Santiago – Slowking
Zuko – Typhlosion
Diana – Pupitar
Link – Bellossom
Xena – Hakamo-o
Aerith – Happiny
Not On Hand:
Stein – Type: Null
Sunny – Meinfoo
Sorry for the bit of a delay. This here is the longest chapter in recent history though, at 15k.
Link sat beside Leo, soaking in the sun while it was his turn to watch their trainer. For the most part all was quiet. The others were off training, gathering supplies or, in the young Commander's case, plotting to capture the ghost that had made a habit of haunting them. Even the Bulwark had moved away from their trainer's side, electing to go help the young Commander – Santiago, as Leo called him.
That left Link to sit quietly beside their trainer as he rested, Spiritomb keeping watch over him in the mental world, while he watched over him in the physical. Though, if the Bellossom was being honest, there was more to it than that. As he sat there, simply sitting cross-legged with his leaves splayed out around him in a circle, he could feel the grass dance. More specifically, Leo's dance, his aura twisting and twining and shifting in an all-too-familiar pattern. Reacting to Link's presence.
It was a funny thing. His aura reacted to those pokemon around him, shifting to earth and stone near the Bulwark, ferocious and strong near the Warrior-chief, and to the warmth of a campfire near the Comrade. The things humans did without realizing what they were doing – that was what Link thought funny. But this time it was a little different. Even now he could feel Leo reaching out to him, his aura reaching out and running through the grass-and-swords dances before petering out and restarting all over again. Sometimes it switched to fire. Sometimes it changed to the ferocity of dragons, or the stubbornness of stone, or even the flexibility of water. And in the undercurrent of it all, Link could feel the Poison. It wasn't true Poison, as it was known to him – he had elected to forsake his Poison upon evolution, after all – but it was…similar. It was a quiet thing, insidious but not, harmful but not. He could sense Leo's internal battle with it, his aura shifting through the Dances as it tried to figure out what worked and what didn't.
It was humbling, in a way, and he was slowly coming to a realization about the nature of Pokemon and people. Why they needed each other. Why he felt drawn to Leo, and why the others did as well. Mayhaps he simply needed to voice it, but he could feel it.
"Link," Leo croaked, and the Bellossom whipped his head up to look at his trainer. Very slowly the young man had pushed himself into a sitting position, long brown hair falling in a messy, matted heap about his head as his green-ish eyes peered through the underbrush, unblinking. Link stood up and moved to stand beside him, putting one of his small hands against Leo's larger one as the boy slowly clenched and unclenched his fist. He'd been in and out of consciousness for the past few days, and each day he slowly gained more and more motor function.
It was a slow process, but they'd been just as slowly making their way back to Blissey in hopes of receiving aid.
"How long was I out this time?" he croaked, reaching over to his backpack and pulling a water bottle out with shaking hands. Link watched quietly as he carefully unscrewed the lid, sniffed it to make sure it was one of the purified ones, and proceeded to slowly sip on the contents. Link shrugged, not really knowing the measurements of hours like humans did. Since the middle of the night to the middle of the day, at least. With another sigh Leo laid back down, throwing an arm over his face and breathing heavily. "I ever tell you how much I hate nausea? When I was a kid I used to get this really bad stomach bug every year, gave me nausea for weeks. Was hoping that was over, but apparently not," he chuckled mirthlessly, and Link remained cautiously silent.
It was a rare day in which Leo talked about his life before this world – the only things Link knew about it were from the Commander, and the few times Leo spoke about the meanings of his songs. True, he knew that Leo – the young Emperor – was not from their world, that he was a foreigner much like how Link himself was a foreigner to this world, but not anything about his life before. Still, he had learned who the boy was through interactions and the feel of his aura and that was enough for him. Though he could not deny his curiosity.
