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TEEN: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light (Vol. 2)

Discussion in 'Writers Workshop' started by Ambyssin, Sep 30, 2018.

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    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    CONTENT ADVISORY:
    this fic is rated T and features some realistic violence, crude/sexual humor, minor coarse language, character deaths, alcohol consumption, direct references to depression, and themes of suicide. Also, this fic has unmarked spoilers for Sun/Moon, Ultra Sun/Moon, and the entire Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. If you haven't played any of these and intend to do so blind, please don't read any further.

    XxX

    Welcome to the world of Pokémon! Where darkness looms on the horizon...
    Shane was a human meandering through a lonely, insignificant life. Upon waking up on a beach in the body of an ice Vulpix, he thought himself destined for greatness! Tessa, the Riolu who found Shane, saw in him a chance to turn her own struggling life around. To that end, they joined the Horizon Continent Exploration Guild under the banner of Team Radiance. But, as the two started working together, it became very apparent their ideals didn't line up. After arguments, dangerous situations, and a falling out that jeopardized their lives, Shane and Tessa finally found common ground and, together with the mysterious Null, are working toward bettering themselves. And just in time, because a sinister force has descended upon the continent. Can Team Radiance put a stop to the Prism Virus or will it consume the entire world?

    Welcome to the continuation of Guiding Light! For any newcomers, you can read Volume 1 here. Alternatively, if you want to skip to the good stuff, you can read a summary of the events and characters in this blog post. Whether you're following on or new to the story, I hope you enjoy it. ^^

    Why are you splitting your story into volumes?
    I gave this a lot of thought. Several reasons pointed me to this decision. First off, folks on this site seem to prefer getting their fics in smaller, easy to digest portions. Had I kept everything in one topic, the story size would easily balloon to well over 100 chapters... with a massive word count, to boot. In breaking it up, I'm giving people a way to pace themselves. At the same time, it offers the potential to bring new readers on board. Likewise, reaction to the earliest chapters I posted in the last topic were... very mixed. I'd like to start fresh, especially since it will be awhile before I can go back and make adjustments to them.

    Don't I need to read Volume 1 to understand this story?
    Well, yes, it's true that you'd be very confused without it. That's why I made the summary blog posts. I personally think the content in this volume is a lot more exciting. So, if you're eager to get to it, I'd recommend using the summaries and going back to Volume 1 if you feel like it.

    Chapters and updates
    Like with Volume 1, chapters are grouped into episodes. One episode is like a story chapter from the canon PMD games. Since this is a new volume, episode and chapter numbers are being reset. This does mean the numbers won't match up with the version of this story on FanFiction.net. Also, these are all chapters that have already been published elsewhere, but are getting a fresh round of revisions before being published here. Chapters will generally be published every Saturday evening, EST.

    Episode 1: Viral Infection
    Chapter 1 (this post!)
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Bonus: Halloween Special
    Chapter 5
    Bonus: Two Confessions

    This chapter was first published on January 21st, 2018. Enjoy!

    XxX​

    Tessa plodded forward and found her mother sitting on a small rock atop a violet cliff face. She walked up and sat down beside her. Prisma's aura feelers twitched and she opened her eyes. "I just thought I'd check up on you," she began. "When last we spoke, it seemed like you had hit a bit of a rough patch. Have things gotten any better?"

    Tessa rubbed the back of her head. How much was she prepared to tell Prisma? "It's, um, all a bit confusing, to be honest," she said.

    Prisma crossed one leg over the other. "Well, maybe I can help you make sense of it."

    "No, that's not necessary. Everything's fine, I guess. I just had to go on a very difficult mission, that's all," Tessa said, concerned because she had brought her thoughts on Prisma up to her teammates. "I… well… my team ended up taking a Pokémon to Sunflower Meadows... so that he could die."

    Prisma's eyes widened. "What?" She turned around and plucked a squeaking Tessa off the ground. "Dear god... you didn't actually see this Pokémon die, did you?"

    Tessa nodded solemnly and Prisma's muzzle went agape.

    "Why would you agree to something like that?" she barked, practically shaking Tessa in the process. "Oh, you must be feeling miserable!"

    "We didn't exactly know all the details of the mission, Mom," Tessa said, struggling in Prisma's iron grip. She had seen that familiar spark of anger in Prisma's eyes. "It was a disciplinary assignment. I would've gotten kicked out of the guild if I didn't do it. My team only learned the truth when we got to Sunflower Meadows."

    Growling, Prisma dropped Tessa to the ground. Pitch-black energy crackled across Prisma's clenched fists. Tessa's aura feelers shot up in alarm, her fears proven true. "This is… an outrage!" Prisma seethed. "How could Braviary and Metagross do that to you? They know full well what we've been through."

    Prisma's eyes narrowed. "No… wait… this was probably intentional," she whispered. "The more things change... the more they stay the same.

    Tessa's aura feelers throbbed. She was right. Her mom
    was displaying the same anger she showed following Incineroar's death. Tessa hesitated to press on the issue, but this was her dream space. She should be safe, right?

    "Did you say something, Mom?" Tessa asked.

    Prisma's eyes widened, but she quickly regained a neutral expression. "Metagross has a history of employing backwards logic," she said. "If he's treating you badly, I think you ought to quit."

    Tessa's brows raised. Did Prisma say she was proud Tessa had made it to the guild in a previous conversation? Why did she jump to that idea so quickly.

    "I can't quit, Mom," Tessa said.

    "Why not?" Prisma asked.

    "It's… um… it's complicated," Tessa said.

    Prisma frowned. "Well, try me. I'm here now. Let me see what I can do to help."

    Prisma reached a paw over to Tessa, but she scooted away. She rubbed her shoulder. "Mom," she whispered, taking a deep breath. "You blame me for Dad's death, don't you?"

    Shock flashed across Prisma's face, but she hastily furrowed her brow and resumed her stern expression. "Sweetie, I would never do anything like that. You're my daughter. Whatever would give you such a ridiculous idea?"

    Tessa didn't believe her. She grabbed one of her aura feelers and rubbed it. "You always told me that aura never lies." She looked up at Prisma. "Before you left, I sensed a spark in your aura. Something that wasn't there before Dad died." Her gaze fell to the ground. "It's okay, Mom. You can tell me the truth. If I hadn't gotten sick, Dad would still be here."

    "Don't say that," Prisma barked. Tessa stiffened, worried Prisma might lash out. "You can't blame yourself for getting sick. If you want to blame anyone… blame Zapdos."

    "Zapdos?" Tessa gasped. "But he's a Legend. What does he have to do with this?"

    Prisma's expression darkened. "After your father's death, I spoke with Magearna. That day, the forecast in Sunrise Village called for clear skies." She clenched her fists, grabbing pawfuls of fur. "Zapdos decided to make an unexpected flyover. And he brought a thunderstorm with him." She turned back to Tessa. "You're innocent in this. It's Zapdos' fault. Zapdos… and… and…"

    Red aura crackled across Prisma's paws. It disappeared when she took a deep breath. "Sorry for startling you, Tessa. It's just... you know I'm under a lot of stress right now."

    "… yeah. Protecting Lunala must be pretty important," Tessa whispered, unsatisfied by Prisma's response to her concerns.

    "How about we just drop this subject?" Prisma said. "It sounds like you've been through an ordeal. I'm not here to try and make that worse. I could calm your mind, instead, if you'd let me."

    "I'm okay, Mom," Tessa said. "My teammates helped me get through it."

    Prisma raised an eyebrow. "You mean the human? What could he have possibly done?"

    "He got the entire guild to throw me a hatch day party," Tessa said. "Thanks for remembering, by the way. I'd have liked at least a letter or something."

    Prisma's eyes narrowed. "I don't know where this sudden attitude of yours cropped up from, but I suggest you adjust your tone. I made it crystal clear I can't do
    anything to give away where I'm hiding," she said. "I'm sorry, Tessa, and I wish there was another way, but…"

    "It's okay… Mom," Tessa growled, trying to keep her temper in check. "You keep working on Lunala. In the meantime, Vulpix and I are going to do what we can to help the Pokémon in Horizon deal with the Prism Virus." Her aura feelers tensed. Anger flashed in Prisma's eyes again. Tessa was sure of it. Something had to be wrong with her mother.

    "Very well," Prisma said. She got to her feet and approached the edge of the cliff. "Then I'm afraid this is where we have to part ways."

    Tessa frowned. "You mean no more dream communication?" Her mother nodded. "Why? I haven't done anything wrong."

    "I already told you, Tessa. That human will keep attracting trouble. And I cannot risk the Prism Virus stealing your dreams and using them to find out where I am," Prisma said. "Besides, I should be getting back to Lunala anyway." She stuck one leg out over the cliff.

    Tessa dashed toward her. "Wait, you're really going to leave me? Just like that? What about Gallian? What about–"

    Prisma turned to give her daughter one last look before pushing her other leg off the cliff's edge. Tessa watched her mom plummet into a purple void. Then her whole field of vision went pitch black.


    XxX

    Episode 1: Viral Infection

    Chapter 1: A Frosty Reception


    XxX

    ~Aurora Vale~

    Frightened chittering echoed through the foliage scattered around the deepest recesses of a sprawling valley. Several bushes burst apart and dozens of rocky, meteor-like spheres floated away at a frenetic pace. Close behind them, blistering cold air swept across the valley floor. The air entrapped the trees and bushes, stripping them of their leaves and instantly freezing their bare remnants. A slick layer of sparkling white ice spread out across the ground. Some of the frost descended on a pair of nearby streams. The rushing water came to a stop and, in a matter of seconds, the streams were nothing but lines of splintering ice sheets.

    "Uhuu huu huu! Isn't it grand, Umbry? In just a few hours, we'll take this dreary little dungeon and turn it into the most amazing ice-skating rink in the world. Great Glacier won't even hold a candle to our pristine, wintry paradise!"

    In the center of the area, Espeon pranced around a cluster of onyx crystals. They pulsated with tendrils of crimson energy, sending waves of cold air across the valley and thickening the glacial frost that covered the ground.

    "… hmph. Personally, I can't wait to demolish Great Glacier. It's a sickening place, just like Glacier Palace," Umbreon sneered. "Why did we have to coat this place in ice anyway? Couldn't we have just poisoned it like we did with Mellath Bog?"

    "Of course not. We've got to be original!" Espeon said, swishing her hips. "Doing the same old thing every time is hardly fun. Where's the excitement? Where's the panache? We want all these Pokémon to be mystified in their last moments before the Prism Virus changes their lives forever." Umbreon rolled his eyes. "Also, you know Zero told us the best way to alter these Mystery Dungeons is to go by basic type effectiveness. Ground resists poison, but ice beats ground. So, I turned this dusty old valley into a winter wonderland," Espeon said, smirking.

    Umbreon glared at her. "Well, then these stupid crystals need to hurry up. I'm tired of waiting around for Tapu Lele to show up. And I hate the cold. Just like I hate that frosty Vulpix that slipped through our paws back in Dewdrop Woods. In fact, just being here makes me think of him. And that makes my blood boil."

    "Aww, don't say that, Umbry. It just makes our little game all the more fun," Espeon said. "Besides, if your blood's boiling, you should be perfectly warm."

    "… no, Espeon. Your partner has the right idea."

    The joyous smile on Espeon's face immediately vanished. She stopped dead in her tracks and shrank down onto her belly, ears and tail folding against her body. Likewise, Umbreon's angry expression simmered down, replaced by a frown. Behind the cluster of crystals, purple sparks materialized out of thin air. They spiraled around, until they formed a portal with white, checkerboard lines running through it. The sounds of ice crunching echoed through the valley.

    A golden metal staff struck the ground in front of the Eeveelutions. They both flinched. "Huh-Hi… Zero," Espeon squeaked. "You… um… you didn't tell us you'd be dropping by!"

    A black, crystal-coated foot stepped down on Espeon's left forepaw. Her tail shot into the air and crumpled up as pain raced across her body. "Get up," Zero ordered. Next thing Espeon knew, metal claws dug into her back. Zero hoisted her to her feet and shoved her away. Espeon stumbled to the side, keeping her weight off her left limb.

    "Um… a little advance notice would've been really appreciated," Espeon said. "We haven't finished setting things up here, so–"

    Zero pointed her staff forward. The black octahedron sitting atop it started glowing red. Espeon hopped backwards, turning her gaze away from the scepter. "I don't recall ever needing to inform you of my actions," Zero said, straightening out the strip of red, Egyptian-styled cloth dangling from her waist. She gazed at the winged heart stitched into its center. "I wanted to check in on your progress." Zero swung her staff in front of her and gazed into the gem. The red energy's crackling intensified. "It seems the infected Lurantis in Mellath Bog was disposed of."

    "What?" Umbreon gasped. "But we just infected her the other day. Who could've–?" He abruptly cut himself off and his eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me, it was Vulpix and Riolu again?"

    Zero placed her right paw on her black, crystalline mask and nudged it up. Espeon focused on Zero's left eye – her lone eye – and then looked away, biting her lower lip.

    "… hmph. It's good to see at least one of you has a decent head on their shoulders," Zero said, brushing snowflakes off the red spike protruding from the star insignia on her gem-encrusted chest. "With Lurantis done in, we've lost our best shot at subduing Tapu Fini. Not that it really matters, since it seems she never had the Dawn Hourglass to start with. That said, I'm not taking any chances this time around. Which is why I've come to speed things up a bit here."

    "That's very proactive of you," Espeon said, grinning awkwardly.

    "Silence," Zero hissed. Her eye flashed dark blue. "I would not need to be doing this if you two had done as I'd ordered and taken care of the human." She raised her left hand and black sparks crackled around it. "The Prism Virus has no use for disobedient Pokémon."

    The color drained from Espeon's face. "Now, now, there's no need for that," she squealed, her voice cracking. "As you can see, everything's going swimmingly here. Look, we've even got the wild Miniors fleeing in terror. See?" She jerked her head upward, looking at a Minior pair floating off toward the sky.

    Zero pivoted to follow Espeon's gaze. A sudden gust of wind ruffled the black fur around her rear and the four, waist-length dreadlocks sticking out of her head. With an annoyed growl, Zero raised her staff and the red energy swelled to fill the entire octahedron.

    "Infect," she said. A red waveform beam raced forward. The Miniors turned around and screamed in fright as the beam swallowed them up. Zero lowered her staff and looked up. A pair of black, jagged crystal lattices with glowing red cores now floated where the Miniors previously were.

    "There. Much more appropriate, wouldn't you say?" Zero said. The infected Miniors floated down toward them, dark energy crackling around their edges. "Let's see, Minior is hardly a threatening name. Henceforth, you are Necrospheres." Zero waved the Necrospheres off and turned to look at Espeon and Umbreon. "No objections, I trust?"

    "Of course not! Of course not! Wonderful names for such lovely little additions to our growing family. Uhuu huu… huu…" Espeon's tail curled up against her flank. Umbreon remained silent.

    "Good. Then let's dispense with the idle chatter and cut to business," Zero said. She raised her scepter high and slammed it into the ground. Espeon and Umbreon jumped in surprise and scrambled back. From the center of the crystal cluster, a black monolith jutted out of the ice. A red, winged-heart insignia appeared atop the monolith, matching the one stitched into Zero's robes and Nemes headdress. Ice streamed out in all directions, quickening the pace of the valley's freezing. Umbreon looked over his shoulder to find more Miniors transforming into Necrospheres.

    Zero adjusted her mask. "Now then, I do think it's time our dear friend Tapu Lele joined us, don't you?" she said, turned to look over toward the end of the valley.

    "Um… what do you want us to do?" Espeon asked.

    Zero walked to the other side of the crystal cluster. "You're going to be a distraction. Get behind the crystals. I'll order you to use Shadow Ball and Dark Pulse when I think the time is right. Until then, don't move a muscle. Don't even so much as speak. I'll keep our VIP entertained." She finished circling around the crystals and stood at attention. In the thick, wintry fog brought on by the ice, Zero spotted a round outline growing steadily larger.

    "Come to me, Land Spirit, so that my Prism Virus can cleanse this world of your worthless filth," she said. Tapu Lele appeared from the fog, a look of anger etched in her face.

    "Like, what's with the chilly reception?" she said, looking around. "Is this your doing?"

    Zero bowed mockingly. "I'm ever-so-humbled that you took notice."

    "This is, like, totally uncalled for!" Tapu Lele barked. "You return this land to the way it's supposed to be. Or better yet, scamper off before I blow you to smithereens and use your hollowed-out body as a raft to float along the stream that's supposed to be here."

    "Tempting offer," Zero mused. "But, if I may issue a rebuttal…" She held up her free arm and snapped her crystalline digits.

    "Eh?" Tapu Lele's eyes widened at the sight of the Eeveelutions lunging out from behind the monolith. Espeon had a ball of spectral energy gathering in her forehead diamond, while Umbreon's red rings pulsated with black and purple bolts. They fired their attacks toward each of Tapu Lele's sides.

    "Like, I'm going to turn you creeps into carpeting for my temple," Tapu Lele said, summoning pink barriers to effortlessly deflect the attacks. They ricocheted into nearby ice walls, exploding and showering the area in frosty shards.

    "I'm going to, like, sooooo thoroughly enjoy this," Tapu Lele cackled, vines of white energy stretching out toward the ground. Before she could generate her attack, however, a beam of silvery metal struck her and sent her spiraling backward. Zero raised her left hand and clenched her fist. A strange, distorted red wave raced forward, turning everything it spread across bright red. As it passed over Espeon and Umbreon, they froze in place, flickering like broken television screens. The wave struck Tapu Lele, slowing her down to a crawl.

    Static encased Zero's free paw. On either side of Tapu Lele, towers of red cubes formed up from the ground. Another red wave then raced forward, returning the area to its normal, icy-blue coloration. The towers toppled over, swallowing Tapu Lele up and drowning out her screams. Zero walked toward the downed Land Spirit, readying her staff.

    "What the–?" Zero gasped. She tapped her staff on the ground and the cubes evaporated into pixelated streams. All that remained of Tapu Lele was a splattered puddle of pink slime. "A Ditto?" Zero snarled.

    "Uhuu huu huu! Well, isn't that a surprise. Looks like Tapu Lele's a craftier critter than we thought, huh?" Espeon said. Zero abruptly turned around and held up her left paw. Several spiked cubes floated ominously around it, pointing at Espeon. "Meep!" Espeon ducked for cover behind the monolith. The cubes dissipated and Zero turned back around, nudging up her helmet.

    "It seems the rumors of her deceptive nature are true after all," Zero said. "It's no matter. She can only delay the inevitable for so long. My Legend-free world will become reality."

    "Does this mean we can leave now?" Umbreon growled. "I've grown sick of the cold."

    "On the contrary," Zero said. "That just means it's time for you two to get this place ready for our guests of honor." She turned around and walked over to Umbreon.

    "Seriously? Look, the bait didn't work," Umbreon said, ears twitching angrily. "Tapu Lele's onto us. If you want to destroy all the gods then I suggest we go for more vulnerable o–"

    "Shut your mouth," Zero hissed, backhanding Umbreon. Espeon shrank back as her partner crumple to the ground. "I have made it expressly clear why we're focusing on the Land Spirits. One of them holds the Dawn Hourglass – Tapu Lele, it would seem – and it's the key to perfecting the Ultra Entercards. Then, I can beam into any spot in any Mystery Dungeon I choose. No spells, magic barriers, or manipulated ley lines will stand in my way. With this power, each and every Legend will fall before the might of the Prism Virus."

    Zero knelt down. She dug the metal claws protruding from her paw into Umbreon's chest and hefted him into the air. His breath rushed out of him and his fur frazzled. "Now listen closely," Zero said. "You two will go to Sunrise Village and kidnap two residents: Sylveon and Eevee. That should bait the sniveling coward, Riolu, and her human leech out from their stupid guild. Have them come here and then dispose of them."

    "Uhuu huu huu huu! Sounds like fun," Espeon said, wagging her tail. "How about we find us a snuggly Sandslash and give him a dose of Celesteela? No, wait! Wait! We should totally do–"

    Zero slammed her staff against the ice. Her right arm phased out of existence, leaving distorted air in its place. "You're mishearing me, Espeon," she seethed, her arm returning. "I told you to dispose of them. No more infected Pokémon. No more of your pathetic, so-called games. Take care of this mess yourselves."

    Espeon's ears drooped. "Y-You want us to battle them? But… but if we lose, then…"

    "The Prism Virus consumes your life energy and gives it to me," Zero said. Espeon's tail fell between her legs. "Wipe that sniveling look off your face, Espeon. Or should I simply take your spirit here and now? Such spinelessness will not do any good."

    Zero dropped Umbreon onto the ice and stepped back. She brushed fur off her paw and then lifted it up, allowing dark energy to swirl around it. A black ball with red, web-like lines appeared in it. She pointed the ball at Umbreon and he immediately looked away, panic flashing across his face.

    "You are both my Pokémon," Zero said. "I captured you fair and square. You are my property. And I have trained you to wield powers you never would have discovered on your own. If you cannot win a simple battle against the opposition, then you will be discarded. I am trying to ensure this world has a prosperous future. At this point, setbacks are unacceptable."

    Espeon bowed, fixing her gaze on the ground. "Yes, Mistress Zero, of course. We won't fail you this time."

    Zero pressed a paw to her mask. "… hmph. Actions speak louder than words." She swung her staff around and looked into the octahedron. It started glowing. "Necky!"

    A moment passed, followed by a loud, garbled, "What? What is it? I'm trying to finish setting up my room!"

    "Return me to Celestial Island," Zero ordered.

    "Hang on! If I open another Ultra Wormhole, I'll be too tired to levitate this stuff around."

    "I'm sorry. Did it sound like I was asking you?" Zero snarled.

    "Ugh, fine. Now I'm going to recruit some Ultra Beasts to do it for me. Hope you're happy."

    Purple energy ripples gathered behind Zero and a portal identical to the one she arrived in opened up. Zero stepped toward it and vanished in the blink of an eye. Espeon and Umbreon looked away as a dazzling white light swallowed up the portal.

    "Well, you heard her, Espy. To Sunrise Village we go," Umbreon said.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "… you really don't… need to waste your cash… on me…"

    Team Radiance sat in front of Bruxish's pond while their fellow apprentice went about assembling his special cauldron.

    "Well, I guess we don't have to," Shane said. "But it wouldn't hurt to spice up your move set, would it? Seriously, have you even learned a single new move since you got here?"

    Null shook his head. "I figured… that the helmet… or the headaches… were just going to stop that from happening."

    "Ah." Shane's brow furrowed. Null had a good point. "But the helmet's got a crack in it. So, maybe that's going to change?"

    "That's rather optimistic of you," Tessa said. "A bit surprising with how you've acted the rest of the week. This doesn't mean the old Shane's back, does it?"

    Shane shook his head. "No. I... um... want to try and start being positive and, y'know, actually meaning it. I figured something like this is a good place to start." He blinked and then looked over at Tessa. "Hey, you actually called me Shane."

    "We're starting things over, right?" Tessa said. "May as well call you by what you want to be called, even if I don't quite get it." Shane's tails thumped against the floor. "So, Bruxish, how would this work exactly?" Tessa asked.

    "Oh, it's veeeeeeeeery easy, dahlings," Bruxish said. "I can use my scalding cauldron to glimpse a Pokémon's spiritual energy. From there, I can use the old thinker to determine both your ability and some of the moves you can learn." He tapped his forehead.

    Null looked down at his forelegs. "Um… did I mention… that none of the other psychics… have been able to read my aura?"

    "Yes, I'm well aware of that snafu," Bruxish said. "Not to speak ill of the Guildmaster, but he likely only tried to sense your aura. And that's a bit too basic. Your spiritual energy incorporates more than your aura. It's the essence of your being, dahling. This cauldron can drag that out for me to see thanks to a few haaaaaandy spells I learned growing up. It hasn't failed yet."

    Bruxish looked down into the boiling cauldron and rubbed his fins together. "Okay then. Let's get started, shall we?" He lifted his fins upward and his eyes glowed a deep, navy blue. The water in the cauldron bubbled faster. Shane and Tessa craned their necks to see over the top.

    "Hey, the water's not changing color," Shane said. "Isn't it supposed to be changing color?"

    Bruxish lowered his hands and looked down into the cauldron. "This is odd," he said. "I've never seen this happen before. Different colors show up to relate to the different types of moves a Pokémon can learn. But Vulpix is right. Null has a venerable absence of color. It symbolizes absolutely nothing."

    "You mean… I can't learn anything else?" Null rasped.

    "I wouldn't necessarily say that, dahling," Bruxish said. He closed his eyes and pressed his fins against his face. "Nnnngh." He opened his eyes and shook his head. "Goodness gracious. It seems like there's quite literally a block on your life force. Something is jamming my ability to read it." His levitation faltered momentarily. "Urgh. Did the Guildmaster mention experiencing any disorientation when trying to read your mind, dahling?"

    "Uh… I don't know," Null said.

    "Huh. Well, that just deepens this mystery," Shane said. He looked at Null, but stayed quiet because he wasn't sure how to properly express sympathy over Null's situation.

    Tessa scooted over beside Null and rubbed his back. "It's okay, buddy. Maybe we can try some TM's on you later?" she said.

    "… I suppose," Null said with a heavy sigh. Shane nodded. He was glad Tessa was around. She knew how to get through Null.

    "Well, as long as we're here, how about you take a gander at me?" Shane said, scooting toward the cauldron. "For one thing, I'd really appreciate knowing what the heck my ability is. Or what it could be, for that matter."

    "Oh, well of course. Just stand still for me, dahling," Bruxish said. Shane stood in front of the cauldron, looking up at Bruxish as he went about activating the cauldron. Shane sucked in his gut as droplets of boiling water scattered around the cauldron, narrowly missing his fur.

    "This can't be right," Bruxish said, opening his eyes. "Perhaps the cauldron is on the fritz?"

    Worry overtook Shane's face. That was the last thing he had wanted to hear. "Is something wrong?"

    Bruxish floated upward. "Magearna! Oh, dahling, could you come here? It seems my cauldron is acting up."

    It is? But I just did a diagnostic on it yesterday and it was fine, Magearna said, before disappearing into the north hallway, leaving Shane wondering how anyone could run a diagnostic on an oversized cooking instrument.

    Bruxish's brow furrowed. "Hmm, well if that's the case, I suppose I just have to take these findings at face value. Even if they don't make sense."

    "Not to be rude here, but I really don't like the sound of that," Shane said. What sort of bad hand was fate dealing him now?

    "Sorry to spook you, dahling. It's nothing life-threatening or anything," Bruxish said. "But according to my cauldron, your ability is Clear Body. And that doesn't make a lick of sense."

    Shane blinked. That didn't sound like anything to make a fuss over. "What's wrong with Clear Body? Regice has Clear Body and they're an ice-type too," he said.

    "I'm sorry, dahling. But Vulpix in Horizon are meant to have Snow Cloak, with a select few knowing Snow Warning. Your ability is more like an impossibility!" Bruxish said, shaking his head.

    Null and Tessa looked over at him. Shane wore a confused expression on his face. Why would he have a unique ability? Did it tie into how he ended up in the Pokémon world?

    "Don't look at me. Maybe Solgaleo did it to me?" Shane said, shrugging. "I strongly doubt I had anything to do with it. I don't even remember how I ended up here in the first place." He looked over at Bruxish. "Is there anything else off about what your cauldron's saying?"

    "Yes," Bruxish said. "I saw traces of fire-type energy in your life force. Actually, it was more than just traces. It seems like you should, theoretically, be able to learn multiple fire-type moves. But, again, that's totally implausible."

    "Maybe the fact that he's actually human prevents your cauldron from working properly?" Tessa said, scratching her chin. "I mean, sure, Shane has the body of a Vulpix, but his spirit should still be the same one he had as a human, right?"

    Shane nodded. "Yeah. That's gotta be it. Remember, I only knew of fire-type Vulpixes as a human. So, maybe those memories are corrupting your magic cauldron," he said, thinking that had to be the right explanation.

    "It's certainly poooooooossible," Bruxish said. "But I can't say for certain."

    Shane sighed and slumped over. "It's okay. Thanks for the help, anyway." He turned and walked over to Null.

    "Huh," Tessa said, raised an eyebrow.

    "What? Is there something on my face?" Shane asked, briefly going cross-eyed.

    "No. It's just… I'm surprised. I figured you'd be dancing around the place singing your own praises. I mean, you have a unique ability. Doesn't that make you special, just like you wanted?" she said.

    Shane blinked a few times. "Oh," he said, looking down. "Well… I mean… you said it yourself. Fresh start and all that jazz. Even if I did think this was cool–"

    Null groaned loudly and shook his head.

    Shane realized his unintentional pun and cringed. "My bad," he said. "As I was saying, even if I thought that was good news, I wasn't about to make a scene over it. I'm trying not to be like that anymore."

    Tessa frowned. "So, wait. Are you upset about your ability, then?"

    He shook his head. "I'm not upset. Just confused, that's all," he said, choosing his words carefully. "At the very least, it's better than what I'm supposed to have. Snow Cloak's only helpful if it's snowing out, which means I'd need to learn Hail. And I don't want to do that for the exact same reason why I wouldn't want Snow Warning." He pawed at the ground. "It would hurt you and Null."

    "Actually, I think Magearna has some kind of device that can keep us explorers safe in inclement weather. But I appreciate the concern," Tessa said, chuckling as Shane faceplanted into the floor. If only he had known that earlier. So much for trying to make a sweet gesture.

    "Well, at least now I can't have my strength or endurance lowered by other Pokémon's moves," Shane said, getting back to his feet. "But, whatever, not much to do about that if we just stand around and talk. How about we take on a couple of simple missions? I can't believe I'm saying this, but after the last week I'd kill for just a normal day on the job."

    Tessa nodded approvingly. "I agree. Lead the way. Maybe if the morning goes well, we can take on a higher-paying job," she said.

    "Ah, Team Radiance! Where's Magearna?"

    Trapinch sprinted out of the southern hallway, a panicked look on his face. "Whoa, where's the fire, dude?" Shane said.

    "It's the Pokénector. Something's wrong with the Pokénector! I need Magearna to look at it ASAP. Is she in her workshop?" Trapinch said, anxiously trotting in place.

    "Chill out. She just went back to it," Shane said. "Why don't you just call her out–"

    "Thanks for the heads up!" Trapinch said, dashing off toward the northern hallway.

    "… aaaaaaaaand he's gone," Shane said with a sigh.

    "You don't suppose we should stick around and see what the problem is, do you?" Tessa asked.

    "Nah, we should be fi–" Shane started, only to cut himself off and instead say, "that was a rhetorical question, wasn't it?"

    Tessa smiled at him. "Yes. But hey, you're picking up on my tone of voice much better."

    Shane didn't have the opportunity to mull over that complement because Trapinch reappeared in the hallway, with Magearna following along. I strongly doubt the Pokénector would just up and break on us. It's been perfectly functionalible since I upgraded it last month.

    "You've just gotta have a look at this," Trapinch said, heading for the southern hallway. "I can't even explain it. Part of the globe just blacked out."

    Blacked out? Magearna said. That's not possachievable. Show me.

    Despite Shane's silent begging not to get involved, Team Radiance followed their fellow guild members down the southern hallway to the sentry station. They all assembled around the Pokénector, giving Trapinch and Magearna enough room to stand by the portion mapping out the Horizon Continent.

    "Wait," Null said. "Look… there are two black spots." He turned to Tessa. "Isn't that one… toward the northern part of the continent… where we were the other day?"

    Tessa pulled out the team's Wonder Map and unfolded it. Her eyes widened. "Ah!" she gasped. "The Wonder Map… it's…"

    Shane walked over toward her. "What, did you rip it or something?"

    "It has black spots in the same places," Tessa said, showing it to her teammates.

    "Yeah, those parts are totally blacked out. Like someone spilled ink on them," Shane said. "But why would it do something like that?"

    Simple. Your Wonder Maps are synchronisified to the Pokénector, thanks to some handy spellcasting on my part, Magearna explained. I have developed the Pokénector to map out the changes to the landscape that the Tapus create. And that, in turns, updates everyone's Wonder Maps. She turned back to the Pokénector. But this is like nothing I've ever seen before.

    Shane's jaw stiffened. Magearna's explanation didn't sit well with him. Magical maps that could change on a whim? The thought made his fur prickle.

    "This all sounds dubious," Shane said. "So, if that northern area is Moonrise Marsh and Mellath Bog, then what's that place in the southwest?"

    Aurora Vale, Magearna said.

    Tessa's aura feelers tensed up. "I… I know that place," she whispered. "It's supposed to be the most beautiful Mystery Dungeon in all of Horizon, because you can always see an aurora in the sky above it." Her gaze fell toward the ground. "Dad had always promised that, once I joined the guild, he'd take me there and we could explore it together."

    Thinking back to yesterday morning, Shane looked over at Tessa in concern. "Hey, are you going to be okay?" he asked.

    "It's… it's fine," she said, taking a deep breath. Tessa looked over at Magearna. "Do you think this means something's wrong with Aurora Vale? Maybe the Tapus are doing something to it?"

    I can only launch a speculation algorithm on the matter, Magearna said. But I doubt that will assistify us much.

    "… maybe… it's been infected," Null muttered ominously. Shane shot Null a worried look. "Think about it. When we were in Mellath Bog… the whole place had been corrupted… by strange energy…"

    As much as Shane wanted to issue a retort, he couldn't escape the sinking feeling that Null was right.

