Disclaimer: The following story is rated Teen for realistic violence (including blood and broken bones), occasional swearing, crude and sexual humor, alcohol and drug use, character death, and strong themes of mental health, including depression and suicide. Additionally, this fic contains unmarked spoilers for the entire Mystery Dungeon series and the Generation VII games. If any of the above is not to your liking, I wouldn't recommend reading any further.

With that out of the way, enjoy!

What is the essence of one's being?
What magic ingredient fills us with life?
And sets us apart from plants and bacteria?

There is no one single part.
Rather, living beings contain four essential elements.
Individually, they are important.
But together, they form the backbone of our existence.

'What? No, no, no, no! Ugh, this can't be right! Seriously, game? You're giving me Bulbasaur? I wanted Riolu! I put in all the right answers to the stupid quiz. I'm sure of it!'

A Nintendo DS dropped onto the dented part of a rusty metal desk that had clearly seen better days.

'Well, this is just great. Brilliant use of your free time, Shane. Now, you get to start over from square one tomorrow.'

Shane shut off the DS and closed it up. He pressed a hand to his forehead and ran it through his greasy brown hair. His gaze fell to his computer screen. 'What a worthless guide. It got me the wrong starter.' He shook his head. 'No, I'm sure the guide's fine. I probably screwed it up... somehow. Because that's just my luck.' Shane looked at his watch, noting the time and the date: 2:15 PM on December 5, 2015.

He sighed. 'And on that wonderful note, it's time for work.'

Shane headed for the bedroom door, pausing to inspect himself in his mirror. He rubbed his hands on his head in a halfhearted attempt at smoothing out his bedhead. But he gave up after a few seconds and proceeded out of the room. He made for the front door, pausing to look out a window. 'Looks like I'm gonna need my raincoat,' he thought, and grabbed it off the floor. He shook the dust and dirt off of it, and swung it on over his back.

Satisfied, he slid on his pair of worn, mud-caked work boots. He went out the front door and locked it behind him. He hiked his hood up and started walking out toward the dreary, rainy streets.

'One of these days I've got to get off this evening shift. All the fun stuff happens while I'm getting hammered at work.' He fumbled for his car keys and unlocked the door of his small car. 'I'll bet the RP thread's going to get updated with a new event, and my characters will get left behind, as usual. Which means I'll have to scramble and catch up with all the missed posts.' He swung the driver's side door open and climbed in.

'Let's just get this over with.'

The first element is the Mind.
A sum of our thoughts, knowledge, and memories.
The Mind is both our arbiter and our navigator.
Making decisions large and small.
And guiding us through the treacherous quest we call life.

Next is the Body.
Our physical form.
The Body grants us control, through movement and sensation.
It exerts force on the world around us.
Giving us strength to overcome any obstacle in our path.

'Of course the rain would get worse just as my shift is ending,' Shane thought. 'What a total joke! But, that's my luck for you. The worst luck on the planet.'

He sat down in his car, turning on the ignition. A wall of heat buffeted his damp cheeks. He drove toward the exit of the empty parking garage, passing a row of stone pillars in the process. A sheet of rain poured down on the other side of the garage's exit. Shane reached over and grabbed his glasses from the passenger's seat. He slipped them on and squinted into the night.

'It's still too blurry,' he thought. Shane considered giving up and spending the night in the break room. His back knotted up in protest. He gently pushed the pedal and the car lurched forward. The moment it left the safety of the parking garage, rain pounded on its exterior.

'Ugh. How annoying. Let's turn on some music,' Shane thought, switching on the car's radio. But all that he heard was the pounding of water on metal . Shane's grip on the steering wheel tightened. He leaned forward, hunching over the wheel. Shane slowly made a right and drove down the street. He saw a spot of red suspended in midair. A sure sign of the upcoming traffic light. He eased the car to a stop and quickly looked back and forth through the foggy intersection. No headlights came into view. So, Shane began to make a right turn onto the main road.

But then a blaring horn sounded. Shane had just enough time to glance to his left before an intense crushing force slammed him against the middle arm rest. Metal and plastic shards jabbed his rib cage, knocking the wind out of him. Shane's seatbelt immediately locked up. His body lurched against it, the seatbelt protecting him from being launched across the inside of the car. At the same time, the airbags activated from the door and steering wheel, sandwiching Shane in his seat. The taste of iron filled up his mouth and the scent of motor oil assaulted his nostrils.

Pain surged across his body. Shane could only let out a weak cough before his vision went completely white.

The third element is the Spirit.
That mystical force lurking deep inside us all.
Spirit emerges in times of hope, reflection, triumph, and defeat.
Helping us to get the most out of a joyous occasion,
Or navigate the troubled waters of stress and crisis.

"Aggggggggggggggh! Somebody help me! It... feels like I'm… being ripped apart!"

Shane forced his eyes open. He quickly wished that he hadn't. A purple vortex surrounded him. Bright lights flashed around him, overwhelming his senses and forcing him to shut his eyes. Shockwaves rippled through his body. He could feel his skin crawling, like it wanted to rip itself right off of him and float away.

"P-Please… someone… anyone… HELP!" he shouted. "I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die!"

A lion's roar drowned out his cries. Shane fought through the pain to open his eyes. All he could see was a brilliant yellow fireball, surrounded by luminescent blue wings. They glowed with such intensity that they blunted out everything else in the vortex and burned Shane's eyes.

"I've got you now. There's no escape! Did you really think you could pull off this little stunt without me finding out about it? How ridiculous! I can feel my light seeping off of you. It wants to return to me!"The fireball appeared to shrink in size and a second roar sounded. This one had a sense of desperation to it. Shane saw two black bars grab hold of the fireball. "As much as I want you gone, I need you for something far more important." From the middle of the glowing blue wings, a pair of red eyes looked up from the fireball, staring directly at Shane.

"Is… is someone out there?" Shane shouted. "I'm hurt. I need help! Whoever you are... do something!"

The red eyes flashed and the fireball suddenly started growing closer. Shane shut his eyes and tried to move his body. But he lost all feeling in his arms and legs.

"You need help, huh? It's a good thin you've got me here, then. Take it easy. No need to worry. I have just the thing for you, my human friend."