"Funny, I haven't thought about that in years. I haven't thought about a lot of things in years." At that he fell silent, though Link waited patiently for him to continue. Leo looked over at him and smiled thinly. "Did I ever tell you about my dad? Probably not. He was a good man. And I don't mean that lightly – lots of people think their parents are good people, many of them are blind to the truth. Everyone has their flaws, and they can be just as terrible as anyone else. My father was no real exception; he had his flaws. But he was also the kind of man to wake up every morning, and say 'good morning' and mean it."
Link furrowed his brows, not quite understanding that.
"He was charismatic and full of energy, and taught me a lot. When I was a kid he used to take me hunting – bow hunting in particular. There's something about hunting with a bow over a rifle that makes it all so much more…personal. The kind of things you have to learn to get close to the animals; you really have to understand them. At least for elk, anyways. He also taught me most of my wilderness survival skills, even if he far outclassed me in those." Leo laughed lightly. "Though I'll be the first to admit that my skills weren't as good as I thought they were when I first landed here! Modern convenience spoiled me. But I guess what I learned the most from him was how to be a good person. From a young age I always knew it was all but impossible for me to be exactly like my father; I wasn't him, and he didn't want me to be. But the lessons he taught me…well. They made me who I am.
"A little respect goes a long way. Be quick to forgive, if for no one else's sake than your own. Be nice. The biggest obstacle in your path is yourself. Everything requires some kind of sacrifice, nothing is easy and nothing is free. And my drive. I may not know what I want my purpose to be in this world yet, but I'm slowly discovering it as I continue on." Leo said, smiling to himself as he slowly laid back down, staring up at the leafy canopy overhead. "Though that does remind me of a story…"
And so Link sat there, listening to Leo regale him with stories of his past. Of hunting strange pokemon he'd never heard of – what was an elk? – of times spent with his family, brothers, father, and mother. The other team members slowly filtered back as Leo rambled on, Diana coming to rest beside him, Santiago leaning against her and listening with an impassive expression. Xena and Zuko, back from their hunt, listening while Aerith played with one of Xena's scales, the dragon idly flicking it up and down on her arm as Aerith giggled quietly. And they listened. And learned about the man whom they travelled with as he told his stories as if remembering them for the first time.
It was hours later that Leo finally drifted off to sleep, the sun having just dipped below the horizon by the time he finished. Link let his own eyes close as Leo's last words, which had transitioned into the quiet hum of a song, faded into the gentle breathing of a restful sleep. His aura seemed much calmer now. And the group sat in silence. It hadn't been a shocking revelation, hearing about Leo's past. But it had been enlightening into the boy's attitude and actions; this world being so different from his own surely threw him for a loop. Maybe that's why the gods saw fit to revert him into a child – because in this world, he very much was.
Xena raised her head from where she'd been resting, the dragon meeting his eyes. Why do we follow humans? She asked, genuinely and without any ill intent. It was a loaded question. One that plagued pokemon for all eternity; much like how humans, Link had learned, questioned their reality and the nature of their species constantly. Pokemon are strong, and though humans have their strengths, they are so…different from us. Why do we follow them? What is it that makes them different?
Link looked skyward, as the Commander tried to reason out the Warrior's question. He felt the answer, on the tip of his tongue, his leaves rustling and ringing softly as he stood and stretched to get his mind working, yet it didn't come. The Commander argued with the Warrior, and yet it was the Bulwark, with her quiet steadiness despite her joyful nature, that truly answered the question first.
He shows us what we would never see otherwise. She said and left it at that. Link looked at her, and started to laugh as his thoughts finally clicked into place.
Humans give us what we cannot see ourselves. He said with a smile. And he didn't just mean seeing new sights or experiencing new things. No, while that was true, there was also something a bit more to the statement. Humans introduced them to new aura as well – Link could not comprehend the Fairy aura on his own, but with Leo's help he'd been slowly adding that to his repertoire in order to better battle dragons. Without him, he never would have been able to – because that was the gift and curse of humans, as he was starting to understand it. They could not wield aura like pokemon could, could not shape it into powerful blasts of fire or harness the light of the sun into a powerful beam. But they could feel all types of aura and teach it to others, unlike most pokemon.