    Is that a fact? Magearna said. Hmm. Well, I suppose the way to definitatively know would be to investigate Aurora Vale. She looked at Team Radiance. I don't suppose you three would be willing to go? It sounds like you have experiasity with such situations.

    Shane and Tessa exchanged nervous looks. It was all they needed to tell each other they didn't want a repeat of their time underground. "I, uh, don't know, Magearna," Shane stammered. "We're still shaken up from Mellath Bog. I'm not sure if we're the best ones for the job. What about Team Specter or Team Captivate?"

    They're both out, Magearna replied. It wouldn't be long. In fact, I'm not even requesticating that you go into the Dungeon. Just glimpse over it and ring me up on the Gear-Com to tell me what you see.

    "Well, I guess that's okay," Tessa said. "But, we're still going to stock up on supplies, just in case." Behind her, Shane and Null both nodded their support.

    That is fine. Just get going as soon as you can. My worry levels have surged to 47.3%, and I fear my ability to repairate the Pokénector will decrease if my worry levels keep rising, Magearna said.

    "Right." Tessa walked toward the hallway and her teammates followed her along. "So, um, are we going to head out right now?"

    "I guess so," Shane said. "Do you even know where we're going?"

    "Yeah," Tessa said. "There's a small community near Aurora Vale. It's called Borea Heights, I think. With any luck, we won't need to venture past there."

    They headed upstairs to the guild's entrance. But as they proceeded toward the door, it suddenly slid open. In flew a yellow bug with a white face, white hips, and a black scarf slung around her body. She promptly collapsed onto the ground, groaning loudly.

    Shane cocked his head. "Huh?"

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched. "T... Totem Ribombee? What happened to you? You look terrible," she said.

    "Totem?" Shane looked down at the bug and thought of his encounter with Lurantis. His tails shot between his legs. "Is... is she the leader of Aeon Town, then? And did she just get infected?"

    "No, she's the Totem of Sunrise Village," Tessa explained, kneeling down beside Ribombee. "Hey, can you hear me? Can you tell me what happened?"

    Totem Ribombee's eyes fluttered open and she grimaced. "Sunrise Village… attacked. Sylveon's house… destroyed. She and Eevee are… gone."

    Her eyes rolled back in her head and she lost consciousness.

    Tessa looked up at Shane with a panic-stricken expression. "We've gotta go to Sunrise Village right away!" she said.

    XxX​

    That's right. Our fist chapter has officially introduced Zero into the story. Design wise she is based off Dark Enerjak, from Sonic Universe.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018 at 2:15 AM
  2. Flaze

    Flaze Don't Look Away

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    Zero's a furry.

    It's pretty interesting to me how Aura is showcased as having different colors, I mostly mean it cause the anime usually sticks to just the blue one so seeing the other colors in the spectrum helps expand on that.

    Prisma's really string to worry me. The previous chapter already raised my suspicions if how it ended is any indication of what's really going on, especially since we know Lunala isn't exactly being herself at the moment. But I wonder if maybe Prisma isn't infected per se, or maybe she is but isn't completely gone or is in a similar state to Espy and Umby.

    I just loved this. I mean, I guess it's just me getting feels from seeing them actually get along, but after almost ten chapters of Team Radiance being in a state of constant arguing and not knowing whether they'd continue or not, it's nice to see them both trying their best to become better and work as a more concrete team this time around.

    How do you even pronounce this?

    Shane and Null on their ways to being bros.

    So I wasn't expecting you to start a second volume so I'll tackle that first. Like I told you before, it's a little odd for this to continue in a new thread because...well the story picks up right where it left off. I know that you said you'd do a catch up, but it's a little different when you start a new story or a new part of a story in a spot where it can be considered a new beginning and when you do it at a place that's just the start of a new arc that still has the events of the last one present.

    I know you went with Volumes as a comparison to how Avatar did things or how comics do things, but all of those are still their own continuous stories, they don't exactly split off and start a new one so to speak. Something like what you did would be more fitting if it were something like Harry Potter, where every book continues the main story but it's also like its own portion of it and has its own set of events and character plotlines to take into account.

    Now, I'm not saying that your decision was an absolutely horrible one and that I cant' see where you're coming from, cause I can. But I remain skeptical of it.

    Beyond that, the content of the actual chapter does feel like a proper start to a new arc, we finally get a look at Zero who...looks a lot different than what I expected. I was kind of waiting for a Pokemon but she doesn't seem to be one, or at least not with all those things on her. We also finally got a look at one of the Tapus and it counts as our first look at a legendary outside of the dreams and Marshadow. I kind of expected the fight to be longer, but it's a good thing that you left it as just a little taste of what's to come.

    With that we also got more intriguing developtments for Shane and Null. Null's whole thing with apparently being unable to learn new moves isn't really surprising to me, but what is shocking is Shane. Shane's whole being is shrouded in mystery at this point, with the fact that Null detects him as an Ultra Beast and now that he only has an ability available to a legendary and can apparently learn fire type moves. Normally this would be a cause for concern as it does make Shane more special than he is, but the fact tha the takes it all in a more confusing light and it actually raises the mystery of what exactly he is helps alleviate that possible hole.

    Now I'm just hoping that Eevee and Sylveon don't get infected, that would be...extremely sad to be honest. But it does act as good stakes. I am curious as to how Zero knew about those two though, and in general there are some things about her that closely relate to how Prisma's been acting.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  3. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    And that'll do it for this topic. G'night, everyone! :V

    Thanks. Aura always being blue is... boring. Also, the more I wrote the story, the more of a habit I picked up of using Pokémon's innate abilities to show emotions. It started with Tessa's aura feelers but then expanded to Gallian's horn flashing different colors when he gets upset. There'll be some more cases of this stuff going forward.

    You're probably thinking the right thing. That last scene in the previous topic was meant to show that Tessa's dream-visions didn't involve her mother and were orchestrated by Necrozma.

    Yeah, I enjoyed finally writing them being a lot friendlier.

    Poss-a-chee-va-bull.

    That might be more on the nose than you think. ^^;

    I totally understand what you're saying. Trust me, this isn't a decision I made lightly. I was perfectly content to confine things to one topic and let the chapter count balloon past 100 and the word count shoot up to astronomical levels. But I asked around a bit and the general vibe was that, even if this was going to be parts of one overarching story, people seemed to think splitting it into volumes made it feel less like a daunting read. The original topic was easily 220k words and had almost 40 parts to it when you add in the bonus chapters. If I left it all in one topic we'd probably end at, like, 750k words and even I find that frightening. ;~;

    I fully admit I took a "glitch entity" approach to creating her and you'll see why going forward.

    As far as Tapu Lele is concerned trust me when I say you'll see something much meatier later on. ;)

    Both the odd ability and the fire-type moves are actually supposed to be a hint as to what's going on with Shane's situation. The actual answer is a major spoiler that I'll be staying tight-lipped on, though I know Persephone was able to guess what these signs were pointing to.

    Guess you'll have to keep reading to see what happens. :V

    Well, if Necrozma can invade Tessa's dreams, it's safe to say he can tell Zero ways to hit Tessa where it hurts. Thanks for reviewing! ^^
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    This chapter was first published on January 26th, 2018.

    XxX

    Chapter 2: A Paradox to Unravel

    ~Sunrise Village~

    "Sylveon! Eevee!" Tessa shouted, sprinting down the dirt road leading into the village. Shane struggled to keep up with her on account of still being sore from the Mellath Bog mission. He looked up, spotted a column of smoke rising in the distance, and gulped.

    'Ugh, was it too much to ask to just get a nice, normal day for once? I officially take back all the bad things I ever said about the filler chapters and side quests in the games,' Shane thought. Null lagged behind him, his mask slowing him down considerably.

    "W-Wait up, please!" Shane wheezed. He gritted his teeth and tried to run faster, but his burning legs refused to make up any of the distance. Then, as the smoke column grew close, Tessa inexplicably stopped. Shane's sense of relief proved fleeting. Tessa's aura feelers were standing on end, which meant something had spooked her.

    "What's the matter?" Shane asked, trotting up to Tessa's side. "Do you sense something hostile? Like the Prism Virus?"

    "I sense… Gallian," Tessa squeaked. "B-But why would he–? How could he–? Sylveon and Eevee were supposed to be his friends, too!"

    Shane's eyes narrowed. "It's just like I told you. He's infected. You can't think of it as your brother doing this stuff. You have to think of it as a creepy alien force using him to do awful things!" He figured he could've phrased that better, but it was the only thing that came to mind.

    "That doesn't make it feel any better," Tessa whimpered. Before Shane could say anything else, both of their ears twitched in unison, with Shane's pivoting forward.

    "… traces of ultra aura here, Captain."

    "Did you hear that?" Shane whispered. "It sounded just like that purple alien guy we ran into in Tethys Tunnel."

    "Please, I could have told you that without needing some geeky scanner. I want to know where they ran off to. The longer they stay missing, the greater the chance of something terrible happening. I can feel it in my bones."

    "And that's definitely Gallian," Tessa said, fidgeting nervously with her locket. "W-What should we do? Sneak attack them?"

    Shane shook his head. For once, he didn't want to blindly charge into battle. "No, let's lie low and hear what they have to say. Maybe they'll let slip where Sylveon and Eevee are. Then we can scamper off without any sort of conflict."

    "… huh. That's the first time… I've heard you suggest… holding back… instead of leaping into the fray," Null said, joining his teammates. "I'm in agreement. We couldn't handle Gallian alone. We can't take him… and the purple guy…"

    "But it didn't sound like they know where Sylveon and Eevee are, either," Tessa said.

    "I'm afraid the trail runs completely cold, Rookie," Luxeira said. Her unfamiliar voice prompted Team Radiance to exchange confused looks. "Whatever entity did this appeared right in this exact spot, only to disappear from it soon after. It's not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that Ultra Wormholes were used, considering the strong ultra aura readings."

    "Did you hear that?" Shane asked. "Didn't the purple guy mention something about ultra auras when we met him? And what's an Ultra Wormhole? Some kind of alien transport method?"

    "Beats me," Tessa said, shrugging.

    "Well, look harder, then!" Gallian growled. "I can feel impending disaster growing stronger every minute we stand around doing nothing. And all you two seem to know how to do is stand around and do nothing!"

    "Oh, puh-lease. You terrestrials say the most ridiculous things," Luxeira said.

    "My disaster sense is not ridiculous. It can save lives. But only if we take action!" Gallian barked.

    "Huh. I guess you're right, Riolu. Sounds to me like Gallian might not have had anything to do with this," Shane said. But if it wasn't Gallian, then who could it be?

    His eyes widened. "Ah! Don't tell me… this was Espeon's and Umbreon's doing?" His gaze fell toward the ground. "If… if that's the case, then Lycanroc might've been right the whole time. They are masterminding all of this chaos." His ears folded against his face. "Ugh, I've been such a blind idiot."

    "Beat yourself up later," Null said. "I think… we should head back to the Observatory… and try to find some backup…"

    "C… Captain Luxeira! My radar is detecting an ultra aura spike," Sticky said. "I do not believe we are alone."

    Shane's tails shot up into the air. "I think it's time we made our exit, guys," he said, walking backwards. However, a sudden rush of air made him freeze up. Tessa's aura feelers jolted up as high as her ears and she spun around. The color drained from her face at the sight of Gallian glaring right at them.

    "This doesn't concern you three. Buzz off!" he hissed. "And you," he snarled, looking directly at Tessa. "I thought I made it abundantly clear that you needed to ditch the guild. Evidently that failed to sink in. Guess you're just as dense as Dad was."

    "What are you saying, Gallian? Sylveon and Eevee are good friends. This absolutely concerns me. I want to get them back. And I want my teammates to help me," Tessa said. "So, tell us what you know."

    "… hmph." Gallian's eyes flashed purple. "You're not getting involved in this. Any scenario with you trying to save them is going to end badly. Trust me. You're not strong enough. And neither are your little friends. So, step aside, and let a real explorer handle this."

    "I am a real explorer!" Tessa fumed. She pivoted to show the silver badge on her scarf. "Our team made apprentice rank the other day. And that's at least half a year before you did."

    Gallian's forehead scythe flickered red. "And you think that makes you special? I'll bet you were just given it out of pity. After all, this is around the time Dad died. Metagross probably did it to keep you three away from him." He shook his head. "Honestly, how can you stand working for that hack?"

    "Hey! You don't just get to insult him like that," Shane said. "He's actually trying to keep Horizon safe, like we are. Which is more than I can say for a punk like you."

    "Rookie, is there an issue here?"

    Team Radiance stiffened at the sight of who they assumed was the "Captain Luxeira" that Sticky had addressed earlier. They watched the Houndoom stride forward, taking notice of the skin-tight white suit and the helmet that obscured everything on her head except her blue snout. Like Sticky and Gallian, a black harness sat around her chest, with a sparkling stone embedded inside it.

    "What the heck are you supposed to be?" Shane asked. "An astronaut Houndoom? I didn't think this world was advanced enough to have a space program."

    "… curious," Luxeira said, lights blinking on her helmet's visor. "It would seem your analysis is correct, Sticky. That terrestrial is exhibiting unnaturally high ultra aura levels."

    Gallian looked over at her. "So, that stupid Vulpix is from the same place you guys came from, then?"

    Luxeira shook her head. "I strongly doubt it. No, his ultra aura levels far surpass those of an average Ultra Village resident."

    Sticky nodded. "I got the same readings when I encountered these terrestrials while doing reconnaissance work in Tethys Tunnel. He must be an Ultra Beast. Though, I do not know how he managed to disguise himself as an ice Vulpix."

    Shane narrowed his eyes at them. He didn't understand the whole conversation, but he didn't like what he was hearing. "Excuse me? I happen to be a human, thank you very much," he said. "Whatever you freak shows are doing, you need to stop. You're only making this whole Prism Virus situation worse."

    "Negative. If anyone is escalating any sort of current crisis, it is your squadron," Sticky said, shaking his head. "After all, you have a Beast Killer in your ranks. And with the ultra aura you are giving off, it is a miracle you are even still breathing."

    Shane and Null abruptly looked away from each other, allowing Sticky to see the crack running through Null's helmet. "Ack! C-Captain… the restraining mask!" He pointed frantically at Null. "It's coming undone."

    Luxeira turned to look at Null. "Then our course of action is clear." She turned back to Shane and Tessa. "Relinquish this failed experiment into our possession posthaste, terrestrials. We of Team Paradox will apply a sealant to that mask, to restrain the Beast Killer's power and hostility."

    "Null is not hostile!" Tessa said. "He's our friend and teammate. You can't have him. Stop trying to let your companions beat around the issue, Gallian! Tell me everything you know about what happened to Sylveon and Eevee."

    "Hmph. If you really cared about them, you would still be living with them. And then you could've protected them," Gallian scoffed. "But no, you'd much rather run around the guild with those other blind idiots."

    "Wait, wait, wait. Everyone hold up for a minute." Shane turned to Luxeira. "You guys are an exploration team? Is this a joke?" he asked. "What guild would possibly let you in?"

    "You misconstrue our words, terrestrial," Luxeira said. "We are Team Paradox. We are a unit of an Ultra Recon Squad hailing from a pocket world known as Ultra Village. We are not an exploration team, we–"

    "Okay, you used one too many 'Ultra's' in that sentence," Shane said, rubbing his temple. "I'm just going to say you're a crazy alien and call it a day."

    "Enough!" Gallian said. "You're wasting your time explaining things to these idiots." His scythe flickered red.

    "Easy there," Sticky said. "Even if we are on different sides, it is important that we do not allow the situation to escalate into violence. Perhaps we can come to some sort of agreement? If you hand over the Beast Killer, we will give you the information we have gleamed from our surveillance of this residential building."

    "Are you serious? What a joke!" Shane said. "Any goodwill you could've had went completely out the window when you attacked us back in Tethys Tunnel!"

    Luxeira turned to Sticky. "Is this true?"

    "I spotted the Beast Killer and attempted to subjugate it. I did not anticipate that these terrestrials would step in to save it," Sticky said, head tilted down shamefully.

    Luxeira sighed. "You know our Ultra Recon Squad policy, Sticky."

    "No combat engagement with terrestrials unless the situation poses risk of physical or mental harm," Sticky said. "But it was a hostile situation, Captain. That terrestrial with the massive ultra aura threatened me."

    "Only because we knew you were working with Gallian," Shane said. "Look at him. The guy's certainly not radiating any friendly vibes. Why would a couple of aliens like you even hire him?"

    Gallian's eyes flickered. "You do not get to call me that, pipsqueak," he hissed. "I've got my own reasons for working with these two. And I'm certainly not going to be nice to anyone who's triggering my disaster sense."

    "Oh brother. I strongly doubt you've trained well enough to have a flawless disaster sense. So, did you ever consider the possibility that maybe you're just wrong?" Shane said, ignoring Tessa's wide-eyes look. He realized his mistake when Gallian's scythe glowed pink.

    "My disaster sense is the truth!" Gallian snarled. "And I know for a fact that letting you three saunter off after Sylveon and Eevee will end badly. So, if you're not going to stand down, then I'm going to do what I should have done back at that blasted Observatory."

    Sticky's face blanched. "Y-You don't mean–?"

    "Unfortunately, I agree with his assessment," Luxeira said, shaking her head. "My apologies for reprimanding you earlier, Sticky. It would seem that these three do indeed create a threatening situation. We must act accordingly." She pressed the jewel in the center of her harness and whispered, "Let's just hope these Technical Machine devices really work as advertised."

    No sooner did she finish saying that than a flamethrower raced forward from her snout. Gallian added purple crescents to the mix. Team Radiance scattered in different directions. The two attacks collided, spreading fire in all directions. Fireballs pelted Shane from behind. He fell to the ground with a holler, rolling around to cool off his fur.

    Across from Shane, Null flung air blades at Sticky's face. Luxeira leaped up and snagged the recoiling Sticky in her jaw. She landed back on the ground and said, "Watch your back. You know full well what Beast Killers can do to your kind."

    "… what… do you mean… Beast Killer? Are you saying… there are others… just like me?" Null said.

    "That is not information we would think of disclosing to you," Sticky said.

    "... that sounds... like a yes to me," Null said, pawing at the ground.

    Sticky floated back up and scattered purple tiles appeared around the area. One of them popped up right in the path that Tessa was running along to avoid Gallian's purple waves. Poisonous spikes jabbed her thighs the moment she stepped on it. Tessa staggered to a halt, gasping for air. "Need a lum berry," Tessa said, reaching into her item pouch.

    "Fat chance of that!" Gallian roared, covering Tessa in pink mist. He stood over her sleeping form, gathering red energy in the diamond on his forehead.

    "No! Get away from her!" Shane shouted, spewing frosty air.

    "Butt out, shorty. This is a family matter," Gallian hissed, dodging Shane's attack. He retaliated with more purple waves. Shane struggled to dodge with Sticky's toxic traps in the way. Why didn't he try to knock Sticky out first?

    Shane's thoughts were interrupted when he found himself staring down the barrel of a fiery tunnel! He flopped to his side, howling in agony as flames brushed his right flank. Luxeira quickly backed away from him, catching her breath. "Target down," she said. "Eh?" She tilted her head in confusion as Shane stumbled back to his feet.

    "You're not… getting rid of us… that easily," he panted.

    "Captain! Gallian told me that the Pokémon of this world can stockpile specialized kernels to revitalize them if they faint in battle," Sticky shouted. He then turned around, shooting poison from his head tips at Null. But Null barreled through the attack using his steel-coated helmet. Panicking, Sticky pulled a rod from his harness. A whirlwind flung a screaming Null into the trees. Where did Sticky keep getting these things from? Had Gallian stolen a ton of items?

    Sticky turned to his right, where Tessa was weaving through psychic crescents to get to Gallian. She thrust her aura-coated fists at Gallian, who countered with his glowing scythe. Gallian skidded across the ground, hissing. Sticky launched poison globs to back up his teammate, but Tessa unleashed a burst of speed and appeared underneath Sticky. She socked him with an electrically-charged fist.

    Yes! She had finally gotten a hit in! And, even better, she knocked Sticky into Gallian. She couldn't let up now! Tessa charged Gallian down, but banked off to her right instead when she heard Shane crying for help.

    "Nnnghr… get off me!" Gallian roared, shoving Sticky to the side. "And quit getting in my way. Focus on your friend in the mask. I don't need your help. Got it?"

    "Very well," Sticky said. "At least let me heal you–"

    A wind blade to the face blew Sticky across the ground. Null ran toward Gallian, mask turning to metal. "... tch. Amateurs," Gallian said, getting to his feet. Null missed his headbutt and Gallian slashed him in the side with shadow-coated scythe. Gallian produced a wand from his harness as Null dropped to the ground, hissing in pain.

    "Get petrified, freak," Gallian said, showering Null in blue energy that rooted him to the ground. With Null out of the way, he turned his attention toward Tessa. But he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and jumped back, narrowly avoiding a reeling Sticky. He turned right and charged.

    Shane had no time to prepare for Gallian. His shadowy scythe raked Shane's back, slicing through his fur. Blood splattered across the soil next to Shane. Out of all the places to hit, Gallian had to get him in the back. Now his whole body was screaming in pain!

    "I don't know what Tessa sees in you, pipsqueak," Gallian scoffed. "You can barely hold your own out here. Frankly, it's pathetic."

    Shane fought through the pain, scrambling to his feet. "How could you say that about her? She's your sister, dude!"

    "Yeah, and look what good her family did for me!" Gallian snarled. Shane tried to snuff the psychic energy out of Gallian's scythe with frosty air, but Gallian dissolved into the shadows. Shane's eyes widened. That looked nothing like the Feint Attacks he had seen other dark-types using. What was Gallian up to?

    His answer came in the form of something hard and sharp stabbing his rear. Shane tumbled to the ground, triggering one of Sticky's poisonous traps. "W-What the–?" Shane said. "Just what the hell kind of move was that, huh?"

    "It wasn't," Gallian said. "You really are an idiot." He dissolved into a black puddle, with Luxeira taking his place and staring Shane down.

    "Don't even think about it, terrestrial," she said, flames gathering in her mouth.

    Tessa knew she had to help Shane right away or he was toast! But Gallian lunged out of the shadows, raking his black talons across her chest. She fell into a poison trap. Tessa couldn't believe she let Gallian catch her off guard like that. How infuriating he was! She barely managed to pull out two lum berries and hurl one toward Shane.

    Tessa's eyes widened and she tried to use Quick Attack to reach Luxeira in time. But Gallian popped out of the shadows and Night Slashed her across her chest. This upended Tessa, and caused her to crash into a Toxic Spike trap. Her body seized up as the poisons took hold. She barely managed to pull out two lum berries, hurling one toward Shane.

    Shane shrieked, pushing Luxeira away before she could unleash her flames. He scarfed the berry down, wondering what he could do to possibly fend off an opponent with such a strong type advantage.

    An idea quickly popped into his mind. "H-Hey!" he said. "You… you better stop what you're doing right now. Or, uh, I'm gonna unleash my ultra aura or whatever and blast you into smithereens."

    "Your tone of voice suggests you're bluffing. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about," Luxeira said.

    Shane swore under his breath. She didn't take the bait! Shane sprinted to his left, dodging a pitch-black beam and retaliating with frost breath. Luxeira stood tall, not even flinching in the face of the frigid air. Shane's jaw dropped. Surely that had to have done some damage, right?

    "Perhaps my scanner is malfunctioning. I have minimal experience with this 'battling' concept, but even I can see that you don't seem to rise to the threat level your ultra aura suggests is possible," Luxeira said. "We'll be taking the Beast Killer. And I cannot allow you interfere with that."

    In the face of an impending flamethrower, Shane could do nothing but run for his nearest ally, Null. As Shane neared Null, he realized his teammate was in rough shape. But Sticky looked weary, too.

    "Even with the restraining mask, it is clear you are still a serious threat," Sticky said. "Although, battling is not exactly my strength. So, this was going to be a struggle from the beginning."

    "Then… quit it. I don't… want to hurt anyone!" Null said, thrashing his head around.

    "I do not believe you. And I will put a stop to your endeavors," Sticky said. Another wand popped out from his harness and he blasted Null with a dim, red light. Nothing happened at first, but then Null yawned and slouched over.

    "What… did you do?" he said.

    "Unless I am mistaken, I have modified your ability to Truant," Sticky said. "Your capacity to form up the energy necessary to instigate an attack is now greatly redu–"

    Psychic rings knocked Sticky to the ground, then ice-cold air froze him to the spot. "You okay, Null? We really need to give Tessa a hand," Shane said. Null answered by lunging forward, tackling Shane to the ground. He shielded Shane from a flamethrower, only to collapse unconscious on his side. Shane looked up in horror to see Luxeira staring him down.

    This was it. She was going to hit him with the orb in her mouth and run off with Null! Gallian was right. Shane wasn't strong enough. There was nothing he could do to win...

    'No! I refuse to give up here! Not after everything we've been through!'

    Luxeira released the orb and Shane fired psychic rings from his forehead. He knocked the orb back at Luxeria, who barely blasted it apart in time with a black beam. Shane followed up with a gust of icy air. He sprinted away from Luxeira, hoping to outrun any attacks she launched. The flames that swallowed him up seconds later proved him sorely wrong. He only had an instant to mull his failure before blacking out.

    Null saw his teammate fall and charged Luxeira in a blind rage. He upended her with a swipe of his claws and pounced, landing atop a howling Luxeira.

    "Please… you have to relent," she wheezed. "We're just doing our jobs."

    "… so am I," Null snarled. He raised a foreleg and hammered the top of Luxeira's helmet. She immediately stopped struggling. Any relief he felt dissipated when he heard Tessa's cries of pain. He slapped his talons angrily against the ground. He had forgotten about Gallian!

    Null lumbered to his feet and stomped toward Gallian. Shane trotted after him, back up thanks to a Reviver Seed kicking in. Gallian stared them both down, shadows dancing around his legs. "You have to cut this out, Gallian," Shane pleaded. "You're not helping anyone. We're wasting time that we could be using rescuing Sylveon and Eevee!"

    "I don't want your help. I want you all out of my life!" Gallian snarled, scythe glowing bright-green. Shane scrambled to his right, narrowly dodging Gallian's horn. But Gallian lunged through a cloud of Shane's frost breath, ready to drive his horn through Shane's chest. Shane's legs locked up.

    There was nothing he could do. Gallian was too quick. This was it! A crazy Absol was going to be the death of him!

    Shane braced himself for the ensuing pain, when a glowing-blue paw struck Gallian's shoulder and sent him to the ground. Gallian turned and glared at Tessa. "You just don't know when to quit, do you?" he barked. "Why won't you listen to me? You cannot go after Sylveon and Eevee. Let me handle it!"

    "Couldn't we just work together on this?" Tessa said. "You're supposed to be part of the guild, Gallian."

    "I'll never work with them again!" Gallian cried, unleashing a volley of pink crescents from his horn. They didn't get far before bursting into clouds of black smoke. Gallian stood there, dumbstruck, as Null lunged out from the smoke, talons glowing. Null struck air, however. Gallian materialized behind Null, but Shane came to his teammate's aid, dousing Gallian's right flank in icy air.

    Tessa ran after Gallian, aura gathering in her paws. Hissing in pain, Gallian dissolved into the shadows. But Tessa refused to back down. She leaped onto Null's helmet, grabbing his head crest.

    "... tch. If you're gonna hide behind your freakish friend, then I'll cut Vulpix down to size!" Gallian cried, emerging next to Shane.

    Null hurled air slash blades at Gallian, but Gallian simply jumped out of the way. He wasn't prepared for Null thrusting his head forward and launching Tessa directly at him. Gallian had a moment to shout before Tessa cannonballed into him, launching him back across the field.

    Tessa landed safely on the ground and dropped to one knee. Panic washed across Shane's face. "Are you okay? That was totally nuts! Where did you come up with that idea?" he said.

    "I'm fine," Tessa said, getting back to her feet. "And I took inspiration from you, you reckless dummy."

    Wincing, Shane gave her a weak smile. "Aha ha... just warn me next time you're going to do something like that," he said. "I thought my heart was about to stop."

    "Says the Vulpix who got squished by a Bewear," Tessa mused. She regretted her words when Shane shrank back from her. "Oops, sorry. I really shouldn't have brought that up, should I?" she said. Shane nodded.

    "… guys… Gallian disappeared on us… again," Null said. Team Radiance circled up with their backs to one another. Gallian materialized in front of them, a scowl on his face.

    "I'll bet you think you're hot stuff, don't you?" he growled. "The only reason you had any upper hand was you had Reviver Seeds and I didn't. But no amount of them will let you three rescue Sylveon and Eevee. Don't you get it? You're going to fail. I can guarantee it. My disaster sense hasn't been this strong in weeks. It's absolute certainty."

    "Oh god, please tell me he didn't just make a horrible pun there," Shane said.

    "How can you say such awful things?" Tessa said, arms trembling and paws balled up into fists. "I'm your sister, Gallian. We're supposed to have each other's backs. Why won't you just come back to me? Please!" Her arms stiffened against her sides. "I… I miss you so much…"

    "Oh brother, are you really going to pull out the waterworks on me? Gods, you're such a crybaby," Gallian scoffed. "No wonder Mom got so fed up with you."

    Tessa's aura feelers jolted up. That was the last thing she wanted to hear from him. "W… what do you mean 'fed up?'" she said.

    "Wow, are you dense or what?" Gallian said, rolling his eyes. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If you had a decent head on your shoulders, you'd be as far away from the guild as you can get."

    "I don't understand," Tessa rasped.

    "There's a big surprise."

    "Hey!" Shane barked, stepping beside Tessa. "Here's an idea, you conceited prick, instead of putting Tessa down, why don't you just grow a pair and tell her what the problem is, for god's sake?"

    Anger flashed across Gallian's face. His scythe flared up purple, but Null shot a warning air slash blade across his flank. Gallian locked eyes with Tessa. He drew his lips back into a snarl. "You really want to know what the problem is? You really want to know why I left?" he growled. "It's Dad. And Metagross and Braviary. He's gone because of them!"

    Tessa stiffened. Her heart shot up into her throat. Her legs grew weak and, before she knew it, she had fallen to her knees. Was Gallian saying her dad's friends were responsible for his death?

    "There's no way that's right," Shane said. "Tessa told us it was an accident!" He looked over at Null, who nodded his agreement.

    "What do you expect? She doesn't know any better," Gallian said. "But I do. They killed him! I'm sure of it! They got rid of him… and they tried to get rid of Mom, too!"

    "What?" Tessa squeaked. "But I… that…" She leaned forward, pressing her paws on the ground. "Why wouldn't she tell me? We've been speaking. She never even said anything. She blamed Zapdos," she said.

    "Of course she'd never tell you anything. Mom thought you were insufferable," Gallian said, shaking his head disapprovingly. "After Dad died, she'd constantly show up at my room, ranting about how you were suffocating her. How you constantly wanted her attention, when all she wanted was peace and quiet." He started pacing back and forth. "Heck, I even went down to the veterans' quarters once and saw her losing her mind. She scribbled all over her maps and papers, angrily threw books around her room, and screwed up a bunch of family photos. All the while she was shouting some nonsense about how she was 'going to make them pay. Make them all pay.'"

    A stabbing pain shot through Tessa's chest. All the strange sights she had found in her mom's room... were her own doing? And not Gallian's?

    Tessa squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "I don't believe you!" she yelled. "Mom loved both of us! She just–"

    "Please, stop deluding yourself. She couldn't stand the sight of us," Gallian said. "You're so pathetic. I was right. You were only made an apprentice out of pity. I'll bet it was Braviary. He's probably guilty he offed his so-called best friend." His scythe flashed purple. "Why do you think I left? Just the thought of being around them made my skin crawl!"

    "So? It's not like you've said your disaster sense is all that accurate," Shane said.

    "It had to be them!" Gallian barked. "I had to leave. I didn't have a choice. I couldn't stay around them. I'm sure they knew I'd found out about their crazy plan! So, I left. And I threatened you because I figured you'd try to go to the guild. You've been so desperate for attention since Dad died... and that's the best place to get it. I thought if I threatened you, you'd actually listen." He shook his head. "Guess I was wrong."

    "Stop it!" Tessa hissed, stomping a foot on the ground. "Shut up. I don't… you stop saying that stuff right now." She gripped her head and shook it back and forth.

    "I'm only telling the truth," Gallian growled. "Mom never cared about us. I'll bet she only paid attention to us to make Dad happy."

    "Shut up, Gallian!"

    Shane put a forepaw on Tessa's trembling shoulder. "Don't listen to him. He's just saying that to rile you up," he whispered. "You can't give him the satisfaction." He silently cursed himself out for not thinking of anything better to say to support his friend.

    "But… but I told you the exact same thing about Mom the other day," Tessa whispered back with a somber whine.

    She was right. Still, he refused to let Gallian keep putting Tessa down. He turned back toward Gallian and said, "You can take your emo mommy issues and shove off! Tessa's my friend. And if she wants to rescue Sylveon and Eevee, I'm going to do everything I can to help her out. Because Pokémon are meant to work together! Isn't that what you're doing with those two aliens?"

    Gallian glared at Shane. "I already said I have my reasons for working with these two. Otherwise, I'd be on my own," he hissed. "The guild showed me that you can never trust another Pokémon under any circumstances. Because, even if we say we help each other, deep down we're only looking after ourselves."

