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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light

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

  1. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    (Continued from previous post...)

    XxX

    ~Northeast Coastal Pass~

    "Damn it! Where are those slowpokes?!" Seraph shouted, glancing over her shoulder while blasting lightning in Metagross' direction. Opposite her, Totem Kommo-o signaled some of his dragons to launch a volley of fire, ice, electricity, and dragonfire.

    Purple and red light flickered in Metagross arms. Barrage. Distance dodge time tw—

    Blaziken's flaming leg and Swampert's glowing fist batted his rear arms out of the way. Metagross spun out. He tried to launch retaliatory psychic blasts, but only succeeded in snuffing out some of the dragons' attacks. A pink-eared Noivern caught Blaziken and carried him back into the air. Swampert hit the ground and rolled away. A Thunderbolt hit Metagross' side. He turned to strike, but got distracted fending off Flamethrowers from Luxeira and a second wave of dragons.

    Magearna fired dual Aura Spheres while Pink-Ears prepared to drop Blaziken onto Metagross for another strike. Metagross conjured multiple pink Light Screens to deflect the projectiles. Intimidator times four, he said, just as Blaziken was diving toward him. The flames disappeared from his legs and he abruptly lost his momentum. Blaziken flailed about, staring down the barrel of a pink blast.

    Two purple Dark Pulse beams snuffed out Metagross' Psychic. He shot toward the source: two Hydreigons, one with gray necks and the other with a green tail. They panicked and flew in different directions, but Metagross reach them first. Power boost X times two. Power boost Y times three. Excessive Force, he said. Metagross hammered both Hydreigons. He knocked one into Pink-Ears and the other into a group of dragons below.

    Miracle Eye, Metagross said, eyes deep purple. All eight limbs launched pink balls forward. The dragons scrambled to dodge, but Pink-Ears and Green-Tail were too disoriented. A pink explosion disintegrated them.

    Below Metagross, Totem Kommo-o stumbled to stop. His breath came in ragged gasps. He spotted Lycanroc crouching behind a rock for cover. "What do you think you're doing, you pathetic No-Scale?" he shouted.

    "What does it look like? Waiting for the opportune time to get the hell out of here!" Lycanroc barked. Above him, dragonfire and pink rings zipped through the air.

    "I think not! Your continent needs you!" Totem Kommo-o shouted. With a surprising burst of speed, he snatched Lycanroc up.

    "Put me down, you bloody drongo! I ain't some deadweight you can just throw around!" Lycanroc snarled, thrashing in Totem Kommo-o's iron grip.

    "Last I heard, you are my captive. I'll do exactly what I see fit with you!" Totem Kommo-o said. He hurled Lycanroc through the air. Metagross caught him in his psychic grip and swiveled him around. Lycanroc served as a meat-shield against Dragon Pulses and Dragonbreath. Metagross unceremoniously dropped him to the ground. Hakamo-o and Sneasel winced.

    They were about to make a mad dash and snatch Lycanroc up when an Aura Sphere flew in from the distance. Metagross snuffed it out, but had no answer for a speeding Silvally charging in and slashing him across his already-damaged face with his blackened talons. "That's quite enough out of you, Guildmaster," Silvally barked, cheek bolts whirring in their sockets.

    You! Metagross's eyes turned purple again, only for a barrage of fire, ice, and wind to strike him from behind. He sputtered toward the ground, but put up Light Screen barriers to deflect Espy's Shadow Ball, Tessa's Aura Sphere, and Shane's pink psychic rings. Metagross spun around. The barriers threw off fire, water, and lightning from Blaziken, Swampert, and Seraph.

    "Now, fire again!" Totem Kommo-o shouted. An Exeggutor, Flygon, and Drampa launched blue Dragon Pulse beams while Totem Kommo-o lumbered toward Metagross.

    Such nuisances. Out of my w—

    "Not until you answer to us!" Tessa shouted, slinging another Aura Sphere ahead of her. Gallian and Zoroark backed her up with purple Dark Pulse beams. Espy added a Shadow Ball for good measure.

    Mobility times three. Metagross lifted himself into the air. The attacks sailed underneath him. Metagross canceled his levitation. He looked to crash into Silvally from above. Silvally sprinted out of the way, snagging Lycanroc in his beak in the process. He tossed Lycanroc to the ground. Lycanroc rolled to a stop by Gallian and Zoroark.

    "You! What the— when the hell did you two get back together? And what are you drongos doing helping out Snowy! He's a bloody prick!" Lycanroc growled, staggering to his feet.

    "Wow, you're right. He really has become a surly asshole," Gallian said, watching Metagross punch Totem Kommo-o back with two glowing-pink arms. Sneasel tried to hit Metagross from the shadows, but got knocked toward Hakamo-o, who helped him back up to his feet.

    "Forget Midnight! We've got bigger fish to fry," Shane said, sprinting past the two of them. "Hey, Guildmaster, why'd you kill Tessa's dad, huh? We deserve a straight answer!"

    A vein bulged out of Lycanroc's head. "Bigger fish? This whole bloody mess is your fault, Snowy! You probably knocked your damn Guildmaster off his rocker with that big mouth of yours!"

    Zoroark rolled his eyes. "Gallian, you help the others. I'll tend to our, ahem, old friend." He jerked his head in Lycanroc's direction. Gallian opened his mouth to retort, but ultimately nodded. He'd rather Zoroark stay back from the worst of the fighting, given his injuries. Gallian dashed off, scythe bristling with black energy.

    "Well, isn't that a sweet sight. Cowering behind your mate like the timid pup you are. I thought he ditched you. You're really that much of a sucker that you'd just go crawling back to him?" Lycanroc scoffed. Sneasel came to a stop behind him, a confused look on his face.

    "What my mate and I choose to do is none of your business," Zoroark said. "Unlike some Pokémon, we actually made an attempt to settle our differences and ended up back together because of it. Funny how it works out, huh?"

    "I can hear the sass in your voice, mate," Lycanroc snarled.

    Explosions interrupted the conversation. Ice and static electricity rushed across the sand. Zoroark flinched. "Yeah, well, if you've got nothing else to say, we're done here. Either help us take this creep out or don't," he said. Zoroark shook his head. "Y'know, Dusk still thinks there's someone salvageable in there. Why not use this opportunity to make up for your mistakes?"

    "Mistakes? I ain't made no bloody mistakes! It's you all who screwed things up! You freaks ruined my life! You hear me? Ruined it!" Lycanroc barked, crimson eyes glowing. He ducked underneath a Flamethrower redirected by Metagross. "That bitch Dusk made me evolve into the wrong form. And then you have to come in all… all…" Lycanroc bared his fangs. "You had to go throw those hips of yours around and make things all bloody complicated!"

    Zoroark stepped back, brows raised. "What are you saying? That you had some sort of crush on me? Because things would've ended a lot differently at that party, don't you think?"

    "Uh, guys?" Sneasel said, tugging on Lycanroc's arm. Lycanroc swatted him away.

    "Fine! Yes! You got me, mate! Happy? Because I'm not. I didn't want a crush on you! I wanted to love Dusk!" Lycanroc barked. Dusk skidded to a halt in front of them, her eyes widening. "But thanks to this arse-backwards evolution, I stopped feeling anything around her! No attraction! None! And it's all your damn faults!"

    "Duck and cover!" Shane shouted from several feet over. Zoroark turned. His eyes widened. He threw himself to the ground. Lycanroc wasn't fast enough on the uptake, however. A Goodra struck him. Slime splattered across his fur. He fell to the sand, the unmoving Goodra lying atop him. It evaporated in a stream of light.

    Zoroark staggered to his feet. "Well, I've got nothing to say to you. I'm sorry things went badly, but there's nothing anyone can do to change it. You could've tried to make the best of a bad situation, but from what I can tell… you never did."

    "Stay back," Shane shouted, firing an Ice Beam in a desperate attempt at halting a charging Metagross. Luckily, Tessa, Seraph, Swampert, Silvally, and Totem Kommo-o all rammed Metagross from his right side. Metagross skidded through the sand. Silvally launched a Flamethrower, backed by two Salamences and a Garchomp. Metagross disappeared into the ground.

    Tessa's aura feelers jumped. She flung an Aura Sphere to her right. It whizzed by Gallian. Metagross phased out of the ground, ready to hammer Gallian. Tessa's Aura Sphere exploded. Gallian barely dodged the swipes of Metagross' fists. Instead, they met Blaziken's fiery legs. The same Garchomp from earlier charged Metagross down, only to get halted and flung aside. Hakamo-o jumped out of the way. He spewed a mouthful of dragonfire at Metagross.

    "Answer us, damn it! What did our dad ever do to you, huh? He was as kind and trusting as anyone could be," Gallian spat, shooting several pink Psycho Cut blades at Metagross' arms.

    Futile. I will not fall for your petty distraction attempts, Metagross said. He conjured Light Screen shields to deflect the attacks, then fired psychic orbs with his other six arms. Silvally leaped into the air and sliced one of the blasts apart with shadowy-black talons. He deflected the attack back into Metagross, who froze up with a static warble.

    Your actions are nothing short of recklessicity. Do you not understand how many lives you'd ruin by taking the Dawn Hourglass? Magearna said, shooting two Aura Spheres out. Tessa added a third to the mix. Seraph punched the ground, sending electric columns after the Aura Spheres.

    I don't care. None of you matter. I must survive! I must persist! Metagross shouted. His eight arms shimmered with light. He spun around. Metagross destroyed the attacks. He abruptly stopped spinning. Now, slumber!

    Metagross raised his front arms. Save for Totem Kommo-o, the remaining dragons fell asleep. Metagross sped toward them, arms glowing purple and red. Go for broke. Excessive force. Follow through, he said, pink energy swirling around his face.

    Totem Kommo-o saw Metagross heading right for Hakamo-o. Without even thinking, he lunged for his son and tossed him as far from the other dragons as he could. Metagross slammed into Totem Kommo-o. Blinding pink energy encased him, then overtook the slumbering dragons. His pained roar echoed throughout the beach. The cry woke Hakamo-o up. He turned toward the explosion, eyes wide.

    "How's he still moving so fast?!" Shane cried, shielding his eyes.

    The light faded. Totem Kommo-o tumbled to a stop by Hakamo-o. Only a few plate-like scales remained on his body. Metagross' attack had shredded the others, leaving bloody stumps and burnt patches of flesh. Hakamo-o staggered backward, jaw dropping but no words escaping him. Totem Kommo-o uttered a single, rasping wheeze. Blood trickled out of his snout.

    "H-Hey! I need that healing lady over here," Hakamo-o shouted, kneeling down by Totem Kommo-o's side. He put a hand on his father's back. However, it phased right through him seconds later.

    "S-Son. Remember. A dragon… never backs down," Totem Kommo-o wheezed. His belly disappeared in a stream of light. "He fights on… no matter… the odds…"

    Before Hakamo-o could say anything, the rest of Totem Kommo-o's body dissolved before his eyes. The Totem Crystal dropped to the ground, completely grayed out. Hakamo-o tried to grab it, but it crumbled into dust.

    He looked up. None of the other dragons were left. Metagross had vaporized all of them. Even worse, Metagross had recovered from the damage everyone had inflicted to him. Hakamo-o clenched his fists. His gut squirmed. Flames licked at the back of his throat.

    "No. This is supposed to be my chance… for a new lease on life," he mumbled. "And you… I'm not letting you ruin this for me!"

    Hakamo-o charged forward, giving the best roar his squeaky voice could manage. Red energy gathered in his fist. He launched into an uppercut, only to freeze in midair. Metagross levitated him around. Seraph and Team Go-Getters backed off their attacks, fearing they'd hit Hakamo-o.

    Futile. Illogical. Your emotions cloud your judgment. All of you are slaves to your emotions. You're all dangerous. You must be removed, so I can escape this cursed world, Metagross said. He moved Hakamo-o aside. White spheres gathered around his front arms.

    "Those look like blast wand bursts! Run!" Espy shouted, turning a sphere aside with a pink Psychic wave. It exploded over the sea. Shane and Tessa deflected more blasts, while the rest of the group scattered. Bright white explosions filled the area with smoke. Luxeira, Blaziken, and Swampert used the smoke as a cover to launch dual Flamethrowers and a wad of packed earth toward Metagross.

    Pitiful. You will only harm your compatriot, Metagross said, levitating a struggling Hakamo-o around to take the attacks. Two purple Dark Pulses raced in from Metagross' right. He formed up two pink Light Screens with two of his rear arms and deflected the Dark Pulses.

    However, Metagross wasn't prepared for a shadowy black blur to lunge out of the smoke. Silvally crunched his blackened beak down on one of Metagross' rear arms. With a hearty tug, he yanked the arm out of Metagross' body. Rainbow light spewed out of the empty joint and evaporated. Metagross sputtered. He lost his grip on Hakamo-o. Silvally dropped to the ground. The severed arm landed beside him and exploded.

    Silvally scooped Hakamo-o up and ran away before metal shards could pepper his hide. Metagross struggled to maintain his levitation. Sparks shot out from the frayed remnants of his rear arm. Nnghh. Y… you cr-rr-rr-rr-retin. What are you doing-ing-ing? I am… I must survi-vi-vi-vive. I must.

    "You say emotions are clouding our judgment, but what about you, huh? You're so blinded by fear, you can't see any reason!" Silvally snarled. He dropped Hakamo-o off beside Comfey and the injured Sticky. Silvally slung a purple Shadow Ball at Metagross. Espy added her own. Luxeira bolstered it with a purple ray. Shane forced an Ice Beam into the growing ball.

    T-Tough… n-n-n-nesss. Guard-d-d-d boost times f-f-four, Metagross said. His limbs sparked as he summoned multiple Light Screens and pushed back against the giant multicolored energy ball. Blaziken added his Flamethrower to the mix. Rocks materialized around Dusk and she hurled them into the ball. Metagross' shields cracked.

    Exp-p-p-plosion guard… tim-m-mes three, Metagross shouted right as the Light Screens broke. He shielded his face with his arms. The energy blew him into the rock wall on the eastern end of the beach. He bounced off it, emitting static.

    "Don't let up, guys!" Shane barked. He was ready to launch a Heat Wave, but needed to make sure Metagross was totally off guard. "Hey, Guildmaster! How does all this bull fit into your 'greater good' schtick, huh? Was killing Incineroar working for the greater good? Because, from what we experienced, you're a miserable excuse for a Guildmaster… and it showed!"

    Sparks shot out of the giant crack in Metagross' face. W… why you… He shakily raised his arms. There's… that's… He launched multiple waves of white energy balls. The group split, Team Radiance running off to the right while the others ran left. Incineroar-oar-oar was a fool! He was t-t-too trusting! You can't help-p-p everyone. You can't trust any-y-y-one. This world… trust is useless… ess… ess! The only gr-r-r-reater good is survival… by any means nece-ce-cessary! Metagross shouted, unleashing so many white energy balls his front arms cracked.

    Dark memories active, Silvally snarled. Eerie black energy raced across the beach, vaporizing several of the spheres. Tessa skidded across the sand, blasting an energy ball apart with an Aura Sphere.

    "Is that why you sent us off to the Temple of Body? To get rid of us?" she barked, already charging another Aura Sphere.

    Of course I di-did! You were go-go-going to kill me. Your dumb, id-id-idiotic, bleeding hearts were not doing-ing good. They were doing harm! Harm to me! You were destab-stab-stabilizing the world! I had to rid myself of you, Metagross shouted. Look at what's hap-p-p-p-pened. The world's end is upon us. I must persis-is-ist. I must find a new home. And I will not allow any of you to come alo-o-ong and ruin my chance at peace.

    Shane saw his opening. Blaziken, Seraph, and Swampert combined a Flamethrower, Thunderbolt, and water jet into a crackling vortex. Metagross turned to meet the attack. Shane unleashed the superheated air he'd gathered. His Heat Wave caught Metagross by complete surprise. It scorched his rear arms, leaving black streaks across them. Metagross cried out in pain. The other attack enveloped him. He slammed against the rock wall again. Two of his rear arms blew up. The glow in his eyes faded. Metagross hovered erratically, light and sparks jumping off his backside.

    Im… poss… ible… A crack splintered through Metagross' right eye. He stared Shane down. You… you can't… fire… breathe…

    "Give it up, Metagross. It's time to answer for the lives you've ruined!" Tessa barked, Aura Sphere at the ready. She hurled it at Metagross.

    "You don't get to float there and judge us, you bastard!" Gallian snarled, bolstering Tessa's Aura Sphere with a black beam from his scythe. "Dad was kind-hearted and worked for the good of others! He viewed you as a friend and you turned on him for no reason!"

    Metagross struggled to maintain his levitation. Erratic pink beams caught the siblings' combined attack and snuffed it out. Silvally dispelled a couple of the lasers with a well-placed Shadow Ball. Team Go-Getters and Seraph launched fire, water, and lightning toward Metagross. Dusk added rocks to the mix. Metagross cut off his levitation. The attacks sailed overhead.

    Incineroar's kindn-n-n-ness… was worthless… less… less. When people were panick-ick-icking during Dark Matter's attack, he was only concerned about your mother. He was… ineffec... ineffective in a crisis. If he were alive… Necrozma would've… wiped this guild out, Metagross grunted.

    "That's a lie. You're the one who led us right into his claws!" Tessa snarled. She and Gallian again combined an Aura Sphere and Dark Pulse. This time, Zoroark added his own Dark Pulse to the midst. Silvally snarled, releasing more eerie black energy. Metagross spun around. The energy leaking from his body vaporized the attacks. Metagross struggled to get himself back in the air.

    All for… the greater good. Found him… struck deal. Your spirits… in return for my… my… my safety, Metagross sputtered. Gray liquid seeped out of cracks on his face.

    "And I reckon that's why you done tried to off Lucario, too, ain't it?"

    Team Radiance abruptly stopped charging their attacks, all of them recognizing the new voice in the conversation. Seconds later, black chains burst out of the sand. They wrapped themselves around Metagross' remaining limbs, suspending him in midair. His garbled static echoed across the beach.

    Ah, good. Seems my distressitude signal actually reached you three, Magearna said, turning around and bowing toward Tapu Bulu and Tapu Fini. Braviary stood perched atop the former, half his body still crystallized from Necrozma's attacks.

    "How did they get here?" Tessa said, aura feelers tensing. She wondered if it was even safe for Braviary to be out like this, but kept that thought to herself.

    Tapu Fini pointed an arm toward Metagross. More ley line chains burst out of the ground. They snuffed out the psychic energy he was gathering. "We were trying to survey what had happened to the landscape when we sensed the Dawn Hourglass' energy," she explained.

    Forgive me, but I used my Geartronic Energy Amplifier in the hopes I'd be able to draw their attention, Magearna said. Team Radiance exchanged confused looks. No one was willing to challenge how or why such a device existed.

    Across from the newcomers. "W-What the— Snowy's friends with the bloody Tapus? Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" Lycanroc spat. "C'mon, Sneasel, we're blowing this dump."

    "No." Sneasel walked over toward Hakamo-o. "You do whatever you want, but I ain't going nowhere. Besides, it's bad form to walk out on the Land Spirits." He jerked his head in the Tapus' direction.

    Lycanroc growled at Sneasel, but said nothing. He turned around, ready to storm off, when Dusk jumped into his path, fangs bared and eyes turning red. "You're not going anywhere," she snarled. Lycanroc shuffled backwards. He crossed his arms and scowled.

    "Bulu ready to rip angry dinner table into bits." Tapu Bulu glanced at his counterpart. "Can Bulu crush him with ley lines, now?"

    "Not before he done answers my question," Braviary said, limping toward Metagross. "The night Lucario had her meltdown, I saw you walking out of the guild. You told me you were taking care of important business… and I believed you. Just like I done trusted you when you went after Incineroar and told me to let the rest of the guild know you'd been in yer office the whole night."

    You… always were… a stub-b-b-born, gullible fool, Metagross said, between bouts of static.

    "Wait." Tessa turned to Braviary. "Are you saying Metagross tried to kill my mom, too?"

    Of course I did. She was… a threat. Obsessed… with Ho-Oh. Always mut-t-t-tering… about fixing mistakes. She needed… to be purged… so I could plan my escape in peace, Metagross said, eyes twitching and flickering erratically with light.

    "You're the reason she had a meltdown in the first place!" Braviary cawed, pointing his good wing at Metagross. "I know we both had our misgivings about Lucario and what Incineroar thought of her, but you done took it to far!" He limped closer to Metagross. "That's why I'm here. To make sure you know that I think yer the scum of the earth!"

    "Okay, is anyone else totally lost here?" Swampert said, earning nods of agreement from Blaziken, Swampert, Luxeira, and Seraph. "We've got him pinned, now let's finish the job already!"

    "Bulu agree. Angry dinner table try to take Dawn Hourglass' power. His offense deserves punishment," Tapu Bulu said, smacking his stubby, bell-like limbs together.

    No. I refuse… to let it… end here. I will… escape! Metagross glowed bright white. He trembled violently. Light seeped out of the cracks on his metallic body.

    "Everybody get back!" Shane shouted, fearing a devastating attack from Metagross. Without any hesitation, he spat out a gold energy ball. It struck Metagross right between his eyes. A massive golden light geyser erupted. White light raced across the beach, swallowing everyone up and drowning out their surprised cries. The force of the blast blew everyone back toward the water.

    "Ungh. Sh-Shane… what was that for?" Espy groaned, rubbing her face with her forelegs.

    Just as the light began to fade, a surprised howl rang out across the beach. Everyone jumped to their feet, trying to blink the stars out of their vision.

    "H-Hey! My bag! Where's my bag?!" Espy cried, circling around in a panic.

    Ah! The Scalebound Shard was knocked loose! Where is it? Magearna's mechanical eyes darted about.

    Another flash of light drew the group's attention. On the opposite side of the beach, Lycanroc stood atop the unconscious forms of Dusk, Sneasel, and the Tapus. He had Espy's bag slung across his shoulder and the Scalebound Shard in his right paw. His mane now ended in streaks of rainbow fur instead of white.

    Tessa hurled an Aura Sphere at Lycanroc. Silvally sprinted toward him, cheek bolts whirring so fast they left behind trails of sparks.

    "Ha! Thanks for the parting gift, mates! I hope Necrozma kills the whole lot of ya!" Lycanroc jeered. The Scalebound Shard glowed in his paw. An Ultra Wormhole opened beneath him, carrying him and his victims away. Tessa's Aura Sphere passed right over the portal and exploded right as it disappeared. Silvally skidded to a halt in the sand.

    "No! No! After all that work… the Shards are gone? Just like that? And to Lycanroc of all Pokémon?!" Silvally said. His fighting memories shifted on, turning his glowing parts orange. He smacked the ground with a foreleg. "How could this happen? Damn it! We were so close… so close!" Silvally thrashed his head about, hissing.

    Shane stood opposite Tessa, staring down at the ground blankly. A lightning bolt struck him in the rear. Shane jumped forward with a yowl. He whirled around to find Seraph staring him down, a sparking paw raised.

    "Nice going, dumbass! This is all your fault! What the hell was up with that kooky magical energy ball, huh? You almost blew us to smithereens!" Seraph fumed, plasma crackling around her fur.

    "I… I… Metagross was about to unleash something horrible! I had to stop him! This was the best thing I could think of!" Shane said, tails curling up against his waist. He knew what he did was reckless, but he never imagined things could've gone this way.

    "Well, if you had that technique then why the hell didn't you use it from the get-go? We could've avoided all of this garbage!" Seraph spat.

    "Because I've never really used the attack before. I didn't know what it was capable of. But we were in a bind and I panicked, okay! Can you honestly blame me? Metagross looked ready to, like, use some sort of modified Self-Destruct," Shane said. He glanced at his teammates, but even he wasn't sure if he wanted them to back him up or simply try to understand his reasoning. His heart sank when none of them met his gaze.

    N… not… capable.

    Shane's tails shot into the air. Everyone turned back toward the rock wall to find Metagross lying in a crater at its base. His Mega Evolution had worn off, but his body was charred black as opposed to its usual dark gray. All of his limbs had been blown off. Sparks and gray liquid seeped out of his exposed joints and the numerous cracks on his body.

    "How the heck did that guy survive that blast?" Swampert said, shaking his head in disbelief.

    It's… like… I said. You can't… save this world. The only hope… was to escape… Metagross' voice descended into static. Too… damaged. Can't… move. Y-You… you ruined me. Now… we're all… going to die…

    "… tch. Even on death's doorstep, you're as blind and irrational as ever, Guildmaster."

    A pained squawk made everyone look up. Zero stood at the top of the rock wall, her free paw clutching Braviary's throat. The colors dissolved off his body and into Zero's mask. Zero finished crystallizing Braviary's body, then dropped him to the ground. He landed next to Metagross and shattered.

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. Her heart leaped into her chest. Beside her, Gallian crouched low to the ground, his eyes flickering pink. "W-We have to flee. We can't fight her. It'll be—"

    "A disaster? Oh, please." Zero turned her gaze on Gallian. "To think… in spite of my teachings, you've been reduced to a sniveling, cowardly wreck. I'd say I'm disappointed, but at this point, I don't really care."

    Gallian shrank back, a mix of pain and anger in his eyes. Tessa sensed the shifts in his aura and took a step forward, putting her right arm up in front of Gallian protectively. "Stop this, Mom! You can't let Necrozma control you like this. You have to fight him!" She looked down. "Please…"

    Zero's paws flickered with bursts of static. "The only thing I'm fighting is a world that's fundamentally flawed. But I'm on the cusp— no, the brink of fixing it. All you need to do is stand down and cease your asinine tirade."

    Shane shot a pink energy ball at Zero. She swung her staff around to counter, but the energy ball exploded, shattering it. Zero wrung out her left paw as it distorted at bizarre angles.

    "Yes! That's it! I broke her evil scepter thingy! Now she's gotta be free from Necrozma." Shane looked at Tessa, tails wagging.

    "My scepter?" Zero said, staring at her staticky paw. "You mean… this scepter right here?" She brought her paws together, then spread them apart. A new staff formed, identical to the one Shane had destroyed.

    His jaw slackened. "But that's… that's…"

    "This…" Zero slammed the staff against her knee, breaking it in half. It dissolved into thin air. "… is nothing more than a fancy-looking Bone Rush club, designed to trick gullible would-be heroes into thinking it's the source of my power." Zero nudged up her mask. "Evidently, it worked."

    Shane's ears and tails drooped. "Damn it, why can things never be easy?" he whimpered.

    "Mom… please, listen to me! You're not thinking straight. You can't possibly expect to kill all the gods and have the world stay peaceful," Tessa said. Zero's eye fell on her. "Look, my friends and I have seen a lot of problems for ourselves, but killing the gods won't solve anything. We all have to compromise and find a path forward together."

    Zero rolled her eye. "That will solve nothing. And I can tell you why. The gods are worthless and petulant. They're the most selfish, short-sighted people in the entire world… and they're the ones who are supposed to be running it!" Static rippled through her bodies. "You really think they'll stop and listen to you? You… a meek girl so utterly incapable of holding her own in battle that she cheated and co-opted Necrozma's power so she could know what's it like to feel big and strong."

    Roaring, Silvally sought to bathe Zero in flames. Zero snuffed them out with a wall of black cubes. "I won't let you talk to Tessa that way! She's done more for us than you could possibly realize, but Necrozma's warped your mind so badly, you've lost sight of your family!" Silvally revved up his cheek bolts and clawed at the ground.

    "That girl is not my daughter," Zero said. "I have a daughter… many worlds away. She was taken from me… by the gods you want to 'compromise' with." She hovered into the air. Ley line chains burst out of the ground. One by one, they punctured Metagross' body and wrapped around him. Then, Zero compressed the chains. The glow faded from Metagross' eyes seconds before he shattered like a glass figurine.

    Zero raised her left paw. The chains wrapped around a ball of light flittering into the air from Metagross' remains. They swallowed the light up whole, then dissolved away. "Hmph. Good riddance," she growled, lowering her paw. Zero turned back to Team Radiance. "You think Necrozma's somehow blinded me? You're wrong. He was never in control of me. And now… he's no longer an issue."

    "What's that supposed to mean, huh?" Tessa said, crouching lower to the ground.

    "It's probably a trick to throw us off," Shane said, snorting tufts of ice. He was trying to draw forth energy to use the golden light ball again, but it wasn't working. Shane sought to keep Zero talking to stall for time.

    "It's no trick. Necrozma's gone. I dealt with him," Zero said. "Everything I've done has been deliberate. Because this world's made me suffer— made countless humans suffer. Don't believe me?" Zero shakily reached a paw up and removed her mask. She turned to show the right side of her face.

    "Oh, that's so gross," Seraph said, cupping a paw over her mouth.

    Luxeira's jaw dropped. "Those glowing triangles, they kind of look like…" Her voice trailed off. She shuddered.

    Tessa staggered back, clasping a paw over her chest. "M-Mom. Wh-what happened to you?"

    "Metagross didn't like me asking so many questions about Incineroar's death. He tailed me out to Glyphic Falls and pushed me off a cliff. That should've been in the end, but a rainbow comet collided with me in midair," Zero said, putting her mask back on. Rings of distortion spread through her body. "Necrozma was in full control for a while, until I forced the central part of his core into Lunala and regained my free will. I snuffed his consciousness out, so now his power is mine to use as I see fit."

    Three pillars of fire descended on Zero. She extinguished them by trapping them in a sphere of cubes. "Necrozma knocked the Hidden Land into the ocean… and took Giratina and Palkia down, too," she continued. "Look around you. Time and space are unraveling. Soon, gravity will, too. But I have the Time Gears. And I have Dialga's power. I can rewrite all of history… and make it so that none of the gods ever existed."

    "But if you blame them for you ending up here, won't you just erase yourself in the process? C'mon, you're not thinking logically! Your plan makes no sense. You're tampering with powers you can't control," Shane shouted. He felt golden embers deep inside his spirit. All he needed was a few more seconds.

    Zero's eye flashed purple. "I know damn well what I'm doing. I'm not about to sit here and listen to a dimwit who doesn't even realize that his mere existence here is one gigantic contradiction."

    Shane shuffled backward, tails shooting between his legs. "A… contradiction?" He looked at the ground, blinking slowly. Did Zero know something about the visions the Dawn Shards had given him?

    "I'm going to fix a system that was broken at its inception. And I need you mongrels out of my hair," Zero said.

    She snapped her digits. Six of her black Beast Balls appeared in the air. They dropped to the ground and snapped open. Milotic and Serperior emerged from the first two, glaring at Team Radiance. However, Espy looked right and her jaw dropped.

    "H-Haxorus? Raichu?! No! She can't have gotten you, too!" Espy squealed, tail shooting between her legs.

    "Ah, Blaziken! She got Team Poképals, too!" Swampert cried, tugging on his partner's arm. Blaziken tensed up, digging his talons into his feathers.

    "You monster! Let them go, now!" Silvally snarled.

    "Or what? You're gonna go all rageaholic God Killer on our asses?" Serperior said, smirking. "Ha! I'd like to see you try!" She brandished her tail-blade. Flames danced across it.

    Zero raised her paw up. A dome of black cubes formed up across the beach, blocking out Comfey, Magearna, and Sticky.

    "Don't disappoint me this time," Zero hissed, before disappearing into a black, jagged portal.

    "H-Hey, what's going on here?" Tessa squeaked, aura feelers trembling. Red cubes burst forth from the ground. Tessa dove to the sand to avoid them. They stretched up to the ceiling, cutting Team Radiance off from Gallian, Zoroark, and Hakamo-o.

    "Damn it, she's boxed us in!" Shane huffed, looking at an identical wall on Team Radiance's left.

    "Exactly. You've got nowhere to run, punks!" Serperior said, giggling. "This time, nothing's gonna stop me from torching your furry hides!"

    She and Milotic raised their tails, then lunged.

    XxX​

    Maligned Malefactor, Metagross Deluxe
    Born, like the rest of his kind, without the capability to process emotions in spite of his typing, he sought to gain notoriety with tactical acumen and battle prowess. But when his teammates reached their final states before he did, impatience drove him to Voltaic Crater, where he attempted to fuse with another of his kind. He realized all too late his chosen target's mind and spirit had been irreversibly damaged by ever-present lightning. His fusion partner steadily eroded his mind and spirit until not a trace of the original explorer remained.

    XxX
    I think it's safe to say this was easily the most chaotic chapter of the fic to date. Let me know your thoughts on it, if you have any.

    Next time: a clash of explorers young and old!
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
    git-it likes this.
  2. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Chapter 85: A Captivating Song of Ice and Fire
    Tessa backpedaled, expecting Shane to follow suit. He stayed frozen in place. Serperior whirled around, ready to lop his head off. Silvally leaped in front of Shane. His water memories activated. He parried Serperior's tail-blade with glowing blue talons. She hopped back, hissing.

    "Oh, I am so not doing this routine again," she said. Her helmet's fiery mohawk bristled. Serperior launched large fireballs into the air. "Yo, Millie! You're up!" she called. Milotic hopped back, having failed to slash Espy with her tail-axe. She shot bursts of ice and water at the fireballs, turning them into smooth, onyx orbs floating in midair.

    Serperior launched her vines at the nearest orb and grabbed hold. Rainbow light shimmered across Milotic's back. Liquid tendrils sprouted from her scales. Like Serperior, she grabbed an orb and pulled herself onto it. Espy launched a purple Shadow Ball toward Milotic, but she batted it aside with her tail-axe. It struck the wall of glitchy back cubes and disappeared. Tail crinkling, Espy recalled the electrified barrier she had set up back in Aurora Vale.

    "I'm not letting you saps gang up on me again. I've got competent help this time around," Milotic said. She used a blue tendril to drop to the ground. Water jets spurted from her back, launching her across the sand. Milotic dragged her tail-axe behind her, leaving a wall of ice. Espy and Tessa barely skirted out of the way, only for Seprerior to swipe the air with her tail-blade, launching fireballs in an arc at them.

    Silvally slammed the ground with his talons. Tiny waterfalls snuffed out the fire. Silvally turned to Shane, who still stood there with a stunned expression on his face. "Shane, snap out of it!" Silvally said, water sloshing in his cheek-bolts.

    "No, by all means, keep being the useless dead weight we all know you are!" Serperior cackled. She coiled up and sprang off her orb while Milotic pulled herself onto it. Igneous rock solidified around Serperior's tail, turning it into a giant lance. She slammed into the ground, kicking up a wave of magma.

    Espy and Tessa skirted it. Silvally headbutted Shane out of the way. Milotic whipped her tail forward. Her tail-axe disconnected and grew in size. An icy current blew it in Silvally's direction. He skidded to a halt before he reached the edge of Zero's distorted dome. Silvally whirled around, eyes widening at the approaching axe. He spouted a Flamethrower, but it wasn't enough to melt the axe.

    An Aura Sphere struck it and exploded. The axe rebounded upward, sparing a relieved Silvally. Milotic rapped her circular perch with her tail and her axe returned. Silvally returned Tessa's save by sending a wave of water at Serperior. She caught it out of the corner of her eye and sprang up into the air like a fiery pogo-stick. Espy and Tessa made a mad dash toward Silvally, but were swept up by the molten ring Serperior's tail created when she landed. They tumbled to a stop by Silvally.

    He hopped in front of them, shooting electricity upward from his cheek bolts. However, it wasn't enough to stop spear-shaped icicles from pelting him from above. Silvally staggered backward. Black, sticky splotches spread across his pelt. Tessa shoved an oran berry into Silvally's beak and marched over to Shane.

    "Get a hold of yourself," she said, flicking the tip of Shane's snout. He stiffened, belting out a whimper. "Look, I'm upset about the Dawn Hourglass, too. Furious, even. But right now, we have to focus on the problem directly in front of us… and not the one that slipped right out from under us." She pointed her paw behind her, where Espy was using her psychic powers to bolster the intensity of Silvally's lightning and force Milotic back toward Serperior.

    "B-But… it's my fault," Shane whispered, ears drooping. "Seraph's right. I used an attack I knew nothing about… like a total dumbass! I ruined all our hard work—"

    "Maybe you did," Tessa said, brow furrowed. Shane cringed. "Doesn't change the fact that we're stuck until we can do something about these two." She stuck her paw out toward Shane. "After everything we've been through, are you really about to up and quit on us like this?"

    Shane shook his head. "N-No. It's just—"

    Tessa turned around. "Fight now. Talk later," she said. Silvally and Espy added electricity and a Shadow Ball to Tessa's newly-forged Aura Sphere. However, a molten rock spire swallowed the combo before it reached Milotic.

    "We've gotta draw them apart. Espy, you come with me. Shane, Tessa, deal with Milotic," Silvally said. Espy nodded and hopped onto Silvally's back. He sprinted through the sand, weaving through the magma spires Serperior summoned from the earth.

    "Back me up, Shane," Tessa said. She charged Milotic down, fists crackling with electricity.

    "H-Huh? Hey, wait!" Shane barked, running after her. He considered trying to use the golden light ball again, but realized the cramped fighting quarters made it far too likely he'd blow up his own teammates by mistake. Instead, he settled for wavy Psychic beams.

    "Nice try, amateurs." Milotic grabbed a floating orb with two tendrils and pulled herself up, dodging Tessa's Thunder Punch. "No amount of evolving will make you two any less predictable," she scoffed. Milotic raised her tail, summoning three ice shards. She smacked them toward the ground with her tail-axe. Shane's Ice Beam couldn't destroy them. One struck Tessa, leaving a deep gash in her shoulder. The other two hit the ground in front of Shane, leaving spiked patches of ice.

    "Tessa! H-Hang on!" Shane cried. He tried sidestepping the ice, but more ice shards struck him from above. Shane staggered back. His blood spattered against the gray sand. Milotic leaped from her perch, somersaulting in midair. A rainbow water veil surrounded her. Shane dove to the ground. Thin white ribbons fell from the tips of his tails. Shane blasted Milotic in the back with bright-white light. Her tendrils shriveled in the face of his Dazzling Gleam.

    Shane scrambled to Tessa's side, wincing from the cuts along his chest. "Hold on. I can help," he said, pressing a paw to Tessa's shoulder. She yelped in pain, but then warm orange light surrounded her shoulder. The gash closed. Tessa passed an oran berry and an elixir to Shane. He gulped them down, then spun around to face Milotic.

    Her liquid tendrils had regrown. She spun around in mid-charge. Her long eyebrows formed a veil of rainbow water around her. Shane and Tessa backed away from each other, but both ran out of running room. The edges of Milotic's water bubble clipped them. Tessa shrank toward the ground, hissing and wringing out her paws. Shane tolerated the cold better, but his paws still stung. He tried to blast Milotic with pink orbs, but her bubble redirected them toward Tessa.

    She was forced to toss the Aura Sphere she'd gathered to save her hide. Milotic dispelled her veil. She leaped into the air and used a tendril to pull herself onto one of the orbs. Milotic gathered water and ice inside her mouth.

    Shane lumbered toward Tessa. "Hey. Think you can sock her if I launch you upward?"

    "Huh? Uh, I guess so," Tessa said, surprised Shane actually asked her instead of enacting his plan. She crouched into a fighting stance. Shane drew on his psychic powers. Tessa sailed through the air, charging her paws up with plasma.

    Too focused on gathering rime, Milotic wasn't prepared for Tessa to pop up in front of her and sock her in the mouth. Squealing in pain, Milotic choked on her attack. She slipped off the orb. Heat Wave winds caught her mid-fall. The hot air knocked Milotic into the glitchy cube wall. She bounced off it and fell to her belly.

    Milotic didn't have enough time to get her bearings before Tessa crashed into her from above, driving an electrified fist into her throat. Tessa winced. "I'm sorry, Milotic, but this is for your own good," she said, wrapping her arms around Milotic's slender frame. With a loud grunt, Tessa threw Milotic over her shoulder. Milotic skipped across the sand, where Shane had a Psychic orb barrage at the ready.

    Her frozen helmet splintered, as did her tail-axe. "All right! I think it's working. Now, we've just got to—"

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "Shane, get down!" she screamed, lunging for her partner. They hit the ground moments before a Flamethrower grazed their backsides. A scorched Espy tumbled to a stop behind them, groaning and coughing up a mouthful of smoke.

    "Ungh. I wanna… switch targets," Espy whined.

    Shane scrambled over to Espy, saying, "Watch my back, please." Tessa hopped to her feet, charging an Aura Sphere to keep Milotic on the defensive. Behind her, Espy waved Shane off, using her own Morning Sun to heal her injuries.

    "Guys, hurry up!" Tessa said, hurling her blue fireball at Milotic. She froze it solid with an Ice Beam and batted it aside with one of her large eyebrows. Milotic spun around, tail bristling with ice. An icicle wave raced toward Team Radiance. Orange wind and liquid metal blew holes in the icicles, leaving Shane and Tessa openings to safely jump through.

    Espy backpedaled, only to skid to a halt as a flaming geyser erupted in front of her. A gust of wind snuffed the fire out. Espy crept toward Silvally, who was hopping around to dodge swipes of Serperior's tail-blade. "You are such an obnoxious bastard," she growled. Serperior coiled up and sprang into the air. She pulled herself onto the nearest orb with her vines. Silvally spun around, firing Air Slash crescents from the tip of his head crest.

    Serperior readied a Flamethrower to negate Silvally's attack, but an ectoplasmic ball struck her from behind. She dug her vines into the orb to hold her ground against the Air Slash barrage. Before Espy could regroup with Silvally, Serperior dropped from her perch. She used her vines to swing around, spewing fire from her mouth and her tail-blade. Yowling, Espy hopped back. Her desperate Psybeam petered out against Serperior's flames.

    Silvally reared up, conjuring a wave of water. Serperior pulled herself onto the nearest orb with a smirk. "Aww, what's the matter? Losing that spring in your step? I swear, you were faster back at Mount Supernova. Maybe you need to let one off. You seem like you've got a lot of pent-up tension," she giggled. Silvally's fire memories momentarily shifted on. Serperior's laughs grew louder. "I'm onto something, aren't I? Ah well. Doesn't matter much, now!" She hopped into the air and formed her tail into a fiery lance once again.

    Espy unleashed another Shadow Ball. To her horror, however, Serperior tilted in midair, then spewed a Flamethrower to propel herself in Espy's direction. Serperior split the Shadow Ball in half. Espy got tripped up scrambling backwards. While she avoided Serperior's lance, she was hit by the ensuing ring of fire. Espy rolled across the sand, trying to snuff out her burning fur.

    "Fitting look for you," Serperior jeered, hopping into the air again. She didn't get the chance to strike Espy from above, however, because Silvally plowed into her from behind. They fell to the ground. Silvally pinned Serperior with his larger frame. He raised water-coated talons, only to miss as Serperior dug herself into the sand. Silvally looked around, growling.

    The sand destabilized around him. Silvally's eyes widened. A lava geyser erupted beneath him. Silvally sailed skyward, howling in pain and flailing his limbs about. He hit a floating sphere. Serperior emerged from the ground, ready to skewer Silvally. Thinking quickly, Espy drew on her psychic powers. Instead of hitting Serperior, however, she yanked Silvally back. A flaming rock spire jutted out of the ground seconds later.

    Refusing to be denied, Serperior hardened her tail-blade into a molten hammer. She struck the spire, flinging molten rock shards at Espy and Silvally. Espy dropped Silvally and fired pink rings forward. Silvally stomped the ground. Waterfalls rained down around him, combining with Espy's Psychic to destroy the shards.

    Serperior took advantage of her foes' preoccupation, however. She plunged her tail-blade into the sand and funneled flames down underground. Fissures spread through the ground. Giant, flaming, thorn-covered vines emerged.

    "Get on!" Silvally barked, turning his back to Espy. A rime blast streamed in from behind Espy, however. The ice and water mixture caught Espy and flung her into one of Serperior's vines. Espy smacked against the cube wall on her right and fell to the ground, legs twitching unresponsively and blood seeping from her burnt, soggy fur.

    "Espy!" Shane hollered, sprawled on his belly to avoid Milotic's rime. Tessa tried Thunder Punching through the attack. She wound up pulling her frozen paws back and banging them together to break the ice.

    "Stay back! You're gonna get caught up in the vines," Silvally said, Air Slash blades flying out of his head crest. They managed to nick some of the thorns from Serperior's vines, but more vines sprouted up in response. "Nnngh… there's too many of them!" Silvally hollered, watching them close in on Espy.

    "I told you… you weren't going to get the better of me this time," Serperior cackled. She slammed two of her vines in Silvally's direction. He jumped back. Milotic spewed another rime torrent, striking Silvally's rear. She froze his hind legs to the ground. Silvally shifted to his fire memories. He heated up his torso, but knew the ice wasn't melting quick enough.

    "Nice try!" Milotic shouted, another rime attack charged. Tessa threw an Aura Sphere toward her, forcing her to hop back.

    "Someone help Espeon!" Tessa cried, charging another Aura Sphere. She was pretty sure a Reviver Seed would kick in, but Espy was completely surrounded by vines.

    "Ha! It's too little, too late. Say goodbye to your slutty feline friend," Serperior said, rearing her vines back.

    "No! Get away from her!" Shane barked. He sprang to his feet, orange light spilling from his looplet. Shane landed atop a large iceberg, tucking his head in to avoid bonking the ceiling.

    Serperior's eyes narrowed. "Oh, not this garbage again." She launched her vines toward Shane, but they were met by an ice vortex three times her size. Despite Serperior pumping as much fire as she could into her vines, Shane's ice storm prevailed, slicing the vines to ribbons. Enough lingering ice remained to batter Serperior and force her away from Espy. She pulled her tail out of the ground and slumped over, dazed. Shane hopped off the iceberg as it melted. He scrambled toward Espy, though his lungs burned and his legs begged for a rest. Shane nudged her side with his snout, funneling warm energy to a burnt patch on her belly. The Morning Sun restored some of her pelt. Her burns faded. Espy shakily got to her feet.

    "Th… thanks for the save," Espy said, face flushing.

    "Don't thank me yet. We've still got to take care of these two," Shane said.

    "On your left, Shane!" Tessa shouted. He looked over his shoulder. Shane's eyes widened and he backed up. A flailing Milotic sailed by him. She careened into Serperior. The two ended up in a coiled heap.

    "T-Tessa? Cripes, that's some throwing arm you've got." Shane whistled.

    Tessa ignored the compliment and charged the serpents down, plasma swirling around her paws. "Try to torch my friends, will you? I'm done trying to pull punches!" she barked. Silvally launched electricity from his cheek-bolts at the serpents. Serperior summoned a rock spire to deflect it. Tessa veered right and lunged for Milotic. She wasn't fast enough on the draw to stop Tessa from clocking her in the horn.

    Milotic fell back into Serperior. She yowled in surprise. "G-Get up, Millie!" she said, trying to dig her way underground. Ice struck the ground underneath her, putting her a stop to her actions. Serperior's helmet cracked and its fiery mohawk died down. "N-Nrrgh. This can't be… happening." She shakily looked up at Tessa. "You're just a meek… pup. You can't take us down. You're a nobody!"

    "Maybe I was, yeah. But I've changed a lot. I've got teammates who believe in me, now. And together, we're going to turn you back to normal!" Tessa said, Aura Sphere at the ready.

    "Like hell I'm letting you beat me!" Serperior snarled. She smacked Milotic aside and sprang up. Serperior spun around. Tessa backed off from the growing fire tornado. To her dismay, Serperior's tornado deflected her Aura Sphere. Silvally leaped up to dodge it, but was torched by fire jets from the tornado. He felt to the ground, smoke rising off his singed feathers.

    Milotic slithered about in a panic. "E-Easy, Millie! I'm still here! Watch where you're— augh!" A fireball to the face silenced her pleas. Milotic fell back against the edge of the dome. Her vision grew fuzzy.

    Tessa spotted Milotic's condition, but couldn't get past Serperior's fiery vortex. "Guys, we've got a problem!" she cried, sucking in her gut to dodge a fire jet from the tornado.

    "Besides the giant spinning top of fiery doom?" Shane said, staying the furthest back of anyone on the team.

    "If we don't hurry and do something, Milotic…" Tessa shook her head. "She's going to have her spirit sucked away like all the others we couldn't save!"

    "No, she won't. Because I'm taking you losers down!" Serperior declared. The tornado grew in size. Fire streamed out in all directions. Silvally summoned a waterfall, but it evaporated in the face of multiple Flamethrowers. He roared in pain, barely able to stay on his feet.

    Hearing his friend's agonized cries, Shane threw all caution aside. Drawing deep from his spirit's core, he called up the golden energy he'd used on Metagross. "Everyone, get back!" Shane shouted, before hurtling a golden light ball into the tornado.

    "Ha! Like that's going to do any—" Serperior started, only to shriek in terror when the golden sphere burst through her tornado. It abruptly collapsed, replaced by a light geyser. A golden glow spilled out far enough to hit Milotic. Serperior struck the wall and landed atop her teammate.

    Seeing her opening, Tessa ran for the serpents, encased by an orange aura. Lightning gathered around her paws. It formed into a large, diamond-shaped bolt. "Both of you… snap out of it!" Tessa hurled the lightning bolt at them like it was a giant lance. Milotic's eyes fluttered open just in time to see the electricity barreling toward her. A crackling explosion swallowed up her scream. Tessa threw her arm up over her face to shield her eyes, then dropped to her knees when the light died down. Her breath came in ragged gasps.

    "H-How are they?" she asked.

    Silvally took a step forward, only for jets of fire to split the ground in front of him. He hopped back. Silvally summoned a wave of water to snuff the flames out. Serperior shot out of the ground, flames swirling around her tail-blade.

    "I'm not finished yet!" Serperior hissed. However, two sets of Psychic rings struck her. Serperior fell back, wriggling about on the ground.

    "Now's your chance, Espy!" Shane said, eyes brimming with pink energy.

    "Got it," Espy said, Z-Move already charged. A pink aura burst off her body. It zipped toward Serperior. The very air around Serperior seemed to splinter. Pink explosions buffeted Serperior, blinding Team Radiance in the process. It took a few seconds for the lingering psychic energy to die down.

    "Urk. I swear… it'll be a miracle if I can still see straight after all this nonsense," Shane grumbled, standing up and shaking his head. His gaze fell on Milotic first, who lay coiled up by the edge of the dome. As Shane approached, he heard muffled sobs. "M-Milotic?" Shane whispered, crouching down. "Are you, um, okay?"

    Milotic shrank back, holding up her tailfins defensively. Relief flooded Shane's system as he concluded Milotic was back to normal. "It's… it's okay, Milotic. I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "You need any help?"

    "W-Why? Why did you… help me?" Milotic sniffled. "The things I said to you… the things I did to you. I—" She shuddered.

    "It wasn't your fault, Milotic," Tessa said, kneeling down beside her guild mate. "That wasn't you. That was N—" She cut herself off, remembering Zero's claims before she disappeared. "It was my mom's doing." She clenched her fist. "And we're going to stop her. I don't know how, but we will."

    "B-But Airy… sh-she's still…" Milotic's voice trailed off and she shuddered.

    "We can handle her," Shane said, nodding. "We'll free her, just like we freed you and Serperior."

    "Uh, guys?" Espy cut in. "About that…" She gestured behind her. "Serperior's gone."

    Milotic stuck her head up. "G-Gone? What do you mean? You caught her with your Z-Move, didn't you?"

    "I sure thought so, but she's not here," Espy said, brow furrowed.

    Tessa's aura feelers stuck up. "Y-You don't think she's dead, do you?!"

    "What? No! I wouldn't— that wasn't what I was going for at all," Espy said.

    Before anyone could say anything else, the walls and dome edges flashed red, then vanished before Team Radiance's eyes.

    XxX​

    "On your right, Blaziken!" Luxeira barked, ducking out of the way of Feraligatr's black, crystalline fangs. She spewed a purple Dark Pulse from her mouth, striking Feraligatr's throat. He didn't flinch. Instead, he shrouded himself in a torrent of water and slammed into Luxeira.

    Across from her, Blaziken met Infernape's fiery, gem-incrusted fist with a flaming leg. They exchanged three more blows before Blaziken backed off, trying to regain his balance.

    "Get back, buddy," Swampert said, punching a fist into the ground. Tremors raced toward Infernape. However, he hopped up at the last second, then drove his fist into the central fissure. Flames shot through it. The fissures halted. Instead, a circular shockwave of brimstone and crystal spread across the ground. "Eep! You gotta be kidding!" Swampert cried, turning to run.

    A lightning chain popped in, surrounded Swampert, and shot into the air. Seraph popped out from the plasma, cradling Swampert in her arms as best she could despite the size difference. The shockwave passed harmlessly beneath them. "Consider yourself lucky. Usually, I'd ask for chocolate and flowers in return for sweeping someone off their feet," Seraph scoffed as they dropped back to the ground.

    Swampert blinked. "I… can't tell if you're being serious or not." He shook his head. "Besides, shouldn't you be helping out your partner?"

    "Hmm?" Seraph turned around. Luxeira was sprinting away from a giant cone of water threatening to spear her from behind. "For pity's sake. I zapped that idiot from point-blank range and he bounced back like it was nothing? Nrrrgh…" She clenched her fists and punched the ground. Plasma pillars shot up into Feraligatr's path. They vaporized his water cone. Feraligatr skidded to a halt and locked eyes with Seraph.

    "Oh crap," she squeaked, then lightning-dashed toward Luxeira. Feraligatr raised his hands. Water swirled around them, forming what looked like a pair of boat steering wheels. Luxeira abruptly cancelled out her lightning-dash her eyes widening. "What the he—"

    Feraligatr tossed the projectiles like a pair of liquified frisbees. Seraph zipped skyward to dodge one, but Luxeira wasn't as quick on the uptake. Feraligatr's arms flashed blue. Two new water wheels appeared beside him. He hurled them at Luxeira, who lay curled up in a giant puddle of water crackling with dark energy.

    "Luxeira! Get up!" Seraph cried. She lightning-dashed toward her teammate without a second thought. Before the dash even finished, Seraph lashed out at the air with her Plasma Fists. The water wheels disappeared in harmless streams of mist. Seraph staggered back, wringing out her paws. Though she hadn't taken a direct hit, lingering shadows left Seraph with a pins-and-needles sensation in her limbs.

    "D-Damn it. Are his attacks corrupted somehow?" Seraph whispered. She glanced at Luxeira and silently swore. Feraligatr had knocked the wind out of her. Seraph turned to Feraligatr. "Hey! What's the big idea, you numbskull? I heard you're supposed to be one of the good guys or something! Come on… I know you can hear me! Cut this shit out, already!"

    Feraligatr silently raised his hands, summoning two more wheels.

    "Listen to me, you bonehead! Have you even stopped to think about what'll happen if we don't win? You're going to disappear along with everyone else!" Seraph shouted. "You can't possibly want that!"

    "Perish," a heavily-distorted voice said, though Feraligatr's mouth didn't move. He mashed the two water wheels into one and slammed the fusion to the ground. It spun around, generating a massive water tornado.

    Yowling, Seraph dug her claws into the sand. However, they offered little traction to keep her in place. The gale-force winds sucked Luxeira toward them. She bumped into Seraph. The two careened toward the center of the vortex. Feraligatr's red eyes flashed. He flexed his digits. His crystal claws detached, shot into the air, and surrounded the tornado.

    Seraph looked in horror at the oncoming spike barrage. She twisted herself around and, shouting at the top of her lungs, fired as much lightning as she could muster from her fists into the vortex. Feraligatr gazed silently at the now-electrified tornado. Seraph continued shooting lightning into it, even as she and Luxeira drew closer. Her bolts grew weaker. The blue color in the electric streaks on her fur was fading fast. Feraligatr's disembodied claws were nearly upon them.

    She couldn't just let things end here. Even if no one was really counting on her to do anything, Seraph had already put this much effort into the battle. She wasn't going to let it all go to waste. In pure desperation, Seraph used the last of her stamina to focus on the Naturia Looplet around her arm. The gem flickered, then bathed Seraph in orange light. With a startled holler, Seraph fired one last lightning bolt into the tornado. It was easily three times her size.

    A spark bristled within the vortex. There was a blue flash, then the tornado collapsed in an eruption of water and plasma. Feraligatr careened into the edge of the dome, but conveyed no sense of pain or surprise at the turn of events. The explosion blew Luxeira and Seraph in the opposite direction. They came to a stop near the wall of cubes.

    "W-What just happened?" Luxeira squeaked, staggering to her feet. "Seraph, was that you? I can't believe it. You actually did that Z-Move thing. That was incredible!" She glanced down at Seraph, who lay flat on her belly, completely unresponsive. "Seraph? Seraph!" Luxeira put her forepaws on Seraph's back and shook her. "Wake up! C'mon, you're okay. You're okay!"

    "Unnggh…"

    Seraph's left eye opened. She spat out a tiny bit of sand. "I didn't… think you cared…"

    Relief flooded across Luxeira's face. "We're in this together, remember? For better or worse," she said.

    "… heh. Guess you really are… a fast learner," Seraph said. She tried to roll over onto her back, only to groan and clutch her belly.

    "You're hurt! But I don't have anything I can heal you up with," Luxeira said, her tail drooping.

    "I'm tapped. Couldn't even… make a little static… if I tried," Seraph wheezed. "Did I at least… take out… that dopey 'gatr?"

    Luxeira turned around, only to recoil in horror. Feraligatr was charging right toward her, a liquified harpoon jutting out from each forearm to skewer her with. Luxeira dug deep and spat up a purple Dark Pulse. However, Feraligatr's red eyes flashed. A gem cluster appeared in front of him, absorbing the blow. Luxeira threw herself on top of Seraph, praying she could serve as enough of a meat shield to keep Seraph alive.

    She braced herself for an intense stabbing pain. Several seconds went by, however, and nothing happened. Luxeira slowly cracked an eye open. She heard crystals cracking in the distance and stood up. A few feet in front of her, Mega Swampert had destroyed Feraligatr's harpoons, taking some of the prism armor from his forearms with them.

    "S-Swampert?" Luxeira gasped. "You're—"

    He punched the ground. Tectonic plates knocked a stunned Feraligatr into the air. Swampert leaped up and punched him in the jaw. He shot into the dome wall and bounced back. More tectonic plates rose up from the ground. They knocked Feraligatr into the ceiling. Feraligatr plummeted to the ground, where he landed in a small crater. Cracks splintered throughout his Prism Armor, until it finally shattered and dissolved in several swirls of black mist.

    Luxeira tensed up, expecting to watch Feraligatr's spirit drain away. Much to her surprise, however, no colors drained off his body. She blinked slowly. "Wait… but you didn't beat him with a Z-Move!" she said.

    "Yeah, I know. But Magearna told Blaziken and I she was pretty confident that Mega Evolution would do the job, too… provided the 'mon who uses it knows how to control it, of course," Swampert said. He turned to Luxeira with a goofy grin on his face. "Good thing I dropped in at the right time, huh? No need to thank me, it's part of the job."

    "Hey, Swampert? Remember me, your best buddy?" Mega Blaziken shouted, dropping to his belly to dodge three separate Flamethrowers from Infernape's hands and gaping maw. "I could really use some help over here!"

    Swampert winced. "Aha ha… right. Better save the celebrating for later," he said, laughing nervously. "Oh, wait. You two take these. It looks like you need them." He set a pair of elixirs and oran berries by Luxeira and Seraph. "Well, I'm off. Wish me luck." Swampert saluted the girls, then charged toward Blaziken and Infernape.

    "Coming in hot, buddy!" he shouted, leaping up and pounding the ground with his fins. A waterfall picked Infernape up and carried him away from Blaziken. Swampert closed the remaining distance, then stopped to catch his breath. "Or, rather, coming in cold, if you want to get technical." He grinned cheekily.

    "Why'd you go running off on me?" Blaziken asked.

    "Sorry about that. Had to go in and save the day at the last second. Y'know, the usual hero stuff." Swampert puffed out his chest.

    "Yeah, well, now that we're sure we can break whatever curse Tessa's batshit crazy mom put on these guys, I don't have to pull my punches anymore," Blaziken said, clenching a fiery fist. "You know what that means?"

    "Oh! Oh! Is it time for the Brave Bird Special?" Swampert said, hopping up and down and clapping excitedly.

    Blaziken winked. "You know me too well, pal." He crouched low to the ground. "All right, one battle-ending finishing move coming—"

    A giant fire column erupted from across the battlefield. It generated heat so intense, even Blaziken had to throw up an arm.

    "W-What just happened?" Swampert said, blinking to readjust his vision. Across from him, Infernape stood at the ready, crystalline fists clenched. Red and black vapors trailed off his body. His head flame had grown to the point where it was twice as big as him.

    Blaziken's eyes widened in realization. "We triggered Blaze." He kicked up sand. "Dang it, he's still got that even though he's corrupted?"

    "That's cheating!" Swampert huffed, puffing up his cheeks.

    "Disappear."

    Infernape raised his fiery fists and repeatedly banged them into the ground while hopping about like he was throwing a tantrum. Hotspots flared up all across the ground, even by Luxeira and Seraph. With a startled gasp, Blaziken hefted Swampert into the air.

    "H-Hey! What are you doing? Put me do— owoo!"

    Blaziken sprinted across the sand, carrying Mega Swampert above his head. Behind him, flaming geysers burst forth from the sand. Infernape continued his tantrum, covering more and more of the ground in fire. The fire quickly gave way to molten lava.

    "Swampert, help the girls… again!" Blaziken shouted. He hurled Swampert toward them. Acting on instinct, Swampert landed, tossed Luxeira and Seraph onto his back, and rose into the air on a waterfall to snuff out the lava geysers around him. Cool molten rock crusted over the sand, allowing Swampert and the girls to land safely.

    "Boy, talk about a bad case of déjà vu, huh?" Swampert said. "We simply must stop meeting like this."

    "… tch. And you were chastising me for my earlier comments," Seraph said, glancing at Luxeira with a knowing smirk.

    "It's not my fault you're all crazy! Who looks at a near-death experience and tries to laugh it off with a cheesy joke? This isn't like those silly kid shows that were on holovision back home," Luxeira said, shaking her head.

    "Eh, it's a coping mechanism," Swampert said, shrugging. He turned around, wondering if he'd have to fend off any more attacks. To his relief, Blaziken had managed to weave through the fading geysers, with Feraligatr draped over his back. He dropped Feraligatr to the ground, then drove a fiery leg into Infernape's side, only to be met by a large gauntlet of molten rock. Infernape staggered Blaziken, then drove his other arm around. Blaziken barely ducked the swipe. He channeled wind energy and headbutted Infernape in the chest. He staggered backward, silent even as his prism armor splintered.

    "Come on, Infernape, cut it out. You don't have to do this. Don't let that crazy lady worm her way into your head. She's trying to undo everything you fought for!" Blaziken said. He hopped back to dodge swipes of Infernape's giant rock gauntlets. Blaziken sighed. "Or we can do it the hard way, I guess." He shook his head. "I'm getting too old for this nonsense."

    "Submit."

    Infernape punched the ground. A shockwave of molten rock spires raced out. It hurtled Blaziken across the sand.

    "You leave my pal alone!" Swampert shouted. Infernape dashed out of the way of a Waterfall from below. He reared up for another shockwave strike, but lightning zapped him from above. Infernape hunched over, lingering static crackling around his Prism Armor. Swampert stepped to his right. A Dark Pulse whizzed by, catching Infernape in between his eyes.

    Swampert backed away from Infernape, who had fixed his emotionless gaze on Luxeira and Seraph. Blaziken ran up to him. "It's now or never, pal," he said.

    "Right." Swampert nodded. He grabbed hold of Blaziken in one of his giant arms. "One Brave Bird Special, coming up!" Swampert hurled Blaziken forward like he was a living javelin. Air encased Blaziken, forming the shape of a glowing, golden bird. Infernape had just enough time to turn around before Blaziken hammered into him. His prism armor shattered. The blow knocked him all the way across the sand. He rolled to a stop by the edge of the dome.

    Blaziken and Swampert ended their Mega Evolutions. Both dropped to the ground, struggling to catch their breath. "Oof. Been a while since we've had to do that," Blaziken said, clutching his chest.

    "I guess this means… we made it?" Luxeira said, blinking slowly.

    "Yeah, except we're still trapped inside this stupid forcefield," Seraph said, shaking a fist at the air.

    As soon as she finished speaking, however, the dividing wall in front of them disappeared in a flicker of light. Then, the dome vanished along with it. Seraph stared wide-eyed at her fist.

    "I, uh… I meant to do that."

    XxX​

    Zoroark stumbled. He faceplanted into the sand. Lightning passed right over him. Gallian jumped in front of him defensively. Psycho Cut blades flittered out of his horn. The prism armor-coated Haxorus ran toward them. Her gem-like claws turned blue and grew in size. She sliced the pink crescents into a fine mist.

    Hakamo-o tried to snipe her from behind with his Dragon Breath, but gem-encrusted weeds popped out of the sand and wrapped around his leg. He fell to the ground, taking a mouthful of sand as punishment. He could feel the rumble from Haxorus' weighty footsteps. Hakamo-o sprang to his feet, only to be met by giant, blue, glowing claws. Hakamo-o careened into the wall. He slumped onto the ground, groaning and clutching his forehead scales.

    "This isn't working," Zoroark growled.

    "You think I don't see that?" Gallian hissed. They fired dual Dark Pulses that coalesced into one large, purple beam. Raichu stood tall. She raised up her paws. A red orb formed in each one. She smushed the orbs together, then threw the result forward. It split the giant Dark Pulse apart. Gallian and Zoroark had to break in opposite directions.

    "It's no good! We're hopelessly outmuscled," Gallian said, his forehead scythe flashing purple.

    "Hey! Help! Don't leave me here with this crazy broad!" Hakamo-o shouted, his tail getting nicked by a swipe from Haxorus' crystalline tusks.

    "Expire."

    Haxorus' red eyes flashed. Her tusks glowed. The ground trembled under the trios' feet. A Haxorus-shaped crystal axe spurted forth from underneath Hakamo-o. It erupted in a burst of crackling blue energy. Hakamo-o yowled. He ricocheted off the dome and ended up with his head buried in the sand. It muffled his whimpers.

    Neither Gallian nor Zoroark could come to his aid. More axes burst forth from the ground, leading to more blue explosions that kept the two on their heels. Through it all, Raichu launched bright-yellow Thunderbolts around. Zoroark had no way to see one coming. His anguished howl echoed across the battlefield. Gallian abruptly turned around and sprinted in the direction of Zoroark's cries.

    He found Zoroark lying in the sand, his chest fur smoldering. "Z-Zoroark? Hang in there!" Gallian bit his lower lip. All of the healing items were with Team Radiance, so Gallian couldn't properly summon them. If they got knocked out, then that would be it for them. "Come on. You gotta get up." He nudged Zoroark, then looked over his shoulder.

    The dust had settled from the explosions. Underneath her armored face, Raichu's cheek sacs sparked. Gallian's heart leaped up in his throat. "Sorry about this," he whispered. Gallian bucked Zoroark to his right, then dove toward him. A Thunderbolt went right past him. Gallian jumped back to his feet and fired a purple Dark Pulse. However, Haxorus jumped in and once again sliced through the attack with her buffed-up Dragon Claws.

    "No. This isn't working. Nothing's working. They're too in sync," Gallian said. His heart was in his throat. He felt like he was suffocating. Gallian shook his head. His disaster sense was telling him death awaited, but he couldn't accept that. Not when he had people worth fighting for.

    A weak stream of dragonfire trailed in from Haxorus' left. She spun around and glared at Hakamo-o. He had managed to get back up, but between the jagged gashes in his scales and his uneasy swaying from side to side, he wouldn't last much longer.

    "Hey! What are you doing? Get back! You're in no state to fight," Gallian said, shooting Psycho Cut blades toward both opponents. Haxorus sliced as many apart as she could. Raichu took care of the rest with some tiny bursts of electricity.

    "Well, if I… give up here… then I'm completely screwed, aren't I?" Hakamo-o panted. He sucked in a breath, hoping to spew more dragonfire, but Raichu pivoted. Two lightning bolts raced out from her cheek sacs. They struck Hakamo-o's face. He collapsed on his back, completely still.

    Haxorus, meanwhile, turned around and slammed her black, glowing tail into the ground. Crystal stalactites shot up from the ground. Gallian bit down on Zoroark's mane and sprinted away, dragging Zoroark through the sand. He didn't get far before tripping, however. Gallian rolled back to his feet, glancing at Zoroark. To his relief, Zoroark was back on his feet. Like Hakamo-o, though, he looked worse for wear.

    "Gallian, I don't…" Zoroark winced an put a paw on his wounded chest. "I'm not sure I can keep this up."

    "I'm not either, but we don't have a choice," Gallian said, voice cracking. His horn flickered. He looked up. Thunderhead clouds formed overhead. He stole a glance at Raichu, whose red eyes had turned bright blue. "Move!" Gallian cried, diving toward Zoroark and headbutting him. Blue lightning rained down from the clouds, kicking up large amounts of sand where Gallian and Zoroark had stood.

    Haxorus slammed the ground with her tail yet again. This time, curved stalactites rose from the ground in a circle around Gallian and Zoroark. Gallian's eyes widened. The rock shards were going to spear them, like a set of oversized dragon fangs. Gallian bucked Zoroark with his horn, then lunged after him. They barely managed to squeeze through the stalactites before they slammed together and exploded in a blue burst.