Xena mulled it over, rubbing her chin with one paw and considering that. Seemingly satisfied, she lay her head back down and closed her eyes. As you say. She said softly. Link nodded as well, looking up at the Commander, who sighed and stood, leaning against a tree in order to take first watch. The Healer Aerith had already fallen asleep, and Link himself had been up all day, even if he hadn't moved much. He needed to rest – they all did. Especially if what he feared was coming actually was.
The jungle whispered to him as he closed his eyes and let sleep come to him – all normal noises of pokémon moving about in the dark. He could only pray it would stay that way, at least a little longer.
"What is your malfunction, fool thing?" Leo grumbled, tapping his pokedex in annoyance. He was pretty certain he knew what the issue was, but it was very annoying nonetheless. The red device had a constant low-battery signal flashing, despite its built-in solar panel and spare rechargeable batteries, as well as a low-storage signal. Something that he had never seen on his pokedex before, and something he wasn't super excited about having to deal with.
[System requirements not met. Please update to system or newer.]
The device flashed as Leo tried to access his old notes, warning him off of accessing other functions than the pokedex – and even that was a little glitchy and messed up. He scoffed and messed around a bit more, opening up the storage function that told him exactly what was taking up so much space only to see a multitude of files that were locked away and that he had no recollection of seeing or downloading. There was only one explanation for this that Leo could think of - that Porygon, probably a Porygon Z, had likely invaded his pokedex and found the living space a little cramped. But as one of the few still-working devices in the world that he'd found so far, the pokemon had little choice in the matter, even if it clearly wanted him to find something better.
…it was too bad Kukui didn't seem to have any spare pokedex in his home. Maybe at one of the labs he'd be able to find one…? No, he needed to focus on getting home, but at the same time, this Porygon had access to data that Leo was very interested in. What if it knew what happened to the world? What if it had information on ultra beasts and wormholes? If he remembered right Kukui's wife was the leading professor on Ultra Wormholes besides the Aether Foundation, so it was very possible. The real question was where he might find some stuff that would be able to fit the Porygon. Maybe the observatory on Ula'Ula? He remembered that being a big deal. Or maybe he just skips that and heads straight to Pallet Town, raiding Professor Oak's lab.
There was a lot of decision making to do here.
Which tied in pretty well with their current predicament – and as Santiago came pushing through the jungle, Link hot on his heels and looking at the sky nervously, he knew the answer to his question before he even said it.
"Are we still being followed?" Leo asked, and Santiago nodded.
"Yes. We don't know how many, but it seems there's one central one leading the others in a sweep of the area. The center stays high in the sky while the others go below, using the center as a…" Santiago frowned, mulling over his words.
"Control tower," Leo reasoned, nodding. The Nihilego had been on them for a few days now, and their presence had forced them to divert their path away from Iki Town and the totem Blissey, and more northwards up the coast. It didn't seem like they were being herded towards something, and although Leo figured the flying jelly-fish-like Ultra Beasts were searching for him and his team specifically, they didn't really seem to have a solid lead even if they knew the general direction they were heading in. But they were in the way and had seemed to even be circling Iki Town before catching onto Leo's scent, if he'd charted their path well enough.
A few days prior the Buzzwole had even picked a fight with the Nihilego, the muscular red mosquito-like pokemon tossing the Nihilego around for a bit before being driven off. That, at least, had been encouraging. The ultra-beasts weren't all working together all the time, not like when they had invaded the tournament grounds. That had seemed far too…organized.
…at least he'd been feeling better recently. Sometimes his face still throbbed, and he ached a lot and moved slowly, but his condition had been steadily improving. There weren't even any scars from the Rotom's electrical attack.
"Right. We're going to have to make a choice eventually; do we try to take them on and take them down, possibly catching them in balls so they don't go alert any of the others? Or do we keep running and try to circle around back to Blissey? I'm slowly getting better, even if it is a slow process," Leo asked, rubbing his face. He didn't know the strength of the Nihilego – it seemed to vary wildly, based on what he'd seen here and previously. He hadn't seen one yet that was Champion level, able to stand up to Victoria's team, but there was no doubt in his mind that there were at least one or two. The issue was their poison; the more Leo watched and observed them, the more he was convinced that was their most dangerous aspect.