    Shane's blood run cold. How could one Pokémon harbor so much enmity for everyone around him? Could this actually be the Prism Virus' doing?

    Gallian noticed his teammates stirring and walked over toward them. "You want to go rescue Sylveon and Eevee? Fine. Then you're going to have to beat me to it," he said. "I don't have any intention of letting the three of you get within a mile of them. Don't come crying to me when you ultimately fail."

    "Uhuu huu huu huu! Isn't this such a touching, lovely family reunion? Really pulls at the ol' heartstrings."

    Beside Gallian, Sticky and Luxeira tensed up. "Captain, are you seeing these readings? They are astronomical!" Sticky said.

    A swirling, red and black vortex opened between the two groups. Espeon and Umbreon leaped out of the portal. "Well, well, well, haven't we all been a bunch of busybodies?" Espeon said. "We should've brought snacks, Umbry. This is quite entertaining!"

    "You two… you're working for it, aren't you? That armored thing," Gallian said, scythe flashing pink.

    "Working would imply I'm not having any fun. And this is loads of fun! So, no, I'm not," Espeon said with a giggle. "And judging by your appearance, I get the feeling you didn't want to get with the program?" She shook her head. "News flash: Legends are out of season. The Prism Virus is going to make things better for Pokémon like us."

    "You call what you did to Mellath Bog better?" Shane shouted. "Or how about Bewear? Or Lurantis? Or Parasect?"

    Umbreon leaped in front of Shane, sending backpedalling with a yip. "You're a bit delusional there, Snowball. We were making them stronger. Powerful enough to take down the Legends that plague all of us," Umbreon said. "You and your band of idiots are the reason they're just cold, empty shells."

    "Identify yourselves," Luxeria said, staggering forward. "Which Ultra Space pocket are you hailing from? A normal Pokémon wouldn't be expressing ultra aura levels like you two are."

    "Uhuu huu huu! Look at you, trying to sound all authoritative," Espeon said, tail wagging. "Umbry and I only answer to the Prism Virus. Besides, we're not here for you. So, take your silly costumes and go someplace else. Though, feel free to leave Pinhead over there behind. He looks so adorable! I'm sure I could have fun with him."

    "Captain, I think they've lost their sanity. They must be possessed by Ultra Beasts," Sticky said, gulping.

    "No, these readings don't show any Nihilego neurotoxins," Luxeira said, frowning. "In fact, now that I think about it, these energy signatures are remarkably similar to the Lightless Black."

    "Then I would advise an immediate retreat," Sticky said. "We don't have the necessary means to deal with the Lightless Black or any terrestrials it may have projected its power onto."

    Gallian whirled on his teammates. "Wait, you want to leave now? No! We need to get information out of these two," he said.

    "Espy already made it clear we have no intention of saying anything to you," Umbreon scoffed. "Unless you're planning to attack. And frankly, you three look like you're in no condition to do that."

    "Try me!" Gallian snarled, sprinting forward. But he barely made it a yard before a card made of red and black energy appeared in front of him. Gallian fell onto his rear and dug his hind legs into the ground. He failed to stop his momentum, however, and slid right into the card. A second card opened up far across the field, over the remains of Sylveon's well. Gallian fell into the hole with a yelp. A splash permeated the area while the cards disappeared into thin air.

    "W-What the–?" Shane gasped.

    "Gallian!" Tessa cried. Luxeira and Sticky quickly exchanged looks and dashed away from Espeon and Umbreon.

    "Bye! Don't forget to write," Espeon sang, waving a forepaw at them mock mockingly. She turned back to Team Radiance. "Ah, thank heavens we got rid of those party-poopers. Now, we can all have some fun together!" She gave them a sickeningly sweet smile, only for it to abruptly fade. "Well, all of us except the big guy over there. He's the very definition of buzzkill."

    "… what did you do… to Absol?" Null asked.

    "It's none of your concern," Umbreon said.

    "Yeah. Besides, a good magician never reveals her secrets!" Espeon said, giggling. "But I'd be more than happy to give you a little demonstration up close and personal if you want." She winked at Null, who looked away, shaking his head violently.

    "Where did you take Sylveon and Eevee?" Shane said, snorting out ice tufts.

    "Oh, you sound all fired up. I bet you'll be lots more fun than the last time we met," Espeon said, flicking her tail back and forth.

    "Sylveon and Eevee are in Aurora Vale's deepest recesses," Umbreon said. "And you're not getting them back. Period."

    "You leave them out of this!" Tessa barked, bearing her fangs. "They have nothing to do with any of your Prism Virus stuff."

    "You didn't let me finish," Umbreon growled. Tessa's ears and aura feelers drooped. "We're never going to let you break them out of the prison we've set up. With that said, Espy and I would be happy to let them leave of their own free will for, shall we say, an equivalent exchange."

    "Whatever you're asking, no deal," Shane said. "I can't believe you two would do something like this. And to your own kind, no less! What happened to the Espeon and Umbreon happily working with their friends in Post Town to solve the mysteries of Magnagates, huh? Surely you remember those fun times, don't you? Why would you want to get rid of them?"

    Shane's answer came in the form of a blast of psychic energy so strong it ripped a sizeable part of his fur coat off his body. The blow knocked him back across the ground. His ears rang and his world went fuzzy.

    'This is it...'

    "Oh, come on! Even after that... his scarf is still on? You've gotta be kidding me," Umbreon growled.

    'One blow. She... she took me out in one blow!'

    As Shane's world darkened, he saw Lunala in his mind's eyes. Black crystals enveloped her body each team his vision flashed, until Necrozma's helmeted face stared Shane down, a grin plastered on his face.

    "Shane!"

    Tessa's cry jolted Shane back to reality. He scrambled to his feet, eyes widening upon realizing that Espeon had appeared right beside him.

    "Remembering the fun times, huh?"

    Shane scrambled backward, but Espeon lunged to his side.

    "The only 'fun time' I remember," she hissed, as Shane squealed and jumped back in fright, "is Kyurem terrorizing the continent, making me fear for my life! All while a bunch of Legends sat around being useless. And the ones that were actually on the Mist Continent? Worthless!" She stomped a forepaw on the ground and dark energy raced up to the diamond in her forehead. "Victini cared more about playing with his stupid toy. Virizion was too busy sulking and moaning about how her fake friendships. And don't even get me started on Keldeo. What a total dweeb!"

    Umbreon's red rings crackled. "You ask us why we want to be rid of the gods? Simple. We've finally woken up... and realized just how little our research means," he said. "Because, at the wave of a paw, we could have it all stripped away from us. Simply because some Legendary Pokémon doesn't like it."

    "But… but you two are heroes," Shane whimpered. "You helped stop the Bittercold. Parents tell their kids stories about you!"

    Another psychic blast struck Shane, ripping more fur off his body. Espeon walked up to him, pink energy pouring out of her glowing eyes. "And what good did that really do, huh? A few years later, Dark Matter showed up and sent everyone into a panic," she said. "Umbry and I worked ourselves to death trying to help Pokémon take refuge from Yveltal. Meanwhile, what did the other Legends do? They sat in their homes, silently wishing the problem would go away."

    "That's not completely true," Shane whispered meekly.

    "Oh, of course. How stupid of me to forget," Espeon said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Yes. Entei, Suicune, and Raikou were such big helps. Running about the continents like blind idiots! And, oh, if that wasn't bad enough, when the rest of them finally decided to take action, it didn't do anything! They all got turned to stone!" Her eyes watered. "Umbry got turned to stone! I got turned to stone. I don't care what you claim to have experienced as a human. Nothing compares to the horror of the Voidlands. Do you hear me? Nothing!"

    Espeon backed away, rubbing her eyes. "Way to go and suck all the fun out of this," she hissed. "I guess I'll just get to the point, then. You and your cowardly Riolu friend surrender and come with us to be infected. Then Umbry and I let your precious Sylveon and Eevee go. Do we have a deal or not?"

    "Ah... ab... absolutely not," Shane said, struggling to stay on his feet. Tessa nodded slowly, though her gaze had fallen toward the ground.

    "I told you they'd refuse," Umbreon scoffed.

    "No. They just need time to think it over," Espeon said. She walked up to Shane again. "Sunrise tomorrow. If you and your sorry teammate aren't at the end of Aurora Vale, I will personally take pleasure in infecting Sylveon and Eevee. Heck, I'll even let you bring the masked weirdo along for company. I'm just that nice." Her expressed immediately darkened. "If anyone else from your so-called guild even takes so much as a step into Aurora Vale, then it's bye-bye Sylveon and Eevee. Do I make myself clear?"

    Shane's tails fell between his legs. "Oh, come now," Espeon said, her cheerful demeanor returning. "Being infected isn't bad. It's a good thing! Look at how much stronger Umbry and I are now." She walked beside Shane and slid her tail across his neck to touch his cheek. "And think of how much fun we could have together."

    Shane's eyes widened and he scrambled away from Espeon. A grin spread across her muzzle. "Aww, what's the matter? You're not getting cold feet, are you? That'd be embarrassing for an ice-type." She shook her head. "So much for that spark of defiance earlier. I'll be waiting for you in Aurora Vale… cutie. Don't disappoint me." Her eyes flashed red and an Ultra Entercard appeared between her and Umbreon. They both jumped into the ensuing vortex, which closed right behind them.

    Shane's legs gave out and he collapsed on his belly, heart hammering in his chest. Again, his vision went dark. Necrozma popped up, spreading his wings apart.

    Don't worry. We'll finally be together again… real soon. Heeheeheehee!

    Who was he kidding? They were in over their heads! He was nowhere near strong enough to save Sylveon and Eevee.

    Shane curled up into a ball, shivering in fright. Null walked up to Tessa, who continued to stare silently at the ground. "What are we... what do we do now?" Tessa squeaked. "I can't take those two. But I can't let them hurt Sylveon and Eevee."

    "… we should… go back to the Observatory. We all… need to be healed. At the very least… the guild could help us… plan our next move," Null said.

    Tessa gulped. "But what about what Gallian said? About Braviary and Metagross?"

    Null stiffened. "I... I don't know," he said. "But if... if they try anything funny... I'll tear them to shreds."

    His promise did little to quell the sinking feeling in Tessa's gut. But it wasn't like she had other options. Certainly not with Gallian acting the way he was. She nodded slowly and joined Null as he walked up to Shane. He slowly staggered to his feet, avoiding eye contact with his teammates.

    "… do you… want me to carry you back?" Null said.

    "No," Shane whispered. "I can walk. I… I'm fine. It's going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay. We'll think of something. Somehow. Some way."

    But as the team set off down the path to Aeon Town, Shane's own words rang empty in his head.

    'Who am I kidding? We're hosed!'

    XxX​

    Ultra Recon Squad, Team Paradox
    Gallian's newfound exploration partners have arrived from Ultra Village, a distant world destroyed by an entity known only as the Lightless Black. They claim their purpose is to observe, and search out bizarre energy patterns they call ultra auras. But something about the way they talk seems familiar. Perhaps they are Ultra Village's equivalent of an exploration team...
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    This chapter was first published on January 31st, 2018. Enjoy!

    XxX

    Chapter 3: Fearsome Frozen Hazards

    "Aggggh!"

    Shane found himself yanking a metallic foreleg backward, a stinging sensation rushing across his body.

    "Oh, brother. Quit being so squeamish," Lunala chided. "If you hadn't tried to pick a fight with Volcanion, this wouldn't have happened."

    Shane looked down and noticed his foreleg was burnt to a crisp. What had happened? Wasn't he supposed to be back at the guild with his friends?

    "Yuh-yeah? Well, it's his fault for trying to cover southern Horizon in volcanic ash!" Shane said. "Seriously, what was he thinking trying to send all of the lava in Mount Supernova toward the Midnight Sea? We let him settle down in the Volcanic Wastes and this is how he repays us?"

    "You're just lucky Tapu Koko showed up when she did," Lunala said. She levitated a cloth toward his injured leg. Shane looked at it and tensed up. "Come on. You used up all your energy for Morning Sun. You've got to let me apply this ointment or you'll be a three-legged Solgaleo before you know it."

    Shane sighed. It looked like he was seeing one of Solgaleo's memories. But why would Solgaleo choose to share this now? Was this even relevant to his situation?


    "Just hurry up and put it on," Shane growled. "I just want to put this all behind me."

    "Then quit resisting, already." Lunala gently lowered the cloth onto Shane's leg. Searing pain rushed up his limb. An agonized roar sounded, then everything dissolved around him.


    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "Ow!"

    Tessa's hissing snapped Shane back to attention. She jerked her leg back, causing Togedemaru to stumble and drop the cream-covered gauze she was holding.

    "C'mon, Riolu, you've got to hold still," Togedemaru scolded. "You scuffed your thighs and knees up pretty badly. If you want the fur to grow back, I need to use this stuff."

    'Okay, this is weird,' Shane thought. 'This is practically identical to that memory I just saw.' He then became aware of his injuries and doubled over in pain. His exposed fur burned as if he had spent way too long sunbathing without any lotion.

    "B-But that medicine really hurts," Tessa said, frowning at Togedemaru.

    "Well, consider yourself lucky. You didn't get the worst of things," Shane grumbled, noticing he stood beside Comfey's large water bucket. Instead of being filled with ice water like last time, it held a viscous purple fluid with sparkling bits of fairy dust strewn throughout it. "What's with the goop?"

    "That's for you," Comfey said.

    Shane's jaw dropped. "Seriously? Are you really going to put me in that stuff?"

    "Hmm, I suppose I don't have to," Comfey said. "If you don't want your fur back, of course. I can't speak to whether or not you being human messes with normal Vulpix health. But my predecessor taught me that a Vulpix's fur coat is essential to maintaining its internal body temperature and, by association, calling upon its ice-elemental powers."

    Shane looked over the rim of the bucket and poked the surface of the liquid with a forepaw. It wobbled about like gelatin. Bile rose in the back of his throat. "It's disgusting, though," he said. "Hell, it reminds me of that Gak stuff they always advertised on kiddie channels back home. What's even in this, anyway?"

    "There's a very delicate ratio of pamtre and sitrus berry extracts to promote rapid, healthy regeneration of your fur," Comfey explained. "However, in order to stabilize everything, I suspended the mixture in the slime shed by Goodras and Sliggoos–"

    "What?! Nuh-uh. No way am I bathing in slimy dragon sheddings," Shane huffed, flicking his snout skyward. Barely a day had gone by when he hadn't ended up soaked or covered in grime and he had to draw the line somewhere. And that somewhere was bathing in dragon slime.

    "You didn't let me finish," Comfey said, sighing. "I used a spell to coat the berry extracts with the slime, that way it can spread across your body so your coat is uniform. I'd have thought your Vulpix instincts might appreciate something like that."

    In truth, a part of him did like that idea. But said part was dwarfed by the overwhelming urge to vomit at the sight of medicine. "You thought wrong," Shane said, turning to leave the room. Null blocked his path before he could get more than five steps. "What? What do you want?" Shane said.

    "… we need you… at your best," Null said. "I know it sucks… but just go along with it…"

    Shane's ears folded against his face. How could Null understand? That mask probably blocked his sense of smell. "I don't want to," Shane whispered. "It'll make me look like an idiot."

    "Do you really think... you look okay... the way you are... right now?" Null said, wheezing. Shane glanced down at his bare forelegs. Flaky bits of dead skin sloughed off and drifted to the floor between his paws.

    "I guess not," Shane said, wincing. "It's just... it looks disgusting. And smells even worse!"

    "Maybe I should do it with him?" Tessa said. "I need to get the fur back in my thighs."

    "I suppose I don't see why not. It'll save me some of the cream, at the very least," Comfey said, shrugging.

    Tessa hopped off the bench and limped over toward the bucket. "C'mon, Shane. Let's just go in together," she said. Null lowered his head and nudged Shane's rear toward the bucket. It looked like he didn't have a choice.

    "Alright, alright, I get it. I'm going. I'm going," Shane said, walking up to the bucket. "The things this universe is making me do..."

    A psychic grip took hold of them and slowly slid them into the bucket. "Oh god! This is awful! It's all gooey and sticky. I can feel it between my tails," Shane whined before his and Tessa's heads disappeared under the surface. Null grimaced and looked away from the bubbling slime. Seconds later, they both reappeared, covered from head-to-toe in purple goop. Comfey set them both down. Tessa held a paw up to her muzzle, trying not to hurl. Shane stood there, shivering.

    "How do you feel?" Comfey asked.

    "It feels like my body's on fire!" Shane said, registering each and every bit of goo that moved on him. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in a corner and forget this ever happened.

    "Sometimes Pokémon experience a mild burning sensation. Particularly if they have large patches of missing fur," Comfey said. "I'll need you two to stay still while the suspension restores your coats."

    "Aww, c'mon! Get this stuff off of me," Shane pleaded.

    "Dangummit, Comfey! How many times I gotta tell ya to keep this door closed if'n yer doing sensitive stuff like this?"

    Braviary lingered by the infirmary doorway, holding a wing up over his face.

    "It's perfectly fine. You can come in," Comfey said.

    "Yeah, great. Why not invite the whole guild while you're at it? Let's all laugh at the Vulpix," Shane said, trying not to look at Braviary. After Gallian's outburst, he wasn't sure how to act around the guy.

    "Aww, c'mon. It's not so bad. I think you look good in purple," Tessa said. She then threw her paws over her muzzle. Her cheeks puffed up. Shuddered, she swallowed hard. "Okay, yeah, I think I just ate some. This stuff's hitting my gag reflex pretty badly. This doesn't mean I'm going to grow fur inside my belly, does it?"

    "Of course not," Comfey said. She turned to Braviary. "Did you need me for something?"

    Both Shane and Tessa went rigid. Tessa's tail crinkled and her aura feelers stood up on end. Recalling her earlier conversation with Gallian, she looked right down at the floor, squeaking in fright. Shane sighed. He wanted to do something to help her, but given Comfey's order not to move, nothing came to mind.

    "Um, do you think you could come back later?" Shane asked, his voice cracking. "This is a bad time."

    Braviary raised an eyebrow. "What's with the frightened looks, you two? Y'all are looking at me like I killed a 'mon."

    Shane's tails shot into the air, flinging bits of slime around the room. One of them struck Togedemaru on her cheek. "I really… hate that guy," she hissed, right eye twitching.

    Sensing the unease in the room, Comfey floated in front of Braviary. "You know what? Maybe you ought to give the three of them a bit more time. I think they're still recuperating from battle," she said, to Shane's and Tessa's relief.

    "If'n y'all ain't in the right frames of mind to talk, then why'd ask fer me, huh?" Braviary said. "Null said y'all had something important you needed to bring to my attention."

    Shane and Tessa exchanged panicked looks. They were both hoping they'd have more time to think about this conversation. "Y… you tell him," Tessa whispered.

    "Um… I'm not exactly sure how to explain everything," Shane said, ears drooping.

    Before he could say anything else, a splash echoed through the room. Null stood beside the water bucket, his head stuck in the purple fluid. "Hey! Hey! I did not okay you to do that," Comfey scolded. She floated over and angrily slapped her tiny arms against Null's side. "Get out of there right now. Do you have any idea how long it takes me to prepare this stuff? I don't want to waste a drop on someone who doesn't need it!"

    Null withdrew his head. His helmet now matched the composition of his teammates perfectly. "… sorry. I thought… maybe it could… help break this mask," Null said.

    "Ugh. I swear you three have the worst two-week infirmary record of any team I've ever encountered," Comfey declared before draping Null's helmet in a towel and floating over to Braviary in a huff.

    Braviary raised a confused brow. "Right. Uh, if'n y'all are done acting like hatchlings, tell me just what happened to get y'all roughed up like this. Shoot, I've seen Mudbray stampede victims looking less worse fer wear."

    Tessa realized that Null's childish gesture was likely an attempt to buy them time to think. Unfortunately, it had failed, which meant they had to fess up. Luckily for her, Shane was up to the task. He recounted the events at Sunrise Village, leaving out the things Gallian said about Braviary and Metagross. Tessa's fidgeting intensified through the explanation. She watched Braviary, wondering how he would react to this.

    Once Shane finished his recap, Braviary said, "That's mighty concerning." He tapped his talons on the floor. "So, y'all got ambushed by Gallian. And Gallian's working with aliens that know something about the Prism Virus. On top of that, Espeon and Umbreon are escalating whatever crazy plan they've got."

    "When I ran into them in Dewdrop Woods last week, they mentioned something about taking out all the gods,'" Shane recalled. "But what would corrupting Mystery Dungeons have to do with that?"

    "Most Legends make their homes in Mystery Dungeons, son. I figured you oughta know that, with the way you run that mouth of yours," Braviary said. Shane looked away in embarrassment. "If'n they disrupt the balance of a Mystery Dungeon's natural energy, they're sure to disturb whatever Legend may be sleeping there."

    "Wait. If they're doing that, then they might try to attack Temporal Tower. Or the Tree of Life!" Shane said, eyes widening. "If that happens, this world's totally screwed!" It struck him that, if something like that actually happened, he could disappear in the blink of an eye, without even knowing. He couldn't help but shudder.

    "… but they've only… done stuff in Horizon… right?" Null said, dropping his now-purple towel to the floor. His helmet still had a purple tint to it. Tessa would've found it funny if she wasn't in the same room as Braviary.

    "I suppose we oughta call up the Expedition Society to make sure that's the case," Braviary said. Shane frowned. Would that really solve anything? "What're ya giving me that look fer, son? It's the best idea I can come up with on such short notice," Braviary said, waving his wing. "Besides, we need to talk about the situation in Aurora Vale. Ain't no way I'm letting the three of you mosey on into an obvious trap like that."

    "But they said if anyone else shows up in Aurora Vale, they're going to infect Sylveon and Eevee," Tessa cried, aura feelers tensing. "Espeon's psychic-type. She'll surely know if we bring someone along."

    "Riolu, ya don't really think them varmints are gonna keep their word, do ya?" Braviary asked. "I reckon that the moment y'all show up there, they're gonna attack you and infect Sylveon and Eevee anyway. From what I've heard, they don't exactly sound like a reasonable pair."

    "N-No," Tessa whispered, her gaze falling. "I… I can't lose them too. Not now."

    Shane's tails drooped. He wanted to hug Tessa, but knew it would end badly because of the medicine. Instead, he turned to Braviary and asked, "Isn't there anything you could do to, I dunno, power us up or something? Like a special emera or one of Magearna's inventions… anything to help give us a fighting chance against Espeon and Umbreon."

    "Strength in numbers, hoss," Braviary replied. "That's the only way yer getting through that kind of situation. Y'all have taken quite a whupping as of late. Frankly, I have half a mind to make y'all stay here."

    Shane bit his lip. To him, it sounded like Braviary was setting them up for failure. He shot Tessa a worried look. "You can't keep us here!" Tessa said, getting Shane's memo. "P-Please… you have to let us go after them."

    "They're Riolu's friends, Braviary," Shane added. "You're nuts if you think we're going to sit around while Espeon and Umbreon have them. Right?" He looked at Null, who nodded his agreement.

    Braviary sighed. "I reckoned you would say something like that. Look, I think y'all are misunderstanding me. I ain't got no intention of sending other guild members in there." Tessa and Shane exchanged confused looks. "But I am going to be flying over the Vale and keeping an eye on y'all," Braviary said. "And I reckon stationing Team Captivate at Borea Heights shouldn't be no problem. That way, I can swoop in and grab them if there's any trouble."

    Shane raised a skeptical brow. "Wait, you can just fly into a Mystery Dungeon. Then what's the point of having us exploring these places, huh?"

    Braviary lifted his left wing, revealing a small, metallic plate with an electrode sticking out of it. "No way I could just fly into a dungeon on my own without getting attacked or hopelessly lost," he said. "But with this puppy, it's possible. Err… now what did Magearna call this thingamajigger again?"

    My Geartronic Dungeon Penetratorizer, Magearna said as she walked into the infirmary. And as I told you the last time you swiperated it from my workshop, it is just a prototype. I have yet to get it to work properly. The most recent tests ended up with a 14.3 percent error margin from the target coordinates.

    "Yeah, I've still got the marks from where that Crobat bit my butt. Thanks for that, by the way," Togedemaru said.

    You are welcome, Magearna stated, before blinking a few times and saying, wait, that was supposed to be sarcasm, was it not? Drat. I am now at a 31.25 percent sarcasm detection rate for the month.

    "Aww, come now, Mags," Braviary said. "There's a first time for everything, ain't there? Including this warp doohickey putting me in the right spot in Aurora Vale."

    That is hardly scientific, Magearna said. Not to mention, I haven't fully stabilitized the energy consumption of that device. If you use it improperly, it may melt… or explode.

    Sweat drops formed on Braviary's head at this. "Ya don't think ya should've mentioned that earlier?"

    I did the last time you tried to use it, Magearna said. Why do you think I had Togedemaru testing it?

    "Well, uh…" Braviary preened some feathers on his wing. "If'n Team Radiance is going in, then I'm willing to risk trying this doodad out. Hopefully I won't end up medium-rare as a result."

    Shane looked skeptically at the device. "That's your big plan, then?" he asked.

    "I reckon so," Braviary said. "Team Captivate and I will escort y'all to Borea Heights. The town's got the entrance to Aurora Vale that's closest to its deepest recesses. Not to mention, a lot of retired explorers live there. They may have some supplies to offer up."

    Shane looked over at Tessa. "What do you think?" he asked. "Are you okay with this idea?"

    Tessa's gaze switched between Braviary and Shane. Eventually, she nodded slowly. "It's for my friends," she said. "As long as you guys are staying out of Aurora Vale, then I guess we're keeping our part of the deal. So, let's start getting ready."

    Comfey cleared her throat. "Would you mind saving the preparations until after I've cleaned the medicine's remnants off you two?"

    Tessa looked down at her slimy body and shuddered. "R-Right… getting rid of this stuff would be nice."

    XxX

    ~Borea Heights~

    "H-Holy Karp! W… what happened here?" Serperior gasped.

    The rescue party found themselves standing on the outskirts of the town. Serperior's jaw dropped as she scanned the area. The place was covered in a thick layer of ice. Yellow-brick buildings, dirt paths, and the town square were all frozen solid. A huge slab of ice protruded from what once was a fountain.

    "Did we get any word Articuno or Regice were coming to Horizon?" Milotic said, brushing frost off her looplet.

    "No," Braviary said. "And if'n one of them is having a temper tantrum on our turf, you can bet the Guildmaster will be making an angry call overseas."

    "Wait, is there normally not supposed to be wintry weather here?" Shane asked. "The dungeon's name is Aurora Vale. I was expecting tons of ice."

    "You're off base there, Vulpix," Dragonair said. "It's called Aurora Vale because the magnetic flux generated by all the Miniors populating the dungeon makes it so that you can always see an aurora in the sky." She slither up toward the town, cringing as ice brushed her scales. "Plus, this is mostly a retirement community. Older Pokémon wouldn't do so well in cold weather."

    "Couldn't've said it better myself, Dragonair," Braviary said. "This is mighty strange."

    "Which is exactly why I had the residents evacuate their homes."

    The group turned to see a blue-green serpent shuffling forward. He had wool clothing draped over his white, fluffy tail and the white fur covering the base of his torso.

    "Who's this old geezer?" Shane whispered to Tessa.

    "That's Drampa. One of the residents of Borea Heights, if I'm not mistaken," Milotic replied.

    "Hrmph. It's Town Supervisor Drampa, thank you very much," the old dragon huffed. "And you all have a lot of nerve taking this long to show up. I sent my SOS request to your base hours ago."

    "Err, apologies, Drampa–"

    "Town Supervisor Drampa."

    "–Uh, right. Anyway, we've had some pressing matters of our own to attend to," Braviary said. "But we're here now. Ain't that what's important?"

    "Hardly!" Drampa snorted. "What could possibly be more important than the entirety of Aurora Vale turning to ice... and said ice encroaching into my precious town?" He raised a paw and stroked his mustache. "The answer is nothing, I tell you. Nothing! Oh, what a miserable day this has turned into. No doubt, they will blame me for this horrifying malady. My approval rating is going to tank because of this."

    Shane rolled his eyes. It seemed that, even in the world of Pokémon, he couldn't escape obnoxious politicians.

    "Um, Braviary?" Tessa said. "Before we went off to Sunrise Village this morning, Trapinch showed us that something was wrong with the Pokénector. It had this part of the continent blacked out."

    "Say what? The Pokénector's never broken before," Serperior said.

    "… I think… I might've been right," Null wheezed, rubbing his helmet against the ground "Aurora Vale… is infected. And that infection… is spreading through this town…"

    Drampa caught sight of Null and his eyes widened. "W-What in Destiny Tower's name are you supposed to be, boy? And what is this nonsense about 'infection?'" He turned to Braviary. "If you know what's happened to my town I want answers. Answers, I say!"

    Shane figured now was as good a time as any to say something. "You ever hear of Espeon and Umbreon? The researchers looking into Entercards?" he asked, walking toward Drampa. The ice was oddly soothing on his paw pads. Shane figured it was his ice-typing at work.

    "Of course I have. I'll have you know, I was quite the spry fellow back in the days when the Bittercold was terrorizing the Mist Continent," Drampa said.

    An exasperated look overtook Milotic's face. "He acts like it was decades ago," she muttered under her breath.

    "Well, we weren't in the guild yet when that stuff happened," Dragonair mused.

    "Ladies, can you cut the chit-chat?" Shane growled, silencing them. "Espeon and Umbreon have, um, gotten hold of some sort of otherworldly energy. And they're using it to turn Pokémon into terrifying monsters. Lately, they've expanded to transforming the landscapes of Mystery Dungeons."

    "Crabapples!" Drampa spat. "This is one kooky recruit you've got here, Braviary. Any Horizon-dweller knows the Tapus control the Mystery Dung–"

    "I'm telling the truth, sir," Shane said, hissing out the last word. "Will you stop thinking about your reputation and listen to me for a minute? This is serious! My teammates and I were in Mellath Bog the other day and it had been turned into a toxic wasteland. We were lucky to get out of there with our fur attached. And now the same thing is happening to Aurora Vale."

    "You need to leave, Mr. Drampa. It's not safe to be here," Tessa added. Why couldn't this guy see reason?

    "Bah! I'm not about to let a couple of kids and a weirdo who's too afraid to show his face tell me what I need to do," Drampa said, furrowing his oversized brow. "I give out the instructions around here. Not anyone else."

    Ice shattered in the distance, jolting everyone to attention. "Ah, look!" Serperior said, pointing her tail forward. "That building just blew apart."

    Shane's tails shot into the air at the sight of half a dozen Necrospheres emerging from the rubble of a frozen building. They floated about in erratic patterns, plasma sparks racing across their bodies. "B-Braviary… please tell me those are just the Minior things Dragonair mentioned," Shane said.

    Braviary spread his wings apart, shielding both exploration teams. "Son, you could search the whole darn planet, but you ain't finding no Miniors looking like that," he said.

    Shane's ears folded against his head. That's what he was afraid of.

    The Necrospheres rotated so their glowing-red cores faced the entire group. One of them turned toward its counterparts and let out a robotic beep. Shane's ears stuck up in fright.

    "Hey! What do you think you're doing, you fools?" Drampa roared, shoving Braviary aside. "This here is a private residential community! Vandalism is not to be tolerated!"

    All the Necrospheres looked about at one another. They sounded a single, high-pitched beep in unison.

    "W-Why are they letting out such weird noises?" Tessa whimpered, paws clasping her ears and pushing them against her head. The tone made her skin crawl. She wanted them to stop.

    "Are you hooligans listening to me? I'm the town supervisor, here. And I'm about to write you all up on citations! Hoo-hoo, Officer Magnezone is going to have his hands full. But I will not allow my town to fall victim to thugs, even in the midst of chaos!" Drampa declared, stomping about angrily.

    The lead Necrosphere hovered forward and looked at its cohorts. It beeped in a lower pitch. The other Necrosphers followed it, their red cores glowing brighter.

    "Hey, I don't like the looks of this," Serperior said. "Do we attack them or what?"

    "Absolutely. Give 'em yer best shots. In unison, of course!" he ordered, pointing a wing forward. Water, fire, ice, wind, and blue lightning coalesced into a huge beam.

    But the guild members' attacks proved useless. Each Necrosphere formed up a hexagonal shield of hard light and brought them together. The stalemate led to a smoke eruption that drove everyone back. "You stupid guild folk are worthless, I tell you! Worthless!" Drampa huffed. "You're wrecking my wonderful town."

    The smoke cleared, revealing the Necrospheres had surrounded Drampa. He looked around at them and his aggravated look quickly disappeared. "Hey now. You… you can't attack me. I'm a town supervisor! I'm an authority figure." He gathered blue energy in his mouth.

    The Necrospheres all sounded their high-pitched tones in unison. Black and red beams shot forth from their cores. Drampa cried out in pain, collapsed on belly, and then began to tremble. The Necrospheres ceased their attacks and turned on the guild members.

    Braviary's brow furrowed. "Listen to me, Team Radiance. Y'all get a move on. Head into Aurora Vale. Leave everything here to us," he said.

    Behind them, black crystals encased Drampa's torso and hair. "Are you nuts? We need to help you. Look at what's happening to Drampa!" He pointed a forepaw ahead of him, showing the membranous, purple wings emerging from the crystals on Drampa's body. The fur shed from his tail, leaving a large, purple bulb that ended in a giant gray needle. Purple ooze squirted from the its tip.