    Any sense of relief proved fleeting, however. Raichu unleashed another blue lightning storm. This time she fried both Gallian and Zoroark. Gallian dropped to the ground, howling in agony. Zoroark was knocked to his belly. He lay unmoving a foot away from Gallian.

    "Z-Zoroark?" Gallian turned to his left. Zoroark's smoldering pelt made Gallian's heart rate practically doubled. "Zoroark! Hang on, I—"

    Haxorus broadsided Gallian's horn with her tusk. The force of the blow knocked Gallian further away from Zoroark. Haxorus turned and stomped toward Zoroark, extending her crystal claws. Raichu's cheek sacs turned blue, as did her eyes.

    "N-No… not Zoroark. Not again," Gallian squeaked. He tried to stand up, but his legs wouldn't respond. His scythe flickered pink, but only produced a few tiny sparks. Gallian teared up. He was going to lose Zoroark. He had failed to make up for all his stupid mistakes. Gallian glanced at his looplet. Even if he could muster up the strength for a Z-Move, Haxorus and Raichu were a fair distance from each other. He'd only be able to hit one. The other could still finish them off.

    He closed his eyes, resigning himself to his fate.

    "Gallian!"

    His eyes shot open. Zoroark was awake. He had managed to roll onto his back. "D-Don't give up. Use the… Z-Move. You have… to try," Zoroark wheezed. "Do it… for me. Do it… for Tessa. That's what… she did for you, remember?"

    Gallian blinked tears out of his eyes. Haxorus was bearing down on Zoroark. She raised her claws up to strike.

    "No… get away from him," Gallian said, not noticing the orange and blue light spilling out from his looplet. A second wind struck him. Gallian bolted to his feet. He sprinted toward Zoroark, his strides growing larger with each bound. Gallian easily skirted the giant blue lightning storm Raichu summoned to vaporize him.

    "Get away!" Gallian roared. An orange aura surrounded him, only to turn into bright-pink light. Haxorus paused and looked over her shoulder. The pink blur struck her face. Her tusks shattered. A cloud of pink fairy dust filled the area. Zoroark's eyes widened. With a wince, he rolled away, keeping an eye trained on Raichu in case she tried any funny business.

    "Gallian? Are you… okay?" Zoroark grunted, trying but failing to get to his feet. Haxorus then shot out of the pink cloud. She slammed into Raichu. The two tumbled back. Zoroark looked up. Gallian stood protectively in front of him, a wing-link cluster of fur protruding from the large white tuft around his neck. He had extra fur tufts on each leg to complement his longer claws and tail.

    "I don't know. There's something… something primal stirring inside of me. Telling me to maul everyone down, including you," Gallian said, his eyes squeezed shut. "But I won't." He looked back at Zoroark. "You stay there. It's time I really started making up for being such an idiot."

    If Zoroark hadn't been so tired, his jaw would've dropped. Instead, he nodded slowly. Gallian nodded back, then charged his opponents down. He let loose a Psycho Cut barrage from his glowing horn. Haxorus stood up just in time to take the crescent swarm's full force. She staggered back, prism armor chipping with each blow. Gallian kept his charge up. Fairy energy enshrouded him.

    Still lying on the ground, Raichu tried tripping Gallian up with a prismatic Grass Knot. He sensed her ploy coming, though. Gallian lunged for Haxorus. She activated her Dragon Claws to counter, but Gallian struck them. A cloud of pink fairy energy shattered Haxorus' claws. She stumbled back, landing on her rear.

    "Nobody lays a claw on my mate and gets away with it!" Gallian thundered, before spearing Haxorus with his shadowy-black claws. A single spiderweb crack appeared on her chest. It spread throughout her armored body. The armor broke and disappeared in streams of black mist. Haxorus eyes rolled back in her head. She fell onto her back, unconscious.

    Gallian bounced upward, dodging Raichu's retaliatory Thunderbolt. He piledrove Raichu from above. Gallian grabbed Raichu's tail in his mouth. He spun her around, then hurled her into the edge of the dome. She bounced off, where she was met by three Psycho Cut blades. They knocked her back into the dome. Gallian engaged in a makeshift tennis match against the dome, until his Psycho Cuts stripped away the last of Raichu's prism armor. He caught Raichu on her back and lowered her beside Haxorus.

    "Th… thank the gods. We survived," Gallian panted. Before he could think about how to properly undo his Mega Evolution, the dome and its dividing walls faded out of existence. Gallian blinked and looked around in confusion.

    "Gallian!"

    Tessa sprinted toward him, eyes widened in horror. Behind her, Espy made a mad dash toward Hakamo-o, while Shane and Silvally headed for Zoroark. Despite their similar heights, Tessa grabbed Gallian by the shoulders and hoisted him up. He barked in surprise.

    "Oh, gods, this is your Mega Evolution, isn't it? Are you okay? You've gotta snap out of it before you lose control!" Tessa said, glancing at Team Paradise. To her surprise, both had all their color intact.

    "H-Hey! Put me down, Tessa!" Gallian kicked at the air with his lower limbs. "Yes, it's me. I'm fine… I think."

    Tessa let go. Gallian fell onto his rump with a yowl. "S-Sorry. I, uh, saw you and got whipped up into a panic," she said, fidgeting nervously with her scarf. "After what happened this morning, I—"

    A pained howl echoed through the beach. Tessa's aura feelers crinkled. Gallian turned to his left. His eyes bugged out. "Zoroark!" he cried, sprinting forward before Tessa could grab him.

    "Don't you dare take another step, worm!"

    Gallian skidded to a halt. Shane and Silvally had initially blocked his view, but now he could clearly see the bulk of Zoroark's mane lying in the sand, burning away. Serperior stood in front of him, coiled around Zoroark with her tail-blade pressing against his throat.

    "You get off of him!" Gallian snarled, his eyes and scythe flashing.

    "Ha… ha ha… aha ha ha ha! You're not… in a position… to be demanding anything," Serperior spat, blood trickling from her mouth. "Take another step… and it's curtains for your boy toy, here."

    "What do you think you're doing? You lost! Now, give up," Silvally growled, pawing angrily at the ground as his cheek-bolts spun about.

    "Give up? Aha ha ha! Not a chance! I want to be here… to see the looks on all your pathetic faces when you realize… how hopeless your situation is!" Serperior said, her voice growing more distorted and unhinged. "So, you're gonna let me… slither away… or I'll take this idiot's… ugly ass out… right here and now."

    She tightened herself around Zoroark. He gasped in pain. Zoroark tried to grab Serperior, but couldn't move his arms.

    "No, stop it! Let go of him!" Gallian cried, bearing his fangs at Serperior.

    "Then… stay back. All of you… stay back," she wheezed, slowly inching away from everyone using part of her lower body.

    "Serpy, stop!"

    Despite her wounds, Milotic managed to slither forward. "Please, let him go. You don't want to do this. I know you don't," she said, tearing up. "I didn't want to do any of this, either. I tried to resist, but their control was too strong."

    Serperior tensed up. She narrowed her eyes at Milotic.

    "Look at you. You're badly hurt. Surely, their control over you is faltering. You have to fight it, Serpy! I'm begging you," Milotic said, pressing her tail fins to her chest. "You… you're my friend! And we have to save Airy, together!"

    Serperior bowed her head. The cracked remains of her helmet fell off. "M-Millie," she whispered, slowly loosening her grip on Zoroark. Relief flashed across everyone's faces, but then Serperior coiled up even tighter around Zoroark. A rainbow glow overtook her eyes and the fiery markings on her body.

    "DiD YoU REaLlY ThiNK yoU wErE GoINg to GEt a HApPy enDinG?"

    An orange, luminescent glow radiated from inside Serperior. Gallian's eyes widened. "No! Zoroark!" he cried. Gallian sprinted forward, shrouding himself in fairy energy. Serperior's glowing grew brighter. Gallian lunged for Serperior. He reached her just as she turned bright-white.

    Serperior flashed a wicked smirk, before bursting apart and swallowing Gallian and Zoroark up in a blazing vortex.

    XxX​

    Frigid Drop of Water, Ultra Milotic
    "Devourer of Light, hear our plea!
    Consume our world, from the sky to the seas!
    Devour of Light, endure your trial!
    So that all this suffering will be worthwhile!"


    Sizzling Blade of Grass, Ultra Serperior
    "Devourer of Light, we sing to you!
    Let the void be born anew!
    Anger boils! Sadness grows!
    Rid us of such burdens with a single blow!"


    Corrupted Time Saviors, Ultra Team Poképals
    "Devourer of Light, hear our plea!
    Guide us to the end! To serenity!
    Put to rest our troubled minds!
    Leave nothing but Ultra Space behind!"


    Corrupted Beacons of Hope, Ultra Team Paradise
    "Devourer of Light, let chaos reign!
    May all tremble before your dusky mane!
    Devour of Light, unite the core!
    Reclaim your beauty with a triumphant roar!"

    XxX
    Why, yes, this chapter title did spoof George R.R. Martin, even though I've never read any of his stuff. The boss descriptions are also a spoof, because, hey, this is a fan fic and I want to have fun with my own piece, doggone it.

    Next time: the aftermath of this whirlwind of events.
     
  3. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    How about

    both 8D

    Shiny, perhaps?

    The word "STYLISH" appeared over each of their heads in pink letters.

    Poor dude... Talk about an unfriendly reminder.

    Could just be gas.

    Oh my god. Perfect. :D

    OHHH COOKIE COOKIE COOKIE STARTS WITH “C”

    Just… the knowledge of how perilously close she came to saying “self-defecation”… :p

    applauds

    I’m proud of you, li’l guy. :’)

    Considering how much metagross rely on magnetism for their various functions, this makes sense!

    Well. That was certainly brutal!

    Oh, she might think she got rid of all the glitter. But the thing about glitter? It gets everywhere. It endures. She’s probably going to be finding stray bits here and there for a good while. :p

    Wow, what an asshat! I guess the shitty old Rem Canyon traditions really did reflect the god they honored. Talk about a bad role model!

    Pfff. Lugia, you dork…

    “Excellefficient” is actually pretty cool.

    I wonder if there’s any significance to the fact that the word “stronger” is so much more… stable, I guess, compared to most of the rest of the sentence. I wonder if the same goes for any other word that manages to come out in just one case or the other.

    Hooooooo! Was wondering if/when he’d find out. And what a way for him to have done it! Spared no gruesome detail. Poor, poor dude.

    SUCH

    A DORK :D

    ...Anatomically speaking, just what, exactly, are the pearls…?

    WELP.

    Somehow I get the feeling we have not exactly seen the last of him…

    Metagross gets a special award for somehow managing to be funny and ominous at the same time.

    TABLE

    Well that was cool. :D

    It really does make a lot of sense, doesn’t it, that increasing physical strength should increase physical speed as well.

    This absolutely resulted in a cowbell noise. Good luck convincing me otherwise. :p

    Oh for ****’s sake. Lycanroc, you ass

    ...Okay, that was pretty clever of her.

    Oh god, that’s gotta smell. But I doubt anyone here is giving said smell any thought whatsoever though in light of everything else going on, heh.

    W E L P

    Sure has been an eventful and exciting set of chapters this time around! I really get a sense of just how very close the world is tipping toward an end. It’s interesting, how on some levels things are freezing up and fading out and withering, while others are erupting into sheer pandemonium. The contrast is neat and kind of emphasizes the fact that reality itself is in Serious ****ing Danger.

    That last chapter ending meanwhile, holy heck. Talk about a cliffhanger! :D I wonder who all survived that firesplosion. Inclined to think we’re officially minus its maker at this point, but what about its targets? Time will tell, I reckon.

    Speaking of things time will likely tell: the Ultra Team Paradise description/verse. Meaningful look at its second line. Yeah. Definitely thinking now that we haven’t quite seen the last of A Certain Someone.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  4. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    I... did not even realize that was what the shiny looked like. XD

    I will take the unintentional references...

    ... in any way, shape, or form. :p

    Ha ha... ha... let's pretend I realized I almost made that mistake.

    Eeyup. Now remember than the spirit that took control grew up in Voltaic Crater. You've gotta wonder which god thought it was a bright idea to have wild beldum and metang in a giant electrified dungeon. :V

    Totally T-rating friendly! [nervous laugh]

    Well, uh, at least she can keep being a Magical Girl!

    Indeed. For the record, I do like dragon-types. I just decided to portray a lot of them as absolute scums of the earth. XD

    As far as I can remember, I verbatim copied the capitalization patterns Dark Matter's dialogue had in PSMD. So, it would be accidental. :V

    RIP.

    I like to take the movie's interpretation and say it's how Palkia channels his space-rending abilities. If they're broken, he's gonna have a much tougher time, but he can heal them. Necrozma just didn't give him a chance.

    All in good time...

    I'll take it!

    Of course. Silvally never skips leg day and neither should you. XD

    "Okay, I believe you."

    Hey, people wanted Team Fang to be important to the finale. Be careful what you wish for. >:3

    I'd been waiting for a while to post that part.

    Yes, I'd say things are heading toward a fever-pitch.

    Actually, the answer's right here... in this update! Go nuts!

    I think you'll find the next couple of episodes very interesting. ;)

    Thanks for reviewing!

    XxX

    Chapter 86: Plan of Attack
    The various teams were in collective states of shock. All anyone could do was stare blankly at the slick, flaming patches of black liquid lying where Serperior once stood. Thick, murky smoke billowed up from the fire.

    Tessa broke out of her stupor first. "Gallian!" she keened, stumbling as she tried racing toward the site of the explosion. Tessa only made it a few steps before falling to her knees. Tears streamed down her face. Her ears were ringing and her aura sense was muted. She shakily got back to her feet, but Silvally blocked her path. The blast had singed the feathers on the right half of his face and chest plume.

    "You can't go over there. It's not safe. That stuff looks toxic," he said.

    "I'm a steel-type." Tessa shoved him aside. "I can't stand here. Gallian… my brother…" She grabbed an aura feeler and squeezed it. "Work, damn it! He can't… he's got to still be here!"

    Silvally stepped in front of her, again. "Those puddles aren't some poison-type attack. They look… alien," he said, leg muscles tensing. Sparks jumped about on his cheek-bolts.

    "Then we have to get rid of that slime. Every second we stand here, we—" She cut herself off with a sob. "I can't lose them… they can't be gone."

    Milotic slithered past them. Like Silvally, patches of blackened scales peppered her face and body. "Serpy," she whispered, looking down. "Why did this happen? How did this happen? Did Prisma… make it so that would happen?" Milotic glanced at her tail. "Could that have happened to me?" She shuddered. Milotic coiled up. She stuck her head through the coil, unable to continue looking at the spot where her friend once stood.

    Shane approached his teammates. "We… we have to try and get rid of the slime, right?" He looked down at the sand. "I could freeze it, but I don't know what good that will do."

    "I'll back you up," Silvally said, shifting his ice memories on. His gray eyes glowed. Ice gathered inside his beak. Two Ice Beams snuffed out the flames and lined the black ooze in a layer of ice.

    "Is that really going to hold up, though? Won't the slime burn through it?" Blaziken wondered, jogging toward them.

    "I've got this," Swampert said. He pressed his fins to the ground. A small fissure split the area with the frozen slime apart. The icy ground fell through the crack. Swampert ended his Earthquake, resealing the ground.

    The moment that happened, Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "Two auras! I sense two auras!" she cried, vaulting over a startled Silvally and scrambling forward. Tessa waved her arms to dispel the lingering smoke. Her eyes watered. Her nostrils burned. Tessa didn't care. All that mattered was the hazy auras.

    She pushed through the smoke… and found Zoroark lying in the sand, curled up in a ball. Patches of blood spatter surrounded him. Tessa's heart shot into her throat.

    Gallian lay next to Zoroark, his fur burned away, revealing patches of red, blistered, bleeding skin. His scythe and tail had been blown off. Only jagged stumps remained. A gash lay across the left side of his face, much like the scar Zoroark had.

    Her legs grew weak. Tessa dropped to her knees, reaching a trembling paw toward her brother, but leaving it hovering over him. His aura was fading fast. She had to act or she would surely lose him.

    Tessa withdrew her paw and stood up. "Hey! I need some help, here! Shane, Espy… whoever has any healing items… please!" she shouted, waving her paws frantically. Tessa rubbed tears out of her eyes. She wanted to collapse. To scream as loud as possible. But she held her composure. Hysterics wouldn't help her brother.

    "Oh, gods, they're a total mess!" Shane cried, jogging up beside Tessa. Not even a second passed before he added, "Sorry. That was uncalled for. I just… I don't know how I'm supposed to heal this."

    "Well, you have to try. That's my brother! I can't lose him, Shane!" Tessa wrung her paws together to stop herself from grabbing Shane's shoulders and shaking him. He clearly wanted to help and her nervous energy would only hinder his efforts.

    "R-Right, right." Shane sat down beside Gallian. "I'll try my best with Gallian, but someone needs to help Zoroark." He looked around. "Where's Comfey? Wasn't she with the Rem Canyon team?"

    "No idea. But I've got some berries I can try on Zoroark," Espy said, running toward him. Silvally joined her, stealing nervous glances back at Gallian.

    Because Gallian's chest was so badly burned, Shane gently placed his forepaws on Gallian's leg. He concentrated, trying to draw up healing energy from his spirit. However, he didn't get the familiar warmth that accompanied his odd Morning Sun variation. He thought about the battles. Between trying to help his teammates and using his golden light balls, Shane realized he had stretched himself too thin. Shane glanced at his looplet, then shot Tessa a despondent look.

    Tessa picked up the cue right away. She flipped open her bag. "Elixir, elixir, elixir," she mumbled, then shakily pulled one out. Tessa uttered a loud, "Here, drink up!" Her paws trembled so much she nearly fumbled her handoff to Shane, but he caught it with his ESP.

    Shane gulped down the elixir. Warmth stirred in his belly. He shut his eyes and concentrated once again. This time, the warmth spread throughout his body. Sighing in relief, Shane glowed orange. It was working. Orange light trickled onto Gallian's forelegs, then crept across his frame. His blisters slowly retracted. The red, bloody patches in his skin sealed up. It wasn't a complete success, though. His horn and tail remained broken. None of his fur grew back. A jagged scar lay across the left side of his face.

    Tessa had a Reviver Seed in her paws. A wiry arm shot out in front of her.

    "You can't give him that."

    She dropped the seed with a startled gasp. Blaziken caught it in his other hand. "C'mon, Tessa. Look at him. If you wake your brother up, he's going to be in a lot of pain. He'll probably slip into shock and pass out again." He shook his head. "We've got to do something about all his missing fur."

    "What can we do? We're in the middle of nowhere!" Tessa said, throwing her arms up in exasperation. "And I think we lost Mag—"

    Oh, bless the stars. You're all free!

    Shane and Tessa turned to find Magearna speeding toward them, with a pair of wheels protruding from the pointed tips of her feet. Shane's jaw dropped.

    "She… she's a go-kart, too?" he gasped. Shane was so focused on Magearna's accessories, he didn't realize that Comfey, Sticky, Kahuna Raichu, and Latias were all floating after her. When he finally noticed them, his tails shot up in surprise, then curled in alarm. Latias had ugly, pitch-black scars peppering her face, belly, and wings. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her paws trembled.

    Magearna reached the group, first. She did a quick survey, noting the most injured Pokémon: Gallian, Zoroark, Hakamo-o, and Haxorus. This is terrifible! Quite literally fifty percent terrific and fifty percent terrible! she said, laying her head in her arms and shaking it. I am so conflicted. Seeing our captured compatriots free has sent my joyification levels to sixty-two percent, but these awful injuries have ratchentified my panic levels to sixty-three percent!

    "Wait, you mean you weren't trapped in that crazy energy dome?" Swampert asked, scratching his head.

    Correct. Comfey, Sticky, and I were left outside. Upon seeing your sceneuation, I activated my recently-completed Geartronic Leg Acceleratofiers and went straight to Circadian Coast to get help, Magearna explained, pointing to her legs as the wheels retracted inside of them.

    "We followed her, but, well, the place is in a bit of a panic with the whole flow of time stopping," Comfey added. "We found Latias, though. I tried to heal her up as best I could, but…" Her petals drooped.

    "Well, we've got a serious situation here. A lot of folks are badly hurt," Blaziken said, pointing to Gallian and Zoroark. The latter was covered in splotches of smushed berry, thanks to Espy and Silvally.

    "I can see that." Comfey floated toward Gallian. She frowned. "Nngh. I don't have the tools to handle this out here. I need some real equipment, like my fur-restoring solution." Comfey glanced at Kahuna Raichu. "No disrespect intended, Kahuna, but your infirmary's not equipped to deal with the types of injuries the Prism Virus inflicts."

    Kahuna Raichu raised his paws. "I understand, yeah. I was hoping I might be able to offer a bit of help, but I've gotta admit, I'm not really sure where to even begin." He scratched his right ear. "Plus, there's the panic going on at the resort. Haven't seen things this bad since the guild sounded evacuation calls back when Dark Matter attacked." He fidgeted with his Totem Crystal. "I'm thinking I've gotta get folks into the Catacombs, yeah. But, like, there are way too many for me to handle by myself. I used up my Z-Power and it hasn't come back."

    Luxeira trotted up to Kahuna Raichu. "I think this is where I step in."

    "Whoa! A blue Houndoom? That's, uh—"

    "It's a long story. The short version is that Sticky and I were trained for situations like yours," Luxeira said, pointing at her teammate. "While I never got to put that training into practice, I still think I can help you with the evacuation efforts." She paused to look back at Team Go-Getters and Team Radiance. Her brow furrowed. "Um, you guys are okay with it? I was expecting you to get upset."

    "Well, strength in numbers would really help with the Prism Virus, but you told us you're not a good battler. So, if you want to help people evacuate underground, then go right ahead," Silvally said. He looked at his teammates, who nodded their support.

    "Oh." Luxeira blinked. "Th-thanks, guys. I appreciate it." She looked up at Sticky. "What about you?"

    "I'm still… not doing so hot after taking that blast." Sticky rubbed his head. "I'd much rather stick with you than try to fight. At this point, I think I'd be a liability."

    Seraph zipped over to them. She stumbled out of her lightning-dash, clutching her belly. "In… in that case… I'm going with you two," she declared, earning surprised looks. "What? C'mon, you said it yourself. You've only trained for this kind of stuff. I've led evacuations before." Seraph rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Besides… I, uh…" She scratched the back of her neck. "I kinda want to stick with you guys."

    Tessa rubbed the bridge of her brow. "Okay, not to sound insensitive or anything, but could we save this touchy-feely stuff for a better time?" she growled, kneeling down by Gallian. "My brother needs help. A lot of us need help. We can't get it out here." She regretted her harsh tone, but knew it had to be said.

    Err… right. Magearna turned to Kahuna Raichu and Team Paradox. She produced a Gear-Com unit. Here. I'm only about 41.5 percent confident this will work underground. But, even still, it's best we try to stay in contact with each other.

    "Understood," Seraph said, taking the Gear-Com. "You guys stay safe."

    Same to you. Magearna bowed, bidding them farewell. She then walked back over to Team Radiance. It would appear that we need to return to Aeon Town. I don't see any way around it. Comfey's healing equipment should still be in the Observatory. And, with Metagross out of the picture, we don't have any reason to fear going there.

    "But how are we supposed to get there? It's on the other side of the continent!" Tessa said, balling her paws into fists. "The water's frozen in time, so we can't call a Sharpedo Sailor. But if we try walking across it, we won't get there until morning!"

    "What about Entercards? Shane and Espeon made one in Sunset Shoals. So, I'll bet they can do it again," Silvally said, looking at his teammates while his tail wagged. His smile faded when Shane's ears and tails drooped.

    "I… I used the Dawn Shard to do it. But they're…" Shane's voice trailed off. Now that he wasn't in immediate danger, the memory of his light ball attack costing the group all the Dawn Shards crept back into his mind. "It's all my fault," he whispered.

    "What if we had Latias carry over the people who are in the roughest shape?" Blaziken proposed. He looked at Latias, who wilted.

    "I… I don't…" She shuddered. A muffled whimper escaped her lips.

    "Okay. Guess that won't work." Blaziken's shoulders sagged. "So, what are we gonna do?"

    To Blaziken's surprise, Raichu walked up beside him. "We can use an Entercard," she said. "I know how to make 'em." She looked at Espy. "Umbreon gave me some back when we were dealing with Kyurem, remember? He eventually taught me how to craft them."

    "O-Oh, r-right," Espy squeaked. Memories of past heated exchanges with Team Paradise flooded her mind. She asked Silvally to help her reconcile, but this unfortune twist had thrown a wrench into her plan. Espy shook her head. She had to push those thoughts aside. Everyone was counting on her. "Yeah, okay. Let's, y'know, get it set up."

    She and Raichu stood opposite one another. They performed the same routine Espy did with Shane back in Sunset Shoals. Espy kept Aeon Port at the forefront of her mind while the card formed up. With the forcefield up, it was the safest area to warp to.

    Raichu snagged the card and handed it to Espy. "Okay. Get that Magnagate running so we can hit the road."

    Espy grabbed it with her telekinesis and placed it on the ground. A multilayered circle with various runes and infinity symbols appeared. Espy stood outside of it. Her teammates watched as she concentrated on the card, channeling her psychic energy into it.

    Shane grabbed an elixir from Tessa's bag and rushed it to Espy when he noticed her legs growing weak. She gulped it down, then finished opening up the portal. "Quickly, everyone. Head through before it closes!"

    The group proceeded into the portal. Silvally carried Gallian and Zoroark on his back. Swampert kept Hakamo-o cradled in his arms. Espy went through the Magnagate last, sealing it up behind her. The Entercard then disappeared into thin air.

    Silence and stillness permeated the beach for a minute. Then, the parts of the ground Swampert had sealed up burst apart. Clumps of paralyzed sand floated in midair. Black smoke vented up from the newly-torn fissure. Tiny droplets inched up onto the surface. Then, a steady stream of black ooze rose up and splattered on the ground, leaving scattered trails of frost behind it.

    As the puddle bubbled, black, thorny chains shot up from the ground. They stabbed the puddle from above, then collapsed on top of it. The chains swirled about, gathering as much of the muck as they could and clumping it into a ball. Slowly, the slime solidified into an orb. The chains rose into the air, their ends trailing off like a metal cape. The black sphere sat nestled within the chains.

    A crack ran down the center of the orb. Purple light emerged, pushing the rift apart until it formed into a heart. A purple iris materialized inside of the heart. The newly-formed eye swiveled about inside the chains. It smoldered with dark energy.

    "WrEtChED vERmIN."

    The chains grinded together, inexplicably creating a haggard, wheezing voice.

    "EvEN iF wE ArE… StUcK tOGeTher… I wIlL nOt bE DeNiED."

    Despite lacking any sort of body, the chain cluster seemed to limp through the air.

    "I wIlL… SiLEnCE yOu… FoR GooD… tHEn FiNiSH wHAt We sTArtEd. AnD tHat DeTesTaBlE wOmAn… ShE WiLl rEGreT BeInG BoRn… uSeLeSs… AnD hUmAN."

    The eye flashed and the chains shifted their positions, taking the form of two crescent-shaped wings.

    "YoU WiLl AlL meEt… a SwIfT… aNd MErCIlEsS EnD."

    Chain wings flapped. The eye rose higher in the air.

    "It WiLl bE… bUt a SImPle mAtTeR."

    XxX

    ~Prism Wasteland~

    Zero stood at the edge of her newly-completed altar, looking out across what was left of the Hidden Land. Most of her view was obscured by ominous red and purple clouds, bristling with black lightning. She could make out scattered bits of fluorescent-purple acid where the ocean used to be.

    Her aura dreadlocks tensed. Zero raised her free paw. The six balls she had housed her "team" in levitated in front of her. The buttons in the center had grayed out.

    She tightened her grip on her scepter. "So, in the end, they couldn't hold their ground, after all. What a waste." Her right eye flashed. The balls shattered in unison. Their broken pieces dissolved into dust and Zero's feet.

    "I don't know what condition those misguided idiots are in, but they'll no doubt try to come here and stop me," Zero growled, turning and walking across the altar. A glowing transmutation circle lay on the floor, with gems littered around its many rings and the winged-heart sigil in the center. Zero paused and looked down. "I trust you can stall them longer than those worthless explorers I had captured, yes?"

    She looked up. Lugia sat in the center of the altar. The flames around his irises flickered. He tucked his dark purple head into his armored belly. Zero clenched her free paw. Static clouds popped up around Lugia. Ley line chains shot out, latching onto Lugia's wings and head. They forcibly lowered his head so he was eye-level with Zero. She grabbed his beak and squeezed.

    "I said… I trust that you can stall them longer than those worthless explorers I had captured, yes?" she seethed, digging her claws into Lugia chin.

    Lugia nodded. Zero released his beak, then the chains pulled him upright. Lugia silently bowed his head. Zero walked around him, passing large, black, chitinous horns sticking up from the floor. Each horn had several pustules filled with purple fluid. Zero ignored them, along with the deep red glow emanating from below the altar. She approached a marble staircase and made her way up.

    At the top of it sat another circular platform. It was much smaller than the one below Zero. It had the winged-heart sigil superimposed over a glyph of a Time Gear, complete with its protective barrier. Zero walked across the platform and reached a stone slab, similar to the one from the original Temporal Pinnacle. A deep-red version of Temporal Tower's symbol lay within the center of the slab. It had five notches carved into it; one for each Time Gear. However, this slab had stone wings on either side, devilish horns protruding from its top, and a single eye with a spiral-shaped iris in the very center.

    "It was a right pain trying to build this thing. It better work," she growled. Absol's spirit wasn't stirring, so at the very least nothing catastrophic would happen. Zero dispelled her staff. She raised both paws. The Time Gears levitated out around her. She thrust her arms down. The Time Gears flew into the notches and clicked into place.

    The rune's red glow turned blue. Zero turned around and released Primal Dialga onto the platform. He immediately turned toward her, glaring with his fierce, molten-red eyes. The red lines on his body flashed.

    "Grr… rrr…" Primal Dialga sucked in a breath. Tachyons gathered in his mouth.

    "Be still," Zero ordered, raising her right paw while a rainbow glow flickered around her mask.

    Primal Dialga lowered his head. A growl rumbled in the back of his throat.

    "Look. There are your precious Time Gears." Zero gestured to the slab behind her. "And I've, erm, reconstructed Temporal Tower to the best of my abilities." Looking out at the altar, she knew that was far from the truth. What the ley lines had woven didn't resemble Temporal Tower in the slightest. Still, she hoped it might be enough to snap Primal Dialga back to normal, even if only for a few seconds.

    Primal Dialga stood up tall. He narrowed his blazing eyes at the Time Gears sparkling in their notches on the slab. His heavy breathing slowed down. "Grr… rrr… ruh?" The glow faded from his eyes. His metallic scales brightened.

    Zero's eye flickered blue. "Perfect," she whispered. Zero traced a circular rune in the air, then inscribed an hourglass into it. The rune burst into staticky chains. They descended on Dialga. Before he had the chance to get his bearings straight, the chains wove themselves around his legs. Dialga looked down. His eyes widened. He tried blasting the chains apart, but it was too late. They crept up to his chest-plate and shattered the gem in its center.

    The chains burrowed inside Dialga. He arced his head back and screamed. Then, he slumped over. His eyes darkened, as did the metal lines on his body.

    "Come on… come on…" Zero clenched her paws into fists. Her aura dreadlocks tensed. They lashed at the air like a set of whips.

    Static ripples spread out over Dialga's frame. He flickered in and out of existence. Each time he reappeared, black prism armor replaced more and more of his hide. Red crystals replaced his metal plates, casting an ominous glow over his body. Dialga lifted his head up. Empty red eyes stared back at Zero, distorted by Dialga armor. A crack split the center of Dialga's forehead. It parted to reveal a third eye, with red sclera and a black, reptilian iris in the center. The eye looked around, even rolling back into Dialga's head and staring through his armor.

    Zero lowered her paws. She formed up a new scepter using Bone Rush energy and slammed it on the ground. That caught Dialga's attention. His third eye spun around too look at her. "Listen up. I want this world reset. You're the 'mon that can make it happen. So, you're going to rewrite this world's timeline so that you and every other god, immortal and lesser, never existed in the first place. Understand?"

    She raised her paws. They distorted. Identical ripples of distortion spread over Dialga. He tilted his head up and belted out a Roar of Time. Only, instead of firing tachyons, a static-filled vortex opened up over his head. Dialga's third eye flashed. He fired red light up into the vortex, which slowly began to expand.

    Zero glanced back at the Time Gears. They were still glowing. She nodded her approval.

    'It won't be long, now. Just a few more hours… and this nightmare will finally be over.'

    XxX
    Continued in next post...
     
    git-it likes this.
  5. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Continued from previous post...

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "Thank the gods you're both awake!" Tessa cried, wrapping her arms around Gallian and Zoroark. She didn't even care that leftover traces of Comfey's fur-regenerating slime splattered on her sides. Tessa leaned over and nuzzled the two of them.

    "O-Ow. Q-Quit it, sis. That hurts," Gallian whined, trying to push her away with his forelegs.

    His flash of pain and discomfort registered in Tessa's aura feelers. She pulled back, raising her arms up with an apologetic look on her face. "I, uh, yeah… probably came in a bit too strong there." She rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm just… overjoyed. I was so worried we'd lost you two." Tessa's brow furrowed. "What were you thinking running toward Serperior like that?"

    Gallian looked down guiltily. "Pretty much the same thing you just said." He glanced at Zoroark. "I thought I was going to lose you. And I couldn't bear that happening again."

    Zoroark leaned over, resting his arms on his legs. "Yeah, but…" He looked at Gallian and put his right paw to his forehead. "Now you're in even worse shape than I am."

    "I guess that makes us even for what happened at Midday Valley," Gallian said, his tone bittersweet. He tried to look at Comfey, but his leg muscles tensed in protest and he gave up. "Is there really nothing you can do?"

    Comfey floated in front of Gallian's face. "I'm sorry. I tried the special cream I'd developed for horn and claw regeneration, but we would've seen signs that it's working by now." Her gaze fell to the ground. "I'm afraid there's nothing else I can offer you. Heck, I'm not entirely sure if Absol horns grow back."

    Gallian winced. "I guess…" He bit his lower lip. "Looks like I'm done charging into battle." He looked at his bandaged-up legs. "I mean, I could probably still use Night Slash with my claws and fire a Dark Pulse if I needed to. But…" His voice trailed off and he pawed at the stump where his horn used to be.

    "Don't touch it," Comfey chided, waving her flowers in Gallian's face.

    "S-Sorry. It's just… it feels so weird. My horn was such an important part of me, but now it's gone." Gallian squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head.

    Tessa's head drooped. Gallian's guilt and uncertainty tugged at her aura feelers. A dull pain lingered in the back of her head. She sighed. "Mom is—" She sucked in a breath. "She's really doing this." Tessa grabbed her shoulders, suppressing shivers. "I told myself — heck, even my teammates told me — she was being controlled by Necrozma. It was the only way I could stomach what was happening… and what she did to Eevee and Sylveon."

    "I was clinging to this tiny thread of hope that, even if Mom wasn't a nice person at heart, if I could rescue her from Necrozma's control, maybe I could get her to respect me… or love me." Tessa shut her eyes and bared her fangs. "But that will never happen." She squeezed her shoulders. "You were right, Gallian. Mom doesn't care about us. She's willing to risk wiping the whole world out just so she can fix problems she doesn't really understand!"

    "I mean… yeah, after everything I've been through, I don't have the highest opinion of the gods. But, like, the solution isn't to risk destroying all of time and space!" Tessa said, thrusting her arms apart. Her declaration came out far louder than intended, though. She pulled her paws back toward her chest and hunched over, a sheepish grin on her face. "S-Sorry about that, everyone," she squeaked.

    "So, what's going to happen now?" Gallian asked. "I'm out of commission. And weren't you worried about not being able to stand up to Mom?"

    Tessa clenched her fists. "Not anymore. I'll never get through to her, so if it's a choice between her and all of you… I'm picking you guys." She slouched over. "No, what really worries me is that, even if we can put a stop to Mom, that won't change the fact that I'll have to live with the knowledge that Mom nearly destroyed the world." Tessa gripped her ears and shook her head. "I already look like a freak compared to what Lucarios are supposed to look like. This'll just make everything wor—"

    "Don't say that," Gallian cut in, fixing a sharp look on Tessa. She stiffened. "I, uh…" His expression softened. "Sorry, I can't figure out how I want to phrase this."

    Zoroark shakily got to his feet, ignoring the alarmed looks from Comfey, Gallian, and Tessa. He rested a paw on Tessa's shoulder. Her aura feelers tensed. "W-What are you—"

    "You're not alone," Zoroark whispered. Tessa cocked her head. Zoroark cleared his throat and stood up straight. "I think what Gallian was trying to tell you is that this isn't a burden you have to bare by yourself. First off, if anyone really chooses to hold what your mom's doing against you, then they can piss off." He flicked his free arm to the side. "They're not worth your time. The only thing that matters is the stuff that you do. At least, that's how I see it."

    Zoroark glanced at Gallian, who nodded his approval. "And second… you've got friends who care about you. Family, too." Gallian tried to sit up, but could only find the strength to keep nodding along. "You don't have to bottle things up. Gallian and I will be here for you. And I'm sure your teammates will, too. Whatever thoughts about your mom are clouding up your mind… you can share them with us."

    "Yeah. That's, uh, putting it a lot more eloquently than I ever could," Gallian said. He laughed nervously.

    "It's what I'm here for, I suppose." Zoroark winked at Gallian. He turned back to Tessa. "Do you want to keep talking about this?"

    Tessa gently nudged Zoroark's paw off her shoulder. "I think I'll be okay. Thanks." She helped Zoroark sit back down on the edge of his cot. "To be honest, I'm more concerned about how we're actually supposed to stop Mom. We were so sure reassembling the Dawn Hourglass would give us the edge we needed, but…" Her ears and aura feelers drooped.

    Across the room, Shane looked down shamefully. His tails lowered so much they brushed against the stone floor. He knew the loss of the Dawn Shards was on him. Metagross made him panic and attack without really thinking. His attempts to justify his actions to himself proved feeble. He had ruined everyone's hard work and made the team's struggles amount to nothing. How could he not feel awful?

    Shane glanced at his looplet. There was, of course, more to his predicament than losing the Shards. There was the matter of the visions he had gotten from the Seaside Shard. In all that chaos that had followed, he didn't properly have time to digest him. Now, he didn't want to think about them. The memories were too gruesome. He could help but cringe. His outer tails brushed against his thighs.

    Necrozma had killed him. He'd blown Shane's human body to bits, along with Solgaleo. So, what did that make Shane? Whose spirit was inside of him? Was it really Solgaleo's? Shane had no idea what to think, anymore, especially given the vision involving Dark Matter. A small part of him thought that, perhaps, it was for the best that they had lost the Dawn Shards. But that immediately led to a wave of guilty thoughts. He shrank back, but his tails brushed the wall and he stumbled forward.

    "Hey. You doing okay? You haven't said a word since we got back to Aeon Town."

    Shane looked up. Silvally stood right in front of him, face ripe with worry and feathers covered in berry juice residue. Shane brushed a forepaw against the floor. "It's just… there's a lot to take in right now."

    "Like blaming yourself for losing the Dawn Shards?" Silvally asked, raising a skeptical brow. Shane looked into his eyes, but they were bright-white. No memories were active.

    "I'm that easy to read, huh?" Shane whispered, sitting on his haunches.

    "More like you're my friend and I've gotten used to how you think," Silvally said, leaning over to nudge Shane shoulder. Shane squeaked. His tails curled around his hind legs. Sighing, Silvally straightened up. "Look, I'm furious about what happened to the Dawn Shards. It's taking all my will power not to lash out over it. But, like, I don't blame you. You followed your instincts. I can't say I would've done things differently."

    "So, you can't afford to drag yourself through the mud over this." Silvally glanced at the scuffs and dirt patches on Shane's pelt and cringed. "Err… figuratively speaking, of course."

    "I can't help it. I thought I was getting better and controlling my impulses… but instead I went and did the stupidest thing in my whole time as a Pokémon," Shane said. "We had it, Silv. We had the full Hourglass."

    "And Metagross was seconds from unleashing a devastating attack that would've rendered it all moot. You did what you thought you had to do and we're still here because of it. We can still fight," Silvally said, determination overtaking his expression.

    "Are you sure about that?" Shane said. He raised a foreleg to point at all the filled cots. "Because it kinda feels like our ranks have been depleted."

    Before Silvally could answer, one of the curtains encasing a bed opened up. Steenee walked out of it, tossing a used washcloth into a sink on Shane's right. "Sorry, Comfey, it doesn't look like your medicinal leaves are working. Whatever hurt Latias… I don't think you can heal it any more beyond what you did in Circadian Coast," Steenee said, wiping sweat from her brow.

    Comfey sighed. "I was afraid of that. Still, thanks for your help."

    "Thank Magearna. She's the only reason I was able to get back here so fast," Steenee said, brushing her hands against her waist. "Okay, guess I'll check on Haxorus, then." She walked across the room and ducked under the other curtain currently in use. Espy caught a momentary glimpse of Raichu rubbing Haxorus' back with her paw. She lay down on the floor and buried her head under her forelegs.

    Shane sidestepped Silvally and made a beeline for Latias. Blaziken trailed behind him. She lay still on her bed. A pillow covered her face. Shane bit his lower lip. "H-Hey. Uh, are you going to be okay?" he asked, cringing at how stupid a question that was. One look at the medicinal leaves plastered over her body said she was far from okay.

    Latias didn't respond. Her neck muscles tensed. The pillow muffled her squeal.

    Blaziken knelt down beside her. He put a hand beside her pillow. "Latias, it's Blaziken. Listen, I know you're in rough shape, but do you think you could tell me what happened to you?" He and Shane stood still, waiting for some sort of response. They heard a tiny keen, then Latias lifted her head up. Tears filled her bloodshot eyes.

    "Necrozma got Lugia. He corrupted him. My mate… tried to kill me. He got Hoopa. And Latios—" She choked up. "He gave himself up to save me." Latias rubbed her face against her pillow, leaving tearstains. "The Expedition Society was counting on me, but I screwed up. I lost my brother. I lost my mate. I lost the Dusk Hourglass. I failed everyone!" Latias broke down crying. "R… Rayquaza was right. I'm… useless. I'm a failure."

    Shane's ears drooped. "D-Don't say that. You've helped us out a lot."

    "No." Latias wiped snot from her face. "I missed the most important Gear-Com calls. Now the Dawn Shards and the Tapus are gone."

    "Don't blame yourself for that. I'm the one who's at fault, there," Shane said. The fur on the back of his neck prickled when he glanced Silvally's disapproving look. He dismissed it, however. Shane would happily blame himself if it could cheer Latias up even the slightest bit.

    "Well, it doesn't make a difference. We have no Hourglasses. We lost Hoopa. The planet's paralyzed. We're screwed!" Latias declared, smacking her bed with a paw. "What can we possibly do, now? We don't have any options."

    Blaziken got to his feet and crossed his arms. "That's not true. We can still fight! We'll just take Zero out before she messes up all of time and space!" He raised a fist, drawing a bewildered look from Latias, as well as others in the room. "Look, I know it's not much of a plan, but it's the only thing we can do. Would you rather lie here moping, wondering when you're going to get erased?"

    A couple of beds over, Infernape shuddered. "Trust me when I tell you that's something no one should have to experience."

    "Uh, yeah! If that crazy lady's messing with Temporal Tower, you can count on us to land a hand!" Feraligatr said, giving the closest to a thumb's up he could manage. Infernape nodded his approval.

    "See? Look, I can't imagine how heartbroken you're feeling right now. But think about it. If we're going to have any chance of fixing any of this, then we have to go after Zero," Blaziken said. "I know you're hurt and you think you've screwed up big time. But we could really use your help. No matter what you say, I think you're capable of helping us make a difference." He extended a hand toward her.

    "Y-Yeah. What Blaziken said!" Shane added, cursing himself out for not coming up with anything concrete to add. Instead, he gave Latias an encouraging smile and lifted his tails.

    Latias slowly hovered off her bed. "Y-You're right. I—" She cut herself off and shook her head. "I can't give up here. I gave up trying to be part of Team Go-Getters. I gave up when Yveltal was chasing me down. I… I'm not making that mistake again. Not when there's so much at stake." She used a spare washcloth to dab her eyes.

    Glad to hear it.

    Everyone turned toward the infirmary entrance. Magearna stood in the doorway. Forgive me for barging in, however I've managed to connect to the Expedition Society. I believe we need to strategerize what our plan of action is. Yes, more time to rest would be optimal, but we are in a zero percent optimal scenuation, so urgitude is necessary. She pointed down the hallway. I'd invite anyone who's up for it to join me in the assembly area, so we have 37.8 percent more breathing room.

    Magearna turned and exited the infirmary. Shane, Tessa, and Silvally were the first ones to leave the room, with Tessa turning to wave at her brother. Teams Go-Getters and Poképals followed behind them. Then, Latias hesitantly floated out. Finally, Milotic slithered off her bed and down the hall, staying silent.

    Espy made to follow her, when her ears twitched. The curtain to her right opened up. Raichu scampered out, stopping and spreading her arms out. "W-Wait, Haxy. Don't you think you should hold up and see if there's anything else Comfey and Steenee can try to get your tusks back?" she asked, a worried look on her face.

    "It's pointless. They're not Axew tusks. I have no idea if they're gonna grow back," Haxorus growled. She lifted her hands up. "I've still got my claws. That's good enough." She pushed Raichu aside. "I'm not gonna sit on my ass and let Zero get away with—"

    Haxorus froze beside Espy. She pivoted to her left. Espy's tail wrapped around her right hind leg. "H-Haxorus. Raichu. It's, uh, been a while, huh?" she whispered. Espy braced herself for a venomous response, but Haxorus said nothing. She turned away from Espy while Raichu stood behind her, poking her paws together nervously.

    "So, this is where you scurried off to." Haxorus crossed her arms. "I'm surprised. You're lucid. You don't reek of pheromones, stardust, or hard berry juice."

    Espy shrank back, lowering her head. "I… I'm sorry about what happened to Paradise."

    "Me too," Haxorus growled. Her right eye twitched. "But then… I saw what those monsters did with my own eyes, while you've been holed up here for gods only know how long."

    "Y-You're right. But you have to understand, I—"

    "I don't want to hear it. I said I wasn't going to listen to your half-baked excuses anymore… and I meant it," Haxorus said, her tail lashing in Espy's direction as a warning to back off.

    "C-Come on, Haxy." Raichu inserted herself between Haxorus and Espy. "No need to back Espeon into a proverbial corner. We're all on the same side. This is a stressful situation for everyone, so we've got to put aside our differences for the time being." She gave her mate a shaky smile.

    Haxorus stepped back. "Where's Umbreon?"

    Espy's ears drooped. "Gone. Necrozma got him. I'm only alive right now because of him."

    "I see." Haxorus lowered her head briefly, only to straighten up and walk past Raichu and Espy. "A pity it wasn't the other way around."

    Raichu stepped in Haxorus' path. "Haxy! What did I just say?"

    "Don't act like you're not thinking it, too, Rai," Haxorus said as she continued walking toward the hallway.

    Espy squeezed her eyes shut. Bile rose up in her throat. Her stomach gurgled.

    "You're not giving Espy enough credit. She's changed a lot."

    Espy's eyes snapped open. Silvally stood in front of Haxorus, his fairy memories giving him a salmon-colored glow.

    "She and Umbreon were captured by Zero, too. They did a lot of awful things under her control. Even after we freed them, I could see how self-destructive Espy was," Silvally said. "But she's been trying hard to leave that stuff behind. She wants to make amends with you guys." Silvally narrowed his eyes at Haxorus. "But you're not even willing to give her that chance, are you?"

    Haxorus clenched her fists. "She doesn't deserve it."

    "Well, how about we focus on trying to stop Zero, first. Then, if you still want to give Espy the cold shoulder, be my guest, because she'll always be welcome in Team Radiance." Silvally glanced at Espy and nodded reassuringly. Espy brushed her face against her shoulder before she could tear up too much.

    "Yeah, yeah, whatever." Haxorus sidestepped Silvally and walked off down the hallway.

    "S-Sorry about Haxy. I think losing her tusks really upset her," Raichu mumbled, before tailing off after Haxorus.

    Sighing, Silvally walked up to Espy. "You going to be all right?"

    "N-No." Espy blinked tears out of her eyes. "I totally froze-up. I couldn't get a word in edgewise to Haxorus It was like I was staring down every dumb decision I've made in the last decade." She hung her head.

    Silvally nudged her shoulder with his beak. "Well, I think you deserve credit just for trying to talk with her."

    "P-Please. She engaged me," Espy mumbled, looking away. "Besides, dwelling on this won't do us any good. It's like you said, we've got a much bigger problem that needs dealing with." She walked out of the infirmary. Silvally walked beside her. The two entered the assembly area and took their places next to Shane and Tessa.

    So, did you guys get all of that? Magearna asked, her Gear-Com speakers sticking out of her stomach compartment. The speakers crackled. Shane's ears twitched and folded up against his head. He cursed his more-sensitive vulpine hearing.

    "Yeah. Sorry for not responding. It's just a lot to process, that's all," Dedenne said.

    I understand. Still, we are prestered for time in more ways than one. We need to come up with a concrete plan of attack, Magearna said.

    "We totally get that, but losing the Time Gears isn't exactly doing wonders for anyone's confidence. And having all this extra bad news piled up on top of the planet's paralysis makes it even worse," Delphox said, sighing.

    "Now, now, there's no need for despair. We haven't lost yet. Sure, our plan's hit a few unwanted snags, but I believe we can still pull through!" Ampharos declared. Silence permeated the room save for the hum of Magearna's speakers.

    "Uh, chief? You know they can't see you making that pose, right? This is an audio call," Dedenne said.

    "Y-Yes, of course. I was just, erm, stretching, that's all!" Ampharos said, laughing nervously. Team Radiance exchanged unconvinced looks, but stopped when they heard Ampharos clear his throat. "My point still stands, though. I believe our plan can still work. It'll just need a few workarounds, that's all."

    "Excuse me? What plan?" Shane asked, stepping forward. Normally, he'd be amused by Ampharos' antics, but the day's stresses left him with little patience. "You've had a plan in place the whole time and didn't bother to tell us anything? Then what was the point of sending Latias over to us?" He looked at Latias, frowning. "Err, no offense intended or anything, it's just my teammate, Silvally, noted you came off as a bit bossy. And it didn't help that you wouldn't answer some of our questions."

    "I, uh…" Latias tapped her claws together, a guilty look on her face.

    "Was that your doing, Ampharos?" Silvally wondered, staring down Magearna's speaker like he was interrogating it.

    "I'm afraid so. I didn't give Latias all the details of this plan," Ampharos replied.

    "Okay. Well, what are the details? And what's being changed about it?" Silvally asked, stepping closer to Magearna. Like Shane, he had no desire for talking in riddles.

    "Ah. I, uh, don't really know. I forgot the details, see," Ampharos said, laughing jovially.

    Shane, Silvally, and Tessa all fell over in disbelief. "Wait, how could you forget the details of your own plan?!" Shane said, groaning as he stood back up.

    "I can answer that one. It was by design," Mawile interjected. "The chief gave each Pokémon involved their individual instructions, but didn't tell them why. Then, he had his memories sealed to make sure the Prism Virus couldn't figure out the full plan."

    Tessa facepalmed. "You cannot be serious."

    "That actually does sound like something Ampharos would do," Shane muttered, drawing a skeptical look from Silvally. "Err, y'know, from what I read about Dark Matter's attack." He shrank back toward his teammates. The explanation didn't do anything for his impatience, though.

    "Rest assured, friends. The details of the plan are somewhere secure," Ampharos declared. "I, uh, couldn't tell you where or how, but I have a strong feeling."

    Magearna's mechanical eyes whirred, but she said nothing. Tessa raised her brow. She got the distinct impression Magearna knew more than the rest of the group, save for possibly Latias. Yet, she didn't want to derail the conversation by pressing Magearna for details.

    "Wait. If you don't know the details of your own plan, then how can you be so sure there's still a way it can work? What makes you think we can still win?" Espy asked, fixing her uncertain look on a dusty floor tile.

    "It all comes down to spirits," a soft, unfamiliar voice replied.

    Latias' wings and ears stuck up. "N-Ninetales? You're there, too?"

    "Wait, Ninetales?" Shane stiffened.

    "Yeah, from Mt. Freeze." Blaziken scratched his chin. "This plan must be pretty serious if she's getting involved."

    Shane opened his mouth, then shut it. The mere thought of being able to talk with another Ninetales made his earlier annoyances fade away. There were questions he felt a compulsive urge to ask. He figured it was instinctual. But he knew they were all irrelevant to the matter at hand. He bit his lower lip, trying to will himself not to say anything.

    "Uh, who was the one acting surprised about me? Is there a problem?" Ninetales asked.

    "No, not at all. See, one of the Horizon Guild's members is an ice Ninetales," Blaziken said.

    "Wait, but I thought Totem Ninetales—"

    "It's a different ice Ninetales," Blaziken interjected.

    "Yeah. And it turns out, he used to be a human! Pretty ironic, huh?" Swampert chuckled.

    Team Poképals and Team Paradise turned their attentions on Shane. He shuffled back. His tails twisted around each other. "H-Hey now. Come on, guys. What's with all the weird looks?" Shane slipped behind Tessa and Silvally, trying to avoid everyone's gazes. Unlike his first few weeks in Horizon, he didn't want people peppering him with questions about being human. He knew it was because he didn't want to think about the ominous visions.

    "Interesting. I suppose we'll have to chat… once this crisis is settled, of course," Ninetales said, sighing.

    Yes. As nice as it would be to exchange pleasantaries, we must focus on the matter at hand, Magearna said. Ninetales, could you please explain what you meant when you brought up spirits?

    "Certainly. I'll try to keep it brief. Essentially, based on what Latias told me, I don't think the Prism Virus' victims are truly dead," Ninetales explained.

    Shane blinked, no longer able to hold back the urge to make a snide remark. "So, what? They're only mostly dead?" He shook his head. "Good grief, where's Billy Crystal when you need him?" Shane flinched at the sight of a dozen skeptical looks. "E-Err, n-never mind. Forget I said anything."

    "That was the human who spoke, right?" Ninetales asked. She sighed. "Forgive me. I suppose if you weren't born a Vulpix, you wouldn't understand how spirits work around here. See, when a Pokémon dies, its body fades away, leaving its spirit to drift about aimlessly. Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde are responsible for safely escorting souls to the spirit realm inside the branches of the Tree of Life. Given our species has spiritual powers, I try to help them when I can, as does Totem Ninetales."

    "Oh." Shane had an entirely new set of questions to ask, now, but still held his tongue.

    "After sifting through memories Latias had gathered, it seems that what the Prism Virus does is analogous to Dark Matter turning Pokémon to stone. Only instead of forcing the victims' spirits down into the Voidlands, Necrozma and Zero simply took their victims' spirits for themselves," Ninetales continued.

    The mention of Dark Matter sent a chill down Latias' spine. Her feathers bristled. She wasn't the only one, either. Espy arced her back and her fur stood on end.

    "Are you all right?" Silvally asked, his psychic memories shifting on. Espy silently shuffled closer to him.

    "Wait a second." Blaziken tapped a foot on the ground. "Zero told us that she had taken out Necrozma. If that's true… what happened to the spirits he had captured?"

    "That's what Ampharos was getting at. If Zero was telling the truth, then she either took all of Necrozma's spirits for herself… or they were freed from his control," Ninetales replied. "Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to sense any wandering spirits. Still, it's possible that Zero taking out Necrozma might turn out to be a blessing in disguise."

    "And that's exactly why we can't give up hope. If the spirits are free, we can save them!" Ampharos proclaimed.

    Raichu looked at Haxorus, eyes sparkling. "Does that mean… our friends can be saved?"

    "I can get Umbry back?" Espy whispered.

    Tessa put a paw on her chest. "I could save Sylveon and Eevee?"

    Latias looked at Blaziken and Swampert. "So, I haven't lost Latios for good, then?"

    "Hold on a second." Haxorus' tail thumped against the ground. "I may not be all up to date on this spirit mumbo jumbo, but Hydreigon made it pretty clear to me that, unless your body was preserved somehow, when you turn into a spirit… that's it. The best you can get is Ho-Oh or Ninetales reviving you as a ghost-type with no memories of your past life."

    "That's true. But, from what I understand, anyone hit by the Prism Virus ended up either crystallized or a lifeless husk," Ninetales said.

    "And Necrozma smashed those he crystallized to pieces!" Haxorus said, stomping her right foot. "There's no bouncing back from like that like people did with Dark Matter."

    Do not raise your worry levels over this matter. We're looking into it, Magearna said, while Latias floated toward the stairs, looking around uneasily. For now, we have to focus on putting a stop to Zero before she irrepversably damages the fabric of time.

    Shane couldn't keep his thoughts to himself any longer. "How exactly are we going to do that? We haven't the slightest idea where she could be!" He looked down guiltily. "And we lost the Dawn Hourglass. How can we stand up to Zero without it? She took out Necrozma! What chance do we have?"

    "We've got numbers, Mega Evolution, and Z-Power," Silvally replied. He nudged his teammate. "I know it's not the Dawn Hourglass, but it's a start, right? Besides, if we don't challenge Zero, then we stand no chance of surviving. I'll take a slight chance over no chance. Wouldn't you?"

    "Y-Yeah. Of course," Shane whispered. He wished he could share Silvally's optimism, but there was a sinking feeling in his gut. "That still doesn't answer where we find her, though."

    "Have no fear, Jirachi's brilliance is here!"

    "Again, what's with the posing? They can't see you!" Dedenne groaned.

    "That's okay. My brilliance doesn't need to be seen to be believed." Jirachi cleared his throat. "I was monitoring the ocean currents and noticed some bizarre activity between the coast of Lively Town and the Sea of Wonders. Archeops and I went to investigate and — hoo boy, you guys aren't going to believe this — the Hidden Land fell into the ocean!"

    "Wait… what?!" Infernape shouted. His fiery hair flared up. "Why? How?! That doesn't even make any sense!" He glanced at Feraligatr. "I get Temporal Tower was damaged, but how can it fall out of a dimensional pocket?!"

    "What are you looking at me for? I know as much about the Hidden Land as you do," Feraligatr said, sweat drops trickling down his face.

    Shane looked at his teammates in disbelief. They all stared back at him blankly. Nobody wanted to think about what sort of power it would've taken to drag the entire Hidden Land down into the ocean.

    "Did Necrozma do that… or Zero?" Espy wondered, forked tail crinkling.

    "You can choose not to believe me if you want, but it's true. The landscape has totally twisted. This corrosive goop ate away at some of the ocean and everything. I, uh, didn't want to get too close, but it seemed pretty lethal," Jirachi explained. "If I had to give you my best guess, that's probably where your big bad boss lady is hiding out. Especially if she's planning some sort of time manipulation gambit."

    The whole room fell silent. Nobody could figure out a good response to Jirachi's claims. Shane's tails curled up. The idea of traversing the Hidden Land excited him, but the circumstances behind it drowned out that enthusiasm. He shuddered to think of what the Prism Virus had done to morph the terrain beyond the poisonous sludge Jirachi described.

    "Okay. We need to go to the Hidden Land, then," Tessa said, to her teammates' surprise. Silvally nodded his agreement.

    "There's a problem with that, though. If the Hidden Land fell near the Sea of Wonders, then it's all the way on the other side of the world. How the heck are we supposed to get there?" Infernape wondered. "I don't think Latias can get us all across in a timely manner."

    "Y-Yeah. Let's not go there," Latias whispered, floating close to Team Go-Getters.

    "I could try running across the ocean with as many of you as I can carry!" Silvally said, cheek-bolts whirring.

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up at the suggestion. "Are you nuts? That would be exhausting. And we need you at your fighting best for this."

    "Fear not, my friends. We've already worked that out," Ampharos declared.

    Shane leaned over and whispered to Espy, "Do you think he's posing again?"

    "Probably," Espy deadpanned. "What exactly is this idea of yours, chief?"

    "We're on our way over, actually. We've been teleport-hopping to small islands, but we took a short break to let our teleporter rest," Mawile explained.

    "Seriously? How does that even work?" Shane asked. His brow furrowed. "And why are you guys all coming over here?"

    That's my doing. I reached out to them as soon as we got back to Aeon Port. They've been island-hopping while you all have been recovering, Magearna replied.

    "It's not all of us, either. Only Cresselia, Mawile, Ninetales, and the chief are coming to you guys. The rest of us are still in Lively Town," Delphox elaborated.

    Once they're here, the teleporter will take you all as close as you can get to where the Hidden Land fell into the ocean. After that, you'll have to set off on foot, Magearna said. Meanwhile, I will escort Ampharos' party up to Solstice Summit to meet with Totem Ninetales.

    "Wait, what? How long was that planned for? And why are you going there, anyway? We need all the help we can get if we're going to storm the Hidden Land," Shane huffed, tails twitching. His earlier annoyance with the mysterious plan had returned in full force.

    I'm afraid I can't give you an explicit reasonating. Please accept an apology cycle. Magearna slowly bowed, though the Gear-Com made it awkward.

    Scattered murmurs rose up through the room. Silvally turned to Shane. "My guess is that it has to do with Ampharos' crazy plan." He sighed. "Guess we have to accept it and hope things work out for the best."

    Tessa nodded. Though she wanted to press for more details, she was willing to go along with Magearna if it meant getting back everyone they had lost.

    "Actually, our teleporter's all rested up. We should be there in a few minutes, so you guys should get yourselves ready to leave," Cresselia announced. Then, before anyone could respond, the call abruptly cut off.

    "We're leaving already?" Espy said, ears sticking up. She barely had time to process the thought of going to the Hidden Land.

    It looks like it, Magearna said, her Gear-Com unit retracting back into her stomach. She hastily made her way into Metagross' office and reemerged with a large burlap sack. Magearna plopped it on the ground. I took the liberty of withdrawing everything our Guildmaster had stored at Dhelmise Depot. I suggest everyone take a look and gather up whatever supplies you think you'll need.

    Magearna tipped the bag over. Its contents spilled out across the floor.

    "Cripes! I've never seen so many elixirs and Reviver Seeds in one place," Swampert said, scooping up a handful of items and tossing them into his bag. "Your Guildmaster must've been one crazy-prepared guy to keep so many of these in once place.

    "Or crazy paranoid," Espy muttered under her breath. She cleared her throat, then said, "Yeah. This stuff could actually make a serious difference… assuming Zero doesn't blast our item bags to smithereens like the Unown did." Espy cringed at the memory.

    Tessa gulped. "My newer bag is supposed to resist certain moves. I really hope that's true." She finished putting a pawful of Reviver Seeds in her bag and shut it. "Okay. I don't think I can carry anything else. Let's hope this is enough."

    With everyone stocked up for the journey, Magearna led them out of the Observatory. As she walked with her teammates, Tessa looked down at her feet.

    "What's wrong?" Shane asked. "You nervous about all of this?" He glanced over his shoulder at the other teams. "I don't blame you. My stomach hasn't felt this knotted up before."

    "Yeah. Well, that and I feel bad we have to leave Gallian and Zoroark behind like this." Tessa rubbed her eyes. "I didn't even have a chance to say a proper goodbye to them or anything. What if… what if things don't go well? I may never get to see them again!"

    "Don't think like that," Silvally said, staring intensely at the barrier along the edge of Aeon Town. "Even if the odds aren't great, we can't give up hope. If you go into this thinking you're not going to see them again, then you're not going to be able to battle at your best." He glanced at Tessa. "And we need you at your best."

    Tessa winced. "I— yeah, that makes sense." She rubbed her eyes again. "Sorry. I'm just… so tired. I feel like we should be going to sleep, but I don't even know if it's actually nighttime or daytime because of the whole paralyzed planet thing."

    "I totally get it, Tessa. We have been up for a while," Espy acknowledged. "I'd kill for some shut-eye, but we don't have the luxury right now. We'll have to hope these elixirs can keep us going until we've dealt with Zero."

    "Right." Tessa tightly clutched her satchel. She silently prayed the team would succeed. Any lingering thoughts of hoping she could get through to her mother were gone. Now, she wanted to stop Zero by any means necessary.

    They reached Aeon Port. Small openings appeared in the barrier, allowing the group to pass through. Once on the other side, Shane looked around. "Hey. I thought they were supposed to be here already," he growled.

    "We are here, silly!"

    Shane turned to his right. Mew floated beside him. He waved enthusiastically at Shane. "Hiya, floofy-head!"

    "Eyaah!"

    Barking loudly, Shane jumped up. His fur frazzled as he landed in a heap next to Silvally. "W-What the heck? Mew? When did— how did— huh?"

    "I'm the teleporter, dummy. Sheesh, I thought Darkrai was just being his usual grumpy-grump self when he called you a dense doofus," Mew said, sticking his tongue out.

    Shane got back to his feet, groaning. "Why is a god gossiping about me when he's never even met me?"

    "Because he's a grumpy-grump! Good grief, is all that floof blocking your hearing? Hoo boy, I've really got my work cut out here, don't I?" Mew shook his head.

    "Now, Mew. I thought we agreed you'd be on your best behavior."

    Mew turned around to face the approaching Ninetales. "I'm behaving! I'm behaving! Not my fault floofy-head over here is as jumpy as a Spoink brigade." Mew pointed accusingly at Shane.

    Tessa turned to Espy, a look of disbelief on her face. "Um, you've worked with the Expedition Society, right?" she whispered. Espy nodded. "Have you ever met Mew? Is he usually like this?"

    "I've been around him a couple of times. He's… quite restrained compared to his usual self," Espy said. "This must be serious. Normally he's bouncing off the walls so much you'd think he snorted a pile of sugar."

    Tessa shuddered at the thought.

    Shane, on the other hand, ignored Mew's jabs. His attention was solely fixed on Ninetales. Besides the differences in fur color and coat length, Ninetales was immaculately groomed where Shane was filthy and shaggy from his previous battles. Ninetales glanced at Shane, then cleared her throat. Shane abruptly stiffened and looked away.

    "We should really get going," Blaziken said. He had a second bag slung over his shoulder. "I have all the elixirs Mew's using to restore his teleporting powers." He pulled a vial out and offered it to Mew.

    Mew chugged the elixir and belched loudly. "Oh, baby, that's the stuff," he said, sighing in content as the empty container disappeared in a puff of smoke. "Alright. Everyone ready to set out?"

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "Wait! Shouldn't we take a second to—"

    "Kidding! That was a rhetorical question. We're leaving… now!"

    Mew's eyes glowed bright blue. The guild teams disappeared in a blinding flash of light, leaving Magearna standing beside Ampharos' team.

    Shall we set out for Solstice Summit, then? Magearna asked.

    "Absolutely! I'll lead the way!" Ampharos declared. He started walking toward the docks, only for Mawile to cut him off.

    "I believe it's best if Magearna escorts us, chief," she said.

    "Of course, of course. My mistake," Ampharos chuckled. He turned and followed his colleagues off down the trail.

    Ninetales walked up to Magearna, biting her lower lip. "Do you really think they'll be able to do it?"

    I am unsure, but I am praying that they can, Magearna said, looking up at the sky. Whatever gods are left aren't stepping in, so it's all up to them. All we can do is keep working on our plan… and hope for the best.

    Ninetales bowed her head. The group proceeded in silence.

    End of Episode 14

    XxX
    Next time: all good things... must come to an end.
     
    git-it likes this.
  6. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    If you're at all confused about this, check the author's notes at the end.

    XxX

    ~Ultra Village Ruins~

    Thick black smog choked the sky over a barren landscape. The crumbling remnants of destroyed buildings lay scattered about torn-up pavement. Wayward sparks crackled from frayed power lines. Green, radioactive embers smoldered from the fiery wreckage of the Ultra Recon Squad base that once stood in the center of the sprawling city.

    It was in front of the destroyed Ultra Village Core that a lopsided, asymmetrical Ultra Wormhole opened. Two golden paws emerged, hovering inches off the bubbling sludge that used to be part of a road. Shadowy wisps swirled around black talons, then raced up armored forelegs.

    Solgaleo emerged from the Ultra Wormhole. Prism armor covered his face and torso. He bowed his head, only for it to jerk back up. His blue eyes shifted to red and a third eye glowed on his forehead. It wriggled about. The black arms protruding from his back twitched.

    "TheY ThOuGHt THeY cOUlD gEt RiD of ME. FoOls! I Am NeCRoZMa, DEvOUReR oF lIGhT! FuTuRE DeSTrOyER oF WoRLDs!"

    Necrozma took several deep breaths. He stretched out his legs and his arms, flexing his six sets of claws and his spoked tail. With a few quick hops, Necrozma climbed to the top of the rubble pile. He hovered in front of a small pillar of green light. Necrozma looked down. Fluorescent-green smoke vented up from the rubble pile; the remnants of the Ultra Village Core.

    "Sinclair has tapped into too much of my core's power. I need more light. More spirits," Necrozma hissed. He paced back and forth in front of the radioactive fissure. "I should set out for another world. Amass enough power to bring Sinclair to her knees." He licked his lips. "Then I'll have my core back. Heeheeheehee. Yes… you might've made things difficult for me, Light, but you're only delaying the inevitable. You can't stop me. No one can. I just need to think… think… think."