Pressure hit Shane's eyelids, and they were yanked open. An orange inferno raged in front of him. Solar flares tickled his feet. A tingle rushed up his back. The fireball erupted into a wall of rainbow light. Shane screamed in agony as the light swallowed him up whole, limbs and clothes dissolving into swirls of black smoke. His vision faded and his mind went completely blank.

The final element is Balance.
Mind, Body, and Spirit cycle through constant patterns of give-and-take.
These three elements depend on one another.
If Balance between them falls apart,
Our being suffers and our life is imperiled.

A Vulpix's body seized up, feeling water brushing his snow-white fur. His eyes opened, immediately wideneding in panic at the sight of deep, dark blue surrounding him. Vulpix flailed his limbs about desperately, but made no progress moving upward. Instead, he continued sinking further into the ocean, the light from the surface growing progressively dimmer. Vulpix's soaked fur weighed him down. He soon grew tired and made the fatal mistake of opening his mouth. A stream of air bubbles rushed out and Vulpix took in a mouthful of water. Realizing his mistake, Vulpix thrashed about with renewed vigor, slamming his eyes and mouth shut for good measure.

But Vulpix's flailing quickly burned through his energy. The last of his willpower faded. Vulpix's muzzle slowly opened. Water flooded into his nostrils and mouth. Black spots popped up all around Vulpix's vision until he saw nothing but darkness. A few stray air bubbles trickled out from his mouth. His body went completely still.

Vulpix's body suddenly curled into a white ball. An unseen force grabbed hold of Vulpix and sealed him inside a bright, fluorescent green bubble. The bubble shot up through the water and burst through the surface, hovering into the air. It remained suspended in midair for several seconds, streams of moonlight reflecting off it and striking the water. The bubble took off soaring across the night sky. It sped along the surface of the water until it came to an abrupt stop at the edge of a beach. Ripples raced around the bubble, eventually poking a small hole in its base. Vulpix slid out of the protective forcefield, dropping onto the beach with a soft thump.

The bubble burst, showering bright green light across Vulpix's body. When the light faded, a small anklet sat around his left foreleg. Vulpix tensed and coughed up a mouthful of seawater. The coughing fit continued for a few minutes, until his body slowly relaxed. Vulpix's chest gently rose and fell while the tide lapped up against his silky white tails.

Episode 1: A Chance Encounter

Chapter 1: Stranger on the Shores

~Aeon Town~

'Today's the day, Riolu. You're gonna do it. You're not gonna chicken out. You'll march right up that hill, walk through the front door, and...'

Riolu paused in the midst of marching back and forth across the outskirts of a colorful town. 'Oh, who am I kidding? I can't do this!' She grabbed hold of the rainbow scarf around her neck and pulled it over her head. 'I'm just wasting my time. I may as well go back to Sylveon's house.' She looked out at the buildings dotted around the town's square, taking in the myriad of assorted colors and designs. Eventually, her gaze came to rest on the small stone fountain in the center of town. She smiled at the sight of the stone Gorebyss spiraling out of the fountain, spitting water in all directions.

But the smile faded. She let out a sigh, and her gaze fell to the ground. Riolu wiggled her toes, expecting the gesture to suddenly bring forth an epiphany that would snap her out of her current indecisiveness. And when it didn't, she kicked a small pebble and watched it roll into town. In the process, her gaze came to rest on the largest building in Aeon Town. It sat atop a hill, at the end of a large dirt path that wound its way up from the town square. The domed roof sparkled under the sun's rays, giving off a hypnotic glow of purple and gold. Riolu continued to stare, feeling her earlier concerns melt away.

'C'mon, Riolu. It's the guild! Your whole family's had to take that first step at some point. And now it's your turn,' she thought, trying to psych herself up. 'You can do this! All you have to do is stop thinking, and start walking. Come on, now. One foot in front of the other. March!'

Riolu stomped down the path into town. 'I've got the scarf and everything. Dad said it always gave him good luck. I'll bet it can do the same for me.' As she walked, Riolu clasped the scarf and held it up to her face to look at its frayed edges. One end had a sun stitched into it, while the other end had a crescent moon. The fabric glistened with a rainbow hue. 'It's time for some of that good luck to pass ont–'


Riolu failed to account for the scarf's length. She stepped on part of it and found herself falling toward the ground. Her face struck first, and her momentum sent her tumbling down the hill. She rolled into the town, nearly bowling over a frightened Furfrou couple. "Hey, watch where you're going!" the male Furfrou shouted, shaking his head disapprovingly. "Seriously, the nerve of some Pokémon. Trying to learn Rollout in the middle of the street."

"I don't think Riolu can learn Rollout, dear," his mate pointed out.

"... hmph. Doesn't make it any less rude."

Riolu continued forward. She finally came to rest in a collapsed heap in the middle of town square. She tried to sit up, but her whole world was spinning.

'Ooog, this was a mistake,' Riolu groaned. 'I should just go home before I make an even bigger fool of myself.'

"Tessa! Yay, I made it in time!"

A cheerful voice jolted Riolu– or, rather, Tessa to attention. She scrambled to her feet, resisting the urge to throw up, and grabbed the scarf to stop it from dragging on the ground.

"Eevee?" Tessa gasped as the brown, fox-like Pokémon sprinted up to her. "I... I thought I told you to stop calling me Tessa. It's Riolu now." Eevee slowed his pace and frowned at Tessa. "Never mind. Did you run all the way here from Sunrise Village?"

Eevee trotted to a stop beside Tessa and dropped the bag in his mouth. "Yup, yup. Mommy said you were gonna try to join the guild again. I wanted to give you a good luck present." He looked down guiltily. "But you had already left." He immediately perked back up. "So, I ran over here as fast I could!"

"That's so sweet of you. But I really don't think I'm going to–"

"Look, it's an oran berry," Eevee chirped, producing the fruit for Tessa to see. "I picked it out myself." He beamed and wagged his tail.

'Awwwwww! Now I can't turn down something like that,' Tessa thought. She leaned down and placed the berry in her satchel. "Thanks a ton, Eevee," she said, tussling her friend's mane. "But you better hurry home. I don't want Sylveon to get worried."