    "Grrroah! Must... infect!" Drampa roared. The Necrospheres replied with a round of beeps.

    "Oh gods, is this what made Bewear into a giant monster?" Serperior said, her face paling.

    Braviary turned toward Team Radiance. "Why are y'all still standing there gawking? Go on! Git! Leave these no-good fellers to us." He turned around and sped forward, a bright, shimmering light encasing his body. A roaring Drampa released a blue bolt from his mouth. Braviary skirted the beam and hammered Drampa at the base of his neck.

    Tessa winced as Drampa screeched like a angry bird. While she was worried about Team Captivate's safety, she had no desire to fight Drampa. Not with Sylveon and Eevee waiting in Aurora Vale. She nodded at Null, then leaped onto his back. Null lumbered over to Shane and Tessa plucked him off the ground by his tails.

    "W-What the–? Hey, put me down! We need to help them," Shane said, thrashing in midair as Tessa pulled him onto Null's fury, scaly backside.

    Null ran toward a wall of blue haze. "You heard Braviary. Besides... we can't waste our strength... right now. Otherwise... we'll be easy pickings... for Espeon and Umbreon."

    Tessa took one last look back at Borea Heights. "I really hope Braviary actually has their backs," she whispered. "Stay safe you guys."

    XxX

    ~Aurora Vale~

    Ice shavings kicked up along the path as Null skidded to halt. He looked behind him. The dungeon's entrance, two pillars of rock encased in ice, had long since disappeared behind a layer of icy haze. "I think… we're safe," he wheezed.

    Tessa disembarked from Null, only to squeal as her paw contacted the ice and she slipped. Her tail jammed against the ground. "Ow, ow, ow, ow!" she cried, eyes bulging out. Shane gingerly got to the ground, gripped the scruff of Tessa's neck, and hoisted her up. Tessa skittered about trying to find her balance, but eventually stood up without support. "Th-Thanks, Shane."

    She brought her arms up to her shoulders and rubbed them. "This… is horrifying. I… I've never been so cold. This ice hurts," she whimpered. "My paw pads are in so much pain... and we haven't even been here five minutes!"

    "Yeah, this isn't pleasant," Shane said, looking down at his feet. "This ice is unnaturally slick, if you ask me." He glanced at Null. "Hey, big guy. Think you could try to carve some of the ice ahead of us up with Air Slash or Crush Claw?" Shane waited for a response. What he got instead was the sound of raucous coughing.

    "Null! Are you okay?" Tessa gasped. She tried to walk over to him, only to slip again. Her muzzle smacked the ice and her eyes widened to the size of melons. "Ow! My nose," she whined, bringing her paws up to grab her throbbing snout. Shane stepped over toward Null, who was on his knees in a coughing fit.

    "Chest… hurts…" Null groaned. "Can hardly breath… feels like… the helmet's… suffocating me…"

    Shane frowned. This was bad. They hadn't even started looking for Espeon and Umbreon and the cold was already doing his teammates in. Shane would have to put on a brave face if they had any hope of getting through this place in once piece.

    "You don't think your mask's possessed or something, do you?" he asked. Null shook his head. "In any case, we can't sit around here. What if more of those floating rocks show up? We're sitting Duckletts like this." Shane helped Tessa back to her feet again. "I hate to ask this, but do you think you could carry Riolu? I don't want her catching frostbite."

    "Frostbite?" Tessa said, looking worriedly at her feet. Shane flinched. He probably could've phrased that better.

    With a few deep breaths, Null was back on his feet. Tessa grabbed hold of his fur and hoisted herself up. She gripped the back corners of Null's helmet and dug her knees into his sides.

    "Okay, we'd better get moving," Shane said, cautiously walking forward. It didn't take long for the ice to grow even slicker, however. Shane bent his knees to stop himself from sliding forward. The path turned into a small hill that he rode down into an icy basin. He quickly stepped to his side to make sure Null didn't slam him from behind. Null used his talons to halt his progress.

    "There are a bunch of… big icy rocks… sticking up here," Null observed.

    "Yeah, they're ice boulders," Shane said. His brow furrowed as he looked out across the basin. It all looked disturbingly familiar to him.

    Shane's eyes widened. "Argh! I know exactly what this is. It's a god damn ice sliding puzzle! These aren't supposed to be here!" he hissed.

    "What do you mean?" Tessa asked.

    "The ground's way too slick to walk on. As soon as one of us takes a step forward, we're getting whisked off in whatever direction we're facing, and we can't change our course," Shane explained. "We need to use the boulders to plot the right course to the other side of the basin."

    "Well, which way do we go?" Tessa asked, poking her head out from behind Null's mask.

    "Um… well…" Shane bit his lower lip. "I'm not really sure. I was always terrible at these things back home. It always took me half an hour just to solve the Snowpoint City Gym puzzle." He gnashed his teeth together. "Of all the mechanics that could wind up here…"

    "Guess we just... need to employ… a little trial and error," Null said. He took a step forward and slid across the ice. He came to a stop by one of the boulders and proceeded to adjust his course. Null slid off to his right, striking the side of the basin. Tessa squeaked as snow fell on her from the edge of the basin. She hurriedly brushed it off her fur, shivering. "Sorry about that," Null muttered.

    "Null! That's definitely the wrong way," Shane said. "If you go north or south, you'll just end up in a loop that brings you back here."

    Sighing, Null slid off to his south, looking to return to Shane. However, when he hit the ice boulder in the corner, it shattered. Three Necrospheres fluttered out of it. They fixed their glowing cores on Null. Electrically-charged rocks gathered up around them. Null encased his helmet in steel. With vigorous shakes, he deflected the projectiles.

    A burst of psychic energy struck the Necrosphere on Null's left. It hit its teammates like a line of dominoes and their crystallized remains fell into clumps of snow on the rim of the basin.

    "Looks like… there are enemies… lurking here," Null said, coughing.

    "Do you think Espeon and Umbreon placed them there as part of a trap?" Tessa wondered, rubbing her paws together.

    "Undoubtedly," Null said. He slid back over to Shane's location and relayed Tessa's thought.

    Shane frowned. "Great, so we get penalized for doing this puzzle wrong. That's awful!" He rubbed his cheek with a forepaw. If only he could get a better vantage point. After a few seconds thinking, Shane's eyes widened. "Wait, that's it," he said. "Riolu, I need you to stand on top of Null's head and see if you can spot a path across the basin."

    Tessa forcefully exhaled into her paws and rubbed her shoulders. "But I'm so cold… I can barely even move," she said.

    "C'mon, Riolu. You're a head taller than I am. And you've done a great job with navigating in the other dungeons. We really need you here," Shane said, hoping the words of encouragement would help. Tessa nodded shakily and climbed atop Null's helmet. Null stuck his neck upward as best he could, though he was visibly straining from the combined weight of Tessa and his mask.

    "I think I've got something," Tessa said. "We all assumed we needed to go up, down, right, or left to start this. But it looks like the key is to move diagonally." She pointed her paw ahead of her, where a particularly large ice boulder jutted out from the ground. "That's where we should go first."

    "Okay. Then, I think it's best if I go first, so Tessa can stay here and give directions. If it's the right way, you guys follow me," Shane said. He stepped onto the ice and slid forward, coming to a stop by the large boulder. Tessa continued relaying instructions as Shane zigzagged about the area. One of the rocks he hit turned into another Necrosphere trap. But Null disoriented them with air slash blades from afar, allowing Shane to freeze them solid. They dropped to the ground and shattered on impact.

    "You're almost there," Tessa said. "Just head over to your right, then go straight forward. That should bring you to the clearing."

    Shane slide forward to his right. His paw brushed against a lump in the ice, leading to a click that made his blood run cold.

    'Did I just trigger another tr–'

    The ice exploded, jettisoning Shane forward with a howl of terror. He struck the far wall basin with a sickening crunch, knocking off a mound of snow that piled on top of him.

    "Shane!" Tessa gasped, the image of his blackened belly and legs burned into her retinas. "Come on, we've got to help him."

    "But he broke… one of the rocks we needed… to reach him," Null said. "Which way… am I supposed to go?"

    The combination of frigid temperatures and adrenaline made Tessa shake while her vision went blurry. She had to get to Shane. She just had to.

    "Up and to the left," Tessa said, sitting down on Null's back. He stepped onto the ice and slid across in an effort to catch up to Shane. However, his talons grazed another lump in the ice, leading to another loud click.

    The ground fell out from beneath Null's hind legs. Tessa screamed and grabbed hold of Null's feathery head crest for dear life as he slid into a pitfall. Growling, Null dug his talons into the ice. Null managed to stop himself, but not before the lower half of his body dangled over the edge of the ice, leaving Tessa dangling. She looked down the pitfall and her eyes widened at the sight of strange, flickering red light.

    "Pull us up, Null! Pull us up!" she shrieked, kicking her legs wildly. "There's something down there and I don't want to find out what it is!"

    "I'm… trying," Null hissed, straining his limbs to try and hoist them back up.

    "Skraaaw!"

    Null looked up and his eyes widened. "Wha… what was that?" Tessa asked.

    "Skarmories," Null grunted, watching the trio of metal birds circling overhead. With considerable effort, he managed to get his whole body back up on the ice, but immediately crumpled to his side, wheezing loudly.

    Tessa looked up and went bug-eyed as the Skarmories swooped down, talons at the ready. She meekly threw her arms up and braced for pain. But a high-pitched shriek echod through the basin, followed by a crash and furious squawking. She peeked an eye open and saw the Skarmories lying in the remains of an ice boulder.

    "You guysh okay?"

    Tessa turned to see Shane standing on top of the snow pile that had buried him. The collision with the wall had left him with a blackened right eye, a swollen snout, and a very large welt on the right side of his head. She grimaced at the sight of specks of red on his chest. Shane swayed back and forth uneasily.

    "Y-Yeah. We're fine," Tessa said, looking over her shoulder to confirm Null had gotten back to his feet. "But you're totally not."

    "Ish fine," Shane said, his swollen face slurring his speech. "Jusht a shlite concushion. Don't… y'know… let me fall ashleep or anything. You can totally shlide over here, now."

    "We'd better… hope these berries… can fix him up," Null said. He extended a foreleg to let Tessa climb aboard and slid over to the mound of snow. Tessa got a pair of sitrus and lum berries out and handed one of each to Shane. As he nibbled away at them, Tessa squished the other berries against his face.

    "Ach! That stings!" Shane hissed. The juice quickly crusted over in the frigid air. Then, it vanished, leaving Shane's face mostly as it was before triggering the trap. "What was that for?" Shane asked.

    "Comfey said berry juices can sometimes help heal injuries in the field. Like first aid, or something," Tessa said. "You look much better now." Sure, there was still see some black and blue around his eye. And he reeked of burnt fur. But that was better than the alternative.

    "Well, let's just move forward. Those Skarmories are going to be very mad once they can untangle themselves," Shane said. The trio slid their way across the last bits of ice and quickly departed the basin. Fog blanketed the path behind them, leaving the previous area nothing but a memory for Team Radiance.

    Shane looked up, past the frozen trees, to stare at the sky. "Hey, Riolu. Is the aurora over this valley supposed to look purple and red?" he said.

    "How should I know?" Tessa said, following Shane's gaze. "W-What the–? But it was barely early afternoon when we arrived at Borea Heights. How could it become nighttime so quickly?"

    "I don't think… the sun's actually set," Null said. "Something else… is messing up the sky… over this place…"

    "Probably the same thing that's turned this dungeon into a Glacier Palace wannabee," Shane said.

    Just then, a wall of red energy formed up at the other end of the path. A black, winged-heart insignia appeared on it. Team Radiance all turned around to see an identical barrier behind them. "And we're trapped," Shane said. "Which means…"

    A few of the frozen trees burst apart and a pack of Necrospheres floated out. Behind them, a pair of Skarmory flew in. Unlike the ones the group had left behind, these Skarmories had black bodies and serrated wing-blades. They landed in front of the Necrospheres and spread their wings out, cawing defiantly.

    "Yup. Monster House, right on schedule," Shane said, groaning.

    "I'm starting to get the feeling… Braviary was right… about Espeon and Umbreon… not planning to stick to their end of the deal," Null said, lunging for one of the Skarmories. It took off, dodging Null's talons, while its counterpart drilled into Null's side with its black beak.

    Opposite Null, Shane and Tessa hopped about, dodging red lasers from the Necrospheres. "If one of those hits us, we could be in a ton of trouble!" Shane said, looking at the smoking crater left by one of the lasers.

    "Well, what are we supposed to do? I have to get in close to hit these guys," Tessa said, hunched over and shivering. "And... I can barely move... in this cold."

    Hearing his teammates' concerns, Null backed away from the Skarmories. But they followed him, trying to slash him with their wings. Null lunged at a Skarmory, jerking his head as he made contact. His teammates delighted to see the Skarmory strike the Necrospheres. Despite their shields, half of them exploded on impact.

    Relief gave way to panic on the part of Shane and Tessa. "Look out!" Shane barked, lunging for Tessa. They slid across the ice and struck the base of a nearby tree. Shane donkey-kicked Tessa out of the way of falling icicles. The resulting pain was awful, but he could bear it knowing he had gotten Tessa out of harm's way.

    Except the second Skarmory had gotten around Null and now looked to spear Tessa from behind. "Riolu, look alive!" Null shouted, but it wasn't soon enough. Tessa smacked the tree and sank onto her belly.

    Shane looked down at his injured teammate, her face twisted into a grimace. With a snarl, Shane shrieked at Skarmory. Null leaped up and slammed his metal-coated helmeted into his disoriented foe. Skarmory's teammates barely avoided it careening back through the air.

    "I think they're up to something," Shane said, staring at the other Skarmory and its Necrosphere buddies. He silently prayed a Reviver Seed would kick in for Tessa soon. Otherwise, he wasn't sure if he could protect her.

    Cawing, the lead Skarmory swung its legs forward. Red, glowing, spike-covered cubes shot out toward the ground. The Necrospheres fired electricity at the cubes. "Jump!" Null cried, lunging into a nearby snowbank.

    Lightning struck the cube farthest from Shane, sending a current across the ice. Shane kicked Tessa behind the tree and flatted himself against the trunk. Electricity grazed the tips of his tails. Eyes watering, Shane bit into the frozen tree without even thinking. He curled up his tails, trying to will the electricity away. But it wouldn't die down. At least Tessa was back on her feet, though she also clung to the tree, eyes widened in panic.

    Frenzied caws made Shane's ears stick up. The Skarmories were coming for him! He was sure of it! He had to attack. It was Extrasensory or bust. 'I need a miracle!' Shane thought, squeezing his eyes shut.

    A tiny seed struck a Skarmory, then an explosion engulfed them. Shane released his stored psychic energy, intensifying the blast. The remaining Necrospheres vanished in bursts of napalm, leaving only red and black smoke trails behind.

    Shane released his grip on the tree trunk and slid to the ground, relieved that the enemies were gone and, with them, the barrier halting their progress. Shane rolled onto his back, breath coming in ragged gasps.

    "Buh... berries... please," he wheezed.

    "Um... why do you think those guys didn't, y'know, turn all colorless like the other infected Pokémon?" Tessa said, rummaging through her item pouch.

    "They might not... have been real," Null said, limping over to his teammates. "Espeon and Umbreon... probably made them... somehow..."

    Tessa's fur prickled. If those two could conjure up all of these enemies, what chance did they even have against them? She knew she shouldn't think like that, but she couldn't help it. Tessa busied herself offering healing items to her teammates.

    "I guess we've got to forge on ahead," Shane said, looking up at the sky once again. A shiver ran along his back. He actually found himself wishing he was back in Mellath Bog. At least there, he was underground, with no black sky to intimidate him.

    "Hold up… Shane…"

    He stopped mid-stride and looked over his shoulder. Tessa lay on the ice, curled up in a shivering ball. "I… I can't… t-too cold," she whispered trough chattering teeth.

    "Hey, hey!" Shane said, trotting to her. "You can't lay down on the ice. It's just going to make it worse. Pick her back up, Null."

    Shane leaned over, only to flinch from hearing Tessa's sobs. "My whole body hurts, Shane. I can't take this cold anymore!" she said. "Please... make it stop."

    Null bent over and, to Shane's surprise, curled himself up around Tessa. She squeaked in surprise but, after a few seconds, her teeth stopped chattering. "Is that… any better?" Null asked. Shane's ears twitched at the sound of Tessa's heavily-muffled voice, but he was unable to make out her response.

    It wasn't long before Null uncurled, however, allowing Tessa to climb onto his back yet again. "Looks like we're… good to go," he said.

    Shane nodded and took his place beside his teammates. The team continued forward, disappearing into the fog once again.
     
  6. Flaze

    Flaze Don't Look Away

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    Boy, two weeks flew by didn't they?

    Chapter 2:

    Honestly, I have a few things to say about chapter 2, the main thing being that I didn't expect Gallian and his little gang to pop back up so suddenly, I mean it makes sense in retrospect since Sylveon and Eevee are the ones in danger, but I wasn't expecting the second chapter of part two to directly address the issues with Gallian like this, which was fine. It revealed a few interesting key details such as Braviary's and Metagross' possible betrayal and told us more about Prisma's mental state and Gallian himself, not to mention that it serves at Team Radiance first real battle as a team. On that front the chapter really delivers by giving us a look at them working together and bouncing off of each other, to the point where they actually manage to push back Gallian's team.

    I do think that maybe you lengthened the battle a little too long. The moments with Gallian and Tessa were nice and it was also good to learn more about the Ultra Recon Squad, but I think the battle felt really too long and it caused the chapters to drag out a bit. I've said this before but while your fight scenes are interesting an easy to follow, you also have a tendency to make them longer than they need to be. In this case, the chapter is pretty long and most of it is the fight so I wonder, did most of the fight need to be there? It's okay to have a battle that covers a pretty good chunk of the chapter but when most of your chapter is that battle you kind of have to wonder if it all has a purpose especially since the highlights happened in the moments between fights.

    The real meat of the chapter is the confrontation with Umby and Espy where we finally get to hear their reasoning for what they're doing. Once more, this is a scene where you emphasize the things the games don't tell us and how the situations that happen in those would affect the citizens of the world in a more realistic way, I wouldn't say it's necessarily perfect world building since, while Umby and Espy raise good points, you'd kind of think more people would be against the legendaries after everything that's happened wouldn't you? Either way, it does help in making them feel less like maniacal villains...even if they're still technically possessed by the Prism Virus and aren't truly acting out of their own will.

    Chapter 3

    Another long chapter, though this one has a lot more content to it. I really liked the first part of the chapter in particular, mainly cause of the comedic timing with the berry sludge and the character's reaction to it, it was also pretty cute to see Null's attempt at trying to give Shane and Tessa time to get their bearings. Though it also made me wonder, would Tessa's and Shane's fur not have grown back eventually or was the sludge just so that it would grow faster?

    The other part of the chapter that jumped at me was the way you implemented the ice puzzle, it's a nice little nudge to the puzzles found in the gyms and honestly I think I would've liked the joke if you hadn't actively had Shane address it, like I think Tessa and Null wouldn't have understood what he meant anyway so you could've just left it as something for the audience without having to have him point out any specific games. Either way, adding the penalty is an interesting way to give it some more spice and I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see it in an actual game.

    Outside of that we really got a quick rundown of things, like the team going to the valley, meeting Drampa, Drampa getting turned and now them going off to face off against Umby and Espy. It's honestly quite a few more things than I expected since usually your chapters tend to revolve around one specific event or a couple of events, so it's a really strange contrast when comparing it to chapter 2 which mainly revolved around them facing off Gallian.

    Other than that, there's not really much to point out, I do hope we can see what's going on with the Drampa situation since it would be pretty weird to introduce us to him and then just have him get defeated offscreen, even if it's true our point of focus are Shane and the others. I also wonder what will happen when they finally meet Espy and Umby and if they'll be able to see Sylveon and Eevee.
     
  7. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 YARE-YARE Deputy Head Administrator

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    Woo, volume 2!

    PROLOGUE

    Well, I didn't expect Prisma to up and tell Tessa to quit, plus shit-talk Metagross like that. More and more, I tend to wonder how happy Tessa's family and friends were when they were all actually together. It seems like the good times are shown that way because, well, it's easier to hide turmoil going on behind the scenes that it would be for adult characters.

    I don't blame Tessa for being dissatisfied with Prisma's answers. Prisma doesn't seem at all like a nurturing mother, all this mission business and question evasiveness aside... I kinda consider her an antagonist at this point; I can't imagine anything she's up to is anything good. Anyway, I mean, I'm sure Tessa's imagined a reunion with her mother and Gallian a million times in her head, and for both of them, each meeting so far has just turned out as disastrously as possible. Guh. I rather like the theme of friends being there for you when family can't be or won't be. You hear hardcore comments about family always being there through thick and thin, and how you're obligated to love them because they're blood, but I've never been a fan of that in real life or literature. That's just one reason why I'm super happy to see Team Radiance back in high spirits. xD

    CHAPTER 1

    Well, you certainly opened with a very beautiful description! Less beautiful, of course, is the reason behind why the scenery is all icy, so I rather got a kick out of Zero showing up and putting Espeon and Umbreon in their places. It's amusing how they act so cocky all the time, but then grow submissive as soon as the real superior shows up. :p

    I'll give Zero some credit for the strategy on how to tackle dungeons. I imagine it takes a fair amount of planning and resources to attack each Mystery Dungeon a different way based off of type disadvantages, but with the Tapus being in charge of them, you kinda have to go all in or you'll probably fail, eh?

    Zero talking about catching and owning Espeon and Umbreon makes me wonder if she was a human... and if so, things grow ever more interesting, with a lot of big players in this story being previous humans. Hoo boy.

    The scene with Tessa asking if the old Shane is back already is sweet, but slightly worrying. If he starts to regress, does that mean their friendship will fall apart again, or will they know they can overcome things? Or will they simply accept each other's flaws? Only time will tell, hehe.

    The idea of fire-type energy being present in Shane, presumably due to Solgaleo's influence, is a neat one. So is Bruxish's power in general. It's a shame she couldn't identify Null's, but it's not surprising. You do a good job balancing Null's development along with everyone else's. I mean, he's an important character, but it'd be easy for Shane and Tessa's old argument to overshadow his own development, but it didn't. :D

    Lol, I hate when this happens. D: It's the thought that counts, Shane? Very cute how he keeps going out of his way to try to find ways to console her or keep on good terms with her. He really does seem to have learned from things and is making a serious effort, for now. There's still hints of the old Shane in there, though, especially with impatience, but his rudeness along with that is more muted. It's a good combo for him, I like it.

    The concept's not that much different from a Mystery Dungeon itself, is it? I'd think the dungeons would be scarier, especially if you're physically there and are in a guild where you enter them. xD

    CHAPTER 2

    Lmao, this is amazing. Just throw hatch parties for 'mon every day, Shane, and life will seem a little more normal and optimistic? :p

    Hmm, Luxeira brings up an interesting question for me. Why would a human's aura levels be far more advanced than an ultra beast's? And what would Shane's aura level be compared to Prisma's?

    I'd argue Gallian's tirade about how Prisma hates Tessa was an even worse blow than Shane's "your parents never loved you" spiel. It says a lot about Tessa's mindset now that she doesn't go back to that same mindset she was when death seemed an inviting concept. Clearly it still hurts her, but she's got the support of both Shane and Null 100% this time around.

    And... the idea of Braviary killing Incineroar? I'm not sure if I buy that from Gallian. He just doesn't seem capable of it, and neither does Metagross. If they really did do something, I'd guess it was an accident. But then again, Braviary's been suspicious for a while, so... Anyway, you're doing a good job also bringing in Metagross as a suspicious character. Team Radiance is really gonna have their hands full if they can't even trust the top of the guild's hierarchy...

    I see the curse of the "I am powerless to help my friends" thought process in Shane's future. Poor guy.

    CHAPTER 3

    Coinciding memories between Solgaleo's past and Shane's present, eh? It certainly strengthens the parallelism of Tessa being able to talk to Lunala's emissary.

    Oh man, this scene was hilarious. Poor Shane and Tessa. They can't even take normal baths. xD I love how Null just tried to join the party to make them feel better, too, and then later he wrapped himself around Tessa just to keep her warm. He's such a sweetheart in general.

    I think my only complaint in this chapter is... Why didn't Braviary address the accusation of having killed his friend? The quoted part insinuates that Shane told him about that, though it is ambiguous enough that maybe he didn't... I'd just clarify that.

    maybe Null should be the test dummy on crashing into ice until his mask cracks more

    You did a good job description the ice maze, and I liked how Shane had trouble with it, even as an ice type. It makes logical sense, really, that a cave with ice would just... be hard to navigate, even without a "set up" maze. Tessa struggling with being near frostbite status and everyone just knowing they're not strong enough yet, but still trying to save their friends anyway, is an admirable team mission. Looking forward to seeing how this episode plays out![/quote]
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    Well, I thrive on the unexpected, I suppose. Essentially, with Team Fang having gotten carted off to prison, Team Paradox has stepped into the "rival" spot and are supposed to be a measuring stick for Team Radiance's progress at this point.

    Hooray for teamwork and significant revelations!

    Okay, you've probably got me there. I just tend to get carried away with this stuff. I don't know... maybe it's because these aren't trainer battles. On the whole it seems like my action scenes are... troublesome. In the future I need to write a story that doesn't use too many, clearly. >.<

    You would think that, yes. Unless, of course, said people are frightened and are just keeping their heads down and trying to forget that these bad things happened. That subject might pop up in the future. ;P

    I had fun with the scene. One of those bits to make sure the fic still has light-hearted moments to balance out the darker subject matter. Yes, their fur would've grown back eventually but, in Shane's case at least, it would've taken weeks as opposed to minutes.

    Err, yeah, I guess that's another instance of Shane's comments being hit or miss depending on the reader. Glad you at least liked the puzzle, though. ^^

    One of the big pitfalls of PMD stories is that they tend to meander on the actual dungeon-crawling aspect. So, the relatively fast sequence is my attempt to avoid that issue.

    You'll see a bit of Drampa, don't worry. But, yeah, the focus is on Team Radiance at the moment. Thanks again for reviewing! ^^

    You might be onto something there...

    You'll have to wait and see. :V

    Well, this fic's about relationships of all different flavors, so I'm happy it's working out for you. ^^

    Yes, I found it quite satisfying to write them as sniveling wrecks after all their previous scenes. That... sounds kinda bad to admit... aha ha...

    Indeed. Makes you wonder exactly how much power is at her disposal.

    I promise that this story is not adopting a "humans are the real monsters" mentality. We get enough of that from the anime and the movies.

    Don't worry, he's not going to backslide this time around. Rather, with his self-perception starting to grow, he might become more aware of other flaws, which will present some new challenges.

    Consider it a tease of what's to come.

    Ah, good. I was always worried I wasn't at least keeping some of his personality in there. I'm trying very hard to keep him flawed and not turn him into Mr. Perfect.

    Shane does not always think coherently and tends to miss the big picture, as I'm sure you know. XD

    Oh god, I'm trying to imagine Shane running a party-planning agency. Just give him some Vulpixy clown shoes and a red nose. That ought to do it, right?

    An interesting question indeed. Though, in this case, it's meant to tie into the events surrounding Sticky and Null last episode.

    Yes, her family issues will be something she has to overcome and I hope you look forward to how it's handled.

    Well, Gallian isn't entirely acting lucid right now, so you wouldn't be the first person to think he's lying or misremembering something.

    Hold that thought, if you would... :V

    I suppose. Though the scene at the end of volume 1 was meant to show you the source of Tessa's dreams. ^^;

    Yes. Null is a good boy, please give him love.

    Err... I think you misread, because I said Shane excluded the stuff Gallian said about Braviary and Metagross. He didn't bring it up at all. Too scared of what would happen.

    The struggle is real, let me tell you! Just read this chapter if you don't believe me. Thanks for reviewing! ^^

    My apologies for not posting an update last week. Things are just... very stressful for me offline and I'm generally not in the best of spirits. This chapter needed a lofty amount of revisions. I was really looking for stuff to cut out and I think I managed to get rid of a solid 1.5k words. I hope the end product is good, but that's for you all to decide. This was originally published February 5, 2018.

    XxX

    Chapter 4: Heart of the Entercards

    The Monster House gave way to more ice sliding puzzles. All the while, the oddly-colored aurora filling the sky progressively disappeared. After navigating a longer maze, Team Radiance looked up and found the sky had turned completely red. Black lightning bolts raced across their heads. Each one made Tessa's aura feelers jump.

    "Guys, this doesn't feel right," Tessa whispered. "I don't want to be here anymore. I want to leave!"

    "But what about Sylveon and Eevee?" Shane said.

    Tessa squeaked and threw her arms up over her chest, shivering wildly. Of course she wanted to rescue them. Yet, something felt wrong. "The air here… it's suffocating," she said.

    "All the more reason… to press onward," Null wheezed.

    "Look, I just think we need to stop… and come up with some sort of plan," Tessa said.

    "But a plan for what, exactly?" Shane wondered, sitting on the snow.

    "I don't know," Tessa said. "That, maybe?" She pointed a paw skyward. "It just feels like something's going to pop up in the sky and blast us to smithereens or… or suck the life out of us like what's happened to the infected Pokémon we've fought."

    Null tapped her on the shoulder. "What? What's the matter?" Tessa said.

    He pointed the same talon forward. "Is that… what's making you flip out?" he asked

    Tessa looked over her shoulder and her eyes went wide at the sight of a black monolith, surrounded by a cluster of crystals. Its winged heart sigil glowed prominently against the dark sky. "Oh no. Not again," she squeaked.

    It was exactly like Mellath Bog. Shane figured the monolith had covered the dungeon in ice. "This must mean we're at the end," he said, turning to Tessa. "See? We can't turn back. We're this close to saving Sylveon and Eevee. Then we can get the hell out of here and never come back."

    Tessa clasped her paws together and nodded slowly. Shane was right. She couldn't give up here. Tessa shuffled forward, taking care to stick as close to Null as possible. The trio slowly approached the monolith, stopping on a very large patch of icy ground. "Ah, look! There they are," Tessa said, pointing a shaking arm forward.

    Shane gulped. Tessa's friends were trapped inside one of the black crystals. How could Team Radiance free them from something so alien?

    "Well, what do you know? You actually showed up. Wonderful! I do love Pokémon that can satisfy me."

    All three members of Team Radiance tensed up as Espeon emerged from behind the crystals. Umbreon tailed along after her, wearing his usual look of disinterest. "I'll admit, Umbry and I had our doubts. But I should've known better. You three always know how to surprise." She fixed her gaze on Shane. "And I love what you've all done with your fur. Purple and black looks great on you! I take it this means you're going to accept my lovely offer?" She batted her eyelashes at him.

    Shane's heart skipped a beat. Was she... flirting? With him? Why? Shane shook his head. He had to focus. Tessa was counting on him!

    "Even if we were considering it, there's no way we're joining up with you two after seeing what you left waiting in the wings for us back there," Shane said. "I'll bet you never even planned on keeping your end of the deal, anyway!"

    Espeon feigned a hurt expression. "How could you say that to me? After all we've been through together, I thought we had something special between us." The forked ends of her tail formed into a heart. Shane's face went bright red and he abruptly looked away, biting his lower lip.

    "Drop the act, Espy," Umbreon snorted. He jerked his head toward the monolith. "We're not here to play games. You know that."

    "Fine. Here I wanted to be all welcoming, since we're going to be on the same team soon. But some Pokémon–" she gave Umbreon a vindictive look, "–can't be bothered to show some manners. So, let's hit the fast-forward button, shall we? Ahem…"

    She stepped to her right, mimicking Tessa's nervous look. "You, like, give me my friends back, like, right now! O-Or… um… or else we're gonna, like, attack you and stuff."

    "Hey, I do not sound like that," Tessa said, but her voice cracked. She looked away in embarrassment.

    Espeon stepped back to her original position and shook her head. "It appears we're at an impasse, then. You want your friends. We have orders not to give them up unless you and your human boy-toy come and join us."

    "Wait… orders? So, you are being manipulated!" Shane said, though the revelation wasn't as relieving as he had hoped. "Who's calling the shots here? A Legend? Invading alien forces? Tell us. We can help you guys!"

    Umbreon glared at his partner and shoved her to the side. "Espy, you dolt! You're giving too much away," he hissed.

    "Oh, p'shaaw. What's the problem? Once they're infected, they'll know the full story. I'm just giving them a short teaser. Zero will be happy not to waste her time explaining everything to them," Espeon said.

    Black lightning from the monolith struck the ground beside Espeon, leaving it charred black. Espeon's face blanched and she skirted close to her teammate. "See? We've talked enough already," Umbreon scoffed. "Last chance to lay down those scarves and surrender, punks."

    Shane still wasn't sure why his scarf was so important to them, but he didn't care. "Not a chance," he said. Shane looked over at his teammates. "You guys ready? I get the feeling this isn't going to be easy."

    Null hunched over and brushed the ice with a foreleg. Tessa took in a deep breath and raised her fists. With their guild mates preoccupied, there was no one to bail them out. It was up to them to win the fight on their own.

    "Tsk, tsk, tsk," Espeon said, shaking her head. "I suppose you three can't be blamed for any of this. You're ignorant. Just like everyone else."

