1. Interested in joining the Bulbagarden staff? See details here.
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    For more details, see this thread.

    UPDATE: Due to technical issues the upgrade has been delayed a few days. We don't currently have a new projected date, but we'll keep you posted if we do find out more details.

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

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

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  1. Threadmarks: Intro & Chapter 1
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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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 in this document. 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.


    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: Jan 19, 2019 at 3:17 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 SHINE GET

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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 SHINE GET

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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 SHINE GET

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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 no one.

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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 SHINE GET

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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 SHINE GET

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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 falling by virtue

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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 no one.

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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 SHINE GET

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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
  13. Threadmarks: Bonus: Two Confessions
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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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."
     
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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    I apologize for the delay, not that it seems anyone noticed. Life's been very stressful for me, so I really haven't had the time or energy to sit down and revise these chapters to try and bring them up to snuff. Here's the next one, originally published on February 16, 2018

    Chapter 6: No Sense of Direction

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "Eyowch!"

    Braviary's good wing flapped open in surprise, smacking Misdreavus from behind and nearly making her to drop the bowl of burn ointment resting on her head.

    "Golly, Braviary. Watch where you're pointing that thing," she gasped.

    Braviary ignored and her and fixed an angry look on Comfey. "Dangummit. Warn a feller when yer gonna go jostling his bum wing, will ya?"

    "We've been over this before, Braviary," Comfey sighed. "If I tell you when I'm going to fix your wing, you'll just tense up and make it impossible for me to work. In any case, it should be okay now."

    Braviary slowly lifted up his injured wing and gave it a light flap. "Err, right. Nice job, pardner," he said, face flushing slightly.

    "Hoo-whee, I'm still a bit confused as to just what happened to you four," Misdreavus said, levitating a brush over Milotic to apply some of the ointment to her belly.

    "Yeah, you guys look like you got put through a cheese grater!" Haunter said, going intangible to dodge a swipe of Seperior's tail. "And you've got all the funk of smelly cheese going, to boot. Mwee hee hee!"

    "We got jumped by this…" Serperior's voice trailed off. "I don't even know what to call it. It was a thing. It acted like it was a Pokémon, but it sure didn't attack like one. Airy, you're better at explaining this stuff. Loop 'em in, will ya?" She glanced over her shoulder at Dragonair, but her teammate lay facing the corner of the infirmary. "Airy, you feeling okay?" Serperior asked.

    "I'm fine," Dragonair whispered, but her tone of voice suggested otherwise.

    "Aww, c'mon, Dragonair. You're safe and sound at the guild," Haunter said, floating in front of her. He detached his mouth from his body and rotated it 180 degrees. "Let's turn that frown of yours upside-down!"

    A stream of dragonfire pelted Haunter. He struck the wall behind him and his ectoplasmic body splattered against it like jelly spread on toast. "O-ho-kay… or not," he said.

    Milotic and Serperior exchanged panicked looks. Bright light then funneled in from the hallway.

    "Whoa! Team Radiance? What happened to you guys?" Togedemaru's surprised gasp echoed. "And… is that Espeon and Umbreon? Ah! Emergency!" Sounds of quick, small footsteps filled up the infirmary. "Sound the alarms! Get the Guildmaster! We're in trou—"

    "It's fine, Togedemaru," Shane cut in. "It's… it's fine."

    A loud sob reached the infirmary, making Milotic's eyebrow-like fins crinkle up. Everyone, including the injured Team Captivate, quickly made their way toward the assembly room. Togedemaru and Trapinch stood there, backs against the wall in surprise. The beaten-up trio of Team Radiance lay in the middle of the room. Next to them sat Espeon and Umbreon, who looked even worse for wear. Tessa held her paws to her face, bawling hysterically.

    Without warning, she took off running toward the stairs. "Tessa, wait!" Shane cried, trying to grab her tail with a forepaw. Null held him back, however, and shook his head.

    "… let her go. There's nothing… we can do for her," he grimly, lowering his head grimly.

    "Good gracious. What happened to you all?" Comfey gasped. "I can't let your team out of my sight for one afternoon without the three of you getting torn to shreds!"

    "Forget that," Trapinch fumed, glaring at Espeon and Umbreon. "What are you two doing here? Give us one good reason we shouldn't get Officer Magnezone on the line."

    "It's okay," Null said, stepping in front of them. "They're… not our enemies anymore…"

    "Alright, all y'all need to stop and take a deep breath," Braviary declared, sticking a wing out between Null and Trapinch. "Now, why don't you loop the rest of us in as to just what happened in Aurora Vale."

    "Only if you tell us what happened to you guys," Shane said, giving Braviary a suspicious look. If Drampa had given Braviary a hard time, Shane wanted to know.

    "Hrmph. I was gonna get to that anyway," Braviary said. "Go on. Start talking."

    Shane recapped Team Radiance's trek through Aurora Vale, including the dungeon's icy traps, the battle with Espeon and Umbreon, and Zero's appearance. Looks of shock appeared on his guild mates' faces when they learned of Sylveon's and Eevee's fates.

    "Oh… oh gods. Those poor souls," Milotic said. "They didn't deserve any of this."

    "I can't believe you two did this! You should be ashamed of yourselves," Togedemaru said, glaring at Espeon and Umbreon.

    "You think we don't realize that already?" Espeon said, her voice cracking. Her head and shoulders drooped. Tears splashed against the floor. "It's all over for us. We can't go back to the Mist Continent after what we've done." She shivered. "I can still see them. All the Pokémon I hurt." She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head rapidly. "I want it to stop. Oh, Umbry. Why won't it stop? Why can't I just shut my stupid, stupid brain off?"

    "But, you saved us, didn't you?" Shane said. "Tessa had our Escape Orbs, but we vanished from the dungeon before Zero could do anything to us. You guys must've done that."

    "We had one more Ultra Entercard at our disposal. We used it to come here," Umbreon said, frowning. "It was all I could think of." He drew his lips back, showing off his fangs. "I wish I didn't have to use it. Just feeling its power made me wish I was dead."

    "So, this 'Zero' lady ditched us to attack your team," Milotic said. "And we just came back here… too banged up to go back for you guys. Some help we turned out to be."

    "Wait, you dealt with Zero, too?" Shane gasped. "Is that why you look so beat up?"

    "Yeah. But she ran off, hissing about 'troublemakers.' And not a moment too soon. We were…" Milotic shuddered. "We were hopelessly outmatched."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Shane asked.

    "Most of her attacks… weren't even real Pokémon attacks," Milotic said. "She did all this creepy stuff where she distorted the air around her. I can barely even explain it. We got our tails handed to us. And what made it even worse was that she had the gall to lecture us about how foolish we were to be part of the guild. She called us paws to the gods."

    "I think she said the same thing to us," Shane said, his voice faltering. Given what he'd heard, it really was nothing more than a struck of luck that he was standing back at the Observatory. If Zero could wipe the floor with four opponents, then Team Radiance stood no chance against her.

    "Well, yeah. That's what Zero's after," Espeon said. "She wants to wipe the gods off the face of the earth… forever. The endless night business is part of that."

    A tense silence fell over the room, with everyone's gazes falling toward the floor. "Okay, I'm gonna be 'that guy,'" Haunter said, his body coiled up to form a giant question mark. "What does destroying gods have to do with plunging the world into eternal night?"

    "Well, isn't it obvious?" Shane said. "If the Prism Virus gets rid of all gods, then that includes Dialga. And if he's gone… then Temporal Tower will fall again."

    "No," Espeon whispered. Shane's ears stuck up. "Zero doesn't want that. She made it very clear that there's no point to everything the Prism Virus is doing if the world falls into ruin."

    "Zero said she has a way to use the Prism Virus' powers to erase dungeons like Temporal Tower and the Tree of Life, with no consequences," Umbreon said. "She intends to make sure things like time and space flow freely, without any Pokémon controlling them."

    The group sat there, processing Umbreon's claims. "The way you're talking about it… it sounds like you believed her," Shane accused, narrowing his eyes at Umbreon.

    "We did," Umbreon said. "We believed it. In fact, a part of me still believes it's possible. There's…" He gritted his teeth. "There's a part of me that wants to see it happen. I mean, when you think about it, it makes sense, doesn't it? Imagine never having to worry about the planet falling into ruin because some god loses its mind. Doesn't it sound good? Doesn't it sound... reasonable?"

    Everyone assumed fighting stances in an instant, though the injured guild members did so with pained winces. It sounded like the two weren't as free as Shane had thought.

    "You don't understand!" Espeon cried, choking back tears. "What Zero does… it's not brainwashing. It's not mind control. It's just… awful." She shrank down to the ground, curling up in a ball. "When we found her in our home, she just… sat there. And talked to us."

    Espeon's shivering intensified. "The more she spoke, the more bad memories kept getting dragged up. All of the Pokémon who suffered at Kyurem's and Munna's hands. The chilling, suffocating cold. And then Dark Matter. Oh, gods, Dark Matter…" She rubbed her paws across her face.

    "All I could think about was how terrified I was… staring down Yveltal before getting turned to stone. And those wretched, miserable Voidlands. I couldn't stop! The thoughts kept pouring in." Espeon smacked her head against her forelegs. "I saw Void Shadows everywhere! Standing there… taunting me! Laughing at me! They wouldn't go away. I tried everything… and they wouldn't! Go! Away!"

    "Our fear turned to anger," Umbreon said, turning away from the group. "I was furious. Because we suffered thanks to Dark Matter, while the gods sat in their homes… doing nothing until it was too late."

    "We've been over this before. They did help in the end," Shane said. "Otherwise, Dark Matter would have won!"

    "It doesn't matter," Espeon hissed, slapping a forepaw on the ground. "I said the same thing to Zero and she laughed. She looked me right in the eyes and said, 'And what do you think will happen when another abomination like Dark Matter strikes? Do you really think you can keep relying on humans to bail you all out?'"

    "We were so afraid. We couldn't take it anymore. So… we agreed to help her," Umbreon continued. "That's when Zero conjured up these two balls and threw them at us. One of them struck me and… and…" He threw his forepaws up over his head. "This horrifying energy grabbed me and dragged me up into a vortex. It felt like something was tearing me to shreds!"

    "It was terrifying! I thought I was going to suffocate and die," Espeon bawled, curling up against her partner. "All around me was darkness. I thought I'd been turned to stone again! But the darkness went away. And I was back in the house. I felt… stronger. Stronger than I'd ever felt in my entire life."

    The chitin on Null's foreleg tingled. He looked down. Shane staggered backwards, tails curling around Null's foreleg. His jaw hung open. "Are you okay?" Null said.

    "Th… that's impossible," Shane whispered. "Hit by a ball… swallowed up by energy?"

    Zero somehow had access to Poké Balls. And this was a world full of wild Pokémon. A shiver raced across Shane's spine and his fur bristled. He fell silent and shook his head slowly.

    "So, all the stuff y'all have done to our continent?" Braviary said, giving Espeon and Umbreon a stern look.

    "Was our idea," Espeon said, wilting under the collective gazes of the guild members. "We thought that if we corrupted the Pokémon and landscapes of your continent, we could draw out the Land Spirits."

    "You guys wanted to go after the Tapus?" Togedemaru gasped.

    "Those were Zero's orders," Umbreon replied. "She knew that one of the Land Spirits holds something called the Dawn Hourglass." Umbreon looked up into a cluster of widened eyes. "Zero wanted us to find it, so she could absorb all of its power. She said that the Dawn Hourglass' energy would let her charge up our Ultra Entercards to the point where we could summon Magnagates strong enough to transport us directly to the end of any Mystery Dungeon, even ones sealed behind magic barriers like Temporal Tower, Spacial Rift, or, well, everything in the Sea of Wonders."

    "Which would make getting to any of the world's gods a complete breeze," Serperior said. "That's sickening." She leaned in, a worried look on her face. "Did Zero get the Dawn Hourglass?"

    "Thanks to a stroke of pure luck, no," Espeon said. "We had covered Aurora Vale in ice to rile up Tapu Lele, but it looks like she suspected something was wrong. She sent a Ditto to scout ahead disguised as her." Espeon's gaze fell back toward the ground. "That's when Zero insisted we kidnap Sylveon and Eevee to get to Vulpix."

    Shane's blood ran cold. Zero really did want him dead, then. Shane thought about his dream visions with Solgaleo. He had claimed Gallian was behind everything, but clearly he was wrong. Did Solgaleo just not know or was he, perhaps, misleading Shane?

    "Getting the Dawn Hourglass would also rid the world of daylight," Umbreon said. "Hence, the whole 'world of eternal night' business."

    "But that can't be right," Haunter said, frowning. "All the legends say Solgaleo's the one who can control the sun. The Dawn Hourglass only comes into play if something really bad were to happen to him."

    "But something bad did happen," Shane said. "In my dreams, Solgaleo told me something drained him of most of his power. I'll bet Zero tried to attack him!"

    "Tried?" Espeon said, drawing everyone's gazes back to her. "The way Zero and her crazy pet sounded, they succeeded."

    "What do you mean 'they succeeded?'" Shane asked, growing more worried. Had he actually been right? Had Solgaleo misled him?

    "Solgaleo's already gone," Umbreon said, drawing a chorus of surprised gasps. "Zero said she fed him to her pet… Lunala."

    "What?!"

    Half the assembled guild members shouted their surprise in unison. Shane's head throbbed. The guild faded from view. Necrozma floated opposite him, a big grin plastered on his face. He melted away as soon as he appeared, leaving Shane standing dumbstruck.

    Zero was a Lucario. She had Lunala as her pet. Tessa said she thought her mom was protecting Lunala. Which meant that Zero was Tessa's mother. Shane looked toward the stairs, his chest growing heavy. Tessa's own mother had killed her friends. Worse, she was ready to choke the life out of her own daughter!

    Shane's legs shook. It was taking every ounce of willpower not to pass out. This was too much. What was he supposed to say to Tessa? Not to mention... if Solgaleo really was gone, then who was the Pokémon in his dreams?

    "I don't know how Zero did it, but she turned Lunala into this right creepy Pokémon, who cackles incessantly and rambles on and on about how all the light in the universe belongs to him," Espeon said. "Hearing his voice always made my skin crawl."

    "She really fed Solgaleo to Lunala?" Comfey said. "That can't be right. Solgaleo and Lunala are a unit. Each iteration has worked together to keep the balance of day and night in the world. Lunala would never turn on Solgaleo like that."

    "Unless Lunala's been infected," Null said, voice filled with dread.

    "No, that can't be right," Milotic said. "If the Prism Virus is trying to wipe out all the gods, then why would it rely on one of them to meet its endgame?"

    "And didn't Vulpix say Solgaleo's given him dream visions?" Trapinch said, glancing at Shane. "That must mean he's still out there."

    "As much as I'd love to believe that, the writing's on the wall," Espeon said. "Haven't you been watching the sky? The moon's growing larger every day."

    "So what? The moon gets bigger and smaller all the time," Haunter scoffed.

    "But not like this," Milotic said. "It's unnaturally big and unnaturally bright."

    "Because the moon's positioning itself to encase the sun in a permanent solar eclipse," Umbreon explained. "With no Solgaleo, there's no one to make sure sunlight reaches the planet. Meanwhile, Lunala is free to manipulate the moon." His ears drooped. "If your legends are accurate, then Zero taking the Dawn Hourglass' power would mean there's no way to reset the world's supply of daylight."

    "Leaving behind a world of endless night, unless Zero chooses to reverse it," Espeon said.

    "Wait, Magearna told me that, in ancient times, Ho-Oh maintained control of the world's day-night cycle," Shane said. "Surely Ho-Oh's realized there's something wrong by now, right?"

    That may be true, but it does nothing to help our situation.

    The group turned to see Magearna appearing out from her hallway. Allow me to offer an apology cycle for my intrusification, she said, bowing her head slightly. She remained still for several seconds before returning upright. Cycle complete. Now then, as I was saying, while it might be true that Ho-Oh can manipulify light to reach the planet, it is a skill that she has not used in a considerable amount of time.

    "Which means what, exactly?" Trapinch asked.

    "Duh. Isn't it obvious? The birdbrain's gone so long without having to do it, she's forgotten how," Togedemaru snorted.

    "You can't be serious. That's way too important of a thing to forget," Serperior said.

    I'm afraid I must agreeciate with Togedemaru, Magearna stated. Even a god's memory is not infallible. They're bound to forget things. Especificially gods that aren't psychic-types.

    "Then why not stash those memories away with a psychic-type god?" Serperior said.

    Look, I'm not trying to say Ho-Oh would be no help in this scenuation. I am just suggesting you temper your expectations by seventy-two percent, Magearna said. It's unreasonable to think a Pokémon can simply call forth a power that's laid dormant within them. We all forget moves and abilities as we age. I don't think it's different for the gods.

    "Alright, everybody oughta settle down here," Braviary declared, lifting up a wing. "I think… we've got a lot to digest. And, frankly, most of us ain't in the right state of mind to be thinking 'bout this stuff. Let's focus on getting healed up first, and then we can put our heads together and see if we can come up with some sorta plan. Sound good?"

    Murmurs of agreement and head nods followed. Shane shifted uneasily, worried Braviary's suggestion wasn't meant to help, but hinder. Braviary turned to Espeon and Umbreon. "As fer you two. I want you coming with me to see the Guildmaster pronto."

    The order caused Espeon to arc her back and hiss, fur standing on end.

    "Espy!" Umbreon gasped.

    "No. I'm not going anywhere near him!" she cried. "I can sense his energy." She shot Umbreon a despondent look. "I'll bet he's been going through my memories since we got here. And that's why I can't get them out of my head."

    "Be quiet!" Braviary cawed. Several Pokémon near him jumped in surprise. "This can go one of two ways, missy. Either you see the Guildmaster and, if'n he clears y'all, we'll patch the two of you up. Or I take you to Officer Magnezone and you can look forward to rotting in jail." His eyes narrowed at them. "So, what's it gonna be?"

    Umbreon gave his partner a worried look and gestured at Braviary. Espeon slumped over in defeat. "... fine. Take us to him," she whispered meekly.

    "Good. Maybe then y'all can start thinking 'bout how yer gonna make things up to us."

    Espeon flinched. "M-Make things up? No! I can't. I don't want to get involved." She looked at Umbreon, who shook his head solemnly. "Umbry, please don't make me do this," she squeaked.

    "We don't have a choice, Espy," Umbreon whispered. "Not after what we've done."

    "Exactly. Now, follow me." Braviary walked forward and shooed the duo off toward Metagross' office. The rest of the group returned to the infirmary. Shane looked at Null. He didn't have to say anything for Null to pick up on his nervousness over Braviary's sudden shift in demeanor. But Null had nothing to offer Shane. He trudged toward the infirmary.

    Before Shane could follow him, one of Magearna's mechanical arms blocked his path.

    A moment please, human, Magearna requested. I could not help but notice that, from the sound of things, the move you used to defeatify Espeon and Umbreon was not normal.

    "Yeah," Shane confirmed. He lifted his foreleg up. "My looplet glowed while it happened. And then the glow faded and the gem turned all gray." He glanced at the looplet. "It looks like the color's back, though."

    Ah… it can't be!

    Sparks landed on Shane's shoulders. He stumbled backwards with a whine. Magearna slumped over, a wayward current racing across her body. Shane's tails shot into the air. "W-What the—" He looked around the room in confusion. "S-Somebody help! I think Magearna's busted," he cried.

    "What do you mean busted?" Togedemaru asked, popping out from the infirmary. "She's a living being!" The heads of several of his guild mates joined Togedemaru in the doorway.

    Magearna righted herself and blinked her mechanical eyes. My goodness. That was the most intense surge in shockification levels I've ever felt since my circuitry activated. I've never gone to one hundred percent so quickly. But forget that! She turned to Shane. How could I not have realizinated this earlier? Oh, I am going to need numerous shame algorithms to process this blunder. She brought her arms up against her face and shook it repeatedly.

    "Stop beating around the bush and tell me what's wrong already," Shane begged. "Is it the looplet? Is it trying to kill me?" He put his foreleg on the ground and frantically tried to push the anklet off, to no avail.

    No, no. Quite the opposite, actually, Magearna said. That is no ordinary looplet. What you have there is a Naturia Looplet.

    "No way!" "It can't be!" "I thought those were a myth." "How the heck did he get one?"

    Shane's ears twitched from the chorus of whispers behind him. "Okay, someone's going to have to loop me in, because I'm quite confused." He paused for a moment. "Heh… loop. That's a good one." A series of annoyed groans rang out from the infirmary, making his ears scrunch up. "Hey, that was clever, dang it!" Shane huffed.

    A Naturia Looplet is a looplet imbued with the life energy of one of the Land Spirits, Magearna explained. Judging by the green colorification on that gem, I calculate a greater than ninety-nine percent chance that it was Tapu Bulu who gave you that.

    "But I've never met a Tapu Tofu before. I don't even know what it looks like," Shane said, staring blankly at his looplet.

    "Tapu Boo-loo, you dork! Are you trying to get us all cursed or something?" Togedemaru said.

    You say you've never met him, but that has to be his life energy I'm detectinating. These readings are astronomical! Magearna said, eyes flickering rapidly. And, from what it sounds like, you used a Z-Move against Espeon and Umbreon. Only the power of a Naturia Looplet can grant a normal Pokémon access to Z-Moves.

    "Wait, that was a Z-Move?" Shane gasped. His jaw fell open. "You mean this whole time I could've—" He fell to the floor and buried his head under his forepaws. "Aggh! You big, dumb, stupid idiot!" He smacked his cheek multiple times. "Do you realize how much trouble you could've prevented if you'd used it earlier? You're so pathetic, Shane!"

    "Huh. That wasn't the reaction I was expecting," Togedemaru mused.

    "Yeah, I figured he was going to start prancing around the place singing about how awesome he is," Haunter added. "I guess I dragged these out of my room for no reason." He nonchalantly chucked the Haunter-colored maracas in his hands over his shoulder. Misdreavus caught them in her spectral hair and disappeared into the floor with them.

    Don't beat yourself up too much. It's been so long since a normal Pokémon's been seen with one, it was assumed they were only meant for Totem Pokémon to use, Magearna said.

    "But wait. This could be really important!"

    Cold air bristled Shane's shoulder. "Gah!" He jumped backwards. "When did you get here?"

    "S-Sorry! I'm sorry," Mimikyu squeaked, swiveling his makeshift tail forward to cover his eyes. "You guys were so busy talking, I didn't want to say anything."

    "Well, you're talking now," Togedemaru said. "Go on, finish your thought."

    "Well, Shane said that the very last thing Espeon and Umbreon were hit with was the Z-Move, yes?" Mimikyu said, drawing a nod from Shane. "And they're here with us now, right? As opposed to getting turned into colorless, motionless statues?"

    "Yeah," Shane said.

    Ah, I see what you're getting at, Magearna said.

    "Right. What if Shane's Z-Move can free Pokémon from the Prism Virus?" Mimikyu proposed.

    Shane's eyes widened as the realization sank in that he had freed them. "Then we might have a way to save infected Pokémon after all," he said.

    Don't get too carried away. If the data I have is true, you can only use a Z-Move once in a Mystery Dungeon, Magearna cautioned. Judging by your explanolation earlier, I believe that is the case with your looplet.

    Shane's ears folded against his head. "So, I've got to pick and choose when to use it, huh? That dampens things." He looked down at the looplet once again. "But wait, isn't there any way we could try to get more of these? If Z-Moves can stop the Prism Virus, then everyone in the guild should have a Naturia Looplet."

    "It's not that simple, genius," Togedemaru scoffed. "Naturia Looplets are only granted to worthy Pokémon by the Land Spirits. And that means you have to be able to find one of them and prove you deserve the looplet." She rubbed her chin. "Then again, if you got one without even knowing how, maybe it's not as hard as the legends say."

    "Hey! No need to dis me like that," Shane growled.

    "It wasn't an insult. Just an observation," Togedemaru said, frowning.

    Shane still gave Togedemaru a nasty look before turning back to Magearna. "Isn't there any way to figure out where the Tapus are hiding?"

    I might be able to generatify a plan, given some time, Magearna said. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my workshop. She disappeared into the hallway she had popped out of earlier.

    Shane sighed and rubbed his head. "Now what?" he muttered. "I have all this new information, but it doesn't feel like there's a thing I can do with it!"

    "Maybe focus on healing up first?" Mimikyu said. Shane gave him a look of disbelief. Mimikyu flinched. "A-Ah! It was just a suggestion, that's all. Y-You can go do whatever you want." He quickly shuffled backward.

    Shane walked past Mimikyu, glancing down the stairs. Tessa had run down here earlier. He figured he should check to make sure she was okay. "Hey! I'm going downstairs to find my partner. Don't anyone go yelling at me for entering the veterans' quarters this time, okay?" he announced.

    "Sure, buddy. Whatever you say."

    "Gah!"

    Drifloon popped out of the wall. Shane leaped up in surprise, hit the edge of the stairs, and tumbled down them. His joints rattled with every step he hit until he landed at the bottom in a fuzzy white heap.

    "Huh. And here I thought Vulpixes always landed gracefully," Drifloon mused, disappearing back into the wall.

    Shane groaned and staggered to his feet. He really hated those ghosts. Shane looked down the veterans' quarters, narrowing his eyes to adjust to the lower lighting conditions. "Riolu? Hey, Riolu! Are you down here?" At first, he heard no response. However, his ears soon twitched.

    He should've known Tessa would go to her mother's room. Though, with the conclusion he had drawn earlier, the thought of entering said room unsettled him. Nonetheless, Shane padded forward and glanced toward the appropriate doorway. The room was as messy as he recalled it being at the start of the week. He caught a flash of blue in his field of vision and turned his attention toward the far corner of the room.

    Prisma's bed sat buried underneath a bookshelf that had toppled over, scattering books all around it. It was at the foot of the bed that Tessa lay curled up into a ball. She clasped her scarf and a piece of paper in her paws. While she wasn't bawling her eyes out anymore, her soft, muffled whimpers made the fur in Shane's ears tingle.

    "Riolu," he whispered, stepping into the room. Tessa's aura feelers twitched the moment his forepaw hit the ground. She pivoted, turning her back toward the doorway. Shane's tails fell to the ground. "Riolu, I'm sorry," he said, continuing toward her. "I don't know what to say."

    He reached Tessa's side while she attempted to curl up into an even tighter ball. His heart sank. This wasn't fair. Tessa didn't deserve this. Not after everything that had happened over the last few days. This was supposed to be a fresh start for the team.

    "Please," Tessa whispered, making Shane's ears twitch. "Please… just be quiet. I don't want to talk right now."

    Shane opened his mouth, only to slowly close it and silently bow his head. He couldn't leave her alone any longer. "C… can I join you, at least?"

    Tessa didn't reply, which technically meant she didn't refuse his offer. So, Shane slid down beside her. It wasn't long before Tessa shifted her position, so her head came to rest against his side. He avoided eye contact, instead glancing at the paper in her paws. It was a photo. One of a younger Tessa and Gallian, together with an even-younger Eevee. Incineroar and Sylveon were both in the background, holding up an Eevee-shaped cake.

    "You guys were really close," Shane said, only for his eyes to widen. He meant to think that, not say it. Where had his inner monologue gone?

    "They were practically family," Tessa said. She rubbed her face against his hide. Her snot seeped into Shane's fur as he suppressed a grimace. "And… and now they're gone. Just like everyone else."

    They fell back into silence as Tessa stared at the picture. There was a longing gaze in her eyes. "Is there anything I can do? Y'know, to help and stuff?" Shane said, praying she would respond.

    "Tell me… that it's going to be okay," Tessa said, blinking tears out of her eyes.

    "Huh?"

    "Tell me that they're not really gone!" Tessa cried, grabbing Shane's face and swiveling it to meet her tearful gaze. "Tell me we can find a way to bring them back!"