"Okay!" Eevee nodded. "Maybe if I run fast enough… I'll finally learn Quick Attack!" He turned around and scampered up the hill without so much as a goodbye.

'Man… if only I had Eevee's enthusiasm. Joining the guild would be a breeze,' Tessa sighed. She adjusted her satchel and started up the hill to the guild's base. As she approached, her paced slowed and her gaze fell toward the ground.

'Oh no… it's happening again. I'm freezing up. Just like last time. And the fifty other times before that!' she realized. Tessa glanced up at the building. A shiver racked her body. She backed away, her feet moving without any orders from her brain. She was in the process of turning around when she bumped into something fuzzy.

"Oof! Hey, watch where you're walking."

Tessa's aura feelers shot into the air. "Oh my goodness. I'm so sorry, I–" She cut herself off. Rather than looking the Growlithe she had bumped into in the eye, she focused on the anklet around his foreleg. A silver badge was pinned to it. The sight of the overlapping sun and crescent moon made Tessa's aura feelers start to throb. "You're... you're with the guild," she whispered.

"Sure am! I'm Growlithe. Say, aren't you Lucario's daughter?" he responded. Tessa stiffened. Growlithe gave her a concerned look. "Lucario and Incineroar talked about you all the time! They called you something really strange. What was it, again? Oh, yeah. I remember! It's Tess-uh, right? "

Hearing the name Incineroar made Tessa jump. She landed on the edge of her scarf and proceeded to hop backwards a couple of times, trying to keep herself from falling to the ground.

"Are you okay?" Growlithe asked. "You seem kinda jumpy." He paused for a moment, and then his tail started to wag. "Oh, wait, I think I know what's wrong here. You've got first-time jitters because you're coming to join the guild, right? I totally get it. When I joined, I was so nervous, I coughed up a fireball and burnt a hole in one of the rugs. Boy, was I embarrassed." He let out a hearty laugh. "By the way, I haven't seen Lucario around the Observatory lately. Any idea where she went?"

"Uh… um…" Tessa fidgeted with her scarf and looked down. "I... I think there's been some sort of mistake."

Growlithe frowned. "Oh, really? But that's Incineroar's scarf, isn't it?"

Tessa's grip tightened on the scarf. "That's... uh...

"Well, he never said it was one of a kind, I guess. Maybe this is just a funny coincidence. In which case, my bad! It's been fun talking, but I should really get going." He moved ahead of Tessa, only to pause. "Wait." He shook his head. "How could I be so inconsiderate? The family you're from shouldn't matter. You're going to the Observatory, right? Whatever you're heading there for, it'll be much easier if you show up with an apprentice like me."

Tessa's eyes went wide.

"N-No!" she blurted out. "I... uh... must've made a wrong turn somewhere. Sorry!" She gave Growlith a small bow and sprinted down the hill. Tessa tucked her head in and tightly gripped her satchel.

'I knew it… I couldn't do it. Growlithe even offered to guide me in and I just froze up. I'm no better than a frightened Joltik! Why do I have to be such a screw up?' she thought, making for the outskirts of town. 'He just had to bring up Mom and Dad, didn't he? This was a disaster!' She squeezed her eyes shut and quickened her pace, not bothering to look back as she left Aeon Town behind.

~Azure Cape~

Tessa continued running until the dirt road gave way to sandy bluffs. A mid-morning sea breeze bristled her fur, sending a shiver down her spine. She jogged to a stop and let herself sink down to her knees. Dropping her bag into the sand, she threw her paws up onto her face and let out a groan. Tessa flopped onto her stomach, burying her face in the warm sand.

'And just like that I'm back here... again,' she thought. 'How many times have I done this, now?' She scooped up a handful of sand and gently poured it onto the back of her head. 'Am I really that pathetic? Did I really rely on Mom and Dad that much?' A sinking feeling filled up her gut. Tessa couldn't stop a whimper from escaping her mouth. 'If only Mom or Dad were here. None of this would be happening. I'd have joined the guild. And I'd actually have a group of friends. But... no. Instead I'm here... alone. Just like last week. And if I try again tomorrow, I'm just going to end up back here. But I bet I'll try, anyway.' She let out a bitter, muffled laugh. 'Because I really am that pathetic. Guess I answered my own question.'

Tessa continued laying in the sand, letting her mind go completely blank. Eventually, her boiling back bothered her enough that she forced herself back up to her feet and grabbed her satchel. Tessa started walking up toward the shoreline, staring down at the impressions her feet made in the wet sand. 'Why did I think today was going to be any different? Because I wore the scarf?' She ran a paw through its silky fabric. 'If anything, this thing made it worse! Usually I can at least make it up to the top of the hill before I panic and start thinking about Mom and Dad. But I didn't even get halfway up the hill today!'

Tessa gave a frustrated growl and kicked up a patch of sand. She watched it splash into the water, but the sight did little to make her feel any better. Tessa stopped along the shoreline. She balled her paws up into fists and braced them against her thighs. Clenching her teeth, Tessa took in a sharp breath and forced her eyes shut.

"... hyaaah!"

She swung her paws forward, digits springing open. Tessa stood frozen like a statue. After a minute passed, she lowered her arms, letting out a loud groan. Tessa continued this routine, until the heat wore her down. She wiped her brow with an arm. 'And, surprise, surprise, no progress. At this rate, I won't even learn Force Palm.'

Tessa scooped her satchel up and turned to leave the beach, when her nostrils twitched. She rubbed the bridge of her snout. 'Ugggh... gross! What smells like wet fur?' She turned around to inspect her back. 'It's not me. Someone out for a morning swim?' She shrugged. 'Bah, what does it matter? If some idiot wants to get swept out to sea, it's none of my business. I should really just go.'

A swathe of white caught the corner of her eye. Tessa pivoted to her left and spotted a rock jutting out from the ground. A ball of white sat at the base of the rock. 'That's way too big to be a salt deposit. But it's just past the edge of the tide. So, what's the deal, here?' Her curiosity aroused, Tessa crept toward the rock. It didn't take her long to realize that she had stumbled on something far more important than a sea salt pile. 'Wait a second... four legs. Six tails. Bright white fur? That's a Vulpix!'

