from the stairs, toward the part of the wall furthest from either set of stairs.

    "What are you talking about, Pops? It's just a wall, isn't it?" Cosplay Pikachu said, climbing up onto her dad's head to get a better view.

    Espy's forehead gem flickered pink. She turned her head in Kahuna Raichu's direction. "No, I think he's right. I'm picking up something on the other side of that wall."

    "Are you sure it's not just a fluke? I'm not picking up anything," Tessa said, rubbing her aura feelers with a frown. Nevertheless, she and her teammates joined Kahuna Raichu over by the wall. He floated in front of it, studying it with his brows furrowed in concentration.

    "I'm telling you, there's something wrong here," Kahuna Raichu said. He turned to Espy. "You're sensing life energy too, aren't you?"

    Espy nodded. "It can't be anything other than a Pokémon. Does that mean there's more to this floor beyond this room?" she said. Espy pressed a forepaw against the wall. Cold, damp coral grazed her paw pads.

    "What if Primarina somehow restructured the dungeon's layout for his concert?" Shane whispered, trying not to draw the other Pokémon's attentions toward the group. "If that's the case, there could be Pokémon trapped back there. Like Vaporeon, for example."

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed up. "That can't be. Only the Tapus have the power to change a dungeon," she said, staring intently at the wall. Tessa reached her right paw up and ran it along the coral, following each bump and groove in the wet rock. She paused with her paw resting next to a teardrop-shaped indentation in the coral. "Hey, guys, tell me… does this look normal to you?" she asked, pointing at the spot next to her paw.

    Silvally walked up beside her, narrowing his eyes at the coral. Then, without warning, he leaned in and stuck the tip of his beak into the opening. Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "Wait, what do you think you're doing?" she gasped.

    A tiny click sounded. White light surrounded the group. A heavy force grabbed each of them by the shoulders and spun them about. Before anyone could so much as utter a cry, the light disappeared. Tessa stumbled forward and fell to the ground, clutching her head. Silvally walked into her legs and, with a surprised squawk, tripped and fell onto his side.

    "Ugh, what just happened?" Shane groaned, crouching low to the ground as he shook the stars from his vision.

    "We teleported!" Espy gasped, carefully sidestepping Tessa and Silvally to get a better view of the team's new surroundings. They had left the circular room behind and instead found themselves in a long, narrow tunnel. Like the other room, the tunnel had nothing to speak of aside from dark-blue, coral walls and a gray, rocky ceiling.

    Espy's teammates didn't have much time to get their bearings straight, however, because a Golisopod with white claws lumbered toward them. "What the heck are you all doing back here? This place is off limits! How'd you even find the warp panel I had stashed away, huh?" he shouted, waving his arms about angrily.

    Tessa and Silvally both scrambled to their feet. "Uh… well," Tessa squeaked, tugging at her bandanna.

    "Bah, it doesn't matter. I don't care how badly you folks want to get an up-close glimpse at Primarina. You've got to see him onstage just like everyone else," White-Claws declared. He pointed his right arm in front of him. "There's another warp panel on the wall over there. Trigger it and get your assess out of here."

    "H… hold up, sir!" Shane said, drawing White-Claws' attention toward him. An orb smacked White-Claws in the face and shattered, spreading stardust over his body. White-Claws stumbled backward, hissing loudly and trying to brush the stardust off with his arms.

    "Why you little—" White-Claws started, only to freeze up in the middle of the path, his arms covering up his face.

    "Perfect! He's petrified," Shane said, grinning. "Let's move ahead… single-file, though. Don't want to accidentally bump this weird bug thingy and free him from petrification." Shane cautiously walked past White-Claws, then beckoned the rest of the team to follow. They all slipped past White-Claws one at a time. Once they had safely passed White-Claws, they continued down the hallway.

    "Wow, Shane, how'd you know we had a petrify orb?" Tessa asked, rummaging through the team's item bag.

    "I didn't. I lucked out," Shane admitted, a sheepish grin on his face.

    "Seriously?" Tessa groaned, rubbing her temples.

    "Well, we definitely had slumber orbs and sleep seeds, but I went for a petrify orb first since the only way to free that bug is to hit him," Shane said. "Given they're keeping this place hidden, I've got a strong feeling he won't be moving anytime soon."

    "That's… a good point, I guess," Tessa said. She caught up to Shane and they led the group down the tunnel side-by-side. After a couple of minutes of walking, they spotted yellow light filtering in from a clearing. Shane began to quicken his pace, but Tessa matched him step for step. She held her right paw out, shaking her head. "Hang on, Shane. We shouldn't go blindly charging into a bright room that we're not supposed to even know about," she said.

    "Ah… right," Shane said, stopping. "Any ideas then?"

    Tessa closed her eyes and tilted her head toward her right shoulder. "Hrrrrrrm…" Her brow furrowed. She shook her head. "Ugh, why can't I read any auras here? This is getting so frustrating!"

    "I'm picking up scattered traces of life energy. There are several Pokémon where we're heading. None of them strike me as anything out of the ordinary, though," Espy said, forehead gem sparkling.

    "Meaning no infected Pokémon or Ultra Beasts, right?" Silvally said, colored parts turning yellow as he looked down the tunnel. Espy nodded. "In that case, I say we take it slow. We should try to find somewhere to hide up ahead and get a better sense of our surroundings."

    Shane frowned. "I don't have a problem with that idea, but how do you propose the two of us hide successfully, huh?" he said. "You're much bigger than the rest of us and I'm… well…" He looked back at his tails. "These suckers stand out against the dark walls." Shane sighed. "The pitfalls of being fabulous, I suppose."

    "You did not just say that," Espy said, rolling her eyes.

    "Do I detect a hint of jealousy?" Shane said, smirking.

    "Not on your life, fuzzball," Espy replied. They stared at each other for a moment, before exchanging giggles.

    "Guys, c'mon, we're wasting time here. I say we have Shane and Silvally stay back here until we're sure the coast is clear. Is that alright?" Cosplay Pikachu said. Team Radiance nodded in unison. Cosplay Pikachu dropped down toward her father's back and they floated past Shane. Tessa and Espy went after them.

    The further they walked in the tunnel, the brighter it got until they completely lost sight of Shane and Silvally. By the time they reached the end of the tunnel, their eyes had adjusted to the light. "Guys, over on the left. We can hide there," Tessa said, pointing to a silver Primarina statue. She stepped to her left, crouching behind the statue. Kahuna Raichu floated up toward the statue's head, hiding behind the metallic strands of Primarina's hair. Espy sat down across from Tessa, curling her tail around her paws to keep it from sticking out.

    Tessa peered out from the base of the statue. In sharp contrast to the rest of the dungeon, this room had a purple, velvet carpet lining the floor. The only part left bare was the doorway they had come through and the area where the statue was. Luminous orbs lined the walls, which had hearts, stars, suns, and moons of various colors painted all around it. Three hallways led in different directions. Across the room from the statue sat a glass purple table, with a bowl of berries and a bowl of liquid chocolate. Tessa retreated behind the statue, swallowing hard.

    "Wow, this place is tacky," Espy said, studying the hallway on the left side of the room. She could barely make out a small glass sculpture shaped like an eighth note. "I guess Primarina's only got an eye for music… and not interior decorating. In any case, looks like we're alone. I'll go ahead and get Sh—"

    "Hold that thought. Someone's coming," Cosplay Pikachu said, waving her right paw. She had climbed onto the Primarina statue's head and was peering out from behind the hair. "And… and they've got outfits!" she gasped.

    Tessa and Espy cautiously poked their heads out and observed a Hariyama dressed in pink spandex pushing a coat rack on wheels. Dozens of brightly-colored, gem-encrusted outfits hung from the rack, sparkling under the glow of all the luminous orbs. Hariyama walked toward the Primarina statue. Tessa and Espy quickly ducked back into their hiding spots, curling into balls in an effort to avoid being seen.

    The ruse worked, with Hariyama wheeling the costume rack into the leftmost hallway without the slightest suspicion that anything was off. Espy uncurled from her ball and nudged Tessa's left leg with a forepaw. "Hey, he's gone," she whispered.

    "Unbelievable," Cosplay Pikachu growled, smacking the statue with her right paw. "Primarina totally stole my schtick! Costumes are my thing… not his!"

    "I guess Primarina's really going all out with this concert, then," Tessa said, sitting up straight. "Thinking about it, I suppose we could even call it the Z-Move of concerts. Since it sounded like everyone who gets to see and hear it will be powered up."

    "That's a scary thought," Espy said, wincing. "In any case, let's grab Shane and Silvally and scope this place out a bit more." She got to her feet and headed for the doorway, with Tessa following behind her.

    "We'll hang back in case someone else shows up, yeah," Kahuna Raichu whispered, leaning against the statue's head. The girls nodded to him and walked back into the tunnel. They found Shane and Silvally waiting a few yards ahead of them.

    "Coast is clear boys," Espy said, beckoning them forward with her tail.

    "See anything interesting?" Silvally asked, trotting toward his teammates alongside Shane.

    "Primarina's apparently planning to incorporate costumes into his performance. I guess he must've gained some sort of power similar to Cosplay Pikachu's? Otherwise, I can't imagine it being easy for him to change into outfits," Tessa said, scratching her head.

    Shane raised a curious eyebrow. He had a mental image of Primarina appearing on a stage, with a sequined jacket slipped around his torso and a rainbow afro sitting atop his head. Shane cringed and shook his head. 'Thanks brain, I really needed that,' Shane thought, sighing.

    "Eh? What's going on here?"

    Each member of Team Radiance froze. Vaporeon stood in the center of the room. He wore a svelte white vest lined with sequins and gemstones. The piercings in his ears and mane now had bright, sparkling sapphires embedded in them. The glitter in his skin made him sparkle under the room's lights. Vaporeon had what looked like a headset on, only each of the ear pieces had large crystals in them pulsating with rainbow light.

    "Vaporeon?" Tessa gasped. "Oh, thank goodness, we—"

    "Wait a tic," Vaporeon said, glancing between Shane, Silvally, and Tessa. "You're Team Radiance, aren't you? Huh. Guess Primarina got through to you all." He turned to Shane and Tessa. "And you've both evolved? This is fantastic! You're just the Pokémon I need." He tilted his head to the side. "Wonder why Primarina didn't tell me he had gotten hold of you guys to help him…"

    "Huh? What are you talking ab— oof!" Shane started, only for Espy to cut him off with a swift kick to his left hind thigh. He momentarily buckled, eyes watering and mouth clenched shut.

    "Yeah," Espy said, waving her tail back and forth enthusiastically. "We're here to help with… uh… well, Primarina didn't specify what he wanted us for. Think you could loop us in?"

    Vaporeon frowned. "I would've thought his tunes were all you needed to hear," he said.

    "Uh… err…" Espy took a cautious step back. "We've, uh, had a bit of the punch and it might've gone to our heads," she said, spinning a forepaw around and whistling.

    "Oh… great." Vaporeon smacked his head with a forepaw. "That's what got us into this mess in the first place. See, the three Pokémon we picked to star in the concert's warm-up acts drank too much punch and are totally out of it! So, I need replacements. That's where you three come in." He pointed at Espy, Shane, and Tessa.

    Tessa's aura feelers stuck up. "U… us? A warm-up act?" she squeaked.

    "Yeah." Vaporeon turned to Tessa "You're gonna start off with a song to get the crowd's attention."

    "W… what?!" Tessa gasped, bumping into Silvally as she staggered backwards in surprise. "But… I can't… I've never…"

    Vaporeon narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "You guys did say Primarina's tunes got through to you, right?" he growled, though his outfit didn't make him look imposing.

    "Of course!" Espy said, stepping beside Tessa. "She'll have no problem going onstage and singing… right?"

    Tessa's face was as white as Shane's. "W… wh… what… d…"

    "Look, you're familiar with the Song of Horizon, right? Just do that and everything will be fine. The lights we set up on stage are so bright you won't even notice the crowd," Vaporeon said. Tessa could do nothing except clumsily nod. Vaporeon walked up to her. "I guess the punch must've given you jitters, huh?" he said. "Relax, okay? You're a Lucario! Most folks go their whole lives without seeing one. Even with the weird fur, you're a once in a lifetime experience. The crowd's gonna eat you up." He smirked. "Especially when I get you into the right outfit."

    "R… right," Tessa squeaked, standing up straight and looking at the ceiling. "I won't… I can do this," she whispered, sounding far from certain.

    Vaporeon turned to Espy and Shane. "As for you two… you'll be doing a dance number together."

    Their ears and tails stuck up in unison. "You want us—" Shane started.

    "—to dance together?" Espy said, glancing Shane out of the corner of her eye.

    "Absolutely. An ice Ninetales and an Espeon together? The crowd'll go positively ballistic," Vaporeon said.

    Shane's tails twisted around one another. "Would they really be that interested in us? I would think two-legged 'mons could do a much better job," he said, tracing his forepaw across the edge of the carpet.

    "I designed the dance for four-legged 'mons. You two are a perfect combination. An ice Ninetales is another once in a lifetime sighting. You flaunt that svelte body of yours and you'll captivate the crowd." Shane's face reddened while Vaporeon walked up to Espy. "And, well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you what to do," he said, pausing by Espy's hips and smiling. "There's a reason those tabloid polls constantly rate Espeons as the most appealing member of our evolution tree."

    Espy stepped away from Vaporeon, curling her tail around her right hip. "Isn't Jolteon your mate?" she growled, shooting Vaporeon an icy look.

    "Yeah, but she wasn't down with Primarina's program," Vaporeon scoffed, turning around and walking back into the room. "I'm his manager, after all. So, it's my job to make sure the concert to end all concerts goes off without a hitch. In any case, we really should get you three into dressing rooms. I've got copies of the dance moves for you two," he said, glancing at Espy and Shane.

    "And what am I supposed to do throughout all of this?" Silvally asked, voice ripe with concern.

    Vaporeon looked Silvally over. "Ehh… sorry, Beaky, you don't really fit the bill for an extra," he said. "I suppose since you're part of Team Radiance, you can just stay in one of the dressing rooms. You'll be able to see the concert through these crystals Primarina and I set up. Plus, we've got plenty of gourmet snacks." He turned away from Silvally. "Now, come along. You're going onstage shortly and I want you three prepared."

    He led Espy, Shane, and Tessa toward the hallway on the left side of the room. Silvally began following them, only to stop short. When Vaporeon was out of sight, he turned back to the large Primarina statue. "You can come out now," he said, glancing at the statue's head.

    Kahuna Raichu floated over to Silvally. Cosplay Pikachu jumped off his back. "Alright, this is our chance! While everyone's distracted with the warm-up acts, we can go look at all those outfits and steal them. That'll teach that poser, Primarina," Cosplay Pikachu said, stomping her right leg on the carpet repeatedly.

    "Or… we could investigate those other hallways," Silvally proposed, looking down the hallway at the back of the room. "It seems like they're using this area to set stuff up for Primarina's concert. My guess is that, if we poke around, we might be able to find what's powering up his vocals and put a stop to the concert before anyone gets hurt."

    "Sounds like a plan, yeah," Kahuna Raichu said, raising an arm and nodding.

    "Bah… fine," Cosplay Pikachu said. She twirled about and, in a flicker of blue light, changed into an Espy hoodie. "Time for a little tactical Espeonage action," she said. Cosplay Pikachu smirked at Silvally. "See what I did there? It's a stealth pun!"

    Silvally rolled his eyes. "Let's just pick a hallway and investigate."

    XxX
    I told you it was going to be silly. The chapter title's a Wayne's World reference, what were you expecting?

    Next time: the performance of a lifetime!
     
  5. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    As mentioned last chapter, this one's got a song and dance. The song seen here spoofs the lyrics to "The Noble Haltmann," as seen in the Exclusive Performance Video from Kirby: Planet Robobot. And the dance is roughly set to Vega's theme from Street Fighter IV. Alright, on with the show!

    XxX

    Chapter 77: Taking Center Stage


    ~Circadian Coast~

    Two Absols strafed multiple blasts of water. One skidded across the sand and shot a purple Dark Pulse beam at Clawitzer. The other sprinted toward Clawitzer, scythe and talons filled with shadows. Clawitzer blasted the Dark Pulse apart with a shiny-blue Aura Sphere, but couldn't pivot fast enough to save off his other attacker. Frenzied Night Slashes tore into his carapace. Clawitzer bounced across the sand.

    He tried to blast Herdier with a jet of water, but Herdier sank electrified fangs into his pincer. Herdier held Clawitzer in place, giving Poliwrath enough time to charge red energy into his right fist. Poliwrath punched Clawitzer square between the eyes. Clawitzer careened back into the ocean. Poliwrath stepped back, wringing out his black-gloved hand.

    "Yeesh, that shell of his is harder than I thought," Poliwrath said.

    "Pah! Tell me about it. Tastes all salty, too." Herdier spat trace bits of saliva on the ground.

    Across from them, Gallian and a disguised Zoroark rejoined one another. "How you holding up?" Gallian asked.

    "I'm okay. Legs are hurting a bit, but as long as Florges keeps healing me before I cramp up, I think I'll hold out." Zoroark stretched his Absol hind legs out. "What about you?"

    "I'm fine. I think he caught us off-guard last time, that's all," Gallian said. His eyes then flickered purple and he turned to the ocean. Clawitzer shot himself back ashore. Ice harpoons rained down on Gallian on Zoroark. Gallian bucked Zoroark onto his back and dashed across the beach. Ice grazed his rump. Gallian gritted his teeth. He spun around, crouching low to the ground so Zoroark could safely dismount.

    "I won't give up, ye scurvy dogs!
    Not till yer sleeping like piles of logs!
    Me cap'n wants ye under his control!
    I'll be bringing ye all to Sunset Shoals!


    Try as ye might, ye can't stop me!
    The only thing I'm tasting here is victory!
    Yo ho ho! I won't be beat!
    The cap'n's tunes will keep me safe from defeat!"


    Herdier and Poliwrath backed away, both groaning loudly and shaking their heads. Florges flew toward them. Jolteon responded by launching electric discs at Clawitzer. He retaliated with a giant ice harpoon. Jolteon tunneled into the sand, yipping in fright.

    "For pity's sake… this guy just doesn't quit," Zoroark said, jaw slackened in disbelief. "We keep hitting him and hitting him… but he gets right back up! He should've been knocked out at least three times over by now."

    Clawitzer turned his pincer on Gallian and Zoroark. Gallian was prepared to carry Zoroark off again, when Jolteon tunneled in from below. She upended Clawitzer, then hobbled toward Florges while Gallian and Zoroark covered her with dual Dark Pulse beams. Clawitzer tumbled across the shoreline. After a few seconds, he shakily picked himself up.

    "Shiver me timbers!
    Ye hit pretty hard.
    But I don't care if yer limber,
    Eventually, ye'll drop yer guard!"


    "Oh my gods, if I have to keep listening to this asshole's awful singing, I'm going to lose my mind," Gallian snarled, thrashing his head about. "How the hell can Primarina's hypnosis keep a 'mon fighting past the point they'd normally give in, huh?"

    "I don't know." Zoroark glanced at Gallian. "I don't suppose you could try that Naturia Looplet and use a Z-Move?"

    Gallian stepped back, legs shaking. "No way! Absolutely not! You saw what happened to Tessa. We talked about this, dude. I won't… I can't…"

    Lightning and ice erupted in the distance. Gallian turned to see Jolteon skid across the sand. Florges was by her side in an instant. Herdier and Poliwrath charged Clawitzer down, but he shot an ice harpoon toward them. Poliwrath layed out and took the blow so Herdier could lunge for Clawitzer.

    Zoroark blasted a purple Dark Pulse. He hit Clawitzer from behind. "Gallian, I get it. I'd be nervous about it, too. But there guys need your help! Come on. Think about what'll happen if we can't Clawitzer to stop. Either we're going to have to kill him… or we're going to be put under Primarina's mind-control!"

    Clawitzer blasted a fiery-blue Aura Sphere at Zoroark. It grazed his right side. His Absol illusion faltered. Zoroark dropped to one knee, holding his right hip. Gallian looked around at the injured Pokémon. He looked at Clawitzer, who smiled at his handwork while he brandished his pincer at Gallian. Then he thought of his sister and her teammates, making their way through the unknown in Sunset Shoals. He remembered the fury in Tessa's eyes when she Mega Evolved, but then he envisioned himself facing his sister down, with Primarina singing loudly behind him.

    Gallian gritted his teeth. He couldn't betray his sister's trust. Not when they were finally together again. He hopped right to dodge Clawitzer's ring of water. Gallian flicked his foreleg in Clawitzer's direction. Orange light burst out of the gem on his looplet. The light spread around him, only to turn into black shadows. Zoroark tensed up, worried the looplet was going to backfire.

    "I'm fine! I've got this!" Gallian said, hunching low to the ground. "Hey, ugly? Suck on this!"

    Clawitzer raised a curious brow. Gallian's eyes turned pitch-black. The shadows shot off his body. They formed a black hole in the air over Clawitzer's head. It sucked him inside, spun him about, then exploded. Clawitzer sailed through the sky until he was nothing but a twinkle in the distance.

    Gallian stumbled about, groaning and shaking his head. Florges finished tending to the nicks on Jolteon's hide and floated toward him, but Zoroark was by Gallian's side first. He scooped his startled mate up in his arms.

    "H… how'd I do?" Gallian said, still looking a bit dazed.

    In response, Zoroark pressed his muzzle to Gallian's lips. "You were perfect."

    XxX

    ~Sunset Shoals~

    Rather than split up further, Silvally, Kahuna Raichu, and Cosplay Pikachu elected to stay together. Silvally led them down the rightmost hallway, taking slow, methodical steps to avoid tearing the carpet with his talons and potentially alerting someone like Vaporeon that they were sneaking around. Like the room they had left behind, an array of brightly-colored stars, hearts, suns, and moons lined the walls. Someone had even managed to stick luminous orbs in the ceiling.

    About thirty seconds after they began walking, they passed a pair of doors. The one on the left had a pastel drawing of a Brionne on it, while the right door had a Lopunny painted on it. "What do you suppose is in here?" Silvally said, staring down the Lopunny door like it was challenging him to a battle.

    "A dressing room would be my guess," Cosplay Pikachu whispered. "I have something like this for my own shows at the resort." She scratched at her left ear. "I'll bet you these are for Primarina's backup dancers."

    Silvally raised his right brow. "Uh… hmm… okay. You might have to explain that concept to me once we're somewhere we can lay low." He continued down the hallway, checkout out the doors. They had a Delibird and Midday Lycanroc on them.

    "I can see the end of the hallway. Looks like a dead end to me. Guess we ought to turn back," Silvally said.

    "Hang on a sec, I'll zoom ahead and check, yeah," Kahuna Raichu offered, floating over Silvally's right shoulder and down the hallway. Silvally watched him go, shrinking in size the further he went. Within a half-minute, Kahuna Raichu turned and hovered back, shrugging. "Looks like you're right, cousin. Nothing down there but rocks. Let's check the other hallway."

    They went back to the main room. When they got there, they found the spandex-wearing Hariyama walking back from the hallway Vaporeon had taken the rest of the team down. "Huh? Hey… I don't remember seeing any of you here!" Hariyama said, clenching his giant hands into fists. "Identify yourselves!"

    "Easy there, cousin," Kahuna Raichu said, his cheek pouches glowing pink as a reminder of the clear type disadvantage Hariyama faced. "We're here to help with the warm-up acts. Our friends are replacing the 'mons that got sick and we're part of their posse. Maybe you saw 'em? Ninetales, Lucario, and Espeon, yeah."

    "Oh. Yeah, that checks out." Hariyama scratched at the back of his head. "Boy, Primarina really knows how to go all-out, huh. At first, I thought I was losing my mind, but it turns out Primarina really did find a Lucario and an ice Ninetales. Man, two one-of-a-kind species to headline the world's greatest concert? I don't care what you say, the guy's a genius entertainer!"

    "Sure is. We can't wait for the festivities to begin," Silvally trilled, offering a friendly tail wag.

    Hariyama nodded. "I hear yea, I hear ya. In the meantime, I've got a few more things to do to help the backup dancers. You three take care." He saluted, then walked past them to get to the hallway with the other changing rooms. Hariyama entered the Brionne door.

    "Okay, let's head north," Silvally said, leading the group along the third hallway. This one immediately curved to the right. The decorative wall drawings disappeared. After a couple of yards, it curved back to the left, and the rocky ground gave way to a metal floor. Silvally stopped, staring at the black grate beneath his feet. "Well that's… different."

    Cosplay Pikachu poked at the metal grate. "You mean to tell me Primarina can somehow turn rock into steel? And your team thinks you can beat that?" she gasped.

    "We've seen crazier, believe me," Silvally said, continuing down the hallway. As he walked, metal grates replaced the walls. After several yards surrounded by steel, the trio entered a wide-open, square-shaped shaft. The ceiling towered high above them. A set of thin metal stairs sat along the far wall, stretching up to the ceiling and down below the floor.

    "What is this place?" Cosplay Pikachu wondered, staring up at the ceiling in awe.

    Silvally walked past her, his attention fixed on a large pile of bright-white gemstones easily three times his height. The gems twinkled, despite the minimal lighting in the room. Behind the pile, three thick, black cords ran across the floor and then up the wall, stopping alongside the top of the stairs.

    Silvally gulped. "Guys, I think I might've figured out just how Primarina's powering this crazy concert of his." He approached the base of the gem pile, gazing at his distorted reflection as his glowing parts turned dark blue in response to his growing nervousness.

    "These are music crystals," Kahuna Raichu said, floating higher into the air to examine the pile closely. "By the gods… how did Primarina manage to mine so many of these in such a short time? This is at least as many as we'd find in two years' worth of harvests!"

    Silvally staggered back from the pile. "Y… you're kidding," he squeaked, head crest bristling. "But…" He shook his head. "All these crystals are good for is creating music for Sky Jukeboxes, right?"

    "That's what I thought, yeah," Kahuna Raichu said, leaning in toward a single music crystal. It pulsated with green and orange light, forcing him back. "But these sure don't feel like your run of the mill music crystals. Something's different about them. They're radiating some crazy energy." He tilted his head to the side. "Think Primarina might've found a way to do something to them?"

    "It sure looks that way," Silvally said. He crouched low to the ground, staring down one of the crystals at the base of the pile. When his beak was only half a foot away from the crystal, a spark of lightning suddenly burst through a gap in the grating. Squawking in surprise, Silvally shifted to his ground memories just in time to avoid getting zapped on the beak. He stood up tall and backed away from the cluster of crystals.

    Silvally stared at the spot on the floor the lightning had come from. "Okay, that was close. Something's clearly going on down there… and it's tied to these crystals." Silvally fixed his brown eyes on his companions. "Listen, if you two want to turn back, I understand. But I've got this sinking feeling in my gut about what's lurking beneath us. And I intend to find out if I'm right or not."

    "We're with you, then," Cosplay Pikachu said, thumping her chest. She twirled about, exchanging her Espy hoodie for one of a Rhyperior, complete with hand-stitched patches on her sleeves that looked like rocks. "Besides, my ability is Lightning Rod. As long as I stick by Pops, I can keep him safe from any lightning."

    "Alright, then follow me and be ready for trouble." Silvally marched toward the metal stairs.

    "Oh, wait, hang on," Cosplay Pikachu said, darting for the gem pile. "We ought to take a few of these… you never know if they might come in handy for whatever Primarina's got planned." One by one, Cosplay Pikachu plucked a half-dozen music crystals from the pile and placed them in her satchel. She patted it with her paw. "There we go. Ready for adventure!"

    Silvally descended down the stairs. It was a tight fit with his large frame. At the first two bends, Silvally's tail got caught in the grating and twisted at an odd angle. It sent shockwaves of pain through his system. The second bend frustrated Silvally enough to where he leaped over the railing. He stretched his limbs out as he lunged and fanned out his head crest, which turned dark blue. A gust of wind formed behind Silvally, catching his underbelly. He glided safely to the ground. Silvally turned his ground memories back on. The second he had his bearings straight, Silvally looked to his left and jumped back, squawking loudly. Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu paused in the middle of the stairs and looked down.

    There, directly underneath the pile of music crystals, stood four Xurkitrees. Black, heavy chains were wrapped around their bodies, digging into the ground and the nearby wall. Black shadows swirled around the chains. Some of the links had purple eyes staring up at the ceiling or floor. The Xurkitrees' spiky, flashbulb heads flickered erratically as they struggled against their restraints.

    Kahuna Raichu rubbed his eyes. "What in the gods' names are those things?" he gasped, clutching his Totem Crystal tightly.

    "Ultra Beasts," Silvally said, legs tensing and talons reflexively curling up. "But those chains…" His brown eyes flashed. A growl rose up in his throat. "I know what those are. They're ley lines!" Silvally slapped the ground, cheek bolts rotating in their sockets. "Somebody was able to conjure up ley lines from the depths of the dungeon… and use it to trap these UBs."

    Cosplay Pikachu's ears drooped. "You can do that?" she squeaked, pulling her hoodie tight against her frame.

    "Apparently," Silvally hissed, scraping his right claws against the ground and spitting out embers on the floor.

    "You okay there, cousin?" Kahuna Raichu asked, zooming over the railing to catch up to Silvally.

    "No," Silvally said, hunching low to the ground as he locked eyes on the ley lines in front of him. All around him, wispy phantoms formed up. Phantom eyes stared at him. Silvally squeezed his eyes shut. He shook his head. There were whispers in his mind saying to lash out. Silvally tried to tune them out. He thought of his friends, wondering what Vaporeon had done to them.

    Silvally couldn't contain himself. He whirled around, slashing at the air with his talons.

    "Whoa!" Kahuna Raichu shouted, screeching to a halt. Silvally's talons missed him by inches. His brown eyes widened.

    "S-Stay back! Please… keep your distance!" Silvally shouted. He thrashes his head right, then left. The chains appeared in his vision. More phantom eyes appeared around him. The voices grew louder. Distorted images of Golem appeared by Kahuna Raichu. Silvally's eyes darted around. "No… no! Go away! Be quiet!" Silvally howled, dropped to his belly and bashing his face into the ground.

    Kahuna Raichu scooted back, frowning. "Should we do something?"

    "I don't even know what the problem is," Cosplay Pikachu squeaked.

    Silvally breathed heavily. He forced himself to think of his friends again. Memories of loving embraces with Shane and Tessa pushed back against the angry voices. Silvally squeezed his eyes tight and tensed his legs. He envisioned his teammates snuggling up to him as they'd done every night. His breathing slowed. The phantoms faded. Then the whispers died down.

    Silvally opened his eyes and staggered to his feet, panting like he'd finished running a sprint. He felt miserable, but had to hang tough. Now that he'd found Primarina's secret, he couldn't back down. His friends needed him, even if they didn't know it. "I'm sorry… you had to see that," Silvally said, turning away from the chained-up Xurkitrees.

    "The truth is… that I was made by other Pokémon using alchemy and ley lines. Seeing the chains out in the open like that…" He shook his head. "It dredged up some bad memories." Silvally took a deep breath, shuddering. "In any case… I'm not really sure where to even begin with something like this. I have no idea how we could free those UBs… assuming that's even a good idea to begin with."

    "I think we might have to," Cosplay Pikachu said, cautiously approaching the Xurkitrees. The one closest to her stiffened, its head flashing. It tried to fire lightning at her, but the ley line chains swallowed the electricity up. The energy shot up into the ceiling. Gasping, Cosplay Pikachu put her paw on her chest. "Okay, yeah, we definitely have to. Because I'm pretty sure these ley line thingies are siphoning their energy and putting it into the music crystals upstairs."

    A wave of cheers and hollers startled the group. Silvally looked up, head crest fanning out in curiosity. "What's all that racket?" he asked, walking toward the far end of the room.

    "Sounds like the concert might be starting, yeah," Kahuna Raichu said.

    "What? But that's bad! If Primarina starts singing, he's probably going to activate that giant pile of music crystals." Cosplay Pikachu pointed frantically at the Xurkitrees. "And then what'll happen? We're closer to these things than anyone else!"

    Silvally approached the wall and pressed the side of his head against it. The wall gave way, sending Silvally toppling over with a surprised squawk. "Oof!" he grunted as his head struck a wood-panel floor and rebounded. He rubbed his beak with his talons before getting back to his feet. "H… hey. I think I found some sort of hidden door."

    "Silvally? How did you get down here?"

    Tessa walked up a black, metal ramp. Silvally's beak hung open. She wore a red silk robe that faded to orange, then yellow the further it got from her torso. The robe was cut so that a strip of cloth draped down between her legs from both the front and back. Her loose-fitting sleeves ended right between her elbows and her wrists. Stitched into the front strip was a pale-blue moon. Rhinestones were fixed to it. Tessa's robes tightly hugged her frame, save for an opening for her chest spike to poke through.

    "Uhh," Silvally said, beak still open wide.

    "Oh… yeah. This is a bit much, isn't it?" Tessa whispered, raising her right paw to fidget with the golden rings looped around her aura feelers.

    Silvally stood up straight. "Nuh… no! Of course not! You look ravishing… I mean great! I mean—"

    "Hey, keep it down, will you?" Vaporeon said, walking past Tessa. Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu ducked back inside the hidden door to avoid being seen. Vaporeon examined Silvally. "I thought I told you to stay upstairs?" he said. "Bah… whatever. You're here now. Just stay out of my performers' ways, alright?" He turned and rapped Silvally on the left foreleg with his tail.

    Silvally stumbled back, huffing in annoyance. His tail brushed against a crystal. He looked over his shoulder and noticed the tall, thin crystal had fused against the wall. Silvally followed it upward until he spotted a star-shaped gem fixed inside of a metal cage. Rather than questioning the sight, he turned back around.

    "Okay, Lucario," Vaporeon said, glancing up at Tessa. "I see your make-up's all good."

    Silvally leaned over to see the red sun that someone had painted into Tessa's fur. Tessa squirmed about nervously. The glitter in her fur sparkled under the stage lights. "You're absolutely sure I won't be able to see the crowd, right?" she said, paws clasped together. The rings Tessa wore around her aura feelers suppressed their twitching movements. Tessa kept wincing, growing more and more uncomfortable with her current predicament.

    "Yes! Want me to keep saying it until I'm blue in the face?" Vaporeon said, then chuckled at his terrible joke.

    Tessa frowned. "Was that supposed to make me less nervous or something?" she growled.

    "It was. Evidently it didn't work. Sheesh… you probably got this from your mother. She skipped every karaoke night we had at Crabrawler's Café until Primarina and I moved," Vaporeon said, shaking his head.

    The mention of Prisma brought out blue flashes in Tessa's eyes. Silvally stepped toward her. "Tessa, you're riling yourself up."

    Vaporeon rolled his eyes. "Okay, I can see I'm not helping here, so I'm just going to find Ninetales and Espeon." He walked back down the ramp, disappearing from sight.

    "Remind why we didn't just clock Vaporeon and run? We had him outnumbered," Silvally said.

    "I don't know. I think we just panicked when Vaporeon showed up," Tessa said. "Though, Espeon thinks there's some sort of special device in Vaporeon's headset that would've alerted Primarina if we tried to attack him. So, it looks like I'm stuck." Tessa rubbed her aura feelers, moaning in pain. "Oh, Silvally, what am I supposed to do? I tried to tell them not to put these stupid rings on, but nobody listened to me. These are too tight… they're cutting off my aura sense."

    "Is that bad?" Silvally asked.

    "Of course it is! It's like… like… how would you like it if I took that head crest of yours and bound it up like it was back when your mask was on?" Tessa said, eyes flashing blue. She realized her mistake the moment she glimpsed Silvally's eyes widening in shock. He looked away from her. Fearing she'd upset her friend, she put a paw on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Silvally. That was uncalled for. I just…" She pointed at the rings. "These things are driving me mad. I didn't realize how sensitive my aura feelers are."

    "It's… it's fine," Silvally said, leaning over and huffing out a small cloud of frost. It spread across Tessa's aura feelers, abating their twitching and blowing off most of their glitter.

    "That's a bit better. Thanks," Tessa said, smiling.

    "No problem." Silvally walked closer to her, then leaned over and whispered, "So, I think we might've found something important while you guys were getting ready." He gestured toward the wall and, as if on cue, the hidden door opened and Cosplay Pikachu poked her head out.

    "Whoa. Okay. I'm, like, a teensie-weensie bit jealous of your outfit, girl." Cosplay Pikachu added a whistle for good measure.

    "Oh… uh… thanks," Tessa said, bowing her head respectfully.

    "Could you give us a moment? I'm trying to bring Tessa up to speed," Silvally said, looking at Cosplay Pikachu.

    "That's fine. Pops and I are actually going to keep investigating back here. So, uh, do whatever you can to keep the staff distracted. Which means you've gotta sing your heart out, girl," Cosplay Pikachu said, pointing at Tessa. "The more the crowd eats it up, the easier a time we'll have, right?" She disappeared into the back room again, closing the door behind her.

    "What exactly did you guys find?" Tessa asked.

    "Music crystals… a massive pile. Like, enough to fill up the entrance and the assembly room in the Observatory. And, get this, right below them… are Ultra Beasts! Big, tall, electric ones!" Silvally said.

    Tessa threw a paw up over her mouth. "You're joking."

    Silvally shook his head. "I wish I was. I really, really do." His eyes narrowed. "Because…" His voice trailed off and he turned away from Tessa. "Someone's got them chained up using ley lines, Tessa. I saw the chains and I… I… I almost lost it." He looked down at his looplet. "I'm not even sure how I kept control. I took one look at the damn things and a wave of anger rushed through that was so strong I lashed out at Kahuna Raichu and his daughter."

    Tessa rubbed his shoulder, wishing she could give him soothing energy like he had done for her. "I'm sorry you had to deal with that. Maybe you ought to stay backstage and watch the warm-up acts?"

    "I don't think I have a choice here," Silvally said, stepping back toward a lilac curtain. Like the other side of the backstage area, a crystalline stage light jutted out of the floor, with a luminous orb sitting at the ready inside of a cage.

    Light trickled in behind Silvally. He and Tessa turned to find Vaporeon guiding Espy and Shane up the ramp. "Make some room, big guy," Vaporeon said, looking at Silvally. He stepped back, the curtain draping over most of his torso.

    Shane stepped toward Tessa. He had a snug, sky-blue, button-down vest around his frame. Each button was a diamond carved to look like a tiny star. His collar was open toward the top of his vest. His quaffed chest fur stuck out. Someone had managed to brush the fur into a heart-shaped pattern and sprinkle pink glitter across it.

    "Go on… say it. I look like a girl, don't I?" Shane said, glancing down at the red ribbons wrapped around each leg. Tiny red roses were pinned to the ribbons on his forelegs. "It's written all over your face."

    "Actually, I think it suits you. It's flashy. All that glitter in your mane and tails is appropriately gaudy. A perfect representation of your Pokémon life, if you ask me," Tessa said. Before Shane responded, she smirked and gave him a playful hip check. "I'm only teasing, you know."

    "I know. But the joke's on you… because I'm fine with this." Shane posed with his right forepaw outstretched and his head and tails held high. "I'm ready to rock this outfit," he declared.

    "Finally decided to embrace your inner Ninetales, huh? Took you long enough," Silvally said, a goofy grin on his face. His tail was wagging and he wasn't even aware of it.

    Espy cautiously sidestepped Shane. "Glad to see you're so confident about this. Maybe that means we can pull it off." Espy stepped away from her teammates. In contrast to Shane, Espy had a fiery-red dress stretching down toward her hips, with orange ripples spreading off its base to give the impression that she was dressed like the sun. "At least this flower smells nice," she said, turning toward her right shoulder to sniff at the gracidea pinned her dress' right strap.

    "Hey, careful. If you ruin the outfit, you'll have to answer to Primarina," Vaporeon said, rapping a forepaw on the floor. Espy stiffened. "Ugh, look. Your tiara went askew. Now I've gotta fix it," he grumbled, walking up to Espy. Vaporeon gently nudged the red, ruby-encrusted tiara back into place. He then nudged the golden bands around Espy's ears that kept the tiara fixed to her head.

    "And how am I supposed to keep this thing from falling off while we're doing this routine?" Espy said.

    "Uh, well, you're a psychic-type. Use your telekinesis or whatever." Vaporeon shrugged. "In any case… it's showtime. Lucario, time to head out there and dazzle the crowd."

    Tessa went as stiff as an arrow. "I… I… uh…" Her paws balled up into fists. "You said I can't see the crowd, but won't I be able to hear them?" she squeaked.

    Vaporeon walked behind Tessa. "A bit too late to do anything about that, sweetie. Go on, the crowd's waiting for you," he said, shoving Tessa with his head. She stumbled out from the rock wall keeping Team Radiance hidden.

    All of a sudden, luminous orbs flared up all around her, filling her world with intense white light. Tessa straightened up and walked forward. Despite the power of the orbs, she could see blue, water-like ripples radiating out from the center of the stage. Tessa cautiously approached it, trying not to think about how many people were watching her. Even with her aura sense hampered, she sensed the audience's presence. It made her heart race, but she knew she had to do give a good performance or else the whole team would be in trouble.

    The second she reached the middle of the stage, enthusiastic applause greeted her.

    "Woo! You go, Lucario!"

    "Let's hear those pipes!"

    "Rock our world, babe!"

    "Dude, she's a steel-type, not a rock-type."

    Tessa tensed up, her aura feelers curling against her neck. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could do this. Tessa had heard the song all her life. She knew the words by heart. All she needed to do was sing them. Tessa softened up her stance and opened her eyes.

    'It's just like Feraligatr said to Infernape when they were rookie explorers. Be brave… be the bravest ever!'

    She grabbed the mic piece on her specialized headset and brought it up toward her snout. "How's everyone doing today?" Tessa said, trying to make sure her voice wasn't shaky. A chorus of cheers erupted. "You all ready for Primarina's Ultra Deluxe Concert?"

    More cheers ensued.

    "Well, alright! I'm Tessa of Team Radiance and I'm here to kick things off with 'The Song of Horizon!'" She turned to her right and pointed offstage. "Hit it!" she said. Music played throughout the room. The onstage ripples slowed down.

    "Solgaleo, provider of daylight.
    Great Lunala, defender of the night.
    Working hard for the sake of harmony!"


    Tessa swayed from side to side, moving her arms in wave-like patterns. Two streams of smoke blew in from offstage, bringing with them metal platforms holding a pair of Brionne who hummed in harmony with the backing music.

    "Always striving to do their very best.
    Bringing forth light without a moment's rest.
    So the world can thrive every day!"


    Tessa placed her left paw on her chest and raised her right toward the ceiling. The Brionnes mimicked the gesture. Behind them, a wall of swirling purple light appeared, filled with twinkling stars.

    "May their presence light the way forward
    To a future of peace and love.
    Let us praise Horizon's deities
    And the light they bring forth from above."


    The central part of the stage rose up. Tessa stumbled, but managed to keep her balance. Swathes of orange and red appeared in the swirling mural behind her. Sun and moon-shaped light patters popped up on the stage and revolved around Tessa's platform. She spread her arms out wide, as if she was trying to wrap the crowd up in a hug. Behind her, the Brionnes raised their flippers high and clapped in time with the music. The crowd joined in along with them.

    "Solgaleo, hear our song to you
    Great Lunala, our prayers are for you, too.
    May your light shine as bright as can be!"


    In he backstage area, Shane and Silvally stood by one of the curtains, mesmerized by Tessa sparkling under the glow of the stage lights. "Wow… she sounds great," Shane whispered, shuffling to his right. He brushed up against Silvally and the two exchanged a quick glance before putting distance between one another. Shane focused on Tessa, fighting off a blush.

    "As the seasons come and pass us by
    Help us to keep balance in our lives.
    Until the day our spirits cease to be!"


    The mural and stage shifted to ripples of golden light, with bands of silver forming the familiar sun and moon emblems of the Horizon Continent. Both Brionnes hopped off their platforms, somersaulting across the stage until they stood proudly in front of Tessa's raised platform. Tessa stretched her paws up toward the ceiling.

    "We wish with all our beings
    That your light never steers us wrong.
    Bless our world, beloved guardians
    So that we may all sing our song!"


    The music began to slow down. Tessa and her backup dancers slowly bowed in unison, bringing their right arms across their chests just as the song faded out. The clapping the crowd had done in time with the music broke into a round of spontaneous applause. Tessa held her pose, wincing as her aura feelers twitched in protest of the thunderous cheers and roars from the crowd. She thought her heart was going to burst out of her chest. Her headed pounded with an intensity she didn't think possible.

    "Come on, Lucario, look up. They're all cheering for you," the Brionne on Tessa's right said.

    "Um… right." Tessa stood up, raised her right paw, and waved it daintily at the crowd. "Thank you all so much. I hope you enjoy the rest of the concert." Tessa hopped off the raised platform and walked offstage, her gaze locked on the wall where the secret door was. Once she was safely behind the curtain, she exhaled heavily and hunched over, resting her paws on her knees.

    "Oh gods… I'm shaking. My stomach's doing backflips, I think I'm gonna hurl," Tessa said, panting. She put a paw up to her muzzle.

    "Relax. It's all over. Don't you hear the crowd? They loved you," Vaporeon said.

    "Yeah, you were fantastic, Tessa. And that's coming from someone who never went to a concert as a human," Shane said, tails wagging independently of one another.

    "Uh, thanks… I think," Tessa said, standing up straight. "Just, y'know, don't ask me to do that again. My heart's still pounding." She looked at Shane. "Aren't you nervous? You're about to go on."

    "He definitely is. I can see his hind legs quivering and everything," Silvally said, playfully thumping his tail against Shane's hip. Shane shuffled forward, scrunching his face up. All his close brushes with Silvally were adding up and grating his nerves, but he forced himself to hold his tongue.

    "You didn't have to bring that up. I'm trying to fake it until I make it," Shane said.

    "Another human idiom, I take it?" Silvally said, right brow raised.

    "Yes. If I act like I'm not nervous, then maybe I really won't be when I go onstage," Shane said, taking a slow, calming breath. "We're going to blow the crowd away, right, Espy?" Espy stepped beside Shane, her expression stoic and her snout pointed up. "Um… are you gonna say something?"

    "We'll be fine. Just follow my lead," Espy said. "You remember all the moves, right?"

    "Of course," Shane said.

    Espy leaned over and whispered, "Good, because we're gonna deviate from the script a bit."

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

    Espy nodded. "Like I said… follow my lead." Shane frowned. "Oh, relax. I'm not going to do anything weird, if that's what you're thinking. Cosplay Pikachu said to keep everyone distracted… and that includes Vaporeon."

    "All right, you two. Time to go out there and show 'em what you're made of," Vaporeon said, approaching the duo from their left.

    "Got it," Espy said. After a quick couple of breaths, Espy strutted out on stage, hips and tail swaying back and forth. Shane walked behind her, mimicking the gesture. Small trails of frost streamed off his tails, drawing a raised eyebrow from Tessa. She wondered if Shane did that on purpose.

    Her aura feelers twitched. Tessa looked behind her, where Kahuna Raichu was waving her over. Tessa approached him, leaning against the wall to keep him hidden. "How's everything going?" she asked.

    "Not too good, yeah. We tried attacking the spots where the chains are anchored and that didn't do anything. It just upset those Ultra Beast thingies. They tried to zap us, but the chains absorbed their lightning and sent it up to the music crystals," Kahuna Raichu whispered.

    "Hmm… I can't really help you two without seeing the chains for myself," Tessa said. She tapped her right foot on the floor impatiently. "There's something that's coming to mind about what we could do, but I can't put my paw on it."

    "Ladies and gentlemon… give a warm welcome to Ninetales and Espeon!"

    The loud announcement made Tessa jump off the wall. "Sorry, I've gotta help keep Vaporeon distracted. You, uh, keep up your investigation." She jogged back to join the others while Kahuna Raichu retreated into the secret room.

    Onstage, Espy and Shane stood facing one another. The stage lights dimmed. Red, rose-shaped light patters lay scattered around them. The crowd offered a smattering of anticipatory applause. Espy leaned forward, stomping her right forepaw down between Shane's forelegs as a single piano note chimed. Her determined expression refused to falter. "Are you ready? These folks are gonna want a show," Espy whispered.

    Recalling the notes he had read in his changing room, Shane leaned forward, brushing his chest against Espy's. He stomped his right forepaw down in time with a second piano beat. "Then let's give them something to remember," he said, tails flicking to his left. He shot a quick glance at the crowd and smirked, drawing scattered whistles.

    An accordion played, backed by a piano and occasional bursts of clapping. Espy confidently marched forward while Shane glided backward, each paw movement perfectly synchronized. They reached stage right, at which point Shane leaned his upper body down as Espy stood over him. He lifted his hips up as she placed a forepaw on his head and swirled his mane around, spreading snowflakes and glitter across the stage.

    Shane sprang up as if he was pouncing on unsuspecting prey. Now Espy was quickly walking backwards as Shane approached her, fluffing out his tails with each step. Catcalls and whistles sounded from the audience, but Shane ignored them. He got up in Espy's face and smirked wide enough to show off his glistening fangs. Espy stepped to Shane's right, brushing her side against his and dragging her tail along his coat.

    When Espy reached Shane's tails, he stepped forward, pivoted, and leaped over Espy, leaving a trail of snowflakes and glitter behind him. Castanets rang out from the speakers. Shane landed and pivoted to face Espy. She weaved to her left, walking in a semicircle toward Shane's tails. Shane mirrored the gesture. They slowly circled one another, their pace getting faster. Just as another castanet string played out, their shoulders and hips grazed, drawing excited hollers from the crowd.

    "Jump onto your hind legs," Espy whispered, turning to face Shane.

    "Huh? Why?" Shane whispered back.

    "I told you… follow my lead," Espy said, rearing up on her hind legs. Shane did the same, at which point Espy's forehead gem glowed. She grabbed hold of Shane with her telekinesis and brought him close. Shane clenched his jaws tight to avoid barking in surprise as his forelegs draped over Espy's shoulders. He stared into Espy's glowing eyes, her muzzle hovering inches from his. His heart went into overdrive, thumping hard enough form him to feel every beat.

    Espy used her psychic powers to move her right hind leg forward. She dipped Shane over so that he was facing the crowd upside down. Shane dragged the tips of his tails along the ground, and whipped them out to both sides. He wrapped them around Espy's back as she lifted him upright. Espy leaned backward, her telekinesis keeping her from falling flat on her back. She smiled and stretched out her forelegs. A chorus of cheers erupted as Espy's telekinesis made it seem like Shane was pulling Espy back up on her hind legs using only his tails.

    Once she was upright, she put her forepaws on Shane's shoulders and leaned in toward him, rubbing up against his cheek. "I'm going to spin you, now. Use an Aurora Beam or Frost Breath or something. That ought to rile up the crowd," she said.

    "Wait, you want me to—" Shane started, only for Espy to back up slightly, place both forepaws on Shane's torso, and push him backward while twisting his body around. Her telekinesis did all the work, spinning Shane around like a fluffy white top. Shane bit his tongue, resisting the urge to shout or call for help. Instead, he remembered Espy's instructions. He opened up his mouth and released an aurora. Bright, colorful light filled up the stage. Espy dropped back to all fours and backed up toward stage right.

    "What are they doing?" Vaporeon growled from the other side of the stage. He stared down in disbelief at a clipboard on the floor. "This isn't part of the act at all! These two are—"

    "Positively amazing!" Silvally trilled, fish tail wagging as fast as it could go. "Wouldn't you say, Tessa?" He glanced to his left, where his teammate stood, left paw tightly clutching the edge of the curtain. "Um… Tessa? Are you there?"