Their attacks and movements all led to them getting close and stinging their prey. They didn't have the best attacks nor could they hit as hard as others – not like Buzzwole, for example – but their poison was absolutely debilitating even to pokemon. Leo winced as pain surged through him, nearly breaking his control over his body and sending him to the ground. Speak of the devil, and it shall appear.
After pulling himself together he righted himself and refocused on the task at hand, ignoring Santiago's concerned look in favor of Link, who was patiently awaiting orders.
Neither of them offered their opinion, so Leo made the decision for them.
"We need to set a trap. I hate to do this when that Rotom is still harassing us, but none of the plans to trap it have panned out yet. They're split up while they're searching, so here's my idea. We take out one on the ground as quickly as we can, or hit it and run as fast as possible. Diana might be a good choice for this, she's loud and distracting and might attract the attention of most of the Nihilego. Once the others are on the trail or investigating the downed Nihilego, we smack the one directing them. Knock it out of the sky. We think there's three, maybe four searching the ground? That would leave two, maybe three left for us to fight all at once. Two down leaves us with much better odds, especially if I can put the beasts in pokeballs to keep them from getting up," Leo reasoned.
"Or, alternatively, we use the environment to our advantage. If this world is anything like ours, then up north near…I'm forgetting the bay's name," Leo said, snapping his fingers in an attempt to jog his memory. "But it's up there, there's a decent canyon that drops down into the ocean below. If we can somehow lure them down there – probably by having me down at the bottom as bait, or a piece of my clothing – then we not only have the high ground, but we can potentially bury them by collapsing the cliff. Thoughts?" Leo asked. Santiago just blinked at him, turned toward Link, then back to Leo and nodded his head.
"Yes. We're not using you as bait," he said.
"It's just an idea, probably wouldn't work as intended anyway but the 'bait' idea is still something to consider. We'll keep watching their movements and make a plan as we go. Right now I don't think we have enough information for an actionable plan, but it's at least a start. Pick them off one-by-one, then lure them into a killbox. Simple, actionable, and we can still improvise when it all hits the fan." Leo reasoned. When no further response was forthcoming, Leo just nodded and gently rubbed his face, forcing himself to stand and working his legs gently. He could probably get a walk in – they had to keep moving, after all, even if it was slow going with him.
He didn't want to force Xena to carry him all the time, and he needed to move around some regardless.
The rest of the day was spent hiking and scouting for a good spot to set up an ambush. Zuko and Link were the ones who did that the most – though Zuko did return a little worse for wear, having run into the renegade Rotom – as Diana was too loud to really let her move around too much, Santiago was a little too slow, and Xena spent a lot of her time carrying Leo piggy-back through the jungle. He felt like crap about it, but his apologies fell on deaf ears as she continued through the jungle, not breaking a sweat at the added weight. Considering she'd been carrying him around ever since they left the lab, she was probably used to it. Not that Leo weighed much to begin with…and he'd only lost weight since the incident.
"Let's set up camp here," Santiago decided, having just finished scoping out the interior of a nearby gift shop. The dilapidated building had vines crawling all over the exterior, many of the windows having been shattered or boarded up. The ceiling even looked like it was caving in, and Leo refused to sleep in there – Santiago had just wanted to make sure there weren't any pokemon living there that might cause problems. This far north and west there weren't very many buildings to begin with – the Alolan people having mostly built towns and cities along the Southern and Eastern coasts of Melemele, leaving the center to the jungle and pokemon – but there were still occasional roads and shops.
This road in particular was cracked and all but covered in greenery, hardly a road at all, with the trees even starting to encroach, and evidence of pokemon having churned up the ground somewhere around here.