Tessa broke into a jog, hurriedly closing the distance between her and Vulpix. As she ran up to him, the stench of wet fur overwhelmed her. 'Jeez. He really stinks.' She waved her paw in front of her snout. 'Does this mean he washed ashore?' Tessa looked out to the water. 'Oh, gods. What if he's hurt? What if... he's dead?' Tessa looked down and gave a relieved sigh when she saw Vulpix's chest slowly rise. 'Okay, at least he's not dead. But I can't just leave him out here like this. What if a wild Pokémon swoops in while he's sleeping? Or what if the tide comes in too far and sweeps him back out to sea?'

That was all the convincing Tessa needed. She reached out and nudged Vulpix with a paw. "Um... wake up, please. You... uh... you really shouldn't sleep here. I don't think it's safe."

Vulpix stirred. Tessa withdrew her paw with a startled squeak. She fell off balance, and her rear hit the sand. Slowly, Vulpix's eyes fluttered open and he uncurled his body.

"Unnnnghhh. Who was using my head to play a bongo set?" Vulpix groaned. Tessa's ears twitched, displeased at the sound of Vulpix's nasally voice. "What... happened?" He looked around in confusion. "And what am I doing on the beach? It's not summer. And I definitely can't afford a vacation anywhere tropical."

"Um, are you okay, mister?" Tessa stammered, getting back to her feet. "I found you sleeping out here, and–"

Vulpix's eyes widened. "Hey… you're a Riolu," he gasped. "And you just talked!" Vulpix's ears perked up. "Oh, wow." He looked about. His tails wagged independently of one another. "Okay, I think I get it. This must be a dream. But… it feels so real." He brushed his head against the sand, feeling the coarse grains on his fur. "And that can only mean... that this is a lucid dream." He looked around the beach. "Wow." He gave a whistle. "Pretty impressive work here, brain. Now don't you dare wake me up." He craned his neck toward the sky. "I want to experience my own adventure in a world of Pokémon. And I can't do that if you bungle things up like you usually do."

Tessa raised her brow. "Um, sir. You're not dreaming. I think you might've hit your head," Tessa muttered. "You sound like you're rambling."

"I suppose the first thing I should do is figure out what Pokémon I turned into," Vulpix chirped, completely ignoring Tessa's comment. "I guess I can rule out a Riolu. Which, honestly, is quite disappointing. And I expect better of my own mind." He looked at Tessa, whose eyes widened. "But I suppose having one as a partner is just as good. Now I'll just– OOF!"

Vulpix started to stand up, but collapsed onto his belly. He picked his head up and again tried getting to his feet. But the sand gave out underneath his legs, and he again dropped to his stomach, limbs splayed out in all directions. "Okay. So... it looks like I'm a quadruped. And... I've got white fur," he grunted. "That... doesn't ring any bells. I'll bet that means I'm super important!"

Tessa watched the scene unfold with a worried look on her face. 'What is wrong with this guy?' she wondered. 'He's totally delirious. And… did he just say I'm his partner?' She bit her lower lip. 'Please don't tell me there's some sort of crazy Pokémon code of honor that says if you rescue a Vulpix in need, they become your servant. I don't think I can deal with that!'

"Hey, Riolu?" Vulpix called, waving a forepaw at her. "Mind lending me a hand? Kind of having trouble standing, here."

Tessa rubbed her shoulder and looked away. "Uh... I'm not really sure that's such a good idea. What's the problem, anyway?"

"Didn't you hear me? I can't figure out how to get my legs to work," Vulpix said.

Tessa frowned. "Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds?"

To her surprise, Vulpix looked up toward the sky again. "Oh-ho. So my partner's got a lip on her, huh? I approve, brain. But, uh, you think you could give me a little bit of control here?"

Tessa started to shuffle backwards. 'I don't like where this is going. I think it's time I made my exit...'

"Finally!" Vulpix had gotten to his feet and let out a triumphant shout. He stumbled forward, nearly losing all of his progress in the process. But he managed to make his way toward the water's edge. Tessa crouched down, ready to break into a run if something went wrong.


Vulpix let out another shout. And all the nervous energy Tessa had built up made her jump and let out a frightened yip. "Eep! What's wrong? What is it?" she asked, whirling around to face Vulpix.

"Seriously?" Vulpix glared down at the water. "I'm a Vulpix? This isn't cool. This is awful! I look all frilly and girly," he groaned, swinging his hips around and looking dejectedly at his tails. "And what's with the white fur? Am I albino or something? I know I'm a pretty pasty guy. But I can't believe this. Even in my own lucid dream, I have the worst luck in the galaxy! Why couldn't I just be an albino Growlithe instead?"

He slapped the water with a forepaw, only to jump back as some droplets struck his snout. Tessa took another step away from him, shaking her head. 'This has to be some sort of trick. He's probably acting crazy to get me to lower my guard.' She instinctively clutched her satchel tighter. 'Well, if this outlaw thinks he's stealing my stuff, he has another thing coming!'

She couldn't bring herself to turn away from Vulpix. 'But... what if he isn't faking? Can I really just ditch him like this? He seems... well, lost would be putting it nicely, I suppose.' Tessa looked down. 'Ugh, I know I'm gonna regret this.' She jogged up toward the water's edge. "Um, excuse me. But, why are you shouting about being a Vulpix? Is… is that a problem?"

Vulpix chuckled and shook his head. "Ah, Riolu, Riolu, Riolu." He put a forepaw on Tessa's shoulder.

"Please don't touch me!" Tessa cried and shoved Vulpix's paw off. She shrank back defensively.

"Relax, girlie," Vulpix scoffed. "Everything's okay. Y'see… I'm not actually a Vulpix. I'm a human!" He puffed his chest out proudly. "Name's Shane. I'm dr–" He paused. "Uh, I mean, some sort of mysterious force must have dragged me into this world so I can save it from a terrifying evil!"

Tessa's jaw slackened. "A human? But you look like a perfectly normal Vulpix to me."

The newly-named Shane laughed. "Oh, don't be so modest, Riolu. Unless you're modest-natured, of course, which will make you one heck of a Lucario when you evolve. But we have no way of finding that out, ha ha. Look, I know the white fur's probably strange, but that just means I'm special. If you stick with me, we can take the world by storm."