    She and Umbreon hopped down from their perch, eyes flashing red in unison. Heat sent Team Radiance scrambling forward. Shane looked back and saw red, hexagonal, hard-light tiles forming a wall behind him. Identical walls encased each side of the icy arena, climbing until they were higher than the monolith. A ceiling of black tiles appeared, blocking out the vortex in the sky and bathing the battlefield in dark red. Flashes of light erupted on each wall as Necrozma's star icon appeared on them.

    "By the time this is over, we'll make sure you understand just how worthless the gods really are," Espeon said. A red glow encased her body and she lifted a forepaw. Four life-sized, holographic cards appeared in front of her, each bearing a winged heart icon inside differently-colored symbols.

    Shane's eyes widened. He recognized those symbols! A heart, spade, diamond, and a club. Just like human playing cards.

    "Once you've seen just how powerful our Ultra Entercards can be, you'll be as excited for the Legend-free world as we are," Espeon declared. "Isn't that right, Umbry?"

    Umbreon snorted in response. He slammed a forepaw on the ground and all four cards flipped over, revealing four different colored wormholes. Umbreon leaped into the blue one, disappearing from the fight. The cards vanished. Team Radiance huddled up, utterly baffled as to what was happening.

    "You're battling on our terms, now," Espeon said. "And, in this scenario, the house always wins! Uhuu huu huu!"

    As soon as she finished laughing the diamond on her forehead flashed. Several tiles disappeared from the walls and lined the arena. Espeon fired a pink waveform beam toward the nearest tile. It reflected toward Team Radiance

    "Hit the deck!" Shane shouted, sprawling out onto his belly and sliding forward on the ice. Tessa fell beside him but Null leaped back instead. Espeon grinned and flicked her tail. Her attack banked off another tile. Null hit the ice with a groan and a heavy thud.

    Thinking it safe, Tessa stood up, only to blanche in the face of the ricocheting Psybeam. She rolled left, only for an entirely different blast to blow her into the far wall. Red electricity surged through her body, drawing an agonized howl. Tessa crumpled to the ground, a smoldering blue ball.

    Shane's eyes widened. The wall was electrified? He couldn't think over this predicament for long, however. Something hard struck his side. Shane was flying into Espeon's attack! Psychic energy pummeled him into the ground. That was one attack. One attack and he hurt so bad he could barely move.

    "That's right, roll over and take it, human. You rank amateurs don't realize how utterly outclassed you are," Espeon hissed. "You said it yourselves. We've faced the Bittercold's forces. We've had to look Kyurem right in the eyes. And that was without the power boost from the Prism Virus. Do you really think you can even so much as land a hit on us? Don't make me laugh! What a fever dream!"

    Air crescents flew in from Espeon's right, but the red, heart-bearing card sucked the attack into its vortex. Null slapped the ice in frustration, only for the card to reappear next to him. There was no time to dodge. Air blades battered his hide. The pain forced him to the ground.

    Shane flinched. He couldn't lose his nerve, even if they were outgunned! Shane needed to get some offense going, but he got choked up trying to conjure icy air. The blue Entercard was right in front of him! He had to move, now!

    Black wisps poured out of the card. Shane was defenseless. Umbreon barrled into him. Shane skipped across the ice like a living rock on a riverbed until he skidded to a stop far from his teammates. His flanks burned. Why did these attacks hurt so much?!

    Umbreon charged ahead, racing past Tessa's meek paw strikes. He disappeared into the green Entercard while his partner's eyes glows. The card split into four copies that fell on the ice. Shane and Tessa struggled to their feet, exchanging panicked looks. What were they supposed to attack?

    "Is this supposed to be Double Team?" Tessa said. "Which one's the real one?"

    As if on cue, the card on their left flipped over. A black glob floated upwards and split in six. Shane and Tessa bolted in opposite directions. That looked nothing like a Shadow Ball or a Dark Pulse.

    "Ha! Nowhere to run, kiddies," Espeon shouted, eyes flashing blue. The blobs exploded, bathing the arena in dark energy. Tessa yelped and threw her arms up. Intense winds buffeted her, yet there was no pain.

    "H-How?" Tessa gasped, opening her eyes. It was Null! He had shielded her!

    Null stood in front of her, firing air crescents despite his fatigue. Shane raced awkwardly toward his teammate. He had to do something to help. Shane mustered the best cloud of frosty air he could manage. His heart sank when Espeon negated Null's attacks with the yellow Entercard while Umbreon popped out of the real green card and vaporized his Frost Breath with a black beam. That was the last thing Shane saw before pain filled his world and everything went black.

    "No! Get up, Shane!" Tessa called. Sure, they had Reviver Seeds, but would they even work?

    "Worry about yourself, bi[size=4t[/size]ch," Espeon growled, leaping into the yellow card.

    Tessa looked around frantically. Where was Espeon going to pop up? She had to be ready. Tessa couldn't withstand another psychic blow.

    "Left!" Null shouted, helmet hardening into iron. Tessa turned and her world erupted in a brilliant white flash. It was even strong enough to envelop Null. The fairy energy was too overwhelming. Like Shane, they both collapsed in unconscious heaps.

    "That was so easy, I almost feel sorry," Espeon scoffed, flicking her snout skyward. "Guess Zero was right. We should never have bothered toying with you three."

    "Excuse me. What's this 'we' business all about? I wanted to attack them like this from the beginning," Umbreon said. "Besides, look." He pointed a forepaw down to the ice, where all three members of Team Radiance were staggering back to their feet.

    "I guess we couldn't touch your Reviver Seed stock after all," Espeon said. "No matter. Because there aren't enough Reviver Seeds in the universe to help you if I break all your legs!" This time, Espeon disappeared into the red card.

    Umbreon shot a black beam toward Null and Tessa. Null shoved Tessa away and jumped over the attack. He was going to get a hit in this time, he was sure of it!

    "Uhuu huu huu! Nice try, big guy!"

    The red card was level with him! Null couldn't escape in midair. A pink blast shot him into the wall, where he seized up from the electricity. Null dropped to the ground, where the ice cracked beneath him.

    Shane's blood boiled. This had become a complete disaster. Without even thinking, he blew icy air at the red Entercard. It was supposed to be a show of frustration, so imagine Shane's surprise when the card shattered like a dropped pane of glass. Espeon fell screaming to the ground. Shane looked at the wall on right, where the star icon had turned completely black.

    There was something they could do, after all. "Guys! We have to attack the Entercards! It's the only way to stop Espeon and Umbreon from moving so fast," Shane declared.

    "Not going to happen, human!" Umbreon bellowed, disappearing into the shadows. Next thing Shane knew, he was sprawled out on his belly, pinned under Umbreon's forelegs. "Time to shut you up," Umbreon growled, black energy gathering in his forehead ring.

    "Back off!"

    Tessa charged in, fists at the ready. The yellow Entercard was at Umbreon's side, ready to keep him safe. Tessa threw caution to the wind and hurtled her fists forward. She punched right through the card. Umbreon lost his concentration, yelping. Shane had an opening! He tickled Umbreon's belly with his tails.

    "Augh!" Umbreon hollered, weakness shooting through his legs. Shane shimmied to freedom, then buffeted Umbreon with icy winds. Yes! He had finally gotten in a clean hit. And Espeon's pained wails made him realize he wasn't the only one.

    Behind him, Null silenced Espeon with a swipe of his glowing claws. To Null's satisfaction, her forehead diamond splintered. It served her right. Except the diamond was still glowing. Null jumped back. His right hip tingled. He looked at it and growled. Her Psybeam had still gotten him. Worse, it was heading right for Tessa. Null couldn't get to her fast enough. He prayed she could dodge it, safely.

    Tessa tried to backpedal, but slipped on the ice. She spun helplessly across the ground. Espeon seized her chance and opened the blue Entercard next to Umbreon. Tessa knew what was coming. "Help me!" she shouted. She had to stop or else–

    It was no good. Shadows filled her vision, followed by searing pain. She was sliding even faster across the ice, now. She couldn't stop. The wall was approaching. Tessa was going to get electrocuted for sure!

    "Nngh!"

    Tessa hit something fluffy and came to a stop. Oh, thank the gods, Shane had made it to her in time. Shane whirled around on instinct and spewed frosty air. He thanked his lucky stars when his ice destroyed the blue Entercard. Shane felt a perverse satisfaction seeing Umbreon hit the ice face-first. Hopefully, Umbreon wouldn't remember this once Team Radiance had won and freed him.

    "You may have some new tricks, but the two of you were always researchers first and battlers second," Shane said, while Tessa stepped up and struck Umbreon's chest with her palms. Umbreon hit the wall and Shane froze him solid while he was seizing up. He hoped that would keep Umbreon quite so they could focus on a single target.

    Shane and Tessa were dismayed to see Null lying unconscious at Espeon's feet. Likewise, she didn't take kindly to the life-sized ice cube that was her partner. "Okay, you want to play dirty?" she said, eyes glowing pink. "I can play so dirty it'll make a Trubbish blush!" Ice swirled around her. Shane and Tessa knew they needed to attack, but were completely dumbstruck by the sight of Espeon molding an ice sculpture of herself.

    "Umbry's a great partner and all that. But sometimes, you've just got to learn to love yourself. Know what I'm saying, handsome?" Espeon said, locking eyes with Shane. He tensed up. Why did she keep saying stuff like that? "Of course you do. I'll bet the only love you're used to getting is from your own rosy paws," Espeon continued, smirking. "Now, if you'd like to give up, I'm sure I can rectify that."

    Espeon looked up and saw one of the two darkened stars had refilled with light. With a psychic blast, she launched her ice-double at Shane and Tessa. Neither had an answer for the attack, so they fled. The double erupted in a whirlwind of snowy air seconds later. By the time they'd gotten their bearings again, Espeon was already gone.

    "Quick. We need a little healing session," Shane said. Tessa handed him a pair of berries, looking around in a panic. Espeon would never give the a chance to heal.

    The yellow card appeared on her left. "Run!" Tessa shouted. Her warning was too late. Pink light erupted around her. Then there was a painful shock. Shane hit the ground next to her right before she passed out.

    Null was finally back on his feet, but Umbreon's icy prison was breaking apart. He had to strike quickly. But Entercards appeared on his left and right. Null jerked his head right, praying his guess was correct. Blood splattered against his metallic mask. Espeon took a few steps backward. Null had knocked the wind out of her. Now, he just had to finish her off.

    Dark energy hammered Null's side, knocking him across the ice. Umbreon was by Espeon's side in an instant. "Espy! Are you okay?" he said.

    "Do I look okay to you?!" she shrieked, whirling on Umbreon to show a pair of black eyes, a bloody snout, and the shattered diamond on her forehead. "How could you let yourself get frozen? Are you trying to lose? Do I even need to remind you of the consequences, here?!"

    "I'm trying my best," Umbreon said, stone-faced.

    "Well, try harder, damn it!" Espeon screeched, smacking him across the cheek. "I'm not getting the life sucked out of me again. I can't deal with that again! Back me up, here!"

    "Don't you take that tone of voice with me, Espy!" Umbreon snarled. "What do you think I've been doing? That human caught a lucky break figuring out the trick with our cards. We can still win."

    "Cover me while I heal," Espeon hissed. She shut her eyes and a small, orange ball appeared above her head.

    Shane had managed to revive again, only for his jaw to drop.

    Espeon had Morning Sun. After everything they had done, she barely looked any worse for wear!

    "No!" Shane roared, releasing sound waves. Umbreon thought he could dispel them with his green Entercard, but Tessa ran through it with a burst of speed. Shane's sound waves blew Espeon and Umbreon away. But any hope he had of sending them into the electrified wall was dashed when they tumbled into the newly-repaired blue Entercard instead.

    "Brace yourselves, guys!" Shane said, looking about the arena. They were going to appear someone for a surprise attack. But where? Where?

    "Red card over by the crystals!" Tessa barked. Shane turned to find two Necrospheres floating out of the red Entercard. He frowned. Where did they come from?

    The Necrospheres wasted no time in bombarding Team Radiance with bright-orange fireballs. Shane and Null failed to snuff them out with ice and wind. They were way too large! Shane bolted from his spot, running about in a frenzied panic. The Necrospheres weren't stopping! Volley after volley of fireballs rained down on Team Radiance. Their legs aches, but none of them wanted to see how badly a fireball would hurt.

    "Oh, for the love of– this is why everyone hates bosses that summon flunkies," Shane growled. "For god's sake, I'm in a Mystery Dungeon, not Gradius level!" Someone had to make a move on them, even if it meant getting hurt. Shane threw caution into the wind and ran toward the Necrospheres, nearly getting scorched in the process.

    "Take this!" he shouted, shooting psychic ripples from his glowing eyes. They had to hit. Otherwise, he was sure to get burnt to cinders!

    A loud clang made Shane's ears stick up in joy. He'd hit a Necrosphere and knocked it into the wall. It looked ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. But, wait, something was wrong. The Necrosphere wasn't breaking. It was falling... right toward him!

    "Get out of there, Shane!" Tessa shouted.

    Shane tried roaring at the Necrosphere. It was no good. He turned to run, but electricity rooted him to the ground. Shane's eyes widened. He had forgotten about the other Necrosphere! Shane bowed his head, praying a Reviver Seed was strong enough to keep him safe.

    The broken Necrosphere exploded. Napalm and molten metal washed over Shane. For a brief moment, Shane felt each and every hair fiber burning away. Then, he blacked out.

    Tessa held her paws up to her muzzle. Shane was careening through the air, charred beyond all recognition. She dropped to her knees. This couldn't be happening. Not when they had finally patched things up with each other!

    "Cover me!" Null said, running off to try and catch Shane. Tessa looked up to see the other Necrosphere looking to attack the defenseless Shane. Her blood boiled.

    "Don't you dare!" she barked, using a burst of speed to close the distance and then striking the Necrosphere's core with a glowing palm. Cracks splintered across its body. Tessa used the newly-formed fissures to grab hold of it. She wouldn't let this Necrosphere get away with the same devious trick. She hurled it into the Entercard that had summoned them. Its destruction did nothing to lift her spirits.

    Null succeeded in catching Shane. He placed Shane on the ground. Tessa ran toward him, praying for a Reviver Seed to work its magic. She sucked in a breath as Shane's eyes slowly opened. He was in pain. With his fur coat gone, he had no protection against the cold. Shane was shivering intensely. Tears streamed down his eyes, freezing against his bare cheeks.

    "This is bad," Tessa said. "At this rate, we'll run out of Reviver Seeds and those two will be no worse for wear. What do we do?"

    "I don't know!" Shane panicked, blinking tears from his eyes. "They're too fast. And the cards make them move faster and give them stupid, unfair enemy-summoning powers. We have to... I..." He was at a complete loss. It really did seem hopeless.

    "Surprise!"

    White light followed Espeon's voice out of the blue Entercard. Shane's frightened cry was cut off by a force jerking him backwards. Something itchy was underneath him. He blinked the light out of his eyes. Null had put Shane on his back. And not a moment to soon.

    "What are you doing?" Shane gasped, a bewildered Tessa sitting beside him. "You're making us into easy pickings."

    "No… I'm taking their maneuverability… out of the equation," he growled. Null slammed a foreleg on the ice, splintering it. "Hey! You want us? Come and get us!" he roared, before turning to his teammates and whispering, "Ready your attacks, and strike the cards when they appear."

    The blue and red Entercards popped up on either side of Team Radiance. Air blades and icy winds destroyed them both, revealing Umbreon. Tessa hopped off Null's back and slammed into Umbreon's spine. She retreated onto Null's back, expecting Espeon to have a trap lying in wait.

    Her prediction was proven correct by the yellow Entercard appeared behind Null. Tessa lunged and punched it apart with a fistful of electricity. "Now, Shane!" she shouted, pointing at a dazed Espeon. Shane got the memo and breathed out so much frost that Espeon resembled the ice sculpture she had previously made of herself.

    Tessa knew this was her chance. She doubled back toward Espeon, mouth open wide. Tessa sank her blackened fangs into Espeon's shoulder, willing her opponent to black out. She was getting Sylveon and Eevee back!

    Hissing, Espeon summoned the green Entercard beneath her. Tessa realized Espeon planned to drag her into the card. Luckily, her teammates were already by her side. Shane stuck out a forepaw and Tessa grabbed it. He and Null hoisted her back out of range of the Entercard's vortex.

    It wasn't a complete victory, however, as Espeon sniped Tessa's tail with a pink beam. Tessa yipped, rubbing the singed fur at the base of her tail. She downed an oran berry, trying to stifle a newfound urge to rip Espeon's tail off in retribution.

    "Nice job," Null said. "But Umbreon… took advantage of Espeon's distraction." Null's teammates looked around his head to see a soft, white glow fading from around Umbreon's body. The scuffs that Tessa's earlier attacks dealt him had disappeared, leaving him healthy and able to glare daggers at Team Radiance.

    Shane groaned. How could he not of seen this coming? Moonlight to match Espeon's Morning Sun. "This isn't funny, you know!" he growled. "I don't care what universe I'm in, healing bosses will always su–"

    Null unexpectedly took off to dodge a black beam from Umbreon. Shane was forced to bite into Null's scaly, furry back to avoid flying off his teammate. It took every ounce of willpower not to hurl. Null dug his claws into the ice and spun around. He shut a bevy of air blades in Umbreon's direction.

    Umbreon smirked as multiple Entercards appeared around him. "Quickly, attack," Null said, pivoted so his teammates faced the cards. Shane let loose psychic ripples, blowing apart the cards. Tessa sprang off Null and struck a socked a bewildered Espeon with an electrified fist. Even if Espeon and Umbreon could heal themselves, their unconventional attacks were taking a toll on them. Team Radiance, on the other hand, had elixirs at the ready

    Umbreon jumped up and used a hastily-summoned barrier to catch Espeon before she struck the wall. They landed, only to gasp in shock as chilled air turned them into living snowmons.

    Seeing them frozen brought a smile to Shane's face. "Ha ha! Nice try, but you just activated my Trap Card: 'Winter's Coming.' It lets me bypass all cards in play on the field for a direct attack!" he said.

    "Seriously, Shane?" Tessa groaned. It's not like things were going terribly well for them.

    "I'm sorry, I had to do it," Shane said. "After all the crap they've given us, that was so satisfying!"

    Tessa rolled her eyes and hit Umbreon with a glowing palm. Howling, he hit the wall. He collapsed into a smoldering pile of black fur beside an equally-charred Espeon.

    "Enough is enough, you two. Please!" Shane said. "You're not like the other infected Pokémon, are you? You can fight this crazy Prism Virus thing. I know it. Remember all the good you've done!"

    A glob of spit smacked Shane in the face. He looked down in shock to see the two Eeveelutions disappearing into the red Entercard. Espeon held one of her lower eyelids down with a forepaw and was sticking her tongue out at Shane. "Oh, real mature, you bitch!" he growled. "You're so off my top ten favorite Pokémon list when this is all over."

    "Seriously, Shane? You really think we can actually reason with them now?" Tessa said. "We're well beyond that point." She turned around and tensed up. "Let's keep sticking together. It seems to have knocked the two of them out of their rhythm." She jumped onto Null's back. Then the yellow Entercard opened, and out flew a trio of Necrospheres.

    "Crap! Not again!" Shane hissed. Null immediately fired off air blades, but it did no good. The Necrospheres bombarded the arena with an onslaught of fireballs. Shane had no desire to try and get close to one this time. Null realized this and set Shane and Tessa down.

    "What are you doing?" Tessa said.

    "Wait here," Null said. His mask hardened to steel and he ran the Necrospheres down.

    "Look out! We can't sit around," Shane said, shoving Tessa out of the way of a fireball. The two stuck together while Null leaped through multiple fireballs and brought the Necrospheres down with his head crest and claws. Null struck the ground hard, limbs quaking.

    "Everyone… doing okay?" Null said, staggering to his teammates. "We've to stay on our toes… because they might–"

    The red Entercard opened up and Espeon shot out of it, a wicked grin on her face. "Thanks for the time to heal, idiots!" she said with a laugh. "Now I'm ready to end this!" Her momentum carried her into Tessa, sending the two of them skidding across the ice. Espeon bored into Tessa with her forepaws. "Say buh-bye to your ugly scarf, Riolu!" Espeon snarled. She opened her mouth wide, showing off glistening fangs, and bit down on Tessa's scarf.

    "No! You can't have that," Tessa squealed, grabbing hold with one paw and using the other to backhand Espeon across the cheek. Espeon momentarily stumbled and lost her grip on the scarf. But Tessa couldn't get to her feet of her own accord. A second set of fangs grabbed the scruff of her neck and hoist her into the air.

    Her eyes widened in terror. They had her. She was in Umbreon's grasp. Tessa thrashed about. Umbreon had to let go. She couldn't get infected. Not after everything she'd been through!

    "Tessa!" Shane cried. Ignoring his body's protests, he sprinted forward. But the blue Entercard appeared in front of him. "No!" Shane cried. Bright pink light erupted around him. A fresh wave of pain enveloped him. When the stars cleared from his vision, he was near the wall. Null lay behind him in an unconscious heap.

    "N... no... Tessa," Shane wheezed. He had to help her.

    Shane staggered forward. Each step was pure agony. No, he had to hang on! His teammates– no, his friends needed him!

    His vision flickered.

    'C'mon... move, legs, move!'

    "You know what, I take the insults back. You're not green at all. In fact, you're a lot tougher than I had you pegged for," Espeon said. She bit down on Tessa's scarf and continued, "Of course, that's only because our precious creations hardened you up into a Pokémon worth infecting. And, to think, this is how you ended up repaying us."

    "Lemme go! Lemme go! Help! Help!" Tessa shrieked. Umbreon pinned her down, bringing her thrashing to a stop. Espeon grabbed Tessa's arm with her telekinesis and forcibly yanked them behind her. Tessa's shoulders popped out of their sockets. Tears pooled in her eyes. It was all over. Her teammates were down. They had lost. And now they were going to be infected!

    "What are you looking so sad for?" Espeon said, shaking her head. "This is going to be the best thing that's ever happened to you. In fact, there's someone who can't wait to see you on our side! She hasn't stopped talking about it since she recruited us." The diamond in Espeon's forehead crackled with red and black energy.

    Shane took a single step forward, but his legs buckled from the fatigue.

    It was all over.

    "Somebody help me!" Tessa wailed.

    "Quit shouting. That's exactly what I'm going to do!" Espeon said.

    "No… p-please… don't do this," Tessa croaked. Espeon's menacing grin faded behind the red glow from her broken diamond.

    Shane saw the glow and forced himself back to his feet. "Get away from her!" he shouted. He needed to keep them distracted. It was the only way.

    Espeon swiveled to look at Shane. "Butt out of this, Snowball. You'll get your turn in a minute!" she hissed.

    'I... I can't give up. I can't lose Tessa. I have to... I have to save her!'

    Ice gathered around Shane's paws. The numbness in his legs melted away. They stopped trembling. Shane's fatigue faded. He was so invigorated, now! Something was stirring deep inside him. Shane focused intently on this spark of energy. His looplet responded by glowing brightly and surrounding him in orange light.

    This was it. The chance he needed to save Tessa!

    "I said… get away!"

    The ground rumbled beneath everyone's paws. Espeon and Umbreon looked at Shane. The energy from his looplet had given him a second wind. He ran Espeon and Umbreon down. All he could think about was Tessa. Shane was so focused, he didn't notice his looplet shimmer with bright white light. A fresh coat of pristine, snow-white fur settled across him. Shane paid it no mind. The energy was still building. He had to harness it... and quickly!

    "What the–?" Umbreon gasped. Espeon's infectious beam faded and she fired a pink blast at Shane, only for it to harmlessly fizzle out. Shane stopped in front of the two Eeveelutions, a thick layer of frigid air swirling around his body. He was ready. It was time to put these troublemakers out of commission. He'd give them the biggest ice attack he'd ever used!

    Shane glared at the two of them, revealing sky-blue light pouring out of his hollow eyes. "Let her go!" Shane roared.

    Espeon whirled on her partner. "Don't just stand there gawking! End him! Destroy him! Don't let him do whatever he's planning to do!" she screamed, dousing Umbreon in spittle.

    Shane howled in fury. A massive ice column rocketed him skyward. Bone-chilling air rushed out and destroyed the arena's walls. Shane had no idea what was going on, but he didn't care. This power was incredible!

    Null staggered backward, dropping to the ground and throwing his forelimbs over his head, hissing madly. Tessa took advantage of Umbreon's shock to buck him off and run away, clutching at her neck and scarf. Espeon looked up and saw Shane perched atop the ice, a whirlwind of snow racing around him. She fired the biggest Psybeam she could muster, only for her jaw to drop in horror as it evaporated against Shane's massive iceberg.

    "No… no!" she said, staggering backward. "Do something, Umbry! I don't wanna disappear! I don't–"

    Shane opened his mouth and unleashed a gigantic ice beam. It blew through Espeon's and Umbreon's counterattacks with ease. It destroyed their Ultra Entercards like they were nothing but tissue paper. Espeon's blood-curdling scream lasted only a second. Then the ice swallowed her and Umbreon up.

    A high-pitched screech echoed through the valley. Shane's ice column melted back into the ground, lowering him to safety, where a shell-shocked Tessa stood with a blank expression on her face. The energy rush had faded, leaving him with such painful aches he couldn't help but collapse. Luckily, Tessa caught him before he hit the ice.

    "Sh-Shane! That was… what did you–" she said, heart pounding against her chest. She looked down and saw the white light on his looplet flicker a few times, then disappear. The gemstone in the center had lost its color. "Where did that come from, Shane?"

    Shane blinked and looked at the large mound of ice in front of him. Espeon and Umbreon lay trapped inside, not unlike what they had done to Sylveon and Eevee. He was in disbelief. That was his attack. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before.

    "I… I don't know," Shane whispered. "I just… I saw you in trouble… and I suddenly felt this huge burst of energy flow through my whole body. It was like I could lift up an entire building all by myself."

    "Well, you saved me," she said, fidgeting with her paws. "I… I guess I owe you my life now, huh?"

    "All that matters is that you're safe," Shane said, blinking tears out of his eyes. Sure, they had only officially been friends for one day, but it didn't lessen Shane's relief. He fixed his gaze back on the remnants of his attack. Specifically, he focused on Espeon and Umbreon.

    Shane's eyes widened and he nudged Tessa with a foreleg. "Check it out. Their black armor pieces are gone," Shane said. "And they both still have all their color!"

    "You don't think that's because you froze them, do you?" Tessa wondered.

    "Well, there's one way to find out," Shane said.

    Tessa caught on and her eyes widened. "Are you crazy? They just tried to kill us!" she said.

    She was right, yet he couldn't bring himself to listen to her. "I still think we have to free them," he said. "They might know something about the Prism Virus that could help us." He then looked at the black monolith. "Besides, we have no idea how to break Sylveon and Eevee out of there on our own. Aren't they the whole reason we came here?"

    Sighing, Tessa nodded. "Okay. I just hope you know what you're doing."

    Shane also hoped this wouldn't prove a reckless decision. He looked over in Null's direction. "Yo, big guy! Think you can help us break that ice?" he said.

    Null nodded and followed his teammates toward the ice mound. "Here goes nothing," he whispered, and shattered the ice with swipes of his glowing claws.

    XxX

    ~Celestial Island~

    "Gagh!"

    Necrozma shot up from the table he was lying on. He looked down to see his arms trembling.

    "What… what's going on? It feels... like someone tore off part of my body." He reached a hand up and rubbed his temple. His eyes flashed and his confused frown slowly morphed into a wide grin. "Oh… what's this?" He hunched over and rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Do I sense... Z-Power? Yes... yes! Heeheeheehee! Someone's used Z-Power. My Z-Power! From my light!"

    He floated up from the table and looked around at the floating black cubes and prisms surrounding him.

    "Could it have been you... Shane?"
    Necrozma said, scratching at his chin with the tip of his wing. "I really hope so. After all... you're of no use to me as a measly fox. I need you to be something better. Much better! Heeheeheehee! Yes... you're going to make good use of my gift and, in return, you'll gift me with the return of my true form. My real power!"

    Necrozma sank back down onto the table and folded his wings over his body.

    "It's just a matter of time until I get to see the light fade from your eyes. It won't be the perfect spectacle I was hoping for, but I'll cherish it all the same."

    XxX​

    Destructive Duo, Ultra Espeon and Ultra Umbreon
    The former heroes of the Mist Continent have pledged themselves to Zero. Their raw, latent fears of past threats to the world have enveloped their hearts in darkness. And Prism Armor serves as proof of their loyalty to the Prism Virus' cause. With corrupted Z-Power flowing through their bodies, they have powered up their Entercards and turned them on Team Radiance.

    in the original outline, Team Radiance's rainbow scarves were supposed to trigger temporary evolutions a la the Harmony Scarves in Super. That was phased out when I had decided to incorporate Z-Moves into the story and give them to the heroes. Additionally, jokes aside, the inspirations for Ultra Espeon's/Umbreon's fighting style are a pair of dual bosses: Pandora and Prometheus from Mega Man ZX and Copy Zonda from Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. Both bosses involve the foes constantly swapping places with one another, and the Entercards are similar to Zonda's mirrors in their function.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Halloween Special 2018
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    So, here's something unexpected. Or possibly not. If you remember, I did put up 2017's Halloween special back in Volume 1. This year, I've gone and written a standalone bonus chapter, which means I can actually post it here right away. No knowledge of the story thus far is required to read this piece, though knowing about Special Episode 3 from Explorers of Sky might help. Enjoy!

    XxX

    Bonus: Specter of Change

    ~Craggy Coast Entrance~

    I see you trying to stray from the path. Cease your foolish actions or I will employ Thunder Wave and return you to the prison.

    Electricity crackled in Magnezone's appendages, frightening the Haunter floating in front of him. "Yeesh! Sorry, sorry, I'm just tired, that's all," Haunter said. He floated down the gray, dirt-filled path, passing puddles of water dripping from the ceiling. Ahead of him, two slightly-larger members of his species floated in single-file line behind a Magneton deputy. Light shined from the end of a tunnel.

    Sir, we've arrived at the entrance, the deputy announced, turning around and flashing his six magnets.

    "Excellent! At long last, we're finally free! Kee hee hee!" the largest of the three Haunters said, bursting out of the tunnel entrance, only to shrink back immediately with a hiss. He wrung his hands out until black smoke stopped trailing off them. "Urgh… geez. You louts couldn't have brought us out after sundown?" he grumbled.

    Negative, Magnezone replied, fixing his central eye on the three Haunters. In the past, former inmates have used the cover of night to slip away and return to their criminal ways. We are no longer taking that risk.

    "Eee hee hee! Now, now, there's no need to worry about that," the last Haunter said, his black tongue flopping out of his mouth. "We're fully rehabilitated! No more sneaky thefts for us. Isn't that right, Chief?"

    The largest Haunter nodded, his eyes bouncing in his spectral sockets. "Of course. Of course. Kee hee hee!" Chief said. "We'll promise to be good, well-meaning ghosts from now on. After all, who'd want to end up back in Craggy Side Path Prison again, anyway? It reeked in there."

    "Yeah! And that's coming from guys without nostrils," Haunter said, waving a hand in front of his face. Chief had made it clear to him that he needed to be on his best behavior so they could head back into the world without drawing any suspicion from Officer Magnezone's team.

    You know the rules, Magnezone said, shoving Haunter forward. We escort you on this trail until we're one mile from Treasure Town. Provided you behave appropriately, you will be free to go.

    "We're well aware, Officer Magnezone," Black-Tongue said. "We'll leave it to your… uh… wonderful deputy to lead the way.

    Oh. Why… thank you for the complement, Magneton said, chuckling robotically.

    Haunter followed his teammates out of the cave, shaking his head. These idiot cops were so dense. If it wasn't for the explorers lending them a hand, they'd be completely ineffective. In fact, just hearing mention of Treasure Town dredged up unpleasant memories of their defeat and humiliation at the hands of that gods-awful Wigglytuff Guild. What kind of chumps couldn't take down a 'mon they had a type advantage over?

    He looked to his left, focusing on the waves rolling across the ocean. Haunter heard some smacking up against the cliffside path they were on. Sea spray occasionally drifted right by him. The mist felt great after the many months locked away inside a cave. Of course, he would never admit that to his teammates. Ghosts were supposed to like dark, dreary places. But that prison somehow sucked the life out of him.

    The group continued forward in silence. Haunter kept switching his gaze between the ground and the ocean. He was pretty sure his partners tried to get his attention a few times, but he ignored them, lost in his own thoughts.

    So, what's the game plan once we're free, Chief?

    Kee hee hee! Are you serious, dude? What do you think it is? We're gonna make a comeback, of course. "The Invincible Haunter" will strike again!

    Oh… uh… right. Yeah, how silly of me. Mwee hee… hee…

    Oy, what's the matter with you, Purple-Tongue? Where's your haunting spirit? I guarantee you we'll find some saps to scare with our routine and it'll be utterly hilarious!

    Haunter shook his head. Of course he wanted to scare people. That's what he lived for!

    'But does that really mean we have to go back to the same routine that got us put in here in the first place?' he wondered. It was around the time that the path turned inland and a small forest took the cliff's place that Haunter finally stopped mulling over that conversation and reached a conclusion.

    He didn't want to use his scaring prowess to harm other Pokémon anymore.

    Attention: we have reached the designated drop off area, Magneton announced, his limbs humming with vibrations. Ahead of them, the path sloped down. However, their vantage point at the top of the hill allowed them to see a beach, as well as several thatched buildings and tents. A large pink tent styled to look like a Wigglytuff stood on a second hill in the distance. There was no mistaking it. Treasure Town was right nearby. No doubt bustling with Pokémon going about their day to day lives.