    Tessa stiffened, tugging so violently on the curtain she nearly tore it. "Y-yeah! I just… uh… sorry, I got caught up by their dancing," she mumbled, face bright red.

    Silvally chuckled "Well, you're not the only one. Sounds like the crowd's eating it up, too."

    Tessa glanced into the darkness in front of the stage. Her aura feelers twitched. The audience clapped in time with the castanets in the song. A violin had taken over the main melody, backed by acoustic guitars. Espy and Shane stood opposite one another on the stage, each pawing at the floor. Without warning, they charged at one another in unison. Just when it looked like they were going to collide, Espy hopped into the air and landed atop Shane's back. His knees buckled briefly from the impact, but he recovered with help from Espy's psychic grip.

    Shane flinched as Espy nestled her tail in the middle of all of his. She weaved her tail around Shane's fourth tail. Espy planted a forepaw on the top of Shane's tuft of hair. "Use another Aurora Beam," she said. The violin got more frenetic. Shane did as he was told, only this time Espy ensnared the multicolored beam in her psychic grasp. Her pink energy intensified the aurora's glow. A rainbow burst shot toward the ceiling, leaving a trail of frost behind.

    Espy stomped on Shane's hips with her hind legs. Like an angry bull, Shane bucked his hips up, launching Espy into the air. She somersaulted twice before landing in front of him, sticking her head and tail upward and casting a defiant smirk in his direction. The crowd went ecstatic. "Now, make like you're going to attack me… and lunge," Espy whispered, turning to face him while maintaining her defiant smirk.

    Shane leaped toward her, fangs bared. Espy caught him in her psychic grip, locking up his limbs so he couldn't flail them about in a panic. The crowd gasped as Espy spun Shane around, snowflakes and glitter trailing behind him. After Shane finished his fifth lap around Espy she set him down and sauntered up to him, swishing her tail from side to side. She stopped in front of him and flicked the edge of his snout with a foreleg. The audience met her with a mix of applause and laughter.

    Not finding the situation funny, Shane's blue eyes glowed pink. He grunted as he hoisted a bewildered Espy into the air. She tried to open her mouth to protest, but Shane merely smirked. "Hey, we're trying to keep 'em distracted, right?" he said. Shane then tossed Espy into the air. Espy spun around, eyes squeezed shut. She didn't want to yell and ruin the act. To her relief, Shane ensnared her in another psychic hold and lowered her safely to the ground. Now it was Shane's turn to flick the tip of Espy's snout, to which the crowd cheered in delight.

    A part of Shane was in disbelief, but he was operating on pure instinct. He was so focused on Espy, he had completely blanked out the crowd's noise. "Alright, time to wrap this up. What are we going to do?" Shane finally tuned in to the audience, only for his ears to stick up.

    "Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"

    "Freeze the floor. I've got an idea," Espy said, jumping onto Shane's back. With a nervous gulp, Shane released another Aurora Beam, leaving a strip of ice along the center of the stage. "Now, run to the other end." Shane bounded across the stage until he reached the end of his icy trail. "Get on and I'll take it from there." Espy nudged the back of his head with her snout.

    Shane stepped on. Espy hopped off him and shoved him with her psychic powers, then slid across the ice after him. Shane stared wide-eyed at the approaching edge of the stage, only for an unseen force to spin him around. Shane tried to figure out what Espy's plan was, but was jolted from his thoughts when he came to an abrupt halt. His tails dangled over the edge of the stage.

    He was so preoccupied with his tails, he wasn't prepared for Espy rearing up on her hind legs, throwing her forepaws onto his cheeks, and planting her lips against his.

    XxX
    Next time: "Listen, are those twerpy voices I hear? Because they're speaking to me loud and clear, babe!"
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
  6. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Alright, now for the Viral Infection episode. Getting started off, we’re definitely getting into the actual plot now, with our first sight of Zero. I was a bit confused at first, because the initial introduction of Zero made me think she was some sort of enigmatic nebula with an eye, but here, it looks like she actually has some sort of tangible form. And based on some authors notes, it’s something bipedal and… armored? I guess that’s the right word, heh.


    We have a clear start to this episode, too. Using Sylveon and Eevee as bait. Espeon and Umbreon—but particularly the former—seem quite unnerved by Zero, and her reference to owning them and getting them “fair and square” makes me think that the two had some sort of Monkey’s Paw deal with Zero. Curious. But I guess we’ll see where that goes.


    ---


    In “A Paradox to Unravel” and then “Fearsome Frozen Hazards,” I think this is the first time where Espeon and Umbreon have demonstrated themselves as, well… I don’t want to say devious villains, not quite yet, but at least very good Saturday Morning Villain peons. Their less-than-stellar treatment by Zero solidifies this, of course. They have at least demonstrated themselves as a proper threat this time, doing a real number on Shane and Tessa, so I feel like I can finally take them seriously as a genuine problem for the group.


    I’m noticing a bit more kinship between the pair, which is good. Null’s mask continues to be an issue, but I’m wondering what they made the stuff out of for it to still be solid after all that combat and swinging, considering it already has a crack in it.


    Next up, “Heart of the Entercards” –terrible pun, by the way, I’m both impressed and disappointed. This was basically a giant boss battle—Dual Flunky Boss, in fact. I’m pretty sure Shane reference that at least twice. And, for what it’s worth… good job on showing the real struggle at the team of three being totally outclassed, yet still pulling out a win with a combination of wit and eleventh hour superpowers!


    I notice in your author’s notes that you said you cut out 1.5k words from this chapter. Goodness, I’m worried how long it was, because this battle went on for a LONG time. I think it could’ve actually been streamlined a bit further, actually. If you want some concrete examples, with the broad strokes, I’d generally follow good game design when writing out a boss battle—don’t repeat phases, because it feels like padding. So, I believe there were… two instances of summoning Necrospheres? Perhaps combine the impact of them by only having one of those. And I believe the ‘Eons went through two healing phases as well? Maybe if there was a way to cut those down to one as well… hmm… I don’t know, it’s tricky. I see what you were going here in terms of a crazy and drawn-out struggle, but it’s a little more on the drawn-out side.


    Speaking of which, I feel like Null was a bit… underpowered here? I don’t know. I have it in my head that the guy is a powerhouse compared to Shane and Tessa, but he feels underutilized. Is he slower? Yeah, he’s probably slower. That’s my guess on why he wasn’t quite as useful as I thought he’d’ve been—either that or you’re trying not to have him totally carry Team Radiance, heh.


    In any case, looks like Shane may or may not have freed the two from the Prism Virus’ control? Either they were strong enough to withstand it, or Z-Moves are the cure. I’ll have to wait and see for what the truth is. Considering your boasting elsewhere about your treatment of Eeveelutions, though, I have my doubts Eevee and Sylveon are fine.


    ---


    So, I actually don’t have much to say about the 2018 Halloween special. It was fun! It had basically nothing to do with the plot except to provide some background to one of the “extra” guild teams as of this point in the story, but I thought it was still a fun read. And the scene where they used their spooky scary ghost powers (going the ultra-ethereal route, I see) to beat a bandit into submission was fun, too.


    ---


    Now, on to Zero Sum Gain. I’m going to put the spotlight on Zero for this chapter, because it was absolutely focused on her to begin with. So! I actually wasn’t quite expecting Prisma to actually BE Zero in this instance, but yep, that’s definitely the case. And that explains the weird getup, too, since of course a human would be aware of that sort of culture to begin with. Her nonstandard attacks are pretty interesting, though without really knowing what they do, I’m not actually able to gauge their power or if she’s holding back, or what. And if she’s holding back, why. It seems like Dragonair in particular genuinely fazed her.


    And I was right, the two Eeveelutions indeed didn’t make it, though it seems like Umbreon and Espeon came along instead, somehow. I’m still pretty sure that the Z-power is the cure, in a way. I’m gonna combine this with the Valentine’s Day episode, too, because I feel like the reveals there tie in somewhat to this one—in that… goodness, you certainly threw down a lot of cards here, didn’t you? We now have explicit confirmation on who Necrozma is as well as who Zero is, though the how and why has yet to be seen. I suppose, thinking about it a bit more, it was a good way to put things, but I’m still startled at how quickly that particular card came about. You’d think there’d be a bit more buildup there! The Aura Sphere was a great hint. I would’ve personally kept it at that at first and then revealed it more explicitly later. But what’s done is done, and it’s really a nitpick at this point. All the big players are from the human world! And also Shane.


    The penultimate chapter of this episode was the first cooldown, so I’m wondering exactly what’s coming up for the final chapter of the episode! This breather, I don’t have a whole lot to say. I’m kinda surprised that the Guild was quicker to accept the ‘eon duo compared to how they were with Shane in episode 7. But that being said, I found the whole talk interesting, but I’m wondering what’s going on with Zero merely talking to them.


    A theory for me, based on what she’s done, is that she has a bit of an innate awareness of the darkness in the hearts of others, and she either amplifies that or uses that to exploit their inner weaknesses. Because in general, I don’t think that it’s very realistic for Umbreon and Espeon to do as they did “on their own volition” without either master psychological, ‘mind-reading’ awareness of their selves, or simply amplifying their darkness outright.


    And now that final chapter was an interesting bit. Happening all over the place, isn’t it! There were five things that really stood out to me in this chapter, some good, some less so. I’m gonna get the bad ones out of the way first—


    I know that this is a matter of taste, and I somewhat saw this coming after your meta talk in other areas and general implied spoilers, so I know this is going to happen again in chapters already published, but I don’t think it’s good practice to “show off” villains by unceremoniously killing or otherwise “jobbing” past powerful, canon characters. This applies to original works as well (such as the protagonist of a previous installment of a series being killed off / losing easily to a new foe, etc. to show off how strong / evil the new threat is, or for no real extra purpose beyond that.) but it seems to be particularly prominent in fanfiction.


    So while I was overall very interested in the dynamic between Zero and Necky (more on that later), I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the unceremonious defeat of Team ACT of RT fame. Killing off / whatever it is that Zero does to canon characters that otherwise hadn’t been super relevant to the main plot is just bad taste. Do it too much, and I stop caring altogether, because either it’ll be fixed in the end because of how devastating it would be otherwise, or the fic will be so unnecessarily dark toward the source work that I can’t help but feel like it’s an insult. I know it’s a bit of a far opinion, but it’s just a weird narrative choice. I was wondering when it was going to first happen, but here it is.


    Next up, the interaction between Lugia and Latias—while cute—was a bit hard for me to get fully invested in due to something you mentioned to me a while back about Special Episode 2. I don’t really know these guys all that well, but I’m seeing a massive emotional dissonance despite that. That being said, I think this is a very, very minor point compared to the one mentioned above, and I still got the feeling across, even if some of the dialogue was a bit on the nose for what I imagine was for the sake of expositing their relationship (and the relationship with the other Legends) a bit more.


    Next up… I was hoping that by the end of this episode, I’d have more of an idea on Zero’s approach to “converting” subjects. Unfortunately, I don’t think that has been made clear to me, and while I have some theories on the matter, I’m concerned that they haven’t been made more clear. A large number of your key characters show signs of being psychologically fragile, and this becomes egregiously more noticeable when faced with pressure of some kind. I feel like Zero got to Dragonair way too easily, just as I mentioned before about Espeon and Umbreon.


    At the end of episode 8, I think it’s because Zero is in tune with the darkness of their hearts and can amplify it to make them act, well, too vulnerable. But that wasn’t said explicitly, and without that, I’m left with the worry that your character just are like that, which… oof. So I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here that Zero has a bit of a cheat system in play to make them so weak before converting them, presumably with those shadowy Poké Balls that mind control them further. Otherwise, if it’s just natural psychological warfare… that’s pressing my suspension of disbelief really far. If it’s indeed a cheat system, I feel like it might be worth expositing that during the Zero/Necky scene a little, even if it’s just one or two lines, or something. I say this doubly so because you’re writing in third person omnipresent, switching easily from one psyche to another at the tip of a hat.


    Okay. Despite my rambling about the negatives, I want to make it clear that, despite its faults, this chapter was very strong—and this episode as a whole is your strongest one yet, I’d argue. The flashback… dream…? that Shane had was very interesting—and we finally see how Prisma is somehow related to all this in the human world, too, though I’m not sure why Necky had to get rid of Shane before he even became a Vulpix. I’m gonna keep that on the backburner, since I know that’s an incoming answer.


    I really appreciated the interaction between the two villains in general, though. It’s an interesting sort of dysfunction, and I’m curious on their exact circumstances, since there were little references to it. Overall, that’s definitely the highlight of this episode—getting to know the villains a little better. I think more happened in this episode than the past 7 episodes combined, actually, and I’m glad for it. Let’s see where it’s going from here, eh?


    Despite the fact that it’s starting to “get good,” I might take a break from reading the next episode until they’re fully edited in a few weeks (I think? not sure how long it is) and use that time to catch up on some other one-shots and stories in my backlog. I can ask you in private about other preferences from there now that I’m reaching a tipping point in my caught-up-ness, at least as it’s posted on bulbapedia.


    So, after I do all that, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next episode!
     
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    @Namohysip So my browser crashed while typing up my reply and I lost it. I'm-a need a bit more time. And better computer luck, clearly.

    XxX

    Chapter 78: Bringing Down the House

    "And that'll do it for the warm-up acts, everyone. We're going to take a short break as we get set up for the main event. In the meantime, feel free to help yourselves to some refreshments."

    The announcement didn't register to Shane. Neither did the dropping of a curtain over the front of the stage. He stared at Espy, muzzle agape. The Pokémon he had foolishly pined for — who had stomped on his heart earlier in the week, no less — had kissed him. It had come out of nowhere. She didn't offer the slightest hint about it. Was it a spur of the moment decision or had she planned it all along? Shane's mind raced while his heart thumped frantically in his chest.

    He knew his teammates were watching. Unlike his confusing encounter with Silvally, this display was public. There was no way to cover it up. He glanced toward the backstage area, trying to get a read on their expressions. However, his pounding head made them nothing but a pair of colorful blurs. Shaking his head, he locked eyes with Espy.

    "Wh… what was that all about?" Shane asked, blinking slowly.

    For her part, Espy stood completely still, save for the tips of her tails tapping each other repeatedly. She had her gaze fixed on Shane's heart-shaped tuft of chest fur. Shane thought back to his sleepless night in the Volcanic Wastes, when he saw Espy sneak off to snort stardust. The pounding in his head grew stronger. She was in a separate dressing room from him. Was it possible that she had taken something?

    "Say something, Espy. Why'd you just kiss me like that?" Shane said.

    "I… I…" Espy bit her lip. "You heard the crowd. I was giving them what they wanted," she said, walking past Shane.

    He stepped into her path. "I'm not sure I believe you. Before we started, you told me you had a plan. What am I supposed to make of all of this?" he said, frowning.

    Espy looked down guiltily. "Look, I… uh…" She pressed herself up against Shane and whispered, "I couldn't resist, okay?"

    Shane's ears stuck up. It was intentional. "But you… you knew I had a crush on you. What about what happened back at the guild?"

    "You were just a dorky little Vulpix back then. Now, you're… you're… look at yourself!" Espy whispered. "I mean, you're still a dork, yeah. But it's like I said last night… it's grown on me. And, come on, with everything Primarina's team did to clean you up…" She shook her head. "You're like a piece of white chocolate someone dangled in front of me. Too irresistible to pass up."

    Shane wasn't sure what to make of her comments. "Did you drink something while you were getting ready? Or take any stardust?"

    "What? No, of course not. I'm trying to stay clean. This was… all my decision," Espy said. Her ears and tail drooped. "Look, I saw an opportunity and I took it. If we weren't, y'know, on stage like that… I'd have probably gone much further."

    Shane's tails shot up. He finally took notice of his teammates looking at him in concern. "I thought you were trying to put that kind of behavior behind you," he said.

    Espy shuffled backward. "I know, I know. I had a moment of weakness, okay?" She glanced over her shoulder. "C-Can't we just agree to say we did it because the crowd was chanting? Y'know, to make sure we could get the Seaside Shard safely and stuff?"

    Her pleading look calmed the fluttering in Shane's heart. He sighed. There were things that he wanted to say, but he was confident this wasn't the right time. And a part of him was relieved Espy didn't want things to escalate at all.

    "I guess so," Shane said. He walked off the stage, tails stiffening at the sight of his teammates.

    "Wow, Shane. That was, uh, quite the ending you and Espeon put together," Tessa said, fidgeting with her paws. "I guess… you finally got what you wanted, huh?"

    Shane winced. Hearing Tessa say that actually hurt him more than Espy's attempts to downplay the actual kiss. He was pretty sure he knew why, but chose to keep those thoughts to himself. "You heard the crowd. We were just giving the audience what they wanted." He leaned in to whisper, "Y'know, so Vaporeon wouldn't get suspicious or anything."

    "Really? Because you two seemed pretty into it, from what I saw," Silvally said, a brow raised. His fire memories were active, adding a layer of intensity to his skeptical look.

    "Th… that was all part of the act," Shane said, gulping. Memories of the morning resurfaced. His headache promptly returned. One day as a Ninetales and he found himself overwhelmed by the attention he was getting. He wanted to stop everything and get his bearing straight, but knew he couldn't afford to do that in his current predicament.

    "You!"

    An angry Vaporeon marched toward the team, gaze fixed on Shane. "I don't know where you and Espeon got the idea to go completely off the script like that," Vaporeon said, eyes narrowing.

    "Uh… uh… I can explain," Shane said, eyes darting about the room. He worried that he somehow blew the mission for his team.

    "No need… because it was fantastic!" Vaporeon said, smiling and hopping into the air. Behind Shane, Espy and Silvally slouched over in relief. "Such a high level of improv is a classic Primarina move. That's how he got to where he is today, after all." He wagged his tail. "You couldn't have made Primarina any prouder. I guess having my original performers get sick turned out to be a blessing in disguise."

    "So, what are we supposed to do now?" Tessa asked. She glanced over her shoulder, where two Machamps were working to lift extra sets of lights up to the ceiling. "We do still get to watch the performance, right?"

    "Of course, of course. I've got a special area prepared for you. But first I've got to check and make sure Primarina's ready to go," Vaporeon said. "You guys wait backstage and I'll come find you when everything's set." He turned and trotted away from Team Radiance.

    Once he was gone, Tessa beckoned her teammates to follow her toward the backstage area. "Okay, so, an idea popped into my head when Espy and Shane went onstage," Tessa said, ducking behind a curtain wall so none of the stage crew could see her. The rest of the team tried their best to follow her, but Silvally couldn't fit. Instead, he sat down and faced the stage, pretending to watch the crew move the back wall out of the way.

    "What did you have in mind?" Espy said.

    "Silvally told me that Primarina chained up some Ultra Beasts using ley lines. Are we clear on that?" Tessa asked. Espy and Shane nodded. "Good. Because Kahuna Raichu doesn't have a clue how to free them. But it struck me that Espeon might be able to help." Tessa looked at Espy. "You've studied ley lines for years. If anyone can figure out how to free those Ultra Beasts, it's you, right?"

    Espy stiffened. "M-Me?" she said. "Well, you're technically right. It's just…" She traced her right forepaw in a circle on the floor. "I've always had Umbry by my side when I've studied ley lines. This would—" She gulped. "This would be the first time I ever did something involving ley lines without him. Heck, we combined our powers to make Entercards."

    Guilt welled up in Tessa's gut at the mention of Umbreon. "I know it must hurt to think about him. But we have to try, right?" she said. "Otherwise, Primarina will use those Ultra Beasts to power his music crystals and we may never get the Seaside Shard."

    "Yeah, you're right," Espy said, ears drooping.

    Shane glanced at her, biting his lower lip. Even if things were even more awkward between them, he hated seeing her distressed like this. "I'll go with her," Shane offered. Espy's ears stuck up. "Maybe I can tap into Solgaleo's spirit or something. It's worth a shot, right?" He looked at Tessa. "Are you and Silvally okay keeping watch?"

    "I guess. But what should we do if Vaporeon comes back?" Tessa wondered, crossing her arms.

    Shane frowned. "I dunno… lie?" he said, shrugging. "Tell him Espy and I felt tired and went back to our dressing rooms. If he doesn't buy that, then… uh…"

    "Then we knock him out and drag him into the back room," Silvally said, gaze fiercening. "I know his headset's got some sort of kooky sensor thingy, but we can't afford to keep being stealthy with the concert about to start. Besides, even if we trip the sensor, Primarina can't afford to delay the concert or waltz offstage to try and attack us."

    "That's a good point," Tessa said. "But what if Primarina sics some of these concert-goers on us?"

    "If we're hiding in the secret room, then most of them can't get to us. Plus, we'd hear Primarina's orders since he'd be singing them on stage," Silvally said. He stomped a foreleg down. "Look, we're wasting precious time, here." He nodded at Espy and Shane. "You two go help Kahuna Raichu. We'll handle things out here."

    Tessa worried that, like many of the team's plans, this would end badly. Nevertheless, she walked up to the secret door and pushed it open, saying, "Kahuna Raichu, sir. It's Tessa. Espeon and Shane are coming in to help you."

    "Great to hear, cousin. Cause I'm drawing a total blank," Kahuna Raichu said. Espy and Shane walked inside the room, only to freeze upon seeing the chained-up Xurkitrees. Electricity funneled through the ley line chains up into ceiling. Shane had no idea how Primarina could've done something like this, but it made him extremely nervous about what could happen during the concert.

    "These ley lines are connected to a giant pile of music crystals," Cosplay Pikachu explained, pacing back and forth in front of the Xurkitrees. "A bunch of energy's already been pumped into the crystals. Who knows what Primarina could do with all that power?"

    Espy's tail scrunched up. "If music crystals can play songs, then what if Primarina intends to broadcast his concert to the Horizon Continent?" she said.

    Shane's tails shot into the air. He couldn't begin to fathom how many Pokémon would be hypnotized if that happened. Gallian and Zoroark had ribbons from the rainbow scarf, but no one else on the mainland did. "We have to power down those music crystals before the concert can start," Shane said.

    "No duh. What we need are some concrete ideas. Any time either of us tries to get close to these chains, they come to life and sap more electricity from the Xurkitrees," Cosplay Pikachu sat, tapping her foot on the floor impatiently. "A few times the bolts have launched toward us. I can keep us safe because I have Lightning Rod, but my cheek sacs can only take so much current before I pass out."

    "Right. Could I just ask you to stick close to me, then? I'd like to take a closer look at the ley lines," Espy said. She walked up to the chains, while Shane hung back. By now, he was used to the subject of ley lines getting thrown around. Yet, it surprised him that they actually looked like giant chains. His tails curled up against his waist.

    Espy stood by one of the chains, forehead gem pulsating. "Nrrgh," she groaned, closing her eyes and staggering back. "Yeah, these are definitely ley lines. Their aura is as chaotic as it gets," she said, panting.

    "Can we move them? Or, at the very least, touch them?" Shane asked.

    "No. Doing that would be like walking up and hugging an Electrode when it's about to explode," Espy said. The mental image made Shane wince. "The way I see it, we have two options." She sat down, frowning. "The first is that we try to manipulate the ley lines ourselves. We'd need something like an Entercard to do that, though, and I can't create one by myself."

    Her shoulders sagged. "The other option is that we could destroy the parts of the ground and the wall that are anchoring the chains," she said.

    Shane's ears stuck up. That didn't seem too hard. "The second one sounds fine to me. Let's get started," he said.

    "You didn't let me finish," Espy said, eyes narrowing. "It might seem like the easier option, but you have to remember that these chains are not only filled with chaotic energy, but they have an electric current running through them. There's a good chance that, if we tried to break the ground around them, we could set off a chain reaction and bring the ceiling down on us." She turned to glare at Shane. "Are you really about to sit there and tell me you want a repeat performance of Glyphic Falls?"

    Memories of Espy's tail sticking out from the rubble of the cave-in flashed through Shane's mind. He rapidly shook his head. "N-no, you're right. We can't take that risk," he said. Shane lowered his head. Was that it, then? Did the team really have no realistic options to free the Xurkitrees?

    "Wait a second!" Shane said, hopping up and down with widened eyes. "What about Hoopa? He can make portals into and out of dungeons, so that must mean he can manipulate ley lines. We can call Latias and ask to borrow Hoopa."

    Espy jumped to her feet. "That could work!" she said, tail wagging. Espy opened her satchel and levitated out a Gear-Com. "Let's call her now." She activated the device, only to recoil as loud static sounded.

    "Gah! Turn it off!" Cosplay Pikachu said, pulling her ears flat against her head.

    After a few seconds, Espy switched the Gear-Com off. "It's no good. The signal's being jammed," she said.

    "So much for that idea," Shane said, sighing. "M… maybe… you guys should join Tessa and Silvally. I'll destroy the spots that are anchoring the chains… even if it brings the ceiling down."

    DoN't bE sO RAsH… tHeRe'S nO nEEd.

    Shane looked around the room in confusion. He had heard that voice before, when he touched the Sizzle Shard. Was his earlier assessment correct? Had the ley lines made Solgaleo's spirit stir inside of him? "Did… did you guys hear that?" Shane whispered.

    "Hear what?" Espy said, head titled to the side. "All I heard was you offering to make a boneheaded sacrifice."

    yOu cAN mAKe tHe EntErCArd… UsE tHe SHaRDs.

    "There it is again," Shane said. He glanced down at his looplet, where the compass-like rune was glowing. Shane was certain Solgaleo was talking to him.

    "Yo, Espeon, your bag's glowing," Cosplay Pikachu said, pointing to it. Espy turned to her right and gasped. She threw her satchel to the ground. The two Dawn Shards tumbled out onto the floor, flashing brightly.

    Shane trotted toward them. "Espy, I think I have a way to make the Entercard you need," he said. "Just now… I heard Solgaleo in my head. He said we can use the Shards' power."

    Espy's brow furrowed. "You really expect me to believe that? It took Umbry and I years to figure out how to make one. I—"

    The hidden door opened up and an unconscious, scuffed-up Vaporeon smacked the ground behind them. Tessa walked in and pinned Vaporeon down with a foot. "Guys, not to put any pressure on you or anything, but the concert's starting. If you have a plan, you need to put it into action or we're completely hosed!" she said, fists clenched.

    A thumping beat sounded in the distance, followed by muffled music.

    "Are you babes ready to kick things off?
    Cause you're as riled as a pack of Rockruffs!
    We're going to party all the way til' sunset
    Then go and leave the Prism Virus full of regret!"


    The music grew louder, accompanied by the cheers of the crowd. Static electricity built up in the room. "Get back!" Cosplay Pikachu shouted, shoving Espy aside. Stray lightning bolts struck her from above. More electricity raced through the ley line chains. The ceiling flashed brightly.

    "Espy, I know what I said sounds totally ridiculous, but we have to take a chance. We're out of time!" Shane said, using his tails to wrap up the Dawn Shards. While he had no idea how Entercards really worked, he couldn't back down. They had to take a gamble. "Tell me how you and Umbreon make Entercards."

    "Fine," Espy said, tail flicking to her left. "For all our sakes, I hope you know what you're doing." She leaned over and whispered into Shane's ear, then stepped away from him. "You ready?"

    Blue and yellow lights filtered in through the hidden doorway. Silvally staggered back, blinking rapidly. "Ugh… the stage is totally crazy," he growled, shaking his head.

    "I like the vibes you're all throwing down.
    But we can do a lot better.
    We're not here to mess around.


    This Necrozma guy is straight up nasty.
    But if we combine our powers,
    We'll make him timid as a Flaaffy!"


    A chorus of baaing sounded from the stage. Silvally cringed. "Ugh… I can't take this! Tessa's singing was so much better," he huffed. "Hurry up, you guys!"

    "R-right. It's now or never, I guess," Shane squeaked. He put his right forepaw in front of him, while Espy placed her left forepaw next to his. They each traced a circle in the ground that they linked together, forming an infinity symbol. The shards in Shane's tails glowed brightly, as did his forehead and looplet. Likewise, Espy's forehead gem sparkled with multicolored light. The light raced down each of their bodies and into the infinity symbol.

    A white beam rose out of the ground, only to fade a second later. There, sitting in front of them, was a small card bearing the same infinity symbol on it that Espy and Shane had traced. Espy levitated it into the air and examined the other side, showing off the sun symbol etched into the card.

    "Well? Did we do it right?" Shane asked, praying they had succeeded.

    "Yes," Espy replied without hesitation. Relief spread across everyone's faces.

    "That's great!" Tessa said, fist-pumping. "Now we just have to deploy the card and we can put an end to this stupid performance."

    Espy frowned. "I'm afraid it isn't that simple. I need time to make the Magnagate and I still have to figure out how I can successfully send the ley lines through it," she said, shaking her head.

    "What are you talking about. When Umbreon rescued us in the Temple of Body the Magnagate formed instantly didn't it?" Shane said. Espy flinched, her eyes glazing over. Shane cursed himself out for bringing up the one thing Espy was trying not to think about. "I… uh… sorry," he said. "That was uncalled for. What do you need to me to do?"

    "You have to provide a distraction… again. Find a way to disrupt the concert until I can get the Magnagate working properly," Espy said. She looked at Tessa and Silvally. "You two help him out. I'll need Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu around for what I have in mind."

    Tessa and Silvally looked at each other nervously. "Err… okay. But how are we supposed to distract Primarina?" Tessa said, scratching her head. "We can't just barge onstage… we'll get mobbed for sure!"

    Shane approached the hidden doorway and glanced outside. Colorful smoke spilled across the stage, mixing with flashing lights of different colors. The Brionne backup dancers stood on their tailfins, waving their flippers back and forth. Shane cautiously crept through the doorway, ignoring Silvally's panicked look. He needed to see for himself exactly what they were up against.

    "I'm the shining star that this world needs!
    I'll save the day, just you wait and see!
    For now, kick back. Let me hear you shout
    What other rhymes d'ya want me to bust out?"


    Primarina sat in the center of a large, metal construct stylized to look like a Clamperl. Shane's jaw dropped at the sight of a neon, crystalline turntable with music crystals sitting where he expected the records to be. Primarina reached his right, glitter-covered fin forward and spun the crystal like a DJ. Record scratches sounded as his backup dancers repeated his last line. The crowd roared its approval.

    Primarina raised his other flipper high and headbanged like a punk rocker. His rainbow hair whipped back and forth. The golden chain baring a medallion shaped like the compass sigil in Shane's looplet thumped against Primarina's chest. He pulled his rainbow sunglasses down to wink at the crowd, drawing excited screams from some of the girls.

    "I've got the moves to dazzle and stun!
    Just watch me, I'll shine as bright as the sun!
    Necrozma won't have a clue what's going on
    I'll leave his mind blown like a Blacephalon!"


    Multiple water bubbles sprouted forth from Primarina, each one glowing a different color under the stage lights. It was then that Shane caught sight of a blue gemstone tangled in the midst of Primarina's hair. He had no doubt that it was the Seaside Shard. "I've got an idea," he said, stepping back from the door. "We can provide a distraction all right… by trying to upstage Primarina!"

    All eyes in the room turned to him. "You can't be serious," Tessa said, slouching over.

    "I am," Shane said, beckoning Cosplay Pikachu over. "Hear me out for a second. Guys like Primarina thrive on hogging the spotlight. They need everything to go exactly the way they want or it throws them off their game. All we need to do is mess up Primarina's act and we'll upset him so much he won't be able to think straight." Neither teammate looked convinced. "Okay, I get that this idea is stupid… and probably a little crazy. But this whole situation is stupid and crazy! The best way to fight weird is by being weird… and, let's face it, no one on the team is more equipped to do that than me."

    "He does have a point… I think," Silvally said, tapping a talon on the ground and wondering if he had complimented or insulted Shane.

    "What did you need me for, exactly?" Cosplay Pikachu said.

    "Can your powers let you make outfits for other Pokémon?" Shane asked.

    Cosplay Pikachu's eyes sparkled. "Are you kidding? Of course!" She rubbed her paws together gleefully. "Just tell me what you have in mind."

    Shane nodded. "Okay, here's the plan…"

    XxX​

    Primarina smacked the music crystals on his turntable, producing a record scratch that cut off what sounded like an electric guitar. He tilted his head back and belted out a long note. Three fluorescent bubbles drifted forward. Three of his half-dozen Brionne backup dancers jumped into the bubbles, which caught them.

    "With this power we fly so high!
    Ask me for a limit? I'll tell you it's the sky!"


    He lifted his flippers up and the bubbles responded by floating up toward the ceiling with the backup dancers twirling around inside them. The stage lights struck the bubbles and refracted, producing rainbows across the walls and floor of the stage. Primarina clapped his glimmering fins together and the bubbles popped. The backup dancers fell down, somersaulting in midair, before landing gracefully in the flippers of the other three Brionnes. The crowd erupted in applause.

    "Beating the Prism Virus?
    Don't worry, it's a cinch!
    With my star power
    It'll be over without a
    hitch!"

    Primarina extended the last word, swelling up a water bubble that threatened to strike the ceiling and burst. The Seaside Shard glowed within his hair. The bubble shrank. Primarina grabbed it, bounced it off the turntable, and launched it toward the ground. He clapped his flippers together and the tiny bubble burst, showering the crowd in stardust of all different colors.

    "Are you all having a good time so far?" he called.

    "Yeah!" the crowd responded.

    "Aww, c'mon, that was weak, babes," Primarina said, smirking and shaking his head. "I said… are you all having a good time so far?"

    "Yeah!" the crowd shouted in unison.

    "That's what I like to hear. Now, let's—"

    Two blue blurs raced across the stage. Two stage lights exploded. Amidst the shower of sparks and embers, auroras shot out from Primarina's left. "What the—" He leaned over his turntable, eyes wide at the sight of his now-frozen backup dancers. Lightning streaked across the stage. Sparks filled Primarina's vision. He smacked back against the multicolored wall, his destroyed stage decorations barely visible with his blurry vision.

    The crowd descended into gasps and frightened murmurs. "Primarina!" several crowd members cried, with a few girls screaming for good measure.

    "Ungh." Primarina hopped back to his turntable, rubbing his head. His rainbow eyes blazed in anger. "Alright, babes! Just what the hell is going on here, huh?"

    White smoke poured out from stage left, drawing surprised gasps from the audience. Tessa's silhouette appeared in the middle of the fog. "When someone asks 'What's going on here?'…"

    "… it's our duty to answer!" Shane said, his silhouette appearing next to Tessa's.

    The fog abruptly disappeared. A light shined in on Tessa from backstage, revealing she now wore a white jumpsuit with a golden R streaked across the chest. Her chest spike stuck out from the center of the R.

    "Prepare for trouble… this concert's a hack!" Tessa said, pointing at Primarina.

    A second light turned on from backstage, revealing Shane. Like Tessa, he had a white jumpsuit running down to his waist. A golden R sat on his chest, underneath his open collar.

    "And make it double… because you're totally whack!" Shane said, flicking his snout skyward.

    "To protect the world from devastation!" Tessa said, rushing out on stage and crouching into a fighting stance.

    "And unite all Pokémon across the nation!" Shane said, leaping out next to Tessa and snorting out clouds of frost.

    "To showcase the power of friendship and love," Tessa said, forming a heart with her paws and winking at the crowd.

    "And extend our reach to the stars above," Shane said, his body flashing with a golden aura while his Naturia Looplet glowed.

    "Tessa!" she said, crossing her arms.

    "Shane!" he shouted, flicking his mane and using his mouth to catch the white rose that fell out.

    "Team Radiance beats foes back at the speed of light," Tessa said, throwing her right arm and posing.

    "Surrender now… or prepare to fight!" Shane finished, stomping a forepaw on the ground and fanning out his tails.

    "Silvally… that's right!" Silvally shouted, dashing in and skidding to a halt between his teammates. Two bursts of confetti came in from the left side of the stage. Silvally immediately turned around, fearing an attack from Primarina. But Primarina simply sat behind his turntable, slumped over in disbelief. Likewise, the crowd was dead silent. Shane feared his plan hadn't worked.

    "Hey, I recognize them! They're the headliners!" came a voice from the crowd.

    "Yeah! They changed their costumes," another voice noted.

    "Whoa… I didn't know there was going to be a stage show during the concert! This is awesome!" a third voice shouted. And with that, the crowd broke into applause.

    "Okay, I'll admit I had my doubts… but that was actually pretty fun!" Tessa said, giggling. "Saying that motto just filled me up with so much energy! We should do it more often."

    "Aha ha… whatever you say," Shane said, making a mental note never to let slip where he'd swiped that routine from.

    "I'm serious, Shane," Tessa said, still smirking. "Maybe when this is all over, we should consider performance careers."

    "Yeah… we could be actors," Silvally said. He and Tessa burst out laughing.

    "Rrrgh… amateurs!"

    Primarina slammed his flippers down against the turntable. "Just what do you morons think you're doing storming onto my stage in the middle of my performance? This is my moment, damn it!" he snarled, eyes twitching and veins bulging out of his forehead.

    "Ha ha ha! Didn't you hear our motto or is your head too full of your own music?" Shane taunted, eyes flashing gold. "We're here to take you off the air, babe." He smirked, trying not to let the relief show through. In truth, he wasn't sure if Primarina would take the bait of his act. But it looks like the plan had worked. They had knocked Primarina out of his routine and had completely frazzled him. All that was left was to keep up the pressure.

    "Get. Off. My. Stage!" Primarina shouted, slamming the music crystals with his flippers. The speaker-like crystals on either side of him whirred to life.

    "Move, gang!" Shane shouted, running right with Silvally. Ice and lightning rushed toward the stage, meeting sound waves with an explosive burst. Tessa rolled right, metal gathering in her paws. Her metal stream cut across the floor, but didn't make a dent in the giant crystal.

    "I'm the shining star that this world needs!
    Nobody's going to be saving the day but me,
    me, me!"

    Multicolored water bubbles streamed toward Team Radiance, met by a volley of ice, metal, and lightning. Colorful stardust streamed across the stage, to the delight of the crowd.

    "No, that's not fair!
    But I won't despair!
    You three are going down!
    I want you out of my hair!"


    More sound waves erupted from the crystals. Team Radiance rushed toward one another, narrowly skirting the attacks. Stage curtains and parts of the wall exploded.

    "Ha! You're not the only one who can carry a tune," Shane said, clearing his throat. "Ready, guys?" His teammates nodded.

    "The 'R' stands for readiness… we're always good to go!" Shane sang, glowing gold. Primarina deflected his pink Psychic rings with shimmering rainbow light.

    "The first 'A' stands for awesome… trust us, we already know!" Tessa sang, pink ripples shooting from her paws and bouncing off Primarina's barrier.

    "Your tunes are lame!
    They're just so sad!
    You want my fame?
    Well, that's too bad!"


    Primarina's singing produced light balls that closed in on Team Radiance. But Silvally stepped forward, leg muscles bulging and steam rising off his body. "The 'D' is for determined… we never mess around!" he shouted, slicing the light balls apart with metallic talons. White explosions erupted around them, drawing ecstatic cheers from the crowd.

    "Nnngh… stop it!" Primarina shouted, eyes twitching rapidly.

    "The 'I' is for invincible… you'll never take us down!" Shane and Tessa sang in unison, mixing pink Psychic blasts together. Primarina buckled deflecting their combined attack. Rainbow light shimmered from the Seaside Shard, streaming into his twitching eyes.

    "I don't care how much you sing!
    You're worthless scum!
    This world's mine to save!
    I'll be the one having all the fun!"


    He hopped onto the turntable and raised his flippers high in a pose. Water pillars shot out of the floor, but Silvally effortlessly weaved through them, nabbing his teammates in the process. Air Slash blades sliced through the water, exposing Primarina. The crowd whooped and hollered. "No… how are you doing this?! Everyone's eyes should be on me! I set up this concert… I did all the work… I'm the one with the power to dazzle the entire world!" Primarina whined, flinging a pink, moon-shaped energy ball toward Team Radiance.

    Metal raced out to meet the blast, accompanied by orange Heat Wave air from Shane. Silvally's head hardened into iron and effortlessly absorbed the remaining fairy energy. "News flash, you ugly Milotic wannabe!" Shane shouted, swishing his tails to showcase the two Dawn Shards wrapped inside of them. "You're not the only one who can draw a crowd," he said, smirking. "Keep up the pressure, guys!"

    The crowd cheered as Shane and Tessa leaped off Silvally, assaulting Primarina with ice shards and Psychic rings. Again a rainbow barrier emerged to drive off the attacks.

    "You're fooling yourselves
    If you think you can win.
    My barrier's invincible
    Soon you'll be a bunch of has-
    beens!"

    Primarina shaped his water bubbles into blades. They shot toward Team Radiance as Primarina held the last word of his tunes. The blades missed, but he fluctuated his pitch and they swooped back toward his opponents. Plasma wisps, blue aura flames, and an Ice Beam raced to meet the blades. Primarina raised his volume and the blades grew. They effortlessly sliced through Team Radiance's attacks. Silvally kicked his teammates away and met the blades with his talons.

    They drove him back toward the stage while Primarina danced around on his turntable, punching the air with his flippers. Just when it looked like Silvally would falter, Tessa socked one of the blades with an electrified fist. Shane swallowed the others up in a pink vortex of Psychic rings. Water droplets rained onto the crowd, drawing a chant of, "Ra-di-ance! Ra-di-ance!"

    "No… no! Stop it! Stop cheering for these worthless nobodies!" Primarina cried, hopping up and down on the turntable.

    "The second 'A's' for admirable… it's what we strive to be," Tessa sang, charging an Aura Sphere.

    "The 'N' stands for nimble… we quickly seize victory," Shane sang, ice gathering in his maw.

    "The 'C' stands for companions… we're a tight-knit bunch, you see," Silvally sang. Lightning shot off his body, meeting aura and ice.

    "I've had it up to here with you assholes… quit hogging my spotlight!" Primarina snarled. Sound waves blew Team Radiance's attacks apart and forced them to scatter.

    "You lot are finished.
    You can't keep this up!
    I'm a top-ranked explorer
    And you're a pack of hideous
    pups!"

    He smacked the music crystals on the turntable over and over. Shockwaves rippled through the stage. The crowd groaned. Some booed. Team Radiance all fell to their knees, Tessa gripping her ears in agony.

    "Ha ha ha ha! Aha ha ha ha! Y'see, everyone? Don't get suckered in by their half-baked routine," Primarina said, hair falling over his face as his sequin-filled vest slipped off his body. "They're worthless nobodies who've deluded themselves into thinking they actually matter! Nobody can outperform Primarina onstage! Do you hear me?"

    "You didn't… let us… finish the song. And we only had… one more line," Shane panted, surrounded by a golden aura. He cleared his throat and belted out, "The 'E' stands for experience… strengthening our bonds to last an eternity!"

    His Naturia Looplet flared to life. Shimmering cracks appeared in the air all around Primarina. Bright pink flashes engulfed him, accompanied by shattering glass. But when the light faded, Primarina stood confidently on his turntable, a rainbow barrier flickering out of existence. "See? There was only going to be one result here," Primarina said, smirking. "You losers were doomed to fail from the beginning!"

    He raised his flippers high and the Seaside Shard reacted. Bubbles formed into sharp needles over Team Radiance's heads. "Once I take those powerful fragments you're holding… my star power will be all that much stronger! Aha ha ha ha! The whole world will be dazzled by the great Primarina!" He narrowed his eyes at Team Radiance. "So long, chumps!"

    His blades burst apart. Primarina's eyes widened as water rained down on him. "What the—"

    The crystal speakers exploded in neon blazes, drowning out Primarina's enraged howls. Espy and Cosplay Pikachu sprinted out on stage. The former had a white jumpsuit on similar to Shane's, while the latter was dressed to look like a luchador wrestler.

    "Fight on… never give in! Make our enemies pay!" Espy sang. She nodded to her teammates.

    Silvally nodded back. "Because through darkest night…"

    Shane bared his fangs at Primarina, who sat stunned in the middle of his destroyed stage. "… and brightest day…"

    "Team Radiance always finds a way!" Tessa shouted, orange light spilling out of her Nautria Looplet. A giant lightning bolt formed around Tessa's right fist. She punched the air, launching the bolt toward Primarina.

    "N… no… I refuse… to back down!" Primarina howled, summoning another barrier. The bolt struck. It shattered Primarina's barrier like it was made of porcelain. Stunned, he fell back against the wall, his shredded costume dropping to the ground.

    "And now, for the finisher," Espy said, nodding to Cosplay Pikachu. They both stepped forward. "Listen up, Primarina! I'm part of Team Radiance, too. And in the name of the sun and the moon… we will defeat you and take that Dawn Shard!" She glanced at Cosplay Pikachu. "You ready?"

    Cosplay Pikachu's cheeks sparked. "I was born ready! It's time for this villain to feel the heat of Pika Libre!" Both jumped forward, Espy rearing up on her hind legs as light spilled out of Naturia Looplet.

    "Then let's do it!" Espy said.

    "Catastropika!" they shouted in unison.

    "I won't… give… in…" Primarina struggled to right himself. Shane knocked him back down with a dazzling burst of white light. Espy used her Z-Power to slingshot Cosplay Pikachu into the air. She spun around multiple times, then cannonballed into Primarina. Team Radiance jumped back. The electrified explosion blew apart the remnants of the stage. Curtains fell from the ceiling, along with the remains of the stage lights.

    Espy and Tessa cleared the smoke away with tiny telekinetic bursts. Cosplay Pikachu stood triumphantly atop a pile of smashed crystals. Primarina lay buried at the bottom of the pile. The Seaside Shard fell out of his hair and rolled to a stop by Espy. "P… powers… fading. Spotlight… dimming. My big moment… is over. Cross-fade… to black," Primarina mumbled, going unconscious as the rainbow patterns evaporated off his hair.

    "We did it!" Silvally cheered, jumping up and kicking the air with his hind legs.

    Shane stood in the center of the stage, blinking at the rubble pile. Silvally was right, but there was something more to this victory. A smile spread across Shane's face. They hadn't just won. They had won decisively. For the first time since their team had formed, they controlled the pace of a battle, not their opponent. Sure, they were only trying to stall until Espy could shut down Primarina's power source, but they had succeeded with flying colors.

    "Hey," Tessa said, trotting to Shane's side. "Nice work out there. We were really in sync today, huh?"

    "Hmm?" Shane's ears twitched. "Oh, yeah! Definitely! Absolutely!" He stuck his forepaw out and Tessa bumped it with her fist. The two exchanged a laugh.

    "Uh… guys?" Espy said, facing the crowd. "Not to put a damper on the celebration or anything, but I think the crowd might still be hypnotized."

    "What makes you say that?" Shane said, failing to notice the glow coming from his tails.

    "Ra-di-ance! Ra-di-ance! Ra-di-ance!" the crowd chanted.

    "Oh… right. Slight problem here, guys. I'm not really sure how to turn these Dawn Shards off," Shane said, laughing nervously.

    "Hang on a second. I wouldn't recommend doing that just yet," Silvally said, walking over to the group with an unconscious Primarina draped over his back. Shane raised a skeptical brow, wondering what Silvally had in mind. "Think about it, guys. We've still got to get these folks back to their homes. If we keep them hypnotized, then we can easily direct them out of the dungeon," Silvally explained. "Otherwise, I imagine there's gonna be a ton of confusion and utter bedlam."

    His teammates cringed. He had a point. While the battle wasn't as physically exhausting as their last few days had been, none of them wanted to deal with the headache of trying to calm down an entire crowd of frightened Pokémon. Still, something bothered Shane. "What about the wild Pokémon that live here and in the ocean?" Shane said.

    "Simple. We order the ones that live here to stay behind. And the ocean-dwellers can go back into the water from the beach in Circadian Coast," Silvally said.

    "That's a good idea, yeah. We're on the bottom floor, so there should be a warp point back to Circadian Coast."

    Kahuna Raichu floated out onto the stage. Vaporeon limped beside him, ears folded against his face. The two Xurkitrees stumbled in behind them, swaying back and forth uneasily. Shane's tails shot up in alarm. He had hoped they would go through the Magnagate and be someone else's problem.

    "Err, uh, hi there!" Shane squeaked, looking up at the Xurkitrees. Neither responded and Shane had no idea if he was even making what constituted eye contact for the strange Ultra Beasts. "Uh… wow. If only Sticky were here, we might be able to make some headway," he said.

    The Xurkitree's on Shane right crackled with electricity. Shane opened his mouth to say something, but Tessa put a paw on his shoulder.

    "Let's get everyone home safely first, then we can worry about the Ultra Beasts and… uh… any other loose ends, I guess," she said.

    Shane sighed. He knew she was right, but he was itching to figure out what had happened to the Xurkitrees. Shane walked up to the front of the stage and cleared his throat. "Hello. If you all can hear me… the concert's now over," he said, the glow in his tails intensifying. " Those of you who live in Sunset Shoals can hang around. For the rest of you, please form a neat, single-file line and follow us to the warp point. We're going to get you back home. Is that all right?"

    The crowd muttered its agreement. Shane sighed in relief. Their mission had gone well after all.

    XxX
    Powered-Up Pop Star, Primarina Deluxe
    While exploring the depths of Sunset Shoals, Primarina stumbled upon a fragment of the Dawn Hourglass. The sudden surge of power he experienced upon touching it intensified his deepest desires for fame and fortune. Blinded by a wave of newfound ambition, Primarina sought to use the Shard's power to make himself the most popular Pokémon in history by amassing an entire army of groupies to fight off the Prism Virus.
    Thus, we come to the end of the ridiculous trio of chapters. This battle changed considerably from the original plan. Team Radiance's little anthem is, in some ways, a spoof of the Team Rocket Team Song from the more recent seasons of the anime. So, yeah, Team Rocket found their way into this fic, too. The Serebii Rocket scourge lives on!

    Next time: here, there be dragons.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2019
  8. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Yes. mainly because, as the narration mentions, she's constantly emitting static and her body is distorting like a cluster of glitched pixels. So, it's hard to really see her appearance unless she's concentrating.

    Well, as you found out later, the "ownership" is, quite literally, a trainer/captured 'mon dynamic, with Zero as the trainer. Think of Mewtwo's weird Poké Balls from the first movie.

    I'll take it!

    Yes, as I said, their issues going forward will stem from the actual threats as opposed to their treatment of one another. And Null's mask is obviously made of plotnadium. Copyright, trademarked, do not steal.

    I will take it... for both the pun and the battle! I do not skimp on opportunities to make terrible Yugioh puns.

    Yes. Err, I was kinda following FFN logic where it needs to be very large to justify it actually being epic. <.<;

    It was really an issue of having difficulty hitting his foes, because his attacks are pretty clearly telegraphed and Espeon and Umbreon can warp around at will. He did end up carrying the team, though. Literally, in this case.

    Z-Moves do provide a cure of sorts.

    It was only meant to be a harmless little oneshot anyway, but glad you liked it.

    It's explained a bit in her scene with Necrozma, that she needs more spiritual energy in her grasp to better control the powers she gets from Necrozma's core.

    Uh, Zero being Prisma was a lot more foreshadowed than Necrozma's identity was. The biggest hint being "Prisma" talking to Tessa in her dreams about keeping Lunala safe... only for Lunala to be revealed as Dawn Wings Necrozma. That, combined with the Egyptian clothing references, tipped most people over the edge. You're one of, like, only two readers I can think of who didn't make the connection before these two chapters. By the time I wrote this, everyone was convinced it was the case, so I went ahead with a villainous motive rant since people had already connected the dots.

    I wouldn't say they were totally accepting, considering Metagross pretty much drags them off into an interrogation. XP

    You actually kind of reason it out for yourself a little later. But, to be clear, she's basically using Dark Ball shenanigans.

