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TEEN: A Blond Ray of Sunshine (11/27/2019: Chapter 30)

Chapter 29
Imagination Station
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Chapter 29


Latoshi led his siblings to the spot in the woods where he had found Poka and Chika. From there, the trio followed the Pichus directions and trekked north, toward Route 36. The snow patches between the trees fluctuated wildly, reaching anywhere between several inches and all the way up to their chests. With the radiant heat emanating from their auras, the snow evaporated on contact with their bodies.

After a half an hour of walking, however, the hills of white abruptly leveled off until there was nothing left. For the first time in what felt like forever, the siblings stood upon bare dirt and grass within the forest. All three of them were equally astonished at the sight. As the Pichus had told them, they found themselves in a green oasis, completely devoid of snow. The cloud cover over their head was still just as dense as anywhere else. Antoshi narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Whoever was behind this didn't just control the weather — they were also smart enough to cover their hiding place so it wouldn't show up on weather radars.

“Be careful,” he said to his siblings. “We don't know who's here, or what exactly it is we're walking into. Don't let your guards down.” Latoshi and Mitoshi nodded, their irises glowing intensely with the respective colors of their Ki. All three of them dissipated their aura in a simultaneous effort to conserve their energy.

They moved slowly and quietly, staying close together. Their eyes scanned around every inch of the area around them — every blade of grass, every leaf upon each tree, every sound in the breeze. They even paid attention to any deviation in the crisp, clean, cool scent in the air. Nothing escaped their heightened senses.

Suddenly, all three of them turned their attention to a fixed point in front of them: the sound of footsteps gently brushing across the grass. Mitoshi swallowed nervously; all three of them incredibly tense as to who was about to join them.

From behind the trees emerged a young man of average, mid-teen build, and hair of pure white. The siblings, however, were shocked beyond reason at his appearance. He was covered in the black fur and accurate golden markings of an Umbreon. Tall, black, gold-ringed ears pointed out from the top of his head, and a similar tail stuck out from his tailbone. The sclera of his eyes were red, his irises pure black. His clothes — a white t-shirt, the sleeves of which torn off long ago, and blue jeans that seemed to be a bit small for him — were dirty, scuffed, and very worn in.

He was exactly as the Pichu twins had described: a person, but also a Pokémon.

The siblings were too stunned to speak. None of them knew what to say to the smiling young man, who seemed to be only mildly surprised to encounter them.

“Howdy there, folks!” he said, in a friendly, yet faux, country accent. “What brings ya' 'round these parts?”

“Uh, …” Antoshi spoke up, trying to find the words. “Hello … there. We were, uh, wondering if you could help us. We're looking for anyone who might know about the cause of this sudden blizzard.”

“The blizzard, you say?” the young man replied, in his normal voice. He shrugged casually. “Sorry, I wouldn't know anyone or anything to do with that. What makes you think I would?”

“We … just happened to be exploring nearby and found this place,” Antoshi replied. “It seems a little strange that … this happens to be the only area where the snow isn't falling.”

“Hey, that's true, isn't it?” he mused, gazing up at the cloudy sky. “Strange storms can cause strange things, don't you think?”

“Yeah, …” Antoshi replied, eying him suspiciously. “Very strange things.”

“Well, it's nice to see visitors around here for once,” he said, “but, unfortunately, you three are going to have to head back the way you came.” The three siblings looked at each other. Things were becoming curiouser and curiouser.

“… Why is it we have to go back?” Antoshi asked. “Are you trying to protect something?” The young man smiled and shrugged in response. “Erm, … why don't we introduce ourselves first? I'm Antoshi, this is my brother Latoshi, and my sister, Mitoshi.” Latoshi remained apathetic to the situation while Mitoshi smiled and waved to him.

“Oh-ho, cool names!” the young man replied. “Mine's Kage — and that's 'cage' with a 'k'. I know, it's awesome.” He stood proud while the others stared at him in bewilderment. Latoshi silently mouthed his name in disbelief. Having once believed his own name was made-up, 'Kage' was most certainly not a birth name.

“… Yeah,” Antoshi said, after a moment of awkward silence. “Anyway, we're here because we wanted to investigate.”

The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Investigating? Oh, sweet, are the three of you detectives?” he asked, awe-struck. “I didn't think such young kids could get hired as private eyes.”

The siblings became more concerned at how unexpectedly foolish Kage came off as.

“Um, … well, no,” Antoshi replied, “we're not detectives. We're more like … concerned citizens. We were told that whatever or whoever might be causing this snowstorm is around here somewhere. We just want to understand what's going on and see if we can help.” The other two nodded in agreement.

The young male Umbreon narrowed his eyes. His expression turned stern, becoming very suspicious and wary of the trio. However, his mood abruptly lightened up again.

“Nope!” he replied, chuckling. “There's nothing like that here. Whoever told you that is wrong. Sorry I couldn't be of any more help to you three. Have a safe trip back!”

Now it was the siblings' turn to be suspicious of him. The Pichus wouldn't have any reason to lie — not after what they endured. The fact that Kage, an Umbreon-like human, was standing before them was proof enough that the little ones were telling the truth.

“Listen,” Latoshi spoke up in an impertinent tone, “we're not stupid. Whoever you're covering for doesn't give a damn about others, and they sure don't give a damn about the innocent Pokémon that are being affected by this blizzard. Don't you even care that there are Pokémon out there, right now, that aren't prepared for this cold? They're freezing and dying out there!”

Antoshi held a hand out to his brother to get him to stop, giving him a concerned gaze. He was fully aware that his brother had a personal stake in this bizarre weather, but, he didn't want to upset and alienate what could be their only lead. Latoshi folded his arms across his chest, huffing in frustration, allowing his brother to take charge again.

Kage bit his lip, turning away to hide a worried expression. He gazed out at the snowy woods in the distance, contemplating the truth behind the sable-haired boy's words. He closed his eyes and shook his head.

“I—I'd like to help you, I really would. I just can't. I'm sorry.” Latoshi scowled, clenching his fists. The very thought of those two Pichu snowed over and helpless fueled the fires of his anger. “But, hey, if you guys want to stay for a little while, I've got some great jokes to tell you!”

“Jokes?” Latoshi mused, enraged. He let his hands fall at his sides. “We don't have time for your stupid jokes! There's nothing funny about any of this!”

“Oh, come on!” Kage whined. “I've got some really good ones, too! 'Why did the Farfetch'd cross the road', 'three Mr. Mime walk into a bar'. … Oh! I've got some killer 'knock, knock' puns that'll knock you off your toes!”

Latoshi was at his breaking point. “Look, idiot!” he shouted, catching them all off guard. “Move your ass out of the way and let us through or I'm going to knock, knock your head off! We've wasted enough time here listening to you!”

“Latoshi, please,” Antoshi said in concern, turning to him, “calm down.”

“Sheesh,” Kage replied, rubbing the back of his head. “You sure remind me of someone I know.” Latoshi snarled, stepping forward, holding up a fist in a threatening manner. Both of his siblings followed him, holding back each of his shoulders. “Okay, okay!” he exclaimed, cowering. “I'll let you through.” Latoshi sighed, calming down some. “But, before I do, you have to listen to just one joke, okay?”

Latoshi sighed in frustration, rubbing his forehead. “Fine. One stupid joke.”

“Sweet!” Kage replied, pumped up. “Now, each of you, look straight at me. You really gotta observe and appreciate the timing of a true comedic master.” Latoshi rolled his eyes, following suit with his siblings as they all did as he said. “Okay. 'Knock, knock.'”

“Who's there?” all three of them replied.

“You.”

“You, who?”

Kage grinned from ear to ear. Suddenly, his red eyes and the golden rings on his body began to glow brightly with a mysterious energy. “You thought you were getting past me, but you were wrong…”

The siblings all gasped in shock as the world around them began to spiral and blur before fading to black.

“What the hell's going on here?!” Latoshi exclaimed. He turned his attention to Kage, who grinned at him. “You bastard!” Latoshi lunged at him, only for the young man to inexplicably drift away out of his reach.

“It was nice knowing the three of you,” Kage said, quietly, his voice echoing in their heads. The male Umbreon faded from sight. “You're stuck in a deep, dark hellscape now — doomed to wander around forever. I don't know if you'll ever be able to come back…”

“What—what are you talking about?” Antoshi asked. “Why are you doing this?!”

“Because I told you to leave, but it's too late for that now,” Kage replied, his voice getting further and quieter. “Hey, … why don't you take a look around? …”

Antoshi did so, startled to realize that his siblings were gone as well. He was all alone. “Latoshi?” he called out, waiting a moment for a response. “Mitoshi? Are you there?” There was no response from either of them.

He started to walk around, aimlessly, through a void of complete darkness. He turned his head and eyes in all directions, seeing absolutely nothing beyond the dark. All he could hear was his own breathing, and nothing else.

‘Where am I?’ he thought. ‘Did he really send me to some strange location? Or, did I … lose my eyesight somehow?’

First and foremost on his mind was finding his siblings. Antoshi wandered for a while in the quiet, pitch black space. Fear and doubt began creeping in his mind. There was nothing he could think of to get him out of his solitary confinement. He attempted to fly, but that was to no avail — he couldn't focus his mind, let alone gather his Ki. Kage's unknown power was far beyond anything he, Latoshi, and Mitoshi could've prepared for.

After what felt like hours of torturous walking, Antoshi suddenly picked up a faraway shout from his brother behind him. He turned around, finding Latoshi laid on the ground. His elation to have found one of the others quickly turned to worry. He ran over to him immediately.