Tessa crossed her arms. "Okay, I don't know how badly you hit your head while you were swimming, but you're clearly off your rocker. I've only ever known Vulpix to have white fur. It's strange to see one so far from the Invern Mountains, though. Was there some sort of avalanche that brought you all the way out here? That would explain why you seem so... loopy."

Shane's muzzle stiffened. "Wait… Vulpix live in the mountains? Like snow-covered mountains?" Tessa nodded. "Huh… well there was that one Ninetales in the Air Continent. But I guess my brain's taking some 'creative liberties' with this dream," Shane muttered under his breath. He turned back to Tessa. "See? That's gotta prove I'm human. How else could you explain why I wouldn't know what a Vulpix looks like?"

Tessa fidgeted with her satchel. "Well, I've heard of humans. But, y'know, only in those stories about the times the world was in crisis. And none of those ever centered on Horizon."

"Horizon?" Shane parroted.

"That's, um, the name of the continent we're on," Tessa replied. 'How could he not know that?'

"Oh, cool name. Sounds appropriate," Shane said. "We'll have plenty of time to talk the lay of the land once we settle into… uh…" His voice trailed off and he looked around. "Say, what kind of groups does this Horizon place have, anyway? Rescue teams? Explorers? Expedition Society?"

"We have a guild," Tessa answered.

"Perfect!" Shane jumped beside Tessa. "Then what are we standing around here flapping our lips for? Let's get moving!"

"What?" Tessa stepped back. "Are you crazy? You can't go waltzing into the guild just because you feel like it. You... um... you need a reason to go there."

"I have a very good reason. As do you," Shane insisted, giving her a confident smirk. "We're gonna enter this guild together. Meaning, you and I are gonna form an exploration team!"

'He wants to form a team... with me?' Tessa gasped. Her heart fluttered for a moment. 'This is some sort of trick. No stranger would be that nice to a loser like me' She took a deep breath and shook her head.

"Sorry, no can do," she said. "I just met you. And all you've done is... yell loudly and... uh... say crazy things like you're a human."

"But I am a human," Shane said. "And that's important around here. Why wouldn't you want to save the world with me?"

Tessa clutched her satchel. "Everything's fine. It's been that way since Dark Matter was destroyed and it'll stay that way. For all I know, you're a thief out for my bag."

"I'm not a thief. And maybe the world's fine now but I guarantee it won't be for long," Shane declared. "C'mon, just come with me and…"

"Enough! I am not letting you steal my stuff!" Tessa shouted…


… and beaned Shane over the head with her satchel. His legs quivered. He rocked back and forth a few times before collapsing onto his side.

Tessa dropped her bag to the ground, her arms shaking uncontrollably. "Oh no… oh no, no, no, no, no, no." She knelt down and shook Shane. 'You've gotta be kidding me, here! This guy spooked me, and I reacted. I couldn't have hit him that hard, could I?' she wondered. 'This is just great! I can't leave him here like this. What if he wakes up and reports me to Officer Magnezone? I'll get in trouble for sure!'

Tessa strained to heft Shane up. Her legs trembled from trying to sling him over her shoulder. 'Okay, he's much heavier than he looks.' She tried to take a step forward, but her legs buckled. 'Ugh. Come on, Riolu. Dig deep. Just get him over to Sylveon's and then he'll be her problem.'

She slowly shuffled off toward the dirt road.

~Sunrise Village, Sylveon's House~

Tessa trudged toward the lone, pink, circular home sitting a ways off from the circular array of buildings. She couldn't lift her head up to see the windows and chimney designed to resemble Sylveon's eyes and bow, respectively. But she was able to brace Shane against one of the house's pillars styled after Sylveon's feeler-like ribbons. She slowly twisted the door handle and threw the door open. Tessa threw Shane to the ground.

"Sylveon... I'm home," Tessa wheezed. "And I, uh, kind of need your help."

Across the room, Sylveon dropped the mixing bowl held in her ribbons and jogged over to the front door. "My goodness!" she gasped. "What happened here?"

"It's... a long story," Tessa groaned. She staggered over to a nearby chair and collapsed onto it. "I found him in Azure Cape. He looked and smelled like he'd been in the sea. But he woke up and started saying all this weird stuff and, uh, then he passed out again. Do you think you could help him? I'm worried he's hurt."

Sylveon looked down at Shane. "Well, I think I may have something that could help him out." She gently scooped Shane up in her ribbons and carried him off toward one of the house's bedrooms. Tessa let out a groan and settled back in the chair. She had eyes shut for a minute, when footsteps caught her attention and made her sit up in the chair.

"Hey Tessa, do you think the sea is magic?"

Tessa looked over at Eevee, who had jumped up to put his forepaws on the chair. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, you said it spat out Vulpix. And made him talk crazy," Eevee said. "Unless you were telling a big, fat lie."

"No. I really did find him passed out on the beach," Tessa sighed.

The door to her room opened and Sylveon stepped out. "Well, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Vulpix. The poor thing was exhausted, that's all," she reported. "He must have riled himself up on the beach and fainted from fatigue."

"Is Vulpix gonna be okay?" Tessa asked.

"With bedrest and some food, he should be up and about come tomorrow," Sylveon answered. "Did you end up carrying him all the way here?" Tessa nodded. "Goodness," Sylveon gasped, "You must be tired. Or maybe you were jumpy after going to the guild?"

Tessa looked down guiltily. "Uh… about that. Y'see, I–"

Sylveon frowned. "You didn't go, did you?"

Eevee's ears drooped. "Did… did I pick the wrong berry?"

"What? No, Eevee, of course not," Tessa insisted. "I just..." She glanced up at Sylveon. "... couldn't follow through. I started thinking about Mom and Dad again and…" Her voice trailed off. Tessa got to her feet and approached Sylveon. "You're Mom's friend. Did she drop by while I was out or send a postcard or a letter in the mail? Please, Sylveon, you have to know something."

"I'm sorry, Tessa." Sylveon nudged Tessa's chin with a ribbon. "Nothing's changed since last week. I'm still just as in the dark as you are. Besides, she and I haven't really spoken since, well..." She fell silent and Tessa hung her head. "If anything, the guild is more likely to know where she is than I am."

