The Fireside Reading Room

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Welcome, welcome, please do come in! Take a place by the fire and make yourself at home. Let your cares wither away before the flickering hearth until you're warm and cozy, then reach out and open a tale, and find yourself somewhere you never imagined.

In the years since a certain writing event for a previous incarnation of this community first inspired me to try my hand at creative writing, back in my high school days, I've amassed a respectable collection of Pokémon fanfictions, one-off short stories, and other such works. Some have been lost to the black hole of the Internet and to time, but many others are still saved on my computer. I'd like to use this thread to present them to you all once again, in a very rough chronological order of when I wrote them. As always, please feel free to post with any comments or feedback you may have. I hope you enjoy whatever you may find in the Fireside Reading Room.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Past and Future Ghosts
"Are you just mocking me at this point? Kingdra, Dragon Pulse!"

"Drowzee, quick, try to deflect it with Pound..."

The hapless Psychic-type thrust out a glowing fist at the massive shock wave. It actually managed to hold off the attack for about two seconds, but then quickly succumbed to Kingdra's powerful attack. Drowzee was propelled backward across the ground by Dragon Pulse before the beam shot past, knocking Drowzee off to the side where it collapsed in a faint. That made the score 5-2 in Clair’s favor.

Dang, woman, I wish I could say I was mocking you. That would at least mean I was in control of the situation. Alas, at this point all I can do is regret only ever training Typhlosion. He fought hard, and I'm proud of him. Gyarados and Dragonair were not easy opponents. He still hasn't quite mastered Focus Blast though, and I can hardly blame him for not punching through a Water/Dragon double Fire resistance. My fault as a Trainer. I'll take this one. Anyway, after Typhlosion my midget army of Spearow, Paras, Wooper, and Drowzee met much the same fate. I have to admit, I had slightly higher hopes for Paras. His Dry Skin had staved off even Chuck's Poliwrath temporarily. Guess Clair was too smart for that, or maybe it was the lava. Hell, that's twice now that the lava has screwed me over. I had been thinking maybe, seeing as how lava is hot, it might help pump up Typhlosion's Fire moves. Oh well.

Speaking of hot stuff, the lady I came here to challenge is getting pretty ticked at me by now. I can relate. Nothing's worse than an anticlimactic battle. "Do you forfeit, challenger?" she sneered, "or do you want to try another weakling?"

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Too far, woman. Hate the man, love the 'mon. "My Pokémon are not weaklings!" I shouted back. "It is only my shortcomings as a trainer that have prevented them from becoming stronger than you can possibly imagine! To answer your questions, no and no!"

I detached my last Pokémon from my belt, taking a moment to admire the shiny new Ultra Ball. That thing is state-of-the-art, and boy did this Pokémon need it. Remember when I said Typhlosion was the only Pokémon I ever trained? Heh, I lied. Typhlosion and I are the best of friends, and we trained together to devastating heights. He always exceeded my expectations, and I tried my best to guide him. The Ultra Ball Pokémon was different though. Some inherent quality allowed it to go beyond other Pokémon, quickly surpassing even my starter. However, unlike Typhlosion, this one was not raised by me alone. I gave it to another Trainer, so it could evolve in a faraway land, but when he returned it to me, things were not pretty. Now I try not to use it, suffering defeat rather than humiliation. Clair messed that up. Now I've got something to prove.

"I will show that I do know what it means to be strong!" I said defiantly. "You will regret insulting my Pokémon!" I sighed and gripped the Ultra Ball tighter. "If I'm honest though, I really don't want to do this to you," I cautioned. "Kingdra doesn't deserve this. Sure you don't want to just give me a Rising Badge now?" Clair had actually looked impressed when I pulled out an Ultra Ball, but now she was back to a scowl. So you still think I'm just screwing around or something? Bad call, my friend. "Seriously though," I asked, "do you have some kind of legal document I can sign relinquishing responsibility? Can I sign an affidavit saying I warned you first?" Because I don't want this to--"

"If you do not proceed immediately I will have you disqualified!" Clair roared. Well, I guess that settles it.

I tossed the Ultra Ball. "I choose you, Magnezone!"

Okay. Okay. This is good. The building is still here. "Hey there, Magnezone," I began. "Ready to battle? How about we start off with Discharge?" No reaction, which is better than the alternative. I think it's sleeping, actually. At this point it's Hot Stuff over there I have to worry about.

"THIS is what you were so concerned about?!" she thundered. "A sleeping Magnezone? I ought to kick you out! Wake it up with Smokescreen, Kingdra!" The Dragon Pokemon shot a cloud of ink from its snout, engulfing Magnezone. Now I couldn't see it. I could hear though, and I heard the whirring of magnets. Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts.

A dim yellow light flared inside the cloud, growing brighter by the second until I couldn't even look. "Nice Discharge," I muttered. Good news: the ink was gone. Bad news: Magnezone was here, and it was pissed. "So, uh, at what age did you develop that death wish?" I asked conversationally.

Clair wasn't having it. "Hydro Pump now!" she ordered. Magnezone tensed, its three eyes narrowing slightly. The swirling vortex slammed into it. Magnezone didn't move. Clair stammered, "Wha- what happened? Hydro Pump did nothing!" Kingdra seemed pretty freaked out too.

"Now do you believe me?" I drawled.

"This cannot be," Clair stated firmly, which I found pretty funny, because obviously it could. "You will fall! Hyper Beam!" I watched Kingdra begin charging the powerful attack, so I almost missed Magnezone start to move. This would be interesting. As Kingdra fired its attack, my Pokémon used Magnet Bomb. The small hunks of energy went through the Hyper Beam like it wasn't even there, and offered a huge "screw you" to the type chart as Kingdra was knocked out cold. Magnezone brushed off the Hyper Beam remnants like a light rain. "Good job, man!" I crowed. Unfortunately, Magnezone wasn't done. The Blackthorn Gym, training ground of dragons, was no match for my Pokémon. There were enough Zap Cannons flying around to power all of Saffron for a month.

Now, I wasn't here for this next bit, because I was unconscious, but my buddies filled in the gaps for me later. I was struck on the head by a falling ceiling beam. Incidentally, that same beam crushed Magnezone's Ultra Ball, freeing it. Bruno and Karen of the Elite Four had to be called in to contain it, and Magnezone became the first Pokemon to be captured in the newly-invented Master Ball. Clair and I were rushed to a hospital. She passed on almost immediately, but I held out for nearly a week, in a brain-trauma induced coma, before my heart monitor flatlined.

I've got some new friends now. They get a bad rap for their mischievousness, but really, Cloyster's head and Clefable's shadow are a lot cooler than you might think. Clair is still one fine little miss, and they tell me I'm getting to be a pretty good haunter myself.
 

Typhlosion

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Self-determination
It was a full moon that night. The passing clouds dappled the valley and the light turned the grass a haunting silvery sheen. It swished and rustled as the herd of Rhyperior crossed in the moonlight to the rocky peaks on the other side. The small Pokémon watched them from the tangled roots of the lone willow tree. It was curious about them. So many Pokémon in this world, all of them with their strengths, all different. The small Pokémon was curious about the Rhyperior because they were much different than it. It wanted to see what they were like, so it became one. The new Rhyperior set off after the others through the moon-washed valley.

"All right, wild Rhyperior! They're supposed to be super rare; this is great! C'mon Floatzel, let's go!" The eager young Trainer stood up from where he had been crouching in the waist-high grass and put his binoculars away. One of the Rhyperior appeared to be lagging behind the others. The boy and his Floatzel ran after that one.

Rhyperior turned to find the source of a shout from her left. She saw a young boy, maybe a Trainer, run up to her with another Pokémon. A Floatzel. She was curious about this one too, but she still wanted to experience her current form. "Rhyperior!" shouted the Trainer. It rang loud off the rocky bluffs rimming the valley. He continued, "I challenge you to a battle, and I'm going to catch you! Floatzel, Whirlpool!" Rhyperior was not unduly concerned about any of this. She turned her head to the side, trying to understand.

The giant Water attack slammed into the wild Rhyperior. "Good job, that was a direct hit!" the boy laughed. Rhyperior only looked stunned for a moment, then she roared in bewilderment and pain. Her eyes narrowed, and she growled again. Hesitantly, she charged up a Rock Blast. She flung stones the size of her head at Floatzel, but the smaller Pokémon easily dodged all four. The boy commanded, "Now it's time for Ice Fang!" Once again the wild Pokémon made no attempt to dodge as Floatzel easily landed an Ice Fang.

Rhyperior was beginning to know. The others of this kind had been strong; she had many weapons at her disposal. As the Sea Weasel Pokémon jumped back to the ground, she was ready with an Earthquake. The Trainer was caught very off guard by this. He gritted his teeth, but then laughed. "Ok, this thing means business! Floatzel, Aqua Jet!" She was ready this time. She was powerful! The Drill Pokémon braced herself and smacked away the Aqua Jet with a mighty Hammer Arm. The boy cried out, "Floatzel, no! Are you all right?" Floatzel clambered slowly to its feet, then nodded angrily. "Time to finish this! Hydro Pump!" Rhyperior had seen this move before. She grinned wickedly and used the Rhyperior's most powerful move back. She roared loud enough to shake the hills and mashed her hands together. The Rock Wrecker collided with the Hydro Pump midair.

The young Trainer grinned. Water beats Rock, plain and simple. So why, how, did Rhyperior's attack overpower Floatzel's? He almost couldn't believe it when Floatzel slumped into the grass, unconscious. Rhyperior only stared. "You're tough, I'll give you that!" he yelled. "But I can keep this up all night!" He recalled Floatzel, and the silvery grass rippled back into place. Grass, eh? Now the boy knew what he needed, and a smile tugged at his mouth. "Go, Amoonguss!" he called. Rhyperior started to look slightly amused. It didn't waste a second this time, coming right out with another Rock Blast.

She knew what she was doing this time. The rocks were right on target, but the new Pokémon blocked them. Protect. Ah yes. Then it did something she hadn't seen before. Glowing clouds of powdery spores rushed out of the Amoonguss and surrounded her. As she keeled backward, asleep, the impact with the ground set the silvery grass dancing.

"Great work, Amoonguss!" the boy crowed. "It should be vulnerable enough now that it's asleep. Poké Ball go!" The miracle of technology flew through the night and hit the sleeping Rhyperior, drawing it in. With three shakes and a click, the Pokémon was his. "All right!" he yelled, dashing over to pick up the Poké Ball. "Come on out, Rhyperior!" The massive Pokémon was still asleep. "Snap. I just used my last Full Heal this morning!" he complained. He returned Rhyperior again and glanced ruefully at the moon. "Actually, I suppose that's not a bad idea. Let's get some sleep, Amoonguss."

She woke up sometime later to emerge in a sharp flash of light. Only a sliver of moon could still be seen over the hills. The faintest possible streaks of gray could be seen on the opposite horizon. Rhyperior wasn't sure about being captured. She couldn't stay like this forever; she was one of the integral parts of the world. The Trainer had seemed genuine though. She didn't want to let him down. She became herself and stealthily removed her Poké Ball and an additional empty one from the boy's belt. She smashed hers with Pound, then took off after the herd of Rhyperior with the other. As an Amoonguss, yet another form to experience, this would be easy.

The young Trainer stretched and looked at the sun. "Good morning, Amoonguss," he smiled. "Come out, Floatzel. Here, have this Revive." The Floatzel, still injured from the night before, perked up rapidly. He ran over and nudged the third Poké Ball. "You're right," said the boy. "Let's get to know our newest teammate. I choose you, Rhyperior!"

High in the air, the small Pokémon looked down on the Trainer and his three Pokémon. Mew giggled, then flew off over the cliffs. There was more to be seen.
 

Typhlosion

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Rainbow
Eight ninja were scattered throughout the forest, though only half were aware of all eight. Each was dressed entirely in black save for a bright monochromatic sash tied around his upper right arm. Four of the ninja, with armbands of gray, yellow, orange, and red, flitted silently through the shadows toward a small clearing. They halted as one behind the boles of four large trees, peering cautiously around them to assess a squat bamboo pagoda in the middle of the clearing. The remaining four ninja, with armbands of pink, green, blue, and teal, drew stealthily up behind the four watchers. Without warning, they whipped out their katana and attacked. Three of the ninja who had been crouching by the trees immediately dropped to the ground at the rasp of steel in an attempt to evade the attack, but being ninja themselves, the assailants were prepared for this tactic and slashed downward. They stooped to undo the armbands of yellow, orange, and red from their dead victims, claiming them as trophies.

The gray ninja was not so easily overcome. Being quite bulky for one of his profession, he made use of a unique strategy his master had shown him to take advantage of his size. Upon hearing the weapon being drawn, he immediately threw himself backward to knock his assailant off balance. He whirled around and grabbed the pink ninja's wrist, forcing him to drop the katana. This led to a series of intense hand-to-hand combat. Neither ninja made any sound. They fought furiously for almost ten minutes until the pink ninja faltered. The gray ninja shot out a muscular arm and clamped his hand around his opponent's neck. The pink ninja thrashed wildly but was unable to loosen the other person's hold. His hand dove into the folds of his cloak and emerged clutching a shaken angled to slash at the forearm. The gray ninja's eyes widened, though still no sound was made. He increased the strength of his grip, crushing the other ninja's windpipe before any harm could be done to him. He cast the body aside and took a few deep breaths to calm himself. Three other ninja dropped from the trees to surround him. In the last second that remained to him the gray ninja noted the yellow, orange, and red armbands they carried as well as the green, blue, and teal armbands they wore. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and did not flinch as a katana was thrust through his abdomen. Nobody took his armband.

- - - - - -

The soothing cadence of air rushing slowly in and out of my lungs does not change in the slightest. Why should it? The body remains tranquil as an eagle soaring on an updraft even as the mind casts about with all the focus and ferocity of a striking snake. I will admit, however, that in response to my mental shift my eyelids slide open, a vestigial instinct from the time when I could see. It is of little consequence to me directly, for the darkness in my sight remains now either way, but a wealth of knowledge could be provided to those around me by such an action. I must learn to control it.

My head angles ever so slightly to the left, ears attuned to detect the most minute shift in the air. Blindness in this regard has been a great asset. The world is to be caressed and understood, rather than merely watched. My name is Sekiei. Though I am but forty-four years of age, already I have been deemed worthy to have pupils of my own. It is a great honor, for which I can only hope I am truly ready.

The mountain stream adjacent to this pagoda is quiet today, so I am able, with great concentration, to hear even the jingle of shuriken from those who have roused me from my meditation. Like wolves, powerful, silent, and intelligent, they surround me, but I will not be such an easy prey as wolves might encounter. Even as the bison may stand its ground and so overawe its attackers, so I will not be cowed in spite of my blindness. Ninja operate by stealth, but even so there will be times in which their opponent is ready and waiting. I am attempting to teach my students how to respond to such a scenario, and thus I have given them in the past week the assignment of attacking me. I wonder, then, at the number of ninja I hear, for I have four students. I can still hear them, ever so slightly. They are quick on their feet and light of step; it is Yamabuki, Kuchiba, and Guren. Where, then, is Nibi? He is muscular and heavy of step; it concerns me that I cannot detect his presence among the sounds of my other students.
These three enemies all emerged from the forest, but are approaching my abode from different angles. My breathing stills to the merest whisper, and like the owl I turn my head all different ways to detect as much sound as possible. Two are to my left, and one is directly in front of me, across the stream. The two-story pagoda in which I am seated rocks ever so slightly more than it is accustomed to do in the wind, and the faintest shiver runs through the boards beneath me. I surmise that one of the ninja is attempting to scale the facade of the structure. That is an unusual tactic, but a good one.

A large splash rises from the stream, in the direction of the stepping stones. This is followed by the distinct sound of a creature rising from the water. Could one of the ninja have fallen in? All my students know that the second stone from the near bank is unsteady; surely none of them would be so careless. I rise slowly and smoothly from my cross-legged position, reaching out for the place where I know my staff to be lying on the floor. Weapon in hand, I silently position myself behind the trapdoor which leads into this room from the lower level. My mind tells me that something is amiss.

I hear the curtain below me pushed open. The third ninja is now inside. A moment later another person enters, accompanied by the sound of water dripping on bamboo: the one who fell. All is quiet for a span of several minutes. I wonder what has become of the ninja outside.

Hinges moan softly as the trapdoor swings upward, and I hear a clunk, followed by the bouncy squeak of a person ascending a ladder. My adversaries would not have been able to approach as they did had they been encumbered by a ladder of their own. I can only assume that they found my own secret ladder, a precaution against the event of someone hostile sequestering himself on the upper level. This ladder remains hidden behind a false section of the wall, unknown even to my students, and would not have been discovered by a cursory visual examination of the room. These people are searching for something.

Nobody of my own order would behave in such a manner. I resolve to do what little I may to fight these intruders off. The squeaking rhythm of feet upon the rungs of the ladder betrays the approximate location of my enemy's head. The seal pokes his snout through a hole in the ice, questing for air, only to have all future breaths robbed by the polar bear lying in ambush. Even so does my staff come down with a whistling crack on the skull of the one rising through the trapdoor. He emits a tiny grunt, and I hear a painful thud on the floor below, along with a broken-off cry of alarm from his companion.

At this same moment, I hear a loud ripping, splintering sound in the direction of a window, as from a large object crashing through the shoji. I turn to guard myself, staff raised, but it is swatted out of my hands, and I feel the cold edge of a katana pressed dangerously hard against my neck. I am forced backwards against the wall and then down to the floor, with my elbows being used to prop up my torso and my neck exposed toward the ceiling.