“Latoshi!” he said, getting no response. He knelt down beside him, shaking him. The sable-haired boy was on his side. “Latoshi. Are you okay? What happened—” Upon rolling him onto his back, he saw the wide, terrified stare in Latoshi's glazed eyes. The boy was totally lifeless. He paused for a moment, stricken by shock and grief. “No,” he whispered, slapping and shaking him some more. “No, please. Latoshi! Please wake up! Latoshi!!”

His eyes quickly filled with tears, horror and heartache sweeping through him. “No, no, no …” he whispered, weeping, placing his forehead on Latoshi's chest. “No, this can't be happening. This can't be. … Please get up, Latoshi …”

As the blond boy cried in agony, he was startled by another nearby scream. He gasped, jumping up to find his sister laid out on the ground just a few feet away. “Mitoshi, no!!” he shouted, crawling over to her. She was just as devoid of life as Latoshi. “Why?!” he exclaimed, clasping his hands over her limp hand. He trembled, sobbing uncontrollably, his face covered with tears. “Why … how did this happen? Mitoshi, … please say something …”

He sniffled, clenching his eyes shut, holding her hand against his forehead for a moment. As he turned his gaze upward, his expression turned pale.

“No,” he whispered, letting go of her, as he climbed to his feet. Laid before him was a trail of bodies — everyone he loved. Fireball, Bubbles, his adoptive parents, and his birth parents. They were all dead.

He staggered forward, before dropping to his knees from the horrible weight he felt. His entire world had shattered. “Why?” he whispered, feeling terror and sorrow unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. He grasped handfuls of his hair, shutting his eyes, straining and sobbing. “Why?!” he shouted as loudly as he could.

At the same time, Latoshi gasped in surprise, hearing Antoshi's voice cry out from afar. The sable-haired boy found himself trapped in a prison cell — the very same cell upon the military island base. The sterile, white room with the same blinding, white lights overhead were all too painfully familiar to him. He had been calling out for some time, hoping that anyone would hear him, but, he was alone … all over again.

“Antoshi?!” he shouted, looking all around. The cameras watched his every move from the hallway outside the acrylic glass barrier. He was garbed in the same plain, white clothing, and his feet were bare. Everything was just as he remembered it. “Damn it!!” he screamed, pounding his fists on the glass in rage. “How did this … happen?! How did I get back here?! I- … I can't remember!”

Like his brother, he attempted to dredge up his Ki to no avail. He was as helpless in his cell as he was the first time he was there.

“Mitoshi!” he called out. “Someone, please help! Someone has to be able to hear me!!” Just then, the rhythmic tapping of approaching footsteps against the cold, tile floor grew close. His eyes widened and his heart sank, recognizing the walking pattern. The sound echoed in his mind, growing louder and closer.

“No, …” he whispered, just before General Logan walked up to and stopped in front of his cell. The man smiled, cordially, holding a clipboard behind his back. “It c-can't be. … You're dead! I killed you!”

“Hallucinating now, are we?” Logan responded, calmly. “I never died. I'm right here, and you're right there — where you should be. You're still a threat to the security of Johto, and the world, quite frankly. So, let's not beat around the bush anymore, shall we? You already know why you're here, and you know that you're never getting out of here alive. Not unless, of course, I sign off on it. Now, why don't we start by giving me some information, huh? Your name, your address, name of your parents?”

Latoshi was totally mesmerized and bewildered. The man he watched go down in a ball of flames was standing before him, alive and well, while he himself was locked up in the very same prison cell he broke out of and destroyed. He started to pant, fearfully, holding his head. Did he really leave in the first place? Was everything about his powers, his family, his future … all just a dream? His surroundings were exactly the same. The prison was just as cold and white and quiet as ever. The same dreadful, sterile scent wafted through the air. The lights in the ceiling gave off their usual quiet hum. It was as if he never left.

“Well?” the General spoke. “Are you going to say anything, son?”

“What— … what happened to me?” the boy asked, as his eyes welled with tears. “Why am I back here? Where's my … brother, and my sister?”

“You have names for those siblings of yours?” Logan asked, clicking his pen.

“Their names are— … their … names … are …” he panted heavily, feeling light-headed. “I can't … I can't remember! Why can't I remember?!”

“Take it slowly, son. You're only going to spiral into a panic. Why don't you just … describe them for me?”

“Uh, … my brother, he— … he has blue hair— no, wait. That's not right. My-my sister she has long, … blonde hair. Or, … was it short hair? She liked blue! I remember she liked … the color blue, and my brother is … my brother … did I … have a brother?” He looked at the General with a fearful expression. “What's happening to me?!” he exclaimed, sobbing. “Why can't I remember anything?! They were right here! My brother was right … here!”

“Okay, okay. Just relax now,” Logan said, in a futile attempt to reassure the boy. “Let me bring in someone to help. I think he'll be able to 'reconnect the dots', so to speak, with your memory.” Latoshi held his head down, trying to calm his breathing and his pounding heart. “Come on over here, sir,” Logan said to an unknown party.

“Hello there, … Latoshi,” a very familiar, very unwelcome voice spoke to him. He froze in terror for a moment, lifting his head slowly to find the amorphous mass of black Ki known as Lazarus hovering beside the General.

Latoshi's eyes bulged out, scrambling backward, pressed against the far wall of the cell. “No!!” he shouted. “No, you can't be back! Get out of here! Get away from me!!”

“Oh, but I am,” Lazarus replied, chuckling in amusement. “ I am very much back. Now, I am here now to take care of everything. I can help you recall your memories. All you have to do is put your trust in me…”

“No!!” the boy screamed at the top of his lungs. “No!!”

Mitoshi gasped, picking up the faraway voice of her sable-haired brother. “Latoshi?” she mused, quietly. She'd wandered back out of the forest by herself, trudging through the snow, heading to the cabin. Unable to muster her Ki, the girl had been forced her to walk all the way back. She'd been calling out for her brothers the whole time, but, they were nowhere to be found. She found it incredibly strange that they would suddenly abandon her like that. Her heart had sunk in a mix of sadness and anger.

Mitoshi sighed to herself, rubbing her arms to warm herself amid the wildly falling snow. She stamped back up the porch and headed inside.

“Hey, Bubbles!” she called out, closing the door behind her. “Have you seen my brothers?” There was no response. “Bubbles! Fireball!” She looked around their small house, opening every room, finding no trace of the two Pokémon anywhere. “Poka? Chika?” The girl paused for a moment, concerned and confused. She headed over to Bubbles' Poké Ball, taking it off its usual pedestal, holding it out in front of her. “Bubbles, come on out! I really need to talk to you!” The ball remained inert.

She looked at it in confusion, her jaw hanging. “Bubbles?” she spoke, softly. “Are you in there?” Again, there was no response. She placed the ball back where it belonged, running a shaky hand through her long hair. “Okay, … there's no need to panic. They're all probably just teasing me.” She chuckled, nervously. “Yes, that's it. They're playing a mean trick on me. They want to see me get scared and then they'll jump out and yell 'surprise!' or something.”

Her breathing became markedly heavier and fearful. She again rubbed her arms in the cold and eerie silence of the empty cabin. “Come on out!” she said. “I know you guys are around, okay? You got me! That—that was a good one! … Guys? Please, come on out now!”

Mitoshi swallowed again, waiting a few moments in the painful quiet. “Guys?!” she called out. There was no response. “Okay. Okay, … maybe they … maybe they went to our parents house or something. Maybe they were waiting for me to follow them.”

She sat down in front of the videophone, dialing her home number as quickly as she could. It rang several times, but there was no answer. She stared in disbelief for a moment before trying to call again. As before, no one answered.

She sniffled, her eyes starting to well up with tears. “Guys!” she shouted, getting back to her feet. “Come on, stop this! It isn't funny, okay?! You're really hurting my feelings doing this!”

Mitoshi huffed and sobbed, quietly, wandering back over to the front door. She stood out on the porch, watching the powerful blizzard sending down blinding snow before her. Unable to use her powers, and totally lost from her loved ones, she felt so helpless and empty. She fell to her knees, crying uncontrollably.

“Someone!” she shouted. “Antoshi! Latoshi! … Where are you?!”

⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

Back in the real world, however, Kage snickered to himself. His eyes and rings continued to glow bright. The three siblings were still standing before him, having never left. Each of them had dull, faraway looks in their glazed eyes, tears trickling down their faces. The young man sighed.

‘I do hate to do this to them,’ he thought, ‘but, they left me no choice. These kids are going to wander through the most painful fears their minds can fathom until they go insane. That's when I gotta drag them out of here. They'll never come back after that. Whether they live or die from their experience doesn't matter to me. I can't let anyone through, no matter what.’ His attention turned to Latoshi, recalling what the boy said earlier. ‘I just hope Ken really knows what he's doing…’

⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

“This can't be real,” Antoshi whispered, gasping and sobbing. He had already started digging graves in the black void using his bare hands.

“I don't want this to be real,” Latoshi remarked, cowering in the corner of his cell. Lazarus was seeping through the glass, attempting to reach the boy.

“Please, please just let this all be a horrible dream,” Mitoshi whispered. She knelt out in the middle of the field outside their home, mindlessly raking her hands through the piled snow as more continued to fall upon her. ‘Antoshi …’ she thought, closing her eyes, as more tears fell from them. ‘Antoshi, … please come back.’

Antoshi looked down at his lifeless sister, cradled in his arms. He sniffled, shaking his head in disbelief, before laying her down in one of the graves he'd made.

‘… back,’ Antoshi heard the girl's voice in his head. He gasped in a mix of shock and relief. ‘Antoshi, … please come back.’