Tessa's shoulders slumped. "I understand," she sighed. "Um, is Vulpix awake now?"

"Yes. But don't talk to him too long. I want him to rest," Sylveon replied.

Tessa opened the door and entered her room. There, she found Shane lying on her straw bed, looking out a window. "H-Hi there," she whispered. "Sorry about, y'know, back at the beach."

"You mean for socking me in the head with that bag of yours?" Shane grumbled. "Not a great first impression, if I'm honest."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Tessa blurted out. "I panicked for a moment and thought you were an outlaw who wanted to steal my stuff."

"But I told you I'm a human," Shane stated.

"That's very hard to believe," Tessa said. "I've heard that outlaws know some crafty tricks."

Shane stiffened. "Wait. I lost consciousness after you hit me."

"How many times do I have to apologize for th–?"

"Quiet a sec," Shane said, drawing an annoyed look from Tessa. "If this was a dream, it should've ended when you knocked me out, but I'm still here. And I'm still a weird, white-furred Vulpix."

"All Vulpixes have white fur here," Tessa reminded him.

Shane's eyes sparkled and his tails thumped excitedly. "Don't you realize what this means? I'm really in the world of Pokémon!" He jumped to his feet. "I'm gonna be a hero!"

His legs suddenly shook and he flopped back on his belly. "Careful, careful," Tessa scolded, running up to Shane's side. "You're suffering from fatigue. You need to rest."

"I can tell," Shane groaned.

"Here." Tessa produced Eevee's oran berry from her satchel. "Eat this to keep your strength up."

Shane sniffed the berry and gobbled it up. 'Wow! Normally, I can't stand fruits and veggies. But this thing's so sweet,' he thought. "Thank you," he said to Tessa, "that really hit the spot."

Tessa sat on the floor next to the bed. "So, you're really a human, then?"

"Yup!" Shane proclaimed. "But, it's strange." His brow furrowed. "In the games… humans always lost their memories when they came to the Pokémon world. But I still remember everything perfectly. Apart from how I got here, I suppose."

"Games?" Tessa parroted.

"Ah, right," Shane chuckled. "They never had to have a conversation like this in the games, I suppose." He pivoted on the bed to face Tessa. "See, in my world, Pokémon are fictional characters." Tessa gave him a blank look. "Y'know, made up? Don't really exist?"

Tessa frowned. "Okay, I'm starting to doubt your story again."

"I'm serious," Shane said. "Before I woke up here, I was a male human. I had a family with two little sisters who bugged the heck out of me. I lived with them until I moved out. Then, I stayed on my own in this shabby little house in the projects of a human city and worked a job in a human hospital. I went to bed one night and, next thing I know, I wake up to see you talking to me."

"Well, if you just got here, what's with the jewelry?" Tessa asked, pointing to Shane's foreleg.

"Huh?" Shane looked down at the anklet clinging to his thigh. "I've never seen this thing before." He pressed his other forepaw against it, only to find that the anklet wouldn't move. "Urrrnnngggh… I think it's stuck. You got any grease or butter here?"

"We do, but Sylveon only keeps enough around for her cooking."

"Never mind," Shane sighed. He sank back down in the bed. "So, does this mean we're going to go the guild tomorrow?"

'He still wants to go? Even after I hit him?' Tessa gasped. 'No. Don't get your hopes up, Tessa. You'll end up disappointed... or worse!'

Her fur stood on end. "Why me? I already told you I don't fully trust you," she said.

"Isn't it obvious? I'm a human. If I'm here, then this world is in trouble," Shane insisted. "The only way we're gonna find out is by joining with the guild so we can explore and, well, stumble onto whatever problem the world's about to face."

"That's a bit of a stretch, don't you think?" Tessa countered.

"Didn't you tell me you'd heard stories of humans before?" Shane asked. "Well, what were they about? They couldn't have been mundane, otherwise your parents wouldn't bother telling you them." He didn't notice the look of horror that flashed across Tessa's face when he said the word "parents."

Tessa tried to compose herself to give an answer. "Well…" She rubbed her shoulder. "My parents did say that some bad stuff has happened in their lifetimes. And that humans supposedly played a role in making that stuff go away. The Pokémon that were involved... they're all pretty famous now. Saving Temporal Tower from collapse... blowing up a planet-sized meteor... stopping embodiments of all negativity... that's the stuff of legends, yeah. But those heroes are all the way on the other side of the world. They don't care about the Horizon Continent. So, I try not to focus on it. Besides, nothing's gone wrong since I hatched out of my egg."

Shane tensed up. 'Wait. Those sound just like the games!' he realized. "I think I get what you're talking about."

"Are you serious? The only way you'd know what I'm talking about is if you were from this world. But you're claiming you're from the human world. So, which is it, huh?" Tessa scoffed.

Shane laughed nervously. "I'm from the human world. I was there... and now I'm here, with this mysterious anklet, no less. Considering my situation, I don't have a problem believing those stories." He tapped a forepaw against his chin. "You know... I saw a gleam in your eyes when you described the stories to me. I thought you said you didn't care much about them."

'Nnnngh... what am I supposed to say to that? That I've spent years of my life praying I could be as famous as Team Go-Getters and Team Poképals?' Tessa worried. 'He'll just use that as an excuse to make me go to the guild... where I'll fail miserably!'

"Wait, I just thought of something that could help here," Shane said. "Tell me... do you know what a human looks like?"

Tessa stiffened. "No. Everyone knows that the humans that show up... they're always…" She looked up at Shane. "… turned into Pokémon... like you're claiming to be."

"Exactly!" Shane proclaimed.

'This... this can't be real,' Tessa thought, her heart racing. 'Did I really find a human, just like my heroes? No... this has to be a mistake. There's no way this could happen to a screw-up like me.'

"I… I'm sorry." Tessa clutched her head and shook it. "This is just so much to take in."

"… ha! That's how I should be feeling, not you," Shane laughed.

Tessa frowned. "You're not helping."

Shane sighed. "Y'know, the guild's my best shot at figuring out how to return to the human world," he said. "But, if I just go by myself, they'll never believe I'm a human."