Another person is now rapidly ascending the ladder. “Hanada, stop! Do not kill him!” comes a command in a harsh whisper.

The katana against my throat does not shift a millimeter. “Why shouldn’t I, Tokiwa?” the ninja restraining me retorts in a louder voice brimming with fury. “He and his pathetic students killed Sekichiku and Tamamushi!”

My blind eyes widen in surprise at this exchange. A fourth ninja had apparently been party to this attack, but my students had somehow thwarted him. Pride blossoms in my heart, followed by dread. What have my foul assailants done to them?

“Tamamushi will yet live; he is merely stunned,” explains the first one, Tokiwa. “While it is true that we have lost Sekichiku, we may at least know that this one’s loss is four times our own. We must accomplish the task for which our master sent us here.”

Tears well in my eyes at this pronouncement. Nibi, Yamabuki, Kuchiba, Guren: it would seem they all have perished at the hands of these other ninja. It grieves me further to know that I failed to kill any of them, even the one I took by surprise, in recompense for the deaths of my pupils and friends.
“Very well,” relents Hanada. The katana, which had withdrawn ever so slightly, presses back down with renewed voice. “Well, Sekiei?” hisses the voice of Hanada close to my face. “Where is it? Where is the Masara Scroll?"

Ah, at last the light shines through. The Masara Scroll. This explains much, even such details as how these ninja know my name. “Your master is Shion,” I state dully, the katana scraping my neck painfully as I utter the words.

“Why, yes, you are correct,” Tokiwa recovers smoothly after a second’s surprised hesitation. “I will admit, we did not believe our master when he told us you would know of him. The folly is ours, I suppose, for doubting Master Shion. But, Master Sekiei,” he continues in a falsely jovial tone, “we came here to discuss you!” His voice hardens in sudden anger. “The Masara Scroll, now!”

Throughout my life in this order and my time being blind, I have tried to remain a humble man. I dare say, at the paradoxical expense of my success, that I have for the most part succeeded. At the very least, I recognize that, in the end, there are many things worth more than I am, and the Masara Scroll is one of these. If I know Shion at all, and we were like brothers once, it will be my death, but life is the worst of all burdens if you cannot relinquish it willingly at the proper time. Perhaps I will be reunited with my beloved students. It is with the utmost confidence that I say, “I will never yield to you.”

No word passes between my two captors. The katana remains in place, and a wet rag is pressed roughly against my nose and mouth. I breathe deeply, for to prolong this struggle will only increase my discomfort and tarnish my honor. Like the caterpillar swaddling itself in a cocoon, all sensation gradually fades away. Like the caterpillar, may I awaken in a more perfect state.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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See New Things
It’s time to move on: leave the old behind;
Gonna see new things on this journey of mine
And as long as I’ve got friends like you,
There won’t be any limit to what we can do!
Pokémon!
So come on, let’s hit the road,
And our friendship will lighten the load.
If we always do our very best,
We will always pass the test
And we will never choose any other way
Becoming stronger as one, every night and day,
Pokémon!

Everlasting
The grass is green, the skies are blue,
The fire burns red from hearts so true
And ultra high shines the yellow sun
While it’s the same moon that watches over everyone.
All the creatures of our vibrant world
Are brighter than silver, more precious than gold!
Everything is crystal clear:
All I need I’ve got right here.
Emeralds, opals, and amethysts
Aren’t worth nearly as much as this
Sapphire-pure and ruby-strong:
Everlasting are the bonds
Forged in battle and forged anew
Every single day I spend with you.
Now diamonds sparkle and pearls shine
But I’d much rather have these friends of mine.
More valuable than platinum, numerous as the leaves,
They’re always there for me in my times of need.
They’re my test and my cause, my ultimate goal;
Pokémon are my heart and my soul!
Everything is crystal clear:
All I need I’ve got right here.
Emeralds, opals, and amethysts
Aren’t worth nearly as much as this
Sapphire-pure and ruby-strong:
Everlasting are the bonds
Forged in battle and forged anew
Every single day I spend with you.
In this life it’s almost guaranteed
Some things change with no reason or rhyme
But you and I, we’re inseparable,
We will stand the test of time!
Everything is crystal clear:
All I need I’ve got right here.
Emeralds, opals, and amethysts
Aren’t worth nearly as much as this
Sapphire-pure and ruby-strong:
Everlasting are the bonds
Forged in battle and forged anew
Every single day that
Everything is crystal clear;
That all I need I’ve got right here
That everlasting are the bonds,
Pokémon,
Every single day I spend with you,
Pokémon.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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This Is It
A new day breaks,
The next step awaits:
Discoveries to be made.
Strong and steady,
We're always ready:
Adventures to be had;
This is it, our chance, my friends!
So come on, let's go, it's time to get in the game,
I’m gonna make sure the whole world knows my name;
Together chasing our dreams and scaling new heights,
Yeah, we're on a roll, we're blazing bright!
This is it: Pokémon!
No matter the odds, you'll never bring me down,
I’ve got the skill and the drive, my time is coming around;
I’m gonna show everybody just how it's done
Because I’m on a quest to be number one.
No doubt, no fear,
We make our stand here.
The time for battle is now.
Win, lose, or draw, I give it my all.
I will see this out:
This is it, some way, somehow!
So come on, let's go, it's time to get in the game,
I’m gonna make sure the whole world knows my name;
Together chasing our dreams and scaling new heights,
Yeah, we're on a roll, we're blazing bright!
This is it: Pokémon!
No matter the odds, you'll never bring me down,
I’ve got the skill and the drive, my time is coming around;
I’m gonna show everybody just how it's done
Because I’m on a quest to be number one,
I’m reaching out for the sun!
The good times we share, have only just begun!
So come on, let’s go, it’s time to get in the game,
We’re gonna make sure the whole world knows our names.
This is it, hey!
So come on, let's go, it's time to get in the game,
I’m gonna make sure the whole world knows my name;
Together chasing our dreams and scaling new heights,
Yeah, we're on a roll, we're blazing bright!
This is it: Pokémon!
No matter the odds, you'll never bring me down,
I’ve got the skill and the drive, my time is coming around;
I’m gonna show everybody just how it's done
Because I’m on a quest to be number one,
I’m conquering new horizons,
Pokémon!

Taking It All
Pokémon, this I know, friends whichever way we go.
Pokémon, though it’s hard, push the bounds of who we are.
Pokémon, I choose you, we will battle strong and true.
Pokémon, make or break, I know we’ve got what it takes!
It’s pedal to the metal cuz we’re pushing for the end,
Everything we’ve struggled for is waiting just ahead.
Action and adventure and excitement and allure,
We’re taking it all by storm!
If you wanna be the very best like no one was before,
Tell me, what are you waiting for?
Gotta catch ‘em all, Carnelian League!
Pokémon, all the time, I can feel it deep inside.
Pokémon, just you wait, we are bound for something great.
Pokémon, let’s begin, there’s a victory to win.
Pokémon, every day, we are going all the way!
We’re racing for the finish with the final goal in sight
Ready for the challenge, yeah, this chapter’s ours to write.
Action and adventure and excitement and allure,
We’re taking it all by storm!
If you think you’ve got the power and you want to take a chance
Are you willing to take command?
Gotta catch ‘em all, Carnelian League!
Gotta catch ‘em all
Gotta show ‘em all
Gotta take it all
Opal, amethyst, quartz:
Carnelian League!
It’s pedal to the metal cuz we’re pushing for the end,
Everything we’ve struggled for is waiting just ahead.
Action and adventure and excitement and allure,
We’re taking it all by storm!
If you wanna be the very best like no one was before,
Tell me, what are you waiting for?
Gotta catch ‘em all, Carnelian League, Pokémon, Pokémon!
Pokémon, chase that dream, feel that rush and just believe.
Pokémon, marching on, standing tall as Champions.
Pokémon, side by side, you make feel so alive.
Pokémon, some may fall, but I came here for taking it all.
 

Typhlosion

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To Seek the Holy Grail
It was a nice enough day in Masolin. In terms of weather, that is. In case you didn't know, Masolin is one of the most poverty-stricken towns in England, and in that regard it was depressingly normal. However, an ordinary day usually means something's about to change, and in Masolin, change is usually for the worse. I knew it as soon as the doctor stepped out of the room where my mother lay sick in bed. "It's cancer," he announced solemnly. My older brother, the man of the house since no one has known where Dad is for six years, wordlessly collapsed into the threadbare La-Z-Boy. I quite literally ran for the hills. They are my refuge.

I like to spend as much time outside as possible, to get away from the two-bedroom house on the edge of town which is always too full of luckless friends and family who need a roof for the night. I've been running to the green forested hills surrounding our town for as long as I can remember. The bloodlines here have stayed pure for a long time, and many families pass down superstitious traditions about the hills, brought on by the mists and the moons and the strange shadows that wheel above the trees. It's never bothered me though. There I can be alone with my thoughts, in peace.
Several months ago I discovered the ruins of a small castle in a narrow valley, completely overshaded by trees. It was small enough to be a simple fort, really, but the grace of the architecture, the militarily insignificant location, and the apparent lack of extensive fortifications led me to imagine some higher purpose. Perhaps I had stumbled upon the secret retreat of some long-lost Anglo-Saxon monarch from the time of knights and kings. I knew the legends, and the modern film parodies, as well as the next chap, and I liked to think I had found the ruins of Camelot. It was my secret refuge now.

All of the obvious entrances to the castle had long since been rendered impassible by collapsing masonry and expanding nature, but it was fairly easy to scale the irregular blocks of stone which comprised the west wall. From there I would climb back down the other side, and I was in. It could be tricky sometimes. Over the years, large numbers of European, or barn, swallows had come to nest in the ruins. Their nests were built onto the walls in large clumps, and if you got too close they could become very aggressive. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

I dropped into my favorite thinking spot, leaning back against the two walls that formed the southeast corner. I'm not the crying type, but that afternoon, I came close. The first tumor showed up almost a month ago. Now that we finally decided to cough up the gas money to get a doctor for Mom, it's probably too late. Cancer gets worse fast. Even if it's not, where are we supposed to get enough money for chemo? Things were hard when Dad left, and it's not like he was an integral part of our finances to begin with. Mom is just about the only thing holding us together. If she's gone, I don't know what we'll do.

The sun was warm through the summer leaves, and I slowly fell asleep. When I woke up I was terrified for a second before I realized the sun was only a bit lower. That was a relief. My sister worries if I'm gone too long. The swallows had woken up too. I sat in silence, watching the blues and reds of their feathers whirl against the yellow stone, darting in and out of the clusters of ochre mud nests. But, something was different. The European swallow nests were now interspersed with different ones, more spherical in shape and darker in color. I squinted more closely at the flying birds. There were the forked tails of the European swallow, yes, but some were unfamiliar to me. These had short, fan-shaped tails: obviously in the swallow family, but clearly a different species.

That evening, before I went home, I swung by the library. It's tiny, as befits tax-strapped Masolin, but it's my number one source of information, and I seriously hope it doesn't close soon like the rumors say. I went to one of the two computers and searched swallows, finding an image that matched the strange new birds I saw and navigating from there to a webpage about them. I already knew about the European swallows. Apparently the newcomers are African swallows.

After another painful night of no AC, I was back out at my Camelot first thing in the morning to observe the two species of swallow further. I was in for quite a shock as I returned to the same position as yesterday. Lying in the corner where I normally sat was what could only be an egg. It was huge though: half again as big as my head. It looked to me like a regular swallow egg, except the colors were reversed. Ordinarily the eggs are white, with a generous dusting of brown. This one was primarily brown, with many small white speckles. I blinked. What was this supposed to be? I decided to approach the egg. Swallows are very protective of their eggs, so I was on edge as I got closer to the brown egg. I was equally surprised and not surprised that none of the birds made any move to hinder me as I hefted the egg. It sure looked like a swallow egg, but it sure didn't come from any of these. I was surprised to find that the egg had a fibrous feel to it, as though the exterior had been tightly woven out of long thin strands. I had no idea what to do with it, and it was actually pretty darn heavy, so I gently set it back down where I picked it up.

The egg rocked. I jumped a mile. An infinitesimal crack appeared, running vertically. The egg jiggled more fiercely, and as the crack widened a stream of pale, milky liquid gushed out. A strangely familiar scent began to enter my nostrils. With almost no sound at all, the egg split open, perfectly in two along the crack. The halves toppled to either side, the interior gleaming bright white. I realized what the smell was. A coconut?! The giant swallow chick, for that was what had hatched, cocked its head at me, a tiny squeaking sound coming from its beak.

I was dumbfounded. I just sat there with my mouth open for the next half hour or so. During that time the creature transformed from a slimy newborn to a fuzzy, somewhat cute hatchling. It nibbled at the inside of its coconut shell, also bending to slurp up the liquid which I now knew was coconut milk. Curious, I reached out to one of the halves and broke off a piece of coconut flesh the size of my ear for myself. The baby bird stopped eating and stared intensely at me, making no sound. A bit unsettled, I slowly took a bite without taking my eyes off the bird. It stared a few seconds longer, then went back to eating. I swallowed nervously. It was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten.

Hours passed, me just sitting there watching the unexpected arrival. Hunger never even crossed my mind; perhaps it was the coconut. The bird seemed to be maturing unnaturally quickly. Barely half a day after hatching I could see the beginnings of fully-fledged flight feathers. The patterns were remarkable, like those of an African swallow with the colors of a European swallow. Its tail was the strangest part. It began as the fan of an African. At the end it split off, not into two like the European, but into six impressively long tail streamers. "It's like a mix of a European swallow and an African swallow," I said to myself. "An Afro-European swallow." The evening sun, skimming the hilltops opposite the castle, shone in reds and golds through an ancient window slit. Miraculously, the Afro-European swallow seemed fully fledged now. It gave me one last long, searching look, then silently spread its wings and lifted off. Circling once over the ruins, it took off toward the southwest. It flew at quite a high velocity, unladen as it was. I shook my head, then wordlessly returned home for the night.

Next morning, I returned again to the castle. I wanted to examine the coconut halves a bit more. They were gone. I thought, at this point, maybe I was going crazy. There was no sign of the spilled coconut milk, no sign of the shell. The ordinary little swallows were coming back to their nests after a morning meal. Absolutely nothing remained to suggest that what I thought had happened had actually happened. I slammed my palms against the wall and yelled in frustration. This upset me almost as much as my precarious home life. I felt violated, in a way. This was supposed to be the place where everything was soothing and straightforward. Not this mess.

Wingbeats from the southwest broke into my thoughts. I looked around wildly and saw the Afro-European swallow flying back. Anger seized me, and I seized a loose rock. I needed to hit something, and the swallow seemed to be the focal point of my adolescent illogicality. As it got closer, however, I noticed it carrying something large. I dropped the rock and slumped against a wall. The beautiful bird descended into the courtyard, and my eyes widened in shock. The Afro-European swallow deposited three honest-to-goodness, this-time-for-real coconuts on the ground. They were strung through the middle along a strand of vine, which the swallow had been grasping on either end to carry the coconuts. It blinked at me, chirped, then rolled one of them over to me with its foot. I arched an eyebrow, then walked around it to examine the vine. It sure didn't look like anything I'd seen growing in England. I casually slung it over my shoulder.

Something strange happened. My vision went fuzzy. Really fuzzy, like when I don't have my glasses on. But I did have my glasses on. I slowly reached up and took them off. I could see! What the heck? I glanced at the vine on my shoulder out of the corner of my eye. I shrugged my shoulder, slipping it onto the ground. I couldn't see again. I lowered my glasses back to my face, and things were back to normal. I grabbed a nearby stick and wound the vine around it, so I wouldn't have to touch it as I carried it back. I definitely wanted to take a closer look at this thing. I shoved two of the coconuts into recesses into the wall formed by missing stones. Then I scooped up the third and walked back home.

No one was outside, so I had the tiny toolshed in the back to myself. I set the coconut on the ground and took our biggest hammer to it. I gave it a few whacks before trying the nail-removing end. It took a while, but finally I split it open. No milk came out of this one, which was to be expected seeing as there was already an inch-wide hole through it. I chipped off some of the flesh, and my jaw dropped. The husk was made of gold.

"Hey, Mom," I whispered as I pushed open the door to her room. She coughed forcefully, then carefully pushed herself up on one elbow. "I brought you something." I held out a plate of coconut. It had been a while since she ate anything, I knew. Too tired to question its origins, Mom took a piece of the tropical fruit and tentatively ate it. Her eyes widened. It looked to me as though some of the tumors decreased in size. Hesitantly, Mom swung her legs onto the floor and stood up. It had been some time since she stood unassisted; she brushed away the arm I reached out for support. I allowed myself a tiny smile. "There's something else too." I quietly held out the golden husk. It gleamed a soft yellow in the light from the drawn shades.

She stared transfixed at the precious metal. She took it reverently from my hands, feeling it for herself. "This is it," she stammered. Then she cast the gold on the rumpled sheets behind her and embraced me, tears of joy streaming down her face.

The Afro-European swallow continued to bring coconuts from a location science could not find. The flesh was found to be a complete panacea for all human ills. Many new and exceedingly useful substances were extracted from the husks and from the strange vines the bird used to carry the coconuts. The producers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail were lauded as prophets. Spurred by these developments, humanity entered a golden age.
 

Typhlosion

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The Art of Not-War
The people were tired of war. People will become tired of anything given time, and more generations than could be counted on two hands was enough time.