"I'll help," Leo said, watching a Ribombee as the yellow bug-type gently floated through the trees, followed closely by a gaggle of Cutiefly no bigger than Leo's thumb. They must have been young, to be so small. With a slight smile he whistled to them, matching the beat and rhythm of his tune to the humming of the bug types. Slowly the little creatures began to fly towards him, their humming increasing in volume to match his whistling. The Ribombee in particular flew right in front of him, locking eyes and smiling, puffs of pollen drifting from the bug's wings to land on the ground before him. The Cutiefly didn't show as much personality, seeming to drift with the wind and fall into formation behind Ribombee, rising up and down in the air to match the tune of Leo's whistling.
Then they continued on, and Leo turned back to help set up camp; letting out Diana and Aerith, the little Happiny immediately wandering over to him to show him a cool new rock she found before waddling off to go bug Santiago. As Diana settled into the dirt he sucked in a deep breath, the scent of earth and stone hitting his nose like an avalanche. He laid a hand on the Pupitar's shell as she wiggled, settling deeper into the loamy soil and digging her spikes in, and smiled at her. She squinted happily and wiggled again as Leo turned away, ignoring the amused look his dragon was sending him.
"Haka," she chuffed, poking his side as he slowly moved over to where Santiago was searching through Leo's backpack, the Slowking having carried it all this way. Each movement was slow and he had to force himself to move – almost dragging his feet across the ground – but he did have enough energy to swat Xena's claw away.
"Oh hush, you," he chided, even as he was waved off by Santiago. He glared at his starter but Santiago was nothing if not stubborn, clutching Leo's backpack protectively and sending the boy the most heated glare he could possibly muster. He had no choice but to back off, settling down with his back against Diana, Xena laying down next to him with her tail touching his thigh as if to make sure he didn't move away in the night. With a grunt of pain, his back muscles twinging at some slight movement, Leo leaned back against Diana and sighed heavily. He wasn't necessarily looking forward to tonight, but he figured he was near a breakthrough in his battle against the poison. Not the physical aspect, but the mental, as the Nihilego poison was a poison of the mind and aura.
Already he could feel his consciousness fading, which did not mean the blissful release of sleep. No, it meant falling into the mindscape with Spiritomb, and fighting off the poison attacking his aura. Something that he had slowly come to…no longer fear, or see in a negative light. He was still him. He was not losing himself like Lusamine had; he could feel it. His pokemon were watching him closely enough to know it wasn't the case either.
But tonight was a little different. When he let his control over his body fade and his mind to drift off, he did not wake in Spiritomb's mindscape nor remain wholly cognizant of his body. No, instead he found himself sitting beneath the boughs of a tree, staring off into the starry distance, where his memories played like nebulae. He was getting tired of reliving them, though it did have their perks.
"Y'know, back when I first met Professor Oak he asked me why I tried to so hard to get his dad's journal to him. I mean, I was just some random kid dumped in the middle of the mountains that happened to stumble upon him; how come I tried so hard to make sure Archibald Oak's journal got to the good Professor?" Leo said conversationally, knowing Spiritomb was listening in. "I told him that I would do a lot to hear the sound of my father's voice again. That's why I made sure the journal made it back to him. So in a way I kind of have to thank the Nihilego,"
On cue a memory pulled up in front of him, moving to cover the entire of the starry expanse in front of him and playing like a movie from the first-person perspective. It was of his father, a short, stocky man with clean stubble and hints of grey along the temples of his black hair, green eyes shining with mischief.
"You are not aiming for me." He said, stance relaxed. They were in their garage at the time, a red wrestling mat laid out so they could toss each other on it and tools lining the walls, safely away from the mat. "You are aiming six inches behind my head. We do not break bones, we rattle organs. When you hit someone in the gut, you bruise their kidneys and make them piss blood for the next month. That is the Wu Tang fighting style; we aim inside. But as in all things, you master yourself first," he said.
Leo smiled as the memory continued, him getting his ass repeatedly handed to him by his dad – that was one of his earlier memories of training in the martial arts. Sometime in his first year of high school, and that was before he even got to the heavy stuff.