    Both of Haunter's teammates frowned. "Well, as much fun as this little sightseeing moment is, I think we're going to have to bring it to an end," Chief said. He turned to Magnezone. "You said we'd be free to go once we reach this spot."

    Correct, Magnezone said.

    "Then, we'll be taking our leave," Chief said, grinning so widely his mouth outgrew his body.

    I expect you three to behave yourselves from now on, Magnezone said. The last thing any of us want is to place you all under arrest once again.

    "Yeah, yeah, message received," Chief said, waving Magnezone off. Haunter followed Chief down the path until the police force was safely out of view. Chief turned around, rubbing his hands together gleefully. "Kee hee hee! At long last, we're free!" he said. "You know what this means, right?"

    "We're going to find us some chow that doesn't taste like puke?" Black-Tongue said, contorting his body into a question mark.

    "What? No!" Chief said, slapping Black-Tongue hard enough to revert him back to normal. "It means it's time for us to start planning our big comeback."

    Haunter grimaced. Chief was ready to do that now? "Uh, can't we at least take a couple of weeks to enjoy our freedom? Get used to life outside again?" Haunter said.

    "Are you kidding me? What, do you just want to lay around in the shadows of a tree or something? That's not fun at all!" Chief said. "There are Pokémon out there waiting to be scared away from their belongings. The world is begging for the return of 'The Invincible Haunter.' Kee hee hee!"

    "But Chief, you don't really expect us to be able to go back to our old routine here, do you?" Haunter said. "The guild blabbed about our secret. The Glameow's outta the bag. We're just gonna end up back in jail."

    Chief turned to Haunter, frowning. "You can't be serious here. Of course I'm aware of that! Which is exactly why we're going to take our act on the road," he said, contorting into an arrow and pointing at the forest. "Time to leave the Grass Continent behind and head for greener pastures."

    "Eh? I thought the Grass Continent had the greenest fields across the world," Black-Tongue said.

    "Oh for the love of–" Chief smacked his forehead. "It's a figure of speech. I mean we need to move to a place where nobody knows who we are. Now, I was thinking either the Air Continent or the Mist Continent. I don't think either place has established guilds, so we should be able to settle there without any issues. Which one would you guys prefer?"

    "Mist Continent… duh!" Black-Tongue says. "If there's nothing but mist there, we'll be able to blend in so masterfully we'll make Dittos jealous." His body dissolved into a stream of mist that wrapped around a nearby branch. Black-Tongue's eyes appeared on the edge of the branch, looking down at his partners.

    "And what about you?" Chief asked Haunter.

    "Uh… well…" Haunter's voice trailed off and he rubbed the back of his head. He wanted more time to figure out what to say to his teammates, because he hoped he could convince them not to go back to lives of crime. "Here's the thing, Chief. I don't want to return to the Invincible Haunter schtick," Haunter said.

    Chief threw his head back, laughing heartily. Likewise, Black-Tongue fell out of his tree branch, laughing. "Kee hee hee! That's hilarious! Nice one, Purple-Tongue, but save the funny jokes for our would-be targets in the Mist Continent," Chief said.

    "It wasn't a joke," Haunter said, frowning. The smiles disappeared from his teammates' faces.

    "What are you saying? That you want to back out?" Chief said, narrowing his eyes.

    Haunter sighed. This was it. "Yeah," he said. "I've had enough of being a crook and I certainly don't want to risk getting tossed back into a jail cell."

    "You can't back out of this!" Chief said. "You're a ghost. If you're not spending your time scaring folks, then what else are you supposed to do, huh?"

    "I'm not saying I'm giving up scaring," Haunter said, shaking his head. "I'm just saying that… well… I don't think I have to be an outlaw to scare folks. And… um… you guys don't, either." Haunter knew that wasn't an eloquent attempt to appeal to his friends. Still, he hoped they'd at least hear him out.

    Chief and Black-Tongue looked at each other, then burst out laughing. Comically large tear streams shout out of Black-Tongue's eyes. "H… hey! What's so funny?" Haunter said, puffing up his cheeks.

    "You!" Black-Tongue said. "That's gotta be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

    "Yeah. You think 'mons want to be scared by ghosts like us? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous!" Chief scoffed, shoving Haunter lightly. "You've gotta be an outlaw if you want to scare someone… it's the only way you'll be taken seriously."

    "I don't believe that," Haunter said. "I think we can find a way to scare folks and help those who need it." His teammates continued laughing to the point where they sank into puddles of purple goo on the ground. "I'm being serious!" Haunter fumed. "Like, why can't we stalk outlaws and scare them into turning themselves in? If anyone deserves a scare… it's a crook!"

    "Pfbt! Yeah, sure, like that would really work," Chief said. "Look, if you want to go frolic with the goody-goody losers in Treasure Town, then go right ahead." He gestured down the trail. "We can find someone else to pick up the slack. You were always the weakest one out of us three, anyway."

    Haunter recoiled. There was no way that was true! They were on equal footing with each other. That's what made their trick work so well.

    "Yeah, I never said anything, but I always thought you were holding us back," Black-Tongue said.

    Haunter slumped over, eyes and mouth dropping to the ground. His friends had brushed his suggestion off without even giving it a fair shake. "So, you guys are just gonna leave?" he whispered.

    "Duh," Chief said. "I'll give you one last chance to join us. Or do you mean to tell me you really think you can fit in in a place like Treasure Town?"

    "I can fit in," Haunter said, picking his eyes and mouth up. "Heck, I can do better than that. I'm going to be an explorer! I'll use tricks and pranks to solve other Pokémon's problems… and prove you two wrong."

    "Oh, brother," Black-Tongue said, rolling his eyes.

    "Yeah, tell me about it. Gag," Chief said, tongue falling out of his mouth. "Black-Tongue and I are leaving. Keep your ears open, because it won't be long before you start hearing about the return of the Invincible Haunter! Kee hee hee!"

    "Eee hee hee!" Black-Tongue added. He and Chief then melted into the ground, disappearing from Haunter's view. Haunter continued to float there for a few minutes, then dropped to the ground, sighing.

    What was he supposed to do now? He had no money, no resources, and no one to turn to. The obvious choice was to go to Wigglytuff's Guild, but he doubted he would get a warm welcome there after the trouble he caused. As much as he didn't want to admit it, his now-former teammates were right.

    If he wanted a fresh start, he would need to move.

    Haunter dissolved into a cloud of mist and snaked through the shadows of the trees flanking the trail. All the while, he considered his options. There were other towns in the Grass Continent he could go to, but none of them held a candle to Treasure Town. As far as he knew, it was the hub for explorers. Sure, the Air Continent to the north had some rescue teams, but they were all self-contained and kept to themselves. His best shot was with an established organization.

    'But all that leaves me with is Wigglytuff's Guild,' Haunter concluded.

    He continued drifting aimlessly through the forest, mulling over his apparent lack of options. Haunter was so lost in thought, it took the burning rays of the sun to make him release he'd left the safety of the forest and found himself in Treasure Town's beach. He ducked into the shadows of a rock to avoid detection.

    It was from that hiding spot that Haunter heard voices. Close examination revealed a familiar Sunflora and Loudred standing with a small group. It was Wigglytuff's Guild! Haunter creeped along the shadows, eavesdropping on the group as they conversed with two Pokémon he had never seen before: Incineroar and Lucario. As he listened in, he learned they were from a continent he had never even heard of. Better yet, Incineroar ran a guild of his own. Haunter briefly wondered if fortune had actually smiled upon him.

    Throwing caution – and his pride – into the wind, Haunter went up to the group and proceeded to beg Incineroar to take him back to Horizon. He employed every trick in his arsenal, from large pouty eyes to giant tear streams. Haunter won Incineroar over, despite his mate's suspicions. She tried to tell him Lapras wouldn't have any room and they didn't have the supplies for an extra passenger. Haunter waved it all off. He was a ghost and, as such, could go several days without eating. Haunter also offered to coil himself around a spoke on Lapras' shell to make sure he wasn't taking up any room.

    Lucario eventually acquiesced. Just like that, Haunter had a plan. Sure, he had no idea what an entrance exam was supposed to entail, but Incineroar seemed confident in him. What could possibly go wrong?

    XxX

    ~Dewdrop Woods~

    "Augh!"

    Haunter struck a tree, ending up as nothing more than a purple splat on its bark. His eyes and mouth tumbled to the ground, followed by the rest of his body. How could this have happened? The test sounded so easy! He had to get a looplet back from this forest. But then he got jumped by an angry Leafeon and everything went south. How could he have lost? He resisted her strongest attacks!

    "Well, I think that settles that," Leafeon said, walking toward Haunter. "The treasure is mine."

    "But I need… nrrrrgh," Haunter groaned, unable to pick himself up off the ground. He didn't even have the strength to phase into the dirt.

    "You're not getting it," Leafeon said. She walked past Haunter and disappeared behind a large tree root. She popped back up seconds later wearing a sunny-yellow vest with a platinum guild badge on it. "The fact is that this was all part of your test. And… you failed," she said. "I'm not exactly in the prime of my youth, but you couldn't even land a single blow."

    Haunter looked up. Sure enough, the tips of Leafeon's ears and tail were yellow instead of green. A clear sign Leafeon was entering her later years. "You're kidding," he whispered. "P… please! You've gotta give me another chance. I'll… uh… I'll do better next time, I swear. I'm still tired from the trip, that's all."

    Leafeon produced an oran berry from her satchel and rolled it over to Haunter. "It's not my place to say whether you can have another chance. I'm afraid that's up to the Guildmaster," she said, pulling out an Escape Orb. "Now, eat up, so I can take you back to Aeon Town."

    To Haunter, the berry might has well have been rotten. It was a sad consolation prize for failing to meet his goal. It looked like he had traveled halfway across the world for nothing. As soon as he was back in Aeon Town he'd be back to square one. No, it was even worse. He'd be at square zero.

    "Look, the sun's setting. Either you can come with me or not," Leafeon said, flicking her tail. "You wouldn't be the first 'mon to go wild after failing our exam."

    Haunter ate the berry whole and floated dejectedly beside Leafeon. Together, they warped back to Dewdrop Woods' entrance. Haunter marveled at the wall of impossibly tall trees, with just a small black gap in the middle marking the way into the dungeon.

    "Well, this is where we part ways," Leafeon said. "You're welcome to drop by the Observatory any time to see if you can try again." She walked off, leaving Haunter floating by the trees.

    He thought this was all rather harsh. Failure meant getting left alone in some place he didn't know? Though, it stood to reason that the only folks who had failed this test before him were Horizon natives.

    Haunter was prepared to sink into the ground and wallow in his misery when he spotted two bubbling puddles of purple ectoplasm in front of him. "Eh? Look… if you've come to spread the good word about Giratina or some nonsense like that, I ain't interested," he said, flicking a hand dismissively at the puddles.

    "Oh, golly, we're not here for that!"

    A Misdreavus with hot-pink tips at the ends of her ghostly hair popped out of one puddle. The other puddle produced a Drifloon. "Yeah, we're here because we were looking for you," Drifloon said.

    "Me?" Haunter said, pointing at his face. Were Haunters a rare sight in Horizon?

    "Hoo-whee, you got it," Misdreavus said, nodding vigorously. "We were just hanging around in the alleys in Aeon Town and heard Leafeon and Incineroar coming by, yup yup. When we saw you with them, we both waited around to see what would happen. A half-hour later, we saw you floating off to Dewdrop Woods, so we figured you were trying to join the guild." Her expression deflated. "It looks like you didn't do so hot on the entrance exam, huh?"

    Haunter blinked. They knew about the guild's entrance exam? Were they gossipers? Did this mean he was going to be a laughing stock in Aeon Town?

    "W-Wait a second," Haunter said, panic spreading across his face. "It's not my fault! I came from overseas, so I was just tired, that's all. With a little rest… I'll be ready to tackle the test and emerge victorious!"

    "Golly! You're quite determined," Misdreavus gasped, hair shooting up. "Shucks, I wasn't trying to insult you or anything."

    "Yeah, we came out to offer some support," Drifloon said, extending a string toward Haunter. "As fellow ghost-types who failed the guild's entrance exam, we're here for you." Drifloon looked around the area. "Actually, why don't we buy you something from the café in town. You sure look like you could use a pick-me-up."

    Haunter blinked in surprised. He wasn't expecting the first ghosts he met in Horizon to be this friendly. Was it a trick of some sort? Haunter looked them over, but didn't see anything malicious in their eyes.

    "I think that sounds pretty good," Haunter said and followed them down the trail.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Town~

    Difloon and Misdreavus emerged with what they called a berry sorbet. Haunter thought it looked like colored ice, but a single spoonful assaulted his tongue with a mixture of sweet berries. He dropped his spoon into the bowl in sheer surprise.

    "I think he likes it," Misdreavus said with a giggle.

    "I'll say," Drifloon said as Haunter eagerly downed the rest of the treat. "I don't think I've ever seen a ghost tear through food that quickly. Maybe we should've gotten him a malasada instead?"

    "Heh, you're right. That was a good pick-me-up," Haunter said, spoon sticking out of his mouth like an oversized toothpick. "Err… I don't have any money right now, but if you give me time–"

    "Golly, you don't have to pay us back," Misdreavus said. "Like we said, we were looking for you. Consider it an introductory gift, of sorts."

    Haunter wasn't about to question the good fortune. Instead, he lazily drifted down into the grass and rested up against a tree. Drifloon and Misdreavus did the same, the latter lying on a tree root.

    "So, you both want to join the guild, too?" Haunter said, tracing the spoon through the dirt. They nodded in unison. "Does that mean you guys joined together?"

    "Nope. We only met a few weeks ago," Drifloon said.

    That surprised Haunter, given how chummy they acted. "Right," he said, trying to think of something else to ask to avoid making things awkward. "Um, are there a lot of ghosts in Horizon?"

    "If you know where to look, there can be," Drifloon said. "Most of us prefer to be active wherever it's dark. And, well…" His voice trailed off and he hovered into the air. Haunter looked in Drifloon's direction and saw a dim glow surrounding many of Aeon Town's buildings. "Most of the communities in Horizon aren't what you would call 'ghost-friendly,' so we tend to stick to the wild… or even the Mystery Dungeons."

    Drifloon's revelation made Haunter accidentally toss the spoon behind him in surprise. It banked of a tree and fell into the bushes. "Wait, hold on. You guys live in Mystery Dungeons? How is that possible?" Haunter said, sticking his tongue out to scratch his head.

    "Oh, golly, we're sorry," Misdreavus said. "We assumed you already knew how Mystery Dungeons work here in Horizon."

    "Uh, not quite," Haunter said. "Think you can give me a quick rundown?"

    "Of course," Misdreavus said. "See, the dungeons here are landscapes. Occasionally, our continents' guardians, the Tapus, reshape the terrain. It's safe for wild 'mons to live in them as long as they take shelter when the Tapus tell them to." Haunter didn't respond, so Misdreavus covered her mouth with a tendril of spectral hair. "Err… that wasn't too much for you to take in, was it?"

    "No… I think I get it," Haunter said. "So, you two both lived in the wild, then?"

    "Actually, I'm from Dewdrop Woods, yup yup," Misdreavus said. "That's the dungeon you did the exam in."

    "And I used to live in Aurora Vale. It's a pretty dungeon. There's always an aurora in the sky," Drifloon said, lazily floating hire until he phased through a tree branch.

    Haunter found their answers strange. Why would a couple of Pokémon who had lived in Mystery Dungeons suddenly decide to join a guild? How did they even find out about it? Haunter tried to think of the best way to phrase his questions without sound rude, but eventually decided to take the blunt route.

    "Why would a couple of wild 'mons want to be explorers?" he asked as Drifloon poked his body out of the tree branch.

    "Golly, I bet you'll think this sounds dumb, but I wanted to meet other people," Misdreavus said, her hair tendrils knotting up. "When I woke up, I was alone in Dewdrop Woods. I drifted around aimlessly for such a long time. It was dreadfully boring. So, the first time I saw other 'mons, I was so excited! I flew up to them, eager to talk, but…" She melted part way into the tree root. "They got scared when they saw me… and ran away."

    Misdreavus sighed loudly. "And that's pretty much how it went for a long time… until I managed to find the entrance to Dewdrop Woods," she said. "I was curious, so I went through it and soon found myself in Aeon Town. That's when I heard about the guild from listening in on Incineroar. I didn't exactly understand what being an explorer meant… but it sounded like a perfect way to meet people."

    Haunter wasn't sure how to respond. When he woke up in his shadowy body, he found Chief and Black-Tongue within days. He hadn't even considered the possibility that there were lonely ghosts out there. Luckily for Haunter, Drifloon took the silence as his cue to speak up.

    "For my part, I was just looking for a change in my routine," Drifloon said. "Something different, y'know?"

    Haunter did know, but thought it polite to interrupt, so he nodded.

    "Aurora Vale's a nice place. There were all these Miniors floating about that I could interact with whenever I wanted," Drifloon said. "But, well, they weren't much for conversation, so it was hardly interesting." He twisted his strings around. "The most interesting things that happened were when explorers from the guild came into the dungeon on missions. I'd follow them around… pretending I was part of their group. But I was always too afraid of actually saying anything to them."

    "One time, Leafeon showed up," Drifloon said. "She was… well, she's really pretty. I couldn't help but try saying something to her. She seemed a bit annoyed that I snuck up on her, but she was willing to talk with me about the guild. Eventually, she agreed to take me out of the dungeon so I could try and join."

    "Interesting," Haunter said. Their motives weren't exactly the same as his, but the idea of wanting something different out of life certainly resonated him. "To be honest, I understand where you guys are coming from," he said, then lapsed into an explanation of what brought him to Horizon in the first place.

    "Golly! That's quite the tale," Misdreavus said when Haunter was finished. "It's a bit unnerving to hear I'm talking with a guy who used to be a criminal, but I'm glad you changed your mind. It's good knowing there are other ghosts out there who aren't looking to be so mean, yup yup."

    "Yeah! And those two teammates of yours sound positively rotten," Drifloon said, blowing a few leaves away with a gust of wind. "Don't you worry. I'm sure you'll get into the guild and prove them wrong."

    "Well, what about you guys?" Haunter said. "You took the exam too, right?"

    "We sure did, yup yup! Failed spectacularly, too," Misdreavus said, her enthusiasm betraying the glum look on her face. "I couldn't even last thirty seconds against Leafeon."

    "I didn't do much better. Only managed to nick her rear with one attack. And that was the one part of her I didn't want to hit," Drifloon said, sighing. "I had type-advantage on my side and it didn't do a thing."

    Ignoring the strange part about Leafeon, Haunter blinked in surprise. He didn't feel all that bad about failing to get a hit in, anymore. Instead, another thought came to mind. "Wait, so all three of us failed the exam against Leafeon?" he said. Haunter received nods in response. "Huh. Has anyone else tried to join the guild and succeeded?"

    "Yeah. There was a Brionne who passed about a month ago… and an Eevee passed just last week," Drifloon said. "Neither of them looked like they had that tough of a time."

    "What? Are you kidding me?" Haunter said, eyes bugging out of his head. "Of course Leafeon's gonna let an Eevee join." He didn't know what a Brionne was, but he imagined it wasn't a ghost-type. Haunter pondered things for a minute, before sighing. "I think I might have an idea what's wrong."

    "Oh?" Drifloon said.

    "Well… it's just, we are ghosts," Haunter said. "When it comes to battling, we're pretty fail. If we can't get solid hits in our foes… we don't tend to do very well."

    He hated admitting it, but it was true. When he was the Invincible Haunter, he never needed to win, because his team's trick would suck the fighting spirit out of anyone who he battled. Haunter imagined that, from what Difloon and Misdreavus told him, they didn't have any real battling experience to speak of. No wonder they all got swept aside by Leafeon!

    Haunter rubbed his chin. Maybe he had gone about this the wrong way. After all, the reason he was successful as an outlaw was because he had backup. Likewise, Sunflora was able to arrest him and his teammates because Loudred stepped in to help her when she needed it most. Perhaps, if he was to make his dream a reality, he needed new friends for this new continent.

    "So, are you two still interested in joining the guild at all?" Haunter asked.

    "Hoo-whee, I sure am," Misdreavus said.

    "You betcha," Drifloon said. "It's just… how am I supposed to get past Leafeon, huh? Misdreavus and I met up after I blew it on the exam a couple of weeks back. We've been trying to practice our attacks with each other, but I don't think it's helped all that much."

    "Well, what if we all tried to join together?" Haunter proposed. "Y'know… be a team."

    "An exploration team?" Misdreavus said.

    "A spooky exploration team," Haunter said, beaming. "Think about it. I may not know everything about the exploring business, but one thing I know pretty well is that most 'mons don't want to go out at night. Well, what if someone needs help around that time? Who better than a team of ghosts to do the job?"

    Misdreavus and Drifloon looked at each other in a way that suggested the thought had never crossed their minds. "That's a good idea, yup yup," Misdreavus said.

    "Totally. With the three of us working together, I'll bet we can take out Leafeon for sure," Drifloon said, raising a string into the air.

    "So, you're with me?" Haunter said. The other ghosts nodded. "Mwee hee hee! Excellent! Come tomorrow… Leafeon won't know what hit her!"

    XxX

    ~Dewdrop Woods~

    A metal tail hammered Haunter into his teammates, turning them into a giant purple puddle with their three grimaced faces mixed up among one another.

    "O… oogh. No… not again," Haunter groaned.

    "We blew it, didn't we?" Drifloon said.

    "Yup yup," Misdreavus whispered.

    "Well… that was… something," Leafeon said, shaking her head. "Did you three even try to come up with a plan or did you just blindly charge into battle hoping the extra numbers would make all the difference?"

    Haunter and his teammates struggled to pull themselves apart. They each exchanged eyes until they knew they had the right ones and fixed them back on their bodies.

    "Uh… well… let's say, for the sake of argument, that I picked the second option," Haunter said, blowing on his right eye and rubbing out the dirt. "What would happen?"

    "I'd give you my 'I'm not mad, just disappointed,' look," Leafeon said.

    Haunter stuck his right eye back in its socket. "And that's bad because…"

    "It's broken more than a few hearts at the guild," Leafeon said. She frowned, jutted out her lower lip, and shook her head disapprovingly.

    "Oh gods, you're right! It's awful! Awful! I'm sorry!" Haunter said, cupping his hands over his face and writhing on the ground. "Just put it away, please!"

    Leafeon resumed her stoic expression and dug three oran berries from her bag. "Well, I suppose you could always try again. I'm not sure what the Guildmaster sees in you three that he's willing to keep giving you chances, but I do appreciate the exercise. It can get so stuffy in the Observatory," she said, rolling the berries toward the ghosts.

    They ate their consolation prizes in silence, and then Leafeon warped them out of the dungeon and back to Aeon Town. She left them behind without another word. "Golly, so what are we supposed to do now, huh?" Misdreavus said. "That went about as badly as it could've gone."

    "Yeah. Even in a three-on-one, we couldn't do anything," Drifloon said, tearing up slightly. "I guess this just wasn't in the cards for us."

    Haunter frowned. For the second time, he and two teammates were beaten by a surprisingly-strong grass-type. And Leafeon didn't even have any backup. He was glad his ex-teammates weren't around. They'd never let him live this down. Still, Haunter didn't want to give up. There had to be something they could do to get the upper hand on Leafeon.

    "Wait, that's it!" Haunter shouted, his teammates backing away in surprise.

    "Hoo-whee, sounds like you've got yourself an idea," Misdreavus said. "What is it?"

    "We went about it the wrong way," Haunter said, slamming a fist into an open palm. "We can't just bum rush Leafeon and hope for the best. We're ghosts, dang it! Sure, we're not the toughest fighters around… but who said anything about having to fight?"

    "Uh, it's part of the requirement for the test," Drifloon said.

    "No. The requirement is we have to get the treasure back from the 'unruly character' that took it," Haunter said. "I say, we stop trying to think like your average exploration team… and start thinking like folks who stick to the shadows!"

    "Golly, what are you saying, Haunter?" Misdreavus asked.

    Haunter beckoned them to follow him into the shade of a nearby tree. "I'm saying… that we should try to make off with the treasure. Y'know… swipe it out from under Leafeon's nose," Haunter said.

    "Can we do that?" Drifloon wondered.

    "Well, we can certainly try," Haunter said. "We found that totter seed in the woods today, right?"

    "Got it right here, yup yup!" Misdreavus said, holding up the seed in a tendril.

    "Hang on… are we allowed to use items?" Drifloon said. "I don't want to get disqualified or anything."

    "Incineroar didn't say we couldn't use items," Haunter said. "That totter seed could be a good way to disorient Leafeon, so we can make off with the treasure."

    "Err, not to say I don't like the idea or anything, but wouldn't it be kinda hard to find the entrance to the dungeon again?" Drifloon said. "Especially if Leafeon gives chase."

    "Well, we do get a map," Misdreavus said, pulling the scroll out of her hair with another tendril.

    "And that's assuming we don't automatically win by 'snagging' the treasure," Haunter said. "It's at least worth a shot, isn't it?"

    "I'd say so. I'd rather not get thumped by Leafeon's Iron Tail… even if it is a wonderful view," Drifloon said, twisting his strings around.

    "Maybe we should try to strategize, then?" Misdreavus said. "We can figure out a way to try and draw Leafeon away from the treasure box."

    "That's a good idea," Haunter said. "Let's do some brainstorming, team."

    Their strategy session wound up lasting well past sunset. The result being a three-tiered approach. Haunter planned to try and grab Leafeon's attention with loudmouth antics. If that failed, Drifloon would use his Ominous Wind– not to attack Leafeon, but to darken the area and hopefully restrict her visibility. Misdreavus would try and use Mean Look to freeze Leafeon in place. If those all failed, they had the totter seed at the ready.

    They emerged from the forest, looking to practice their routine in an open clearing, when a loud shout rang out.

    "Stop, thief!"

    The ghosts exchanged panicked looks and ducked inside of a nearby tree. There, they spotted two blurry shadows running along the trail. A sword-shaped leaf emerged from the farther of the two shadows, but failed to connect with the closer one. The first shadow drew closer.

    "Is that red berry… walking?" Haunter whispered.

    "Berry? Golly, no, that's a Pokémon," Misdreavus said.

    "Yeah… and I recognize her, too. It's Tsareena! She was on one of the boards in the Observatory," Drifloon said.

    "And look… that's Leafeon chasing after her," Misdreavus gasped.

    Tsareena bounced skyward, shrouded in blue energy. Leafeon's grassy blade missed by a mile. Tsareena slammed Leafeon from above. Her pained cries reached the ghosts' ears.

    "S… stop this," Leafeon said. "I… I won't…"

    "Hmph. It's past your bed time, granny," Tsareena said, driving a foot into Leafeon's skull. Leafeon went still. Tsareena stepped off her back, smirking. She tore Leafeon's vest and satchel off. "Hmm… this fabric's pretty decent," she said, running a hand across it. "And this badge should help keep the cops off my back." Tsareena shook Leafeon's bag. "Doesn't look like there's much in here, but at least it can carry my prize."

    The ghosts caught sight of a jingling sack as Tsareena placed it in Leafeon's bag. "Nighty night, granny," Tsareena said, patting Leafeon tauntingly on her bruised head. She slung the satchel over her shoulder and took off down the path in a brisk jog.

    Haunter popped out of the tree and looked at his teammates. "We've gotta go after her," he said.

    "Are you crazy? She beat Leafeon," Drifloon said. "We've got to go get some help."

    "Who are we gonna be able to find at this hour?" Haunter said, contorting into a giant hand to point up at the full moon. "Anyone who's awake isn't going to want to chase down an outlaw in the dead of night. And that's assuming we can get the guild to believe us."

    Truthfully, he didn't want to go after Tsareena, either. She seemed much more malicious than either of his ex-teammates. A real hardened criminal, by the looks of it. But he couldn't just let her get away. Tsareena had made off with Leafeon's stuff. Not to mention all the money she had taken. Besides, wasn't this what he had come to Horizon to do? To try and stop Pokémon like Tsareena?

    "We don't have to fight her," Haunter said. "Our plan… we'll have to make a few modifications on the fly… but we'll use it on her."

    "G-Golly… I don't know," Misdreavus squeaked.

    "C'mon, guys," Haunter said. "Look, I'm scared about this, too. But we have to try. It's the right thing to do, isn't it?"

    Drifloon and Misdreavus exchanged looks. After a few seconds, they both nodded. "Okay, we're with you," Drifloon said. "What's the plan?"

    Haunter explained things to them as they floated after Tsareena. As luck would have it, they didn't have to go terribly far. Tsareena had veered off the path into one of the small patches of forestland opposite Dewdrop Woods. She sat behind a tree, counting the coins she had managed to snag.

    "Alright, gang, it's showtime," Haunter said. He pointed his teammates twoard two tree roots extending in Tsareena's direction. Then, he worked his way up into the tree trunk opposite Tsareena so he was staring her down.

    "Tsareena! I saw what you did, you vile, sinful crook!" Haunter bellowed, deepening his voice and using the tree's trunk to make it reverberate.

    Tsareena stiffened. She bolted to her feet, jamming the coins inside Leafeon's satchel. "Who said that? Show yourself!" Tsareena barked, crouching low to the ground. "Did that pathetic explorer call for backup?"

    "Backup? Ha! You wish I was merely backup. The fact is that I'm right in front of you!" Haunter said. He glanced in Drifloon's direction, hoping his teammate was keyed into the plan. Sure enough, thick black fog drifted up from the ground around Tsareena. The Ominous Wind didn't hit her, but it darkened the area to the point where Tsareena could only see Haunter's tree.

    "Oh, I see. A Trevenant, huh?" Tsareena said. "Well, I don't care about some stupid ghost who wishes he was a tree. Stand aside or I'll make you move." To emphasize this, black shadows enveloped her legs.

    Haunter tensed. That was dark energy. She had a dark-type attack? If she connected, he would be knocked out in one blow, for sure. Haunter shook his head. He couldn't back down, now. Haunter had to amp up the routine.

    "Foolish mortal! I am not a Trevenant. I am the Forest Spirit!" Haunter declared. "And I have come to make you pay for your crimes!"

    "Forest Spirit? You've gotta be kidding me," Tsareena said, laughing. "Nice try, Trevenant, but you're not fooling me. Prepare yours– augh!"

    Tsareena faceplanted into the ground. Misdreavus had used one of her tendrils to wrap Tsareena up. She stuck her head out of the ground, focusing her glowing eyes on Tsareena. A red aura encased Tsareena. When she tried to stand up, she found herself rooted to the ground.

    "Wh… what the heck? I'm stuck!" she hissed.

    "How cute. You were trying to put on a brave face. But I won't have it!" Haunter said, a deep laugh rumbling in his throat. "Tapu Bulu… he heard the pleas of the Pokémon you attacked! And with his powers… he created me to see to it you are punished for each and every nasty deed you've done. Hoo hoo ha ha ha!"

    Haunter shook inside the tree. This translated to the trees' branches rustling, scattering leaves all around Tsareena. She tried to stand up, but the red aura intensified, rooting her to the ground. Misdreavus popped up beside her and smacked her with the totter seed. Tsareena's eyes widened. All around her, the black shadows of Drifloon's attack morphed into faces staring back her.

    "N… no… what's… going on?" she wheezed. In front of her, strange colors swirled around Haunter's tree.

    "What's going on is the beginning of the end for you, Tsareena," Haunter said. "You see, just as you have taken from many Pokémon, so shall I take from you. I'm going to take your soul! I'll rip it out of your body and devour it right before your eyes! Then… I'll eat your empty husk. Hoo hoo ha ha ha!"

    "That's… impossible," Tsareena said. One of Misdreavus' hair tendrils wrapped her left leg. To Tsareena, however, it looked like a thorny vine had wrapped her up instead. In fact, numerous thorny vines were surrounding her. "L… let go of me! You can't kill me!" she hollered, legs twitching unresponsively.

    "Hoo hoo ha ha! It's no use… you can't escape me! I'm going to savor the delicious taste of your flesh in my gullet," Haunter said.

    "T-tree… can't… eat," Tsareena said. Her vision was filled with strobing lights and swirling colors, turning the static brown tree trunk into a hideous blob that pulsated and writhed about. She struggled against Misdreavus as more tendrils wrapped around her. The shadows grew, looking as if they would swallow Tsareena up.

    This was it. Time for Haunter's big moment. He sucked in a breath and spread his shadowy body as far down the trunk as he could manage.

    "Oh, I can't eat, can I? Tell me then, Tsareena, what do you make… of this?!"

    Giant, glowing red eyes and a red mouth filled with jagged teeth appeared in the middle of the blob monster. Tsareena's eyes slowly widened. Her jaw trembled against Misdreavus' hair.

    "Surprise! Mwee hee hee hee!"

    Tsareena shrieked so loudly she scared Pikipeks out of their roosting spots several yards away. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed on her side, body racked by shudders.

    Their plan had worked. They had taken down an outlaw

    "We did it! Mwee hee hee hee!" Haunter cackled, flying out of the tree and circling around.

    "Wow, she's really out cold," Drifloon said, floating

    "Golly, Haunter, I had my doubts, but we actually pulled through," Misdreavus said. "I… I feel kind of bubbly inside knowing we stopped a crook!"

    "Yeah!" Drifloon said. "But… uh… what are we supposed to do with her, now?"