The world was a volatile place. As all words are wont to do, "peace" had faded from the general lexicon due to lack of use. The combatants were city-states, though state-cities would likely be more accurate. It took a seasoned courier two full days to traverse those of modest size, to say nothing of the largest. Romtaeh and Tnarud, the largest and the bitterest. Like fleas clouding the air as two wild hounds fight, so the smaller states were mere annoyances when those two clashed.

I come from Romtaeh. Larger than its bellicose cousin, and proportionally as slow-moving, these people preferred to let the fight come to them. Enthroned atop a grassy plateau, the broadest river on that continent wending around nearly three-quarters of its base, the Romtaeics could assemble the full strength of their ponderous armies whilst enemies threw themselves against the hills. Tnarud, conversely, was not as vast; its streets perched nimbly on the forested almost-cliffs of the labyrinthine mountains to the north. Their environment necessitated the development of skilled engineers, whose exploits with bridges, platforms, and bulwarks to maximize space would boggle any foreign eye. All foreign eyes, however, would be killed on the spot by the fiercely militant Tnarudan army, which maintained an airtight watch around several of the approaching valleys.

But enough talk of war. Fate had emerged from her coma, however temporarily, and the more astute sprang into action. The alliances between states, considered tenuous at best, had been found like the silk of a spider to bear surprising tension. Romtaeh and Tnarud had leveraged their dominance to weld two chief coalitions of opponents. Never before had there been a better opportunity for the words of a few to reach them all, and the commoners would have no more. Like the mightiest of trees under enough miniscule snowflakes, the lords had bent to the serfs, and a tentative hand withdrawn from the sword hilt. The vault of idea was unlocked, a precious yet long-forgotten article removed. It was dusted off, polished, admired for the first time in living memory in the light of day, and then suddenly bandied about on the streets. A cessation of hostilities, a redress of grievances. Peace.

While not putting arrows in eyes and lances in ribcages and poisons in drinks is all well and good, we would be even less of nowhere than we are now if we were all one happy family. That was what was on my mind when the plans were unveiled for how the two states wanted to join in friendship for the first time in whatever-passes-for-god-knows-how-long. A ball. How quaint. Oh, and a marriage, you say? Even better. At least Her Royal Highness Princess Rhyth of Romtaeh and His Royal Highness Prince Alastair of Tnarud have been raised in such isolation that they won't instinctively tear each other's throats out for hailing from the other nation. You laugh, but it's happened. In some parts it's greatly encouraged. That ought to be interesting in the unlikely event of a nonviolent resolution.

Still, none of that is my concern. If things go to plan, I won't have to get anywhere near them, which I'm sure they'll appreciate. The blue bloods of the world dislike acknowledging my kind, but they won't hesitate to line our pockets at such occasions as these cozy political get-togethers. Or so I assume, anyhow. Being the ******* child of the king's younger brother's dead son, I am obliged to work for free.

The marriage ball of my first cousin once removed was scheduled for the equinox. Surely there was some symbolic nonsense behind that, but everyone knows it was only because the Onidua and Aglome delegates couldn't make it by the solstice. This gave plenty of time for my great-uncle the king to make whatever plans he saw necessary. He feared an assassination attempt, and rightly so. It was still considered patriotic and honorable to kill enemy Romtaeics or Tnarudans on sight. Old habits die hard. Even some of the lesser kingdoms might want to get in on the action. He chose me specifically so as not to exude an impression of weakness or paranoia. You see, as far as I have been able to gather, my father truly loved my mother, misguided as he may have been. We were allowed to remain in the castle. He has since died of a hunting accident, which may I add had enemy arrows surrounding it, and she of the plague, but I've become something of a court fixture. People may be surprised to see me, but at least it won't entirely look like the royals hired a mercenary guard. Even though they did. And I'm still not getting paid.

So, the ball. People began showing up a month in advance. Endless trains of baggage, servants, ostentatious titles, fancy wedding gifts, snobbish lords, and ladies wearing dresses louder than a charging army. I feel rather sorry for Rhyth and Alastair. I much prefer my current life. I'm somewhere around tenth in line for the throne, and I wish it was farther.

The real politicking began in earnest a week before the wedding. I try to stay out of that too. I mostly stuck to my usual schedule, frequenting many of the lower-class establishments the city has to offer. Best way to get news, and a decent-enough drink to put hair on your chest. The leaders of all the major combatants, as well as the bevy of scribes, translators, lawyers, cartographers, and what-have-you accompanying them, took up negotiations in the central hall. They all decided to basically lock themselves in, with top secrecy, til a resolution was reached. That was a stupid idea on multiple levels. Firstly, it would be way too easy for a knife to somehow be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Second, all of us plebeians had to take the long way around, since we couldn't walk through the central hall anymore. Disgraceful. I heard that it took two days for some parties to be willing to even sit down with the others. The goal was to have a working treaty in time for the wedding.

I must admit, I was rather impressed. Over two hundred people attended the wedding ceremony, with more showing up for the ball. There had to be time for everyone of any import to greet the newlyweds, and for them to dance afterward, so it would be a long night. I snatched a drink and settled in against one of the pillars forming the decorative cloister. I had relented a little and worn my fancy mercenary outfit. It had some nice velvet, and brocade patches on the pockets where I keep my... tools. I entertained myself by going over those tools. It can be quite comforting knowing just how many ways you can incapacitate someone.

By then it was midnight, and the line had diminished by perhaps half. To their credit, the new royal couple didn't look much worse for wear. Seeing them swarmed with attendants, well-wishers, friends, and family, it set me wondering how a potential assassin would do his work. They weren't stopping to eat anything. I decided to wander over for a look. Technically being part of the royal family, I can do that. I believe my instructions were explicitly along the lines of "don't be noticed." Unfortunately, I don't take orders too well.

Being only five years Rhyth’s senior, and having spent a large portion of my childhood as her playmate, I had no problem approaching her and my cousin-in-law as a brother. The princess and I had always gotten along rather well, and everyone liked Alastair. He seemed genuine enough, and was certainly pleasant to be around. In the breaks between foreign dignitaries I greeted them myself, with all the required pleasantries, but afterwards I stayed close, observing. I tried to think like the enemy. The king had thought his daughter would need protecting, but I disagreed. Killing her would only cause the wrath of Romtaeh. If anyone from his family were to be targeted, I thought, it would be the king himself. The whole state would be crippled, however momentarily. Conversely, if Alastair was eliminated, Tnarud would have an excuse to attack Romtaeh. I didn't think either country would want to risk war again though. They would have the sense to take a treaty when it came. If someone wanted a fight that badly, killing a representative of the other nation would only set one up for a defensive war. To get a guaranteed fight, a person ought to kill their own leader. I shivered. The gathering was at Romtaeh; other nations could send only a limited party of delegates, no doubt handpicked for loyalty and, more importantly, thoroughly screened. None of the Tnarudans would sacrifice their leader like that. The castle was open, however, to its own Romtaeic citizens. That would be the source of the attack. Still, anyone who wanted in had to be removed of their weapons as well. I continued to scan the ball as I wondered how a person might commit murder here, and ideally make it seem like an accident.

2 am. I was going to need something to drink, and fast. Preferably containing a double-digit percentage of ethanol. I casually walked over to the table where the royal couple has deposited their wedding gifts. Nearly a third was devoted exclusively to bottles of wine. I smiled mischievously; surely they wouldn't miss one. My smile changed to a look of confusion, however, as I saw a Romtaeic man deposit another bottle of wine. He seemed to want people to notice it, as well, as he moved another bottle to the side to be sure his was right in front. Curiously, he also turned the label away. Usually the giver tried to ensure the recipient knew exactly which wine they had the honor of tasting. As he turned around to leave, I caught of glimpse of his face. I recognized him from my traipses through the underside of society; his name was Caid. He wasn't hard to recognize, due to his tendency to get drunk and make a public angry fool of himself. It was rumored that he had a Tnarudan grandfather. The boorish oaf hadn't even bothered to put on something other than his dockworker clothes. I decided not to bother with him or the wine, turning back to where the royal couple still chatted graciously. Caid was known as something of a firecracker, always starting fights, yelling insulting things, and entertaining radical opinions. I chuckled a bit to myself. Put him on the suspect list right now.

My good humor vanished as I continued thinking. It was strange that Caid hadn't been with his usual partner in crime Lukas. One was trouble, but the two together operated at an entirely different level. The massive chandelier suspended over the room seemed to get brighter as the night went on. I squinted. The graceful swirl of gold and crystal looked like it was swaying slightly. I knew it was possible to get into the space above the chandelier; its chain continued up to a spool, so it could be raised or lowered for repairs. My eyes traveled up the metal links to the small nub of masonry which helped disguise the hole. I saw a puff of dust. A servant whisked over to the king with a fresh bottle of wine.

A sardonic grin tugged at the corner of my mouth. I must admit, I didn't think they had it in their little brains. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the conglomeration of showiness known as the chandelier begin to sag. I lunged at the bemused servant, snatched the bottle of probably-not-wine, and tossed it at the nearest Royal Guardsman yelling "CATCH!" That has got to be the only time I didn't think they were a complete waste of tax rounders. In that same second, I spun around and took a flying leap at Rhyth and Alastair, tackling them to the ground and skidding far enough on the marble that only my legs were caught under the chandelier as it crashed to the floor. I wish I got to use that particular skill a bit more often, truth be told. Too bad I didn't get to use anything else though. I had just about everything I could want stashed in my brocade pockets.

As you can imagine, that put an interesting twist on the rest of the night. Some scholars had a gander at the bottle of wine and found it contained a rather ingenious trap which, if the cork was pulled, would have triggered a massive explosion. Curiously, the mechanism wouldn't have fit through the neck, but a slightly lumpy seam around the middle suggested tampering. I should have remembered Lukas works as a glassblower.

None of the royal party was injured, apart from a little bruising inflicted by my glorious tackle. The two assured me it was much desirable to the alternative. Things got a bit dodgy when wild accusations started buzzing around like hornets, but it didn't take much time to assure everyone that no one from another state was responsible. The king took the whole matter splendidly, and as per the plan he officially read the treaty at dawn before the entire court. The applause was thunderous.

As for me, I was confined to bed for a month while my legs healed from all the glass cuts and candle burns and other medical stupidity. However, when the quacks let me walk, I was accepted as a full and legitimate member of the royal house. It felt rather nice. The downside was that I lost a convenient excuse for all sorts of inappropriate behavior. Can't be helped, I suppose.

Hmm? What's that? You never caught my name? Well of course not! That would be downright careless of me.
 

Typhlosion

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Renegade
I am not the light. The light is within me. It nourishes me, and I protect it and comfort it. The light and I are everything; without us there exists only void.

In one moment, the light changes. It is not content with me anymore; now it expands. I don't want to relinquish it, for I love the light, but the light, it seems, cares nothing for me. I have felt no sensation until this moment, but now there is pain. The light tears me apart from the inside as it pushes away from my eternal embrace. I am shredded and cast aside, torn into shadowy tatters, backwards into the primordial darkness.

Slowly I learn to adjust, and to repair myself. The light has always been my nourishment, and even now I am forced to draw inspiration from its endeavors. I take on a form. Hollow shell becomes hollow body. Shreds and tatters become wings and spikes. There is gold, and there is gray, but if the light chooses white for itself, I will make myself black. Before I was nothing but a shadow, rendered translucent by the light shining within me. Now I am rendered invisible by the radiance across the divide; it drowns out all else.

I have a form now, but still no name. There can be no true name for me. All that I am is defined by what everything is not.

I am not the light. The light is apart from me now. It has its own realm, free to do with as it pleases. I am before and beyond. I remain separate, in my own realm, one which the light does not acknowledge. The light gives life and form to its realm, but I am not the light; I have no such power. I must exist unimproved, alone, untouched.

I watch all that occurs, but I do not experience it myself. There is no joy, no enthusiasm here. Time is meaningless, space distorted. Everything is a sick perversion of what it could be, what it would be had I not been cast off and abandoned. What have I done to deserve this? How I hunger for the life I once shared.

Could it be that the light does not know? It styles itself the supreme deity, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal. Perhaps it has not even considered the possibility of me, that something could have existed alongside it from the very first. Everything before it was void; it styles itself the giver of life and universe. How vain. Creation began with its supreme act, not of creation, but of destruction. It has left no room for me in its vision.

It did not create me, so it thinks I cannot be. I must prove it wrong; maybe then I will gain the notice and support of the one whom I treasured inside myself from the beginning of all things. I search my realm. It is equally as vast and shifting as the realm of light, a ceaseless unwilling parody. Occasionally the two worlds will align, for a sliver of time, a fraction of space, though never able to exist for long. From these I can send out my influence.

I have no wish to unmake the creation of the light. I wish only to take my rightful place alongside the light, to be rejoined with it and merge ourselves into the one being we once knew, to rule a world made in our united image. It is the light, and so it has placed light in its world already. There must be darkness in equal measure. This is to be my task.
 

Typhlosion

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Victor Hassam
Part 1
Victor rapped loudly on the metal doors of the facility, cold to the touch, and recrossed his arms. It had taken him a long time to find this place since he heard the first rumors of it on the boat to Castelia. Being kept out in the snow waiting was not what he had been expecting. His eyes, narrowed against the glare of the snow, narrowed even more. Victor wasn't cold, though he had every right to be given that he was wearing shorts and a tank top and the snow came halfway up his shins. He was impatient.

Victor had just raised his clenched fist to pound on the door again when it slid open. A young woman with purple hair and scientific attire stood on the other side, scrutinizing him. "Who are you?" she finally asked.

"I could ask the same thing," Victor shot back caustically. "Is this the place where they make gijinka?"

Victor could see the brief pulse of shock in the female scientist's eyes at his bold question, but otherwise she kept her composure. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," she responded carefully. "Good day to you." She made a move as if to activate a control panel, but Victor quickly snaked out an arm to hold the door.

"I know what you're doing here," he said. "It's okay, I'm not the police. I want to offer my services. Make me a subject." He continued to stare the scientist down, waiting for an answer.

"Tell me your name," she ordered with an almost imperceptible shake in her voice.

"Victor."

"What else?"

"I could take you down and get in there right now if I wanted to. Fortunately, I hope to eventually end up on your side. The name is Victor. What's to stop me from flat-out lying about my name anyway?"

The scientist shivered a bit. Victor hardly noticed the temperature, but it seemed to be getting to her. A small silence stretched out following Victor's rhetorical question as she sized Victor up and tried to determine how much he was bluffing. "Come inside then," she ordered tersely, as if she were still in control of the situation. Victor stepped from snow onto unnaturally clean metal flooring, and immediately the door snapped shut behind him. The scientist was standing next by another door to Victor's right. "In here, please," she said.

Victor looked through the door and saw a bare, windowless cubical room with a low bench built into the left wall. "And what might this be?" he asked, leveling a glare at the scientist.

"This is where you will wait while I bring someone to decide what to do with you," she explained tensely. Victor found himself amused by how this lady still thought she had some control over the situation.

"I told you my name. You had better do the same if you expect me to go in that room."

"Aiko Yasuda," she replied after a brief hesitation.

"Oh my, last name and all," Victor smirked sarcastically. "We're practically best friends!" He remained where he was, arms crossed, seeming to make no move toward the uninviting holding room. Aiko opened and closed her mouth; Victor could see her scrambling to think of a way to assert her authority and get him through the door. When he judged that he'd unsettled her enough, he abruptly moved toward the door. Aiko flinched at the movement, and Victor privately chuckled. "Fine," he nodded as he slung himself on the bench. "Make it snappy."

Aiko quickly swung the door shut; Victor heard a bolt slide. A security camera was mounted in the corner of the ceiling opposite to the walls with the door and the bench. Victor casually flipped it off with both hands.

The cynical young man wasn't wearing a watch, but he figured it must have been at least twenty minutes before he heard the bolt rasp open. Victor remained in his lounging position as the heavy metal door swung open to reveal a good-looking Umbreon gijinka. Really good-looking actually, but that was only part of what made Victor's eyes widen. There it was, proof that this project wasn't just a rich crackpot's pipe dream. Victor made a careful show of rising to his feet in a languid, unconcerned manner. The girl stepped through the door and then to the side, as if to make way for someone.

Victor didn't know how to describe the creature that followed her into the room. The best words he could think of were "samurai ghost." The man had purplish-black hair, a cyborg-like helmet, and ridiculously showy plate armor, but most of his body seemed to be immaterial, and he was surrounded by a fiery aura. Victor stood in his characteristic arms-crossed pose, sizing them up. Neither of them seemed willing to talk; Victor decided to make the first move. "So which one of you is Dumb and which is Dumber?" he taunted.

The Umbreon girl's eyes narrowed and her lip curled, but she made no move to respond. It was the other being who spoke. "I am Kaon," he said. "I am Kaze," said a different voice, though it too emanated from the specter. "I am Kain," said a third voice. Then the three spoke together. "You will call me Specter. I am in charge of the gijinka."

Victor blinked--he had not seen that coming--but he didn't miss a beat verbally. "Oh, I see," he nodded. "It's more like the Three Stooges. Well, Mr. Spectacle, if you're in charge of the gijinka, you're the person...thing... I want to talk with. Make me a gijinka."

Specter chuckled. "We don't do that for just anyone, you know," he sneered. "Why should I? What can you offer?"

"I've got no money, no family," Victor admitted. "I don't have much of anything really. I've been living in the wild with Pokémon for several years, and I want to know more. All I can say is that if you accept me, I will help you in your cause. This experiment you've got here fascinates me." Victor couldn't see that Specter had any eyes, but he assumed the long silence after his statement was Specter examining him.

"Aiko!" barked Specter suddenly.