    "Uh… w-well… I d-don't really…"

    "There has to be way! There just has to," Tessa blubbered. "All the other times the world was in danger, the heroes fixed everything. They made happy endings for everyone. So, why should this be any different?"

    Shane's muzzle stiffened. That was true for his games back home, too.

    "Come on. You're always going on and on about how well you know the stories. Tell me that once we beat the Prism Virus, they'll come back!" Tessa pleaded. "That all we need to do is stop Zero... and I'll have my friends back!"

    "I… um..." Shane shut his eyes and forced himself to look away. "You're right. We can't give up hope."

    "I knew it."

    "Hmm?" Shane opened his eyes to find Tessa staring down at the photo again.

    "You don't really believe that, do you?" Tessa whispered. "They're gone. They're gone and they're never… they're…" She curled back up into a ball.

    "Wait. No! No, I really believe it," Shane insisted, though the uncertainty in his voice was plain as day. "B-But you're not of any help to them all banged up like this. We, erm, we need to get you all healed up."

    "No."

    "Huh? B-But—"

    "Please… just leave me alone."

    "Riolu—"

    "Shane, I need some space right now. I'm not going to hurt myself or anything," Tessa said.

    He wanted to believe her, but wouldn't forgive himself if he left her alone when she really needed help. "But—"

    "Get out, Shane," Tessa said. After a long pause, she added, "Please."

    Shane frowned. He felt so useless. Shane wondered if maybe he should get Null to help Tessa. He got to his feet, continuing to stare at her. After a minute of Tessa lying still, Shane made up his mind. He silently walked out of the room. His gaze remained fixed on the floor as he trudged up the stairs. When he arrived back at the assembly room, he spotted Espeon and Umbreon walking out of the Guildmaster's office. Blank expressions sat on their faces.

    "You two!" he shouted, stomping up toward them. "What else aren't you telling us about the Prism Virus, huh? And Zero, for that matter?"

    Espeon and Umbreon exchanged panicked looks. "We've said everything we know. Honest," Umbreon replied.

    "Well, I'm not convinced," Shane huffed. "What happens to the Pokémon who turn colorless, huh? Is there any way to bring them back?"

    "This is about your partner's friends, isn't it?" Espeon said, frowning.

    "Of course it is!" Shane barked. How could she act so stoic about this? He stood up on the tips of his toes and got into Espeon's face. Espeon took a cautious step backwards. "You hurt her. You hurt her badly. And if that wasn't bad enough, you flat-out admitted you were aware of what you were doing the entire time!"

    Espeon shuffled backwards. "Stop reminding me of how much I screwed up. It's bad enough I'm stuck with all these memories. I don't need you making it worse!"

    "What more do you want us to say?" Umbreon asked. "You saw what happened to Riolu's friends. There's no coming back from that. I'm sorry."

    Shane pulled his lips back into a snarl. "That's not good enough!" he shouted, pushing his face against Espeon's chest. She slid back once again. One of her hind paws slipped out from behind her. With a yelp, Espeon slipped into Bruxish's pond.

    "Espy!" Umbreon cried. He tackled Shane to the ground. "What the heck is your problem, kid?"

    "My problem?! What's your problem?" Shane hissed, squirming about underneath the dark-type. "You're brushing over Riolu's losses. Didn't you see how devastated she was? You at least owe her a big… no, a huge apology! No… more than that. You need to fix this! You need to make things right!"

    "Come on. You didn't think we'd at least apologize?" Umbreon huffed. "How do you think we're feeling right now, huh? This isn't going to do anyone any good. Least of all your friend!"

    "Goooooood heavens," Bruxish's voice carried from the pond as a soggy Espeon splashed up next to her partner. "Warn a fellow before you go diving into their home, dahling. You nearly made my heart stop." Bruxish disappeared back under the surface, muttering something to himself. Espeon turned and glared at Shane.

    "Oh brother. Suck it up. A little water never hurt anyone," Shane growled, recalling his multitude of unwanted dips. He fixed his gaze on Espeon, but heat soon rushed into his face and he looked away.

    "Why are you being so nasty toward us?" Espeon asked, trying to shake herself dry to little avail. "We realize what we've done is wrong."

    "Then go apologize to Riolu. Now!" Shane said, huffing out frost. "And, while you're at it, why not try to make up for what you did and help us figure out a way to beat the Prism Virus? You're both really smart. I'm sure you can think of something if you put your heads together."

    Espeon slapped her forepaw on the ground. Water droplets splattered against Shane's cheek. He flinched and turned away. "Don't you get it," she said. "There's nothing we can do. You saw Zero's powers for yourself. Our normal abilities alone aren't good enough to stop her."

    Shane wriggled free. He bolted to his feet and snorted another tuft of frost at Umbreon. "I can't believe you two!" he spat. "Moping about in defeat like she's already won. I always thought you two were so cool... the way you helped stop Kyurem and the Bittercold. You were heroes to me! I... I..." Shane's gaze fell onto Espeon. He watched water drip off her fur.

    He turned away, a look of uncertainty on his face. "I guess it's true what they say. Never meet your heroes. You just wind up getting disappointed by what you see," he growled.

    Umbreon opened his mouth to retort when a half-avian, half-furry foreleg reached out in front of him. He followed the limb to Null's body, locked eyes, and then abruptly looked away.

    "… I think you two… should give us the room…"

    Umbreon nodded slowly. "Come on, Espy. Let's go dry you off," he said. They then left Null alone with Shane.

    Turning to Shane, Null rasped, "Okay. What's with the attitude? You totally… flew off the handle... at them."

    "No, I didn't. They deserved it," Shane said. "I was doing it for Tessa." When Null responded with an unamused look, Shane shouted, "It's not fair!" He then lashed out at the wall, only to quickly withdraw his throbbing paw with a whimper.

    "I've worked hard. I've gotten stronger. I'm patching things up with everyone. So, why did we fail again?" Shane said. "Every time I go up against the Prism Virus, things go wrong! And it's getting worse, not better." He collapsed to the ground, burying his head in his forelegs.

    "Shane," Null whispered, extending a foreleg toward him.

    "Don't 'Shane' me!" Shane hissed, swiping Null's foreleg away. "You don't get how messed up all of this is. I…" He shut his eyes and scrunched up his face. "Null… I can't do this. I can't do this anymore."

    "What are you... talking about?"

    "The dungeon-crawling. Fighting the Prism Virus. It's too much! I'm in too far over my head!" Shane said. He couldn't hold it back any longer. Tears trickled down his cheeks. "Zero… is Tessa's mom."

    "That's impossible."

    "I'm sure of it," Shane whimpered. "Don't you get it? The answer was sitting in front of me the whole time, but I was too stupid to notice it!" He let out an unhinged laugh. "Tessa's mom is a human. That's why Tessa and Gallian have names. She's a human... and she's been here god only knows how long. Now she's trying to destroy the world!"

    "I don't… believe you. Zero… didn't sound… anything like a girl," Null said, shaking his head.

    "Believe it. I saw her outline up close, Null," Shane said. "She had the figure of a Lucario. She was wearing Egyptian clothing. She had a mask of Anubis over her face! Anubis is the inspiration for Lucario in my world." He buried his face in his forelegs, shivering. "It can't be anyone else. It's her." He looked up at Null, blinking tears out of his eyes. "This is too much. I can't fight against Tessa's mom. Now when she's got crazy powers."

    "What about Tessa?" Null whispered.

    Shane bolted to his feet, tails fanning out in panic. "We can't tell her anything!"

    Null tensed up. "What are you saying? It's her mom. She's been trying… to find out what happened to her… since she got here," he growled.

    "That doesn't matter. You saw her for yourself. She's a mess!" Shane said. "If we tell her that her mom's Zero, then… then she's going to kill herself for sure!"

    Null stepped forward. His stone helmet jammed Shane's snout backward. "We have to tell her," he hissed. "If we don't… and she finds out on her own… then what do you think… is going to happen?"

    "Well... um..." Shane hopped backward. "You want to tell her? Fine!" he growled. He stepped to the side and gestured toward the stairs. "Be my guest. Well, go on. What are you waiting for? March on down there, look her in the eyes, and tell her, 'Hi, Riolu. Sorry about your friends. Oh, by the way, your mom's the one who killed them. Because she's a murderous psychopath now!'"

    Null tackled a squealing Shane to the ground. "What are you doing?" Shane said. "Help! Somebody he— mmfffgh!"

    Null grabbed Shane's snout in his talons. "Stop… stop it!" he snarled, thrashing his head about. Shane swore he heard Null's voice crack. "Do you think… I like this? Riolu's my... best friend. I don't want… to see her in pain. I don't want… to see either of you… tearing yourselves apart like this." He leaned down, digging his helmet into Shane's ribs. "But we have to tell her. She deserves to know… what's going on."

    Silence fell over the two of them. Shane stopped struggling. He couldn't think up a counterargument. Null was right. Keeping this big of a secret from Tessa would do far more harm than good in the long run. And he couldn't subject Tessa to something like that. Still, there was a big problem in front of them.

    "How?" Shane squeaked. "How can we possibly break news like this to her?"

    "I don't know," Null said. "But we'll have... to think of something. I dunno… maybe ease her... into the conversation? Didn't she say… she was having dream visions… about her mom... and Lunala?" Shane nodded silently. "Then just based on... what Espeon and Umbreon told us… we have a place to start."

    "Do we have to do it right now?" Shane whimpered.

    "I guess not," Null sighed. "We can… think on it… overnight. But tomorrow… we have to say something…" He stepped off Shane and extended his foreleg. "I'm sorry… for snapping at you."

    Shane got to his feet of his own accord. "Apology accepted," he said, letting out a dejected sigh. He briefly wondered if he should apologize for the outburst, but instead said, "Wanna know the worst part of all of this? It's that Gallian, was right! We failed Sylveon and Eevee." He lifted his head up and looked at Null. "What am I supposed to do, huh? At this rate, I don't stand a chance against Zero!"

    "… you could evolve…" Null whispered, poking the ground with a talon.

    Shane's ears twitched. "You're kidding, right?" he said, adding a bitter laugh

    "Does it sound... like I'm kidding?" Null asked.

    "I can't evolve," Shane said. "Think about the other times the world was in danger. Every time it happened, something prevented the heroes from evolving. I'm sure the Prism Virus is doing some weird, alien mumbo-jumbo to the continent. Which means I'm stuck as a weak, frail Vulpix."

    "But you keep mentioning… how much different this feels... from those other times," Null said. "Maybe that means... you can evolve. Don't you think… it's at least worth a shot?"

    "Bah! I don't want to get my hopes up," Shane dismissed. "Besides, how would an ice-type Vulpix even evolve, anyway? What, is there an Ice Stone or something?"

    Null coughed and looked away.

    Shane's expression stiffened. "Oh my god, there's totally an Ice Stone in this world, isn't there?" he said. Null nodded slowly. "Okay, well, even if I could evolve, what about Tessa, huh? Riolus are supposed to evolve into Lucarios when they're extremely happy. Tessa's about as far from that juncture as you could possibly get right now!"

    "That's not necessarily true."

    Shane's ears swiveled in front of him. He looked up and saw Tessa walking toward him. Espeon and Umbreon stood a few paces behind her. "T-Tessa!" he squeaked. "I… I mean Riolu! Are you, y'know, okay? Feeling better?"

    "I'm fine," Tessa said, rubbing her nose with a paw. "You're wrong, though. Happiness isn't the only way to get a Riolu to evolve." She clasped her shoulder and looked away. "Mom told me that, if a Riolu can learn to fully tap into its aura, it'll evolve into Lucario. But she was in charge of my aura training. It's been almost eight months since I've had any real practice with it."

    Shane's stance slouched. "Then, it's hopeless, isn't it? We're both going to be stuck in our base evolutions. And we'll be totally powerless against the Prism Virus," he said.

    "Maybe not."

    "I had an idea," Umbreon said as Shane gave him an unconvinced look. "That Z-Move you used on us, it left you positively brimming with energy while it was happening."

    Espeon sighed. "He's right, you know. Your life energy erupted like a geyser. You emitted an aura so strong I thought it would blind my psionic sense." She looked at Umbreon. "But what does that have to do with controlling raw aura, anyway?"

    "If Riolu uses a Z-Move, it's possible that the sudden surge of energy she would experience could be enough to jump-start her aura sense and trigger an evolution," Umbreon said. "Of course, it's only a theory. There's no guarantee it would work. Still, you ought to try."

    "I thought you two had already given up?" Shane huffed, giving a dismissive flick of his snout. Though his gaze remained fix on Espeon's damp fur.

    Espeon and Umbreon looked at each other and their gazes fell guiltily. "I guess you could say your partner reminded us of something important. Something worth fighting for," Espeon whispered. Shane gave Tessa a curious look, but she immediately turned away, pulling up her scarf to cover her face.

    "There's one problem with that idea, though," Shane said. "I can't get this Naturia Looplet off me! It's practically a part of me. Like Null's helmet." His muzzle stiffened and he shot Null a nervous look. Null huffed and shook his head, ruffling his chest plumage.

    "Then we'll have to find another one," Umbreon said. "Espy and I are…" His voice trailed off and he looked at Espeon. She stiffened, but she gave a single nod. "Right," Umbreon said. "Yeah. Espy and I are willing to help. Researching magical energies is a specialty of ours, after all."

    "I guess we could use your help," Tessa whispered, biting her lip.

    "Then it's settled," Umbreon said. "We might not have a plan, per se. But that's what tomorrow's for. In the meantime, you should get healed up."

    Shane and Tessa glanced at each other. They both gave nods and proceeded toward the infirmary. Null tagged along after them, slowly shaking his head. Espeon's tail flicked to her left, flinging water droplets onto the wall. "What do you think, Umbry?" she asked.

    "They're no Haxorus and Raichu, that's for sure," Umbreon said. "But they're neck deep in all of this craziness. Like it or not, we have to help them."

    Espeon lowered her head in resignation. "I understand."
     
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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

    XxX

    Chapter 7: Peering Over the Horizon

    ~Sea Shrine~

    With a loud groan, Lugia hoisted himself out of a pool of water. Tears stung his eyes. He pulled his wing close to his side. Lugia cursed himself out. He had messed it up badly. Not even Roost could fix it up. Lugia glanced down from his watery perch, frowning. There was no way he could safely jump down to his nest. What was he supposed to do, now? This injury could put him out of commission for a while.

    "Lugia!"

    His eyes widened. Latias lay on top of one the stone pillars. Why was she here? She hadn't even sent word she'd be visiting.

    "T-Tia," he said. "What are you doing here?" He pivoted to his right in a poor attempt at hiding his broken wing, but Latias had already spotted the injury. Worry flashed across her face and she sped over to him.

    "I wanted to come see you. But never mind that. You're hurt! What happened to you?" she said.

    "It's… it's nothing," Lugia said, pivoting further to the right. Latias hovered around to face his broken wing.

    "Let me see," she said. Lugia sighed and dropped his left wing. Latias gazed at the swollen, misshapen limb and grimaced. "I can fix this. I'm sure of it," she whispered.

    "Tia, you don't have to waste energy on my behalf," Lugia insisted.

    "You don't need to pull the tough guy routine on me, you know," Latias said, scowling at him. "You really think I'm just going to let you sit here with a broken wing? No! I'm leaving for Horizon tomorrow and I'd like to rest easy knowing my mate's okay."

    Lugia's jaw slackened. "Wait, what?"

    This gave Latias the opening she needed. She pointed a claw at him. Soft, multicolored light hit Lugia's wing. It enveloped his feathers. His bruises faded away and his wing bent back into its proper angle. A surge of pain flooded Lugia's limb. Hissing, his eyes snapped shut. Luckily, the pain faded. Lugia looked at his mended wing and cautiously flapped it.

    "There. Was that really so bad?" Latias said.

    "No," Lugia sighed.

    Latias hovered forward and brushed her head and neck against his wing. "And, even if your pride's telling you otherwise, I don't think any less of you for accepting my help." She craned her neck up to peck him on the cheek. Lugia fought to hide a blush.

    "It… it's not that I didn't want your help, Tia. It's just… it's really embarrassing that I let this happen to me. I'm supposed to be a sea guardian, and I let the water get the better of me today," Lugia said, tail curling up. He turned his face away from her. "Last time I felt this humiliated, I let Hoopa spike my berry juice at Reshiram's summer solstice party."

    "Well, do you think you could tell me what happened?" Latias asked.

    "Only if you tell me what you meant with that Horizon nonsense," Lugia replied, to which Latias nodded. "Okay. It's the undersea currents. The moon has seriously screwed them up. A nasty whirlpool popped up off the coast of Treasure Town today. I tried to reach out to Kyogre for her help, but she refused to leave her home."

    "So, I had to try and dispel the whirlpool all on my own," Lugia whispered, shuddering. He lowered his head shamefully. "I misjudged the amount of room I had to safely maneuver around it. I got sucked in and tossed into a jagged rock."

    The mental image made Latias wince. "Oh, Lugia, I'm so sorry," she squeaked.

    "That broke my wing," Lugia continued. "I'm just lucky I was able to swim back here safely."

    "Why didn't you just surface and get help? I'm sure Wigglytuff's Guild would've lent you a hand," Latias said.

    Lugia glared disapprovingly. "Seriously, Latias? I wasn't about to go up to a guild and admit to all its Pokémon that I failed at my job." He shook his head. "I wouldn't expect you to understand…"

    Latias' cheeks puffed up. "… why? Because I'm 'just a Latias?'" Her amber eyes narrowed. "You sound like Rayquaza, you know. 'I'm not surprised Dark Matter got to you first. You and your brother are disgraces to dragon-kind! Hardly befitting the title of lesser god!'"

    Lugia flinched and looked away, but Latias continued, "I know you don't like guilds, but couldn't you at least try to understand? I don't just sit around in Lively Town, twiddling my claws day in and day out. These last couple of weeks have been really stressful for me." She teared up. "I came to see you because I'm leaving for Horizon and… and…"

    She buried her face in Lugia's neck and shivered. His feathers stood on end. Sure, Latias had come to him full of worries before, but this case seemed especially troubling. "Tuh-Tia? What's the matter? Did something bad happen to you?" His eyes narrowed. "Is someone on the Horizon Continent giving you trouble?"

    "It's me," she said, voice cracking. Lugia raised a confused brow. "I'm the problem. I was in Horizon last week, trying to run a mission, and things went really badly. N-Now I have to go back… and I might have to face down a Pokémon that wants to kill me!"

    "What?! Then don't go! Your safety comes first, Tia," Lugia said, eyes widening. He draped his left wing over her in an embrace. "For pity's sake, I couldn't stand the thought of losing you."

    "Lugia..." Latias shifted up, her feathers brushing his underbelly. She leaned her head up next to his. "Don't you get it? I have to go. I have to do this."

    "No, you don't," Lugia countered, pulling her out of the embrace and sternly putting his wings on top of hers. "You don't owe those Pokémon anything."

    "Yes, I do! We all do. 'Those Pokémon' are the only reason I'm here," Latias said, brow furrowing. "They're… they're the only reason we're both still here. And you know that. You just refuse to admit it."

    "That's not..." Lugia's voice trailed off. She was right. He didn't have any semblance of a counterargument.

    "You… Rayquaza… I swear, a ton of you are trying to pretend like Dark Matter didn't happen. Like it was a fluke! Sometimes it feels like you guys think that, somehow, if you ignore everything that went wrong, there won't be any fallout," Latias continued. "But Dark Matter did happen. And now we're starting to see the repercussions."

    Lugia looked away guiltily, but Latias swiveled his head back to face her. "Something's wrong with the world, Lugia. Don't tell me you don't think there's a problem. Because if there wasn't, a 'random whirlpool' wouldn't have gotten the better of you!" she said, jabbing a claw into his right wing.

    "What do you want me to say?" Lugia croaked, not wanting things to escalate further. "Nobody's helping me. I'm trying to do the best I can to counter these strange currents, but I've never dealt with something like this. And Mom didn't, either. Even when the natural disasters were at their worst, Mom had everything under control."

    "I know that, sweetie," Latias whispered, floating forward to peck him on the cheek. "And now I need to step in and do the best that I can, too. I won't let what happened with Dark Matter happen again. The Expedition Society thinks the Horizon Guild's heavily involved in all the stuff with the moon. So, I'm going over there to investigate." She fidgeted with her claws. "And I came here… I came here to say goodbye. Because…" She gulped. "… I don't know if I'm going to make it back."

    "Latias—"

    "I'm scared, Lugia!" she squeaked, embracing him again. "I don't want to face this 'God Killer.' And I don't want to face whatever's messing with the moon." She gazed up into Lugia's eyes. "But… but I don't want to lose you. And I don't want to lose Latios. I can't go through that again. That's why I have to go. I need to do whatever I can… to keep you both safe."

    "Luh… Latias... have you even told your brother about us?" Lugia said, face flushing.

    Latias hung her head shamefully and shook it.

    "Even after three years, you still can't muster up the courage to tell him?" Lugia asked. "Surely—"

    "I know, Lugia, It's pathetic. I'm pathetic," Latias said, wings drooping. "Maybe Rayquaza's right. Maybe I am useless."

    Lugia pressed his wing against Latias' snout. "Don't listen to him. Look, I may be on better terms with Ray than you are, but I'll be the first to admit there are times when he should… oh, how do I put this delicately?"

    "… shove his tail down his throat and suck on it?"

    Sweat drops ran down the back of Lugia's head. "That's… uh… well, I guess that's one way of looking at it."

    Latias couldn't help but giggle. "You're right, though, Lugia. That's why, when this is all said and done, I'll come clean. I'll tell big brother you're my mate. But right now, I'm all he has. I don't want him to feel like he's lost me to you. He's my only family. He raised me, even when we were both just hatchlings. He's the one who kept me going when we were running from Dark Matter... and I wanted to give up because I was too tired."

    Lugia spotted his blurry reflection in Latias' teary eyes. "I understand," he said, tickling Latias' chin with his wing. "Do what you have to do. And, if there's any way you can think of for me to help, don't hesitate to—"

    "Stay safe. I'm not saying to hide here, but watch your back. Keep your psionic sense sharp. Because we don't know what's out there. So, we need to be on our guard," Latias said.

    Lugia nodded. "You got it, Tia. So, does this mean you're leaving right now?"

    Latias's ears fell against her head. "I think that'd be best…"

    Lugia craned his neck around Latias' and nestled her cheek. "Are you sure I can't convince you to stay just a bit longer?" He pursed his lips and blew a small jet of cool air against Latias' ear.

    Latias squeaked. Her face reddened. "W-Well… maybe I could stay a few more minutes," she said, feathers standing on end.

    XxX

    ~Celestial Island~

    "No! Stop! Stop! What do you think you're doing, you imbecilic Xurkitrees? I said right, not left!"

    Across from Necrozma, four giant messes of coiled wires stiffened. The large crystalline bed they were holding shook. Electricity emerged from the sparking stars serving as the Xurkitrees' nuclei. Lightning raced down their cable-like limbs and surged across a purple shag carpet. The fibers stuck straight up. Necrozma looked down at them and grimaced.

    "Yes. You four. I am talking to you. Do you see any other Xurkitrees here? No!" Necrozma said, pointing a wing at the quartet. "I am this close to finally having a place I can call home and are ruining everything. Now, all of you, take three steps to your right."

    The Xurkitrees stepped to their left. A black energy beam grazed a Xurkitrees' nucleus. It crackled, vaguely sounding like someone walking across a sheet of bubble wrap.

    "How many times do I have to say this? Move right, not left! These are basic directions. Do you foolish Ultra Beasts really not know your lefts from your rights?" Necrozma shouted. Behind him, two white jellyfish floated down from the ceiling. Chittering, they extended some of their tentacles toward Necrozma. "Okay, okay, back off. I get the memo," Necrozma growled, waving them away with his right hand. It spasmed, forcing him to bring it against his chest.

    "Stupid Zero, making me open all those Wormholes. I'd have been done by now if I wasn't too tired to use Psychic."
    He sighed and shook his head. Let's try this again. Take three steps that way." He pointed to his left.

    The Xurkitree slid over to their right. Their heads flickered multiple times. Necrozma tapped his chin with a claw. He held his hand up, shut his right eye, and cocked his head to the side. "Yes... Finally! It's positively perfect!" He pointed down. The Xurkitrees released their grips on the bed. It dropped to the ground. Necrozma flew onto it. He spread his wings out and sighed in content.

    "After centuries of being stuck with nothing... I finally have a bed. I have a room!"
    He let out an unhinged laugh. "Oh, how I've missed this feeling! Cloud-like foam under my body. Soft silken sheets against my flesh. It's been eons since I've experienced this."

    He floated back up into the air and looked at the Xurkitrees. "I appreciate the help. Really, I do. But even with the bed... the pain is still here. So, I'm afraid I must ask you for one teeny, tiny, little thing." His third eye glowed brightly. "I want your light!"

    He spread his wings apart. Four black beams raced out around him. Each struck a Xurkitree, sapping the colors from their bodies and sending them into Necrozma's open mouth. Their corpses slumped to the ground. Crystals coated them, only for Necrozma to blow them up with purple Shadow Balls. Behind Necrozma, the jellyfish frantically waved their tentacles about and chittered angrily.

    "Don't give me that tone, you stupid Nihilegos," Necrozma spat. "You have no idea what it's like for your spirit to be fractured. I had to make the pain go away. I had to take their light. It was the only way!"

    Before the Nihilegos could respond, Necrozma tensed. Zero's voice echoed through his mind, saying, "Necky, I'm finished for the day. Bring me home."

    Necrozma sighed. He lazily lifted his right arm and an Ultra Wormhole popped up in the center of the room. Zero walked out of it. She took three steps before stumbling. The Nihilegos descended toward her.

    "Back off!" Zero hissed, swinging her scepter around. The Nihilegos drifted away, swaying back and forth. Zero descended into a fit of raucous coughing. She dropped to one knee and her mask and scepter fell to the ground with a pair of loud clangs.

    "Oh?" A grin wove its way onto Necrozma's mouth. Zero lunged for her mask, but a pink glow surrounded it. An unseen force yanked it into the air. "Oops. How silly of me. I should really be more careful, shouldn't I?"

    "Necky, what do you think you're doing?" Zero hissed. Her limbs shook. Red liquid pooled at the base of her lone eye. She reached a trembling paw toward him. "Give me my mask."

    "You mean this mask?" Necrozma said, pulling it back and looking directly at it. "I'm not doing anything to it. You want it… take it." He looked down at Zero. Blood trickled from her left eye, coating her burnt flesh and patches of gray fur.

    Zero's nostrils flared. "This isn't funny, Necky! I… I'm in pain. Give me back the mask!" she cried, her voice cracking.

    "Yes, you look quite uncomfortable. But I don't really care. I'm in pain, too. And you've never once offered sympathy to me. Why should I return the favor?" Necrozma said, floating over to her while keeping the mask suspended high above him. "Especially when you can rid us both of all this pain. You just have to let me pluck my core out of your skull… and there'll be no more suffering for either of us."

    Necrozma placed his claws on the tips of Zero's mutilated snout. He walked them toward her right eye socket. He stuck his index claw out, tapping the rainbow prism wedged into Zero's right eye socket. Multicolored light spiraled across his arm. He licked his lips and whispered, "Wouldn't you like to stop needing light to survive?"

    "Give me the mask, Necky!"

    Zero grabbed Necrozma's face. The claws in her metallic armor dug into his forehead. Her arm distorted. It flickered so violently that it seemed to detach from her body. The static spread onto Necrozma. Afterimages fanned out in all directions. Necrozma fell to the ground with a guttural screech. He clawed at his face with his wing-digits, while Zero grabbed the mask and reattached it to her face. She took in several shuddering breaths.