    Haunter floated over with Leafeon's satchel. "There are some healing items in here," he said. "Drifloon, think you can take this bag back to Leafeon and tell her what happened? Me and Misdreavus should stay here to make sure Tsareena stays immobilized."

    "You got it," Drifloon said, taking the bag in his strings and floating out of the forest.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    The ghosts watched as Magnezone and his deputy took Tsareena down the hill leading away from the guild's headquarters. All of them had been silent throughout the entire exchange between Magnezeone, Incineroar, and Leafeon, perhaps it was still disbelief that they had actually been successful. Haunter couldn't help but feel it was beginner's luck, yet he didn't question it.

    Sure, his naysaying ex-teammates weren't around to see this, but he had succeeded. Or, rather, he and his new teammates had succeeded. They had scared an outlaw into submission. Not some innocent Pokémon, but one they had seen hurt someone and steal their stuff. And Haunter agreed with Misdreavus. It felt great.

    Incineroar turned to the ghosts, clearing his throat. "I've got to say, I'm impressed. I mean, that was a bit reckless of you three. You could've come here to get help," he said, scratching his chin.

    "Err… we were worried that no one was going to listen to us," Haunter said.

    "We're sorry if we acted irresponsibly, sir," Misdreavus said.

    "Don't worry about it," Incineroar said, smiling. "All of us at the guild have had our fair share of reckless moments. You'll fit right in here."

    "Wait… does that mean what I think it means?" Haunter said.

    "It does," Leafeon said. "I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about you three, but it looks like your hearts are in the right places. Even if your methods are a bit… unorthodox."

    "Yeah. I don't think we've had a ghost in our ranks during our time here," Incineroar said, chuckling.

    "Guess that means we'll have to keep a close eye on them," Leafeon said. All three ghosts looked hurt at that statement. "Oh, relax. As long as you three follow the rules, there won't be any problems. Besides, you did help me out in a pinch. At the very least, that gets you all a freebie in my books."

    "Careful, Leafeon. I'll never hear the end of it from Prisma if I let these guys run wild in the Observatory," Incineroar said. Leafeon nodded, then walked back into the Observatory.

    "So, I can get you guys your badges inside," Incineroar said. "Any ideas on a team name?"

    "Should we go with your idea, Misdreavus?" Haunter said, looking at his teammate.

    "Golly, that'd make me so happy," she said.

    "Mwee hee hee! Then it's settled," Haunter said, nodding. "From here on out… we're Team Specter. Just because we're caring…"

    "… doesn't mean we won't stop scaring!" Drifloon and Misdreavus added. Together, the new team followed Incineroar into the guild.

    Happy Halloween, from your friends on the Horizon Continent!
     
  10. kintsugi

    kintsugi they call me Clark Kint

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    hi again!
    classic me, I have classically fallen behind on the newest chapters, but I heard from a little bird you literally posted it in Discord that I can read this Halloween special without spoiling myself, so I wanted to drop in! And also, hey, it feels a lot more fair to review your most recent writing compared to chapters that you wrote years ago.

    Heh. Still loving your dialogue.

    And hey! I just realized that this chapter finally answers the question Shane was asking way early in the fic -- if there's a criminal and they all have the same name, what do we do when they're all named Sneasel Haunter? Apparently nothing, lol. Love it.

    I had a lot of lines written about how it would be nice to see the conversation with Incineroar play out, but upon re-reading, I don't think you needed to -- the chapter pacing is already pretty packed as it is. I do think it's weird to summarize the conversation to the extent that you did (because at that point you may as well just write it out in full), but that's a small qualm.
    Classic.

    Quick line-by-line reactions:
    On the one hand, I really like the mental image that this description conjures. On the other hand, why is he corporeal here?

    impolite, I think, because he doesn't interrupt here

    they are, because they keep failing, but I think you meant "frail"

    I realized later that Tsareena didn't just flat-up murder Leafeon here, but I think the combination of "into" and "skull" made me think otherwise at first
    This was a really cute standalone chapter -- almost too light-hearted and optimistic for your standard fare given that it's about a bunch of characters learning from their mistakes and iteratively approaching problems while remembering the last time they tried a problem and the old approach didn't work. The moral ends up being wholesome and uplifting, and works really well for a self-contained work.

    I also really liked the battle here! Maybe part of it is how it isn't a "traditional" battle in the sense that it's two parties trading blows, and part of it is probably how the stakes never felt as incredibly high as some of your other ones did (Shane vs Tessa and Squad vs Buzzswole come to mind), and part of it is probably that this is much more recent writing of yours, but the flow here was really natural and smooth.

    Overall, not much else to say. I love these little glimpses into your side characters and watching them come into their own. Happy Halloween!
     
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  11. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 YARE-YARE Deputy Head Administrator

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    Understandable that you're busy, Amby! I hope things look up for you soon. Here's some comments...

    CHAPTER 4

    It's interesting in this chapter how Shane and Tessa not fighting... actually is exacerbating how easily Tessa gets discouraged and scared. I almost forgot that was a trait of hers, tbh, not because it didn't show up for a while, but just because there was always a lot of anger and aggression at the forefront. I'm glad to see a lot of the nuances in the characters alternate like this.

    I'm unsure why Shane and Tessa's scarves matter, too? Maybe I missed something. But my best guess is that because the scarf was gifted to Tessa by her parents, perhaps it has something to do with Prisma.

    The battle scene was nice! I like how they figured out how to win because of Shane's impulsivity, lol. See, it can be good for something! And Espeon/Umbreon being able to maneuver the battlefield so easily through the Entercards was fun to read, even if it was frustrating for Team Radiance there. :p

    Loved this line, haha. I kinda wonder if Espeon just flirts with Shane because he reacts so easily. I bet if he didn't blush or seem flustered at all, she wouldn't bother. Even Umbreon mentions it's an act, so. But who knows. xD

    Ughhh, I know Tessa didn't have a chance to consider the implications of Espeon's words in the heat of battle, but I wonder if she'd make the connection and how she'd react to it... She's only just getting back on her feet, after all.

    HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

    This was cute! I loved getting to see Team Specter in a new light like this. Haunter in particular leaving the "criminal" life to pursue a better life for himself was nice. I also think I got to see more of Misdreavus's speaking style here, and I liked it a lot. It's pretty fitting for a ghost. Finally, the little bits of detail weaved in there, like how ghost-types had never been part of the guild before, were a treat to read.

    Best line of the special, hands down. :p
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    Sorry @kintsugi, @diamondpearl876, I'll get to your reviews when I'm not completely swamped. ;~;

    This chapter was originally posted on February 10th, 2018.

    XxX​

    Chapter 5: Zero Sum Gain

    ~Lively Town~

    "Hurry up, Meganium. We don't want to keep everyone waiting!"

    Delphox looked over his shoulder, checking to make sure his partner followed. Meganium lagged behind, constantly glancing at her side as if her satchel would magically vanish if she stopped looking at it. She regretted taking seconds at breakfast. Her stomach was badly cramping. Meganium sighed in relief upon seeing the Expedition Society's large, yellow-brick headquarters. Delphox held the metal door open to let her walk through.

    "We're here, everyone. What's the situation?" Delphox said. Meganium looked around at the assembled array of Pokémon, including a handful of the folks she and Delphox had recruited to Team Gaia. Archeops, who had been pacing back and forth, stopped and acknowledged them with a nod.

    "Err, we'd love to get started," he said, rubbing the back of his head with a wing. "But, y'see…"

    "Ampharos isn't here yet, as you can plainly see. Yo, Mawile, what's the deal?"

    Mawile turned to her right. "I can't say, Floatzel. I didn't even know he'd stepped out."

    "Sorry I'm late, everyone!"

    A jovial voice carried through the room. Meganium and Delphox stepped aside to allow Ampharos to pass. "You're not going to believe this. I walked into Rockin' Lock by mistake. That took me by surprise. Aha ha ha!"

    Half the Pokémon in the room fell to the floor in disbelief.

    "Well, you're here now. That's all that matters. Let's get started, shall we?" Mawile said. "Ninetales, thank you very much for agreeing to show up in person."

    Meganium fixed her widened eyes on the unexpected visitor. Normally, Ninetales turned to Pokémon Square if she needed help. What did she want with them?

    "I wish I was here with better news," Ninetales began. "But I'm afraid a very concerning situation has popped up. The other day, Xatu brought me to the Hill of the Ancients and imparted a vision. One that I can't quite wrap my head around, but that's had me up tossing and turning the last few nights."

    A yawn drew the groups attention to a wooden table, where Jirachi sat propped up against some books. "Are you sure you're not just tossing and turning cause of the moon?" Jirachi said, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "By my estimates, it's size has swollen by forty percent in the last two weeks alone. And it's shining with fifty-five percent brighter intensity."

    "And just where are you pulling those estimates from, huh?" Floatzel harrumphed. "You certainly haven't had any problems sleeping since the moon started getting all big and stuff."

    "I pulled them from my brilliant mind, of course," Jirachi said, proudly puffing out his chest. Sweat drops ran down the back of Floatzel's head.

    "Um, guys? Could we save that discussion for another time?" Latias said, floating between them. "We have a guest."

    Floatzel rolled his eyes and turned away from Jirachi with an annoyed grumble. "Thanks, Latias," Ninetales said. "I understand the situation with the moon is odd. But this is something different. Here, let me pass on what Xatu told me." She took a deep breath in, cleared her throat, and began to recite the vision Xatu had given her.

    "A faller rises.
    And a Lightless Black blots out the sun.
    Wings of dawn blanket the horizon,
    The Devourer of Light will have his fun.
    Zero will strike. Legendries will fall.
    And Mystery Dungeons shall number none."

    The assembled explorers exchanged confused looks. "You said that this is from Xatu?" Bunnelby asked with a gulp. He gripped his head and shook it. "Agh, it sounds so confusing!"

    "I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that," Ninetales said, sighing in relief. "I've been fretting over it all this time. But I can't wrap my head around it. I even tried reaching out to the spirit realm. No one there has heard about any sort of 'Lightless Black' or 'wings of dawn.'"

    "Let's not forget that first line," Archeops said, biting his lower lip. "'A faller rises?' What kind of cryptic oxymoron is that supposed to be? If you fall, you're doing the exact opposite of rising."

    "And you would know, Archeops. You've done more falling than anyone in town," Floatzel heckled, drawing an annoyed look from his colleague.

    "Now, now, let's not ruffle any feathers. Though, I must agree. Archeops is our falling expert. If he says that falling means you can't rise, then I'm inclined to believe him," Ampharos said. Archeops buried his head in his wings, groaning loudly.

    "Ampharos, if I may?" Mawile interjected, facing the table so she could hastily scribble notes. "I believe trying to interpret Xatu's words literally will not do us any good. We may need to make a few educated guesses."

    "Oh? Is there something you had in mind?" Ampharos said, his tail lighting up.

    "Yes. In fact, I believe I have a hypothesis as to the identity of this 'Lightless Black,'" Mawile said. "You're familiar with solar eclipses, right?"

    "Are you kidding? Of course I am!" Ampharos said, grinning boldly. "But, um, maybe you ought to give some of the newer members here a refresher, just in case?"

    A chorus of exasperated groans rose up. Meganium rolled her eyes. Even at meetings, her boss could be such a basket case.

    "Solar eclipses are rare cosmic phenomenon wherein the moon positions itself between the earth and the sun, effectively blocking sunlight from reaching us," Jirachi explained, letting out a yawn at the end. "They can have varying levels of intensity. Sometimes the sun is partially blocked and sometimes it's completely blocked."

    Mawile nodded approvingly. "Exactly. I believe Xatu has forecasted a solar eclipse. And, judging by the 'world will fall into endless night,' part, this may not be any random eclipse. Something could be triggering it," she said.

    "Like, say, a spell?" Delphox wondered, pulling his stick out of his furry sleeve and staring at it. "Think about the last line in Xatu's vision. You can't destroy a Mystery Dungeon unless you can find a way to remove its ley lines. Any magic that could do that is undoubtedly strong enough to cause a solar eclipse."

    Latias' eyes widened. "Wait, do you think this could tie into the moon getting larger? What if it gets so big that, when it eclipses the sun, it doesn't move away? That would leave us stuck in endless night," she said.

    "But there's no way that would just happen randomly, right?" Delphox said, noting the worried look on Meganium's face. "Something or someone's got to be responsible for what's happening to the moon. Maybe they're the one who's trying to plunge the world into endless night?"

    "Hmm, that does sound plausible," Mawile said, writing more notes. "But if that were the case…"

    Floatzel glanced over at Jirachi. "Hey, what's she mumbling about over there, huh? You look like you've got some idea of what she's getting at."

    "Well of course I do. I am a genius, after all," Jirachi boasted, rising up from his seat of books. "She's referring to the Cosmic Duo." Several of his cohorts gave him confused looks. "Seriously, you guys? Solgaleo and Lunala? The Pokémon responsible for keeping the world's cycle of day and night in balance? Does that really not ring any bells?"

    Meganium had never heard of them. She turned to Delphox and shook her head.

    "It's not surprising, Jirachi," Mawile said. "Even in my research, I haven't come across a lot of documents about them. All I have are some conflicting myths. One says that they were created at the start of the world like the other gods. But then there's another myth that says they're a pair of Legendary Pokémon that were born in the Horizon Continent during a time of crisis."

    "Wait, that's that one donut-shaped continent on the other side of the world, right?" Delphox asked. Mawile nodded. "So, does that mean there's a problem with one of these Legends?"

    "It's just a theory. I don't have any definitive evidence," Mawile said, putting her quill down. "We'd really need to talk with the Pokémon living in Horizon. The local myths are a bit of a sensitive subject, I believe."

    Guys! Guys! Guys!

    "Auuugh!"

    A blue blur rammed into Jirachi. He yelped as he spun across the room. Jirachi would've bowled Delphox right over had Meganium not stuck her vines out and caught him by his pointed head. Everyone looked over to see Latios floating by the stairs, a look of embarrassment on his face.

    Oh… today was that meeting, wasn't it? Latios said. Sis, why didn't you remind me?

    Latias shook her head in disbelief. Seriously, big brother? How did you not sense everyone's auras down here?

    Latios pouted. I was preoccupied with the Pokémon Nexus, he said. Because I found something huge! He turned to the rest of the assembled Pokémon and cleared his throat. "Everyone… Espeon's and Umbreon's signals are back!"

    Surprised gasps echoed throughout the room. "Really? But Dedenne said they'd vanished from the Nexus," Bunnelby said.

    "Well, yeah. But if they reappeared, then they reappeared," Dedenne said, shrugging.

    "What? No. Don't be ridiculous. I built the dang thing, and I say that a pair of Pokémon whose signals are lost don't just magically reappear. I want to take a look at this right now," Jirachi said. He hastily floated to the stairs at the northernmost part of the room. A few moments of silence followed, only for Jirachi to speed out from the stairway, knocking Latios to the ground in the process.

    "I don't believe this. He's right. Their signals are back!" Jirachi said. "They're in the Horizon Continent."

    Meganium and Delphox exchanged astonished looks. "Th-They're halfway around the world?" Delphox gasped.

    'Did you send them there on an assignment?' Meganium wondered, tilting her head to the side.

    Delphox's brow furrowed and he shook his head. "The last thing I remember telling them was to go enjoy some time off at Pokémon Paradise. Raichu and Haxorus would've told us if there was something wrong, right?" He stroked the fur on his chin in thought. "Maybe they took a vacation?"

    "And figured out a way to take themselves out of my ingenious invention? I don't think so," Jirachi scoffed, flicking a hand dismissively. "Clearly, something bad happened."

    "Are you sure the Nexus didn't just mess up?" Archeops said.

    Jirachi's face went bright red and swelled up. "The Pokémon Nexus doesn't 'mess up,' you got that?"

    "Yessir!" Archeops squeaked, sliding under the table.

    "Wait a second. This is really important!" Dedenne interjected. "Magearna and Braviary called up from the Horizon Guild last week, asking about Espeon and Umbreon."

    "Oh, great… Magearna," Jirachi said, an unamused look on his face. "You hung up on her, right?"

    "Now Jirachi, that wouldn't be very courteous," Ampharos said.

    "The way Braviary talked about them, it sounded like something bad had happened," Dedenne continued.

    "Maybe we should send someone over to investigate, then?" Ampharos said.

    "Um, Ampharos, you do remember that, even with a well-trained Lapras, it would take at least a week to sail to Horizon, right?" Floatzel said, pointing to a map of the world hanging on the wall by the stairs.

    "That's not necessary," Mawile said. "Latias can go." She looked up at a startled Latias. "I was hoping we could wait a little bit longer, but you might as well use the opportunity to take the Memory Looplet over to the Horizon Guild and see that experiment for yourself."

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Latias, you're not about to fly off to Horizon again, are you? You were just there a couple of weeks ago," Latios said, tapping his claws together worriedly. "It's not exactly a short flight."

    "I can handle myself just fine, big brother," Latias said. "I'm the liaison to the Horizon Continent. I..." Her voice trailed off. "I have a responsibility to go there and help, if the need arises."

    "But she mentioned that experiment. You're not really going to go to it, are you? Mawile said it's meant for killing Pokémon like us!" Latios said. He realized his comments a moment later, and tucked his head up against his paws. "Err… uh… can you guys forget you heard that one?" he squeaked.

    "Wait, what?" Delphox gasped. "An experiment for killing Pokémon?" He turned to Mawile. "What the heck's going on overseas?"

    Latias shot her brother an annoyed look. "Real smooth there, big brother. We told you that in confidence."

    Mawile sighed. "It seems like I owe quite a few of you an explanation. But I don't want to hold Ninetales up. So, let's wait until—"

    "Actually, I'm a bit curious myself," Ninetales said. "That sounds foreboding and I'd appreciate some details."

    "Okay, that's fine. Can I just help Latias get ready to depart?" Mawile asked. "Time is of the essence here."

    "Of course. But don't go too far," Ampharos said. He leaned in a whispered, "We need to talk, remember?" Mawile nodded and Ampharos pulled away, putting on his usual grin. "Well, best of luck to you, Latias. We'll be cheering you on!" he said.

    "Wait, you're leaving right now?" Latios gasped. "No way! You should take the rest of the day to prepare, at the very least."

    "I know what I'm doing, Latios. Besides, there's something I need to do before I leave," Latias said.

    "But… but what if you run into trouble? I can't let you run off like this. Not after what happened to you last time," Latios insisted. "Why does it have to be you? Why not send someone who get there even faster… like Hoopa?"

    All eyes in the room fell onto Latios. He wilted and looked away. "Okay… yeah, that was a bad idea." He shook his head. "But still. You shouldn't have to stick your neck out for Espeon and Umbreon like that. Couldn't you bring someone along with you?"

    "Knock it off, big brother!" Latias snapped, snorting tufts of dragonfire. She floated up to him. "Look, I appreciate that you're concerned. But I thought we agreed you'd stop babying me."

    "I don't want you to get hurt again," Latios whispered.

    "I'm going to be more careful this time," Latias said.

    Latios' wings drooped. "Okay. I'm Sorry." He floated up and touched the tip of his wing to Latias'. "Just promise you'll at least check in with me this time. I get worried."

    Latias raised a set of crossed claws. "It's a promise." They quickly embraced, and Latias turned to follow Mawile out of the building. As they walked, she dug through her satchel.

    "Admittedly, I didn't have as much time to put this together as I would've liked. But I suppose that can't be helped now." She produced a stack of papers and thrust it into Latias' paws. "This is the instruction set that I whipped up from the tests I could run. I hope it's right, but I'd be prepared for the possibility that it might not work."

    Latias looked down at the title page and a shiver ran along her spite. "R-Right. I can handle myself. Everything… should be okay." Despite this, she gulped.

    "Hey." Mawile put an arm on Latias' right shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay with doing this? We can send a group over on a Lapras ferry, if you'd prefer."

    Latias placed the manual in her satchel and shook her head. "I'm fine, Mawile. What would be the point of all the work I've done for you guys if I'm just going to bail at the first sign of trouble? I'll find Espeon and Umbreon and explain this whole experiment business to the Horizon Guild." She gave Mawile a reassuring smile. "I'll be back home before you know it."

    "Sounds good to me. So, what is it you need to get done before you leave?" Mawile said

    "Sorry. That's personal," Latias replied, smile fading. "I'd better get going. Good luck looking into this whole solar eclipse business. If anyone can solve this riddle, I'm sure it's you."

    "Glad to have your vote of confidence," Mawile said, grinning.

    Latias nodded and slipped on her flight goggles. She took off toward the water, giving one last wave before disappearing in the midday sun.

    XxX

    ~Borea Heights~

    Milotic lunged for cover behind a large ice shard. It fizzled from the onslaught of corrosive poisons. Milotic sprang upwards, rifling off an Ice Beam. A battered-looking Drampa was too preoccupied dodging leaves and dragonfire from Serperior and Dragonair. Ice coated his mutated wings. He collapsed with a loud groan.

    The black crystals around his body shattered. Black smoke pooled around him for a few seconds, only to fade away. Drampa had changed back to normal, but all of the colors had drained out of his body. Milotic climbed down from the ice chunk. Her landing made her wince. "It's just like the Parasect we found in Twilight Forest," she whispered. She turned to check on her teammates. "You ladies okay?"

    Serperior slumped down against a piece of debris, trying to brush ice shavings off her body. "No. Not in the slightest," she huffed. "Someone grab me a bucket. I think I'm going to hurl!"

    "I've seen better days, chief," Dragonair said, glancing at the streaks of darkened scales on her body. "We really didn't need this after last week."

    With a flutter of his wings, Braviary landed between them. "Nice work, y'all," he said, fighting to catch his breath. "Them varmints were mighty tricky, but y'all held yer ground nicely."

    "What should we do about Team Radiance, though?" Dragonair wondered. "You sent them into Aurora Vale. Who knows what happened to them."

    "Them? What about us?" Serperior huffed. "I swear there was something weird in the poison attacks Drampa used. I haven't felt this queasy since I got food poisoning from that rotten berry Haunter planted in my salad."

    "Now, listen here. Yer gonna have to fight through that. Use another lum berry if'n ya have to. We ain't about to leave them rookies alone in there," Braviary said, a stern look on his face.

    "Personally, I'd be a bit more worried about your situation, Mr. Braviary."

    The feathers on Braviary's neck stood on end. He quickly turned around. "I reckon I don't much care for eavesdroppers. 'Mon up and get on out here, ya no-good scoundrel!"

    Zero waltzed out from behind a wrecked building, offering a sarcastic slow-clap. "Clever," she said. "Espeon and Umbreon said that no one sets foot in Aurora Vale besides the human and his friends. So, you just get as close as you can without breaking that rule."

    She paused to look at the comatose Drampa beside her. "And you disposed of this fellow with minimal trouble, I see. I'd expect nothing less from the guild's best and brightest. The top enforcers for a world where it's gods first and everyone else second." Zero shook her head. "It's such a shame you won't put your skills toward a more worthwhile cause."

    "Son, what the heck are ya blabbering about? Ya ain't making a lick of sense," Braviary said, narrowing his eyes at Zero.

    "Um, Braviary. I think this guy's related to Espeon and Umbreon," Milotic whispered. "What do you want with us, huh?" she demanded. "We beat back your crazy Drampa and all the little flunkies that infected it. So, you'd better think twice before trying anything funny."

    "Funny? Please. This is no laughing matter," Zero said. "Especially when you deign to stand in front of me with those hideous badges plastered on your bodies."

    "Hey! Don't you dare dis our badges," Serperior hissed. "They symbolize a lifelong dedication to helping others. Something you Prism Virus freaks clearly don't understand."

    "Lies!" Zero said, raising a crystalline paw and clenching it into a fist. The guild members tensed up. "Lies you've been fed by Pokémon too lazy to do their jobs. What you wear are symbols of resignation. You've accpted a miserable status quo dominated by forces that, no matter how hard you work, will always be out of our control."

    She swiveled her staff around, showing off the octahedron. "But I…" She cut herself off. "No, we have the opportunity to change it. Aren't you tired of waking up day after day and putting your necks on the line navigating dungeon after dungeon?"

    Team Captivate exchanged confused looks. "Is this a trick question? Exploring is our livelihood," Milotic said.

    "And it's a terrible livelihood. The product of never-ending conflict perpetuated by the complete indifferent of the gods you claim to depend on for protection in times of crisis," Zero said. "That is why I want your help. I want to use the Prism Virus to make this world a better world. A world without gods."

    Zero held out her free hand and dark energy swirled around it. The energy formed into a black Beast Ball. "Join me. I can train you all. Give you access to powers you could never get on your own. Together, we will create a world brimming with Z-Power. Where Pokémon will leave in happiness, peace, and, most importantly, equality."

    "No thanks," Milotic said, glaring at Zero. "We've seen what your Prism Virus does. It doesn't make anything better. If anyone's making Pokémon suffer, it's you."

    "Besides, your flunkies mentioned a world of endless night. And who wants that?" Serperior scoffed. "Sounds like a miserable existence. Don't you know about the heroes who saved Temporal Tower? Do you want a dark future like we were going to have before Team Poképals stepped in?"

    Zero pressed her staff into the ground, reached up, and took the octahedron in a paw. "How unfortunate. I hoped I could reason with you all. But I suppose I should've expected guild Pokémon to react this way. You are nothing but the pawns, after all." She placed the octahedron against her headdress and it sank into the star-shaped symbol. Zero took in a deep breath. A dark aura of distorted energy overtook her body.

    "If I can't get you to join me willingly, then I'll simply have to use force," Zero said. She hovered into the air, raising her paws. Black cubes started to gather around her. "I'm sorry it had to be this way."

    Scalding water and dragonfire swirled around a blue burst. Zero calmly nudged her helmet and vanished. She was absurdly fast. Team Captivate could only watch their blue-violet storm strike a frozen building. As ice shards exploded around them, a startled squawk rang through the town square.

    Zero was right next them, her fist outstretched. And, in the distance, Braviary slid down the remains of a building's front door. Zero turned to Team Captivate and pointed her other arm forward. Distorted red light enveloped Team Captivate, accompanied by garbled hissing. Grimacing from the noise, none of them noticed the black, staticky cubes racing toward them.

    Milotic desperately fired off scalding water. But the sailed out of the way. Team Captivate found themselves leaping in different directions as the cubes encircled them. Zero snapped her digits and the cubes cubes exploded.

    "What the heck kind of attack is that supposed to be?" Serperior grunted, wiping soot out of her eyes. "That's cheating!"

    "That's the problem with you Pokémon," Zero said, vanishing on the spot once again. She reappeared in front of Serperior and slammed a fist into her neck. An unseen force rocketed her back across the ground. Zero clasped her paws together and started charging a large red sphere. "You think so one-dimensionally."

    She hurled the energy ball at Milotic, who retaliated with a huge water torrent. It wasn't enough, however. Milotic backpedaled but the energy ball gave chase. She was in shock. Her Hydro Pump should've stopped it in its tracks.

    "There is an abundance of magic in this world. And yet, you avoid it," Zero said. "Because you're all scared your precious gods will strike you down the instant you try to take any of it."

    Zero was distracted. Dragonair was sure she and Braviary could take advantage and strike. But Zero pivoted, sending distorted red light at them, followed by a ring of electrified cubes. Had she sensed them coming? Braviary didn't dwell on it. He flew away from the attack, while Dragonair kept her distance.

    Milotic, meanwhile, had recruited Serperior to try and destroy Zero's energy ball with a a combination of water and leaves. It still wasn't enough, though. Zero detonated the sphere, filling Milotic's and Serperior's worlds with ice-cold pain.

    "Yer gonna pay for that one, varmint!" Braviary cawed. Zero raised a glowing paw. Braviary realized he was flying toward a giant red square. He tucked his wings in and dove forward. Seconds later, the square rose into a pillar of distorted cubes. Zero lowered her paw, dispelling the cubes. She threw her arms up as Braviary struck her helmet with his talons. A metallic thunk ran out.

    "My turn," Zero said, pointing her paws at a dazed Braviary. But fire-coated leaves peppered her back. They finally scored a hit on her. Zero wanted to retaliate, but instead went for Dragonair. She charged Dragonair down in the blink of an eye and released red psionic energy. Zero plucked Dragonair off the ground and tossed her like a wriggling worm. Dragonair landed in a crumpled heap by the town fountain's remains.

    "I must commend you. That was a clean hit. It really is a shame that you're turning down my offer. You have such magnificent potential. Imagine the power you could wield with my training," Zero said. "You could be the new protectors of this world. Not a pack of lazy, self-aggrandizing gods."

    "That's blasphemy!" Milotic spat. "You'd ask us to stand against the Pokémon working to keep the world turning? What kind of evil, twisted maniac are you?"

    "It's not that black and white. I am trying to do good for this world," Zero said, nudging up her mask. "But my vision puts me at odds with the bloated pantheon of Legends. So, I guess that makes me 'evil.' How one-dimensional."

    Zero vanished once again. Fearing an attack, Milotic spun around, sweeping an Ice Beam. The ice fizzled out against a wall of flickering cubes. The cubes surged forward. Milotic couldn't outrun them. She meekly brought her tail up. Each cube that struck seared her scales, drawing a pained hiss.

    "How the heck is this loser moving so fast?" Serperior said. "Can he teleport?"

    Dragonair narrowed her eyes. She was sure Zero wasn't teleporting, but needed a way to be certain. "Braviary, can you get this guy's attention?" she asked. Braviary flew toward Zero, summoning air blades with flaps of his wings. Dragonair tensed. She would only get one shot, so she had to make it count.

    "Ya think yer so dang impressive cause ya throw around a buncha fancy-schmancy talk, huh? Well, that don't make ya anything other than annoying," Braviary said. Zero responded with a burst of static. Braviary's Air Slash blades dissolved into mist while Zero disappeared. Braviary tensed. If Dragonair had a plan, she needed to use it now or he'd be toast.

    Seconds past. Braviary remained in the air. He felt completely fine. Braviary looked right and found Zero on the ground, clutching her helmet and shaking her head. Whatever Dragonair did had worked, though it left her dazed.

    "I knew it. You're not teleporting. You're using Extreme Speed," Dragonair said, trying to distract Zero while her teammates launched their own attacks. It didn't work, but Dragonair raced toward Zero. The two exchanged blows at a breakneck pace, bouncing off one another. The stalemate repeated until they settled by the town's entrance. Dragonair doubled over, trying to catch her breath. She had used too many Extreme Speeds in rapid succession and was paying for it.

    "You wield Extreme Speed well, Dragonair," Zero said. "You must've had quite the tutor."

    "I did. She's a far more virtuous Pokémon that you will ever be," Dragonair hissed, unleashing a flamethrower. Liquid metal swallowed up the flames. Dragonair leaped back, her throat burning for all the wrong reasons.

    "Fascinating. You ought to introduce me to her sometime," Zero said, a chuckle rumbling in her throat. "She sounds like she'd make quite the ally."

    "Lucario would never work with the likes of a Pokémon like you," Dragonair barked. She was losing her cool, but she couldn't help it. Zero was so obnoxious. Dragonair rifled off a stream of dragonfire. Braviary added Air Slash blades and Milotic tried to snipe Zero from behind. But she vanished again. Dragonair was so sick of that routine.

    Braviary plummeted from the sky, squawking. The impact crater he made made the girls wince. He'd need first aid for sure.

    "Is this your idea of a passable self-defense? Flinging attacks like mad and praying your superior numbers are enough to carry you to victory?" Zero mused. "Mystery Dungeons have made you all complacent… and predictable."

    The dark aura around Zero's body intensified. She raised both arms up toward her shoulders and corrupted red energy gathered in her paws. Staticky red light erupted around Zero, swallowing up the town square. Each guild member slowed to a crawl. None of them could process what was happening. Their thoughts moved just as slow as they did.

    Zero raised a paw. Swarms of red cubes appeared, forming cannon-like cylinders over each guild member. The red light disappeared in a flash. They had only seconds to realize what had happened before swirling metal beams rained down upon them. The agony was unbearable. They all collapsed and Zero dispelled her attack.

    "What now, Horizon Guild?" Zero said, removing the octahedron from her helmet and placing it back in the scepter that had materialized next to her. "Do you let your Reviver Seeds kick in and continue to struggle in vain? Or do you relent and join my cause?"

    Initially, no one responded. Zero raised her staff, sighing in disappointment.

    "We're… not… going to help you," Dragonair wheezed, giving Zero a defiant glare.

    "... hmph. Ironic. The one who's sacrificed the most out of you lot is the only one with the backbone to speak out against me," Zero scoffed. "Tell me, Dragonair, are you happy in that frail body? How many years have you resisted the urge to evolve, hmm?"

    "W… what did you just say?" Dragonair whispered, her attitude fizzling out.

    "Don't play dumb with me. Your aura positively reeks of desire and jealousy," Zero said, nudging her mask.

    "Don't listen to him, Airy," Milotic said. "There's nothing wrong with you

    Zero knelt down and clasped Dragonair's head in her paw. "You envy your teammates, don't you? They've had their final evolutions for years. And you? Well, you've been stuck like that this entire time. Too scared your friends will abandoned you if you turn into a Dragonite. Do I have that right?"

    "I… I…" Dragonair looked away. "They'd never do that to me. We've been friends forever. I choose to remain a Dragonair, because I'm more help to the team this way."