'Certainly not with that attitude of yours. The human heroes were all soft-spoken and kind,' Tessa thought. "What do you want me to do about that?"

"Take me there. We'll form an exploration team and find a way for me to go home." Shane rolled onto his back and stretched out his limbs. "And if it just so happens we discover a terrifying evil plot and foil it, then that'll just be an added benefit."

Tessa's aura feelers throbbed. 'He's serious. The way he's talking, he really thinks we could be legendary heroes. But there's no way that could happen. I can't even walk up to the guild's front door. We'd be a terrible team.' She fidgeted with her scarf. "I… I'm sorry. I don't want to do something like that," she muttered.

"Are you serious?" Shane looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "You could be a hero! You'd be just like the Pokémon in your stories. Imagine… Riolu, the legendary explorer."

Tessa pulled her scarf over her eyes. 'Ohh... that's been my dream since I was a pup. Why does he have to sound so confident about this?' Her brow furrowed. 'Maybe I'm not giving him enough credit? He could be what I need to get out of this rut. I mean... he seems to like me. That's more than I can say for any of the other Pokémon my age here... aside from Eevee. I can't go to the guild alone, but if I have Vulpix...'

Tessa's thoughts trailed off and she suddenly tensed. Images flashed through her mind.

A lithe Lucario standing in a doorway, looking back in her direction. "Go stay with Sylveon until I return. I promise... I won't be long."

A streak of white flashing across her vision. The tip of a black scythe hovering in front of her.

"No… I can't…" Tessa stumbled to her feet. "I can't take you to the guild. Not now. Not ever."

Tessa scrambled for the door. "Hey, wait, where are you going?" Shane called.

"Somewhere else! We've already spoken too long. You need to rest."

The door slammed shut before Shane could further protest.

Shane rolled onto his stomach. 'Well, that was a bust. She must not be my partner, then.' He yawned and stretched out across Tessa's bed. "As soon as I'm rested up, I'll hit the road and look for the right Pokémon. Maybe there's another, cheerier Riolu wandering around, and she's just a red herring."

Tessa's eyes opened. She looked around the room, trying to make out the furniture in the dark. She put a paw up to her face, and clasped one of her aura feelers. It trembled in her grip. Tessa's heart started pounding. She sat up and stared at the front door. 'Is… someone outside?' Tessa slid to her feet and tiptoed toward the front door. The closer she got, the more her aura feelers throbbed.

'Oh, why can't you guys just work like you're supposed to?' she lamented. 'I wouldn't have to go outside if I could actually read auras like I'm supposed to.'

She slowly opened up the door and a creaking noise echoed through the room. Tessa flinched and quickly slipped outside. The moment she shut the door, her aura feelers stood up on end. Her ears twitched and she pivoted to her left. She could see a shadowy blur off in the distance, but it was too dark for her to make out what she was looking at.

"I think the test was a bust, Umbry. This definitely isn't the Mist Continent. Heck, I don't think I've ever been here before."

Tessa heard the bushes rustling and pressed herself up against one of the house's pillars. She held her breath and gently poked her head out to confirm the blurry figure was still standing there. 'What do I do? Should I go inside and tell Sylveon? Or wait to see if they leave?'

Before she could give her situation any further thought, a male voice said, "You're right, Espy. Looks like our Ultra Entercard screwed up again. And this was the worst miss we've had so far! It's gonna take days of tweaking to deal with this."

"What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" the first voice – Espy, if Tessa had to guess – asked. "Do you really want to risk using another Ultra Entercard? What if it drops us into a volcano, huh?"

"I'd rather take my chances if it means actually getting to go home and avoid sleeping in some bushes by a hick town and a forest dungeon," Umbry growled. "We're supposed to be keeping a low profile, remember? That goes completely out the window if we stay here. Everyone in the village will wake up and see us."

"I'm not an idiot, Umbry," Espy scoffed. "Besides, it's too late to go unnoticed. We're not alone."

Tessa's heart leaped into her throat. 'No, that's impossible! She couldn't have seen me... I've been hidden the entire time.' She got onto her paws and knees and tried to crawl back toward the front door. But she looked over in the direction she'd been staring and found a pair of bright blue eyes looking right at her.

Underneath Espy's eyes, a winged heart twinkled in the moonlight. Espy darted forward without so much as a word. Tessa scrambled to her feet, trying to throw the door to the house open. But Espy managed to close the distance between them astonishingly fast. Tessa tried to shout for help, but a pink forepaw covered up her snout. Next think she knew, she was pinned on her back. Tessa looked up at her assailant, eyes freezing on the black crystals covering Espy's chest and shoulders.

"Ssssshhhhhh," Espy whispered, pressing her forepaw harder against Tessa's snout. Her forked tail snapped to her side, revealing black, metallic spokes where the tips of her tail should've been. "Well, aren't you a curious little eavesdropper. It looks like this accidental trip won't be a complete bust after all. Umbry and I can always use a new... playmate."

She leaned forward, showing off the star-shaped diamond embedded in her forehead. Tiny metal veins fanned out from the diamond, digging into Espy's scalp. The sight made Tessa's skin crawl. Espy's diamond startled to crackle with red and black energy.

Tessa tried to struggle out from Espy's grip, but she was too strong. 'This can't be happening! I'm too young to die!'

Her entire world went bright red. But, to her complete surprise, she didn't feel anything. The red light faded as quickly as it appeared, leaving her staring at Espy's shocked expression.

"Impossible," she whispered. "You shouldn't be lying there like that. I just infected you. Your fur's supposed to burn. There should be Pheromosa parts tearing through your flesh! What's going on here?"

"Espy, what is wrong with you? What part of keeping a low profile didn't you understand? Get over here... now!" Umbry ordered. Tessa could just make out another figure out of the corner of her eyes. But all she could see was a pair of fierce red eyes, accentuated by glowing red rings on what she guessed were Umbry's tail, legs, and ears.

"Just a second, Umbry. Can't you see I'm in the middle of something important here?" Espy hissed.

The winged heart sigil on Umbry's forehead flashed and Espy tensed up. "I don't care. We're not here to infect anyone. You've already screwed things up for us big time. Let's get going before you manage to give me an even bigger headache."