    "Skreeeep! Muh… mistress! Don't do that! It hurts! It hurts!" Necrozma hissed, arms convulsing as if they were about to shoot off of his body.

    "Then… listen to me… when I tell you… to give me my mask," Zero panted. She grabbed her scepter and slowly stood up. But her legs grew weak. She braced against the staff for support. "Light… get me light…"

    "And why should I do that? You don't seem to be in the best frame of mine right now. Hell, you attacked me," Necrozma said.

    Zero fixed her eye on Necrozma. "If you want your precious core back, then you need me at full strength. Otherwise, all that light you rant about will fade away."

    Necrozma glared at Zero. "That's my core you're misusing!"

    "The more time you waste, the more energy seeps away," Zero chided. "Now, I don't care what Pokémon you take. Just get. Me. Light."

    "... fine. Your wish is my command... mistress," he hissed, disappearing into an Ultra Wormhole. Zero stood there, slouched against her staff, panting heavily and staring at the blood on her paw. She couldn't keep this up. Necrozma was getting testier.

    The sound of bodies hitting the floor jolted her out of her stupor. She didn't even bother looking up to see what sort of Pokémon Necrozma had taken for her. "Consume," she rasped, shakily raising her bloody paw. Red and black energy shot forward. Zero's arm fell limply by her side. Warmth spread across her body from the tip of her snout. The searing pain disappeared. Zero took a few steps backward. A couch lined with bright white feathers materialized out of the floor. She unknowingly sat on it, and allowed herself to lie down.

    "Feeling better now?" Necrozma scoffed. "Good. Tell me again why you won't let me take my core back. You'd be so much happier without the bulk of my spirit festering inside you. I just want to put an end to all this pain. I'm tired of siphoning off Lunala's spirit. She's fighting me from the inside!"

    "And your spirit's fighting me from inside. So be quiet, Necky," Zero hissed, pressing her mask tight against her face. "It's thanks to you that this stupid core is stuck inside me. Whatever would make you think I'd trust you to take it out safely?" She flicked her other paw dismissively. "Besides, I need it to cleanse this world of its gods. Your life force is making that dream a reality."

    Necrozma wrapped his wings around his torso. They twitched in protest. "But mistress… I could destroy them all for you. No pain. No suffering. No problems. I'm more than happy to kill those heartless cretins."

    "No. It has to be me. It's the only way I can make this world perfect," Zero said. She rolled over on the couch and looked ahead of her. Three colorless bodies lay on top of one another, contrasting against the purple carpet. "An Alakazam, Charizard, and Tyranitar, huh?"

    "Don't waste your energy worrying about these three, mistress. Just a group of retired rescuers. Well past their prime. Nothing of value was taken with their deaths," Necrozma said.

    "No wonder their light tasted so stale," Zero said. "But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose. Get them out of my sight."

    Necrozma snapped his claws and the corpses fell down into an Ultra Wormhole. "So, seems like you had a bit of a rough day? Why don't… heeheeheehee… you tell your good buddy, Necrozma, what's bothering you?"

    "I'm not in the mood, Necky," Zero growled, plucking some of the down feathers off the couch.

    "Hey! Leave the furniture alone! It's taken me weeks to finally assemble a room of my own and I will not have you ruining it!" Necrozma snapped.

    Zero ignored him and rolled over to face the back of the couch. "You want to know what's wrong? That wretched human slipped through my digits again," she seethed.

    Necrozma popped up behind the couch in a puff of black smoke. "Oh-ho! He is turning out to be quite the interesting little fellow, wouldn't you say? You might need to start being careful. He could easily be the difference between your plans succeeding and failing."

    Zero whipped her arm out and grabbed Necrozma's head again. She yanked him onto the couch and pressed down on his crystalline helmet. The third eye on Necrozma's forehead flickered like a dying lightbulb. "The only reason he keeps getting away is because you screwed up! You told me you had vaporized the human. So, what's he doing in a Vulpix body with all his memories intact, huh?"

    She shoved Necrozma away. He hissed at her and rubbed his face with his wings. "What are you asking me for? My Prismatic Laser should've annihilated him right on the spot! Something must've interfered with my attack."

    "Gee, you think?" Zero huffed.

    "I can't explain Ultra Space. It's one giant anomaly! But does it really matter? Couldn't Espeon and Umbreon deal with him?" Necrozma asked.

    Zero raised her paw up. Two black balls materialized before her. "Espeon and Umbreon... are no longer part of our team," she declared, clenching her fist and shattering the balls like they were made of glass.

    Necrozma frowned. "What?! No, you're lying. They had my energy inside of them! Where is it? I want it back. I want it back now!"

    "You won't get it back. They've been purged of the Prism Virus," Zero said, crossing her arms.

    Necrozma's frown turned into a full-blown glare. "You foolish mortal! Now I'll never get that light back! I'll never restore my core if you keep throwing it's energy away like that. We have a deal! I help you... I get my light back. Not half of it. All of it!"

    Zero brought her staff around and pointed it at Necrozma. "I'm well aware of our agreement, Necky."

    "Skreevp! Then why are you breaking it?" Necrozma thundered, bringing one of his wings up to obscure his face.

    "I haven't broken it, Necky. There are plenty of gods out there to kill. More than enough to make up for the energy lost from Espeon and Umbreon," Zero snarled. "Let me put it to you simply. As long as that miscreant is here to interfere, then your core stays with me. And all that light you're rambling about will remain out of your reach."

    "What? No! You can't do that! It's my light! The sun and moon are mine! Mine! Mine!" He smacked his hands against the couch so violently that he shattered it, forcing Zero to jump to her feet.

    "If you want them back so badly, then you're going to start pulling your weight around here, understand?" Zero barked. She raised her staff and pointed the octahedron at Necrozma and his face immediately blanched. "And that starts with taking me down to the surface so I can look for replacements for Espeon and Umbreon."

    "Absolutely not! I'm not going to let you waste my light on more pathetic mortals," Necrozma sneered. "Besides, you're after the Tapus, no? Shouldn't we have the Dawn Hourglass?"

    "Does it look like I have its power under my control?" Zero said. "No! Because we got duped by that two-bit Land Spirit." She turned away from Necrozma. "I plan on sending you after Tapu Lele once I've caught some new Pokémon."

    "Me? What happened to killing the gods yourself," Necrozma said.

    "I'm willing to make one exception."

    "Not good enough! You think you can keep me distracted by dangling Tapu Lele's life energy in front of me like it was a piece of meat on a stick? Fool!" Necrozma shouted. "I meant what I said! You are not capturing more Pokémon. You are not wasting all my Z-Power on worthless mortals who are doomed to fail against that human!"

    "Enough!" Zero roared, slamming her staff against the floor. Necrozma backed away from her, looking uneasy. "You've made your point. But I don't care. Either you listen to me..." She raised her staff and pointed it at Necrozma. "Or I rip your little spirit fragment out of Lunala."

    "You wouldn't dare!" Necrozma said.

    Zero's lone eye narrowed. Her scepter flared. "Try me." Necrozma's eyes darted about in a panic. He lowered his wings and arms in surrender. "Good, that's what I thought. Now, open a wormhole to the surface." Necrozma gave Zero a bewildered look. "The winds of change are approaching the Horizon Guild and there's a little gust of air that I'd like to catch before it's too late."

    Necrozma's third eye narrowed. "Oh, really? I hope for both our sakes you know what you're doing."

    They proceeded into an Ultra Wormhole together.

    XxX​

    Shane pulled the covers off his head and rolled onto his back. He looked up at the stationary ceiling fan on the ceiling. Sunlight had already spread throughout his bedroom. Shane didn't need to look at his alarm clock to know that he had slept through the start of the school. He had already been awake for hours. But he refused to get up.

    After all, what point was there in going to school when your best friend was dead?

    The events of the previous evening were on repeat in his head. Coming home from work to find his parents in his room. His mom telling him to sit on his bed. Their stern expressions as they looked him in the eye and told him that Nicky had died in the emergency room that evening. And then the cold numbness that had overtaken him after that. All the while, he constantly drifted in and out of sleep.

    He had never felt so miserable. His only friend had left him. Now, he was truly alone. Sure, he had his family, but he couldn't be himself around them. They
    hated that. So, he'd be stuck wearing a mask and having to keep his thoughts and interests to himself. All he could think about was Nicky. Why did he have to do this?

    Unfortunately for Shane, nature was making it increasingly hard to keep laying around in his bed doing nothing. Eventually, he surrendered to his urges and slinked off to the bathroom. Upon exiting, he heard a pair of voices carrying up from the kitchen.

    "… I'm just saying, it might not be the right time, Margie."

    Shane froze at the top of the stairs. He hung over the railing, hoping to get a better listen in on the conversation.

    "George and I are beside ourselves, Estelle. We just… we need to know exactly what happened," Margie said.

    "I can't even imagine what you and George are going through right now, Margie. But shouldn't you be focusing on… something else?" Estelle asked.

    "I'm tending to the funeral arrangements. And we'll be sitting shiva afterwards, of course," Margie said, her voice clearly strained. "But George… he just…" Margie sniffled. "He's not going to sit still on this."

    Shane tightened his grip on the railing. What did Nicky's dad really care? Nicky said his father hated him. Shane wondered if maybe Nicky's parents were the ones who'd driven him to suicide.


    "Is he meeting with the school about Nicholas?" Estelle said.

    "No. He's… we're…" Margie's voice trailed off. "We're hiring an attorney. You remember my college roommate, Prisma Sinclair? Her husband's a litigator. Specializes in education law."

    "You're getting a lawyer? Why?"

    "George thinks this is the school's fault," Margie said, her voice cracking. "He, um, he wanted me to ask you if Shane could meet him. The lawyer, I mean."

    Shane stepped back from the stairs.

    "Shane? Is that you, honey?" Estelle called. "Why don't you come downstairs for a minute?"

    He didn't listen. Instead, Shane turned and ran back into his room, slamming the door shut.

    Fake…

    "H… Huh?"

    Shane looked at the box sitting on his desk. It was covered in hideous polka-dot wrapping paper. "N… Nicky?" he said, stepping toward the box. "Is that you? Am I dreaming?" He walked up toward the box and picked it up.

    Fake!

    Shane dropped the box in surprise and stumbled back. "What's going on here?" he said. "Who keeps saying that?" He picked the box back up again. "Nicky, did you get me some sort of stupid prank toy for my birthday?" He tore through the wrapping paper and pried open the box underneath it. Shane gasped. "This… no, it can't be."

    He reached into the box and pulled out a worn Umbreon doll. It had a few gray patches on it. Shane gritted his teeth.


    It was Nicky's favorite toy.

    He flipped the doll over, rubbing his hand over its back and feeling the stitches woven into the fabric from the time he accidentally ripped the doll open and Nicky's mom had to sew it back together. Shane set the plushy down on his desk

    Faker!

    Shane looked at the shelves hanging over his neck. On the edge of the lowest one sat an Espeon doll that looked equally ragged compared to Nicky's gift. Shane plucked it off the shelf and held it in his hands. He recalled how he and Nicky had managed to get them years ago. They were the last ones available in the store and they had just managed to beat out another kid to the toy aisle. Now he had both of them.

    His mind raced. Why was this his birthday present? Had Nicky planned to do this for a while or was it a last-minute decision Nicky made once he had decided to kill himself? Shane couldn't stare at the plushy any longer. He set it down next to its counterpart and stepped back from his desk.


    Faker!

    Shane froze. He looked down at the dolls again. "Did you say something?"

    The Espeon doll suddenly caught fire. Staticky red cubes raced across it, transforming it into a fiery yellow lion's head.

    "W-What the–? What's going on here?"

    All of this is fake! Wake up! Remember who you really are!


    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    Shane shot up. Tremors wracked his body. He looked around the room, eyes settling on the window. Purple light streamed into the room, casting the deactivated Luminous Orbs in a sinister glow. Shane rolled over on his cushion, only to shudder as his face brushed against damp fabric. Shane put a paw up to his face. Cold sweat coated his paw pads. Salt buffeted his nostrils.

    He must've had a nightmare. Yet, some of his dream was an actual memory... wasn't it? Shane shook his head and got to his feet. He tiptoed across the room, stealing a glance at his teammates. Tessa and Null remained fast asleep, the latter curled around the former protectively. Shane continued walking out into the hallway. Curiously, he noticed light flickering from the assembly area.

    'Who else could be up at this ungodly hour?'


    An image of Metagross appeared in his imagination. A shiver ran down Shane's spine. Steeling his nerves, he padded his way into the assembly area. There, Espeon crouched low to the ground and walked in circles around the center of the room. Her eyes darted about.

    "I'm sorry!" she whimpered. Her tail curled between her legs. "I didn't mean to hurt you all. Please, you have to understand, I was desperate. I just… I wanted to make the bad memories go away!"

    "Huh?"

    Espeon stopped circling. Her ears stuck up. She turned toward Shane. He stiffened, expecting her to yell at him, but her gaze seemed to carry on into the hallway behind him.

    "Please stop!" Espeon begged, backing toward the east hallway. "Stop laughing at me. I'm… I'm serious! It's not my fault! I didn't mean to do this! Please…" She shook her head.

    "Espeon, what's the matter?" Shane asked, taking a cautious step forward. Her behavior bore an unsettling resemblance to Null's in his less lucid moments.

    "I said stop laughing!" Espeon shouted. Her eyes flashed blue. A pink Psybeam whizzed by Shane. The fur on his right flank stood on end. He looked up just in time to see one of the purple tapestries fall on top of him.

    "Augh!" he cried as the weight of the cloth dragged him to the ground. Shane squirmed about. He succeeded in poking his head out from the banner. "Espeon, stop. It's me! It's Shane! There's no one here but us!"

    Espeon froze. Her gaze fell on Shane. She blinked a few times as recognition slowly set in. "Oh… oh gods," she whispered. Espeon hung her head. "Not again."

    Shane lumbered to his feet. "Guess I'm not the only one having a rough night."

    Espeon slowly walked forward, adopting a guarded stance. "Why are you out here? Are you going to yell at me some more?" she asked.

    Shane's ears drooped. "Look, I'm sorry about earlier, okay? But can we take a moment to talk about—"

    "You mean you don't normally introduce yourself by dropping someone into a pool?" Espeon scoffed.

    Shane winced and looked away, blushing. "I let my anger get the better of me. It's been a really frustrating last couple of weeks."

    "And you think Umbry and I have had it easy? We—" She cut herself off and looked away. "No. I don't want to talk about any of this right now. Least of all with you."

    Shane looked back at her. His gaze started to wander down from her head, until he forced himself to lock eyes with her. He couldn't risk upsetting her any more. "Look, I know this'll sound stupid, but from one Pokémon who's very uptight about his fur to another, I understand how you feel."

    "Then why'd you do it?" Espeon growled.

    Shane frowned. "It's Tessa."

    "Who?"

    "Riolu. My teammate. I got upset because of what happened. Because, up until recently, I'd been such an awful teammate to her. I thought we were finally moving in the right direction, but then we failed to save Sylveon and Eevee," he said, slouching over. "I thought it meant I was still a lousy teammate. So, I flew off the handle at you." He glanced up at Espeon. "I'm sorry."

    "I see," Espeon said. Silence followed.

    "Well, do you forgive me or not?"

    "I…" Espeon's voice trailed off. She stiffened.

    "Espeon?" Shane whispered, waving a paw in front of her face.

    "You're right," she said. Shane hastily retracted his paw. "You had every right to be mad. Furious even. If I were in your guys' place…" She shuddered. "If I'd lost Umbry… I wouldn't have just pushed you into a pool. I'd… I'd…" She turned away from him and pressed her face against the wall. "How can you even bear to look at me? I'm a horrible person."

    Shane poked the floor with a forepaw. "It's all so confusing," he whispered. "Everything's happening so fast that I can't wrap my head around it. I know this sounds selfish, but I had been operating way too long under the assumption that everything here would be like my games at home."

    "What games?" Espeon asked.

    "Err, it's a long story. The point is, I thought I knew how most of the things I'd get wrapped up in would play out. But I've been wrong far more than I've been right." Shane looked up to the ceiling. "The only thing's that's keeping me moving forward… is Pokémon like you."

    Espeon's ears twitched. "M-Me?"

    "Yeah." In the dim glow of the Luminous Orbs, Espeon failed to notice the blush falling across Shane's face. "You, Umbreon, Tessa, and Null. Maybe you guys aren't perfect. But you're good Pokémon at heart. And none of you deserve to deal with this kind of crap," he whispered. "That's why I have to find a way to stop the Prism Virus. So that you guys can be happy again."

    He walked forward, stopping beside Espeon. "I'll leave you alone now," he whispered.

    "Wait." Espeon stepped into his path. In the process, Shane's foreleg brushed against her chest. His heart raced. "Thanks. Y'know, for understanding. And, um, tell your partner… tell Riolu that Umbry and I will do what we can to bring her friends back," she said.

    Shane smiled. "I'll make sure she knows."

    XxX​

    Exactly one floor below Shane's and Espeon's conversation, Dragonair slithered out of bed, taking care not to disturb her teammates. She glanced out the window, gazing at a portion of the large, purple moon.

    You envy your teammates, don't you?

    Zero's distorted voice echoed in her mind. Dragonair forced her eyes shut and looked away. She shook her head, as if she could jettison the thought from her mind. However, upon opening her eyes, she found herself looking right at Milotic and Serperior. Her teammates slept soundly in their beds, Serperior producing a soft whistle with each exhale.

    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 abandon you if you turn into a Dragonite. Do I have that right?

    Dragonair bit her lip. Her teammates wouldn't hold her back like that. The reason she hadn't evolved yet is because she hasn't felt like it. That was all. She could, but she liked her current form. It was sleek and slender. It let her swim swiftly through water. Those were all things she'd lose if she evolved.

    Her gaze wandered over to the team's mirror. The moonlight trickling through the window tinted her reflection purple.

    The truth is that you've talked it into yourself that vanity is more important than power.

    Dragonair shook her head. This wasn't about looks. She had stopped dating a while ago. It was all a matter of comfort. Nothing more, nothing less.

    But Dragonair's gaze faltered from the mirror. She looked down at her white underbelly, brushing her head against the jewel in her neck.

    Your team's reputation as a trio of serpents is meaningless.

    That wasn't true, either. She liked being part of Team Captivate and having such wonderful friends. What was she doing? Dragonair told herself to stop letting Zero's words get to her.

    She turned to go back to her bed, only to freeze up. Memories of her battle against Zero flashed through her mind. She thought about how easily Zero overpowered her. How Zero matched her movements with Extreme Speed step for step. Zero easily moved around the deserted town, while Dragonair struggled to maintain traction against the ice.

    Tears welled up in her eyes. Would the battle have gone differently if she was a Dragonite? She looked at her teammates. Dragonair had let them down today, just like she had done against Bewear. She turned away from them and faced the window. How could she fight against the Prism Virus in her current state? She'd just end up getting in the way of her friends.

    Dragonair slithered over toward the room's lone desk. Pieces of paper sat on it. Dragonair shakily wrapped her tail around one of the pens and hastily scribbled on the top page. She brushed it off the desk with her tail and then took off for the window, tears streaming from her eyes. Dragonair climbed out the window just as the paper fluttered to the ground. The fresh ink on the page glistened in the moonlight.

    I'm sorry.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Port~

    'If I can just get home, I'm sure I can evolve in no time,' Dragonair thought, slithering as fast as she could toward the docks. She prayed a Sharpedo was available. This wasn't something that could wait.

    She made it about halfway down the hill, when a puddle of black shadows bubbled up on the ground in front of her. Dragonair stopped short and coiled her body up, ready to strike.

    "Poor little Dragonair. All by your lonesome. What a sad, sorry sight!"

    Gasping, Dragonair fell on her back as Necrozma rose out of the ground, his wings wrapped around his torso as if he'd been set in a sarcophagus. His red eyes flickered ominously and his mouth opened up, tongue lolling out to the side.

    "Th… those wings. That face. You… you're… Lunala? But that can't be!" Dragonair gasped

    "Hang on. Give me a second here," Necrozma pleaded. "I'm still getting over that last bit. I can just feel the heartbreak, you know?"

    Dragonair rolled upright. She spat flames at Necrozma's face. His grin widened as he disappeared before Dragonair's eyes in a burst of shadows. She whirled around, expecting him to pop up behind her. Instead, a crystalline arm grabbed her muzzle. Fog brushed her scales.

    "Heeheeheehee! Gotcha," Necrozma whispered, his breath hitting the tips of Dragonair's tiny wings. Her eyes widened. She tried to scream, but Necrozma clamped down harder on her snout. "Oh, no. There's no need for the shouting, Dragonair. I'm here to rescue you from those deceitful fools who claimed to be your so-called friends. After all... friendships are worthless. They're all fake! The only thing that matters is power... right?"

    "That's enough, Necky."

    Necrozma wrapped his body up with his wings and floated to the side, allowing Zero to walk past him. She gently rested her staff against her side. "I see you've realized that I was right," Zero said, addressing Dragonair. "You held yourself back. All because you couldn't bear the thought of your friendships falling apart." Zero nudged her mask, and Necrozma's wings twitched. "And now you're leaving them. Because, even if you won't admit it to me upfront, you want nothing more than to evolve."

    "You're wrong," Dragonair replied, trembling. "I'm going to evolve so that I can do a better job protecting my friends from scum like you!"

    "Skreeep!" Necrozma shrieked, his body briefly convulsing. "That is not how you speak to Mistress Zero." He leaned over toward Zero, opening his mouth to run his tongue across his fangs. "Please, mistress. Let me take her light. She's a coward. She's no help to us."

    "That's not true, Necky. With proper training, I can strengthen any Pokémon." Zero extended her free paw toward Dragonair. "What do you say, Dragonair? You want a fast-track to evolution? You want to really protect your friends? Then join me. We will rid this world of its problems. Then you and your friends can live out the rest of your days worry-free. Team Captivate's reputation won't matter in a world without gods. In a world without Mystery Dungeons." She took a step forward. "You can have the friendships that you've always wanted. Ones that don't revolve around exploring."

    "You're crazy if you think I'm going to join you," Dragonair hissed, raising up her tail. "My friends like me for who I am. And they'll keep liking me once I'm evolved. We'll beat you back… together!"

    Necrozma spread his wings out and leered at Dragonair. "I was hoping you'd say that. Now, your light belongs to m—"

    Zero swung her scepter in front of Necrozma. "No, Necky. We simply need to get her to appreciate our perspective." She planted her staff in the ground. "Besides, the best way to capture a wild Pokémon is to weaken it in a battle."

    Before Dragonair could even process what that meant, Zero vanished. She reappeared in front of Dragonair and uppercut her. Dragonair careened through the air, squealing. Distorted energy encased Zero's right paw. It flickered in and out of existence. A giant square of red, holographic cubes appeared. Zero thrust her paw up. Red cubes exploded out from the square, taking the shape of a spear.

    Dragonair hastily shot a stream of dragonfire below her. The cubes exploded into streams of black pixels. Dragonair hit the ground with a hard thud. Zero left her no opportunity to move away. She fired liquid metal from her paws. Dragonair met it with her Flamethrower.

    "Hurry up! Every second you spend fighting her I can feel light fading from my core!" Necrozma barked from the sidelines.

    Dragonair sped forward. Zero met her charge with her own Extreme Speed. Both Pokémon bounced off one another. Zero slapped her paws on the ground, red energy crackling around them. A wave of distorted cubes raced across the dirt. Dragonair jumped to dodge it, only to gasp as the wave grew higher. She burned a hole in the middle of the wave with Flamethrower. Dragonair tried to lunge through the opening, but it wasn't large enough. The wave of cubes swallowed her up. She screamed.

    Zero broke off the attack. Dragonair's scorched body tumbled to the ground, seizing from the deformed energy bolts racing along her tail. Zero raised her right paw and it glowed pink. Her staff flew across the ground and she caught it.

    "You have nothing to be ashamed of, Dragonair. You'll be much happier as a Dragonite. And your friends will come to appreciate all of your hard work… in time," Zero said. She tapped her octahedron against her free paw. A black ball materialized, with a winged-heart sigil flickering to life on its top.

    "Go," Zero said, tossing the ball at Dragonair. It struck her. The ball opened, encasing her body in red energy. Dragonair screamed as an invisible force pulled her into the ball, which snapped shut. It rolled around on the ground, before clicking loudly. Zero walked forward and picked the ball up off the ground.

    "Gotcha! Dragonair was caught,"
    Necrozma mused, flying up beside Zero. "Perhaps she can put my powers to greater use than Espeon and Umbreon did."

    Zero paid Necrozma little mind. She touched the octahedron to the ball and black electricity raced across it. Unbeknownst to Zero, however, Necrozma's three eyes and chest sigil flickered with rainbow light. Trace bits of colorful energy encased the ball. Zero withdrew her staff and opened up the ball. A beam of black energy surged forward and struck the ground. When it did, it expanded upward, dissipating when a pair of crystallized wings thrust apart.

    "Welcome to the team… Dragonite," Zero declared.

    A gem-encrusted arm shot out. It flexed its digits. Lightning descended from the heavens, forming a spear in Dragonite's armored hand. She hurled it out to sea, then vaporized it with a white-hot Hyper Beam. She turned to Zero and Necrozma, smiling at the lingering electricity in her claws.

    "How do you like me now?" she said.

    Zero's lone eye widened. She looked down at her staff, then back at Dragonite. Her eye then darted about the area nervously. Behind her, Necrozma's face twisted into a crooked grin.

    End of Episode 1

    XxX​

    In case it was entirely clear in the chapter proper, the "core" that Necrozma is referring to is that rainbow, triangular prism featured in the title screens for Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Those games describe it as Necrozma's "brain." And here it's jammed into Zero's eye socket. Hopefully that makes the relationship between them a bit clearer for you. ^^;
     
  16. Cresselia92

    Cresselia92 Winter Fairy

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    Hullo there! Guess what, I'm your Secret Santa!

    I've followed Volume 1 quite closely and as such know well about the characters and various events, so I can comment on Volume 2 without issue. With this review, I'm going to focus on the first three chapters, aka how the team rises from the ashes. Without further ado, let's get started, shall we?

    Part 1: "Bye bye, Prismatic Lucario! Hello, Zero!"

    So, we're starting once more in Tessa's dreams, who gets the chance to talk again to her faraway mom. A nice alternative to phones in a non-technologic world, I suppose. Aaand Tessa spilled the beans about the whole disciplinary method, which got Prisma riled up with black and red aura (totally non-evil colors, nope). She really has something against Metagross and Braviary, huh? I really wonder what she actually knows about those two...

    Oh, and she's also angry at Zapdos for bringing a thunderstorm during one of his little trips and being responsible for Incineroar's death. Um, this part is a bit unclear... how is Zapdos responsible? Did one of his thunderbolts kill Incineroar or something?

    Seriously, Prisma... I'm not saying that you should have sent a card, but wouldn't it have costed you to start the whole convo with a "Happy hatch day!" or whatever when you invaded your daughter's dreams? It would have been at least kinda nice to show that you didn't forget about it. Unless you actually forgot and Tessa is right to be angry at you, of course. I'm putting more money on the latter, actually.

    And to make things "better", you have decided to abandon your daughter just because she sided with the human. I really wonder what Prisma knows about all of this and why she has some beef against Shane. She must know something that we don't know yet.

    Anyway, change of scenario, and we're back looking at our favorite Eeveelutions, who are up with their next dastardly plan. So, their plan involves freezing things over for the evulz. Because just poisoning stuff isn't fun, according to Espeon.

    Dimentio, is that thee?

    Ah, no, it's just this certain Mistress Zero. Say hello to the local Eldritch Abomination!