    As discussed earlier, Team ACT are retired, elderly 'mons in this fic. Necrozma pretty much fished up old geezers to give the proverbial middle finger to Zero.

    Essentially, it's a Super-like situation. Their bodies are still around (either grayed out or crystallized splinters), but instead of their spirits getting dragged into a hellscape, they're taken in by either Zero or Necrozma. So, yes, there's an element of "stop the baddie to free the spirits and maybe that'll fix things."

    It was mostly meant to be a tease of things to come, though it might've been a bit heavy-handed.

    It is indeed a cheat system of sorts. Think of a modified version of the Iron-Masked Marauder's Dark Balls and you've got the general idea of how it works. She's infecting 'mons with the Prism Virus, but letting them keep some semblance of higher-order thinking.

    Dully noted.

    All of that in do time. Those exact circumstances are still a secret even to the folks up-to-date on the most recent stuff.

    Well, as explained in the episode, Necrozma's core is literally stuck in Zero's eye socket, but she somehow forced his consciousness into Lunala. So, they're in a bit of an "I can't survive without you" stalemate. I won't say anymore beyond that. Thanks again for reviewing! ^^
     
  9. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 79: Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

    ~Rem Canyon~

    I think it's safe to conclusify that we've been heading in the wrong direction, Magearna said, leading the party along a jagged, narrow path through the canyon. Spikes jutted out from the canyon walls. They resembled curved dragon fangs and threatened to hit the taller group members.

    "Agreed. The signals have gotten weaker, not stronger," Sticky said, his visor retracting into his helmet.

    "If that's the case, why didn't we turn back sooner, huh?" Seraph growled, lightning crackling around her forearms. "We could've avoided a lot of unnecessary walking, don't you think?"

    "What are you looking at me for? I'm not making the calls here," Sticky said, wincing.

    "You've got the scanner," Seraph said, before a disapproving look from Luxeira made her sigh. "Sorry. I didn't mean to yell. It's just… if time's of the essence, shouldn't we be moving quicker?"

    This segment of the path loops north. The conditions are… cramplicated, I'll admit that. However, I believe this route is the fastest one available, while being safe enough to avoid detectification, Magearna explained.

    Blaziken froze mid-step. Not looking where he was going, Swampert walked right into his backside. "Oof! What's the holdup?" he grunted.

    "Tell me she didn't just say this route's safer out loud," Blaziken said, rubbing the bridge of his beak.

    "Eh? I haven't exactly been paying attention to the conversation," Swampert said with a nervous laugh.

    "That was rhetorical, Swampert," Blaziken said, sighting. "Hey, we need to get a move on into more open space. I've got a bad feeling we're going to run into trouble and we can't fight in such close quarters."

    As if on cue, Sticky's helmet beeped loudly. He summoned his visor, then flailed his arms about in a panic. "Ah! This is bad! I'm picking up multiple life forces moving in our direction."

    "Wow. Way to go and jinx us, Feathers," Seraph said, rolling her eyes. "Yo, Pinhead, how many folks are you picking up?"

    Sticky pressed his arms against his helmet. "Um, well, ten… twenty… n-no, I can't keep count of them all," he squeaked, floating up for cover behind one of the tooth-like rocks.

    "Shit! We've gotta move!" Seraph hissed, shoving Magearna from behind. Before Magearna could protest, Seraph charged forward, lightning-propelling her down the path. The rest of the group ran after her. Luckily, it wasn't long before they emerged onto a wider path with one side dropping away to showcase a view of the ocean.

    Any relief was cut short, however, as blue Dragon Pulses whizzed by. "We're taking fire!" Seraph shouted, turning left and issuing retaliatory blue Thunderbolts.

    "I can't attack from this distance," Dusk said, wincing as she hid behind Magearna.

    Everyone, get behind me, Magearna said, shooting Ice Beams from both arms. The nearest dragons strafed the ice, but two Vibravas and their Sliggoo passengers fell victim and plummeted to the ground.

    More blue, dragon-shaped beams rained down on the group, focused on Magearna. She stood tall, firing Ice Beams skyward in the face of the ineffective blows. More dragons backed off, roaring their fury.

    "We've got incomings on the ground," Seraph said. She punched the ground. Several dragons recoiled ahead of her. "I could use some help here, gang."

    Comfey flung a green energy ball ahead, which a Garchomp swatted away. A Flamethrower and a purple Dark Pulse raced by her, courtesy of Blaziken and Luxeira. Two Salamences matched the blows with Dragon Pulse beams and flew forward. Rocks jutted out of the ground to knock one off course. Swampert drove the other one off with an icy fist.

    "This isn't going to work. There are too many of them!" Comfey said. Purple tiles streamed in from behind her and lined the ground. A pack of Bagons and Shelgons were forced to halt their charges, leaving room for Blaziken, Comfey, Luxeira, and Magearna to strike and blow them back.

    Then a fireball struck Sticky and exploded, sending him to the ground. More fireballs rained down around the group, scattering them in different directions. Luxeira dashed in Sticky's direction, diving through the smoke left behind. She skidded to a halt next to him. "Are you okay? That looked like a nasty blow," she said.

    "I've been through worse," Sticky said, hovering back into the air. A scorch mark peppered his jumpsuit. "At least this thing's somewhat flame-retardant."

    Luxeira's eyes widened. "Duck!" she shouted. Luxeira grabbed Sticky by the tail and dropped him to the ground. Dragonfire grazed her back. Her heart nearly burst out of her chest. Luxeira curled up around Sticky, expecting to take a serious blow. However, the dragonfire subsided. Luxeira looked up. Blaziked had driven the offending Turtonator away with a kick to its sensitive stomach.

    Sticky squirmed out from underneath Luxeira. "Th-Thanks for the save, captain," he said. "Though, that was… unlike you."

    "If there's one thing these terrestrials have taught me… it's that teamwork is the way to go," Luxeira said, knees popping as she got back to her feet. "And, uh, no need for the whole 'captain' formality. We don't need to keep that ruse up anymore."

    "What can I say? I've gotten used to it," Sticky said with an awkward laugh.

    "Hey! Save the sappy buddy-buddy stuff for after we've saved our hides!" Seraph shouted. She waywardly hurled a blast of red energy forward, but a Dragon Pulse beam burst through the attack and a second hit her from behind.

    Seraph hit the ground with a yowl. Dusk fell down next to her. "Urgh… it's no good. We're completely surrounded," Dusk said, glancing right at the Druddigon pair dropping down from the sky. Even a lowly Trapinch burrowed out of the ground behind her. He leered at Sticky.

    "Exactly. You No-Scales cannot stand up to our might. Surrender yourselves… and your ends will be quick and merciless!"

    Sticky hovered closer to Luxeira. "Our ends?!" he gasped, only to take a face full of dirt from the Trapinch.

    "Don't move, w'aever ya are," he spat.

    Totem Kommo-o emerged from behind a dozen of his followers, sidestepping Sticky's tiles as he approached the group. His tail and battle axe jingled as he walked. Several dragons thumped their chests with their arms or wings.

    "I recognize that emblem. You are with that wretched No-Scales group that keeps trying to desecrate our sacred domain," Totem Kommo-o said, leering at Magearna. "I made it abundantly clear to you meddlers that you are not welcome here. Only dragons may stride the terrain of Rem Canyon!"

    "But I'm staring right at a Trapinch and he's no dragon," Luxeira said.

    With surprising quickness for one of his size, Totem Kommo-o was by Luxeira's side, the blade of his axe sitting inches in front of her snout. "I do not care for your patronizing tone, puppy-dog," Totem Kommo-o growled.

    "Yeh! I'll be a dragon real soon. Is jus' a matter o' time!" the Trapinch in question said, holding his head up proudly.

    You are the Totem of his location, yes? Magearna said, turning to Totem Kommo-o. I assure you, that my team here doesn't mean to trespassify on your domain. We are in the midst of a crisis… and we need your assistilance.

    Totem Kommo-o narrowed his eyes. "You would wander into our domain and try to brush it off with such a flimsy excuse? I ought to remove your head from your shoulders right this instant!" he said. Totem Kommo-o swung his axe in Magearna's direction, blue energy crackling in his throat. "How dumb do you think I am? Just because my people rebuke your communities, you think that makes you better than us?"

    Not at all. In fact… it is you whose help I am seeking, Magearna said. You, who watch over this domain and the dragons within it.

    "You attacked my people," Totem Kommo-o said, gesturing to the dragons all around him.

    "Only because you nutcases attacked first," Seraph huffed, tugging at her right whisker.

    "Maybe you ought to keep quiet? He seems agitated enough already," Dusk whispered, wincing. Seraph looked away from Totem Kommo-o, biting her lower lip.

    I am sorry. That was a simple matter of self-defeckence, Magearna said. This is all just misunderstanding. If you'd give us a change to explain ourselves, I'm sure you'd understand exactly what's going on.

    "Don't listen to 'em, Totem!" a gray-bearded Tyrantrum shouted.

    "Yeah, they're just trying to trick us! They know they're outnumbered! Don't fall for their lies!" the green-eared Noibat perched on Gray-Beard's head said.

    "Silence," Totem Kommo-o said, raising his free arm. "I am well aware of the lengths No-Scales will go to in a pitiful attempt at saving their hides. It matters not." He locked eyes with Magearna. "You have trespassed on our grounds. Thus, we must offer up your spirits to Lord Rayquaza so that he may continue to bless our domain."

    "Jeez. Talk about fanatical," Seraph said, rolling her eyes. Luxeira shot her a wide-eyed look, silently begging Seraph to keep her trap shut for once.

    "Um, hey, Mr. Totem Guy?" Swampert said, lifting a fin and waving. "What exactly does Rayquaza do for you, again? Because we happen to know him and—"

    Blaziken barely managed to yank Swampert out of the way of Totem Kommo-o's axe. "Blasphemy!" Totem Kommo-o shouted, his plated scales jingling. "Lord Rayquaza would never give No-Scales like you the time of day." His fists glowed bright red. "I will make you pay for such heretical words!"

    "It's true, though. We've been to Sky Tower. We're the ones who got Rayquaza to blow up the meteor that would've destroyed the planet," Swampert said.

    The dragons turned to one another, muttering their collective disbelief. "You make such bold claims, No-Scales," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "Well, you guys do live in a Mystery Dungeon, so I guess I can't blame you if you haven't heard the story of Team Go-Getters," Blaziken said, turning his scarf to show off his rusty badge. "That's us, by the way."

    Totem Kommo-o stepped back, his brow furrowed. "Of course I know the tale. It spoke of the heroics of a Torchic and a Mud—" He cut himself off as his subjects' murmurs intensified. "If you are really the heroes you claim to be… then prove it," Totem Kommo-o said. "Only then will I stave off my tribe."

    Blaziken reached into his bag and produced an aged emerald scale. "Behold! A scale shed from the body of the great Rayquaza himself as he blasted off into space to destroy the meteor," he proclaimed, holding the scale high.

    "Uh… gross," Seraph said, cringing. Comfey, Dusk, and Luxeira shared her sentiments, each looking away with varying degrees of unease.

    "You call that proof? Lord Rayquaza flies everywhere!" an Exeggutor with a white, absurdly long neck said.

    "Y… yeah! He probably shed that scale and you just found it somewhere on the ground," a black-tailed Deino squeaked from atop White-Neck's leafy head. "Also… as long as we're not attacking anyone, can somebody help me down? I can't see what's happening and I'm not so good with heights."

    "Damn, I was really hoping our good luck charm would pull through," Blaziken whispered, snapping his talons.

    "I think we're gonna have to bust out the big guns, buddy," Swampert said.

    "Looks like it," Blaziken said, nodding. "Watch my back. If it looks like I'm starting to lose control, pin me down or something."

    "All right. You guys still don't believe us? Then feast your eyes on this." He stepped toward Totem Kommo-o and reached his right arm out, showcasing the looplet around it. "See that piece in the center? That's a fragment of the meteor Rayquaza destroyed. He welded these for Swampert and me as thanks for bringing him to his senses."

    Totem Kommo-o scrutinized the looplet. "Who's to say some mage didn't find a meteor shard and make this?" he said.

    "The meteor shards have Rayquaza's primal energy in them," Blaziken said, stepping back from Totem Kommo-o. "And with it, I can do… this!"

    Blaziken raised his arm up. Orange light swallowed him up, forcing the nearest Pokémon to look away, shielding their eyes.

    "This light… it can't be!" Totem Kommo-o gasped. Behind him, his dragon flunkies backed away nervously. The orange light subsided, revealing Mega Blaziken in all of his fiery glory. Blaziken balanced on his right leg and kicked at the air, launching a jet of fire skyward in a display of force.

    "Mega Evolution! The No-Scale is Mega Evolving!" White-Neck gasped, long neck wobbling to and fro as he shuffled backward.

    "W-whoa, hey, take it easy! I can't see anything… and I don't want to fall and go kersplat!" Black-Tail squeaked, clinging to White-Neck's leaves for dear life.

    The other dragons all exchanged astonished sentiments. Not only had Blaziken used his Mega Evolution, he appeared to be in full control.

    "Whoa. So, that's Mega Evolution, huh? It's quite the sight," Dusk said, whistling.

    "Indeed. I remember hearing about this during training, but it doesn't compare to seeing it for yourself," Sticky said, hands pressed against his visor. "His energy levels shot up dramatically! If only your helmet was still intact, Luxeira." He turned to his teammate, only to find her totally transfixed on Blaziken. "Luxeira, are you all right?" Sticky said, waving his arm in front of her face.

    "Don't block my view, Sticky," Luxeira said, nudging him aside with her snout.

    Sticky floated back, frowning. "I don't get it. It's impressive, yeah, but she's acting like she's witnessing the most thrilling part of a show," he said, sighing.

    "Oh, let her be, Pinhead. She's just helping herself to some eye candy, that's all," Seraph said. With a smirk, she added, "I'm proud of her."

    "Wait, I don't see any candy around here. Least of all the kind you'd eat with your eyes," Sticky said, tilting his head in confusion. "Is there even candy you can eat with your eyes? Ungh, I think I feel a headache coming on…"

    "So, what do you think, Totem?" Blaziken said. "I can give you a demonstration, if you want." He pivoted so his left knee pointed at Totem Kommo-o's chest.

    "There's no need," Totem Kommo-o said, loosening his grip on his axe. "It appears Lord Rayquaza has deemed you worthy to wield his sacred technique of Mega Evolution. Though you lack scales, your heart beats as strong as that of any dragon in our domain."

    "Then you'll call off your tribe and help us with our situation?" Blaziken said, raising a brow. It all seemed too easy and part of him strongly believed he was walking into a trap.

    Totem Kommo-o nodded. "I shall." He paused to glance at his axe, then looked back at Blaziken. "Though, might I ask a question?"

    "Shoot," Blaziken said.

    "How long can you maintain that form?" Totem Kommo-o asked.

    "Well, the meteor shard supplies me with the energy for Mega Evolution. Keeping that energy under control does, y'know, put a lot of stress on my body." He put his raised leg down and stretched out. "It's been a while since I've done this, so it'd be tough to say for sure how long I can keep this up. The last time I Mega Evolved, I think I had enough energy to keep the form active for a couple of hours before needing to recharge," Blaziken said. He tapped the looplet with a claw and, in a flash of light, reverted to his normal form.

    "Wait! Can't you only use that power once when you're in a Mystery Dungeon?" Dusk said, shooting Blaziken a worried look.

    "In the dungeons where we're from, sure. But since yours aren't chaotic labyrinths, those rules don't apply," Blaziken said. He stuck his arm out so Dusk could see the meteor shard still glowing in his looplet.

    "I see," Totem Kommo-o said. He pivoted back to Magearna. "The timing of this commotion is rather awkward, I'm afraid. Why don't you tell me what it is you seek in our domain? Then I will discuss my current predicament."

    Comfey and Magearna explained the situation with the Dawn Hourglass. Yet again, the dragons around them muttered in surprise at the revelation.

    "I don't believe this," a second, smaller Kommo-o said. His turquoise scales clattered together as he crossed his arms. "Tapu Lele would never be so careless with such an important item!"

    "Well, she is a fairy-type. They're all pretty ditzy if you ask me," a Garchomp with a striped dorsal fin huffed.

    The pink-winged Altaria standing next to him glared at him. "Mind repeating that one to me, darling?" she growled.

    Striped-Fin's face blanched. "Aha… ha… w-well, you're technically only a fairy if you Mega Evolve, my sweet," he said. Pink-Wings still turned away from him with an annoyed huff.

    "Peace. All of you… peace!" Totem Kommo-o said, rubbing his temples. The dragons fell silent, with the loudest offenders looking down guiltily. Totem Kommo-o sighed. "I was afraid of this. It had been far too long since one of the Tapus came to reshape our land. Suddenly this jewel appeared and my scouts brought it to me. It resonated with my Totem Crystal. I told myself it was a gift from Lord Rayquaza, but deep down I knew he wouldn't just drop something like that into our domain without giving some sort of sign."

    "Um, excuse me? Might I ask a question, round metal thingy?" Turquoise-Scales said, raising an arm.

    Go ahead. And it's Magearna, Magearna said.

    "You said the Dawn Hourglass broke. Is that why the moon's been so big and bright lately?" Turquoise-Scales asked.

    I wouldn't say it's the cause, but they're definitatively related, Magearna said.

    "O… okay. Thanks," Turquoise-Scales said, frowning and looking down.

    "You there! Buck up!" Totem Kommo-o said, stomping in Turquoise-Scales' direction. He jumped to attention, saluting his leader. "This is not the time for whining or petty sniveling. An act of the cosmos has brought a piece of the Dawn Hourglass into our midst. It is our duty to see to it that the Dawn Hourglass be repaired. Are you all with me?"

    The dragons cheered, raising wings and arms in unison. "Excellent!" Totem Kommo-o said. "Come, outsiders. The shard you seek lies at our sacred shrine." He beckoned the expedition crew to follow him along. As they did, the various dragons flanked the group from each side, forming a procession that walked at an orderly pace with Totem Kommo-o at the head. Some of the winged dragons even took position over the group, scanning the tops of the canyon walls for any signs of trouble attempting to breech the dungeon.

    Comfey floated up to Magearna, who had her Gear-Com unit sticking out of her stomach. "Are you contacting Team Radiance?" she asked.

    Indeed. But it appears I can't get a hold of Espeon, Magearna said as muffle static sounded from the speaker. I'll have to try Gallian's device, then. She pressed a few buttons on the device.

    "Magearna? Is that you?" Gallian said.

    Correct. I've got an update. We've managed to locate the Scalebound Shard. The Totem is escorvating us there as I speak, Magearna said.

    "Wait, you actually got the dragons to help you?" Gallian gasped. "Whoa. I've gotta hear about this when we meet up."

    "Gallian, what's going on with Team Radiance? We can't seem to get a hold of them," Comfey said.

    "Yeah. They headed off to Sunset Shoals with the Totem here a few hours ago," Gallian said. "There's a real nasty storm around that place. Apparently Primarina's using his music to hypnotize people. Zoroark and I got involved in a scuffle of our own and we're patrolling Circadian Coast. It's, uh, a long story. If anything changes, I'll be sure to tell you." He disconnected the call.

    Up ahead, Blaziken increased his walking speed to keep pace with Totem Kommo-o. "So, what was this dilemma you wanted to talk to us about?" he said.

    "There was another group of No-Scales besides yours," Totem Kommo-o said, tail jingling with each massive stride he made. "Well, just two No-Scales, to be honest. But my eldest son was with them." Totem Kommo-o's gaze fiercened. "He had run off many moons ago. The tribe searched high and low, but never found him. For a time, I wondered if he had passed on to the Tree of Life."

    "Oh. Isn't that a good thing, then? Your son's safe," Blaziken said.

    "It's not good. He was in the company of the No-Scales. That means he left the dungeon," Totem Kommo-o said. "For these many moons, he's commiserated with them. I fear that they have tainted his being. His heart… his life force… it is not pure anymore. I am sure of it."

    Blaziken winced. He should've figured the guy who was ready to sacrifice him not too long ago would say something like that. "Right. I'm not really familiar with your customs," Blaziken said.

    "I understand. I'm in a difficult position, that is all," Totem Kommo-o said, shaking his head. "My son spat upon his heritage and his presence in our domain… can't be welcomed. Before I went to confront you all, I was planning to sacrifice him to Lord Rayquaza to remove the taint from our home."

    "Err, well, as an outsider, I can't help but say that sounds unnecessarily cruel," Blaziken said, scratching the back of his neck.

    "You sound just like my mate," Totem Kommo-o said, sighing. "She blamed me for Jangmo-o's disappearance. Told me that our customs are too harsh… that they drove him away."

    Blaziken looked around at the dragons in the procession. "Which one is she?" he asked.

    "None of them. Several moons after we gave up the search for Jangmo-o, I found her lying dead within our den," Totem Kommo-o explained. Blaziken stiffened, while Totem Kommo- shut his eyes. "That image… is burned into my mind. She looked so peaceful, like she was slumbering. I haven't the slightest idea what could've happened. It's almost like… like she died of a broken heart." He tightened his grip on his axe. "I thought that, perhaps, this was punishment from Lord Rayquaza for not reigning Jangmo-o in. He always rebuked my teachings, but I was grooming him to take my place."

    At this point, Dusk and Seraph had joined the duo. Both of them were silent, too nervous about angering Totem Kommo-o to say anything. Finally, Seraph cleared her throat and said, "Uh, not to be rude or anything, but this is very tough to follow. How do we factor into this, exactly?"

    Totem Kommo-o pointed at Blaziken. "I want you to duel my son. You must battle Jangmo-o… and hold absolutely nothing back." He clenched his free hand into a fist. "Exposing him to the sheer force of Mega Evolution will awaken the draconic spirit I know is slumbering within him!"

    Before Blaziken could protest, Totem Kommo-o sped up, signaling he refused to hear any debate on the matter.

    "Geesh… talk about harsh. I think I see why his kid ran away in the first place," Dusk said.

    "What have I gotten myself into? I'm a rescuer, not a family counselor," Blaziken groaned, rubbing his forehead.

    XxX​

    Jangmo-o stood on one side of a dusty clearing, legs trembling and scales caked with sweat and grime. Totem Kommo-o stood opposite him, his axe leaning against a rock wall. He tossed a rock in one hand.

    "Disgraceful!" he shouted, making Jangmo-o flinch. "We've been at this all day and you can't even muster a puff of smoke? You're not taking this seriously, are you?"

    "I… I'm trying!" Jangmo-o squealed, staring at the rocky debris around his feet. "I can't do it, Dad. Please, just let me stop for today! I'm too tired. I can't—"

    "We don't use that word around here," Totem Kommo-o said. "A dragon never quits! If his back's against the wall, he fights tooth and claw, with everything he has… and seizes victory from the jaws of defeat! Now… think fast!"

    He hurled the rock at Jangmo-o, who dove to the side. "Unacceptable! Don't dodge. You have to blast the rock with your Dragon Breath!"

    "B-But, Dad, I'm trying and it's not working," Jangmo-o squealed. "Why can't Mom teach it to me? She's the one who knows Dragon Breath, not you!"

    "Your mother is not the Totem, here," Totem Kommo-o said, grabbing another rock from the pile. "I must train you just as my father trained me… and his father trained him. Only then will the Tapus deem you worthy to inherit my power and serve as Lord Rayquaza's herald."

    Another rock flew through the air. Jangmo-o opened his mouth, letting out nothing but a weak gasp. The rock bludgeoned his face. He fell to the ground. "O… owie. My schnozzle," he whimpered, rubbing his throbbing snout.

    "You've got to put your back into it!" Totem Kommo-o barked, stomping the ground.

    "That's enough, dear! He can't take any more!"

    A Goodra with sapphire spots on her cheek and her tail waddled in front of Totem Kommo-o, spreading her arms wide. "You've pushed him beyond his limit," Goodra said, a frown on his face.

    "His limit? We haven't made any progress whatsoever," Totem Kommo-o said. "He's being lazy. I let you spoil him for far too long. Now, I have to drag his fighting spirit out of him or else the Tapus will never accept him."

    He reached for a rock but Goodra swatted his arm away, leaving a slime residue on her mate's scales. "He is done training for today. End of story," she said, her soft green eyes hiding her irritation well.

    "We can't just stop. Each day that goes by without any progress will only weaken his spirit further," Totem Kommo-o said, picking his axe up. "How can I expect him to one day take my place when he's so… so… so meek. Look at that belly of his! It's nearly touching the ground. No one will take him seriously like this. And his path to respect begins even before he reaches his final evolution."

    Jangmo-o lifted a foreleg and looked at his portly stomach. His tail drooped. Goodra saw this and jabbed a gooey finger into Totem Kommo-o's chest. "Did it occur to you that maybe he got his belly from me?" she growled, pointing at her round stomach. "Last I checked… my curves were one of the things you admired most about me!"

    Snickers rose up around the two of them. Totem Kommo-o looked over his shoulder, where a cluster of Salamences and Dragonites were huddled together, giggling at their conversation. "And just what do you think you're laughing at?" he shouted, raising his axe. "If you're looking to gossip about my love life, I'm sure my mate and I would be happy to drop by your dens and let you in on every sordid detail!"

    His eyes narrowed. "You can bet we wouldn't leave a single spot dry." He brushed a hand against Goodra's waist and flicked her slime in the onlookers' direction. The dragons scattered, some tucking their tails between their legs.

    "Ugh, see? That right there is your problem. You don't have a single compassionate bone in your body anymore," Goodra said, putting her hands on her hips. "You've forgotten how to be supportive… and with your own son, no less." She leaned in, frowning. "You can't keep putting him down when he doesn't meet your absurdly-high standards. He needs encouragement."

    "I am treating him the exact same way every male in my family has been treated for generations. It's not my fault your soft nature reflected so strongly in him," Totem Kommo-o said. "Besides, you knew what you were getting yourself into when you agreed to forge a soulmate bond."

    "Yes… because you used to have a heart," Goodra said. "You said you would rule over the tribe with a steady, measured hand. But ever since you took the Totem Crystal, you've been the splitting image of your father."

    Totem Kommo-o tightened his grip on his axe. He bowed his head. "My old man made me realize what's most important. And now, it's time I did the same for our eldest son."

    Goodra turned and walked away from him. She reached Jangmo-o and knelt down beside him. "It's okay, Jangmo-o," she said, running her hand across his back.

    "No, it's not. Dad hates me. He's going to keep making me do this stupid training, but I don't want to," Jangmo-o whimpered. "I'm not like him, Mom. I… I don't like our customs. I don't want to be angry and grumpy all the time. I want to have fun!"

    "There's nothing wrong with that." Goodra picked Jangmo-o up and cradled him in her arms. He sank into her slimy chest. "Let's go get you cleaned up. I'll see if I can try talking to him after he's had some time to calm down," she said.

    "Th-thanks, Mom," Jangmo-o said, sniffling.

    She took Jangmo-o to a watering hole to bathe him off, then they walked through the canyon until they reached the shrine at the very end. They circled around it and came to an opening in the rock wall. It led to a tunnel that branched out in different directions. Jangmo-o walked down one path until he reached a room with two small beds. His younger brother, smaller and thinner than him, lay curled up on the larger of the two beds.

    Sighing, Jangmo-o walked onto the smaller bed and curled up into a tiny ball. Within minutes, he slipped into a dreamless sleep that lasted until a sudden, loud thump woke him up. He stuck his head up, but couldn't see anything in the darkness.

    "Hey, li'l bro. You hear that?" he whispered, but got no response. As usual, his brother slept heavy enough to be mistaken for a Snorlax. Jangmo-o got up and crept forward, using his tail to guide him through the tunnel. A sigh echoed down from the other part of the cave, making Jangmo-o freeze.

    "Th… there. Satisfied?"

    It was his mother and it sounded like she was talking to his dad.

    "Yes, I'd say so," Totem Kommo-o said, his voice still loud despite a vain attempt at whispering.

    "Then you'll let me see to our eldest's training going forward?" Goodra asked.

    Jangmo-o's heart fluttered. His mom was following through. She really was getting Totem Kommo-o off his back. Jangmo-o had no idea what she had done to convince him, but he wasn't about to question his good fortune.

    "Dear? We had an agreement, didn't we?" Goodra said.

    "We did," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "And I'm giving you want you wanted. So, I get to take over his training, correct?" Goodra said.

    "You do," Totem Kommo-o said.

    Jangmo-o had to bite his tongue to stop himself from cheering.

    "… but not tomorrow," Totem Kommo-o continued.

    "What's that supposed to mean? Are you giving him a break?" Goodra said.

    "No," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "Excuse me?" Goodra hissed in a whisper.

    "One day," Totem Kommo-o said. "One day is all I need to make sure our son has a proper sense of discipline. Then, I don't care how you go about training him. He'll be ready."

    Jangmo-o's chest tightened. One day? From the sounds of it, his dad had a plan in mind. And Jangmo-o wanted no part of it. He remembered what Totem Kommo-o had said that afternoon. His father had made him realize what was most important. Jangmo-o couldn't even imagine what that meant. Nevertheless, he had no intention of going through with it. He didn't want to yell at his fellow dragons or spend his days perpetually grumpy. Jangmo-o wanted to enjoy his life. What was so wrong with that?

    'Dad won't stop until he turns me into his perfect replacement,' Jangmo-o thought. His mother couldn't convince Totem Kommo-o to stop, even though she had to do something it sounded like she didn't want to do. Jangmo-o's legs trembled.

    If he couldn't live his life the way he wanted to, then there was no place in Rem Canyon for him.

    He flinched. Jangmo-o knew what that entailed. No wild Pokémon had ever left Rem Canyon. Sure, the dragons with wings could soar above the Mystery Dungeon or out toward the ocean. But they only did that to hunt prey down for the tribe. He wasn't a flier. Leaving meant he could never return.

    Thoughts of Goodra filled his mind. He loved his mother and he didn't want to leave her. However, he couldn't stay and find out what his father had planned. As much as he wanted to tell Goodra what was happening, he couldn't. She was with his father. And if this was going to work, he needed to go now.

    Jangmo-o crept back toward his room, trying to steel his nerves. Every step brought up a new worry about the world outside his home. What kinds of Pokémon were there? Could he find food and shelter? How was he supposed to fend for himself when he could barely muster up the strength to use the simplest attacks?

    He dismissed those worries, believing anything was better than training under his dad. Jangmo-o returned to his room, where his brother still lay fast asleep. Jangmo walked to the back of the room and rolled a dim orb out from behind a rock. He lay down on it to prevent any light from shining on his brother.

    Jangmo-o glanced at the orb. He had found it several moons ago, when his father had dragged him out on a patrol. Jangmo-o wasn't sure what to make of the orb. But it was shiny and he liked shiny. So, he held onto it. Every time he touched it, the orb left him with a faint sense that it could somehow, inexplicably lead him to the outside world. And that was exactly what he needed.

    After a minute of lying on the orb, an idea came to mind. Without thinking much on it, Jangmo-o picked the orb up in his mouth and shattered it with his jaws.

    His younger brother jolted upright. "H-Huh? Hey, bro, why are you glowing like that?" he gasped.

    Jangmo-o didn't look in his brother's direction. Instead, his whole world erupted with bright light as an unseen force grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and yanked him upward. Though Jangmo-o hollered loudly, gale-force winds drowned out his cries. Then, as soon as it started, the violent lurching stopped.

    He fell to his belly, his entire world spinning. Jangmo-o tried to get to his feet, but toppled over and wretched the contents of his dinner onto the ground in front of him. He lay there, trying to blink the dizziness away. Jangmo-o needed to move. Someone could've seen something. A flier could be on their way.

    Jangmo-o got up, but couldn't keep his footing. He swayed from side to side and then fell into the puddle of vomit. "Augh! Are you kidding me?" he shouted, only to cup his forelegs over his mouth. Fighting off the disgust bubbling in his stomach, he rolled to his feet. There was a large cloud of fog in front of him. Under the moon's glow, it appeared purple.

    Without a moment's hesitation, Jangmo-o charged into the fog.

    XxX​

    Jangmo-o sat at the base of the Totem shrine, staring at the ground. Between his teammates and his brother, he couldn't bring himself to look up. If only he had spoken up and said something. Then they wouldn't be in this situation

    "I can't believe you," Sneasel growled. "All this time… you've had this cushy life with an important family?" He shook his head. "I never should've stuck my neck out for you."

    "S… Sneasel," Jangmo-o whispered. "I'm sorry. I just—"

    "Prisoners don't get to speak," Hakamo-o said, stomping a foot down in front of a squealing Jangmo-o. "You were doing such a good job staying quiet. Don't ruin it."

    "Fliers are coming in. The Totem must be back!" Black-Fins said, pointing his claws ahead. Jangmo-o curled up into a ball. He was hoping he'd have more time to think things over. Instead, he spent it all mulling over the memories of his last day in his home. Now, he had no idea what to say to Totem Kommo-o. All he could do was sit there as the loud, forceful footsteps grew closer.

    "What the— Dusk? What the hell are you doing here?" Lycanroc barked, getting to his feet. Black-Fins knocked him back onto his rear, hissing a warning.

    "Midnight. I see my warnings proved useless, after all," Dusk said in the most stoic voice she could muster. "Look where your temper's gotten you."

    Lycanroc's eyes bugged out, but a scathing look from Hakamo-o made him hold his tongue. "So, Father, what are we going to do with all these No-Scales?" Hakamo-o said, rubbing his hands together.

    "Nothing. The Tapus have deemed these No-Scales worthy of entering our domain," Totem Kommo-o said. He then gestured at Team Go-Getters. "See, the leaders of this group are blessed with the gift of Mega Evolution. Now then…" He turned and pointed his axe at Jangmo-o. "On your feet, boy."

    Jangmo-o's heart pounded. Totem Kommo-o wasn't wasting any time. This was it, then. He had to say something. "N… nngh," Jangmo-o squeaked.

    "Get up, boy. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "Huh?" Jangmo-o said, meeting his dad's fierce gaze. He wasn't about to kill him?

    "The time you've spent outside our land has made you even softer than before. It is hearsay. I cannot let such a worthless dragon dwell among us," Totem Kommo-o said. Behind him, the members of the expedition team exchanged nervous looks. "However, we are in the presence of expert Mega Evolvers. You will face Blaziken in battle. Neither of you will hold anything back." He lifted his axe back up. "I believe the purity of Mega Evolution will wash away your rotten cowardice and unleash your dragon spirit!"

    Jangmo-o stiffened. He had to say something. Anything to save his hide.

    Totem Kommo-o leered at his son. "I do not have time to stand around watching you snivel," he said. "Either battle Blaziken or I will end you and your worthless friends."

    Lycanroc and Sneasel whirled on Jangmo-o, enraged looks in their eyes. Jangmo-o winced. He couldn't fight Blaziken. It wouldn't even be a contest. Jangmo-o figured Blaziken only needed one attack to snap him in half like a scaly toothpick.

    "You get up there and fight, doofus. It's your fault we're in this situation. I'm not dying because your dad's a freaking weirdo," Sneasel hissed in a whisper.

    Jangmo-o squeezed his eyes shut. Sneasel was wrong. This wasn't his fault. Lycanroc dragged him into the Mystery Dungeon. He wasn't even apologetic about it. This was no different from all the other times he had gotten blamed. In fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn't really experienced anything fun since he left his home. Jangmo-o only got to enjoy the few meals he was able to steal with Sneasel.

    'My teammates… don't really care about me,' Jangmo-o realized. It made too much sense. Lycanroc only kept him around because he was scared Jangmo-o would run to the cops and snitch about their prison break.

    "So, you still refuse to show even an ounce of courage?" Totem Kommo-o said, shaking his head.

    "Don't be surprised, Father. Running away seems to be the only thing he's good at," Hakamo-o scoffed, as Black-Fins chuckled behind him.

    Something inside Jangmo-o snapped. He got to his feet, earning an eyebrow raise from Totem Kommo-o. "Oh? Changed your mind, have you?" he said.

    "No!" Jangmo-o shouted, stomping a tiny foreleg on the ground. "I refuse."

    "Then you've sealed your fate," Totem Kommo-o said, hefting up his axe. Just when it looked like Blaziken and Swampert were going to intervene, Jangmo-o sprinted forward. He bashed his father's leg with a glowing tail. The blow wasn't enough to do more than rattle Totem Kommo-o's scales. Jangmo-o kept running, avoiding Totem Kommo-o's axe. He lunged for his father's tail and bit down.

    Totem Kommo-o didn't so much as flinch. He thrust his hips to his right, flinging Jangmo-o into the treasure pile next to the shrine. "And just what did you expect to prove with such a foolish gesture?" Totem Kommo-o said, stomping toward him. "You think you can earn my respect by blindly charging me down? How naïve!"

    A gemstone flew out of the treasure pile. Totem Kommo-o swatted it aside with his free arm, only to double over in pain. With a furious roar, he dropped his axe and cupped a hand over his groin.

    "Father!" Hakamo-o shouted. He turned toward the treasure pile, only to backpedal with a holler to avoid blue-purple dragonfire. Hakamo-o landed awkwardly on his tail. "Oof! H-Hey, what gives?" he growled, rubbing his rear.

    Totem Kommo-o pulled his hand off his groin and noticed the scorch marks along his thigh. "This is… Dragon Breath," he said.

    "Are you freaking kidding me? This whole time, you knew Dragon Breath, but you never thought to use it in battle?" Lycanroc said, red eyes flashing.

    "No. When we met, Jangmo-o told me he couldn't use Dragon Breath to save his hide," Sneasel whispered.

    Jangmo-o limped out of the treasure pile, right eye swollen and forehead scale cracked. "I'm done… listening to you. To all of you!" Jangmo-o shouted, spitting a mouthful of blood from his cracked lip onto the ground.

    Totem Kommo-o stood up. "What are you playing at, boy?" he growled.

    "I'm playing at the fact that… that you're a terrible leader! And an even worse dad!" Jangmo-o shouted, snorting tufts of dragonfire.

    "You take that back, punk," Hakamo-o hissed, launching dragonfire of his own. Jangmo-o canceled it out, nearly stumbling to the ground in the process. Hakamo-o clenched his fists.

    "I won't! Because I'm telling the truth." Jangmo-o turned back to Totem Kommo-o. "Day in and day out… it was eat, train, pray to Rayquaza, sleep, and repeat. I did everything you told me to, but it still wasn't good enough. You never left me any time for myself." He looked out at the various assembled dragons. "Nobody here ever gets time for themselves!"

    He limped toward his father. "Can anyone… in this tribe… really say that they're happy?" he said. "I know I wasn't. That's why I left. Our stupid customs… were driving me bonkers!"

    "I see that your time away from our home has corrupted you far more than I thought possible," Totem Kommo said, picking up his axe. He glared at Sneasel and Lycanroc.

    "No, it has nothing to do with those two," Jangmo-o said. To his father's surprise, he turned and blasted a purple fireball at his teammates. The dragons surrounding them scattered. Sneasel barely snuffed it out with ice shards in time to save his hide.

    "Hey! What gives? Quit being such a doofus," Sneasel growled, brandishing his claws.

    "You're not the boss of me," Jangmo-o said. "All this time… I thought you were supposed to be my friends. But I was just a meat shield for you two, wasn't I? Neither of you gave a lick about me!" He teared up. "I thought… you could show me what it'd be like to have fun, Sneasel. But you were lying. Being a thug isn't fun. Getting my butt kicked isn't fun. And being thrown in jail isn't fun!"

    Sneasel rolled his eyes. "It's your fault for being such a weak— yow!"

    Sneasel's red feather caught on fire. He dropped to the ground, trying to snuff it out. Jangmo-o blew purple smoke out of his face. "I'm done with you," Jangmo-o said, limping toward the statue of Rayquaza. "And I'm certainly not going back to living in this crummy place."

    Two glowing fists nearly connected with an unsuspecting Jangmo-o. Blaziken and Swampert appeared next to him, turning aside Hakamo-o and Totem Kommo-o, respectively. Totem Kommo-o glared at Swampert. "You dare to intervene in this?" he growled.

    "I want to hear what the little guy has to say. And I think you need to hear it, too," Swampert said.

    "I just want to be happy, Dad. Why can't you accept that?" Jangmo-o said.

    Totem Kommo-o's nostrils flared. "Because Rayquaza—"

    "Ultimately doesn't care what we do every minute of every day," Jangmo-o said. "Hey, listen up!" he shouted at the onlooking dragons. "Can any of you honestly say you're happy? Do you really enjoy living here and doing the same exact thing every single day?"

    None of the dragons answered him. Many exchanged blank looks.

    "But… but what else would we do?" Pink-Wings said.

    "That's just it! You don't know… because you've never had the chance to figure out what you enjoy about life," Jangmo-o said, looking Pink-Wings and her mate in the eye. "There's a whole continent out there beyond this place. We've always talked down about civilized 'mons and how weak-willed they are… but that's not true." He looked down. "I finally understand… we've had it backwards. We're the ones who are weak."

    Swampert coated his fists in ice, daring an angry Totem Kommo-o to attack his son. Totem Kommo-o stepped back, right eye twitching. "We… are not… weak," he growled.

    "Yes, we are," Jangmo-o said. "Maybe you've got strong attacks, Dad, but you lack something civilized 'mons like these No-Scales have."

    "Don't tell me he's gonna say friendship. It's friendship, isn't it?" Seraph said, rubbing the center of her brow.

    "They know how to work together… and treat each other as equals!" Jangmo-o said, turning to glare at Lycanroc and Sneasel. "All you've ever done is bark orders at us. At least Mom made me feel like I actually mattered. Where is she, anyway?" He scanned the crowd, only to see a bunch of despondent looks. "H… hey? What's with the sudden attitude shift?" Jangmo-o said.

    "Mom died after you left," Hakamo-o growled. "It's your fault. You ran away!"

    Jangmo-o froze. "No," he whispered. "That… that can't be true." He looked around, but it seemed that even the team from the guild already knew. None of them would meet his gaze. "No… no!" he shouted, stomping a foreleg on the ground. "This isn't… I didn't… it's not my fault!"

    He craned his head skyward and roared. It wasn't one of his usual squeaks or squeals. Nor was it particularly deep. But it was a loud, full-blown roar. Something primal stirred in his gut. The longer Jangmo-o roared, the more it bubbled to the surface. It was hot. Really hot. There was a fire in his belly that was spilling out and spreading across his scales.

    The heat grew warmer and warmer. His upper body lifted off the ground. Jangmo-o's roar strengthened. Hard, thick scales sprouted up on his forelegs. No, they weren't forelegs anymore. They were arms ending with long, razor-sharp claws. The new scales spilled across his torso and down his legs. An invisible force grabbed his tail and forehead scale and stretched them out.

    "Are you kidding me?" Lycanroc gasped, shielding his eyes from the blinding flash of white light. It faded, revealing Jangmo-o's evolution. He stood a head taller than his younger brother, with a longer neck, a more-pointed snout, and blue scales at the end of his tail.

    "Seriously? This is just great… now everyone's gonna think we're the same," his brother said, clenching a fist.

    "Nah. We can call you Short-Claws … cause your bro's are way longer," Black-Fins said, chuckling.

    "You take that back!" the newly-dubbed Short-Claws fumed, stomping about in a tantrum.

    Fresh off his evolution, Hakamo-o looked down at his hands and flexed his claws. "This is... this has to be a dream or something," he whispered. The sight didn't make him happy. His mother was still dead. And he had run away without saying goodbye to her. Hakamo-o put a hand to his chest. Tears ran down his cheeks.

    "Perhaps now you'll see reason," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "No," Hakamo-o whispered. He opened his eyes and glared at Totem Kommo-o. "This is all on you. You were too hard on me… on her… on everyone!" Hakamo-o leaped up and grabbed the Scalebound Shard from its spot in the Rayquaza statue's mouth. An intense warmth surged through his system. Hissing, he tossed it to Magearna, who caught it in inside a gray bag.

    "I know what I have to do… and what Mom would want me to do." Hakamo-o looked at Magearna. "You guys… you need to take that somewhere, don't you?"

    Correct. We're bringing it to Circadian Coast so we can complete the Dawn Hourglass, Magearna explained.

    "Then I'm coming with you," Hakamo-o said, stomping toward Magearna. The dragons gasped.

    "What? After all this, you're just going to walk out on us… again?" Short-Claws said.

    Hakamo-o shook his head. "I'm leaving because I want to help. It's like I said earlier, these guys know how to cooperate and treat each other as equals. I think that's the key to finding happiness in my life," he said. Hakamo-o glanced at the various dragons near him. "Any of you are welcome to come with and help… or you can stay here. It's up to you."

    "Err, I don't think we need a small dragon army to make a delivery," Sticky said, rubbing his hands together nervously.

    Actually, I think an escort could be useful, Magearna said. If something does happen, backup would be greatly appreciatated.

    Pink-Wings and Striped-Fin stepped forward. "Count us in! If the continent's in trouble, then we can't sit around," Pink-Wings said.

    One by one, other dragons stepped forward. Totem Kommo-o looked around in surprise. Hakamo-o stared his father down. "Well, Dad, I guess this is good-bye… for real," he said.

    "We can't just… leave this Mystery Dungeon," Totem Kommo-o said.

    "You can. You just don't want to. But, unlike you, I'm not going to force anyone to do something they don't want to do." Hakamo-o said, smirking.

    Totem Kommo-o tightened his grip on his axe. After a moment of silence, he raised it up high. "Very well! After careful consideration, I, too, shall break with the traditions of our ancestors and provide protection for these No-Scales," he bellowed.

    Beeps sounded from Magearna's chest. The Gear-Com emerged from its compartment, quieting the cheering dragons.

    "Magearna, can you hear me? It's Espeon."

    Ah, excellsiative timing, Espeon. We've gotten a hold of the Scalebound Shard and we're starting the trek back to Circadian Coast. We should be there in a few hours, Magearna said.

    "Great. We managed to get the Seaside Shard. Primarina had it and… well, I think this is a story best saved for when we see you in person," Espeon said, chuckling.

    Seraph raised an eyebrow at this while her teammates shrugged. "Weirdness seems to be par for the course for Team Radiance," Sticky said, chuckling.

    Agreed, Magearna said. Fair warning, we're bringing back some extra muscle with us. We managed to recruit some of the dragons in Rem Canyon to help us.

    "Ah… okay. I'm not really sure how they can help, but I'll pass that along to my teammates. See you in a few hours," Espeon said.

    The Gear-Com retracted into Magearna's chest. Now then, shall we get going?

    The assembled dragons all saluted their approval, then formed up a circle around the expedition team. Hakamo-o joined the team in the middle of the circle, looking down at his claws and musing about what a ridiculous day this had turned into.

    End of Episode 13

    XxX
    Bit of an odd ending to the episode, I know. But this was the most logical breaking point to avoid having this episode end up being, like, 12-14 chapters long. I hope you enjoyed it, even if it wasn't as crazy as the past few chapters.

    Next time: there's a fog that needs clearing... and it's in Shane's head!
     
  10. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter 76

    This was an awesome chapter! (Awesome arc, tbh!) I loved Shane's rap, and the inclusion of Wildcard Gamma. Hmm... if they frequent there a lot, I guess they've obtained a Zero Day model and are using it in private. I might have to have words with them =P Missing Mod Madness has clearly got to their heads!



    I relate. I totally relate.

    The décor of the place... all them Primarina statues... Primarina's Ego Level intensifies?

    Chapter 77

    I'm glad Gallian and co took Clawitzer down. The ice harpoon is pretty imaginative!

    I felt sorry and mildly worried for Silvally here when he saw those chains. Its great he's got a handle on his memories, but yikes. That was a close call for Kahuna Raichu and Cosplay Pikachu!

    Those poor Xurkitree, too... I'm wondering what will become of them after all this.

    Given she was nervous, Tessa did really well with her performance! The brionne backing dancers were adorable. I do love the popplio line.

    As for Shane and Espy. Well... that was very unexpected! And it sounds like Tessa might be a teeny bit jealous, too...

    Chapter 78

    There is nothing I didn't love about this chapter. It was basically a sing-off or something XD Primarina raging at Tessa and Shane as they sneak in with their own rendition of the Team Rocket motto? That was fantastic! And I wasn't expecting Silvally to jump in with Meowth's line, either!

    The Catastropika was amazing! I loved that inclusion, given Cosplay Pikachu doesn't have a Z-Crystal. So that was a nice twist on Espy's part.

    At least they got the Seaside Shard back! And let's hope Shane can turn the Dawn Shards off, otherwise he might end up with a rather massive and unwanted zombified fanbase...

    Chapter 79

    As always, Magearna is delightful and I love her speech quirks. It was nice to get more insight into Jangmo-o... ahem... Hakamo-o. His back story is pretty tragic. I wasn't expecting that, or for him to fall out with Sneasel and Lycanroc. I hadn't ever considered Sneasel was treating him badly.

    So Magearna's team is heading back with a whole army of dragons, complete with Totem Kommo-o? It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Ahh... all caught up just as Chapter 13 has ended =D And am I right in assuming they have all the shards now? Yikes... I guess we're about to find out what happens to Shane and Solgaleo, then? D=
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Aha ha, thanks. It was just a silly spot cameo for the sake of being silly. XD

    He does love himself... a lot.

    I think that was my subconscious telling me that I really just want to write about pirates. XD

    There's still a bit that needs investigating on that front, you'll see.

    Good news, you're getting your answer with this next chapter! :D

    The idea was to have Tessa gain some self-confidence after she's been essentially beating herself up this whole fic. Yes, it was a silly situation to have it happen in, but I was still aiming for some development.

    Well, there might be some follow up/resolution/whatever you want to call it in this next part.

    Once the idea popped into my head, I decided to keep it despite how ridiculous it was. I had to. XD

    Thanks. I figured, since we'd seen Shattered Psyche already, the options were either Twinkle Tackle, Catastropika, or whatever Alolan Raichu's is called. Catastropika seemed the silliest (and a fun way to shoehorn Pika Libre in), so I went with that.

    I think they might find a way to avoid that issue. XP

    They're fun, though I try not to overdo them.

    Well, it wasn't exactly confirmed if Sneasel was treating him badly or Jangmo-o was just lashing out in the heat of the moment. Lycanroc certainly was, though.

    It's gonna be a wild one, trust me.

    We shall see. We shall see. Thanks for reviewing! ^^
     
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    This chapter is apparently just barely longer than the character limit.

    XxX

    ~Voltaic Crater~

    Vikavolt… Hourglass. I know you have it. Give it to me!

    Four metal arms bust out of a Chargestone. Wayward currents ran in all directions. Metagross smacked his arms together. A clang echoed through the blue basin, followed by a brilliant rainbow shockwave. Tiny bugs disappeared in bursts of steam and light.

    "You monster!" Totem Vikavolt chittered, landing atop an intact Chargestone. "Those Pokémon were innocent and you… you vaporized them like it was nothing!"

    Shard. I must… have shard…

    Drawing from the Chargestone, Totem Vikavolt arced lightning toward Metagross. His arms turned purple.

    Distance dodge… times two.

    Metagross effortlessly slipped past the lightning. Totem Vikavolt barely kicked off the Chargestone in time to avoid Metagross ramming it. He fired lightning directly downward, shouting, "I'm not letting you get away with this!"

    A psychic shockwave split the lightning apart and blasted Totem Vikavolt out of the sky. He plummeted to the ground, spinning and screaming. Metagross intercepted him. He drove Totem Vikavolt into the wall. Just as Totem Vikavolt's exoskeleton shattered, multiple colors surrounded Metagross' limbs.

    Disappear.