Movement off to his left alerted him to Spiritomb's official arrival, and Leo turned his head to look at his ghostly companion – surprised to see Froslass floating beside him instead, coming to rest in the grass at the base of the tree as well.
Wu Tang? She asked without words, and Leo nodded.
"Yes. Many people called the Chinese martial arts kung fu, but that isn't the name of the style – or even martial arts! Kung fu is a way of life, it is taking a skill and making it into your way of life. One can have kung fu baking bread, or sweeping the streets; it was simply most famous among the martial artists who made that their way of life. But I'm rambling. My style is called an internal martial art; it is believed that by practicing this style you gain master of your own qi, or internal energy, using it to empower yourself and eventually gain enlightenment into the universe," Leo explained, smiling and standing as the memories and explanations of his father came flooding back to him. These memories intertwined with some of the explanations Sofu had given him about aura, back during his time on Poni.
He shifted through a few stances, feeling the way his spectral mind-body moved as he shifted into the Bellossom dance, feet darting across the ground like a bloody ballerina. There was little difference between a martial artist and a dancer, he figured. But as he moved like this he became increasingly aware of connections from him to other beings – his team, arrayed about his protectively. Link, whose aura sang of grass, but soul rang of steel. Santiago, the young King discovering who he was alongside Leo, outside the thrill of battle. Diana, earth and stone and silence, simply thrilled to be alive and experiencing the world. Aerith, a healer full of hope and wonder. Xena. Warrior, princess, dragon. Pride and honor incarnate, simple, yet strong. The one Leo knew least in his team, yet…yet. One he knew he could count on. And Sunny. The little martial artist who had tried so hard to protect the ones Leo had come to care for, and had been left behind in the other world.
"I…think I can see a little bit now. This whole time I've been practicing my martial arts, I've been using aura. Unconsciously, of course, and while I did know this I didn't understand it. It helped that I knew the grass dance, and helped that I was trying to connect with something every time I did this," Leo said slowly, falling out of his stances and turning to Froslass. He could feel something within him, bubbling up as he moved about. The stars around them seemed to roil and wave, the tree's leaves rustling in the wind. Froslass cocked her head to the side and for what felt like the first time, Leo saw.
She was but one of over a hundred spirits in Spiritomb, once upon a time, and yet, she was whole without them. Unlike Spiritomb. According to her backstory she had once even been human; or a part of her had been. Then she'd been cursed to live as a Froslass until Leo came along, and woke the horror of the Burned Tower, prompting her to merge with the ghost in order to contain and guide it. Now the one hundred and eight spirits Spiritomb had once been was down to twenty some-odd, after over six months of hard work on both of their parts, merging the spirits. Even now he could see them, all twenty darting about in the heart of his mindscape, running themselves ragged trying to keep the silvery lines of Nihilego's poison from his core.
No words could express his gratitude to the ghost for what they were trying to do. But at the same time, he was not so certain it was necessary. He had examined what was happening to him excruciatingly closely, and had come to a conclusion – it was no different than when he'd first met Spiritomb. Not really. The poison was trying to effect who he was, exert some sort of control on him, and to an extent it was even working. It was cutting away the excess, leaving the barest, most firmly placed parts of himself. Well, the purest parts of himself would be a better way of putting it, but that was beside the point. He would not change because he would not deny who he was.
"What say we wrap this up tonight, huh?" Leo asked abruptly, startling the ghost.
Froslass cocked her head to the side, and Leo strode forward, the visual representation of his mindscape falling away to show only him, Froslass, and the collection of ghosts that was Spiritomb in a field of darkness. Spiritomb was an…odd sight. He could feel it more than he could see, and to him Spiritomb felt like a spiderweb. All bits and pieces interconnected together around a center, but surprisingly fragile when touched. Strong enough to do what it was intended, but not a permanent structure by any means.
Froslass blinked at him as he stretched his will out, his aura, crackling with the silvery lines of fire that was the Nihilego poison though it was, reaching out to gently encompass Spiritomb. Pride welled up in Leo's gut as he looked at Spiritomb. Pride and gratefulness. And he would return it as best he could.