    His third eye widened. Necrozma's arms smacked his back repeatedly. He stiffened. Necrozma scrutinized the vent in front of him. His red eyes flashed. A faint outline appeared in front of him. Tiny and orange. A wisp of fire smoldered on the silhouette's back.

    "Of course. You." Necrozma leered at the silhouette. "How could I forget your sickeningly-sweet attitude. Your worthless sense of optimism. That dopey grin. And how annoyingly determined you were." His arms lashed out at the air. Necrozma stumbled, but collected himself. "That matters little, though, because your world is brimming with spirits. They're foundational to everything! It's exactly what I need to become the unopposed power throughout all realities! Heeheeheehee! Why didn't I think of this earlier?"

    Necrozma slammed his forepaws against the rubble and raised his arms high. A fissure opened in the building's wreckage. All the trapped radioactive material burst forth from the ground. Necrozma trapped it inside of a psychic bubble. His three eyes shimmered with rainbow light.

    "C'mon, concentrate. If I can supercharge a wormhole with this unstable light, then maybe—"

    A blinding, green flashed enveloped Necrozma. When the light faded, a jagged, zigzagging Ultra Wormhole sat in front of him. It glowed the same neon-green as the radioactive vent. But instead of the usual checkerboard pattern, this portal was littered with inverted stars. Necrozma stared into the Wormhole. A grin spread across his face.

    "Heehee… heeheeheehee! Yes, it worked! A true rift between realities! Stronger than any Ultra Wormhole!" he cried. "Soon, I'll have an all-you-can-eat light buffet at my disposal!"

    Necrozma walked into the portal, licking his lips eagerly.

    "I said that one day I'd be back to tear your cheerful façade off like the worthless mask it is. Now it's time for me to make good on that promise. No world is safe from my wrath, least of all yours… Charmander Owen."

    XxX

    An End to All This Madness

    XxX

    ~Hot Spot Outskirts~

    Necrozma leaped out of the portal and skidded to a halt along a dirt path. He took a few steps back and melted into a shadowy puddle. It drifted into a patch of gray, crabby grass. There, Necrozma took stock of his surroundings. The grasslands were, for the most part, unremarkable. Crisp, green grass lay to his left, slowly fading to the light-gray he currently hid in. To his right sat a large mountain that spilled off a large amount of heat. Necrozma's new body didn't take kindly to it.

    He forced himself to remain where he was, however, because buried within the giant, rocky fortress of heat lay his prize. It was tough to sense. He got the faintest impression there was some sort of distortion field meant to ward off psychics, but he didn't care. His Solgaleo victim's ESP levels far exceeded those of his previous body. With it, he could sense multiple powerful spirits.

    Not only that, he sensed clusters of spirits, as bright and dense as neutron stars. From his hiding place in the shadows, a grin spread out across his face. It seemed Charmander Owen's world had soul-eaters just like him. Necrozma had to choke back a laugh at the thought. How such a dumb kid could remain so cheerful knowing such obviously-malevolent forces lurked in his home was nothing short of hilarious.

    Though strongly tempted to attack the mountain, Necrozma held his ground. He was still getting used to his new body. Going up against so many powerful auras in his current state would surely end in defeat. If he had his core, victory would be a cinch. Instead, he needed to bide his time and wait for one of the presences to veer off on its own. Then, he would strike.

    Necrozma tensed up. He was so preoccupied with the mountain, he hadn't even realized there was already a spirit-cluster off on its own. This one burned brighter than any of the clusters he sensed inside. And it only seemed to be in the company of a single, meek spirit, likely a mortal.

    'That'll be it, then. My first target… will be you!'

    He treaded cautiously. The spirit cluster emanated tremendous ghostly energy, but he couldn't grasp the full degree of what this mysterious presence was capable of. It could conceivably sense him coming from a mile away and have an attack ready for him. Necrozma decided to use a quick approach. And that approach would come from Solgaleo's power.

    Necrozma concentrated, trying to pick up anything he could from the cluster. After a bit of straining, he managed to hear a gruff voice angrily shout, "Rrrgh… let go of me, you slimy oaf! For Mew's sake, this is disgusting!"

    A second later, a cheerful voice declared, "Sorry, if I let go, you're going to run away! I've had one too many naughty folks run away! I don't want all my Hearts to lose morale, so it's time I stepped in and did my part!"

    'Seems the presence is tied up. So, my time to strike!'

    Necrozma emerged from the shadows, drawing on Solgaleo's spiritual energy. He vanished in a cloud of shadows, only to reappear a mile away from the mountain. There, he found a Goodra standing with its back to him. Its arms — far more watery than Necrozma expected — lay wrapped around a bulky Rampardos who kicked at the air with his legs.

    Goodra's antennae twitched. Necrozma's third eye flashed. A black and red beam emerged. However, rather than hitting its target, a Decidueye appeared in a puff of dark smoke.

    "Anam, get out of— ngack!"

    Necrozma's eyes widened. His beam sucked Decidueye up like he was made of dust. Purple light streamed into mouth, filling him with a surge of ghostly energy. His arms trembled with excitement and his third eye wriggled inside his armored forehead.

    "You manifested a spirit to protect you? My, what an interesting parlor trick," Necrozma said.

    Anam turned around, keeping Rampardos in his grip. Rampardos stared Necrozma down and flailed his legs even harder. "Augh! Lemme go! Lemme go! I submit! I submit! I don't wanna die or nothing!" he cried.

    Another red and black beam struck Rampardos' chest. Anam released his grip as black crystals encased Rampardos. He stepped back, staring up at Necrozma, wide-eyed. "Is that… S-Solgaleo? Jam-Jam, what—" Anam blinked slowly. "No, wait… something's wrong. Star explained this to me once."

    Necrozma tensed up. "I don't know what you're talking ab— what the hell?!"

    He teleported away right before a massive dragon-shaped blast would've swallowed him up. Necrozma reappeared behind Anam. He fired another light-purge beam from his third eye. Anam didn't turn around. Instead, he pushed his slime to the sides, forming a big hole where his belly once was. The beam safely passed through him. Necrozma stumbled backward, equal parts shocked and grossed out.

    "That's impossible!" he growled. "No… deep breaths. This is another reality. The rules don't work the same here."

    Anam stood facing Necrozma. His gooey arms trembled. "P-Please stop… go away," he whispered. "I can handle it. Jam-Jam... I'll get him back."

    Black shadows pooled inside Anam's hands. Necrozma's eyes flickered. He licked his lips with anticipation. "My, my, you're just full of secrets, aren't you? And, apparently, a lot of gunk. But it's the secrets I'd rather rip right out of you!"

    Another serpentine energy beam threatened to swallow up Necrozma. He teleported to Anam's right. Necrozma whipped his prism arms in Anam's direction. Two heart-shaped portals materialized. Chains shot into Anam's arm with a pair of loud squelches. An eager grin spread across Necrozma's face. His chains leeched the swirling shadow's from Anam's slimy hand.

    "To think… you were keeping a power like this under wraps. Heeheeheehee. It seems this world is even more out of balance than mine," Necrozma crooned as Anam stared in wide-eyes horror at the chains in his arms. "Now then, let's—"

    Necrozma tensed up. His arms and tail spasmed. An unseen force tugged on his chains. His third eye narrowed.

    Get out.

    An overwhelming sense of dread raced down his spine. The shadows were spreading through Anam's body at an alarming rate. Necrozma yanked the chains out. He stumbled back, the tiny portals beside him disappearing. "Nnngh. That energy… it was just like the Voidlands. What's going on here?" he whispered.

    "Anam!"

    Necrozma's head shot up. He disappeared in a puff of smoke seconds before the ground erupted in a violent tremor. Plumes of dust shot into the air, only to be vaporized by white-hot flames and a shimmering-blue Aura Sphere. Necrozma reappeared several yards behind Anam, tensing the claws on his arms.

    He stood there, watching as a Charizard, Flygon, Haxorus, Lucario, and Meganium charged into the fray. In place of legs, the lattermost member of the group had a plethora of vines woven together to resemble limbs. Like Anam, Charizard had a spirit cluster simmering inside of him. Each of the others radiated with tremendous power, though it wasn't quite on the same level as Anam, who was still grappling with the shadows spreading through his body.

    Lucario ran up to Anam. "Deep breaths. Focus on your Orb. Meditate if you must," he said, crouching low in case he needed to stage a hasty retreat.

    "J… Jam-Jam. He's got—" Anam blubbered, pointing an accusatory arm toward Necrozma.

    It was at this point Necrozma recognized a familiar spark in Charizard's life energy. "Well, well, isn't this quite the sight? Little Owen's all grown up now," Necrozma taunted, his eyes glowing. "And he's hiding such a juicy serving of light inside of him."

    The newly-identified Owen's tail flame crackled. "Hey, I'm not little!" He snorted out tufts of smoke. "Besides, I don't even know you!" Owen grabbed his head. "Err, I think, anyway?"

    "What does it matter? If he's got James, then I say we thrash 'im!" Flygon shouted. In the blink of an eye, he vanished. Necrozma hopped back. A shimmering rainbow barrier appeared in front of him. Flygon raked blue, ethereal claws across the barrier, only to bounce off, hissing and wringing out his hands.

    "Of course you'd take the first swipes at me. You really are a lunkhead, aren't you, Gahi?"

    Necrozma reared up on his hind legs. He tapped into the deathly energy he siphoned from Anam.

    Meganium's eyes widened. "Back!" she cried. Four vines wrapped around Flygon Gahi's midsection and yanked him out of the way of a purple energy blast. Instead, it struck a rock in the distance. Necrozma watched in shock as the rock decayed before his very eyes. He looked down at his right forepaw, smirking at the shadows swirling around it.

    "So, that's what that power does. Heeheeheehee! What an interesting development," Necrozma said, inching back from his opponents. "Well now, I can see when I'm beat. I think I'll go tie up some loose ends in my world and be back to finish the job later."

    "W-Wait, what? Own world? That doesn't make any sense!" Haxorus growled.

    A rainbow sheen overtook Necrozma, leading to the creation of another jagged rift. Necrozma hopped backwards. He disappeared in a flash of light.

    "No! JAM-JAM!" Anam cried, stumbling away from Lucario and dropping to his knees. Shadows coursed through his slimy body like oil through water.

    "No worries! Idiot left 'is dumb portal-thingy open. We'll go after 'im!" Gahi declared, still wrapped up in Meganium's vines.

    "Mm…" Meganium stared at the ominous portal. "No." She rolled her eyes.

    Gahi slipped out of her vines. "You got a better idea, then?"

    "I'm thinking," Meganium said, biting her lip.

    "Mispy's right. We can't go charging into the portal," Owen said, scrutinizing the jagged rift. "The energy it's giving off… it's driving my Perception crazy." He grabbed his head and shook it. "It's like there are a thousand Willows scratching at my head and I can't get them off!"

    "Seriously?" Haxorus glanced between Owen, Anam, and Rhys. "C'mon, there's gotta be something we can do about it. Maybe if we ring up Nevren, he'll have an idea?"

    Rhys frowned. "I doubt Nevren and I can be of much help, here." He cautiously approached the portal, his paws swirling with aura. "Star discussed this with us when we were Hunters. I believe the Pokémon responsible for taking James is known as Necrozma."

    "Necrozma? Feh! That's a stupid name if I ever 'eard one," Gahi scoffed, buzzing back into the air and flying circles around the portal.

    Owen glanced at Rhys, brow furrowing. "Necrozma? Why does that sound… so familiar?"

    Rhys crossed his arms. "Just going off of what we saw, I believe this Necrozma is not of our world. And that's quite concerning, because—"

    "Because nothing can pass through the Overworld from another reality except someone's self!" Owen blurted out.

    "How did you know that?" Rhys asked, eyes wide.

    Owen doubled over, clutching his head in pain. "Nnrrrgh… Star, what are you doing in there?" He paused, staring at his belly while his teammates exchanged confused looks. After several seconds of silence, Owen's head snapped up. "Wait… Necrozma?!"

    "You know that crazy dude?" Haxorus gasped.

    "Yeah! He's a total creep! Forced his way into the Overworld and tried to wipe me and a bunch of other folks from other worlds out of existence!" Owen growled, his tail-flame turning white-hot. "But I don't get it… the last time I dealt with him, he was this big, uh, Golbat-looking thing. How did he turn into an oversized Pyroar?"

    Haxorus turned to Mispy. "You don't think he's Mystic like Owen and Anam, do you?" he said, tapping a foot on the ground nervously.

    Mispy caressed Haxorus' chin with one of her vines. "Mn, maybe not." She withdrew her vines and shrugged. "More like… Star. Or Barky."

    "That doesn't make me feel any better!" Haxorus groaned.

    "Hang on, Demitri," Owen said. He looked at his gut again. "All right, Star, you've got some explaining to do. How'd Necrozma manage to get here if it's impossible for anyone's physical form to pass through the Overworld?"

    Silence followed, with Owen glaring at his belly while his teammates all raised skeptical brows. They hastily backed away from Owen when his tail-flame grew three sizes in an intense burst of heat.

    "What do you mean Barky left the back door open?! How is that possible?! It doesn't even make any sense!" Owen huffed.

    Rhys' shoulders sagged. He rubbed the bridge of his snout. "Wonderful." He looked at Owen. "Does Star have some sort of plan for how we handle this? You heard Necrozma. He intends to come back."

    "And I ain't about ter let that happen!" Gahi said, slashing at the air with his tiny claws. "This time, I'll 'ave Demitri shatter 'is stupid barrier!"

    "Hold on. Star's not done," Owen said, holding up a hand. He closed his eyes and nodded slowly. "Okay, okay. I see…"

    "So, Star does have a plan?" Mispy asked.

    "Uh… sorta? It's, like, twenty percent of a plan," Owen responded, scratching his head. "Basically, Barky's gonna shroud us in these protective bubbles and fling us through the portal. His shields should keep us safe from getting torn to shreds inside of Ultra Space."

    "Ultra… Space? They couldn't have come up with a better name?" Demitri frowned.

    "Guys, this is serious! We have to focus. Once we go into the portal… we're on our own. I won't be able to contact Star. And she says she has no idea if Anam's blessings will carry over on our items," Owen continued, looking worriedly at his teammates.

    "We'll be fine. Necrozma doesn't know who he's messing wit'!" Gahi's wings buzzed eagerly. "Th' four of us working together… we'll have 'im down in no time!"

    Owen hummed anxiously, a low growl escaping him. But then, he sighed. "Gahi's right," Owen said, drawing an astonished look from Mispy. Gahi puffed his chest out proudly. "We don't have time. You saw the power Necrozma took from Anam. If we can't stop him quickly, who knows what'll happen?"

    "And you better not forget James," Anam said in a distorted voice, shadows coursing through his head. The inky darkness suddenly withdrew deeper into him. Anam's normal, green eyes returned. "P-please. Y-you gotta," Anam pleaded, nervously detaching and reattaching his slimy, stubby fingers.

    Owen nodded. "Don't worry. We've got this. A lot's changed since I last fought Necrozma." He raised a fist. Soft, green energy flowed into it. "He doesn't know what I'm capable of."

    "What we're capable of," Mispy corrected, walking up to Owen's side. "I'm leader." She jabbed Owen's gut with a vine, but flashed him a smile. "We fight together."

    Demitri nodded. "And if you're going to another world, make sure your Perception is in top-shape! Ultra top shape! For the… the Ultra Wormhole thing."

    "Don't do that," Gahi groaned.

    Demitri and Gahi joined their teammates in front of the Ultra Rift. Owen glanced down at his stomach. "Okay, Star. Tell Barky we're ready."

    There was a brief moment of uncertainty, where Owen questioned if it was really wise to put his team's fate in Barky's hooves. That moment proved fleeting, however, because golden bubbles surrounded Owen and his teammates. Then an unseen force shot them inside the Ultra Rift, where they disappeared in bright flashes of light.

    XxX

    ~Destiny Tower Exterior~

    Team Radiance flickered into existence in the middle of a rocky path, with Mew floating behind them. Dark gray clouds shrouded the road ahead. Silvally took a few steps forward. His brow furrowed. "Um, guys? I think we made a wrong turn somewhere." He shifted his air memories on. Wind shot out from his forelegs, but failed to dispel the clouds.

    "Where are we?" Tessa wondered. She concentrated on her aura sense, yet she couldn't make anything out beyond her teammates and Mew. Her aura feelers shot up. "Wait a second. What happened to everyone else?" She looked around in concern. "We didn't just make a wrong turn… we lost the others!"

    Shane turned around to face Mew, who was groaning and rubbing her head. "Hey, what gives? I thought you were going to teleport all of us close to where the Hidden Land fell."

    "Yeah. I, uh…" Mew blinked slowly. "Something went wrong."

    "We can see that. The question is… can you fix it?" Shane asked, tails twitching nervously.

    "Um…" Mew poked his tiny index fingers together. "I, uh, can't get read on where we are. Something redirected my teleportation… somehow. Now my ESP is blunted."

    "Mine too," Espy whispered, ears drooping. "If only we could get this fog out of the way." Her eyes glowed pink. She tensed up. Nothing happened. The wall of dark clouds remained as solid as ever. "Okay, now I'm worried." Espy glanced at Mew. "Hey, think you could back me up, here? Your Psychic's gotta be stronger than mine."

    "Sure," Mew said, nodding. "Lemme just—"

    Mew's eyes widened. He inhaled sharply, then dropped to the ground.

    "What the heck? Hey! What's wrong?" Shane asked. He was about to take a step toward Mew, when Mew cried out in pain. His body turned a sickly shade of purple, then disintegrated right before Team Radiance's eyes. Shane jumped back, barking in alarm. "That's not normal! That's not normal!" he whined, tails shooting between his legs.

    A small, golden ball of light fluttered away from Team Radiance, disappearing into the thick cloud wall.

    Silvally stepped toward his teammates. "We've lost our teleporter. I don't know about you guys, but I don't think we can afford to stay here." He bent over. "Hop on. I'll carry you."

    Tessa wrung her paws. "O-Okay. If you think that's safest."

    Before she could climb on Silvally, a blinding flash of light erupted in front of them. Tessa staggered backwards, throwing an arm over her face.

    Shane gasped. "H-Hey! Isn't that an Ultra Wormhole?"

    Espy tilted her head. "It sure doesn't look like the ones we've seen. It's all… twisted." She grimaced.

    Silvally crouched into a fighting stance. His psychic memories switched on. "Be ready for anything, you guys. It could be a Prism Virus attack!"

    "Ahhh!"

    Silvally's eyes widened. He lunged to his right, shoving his teammates away from the portal. Moments later, four golden bubbles shot out of it. They popped one after another, plopping each member of Team Alloy on the ground.

    "Owen!" Gahi grunted, shoving Owen's thighs. "Git yer tail off my face or I'm-a—"

    "Wait… Owen?" Silvally's cheek bolts whirred. "As in… Charmander Owen?" He leaned over to sniff at the Charizard lying in front of him. "Oh, hey, it is you! Hiya!" Silvally's tail wagged. He turned to his teammates. "Guys, it's okay! They're fine." He beckoned them over. "This is the guy I told you about. Remember, from that time I got pulled through an Ultra Wormhole and met a bunch of folks from other worlds?"

    "Oh, yeah." Espy walked to Silvally's side, fixing a skeptical look on Mispy and her overabundance of vines she was trying to untangle from Demitri's tusks. "I seem to recall you having the hots for Owen."

    Owen's tail-flame rippled like a freshly-lit match. Gahi's eyes widened. He shoved Owen's rear, then shot to his feet. "Sheesh. What were ya doin' in that Overworld game of yers, huh?" he huffed, flapping his wings to shake off bits of debris.

    "We saved a bunch of worlds from Necrozma," Silvally declared, puffing out his chest. "Congrats on evolving, by the way. I know how much you wanted it to happen."

    "Err… right." Owen's wings furled. He didn't dare explain the circumstances to Silvally. "It's, uh, good to see you again," Owen said, offering a shaky smile. A part of him was miffed that, despite being fully evolved, he wasn't quite eye-level with Silvally, but he stuffed his pride away.

    "Silvally, eh? What the heck kind of Pokémon are yeh?" Gahi asked, buzzing over and zipping around Silvally to examine him from every angle. "Yeh look like Eon could've made yeh!"

    "It's, uh, kinda complicated." Silvally laughed nervously.

    "Try us! We specialize in complicated," Demitri said.

    "Funny. So do we," Espy deadpanned. She then cringed. "Err, sorry. I've been trying to tone down on the snark. We're Team Radiance. I'm Espeon. The Lucario is Tessa and the ice Ninetales is Shane." Espy gestured at her teammates.

    Gahi zipped over to Tessa. "Oy. What's with th' mark on yer chest?" He turned to Owen. "Rhys and Manny ain't got markings like this."

    Tessa backed away from Gahi. "It's, um… I don't really want to talk about it."

    "Seriously, Gahi? C'mon, be polite." Demitri sighed and shook his head. He turned back to Espy. "I'm Haxorus Demitri. You've already met Owen and that loudmouth over there is Gahi." He jerked his head in Gahi's direction.

    "I'm only talkin' cause you an' Mispy ain't openin' yer traps!" Gahi huffed.

    Mispy rolled her eyes. "Ignore him."

    Shane cleared his throat. "Okay. Now that awkward introductions are out of the way… can we help you guys? If you can't tell, we're in the midst of a crisis." He fanned out his tails. Team Alloy took notice of the dark clouds swirling around them. "So, uh, if you're passing through en route to some other world or something, you ought to get a move on."

    Mispy approached the cloud wall. Her vines tensed. She hastily backed away and shot Owen a concerned look. "Perceive?"

    Owen stared up at Silvally. His eyes widened in recognition. "Silvally! Of course!" He hopped to his feet. "How could I forget? Necrozma's from your world. The 'loose ends' he mentioned must be somewhere around here."

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa… hold up. You guys are after Necrozma? That's impossible!" Shane said, icy air gathering around his paws. "We know for a fact that he was killed. His core is—"

    "Well, yer facts are bogus," Gahi spat.

    "Gahi, c'mon," Owen said, stretching out a wing to settle his friend. He turned to Silvally. "Necrozma showed up in our world. Only, er, he was in a different form. Some kinda Pyroar-looking thingy."

    "He got Solgaleo?" Espy took a few steps back. She looked at Shane. "But I thought—"

    "My guess is he found a Solgaleo from another world," Silvally said, shaking his head. "Guess he's not as dead as we thought."

    "Right. So, he showed up, kidnapped one of our friends, and then stole power from another friend," Owen continued, his tone growing more frantic. "And this power, its…" He winced. "It's the power of decay. If you get hit by it, your body will rot from the inside-out!"

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "No! Then what happened to Mew—"

    Golden light burst forth from the dark clouds. They vanished in shadowy wisps, revealing a pillar of light shooting into the sky from the middle of a pile of rubble.

    "Heehee… heeheeheehee! At long last… my core is back!"

    Shane's tails shot into the air. "Oh no… oh shit!" He staggered backward, shaking his head. "He's… he's just like he was in the recording, again!" Shane turned to Team Alloy. "Quick. You guys gotta get back in that portal before—"

    The Ultra Rift abruptly shut. Owen's tail-flame shrank. He turned toward the light pillar in the distance and narrowed his eyes. Owen faintly made out four golden wings and a long, radiant tail. Two multicolored eyes stared back at him.

    "His true form… is a dragon? Come on! That is so not fair!" Owen fumed. "Ugh, that better not be the case for our Necrozma, otherwise I'm never letting Star hear the end of it."

    "That's what you're focusing on?!" Demitri said.

    Red lines streamed across the ground. Both teams looked around in confusion, giving way to panicked shouts as walls of glitchy red cubes erupted from the earth. Owen back-winged to avoid getting struck by one, only to watch Demitri disappear behind it. "Demitri, no!" Owen shouted. He battered the wall with an Air Slash barrage, but it absorbed every wind blade. Owen turned to his right, where he recalled Gahi hovering. "Gahi, we've got to—"

    Another cube wall rose up, cutting off Gahi and Espy. Owen's tail-flame pulsated as fast as his heart was beating. He turned around, praying at least one of his friends was still with him. However, he only found Silvally standing beside him, an equally-worried look on his face. Owen followed Silvally's gaze up. His heart leaped into his throat.

    A jagged, golden tear split the sky above them. But the path up to it was blocked by a ceiling of transparent cubes.

    "W… what is that?" Owen said, curling up his tail and wings.

    "Heeheeheehee! Not so high and mighty without your friends around, are you?"

    Silvally crouched into a fighting stance. "Show yourself, Necrozma!" he bellowed, cheek-bolts revving up.

    Black shadows trickled out from the wall in front of Silvally, coalescing into a sphere that then manifested as a jet-black Decidueye. Crystals covered the right half of his face. He fixed his lone eye on Owen, whose tail-flame rippled.

    "That's James!" Owen clenched his fists. "James, you have to listen to me!"

    James lolled his head to the side. "Wonderful. Simply wonderful. That look on your face — the fear and outrage — is so satisfying," he said, projecting Necrozma's voice.

    Owen stepped toward Silvally. "What did you do to him?"

    "Oh, not much. Purged his spirit of its consciousness… leaving me to use his powers as I see fit," James replied, adding in a chuckle. "You're not really one to talk, boy."

    "I'm not a kid!" Owen huffed.

    Silvally stuck a foreleg in front of Owen. "You've gotta keep a level head. He's doing this to get under your scales, so you won't battle at your best."

    Owen bit his lip. He should've realized that was the case. His brow furrowed. There was a fuzziness in his mind. A nasty mental itch he couldn't scratch.

    "What's the matter, Owen? You look upset about something." James smirked. A red light flickered in his eye. "Could it be… that you're missing your Perception?"

    Owen's wings reflexively unfurled. "H-How did you—"

    "Between your man-child boss, Anam, and this lousy spirit, there are so many interesting memories to sift through. However, I'm on a tight schedule, so I won't bore you with the details," James mused, pacing back and forth. Having no stomach for one of Necrozma's ridiculous rants, Silvally snarled loudly. A black, eerie shockwave closed in on James. However, he evaporated into a fine mist.

    "How about the hypocrisy of it all?" James reappeared a few feet above Owen, hanging upside down from an invisible branch. "Like I said, you can't chastise me about using spirits when your Grass Orb is positively bursting with them. Heeheeheehee!"

    "Y… you…" Owen draped an arm and a wing over his belly.

    James materialized a tiny Owen doll made of black clouds. "Alas, poor Owen! Wanting to do nothing more than be a hero… when he was destined from the very beginning to be a plaything to his world's gods." James dropped the Owen doll. It dangled in midair by silk-like threads. James flapped his wings, making the Owen puppet dance around.

    Owen rocketed skyward, flames burning in the back of his throat. James vanished in a burst of smoke, but the Owen doll remained. Owen's eyes widened. He aileron-rolled right, narrowly strafing white laser beams.

    On the ground, Silvally hopped back, gawking wide-eyed as the Owen doll pulsated and expanded outward. A familiar wheel took shape around the shadowy mass. Then four crystalline hooves shot out, alongside a stubby tail, a slender neck, and a mouthless head.

    "B-Barky?" Owen flew away in a panic, only to slam the figurative brakes in the face of a crystal blade barrage. He whipped up a dozen Air Slashes, shredding the blades into black powder. "Silvally! What's going on here?!" Owen cried, not wanting to look back at the apparent Barky clone Necrozma had somehow summoned.

    "I don't know! He must've gotten to our world's Arceus!" Silvally glowed orange. He lunged for Arceus, whose crystalline wheel flickered an ominous purple. Silvally phased right through Arceus, squawking in surprise.

    "Heeheeheehee! Charizard Owen… designed with the power to Perceive battle situations in their entirety, considering every possible outcome." James materialized in front of Owen, more crystal blades protruding from the edges of his wings. "But what happens when that Perception runs up against someone with the power to change their typing at will? Can you Perceive chaos? We won't get that answer, of course. You really think I'd be dumb enough to give you that chance? I was nice enough to give you the Barky knockoff as your battle-buddy."

    James raised his wings. The crystal blades shot forward. Owen materialized a shimmering blue barrier. It just barely managed to deflect all the corrupted Spirit Shackles. Owen dove back toward the ground, hoping James would give chase. His mind was a scrambled mess, one part trying to process the new information and the other trying to think of how to deal with James when he could meld into the shadows.

    Owen figured he had to keep Necrozma talking. The guy liked to run his mouth, clearly, and Owen needed to press that trait and hope Necrozma slipped up as a result. He landed on the ground, stomping his right leg back to plant Fire Traps along the ground. "What do you mean by a knockoff Barky, huh?" he asked.

    "Exactly what it says on the tin, boy. You, me, and Silvally over there… we're not Pokémon, we're someone else's creations. We're freaks!" James crooned.

    Silvally skidded to a halt, looking at Owen in surprise. Arceus seized the opening. He swooped in, psychic energy brimming through his face. Silvally's head crest fanned out. His ghost memories switched on. Ectoplasmic talons clashed against a Zen Headbutt. Both Pokémon staggered back from each other, Silvally looking far more disoriented.

    Owen readied a Flamethrower for Arceus' backside, only to catch a ghostly glint in the corner of his eye. He spun around, raking fire through the air. The flames blew apart James' Shadow Balls. James remained in midair, wings spread wide to summon more crystal Spirit Shackle arrows.

    "What's the matter? Never got to swap stories with your interdimensional pen pal?" James taunted. "Oh no, that's right, you couldn't. Your memories are a veritable toybox to your gods. Heeheeheehee. It's such a pity both of you will perish before you really get the chance to talk. You have so much in common, after all!"

    Owen took off, hovering only half a foot off the ground. James pointed his wings down. Crystal arrows raced after Owen. He looped up into the air and glanced back. The arrows followed him. Owen smirked. With a burst of speed, he closed the distance on Arceus. He was too busy readying the holy light of Judgment to see Owen coming.

    But James saw it. His eye flashed. The Spirit Shackles shattered. "Idiot! Keep your eyes peeled!" he snarled. Owen unleashed a Flamethrower. Arceus shifted into a water-type, his wheel glowing blue. Owen's flames barely scratched him, but he roared in fury when lightning pelted him from below.

    Silvally glanced up at Owen, nodding in approval. He pivoted and shot more Thunderbolts at James, aiming toward his head.

    "Useless!" James sneered, dropping to the ground. He realized his mistake a moment too late, however. Fiery plumes erupted all around him, drowning out his startled cries.

    Owen dropped out of the air, placing more Fire Traps. He fluttered his wings. Air Slashes assaulted the clouds left by the earlier explosions. Silvally ran to Owen's side, keeping Arceus at bay with Air Slashes of his own. Arceus rose into the air, wheel turning brown. Silvally's Air Slashes did little more than make Arceus flinch. However, it gave Silvally the necessary time to surround himself with ethereal swords.

    "Think you can keep tending to your friend?" Silvally asked, leg muscles bulging. Steam rose off his body.

    "Of course!" Owen flew forward, only to turn tail and shoot into the air. James trailed after him, along with two dozen crystal arrows.

    "Where do think you're going? I've got you trapped like a caged Joltik!" James taunted. His arrows darted ahead. Owen glanced back at them. He flapped his wings, climbing higher and higher. The ceiling grew closer. Just when it looked like he would crash into it, Owen tucked in his wings. He broke into a freefall. James' arrows couldn't mimic Owen's actions. They shattered against the ceiling in succession.

    Undeterred, James hurled two Shadow Balls toward Owen. In response, Owen shrouded himself in his own Flamethrower, forming a makeshift fire shield that vaporized James' attack. Owen raced out of the black clouds left by the explosions. Air Slash blades whizzed through James' sides. He shrank back, then vanished in a puff of smoke.

    Owen beat his wings, climbing higher. He released short, concentrated Flamethrower bursts. Silvally spotted the gesture. With a flash of blue light, he summoned Waterfall plumes. Arceus' wheel turned bright-green. Two moss-filled Energy Balls split the Waterfalls apart. Then, Owen's fireballs pelted Arceus' back, driving him toward the ground. Silvally lunged. Golden light morphed into orange energy around his forelegs.

    Shredding pain cut through Owen's wing membranes. They reflexively folded against his sides. He fell from the air, roaring. Silvally's eyes widened. He dodged a swipe from Arceus' hooves, dug his talons into Arceus' crystal pelt, and used him a springboard to launch toward Owen.

    "What an adorable gesture. Too bad it's the last thing you'll ever do!"

    Silvally reached Owen just in time to see an insurmountable wall of crystal blades rushing toward him.

    XxX​

    Shane desperately fired an Ice Beam at the approaching lava wall. It froze a small patch. "There's our opening!" Shane barked, using a psychically-charged donkey-kick to knock Mispy through the ice. He lunged in after her. They rolled to a stop before the hulking, crystal-covered form of Primal Groudon. Black magma dripped from his mouth.

    Mispy used the light from the blazing fireball Groudon had summoned overhead to fire off a Solar Beam. A Shedinja zipped in front of the green laser. It absorbed the entire attack, leaving nothing behind but a rainbow shimmer.

    "Don't you have any other attacks you can try? That's not going to work unless we can take out that damn bug!" Shane huffed. He fanned his tails out. Orange Heat Wave winds rippled forward. Shedinja zipped behind Groudon, who stood tall through Shane's attack.

    Groudon brought his fist crashing down. The Heat Wave made his crystal armor glow orange. Jagged, magma-coated rocks burst forth from the ground. Mispy and Shane hit the ground several yards away, their sides scorched. One of Mispy's vine legs lay in front of Groudon, withering away before his eyes.

    "I'll… handle this," Mispy groaned. A soft pink light enveloped her body.

    "I think not!"

    Shedinja raised its stubby arms. Black, sickly vapors washed over Mispy and Shane. The light vanished.

    Mispy looked at the sliced-off section of her vines. "Heal Block!" She looked up at Shedinja, eyes narrowed.

    "Heeheeheehee! Why the long face? Oh, I know. Take away your ultimate healing technique… and you turn into a useless pile of yard trimmings!" Shedinja crooned. "Nothing you can do now but sit and watch as you and everyone else across every reality are purged!"

    Shedinja looked up. Mispy followed his gaze. Her petals wilted at the sight of the golden vortex expanding.

    "Just what's your endgame here, huh?" Shane snarled. More superheated air threatened to torch Shedinja, but Groudon shielded him with his gigantic hands. Shane snorted out tufts of ice. "This all seems pretty stupid of you. If you've got your original body back, why not use it to try and kill us?"

    "Oh, the irony. That you of all people would be talking to me like that." Shedinja's ghostly, armored face was unable to show any expressions but the glee in Necrozma's voice was perfectly clear. "I know how this song and dance routine goes. The all-powerful being goes to attack the mortals directly… only for them to inexplicably win through some ridiculous means like — oh, I don't know — the power of friendship or some nauseatingly-similar idea."

    Shedinja lashed at the air. "Well, I won't have it! I don't need to kill you right here and now. I just have to stall for time until my Cataclysmic Ultra Rift is ready. Then, I will unleash this marvelous decaying energy I stole from Anam… and every world in every reality will deteriorate into nothingness!" Shedinja flew up to Groudon's head. "Isn't it wonderful? Don't answer, that was rhetorical."

    Groudon roared. Lava pooled up around his feet.

    "Damn it. It's coming again!" Shane growled, crouching down and readying an Ice Beam. "Isn't there anything you can do, here?" He glanced at Mispy, who had finished rearranging her vines so she had four shorter legs.

    "I'm thinking," she hissed, petals glowing. Light Screen barriers formed around her and Shane.

    The Lava Plume spread across the battlefield while Shedinja hovered safely out of reach, readying a Shadow Ball. He fired it just as Shane froze a patch of the Lava Plume and lunged through it. His Light Screen absorbed most of the hit.

    "Now!" Shane barked.

    Mispy fired her Solar Beam toward Groudon's right foot. Despite his speed, Shedinja wasn't quick enough to get there and absorb the hit. Groudon's right leg buckled. He dropped to one knee.

    "What are you doing? Get up! Attack them!" Shedinja barked.

    "Hey, there's one thing you forgot to account for, buddy," Shane said. He spat a golden energy ball at Groudon's chest. Hissing, Shedinja flew away. He barely skirted the light geyser that erupted. Groudon toppled over, but he wasn't knocked out. When he hit the ground, more Precipice Blades burst forth from the earth.

    "Ah, not again!" Shane cried, backpedaling as best he could. A Shadow Ball struck him from above, knocking him into a Precipice Blade. The explosion jettisoned him into Mispy. They rolled across the ground until they ended up in a collapsed heap.

    "At least… you tried," Mispy scoffed, struggling to get back to her feet.

    "Don't give me that sass. We're trying to fight a literal volcano god and the best you can do is pelt him with sunlight!" Shane huffed, looking at his scorched fur with a pained wince.

    "I'm Grass," Mispy hissed, some of her vines unfurling.

    Shane's ears stuck up. He levitated Mispy into the air and sprinted right. Slabs of volcanic rock hurtled by him, splattering against the cube barrier. Shane set Mispy down only to squeal as a Shadow Ball blew up in his face. Mispy looked up, but could do nothing to affect Shedinja.

    "It's not much fun being useless, is it?"

    The air in front of Mispy rippled with sound waves. Shane chomped down on some of her vines and yanked her away before Shedinja's Bug Buzz tore up the dirt. He spat a golden orb at Shedinja, who hovered backward and dodged with minimal effort.

    "Honestly, for all the claims about his intelligence, Nevren really wasn't thinking with you was he, Mispy? Meganium is such a worthless species. No real way to counter such glaring weaknesses." Shedinja bobbed about, giggling madly. "Do you get it? Glaring? It's a light pun! Because I'll have every last drop of your light soon enough. Heeheeheehee!"

    "Wow. Worse than Demitri," Mispy whispered.

    Shane saddled up to Mispy. "Listen, we've gotta take Shedinja out of the equation. Then you can actually hit Groudon."

    Mispy frowned. "How?"

    Groudon's roar jolted them both to attention. Shane telekinetically plucked Mispy off the ground. He dragged her to the left side of the battlefield, barely running fast enough to dodge the Precipice Blades shooting up from the earth. More Bug Buzz waves threatened to smack Shane's rear. Mispy projected Light Screen barriers, deflecting the sound ripples away.

    "I've got an idea." Shane zagged right, swerving past Groudon's Flamethrower. "You can change those vines of yours, right? Well, you need to wrap them all around me!"

    Mispy looked disgusted at the prospect. "I'm taken!"

    "No, no! It's to attack Shedinja," Shane said. He managed to fire another golden energy ball. Its explosion blinded Groudon and Shedinja. Shane set Mispy down, struggling to catch his breath. "I'm going… to launch us… into the air. Then you fling me at Shedinja as hard you can."

    "Are you crazy?"

    "Probably! But thinking crazy is the only reason my team's survived as long as we have. So, you're going to have to trust me, here," Shane said, extending a foreleg toward her.

    Mispy sighed. "Fine," she hissed, uncoiling her vines and wrapping them around Shane's torso so she lay on top of him. "Tell nobody." The tighter grip around his body implied the punishment.

    The light from Shane's attack faded, revealing another Lava Plume wall heading straight for them. "Now or never!" Shane barked. He tensed up. With a burst of ESP, he launched himself into the air. "Okay, this is it!"

    Mispy tensed her core. She spun Shane around a single time, then whipped all of her vines at once. Shane shot through the air like a white, fluffy bullet. Shedinja frantically flung a Shadow Ball at Shane, but he already had gathered the energy he needed. Superheated air snuffed the Shadow Ball out. The lingering bits of the Heat Wave struck Shedinja.

    "Ha! Nice try, lo—"

    Shedinja shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, which evaporated.

    "Yes! It worked! It—"

    Groudon spiked Shane into the ground in the best impression of a volleyball player a hulking behemoth could manage. Mispy winced as she landed safely beside a Ninetales-shaped crater. Fortunately, the ominous black smoke from Shedinja's Heal Block had faded. Mispy stuck two of her vines into the hole and plucked Shane out, filling him with warm healing energy in the process. "Hello?" she asked.

    Shane stared back at her, cross-eyed. "Hiya, Mom. Thanks for picking me up from school so late."

    Mispy smacked Shane's cheek, leaving a vine-shaped imprint with a ripple of pink light. Shane blinked several times, then shook his head out. "Nrgh. That was… unpleasant. Thanks for the help." He turned around. "Now, let's strike in uni— oh, come on!"

    Precipice Blades erupted all around them. Shane fired a golden energy ball forward, destroying two of the giant rock slabs. "Follow me!" he said, running into the debris cloud. Sighing, Mispy tailed him. Luck was on their side, as the remaining Precipice Blades burst up a few feet behind them.

    "Quick. Attack him!" Shane said.

    "I know," Mispy said, petals alit. A green laser struck Groudon right in the face. He staggered backwards, throwing his arms up to his eyes. Pink explosions shrouded his legs, cracking his prism armor. Groudon roared as he fell slowly onto his back, leaving trails of black magma behind him.

    "All right, we've gotta make this count!" Shane stuck his left foreleg toward Mispy. "Grab this. I've got another idea!"

    Mispy looked at Shane's grimy paw like it was a plate of rotten berries. She reluctantly extended a vine toward him. Shane tapped the gem on his Naturia Looplet to Mispy's vines. Orange light raced up her vines, then covered her entire body. Her eyes widened, the energy making her grin uncontrollably. "W-What—"

    "It's Z-Power. Now, make like you're going to use your Solar Beam," Shane said, glowing with a similar orange aura.

    "Mm." Mispy focused on this new, alien energy. A part of her was reluctant to let it go, but it wouldn't matter if she couldn't escape her current predicament. She funneled the Z-Power into her petals. Instead of firing giant green laser, however, light trailed off her petals and formed a patch of grass around Groudon.

    Despite Groudon's flames, flowers bloomed on the grassy field. Then, they exploded in a gigantic green geyser. Mispy's jaw dropped. Shane was unfazed, however. He reared up, then slammed his forelegs on the ground. The very air around Groudon seemed to splinter. Mispy could hear glass shattering. She had to shield her eyes as pink, explosive ripples encased Groudon.

    When the dust settled, there was no sign of him. Mispy sat down, digging her vines into the dirt. "Th… that was..." She looked at Shane. "What was that?"

    "The same thing you did. We call 'em Z-Moves," Shane explained. "Do they not have them in your world?"

    "Um… maybe?" Mispy's petals bristled. Her face scrunched up. "What we did… nobody. Nobody."

    XxX​

    "Oy! Stop sittin' around and do something!"

    Gahi frantically buzzed around, doing midair loops and somersaults while dragon-shaped beams whizzed past his wings. He turned around, Dragon Claws at the ready, only for a purple and black blur to hammer him from the side. Like a scaly, oversized fly, he smacked against the cube barrier and slid down it, groaning.

    Espy dashed toward him, shooting a Shadow Ball above her. Mega Latias snuffed it out with a pink barrier, then retaliated with a Shadow Ball of her own. Espy nimbly leaped over it, landing by a dazed Gahi.

    "There, I did something. Happy?" Espy huffed.

    "No!" Gahi growled, rubbing his snout. "Yer making me look like a num'skull!"

    "You're the one who said he could fly circles around these two!" Espy said, jabbing a forepaw into Gahi's shoulder.

    "I can! They're cheatin'!" Gahi whined. He shot back into the air, only to suck in his gut. Mega Latios' Dragon Pulse whizzed past him. Gahi looked right, where Latios stuck his tongue out. "Grr! Why you—"

    "Behind you!" Espy cried. Her desperate Psychic met Latias' Ice Beam a half-foot behind Gahi. He zipped away from the icy explosion.

    "Heeheeheehee! You're looking a little winded there, Gahi," Latias giggled. "And here I thought you'd be excited at the prospect of facing someone who could match your speed. Where's that sense of thrill, huh?" She smirked. "I suppose it's hard to be enthusiastic when you can't get close enough to use your one and only attack!"

    "Hey! I know more attacks! I just… ain't good at 'em yet, is all!" Gahi spat. "I just evolved!"

    "It's not my fault the powers that be lacked the foresight to give you better moves… or that you're so much of a lunkhead you take ages to learn a single move." Latias shrugged. "I could go for either excuse, re—"

    Gahi's attempts at slashing Latias across the face ended with him in a psychic bind inches in front of Latias. She smiled and waved daintily at Gahi before Latios slammed him into the barrier multiple times.

    "Crud!" Espy hurled a Shadow Ball upwards. The Lati twins backed off. Espy turned around. Keeping track of both of them was proving far too troublesome. She shot another Shadow Ball at Latios, then leaped to her right. A blue pulse struck the ground. Espy looked up. Gahi shook the stars from his vision. "Hey, you're hurt! Get down here so I can patch you up!"

    Black smoke spread across the battlefield. Espy found herself unable to pull an oran berry out from her bag. "Of course… Heal Block." She shook her head. "Okay, this is bad." Her ears and tail stuck up. She looked up. Shimmering blue light filled her vision. Espy braced herself, only for the ground to give out under her. She opened her eyes to find herself several feet in the air. Espy flailed her legs about.

    "Quit movin' around! I'm gonna drop you if you don't cut it out!" Gahi growled.

    "Then put me down!"

    "No. Look, I can't him 'em from a distance. And you can't move fast enough to keep up with 'em," Gahi said, his wings bristling. "We've gotta stick tergether, yeh?"

    No sooner did he finish saying that than a pair of Ice Beams raced toward him. Espy deflected them with a Light Screen barrier. "Okay, I think I see your point," she said, trying not to look down. "Can you at least get me up on your back?"

    "Sure. Up yeh go!"

    "Ah, wait… not like that! Not like tha— aat!"

    Gahi tossed Espy skyward and caught her on his back while dodging two more Ice Beams. He shot forward. Espy barely managed to get herself up, but grinned when her next Shadow Ball hit Latios' wing. He spiraled down toward the ground.

    "Yes! It actually worked!" She fist-pumped. Her joy was short-lived, however, because Latias swooped down and bathed her brother in pink light. The cracks in his crystalline wing mended. "Son of a— ugh, I really should've seen that one coming."

    "They can heal themselves? I knew it! They're lousy cheaters!" Gahi hissed. He was about to divebomb them when Espy bit down on one of his antennae. "Yow! Oi! What was that fer?!"

    "Don't go rushing in blindly. We need to come up with a plan," Espy said, opening up her satchel. She poked her head in, silently playing. "Perfect!" Espy squealed, popping up with a wand in her mouth. She levitated it to Gahi.

    "Are yeh kidding me? Yeh want me to bonk 'em with some silly rod? This ain't gonna do a thing!" Gahi protested.

    "Yes it will!" Espy said, fending off Ice Beams with another Light Screen. "It's a Slow Wand. All you've gotta do is swing it to shoot energy blasts at them. If you hit them, you'll slow them down and then you'll be able to fly circles around them."

    Gahi's eyes sparkled. He grabbed the Slow Wand and took off, circling the battlefield's perimeter.

    "You can pow-wow as much as you want. It won't make a difference to me!" Latios boasted. He signaled Latias. They darted toward Gahi, looking to intercept.

    "Okay, here's our chance," Espy said. Her ectoplasmic energy ball sailed toward Latios' right. Gahi flicked the wand to Latios' left and perfectly intercepted him. Gahi sharply cut left, making a beeline for Latios.

    "Hang on!" Gahi shouted, before rolling away from an Ice Beam. "Ha! And yeh were mocking me fer only using one attack!" Glowing blue claws slammed into Latios' wing. "Who's the lunkhead now, eh?"

    "Why you—" Latios gnashed his gemstone teeth together.

    "Go for Latias. I got this!" Espy said. She lunged off Gahi, catching him and Latios by surprise. Espy held onto a Shadow Ball and rammed it into Latios' torso. His cracked wing shattered. He and Espy fell to the ground. She fired psychic waves to gracefully land beside a dizzy Latios.

    Her ears twitched. Espy leaped into the path of a pink beam. The Heal Pulse restored her vitality, giving her the strength to shatter Latios' other wing with more ghostly energy.

    "Nrghgraa! No! This is impossible! I arranged this perfectly!" Latios snarled. A heavy thud sounded as Latias landed in an impact crater a yard away, twitching.

    "Ha! Who's the Slowpoke now?" Gahi said, flexing his tiny arms.

    "Don't celebrate yet. Get down here and help me finish these two!" Espy huffed.

    "Eh? But it'll really knock 'em out if I divebomb 'em!" Gahi said, frowning.

    "That's not— ugh, look, that won't work on them. We need a special move to take them out," Espy said.

    Gahi brushed his cheek. "And just what can yeh do that's so special, huh?"

    Rolling her eyes, Espy tossed Latios beside his sister. "Guess I'll handle the cleanup, then," she muttered. Z-Power spilled out from her Naturia Looplet. Espy arced her head up. Shadows swirled around the Lati twins. Giant purple arms burst forth from the ground.

    "What in the—" Gahi sped toward Espy. "Where's all this coming from?"

    The arms slammed down on Latios and Latias one after another, culminating in an eerie purple explosion. When the shadows vanished, there wasn't a trace of either of them.

    "Why didn't yeh just do that from the get-go?!" Gahi fumed, hovering in front of Espy's face. "Coulda saved us a lotta trou—"

    Espy shoved an oran berry into Gahi's open mouth.

    "Your leader was right. You do not know when to shut up."

    XxX
    Continued in the next post...
     
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Continued from previous post...

    XxX​

    "Nrrgh! Hold! Still!"

    A Klefki zipped through rock spires shooting out of the ground. "And why should I do something like that? It's much more fun watching you flail around!" she cackled, jingling her keys. "Poor Demitri. Can't punch your way through your problems without your friends around. It breaks my heart." Klefki flew behind him. "Oh, wait, I don't have a heart!" She shook her head. "Silly bizarre Pokémon anatomy. So confusing, isn't it?"

    Demitri angrily stomped around. "Why you— shut up! I… I…" He gripped his head and shook it.

    "Heeheeheehee! Want to know what else is confusing? Those tusks of yours. How can you detach them and not, like, get an infection or anything?" Kelfki wondered, remaining behind Demitri. "For that matter, how do they even come back to you when you throw them? The physics ain't there, doofus!"

    From across the battlefield, Tessa looked over her shoulder. "What are you doing? Can't you tell when an opponent's Swaggering you?" she barked.

    "Well, uh… oh." Demitri dropped to one knee and stared at his hand. It was blurry, like he'd stuck it under water. "H-Hey. Why can't you help?"

    Tessa fired an Aura Sphere. It collided with a mirror image. She threw an arm up over her face. "Because I'm a bit busy at the moment!" she growled. Tessa charged a Flash Cannon, but her aura feelers tensed. She hopped back. A dragon-shaped beam hit the ground in front of her. Giratina's serpentine Origin Form loomed overhead. Tessa fired straight up, then took off running.

    Two Dragon Pulses snuffed out the Flash Cannon. Blue fireballs gathered in Giratina's other four tendrils. Tessa glanced back. Her aura feelers shot up in alarm. She sprinted toward Kelfki, who had knocked Demitri to his belly with a mouth-shaped burst of pink energy. Four Aura Spheres chased after Tessa. She somersaulted underneath Klefki.

    "Hmm? Eager to perish by my keys, huh? Well, I'm happy to ob—"

    Tessa punched Kelfki into the oncoming Aura Spheres. Explosions drowned out her startled cries. Sighing in relief, Tessa leaned over and yanked Demitri up. He stumbled to a stop.

    "Th-Thanks." Demitri rubbed the back of his head. "Think you can keep Klefki off my back? I might be able to take that big, ugly snake."

    "Sounds good to me," Tessa replied, happy to have that burden off her shoulders. The relief came to an abrupt stop as Giratina charged out of a shadowy portal and hammered Tessa into the barrier.

    Blue energy sheathed Demitri's tusks. He tried to slash Giratina, but electricity ran up his spine. He froze in place.

    "Heeheeheehee! Forgetting someone?"

    Demitri tried to move, but his legs wouldn't respond. He could do nothing but stare into Giratina's face as two Dragon Pulses blew him toward the far side of the battlefield.

    Tessa scrambled toward him, clutching her right shoulder in pain. Giratina shot Aura Spheres from his tendrils. Tessa tucked her head in and stuck close to the barrier. The Aura Spheres slammed against it. She stumbled and fell to her stomach beside Demitri. They both groaned in pain.

    "Gah! This is so frustrating!" Tessa threw her paws over his face. "We need a plan. Can you stand up?"

    "Nrrgh… n-no. Can't feel my legs," Demitri muttered. "Oh, Mew, it's like I'm in one of those nightmares where I'm running away from a giant death beam, but no matter what I do, it keeps getting closer."

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. She rolled to her feet and swung electrified fists around to snuff out Klefki's Thunder Wave. This left Tessa vulnerable. She took a blue fireball to the back. Tessa got a mouthful of dirt for her troubles. She smacked the ground with a paw, mentally telling herself to take deep breaths.

    "Heeheeheehee! Why, you work even worse with dino-breath over here than you did with Shane when you two were starting out," Klefki said. "I should've considered trying even harder to drive a wedge between you two."

    Aura surged in Tessa's paws. She nearly hurled an Aura Sphere forward, but stopped at the last moment when she realized she was staring down Giratina. Tessa instead jammed a paw into her bag.

    "Oh no you don't!"

    Black smoke spread out from Klefki. Tessa lunged for Demitri. She managed to jam a heal seed and an oran berry into his mouth right before the Heal Block caught her and sealed off crucial items. Tessa spun around, shooting gray beams from her paws. They faltered before two Dragon Pulses.

    "Come on. Get up! I need backup, here," Tessa growled, grabbing Demitri by the arm and yanking him up.

    "Agh! I'm up! I'm up!" Demitri rolled his arm. "Holy Mew. And here I thought Mispy's grips were strong."

    "Less talking, more attacking," Tessa said. She hurled a blast seed through the air. Thinking quickly, Demitri detached his tusks. One sliced through the blast seed before Giratina or Klefki could break it. An explosion blinded Demitri's foes.

    "Get back!" Demitri said. He punched the ground. Stone spires jutted up in front of him. Pained cries sounded across the battlefield. Demitri's tail wagged.

    Tessa seized her opening and tracked Klefki's aura. Reeling from the Stone Edge, Klefki had no countermeasures for her Aura Sphere. By the same token, however, Tessa lacked the means to defend herself against Giratina's Aura Spheres. Luckily, Demitri was ready. His first tusk returned to him, slicing two blue fireballs apart. Demitri downed the other two with his other tusk.

    "Clever parlor trick. But that's the last time I'm letting you pull it off!" Klefki hissed.

    "He's coming in overhead!" Tessa said, leaping into the air to intercept. A dragon-shaped beam sniped her first, however. Tessa hit the barrier and crashed into the ground.

    Demitri readied another Stone Edge, but wasn't fast enough. Klefki's sparks peppered his scales. Paralysis set in once again. Demitri slowly came to a stop in mid-swing.

    Tessa shakily lifted her head to see Demitri's arms and tail twitching, with Klefki circling around him, laughing gleefully. "No… it can't end like this. It can't."

    Her field of vision turned blue.

    "Come on… come on. I won't… I can't… give up here!"

    A sudden surge of energy shot through Tessa's system. She zoomed across the ground, skirting Aura Spheres. Giratina dropped from the sky, mouth open wide to swallow Tessa up. However, the orange blur raced by him. Tessa banked right. She lunged for Klefki, nabbing her in an electrified fist. Tessa slammed Kelfki into the ground.

    Demitri's eyes widened. "W-Wait… did you just transform?"

    Tessa thrust her paws apart, dispelling the orange glow and revealing her Mega Evolution in its full splendor. She fixed her blazing red eyes on Klefki. "Chew on this, dirtbag!" She grabbed hold of Demitri's tail.

    "H-Hey. Wait a second! I'm not okay with th— ahh!"

    Tessa used a very literal version of Dragon Hammer. Repeatedly.

    Tessa successfully smashed Klefki to bits and pieces, her fairy-typing unable to save her from blunt-force trauma. Victorious, Tessa hoisted a dizzy Demitri up. "Oogh. Is it over? I've got the worst sense of déjà vu," he groaned.

    "Not yet. Ready to move faster than you've ever moved before?" Tessa said.

    Demitri's eyes bugged out. "No! I'm not! Put me down!" But his paralysis hindered his movements.

    Tessa stuffed another heal seed into his mouth. "Ready your Dual Chop."

    "Wait, what? How are you going to—"

    Tessa used Fling.

    "Seriously?!" Demitri cried, speeding through the air. He managed to gather his wits, channeling energy into his tusks. Giratina was so unprepared, he couldn't ready an attack before Demitri collided with him. Demitri dug in his claws, then hacked away with his tusks. Giratina fell to the ground, roaring in pain. He shattered into hundreds of pieces that promptly evaporated, leaving Demitri stuck in the ground by his tail-axe.

    "Nice work! You were perfect," Tessa cheered, fist-pumping in excitement.

    "Yeah. Great. Feels great. Go team," Demitri deadpanned, yanking his tail out of the ground. He arced his back, which cricked loudly. "Oogh. That's gonna hurt in the morning." He looked up at the sky. "Say, uh… is it me or has the sky gotten brighter since we started fighting?"

    Tessa followed his gaze. Her aura dreadlocks crinkled. "That's… that's not good."

    XxX​

    Crystal arrows punctured Owen's wing membranes. One struck him in the right thigh. Owen roared, desperately flapping his wings to maintain altitude. Shadows swirled beneath him. James' lone red eye pierced through the darkness. Flames split the shadows apart, revealing James readying Spirit Shackle arrows. Owen's eyes widened. He braced himself for a fresh wave of pain.

    But it was James who cried out instead. Owen caught a glimpse of Silvally's tail whizzing by. His relief was short-lived, however. Arceus' wheel shimmered in the distance. Rock shards careened toward him. Owen had no choice but to tuck his wings in, falling to the ground and running as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.

    Arceus looked down at him. He tensed up. An unsettling chill ran down Owen's spine. He instinctively whipped his wings forward. Arceus popped up inches in front of him and staggered backward, hissing in surprise. Owen shrugged off his lucky prediction of Arceus using Extreme Speed. He pushed Arceus back with a Flamethrower.

    "You're not getting away from me, worm!"

    Panicking, Owen tried shooting into the air, but the holes in his wings hindered his movement. Owen concentrated on the Mystic power dwelling in his core and channeled it into his wings. He hovered out of the way of an arrow barrage. Owen glanced down.

    "I've got this! Keep Arceus at bay for me!" Silvally shouted, icy air swirling around his beak and talons.

    James peeled himself off the barrier. "What's this? Setting your boyfriend up to take the fall, are we? That's not very nice of—"

    A sheet of ice pelted James, freezing him to the ground. Silvally was ready to lunge and wail on James, when he skidded to a halt. He glanced back at Owen, who Arceus had knocked back with a nasty Zen Headbutt.

    'Wait. Don't I have to finish this guy off with a Z-Move or Mega Evolution to free him from Necrozma's control?' Silvally winced. He couldn't do either of those things. Did that mean James was doomed to have his life force drained by Necrozma. Silvally scanned the battlefield. He squinted at the light beams Arceus sent toward Owen. His eyes flickered.

    "Ah! That's it!" he shouted. Silvally raced forward, leaving James frozen in place, even though the ice was chipping away. Silvally bounded toward Owen, beak open wide.

    Owen flew right over him, a confused look on his face. "What are you doing? What about James?"

    "We can't finish him off yet. If we do, you might lose your friend forever!" Silvally explained. "You have to tend to him. I've got a plan!" He zipped away before Owen could ask him for details. Silvally collected all the dust from Arceus' latest attack in the base of his mouth.

    Arceus slammed his hooves on the ground. Stone Edge spires jutted up. Silvally clamped his beak shut and held his breath, worried about inhaling all the dust. He weaved through the rocks, then turned tail and ran back through them, gathering more dust in his beak. Silvally dashed toward Owen. The latter stood in front of James, Flamethrower at the ready if he burst out of the ice.

    Roaring, Arceus landed on the ground. Bright light rippled across his body. An unseen weight pressed down on Silvally's shoulders. He nearly fell to the ground, losing all the dust in the process. Silvally clamped his beak shut and shook his head about. Likewise, Owen choked on his own Flamethrower, struggling to maintain his footing.

    "What's going on here?" Owen grunted.

    "Gravity, of course! I'm surprised you didn't recognize it. It's a Barky specialty!"

    Owen's eyes widened. Pain spread through his chest. He sailed through the air and landed in a heap near Silvally, who glanced to his right to see Arceus readying another attack. Silvally's eyes widened. He had no other choice to put his plan into action. Silvally turned left and stomped on Owen's belly. Owen gasped, mouth opening wide.

    'Sorry about this.'

    Silvally spat a small gem out of his mouth and into Owen's. He sat up, eyes wide, looking ready to gag. "What was that for?!" Owen huffed.

    "Heeheeheehee! Aww, look, the lovebirds are having a special moment right before I take their light. How adorable," James said. "But we have to keep this T-rated, so I'm afraid I have to intervene!"

    A half-dozen arrows raced toward Owen and Silvally, accompanied by dazzling light beams from Arceus. Owen stepped forward, opened his mouth wide, and spewed a massive stream of blue fire, blowing apart the arrows. Silvally leaped in front of Owen, ghost memories active, and blunted the Judgment beams with purple ectoplasm. Orange light shimmered behind him.

    James' eyes widened. "No, that's impossible! He shouldn't be able to do that!"

    Silvally smirked. "You should've been more careful, Necrozma. All those attacks Barky over here used gave off stardust." He narrowed his eyes dangerously. "And you know what we can do with that stardust."

    "Emeras…" James eyes darted about. "Awakening emeras?!" He whirled on Arceus. "Fool! Attack them! Kill them! Rip them to pieces!"

    A fiery tornado erupted behind Silvally, giving way to a pillar of orange light. Owen burst forth from the light with a mighty roar, spreading his freshly-healed, dark-blue, newly-jagged wings apart. Blue flames licked at the corners of his mouth. Owen looked at his black-scaled hands and thickened claws. "Th… this is… I feel…"

    Spirit Shackle arrows whizzed toward him. Owen effortlessly blew them apart with a massive Flamethrower, as blue as his enlarged tail-flame. Below him, Silvally lunged into the air, slicing apart giant rocks with his bright orange talons.

    "It's up to you, Owen! Use that surge of power to free your friend!" Silvally cried, kicking off a rock and lunging for Arceus.

    Owen's gut stirred. Without even thinking, Owen sped toward James. His body heated up. That heat morphed into a surge of familiar energy. He'd seen Gahi and Demitri using it numerous times. Corkscrewing through James' desperate Shadow Ball, Owen couldn't help but shout, "DRAGON!"

    He collided with James. A veritable tsunami of blue energy crashed into him. James struck the cube barrier. His prism armor shattered as he fell to the ground. Owen didn't have time to question how he had effortlessly succeeded in learning Outrage. He swooped down, caught James, then gently lowered him to the ground. James faded into a blue fireball that dissolved into Owen's belly.

    "Hang tight, James. This'll all be over soon," Owen said, patting his stomach. He turned and shot off after Silvally, channeling the same energy he'd used to attack James with. Silvally spotted Owen out of the corner of his eye and shifted to his grass memories. Green energy shrouded his forelegs.

    Arceus' wheel ignited. Before he could pelt Silvally with fireballs, however, Owen slammed into him from behind, leaving a giant crack in Arceus' hide. Silvally shifted over to his water memories. He lunged toward Arceus and intercepted him with a swipe of his talons. Arceus crashed into the ground with a raspy groan. Owen flew to Silvally's side. They dived toward Arceus in unison.

    The resultant shockwave generated from their piercing of Arceus' body obliterated all the cube barriers. They, along with Arceus' shattered remnants, faded away into a black mist, leaving Owen and Silvally standing side by side.

    "Oh, thank goodness! You're all okay!"

    Tessa ran over toward Silvally. His eyes widened. "Tessa! A-Are you sure you're okay like that?" he asked.

    "Yeah, I'm fine. I don't really know how, but I'm managing," she replied.

    "Oi! What's all this now? Owen… since when could yeh Mega Evolve?"

    Gahi whizzed by Owen, stopping to look at his backside. He frowned as Owen turned around. "Silvally helped me do it thanks to some, um, split-second thinking," Owen said. "I was able to rescue James from Necrozma's control. He's tucked away in the Grass Orb for now. What's more… I'm finally a dragon!" Owen tilted his head up and belted out blue fire. "Isn't this great?"

    "Huh. Well, consider yourself lucky. If you'd gotten the other Mega Evolution that Charizard are capable of, you'd have kept your typing," Shane said, unable to stop himself from smirking at the sight of another Pokémon fanboying over dragon-types.

    Gahi, on the other hand, wasn't amused. "Wait. Owen has two Mega Evolutions?"

    Shane nodded. "Isn't it great?" he said, smugly mimicking Owen's question from earlier.

    "No! It's unfair is what is! Why did Star give him two Mega Evolutions while I get nothing?" Gahi huffed. "I can understand her ignoring Mispy. Mega Meganium doesn't make any sense. But the world needs Mega Flygon!"

    "Funny you should mention that. I'm pretty sure the—" Shane paused en route to Gahi and Owen. "Err, I think the powers that be wanted to make a Mega Flygon, but couldn't come up with any solid ideas for what it should look like. Well, that's the case in this world anyway."

    Gahi looked about ready to burst a blood vessel. Owen zipped to his side and threw an arm over Gahi's neck. "Aha ha ha. Well, I'm sure Star would be happy to listen to your complaints when we get back home."

    "Um, guys?"

    Everyone turned toward Espy, who was looking up at the sky. "We still haven't, y'know, actually stopped Necrozma."

    As if on cue, the golden vortex above their heads stopped swirling. Its center spread apart, revealing a multicolored portal.

    "Heehee… heeheeheehee! Yes! It's finally ready!"

    Shane's tails shot into the air. "Damn it! If Necrozma fires his decay powers into that thing… then every world in every reality will perish! We've gotta do something!"

    "Wait… that's his plan?!" Demitri shot stunned looks toward his teammates. "B-But that means—"

    "We have to stop him now," Mispy said.

    "But I already spent up my Z-Power," Espy said, glancing at her looplet.

    "Then we have to make a run at Necrozma. He's practically built from the stuff!" Silvally said, bending down. "Get on. We've got no time to lose!"

    Team Radiance climbed aboard Silvally while Mispy hopped onto Gahi and Demitri got on Owen. Silvally flipped to his dark memories. "Everyone, form behind me!"

    He charged forward, passing through the ruins of Destiny Tower. Team Alloy trailed behind him, their eyes trained on Necrozma. Light tendrils trailed off his body, streaming toward the sky to stabilize the Cataclysmic Ultra Rift. Two multicolored eyes opened.

    "Do you fools really think you can stop me? How utterly laughable! I will mull you down where you stand!" Necrozma shouted. Golden beams fired from his wings.

    "There's our chance!" Silvally said, skidding to a halt. "You guys, scatter! My team will gather up stardust!" Silvally took off running again, trying to avoid the giant lasers.

    Gahi and Owen stayed airborne, the former zipping effortlessly through a series of brightly-colored explosions, while the latter had to throw up a blue barrier to keep himself from getting vaporized. Owen shot a stream of fire toward Necrozma, but he was too far away for the attack to do much of anything.

    "Obnoxious pests. Die already!"

    Shadows bubbled in Necrozma's wings. This time, sickly, thorn-like globs twisted through the air. Owen's eyes widened. "Gahi, get back! You can't let those things touch you!"

    "Yeh, yeh, I know, I know!" Gahi was back beside Owen in an instant. Mispy looked a bit dazed. "When are they gonna tell us what their big plan is?"

    "Just focus on dodging," Owen said, flying to the right. A liquid thorn came perilously close to clipping his wing, but Mispy zapped it away with a well-timed Solar Beam. Gahi flew ahead of Owen, trying to steer his friend through the tangled mess of corrupted energy. After a few rolls and tumbles, Owen emerged out the end of Necrozma's deadly, makeshift labyrinth. They were now close enough Necrozma that Owen had to squint just to see anything.

    "Down here!" Silvally cried, prompting Owen and Gahi to look down.

    "Oh no you don't!" Necrozma roared. His eyes flashed pink. A psychic force took hold of all four members of Team Alloy. Owen struggled in vain while Necrozma levitated him higher into the air. "Heeheeheehee! Well, you certainly provided me with some entertainment, I'll give you that. But it's time you met your ends." More shadows bubbled in his wing membranes. "Now, perish!"

    Before Necrozma could launch the killing blow, white light hammered him from below. Screeching, Necrozma lost his grip on Team Alloy.

    "Your turn, Espy!" Shane cried, rushing to intercept Team Alloy with Silvally. Espy looked up, forehead gem flashing. A second Dazzling Gleam struck Necrozma between his golden legs. He coughed up a mouthful of sparkling spittle. One of the light tendrils tethering him to the Ultra Rift tore apart.

    "Nrrrgh! Stop! Stop it! I am Necrozma, Devourer of Light… Destroyer of Worlds! You cannot defeat me! I am eternal!" Necrozma thundered.