    A brilliant flash of light swallowed Totem Vikavolt up. His Totem Crystal fell onto the electrified dirt at the base of the wall. Metagross dropped down toward it, ignoring the splintering crater he'd left in the wall. He grabbed the Totem Crystal in his upper right limb.

    This does not… invalid registry, Metagross said. Totem Crystal… gave same energy pattern… as Hourglass. He clamped down on the Totem Crystal, shattering it. Wayward wisps of multicolored energy dissolved into the air. Metagross opened his claws, sprinkling the crystal's dusty remnants along the ground.

    Not here… not here… then where? he said. Must find… must escape. Can't be killed… I won't die. They must die… I will have peace. Metagross' eight limbs turned golden and he clapped them together. In a flash of multicolored light, he found himself back in front of the large, electrified archway marking the entrance of Voltaic Crater.

    Chargestones interfering… with ESP, Metagross said, floating out of the dungeon. He sped along the trail, hoping to put as much distance between himself and Voltaic Crater as he could. After a few minutes, Metagross floated to a stop. His eyes flashed pink. Scanning. Scanning. Scanning.

    Metagross' eyes narrowed. Hourglass located. Moving south. Approximate speed… unknown. Not very quick, though, he said, glancing at his limbs. Can't draw on powers to close distance. Must go after it.

    He was about to resume floating, when he paused. His front arms twitched. Tingling ran across the jagged metal where his cross once sat. Lifeforms. I detect multiple lifeforms… accompanying Hourglass. Some signatures are… familiar, he said. Former subordinates… are trying to use it… behind my back.

    I will not let them. The Hourglass is mine, Metagross said. I will escape. I will not die. They will not kill me. I will kill them first.

    He sped off down the trail, a stream of multicolored light trailing out behind him.

    XxX

    Episode 14: In Spite of All

    Chapter 80: Hazed & Confused

    XxX

    ~Circadian Coast, Daybreak Beach~

    Shane's biggest worry as he followed his team through the waypoint exiting Sunset Shoals was that, despite their best efforts, utter bedlam would erupt once the crowd was freed from their hypnotic states. And, certainly, that worry grew when Gallian, Zoroark, and Jolteon rushed toward them, looking quite confused. Espy proposed giving the wild Pokémon instructions to return home using their Dawn Shards, but was quickly shot down. That idea didn't sit well with her teammates.

    He was so lost in thought, he didn't realize Cosplay Pikachu had recalled the outfits she had made for the team into the glowing orb around her neck. Luckily for Team Radiance, Kahuna Raichu stepped in. As the hypnosis wore off, he gathered all the Pokémon up. Kahuna Raichu draped the crowd in warm pink light from his Totem Crystal. The confused and panicked looks on their faces faded.

    "Wait, I thought we agreed to no hypnosis," Espy said, brow furrowed.

    "It's not hypnosis. It's Z-Power… I think," Silvally said, glowing pink from his psychic memories. "Feels like he's using some sort of modified version of Calm Mind."

    "And just how's that supposed to work?" Espy said, ears twitching nervously.

    "In light of everything that's happened so far today, I think it's best not to dwell on that," Tessa said, rubbing the back of her head. Shane and Silvally both gave her nods of support. "Besides. We, uh, have a few loose ends that need tending to." She jerked her head in the Xurkitrees' direction. Gallian and Zoroark stood near them, eyes widened in a mix of awe and terror.

    "Oof. Yeah, you're right on the mark, there," Silvally said, wincing. "Why don't you tend to your brother? Espy and Shane can help me with, uh, these two." Silvally couldn't bring himself to look at the Xurkitrees. His head crest and ears drooped. He curled sand up in his talons.

    Noticing Silvally's discomfort, Tessa turned to Shane. "Hey, why don't you or Espy try to get those two out of sight. Like, over by the jungle," she said, pointing her left paw toward the edge of the beach.

    Shane turned around with a gulp. He had absolutely no idea what to do with the Xurkitrees. Could they even understand him? Shane had no real body language to go off of. He couldn't even tell if they felt calm or frightened by what was going on.

    "Um… hello? Can you guys hear me?" Shane said, raising his tails up and gently swaying them.

    Neither Xurkitree responded. They didn't even move. How was Shane supposed to know if he was making what constituted eye contact with these Ultra Beasts?

    "I'm, uh, part of the team that rescued you two," Shane continued, glancing nervously at his teammates. "We were hoping you could follow us over to those trees. Y'know, so we could talk to you… or something." He looked expectantly at the Xurkitrees.

    Electricity crackled around their heads. Shane's fur frazzled. A current shot across his mane, making it poof up. It ran down his spine and jumped between his tails, forcing him to spread them apart with a startled yip. "H… hey! Whoa! Take it easy! I'm not out to hurt you guys," he said, ears folding against his head. He wished he could borrow Silvally's type-swapping abilities.

    "You're supposed to have an ultra aura, right? You don't suppose these guys can sense it on you, can they?" Espy said, staring curiously at the Xurkitrees heads. No electricity was running down their limbs, so they didn't intend to attack.

    "Wouldn't that make them friendlier, then?" Shane said, digging his paws into the sand to ground himself. When the last of the current left his fur, he shut his eyes and scrunched his face up. He had to draw on Solgaleo's power somehow. Where was that burning sensation deep inside him? Shane needed it, but also feared he would accidentally attack the Xurkitrees and make everything worse.

    'Deep breaths,' he told himself. Shane found the burning cinders inside his spirit. He opened his mouth, as if to gather an attack, but instead released lukewarm air around him. The Xurkitrees stopped sparking as a compass-like symbol faintly glowed on Shane's forehead.

    "Please listen to me. We're not your enemies. My friends and I want to help you. But I need you both to stay calm," Shane said. He couldn't keep his grip on the fiery energy. It dissipated, along with the glowing rune. Shane stumbled forward. Espy caught him before he collapsed. Curiously, both Xurkitrees tucked their limbs in and squatted down so their heads weren't towering above Espy and Shane.

    "What's happening? Did you make them mad?" Espy asked, ears and tail shooting up.

    "They're not mad. They're just… confused."

    Silvally appeared beside his teammates. Tessa was at his side, rubbing his shoulder with her left paw.

    "You can understand them?" Shane gasped.

    "I think so," Silvally said, the pink glow in his eyes and crest intensifying. "That electricity crackling around them… that's how they communicate." His teammates gave him skeptical looks. "It's, um, I'm not sure they have the same level of intelligence that we do. All I can really pick up are their emotions."

    "Well, that's not going to help us," Shane said, figuring the day's real challenge wasn't battling an enemy, but trying to help the strange aliens. "Is there anything specific you can pick up?"

    "There's confusion," Silvally said. "But also… longing?" He cocked his head to the side.

    "Can't you try reading their minds?" Tessa said, frowning.

    "I could, but I'm not sure what that would do to them. The last thing I want is to set off a panic while Kahuna Raichu's tending to all those other Pokémon," Silvally said, frowning. "Hang on, I think there's one thing I can try." Silvally stepped forward, gulping. There were faint whispers in the back of his mind. Telling him not to help, but to slaughter. These weren't Pokémon, after all. They weren't worth his time or energy. Silvally felt piercing gazes staring him down from all directions, but couldn't see them.

    He shut his eyes. A purple iris with a slit pupil looked back at him. He scrunched up his face. Silvally shook his head. His teammates were counting on him. He revved up his cheek-bolts, generating pink sparks. The Xurkitrees twitched, then released stray bolts of their own. This back and forth continued for a few seconds.

    "I think I've got something," Silvally said. "The fear and confusion is from all this unfamiliarity. These guys are used to lightning. From what I could gather, their world is a world of electricity and little else." His teammates exchanged concerned looks. Silvally's head crest drooped. "You guys aren't doubting me, are you?"

    "What? No, of course not," Tessa said, aura feelers tensing. "I think we're all in agreement they were somehow abducted from their homes."

    "Like those Nihilego thingies back in the Cavernous Depths," Shane said.

    Tessa nodded. "The hard part for me is trying to envision a world of lightning," she said. "Like, are these two the only inhabitants? Or do the other inhabitants look exactly like them?"

    Silvally turned and produced more sparks. The Xurkitrees briefly crackled. "It's the latter," Silvally said, trying to sound confident. "Also, I'm picking up a vibe that's different than before. It feels… eager? Hopeful? I can't quite put my beak on it."

    The Xurkitree on the group's left raised a limb. Everyone tensed, fearing a potential strike. It lowered the limb in front of Espy, who stared at it with wide eyes. "Is… is it trying to talk to me?" she said, tail crinkling up.

    Silvally exchanged electric currents with the Xurkitrees. "Your bag. That's the source of the vibes," he said.

    "You don't think they want the Dawn Shards, do you?" Shane asked.

    "Wait!" Tessa shouted, causing everyone to jump. She cupped a paw over her muzzle in embarrassment. "Sorry, but I just realized something. If Primarina was the one who summoned these two, he probably did it by using the Seaside Shard's power," she said. Her teammates' eyes widened in realization. "If one shard brought them here… three should be more than enough to send them back."

    Espy looked at her satchel. "But… how do we make a portal to send them home?" she said. "I… I can't do it. Not after… not after…" Her tail curled against her belly and she winced.

    Shane stepped toward her. "I'll do it," he said. It made the most sense. Primarina got power-drunk off the Seaside Shard. Shane didn't want to risk the same thing happening to one of his friends. Besides, he knew he'd have to accept the full Dawn Hourglass' power eventually. The problem was, he feared drawing out too much power would cause him to

    "Shane, are you sure about that? The two shards you've touched already… those visions shook you up pretty badly," Tessa said.

    "I used the Dawn Shards against Primarina didn't I? Besides, I have to," Shane said. "I'm not…" His voice trailed off. "If one of you tries to do it, you might end up turning as power-hungry as Primarina did."

    No one tried to rebut him. They knew he was right. "Then let's use the Sizzle Shard or the Subterranean Shard," Silvally said. "That way, we run less of a risk of Shane having one of his visions."

    "I like that idea," Shane said as Espy put her satchel down in front of him. She levitated the Subterranean Shard out and set it by Shane's left forepaw. "Here goes nothing," Shane said, putting his left forepaw on the shard.

    Nothing happened. Shane looked down at it, brow furrowed. Maybe he needed to focus on what he wanted to do?

    'Ultra Wormhole… I need an Ultra Wormhole to send these aliens home!'

    A white-hot surge of energy shot through Shane. His looplet and forehead reacted, shining brightly with the compass insignia. Shane's skin tingled and his prickled fur ruffled as if a sudden gust of wind had battered him. His heart rate spiked. This wasn't like when he used the Shards during the performance. It felt different. There was a weight tugging on Shane's forepaw, but he didn't dare pull it away.

    He silently repeated his please for an Ultra Wormhole. This time, a brief ripple appeared in front of him. A purple eye flickered in front of Shane for a brief instant. His tails shot up in alarm. Shane shot a despondent look toward his teammates, but they didn't catch it. Instead, the pressure on his foreleg grew stronger. Hissing, Shane gritted his teech.

    His teammates stepped away, staring in awe as white light swirled around Shane. It sprang off him and hit the ground in front of the Xurkitrees. The light spread out like water poured onto a mound of sand, creating a swirling purple portal.

    "It's working!" Tessa said.

    Silvally's cheek-bolts sparked. The Xurkitrees got the message and hopped into the portal. As soon as they were gone, Shane removed his paw. The flow of energy ceased, leaving a residual numbness in Shane's paws and tails. He stumbled and fell onto his side, breathing heavily. Tessa and Silvally ran to his side.

    "I'm okay," Shane said. "I'm… okay." He shakily got to his feet. He wasn't exactly okay, but he was still himself. There weren't any extended visions. That was all that mattered.

    "I guess… that takes care of that," Silvally said, visibly relieved the Xurkitrees were gone. "I suppose we should regroup with the others."

    "Sounds good. You coming, Espy?" Shane looked over his shoulder to find Espy staring down the Gear-Com unit.

    "Yeah," she said, joining up with the team. The Gear-Com floated beside her. "So, I spoke with Magearna. It sounds like her group's got the Scalebound Shard… and apparently some extra volunteers looking to help." Her teammates gave her confused looks. "I'm not entirely sure what she meant, but it sounds like we'll have all the Dawn Shards together in a matter of hours."

    Shane slowed his pace, gaze drifting downward. Though this was good news, it left a sinking feeling in his stomach. He would have to accept the Dawn Hourglass' full power much sooner than he thought. Solgaleo's spirit would reawaken… and then what? Did this mean his time in the world of Pokémon – his time with his friends – was at an end?

    "Shane."

    Tessa put her paw on Shane's shoulder. He flinched, tails curling up. "Are you okay?" Tessa said.

    "Hey there, cousins! You get everything settled with those aliens?"

    Kahuna Raichu floated over to the group. Gallian and Zoroark trailed behind him. Cosplay Pikachu lay fast asleep in Zoroark's arms, much to his chagrin.

    "We did. And, even better, our friends managed to get the last shard. They're heading over from Rem Canyon," Espy said, tail wagging.

    "Woo! Sounds like everything's working out," Kahuna Raichu said, raising his arms up and smiling. "I was able to get the wild 'mons back into the ocean safely… and sent the guests back to their rooms to recuperate."

    "Um, so, should we set out to try and meet up with the others? Time is of the essence, isn't it?" Gallian said, scythe flickering pink and black.

    "Hey now, let's not get too hasty. You guys are pretty exhausted, aren't you? Maybe we ought to let Team Radiance rest up," Zoroark said.

    Gallian winced. "I just… think it's better if we leave," he said.

    Tessa stepped toward Gallian, confident his disaster sense was talking. Before she could say anything, though, Espy spoke up. "It wouldn't do us any good at this point. I mean… we never even thought about how we can put the Dawn Hourglass back together from its shards."

    "Hmm… that is an issue, yeah," Kahuna Raichu said. "If I had to wager a guess, the Tapus would probably know how."

    "Yeah. Braviary and Steenee are still with them, but I can't get a signal on their Gear-Coms… assuming they even have them," Espy said, looking at the Gear-Com with a furrowed brow. "For all we know, the Tapus might be blocking any signals out of fear Necrozma could find them." Espy sighed. "Latias said she could get the Tapus for us, but I can't reach her, either."

    "What are we supposed to do in the meantime, then? Twiddle our claws? That just doesn't sit well with me," Gallian said.

    "I think you should take the time to rest up. I can offer you all some food. And you can use my place to clean yourselves up, if you'd like," Kahuna Raichu said, smiling.

    "I'd appreciate that," Espy said.

    Sensing Gallian's continued restlessness, Tessa turned to him. "How about this? We take a bit of time to recover. Espy can get cleaned up first, then try contacting Latias again," she said. "As soon as Espy's able to reach Latias, we'll tell her to come over with Hoopa and bring all of us to the Temple of Balance so we can restore the Dawn Hourglass while we're safely hidden away."

    "I… yeah, that'll work," Gallian whispered. Tessa smiled at him and nodded.

    "In that case, I'm going to head to the infirmary," Tessa said.

    "What? Why? Are you hurt?" Silvally said, worry spreading across his face.

    "No," Tessa said, her expression turning crestfallen. "But, well, I want to make sure Jolteon and Vaporeon are okay. And—" She cut herself off with a gulp. "Someone has to tell Primarina about what happened to Serperior. He deserves to know."

    "Are you sure you don't want some backup?" Silvally said. "I can—"

    "I appreciate the offer, but I'm fine," Tessa said, aura feelers twitching. "You go get cleaned up. I'll catch up with you guys soon." She walked past the group, heading for the resort.

    "I guess we should get going, too," Espy said.

    "You guys can follow me back to my place," Kahuna Raichu said, turning to levitate his daughter out of Zoroark's arms. As the group walked, Shane cut Gallian and Zoroark off.

    "What's up, Shane? You need something?" Zoroark asked.

    Shane bit his lower lip. He had walked in front of them on impulse. "Um, well…" His voice trailed off. "Can I talk to you two?" he said.

    "Can't it wait until we're inside?" Gallian said.

    "No. I, um, it's a private conversation," Shane said. He needed their help, but his mouth was working faster than his mind.

    "Uh, okay," Zoroark said, exchanging a curious look with Gallian. "Wouldn't one of your teammates be able to help you better?"

    Shane shook his head. This was something that they were best suited for helping him with. The problem was his thoughts were muddled. He knew he had to say something before things got too weird.

    Memories flashed by in his head. He saw cafeteria tables. Classmates stood above him, their mouths moving but no words coming out. Nicky's expressionless face floated by. Then, they all faded to black, replaced by disembodied mouths. The mouths curled their lips into smiles and opened wide. They didn't make any noises.

    "Are you sure you don't want your teammates? You look… really out of it. And neither of us are healers," Gallian said, frowning.

    Shane stared blankly at the sand. Slowly, he opened his mouth.

    "When did… you figure out… that you liked guys?"

    The words came out without Shane even realizing. After he finished speaking, he blinked several times, then tucked his head against his chest. "I— sorry, I shouldn't have said that," he whispered.

    "I'm, um, not really sure what you mean by that. You're a Ninetales, after all," Gallian said.

    "Huh?" Shane cocked his head to the side.

    "Gallian, c'mon, you know he's technically a human," Zoroark said, shaking his head. "It might be different for him."

    "Oh… right. It's still kinda confusing," Gallian said.

    Sighing, Zoroark rubbed the middle of his brow. "How about this, Shane. Can you tell us why you're bringing this subject up?" he asked. "Maybe if we had some context, we could figure out how to help you."

    "U-um, well…" Shane's tails twisted around one another. He wanted their help, but was worried about recounting some of the things that had happened since yesterday night. After a few seconds of avoiding Gallian's and Zoroark's gazes, Shane mumbled, "I… it's Silvally. We kinda… might've kissed last night, I think?"

    Zoroark's brows raised. "Oh. So, this morning, when we saw you—"

    "That was an accident!" Shane shouted, flinching when he realized how loud he was. He shrank down toward the ground, ears and tail drooping. "And it's not just that. There were… a lot of strange moments… at Sunset Shoals. Pokémon were staring at me. Not 'making eye contact' staring, but, like, staring at my body. I'm pretty sure Silvally was one of them. Hell, I think all my teammates did it."

    "I just— I don't understand," Shane continued, shaking his head. "When we kissed, there was this tiny spark." He paused. "No, I think it was more than that. There was an urge… to do something more." Shane scrunched his face up. "But I don't… I can't… it was just an evolution high thing, wasn't it?"

    "I'm not sure what to tell you," Gallian said, sitting on his haunches. "Like I said, you're a Ninetales."

    "And, again, what does that have to do with anything?" Shane said, frowning.

    Zoroark put a paw on Gallian's shoulder. "I'm not sure he really gets it." He looked at Shane. "Listen, Shane, Ninetales are exceedingly rare. Like, aside from the Totem on Solstice Summit, I'm not sure if there were any other Ninetales in all of Horizon before you came along."

    Shane blinked slowly, trying to process this revelation.

    "In some respects, you're kinda mythical. And that sentiment spreads to your appearance, too," Gallian said. "My dad's old books mentioned Ninetales were highly sought after as mates because of how they looked. So, you shouldn't be surprised by what happened. In fact, I'd expect you to get your fair share of curious looks any time you walk into a public space."

    Shane took a cautious step back. "Y-you mean those Pokémon in Sunset Shoals were—"

    "Checking you out? Probably," Gallian said, shrugging.

    "No." Shane shook his head. "It… it had to have been Primarina's hypnosis or something. I'm not—"

    "I don't think it was," Zoroark said, scratching the remnants of his left ear.

    "W… why not?" Shane said.

    "Well, uh…" Zoroark tapped his claws together.

    "I thought you said you weren't going to bring it up," Gallian hissed, glaring at Zoroark. Shane's ears twitched. He didn't like Gallian's tone.

    "Oh, come on, he deserves to know," Zoroark said, pointing at Shane.

    "Will you stop talking about me like I'm not here?" Shane said, his temper slipping. He wanted their help, but they were only making things more difficult.

    "… fine," Gallian said, turning away. "The truth is… we, uh, might've been checking you out while you were preparing to Mantine Surf."

    Shane's tails shot into the air, then quickly curled up against his hips. He felt unclean. "Why?" Shane squeaked.

    "If it's any consolation, we both teased each other about it," Zoroark said, laughing nervously. Shane replied with a frown that said there was little consolation to be had.

    "Like I said… you're alluring," Gallian said, biting his lower lip. "And that's something you'll have to get used to. Pokémon that can mate… we all have some degree of attraction to both guys and girls. My dad said it comes down to your spirit. You can have plenty of crushes in your lifetime. But when you find a 'mon that you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with… you'll know. It won't just be your heart racing or your fur standing on end… something will stir deep inside you."

    Shane pawed nervously at the sand. "Then… what I felt with Silvally—"

    "Honestly sounds like you got a bit caught up in the moment. Like you said, it might've been the evolution high," Gallian said. "Truthfully, I had some similar issues when I first joined the guild. Vaporeon was assigned to mentor me and, well, I had a real tough time concentrating on my work. It might've gotten me in some hot water…" He paused. "Like, literally, because I did get Scalded in the face for trying to make a move."

    Zoroark burst out laughing. "And when were you going to share that with me, huh?"

    Gallian's face reddened and he looked away. Shane stared at the two of them, unsure what to make of everything they said. Part of it had to do with Espy. Between their conversation yesterday night and what happened during Primarina's concert, Shane felt like he was stuck in a labyrinth maze with no exits.

    Shane sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought this up. I'm just…" He closed his eyes and shook his head. "It's complicated. It doesn't even feel like I can really explain what I'm thinking. Like, one part of me is a bit upset that I liked kissing a guy, but the other part doesn't really care. I'm so confused and I don't really know what to think. Is my human mind fighting with Solgaleo's spirit about the subject?"

    He dropped to the ground and rubbed his head with his forepaws. "Nngh. I swear, this shit's gonna drive me crazy! Assuming I'm not already crazy! Because I kinda feel that way," Shane said.

    Gallian and Zoroark exchanged worried looks, wondering if they were actually making things worse. "Um, if you don't mind me asking, is there something wrong with humans being attracted to the same gender?" Zoroark said.

    "No— I mean yes! I mean, uh, maybe?" Shane said, ears folding against his head. "I'm not really sure. But—" He paused, his mouth still open. Shane's eyes widened in realization. The disembodied mouths floating around in his mind faded, replaced by the faces of his peers. Nicky appeared too. This time his expression was much clearer. He was distraught. No, he was upset. Shane was certain of it.

    Shane took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. He sat up, swishing sand out of his mane. "I figured out what the problem is. It's Necrozma." Shane paused, expecting Gallian and Zoroark to voice their concerns, but they remained silent. "Back when we were friends in our, uh, human school, we would spend time together. Every so often, some of our classmates would come up to us and make comments about how closely I stuck by him."

    "I thought they were just wisecracking. And my parents told me that the best way to win people over was to play along with them when they were joking around," Shane continued. "So, that's what I did. Only…" His ears drooped. "They weren't playing along. The things I thought were jokes… were insults. They were picking on me and, by extension, Nicky. But I gave them serious responses…"

    "Nicky got really upset at me. He told me I needed to keep my trap shut if someone came up to us when we were together," Shane said. "I didn't really understand what the problem was, but now I get it." He pawed nervously at the ground. "They were acting like Nicky and I were a couple… and when I took the bait, they used that opportunity to pick on us even more. Only I didn't pick up on it. I thought they were laughing with me… not at me. Which means that Nicky… he had to sit there and listen to our classmates call him gay."

    "And you're only realizing this now?" Zoroark said, raising a skeptical brow.

    "I, well…" Shane's voiced trailed off and he winced. "I wasn't, um, very good at socializing… when I was human. I think I probably misunderstood a bunch of stuff. I got told off a lot for making mistakes." He shrank down toward the ground. "When that happened, I would shut down. I didn't want to hear people telling me I was doing things wrong. So, I refused to listen to them… and kept acting how I wanted to act. And, well, that included Nicky."

    "But ever since I got here… things have been different. The more mistakes I make here, the more obvious it's gotten just how much of a screw-up I was when I was human," Shane said. "I'd like to think that means I'm finally learning how to work well with others, but I fear that this is really just Solgaleo's spirit shining through and that, in truth, I'm still the same stubborn, ignorant idiot I was as a human."

    "That's why this is bothering me. What happened with Silvally… every time I dwell on it, I'm reminded of all the foolish decisions I made when I was around Nicky," Shane said. "And there are so many of those moments, it's overwhelming! It's suffocating!" His breath came in short gasps.

    "You need to talk to Silvally about this," Zoroark said, a stern look on his face.

    "W… what? I—" Shane cut himself off and tried to bury his head in his tails.

    Gallian stomped a forepaw down in front of Shane. "Hey, listen up! You're doing the exact thing you just complained about… shutting down because Zoroark's telling you something you don't want to hear."

    "But I… I don't want to hurt Silvally's feelings. He's… my friend," Shane whimpered. There was also the fact that Shane was worried about Silvally losing control again, but he didn't want to bring it up.

    "Which is exactly why you should talk with him," Zoroark said, twirling a lock of hair in his claws. "Friends, family, a mate… they're all relationships. Each one needs a set of boundaries. I mean… I wouldn't exactly say I'm an expert on friendship or anything. But I'd like to think I'm experienced enough to tell you that a real friend is someone who knows you well enough to understand when they've crossed a line. Which, it sounds like, Silvally did for you."

    Shane's jaw slackened. In a swirl of light and colors, Zoroark faded out of Shane's vision, replaced by Nicky's blurry image.

    "For god's sake, Shane, you've got to stop being so clingy! You're just giving them more ammunition. Please… respect my boundaries, dude."

    "I see," Shane whispered, lowering his head as the mental image faded away. "Thanks… for helping me and stuff."

    Gallian and Zoroark exchanged unconvinced looks. "We should try to find Kahuna Racihu's place. After all, you must be pretty tired," Zoroark said.

    "No, I'm okay," Shane said, looking at them. "You guys go ahead. I need to do some thinking."

    "You sure?" Gallian said.

    Shane nodded. "I'll be fine. Like I said, I appreciate you hearing me out."

    "Err… okay, then. Guess we'll see you back in the resort," Gallian said. He walked along the beach with Zoroark following him. Zoroark was about to say something to Gallian, when he caught sight of Tessa walking past him. Gallian tried to get Tessa's attention, but she was focused on Shane.

    "Um, should we try to stop her? Shane seemed like he wanted to be alone," Zoroark said, frowning.

    "I think it's best if we stay out of it," Gallian said, his eyes flickering pink. "Much as I hate to say it… I think they can do better for each other than we can." With a sigh, he turned back around and proceeded toward the resort.

    XxX

    ~Frosty Grotto Summit~

    Even with prism armor covering her whole body, Zero hated the cold. It irked her that her last-second detour brought her to such a frigid place. She tolerated it in this instance, however, because it made for perfect cover. Using her psionic powers, she had whipped snow up from giant mounds around her, forming an icy veil to hide her approach. Zero floated in the air, knowing the crunching of her feet against the snow could tip her target off. Assuming, of course, her target hadn't already fled.

    Zero paused to focus on her aura sense. There was a weak flare pulsating a few yards ahead of her. It flickered like a dying candle's flame in her aura sight. She had no doubt the Pokémon she sensed was aged and, thus, the one she was looking for. Zero spun her staff around. She made a peephole in her snowy veil. There, pacing nervously around an ice-coated nest, was a raggedy Absol. His scythe, tail, and claws were brittle. The horn was even chipped at its tip. Absol's fur had grayed.

    "Apologies, old-timer," Zero said, raising her free paw. Absol's scythe flickered. He turned around. His eyes widened. Zero whipped her paw forward. A distorted red forcefield formed around Absol. He tried to run out of the forcefield, but found himself moving in slow-motion. Zero pointed her scepter at Absol. Red cube clusters popped in around the forcefield. Red, liquified spears burst forth from the cubes.

    They punctured Absol's torso from every angle. The forcefield silenced any agonized cries. Zero waved he right paw. The forcefield dispelled. Absol stood there, jaw dropped and eyes glazed over. Crystals spread out across his body. The liquid spikes retracted into the cube clusters. Zero pointed her staff at them and sucked them up like they were giant dust mites.

    Absol's spirit coursed up her left arm and dug itself underneath her mask. Zero dropped to the ground and closed her eye. With his spirit under her control, she could tap into his abilities. She had no interest in the moves of an aging Pokémon, however. It was all about his disaster sense. Though she suspected old age had dulled it, she could still put it to use. With it, she could know with one-hundred percent certainty that her plan with the Time Gears was feasible.

    Zero summoned the Time Gear in her possession to her right paw. She gripped it tightly and concentrated. Immediately, her heart rate picked up. Her eyelid twitched. Even her aura dreadlocks tensed up. Zero clenched her left paw tightly around her staff. Something about her plan was setting off her newly-obtained disaster sense. She had to figure out what it was.

    Could it be the Time Gears? Zero opened her eye and stared intently at it. Her heart slowed down. She shook her head and growled.

    Zero thought of the next component: Temporal Tower. It was needed to get access to the timeline, after all. Her heart rate picked up again. Zero stored the Time Gear with a wave of her staff, mulling over what about Temporal Tower presented a problem. The first thing that came to mind was the tower getting damaged and time standing still. Her breathing grew more labored. Her aura dreadlocks curled up.

    "The tower… collapsing?" she whispered, her eye darting about. "But why would—"

    Zero clenched her fist. "Necky," she hissed, shutting her eye. "It's him, isn't it?" In response, her aura dreadlocks lashed at the air like furry whips. She had her answer. Necrozma was trying to destroy Temporal Tower. Which meant, she had to stop him.

    She thought of her plan with Manaphy. If she could distract Necrozma, Manaphy could use Heart Swap. Her heart rate slowed a bit and her aura dreadlocks relaxed. She nodded. Her plan was sound. However, if Necrozma was going to attack Temporal Tower, would she need all the Time Gears, first? She opened her eye and looked at her red chest spike. Her heart rate hadn't picked back up again.

    The way forward was clear. First, Dragonite would steal the Time Gears. Then, she'd use them to get to Temporal Tower, ideally before Necrozma could. Nodding in approval, Zero raised her staff to open up a portal. However, her aura dreadlocks tensed. She looked up.

    "Stop right there, heathen!"

    A shrill squawk cut through the air. With a hearty flap of her wings, Articuno descended from a gray storm cloud. "I saw what you did. You're the vile mortal who got Zapdos, aren't you?" she cawed.

    "And what if I am?" Zero said, eye flashing blue.

    Frigid air whipped up around Zero. Aritcuno narrowed her eyes. "You robbed me of two dear friends! I will not let these injustices stand!" she bellowed. "I will freeze you to the bone with a single strike, fiend!"

    Zero tensed up, realizing Articuno intended to end her with Sheer Cold. She wouldn't give the god the chance. Concentrating on her spiritual energy, Zero shot into the air. A silhouette of Zapdos momentarily flickered in around her. Articuno was too busy concentrating on gathering gale-force wind for an all-out assault to notice. Zero silently raised her scepter.

    A multi-ringed sigil with a lightning bolt in the center appeared around it. Identical runes appeared over Articuno. She looked up. Her eyes bulged out. Articuno tried to back away, but couldn't escape the lightning storm that rained down on her from above. It seared her feathers and scorched her tail to a smoke stub. Articuno plummeted to the ground. She landed in a snowbank with an unceremonious thud.

    Zero tightened her grip on her staff. Black shadows spiraled around it. They dispelled, revealing a scythe resembling the one Absol had. Zero slashed the air in front of her. Numerous black and red crescents sailed forward. They tore through the snow bank. A pained screech echoed through the air. Blood seeped into the ice and snow on the ground.

    "I'll be taking your spirit," Zero said. She tossed the scythe. It spun through the air as if it was a spiky wheel. The scythe ran up Articuno's midsection, leaving behind a jagged red line. Black shadows spilled out from the distorted gash. By the time Articuno split in half, she was completely crystallized.

    Zero stuck out her left paw and caught the scythe. She felt Articuno's life energy wash across her. Zero flexed the digits on her right paw. She pointed it to her right. "Hurricane," she said. A sudden vortex whipped up in front of her. It tore across the ground, kicking up snow and rocks. She dispelled the tornado, sending its contents tumbling down past the gray clouds marking the boundary of Frosty Forest.

    "There. That little avalanche should keep the locals busy," Zero said. She tapped the scythe against the ground and it morphed back into her scepter. Zero used it to open a black portal behind her. She stepped into it, leaving the desecrated snowy area behind.
     
  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    ~Circadian Kabana~

    Kahuna Raichu's house sat behind the restaurant area of the resort. It was a round building with two chimneys made of yellow bricks to resemble Kahuna Raichu's ears. The inside was surprisingly spacious. Silvally had settled into the lounge room, planting himself on a shaggy carpet beside a wooden table. The walls were decorated with orange drapes and a single picture of Daybreak Beach.

    He sat there, staring down at the table, even as Espy went off to use the shower. Eventually, Cosplay Pikachu walked into the room, dressed in a Slurpuff hoodie. She set a plate down next to Silvally. It held a stack of three pancakes shaped like a Pikachu's head. They had blueberries sprinkled on them in a smiley face pattern, with two strawberries serving as the cheek sacs and a triangular butter pat representing the nose.

    "Tell your friends we've got pancakes for them whenever they show up," Cosplay Pikachu said, before leaving Silvally to return to the kitchen.

    Sighing, Silvally returned his gaze to the table. And it would've stayed there had his stomach not voiced its displeasure. Silvally shimmied along the carpet until his head hovered over the pancakes. He had to admit, they did look great. The steam striking the tip of his beak shifted on his fire memories. Silvally leaned over and nibbled at the edge of the topmost pancake. Blueberry juice splattered across the top of his beak. He licked it off with his tongue.

    Slowly, Silvally picked at his dinner. All the while, his mind wandered. Try as he might, he couldn't stop thinking about his encounter with the Xurkitrees and the ley lines they were trapped in. His head pounded. Feelings of anger bubbled up in the back of his mind. He tried to pay attention to the pancakes, but it didn't work. The chains filled his vision until three red eyes stared back at him from his dinner plate.

    We're cut from the same cloth, you and I. We're both monstrosities… immortal monstrosities. None of these Pokémon here should mean anything to you!

    Silvally shut his eyes, hoping to will the memory away. But that only intensified the illusionary eyes' glow.

    Even if you somehow stopped me… you'd end up having to watch as the friends you claim to love so much die one by one until you're left all alone!

    That was true, but if Team Radiance stopped Necrozma, he wouldn't have to worry about something like that for a very long time. So, why was he dwelling on this? It wouldn't help anyone, especially not his friends.

    And then what will you do, Silvally? Go slink off and spend your existence alone in some cave like the gods you were molded after? Or will the losses prove too heartbreaking? Will you drown in the depths of your own despair… and end your life like I did?

    Silvally swallowed hard. The red eyes disappeared. Silvally now found himself thinking back on the previous night. He stared down Shane's dazed, dumbstruck look after he had stolen a kiss. There was something else in his eyes. Silvally realized it was confusion. Possibly a sense of betrayed trust, too. Yet, in the moment, Silvally had ignored that.

    "Hey. Shower's all yours, if you want it."

    Espy stood across from Silvally, her fur extra-poofy. Silvally cocked an eyebrow. "They've got some kinda hot air jet for drying fur. Almost felt as heavenly as the shower," Espy said with a slight blush.

    "Sounds relaxing" Silvally said.

    "Yeah. And it's nice to have that glitter out of my fur," Espy said. "That aside, I did try to call Braviary, then Latias." She shook her head. "Neither responded."

    "I guess they're still tied up," Silvally said, his gaze falling back toward his dinner plate. "There are pancakes, by the way. You can grab 'em in the kitchen. They're good."

    Espy approached the table, a look of concern on her face. "Okay, what's going on? This is a far cry from the cheerful Silvally I've gotten used to," she said.

    "It's nothing. I'm just… tired, that's all," Silvally said, nibbling on a piece of pancake.

    "Then you'd be heading for the shower, not sitting around and moping," Espy said, her brow furrowed. "C'mon, you know I'm psychic and you're not even making an effort to hide that you're upset about something. Is it the Xurkitrees we rescued?"

    "I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine," Silvally said. Espy shoved his shoulder. His head crest fanned out in surprise. "Hey, what was that for?" he growled.

    "For lying to my face," Espy said. "I know I'm not Shane or Tessa, but I'd like to think that, after yesterday, you'd at least extend me the courtesy of thinking I want to help you. C'mon, we're in this together, aren't we?"

    Silvally winced. She wasn't wrong. Heck, he was acting a lot like she did to him before they had their talk. "You're right. I'm not being fair. Sorry," Silvally said.

    "What's on your mind?" Espy said, sitting down next to him. She had to look up in order to make eye contact.

    "A lot, actually. I've been… kind of going over everything that's happened the last couple of days. And it's… concerning," Silvally said.

    "So, it is about the Xurkitrees, then?" Espy said.

    "They're part of it. I do feel bad about, well, slipping up around them," Silvally said, glowing parts turning blue. "But I'm finding myself stuck on something… something Necrozma said to me the last time we encountered him."

    Espy curled her tail around her waist, trying not to think back to that awful event. "Could you be more specific?" she said.

    "Remember how he said that, even if we can stop him, it won't change the fact that you're all going to die someday? And that I… probably won't?" Silvally said. Espy nodded. "Yeah, that's what I'm stuck on. Well, that and, uh…" His voice trailed off and his head crest drooped.

    "What else?" Espy said.

    "I… um…" Silvally winced. He didn't want to go any further, because he knew what he had to say would likely upset Espy. She didn't deserve that, especially since she was trying to help. "You promise not to get mad if I tell you?" he said.

    Espy raised a brow, unsure what the problem was. "Err, yeah, okay," she said.

    "It was something you told me yesterday. About how I can't help everyone… and that maybe the only reason I'm trying to help is because of how guilty I feel," Silvally said.

    "Oh. I see," Espy said, rubbing her forepaws together nervously.

    "At the time, I told you that it was on my mind, but I wasn't letting it bother me," Silvally said. "After dwelling on it a bit, though, I think you were completely right."

    Espy bit her lip. Silvally's gloomy tone was so familiar. She had heard it several times from friends who she turned away with her dour behavior. Realizing she was dangerously close to doing the same thing to Silvally — and after promising to turn over a new leaf, no less — her ears drooped.

    "Silvally, listen. I wasn't—"

    "No. It's okay. You had a point," Silvally said. "I shouldn't exist. All the strange looks I got at Sunset Shoals reminded me of that. I've been putting on a bold, uplifting face to hide the fact that I want to stop Necrozma… for selfish reasons." He squeezed his eyes shut. "We're both creations… not Pokémon. We were made in roughly the same way… by the same creator, no less."

    "I can't think about Necrozma without recalling the mask getting put on. I want him dead so I can finally put those thoughts to rest," Silvally continued. "Even if the spirits are under control, they flare up whenever Necrozma comes into the conversation." He looked at his looplet. "If I can stop Necrozma, I can finally be at peace… one way or another. So, yeah, I'm selfish."

    Espy silently bowed her head, unsure of how to respond. It was such a sharp turnaround from the way Silvally had acted yesterday. Had she really worn him down that much just from one conversation? The thought sent a chill down her spine.

    "Hearing that stuff about losing my friends… well, it didn't make me snap, but it definitely made something stir inside me," Silvally said, shifting uncomfortably. "The voices popped up. They latched onto your words and told me I should distance myself from Shane and Tessa. If I wasn't their close friend, I could save myself from future pain."

    "What exactly do you mean by that?" Espy said.

    "Since last night, I've been acting like a complete idiot," Silvally said, looking guilty. "Like… flirting with Shane, then kissing him when he let his guard down."

    Espy's ears stuck up in surprise. She remembered Silvally had a few defensive moments when other Pokémon approached Shane at Sunset Shoals, but she didn't expect this to be the reason.

    "It was wrong. I shouldn't have done it. He seemed confused— no, he seemed hurt by it. But I didn't care," Silvally said. "I was letting the spirits run the show and, I guess, enjoying the ride. Because it felt great. That look of distress he gave me, though…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "And, to make matters worse, Gallian and Zoroark found him sleeping in a bit of an awkward position next to me and they teased us about it. Shane was really upset, but I joked along with them."

    Silvally almost slammed his head crest onto the table, but stopped himself at the last second. "I have to apologize, but I don't know what to say," he whispered.

    "Wow. That's, uh, a lot to digest," Espy said, hoping to gather her thoughts. She felt like all of this was her fault. Her stubborn, negative attitude had rubbed off on Silvally. He was the one that was always there for his teammates, but now that was in jeopardy. There was also the matter of own slip-up during the performance. Espy was surprised Silvally hadn't called her out on it. She feared that, if she didn't tread carefully, she'd make everything worse.

    "I think you're right… you should apologize," Espy continued, scooting closer and putting a forepaw on his back. "As for what you can say? I think the best thing to do is to be honest. I know I haven't, like, been around the entire time you two have been friends, but it seems like you two really forged a connection after the debacle at Tapu Bulu's temple. If you tell Shane what was going through your head, I think he'll understand."

    "I don't know," Silvally said, tracing a talon along the carpet. "I betrayed Shane's trust. I took advantage of the fact that he was riding an evolution high to do something stupid."

    "You act like Shane hasn't done anything impulsive," Espy said, throwing in a nervous laugh. She regretted it when Silvally winced. "Look. Can I, uh, be frank with you?"

    Silvally turned to meet her gaze, then nodded.

    "Well, to start with, I'm just as guilty as you are. I mean, you saw what happened on stage. It wasn't a ploy for the crowd, I had wanted that to happen and got the perfect excuse to do it," Espy said, her shoulders sagging. "It was… a serious moment of weakness, but I couldn't help myself. Not even a day after I said I would try to clean up my act and I gave in to one of my vices. I'm ashamed, but at the same time… I find myself wishing everything was different."

    She looked at Silvally. His brow furrowed. "Different like how?" he said.

    "Different like… not being stuck with one guy because you slipped up," Espy said, cringing. "The soulmate bond thing is… stupid. It needs to go away. I'm tired of living in fear of getting judged for a stupid decision."

    "I agree. It is a lousy system. But we can't change it at the moment," Silvally said, sighing. "Is that all you had to say to me?"

    Espy shook her head. "There was something else. And, um, it's pretty selfish on my part, but hear me out before you judge me," Espy said, nervously pawing at the carpet. Silvally raised a skeptical brow, but said nothing. "Um, I'm actually kind of glad you told me about this stuff." She paused, expecting Silvally to get upset, but he remained silent. "It's my fault that you even thought this way. I shouldn't have been so harsh to you."

    "At the time, I thought you were, like, a bit too perfect. You change types, you have a ridiculous number of attacks, and you always know what to say to help somebody out," Espy continued. "And you do it all with this unrelentingly hopeful gleam in your eyes. It disgusted me. So, deep down, I was determined to prove it was all an act."

    Her ears drooped. She curled her tail around her waist. "Only now, I feel awful about it," Espy said. "Look, Silvally, I can't really speak to the whole immortality thing… but I can tell you one thing. I was wrong." She put a paw on his chest. He flinched. "You're a good Pokémon at heart and I can see that you really want to help others to the best of your abilities. Despite what those voices might tell you… you deserve to have friends that you care about… and ones who care about you in return."

    When Silvally didn't respond, Espy took her forepaw off his chest. "You know you don't have to be perfect. I know you were made to be this perfect god killer or whatever… but having flaws isn't the end of the world. It shows you that you still have room to grow," she said. "And, personally speaking, it makes it easier to relate to you." She paused, flinching. "That… probably sounded terrible. My bad."

    "The point is… you shouldn't beat yourself up about this," Espy continued. "So, you had a slip-up with Shane. It's not the end of the world. We've all been under a lot of stress. Just tell him what was going through your mind. Heck, blame me if you want to. I'll take full responsibility. If I hadn't been such a bitch to you, I imagine it wouldn't have happened in the first place."

    An awkward silence followed. "Okay, this is getting creepy. You gonna say something or am I supposed to keep talking and make a big fool of myself?" Espy said.

    "You're not making a fool of yourself," Silvally said. "If I wanted to see that, I'd grab a cup of syrup and dump it on you." Espy hopped to her feet, arching her back up. "Relax, I'm not going to do that," Silvally insisted.

    "You have a very strange sense of humor," Espy said, grimacing.

    "Perhaps. In any case, you're right. I think I got carried away about all of this." Silvally slumped over, sighing. "Guess I'm not handling the stress as good as I thought."

    "It's fine. That's what you've got us for, right?" Espy said. "We're in this together… no matter how many ups and downs."

    Silvally's glowing parts turned green. "Heh, couldn't have said it better, myself." Silence followed once again.

    Espy brushed her forepaw along the carpet. "Y'know, thinking about it, if we do beat Necrozma, I think the best way to have a clean start would be to stay here in Horizon," she said. "This probably sounds stupid, but I could use someone like you in my life."

    "Meaning what, exactly?" Silvally said, a skeptical brow raised.

    "Spending the past couple of days with you has made me less cynical. And you're the kind of guy who could hold me accountable. Like, keep me from slipping up and giving in to any of my dumb urges," Espy said. She shook her head. "Err, I think that came out wrong. Forget I said anything."

    Silvally titled his head. "Are you asking me to help you?"

    Espy nodded. "Something like that. If we can restore everyone, I think it's best I at least go to Paradise and Lively Town to apologize to the people I hurt," she said. "In which case, I'd want you there for moral support."

    "Couldn't Shane do that? You seem to really like him," Silvally said.

    "I like Shane, yeah, but I think that has to do with his antics more than anything. They bring a smile to my face." Espy's face flushed. "There's also the appearance thing. I have to work on that."

    "I see." Silvally bowed his head in thought. After a half-minute, he said, "I'm willing to help you out, provided you do something for me in return."

    "What did you have in mind?" Espy asked.

    "Assuming we do restore everyone, I want you to help me find a home," Silvally said, drawing a blank look from Espy. "The closest thing I've had to a place to live is the Observatory. But it never really felt like a home. I want to make my own place. Somewhere I can settle down in and rest peacefully, either with you guys or by myself." He looked up at Espy. "So, what do you say, Espeon? Do we have a deal?"

    Espy considered the proposal. A smile crept onto her face. She nodded slowly. "I think I can make it work." She stuck her forepaw out. "Oh, and call me Espy."

    Silvally leaned over and nuzzled Espy. Her cheeks flushed. "Will do," Silvally said as he got to his feet. "I guess I should go apologize to Shane. Where is he, anyway?"

    "Dunno. Think he might've hung back at the beach," Espy said.

    "Oh. Then I suppose I'll help myself to a shower after all," Silvally said.

    "And I'll grab some pancakes." Espy blinked. "Don't know why I felt the need to announce that."

    "I think all that time on stage went to our heads," Silvally said, chuckling.

    Espy paused in the doorway. "Well, do me a favor."

    "Yeah?"

    She smirked at Silvally. "If I try to win our next fight by dancing, slap me."

    XxX

    ~Lively Town~

    In a flash of orange light, Mega Latios raced through the sky. Lively Town quickly disappeared behind him as he set off to the southeast.

    'I don't see why I'm the one stuck doing this. Things are too crazy for me to go on some stupid search and rescue mission in the Grass Continent. What about the Time Gears?'

    Latios grimaced. In truth, he knew exactly why he was asked to go the Grass Continent. Aside from his sister and Hoopa, he was the only one who could travel there quickly. Everyone was so focused on the Time Gears, they were all taken aback when Cresselia and Darkrai barged into Expedition Society HQ, both looking exhausted. Cresselia tearfully explained to Team Poképals that Manaphy had gone missing. At which point they turned to Latios, begging him to go look for Manaphy.

    He wondered if Latias was okay. His last few attempts to contact her had failed. Latios couldn't get their mental link to work. He knew Ampharos had her working on something important, but did that really mean she had to give him the silent treatment? Or had the work left her so exhausted that Latios couldn't even sense her energy? He really hoped it was the former.

    Latios rolled around in midair, unleashing a burst of speed propelling him through the night sky. There wasn't a single cloud out and he could see the sun poking up from the east. He blinked his eyes rapidly. Much as he wanted to go back to sleep, that wouldn't be happening. Latios glanced worriedly at his looplet. Jirachi assured him that he was safe from losing control of his Mega Evolution, but he still wanted to switch back to his base form as soon as he could.

    He failed to notice a faint ripple in the air several yards ahead of him, until it erupted into an Ultra Wormhole. Panicking, Latios rolled right. A giant blue and black beam raced past his left wing. Latios stared wide-eyed as a black cloud spiraled out of the portal.

    It was only when Latios caught a faint glimpse of a single red eye that he realized exactly what was going on.

    'I've gotta get out of here!'

    Latios zoomed away, but Necrozma teleported in front of him, third eye glowing brightly. Latios U-turned just in time to dodge chains shooting out from Necrozma's wings.

    "Oh, trying to flee, are we?" Necrozma said, licking his lips. "Heeheeheehee! Boy, I hAVe tHe STraNgEsT SEnSe of DéJà vU!"

    A blinding flash erupted. An unseen force shoved Necrozma back. Latios dove down, heading for the sea. He tucked his wings in, picking up as much speed as he could muster. Even if the splashdown would hurt, at least he'd be able to hinder Necrozma's movements enough to potentially escape. It was his only way out.

    Latias, where are you? This is an emergency! Latios telepathically shouted, trying to awaken his mental link. He was met with no response. Meanwhile, the sea drew closer and closer. Latios channeled psychic energy, readying a bubble to isolate himself from the water.

    Necrozma materialized on the water's surface.

    "No, that's impossible!" Latios shouted. He couldn't break. He was coming in too fast.

    "No one can outrun Necrozma!" he said, launching a black meteor barrage. Latios formed a pink shield, but it couldn't withstand the bombardment. A half-dozen meteors struck him in succession. His Mega Evolution energy drained right out of him, leaving him in a freefall as he reverted to his base form.

    Before Latios struck the water, black chains emerged from heart-shaped sigils in the air. Each one speared Latios, digging into his wings and torso. Latios screamed in pain as the chains wrapped around him, tearing through his feathers. Red droplets splattered onto the water's surface.

    Necrozma floated up to Latios. He daintily clutched Latios' chin in his wing-claws. "Look at how pathetic you are! Your confidence… your 'training' with your so-called friends in Lively Town… all it took was one glimpse at me for all of it to disappear!" he whispered, grinning. "Heeheeheehee! Deep down… nothing changed. You're still a dirty coward whose first instinct is to run at any sign of trouble. You ran when Latias crashed. You ran when Pokémon started turning to stone. And what good did that do you, hmm?"

    "Let me answer that for you," Necrozma said. "It. Did. Nothing!" The winged heart emblem on his chest flashed. "After all this time, you've still failed to realize it. No one can outrun their problems… especially not the gigantic ones your backwards society has created. There is only one fix and that is chaos! The void! It must consume! It must destroy!"

    Latios feebly tried to stretch his hands out and claw at Necrozma's face, but Necrozma lowered his head so his third eye was level with Latios.

    "WhAt'S tHis? SIlEnT, aRe We?" Necrozma said, third eye flashing. "Heeheeheehee! WhAt a FOol yOu aRE, lAtIOs."

    Latios' eyes slowly widened in horror. The chains moved up around his neck.

    "Now then, I think it's about time we gave your sister a call, don't you?" Necrozma said, folding his wings over his twitching arms. "After all, there's someone who's just dying to meet her! Heeheeheehee!"

    The chains burrowed into Latios' neck. He screamed at the top of his lungs.

    XxX
    Yes, that is Absol from the original PMD game (or the manga, if you prefer that flavor). I think I aged him up a bit compared to both medium. Ah well.