"Are you ready?" he asked, his aura wrapping around the Nihilego poison, feeling it out. Spiritomb hesitated.
It was scared.
What about Leo? Would he be ok at the poison's mercy?
Leo reminded it; I am the master of my fate. I am the master of my soul. I have crossed the Void with another soul beneath the safety of my own, and faced your Pressure. This poison will not truly harm me.
…it was ready.
And the mindscape was colored in the light of a healing aura.
Memories flooded Leo's mind as he pressed the spirits in, the normally long, arduous process seeming to just…click and fall into place. He saw the lives of those that had come before, half a dozen warriors – some tower guards, others wandering mercenaries that practiced with swords of Scyther scythes or Skarmory feathers – even the memories of some pokemon, strangely alien, yet oddly familiar in their thoughts and instincts. And for the first time Leo felt how his aura burned through it all. He didn't just force the spirits together like puzzle pieces, seeing their memories allowed him to resonate his aura with their own, and then, through this resonation, conjoin them into a greater whole with his own aura merging into the spirit right alongside them, acting as a binder that would eventually dissolve away into the ghost itself. Kind of like internal stitches, in a way, in that they just dissolved into the body as it healed.
Which also explained why Leo could only do so much of it in a night, besides the mental fatigue. He would almost literally burn himself out trying to use so much life essence.
But stubbornness was part of his nature, and Leo was determined to finish helping Spiritomb tonight; if for no other reason than because Spiritomb deserved it. He pushed and pushed, the small pool of aura around his soul swiftly depleting until almost nothing was left…nothing but Nothing, that touch of Void that stuck with him even after being pulled into this universe.
He cursed, halfway through the merging of another spirit as he felt his exhaustion begin to take over, almost losing his grip on the spirits, the two starting to slip apart.
There were only eleven spirits left, not including the two main personalities, the Warrior and Froslass, the latter of whom hadn't merged with any spirits. She looked at him, concern etched across her features as Leo felt the poison in his system redouble its efforts against his soul now that his 'aura' was out of the way. Annoyance flashed through him as it struck at his soul – visualized as a multifaceted silvery ball, small divots having been burned away by the poison. Leo grit his teeth, tightened his grip, and did the metaphorical equivalent of stomping his feet in the dirt. Pain wracked his limbs and mind, his soul aching as the poison tried to wrap itself around him, the silvery lines taking on a purple hue and burning.
"That. Is. ENOUGH." He barked, soul flashing with sheer determined will. The poison blanched as Leo tugged on Nothing – small motes of blankness floating in the mindscape, holes in the otherwise completed fabric – and felt something within himself break.
And suddenly there was light. Nothing turned to Something, and aura flooded the mindscape from deep within his soul, hidden away behind a…dam, as it had been. The poison burned away with an almost unearthly screech, a cool breeze seeming to kick up and spread out across the mindscape. Leo let out a deep breath as some unseen pressure was released from within him – not unlike a good burp, but also a thousand times better than that and minus the burping part – and he felt himself relax. With a smile, he turned back to Froslass and the rest of Spiritomb.
"Let's continue, then," he said, and promptly got to work.
On the outside, the moment Leo awakened his aura – truly awakened it, the aura which had been hidden away by the Void and which had held him together in said Nothingness, ferreted away as much for his own safety as it was an unconscious attempt to not remember the Void, not the odd usage of excess aura that he'd been doing until now – it was as if a supernova went off in the jungle.
It was a silent thing, in actuality. Leo had shifted from leaning against Diana to sitting upright in a cross-legged position; entirely unconsciously, and remained that way even as aura rolled off of him in waves. His shirt did not ruffle in an unseen breeze. The grass did not grow, and lightning did not crackle about him like some sort of anime. For the untrained observer, it was as if he was simply meditating. But the scent of rich soil and verdant fields did become stronger, and a certain kind of strength rumbled through the ground as he sat there.