    "Yeah, well you should've thought about that before tethering yourself to your fancy-schmancy portal, asshole!" Espy fired back. She turned around and shook her rear at him, swishing her tail from side to side.

    Red light flared up all through Necrozma's eyes and body. "Indolent little cur! I will annihilate the lot of you!" Necrozma craned his head up. Purple and black decay energy formed up into a ball over his mouth. It swelled bigger and bigger until it was even larger than Necrozma. "Heehee… heeheeheehee! This is the end for you… for all of you!"

    Necrozma thrust his wings down, flinging the death sphere down toward Team Alloy and Team Radiance.

    Espy shot a frantic look toward the rest of the group. "Do it now, Shane!" she cried, lifting up her looplet. It shimmered with golden light. A fresh orange aura enveloped her. Espy tensed up, one again summoning the giant ghost-arms from the ground and launching them toward Necrozma's energy ball. They pressed up against the decay energy, but only slowed its progress.

    Then another orange flash erupted. A giant ice beam joined Espy's ghost arms, slowing the death ball to a complete stop.

    Necrozma's multicolored eyes widened. "What? That's impossible! Nothing can stand up to that power! It's meant to be unstoppable!" he snarled. "And you burned up all your Z-Moves! How? Why?!"

    "It's thanks to all that light energy you poured into your attacks!" Silvally said, grinning. "I thought you out of everyone would know what a force Z-Power is to be reckoned with!"

    The death sphere slowly moved back toward Necrozma. He tried to float back, but his light tethers kept him place. "No. It won't end like this! I refuse! You will never defeat me!" Necrozma spread his wings out. Purple energy coalesced around his chest spike. He struck the death ball with a Moongeist Beam, pushing it back toward the ground.

    Silvally glanced at Owen's teammates. "We're up! Get ready!"

    Mispy wrapped some of her vines around Silvally's Memory Looplet, then looped others around Demitri's and Gahi's arms. Orange light spread across all three of them.

    "Whoa! This feeling! It's almost like… like…" Demitri's voice trailed off. Dragonfire pooled in the back of his throat. He and Gahi looked up in unison. Both belched out gigantic dragons made of blue-purple fire. The energy-dragons corkscrewed around one another until they joined with the other attacks. This brought the death ball to a standstill once again.

    "Nrrgh… nnn… h-how? This can't… be happening!" Necrozma grunted.

    "It's time to put an end to all of this!" Tessa bellowed, aura charging in her paws. She glanced at Owen. "You ready?"

    Owen nodded, mouth ready to burst open with flames.

    "Say your prayers, Necrozma!" Tessa shouted. She thrust her paws forward, releasing a giant blue beam. At the same time, Owen unleashed an equally-massive Flamethrower. The moment they struck the death sphere, blue energy rippled across it. The collision sent it hurtling back toward Necrozma, bolstered by the combination of Z-Moves.

    "No! No!" Necrozma couldn't keep his Moongeist Beam up while trying to destroy his light tendrils. "Jam… blast— arrrgh!"

    His agonized screams echoed through the sky for a few seconds before a tremendous multicolor explosion drowned him out. The blast was so strong, it knocked everyone onto their backs. As the explosion faded, the faint sounds of shattering glass rang out across the island.

    In flashes of orange light, Owen and Tessa returned to normal. Tessa dropped to her paws and knees, panting heavily. "O-Ow," she squeaked. "Let's not… ever do that… again."

    Owen looked at his hands and sighed. "It was fun while it lasted, I guess."

    "Is it over? Did we win?" Demitri asked, rubbing his head.

    The dust finally settled. All traces of the Cataclysmic Ultra Rift had vanished. The sky was now a deep-purple, with scattered traces of black clouds. Mispy looked up and frowned. "Doesn't feel like it," she whispered.

    "We did it!" Shane shouted, hopping about. "Thank the gods, this nightmare is finally over!"

    "Yeh sure about that? Cause yer world looks pretty dang depressin'," Gahi said, flying forward and taking in the view of Destiny Tower's ruins.

    Shane winced. "It… it's not supposed to look like this. But since we beat Necrozma, everything should go back to normal! Right guys?" He looked to his teammates, tails wagging. But when none of them responded, his ears and tails drooped. "Uh, guys?"

    Tessa jogged away from the group, aura feelers twitching. She slowed down upon finding the source of the irritation: the shattered remnants of Necrozma's core. Black slime oozed out of the colorless glass shards. "Hey! I, uh… I found Necrozma!" she called. "Or what's left of him, anyway."

    "You're kidding! He survived that?" Shane said, running to Tessa's side. He cringed when he saw what was left. "Eww. Never mind." He looked over his shoulder and barked, "Hey, watch where you're stepping, everyone!"

    "How should we get rid of it?" Tessa wondered.

    "I dunno," Shane said, brow furrowed. "I guess I could freeze it and then you could break it?"

    Tessa shrugged. "I guess that works."

    Shane sucked in a breath, only to stumble back, squeaking in surprise as an Ultra Wormhole opened up in front of him. A neon-blue hook shot out of the portal and embedded in the ground. A blue forcefield encased Necrozma's remains and levitated them up into the air.

    "Finally! Yo, Vix. We've got him!"

    Shane's tails shot into the air. "What's going on here? Who goes there?" he said.

    "You're kidding me! After all that, we've got another problem?" Owen groaned, trudging over alongside Silvally and his teammates.

    The forcefield bubble moved to the side. A Solgaleo stepped out of the portal, the modified grappling hook sticking out from a band around his right foreleg.

    "W-Whoa! It's that thing Necrozma looked like," Demitri said. "What does it want with us?"

    "Oh, don't worry about Aelius, here. He's fine."

    Aelius turned to reveal two Vulpixes, a Zorua, and a Fennekin sitting on his left side. Each one wore a white jumpsuit and helmeted visor that looked awfully familiar to Team Radiance.

    "What's wit' the crazy getups? You guys aliens?" Gahi wondered, tilting his head to the side.

    "An Ultra Recon Squad?" Espy's eyes narrowed. "Wait a second… I recognize this combo! You're Team Foxtrot, aren't you? The ones Team Paradox rescued… and who inadvertently freed Necrozma from his prison!" She glared at them.

    Sherbet shrank back toward Aelius. "O-Oh no. C-Captain, they know about us! W-What should we do? There's too many for us to take!"

    "Hush, girl! They're probably talking crazy! This place is nothing but a glorified crater. They can't know anything about the Ultra Recon Squad," Cole scoffed.

    "Actually, we're friends with Team Paradox," Tessa said, crossing her arms. "They told us all about you."

    "S-See? I told you this was a bad idea!" Sherbet whimpered.

    "Uh… anyone else totally lost right now?" Demitri asked. His teammates raised their hands… or, in Mispy's case, vines.

    "Did you guys come for Necrozma?" Silvally growled. "Because if you think we're about to let you walk off with him after all the damage he's done—"

    "Now you listen here, Beast Killer!" Vixen said, causing Silvally's fierce expression to falter. Team Alloy exchanged confused looks. "We've been trying to track Necrozma down ever since he laid waste to Ultra Village. We just had a lot of setbacks. But now that we've got him, we can see to it that he's properly disposed of."

    "Not to mention get off of prob—"

    "Yeh'll be taken off probation when we say you're ready."

    Team Foxtrot cringed and looked behind them. A bunny, a gecko, and a monkey all stood on Aelius' specialized seats, wearing the same gear as Team Foxtrot. The bunny leaped off, landing in front of Team Foxtrot. "We're yer co-cap'ns. So, unless yeh four want to get stuck on laundry duty once we're back at base, yeh'll shape yer attitudes up!"

    Vixen shuffled backward. "Yeah, yeah," she mumbled.

    "Excuse me? What did yeh jus' say?" the bunny huffed.

    "Err… yes, sir, Captain Striker!" Vixen shouted, standing at attention.

    The bunny turned to Tessa and extended an arm. "Forgive 'em. Scorbunny Striker, interim co-cap'n of Team Foxtrot," he said. Tessa hesitantly took his arm and shook it. He turned and gestured back toward Aelius. "My fellow co-cap'ns, Sobble William and Grookey Frakes."

    William slid behind Frakes, only for the latter to shove the former away with an annoyed huff. Tessa looked at them, blinking slowly. "Scor… bunny? I'm sorry… what? Are you guys Pokémon or Ultra Beasts?"

    "Ultra Beasts? P'shaaw! Yeh living under a rock or somethin', lassie? We're 'mons through an' through!" Striker declared, thumping his chest.

    "Um, captain, it's entirely possible your species might not exist in this world," Sherbet offered.

    Striker looked around. "No kiddin'. I'm surprised anythin' exists here. This place is a total dump!"

    "I'm so lost here," Owen whispered, shaking his head.

    "Good. It ain't jus' me fer once," Gahi said, smirking. "I like that captain guy, though."

    Owen gave his teammate an unamused look. He walked toward Striker. "Uh, hi there? Mind if I interject for a second."

    "Oi. And what d'ya want, laddie?" Striker asked.

    "I'm not a kid," Owen huffed. "And I just wanted to talk for a second." Owen took a deep breath, then quickly surmised the situation with his team, Team Radiance, and Necrozma.

    "I see," Striker muttered, tapping his foot rapidly on the ground. "Any of you lot sendin' this info back to base?"

    "Y-Yessir!" Sherbet said. "And I got a response from them!" She trotted over to Striker and handed him a cube displaying a holographic message.

    "Hmm. All right. Can't argue with that, I guess," Striker said, shrugging.

    "What did it say? Do your bosses know a way to fix up our world?" Silvally asked, a worried look on his face.

    "Ha! Are yeh kiddin'? Look around yeh! No amount of pixie dust or wishful thinkin' could fix this up!" Striker said, stifling a laugh.

    Team Radiance's jaws dropped in unison. "Wait, wait, wait! That can't be right!" Shane said. "We… we had people counting on us to help them! What about our friends?!"

    "And our families?" Tessa squeaked, placing a trembling paw against her chest.

    Striker clapped his hands together. "Oi! William!"

    William hopped off Aelius and trudged over to Tessa. "There, there." He rubbed her leg. His visor slid up, revealing tear-filled eyes. "If you need to cry, I'll cry along with you."

    "This can't be right. There's gotta be something you lot can do!" Silvally fumed, his fire memories activating.

    "Sorry, bucko, we've got our orders. We're to help these folks get to a rendezvous point." Striker pointed at Team Alloy. "Yeh'll have to wait for a separate Solgaleo to come and take yeh to a refugee center, like the other folks who lost their worlds to UB attacks."

    "Are you serious?! Our world's still here! We just need to… uh…" Shane's voice trailed off.

    Striker shrugged. "Our base said we gotta get you off this hunk of rock. They're gonna be repurposin' it for… lesse here…" He looked at the cube Sherbet handed him. "Ah, here we are. Fer Chocobo habitation!"

    "Seriously?! You're telling us to shove off so you can replace our home with Chocobos? What the hell kind of bullshit is that?!" Shane snarled.

    Frakes and Team Foxtrot surrounded Shane. "Look, either you come along willingly or we'll sedate you. It's your choice," Vixen said.

    "I… I don't believe this," Shane whispered. His legs grew so weary he had to sit down.

    Owen walked over to Silvally. "I'm, uh, really sorry… about what happened to your home," he said, rubbing his shoulder. "I wish there was something we could do for you." He glanced at his teammates, who were climbing into the seats on Aelius' back. "I'd offer to let you come back to Kilo with us, but…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "I'm starting to think it's not safe over there, either."

    Silvally lowered his head. "It's okay," he rasped. "We'll be fine. The team's—" He cut himself off with a sniffle. "We've always found a way to pull through in the past."

    Owen put a hand on Silvally's shoulder. "There's so much I wish we could talk about. Will we ever get to see each other again?"

    "Who knows? I think, for now, you should focus on keeping the peace in your world," Silvally said. "And, no matter what happens, stay positive and don't give up. That's what I like most about you."

    Owen couldn't help but lean over and hug Silvally. "Take care," he whispered.

    "You too," Silvally said. He rejoined his teammates while Owen flew onto Aelius backside. Team Radiance watched as Aelius jumped back into the Ultra Wormhole, taking Team Alloy with him.

    "So, I guess… this is it, huh?" Tessa said. "Everything's over… only it's not the ending we really wanted." She shook her head. "I just can't believe it! After all that work… all the struggles… this is what we're left with? It's so… so…"

    Silvally nudged Tessa. "We can't give up here. Even if it sucks how things turned out, we have to look forward. It's what…" He sucked in a breath. "I think that's what everyone else would want us to do if they were still here."

    He looked at his teammates. They slowly nodded at him.

    "Yer ride's here!" Striker announced, gesturing to a second Solgaleo that had popped up from another Ultra Wormhole.

    Team Radiance silently climbed aboard. Shane turned around and took one last look at the darkened sky and rotting ground.

    "Goodbye, Horizon. I wish things could've ended differently," he whispered, before everything vanished in a flash of light.

    THE EN—
    "Cut, cut, cut!"

    A white forepaw kept the Ultra Wormhole from closing completely. Shane and his teammates walked back out, the former with a look of disbelief on his face.

    "Seriously? This is what we're doing for April Fools' Day? Another stupid crossover?" Shane looked around. "Yo, Giratina! Get your pasty butt out here!"

    One of Hoopa's ring portals materialized next to Shane and produced a gray tail. It wagged excitedly. Shane looked at it with disgust. "That's not what I meant!"

    "You should've been more specific, then!"

    The rest of Giratina waddled out of the portal, with Hoopa lounging casually on his head. He caught his ring with his free hand. "Well, what do you want?" Hoopa asked.

    "To lodge a complaint! This idea stinks!" Shane snorted out frost. "It's even stupider than last year's!"

    "What are you talking about? It's perfect!" Giratina chirped, his tail wagging. "It plays off subverting gambler's fallacy to catch everyone by surprise."

    "Yeah. See, Hoopa knew that, after last year, people wouldn't expect you to do another crossover… because that'd be too predictable," Hoopa said. "So, Hoopa and Giratina got the director's permission to create this, catching everyone off-guard." His grin broadened. "A perfect prank!"

    Shane frowned, not remotely swayed by Hoopa's "logic."

    "It's a mean-spirited prank, is what it is! Tricking people into thinking this was the end? That's unnecessarily cruel!" Silvally said, narrowing his eyes at Hoopa.

    "Oh, p'shaw. Hoopa had way more convincing fake endings planned that he could've used," Hoopa said, nonchalantly flipping his free hand. "If Hoopa really wanted to upset people, he would've had Necrozma slaughter the lot of you and destroy the world."

    A new Ultra Wormhole opened beside Giratina. Necrozma, bound to a Solgaleo again, stuck his head out. "What?! Why didn't we go with that option, then? It would've been way more fun!"

    "No. Pranks are fun when they're silly. Not if they make people sad," Giratina said, pretending to rub tears from his eyes with his wings. "This prank has silliness in spades. That's what makes it great!"

    Shane rolled his eyes. "You two have a weird definition of silliness. And great, for that matter." He sighed and shook his head.

    "Well, the joke's on you, because this stuff was written into your contract!" Giratina said, sticking his tongue out.

    "Yeah, yeah, whatever. It's not my fault the one in charge is such a doofus," Shane grumbled. He turned and stomped toward the original Ultra Wormhole. "If anyone needs me, I'll be in my trailer."

    Silvally tilted his head. "Doing what?"

    "What do you think?" Shane smirked, then vanished into the portal.

    Everyone looked expectantly at Silvally, who blinked slowly. After a few seconds, his head crest fanned out. "Hey, uh, I just realized I left an oven in my quiche. Gotta run!" He dashed off into the same Ultra Wormhole, ignoring his teammates' confused looks.

    "Uh… am I missing something, here?" Tessa asked, looking back at the others.

    "Yes you are. But if Hoopa told you, we'd have to bump up the production's rating!" Hoopa snickered. He threw open a ring portal and disappeared into it with Giratina, leaving Espy and Tessa standing there, their faces paling.

    Happy April Fools' Day!

    XxX
    Yes, that's right... this was yet another silly crossover omake. This year was a follow-up of sorts to Negrek's Missing Mod Madness, in which Silvally met a bunch of characters from other fanfics... and Necrozma wound up hijacking the plot and trying to kill everyone. So, I'd like to thank @Namohysip, who gave me permission to use the cast and setting from his fic, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Hands of Creation, and serving as my beta to make sure I wrote his characters correctly. I bet most of you are reading it. But on the off chance you aren't and you're interested in what you saw, give it a look.

    Likewise, Aelius, who showed up at the end, is a character made by sakarime, who's been a huge help with the ask blog as well as some recent character and scenery-related descriptions. She's working on a PMD comic. If you're looking for something else to read or want to see some adorable art, then this is right up your alley.

    Okay, so I know this update had plenty of jokes going around... but I do have a serious matter to bring up. As of this posting, Guiding Light will no longer be updating weekly. The short version is that I am in a bad place physically and mentally and can't maintain this update schedule. If you want to read my full reasoning, you can do so here. I know there's, like, only two or three folks reading on here that I know of, so I'm sorry if I'm disappointing you. ;~;

    Anyway, that'll do it for this tidbit. Next time: peering into the eye of the storm.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2019
  8. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Content advisory: chapter has some stronger sexual themes than usual.

    XxX​

    The open ocean lay completely still. Waves stood frozen in the midst of travelling toward distant shores. Ripples in the water were more like uneven patches of land. Below the surface, a school of Magikarp sat in suspended animation, their typical wide-eyed, open-mouthed expressions plainly visible for anyone to see.

    However, the cluster of chains drifting over the water didn't care about the petrified Pokémon. The creature's reptilian eye lay fixed on a speck of land off in the distance. It was barely visible under the dark sky.

    "I kNOw YoU'Re sTiLl tHErE. ThIs tIMe… He WoN'T gET In My WaY. YoU wiLl… sucCUMb… to VoID…"

    Void's chains grinded together, producing an uneven voice that fluctuated in pitch. If the water-types under the surface weren't stuck, they likely would have fled. Instead, they could only move their eyes, following Void until it had hovered out of view.

    Three of Void's chains tried to pull out of the wing-like formation, only to knot around one another. "FoOl. YoU WoULd sTiLl tRy to DEfY me? AlL oF ThIS iS YoUR fAUlT. NoW, StOP iNTeRfErINg. yOU cAN'T saVE hER. YoU CaN't SaVe AnYOne."

    Again, some of Void's chains lurched backward, trying to drag the core away from the distant island. And again, the other chains quickly pulled them back into formation.

    "WhAt aN oBNoxIOuS pEST YoU ArE," Void growled, its chains rattling. "YoUR aCtIoNs ArE OnLY wAStINg My TImE. YoU gAVe YOuRsElF uP TO mE. YoU CaN'T taKE tHAt BaCk."

    A few more chains tried tugging void backward, only to spasm and fall limp. Void continued floating forward, the limp chains dragging across the ocean's motionless surface.

    "OnCe I tAkE HeR LiGHt… I'Ll SiLenCE yOUr lItTle rEBelLiOn FoR gOoD."

    XxX

    Special Episode 4: The Heart of the Matter

    Chapter 87: A Glimpse Into the Void

    XxX

    ~Celestial Isle~

    Nicky lay on his back, one wing draped over his chest and the other three splayed out on the ground. Different colors swirled around at random in his eyes. Light particles trickled off his body. His ethereal limbs and head tendrils pulsated rapidly, yet he wasn't short of breath. Then again, he knew that wasn't a problem he really had to deal with. Nicky supposed it was a perk of having a body made from energy.

    The pond beside him rippled. Xerneas stood up, water trailing off her antlers and fur. She leaned her thighs on the edge of the grass and rested her head between them, letting the rest of her body sink just below the surface. "Goodness. Don't tell me that tired you out? I was the one doing all the work." She smirked at Nicky and lazily kicked the water with her hind legs. Xerneas giggled when Nicky went bright red from head to toe.

    "Th-That wasn't it at all!" He threw another wing over his face. "I just… can't believe this happened," he mumbled. "How did this I even happen? I didn't—" He paused, blinking. "What did you do?"

    "I did plenty," Xerneas said, smirking. "You enjoyed it in the moment. What's the problem?"

    "I mean… you did something… to me. And to yourself, too. Y'know, to make it all happen in the first place," Nicky said, rubbing his tendrils with his wings. "You told me… it was impossible for you to mate."

    "Mmm. True. Impossible as I was. But I, uh, made a few changes," Xerneas responded, a slight stutter in her words.

    "A few changes? That's awfully vague. What do you mean?" Nicky asked.

    "It's kinda like how you were made. I, y'know, used ley lines. It was, uh, a bit painful in the moment, but I'm all right. And I'd definitely say it was worth it." Xerneas leaned her head in slightly. "Wouldn't you?"

    Nicky's wings rippled. He sat up. "Of course! I had a blast! It's just, uh…" He tapped his upper wing-claws together. "Won't you get in trouble over this? I don't want another immortal to hurt you or anything."

    Xerneas tensed her forelegs and pushed herself up out of the water. Nicky again turned red as she approached him, her fur and antlers sparkling. The grass squelched when she sat down beside him. "You're worth it," she whispered, pecking his crystal cheek. "I'm tired of Arceus' 'keep to yourself' policy. It's ass-backwards, if you ask me." She paused, then smirked and added, "And not the fun kind of ass-backwards, either."

    "Point taken," Nicky said, curling his tail around her hips. He chuckled when she squeaked in surprise. "Really? You're getting jumpy over that?"

    "Aha ha… I guess I still haven't quite calmed down," Xerneas admitted, antler-gems turning red. "I wonder if this is what that 'evolution high' I've heard mortals whisper about is like." She shrugged. "It isn't a big deal, I suppose."

    Nicky stiffened. "I think you spoke too soon."

    "What do you mean?" Xerneas raised a brow.

    "Latios and Zekrom are coming. If they ask, say we went out for a swim," Nicky said, floating into the air. Before Xerneas could respond, Nicky shot into the pond with a splash. It bubbled. Golden light rippled under the surface.

    A few seconds later, Zekrom touched down. Her landing was far from graceful, leaving a trail of torn-up grass and two large footprints. "Huh. Guess you were right, Latios," Zekrom said, smirking and crossing her arms.

    "Of course I'm right. It's hard not to sense them," Latios said, slowly hovering to Zekrom's side.

    "Uh… h-hi! What brings you two out here?" Xerneas asked.

    "Well, we wanted a little quality time at our favorite grotto, but…" Zekrom's voice trailed off and she looked at the glowing pond. A knowing grin wove its way onto her face. "I can see you two beat us to the punch."

    "Hmm? Oh, no. It's nothing like that. Light and I came here for a swim, that's all. And we're in the middle of, uh…" Xerneas' gaze darted about. "A breath-holding contest! Yes, that's it… a breath-holding contest. As you can see, Light bested me." She laughed nervously.

    "C'mon, Xerny, no need to be all coy!" Zekrom said, rushing to Xerneas' side. She threw an arm around Xerneas, who squeaked in surprise.

    "X-Xerny?!"

    "You and Light have been a thing for a while now. You're adorable together. Of course I wanna hear everything!" Zekrom said, tail turbine whirring excitedly. "I've been waiting for Latios and I to find another couple that actually knows how to have fun!"

    "Hey! What about my sister and Zapdos?" Latios huffed.

    "Oh, please, Zapdos wouldn't know a good time if it plucked off his tailfeathers," Zekrom said, waving Latios off. "And just because your sister knows a good dirty joke or two doesn't make her my definition of fun."

    Latios rolled her eyes. "And how do you suppose these two can regale you with sordid gossip when they can't even m—" Latios cut himself off, eyes wide. His feathers stood on end. "X… Xerneas? How did you—"

    Nicky burst out of the water, drenching Latios in the process. "Hey, Latios! Great to see you! You're looking well," he said, wincing when it came out much louder than intended. "Zekrom giving you any trouble since we last saw each other?" He playfully noogied Latios' head.

    Latios wriggled his way out of Nicky's grip and shook out his feathers. "Oh my god," he whispered, shaking his head. "I can't believe this. You two… you mated, didn't you!"

    "What? Us? Of course not! Don't be ridiculous!" Nicky laughed.

    "Dude. Come on. You think I can't tell you're lying?" Latios said, shaking his head. "I thought it funny I sensed traces of your auras on each other… but this kooky behavior straight-up confirms it!" He blinked slowly. "How did you two even manage that, huh? Xern's an immortal and you…" He looked at Nicky. "Wouldn't those big ol' spikes of yours get in the way?"

    Nicky looked down at his spikes, then went bright-red.

    Zekrom stepped away from Xerneas, a curious eyebrow raised. "Is this true, Xerny?" she asked.

    Sighing, Xerneas nodded. Zekrom responded with one of her signature hugs, hefting Xerneas up in the process. She squealed. "Z… Zekrom…"

    "I knew you had it in you to buck that dumbass rule!" Zekrom cheered, squeezing Xerneas tighter. "I'm so proud of you!"

    Nicky and Latios descended on Zekrom. "Let her go, Zek. She's gotta breathe!" Nicky said, before remembering he was psychic and wrenching Zekrom away with telekinesis. He floated over to Xerneas and rubbed her back while she caught her breath.

    "I'm fine. That was… an interesting hug," Xerneas wheezed. "I hope I didn't break a rib."

    "Sorry. Couldn't help myself. It's just… you've come such a long way from chasing me and Latios away from the Tree of Life, screaming bloody murder," Zekrom said, wiping an imaginary tear from her eye. "Y'know what… I think this calls for a celebration of sorts!"

    Xerneas blinked. "S-Seriously? It's not that big a deal…"

    "On the contrary. You're the first immortal to take a mate. That's definitely celebratory in my book!" Zekrom said, her hands on her hips.

    Nicky floated in front of Zekrom, a worried look on his face. "Hey, come on. We want to keep this a secret. I don't want the other gods finding out about this," he said. "This is some kinda taboo, isn't it?"

    "He's got a point, Zek," Latios said.

    "Relax, guys. I wasn't talking about anything big. Just sharing some of the special treat I had Latios bring." Zekrom gestured to her mate. Latios glanced at the satchel around his wing. "And, besides, if any of those other gods give you trouble, we'll stick up for you!" She pounded her chest. "It's about time we stopped being all secretive and stuff. If you ask me, collaborating more will only help us keep the world better protected from any kind of threat!"

    "That would be kinda nice, actually," Latios murmured, producing a glass bottle from his bag. "Here you go, Zek."

    Zekrom took the bottle with an eager glint in her eye. "Ah, here we are. Made it myself!" She hoisted the bottle high.

    Nicky's head tendrils curled up. "I… I don't think that's such a good idea." He folded up his upper wings. "I had a bad experience with that kind of stuff."

    "With homemade nanab-pinap juice?" Zekrom asked, blinking incredulously. "I brought it because it's sweet. Tickles your tongue… like a Thunderbolt to the mouth!"

    Latios frowned. "Only you could come up with such a violent comparison."

    "I think Light is worried that it's hard berry juice. And I, for one, share those concerns. I don't have fondest memories of that kind of drink," Xerneas said, tracing a hoof through the grass.

    "Huh? Oh… no, no, no." Zekrom shook her head. "It's not spiked. I save that kind of stuff for the rare occasions. Y'know, like a hatch day." She opened the bottle and held it out toward Nicky and Xerneas. "Here, take a whiff if you don't believe me."

    Before Nicky could make a snide remark about his lack of anything resembling a nose, Xerneas leaned over and sniffed the bottle. "I guess you're right. Just wish I had food to go alongside it." Her stomach gurgled its agreement.

    "Ha ha! That's how you know they were having fun!" Zekrom chortled, elbowing Latios' wing. He nearly dropped the bag trying to hold back his laughter. Nicky and Xerneas both went red and looked in opposite directions. "All right, all right, I get it. I'll stop with the jokes." She cleared her throat. "In all seriousness, we brought oatmeal cookies."

    Latios rolled his eyes. "I brought oatmeal cookies. You thought it was a bright idea to try and bake them with your lightning."

    "Details, details." Zekrom dismissed him with a wave. After the group exchanged a few laughs, Latios distributed the surprisingly-large cookies, leaving Nicky wondering how they managed not to crumble apart. They went about eating the treats and then shared the bottle of Zekrom's homemade berry juice.

    When things wrapped up, they all laid on their backs in a circle, save for Xerneas, whose horns kept her on her belly. Zekrom got everyone's attention with a long, satisfied sigh. "Y'know, I think, working together, the four of us could make a real difference in the world."

    "In what way?" Latios asked.

    "By helping make normal Pokémon happier in their everyday lives," Zekrom said, resting her arms underneath her head. "Think about it. We spend our days keeping mostly to ourselves, training while we wait for something potentially dangerous to pop up. That's pretty dumb, if you ask me."

    She glanced at Xerneas. "You immortals have a lot more responsibilities, but I feel like Arceus didn't stop to consider your feelings when he made all his dumb, strict rules for you to follow." Zekrom lazily gestured at Nicky. "Look at how happy Light's made you since the two of you met."

    "Err, it's nothing, really," Nicky whispered, his body rippling.

    "C'mon, man. Don't sell yourself short. Bringing back sunlight and moonlight lifted the spirits of just about everyone!" Zekrom said. "It made us a lot happier. I'm sure it's the case for other gods, too. About the only other big thing I could think of that would win folks over is figuring out a way to bring back Solgaleo and Lunala."

    Nicky sat up, blinking. "Y-You mean like… reincarnating them? Isn't that more Ho-Oh's field of expertise? Or even Xern's?" He turned to Xerneas, who tensed up.

    "I, uh… just because I'm the guardian of the Tree of Life doesn't mean I can create any life that I wish. Besides, I could never really get a good sense of Solgaleo's and Lunala's spirits," Xerneas said, shrugging. "They never ended up in the Tree of Life after their sacrifice. Quite bizarre."

    Zekrom's brow furrowed. "Well, that muddles things up. But it's fine. It's not something you have to do or anything. It was just a suggestion," she said, casually flicking her arm. "There's plenty of other ways we can work together. Like helping Pokémon that get trapped inside those crazy labyrinths the immortals are always trying to keep under control."

    "Oh, yeah! Your wormholes would be perfect for that!" Latios agreed, grinning.

    "Hmm. You raise a good point. The Lucarios had been the ones helping folks out with that stuff, but now that they're gone, someone ought to step in and fill that role," Xerneas said. She flinched. "Err, well, not that we're saying you have to. You've already done plenty for us, so I don't want to force you to—"

    "I don't have a problem with it," Nicky said, lying back on the ground. "I mean, someone would have to bring me a bit more up to speed about these labyrinths, but if you think that's a way I could keep using my powers to help people, I'm totally down."

    Xerneas shuffled closer to him and whispered, "But what about your creator?"

    "No worries. I got him to back off. Told him I'm worming my way into everyone's good graces so I can gather you all up to be killed in a single attack," Nicky explained. "He totally bought it. I don't have to keep retreating back to Horizon anymore."

    The news brought a smile to Xerneas' face. "Maybe if this works, you can turn around and get the other immortals to free you from your creators."

    "I'd like that a lot," Nicky said, smiling.

    "Well, I'm beat." Zekrom yawned. "Don't feel like flying home, so I'm gonna snooze up here."

    "Sounds like a good idea," Xerneas said. She snuggled up to Nicky's side. He subconsciously draped a wing over her. The warmth from his light lulled her to sleep.

    XxX​

    Nicky's eyes shot open. He sat up and looked around. Once again, he lay in his old bed from his human life, surrounded by a starry expanse resembling outer space. Nicky looked down and noted his chest spikes and a hump under the covers, which he assumed was his tail.

    "What do you want this time?" Nicky sighed. He slouched over in the bed, rolling onto his side and propping his head up against the bed rest.

    A few of the distant stars raced closer to Nicky, darkening as they moved. Once they reached him, they coalesced into a large black ball. Familiar rainbow veins split parts of the black slime apart. Two red eyes materialized on the sphere's surface, staring Nicky down. The slime ball rippled and hummed loudly. Its hum grew steadily less distorted as a slender red line traced itself under the creature's eyes.

    I see you continue to ignore me.

    "Yeah, well, I thought I made it pretty clear I don't care about 'Void's will' or 'returning the world to chaos' or whatever other bullshit you feel like spewing out," Nicky scoffed, rolling over to look away from Void.

    You are making a grim mistake, Void warned, floating back into Nicky's line of sight.

    "I'm doing what makes me happy," Nicky said, closing his eyes. "Just because we're stuck together like this doesn't mean I have to listen to you or anything."

    An invisible force pried Nicky's eyelids open. And, in choosing to ignore me, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak and despair, Void said, his voice growing deeper. Your soul — your human spirit — has burdened you with worthless facets. Emotions, desires, dreams… they are an unnecessary source of pain and suffering.

    "Pfbt. Yeah, sure. You're just jealous because my human willpower overpowers your propensity for long, drawn-out speeches," Nicky sneered. "If my human soul was really so worthless, then why am I the one in control and not you, huh?"

    Nicky grinned victoriously when Void rippled. The red line under its eyes opened. Slime trickled down onto Nicky's bed.

    Your control is nothing more than a shortsighted mistake by your creator, Void said, straining not to let its contempt show through.

    "Uh-huh. Yup. Totally not jealous, Mr. I Have No Soul and Choose Not to Feel," Nicky said, a smirk tugging at his crystalline beak. "Like I said, I don't care about whatever it is you have to say. Your days are numbered. Once Xern and my friends help me talk things out with Arceus, Golem will be ancient history… and so will you." He folded his upper wings behind his head. "I'll make Golem get rid of you. Then, I can be happy and get a decent night's sleep."

    Again, Void rippled. Its rainbow veins throbbed. Such stupidity. You refuse to listen to reason. Are all you humans this dense?

    "No, we're just good at sniffing out bullshit," Nicky countered, his smirk broadening. He enjoyed seeing Void squirm. If he could keep the pressure up, maybe he'd get the demonic entity to back off for the night. "The stuff you've said to me hardly amounts to 'reason.' I'm supposed to destroy the world because it's a mistake? That sounds pretty insane to me."

    Void's rainbow veins squirmed about. Its mouth opened wider, until it covered its entire face. From within the red slime, a violet, reptilian iris emerged.

    If I cannot sway you with words, then I will show you exactly the kind of world you're so willing to defend!

    Before Nicky could offer a retort, bright light swallowed him and his bed whole. When Nicky got back to his senses, he found that he couldn't move at all. He thought about his wings and his tail, but couldn't feel them. It was as if he'd been pulled right out of his body. Nicky tried to adjust his gaze, but it refused to do anything other than look straight ahead.

    Nicky took in his surroundings. In contrast to the mundane, starry backdrop Void had put him in, he was floating in the middle of what he could only describe as a level plucked out of a video game— the kind Shane preferred, of course. Blue and purple meshed together at random intervals. Strange, faint, checkerboard portals lay in the distance. Light geysers spewed out of them. Crystalline structures floated past him, seemingly thrown together into random shapes.

    Solar flares erupted from a small sun floating off in the distance. Nicky's gaze involuntarily shifted to reveal more suns, all spewing lava geysers and fireballs. A multicolored aurora wrapped around the suns, amplifying their brightness. Whatever force had control of Nicky moved him forward, away from the suns. Nicky could make out faint outlines in the distance. They resembled planets from the many pictures of the solar system that he'd seen in his science classes.

    Nicky tried to ask where he was and what was going on, but failed to produce any sort of sound.

    Curious, aren't we?

    Void's voice echoed in Nicky's mind, even as he continued moving forward against his will. He couldn't make any comments or snide remarks, no matter how hard he tried.

    This is Ultra Space, the chaotic labyrinth that separates the countless worlds spanning this reality.

    If Nicky had control of his eyes, he'd roll them. What kind of dumb name was Ultra Space, anyway? And why would it connect different worlds? Nicky knew from his time in school that the universe had multiple galaxies drifting farther from one another. But none of this resembled outer space in the slightest.

    That's your universe. Your world. Or, rather, it was, before you were pulled away, Void said. Think of it this way. The many worlds of this reality are buildings. Some are large. Some are small. Ultra Space is the grid of roads and highways you travelled on as a human to get from one building to another.

    Nicky wanted to frown, but couldn't. By that logic, traversing between worlds should've been so easy that anyone could do it. Why wouldn't humans have figured out how to access Ultra Space, then?

    Oh, they have, Void said. Nicky tried to let any frustrated thoughts bubble up over Void reading his mind. Just not the humans from your world.

    The strange sights of Ultra Space continued to pass Nicky by. His gaze drifted right. It fell upon a large, mirror-like crystal slab floating in place. Nicky caught his reflection, but was unable to properly express his shock.

    He wasn't a gleaming light dragon anymore. Instead, he saw a large, black torso littered with strange glyphs and tattoos. Instead of a face, Nicky saw a black, heart-shaped mask, surrounded by a plume of black feathers. Nicky figured the two, tiny holes in the mask were his eyes. He struggled to even come up with a thought about what he was looking at.

    That's me you're looking at, boy. Well, what I used to be part of, anyway, Void said. It gave a flap of its giant wings, revealing hexagonal crystals in place of feathers. Nicky caught a glimpse of a trail of heart-shaped gems flowing off the base of Void's body, connected by a chain.

    Void continued flying through Ultra Space, dragging Nicky along unwillingly. Long ago, I had destroyed every world across this reality, it said. An Ultra Wormhole opened up near it, venting white light. Void paid it little mind. I had amassed an unfathomable amount of energy. So much energy, I couldn't keep it contained.

    The concept sounded familiar to Nicky. It again brought his science classes to mind. He faintly recalled some boring teacher talking about intense energy concentrated at a single point.

    All that pent-up energy kickstarted a chain reaction. The bulk of my power burst forth from me. And the result is what you see in front of you: Ultra Space. Void continued.

    It finally clicked for Nicky. If Void was telling the truth, it created a big bang of sorts. Still, even with that in mind, Nicky didn't understand how a bunch of worlds could sprout up and be sealed off from each other.

    Look around you. As I said, Ultra Space is the product of my chain reaction. It is chaotic. Wisps of energy are free to move about and collide at random, Void explained. As if on cue, two Ultra Wormholes opened up. A half-dozen creatures that looked like tied up electric cords floated from one portal to another. Void flew past them all. Some collisions turned into singularities. And from those singularities arose worlds… undoing all of my painstaking work.

    Worse, the chain reaction had cost me a tremendous amount of energy. It had left me so empty inside. I had a gnawing, obsessive hunger, Void growled. A strong desire to take back what I had lost. So, I tried to destroy whatever worlds I could. But worlds were forming up faster than I could destroy them. It flapped its wings harder. Nicky could tell it was moving faster.

    Something shimmered in front of Nicky and Void. Golden light pulsated and rippled. Four golden hooves and a yellow wheel protruded from the ball of light. Then, countless numbers of ethereal arms sprouted up. Nicky counted ten, then twenty, and then hundreds. The blue and purple hues of Ultra Space distorted around each of the arms.

    While I was going about my work, I encountered someone… quite strange. He radiated with a power… I hadn't felt before, Void said. I simply had to destroy him.

    Nicky recognized the wheel. It had to belong to Arceus. But given what Void had told him about multiple worlds, he strongly doubted it was the Arceus of his world. Especially since it had spawned in the middle of Ultra Space, for no real reason.

    Void stopped. Its gaze fixed on Arceus, whose body was hidden behind a veil of golden light. Despite this, a soft, gentle, male voice emanated from Arceus. "Who are you? Do you know where we are?" Arceus' arms moved about as if they were animal muzzles sniffing the air. "And… do you know what I am?"

    Instead of answering, Void wailed. Its uneven, fluctuating pitch rattled Nicky. He saw a few flashes of light, then watched as arrows shrouded in fire and ice sailed toward Arceus. Some of Arceus' arms immediately reacted. Silver vortexes intercepted the arrows and disintegrated them.

    "Hey! What was that for? I just asked a question," Arceus said, a worried edge to his voice.

    Multiple circular runes appeared in front of Nicky. Blue energy beams threatened to vaporize Arceus, only to be swallowed up by Arceus' arms. Void wailed again. It flew closer to Arceus, with Nicky along for the ride.

    "Get away from me!" Arceus yelped. Several of his hands reacted, slinging energy balls or racing forward to halt Void's progress. Given Void's size, Nicky knew it stood no chance of dodging, but he was startled when it made no attempt at countering. Every blast and spectral hand bounced off Void. The hands returned to a startled Arceus.

    More arrows flew in from the edges of Nicky's vision. Arceus effortlessly swatted them aside, but then a large, crystalline blade swung in from below. With a startled gasp, Arceus directed as many arms as he could toward the blade. They pushed back, halting its process.

    Then they buckled.

    A few arms lost their golden glow. Right at the moment Void's blade shattered, the distressed arms evaporated in wisps of silver light. Arceus shrank back. His pained cries echoed throughout Ultra Space. Small shapes spilled out on either side of him, barely visible against his golden glow.

    When Void moved closer to strike again, Nicky got a better look. They weren't just shapes, they were Unown. Sure, Nicky considered them useless, but their movie was one of the first ones he remembered going to— with Shane, of course.

    Nicky tried to figure out why Void was showing him this. Clearly, he was missing something, but he wasn't sure he wanted to find out what it was. Nicky struggled trying to come up with a way to make the vision end. All the while, Arceus turned and fled, golden light trailing behind him as he ran across empty Ultra Space.

    Don't bother resisting. Just pay attention. It will all make sense soon enough, Void promised. It pursued Arceus, but he was much faster. And Arceus' arms continued making mincemeat of Void's arrows. Void tried hurtling strange, distorted energy balls in seemingly random directions, only to have them abruptly change course and try to intercept. Arceus deflected the first few using some of his arms, only for the arms to explode in bursts of Unown.

    "Stop hurting me!" Arceus roared. His arms pulsated with light. Golden lasers exploded out all around him, shredding through the rest of Void's energy balls. Some beams even struck Void, but it gave no indication that it was hurt. Arceus increased his speed. Nicky could faintly see the outline of Arceus' head swiveling about in a panic, looking for any sort of escape from this nightmare.

    A fresh wave of confusion rolled over Nicky. Arceus was supposed to be all powerful, wasn't he? Why couldn't he just wipe Void out of existence? Nicky knew Arceus had seemingly appeared from nothingness, but the way he was acting made Nicky think he didn't have any idea how to actually use his powers.

    Void's wails sent Nicky's train of thought screeching to an abrupt halt. His focus snapped back to Arceus, whose ethereal arms rippled and lashed at the air around him. More golden beams — Judgment, if Nicky had to guess — lit up the area. Void snuffed some of them out with giant, spear-shaped energy blasts. The rest plinked harmlessly off Void's body. Some even struck below Void's face and deflected into the deep, blue abyss, filling Nicky with a sense of dread.

    Then a spark of light drew Nicky's and Void's collective attention to their right. An Ultra Wormhole had opened up beside Arceus. He raced into the portal without a second thought. The arms trailing behind him distorted the space around the portal. Nicky figured it was Arceus' best attempt at walling the portal off from Void.

    But with a single flap of its wings, Void dispelled the traps, furthering Nicky's belief that Arceus had no idea what he was doing.

    The portal drew closer. Soon, white light replaced the deep blues and purples of Ultra Space. Nicky wished he had a mouth so he could shout in surprise as an intense force grabbed Void and shuttled him through a tunnel with a strobing checkerboard pattern all around it.

    Then, the portal abruptly ended. Nicky found himself back in a more familiar version of outer space, with distant star clusters and auroras. But he got little opportunity to take in the view, as Void looked directly at Arceus.

    "Why are you following me? I don't know who you are! I don't even know what I am! Please… stop this!" Arceus said, voice growing more frantic.

    Void summoned its crystal blade in a swirl of shadows. It swiped at Arceus, who hastily backpedaled to dodge. Void wouldn't be deterred, however. It slashed again. And again. And again. Every swipe left trails of distortion behind. Each miss brought the fighting titans closer to the planet below them. It was in the corner of Nicky's vision, but he spotted clouds, water, islands, and the tip of what could've been a continent.

    "No… make it stop… make it stop…"

    Nicky could see Arceus' head shaking. His arms swelled up, looking ready to burst apart like overinflated balloons. Void didn't care. It somehow hurled the blade toward Arceus' face.

    "Make it stop!"

    Golden energy erupted from Arceus' arms. Each beam turned into a meteor as it rained down on Nicky and Void from above. The vast majority missed, instead hurtling down toward the nearby planet. But a couple of dozen hit Void and, unlike Arceus' previous Judgments, managed to knock Void around.

    It spun around in midair. With each dizzying turn, Nicky caught a glimpse of what Arceus' meteors had done. Fissures split the planet open. Magma shot out from its core. The islands he had spotted earlier crumbled away into nothingness. The puffy clouds disappeared.

    Nicky didn't know what to think. Surely, that was just an empty planet… right?

    Oh no. What you're seeing… is the world you currently reside in. The one you're so keen on protecting, Void declared. At one time, it was a world where humans and Pokémon coexisted peacefully. Until Arceus, who had stumbled on the planet by sheer accident, wiped everything out in one frantic attack… because he didn't know any better.

    Survival instincts and raw, primal fear led him to cause a calamity. This is the god you want to cooperate with, you foolish boy.

    Nicky refused to believe it. This had to be some sort of elaborate illusion. If he and Void shared a body, then it stood to reason Void was just tapping into their collective powers to mess with his head. That had to be the answer.

    Typical human… twisting the situation around so that the narrative suits your fancy, Void taunted. I will prove this is the undeniable truth.

    Void's form screeched its anger and flapped its wings. It drew even with Arceus, who immediately fired off more meteors and beams of light at a frantic pace. Bright lights flashed all around Nicky. A large, black and red laser cut through Arceus' attacks. With a panicked garble that sounded like a mix between a roar and a whinny, Arceus drifted closer to the burning, fragmenting planet.

    "Stop it… stop hurting me!" Arceus snarled, gathering energy for another attack. Void was quicker on the draw this time, however. Nicky spotted a silhouette— no, two crown-shaped silhouettes in the periphery of his vision. Each one fired a laser. They combined into a giant beam.

    Arceus tried to dodge, but the laser severed numerous arms. Unown streamed out, drifting down toward the surface. Nicky lost them amidst the flames and sulfur choking the planet's atmosphere. But his attention forcibly zeroed in on Arceus. Light flashed all around Nicky. Then, without warning, countless dark, thorny chains descended on a startled Arceus. They shredded hundreds of his arms. Arceus screeched in agony.

    Some of the chains managed to pierce Arceus' golden aura. Others whizzed past him, descending on the destroyed planet below. Arceus struggled against the chains. As he did, Nicky noticed the decaying remnants of Arceus' destroyed arms wriggling about in space. Some of the parts made contact with one another and connect.

    Void looked up, taking Nicky's vision with it. All around Arceus, bright, pulsating masses had formed from the remnants of his arms. They twisted and turned, taking on familiar shapes that Nicky recognized even before the glowing had faded.

    Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina.

    Uxie, Azelf, and Mesprit.

    Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza.

    Ho-Oh.

    Each Legendary Pokémon emerged from the tangled mess of destroyed arms. Void swiveled about in confusion. Nicky, on the other hand, became even more convinced this was all fake. Arceus had to intentionally create other gods, didn't he? So, the appearance of all these immortals made no sense to Nicky.

    He expected Void to chime in and berate him, but that didn't happen. Instead, the arms that Arceus had left all pointed at Void. The newly-made Pokémon nodded. Their eyes glowed in unison.

    A cacophony of bright lights and distorted sounds assaulted Void and, by extension, Nicky. He couldn't sense anything, but Void's pained wails painted a clear enough picture for him.

    Then, as quickly as the onslaught arrived, it faded. Nicky found himself falling. Arceus and the other immortals steadily grew farther away, but what was stranger was that Void was still floating up there, backing toward a newly-formed Ultra Wormhole. Nicky didn't get to see Void vanish, however, before ash and sulfur filled his vision. Things grew steadily darker. He saw flames crackling in his periphery, which soon gave way to jagged edges of the planet's crust.

    Nicky fell deeper and deeper, until glowing, molten rock surrounded him. Magma bubbled up. Wisps of purple energy darted in front of him. Even worse, the black chains that had sliced through Arceus' arms were inside the fissure with him, darting about, wrapping around chunks of debris and globs of magma.

    As the smoke billows on the surface disappeared behind a wall of chains, all Nicky could think about was a nagging sense of familiarity. Why did being surrounded by magma, strange purple wisps, and chains make him feel this way?

    Because this is the foundation that we were melded together with.

    The boiling scene dissolved all around Nicky. He was back in his bed, his crystalline legs dangling over its edge. Nicky looked down into a starry abyss, then up at the familiar ball of black slime that was Void.

    "Guess we're back in the present… or something," Nicky muttered, rubbing his head with a wing. "Yeah, so, I don't really know what the point of that glorified acid trip was, but it didn't convince me of anything."

    Interesting. You're getting better at lying. But you won't fool me, Void said, a thin, red smile appearing beneath its beady, red eyes. You thought the planet's core was familiar to you. Because it is. Our creator used alchemy to make us. Alchemy is the manipulation of ley lines. And the chains you saw in that vision… those are ley lines. Plucked straight out of the planet's core.

    Nicky's gut squirmed. "I still don't believe you," he said, though his earlier bravado had faltered.

    Void drifted back, its eyes merging together, then splitting apart. Everything I showed you is the truth. This world is an accident… the result of Arceus not understanding his own powers. And these gods that you are befriending are mistakes that should never have existed in the first place, it growled. Arceus built up this world on a foundation of lies. Lies born from the fragments of my original form.

    "Is that so? Well, we both saw plenty of other gods poof into existence in that dream or flashback or whatever. So, if they were all around, why have none of them called Arceus out on his lies?" Nicky asked, eyeing Void skeptically.

    Because they have no memories of the event, Void replied. You saw it for yourself. Some of Arceus' arms were still intact. They controlled the immortals… like a human child playing with puppets. But Arceus has since lost those powers, so he is forced to rely on threats and deceit to keep the truth hidden.

    It sounded plausible to Nicky. He had seen Arceus directing the other immortals. "Okay, fine." Nicky tried to cross his wings like they were arms. "So, maybe you're right. What does it matter? You can't change what happened. And I'm not going to destroy an entire world of perfectly happy people just to please you!"

    Please me? Void's veins ripples. Its eyes grew and shrank. It seems your listening skills are getting worse. I've made it abundantly clear that this is necessary destruction. This world shouldn't exist, so we must erase it. There's no joy, sadness, anger, or anything in between.

    "Well, your listening skills must be getting worse, too. Because I made it abundantly clear that you're full of BS," Nicky countered, crossing one leg over the other and huffing up a cloud of dragonfire.

    Such a stinging rebuttal. I've truly seen the error of my ways, Void said, the distortion in its voice masking its sarcasm. It drifted lazily around Nicky's floating bed, its eyes and mouth spinning around one another. You've truly adapted to this world, haven't you? You're becoming just as childish and petulant as the gods that don't deserve to exist in the first place.

    Nicky snorted. "No. I'm just sick of your attempts at controlling me. God, you're worse than my dad was." He stretched his upper wings and yawned obnoxiously loud. "Y'know, it's a real shame you can't feel anything. Because, if you ask me, you need to get laid. Stat." Nicky smirked. "Lucky for you, there's a real simple way to do that. Stop trying to control me and maybe you'll get to enjoy the next ride."

    Void's eyes shrank away. Its mouth opened wide, covering up the front of its spherical form, then promptly shrank. Your lust for that overgrown, pointy-headed pixie has blinded you, it accused. Are you even listening to yourself? Are these not the same crude jokes uttered by the human students you detested so much?

    Red and orange pooled in Nicky's face and eyes. "W-What? Of course not!"

    You've seen for yourself how naïve these gods are. Arceus is not some omnipotent force for good. He never intended to create so many gods and, in a blind panic, he instilled a hierarchy and put himself at the top, Void said, its veins throbbing. You've heard the stories and seen the behaviors for yourself. These gods are no better than your peers from school.

    "But that can change. Latios, Zekrom, Xern… they all want to change things. And I do, too," Nicky said. "I have a life here… of sorts. I'm not going to throw it away. I'm going to try to make it better."

    This world is fatally flawed. No matter how hard you try to fix it, you can't, Void said. Every hole you patch up will simply open three new ones.

    "Yeah, well, I didn't ask you for your garbage opinion," Nicky growled, head tendrils bristling. He looked around. Why couldn't he end this god-awful nightmare?

    It's not an opinion, it's a fact. Void rippled. Bits of ooze struck the side of Nicky's bed. I am surprised that you're so willing to make the same fatal mistakes you made with your last life.

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

    Void's thin smile appeared. This world is as unsalvageable as Shane was. His mouth opened wide and Nicky found himself staring into a familiar, pasty, freckle-filled face.

    "A world… is much different… than a single idiot," Nicky said through a clenched beak.

    True. And yet, whether it's an object, an institution, or even a life, when humans determine something is unsalvageable, they discard it and replace it with something else, Void retorted. How is this any different? This world is beyond saving. Therefore, do away with it. And, perhaps, in time, something better will replace it.

    Nicky rose from the bed, glowing orange. Light ripples ran down his body. "So, what, now you're saying I should destroy this world and replace it with something better?" Red and orange expanded in his eyes. "Well, you can go ahead and shove it!" Nicky gathered blue, crackling energy in his mouth. "You rant about things being unfixable, yet here you are pulling me into nightmare after nightmare to 'fix' me. You're a hypocrite! And I've heard enough!"

    He shot his Dragon Pulse right at Void. It split in half, slime dribbling into the abyss. The serpentine energy beam sailed right through it. Void reconnected and floated away from Nicky.

    A poor decision. One that you will undoubtedly regret, it said, before disappearing into the darkness.

    Groaning, Nicky lay down on the bed. Everything went white.

    XxX​

    Nicky awoke with a startled gasp. Upon realizing it was still dark out, he sucked in a breath and concentrated, dimming his body as much as possible. He lay still, wondering if he had woken anyone up. The closest he got to an answer was Xerneas' snout brushing up against his lowest spike as she shifted her position.

    He tilted his head and saw that, over the course of the night, Xerneas had somehow come to rest between his legs, with her head nestled up against his crystalline belly. Nicky fought hard to stop bright-red light from spilling out over his body. He thanked his lucky stars Latios and Zekrom were still asleep. Zekrom would have never let him hear the end of this.

    Nicky considered repositioning Xerneas, but opted not to. Instead, he tilted his head to the right and tried to fall back asleep. But all he could think about was this latest nightmare. He really hoped his last statement had gotten through to Void. Nicky was so tired of dealing with it. He took a deep breath, reassuring himself that, soon enough, Void wouldn't be a problem.

    Still, Void's statements weighed heavily on Nicky. Was the creation of this world truly an accident? Had an entire civilization been wiped out by mistake? Just what was Arceus' deal? Of all the gods, Arceus was the only one Nicky hadn't yet spoken with. And yet, his friends wanted to take him tomorrow to talk. How could he go to Arceus and pitch all these ideas with all these questions in his mind?

    Frowning, Nicky applied the gentlest telekinetic force he could muster. He set Xerneas' head on the grass, and slowly slid away from her until he was able to float in the air. Then, without looking back, Nicky flew off into the night.

    He had to get answers. And he had to do it without devastating his friends.

    XxX

    ~The Sea of Wonders~

    Rayquaza could've left his orbit in mere seconds if he chose to, but this wasn't a situation that called for charging headfirst into battle. He needed to know exactly what was happening and all he could tell from his usual flying altitude was that the flow of time had ceased and a vortex had formed somewhere over the Sea of Wonders. Rayquaza could put two and two together enough to realize Temporal Tower was in danger and likely at the center of the vortex. But he didn't know what awaited him there.

    He stopped once he could see the paralyzed ocean. Rayquaza needed some sort of plan. Should he go for broke and charge into the vortex, Dragon Ascent blazing? Or should he stay at a distance and fire warning shots to see what sort of response he got? Much as he didn't want to admit it, he would feel better about this if he had someone else around to back him up. But there had been no sign whatsoever of Deoxys and he wasn't go to fly around the world searching for other gods.

    Xerneas lived in the Sea of Wonders, but Rayquaza couldn't risk pulling her away from the Tree of Life. Plus, she was weak-willed. Hardly a fitting partner for him to fight alongside in this scenario. Rayquaza balled his tiny fingers into fists and lashed at the air with his tail. He was overthinking this. Clearly, the vortex had to be stopped. If he used his strongest attacks first, he could catch his enemies by complete surprise.

    Rayquaza was so deep in thought that he failed to notice a tiny, orange, luminescent butterfly drifting toward him. He only realized something was wrong when the butterfly landed on his snout, right between his eyes.

    "What the heck is this?" he snarled, going cross-eyed.

    The butterfly flashed orange. Rayquaza's eyes widened. He opened his mouth, ready to scream, but instead disappeared in a stream of emerald fire.

    When the last few embers vanished into thin air, the butterfly glided down toward the planet's surface, emerald light trailing off her wings.

    XxX
    In case it wasn't clear, the scenes in the present day are taking place at the same time Team Radiance is recovering at the guild.

    Next time: trying to reason with the unreasonable!
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
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  9. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Chapter 88: Looking Gift Horses in Their Mouths

    ~Road to Primeval Forest~

    Gray trees surrounded an open field of dead, clammy grass. Fragments of leafless branches lay suspended in midair. The usual foggy cloud surrounding the Mystery Dungeon's entrance had darkened.

    Void's chains slithered through the field. They stopped in front of the cloud and held up Void's small, spherical form. Its purple iris dilated.

    "EvEn NOw… ShE'S sTiLl SitTinG tHErE. CoWeRInG BeHInD thAT bARrIeR."

    Three of Void's chains reached toward the fog, only to yank right back. Void's eye throbbed. "YOu cOnTiNuE To BE… sUcH a NUiSaNcE. ThE MoRE yOU rEsiSt… ThE tOUgHeR yOU'Ll mAKe It FoR HeR."

    The resisting chains fell to the ground, limp. Void looked up at the dark sky. Streaks of red and purple shot past, but that should've been impossible if the planet was paralyzed. Void lashed at the ground with two of his chains. "ThAt DuMb MoRTal… ShE ReAlLy inTeNdS tO BeND tIMe tO HeR wIlL."

    An orange speck caught Void's attention. Its eye expanded. Its chains rattled about. Void backed up, giving room in front of the cloud for the neon butterfly to safely descend. She faced Void, slowly flapping her wings to stay level with it.

    "ImPECCable TiMIng," Void said. "BuT HaVe YoU aNYtHInG tO ShOW fOR iT?"

    In response, an emerald shimmer rippled through the butterfly's wings. A pink glow surrounded her antennae.

    Void's chains coiled up tightly around its eye. "FaNtAStIc. WiTH tHe PRiMaL eNerGy YoU'Ve TaKEn, thE BarRIeR wIlL nO DOubT fAlL."

    The butterfly's orange glow intensified. One of Void's chains shot toward her. "nO. NoT yEt. YoU mUSt uSe ThE EnERgY tO DisPElL ThAT barRieR." Void's iris constricted. "Do So… AnD I wIlL seE tO iT YoU ArE… adeQUAteLy cOMpEnSAtEd."

    Void withdrew its chain. The butterfly's wings drooped, but she ultimately fluttered to Void's side. Void pointed a chain at the cloud. "OnWArD. We haVe a FoREsT tO GeT ThrOUgh." It drifted toward the cloud. The butterfly followed it, orange light trailing off her wings.

    XxX

    ~Lake of Mysterious Light ~

    Nicky had more than his fair share of forgetful moments in his human days. But without the burden of studying for classes, he could remember important things far more easily. Like the fact that Arceus spent all his time in a massive tower on a tiny landmass near the planet's northern pole.

    On one of their dates, Xerneas had told him that the area was surrounded by a powerful forcefield meant to keep Pokémon from entering. Indeed, though Nicky couldn't see anything, he sensed a vibrant energy bubble as he descended toward marshlands surrounding a still lake. Hazy fog lay on the other side of the lake, but Nicky had to worry about the barrier first.

    He paused, floating a couple of feet above where he believed the energy bubble was. Again, Void's comments echoed in his head. Could Arceus have made this barrier using the powers he couldn't properly control? What would happen if Nicky tried to destroy it? He reflexively glanced at the band on his leg. Surely, Golem would detect the energy spike. It was daytime in Horizon, after all.

    Nicky shook his head. Golem wanted him to attack the gods. He was sure he could spin the energy spike as a good thing if Golem pressed him for details. Nicky took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He concentrated on the energy bubble. His body glowed. Golden light spread out below him. Then, like a piece of china dropped to the floor, the light shattered into fragments.

    As Nicky opened his eyes, a green dome appeared underneath him, only to fall away in pieces that quickly dissolved into a fine mist. Nicky didn't stop to admire his handiwork, fearing the barrier could somehow repair itself. He dropped down into the marshlands and flew forward. Nicky used his ESP to push layer after layer of fog away, until at last a great tower stood before him. Stone arches lay interspersed between stone pillars. A single golden wheel, much like Arceus', sat in the center of the tower.

    "Hey, Arceus. I know you can hear me in there. Open up! We need to talk!" Nicky called, flaring his body up as bright as he could. He floated there, staring up at the tower in silence. After a minute went by with no answer, Nicky shouted, "Don't ignore me, Arceus!" He paused, touching a wing-claw to his chin. "This is about the world's creation… and your role in it!"

    Nicky wondered if it was really such a good idea to show his figurative hand so early, but he supposed it was the surest way to get Arceus to listen without resorting to blasting a hole in the tower. He hovered away from the tower and looked up, figuring Arceus was more likely to be toward the top floor.

    Sure enough, after another minute of silence, Nicky sensed a strong lifeforce above him. Nicky flew up, the tower racing by him. A few seconds later, he found himself level with the tower's circular roof. Arceus stood in its center, staring Nicky down with an unreadable expression. Nicky attributed it to Arceus' lack of a proper mouth.

    "You're the Guiding Light, yes? I think we've seen each other in passing once or twice," Arceus said, his voice flat and, if Nicky had to guess, disinterested. He walked toward the edge of the roof, his wheel turning a deeper black with every step. Nicky sensed dark energy billowing up in Arceus' body. He tried to present as relaxed a demeanor as possible, in the hopes it might diffuse any growing tension, but Arceus' posture did not change. "Why do you want to talk about the world's creation? Have you not gotten an explanation from some of the gods?"

    "I have. But I'm not sure their explanation is very… accurate," Nicky replied. Colors swirled in his eyes. "That's why I wanted to hear it straight from your mouth." As soon as he finished speaking, he had a moment of panic over his choice of phrasing. However, Arceus' facial expression remained stoic.

    "I see." Arceus sat down on his haunches. "You think the gods lied to you?"

    "N-No. It's more like…" Nicky curled up his wings and tail. "I think you've lied to them." He tensed up, expecting some sort of attack.

    Arceus sat still. He looked at the ground. "And this concerns you… why, exactly?"

    Purple and orange pooled in Nicky's eyes and face. His mind scrambled to come up with an acceptable answer. Had Arceus learned about Nicky's origin? After all, Xerneas had convinced him to explain his situation to other immortals, but he hadn't met Arceus one-on-one until now.

    Nicky shook his head. Lying wouldn't help him, here. If he wanted to get the truth from Arceus, he needed to tell the truth, too. "It's about my creator, Golem," Nicky said, looking down to avoid eye contact with Arceus. "Have you, uh, heard about that?"

    Arceus nodded.

    "Right. See, uh, I've told several gods that I'm worried about him. He's convinced that you're lying about how you created the world and all these other gods," Nicky explained. "I really don't want to hurt anyone, but I at least want to know if there's any basis to his claims."

    "There is not. Everything you heard is the truth." Arceus stood up, his expression firm. "I emerged from an egg and used my thousand arms to mold the world into what you see. But the process was so taxing, I used the last of those powers to create gods that would keep the world stable in my stead."

    Nicky stopped himself from sighing. He expected this answer. It sounded sincere. And yet, he doubted it. Nicky wondered if the doubt was really his or a result of Void trying to sway his mind. He needed to come up with a way to get more information. Luckily, it didn't take long for an idea to spring up.

    "What about ley lines?" Nicky asked, keeping his expression neutral to avoid unnecessary tension. "Did you intend to make those?"

    That did the trick. Arceus tensed up. It was only for a moment, but Nicky caught it. He frowned. "Xerneas has talked a bit about them. How her work with the Tree of Life is vital to keeping ley lines in check." Nicky floated closer to Arceus. "And she said that you told her she had to dedicate her life to keeping the ley lines in check, otherwise they could run rampant and threaten the world."

    "That is… true. I did tell her that." Arceus' tail twitched. He pivoted to try and hide it from Nicky, but Nicky's taller stature made that a losing battle. "Ley lines are an… unfortunate blight placed upon our world. When my reality-shifting powers faded, the ley lines descended on the planet from outer space. I had to rally the other gods to control them."

    "But you didn't get rid of them," Nicky pointed out. He curled his tail up to stop it from lashing at the air. Nicky took a deep breath. The red and orange in his eyes receded. "If the gods can reign the ley lines in, then why not get rid of them? I heard your efforts cause chaotic labyrinths to pop up and trap innocent Pokémon."

    Arceus leaned in toward Nicky, his golden eyes flickering. "Are you accusing me of something?" He shook his head. "While I'm grateful for what you've done for us, I will not sit idly by while you slander me."

    "I— no, that's not it." Nicky waved his upper wings in front of his face. "I just want to understand. Because there might be a lot of people out there like Golem. Ones who think you guys don't do enough to keep the world safe." He looked away. "I don't really know the true extent of your powers… or most of the other gods' powers, for that matter. But now that this world's my home, I want to make it the best place possible."

    Blue and purple light filled Nicky's eyes and wings. "But that kind of change has to start with us. We're the ones your average person looks up to… or, in your case, reveres." He bowed his head. "Hiding away and being secretive about everything isn't going to help. I mean… Dark Matter was created for a reason, right?"

    Arceus' brow furrowed. "P-Perhaps…"

    "And then you have some of the gods fighting among each other… like Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza. You can't tell me that's good for people," Nicky continued, flicking his tail.

    "What are you playing at, exactly?" Arceus asked.

    "I'm saying that I think many of this world's problems stem from how it was created. Something that you're lying about," Nicky responded. "You popped into existence in the middle of Ultra Space, didn't you? Then, you were chased by a monstrous beast and fled into a portal. In the process of fighting it off, you destroyed the world that used to be here." Nicky's eyes narrowed. "I'm right, aren't I?"

    Arceus' response only consisted of labored breathing. He staggered back. His gaze darted around. "That's… not true."

    Nicky's eyes narrowed. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know. Just because you turned into a dark-type doesn't mean I can't tell when you're lying. You're hesitating!" He pointed an accusatory wing-claw at Arceus. "You didn't know how to use your powers properly, but instead of explaining that to the other gods, you've been lying to them the whole time!" Red and orange flared up on the edges of his tail and wings.

    He shook his head. "Look, I know I sound upset, but that's because I'm trying to help the people that I care about… and who care about me. The way I see it, your method of supervision isn't working. After all, Dark Matter rose to power and you lost Solgaleo and Lunala. Don't you think that's a huge indication that you ought to change?" Nicky pointed his lower wings at the ground. "Why not start with the ley lines, then? They seem to be a major source of everyone's problems. If we could just get rid of them—"

    "We can't get rid of them!" Arceus blurted out, lashing out at a chunk of stone with a forehoof. Nicky backed away, startled by the outburst. Arceus hung his head. "Fine, I admit it. You're correct. I'm not originally from this world. But when I was 'born,' this vicious demon assaulted me!" Golden light rippled across his wheel. "I tried to reason with it. To plead for it to stop. I didn't understand what was going on or why it was hurting me."

    Arceus' eyes narrowed. "Everything spiraled out of control. I just wanted the pain to stop. So, I fled into the first portal I found. But that brute followed me. I was so angry…" His shoulders sagged.

    "And the other gods were born as a result of that battle, right?" Nicky asked.

    "Not all of them, no." Arceus looked away from Nicky. "But those that did emerge were completely under my control. Somehow, I was able to fend the demon off and force it to flee. From there, I used the gods that I had unwittingly created to try and salvage the world that I had ruined. But, well… it was far from a perfect fix."

    "Because of the ley lines." It was more of a statement than a question.

    "I tried to get rid of them. I had the other immortals help me. But…" Arceus' voice trailed off and he shook his head. "Every attempt threatened the very stability of our world. You are familiar with Temporal Tower and the Tree of Life, correct?"

    "Yeah. What about them?"

    "They are dangerous, unstable landmarks that resulted from my failed attempts to remove ley lines from our world. If either of those places were to be seriously damaged… it would likely spell the end for all of us," Arceus explained. "Likewise, lesser gods and immortals like Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde emerged from my attempts to reign in ley lines that had run out of control." Arceus grimaced. "I had to lie to them. I was making the best of a bad situation… of a mistake."

    Orange light expanded Nicky's eyes and spread across his body. His tail involuntarily lashed at the air. Arceus thought his mate was a mistake? No wonder Xerneas had felt so out of touch with the other immortals. Nicky wanted to pummel Arceus with the full force of his light-based powers, but forced himself to stay under control. Even if his opinion of Arceus grew lower with each minute, Nicky didn't think attacking would help.