    Next time: another Valentine's Day special.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019
  14. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Content advisory: this part has an early scene depicting physical abuse.
    XxX

    Bonus #18: Of a Feather

    ~Sky Tower~

    Blustering winds rushed toward Latias. She formed a protective pink bubble, but the wind prevailed. It blew her back. She watched emerald bricks give way to a misty sky. Latias managed to steady herself. She brushed askew feathers out of her eyes.

    "Pathetic."

    Latias flinched. She cautiously floated back toward the roof of the tower, where Rayquaza sat coiled up, a scowl on his face. "You call that a Dragon Pulse? I barely felt a thing!" he spat. "This is a Dragon Pulse!" He tilted his head up, opened his mouth wide, and unleashed a gigantic blue beam with a dragon-like shape to it. Clouds split apart. Latias looked away.

    "I… I'm trying my best. Please stop yelling me. I can't concentrate when you do that," Latias squeaked tucking her arms into her chest.

    Rayquaza thumped his tail against the ground. "Grow a backbone! You're a dragon, for pity's sake!" He snorted tufts of dragonfire. "Our spirits burn brightest under pressure, so that's exactly what I'm doing. Otherwise, you won't learn." He shook his head. "Of course, we've been at this for weeks with no progress, so maybe you're just a lost cause."

    "I… I…" Latias wilted. "I'm sorry. But every time you put me under pressure, I keep thinking back to…" She shuddered.

    Wind blades grazed her right wing. Latias squealed in fright and shrank back. Rayquaza hovered into the air. "Listen to yourself. How utterly disgraceful!" he growled, serpentine body weaving around. "You are a dragon god! A lesser god, sure, but you still share a type with the most important immortals on the planet! But you…" He clenched his tiny fists. "You're besmirching us with your blatant cowardice!"

    He slithered through the air, his golden eyes flashing red. "Running from Dark Matter. Trying to get help from Celebi — that worthless insult to Dialga's splendor — of all Pokémon," he said. "You're a disgrace to dragons the world over! I'm trying to salvage what little I can from such a waste of power." He uncoiled, stretching up so he towered over Latias. "Now, attack! I don't want any more excuses, only results!"

    Air currents swirled around Rayquaza. Latias' wings drooped. Her heart was beating so fast it made her head hurt. She tried concentrating on her spirit, begging for some sort of spark to manifest. Latias thought about Rayquaza. If she could pull this off, maybe she could shut him up. Latias opened her mouth. Blue energy crackled in the back of her throat. She exhaled as hard as she could, but all that came out was a small blue beam. Rayquaza blew the beam apart with a single gust of wind.

    Rayquaza turned his back to Latias. "This training was a mistake. You're unteachable. A total lost cause." He sank down toward the tower's roof. "Get out of my sight."

    "W-Wait, Rayquaza, please…" Latias sped toward him. "I'm sorry! I know I'm not doing what you want, but I'll try harder! Please, I have to learn how to defend myself better."

    "I told you to leave," Rayquaza growled.

    "But—"

    Rayquaza whirled around, eyes blazing. A fiery V had formed on his forehead. "Disobedient cur!" he snarled. Rayquaza rammed the V into Latias. An inferno scorched feathers off her body. She slammed up against a nearby pillar. Latias' eyes bugged out. Intense pain gripped her right wing, the likes of which she'd never experienced before. She spat up a mouthful of saliva, then screamed at the top of her lungs.

    Latias crumpled to the ground. Her right wing lay useless at her side. The bones were shattered. Her paws trembled. The closest she could manage to normal breaths were panicked hiccups. Her heart beat became fast and thread. Tears filled her eyes, blurring the ugly, blistered patches of flesh where her feathers had burned off.

    Rayquaza snaked around so he was at eye level with Latias. "Turn off the waterworks. There's no one around to feel sorry for you," he hissed. "Besides, you know recover. Heal yourself." He raised his head up. "When you're done, leave this place." Rayquaza spun his tail in a circle. The clouds surrounding the tower vanished, revealing the Air Continent far below. "I don't ever want to see your face here again. If I really need you, I'll send for you. But, let's face it, that won't happen."

    His words barely reached Latias. Her ears were ringing. Searing light filled her vision. She tried to move, but white-hot pain flared up in her wing.

    "Unbelievable. Look at you. We're Pokémon. We hit each other with attacks. It's been that way since the beginning. Quit this nonsense and begone!" Rayquaza barked.

    With a muffled squeal of desperation, Latias drew on her psychic powers. She squeaked in pain multiple times as she hurriedly channeled energy into her wing. The mending process wasn't perfect. Her wing had awkward bends to it, but it was enough to snap her out of shock. She shakily rose to the air, only to sputter downward. Rayquaza grew further away while the mountains and forests of the Air Continent grew closer, though they were a mess of colored splotches in Latias' tearful vision.

    Latias could barely keep herself flying straight. She knew she didn't have the strength to get back to the Water Continent in her state. Latias drifted down, wobbling as she struggled to keep her levitation up. She managed to find a tiny beach at the base of a rocky cliff. It was here she collapsed by the edge of the ocean, curling up into a ball. Sobs wracked her body.

    No matter what she did, she couldn't stop thinking about Rayquaza. His harsh words. The fierce glare in his eyes. And the searing pain his V-Create left her in. Latias burst into a fresh round of tears, unwilling to move. She could feel Latios' presence in the back of his mind. There was an air of desperation trickling into her thoughts, but she couldn't muster the energy needed to activate her sight-sharing. She didn't think she even wanted to.

    "Hey… hey! Good gracious, what happened to you?!"

    Latias heard splashing, followed by the squelches of wet feet on the sand. She didn't have the strength to roll over. Even her ESP was too weak to pick up the life energy of her visitor. All she felt was the loss of warmth from something blocking the sun's rays against her back.

    She squeaked when a wing draped over her. Her wing stung from salt water dripping onto her burns. Latias tried to scooch through the sand, but couldn't. In the process, she caught a glimpse of the newcomer.

    "L-Lugia? What are…" Latias flinched. "P-Please pull your wing away."

    Lugia did as instructed. He frowned. "You're Latias, right? What happened to you? This is not okay. You're an absolute mess! Can you move? How hurt are you?"

    "Not so loud, please," Latias said, wincing. Lugia shrank back. "I… I'm okay. I already healed off the worst of it. I'm just… waiting until I've got enough strength back to use Recover again."

    "Forgive me for being blunt, but I'm not sure I believe you," Lugia said, brow furrowing. He spread his wings out. "Were you attacked? Is there something dangerous lurking around the area?" Lugia glanced skyward. "If I remember right, we should be right under Sky Tower. I can fly up and get Rayquaza. He can—"

    "No!" Latias shouted, loud enough to make Lugia hop back, fluttering his wings in surprise. "I… I mean… there's no danger. I've been… in the middle of this stupid training, that's all. It's supposed to strengthen my dragon-type attacks. But I didn't do it right, so it blew up in my face… literally."

    "O-Oh. Um, okay," Lugia said, not buying Latias' claim but unsure if he should press any further.

    "What are you even doing here, anyway? Don't you live in the Sea of Wonders?" Latias said, shifting about in the sand.

    "Kyogre ordered me to come to the Air Continent and redistribute some of the ocean currents. It's, uh, a bit complicated to explain in depth," Lugia said. He realized his bad pun a moment later and laughed nervously, rubbing his neck with a wing. "A-Anyway, it's not so bad. I've got a second home of sorts in Silver Trench. Nobody can bug me there." He shook his head. "But that's not important. You need to get healed up. Why don't I fly you home?"

    "P-Please don't," Latias said, a bit louder than she intended.

    Lugia frowned. "Why not? You can't just stay here in your condition. There could be wild Pokémon lurking about and they won't have any qualms about going for wounded prey."

    "I'm sorry. Really. I just… I can't go home right now," Latias said. Lugia prepared to reply, when Latias cut him off with, "I don't really want to talk about it."

    "Okay." Sighing, Lugia turned toward the ocean. "If you're staying here, then so am I."

    "Huh? B-But what about the currents?" Latias said, fiddling with some sand grains.

    "I already finished redirecting them. I was on my way back to Silver Trench when I sensed your energy," Lugia said. "Look, I'm not forcing you to do or say anything, but what kind of god would I be if I left you out here in such a vulnerable state?"

    Latias could tell his mind was set in stone. "Okay, but I might not be much for conversation."

    "That's fine. Just rest up. Get your strength back. I'll make sure nothing bothers you," Lugia said. He waddled over toward Latias, then sat down in the sand beside her, draping his wings over his legs.

    Latias shut her eyes and, before she knew it, she fell asleep. It was a dreamless slumber. One that ended when her eyes fluttered open to the sight of a half-moon's rippling reflection in the ocean. She felt sore, but it wasn't as bad as when she first arrived on the beach.

    "Oh, good, you're up."

    "You're still here?" Latias said, slowly lifting her head to find Lugia on her right. Three berries sat on his thigh. Latias couldn't make out what types they were.

    "I said I'd stay with you." Lugia levitated the berries toward her. "Here. Figured you might be hungry."

    She was famished. Latias wanted to devour the berries, but the burns on her neck made it hard. She took small, methodical bites instead. "Thanks," Latias whispered, rubbing juice from her feathers. She shakily hovered into the air.

    "Hey, are you sure you should be doing that?" Lugia asked, getting to his feet. "Shouldn't you try using Recover, first?"

    "It's easier when I'm floating," Latias replied. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her ESP. Latias pulled psychic energy from her spirit's core. She gently pushed it across her body. The blisters and burns faded. Her feathers grew back in. "Okay. Done." Latias wobbled in midair, but steadied herself. She lowered herself to the sand so she could catch her breath.

    "You can go now. I'm all right," Latias said, waving a paw. "My brother's probably worried sick, so I really should be getting home."

    "Are you kidding? That Recover looked like it took a lot out of you. I don't think you're in any fit state to be flying home." Lugia looked around. "Err, wherever that is."

    Latias winced. He had a point. She also didn't want him to worry. "Well, like you said earlier, I can't stick around here forever." Latias scratched her right ear. "I suppose I could contact Latios and ask him to meet me here." She looked up. "He's not a huge fan of flying in the dark, though."

    "I think you should do it, anyway. I'd offer to take you with me to Silver Trench, but…" Lugia gestured out toward the ocean. "I get the feeling you're not fancying a swim."

    "A solid guess," Latias said, surprised there was a giggle in the back of her throat. Lugia smiled at her, happy he could offer a bit of levity. Latias sighed. "Okay, you're twisting my arm here, but I guess I can contact Latios."

    In truth, she didn't want to open the mental link because she feared getting an earful from Latios. Nevertheless, she concentrated. Her head tingled. After a few seconds, she sensed a familiar presence in the back of her mind.

    There you are, sis! Do you have any idea what time it is? I've been trying to get a hold of your for hours!

    Latias winced. Latios somehow sounded even more panicked than she imagined. I'm sorry, big brother. I needed to take some time to myself, she said telepathically.

    And you couldn't have told me that? I thought you were supposed to be training with Rayquaza. I was about to go to Sky Tower and get to the bottom of things before you called, Latios said.

    Training left me too exhausted. I didn't have the strength to fly back home, let alone use our mental link, Latias said.

    Did… did something happen during your training? Latios wondered.

    Yes. Rayquaza and I had a… disagreement. We won't be working together anymore, Latias said, sidestepping the heart of the issue in the hopes her brother wouldn't pester her. I'm still resting up, so I was hoping you could come to me and help me fly home.

    Is there something wrong, sis? You sound pretty out of it. What exactly was this "disagreement" about, anyway?

    Latias tucked her head into her chest. I don't really want to talk about it right now. Are you willing to come find me in the Air Continent or not?

    O-Of course, sis. I'm just worried about you, that's all. I mean, you were the one who was adamant about getting Rayquaza to help you in the first place, Latios said. His nervousness made Latias' mind tingle. Her feathers stood on end. Lugia noticed this, but remained silent. He pretended to preoccupy himself preening his feathers.

    I appreciate the concern, but it's fine. Here, let me sight-share my location, Latias said, reaching deeper into her psychic reserves. Her eyes turned bright blue. I'm on the northwest coast of the Air Continent. Lugia's here, too. She turned to look at Lugia. He happened to be in the area and offered to keep me company.

    Oh. That's, um, generous of him, Latios said, his energy receding somewhat from Latias' mind. She frowned, but didn't press the issue. Okay. I'll head over there, now.

    Great. Latias released the mental link and exhaled. "Latios is on his way," she announced, stretching out and resting her head on a sand mound.

    "That's good." Lugia brushed sand off his wings. He lay on his side, then clumsily rolled onto his back. "So, uh, if you don't mind me asking, what's the training about, huh?"

    "Hmm?" Latias blinked. "Oh, uh, it's… a bit embarrassing, honestly." She traced a claw through the sand.

    "I'm not here to judge or anything," Lugia said, propping his head up with his wing.

    Latias squirmed. "Err, sorry. Your question was a bit… out of the blue. It's, uh, been a while since anyone's actually, y'know, taken an interest in my life," she said. "Besides Latios, of course."

    "Ah." Lugia looked down. "My bad. Wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable. I just thought some small talk might help you relax a bit more." He frowned. "But I picked a sore subject, didn't I?" He shook his head. "Bet you can tell I don't get out much."

    "I can relate," Latias said, then wondered if she should've kept that thought to herself. They lapsed into silence. Lugia kept glancing at Latias. She sensed his desire to help, but there was clear trepidation. Latias could tell Lugia was worried about upsetting her. Sighing, she curled her head and neck right so she could face Lugia.

    "I've been training because of the whole, y'know, Dark Matter fiasco. Latios and I were the first of the gods turned to stone," Latias explained. "And we, well…" She shuddered. "We didn't hold up well in the Voidlands."

    Lugia promptly got up. "Oh man. I'm so sorry! I really wasn't thinking when I asked." He smacked his forehead with his wing. "Wow, I must look like the biggest idiot in the world."

    Latias didn't say anything to refute him. At the same time, she didn't protest when Lugia got up and approached her. He lay down on his belly beside her, tilting his head to make eye contact. "Are you and your brother, um, okay? Like, have you been holding up all right?" Lugia asked. When Latias didn't immediately respond, he added, "You don't have to answer that, if you don't want to."

    "Relax. I'm… thinking, that's all," Latias said, heart fluttering from sensing Lugia's intentions were pure. "It's been… rough, to be honest. I keep replaying the moments before Yveltal turned big brother and me to stone over and over in my head. All I can think about is how… powerless I felt." Her ears drooped. "I wanted to make sure nothing like that could happen again… hence the training."

    "But it doesn't seem to be going very well for you," Lugia pointed out. "Don't you think it might be better to try working with someone else?"

    "I—" Latias stopped herself. "I tried. We both tried. Latios and I had joined Team Go-Getters for a time, but…" She shook her head. "They were so much better than us, despite not being gods. The missions they took were too stressful. So, we parted ways. I keep in touch with them, sure. But it's been… oh, gosh, a couple of decades, at least."

    "Team Go-Getters…" Lugia tapped a wing-digit on the ground. "Wait. They're the ones who helped stop the natural disasters, right?" Latias nodded. "Ah, yeah. That was…" His voice trailed off. "Mom had to deal with out-of-control currents. All while her life force was fading."

    Latias' eyes widened. "I'm sorry." She bit her lower lip, wanting to add something but fearing it sounded selfish. However, she ignored those worries, since this gave her the chance to bring up a similarity. "I can understand how you must've felt back then. Latios and I… our parents had passed about a month before the disasters started," she whispered. "We weren't hatchlings, per se, but we were young. I mean… we're still young. And I feel even more useless now than I did back then."

    "That's why I think you ought to train with someone," Lugia said, inching his left wing toward her. "We may be gods, but we're still Pokémon. We grow fastest by battling one another, don't you think?" He rolled over onto his back. "Heck, I'm going to start training with Rayquaza soon. Want me to ask him if you can join?"

    "No!" Latias shouted. Lugia flinched, startled by the volume. "I, uh… he's too scary for me. I don't really think I'd learn well working with him," she said, her voice so soft Lugia had to lean in to hear her.

    "Ah. Yeah, he does give off a real intense vibe. But that's why I think I can learn a lot from him," Lugia said. "Still, I don't want to hang you out to dry or anything." He tapped a wing-digit against his belly. "Say, why don't we work together?" Lugia sat up, smiling. "Yeah. I can take some of the things I learn from Rayquaza and do them with you. Only, y'know, without his whole super-harsh demeanor thing."

    "Y… you would really do that, for me?" Latias gasped. "Outside of today, we've barely interacted. We hardly know each other."

    "That can change. I mean, we've already got some stuff in common. We're both psychic-types who lost our folks when the natural disasters hit. And we're young lesser gods worried about being able to make a different in the world," Lugia said. He extended his left wing toward Latias. "Personally, I'd really like to see you again under better circumstances. So, what do you say?"

    Latias looked at Lugia's wing. She stuck her paw out and touched one of his wing-digits.

    "I think I'd like that."

    XxX​

    Lugia corkscrewed through the air, then shot a translucent, orange Aeroblast beam from his mouth. Latias squeaked in fright. She ascended. A relieved sigh escaped her lips when she strafed clear of the attack.

    "Nice! I think that was a bit faster than last time," Lugia called, slowing down and hovering in pace with steady beats of his wings.

    "You think so?" Latias asked.

    "Well, I wasn't counting seconds or anything, but it sure seemed like it," Lugia replied, throwing in a chuckle for good measure. He flew up until he was level with Latias. "Okay, now let's try Dragon Pulse."

    Latias shrank back, fiddling with her claws. "I… I don't know. It's just not clicking for me, Lugia," she whispered.

    "Hey now." Lugia offered her a reassuring smile. "Remember, there's only one rule in Lugia's School of Basic Training: no using the c-word."

    Latias tilted her head to the side. "Clicking?"

    Lugia nearly fell out of the sky in disbelief. He frantically flapped to regain altitude. "Aha ha… ha… no, I meant 'can't,' but you didn't actually say it, did you?"

    "Maybe you ought to get all that saltwater out of your head. It's clogging up your brain," Latias said, giggling.

    "Okay, ouch. If you're going to burn me like that, then you'd better back it up with a nice, powerful Dragon Pulse." Lugia spread his wings wide, switching to telekinesis to levitate in place.

    "I… I don't know," Latias mumbled.

    "Don't psych yourself out before you're even tried it," Lugia said. He flew toward Latias. She flinched when he gently draped a wing over his neck. "Okay, so, how about a pointer? The key to maximizing an attack that comes from your throat isn't just to, like, breath out really hard, it's to let the energy concentrate. You've gotta feel a strong tingle in the back of your throat before you do anything," he explained. "I know. I can't actually use Dragon Pulse, but it works for me with my Aeroblasts."

    He backed away from her and spread his wings out again. "Come on, hit me."

    Latias' wings drooped. "Do I really have to?"

    "If you don't, I'm going to go on the offensive again," Lugia threatened. Latias frowned. Sighing, Lugia tapped his chin in thought. "Surely we can come up with something to make this work. Hmm. Maybe you're having trouble because you don't want to hurt my gorgeous face." He grinned cheekily. "Pretend I'm someone you don't like, then. How about Rayquaza?"

    Latias tensed. She flashed back to her last moments on Sky Tower, paralyzed in fear as Rayquaza charged her down, a V-Create flaring on his forehead. Her breath came in ragged gasps.

    Lugia frowned. "Hey, Latias, you doing okay?"

    "Gah! Stay back!" Latias shouted. She flung a pink Mist Ball, that sailed wildly to her right and exploded over the ocean in a burst of fog of fog. Latias doubled over, shivering.

    "Hey!" Lugia flew over to Latias. "What happened? Your energy's fluctuating like crazy." He frowned. "Aw, man, did I upset you by bringing up Rayquaza." He covered his face with a wing. "Damn it, that was so stupid of me."

    "It's fine," Latias said, her voice shaky. "I… I'll try the Dragon Pulse."

    "You sure? We can call it a day, if you'd prefer," Lugia offered.

    "I want to do it," Latias insisted, her expression sharpening. Lugia backed away, a worried look on his face. With a deep breath, Latias again imagined Rayquaza floating in place of Lugia. This time, a spark of anger flared in her belly. Per Lugia's instructions, she pushed that spark toward her throat. A tingle spread up toward the room of her mouth. Latias thought she was about to sneeze.

    Instead, she exhaled. Not hard, but gently. Her eyes bulged as a large, blue, dragon-shaped beam zigzagged toward Lugia.

    "Whoa!" He flapped his wings once, thinking it enough to push him out of the way. However, the Dragon Pulse struck his right wing. Lugia pulled his wing in. He dropped from the sky, landing in the water with a big splash.

    "Ah! Lugia!" Latias squeaked. She raced down toward the water, only to screech to a halt when a sudden thought hit her. Latias' brow furrowed. She drew on her psionic sense and found Lugia's energy right under the surface of the water. Latias opened her eyes. The water had settled, so she could just make out Lugia's white feathers.

    Calling on her telepathy, Latias said, You know, I can sense you down there. Whatever it is you're planning, I'm not falling for it. She floated higher in the air, crossing her arms despite Lugia not being able to see her.

    The water spiraled below her. A twister sprang up from the depths of the oceans. Gasping in surprise, Latias backed away. She could see Lugia's glowing blue eyes looking back at her from within his Whirlpool. On instinct, Latias hurled a Mist Ball forward. She was so worried she had upset Lugia, she didn't notice how much larger this Mist Ball was compared to the others.

    Lugia's Whirlpool bent right. The Mist Ball sailed past him. Latias shrank back. "I-I'm sorry I hit you Lugia! I wasn't expecting it to be that strong. P-Please, cut it out. You're scaring me!" she cried.

    Instead of sending the Whirlpool into Latias, Lugia dispelled it. Water splattered her from above, drenching her feathers. Latias grunted her annoyance. Before she could say anything, Lugia closed the distance.

    "That was your best Dragon Pulse yet!" he chirped, raising a wing. Latias stared back at him blankly, blinking rapidly to keep salt water out of her eyes.

    "Wait. You're not upset?" she asked.

    "Of course not! The Whirlpool was just a harmless trick," Lugia replied. "See, Rayquaza said that, when you're in a battle, you can't expect your foe to always play fair. You've got be ready for anything!"

    Latias puffed her cheeks up. "You jerk, you nearly scared my spirit out of me," she growled, craning her neck to bite the tip of Lugia's wing.

    "Yow! I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you upset," Lugia said, wringing out his wing. "You knocked me into the water, so I wanted to get even." He bit his lip. "Besides, that Mist Ball you threw out was something else. I don't think I've ever seen you make one that big before." Lugia extended his right wing toward her again. "How about we call it a day. Truce?"

    "Okay. Truce." Latias hovered forward and nudged Lugia's wing with her snout.

    In response, Lugia enveloped her in a hug, then dove down into the water, taking a yowling Latias with her. He broke the surface a few seconds later. Lugia lay on his back, with Latias on his belly, and let the tide carry him in. Latias was too dumfounded to react. She lay there, dead silent, until they reached the shoreline and she slid into the sand.

    "Sorry. Couldn't help myself," Lugia said, chuckling.

    Pouting, Latias floated into the air and shook water off her feathers. "Ugh. Great. Now my feathers will be all sticky from the salt. Hope you're happy," she whined.

    "Aww, c'mon. It's not so bad once you get used to it," Lugia said, flicking water off his wing in Latias' direction. She caught the droplets with her telekinesis and threw them into the sand. Lugia maintained his goofy grin, until Latias' pouting expression fell apart and she descended into a giggle fit.

    "Stop making that face," she said between laughs.

    "This face?" Lugia pointed a wing-digit at himself. "Sorry, I can't just turn this thing off. I'm just handsome all the time."

    Latias laughed so hard she snorted. Her eyes widened and she tucked her head into her belly in embarrassment.

    "See, you're laughing!" Lugia sat up, smiling. "I told you I could make training fun. It took a few months, sure, but we finally made it."

    "I'd hardly call this training," Latias scoffed, having calmed down from her case of the giggles.

    "Why not? We buffed up two of your attacks today," Lugia said. Latias prepared to retort, but Lugia held up a wing. "Lemme guess, you're gonna dismiss them as one-time things, aren't you?" He shook his head. "That's why we come back and do this again, tomorrow."

    Latias' expression wilted.

    "Something wrong?" Lugia asked, his smile fading.

    "Tomorrow's not going to work for me. Actually, I'm not really sure when I'm going to be free these next couple of weeks," Latias said, tapping her claws together.

    Lugia lumbered to his feet. "What do you mean by that? Did something happen to your brother?" he wondered.

    "No. It's… um…" Latias winced. "It's personal."

    "Latias, you're making me nervous, here. How am I supposed to respond to that?" Lugia said, voice ripe with worry. "I'm your friend, remember? If there's anything I can do to help—"

    "Latios and I are joining the Expedition Society tomorrow," Latias announced, squeezing her eyes shut. When Lugia didn't respond, she added, "Y'know, the exploration group in Lively Town?"

    "I thought being on a rescue team stressed you out," Lugia said, waddling toward her.

    "It did, yes. But, well, Latios really wants to do it. He thinks it can help us both get stronger… and feel more fulfilled with our lives," Latias explained, running her claws through her damp feathers.

    "If it's strength he's worried about, why don't you let him join us? I'm happy to work with him, too," Lugia offered.

    "My brother's tired of living in isolation. He wants to be with other Pokémon. And I, um, kind of do, too," Latias said. "Why do you sound so worried about this?"

    "Well, like I said, I don't want you to stress yourself out again. I just want you to be happy," Lugia said.

    "And I want to support my brother. Besides, the team that recruited us, Team Gaia, are the ones who stopped Dark Matter. They've even got Hoopa on their team, so we're in familiar company, so to speak," Latias elaborated.

    Lugia frowned. "Hoopa? Okay, now I'm definitely worried. I've heard he's a bit of a jerk. Mother always said to stay clear of him if I knew what was good for me."

    "You're trying awfully hard to talk me out of this. Could you at least let me try and see how things go?" Latias said, her patience slowly wearing thin. "Latios explained my… delicate attitude and situation to Team Gaia. They seemed very supportive. I don't think I'm going to have any problems."

    "I'm not trying to talk you out of it. I'm concerned, that's all. I don't want you to, like, get taken advantage of or anything," Lugia said, sticking his head up. "What if the Expedition Society's just going to use you to, I dunno, get more money or whatever it is normal 'mons need?"

    "Uh, hello? I'm an empath, remember? Don't you think I would've been able to sense something like that?" Latias said, ears twitching. "Look, I do enjoy hanging out with you. I don't want that to stop. But I'm ready for some changes." She floated closer to Lugia. "You're the one who's given me the confidence to agree to do this. So, could you please just wish me luck and drop it. I promise… I'll come visit you at Sea Shrine the first chance I get."

    Lugia shuffled backward, tucking in his wings. "I'm not, like, upset or anything. I'm only looking out for your best interests… because you're my friend."

    Latias tensed. Her pupils dilated. Memories of Rayquaza towering over her bubbled to the surface.

    Don't you dare question me. I'm doing what's best for you! Now, shut up and listen to me!

    "No! You don't know my best interests! I do!" Latias shouted tucking in her head and shaking it.

    Lugia took a hesitant step back. "Why are you shouting, Latias? All I said was—"

    "Shut up! Don't tell me what to do!" Latias thrashed her head about. "I tried it your way and it didn't work, so let me do what I want!"

    "What are you talking about, Latias?" Lugia asked, spreading his wings out and walking toward her. "You need to calm down. I can't understand you."

    "I… I…" Latias picked her head up. She blinked a few times, then look down at Lugia. Her eyes watered.

    "Latias, what's going on? Is there something you're not telling me?" Lugia said, brow furrowed.

    "I-I'm sorry, Lugia. I just… spaced out," Latias said, trying to put the conversation to an end.

    "That wasn't a space out. It was a freak out." Lugia extended a wing toward her. "It's okay. You can tell me what's wrong."

    "N-No, I can't," Latias blubbered, tears trickling onto the sand below her.

    Lugia frowned. "But I want to help."

    Rayquaza again flickered into existence behind Lugia. He leered at Latias. Squealing, Latias hovered back.

    "You can't help me! Nobody can help me!" Latias shouted. "I tried to get help. But Rayquaza… he…" Her voice trailed off.

    Lugia tensed up. "Wait, what did Rayquaza do?"

    Latias eyes widened. She hadn't intended to say that out loud. Latias glanced at Lugia, then sped off, tears streaming from her eyes.

    "Latias, wait!" Lugia cried, but she was already too far away for him to catch up. His wing fell to his side and he bowed his head.

    XxX

    ~Expedition Society Headquarters~

    "And this is the room we've arranged for you two. I hope it's to your liking. If you ever need us, our room's at the other end of the hall."

    Latios bobbed his head. "Thanks, Braixen. I'm sure will have no trouble settling in."

    "Relax. Take your time. Mission requests have been on the slow side these past few days, so I don't think you'll need to be up at the crack of dawn to run anywhere," Braixen said. "Or, I guess, fly anywhere." He chuckled. Beside him, Bayleef rolled her eyes, then playfully slapped Braixen's shoulder with a vine. "Okay, okay, I admit it. That one was too corny," he said, rubbing his shoulder.

    "I'll say. Hoopa could heat that joke over a nice campfire and have a big enough popcorn supply to last him all month," Hoopa said, spinning one of his rings around his thumb.

    "Right. Anyway, we'll leave you two alone," Braixen said. "Although, doesn't really look like you've got any bags that need unpacking or anything."

    "Actually, I was hoping to take another look at the Pokémon Nexus. Would you mind if I went upstairs?" Latios asked.

    "Not at all. We can go with you. Right, Bayleef?" Braixen looked at Bayleef, who nodded.

    "Meh. Not interested. And don't even think about asking Hoopa to help wake Jirachi up," Hoopa said, tossing his ring back onto his horn. He reclined in midair, resting his head against his hands.

    "Dully noted, Hoopa," Braixen said, sighing and rubbed the bridge of his snout. He beckoned Latios to follow him down the hallway.

    Latios paused and looked back at his sister. "Hey, sis, you coming?"

    Latias, who was staring blankly at her new room's lone window, snapped to attention. "I, uh… I think I'm going to stay here," she said. Latias waved halfheartedly at her brother and floated inside the room. She floated toward a straw bed, ignoring the yellow and light-blue walls, small brown table, and a note with several sets of pawprints on it. Latias curled up on the straw bred, sighing.

    "So, how long do you plan on keeping him in the dark?"

    "Huh?" Latias picked her head up. Hoopa floated in front of her, laying on his side in midair with his head resting on his right hand.

    "You've been staring at the ground and sighing this whole time. And your wings were drooping for most of the tour. Hoopa didn't think Latios was acting like there's anything wrong with you, so Hoopa figured he must not know." Hoopa turned over so he was lying on his belly. He tilted his head to the side. "Why are you bottling everything up, huh? You get in a fight with your boyfriend or something?"

    "What? I don't— there's nobody like that in my life," Latias said. She turned away from Hoopa, but he hovered around.

    "Oh? You and Latios aren't—"

    Latias looked mortified. "We're twins. I thought you knew that already."

    "Hoopa did. Doesn't stop some 'mons," Hoopa said, smirking. "You ever hear of Espeon and Umbreon? The Magnagate researchers? Hoopa's worked with them. Hoopa knows they're lovey-dovey." He tapped his hands together and made kissing noises.

    "Well, it's not like that with me," Latias growled. She tried tucking her head under her ring, but one of Hoopa's ring portals appeared right in front of her face.

    Hoopa grinned at Latias through his portal. "Oh, Hoopa gets it. You fought with your girlfriend, then."

    Latias squealed and hovered into the air. "Quit it, Hoopa! I don't have a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or friends. I'm just a nobody, okay? Leave me alone." She sank back onto the straw bed.

    Hoopa pulled a paper plate out of a ring portal. It had a frowny face crudely drawn on it. Hoopa held it up in front of his face. "Not until Hoopa can turn that frown upside down." He rotated the plate around. Latias responded with an annoyed huff. She tucked her head under a wing again. Hoopa rubbed his brow and tossed the paper plate back into his ring. "Sheesh. Tough crowd," he whispered.

    "Look. Hoopa doesn't want to see a fellow god down in the dumps in like this." Hoopa pulled a scroll out from a ring portal and unfurled it. He levitated it toward Latias. "You're an explorer now. And one of the rules we follow is that smiles go for miles!"

    "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to talk about," Latias said, digging her head into the straw.

    With an unamused look, Hoopa rolled up the scroll and stuffed it back in his ring. "You're really yanking Hoopa's horns here. If you're not going to let me help you, then I suppose I'll have to tell the others that you're feeling blue and need to be cheered up. Then you're really gonna get peppered with questions. Hoopa supposes he could read your mind, too, while he's at it." He shrugged.

    Latias' head shot up. "You wouldn't!"

    "Hoopa's bosses can tell you Hoopa is always serious," Hoopa said, puffing out his tiny chest and trying to wear a serious expression.

    "Okay, fine." Latias figured the sooner she fessed up, the sooner Hoopa would be out of her feathers. "I did have a fight with a someone yesterday: Lugia. He's my—" She cut herself off. "He's been helping me train. I told him that I was joining the Expedition Society and we… had a difference of opinion about it."

    "I can't stop thinking about it. I totally blew things out of proportion. I want to go apologize, but now that I'm here, I don't know when I'm going to have the time," Latias continued. "That's why I'm bummed. So, are we done here?"

    "Yup! And don't you worry. Hoopa has a solution!" Hoopa declared.

    Latias cocked her head in confusion. "I didn't ask you to help."

    "Consider it Hoopa's welcoming gift." Hoopa winked at Latias, then tossed a ring portal open and flew into it, leaving Latias lying on her bed, a confused look on her face.

    XxX​

    "Knock knock! Hoopagram!"

    "Gah!" Latias shot up and bumped her head on the ceiling. "Ow, ow!" she squealed, drifting toward the ground and rubbing her head. "Nnnrgh… Hoopa, what was that for?" She spun around and found a ring portal in the doorway of her room. Hoopa's head was sticking out of it.

    "Hoopa's got a special delivery," Hoopa said, chuckling.

    "Of what?" Latias asked.

    "Of you!"

    Latias squeaked in surprise as a second ring portal opened up beside her and dragged her in. Her world went white for a split-second, then she found herself in the middle of a damp cave. Old, crumbling pillars surrounded her. A pool of water sat on a ledge across from her. Lugia stood on the ledge, shuffling nervously.

    "Lugia?" Latias blinked. "I'm in the Sea Shrine, aren't I?" She glanced to her right and found Hoopa leaning against a pillar. "What did you do that for?"

    "Because I asked him to," Lugia said. He hopped off his ledge and glided over to Latias. Lugia landed in front of her.

    "Oh." Latias drifted back, tapping her claws together nervously. This was her first time seeing Lugia since their spat a few weeks ago, but the impromptu nature of the meeting left her at a loss for words. "I, uh—"

    "Don't tell me you're sorry," Lugia cut in, holding up a wing. "You have nothing to apologize for." He looked down. "It was my fault things got out of hand the last time we were together."

    Latias raised a skeptical eyebrow. This wasn't how she had expected things to go down. "Um… I'm not sure I follow," she said, opting to feign ignorance and see where Lugia was going.

    "I know about what happened. What Rayquaza did to you," Lugia said, curling his tail around his right leg.

    All Latias could manage to say in response was a raspy, "How?"

    "Hoopa came to see me. He told me how badly our argument had made you feel. We talked for a bit… and he helped me realize that I totally missed the signs that Rayquaza had done something bad to you," Lugia explained, wincing. "I went to Sky Tower to train with him and, while I was there, I took a glimpse at his memories." His eyes narrowed. "I saw what he did to you and I—" He shook his head. "My blood boiled."

    "I knew Rayquaza wasn't the nicest guy, but Mother always looked up to him and said I should, too. He's so powerful… I wanted to be strong, like him," Lugia continued, looking away in shame. "I never thought he could be such a total jackass. You have no idea how badly I wanted hurt him, but…" Lugia shut his eyes and bowed his head. "I mean, you've seen it first-hand. Rayquaza's too strong. I could never stand up to him."

    Latias shuddered. Her mind filled with memories of that final training session and the pain it brought her. "I guess… now you know why I was so skittish when we trained together," Latias whispered, wings drooping.

    "I'm so sorry I didn't realize it sooner," Lugia croaked.

    "Don't be. I kept silent… because I knew you looked up to Rayquaza. I didn't want to ruin your perception of him," Latias admitted, shaking her head. "But I guess I only made things worse by doing that, huh?"

    "Let's not focus on that. It's in the past," Lugia said, offering her a wing. Latias drifted backward. Lugia withdrew his wing, frowning.

    "So, are you going to keep training with Rayquaza?" Latias asked.

    Lugia shook his head. "I may not have stood up to him, per se, but I did tell him that I was done training with him. I, uh, lied and said I'd gotten what I'd wanted out of our sessions," he said.

    "What happened when you told him that?" Latias wondered.

    "He looked me dead in the eyes and said, 'Well, if you're happy spending the rest of your days in mediocrity, then I guess we're done here,'" Lugia replied, sighing. "Eventually, I'm going to have to work with him in some capacity. Y'know, to help keep the world safe. Doesn't mean I have to enjoy it, though."

    "Right," Latias whispered, still fidgeting with her claws.

    "Look, Latias, I'm really sorry I gave you so much flak over joining the Expedition Society." Lugia rubbed his neck. "The idea of living in a crowded town with a bunch of 'mons doesn't sit well with me… and I guess I projected that onto you." He exhaled loudly. "But, well, it sure would be a waste to lose you over something so silly. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of what you're doing, I want to support you."

    "You really mean that?" Latias said, hovering toward Lugia.

    "I do. I think you're kind, caring, and pretty funny, even when you don't intend to be," Lugia said, stepping forward. Latias lowered herself to Lugia's level. "I imagine this new job will keep you busy, but I'd love it if we could keep spending time together when you're free."

    Latias heart rate picked up. She thought back to the day she encountered Lugia on the beach. How her heart fluttered when he took an interest in her, even though she dodged his questions. "I, um, would like to keep seeing you, too," she whispered.

    Lugia smiled. "Nothing would make me happier." He turned to Hoopa and nodded. Hoopa opened up a ring portal beside Latias.

    She looked skeptically at it. "O-Oh. Am I going back already?" she asked.

    "Only if you want to," Lugia said. "Otherwise, I wanted to show you something."

    Latias' heart beat even faster. She leaned in toward the portal, only to back away when it flashed white. A pair of goggles floated out, with red, tinted lenses and a silver-white band. They hovered in front of Latias.

    "These are for me?" she said, reaching out and gently taking the goggles in her paws. As she turned them over, she found the Expedition Society's logo etched into the goggle frame.

    "Yeah. Hoopa put me in touch with Jirachi." Nervous sweatdrops ran down Lugia's neck. "He, uh, did all the work, I guess. But I gave him Silver Wings to make the band." He lifted up his left wing and flapped it slowly. "Consider it a gift to help you make the most out of your time as an explorer."

    Latias repeatedly turned the goggles over in her paws. She levitated them in front of her face. "Why goggles?" she asked.

    "Well, you can fly pretty fast, but I imagine it must be hard to see where you're going. Plus, if you're looking to get stronger, then sooner or later you're going to give Mega Evolution a try. I figured the goggles could help you deal with the increased speeds Mega Evolution brings," Lugia said, shuffling about. "I know, it probably seems silly, but—"

    Latias sped forward and embraced Lugia. It happened so quickly, he couldn't help but squawk.

    Hoopa applauded them. "D'aww, how adorable. Hoopa gives his compliments to the happy couple."

    "W-We're not a couple!" Latias stammered, backing away from Lugia. She dropped the goggles, but managed to catch them with her telekinesis. Latias slipped them around her neck. Her feathers prickled.

    "We could be, though," Lugia said, drawing a wide-eyed look from Latias.

    "Th… that's a bit impulsive, don't you think?" Latias said, trying to compose herself even though her mind was egging her on to agree with Lugia.

    "Maybe it is," Lugia said, shrugging. "But what can I say? I love you. I love spending time with you. I want us to make memories together… when you're not off exploring, of course."

    "I don't know. I'm… I don't think I'm ready for something like that. I've never given any thought to having a mate… and I have no idea how Latios would respond," Latias said, fidgeting with her new goggles.

    "A mate? Oh, no, no, no." Lugia held up his wings and shook his head. "I'm not saying we have to take that leap. I'm certainly not ready for that." He took another step forward. His head was right in front of Latias'. "I'm talking about courtship, that's all. Y'know, hanging out together, except there's the option of, like, kissing or snuggling or something."

    Lugia looked away. "I know you went through a lot with Rayquaza, so I can understand you'd be… hesitant. But I'm willing to take things at whatever speed works best for you," he said. "We're both still young by lesser god standards, right? We've got time. Time we can use to get to know each other even better. If it doesn't work out, I'm happy just being your friend. But if, in a few months or years, we're both comfortable enough to move things forward, then we can."

    "So, uh, what do you say? Would you like to take a chance?" Lugia asked.

    Latias considered his proposal. Though she was a bit nervous, she couldn't deny how much she enjoyed spending time with Lugia. And, if they took things slow, she could figure out how to fit him into her life while supporting the Expedition Society.

    Satisfied, Latias leaned over and pecked the tip of Lugia's beak. "I would," she whispered, nuzzling his cheek with her own.

    A warm smile spread across Lugia's face. He wrapped Latias up in an embrace and returned the nuzzle with one of his own.

    "Regardless of how this turns out, I'll always try to have your back," he said.

    XxX
    I like to think this is lighter and softer than last year's Valentine's special. I hope it turned out all right. I'm afraid that, between work running me ragged and my health and mood on the down swing, I didn't have as much time as I wanted to put this part together. Heck, this is the first full part for the fic that's been finished the same week it was posted.

    Next time: we see how things are going with Tessa.
     
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 81: Secrets Laid Bare

    ~Circadian Kabana Infirmary~

    Tessa knocked on the thatched-straw door, then paused. When no one answered, she pushed it ajar and peeked inside. The healing station was a small, pink-tiled room, divided in half by a blue curtain. Orange drapes adorned the walls, filtering the sunlight so it cast the room in a soft glow. Two beds sat across from Tessa. One was unoccupied, draped in warm-colored linens. The other held Primarina.

    He lay on his side, facing a window. He had some assorted nicks, a damp washcloth on his head, and grease on his hair and flippers. His costume — or what was left of it — was still on.

    "P… Primarina?" Tessa whispered. "It's Tessa. Can I come in?" She shifted awkwardly in the doorway. When Primarina didn't answer, she pushed the door open a little more and walked inside, nervously fidgeting with the locket it her scarf. "I'm sorry. I know you're trying to rest, but—"

    "You don't have to worry about me. I'm fine," Primarina said, his voice dry and flat.

    Tessa winced, unsure of what to do. She wanted to figure out what happened to Primarina, but worried any attempt to comfort him might fall flat. And there was a part of her saying he didn't deserve comfort, since he was the one responsible for everything that happened.

    "My teammates and I just want to get to the bottom of all this… insanity, for lack of a better word," Tessa said, rubbing the back of her head. Her glitter-filled fur twinkled as stray light beams trickled in from the open door. Some of the sparkles crossed Primarina's vision. He reluctantly rolled over so he was facing Tessa.

    "You look much different than your mother. You were dazzling in that outfit I whipped up for you," he whispered, adjusting the washcloth. "The one the human made didn't do you any favors, though. It looked like it was slapped together by a kid with no sense of style."

    Tessa figured that summed Shane up pretty well. She finally stepped inside and shut the door. Tessa glanced at a small table to her right. A pink vase sat on it, bearing three sunflowers. "Yeah. The outfits disappeared when we got back here. Cosplay Pikachu couldn't sustain them anymore," she said. "Not that I'm bothered by it. That outfit chafed."

    "Well, obviously. Whoever made it gave your fur no breathing room," Primarina said. He looked away from Tessa, grimacing. "Urk. That said… I really do have to hand it to you. That was quite the performance you put on."

    "Aha ha… it was just something we threw together out of desperation." Tessa rubbed her shoulder. "We've sadly gotten used to working with our backs against the wall." Silence followed. Tessa looked down at the floor, biting her lower lip. "Um… Primarina? The truth is… I didn't just want to come here to ask you about what happened. There's… there's something you need to know."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Primarina asked, sitting up in his bed.

    "It's… it's Serperior. She… um…" Tessa poked her digits together.

    "Oh, gods… what happened to Serpy?!" Primarina said. He shot up onto his tailfins, only to flop back onto the bad with a fatigued groan.

    "After you left to come back to Circadian Coast… Guildmaster Metagross sent Team Captivate to locate Tapu Koko's temple. But the Prism Virus got to them first," Tessa explained. She squeezed her eyes shut. "Serperior… she's working for Necrozma, now. We even had to fight her when we exploring Mount Supernova. She fled before we could free her, so she's still under Necrozma's control."

    Tessa turned away, hiking her scarf up. "I'm sorry," she said. Tessa waited for a response, but got nothing. Her aura feelers curled up. Primarina's sadness was a veritable weight pressing against Tessa's head. She had to take a calming breath to keep herself from doubling over. Tessa always felt brief sparks of emotion as a Riolu, but this was much harder to tolerate.

    "I've made a terrible mistake," Primarina finally whispered, squeezing a pink pillow against his chest.

    "Do you, um, want to talk about it?" Tessa asked, her fidgeting intensifying. She didn't like being outside her element. Comforting others was Silvally's specialty, not hers.

    "It's not that hard to understand," Primarina said. "I've always wanted— no, craved attention from others. But all that did was cause a whole mess of trouble." He shook his head. "I was there, sweetie." He looked up at Tessa. "I was at the guild… with Serpy. I could've stayed instead of coming back here."

    "I don't think that would've made much of a difference. The Prism Virus didn't just get Serperior, it got Milotic and Dragonair, too. And the other guild members are…" Tessa's voice trailed off and she squeezed her eyes shut. "We lost almost all of them to Necrozma."

    "You're kidding," Primaria gasped, but Tessa shook her head. "I see." Primarina looked back down at his pillow. "This is all one giant mistake."

    "What do you mean?" Tessa asked, aura feelers tensing. She sensed apprehension, but didn't want to push Primarina too hard on anything sensitive.

    "I guess I should come clean." Primarina sighed. "Babe, the truth is I was never really interested in helping people. I joined the guild because I wanted attention." He pulled the washcloth down over his eyes. "Vappy and I had met through dance classes we had both taken here. I convinced him to tag along and we became a team."

    He paused. "Err, look, I know you don't want to sit around and listen to me ramble. The short version is Vappy and I used our missions to get resources to try and launch performance careers. When we figured out we could make music crystals together… we spent most of our time doing that, as opposed to actual guild work. When the music crystals sold, we were ecstatic. Vappy agreed to be my manager, because singing tired him out."

    'This is supposed to be the short version?' Tessa thought, resisting the urge to shake her head.

    "And we loved the fame, babe. We got letters, care packages, fangirls… you name it," Primarina continued. "Of course, we did the bare minimum expected of a veteran team to keep our status, but our hearts weren't really in it." He rubbed his right temple with his flipper. "Vappy had actually suggested we retire. Several times, actually. But I didn't listen to him."

    Tessa raised a brow. "Because…"

    "Serpy! There was something about her. The attitude… the passion! She loved being the center of attention, just like me. We were positively made for each other, babe," Primarina said, patting his chest. "That's why I insisted on staying. I'd have an easier time staying at the Observatory with her if I still contributed to the guild."

    "Okay," Tessa said, biting her lip. Through all of Primarina's rambling, Tessa didn't have any better idea of what had gone wrong to turn him power hungry. "Um, sorry if this sounds rude, but can we try to steer this back to what happened in Sunset Shoals?"

    Primarina winced. His guilt tugged at Tessa's aura feelers. Her stomach gurgled. She wished she had kept her mouth shut.

    "My music crystal stock had run low, so I set out to Sunset Shoals to mine more of them," Primarina explained, turning to stare at the curtain. "Things were going fine, until I unearthed a particularly dazzling gem, babe. It was… so magnificent. I got lost in its, uh, radiance, for lack of a better word."

    Tessa fought back a groan.

    "The longer I stared, the more captivated I got," Primarina continued. He paused, then winced at the realization he had used another cheesy bit of guild-related wordplay. "Before I knew it, my latent desire for everyone to see me as a star grew stronger than ever. It was uncontrollable. I simply had to perform in front of a grand audience." He gripped his head. "But there was no audience there, so I had to make my audience. I found some wild Pokémon and sang to them. Suddenly, they followed my every order."

    "That's… very odd," Tessa said, brow furrowed. She recalled the fact that Necrozma had created the Hourglasses. Perhaps a part of his spirit had managed to take control? But, if that was the case, would something bad happen to Shane if they managed to gather the full Hourglass? He managed to use two Shards during the concert, but she was still worried about the visions he said he had.

    Tessa shook her head to stop her runaway thought train. There would be time to dwell on it later. Now, she had to focus.

    "You still with me, babe? If you've got somewhere to be, then go. Don't worry about me," Primarina said.

    "I'm still here," Tessa assured him. "Sorry about that. I was just… trying to process all that information. It's a bit much for me. Do you think you could tell me how you ended up with so many Pokémon in Sunset Shoals?"

    "It was strange, babe. Real strange." Primarina sat up. "I thought to myself that I needed a lot of energy to project my music to a grand audience… and then a portal opened up in front of me and dumped in these two weird-looking electric… thingies." He waved his flippers about. "I was able to bring these chains up out of the ground to corral them. Then, when I started singing, wild Pokémon came flocking in from throughout the dungeon."

    "I amassed quite the following, but it wasn't enough. So, I ordered my 'new posse' to nab anyone from the resort who wandered too far along the beach," Primarina continued. "That's when Vappy and Jolty came looking for me. I wanted them to join my entourage, but I was too far from the weird things that amplified my powers. So, I attacked them myself." He buried his face in his fins and shook it. "I'm praying they're both okay. If I did something to hurt them… I'll never forgive myself."

    Tessa glanced at the curtain. "I'm really not sure. I'm sure Florges is taking good care of them, though. I have faith things will turn out okay."

    "I wish I could believe that, babe, but after this whole kerfuffle I wouldn't be surprised if Vappy never wants to see my face again. I think it's safe to say Team Harmony is finished," Primarina declared.

    "Well, at the very least, you should try apologizing," Tessa said, fidgeting with her paws. "I can't tell you how Vaporeon will respond, but I think it would be best if you two talk through this." She wondered if that was actually an appropriate thing to say.

    Primarina sighed. "I know. I'm not sure what to say, but I'll have to think of something. Regardless of what I say, though, I think I'm through with exploring. And since I used Mystery Dungeons to get music crystals… this might be where my singing career comes to an end, too."

    "Don't say that," Tessa blurted out, trying to keep her tone even. "M-Maybe what you need is a break. Y'know, a chance to take a step back and reevaluate things?" She was tempted to ask if Primarina would at least consider helping them with Necrozma, but didn't want to press her luck.

    "I suppose. I at least owe it to my adoring fans." Primarina sat back against his bed. "Was there anything else you needed, babe? Our conversation's left me exhausted."

    "Ah. Then I won't bother you anymore. Rest up," Tessa said. She slowly opened the door and slipped out of the infirmary. Tessa walked away, wondering if she had actually done anything to help Primarina. At the very least, she had a better idea of what had caused all the commotion in the first place. Tessa figured she would wait until all her teammates were together to loop them in.