“Mi—Mitoshi?” he mused, his voice trembling. Antoshi looked down at the girl, who was still lifeless and most certainly incapable of speaking. He sighed, closing his eyes, chalking it up to some passing memory.

‘Antoshi!!’ the girl's voice spoke in his mind once again, louder, and with much more conviction. He unexpectedly dropped her into the grave.

‘Mitoshi?!’ he thought.

At the same time, the real Mitoshi's face lit up, gasping loudly.

‘Mitoshi, is—is that you?’ Antoshi spoke to her in her mind.

‘Yes, it's me, Antoshi!’ she thought. Her very thoughts pierced through the inky darkness that surrounded Antoshi, allowing him to both hear and communicate with her. ‘Where are you?!’

Antoshi looked down at the girl's corpse. He was at a complete loss for words, confused as to what was happening. He knew, however, that he was not looking at the real Mitoshi laying in that shallow grave.

‘Antoshi?’ the girl spoke again. ‘Are you there?’

‘Yes, yes, Mitoshi!’
he replied, smiling in relief, closing his tear stained eyes. ‘I'm here! What—what's going on? How come I can hear you in my mind? I thought you were …’

‘I'm not sure what's going on, either. But, I'm here, back at the cabin! I can't find you or Latoshi or anyone! Where did you all go?’

‘I—I—I never left! I'm still here in the woods, I think. I'm in some kind of … dark … void or something!’

‘Do you know where Latoshi is?’

‘Mitoshi, I … I see all of you, but, … to me, you were all …
dead. You're all dead in front of me right now.’

Mitoshi was startled before grinning reassuringly. ‘I'm not dead, I promise! We need to find Latoshi, though! I'm not sure how to … tune this 'frequency', or whatever we're doing, to call him!’

Antoshi thought for a moment. ‘Could it be that … we're hearing each others' thoughts? Like, … telepathy?’

‘I—I guess that's possible?’
she replied, confused. ‘I didn't know we could do this!’

‘Neither did I. Why don't we … try to search him out with our minds? You were calling out to me when I heard you, let's try the same for him!’
Mitoshi nodded in response.

‘Latoshi!’ they both called out in their minds. ‘… Latoshi!’

Latoshi wept and trembled as Lazarus inched ever closer to him.

‘Latoshi!!’ he heard the voices of his siblings in his head. He gasped loudly.

‘An … toshi?’ he thought, finally recalling his brother's name. ‘… Mitoshi?’ His inner voice got through the two, who were equally ecstatic to hear him.

‘Latoshi!’ Antoshi spoke to him. ‘Are you all right? Where are you right now?’

Latoshi held his head, trembling in disbelief. ‘Antoshi? Is that really you?’

‘Hey, I'm here, too!’
Mitoshi said, grinning. ‘You wouldn't forget about your dear sister, would you?’

‘Mitoshi,’
the sable-haired boy replied in awe. ‘You're both really … still here. It wasn't all just a dream.’

Able to converse with each other and pierce the veil that had fooled them, all three siblings had their sanity slowly return to them.

‘Where are you right now?’ Antoshi asked.

‘I—I'm in the military base,’ his brother replied. ‘I'm trapped here. I don't know how to get out!’

‘Military base?’
Antoshi mused. ‘No, … that's long gone, Latoshi. It doesn't exist. This is all just an illusion!’

‘Illusion?’
both of his siblings replied in unison.

‘Yes, I think I understand now,’ Antoshi said. ‘Kage … used some kind of power on us. What we're seeing isn't real. He's projecting some kind of hallucinations on us. All three of us are safe and sound. We're all still here in the woods, … together.’

Latoshi and Mitoshi smiled, both of them getting back to their feet. The visions all three siblings thought they saw before them started to fade away, much to their shock. They were left in the same kind of empty, black void that Antoshi had been lost in.

‘What should we do?’ Mitoshi asked.

‘Concentrate,’ Antoshi replied. ‘There has to be some kind of way to break out of this spell. Both of you, try to tap into your Ki, even if you can't feel it right now. This is all just a dream — a dream we have to wake up from!’

‘Right!’
both of them replied.

The sibling trio shut their eyes, focusing on the well of emotions that had built up from the torturous visions Kage had put them through. They each grunted and strained with all their might, summoning up their Ki the same way they always knew how to. Slowly and surely, the trio found a light breaking through the darkness.

⁂ ⁂ ⁂​

In the real world, Kage's expression turned to shock. “No way,” he whispered. The three siblings were stirring back to life.

The color returned to their eyes — the colors of their respective Ki, which shone and glowed brightly; brighter than even Kage's eyes. With a sudden, explosive push that staggered Kage backward, all three of their auras flared to life. The three of them looked around in awe, finding themselves back to reality.

“Oh, my gosh!” Mitoshi exclaimed, laughing and sobbing in joy, as she stared at her brothers. “We made it!”

“Heck yeah, we did,” Latoshi replied, both he and his brother grinning. Mitoshi hugged them both, kissing them on the cheek.

“That's crazy!” Kage exclaimed, stepping back a few paces. “No one's ever been able to break out of my hypnosis like that!” The three siblings turned their attention to Kage.

“There's a lot more I'm about to break, funny guy!” Latoshi shouted, scowling at the young man.

“Latoshi, wait,” Antoshi said. Latoshi sighed, folding his arms over his chest.

“Fine. You wanted to take the reigns on this one. I'll leave it to you, then.”

Antoshi smiled to him, before turning to the terrified Kage.

“We are not angry at you,” Antoshi reassured him. “We only wanted to talk to you from the very beginning — that's all. We just want to find a peaceful resolution to this blizzard. Let's just talk, okay?”

Kage swallowed, nervously. These three kids were most certainly not normal. They'd just created an inexplicable set of light shows around their bodies. He was unsure if he could trust them — or anyone.

“I— there's n-nothing to talk about,” Kage stammered, shaking his head. “I can't let you three past me, that's all there is to it. Please, just g-go away.”

“What is it you're hiding?” Antoshi asked. “Help us understand! What are you trying to accomplish here? What good comes from all of this?”

Kage sighed and shook his head again. “You … you can't understand. You would never understand what it's like for us.”

“'Us'?” Mitoshi mused.

“The three of you are just … normal-looking kids. You don't know how it is to be like … this.” Kage held his arms out, looking down at himself.

The three siblings were confused as to what exactly he meant.

“You mean, you … really look like that?” Antoshi asked. “It's not some kind of costume?”

“Costume,” Kage remarked with an amused scoff. “I wish it was. I wish I could just … take my skin off and start all over.” Latoshi and Mitoshi looked to each other in concern.

“Tell us, what made you look like tha—”

“Enough!” Kage shouted. His eyes and golden rings began to glow again. The three siblings immediately took a fighting stance, preparing for him to use his powers again. “You're not going to trick me like the other humans did! You're not going to fool us, any of us, anymore! This is our time now! We're the ones that are in control — not you!”

“Your power isn't going to work on us again,” Antoshi said. “We already know how to deal with it!”

Kage chuckled and grinned. “Who said I only had one ability, huh?” Similar to before, the world around them quickly grew dark. The trio gasped, watching the darkness sweep over them. “Just as any Dark-type Pokémon, I can use the darkness as my ally …”

With a mischievous laugh, he skulked backward, stunning the trio as he disappeared into the shadows.

“Where'd he go?” Mitoshi wondered aloud. “Is this … the same spell he used before?”

“No,” Latoshi replied, looking around, “it's different this time. We can at least see each other now.”

“It's either another projection,” Antoshi said, “or, he's literally removed the light from around us somehow.”

“Why not both, huh?!” Kage said from beyond the darkness. The three siblings narrowed their eyes, keeping their guard up. “The three of you are trapped here for as long as I want you to be! Unlike my hypnosis, you won't be able to break out of this one, since you're all still conscious! But, that's just something I'll have to beat out of you the old-fashioned way!”

“Bring it on, you unfunny idiot!” Latoshi shouted, standing shoulder to shoulder with his sister as they looked around.

“How about I start with you, you wannabe edgy tough guy!?” Kage exclaimed.

“No!” Antoshi shouted. “Leave them out of this! If you want someone to beat up on, then, I'm right here!”

Kage laughed. “Fine, whatever! I have to take all of you down, anyway!”

Antoshi shouted as a sudden punch rattled his jaw from the darkness. A trail of blood trickled from his mouth. His siblings gasped in surprise.

“Antoshi!” Mitoshi cried out in concern.

“It's all right,” Antoshi replied to her. He exhaled slowly, dropping his guard completely, letting his arms fall at his sides. The red aura faded from his body, and his eyes returned to their regular chestnut color. His siblings watched as Antoshi let his overall power drop significantly. The blond boy closed his eyes, displaying no further resistance.

‘What's he doing?’ Mitoshi thought, communicating her thoughts to Latoshi with their newfound ability.

‘I'm not sure,’ Latoshi replied to her. ‘However, this is Antoshi we're talking about here. He's always got some kind of plan.’

‘Ohh, I just hope you're right…’
Mitoshi said, biting her lip.

The humanoid Umbreon laughed in amusement, firing off punches from different angles at the blond boy. Antoshi clenched his jaw as his head was jerked from side to side

“I've never had a living punching bag before!” Kage said. Antoshi ignored the pain from the strikes. He instead focused on what he was hearing and studied the directions each punch was coming from. “Man, you take a long time to knock out! Fall unconscious already!”

“Not happening,” Antoshi replied. He swiftly reached up in the instant before Kage's next punch was about to land, grabbing the young man by his furred forearm. Kage gasped in shock. “Especially because this fight is over now.”