    Objection! The use of the initial Necro- reminds too much of Necrozma, and that is blatant Plagiarism. 5 warning points to Zero and instant ban! Outta the story you go!

    ...Jokes aside, I wonder if that's really a coincidence or if she took inspiration from Necky for that name. Even though, "Death Spheres" makes sense as a name, considering what happens next... after the Tapu Lele's fight, of course.

    Speaking of that fight, I'm not sure what to think of it. The evil trio basically curbstomped Tapu Lele, who did nothing more than put up some Light Screens (I think that's what they were?) to deflect the Shadow Ball and Dark Pulse before being destroyed by Zero. Granted, the outcome should be justifiable due to that "Tapu" being a Ditto in disguise, but I still feel like the whole thing was a tad rushed. It may be only me, though.

    It's official: Zero has taken some notes from Movie 1!Mewtwo.

    Special balls created from nothing? Check.

    Pokémon "trained" to wield unique powers? Check.

    Wanting to cleanse the world of its filth? Check once more.

    And here we are, with another scene shift! This time, we're back looking at Team Radiance as they are recovering from the events of the past days.

    Oh my goodness! Tessa has started calling Shane Shane? Does that mean that he can call her Tessa now? You know, Last Name Basis and all that stuff?

    But speaking of Shane... I find that personality swap a tad too jarring. I mean, just the day before he was an insufferable jerk with a massive ego, and now he behaves so... subdued. Now I know that he wants to start fresh and all, but I would think that there would still be some traces of his jerkiness somewhere, albeit a bit more bareable.

    ...Unless that personality is the "real" Shane and he displays that behavior more openly now, if the "funky moment" is any proof of that. But once again, in his flashbacks he behaved like a pain in the butt just like his Vulpix self, sooo... man, that's confusing! Who is the true you, Shane?

    Another mystery in our hands is the fact that Shane has... Clear Body as an ability and can learn Fire-type attacks. Um... that's peculiar, indeed. Maybe Solgaleo messed up with his DNA or something and (accidentally) bestowed him some of his powers, probably during the summoning phase. I guess that's something that will become clearer at a later point.

    Oh oh! I know why! Pitch Black is back and is terrorizing the Pokémon cubs by giving them nightmares and making the world succumb in pure darkness! And the black spots are the areas affected by the nightmares!

    ...Wait. This isn't Rise of the Guardians, is it?

    And Stuffwell Magearna has no clue why all of this is happening. Uh... that's concerning. Not as concerning as the fact that Eevee and Sylveon have been Pokénapped, and our heroes have to rescue them. Of course.

    Part 2: Ultra Squad and Ultra Troubles

    Here we are! back to where we left things, and that means back to the race in time to save Eevee and Sylveon.

    Considering how you all have been hit by Murphy's Law beams and as such only get the worst junk thrown at you, then yeah. That was too much to ask.

    But relax, we have Disaster Detector Gallian with us, who can sense how much you have been affected by those pesky beams! What could possibly go wrong?

    Oh, here's our daily wrong turn. A nice Flamethrower in the back and the start of a battle between both parties. Yay.

    And Gallian is sporting weird powers, apparently made of shadows. Hmmm... it seems that he really has been infected by that Ultra Aura or whatever. Maybe Shadow Ultra Aura? That shadow-blending ability reminded me a lot the Shadow moves from Colosseum / XD, what with their peculiar nature and properties, which also vaguely remind "real" moves.

    Repetition alert!

    There is a missing space between "friends" and "were".

    And... What what what?! Metagross and Braviary killed Incineroar? But wasn't Zapdos's fault...?

    Okay, this is starting to become very confusing.

    Oh, yeah, please come here to make things even more chaotic. I'm not as asking for anything else.

    Well, at least they have been smart and opted for a strategical retreat. Don't deal with stuff that is beyond your skills, especially after receiving a beating.

    "Virizion was too busy sulking and moaning about how her fake friendships"... what? There is a piece missing here.

    Regarding Espeon's rant... I mean, she kinda has a point. In all PMD games, most Legends either do nothing or mess things up very badly. So, I can't totally blame her for being mad and cooperating with Zero. Still, killing Legends sounds a tad... overkill. What about the whole balance of the world and stuff?

    Anyway, the bait has been set in place. Time to go save Eevee and Sylveon for real! ...After a quick trip to the Observatory.

    Part 3: Cold Feet (Literally!)

    Oh? Bizarre beginning, I see. We're looking things through the POV of Solgaleo, for... reasons. Eh, kinda random, but I guess it works.

    You really love pulling off the yuckiest stunts ever, don't you? :p Besides, isn't Sliggo's goo supposed to actually dissolve stuff...?

    Ultra Moon Dex: "Its entire body is covered in gooey mucus that can dissolve anything. Be sure to put gloves on if you're going to touch it."

    ...Yep! I guess it could work by dissolving dead skin... as long as it doesn't dissolve healthy skin, too. I suppose a Goodra's slime neuters the melting properties of its pre-evo's goo or something.

    Yeah, but you didn't think that Vulpixes actually dislike getting their furs all filthy and yucky. Besides, I don't think anyone would love bathing in slime. I mean, even mud is already pushing it.

    Nausea fuel, here we come! But trust me, Tessa, some humans eat much worse stuff.

    And we don't have a totally awkward moment, nossiree! We don't have a moment of dread by staying close to a potential murderer, nope! Way to enter at the worst moment, Braviary. Couldn't you have waited a bit more, could you?

    Oh... Null! Why did you do that? I know you want to remove things from the bud, but c'mon! At least give some time to your teammates to collect their thoughts before the big topic (and no, I'm not talking about that big topic).

    At least Braviary is willing to help, so maybe he's not a totally bad guy. Unless everything is one big facade to appear good in the eyes of others, of course. And hey, at least we'll have Team Charm Captivate with us, so there is a plus!

    Next stop, Aurora Vale! The newest skating track of Horizon! Ready to build a snowmon? No? Okay.

    ...And the award of Most Insufferable Pokémon goes to... Drampa! No, wait, Town Supervisor Drampa!

    They're back! The Death Spheres are back! And they are here for trouble... and death.

    And so they did, claiming their first "death". It was (not) nice meeting you, Drampa. Have fun being a weird Naganadel fusion!

    But we have no time with these little fish. Time to go save the two Eevee relatives. Good luck, Braviary and team Captivate. Time to go to the frigid Vale.

    I feel your pain, Shane. I'm not much a fan of those sliding puzzles either. But hey, at least you can try and try again without prob-

    Eh. Forget it. Rack your brain, then, human!

    Ouch! It's never fun when you trigger a trap, and that seemed to be one of the most unfun traps.

    And Monster Houses are even more fun! I hope you have a good amount of Reviver Seeds and Oran berries with you, because you're gonna need 'em!

    Oh! Whenever you get the chance, you should consider the idea of multi-target moves, buddies. Considering how many targets you had to fight at the same time, having something to cover a wider area may be ideal. I wonder if this region knows about Vacuum-Cut and Wide Slash (or even the scrapped Spin Slash)...

    Another adorable chimera/canine moment, I see. I can already hear the shippers squealing.

    Next time, the confrontation with the Eeveelutions!

    All in all, I've got to say that these parts were cool.

    Personally speaking, I'm a huge fan of battles, so I get excited whenever I read about them. However, at times it becomes hard to understand what is actually going on and what attacks are being used in some circumstances. Things like "an electrified fist" can be clear, but reading stuff like "a gust of ice" puzzles me, as there are plenty of moves that get that effect. Maybe more in-depth description to further emphasize the strength of the attack and side effects, or some more name-droppings could do the trick.

    I'll review the other chapters whenever I get the chance. Keep up the good work! :)
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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    Funnily enough, I had guessed it was you based off what you said in the Discord about wanting to double-check everything. XD

    Perhaps I didn't exactly show it well enough, but the ending to Volume 1 (with Necrozma summoning a lucario using Dream Mist) was supposed to indicate the Prisma in Tessa's dreams is a fake. A Dream Mist construct and an attempt by Necrozma to manipulate Tessa.

    Whoops, not quite. Remember, Tessa and Eevee were playing outside when a storm hit and said storm caused Tessa to get sick. This made Incineroar insist Prisma stay home to look after Tessa while he went to Glyphic Falls. Zapdos was responsible for the storm, so "Prisma" is opting to blame him for Incineroar's death.

    Well, a fake's going to have a hard time remembering. :V

    Yeah, this is Necrozma realizing his scheme's not gonna work and giving up.

    It's not just for the evulz. It's all about type advantages!

    Aha ha ha...

    *whistles in Kirby*

    She did take inspiration from Necrozma. Prisma, like Necro, has its origins in Greek, so she knows Necro = death.

    It wasn't meant to be full-fledged because of the fact that the ditto had no idea what it was getting into.

    It goes far beyond that, trust me. ;)

    So, officially, I don't do the Species Name style with this fic at the moment. That's Namo's schtick that I may end up, uh, "borrowing" by the time this fic's over.

    Well, uh, I'd like to think that some of that is still there (his snarky comments to Gallian, his complaints about Drampa and ice puzzles, and a lot of one-liners in the chapters you haven't read). He suffered a serious system shock and is walking on the most fragile eggshells when it comes to Tessa.

    An answer that not even he knows! *evil laugh*

    Oh, it will become clear. It's one of the biggest mysteries of the story. Not even the FFN crowd has guessed what's truly going on, yet. :V

    I... uh... have never seen that (or read it?). XP

    See! He's still got snark in him. :p

    Oh, Bubsy, why'd you have to go and say that? *shakes head*

    Well, Team Paradox is the new "rival" group of sorts, now that Team Fang's under arrest.

    Shadow melding is really all I can describe it as. XP

    Zapdos just caused a thunderstorm that made Tessa sick. What really happened in Glyphic Falls is another story entirely. Depends on how much you believe Gallian

    Yeah, I think some words got swapped around. It's supposed to be "moaning about how all friendships turn out fake." Basically a reference to how much of a... ahem... bitch Virizion was in Gates to Infinity. I know you like the Swords of Justice, but that's actually canon. pls don't hurt me. ;~;

    Well, they might have a plan for that!

    That's one of those Dex entires I'm ignoring. XP

    To be fair, Shane had lost most of his fur in that moment.

    My middle name might as well be 'awkward.' :V

    Again, depends on how much you really believe Gallian.

    Pffffffft XD

    Mission accomplished! I had no other goal with Drampa but getting people to hate him. XD

    I am, however, amazed at how happy people were to see Drampa get infected. ^^;

    Shane's struggles are my struggles. *sigh*

    Explosion Traps are stupid and I hate them. Especially when your dumb AI partner steps on it when it's been exposed. >.<

    That's a separation of story/gameplay thing. There's nothing stopping, say, a well-aimed Air Slash from hitting multiple foes.

    And squeal they did!

    I see what you did there. Is this really Cresselia92 or Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin?

    Ach, it's been a struggle. People don't like it when I name moves... they don't like when I don't name them. I've been trying to find a middle ground by using the characters' headspaces to name the moves. @[email protected]

    D'aww, thank you so much. Hope you have a happy new year! ^^

    Final update of 2018 is go! Alongside it, I have (perhaps foolishly) launched an ask blog featuring the fic's characters! If you want to see some lighthearted banter, give it a look. If you're worried about spoilers, just mute #GLspoilers and you'll be good. Onto the chapter, first published February 25th, 2018.

    XxX

    ~Glyphic Falls~

    "This is the place."

    Gallian stepped onto a rock and looked out across a nearby riverbed. It flowed past the spot Team Paradox currently occupied, travelling off into a thick cloud of mist. The roars of waterfalls echoed in the distance. "I don't really know why you'd want to come here, though. Nothing here but a bunch of old relics and drawings scattered around this place. And you can forget about the Catacombs. Not a good idea to go down there," Gallian said.

    "My reconnaissance determined that it was here that your former guild located the Beast Killer," Sticky explained. He pressed the jewel on his chest harness and his visor materialized over his eyes. "Therefore, this is the optimal location to search out a means of elucidating his weakness."

    "… tch. Whatever." Gallian sat down on the rock. He flicked a pebble into the river below him and watched the harsh currents carry it away. "Your dopey scanners aren't going to find anything here."

    "What makes you so certain of that, Rookie?" Luxeira asked, rubbing her shoulder against her helmet. "This is top of the line Ultra Recon Squad tech, you know."

    "Captain, I'm picking up significant levels of interference. There's no way we're going to find any ultra auras here," Sticky declared.

    Gallian turned and gave Luxeira a knowing smirk. "Call it intuition." He jumped off his rocky perch. "So, are we done here?"

    "Negative. If we can't do a routine scan of the area, then we will need to put in some legwork," Luxeira replied.

    "Are you freaking kidding me? You really want to scour this place top to bottom. That'll take ages," Gallian snarled. His eyes and scythe flickered purple. "And all that wasted time on our part paints a bad picture for what's to come."

    "If your disaster sense is that disturbed by it, then you are more than welcome to leave," Luxeira scoffed, turning her snout skyward. "We need to investigate ultra aura readings in this world. They are far too similar to the ones we detected in our home before the Lightless Black laid siege to it." She walked toward one of the branching paths. "Besides, who's to say you won't figure out more about this Prism Virus phenomenon that's got you so panicked?"

    Gallian's glanced at his harness. The fur on the back of his neck stood on end and his snout tingled. It seemed Luxeira had a point, much as he didn't want to admit it.

    "… tch. Fine." He dashed ahead of Luxeira. "But you're following me. Understand?"

    "Of course. Lead the way."

    XxX

    Episode 2: Null and Void

    Chapter 8: An Underground Movement


    XxX​

    Shane's eyes shot open and he rolled to his feet. "Convenient timing," he said. Then he turned toward the orange sea and shouted. "Yo, Solgaleo! Get your loud, booming butt out here. We need to talk."

    The familiar, sun-shaped silhouette appeared within the water.
    "What? Do you have news? Did you finally destroy Absol?"

    "I've got news. But before I spill the beans, I need to know if you're telling me the truth," Shane said.

    "What nonsense are you babbling about, boy? Is this another one of those impulsive freak-outs people with your condition are so prone to?"

    Shane shrank back, tails curling against his hips. The mention of his "condition" nearly sapped the fight from him. Of
    course Solgaleo had to bring it up. Well, Shane had no intention of acknowledging him. He steeled his nerves and stood up straight.

    "Did you really bring me here to preserve the balance of day and night? And are you really safe? Because I have reason to suspect you're lying to me," Shane said.

    "Impudent fool!" Solgaleo roared. Shane was prepared this time, however. He dug his paws into the sand in order to avoid getting blown back. "This is one of your ridiculous tirades. You dare suggest that I am being dishonest? I'm trying to keep the world safe!"

    "Yeah. About that…" Shane's brow furrowed. "See, my friends and I managed to free two Pokémon from the Prism Virus."

    "Oh? How wonderful! Maybe you're not a total lost cause after all," Solgaleo said. "Now, all you need to do is find the source of this stuff and you can dest—"

    "I wasn't finished," Shane said, eyes narrowed. "As I was saying, we freed them from the Prism Virus' control. And they told me that the Prism Virus already attacked you. In fact, they went so far as to make it sound like there isn't a Solgaleo anymore."

    "Is this supposed to be a joke? I am not laughing," Solgaleo said. "Yes, I was attacked. I'm not entirely sure what it is that tried to strip me of my power, but I am most certainly alive. Otherwise, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

    "Except I encountered the Prism Virus' supposed creator. And she doesn't really seem to be out to mess up the balance of day and night. The Pokémon I freed said that's happening because the big boss lady fed Solgaleo to her pet," Shane said, taking a step toward the edge of the water. He was onto something. Shane wasn't sure what, but he had to keep pressing.

    "So, I'm going to ask again. Are you telling me the truth? What's really happening to you? Am I really talking to Solgaleo or an impostor?" Shane stared out at the water, but received no response.

    Then, out of nowhere, he heard clapping. It was slow and quiet at first, but it gradually grew in speed and intensity. Shane tensed up. "W-What's going here?" he gulped.

    "Heeheeheehee! Bravo, little human. No, really. Take a bow. You deserve it! That was quite the impressive deduction," Solgaleo's voice gleefully exclaimed. "I'm talking A-plus, gold star, grab the magnet and put it on your refrigerator levels of impressive."

    Shane hunched low to the ground. "H-Hey! B-Back off, whoever you are. This is my dream space and, um, I'm not afraid to use it!" His expression blanked as the water rippled in front of him.

    A large, fiery-yellow lion emerged from its depths. Shane glanced at the lion's black, armored helmet. "S-Something's wrong. You're not Solgaleo! I've seen pictures... and he doesn't have black armor. Or arms sticking out of his back, for that matter," Shane said. His head throbbed and his thoughts raced. Who was this imposter? If Solgaleo really was dead, then who brought him into this world? This couldn't all be one big accident like Tessa said... could it?

    The impostor wiggled the claws on his arms. "Heeheeheehee. Correct again! You are really knocking these things out of the park today, huh?" he taunted.

    "Those armor pieces. You're infected with the Prism Virus, aren't you?" Shane gasped. "Who are you? And why do you look like Solgaleo?"

    "Aww. Come now, if I went and told you, that would be spoilers!" the lion teased, sauntering across the surface of the water. "And I don't wanna be like you. You know, the kind of guy who always ruins the big twists because they can't keep their damn mouth shut?" He shook his head. "So disgraceful."

    "What did you do to Solgaleo, you creep?" Shane huffed, snorting out tufts of frosty air as a warning.

    "Me? Why, I did plenty. In fact… heeheeheehee… if it wasn't for me, there wouldn't
    be a Solgaleo in the first place. Or a Lunala, for that matter!" the imposter said, smirking. "And yet, here I am, without so much as a thank you card or a fruit basket for all my hard work. Story of my life."

    Shane jaw locked up. "Wha— but that's not right. The Horizon legends… they said Ho-Oh created Solgaleo and Lun—"

    "Lies! Filthy lies!" the imposter roared. "Solgaleo, Lunala, and all their descendants owe their lives to me! The sun and moon owe their existences to me. This world's light is mine! Heeheeheehee… you understand me? M-I-N-E. Mine!"

    "You bring Solgaleo back right now," Shane said. "Or I… I'm… uh… well, I'll think of something!"

    "Heeheeheehee. Oh, you need not worry about that metalhead," the lion said. "In fact…" He approached Shane and looked right down at him. Shane shrank down into the sand, whining meekly. "I'd say he's a lot closer than you might think!"


    Shane wanted to scream, but his entire world went white.

    XxX

    ~Aeon Observatory~

    "Gah!"

    Shane shot up from his cushion, a shiver running down his spine. He looked around at his team's room and sighed in relief.

    "Mmmmrrgh… Shane, is that you?" Tessa muttered. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. "What's the matter?"

    Shane blinked and rapidly shook his head. "It's nothing. Just a bad dream," he said, even though he knew it was the second one of the night. Shane glanced up at the window and his eyes widened. "Wait, it's already daytime!" He bolted to his feet, knocking Tessa off her pillow. She hit the floor with a grunt. "We overslept. They've probably held assembly without us!" Shane said.

    "… assembly's cancelled today…"

    A shadow filled the room. Null stood in the doorway. Sweat covered his body and his flanks heaved as he breathed in heavily.

    "Oh, really?" Shane said.

    "… too many folks… recovering from injuries," Null explained. "You can sympathize… I imagine…" Shane winced, but nodded slowly.

    "What about you, Null? You don't look all that good. Where have you been?" Tessa asked, slowly standing up.

    "Nowhere. Just… exercising a bit," Null said. He glanced toward the hallway. "There are some folks… still gathering up in the assembly area… if you're looking for something to do…" He shuffled backwards, allowing Shane and Tessa pass. Together, Team Radiance proceeded into the assembly area.

    "Oh, good. You guys are up," Trapinch said. "Hey, Braviary. Team Radiance is here."

    The gathered Pokémon backed away a little bit, allowing Team Radiance to see Braviary and Metagross standing in front of the Guildmaster's office. Shane and Tessa exchanged uneasy looks. Neither really wanted to see Metagross right now. Not after the whirlwind events of the previous day.

    "Glad to see y'all are up and about. Feeling okay?" Braviary asked. Both Shane and Tessa tensed up. They stepped next to Null, each of them hiding defensively behind one of his forelegs. Null growled. "Whoa. Easy now." Braviary raised his wings up. "Guess y'all are still not in the best of shape, huh?"

    "We're… doing alright," Shane lied. He glanced over at Tessa, who was rubbing her shoulder and fidgeting with her locket. Shane didn't need to be psychic to tell Tessa wanted to get as far from Metagross as possible. "Um, is there something you need us for?"

    "Matter of fact—"

    Affirmative, Metagross cut in. Fact: I have analyzed the information provided to us by Espeon and Umbreon. His gaze briefly fell on the duo. Espeon slinked back down the stairs, trying to avoid everyone's eye contact. Shane cocked an eyebrow, however, at the sight of a Zoroark leaning on the wall by the stairs. Was this a guild veteran he hadn't met?

    Conclusion: it is imperative the guild locate the Dawn Hourglass before the Prism Virus, Metagross declared. Fact: the Prism Virus attacked Aurora Vale to draw out Tapu Lele.

    "Zero believes Tapu Lele is the one holding onto the Dawn Hourglass right now," Umbreon added, looking uneasily at the Guildmaster.

    Shane cocked his head in confusion. "Why would a Land Spirit have something related to Solgaleo?"

    While there's no concrete data, it appears that the original Solgaleo and Lunala entrusted the Dawn and Dusk Hourglasses to the Tapus. The prevailenating belief in Horizon is that the Tapus will randomly exchange the Hourglasses between one another while they're going about reshaping the continent's Mystery Dungeons. At the same time, this allables them to move their respective temples to different spots around the continent, Magearna explained.

    "Which keeps them safe from any varmints who want to try and take them fer themselves," Braviary said.

    Shane bit his lip. His recalled Solgaleo's impostor claiming the Horizon myths weren't true. He shook his head. "So, um, the Tapus live in temples, then?"

    "Yes, but from what Zero could tell, they're all protected by strange forcefields. That's why we suggested messing with Horizon's landscape. To draw them out," Espeon said, sighing.

    Fact: if we are to locate Tapu Lele, we must find the Temple of Mind. Hypothesis: the temple is located somewhere near Aurora Vale, Metagross said.

    Tessa squeaked and shuffled back across Null's body. She grabbed his hind leg in fright. Shane saw the display and shook his head. "No way. Nuh-uh. We're not about to go back there. I'll bet that place is still completely messed up," he said.

    Negative. I am not ordering anyone there are this time, Metagross said. Order: the guild will go on an expedition to Glyphic Falls.

    "Glyphic… Falls," Null whispered. He scraped his claws against the floor. Tessa's aura feelers twitched in fright.

    Fact: several apprentices are already there, establishing base camp. Fact: I am ordering all available guild members to Glyphic Falls to search out the means to locate the Land Spirits' temples. Fact: Primarina and Vaporeon will look after the guild while we are away, Metagross said.

    Shane frowned. "Oh great, him again," he groaned.

    "Um, Guildmaster? I, uh, I don't think we'll be able to pitch in for this one."

    Espeon and Umbreon stepped away from the stairs, allowing Milotic and Serperior to pass. Both of them had somber looks on their faces.

    "Hey, is something wrong?" Tessa asked, tilting her head.

    "Yeah," Serperior whispered. "It's Airy. She's… gone."

    Shane's eyes widened. "Wait. 'Gone,' as in—"

    Milotic produced a piece of paper. "She left. She must've slipped out while we were sleeping last night."

    Tessa threw her paws up over her mouth. "Y-You're kidding! But why–?"

    "I don't know. Zero said some pretty harsh stuff to her when we fought. I think it really got to her," Milotic said, her tail fins drooping.

    Metagross nodded slowly. Acknowledged. Order: remain at the guild. We will proceed without you.

    Shane narrowed his eyes at Metagross. Dragonair was one of the top explorers in the guild, yet the Guildmaster wasn't remotely concerned with her disappearance. A tiny voice in Shane's head said that perhaps Metagross was responsible. The thought made his stomach churn.

    "And what will you have me do, Guildmaster?"

    Milotic and Serperior both did double-takes. "Wait, Zoroark? What are you doing back here? Is this more Expedition Society business?"

    "You know this girl?" Tessa gasped.

    Shane's concerns about Metagross vanished. His eyes widened. "Wait, you're with the Expedition Society?" He dashed up toward Zoroark. "You've got to tell me what it's like over there. How's Ampharos? And Mawile? Oh! Oh! Wait, have you met the Pokémon that beat Dark Matter? What are they like? And why can't they lend us a paw or two here?"

    Tessa lunged forward, cupping Shane's snout with her paw. "Aha ha ha. F-Forgive him, ma'am. He's a bit notorious around these parts for his big mouth." She shot him a a dirty look. Her paw muffled Shane's resulting sigh.

    "It's alright," Zoroark said, giggling. She looked at Shane. "So, you must be a human, then? It's nice to meet you." She bowed curtly.

    Order: you will provide us with aerial reconnaissance of Glyphic Falls, Metagross said, catching everyone in the room off guard.

    "Um, what? Since when do Zoroarks fly, Guildmaster?" Trapinch gasped.

    "Maybe she's just really good at illusions?" Mimikyu said. "I always heard some Zoroarks could shapeshift. Maybe if she made one of a flying-type Pokémon, she could fly?" Trapinch gave him a bewildered look. "Meep! It… it was just a suggestion, that's all."

    "Oh, I can fly," Zoroark boasted. "Just, not for the reasons you're thinking, little guy." In a flash of blue light, Zoroark transformed into Latias. "Tadah! Pretty cool, huh?"

    Tessa's grip slackened. Shane's eyes sparkled and, next thing anyone knew, he sprinted up to Latias. "Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! It's Latias! Right here in front of me!" he said.

    "Shane! Show some manners, for pity's sake," Tessa said, facepalming.

    "Oh, cut the fun police act. How could you not think this is totally amazing?" he said. Shane turned back to Latias. "Eee! This is incredible. You're only, like, my number four favorite Legendary Pokémon ever. Right behind Rayquaza, Ho-Oh, and Mewtwo because, well, let's face it, they're just concentrated awesome in Pokémon form. But you're definitely the cutest in my book!"

    Sweat drops formed on Latias' head. "Oh, uh, that's… nice, I guess."

    "Hey, Tessa? We got a pen and some paper anywhere? I've gotta get me an autogra—"

    A faint, pink glow surrounded Shane's body, freezing him in place. An unseen force clamped his muzzle shut. That is enough. Order: save your tomfoolery for your own time, Metagross said.

    "Wait, you mean to tell me we were working for you the whole time?" Serperior gasped.

    Latias nodded, looking down guiltily. "I'm sorry about the ruse, but I was in a bit of a bind and wanted to keep a low profile."

    Serperior looked at Milotic and shook her head. "See? It's just like I said. Can't trust a Zoroark."

    "Technically she was never a Zoroark, so your point's invalid," Milotic scoffed. "In any event, what brought you here, Latias?"

    "That's a bit… complicated," Latias replied. "First off, the Expedition Society wanted to check and see what had happened to Espeon and Umbreon." She glanced over her shoulder at the them. "Seems like the two of you have been through quite a lot."

    Espeon's tail turned stiff as an arrow. "You didn't go through my memories, did you?" She shot Umbreon a horrified look.

    "Of course not. The Guildmaster looped me in," Latias explained. Her revelation hardly relieved Espeon. "I take it you two are sticking around here, though?"

    "They decided to help us investigate this whole Prism Virus situation," Braviary said. "I take it you also brought her up to speed on that, sir?"

    Affirmative, Metagross replied.