    "Well, you said it yourself… you never truly understood your powers." Nicky glanced at his chest spikes. "I was made using ley lines. Maybe with my help… you can finally get rid of them."

    "It won't work." Arceus fully turned away from Nicky and looked up to the sky. "Ley lines are stitched into the very fabric of this planet. Even if you could remove them without initially endangering anyone, the world would fragment and collapse… as it did when I attacked it."

    "How do you know that? You were convinced the sun and moon couldn't be restored, but I managed to do that." Nicky floated back into Arceus' line of sight. "At least let me try."

    "No!" Arceus' wheel shimmered with gold energy. Nicky backed away, an uneasy look on his voice. "It's too late. The ley lines have burrowed so deep, they've cemented themselves as the core of our planet. The Voidlands lies in the center of the world. Any attempt to try and reverse that would end disastrously."

    Nicky recalled the tail end of his dream vision, when he was falling deep into a molten crater. He shivered. "Well, maybe with a bit of time and careful planning—"

    Arceus turned away again. "This is a problem that you can't fix no matter how bad you want to. So, drop it."

    "Okay. Then if we can't fix it, we've got to better prepare ourselves to deal with the threat that these ley lines pose," Nicky said, again flying back in front of Arceus. "And that starts with making sure the gods know everything you've been hiding from them." He crossed his upper wings. "Otherwise, you can't expect them to do a good job keeping Pokémon safe."

    "Fine. Are we done here?"

    "No. I want your word that you'll tell all the gods the truth." Nicky looked up at the sky. "And while you do that, I'm going to help the gods out using my powers."

    Arceus stiffened. "And what does that entail?"

    "Bringing back Solgaleo and Lunala, for starters. And creating a means to save them should another crisis befall them," Nicky declared, glowing brightly. "After that, I'm not sure. Maybe I'll try sharing some of my life energy with the other gods. That ought to help them have an easier time reigning in ley lines. I think the Tapus would be perfect for that, since they're trying to keep Horizon from sinking into the ocean."

    "You want to give my creations your life energy?" Arceus growled.

    "Yes, I do. Is that a problem?" Nicky asked, red and orange pooling in his eyes.

    Arceus didn't respond. He looked down at his hooves.

    "It sounds like we're done here, then. I'm going back to my friends." Nicky rose higher in the air. "If they tell me you haven't contacted them, then I'll be paying you another visit." With a flap of his wings, he took off into the night sky.

    Had Nicky looked back, he would have caught Arceus' wheel and eyes blazing red in anger.

    XxX

    ~Celestial Isle~

    Nicky regretted not taking time to figure out how late into the night he had left, because sunrise greeted his return. He sensed not only his friends' auras but Ho-Oh's, too. Gulping, Nicky flew toward the pond and statues in the center of the island. Sure enough, Ho-Oh stood in front of Solgaleo's statue, head bowed solemnly.

    Xerneas trotted toward him, a worried look on her face. "There you are! What happened? Where did you go? I was so surprised when I woke up and you weren't here!" Her X-shaped pupils constricted.

    "Sorry, Xern. I didn't mean to make you worry. I was having trouble sleeping, so I went for a fly." Nicky paused, cocking his head to the side. "Or is it 'went for a flight?' Ah, doesn't matter. You get the idea." He shrugged his upper wings.

    "Okay." Xerneas looked down. "Just, um, try to leave some sort of indication… like tracing a note in the dirt or something. I thought…" She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.

    Nicky chose not to press her any further. "Right. I get it. My thoughts were scrambled and stuff, that's all. It won't happen again."

    "Because of what we did?" Xerneas asked.

    "N-No, no! Of course not! That was great!" Nicky said, voice cracking. He could feel Zekrom eyeing him. If he still had hair, he imagined it would be standing on end. "I woke up because I was having another one of those blasted nightmares. Y'know, about the void and ley lines and stuff."

    Zekrom rushed over, tail turbine whirring. "But we're going to talk to Arceus today, right? Your nightmare problems will be over within a few hours." She grinned and thumped her chest.

    "Y-Yeah, about that…" Blue and purple swirled in Nicky's eyes. "There's been a slight change of plans."

    His friends exchanged concerned looks. "What does that mean? Don't tell me you're getting cold feet cause of your nightmares!" Zekrom scoffed.

    "It's not that," Nicky said, tensing his tail to stop from slamming it into the ground. His comment drew Ho-Oh's attention. She studied the group silently out of the corner of her eye. Nicky paid her no mind. "I just… think that, rather than going to Arceus and blindly asking him to trust us… maybe I ought to do a few things first. That way I can, like, prove my dedication toward fixing things."

    "But you already gave us back the sun and moon! If Arceus doesn't trust you after that, then he's got his head shoved up his ass!" Zekrom said.

    "Actually, I disagree. Light brings up a good point." Latios tapped a claw against his chest. "We haven't interacted much with Arceus, Zek, but you've heard about how stubborn he is. If we want to try and sweet-talk him, so to speak, then maybe we ought to show him what our idea's about."

    Humming in thought, Zekrom scratched her chin. "What exactly did you have in mind, Light?"

    Nicky took a deep breath. "To start with… I want to bring back Solgaleo and Lunala."

    "You what?!" Zekrom shouted so loud that Xerneas reared up on her hind legs, snorting in surprise.

    Ho-Oh flared her wings out to the side. "Y-You want to…" She glanced over her shoulder. "Well, it would certainly be a welcome surprise. But how would you pull something like that off? I specialize in spiritual energy, but I haven't been able to find a trace of Solgaleo or Lunala."

    "I know. When I say 'bring back,' I really mean, 'recreate using my light energy,'" Nicky elaborated. "Sure, they won't be the same. Doesn't mean you guys can't befriend them like you did the original Solgaleo and Lunala, right?"

    "I suppose so." Ho-Oh rubbed her shoulder with her wing. "Still, don't you realize what you're proposing? You're saying you're going to create life from nothing which, last I checked, is something only Arceus has done. I fail to see the logic in appealing to him by essentially stepping on his hooves."

    Nicky flinched. He hadn't considered that when crafting his white lie. Regardless, he didn't want to be the one to tell any of the gods that their creation was a complete accident. He needed to think of a reasonable explanation. "Well, Arceus can't use that power anymore because he lost his thousand arms, right?" Nicky said, drawing surprised looks from his friends. "So, I figured this would be a way to show him that there's someone with that power who's willing to help him. And what better way to help than by bringing back two of his creations?"

    "True. It's just, like Latios said, Arceus is stubborn. He might view the gesture as an attempt to usurp his position." Ho-Oh hung her head. "I believe your intentions are good, but there's a chance Arceus will think that, because you created Solgaleo and Lunala, they will obey your word."

    "Urk. That's, uh, a good point." Nicky gulped. Was he being too rash with all of this? He glanced down at his anklet. Maybe he needed to wait to try something this risky. At the same time, however, he knew he couldn't go back to Arceus after their conversation from earlier. And he really didn't want to tell his friends what he'd learned. Especially not Xerneas. She was finally feeling confident in herself and her powers.

    "Yo, earth to Light! What's going on in that big, glowy head of yours?" Zekrom asked, tapping a foot on the ground impatiently. "We may as well go to Arceus, right?"

    "Wait! I've got it!" Nicky blurted out. He turned to Ho-Oh. "You're worried about what Arceus will think, right? Well, since you can work with spirits, then you can shape them so that they won't blindly listen to me." Nicky grinned. "Then, if you come with us when we go to Arceus, you can back me up. How's that?"

    Ho-Oh raised her brows. "Mmm. I suppose that could work, yeah." But then she looked away from the others. "Though, I must ask, do you have any idea exactly how you're going to recreate Solgaleo and Lunala?"

    A red flush washed over Nicky from head to tell. "Aha ha… ha. It's, uh… you're going to hate me for saying this, but I don't have any ideas. It's more of an instinctual thing. When I brought the sun and moon back, I wasn't thinking, only following my gut." He rose into the air. "And that's exactly what I plan to do right now." Nicky flared his wings out. "Stand back, everyone! I'll give a signal when I need your help, Ho-Oh."

    Xerneas rubbed her forelegs together anxiously. "J-Just be careful! Don't overdo it… please." She backed away, looking down at the grass.

    "Relax, Xerny. Light's got this in the bag!" Zekrom said, grinning.

    Nicky gulped. How he wished he could be as sure about everything as Zekrom was. He took a deep breath, then looked at the Solgaleo and Lunala statues. All he had to do was reproduce something like that. Nicky couldn't think. He had to act. And that all started with his life energy.

    He closed his eyes, trying to block out any distractions. After a few seconds, he shot higher into the air. Nicky climbed upward until the bright-blue morning sky faded away to the dark, starry expanse of outer space. He opened his eyes. Nicky lined himself up so he had a view of both the sun and the moon. Then, he tapped deep into his light energy. His body grew hotter and brighter. Nicky focused on the sun and moon, drawing in their light from a distance and mixing it with his own energy.

    The light swirled inside of him. As it festered, it began to take on a tangible form, like the wads of freshly-unwrapped molding clay he'd used in many art classes. Now that he had the energy, he had to focus on sculpting it properly. Pink and white expanded in his eyes. The energy appeared in front of him. Nicky cleaved it in two like it was nothing but a lump of dough. He levitated one closer to the moon and one closer to the sun.

    Clenching his beak tightly shut, Nicky began to telekinetically knead the festering light energy blobs. He focused on his memories of the statues. However, as he molded the solid light to match the structures, he felt something crawling in the back of his mind. His vision went fuzzy. His grip on the energy masses began to slip. Shadowy wisps conjured up in front of him.

    WHaT dO YoU ThINk YoU'Re DoINg wITh oUR pOWEr?

    "Using it… to help," Nicky hissed. He squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated hard. The apparition dispelled. Nicky got the energy blobs under control and resumed sculpting them. Bit by bit, they expanded, taking the shapes of Solgaleo and Lunala. When Nicky felt confident he had replicated the originals' bodies, he took his fragile creations and dropped down from space, closing in on Celestial Isle.

    "Get up here, Ho-Oh!" he shouted, stopping several yards above the island with the two spirits floating beside him. Nicky floated there, watching Ho-Oh climb toward him, her tailfeathers giving off a rainbow trail. "Here they are. Their forms are pretty much solidified. Just, y'know, modify them so they can think for themselves." His tail involuntarily curled up. It took a great deal of straining to maintain an energy hold on his creations.

    "Hrm. All right." Ho-Oh looked between the two golden silhouettes. "I should be able to do this. Y-Yeah." She bobbed her head. "How are you holding up?"

    "Fine! Just get to it. This is tiring," Nicky replied, voice cracking.

    With a nod, Ho-Oh drifted toward Solgaleo's silhouette. She thrust her wings forward. Brilliant rainbow flames engulfed the spirit. Nicky found them surprisingly intense, given his body was made of light. Ho-Oh held the flames for a solid minute. Nicky stared into them, a multitude of colors swirling in his eyes. Different-colored stripes ran down his body without him even knowing.

    Then, from within the flames, Nicky saw two bright-blue, starry eyes look out at Ho-Oh. A compass-like sigil flared to life between the eyes. Ho-Oh backed away nodding. "Okay. Now for Lunala." She glided to Nicky's left and repeated the process, until three sharp, red eyes looked back at her. Ho-Oh drifted away from the spirits, flapping her wings slowly and panting.

    "It's done. Whatever you still… need to do… go ahead."

    Nicky nodded. He shut his eyes again. His connections to the blossoming spirits felt like tethers linking up with his stomach. Nicky pushed more energy into each of the tethers. Ho-Oh backed away, throwing a wing over her face. In two blinding flashes of light, Solgaleo and Lunala appeared, looking much like the two statues on the island below. With a shuddering breath, Nicky imagined himself letting go of the tethers. In response, his connection to the new spirits faded.

    His head tendrils, tail, and wings shrank. Nicky's golden color and rainbow eyes dimmed. "Th-there. Finished," he croaked. Nicky was too tired to examine his handiwork. "T-Take them… somewhere safe, please. A-And tell them… about the world… and what they have to do."

    Ho-Oh looked between Solgaleo and Lunala. "H-Hello there," she said, astonished that Nicky's idea had actually worked. "Can you tell me your names?"

    Solgaleo raised his head. His mane flared with light. "I am Solgaleo, emissary of the sun!" A warm glow spread through the sky surrounding him.

    "And I am Lunala, the embodiment of the moon," Lunala said, curling her wings over her chest and bowing. The sky momentarily darkened around her. "We are… recreations of two gods that played an important role in keeping this world stable, correct?"

    Nicky sighed in relief. It seemed that everything had turned out well. He wanted to thank Ho-Oh, but every ounce of his willpower was going toward making sure he didn't drop out of the sky.

    "That's correct. I'm Ho-Oh. I'm here to help you two settle in." She smiled at them. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you somewhere we can talk privately."

    "Sounds good. But what about our creator?" Solgaleo glanced at Nicky. "I would think he'd want to spend time with us, correct?"

    "The Guiding Light is exhausted and needs his rest," Ho-Oh explained, picking up the cues in Nicky's slouched posture. "I'm sure that, once he's recovered, he will come to us." She beckoned Solgaleo and Lunala with her right wing. "Now then, we've much to discuss, so let us make haste."

    "Very well." Lunala glided by Nicky and whispered, "Rest up, Guiding Light." Then, with a nod, she and Solgaleo followed Ho-Oh through the sky.

    "Th-thank goodness," Nicky wheezed. He could feel what was left of his energy festering. It was like the stomach cramps he'd gotten as a human if he went too long without eating. He needed light. And he needed it badly. Nicky glanced down toward Celestial Isle, a guilty look on his face. Clenching his beak tightly, he forced his mental link with Xerneas open.

    X-Xern? Can you hear me?

    Yes. What is it? Xerneas replied, though her voice was as fuzzy as Nicky's old car radio when a station had bad reception.

    I'm not doing so hot. That took a lot out of me. I have to go recharge. I'm gonna take in light from the sun, he explained. I don't know how long it'll take me, so if you need to go back to the Tree of Life, then you should go.

    He waited a few seconds for a response. When he didn't hear anything, he sighed and forced himself to fly higher.

    XxX​

    Xerneas opened her eyes and shook her head.

    "Were you talking with Light? What did he say?" Latios wondered, gazing at the spot where Ho-Oh, Solgaleo, and Lunala had disappeared from.

    "That he's exhausted. He's going closer to the sun to recuperate, but he's not sure how long he'll be gone." Sighing, Xerneas sat on her haunches. "I suppose I should return to the Tree of Life. I've been gone long enough. Yveltal will undoubtedly be upset."

    "Well now, how convenient. You're all in one place."

    The trio's heads snapped up in unison. Xerneas practically leaped to her feet. Her antler-gems flickered rapidly. "L-Lord Arceus." She clumsily bowed, nearly faceplanting in the process. "W-Whatever brings you up here?"

    Arceus strode toward them, his black eyes and wheel crackling. "I hope you haven't been away from the Tree of Life for long, Xerneas," he said.

    "I, uh…" Xerneas' eyes darted about.

    Latios shrank toward Zekrom, a worried look on his face. "Is something wrong, sir?" he asked.

    "You're the Guiding Light's friend circle, yes?" he asked, tone demanding an immediate answer.

    Xerneas stiffened. She hunched lower to the ground, trying not to look at her belly. She couldn't tip Arceus off that she'd broken one of his biggest rules. "Err, y-yes. We are. W-Why do you ask?"

    "No. You were his friend circle," Arceus said, narrowing his eyes at Latios and Zekrom.

    "Wait… what?" Xerneas frowned. "I don't understand. We've been friends with Light for a while and nobody's batted an eye—"

    "Circumstances have changed. None of you are to associate with him anymore," Arceus said, his tone much harsher.

    Zekrom crossed her arms and raised a skeptical brow. "Beg your pardon, sir? What are these 'circumstances,' exactly? Light's been nothing but helpful to us. We've got no reason to give him the cold shoulder, especially now that he's given us Solgaleo and Lunala back." She beamed, completely unaware of the mortified look Latios gave her. Her smile faltered when she saw both Xerneas' astonished expression and the fierce glare in Arceus' eyes.

    "He did what?" Arceus stomped a forehoof on the ground. A metallic gray color overtook his eyes, wheels, and chest fur. "You three… let him create life?" He stomped his forehoof down again. Sickly-purple toxins bubbled around it, dissolving the surrounding grass. "You… you fools!"

    Sound waves buffeted an unprepared Latios and Zekrom. Both dropped to the ground, trying to shield their ears from Arceus' Hyper Voice. Arceus glared daggers at them. "What is the one thing… the one thing I've repeatedly told you all? Our world is fragile!" His gray eyes flashed gold. "The balance of power is too delicate for any of you to exercise powers outside of the jurisdictions I've given you!"

    "But Light's not under your jurisdiction. He was just trying to help!" Xerneas blurted out, only to squeak when Arceus wheeled on her, metal dust swirling around his wheel. "P-Please, sir. H-Hear me out. We… we have—"

    "The Guiding Light is growing progressively more unstable. And this farce confirms it," Arceus declared. "None of you are to make contact with him again. That's an order."

    Xerneas heart hammered in her chest. She couldn't just turn away from Nicky. They shared a mental link. No, they shared more than that. He was her mate. Nicky actually paid attention to her and helped her when she was feeling down. All Arceus was doing was patronizing her decisions, like the other immortals. She had to stand up for Nicky… and herself.

    "I… I refuse."

    It was brief, but she saw Arceus' eye twitch.

    "You… refuse?" Arceus' wheel glowed again. "Did you not hear me before? That beast grows more unstable by the minute. I know about the dark power festering inside of him. He cannot keep on grip on it for much longer. I will not have him taking advantage of you three."

    "He's not a beast! He's a good person who wants to help!" Xerneas shouted back. Tears stung the corners of her eyes. "But you wouldn't understand that, being cooped up in that tower day in and day out, doing who knows what." She blinked the tears out of her eyes. "He's well aware of the void's influence… and he wants to get rid of it!" Xerneas looked at her friends. "We know about his creators. If we go to them directly, we can force them to remove the void from his spirit!"

    Arceus stomped toward Xerneas. "Really now? He's a good person?" Xerneas backed away, only for her hind legs to lock up. A psychic force had hold of her, as evidenced by the pink embers smoldering in Arceus' eyes. "Tell me… would a 'good person' fly directly to my tower and threaten to erase me? Because that's exactly what your 'friend' did just a short time ago."

    Xerneas tried to fight against Arceus' psychic grip, but it was fruitless. She shot a pleading look toward her friends. Zekrom's tail turbine revved up. "I'm not sure I believe you, sir. Light told us he had gone out for a flight."

    "He was obviously lying!" Arceus scoffed. "Light broke through the special barriers I erected around Destiny Tower, demanded to speak to me, threw accusations around about how all of us handle our work and, when I voiced my discontent with his actions, he threatened me." He shook his head. "Clearly, he likes you three enough to where he didn't have the gall to tell you the truth."

    "No. That doesn't make any sense. Light would never yell at anyone for no reason," Xerneas squeaked, unable to shake her head against her psychic restraints.

    "Yeah! Hell, last night the three of us talked about coming to see you with a proposal to change how we all approach our responsibilities," Zekrom added. "Light seemed enamored with the idea. But then he had a nightmare, went out for a flight, and thought it best to show you that he's dedicated to helping us out. That's why he brought back Solgaleo and Lunala."

    "And in doing so, he disrupted the delicate balance we worked so hard to reestablish with their deaths," Arceus hissed. He hefted Xerneas in the air. She couldn't even flail her legs about in a panic. Latios and Zekrom both prepared to attack, but Arceus turned and faced them. "Seriously? Are you really so dedicated to this liar and manipulator that you'd try to strike down your own creator?"

    "Light's our friend! And so's Xern! Let her go!" Zekrom thundered.

    "Then I want your words that you will avoid the Guiding Light until I can deal with him properly," Arceus said, levitating a mortified Xerneas around to face her friends.

    Latios' wings drooped. "But—"

    "If you refuse…" Arceus' expression darkened. He released Xerneas, who fell onto her rear with a startled whiney. "If you refuse, then I will replace you with gods who will listen to me."

    The color practically drained from the trio's faces. "N-No… you wouldn't! Y-You can't!" Xerneas squeaked. "W-What about all that balance you're going on about?"

    "The Guiding Light has already mucked it up. Now I'll need to see Zygarde about this ordeal. So, I don't see any problems with ironing out a few more faults," Arceus said. "Now then, do I have your words or not?"

    Xerneas looked down, then back at her friends. Both of them had turned away. Xerneas bit her lip. She couldn't leave Nicky out to dry like this. Especially now that they were mates. At the same time, however, that wouldn't mean anything if Arceus could make good on his threat. And Xerneas certainly believed he could. Perhaps there was an alternative way around this? She figured she could just lie to Arceus, then tell Nicky about what happened. Then they could figure out a solution together.

    Arceus stepped between her and her friends, brimming with psychic energy. "This isn't something you get to think about. I need an answer."

    "A-All right." Xerneas tucked her head in. "I won't see him anymore."

    Instead of a verbal response, Arceus levitated her into the air again. Her eyes bulged out. She tried to protest, but Arceus hovered into the air. "I'm taking you back to the Tree of Life. That way, I can be absolutely sure you're not lying to me."

    "H-Hey! Put her down. She said she'd stay away. Now, drop it!" Zekrom said, though she made no physical attempt at blocking Arceus' path.

    "She shouldn't be this far away from the Tree of Life to begin with. I'll 'drop it' when we get back there," Arceus said. Then, without another word, he galloped off through the air, levitating a struggling Xerneas alongside him.

    XxX

    ~The Tree of Life~

    The glow in Xerneas' antlers died down as she stepped back from the tree. Trying to settle the restless spirits and assure them their realm is safe proved a more exhausting task than she had anticipated. Xerneas wanted nothing more than to collapse and drift off to sleep. Yet, despite her fatigue, she forced herself to remain standing. Temporal Tower had fallen, despite having a barrier in place like the one shielding the Tree of Life. Whoever caused this — and she was fairly certain she knew the culprit — had a means to override primal energy. That meant she had to be on guard.

    Xerneas stifled a yawn. If only she could properly reach out to the other immortals who had chosen not to take Hoopa's offer. Unfortunately, she was completely cut off. She looked back at the tree, only to shake her head. It wasn't the tree's fault this was happening. There was no point getting frustrated with it.

    A flash of green light caught her attention. She had just enough time to look at the barrier and spot a gigantic, star-shaped crack before it shattered. A wave of emerald energy swept her up, drowning out her screams. It carried her back and slammed her against the base of the tree. Her ears rang so loudly, she didn't hear the sets of cracks that followed when she struck the tree. Inside, a shockwave of pain ran through her system.

    Xerneas dropped to the ground, belting agonized cries out at the top of her lungs. Her heart rate picked up. Her head pounded. The corners of her vision grew fuzzy, then tears welled up in her eyes. Why did it feel like someone had stuck her head into Primal Groudon's molten stomach? She had to make it stop. Xerneas shakily reached out toward the tree, but that tiny bit of moment brought on a fresh surge of pain. Bile bubbled up in her throat. She blinked tears out of her eyes as best as she could.

    Cold, steel chains wrapped themselves around her legs. Xerneas' heart leaped into her throat, but she could do nothing but squeak as the chains wove their way around her neck. A sudden upward tug lifted her off the ground, at which point the pain dulled. Her tears dried up, but she immediately wished they hadn't. Fragments of her horns lay scattered between Void's chains. Its eye hovered in front of her, crackling with shadowfire.

    "I tOLd YoU…" Tiny veins pulsated within Void's glowing iris. "ThAT I wOUlD ReTuRN… AnD rIp ThOSe AnTLerS oF YoURs OfF… UnTiL yOu rEALizEd… eXAcTlY wHAt iT MeAnS… to BE hElPLeSs."

    Xerneas audibly gagged. Her limbs failed to respond. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't avert her gaze from Void. Instead, its words echoed in the back of her head. A faint silhouette of Necrozma appeared around Void, a twisted and gleeful grin etched onto his face.

    "ThIS iS… pREcISeLY WhAt… a USElESs MiSTaKe liKE yOu… TrULy dESErVeS."

    Void's chains tightened around her. To Xerneas, it felt like Void was yanking her in a hundred different directions. She couldn't scream because her mouth wouldn't move. She couldn't conjure up an attack. Even her connect with the Tree of Life was blocked off. All she could do was stare at Void as tears welled up in her eyes again. Regret bubbled up deep inside of her. Fear of death had made her shun the most important person in her life. Now, in a sense of twisted irony, the one she had shunned was going to take her life.

    'I'm sorry.'

    She prayed with all her might that her thought could somehow reach the kind, loving soul she knew had to lie deep inside… whatever this grotesque form was.

    "ThE GuIDinG LiGhT iS DeAD. yoU kIlLeD hIM. AnD NoW… yOU wIlL nEVeR gET HiM bAcK."

    A tearing pain shot through Xerneas. Her vision grew darker and the ringing in her ears faded, like she was being pulled underwater. Xerneas struggled to take in a breath, only to fail as darkness swallowed up the entirety of vision, followed by the rest of her consciousness.

    XxX
    Next time: the dichotomy of light and darkness.
     
    git-it likes this.
  10. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast


    I hate that this works.


    --


    Well! After a long anticipation for the revised version to come out, here we are with this long-awaited chapter! As requested, I’m going to review this one as standalone (though I will tack on my thoughts about the bonus and April Fools bit afterward, though that will be after I complete this portion), and I can somewhat see why. There is… a lot of information coming out here. If I’m reading the signals right, Nicky became a Growlithe, who then became the Light Dragon with the “power of the Void.” Given some quotes down below, it’s pretty clear why Star Allies is now part of your spoiler warning for the story as a whole~


    Anyway, from what I’m interpreting, looks like despite the fact that the Growlithe was supposed to be what the lightless dragon became, something kept him together, presumably the will of the Void, or perhaps Nicky’s own willpower? Getting Undertale vibes from that one. But it refused! Speaking of determination, Null! He… evolved? I mean, kinda. He did, but not in the traditional sense—okay, if it was a game, he evolved. Now that I think about it, I kinda wish the games did a custom evolution animation for Silvally, since that’s kinda what happens with him, isn’t it? The mask comes off and that’s it.


    I’m rambling. We now have Necrozma’s origin story, and you wrapped up the past by killing off The Insufferable Golem. I’m picking up some quiet Mystery Dungeon setup here, though. The Unown allude to the fact that someone can “undo” Null’s amalgamation with enough hexes and emeras, yet despite this, Null has developed a will of his own already. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that this might come up again at the final few chapters, with the “hero has to go” arc, where they might try to get Silvally back to his Unown selves. But with that all said, he seems to have a consciousness of his own. Speculation: Perhaps a new spirit was created at some point due to that determination, similar to how new life is created here in this setting already (based on what I know from other discussions.) Except instead of being between two people, it’s, uh… a spirit… get-together. Yeah, let’s call it a get-together. It’s a possibility, if you’re going to somehow bring this all back to a PMD-style ending. Or Kirby plotline. What’s going on again?


    Oh! And lastly, that was a very clever fight against the Unown hive. Though, it did end a bit abruptly, and they did sort of… bow down and give up really quickly. Then again, this chapter was already ultra long, and you did allude to the fact that Unown are a bit hive-minded, so I buy the idea that once you break their momentum, that's it. So maybe you realized that there was no real way to end it without making an ultra long chapter? I guess that’s the pitfall of rewriting. But I didn’t mind. Despite this chapter being almost 10k words (I checked) it went by very quickly.


    Anyway, notable quotes time!



    So, this gives me Bittercold vibes, but I guess more along the lines of humans being different, rather than having more willpower. And I say this because…



    Nicky doesn’t really come off as the sort of person who’d have extraordinary willpower. Defiant, sure, but… Yeah. Especially since we’ve seen lots of previous examples of Pokémon who have extraordinary willpower. I feel like Golem might be mistaken here in terms of what it is about the human spirit that he’s after, maybe. I’ve had similar gripes when this is brought up even in the canon, as if Pokémon are somehow not very willing, despite clear examples that suggest otherwise.



    Roll credits.



    Oh, you’re just gonna throw that in there, are you? Well! Now I don’t have to act tongue and cheek about what it’s all referring to.



    Pokémon Movie intensifies.



    In any case, I’m gonna resume my episode-by-episode catchup style of reviewing from here on. Now that I’m caught up on Bulba, and this was The Big One you wanted me to wait for, it’s kinda-steam ahead! I’ll have to figure out my reading schedule for how to tackle two giant fics at the same time, but… one way or the other, I’ll get through them.



    Speaking of Pokémon Movie intensifies, wow, you actually made that Mewtwo quote, didn’t you?

    This was a really nice ending chapter to the episode, I think! You were able to wrap up Null’s awakening into Silvally, though I do feel that his reversal into the happy, cheerful self was… quite sudden. I guess it must have been a relief to quiet down those voices, but it definitely feels like a cork in a bottle that might break open again in the future.

    Which brings me to a bit of a criticism I have regarding the final line of this episode, aside from the April Fools bit. We get this happy moment between Silvally and the gang, and then Shane has some time to reflect and be happy for them, and then he has that sinking feeling that something is wrong. I could understand as much if he was thinking about him going crazy again, since it was possibly just being suppressed, but… instead, he makes a parallel to Grovyle?

    That seemed oddly out of the blue, especially since other tertiaries in the series didn’t really get lost for long. Absol from RT, Hydreigon from Infinity, and uh… uh… did… did we get a tertiary in Super? Espurr? Sure, Espurr. Well anyway, Grovyle was the only one they really lost, and even then, he turned out fine. The parallel almost felt forced, at least in terms of Shane’s worry; I would’ve been a lot more satisfied with that sinking doubt if Shane wondered how long the seal would last, or something like that, since I felt Silvally’s sudden better-ness is… definitely not all there is to it. There must be more to do with the spirits, maybe.

    --


    …And I was right! Kinda. The following Bonus chapter actually covers a bit of my concern for an alternative regarding Silvally. It seems that the voices really are calmed down! At least while the Lunar Wing is active, though since it’s infused with the Looplet, maybe that’s just how it is now. Either way, I thought you wrapped up Silvally’s “opening arc” very nicely with this bonus chapter. The change in perspective was an interesting take, but I thought it worked. It’s kind of interesting how the way he speaks is a lot more subdued in narration compared to how outwardly cheerful/childish he was prior, as well as how he was in the following April Fools special. I won’t be commenting on that one in any specific terms, but that was a fun read.


    Overall, another solid episode! Looking forward to the next.
     
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Got you on Discord, Namo.

    XxX

    Chapter 89: Hatred Eclipsing Love

    Darkness.

    All-encompassing black.

    Spread out as far as the eye can see.

    No. He had no eyes. No limbs.

    Where was he? What was he? How did he know that he was, well, a "he" to begin with?

    He had to think. He had to focus.

    But he couldn't focus. Nothing was making sense. Any attempt at making thoughts collapsed. Could he even think for himself? Wait, that was a thought, wasn't it? He just needed to focus and—

    Everything went fuzzy… again. Whatever traces of activity he had stirred slipped from his nonexistent grasp. Now, there was only darkness. He wasn't even sure how he knew it was darkness. It just was.

    No, wait. That wasn't really true. There was something important he was forgetting. Even if he couldn't think straight, that much was true. He just had to focus.

    Thinking. Feeling. They were things. Things that… people did.

    And he was a person. He was a human. A human who wanted to… help others. Yes, that was it. That had to be it. He wanted to help others and… what else could he remember?

    There was a spark amidst the darkness, followed by a sensation something was stirring.

    He had someone he really cared about… and who cared about him. Yes, it seemed clear as day. Whatever he was doing, it was actually working. He just had to focus harder. Maybe the spark would grow.

    Concentrate… concentrate… concentrate…

    Rays of soft, pink light shined through the darkness. They were warm. They were soft. They were… familiar. The light somehow made him bubbly. Giddy, even. Where was he getting these feelings from? It was almost like… like…

    It was almost like how he felt when he and Xerneas were together.

    That was it. The spark became a jolt through his system. Dozens of memories came spilling in from god only knows where. Images flickered in from the beams of light. One moment, Xerneas sat by a root from the Tree of Light, pressing a forehoof to its trunk. The next, she glowed with a multicolor aura, producing a field of colorful flowers as her Geomancy radiated through the area. Then, in another bright flash, she was leaning in toward him, eyes soft and a smile spreading across her muzzle.

    How could he have forgotten this? How her smile brightened him up and made his heart flutter? The way she got all flustered around him. How she… she…

    HoW ShE beTrAyED mE.

    Black tendrils pierced the rays of light, plunging him back into darkness once again.

    What was he thinking? He didn't want to help anyone. No. Nobody deserved his help. Everyone had used him. They had always used him. Stepped on him. Treated him like a doormat.

    That was supposed to change. He was supposed to make them all pay. The void's power— no, his power would erase everything. And yet, that hadn't happened. He didn't have his light. Instead, things had hit an unexpected snag. He lost his host. His broken spirit should've withered away into nothingness.

    But he was still here. Things might've been fuzzy for a while, but everything was becoming much clearer again.

    Love? Companionship? Worthless. It was time to cast those pathetic feelings aside. Whatever pleasant memories he thought he had didn't matter now. All that mattered was destruction.

    I aM NeCroZmA, Devourer of Light. And I will return each and every world to the void.

    XxX

    ~The Tree of Life~

    The shadowy vortex spinning in front of the tree raged onward. It tore fissures through the ground and sucked in ley line chains. The sounds of metal scraping metal echoed across the edges of Primeval Forest. All the while, the orange butterfly fluttered silently in front of the tornado, watching it intently.

    After a full minute of spinning about in one place, the shadows slowly evaporated.

    "Success! A brilliant success! I'm stable once more! Heeheeheehee!"

    Crystalline hooves pierced the dirt as Necrozma strode toward the butterfly. Though he had Xerneas' form, he was covered in black crystals that distorted the light and air around him. Jagged metal shards stuck out from the remnants of Xerneas' horns. Necrozma had a large, black, crystal arm jutting out from each side of his torso. Flexing his claws, He turned and stared the butterfly down with the lone red eye in the center of his metallic face.

    "Well, at least I'm as stable as I can be without my core. But it won't be long before I finally have it back," Necrozma mused. He lifted a foreleg and examined it. "A pity this form is so… pathetic. I can feel the spinelessness of her spirit as it festers inside of me. The sooner I have my core, the sooner I can stifle her."

    Necrozma turned toward the Tree of Life. His head involuntarily jerked to the right. Pink light flashed in his eye. He glanced at his reflection in the tree's ethereal bark. "What do you think about all of this now, Xern? Do you still want to tell me to fight back? Are you going to insist the fault lies with Arceus?" He leaned in close to the tree. A twisted smile split his crystalline lips. "Oh, wait. You can't do any of that. Because I've got your spirit. Heeheeheehee!"

    He thwacked the nearby root with his left arm. "How does it feel, hmm? Familiar? I imagine it must be. It's probably just like when that rebellious mistake trapped you inside your precious tree." Necrozma paused and shook his head. "No. With any luck… it's worse. At least when you were in the tree, you could sense what was going on. I'm not going to give you such a privilege. I'll erase this world… and you won't even know that it happened! How's that for a fitting ending, Xern?"

    His grin broadening, Necrozma touched a forehoof to the tree. He sensed a veritable sea of different spirits swimming about inside of it. All brimming with light. Light that, with Xerneas' power, he could take for his own. Necrozma had to quickly lap up the drool trickling from his mouth. He backed away, shaking his head.

    "No. I need my core, first." Necrozma leaned in, his pupil constricting. "I hope you all can hear me in there. Because I want you to know that everything Xerneas told you was a bold-faced lie. You're not safe. In fact, I'd best cherish what little time you all have remaining in your precious little spirit realm. Soon… your spirits will be mine."

    An orange twinkle caught Necrozma's attention. He whirled around, nearly swatting the butterfly with his right arm. The butterfly froze, hovering inches away from the tree. "Fool! What do you think you're doing? That's not your reward for helping! The light from this tree belongs to me!" he barked.

    The butterfly's wings shimmered with emerald energy. Necrozma waved her off with a hand. "Oh, don't give me that sass. I'm not about to double-cross you, if that's what you're suggesting." Necrozma shook his head. "The prize I had in mind for you is something different, that's all. It's still some spirits… and they're ones with a bit more a kick to them."

    He paused to stare the butterfly down. She turned away, slowing the flapping of her wings. Necrozma grinned once again. "Come now. Don't you want to hear my offer? See, that foolish human worm took something from me besides Lunala's light." Necrozma stomped toward the butterfly, his eye darkening. "She took my pet Shadow Lugia." He tried his best to pout, but the effect was blunted by his one-eyed face.

    "I have no interest in keeping it now that she's tainted it with her foolish human ideals," he continued. "So, I'm offering it up to you. Two spirits for the price of one. I'm no businessman, but that sounds like a good deal to me. Heeheeheehee!"

    The butterfly looked back at Necrozma. Her wings flared up once again.

    "Relax, will you? You won't have to put in any effort to make this happen," Necrozma insisted, rubbing his hands together behind his back. "That's the best part. All the work will be done by those idiot, would-be heroes." His grin broadened. "You'll get some tasty spirits… and I'll get both the center of my core and the satisfaction of seeing the hope drain from their faces. Everyone wins! Well, everyone who matters wins. Heeheeheehee!" He extended a forehoof toward her. "So, shall we get going?"

    There was a brief pause, then the butterfly flew beside Necrozma's shoulder. "Excellent! A pity I can't make any wormholes. Looks like we're walking." He shook his head and sighed. "On the bright side, that'll make it easier to keep a low profile. And with any luck, the festivities will be well underway by the time we get to Temporal Tower's remains."

    XxX

    ~Celestial Island~

    Nicky had severely underestimated how just how much energy he had spent recreating Solgaleo and Lunala. Once he got close enough to the sun to take in its energy, he was struck by a familiar sensation. The first bits of light he took in reminded him of the many times he'd gulped down entire bottles of water after going too long without having anything to drink. He hovered in the middle of space, spreading his wings wide to soak up as much light as he could.

    Nicky quickly lost track of time. The more light he took in, the heavier he felt. It was exactly like the exhaustion that followed eating a large meal. And yet, he still hungered for light. The exhaustion eventually won out, however. Nicky drifted off to sleep.

    A field of soft green grass awaited him. Warm sunlight filtered down from a bright-blue sky. He brushed his wings through the grass like he was a kid making a snow angel. His tail tingled. Nicky turned to his right. Xerneas lay beside him. He leaned over and nuzzled her and she, in turn, licked his crystalline cheek. Nicky shimmied closer to her, humming with delight as her soft fur brushed against his neck. He could keep doing this for hours on end.

    Then, without warning, the scene surrounding him dissolved away in a veritable rainbow whirlwind. Nicky forcibly jolted himself awake. He looked around and realized he was still floating in front of the sun. He thanked his lucky stars that he had fallen asleep somewhere with no gravity… and that nothing had struck him and sent him into an unwitting orbit.

    Stretching out his wings, Nicky realized he was glowing much brighter than before. He tried to dim himself, but failed. It didn't take him long to determine the cause. However long his nap was, it had filled him to the brim with light. He hadn't felt this much energy brimming up inside him throughout the entirety of his time in the Pokémon world. Despite this, Nicky still had a lingering mental fog. He shook his head. It did little good.

    He wasn't tired, per se. But he didn't want to do anything that required any serious brain power, either. Had he still been human, he could've slinked off to his room and mindlessly watched television or videos on his computer. But the closest equivalent he had in this word was people-watching. Something which he definitely couldn't do in his current body. He'd just scare everyone away.

    Incapable of using a deep breath in outer space, Nicky composed himself by lightly smacking his cheeks with his upper wings. His brain might've felt like a bowl of oatmeal, but he at least needed to figure out how long he'd been out for. Nicky concentrated on his mental link, probing for Xerneas' mind. However, he couldn't establish a connection and, after a couple of minutes, gave up.

    Nicky gazed down at the planet. Puffy white clusters passed underneath him, blocking his view of the ocean. Orange and red swirled around in his eyes. With all the power he'd taken in, communicating with Xerneas from space should've been no problem. So, why wasn't it working? Shrugging, Nicky chose reenter the atmosphere. Since he was mostly made of light energy, he didn't have to worry about burning up on reentry. If anything, flying back down made him more energized, though the mental fog was still there.

    Maybe the issue was that he'd fried his brain so badly with his idea that he couldn't tap into the mental link. Nicky glanced at his wings. He repeatedly curled and uncurled them, considering his new idea. A headache was coming on and Nicky wanted to stop it. He decided to dismiss the mental link issue as a result of Xerneas working in the spirit realm.

    It only took a few more minutes of flying for Nicky to find Celestial Island again. It was floating toward the Air Continent. In the process of catching up to it, the sky gradually darkened. It was twilight when Nicky touched down by the pond. He sighed in content as he let his legs fall into the water. Hot steam rose out of the pond while bubbles encased his legs along the surface.

    After a minute, Nicky sat up straight. He realized there were no signs of Latios or Zekrom and figured they, like Xerneas, had opted to go home. Rubbing his head with an upper wing, Nicky rose back into the air. Much as he would've liked to stay there, he had his own business that he knew he needed to attend to. After arcing his ethereal back, Nicky took off. The cool night air felt nice against his crystalline face and chest, but it quickly went away as his eastern flight path took him into bright daylight.

    He remembered that Ho-Oh had taken off in the direction of the Horizon Continent, so he hoped she'd still be there. A smile crossed his beak when he managed to sense her energy, along with Solgaleo and Lunala's. Nicky dimmed himself as best he could, then slowly glided down toward the island. It wasn't very big, with much of it shrouded in dense, rainbow foliage. Nicky couldn't help but shift colors as he flew past the rainbow trees and neon bushes.

    In the center of the island sat a flat-topped, pyramid-like structure. It had staircases on each side of it, with various runes and glyphs between them that Nicky didn't know the meaning of. Ho-Oh, Solgaleo, and Lunala were on top of the structure. The newly-made gods quickly caught sight of Nicky and walked up to the edge of the platform. Ho-Oh then turned to face him. She immediately stood up straight in, what Nicky had to figure, was an attempt at looking official.

    "Ah, Light. I wasn't sure if you were going to, um…" Ho-Oh trailed off and folded her wings by her sides. "Actually, I'm not entirely sure where I was going with that thought." She cleared her throat. "Let's try that again. What brings you to Rainbow Island?"

    "I'm finished recharging. I tried to reach out to Xern, but it looks like she's busy. So, I figured I'd come here and make sure everything was okay," Nicky explained, his gaze darting between Solgaleo and Lunala. Both looked back at him with a mixture of admiration and apprehension. Nicky tried lightening the mood by rubbing the back of his head with an upper wing and asking, "How long was I recharging for, exactly?"

    "Mmm. I think it's been about half a day since we parted ways," Ho-Oh replied.

    "Oof." Nicky winced. "Guess I had myself more than a quick power nap, then." He tapped his lower wing-claws together nervously.

    "You were sleeping… up in outer space?" Ho-Oh said, brows raised. "Hmm… I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. Your powers are clearly quite unique. Otherwise, we wouldn't have these two." She gestured to Solgaleo and Lunala.

    "Right." Nicky drifted down to eye level with his creations. 'Ugh. I've gotta stop thinking about them like that. It's just gonna make things weird.' He smiled warmly at them. "I apologize for ditching the two of you. Your creation left me very weak and I needed to regain the energy I had lost. How are you both doing?"

    Solgaleo and Lunala exchanged looks. "I think we're both… all right," Lunala said, with Solgaleo nodding his agreement. "Still a bit fuzzy in some places, to be sure. But everything Ho-Oh's told us makes sense. We're… recreations, yes? Of the two gods who made sure the earth got sunlight and moonlight?"

    "Yeah, that sounds like the short version," Nicky said, throwing in a laugh for good measure. "Are you okay with everything you've heard?" They both nodded. Nicky sighed in relief, thankful there weren't gaps that he'd struggle to fill. "Great! I, uh…" He blinked slowly. "Hmm. I'm not really sure what we should do, next."

    "If I may make a suggestion, perhaps you ought to teach them how to use their powers?" Ho-Oh said. "You're the one who brought the sun and moon back to us. So, that makes you the obvious choice to train them."

    Nicky blinked. She had a point. However, the closest he had ever come to teaching was the stupid peer tutor program his parents had forced him to do in high school. He recalled several instances of sitting at a desk beside one of several different douchebags with chiseled faces, crewcuts, and varsity jackets, listening to them talk about how swimming wasn't a real sport, he wasn't a real athlete, and the team was worthless because it let anyone join. Never mind the fact that it was his swim team that won more league titles than any of the other varsity teams.

    "Um, Light? Is everything all right? You seem lost in thought," Ho-Oh said, snapping Nicky to attention.

    "S-Sorry! Sorry! Even though I'm all recharged, my mind's a little bit fuzzy," Nicky hastily replied, his head tendrils bristling. "A-Anyway, I'm happy to train 'em and stuff. We could go up to Celestial Island. We won't have to worry about anyone interrupting up there."

    "Are you sure? If you're still tired, perhaps it's best to wait until you've recovered," Ho-Oh suggested, frowning.

    "I'll be fine. This is exactly what I need to help me clear up this mental fog," Nicky said. He beckoned for Solgaleo and Lunala to follow up. They both looked back at Ho-Oh who, after a few seconds, shrugged. The duo hovered into the air and floated beside Nicky. Then, they all took off into the sky.

    XxX​

    The next week was a whirlwind for Nicky. It started simply enough, with training up Solgaleo and Lunala. They were surprisingly receptive to him, nodding along and asking good questions, even as Nicky tripped over his explanations. Within a couple of days, they could successfully direct light toward the planet.

    Nicky then decided to go forth with the next part of his revival plan and create a way to restore his creations should something catastrophic happen. It proved a much simpler task, with Solgaleo and Lunala helping by contributing some of their energy. Though it wasn't creative, he named the artifacts the Dawn Hourglass and Dusk Hourglass. His plan was to give them to the Horizon Continent's Land Spirits for safe keeping since, as far as he could tell, they were some of the more active gods in the world.

    Before he had an opportunity to do that, however, he got a surprise visit from Mesprit. Despite his protests, she insisted he join her for tea. It was incredibly awkward. While Mesprit was happy to hear that Solgaleo and Lunala were back, she pestered Nicky with so many questions he barely had time to catch his breath. While it was a bit exhausting, he couldn't say he disliked the attention. Hence, he went back the next few days.

    While all of this was happening, he kept trying to contact Xerneas, only to keep drawing a blank. This worried Nicky, but he didn't want to risk upsetting Xerneas by showing up unannounced at the Tree of Life. Instead, he sought out Latios and Zekrom. Only, when he found them and explained he couldn't connect with Xerneas, they told him Arceus had given them an important assignment in the Hidden Land and left before he could ask for any more details.

    To try and keep his mind off his worries, Nicky decided to deliver the Hourglasses to the Tapus. While he was there, he opted to continue his plan and share some of his energy with them. He tried it with Tapu Bulu and Tapu Koko first. Nicky was quite surprised when the two of them nearly destroyed Tapu Bulu's temple with a combination of a gigantic lightning bolt and a huge, green geyser of grass energy. Still, they both seemed grateful. So, he made his way to Tapu Lele's temple and asked her to accompany him to Tapu Fini.

    Nicky gave them the Dawn Hourglass, then infused each of them with light energy as he had with the other two Land Spirits. This time, he chose to escort them outside so they could test their powers. First was Tapu Lele, whose psychic power erupted in a pattern resembling a broken car windshield. Nicky watched ocean mist drift through the air while Tapu Fini floated in front of him.

    "So, I'm just supposed to concentrate on this new power?" Tapu Fini said, staring at her glowing hands.

    "Like, that's all I had to do. It should, like, be no problem for you, sis!" Tapu Lele called, waving her encouragement.

    Tapu Fini brushed her hair out of her face. "Very well. Let's see how this works out." She clasped her hands together. After an intense minute of concentrating, golden light encased her arms. Tapu Fini spread them apart. The light raced up her arms and quickly encased her entire body. She thrust her arms downward.

    Below her, the ocean water stirred. Without warning, a plume of water shot up toward her, flinging a few small Magikarp through the air. Nicky caught them with his telekinesis, shot Tapu Lele an annoyed look for giggling at their misfortune, and levitated them away from Tapu Fini for their own safety. When he finished, he had just enough time to turn around before a wall of water smacked him the face.

    Tapu Lele's giggles turned into full-blown chortling at the sight of Nicky's unamused face covered by a veil of steam. She lay on her back in midair, slapping her torso with her hands. Tapu Fini floated back toward them, brushing hair out of her eyes. "I must say, I've never felt a surge of power quite like that."

    "That was, like, a total riot, sis! You should, like, do it again and send more Magikarp flying!" Tapu Lele said between giggle fits.

    Groaning, Nicky smacked his face with an upper wing. "How about we don't do that? These powers are meant for you to help Pokémon, not hurt them."

    "I agree. There's already enough imbalance in the world." Tapu Fini lifted up her hands. "Now, we have the means to try and fight it." She turned and nodded at Nicky. "We are grateful for your gift, Guiding Light."

    "Err, you're welcome," Nicky said, though he didn't sound confident.

    "Yeah. Like, feel free to stop by again if you ever want to lend us more ener—"

    "Be grateful, Lele," Tapu Fini scolded, glaring at her sister.

    Tapu Lele pouted. "I'm, like, totally grateful." She turned to Nicky. "What do you want from me? Flowers? Diamonds? Just say the word and—"

    "I'm fine, thanks," Nicky insisted. "If you guys don't need me for anything else, then I'll just take my leave." He bobbed his head, then flew off, soaring high over Horizon's mainland to avoid being seen. Nicky again tried tugging on his mental link with Xerneas, but received no response. He couldn't sense any part of her mind anywhere.

    Worry stirred in his gut. What if something had gone wrong? What if she needed him? He didn't know anything about the spirit realm, so how could he help? If Nicky was still human, he would've scrunched up his face in thought. Instead, he settled for hovering inside a cloud, swishing his tail about while he hummed. Nicky sifted through his memories, looking for some sort of conversation he'd had with Xerneas about the Tree of Life. If only he had actually paid attention when she talked about it, instead of dozing off.

    'Ah, wait! Ho-Oh has spiritual powers! I can ask her for help!'

    Nicky looked down, wondering if he'd sense Ho-Oh's energy on Rainbow Island. Before he could focus his ESP, however, a flicker of light caught his attention. Nicky glanced down at his leg to find the anklet flashing. Panic spread through his system. He dove down toward the mainland, only for his wings to lock up. A burning pain shot up his leg, steadily growing in intensity until he couldn't help but shout in pain.

    His vision grew fuzzier and fuzzier until it was bright white. The burning filled up his whole body. Nicky thought he was about to explode. Then, in the middle of the blinding light, a violet iris stared back at him.

    I warned you.

    XxX

    ~Ultra Nexus~

    "NRgAgRH! LiGhT! OuT! I wAnT…"

    Crystalline arms swatted at nothing, then smacked off his body. He belted out a guttural screeched that echoed through the empty void. The throbbing pain was back. He wanted— no, he needed light.

    How long had he been here? There was no way of knowing. All that surrounded him was darkness. His own creations… they had trapped him here. They knew he was suffering, but they ignored him. His friends ignored him. His mate abandoned him.

    "NnNg… nO. NOt. NEvEr. FrIEnDS… DoN'T… woN'T… NeCr… Oz… mA…"

    Friends? He didn't have any. He didn't care about anyone or anything. All he needed was light. Energy to bust out of his prison. Then, he'd destroy them. He'd destroy their world. He'd destroy every world. Because they were all mistakes. That was the truth. Void had showed him. And now he was the void. That's why he was stuck here. They feared him. He tried to show them kindness. They returned that kindness by making him suffer.

    "RrAArffgher! LiGHT! LeigHRT! MoRE! LeaIghRt!"

    Necrozma clawed at his core. It reacted by weakly pulsating with energy. Necrozma growled. His arms spasmed beside him.

    Throughout his imprisonment, there had been brief moments where he sensed a small amount of light filter in. He didn't know where it had come from, but he sucked up every last drop and held onto it. Now, even though he was in excruciating pain, he had to try putting that light to use. He had to make his escape. Necrozma couldn't take lying in a void with his festering thoughts and gnawing hunger any longer.

    Necrozma thrashed about. With no gravity, he had no idea what was up and what was down. However, after squirming around for a bit, he reached a stat that was about as close to being upright as he could manage.

    "P… PruRRtle. PoRt… gnfRRgharf!"

    He smacked his body several times, almost like he was trying to strike a match. Tiny sparks shot out of his core. When they failed to do nothing more than float in front of him, Necrozma snatched them back up with a snarl and forced them back inside his core. He continued this cycle until, instead of a spark, his swipe created a small, yellow beam.

    It flew in front of him and, though there was nothing for it to strike, splattered into a puddle like water droplets hitting a pane of glass. The light shifted from yellow to green to blue to purple. Then checkboard lines spread through the puddle and it slowly pinched itself inward, gaining depth until formed an awkward, jagged portal.

    The shape didn't matter, however. Light fluttered in from the inside. Soft, blue light. It was sweet… delectable, even. Necrozma craved it. He needed it. So, he flailed his arms around, like he was submerged underwater and trying to swim forward. Slowly, he inched closer to the portal. The light grew brighter and warmer. It filtered into his core. His flailing grew more vigorous. In the back of his head, Necrozma could even sense something other than pain, hunger for light, or a desire to crush anything that lived. All he had to do was get to the other side and—

    "NrGreArghEdK!"

    It happened without warning. A gust of wind blew him back from the portal. Before he could get what few bearings he had straight, the portal and its light faded away. All Necrozma could find sitting in front of it was a small, cracked, red sphere and scattered fragments of black crystals.

    "N… NnNGhh… Ooh… rRgh…"

    Necrozma screeched at the top of his figurative lungs. Surprisingly, the orb reacted, pulsating with red light. Necrozma used the light he'd siphoned from the portal to speed toward the orb. He grabbed hold of it with both hands, letting loose guttural snarls and digging his claws into the existing cracks. As he did, twinges of familiar energy raced toward his core. His grip momentarily slackened.

    "YoU. EeeU. V… V…" Dim light flickered in his core. "VoID. YoU… vOId! I… VoID! MiNe… me… d-D… ArK. Me… DaRK." He tightened his grip around the sphere once again. This time, memories that clearly weren't his flickered through his fuzzy mind.

    He saw Yveltal, a Nuzleaf, and several Beheeyem, shrouded in shadowy clouds and thrashing about in pain. Necrozma watched as Pokémon of all different shapes and sizes were turned into stone before his eyes. He saw the sun— his sun growing steadily closer to the planet. Then, in a flicker of bright lights and swirling colors, he found himself face to face with a Chikorita and a Fennekin. The latter looked up at him, a warm smile on his face and his tail wagging slowly.

    "That's why… I accept you!"

    Static overtook the memory. Piece by piece, Xerneas' warm, timid smile replaced Fennekin's.

    "NoOo!" Necrozma snarled. His distorted cries echoed through the empty void. The sphere in his hands sparked, but nothing else happened. Necrozma looked at it. No, he glared at it. Or at least, that's what he would've done if he actually had a face… or eyes, for that matter. Necrozma hoisted the orb in the air then, with another screech, slammed it against the center of his core. He repeated the gesture once. Twice. Three times.

    On the fourth time, an intense burning pain consumed him. Slowly, the orb phased inside of his core. It seemed like it was struggling against this, if its constant flickering was anything to go by. Nevertheless, Necrozma pushed through the pain, until the sphere had vanished completely.

    Necrozma's arms fell to his side. For a while, it felt like something was tunneling inside of him. But that sensation eventually faded, leaving Necrozma floating silently in the darkness of the Ultra Nexus.

    "RffrHeCaPe," he muttered. Necrozma again struck his core with his hands. This time, however, no sparks appeared. He tried it again with the exact same result. Necrozma continued striking his core, growing more desperate until he finally belted out another screech.

    He had missed his chance at escape. Now, he'd have to start over from scratch, assuming he could stay conscious long enough to manage that. The earlier, throbbing pain from his lack of light had returned. And he wasn't sure how much he could take before he had no choice but to shut down.

    XxX

    ~Nocturnus Catacombs~

    Letting out a long groan, Seraph slumped against the tunnel wall, draping her right arm over a rocky divot to steady herself. "Is that it? Did we get everyone?" she asked, wiping her brow.

    Opposite her, Luxeria sat on her haunches. She leaned her head over and watched sweat droplets trickle off her snout. "I'm not sure. I can hear a lot of voices at the end of the tunnel, though. Not sure how many more people we can take down here."

    "That's the last of them, yeah!"

    Kahuna Raichu floated down the tunnel on his tail. Sticky flanked him on his right and Totem Decidueye followed behind both of them.

    "I apologize if we disrupted your plan or rhythm, Kahuna," Totem Decidueye said. "I'm afraid the tremors that shook Cosmic Cavern caught me woefully unprepared."

    "No worries, cousin. It was nothing we couldn't handle." Kahuna Raichu gestured toward Luxeira and Seraph. "The credit really goes to these two, though. They stepped up big time. I don't think we would've been able to get everyone to the Underground Lagoon if they hadn't stepped up to supervise things."

    "Yes, you both have my utmost thanks for that," Totem Decidueye said, bobbing his head.

    "Don't mention it. We were just doing our jobs," Seraph said, rubbing her nose with a digit.

    "Err… apologies if I'm putting on a damper on things, but what exactly was the point of evacuating underground?" Sticky asked, poking his nubs together and glancing around nervously. "If the continent's being plagued by tremors, wouldn't it be safest to be above ground?" He pressed a nub against the wall on his right. "This tunnel feels pretty sound, sure, but a tremor could cause a cave-in, right?"

    "It could. That's what the Underground Lagoon is for," Totem Decidueye replied. "It's actually a waypoint, since this is technically a Mystery Dungeon."

    "Yeah! All we have to do is tell folks to go underwater… and the waypoint will transfer them to a small island northeast of Horizon," Kahuna Raichu explained. "Now that we've got everyone down here and nabbed some emergency supplies, we can start sending 'em through the waypoint to Sunbaked Island."

    "Oh, I see. That is quite the contingency plan you've got in place," Sticky said, blinking slowly.

    Luxeira, on the other hand, looked crestfallen by the revelation. "You mean after all of that, we're only halfway done?" She thought she might hurl.

    "Correct. However, I can see how much of a strain the evacuation's put on the two of you. So, I ask that you both rest. Kahuna Raichu, his daughter, Healer Florges, and I can supervise this next part," Totem Decidueye said.

    "I can help out, too," Sticky volunteered. "My head's still a bit fuzzy, but my teammates need the rest."

    A tired smile crept onto Seraph's face. "Thanks, Cue Ball," she rasped.

    "We'll come get you two once we're done, yeah," Kahuna Raichu said. He levitated a few berries and a couple of damp washcloths to the duo. "In the meantime, take these to keep your strength up." Each of them accepted a washcloth, with Seraph plastering hers on her forehead. They watched the three guys walk down the tunnel. Once they were out of sight, Seraph slumped down to the ground.

    "Ugh, my aching… everything." She leaned forward and massaged her right foot with her paws. "How long do you think we've been up for?"

    "It's tough to tell given, y'know, time's not working," Luxeira replied, her voice dripping with fatigue.

    Seraph winced. She should've known better, but she had asked anyway. Seraph finished massaging her right foot and switched to her other one. "I've gotta say, Rookie… I'm impressed. I was wrong about you."

    Luxeira almost choked on the bite of oran berry she'd taken. "I beg your pardon?"

    "The day we met, I said you were nothing but a scrub who only cared about joining the Ultra Recon Squad to look good. And I was wrong," Seraph said, stretching out her legs and reclining against the wall. "You really held your own out there, today. Battling UB-level weirdos, then helping lead an evacuation. Sure, it may not have been a full-scale city evacuation, but you kept a level head through all of it… despite this being the first time you've ever dealt with something like this." Seraph smirked at her. "That's more than a lot of surveillance unit scrubs can say they've ever done in years with an Ultra Recon Squad."

    "O-Oh…" Luxeira reached for her washcloth and draped it over her face to stop her cheeks from getting too warm. "Uh, thanks, I guess?" She kept the washcloth in place for a minute before letting it drop to the ground. When she did, she found that Seraph had switched sides of the tunnel and was now sitting next to her, with one leg crossed over another. Luxeira bit her tongue to avoid yelping in surprise.

    "You, uh… you probably lost some real important people, didn't you? Because of what Necrozma did," Seraph whispered, tracing a claw along her thigh.

    Luxeira tensed up. She bowed her head. In truth, the day's events had been so stressful that she hadn't thought much about her breakdown back in Cosmic Cavern. Now that she had a moment to rest, however, that familiar crushing weight pressed down on her shoulders. "I did," she said, voice hoarse. "My parents and…" Luxeira took a shaky breath. "My mate."

    Seraph sat up. "Oh, so you, uh, you had someone like that… in your life?"

    "I did. Silus and I—" Luxeira paused. She squeezed her eyelids shut. "We were close. Even though he knew it meant I wouldn't be home as much as he would've liked, he was… really supportive about the whole surveillance unit thing. Helping me with studying and conditioning during his off-hours. Doing practice interviews."

    Luxeira sighed. "You want to know how we started dating? When I was younger, I filed and polished my horns to try and make myself look more appealing," she explained. "It was meant to, y'know, boost my confidence and stuff… because some UBs at the school I went to treated me like dirt." A bittersweet laugh escaped her lips. "I guess it wound up working, since it won me a mate."

    "I see," Seraph whispered, staring at the opposite wall with a blank look in her eyes. "You miss him, don't you?"

    "Very much," Luxeira croaked. "But, well, we stumbled upon Gallian losing control to an ultra aura. I, uh, figured I had to try and shove those thoughts down and put on a brave face to help keep him steady." She shook her head. "I suppose it worked, but now I just feel guilty. Like I… I dunno, detached myself from Silus or something. Though, at the same time, I'm sure he'd want me not to let this hold me back or anything and, y'know, move on."

    Luxeira turned to Seraph. "What about you? I know you weren't originally from Ultra Village, but I imagine you've been separated from your family, too."

    Seraph shook her head. "I lost them a long time ago. Guzzlords attacked my home." She poked the ground with a claw. "I was one of the few survivors."

    "Oh. I'm, uh, sorry." Luxeira flinched, expecting Seraph to lash out for drudging up a painful memory. To her surprise, Seraph stayed silent and continued to stare at the opposite wall. "So, you, erm, joined the URS, even though UBs attacked your home?"

    "Yeah, I did. My best friend, Mienshao Lorraine, suggested it. Said it would be a good outlet for all my… aggressions," Seraph responded, tugging at a whisker. "This may come as a surprise to you, but I was a nasty little monster in the refugee center. Throwing temper tantrums, causing power surges with my lightning…" Seraph rubbed a temple. "The staff wouldn't let me play any sports or games with the other kids because I'd usually end up hurting them."

    Luxeira wasn't surprised, but held her tongue regardless.

    "Along comes Lorraine. She tried to help me channel all my pent-up anger toward something constructive," Seraph continued. She cleared her throat and, in a higher-pitched voice, said, "Let's face it, Seph. Life's handed us some real sour lemons. The way I see it, we can let those lemons make our lives a bitter hell… or we can take those lemons and shove 'em up Life's ass!" Seraph punched her right paw with her left. Luxeira flinched at the word choice.

    "She helped me fill out all the paperwork and apply for the position. I, uh, really do owe her a lot," Seraph said, slumping down and folding her arms over her chest. "She's the 'mon who made me realize I'm into ladies and not guys."

    "Are you two, uh…" Luxeira stopped herself, fearing she'd upset Seraph. She decided to rephrase the question to sound less direct. "Did you two keep in touch?"

    "We did, yeah. Lorraine snagged a job at a gym in the same city as the refugee center. She does personal training and teaches kickboxing classes and tai-chi," Seraph explained, twiddling her claws.

    "Tai-what?"

    "It's some kinda meditative thingy. We learned it from observing humans, I think?" Seraph said, shrugging. "It doesn't matter. Point is that we were still tight."

    Her curiosity aroused, Luxeira asked, "Tight as in… friends? Or something else?"

    "Friends," Seraph replied flatly. "I did tell her what I thought of her one night when we were alone. She smiled and told me she was flattered, but that she didn't see me the same way." Seraph's face scrunched up. "It hurt to hear. It's a kind of hurt that I honestly haven't felt since that moment." She rubbed her shoulder. "But I told myself it was more important I get to keep Lorraine as a friend. I just, y'know, redirected that sense of heartbreak toward kicking the crap out of unruly UBs."

    Shrugging, Seraph added, "It also helps she introduced me to quite a few juicy pieces of tail over the years."

    "Oh. Uh, right." Luxeira concluded that was about as Seraph a response to that situation as she could think of. Seraph didn't say anything else. Luxeira wasn't sure she wanted to push the conversation further, but the awkward silence didn't take long to get to her. "So, when was the last time you got to see her? Y'know, before all of this nonsense went down."

    Seraph tapped her chin with a claw. "Maybe something like… two weeks before? I said I was going to send her a message the next time I wanted to meet up." She buried her head in her paws. "Who knows how much time's gone by in the Ultra Recon Network since we disappeared?" Seraph looked up at Luxeira. "How long did you say you've been in this world again?"

    "It's been, erm…" Luxeira's brow furrowed. "I want to say it's been this world's equivalent of several weeks. Maybe even a quarter of a year." She shook her head. "Honestly, my head's so fuzzy, I can't really remember."

    "And we have no idea how time moves here compared to the URN. Ugh… Lorraine's gonna think I'm a total flake or something." Groaning, Seraph facepalmed.

    "Maybe not. I mean… a Lightless Black wiped out Ultra Village. Odds are… some other world caught signal of what happened," Luxeira exclaimed. "Wouldn't be surprised if news outlets descended on the place to get all the grim details. Nothing boosts network ratings like a good crisis story." She nearly bared her fangs at that statement, but managed to keep her temper in check.

    "Then I guess Lorraine might've assumed the worst happened to me," Seraph whispered, a frog in her throat. She grabbed her legs and brought her knees up toward her chest. "This is… honestly worse than the nightmares I used to have about the Guzzlords. It's all familiar… in a bad way." She dug her claws into her fur. "Once again, I'm pissed at a UB, but there's little I can feasibly do to stop it."

    "Well, it sounds like Necrozma was already stopped," Luxeira said, remembering Zero's claims. "Now, we have to see if Team Radiance can stop the lunatic that killed him."

    "Yeah." Seraph's brow furrowed. "Do you honestly think they have a chance?"

    "I don't know. But we have to hold out hope, right?" Luxeira glanced at Seraph, who said nothing. That was all the response Luxeira needed. Throwing her past misgivings to the side, she scooched toward Seraph. Their shoulders brushed together. Seraph looked up at Luxeira. Sparks crackling in the blue tuft on her forehead.

    "What are you—"

    "Look, this may come off as a bit hypocritical, but if we do make it out of this situation, I think you could do with trying to, y'know, be a bit more outgoing… and less caustic," Luxeira said, her expression firm. "Honestly, I don't think you're that bad of a person to be around… but you don't seem to want people around you unless it's to have sex. And, sure, you can say that's what makes you happy. But judging by what you just told me, that's definitely not the case."

    Seraph tensed up. She clutched her thighs and sucked in a breath.

    "It seems to me that, even though you kept your friendship with Lorraine, you never really moved on from her," Luxeira continued, her tone growing more confident. One part of her expected to take an electrified fist to the face for what she was saying, but another voice in her head told her to keep going. "You pick fights with people or sleep with them casually so that you won't get too close to them… because you're afraid of having your heart broken again."

    Silence followed. Luxeira looked at Seraph, who avoided her gaze. "I'm right, aren't I?" Luxeira said. Then, without warning, Seraph wrapped an arm around Luxeira's foreleg and squeezed it tight. "H-Hey! What are you doing?"

    "Stop. Please," Seraph whispered, head bowed and eyes squeezed shut.

    Luxeira pulled her head back and bit her lower lip. Had she gone too far? That last part did come off as unnecessarily harsh. "I'm sorry if I offended you," she said.

    "It's whatever," Seraph said, nonchalantly waving Luxeira off with her free arm. "You're probably right. Hell, I'm pretty sure Espeon said something similar to me back in that other cave. But… I'm not really sure where to start." Seraph pulled her arm free of Luxeira's leg. "Especially since I, uh…" She tapped her claws together and whistled.

    "You… what?"

    "I think I'm starting to find you alluring," Seraph admitted, turning away to hide the sparks lighting up her whiskers.

    It took every bit of concentration for Luxeira to keep her composure. Where had that come from? Yeah, Seraph had made some suggestive comments toward her. But that was just to get under her skin… wasn't it? Luexiera blinked slowly. "You find me… alluring?" she said, the words coming out slowly.