His siblings' faces lit up with glee.

“All right, Antoshi!” Mitoshi cheered. “That was cool!”

To their collective surprise, the darkness seeped away from the land, returning everything to normal in a matter of moments. No longer hidden by the shadows, Kage stared at them, his eyes wide in disbelief. He grunted, attempting to pull away from Antoshi's overwhelmingly strong grip to no avail. He grinned and chuckled at the blond boy, nervously.

“Hey, um, … so, this is awkward, huh?” Kage asked. “How about we … break the awkward moment with a great joke?”

“Sure, I got one,” Antoshi replied, with a playful smirk. The Umbreon-like young man stared back at him, fearfully. “'Knock, knock.'”

“Wh—who's there?” Kage replied, timidly.

“Chop.”

“Chop … who?”

With his free hand, Antoshi gave Kage a swift chop to the side of his neck. It was a maneuver he'd learned about in his martial arts books at the library. Kage groaned weakly, promptly dropping to his knees and falling face-first to the ground. The humanoid Umbreon was left unconscious.

“Chop you,” Antoshi replied, chuckling to himself. Latoshi sighed in defeat, shaking his head at the terrible joke while Mitoshi hopped and cheered for Antoshi.

“Wow,” Latoshi remarked, walking up to his brother. “So, it turns out this guy was a big weakling after all. All he had was his little powers. Once we saw through that, he was as much of a threat as a wet sponge. If there's any others around here like him, this is going to be a cakewalk. You know what? Let me take the next one.”

Antoshi sighed. “Fine, you can deal with the next one. Latoshi,” he began, looking his brother squarely in the eye, “remember: we're here to try to resolve things peacefully. Let's not turn this into a melee if we can help it. Okay?”

“I got it, I got it,” Latoshi reassured him, grinning. He turned away, stuffing his hands in his pockets, leading the other two further into the grassy portion of the forest. His expression turned to bitterness, recalling the sight of the Pichu twins nearly dead in the snow. Unfortunately for Antoshi, his brother was not past his penchant for violence. Latoshi was far less interested in diplomacy — not with the personal stake he carried into their endeavor.


—————
Chapter 30 »
 
Chapter 30
Imagination Station
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Chapter 30


As the siblings walked further into the oasis of green, they picked up on the sounds of movement nearby. Footsteps, coming toward them, moving across the grass at an incredibly quick pace, yet remaining nearly silent. When the rapid stamping came to a halt, so did they.

“Careful,” Antoshi told his siblings, quietly. Mitoshi nodded.

“I thought I was taking the lead this time,” Latoshi replied, also keeping his voice hushed. Antoshi put a finger to his own lips and shushed his brother.

The three of them waited for a few moments, relying on their heightened senses to detect the presence of anyone near. Like with Kage, they were unable to sense any nearby Ki, leading them to realize the group they were seeking out did not use spirit energy for their abilities.

“Come on out,” Antoshi called out. “We know you're around.”

After a brief silence, a distinctively feminine 'humph' from behind one of the trees responded to him. They immediately turned their attention to the source, being joined by a young woman — another Umbreon-like person, just like Kage. All three of them were equally as stunned by her appearance as well. She stood several meters away from them, casually brushing away the purple bangs that fell just past her eyes and behind her shoulders. She wore a white t-shirt with a purple star on the chest, long purple jeans, and white shoes. Like Kage, her clothing was worn and scuffed. With one eye purple and the other eye black with red sclera, she focused a cutting glare at the three siblings.

“Hello there,” Antoshi said, cordially. “The three of us are—”

“Hey, I can handle this,” Latoshi interrupted him. Antoshi looked at him with a disconcerted expression. Latoshi took a step forward and smirked. “So, what's your story?”

The young woman scoffed. “'What's my story'? Who the hell are you three supposed to be? … And what have you done to Kage?”

“Don't worry about him,” Latoshi replied, “he's just taking a little nap — a regular nap, not a dirt nap.”

Her eyes widened. “You harmed him?” she asked, clenching her fists.

“Hey, the guy was trying to mind control us, we had every right to fight back.”

Her lips curled into a bitter sneer. “Oh, you're going to regret that. Trust me.”

“We're throwing out threats already?” Latoshi mused, looking at his siblings for a moment in surprise. “Wow, we haven't even introduced ourselves. This is the part where we tell each other our names, our motivation, yadda yadda, the whole nine yards.”

“You don't need to know my name,” she replied, cracking her knuckles.

“… Okay, fine, I'll just guess at it. Let me see here, you kind of look like a Heather? Is it Heather?” She stared at him with an intensely serious gaze. “No? What about, uh, Ashley? … Jennifer? … S~tacy? Am I getting close?”

“It's Celeste,” she said, irritated. “Damn, you really need to learn when to shut up.”

Latoshi chuckled and shrugged. “Sorry, I'm just having too much fun.”

Antoshi sighed quietly, regretting his decision to let Latoshi take the lead. He and Mitoshi glanced at each other in concern.

Celeste raised her eyebrows. “You think this is a joke?”

“I mean, kind of. Might as well drag it out for a bit before we put a quick end to you and … how many other friends you have. The last guy went down with one hit.”

Her lips spread into an enthused grin. “Ohh, I get it now. You and your pals think because you beat Kage easily that the rest of us are going to be no challenge? Hah, that's a good one.” She got into a combat stance, smirking arrogantly. “Just think of Kage as a piece of paper. Now, compare him to me: a reinforced steel wall blocking you from going any further. I'm something of the … 'bodyguard' of our group, and it's been way too long since I got to enjoy a real fight. You won't be getting past me, mouthy little boy who never shuts the hell up.”

“I like the nickname,” Latoshi replied, sarcastically, “but it's not as good as 'Latoshi'.”

Celeste scoffed. “Latoshi? That's actually the worst name I've ever heard.”

Mitoshi looked over at Antoshi, taking note of the intensely focused expression he had. The blond-haired young man stared at their next potential opponent, his gaze unblinking, carefully studying and analyzing. Mitoshi had never seen him like that before. She turned her attention back to the Umbreon girl with a comparatively naive expression. She was left to wonder what Antoshi was watching for, wishing to understand how to analyze and calculate things the same way he did.

Antoshi took note of the girl's build. She was far more athletic than their previous adversary, and she carried herself much more confidently — seemingly to the point of arrogance. The Umbreon girl was strict and straightforward; she didn't joke around like Kage did. From that information alone, the blond boy knew that this was going to be a much different scenario — one that carried far more dangerous implications.

“Listen,” Latoshi went on, “I don't want to hurt you, so, why don't you run along and go play 'Umbreon dress up' somewhere else?” Celeste's eyes widened with rage.

“Latoshi, stop,” Antoshi said, raising his voice some, inadvertently cutting off Celeste as she was about to speak.

“What?” Latoshi replied, grinning at him. “She talks a big game but she's going to turn out to be the same as the last guy: a total wimp.”

“That's not helping our cause,” his brother replied. “You can't talk down to people we don't know like that.”

“I sure as hell can,” Latoshi said, punching his open palm, “when it's someone who's putting innocent peoples' lives in danger.”

Antoshi sighed in defeat, looking over at his sister. Mitoshi shrugged and shook her head, unsure of what to say.

“Well?” Latoshi said, turning his attention back to Celeste. “What's wrong? You got real quiet all of a sudden over there.”

The Umbreon girl's chest heaved as she inhaled deeply, exhaling slowly. “I'm just keeping myself calm,” she replied. “Things tend to get a little … messy when I get really angry. Ever since you started opening your big mouth, I've been deciding on which of your arms I should rip off first.”

The threatening remark sent a wave of dread sweeping through all three siblings. They could not gauge whether or not she was being serious.

“Listen, please,” Antoshi said to her, walking up. “We're not here to fight. We just want to know—”

“Hey!” Latoshi shouted, shoving him away, causing his brother to stumble backwards. “Step off!” The blond boy looked at him in disbelief. Latoshi cut his eyes, bitterly, at Antoshi before turning the same gaze to Celeste. “You want to keep threatening me? You, who looks like a complete nut case wearing stupid ears and a stupid tail? You're the one that's going to regret it.”

“That's tough talk coming from a shrimpy midget like you,” the Umbreon girl shot back. “Little yappy dog running his mouth off.”

“Okay, smartass,” Latoshi said, getting into a combat stance of his own.. “You're out of your damn mind and out of your league trying to talk trash to me. Shut your mouth and move out of our way, now, or you're getting a fistful of teeth down your throat.”

“You better put a leash on your little dog,” Celeste said to the other two. “I can't be held responsible for what happens to him if he keeps on barking!”

Antoshi folded his arms across his chest, sighing in frustration, as the two of them continue to trade barbs back and forth. The situation was well beyond his control now. ‘Latoshi,’ he thought to himself, ‘I hope you know what you're doing here…’

“Come on, little boy!” Celeste goaded him, waving a hand toward her. “Fight me, you scrawny, stick figure punk! You'll be dead before you hit the ground!”

“I thought you'd never ask!” Latoshi replied. He sneered, letting out a sudden grunt, bringing his green aura to life with an intensely bright burst. Celeste's eyes widened, taken aback by the mysterious energy he suddenly created around him.

The sable-haired boy darted forward, grinning confidently, throwing a punch at her face. To his shock, however, he hit nothing but air. His jaw dropped, just before Celeste reappeared beside him, creating an audible whoosh of air as she drove a powerful kick into his midsection. Latoshi croaked in pain, holding his abdomen, falling to his knees as he struggled to breathe.