    Tessa froze in the middle of the resort area. In her haste to go to the infirmary, she had made a tiny mistake.

    'Where the heck does Kahuna Raichu live?'

    XxX

    ~Lively Town~

    A stream of lightning surged through the forest on the bustling community's outskirts. It banked off tree after tree until it reached a part where the forest sloped upward. The bolt struck a rock and sailed through several bushes. Dragonite emerged from the lightning, hovering a few yards away from a dirt trail. Zero stood perched on a rotting log, aura dreadlocks undulating as she focused on the hiking trail. Milotic and Serperior sat coiled up around tree roots, each looking down.

    "Well?" Zero said, turning to Dragonite.

    "I caught glimpses of Team Poképals in the Expedition Society building. They're there. I didn't see them holding any Time Gears or anything, but I doubt they'd stay far from them," Dragonite said, smirking and crossing her arms. "At the very least, we know Manaphy's 'parents' are around. Which should make things simpler, right?"

    Zero traced a crystal claw along her scepter. "What about gods? Did you catch any sign of Azelf or Uxie in the building? I can't imagine they'd leave their Time Gears with a pack of mortals."

    "I couldn't see anything from my lookout point," Dragonite reported. She stiffened when Zero tightened her grip on her scepter. "Besides, we already know Jirachi lives there. Not to mention, the Lati twins. And rumor has it Hoopa works for Team Gaia. I certainly didn't see any sign of, well, any of them." She landed in front of Zero. "Do you want to wait around and try to keep scoping the place out?"

    "No." Zero produced a black ball in her paw. "I'm afraid we're on a tight schedule, here. I can't afford to waste any time. If you do encounter a god, you'll have to improvise. After all, they should be fairly accepting of Manaphy."

    The ball opened. Manaphy appeared in a swirl of red light. He slouched over, his empty eyes fixed on the ground.

    "Manaphy, Heart Swap on Dragonite," Zero ordered, tapping her staff against the log.

    Manaphy lifted his head up and whipped his antennae in Dragonite's direction. Dragonite's body crumpled to the ground, as did Manaphy's. They both stood up a few seconds later, the former looking tired while the latter grinned.

    Zero glanced at Manaphy's body. "Did it work or not, Dragonite?"

    "It did," Dragonite said, her voice perfectly mimicking Manaphy's.

    "Then go." Zero pointed toward the trail. "I'm not sure how long the Heart Swap can remain active for, so don't dawdle."

    Dragonite saluted Zero with a flipper. She waddled onto the trail, then began making her way toward Lively Town.

    "What are we supposed to do in the meantime, huh?" Serperior wondered, watching Dragonite go.

    "We wait. And brace ourselves to fight," Zero said, lifting her free paw. It crackled with static. "I have a feeling Dragonite won't be able to slip in and out with attracting unwanted attention."

    XxX

    ~Circadian Coast~

    Tessa decided to try and search for her teammates auras and go from there. She shut her eyes, focusing her mind on her aura feelers. The world became ripples of blue all around her. While she saw several blue flames flaring up nearby, they weren't familiar. She gritted her teeth, forcing herself to concentrate harder. But she didn't have the reach to locate them.

    Sighing, Tessa walked toward Daybreak Beach, figuring she might have better luck away from all the resort occupants. She was surprised to find Shane by the shoreline, pacing back and forth. The glitter in his fur made him sparkle even more than usual. Tessa felt blood rushing to her cheeks and shook her head.

    Her thoughts drifted back to the Mega Evolution incident. Tessa wanted to reconcile with Shane after attacking him, but the team got swept up in Primarina's antics. Now that Shane was alone, Tessa could talk with him. But as she walked toward him, she paused. Her aura feelers tensed and a brief sense of frustration bubbled in the back of her mind.

    Shane was upset about something. Tessa realized she couldn't just walk up to him and demand to apologize. Instead, she decided she'd start with something less distressing and see where the conversation took her. Tessa took a deep breath and resumed walking toward Shane.

    "What are you doing out here by yourself?" she asked.

    "Cripes!" Shane yipped, jumping up in surprise. He landed awkwardly. Shane found his balance with enough time to stop himself from falling into wet sand. "Don't sneak up on me like that, Tessa. I think my heart stopped for a second there," he said.

    "Oh. Sorry," Tessa said, tugging on her scarf. Even with the pacing, she didn't think Shane seemed that jumpy. "I was looking for Kahuna Raichu's place when I saw you out here. I thought you might like some company."

    To her surprise, Shane tensed, his tails twisting around each other. "Uh, yeah. Company would be fine," he said, awkwardly sitting on his haunches right along the line where the ocean water finished lapping up against the beach. Tessa sat down next to him, leaving Shane enough space to lay out his tails.

    "So… uh…" Tessa twirled the end of her scarf. "Weird day today, huh?"

    "I guess," Shane said, some hesitation in his voice. "Weird is our normal, as sad as it is."

    "True. But today was a different kind of weird, don't you think?" Tessa said, throwing in a chuckle for good measure.

    Shane looked down at the sand. "Yeah, I see your point."

    "You look like you have something you want to say." Tessa hoped she could tease out whatever was bugging her friend.

    "I'm trying to figure out how to phrase it," Shane said. "I mean… it's strange. Our mission today was probably the most successful one we've ever had. Yeah, there were some moments that caught us all off-guard. But today it felt like we were actually in control for once. Like… we actually worked together and coordinated well to stop Primarina's concert. And, unlike every battle we've been in, our backs weren't against the wall."

    "Huh. I hadn't considered that. Probably because our fight with Primarina was so much different from all our other battles," Tessa mused. Still, I have to admit I'm impressed with how well your plan ended up working." She smiled at Shane. "Y'know, we've walked such a grueling road up until this point… it feels good to actually have something go our way."

    Shane's lack of response, coupled with a sudden weight pulling on Tessa's aura feelers, made her smile vanish. "Did I say something wrong?" she whispered, resuming her fidgeting.

    "What? No, of course not," Shane replied, ears sticking up straight. "I'm conflicted about all of this… that's all." Sighing, Shane pawed at a dry mound of sand. "When we were putting my half-baked plan into action— hell, when we were up on stage… everyone's eyes were on us. Now that things have settled, though..." His voice trailed off.

    "I can't count the number of times in my human life when I wanted people to pay attention to me. To, y'know, acknowledge me and say nice things that would make me feel good." Shane looked at Tessa. "Remember how I mentioned those games where I pretended to be a Lucario? Those were part of it. I craved attention so badly, I did stuff like that in the hopes someone would notice me."

    "That extends to this world, too. When I first got here, I tried so hard to be the center of attention… and that turned out disastrously," Shane continued. Tessa nodded slowly, the memories of Moonrise Marsh festering in the back of her mind. "Well, today I actually got to be the center of attention. And it was…" He shook his head. "It wasn't what I thought it was."

    "You seemed like you were enjoying yourself, though," Tessa noted, digging a paw into the warm sand.

    "That was really because of you guys." Shane awkwardly batted his rightmost tail with his forepaw. "Hearing you sing made my heart flutter. And then I got to go onstage with Espy…"

    Tessa envisioned the kiss she witnessed. "Yeah. I, uh, bet you're really happy about that, huh?"

    "No. Not really." Shane's brushed his shoulder with his muzzle. "Err, I mean, it felt great in the moment, but once that initial thrill wore off, I felt… I dunno… kinda empty inside?" He shook his head. "I can't really put it into words. It's the same way I felt about the random Pokémon under Primarina's hypnosis. Their applause didn't do anything. I wasn't proud or happy." His brow furrowed. "Honestly, the ones at the party before the concert that said things to me creeped me out."

    "I think they were flirting with you, Shane," Tessa said.

    "Huh? Th-that was… flirting?" Shane stiffened. "O… oh, right. Like what Espy was doing when she was infected. Ugh, I can't believe I didn't realize it." He flicked some dry sand into the ebbing water. "I guess that's how little it registered to me."

    "Maybe your head was a bit in the clouds?" Tessa proposed, scratching her head. "You mentioned the pre-concert party was a lot like the parties you didn't get invited to when you were human. If I were in your position, I'd be totally lost in thought trying to take everything in."

    Shane's brow furrowed. "Hmm. That doesn't explain it."

    "Explain what?" Tessa asked, concerned with the look on his face.

    "Why my thoughts kept drifting back to some of the jokes you guys made about me while we were in the dungeon," Shane responded. "Like my recklessness, my impulsive streak, and my tendency to put my paw in my mouth."

    "O… oh." Tessa clasped her paws against her chest. "Shane, I know none of us meant to hurt your feelings. That was only meant to be friendly teasing." Tessa was sure that, in the moment, she made it sound like she was joking.

    "I get that," Shane said. "I do, really. I'm not mad at you or anything."

    "But you're not okay." Tessa rubbed one of her aura feelers as an indication she was picking up Shane's negative vibes.

    Shane winced. "I guess. See, back when I was human, other students at school would make similar comments about my behaviors. When I told my parents about it, they said my peers were just joking around… and the best way to make friends with them was to play along."

    "So, that's what I did. I tried laughing off their comments or saying the first silly thing that came to my mind." Shane's ears drooped. "They would usually laugh, so that made me think I did the right thing. Only…" His voice trailed off and he looked out over the ocean. "They weren't joking around. They were making fun of me. At the time, I didn't realize it, but Nicky did. He said I needed to keep my mouth shut around the other students or it would get worse."

    Shane sighed, releasing a tiny cloud of frost and watching it drift over the water before it evaporated into thin air. "Nicky knew what he was talking about, but I didn't see it that way. The other students were giving me attention, so I kept responding to their teasing," he said. "And Nicky got more and more upset until… well, y'know."

    He pivoted to face to face Tessa. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that the jokes brought up some unpleasant memories." Shane brushed his rightmost tail nervously. "It's not your fault, though. There's something I've kept hidden from you guys since the day we met." Shane squeezed his eyes shut. He never thought he would actually sit down and have this conversation with anyone, let alone his partner.

    Tessa raised a brow. Shane did have a tendency to stumble over his words or overexaggerate, but the tension in her aura feelers suggested he really did have a big secret to confess. "Well, I'm willing to hear you out if you'd like to talk about it, but we don't have to if you'd rather keep it to yourself." Tessa crossed her legs and put her paws in her lap.

    "N-no. You're… my friend. You deserve to know," Shane said. Shoulder sagging, he took a deep breath. "Tessa, the truth is that when I was a human… my parents told me I had a condition. They said my mind didn't work the same way a normal human's did. They called it, uh, awe— no, wait, aut— um, ought-something?" He paused and rubbed his head against his shoulder. "Okay, I forget exactly what they called it, but the point still stands."

    Tessa frowned. "I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying you were sick?"

    Shane winced. "I don't know. I didn't feel sick, but my parents sure made it sound like I was. They sent me to these strange places where I interacted with other kids or talked with adult humans about what happened at school," he explained. "They even forced me to take medicine a few times, but it made me feel horrible."

    "If you don't think you're sick, then why bring it up?" Tessa wondered. She threw a paw up over her muzzle. "S-Sorry, Shane, that was rude of me. I—"

    "It's fine." Shane brushed a forepaw through the sand. "The reason I'm bringing it up is because of everything that's happened the past couple of weeks. With each day that's gone by, I've steadily grown more and more sure that there was something off with how I acted as a human. And on top of that…" He slowly shut his eyes and bowed his head. "After today, I've finally realized that my friendship with Nicky wasn't genuine."

    "What would make you say that, Shane?" Tessa gasped, aura feelers sticking up in surprise.

    "It goes back to some of the stuff we talked about last night. How a good friendship is built on balance. Nicky and I didn't have balance… and that's my fault." Shane looked up at Tessa. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to milk sympathy this time. I'm simply stating the truth."

    "That stuff I told you about wanting to get everyone's attention? It was overwhelming. I constantly had— no, even now I have this intense urge to say whatever's on my mind, even if nobody cares," Shane explained. "When I was human, I had to speak. I had to act. And if I didn't…" Shane gritted his teeth. "I'd throw tantrums and make scenes… exactly like when I upset Lycanroc after the Bewear incident."

    Tessa listened in silence. Shane only paused for a quick breath. And his nervousness sent erratic twitches racing across her aura feelers. For once, she believed his claim about not wanting sympathy.

    "I always thought my friendship with Nicky was fine, but the reality is I didn't view him as a friend… I viewed him more like a toy." Shane sank onto his stomach. "A toy I didn't get tired of playing with, even as I got older. When we hung out, we did things I wanted. Nicky followed my instructions. Even when we played games, he usually listened to me. When he tried to make suggestions, I wouldn't listen. I can't remember if I threw any tantrums when I didn't get my way, but I'm sure it must've happened."

    The temptation to ask Shane why Nicky put up with that lingered in Tessa's head. But the pained, confused look on Shane's face gave her pause. She sat in the sand with her paws in her lap, nervously rubbing her winged-heart sigil.

    "When we were young, Nicky didn't seem to care. We had similar hobbies, after all," Shane continued, slowly sitting back up. "But the older we got, the more I upset him. He said that stuff to my face… but I ignored him. Whenever he got mad at me, I shut down."

    "Shut down?" Tessa said, raising a brow.

    "Yeah. I'd go quiet and stare at the floor." Shane mimicked the action for Tessa. "Initially that got him to stop, but soon I found myself turning my frustration around on him. I'd respond to him with something like 'Why are you being mean to me? Aren't I supposed to be your friend?'" He took a shuddering breath. "That's the stuff Necrozma told me off for in the Temple of Body… playing the victim and making it look like everything was his fault instead of mine."

    "The thing is… he was right," Shane whispered, nudging at the edge of his scarf with a whine. "Because my parents told me off for my behaviors, too. They said things like, 'Don't do that, Shane,' and, 'That's not how you're allowed to behave, Shane.'" He shivered. "Every time they scolded me, I felt like they were attacking me… so, I either shut down or told them to stop being mean to me."

    "Except the other adults my parents had me work with said the same things… they just did it more respectfully. Yet I still refused to listen. I kept seeing it as people trying to get in the way of my ability to have fun." Shane smacked the sand with a forepaw. Tessa stiffened, wanting to say something but struggling to find the words to do so.

    "When Nicky died, I couldn't process what had happened. I didn't understand that I had missed warning signs that Nicky was reaching out to me for help," Shane said, his shivers intensifying. "Instead, I saw it as Nicky abandoning me." Shane squeezed his eyes shut. "I… I'm sorry, I've been rambling so long, but I can't stop. It's word vomit."

    "N-no, it's okay. I'm still listening," Tessa said, wondering if now was the right time to comfort her friend or if that would be giving him undeserved sympathy.

    Tears were trickling down Shane's face. "Tessa, do you remember that night after we failed sentry duty? When you left the guild and we saved you from Espy and Umbreon? I… I told you I didn't think I was a bad person," Shane said, while Tessa nodded silently. "That was a lie. I was awful… I'm sure of it."

    "The way I acted up through Mellath Bog… that was the real Shane. Someone who only cares about himself… and who will step on anyone if it means he gets his way," Shane said, sniffling. "I used my condition as an excuse to never change. I kept treating people around me like dirt until I ended up on my own… unwilling to put myself out there because I was convinced nobody would let me do what I wanted to do."

    "And I'm… so confused. Because when I was a human, I refused to listen to anyone. But after the Mellath Bog stuff… it's like a switch flipped inside of me," Shane continued, brow furrowing. "Instead of ignoring everything I didn't like, it all registered. I finally understood how much I was hurting the people around me." His ears drooped.

    "Tessa, I'm scared. The change was so sudden… it can't really be me. It's gotta be Solgaleo," Shane said, holding up his foreleg to show off his Naturia Looplet. "His spirit's getting stronger… and in the memories I see of him, he really seemed like he cared about the people around him. Not like me…" Shane lowered his foreleg. "I fear that, once we put the Dawn Hourglass back together, Solgaleo will regain his power. Which means his spirit will separate from mine."

    More tears welled up in Shane's eyes. The weight in Tessa's aura feelers intensified. She gulped, trying to keep her own emotions in check. "Whether I stay here or go back to the human world, I don't want to turn back into the old Shane!" he cried, tails twisting around one another. "I can't go back. I can't— I don't want to hurt people anymore. But that's exactly what I think is gonna happen. And knowing that makes it even more painful."

    "I understand we have to put the Dawn Hourglass together. I'm not going to stop that from happening. I just…" He blinked tears out of his eyes. "I'm afraid of turning back into an ignorant jackass, especially if I remember everything that happened here." Shane lowered his head. "I'm sorry, Tessa. I didn't mean for that to go completely off the rails. I just… really wanted to get that all off my chest… in case I don't retain any sort of control once the Dawn Hourglass is restored."

    Tessa had to plant her paws in the sand behind her to keep from flopping onto her back in disbelief. All of that lingered in Shane's mind the entire time they were in Sunset Shoals? She figured her conversation with Shane in Cosmic Cavern must have set off this line of thinking. What could she even say in response to all of that?

    "You're right, Shane. That was a lot to take in," Tessa said hesitantly. "I don't really know how to react, to be honest. The only thing that comes to mind is that… I appreciate you working up the courage to say all of that to me. It must've been really hard for you."

    Whining softly, Shane nodded. "You already know I'm worried I'll have to disappear to bring Solgaleo back," he said. "I guess I thought this was how I could get some sense of closure… because I care about you a lot. I know I said that before, but it bears repeating. Given what I told you about Nicky… I think it's safe to say that you're the first real friend I've ever had. I didn't want to leave while keeping such a big secret."

    "That's a bold statement," Tessa whispered, sitting back up and clutching her scarf. "Shane, I'm not sure what sort of response you were expecting from me."

    "To be honest, I wasn't expecting any. I was just rambling," Shane said, laughing awkwardly while he traced a circle in the sand with his forepaw.

    "Well, I still want to say something." She cleared her throat. "I get that you're worried, but I think that, like with some of your other bold claims, you're off the mark." Shane's ears twitched. Hopeful tingling spread through the tips of Tessa's aura feelers. "It's true that you did some awful things when you were a Vulpix. And I've seen how hard you've tried to change your ways. But I don't think Solgaleo's responsible for that."

    "It's all your doing." She put her paw against Shane's chest tuft.

    Eyes wide, he sucked in a breath. "But… but…"

    "Think about it, Shane. You're the one who leaped into the fray to save me when Espeon had captured me… and then did the same thing against Tapu Lele," Tessa continued, taking her paw off his chest. "You encouraged me to go find Silvally after he broke his mask. You told me not to give up when Mount Supernova was collapsing… then ran yourself ragged when my evolution went awry."

    "You did that. And you had plenty of moments where you acted like a goofball or said ridiculous things," Tessa exclaimed. "That's why I can't believe what you're saying. Yes, it's strange that you're now seeing faults where you didn't before. But maybe that's because circumstances here are a lot different. Your life wasn't on the line when you were human, after all." She shrugged. "In any case, I'm hopeful that, regardless what happens, this Shane is the one that will stick around. And that's… you deserve that…"

    Her voice trailed off and her gaze fell toward her marked paw.

    "Is something wrong, Tessa?" Shane asked.

    This was it. Tessa didn't expect the conversation to turn out this way, but she wasn't about to back down from her original intentions. She took a shuddering breath.

    "Shane, we need to talk about what happened with my Mega Evolution."

    XxX​

    Hoopa's ring portal materialized over choppy ocean water. He flew out of it alongside Latias, who levitated her satchel beside her.

    "Okay, Hoopa's gonna ask. Why are we in the middle of nowhere?" Hoopa said, gazing at his choppy reflection in the water.

    "I want to check in with the teams in Horizon. And I want to do it without getting pestered by a hundred questions about the Dawn Hourglass and why it needs fixing," Latias replied.

    "… feh. Couldn't Ampharos answer them for you?" Hoopa said, shrugging. He and Latias both shared a knowing look saying no, of course Ampharos couldn't.

    "With any luck, they've got the last two shards and we can go get them," Latias said as her Gear-Com hovered out of her floating bag. "Okay, let's see. How did this thing work ag—"

    Latias' head throbbed. Her vision flashed.

    Hoopa titled his head. "Hey, what's up? You look like you've seen a ghost. Y'know, the nasty, ugly kinds… not the awesome ones like Hoopa."

    Intense pain gripped Latias' mind. Her view of the ocean flickered in and out, each time being replaced by Necrozma. His third eye lit up the twisted grin on his face. Ripples of frenzied panic raced down Latias' spine. Her telekinesis faltered, sending her bag and the Gear-Com into freefall.

    "Whoa, Latias, what's your problem?" Hoopa said, using a ring portal to catch the items and transport them safely into his arms.

    "L… Latios," she whispered, horror spreading across her face. "Necrozma has Latios."

    Before Hoopa could react, Latias' eyes widened. She zoomed forward, snatching him up. They narrowly missed a massive purple energy beam.

    "Hoopa, run! Take the Dusk Hourglass and get out of here!" Latias cried, shoving him back. She turned around, only to wilt at the sight of Necrozma floating in front of her, dangling Latios beneath him using ley line chains.

    "Fool! Your pathetic mental link led me right to you!" Necrozma crooned. Latias shot a despondent look at Hoopa, who was already tossing a ring in front of him to flee. "I think not!" Necrozma shouted. A water tornado shot up from beneath Hoopa before he could safely get through his wing.

    "No, get away from him!" Latias shouted. Her blue, sparkling beam bounced harmlessly off the tornado. Searing pain erupted between her wings. The ocean rushed up to meet her. She splashed down with a startled gurgle. Intense currents drew her toward the water tornado. Latias' chest tightened. She couldn't breathe. Necrozma had found them so quickly. If she couldn't pull herself together, he'd have the Dusk Hourglass in his clutches. She was about to fail her assignment in the worst possible way.

    With a burst of psychic energy, Latias shot into the air. An explosive stream of water struck her from behind. She used her ESP to keep from hurtling back into the ocean. When she turned to identify the source, her heart leaped into her throat.

    "L… L… L…" She couldn't even muster the words to address her corrupted mate, even as he floated there in front of her, clutching a battered Hoopa in his right foot. Purple ectoplasm trailed off his feathers and his red sclera crackled like the embers of a forest fire. With dread welling up inside her, Latias realized it wasn't a tornado that had caught Hoopa, but some sort of twisted, powered-up Whirlpool.

    Lugia tossed Hoopa into the air. With a flap of his wings, black shadows sailed through the sky. They swallowed Hoopa up. Necrozma dispelled the shadows with a purple Moongeist Beam. A crystallized Hoopa plummeted into the ocean. Lugia caught the Dusk Hourglass in its right foot.

    "Lugia, stop! Snap out of it!" Latias finally cried. Lugia responded with a primal roar. Latias barely materialized a pink shield in time to deflect purple gusts of wind.

    "Heeheeheehee! Wonderful, simply wonderful! Your reaction was even better than I imagined," Necrozma said. He yanked on the chains in his hands, drawing pained screams from Latios.

    "Stop it!" Latias cried.

    Necrozma immediately held Latios up. "Ah, ah, ah. Don't do anything hasty now, Latias. Otherwise, you'll hit your precious big brother!" he said, voice turning squeaky to mock Latias. The blue energy faded from her mouth. "Heeheeheehee, such a fool. If you were like me… if you didn't care about anyone or anything… you would've attacked me. But you couldn't do it! Luckily…" His grin widened and his eyes flashed.

    Latias whirled around. Her Light Screen shattered in the face of a spiraling purple vortex. It swept her up. Shadows stripped away some feathers, but the gale-force winds drowned out her agonized screams. When the attack faded, a trembling Latias could barely keep her levitation up.

    "… I'm not one to draw things out for the sake of drama," Necrozma said, forcibly yanking Latios' chains so he could see his sister's sorry state. "Look at you. This broken family of yours… and the sentimentality you have for it. Wasn't it the whole reason you were training to get stronger? Or was it, perhaps, something different?" His third eye flickered and the ectoplasmic remnants of Lugia's vortex coalesced into a black, cloudy illusion of Rayquaza.

    "Heeheeheehee! It makes no difference to me. The results were still the same, after all." Necrozma dispelled the shadows with a flick of his wing claws. "Whether it was your family or your pride, you couldn't protect what you cared about most." His mouth opened and drool trickled onto Latios' head, drawing a squeal. "How does it make you feel… staring down your failures? Dismayed? Upset? Worthless? All of the above? Don't be shy. There are no wrong answers, here."

    "Actually, wait, I lied. There are only wrong answers. Heeheeheehee!" Necrozma grinned. "You see, I—"

    Latias hurled a ball of pink mist at Necrozma. He yanked Latios up to take the blow, but the ball raced behind him. Necrozma teleported out of the way. A second shadowy vortex hammered Latias. She careened down toward the water. The pain was too unbearable. Latias couldn't stop herself from smacking the water.

    "WrEtChED bRAt!" Necrozma snarled, his crystalline arms trembling. Latios' chains rattled around his throat. Necrozma had an order at the ready for Lugia, when Latios released a blinding flash. His chains crumbled. Latios sped forward without hesitation, shooting a weak blue beam in Lugia's direction. He easily avoided it, but it kept Latios free from any attacks. With a shaky breath, Latios channeled psychic energy to repair his injuries and restore some of his health.

    "Sis! Sis, can you hear me?!" Latios shouted. "I've broken free! I've—"

    "GeT HiM, You FooL!" Necrozma screamed, glancing at Lugia in the midst of flailing about in midair. The heart sigil on his chest flashed sporadically and his armor shook, looking ready to burst off his body.

    Roaring, Lugia slammed his wings together. Latios sped away from ectoplasmic globs. He shot a purple Shadow Ball at Shadow Lugia, who whipped up a harsh current up to snuff it out. Latios dove toward the water, keeping his mind fixed on his two enemies. His sister's energy was faint, but he could sense it underwater.

    "Latias, you've gotta wake up! I don't think I can hold Lugia off," Latios cried. He halted his dive when a wave erupted beneath him. Latios barely ascended in time to dodge it. He shot a dragon-shaped beam at Lugia, hoping to score a hit. Lugia flew right over it, gathering ectoplasm in his mouth.

    Realizing the vortex attack was coming, Latios dove underwater. He found his sister's life force flickering several feet below him. Rather than diving toward her, Latios released a pink and white beam. The soothing energy found Latias, restoring some of her strength and her feathery coat. But the water quickly grew choppy around them.

    Fly, sis! Latios telepathically shouted. He shot upward. However, the twins weren't fast enough to escape the Whirlpool forming around them. It rose out of the water, slamming them into each other repeatedly. The currents drowned out their cries. Latios tried to draw on psychic energy to clear a way out, but the pain was too intense. Yet, if he didn't do something, they were completely done for.

    With a muffled squeal, Latios forced himself to dig deep. He fought through the currents and focused his mind on his sister. The next time they collided, he released an intense telekinetic blast. It proved strong enough to launch Latias out of the Whirlpool. Lugia didn't anticipate this. He had to fly away to avoid the dragon-shaped bullet shooting toward him.

    Lugia ceased his attack, glaring at Latios. When he turned to look for Latias' trajectory, he found that she was completely gone. He wheeled on Latios, ready to land the killing blow.

    "S… STaY AwAY! HiS LIghT iS MinE!"

    A sparkling Moongeist Beam hit Latios from behind. His scream lasted a second before the colors peeled off his body, leaving behind nothing but a crystallized husk that fell into the ocean with a large splash. Lugia looked at Necrozma, who was frantically gulping down Latios' life energy. Necrozma hunched over in midair. His arms trembled. He gingerly touched his wing-digits to his forehead and confirmed the armor was still there. His third eye reappeared, albeit glowing weakly.

    "Th… ThE HouRgLaSs," Necrozma rasped. "GiVe mE… tHe HOurGlASs."

    Lugia flew toward Necrozma, dropping the Dusk Hourglass into his outstretched hand. Necrozma crushed it in his grip. Rainbow-colored energy spiraled around his arm and seeped into every square inch of his body. Slowly, Necrozma's breathing rate slowed and he righted himself. Necrozma looked down at his claws and flexed them. He drew his lips back in a snarl.

    "No!" He thrashed his arms about. "No, no, no, no, no!" He repeatedly smacked his arms against his wings. "That foolish, detestable girl! She used my Hourglass! She used my light! It wasn't full… the HOUrgLAsS WAsn'T fUlL!"

    Lugia fluttered back from Necrozma, the flames trailing off his eyes shrinking slightly as he looked around in concern.

    "HoW aM I sUPpOSed to GeT tO TeMPoRAL ToWEr LiKE tHIs?!" Necrozma snarled. He dug his black claws into his forehead. His third eye writhed about inside its triangular armor. "No… no, this isn't the end. Not yet," Necrozma said. "I think… there's enough. I got enough of the Hourglass' power."

    He raised his arms up and tensed his wings. Rainbow light brimmed in his prism-shaped palms. His grin returned. "Heeheeheehee! Yes, this will do. I can breach the barrier. I can get to Temporal Tower. Dialga will be mine!" He licked his lips eagerly. "All I have to do is concentrate… concentrate…"

    The glow in his hands intensified. A rainbow shimmer encased his third eye and winged-heart sigil. His hands flashed a multitude of colors. With a ripple of light, an Ultra Wormhole appeared before Necrozma. Unlike his usual portals, this one had several different colors flashing randomly inside of it. The portal itself trembled, as if it would collapse from the massive infusion of energy.

    "Next stop, Temporal Tower! For real this time!" Necrozma shouted, beckoning Lugia to follow him into the portal. "Did you see what I did there… with the 'this time' bit? Heeheeheehee! I know, I'm hilarious."

    Lugia rolled his eyes as the Ultra Wormhole closed up behind him.

    XxX
    Yes, Lugia used Spectral Thief on Hoopa. Remember, this version of Shadow Lugia's a fusion!

    Next time: Shane and Tessa reach an understanding... just in time for Shane to draw in power from the newest Dawn Shard. Trust me, you don't want to miss this chapter!
     
  16. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    What a strong start! I was a little worried that you were going to slip back into a bit of nothingburgers for a little while after all the craziness that happened last chapter, even if you had some cooldown at the end anyway. But no! Straight to the next part—very good! This is a wonderful change of pace compared to the first few episodes, and I like that things are moving along. I’m certainly interested in what’s going on with Null, and while I have my theories as of reading the first chapter of this episode, I’m not going to make any calls (beyond my Hohenheim joke way back) until I get a bit more info.


    One thing that I think was a bit of a stumbling block here, though, was the pacing of revelations. I’m not sure if you had trimmed down the chapter or not in your editing process, but it seems like two key reveals were met with little pause, and it felt a little weird to read.


    Both of these instances—particularly the second one—felt like they didn’t quite have as much emotional buildup toward the person who would be most impacted by the revelation—Shane for the first, and Null for the second. It’s kinda awkward to do as third person omniscient, particularly for Null who, as far as I can remember, didn’t have any direct perspective before. But I feel like a narrative pause during these parts of the scenes could have helped to let it sink in. This is especially true because these are two pretty big reveals/confirmations for the characters involved in a single chapter! Wonderful for keeping a high pace… but pretty rushed for depicting the impact, I think.


    That aside, and despite how much I said on the matter, it’s more or less just a nitpick on how it was handled. I like what’s going on regardless.


    The second chapter of the episode is an interesting one that I can divide into two spots—one is Gallean, and some subtle (and explicit) reveals that he is indeed under some kind of corruption, but is being… restrained / dare I say, suppressed in some way to keep him sane and “lucid”? Very interesting take there, and considering Prisma’s state, I wonder how that’s going to go down. Braviary and Metagross are obviously hiding something, and it’s almost painful that the other Guildmates are playing along with it, but I guess I’ll chalk that one up to appealing to their authority.


    I think this is probably the first time you’ve ended a chapter off on such a powerful cliffhanger, though. Rocks fall, Espy gets… crushed? If I didn’t know from future spoilers that she somehow turns out okay, I’d’ve been going straight to the next chapter! Even though I’m out of time at the time of writing this…


    This episode just keeps getting better. Bomb after bomb is getting dropped, this time on Silva—I mean, Null! It looks like I was at least partly right about him—he really is some sort of Hohenheim of the Pokémon world. I didn’t expect the Unown bit, though, but it makes sense to me. The theory that they’re remnants of Arceus’ thousand arms, though, now that was interesting.


    I’m noticing something a bit odd about these past few scenes, and I’m not sure if it’s always been like this, or if I’ve just become more aware of it. Some of these battle scenes have fairly rigid narration. “Espeon did X,” “Shane then did X” and so on. I definitely understand the need for quick sentences for something so fast-paced, but for some reason it felt almost formulaic at some points.


    I also found the scene after Null got chained to be a bit strange. Everything with Porygon and the exposition projection was all fine and dandy—perhaps the most interesting piece of the whole chapter—but the fact that Null was presumably screaming through it all was… odd to think about. I know he’s in a berserk state and all, but I feel like Tessa would’ve put up more of a fight to try to help calm him. I wonder if he’s gonna call them out on that or not.


    I don’t have much to say about the Valentine’s special that was just posted (where it wound up seems to vary from platform to platform, but this is when I read it) but I really enjoyed it! Sure, it’s another non-plot chapter, but as a one-off, it was nice and feathery. And I actually learned about a few things not to do if I want to depict a certain character a certain way for my own work, so that’s an added bonus specifically for me.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  17. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Well, like I said, we've reached the point in the story where pretty much everything that the heroes are doing will be at least tangentially related to stopping the Prism Virus. No more fodder, depending on certain special episode-related things.

    Ech. Perhaps I'll have to look at that sometime in the future.

    I guess I was trying to balance it without not retreated too much familiar ground since the audience was already aware of this stuff. Moreso for Null's origins, anyway.

    That's more on the nose than you think. :V

    Also they're much bigger and stronger than the other guild members, who don't even match up favorably to the two of them when it comes to typing.

    It was a sort of tease cliffhanger, if that makes sense? Dying has already been showed in Episode 7: the 'mon's body disappears into a stream of light. The fact that Espeon was still there meant she wasn't dead. I think, so far, Negrek, Cutlerine, and a couple of others picked up on that.

    Well, gotta give the Unown something to do given how useless they are in PMD canon. As far as the thousand arms bit, I'm sure I'm not the first fic author to do that. But it felt like a solid reason for how a hive of them could bend reality.

    Hrrm. I had gotten complaints they were too formulaic earlier, because I was trying to show every painstaking detail, so I've been making an effort to make them snappier.

    I wouldn't say he was screaming through all of it, just struggling against the chains and only shouting if he was frustrated. <.<;

    And that's all it was meant to be!

    Err, glad I could help?

    Thanks for reviewing! ^^
     
  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 82: Lingering Sense of Doubt

    ~Northeast Coastal Pass~

    "Wow! Look at all these little green blades. They tickle my feet!" Pink-Wings trilled, waddling through a field of grass on the left side of a dirt road. "What do you No-Scales call this stuff?"

    "That's, uh, grass," Blaziken said, scratching the back of his head.

    "Grass! I like it! Simple and effective," Pink-Wings chirped, flying low so her puffy-cloud belly brushed against the grass. She turned to Blaziken. "And what about all the big brown things we've been passing? Y'know, the ones that look like Exeggutors?"

    "Seriously? You guys have never heard of trees?" Seraph gawked. She rubbed the bridge of her brow when Pink-Wings gave her a quizzical look.

    "You can't exactly blame them, Seraph. I don't think we spotted a single tree or blade of grass in the canyon," Luxeira said, walking alongside her teammate.

    "The Totem told us Lord Rayquaza designed our home to build up our strength," Striped-Fin said. He stopped and wiggled his hips, letting grass brush the base of his tail. "Mmm… feels nice."

    Seraph facepalmed. "I'm so getting a big freaking drink when this is all over."

    "I think it's pretty cute, actually. Like watching a pup run through a sprinkler," Luxeira giggled.

    "I've heard of grass and trees, actually!" an orange-winged Flygon said, flying up beside Luxeira. "Yeah. Dad told me stories about how Lord Rayquaza hated trees, so he blew up forestland to make a suitable home for us dragons in Horizon."

    Luxeira winced. "That, uh, sounds a bit extreme." She hoped that was simply a hatchling's tale.

    A few paces ahead of them, Hakamo-o sighed. He quickened his pace, until Sneasel's arm shot out in front of him. "What do you want?" Hakamo-o asked.

    "It's about that stuff you said about me to your old man." Sneasel walked beside Hakamo-o, but didn't make eye contact. "If you hated how I was treating you, how come you didn't say nothing?" He crossed his arms. "Yeah, maybe I called you names, but that's because you went around acting like a real dumbass."

    Hakamo-o scratched at his armor. "Look, I was angry, all right. Got caught up in the heat of the moment and stuff." He kicked a pebble and watched it sail off the cliff on the right side of the path. "You could've left me on the outskirts of the dungeon's entrance, exhausted and covered in puke, but you didn't. I never really got why."

    Sneasel shrugged. "I dunno."

    "Then why didn't you ditch me once you were sure I wasn't, like, dying or anything?" Hakamo-o asked.

    "I guess… I liked having someone else around," Sneasel mused, looking down. "And, yeah, you looked like a runt when you were Jangmo-o, but the idea that I could travel around with a dragon got me all excited." He scratched his feather. "Except you weren't strong or fast or nothing. Still, I figured maybe if we pulled off some successful jobs, you'd grow into a powerhouse." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter anymore, I guess. All in the past or whatever."

    They walked together silently, until Sneasel said, "You know they're probably gonna turn us over to Officer Magnezone's squad."

    Hakamo-o winced. With everything that had happened, he had forgotten he was technically a wanted outlaw. One that had escaped prison, no less.

    "Hrmph. I won't let that happen. No son of mine will be taken by some group of No-Scales," Totem Kommo-o said, stomping over to Hakamo-o.

    "Dad, I broke the law. There's nothing you can do about that," Hakamo-o said.

    "I am a Totem. My word has authority. You cannot be taken if I order the No-Scales to stay away from you," Totem Kommo-o said, nodding his head like he thought his plan was foolproof.

    "It doesn't work that way outside our home, Dad," Hakamo-o said, his tone turning icy.

    Totem Kommo-o frowned. "But you've evolved. Once this mess is settled, you can come back home and—"

    "No." Hakamo-o quickened his pace. Sneasel hung back, not wanting to get on Totem Kommo-o's bad side again.

    "But son, that rousing speech you gave… people listened to you!" Totem Kommo-o closed the gap with Hakamo-o. "I was wrong. You do have the makings of a future Totem. We can hone that. We'll even do it like your mother wanted."

    "I said no, Dad. I don't want to live there. Not now. Not ever," Hakamo-o growled, reaching the head of the group.

    Totem Kommo-o's face twisted into a snarl. "Why would you throw this all away?" He tapped his Totem Crystal with a claw. "You have no idea what it's like to have Z-Power flowing through your veins."

    "Yeah, I kinda do… from living with you. And I'm not interested in living life like someone shoved their you-know-what up my tailhole," Hakamo-o scoffed.

    Totem Kommo-o stumbled. His axe fell to the ground with a clang, drawing several concerned looks. "I'm fine! I'm fine!" He scrambled to his feet, scooped up the axe, and calmly walked to Hakamo-o's side. "Why you! How did you— who told—" He cut himself off. Totem Kommo-o felt multiple scrutinizing gazes from behind. He tightened his grip on his staff. "Isn't there anything I can do to convince you to come back home?"

    "Don't make me do something I don't want to do," Hakamo-o replied. "Sure, I don't know what I really want to do with my life, but I don't want to be a Totem. So, if you ever want me to visit, you'll let me find what I want to do with my life." He opted not to add the part where that wouldn't happen until after he'd finished serving his jail sentence.

    Totem Kommo-o didn't respond. He bowed his head and slowed his pace until he was back with some of the other dragons. Sighing, Hakamo-o scratched at his large forehead scale.

    "So, what do you want to do with your life, then?"

    Sneasel was behind Hakamo-o yet again. Hakmo-o merely shrugged. "Why does it matter?"

    "I was just curious." Sneasel looked away. "Because thieving's been the family business for a few generations. But, let's face it, I suck at being a thief." He glanced back at Lycanroc, who Magearna had forced to walk beside her. "And there ain't no way I'm going to stay with him when I get outta jail. So, I just don't know what I'm gonna do."

    "Maybe you ought to go find a job up on that snowy mountain we passed after leaving Aeon Town behind," Hakamo-o suggested.

    "Solstice Summit? I dunno… I hear it's all about spiritual crap." Sneasel flicked his claws dismissively. "Like, people go there to get advice from spirits or something."

    Hakamo-o stopped. He blinked slowly. "That—" He paused. "We could use something like that."

    Sneasel glanced back at him. "Are you serious? Didn't you just get done telling off all these dragons for being too lovey-dovey toward Rayquaza?"

    "I'm not saying we should be pious or anything. I'm saying we ought to go there and, y'know, get some advice. Surely someone there might be able to help us, right?" Hakamo-o proposed.

    "Wait. You want to do this together? What about that nasty stuff you said about me?" Snesel raised a skeptical brow.

    "Like I said. I was angry. Y'know, lashing out and stuff," Hakamo-o said, kicking another pebble off the road. "Maybe if we weren't being crooks, we could get along better." He shrugged. "I'd say it's worth a shot, don't you?"

    "Eh, you're twisting my arms here, but sure. I guess it can't hurt," Sneasel said. "But, uh, guess we gotta finish out our stint in jail first?"

    "Well, let''s just make sure this Dawn Shard gets to Circadian Coast first. Then we'll take it from there," Hakamo-o said.

    Sneasel nodded. The two drifted back toward the middle of the group.

    XxX

    ~Circadian Coast, Daybreak Beach~

    The sun began to set, casting a strong orange glow across the water. Shane stared at the froth left behind by each wave. Tessa wanted to talk about her Mega Evolution, but what was there to talk about? It was a simple mistake. Now that they understood how Naturia Looplets foster Mega Evolution, she wouldn't have to worry.

    "I thought we had cleared that up. I'm not mad at you," Shane said. He inched toward Tessa, but she held her right paw up.

    "No, we haven't. There's more to it than just one simple accident, okay?" Tessa said. Confusion spread across Shane's face as Tessa lowered her paw, sighing. "Come on, Shane. You don't need to be all that perceptive to understand. The answer's staring you in the face." She pivoted to her left, showing off the black, star-shaped pattern of fur around her chest spike.

    "Isn't that just because you used Z-Power to evolve?" Shane asked, confident that was the conclusion the whole team had drawn.

    "I wish I could think that, but after I Mega Evolved and went berserk…" Her voice trailed off. She nervously rubbed her right paw. "Shane, it's not just my chest. There's something else." She held her right paw up, revealing the winged heart sigil around her paw spike.

    "That's the Prism Virus symbol." Shane's ears tucked against his head. "How the— why is that on your paw? Did that show up when you evolved, too?" His words held a mixture of hurt and confusion, which manifested in Tessa's mind as dizziness coupled with dull, throbbing pain.

    "Yes." Tessa pulled her right paw back and resumed her anxious rubbing. She tried to filter out her aura sense so Shane's emotions wouldn't mix with her own thoughts, but her feelers twitched in protest. "I wanted to show it to you. Really. Heck, Silvally already knows about it. But I panicked. I know your thoughts about Necrozma are… all over the place. I didn't want to make things even more stressful."

    "Then why tell me now?" Shane wondered, his gaze fixed on Tessa's paw. "Is it because of the Mega Evolution?"

    "That's part of it. The other part is, well, it doesn't feel right anymore," Tessa replied.

    "You've lost me," Shane said, brow furrowed.

    Tessa bit her lip, struggling to find the right words. "Hang on, I need a second," she said, rubbing her brow. Tessa took a deep breath and considered the things Shane said to her earlier. "So, like, you just went out of your way to tell me something very personal, right?"

    "Yeah, but I thought you deserved to know," Shane said. Realization slowly spread across his face.

    "Exactly. Hearing what you had to say made me feel the same way about this," Tessa said. "Actually, it goes beyond that. The truth is, I was— no, wait, I am just as guilty of keeping secrets from you. Ones that might've harmed the team in the long run."

    "Like what?" Shane said, before he realized the rudeness of his comment and wilted. "Sorry, that came out wrong."

    "No, it's fine," Tessa dismissed. "To start, I didn't initially come over here because I thought you might like some company. I wanted to talk about the Mega Evolution thing. I feel like we brushed it aside because going to Sunset Shoals was important." She paused. "Except this whole conversation has gone a lot differently than I expected."

    "Is that a good thing?" Shane asked, raising a brow.

    "I don't really know." Tessa laughed awkwardly. The two lapsed into silence, with Shane looking expectantly at Tessa. Eventually, she said, "You know how, after Mellath Bog, I promised you not to let myself go to a dark place again? Well, I've failed to keep that promise."

    It took a moment for her statement to sink in. When it did, Shane gave Tessa a worried look. "Are you… does this mean you've been hurting yourself?" he whispered.

    "No. I swear, I haven't done anything like that," Tessa said, raising her right paw up. She wasn't sure how she had expected Shane to respond. Even with her aura sense, she couldn't tell if Shane was upset at her, upset at himself, or simply concerned. Tessa figured she owed it to her friend to tell the whole truth. "That doesn't mean the thought hasn't crossed my mind, though."

    Shane lowered his head, eyes squeezed shut. He wanted to press further, but the memories of Mellath Bog's aftermath lingered in his mind. Shane needed Silvally to help, but he wasn't around. "If it's, um, okay… can I ask why you think you're still depressed?" he said, unable to make eye contact.

    "It's tough to put into words," Tessa admitted, ears and aura feelers drooping. The combination of Shane's fears and her own guilt made it difficult to stay focused. Their conversation had grown exhausting for her. "It's a combination of things, really. Like, I'm tired of fighting battles where our lives are on the line. It's gotten so bad that, even when we can have quiet moments together, the joy doesn't last. Because my mind starts wandering to what the team will have to do next and how much we're going to struggle."

    "But weren't you the one who told me yesterday we've found a way to beat the odds up until this point?" Shane said. He thought Tessa sounded hopeful in Cosmic Cavern. Was that all an act or did he catch her at a good moment?

    "I did. And now that we have all the Dawn Shards, I'm even warming up to the idea that we might be able to stop Necrozma," Tessa said. "But that's part of my problem." She glanced at Shane's confused expression. "Even if we can defeat Necrozma and restore peace, I'm… well…" She fidgeted nervously with her scarf. "Shane, I just don't see where I can go from here."

    Shane flinched. "M-Meaning?"

    "I'm not sure I'll ever be happy. It doesn't feel like there's anything out there for me," Tessa said. "And even if there was…" She gripped her head. "I'll still have to live with the memories of everything that's happened to us in our adventures! Seeing Pokémon have their spirits sucked out and get turned into crystals. Losing Sylveon and Eevee. Our Guildmaster trying to send us to our deaths. And let's not forget the biggest one… my own mom strangling me while she gets ready to brainwash me so I'll work for Necrozma."

    Shane silently cursed at himself for not considering that. He'd fallen into a familiar trap: not separating his games from his new reality. In the games, the characters were collections of pixels or chunks of words strewn together. He didn't have to think about their problems, because they didn't really exist. That wasn't the case with Horizon.

    "That's a good point." Shane's shoulders sagged. "I'm not even sure what to say. I want to help you, but that means I have to be able to stay here… assuming we can beat Necrozma, of course."

    "I know… and I appreciate the gesture," Tessa said, rubbing the bridge of her snout. "It's frustrating, but I did this to myself. My wild aspirations are to blame here." She sighed as she lowered her arm and dug her paw into the sand. "I idolized the human heroes and their partners. Deep down, I wanted to have a chance to save the world, just like them. Only… I was interested in fame and recognition. I thought, 'If I'm a hero, everyone will like me. I'll have thousands of friends!'"

    Tessa chuckled weakly, shaking her head. "That sentiment got a lot worse once things started going downhill with my family. I was stuck in this endless cycle of working up the courage to join the guild, failing, and moping on the beach or in my bed about how I'm nothing but a loser." She looked at Shane. "But then I found you washed up on Azure Cape and everything changed. I saw you as my ticket to achieving my dream. I'd become a legendary hero who everyone would admire. And all the success would finally make me happy."

    "But when we first met, you were super skeptical of me," Shane pointed out. He didn't think Tessa faked that behavior, yet she sounded so contradictory.

    "Because I forced myself to temper my expectations. I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. If we ended up failing…" Tessa poked her index digits together. "Well, I imagine I'd have reacted much like I did after Mellath Bog." She sighed. "See, when I was younger, Mom told me our kind needed to keep our emotions in check or they'd run out of control. I believed her, of course, because she was this experienced explorer… and the only Lucario I'd ever known, to boot."

    Tessa scooched an inch closer to Shane. "I kept things bottled up when we were starting out. But the more you refused to listen to me, the harder it got to keep my emotions in check. When you got upset at Lycanroc and the guild turned on you, I saw my chance to be a hero slipping away before my eyes. I couldn't hold things in anymore, so I flew off the handle. My anger stayed in control until you made that comment about my parents."

    Her shoulders sagged. "And ever since, it feels like I can't keep my emotions under control." Tessa rubbed her eyes. "I wish I knew another Lucario. Maybe then I'd understand things better, but…" She shook her head. "It sounds like people only know about Lucarios from old stories or because they met Mom." Tessa sighed again. "I'm sorry. That was supposed to be a straightforward explanation, but I turned it into a zigzag."

    "Uh-huh." Shane's eyes darted about. The gears in his mind had shifted into overdrive. Shane finally understood the numerous factors that had contributed to Team Radiance's disastrous first few weeks. It was too late to go back and change any of that, but at least he could avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Still, something about Tessa's explanation bugged Shane.

    "This all make sense to me," he said, wondering if he should try scooting closer to Tessa but ultimately staying where he was. "It's just… I've got this nagging feeling I'm missing something."

    "You're right. It's where the mark on my paw comes in," Tessa said, staring at her right paw. "I already told you I'm worried I can't control my emotions. Well, my temper's been especially bad as of late. First, I flew off the handle at Totem Salazzle. Then I attacked that volcanic meteor in a blind rage, went berserk on Gallian with my Z-Move, and nearly killed you with my Mega Evolution." She looked at Shane. "Don't tell me you don't see a pattern, here. It's pretty obvious to me."

    "I do see it," Shane said. "But we promised we'd keep you from Mega Evolving."

    "And I believe you," Tessa said. "Despite that, I'm terrified that this mark is a sign. A sign that I'm either going to turn into a monster like Necrozma or he's going to turn me into one… just like Mom."

    "You can't think that way." Shane scooched toward Tessa. His rightmost tails brushed her thigh, eliciting a surprised squeak. Shane pulled his tails back, face flushing. "You've got the scarf, remember?" he stuttered. "Espy said Ho-Oh's magic will keep your spirit safe from corruption."

    "Yeah, but it has to stay on for that to happen. And Mom and Necrozma know about the scarves," Tessa said, tugging at hers. "If we fight them, they're going to try and rip them off so that they can get to me." She squeezed her eyes shut and gritted her teeth. "That's why I told you all this stuff, Shane. I need you to understand where I'm coming from."

    "I get it. You want me to help you avoid getting corrupted. I can do that," Shane said, nodding vigorously.

    "That's not it," Tessa whispered, drawing a confused look from Shane. "Shane, if the worst really happens… if I lose control, either to my rage or Necrozma… I'll need you to try and stop me. Even if…" She sucked in a breath. "Even if that means you or Silvally have to kill me."