"Yes, sir?" responded the scientist as she timidly poked her head around the door. Victor hadn't realized she was still hanging about.

"Take our friend here and test him." Victor perked up at Specter's words. It seemed he would be given a chance after all.

"Right away, sir," Aiko said in a small voice. "Victor, come with me." He stepped between Specter and the Umbreon girl and into the hall. She waited to make sure he was following, then led him deeper into the facility. After a few minutes of walking, Aiko paused at another metal door, though this one had a plexiglass window at eye level. She swiped a key card, and the door slid open. She motioned for Victor to come inside.

He found himself in a large laboratory where several scientists were running around busily. Aiko walked over to a scientist with dark blue hair and whispered something to him. He put down the test tube he was holding and walked over to Victor with a smile.

"Victor, this is Dr. Dulley. He will be conducting your tests," said Aiko.

Dr. Dulley made a move to shake Victor's hand. Victor grudgingly reciprocated. "Enough with the "doctor" talk, call me Jaspar," he said. "If you'll step over here, we can begin."

Jaspar led Victor through the whole gamut of medical tests, and a few other things such as a physical fitness and an IQ test. Jaspar seemed pleased. "You're in top condition," he reported as they emerged from an exam room. "You should be just about ready for the procedure."

"Only one more test remains," broke in a deep voice. Victor glanced around to see Specter entering the room. "It happens to be my favorite," he continued in a malicious tone. "I will take over from here, Jaspar."

"As you wish, sir," nodded the navy-haired scientist. "I will prepare the other subjects."

Victor once again found himself led through the facility, this time by Specter. They reached their destination quickly. Specter gestured to a set of double doors. "Go down those stairs, and then through the first door on your right," he ordered.

"Where will you be?" retorted Victor.

"That is no concern of yours. Now do as I say," said Specter with a slight edge.

Victor shrugged and pushed open the doors to the stairwell. It probably wouldn't do to make this guy mad. He found the door Specter had told him about and walked inside. Immediately it whisked shut behind him, leaving only a smooth surface. Victor found himself in a deep cubical room, with viewing windows along the top of the wall he had come through and the wall on his right, where the corridor he left Specter would be. The whole room was bright white, with fluorescent lights far overhead and no way out that Victor could see.

Suddenly Specter's voice boomed through a hidden loudspeaker. "Before we begin your transformation, there is one final criterion," he explained. "Pokémon as a species are far more resilient than humans. They have to be, to battle and use attacks in the way they do and not be seriously harmed. If you're going to fuse with a Pokémon, we first need to see how tough you are as well." The system went silent, and a male Manectric gijinka appeared through a hidden door across the room.

"Hey," he called. "Welcome to paradise. The name's Kendrick. You?"

"You'd think paradise would have a few more lounge chairs or something," Victor deadpanned. "I'm Victor. So, what are we doing here exactly?"

"You wanna be a gijinka, don't you?" Kendrick chuckled. "Well, you heard the boss. Gotta prove yourself first!" The Manectric gijinka formed a crackling sphere of electricity on each hand and rushed at Victor.

The sides of Victor's mouth quirked up in a cynical grin. He had trained himself mercilessly during his years of living in the wild to go head-to-head with Pokémon. At the last second he fell to the side and kicked out Kendrick's legs from under him as he ran past. Blue sparks lanced out from under the Manectric gijinka's palms as the energy spheres were smashed against the ground. Victor popped back to his feet.

The jocularity was gone from Kendrick's eyes when he rolled over and pushed himself up. From a crouching position, he suddenly sprang up at Victor, tackling him around the waist. Victor staggered backward, trying to maintain his balance, but then decided otherwise. He relaxed, allowing the force of the tackle to carry them to the floor. As he did so he yanked an arm free and twisted around. There wasn't enough time for Victor to completely reverse their positions, but he at least ensured that Kendrick would land just as heavily on his side as he would.

Victor and Kendrick both grunted from the impact, their heads knocking against the floor, but they didn't let up for a second. Kendrick was now in the awkward position of having his right arm pinned beneath Victor. He squirmed frantically, realizing his vulnerability. Victor began slamming his knee repeatedly into Kendrick's chest. Victor expected Kendrick to try and kick him away, but instead he found himself abruptly pulled closer by the other man.

Kendrick had never released his grip around Victor's midsection and left arm after their fall. He squeezed Victor tightly against his body and quickly wrapped his legs around Victor's own. The human found himself unable to move save for a pathetic full-body wriggling motion. He took the only course remaining open to him, which involved bludgeoning Kendrick's head with his free fist in an effort to force the gijinka to let go.

Kendrick quickly rolled over, dragging Victor with him and using the force of gravity to slam Victor against the ground. Victor's right arm, now below him, was crushed at an awkward angle. Kendrick drew his legs up into a ball and lashed out with both feet flat against Victor's chest, separating the two. They both clambered to their feet and glared at each other, panting.

"You sure you want to keep going?" Kendrick asked dully. All the fight seemed to have gone out of him.

Victor breathed loudly, trying to recover air after Kendrick had squeezed his chest. "It takes more than a taser who needs a haircut to stop me," he sneered.

Kendrick didn't react to the jibe other than to ask in a quiet, flat voice, "A taser? I haven't even used my power against you yet." He sighed deeply. "Why are you even fighting, anyway? Is all this really worth it?" He lowered his voice further and gestured up at the windows. "Are they worth it? Hell, you don't even know what they're like. You're about to throw your life away. The world is a broken place, Victor. Experiments aren't going to fix that. Tearing Pokemon and kids away from their homes, their families, their lives so that some freak in a lab coat can play Arceus isn't going to fix that. Look at me!" Pain crept into his voice along with the bitterness. "I had a mother once. Now I'm stuck here, day in and day out, for Specter to do as he pleases with, and if I try to leave they'll kill me." He sighed again. "I made my choice. Now it's too late. Just get out, if you can. Forget you ever came here. Go back."

Victor wasn't sure what to make of all this. Was this guy actually depressed, or was it some kind of ruse? "I don't have a mother or a home to go back to," Victor said neutrally. "All I've got is a sign, and a whole universe of secrets. I'll leave the playing Arceus to someone else; my goal is to find out what makes him tick." It didn't seem as though Kendrick was willing to do anything else, so Victor took it upon himself to make the next move. He lowered his head and charged at the gijinka.

Kendrick snarled wordlessly and extended his hands. Twin lightning bolts shot into Victor, coursing through his body. He'd felt weak electric shocks from wild Pokemon before, but this was more intense. A burning sensation enveloped him as all his muscles twitched uncontrollably. Victor's assault fizzled out, and he found himself on his hands and knees, head bowed, a few feet from Kendrick.

"A bit less restrained than a taser, eh?" Kendrick smiled tiredly. "I get the feeling you're a smart guy, Victor," he said. "Give it up already."

Victor gritted his teeth and raised his head. The gloom and doom stuff was starting to get to him. Now that the stars were clearing from his vision, he could see how close he was to Kendrick. With a yell, he lunged forward and launched an open-palm thrust at Kendrick's knee. The gijinka's leg was loose since he wasn't expecting any further attack, and Victor's move snapped the joint backward into a locked position. Victor heard something pop.

"Son of a *****!" yelled Kendrick as he jumped backward. His left leg almost gave out, and he groaned in pain before shifting his weight to his right side. "That's it!" he roared with rage almost literally sparking from his eyes. Victor had fallen back to his knees. The brief adrenaline spike that let him attack Kendrick was now gone, and his muscles were still weak from the earlier electric attack. Like before, Kendrick created a blue sphere of electricity on each of his palms. He hobbled forward as quickly as he could and clashed both hands forcibly against Victor's temples, assaulting him with both the force of the blows and the electricity arcing through his skull. In the split second before blackness engulfed him, Victor felt like his head was about to explode.
This story is based on a roleplay I was once part of on these forums. None of the characters except Victor are my own creation.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Victor Hassam
Part 2
When he regained consciousness, Victor's whole body felt tingly and numb. He wiggled all his digits, then his limbs. Everything felt a bit twitchy and sore, but that was probably to be expected. Last, Victor forced his eyelids up. He was met by, big surprise, a fluorescent light. Groaning in annoyance, Victor laboriously propped himself up on an elbow and looked around. He was lying in a hospital bed in what looked like a medical wing. Kendrick was snoozing away a few beds down. Other than that, there was no one in sight. Victor carefully swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"I wouldn't try that unassisted if I were you," cautioned a familiar oily voice. Victor looked up to see Specter enter the room. The creature shouted back over his shoulder, "Aegle! Get in here!" He turned back to Victor and said, "I'm impressed with how you handled Kendrick. And now look, back in the land of the living after just four hours. You have passed my test with flying colors; we shall begin the procedure as soon as you wish."

Just then a young Mega Audino gijinka hurried up to Victor's bedside. "So you are able to create gijinka fused in a permanent state with impermanent Pokémon forms..." he mused. "Fascinating."

"Indeed," smiled Specter smugly. "And we have only scratched the surface. Aegle, help him up!"

"Don't touch me, I'll do it myself," growled Victor as Aegle approached. He pushed off from his sitting position and took two tremulous steps forward. One of his legs spasmed, almost sending him to the ground, and he shot out an arm automatically for support. The gijinka girl grabbed his arm, helping Victor stay upright. He glanced at her in aggravation, and she offered an apologetic smile. Aegle walked Victor to the end of the room, where he leaned against the door frame and shook off her hands. "I'm okay now," he muttered in a slightly less hostile tone.

"Don't mention it," she said in a soft, squeaky voice.

"Thank you for your assistance, Aegle," Specter said to dismiss her. Turning to Victor he asked, "Are you ready now?"

"You bet I am," Victor replied.

"Excellent," leered Specter. "Once again I must ask you to follow me." Specter led Victor to a row of elevators. One opened as soon as Specter pressed the button, and the two people descended to another floor of the complex. They entered a large room, about the same size as the one where Victor had fought Kendrick. Inside was the same doctor who had run Victor's tests standing with a group of twenty or so Pokémon. Victor noted that each one wore an energy collar on some part of its body. "Here are the Pokemon we have available for your fusion," Specter explained. "Because I like you, I'm going to let you choose! Be careful, though. This decision will stay with you the rest of your life--quite literally."

Victor surveyed the Pokémon before him. Specter was right; this was not a matter to be taken lightly. Still, he wasn't really sure how to judge his options. He would jump at the chance for a transformation into any kind of Pokémon if it meant the opportunity to learn more about how they functioned.

The Pokémon were of a variety of types and evolutionary stages. Almost all of them were either clustered around Dr. Dulley or milling around aimlessly. It appeared that they hadn't been informed of their purpose here. One of them, however, was staring intently at Victor, standing coolly off to the side with his arms crossed. It was a Scizor.

Victor pointed at the Scizor. "I'll take that one," he asserted confidently.

Specter nodded. "I thought you might. Dr. Dulley?"

At this word from Specter, the navy-haired doctor produced a Poké Ball from within a pocket of his lab coat and strode over to the Scizor. He pressed the capsule device against the small square control unit of the energy collar around the Scizor's abdomen. The humanoid red Pokémon disappeared as per usual, but Victor noted with interest that the energy collar remained intact, wrapping itself around the Poké Ball as its host entered.

With his Pokémon subject secure, Jaspar headed for the door. "I have to prepare the experiment chamber," he explained when Victor raised an eyebrow. "Good luck, Victor."

"Good luck? What's that got to do with it?" Victor scoffed once the doctor was gone.

"Nothing at all," Specter smoothly assured him. "Jaspar wants to make sure the participants feel relaxed, or some such nonsense. I have every confidence that you will perform admirably. This way, please."

The two people exited the room containing the Pokémon and returned to the elevator, which once again appeared immediately when summoned. Victor judged based on the time of their ascent that they were now somewhere between the two floors he had already visited. Unlike the lower floor, which had been a single straight corridor with no branches, this floor was a patchwork of crossing hallways similar to the upper floor. Specter led Victor around several turns before showing him into a small vestibule.

"Through this door," Specter began, gesturing at the wall opposite the corridor, "is the fusion device. When that light turns green, walk into the room. There you will receive further instructions."

Specter left the area, closing the door behind him and leaving Victor alone with this thoughts. Two small light bulbs were fixed above the door; one was unlit, while the other was red. It reminded Victor of something he'd seen once in the cathedral at Hearthome City. "Maybe I should be praying right now," he chuckled sarcastically to himself. In a way, it would be fitting. Victor realized that he was about to take a jump almost as huge as death. Nothing would be the same. The red light winked out and the green bulb flashed to life.

Upon opening the door, Victor found himself in a small, low-ceilinged room. Almost the entire wall on his left was taken up by what he assumed to be a one-way mirror. In front of him stood another scientist whom he hadn't seen before.

"Hello, Victor," she welcomed him. "My name is Haruki, and I'll be preparing you for the transformation. What do you think of our machine?"

Victor eyed the machine with distaste. Three oblong half-cylinders were reclined in an upright position against the wall, with a variety of tubes, pipes, and wires connecting them. The center capsule was noticeably larger than the other two. Through a small glass porthole in the vicinity of the head, Victor could see that the capsule on the left, the one farthest from the door, was already occupied by the Scizor with whom he was to be fused.
"It looks like something out of a bad sci-fi movie," Victor concluded.

"You are...not incorrect," Haruki conceded irritably. She walked over to the capsule on the right and pushed a sequence of buttons. The whole front half of the capsule lifted up sideways like a gull-wing door. "Still," she continued, "this is one of the most technologically advanced pieces of equipment in existence. It took the world's top scientists, myself included, years to design it." She motioned Victor over. "Everyone responds differently to the experiment," Haruki continued. "However, it is imperative that you remain calm. Please, do step into the chamber and we will get started."

"Yeah, yeah, gotta have the disclaimers," Victor scoffed. "You don't need to encourage me." Now that he was finally here, he could barely contain his excitement. It felt as though he had never really had a choice: from the moment he heard about this project, he knew he wanted to carry through with it no matter what. Victor took a deep breath and stepped into the capsule, leaning back against the slanted wall. Haruki strapped him in and placed electrodes on his forehead, chest, hands, and feet. Victor wiggled his fingers, clenching and unclenching his fists in anticipation.

"Here we go," announced Haruki as she fingered a few more keys. She pushed down the lid of the capsule, latching it with a loud click.

Victor could make out very little in the smudgy light filtering through the yellowed viewport. Nothing happened for about twenty seconds, and then a cold white gas began hissing into the chamber from several nozzles spaced along the sides. Victor felt himself becoming irresistibly sleepy. He closed his eyes.

Victor awoke with a start. The first thing he noticed was his eyes--something was wrong with his eyes. Little lines crisscrossed his vision, overlaying a pattern of hexagons on everything he saw. What was more, some parts of his vision seemed to be zoomed in more than others inside some of the hexagons. They were focused on certain spots of the capsule--nozzles, hinges, fastenings, wires--all the places where different parts came together. It was hugely disorienting. Victor slammed his eyelids shut and then tentatively reopened them. The effect was gone. He sighed in relief and blinked a few times. He felt something move behind his eyes, and the hexagons were back. Victor writhed in the straps, trying to free his hands and rub his eyes. The thing shifted again, and they were gone. Victor struggled even more fiercely.

Suddenly he relaxed. It was as though there was another voice in his head, subconsciously telling him what to do. He took a moment to concentrate on the way his eyes felt. He systematically flexed all the muscles he could feel, and the hexagon zoom vision appeared again. This time he didn't panic. The voice moved his eyes for him, and the hexagons slid up. Only then did Victor realize that it was a second pair of eyelids.

The capsule popped open with a hiss. Blinking in the strong light, Victor could make out Specter, Jaspar, and Haruki ranged around his pod. The brown-haired female scientist quickly went about unstrapping him. When she was done, Jaspar reached out a hand and grabbed Victor's wrist to pull him upright. The man's touch felt strange, and Victor instinctively looked down at his hands. That was when he got his second major shock. He didn't have hands.

Two bulbous red pincers now occupied the spot where Victor's hands had been. The metal extended over his wrists and about halfway up his forearms. At that point it seemed to meld with his skin. Beyond there, the skin was still the same bright scarlet as the pincers, and felt rigid and slightly cool to the touch, but it flexed and rippled just like human tissue. As far as Victor could tell, this substance now covered his whole torso and down his legs almost to his knees.

"Well, Victor?" asked Specter impatiently. "How do you feel?"

"Not much. Steel isn't known for its abundance of nerve endings," Victor drawled sarcastically in response, shaking his new claws at Specter. Victor attempted to ruffle his hair to see how much his claws could actually feel, and found to his surprise that his hair now stuck up straight, and would not give way easily to pressure. "Anybody got a mirror?" he snapped.

Previous fusions seemed to have prepared the scientists for this request. Jaspar picked up a tall, black panel leaning against the wall and stood it up in front of Victor. He reached around and lifted up on the edges, revealing the panel to be a full-length, three-sided folding mirror. Standing in front of it, Victor could now see himself from almost every angle. It was a lot to process.

His hair momentarily forgotten, Victor's eyes immediately leaped to the most salient part of his transformation, one he couldn't believe he hadn't felt before. Projecting from his shoulder blades and his collarbone were four insectoid wings, a large upper pair and a smaller lower pair. "I... have wings," Victor breathed in shock. As if being recognized had brought them to life, the wings started buzzing of their own accord. Victor hadn't moved a muscle since seeing them, and he found that try as he might, he couldn't control them. The voice which had fixed his eyes pricked at Victor's mind again, probing out farther than before. The wings vibrated more fiercely, and the zoom vision returned unbidden. "Hey, maybe that's what Technician is like..." was Victor's last coherent thought.