His siblings were equally shocked not only at her speed, but her strength as well. She was powerful enough to break through the protective barrier of Latoshi's aura and inflict damage to him. Antoshi held his forehead — his fear that this fight was a terrible idea had very quickly been confirmed.

Celeste scoffed, shaking her head in disgust. “I knew you were all talk, yappy little dog.” She picked him up by the collar of his shirt, smirking in satisfaction. She brought her fist up, taking aim for a moment before firing off a rapid-fire barrage of powerful punches to the boy's face. Celeste smirked all the while, seemingly exerting no effort to pummel the helpless boy like he was a rag doll.

After she was done, the boy's face was completely bloodied. He groaned, weakly, his head falling back. She hummed in thought, looking down her furred hand.

“Damn, you made me chip a nail,” she remarked, inspecting her nails which had been methodically curved, hooked, and sharp. She idly shook some of the blood off her hand. “You're lucky I didn't use them. You would've had a very bad time. Now, get out of my sight, trash.” She threw him into the woods violently, sending him soaring a long distance away. He collided with some trees, which toppled over and crashed to the ground.

Mitoshi was horrified by the scene, while Antoshi clicked his tongue in frustration.

“So,” Celeste said, turning her attention to them, “which one of you wants to go next?” She folded her arms across her chest, just like Antoshi was.

The two siblings turned their attention to each other. Mitoshi was still visibly concerned.

‘Don't let worry cloud your thoughts,’ Antoshi communicated with her, surprising her. She was still not used to their new, telepathic ability. ‘You sense him, don't you?’

Mitoshi closed her eyes, focusing for a moment. Within her mind's eye, she was able to make out a green light in the direction that Latoshi had been discarded so thoughtlessly. She gasped, opening her eyes, replying to him with an enthused nod.

Celeste waited for a moment before sighing in frustration and rolling her eyes. “Come on, kids! I don't have all day! One of you step up already!”

“Gladly,” Latoshi replied, as he emerged from the woods. Celeste was thoroughly shocked. The boy casually patted some loose snow off of his clothing and shook it out of his hair. For all the trouble of being on the receiving end of a barrage of superhuman punches and hurled into a bunch of trees, he had no injuries to show for it. While his face was still a bit scuffed, the blood had been completely wiped away.

“What the hell?” Celeste remarked, turning to face him. “That's not even possible! You should be a mangled heap of death right now!”

Latoshi smirked, turning his attention to his siblings. “Like I said before, I'll take this fight. Both of you better not get involved.”

Mitoshi smiled and nodded, while Antoshi shrugged in indifference.

“You said you wanted to lead,” Antoshi said. “Do what you think is right.”

“You think you're tough, huh?” Latoshi asked Celeste, who scowled at him. “Nah, you're not tough. Let me show you just what the hell 'tough' really is!”

With a loud, long shout, his green aura burst back to life. He called forth more of his Ki, his aura flaring with greater intensity than before. Immense power surged through him from the power plant of energy his young body contained, causing his muscles to swell up. He flew at her in a flash, his irises glowing bright green. Celeste was shocked, covering up just before he landed a mighty punch on her forearms. She shouted, driven back several meters while keeping her guard up. He stayed on her, relentlessly striking at her with intense shots that were strong enough to be heard from where his siblings stood.

‘Son of a bitch!’ she thought. ‘Was he able to move this fast earlier? Was he actually holding back?!’

Celeste spotted an opening within a minuscule fraction of a second, grabbing the boy by the back of his shirt, spinning and throwing him high into the air. She smirked confidently, preparing to go on the offensive once he came back down. However, he spun around to right himself and hovered in the air nearly a hundred meters overhead.

‘What?!’ she thought, thoroughly shocked. ‘He can fly, too?! … Who the hell are these kids?!’

Latoshi was now the one smirking, aiming an open hand at the grounded Umbreon girl. She watched in confusion as he summoned a ball of energy into his palm before firing it at her with blazing speed. Her eyes went wide, unsure of how to react. She held her hands out to try to catch it, only to have it violently explode into a cloud of smoke on contact, kicking up dirt and dust around her. As the particles settled, Celeste was left gawking at the charred fur on her palms, her hands trembling from the pain. Her expression turned to a vicious scowl, clenching her fists, staring up at the cocky young man.

‘I don't know what the hell all these tricks are,’ she thought, ‘but, I'm still going to kick his ass!’

“Looks like you can't fly,” Latoshi remarked. “Guess that means I'm the one in control, huh?”

“Who the hell needs to fly?” she replied, smirking. She suddenly leapt up a succession of nearby tree limbs with lightning quickness, before launching herself into the air. Latoshi shouted in surprise when she grabbed him by the neck and held him firmly. “Fight me like a man, you scrawny little bastard!” she shouted in rage. He grunted and grabbed her forearm while she drove him back down, slamming him neck first into the ground.

Both of them snarling and scowling at each other, Latoshi swung at her face with his forearm. She managed to block it, grabbing his arm with her free hand, holding it in place as they both struggled for control. Celeste suddenly headbutt him a few times, drawing shouts of pain from him, smirking as his forehead became bloodied. Enraged, Latoshi let out a scream as his aura exploded to life. The force of his energy thrust her off him and propelled her backwards a short distance. Celeste landed on her feet, glaring at the sable-haired boy.

Just as he leapt to his feet, Celeste darted at him in a flash. She threw a punch, which he swiftly side-stepped. They dashed away from one another before running through the trees, their bodies like streaks of black and green, striking at each other while keeping on the move. They continued at it, cleaving and felling trees along the way like they weren't even there, clashing and rushing at hypersonic speeds. Latoshi had no trouble keeping his eyes trained on her through the intense pace, the rushing air, and the constantly rising and falling debris. His previous battles and training with Antoshi's phenomenal speed paid off significantly.

As the two of them dashed, zipped, and darted around the area, Mitoshi was struggling to keep up. She looked over at Antoshi, watching his eyes and head turning to follow their movements.

“Don't try to follow them with your eyesight,” he said, surprising her, aware of what she was pondering. “Feel out Latoshi's Ki like you did before. You have the ability to do whatever you put your mind to. I know that from training with you.”

Mitoshi smiled and nodded, turning her attention back to the fight. Her irises glowed a soft hue of blue, keeping her breathing slow and calm out of instinct. It wasn't long before she, too, detected Latoshi's hypersonic movements and, with it, Celeste's movements as the humanoid Umbreon kept on equal footing with him. Her vision became so clear that she was able to make out minute details, such as the movement of their clothing and hair, and the intensely serious expressions on their faces. She became mesmerized by the spectacle of the clash between their proficient abilities and techniques, refusing to even blink so that she could take in every nanosecond of it. Antoshi smiled at her, proudly, before turning his gaze back to the fight as well.

As they continued trying to outpace each other, Latoshi held out an open hand at her. In an instant, he charged a fist-sized mass of green Ki into his palm, firing it at her from inches away. Her eyes went wide, managing to twist herself away in an instant, her focus followed the glowing ball of energy, bewildered by the strange attack he performed so effortlessly once again. The Ki blast flew by, impacting multiple trees, reducing the portions hit to ashes before continuing on until it was beyond her field of view and exploded in the distance. The sheer force behind it both shocked and enraged her.

Antoshi watched their fight with a bitter gaze. He detested the fact that things had broken down into such a vicious brawl. They were fighting with people without even understanding why, or who they were. It was not the plan he'd set out for him and his siblings. He heaved a sigh, forced to roll with Latoshi's choice, and hope for the best.

The two skidded to a halt, their gazes locked on each other.

“You want to keep on fighting dirty, huh?!” she shouted. Celeste held her open hands at her sides, baring her sharp clawlike nails at him. “Fine! Bring it on, you little prick!”

“No problem, 'Fursuit!'” he shot back — a remark which cut her deeply and left her disdainful.

Celeste defended herself again in the instant before Latoshi laid into her with a barrage of heavy punches. She roared suddenly, grabbing him by the wrists and digging her claws into his flesh. He shouted in pain, drawing his Ki to his palms again. Her eyes widened, pointing his hands at the ground, causing the ensuing blasts of spirit energy to explode violently upon the ground. She rammed a knee into his stomach, doing so over and over again several times in succession. While Latoshi reeled from the pain and inability to draw a breath, she grabbed his torso from the side. Celeste raked her claws along his chest and back, ripping large claw marks into his shirt and flesh. The pain was enough for him to scream, his eyes wide. She leapt and spun around, kicking the back of his head with her heel, sending him darting like a bullet a short distance away. He dug hard into the grassy earth, sliding to an uncomfortable halt.

Celeste took a moment to glance down at her claws, now stained with blood, with a serious expression. She turned her attention back to the sable-haired boy as he sat up with a groan. Searing pain throbbed through his wounds, though dulled out by his heightened senses and his enhanced ability to heal injuries. He pressed a hand against the slash on his chest, looking down at the lines of blood on his trembling palm. With a scowl, he brought his green aura flaring back to life with a angry grunt — calling forth even more power welled within his resolute spirit. Latoshi leapt to his feet, staring her down coldly.

“Go ahead,” she said, “make that little light show around you and try me again. I'm going for your throat next time.”

“Try it,” Latoshi spat. “I'll knock your head clean off.”

With dueling battle cries, the two hot-blooded fighters ran at each other in an instant. They fought viciously, trading blows, giving little interest to their own well-being as they didn't bother defending. Punches to the face and to the stomach, kicks to the ribs — all constant, all at blistering speeds.