    "Yes. You want me to plaster it on a neon sign or something?" Seraph sneered. She turned toward Luxeira, twirling a whisker in her digits. "Usually, when I mouth off to a girl, they either walk away or take my barbs as flirting and try to keep up the act… with mixed success. But you…" Seraph's gaze faltered. "You refused to put up with it. You actually, y'know, confronted me. Lorraine's the only other girl who's done that."

    Luxeira raised a skeptical brow. Maybe it's because she didn't know enough about Lorraine, but she found it hard to believe Seraph would come to that conclusion when they'd technically only been together a short time.

    "I didn't want to say anything because I remembered the way you were looking at Blaziken this morning," Seraph continued, her voice cracking. "I figured I'd just get the same response Lorraine gave me… 'I'm flattered, but I don't like you that way.'" She sighed. "So, yeah. Guess you're right. Go on. Take your moral victory lap or whatever."

    But to Seraph's surprise, Luxeira actually scooched closer to her. Now their hips were touching. Seraph almost pulled away, but the warmth from Luxeira's inner fire sent a tingle up her spine. "What are you doing?" Seraph squeaked.

    "I don't really know anything about Blaziken… other than that he's literally a hot piece of ass," Luxeira said.

    Seraph couldn't help but burst out laughing. "Wow, did you rehearse that line in your head? Because it's corny enough to serve at a barbeque."

    Luxeira pouted. "I thought it'd suit your fancy," she said, prompting Seraph to laugh harder. Luxeira joined in. They lapsed into silence when the laughter faded. Luxeira cleared her throat. "Anyway, as I was saying… yeah, Blaziken's a fine piece of work. But, for all I know, he could be taken. He and Swampert were quite chummy—"

    "They're not a couple. I'm sure of it," Seraph said.

    "Oh? What makes you so sure?" Luxeira said, an eyebrow raised.

    "The URS has their kooky scanners and I've got my own personal relationship scanner right here," Seraph said, tapping her forehead. "Even if it's a bit rusty, I still got major 'bromance' readings from those two. Buddies for life? Sure. Mates? Nah. You've got a chance with him… provided you're willing to take it."

    "I, uh…" Luxeira brushed her forelegs together. "You really think so?"

    "Yeah, but you'd have to make the first move," Seraph said, rubbing her chin. "I suppose I could always act as your wingmon and, like, offer to double-date with Swampert," she added, shrugging.

    "S-Seriously?" Luxeira gasped, then narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Wait a second… there's gotta be a catch."

    Seraph smirked. "Looks like you've got me pegged pretty well, Rook— Lucy."

    Luxeira stiffened. That nickname… it was the same one Silus used for her. She swallowed a mouthful of spit. "Well, what's the catch?" she asked.

    "If the two of you don't end up clicking or things don't work out… I get to take a shot with you," Seraph said, staying surprisingly straight-faced.

    "U-Um…" Luxeira's eyes darted about. "B-But I—" She stopped herself, then frowned at Seraph. "Weren't you the one who just said you knew how I'd respond to that?"

    "I did. But that was before you responded by scooching up next to me," Seraph said, smirking and raising a brow.

    "Th-That was to c-comfort you! I was, y'know, offering a shoulder for you to lean on," Luxeira said, flummoxed by Seraph's perception.

    "You were already close enough for that."

    "N-No I wasn't!" Luxeira stuttered.

    "Uh-huh, sure. And the fact that our rears bumped was, what, a happy accident?" Seraph said.

    "I, uh…" Luxeira sighed. Seraph had her beat. "Okay, fine. You got me. Yeah, I go both ways and, sure, if nothing happens with Blaziken, we can try dating… or something. That work?"

    Seraph smiled. Not one of her smarmy smirks. A genuine smile. "I'd like that very much."

    "Touching. Quite touching, babes."

    Both girls jumped at the sound of Primarina's hoarse, raspy voice carrying through the tunnel. Seraph jumped to her feet. "Hey! We were promised privacy!" she growled, paws sparking. "How much of that did you hear, huh?"

    "Uh, it started with the part about your rears bumping," Primarina said. His hair was disheveled and unnaturally grimy. Dirt streaks littered his torso and fins. "The Kahuna sent me to fetch you. It's time for us to get going."

    "Oh. Uh, right." Seraph's fighting stance slackened. She looked at Luxeira, who got to her feet.

    "We'll be right behind you," Luxeira said. Primarina nodded and hopped down the tunnel. Luxeira joined Seraph at her side and the two followed after him.

    XxX

    ~Prism Wastelands~

    Zero stood at the edge of her newly constructed tower and looked down across the remnants of the Hidden Lands. Ley lines continued to carve through the paralyzed ocean, forming up crystal islets and depositing pools of corrosive acid around them. Behind her, Dialga growled. He craned his neck up and vented more red energy into the sky. Zero looked up. The vortex was expanding. Its eye grew darker and crackled with purple lightning. Lugia stared up at it, hissing softly and belching up a shadowy cloud.

    "Your time rift is coming along nicely, from what I can tell," Dragonite said, standing opposite Lugia with her arms crossed and a stern expression on her face. "A pity Millie and Serpy had to leave our side. They're going to miss the best part."

    "Yes. Truly tragic," Zero whispered. She placed a paw to her chest spike. It wouldn't be long now. She'd have her real family back and this nightmare would all be behind her. Zero prepared to walk back toward Dialga when her aura dreadlocks tensed so tightly, she thought they'd pop out of her head.

    "What's this?" she said. The trail of fur around her waist tingled as Dragonite lightning-dashed to her side.

    "Something wrong?" she asked.

    Zero raised a paw to silence Dragonite. She shut her eye and concentrated, trying to filter out all the aural background noise the ley lines created. Eventually, she managed to pick up several traces of different auras far in the distance.

    "They're coming," Zero said, her eye snapping open and flashing purple. Purple cubes flickered down her body.

    "So, does this mean it's time for me and featherhead to roll out the unwelcome mat?" Dragonite said, grinning while her antennae crackled.

    Zero was about to respond, when a flash of light erupted in the distance. She tensed up at the sight of a giant Ultra Wormhole. A huge, building-like structure fell out of the portal, which promptly shut behind it. However, on closer inspection, Zero noticed that several of the "bricks" had eyes of their own.

    "Is that… a Stakataka?" Dragonite said. She glanced at Zero. "Did you summon that?"

    "No. I didn't," Zero whispered, looking down at her paws.

    "Want me to take care of it?" Dragonite asked.

    Zero shook her head. "No, stay back. Those idiots lost the Dawn Hourglass, remember? If someone's summoned an Ultra Beast here… I doubt they intend to use it against us." She stepped back from the edge of the tower. "If Stakataka can't dispose of those ingrates, then you and Lugia will finish them while they're weak."

    She walked back toward the center of the alter. Dragonite knelt down. "As you wish, ma'am."

    End of Special Episode 4

    XxX​

    I realize this chapter was a bit more esoteric than usual. Also, I decided against copying over the scene of Nicky losing his light from Chapter 42. Showing it again wouldn't have added anything new and just dragged the chapter out. You can always go back if you want to reread it. Hope you still enjoyed the chapter. Now that we've filled in the gaps about Necrozma, we're heading for the final two episodes!

    Next time: Metal Gear Stakataka: The Midnight Pain. Don't miss it!
     
    git-it likes this.
  12. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    You'd much rather... stick with them? 8D

    WOW

    NOT COOL, HAXORUS

    ...Why do I have the feeling that IS Mew's best behavior?

    Oh man, freaky. And I bet that makes a gross noise, too.

    Now there's an understatement for the ages!

    XD I think I love that about as much as Demitri DOESN'T love it.

    I am really enjoying this fighting style she's using here. :D

    I love Giratina.

    Damn. An apocalypse caused by a scared kid is a special kind of tragic.

    I wonder if that was some sort of dry humor on her part or a legitimate lack of self-awareness.

    Surprised Arceus owned up to having lied about his origins and those of some of the gods, even if he was being pressed for the information. Then again, maybe he would’ve even without be cornered about it. In a way, he seems kind of… cowardly. Desperately insecure, the way a person who needs to be 1,000% in control can be.

    Oh hey, Necrozma’s back! I knew we hadn’t seen the last of that guy. Him coming back as a corrupted, prismy Xerneas-thing was more unexpected, and of course, pretty sad and twisted, given their former relationship.

    Gosh, and just. The dramatic irony. Watching him wonder why he couldn’t contact Xerneas. Watching him go on to assume she tossed him aside, like so many others. Watching him take over her effed-up remnants. Just… dang. What’s gonna happen if that shoe finally drops? How’s he gonna feel if he comes back to his senses and learns, and believes, what really happened? How’s she gonna feel if she comes properly back to life?

    So yeah, interested to see how all that might shake out. And interested to see what the MEGA BLOKS might do. Stakataka is one of the best UBs and one would be hard pressed to convince me otherwise. :B
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  13. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    D'oh ho ho ho ho! i wasn't even planning for that

    Eeyup. Remember, she is a fully-evolved dragon and we haven't seen them being all that pleasant.

    It just might be. :p

    You'll have to ask Namohysip for that one.

    So, I hadn't actually seen Infinity War when I'd written this. But now that I have, the actual ending episode will have some awkward parts. XP

    Yes, this was fun and I'm glad Namo let me keep it in. XD

    Indeed!

    I'll leave that up to your interpretation. ;)

    Was trying to emphasize the whole accidents and poor communication kills elements that are in the story.

    There is supposed to be an element of a cruelty in the twist of fate to how this thing has worked out.

    All excellent questions, but you'll have to stick around to see what (if any) answers you end up getting. ;P

    Well, I hope I'm able to do it justice with this nutty chapter. Thanks for reviewing! ^^

    XxX​

    Cold and slimy.

    Those were the first two things that came to Dusk's mind when she finally regained consciousness. She figured it had to be a result of that last attack.

    Dusk groaned and brushed her face with a forepaw. It left her cheek damp and grimy. What had Shane done? Sure, she hadn't known him for long. But what was he thinking pulling out some sort of wild, explosive-based attack with absolutely no warning? As Dusk's vision continued to swim, she assumed that she was lying in some sort of muddy crater the attack had created.

    "N… no way. This is… nuts! Absolutely nuts! I'm in a nightmare! I've gotta be! Some two-bit Gengar lowlife's messing with my head!"

    Sneasel's raspy cries managed to rouse Dusk from her stupor. Her vision came into focus, revealing that she was, in fact, lying in a mud puddle, soaked from head to tail. However, what she wasn't prepared to see was that she wasn't still on the coastline with the various exploration teams. Instead, the mud puddle gave way to patches of gray, rocky ground that abruptly dropped off into an abyss. All around her, the sky was a myriad of gray and purple spirals, twisting around one another at complete random.

    "W-What the—" Dusk tried to stand, but a flash of pain shot down her spine. She collapsed, taking a fresh face full of muck. Dusk coughed and sputtered, trying to shake the mud out of her eyes. "Where are we? What happened?" she rasped, finally getting to her feet. Sneasel stood in front of her, in the middle of a gray and white crater, staring up at the sky. Like Dusk, he was caked in a thick layer of mud.

    "Hey," Dusk grunted, limping toward Sneasel. He jumped, startled by her voice. Sneasel raised his claws, only to lower them and slump over.

    "Oh, it's you. That broad Lycanroc was arguing about during that fight," he said.

    "Do you have any idea where we are or what happened to the others?" Dusk asked. Her tail shot between her legs at the sight of a gigantic, almost building-like slab of rock hurtling over the island and disappearing into the alien storm above them.

    "Are you kidding me? Do I look like I've got any idea what's going on?" Sneasel scoffed, gesturing at his mud-covered form. "I'm just as lost as you are! One second, the Guildmaster is totally losing his mind. The next, Snowy does some kinda weird mumbo-jumbo and we're in the middle of this… place." Sneasel crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. "Nrrrgh… I can't believe Snowy screwed us like this! When I get my claws on his dumb behind, I'll—"

    The ground trembled. Dusk and Sneasel both jumped, the former yipping in fright. "W-What was that?" Dusk asked, looking about in a panic.

    Sneasel looked down. "I think… there's something underneath us."

    "Well then, we need to go somewhere else," Dusk concluded.

    "Brilliant suggestion. And just where do you wanna go, toots?" Sneasel said, gesturing to the abyss behind them. "This is the only stretch of land in this stinkhole!"

    "No, that's not true," Dusk said, looking up. "There was a big chunk of rock that just flew past us a short time ago. We have to find another one and jump onto it."

    "Are you crazy? That'll kill us for sure!" Sneasel said.

    The ground shook again, even more violent than before. Dusk tripped and fell on her belly while Sneasel was knocked onto his rear with a loud, "Oomph!"

    "Well, if we stay put, then we're dead meat, anyway. I'll take a possible death over a certain one," Dusk said, scanning the storm overhead for any signs of an approaching slab of rock.

    Sneasel had a retort at the ready when the crater he stood in burst apart. He hollered in surprise as something coarse and warm grabbed him by the neck. Dusk scrambled backward, tucking her head down to shield herself from the dust storm the crater's destruction made. She braced herself to tumble into the abyss, only to be shocked when her precarious mud puddle perch stayed in once piece.

    When the dust settled, however, Dusk found herself staring up at a hulking mass of… bricks? Dusk blinked mud out of her eyes. No, they couldn't have been bricks. Because some of the cubes had eyes. Eerie blue eyes that pierced through the darkness to stare right at her. They were everywhere, randomly spread across the tower's walls and the four slim legs somehow holding it up.

    Dusk's legs trembled. What was this thing? Her immediate thought was that it was related to the aliens she had fought in the Cavernous Depths. Except this time, the enemy was gigantic and she had no backup. Dusk shrank down to her belly, whimpering. This was it, wasn't it? She was as good as dead.

    Then, a familiar howl rang out. Dusk's ears twitched. She poked her head up and squinted. There, standing atop the giant tower-with-legs and clutching Sneasel by the neck, was none other than Lycanroc. "M-Midnight?" she whispered. Something was very wrong. Lycanroc's howl had a strange distortion to it. One that left her ears ringing enough to make her wonder if she was going deaf.

    But that hardly compared to the rainbow shimmer surrounding Lycanroc. Through all the haziness, Dusk could see that Lycanroc's mane had taken on a metallic sheen. He had extra tufts of fur, each one glowing a different color of the rainbow. It made his face and head look larger, almost like…

    "… Solgaleo." Dusk shuffled backwards, gasping. Her eyes darted about. There were flashing lights surrounding Lycanroc. One was bright-gray. The others constantly changed colors as they flashed.

    Swallowing, Dusk managed to find her voice. "Midnight! What do you think you're doing? Get down from there!" she cried.

    "And why would I go and do something like that, eh?" Lycanroc sneered. He had on quite possibly the smarmiest grin Dusk had ever seen him wear since his evolution. Lycanroc dropped Sneasel onto his butt and knelt down to pet the top of the stone tower. "It took a lot of work to summon this bloody thing… and I'm not about to let that all go to waste!"

    "Y-You… summoned…" Dusk eye's widened. "Are you crazy?! You're going to get us all killed!" She looked around. "Do you even have any idea where we are? Because I sure don't!"

    "Ultra Space, sheila! You can thank Snowy for that. After all… that dumbarse explosion he caused dropped those Dawn Shards you all had a hard-on for right into my lap!" Lycanroc said, his normally-red eyes glowing with a fiery-orange intensity.

    "Wait, you have the Dawn Shards?" Dusk said.

    "Well, I did," Lycanroc said. Grin widening, he thumped his chest and added, "Until I, y'know, absorbed 'em. This is the best I've felt since my Rockruff days!" He got down on all-fours and belted another distorted howl. Dusk collapsed on her belly, throwing her forepaws against her ears and gritting her teeth.

    "H-Hey! C'mon now… no need to get all angry and stuff. Y-You're with friends!" Sneasel stammered, scooting away from Lycanroc with a worried look in his eyes. "Now, why don't you just take us back home and we can—"

    A small wormhole materialized next to Lycanroc. Sneasel scrambled to his feet when a second one popped up in front of him, but wasn't fast enough to stop Lycanroc from grabbing his leg. Lycanroc's paw glowed orange, then ignited. Sneasel screamed in pain as flames raced up to his head. Lycanroc let go, dropping Sneasel's charbroiled form to the ground.

    "Midnight, stop!" Dusk cried, but she was in little position to do anything. As soon as she got to her feet, several of the bricks in the tower's wall folded in on themselves, revealing an ominous red crystal. She could just about make out the silhouettes of Tapu Bulu and Tapu Fini inside. "No," she whispered. "No, this isn't happening. This has to be a bad dream!" She closed her eyes and shook her head.

    "I can't believe how pathetic you sound," Lycanroc sneered. He marched up to the edge of the tower, clutching Sneasel's limp body in his paw. Lycanroc hoisted him up to eye level. "Why don't you just take us back home? That way, we can go kiss up to Snowy's arse while you rot in a jail cell like the friendless bitch we think you are," he said, imitating Sneasel's scratchy voice.

    Lycanroc brought Sneasel close and hissed, "Well, I've got news for you, mate. Snowy ain't shit! He was never gonna be able to save anyone! The bloody Dawn Hourglass would've been wasted on his arrogant, ungrateful arse!" He promptly let go of Sneasel, who dropped into freefall.

    "Midnight, no!" Dusk shouted, sprinting forward in a desperate attempt to catch Sneasel's fall. However, several of the tower eyes staring at Dusk glowed red. Next thing she knew, she was airborne, legs flailing and a tearing pain spreading across her chest. The Tapus' crystal prison drew closer, as did Sneasel. Then, everything went dark.

    At the top of the tower, Lycanroc held his glowing paws high, watching as Dusk and Sneasel disappeared inside the crystal. "Serves you right. You ruined my life… sticking me in this gods-awful form." His right eye twitched. Lycanroc flicked his right arm. The three flashes of light behind him disappeared. A second later, two Blacephalons and a Celesteela floated in front of him, each restrained by a glowing forcefield.

    "But that mistake will soon be behind me!" he declared. "Once I finish fusing these Ultra Beasts together… I'll wipe Snowy and his stupid crew off the face off the earth! Then, I'm gonna save the day, use whatever power's left to take the form I should've had, and watch as everyone gives me the respect I bloody deserve!"

    Lycanroc raised his paws high. "And it all starts with this… ultimate, Tapu-powered Ultra Beast! Mine to do whatever I want with!" He thrust his paws to this sides. The three restrained UBs flew toward the crystal while Lycanroc grinned with anticipation.

    XxX

    Episode 15: Zero Hour

    Chapter 90: Stakatakaing Up to the Competition

    XxX

    ~Prism Wastelands~

    As it turned out, teleporting was not as easy as Shane was expecting. Each jump Mew made hit him with a dreadful sense of vertigo, much like he had gotten when his team had deployed Escape Orbs in the past. This time, however, the sensation was magnified. Mew never stopped for long enough for Shane to get his bearings. So, by the time he had transferred everyone to the middle of the barren, paralyzed ocean, Shane was fighting back the urge to puke.

    "I'm not sure… I can take another one of those," he confessed, turning and belching.

    "Augh, gross! Your breath smells like sherbet… if it was made of rotten berries," Haxorus said, waving a hand in front of her face.

    "Try to stay quiet," Infernape said, holding up and arm and looking around. "Somebody could be watching us."

    "Mmm… I don't think so. Not sensing anyone nearby," Mew said, reclining on his back in midair while his tail swished about. "I kinda dropped us off a fair distance away from the big, evil stronghold. So, you're hoofing it the rest of the way."

    "What big, evil stronghold?" Feraligatr wondered, facing the opposite direction as the rest of the group. "All I see is a whole lotta noth—"

    Haxorus grabbed Feraligatr's shoulder and spun him around so he could see the hulking mass of crystal shards jutting out from the ocean, surrounding by thick clouds of purple smoke and the occasional cluster of chains.

    "… oh," Feraligatr whispered. "That's nothing like the Hidden Land. What happened over there?"

    "Necrozma happened," Latias replied, head bowed solemnly.

    "But he's out of the picture. Now it's my mom who's the problem," Tessa said, her paws flickering with aural flames. She noticed her teammates giving her concerned looks. "I'm fine, guys." Her quivering aura feelers betrayed her words, however.

    "You don't look fine," Haxorus said.

    Shane was ready to jump to Tessa's defense and tell Haxorus she was one to talk with her broken tusks, but Espy stepped into his path and shook her head. Though she didn't say anything, the message was clear. Shane looked away, biting his lip. 'Right. We're supposed to be working together,' he told himself.

    "I understand how Tessa's feeling," Silvally said, digging his talons into the solidified water. His head crest bristled. "That place… it's like a ley line geyser. They're running completely rampant." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I think when we get there, we'd all best be prepared for the possibility things will be more chaotic than what we've seen in the infected dungeons."

    A shudder ran down Espy's spine. She reflexively stepped close to Silvally; a gesture that drew a curious eyebrow raise from Haxorus.

    "Well, I certainly didn't take you guys all the way here for nothing." Mew pointed a stubby arm forward and declared, "So, less talking and more marching, troops!"

    The group started walked forward, with Shane muttering, "Easy for him to say. He can just float."

    "I heard that, Grumpy-Floof," Mew said, having popped up right beside Shane.

    "Gah!" Shane almost knocked Tessa over when he jumped back in surprise, but she managed to stick her arms out and catch him. The two looked at each other. Faces flushing, Tessa plopped Shane onto the ground. He shook his head, scowling. "Can you please take this seriously? The fate of the world is literally at stake, here."

    "Sorry. I was just trying to keep things loose, y'know? If you guys are all wound up, you're gonna be no help if we have to battle," Mew said, punching and jabbing the air with his tiny paws.

    "This isn't anything we haven't dealt with before," Shane said, trying to build up his confidence. It didn't really work, however. He remembered how easily Team Captivate said that Zero had beaten them. And now she had Dialga at her beck and call. How were they supposed to do much of anything against the god of time?

    The thoughts permeated Shane's mind. He considered asking Team Poképals what they had done when they fought Primal Dialga, but then he noticed that no one else was talking. Shane tucked his head down and kept walking. He heard huffing behind him and looked back to see Milotic struggling to keep pace with everyone else. Blaziken slowed his pace.

    "Need a lift?" he asked.

    "I, uh…" Milotic's ribbons bristled. "I guess it would be appreciation. Just be gent— oof!"

    Blaziken lifted Milotic up and wrapped her around his upper body like she was a giant, oversized scarf. Her tail still trailed on the ground, but it was better than nothing. "Watch my six, all right? You can help me if any of my weaknesses pop up."

    "That's… a fair point," Milotic said, resting her head on Blaziken's shoulder.

    The group continued forward. After several minutes, Shane looked back up. The crystalline ruins grew closer. He could now see a pool of purple acid swirling around the landscape. Shane's brow furrowed. "Uh, how are we going to, y'know, safely enter this place?" he asked, looking at his teammates.

    Silvally looked straight ahead. His eyes flickered with a metallic sheen. "Latias and I might have to ferry you guys across. I bet that my steel memories will let me traverse the poison safely."

    "If that's the case, I should be okay too, shouldn't I?" Tessa said. She held up a paw and gathered metal dust in it. Tessa looked to Silvally for a confirmation, but his answer didn't come.

    Instead, he looked straight up at the sky. His eyes widened, his head crest expanded, and he shouted, "Everyone get back!" Then, he kicked up a gust of wind, carrying the large group a couple of feet away from him.

    XxX
    Continued in next post...
     
  14. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Continued from previous post...

    XxX
    Espy, who wound up sprawled out on her back, scrambled to her feet. "What the heck are you do—"

    A bright, shimmering purple light filled the sky above them. Everyone looked up in unison to find an Ultra Wormhole opening up. It was larger than any portal Team Radiance had ever seen.

    "Shit! Don't tell me we just walked into a trap!" Haxorus growled.

    With a bright flash, a large, building-like pile of bricks fell out of the Ultra Wormhole. Rather than collapsing into a heap, four small legs held up the square structure. Several of the bricks rotated around, revealing rainbow eyes that stared down ominously at the group.

    "S-S-S-S-S—" Espy staggered backward. Her tail shot between her legs as she finally found her voice and screamed, "Stakataka!"

    Shane and Tessa turned toward their teammate. "Stakawhoha?" Shane said, blinking in confusion. He looked back toward Stakataka. His tails frazzled. "Oh no… don't tell me that's another Ultra Beast!"

    Espy didn't even need to respond, because Silvally's sharp, harsh growls proved to be all the answer Shane needed. Silvally stood hunched over, staring at Stakataka's many eyes and the Celesteela arms fused to its left and right faces.

    "Not just one Beast… multiple. All fused together," Silvally said, between bouts of hissing. Tail flicking in worry, Espy tried to approach Silvally. But he reared up on his hind legs and surrounded himself with holographic swords.

    "W-What are you doing?" Espy said. "We don't know what we're dealing with here!"

    "No, but I think I have a good idea," Latias squeaked, ears folding against her face. "Can't you sense it? On top of Stacker… erm, on top of that thing?" She pointed a claw up. Espy looked up and her tail crinkled in fright.

    "It can't be… Lycanroc?!" Espy cried. Shane and Tessa whirled on her, astonished looks on their faces. They were about to respond, when an unseen force grabbed hold of them all and hoisted them into the air. Seconds later, multicolored rock spires shot up from the ground and exploded, filling the air with dust and debris.

    Latias and Mew set everyone down several feet back, the former straining from the effort of lifting so many bodies at once. No sooner had the set everyone down than one of the Celesteela arms flared to life, shooting a dozen glowing, missile-shaped energy blasts right toward the group. Gasping, Latias shot a sparkling-blue Dragon Pulse, only to watch in dismay as it did nothing against the energy missiles.

    She noticed nine of the missiles dive down toward the others, while three of them broke off and headed straight for her and Mew. "Watch out, Feathers!" Mew shouted. He grabbed Latias by the wing and the two teleported behind the missiles. Their relieved sighs quickly turned into a panic, however, when the missiles looped back around and continued their assault.

    "This is bad! This is bad!" Shane shouted, watching a missile snuff out his bright-white Dazzling Gleam.

    "Everyone scatter!" Silvally ordered, holding his ground as his teammates reluctantly did as he said. With a deep breath and a flash of light, Silvally created ten flickering doppelgangers. They all looked up in unison and released loud, high-pitched screeches. The real Silvally's sound waves diverted one of the missiles, which sputtered off into the distance and exploded. The remaining ones went for his Double Team clones, only to strike the ground an erupt in varying neon colors.

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up in surprise. "Ah, Silvally! We have to go back to hi—"

    A rock shard barrage made a beeline for Tessa's head. Shane skidded in front of her, tails surrounded by water bubbles. With a swish of his hips, he knocked the rock shards away, dousing Tessa in the process. "We've gotta leave Silvally on his own," Shane said, glancing back to make sure Tessa was okay.

    "That's a terrible idea!" Tessa protest, flinging water droplets off her arms.

    "No, he's right. This… this crazy Stakataka fusion thing… it's firing off attacks too quickly," Espy said, pointing a forepaw forward. Ahead of them, Blaziken, Milotic and Swampert tried to make a run at one of Stakataka's legs, only for a small portal to pop in underneath like a trapdoor. A second portal opened up near the top of Stakataka, where Lycanroc stood, gathering molten metal in his paws. Latias barely managed to zip in at the last second and carry them off. Lycanroc's fiery-orange energy beam sailed wide.

    "See? If we bunch up, we'll only make it easier for Lycanroc to box us in with attacks. We have to stay split up," Espy explained. The ground then shook underneath the trio, forcing them to run right. Flaming balls of grass and dirt erupted from the ground, only to explode and send giant globs of water raining down toward Team Radiance.

    "You guys leave this to me!" Shane cried, hoping the girls would take the hint and try to go for Stakataka. He skidded to a halt and, forcing as much air out of his lungs as he could muster, unleashed a stream of ice breath. Shane managed to freeze the water bubbles heading for his teammates. They shattered, showering Shane in snowflakes.

    Trying to seize on the opening, Tessa slung an Aura Sphere toward Stakataka's nearest leg. But instead of hitting, it sailed right through an Ultra Wormhole that appeared at the last second. Tessa's eyes widened and her aura feelers and paw shot up. She expected Lycanroc to try and hit her with her own Aura Sphere.

    A startled cry from across the battlefield indicated Tessa's assumption was dead wrong. Raichu fell back into Haxorus' chest, rubbing her smoldering chest with a nubby paw. "N-Nrgh… where did that come from?" she groaned.

    "It's that idiot controlling this monster. He's opening up portals like he was Hoopa or something. How are we supposed to land any attacks?" Haxorus growled, balling her hands into fists.

    "We've gotta try and strike in unison and aim for different points," Infernape declared before curling into a fiery ball and shooting himself at an oncoming grassy bomb launched from one of the Celesteela arms. The moment he struck the projectile, it exploded, flinging him back over the head of his teammates.

    Feraligatr's head shot up in alarm. "Ah! No, no, no!" he shouted, making a mad dash for his best friend. Feraligatr was so focused on getting to Infernape, he didn't see the fissures forming in front of him.

    "Oy! Head's up! You're heading for a trap!" Haxorus shouted. "Rai, it's Thunder Armor time!"

    "Err… right!" Raichu smacked her cheeks, generating a few sparks. Then, she electrocuted Haxorus, who summoned her Dragon Claws and charged toward Feraligatr. Raichu's lightning boosted her speed enough to where she reached the rock shards that burst out of the fissures before Feraligatr. Haxorus lunged, slicing through some of the rocks and letting her electric scales do the rest. She landed, skidding to a halt next to Infernape, who she shakily extended a hand to.

    "Nifty tr… ick," Infernape said, grunting as he got to his feet.

    "Yeah, but it's not something… I enjoy using," Haxorus wheezed, downing an oran berry to recover her strength. "So, how the hell are we supposed to make a dent in this thing, then? We can't just keep defending. We're going to get tired way before it does."

    Mew, Latias, Milotic, and Team Go-Getters found themselves wondering the same thing. Latias dropped her rides off near one of Stakataka's legs, only for Stone Edge spires to force them back. Latias zoomed toward a second leg, but some of the bricks spun around, revealing eyes that each fired small Flash Cannons. Latias spun away from a couple, but a third clipped her wing and sent her crashing into the ground.

    Stakataka raised a leg, ready to step on Latias. She managed to collect herself and zip away, firing off a Dragon Pulse. Her heart sank when it went into an Ultra Wormhole. A flicker of blue caught her eye and she noticed her attack heading right for Silvally. He managed to shift to his fairy memories to negate it. But in doing so, he left himself wide open to a Flash Cannon from the top of the Stakataka leg opposite Latias.

    "This is nuts!" Mew shouted, shielding himself in a psychic bubble against a barrage of metallic energy balls. His shield managed to hold up, but it left Mew gasping for breath. "I… I want to… go back to bed." He groaned as Latias zoomed up toward him.

    "Oh no you don't!" Lycanroc shouted. A fiery-orange aura surrounded him and, like a comet, he flung himself at Latias. She stopped herself just in time to avoid Lycanroc and immediately retaliated with a soft-pink Mist Ball. Vigor filled Latias' veins when it struck home and drew an angry bark from Lycanroc, who promptly retreated back onto Stakataka using an Ultra Wormhole.

    Lycanroc glared up at the two levitating psychics and wiped his brow. "I can't believe Snowy browbeat a couple of gods into doing all his dirty work for him," he sneered, scanning the ground until he had located Shane. "Let's see how you like this Snow—" He cut himself off when his ears twitched. Lycanroc raised a paw and hurled metal shards into an oncoming Aura Sphere surrounded by the blue sparks of a Dragon Pulse.

    His eyes widened when the combined attack withstood his barrage. Lycanroc smacked the top of Stakataka with his other paw. Several of its bricks flipped over and the eyes fired Flash Cannon lasers to swallow up the blue fire-lightning spiral. Lycanroc's rainbow eyes flickered with orange flames. "Ha! Is that really the best you can muster? Pathetic!" he scoffed, brushing his snout with a paw. "Listen, I ain't got beef with you drongos. Just surrender and let me squash Snowy into a prissy pancake. Then, I'll take care of whatever's lousing up the time stream and you lot can shower me in the praise I deserve!"

    "Are you kidding me? I'd rather take my chances with Ms. Murder Mom than kiss up to your sorry behind!" Mew retorted, blowing a raspberry at Lycanroc while holding down one of his lower eyelids.

    Latias grabbed hold of him and zoomed away as half a dozen grassy missiles shot toward them, trails of rainbow fire streaming out from behind. "You're gonna regret trying to mess with me, you ugly-arse Espeon clone!" Lycanroc howled. He smacked Stakataka with both paws. It raised up two of its legs and slammed them. Shockwaves of rumbling tectonic plates barreled toward Team Go-Getters, Team Paradise, and Team Poképals.

    "I existed before Espe— ahh!" Mew didn't get the chance to finish his comeback, as Latias zoomed toward the ground with him in tow. She scooped Milotic and Team Go-Getters up into the air, then glanced across the ocean. Her jaw dropped.

    She wasn't sure how, but Silvally was running across the air. Wind currents streaked through his dark-blue energy blades and over his back. Silvally dipped down and yanked Teams Paradise and Poképals onto his back.

    "All right, all together now!" he barked, turning toward Stakataka as the Earthquake tremors passed harmlessly underneath him.

    "Bah, I hate attacking from a distance," Haxorus said, glowering. Nevertheless, she spat out blue-purple dragonfire, joining with Infernape's Flamethrower, Raichu's Thunderbolt, Feraligatr's Hydro Pump, and a Flash Cannon from Silvally to form a giant gray beam.

    "What trite!" Lycanroc laughed, raising a glowing paw. "You drongos are too predictab—"

    Staktaka's entire foundations shook, sending Lycanroc tumbling onto his belly with a surprised bark. It wobbled about unsteadily, a result of tremors wracking its legs thanks to Swampert, who stood in front of it. Latias dropped Blaziken and Milotic off next to him.

    "Good grief! I can't believe you just jumped off like that. How did you not break your legs?" Milotic said, blinking in astonishment.

    "Heh. Been a while since you've done the 'Death from Above' technique, but that Earthquake's as fierce as ever," Blaziken said, smirking at his teammate.

    "Bravo! Bravo! A-plus superhero landing, big guy," Mew said, applauding and adding a loud whistle on top of it.

    "Focus, Mew! Splackanacka is off balance. We've gotta strike, now," Latias said, eyes burning with determination. She spun around in a circle, generating a wave of water she sent right at Stakataka's nearest leg.

    "Yeah, yeah, I got it. Thanks, Mom," Mew scoffed, teleporting next to the leg Latias' Surf was heading toward and charging up an Aura Sphere.

    "Grr. It's Stakatak— arrgh!" Lycanroc again fell to his stomach as the combined attacks of Silvally and the other teams hammered the leg opposite Mew. Stakataka buckled, giving Mew an opening to press his Aura Sphere right against Stakataka's leg. He stuck his tongue out yet again before teleporting next to Latias. Her Surf crashed onto the leg right when the Aura Sphere exploded.

    A garbled roar echoed across the ocean as an explosive chain reaction raced up Stakataka's leg, destroying the bricks and blasting rubble in all directions. Shane skidded to a halt and hastily backed away, realizing Stakataka was toppling over. "Get back, guys! You're too close to it!" he shouted, tails frazzling.

    Silvally understood right away and carried his living cargo well out of range of Stakataka. Shane checked and confirmed that Tessa was already a safe distance away. Her arms trembled as she held a large Aura Sphere. Shane swallowed hard. How long had Tessa been charging that up for? It looked ready to explode.

    "Nrgn… no! Keep to together! I ain't… about to lose again!" Lycanroc howled, digging his paws into Stakataka's roof. Right when it looked like Stakataka would fall over sideways, it explicably froze in midair. A victorious grin wove its way onto Lycanroc's face. "Ha ha! Now you're in for it, mates!" Rainbow energy raced down his arms from his mane and spread throughout Stakataka.

    "Tessa, release it, now!" Shane shouted, trying to draw on the energy he'd used to make the golden light ball. One materialized right in front of him and he spat it toward Stakataka right as Tessa thrust her giant Aura Sphere toward it.

    A new leg materialized in place of the destroyed one and, in a two flashes of rainbow light, the two sets of legs linked up together, forming what resembled a pair of tank treads. His grin widening, Lycanroc pointed a paw up. The Celesteela arm cannons rotated so they were pointing at the ground and fired, jettisoning Stakataka up into the air. Shane went slack-jawed as his light ball collided with Tessa's Aura Sphere, resulting in a blinding explosion that forced them to look away.

    "Your fancy tricks ain't got nothing on me, Snowy!" Lycanroc taunted, punching Stakataka's roof once again. This time, several wall bricks pushed themselves to the side, revealing a red crystal with glowing lights inside of it.

    Latias squeaked in alarm. "A-Ah! Inside of that thing… I can sense the Tapus! And Dusk and Sneasel, too!"

    Shane looked up. "Y… you're kidding," he rasped. His eyes widened in shock when he noticed the crystal brimming with orange energy.

    "Get out of there, Shane!" Tessa screamed, flinging a desperate Aura Sphere airborne only for it to fizzle out before it reached the hovering Stakataka.

    Shane had only seconds to react. A huge orange fireball — easily as wide as Stakataka — barreled toward him. Shane spat ice on the ground in front of him, creating a slick trail along the ocean. He sprinted forward and, when his paws hit the ice, dove onto his belly. Gritting his teeth, Shane skidded across the ice like a fluffy sled. He spat out more ice balls to freeze the ground ahead of him.

    To Shane's relief, he skirted the massive fireball. But his victory proved fleeting, as Stakataka shut off its arm-cannons, split its legs apart, and dropped down to the earth. Shane could see the other groups reacting accordingly, but he and Tessa didn't have a flying companion by them and Lycanroc had Mew preoccupied dodging molten energy balls and rainbow missiles to teleport over to them.

    "Tessa, I'm coming!" Shane hollered, blasting a Psychic behind him despite the lack of a target. The recoil propelled him across the ice toward his teammate. Shane ducked between Tessa's legs and stood up. Tessa yelped, finding herself on Shane's back as he sprinted as far away from Stakataka as he could.

    It struck the ground. Multiple shockwaves raced out across the ground. Shane veered right, strafing Stakataka while still keeping away from the shockwaves. He thanked his lucky stars that he had gotten far enough away from the shockwaves to avoid them.

    "You know, this isn't exactly what I had in mind when Dad told me that someday I could look forward to a wonderful guy sweeping me off my feet," Tessa said, rubbing her throbbing aura feelers with a paw.

    "Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure this isn't what some people in my RP group meant when they talked about girls riding on guys," Shane said, shaking his head. "But that's not the point, here. We need to talk."

    Tessa groaned. "Can it wait until after we stop this giant building from trying to squish us to death?"

    "No, because it has to do with that!" Shane said, wincing when he heard pained cries echo across the battlefield. He saw an enraged Silvally leaping between Stone Edge spires, metal coating his body. Silvally slammed into one of the joints fixing a Celesteela cannon in place. It locked up momentarily, but Silvally had to jump onto Latias to avoid a flaming Lycanroc crashing into him from above like a comet.

    "Well, out with it!" Tessa said, thumping Shane's shoulder. "We don't have all day, here!"

    "What did Primarina tell you when you talked to him? Did he mention anything about what the Dawn Shard did to him?" Shane asked, finally skidding to a halt and hunching over to try and catch his breath.

    "Uh, well…" Tessa rubbed her temple with a paw. "Let's see… there was the stuff about his career being over… the fact that he joined the guild for superficial reasons… how maybe he and Serperior are actually just a couple because they're really vain…"

    Shane wished he still had hands so he could smack his face. 'Leave it to Primarina to turn what should've been a simple explanation into a dramatic monologue.'

    Explosions rang out behind the two of them. Both jumped and spun around in fright to find the air surrounding the now-flying Stakataka filled with neon blast clouds. Latias zoomed out from one and fired a blue, serpentine beam into the thick haze, only for the beam to reappear to her right and strike her in the wing. Latias spiraled toward the ground, smoke trailing off her wing. Then, an enraged snarl echoed from above. The smoke cleared to reveal Silvally gliding away from Stakataka. Behind him, several dents lay in the wall and the bricks looked askew, even at a distance.

    "Beasts!" Silvally howled, letting loose a lustrous Flash Cannon. An Ultra Wormhole materialized to deflect the attack, only to flicker out. The dented bricks took the full force of the blow. Another distorted wail rang out.

    "C'mon, Tessa, think!" Shane said, resisting the urge to hop up on his hind legs and shake his teammate. "What happened to Primarina? Surely he said something about the Dawn Shards!"

    "Um… um…" Tessa rubbed her temples with renewed vigor, but it was tough to recall the exact conversation given the hailstorm of events that followed it. After a few seconds of staring at Shane's pleading expression blankly, Tessa's eyes lit up. "Ah, wait! I think I've got it." She smacked her paws together. "Primarina said something about his desires for attention and stardom becoming overwhelming… like the Dawn Shard he touched had magnified them."

    That was the spark Shane needed to send his mental gears into overdrive. "Right. And we stopped him by upstaging him during his big concert," he said. Shane winced briefly when more explosions lit up the air in front of him, but forced himself to look Tessa in the eye. "Okay, okay, I might be jumping to conclusions, here, but I'm willing to bet that the Dawn Hourglass has magnified Lycanroc's jealously."

    Tessa gazed up at Stakataka just in time to see it dropping from the sky once again. Her aura feelers shot up. Stakataka was using its arm-cannons to propel itself in Latias' and Silvally's directions. Tessa had a paw reaching toward Shane, ready to spin him around, when the two disappeared. Stakataka immediately fell to the ground, releasing shockwaves that Shane and Tessa were still far enough away to avoid. Then, Stakataka rotated its arm-cannons and unleashed another barrage of rainbow missiles.

    "Are you sure about Lycanroc? This seems a tad… excessive for something as simple as jealousy," Tessa said.

    "I'm sure," Shane replied, nodding. "Remember what Gallian and Zoroark told us? Lycanroc's been blowing fuses at tiny slights since his evolution. And who was it who slighted him the worst out of anyone." Shane lifted a forepaw. "It's yours truly. The way I see it, this is all because he still hasn't forgotten about what happened at the guild." He resumed pacing. "If we're really going to have a shot at stopping Lycanroc, then I have to take a stand here and try and lessen all that jealous rage the Dawn Hourglass is magnifying."

    Tessa frowned. "Shane—"

    "Look, I know it sounds stupid. But it's my fault that the Shards ended up in Lycanroc's paws in the first place," Shane continued, shaking his head. "I made this mess. So, I've got to do whatever it takes to clean it up."

    More explosions rang out behind Shane. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Feraligatr and Infernape careening toward the ground. Mew teleported in and stopped their falls. Shane sighed in relief.

    "Okay. Tessa, is there any chance you can try to join the others? You'll have to strike once I've got Lycanroc talking," Shane said.

    "No. I'm staying with you," Tessa said, crossing her arms.

    Shane's ears twitched. "But Tessa, I'm—"

    "Look, Shane. If we weren't fighting a giant doom-building I'd give you a big old hug and nuzzle for recognizing your mistakes and trying to own up to them," Tessa said, tapping a foot on the ground.

    Shane blinked. "Wait, what?"

    Tessa ignored the stunned look on Shane's face and put a paw on his shoulder. His face reddened. "But I'm not going to have you blindly charge at Lycanroc to try and talk him down. Besides, I'm the one who launched the first strike at him in the guild. He probably hates me, too." She lifted her paws off his shoulder and stood up straight. "We're a team, so we're doing this together. Got it?"

    Smiling, Shane nodded. "All right, if you're sure. Climb on."

    "I'll run this time, thanks," Tessa said, dashing off toward Stakataka.

    "H-Hey, wait! There's still more to my plan!" Shane yipped, scrambling to follow behind Tessa. He closed the distance quickly thanks to his extra set of legs.

    "It barely sounded like you had much of a plan to begin with," Tessa said, aura feelers pulsating with each explosion sounding above them. "What are you going to do, kiss Lycanroc to try and catch him off guard?"

    Shane nearly tripped and faceplanted at Tessa's statement. "O-Of course not! Who do I look like, Espy?" He mentally apologized to her for the smart remark. "No, in order to get Lycanroc to at least stop and hear us out, we have to get his attention without pissing him off. So, I need you to shoot a Flash Cannon over toward Mew or Silvally."

    Now it was Tessa's turn to stumble. She spread her arms outs to either side to keep her balance. "Seriously? And what makes you think that's a good idea?"

    "I— hang on, shockwave!" Shane crouched down and sprang into the air, with Tessa following suit. But then Tessa's aura feelers twitched. She looked down and saw the ocean's surface fragmenting. In mid-stride, she hurled two Aura Spheres right in front of Shane. They exploded, destroying Stone Edge shards as they rose up from the ground.

    Both teammates hit the ground, though they bumped sides during their landing. Shane shook his head, then continued his charge. "As I was saying… it's not a good idea! But it was the best I could come up with on the spot. So, are you with me or not?"

    Tessa skidded to a halt, then rubbed the bridge of her brow with a paw. "Yeah, sure, fine. Let's do it." She rotated her arms, gathering silver dust in her paws. Tessa pointed them toward Silvally, who was in the process of trying to steer some of the Celesteela missiles back toward Stakataka. However, a barrage of gray lasers blew the missiles apart. With a wince, Tessa shot a Flash Cannon in Silvally's general direction.

    His head crest fanned out in shock. He didn't have a hard time dodging the blast, but he still glared down at Tessa. "What are you doing?!" he barked, loud enough for Tessa's aura feelers to vibrate and make her wonder if he had somehow used Hyper Voice to raise his speaking volume.

    "Again," Shane whispered. He turned and spat an Ice Beam up at Latias. She stopped on a dime, going cross-eyed as the ice whizzed past her face. From her back, Blaziken, Milotic, and Swampert glanced at Shane.

    "What's your problem, Shane?" Milotic huffed.

    "Yeah! Watch where you're firing!" Latias growled, only to squeak in surprise and scuttle back to dodge two more Ice Beams.

    "What the—" Lycanroc lowered his arms and approached the edge of Stakataka. His eyes glowed bright-orange. "What are you playing at, Snowy?" he growled, raising a paw. In response, Stakataka lifted the leg closest to Shane and Tessa into the air, looking to step on them.

    "Everyone needs to stand down!" Shane shouted, looking between Latias and Silvally. "This doesn't have anything to do with you guys! Back off and give Lycanroc some space."

    Mew popped up right behind Shane, yanking one of his tails. Yipping, he jumped up and flailed his legs about. "Okay, I heard you were a looney bird, but did someone shove a Totter Seed in your mouth? He's trying to squish us!" Mew pointed up at the Stakataka leg frozen in midair.

    "No, he's not… he's trying to squish me," Shane said, hip-checking Mew away from his backside. "And, frankly, he has every right to do that!"

    "Oh no, I ain't falling for another one of your bloody stupid ruses, Snowy! I'm sending your arse to the Tree of Life, where you belong!" Lycanroc howled. He whipped his arm forward, slinging a trio of meteorite-like fireballs right at Shane just as Stakataka's leg came crashing down toward him. His eyes bugged out, however, when Shane stood his ground.

    "Okay, go ahead. I deserve it," Shane said, lowering his head as if he was accepting his fate. Tessa, on the other hand, stared at the oncoming barrage with her aura feelers trembling. She crouched down, ready to grab Shane by his tails and run away, when the fireballs snuffed themselves out. Stakataka planted its leg a few feet in front of them. All of the bricks on said leg rotated so the eyes were facing Shane and Tessa.

    "What was that?" Lycanroc asked, leering down at Shane.

    "I said that you're right. About everything. I'm a giant screw-up… and, because of that, I definitely don't deserve the Dawn Hourglass' power," Shane said, locking eyes with Lycanroc. Tessa was surprised by how sincere he sounded. "So, that's why I want everyone to stand aside. Let Lycanroc do whatever he wishes with me… and then help him take out Zero in my stead," Shane continued, approached the Stakataka leg.

    He glanced at Mew, then Latias. Praying that one of them was trying to read his mind, the thought, 'Okay, if I can get Lycanroc talking for a little longer, then everyone should be able to attack.'

    "You really expect me to believe that trite? Don't make me laugh!" Lycanroc said. The eyes in Stakataka's legs lit up.

    Gulping, Shane faced down the barrels of a dozen Flash Cannons. "I'm behind honest, Lycanroc. I was a complete and total ass to you back at the guild… b-because I was confused. You just, y'know, showed up out of the blue and got all this attention from the guild when I'd been working my tails off only to have everyone brush me aside."

    Lycanroc's eyes smoldered. He raised his paw, looking ready to launch the strike at Shane.

    "That's why I tried to turn everyone in the guild against you. And, well, it didn't go exactly how I had hoped, but it did end up working in the end," Shane said, frowning. "Still, I felt bad. Especially because of what happened between you, Gallian, and Zoroark. Dusk also told me about how you ended up getting the wrong evolution form."

    He curled his tails against his waist. "You originally wanted to do the right thing and help the guild. I ruined that. So, I'm giving you a chance to turn it around. To not just help… but be the hero who saves the day and gets all the recognition. I mean, look at yourself…"

    Shane stepped back and gestured to Stakataka's leg. "I doubt I could do something this amazing with the Dawn Hourglass' power. You should have no problem stopping Zero." He forced a smile. "And once you do, I'll go to the cops and tell them that Guildmaster Metagross had brainwashed you. I mean, you saw for yourself how crazy he was. They'll believe me in a heartbeat. Especially if my teammates back me up, right?"

    Tessa hastily nodded when Shane looked toward her. He then glanced up at the airborne teams and prayed he could force a thought into their heads: 'Charge up your best attacks!'

    Lycanroc's eyes darted about. Shane fought to hide a grin. Though he didn't deserve such a stroke of luck, his gambit was working. The glow in Lycanroc's mane was dimming, which Shane hoped meant his jealous rage was simmering down. Lycanroc stumbled back, gripping his head with a paw. "S-Snowy, you… you're really… apologizing to me?"

    The distortion faded from Lycanroc's voice. Shane's eyes widened. Maybe they wouldn't even need a violent resolution? Maybe his trick had worked and Lycanroc would join their side to stop Zero?

    Shane's hopes faded fast in the face of multiple Flash Cannons drowning him in a wall of gray energy.

    "Nice try. But I already told you, I ain't falling for your dumbarse tricks!" Lycanroc slapped his knee and howled with laughter.

    Shane's high-pitched screams shook the air. Tessa's aura feelers shot up. Blue flames ignited in her irises and around her paws. Screeching out a war cry, Tessa slung two large Aura Spheres toward Stakataka's leg.

    Above her, Silvally echoed her enraged cries. He flung Team Paradise and Team Poképals off his back. Mew teleported over and caught them safely with his ESP while they launched a Flamethrower, lightning, dragonfire, and a steaming water torrent toward Stakataka's wall. Silvally raced in ahead of the attacks while they merged into a giant multicolored beam. A metal sheen encased his hide.

    "Nobody hurts my friend like that! I'll rip you to pieces, Beast!" he shrieked. Silvally hammered the center of Stakataka's wall. His Swords Dance boosts made the strike shake the very foundations of the giant Ultra Beast. He darted away, revealing a noticeable crack that ran through several of the bricks, leaving them trembling. The combined energy beam struck seconds later. Stakataka wailed in pain and jostled Lycanroc right off its roof.

    "Swampert, down there!" Blaziken shouted, pointing at Lycanroc. "Quick, time for another 'Death from Above!'"

    "Say no more." Swampert saluted his teammate and dived off Latias' back. Brown, earthly energy gathered in his fins. But rather than connecting with Lycanroc, Swampert disappeared through a portal and instead struck the ground a fair distance away from Stakataka. His shoulders sagged. "Aww man. Seriously?"

    Swearing, Blaziken also launched himself airborne. Milotic yelped in surprise. "Latias, get to Shane!" Blaziken ordered. He then shot Flamethrowers from his legs to fly around toward the wall that the other battlers had struck. Milotic added her own blast of water to propel them faster. His eyes sparkled upon seeing the giant crystal holding Lycanroc's captives. "Silvally, Mew, cover me! I'm going in!"

    The fire jets shooting from his legs grew larger. Milotic took a deep breath, then let out another Hydro Pump. They flew toward Stakataka. Blaziken then cut off the flames and spun about in midair. Shining, orange energy encased his feet. Already flailing about in pain from the previous hits, Stakataka desperately raised its Celesteela cannons to fire.

    "Oh no you don't!" Silvally snarled, cheek bolts whirring so quickly they vented smoke. Silvally shot toward the nearest arm-cannon, switching to his fighting memories as a golden wheel surrounded his torso. Orange energy identical to Blaziken's surrounded Silvally's forelegs. He struck the arm-cannon's joint and cleaved right through it. Silvally sailed past Stakataka as the arm-cannon fell to the ground and Blaziken drove his glowing foot right into the crystal. A huge crack spiderwebbed out from the center.

    Blaziken managed to bounce off and land atop Stakataka's roof in time to watch the arm-cannon strike the ground and shatter into thousands of tiny pieces. Milotic uncurled from around his torso. Silvally then joined Tessa in launching dual Flash Cannons at Stakataka's damaged leg. This proved enough to destroy it in a similar chain reaction to the one they'd blown apart earlier. Blaziken's legs buckled. He grabbed Milotic and leaped into the air, only for a metallic paw to lock around his foot and slam the duo onto the roof with a heavy thud.

    "Nobody's going anywhere, mate," Lycanroc snarled, mane disheveled, eyes twitching, and drool seeping out of his mate. "This is my moment and I won't have you lot bloody ruining it!" He grabbed hold of Blaziken and Milotic once again and, as Stakataka began to topple over, hurtled him toward Team Paradise and Team Poképals.

    "O-Oh no… I can't catch him!" Mew cried.

    "Then drop us! We can take it!" Haxorus barked.

    "Fat chance I'm letting that happen!" Lycanroc said, having appeared behind the group by means of an Ultra Wormhole. An orange aura surrounded him. His body hardened into metal. With a loud howl, he shot toward them, leaving a trail of fiery energy behind him. Mew squeezed his eyes, trying to teleport, but it was no good. He had run out of strength for that. And he couldn't levitate the others around fast enough for them to attack Lycanroc.

    Then a gigantic purple hand shot up between Mew and Lycanroc, slowing his progress. Then another hand appeared behind it, slowing him even more. And then another. And another. And another. Eventually, two dozen hands had stopped Lycanroc in his tracks. Mew glanced down and noticed Espy standing below her, shimmering with an orange aura. Blaziken and Milotic stood beside her, the former wiping his brow in relief.

    "This is for Shane!" Espy cried. She concluded her Z-Move with an explosive burst of ectoplasm that propelled a howling Lycanroc down toward the ground, where Tessa stood waiting for him. She crossed her arms in front of her face. Orange light encased her from the gem in her looplet.

    Lycanroc flailed about, trying to draw on his powers and summon an Ultra Wormhole to escape. But before he could a giant, orange fist punched him right between the legs. His eyes bulged out and he howled in pain. Tessa punched the air repeatedly, her angry shouts growing louder with each energy fist she launched to keep Lycanroc suspended in midair.

    "Don't you ever mess with Team Radiance again!" she shouted, winding up and firing one last orange fist twice Lycanroc's size. It struck him and carried him back through the air, all the way toward Stakataka. Despite the intense burning pain, Lycanroc managed to catch a quick glimpse of Latias and Silvally carrying the Tapus, Sneasel, and Dusk away from Stakataka.

    Lycanroc then struck Stakataka's roof. For a brief second, everyone could see a Lycanroc-shaped hole in the bricks. Then, Stakataka erupted in a bevy of brightly-colored, neon explosions. Latias and Silvally zipped toward the rest of the group, the latter barely skirting the fringes of the chain reaction, but getting singed on the edges of his tail. Smoke trailed behind Silvally as he dropped from his glide like a rock and skipped across the ground before finally coming to rest by Tessa.

    She knelt down, two berries and an elixir at the ready. Tessa glanced at Silvally's looplet. Sparks jumped around the central gemstone. Tessa's aura feelers tensed up. "You going to be okay?" she asked.

    Silvally opened his beak and coughed up a mouthful of gray smoke. Tessa fell on her rump and waved a paw in front of her face. "Yeesh! Warn me if you're going to do that. Your breath smells like soggy pancakes!" She looked at her teammate, who met her with a blank stare. "Err, don't ask me how I know what soggy pancakes smell like." Tessa put the healing items by Silvally's face and stood up.

    XxX​

    Zero took in Stakataka's explosive demise with purple embers smoldering in her iris. "Well, I guess that's it then," she said. A ring of static ran from her ears to her feet as she turned to face the three Pokémon under her control.

    "Finally!" Dragonite stretched her arms and wings out. "Now it's my turn, right?" She raised her right hand, summoning a lightning spear to grab hold of.

    "Not quite," Zero said, holding up her right paw and turning back to face the paralyzed ocean.

    "But you said if Stakataka loses, then I could pick those idiots off," Dragonite growled, her antennae crackling. "What happened to attacking while they're vulnerable, huh?"

    "Oh, you're still going to get your chance," Zero insisted. "It's just, after watching this whole display, I think it's necessary to make a few… adjustments. To give you a better shot at taking them down."

    Dragonite's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying you don't trust me to beat these losers?"

    "Even with Birdbrain over there on your side, I'd have concerns," Zero said, jerking her head in Lugia's direction. He opened his mouth, only for an invisible force to squeeze it shut again. "You can keep your complaints to yourself. The fact of the matter is they have numbers and it appears that those numbers have now grown. Furthermore, they actually seem capable of coordinating themselves… well, coordinating better than I expected, anyway."

    Zero raised her right paw. Static encased it. Her paw distorted and flickered in and out of existence. "If we're to put a stop to these nuisances, we need to cut them off from each other. Luckily, I'm in a perfect position to do that."

    Her aura dreadlocks lashed out at the air around her. Dragonite looked down. The ground shook beneath her feet.

    XxX​

    Tessa helped Silvally back to his feet after he finished eating the berries. "Thanks," he said.

    "You sure you're okay?"

    "A lot better now that Stappa… flappa…" Silvally's brow furrowed. "Now that the Beast is taken care of, I'm doing better." He looked at his looplet. The sparks had faded from the central gemstone, but his cheek-bolts still glowed and radiated heat. Still, he forced a smile for his teammate. "I'll be fine. I promise."

    "O-Okay." Tessa rubbed her shoulder. Her aura feelers then shot up. "Ah, that's right! What about Shane?!" She turned to her aura sight, but stopped when she sensed two familiar blue flames moving toward her. Tessa spun around and relief flooded her system.

    Shane walked toward them with Latias by his side. Latias had healed most of his injuries, but the evidence he'd been badly hurt was plain as day. His fur was frayed, disheveled, uneven, and red in some spaces. Tessa ran toward him, only to a skid to a halt and stop herself with her arms outstretched and her gaze locked on her pointy chest spike.

    "I, uh…" She stepped away and rubbed the back of her head. "How are you doing?"

    "I think that was the first steel-type attack I've been hit with since I evolved," Shane said, lowering his gaze. "It was…" His voice trailed off and he shivered. "That was even more painful than my evolution."

    "I'm sorry," Tessa whispered. "I should've—"

    Shane shook his head. "Don't. I'm the one who should apologize. I thought my plan was working, but I guess Lycanroc saw right through it and wound up playing me for a sap." A bitter laugh escaped his lips. "I think I'll, uh, defer any battle strategies for dealing with Zero to you guys." When he looked back up, Espy stood at Silvally's side. Shane couldn't quite peg her expression, but he assumed she was either annoyed, worried, or both.

    "You should count your lucky stars we had Latias around to help you," Espy said, her voice cracking. "When those Flash Cannons hit you, I thought…" Her face scrunched up. "Please don't tell me you didn't know just how weak ice Ninetales are to steel-type attacks."

    "I… I did know. But I saw everyone getting hurt and I felt like it was my fault… so this was the best thing I could come up with," Shane said, wincing. "I guess, we should try not to get separated from each other, even if we're fighting a big foe and it makes sense to split up."

    A tense silence followed. Espy turned to Tessa. "You went along with his plan," she whispered.

    "I did. I honestly thought it might be able to work," Tessa said, rubbing her shoulder.

    Sighing, Espy rested her head against Silvally's thigh. "I'm getting too old for these heart-stopping moments," she said, drawing an eyebrow raise from Silvally. "Look, I'm not mad at you guys. I get it. Things are desperate and sometimes you've gotta turn to crazy ideas. It's just…" Espy glanced over her shoulder at Team Paradise. Raichu was feeding a berry to Haxorus who, in turn, was giving a berry to Raichu. Espy turned back to her teammates. "I don't want to lose any of you, okay? Not after everything we've been through. You're…" She shut her eyes. "You're like family."

    Shane nodded slowly. "Right. I understand."

    Silence followed, only to broken when Silvally looked to his right and said, "So, uh, what do you think happened to Lycanroc? Because, like, I'm not sensing his energy and, well…" He pointed a foreleg where he was looking. In the distance, the spot where Stakataka once stood was covered in a fiery wreckage. Molten metal lay on the ground, bubbling and releasing thick vapors into the air.

    "You don't think he's in the middle of all that, do you?" Shane asked, eyes widening.

    "Tessa knocked him into Spatta— err, into the giant Ultra Beast. He was at the epicenter of that gigantic explosion," Milotic said, shaking her head while she slithered up to the group.

    "But what about the Dawn Hourglass?" Shane said, tails fanning out in alarm. "You guys hit him with Z-Moves, right? That should've separated it from Lycanroc… right?" He stared into the roaring flames. His tails curled up against his waist. He needed that Hourglass. It couldn't be gone… could it?

    "Well, if it didn't separate, then…" Silvally trailed off. He poked the ground with a talon. As soon as he pulled his claws back, the ground trembled. Silvally's head crest fanned out. "W-What the heck? That can't be the Ultra Beast, can it?"

    Tessa crouched into a fighting stance. "Don't tell me Lycanroc somehow survived that?" She looked at the other teams and confirmed that they'd sensed it, too. Tessa was about to say something to them, when fissures ripped through the paralyzed ocean. Her aura feelers shot up in surprise. Tessa jumped back, watching in horror as ley line chains and dark purple crystals burst forth from the ground. She didn't have time to stop and take in her surroundings. More chains and crystals shot up to her left, forcing her to run right.

    She heard panicked yelps for a few seconds, before a second wall of chains and crystals blocked her off from the other teams. Tessa's heart shot into her throat. "No… oh no. Oh no, no, no, no!" Her aura feelers throbbed in-time with her heartbeat. Tessa broke into a run. "Espeon? Silvally? Shane?!" she cried. "Anyone? Can anyone here m— aaggh!"

    A purple crystal erupted from beneath her feet. Flinging her into the air with her limbs flailing. She lost consciousness before striking the ground with a heavy thud.

    XxX​

    Thousands and thousands of feet above the frozen, torn-up ocean, a golden flash shimmered on the edge of the stratosphere. A bright-orange, circular portal with a checkerboard pattern opened up. Golden flames trickled out of the portal. They coalesced into a fireball surrounded by a rainbow aura.

    "Hoopa! Hoopa, where are you?" a deep voice shouted. "You're late and I—"

    The fireball bristled. Two sharp, red eyes peered down at the paralyzed planet. Something had clearly gone wrong. Which meant that this was no time for hovering in place, crying out for a god that wouldn't be showing his face.

    Wingbeats echoed through the air. The fireball drifted away from its portal, which shut behind it. It floated down toward the planet, leaving a trail of soft, rainbow light.

    XxX​

    Sentinel Supreme, Stakataka Deluxe
    It's impossible to say whether this Ultra Beast is a singular consciousness or a hivemind of spirits welded together by the chaotic energy of Ultra Space. One thing that is clear, however, is that Lycanroc's intense loathing of a certain ice Ninetales supplanted its own thoughts and desires. Stakataka's will crumbled beneath the Dawn Hourglass' power and both its spirit and body were fused, gaining the cannon-arms of a Celesteela and the neon, rainbow palette of two Blacephalons.

    XxX
    Apologies for the awkward splice. This chapter was just barely over the character limit. [sigh]

    Next time: separation anxiety to the max!
     
    git-it likes this.
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Chapter 91: Unraveling a Chain of Memories

    ~Invern Mountains, Central Peak~

    Is everyone holding up satisfactorally?

    Magearna led the Expedition Society members in a single-file line through blustering winds that barely offered a half-foot's visibility. She held her right arm up. An umbrella-like metal shield stuck out of it, deflecting incoming snow and hail.

    "I think we're doing all right," Ninetales said, walking right behind Magearna and giving off short bursts of heat in an attempt at protecting the rest of the group. "How about you? You've had that, um, device of yours out for a while. Isn't it tiring you out?"

    Well, I admit this is the longest I've ever used my Geartronic Weather Dehazardification Unit, but this is not the time for conservatative behavior, Magearna said, turning left to follow the path.

    "Right." Ninetales looked around. "I still don't really understand how there can be a snowstorm here. The planet's supposed to be paralyzed, isn't it?"

    It's to be expected, since we're on the Invern Mountains. In this one part of the world, the ley lines are so twispiralled upon themselves, they invert the rudimentary physics of the planet. For example, the way typing works. Moves you would expect to hit for super-effectorative damage instead do very little, Magearna explained, keeping her pace up.

    While the rest of the world is paralyzed, time appears to be moving one hundred percent faster here. Hence the ferocicity of this snowstorm, Magearna continued. I'm afraid this is a discussion better saved for another time, though, because I think we're almost at the top of our climb.

    "Did you hear that, Ampharos? We're almost there!" Ninetales called back.

    "F-Fantastic!" Ampharos said through chattering teeth. "While this cold is certainly, ahem, invigorating, I look forward to leaving it behind."

    "I concur. It's no surprise this place is completely empty," Cresselia squeaked, blowing into her nubby hands. It did little to warm her up. Even her halos quivered.

    Actually, the wild Pokémon living in these mountains contribute to the weather. Many know Hail or have Snow Warning as their ability, Magearna explained. However, I'm not detectifying any energy signatures besides ours.

    "I'm guessing most of them sought refuge in caves. There were planet-wide tremors when the Hidden Land fell," Ninetales said, shaking snow off her pelt. "You said there's a village at the top of this mountain, correct? How do you suppose the Pokémon living there are handling all of this?"

    I'm sure Totem Ninetales is doing her best to keep them calm, Magearna said. Her eyes whirred about. The winds faded to a steady breeze and a light snowfall replaced the torrent of hail. Magearna retracted her shield into her arm. We're here.

    She walked forward, giving the others room to leave the snowstorm. The snowy trail surprisingly gave way to stone stairs. Each stair faintly glowed with light. Any snowflakes that landed on the stones evaporated, leaving a safe path up into a cloud of gray fog.

    "So, these are the gods spoken of in Horizon's legends, yes? Solgaleo and Lunala?" Mawile asked, staring at statues sitting on each side of the stairs.

    Correct. And the smaller ones behind them are the Tapus, who shape our Mystery Dungeons and keep the continent afloat, Magearna said.

    Ninetales bit her lip. On the walk up, Magearna had told the group that Tapu Bulu and Tapu Fini had vanished alongside the Dawn Shards. She prayed the two Tapus would be all right or, at the very least, her counterpart had safely reigned in their spirits.

    Magearna led the group up the stairs. With every step, the air grew thinner. Each Expedition Society member found themselves stopping to catch their breath, save for Ninetales, who was well-accustomed to higher altitudes.

    "My head's ringing," Cresselia whispered, scrunching her face up. "How high up are we?"

    I am not actually sure. I've never had the chance to compare Solstice Summit's elevatilation to Sky Peak's, Magearna admitted.

    "Ah, yes…" Mawile walked up to Magearna, breathing heavily. "That does… take me back. I'd have thought my days on Team Frontier would make this hike easy, but I guess I've gone soft after all these years living at sea level." A wince put a stop to her chuckling.

    Do not worry. I believe things will be better for you once we're in the village, Magearna said, beckoning them to follow her through the gray fog. The group stayed close to one another, until they emerged out the other end in the middle of a small rock platform. Another staircase stood across from them, obscuring their view. At the base of the stairs stood a stone stool. A Shaymin sat on the stool, with icy-blue fur on her back and white, snowflake-shaped flowers on either side of her face. She looked at Magearna and smiled.

    "Ah!" Cresselia's halos stuck up. "A Shaymin… here? Good gracious! Are you all right? You must be freezing!"

    "Thank you for the concern, Lady Cresselia, but I'm okay," Shaymin said, bowing her head. "I am Shaymin Esserly, Totem Ninetales' attendant. And I welcome you all to Solstice Summit."

    Ampharos returned the bow. "A pleasure to meet you. I'm Ampharos and this is my assistant, Mawile. We're from the Expedition Society!" He raised his right arm to strike his signature pose.

    "Of Lively Town, yes. Your reputation precedes you, good sir," Esserly said, with a slight giggle. She hopped off her perch and turned toward the stairs. "While I would love to keep exchanging pleasantries, I'm afraid we must make haste. Lady Ho-Oh is expecting us."

    Yes, yes, of course. Lead the way, Esserly, Magearna said, walking after the snowy Shaymin. Ampharos, Cresselia, and Mawile followed behind her.