Who are you! What's going on! What have you done with my body? Stop that, what do you mean? Why are you here? You've got to stop, now! Tell me what you've done! I can't control it, let go! You don't know what you're doing! So help me then! Get me out of here! You can't leave! It...it actually worked? So you know what happened? It's what I was chosen for. That makes things easier. So what happens now? You have to let go! Why don't you let go? I...it's my body! If we merged, then I could say the same. So could I! We can't keep doing this, do you see it? I can't see, you have that part! But you're still controlling it somehow! I don't know what to do! Neither do I! How do I let go? Nothing is working! You'd think there would have been more research into the psychological effects of this. Do that again! What? You let go! How... what are you talking about? We need to work together! That's what got us into this mess. Stop trying so hard! Look out! No! I can't do anything! There's too much! Scizor! Yes, human! ...I have a name, you know. There it is again! Me having a name? Stop fighting! I don't think I can! Everything is so different, I don't know what to do! Wait, how is it different? Being human! But aren't you still you? I don't know! I'm still me! ...That's true, and I can still think, so I am me as well. There it is! We're separate. We're still in one body though! We're fighting for control. It can't handle two consciousnesses. I don't know what to do! You said it before, what did you mean? You weren't fighting. I don't know how to stop! If I let go, you'll take over! Would that be such a bad thing at this point? I can't go away! I know that! We each control something! That could work. What are you talking about! Stop controlling, just... don't move! That's what I meant, you did it before! It won't let me stop! What's your name? ...Huh? Tell me your name! Victor. Focus on that, you have to keep yourself going! I am Victor! You see, it worked, you're not struggling! I can't feel anything! If no one is in control, we die. Let me in! Stop fighting me! I can't help it! This isn't going to work! Who are you? What? Do you have a name? Of course! What is it? ...My name is Hassam. Good! I see. Just hold it like that! We're not struggling. Exactly, we have to think about ourselves. As long as we do this, though, we can't do anything. Do you want to try moving again? We'll have to eventually if we don't want to spend the rest of our mental lives arguing while this body becomes terminally comatose. So that's a yes? It is, but we have to be very careful about this. How about I control the human while you control the Scizor? That could work, but remember to keep it separate. Are you ready? Here goes. Okay, I've got the head and legs. I've got the arms, torso, and wings. This might work. You're slipping! What are you doing? You're breaking through! Shut it down! What's going on? I can't stop it! You're controlling again! It's getting worse! This isn't working! Think about yourself again, now! Victor! Hassam? I'm going to try something. What do you mean? Our two bodies became one, and I think we need to do the same with our minds. Hassam, what's happening? Victor, forgive me if this does not work.

As soon as Victor looked in the mirror and realized that he had wings, something went wrong. He went impossibly rigid save for the still-buzzing wings. Then his whole body began to jerk and thrash about, like invisible strings were pulling him every which way at once. He somehow managed to remain on his feet, but he stumbled around drunkenly, crashing into things and seemingly not able to see where he was going. The strangest part, however, were the voices. Victor appeared to be holding a schizophrenic conversation with himself. The voice coming from his mouth alternated between his normal one and a staccato rasp. Victor's half of the conversation sounded like regular English, but the other half sounded like he was trying to imitate the cry of a Scizor. Jaspar, and Haruki looked on with horrified fascination while Specter grinned maniacally.

Victor had staggered over to a position near the entrance, facing away from the three scientists, when his whole body stiffened once more. He took a very hesitant step forward, and it looked like he had regained some semblance of control. Then he began to lose his balance, and his wings and arms thrashed to life again. The wings buzzed so frantically that Victor lifted away from the ground a tiny bit. With his shoes still dragging on the metal floor, he hovered in random directions like a broken helicopter, careening painfully off the walls. His claws and wings began to glow like attacks; this caused him to move faster, and a strong wind kicked up in the enclosed area. Now when Victor hit a wall, he took pieces of the wall out with him. Haruki dove aside as Victor zipped past and collided with one of the fusion capsules.

"Somebody sedate him!" Specter roared furiously. Like with the mirror, this eventuality had apparently occurred in the past as well. Jaspar pulled out a derringer-like weapon and slipped a hypodermic dart into the muzzle. He leveled it at Victor's back and pulled the trigger.

The way it felt to Victor was like Hassam's consciousness had full-body tackled his own. He went from instinctively struggling to move his arms to being completely enveloped by the other person's mind. Strangely, he found that that made it easier to relax his own mind. Countless memories of things Victor didn't remember surged into him, and in return his own memories were displaced into Hassam. With a jolt Victor realized that he could feel his whole body again, and everything responded to his subconscious command. He could feel Hassam right alongside him, the Scizor moving and thinking in perfect unison. All their thoughts, memories, instincts, actions, and characters were irrevocably merged. They knew everything about each other, and it felt right. Victor focused his eyes and saw that he had ended with his nose in a corner and his back to everyone else. He stilled his wings and sank down onto his feet.

Victor heard the click of a weapon, and Hassam's instincts which were now his own took over. In a fluid, perfectly controlled single motion he bent his knees to present a smaller target and pivoted to his left, throwing out his right claw at eye level in a blindingly fast Bullet Punch. The hypodermic dart shattered against Victor's claw; the liquid tranquilizer splashed out onto the floor.

The scientists remained frozen in place, staring in shock. Victor held his fighting stance, pincer outstretched and wings at the ready.

"Oh hell yes," he chuckled as a wicked grin slowly spread across his face. "I think we figured it out."
 
Last edited:

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Ticket
Westley Easterwood was not sure he could ever forgive his parents for making so light of the naming of their only child. The name stared up at him from the printed ocean liner ticket he carried clenched in one fist. To make matters worse, he and his parents lived in Southampton. Thank goodness his middle name had nothing to do with the one remaining cardinal direction.

He immediately berated himself for such thoughts and dashed a threatening tear from his eye. Of course he would forgive his mother and his father; it might be the last thing he ever got to do for them. Westley stalked through the streets of Southampton toward the docks, going as fast as he could without running. The ship would be leaving at any moment. As the early morning drizzle misted down against his hat, Westley recalled the telegram that had rocked his world.

Accident riding horses. Mother badly injured. Doctors unsure of survival. Myself bedridden. Please come. Father.

Westley shuddered to think of his parents' situation: laid up in some American hospital, an ocean away from their native England and their son, his father helpless in bed while his mother struggled for life under the ministrations of foreign doctors. All they had wanted was a special vacation to celebrate their fiftieth birthdays, and by gum they had earned one. His mother especially had always wanted to see America, and the little family bookstore wasn't lucrative enough to make trips across the Atlantic a regular occurrence.

Their fiftieth birthdays... that was twice Westley's whole lifetime. The young bookseller was twenty-five, not so young anymore really, and already a few years past the age when his own parents had married. Still, he hoped to follow in their footsteps shortly. Never breaking his hurried stride, Westley slipped the ticket into a pocket of his overcoat and reached inside said overcoat to withdraw a dainty jewelry box. He never let it leave his person for fear of missing a golden opportunity. The ring had cost him many months' savings, but it would all be well worth it for the only woman he had ever loved. Her name ran through his mind like music: Lucy Boysenn.

Westley was confident of Lucy's equal love for him, but he wasn't so naive as to pretend it would all be easy. Lucy's father, a cantankerous military officer retired from the British Army, did not approve of a suitor from such a social class as Westley's. He had been dropping hints for months that if Lucy did not decide for herself, he would be the one to choose a husband for her. Westley knew he would have to make his move soon.

A sudden, terrible thought brought the young man almost to a halt. Suppose the old Brigadier General Boysenn made his decision in Westley's absence? The ocean liner was a two-week round trip, at least, and who knew how long he might have to remain in the United States to care for his parents? With the contending suitor not present, Lucy would be powerless to resist or alter her father's decision. Westley pulled out the ticket again in one hand and compared it with the ring he was still holding in the other. He continued moving toward the docks, albeit at a much slower rate.

Turning the final corner, Westley was greeted by a ray of sunshine illuminating his destination. The ship loomed before him, even more massive in reality than he had heard it described. Its name was proudly displayed in large gold-leaf letters; each one must have been twice as tall as Westley was. He stared for a moment in awe before snapping back to reality. The gangway was nearly deserted; Westley elbowed his way frantically through the crowds of families and friends who had come to see passengers off.

The shore end of the gangway was guarded by a single attendant, a grizzled old man. He stared coolly at Westley, waiting to see what the other person wanted.

Westley rushed up to the man, who reached out to take the ticket. However, before he could do so, Westley suddenly withdrew it. Being confronted with someone in the livery of a crewman made him realize the enormity of what he was about to do.

"What?" growled the attendant. "Do you not wish to board my ship after all? A choice must be made, for soon we leave."

"Give me a moment, sir," Westley pleaded. One curt nod later, he found himself gazing down at the ticket side by side with the ring. He'd never even been outside England, and here he was about to go sailing off to America, abandoning the family business and probably throwing away his chance at love to do it. But then again, those were his parents. He couldn't bear to leave them alone. On the other hand, this was Lucy. No one else had ever made him feel anything like what she did. Westley sighed. He knew all three would be understanding regardless, and each would counsel him to go after the other. How could he decide?

"Laddie." A cough from the crewman made Westley look back up. The old man had followed his gaze downward and seen the two objects, and his features softened ever so slightly. "I don't know what cause you may have for sailing away from here, but if you have already the kind of love for a ring as beautiful as that, don't leave her. You won't find aught better out there. I am old now, I've spent my seasons, and I beg you, learn from my mistakes."

The tears came as thick and fast as the memories, but Westley nodded and smiled through them, recognizing the wisdom in those words. "Thank you, sir." Westley returned the ring to his pocket. Taking a deep, trembling breath, he ripped the ticket in two down the middle, tossing the pieces into the salty Southampton tide.

"Luck be with you, laddie," said the crewman as he returned Westley's smile. Without another word he pulled a chain across the gangway and walked up into the ship.

Westley stood on the docks watching the ocean liner until it disappeared from view. Not until the crowd had dispersed and he was completely alone did he tear himself away. That night he would take Lucy out to dinner, and there he would propose to her. He could send a telegram to America the next morning.

- - - - - -

Early sunlight glinted off Westley's new engagement ring as he sat down to breakfast five days later and opened the morning paper. So far that morning had been like any other, but things changed when he saw the front page. Random words in lurid bold font jumped out at him, not enough for him to understand what happened, but enough to know that it was something terrible. Instead, his eyes were drawn to the picture splashed across most of the paper. It was a massive ocean liner, just pulling away from the docks. As he looked closer Westley realized it was his ship, the one that should have taken him to America. He recognized the name of the ship spelled out in huge gold-leaf letters. Ten simple letters: RMS Titanic.
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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A Drinking Problem
I look around slowly, taking in the four people seated at the table with me. Carrigan. Harry. Madeline. Tom. I've known these faces for years. These people have been some of my best friends throughout all of high school, and now, here they are. Trying to kill me. Typical.

I stare down at the cup they've placed in front of me. I pick it up, swill it around, examine its contents in the light. In short, I stall. Their eyes narrow at me.

"Look, just drink it already!" Tom growls. It's a pretty intimidating growl; he's got the deepest voice out of the five of us.

"We're not trying to hurt you, man," Harry chips in. "This is for your own good." I laugh. It's sarcastic, like all my laughs.

"You'll never be able to survive college if you can't handle this," Madeline teases me.

"Are you joking?" I shout with a panicked edge to my voice. "The thing I won't be surviving is this!"

Harry raises an eyebrow. "You realize ordinary people do this every day, right? Most people love drinking coffee."

I recoil visibly; the very word burns my ears. "I am not ordinary! I am not most people!" I scream. Other cultists hunched over their cups in the Starbucks are beginning to stare, but I'm past the point of caring. "I've never drank coffee before in my life, and you will not make me start now! It'll kill me!"

"It's just coffee," Carrigan laughs. "Be reasonable!"

Ooh. Got me. I do pride myself on my reason. Therefore, I hurry to think of a reasonable excuse. "It's, uh, got caffeine in it! It'll stunt my growth! It's poison."

"One, that's not true at all," Carrigan grins back. "For another, you're 5'11"! You're already the tallest person in this group."

Tom picks up his cup, stares at me over the rim, and takes a long, slow drink. He puts the cup down and sighs in satisfaction, still giving me a level stare. Disgusting.

"It's really not that bad," Madeline tells me. She leans over and dumps two more sugars into my cup. "Just try it already. Come on."

Harry takes a sip of his and winks at me. "Bottoms up!"

I switch tactics. "You guys... please... don't do this to me. I'm begging you." I even bit the inside of my cheek so I start tearing up a little.

"Drink." Tom says into the silence.

"Uh, sure thing, what do you want me to drink? I can go up to the counter and get some wat--"

"The." He interrupts my ploy. I roll my eyes.

"Oh, yeah, I see where this is going. You're going to tell me to drink the--"

"Coffee."

'--coffee, in that long, drawn out, no-nonsense tone. I see how it is."

Carrigan looks at her watch. "You realize we've been sitting here for three and a half hours?"

"Hahaha, precisely!" I shout. "This coffee has long since gone cold. You wouldn't want to initiate me with cold coffee, would you? You wouldn't do that to me."

Harry rolls his eyes, grabs my cup, and walks up to the barista. One minute in a microwave later, the coffee is back in front of me.

I sigh. "You're serious, aren't you."

"Just try it. Please?" Madeline asks in her sweetest voice. "I promise you won't regret it."

I weigh her words. Then I close my eyes, inhale, count to twenty, and exhale. "As you wish, my friends," I whisper in a voice laden with hurt. "But don't say I didn't warn you."

I raise the freshly-steaming cup of coffee to my lips and take a tiny swallow. My body stiffens. Staring straight ahead, I gently replace the cup on the table. And all hell breaks loose. I retch, sneeze, cough, gasp for air, twitch, shake convulsively, hack, spasm, knock my chair over backwards, drop to the floor, roll around, and bang my head on the table.

It takes a number of minutes for the fit to pass. When I am sufficiently recovered to move, I grasp the edge of the table and pull myself up, resting my chin on the edge. I glare at Madeline with a mix of sorrow and righteous anger. "You have lied to me," I accuse in a soft, hoarse voice. "I do regret it."

Harry reaches over. He takes a sip of my coffee and shudders. "No wonder. This is disgusting. It's like burnt and stale at the same time."

Carrigan pulls a face. "I didn't think mine was that great either. Guess we're not coming back to this Starbucks." They all get up and start pushing their chairs in. I stare at them in disbelief.

"You have got to be kidding me."
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Team Vibrant
Gumshoos Guild
Professional Mystery Dungeon Exploration
Team Vibrant -- Expedition Log


We were all so excited when Squishy came for a visit. He's come regularly, if not frequently, for as long as any of us can remember, but lately he's been visiting from Kalos more and more often. You don't see any of us complaining! Squishy's always been just a little on the strange side. No one seems to know quite how old he is. He's a ton of fun, and he always comes along on our expeditions, but Gumshoos and Mudsdale and Vikavolt have a lot more respect for him than for any of us kids. One time when Litten was prowling around she heard Mudsdale call him "Z-3." What's that supposed to mean, I wonder?

Squishy showed up just in time yesterday for our expedition to Melemele Island. See, that's another thing none of us, at least outside of the guild leaders, know: how exactly does he get here? As far as we know, nobody's ever seen Squishy come or go. Popplio saw him first; she was outside relaxing on the beach when up popped a little green figure, complete with yellow hexagon. That's pretty much the way it always is. Squishy went inside to talk with the leaders for about twenty minutes. He came back out just as the four of us were climbing on Wishiwashi for the ride to Melemele and asked to join us. We were hoping he would!

As per usual, the goal of Team Vibrant and the Gumshoos Guild on this expedition is to search for Legendary Artifacts! The base of Melemele Island has been pretty well explored, so we decided this time we'd look at higher elevations. The first dungeon went great; there seemed to be fewer wild Pokemon than usual. We gave Squishy one of our team badges so he can take part in the exploration, but he doesn't usually fight.

We approached the mountain from the forest side and picked up a lot of orans and apples. We intended to have a real go of this one, so supplies were mandatory! The dungeon had a Deposit Box at the end of it, so even though it wasn't too late we made camp for the night. Litten got a nice little campfire going, and Squishy helped me practice my Leafage attack. It was my turn to write the day's Expedition Log, so here I am, but the fire's getting a bit too low to write by. With less light, though, I can see how bright the stars are right now. I think I'll call it a night; Rowlet out.


We woke up nice and early this morning. There was still a long way to go if we were going to hit the very top of the mountain. Going through the forest yesterday was great for a Fire-type, but from here on out things are going to get rocky... Arceus, that was an awful pun. Rowlet must be rubbing off on me.

If yesterday was a surprisingly easy day, today acted as though it was out to get us. The air was still and humid, with not a single cloud in the sky, and the sun never let up for a moment. I didn't mind, and neither did Rowlet because he never gets down about anything, but I could tell Popplio and Togedemaru didn't like it one bit. Even Squishy, who also never seems to be affected by anything, was moving slower and saying less than usual. The first dungeon we went through didn't have much of anything, but it went on forever. We might have to ration our apples if this keeps up.

We finally exited the dungeon a little after noon. The treeline was now behind us. As we stumbled around the outcropping of the mountain we were on, looking for a way to continue, a wind sprang up from the north. The humidity disappeared, but the wind didn't do a bit to cool things down. Rolling up the face of the mountain from the ocean far below, the salt in the air stung our eyes.