Mitoshi was fully engrossed in their fight. Her own muscles tensed with each strike her brother endured, her eyebrows flexing, wondering where Latoshi's focus was, wondering how much he was ignoring the pain of his wounds, and how much he could tolerate. She found the art of it astonishing — it was so far removed from what their training together was like. Both of them were fighting with everything they had; for their own survival.

“It's unreal how evenly matched they are,” Antoshi mused, grabbing Mitoshi's attention. He, too, had his full attention on the fight. “Still, … I can't help but wonder if this is just a test of stamina, or if they're both still getting a feel for each other's ability.” She stared at Antoshi for a moment, awe-struck at such a revelation, before returning to watching the brawl.

With his irises a bright, piercing green, Latoshi's right arm burned with vigor and the flames of his aura. He shouted at the top of his lungs, throwing the mightiest punch he could muster. Celeste's eyes widened, getting her arms up just in time to guard her face from the tremendous force that produced a shock wave akin to a bomb going off. She grunted loudly as she was thrown several dozen meters away, crashing into trees that snapped and toppled, before rolling violently to a stop.

“Whoa,” Mitoshi uttered, with a look of surprise on her face more intense than her blond brother's, “I felt that one…”

Latoshi panted softly, keeping the arm he just struck Celeste with extended for a short time. Upon realizing Celeste was completely motionless, his aura suddenly dissipated. He stood up tall, taking a few deep breaths, letting his guard down now that the fight was finished. His irises returned to normal. For a moment, he gazed up at the overcast sky. There was a feeling of dissatisfaction in him. He knew there were others left in the group, but, something about their fight felt … unfinished. In some way he could not explain, the fight felt too easy. Somehow, even more so than Antoshi giving a simple chop to Kage's neck.

“Amazing, Latoshi!” his sister cheered, grinning. Her mirthfulness slowly faded as she took note of the stern, musing expression on her sable-haired brother's face. Antoshi also wondered what Latoshi could be thinking.

All three of them suddenly turned their attention to the seemingly fallen Celeste. She was already rising back to her feet. She stretched her neck out, idly rubbing her forearms while calmly walking back over to the trio.

“Not bad, kiddo,” she remarked casually, dusting her clothes off. “You can actually handle yourself. Shoot, if I hadn't blocked there, I might have actually been laid out.”

Latoshi was flabbergasted. ‘What the hell?!’ he thought. ‘I just laid into her with everything I had! That was enough power to throw even Antoshi for a loop — and she's totally unharmed! … She's like a frickin' tank!’

“Now, the cuffs come off,” she added, with a devious grin. “No more holding back — not when you're clearly a hell of a lot tougher than a normal human.”

With a grunt, she leapt into the treetops faster than Latoshi could react. He attempted to follow her movements, but she was already gone. He was left flabbergasted, looking in all directions. Nothing. Nothing but the wind blowing through the leaves, at least for now. His siblings were also left unaware of her location.

‘Great,’ Latoshi thought, clicking his tongue. ‘She doesn't use Ki, so I can't sense her energy. Looks like I gotta use the old-fashioned senses instead. Just what the hell could she be planning? …’

As he looked around, he hearkened back briefly to his first fight with Antoshi — a fight that took place in a similar forest setting. Only this time, he was the one being outclassed. Latoshi closed his eyes, opting to rely on his other senses. He listened to the gentle wind, feeling for any change in the air. Mitoshi looked around, wide-eyed and curious. Antoshi sighed in frustration, paying careful attention to the last direction Celeste disappeared. The blond-haired boy folded his arms across his chest, extremely unhappy at how far this had gone already.

Antoshi was the first to react to the faint sound of a sudden lunge from the trees. Just as all three siblings' irises glowed in their respective colors, Latoshi shouted in pain as he was slashed across his chest again, across his back, and arms faster than he realized. He swung wildly at the air, hitting nothing, getting a barrage of punches to the face in return. He stumbled back, stupefied. It was as though he was being attacked by the wind itself, and his aura offered no protection from the attacks.

His siblings were forced to watch as he was smacked around by a seemingly invisible force that he could not fight back against. Even with Latoshi's ability to move and react at high hypersonic levels, Celeste's speed was on a whole different plane — far and beyond what the sable-haired boy had even seen from his brother. Antoshi, meanwhile, bit his lip.

‘Latoshi,’ he communicated telepathically with his brother, ‘let me swap in with you!’

‘Screw off!’
Latoshi snapped back. ‘I'm not giving up or running away, and you are not stopping me! I'll fight you as well if you get involved in this, Antoshi!’

Antoshi closed his eyes and turned away, sighing in exasperation. He didn't bother to continue watching — he didn't need to. Latoshi shouted and grunted as he was smacked, kicked, punched, and slashed from every direction. The way Celeste toyed with him made him look like a complete amateur. By the time she was done wringing him out, she finally reappeared before Latoshi, her leg extended as she kicked his back, sending him through the air with incredible force.

Latoshi's violent tumble came to a sliding halt a few meters in front of his siblings. Celeste grinned confidently, eager to see the expressions on their faces after witnessing how badly she'd beaten him. To her chagrin, the two siblings remained abnormally detached. Mitoshi stared with mild curiosity at her fallen brother, while Antoshi expressed his annoyance. It was as if neither of them had any interest in his well-being.

“What the hell's the matter with you two?” Celeste said. “I've never beaten anyone that badly before. Your brother is probably never going to walk again after that. The least you could do is show some concern.”

Both Antoshi and Mitoshi only responded by keeping their gazes focused on her. Celeste scowled.

“If that's the case, then, I'll let you both have a front-row seat while I take the time to break every bone in his body.”

What the two siblings saw, and Celeste did not, was the wildly flickering green flame within Latoshi's heart. It was the only confirmation they needed that Latoshi was far from beaten, as she presumed.

With a low grunt, Latoshi picked himself up onto his hands and knees. Littered with dirt and scratched, he coughed before spitting out a wad of blood, getting back to his feet. Celeste watched, scowling intensely, bewildered and enraged that he was willing and able to continue on fighting. Latoshi brushed his tattered clothing.

“Damn,” he remarked. “Looks like I need a new shirt.”

“How?” Celeste asked, narrowing her eyes. Latoshi circled slowly to her side, positioning himself away from his siblings. “How the hell are you not crippled or, I don't know, dead yet?”

“Because you have no idea who you're dealing with,” he shot back, smirking.

She laughed in response. “Funny — I was thinking the exact same thing of you. Don't fret, I'll just keep smacking you around until you can't get back up!”

With a shout, she raced at him with blinding speed once more. Latoshi narrowed his eyes, irises glowing bright green, watching her close the gap. He swiftly evaded to the side, sticking a leg out in an attempt to trip her. Her eyes went wide, leaping just enough to tumble over the obstacle with microseconds to spare. Yet, for the two of them, their enhanced senses and abilities made it seem as though time had slowed to a crawl. She scoffed at such a childish maneuver, flipping to correct herself, her sharp nails digging into the dirt as her incredible momentum carried her a short distance before sliding to a stop.

Celeste shook her head. “Pathetic.”

Latoshi smirked again, holding out an open palm at her. “Was it, though?” Celeste gasped in the instant before he fired a blast of energy at her. She leapt to the side, shouting as the intense attack struck her around her ankle, singing the ankle of her pants and black fur on impact. She scowled and growled in rage as he continued to fire at her, leaping away with almost no time to spare. She ignored the pain in her leg as she sprinted away from him. He followed quickly after, still firing upon her as she weaved between the trees. She leapt up high, racing along the treetops, using her phenomenal speed and the cover of the trees to try losing him.

“They're so fast,” Mitoshi remarked. Her and Antoshi's eyes moved in sync with the two combatants' movements in the distance.

“Yeah,” Antoshi replied, a thoughtful look on his face. “They're really starting to ramp it up now and test each others' limits. This is going to be a turning point. Whoever comes out on top after this volley might just finish the other one off.” Mitoshi expressed her concern, clenching her fists, hoping dearly for her brother's safety.

Latoshi watched her movements to predict where she was going next. He fired at a tree in the distance, splintering it at the base, causing it to topple over. However, Celeste was also watching him from the corner of her eye. She smirked in the instant he took his focus off of her to destroy the tree. She leapt from her current perch, flipping wildly through the air before kicking off another tree away from the one Latoshi had destroyed. Latoshi gasped as she launched toward him like a missile, firing off one last blast that caught her in the shoulder, burning away part of her shirt. She yelled through the pain, tackling him with her other shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his, trapping him while digging her nails into his back. He continuously screamed in response as she squeezed her arms around him as tightly as she could, restricting his breathing. Celeste stood up tall, keeping his feet off the ground. She grinned wildly, watching him flail and scream in pain.

“You think you can just ruin my favorite shirt and get away with it?!” she shouted at him. Latoshi struggled with all of his might, growling at her, attempting to free himself. “Oh, you won't be getting out of this. I'm way stronger than you, you scrawny little runt.”

Her nails were like fire in his back, drawing blood from each digit she had dug into his flesh. He screamed louder as she tightened her grip around him. The agony of being forced to watch was wearing on his siblings.

‘Please Latoshi,’ Antoshi communicated with him. ‘Let me swap in with you! I know how to deal with her!’

‘No!’
Latoshi shot back. ‘I'm not going to throw in the towel, and I am not your sidekick who takes orders! I am done playing second fiddle to anyone else! I decide my own fate — no one else gets to decide that for me anymore; not Lazarus, and not you!’