    "But, uh, there is something else I'm here about," Latias announced. "I was thinking about how to bring this up to you guys. Ultimately, I think I need to just cut right to the chase here." She floated over toward Null. He took a few hesitant steps back.

    Tessa looked up at the two of them. Her aura feelers tightened up. Latias' aura brimmed with nervous energy. She wondered what had prompted such a quick change.

    "You're Null, correct?" Latias asked.

    "Yeah. Did the Guildmaster… tell you about me?" Null said.

    "N-No," Latias said. Her stammering drew skeptical eyebrow raises from several Pokémon. She glanced at the Lunar Wing in his helmet and sighed in relief. Latias turned toward the other guild members and said, "My friends in the Expedition Society think they know what Null is." Shane caught Milotic and Serperior exchanging nervous looks. Did they know what Latias was about to say?

    "Null is a Pokémon that was made by hand in ancient times," Latias said, drawing startled gasps from the others. "And we think the reason he was created was… to kill gods."

    Null's legs gave out. He scrambled to keep himself from collapsing on his stomach. His fur prickled. "I… I'm… what?" he whispered. He took a few steps back, then jostled his helmet. Null lost his balance and flopped onto his belly. He launched into a fit of raucous coughing.

    "Null!" Tessa cried and ran over to his side. Null hissed and jerked his head to the right. Tessa stopped short of him, narrowly avoiding an accidental headbutt.

    "No... no... please be quiet," he whimpered, jerking his head to his left.

    Shane watched his teammates with an astonished look in his eyes. There were too many problems with Latias' revelation. For one, why did Team Captivate sit on this information if they knew about it? And if Null was meant to kill gods, then why did he go after Shane?

    "All we have to go off of are some old materials we managed to dig up. Mawile found some records suggesting that a group of Pokémon took off to Horizon following Dark Matter's first defeat. Some of their logs said they teamed up with a Horizon native and tried to make a Pokémon that could protect them from any manner of danger," Latias explained. "Based on the way they phrased it, that danger made it seem like they were talking about gods."

    "But it didn't work, right? Their experiment went berserk and they had to seal it inside of a crystal," Serperior said.

    Shane's tails shot between his legs. That likely answered why Null attacked him. But another problem surfaced. Why did Sticky call Null a failure? Sticky was an alien, after all. Shane groaned. He didn't need these extra headaches on top of the Prism Virus situation.

    "How do you know all of this, Serperior?" Trapinch asked, snapping Shane's thinking back to his original issues.

    "Because I hired Team Captivate to locate one of the records Mawile found. I had it stolen from me while I was looking for artifacts in the Nocturnus Catacombs," Latias said. "Turns out, they did one better than that and actually found the item Mawile wanted."

    Null's head shot up. "I… I don't understand," he wheezed. "I don't… I don't remember anything like that…" He looked at Team Captivate. "You knew... about this?" Milotic and Serperior nodded in unison. Shane and Tessa exchanged frowns.

    Null lumbered to his feet, violently shaking his head. "Why?" he snarled, his voice uneasy. "Why didn't… you tell me? I've been trying… to figure out… why I can't remember anything... since day one!" He scraped his talons across the floor. "That isn't... you..." His helmet banged against his shoulder. "I had a right... to know about this! You needed... to tell me!"

    Shane's blood boiled. He stepped in between his friend and Team Captivate. "I can't believe you kept that stuff to yourself! Do you have any idea how much trouble you would've saved us if you'd actually opened your mouths?" he barked. "God... and you two call yourselves the top veteran team!"

    Tessa winced. Though she agreed with Shane, she thought he came on a bit strong.

    "I didn't say anything because I was scared!" Serperior blurted out. She slithered back toward the stairs. "Look… Null's frightening, okay? Sure, there are plenty of odd-looking Pokémon. But we know all about them. Null's a giant question mark. How did you expect us to react when the first thing we learned about his past was that he might be some sort of killing machine?" She ducked down into the stairwell. "I didn't want to chance having Null freak out and slice me open like a pasta noodle. So, yeah, I kept my mouth shut. Can you really blame me?"

    Null whined. Shane's ears folded against his head. Despite their past issues, a heavy guilt tugged at Shane's heart over Null.

    Latias floated toward Espeon and Umbreon. "I'm not really sure what to tell you." She turned to Metagross and Braviary. "I'm sorry we kept you guys in the dark. Mawile really hoped she could figure more out about all of this, so that maybe I could come here with a solution to Null's situation."

    Braviary rubbed the top of his beak. "Well, I ain't exactly a big fan of getting news like this. And at such a doggone lousy time fer us, to boot."

    Order: Null will stay behind for this expedition. Hypothesis: going to Glyphic Falls will trigger memories and cause him to lash out, Metagross said.

    "B… but Guildmaster," Null whimpered, much to Shane's surprise. "Please… don't make me... stay behind. I… I want to know. I need to know... if there are answers... to my past…"

    Request denied, Metagross said. Fact: the Prism Virus situation is a serious threat. Fact: it requires our undivided attention. Conclusion: I cannot have guild members preoccupied with tasks that will ultimately prove insignificant should the world fall into crisis.

    Tessa stepped forward. "You have to let him come with us," she declared. "Null's a member of Team Radiance now." She pulled a copy of the team's contract out from her item pouch. "He signed this when I told you to get rid of the dissolution form, remember?"

    Fact: my memory is infallible, Metagross scoffed.

    "Then, if you're allowing Team Radiance to go on the expedition, Null has to come too," Tessa declared. "Right, Shane?"

    She gave him a pleading look. Shane's heart skipped a beat. He quickly stood at attention. "Y-Yeah!" he squeaked. "All for one and one for all… or something like that…" He winced at the look of disappointment on Tessa's face. She wanted more of a ringing endorsement. Shane's expression grew stern. "Null's been crucial to giving us a fighting chance against the Prism Virus. I'm not going to Glyphic Falls without him."

    He glanced at Tessa, who gave him a warm smile. Null looked between the two of them, his sniffles echoing in his helmet.

    Fact: I reserve the right to amend the rules of expeditions as I see fit, Metagross said. I will not have you distracting us from our prime objective.

    "Guildmaster… I won't… waste anyone's time. I just… want to go there… and see… if I remember anything. I promise... I'll focus... on looking for stuff... about the Tapus," Null said.

    Metagross' expression remained neutral. Fine. Order: Magearna will accompany your group. Warning: if she believes that you are deviating from my directions, you will be sent back to base camp and returned to the Observatory.

    Null nodded. "I understand."

    Order: all those proceeding to Glyphic Falls, gather your belongings and meet at the entrance in five minutes. Dismissed.

    XxX

    ~Glyphic Falls~

    "Testing? Uh… one, two. Is youse all hearing me?"

    I read you loud and clear, Yungoos, Magearna said. She led Team Radiance through a narrow path overlooking a particularly steep drop down to a roaring riverbed. Her stomach compartment was open, revealing a large speaker.

    "Great. Red Team's moving along to da nort'west and— oy! Growlithe! Put da stick down. Now ain't da time to use dat!" Yungoos' voice crackled through the speakers.

    "Blue Team's setting a course to the north, y'all," Braviary announced

    "Sky Team checking in. Nothing really to report at the moment. The clouds are quite lovely up here," Latias said. "Also, why did I get a team if I'm the only one on it?"

    "Gate Team here. All quiet at the entrance. We've finished gathering the supplies needed to cook dinner," Trapinch reported.

    Okay, good. Your Gear-Coms should have enough juice to make it to sundown. After that, you should report back to base camp. Ping me if you need anything. Otherwise, try to stay off the line, Magearna said.

    A chorus of acknowledging statements followed. Magearna's speaker retracted into her chest. Just as a heads up, I may need to borrow your team's Gear-Com, should mine unexplicably lose power.

    "Heh, that shouldn't happen as long as you've got me around!" Togedemaru boasted, her cheeks sparking with electricity.

    Shane leaned over and whispered to Tessa, "Remind me why we got stuck with her, again."

    "Because," Togedemaru huffed, stopping in the middle of the trail and extending her spines. Shane stumbled to the ground, barely avoiding them. "My electricity can give auxiliary power to Magearna's energy cells. Otherwise, she'd never be able to keep so many Gear-Com lines tethered to her at once."

    "Oh, okay. That makes perfect sense," Shane said. 'Which engineering school did you graduate from, again?'

    "I really don't understand your Guildmaster," Espeon said, walking dejectedly at the back of the group. "Why would he split Umbry and me up? We do our best work together. We'd be most useful together."

    Tessa winced and tried to ignore Espeon's complaints. She didn't want to have to think about Metagross. "Exactly where is it that we're going to look for clues, anyway?" she asked. Tessa's gaze drifted toward the cliff face and the river down below. "This seems like a rather odd place to keep information about the Tapus." A steam geyser erupted nearby. Tessa jumped forward with a frightened yip. She hastened her pace.

    There are caverns interwovenated amongst the waterfalls, Magearna explained. Some of them lead down into the Nocturnus Catacombs. But others are believed to have served as shelter for Pokémon in the times when the Horizon Continent was a driftinating landmass.

    Tessa peered up the path, and noted a large rock spire jutting out diagonally. Water cascaded off the top of it. She guessed that was their destination.

    "So, big guy, anything jogging your memory yet? Y'know, in a nice, friendly, 'I don't want to murder everyone around me' kind of way?" Togedemaru asked.

    Shane's ears folded against his head. "Hey, d'ya think maybe you could tone down on the black comedy a bit?"

    "Psht! What's the matter, scared of your own teammate?" Togedemaru scoffed.

    Shane quickly glanced back at Null. The answer was yes, of course. Shane had an awful feeling that, if Null flew off the handle again, it would be his head on the proverbial chopping block.

    For his part, Null stayed silent. He stared at the river as he trudged along at the back of the line. "You guys… found me… washed up by the entrance… right?" he said.

    "Sure did! Boy, was that a surprise or what?" Togedemaru said, looking over toward Magearna.

    It certainly generated a strong startle cycle in my processors, if that's what you're insinuinating, Magearna said. We were here to gather some meteorological data. I sent Togedemaru to get river water for my Geartronic Pressure Sensorometer.

    "But when I went to the river, I found this big lug lying in the shallows near our campsite," Togedemaru continued, jerking her head in Null's direction. "We called Braviary up right away and he and Metagross showed up to haul his ragged butt back to the Observatory."

    Null slowly craned his head to look at the falls. "Did I… go down… one of those?" he whispered.

    "Fat chance. Your odds of surviving a fall down one of these suckers without any wings is, like, a zillion to one," Togedemaru said.

    Actually, it's around one in eight hundred and thirty seven. Certainly not the worst odds in the world, Magearna said.

    "Yeah, but you'd either have to be crazy or really, really desperate to go down one of these waterfalls," Togedemaru scoffed. "Can you imagine someone in the guild trying that?"

    Shane's brow furrowed. "I can see you looking right at me, you know."

    Togedemaru smirked. "Good, because out of all us, you'd be the odds-on favorite to try something that stupid."

    "Har, har. Very funny," Shane deadpanned. He turned to Tessa. "Hey, uh, can we talk for a second?"

    "Sure. What is it?"

    "No. I mean, can we hang back and talk. It's… kind of personal," he said, leaning in to whisper that last line. Tessa's aura feelers stiffened. She beckoned Null and Espeon ahead of her, then walked alongside Shane. Initially he stayed silent, his gaze focused straight ahead of him.

    "Well? Are we going to talk or are you going to stare at Espeon?"

    Shane abruptly jerked himself upright. He looked straight down at his forepaws. "Right, sorry. Anyway, about this morning…"

    "You mean the bad dream?" Tessa said.

    Shane nodded. "Kind of. See, I was thinking about what Espeon and Umbreon said yesterday. Y'know, about what they think happened to Solgaleo?" He bit his lower lip. "I, uh, had one of my dreams last night. The ones where Solgaleo shows up." Tessa gave him a concerned look. "Well, I told him about what we had learned."

    Tessa's aura feelers twitched. "And what did he say?"

    A shiver ran down Shane's back. "That's the thing. The voice in my dreams… I don't think it was actually Solgaleo. Because he revealed what he looks like to me. At least, I think that's what happened," he whispered.

    "Shane, you're speaking in riddles here," Tessa said. "It's a bit hard to follow."

    "Sorry. I, uh, I'm just not sure how to phrase it," Shane said. He took in a deep breath. "I think the voice inside my dreams isn't Solgaleo. I think it's part of the Prism Virus." Tessa's eyes widened. She opened her mouth to respond, but Shane quickly threw his paw up over her snout. "Whatever you've got to say, do it quietly, please. I don't want anyone else to hear about this."

    Tessa slowly nodded and Shane withdrew his paw. "What makes you so sure of this?" she asked.

    "I told you, the voice showed me his body," Shane said. "And it kinda looked like Solgaleo, but the colors were wrong. And he was covered in pieces of black armor, just like Zero."

    Tessa gave him a worried look. "But how can the Prism Virus do that?" She threw a paw up over her muzzle. "Oh… oh, gods. You don't think you've been infected, do you? What if that's why Null tried to attack you?"

    Shane's eyes widened. That hadn't occurred to him. But that wasn't something he wanted to consider. "N-No, that wouldn't make sense. I've been having these dreams for over a month. It wouldn't have taken the Prism Virus this long to infect me," he said, thinking his reasoning was sound enough.

    "But what if something's keeping you safe?" Tessa proposed. "Like your Naturia Looplet?"

    "Please don't say that!" Shane blurted out. The other group members looked back in concern. "We… we're fine," he lied. "Let's just keep going." He turned away from Tessa and quickly walked forward to try and rejoin the group.

    Tessa jogged up to him. "Shane, you can't just ignore this, you know. If someone's messing with your mind, then you need to speak up. With Espeon and Latias here, we have three powerful psychic-types. I'm sure they could figure out a way to help you."

    Shane whined softly. "I know, okay. I just… I don't know what to say to them. The other guild members are still pretty iffy about me because of the whole Bewear-Lycanroc fiasco. This would just make everything worse," he said. "Besides, what about you? Espeon and Umbreon think Lunala's been taken in by the Prism Virus, too. So, what would that mean for your dreams about your mom?"

    It took a moment for the impact of Shane's statement to sink in. When it did, Tessa hastily pulled her scarf over her head. "I… I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said. Tessa sped up her pace. "We're here for info about the Tapus. And... and for Null. I can't help him if I'm distracted by you."

    "But…"

    "Not now, Shane!"

    Again, their travelling companions stopped to give them concerned looks. "S-Sorry! Shane was trying to take one of my berries," Tessa said. She shot him a pleading look and whispered, "I'm sorry. We can talk later." Then she opted to walk alongside Null.

    Shane sighed. Even though that didn't go how he'd hoped, he was relieved Tessa was willing to talk at a later point. It was a far cry from their past arguing, at least. Shane walked forward, ears instinctively tucking against his head in a vain attempt at reducing the sounds of roaring water. It didn't take long for his head to throb. He glanced over the edge of the pathway and quickly skittered back toward the wall.

    He could safely say this was the highest off the ground he'd ever been without being inside an airplane. And he did not like it. "Hey, um, how long do we have to stay up here, exactly?" he asked. "I'm, uh, just learning that I'm not so good with heights."

    Just long enough to scope out this cave, Magearna replied, drawing a relieved sigh from Shane. Then we can move along to the next one.

    Shane's tails tucked between his legs. "J-Just how many of these waterfalls are we going to investigate, huh?"

    Before Magearna could respond, a ringing noise sounded from her stomach. Her built-in speaker turned on and Braviary said, "Mags. Y'all might want to find some cover over there. My team spotted something flying across the air mighty quick-like. And it was heading in y'all's direction."

    "Yeah. I just sensed a pretty powerful aura fly by," Latias chimed in. "Hang on, I'm going to try and see if I can get a closer lo— eek!"

    The group tensed up as Latias' frightened shriek sounded through Magearna's speaker. "Latias? Latias! Are you okay? What's going on?!" Espeon said, glancing back and forth between the speaker and the sky.

    Static erupted from the other end of the line. Everyone flinched except Magearna.

    "… thing… bad… big…"


    Could you repeat that? You're not coming in cleanerly, Magearna said.

    More static followed. "You guys need to take cover!" Latias cried. "Whatever's flying around up here just blindsided me with some kind of attack. Feels like it struck me in the back with something really hard and really sharp."

    "Did you get a good look at it, at least?" Togedemaru asked.

    "N-No, sorry. It flew off right away. And I need to land and heal up. I'm not doing so hot," Latias squeaked.

    "Well, you heard the lady," Shane said. "Let's find an alcove to stow away in until we get the all cle—"

    "Skraaaw!"

    Shane's stance slouched. "… or it could show up right now and make our lives miserable." He looked over his shoulder, but immediately had to turn away as a glaring light spread across his body. "Ach! What the heck? Is it a Skarmory up there?" In response, a rock nailed Shane's face. It exploded into dusty debris, knocking him back into Null. "Eyowch! What hit me?" he groaned.

    "A rock," Null said. "But… where would a bird… get a rock from?"

    Magearna's eyes widened. That is no Skarmory. It is a Toucannon. But something is clearly off with its apperentice. Its wings look like they're made out of bamboo. That is one hundred percent illogical. That variety of plant doesn't even growthinate in Horizon.

    Toucannon's beak shimmered in the sunlight. It opened its mouth wide. Several more rocks shot down toward the group. "It doesn't have to make sense. It's a Prism Virus Pokémon!" Tessa cried. She batted rocks away with her glowing paws. Magearna swept liquid metal through the air to blow apart the rest, but Toucannon easily steered clear of her attack.

    It spread its wings apart and let out a defiant, "Skraaw!" Toucannon tucked in its wings. It dived at the group, beak turning red hot.

    "Not good! It's trying to Beak Blast us!" Tessa yelped. She turned tail, trying to scramble up the path. But she got tangled up with Null, Espeon, and Shane in the process.

    Togedemaru hopped in front of them. "Leave this one to me. Zing-Zap away!" She shrouded her entire body in electricity and launched herself forward. But, much to her surprise, Toucannon stayed its course. Electricity crackled across its body, but its bamboo-like, metal-coated wings absorbed the attack. Toucannon shot Togedemaru back into the ground, leaving a crack in the cliff.

    Shane spewed frosty air in desperation, but the heat of Toucannon's beak dispelled it. Shane braced himself for impact, when Null stepped in front of him. Toucannon slammed into Null. The impact made his legs buckle. A sharp crack echoed through the area. The ground trembled underneath Team Radiance.

    "Agh! Careful!" Espeon cried, the quake knocking her to the ground.

    My word! Null, hold absolutely still, Magearna said, pointing a metallic arm forward. Shane opened his eyes and his jaw dropped at the sight of Toucannon's beak wedged into Null's helmet. A second, spiderweb crack radiated out around the mask.

    "W-Wait, I'm supposed to defeat it with a Z-Move. That might be the only way to save it from the Prism Virus," Shane said.

    Magearna gathered ice at the tip of her arm, when a loud, long rumble sounded. "Um, guys? I think we need to move… now," Espeon said, trying to shove Shane and Tessa out of the way.

    Shane sank into the ground. He looked up at Toucannon. "Is that bird doing something to us?" he asked.

    "No. The ground's giving way!" Espeon shrieked. She managed to push Shane onto his side and was prepared to leap over him when the path beneath her crumbled away. Seconds later, Shane, Tessa, Null, and Toucannon all dropped down. Horrified screams rang out, only to grow steadily more distant.

    Magearna's eyes widened. She dashed toward the edge of the crumbling path. Magearna looked for a sign of her guild mates, but all she got were splashes that echoed far in the distance. The pathway shook once again. Without so much as a second thought, Magearna grabbed the unconscious Togedemaru and hastily fled away from the waterfall.

    Guildmaster, we've got a serious situation here! Magearna declared, casting glances backward to watch as rocky debris covered up the hole that Team Radiance had just fallen down.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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    This chapter was originally published on March 2nd, 2018. Enjoy!

    XxX

    Chapter 9: Into Unown Territory

    "Did you guys feel that? I think an earthquake just hit this place." Gallian tapped the ground with a claw.

    Luxeira sat down in the middle of the trail. She nudged her helmet with her foreleg. "Hmm. There's still a lot of interference, but I think you're right. There are trace levels of seismic activity. Is that normal around here?"

    "Well, there are plenty of water geysers. But this didn't feel anything like one of them," Gallian replied. "And my disaster sense is telling me it's time to get the heck out of here."

    "If there was any seismic activity, then it appears to have dissipated," Sticky said, resting a nubby hand on his visor. "I'm not even detecting any aftershocks. Are we sure it was an actual earthquake? Perhaps what Gallian sensed is secondary to something else entirely." He turned to Luxeira, the visor disappearing into his harness' jewel in a stream of purple light. "Do you suppose an Ultra Wormhole could have triggered the earthquake?"

    Luxeira shook her head. "No. Even with all the interference, there's no way the seismic waveforms would have a high enough amplitude to be linked to an Ultra Wormhole," she said.

    "If it's not about your Ultra Wormholes, then drop the subject. You're just wasting our time," Gallian snorted. He started to walk forward, when Luxeira stuck a foreleg in front of him. Red energy crackled across a glaring Gallian's scythe.

    "Sit down for a second, Rookie. That's an order," Luxeira said. She turned back to Sticky. "As I was saying, Ultra Wormhole or not, I still find it odd that such a strong energy signature could fade so quickly. We should've seen it diminish gradually."

    "Perhaps all this interference is at fault. Or maybe the freefalling water blunted the aftershocks," Sticky said, tapping an arm against his chin.

    Gallian rolled his eyes. "You mean the waterfalls? Don't tell me waterfalls don't exist where you're from."

    Luxeira and Sticky exchanged looks. They both shook their heads at Gallian. "We don't have any waterfalls. Though, I suppose the name you terrestrials have for it makes sense. Very simplistic. Difficult to forget," Luxeira said.

    Gallian dug his claws into the dirt. "Ugh, I cannot believe you two! We're wasting our time talking about waterfalls. You want to find stuff about the helmeted freak show? Get off your asses and start moving!" Before Luxeira could respond, Gallian tensed up. The diamond on his forehead flashed red. Growling, he crouched low. "We're not alone."

    Sticky raised a brow, and then pressed the jewel on his harness once again. His visor reappeared. "… it's no good. There's still too much interference. Are you sure you sense someone coming, Gallian?"

    "Boy, Magearna sure seemed worried. What do you suppose happened to Team Radiance, huh?"

    At the mention of Magearna, Gallian bared his fangs. He crept forward, as if he was stalking prey.

    "Rookie. What are you doing?" Luxeira hissed in a whisper.

    "Getting ready to greet some unwanted guests," Gallian said.

    "I dunno. But man, dose dopes can't go a single mission wit'out getting demselves into some kinda trouble," Yungoos said. "Wit' dere track record, you'd t'ink dey're getting stalked by a pack of Ab—"

    Gallian flicked his scythe forward. Pink energy crescents battered a nearby rock. Debris rained down on the area. The moment he heard startled yelps, Gallian dove into the shadows. Luxeira and Sticky ran after him. "Get back here, Rookie! I did not authorize any combat," she barked.

    "I find that our Absol ally is not the type to listen to orders. Or reason, for that matter," Sticky said, sighing.

    Up ahead, Gallian emerged from the shadows, a snarl on his face. "Speak of the Absol and he'll appear, you exploring amateurs," he hissed. Dark energy encased his paws. He slashed Yungoos' face, knocking him into Growlithe. The two rolled backward across the path.

    "What the— Gallian? You're alive! It's us… it's the Horizon Guild!"

    Gallian whirled around to face Volcarona, shadows encasing his fur. "Huh, so there are veterans here, too. You guys on an expedition or something?"

    Volcarona glanced at Araquanid. "Something's wrong. He kind of looks like Bewear when we ran into her in Dewdrop Woods," she said.

    Gallian lunged at Volcarona. She flapped her wings to safely avoid Gallian's claws. The second Gallian landed, he dissolved into a puddle of black mist. Araquanid whiffed his attempt to bite Gallian. He reemerged a couple of yards away, looking dazed. Volcarona glowed green, but a globule of poison struck her right wing from behind.

    Hissing, Volcarona rapidly fluttered her wings to rid them of the toxins. Luxeira and Sticky went to Gallian's side. "We're going to have a serious talk about your insubordination later, Rookie," Luxeira growled.

    "No, you're going to thank me. Because I'm going to dig up the information that you've been on the lookout for," Gallian scoffed. He pawed at the ground. "Listen up, scrubs! I know you're here on an expedition. So, get the Guildmaster on the line and tell him to get down here. Or we'll knock the living daylights out of you and swipe every piece of equipment you've got."

    Luxeira's jaw dropped. "What? I authorize no such criminality. The Ultra Recon Squad doesn't resort to petty theft."

    "Yeah, you're a bit late on that, captain," Gallian sneered. He flicked his scythe. Psycho Cut blades swarmed the guild members. Volcarona fired green waves. Her Bug Buzz blew the Psycho Cut blades apart. Team Paradox scattered to dodge the lingering sound energy. Luxeira stepped out from her cover behind a large rock. She spewed a flamethrower, but much to her surprise, Growlithe jumped in front of the attack. Sighing happily, he shook out his torso as the attack washed across him

    Luxeira's jaw stiffened. "Flash Fire? Figures," she said. "Sticky. Quiet this terrestrial down, please."

    "Of course, captain," Sticky said, producing an orb from his harness. Yungoos turned around and kicked up a ton of dirt. It smacked Sticky's face, but his visor protected his eyes. He hurled the orb forward, striking Growlithe in the side.

    "Eyowch! That hu— mmph!" Growlithe's whine abruptly stopped as his muzzle snapped shut. He tried to open it, but couldn't, leaving him standing there wide-eyed.

    "Magearna! Guildmaster! Someone get over here, quickly," Yungoos cried into his scouting team's Gear-Com. "Gallian's gone off da deep end and is attacking us. And he's got some creepy friends with him." Yungoos scrambled away as a burst of poison soared over his head.

    XxX

    ~Nocturnus Catacombs, Eastern Quadrant~

    Emera ores lining the cavern walls cast a soft, purple glow on the brook trickling through the middle of the cave. Rippling water made the light flicker. Null staggered out of the brook, coughing raucously. Though Toucannon was no longer stuck in his helmet, he was clearly in pain. The spiderweb-like crack left by Toucannon's Beak Blast had created a black, discolored spot on his mask that extended up toward his left eye.

    Splashes made Null turn around. Shane, Tessa, and Espeon dragged themselves out of the brook. They were all soaked to the bone, their bodies weighed down by their wet fur. Tessa collapsed onto her knees, clutching her ribs.

    "O… ow. That… that really hurt," she squeaked. Beside her, Shane tried and failed to shake himself dry. Likewise, water clung to Espeon's fur, making her look like a pink, ragged mop head.

    "This blows," Shane growled, snorting out tufts of chilled air. "Just once… just once I'd like to go on a mission and not end up drenched from head-to-tail. Or covered in mud, slime, or gunge. This is inhumane!"

    "But… you're a Vulpix now… not a human," Null said.

    "Not the point, big guy," Shane hissed.

    "You mean to tell me this kind of stuff happens to you three regularly? Jeez, I can see why you're at each other's throats all the time," Espeon said.

    "Hey, we've moved past that," Shane said, though the fur falling over his face deflated his point considerably. "It's not my fault that Arceus is a sick, twisted, perverted weirdo." He craned his head up to look at the rocky ceiling. "Yeah, you heard me! So, you like to get your kicks messing with an innocent little Vulpix's fur? You make me wanna hurl, you overgrown llama!"

    "Shane! What are you saying?" Tessa gasped.

    "And why are you pronouncing it Ar-see-us? It's Ar-key-us," Espeon said. "And with the way you're acting, you're totally setting yourself up for some form of karmic retribution."