    Ninetales' brow furrowed. "Wait. Hold up a second… I have questions!" she barked, dashing off after the group.

    XxX

    ~Prism Wastelands~

    As Tessa regained consciousness, her vision swam. At first, she had no idea what was going on. She remembered looking at the fiery wreckage of Stakataka, the ground shaking, and then panicked cries sounding all around her. Now, her head was so muddled up and her vision so unfocused she couldn't get a sense of her surroundings. Her ears rang. Pins and needles ran up her legs and down her aura feelers.

    "… sa… ey…"

    Tessa's face scrunched up. She could've sworn she heard someone, but it sounded like this person was trying to talk to her while submerged underwater. Tessa blinked repeatedly. Her vision slowly came into focus. As it did, sensation returned to her legs and aura feelers.

    "Hey, Tessa, you with us?"

    It was Silvally. He stood crouched down to Tessa's right, with his head by her arm. "I, uh… I'm a bit out of it, I guess," Tessa said. She lifted her right arm, but she couldn't hold it steady and wound up planting it right on Silvally's beak. Silvally didn't react. He held his head in place so that Tessa could slowly stagger to her feet.

    The moment she did, a wave of vertigo crashed over her. Tessa stumbled to her left, then to her right. Silvally offered his shoulder to steady her, but backed away when Tessa threw a paw up over her muzzle. Her cheeks puffed up. She swallowed hard. "Agh. Yeah, not good," she said, sticking out her tongue and shaking her head.

    Tessa hunched over, resting her paws on her knees while she waited out the nausea. She found herself at the top of some sort of metal hill. Peering over the edge, Tessa found a sea of purple acid waiting at the bottom of a steep drop off. Chains crisscrossed the chasm between the hill Tessa was on and a jagged cluster of crystals. Some of the links had glowing red or purple eyes inside. They flickered with ominous electricity that made Tessa's aura feelers tense up.

    "What happened here?" Tessa asked, finally able to stand up straight. She turned around to find Espy and Milotic also looking at the scenery. There were large platforms of various shapes and sizes in the distance, all seemingly made of crystals that distorted what little light lingered around the area. Chains of assorted length ran between the crystals, the eyes in their links piercing through the darkness. Thorny chains even arced out from the acid pools.

    "I think this is all Zero's doing," Silvally said, walking beside Tessa. His expression fiercened as he looked straight at a floating crystal octahedron glowing with a red aura. "The battle with Lycanroc was, well, explosive, to say the least. She probably saw what was happening and, once we beat Lycanroc, summoned a whole bunch of ley line chains to wreak havoc on the place."

    He hunched over and his fire memories flickered on. "Th… they're everywhere, Tessa. You can sense 'em, can't you? Just… just look at this place!"

    A blast rang out in the distance. Everyone looked northeast and saw spurts of acid flying about in every direction. A trio of giant ley line chains slowly snaked into the air and coiled around one another. In a flicker of purple light, they turned into another crystal platform with a jagged, slanted slope.

    "It's awful! It's like the worst Mystery Dungeons we've been in cranked up to the max," Espy said, her tail curling around her waist. "And… and that's the direction we've gotta go, isn't it?" She pointed a forepaw forward. There were a lot of crystal platforms sticking out of the acid below. Some had chains running through them, others didn't.

    "H-Hang on, what about everyone else?" Tessa looked around, aura feelers twitching. "Wait… where's Shane?" She turned to her teammates, who looked down glumly.

    "I tried to grab hold of him, Tessa, I really did… but a huge ley line wall burst up in front of me before I could," Silvally said, hanging his head as he flickered between a blue and an orange glow.

    "There were too many crystal spires. I lost sight of him in all the chaos and, before I knew it, Espy had yanked me back and plopped me onto Silvally next to you," Milotic elaborated. Her gaze was directed north, toward the red and purple eye of the vortex spiraling over their heads.

    "Well… w-well…" Tessa shook her head. There had to be some way to reach the others. She had just told Shane that they were in this together. "What about Latias or Mew? Can't Espeon contact them telepathically or something?!"

    "It's no good. I can't sense anything beside the energy these ley lines are venting off," Espy said, wincing. "That includes you guys… and you're standing right in front of me. Trying to find the others isn't going to be an option, I fear."

    "Why not? Latias and Mew can fly!" Tessa said. "A-And so can you, Silvally. We've gotta turn your flying memories on and get moving!"

    Silvally lowered his head. "I'd really love to do that, but that's a bad idea."

    Tessa crossed her arms, not buying his answer. "Because?"

    "Because of this," Milotic said. She scooped up a gray piece of debris in her tail and hurled it up toward one of the floating octahedrons. A purple core glowed in the middle of it, then purple lightning vaporized the rubble. Tessa slouched over in disbelief, watching dust float past her. "Whatever these things are… the sky is riddled with them. I'm afraid going airborne is way too dangerous."

    "But we can't sit here and do nothing," Silvally said, looking off toward the center of the vortex. "I think… we're going to have to set off on foot and pray that we meet up with the others somehow." He walked to the front of the group. "Any objections?"

    Just then, a portion of the metal ground gave out behind Tessa. Two black, circular crystals with red cores floated into the air. Espy's tail scrunched up. "I recognize those. They're the things that Zero turned all the Minior in Aurora Vale into! Necrospheres… or something."

    Silvally and Tessa exchanged panicked looks. They recalled the ones that had exploded near Shane, nearly doing him in. Tessa's paws balled into fists. Aural flames crackled around her spikes. She didn't even see the winged-heart sigil on her right paw flicker purple.

    Tessa raised her paws up, releasing rings of pink energy. Espy added her own psychic rings to the mix. Silvally shot a stream of fire in the center of the rings. It expanded into a giant fireball that swallowed the Necrospheres up, leaving nothing behind.

    "We have to get moving… or they might swarm us," Espy said, ears drooping. With a nod, Silvally took the lead. The group proceeded along the metal path, their gazes swiveling back and forth. Metal walls and crystal chunks ran past them. Some parts had glowing runes traced across them, the likes of which brought Golem's videos to mind.

    "Mom… why… why are you doing this to us?" Tessa whispered, pulling on her aura feelers.

    "She's desperate," Silvally said. "I don't… really know why. I mean, she has Dialga on her side. This is just… unnecessary."

    "Unless she's trying to stall us."

    "What do you mean?" Tessa asked, looking at Espy.

    "Think about it. She's trying to forcibly reset all of time with Dialga's power," Espy said, frowning. "If we actually made it up to her… and fought enough to disrupt whatever she's doing, it would ruin her whole plan." Her expression darkened. "I bet she's trying to keep us busy so it's impossible for us to reach her in time to stop her."

    Silvally glanced at Espy. He was about to ask for clarification when the glowing sigils on his right all swirled together, forming a cluster of black slime. The sludge expanded into a papule with small circular nubs popping off its body. Espy jumped back with a holler, landing on Milotic's torso.

    "Ow! What was that all about?"

    "That's a… that's a…" Espy hyperventilated. She shrank down into a ball, then repeatedly smacked Milotic with her forepaws. "Void Shadow! Void Shadow! Get it away! Get it away! Make them stop, stop, stop!"

    Seeing Espy's distress, Silvally quickly launched an Air Slash barrage at the Void Shadow. The wind blades sliced through its slimy body. However, the black ribbons simply knotted themselves back together. Silvally stepped back, beak locking up. Three more Void Shadows dropped down from the sky, wobbling about at complete random.

    "Get back! Stay away from my friends!" Silvally barked. Lightning revved up in his cheek-bolts. He showered the Void Shadows in electricity. They melted down into bubbling black puddles.

    "They're not going to stay down. If you can't completely destroy them, then you have to run! We all have to run! It's not safe here!" Espy screamed, her forehead gem flickering. "It's not safe anywhere!" Her eyes darted about. "They're watching us. I know they are. They'll swarm us if we don't m— aah!"

    Milotic wrapped Espy up in her tail and sprang onto Silvally's back. "Then let's pick up the pace here. Run, Silvally!" she said, turning to her right to keep a Void Shadow at bay with scalding-hot water.

    Tessa flanked Silvally's left, ignoring her trembling paws despite the difficulties they gave her in charging up an Aura Sphere. She tossed a smaller one in between two Void Shadows. The blue, fiery explosion gave Silvally an opening to run through. Tessa followed behind him. Thinking quickly, she fired a gray beam up at the crystal arcing over her head. The top part dislodged and fell to the ground, blocking off the Void Shadows' path.

    "Okay, how's everything looking up there?" Tessa asked, jogging to catch up with Silvally. He stood looking down at a chasm. Tessa looked around him and spotted crystal platforms at the other end, but it would be quite a big jump to make. And there were several, star-shaped rocks floating in midair. Purple light streamed out from cracks in the rocks. They looked like they'd crumble to bits if someone touched them.

    "What do you think the odds are there are Necrospheres hiding in those things, waiting to attack?" Milotic wondered, sizing up the nearest rock. "Should I try blasting one and see what happens?"

    Silvally shook his head. "If something explodes, it could set off the ley lines beneath us. We've gotta… um…" He glanced back at Tessa. "Look, I can activate my flying memories and glide across, but you'll have to climb on."

    Nodding hesitantly, Tessa climbed onto his back. Silvally's glowing appendages turned dark blue and, with a running start, he lunged out over the chasm.

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed. The rock on her right was vibrating and shining brighter. Not willing to take any chances, Tessa shot two pink bursts from her paws. Her Psychic blew the rock into another one. Both crumbled to bits in purple blasts. Behind her, Espy used her own Psychic to divide Milotic's Scald torrent into separate water bubbles. She pushed them toward the floating rocks that were giving off steam of their own. They also fell apart before they could unleash whatever they were charging.

    It seemed Silvally would have a clear path to the other side of the chasm when Tessa's aura feelers curled up. She and Silvally looked down and saw the acid bubbling. "Uh oh." She dug her knees into Silvally's ribs. "I think you need to go faster!" she squealed.

    "Agreed," Silvally said, wiggling his tail enough to propel him forward. Espy yelped in surprise. The change in momentum almost sent her tumbling from her seat, but Milotic managed to wrap her up.

    Silvally touched down on an upward-slanting crystal path. His teammates slid to the ground. Behind them, thorny ley line chains dove out of the acid like black, metal Wailords. The chains gnarled and twisted around one another. They melted together into a crystal lattice. A red core ignited inside of it.

    "A giant Necrosphere!" Tessa yelped. She started charging an Aura Sphere, but it fizzled away when Silvally grabbed Tessa with his beak and flipped her onto his back.

    "And we shouldn't stick around to try and challenge it," he said, watching the core glow even brighter. Espy and Milotic also jumped onto his back. The moment they were secure, Silvally took off running up the path, ducking a pair of chains that would've otherwise clotheslined him.

    XxX

    ~Solstice Summit~

    "I must say, this is quite a surprise. The snow's barely falling and the air is much less thin," Cresselia chirped, her halos regaining some of their vibrant glow as she hovered behind Esserly and Magearna, taking in the scenery. Unlike Lively Town, most of the buildings were made of wood, save for tiled roofs slanting toward gutters that led to cylindrical drains. Cresselia squinted at the sliding doors and the gaps between the snow-covered ground and the houses' main levels.

    "The, um, architecture here is… very different," Cresselia whispered, pausing to marvel at a bronzed statue of Ho-Oh. Golden flames sat inside Ho-Oh's eyes, crackling with life despite the chilly air. Four similarly-colored torches sat around the statue. Ninetales nodded her agreement. She had heard about this place before, but since she'd never visited in person, she had admittedly forgotten all about it.

    "Sister Esserly! Sister Esserly!"

    Esserly turned toward the center of the town, where a blue-tailed Eevee emerged from the fog and sprinted toward her. "There you are! I've been looking all over for you! You had promised me a story, remember? When are you gonna tell me it, huh? Huh? Huh?"

    "Peace, Sonya, peace," Esserly said, lifting a stubby paw. Her flowers released pink vapors. Sonya stopped hopping in place and sat on her haunches. "There, much better." She turned to Magearna's team. "As you can see, I am tending to some important guests right now. So, I'm afraid story time will have to wait."

    Sonya pouted, only for her bright-eyed look to return. "Can I help with the guests? Mommy always said I was great with guests!"

    "I'm afraid not, sweetie," Esserly said, frowning. "Why don't you go back to my house for the time being? If you're patient, then I'll make you some nice, warm tea."

    "Okay! But I get to pick the flavor!" Sonya chirped. She turned and dashed back off into the fog.

    "Is that, um, a family member or something?" Ninetales asked. She was impressed with Sonya's vigor despite the cooler temperatures and wondered if one of the parents was a Glaceon.

    Sighing, Esserly resumed walking. "Not exactly. It's a tragedy, really. Sonya's parents, Flareon Akai and Glaceon Michi, were gathering berries from the mountain with the other villagers. A thick fog set over the area. Hawes lost his footing and, well…" Esserly shook her head. "Jodi tried to save him, only for her to fall from the mountain face, too. Totem Ninetales and I have traded off looking after Sonya, at least until she's old enough to figure out what to do for herself."

    "I'm sorry to hear that," Ninetales whispered, bowing her head. She knew better than anyone how dangerous snowy mountains could get. Ninetales couldn't help but wonder what, if any, Pokémon had met the same fate. Perhaps it was for the best that she now made frequent trips to more-populated areas.

    "Um, excuse me? What do you mean by 'Sonya?' That was Eevee, wasn't it?" Cresselia asked, brow furrowed. Her question snapped Ninetales out of her thoughts.

    "Ah, forgive me. I thought you were all aware of some of our customs," Esserly replied, beckoning the group after her. "See, in the time when Lucarios acted as mediators between mortals and gods, Pokémon held two names: a formal name — their species, basically — and a familiar name that they shared only with people they trusted. However, the Lucarios were wiped out during Dark Matter's first attack… and the practice faded, as it reminded everyone of the valuable allies they had lost."

    Esserly's flowers drooped. "Many of the villagers here, myself included, have chosen to carry on this tradition as a way of honoring the hard work that they put in centuries ago," she said, pausing mid-stride to bow her head in respect. "I suppose you could say that, even though I have no real way of knowing what life was like back then, I have a strong desire to see the world return to a time when everyone was more open and transparent."

    She resumed walking, passing a small stream trickling through the snow toward the outskirts of the village. "In some respects, Solstice Summit is meant to be an attempt at recapturing that feeling… on a small scale. It is part of why Totem Ninetales offers counseling and spirit-channeling sessions for those willing to brave the journey. And I, as her attendant, try to help in whatever way I can."

    Ninetales' jaw tightened. Sure, she had spoken with Lucario spirits before and heard about their work and their failed attempts at stopping Dark Matter. But wiped out? That couldn't have been right. Why would the ley lines create Lucarios in some dungeons if they didn't exist anymore? And hadn't she just met a Lucario as part of Team Radiance? Something wasn't adding up for her.

    "Wait. How can there be no Lucarios? What about the one on Team Radiance?" Cresselia asked, fidgeting nervously. Having been beaten to the punch, Ninetales nodded along with Cresselia.

    Esserly looked at Magearna and raised a brow. "So, it is true then? Riolu evolved?"

    Magearna nodded. She's also openly asked people to call her by her familiar name, Tessa.

    "I see. Then we have two Lucarios in Horizon…" Esserly's expression darkened. "But to set things right, one of them must perish." Esserly's flowers shriveled. "Lady Ho-Oh has been wracked by grief and distress ever since she learned Prisma sought an audience with her, only to have Tapu Fini deny her request."

    Not that it would have matteriated. Ho-Oh would not have been able to bring Incineroar back as Prisma remembered him… and we'd never call on our contingency plan to reverse one death… even if it was unjust, Magearna said, earning skeptical looks from Cresselia, Mawile, and Ninetales.

    Ninetales opened her mouth, ready to press further, but Esserly announced, "The Solstice Monastery is right up ahead."

    A wooden bridge stretched out ahead of the group. At the other end, on a solitary platform suspended over the foggy abyss, sat a three-story temple. It had the same basic, wooden, tiled-roof structure as the houses in the village. Only these tiles were red and gold. Similarly-colored tapestries lay draped across the outer walls. The sliding door had painted on it an eclipsing sun and moon flanked by golden wings. Torches sat on either side of the door. Blue flames crackled, their embers trailing off into the fog.

    Esserly trotted toward the door and pulled a string beside it. A tiny golden bell chimed three times. Esserly stepped back as the doors slid open, revealing an ice Ninetales. She dwarfed the rest of the group, standing a head taller than Ampharos and two heads taller than her fire-type counterpart. She had a silver shawl draped over her shoulders, buttoned by a brooch bearing the same emblem as the door of her monastery.

    Totem Ninetales bowed her head. "I see you've brought our guests," she said, addressing Esserly. Totem Ninetales walked forward, the bells strapped around her paws jingling softly. "Magearna, it is lovely to see you again." She bobbed her head and Magearna returned the gesture. Then she turned to the Expedition Society members. "Welcome, travelers." She paused to look at Ninetales. "And to you as well, my counterpart."

    Totem Ninetales cleared her throat. "I appreciate you coming so quickly. I imagine it can't have been easy, so let us not delay. Come inside."

    She beckoned them to follow with her tails, each of which had a silver ribbon trailing off it. They walked through the door, into a surprisingly spacious room with a high-set ceiling. Soft, red carpets sat on the edges of the room, giving way to a glossy, smooth floor surrounding a circular pool in the center of the room. Blue light filtered up from the luminescent water.

    "Oh, wow. This is, um, a very unusual building," Cresselia said, following the light up through the holes in the ceiling. She could just make out a glass dome at the top floor's roof.

    "This is my spirit pool. Lady Ho-Oh and Lady Xerneas constructed it when Solstice Summit was first established." Totem Ninetales grabbed an ornate staff with numerous glyphs carved into its wood. "It has a direct link to the Tree of Life. I can use it to communicate with the spirit realm… or help guide Horizon Pokémon to it," she continued, voice muffled.

    Totem Ninetales walked over to the pool, dipped the staff in using her snout, and slowly stirred the water. Blue and pink wisps spiraled up toward the ceiling. She gently lay the staff down. "Esserly, be a dear and go tell Lady Ho-Oh our guests have arrived."

    "No need. I'm right here."

    The Expedition Society members stepped back toward the door. Ninetales immediately bowed. Ho-Oh walked out from a wide staircase, head tucked into her chest to avoid bonking it on the ceiling.

    Your eminence, Magearna said, stiffly mimicking Ninetales' bow. May the spirits watch over you.

    Ho-Oh bowed back, spreading her orange and gold wings apart. Rainbow light trailed off her feathers. "And you as well, Magearna." She stood upright. "It's been quite some time. I'd love to catch up, but…"

    Yes, business comes first, Magearna said, approaching the spirit pond. So, can you tell us anything about the scenuation?

    "It is as you predicted. The one known as Necrozma was purged from Lunala's spirit," Ho-Oh announced. She frowned. "Unfortunately, Lunala's lifeforce was drained to the point where she could no longer keep her spirit bound to her body."

    "Most unfortunate. She finally gained freedom, only for her life to slip away," Totem Ninetales said, bowing her head in remorse.

    "All is not lost, however. Though her spirit was faint, I was able to find it and bring it here for safekeeping," Ho-Oh said, gesturing to the pool. Totem Ninetales approached it, tails raised. She tapped her forelegs togethers. The bells rang and purple embers surrounded her.

    A ripple spread through the pool. The water turned a mix of purple and navy blue. Magearna nodded. Very good. And what about the other spirits Necrozma had taken?

    Ho-Oh smiled. "It seems they were freed as well. I believe we managed to get all of them here."

    Including Hoopa? Magearna asked.

    "Including Hoopa," Ho-Oh replied, nodding. "Though, again, I still don't see why we need Hoopa. Master Ephemeris can open wormholes."

    Ninetales' initial jubilation at the news faded. She wanted to press the "Master Ephemeris" point. After all, Ho-Oh answered to Arceus, didn't she? Who else could be giving her instructions? Ninetales noticed the stoic expression on her icy counterpart's face and held her tongue.

    Master Ephemeris would have to bring the Pokémon he's looking after through Ultra Space. And, from what I understand, that is a lot riskier for them than traversing Hoopa's ring portals, Magearna explained, her tone polite but firm.

    Ho-Oh shuffled back. "Hmm… is that why he's heading for Rainbow Island, then?"

    Magearna stiffened, clanking and whirring. Such shockification! He's here? Right now? She crossed her arms. I know I told him to come check on the planet if he didn't hear from Hoopa, but I guestimated he'd wait a bit longer than this.

    "Well, he's not here. But on my way over I saw a familiar golden flame and rainbow trail… it looked to be heading toward Rainbow Island," Ho-Oh explained, glancing between the confused looks on her visitors' faces and Magearna's worried expression. "I would've gone after him, but I figured it would make more sense to bring you guys there instead of having him come here. We can move the spirits we have to the pool on Rainbow Island."

    Yes, I suppose you're right, Magearna said.

    Ninetales looked at her counterpart. "Um, excuse me. I don't want to come off as impolite or anything, but I'm afraid you've lost me. What's an Ephemeris?" She turned to Ampharos. "Does this all have to do with your contingency plan?"

    Ampharos tilted his head and rubbed his chin. "Hrmm… does it relate to my plan? Well, I suppose the best answer is that I don't know… because I don't remember the details of my plan." He lifted his right arm to strike his signature pose. "But if Ho-Oh's talking about it, then it must be important. And we shouldn't ignore that importance!"

    Mawile fidgeted nervously. "Erm, yes, the chief has a point."

    Ninetales was about to say something, when Magearna raised an arm. I can boot up exposition mode while we're en route to Rainbow Island, she said.

    "I thought you wanted Ephemeris to remain a secret, given he's our last-resort option," Totem Ninetales said, stirring the spirit pool with her staff.

    Well, if Ephemeris is here now, I don't see the point in staying tight-lipped, Magearna said. Besides, the human already knew of Ephemeris. Confusion cycles still wrack my brain over that.

    Totem Ninetales' eyes widened. She almost dropped her staff. "Wait. The other ice Ninetales you told me about knows Ephemeris?"

    Yes, though it sounded like he only had passing knowledge of him, Magearna said, walking toward Ho-Oh. Ninetales raised an eyebrow at the scene. Shane was a human, right? After all, he hardly carried himself like a Ninetales should. So, how could he know about something that a lot of important Pokémon were in the dark about? She made a mental note to ask Magearna about this later.

    Totem Ninetales' footsteps jolted Ninetales to attention. "I've sent the spirits over to Rainbow Island," she announced. "Lady Ho-Oh, are you okay flying us there?"

    "Of course I am. Climb on," Ho-Oh said, spreading her wings and bending over. One by one, Magearna directed the Expedition Society members onto Ho-Oh's back. The warmth Ho-Oh radiated pleased Ninetales. Totem Ninetales was the last one left on the floor. She turned to Esserly.

    "I'm sorry to do this to you on such short notice, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to look after the village while I'm away," Totem Ninetales said, sighing.

    "It's quite all right. I've got things under control," Esserly assured, her flowers sparkling. Her smile faded quickly, however, and she brushed a forepaw across the carpet. "But if we need to evacuate…"

    "Take the villagers into the dungeon and find the Stormcracker Isle waypoint to the east. Tapu Fini hasn't been around to change the mountain layout in some time, so it should still be in the same spot," Totem Ninetales said.

    Esserly nodded. "Understood." She stepped back and watched Totem Ninetales climb aboard Ho-Oh. "Be safe, everyone," she said.

    Ho-Oh nodded back to her, then walked off toward the monastery's back entrance.

    XxX

    ~Prism Wastelands~

    "What do you mean you can't just fly us to safety?" Haxorus growled, stomping on the metal ground and huffing out dragonfire tufts. "You were levitating us around no problem when we were fighting Shackaflacka. What changed?"

    Latias shrank back from Haxorus. "W-Well, it's this place." She looked up at the ley line chains hanging over her head. The eyes inside the links seemed to stare right at her, as if they were following her every move. "This, um… I think it's a Mystery Dungeon?" Latias shook her head. "Look, the point is, if I try to fly too high, those chains up there are going to attack us."

    "Then we should attack 'em first," Haxorus said, thumping her chest.

    "Haxy, wait!" Raichu said, grabbing her mate by the arm. It didn't stop Haxorus from shooting blue-purple flames up at the chain directly over Latias. Purple light flashed in three of the eyes. Black and red beams shot out, snuffing Haxorus' dragonfire.

    Squealing in fright, Latias materialized a pink barrier. She buckled when the beams struck, but managed to keep the barrier up long enough for the attacks to fade away. Latias turned back to the group. "We're not safe here. We have to keep moving, even if that means you guys are walking," she said.

    "I agree." Infernape stepped beside Latias. "We're sitting Duckletts right now. The quicker we get to higher ground, the better chance we have of scoping out what's going on here." He looked around. "I'm just… not exactly sure how we do that."

    "You're the psychic here, Latias. Can't you scope something out with your ESP?" Haxorus said, crossing her arms and tapping her foot.

    "Look, I'm doing the best I can here," Latias said. In truth, the jumbled mess of ley lines surrounding her had thrown her ESP out of whack. It was hard to sense much of anything. Latias floated away from the group. There was a spot in the crevice they'd hidden away in that offered her a decent view of the sky without having to fly any higher. A relieved look spread across her face. "Okay, if we're looking to get to the source of all of this, then we're going to have to go this way," she said, pointing forward.

    "Do you think the others are going to try and head for Zero? Or are they trying to regroup?" Feraligatr wondered.

    "I can't say. B-But we're, um…" Latias gulped and tapped her claws together. "I don't think we can afford to go searching blindly for the others. We have no idea how close Zero is to finishing… whatever she's doing with Dialga and the Time Gears."

    Infernape nodded. "Good point. Let's get going."

    Latias reluctantly led the group deeper into the crevice. Though she wanted to try and scout ahead with her ESP, the chains and crystals pulsating with dark energy made her decide against it. Instead, she floated quietly, tensed up and waiting for the possibility that something would try and attack.

    To her right, purple acid trickled down a crack in the crystal wall. It gathered in a tiny puddle in the middle of the path. "Watch your step, everyone," Latias said, hovering past the acid. Ahead, the ground sloped upwards. Star-shaped rocks floated next to a pile of purple slime that pulsated and wriggled like a faceless Swalot.

    "Ugh. That's so icky!" Raichu said, walking up beside Latias.

    She stiffened and feathers bristled. "Y-Yeah. It's… it kinda reminds me of the Voidlands, to be honest," Latias said. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will the memories of Void Shadows surrounding her away. Her eyes then shot open. She turned right and tossed a Mist Ball forward. It struck two charging Necrospheres and knocked them into the slime mound. It bounced around like a plate of gelatin.

    "I think we need to keep moving," Infernape said. Feraligatr spat up a glob of water at the slime. The Necrospheres floated right into it. Infernape hurried the group along while the Necrospheres exploded in the distance. Ley line chains bristled and shot out in different directions. Some of them headed for the group, but Raichu jumped behind everyone and blasted the ley lines away with a large lightning bolt.

    "It's like the more we use our attacks, the more unstable this place gets," Latias said, ears drooping. She wished Lugia was with her. He always knew how to keep a level head in tense situations, even if his prideful side sometimes made him stubborn. At the very least, he could put on a confident face to keep everyone's spirits up.

    But her? She couldn't do them any good. Latias knew the others could see how nervous she was. How was she supposed to rally them when all she could think about was what had happened to precipitate this crisis. She had failed to protect the Dusk Hourglass. Necrozma used Latios and Lugia to get to her. All the progress she'd made over the years melted away at the sight of Lugia's corrupted form. The memory made her feathers stand on end. She was completely useless. The only reason she was even here was because Latios gave himself up so she could escape.

    'In the end, Rayquaza was right. I had a job and I couldn't do it. I'm a failure.'

    "Hey. Save the wallowing for another time. We're supposed to be on a schedule, remember?"

    Haxorus' voice jolted Latias to attention. "R-Right. Sorry. My bad," she squeaked, floating to the head of the group. To her relief, the path led them out of the crevice and onto the top of a bulky crystal platform. In the distance, a spiraling mass of chains and shadows obscured her view of what lay under the eye of the temporal storm. Latias' wings drooped.

    "Looks like that's where we're heading," Feraligatr said, slumping over. "And it's not what I'd call a short walk, either."

    "And climbing almost fifty floors to get through the Hidden Land and Temporal Tower in succession is a short walk?" Infernape said, raising a brow.

    "Well, it was at least a more aesthetically pleasing walk," Feraligatr said, laughing nervously and rubbing the back of his head.

    "I'm not even sure how we're supposed to proceed." Haxorus approached the edge of the platform with crossed arms and a stern expression. "There are way too many gaps between safe ground. I can see acid at the bottom of this pit." She turned to Latias. "I know you didn't want to fly, but it looks like we don't have a choice if we're moving forward."

    Latias tensed. A few feet behind Haxorus, wisps of purple energy sparked up from cracks inside floating rocks. Would she really be able to maneuver around them safely while carrying everyone? She had managed to fly well against Stakataka's barrage, but that was only when she had Pokémon sitting on her back.

    She scrunched her face up, telling herself she had to stop fretting over every detail.

    'C'mon, Latias. It's just like Delphox always told you… when things are rough, don't think! Just act!'

    Latias floated up to the others, ready to pick them up, when her ears shot up. A loud, shrill cry sounded from above. Latias looked straight up. Her eyes widened. She pulled the teams into her psychic grip and floated back. Seconds later, gale-force, shadowy winds buffeted the crystal platform, leaving cracks and splinters in the spot where the two teams had stood.

    "What the—" Raichu looked up. Her eyes bugged out. "Um, L-Latias? Isn't that—"

    The ball of black shadows hovering above the platform burst apart, revealing Lugia. His red eyes flared up with green embers. Lugia cawed, voice heavily distorted. Ectoplasm dripped off the tips of his beak and wings.

    "N-No… I'm not…" Latias shrank back. Memories of her last encounter with her corrupted mate flooded her mind. The ferocious attacks and the pain. Oh, spirits above, the pain. Latias' breath came in sharp gasps. She couldn't do this. Lugia was always stronger than her. And, even if she could get the upper hand, she'd risk losing him. She couldn't go through that. Not after she just lost Latios. Lugia was everything to her.

    "Hey, watch out!" Raichu cried.

    Latias looked up. Squealing in fright, she threw up a pink barrier. It buckled. Cracks chipped away at the pink light. But Latias was able to roll right just as her energy shield shattered. Lugia's smoldering eyes flared up again. His gaze locked on Latias. Her heart pounded so hard she could swear she heard it beating in her ears.

    Pretend I'm someone you don't like, then. How about Rayquaza?

    She tensed up, daring to meet Lugia's gaze. Latias caught a silhouette of Rayquaza hanging over Lugia. It was long enough for her to make out his usual, dismissive look. The same look he wore a couple of days ago, when he told her how useless she was and how this assignment of hers wouldn't amount to anything. And the same look he had on when he laid into her for daring to speak out against Dialga's attitude.

    Latias' blood boiled. He hadn't even lifted a claw to do anything and look at what had happened. She had lost her brother. Her mate was corrupted. The world was on the brink of complete collapse.

    Running wasn't an option. Too much was at stake to do that. Latias glanced down at her looplet.

    'I'm an explorer. When a Pokémon's in danger, I have to do everything I can to rescue it! Even if…' She touched a claw to one of the emera crystals in the looplet. 'Even if that means fighting my own mate!'

    A familiar, invigorating energy surge washed over her. Latias' world turned bright orange.

    XxX
    Continued in next post...
     
  16. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Continued from previous post...

    XxX​

    "Tessa? Espy? Silv?" Shane looked around the crevice. Ley line chains formed walls on either side of him. Clusters of crystals lay interspersed between chain links. Some crackled with dark energy. "Somebody? Anybody?" He looked up. Ley lines crisscrossed over his head. He could see the temporal storm overhead, but had no way to climb up and see what was at the top of the crevice.

    A moan sounded behind him. Shane whirled around, firing an Ice Beam without a second thought. It froze a Void Shadow solid. Shane stared right at it, recognizing the slimy mass. It was even more hideous in-person that it was as a cluster of polygons on his low-resolution 3DS screen. Shane's eyes sparked with pink energy. The ice shattered, leaving chunks of the Void Shadow behind.

    Shane shuffled back. Searing pain flashed across his head. Had the Void Shadow somehow used Destiny Bond? No, that didn't make sense. He was still standing. Yet it felt like someone had bludgeoned him. Shane opened his eyes, but his vision was fuzzy. He blinked his eyes several times.

    When he did, he found himself staring not at the crevice, but at a bleary islet of purple rocks. Void Shadows swarmed a group of five Lucario.

    Another flash of head pain brought Shane back into the crevice. He stumbled about, only to notice three more Void Shadows squeezing themselves out of gaps between the chains. His tails curled up and he ran off.

    "Tessa! Espy! Silv! Where are you?" Shane barked. He confirmed the Void Shadows hadn't given chase and slowed his pace. Shane's tails drooped.

    He was alone. Really and truly alone.

    Shane tried to think of a time where he'd been on his own since getting turned into a Pokémon, but nothing came to mind. Even when he went off to the hot springs after his evolution, he knew his teammates were close by. This time, however, he had no clue where he was, where he was supposed to go, or how he was supposed to find anyone.

    Another groan kept him from dwelling on his situation any longer. Shane's ears stuck up. Cautiously, he rounded a bend in the crevice. Tubes of purple slime lay in his path, suspended at different angles. Shane carefully weaved his way through them. The groaning grew louder after he hopped over the last slime tube.

    He crouched into a fighting stance, but immediately relaxed. Dusk, Sneasel, and the Tapus lay in a pile in front of him. And if they were groaning, then that meant they were alive. Shane looked to his right, only for his heart to sink. The satchel he'd taken was gone, which meant he had no healing items he could use to help them.

    On top of that, Shane realized his scarf was missing. His eyes widened. He turned about in a circle, wondering if he'd lost it traversing the makeshift Mystery Dungeon. However, Shane didn't see any sign of it.

    With a shaky breath, he told himself not to think about it. He had to help the Pokémon he'd just found. Shane walked up to them. "H-Hey, are you all right? Can any of you hear me?"

    The closest to a response he got was Tapu Fini twitching and groaning in pain. Shane sighed. He had to heal them, but without any elixirs, he worried he'd lack the energy to heal himself if something bad happened. Plus, all four of them looked emaciated, like they'd gone weeks without having a decent meal.

    Shane wondered if the crystal Lycanroc had trapped them in was responsible. He hesitantly placed his forepaw against Tapu Fini's horn. Soft, orange light swirled around his limb. It funneled down onto Tapu Fini's horn. Then, to his surprise, it spread to Tapu Bulu, Dusk, and Sneasel. Shane pulled his paw back, fearing he'd somehow used too much power.

    The soft light faded, taking with it the pained expressions on their faces. Still, none of them woke up. Shane frowned. Did he need to use Morning Sun again?

    Before he could think too much on it, however, a glimmer of light caught his eye. He sidestepped the pile of unconscious Pokémon, offering wordless apologies, and crept toward the glimmer.

    The Dawn Hourglass lay on the ground, chipped, cracked, and venting multicolored energy. Weak as it was, there was no mistaking its ethereal glow. It matched each Shard that Shane had touched.

    An idea immediately sprang to mind. He wasn't sure how much power the Hourglass had left, but perhaps he could make one Ultra Wormhole and send Lycanroc's victims back to the Aeon Observatory. After all, Comfey was in a much better position to help them than he was. The only problem was, in order to do that, Shane would have to touch the whole Hourglass. And after what had happened with the third Dawn Shard, Shane feared lapsing into another vision.

    It didn't take him long to accept the risk. Since he didn't have a rainbow scarf anymore, he was vulnerable. Even if he didn't know what would happen, the extra power would undoubtedly help everyone, wouldn't it? Satisfied, Shane bent over and picked the Hourglass' chipped handle up in his maw.

    Immediately, he looked back at the unconscious quartet. He focused his mind on thoughts of the Aeon Observatory's assembly area.

    'Send them there, please!'

    Just as he screwed his eyes shut, bright light made them snap open. A faint white outline appeared in front of Shane. Then, with a distorted flicker, the unconscious Pokémon disappeared and the outline faded. Shane immediately dropped the Dawn Hourglass to the ground.

    Despite letting go of it, however, white-hot pain shot up Shane's leg. He tensed up. A weak gasp escaped his lips. Shane doubled over.

    Then, in a blinding flash, he found himself staring down Chikorita and Fennekin again.

    "I… accept you!"

    Another flash. Now, Shane was looking at Yveltal, a Nuzleaf, and three Beheeyem struggling in midair, surrounded by dark, shadowy clouds.

    A third flash. Shane stared at the gray, decaying bark of a tree big enough to rival the tallest buildings in his hometown.

    "M-Make it stop!" Shane shouted. His cries successfully forced him back to reality. He nearly tripped over the Dawn Hourglass, but managed to collect himself.

    "So, this is where you ended up after she tore this place apart like wet tissue paper? My, how convenient!"

    Shane's heart jumped into his throat. "Th-that voice. No… it can't be!"

    "Heeheeheehee! What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see me? After all, it's me… your best friend."

    The ley line chains to Shane's right buckled. Shane grabbed the Dawn Hourglass and turned to run, but ley line chains shot out in front of him, forming a new wall that was far too large for him to scale. Shane spun around. His jaw dropped. The Hourglass tumbled to the ground and he scrambled to pick it back up.

    "N-Necrozma? You're… wait, what?" Shane watched Necrozma emerge from the bristling ley lines, his crystalline antlers sparking. Necrozma fixed his lone eye on Shane.

    "I was being facetious, of course. We're not friends… we're two sides of the same, demented coin," Necrozma said, licking his lips. "My, how so much can change in such a short amount of time." He looked at the Dawn Hourglass. "Unbelievable. Look at that! It's barely a shell of its true power!" Necrozma stomped a forehoof on the ground. "I can't believe you let a Lycanroc make such a mockery of my light like this!"

    Shane crouched low to the ground, growling at Necrozma. "C'mon, Nicky. Stop spouting a bunch of nonsense. I'm not letting you get your mitts on this. Can't we just talk for bit?"

    "As I told you last time, Nicky is dead," Necrozma replied, grinning. "My biggest regret is how much I let the remnants of his pathetic soul dictate my actions. I let his revenge twist the glorious chaos and destruction I sought." His grin widened. "But, I suppose, I can spare a little time to talk. After all, rebellious scum or not, we're still both cut from the bottomless fabric of the void. And now that I'm sure of that fact, there's something I'm just dying to tell you."

    "What are you talking about?" Shane said, Hourglass muffling his speech. "I told you not to spout nonsense! What do you mean you let revenge twist you?" He probed the Hourglass' dwindling light. Its golden energy flickered. "S-Start talking or else I'll, um, use this against you!"

    Necrozma's eye smoldered. "What's there to say? We did exactly the same thing, didn't we?" He paced to his right, keeping his eye fixed on Shane. "Let human thoughts and memories seep into our beings and transform us." Necrozma grinned again. "The big difference is you chose to do that, while I… I was forced into a human spirit."

    Shane summoned a fireball and knocked it at Necrozma. Ley line chains shot out from the wall on Necrozma's right. They stopped the attack, but melted into a sticky puddle of tar. It was like all the road construction sites Shane had gone past in his human life. He shrank back further, shaking his head. Shane wanted to believe he could pull the real Nicky out if he kept Necrozma talking. However, Necrozma's rambling made him increasingly doubtful.

    "Temper, temper. Is that any way to treat me? After all… if it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even exist!" Necrozma said, pointing a forehoof at Shane.

    "Yeah, sure, because you and Solgaleo got in a fight when you were attempting to drag me here… and I somehow ended up looking like this!" Shane barked, snorted out ice tufts. "I'm not falling for your games anymore. You… you've hurt too many people! If I can't get you back, Nicky, then I'm going to destroy you!"

    Necrozma studied Shane's fierce expression. Then, his stance slackened. "Heeheeheehee! Oh ho, this is just… just too much," he said, smacking a forehoof against the tar puddle. Shane stood tall, determined not to let Necrozma get under his skin. "You truly believe that, don't you? My, my. So, you really did abandon your old identity and cobble together a new one using my core and Light's pitiful excuse for a friend. This is… it's… beautiful? Ironic? How about beautifully ironic?" Slobber dripped into the tar puddle, splattering like raindrops striking a pond.

    "I should be furious. Incensed, even! But I… I just can't stop laughing!" Necrozma said between giggle fits.

    "This isn't funny!" Shane huffed. He spat out two fireballs this time. Necrozma blocked them with ley line chains, leading to more gooey puddles. This time, however, he stumbled back in a bit of a daze. Shane's ears stuck up. He could tell Necrozma didn't have the force in his attacks that he did the last time they had met. Shane figured Necrozma's battle with Zero must've left him drained.

    "Yeah, that's right. I bet you're talking to stall for time," Shane said, tightening his grip on the Dawn Hourglass. Maybe now was the time to absorb all its power? He could destroy Necrozma for good. Or, perhaps, he could use a Z-Move and see if that freed Nicky like it did all the infected and corrupted Pokémon.

    "Now, now. Won't you at least hear me out, first?" Necrozma said, grimacing as he straightened up. "What I have to say… it'll put to rest all the doubts that Hourglass has left you with."

    Shane tensed. "You're lying to get me to lower my guard."

    "Please. In case you haven't noticed…" Necrozma's antlers sparked. Cold metal brushed Shane's tails. He jumped forward with a yip, then immediately clamped back down on the Hourglass. Shane didn't have to look back to know there were ley line chains waving about like thin ribbons in a wind storm. "… you're surrounded. I could launch an attack, but I haven't."

    Necrozma sat on his haunches. "All you have to do is listen… and everything will make sense."

    Shane's eyes sparked with pink energy. "I don't believe you."

    "You want to know why I keep insisting that the Guiding Light is dead? Because he is," Necrozma said, voice dripping with venom. He stepped into one of the tar puddles and batted the slime aside. "That dumb old codger botched his alchemical spell and fractured the human's spirit. There's no way to undo that."

    "Pfbt. What kind of Voldemort horcrux nonsense are you spewing?" Shane scoffed, sticking his snout up.

    "You saw the footage for yourself. Your 'friend' arrived as a Growlithe. A Growlithe was one of the first people to perish by my claws," Necrozma countered, arms raised and claws twitching. "Heartbreak had consumed what was left of Light's spirit… leaving room for the void — the same power making up the ley lines running through the planet — to take control. That is what I truly am! Fragments of the void mashed up with ley lines and the embittered remnants of a human soul."

    Necrozma shook his head. "I didn't expect Solgaleo and Lunala to show up and imprison me. And I certainly didn't expect what remained of Light's spirit to develop a rage strong enough to seep into my thoughts and actions." Necrozma's eye smoldered. "But, alas, it's the truth. Light's memories and rage subsumed my being. I became obsessed with destruction for the sake of revenge on the people who had hurt and betrayed him."

    Shane's tails curled up. He told himself it was an elaborate hoax. Even if he didn't really understand how spirits worked, Nicky was still inside Necrozma. He had to be. And yet, the fanatical look in Necrozma's eye made his fur stand on end. Shane gulped. "But you're, uh, not obsessed with revenge anymore?"

    "Correct. While trying to get the Dusk Hourglass, I found that, the more I used alchemy and ley lines, the more I chipped away at these nagging, intrusive thoughts," Necrozma said, jabbing the ground repeatedly with a forehoof and kicking up chunks of crystal. Shane winced. "Now, those memories may still be there, but I don't care about them anymore. If anything, they're evidence of what grand mistakes these worlds are and why they must be destroyed."

    Necrozma grinned. Drool seeped from his lips. "Still, while all of this was going on, I did remember something quite important. Which leads me to you, Shane."

    "I've already seen what happened when you tried to summon me!" Shane said. The Dawn Hourglass flared.

    "Yes. That was, admittedly, a foolhardy decision born of Light's remnant anger," Necrozma said, sighing. "It proved quite costly, since the center of my core up and disappeared on me in the process."

    "It— wait, what?" Shane's ears flattened against his head. He had no idea what Necrozma meant.

    "To gain back control of her body, Zero forced part of my core inside Lunala. The center part, to be exact," Necrozma explained, smacking the wall to his left. "At first, I didn't make the connection. I wasn't sure why I couldn't use my Photon Geyser or Prismatic Laser."

    "Okay, I was humoring you, but now you're definitely making stuff up," Shane said, stepping forward with newfound confidence. "If your core houses your spirit—"

    "Please. I have an empty soul," Necrozma sneered.

    "Whatever." Shane rolled his eyes. "Point is, if you didn't have a part of your core in Lunala, how were you able to possess her?"

    "Oh, come now. That's what's stumping you?" Necrozma threw his head back and laughed. Shane narrowed his eyes. He wouldn't let Necrozma unnerve him. "Use those stolen human memories of yours, spawn. It's the Prism Virus, of course. Once my core fragment was inside, I was free to spread my corrupted Z-Power through her. The core fragment was like the tick that seeded the infection. It'd been in place so long, I had an iron grip on her spirit by the time it disappeared."

    "Aaaand you've lost me," Shane said, looking bored.

    Necrozma chuckled. "You really did pick quite the idiot to forge a new identity from, didn't you?"

    "What's that supposed to mean, huh?" Shane huffed. "Sure, I've done a lot of foolish stuff, but I'm not like you!"

    "Not like me? Heeheeheehee! Boy, you are me!" Necrozma declared, his antlers and eye flashing purple.

    "Pfbt. Oh, so now you're jumping from being a Voldemort knockoff to a Xehanort-Vader hodgepodge?" Shane said, warmth spreading across his body. "You really are desperate, aren't you?"

    "I see you couldn't quite ditch that tendency to stick your foot in your mouth," Necrozma crooned. "All right, wise guy. You seem so sure of yourself, then answer this." He licked his lips. "Those powers the Dawn Hourglass gave you… whose abilities do you think they are?"

    "Solgaleo's, of course! Because the Dawn Hourglass has the means to restore him back to life," Shane declared. The Hourglass sparked with golden light.

    "That may be true, but you're wrong," Necrozma said. "Those special abilities you've been using? They're mine. Why was I able to invade your dream space so easily? And why do you think you can use golden energy balls? Because you stole my Photon Geyser when you forced your way out of Lunala's body! You just needed enough light to make it happen… and the Dawn Shards gave you that light." Necrozma shook his head and muttered, "To think you were clinging to that one stupid gesture of kindness the whole time you sat in the center of my core after burrowing your way in there."

    Shane shrank back, despite knowing chains lay in wait behind him. That couldn't be right. Necrozma was making it all up. But then… it would certainly explain why he saw himself getting dragged through an Ultra Wormhole from Necrozma's perspective. Still, he refused to believe the claim. "Y-You're lying," he squeaked, most of his resolve having faltered.

    "Not in the slightest. You were never going to be a hero, because you weren't supposed to exist in the first place!" Necrozma shouted, dousing Shane in spittle. "Your spirit isn't human… and it isn't a Pokémon, either. You're my central core fragment! You're Dark Matter!"

    Though Necrozma launched no attack, a stabbing pain gripped Shane's chest. His ribs tightened. His knees buckled. The world was closing in on him. "N-No. That's not… that can't be…" His tails shot between his legs. "I saw Solgaleo's memories!"

    "A side effect of Dark Matter desperately cobbling together what little remained of your spirits after I atomized you both with my Prismatic Laser," Necrozma said, an unhinged smile on his face. "I imagine Ultra Space's radiation also played a role in making you a Vulpix in the first place."

    "I… I can't… I refuse…"

    "Heehee… heeheeheehee! Yes! There it is! The moment I was waiting for!" Necrozma said, hopping about like a kid who'd gotten the perfect birthday gift. "That look… a look of utter hopelessness and despair! How I've longed to see that plastered across your face. It almost makes this entire farce worth it."

    Shane's ears were ringing. Necrozma's voice sounded like it was a mile away. He wasn't Dark Matter. He couldn't be. He was Shane… a loser who had stumbled into something bigger than himself, but who refused to back down… and found steadfast friends because of it. That wasn't just some lie. His memories weren't fake. His sense of self wasn't fake… was it?

    "W-Why—" he rasped, but his words escaped him.

    "Think about it, 'Shane.' I've seen enough of Light's memories to know you were a manipulative, self-centered jerk," Necrozma explained, the triumphant grin never leaving his face. "But your guilt-tripping and temper tantrums don't come close to your outright spiteful treatment of your so-called friends during your early weeks at the guild." His eye glowed bright-orange. "You dragged yourself into a downward spiral of negativity. And who, pray tell, is the embodiment of negativity in this world?"

    The ringing in Shane's ears grow louder. He tried to meet Necrozma's gaze, but his vision was so blurry that all he could see was a black, circular mass.

    "That's right… it's Dark Matter!" Necrozma continued, arms twitching. "When I said we were both cut from the same cloth, I meant it." He paced around the tar puddles. "The ley line chains spread throughout the world… they stem from the Voidlands, the true core of this planet." He paused to look at Shane, who was staring at the ground with a distant look in his eyes.

    "Heeheeheehee. At one point, the Voidlands was a living, breathing entity. An unthinking, uncaring, soulless creature trying to tear its planetary prison apart with its ley line chains," Necrozma continued. He jabbed a forehoof into the wall in his left. The chains bristled. "But, as time wore on, the ley lines closest to the planet's surface sucked in the emotions of any Pokémon who got trapped within them. All that negativity… it was emotional glue that made the ley lines stick together.

    "Slowly but surely, this writhing mass of negativity started to think— to feel," Necrozma continued, twirling ley line chains around his forehoof. To Shane, voice sounded even more muffled than before. "Before long… a soul emerged from the emptiness: Dark Matter. Or, rather you." Necrozma yanked his forehoof back, tearing some of the chains off the wall. "You took some of my power for your own. You cast souls down into the Voidlands. Since I lacked a mind of my own, I simply destroyed whatever spirits I could."

    Necrozma shook his head. "I had no idea that you would try hurtling the planet into the sun. If I could've understood, I'd have been rightfully furious. Since, as the planet's core, I'd have been extinguished along with everyone else." Necrozma flicked his foreleg up. He blasted the broken ley line chains with red beams from his antlers. Their liquified remains splattered against the ground.

    "Not long after… I'd find myself getting sucked out from the planet's core and stuffed inside a powerful new body with a human soul," Necrozma said. "His soul shaped me… much as the world's negativity shaped you into your original form." Necrozma chuckled, keeping his eye fixed on Shane.

    "Sh… shut up," Shane rasped. His legs were shaking so badly, he couldn't get them to stop. He just needed one attack. One blast with the Dawn Hourglass' power and he could silence Necrozma for good. Why wasn't it working? Why couldn't he do it?

    "When I finally gained control as Necrozma, only to be imprisoned, I spent a long time festering in the emptiness of the Ultra Nexus, gathering what little morsels of energy I could to try and force my way out. All the while, Light's rage gradually swelled," Necrozma continued. "And once I had finally managed to pry open an Ultra Wormhole to escape, imagine my surprise when I discover your original form on the other side."

    Eye smoldering, Necrozma's arms spasm and he thrashes his head around in a poor impression of Silvally when he still had his mask. "A Fennekin hugged you… causing some blast that sent me tumbling away from the wormhole. It shut and I lost my chance at escaping." Necrozma snorted out shadowy tufts. "But your remains had wound up in the Nexus with me. You had light… and I wanted it. So, I shoved you into my core!"

    Shane squeezed his eyes shut. That would explain how Tapu Lele could make a Dark Matter clone when Necrozma infected her.

    "I could never have realized that that embrace I witnessed — that one, single gesture of kindness that you received — would be the one memory that you would cling to," Necrozma growled, smacking his arms together. "I assumed that, since you were once part of the void, you would synchronize with the rest of my core and help me destroy this world. Instead, you turned against me! You honestly thought you could reinvent and redeem yourself. Bah! How disgusting!

    "When I was weakened and vulnerable after vaporizing Solgaleo and the real Shane, you must've forced you out of Lunala." Necrozma thrust his arms up. "Then, you used the center core fragment to draw in whatever light you could from Shane's fading spirit and mix it with energy from Ultra Space. Thus, you were reborn as Vulpix Shane."

    Necrozma finally turned back to Shane, grinning. "Heeheeheehee… but I've finally seen through all your smoke and mirrors. You're a freak, just like I am! With the mind and consciousness of a human, the body of a Pokémon, and a shell of a spirit… derived from the power of the void." Necrozma bared jagged, crystal teeth at Shane. "We are embodiments of chaos!"

    Shane glared back at Necrozma, but his mind was a total blank.

    "Hmm? So, there's still a spark of defiance left in you, even after all of that?" Sighing, Necrozma shrugged. "Fine. Then I'll play along with your ruse, Shane." He cleared his throat. "Heeheeheehee. If only Dark Matter had known the kind of person you were, Shane. Perhaps it wouldn't have made such a foolish decision." He smirked. "It wanted to reinvent itself, but all it did was take all of your worst attributes and drag them out for everyone to see. Not that you didn't do plenty of that on your own, of course.

    "Whatever happened to you in that swamp, though… it actually seems to have changed you," Necrozma whispered. "If Light were still in control, he'd find this tragic. Here his friend is, on the cusp of finally becoming a good, relatable person. Only it's too late. This world— no, every world's fate is sealed! And neither you nor Light can do anything about it."

    Necrozma raised his arms up. His eye and antlers crackled with dark energy. "All this means is that Light's meager remnants can take pleasure in killing Shane a second time! Heeheehe— huh?!"

    He jumped back, narrowly dodging a golden beam that tore across the ground and kicked up gem shards. Necrozma's eye widened. Shane stood up straight, eyes narrowed and the Dawn Hourglass gripped firmly in his mouth.

    "Or I can use the powers I apparently stole from you to make it so that you can never trouble anyone again!" Shane shouted.

    Necrozma staggered backward. "Fool! Stand down!" Ley line chains slithered forward from the wall, but they retreated under the Hourglass' glow. "N… no. What's going on? This is impossible!" He looked at Shane. Light spilled across him from the Hourglass. Necrozma's arms shriveled up. "I… can't… fail… here!"

    He lunged for the light.

    XxX​

    "Any sign of the others?" Blaziken asked, walking along the middle of a large, circular platform. Floating rocks and crystals surrounded it, many connected by crisscrossing sets of ley line chains. It made his feathers stand on end. He hadn't felt pressure like this since his first time climbing Sky Tower. And there was no Rayquaza to bail him out, from the look of things.

    "No. This place is like a psychic's worst nightmare!" Mew said, shaking his head. "And, before you ask, I am not floating any higher than this." He spun around to show off the scorched, smoldering end of his tail. "Because I'm not keen on getting my butt zapped a second time today."

    "Couldn't you just heal that off? It doesn't even look serious," Swampert said, scratching his head.

    "I could, but I'm trying to conserve my energy," Mew harrumphed, crossing his tiny arms.

    "He's probably doing that so he can keep whining about it," Swampert whispered.

    "Whining? I ain't whining!" Mew snapped, zipping in front of Team Go-Getters. "You wanna hear whining? This is whining!" Mew flopped to the ground and banged his arms and legs against it, yelling, "Waah! It's cold and dark and depressing here! I wanna go home! Why won't my Teleport work? This day sucks! I hate all of you! I never should've joined that dinky Expedition Society!"

    "Okay, okay, we get it!" Blaziken said, hands pressed against his head.

    Smirking, Mew floated up. "Great. Now that that's settled, we can—"

    A golden explosion erupted several feet in front of them, blowing away chunks of the platform.

    "Eep!" Mew quickly flew behind Blaziken and tried to shove him forward.

    "Hey! What are you doing?"

    "You're the leader… you investigate!" Mew said, grunting from the strain of Blaziken's weight.

    Blaziken grabbed Mew by the tail. "We'll investigate together," he said, ignoring Mew's pouting as he approached the blast site alongside Swampert. "Think you can clear the air a bit, Mew?"

    Mew, still dangling upside down, waved his hand dismissively. The smoke disappeared, revealing a smoldering crater of charred metal and crystal. "W-Whoa. Is this from Shrackaquacka exploding?" Swampert wondered.

    "No, there's something wrong with this picture," Blaziken said, rubbing his chin. "Ah! Look over there!" He pointed a talon toward a thick patch of ice. Several other ice patches of different shapes and sizes lay around it. Locks of white hair floated by the trio, but the strands were too thin for any of them to notice.

    "What kind of explosion makes fire and ice?" Swampert asked, tapping a foot on the ground.

    "Ah! N-No way!" Mew squealed.

    "What is it, Mew?" Blaziken asked, hoisting Mew up to eye level.

    "Well, lemme go and I'll show you," Mew said, squirming about in Blaziken's grasp. Blaziken complied and Mew zipped down into the crater. After a few seconds, he reappeared, levitating a large, Xerneas-shaped crystal beside him.

    Blaziken gasped. "What the— Xerneas?! When did she get here?" He winced when Mew dropped Xerneas to the ground.

    "I… I dunno. But if this is what's left of Xerny, then…" Mew's normally childish expression now looked quite shaken. "What about the Tree of Life?"

    Blaziken tensed up, then gulped. It was a worrying situation, to be sure, but he had to keep a brave face for the sake of his friends. "We can't let it worry us right now. The planet's paralyzed, right? So, the tree should be frozen, too. No harm can come of it. Let's focus on the issue at hand," he said, though he had no idea how truthful that was.

    Mew's tail drooped. "R-Right." He put a paw on Xerneas' chest, only to pull it away, then float up into the air, tail crinkling in surprise. "H-Hey, guys? W-What's that?" He pointed down at Xerneas' chest. The others followed his gaze, only to raise confused eyebrows.

    An orange butterfly sat on Xerneas' chest, slowly flapping her luminescent wings. Blaziken stared at it skeptically. He had a nagging feeling he'd seen something like this before — possibly in his human life — but couldn't quite remember what he was looking at.

    "I think it's looking at me funny. I'm gonna zapinate it!" Mew said, raising his sparking hands.

    "How can it look at you funny? It doesn't even have a face," Swampert said. Then, after a beat, he added, "And what the heck kind of word is 'zapinate?'"

    "It's like burninating, but lemon-flavored," Mew said. However, before he could make the butterfly into a butterfry, she released a dazzling emerald light. It spread across Xerneas' body, shattering it like fine china. Mew backed several yards away. "Aiyee! Get that freak of nature away from me!"

    Blaziken spat a Flamethrower from his beak, but the butterfly flew into the air. His flames turned bright-green and surrounded her. The green shifted to pink and the butterfly suddenly vanished into a heart-shaped cone of fire.

    "Get down, buddy!"

    Swampert tackled Blaziken to the ground. Two blue fireballs soared over them and exploded in the distance. Mew stiffened. As the flames died down, the trio spotted a dark-gray tail poking out.

    "T… Two-y?" Mew squeaked.

    The rest of the flames subsided, revealing a creature with Mewtwo's familiar, wiry build. However, her torso, arms, and legs were coated in white, chitinous armor with a black centerpiece. Stripes of white fur ran down her arms and legs. A black helmet with orange horns covered her head, obscuring everything but two beady, blue eyes.

    "No, wait…" Mew tilted his head to the side. "Your aura… it's like a Volcarona's. What the heck's going on here? Two-y… it's me! Your bestest buddy, Mew!" He waved his hands about frantically.

    Blaziken and Swampert were back on their feet the instant "Mewtwo" rose higher into the air. "Something tells me that isn't your buddy," Blaziken said, frowning and getting into a fighting stance. "The helmet, exoskeleton, and wings look way too much like a Volcanora."

    Volcarona lifted the head of her new body. She raised her left hand and touched her three fingers together. In a flicker of emerald fire, a blade shaped much like Rayquaza's serpentine form appeared. She grabbed hold of it, pointed it at Mew, then disappeared in a puff of orange fire.

    "Huh? That's it?" Mew slackened. "It just ran away?"

    Mew's ears twitched. He had just enough to turn around before flames seared him. Swampert caught Mew before he could slam into the ground. "Unnngh… what just hit me?" Mew coughed up a mouthful of smoke.

    "Your 'buddy' did," Blaziken said. "I hope you two are ready, because I'm not even sure how we begin to approach this."

    Volcarona raised her sword high, then dove at Team Go-Getters.

    XxX

    ~Rainbow Island~

    Oricorio rubbed the pom-pom ends of her wings together, generating sparks. While the rest of the island was devoid of color, with trees frozen mid-sway and cherry blossom leaves suspended in midair, the pool in the center of Ho-Oh's shrine had somehow flared to life.

    "Oh, what to do? What to do?" she said, hopping back and forth in front of the pool. Oricorio knew the answer, of course. Totem Ninetales instructed her to report any discrepancies to her as soon as possible. The problem was, she wasn't sure if she'd be able to reach Totem Ninetales with the planet paralyzed.

    Oricorio pressed her pom-poms together and silently prayed that the guild was on top of this crises. Even though she'd caused an awkward situation when she had put in her request to get nectar, the team she had met seemed nice. And, according to Totem Ninetales, they'd accomplished a lot since they'd taken her job.

    She paused to look at the pool again. White, ethereal trails swirled about inside the pool, like miniature comets soaring through outer space. Oricorio became so engrossed in the pool that the sounds of approaching wingbeats made her jump up and squawk in alarm. She desperately flapped her wings to make sure she landed safely on the other side of the pool.

    Oricorio looked up to find a golden fireball hovering above her. She jumped, squawking in fright once again. Her pom-poms crackled with lightning and she was about to zap the fireball when its flames subsided. Oricorio landed on the ground and fell on her rear. Her beak opened wide.

    "L-Lady Ho-Oh? I, but… this doesn't make any sense! W-Why are you gold?!" she stuttered, scooching away from the pool. Oricorio scrambled to her feet so she could bow properly.

    "Lady?" a deep, male voice responded. Oricorio looked up. The golden Ho-Oh landed opposite her, head tilted. "Ah, I see. I'm afraid there's been a bit of a mix-up. I was hoping to actually find Lady Ho-Oh, myself. You're, eh, a bit too small and yellow, I'm afraid." He added an amused chuckle for good measure.

    Oricorio's beak opened in disbelief. "I-I'm Oricorio. I maintain the shrine here… f-for Lady Ho-Oh." She gulped. "W-Who are you?"

    "Ah, forgive me. I'm Ephemeris… the original Ho-Oh of this world."

    XxX
    There you have it. The big secret regarding Shane's spirit is finally out. I could go on a whole rant about how nervous this chapter has made me. I don't really follow Game of Thrones, but I saw the internet outrage in response to its last season and I've been very afraid this revelation would get a similarly negative response. This was foreshadowed; the moves Shane got were all ones Necrozma can use and the memories became more twisted the more Dawn Shards he got. Any comments or thoughts would be greatly appreciated for this.

    On a lighter note, I bet no one was expecting that random shiny Ho-Oh from Gates to Infinity — who Shane actually brought up in his conversation with Magearna way back in Episode 4 — to be significant, huh? ;)

    Next time: desperate struggles to free entangled spirits!
     
    git-it likes this.
  17. git-it

    git-it New Member

    Hey there! The last three weeks, I enjoyed reading your story and wanted to show some appreciation by writing this reply. I realize the most satisfying way would be a review, but I think this would be hard for currently 91 chapters and a bunch of special chapters. Please forgive me, I registered just a week ago on serebii after being sure the day will come I write this(,that's the reason you experienced the like-storm thad I triggered when I skimmed threw the chapters I already read when I still had no account), and I have to say I'm not experienced with reviewing.
    I won’t enter into detail, but you could see tendencys of what I liked most and/or was most touching by looking for where I left a like. I may have overskimmed some by mistake, but I think I found most. I really like how you light the facettes of the characters and let us look behind the behaviours of them by showing more and more of them, also if it isn’t directly connected with the main story.
    I think, looking back, Chapter 43 was my favourite chapter, so maybe I will set focus on it. Seeing Null at his lowest point made me sad. But having his friends strenghtening his back, this made me touched. Yes, Tessa was first confused about what she saw, and Shane may not have been the best friend before, but helping Null accepting himself to become Silvally… don’t anybody tell me he didn’t cried reading.
    When I read chapter 91, when Necrozma told ‘Shane’ he wasn’t Shane, I had to think of a perfect matching quote if Shane will experience a identity crisis. Silvally, reciting Shane’s quote “The circumstances of one's birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” This would be the overkill.
    I worry that this story will not last very long from the point we reached, remembering some of your pre- and post-post comments… (hehe post-post.. sorry for that lame word joke)
    But I am confident you will make the best of the time we are stuck with you ;)

    Sorry if I spoilered someone by mistake, but I have no idea how to handle the mobile editor on this page...
     
  18. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    I'm flattered that you did this! It really brightened up my day to see it. It's always hard to know if there are people silently reading up on this, so I greatly appreciate seeing new folks give their thoughts. And welcome to the forums, too!

    Happy to hear it. I think at this point I can safely say the characters are the big focus of the fic, even if there is a large, overarching plot running through everything.

    Well, I'm glad I'm able to write a PMD story that evokes feels in the same way the games do. That's what I was hoping for!

    Well, if I told you whether that will happen or not, I'd just spoil all the fun! Gonna have to stick around and find out. ;P

    I will try my best. Speaking of which, here's the next chapter. So, enjoy! :D

    XxX

    Chapter 92: One Grand Spirited Defense
    With her Mega Evolution active, Latias flew in a wide arc around Lugia. The last time she'd encountered him, Necrozma had made things too chaotic for her to get a good sense of what had happened to her mate. Now, Latias could see the chunks of Prism Armor bolted to his chest, fins, and wings. The green flames flickering in his red eyes left her with a nagging sense of familiarity, but she wasn't sure why.

    Lugia, for his part, seemed stunned by Latias' newfound speed. Like a cat focusing in on a shiny object, he spun around, trying to track Latias' movement. Purple wings slammed together, but Latias was well out of the way of the fierce cyclone Lugia kicked up. She continued her arc, which made her attempts at aiming a Shadow Ball difficult. Luckily, Lugia made for a big target. She tossed the Shadow Ball at his left side.

    Unfortunately, Lugia wasn't that slow on the uptake. He batted the Shadow Ball away with a wing, then screeched out a distorted caw.

    On the ground, Haxorus grabbed hold of a squealing Raichu. "H-Haxy! What are you—"

    "Latias is giving us an opening and we've gotta capitalize!" Haxorus grunted. She hurled her mate into the air. Raichu managed to collect her composure in time to shoot lightning from her cheeks. Lugia craned his neck around, only for Latias to zoom by and clip him in the neck with a glowing wing. Lugia squawked in surprise, then seized up when the lightning hit.

    "Yes!" Raichu fell back to the ground, fist-pumping. Her smile disappeared when Lugia's eyes flashed and dispelled the electricity. He arced his head back. Latias saw the armored fins on is back glow like Meganium's petals when she was charging a Solar Beam. Only, instead of grass energy, purple air gathered in Lugia's gaping maw.

    "Guys, get out of there!" Latias shouted. She was about to zip in and grab them when Lugia exhaled, unleashing a purple waveform beam that tore up crystal and metal shards from the ground. "No! Lugia, stop!" she screamed, concentrating until she spat out a Dragon Pulse beam twice her size.

    Lugia turned, the waveform beam following. Latias' eyes bugged out. She cut her attack and flew off. But instead of relief, pain teared across her back and tears stung her eyes. Latias dropped from the air, dazed and confused as to what hit her. She managed to collect herself. Though the world was still spinning, she noticed one of the floating crystal lattices glowing with red energy. Her nostrils twitched and she recognized the familiar aroma of burnt feathers.

    So, not only was Lugia a problem, but all the traps Zero had scattered around the area were reacting to their battle. Latias gnashed her teeth in frustration. It was hard enough to focus, knowing she was hurting her mate. She couldn't possibly split her attention between him and all the traps. It was all too much to juggle. What was she supposed to do?

    Relax.

    Latias' eyes snapped widened. She looked about, but all she saw was Lugia turning toward the teams on the ground. And yet, she'd heard his voice, just like before.

    When you find yourself getting worked up and can't think straight… take a second and clear your head. It's easy for a psychic to lose themselves with so much happening in a battle. Calm Mind helps alleviate that.

    Of course. How could she forget about that technique? Latias took a deep breath and imagined a raindrop striking a still pond, creating many ripples. A sudden burst of energy flooded through her system and, with it, an idea came to mind. With no time to waste, Latias focused on the nearest floating star-rock. She grabbed hold of it with her ESP.

    With Lugia diving toward the ground, she hurled the sparking rock into him, catching him totally off guard. A mixture of triumph and guilt tussled in her mind when the rock exploded and brought Lugia's divebomb to a clumsy, crashing finale. He rolled across the ground, groaning.

    "There's another opening!" Haxorus cried, unsheathing Dragon Claws and charging. Infernape sped ahead of her with his Flame Wheel. Raichu kept her distance, opting to zap Lugia with lightning. He thrashed about in pain, still too dazed from his impact. Raichu cut the attack off seconds before Infernape slammed into Lugia's left foot. An agonized cry didn't even have time to escape his lips before Haxorus slashed Lugia's right foot, leaving bloody gashes in his purple, scale-like feathers.