Antoshi bit his lip, deeply concerned that his brother's actions were going to get him very seriously maimed — or worse. Celeste's speed was phenomenal, as was her strength. As Latoshi continued screaming, Antoshi exhaled sharply. He could only put his faith in Latoshi being aware of what he was doing and understanding the risks. The sable-haired young teen was no longer facing someone he was related to, or someone that cared for his safety. Celeste was prepared to kill him if she found the chance.

“How long do you think it'll take before I start breaking some bones, huh?” Celeste asked, grinning cruelly at him. “Your ribs will probably go first. Then your arms. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll even break your back while I'm at it. You should've given up and gone home when you had the chance.”

“I am … not giving up,” Latoshi spat. His voice was strained, his breathing labored. “I don't care how … much you hit me. I'm not going to quit … when the lives of others are on the line, … and I'm definitely not losing … to some fursuit-wearing nut job!”

Celeste's expression very quickly turned to severe bitterness, panting heavily in rage.

“You bastard,” she said. “You need to learn when to shut your damn mouth!!”

With an enraged shout, Celeste slammed her forehead into Latoshi's face. He sputtered in pain, looking back at her with a bitter glare before responding with a headbutt of his own. The two of them shouted, trading headbutts back and forth until both of their foreheads were bloodied. Latoshi's green aura suddenly flared to life around him, surprising her and forcing her to reaffirm the grip she had around him. He suddenly lifted off into the air, taking her with him. His siblings watched in disbelief as they both rose thousands of meters toward the overcast sky.

“Damn you!” Celeste shouted, her eyes closed shut. Her tall, black ears were folded down, keeping out the cold winds that whipped violently around them.

Latoshi slowed to a stop before flipping over. He careened back to the ground at tremendous speed, his aura whipping around him. Celeste looked to the forest they were hurtling toward. Her taller height meant she was going to take the brunt of the impact — unless she let go. She scowled in rage, playing right into his hand until the very last moment. She shouted loudly, using her strength to pull him under her, letting go and kicking off of his chest. The unexpected move caused Latoshi to instead slam back into the earth by himself with explosive force.

Celeste landed light on her feet a short distance away. She heaved a sigh before looking at the fallen young man who lay face-up in a small crater. She humphed in amusement, going to check on him.

At the same time, Latoshi's siblings flew over to get a closer view. Mitoshi had a concerned expression as she looked over at Antoshi. ‘He's going to lose, isn't he?’ she communicated with him. The blond-haired boy sighed heavily.

‘The way things are going,’ he replied, ‘I think we're definitely going to have to prepare for that inevitability.’ Mitoshi swallowed nervously, turning her gaze to Latoshi while Antoshi formulated a plan. ‘Mitoshi, on my signal, you fire on Celeste with everything you have. While she's distracted, I'll grab Latoshi and take him somewhere safe. Then, I'll rejoin you just as quickly as I can. We'll probably have to wing it from there. Got it?’

She turned to him and nodded. ‘Got it!’

‘Come on, Latoshi, …’ Antoshi thought to himself, biting his lip again.

Celeste came to a sudden halt as the sable-haired teen slowly climbed to his feet yet again. Latoshi grunted, his face contorted in pain. Every muscle in his body was sore, his body covered in dirt, scuff marks, bloody cuts and scrapes. And still, he got back to his feet, his breathing labored, glaring intensely at his foe. Celeste shot the same look back at him.

“Sit your ass down, kid!” she shouted. “You are done!”

He chuckled weakly before straightening his bloodied back with a groan. “I'm not … about to lose to some heartless freak,” he spat. Celeste's initial shock at the remark quickly turned to cutting bitterness.

“You— … what the hell did you just call me?!”

“You heard me, … freak.”

Celeste was unable to contain her visible rage. She panted angrily, clenching her fists so tightly that her sharp nails dug and cut into her palms, drawing blood. “You think we're the heartless ones? No, your kind is truly heartless. After everything your kind has said and done to us, you think have the right to call me a 'freak', you ignorant little bastard!?”

Antoshi narrowed his eyes, taking note of Celeste's remarks. He looked away for a moment, trying to ponder what she meant.

“So, what,” Latoshi replied, “am I supposed to feel sorry for you now?”

“Screw you!” she shot back. “You don't know a damn thing about me, you asshole! I don't want 'sympathy' from any of you!”

‘Latoshi, …’ Antoshi thought, ‘stop riling her up just for the sake of riling her up…’

Latoshi smirked, cruelly. “I wasn't going to give you any. I don't have any sympathy for soulless fursuit monsters like you.”

Celeste closed her eyes and pursed her lips, calming her breathing in an effort to control her rage. “I knew we were right about humans. Ken's making the right decision putting you all on ice.” All three siblings were curious and confused as to the importance of who 'Ken' was. Celeste chuckled, looking at Latoshi. “Even if you somehow beat me here, … you'll never defeat Ken.”

“Oh?” he replied, feigning surprise. “Is Ken a freak like you, too?”

Insulting Ken, as it turned out, was the final straw.

“Bastard!!” she screamed, racing toward him. “I'll kill you!!”

Latoshi scowled as his irises burned bright, leaping away from her with a grunt. His green aura, visibly diminished since the start of the fight, surged to life around him again as he called forth even more of his Ki. She screamed in rage, having finally snapped, swinging her claws wildly at him with unbelievable speed. Latoshi studied her movements carefully — a trick that Antoshi had taught him. Her pattern of attack had become random and savage, topped off by the bloodthirsty look in her eyes as she snarled and panted. It was completely different from her initial, calculating movements. She was only out for blood at this point, and that became a critical shift in character that did not escape Latoshi's attention.

Despite that realization, he wasn't sure how he was going to counter what was currently an impenetrable offense from her. He used his own quickness to stay on the move, hopping around treetops, leaping high over the canopy, but the Umbreon-like young woman stayed mere inches away from him every step of the way. His best bet was to exhaust her, but, after several minutes of constant fleeing from her endless offensive, she seemed no worse for wear.

Meanwhile, Antoshi continued to mull over Celeste's earlier remarks while idly watching their fight. His eyes lit up for a moment, coming to a possible conclusion. For the moment, however, he sighed in frustration as Latoshi struggled to do anything against her.

‘Latoshi, please!’ Antoshi communicated with him. ‘Let me swap in! I think I know how to deal with her!’

‘I told you to screw off!’
Latoshi replied, turning to him from up high with a bitter glare. ‘You're not going to hold my hand through any fight I can still manage!’

That momentary distraction, however, was enough to give Celeste the upper hand. She made contact with him just after he landed on another tree limb, her claws raking all the way down his chest and abdomen. He screamed in agony, each slash drawing even more blood and completely shredding the front of his shirt. As she fell, she managed to dig her other hand into the tree limb itself, her sharp nails slicing through it like it wasn't even there.

Both of them landed on their feet. Latoshi held the gaping wounds on his chest, looking up just in time to see her close the gap between them. She laid into him with a lightning-fast barrage of mighty punches to his face and torso, rattling him around as he staggered back helplessly. His siblings were equally helpless, looking on in worry for their brother's safety. Latoshi grunted and shouted, coughing up the same blood that trickled from his very serious slashes all over his body. The trauma and shock were taking its toll on him, fading in and out of consciousness from the pain even while staying on his feet. He managed to focus for long enough to cause his aura to explode around him with a loud shout. The sheer force of his energy shoved Celeste away from him, giving him a short reprieve to collect himself. Celeste sucked her teeth, getting tired of that trick.

However, that short reprieve turned out to be almost nonexistent. Celeste raced behind him in an instant, causing a wave of terror to shoot through his spine before he turned around to face her. In the moment he did, she spun around and shouted, striking him with the heel of her shoe with such tremendous force that it shattered the bones in his right arm.

Antoshi and Mitoshi both screamed in horror as Latoshi's arm ended up limp and twisted in an unnatural way. Latoshi himself could only stare, wide-eyed, into the distance in disbelief. Celeste shot a cruel grin at him.

Now, you can sit your ass down!” she shouted just before she leapt up and punched him downward with full force. She struck him so hard that he was violently slammed into the ground in another small crater.

“No!” Mitoshi screamed from afar. “Latoshi!!”

Latoshi's vision faded in and out while he stared blankly at a gap in the swaying tree branches, looking to the overcast sky, groaning in a weak daze. His breathing was shallow and labored. Celeste stood triumphantly over the defeated young man. She flashed a cruel smirk as she pressed her foot down on his throat. His eyes went wide, grabbing her shoe with his good arm, choking and flailing helplessly.

“Can't talk trash when you can't even breathe, huh?” she asked, chuckling.

Latoshi's siblings continued to look on from the sidelines, taking no action even as the situation turned dire. Mitoshi turned to her blond-haired brother with panic in her eyes.

‘He's choking!’ she exclaimed to him. ‘We have to do something — now!’

‘Not yet,’
Antoshi replied, firmly, keeping his focus on the scene playing out before them. He wasn't ready to intervene until Latoshi's Ki dissipated — the sable-haired boy's pride would not allow otherwise. Mitoshi waited a few seconds to see if the situation changed. When it did not, she became even more frantic.

‘… Antoshi!’ she said. She was antsy; barely able to keep herself from jumping into the fray to rescue her brother.

‘Wait!’ Antoshi shot back, holding a hand out to keep her at bay.

Latoshi scowled as he started losing consciousness for good. He thought of the Pichu twins face-down in the snow, about to succumb to the icy grip of death. He knew there were more like them; more of them suffering out there at that very moment, Pokémon and people alike, crying out for help. They needed to get past this obstacle. He needed to get past this obstacle to make things right; to prove that he wasn't a quitter, he wasn't a loser, and that he was willing to give everything to fight what he believed in — a cause greater than himself.