    Shane's jaw slackened. That was a huge weight to drop onto his shoulders. Sure, Tessa had used the conversation to build up to her bombshell, but that didn't soften the blow. "I… um… that's…" Shane shook his head. "There's no way that's going to happen. I— no, the team won't let it."

    "I know that." Tessa winced. There was a twinge of anger to her words. "But this adventure has had more than its fair share of unwelcome surprises. So, we need to be prepared for the possibility… even if it seems unlikely." She finally opened her eyes to look at Shane. "Please, Shane. Say that, if the worst happens, you'll do whatever it takes to stop me."

    "I… I…" Shane's gaze faltered. His mind was racing. He figured he should agree to it. That way, Tessa wouldn't get any more upset than she currently was. Still, the request sent a chill through him, in spite of his ice-typing.

    "I'll try," Shane whispered. Tessa didn't look convinced, but Shane held up a forepaw. "Before you say anything, you should know that, last night, Espy asked me what I was going to do about Necrozma. I was pretty conflicted. Hell, I still am, to some degree. I really want to believe that it's not my friend doing all these awful things… rather some chaotic manifestation of Golem's experiments. And a part of me wants to try and make up for what a laughably bad friend I was to him when we were humans…"

    "But I don't think I can do that. At this point, you, Espy, Silvally… you guys mean more to me," he said, ears drooping. "I know that sounds really stupid. I mean… we've only been together a couple of months and we spent a large portion of that fighting with each other."

    "So, you're thinking it, too?" Tessa said, sighing. She leaned back, digging her paws in the sand behind her to support herself. "It's been bothering me these last few nights, to be honest. There's a voice in my head that keeps telling me that this 'friendship' of ours isn't really a friendship."

    "Urk. I, um, as corny as it sounds, I'd like to think that the struggles we've faced are what's brought us closer together," Shane said. He paused, brow furrowing. "Oof, yeah that really does sound lame."

    "Yeah. I guess that's where the problem is." Tessa rubbed her shoulder. "I can't help but wonder what would happen if we were to defeat Necrozma… and you were allowed to stay here, of course. Would we still get along? Pretty much everything we've done together has centered around dealing with the Prism Virus. So, if that goes away, what would be left for us?"

    "I don't know, but I'd want to make it work," Shane said. He scooched closer to Tessa. She didn't stop him this time.

    "You really want to stay here, then? What about your life in the human world?" Tessa asked.

    "Honestly, I have more going for me in this world," Shane said. "I know, I know… you must think I'm crazy. I mean… I didn't have to worry about magical creatures trying to kill me when I was a human." He laughed nervously.

    "What about your family? Is it really fair to them for you to just disappear, leaving them behind without any sort of explanation why?" Tessa asked, a worried look on her face.

    "N-no… it's not," Shane said, wincing. "The thing is… I kind of already distanced myself from them. When I finished school and couldn't get into college — this special kind of school that's really important to humans — I settled for this job where I was mostly working alone every day. I went to live on my own and didn't talk much with my parents or my sisters."

    "I feel closer to you, Espy, and Silvally. That's probably awful of me to say, especially with how things started out between us, but it's true." Shane slowly moved his right forepaw toward Tessa. He stopped when she looked at it, aura feelers tensing. "Y… you're sensing my feelings, aren't you?" he said, gulping.

    Tessa nodded. "I thought we had an understanding about the 'I really like Lucarios' thing," she said.

    "We do! This isn't some sort of romantic gesture or anything. It's a paw of, y'know, friendship," Shane insisted. His ears twitched nervously. "Like I told you before, I don't want to overstep any boundaries and risk messing things up. Even if I do feel, uh, something… I won't, um…" His voice trailed off. "Sorry, I think I managed to put my paw in my mouth big time."

    Shane was about to pull his paw back when Tessa put her paw on top of his. His ears stuck up in surprise and his tails twitched, with some curling against his waist and others stiffening. "T-Tessa, you didn't—"

    "I think I get the message you were going for. Neither of us are perfect, Shane. In fact… we're pretty far from it," Tessa said, laughing nervously. Shane joined in, though his fake laughter sounded awkward, so he quickly stopped. Tessa's laugh faded to a drawn-out sigh. "Y'know, the more I think about it… the more I wonder if maybe our meeting wasn't just a total accident," she said.

    "R-Really? Because it certainly feels like this was all some giant accident," Shane said.

    Tessa pulled her paw back and scooched right beside Shane. He yanked his paw back and let his hair fall over his face to hide his blush. "Well, for all our differences, we actually have a lot in common. Probably more than either of us realized back when we were arguing," Tessa mused. She shook her head. "Silvally… I think he's always known about this. Even when his mask was on, he saw the good that we could potentially do for each other. That's why he tried to hard to help us even though he was in pain."

    She ran her digits across her scarf. "Maybe if, instead of focusing on joining the guild, we had taken the time to get to know each other first, things would've turned out a lot different," she whispered. Tessa slowly blinked. "Huh. I guess there is more to our friendship than just fighting the Prism Virus.

    "You're absolutely right," Shane said. "I really hope we can beat Necrozma and I can stay here. That way, we can keep growing our friendship… and make up for all the stupid mistakes we made in the past." He lifted his right forepaw toward her. "Deal?"

    "Deal," Tessa said, bumping Shane's paw with her own. She then leaned over, resting her head on Shane's shoulder. Shane momentarily tensed, but when Tessa didn't move or say anything, he leaned over. His hair brushed against Tessa's aura feelers. An intense tingle rushed into her spine, but she alleviated it with a calming breath.

    "It's strange. When we first met, I hoped I could emulate the heroic explorers who had teamed up with humans. I had given that dream up when we had our big falling out… but now it's really happening," Tessa said.

    "Yeah. Only, I never really understood how tough and stressful it would be," Shane admitted.

    "Same here. Sure, the stories Dad and Gallian told me mentioned some hardships the other heroes had to endure. But nobody ever said anything about them having any lasting effects," Tessa said, wrapping her arm around Shane's foreleg. "Y'know, I talked about that with Team Go-Getters this morning… while I was trying to work on my new moves."

    "Really? What did they say?" Shane asked.

    "Swampert talked about how he'll occasionally have nightmares. Sometimes they're about the time he and Blaziken were fugitives and other times they're about him getting attacked by a god like Moltres, Zapdos, or Rayquaza," Tessa responded. "But he also told me that every time these bad memories surface, Blaziken's always there for him. They'll talk or they'll go visit one of their other friends. That usually helps Swampert feel better."

    "I see," Shane said, staring out at the sun's reflection in the ocean.

    A round of silence followed, until Tessa whispered, "I'd like you to stay in this world, too." She glanced up at Shane, a smile on her muzzle. "I think… with you and Silvally at my side, I'd be able to find something out here that would make me truly happy."

    "Th… thanks. That means a lot to me," Shane said.

    "I should be thanking you for agreeing to talk like this," Tessa said, nuzzling Shane's neck.

    "It was n-nothing," Shane said, hesitantly leaning in to return the nuzzle.

    "So, this is where you two have been hiding."

    "Gah!" Tessa's head shot up and inadvertently bonked Shane's snout. He pulled away from her, groaning and rubbing his chin. Tessa looked over her shoulder to find Espy and Silvally standing a couple of feet behind her, confused looks on their faces. She rubbed her aura feelers and silently swore. She was so focused on Shane her aura sense had dulled to everything going on around her.

    "Didn't sense us coming?" Silvally asked.

    "Err, I was just a bit preoccupied, that's all," Tessa said, laughing nervously. "Is something wrong?"

    "You guys hadn't shown up at Kahuna Raichu's house. We wanted to make sure everything was okay," Espy said.

    "Ah, sorry to make you worry," Tessa said, getting to her feet and dusting sand off her waist. "We're fine, though. Right, Shane?"

    "Um, yeah. It's all good," Shane said, his gaze darting between Espy, Silvally, and the ground. He stumbled getting to his feet. "We can follow you guys back, if you want." Shane glanced at his fur. It still had lots of glitter. "After all, Tessa and I need to get cleaned up."

    "I, uh, wouldn't exactly recommend that," Espy said, forked tail ends tapping against each other. "When you two didn't show up, Gallian and Zoroark went into the shower… together."

    "Oh," Tessa whispered, eyes going wide and aura feelers crinkling in surprise. "Right. Guess we can just stay out here, then." She was about to sit back down, when she cocked an eyebrow. "Hang on… aren't we supposed to call Latias?" Tessa looked at Espy. "Were you able to reach her?"

    Espy shook her head. "I could try again, I suppose." She levitated the Gear-Com out of her satchel and activated it. A few seconds of silence passed, followed by some static. "No good. Still can't get a hold of her," Espy said.

    "Should we be worried?" Shane wondered, a frown on his muzzle. "She's our fast-transport method… and if we can't reach her, then we can't get the Dawn Hourglass put back together quickly."

    "Why don't you try calling Magearna and seeing how her group is doing?" Silvally suggested. "Maybe the problem's with our Gear-Com?"

    Espy wished the explanation was that simple, but strongly doubted it was the case. Nevertheless, she reactivated the Gear-Com and connected to Magearna's unit. After a few rings, she got a response.

    Ah, Espeon. Is there an update you'd like to share? Magearna asked.

    "Not exactly. See, I still can't get a hold of Latias. Have you tried to contact her at all?" Espy said.

    I haven't. We've been focused on reaching Circadian Coast with optimal speedination, Magearna replied. I believe we're making excellefficient time on our end. I anticipath with 96.24 percent certainty we'll be there in an hour.

    "O-Okay, that's good to know," Espy said, relieved that, at the very least, all the Dawn Shards would be together with a very large group to protect them. "If anything changes, call me right away, okay?"

    Understood. See you soon! Magearna said. The call disconnected. Espy stuffed her Gear-Com back into her satchel.

    "Well, there you have it. Our Gear-Com's working fine and Magearna's team should be here soon enough," Espy said, gazing out at the ocean. "So, it looks like we've got an hour to kill. Anything in particular that anyone wanted to do?"

    "Actually, I was hoping to talk to Shane," Silvally said, brushing one foreleg against another.

    Shane's ears stuck up. "R-Really? Huh. That's funny… I wanted to talk to you, too." He tapped his forepaw against the ground, trying to remember exactly what Gallian and Zoroark had suggested. "Um, it's about what happened in Cosmic Cavern."

    To Shane's surprise, Silvally nodded. "I know. I've, uh, been thinking about it," he said.

    "Thinking about what?" Tessa said, cocking her head in confusion.

    "Err… see, the thing is…" Shane's voice trailed off as his tails curled against his waste.

    "I kissed Shane last night. It was a moment of weakness," Silvally said, completely straight-faced.

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up in surprise. "You… you two…" She looked back and forth between them.

    Silvally stepped between Shane and Tessa. "It was a dumb decision I stupidly made because I had a crisis of faith." He was met with a pair of confused looks. "I don't want to go to deep into it or anything. To keep things simple, let's just say I was grappling with some of the things Necrozma had said to me the last time we faced him. I couldn't come to terms with any of it… so I decided it might be best to try and distance myself from you two. Which led me to recklessly kiss Shane."

    He traced a talon through the sand. "Shane, what I did was wrong. I know our friendship's been… complicated, to say the least. But that's no excuse. I betrayed your trust. And for that, I'm sorry," Silvally said. His glowing parts turned blue and he bowed his head silently.

    Shane's tails curled around his legs. Silvally had surprised him by taking the initiative on the subject. Now Shane was at a loss for words. His gaze fell to the ground. "Thank you," he whispered. "I, uh, was prepared to go on a bit of a tirade about how uncomfortable it made me… and that I'm not okay with my emotions getting played with like that. But it looks like you came to that conclusion on your own. Or maybe you had a little help."

    Espy stiffened as Shane glanced at her. Her ears and tails drooped. Shane looked away, face flushing. "U-Um… E-Espy? I don't, y'know, want to upset you or anything, but part of what I said, um, applies to you, too," Shane said, squeezing his eyes shut so he couldn't see Espy's response. He didn't hear her say anything, either.

    "That kiss we had onstage… it left me almost as confused as when Silvally kissed me. Especially because of all the ups and downs we have. Considering the stuff you said to me back at the Observatory…" Shane's face scrunched up. "I'm sorry, but I'm not okay with what you did. It… it wasn't fair."

    "You're right," Espy said, tail curling around her hind leg. "Like I told you, I got caught up in the heat of the moment. The music and the way your body was moving… it was too much for me. I couldn't help myself!" Espy bowed her head. "I'm so ashamed. I promised to try and keep my urges under control, but I couldn't stick to it."

    As tempted as Shane was to say the first thing on his mind, he held his tongue. After an extended silence, he said, "I appreciate your candor." Silvally and Espy exchanged looks of disbelief.

    "I'm sorry. My thoughts are a bit jumbled at the moment. There are so many things I feel like I should say or shouldn't say, so I'm not really sure what to do," Shane continued, laughing nervously. "I guess, for my part, the reason that stuff upset me so much has a lot to do with all of the uncertainty in my head." He looked at Tessa. "I'm pretty sure I've only said this to Tessa, but you guys deserve to know."

    He stood up, finally making eye contact with Espy and Silvally. "Guys, I… I'm not sure I'm going to be around much longer. I think that, in order to bring Solgaleo back, I'm going to have to give up my spirit and my body." His legs grew weak. "And, y'know, with the last part of the hourglass less than an hour away, it seems like I'll have my answer very soon. Whether I get to stay… or whether I'm going to disappear."

    "That's why I'm upset. If I do have to disappear, I don't want to leave you guys with all these doubts clouding up my soul… as corny as that sounds," Shane said, his blue eyes flickering with pink energy. "You're the first real friends I think I've ever made. I'd like to go out on a high note and make sure everything's square between us." He stuck his forepaw out toward his teammates. "So, uh, think we can put those slip-ups behind us?"

    Espy and Silvally looked at each other, then each stuck a foreleg up to give Shane the closest equivalent to a pair of fist-bumps that quadrupeds could manage. The three exchanged smiles, before Shane glanced at Tessa. "You want in on this?"

    Tessa jolted stiff, aura feelers curling up. Throughout the conversation, she was lost in thought. Of course she had seen Shane's and Espy's "display" during the concert. In the moment, she figured Espy had chosen to reciprocate Shane's crush. Now, however, hearing Silvally's confession and Shane's general confusion about the whole thing had her wondering if there was more to it than not wanting to potentially mess up his friendships. Tessa looked down.

    'Could it have something to do with me?' she wondered. Tessa's aura feelers tensed tighter. She admonished herself for thinking like that. Tessa stood up and joined her teammates, adding her unmarked paw to the others. "We don't have to, like, say 'hip, hip, hooray' or something dopey like that, do we?" she wondered.

    "Nah, I think we can leave it at this," Shane said, stepping back.

    "Aww, I was kind of hoping we would," Silvally whined, earning three bewildered stares. "What? Sometimes a 'mon's gotta let his silliness out. You guys got to do plenty of that at Sunset Shoals compared to me." That drew laughter from his teammates. His body lit up yellow in response.

    The laughter died down and silence overtook the group, save for small waves rolling up onto the shore and a gentle ocean breeze ruffling nearby palm trees. "So, uh, now what should we do?" Espy asked. "I'm trying to think of a way for us to prepare for the other group's arrival, but I'm drawing a total blank."

    Shane sighed heavily. "Well, there is one thing that comes to mind. I should really… um…" His voice trailed off as he pawed at the ground nervously. "As much as I don't want to do this, I think I need to touch the Seaside Shard and see what happens." He shuddered. "I hope the response is reasonable this time."

    His teammates all stepped closer to him. Espy levitated the Shard out from her satchel. "Well, at least you've got us around for this. We'll make sure everything's okay," she said.

    "Yeah, we've got your back," Tessa said, emphasizing the point by putting her left paw on Shane's back.

    "R-right," Shane whispered, struggling not to flinch. "Lemme just…" He turned around to face the ocean in case he coughed up more fire like when he touched the Sizzle Shard. Espy dropped the Shard in the sand by his forepaws. "Okay, Solgaleo, let's see what you've got in store for me this time," Shane said, taking a deep breath. He touched his paw to the Shard. Within seconds, Shane seized up. He blacked out on the spot.

    XxX​

    Glimmering stars and glints of cosmic light surrounded Shane. That was the first thing he noticed before he finally got his bearings… and searing pain shot through every square inch of his body. Shane tried to move his limbs, but couldn't feel them. He screamed… or, at least, he thought he did. However, no sounds came out.

    His vision slowly came into focus. Two blurs appeared in front him. They became Chikorita and Fennekin. Chikorita stood inches away, a vine raised and a determined expression on her face.

    A-ArE yOu SuRE AbOUt tHiS?!

    Shane heard the voice. No, he heard thousands of voices all speaking as one. And they were coming from him. Shane again tried to move, but couldn't feel any limbs. What was Solgaleo doing?

    Chikorita backed away from him, frowning.

    LoOk At aLL oF cREatiOn. You BeINgs… ThOsE liKE yOu… You'LL only dO iT aGaIN.

    Fennekin approached Chikorita, a worried look on his face. Shane's mind raced. This was familiar. He had seen these two together when he touched the Sizzle Shard. And he could've sworn he had heard these words before.

    I aM thE dARknesS wiThIN thE hEartS oF aLL cREaTiON… WiTHin aLL PokÉmON. All YoUr HatREd aNd aLL yOuR Pain… ThAT is oF WhaT I aM MaDE. If YOu bREak mE HerE, ThE frAgMEntS oF All ThAt hATreD aND pAin will bE sEnT fLyINg eVERywheRe. It will rUn RaMPant IN thE WorLD AgAIN.

    Chikorita and Fennekin exchanged uneasy looks.

    NegAtiVity will tAke rOot aRouND The wOrLD. It wILL fLouRISh and GrOW. It wILL grOw eVeN laRGeR anD stronger tHAn iT is NOw, UnTiL I aM reViVEd oNce MoRe iN sOmE fUTure gEnerATIon.

    Chikorita looked down, her legs trembling. Shane realized what Solgaleo was showing him.

    I aM DaRK MatTer. I hAVe aLWaYs BeEN. I will aLWayS Be.

    Shane's mind raced. He thought back to Tapu Lele's temple. Necrozma forced her to summon a copy Dark Matter. Was there actually a connection between them? Did Dark Matter lie at the heart of the Prism Virus? How was that possible? He was vanquished. That's what everyone had told him.

    I cAN nEvEr Be exTinGUIshED.

    What was Shane missing? Solgaleo clearly wanted him to know something. Was it simply that Dark Matter was alive and well, working with Necrozma? Or was there more to it?

    If YOu STRike Me DOwN hERe aND Now… If YoU bREaK mY bODy inTo PieCEs… YOu wILL bE ThE ONeS rESponSIBle fOr My REtuRn.

    Something sharp stabbed through Shane, but his cries went unheard.

    Is THaT a reSpONSibiLitY YoU wAnT? CoULd yOU bEaR tHat gUiLT?

    "No problem!" Fennekin shouted, puffing out his chest. Chikorita looked toward her teammate in alarm.

    You wOuLD sTiLL strike mE dOWn?!

    "You bet your ugly sphere I would!" Fennekin said. He turned to Chikorita, a smile on his face. "Don't worry. I finally get it. When you really think about it, you, me, Dark Matter, even the planet… we were all born right here in the same universe."

    Shane spotted a ripple of distortion far behind Chikorita and Fennekin. The distortion split open like a tear through fabric, revealing a single, violet, reptilian eye with a large black slit for a pupil. Shane wanted to tell the two Pokémon in front of him about it, but knew it was a futile effort. They eye persisted, staring Shane down.

    "Sure, people have jealousy and hate in them, but that's not all they're made of," Fennekin continued as Shane's entire being throbbed. An unseen force weighed heavily on him. "We all have our good sides, our bad sides, and everything in between. People are complicated. And that's something we can't brush aside!"

    Chikorita nodded at Fennekin, who turned to Shane. "So, Dark Matter, I'm okay with you being around!" Fennekin declared, beaming.

    Another surge of pain shot through Shane. The violet eye's pupil constricted. Black vapors seeped out of its distorted hiding spot.

    YoU… wHAt?!

    "I accept you!" Fennekin said. Shane's head — if he could even call it that in this case — throbbed.

    WhAt? WhAT aRE yOu SaYiNG?! I aM NeGAtiviTY iTSeLF! I Am THE dARkneSs wIThin yOUr hEaRT!

    To Shane's surprise, Fennekin giggled. "Come on, it's not that hard to get! Like I said, that's a part of us. You are a part of us! You… belong here with us!" Fennekin took a deep breath, then smiled at the bewildered Chikorita. "That's why… I accept you!"

    Fennekin charged toward Shane, a warm grin on his face. As Fennekin leaped into the air, the black vapors released by the violet eye followed behind him. The eye vanished in a flash, replaced by a familiar round portal with crisscrossing white lines.

    Then, Fennekin embraced Shane. Light filled his vision, followed by excruciating pain as his essence was pulled in a thousand different directions at once. The scene dissolved all around him. Echoes of laughter rose up in the distance until the light faded and Shane found himself floating in the midst of another cosmic area. Checkboard patterns projected in the distance. Giant stars radiated with numerous colors. Solar flares streamed through the air all around him.

    "To think… my core wound up in the skull of some sad, sorry human. And it's Dr. Sinclair, to boot! What an ironic twist! Heeheeheeh— urgh, no! This isn't something to laugh about. This is the time for action! I want her dead. I want my core returned! And I want my light back!"

    Shane chest tightened. There was no mistaking Necrozma's distorted voice. Which only made his panic begin anew. Necrozma's voice was coming from him. He could see Necrozma's tail and wings in the periphery of his vision. That meant, as far as this vision was concerned, he was Necrozma. What was going on? Shane understood Solgaleo was psychic. Did Solgaleo take one of Necrozma's memories to show to him?

    "I need a spanner to throw a wrench into Prisma's plans and get my core back. And what better way to do that than by summoning another human! Heeheeheehee! Oh, yes, it will cost a fair amount of light… it may not even work, to be honest… but it will be the most fun I've had in centuries!"

    Shane involuntarily reached his right arm out. Light flickered on the ends of his claws. He traced his claws through the air, tearing open tiny slits in the fabric of Ultra Space. Shane looked at the jagged, glistening lines and smiled. He leaned forward and peered through them. Shane found himself looking at a nondescript parking garage, with a few cars sparsely positioned around.

    "Heeheeheehee! I found you. The Guiding Light's old friend," Shane said, sticking out his tongue and licking his lips. "Boy, I can't wait to see what's going to happen! You'll wake up in the body of a Lucario — your furry wet dream — with my Z-Power backing you up. I'll make you think Solgaleo summoned you here as a chosen one. Yes… heeheeheehee… then, it falls to you. If you succeed, I get my core and my light back… and wipe you out of existence! And if you fail… well, at least I get to enjoy watching you suffer at the hands of the Pokémon you claim to love so much. Either way, it'll be the best game you and Light have ever played! And all the while, it'll keep the void entertained."

    Shane's stomach churned. Necrozma had claimed responsibility for bringing him here way back in the Temple of Mind. It certainly explained why his dream visions that turned out to be lies. But he wasn't a Lucario. What had gone wrong?

    "Now then, I think it's time you bid farewell to your human life," Shane shouted. He dug his claws into the openings he had made, expanding them into a full-blown Ultra Wormhole. On the other side, he saw his tiny silver car backing out of its parking space.

    Before he had the opportunity to do anything, however, a ferocious roar sounded from behind him. A tingle ran down Shane's spine. The world around him blurred for a split second, only for Ultra Space to reappear exactly how it had looked before, except the Ultra Wormhole was further away. Had he teleported? It was the only conclusion he could draw.

    "Release Lunala!"

    Shane stared down Solgaleo, who stood opposite him, pawing at the ground. "Heeheeheehee! I knew you'd come. Even though Prisma thought we had managed to do you in for good, I had a feeling I'd see you again. Guess it's hard to keep you down, huh?" Shane lolled his head to his right. "But I'm afraid I'm keeping Lunala. See, her light is sustaining me. And I have no intentions of disappearing."

    "Then I will free her from you, demon!" Solgaleo snarled. An orange fireball surrounded him. He charged Shane down. Shane teleported back toward his Ultra Wormhole.

    "Tch. I don't have time to deal with you. Run along, kitty!" Shane sneered. He swiped at the air, releasing purple Shadow Balls that homed in on Solgaleo. Shane turned his attention back toward his Ultra Wormhole. His head was throbbing. The wormhole had to close soon before it drained too much of this body's energy. He raised his right hand. A pink glow overtook it.

    Solgaleo slammed him from behind. White-hot pain shot through his back. He errantly released his stored psychic energy into the portal. A horn blared out, followed by the screeching of tires and metal tearing against metal.

    "No! No!" Shane shouted. He whirled on Solgaleo, blasting him away with a barrage of meteors. "You imbecile! You've ruined everything!" Shane lashed out at the air with his wings and arms while Solgaleo careened through Ultra Space, roaring his fury. "No, this isn't over. I can still salvage this. I will have what I want!"

    He turned to the portal. Two cars had collided, leaving a wreckage peppered with pointed metal, glass fragments, tiny flames barely withstanding the rain, and puddles of motor oil rapidly spreading across the ground. Shane reached his right arm into the portal and channeled his psychic powers. He seized a broken, bloodied body from the debris.

    A brilliant orange fireball charged into him from the side. Shane lost his grip on the body. His portal shut as he spread his wings to steady himself. Shane looked up and his heart leaped into his throat.

    There, floating behind Solgaleo, was his body. His human body.

    Burns peppered it from head to toe. Blood floated around it, streaming out from several gashes. But there was no mistaking the unkept, greasy, brown hair or the tattered remains of his work clothes. Shane sensed the life energy of his human body fading rapidly, as if it was a campfire someone had dumped a bucket of water on.

    Shane wanted to hurl. He had told his friends— hell, he had told everyone he had gone to sleep and woken up as a Vulpix. But that wasn't true. He had been in a fatal car accident. And it was all because of Necrozma and Solgaleo. The Pokémon whose spirit was inside him had helped cause all of this. If he hadn't attacked Necrozma, then Shane would've been a Lucario instead… and perhaps everything that had happened to him in the Pokémon world would've gone differently.

    But his assumptions didn't stop there. If this was what had happened to him before being transformed, then could he even go back to the human world? Or would disappearing actually mean being wiped out of existence, like Grovyle and the human who had stopped Primal Dialga?

    "Aggh! Somebody help me! It feels like… I'm being ripped apart!"

    The yells came from Shane's human self. Solgaleo responded by charging Shane down, surrounding himself in a fireball.

    "P-Please! Someone… anyone… help! I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die!"

    Shane held his ground, even as Solgaleo roared. He stuck out his arms and caught Solgaleo mid-charge. His limbs trembled. Cracks splintered through his prism armor. He channeled all the psychic energy he could muster into his arms. The flames around Solgaleo's weakened.

    "I've got you now. There's no escape! Did you really think you could pull off this little stunt without me finding out about it? How ridiculous! I can feel my light seeping off of you. It wants to return to me!"

    Shane redirected his psychic energy. He sucked the flames off Solgaleo's body. His pain and fatigue rapidly faded. The fractures in his arms repaired themselves. Solgaleo roared in desperation, but could only struggle against Shane's psychic grip. Shane looked at his human self. A twisted grin spread across his face.

    "As much as I want you gone, I need you for something far more important."

    Solgaleo had stopped struggling. Faint wisps of fire still surrounded him, but most of the light Shane saw came from his current body, producing an insidious mix of blue and orange. Shane leaned over and was about to move his hands onto Solgaleo's face when a ripple caught his attention. The violet eye from the last vision had superimposed itself on Solgaleo's back. It crackled with black, distorted energy.

    tHE TImE fOr GAmEs HaS lOnG SInCE paSseD. EnD tHEm bOtH! TuRN tHEsE uNPLeaSaNt MeMOrIeS to DusT!

    The eye promptly vanished.

    "Is… is someone out there? I'm hurt. I need help! Whoever you are… do something!"

    Shane was looking right at his human self. His lips curved into a malicious snarl. Shane dug his claws into Solgaleo's shoulders. An intense surge of energy streamed through his arms. Solgaleo erupted in an orange inferno. Shane smacked him. Solgaleo streamed toward Shane's human body.

    "You need help, huh? It's a good thing you've got me here, then. Take it easy. No need to worry. I have just the thing for you, my human friend."

    The instant Solgaleo's flames struck Shane's human self, Shane pointed his arms forward and released a brilliant rainbow beam. Screams of agony rose and faded as Shane's attack disintegrated Solgaleo and his human body. He ceased the attack and hunched over, arms and tongue tangling.

    "Heehee… heeheeheehee! He's gone! Gone! I killed him! I killed them both! What fun! What a joy! What—"

    Intense pain tore through Shane's chest. He descended into a raucous coughing fit, arms and wings spasming. Shane's world went white, the tearing pain so strong he thought he was literally being ripped in half. The light faded quickly, however, revealing Shane was still in the middle of Ultra Space. Only now, Necrozma towered over him. His third eye and chest sigil had gone dark and his arms hung uselessly by his side.

    Shane tried to move. However, like in the first vision, he couldn't feel any limbs. He couldn't find his voice either. All he could do was watch as a trembling Necrozma formed a sloppy, asymmetrical Ultra Wormhole and fell into it. To Shane's shock, the portal's pull was so strong that it sucked him up, too. Bright light streamed all around him. Shane tried to express his panic, but couldn't.

    Right before his vision faded, however, Shane saw two small, fuzzy, white legs sprout out in front of him.

    XxX​

    A weak gasped escaped Shane. He stumbled through the sand, barely able to stop himself from toppling over. Shane stood there, legs spread out and sweat dripping off his fur. His eyes darted around. Every limb trembled, including his tails.

    "Shane? Shane, what's wrong?!" Tessa said, aura feelers pulsating wildly. Beside her, Espy and Silvally shrank back, shutting their eyes as their heads throbbed.

    Slowly, Shane craned his head skyward, his eyes empty. Then, without warning, he screamed at the top of his lungs. Tessa fell back on her rear, shoving her paws up against her ears. Silvally's eyes flickered erratically. Espy's tail shot between her legs. The distress in Shane's screams had hit them like a Bullet Punch barrage.

    His voice gone, Shane collapsed on his side. He curled up into a shivering white ball. His teammates finally got their wits about them and ran to his side, minding the Seaside Shard sitting in the sand. Tessa knelt down beside him. "Talk to us, Shane. Please! Tell us what's wrong!" she cried, nudging him with her right paw. Tessa yanked it back the moment her mark shimmered to life. She stuck it behind her back and switched to rubbing him with her left paw.

    "What did you see, Shane?" Espy whispered, standing by his tails.

    Silvally lay down his belly so his face was near Shane's. "We want to help, but you've got to say something, even if it's hard," he said.

    "I… I… I wasn't Solgaleo. Not this time. I was… Dark Matter." Shane shuddered. "I witnessed its defeat… only to get turned into Necrozma. Then I… saw myself." His voice cracked.

    Silvally looked at Tessa in concern. "What do you mean by that?" Tessa asked.

    "I didn't fall asleep one night and wake up a Vulpix! I died!" Shane shouted, causing Silvally to scramble to his feet. "Necrozma, he was trying to summon me into this world, but Solgaleo attacked him. He made Necrozma misfire… and I got in a car crash as a result! Then Necrozma pulled me into Ultra Space and vaporized me and Solgaleo with some big-ass rainbow beam!" Hot tears streamed down his face.

    "Are you… sure? Maybe this was some sort of nightmare? You said Solgaleo's spirit is inside of you, right?" Espy said, though the squeaking in her voice betrayed her lack of confidence in her thoughts.

    "I don't know! None of this makes sense!" Shane tried to bury his head in the sand, but failed. "How am I here? Am I really Shane or am I some sort of freakish impostor with his memories? What's going to happen to me?! I can't go back to the human world. I… I'm a dead 'mon walking, aren't I? I… I… I…"

    He was hyperventilating. Silvally funneled psychic energy into his beak. He was ready to lean over and nudge Shane's shoulder, when Shane seized up. Silvally backed off, head crest fanning out in surprise. His eyes widened as rainbow light spilled out of Shane's looplet and raced down his back. Shane violently lurched forward. Silvally leaped over him, knocking a shocked, wide-eyed Tessa to the ground.

    The moment they hit the sand, Shane spat out a ball of light. It sailed across the ocean, twinkling the further away it got. Then, without warning, it exploded in a brilliant pillar of golden energy. Espy dropped to the ground, screaming and throwing her forelegs over her face. The light died down, leaving Shane staggering about, mane disheveled and looplet flickering like a dying bulb.

    "Shane, that…" Tessa looked out to sea. Her aura feelers curled up. "What was that?"

    "I don't know. I wasn't— I didn't mean for that to happen! There was this power that had been stirring inside me since those visions ended… and it forced its way out!" Shane said, wracked with shudders from head to tail. His ears drooped. "What if that attack hit some wild 'mons underwater? Oh, gods, what have I done?"

    "That attack…" Espy's voice trailed off as she got to her feet. "There was no typing behind it." Shane and Tessa turned to her, both tensing up. "I couldn't… sense any of the types. It was just sheer energy. Light energy, I guess?" Her gaze darted about frantically. "C… can Solgaleo make light geysers? I mean, he brings sunlight onto the world and that's kinda golden. So, he must be awakening, right?"

    Silence fell over the group. Everyone looked down, unsure of what to make of this. The silence persisted for a full minute, before Espy's tail twitched. She looked up at the sky and her eyes bulged out. "Everyone scatter!" she shouted, booking it away from the shoreline. Her teammates looked up, only for their jaws to drop in unison.

    "That's Latias… and she's careening toward us!" Tessa cried, aura feelers standing on end. She backpedaled frantically, but got tripped up and fell onto her rear. Shane scrambled away. Silvally held his ground, however. He kicked on his air memories and leaped into the air. His tail oscillated back and forth, producing enough momentum to carry him higher. Silvally snagged Latias in his beak. The nauseating taste of blood nearly made him drop her, but he held tough.

    Silvally's head crest fanned out. Wind shot out of his legs. He glided safely back down to the ground and let go of Latias. "This is terrible! Something awful's happened to her," he squawked, cringing at the many patches of missing or bloody feathers. Glass shards from Latias' shattered goggles dug into her neck and underbelly.

    "Latias? Latias, you've got to stay with me!" Shane said. He bent down and touched his snout between her wings. A faint orange glow overtook him. Warm sunlight funneled down toward her. It dislodged the broken glass and patched up some of her gashes.

    With a pained wheeze, Latias' eyes shot open. She stared up at Team Radiance, wings and paws trembling.

    "What happened to you, Latias?" Tessa asked, clasping her paws in worry. Latias' gaze darted about between the foursome. Tears streamed down her face.

    "Lugia… infected. Hoopa's… gone. Hourglass… Necrozma…"

    Latias lost consciousness. Then a massive tremor erupted across the beach.

    XxX
    Shane learned Psychic and Heat Wave from the first two Dawn Shards. Not a single person called me out on the fact that Solgaleo cannot get Heat Wave legally. As for the first part of Shane's vision, while Dark Matter's lines are copied verbatim from Super Mystery Dungeon, I altered Fennekin's dialogue to be more conversational.

    Next time: "The beginning... of the end. The end of everything."
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  19. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 83: Defying the Legends

    ~Lively Town~

    Dragonite clumsily hobbled along the stone bridge marking Lively Town's main entrance. Scant amounts of sunlight glistened on the rocks, but it was all dwarfed by the luminescent glow of the domed, green barrier in front of her. Inside, Pokémon tried their best to go about their business. A Snubbull and Granbull flipped over a sign on the door to their bakery to signify they were open. Mail Pelippers flew inside the bright-blue post office building. Two Lillipups ran down the street with their exasperated Herdier father giving chase.

    Manaphy's short, stubby legs — if Dragonite could even call them that — cramped up with each step. Her temporary body was clearly built for water. And she had quickly grown annoyed with Manaphy's antennae bonking the back of her head as she walked. Dragonite considered putting Manaphy's water powers to use to try hovering in the air, but ruled against it. She was in the body of a lesser god. Keeping a low profile was best.

    Dragonite took a deep breath. She couldn't hesitate. Slowing up as she approached the barrier wasn't an option. Other people might pick up on such hesitation and scrutinize it. Then her mission would be in trouble before it had really started. Dragonite proceeded forward, steeling her resolve. The barrier's energy tickled her membranous form the closer she got. A ripple ran through her system. Dragonite held her breath, worrying the barrier would reject her.

    However, the tingling faded, as did the green light. Dragonite had safely passed through the barrier, just as Zero assumed she would. She proceeded down the main street, adjusting the satchel and explorer's badge Zero had given her. They were fakes, of course, but Zero had styled them after the badges in the Grass Continent. She was confident nobody would know the difference.

    Town square only had a single Kecleon tending to his caravan-style shop. Dragonite tucked her head in and picked up her pace. She moved north. A yellow-brick road led the way up to the Expedition Society's gaudy, overly-colorful building. Dragonite frowned, however, when she noticed the door was closed, with no identifiable handles to open it up.

    Sighing, Dragonite approached the door and knocked on it with a flipper. She prayed whatever sad sap answered the door was someone she could talk her way around. Dragonite stepped back as the door creaked open, revealing Delphox. He looked down and his eyes widened.

    "Hey. You're—" He paused, brow furrowing. "Wait, it's Manaphy, right?"

    "Yup, that's me. Did I come at a bad time?" Dragonite said, trying her best to put up a cheerful façade.

    Delphox frowned. "You've had all of us worried sick! Cresselia and Darkrai showed up telling us that you had vanished into thin air! What happened to you?"

    Dragonite silently swore. She hadn't realized Manaphy had company. She'd need to work around this. "Oh… that." Her antennae drooped. "I'm sorry. That's my fault. I saw some ocean-dwelling Pokémon under attack and swam out to help them. It took a lot longer than I was expecting. When I returned to Sharpedo Bluff, nobody was there!" She looked down guiltily. "It was so quiet in Treasure Town and I was nervous… I just wanted to see everyone so they'd know I was okay."

    "You know you could've used the communicators Jirachi gave to Chatot, right?" Delphox said, sighing.

    "I wanted to see my dads," Dragonite whimpered.

    "Well, the important thing is that you're safe. Come on inside," Delphox said. He opened the door wider to allow Dragonite to waddle in, then shut it behind her. Dragonite examined the main assembly area, noting the desks piled high with papers and parchment filled to the brim with furious scribbling.

    "Excuse the mess. As I'm sure you know, we're all under a lot of stress," Delphox explained, beckoning Dragonite to follow him to the right. There was a hallway lined by lavender walls with bright yellow stone at their bases. They passed by a few doorways with white arches, before arriving at one with the Expedition Society's logo etched into it.

    "Chief? It's Delphox. I've got Manaphy here," Delphox said, knocking against the side of the arch. A crash echoed into the hallway, making Dragonite raise a brow.

    "I'll be out in just a second!" a cheerful voice called. Dragonite assumed it belonged to Ampharos. Another pair of crashes followed.

    "For pity's sake, Chief! I just finished organizing those," a squeakier female voice groaned.

    "Terribly sorry, Dedenne. I must've gotten turned around," Ampharos chuckled.

    "Ugh, just follow me, Chief," Dedenne said, sighing loudly. Dragonite backed up behind Delphox. Ampharos and Dedenne walked out of the office. Mawile and Meganium were behind them.

    "Ah. So, Manaphy has graced us with his presence. Splendid! I guess this means Latios' venture was successful," Ampharos declared, raising an arm triumphantly.

    "Actually, Manaphy showed up on his own. Apparently, he rescued some drowning 'mons, but it took a while," Delphox explained.

    Ampharos lowered his arm. "I see. In that case, we'd better recall Latios or else he'll be racing around the Grass Continent forever. Dedenne, would you do the honors?"

    "Of course, Chief. Standby." Dedenne rubbed her cheek sacs. Electricity tickled the tips of her whiskers. Dragonite shuffled back unsteadily, not wanting to accidentally get electrocuted. "Huh, that's odd. I'm not picking up Latios' signal," Dedenne said after a minute of silence.

    "Perhaps he's moving too fast for us to contact him? Despite all his testing, I don't think Jirachi figured out how to make the gadget work when Mega Latios flies at top speeds," Mawile said. "Give it a few minutes and try him again, okay?"

    "All right," Dedenne said.

    Meganium fixed a worried look on Delphox. "Uh, Meganium's wondering if Latios might be in trouble," Delphox announced, right paw pressed against his forehead. He held up his Expedition Gadget. "She wants to check the Pokémon Nexus and see if it shows us anything." Meganium nodded along as Delphox spoke.

    Dragonite tensed up. She couldn't afford to get pulled into a situation involving Latios. Manaphy's Heart Swap was only temporary and she shuddered to think what would happen if it ran out while she was still inside Lively Town's barrier. "Um, not to interrupt or anything, but I just want to find my dads. Does anyone know where they are?"

    "Why, I think they're upstairs tending to the Time Gears. Yes, don't let us hold you up. I'm sure your dads are very worried about you," Ampharos said.

    "Thanks, Mr. Ampharos," Dragonite said, struggling to hide her glee at how perfectly this had worked out. As she dashed away from the group, however, her jubilant mood soured. Team Poképals was guarding the Time Gears and there could be others around, too. How was she supposed to swipe them without causing a scene? Sure, she had Manaphy's powers at her disposal, but could that hold off multiple Pokémon?

    Her answer became clearer once she got upstairs. She was in a large study, with a few round tables shoved against the wall. There was a big bookcase to her left. It was overflowing, to the point where books spilled out onto the floor. To her right, Jirachi manned a telescope. In between them sat a giant ball of light and, within the ball, Dragonite faintly made out the four Time Gears.

    "Manaphy? Oh, thank gods, you're okay!"

    Feraligatr lumbered toward Dragonite. She yelped as he plucked her off the ground and wrapped her up in a big hug. "C-Can't… breathe," she wheezed, struggling in Feraligatr's grip.

    "For pity's sake, Feraligatr, put him down before you squish him."

    Infernape walked up to Feraligatr, who lowered Dragonite to the ground. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. In the process, she caught sight of Uxie and Azelf, both hovering close to the ball of light housing the Time Gears. Dragonite frowned. Two seasoned explorers and three gods all in the same room? Not to mention the possibility of Cresselia and Darkrai lurking nearby.

    Luckily, Zero had foreseen the prospect of the Time Gears being well-guarded. Dragonite simply needed to get Team Poképals to focus their attention elsewhere. Then, she could reach safely into her bag and deploy one of the orbs Zero had given her.

    "Cresselia and Darkrai came here saying you had disappeared, Manaphy. What happened? I thought Feraligatr and I made it clear you had to stay in the team base," Infernape said, his expression stoic but his voice tinged with concern.

    "I know. I'm sorry. But there were distressed 'mons out at sea. I saw them drowning, so I had to leap into action!" Dragonite said, hopping up and down as she spoke. "I swam out to help them, but it took much longer than I was expecting it to and left me very tired." She poked her flippers together. "I guess Cresselia and Darkrai had already left, because I went to sleep, but no one was around when I woke up. So, I rode the Lapras Liner over here as fast as I could."

    Infernape raised a skeptical brow and Dragonite momentarily wondered if he had found a fault in her story. Feraligatr glanced at his partner. "You doing all right?" he asked.

    "Yeah." Sighing, Infernape knelt down and put a hand on Dragonite's shoulder. "I'm glad you're okay, Manaphy. Please don't worry Feraligatr and me like that again."

    "I won't! Now that I'm here, I'll do whatever you tell me too, Dad," Dragonite said, earning a wince from Infernape and a chuckle from Feraligatr.

    "Well, glad that's settled. Hey, did you tell Cresselia and Darkrai you were here?" Feraligatr asked. Dragonite shook her head. "Aww, that's no problem, I'll go find 'em." Feraligatr smiled at Dragonite and walked out of the room.

    Infernape stood back up and turned to face the Time Gears. Dragonite cautiously took a step back, pivoting to hide her satchel from Infernape. "So, uh, those are all the Time Gears the bad guys don't have, right?" she said.

    "Correct. Uxie, Azelf, Feraligatr, and I brought them here together," Infernape explained.

    "Um, does that mean that time's frozen in parts of the Grass Continent… like last time?" Dragonite asked, trying her best to make small talk while not losing her nerve. Her gut squirmed and her feet momentarily tingled. Dragonite wondered if the Heart Swap was wearing off. She silently opened the flap of her bag and reached inside. Her flipper grazed the smooth, round, glassy body of an orb.

    "If what Latias said is true, then Dialga is making sure time flows correctly despite the Time Gears being here," Infernape said. "Uxie and Azelf have both been keeping constant watch on them, to be safe."

    "That's good," Dragonite said, her flipper rapped around the orb. In one quick, fluid motion, she removed the orb and tossed it to the ground. It shattered. By the time Uxie and Azelf had turned around, the orb had taken effect. They both dropped to the ground, fast asleep. Jirachi slumped down onto a chair. Infernape dropped to his knees, then lay down on his belly.

    The barrier holding the Time Gears faded. Dragonite figured Uxie and Azelf were responsible for maintaining it. Dragonite tiptoed forward and snagged the Time Gears before they hit the ground. She pocketed them in her satchel. Dragonite glanced at the stairs, but dismissed the notion of using them. It'd be too risky to go down the main route. Instead, she lumbered toward the telescope. Dragonite barely managed to squeeze herself through an opening between the telescope and the wall.

    She dropped onto a light-blue tower at the top of the castle-like building. Dragonite knew the front of the building had windows, so she walked to the side. The drop off was steep, but she believed her squishy body could deal with the impact. To better her chances, Dragonite slowly slid herself over the edge, moistening her flippers and feet with tiny globs of water. She pressed her limbs against the building's wall and the friction slowed what would have been a rapid fall down two stories.

    Unfortunately, her decision had the unintended side effect of making loud, squeaking noises as she slid. Dragonite pushed off the wall and dropped the rest of the way. She shuddered from the impact, but rolled forward and got back to her feet. Dragonite ran as fast as Manaphy's tiny feet could carry her. She stayed clear of the main roads, opting to go behind the buildings.

    Dragonite whizzed past Café Connection, her small stature keeping her safe from the open windows and potential prying eyes of customers. She focused her attention ahead of her. Dragonite's breath came in rapid gasps. Her gut cramped and her flippers grew heavy. There was little doubt in her mind that Manaphy's Heart Swap was wearing off. She had to get close enough to Zero to complete the handoff.

    Her antennae twitched. Dragonite juked to her right. A black, spherical void raced by her. She looked over her shoulder. Darkrai flew toward her, shadows gathering in his hands.

    "I don't know what kind of trick this is, but I'll be taking back those Time Gears," Darkrai growled. He hurled Dark Voids toward Dragonite. She blasted them apart with two well-placed spurts of water. Darkrai wasn't deterred, however. He floated closer, drawing on more dark energy.

    Dragonite's stomach knotted up. She had to keep moving. Dragonite whipped her antennae forward. An icy stream pelted Darkrai, freezing his arms. His levitation faltered. Dragonite turned and sprinted away. There was no sense trying to stay off the main path now. She cut in between a curio shop and a pink boutique. Dragonite stumbled onto the main road, shoving a startled Krokorok aside. She waddled forward as fast as she could.

    "Stop! Get back here, thief!"

    Dragonite recognized Infernape's voice. She spun around, blasting a scalding water jet in his direction. Infernape skidded to a halt, then leaped over the attack. Dragonite had nearly reached the bridge. Infernape was much faster, however. He charged Dragonite down, lightning coating his fists.

    Right before Dragonite could turn to counterattack, a gleam caught the corner of her eye. She put a flipper on the ground. Dragonite cartwheeled to her left. To her utter delight, Darkrai's burst of red energy struck the lunging Infernape. He careened into the brown door of a brick house. Dragonite shot another Ice Beam from her antennae. Darkrai countered with a pitch-black Dark Pulse. They stalemated in an explosive burst of shadowy frost.

    Dragonite dashed onto the bridge, but a burst of water struck her from behind. She spun forward, wincing in pain.

    "Dang it, Feraligatr. We're trying to stop him, not give him a bigger lead! You're gonna knock him into the water if you keep that up," Infernape shouted. Dragonite's antennae perked up. She vaulted over the edge of the bridge.

    "No, stop!" Feraligatr barked. He looked behind him, praying Darkrai would launch psychic waves to restrain Dragonite. However, Darkrai was still dazed from his earlier blow. "Infernape, head across the bridge. I'll swim after him!" Feraligatr said. He sprinted to the edge of town and dove in the direction where Dragonite had surfaced.

    She hastily swam forward, making her way through the barrier the second Feraligatr splashed down. Dragonite caught a glimpse of Infernape dashing across the bridge. Luckily, she had greater maneuverability now that she was in the water. Dragonite dove down, then quickly U-turned. She launched herself skyward. Dragonite blasted scalding water toward the bridge. Infernape tried punching through it with an electrified fist, but he couldn't generate enough lightning to protect himself.

    Dragonite reached a steep slope of land opposite Lively Town. Behind her, Feraligatr summoned a wave. Dragonite launched herself skyward with a high-pressured Hydro Pump. The moment she landed in a patch of grass, she seized up. Her chest constricted and her antennae knotted up. Dragonite gasped as her world went white.

    The Heart Swap had faded.

    Dragonite's vision recovered, offering her a view of her armored limbs. Zero and her teammates stood next to her. The former's lone eye flickered purple. "Where are the Time Gears?" she said.

    "Manaphy's got them. He's on that strip of land across the water from Lively Town, but Team Poképals are in hot pursuit," Dragonite said. She lightning-dashed out of the forest.

    "Nnrgh. I will not have things fall apart right at this crucial moment," Zero hissed, her fists flickering with distorted red light. With a burst of Extreme Speed, she raced after Dragonite. "Hurry up, you two!" she shouted, prompting Milotic and Serperior to slither after her as fast as they could.

    Dragonite reached the spot where Manaphy had collapsed right as Feralgatr used a plume of water to shoot himself up. "Lightning Javelin!" she cried, hurling an electric spear forward. Feraligatr leaped over it. He slashed at Dragonite with glowing blue claws, but she met him with Dragon Claws of her own. Her strength prevailed. Dragonite forced Feraligatr to the ground.

    "Behind you, Dragonite!" Zero called. Infernape was quicker on the draw, however, slamming a glowing fist into Dragonite's armored belly. She floated back, wings flapping rapidly.

    "Try this on for size!" Dragonite said. She smacked her fists together, releasing a giant twister crackling with blue and yellow energy. Infernape's face blanched. The tornado picked him and Feraligatr up. It hurtled them into each other repeatedly. Zero nabbed the Time Gears while returning Manaphy to his Beast Ball.

    "I've got the Time Gears. Now, let's get out of—"

    Zero's aura dreadlocks tensed. She turned and hurled a red Aura Sphere through the air. It fizzled out against Darkrai's shadowy shield. He grabbed it and kneaded the shadows like they were blackened putty. "You must be part of this accursed Prism Virus phenomenon. Rest assured, I will do everything I can to put a stop to you," he declared. Darkrai hurtled two Dark Voids toward Zero. She twirled her staff, forming two clumps of glitchy, red cubes. The cubes exploded into red and black vortexes that effortlessly sucked the Dark Voids up.

    Undeterred, Darkrai shot a black beam at Zero. She raised her staff and the vortexes expanded, blocking the attack. Zero launched a red Aura Sphere and dispelled the cubes. Darkrai lacked the time to shield himself. It exploded, knocking him toward the water.