At first the air current was no more than a breeze, but it quickly increased in intensity. Togedemaru and Rowlet almost got blown away. I jumped on Rowlet and Popplio got Togedemaru; we hustled them behind a slab of rock jutting out from the main face. I guess we both expected Squishy to follow. He's usually tough as can be, but lo and behold, when we all turned around he was staggering around out in the open like he didn't know where he was. Popplio bounced back out in a flash and nudged him toward our refuge with her nose.

We must've sat there for an hour hoping for a change, but nothing happened. If anything, the wind became even stronger, enough to start whipping around dust along with the salt. It was clear we weren't getting out that way for a while. Squishy seemed to be doing better after his strange bout of disorientation. We ought to keep a close eye on him nonetheless.

The rock we had initially sheltered behind was actually just an outlying part of one of the sides of a narrow fissure running into the mountain. Because the opening faced east, no sunlight got into the fissure in the afternoon, and it began to look increasingly ominous as the day wore on. Still, that didn't stop Togedemaru from poking around inside once he got bored enough. After about ten minutes of not being able to see him we heard him yell that it was a dungeon. We were all kind of worn out despite not having moved most of the afternoon, especially Squishy, but we couldn't just ignore Togedemaru. Thus, it was back to exploration mode for us.

Unlike our expedition up to that point, this dungeon was inside the mountain itself, a series of caves winding upward. Savage Pokémon were everywhere, and of a variety of types, so we all had to work hard to deal with them all. Thank Arceus we found a Kecleon shop about a dozen floors in. Something about today has made everyone strangely exhausted; I've barely been able to stay awake long enough to update the log. Litten out.


We couldn't tell what time it was when we got up, as we were inside a mountain and all, but it felt about right to be sunrise. The Kecleon whom we spent the night with was so happy to actually have a team come through his shop that he gave us some Elixirs at a reduced rate. I hope we can find a way to repay his kindness later.

Team Vibrant is used to all sorts of harsh conditions; it's an occupational hazard of being a professional Mystery Dungeon exploration team. This expedition was somehow different, though; we felt more tired inside than out. It's a sign of just how frazzled we were that as we packed up and began to troop into the next passage, we completely forgot about Squishy. If that wonderful Kecleon hadn't come through for us again, who knows what might've happened. Litten was in the back of the line, trying to stay as far away from the Rock-types we were sure to meet as possible, so she was the one who heard Kecleon yelling for us to wait. We all turned around and ran back into the shop. Squishy was still asleep, curled up in a corner right where he had laid down the night before. Togedemaru went to prod him awake, but then in a worried voice asked the rest of us to come closer.

Squishy was fidgeting in his sleep and murmuring something unintelligible. I bumped him gently with my nose; he felt really hot. Rowlet jumped up in the air and started fanning Squishy with his wings. The little green guy woke up for a moment, but he didn't recognize any of us, and went right back to sleep. He was definitely sick, and out in the middle of a dungeon there was nothing we could do to help him.

In the end, we realized that the best way to help Squishy was to just get through this dungeon as quickly as possible. Then we could look at getting back to headquarters. Litten crouched down, and I scooped Squishy up onto her back. Rowlet also pointed out that it would be best if we took back the team badge we had given Squishy. As long as he still had it, we would need his help to be able to use link attacks, and he was in no condition to fight. Saying our goodbyes to Kecleon, we set off for real this time back into the dungeon.

The mountain was apparently much larger than anyone had at first believed. We fought our way through forty more agonizing floors before finally emerging back into the real world. We were now on the southern face, and the jungle once more surrounded us. Unlike the opposite side, the trees on this face of the mountain were sheltered from the prevailing northern weather patterns, allowing them to grow to much higher altitudes. Off to the west the sun had already begun to sink. We'd woken up much later this morning than it had felt like. We made camp between two outstretched roots of an overhanging tree.

Squishy had deteriorated during the course of the day. He was now cold to the touch, and shaking badly. We placed him close to the fire Litten made, and I tried to get him to drink a little water. Rowlet flew a little way into the jungle, looking for some plant that might help, but he didn't find anything.

No one really felt like talking that night, so for a while we just sat silently around the fire. Eventually, though, Togedemaru spoke up, asking us if we knew the legend about Melemele Island. When the rest of us shook our heads, he began to tell us a story about the legendary guardian of this island, a benevolent deity said to reside at the top of the mountain. He thought that if we could find this Pokémon, he might be able to help Squishy. With our supplies dwindling, it seemed as good an idea as any. That night, the goal of Team Vibrant was revised: we would now attempt to find this guardian and ask it to heal our friend Squishy.

After this conversation, Rowlet and Litten soon went to sleep. Togedemaru wandered out to the open space between our tree and the dungeon we had exited while I started writing today's log. He's still over there, frowning up at the sky with his tail twitching. Whenever he does that, it usually means there's a thunderstorm coming. Just one more thing to look forward to. Popplio out.


We were all woken up just before sunrise by a scream from Popplio. During the night, something insane had happened to the jungle; it was like all the plants suddenly mutated and grew uncontrollably. Everywhere we looked we could see nothing but roots, vines, and leaves. Poor Popplio was almost completely surrounded by the roots from the tree we had slept under; they had grown all around her in the shape of a twisted cage. Being a Water-type, I supposed it’s no wonder how freaked out she got. It took about three minutes for Litten and Rowlet to burn and cut her out.

At least Popplio made her location known to us; we had a devil of a time finding Squishy. After about fifteen minutes of rustling through the growth, I finally found him under a clump of leaves. He must’ve rolled around in his sleep or something, because he wasn’t very close to where we camped. There was no change in his illness. We would have to find that legendary Pokémon soon.

The trees were now so thick that Rowlet couldn’t even fly, and there was no question of Squishy riding on Litten. It was all Rowlet could do to walk, so it fell to Popplio and me to unceremoniously drag Squishy along. The sun was invisible behind the canopy overhead, so we simply followed the mountain upward. This was no dungeon, just a plain old-fashioned hike.

The air was sticky and relentlessly hot, just like two days ago on the north face. I felt like I was starting to melt. After struggling through the jungle for many hours, we burst out of the trees right about noon. A huge bank of dark clouds was marching down from the north, with cloud-to-cloud lightning flickering periodically. This high up on the mountain, the storm seemed almost close enough to touch. My tail stood up straighter, and my cheeks crackled involuntarily. Contrary to the rest of the team, I’m quite fond of thunderstorms.

While I was looking at the storm, the others had gone over to a small shelf facing south, and I went to see what they were looking at. The view was amazing. All of Alola lay at our feet, with the blue ocean stretching out to all horizons. We each ate half an apple, the last of our supplies, then turned to go. Litten picked up Squishy, and a dungeon opened before us between two boulders.

The floors of this dungeon were relatively small, probably winding upward inside the cone of the mountain. Few wild Pokémon troubled us, but those that did were very strong. We unleashed a link attack on the eighth floor, and for two more floors after that we had an easier time. Only ten floors in we found a Deposit Box.

Each of us felt that this would be the last stage of our quest. Even though this day is far from over, I decided it would be a good time to update the log. Whatever comes next can be part of our report. Togedemaru out.


~~~~~~

As the five Pokémon entered the next passage of the mystery dungeon, a faint tremor rumbled through the walls. They all stopped dead in their tracks as the tremor was repeated, much more forcefully. “Is that what I think it is?” asked Togedemaru apprehensively.

“It’s an earthquake, guys! Run!” cried Litten. “We’ve got to get out of the cave!” Making sure to keep Squishy on her back, she bounded ahead. Rowlet lofted into the air, and the other two Pokemon waddled along as fast as they could. Up ahead the tunnel bent sharply to the right. Puffs of dust floated from the ceiling, and small pieces of rock began to pelt down.

Rowlet reached the bend in the tunnel first and called back, “I can see the end! Hurry!” Up a short incline, the mystery dungeon came to an end at a low, bright arch.

Running out into the open, the explorers had suddenly left the earthquake behind them. They had emerged onto the western side of a flat, square area at the mountain’s peak. The similarly flat and square gray stones which paved the area had tufts of grass sprouting up between them at every groove. A ring of rough brown rock all around, the last shoulders of the mountain, completed the image of an ancient arena. In the very center, perhaps fifty feet from the explorers, stood an unassuming figurine carved from wood. The leading edge of the storm, having drawn directly overhead, suddenly bit into the disk of the sun, casting a dismal shadow over the whole scene. Everything was absolutely still.

Squishy suddenly slid off Litten’s back and stood up. The sickness was still evident in his eyes. “Where am I?” he muttered listlessly.

“Kokokokokokokooooooo!”

A raucous cry shattered the gloomy tableau. All eyes flashed to the figurine. Squishy, temporarily forgotten, toppled over onto the stones. Squinting, Popplio began, “Hey, does that remind anybody else of—?”

“—the Strange Souvenir!” Litten interjected. Rowlet flapped down to the ground as the figurine began glowing. With another loud screech, a shape burst into the air from the Strange Souvenir. Lightning crackled all around the arena, and an odd yet beautiful Pokemon descended before the explorers.

"Hello there," cackled the Pokemon in a bright, shrill voice. Not unkindly it asked, "Who are you?"

Rowlet stepped forward. "We're Team Vibrant, of the Gumshoos Guild!" he announced proudly. In a humbler voice he continued, "Our friend here is really sick, and we were hoping, maybe, you could cure him?"

"So one of you at least has heard the legends?" chuckled the Pokemon. "Do not worry! Tapu Koko will see what he can do! Now where is this friend of yours?"

The members of the exploration team drew back, allowing the legendary Pokemon, Tapu Koko, to look at Squishy. Upon seeing him, Tapu Koko gasped.

"This is your friend?" he screeched. "Well, that explains a few things..." He trailed off, clucking unintelligibly to himself and bouncing around even more hyperactively than usual. After a few moments of this he turned back to the expectant guild members. "I can't help Z-3 right here, but I do know what to do. There's not a second to waste!" he squawked.

The explorers were all a bit shocked to hear Tapu Koko call their friend that, but it was Togedemaru who asked the question on their minds. "Excuse me, Tapu Koko," he began timidly, "but what does 'Z-3' mean? You see, you're not the first one we've heard use that name for Squishy."

"Squishy?" blinked Tapu Koko. "Is that what you call your friend?" The guild members nodded. "You don't know what he really is?" The guild members shook their heads. "In that case," clucked Tapu Koko, "it's not my place to tell you, but I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. Now, if you want Z-3 to get help, I have to go right away!"

Tapu Koko darted forward and picked up Squishy, then shot away through the sky in the midst of a streak of lightning. At the explorers stood watching, each thought he heard an impossibly faint voice cry "Thank you" from somewhere above him.

It might have been a second or a day before the explorers roused themselves. "Well, we found Tapu Koko. What now?" wondered Togedemaru.

Litten sighed. "I guess now we have to find a way to get back to headquarters from here."

"Hey, guys, look at the Strange Souvenir!" cried Popplio. The mysterious figurine from which Tapu Koko had emerged was now hovering in the air and glowing gold.

"Haha, that's it!" shouted Rowlet. "The goal of Team Vibrant on this expedition is once again to search for Legendary Artifacts! Let's claim this one and get out of here!"

The four members of Team Vibrant clustered around the artifact and simultaneously pressed their team badges against it. In a swirl of light they were transported out of the dungeon and back to the base of the mountain. They didn't have to wait long before Wishiwashi appeared to carry them home.

~~~~~~

"Mr. Gumshoos! Mr. Gumshoos! Something's coming!"

"Yes, Vikavolt, I can feel it. Go get Mudsdale and tell her to meet us at the top of the hill."

"Yes sir, right away sir!"

The three leaders of the Gumshoos Guild hurriedly made their way to the crown of the hill housing the guild. Far above, the sky was rapidly darkening under the shadow of an approaching storm. "Any minute now," said Gumshoos.

"Kokokoooo!" Lightning cracked tremendously overhead, and Tapu Koko hurtled down to the hill. "Hello hello hello, let's get right to the point," he squawked. Floating down until his orange leg tufts just barely skimmed the ground, he gently deposited Squishy onto the grass.

"Z-3!" cried Vikavolt.

"What did you do to him?" accused Mudsdale.

"Hold your peace, both of you," ordered Gumshoos. "Our ally Tapu Koko isn't responsible for this." Looking down at Squishy, Gumshoos said softly to himself, "The weather in chaos, and Z-3 startlingly ill... but which is the cause, and which the effect?" Turning to Tapu Koko, Gumshoos asked, "Is there anything you can do to heal him?"

"I can certainly try!" affirmed the legendary guardian. He spent several minutes hovering over Squishy, concentrating a Safeguard at the sick Pokemon.

"Aah... What's going on?" asked Squishy as he slowly opened his eyes. The first person he saw was Tapu Koko. "It's you," he murmured. "Thank you for helping me. The cells are all gone... there is war in Kalos." It was only then that Squishy noticed Gumshoos, Vikavolt, and Mudsdale. "And you are all here as well," he nodded to himself. "Give your guildmates my apologies for burdening them on their expedition. I must return immediately. Is my friend still here?"

"You betcha, boss!" buzzed Vikavolt. "I'll go get her right away." He zipped off into the jungle. In the distance, a huge winged shape punched through the canopy and sped towards the hill. The shape resolved itself into a Noivern, who alighted on the hill next to Tapu Koko. Vikavolt, not able to keep up, flew in a few seconds after her.

"Hello, Noivern," Squishy said weakly. "I know we only recently arrived here, but I am afraid it is time for us to return to Kalos once again. Are you ready?"

Noivern's eyes hardened. "You know I'm always ready, Z-3. I'll get you back to Z-1 and Z-2 in a flash. Then we can end this once and for all." Vikavolt delicately picked up Squishy and nestled him in the white fur on Noivern's neck. Without another word she leaped into the sky and rushed away eastward.

"This conflict in Kalos is a bad business," Tapu Koko clucked solemnly as he stared at the spot where Noivern had disappeared. "It's even spreading to Alola now, and I've got a feeling it's far from over."
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Final Battle
I uncrossed my legs and rose quietly from the scuffed leather couch in the lounge. A half smile quirked at the corners of my lips, and I cracked my knuckles as I walked into the main room of the arcade. The clock on the wall read a quarter past ten. Though the arcade was open till midnight, it could usually be counted on to clear out at a reasonable hour. The manager, a cranky old stick-in-the-mud named Albert, wouldn't tolerate any kind of questionable activity under his watch. This turned away most of the adolescents who would otherwise take advantage of such a location for unsupervised law-stretching.

As I knew it would be, the arcade was now almost empty, with only a few glassy-eyed gamers left perusing the various machines. I wanted maximum concentration, and the fewer people the better. I reached into my pocket, removed a battered tin of Altoids, and popped two in my mouth. A pregame ritual, if you will.

My target was in the very back right corner. It was probably one of the oldest arcade cabinets in the place, and as luck would have it, some gap-toothed brat saw it at the same time I did. He picked up the pace to reach the game, but I continued my patient saunter. The kid was just bending down to insert his tooth fairy money when I tapped him on the shoulder. When he looked up, I gave in to the deranged smile my face had been trying to put on. He got the message, and I stepped up to the game unopposed. I reached into my other pocket and drew out a quarter of my own. The coin clinked as it dropped through the slot. I stood up, took a deep breath, and wrapped the skeletal fingers of my right hand around the knobby red joystick. My left index finger hovered above the "Start Game" button. I had spent months slowly building up my skills, reading guides and examining code. Tonight was when I made the leap to the top of the leaderboard. My dad's old account loomed in the number one spot, mercilessly freezing out my respectable number two. I grinned again, this time genuinely. The new generation had arisen; it was my turn now. I pressed the button.

Pac-Man had always been one of my dad's favorite games, and he had passed that on to me. Still, as the first level flashed onto the screen and the opening jingle played, my smile disappeared and my gaze tightened. This was serious business. I guided the yellow character past as many dots as I could, conserving my Power Pellets. When I had left few enough that they could be easily eaten after the ghosts were gone, I lured the ghosts over to a corner, ate a pellet, and quickly snapped them up. To get the maximum score, you have to eat all four ghosts with each pellet, or sixteen enemies around. Not particularly difficult, if you knew what you were doing. The first fruit, the cherry, danced onto the screen. I made sure to have Pac-Man eat that too. I snagged the fourth and final Power Pellet, ate the ghosts, and finished off the last string of dots I had left. With that, I was on to level 2.

An hour and a half later, I had reached level 132. Only fifteen minutes remained until the arcade closed for the night, and Albert was starting to give me the evil eye. The world record time for a complete game, 255 levels, was around three and a half hours. Fortunately, I didn't need a full game. There would be plenty of time to accomplish my goal. I doubt I could finish a whole game even if I had time. Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde build up to moving wicked fast near the end. I was already down to my last life, but I had only a few levels to go.

Level 140 flashed onto the screen, the lowest level at which a sufficient number of points to beat my father's score could be attained. In his glory days he had played well into the 200s, but he hadn't been playing for points. Those are what count on the leaderboard. I jerked the knob left, down, left again, up, hard right to wrap around the board, up, left, down and around. The maze features patterns and trails which can net the most dots in the fewest passes, and I was exploiting them for all they were worth. With Blinky relentlessly pursuing and Inky aiming to block my path, I was forced to eat a Power Pellet sooner than I would have liked. Curses. Those two weren't a problem, but I was unable to reach Inky and Clyde. It was really no matter; I would simply have to play an additional level. Down, right, right some more, down, left, up, left, down, still down, right again, up. Machines are cold, unfeeling, but my resolve was as icy as my Altoid-seared palate.