    Zero released her grip on Dragonair. She slumped to the ground, grunting in pain. "Wrong answer. The truth is that you've talked it into yourself that vanity is more important than power," she said. "Your team's reputation as a trio of serpents is meaningless. As meaningless as the Mystery Dungeons the gods claim are necessary to keep the world turning."

    "They are necessary," Braviary said. "Look at the Tree of Life. Rip it out of the ground and the planet'll done hurtle into the sun!"

    "Hmph. That's a hatchling's tale put into your mind to make you fear and worship Xerneas," Zero said, nudging her mask. She pointed her glowing staff forward. "I can open your eyes and let you see this word for what it really—"

    Zero froze.

    "No," she whispered, bringing her scepter up to look at its crystal. "That's impossible!" Her lone visible eye narrowed in rage. "Troublemakers!" she hissed, tapping her staff to the ground. "Necky, get me to Aurora Vale… now!"

    An Ultra Wormhole materialized behind Zero. Braviary and Team Captivate all shielded their eyes as Zero leaped into the portal. It closed behind her, leaving the guild members alone in the empty town.

    Braviary stumbled to his feet, clutching an injured wing. "Y'all okay?" he asked, suppressing a cough.

    "No," Serperior said. "That last attack really did a number on my tail." She raised it up, grimacing as it throbbed in pain.

    "What about Team Radiance? That thing could be trying to go after them," Milotic said.

    Braviary tried to lift his bum wing, only to wince and push it tightly against his torso. "It's no good. My wing's all busted up. We ain't in no condition to be helping them," he said.

    "So, we're just supposed to leave them out there and hope for the best?" Milotic said.

    "Uh... well..." Braviary frowned. "Look... I don't know what to tell ya. I need to get healed up. Y'all do too. We've gotta go back to the Observatory. Maybe we can get some backup?" He glanced toward the fog-filled dungeon entrance. "I just hope we ain't too late."

    XxX

    ~Aurora Vale~

    Shane stood in front of his teammates, gazing down at Espeon and Umbreon. They were covered in frost, but they were breathing. "They're still alive," he said. "They lost all those black crystals and they're still alive."

    "Be careful. It could be a trick," Null warned, tensing up. He coughed and shook his head about. Tessa continued to steal glances up at Sylveon and Eevee. The hard part was over. She knew her friends would be safe soon.

    "U-Ungggh…"

    Shane's ears swiveled in Espeon's direction. He looked down at her just in time to see her eyes finish opening. Their gazes met for a brief second. "No way," she whispered. A horrified look spread across her face. She glanced back at her tail. "It's gone? Just like that?" She looked back at Shane.

    "Es… Espeon?" Shane said. "It's okay! We're Team Radiance. We're here to help you."

    "Get back!" Espeon shouted, scrambling to her feet. She staggered backward, crouching low to the ground. "You… you need to get back! Get out of here! It's going to come back," she said. Tears welled up in her eyes. "You're not safe! We're not safe. Oh, gods… what have we done?" She shook her head about rapidly.

    "But we're not trying to fight anymore," Shane said. "We won't hurt you guys."

    "It's too late for that!" Espeon hissed. "Umbry, get up," she said, nudging Umbreon's back. "It's gone… the Prism Virus is gone. And we're in big trouble!"

    "Wh… what?" Umbreon groaned, shakily lifting up his head. The moment he did, Espeon threw herself on top of him. He grunted as his head flopped back against the ice. Espeon nuzzled him and cried into his neck.

    "Oh, Umbry! It's true. The virus is gone and… and we're still here," she sobbed. "But all the damage we've done… it didn't go away! Look at this place. We've ruined it! We… we've become monsters!"

    Shane's heart skipped a beat. This couldn't be right. From the sound of it, they knew exactly what happened. Which meant they hadn't been completely brainwashed.

    "The explorers," Umbreon coughed. "Are they… are they still alive?"

    A stabbing pain shot through Shane's chest as Espeon looked up at him. Her eyes narrowed into a fierce gaze. "You… you did this!" she shouted, pointing a forepaw at him accusingly. Null jumped beside Shane, growling threateningly. "Where did you get that power from?"

    "I… I don't know…"

    "Don't know? Don't know?!" Espeon snarled.

    "Back off!" Null barked. "We're here… for Sylveon and Eevee."

    "So? Just take them and go away! Get out of here!" Espeon said. "I… I can't…" Shudders racked her body and she fell to the ice. "Umbry," she croaked. "Make it stop… make the memories stop!" She smacked her head with a forepaw.

    "Hey, cut it out! You should be thanking us!" Shane said. Umbreon blocked off his path, shaking his head.

    "Keep your distance, kid," he said. "You're not going to get through to her." He turned to Tessa. "Our magic's faded from those crystals. If you break them, you'll free your friends." His gaze fell to the ice. "Please, take them and go. Don't worry about us. We don't deserve your help. Not after what we've done."

    Shane opened his mouth to protest, but Null put a foreleg on his shoulder, shaking his head disapprovingly. Tessa turned and made her way up to the crystals. But she spotted a bolt of black lightning racing across them and shuffled backwards. "N-Null… I need a hand up here," she squeaked. Null lumbered up after her, fur standing on end from the electricity in the air. A warm, tingling sensation spread out from his feathery head crest, stifling his growls.

    Null raised a foreleg to strike the crystal prison, when a flash of light blinded him. He gasped and staggered backward, shaking his head. Tessa looked to her right and quickly scrambled toward her friends.

    "What the... what's with the portal?" Shane gasped, his stance slouching. He looked over to Espeon and Umbreon, whose eyes had widened in horror.

    "No. She's come for us! Umbry, we've got to get out of here!" Espeon shrieked. She tried to stumble to her feet, only to squeal in pain as her hind legs caved out on her. Espeon fell back onto her belly, shaking like a leaf. "U-Umbry… I can't… I don't want to hurt anymore Pokémon! She's going to drag up all those awful memories again!"

    "I know," Umbreon said, staring transfixed at the crystals. The portal swirling next to them disappeared and Zero stepped out of it, distorted energy blurring her body. She turned and fixed her eye on them. Umbreon's gaze wilted.

    "So, it's true. Someone purged the virus from you both," Zero said. She looked over at Team Radiance. Her red eye flickered blue and she rested a paw on her helmet. "It would seem Espeon and Umbreon were right. You are quite the curious trio."

    Shane's throat went dry. "Who are you?" he asked hesitantly.

    "You may call me Zero," she replied.

    Shane tilted his head to the side, expecting Zero to say she was joking. When she didn't, he shook his head. "Seriously? Is that supposed to stand for 'Zero self-confidence?' Because it takes a real sorry soul to hide themselves behind a mask," he said. "Seriously… you've got 'try hard' written all over you! You make my partner's brother look like a basket of sunshine and puppies."

    "Shane, maybe you ought to stop," Tessa squeaked. They were in no position to deal with this newcomer.

    "No, I think I'm onto something here," Shane growled, glaring at Zero. "I'll bet you wake up every morning, look yourself in the mirror, and say that you're 'the tallest of mountains and the roughest of waves,' or some utter nonsense like that, am I right?" He glanced at Null. "Better be careful, big guy... or you'll cut yourself on all this dude's edge."

    "... Aura Sphere."

    A ball of red energy exploded underneath Shane, flinging him skyward. He fell to the ground screaming. When he struck the ice, he looked up toward Zero's mask. The static momentarily faded from her body. Shane's eyes slowly widened.

    "No," he whispered. "No, that can't be right!"

    "How long did you have those insults waiting in the wings, you sad, sorry Vulpix man-child?" Zero said, shaking her head. "My name is Zero, as in 'Patient Zero.' I'm the instigator of the Prism Virus."

    "Sh… Shane?" Tessa squeaked, worried by her friend's sudden stupor. "What's wrong?"

    "Lu… car… io…"

    Shane's whisper was so soft that only Zero could hear him. "… hmph. I see you all standing there… judging me. My Prism Virus has done nothing wrong. But that won't convince you. You three are pawns of the gods, just like every Pokémon labeling themselves an explorer."

    "The fact is that everything Espeon and Umbreon did can be reversed," Zero said. Espeon flinched and buried her head in her forelimbs. "And I fully intended to turn each infected Pokémon and dungeon back to normal. But then you three intervened." Zero shook her head disapprovingly. "And now... well, I can still fix it. But it'll be much... tougher."

    "I… I don't believe you," Shane said. "Evil… it always tries to justify its actions with whatever flimsy logic it can find. Well, I'm not falling for it!"

    "Then you're a self-righteous buffoon," Zero sneered. "Tell me, human. If my virus couldn't be reversed, then how do you explain these two pathetic whelps sitting beside you?" She gestured to Espeon and Umbreon. "I do not wish to bring harm to Pokémon. I want to save this world. Save it from the endless cycle of chaos that our gods use for their own self-preservation. And I can't do that if every Pokémon has been transformed into an Ultra Beast."

    "Please, Zero. Just leave us alone," Espeon whimpered. "We don't… we don't want to work with you anymore."

    Zero's gaze fell on Espeon. "I don't care. You're both my Pokémon. You don't have a say in this." She raised her staff and the octahedron pulsated with red energy. "I don't feel like training you up again if someone else can remove my handiwork. But I won't let you wander around and spill all my secrets. So, I'll need to take your life energy until I'm finished with my work."

    "No… no!" Espeon screamed, turning to flee. "Get up, Umbry! Get up! She's gonna—"

    "Consume," Zero said, pointing her staff forward. A purple and black energy beam spiraled toward the Eeveelutions. But before it could reach them, a loud bark echoed through the clearing. Espeon and Umbreon slid across the ice, safely out of harm's way.

    "You leave them alone!" Shane growled, crouching low to the ground. Zero's red eye flickered purple and she chuckled, prompting Shane to declare, "Oh, so you can emote after all?"

    "Look at you. Standing there, trying to put on a brave face like you're some sort of hero," Zero said.

    "I am a hero!" Shane said, smacking the ice with a forepaw. "I'm the hero who's going to help the Pokémon here get rid of you and turn things back to normal." He looked over at his teammates and gave them a nod.

    "A hero? Please." Zero gave Shane a dismissive wave. "Frankly, calling you human is a stretch. You're a meek little furball who has yet to realize just how hopeless his situation is."

    "If your big, evil plan is to tear me down with a laundry list of reasons why I suck, then I'm here to tell you it's not working," Shane said, though he winced at the sound of his cracking voice. "I'm far from perfect. But I know a bad Pokémon when I see one. And that's exactly what you are."

    Zero adjusted her mask. "No amount of courageous hero talk can mask the fact that, in reality, you're scared. You don't have the strength to stop me." Zero pivoted to look at Tessa. "And what of you, girl? Nothing to add to support your partner? You're a rather pathetic excuse for an aura wielder."

    With a whimper, Tessa looked down at her feet. "How disappointing," Zero scoffed, turning to face Espeon and Umbreon. "Now then, where were we?" She raised her glowing staff once again. Shane's eyes widened and he dashed across the ice, sliding in front of the Eeveelution duo.

    "I already told you to leave them alone," Shane barked. "You're not getting to them this time."

    "Then let me show you what happens to those who stand in my way," Zero said. She swung her staff around and struck the crystal imprisoning Sylveon and Eevee. Tessa's friends fell on top of each other. This immediately caught her attention. Her aura feelers shot up.

    "No! Leave them alone!" Tessa screamed. Null gasped and reached a foreleg out to try and restrain Tessa, but missed her. Tessa sprinted toward Zero, aura encasing both her paws. Shane turned and focused his mind on Zero. He let loose a psychic blast, only to watch it fizzle out against a shield of red cubes.

    "W-What the—" Shane gasped, watching as Zero lay the tip of her staff atop Sylveon's body.

    "Consume," she said. Shane gasped and Tessa stumbled to a halt. Zero drained the color off of Sylveon's and Eevee's bodies. Swirls of colored pixels surrounded the crystal in her staff. They rushed inside and the octahedron sparkled with a rainbow glow.

    "No! Sylveon! Eevee!" Tessa shrieked.

    Shane's stance slackened. His legs threatened to give out on him. After the grueling dungeon trek and the fight with Espeon and Umbreon, they had ultimately failed.

    Zero lowered her staff and raised a paw. "Destroy," she said. A rainbow glow emerged from inside her mask. Crystals encased Sylveon's and Eevee's bodies. Zero clenched her paw into a fist and the gems shattered, evaporating into a fine black mist.

    "You monster! I'll kill you!" Tessa roared, resuming her charge. Tears streamed from her eyes. She raised her paws, looking to strike Zero with a flurry of Force Palm blows. Zero pivoted so her raised paw faced Tessa and opened her fist. She hoisted Tessa into the air. Tessa thrashed about, screeching at Zero and blinking her eyes rapidly in an attempt to dispel the tears.

    "Upset, are we? Good. Perhaps now, you'll understand where I'm coming from," Zero said. "Maybe if you behave, I'll bring them back. But first, let's be rid of that scarf of yours, shall we? You don't deserve its protective power."

    Shane stood there, petrified. He glanced at his looplet, hoping to see the same spark of energy that helped him save Tessa from Espeon and Umbreon. But the gem remained a dull-gray color. His heart sank and his gaze fell toward the ground. He couldn't believe it. Gallian was right. He wasn't strong enough. He failed Tessa. He failed her friends. And now, they were all going to die.

    Something bristled Shane's fur. Ahead of him, Zero stumbled forward, hissing loudly. Tessa fell to the ground and Null swooped in, carrying her over to Shane's side. He had enough time to look over his shoulder, before a red and black vortex swallowed him up.

    "What?" Zero looked in the red light's direction. Her eye widened. Team Radiance, Espeon, and Umbreon, had vanished from the dungeon without a trace. Growling, she gazed into her scepter's crystal. "Necky, I'm finished for the day. Bring me home."

    A wormhole opened up in front of Zero. She stepped inside it, leaving Aurora Vale behind.
     
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018 at 1:41 AM
  13. Threadmarks: Bonus: Two Confessions
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

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    This was, originally, the 2018 Valentine's Day Special, released on February 13th. This bonus marks a shift because, unlike the others, it's highly experimental in tone. This is something that will hold true for most of the bonuses going forward with this fic. However, it is extremely important to the greater context of the fic, so you will be lost if you skip this. This is pretty short, though, so it should be an easy read. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

    Content Advisory: themes of sex, hazing, and suicide are discussed, but nothing explicit is described.

    XxX

    Bonus: Two Confessions

    Our whole family was built on a lie.

    I never got to tell you that. I couldn't figure out how. I wasn't even sure I wanted to. But after you died, I found myself wishing I had. Compassion was something you always had in spades. I guess that's why everyone in the guild loved you so much. And I guess that's why the kids preferred you to me.

    The truth is that you were not my first partner. Those were not my first kids. This was not my first family. I am human and that is why I go by something other than "Lucario." Maybe you knew that the whole time, but you didn't speak up because you didn't want to upset me? That wouldn't surprise me. In which case, I suppose all of this is pointless, isn't it? Still, I need to get this off my chest. If you're reading this, then, against all odds, I succeeded. And I need to confess to what I've done.

    My memories have always been intact. I never found the strength to tell you that. The day we met on Stormcracker Isle, I saw something in your eyes. I saw Rory. He was... no, he is my husband. At first, I tried to ignore the connection. But the longer I spent fighting you, the more I pictured Rory. So, when the dust had settled and we finally had a heart-to-heart, I panicked. In human media, amnesia is such a cheesy cop-out. You Pokémon don't know that. So, I clung to that flimsy excuse. For twenty-five years.

    "O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

    Walter Scott said that. You wouldn't know him. He's human. Like me. I just thought it fitting. Because, frankly, he's right. I think I'd make an Ariados blush with my handiwork. And yet, I'm sure you'd still find it in your heart to forgive me, because that's just who you are.

    I don't deserve it. Because our love was never really genuine. At least, my side of it wasn't.

    At first, I befriended you because you reminded me of Rory. You reminded me of happier times. Of what I wanted to go back to. I figured, if I grew close to the Guildmaster's son, then somehow, someway, I could go back. It had already been a couple of years, yet you reignited my hope of going home. But days stretched into weeks stretched into months… and that hope faded again.

    I remember the night I skipped dinner and lay curled up in my room, crying. You came in. Asked me what the problem was. I told you it's nothing to worry about. You spent the whole night with me anyway. I think that was the first time I saw you for… well… you.

    Then you did a mission with me. I remember that, too. Walking through Aurora Vale, gathering stardust under the brilliant light show. We made it to the end of the dungeon and your tail brushed up against mine. You said it was a sudden breeze, but I should've known better. After all, you went to grab an Escape Orb and our lips met. It was brief. But I felt a spark. Just like I had with Rory.

    It confused me. Did I really enjoy kissing you? Or was this some primal Pokémon urge bubbling up inside me? Where I'm from, Pokémon just disappear into streams of pixels and pop up with eggs. So, I figured physical intimacy wasn't a thing here. Guess I was wrong.

    I should've broken things off right there. But I didn't. Because it felt good. Thrilling, even. No matter what I do, I can't seem to forget the adrenaline rush I got from sneaking into your dad's office with you. Even though he found us wrapped around one another, I didn't care. My limbs were shaking that whole night. I was giddy at the time, but now… now I'm just wondering what I was thinking.

    That's when I really should've ended things. Of course, that didn't happen. Looking back on it, I'm sure that the whole transformation thing messed with my mind. I was a mature, responsible adult when I left the human world. But when I woke up a Riolu, I acted like a kid again. A reckless, invincible little thing. And even though there was a strong part of me that knew how messed up that was, I didn't care. I liked your shape. Your scent. Your taste.

    Then we evolved. I'll be honest, when you talked about an "evolution high," I thought you were bluffing. But, well, after that day, I can believe it. I mean, it's been on repeat in my mind all this time. The shivers I got when you brushed your claws through my fur. Your warm breath washing over my neck. The flames around… well… you know. Painful at first, sure. Suddenly having metal coat your skeleton will do that, I suppose. And you wondered why you were the one with the bites on your neck the next morning.

    Oh god, I'm rambling. See… this is what you do to me. Even from beyond the grave. You're just so… so perfect. Every time we had a disagreement it never escalated. When I asked for my space, you gave it to me. When I asked for your attention, you put your friends aside for me. Looking back on it, that's probably what tipped the scales against you. I didn't pay Braviary and Metagross much mind. They didn't like me. I didn't like them. We respected each other's boundaries, but I get the sense they didn't like the direction our relationship took.

    What was I saying again? Oh, yeah. How you were just too perfect. The more we were together, the more I forgot about Rory. The more this… all of this felt like a second chance. But even as I finally… finally started to feel like Horizon could be my home… there was this voice. This nagging little voice.

    "Never forget who you are. Never forget what happened."

    That's when you sat me down and told me you wanted to start a family. Things unraveled from there, even if it didn't look that way to you. I threw every excuse I could think of at you. But you… you wore me down with best weapon in your arsenal…

    Patience.

    I never bought into that BS nonsense about dark-types being conniving devils. But leaving me alone to dwell on the idea of having an egg? That was pretty sinister. You didn't have to say a word. I just sat there… letting the idea fester. I had hoped that if I stayed quiet long enough, the issue would go away.

    But the gods had other plans, didn't they?

    Why did we even go to the Invern Mountains that day? I don't remember. But, well, we went. And there was Gallian's egg. Sitting in a snow bank, slowly freezing over. I don't think I'd ever seen you move as fast as you did when we spotted that egg. Everything after that was a blur. I recall a few snippets. Like how you pretty much camped out in the infirmary, refusing to go anywhere or even eat a proper meal until you were sure the egg would hatch into a healthy baby. And how happy you were when you got the okay to foster the egg.

    I had objections. Strong objections. But seeing that smile on your face… that warm, loving smile… made me bite my tongue. I suppose it helped that the sex we had then was mind-blowing. The egg hatched, of course. I can still remember the joy sprawled across your face. Holding up a little Absol. Nuzzling it affectionately. And me? I just sat there… staring.

    "Gallian."

    You didn't hear it the first time. I just whispered it without even thinking. The nagging voice had come back. "If you can't go home, then get back what you lost." And so, our son became Gallian. My second Gallian. You never knew that. The kids didn't, either. At least, I don't think they did. Unless you told them. Or Braviary. Lord knows Metagross wouldn't say anything.

    The next several years… a thick haze clouded up my mind. Gallian grew and you pressed me to have an egg of my own. I never remember saying yes, but I don't remember refusing, either. And I know you. You never would've forced me. I think I agreed. Because, before I knew it, I had a daughter. Tessa was back…

    … except she wasn't. Just like Gallian wasn't Gallian. And you weren't Rory. I did the best I could. I smiled at the kids. Told them I loved them. Gave them attention. But my heart wasn't in it. It was my fault. I should've put my foot down, but I couldn't muster the strength to break things off with you. Just like I couldn't find the strength to tell you I'm human. See, we've come full circle, haven't we? Things were bad, sure. And yet, your smile still managed to warm my heart.

    And then you were gone.

    When I got the news, I broke that table you made. Y'know, the one we had a bit of fun on when we were feeling particularly frisky? I turned the whole house upside down, actually. I couldn't believe it. Two separate lives… and in both of them, I lost the one person who meant more to me than anything. I refused to roll over and take it. I tore up the library, gathering every piece of info I could find about Horizon's myths. I found the materials I needed to get an audience with one of the Tapus. I took the scarf — the one made from Ho-Oh's rainbow feathers — and marched up to the Temple of Balance…

    … only to be turned away.

    "Give up. You are not one of virtuous spirit. Your mind is poisoned. And your body is alien. My brethren and I will never summon Ho-Oh for the likes of you."

    Tapu Fini's words still haven't left my head. How could she just judge me like that? After everything I had been through? After all the heartache I had beared? First the gods led me to an egg I didn't want. Then they conspired to help your so-called friend take you away from me. And, when I tried to bring you back, they laughed at me. I went blind with rage. At least, that's what I think happened. I'm still not sure why I went over to Glyphic Falls. But everything that happened after that was crystal clear.

    Cold metal claws tore through my flesh. I fell from my perch, screaming into the night. And I saw them. A pair of fierce, glowing red eyes. That's when I knew. I knew he had killed you. And now he had come for me. But something hit me before I could complete my fall.

    I wish it hadn't. Because it made my life — my current life — an endless, restless cycle of pain. Horrible, burning pain. Pain that scarred my face. Pain that tainted what little fur remained on my body. Pain that took half my vision from me. Pain that twisted my aura into something… well, something as hideous as I look now.

    I'm glad you're not around to see me like this. To see me stagger around my new home… draining Pokémon of their life to make the pain go away. And all because of Glyphic Falls. Because, instead of eating food, I have to take in spirits. Because I won't allow myself to simply drop dead. See, after all this time, I've finally realized why I'm here.

    I spent my days as a human preventing pain. Making people's suffering stop. I thought I could do the same thing here, but I was wrong. I understand now. No matter how hard any normal Pokémon works, they can never truly fix anything. I certainly tried. And this world rewarded me by taking you away from me and leaving me with nothing...

    Nothing.

    Zero.

    Which is why I'm going to end everyone's suffering… by destroying the ones responsible for it. If I alone have to bear the brunt of the world's pain to make this happen, then so be it. I will not allow anyone to hurt like I have. Not anymore.

    Yes, it's true that there have been… missteps. Pokémon whose lives I've taken to keep my powers stable. Depending on how things go today, I may be adding Leafeon's daughter and grandson to that list. But I can't help it. I'm the only one who can do this. That is why I came to this world. It has to be. Ironic that I ended up a Lucario. In my world, they're fictional creatures considered noble to a fault. But this isn't noble. It's far from it. I don't care, though. I was a terrible Lucario, anyway.

    I will bring those whose light I stole. Just like I will bring you back… and bring my real family back to me. Soon, I'll have full control of my "partner's" powers. Then, and only then, will everything finally be right.

    I'm sorry this is how you had to find out about this. I hope that, one day, you can find it in your heart to forgive me. And, if not, I at least hope you understand why I did what I did.

    XxX​

    It's been awhile, hasn't it, Rebecca? Or maybe it hasn't. I'm still not sure how the whole "flow of time" thing works between worlds. Do you even remember me? Because I sure remember you.

    At first, you were just the new girl who smiled at me when we passed in the hall. Then you evolved into the girl who sat across from me in most of my classes. You have no idea how relieving it was to see someone else choose to sit in the front, rather than end up there because no other seats were left.

    I was never great at judging what other people thought of me, which is probably why I took these small gestures to mean something important. Frankly, it's not like you did anything to make me think otherwise. You actually came to me when we were told to partner up. Nobody ever did that. Except Shane. But, well, high school really emphasizes separating everyone, doesn't it? I couldn't help it if I did better than him in school. If I ended up in all the honors classes and he… didn't. So, I really appreciated the gesture… at the time, anyway.

    Now, I see that you were just setting yourself up. To use me for your own gain. I should've noticed who you ate lunch with. They'd given me so much trouble already, but I paid it no mind. I had already convinced myself that you were different. That you were special somehow. So, imagine my surprise when I saw you show up to swim practice. This had to be some sort of joke, I told myself. And it was… but I couldn't see that at the time. Instead, I saw this girl — who smiled at me and me feel welcome in class — go into the same lane as me. Stopping to ask me how I was doing. Exchange a quick word about class. Small talk, sure. But when I only ever really talked with one other kid my own age, it meant the world to me.

    So, I asked you to a movie. Some cheesy rom-com. A flick I'd never give the time of day on my own. You said yes. I actually had to process that response. Remind myself that this didn't mean anything. We were just… two classmates going to hang out.

    Didn't stop Mom from gushing over how proud she was that, "I was finally expanding my horizons beyond Shane."

    Dad was much blunter: "Guess you're not gay after all. Good. Now, don't screw this up. Leave your stupid pokeyman toys at home."

    Naturally, I listened to him. Though, now that I think about it, it probably didn't matter, did it? You already knew about my hobby. You heard it from your "real friends." My money's on Geoff. The guy was always a jackass and I swear he had it in for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just… remember the good times. And that movie was a good time. Not the move itself. Oh god, it was awful. Full of every romance cliché imaginable and filled with pop music that made me want to pull my ears out. Still, I had fun. All because of you.

    I remember the smile you gave me when we got back to your house. "Let's do this again sometime," you said, and vanished inside. Okay. So, we did it again. And then a third time, with an added dinner. Shane wondered why I didn't want to hang with him that weekend, by the way. I told him I'd caught a cold. I lied to my friend for you. Granted, I was looking for a way to put a bit of distance between us. Still, that was a big deal for me. That's how much you meant. And that's how much you managed to pull the wool over my eyes, I guess.

    Or maybe I'm just ignorant. We spent plenty of time together... and never did I suspect that anything might be wrong. I brought you over to see my parents. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when you said, "You mean he hasn't told you about us? We've been dating for a month!" You'd have thought I'd just gotten a full ride to swim for some big-name school. That's how crazy it was. I still couldn't believe you had used that word. "Dating." Like a foreign language to me.

    Of course, I had to tell Shane. "I'm happy for you dude," he said. He wasn't. In fact, he looked like I just told him I'd shot his dog. I didn't care, though. Shane was too clingy for his own good and never seemed to listen to me when I told him I needed some space. So, of course I felt happier than I had in a long time.

    Which brings us to that fateful weekend. You know the one. The football team was state champ and news you'd be hosting a party spread through the school like wildfire. "You should come," you said. "It's gonna be wild."

    I told you that I didn't do so well with crowds.

    "That's okay. Because, I was thinking we'd spend some quality time together. Y'know… just the two of us."

    English may not have been my best subject, but I could definitely read between the lines. I didn't want to let this opportunity pass me by. So, even though Shane and I had been planning to attend a midnight movie premier for months, I blew him off. Told him I'd gotten a real bad stomach bug. He believed me, of course. Bless him. The hard part was trying to get through the checkout at the pharmacy with a straight face.

    I came to the party, just like you wanted. I wore the stuff you asked me to wear. Which should've been a red flag, but I was too excited to notice. I said hello to all the guys I hated. They looked surprised to see me at first, but they were very friendly and polite. Another red flag I failed to catch. Maybe that's because the punch I was drinking wasn't really punch? They'd warned us about this kind of stuff in health class. I just… tuned it out. I was doing it for you. Because you made me happy. But by the time I found you, I could barely stand. I managed to mumble a greeting, then everything went black.

    You were there when I woke up, holding a washcloth in one hand and a towel in another. I asked you what happened.

    "Don't worry about it," you said, and then pushed me toward the bathroom.

    I repeated the question, but you tossed the towel to me and shut the door. If I hadn't felt like crap, maybe I'd have noticed that my shirt was on backwards. And then I would've suspected something bad had happened. But I didn't catch it at the time. I showered, and then you were gone. Your older brother told me to get out. Your parents were coming back and the two of you had promised no funny business while they were gone.

    I left. I had a lot of questions, but no one was giving me answers. So, I just hung out with Shane and dropped the subject… until school started up the next week. Suddenly, the people who paid me no mind in the halls were looking at me. Not the way you did. No. They had smirks. I could see amusement in their eyes. I was like… like some sort of sideshow attraction to them. But all I was doing was walking. I sat by you in math class that day. You got up and walked to the back of the room. I didn't understand what I had done wrong. The more the day went by, the more restless I got. None of this made any sense. I couldn't reach out to Shane. I'd have to tell him that I ditched him for you. Luckily, some dumb freshman left his computer window open... and I saw exactly what had happened.

    I'll admit, you guys really got me. Whatever you put in my drink, it worked. I can say that now, having had centuries to process what you did to me. I'm sure you'll be confused by that. Good. Because that's exactly how I felt... looking at those photos.

    How could you do this to me? I thought we really had a connection. But, no. It was all a lie, wasn't it? A lie to get you your vaunted spot atop the school's social pyramid. To cement your ranks with the "in" crowd. Why else would you have put them up online, for everyone in school to see?

    I imagine you must've been very proud of yourself. After all, when the principal came and plucked me out of class to suspend me "for violations of the student code of conduct," you were all smiles. I saw the pats you got on the back. The high-fives. This was your plan. And you'd succeeded. No one would believe me if I said it was your fault. Because that was the beauty of the internet. These stupid adults didn't know how to trace it back to you. And they didn't want to try. The last thing any snooty administrators wanted were their faces on the evening news, with reports of "an investigation into a hazing incident."

    What did I ever do to you? What did I do to any of you?

    I like to think I know the answer. You can thank Dirk for that. He gave me a pretty big hint when he "accidentally" spilled his coffee on my 3DS that first day back at school. Apparently, I had stepped out of line. I was either allowed to be a jock like him... or a dweeb who played kiddie games, like Shane. I couldn't have it both ways.

    I know you were there when it happened. You stayed silent. You wouldn't meet my gaze. Perhaps some time to reflect on the issue had left you with a guilty conscience? I sure hope so. It's the least you deserve. My guess is you were just too preoccupied to notice. Or care. Because I was never someone important to you. I was a stepping stone. I'd served my purpose. You had moved on ahead, with no plans on looking back. That's fine. I moved on, too.

    I wonder how you felt when you heard the news? I wonder how everyone at school felt. Oh, if I could've been a fly on the wall in school after I'd succeeded…

    I don't know what I'm psyching myself up for. Let's face it. We both know what happened. I wasn't one of the "admired" students. I didn't get a vigil. I didn't get a heartfelt card with messages of love sprawled all over it. I'll bet the school sent a mass email to the parents. They brought in grief counselors... not that anyone would need them except for Shane. And they held an assembly where they got some whack-job psychologist or motivational coach to sit everyone down and talk about why suicide is wrong, how there's so much to live for, that you need to pay attention and intervene, and a bunch of other stuff we've all heard before. Then everyone moved on with their lives.

    I wonder what you would think of me if you could see me now? Would you apologize? Maybe. I imagine there would be begging and pleading. Tearful confessions about how wrong you were. About how someone else made you do it and how you always loved me and believed in me.

    Of course, you'd be lying through your teeth. Because I've seen your black heart for what it is. Which is why, when I'm whole once more, I'm going to come back. I'll visit all the "wonderful friends" I made in school. And then, I'll come find you. I'll rip your black heart right out of your chest and tear it shreds. All that'll be left is your light.

    Sweet, delicious light.

    XxX​

    I've found that it's a split as to whether or not readers were able to determine that Prisma is Zero. For what it's worth, the "Prism Virus" was an intentional bit of misdirection designed to get you to jump straight to Necrozma as the culprit when, in reality, it's just Prisma's virus since, y'know, she was the doctor in a previous life and all that jazz. That wasn't supposed to be the shocking reveal in this. No, what is the shocking part is that she is clearly in control of her own actions. That did factor into my decision to make Tessa a Riolu despite their overabundance in fics and, thus, some readers getting turned off by the species having a prominent role in fics. I looked around and couldn't find any solid examples of villainous Lucarios. Most of them tended to follow the model set by the one in the movies, possibly with some snark thrown in. At best, I could maybe find a couple that were brainwashed into doing villainous stuff. That made me want to write a Lucario villain, thus Tessa was made a Riolu so she and her mother could serve as foils to one another.

    What was far less obvious was Necrozma's true identity. There was really only one hint given in Volume 1. The fact that Necrozma shares the same laugh ("Heeheeheehee") as Nicky does, as shown in the bonus part, Snowfall. I would like to think that, in hindsight, this now gives a whole different context to Necrozma's last words to Shane in Volume 1's prologue: "I have just the thing for you, my human friend."
     
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