    "Maybe. But I've been thoroughly humiliated, chewed up, and spat out repeatedly by this miserable world," Shane grumbled, walking forward. "Frankly, there's nothing left that could happen to m—"

    A click cut Shane off. Null's eyes widened as a geyser of mud erupted around Shane, coating him in a thick layer of brown sludge. Espeon snorted, desperately trying to hold back a laugh, while Shane's bright-blue eyes blinked repeatedly from within his new mud coat. He turned and stomped back toward the brook, leaving muddy footprints behind him.

    He shot Null a scathing look. "Not. One. Word." Shane trudged into the brook, disappearing underneath the surface. He reemerged seconds later, brown water dripping off his pelt.

    "Um, I'd hate to interrupt your moment there, Shane, but I really think we need to get moving. What if that Toucannon followed us down here?" Tessa said.

    "I don't think… we need to worry about it… anymore."

    Null turned toward the brook. Tessa caught sight of the damaged patch on his helmet. "Toucannon… had gotten stuck on my mask. It fell down with us. But it didn't… pop out of the water."

    "Y-You don't mean it drowned, do you?" Tessa said, eyes widening.

    Espeon pursed her lips. "Much as it pains me to say it, that's the most logical outcome. Though, given how the Prism Virus works, drowning may have been the best outcome for that poor Pokémon," she said, shuddering.

    "Espeon, how could you say something like that?" Tessa said.

    "Because I know what happened to Toucannon," Espeon said, shutting her eyes. "Infection… it changes a Pokémon by corrupting its spiritual energy. You've seen the results for yourselves."

    "Is that why the infected Pokémon lose all their colors when they're defeated?" Shane asked.

    Espeon nodded grimly. "It's Zero's failsafe. Because she damages a Pokémon's spirit to infect it, breaking the virus' hold over a Pokémon causes the entirety of its life force to drain out of its body."

    "But you're still here," Null pointed out.

    "I know. It's a miracle. Rightly and truly a miracle. Though it feels more like a curse," Espeon whispered.

    "Actually, Magearna thinks it was the Z-Move that I used against you and Umbreon," Shane explained. "See, my looplet lets me do this—"

    A blue paw grabbed one of Shane's tails and yanked it. Shane cut himself off with a yip.

    "We really ought to get a move on, Shane," Tessa said, dragging her teammate away from the water.

    Shane managed to wrestle himself free of Tessa's grip. He looked back toward his tails and slowly bobbed them up and down. "Okay, Riolu. No need to get pushy. Besides, where exactly are we going to go? And where the heck are we, for that matter?"

    "We fell down from a path in Glyphic Falls," Espeon said, looking up toward the ceiling while she walked past Shane and Tessa. Shane's gaze followed her forward, only for him to immediately look right at the ground, biting his lower lip.

    "That means we must be in the Nocturnus Catacombs," Tessa said. Her aura feelers throbbing. She squealed and tightened her grip on the team's item pouch.

    "So, we just need to find our way back to the surface, right?" Shane said, alternating between giving Tessa a concerned look and stealing glances ahead at Espeon. A tiny voice in his head chastised his behavior, telling him to focus on staying safe.

    "It's not that simple. Our Wonder Maps… they don't include the Nocturnus Catacombs. We're flying blind," Tessa whimpered.

    "But it looks like… there's only one direction… we can go," Null wheezed. He pointed a shaky talon forward.

    "Yeah. I think our fall caused a bit of a cave-in," Espeon said. She turned back toward the group. Shane hastily looked at the debris on the other end of the cavern. He silently wondered why Espeon made him so flustered.

    "What if that was the way to the exit?" Tessa said, worriedly tugging at the strap of her item pouch.

    "Then we'll need to hope the direction we can go leads to one," Espeon said. "Now, are you three coming or not?"

    Shane raised a forepaw. "Hang on. This is a Mystery Dungeon, isn't it? Why don't we just use an Escape Orb and return to the surface?"

    Tessa opened the team's item pouch and pulled out a dull-gray orb. "Because we can't," she said.

    "Oh, come on. Seriously?" Shane groaned. "I know our luck sucks, but this is getting to be a bit ridiculous."

    Espeon's brow furrowed. "Well, it's true. There must be some sort of hex jamming this place. At the very least, maybe we can move outside the hex's range and then use your Escape Orb to get out of here."

    "What about an Entercard?" Shane asked, heart racing as he met Espeon's gaze.

    She hook her head. "I need Umbry's help to make one. Now, let's get a move on."

    Shane trudged after his teammates, muttering, "We just can't have an easy mission, can we?" He squinted his eyes as he passed over beams of purple light streaming down from the emera ores. "Cripes. These crystals are a bit much, don't you think?" He rapidly blinked the stars out of his vision. Shane slowed up as his gaze fell on Espeon's backside. His chest tightened up and his heart raced even faster.

    "… human…"

    "Gah!" Shane jumped forward, then looked back at Null. "Don't do that, man. You already scare me enough as it is."

    Null coughed. "I'm sorry. It's just… you keep staring at Espeon. It's… a little creepy…"

    "W-What?" Shane hastily shuffled forward, trying to use the glow of the ores to mask the blush on his face. "I… I'm not staring. I have to look where I'm going and she's up ahead of me. So, of course I'm going to see her. St… stop being such a worrywart." He walked ahead, but Null quickened his pace.

    "It's not… normal. It's a lot like… how I was staring at you… the first time you had sentry duty," Null whispered.

    "You're just seeing things, Null," Shane dismissed. He dipped his head down and kept walking. Shane had a bad feeling he knew what Null was implying.

    "… you're studying her," Null said, confirming Shane's fears.

    "Hey, Riolu. What's up with these weird crystals anyway?" Shane asked in an obvious ploy to change the subject. Null growled his displeasure, but opted to continue onward without pressing Shane further.

    "I really don't know," Tessa said. She approached one of the emera ores. "Maybe they're some kind of light source? Like a cousin of luminous orbs?" Tessa placed her paw against the crystal. Her aura feelers jolted upright. She pulled her paw back with a startled yip. Tessa stared wide-eyed at the bright-blue aura clinging to her paw like a flame to the tip of a match. She wrung her arm out, as if she could fling the aura away. It eventually disappeared.

    Tessa clasped her paw to her chest. "Th… that's not normal. Those crystals, they have energy in them. A lot of energy. It's scary!" she said, whining.

    "That would seal it, then. I had my suspicions, but it looks like these are emera ores," Espeon said, glancing at one of the crystals as she walked past it. Her forehead gem glowed brighter the closer she got to an ore.

    "… emera… ores," Null said. His pace slowed considerably. Null nervously swiveled his head back and forth. The helmet muffled his soft whimpers.

    "So, what? Are they like the emeras we use, but on massive amounts of steroids?" Shane said, gazing at his distorted reflection.

    "Not exactly. In our research, Umbry and I found some documents that talked about Pokémon using massive crystals as energy sources. Apparently, these things are remnants of the battles waged by the immortal gods that shaped the land, sea, and sky," Espeon said. "They're quite volatile, even sporadically venting off their energy and forming up new crystals."

    Shane shut his eyes. A brief mental image flash through his mind. Pillars of lava collided against tidal waves, while a massive tornado attempted to break both of them apart. He shuddered at this thought.

    "But the emera ore name was made retroactively by some explorers. Because, when they discovered these things, they found the energy signatures were pretty similar to the emeras they used in their looplets," Espeon continued.

    Shane's brow furrowed. "Wait a second. I thought the Expedition Society invented looplets to help out explorers."

    Espeon raised a confused eyebrow. "Um… no. I don't know where you got that idea from, but looplets have been around for a really long time."

    Shane's ears stuck up from the discovery of yet another difference between this world and his games.

    "Does that mean our emeras come from these ores?" Tessa wondered. As she walked forward, she took great care to maneuver herself as far from each ore as she could. Her aura feelers had tensed up considerably. She winced every time they throbbed.

    Espeon shook her head. "No one's entirely sure about that. The prevailing theory is that emeras, wands, orbs, and other treasures were all created at the hands of one Pokémon." Her eyes drifted shut and she stretched her neck out. "The scriptures I've read said, 'A blinding light enveloped the world. Stardust fell and the earth became ripe with magical treasures.'"

    "Seriously? That seems pretty far-fetched," Shane said.

    "No, it doesn't. If individual Pokémon gave us the land, seas, skies, outer space, and time, then why can't one Pokémon have made a bunch of treasures?" Tessa said.

    "Because it's not like there are a limited number of these things," Shane countered, thinking about how items randomly popped up in dungeons.

    "I agree. It's not a solid idea. But, as I said, it's just speculation. Some folks believe that a Pokémon released a massive burst of pure, raw energy. In other words, they gave off a tremendous amount of light and… poof! Suddenly the world was flooded with vast amounts of stardust," Espeon said. "And that's where all the emeras come from." She shook her head. "Some crazy whackos actually think Dialga used stardust to forge the Time Gears as a contingency plan for Temporal Tower."

    "Well, I'm not convinced," Shane said, shaking his head in disapproval.

    A flash of purple light caught their attention. Null had brushed his hide against a lone emera ore. He froze mid-step, with his teammates watching him. His eyes constricted, then he slammed his helmet into the ground, roaring furiously.

    "Null!" Tessa cried. She tried to run toward him, but Shane cut him off.

    "Are you crazy? You need to keep your distance," he said. Memories of Null's attack in Moonrise Marsh surface, making Shane's tails curl up.

    "But look at him. He's in pain!" Tessa said. Null thrust his head up and jerked it to his right. It struck the emera ore beside him. Another flash of purple light enveloped Null. Shane's fur prickled and his tails shot between his legs.

    "Get… out of… my head!" Null snarled, jerking his helmet to the left, then smacking it against the emera ore once more. The second blow shattered the crystal. Shards peppered Null's body, leaving small scuffs in his fur. An explosion blasted Null into the ceiling.

    "Null!" Tessa cried again. Shane tackled Tessa to the ground to prevent her from running forward and getting squished. Null fell to the ground, bringing a shower of rocky debris with him. The rubble landed around Null, forming a wall that blocked off the tunnel.

    "Nice going, big guy. You just caused a cave-in," Shane whimpered, staggering backwards. Null didn't appear to process his complaint, however. He lay on the ground, staring wide-eyed at the nearest emera ore.

    Tessa managed to wriggle free of Shane and sprint over toward Null. "A… are you okay? What happened. "Oh gods, you've got welts on your shoulders." She turned back to Shane and Espeon. "What are you guys doing standing there? He's hurt. Help me get him out."

    Shane pawed nervously at the ground. "Um, are you sure it's safe? He looks a little, y'know, crazy." The events of Moonrise Marsh were on repeat in Shane's head. Though he tried to tell himself this wasn't Null's fault, he couldn't bring himself to believe that.

    Tessa ignored her teammate and ran forward. She grabbed Null's helmet and tugged. "H… hang on. I'm… gonna… get… you…"

    Espeon tensed up. She whirled around and her eyes flashed blue. A pink shield materialized in front of her and deflected a burst of bright-white energy. "We've got company," Espeon cried, crouching low to the ground. Shane turned around and Tessa looked up from her spot beside Null.

    "Why are you here?" a squeaky voice echoed through the cavern.

    Espeon's eyes widened. "This is bad. I'm sensing more auras popping up. Whatever just attacked me… there are a lot of them!"

    "Why are you here?" the squeaky voice asked again.

    Shane gulped. "We're explorers with the Horizon Guild. We fell down from Glyphic Falls and got trapped in here. All we're trying to do is find a way out. Just let us pass, please." Another blast of white light sailed over Espeon, forcing Shane to dispel it with frosty air. "Hey! I just said we're not looking for any trouble."

    A single, beady eye popped up from beside one of the emera ores. Shane's tails shot up. "Y… you're… an Unown?" He cocked his head in confusion. "Oh-ho… oh… okay. Phew. For a second, I was worried that we were in serious tro—"

    Several more eyes popping up around the tunnel. By Shane's count, he saw at least thirty. More Unown floated out of the shadows, joining the one in front.

    "We weren't talking to you," the Unown A at the head of the group exclaimed. He fixed his lone eye on Null. "You! Why are you here?"

    Null blinked a few times. "Do… do I know you?" he wheezed, struggling under the weight of the rocks.

    "You should. You hurt my brothers and sisters!" Unown A said.

    Tessa and Shane exchanged confused looks. "Look, little guy. We're just trying to pass through," Shane said. "If you could let us bail our teammate out, we'll be on our way and nobody will get hurt."

    Unown A fired a white blast. Shane blew it away with frosty air. "No!" Unown A cried. "The Abomination may not leave. He must pay for what he's done to us!" He spun around to face his fellow Unowns. "Brothers! Sisters! We must strike back against the Abomination. Make him pay for the suffering he brought upon our kind!"

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. She spun around and struck the rock wall with a glowing paw. Several rocks shattered. Null barely managed to wriggle free.

    They both looked up and noticed the Unown spinning around one another in midair. "Make him pay! Make him pay! Make him pay!" they chanted.

    Espeon released a pink wave, only for her jaw to drop as the attack fizzled out harmlessly against the Unown. "But that's impossible," she gasped. A bright flash of light consumed the Unown. Espeon fled back toward Team Radiance. When the light faded, a Golurk stood in place of the Unown.

    "They turned into a Golurk? But how's that possible?" Tessa asked, shakily raising her fists.

    "Seriously? That's an obvious one," Shane said. Both Tessa and Espeon gave him confused looks. "You guys are yanking my tails, aren't you? How could you not know that Unown are reality-warpers? When you gather enough of them together, they're capable of distorting the fabric of time and space. But they're hive minds, so they need to have a sense of direction. And Unown A clearly gave them one."

    Shadowy tendrils wrapped around Golurk's fists. Two giant, fist-shaped balls of ghostly energy hurtled toward Team Radiance. Null lunged forward and slashed them with his talons. They evaporated into fine purple mist.

    "Well, that tidbit isn't exactly going to help us. What are we supposed to do against a Golurk? I can't even touch it," Tessa said.

    "That's not true. Don't you still know Bite?" Shane said.

    "I am not biting that," Tessa said, gagging.

    Golurk roared and retracted in its hands and feet. Jets of fire appeared in their places. It flew toward Team Radiance, bringing an arm back to attack. Null's helmet hardened into steel. He jumped forward. Null struck Golurk. They both bounced back from the blow. Null ended up in a heap by Tessa's feet.

    "Null!" Tessa squeaked.

    "Don't… just stand there… help me!" Null growled. "I can't… do this alone."

    XxX

    ~Glyphic Falls~

    "Let us go, Gallian!" Volcarona shouted. She and her guild mates sat inside of a cube-shaped purple forcefield. Volcarona blasted it with a flamethrower, but the forcefield absorbed it and then spat it back at her. Hissing, she threw her wings up to shield herself.

    "Dat didn't work da first five times youse did it, so what makes youse t'ink it's gonna work now?" Yungoos sneered, flicking a pebble forward with a claw.

    "Gallian, exactly how long to you intend to wait this out? I fear the forcefield does not have the potency to continue withstanding that terrestrial's incendiary attacks," Sticky whispered.

    Gallian's glare fiercened. "We'll wait until I say otherwise," he hissed. His forepaw rolled the Gear-Com he had captured against the ground.

    "This isn't accomplishing anything. Remind me why you're doing this, exactly?" Luxeira said.

    Gallian tensed up. His eyes flashed purple. "… he's coming," he said. He turned to his right and lunged in front of the forcefield. A pink blast struck him from the sky, but didn't hurt him. Eyes pitch-black, Gallian craned his head skyward. Gallian fired a black and red beam. Above him, Latias squealed. She released her psychic hold on Metagross, who dropped in front of Gallian with a heavy thud. Gallian shook his head. The diamond on his forehead smoldered like a lit candle.

    "Well, shoot. I didn't wanna believe it, myself. But that's our Gallian right there," Braviary said, swooping in to land next to Metagross. Latias hovered down between them. Umbreon hopped off her back. He shot a concerned look toward Team Paradox.

    "I remember you three. You were snooping around Sunrise Village yesterday," Umbreon said.

    Gallian raised a curious eyebrow. "You're back to normal?" he gasped.

    Luxeira nodded. "It would certainly appear that way, though we can't confirm it without an ultra aura scan. Still, that should be impossible."

    Order: stand down and release my subordinates, Metagross sadi, his eyes glowing deep blue.

    "Not happening. Not until you give me some answers," Gallian said.

    I owe you nothing. Fact: you are outnumbered. Fact: our party has superior physical and ranged attacks at our disposal, Metagross said. Fact: we have a less god. Conclusion: resistance is futile. Order: release your captives or I will attack.

    Sticky shot Gallian a panicked expression. "I concur with his assessment. Let's just hand them over so we can be on our way."

    "I said not until he gives me some answers!" Gallian snarled, his forehead scythe flickering red. He slammed a forepaw against the ground and a ripple of dark energy raced across his fur. Latias' eyes widened and the blue glow faded from Metagross' eyes.

    G-Guildmaster, you felt that, didn't you? Latias telepathically said, shrinking back toward the nearby stream.

    "Captain, did you see that?" Sticky whispered. "He's showing signs of corruption again. I thought the harness was supposed to neutralize his ultra aura."

    Luxeira raised a forepaw. "Easy now, Sticky. If we try anything, we might set him off."

    Gallian stepped closer to the energy cage, black smoke rising off of his scythe. "Good. I see I've gotten your attention," he hissed through gritted teeth. "I'm sorry to ruin your little trip to the falls, Guildmaster. After all, this place has such lovely memories for you, doesn't it?"

    Negative. Fact: my memories of Glyphic Falls elicit the same level of response as all other existing memories, Metagross dismissed.

    Gallian laughed bitterly. "Don't lie to me, you oversized tin can. It's been, what, a year since this place changed your life for the better? I'll bet you're already feeling nostalgic over it."

    Hypothesis: you are implying an emotional connection to this place. Fact: emotions are predatory in nature. Fact: they interfere with my ability to carry out my work properly. Conclusion: your petty mind games are useless, Metagross said. He raised a foreleg and it glowed bright red. He shot forward with an astonishing burst of speed. Gallian barely managed to melt into a puddle of shadows and dodge Metagross' swipe.

    He popped up next to Metagross, dark energy sheathing his forelegs. However, his Night Slash was met by both a glowing wing from Braviary and one of Metagross' hind legs. Gallian stumbled back, howling. Umbreon jumped in front of Luxeira and Sticky, rings glowing bright yellow in a warning to keep back.

    "I know it was you! So, admit it, already!" Gallian barked.

    "Hold up, pardner. Just what are you insinuating here, huh?" Braviary asked, keeping his wing lowered.

    Gallian's eyes flashed purple. "Don't play coy with me, Braviary. You're holding up this whole farce too," he said. "Now fess up. Right here. Right now. Because you two are the reason my dad's gone! You killed him!"

    Braviary momentarily slackened. Gallian used that moment to strike. Shadows bathed his claws. He lunged for Braviary's throat, only for a metallic leg to blindside him from his right. Gallian sailed backward, careening past Latias and striking the rock wall across the stream. He ricocheted off it and fell into the water with a splash, but didn't stay down long. Gasping, Latias fired a bright blue bolt of energy, but it struck the water harmlessly.

    Her eyes widened. Shadows gathered beneath her. Gallian rematerialized. He shot a black beam from the diamond on his forehead. However, a second Dark Pulse struck his side and knocked him back, sending his attack off course. Latias wasted no time. Her eyes glowed blue and, next thing Gallian knew, a wall of water rose out of the stream and crashed onto him. He collapsed into a heap.

    "Son, I don't know what you've done to yer noggin, but that there is crazy talk if'n I've ever heard any," Braviary said. Behind him, Metagross pinned Sticky and Luxeira back with a raised foreleg. Sticky turned and sent a tiny beam of blue light to his right. It struck the energy prison and made it disappear.

    "Hot diggity! We've been sprung," Growlithe cheered, jumping to his feet. He ran over to hug Metagross, but the Guildmaster shoved him aside with one of his hindlegs.

    "Gallian should be lucid. That harness is supposed to suppress the corrupted Z-Power that he was exposed to. Those words are his own," Luxeira said.

    Gallian looked up, breathing heavily. Latias floated over him, her normally soft facial features contorted into a glare. "N… no. They're lying!" Gallian growled. "I'm not the one you should be after. It's them. They're killers! Both of them!"

    Fact: the night of your father's death I was in the Observatory, Metagross countered, not even turning around to address Gallian. Instead, he looked right at Braviary, who immediately tensed up.

    "Right! I can back him up. Because he was with me," Braviary said. He shuffled in place, before seeing Metagross' glowing eyes and promptly fixing an angry look on Gallian. "I suggest you start explaining yerself, hoss. Yer a wanted 'mon back in Aeon Town, you know."

    Gallian stuck his head up and spat in Braviary's face. "I don't owe you anything, you backstabbing traitor!"

    A rainbow-colored tile fell out of his harness. Latias immediately recognized it and tried to yank it away with her telekinesis. But Gallian managed to wrap his paws around it and shatter it. Both he and the other members of Team Paradox disappeared in three flashes of light.

    Latias bit her lower lip. "That doesn't make any sense. You can't just carry Warp Traps on your person like that. They're randomly phased into dungeons," she said.

    "I reckon that pointy-headed varmint might've had something to do with that," Braviary said, brow furrowing. "In any case, ain't much we can do about it. Guildmaster, you sensing 'em nearby?"

    Negative. Fact: they have warped out of range of my abilities, Metagross said.

    "Maybe they're out of range for you, but I bet I could catch 'em. I'll do a flyover and see what I can find. Um, if that's alright with you guys, I mean," Latias said.

    Metagross nodded. Order: contact us if you find him.

    Latias tucked her arms into her body and zipped off into the sky. Braviary walked over toward the freed guild members. "Y'all doing okay?"

    "Yeah. Just a bit humiliated, that's all," Volcarona sighed.

    "Um, Braviary? Gallian… was he talking about Guildmaster Incineroar's death?" Araquanid asked. "You guys told us it was an accident."

    Order: do not concern yourself with his slanderous statements. Fact: an outside influence has poisoned Gallian's mind. Fact: if we cannot free him from it, he will continue to believe these delusional lies, Metagross said.

    The other guild members exchanged concerned looks.

    Metagross' eyes glowed blue again. Fact: we are in a time-sensitive situation. Fact: our energy must go toward locating information about summoning the Tapus. Order: continue searching Glyphic Falls.

    "Err, but—" Volcarona started, but Metagross had already turned away from her and was walking back to Braviary. "Right… we'll get back to work, then."

    XxX

    ~Nocturnus Catacombs, Eastern Quadrant~

    "Duck!"

    Shane slid onto his belly. An ectoplasmic fist passed over him. Ghostly energy grazed his back. He shivered. Shane scrambled back to his feet and looked around. Espeon had shot a Shadow Ball back at Golurk, but it caught the attack between its hands and slammed it against an emera ore. The crystal absorbed the energy. It crackled with purple lightning.

    "Come on. We've gotta keep running!" Shane cried, sprinting forward. He skidded to a halt, however, when blue electricity shot up in front of him. He looked to the side and noticed an Unown G floating there. Moments later, lightning surged through his body. Shane collapsed in a smoldering heap.

    "Yay, it worked! That'll teach you no-good creeps!" the Unown I floating above him cheered.

    Angered by his teammate's injury, Null shot Air Slash crescents at Unown I. It's single eye widened as the harsh air currents slammed into it. The electricity gathered around it faded. Null hoisted Shane up to his feet. "Come on," he rasped.

    Shane coughed up a mouthful of smoke. "Thanks for the save." The crack in Null's helmet splintered further. Shane could swear he saw something gray inside the crack.

    "Don't thank me yet… we've still got trouble," Null growled. He put Shane onto his back and ran ahead. His eyes narrowed at the sight of multiple Unown scattered across the tunnel. Behind him, the ground shook.

    "Eyaaagh! Are you crazy? You're going to cause a cave-in!" Tessa cried.

    "Worth it to stop the Abomination and its accomplices!" Golurk bellowed. "This is for all my brothers and sisters that you locked away in that wretched prison you call a body!"

    "Quickly, everyone. Execute Plan B!" an Unown F at the head of the group declared.

    "Huh? You need me for something?" an Unown B asked, tilting to the side in confusion.

    "No! I said Plan B, not Unown B!"

    "Oh. You should've been more specific, then," Unown B quipped.

    Null skidded to a stop as the Unown organized into parallel lines. Electric barriers formed up between the lines, effectively walling off the group's only path forward. "Heh. That's Plan B as in 'barrier.' Which means you're not going anywhere," Unown F declared.

    Null clawed the ground with his talons. "Why are you… doing this? I don't even… know who you are!" he said. "Please… just let us pass…"

    "Look out!" Tessa cried from behind them. Shane barked in fright and leaped off Null's back. Null turned around in time for a large, glowing-red fist to slam into his helmet. It knocked him back against the nearby barrier. Electricity surged through him. Null roared in fury before slumping to the ground. Static clung to his fur. His limbs spasmed.

    "Hey! Leave my friend alone!" Tessa snarled. She lunged at Golurk and sank her fangs into its left shoulder. Golurk gasped in pain. Null shakily lifted his head, whimpering as he watched his friend struggle. Another chip appeared in his helmet, offering a peek at gray feathers matching his chest plume.

    Golurk raised its right hand. Shadows coated its fist. Before it struck Tessa, however, a purple Shadow Ball hit its right shoulder. Golurk froze up.

    "I guess now's as good a time as any to try this out," Shane said. "This is for picking on Null!" He scrambled forward, heart racing. Water coated his tails. Shane whirled around. His tails swept Golurk's legs out from under it. Shane smirked, only for his eyes to bug out. Golem was toppling forward. It was going to flatten Espeon, who was frozen in shock.

    "Espeon!" Shane cried. He sprinted toward her and dove to the ground. Shane and Espeon tumbled away from Golurk. It missed them by inches. The nearest Unown scattered, squaling in fright. Their barriers faded. Espeon looked up, panting.

    "Th… thanks. I totally locked up there," Espeon said.

    "You're not hurt, are you?" Shane asked, looking her over. His heart jumped into his throat when he saw her right hind paw was swollen.

    "It… it's fine," Espeon assured him, though the squeak of pain she gave upon standing up made Shane brace himself against her side. A flush came across her cheeks.

    "Ach! C'mon, guys, wake up," Unown F said, looking at Golurk. Its two buddies joined it and together they reformed their barrier. "Okay, only one thing to do. Push 'em back. We'll flatten them against the cave-in they caused earlier and that'll be the end of that."

    The barriers hovered forward. Tessa's aura feelers shot up. Null scrambled to his feet and backpedaled alongside her. Shane helped Espeon hobble through the tunnel, though she was clearly in pain. The barriers left Golurk unharmed.

    "We've got to figure out a way to get rid of them or we're all going to get fried!" Shane said.

    "What are we supposed to do? There's too many of them," Tessa cried. "And some of us don't have any ranged attacks, remember?" Shane's brow furrowed. What could they do in the face of impenetrable barriers? Shane realized that, if their attacks weren't enough, then they'd need something bigger.

    Static tickled his tails. Shane quickened his pace. "I… I have an idea. But it's kinda— no, it's very risky."

    Tessa shot him a horrified look, but glanced the approaching row of barriers and gulped. "How crazy are we talking, exactly?"

    He looked over at Espeon. "If Null and I shoot our attacks forward, do you think you could hit them with Psychic? That ought to create a blast that's strong enough to break a few of these emera ore things."

    Espeon's tail shot up. "Are you crazy? They're much closer together here than they were before. If we break one, the energy that gets released will start a chain reaction and collapse the whole tunnel!"