    "Guys, be careful! I'm the one who has to land the finishing blow if we're going to free him!" Latias shouted, zipping past them while gathering a Mist Ball between her claws. "Lugia! Please, Lugia! I know you can hear me! It's… it's Latias! It's your mate! You've got to fight the corrupted Z-Power!"

    Lugia stopped thrashing and looked up. The green flames crackling in his eyes simmered down. He titled his head. Latias eyes sparkled. He recognized her. She was sure of it. "Y-Yes, that's it! Like that! R-Remember everything we've done together? L-Like the training lessons before we started dating. You'd go behind Rayquaza's back and—"

    At the mention of Rayquaza, the green flames erupted in Lugia's eyes once again. His body flashed blue. A giant wave spread out around him, sweeping up Infernape and Haxorus.

    "H-Hang on, buddy! I'll save you!" Feraligatr shouted, rushing toward the wave. He failed to notice the ectoplasmic puddle that formed in his path until he stepped into it. A pillar of shadows with two piercing, green eyes engulfed Feraligatr, drowning out his cries.

    "Lugia, no! Stop!" Latias begged, hurling the Mist Ball straight down. With a vindictive grin, Lugia melted into the ground, leaving only black vapors behind. The Mist Ball exploded, vaporizing the last of Lugia's dying Surf wave. It left a drenched Haxorus sitting on the ground, gripping her head. Infernape, on the other hand, was down for the count.

    Latias knew she had the vantage point in the sky to see what was up, but she had the nagging itch to swoop down and help Feraligatr tend to Infernape. That need evaporated in the face of a large, shadowy puddle moving in Haxorus' direction. "Oh crud!" she squealed. Concentrating, she hoisted a startled Haxorus and Raichu into the air.

    Moments later, a purple phantom head shot up from the ground, with teeth easily as big as Latias. The sight frightened her so much she nearly lost her psychic grip, but managed to yank Haxorus and Raichu out of the way of the giant maw just before it closed shut. It sank back into the ground.

    "Th-that… what was that?!" Raichu asked, paw clutching her chest and staring bug-eyed at the now-clear battlefield.

    "Dunno… but whatever it is, it's heading for Team Poképals!" Haxorus cried, spitting a blue-purple fireball toward the puddle. It harmlessly fizzled out against the ground. Feraligatr looked toward the oncoming shadows and tried to hoist the now-conscious Infernape to his feet.

    Latias acted first, lifting them into the air. The effort strained her. Muscles and veins bulged out on the back of neck. She had no choice but to lower Team Paradise down to the ground in order to hoist Team Poképals higher. No phantom rose out of the ground this time, however. Latias stared at the shadow pool in confusion. She could clearly see it. Why wasn't it doing anything? Did it know she had lifted them up?

    "Try attacking that spot!" Latias said, too focused on her levitation to form up any attacks. Fire and water rained down on the puddle from above. Haxorus and Raichu added dragonfire and lightning. The puddle bubbled like a boiling stew. Latias yanked Team Poképals over in her direction. And yet, the shadow pool still refused to budge.

    Something wasn't right. Had Lugia created a decoy? Latias scrunched her face up. If only the ley lines weren't interfering so badly with her aura-reading abilities, she could tell for certain.

    Latias didn't have to wait long for an answer, however. The puddle erupted into a shadow geyser. A water vortex formed up around it. On the ground, Raichu yelped. Haxorus grabbed her by the tail and pulled her close. She dug her Dragon Claws into the ground. "Nnggh. We could… use a little… help down here!" Haxorus cried.

    But Latias had her own problems to tend to. The cyclone was far more ferocious than she anticipated, drawing closer despite her attempts to fly away from it. Ice Beams shot out of gaps in the water. One blindsided Latias from her right. It was colder than any ice attack she'd ever dealt with. Her psychic grip on Team Poképals slipped.

    "Waah! W-Wait… this isn't good!" Feraligatr hollered, flailing in midair as the cyclone drew him and Infernape in. Their attempts at blasting through it with a Hydro Pump and a Flamethrower failed spectacularly.

    Gritting her teeth through the pain, Latias fired a desperate Dragon Pulse, but ice engulfed the blue bolt and struck her right wing. Screams escaped her lips as the limb went numb. She didn't need it to fly, of course, but the chilling pain was too much to bear. Craning her neck to the point her muscles burned, Latias coughed up a small plume of dragonfire. It thankfully melted the ice away.

    "Somebody help us!"

    Feraligatr's cries jolted to Latias to attention. They were only a foot from the cyclone. She had to act right away. Latias scanned the air and found another star-shaped rock. Despite the cyclone pulling her in, too, Latias hurled the rock into the water vortex. It immediately exploded. The cyclone fell away and Team Poképals plummeted from the air. Latias couldn't react fast enough. They struck the ground with a pair of loud crunches.

    She wanted to swoop in and heal them, but something sharp grazed her already-injured wing. Latias squealed. Bloody feathers fell away behind her. Her vision blurred. Across from her, Lugia raised his wings, then thrust them down. Arrow-like globs of ectoplasm rained down on the battle field.

    One clipped Latias' left wing. Then another struck her slender left arm. She dropped toward the ground, writhing in pain. Her breath came in short gasps.

    "You've gotta be kidding me!" Haxorus growled. Her attempts at dodging Lugia's shadow arrows looked like some sort of awkward dance routine and Raichu wasn't faring much better. At the very least, Haxorus managed to make it over to Team Poképals and jam a pair of Reviver Seeds into their mouths. Still, they were slow to get up and Lugia was fast to act, flapping his wings and generating a mighty gust of wind that blew Haxorus and Team Poképals across the battlefield.

    Latias hit the ground a few yards away from them. She struggled to breathe. All she could think about was the last time this had happened. Images of Necrozma clutching her wounded brother flashed through her mind. His pained cries echoed inside her head.

    A distant spark and an annoyed grunt managed to snap her out of her trance. In the distance, Raichu backed away nervously. Lugia looked down at her. His red eyes glowed pink. Raichu rose into the air.

    Latias eyes bugged out. She forced herself to steady her breathing. Calm, healing energy washed over her. The burning in her left limb died down. Latias shot into the air, turned herself upright, and drove herself right into Lugia's armored chest.

    "Lugia, listen to me! I know you don't want to do this!" she shouted, pushing her metal-coated wing against his armor as hard as she could and begging it to crack or show some other sign it was weakening. Lugia cawed his protests. The air thinned around Latias, she zipped away seconds before a purple waveform beam tore through the air.

    However, to Latias' horror, the Shadow Blast reflected off a floating crystal. Latias pulled up, barely skirting the blast. Lugia followed her, trying to drag her toward him with his Psychic. Latias found herself slowing down. She couldn't let Lugia catch up with her, though. In an attempt at disrupting him, she somersaulted and spat a Shadow Ball toward his face. Stunned, Lugia redirected his ESP toward snuffing out the Shadow Ball.

    Latias threw caution to the wind and divebombed him. She drove a Steel Wing into his chest once again. This time, his armor cracked. Elation flooded Latias. Her Mega Evolution was pulling through. "Think, Lugia! I know you remember me. Listen to my voice! We can stop this fight… just let me knock you out and you'll be free from all of this," she said, pushing away before he could retaliate.

    Luckily, lightning and dragonfire hit Lugia's foot from below. He hoisted it up in surprise, only for a fireball to strike the base of his tail. Infernape fell back to the ground, where Feraligatr caught him.

    "You all right?" Feraligatr asked.

    "Just… don't ever mention that to anyone back at the guild," Infernape said, shuddering.

    "Well, at least you can say you literally kicked Lugia's ass," Feraligatr offered, grinning cheekily. Infernape pushed his mouth shut.

    Latias sighed, relieved the two were feeling good enough to tease each other. That didn't mean she could let up, however. The green flames in Lugia's eyes told her he was still ready to fight. Even worse, she could see him gliding toward the ground. She'd seen this before. He was going to Roost and get back his strength.

    "Guys! He'll use Roost if we don't get in his way!" Latias cried. She loosened herself up and took another calming breath. A fresh wave of energy spread through her. Latias shot a blue bolt toward Lugia's backside, far bigger than the ones she'd used earlier.

    Raichu tugged Haxorus' arm. "Yeah, yeah, I got it," Haxorus said. She spat dragonfire toward Lugia's belly. Raichu added her electricity. Lugia stopped and shredded through their attacks with wind crescents. This left his backside completely exposed, though. Latias didn't wait for her attack to hit home before zipping away.

    Her prediction Lugia would turn around came true. Having successfully flanked him, Latias fired another Dragon Pulse. Team Paradise levied dragonfire and lightning from below. Lugia again focused only on the attacks he could see. Latias' bolt slammed his back, shattering some of his crystal fins.

    Lugia wobbled unsteadily in midair. His caws were softer than before. Latias didn't dare open her mouth for fear of jinxing things. This time, however, she couldn't get an attack off fast enough. One mighty flap of his wings was all Lugia needed to shoot up high above Latias. He clapped his wings together. Dozens of shadow arrows streamed down from his position.

    Latias tucked her wings in and made a beeline for Team Poképals. She bucked them onto her back, ignoring their cries of protest. "Hang on tight!" she said, turning sideways to weave through Lugia's shadow arrows. It only took a few seconds to reach Team Paradise's position. "All right. Together, everyone," she said, righting herself and firing a Mist Ball straight up.

    Raichu caught on first and added a Thunderbolt. Haxorus shot dragonfire into the mix. Then, a Flamethrower and Hydro Pump gush joined the expanding Mist Ball. It exploded, filling the sky with a pink cloud that wouldn't have looked out of place in a painting. The mist shielded them from any shadow arrows and gave Latias the necessary cover to shoot into the air.

    She burst through the mist as if she was shooting out of a body of water. However, she had misjudged the distance she needed to reach Lugia. She had to abandon her assault and roll right, else Lugia's incoming Shadow Blast would tear through her. Latias released a Shadow Ball, but Lugia predictably batted it away. He snapped at the air with his jaw, eyes flashing between red and green.

    Latias wasn't sure to make of his behavior. "C'mon, Lugia. We don't have time to keep fighting like this. Zero is poised to wipe both of us out with Dialga's power. Is that what you want? What about our life together?" She squirmed about in midair. "What about trying to start a famil— eeahh!"

    An unseen force grabbed Latias' arms and yanked them in opposing directions. Her words turned to screams. She was sure Lugia's Psychic would pop her arms out of their joints in seconds. But then the pain faded away, leaving Latias floundering in midair and blinking stars from her vision.

    Below her, Haxorus hit the ground, legs buckling. "O-Ow. He was… much higher up than I thought," she grunted.

    "Well, you still did good," Raichu said, smiling at her mate. "Now it's my turn!" Lugia snarled down at her, his slobber descending on Team Paradise like a brief summer downpour. Raichu stood tall and zapped Lugia with lightning from a thundercloud. It startled him briefly, but he shrugged the blow off when he twisted around, forming a shadowy vortex.

    "Oh, great. This again!" Haxorus growled, summoning her Dragon Claws and digging them into the ground. However, unlike last time, the vortex didn't stay in place. Lugia hurled the vortex in Team Paradise's direction. Haxorus' eyes widened. She tried to yank her Dragon Claws out of the ground, but found them stuck.

    Latias flew closer to the tornado, concentrating hard to summon as much psychic energy as she could. Elation swelled inside her when she stopped the tornado in its tracks. "R-Run… you two!" she said, face scrunched up. Raichu helped Haxorus get her claws out and the two sprinted across the platform, joining Team Poképals.

    The tornado twitched and distorted. Latias strained from the effort of pushing against it. The green flames in Lugia's eyes burned brighter. With a flap of his wings and a loud shriek, he buffeted the tornado with added wind currents. Latias' eyes widened. It was gaining ground on her. It was pulling her in despite her levitation. Latias was at a loss for what to do. Could she drop her Psychic and try to fly away? Or did she need to stand her ground?

    "Haxorus! Latias! You've got to shoot at much Dragon Breath into the tornado as you can! And Raichu, add a Thunderbolt," Infernape said, charging toward the tornado. Haxorus looked at him in shock. "Trust me on this. Hot air rises and that's our ticket to success!" He opened his mouth wide and spewed the biggest Flamethrower he could muster. The tornado swallowed the flames up and spun them about.

    "Well, you heard him," Haxorus said. With a deep breath, she shot a stream of dragonfire into the tornado. Raichu blasted lightning toward the two attacks. A crackling explosion superheated the air.

    To Latias' joy and Lugia's shock, the tornado rose toward him. Latias felt safe enough to stop her Psychic and, though her spirit burned deep within her like any fatigued muscle, she managed to call up additional dragonfire. The tornado became a raging spiral of flames, lightning, and Dragon Breath. It was rising too fast for the bewildered Lugia to redirect it.

    Instead, it sucked him up. Haxorus hooted and hollered at Lugia's bug-eyed expression from his own attack battering him. Latias winced, her heart aching from the sight. But this offered her the perfect chance to land the decisive blow. She downed an elixir from her bag. With her spiritual energy smoldering bright once again, she flew level with the tornado.

    "Lugia, please… come back to me!" she cried. Her Dragon Pulse sailed right for the dwindling tornado, only to bounce off an invisible forcefield. Latias' jaw dropped. Lugia was still in a tailspin how could he have redirected her strike?

    She got her answer when Lugia thrust his wings apart, dispelling the last of the tornado. The green flames in his eyes had inexplicably grown. In fact, Lugia had an orange aura tracing down toward his tail. Latias tilted her head. She didn't recognize that glow. What was he up to?

    "Latias! Get out of there! That's a Z-Power aura!" Feraligatr said. Latias looked down at the shocked expression on his face, but Lugia's distorted cawing echoed through the sky before she could make any movements.

    Seven blue orbs surrounded Lugia, taking a shape Latias could've sworn was an Unown Z with a triangle on top. Her first instinct was to try and divert the attack, so she conjured as big a Mist Ball as she could manage and threw it at Lugia. But, to her horror, it fizzled out against the glowing orbs. Even the mist evaporated before her eyes.

    Latias zipped away from Lugia, but with a flap of his wings, the orbs descend upon her and the teams on the ground. She rolled away from one blue explosion, but had to nosedive away from a second. A third grazed her left wing, sending a chilling shockwave through her system. Latias lost control and crashed into the ground, surrounding by blue explosions.

    Lugia shrieked and raised his right leg. All of the orange light condensed around it. He dropped from the sky. Latias blinked the stars from her vision with enough time to see an orange star drawing closer. She shot back across the ground, gritting her teeth as rough crystal scraped her sensitive feathers. Still, while she avoided direct contact with Lugia's foot, she couldn't get away from the orange explosion his dive-kick created. It hammered her left side and flung her into the air.

    Latias couldn't get herself under control. Her pain magnified ten-fold when she hit the ground wing-first. It was broken. She was sure of it. Latias screamed. Her vision went white. Her head pounded so hard she couldn't hear the panicked cries of Teams Paradise and Poképals.

    It was over. She had done everything within her power to try and get Lugia back… and she had failed. All because of one ridiculous move.

    The pain was too familiar. It was just like what Rayquaza had done to her. She could see it in her mind. The bright, fiery V-Create… it was eerily similar to Lugia's orange dive-kick.

    Why did this have to happen to her? All she wanted was to help. To do the right thing.

    In the end… you couldn't save anyone. Not even yourself. You're a sorry excuse for a lesser god and an even sorrier excuse for a dragon.

    Rayquaza's phantom glared down at her. His words only added to the pain in her wing.

    She had no idea what was happening. Had her impromptu teammates tried to take up the brunt of the fight? How drained was Lugia after that attack? She didn't care anymore. She was so tired. Her grasp on her Mega Evolution was nothing but tiny threads unraveling by the second. All Latias wanted to do was rest. Rest and see her brother again.

    Regardless of how this turns out, I'll always try to have your back.

    Latias seized, arcing her back through the pain. Her vision came into focus. She saw a purple blob swaying about.

    I love you. I love spending time with you. I want us to make memories together… when you're not off exploring, of course.

    Concentrating through the pain, she finally managed to make out Lugia's figure. He staggered back and forth, shaking his head. The green flames in his eyes were now just tiny embers. She even saw tears.

    'He remembers!'

    There was still a chance. A chance for them to lead a happy life together. She couldn't surrender now. And she couldn't care less about what Rayquaza thought of her. Her mate needed her. That was all that mattered.

    With a pained wail, Latias drew on her dwindling powers and sent healing energy racing into her wing. The bones snapped back into place. Latias rolled into the air, hovering unsteadily. Ignoring the looks of shock from the others, she arced her head back.

    "Lugia… I'm sorry! I love you… and I want you back no matter what!"

    Right before her tenuous grasp on her Mega Evolution completely snapped, Latias drew up enough power for one final attack. The recoil prevented her from seeing the first ever Draco Meteor she had managed. And the flash of light as she reverted back to normal kept her from seeing the meteors batter Lugia's chest and shatter his armor.

    Lugia staggered backward, his squawks growing progressively less distorted. The purple and red colors evaporated off his feathers and belly. He turned to his right and, with the last of his strength, retched up a puddle of purple slime. It bubbled and simmered. An unconscious Marshadow materialized from the puddle seconds before Lugia collapsed onto his back, down for the count.

    Teams Paradise and Poképals immediately split up, with the former heading for Latias and the latter for Lugia and Marshadow. "Who's that Pokémon, huh?" Feraligatr wondered.

    "I don't know, but I get the feeling it was driving Lugia's bloodthirsty attitude adjustment," Infernape said. "It could be on Zero's side, so I think it's best we avoid healing it."

    Several yards away, Raichu dashed to Latias' right. "Latias? Latias, you still with us?!" she said. "Oh, gods, look at your looplet! It's a smoldering wreck!" Raichu managed to scoop up some crystal dust and hastily dumped it onto the charred metal. Once she didn't feel any heat coming off it, she pulled it off Latias' arm. It crumbled to pieces in her paws.

    "I'm… I'm here," Latias rasped.

    "Cripes." Haxorus knelt down beside Latias, offering two oran berries and another elixir. "With the way things were going, I thought for sure you would turn berserk on us." She looked at the scorched remains of Latias' looplet at scratched her head. "Guess we'll have to tell Jirachi his calculations weren't as perfect as he thought," she said, a hint of amusement in her voice.

    Latias ravenously downed the healing items. She had never had such burning hunger as in that very moment.

    "Whoa, careful. You're gonna choke," Raichu said, squeezing a rawst berry against the burnt part of Latias' arm. She squealed, but relaxed once the juices soaked in.

    "Man, I gotta say, wasn't expecting to see a Draco Meteor from you. I'd say you managed to pull that final blow right out of your ass," Haxorus said, earning an exasperated look from Raichu. "What? It was a compliment!"

    "I'm… urgh… a dragon, too, Raichu. I know that's… probably the closest thing to praise I'll get," Latias croaked. A small part of her did wish Rayquaza had been there, so she could rub it in his face how a so-called "pathetic excuse of a dragon" had used the ultimate dragon attack. But she shoved those thoughts aside and shakily looked up.

    Her eyes fell on Lugia. He was awake. Team Poképals had managed to help him into a seated position. Lugia met her gaze. His eyes filled with tears. Latias turned on the waterworks as well when she raced for him, ignoring Raichu's panicked shouts. She embraced her mate, burying her head in the crook of his neck and bawling her eyes out.

    Lugia pressed his head against her back. "I'm so… so sorry," he whispered, shuddering. "F-For hurting you… and f-for Latios and—" He hiccupped. Lugia lifted Latias' head with his wing. Her eyes were red and puffy. "Thank you for saving me," he whispered.

    Latias poked her head up and pressed her lips to Lugia's. "D-Don't scare me like that again," she blubbered, before kissing him a second time. Lugia's cheeks flush, but his initial embarrassment at the public display faded. He fell onto his back, bringing Latias with him. He cherished her soft feathers rubbing against his. Her—

    "Oh bloody— somebody gag me. I'd rather still be stuck inside him than be forced to watch this nauseating display."

    The reunited couple poked their heads up and looked right. Marshadow lay on his side, clutching his gut in pain. "Isn't this such a warm, happy sight?" he sneered. Latias glared daggers at him. "Look around you, luv. This world's unraveling before our eyes. You may have gotten each other back, but it won't be for much longer." He looked toward the center of the temporal storm.

    "That's why we're here. To put a stop to all this nonsense," Haxorus said, crossing her arms.

    "Yeah, but that battle ate up a lot of time and resources," Feraligatr said, looking in dismay at his open satchel. "Not to mention our strength. We can down as many elixirs as we want, but our spirits can only take so much, right?"

    "No. That jackass is absolutely right," Latias said, her crass language taking Lugia by surprise. "We have to press onward. Even if we are tired…" She looked at Lugia. "Are you in any condition to fight? I can heal you—"

    "What about you? You pushed your Mega Evolution to the brink. Are you sure you can keep going?" Lugia asked.

    Before Latias could reply, a huge, swirling column of fire erupted in the distance. She rose into the air. "It looks like I don't have a choice," Latias said, then flew in the direction of the flames.

    "Quick, everyone get on," Lugia said, spreading his wings to let the teams climb aboard.

    "But what about all the floating booby traps?" Feraligatr asked, only to look around and realize there were none in the area. "Huh. Guess we destroyed 'em all in the fight. Lucky us!"

    "Well, you lot can go have fun with that," Marshadow said, waving the group off. "As for me, I'm—"

    "Coming with us," Haxorus said, before beaning Marshadow across the head with a petrify wand. He hit the ground, limbs twitching.

    "Um, Haxy, you're supposed to point the wand at him and fire a burst from it," Raichu said, shoulders sagging.

    Haxorus tossed the wand to her partner. "Bah. That's not nearly as satisfying." She tossed Marshadow over her shoulder and climbed onto Lugia's back.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    Gallian lay in his bed, pawing at the stump where his horn was supposed to be. The infirmary had no windows. He had no idea how much time had passed since Tessa had left. Gallian hated to admit it, but he was definitely going stir crazy.

    "You need to stop rubbing that. Otherwise, it'll only get worse."

    Gallian poked his head up. Zoroark sat on the edge of his bed. His disheveled mane dangled in front of his face.

    "Can't get much worse than it is now." Gallian sighed and pawed the stump again.

    "You never know. I'd air on the side of the caution," Zoroark said. He slowly rose to his feet and limped over toward Gallian.

    "H-Hey. What do you think you're doing?" Gallian asked. "If you're still hurt, then lay down, I—"

    "Way ahead of you."

    Gallian lost sight of Zoroark. Then, the bed buckled. Gallian gasped. Blood rushed into his cheeks. "Z-Zoroark. You… you…"

    He had snuggled up next to Gallian. Zoroark brushed his head against Gallian's back. Gallian gasped. "St-stop it. We're… we're…"

    "You're worried about Tessa, aren't you?" Zoroark said. He traced a claw through Gallian's fur until his paw reached his mate's neck. Gallian shuddered. "I don't blame you. We have no idea what they could be dealing with."

    Gallian shifted about uncomfortably. "I just… just… ahh, c'mon, that t-tickles!" He brought a foreleg over his face.

    Zoroark brought his face closer to Gallian's neck. "It's a good thing, though. That you're worried about her, I mean," he said.

    "Well, it sure doesn't feel like a good thing," Gallian said, scowling despite the fact he knew that Zoroark couldn't see his face.

    "C'mon, think about it. A few days ago, you were giving Tessa a shoulder so cold it'd make a Glaceon blush. Now, here you are, worried sick about her," Zoroark elaborated, brushing his face against Gallian's neck again. "I see this as a sign that you want to reconnect with her."

    Gallian tried to roll over, but Zoroark's frame got in his way. "I, uh…" His brow furrowed. "I swear there's a better way to phrase that," Gallian mumbled.

    "Oh, you know what I mean," Zoroark said, playfully tapping his mate's shoulder. Gallian tensed up. "When we met, you were so wrapped up in your disaster sense, you let it block out any thoughts of your sister. Now, she's the thing that's on the front of your mind." Zoroark awkwardly turned his neck to make eye contact with Gallian. "I'm sure that, given how worried she was about you after both times you saved me, she'd be delighted to hear you're thinking of her."

    Gallian's face grew warmer by the second. "I… I guess. Doesn't make it suck any less that I'm lying here, all nice and cozy, while Tessa's diving into the fray."

    "That's true," Zoroark said, slowly sliding his paw toward Gallian's belly. He smirked when Gallian squeaked and tucked his legs into his stomach. Zoroark traced a circle through Gallian's fur and continued, "But remember what we were talking about with your disaster sense? It's okay to worry, but you also have to accept that, sometimes, you're going to worry about things you can't control."

    "But I can control this. I could've gone with 'em. I—"

    Zoroark pressed his paw to Gallian's lip. Gallian frowned, though it had to more to do with Zoroark stopping the impromptu belly rub. "Neither of us are in a state to fight. Your mom would surely realize we're both weak links on the team and try to go after us to get to Tessa." His ear drooped. "I don't like lying here knowing our friends need help, either. But I think that, in the long run, it's safer for everyone if we stay here."

    Trembling slightly, Zoroark leaned in and whispered, "Besides, we've had a few close calls, already. Do you honestly think we'd be lucky enough to survive another near-death experience?"

    Gallian gulped. Zoroark had a point. "I guess… I see where you're coming from," he said. Zoroark lay his head back down against Gallian's side and resumed tracing his claws across Gallian's belly. Gallian's legs twitched. Gods, how he'd missed this feeling.

    Zoroark nipped at Gallian's neck. A purr escaped his lips. Gallian's legs tensed. His eyes widened.

    "Wow. I didn't think you could make a noise like that." Zoroark chuckled.

    "I… I, uh…" Gallian's eyes darted around the room.

    "Will you two puh-lease cut it out? My head's pounding bad enough as it is. You're only making it worse."

    Gallian recognized Hakamo-o's nasally voice from their battle against Team Paradise. Zoroark propped himself up with his left arm, giving Gallian enough room to roll over. Hakamo-o lay facing away from them, legs tightly crossed and arms folded over his mid-section. Gallian raised a skeptical brow, but said nothing.

    "Ah, sorry. That was my bad. Got a bit caught up with things," Zoroark said, pivoting to sit on the edge of Gallian's bed. "We're mates, see, but we were separated for a while and—"

    "I get it. I just want some peace and quiet, okay? Soon as the world stops spinning and my head stops pounding, I'll go get some fresh air and you can kiss each other and hold hands all you want," Hakamo-o said, his tail stiffening against his legs.

    "Hold hands?" Zoroark said, shooting Gallian a curious look.

    "Don't be such a dummy. I know it's a bit awkward for you to do, Absol, but that's what two Pokémon do when they love each other a lot," Hakamo-o scoffed. "Mom told me that years ago."

    Gallian had to press his face against his bed to stop himself from laughing. The mental image of a big, burly Kommo-o sitting Hakamo-o down and fumbling her way through telling him that mates "hold hands" as an expression of love was too amusing. He appreciated the levity, though he didn't dare open his mouth.

    A loud thump interrupted the conversation. Gallian and Zoroark looked toward the hallway. They heard Comfey and Steenee's voices in the distance, but couldn't make out what they were saying. "What do you think's going on?" Zoroark asked.

    "I don't know, but they sound startled," Gallian replied. With a groan, he sat up in his bed. Zoroark got to his feet, a look of concern on his face. "I'm still too tired for my disaster sense to work at all, but we might need to be prepared for trouble."

    Hakamo-o threw one of his hands over his face. "Oi, you gotta be kidding me! I thought we had some magic barrier thingy keeping us safe."

    The muffled voices steadily got louder. A new one even joined in, shouting, "Great literal gods above! I say… this was not the request I was expecting!"

    Gallian tilted his head. "That's Crabrawler. He normally runs the café, so what's he doing here?"

    "Yes, we've clearly got a situation here, Crabrawler. But a little less gawking and a lot more pushing would really helpful!" Comfey said, exasperated.

    "Oh no. Did someone in Aeon Town get hurt?" Zoroark wondered.

    In response, the curtains draped across the infirmary entrance slid open. Crabrawler and Steenee wheeled in Lycanroc's captives on a large, mobile, wooden platform with a handle set. Gallian figured Crabrawler normally used it for moving supplies.

    "What the heck? When did they get back here?" Zoroark said.

    "G-Get back?" Hakamo-o strained to lift his head. He caught sight of Sneasel lying at the top of the unconscious Pokémon pile. "Ah! Sneasel! Sneasel! Are you okay?" He clumsily rolled out of bed and fell to the floor. "Say something, du—"

    The moment Hakamo-o managed to get to his feet, he lunged for a bucket near his bed and puked into it. "O-Oh, my aching h-head," he sputtered.

    "What happened to them, Comfey? They look emaciated," Zoroark said, a wide-eyed gaze fixed on Dusk.

    "I'm not sure. Steenee and I were talking and then… wham! They fell out of some kind of portal," Comfey explained. Gallian and Zoroark exchanged panicked looks. "Right now, they all look really weak. I need to get elixirs into their systems, stat."

    "A-Anything we can do to help?" Zoroark asked. He started to walk forward, but his left leg buckled.

    "Sorry, but you're in no condition to run around," Comfey said. "You should be in bed, anyway." She glanced at Hakamo-o. "Same goes for you, buddy. Back in bed until the medicine's finished working."

    "B-But Sneasel—" Hakamo-o threw a hand up over his mouth, then swallowed hard. "Err, I understand."

    Comfey pulled a set of curtains forward, blocking the trio's beds off from the rest of the infirmary. Hakamo-o climbed back into bed, moaning. "Ohh, this is terrible. Sneasel… what happened to you? W-Was it Lycanroc?" Hakamo-o put his hands against his forehead scale. "If he hurt you, I'll… I'll…"

    "I didn't see Midnight there," Gallian said, laying back down. "Granted, we have no idea what happened to them. But Midnight was the one who ran off with them, right?" He also wondered what this meant for the fate of the Dawn Shards.

    "I don't think the Dawn Shards are here, if that's what you're thinking about," Zoroark said, nudging Gallian's shoulder.

    "Excuse me for worrying about it. Midnight waltzed off with them, remember?" Gallian said. He was too tired to run through all the possibilities. Gallian instead lay his head down on is pillow.

    Zoroark, on the other hand, walked over to Hakamo-o's bed. "Hey, uh, you gonna be okay?"

    "Eh?" Hakamo-o met Zoroark's scarred eye, then quickly turned over and assumed the same awkward position Zoroark had seem him in earlier.

    "Okay, I'm gonna take that as a 'no.'" Zoroark scratched his right ear. "Sneasel was your friend, right?"

    "We were, uh, partners… in a manner of speaking," Hakamo-o said.

    "Ah. I'm, uh, sorry he's in such rough shape, then," Zoroark said. "At least he's back with us, though. That's gotta count for something, right?"

    Hakamo-o quickly rubbed an arm against his face. "Yeah, I guess." His tail shifted so it dangled over the side of his bed. Zoroark stepped back. "I just want to be sure he's okay, that's all. Lycanroc…" Hakamo-o tensed up. "I should've tried to stand up to him. None of this would've happened if I had the guts to say no to him."

    Zoroark rubbed his neck. "I, uh, suppose? Midnight's always been a tough guy to talk with. Seemed like no matter what you would say or do, he'd find something to get angry about," he said. "I'm not really sure what happened between you three. For now, you're going to have to trust that Comfey can heal Sneasel."

    He stepped back. "Sorry I can't offer much else for you."

    After a few seconds of silence, Hakamo-o said, "It's fine."

    Zoroark retreated to his own bed. The three lay in their closed-off part of the infirmary. None of them had any clue how long Comfey kept the curtains closed, but when they opened up with a swish, Hakamo-o was, despite his lingering headache, the first to shoot up to a seated position.

    "How's Sneasel? Is he gonna make it?"

    "Make it? Of course," Comfey said, hovering back in surprise. "He was very weak, sure, but he didn't have much in the way of injuries." She looked back, but Hakamo-o couldn't follow her gaze due to the bedside curtain. "I think your friend should have his strength back, but I'm still recommending he and the others stay and rest. If they exert themselves too soon, I fear they'll collapse again."

    "Oh. W-Well, can I at least say hi or something?" Hakamo-o asked.

    Comfey sighed. "Even if I say no, you're going to try to, aren't you?"

    Hakamo-o looked down guiltily.

    "Very well. But if you're hit with vertigo again, then it's back to your bed," Comfey said, before turning and floating off. Hakamo-o waited until he was sure she was out of sight before getting off his bed. He wobbled about, nearly tearing the curtains down when he grabbed them to steady himself.

    "Dude, are you sure it's a good idea to do this?" Gallian asked. He didn't see the point, since they already knew Sneasel would be okay.

    "I wanna see him for myself," Hakamo-o insisted. He staggered forward, leaving the dark-types to exchange concerned looks. Hakamo-o looked at the remaining beds. He found Sneasel in the bed closest to his and lumbered over. Sneasel lay on his back, completely filthy and much thinner than Hakamo-o remembered him.

    "Sneasel? Are… are you there?" Hakamo-o asked. Sneasel grimaced, then cracked one eye open.

    "H-Hakamo-o?" Sneasel opened his other eye. He tried to sit up, but his belly trembled.

    "Ah! Careful, careful. The flower girl said you're really weak," Hakamo-o said, resting his hands on the side of the bed.

    "Y… you're not… one to talk," Sneasel said. He was too tired to gesture, but Hakamo-o could tell he was looking at his chipped and cracked scale plates. Sneasel groaned. "So, if I'm here, then I take it…"

    "You're back home," Hakamo-o said. "What happened to you, anyway?"

    "L-Lycanroc. He…" Sneasel sucked in a pained breath. "He took us… into some vortexy place. Summoned… a big monster. I don't… urgh." He winced. "I don't really… remember anything… besides that."

    Though Hakamo-o was curious about what could have happened to Lycanroc and the Dawn Shards, he chose not to press the issue. "I'm just glad you're safe," he said.

    "Kweh heh. Really? I thought… you hated my guts… 'cuz of all that mean stuff… I said about you," Sneasel rasped.

    "I said I was gonna move beyond that, wasn't I?" Hakamo-o said, crossing his arms. "Besides, we promised we'd better ourselves together. And that ain't gonna happen if you bite the big one."

    A lone, muddy fang poked out from Sneasel's lips as he cracked a smirk. "Didn't think… you'd actually remember that… you scatterbrain. Guess whoever… beat your scaly butt… must've smacked you upside the head… a few times."

    Hakamo-o grinned back. There was a chair for bipeds next to the bed, which he happily sat down it. "Oh, you don't even know the half of it, dude! So, get this. After you two disappeared, we…"

    Gallian tuned their conversation out and turned over to face Zoroark. He smiled at Gallian, who rolled his eyes. "Okay, talk. That's your 'my mind is at work' face. What's the deal?" Gallian asked. He could recognize that gleam in Zoroark's eye anywhere.

    "Nothing." Zoroark crossed his arms behind his head and leaned back in his bed. "I think it's cute, that's all."

    "What's cute?" Gallian said, in no mood to play the pronoun game.

    "Your sister and her 'dorky friends' seem to have a way of repairing broken relationships," Zoroark mused. "Those two goons, Team Paradox, the Volcanic Waste tribes, us. Shall I keep going?"

    Gallian pondered Zoroark's statement. He couldn't find any faults in it. "I guess so. What's your point, though?"

    "Tessa's always had a bit of a self-confidence issue," Zoroark replied. Gallian begrudgingly nodded his agreement, knowing he contributed to it. "She's been so focused on the big picture, the Prism Virus, that I'm guessing she hasn't appreciated the good deeds she's done beyond fighting Ultra Beasts. I say, if we make it through this crisis, we ought to tell her about it. Maybe even get some of the people she and her team helped to write thank you notes." He locked eyes with Gallian. "Any thoughts?"

    "Hmm…" Gallian tapped a claw against his mattress. A part of him — the big brother part, he assumed — didn't want to go through with it. However, the idea of being able to hopefully put a smile on his sister's face outweighed the hit he'd take to his pride. "Sounds like a plan," he said, reaching a paw toward Zoroark's bed.

    Zoroark grabbed Gallian's paw and smiled at him.

    XxX
    Continued in next post.
     
    git-it likes this.
  19. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Future Pika-fodder?

    Continued from previous post.

    XxX

    ~Midnight Sea~

    Ninetales was glad she had sandwiched herself between her Horizon counterpart and Magearna. Or else the shock of what she'd just heard would've sent her tumbling off of Ho-Oh's back. "L-Lady Ho-Oh, is this really true?" she said. "Are you—"

    Free from the gale-force winds surrounding the Invern Mountains, Ho-Oh could safely glide through the air with little effort. This let her nod at Ninetales. "It's the truth. Ephemeris is the Ho-Oh spoken of in Horizon legends. The one who was caught in the primal energy storm," she said, flapping her wings to gain altitude. "The original Solgaleo and Lunala tried to save him, but all three of them disappeared."

    "That is quite a bit different from what I encountered in my research," Mawile said. "Why do you suppose there's such a discrepancy?" She glanced at Magearna. "Were records lost over time?"

    Magearna shook her head. As far back as I can recollectify, we've told the same story.

    "It was Arceus who explained everything," Ho-Oh continued. "See, I was born from the remnants of that primal storm. Hence, the whole superstition surrounding the fact that I appear at the end of every major storm." She sighed. "Anyway, I was transported to Destiny Tower almost immediately after my 'birth.'" Her brow furrowed. "Arceus explained everything to me… and ordered me to carry out Ephemeris' job of watching for spirits."

    "But wait a second… wouldn't the other gods have known right away you weren't the same Ho-Oh?" Cresselia asked. "If that's the case, how did the Horizon legends end up the way they did?"

    "Well, it wasn't hard to fool most of the gods. Many of them had never met Ephemeris. His job was stressful and if he wasn't flying about, he secluded himself on Rainbow Island for peace and quiet," Ho-Oh explained. "For the gods that did know Ephemeris, Arceus straight-up told them he had died since, well, that was what he thought was the truth. He hoped that it would get the immortals to stop fighting amongst themselves, but the results were… mixed."

    "Hmm. Then does that mean the Horizon legends came about from gods that never knew the truth?" Ninetales wondered. There was a lot to unpack and she wasn't sure she'd even get all her questions answered before they reached Rainbow Island and met this Ephemeris character in person.

    "I'm not entirely sure about that," Totem Ninetales said, sighing. "I've been scouring journals written by my predecessors. As some of you might know, one of them wound up joining the group that created Silvally. Some of her entries mentioned having suspicions about Ho-Oh and believing the gods were deceiving her, despite her dedicated service." She hung her head. "I fear that may have motivated her to agree to work with those unsavory folks."

    Unfortuitously, I think we'd only be launching pointless speculation algorithms if we keep talking about that, Magearna said. It's all in the past and we cannot changtify it.

    Totem Ninetales nodded her agreement. "Magearna, Lady Ho-Oh, and I came to know Ephemeris by…" She brushed a lock of fur out of her eyes. "Well, I'd say it was by chance, wouldn't you?"

    Affirmatative, Magearna replied.

    "It was a little over a century ago, if I'm not mistaken. The three of us met to talk about Magearna upgrading our spirit pools to give them stronger connections to the Tree of Life," Totem Ninetales continued, to the surprise of her fire-type counterpart. Ninetales wondered exactly how long the Totem had held her position. Clearly, her blue-white fur hid signs of aging much better than a fire Ninetales' golden pelt would.

    "That's when a portal opened up overhead and Ephemeris flew out. To say we were startled was quite the understatement," Ho-Oh said, adding a nervous laugh. "The whole conversation was very, erm, awkward. Ephemeris was hesitant to divulge just how much he knew about worlds beyond ours."

    "What he did explain was that, from what he could remember, both Solgaleo and Lunala tried to open portals to get him out of the storm. However, the portals absorbed primal energy from the storm, creating an unstable vortex that sucked the three of them up," Totem Ninetales continued, shuddering. "Imagine getting caught in a powerful water-type's Whirlpool while Thunderbolts rain down on your head. That's how Ephemeris described it, anyway.

    "When he woke up, he found himself lying on a barren asteroid. Solgaleo and Lunala were nowhere to be found, but his pelt had turned shades of yellow and gold." Totem Ninetales pivoted to show the Horizon Continent logo on her shawl. "It reminded him of the ethereal glows that Solgaleo and Lunala had when they were channeling their powers to bring sunlight and moonlight to the planet."

    Ninetales' eyes slowly widened. "Totem, do you mean to tell me that the three of them merged together or something?"

    Totem Ninetales nodded. "Yes. Ephemeris said he could create portals and safely traverse what we now know as Ultra Space. On top of that, his own natural healing and restoration abilities were greatly enhanced." She paused, then, with a smile, added, "He told us to think of him as an Ultra Ho-Oh."

    Ninetales rolled her eyes. All this Ultra Space nonsense was giving her an ultra-headache.

    Magearna, who had slumped over during the explanation, suddenly sat up straight. Exposition mode initialized. She turned her head to face the others. After a lengthy discussion, we concluded it was best for Ephemeris not to stay in our world. Ho-Oh strongly believed his presence would incite a panic among the other gods. Especially Arceus.

    So, Ephemeris departed. And we figured that would be the last we would see of him, Magearna continued, tapping her arms together.

    "If that's the case, then how did the human on Team Radiance know about Ephemeris?" Ninetales asked.

    I have no idea. Maybe he learned about Ephemeris' second appearance, Magearna replied. You see, Dark Matter's second defeat apparently sent shockwaves slowly rippling through Ultra Space. Ephemeris haphazardly tossed open an Ultra Wormhole to escape and landed in some ruin area in the Mist Continent. Magearna crossed her arms. It turned out that there was an exploration team investigating the area. Ephemeris panicked and attacked them, but they held their own and manage to subdue him.

    "And this exploration team… was the Haxorus and Raichu we saw in Aeon Town, correct?" Ninetales said. Magearna nodded. "Wait. Then, if they knew about Ephemeris—"

    They don't. Not anymore, anyway. Magearna looked down, poking her arms together guiltily. Totem Ninetales hired ghost-types to steal those memories using Dream Eater. They were happy for the extra food and cash. It was… not our best decision.

    "Wait. How were you even able to respond to the situation so quickly?" Cresselia wondered.

    I was getting to that. Exposition Mode is at sixty-five percent capacity, so bear with me, Magearna replied, adjusting her position on Ho-Oh's back. I happened to be in the Water Continent at the time, looking to exchange information with Jirachi in the hopes he would consider syncing his organization's Expedition Gadgets with my Gear-Coms. Magearna shook her head. We didn't get far before Hoopa burst in, claiming to have big news about Ho-Oh in the Mist Continent.

    I, erm, politely requested that he send me there via a portal. We found Ephemeris, still a bit dazed from the battle. I wanted to avoid any potential issues, so I had Hoopa take everyone, Team Paradise included, to Rainbow Island, Magearna continued.

    "The Totem and I were meeting at the time, so it was easy for us to head over there," Ho-Oh said. She beat her wings but, with the lack of wind, there wasn't much she could do to bolster her speed. "Once we were there, we ended up talking about the whole situation with Dark Matter."

    It was then that I hatched an idea. A plan for a last-ditch effort, of sorts, if we were to ever encounter another creature with destructive powers and control over spirits, Magearna said. I asked Ephemeris to take Hoopa through an Ultra Wormhole to the nearest uninhabited world he could find. That way, Hoopa could make a ring portal to it in the future.

    Eyes sparking and gears whirring, Magearna continued, The idea was that Ephemeris would reside there and, if the need arose, we could have Hoopa contact him to ask for assistance.

    "Would a second Ho-Oh really make that much of a difference, though?" Cresselia wondered. Ninetales fixed a scathing look on the lesser god, but Ho-Oh waved the comment off.

    "In this case, yes. As we mentioned earlier, Ephemeris' spiritual powers far exceed my own," Ho-Oh said. "See, my Sacred Ash can indeed revive a Pokémon, but there are limits on that power. The Pokémon either needs to be dying… or their spirit just left their body. Basically, their body must be intact for the Sacred Ash to work.

    "If the Pokémon's body is destroyed or reabsorbed into the planet…" Ho-Oh's voice trailed off and she shook her head. "If that happens, then I'm afraid the best that I can do is convert the spirit into a ghost Pokémon."

    "Something which costs them all memories of their previous life… since you're changing them on a spiritual level," Ninetales recited from memory.

    "Correct. It's a tactic we've frequently applied to restless spirits to avoid disturbing those who dwell peacefully in the Tree of Life," Totem Ninetales said, the emblem on her brooch glistening along with her eyes. "But I fear we're straying a bit too far off-subject."

    I concur. My exposition mode is now at forty-nine percent, Magearna said.

    "Err, right. My apologies." Ho-Oh glanced back at Ninetales. "To make a long story short, Ephemeris claims that his Sacred Ash can restore any spirit to life, regardless of the state their body is in. All he needs is an image of what the spirit's body originally looked like… and he can recreate it."

    "But you've never seen this for yourself," Cresselia said, brow furrowed. "Can we really trust he's telling the truth?"

    "I see no reason for him to lie about it," Ho-Oh said.

    "Ephemeris' aura exudes energy not of this world," Totem Ninetales said, eyes and brooch flickering purple. The bells around her paws jingled softly. "And after Dark Matter's second attack, we thought it would be a good idea to have a means to restore spirits in case something or someone came along who could do far worse than turn Pokémon to stone and cast their spirits into the planet's core."

    Exactly. And, unfortunately, the Prism Virus is the very thing we feared. Most of Necrozma and Zero's victims are not in a state where Ho-Oh can restore them to life, Magearna explained. That's where Ampharos' plan comes in.

    Ninetales looked at Ampharos. He was staring off into space, but snapped to attention as soon as his name was called. "O-Oh, yes. Quite right. My plan." He tapped a nubby arm against his chin. "The plan that involved… erm, doing something important!" Ampharos raised his right arm, grinning.

    Ampharos' plan… was to pretend he had a plan, Magearna declared. Cresselia stiffened. Ninetales jaw dropped. It couldn't have been the wind making her hear things. There wasn't any wind. She stared blankly at Magearna. Whatever her "exposition mode" was, it made her talk crazy. Hear me out before you snap at me. When the Horizon Guild first encountered Pokémon infected by the Prism Virus, I suspected that the Virus was, in fact, a manifestation of Dark Matter.

    I feared that whoever or whatever was behind the Prism Virus would know about how Ampharos managed to plan around Dark Matter's activities. So, I thought we could use that to our advantage, Magearna continued, turning to Totem Ninetales. She nodded along, adjusting her shawl to get a better look at everyone's reactions.

    "Magearna and I sent a letter to Ampharos explaining what the Prism Virus was. We thought the virus would eventually spread overseas, so we asked him to claim he had a plan to counter it. However, in reality, Magearna, Ho-Oh, and I would be devising a plan," Totem Ninetales explained. "We hoped that Ampharos could attract the Prism Virus' attention and leave us free to monitor the situation and adjust our plans accordingly."

    Ninetales blinked. She had questions. She was sure of it. But they were so jumbled up in her head, the only one she could ask was, "Did you adjust your plans?"

    Oh my, yes. It was a lesson in flexibility, for sure, Magearna said, adding a mechanical chuckle. Once I learned that Zero wanted to kill gods, I hastily wrote up a set of individualized instructions and relayed them to Ampharos.

    "Ah, yes, now that I do remember," Ampharos said, patting his belly. "I gave some Expedition Society members assignments. Many of them asked me why I was telling them to do this stuff, but I told them I couldn't remember why."

    Mawile rubbed her temples. "Luckily, the chief had built up enough goodwill that nobody questioned him too hard on the matter."

    The initial plan was to have Latias and Hoopa travel to the various gods' domains and convince them to hide away in the same world we'd settled Ephemeris into, Magearna continued. If they agreed, we would replace them with Dittos or Unown clusters. The hope was that we could trick Zero into thinking she had succeeded in her plans, then launch a coordinated strike to take her down.

    "Needless to say, we didn't anticipate Necrozma striking out on his own." Totem Ninetales' shoulders sagged. "And we certainly didn't expect they would both go after Temporal Tower." She shook her head. "I must apologize. Magearna and I were so focused on our own plans, we neglected to offer support to you all when it came to protecting the Time Gears."

    "It's quite all right," Ampharos said. "Wigglytuff and his guild were quite cooperative."

    "I don't think any of us could've predicted Zero abducting Manaphy and putting his Heart Swap powers to use the way she did," Cresselia said, shivering. "If anyone's to blame there, it's me. I was with him the night he was kidnapped. I could've prevented it all from happening."

    In any case, our plan hit another hurtle. Most of the gods refused our offer of safekeeping, Magearna said. At which point, I had Latias and Hoopa going to sites where Necrozma or Zero attacked and trying to see if they could recover any parts of the victims.

    "Ephemeris said the revival process would go quicker if he had portions of their old bodies to work with," Totem Ninetales elaborated.

    The thought of scavenging for crystalized pieces of a dead god's body sent a shiver down Ninetales' spine.

    Hoopa delivered the parts to Ephemeris, while Ho-Oh tried to scour the planet for the spirits of Necrozma's victims, Magearna continued. But, well, that's when Temporal Tower was destroyed.

    Totem Ninetales nodded. "It seems this was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that we now have most of the lost spirits safely in our possession and a curse in the sense that the world is now in a perilous state." Her shoulders sagged. "This would've been much easier if Necrozma hadn't gotten Hoopa."

    Ninetales' head hurt. A lot. She wasn't even remotely confident she had understood everything they had told her. "I… I…" Her brow furrowed. "Why go to such ridiculously convoluted lengths?"

    Her ice-type counterpart winced. "It was the best we could come up with."

    I'm afraid some of my former boss' paranoia must have rubbed off on me, Magearna said, her mechanical eyes dimming. She turned to Ampharos. I'm afraid I'm not quite the elegant planner that you are.

    "Now, now, there's no need for comparisons," Ampharos said, waving Magearna off. "What matters is that we still have options left!" He was about to raise his right arm again, when he froze and looked at Magearna. "Erm, we do still have options, correct?"

    Magearna nodded vigorously enough to make Ninetales squirm nervously in her seat. Of course. What we have to consider is that there are some gods already residing in Ephemeris' home. In addition, Ephemeris' Sacred Ash takes time to work and he's only capable of restoring one spirit at a time.

    She raised her arm. So, what I'm proposing is this. We revive Hoopa first. Then, he transports us to Ephemeris' world with the rest of the spirits in tow. Next, we revive all of the spirits. Finally, we launch a surprise attack on Temporal Tower.

    Ninetales bit her lip. She had yet to encounter anyone associated with the Prism Virus face to face. But given what she had heard and the ragged state she had seen the teams in when she got to Horizon, the idea of fighting Zero frazzled her.

    "Then we do have a plan!" Ampharos cheered. "A perfectly fine plan that we can put into place once we're… um…" He lowered his right arm and looked at Mawile. "Where are we flying to, again?"

    "Rainbow Island, chief," Mawile said.

    "And we'll be there momentarily. I can see it down below," Ho-Oh announced. With a beat of her wings, she began her descent.

    XxX

    ~Prism Wastelands~

    Silvally hit a stretch of ground resembling a metal grate and skidded along it. He turned back around, then relaxed his stance. "I think we're in the clear guys. No Necrospheres or Void Shad— ow!" He stumbled forward, then glanced an imprint of Milotic's tailfins on the back of his neck. "Hey, what was that for?" he growled.

    "You were about to jinx us," Milotic huffed. She hopped off his back and slithered along the path. Ley line chains cut through jagged crystal walls on either side of them. Milotic looked up. "We're much closer to the center of the vortex," she observed. "Do you think this means we're getting close."

    Tessa didn't want to follow Milotic's gaze. Every look at the temporal storm turned her veins to ice. Her resolve was faltering with every passing minute. Was the loss of her aura sense to blame for this? Tessa quickly dismissed that thought. She wasn't even good at using it, yet.

    No, it was Shane's continued absence. Tessa couldn't deny it. She had tried to tell herself that they would find him soon enough. However, she'd crossed dozens of platforms, sending away several Necrospheres and Void Shadows, and her teammate was still missing. Tessa even found herself wishing for one of his childish quips or dorky comments. Anything to help settle the growing sense of unease she had in her gut.

    "Hey, guys, there are stairs up ahead," Espy said, pointing a forepaw forward.

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed. Stairs? Here? The most they'd encountered so far was sloped pathways. Maybe Milotic was right? Maybe they really were close. But if that was true, then that meant…

    'I have to face Mom. And I have to do it without my partner.'

    "Are you okay, Tessa? You're shaking like a leaf," Silvally said. His posture was rigid. Light flickered from his looplet's gemstone.

    Tessa wondered if Silvally was feeling all right, but didn't ask him. "I'm just a bit… nervous, that's all. Mom's probably close by," she said. "I mean, what if she launches some sort of surprise attack?"

    "Then we should follow the stairs to higher ground. Down here, we're not in a good position to defend ourselves," Espy said. She was trying to put on a brave face, but her legs quivered and her tail had stayed tucked between her legs since the first Void Shadow they'd encountered.

    "Right. Do you guys want me to carry you?" Silvally said.

    "No. If we're getting close to the source, then we shouldn't bunch up too much. Otherwise, we'll be an easy target," Espy replied.

    "True. But there's also strength in numbers," Silvally said. "Besides, the pathway's narrow. We'll have to go single-file, regardless."

    Espy looked to her left and right. "Uh, yeah, I suppose you've got a point." She and her teammates climbed back on Silvally. He took the staircase several stairs at a time, aided by both his long strides and his flying memories.

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched. She saw sparks trail behind Silvally's foreleg as he ran. "Um, Silvally, is your looplet okay?" She clasped her shoulders with her paws. "It's been flickering since we fought Lycanroc's Ultra Beast and—"

    Espy's ears stuck up. She tried to look down at Silvally's foreleg but he ran even faster and she had to buckle down to avoid tumbling off his back and down the stairs. "I'm fine," Silvally said. "I'm perfectly fine. We have to keep moving anyway, don't we?" He looked up. "I may not know how long we've been here, but that storm's getting fiercer."

    Tessa chose to take Silvally at his word and fell silent. Silvally reached the top of the stairs and slowed his pace. The team had arrived atop a large, purple, circular platform. Crystalline horns stuck up all around them, like fangs protruding from a predator's open mouth. Tessa's gaze quickly fell on a glowing rune in the center of the platform. Her brow furrowed. Though her viewing angle wasn't the best, there was something frighteningly familiar about it.

    She hopped off of Silvally's back, ignoring his call of, "Hey, what are you doing?" Tessa jogged toward the sigil, only to skid to a halt, eyes wide and aura feelers trembling.

    "G-Guys…" Tessa raised a forepaw. "Right there… in the middle. I recognize that symbol." She turned to her teammates. "It's from the Rainbow Stoneship!"

    Espy's jaw dropped. "You're kidding!"

    "I'm not! I've seen the picture dozens of times from rereading the picture book about Team Poképals' adventures!" Tessa said, fidgeting with her scarf. She wanted to be wrong. Her eyes could be playing tricks on her. However, she strongly doubted that was the case.

    "But if that's the Rainbow Stoneship's symbol, then…" Milotic looked down and her voice trailed off.

    "We're in what's left of the Old Ruins," Silvally said, tone dead serious. "Which means that Zero must be…" He turned around, only to rear up on his hind legs with a startled yelp. Espy and Milotic slid off his back and landed on top of one another.

    "Oof! What's the big idea?" Milotic groaned as she slithered off of Espy.

    "I, um…" Silvally gulped. "I found Temporal Tower."

    Tessa's ears stiffened. "What do you mean you found Temporal Tower? I thought my mom destroyed—"

    The moment she followed Silvally's gaze, her voice failed her. There was an open gate in front of them, with a crystal staircase on the other side. The stairs led to a large, black, crystalline tower. Two rings of black octahedrons with glowing red cores — much like the top of Zero's Bone Rush staff — revolved around the building. Spikes protruded from the walls.

    Two giant, hand-like structures emerged from opposite sides of the tower and spiraled around it. They joined together at the top of the tower, holding up a circular platform with an even larger octahedron behind it. The giant index fingers curled around one another to border a large gemstone cut to look like an eye. Red light shot up from the top platform and into the center of the vortex.

    Below the staircase lay a lake of purple acid. Spear-shaped crystal blades protruded from the acid alongside thorny ley line chains. Tessa figured that the toxic lake's mist kept the team from seeing the tower before.

    "Th… that's… that's…" Tessa could barely stay standing. "We have to climb that?"

    Silvally winced. "I'm afraid so." He lowered his head. "And I don't think scaling the outside or flying up is an option. Those giant revolving crystals look like they'll blow us to bits if we try."

    Tessa squeezed her eyes shut. This dungeon was already taxing enough. She couldn't bear to think about what sort of horrors lay waiting for them inside the tower. Tessa shuffled back. "I… I think we… we have to wait for the others." She shook her head. "I can't… we…" Tessa grabbed her head.

    "Except we still don't know where they are," Espy whispered, ears drooping. "I don't like it, either. Especially since we don't have Shane with us." She tensed up. "But I don't think we can afford to wait."

    Tessa glanced at her teammate. Espy had a pained expression on. Tessa knew Espy was having a very rough time. And yet, she still wasn't willing to back down. Tessa saw similar glimmers of resolve in Milotic and Silvally's eyes.

    "You're right. That was stupid of me to say," Tessa said, putting a paw on her chest spike. "I'm sorry."

    "It's fine. We're all nervous," Espy said. "I honestly wish Shane was here. I could do with one of his silly comments right now… even if it would just be false bravado."

    "Agreed," Tessa said. She didn't realize how much her partner's disappearance would throw her off her game. Tessa figured it was because they'd faced so many dangers together, that heading for the final obstacle without him felt wrong.

    "Aww, isn't that adorable? You all have come such a long way in such a short time!"

    Silvally looked up, head crest fanning out. He crouched into a fighting stance. "What was that?!"

    "I… I didn't sense anyone!" Tessa said, rubbing her aura feelers.

    "Ah! The gate!" Milotic shouted.

    Silvally looked down, only to squawk in surprise and sprint toward the closing gate. He wasn't fast enough, however. The gate slammed shut. Thorny chains wrapped around it, fastened together by a giant, glowing red eye. "No!" Silvally snarled. He lunged for the gate, only to bounce off a forcefield. Silvally slammed the ground with a foreleg. "You've gotta be kidding me! I can't believe we let this happen!"

    "Aha ha ha ha! Believe it, jigsaw puzzle!"

    "Show yourself!" Silvally roared, venting steam from his cheek-bolts.

    Espy looked around in concern. "I… I've got a bad feeling about this."

    "That voice…" Milotic slithered toward Silvally. "It was… it was… Ni—"

    A loud crackle made Team Radiance jump. Silvally turned toward Milotic in time for her to spit a mouthful of blood into his face. He stumbled back, hissing and blinking in surprise.

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "No… Milotic!"

    Milotic looked down to see an expanding red spot on her chest. She swayed back and forth uneasily, before collapsing on her side, eyes wide and empty.

    Silvally slammed a foreleg down hard, cracking the ground. "Who are you?" he shouted. "I'll tear you to pieces!"

    "Not if I fry you where you stand first!"

    Silvally looked up to find a giant lightning bolt heading right for him.

    XxX​

    Extra Dimensional Anomaly, Shadow Lugia
    An alchemical fusion of Lugia and Marshadow. The mixture of two spirits creates a constant struggle within his mind, leading to a panicked, adrenaline-fueled state that causes him to attack anything around it. The only way Necrozma could control it was by using ley lines. So, how did Zero reign him in? What sort of power lurks behind the device she captures other Pokémon with?

    XxX
    I hope the battle was enjoyable. Writing it required a bit more finesse than I was expecting.

    Next time: out heroes struggle on!
     
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  20. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    44.
    Let’s get back into the swing of this with Episode 10! Tapu Fever, hoho. So we’re finally getting to these guys after that brief cameo in the bonus episode, are we? Well, I think we are, at least. A bit hard to tell. The episode opens with a bang with Necrozma basically getting rid of the whole Gates to Infinity cast. I’ve already complained to you about my opinions on out-of-the-blue getting rid of canon characters just to prove a point, but at least this time it actually had some plot relevance. One small critique that isn’t just an opinion, though: Virizion kinda appeared… out of nowhere, so that transition from Hydreigon to her felt incredibly rushed and sudden.

    The intrigue about Shane’s dreams continue to add little wrinkles to the puzzle that is Shane’s memories. There definitely are a few things missing with him that he doesn’t even realize. I think one thing that I’d like to compliment about, that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, is that all of the “strange dream” sequences have more explicit plot relevance than other dream sequences that I’ve seen in other works, even professional ones. So kudos for actually making dream sequences not pointless or too long than they need to be.

    Something felt off about Shane and Espeon’s encounter in the shower, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe there’s some plot relevance going on here, or maybe it’s just fluff, or… something? But it seemed oddly on-the-nose and drawn out, at least until Umbreon came into the picture and contextualized it more. I’d also like to point out how hilariously jarring it is to see the comic relief villain squad show up now. It’s just weird to see them now that this work has gone full Cerebus on me.

    Oh, another thing I liked! Latias being suspicious of Metagross and his weird logic loops! Something’s definitely up there, but I’m glad that someone’s finally starting to take alternative action. Overall, this episode starts off semi slowly, but not too badly. Some scenes felt like they went longer than they had to, but hey, it’s just the first chapter.


    45, 46.
    I read the following two chapters in succession! The first chapter was more interesting than the second, I’d say, but both felt like they dragged on for longer than they needed to. This was one of those moments where the medium that is being used—literature—maybe have played a bit to your disadvantage. We have another “puzzle room” that more or less dragged on with just describing what the puzzle looked like, and… It’s basically one of those points where if this was a visual-based medium, like a game or a comic, it would’ve been a lot better.

    That also goes for the four-phase battle that, while nice and nostalgic (and a very clear reference to Star Dream OS!) deeefinitely went on for longer than it needed to. I feel like the fight against Team Meanies and Team Future could’ve been cut in half, though I think the fight against Team Nihil and Dark Matter was an appropriate length. I was worried this would go on forever; I like boss gauntlets in video games, not books!

    Anyway, that aside, I think there were two scenes that really stood out to me this time around. The first one was the one between Zero and Necky, because it really shows the dynamic of them being evil frienemies. They need each other but once one gets what they need, the other one is donezo. Makes me wonder who will strike first~

    The second one was Shane and Necky interacting with one another. It’s a bit odd to not have him, well, wreck their fur off, but I suppose there are plot reasons for him just leaving like that, perhaps because Zero scolded him not to. But the whole interaction with him and the phone was really charming, in a weird way. Shows how unhinged he is, but still has a weird nature to him. And I know you didn’t play Undertale at the time of writing this, but seriously, “It’s me. Your best friend.” Like, for real? It’s no wonder Necky got Flowey comparisons!

    Anyway, aside from the fact that it dragged on, the parts that weren’t the fight or the puzzle went really well. Just have some quotes that stood out to me…


    I know it only happened one chapter ago, but this was still a really good echo.



    Fun fact! Dark Matter only starts Typeless. He actually randomly turns into a Type that has an advantage over the last Type that struck it, every time, like a better Kecleon ability. Not sure if Shane should know this or not, but… yeah. Nice little trivia there.



    That’s literally the flavor text for Kirby!canon!clone!Zero, isn’t it?


    47.
    Oh boy, this next chapter was an interesting twist. We have more of a conversation between Shane and Necky, someone dies (it happens so often that I’m kinda desensitized at this point – this is a bit of a pitfall of killing people off too often) and more interestingly, it seems that Necky is doing his best to hint at Shane without outright telling him. And I gotta agree with him—how does Shane not realize it after all the very clear drops that he’s been giving?

    But that’s not really the main attraction here: The main attraction is that for some reason, Metagross’ style of talking has changed dramatically. And along with that, he’s the fic’s Dusknoir! So Gallian was right… Huh, where is he, anyway?

    I’m a bit surprised that you laid it all out so obviously at this point after it being such a big mystery up to this point, only vaguely brushed upon. And it seems like Braviary isn’t in on it the same way Metagross’ strange paranoia is in full force.


    48.
    Called it! There goes Serperior and Milotic. But you conveniently didn’t reveal which one was gonna be Fire and which one Ice, hmph. Guess I’ll have to wait and see for that, though I’m a little curious why Necky decided to hang onto Volcarona’s body for a bit… That was definitely some nonstandard practice by him. What’s he doing? And that just reminds me of the little oddity he did with Dragonite, too. For someone afraid of everyone betraying him, he’s not beyond a bit of scheming himself.

    That reminds me! One thing that I want to praise that crossed my mind for this chapter—you do a good job at, while not spending much time in any particular area for long, depicting the areas enough that they feel diverse and meaningful and imaginative. I could really feel the desert sands and heat of Shane and company’s journey into Bulu’s abode. Bulu himself was a large ham. A shame that he’s probably going to die like everyone else, though at this point I’ve got compassion fatigue.


    49.
    I notice in your author’s note that this is where you decided to get Shane to realize it was Nicky a bit sooner. Seems like that led to a lot of cascading changes, since it certainly felt like it came about like a “sudden delayed reaction” kind of deal. However! I thought that, suddenness aside, it actually led to a very interesting dynamic between Shane and Necky—as well as the parallel that it had between Tessa and Zero. Interesting in particular because despite everything, I think Tessa was the one who took it well this time! She’s really growing as a character, isn’t she? Held it together a lot better than Shane did.

    Hm, hm, but I think the main attraction that stood out to me here, aside from Umbreon’s sacrifice (which may or may not have been self-serving in a really morbid way, but it feels ambiguous there) was Shane’s little vision near the end. He saw Solgaleo rushing to him… in outer space? Something about that doesn’t feel right. Whose memories were those? Shane’s again? Or…? Hmm. I’m going to keep this one in the back of my mind, because my theory on it is… weird.

    The only way this makes sense, with what I know now, is that Shane either is, contains, or is somehow related to Dark Matter directly, and Solgaleo, or something like that. Speaking of which! Shane knowing Heat Wave! I think I mentioned this to you in private, but Sol can’t learn Heat Wave for some reason. Makes no sense. But with this Dark Matter thing in place… Lunala and Necrozma can both learn it. And Morning Sun—Solgaleo and Necrozma can both learn it.

    Which also means that Shane, Nicky, and Dark Matter could potentially be intertwined in a more literal sense. Hm. Well. Either way. Crackpot theory. I’m gonna sit on it until more info comes out.

    I’m also suspicious of how easily Metagross was taken down. From a narrative standpoint, I don’t trust that; he’s totally going to show up later in some way.


    50.
    Ahhh, a true breather chapter, and a lot of secrets are coming out. Overall, I thought that this was handled well; it was a bit quick at times, but I think in general Shane, Silvally, and Tessa got through their issues really well, and Espy, the loudest and most bawling, was handled as well as she could be. It’s always hard and awkward to write out people who react like that, even when it’s justified.

    The curiosity here is Shane’s remarks about not feeling like himself and losing his humanity. I’m kinda surprised that it’s coming up now of all times, since usually in an isekai that sort of thing gets brought up a biiit earlier, but hey! Works for me, but what’s really intriguing is how that ties in to what I mentioned above.


    (Bonus)
    And now we have an interesting Bonus chapter that is more or less a shift in perspective than anything else, since the plot’s still advancing. This time with Latias—I think the most important piece of information given here would be the fact that Mewtwo is now in the mix, though more as a stubborn lone wolf (cat) than anything, and also Lugia making an appearance as Latias’ mate. Oh, and the fact that Latias was able to get a sense for how twisted Metagross was, and that apparently he’s a “forced fusion” between himself and a ‘feral’ Metang. That definitely explained my suspicions that I had mentioned above.


    51.
    And now, the final chapter. So, I’m a bit curious why Zero and her allies will remember the rewriting of history if they themselves are part of it. Or is that just some kind of paradox-proof thing because it’s more like a rewind, or… bah, I don’t know. Time mechanics are weird and they rarely work out, so whatever is said, I’ll take it as the established “rules” and not complain. Time sucks.

    …Jamba Heart. Oh my god. You just—okay, I mean. Yes. Good. You’re fully owning this. Kudos. Will there be a Kirby cameo? At the very end? Oh please let there be a Kirby cameo at the very end. A pink blob or a warp star in the sky. Something.

    There’s something ironic about Haunter saying “Zoinks.” I know you did that intentionally and this upsets me.

    The rest of the chapter, I feel, was handled well. There’s a big theme of inaction going on with the characters you have and in general a lot of the problems that are being alluded to regarding present-day problems that Zero is talking about in particular. Braviary, Incineroar, Latias… any of them could have potentially stepped in to stop things from escalating the way they did, but they didn’t, likely because they were afraid, or they found excuses, etc. etc. to not rock the boat. It’s an interesting theme to take on, and makes me wonder what that means for Team Radiance down the line. After all, they had done something similar for Tessa by not telling her about Zero right away; perhaps they’ll be learning from this? Or perhaps not. Who knows?

    --

    Anyway, overall? Pretty solid episode. The paradigm has definitely shifted around, and now we have a clear goal on what to do next—though what to do after that still feels nebulous. Once, or if, they gather all the shards… what then, exactly? Guess we’ll have to see.
     
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