    Zero held her scepter up. It morphed into the scythe resembling Absol's horn. She slashed the air repeatedly. Green, horn-shaped energy bursts sailed toward Darkrai. He pointed his arms down. The recoil from the Psychic he unleashed propelled him safely above Zero's Megahorn barrage. Still upside-down, Darkrai gathered a large red energy ball in his hands. He hurled the Focus Blast toward Zero.

    Swearing, Zero twirled the scythe in her paws. She whipped up a polar vortex, catching the Focus Blast in its place, freezing it solid, and pushing the giant ice ball back toward Darkrai.

    "Nngh— impossible!" he gasped, trying to conjure up the energy to use Psychic. Unfortunately, all he could manage was a few pink sparks. Darkrai had to resort to strafing the ice ball.

    "Consume!" Zero shouted, taking advantage of the opening. She fired a red and black beam from her scepter. It hit Darkrai's right arm. His colors peeled off as he looked on in horror. The last of his energy faded an instant before his hollow, gray body smacked the water. Zero took in Darkrai's life energy, her body violently distorting.

    Milotic and Serperior finally caught up and exchanged glances. "Oh. Looks like you two settled everything," Serperior said, glancing to her left. Feraligatr and Infernape lay in an unconscious heap. Electrical burns peppered their bodies. Dragonite floated over them. She raised an arm to summon a lightning javelin.

    "Now, for the finisher," she said.

    "Halt, Dragonite," Zero said, raising her free paw. Two corrupted Beast Balls appeared from distorted ripples in the air. "I can put these two to use. I'll have Team Poképals and Team Paradise under my command." She flicked her paw. The Beast Balls hit Infernape and Feraligatr. They sucked them up, dropped to the ground, and clicked shut. Zero levitated the Beast Balls back to her.

    "Excellent. And with that, we take our le—"

    The ground erupted in a violent quake. Zero, Milotic, and Serperior all jumped back in alarm as a fissure split the hill apart. The part they had been standing on dislodged and slipped down into the water. Large waves rolled in Lively Town's direction.

    "What's going on? Is Groudon about to pop out and attack us?" Serperior gasped, planting her tail-blade into the dirt to keep her anchored.

    "No. It's something better," Dragonite whispered, grinning. The tremor abruptly stopped and a wave of white light raced up from the water. It passed harmlessly over Zero and Team Captivate, but it didn't take long for any of them realize something had gone horribly wrong.

    "Look at the water. It's completely frozen!" Milotic gasped, pointing her tail forward.

    "Yeah. The ground stopped sliding away, too," Serperior said, slithering back. She looked toward Dragonite and Milotic with a smirk on her face. "Everything's coming to a standstill, wouldn't you say?"

    Zero's eye darted about. The world's colors evaporated all around her. Nearby trees and bushes lost their leaves. Only barren bundles of twigs remained. The slight breeze from the ocean had disappeared. Even the waves and ripples in the water were frozen in place.

    "The planet's… paralysis," Zero whispered. Her eye sparked with purple aura. "No… no!" She clenched her paws into fists. They flickered about, seemingly detaching from her body. "Temporal Tower… Necky got to Temporal Tower? How?! Did Necky get an Hourglass? Did he get both?"

    She turned toward Team Captivate. Before any of the girls could offer an answer, Zero summoned their Beast Balls and recalled them. She glared down at the balls as they shook in midair. "You didn't think I senses the shift in your auras, ladies?" she hissed. "I had a bad feeling when Dragonite popped up different from how I intended to her look, but you three listened to me, so I thought maybe I had messed things up. But it looks like the interference was all Necky's doing!"

    Zero pressed down on the right side of her mask. "Well, if Necky's gotten to Temporal Tower, then that must mean there's no barrier around it anymore." She waved her free paw and Team Captivate's Beast Balls disappeared in clusters of black cubes. "I'll deal with you deceitful worms later. For now…" Manaphy's Beast Ball materialized in front of her. "I've got a bat to get out of my belfry."

    Her body grossly distorted. A black Ultra Wormhole appeared in front of Zero. She grabbed Manaphy's Beast Ball and leaped into the portal.

    XxX

    ~Temporal Tower~

    Dialga stomped about the Temporal Pinnacle, glaring out at the thick yellow clouds covering the Hidden Land. Mewtwo hadn't returned. With all the power he claimed to have, eliminating some dungeon Pokémon should've been mere child's play. And yet, here Dialga was, standing alone atop his domain. Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother him. It's what he preferred. However, Mewtwo's absence had unsettled him and that feeling grew with each passing minute.

    Had he simply left? No, that should've been impossible. Lapras can't be summoned on this side of the Sea of Time. Dialga knew he was the only way Mewtwo could leave the Hidden Land. He supposed he could try to sense Mewtwo's presence using the dungeon's ley lines. But that idea risked ruining whatever work Mewtwo had done to settle things down.

    Dialga lashed his tail out at the air. "Worthless cretin! I agree to bring you to my domain and you have the nerve to mock me like this? I am the keeper of time! I—"

    A ripple ran through the air in front of Dialga. He froze. His steel fins fanned out, glimmering with blue hexagons. A second ripple spread through the sky. This time, his barrier appeared. Cracks splintered through the golden energy capsule encircling Temporal Tower.

    "No… that's impossible!" Dialga shouted. The blue hexagons raced up to his mouth. Dialga roared. Tachyons spread through the air, twisting the barrier and seemingly freezing the cracks in place. Dialga hunched down close to the ground and concentrated. A blue transmutation circle formed, with Dialga in its center. He traced an hourglass-like glyph and then sliced a line through it.

    Dialga pressed a forehoof to the sigil. His brow furrowed, however, when the sigil didn't alight. He glanced up at his barrier. The tachyons had dissipated and cracks were spreading even further. Dialga gathered more temporal energy. However, it didn't form up fast enough. The barrier shattered like a broken piece of pottery. Dialga staggered back as primal energy dissipated into thin air.

    "I've finally got you! Heeheeheehee!"

    An Ultra Wormhole split the sky open. Lugia flew out of it first, releasing a purple Shadow Blast vortex. Dialga's eyes widened. He had no choice but to utter a second Roar of Time. His blue hexagons snuffed out Lugia's shadows, but left Dialga defenseless. A shadowy cloud formed into Necrozma. He took aim not at Dialga, but at one of the pillars standing near Temporal Pinnacle's altar. A silhouette of Keldeo formed over Necrozma's head, then red energy blades raced toward the pillar.

    "No!" Dialga shouted, lunging into the air. The Secret Sword crescents peppered his left flank. He winced, but held his ground.

    "What's the matter, Dialga? Afraid of your new houseguest messing things up?" Necrozma crooned. He glanced up at Lugia. "What are you waiting for, an invitation? Put your powers to good use! Attack him! Knock him into the altar!"

    Lugia screeched. Pink flames streamed from his eyes. He smacked his wings together. A powerful psychic grip grabbed Dialga. He couldn't even get his mouth to open. Necrozma turned to the same pillar as before. Fiery-purple meteors appeared by his wings.

    "That's far enough, you dreadful monstrosity!"

    Necrozma's third eye flashed. He disappeared in a puff of smoke seconds before the space he occupied distorted in a twisted vortex of blue energy. Necrozma reappeared, only for a black, ethereal blur to strike him and send him reeling.

    "Yeah! Nobody messes with my bestest big brother except for me!" Giratina declared, spreading his ectoplasmic wings wide as Palkia flew up beside him, shoulder gems sparkling with energy. "Oh, and Darkrai that one time, but Dia doesn't like it when I talk about that. It's kind of a sore subject."

    "Quiet, Giratina. We're not here to talk, we're here to bury this unruly corrupter of space!" Palkia snarled. He whirled around. His Spacial Rend vortex ensnared Lugia and exploded. Dialga regained free movement and blasted Lugia with a metallic energy beam. Necrozma teleported behind Lugia and yanked him out of his freefall. Soft moonlight spread across both of them, healing their nicks.

    "You! No, you two shouldn't be here!" Necrozma hissed, wings and arms tensing.

    "I am the god of space itself! You didn't think I wouldn't sense the destruction of Temporal Tower's barrier? I could sniff out your vile portals even if I was sitting in a room full of Grimers!" Palkia declared, pointing a claw at Necrozma. "They're a blight upon the beautiful fabric of space that I weave."

    "But Pal-Pal, you don't have any nostrils. Dad didn't give us any," Giratina said, grinning broadly.

    "Be. Quiet. Giratina," Palkia growled. "This is not the time for your dumb jokes! You want to stop the meanie who's out to hurt your 'bestest big brother,' right?"

    "Oh… yeah! Right." Giratina turned to Necrozma, clearing his throat. "I'm going to tear you to shreds and then use those shreds to make a papier mâché heart to give to Dia!"

    Necrozma floated back. His eyes flashed. He folded his wings over his torso. "I did not come this far for three drooling imbeciles to ruin everything. Naganadels, get them!" He tore open an Ultra Wormhole, summoning a half dozen wasp-like creatures with large silver needles protruding from their ends. They formed into a square. Blue, dragon-shaped bolts cut through the air.

    Giratina unleashed his own Dragon Pulse. Dialga shot liquid metal from his mouth. They destroyed four of the Naganadels' Dragon Pulses. Palkia then slashed at the air. A pink vortex swallowed the remaining two attacks.

    Palkia's shoulder crystals glowed. His wings fanned out. Two small portals appeared behind Necrozma and Lugia. They had enough time to turn around before their allies' attacks slammed into their faces. "Nrrrgeeek!" Necrozma snarled, backing away from the godly dragons. "That's… not possible!"

    "You should have thought twice before daring to challenge us! I'll turn each of your attacks back on you before you even know it!" Palkia bellowed.

    Necrozma's third eye wriggled inside his prism armor. "All of you… go for the tower! I'll deal with our phallic-headed friend," he said, black smoke trickling out of his mouth. Necrozma disappeared in a flash of light. Lugia's eyes smoldered with green energy and he vanished in a puff of smoke, too.

    The Naganadels took aim at Dialga and Giratina and fired Dragon Pulses from their stingers. Liquid metal and purple Shadow Balls raced to meet them. Before Palkia could divert the attacks with more of his portals, Necrozma flew out of a black tear in the sky. Palkia coiled around, shooting a mouthful of water at Necrozma. He broke off his charge to skirt the Hydro Pump. Necrozma hurtled flaming meteors toward Palkia.

    Palkia smirked, shoulder crystals glowing. Necrozma's chest sigil flashed and a black, shadowy portal swallowed the meteors. Palkia's smirk vanished. A second black portal appeared behind him. Palkia whirled around, barely catching the meteors in a jagged, blue Spacial Rend vortex. Necrozma drifted back, then threw open a third black portal. He caught the meteors Palkia threw back at him. Palkia coated his tail in water. He swatted the meteors away before they could strike Temporal Tower.

    "Heeheeheehee! Something wrong, oh mighty god of space? Of course. You're upset you're not the only one who can think with portals," Necrozma crooned. Black mist swirled around his three eyes. Dark portals surrounded Palkia.

    "What the—" Palkia crossed his arms together. A water bubble formed around him. Black fists shot out of the portals. They struck the bubble and popped it. Palkia raced forward. He tore open the air to his right. A second tear appeared beside Necrozma, who teleported away to dodge the blue Dragon Pulse beam.

    "Aiyyyaaah!"

    A startled yelp drew both Palkia's and Necrozma's attentions. Back by the tower, a pillar of shadows had swallowed up Giratina. Two hollow, bright-green eyes stared down at Dialga, who was too preoccupied hurtling glowing rocks and debris at the Dragon Pulse volley raining down on him.

    "What have you done to Lugia, you twisted demon?" Palkia barked. Shadows sheathed his right hand as he ripped open a tear in space and swiped at Necrozma.

    "I've made him something better," Necrozma said, propelling himself back with a psychic blast. Palkia withdrew his arm with an annoyed grunt. He glanced over his shoulder. Lugia had blasted Giratina with psychic waves, forcing Dialga into the air to stop his younger brother from crashing into Temporal Tower. The Naganadels seized their opening, tearing into Dialga with a half-dozen serpentine lasers.

    "Dialga! Giratina! Get down on the tower's roof!" Palkia cried. His eyes flashed blue. Tears in space encircled Necrozma. Explosions filled with blue hexagons battered him from all sides. Palkia turned around, confident he'd sent Necrozma reeling. He tossed more Spacial Rend portals at the Naganadels like they were cosmic frisbees. Lugia dispersed into a cloud of shadows to dodge, but the Naganadels didn't realize there was any approach danger. The rends merged into one giant, buzz-saw of a portal.

    "We're on the roof, Pal-Pal! What's next?" Giratina said.

    "This!" Palkia roared. His eyes and gems glowed orange. An unseen force grabbed the Nagandels and hurled them into the portal. The massive rend shredded them into a cloud of pink and purple mist. Lugia materialized and plummeted from the sky with an enraged squawk. Likewise, a screeching Necrozma careened toward the yellow clouds below.

    "Oh, I get it! Gravity!" Giratina said, legs trembling as he fought to stay standing. "Thi-this game's fun P-Pal-Pal! But how long do we have to, urk, keep playing it?"

    "Until we've felled this demon and purged him from our world!" Palkia declared. "Dialga, strike while he's vulnerable!"

    Dialga fought against the increased gravity to unleash a mighty roar. Tachyons pummeled Lugia and Necrozma from every angle. Cracks spread through both their prism armor sets. Arms spasming, Necrozma threw open an Ultra Wormhole and fell into it. He appeared directly atop Palkia. The sudden slam brought an end to Palkia's gravity manipulation. Necrozma whipped his arms around, tearing into Palkia's shoulder crystals with his shadowy claws. The gems shattered. Palkia's screams echoed through the sky.

    Atop Temporal Tower's roof, Giratina stiffened. His red eyes narrowed. He leaped into a black portal, then immediately appeared beside Necrozma. "Do not…" He slammed Necrozma with his wings. "Hurt…" Giratina hammered Necrozma's face with his tail. "My brother!" He unleashed a bevy of bright-purple meteors, battering Necrozma and knocking him back through the sky. Giratina shot through the air. He caught Palkia on his back and charged back toward Temporal Tower.

    A shrill cry echoed from below. Giratina screeched to a halt inches away from a purple tornado. He launched spectral tendrils from his wings to slice through the gale-force winds, but the tornado turned them aside. Lugia appeared within the whirlpool. Pink energy exploded all around Giratina. Palkia tumbled off his back. Giratina scrambled to collect his disoriented brother. Lugia summoned a giant whirlpool and hurled it toward Temporal Tower.

    Dialga leaped into the air and hovered in place. "I will not let this tower fall again! Nobody disrupts the flow of time on my watch!" he snarled. His chest plate's central gem turned yellow. Glowing runes shaped like lightning bolts surrounded him. Diagla raised his forelegs. Ripples of light enveloped the whirlpool. Water transformed into blue electricity before a flabbergasted Lugia's eyes.

    He frantically flapped his wings. Lugia tried to push the lightning toward Dialga, but found his control of the storm seized from him. Dialga turned the electricity on Lugia, frying him from head to tail. Wings badly singed, he plummeted once again. Lugia thrashed his limbs, his distorted squawks echoing throughout the sky.

    "Thanks for the backup, Dia," Giratina said, setting Palkia down on the room.

    Dialga glanced down at his brothers. "How fares Palkia?" he said, scanning the sky for any signs of Necrozma. Dialga used a Flash Cannon to keep pressure up on Lugia, who stopped his attempts at healing and turned into a cloud of shadows.

    "Not good. He's really shaken. That meanie-head did something to his cores," Giratina said. He tapped one of Palkia's shoulder crystals with a wing. Palkia spasmed. A garbled cry of pain escaped his lips.

    "B-Back off. I'm… fine. I can still… go on…" Palkia lumbered to his feet, only to drop to one knee, wings convulsing. "Nrrrgh… damn that accursed monstrosity. I'll make him… pay for this!"

    The tower trembled. Dialga's fins fanned out in alarm. He raced over the altar to find Necrozma flinging meteors at the tower's back wall. Dialga split the sky with dragon-shaped energy. Necrozma's meteors blew. He tumbled through the air, clawing at his armored face with his wings. Dialga tensed up. Necrozma steadied himself, but continued to claw away at his prism armor.

    Dialga gathered blue hexagons between his fins. He was prepared to unleash his Roar of Time when Necrozma abruptly stopped struggling. His chest sigil and third eye vanished. Necrozma's red eyes turned yellow.

    "Please… make it stop."

    Dialga's tachyons faltered. He took a step backward in midair, raising a brow. Necrozma had spoken, but his voice was much lighter and softer. Was this some sort of trick?

    "Dialga, please. I'm begging you," Necrozma rasped, locking eyes with his opponent. "Make it stop. F-Finish me. I don't— I can't… control…"

    Necrozma hunched over and screamed. Shadows swirled around his prism armor. His chest sigil and third eye returned, the latter writhing about until the red glow had returned to his other eyes. "YoU HAd yOuR ChAnCE… yOUR wIlL is MInE! YoU SuRRenDErED To tHE VoID… AcCePT yOUr DeCISioN!" Necrozma shouted. He whipped his right arm in Dialga's direction. Four glowing circles formed, bearing winged-heart sigils. They gave way to Ultra Wormholes.

    Dialga hastily gathered up his temporal energy. However, small white blurs sliced into his limbs before he attacked. Dialga reared up, growling in displeasure. He caught the white blurs in the corners of his vision, but they were too fast to keep up with.

    "Shred him to ribbons, my Kartanas!" Necrozma hissed. He teleported away in a puff of black smoke, leaving Dialga floating there, head darting about as he tried to keep up with the tiny, white, paper-like stars speeding all around him.

    Necrozma reappeared in front of the Temporal Pinnacle, where Giratina's Dragon Pulse and Lugia's Shadow Blast had stalemated in a blue, blinding explosion. Giratina stood protectively in front of Palkia. Necrozma summoned four Shadow Balls. With a telekinetic burst, he launched them toward Giratina. Palkia lifted up an arm. A purple Spacial Rend portal blew the Shadow Balls apart.

    "Nnrrgh! WhAt PEsTs YoU Are!" Necrozma snarled. He violently coughed up a black cloud and grabbed it. The cloud took the form of Hoopa and its hollow eyes flashed pink. Black portals surrounded Giratina and Plakia. Giant fists shot out from each one. Eyes widening, Palkia tried to divert the attack with portals of his own. However, he couldn't stand up to the barrage. The spectral fists pummeled him into the ground.

    "No! Pal-P— augh!"

    A whirlpool from Lugia silenced Giratina's cries. Necrozma followed up by teleporting next to Giratina and smashing his face into the nearest pillar repeatedly. The pillar held up, even as Necrozma's slams grew more frenzied. "ComE On! WhY! WoN'T! YoU! BreAk?!" He let go of Giratina, who slumped to the ground beside Palkia.

    Lugia heard a frenzied roar from behind the tower and darted toward Dialga, leaving his master alone with the other two dragons.

    Necrozma's arms trembled. Black liquid bubbled up from the cracks in his prism armor. "No! No! I'vE CoME TOO fAR tO FaIL! I wIlL nOt bE DEniED! CoNSuME!" He dropped down on Giratina, sinking his fangs in the god's spine. Necrozma sucked out Giratina's spirit, leaving a crystallized corpse behind. He wiped colorful juices from his lips, then whirled on Palkia. Necrozma lunged onto him with a primal fury, sinking his claws into Palka's neck and draining him of his spirit and colors.

    Screeching, Necrozma shot into the air. Giratina's and Palkia's life energy burned brightly inside his prism armor. Necrozma's eyes and sigil sparkled with rainbow light as he drew from the last remaining bits of the Dusk Hourglass' power.

    An agonized roar drew his attention. Below him, the Kartanas burst apart in tiny confetti-like explosions. A high-pressure, shadowy-purple vortex struck Dialga's chest and blew him right through Temporal Tower's altar. He rolled to a stop by his brothers' remains. Dialga caught sight of Palkia's lifeless body and bolted to his feet. Then his gaze fell upon the ruined altar and he hunched over.

    "No! I can't… I can't… lose control… again," Dialga wheezed. His chest gem flickered a darker shade of red. A mix of red and orange flashed across the gray lines peppering his scales. He looked through the rubble toward Lugia. Tachyons phased in and out around his fins.

    Necrozma's lips twisted into a crooked smile. "Heehee… heeheeheehee! It's time to bury this worthless hunk of rock. Kneel before the power of the void and be consumed! Menacing Moonraze Maelstrom!"

    Shadows swirled around Necrozma. A purple, reptilian eye split them apart. Six glowing sigils gave rise to six purple crystals, each resembling a full moon. The crystals spawned giant purple lasers, then pivoted so the lasers coalesced into one enormous, blinding beam. Lugia flew back, squawking in terror.

    Dialga paused his thrashing to look up. The dismayed expression on his face was momentary. Necrozma's laser engulfed him and the entirety of Temporal Tower. No screams rang out, but the sky filled with a thunderous cacophony of explosions as the beam tore straight through the middle of the tower. Forty successive waves of purple light and debris spilled out; one for each floor of the tower.

    Necrozma continued pumping energy into the attack until the beam reached the tower's base. A chain reaction carried the explosions down across the jagged rocks floating in midair. Soon, bright-orange flashes engulfed the Hidden Lands. The ruins were obliterated in an instant. The blasts incinerated each and every tree. Fissures split the floating islands apart. They remained hovering for a half-minute before plummeting from the sky. The remnants of the once-holy realm rained down upon the ocean below, kicking up massive waves that traveled several yards before abruptly freezing in place.

    "Hee… heehee… heeheeheehee! YeS! ThE ToWEr Has FAlLeN! ThE StaGE iS SeT To ReTUrN ThIS wORld to ThE VoiD!" Necrozma declared, watching as a wall of white spread out from the Hidden Land's ruins, purging all color from the ocean around it as it went. Lugia wearily flew beside Necrozma, struggling to catch his breath. "Come, Lugia. Let us go collect the spoils of our victory," Necrozma said, licking his lips as he dove down toward the surface.

    Already, changes were happening. Pitch-black, thorny ley line chains wriggled about amidst the destroyed dungeons. They dug themselves into pieces of debris, stitching them into grotesque land formations. Purple acid seeped out across the frozen water, releasing black vapors that drifted into the now-darkened sky.

    Necrozma identified the remnants of Temporal Tower on the edge of the crash site. Even there, ley line chains randomly lashed out at the rubble floating in midair. Free of Dialga's control, they grabbed onto any piece of debris they could find. Necrozma didn't care about what the unrestrained ley lines intended to do. He was only interested in Dialga. And he found the god's smoldering body in the middle of an impact crater.

    Before Necrozma could reach him, however, Dialga's eyes shot open. The markings across his body faintly glowed with a lava-like red coloration. His blue scales and metal armor darkened, along with the gem in his chest plate. Dialga lumbered to his feet, legs trembling and metal fins either dented or torn from his back.

    "Grr… rrr…" Dialga thumped his bloody tail against the ground. He tilted his head skyward. "Grrroooaah!" Dialga roared. Above Necrozma a black vortex formed in the sky, with a red eye in its center.

    "Now, now, let's not got ourselves carried away here. The planet's paralysis is so last decade," Necrozma crooned, tongue drooping out of his mouth. "I was thinking… we unravel the fabric of time itself! Starting with that wretched mortal who's holding my co—"

    "Grraaaah!"

    Dialga's roars cut Necrozma off. He looked down, only for his third eye to widen as Dialga vanished in a flash of red light. "What the—"

    "You should have been more careful, Necky."

    Zero appeared in the middle of the crater, casually tossing a Beast Ball in her paw.

    "YoU!" Necrozma snarled, eyes flashing. "What do you think you're doing? Give me back my Dialga! No, wait… give me my core!"

    "I think not. As I said, you should've been more careful," Zero hissed.

    "I will erase you!" Necrozma screeched.

    Shadow Balls and shadowfire-filled meteors rained down on Zero from above. She summoned Absol's scythe. A barrage of Night Slash crescents raced up, snuffing out the Shadow Balls and slicing the meteors apart like they were pieces of fresh fruit.

    "You can only do that because you're leeching from my core! Give it back!" Necrozma teleported behind Zero, wings glowing. A big laser threatened to engulf her, but she leaped into the air and safely levitated out of the way. She tried frying Necrozma with lightning, but he vanished in a puff of smoke.

    Zero's aura dreadlocks lurched to her right. She dropped from the sky. Secret Sword blades collided overhead. A red explosion grazed the tips of her ears. She thrust her paws upward, but the gale-force winds she generated hit nothing. Her aura sense tingled in the back of her mind. Zero shot into the air once more. This time, she gathered a glob of black slime in her paw, much like Darkrai had done.

    She swiped at the air. Dark Voids spread out around her. Necrozma was in the middle of firing a Moongeist Beam and couldn't get away. The slime hit his right wing, encased him in a black bubble, and popped. Necrozma collapsed on his stomach, wings twitching. Zero snapped her crystalline digits. A heart-shaped burst of light to hit Necrozma from above.

    He awoke with a start, jolting upright with arms and wings trembling. Necrozma slowly looked left to find a hollow-eyed Manaphy dangling from a suspended piece of rubble.

    Then, white-hot pain tore through him. Necrozma arced himself backward, screaming at the top of his lungs. Black shadows burst out his body, until the prism armor had completely disintegrated. The shadows evaporated into nothingness, leaving Lunala floating in midair. She had enough time to shut her dark-blue eyes before plummeting to the ground beside Zero. Her body dissolved away into nothingness.

    "All this time, I imagine you fought him from the inside, but you had nothing left to give," Zero said, leaning against her scepter. She looked at the ground. "Good riddance, Necky. You didn't think I realized you had tampered with my enhancements to Team Captivate? There's a reason I ditched you at the Temple of Mind. You were a very large thorn in my side that needed to be plucked. Now, to take that core fragment and—"

    Zero stiffened. She looked around the crater. "No, that can't be right," she said, her lone eye darting about. "I know Lunala had a core fragment in her… I forced it inside of her! Where is it?" Zero dropped to the ground, feeling around with her paw while her aura dreadlocks twitched. "It's not here," she whispered, after an unsuccessful minute of searching.

    "Hmm. The Heart Swap must've destroyed it… somehow. No matter. That was the central part of his core. Now, I should be able to tap into his full powers without losing control," Zero said, her paws crackling with static. She walked toward the edge of the crater and surveyed the ruins.

    All around her, ley line chains wrapped around pieces of rubble, binding them together. She levitated the Time Gears in front of her. "Of course, you couldn't just disappear quietly. You had to leave this mess for me to deal with. I can't repair the flow of time without a Temporal Tower. But I have the Time Gears… and the timekeeper is mine to command. Much as I hate to do this… I'll have to use a god to make this work."

    She floated into the air, the Time Gears following beside her. "But first, I'll need to reign things in. After all, if I'm to hold a ritual for rewriting reality, I'll need a proper altar."

    XxX
    Next time: utter bedlam erupts.
     
  20. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Chapter 84: Running Out of Time

    ~Northeast Coastal Pass~

    The Rem Canyon expedition team and their escorts continued their trek along the windy dirt road. Their cliffside path descended toward a sandy beach running right beside a shallow part of the Midnight Sea. About a mile away, the beach ended and the path sloped upward.

    According to my positioning sensilators, once we reach the top of that hill, we'll begin our approach to our destination, Magearna announced, pointing her right arm forward.

    "That's good. Then I'll get to give the ol' tootsies a rest. At the very least, all this walking's been good practice for learning how to move on two legs instead of four," Hakamo-o said, putting his hands on his back and arcing it to stretch out. Totem Kommo-o stomped up beside him, a brow raised curiously.

    "You're not tired, boy? You complained about your feet hurting so often back home, that I lost count years ago," Totem Kommo-o said, brushing dust and sand out of the gaps in his armor plates.

    "I'm doing pretty good, thanks," Hakamo-o said, walking toward Team Go-Getters with his arms crossed.

    "Must be the evolution high. You remember it, don't you?" Blaziken said, smirking at Totem Kommo-o.

    "Of course I do! After I evolved, I beat down six foes at once in a battle royal," Totem Kommo-o said, thumping his chest with his right arm.

    There will be time to reminiscintillate later. We should make haste to Circadian Coast. Team Radiance is expecting us, Magearna said, walking past all the dragons. They looked toward their Totem expectantly.

    "Well, you heard the No-Scale. Move out!" Totem Kommo-o said, grabbing his axe and marching along in-step behind Magearna. His tribe followed suit, leaving Teams Go-Getters and Paradox to walk along the shoreline.

    They made it about halfway across the beach when the ground violently trembled. Luxeira and Seraph both collapsed on one another, the former barking in surprise. Swampert grabbed hold of Blaziken and sat him on his back. Dusk dug her paws into the sand and grabbed Magearna's left arm in her mouth to keep her upright.

    "What's going on here?" Sticky gasped, watching the grounded dragons struggle to keep their footing. "The landscape… it's losing all its colors. And the foliage is dying!" He floated up to the top of a rock wall, only to back off as the green dissolved off the grass. Even the sand's tan colors faded.

    "No, it can't be," Blaziken said. The earthquake died down, so he hopped off his partner's back and jogged up to the Midnight Sea. He stuck his leg into the water, only to find it completely solidified. "It's completely frozen!" Blaziken shot a despondent look at Swampert. "The planet's been paralyzed!"

    Swampert's eyes bulged. "B-But that would mean—"

    "Temporal Tower's collapsed," Comfey whispered. "Oh, gods, were we too late? Did Necrozma somehow get to it?"

    "Whoa, time out a second. Planet's paralysis? Temporal Tower? The hell are you terrestrials yammering about?" Seraph said, holding one paw over another in a T-shape.

    "The proper flow of time in our world is tied to a big tower that Dialga lives on. If it gets damaged, Dialga apparently loses his sanity and brings the flow of time screeching to a halt," Blaziken explained, running talons through his feathery crest.

    "Are you freaking kidding me? What kind of asinine system is that?!" Seraph barked, whispers sparking.

    "You think we like that system?" Blaziken said, glaring back at Seraph. "It's not up to us!"

    "And fighting over it won't fix anything, Seraph," Luxeira said, walking into Seraph's personal space. "The best thing we can do is keep going to Circadian Coast, right?" She looked expectantly at Magearna.

    Yes. Despite my surging shockification levels, we must press onward, Magearna said. I'll see if I can contact Team Radiance and get them to meet us halfway now that our present situarion has experienced a five-hundred percent increase in urgitude! She opened up her chest compartment turning on her Gear-Com unit.

    However, before she could place the call, an alarm blared. Everyone looked up at Sticky, who had his trembling hands placed against his visor. "E-Everyone needs to scatter… now!" he shouted. Sticky hurled a rainbow-colored tile down. It hit Totem Kommo-o on the head. He and the rest of the group vanished in a flicker of light. A massive pink blast swallowed up the spot they were standing in.

    The expedition team reappeared a few yards away. Totem Kommo-o stumbled forward, hand gripping his head. "Nrrgh. What sort of unholy sorcery was that?" he groaned.

    "Sticky!" Luxeira cried, looking back to find her partner lying in the sand. Shards of his visor and helmet dug into his skull. Purple liquid trickled onto the colorless sand. She was about to run toward him, when Magearna's mechanical arm blocked her.

    Don't. We've got a big problem, Magearna said, shooting a blue Aura Sphere from each arm. Pink rings destroyed them the moment they passed over Sticky.

    "The hell? Were we being followed?" Seraph growled. She got her answer as Metagross descended from the sky, his eight limbs glowing with multicolored light.

    Hourglass. Give me… Hourglass. There's no time, he said, right eye twitching.

    "G-Good heavens," Comfey gasped. "The Guildmaster, he's—"

    "Everyone down!" Blaziken shouted, leaping over them with bursts of fire from his legs. He spewed a flamethrower at Metagross, who snuffed it out in a flash of pink light.

    "Zweilous! Hydreigons! Turtonators!" Totem Kommo-o called, pointing toward Metagross. From the group of dragons rose a volley of black beams and flamethrowers.

    "No, wait, don't!" Blaziken said, holding up his hands. He cut the flames from his legs just as Metagross caught the attacks in balls of pink light.

    Return to sender, Metagross said. Totem Kommo-o's eyes widened. He grabbed as many dragons as he could in his arms and dove to the ground. But a pair of Druddigons couldn't escape. Fire and Dark Pulses rained onto them from above. When the smoke cleared, there was no sign of either of them.

    "Magearna, you have to flee," Luxeira whispered. "Call Team Radiance. Tell them what's happening! We need them here ASAP!" She looked at Seraph, who was still frozen in shock. "Seraph. I need you to cover us. Can you do that?"

    "Huh? U-Uh… yeah. Sure. Whatever," Seraph said, not even noticing her paws shaking. Luxeira frowned, but knew she didn't have the time to snap Seraph out of her stupor. She beckoned Magearna to follow, hoping the rest of the group could keep Metagross occupied.

    Totem Kommo-o got to his feet, eyes narrowing at Metagross. "Heathen! They were innocents!" he roared.

    No one is innocent. You are all guilty! Guilty! Guilty-y-y-y-y! Trying to stop me. I must flee. This world is dying. I must flee. I must survive. No one else can! Metagross shouted, his pitch fluctuating wildly. Additional action. Barrage. Petrify power.

    Totem Kommo-o released a large, blue Dragon Pulse beam. Several dragons backed him up with beams and dragonfire of their own. Metagross punched the air repeatedly with his fists. Pink rings snuffed out each beam. A final pink ring struck two Exeggutors, two Salamances, and Totem Kommo-o. They all froze, the Salamances plummeting from the sky and landing atop several of their cohorts.

    Seraph gasped. "What the hell? How did that oversized table fire off so many attacks in succession like that?" She blasted lightning in Metagross' direction. Dusk slung rocks toward him, while Blaziken and other dragons added Flamethrowers.

    Guard boost times three, Metagross said, spawning a pink barrier. Dusk's rocks shattered his Light Screen. Fire and electricity struck Metagross from either side, but didn't faze him.

    "Everyone, keep attacking. We have to overwhelm him!" Dusk shouted. In response, fire, ice, dragonfire, and electricity streamed toward Metagross.

    Whirlwind. Mobility, Metagross said. Blue and yellow light flickered in his arms. A twister whipped up in front of him. It sucked in all the attacks heading for him and exploded, filling the area with smoke.

    "Agh! Where did he go?!" Swampert shouted.

    Seraph sprang into action. Arms covering her face, she dashed in Sticky's direction. She barely managed to scoop Sticky up and lightning-dash away when Metagross shot up from the ground.

    Futile. I can sense all your movements. You cannot escape me! Metagross declared. Seraph prayed she could outrun whatever attack Metagross had in store, but it never came. She skidded to a halt. Far behind her, Metagross had a barrier shattered under the combined weight of several flamethrowers. Blaziken had leaped up and driven a fiery leg into Metagross' arms.

    Seraph turned to Sticky. "What the hell were you thinking doing something so boneheaded huh?" She sighed. The situation must've put her on edge if she was stooping to talking to Sticky when he was out cold. Seraph scanned the battlefield for any signs of Comfey. With Sticky's harness destroyed, she was the only one who could help him.

    "Come on… come on…" Seraph reflexively curled and uncurled her paws in frustration. She could barely make out what was happening through all the chaos. Fire, ice, wind, lightning, and beams of all different colors raced about in every direction. All the while, Metagross hovered around, deflecting some blasts while others struck one of his arms.

    Nrrgh. You are all… infuriating. I just want… the Hourglass. Why must you… resist. Why must you… try to kill me? Metagross said, multiple colors flashing inside his body.

    Seraph finally caught a glimpse of Comfey, guarding Luxeira and Magearna on the far side of beach. She lifted Sticky up and ran toward the water. Like Blaziken did before, Seraph stepped onto the frozen sea and sped off, trying to steer clear of Metagross. Seraph broke into lightning-dashes, praying Metagross wouldn't notice her while she couldn't keep her eye on him.

    Her wish went unanswered, however. Metagross' eyes gleamed. Enough! Petrify orb! Metagross pointed his upper limbs at the dragons. Nearly all of them froze in place. Metagross whirled around, firing liquid metal beams at Seraph. Blaziken, Swampert, and Dusk turned the Flash Cannon aside with a combination of fire, dirt, and rocks. Metagross' eyes gleamed once more, but a small dragonfire stream pelted him from behind. His hind limbs released retaliatory pink rings. Hakamo-o lunged behind a petrified Sneasel to keep himself safe. In the process, he restored Sneasel's movement.

    "Seriously? Using me as a meat shield? Is that any way to treat your partner," Sneasel growled.

    "I had to improvise. You're a dark-type, so I figured you'd be safe," Hakamo-o said, scratching his head. "Sorry, I'll warn you next time."

    "Nngh. It's whatever," Sneasel dismissed. "At least you're not hurt. But what are we supposed to do now?"

    "Try to keep our butts alive," Hakamo-o said. "We'll start by unfreezing the others. Either help me with that or go after the big, crazy guy. Your choice." Hakamo-o turned and ran through the pack of dragons, smacking them with his arms to free them from the petrification.

    Blaziken saw Metagross turning his attention toward the dragon crowd and shot toward him, legs igniting for Blaze Kicks.

    Invisify, Metagross said, vanishing into thin air. Blaziken sailed through open air. A pink glow surrounded him and suspended him in midair. His eyes bulged out.

    "No! Blaziken!" Swampert shouted, hurling water blindly from his fists. It sailed harmlessly through the air. Time practically slowed to a crawl for Swampert. He was convinced his partner was going to be psychically ripped apart in front of his eyes. Then electricity streaked through the air. Blaziken reappeared on the ground, Seraph firmly clutching him in her arms. Behind her, Comfey tended to Sticky's injuries, while Magearna's Gear-Com retracted into her chest.

    A garbled grunt drew everyone's attention. Metagross floated high, flinging bits of slime off his arms. Below him, four Goodras whipped their heads forward, launching slime at Metagross. This kept him distracted enough for a group of Salamences, Flygons, and Garchomps to blast him with flames and dragonfire.

    "Th… thanks for the save," Blaziken wheezed, clutching his chest with his talons.

    "Don't thank me yet. It doesn't look like we're doing a damn thing to this guy," Seraph growled. She glanced at Magearna. "Do you really think those other guys can help us in any way?"

    Yes. If we can assemble the Dawn Hourglass, we can use its power to placatify Metagross, Magearna said. I just hope we can stall him long enough to figure out a solid plan of acticification.

    "Stalling, huh?" Seraph said, electricity crackling in her fists. "What we need is to blast him with so many attacks that he can't go on the offensive. It's the only way." She looked at Blaziken. "Think you can get to the dragons and tell them to start attacking in waves?"

    Blaziken nodded, then sprinted toward the dragon tribe. Seraph shot blue lightning from her paws to keep Metagross off him.

    XxX

    ~Circadian Coast, Daybreak Beach~

    Team Radiance was in a state of shock. When the tremors faded, a wall of white light raced across the beach. Colors dissolved into nothingness before their eyes. A wave in the distance froze in place. Water receding from the shoreline paused. The palm trees froze in the midst of swaying with the ocean breeze. Even the wind itself stopped.

    Then, once the surrounding area was nothing but varying shades of gray, the palm tree leaves shriveled up. Bushes turned into ash, then faded into oblivion. The sand solidified beneath the team's paws. Espy shuffled backward, ears and tail drooping. "W-What's going on? Why's everything shriveling up?" she squeaked.

    Silvally glanced at Latias. "Didn't Latias mention someone stealing a Time Gear?" His glowing parts turned dark blue. "You don't think… the Prism Virus got all of them, do you?"

    "Guys," Tessa squealed, pointing a paw skyward. Her teammates followed her gaze. An overwhelming sense of dread filled the team. The calming orange sunset that had filled the sky moments ago was gone. In its place lay an endless stream of purple clouds. Tessa slowly turned around. Off in the distance, a red and black vortex spiraled around. Distorted pulses rippled through the air. Tessa's aura feelers shot up in alarm.

    Shane's gaze fell to the ground. He pressed his paw firmly against the sand, but he couldn't make it budge. "The planet's… paralyzed." Shane lifted his head up, eyes wide. "It's not the Time Gears. It's Temporal Tower! Someone made it collapse and now time has completely frozen!" Shane looked about frantically. "But I don't understand. I thought… but Necrozma… nrraaaagh!"

    He doubled over in pain. His head throbbed. His vision flickered. One moment, he was looking at the lifeless sand. The next, Necrozma's three eyes stared back at him. And then, a single, violet eye flashed across his field of view. Shane jerked himself upright. His left foreleg tingled. Shane looked down. The gem in his looplet twinkled, despite the lack of sunlight. Shane's brow furrowed. His looplet looked fine, so why did his leg hurt?

    "Shane? Shane, are you okay?!"

    Tessa waved a paw in front of his face. Shane jumped to attention. "I-I'm fine! I'm fine! I'm just… in shock."

    "What were you saying earlier… before you cut yourself off?" Silvally asked, exchanged a concerned look with Espy.

    "Hmm? Oh, right." Shane paused to recollect his thoughts. "Necrozma was after the Dawn Hourglass, wasn't he? Why did he go to Temporal Tower, then? Were we duped? Were the Dawn Shards nothing but a big diversion?"

    "I don't know," Espy said, her gaze faltering.

    "What are we supposed to do now?" Tessa said, looking at the frozen ocean and shivering.

    "Isn't it obvious? We can't let this deter us from reassembling the Dawn Hourglass," Silvally said, hoisting the unconscious Latias onto his back. "Well, first things first, we need to get Latias healed up. She's clearly in rough shape. Shoving a Reviver Seed down her throat while she's like this won't accomplish anything. We have to find Florges." He walked toward his teammates. "Then, we have to set out and find Magearna's group. Even if time's frozen, Necrozma hasn't attacked us."

    "But you heard Latias. Necrozma has the Dusk Hourglass. We've already failed!" Espy said, gritting her teeth.

    "That's all the more reason to reassemble the Dawn Hourglass. We need its power now, more than ever!" Silvally said, fixing a stern gaze on Espy.

    Espy shrank back. "Y-You're right. I'm sorry, that was stupid of me to say."

    "It's okay. You're not the only one thinking things look bleak. But we can't give up yet. Even if the odds are now a million to one, they'll only get worse if we do nothing," Silvally said. "Now, less talking and more running!" He took off, Latias flopping against his back as he ran. His teammates followed behind him.

    They made it halfway across the beach when Espy's Gear-Com unit sounded. She levitated it out of her bag with a worried look on her face. "I'll bet that's Magearna." Espy activated the Gear-Com. "This is Espeon."

    We've got a crisis on our hands! We're under attack! Magearna shouted. Wincing, Espy levitated the Gear-Com away from her. Panicked looks overtook her teammates' faces.

    "The stories about Team Poképals mentioned 'mons losing all reason and going berserk in the dark future. Don't tell me that's already started," Tessa said, clasping her paws to her chest.

    It's the Guildmaster! He's after our Dawn Shard and— Static cut Magearna off.

    "You're going to have to repeat that. What's the Guildmaster doing? Isn't he supposed to be in jail?" Espy said, quickening her pace. The team remembered their last encounter with Metagross, as well as Latias' explanation about his actions. The very thought of him getting the Scalebound Shard's power and using it like Primarina did terrified all of them.

    He escapulated and tracked us down. He's Mega Evolved… emitting a bizarre aura. I think… powers. There… lot of us… not… hold him off, Magearna said, bursts of static interrupting her explanation.

    "Where are you right now?" Shane shouted. The group had made it back to the resort. Unfortunately, the streets were lined with Pokémon of all different shapes and sizes. They collectively stared up at the sky, many pointing and others shouting in a panic.

    "Ungh, how are we supposed to get through this?" Tessa growled, her aura feelers throbbing.

    We're… beach… fifteen minutes…

    "Copy that. We'll be there as soon as we can. Just hold out until then," Espy said. The Gear-Com deactivated. Espy focused on the ground. "Hey! Move aside! We've got a 'mon here that needs urgent medical attention!"

    "Urgent medical attention? Forget that! The world's ending! We're all gonna die!" a Quilladin cried, throwing his hands up and running away from the resort.

    "Can anyone spot Kahuna Raichu? I'm sure he's in the thick of this somehow," Shane said. "Hell, where are Gallian and Zoroark? If we're going to fight Metagross, we need all the help we can get."

    "It's no good. There are too many 'mons here. I can't get a solid read on anyone's energy," Espy said, biting her lower lip.

    Growling, Silvally shifted to his fire memories. He narrowed his eyes. His cheek bolts whirred, producing streams of embers. "Everyone… shut up!" Silvally screamed, belting a stream of fire into the air. Startled gasps sprouted up through the crowd. Everyone turned toward Silvally. Many of the onlookers muttered to one another in surprise. There were scattered comments about Silvally's bizarre appearance.

    "My team and I are with the Horizon Guild. We're aware of this situation and we know how to stop it," Silvally said, ignoring the bewildered looks from his teammates. "But before we can start doing that, our friend needs Florges' help!" He pivoted to show off Latias. More murmurs rose up from the crowd. "I said quiet!" Silvally barked, his red eyes flashing in a warning.

    The crowd abruptly went silent. "Good. Now, where's Healer Florges?" Silvally said. In response to this, Florges floated above the crowd and waved her arms at Silvally. He nodded. "Okay. My team's going to bring Latias to Florges, then we're leaving to go and fix this problem. In the meantime, I want everyone to calm down and wait for your Totem to come give you directions. Understood?"

    More worried murmurs rose up. Flames gathered in Silvally's mouth. "Do you understand? Yes or no!"

    Amidst a few surprised squeaks, the crowd nodded.

    "Good. Then, stand aside and let us pass," Silvally said, stomping toward the edge of the crowd. The Pokémon squished to either side of the street. Team Radiance walk through one-by-one until they reached the infirmary. Kahuna Raichu levitated Latias off Silvally's back and passed her to Florges. "Be careful with her. We tried to heal her and wake her up, but she looked about ready to burst into tears. She blacked out again after a few seconds," he explained.

    "I think she might be in shock," Espy said, ears drooping. "And I don't blame her."

    "Yeah. This is nuts! What's going on, anyway?" Kahuna Raichu said, gazing up at the sky.

    "We don't have a lot of time to explain. Short version is the monster we've been trying to stop got to Temporal Tower. And now our guild mates are under attack. So, we have to go help them before their Dawn Shard is taken," Silvally said, arcing his back and letting his joints pop. "Where are Gallian and Zoroark?"

    "Right here," Zoroark said, waving at the group from around the corner of Florges' infirmary. Team Radiance all nodded at him.

    "Can you get everyone to calm down and head inside?" Silvally asked, turning to Kahuna Raichu.

    "I'll do my best," he replied, nodding.

    "Okay. If we can help our friends out, we'll try to come back and see how Latias is doing. But if she's up for it, tell her we went north," Silvally said. Before he got a response, he walked over to Zoroark with his teammates following. "You guys catch all that?" They nodded. "Good. Then hop on. We don't have a moment to spare." Silvally bent down. Zoroark climbed aboard his back.

    Team Radiance pushed through the crowd until they had exited the Circadian Kabana and passed Kahuna Raichu's house. Once they were in the clear, they ran past dead palm trees until they found a dirt road leading up a hill. Silvally sprinted up it, with the rest of his team trying to keep pace.

    Shane glanced at Tessa, trying to get a read on what she was thinking. "Hey, are you going to be all right?"

    "I don't know. It's hard to think about Metagross. One part of me is afraid and another part is, like, ready to tear him apart for what he did to Dad," Tessa said, pausing every so often to take a deep breath. "I guess my big worry is he'll say something to set me off and I'll lose control again." The memories of her morning accident still stood fresh in her head's, as well as Shane's.

    "Yeah. I, uh, guess that is something to be worried about." Shane's brow furrowed. He glanced around at his teammates, wracking his brain for some sort of idea about how they could approach Metagross. After a minute of running in silence, he looked at Silvally, "Hey, big guy, listen. I think we need to figure out some kind of plan."

    "Are you seriously suggesting we leave the others hanging for a strategy session? You guys made it sound like they're on the brink of death," Gallian growled, his scythe flickering.

    "I'm not saying we stop. In fact, I already have an idea. Just, y'know, hear me out while we keep running," Shane said, making his way toward the front of the group. "So, like, Metagross' whole schtick is that he's always trying to think, like, ten moves ahead of us, right?"

    Espy nodded. "Plus, he's psychic. He might try to read our minds to figure out what we're going to do. Gallian and Zoroark should be safe. Silvally could be, too, if he channels dark memories." She looked expectantly at Silvally's looplet. The gem turned pitch-black. Seconds later, Silvally's glowing parts darkened.

    "Exactly. But even that might not be good enough. I'm pretty sure Metagross is capable of learning Miracle Eye, which would remove their immunity to his psychic attacks," Shane said, his brow furrowed. "That's where my idea comes in. We can't hesitate and second-guess ourselves, here. We have to act on instinct and strike whenever possible." His expression fiercened. "But I know that's risky, so I was thinking we hit him in two ways: physically and by playing mind games."

    "Big guy, can you buff yourself up at all? Like, do you know Calm Mind or Swords Dance or something?" Shane asked, head tilted to the side.

    Silvally's eyes widened. "Yeah. I guess I could use them, but they might wear off after a while. Still, I see your point." Despite weaving in between tree roots, Silvally concentrated. Flickering images of swords appeared around him. His leg muscles bulged. Silvally's pace quickened, to the point where he easily outran his teammates and reached the top of the hill. While waiting for them, he used two more Swords Dances. Steam rose from his legs and cheek bolts. Zoroark had to hop off his back. He rubbed his thighs with his claws.

    The group paused when the reached the top of the hill to catch their breath. "Can anyone sense the others?" Tessa asked. She closed her eyes, focusing her aura sense. Immediately, she was hit with a sea of aural energy, forcing her eyes open. Tessa grabbed her aura feelers with her paws. "Oh, gods, they're all at the bottom of this hill."

    "Magearna was right. I'm sensing a really weird spirit," Espy squeaked, tail falling between her legs. "And it… it…" She shuddered. "It makes me think there's a giant pile of emeras sitting down there."

    The group exchanged confused looks. "Okay, we need to be ready for anything, then," Shane said, stomping a forepaw on the ground. He looked at Tessa and Gallian. "You two have to keep Metagross talking. I know you don't want to hear this… but you've got to keep pressing him about Incineroar's death. Even if his answers don't make sense, ask more questions."

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up in the air. She and Gallian exchanged frowns, only to look away. "Is… is there really no other choice?" Tessa whispered.

    Shane's eyes narrowed. "Look, I know you guys don't like my plans and I certainly don't like what I'm saying, either. But we can't afford to screw this up. I need all of you to keep Metagross distracted. Like I said, the guy thrives on things he can predict. But we've got something he knows absolutely nothing about." He glanced at his looplet and shuddered. "We've got the moves I've learned from the Dawn Shards."

    "If I can hit him with some Heat Waves… hell, if I can use that crazy light ball attack I accidentally hit Latias with, then I think we can win this thing!" Shane continued. His teammates responded with uneasy looks. Shane's left foreleg tingled so strongly that, for a moment, he thought he'd fall over. However, the sensation faded.

    "Are you sure you're feeling okay? You were really shaken up after touching the Seaside Shard," Espy said.

    "We can worry about that later. We have to stop Metagross. I just need you guys to trust me on this, okay?" Shane said. He shakily lifted up his right foreleg. "Please… I think we can do it."

    Tessa grabbed Shane's forepaw and shook it. "All right. I'll…" She gulped. "I'll try my best."

    XxX
    (Continued in next post...)
     

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