‘Come on, Latoshi!’ Antoshi communicated with him, surprising the sable-haired boy. ‘Dig deeper! You and I both know you have more power than this!’

“You're … damn right I do!” Latoshi strained to speak. Celeste looked on in disbelief as he lifted his good arm, pointing an open hand at her face. She gasped, jumping away in the instant he fired a blast of his Ki that spiraled harmlessly into the sky. Her expression turned to horror as he climbed to his feet, yet again. Latoshi stared her down menacingly, his left eye bruised and swollen and shut. With a long, angry, growing shout, his aura exploded to life around him, giving off enough pressure to stagger her back a few steps and shake the trees and foliage around them. Celeste clenched her teeth, using her forearm to shield her eyes against the intense brightness of his spirit energy. It kept on strengthening, as the sable-haired boy broke through his previous limits to achieve a newfound level of strength. When the brightness subdued, Latoshi stood tall and straight, staring her down with a renewed fervor and vigor in his green eyes. His siblings looked on in amazement, sensing tremendous heat and energy radiating from his aura they'd not felt before from him.

‘What the hell's with this kid?!’ she thought, her jaw hanging in bewilderment. ‘What is he?! It's like the more he gets beat up, the stronger he gets! What's it going to take to keep him down?!’

Latoshi chuckled quietly. “You're probably wondering again, …” he began, his breathing still labored, “how I'm not done, or even dead yet. My … power … is fueled by my emotions. … I have heart — something a freaky, fursuit wearing monster like you won't ever have.”

Her jaw trembled as she scornfully bit her lip. “Damn … you!” she shouted. “I'm not letting you beat me! You're just like all the other humans! You hate us; you look down on us and treat us like shit! You don't give a damn about us, and you know nothing about 'heart'! We're just freaks to you!!”

Celeste's entire demeanor became as wild and ferocious as before. As she leapt toward him, screaming and taking aim at him with her claws, Latoshi closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. He kept his mind and heart calm and still, sensing exactly where she was from the raging fire of animosity within her spirit. In the moment before Celeste was centimeters away from slashing his face, he suddenly vanished. Her eyes went wide in shock, her momentum bringing her to a long, sliding halt. Her long ears twitched as she stood up, detecting the faintest shuffle beside her. She turned and gasped to find Latoshi standing inches away. He had a deeply stern expression, glaring at her with eyes of vibrant green. His good arm was already pointed at her, taking aim with an open hand. Before she could even respond, he fired a powerful blast of Ki.

Celeste screeched as the attack exploded in her face, staggering her backward. She gasped and panted, hunched over, covering her eyes with trembling hands.

“You son of a bitch!” she exclaimed, unable to open her eyes. ‘Damn him!’ she thought. ‘How could be possibly be this good?! He was nowhere near this strong or fast earlier! I couldn't even follow his movements just now!’

Latoshi took a few steps back, unconcerned with retaliation from her since she was left otherwise crippled.

“I won't … lose here,” Latoshi said, still winded, “I can't. Not when the lives of … so many innocent people and Pokémon are … on the line.”

“And, I … can't lose, either!” she shouted. With her eyes still shut, she was forced to use her other senses as she leapt blindly and slashed at him. He evaded each of her wild, lightning-fast attacks which became predictable and easy to gauge for him.

“This fight is over!” he shouted back at her. “Enough already!”

“It's over when I slit your throat!!”

Latoshi glared bitterly at her. “Fine, then,” he muttered.

He leapt up high, atop the limb of a nearby tree. Celeste momentarily lost track of him, until she heard him straining to summon up his energy. She turned her attention upward, leaping at him with a frustrated scream. Latoshi held his good arm out to his side, level with his shoulder. He continued to strain and grunt as he concentrated his power into one, last, big attack. A massive field of bright green spirit energy orbs emerged around him suddenly. Celeste was none the wiser as she closed the gap, simultaneously giving him a perfect line of sight.

“Shoo— ting …” he called out, “Stars!!”

He thrust his arm forward, causing the orbs to do the same. The energy blasts took on a mind of their own, homing in on his target and exploded violently on contact. Celeste screamed in agony as the attacks sent her crashing back down to the ground with tremendous force and continued exploding, splintering and knocking down nearby trees. Antoshi and Mitoshi looked on from the sidelines in amazement. His Shooting Stars attack was much larger and more intense as compared to the previous times he'd used it. Latoshi hovered overhead, having decimated everything beneath him, watching from a distance as the explosions died down.

Once the dust and debris settled, Celeste was left laying in the middle of an enormous crater that was large enough to fit the length of ten Wailord — or even a massive skyscraper. And, yet, despite the unbelievable show of force and destruction, the young woman was left alive but unconscious.

Latoshi panted heavily as he slowly descending to the outer edge of the crater. His siblings jogged over to meet up with him. Neither of them said a word as they got a better look at his injuries. Latoshi's body was littered with scratches and bruises, as well as the more innocuous dirt and scuff marks. The severity of the slashes on his torso were apparent, as was how banged up his arm was as the sable-haired boy held it gingerly with his other hand.

Antoshi sighed, looking at him in concern. “Let me try to use my healing ability on you, Latoshi.”

“No,” he replied, calmly, “it's fine. … You should save your strength — both of you. There's no telling how many more of them we have to deal with.” He briefly turned his attention to his unconscious foe. “If they're as strong as she is, we're in for a hell of an uphill fight.”

Antoshi smiled. “It's about time you started using your head.”

Latoshi offered an amused scoff, grinning. His smile faded as he looked away for a moment. “Yeah, well, … I'm sorry about getting heated with you earlier. It's just been a while since I've had a real fight. I just couldn't pass it up — no matter how bad I got my ass kicked. More than that, though, I needed to fight on behalf of … well, you know.” Antoshi nodded in understanding at him. Mitoshi responded by walking up to him, hugging him around his torso, caring not about his bloody wounds as she rested her forehead against his chest. He smiled, putting his good arm around her. “You were worried about me back there, huh?” Mitoshi nodded in response. Both boys chuckled. “Yeah, … I could see it in your face during the fight.”

Mitoshi sighed, pulling away from him. “Well, maybe you should stop being such a reckless jerk,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Hey, 'reckless jerk' is what I'm good at,” he replied, smiling reassuringly at her.

“We should keep moving,” Antoshi said, getting an approving nod from his brother.

“Wait,” Mitoshi said, stopping them just as they were about to turn away. “If Antoshi isn't going to heal you, at least let me get you cleaned up.”

She exhaled slowly, her eyes glowing blue, holding her hands out toward a patch of nearby snow. The boys watched as, with some effort, she levitated the snow closer to them while also melting it down into a shifting ball of liquid. They were in awe as she moved her hands and fingers about, turning and twisting the water in time with her movements. She brought it up to Latoshi's wounds, using it like a washcloth, running it over the dirt and cuts along his arms, chest, and face.

“Hey!” Latoshi yelped in response. “That's cold, you know!”

“Pipe down, you big baby,” she replied, grinning. Antoshi chuckled in amusement.

Once she was done, she tossed aside the mass of water contaminated with his blood and dirt, letting it splash to the ground. Latoshi curiously looked himself over, impressed.

“That was pretty cool, Mitoshi,” he said, smiling. “I'm sorry I didn't say anything about it a few days ago when you did the … 'ball of sweat' thing. It's amazing how good you're getting with your powers.”

She smirked and placed her hands on her hips. “Well, I don't want you two to think I'm just going to sit back and nurse your wounds the whole time. I'm as much a part of this team as both of you, and I want to prove it. If that means fighting, then I want to fight, too.”

“I wouldn't have it any other way,” Antoshi replied. “You are just as strong and capable as we are. If anything, I feel safer having you with us.”

“Same here,” Latoshi added.

Mitoshi grinned from ear to ear. “Thank you. I … really appreciate that.”

The trio briefly turned their attention to the gigantic crater before them.

“So,” Latoshi said with a sigh, “it looks like there's more layers to this than we thought. From all the things Celeste said, this group she's a part of believes in what they're doing, and that they're doing the right thing.”

Antoshi hummed in agreement. “Yeah, well, I guess that was to be expected.”

Latoshi pondered for a moment before he spoke up again. “… By the way, I'm really sorry, Antoshi.” His blond-haired brother looked over at him, curious. “I am — I mean that. I should've listened to you. I didn't … mean to make things worse, I was just … angry. I promise that … I'll actually follow your plans from now on.”

“I'm just glad you weren't hurt any worse,” Antoshi said. “You could've been. You know that, right?” Latoshi gazed downward and nodded. “We can't just start swinging our fists at everyone in our way. You're right — Celeste, Kage, and the others in their group, they're all fighting for what they believe in. Whatever it is they hope to accomplish with this blizzard, they're in it with all their heart. They're just as willing as us to give everything they have. To them, we are the bad guys. But, we can't go around acting like we are. It's only going to make them dig their heels in and stop listening to us. Okay?” Latoshi nodded once again, looking at him with a sorrowful expression. Antoshi sighed in relief. “Now, you're sure you don't want me to heal your arm?”

“I'm good, I promise,” Latoshi replied. “Maybe a little pain settling in is what I need to get the message through.”

Antoshi couldn't help but chuckle. The gesture reminded him very much of his own act of repentance when he lost himself and nearly killed Latoshi. His heart, too, was troubled back then, and he felt he'd wronged those he cared about. Antoshi smiled warmly, placing a hand on Latoshi's uninjured shoulder. Latoshi offered a slight smile in return, before the trio walked around the crater and continued on through the mysterious region of the forest.


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