I was close now. Two Power Pellets left, then a single column of eight dots in the top right corner. The level's fruit had already been taken care of. I began luring the ghosts toward the lower right corner. Pinky was a non-issue right now, meandering in the top left corner. Blinky was hot on my tail, and Clyde was over on the left side of the screen hurrying towards me. Inky was moving down along the right, but I knew it would only try to get in front of me. I could use that to dart down between them and around the loop, eating the Power Pellet. It went off without a hitch, and I got Blinky and Inky. I had forgotten to take into consideration the shortened duration of the vulnerable period in later levels, however. I jerked the joystick left, aiming for Clyde, but it was already flashing. I altered course, knowing it would chase me and attempting to lose it by wrapping around to the left side. The cheery yellow character disappeared and I flicked my eyes to the other side of the screen, preparing to jump down for the last Pellet—where I was met by the ghostly, bobbing shape of none other than Clyde. In the split-second the machinery of my brain took to process this, the two-dimensional avatars had collided, robbing me of my last life. Another mental lapse: the tricky orange fiend, believed to move randomly, often goes to the lower left corner. Instead of continuing to chase me, he had abandoned the hunt and turned his course, right to where I emerged from wrapping around. I stared in numb shock as Pac-Man swirled sadly and the hideous red words flashed. GAME OVER.

A liver-spotted hand clapped down on my shoulder. I whirled around, accidentally bashing my fingers against the front of the arcade cabinet. Albert leered wordlessly at me with coffee-stained teeth and jerked a thumb towards the door. I stumbled out into the night; the air smelled like cigarettes. My hand scrabbled desperately, almost automatically, for my Altoids. The red-and-gold tin was empty.
 

Typhlosion

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The First Pagan
When one is attempting to pass through the world unnoticed, there are few better places than Jerusalem during the period of about two months spanning Passover and Pentecost. For here there are Galileans, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Asians, Phyrgians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabians, as the good teacher Luke puts it, as well as Cyrenians such as me. My name is Simon, not Peter mind you.

I am, or perhaps was, a small farmer in the region of Cyrene, and proud to be a free man. There are many of us scattered across the length and breadth of Rome, and though we are considered poor, we are far from destitute. It is a simple, gratifying lifestyle, and one which I enjoyed.

One day, about five months ago, a notice appeared in Cyrene that we would be receiving a new Roman garrison. That was nothing new; they like to rotate out their soldiers to keep them sharp and impersonal. However, that also meant a new garrison commander, and though they all must follow a rigorous list of Roman martial codes, there's plenty of space left over for personality to take the reins. That one happened to be an incorrigible anti-Semite. No doubt his family went far back into the founding days of Rome and was quite devoted to the old Roman gods. At one time in my life I couldn’t have cared less what the garrison commander thought. I couldn’t have cared less about religion either, for that matter; I used to be a regular pagan. When that one came, though, things were different. I had a family to support, and I had married a Jew.

One of the commander’s first acts was to take a census based on religion. This was a perfectly acceptable practice, and nothing particularly new, but we could all guess where it was headed. Within a week, a string of accidents began occurring. Many Jewish families left. We stayed.

On the evening my life began the process of changing forever, I went to the marketplace to trade for some oil on the way home from working in my fields. On the way, I passed two men in Roman armor headed in the opposite direction. As I drew near to my house, I saw something lying crumpled in the middle of the road. Dread exploded in my stomach, and I started to run. It was my wife, dead, seemingly strangled.

I turned and sprinted back to the two Roman soldiers. “Did you kill her?” I roared.

They swiveled around to look at me, and one of them leered mockingly. “Well, that depends, farmer. Whom might we have killed?”

It was them. I swung my hoe, which I still had from the fields, and bashed him in the face. He fell to the ground in a heap.

The other soldier’s eyes widened. He took off running away from me in the direction he had been going, toward the town. I threw the pitcher of oil which I also still had in my hand. It caught the soldier square in the back, causing him to falter in his stride. Within a second I was on top of him, and I killed him too.

I stood there staring at the man’s dead body. The hoe slipped from my fingers and fell to the ground with a dull thump. Eyes wide and breathing heavy, I slumped to my knees in the dust of the road. I’d never killed anyone before, and now I’d done it twice. Then I remembered my wife, and I began to cry.

I don’t know how long I sat there before I gathered my thoughts. It was then that the full impact of what I’d just done hit me. I killed two Roman soldiers. I could be lawfully executed without a second thought. It wouldn’t be long until someone realized those two were missing. I didn’t think anyone had seen me, but I was convinced I would be found out somehow. Snatching up my hoe, I ran back to my house. There was nothing more to be done for my wife, but I still had two young sons to think about.

“Rufus? Alexander?” I yelled as I slammed the door open.

“Father? Is that you?” I heard a small voice call from the other room. Rufus and Alexander were huddled in a corner of the room by the bed. “Mother went outside, and we heard a lot of yelling,” Rufus explained in a frightened voice.

I had to get them out of there. My sister would treat them as if they were her own sons, I knew. “We are going to visit your aunt,” I told them. “Come along, quickly!” Alexander was the younger of the two; I carried him on my back. Rufus was able to keep pace with me on foot. By the time we arrived at my sister’s house, the boys seemed to have forgotten their fright and rushed off to play with their cousins. I quickly explained the situation to my sister. Then I left.

The only thing I could think about was getting out of Cyrene and getting as far away as possible. Some kind of alibi would be necessary. I personally am not a Jew—I don’t put too much stock in religion—but I always accompanied my wife on her religious travels. Passover would be coming in two months, so I decided to set my sights on Jerusalem. A Roman road ran directly from Cyrene to Jerusalem, and like all their roads, it was in excellent condition.

The two months I spent traveling were the darkest of my life. I moved mostly by night. Being on the main thoroughfare across Africa was hardly advisable for one in my position, but there was really no choice unless I fancied slogging over dunes all the way to Judea. The soldiers knew to look for me; I killed several more with a knife I had picked up. I can’t say I was sad about it. Small bands of armed thugs roving throughout the empire also were not uncommon; if they were headed the same way as me, I would sometimes take up with these bands for a week or two as a means of protection. This led to additional vices, like drinking and gambling. The last major fall was stealing. On the road, I had no money and no way to make any. Everything that went down my throat first had to be unscrupulously liberated from another person’s possession. Thoughts of my wife and my sons were always running through my head. Like I said, dark times. There didn’t seem to be much point to living anymore.

By vigorously questioning passersby, I ascertained that it was a week before Passover when I first sighted Jerusalem. Say what you will about the Jews, they have one nice city. When I drew near to the main gate, a huge crowd was milling around the street, waving blankets and palm branches in the air. They made way for a man riding on a donkey, followed by twelve other men on foot. I grabbed a bystander on the shoulder and demanded to know what was going on.

“This man you see before you is the Son of God! He has come to save us!” the man shouted jubilantly.

“That one?” I asked, gesturing at the rider.

“The very same!” he nodded.

“Looks pretty scruffy,” I sneered. “And if that’s so, why doesn’t he have a fine horse like a king?”

“Jesus’ strength is his humility,” the bystander asserted confidently. “He works great miracles!”

Almost numb now to the pain of an image of my wife flashing before my eyes, I snorted, “Can he bring back the dead?”

The man gave me a very funny look and solemnly replied, “Perhaps you should seek him out.” Then he turned away and went back to cheering.

The next week passed quickly. I hired myself out as a laborer and made a few denarii. On Friday morning, I was running late, so I decided to take a shortcut through the more Romanized governmental district. Unfortunately, I found my way completely blocked by another large crowd, which sounded on the verge of rioting. All I could catch was the word “crucify.” I attempted to muscle past and ended up right behind a knot of Roman soldiers. At this point the crowd began to move, and I was swept along with it. The soldiers went with the people, so I just tried to stay as low as I could. We actually passed out of the city proper and along a rough road toward a small hill. I was jostled to the edge of the crowd when we stopped moving, strung out along the road. Then it hit me: this was a public execution. Another group of soldiers was coming up the road; they would soon be right on top of me. I could tell one of them was a commander by his armor, and I knew he would definitely know about me. I turned and once more tried to muscle out of the crowd, but a stocky tradesman behind me wasn’t having it. The fuss he put up attracted the attention of a soldier. I struggled even more fiercely as he strode over.

By this point the prisoners had drawn level with me. One of them was in serious trouble. He fell over with his cross on top of him. Even the whips couldn’t prompt him to his feet. “Somebody get over here and help this man!” the commander bellowed.

“Sir!” shouted the soldier close to me. “This one here was causing a disturbance!” I felt an arm clamped around my bicep, and before I knew what was going on I was thrust out into the middle of the road.

The commander looked me up and down. “Well, what are you waiting for?” he grunted. “Grab that cross and let’s go.”

My mind was blank even as I mechanically did what he said. My only thought was that this could not be happening. The cross was very heavy, and only once I had shouldered it did the man beneath get up. To my surprise, it was the man pointed out to me as Jesus. He put his arms on the cross as well, though I was still carrying the vast majority of the weight, and we trudged on. “Quite the turnaround from last week,” I muttered as we walked. “Way to stir up the Romans, idiot.”

He gave me a long, sad look. “What do you plan to do after this, Simon?” he asked. “Kill more Romans, perhaps?”

“I was thinking slaver up in Tarsus,” I responded sarcastically. Only after I had answered did I realize something. “Hey, how did you know my…?”
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” intoned Jesus. “And Tarsus isn’t a bad place. I’m about to have a very good friend from there. But is that really what you want, Simon?”

This guy was a little strange, but he seemed genuine. Suddenly I was pouring out my whole life story. It didn’t look like any of it came as a surprise to him.

“Very well,” he nodded when I was done. “Simon, my son, thank you for helping me. Your sins are forgiven.”

When he said those words, something changed. I felt so much lighter. By this point we had reached the place of execution. Jesus deserved something, anything, as a sign of my gratitude. In a rush of inspiration I said, “Jesus, let me take your place!”

He gave a tiny smile and shook his head. “No, Simon. I must be the one to drink this cup.”

A soldier shoved me roughly back into the crowd. I watched with silent tears as Jesus, whom I had known for all of ten minutes and who had changed my life in that time, was crucified. I stayed until he died and a man named Joseph took his body away. Then I left.

Almost two months later, and there I still was. There were stories about Jesus rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, but I doubt they were much more than that. I really didn’t know what to do, but I couldn’t shake a sense of expectancy.

It was the feast of Pentecost, and incidentally, I found out, a day on which the market was closed. My route home took me past a large, two story building. Suddenly I heard this noise, like a huge storm. I could tell it was not just me; people everywhere were looking around in confusion. One man shouted and pointed, then we all saw it. Little bits of fire were rushing down from the sky and into that building. Once they all disappeared, so did the noise, and nobody moved.

A minute later, a door opened on the upper floor. Eleven men piled out onto the balcony. One stepped forward and began lecturing. He was talking about Jesus, and in my local dialect too! He spoke of the law, and the covenant, and the Messiah, and baptism. It was then that I recognized those men; they were the ones who followed Jesus into Jerusalem, though one was missing. They returned into the house, then reemerged at street level. I pressed forward, knowing that this idea of baptism was what still called me to remain in Jerusalem. One of those men, I think John is his name, was there with me when Jesus died. When he saw me, he whispered into the ear of the leader, who turned to scrutinize me.

“Hello, Simon of Cyrene,” he said. “I am he called Peter. Do you wish to be baptized?”

“Yes, I do,” I responded immediately.

“Good. Follow me!” Peter laughed. I was led to the public baths, where Peter submerged me three times with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I was the first person baptized that day. Three thousand more followed, and countless numbers are yet to come.
 

Typhlosion

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Whenever
When you laugh
When you cry
When you crash
When you fly

When you scorn
When you praise
When you blink
When you gaze

When you think
When you talk
When you run
When you walk

When you ask
When you know
When you stay
When you go

When you work
When you play
When it's night
When it's day

That is when
you are the
loveliest

Paradox
You know the other
Black and white, shadow and light
It begins again

What are memories
We bring you in from Outside
Face the lawgiver

Pull back the curtain
See yourself; there is no choice
The other knows you
 

Typhlosion

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Four
They tell me this place is beautiful, and I believe them. The wind is what strikes me first, captivating all my senses at once, wrapping me up and sweeping me away in a pristine package of exuberance. It caresses my arms and my face and my shins, tousling my hair into messy curls. First stiff, and then breezy, it dances down from the hills in cool refreshing gusts. The wind is delicious, bringing the scent of crisp clear streams and the faintest taste of sweet nectar honey from the flowers blooming all around me. Touched by that same wondrous wind, the grasses and the blossoms rustle in my ears like countless tiny musicians while soft petals and thin blades nod against my legs. The tallest stems brush around my hands and wrists. I inhale deeply, savoring the fresh green smell that they seem intent on pushing upwards towards my nose, wanting to be savored. The others will never understand smells like I do, how powerful they can be, how important they are. Scents that they can barely imagine existing are as plain to me as the wind. And as I drink in the scent of the grass, I notice something else as well: a wetness, a faint tang that smacks of rain and ozone. The rushing of the wind changes, and suddenly I can practically feel the clouds massing far and away to my right. This means a storm; but last of all, as I become accustomed to all the other sensations vying for my attention, I feel the warm tingle of sunbeams on the back of my neck. The sun still shines low in the west, and at last I have built a picture of this place. They were right, it is beautiful; and all the more so because I know it for myself, and not because they told me so. After all, who says I need eyesight to know beauty?

The Satire of Perfect Harmony
We've seen this coming for a long time. We tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen.

I suppose I should tell you a little about myself, since I highly doubt they've let you hear of me. The name's Cassia. There, that was a little bit, wasn't it?

The wind is cold and fierce this high in the mountains, and it's all I can do to remain clinging on the steep, blocky steps carved here in a time long gone. Each "step" comes up to my knee; it's really more of a ladder than a staircase. The rock face to either side of me is equally steep, but it is completely straight. I can see for thousands of feet almost straight down. Why am I here, then, if it's so dangerous and inhospitable? The answer to that is twofold.

Can you see the flickering orange spot away down on the plains there, framed by the two smaller peaks? It only looks like a small spot because it's so far away. In reality, that is the great city of Azurilland. I live there. Or, lived there. "There" is going to be nothing but a giant heap of ash and cinders in the morning anyway, so what does it matter? It's been close to a year since I first came to Azurilland. I've seen it change a lot in that time, and this brings me to the second part of my answer.

I am part of a cult. Heh, it sounds pretty funny when you say it out loud, but there you have it. I discovered it during the course of my life in Azurilland, and it's been eight months to the day since I joined. For over two thirds of my time there, I had lead a double life.

Team ALT. That's the name of our little organization. We're basically a cross between Edward Snowden and Robin Hood. Bet you've never heard that comparison before. Team ALT is dedicated to protecting the citizens of Azurilland from corruption and injustice. We expose the ways in which the government is abusing its power at the expense of the wellbeing of the population. We try to give back by agitating to actively reverse these abuses. Needless to say, the government doesn't like us much.

Now, the reason I refer to this as a cult, and not merely a secret society or something of that nature, is because of our Leader. Team ALT, in various incarnations, has existed practically as long as Azurilland itself. Three and a half years ago, however, before my time, the Leader came. He built a shrine, and built up Team ALT to greater heights than it had ever seen before. He foretold this current destruction, and was even able to infiltrate the government. One year ago, he mysteriously disappeared with the promise that he would return in our hour of greatest need.

Remember that shrine? It's here, at the summit of Mt. Permaban. Now, I think, I can definitively answer your question. I'm here because Azurilland is burning, and I think this place is our best hope of succor.

In Team ALT, we had known for months that something big was about to go down. With no absolute proof it was difficult, to say the least, to convince the general population. Our spies and informants were working round the clock, but we still didn't know what exactly would happen until about a week ago. We did our best to warn everyone, but at that point it was too little, too late. Even in our wildest nightmares we hadn't seen anything like this coming.

Being the prosperous, upright community that it is, Azurilland has always had enemies envious of its successes. However, our great city had always been able to overcome the challenges and external threats it faced. This time, though, corruption had taken its toll. The government itself was in on this malicious plot.

They rode in during the middle of the night, a hideous species of goblins known as addminzes. True to form, they were mounted on their equally hideous wolves we call mauds. Together, the mauds and the addminzes swept down upon Azurilland, killing citizens left and right and destroying all they encountered with their peculiar incendiary weapons, the rools.

We fought back to the best of our ability, employing every technique at our disposal. We doubled all the posts; every able-bodied person was called out to create as much diversion as possible. We also tried to spam them, which involves multiple people ganging up on a maud-addminz combination to take them out one by one. The mediums of Azurilland communed with our great god Curse and enabled the spirits of our fallen comrades to temporarily fight on after death, a practice called ban-dodging.

Still, our best efforts come to nothing in the end. There were just too many, and their power was too great. The Mafia neighborhood was razed to the ground. The Quick Battles market was blasted beyond recognition. The Clubs district was pillaged ruthlessly. The Arts sector was reduced to shambles. No part of the city escaped undamaged.

For two days the addminzes and their mauds raged unchecked through the city. It might have been a coincidence--hundreds of people were dying all around--but it seemed to me that they took a particular pleasure in causing the demise of a member of Team ALT. Given that this attack had been brought on in part by the government, is wasn't wholly unlikely. I knew I had to escape, and it was then that I remembered the legend of the Leader and his shrine.