"But Umbry, don't you see? She withstood infection," Espy exclaimed, again pressing down on Tessa's face. Tessa teared up at this. "We have to take her with us. She's exactly what I've been looking for. She's the perfectnew playmate for us." Umbry stomped over to their location and bit down on one of Espy's crystal-coated, triangular ears.

"Ow... OWW!" she shouted, releasing her grip on Tessa, who remained lying on the ground, frozen in fear. "What are you doing, you moron? We need to take her with us."

"No, we don't. I told you to stay with me, but you just wouldn't listen," Umbry snarled. He released his grip on Espy, who stumbled next to him. "Wipe her memories of us so we can leave. And this time, no infections, no talking about finding new playmates, and, most importantly, no jumping strangers!"

Espy rolled her eyes. She pointed them at Tessa and they flashed pink. Tessa went rigid and then immediately relaxed.

"There, happy?" Espy huffed. Umbry lowered his head and shoved her toward the nearby forest. Espy squeaked in protest, but Umbry shoved her forward again. This continued until they had both disappeared into the trees.

Tessa slowly sat up, getting over her stupor. She blinked a few times. Her mind raced for some reason, but she couldn't tell why. 'What the–? When did I get out here?' She opened her mouth, expecting to say something. But instead, Tessa's world went completely black. She was unconscious seconds before she fell back into the dirt, snout pointed up toward the starry sky.

Tessa had no idea how long she was out for. Only that it was still nighttime when she reawakened. After blinking a few times to clear her vision, her head started throbbing. 'What happened to me? I remember going to sleep, but now I'm outside,' she thought.

As she got to her feet, she sensed that something was wrong. A chill ran across her neck. She brought her paws up to her neck and felt around. Panic overtook her as her paws brushed against fur. Tessa looked down at the ground.

'Where's my scarf?' she wondered. 'Where did it go? Where did it go?!' She whirled around and continued scanning the ground. 'I still had it on my neck when I went to sleep. Don't tell me someone dragged me out here and stole it!' She looked back to the house. 'Wait, what if it was that Vulpix? What if I was right? He could've–'

"Kweh heh heh! What a stroke of luck, eh, Jangmo-o? And here we was thinking we'd be going home empty-handed."

Tessa looked to her left. There, she spotted a pair of Pokémon walking along the dirt road. A set of gleaming white claws held up a rainbow scarf. It glistened under the moonlight. Tessa balled her paws up into fists and charged toward her scarf. "HEY! Stop... thieves! Gimme back my scarf!" she shouted. The two Pokémon turned around in surprise.

"Suh... Sneasel, what are we gonna do? She wasn't supposed to wake up and see us!" Jangmo-o gasped. "How are we supposed to make our brilliant getaway now? She's gonna try and stop us!"

Sneasel slapped his accomplice upside the head. "Jangmo-o, you ditz! You ain't supposed to tell the broad we're escaping. That'll ruin the whole point of, well, escaping!"

Jangmo-o rubbed the back of his head. "S-Sorry, boss."

Tessa barked angrily and lunged at the thieves. They both jumped out of the way. Sneasel yanked Tessa's scarf back just in time to avoid her reach. He slung it over his arm. "Nice going there, Jangmo-o. Your big mouth cost us a big head start!" Sneasel scoffed.

"But ain't you just wasting more time by yelling at me?" Jangmo-o retorted.

Sneasel's eyes widened. "You're right. What are we standing around for? Time to deploy our super speedy getaway special. Ready? Go!" Tessa jumped back to her feet and tried to swipe at her attackers, but Jangmo-o and Sneasel had already broken into a run.

Sneasel turned to look back at Tessa. "Kweh heh heh! Nice try girlie, but ain't no Pokémon around here can outrun us!" he shouted. "We'll take great care of your scarf, though!"

"Heh... yeah! Thanks for the present, toots," Jangmo-o cackled.

'No... not my scarf...' Tessa whimpered. 'Not Dad's scarf. That was all I had left of him. And now it's gone!' She dropped to her knees. 'This is all Vulpix's fault. If I didn't run into him, I'd be sleeping in my bed and nothing bad would've happened!' She smacked the ground with her paw. 'I got suckered by him. Because I'm an idiot! A weak... pathetic idiot who can't even stand up for herself!' Tears welled up in her eyes.

"Hey, what are you just laying around for? Aren't you gonna go after them?"

Tessa turned around and spotted Shane trotting over to her. She quickly rubbed her eyes dry with her paw.

"Vulpix? What are you doing out here?" Tessa hiccupped. "You're supposed to be resting."

"I heard you shouting. And I already told you, it's Shane," he replied. "Wait, were you crying? Because of those two jerks? Come on! They didn't look so tough. I bet we can take them!"

Tessa went slack-jawed. "Wh-what? Are you crazy? We can't just go after them. It's the middle of the night!"

"So? If that scarf's really so important that it'd make you start crying, then we have to get it back," Shane said. "Are you just going to sit there or are we going to give chase?"

Tessa blinked tears from her eyes. "We?"

Shane extended a forepaw. "Yeah. I do owe you for letting me crash in your room."

Tessa's eyes darted around as she tired to process Shane's offer. Wasn't she just cursing him out a moment ago? Could she really work with him on the fly? "But there's no way we'll catch them. They both blend into the night so well," she whimpered. "We should just wake up Sylveon and call up Officer Magnezone. He'll know what to do."

"Yeah, right," Shane scoffed. "If we do that, I guarantee you that your scarf's as good as gone." He started to walk ahead of her. "Losing that scarf clearly shook you up, so it's gotta be important to you. Don't let it go without a fight."

Shane helped Tessa to her feet. "Right." She nodded, wiping snot from her nose. "I can't let them take my scarf. It means... a lot to me. We have to go after them."

"That's the spirit!" Shane chirped. "Just tell me which way we need to go."

"They were heading toward Azure Cape… I think. Maybe if we hurry we can catch them while they're still there?" Tessa said.

"Only one way to find out," Shane declared, and then took off running.

This fic is also updated on Serebii and Bulbagarden. Due to this site's constraints, there may be considerable delays with me uploading revised versions of chapters.