    "I know that," Shane said. "Which is why we need to run toward the barriers as soon as we launch our attacks."

    "That's gonna get us killed!" Tessa cried. She looked in front of her and her face blanched at the sight of the earlier cave-in popping up.

    "Do you have any better ideas? Because I, for one, don't want to experience this world's version of an electric chair!" Shane said, not even bothering to care his teammates wouldn't understand what he was talking about.

    Tessa skidded to a halt. "Okay, fine. But give some sort of signal so we know when to run."

    Shane nodded. He pushed Espeon to the side and shouted, "Null, fire an Air Slash." Null obliged. Shane simultaneously released a white Frost Breath cloud. The two attacks connected. Pink energy erupted all around them. Fierce, wintery air exploded. The lead barrier collapsed and the three Unown fell to the ground unconscious.

    "Now! Go, go, go, go!" Shane screamed, ducking his head down and running forward.

    His teammates took off after him, though Espeon struggled to keep up. Seconds later, two of the emera ores in the cavern burst open. Fluorescent purple energy shot out of them. The entire cavern shook as, one by one, the arranged emera ores detonated like purple, neon fireworks. Just as Espeon predicted, huge slabs of rock rained down from above. The Unown all shouted in fright, but even after disengaging their barriers they were not as fast as Team Radiance. The foursome passed all the Unown by. More emera ores blew up around them. The cave collapsed on top of them.

    "Hurry up… the cave-in's gaining on us!" Tessa screamed. She threw her arms up over her head and slammed her eyes shut. Beside her, Shane's eyes widened. The cracks in the ceiling had caught up to them. They were going to be crushed to death.

    "Dive for it guys!" he bellowed. Null encased his helmet in metal and lunged forward, his Iron Head destroying a couple of falling rocks. Tessa likewise burst her way through using a pair of well-timed Force Palm strikes. Shane managed to blast apart a rock that was about to land right in front of him with pink Extransensory ripples. He threw himself to the floor, not even realizing that the rocky ground had abruptly given way to cold, hard steel. The cavern gave one final, violent shake before the tremors subsided.

    Team Radiance lay on the ground, flanks heaving. "We're… we're alive," Tessa panted. She blinked tears out of her eyes. "Oh, dear gods, why is every day bringing us crazier and crazier near-death experiences? Our luck can't keep holding out like this!" She looked up at the ceiling. "We're totally trapped! We could be miles underground for all we know and there's no way out. We're going to starve to death in this… this…" She slowly sat up and looked around. "W… what the— this isn't a cave. Where the heck are we?"

    Shane had finally managed to get the ringing out of his ears. He staggered to his feet, coughing up dust. Shane blinked stars out of his vision and looked ahead of him. His chest tightened. "Guys… I don't think we're in the Catacombs anymore," he whimpered.

    "Hey… Shane? W… where's Espeon? She was running beside you, right?" Tessa said.

    Shane turned to his right, only to find himself looking at the metal floor. His eyes widened. "Espeon? Espeon! Where are you?" He looked around frantically. "Can you hear us? Did you get blown across the room?"

    "… um… guys?"

    Shane turned toward the wall of rubble. Null stood there, looking down. He shut his eyes and pointed a talon forward. "No," Shane whispered. "No! Please, god, no!" he wailed, sprinting toward his teammate. He stumbled to a stop beside Null.

    It was there, at the base of the rubble, that he saw a forked, pink tail lying motionless beneath a jagged rock.
     
  19. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 no one.

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    Been a while, has it? let's goooo

    Poor Jirachi. :p You're doing a good job of intertwining these two continents' story, though. It's a slow but sure buildup.

    And the Zero scene with her kicking everyone's ass so easily... It's good action. Good stuff. The guild's definitely gonna need a lucky break, aren't they? At best, it seems Zero's army is actually rather small, if she has to go herself to stop Shane and Tessa and Null. Sure, she's got Prism Virus Pokémon at her disposal, but that seems it'll work against her if they're not able to directly follow her commands, on demand, if that makes sense.

    Yeahhh, I kinda think most pieces of media paint the "good" guys being black and white in their views. That's not really a complaint for here, it's more that I like how the idea is addressed. Zero's certainly not wrong that their thinking is one-dimensional. Espeon and Umbreon's presence in the guild goes to show their thinking can change, though, under certain circumstances.

    Yeah, if they were completely brainwashed, they'd not have been so in control of what they were doing, since Prism Virus Pokémon seem to lose all semblance of sentience. Sorry to disappoint, Shane. :V

    10/10 dialogue. If Shane can't win a real battle against Zero, fighting words are clearly the next best thing.

    Mm, I love Prisma's POV. It's certainly not as sharp and angry as what we see of her in the main parts of the fic. She's painted in a more sympathetic light, which, with her being Tessa's mother, is especially appropriate for all the feels and complicated-ness of things.

    Well, that's certainly one clever use of the human-turned-Pokémon memory trope.

    Walter Scott's human, but then, Prisma makes a Pokémon analogy. Perfect.

    I guess Gallian's not wrong after all when he says Prisma didn't love them...

    Ohhh, and now a Nicky POV. I'm getting the impression he's got an upcoming role in the fic, if we're seeing him through the eyes of himself rather than just through Shane now. The "delicious light" ending is kind of a dead giveaway, even if I don't know all the details yet. At any rate, you handle his situation nicely. It's not easy to tackle suicide as a theme, but I've not thought of your writing it being insensitive or anything. I appreciate that.

    Lol, still loving the medical aspects of your fic. Comfey's gotta be darn patient to deal with this guild. ;P

    I'm torn on how to feel about Espeon and Umbreon, but I think that's sort of the point. Yeah, they did terrible things to try to help themselves, but it's pretty clear they suffered themselves throughout all of this. And they're still suffering, with even more suffering poured on top for all their mistakes guided by Zero. The switch between them acting evil, their dialogue being a lot more villainy like Necrozma's is, to them being cured ofthe Prism Virus and acting as their normal selves was a flawless transition. I think it felt natural because of how much Shane's put them on a pedestal all this time... at least to me. I'm sure readers who remember the PMD games better remember, well, their characters from there.

    This is another good example, I think, of emphasizing how bad they feel and how morally ambiguous their situation really is. Also, them actually considering ditching the guild, to not help fix their mistakes, felt really... human. The urge to run in the face of danger is a built-in, innate urge, so... I still feel for them, and at least they came around and decided to do what's right. That takes a lot of guts.

    With the way the gods are portrayed in this fic... yes, it sounds good and reasonable, lmao. Their maturity to me looks like that of a kid's. I think once you told me that was intentional, and even if not, I really do think the gods' childishness lends a lot of credence to Zero's goals.

    Shane connected the dots here faster than I expected him to, huh. i think him and Null made the right choice in waiting to tell her in the end. There really is so much you can take at once, yikes, lol, and Tessa broke that limit a long, long time ago. The scene where Null learns about Team Captivate hiding his origins from him, though... I think that scene did well in hitting the nail on the head of why Tessa needs to be told soon, even if not right away. Plus, it was written pretty impactfully, so! I like Team Captivate a lot, but I think they really didn't think the decision not to tell Null through properly.

    Good question, Shane! This fic has a pretty clever use of Necrozma and its Solgaleo/Lunala fusions, I have to say.

    I'm not sure I get why Ho-Oh keeps being brought up... I don't remember Ho-Oh being important in the PMD games? Or is it the point that Ho-Oh's lore is wrong, since Horizon lore being wrong in general is a thing?

    Interesting... I wonder when/how exactly this happened, haha. There's speculation, but. Anyway, makes sense he'd be the one to get it, though, with him being the hero and all. ;P And it's a good thing it can't be removed. Zero and co. could snatch that away without a problem otherwise.

    Oh, dear... Lies aren't going to help, Tessa. Well, maybe it'll happen. But. I doubt it. Also, I'm unsure why she's the only one seemingly grieving? What about the rest of the guild? I know Metagross is all "let's not focus on anything UNIMPORTANT" and whatnot, but their deaths seem glossed over in general. Am I remembering wrong in that the guild's pretty familiar with Sylveon and Eevee, not just Tessa?

    Bleh, I'm worried Shane's just gonna... give up at some point, even after all this. The feeling that your actions, no matter what, are pointless... it's powerful.

    I know an explanation for this is coming eventually (omg beautiful spoiler-y fanart), and I have a feeling it won't disappoint. xD Even before the full explanation, you take full advantage of the PMD game mechanics in a unique way, as usual.

    Oh my god what. I want to see this scene lmao. Who lets someone spike their juice??? Unless Lugia just means adding some alcohol to it.

    It's the small things in life... Wait a minute. Screw this guy. :p Him and Zero have an... interesting relationship, to say the least, what with them needing to rely on each other for different reasons, with neither of them really having power over the other. Well, that's not accurate. They have power over each other. But if they use it, their own personal plans fall to pieces. Kinda makes it all too easy for them to screw each other over down the line, huh?

    I liked this villainous piece of dialogue. :V

    Umm... You know, Zero's nickname for Necrozma, Necky, suddenly sounds way too close to Nicky for my liking. :V

    Giving away belongings is indeed a sign, I suppose... but I don't know how much to trust from this dream sequence. Seems Shane doesn't either, but. I forget if Shane knows Tessa's mom's name, but if he does, surely he'd make some connection after hearing Prisma's name in the dream?

    Oh, dear... I figured Dragonair leaving the guild would end up badly but not this badly, yikes. Her feeling inferior to her friends for not being fully evolved yet still wanting to fit in to Team Captivate's image is a nice use of Pokémon evolution, though.

    My best guess is because of Shane's connection to Solgaleo... or, rather, Necrozma.

    Lmao. The dialogue feels convenient with an Absol actually nearby, but with the legends of them being disaster 'mon... it works well.

    Pfft. I mean, Espeon should know about some of the bad stuff...

    I lol'd. Also, I'm guilty of pronouncing Arceus like that. How dare you attack me, Shane. :V

    lol. Just a little creepy, yes, not least because of all the ruckus Espeon's caused in his life. MY SHIPPING SENSES ARE TINGLING

    I guess I don't blame Shane here. Someone made Null that way, but... if you want to look at it as, it's in Null's wiring to act this way, then yeah, I guess it's his fault insofar as he hasn't learned to properly control it yet. Technically. Emotionally, rightfully, Shane's better off trying to help Null through it no matter the consequences. Hopefully poor Null gets some answers here.

    Ugh, I'm not actually sure if they are the killers. I have a feeling they're hiding something else. Just a hunch, though.

    RIP Team Radiance. It says a lot they were trusting of Shane's plan and that he didn't come up with it too impulsively, though. Yay, progress? Certainly doesn't feel like it to Team Radiance, though. :V

    Rude cliffhanger. ;o; I actually care about her because Shane does, despite everything. If this is twisted, so be it.

    Looking forward to seeing where this goes~ Seems like things will be coming to a head soon.
     
    Ambyssin likes this.
  20. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    Ambyssin

    Ambyssin SHINE GET

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    Apologies for the delay. Blame AGDQ 2019 for killing all my productivity. :V

    *nervous laugh* Emphasis on the "slow" part, I fear.

    It's less of an army and more of y'know, a team. Like what a trainer would have. ;) I have been going with a serious underdog situation as far as the heroes go when it comes to the Prism Virus.

    In some respects, she was also committing a classic villain cliché by trying to paint things as gray as possible to suit her interests.

    Bingo! Hit the nail on the head.

    See! He's not a total goody two-shoes. Still has his tendencies to put his paws in his mouth.

    That's because there is, in some sense, a sharp difference between how Prisma acts and how Zero acts. XP

    In my head, it made perfect sense!

    Aha ha... ha... ha... *adds that to growing list of happy accidents*

    Makes you wonder what else he might actually be right about, huh?

    Well, it's, uh, easy to tackle that kind of stuff if you've got "Write what you know" in mind, unfortunately. :(

    "I swear, they're not paying me enough for this..."

    Well, I must confess, this is a far cry from how they actually behave in Gates to Infinity. The idea was, even after they were free, to make them heavily jaded and, in Espeon's case especially, very cynical. It's a new loop to add to the already-complicated knot that is our main trio.

    Would you believe me if I told you this wasn't what I had planned for them originally? X3

    It'll all make sense in due time, I promise. In fact, this chapter might help shed a bit of light on the situation!

    Okay, good, I made it feel believable. I'll take it!

    That one had tweaks done to it so if there is an oomph it's because I didn't write it quite as badly as before. XP

    D'aww, thanks. I've slowly become associated with Necrozma thanks to writing this fic, so now I feel compelled to do the whole form tree some justice.

    You're right. Ho-Oh is unimportant as far as PMD canon is concerned. But I assure you all the Ho-Oh references are leading somewhere, but it's one of the biggest surprises of the fic. Not even the Serebii crowd know about it, yet. So, I'm staying tight-lipped.

    Yes, the mysterious anklet that most people forgot about by this time was important, after all!

    Well, they were at Tessa's hatch day party, but that had more to do with Tessa than the guild. Sylveon was Leafeon's daughter (from the Halloween special), but she wasn't really close to the guild, especially with Incineroar dying and Prisma dumping Tessa off and fleeing.

    Well, do recall that Shane can be a pretty stubborn fuzzball. ;P

    *whistles innocently*

    Spiking means adding A) alcohol, B) stardust (the in-universe equivalent of cocaine), or C) a tamato berry.

    Ah, good, I was able to get the across clearly. I'll take it!

    *whistles innocently x2*

    Given his condition, Shane would not have been in-tune enough to recognize pink-clouding. <.<;

    Just wait'll you see what she's like from here on out. >:3

    That's a good guess!

    Yes, it was a lame joke, but I love my lame jokes.

    I had to poke fun at it all. And, in fairness, I'm one of those dolts who still prefers "Ray-quah-zuh" to "Ray-quay-zuh."

    I would've thought the creepy part would be "Shane, you're human, stop lusting after this pink cat." Because that's the weird part about writing it... @[email protected]

    Wish granted! There will be answers in this chapters. Loads of them.

    My lips are sealed!

    Indeed. Everything's out to kill them, including themselves.

    Nah, you're fine. Though, Oranguru's situation actually offers a hint as to how this will play out. Thanks again for reviewing! ^^

    This chapter was first published on March 7th, 2018. Enjoy!

    XxX

    Chapter 10: A Monster to End All Monsters

    ~Glyphic Falls~

    "Captain, are you okay?"

    Sticky swooped down and attempted to hoist Luxeira to her feet. She slowly got up and adjusted her helmet. "What exactly was that? My scanner picked up seismic activity right below us. But I don't see any shifting landmasses."

    "It was another earthquake, genius, but it passed," Gallian growled.

    "Another earthquake?" Sticky looked around the area. "Hmm. I hope there aren't subterranean terrestrials here. I fear their lives may be in jeopardy."

    "Who cares? I can't believe they just lied to my face like that," Gallian huffed. He dug his claws into the ground. "My dad trusted them! They were his friends. How could they just betray him like that?"

    Sticky poked his nubby hands together. "Not to question your judgment, Gallian, but it did seem like those organized terrestrials disagreed with your assessment. Are you sure you have the right side of this story? I believe you may be hallucinating."

    Gallian whirled around and pointed his glowing scythe at Sticky, whose face blanched. "I am not lying! Those two are murderers! They led Dad here… and pushed him off a cliff to his death!" His irises disappeared and his eyes turned pitch-black. "I want them all dead. You hear me? Dead! The whole guild has to pay for what they did to me!"

    The rocky crags beside Team Paradox trembled. Pebbles cascaded down to the ground. Gallian looked over his shoulder. The rocks exploded. Dirt and debris threatened to pummel Team Paradox. Gallian swung his scythe, slicing the rocks in half with ease.

    "Skraaaw!"

    A pair of metal-coated wings smacked together, dispelling the smoke and dust in the air. Toucannon stepped forward, its fierce eyes focusing on Team Paradox. Sticky's eyes widened. "C-Captain! That Toucannon—"

    Luxeira nudged her helmet. "Yes, there's clearly something wrong with it. It looks a bit like a Celesteela. Could this Pokémon have become an Ultra Beast?"

    Toucannon opened its beak and out came a stream of rocks. Gallian leaped over them. Luxeira and Sticky hid behind a nearby boulder. Gallian landed and slashed with his scythe. Pink energy crescents hurtled toward Toucannon. It threw its wings up to cover its torso.

    Toucannon heated its beak. It stared Gallian down. He turned and spat onto the ground, saying, "Just so you know, I'm in a pretty foul mood right now." Toucannon spread its wings apart and launched itself at Gallian. He collapsed into a cloud of shadows. Toucannon flew right by the spot Gallian once stood in. Sticky bathed Toucannon in a cloud of toxic air. However, to his shock, the toxins harmlessly washed off its feathers.

    "Impossible," Sticky gasped. Toucannon turned to find Gallian behind it and screeched.

    "Not gonna stand down, huh?" Gallian growled. "Fine. Then you're about to feel my rage!"

    His eyes went pitch-black once again and he lunged at Toucannon with a ferocious roar.

    XxX

    ~Nocturnus Laboratory~

    Shane slammed his body against the rock pinning Espeon's tail. "Espeon!" he keened, bouncing off the rock and staggering backward. He turned to his teammates. "What are you two doing? Don't just stand there! We have to get rid of this thing!"

    "Shane," Tessa whispered.

    "She's trapped under there. We need to get out her out," Shane cried. He turned and pressed himself against the rock. It failed to budge even an inch. "No! No! Move, you stupid rock. Move!" He slid down onto his belly.

    "Shane… think about... what you're doing," Null said. "If you move that rock… the ones on top of it will just fall down. You'll end up… getting yourself crushed as well."

    Shane teared up. "No, I won't believe that. There's gotta be a way to free her. She can't… she can't be dead! B-Because… if… if she is… then that means…" He tucked his head into his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. Tears streamed down his cheeks. "… it's my fault." He resumed pushing against the rock with renewed vigor.

    Tessa bit her lip and looked at Null. "What should we do?" she whispered.

    Sighing, Null shook his head. "Help him out… I guess. I have an idea… but it's definitely not the safest thing to do…" Tessa flinched, hesitant to try another risky gambit with how disastrous the last one turned out. "Don't worry… it's not risky for you. I'll be the one… sticking my neck out… literally." He leaned over, coughing hard.

    "A-Are you sure?" Tessa said.

    "Guys, help me! Please!" Shane sobbed. He banged his head against the rock and staggered back in a daze. Null took in a few heavy breaths and charged forward. His mask hardened as he ran. He struck the rock pinning Espeon's tail and kept his helmet pressed against it. A massive crack splintered through the rock.

    Null fell forward as the rock crumbled. Tessa yipped in fright, worried the rest of the rocks would crush Null. With a loud groan, Null threw his body backwards. Shane's eyes widened. Espeon's limp body flew threw the air, landing between him and Tessa unceremoniously. Null fell to his side, hissing loudly. Cracks and discolored splotches peppered the top of his mask. His grotesque, swollen right leg throbbed.

    Tessa grabbed an oran berry and sprinted toward Null. She smooshed it against his ankle. "Even if you can't eat anything, the nutrients can seep in through your scales." Whining, Null tensed his hind leg. The berry juice stung.

    "Tessa, I need the item pouch over here. Stat!" Shane barked, sitting next to Espeon. Tessa got up and joined her teammate. Her stomach knotted at the sight of Espeon.

    "She's… she's…" Tessa struggled to find any words. She squeezed her eyes shut and jerked her head away.

    "She's breathing!" Shane cried.

    Curious, Tessa cracked open an eye. Shane had a forepaw on Espeon's chest. "But why is part of her chest sucking in while the other part moves out?" Tessa asked.

    Shane's brow furrowed. "I saw this on TV once. Her ribs must be broken." He looked up at Tessa. "Give me the item pouch. We've got to fix this!"

    "Fix it? Shane, look at her." Tessa pointed a shaky paw at Espeon. Bruises littered her body. One of her ears was bent against her face. Blood trickled out of it and seeped into her fur. "She needs serious healing."

    "You think I don't realize that?" Shane snapped. Tessa shrank back, frowning. "Sorry, I…" He took a deep breath, but it couldn't stop his racing thoughts. "Please, just let me try this. I did this to her. I've got to fix it." Tessa reluctantly handed over the item pouch. Shane first pulled out one of their Escape Orbs. He frowned at its dull-gray coloration. "Dang it! This isn't fair!" he hissed, shoving the orb back into the bag. Beside him, Espeon let out a watery cough.

    The scene in front of Shane dissolved into a swirling mist of colors. His limbs locked. He found himself staring not at Espeon, but a battered Lunala. She lay curled up in a ball much as Espeon did, letting out wheezing gasps.

    "Hang on!"
    Shane felt himself shout. "Lunala, you've got to stay with me. I'm gonna force this Reviver Seed down and try something with Morning Sun. Don't you die on me! I can't lose you!"

    Shane stumbled forward, returning to the underground lab. He snapped to attention and quickly dug through the pouch. Multiple berries rolled out to his side. He found a Reviver Seed and gingerly pulled it out in his mouth.

    "What are you going to do with that?" Tessa asked. Shane leaned down toward Espeon's head. He bit down on the seed, then forced Espeon's muzzle open. Blood trickled out onto the floor. Tessa's face turned an odd shade of yellow. She looked away, throwing a paw up over her muzzle. "Augh, gross!" she said, grimacing.

    Across the room, Null's eyes widened. A small fireball appeared over Shane's head. Orange light enveloped him and Espeon. "What the—" Null wheezed, before the glow got so bright he had to look away.

    By the time Tessa opened her eyes, the glow had faded. Shane pressed Espeon's snout closed and hefted her head up. He grabbed the berries he had gotten from the team's bag and, just as Tessa did to Null earlier, smooshed them against Espeon's hide. Berry juice splattered across her fur, filling the room with a sweet aroma. Shane stared intently at Espeon. He noticed her chest movements gradually return to normal, though it was clear she was shuddering with each breath.

    Espeon coughed up a mouthful of blood. Her eyes slowly fluttered open. "U… ungh. W… what happened?" She blinked slowly and tried to lift her head up.

    Tessa stepped forward. "Easy there, Espeon. You got hurt by the collapsing cave." She shot Shane a curious look. "Does this mean she's okay?"

    "I… I don't know," Shane said. "Espeon, how are you feeling?"

    Espeon tried to lift her head up, only to squeal in pain and collapse. Shane opened the item pouch and pulled out an oran berry. "Here. You need to get your strength back up." He nudged the berry forward. Espeon nibbled away at it until she was able to sit up. Shane sighed in relief

    "The last thing I remember were rocks falling toward me," she whispered. "Did…" She gulped. "Did I get… crushed?"

    Shane nodded slowly.

    Horror crept across Espeon's face. Her gaze fell to the floor. "No," she whispered. "No!" she shouted. Her head jerked to the right. Espeon stared off into space. "Shut up!" she cried, ears folding flat against her face. "I'm not going back. I never want to see any of you again. Get away!" She staggered to her feet. "Get back, you awful Void Shadows. Go away!"

    Shane stepped in front of her. "Espeon, I'm sorry! This was my fault! I never should have suggested such a stupid idea." He slapped a forepaw on the ground. "Stupid! Stupid! I'm such an idiot!" he shouted. Tessa flinched from his shrill cries. Espeon looked at him in confusion. She blinked a few times, took in a deep breath, then exhaled. Espeon lifted her head up and summoned a warm, glowing orb above her. Soft light sprinkled onto her body. Some of her wounds faded, though many of the larger bruises and welts still remained.

    "Morning Sun," Shane whispered. A shudder ran down his spine. He had an awful sense of déjà vu, but wasn't sure why. As he though about this, a silhouette of a blazing fire appeared around Espeon. Fierce red eyes looked back at him through the fire. Shane shut his eyes and shook his head. The hallucination vanished. Shane's attention returned to Espeon. "How are you doing now?"

    "A little better... I guess. Unlike your berries, recovery moves like Morning Sun can restore my life energy," Espeon said.

    Once again, spectral flames gathered around Espeon. The red eyes stared at Shane. He jumped back with a yip, only to find Espeon staring at him in confusion. He quickly forced a smile onto his face and ran up to embrace Espeon. "Oh, thank god you're okay! I thought… I thought I'd…" He gritted his teeth and look away.

    Espeon's face flushed and she stepped back from him. "W-Well… it's not perfect." She rubbed her neck with a forepaw. "My ESP… feels fuzzy." The gem on her forehead flickered with dull light. Espeon's eyes widened. "Oh no, I can't call on my telekinesis! Or my telepathy!" Her shivers returned. "My psychic powers... they've been crippled," she whimpered.

    "Seriously?" Shane gasped. "What's the problem? Can I do anything to help?"

    "I don't know!" Espeon squeaked, looking about in a panic. She shut her eyes and forced herself to take slow, deep breaths. Even though she wanted to scream, she managed to keep herself under control. "It looks like we have to find a way out of here. Otherwise, I'll never be able to get this fixed." She looked around. "For that matter, where exactly is here?"

    With Espeon's health restored, Team Radiance finally familiarized themselves with their surroundings. Black crystals lined the walls, floor and ceiling. The crystals distorted the room and gave it a jagged appearance. Shane could barely make out metal grates under the crystals. Had they grown over whatever this room originally was?

    Alongside the crystals, emera ores lay scattered around. Tessa's aura feelers curled against her head. "I don't like the look of this place. It's almost like it was completely frozen in time. What are those things hanging down from the ceiling?"

    Shane craned his neck upward and clenched his jaw. "That's… but… no way. Sure, they're covered in crystals. But some of those look like lasers. And one of them's a probe!" His eyes darted about. He found other instruments bolted to the walls, buried under a layer of pitch-black crystals.

    "Lasers? Espeon, do you know what those things are?" Tessa asked, clasping her paws against her chest.

    "No. In all my travels, I've never seen anything like them." Espeon meekly lowered her gaze. "But it looks like they're all focused on that fossilized table."

    Shane approached the dark-gray slab of a table. His tails jolted upright. "Ah!" He scampered back toward a nearby cluster of darkened crystals. "There are chains welded to this table," he said, pulse quickening. His rear struck the darkened crystals. He jumped forward, yipping.

    Null squinted at the crystals. "Are those… emera ores?"

    "If they are, they've been drained of all their power. I didn't even think that was possible," Espeon said. Her brow furrowed. "Look." She pointed a paw forward. "There are lines running from the crystals toward the table. Were they powering something down here?"

    Shane looked to his right. Scattered scraps of brown stuck out against the metal floor. He cautiously approached them and hesitantly reached a paw toward the nearest paper. He tapped it with a digit, then yanked his paw back. When nothing happened, he grabbed the paper and held it up toward the cave's dim lighting.

    "Guys, I think I may have found something important," he said.

    Tessa and Espeon trotted toward him, but Null hung back. He fixed his gaze on the table. His limbs locked up. "Ch… chains. I… I remember… chains," he whispered, head pounding. He tried to shake his head, but his body wouldn't listen. His talons scratched against the steel. Null whimpered, wanting nothing more than to leave this place behind.

    "There's writing here," Espeon said, looking at the papers Shane had gathered. "This looks like the Unown language."

    "Well, that makes perfect sense, considering who we ran into earlier," Shane said. "I guess this is some sort of ancient lab, then."

    "Can either of you read this?" Tessa asked. She poked her digits together and looked down guiltily, muttering, "I know what Unown language is, but never learned how to decipher it."

    "Oh, yeah. I can read it. It's super easy," Shane chirped, drawing bewildered looks from the girls. "Like this line on the top here. It says: 'God Killer Unit: Schematics.'" A beat followed, then Shane's eyes widened. He looked back down at the paper. "Wait. 'God Killer?' Th-this is—"

    Espeon tried to levitate the paper up, but failed to move it. She huffed her frustration and bent over. "This is what Latias told us about this morning," she said. The trio looked at the page. It was full of sketches. There were more lines of Unown script underneath them.