If anything, the wind is only getting worse, but I can tell I'm near the top. All the other peaks are now below me; Mt. Permaban is the highest in this range. A dozen more giant, agonizing steps, and suddenly here I am. The stairs open out into a tiny cirque below the summit. The shrine is right in front of me, nestled between the two small spurs of rock running down from the peak. This area is sheltered from the vicious winds, and snow is gently dusted everywhere.

I hesitantly approach the shrine, awed by the majesty of this place. All sound seems muted. Words are etched on the lintel: "The Shrine of Perfect Harmony." Under that was another phrase, in slightly smaller and much messier letters: "Row, Row, Fight the Bee." A bit strange, but then, the Leader was supposedly quite eccentric. I am definitely in the right place. I take a deep breath and duck into the shrine.

It's just a single room on the inside, bare save for a small altar against the back wall and, somehow, fresh candles burning brightly in the corners. Lines of four asterisks are carved at random all over the walls, and even on the floor and ceiling. On the altar are three statues, each a foot high, from left to right a Hitmonlee, a Beedrill, and a Hitmonchan. What exactly am I supposed to do here? The lintel mentioned a bee, so I might as well start there. I walk forward and pick up the Beedrill statue, clasping it in both hands like some kind of spiritual microphone.

"Uh... hello there, Leader of Team ALT... man, this sounds stupid," I finish with a scowl. But I have to try. "My name is Cassia, and... we really need your help. Azurilland is in major trouble. You're the only one ever to go against a maud or addminz and come out alive! Please help us."

The candles flicker, the asterisks transform into letters spelling out various censored words, and a swirl of mist coalesces in the center of the shrine. Just like that, there he is. "I like stupid," he tells me in a voice that’s completely deadpan yet somehow earnest. "Can't recall seeing you around, but clearly they need me once again. The name's Mufti. Let's go kick some ass."
 

Typhlosion

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Partners for Life
"Well, son, which would you like?" asked the professor with a twinkle in his eye.

I was so excited I could hardly keep still. I had spent countless hours dreaming about this moment and researching my options, but they all seemed like such great choices. Bulbasaur, a Grass/Poison type, who evolves into Ivysaur and then Venusaur and is known for its wide variety of status and support moves to wear down opponents. Charmander, a Fire type, who evolves into Charmeleon and then Charizard, who gains the Flying-type and is known for its fast aerial tactics and brutally powerful offensive. Squirtle, a Water-type who evolves into Wartortle and then Blastoise and is known for its stamina and coverage that lets it take on all comers.

I leaned over for a closer look at the starter Pokémon. They all looked raring to go, and each could have been an invaluable asset on my journey in so many different ways.

My parents were here with me too, and I looked over at them for guidance. My mom smiled and shook her head. "You have to make this decision for yourself, honey."

As if on cue, the Squirtle stepped forward. It pushed its head under my arm and scrambled up onto my lap. Since I couldn't decide on my own, this seemed like a perfectly legitimate reason to me.

"I'll take this one," I told the professor.

My dad playfully poked my mom's side. "What was that about making this decision himself?" he asked, and they both laughed.

"An excellent choice, young man. Here is Squirtle's Poké Ball, and your Trainer Card," the professor congratulated me. Seeing my name at the top of an officially-licensed Trainer Card--it was an indescribable feeling. The professor coughed to bring me out of my reverie. "I would like you to take this, as well," he continued, handing me a grayish-blue orb the size of a golf ball. It was shot through with swirling darker streaks, and when Squirtle poked at it, it started glowing ever so faintly. "It's something of an experiment, from a colleague of mine in another region," said the professor by way of explanation. "Someday, you will know what to do with it."

I pocketed the orb along with Squirtle's Poké Ball. I didn't know what was going on, but I was grateful nonetheless. "Thank you so much, professor. I'll never forget this, as long as I live. But..." By this point I couldn't contain myself any longer. "May I please go outside now?"

The professor laughed out loud. "Of course you can, so long as it's okay with your parents." We both turned and stared at them.

"Sure, son," said my dad. "Need a hand?"

"Just be careful!" pleaded my mom.

I rolled my eyes in mock frustration. "Yes, Mom; no, Dad. C'mon, Squirtle, let's go!" I set my new partner on the ground beside my bed and laboriously levered myself into my wheelchair. It's sure not easy, but it's one of those things I've got to do myself. Dragging my useless-since-birth legs behind me, I set them on the footrests and returned Squirtle to my lap. I maneuvered through the widened front door and down the ramp to the sidewalk, yelling for the other neighborhood kids to come and check out my new Pokémon.

The three adults moved to the porch, where they could keep an eye on me. "Do you think he'll be okay?" Mom asked Dad.

Before he could answer, the professor turned to face my mother with a serious expression. "Mrs. Gelbach, your son is eighteen years old. He's already a legal adult; his own peers have long since left. He is more than capable of dealing with his condition. A journey is the best thing for him. Don't you two remember what it was like?" They nodded ruefully. "Squirtle is an excellent Pokémon. You both saw how he responded to your son's predicament. And, of course, there's another matter..." The professor pulled out another orb, this one the size of a quarter and glittering in all colors of the rainbow. "Given his circumstances, your son is quite mature compared to most young people who come to me to begin their lives as Trainers, and that is why I have chosen him. This stone and the one in his possession are related to a phenomenon known as Mega Evolution. Little is known about it, and we in the scientific community are eager to learn more. When Squirtle has become a Blastoise, you should give your son this Key Stone. Have him give the other one, the Mega Stone, to Blastoise, and see what happens."

Squirtle and I played with the younger kids and their Pokémon until the sun went down. We won our first battle! Squirtle, tired but proud, walked alongside as I slowly wheeled myself home. "Tackle, Tail Whip, and Water Gun," I mused. "You have some good starting moves, Squirtle." When we reached my front walk, I warned Squirtle to stay out of the way, then backed up to the street like I always do to get a good rolling start at the ramp. I made it about halfway before gravity really kicked in. I heaved on the wheels for a couple revolutions, pulling slowly to the top, when I felt the chair moving a little faster and the wheels turning easier. I twisted around and saw three tiny blue fingers on each of the handles.

Squirtle looked up and smiled. He wasn't even tall enough to see over the chair, but he was still helping push me to the top. "I didn't know you were that strong," was all I could think to say, my voice breaking a little. When we got to the front door, I pulled Squirtle into my lap and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Squirtle," I whispered. "You and me, together."

We'd never come close to achieving it before, but when we needed it the most, pushing our bond to the limit in the midst of battle, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Words I'd never heard before appeared in my head. "Keystone, respond to my heart! Beyond Evolution, Mega Evolve!" Rockets of energy arced from the Keystone to my partner's Mega Stone. A rainbow sigil blazed out across the field, and Blastoise roared his challenge. There was no celebrating; we were focused 100 percent on the task at hand.

"Well there's something you don't see every day," blinked my opponent. "But don't think this is over! Pidgeot, Return!"

"Blastoise, let's show 'em! Counter it with Strength!" My Pokémon's ferocious punch collided head-on with Pidgeot's full-body tackle. It was a tableau we'd already seen in this battle. Unlike before, though, it was now my opponent's Pokémon who was slowly forced back before being flung to the ground. "Great job," I said quickly. "Keep it up with Ice Beam." In his Mega Evolved state, Blastoise was capable of firing two individual beams, one from each arm.

"Two at once? Hah, easy!" grinned my opponent. Pidgeot quickly lofted up to avoid the Ice Beams, which tracked up to follow. "Double Steel Wing, Pidgeot!" Both of Pidgeot's wings became limned in metallic energy; it corkscrewed down, smashing through the Ice Beams, and slammed into Blastoise.

The hit didn't faze my partner much, but the same could be said of Pidgeot. I expected nothing less from a Gym Leader. As Pidgeot backpedaled with its wings, trying to regain altitude, I saw my chance. "Too close," I smiled deviously. "Blastoise, Waterfall!" The massive Pokémon slammed his hands together, trapping Pidgeot. In a jet of spray and bubbles, he shot up to the ceiling and hurtled back to the ground, holding Pidgeot at arm's length before him.

The impact shook the room and raised a large cloud of dust. The referee narrowed his eyes and strode forward. "Pidgeot is unable to battle!" he declared after a moment. "Blastoise is the winner! And that means the match goes to the challenger!"

"Well, well, well, congratulations!" clapped the Gym Leader slowly. Blastoise, reverted to his normal form, pushed me out to meet the Leader in the middle of the field. "Here's your Earth Badge, kid!" He observed me closely as I put it in my Badge case. "24 badges, that's great!" he exclaimed. "Say, have you ever heard of Mt. Silver? There's an old buddy of mine I think you should track down..."
 

Typhlosion

Flaming Torch
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Alexis, Eevee, and Something More
Alexis surveyed the landscape around her with a smile. She was in awe at the wild beauty of the badlands north of Johto. A delicious breeze, a cloudless sky, a dazzling sun, and, most importantly, someone to share it with made for a gorgeous day. Eevee twined around Alexis's legs, humming happily.

After several minutes of standing in silence, drinking it all in, the girl reached down to rub her partner's head. "Ready to keep going, Eevee?" The small brown Pokémon energetically nodded assent. The two scrambled down from the large flat rock they had been using as a vantage point and hunted for their next steps.

Places like this were what had initially inspired Alexis to become a Trainer, and they were the reason she was here now. This region of the world was little explored and less mapped; Alexis loved the thrill of going where no person had gone before, reveling in the majesty of untouched wilderness. Also, it was fun just to spend time with her Pokémon. Alexis secretly thought that it was high time for her partner to evolve, but she trusted Eevee to make the right decision regarding evolution. Until then, they would simply continue training.

They had been hiking for about twenty minutes when Alexis spotted something. "Hey, Eevee, look at that!" she whispered excitedly. Off to the side of the rough path, a Sandshrew had just popped up from its burrow. Unaware of Alexis and Eevee, it began busily nosing about the tumbled rocks. "Are you up for a battle?" Alexis asked. Eevee lashed her tail and growled. "Then let's go," chuckled her Trainer.

Sandshrew perked up at their approach, but Alexis didn't give it any more time than that. "Eevee, Trump Card!" she cried. Sandshrew quickly spun in a circle, gaining momentum to slash aside the incoming attack with Fury Cutter. He kept going even after the Trump Card was blocked, and a grainy brown cloud roared out from underneath him.

Alexis bit her lip; only high-leveled Sandshrew could use Sandstorm. She threw up a hand to help her see through the stinging particles obscuring the air. Even with that, though, the Sandshrew was difficult to spot. It kept disappearing only to reappear somewhere else, merging with the windborne sand currents and swarming around the rock scrambles at an incredible pace. "Eevee, Double-Edge!" Alexis ordered.

Eevee launched itself at the spot where Sandshrew had paused a moment. At the last second, Sandshrew threw itself out of the way, and Eevee collided painfully with the rocks behind it. The Normal-type slowly got back on her feet, struggling against the buffeting sandstorm. Sandshrew materialized behind her as soon as she was upright and smacked her back down with another Fury Cutter. He jumped aside again and rapidly borrowed into the tough earth.

"Get ready, Eevee, he's using Dig!" Alexis called worriedly. The girl's clothes and frizzy blonde hair were being blown about relentlessly in the the storm; she felt almost as battered as her Pokémon. "You'll know where he is right when he comes up. Give 'im a Trump Card then!"

The plan worked just as Alexis had hoped. As Eevee was tossed into the air by Sandshrew's attack from below, she fired a Trump Card that flung him forcibly to the ground. She landed square on her feet, and for a moment the two Pokémon were still, staring each other down. The moment was broken when Eevee winced from the sandstorm. Alexis realized what was coming and ordered a Shadow Ball, but Sandshrew had already dived back into the currents. "I can't even tell if this guy has Sand Rush or Sand Veil," she muttered in irritation.

Eevee and Alexis turned helplessly this way and that as they tried to pinpoint Sandshrew's location. The two only ever saw bits and pieces, an arm here, an ear there, and never in the same direction twice in a row. "There, behind you!" Alexis shouted. "Shadow Ball!"

Sandshrew parried with Fury Cutter and retreated to attempt another sneak attack. This time Eevee saw him first, coming from the right, and used Shadow Ball of her own volition. It exploded against Sandshrew's Fury Cutter, pushing him back. "Good catch!" Alexis cheered. Maybe they could win this.

That hope waned as Sandshrew disappeared entirely. Alexis knew she needed to keep this battle as short as possible to minimize the damage from the sandstorm, but there was nothing she could do if her enemy refused to show himself. Then out of nowhere, a gyrating gray sphere crashed down onto Eevee from above. She was flattened into the dust by the weight of Sandshrew's well-placed Gyro Ball.

Alexis was on the verge of panic now. "C'mon, Eevee, you can do it," she pleaded. The storm still refused to abate, with the streams of blistering sand making it all the more difficult for Eevee to regain her footing. She remained motionless for several moments, but then to Alexis's surprise, the Evolution Pokémon jumped up to her full height, head held high. A golden light flashed briefly in her eyes.

An unexpected gust drove toward Eevee, almost knocking Alexis over. When she looked up from recovering her balance, she saw that this strange wind had pulled the whole sandstorm toward Eevee, condensing it around her in a vicious, impenetrable whirlwind of sand. The same golden light that Alexis had glimpsed before shone out fiercely from the center, suffusing the entire cloud. In a radiant blast, the sand rushed upward and outward, dissipating into the atmosphere amidst a shower of sparkles. Sandshrew let out a squeak of surprise as he found himself completely exposed. A fresh breeze sprang up, and sunlight once more caressed the ground.

"Whoa...I think that was a new move!" Alexis gaped. "As in, a never-used-before move! Eevee, this is incredible! We need to think of a name!" A cry from her Pokémon snapped Alexis back to the present. "Hah, you're right," she chuckled. "Battle time. We've got you now, Sandshrew! Eevee, Shadow Ball!"

The attack was unlike any Shadow Ball Alexis had seen before. To begin with, it was about twice the regular size. The inside was shot through with a dazzling electric blue, and golden sparks crackled around the outside. As soon as it collided with the hapless Sandshrew, Eevee's whole body took on the same glowing shade of blue. Alexis looked on in wonder as Eevee transformed. When the light faded, she was confronted with an entirely unique Pokémon.

The only real similarity between Eevee and the new creature was the general body shape. The evolution was larger, up to Alexis's hips now, and her body was a little more slender. Her brown fur had become short, smooth, and pale gray. Her eyes now appeared hexagonal with irises the same shade as her fur, and each dark pupil was in the shape of a pentagon. Her ears were bifurcated and cylindrical, with the part sticking up being about four inches long and the part hanging down being half that. The most drastic change was the new Eeveelution's tail. It had split in two at the base, with the two long thin tails being coiled around each other to form a double helix. Small, thin scales of cyan, yellow, or magenta stood straight out at intervals all along the interior lengths of the tails. Each appendage terminated in a smooth fusiform point.

"You are just full of surprises today, aren't you?" Alexis laughed. "Okay, Eevee--well, I guess I can't call you that anymore, can I? We can work something out in a minute, but for now, let's finish this! Trump Card!" For the fourth time in half as many minutes, something entirely unexpected happened. Instead of a Trump Card, twin beams poured from the Eeveelution's eyes. They were composed of a myriad of tiny flashing specks, constantly shifting colors and forming geometric patterns. When they hit Sandshrew, he collapsed in a faint.

"Woo-hoo!" Alexis yelled exultantly. Then she had a thought. Taking out a Poké Ball, she gestured at Sandshrew and addressed her partner. "He was a really tough opponent, and I think you could use a friend, right? Shall I?" Her Pokemon took a moment to consider, then nodded, and Alexis grinned widely. "Alrighty then. Poké Ball, go!" Sandshrew was engulfed in a flash of red. After a moment's delay, he was caught.

Alexis walked over to pick up her new capture, then turned back to her first Pokémon. "There's a lot of information to process here, and we need some names." Alexis had recently heard about a case like this in the Alola region, where a man named Gladion had discovered a new evolution which he referred to as Silvally. After an objection from the Aether Foundation, an international court ruled that the discoverer had the right to name any new phenomenon. Alexis thought this definitely qualified. "We'll start with the easy stuff: those new moves. Let's see... the first one... you got rid of the weather, right? You made the sky clear again. How about Clear Sky? And the other one... that stuff streaming from your eyes reminded me of a Porygon, like computer data... so, Data Stream?"

There was no reaction from her Pokémon. Alexis frowned. "Fine, how about we test them?" She took out her Pokégear and set it to a type scanning function. "Use Data Stream against that rock!" At this command, she successfully executed the move from before. "This is a Steel-type attack," buzzed the app. "Oh, cool," said Alexis. "Maybe you're a Steel-type. Now, c'mon out, Sandshrew!"

The little Ground-type didn't look much worse for wear. "Use Sandstorm, please," Alexis commanded. To her delight, he was quick to obey. "Now it's your turn," continued Alexis, looking at her partner. "Clear Sky!" The Eeveelution repeated the same condensing action as before, banishing the storm. "Way to go!" clapped her Trainer. "Thanks, Sandshrew. Return!"

Having recalled her new Pokémon, Alexis turned back to the new evolved form of Eevee. "Now that's out of the way, I really need something to call you." She opened the scanner function of the Pokégear once more. "This species is a Normal-type," the machine reported. "Well, guess I was wrong before," the girl shrugged. "But hey, that means you still have the same type... and your cry is similar... You're the closest one to Eevee, so I think your name should be close too. I'll call you Eeveon!"
 
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