    Design based on invader's memories extracted using Dream Eater.

    Four legs for optimal ground speed. Infuse primal energy into paw pads for water and air-running capabilities.

    Must have talons for traction and close-ranged combat. Bird design with bug exoskeleton for protection. Vikavolt can help with that.

    Tail of a water-type for optimal subaquatic maneuverability. Position dead-center between its hips.

    Feathers around the head and chest are critical! Head crest should have solidified primal energy for redirecting air currents. Conduit at the tip of the crest can concentrate the air for attacking purposes. Be sure to speak with Sigilyph about this.

    Ears need basic sonar functionality. See Noivern for working demonstration.

    Steel-plated jaw to bite the toughest Pokémon hides imaginable. Examine Tyrantrum specimen for good reference!

    Layer body in scales, but cover them with dark fur for better camouflaging.


    Shane frowned. "Is… is this what I think it is?"

    Espeon nodded grimly. "There's no question in my mind. These pictures and the stuff they're describing… they're just like your friend, Null."

    Shane examined the page closer. His head tilted to the side. "Is that what Null looks like without his mask? He has a bird's beak. That's so weird."

    Tessa grimaced and looked down. "Then… it's true? Null's some sort of experiment?"

    Shane bit down on his tongue, fighting back the urge to belt out an, "I told you so." This wasn't something he was happy to be right about. Instead, all he felt was an overwhelming sense of dread. He took a deep breath and looked around at the other papers on the ground. "But who would do something like this? The paper mentioned 'God Killer Unit.' But why?"

    Espeon squealed, drawing Shane's attention. She was staring down at a piece of paper, eyes wide and tail curled up against her belly. "No, it can't be," she whispered, staggering back.

    Shane approached her. He followed her gaze. His limbs locked up. Tessa joined her teammates, only for her aura feelers to shoot up. "That's the Prism Virus symbol, isn't it? The winged heart? It... that..." Tessa shook her head. "That's impossible. Why's it on this paper?"

    "It's not just on the paper," Espeon said, pointing a shaky forepaw forward. Off in the distance, the familiar sigil lay painted on the wall, distorted by the crystals on top of it.

    "So, then this place... it must've held a group hating the gods. Latias mentioned something like that, right?" Tessa said, suppressing a shiver. She knew Null was still staring at the table and wanted to say something to comfort him. However, she feared anything she'd have to say would only upset him further.

    "Hey." Shane beckoned the girls over. "There's more over here." He held up another page in his mouth. Espeon recited its contents.

    "We want to power our creation with primal energy entrapped in the power crystals abundant in this part of Horizon. But the problem is finding a way to do that safely. After all, these are crystallized remnants of the raw power wielded by the gods in their many clashes. If we tried to transfer this energy into another Pokémon, what would happen? We can't simply ask Pokémon to volunteer for such a task. So, as lead designer on the God Killer Project, it falls to me, the Illustrious Golem, to figure out a method by which we can use this primal energy. Even if we succeed, there's still the question of what the creature will look like. But that is something we can continue to investigate…"

    "It looks like it's a journal entry of some sort," Shane said, dropping the paper to the ground.

    Without warning, Null roared. His teammates jumped in surprise. Before any of them could say anything, Null bashed his head against the table.

    "Null! What's wrong?" Tessa cried. Null stepped back from the table, shuddering. He looked up at the instruments that hung from the ceiling, then rammed his mask into the table once again. This time his mask hardened into iron. Cracks and splinters appeared on the table. Null jumped back, hissing loudly.

    "… destroy it… destroy it!" he shouted, dropping to the ground and clawing at his helmet. "It hurt us! Get rid of it!"

    Tessa tried to run up to him, but Shane stepped in front of her. "What are you doing? He's lashing out. He could hurt you."

    "But he's my friend. I can't just let him suffer," Tessa said, though she knew he was right. Null was bigger and far stronger. She wondered if she should deploy a seed or an orb and put him to sleep like in Moonrise Marsh.

    "Graagh! Make it stop! Make… the pain… stop!" Null thundered. He got to his feet and charged the table down. He struck it with Iron Head once again. This time the table shattered. Null lumbered forward, only for his eyes to widen as the ground gave out under him. He fell down into the newly-created hole, roaring in anger. Claws scraped metal. Shane's ears reflexively folded and he winced.

    "Null, no!" Tessa shouted. Throwing caution to the wind, she shoved Shane's chest and ran forward. However, she immediately skidded to a halt. Metal chains launched themselves into the hole where the table had previously stood. The metallic scratching noises got worse. Null cried out in agony. Tessa's aura feelers stiffened. Her heart pounded in her chest.

    "They must've booby trapped the table," Shane said. "What should we do? If we try to free him, we could get wrapped up in chains too!"

    "Are you serious? We're not about to leave him here," Tessa said.

    "I wasn't saying to leave him here. Just that we shouldn't go right for the chains," Shane said. "I'm sure that there's something around here that can tell us how to deactivate that trap. We just need to do some more investigating."

    "What makes you so sure about that?" Espeon asked.

    Shane winced. "Okay, I'm not exactly certain. But the trap activated from the table breaking, right? Which means it's not controlled by a Pokémon. So, it stands to reason that there are instructions for it, just in case someone triggered it accidentally."

    "But where else are we supposed to look?" Tessa said.

    Espeon tapped a paw on Tessa's shoulder and pointed ahead of her. Tessa followed Espeon's paw and went rigid. Shane also looked where Espeon pointed and his stomach squirmed. "H-How did we miss that when we got here?" he gasped.

    "It's not exactly well-lit," Espeon said. She walked toward the hidden room she had discovered. Her eyes glowed blue in an effort to provide some light. But her head throbbed, forcing her to stop.

    "Espeon, I think there's something wrong here," Tessa said, shivering. "These crystals don't look anything like the emera ores we saw in the other room. They're more like the one's that are covering everything else in here... but ten times bigger!"

    "Yeah, this isn't good. It's like they're sucking in all the light…" Espeon's voice trailed off and her gaze fell to the ground.

    "What's wrong?" Tessa asked.

    "N-Nothing!" Espeon yelped, skirting back from Tessa.

    "Um, guys? There's something inside one of these crystals," Shane said. He gulped and crouched low to the ground. His teammates walked up to him.

    Tessa's aura feelers tightened. "Not something… someone."

    Espeon nodded. "It looks like a Porygon2," she said. "Should we try to free it?"

    "No!" Tessa blurted out. "I… I mean… what if it's hostile?"

    Shane was inclined to agree with Tessa. At the same time, however, he knew ignoring this discovery wouldn't help Null. "It might have answers for us. Besides, it's three of us and one of it. Plus, it's sure to be weak if it's been trapped in this crystal," Shane said.

    Tessa's ears flatted against her head. The idea didn't sit well with her, but neither did letting Null sit inside a booby trap. "Fine," Tessa said, walking toward the other end of the room. Shane's eyes flashed. A small Extrasensory wave destroyed the crystal. Porygon2 fell to the ground, unmoving. "Is… is it dead?" Tessa asked.

    Shane reached a forepaw toward it, only to hastily yank it back when Porygon2's body shook. "Gah! Nope, it's alive! Very alive!" Shane yelped, assuming a fighting stance. Slowly, Porygon2's eyes opened. It hovered into the air, but only made it a few inches before collapsing to the ground.

    "Are you okay?" Espeon asked.

    Who… are you? Porygon2 asked, its voice filled with static that made the trio flinch.

    "We're explorers with the Horizon Guild," Shane said.

    Porygon2 looked around the cavern. Why… underground? Don't… Its voice descended into static again.

    "We found you imprisoned inside a crystal. By the look of things, you've been inside it for a very long time. Is there any chance you can remember what happened?" Espeon said.

    In the distance, Null roared. Claws slashed metal. Porygon2's eyes widened. Impossible, it said. We… experiment… sealed. How did… escape?

    "No, our friend Null got stuck in your booby-trapped table. We need to free him. Tell us how," Tessa said, worried Porygon2 might try to attack Null.

    Voice… recognize. Experiment… here… Porygon2 tried to rise into the air, only to collapse on the ground. Danger… flee… Its voice was heavily garbled.

    "Null's not dangerous," Tessa growled, though her voice was riddled with uncertainty. She tried to focus on the good memories she had with Null, but his anguished cries made that an uphill battle.

    "So, you were part of the group that created Null," Espeon said, confirmed what his teammates both feared. "What do you remember? You have to tell us."

    Porygon2 shook its head. No time. Must flee. It again failed to rise more than a few inches off the ground.

    "Look, we're trying to get out of here ourselves. So, how about a deal. You tell us what you know about what happened down here, and we'll get you to safety," Shane said. Porygon2 looked up at Shane. "Like Riolu said, Null's stuck in your booby trap. He's not going anywhere anytime soon."

    Accepted, Poryton2 rotated its head. Light flickered in its eyes, before fading out. Then its eyes glowed white and a dim, static image projected onto the wall across from the group.

    "Are you recording, Porygon2?"

    An unfamiliar voice came from Porygon2's body. Shane tilted his head in confusion. "Is that supposed to be a Golem? What's with the facial hair and the magnet on its head?" he asked. Tessa opened her mouth to reply when Shane held up a forepaw. "No, no, wait. I've got this one. 'That's what they look like in Horizon, Shane.' Am I right?" Tessa slowly nodded. Shane turned back to the video. In it, Golem stepped back.

    "This is the first log for the God Killer Project. I, the Illustrious Golem, am the project lead," Golem said. The shod had the same table Null had broken, but it clearly showed Golem was in a building with strange metal panels on the ceiling. Emera ores served as the only source of light in the area.

    "If you're watching this in the future, then I hope this means we succeeded in our endeavors. See, I have assembled a group of fellow researchers. Like me, they share a distrust in the gods. We have strong doubts about their abilities to protect us,"
    Golem said. He paced back and forth. "However, you must try to understand where I am come from. You see, calamity befell our world." He looked straight at the camera, which Shane assumed was Porygon2.

    "Do not let anyone twist the truth of the matter. The fact is that, as it currently stands, our world... is a world of darkness," Golem continued. He turned his back on the camera for a moment, but it was long enough for the group to spot the winged heart sigil carved into his back. Shane glanced nervously at his teammates, but couldn't think of anything to say.

    "A world of darkness?" Tessa whispered, blinking in confusion.

    "We were attacked by—" Golem stopped and stroked his beard. "Well, I can't even call it a Pokémon. It was really an entity. An entity known as Dark Matter." He resumed his pacing. "Dark Matter lay siege to the world, turning many Pokémon to stone." His expression darkened. "Pokémon like me. Pokémon like my assistants."

    "Our spirits were somehow pulled from our bodies and cast off into a twisted landscape. Though I cannot sense energy, I found psychics who confirmed that this
    prison, for lack of a better word, had a warped aura. They described the place as a void. Hence, we dubbed it the Voidlands," Golem continued, shaking his head. "No matter where I went, I was besieged by strange images and stranger voices. Saying that our negativity had birthed Dark Matter. That Dark Matter would purify the world by restoring it to its natural state."

    Golem turned so that the winged heart sigil was visible yet again. "This symbol... it was scattered around Dark Matter's prison. It was said to represent the true power that forged our world. A power that the specters in the Voidlands claimed the gods have tried, but ultimately failed, to properly control."

    "I... I don't understand. Does this mean the Prism Virus is all Dark Matter's doing?" Tessa said. "That's impossible! Dark Matter was destroyed for good by Team Gaia. Everyone knows that."

    "Dark Matter was stopped, but from what I've heard, there is a chance it could reappear. And, in the meantime, our world is still shrouded in darkness," Golem continued, turning back to Porygon2. "Before Dark Matter rose up, the constant quarrels between Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza, left the world in a state of chaos. One of their battles led to a perilous storm that nearly destroyed Ho-Oh."

    Golem shut his eyes and shook his head. "Ho-Oh was saved by two other gods, Solgaleo and Lunala. However, they saved Ho-Oh at the cost of their lives." He clenched his fists. "Somehow, their deaths led to the loss of light from the world. No sunlight. No moonlight. The sky is awash with a strange, twisted vortex reminiscent of what lay in the Voidlands. Perhaps this is the 'greater power of the void' at work."

    "I would've thought Arceus would be able to create a new Solgaleo and Lunala to restore our light. But that hasn't happened,"
    Golem said. "It seems as though the gods really don't have all the power that we thought."

    "No, that can't be right," Tessa gasped. "The Horizon legends… they say Ho-Oh controlled the light! And she imparted that gift to her saviors."

    Shane's chest tightened up. He immediately recalled his nightmare, where Solgaleo's impostor claimed the Horizon legends were lies. Based on what Golem said, it sounded like the impostor was right. Which begged the question, how did Horizon's legends come about? And why were they wrong?

    Golem's brow furrowed. "If, indeed, Dark Matter were to return, I firmly believe the gods can't be trusted to keep us safe. We are taking matters into our own hands!" He put a hand on the table behind him. "This power... the power of the void. My team and I will find a way to utilize it. And with it, we'll make a protector we can trust. Our creation will kill the gods before they ruin the world and, most importantly, listen to the will of normal Pokémon." Golem nodded, smiling.

    "It will surely be a tough endeavor, but I believe…"

    The scene descended into static. Footage… corrupted, Porygon2 announced, its eyes flickering. Before anyone could ask it what it meant, a new image appeared.

    "God Killer Project, second update," Golem said, stepping to the side to show off a number of pictures that a Sigilyph levitated in the air. "I, the Illustrious Golem, have ironed out the mechanics for powering our creation. We will infuse it with primal energy from power crystals. They are abundant in Horizon. My associates are gathering as many as they can get their hands on."

    "Power crystals?" Shane said.

    "That must've been what they called emera ores back then," Espeon figured.

    "We do have to be careful how many we gather, though. That much energy is dangerous," Sigilyph said, his flat affect sending a chill down Shane's spine.

    "Yes, yes, of course," Golem said, stroking his beard. "In the meantime, let us discuss the body framework. I, the Illustrious Golem, did not develop this idea. Rather, my colleague Musharna proposed it." He snapped his fingers. Sigilyph levitated new pages over. Along with those pages came two Unown. Both of them looked to be in a great deal of pain.

    "These are Unown. Very mysterious Pokémon,"
    Golem said. "Alone, they are insignificant. Only capable of using Hidden Power…"

    "Puh-please, sir," an Unown I squealed, its body trembling in Sigilyph's psychic grasp. "Let us go!"

    Golem shook his head. "I'm afraid that's not possible. Now then, where was I? Ah, yes. Alone, Unown are meek. But, when brought together, they appear to generate tremendous power." Golem pointed toward Porygon2 and the papers flew forward, expanding to give Team Radiance a look at their contents.

    Shane's eyes widened. "No way. They can't do that, can they?"

    "Power that some theorize can bend time and space," Golem continued. "In fact, I, the Illustrious Golem, had pioneered the idea that the Unown are, in fact, the remnants of the Thousand Arms that Arceus used to shape our world during its creation."

    He walked up to an Unown K and examined it. "Yes. Testing has shown we can combine Unown to create an entirely different Pokémon. Thus, we're gathering Unown."

    "I still have concerns about this avenue, sir,"
    Sigilyph said. "Can we really control a large quantity of Unown? They develop hive mind tendencies when grouped together."

    "Your concerns are noted. Luckily, I, the Illustrious Golem, have the means to do so. See, it all goes back to 'the power of the void.' It took time, but I figured out what those cryptic messages meant: alchemy!"
    Golem said. A strange, distorted light rippled through his claws. Even the sigil on his back glowed briefly. "The gods have used this power maliciously, but I intend to use it for the good of all Pokémon everywhere."

    "Sir, again, I fear we may not be able to do this successfully,"
    Sigilyph said. "What if a god can sense your use of alchemy?"

    "I've already been able to use a few basic runes without detection. The power crystals help shield any strange energy these spells create,"
    Golem said. "Fear not, Sigilyph. For I, the Illustrious Golem, will alchemically fuse Unown together by using these power crystals as a base. And the result? Our God Killer will be born! History will forever remember our names!"

    Espeon staggered backwards. "No way. Alchemy? My parents told me that's a forbidden art."

    Tessa's aura feelers shot up. "This can't be. Null's really… a bunch of Unown?"

    Bile bubbled up in Shane's throat. "Could that have been what the Unown were talking about? About how Null hurt them?" It didn't sit well with him. Especially since Null himself didn't have any control over this.

    "No wonder he told me he's always in pain," Tessa said, crestfallen by the revelation.

    "I thought that was just the helmet?" Shane said.

    "Shh! There's more," Espeon said, pointing at Porygon2's projection.

    "Yes, I agree, Sigilyph. We must ensure the Unown's hive mind tendencies don't create obedience issues," Golem said, nodding. He tapped his claws on the table. "I believe there's a solution to this. The Unown are a hive mind, so we simply need minds with stronger wills to counteract them. So, we should infuse the God Killer with memories from Pokémon that have already passed to the spirit realm."

    Shane's fur bristled and his tails jolted upright.

    "What's wrong, Shane?" Tessa asked.

    "I don't know. Something about that statement just… just feels wrong on, like, a personal level," Shane squeaked. His muzzle twitched. "A part of me just wants to lash out at this guy for some reason."

    "Could it have something to do with what this guy's saying? Because it makes me sick," Tessa said, shivering.

    "Well, yeah. I mean, Golem's clearly off his rocker," Shane said. "But there's also something else to it. The part about the spirit realm really chaffed my tails."

    "It could be your instincts. Ninetales are believed to have spiritual powers," Espeon said.

    "As in?"

    "They commune with the spirits of dead Pokémon," Espeon said.

    "Oh," Shane whispered.

    "With the help of Horizon's Totem Ninetales, I will search out restless spirits from the spirit realm and summon them. Then, like with the Unown, I can bind them together through the power of the void. The result is a God Killer with rational thought and obedience," Golem said, nodding approvingly at himself. "Of course, we'll have a contingency for this. I, the Illustrious Golem, will forge a custom-made looplet that will house some of the spirits."

    A new paper floated toward Porygon2. The design lacked notches for emeras. It had a small wheel in its center. "I'm sure you notice this part in the center. I will cram spirits of every manner of Pokémon inside the looplet. Then, with the right alchemical runes, the God Killer will be able to change its typing at will."

    "Dear god. Null isn't just some experiment. He's an attempt to make another Arceus!" Shane said. He barely managed to stop himself from hurling. "How… why… what am I even watching, here? This is lunacy! You can't just make a god with magic… can you?"

    Espeon and Tessa gave Shane astonished looks, but they then heard Golem say, "I suppose you could say that I'm playing god to rid the world of the gods. I prefer to think of it as using the power of the void correctly. Desperate times call for desperate measures, after all. Given the irony, I think it fitting we call the God Killer's ability... the RKS System!"

    Behind Golem, Sigilyph shifted about uneasily.

    "You see? No wonder Null's a walking disaster. What were these sickos thinking doing something like this?" Shane said. After a moment, he winced, fearing his wording was too harsh. Tessa didn't seem to give any indication Shane's words bothered her, however.

    Espeon's ears drooped. "I can't believe it. This is what researchers were like back then? They're no better than Umbry and I were with the Prism Virus." She gritted her teeth. "I guess that makes sense... if they've got the same symbol."

    "Guys, look! It's that purple Pokémon that Gallian was with," Tessa said, pointing up to the screen. On the projection, a Poipole slumbered soundly on the table. Sigilyph and Musharna floated next to it. Unlike Sticky, it lacked a harness.

    Golem turned from the table to face the camera. "God Killer Project, third update. Progress on the design hit a snag. We were hard-pressed to think of a body that could adapt to all manner of terrain," Golem explained. "But fortune has smiled upon us."

    He gestured toward the Poipole. Musharna had taken her place beside one of the crystalline lasers. Psychic energy pulled it down from the ceiling so it hovered inches above the Poipole's head. Her chest rose and fell slowly. Musharna released a cloud of pink gas. The Poipole's expression relaxed.

    "As you can see, this mysterious invader showed up in Horizon," Golem continued. He turned toward the table. "She presented herself as some sort of goodwill ambassador from a place she called 'Ultra Village.' Bah!" He waved a hand dismissively. "She's no doubt here to use the power of the void to try and finish what Dark Matter started. But did a god appear to dispose of her? Of course not. So it falls to me, the Illustrious Golem, to deal with her."

    He rubbed his hands on the edge of the table. "Musharna has told me she displays a remarkably different aura from Pokémon in our world. She seems to have memories of creatures from other worlds that can adapt to different situations. So, Musharna will extract those memories. We will use them to construct the God Killer. And then, we will incorporate her spirit into the God Killer, so that it can recognize these alien auras… and dispose of them properly."

    Musharna glowed brightly. The Poipole lay there in silence as the laser engulfed her body. Tessa threw her paws up to cover her eyes and looked away. The projection faded to static.

    Shane wrapped a foreleg around her. "It's okay, Tessa. It's okay. It's gone," he coaxed.

    Espeon turned her disgusted gaze on Porygon2. "How could you willingly let something like this happen?" Porygon2's eyes flickered, producing a new projection.

    "The time has come,"
    Golem said. A ball of blue light hovered in front of him. Fluorescent liquid dripped off it, landing in the center of a triangle traced in the ground using chalk. A chalk cross extended off the base of the triangle, while a gigantic chalk circle expanded out from the tip of the triangle. Emera ores surrounded the circle, bathing it in purple light.

    Shane's jaw dropped. He gulped. "That's a lot of Unown."

    Espeon slowly blinked. "Why is there a pentagram inside the circle? The Unown look completely frightened!"

    "The spirits are amassed," Golem continued. The ball of light vibrated angrily. More liquid splashed against the runes drawn in the ground. "I will now activate the binding rune. Sigilyph, prepare the elements!"

    Four balls of light hovered toward the circle. The Unown struggled against the forcefield trapping them in the center of the pentagram. Their chorus of panicked cries reached a fever pitch. Sigilyph's body glowed. He lowered a ball of fire into one of the pentagram's points. The second it touched the ground, a beam of orange light shot up toward the ceiling. Sigilyph lowered the remaining three balls of light to the ground: a lump of dirt, a ball of water, and sphere of air. They each touched a tip of the pentagram, sending different-colored beams of light up to join the orange one.

    "And last but not least," Golem said, chuckling. His magnet crackled with electricity. Sparks raced ahead of him and settled in the empty pentagram tip.

    "What is he doing?" Espeon cried, shrinking back against the wall.

    Shane blinked his eyes. "It's some sort of ritual," he whimpered.

    A yellow beam of light shot up. Together, the five beams of light pivoted to point at the forcefield of Unown. Hundreds of voices screamed in terror as grotesque, star-shaped runes surrounded the forcefield. "And now, for the spirit core to stabilize everything!" Golem shouted. He traced a pentagon in the air, causing a rune to encase his hand. He touched the rune to the ball of light, shooting it inside the forcefield. For a brief moment, a rune of a winged heart with horns and a piercing red eye appeared. Then, it shattered along with the forcefield. The ball of light swallowed up the Unown. It expanded outward, reaching the edges of the chalk circle.

    Golem's eyes lit up. "It's working. It's working! Ho ho ho ho! I'm a genius!" A flash of light overtook the projection, then quickly subsided.

    "Look, that's Null! But there's no helmet," Shane said. He stared transfixed at the footage, watching the helmetless Null look around the room curiously. His metal, beak-like mouth opened and closed at random intervals. His fish tail wagged slowly.

    "At last. I've done it. I've finally done it," Golem said. Sigilyph's body glowed, and a metal table raised out of the ground, hoisting Null up with it. Golem walked up to Null. He slowly pet Null's feathery crest. "It took four hundred Unown, fifteen power crystals, and over a thousand spirits pulled from the afterlife with the help of Totem Ninetales…"

    "P… please, leave my name out of it," a female voice squeaked from off screen. "If the Voice of Life finds out what I've done—"

    Golem waved dismissively. "You need not worry. When the God Killer has done its job, we will have no need for the Voice of Life." He stroked his beard. "In any case, as you can plainly see, my creation is awake and alert. That's all that matters."

    A Stufful doll floated by Null. With lightning-fast reflexes, he stuck his neck out and grabbed the doll in his jaw. He pulled his head back and bit down on the toy. It squeaked. Eyes brimming with excitement, Null trilled.

    "I don't understand. How could Null go from that to… well…" Shane jerked his head back toward the main room, where Null gave another frustrated roar.

    "I am going to test the Memory Looplet. I, the Illustrious Golem, shall apply the looplet. Sigilyph, Vikavolt, please record notes for me." Golem turned his back to Porygon2 and slowly slid the looplet onto Null's right foreleg. The second it reached a point where it snugly clung to Null's limb, Null went rigid. His irises faded, his head lolled to the side, and his beak fell open.

    "Um, sir? I think there's something wrong," Sigilyph said.

    "Relax. He's just incorporating the additional spirits into his life force," Golem said. "Any second how he'll reawaken and—"

    Null's eyes shot open. He struck Golem with glowing talons. Null raised his head and roared his fury. His eyes narrowed. He lunged off the table, shrieking in rage. Sigilyph's previously-emotionless voice erupted in a pained warble.

    "Oh god!" Shane's eyes widened. His tails shot between his legs. There was nothing he could do to stop memories of Moonrise Marsh from flooding his mind. Shane stood there, petrified.

    Null hurled Sigilyph into the laser diodes. He fell to the ground, unconscious. Null jumped onto Sigilyph. He plunged his claws into Sigilyph's torso and yanked them out. Blood spurted out of Sigilyph's body. He abruptly went limp.

    "No… dear gods… no!" Espeon cried, curling up defensively against the cavern wall.

    Golem had managed to stumble back to his feet, a dazed look in his eyes. "S-Something's wrong. This wasn't supposed to happen!" he said. "Porygon2, what are you doing? Shut off your blasted recorder and help me deactivate the God Killer, quickly. Or—"

    A bloodcurdling scream sounded. Locks of white fur float across the projection. Shane's heart hammered in his chest. "No. He didn't… did he?" Shane whispered.

    Null shot across the screen. Blood dripped off his chest, beak and talons. Golem's magnet whirred to life, crackling with electricity. However, Musharna's scratched up body hurtled into him. She struck Golem and fell to the ground, eyes hollow and drool seeping out of her mouth.

    "Turn it off," Tessa whimpered, pulling on her aura feelers and squeezing her eyes shut.

    Roaring angrily, Null stomped toward Golem. Blood trickled out of his beak, staining his fur and the pristine white feathers of his plumage. "What do you think you're doing? You are my creation! I… I command you to stop. Stop I say!" He shot bolts of electricity at Null, but they bounced harmlessly off his body. "No… get back! Get back… I order to you to get back! Stop!"

    Null responded with a primal scream. He sank his bloody beak into Golem's hide. Golem cried in pain. Null hefted the rock-type into the air and hurtled him directly at Porygon2. The footage went askew as, presumably, Porygon2 fell to the ground.

    "I said… turn it off!"

    Tessa blindly charged forward. She struck Porygon2 with a glowing fist. The projection abruptly cut out. Porygon2 slammed up against an emera ore. He sank to the ground.

    Espeon's eyes widened. "What are you doing? You're gonna cause another cave-in," she cried.

    "E-Easy there, Riolu. Nobody's going to hurt you," Shane said, reaching a forepaw toward her.

    "No, get away!" she barked, swatting Shane's paw aside. "I… I need air. I need some air!"

    She turned her back on her teammates and ran off toward the far corner of the room, tears streaming from her eyes. Shane and Espeon could only stand there watching, pained expressions on their faces.

    What were they supposed to do now?
     
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