In a normal world, his awakening might not have been as shocking. Even a bonfire can be lost in a veritable sea of candles, such was his aura to the peoples of the other world. But here? In a land where humanity was all but seemingly gone – survivors, if there were any at all, few and far between? His aura was a beacon, instinct alone from thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years of symbiotic relationships between man and 'mon drawing the eyes of all who could see for miles and miles around. Even those pokemon who didn't know the scent of a human's aura, and there were quite a few of them, somehow found their eyes drawn in that direction; a beacon in the sky.
Though even among his own pokemon, few recognized what had happened. Too used to his aura and the aura of humans in general, most slumbered gently save for two. Aerith, who had been his companion for only a week, woke up from where she slept in his lap to stare up at her trainer. And what a strange word that was, trainer. They mostly played! But even she knew something was different now, close in proximity to the waves rolling off of him, even if she didn't know what it was.
The other was Diana, the Pupitar having been awake as the night guard. She rarely slept anyways, entirely too energetic despite her pupal form and entirely too curious to let the world pass her by in the underground. She'd spent years down in the dark, and didn't want to miss what the wide world had to offer. But now she felt calm. Nothing but calm, this close in proximity to Leo's aura as she stared up at the sky. She had faith he would pull through whatever was eating at him. He still had much to show her of the world, they still had plenty of adventures to have. And she was ready for them, and ready to experience them. But first and foremost, she was ready to stand guard.
Because her squishy friend seemed really good at attracting trouble.
When Leo opened his eyes, he found himself strangely refreshed. Sure, his entire body ached like he had just spent the past twelve hours working hard, and his vision was a little fuzzy, but it was still refreshing. Sensing his sudden awakening Aerith hopped off of lap, the little Happiny chattering away at him excitedly. He smiled at her, patted her on the head and prompting a giggle from the little pink normal-type, and rolled his shoulders. With a groan he stood and stretched, one arm above his head the other bending over his head to touch his shoulder, back popping in multiple places as he did so.
"Aaah, that felt good," he muttered to himself, turning around and laying a hand on Diana's carapace. She hummed and wiggled happily under his touch, eyes closing in pleasure as he scratched her shell. She probably couldn't even feel it, but – a sudden thump from inside her shell caught him off-guard, and a grin found its way to his face. "You're growing up quick, aren't you girl?" he asked happily.
The actual body of a Pupitar lived inside its shell, not the shell itself, and as they grew into Tyranitar they could actually start moving their limbs on the inside. That didn't necessarily mean Diana was anywhere close to evolving yet, as the natural growth of a Pupitar into Tyranitar varied wildly with the amount and quality of soil they'd eaten as a Larvitar, but it was encouraging to hear evidence of her growth.
"Hap!" Aerith called, drawing Leo's attention back to her. The little Happiny chattered away at him, puffing up her cheeks and making waving motions with her little arms in an attempt to tell him…something. He cocked his head to the side, not fully understanding what she was trying to say, but getting a…feeling? He did something that surprised her…
"Oh, that was probably just me helping Spiritomb," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the ghost's keystone. The intricately carved stone cube felt heavy in his hand, and suddenly he frowned. He…couldn't feel any activity coming from the stone. It seemed dormant. "Spiritomb? …Froslass?" he asked, careful not to let too much hope seep into his tone. He'd been hoping that Froslass would turn out like Cynthia's Mismagius and pop out of the stone once it was ready, but maybe that was too much to hope for. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember whether or not he'd connected Froslass with Spiritomb's final spirit. Everything had been a bit of a haze after he burned away the poison…
A chill ran down Leo's spine and, with furrowed brows he turned around – only to come face-to-face with Froslass, her red eyes glowing creepily and illuminating her white-and-purple face in a decidedly scary manner.
"LAAAASSS!" she screeched, at the same time Leo shouted "JESUS!" and leapt back, heart hammering in his chest. Froslass cackled and drifted off through the trees, trailing snow behind her. Leo laid a hand over his heart as the rest of his team leapt awake, startled by the ghost's cry. Diana rumbled in what Leo could only describe as laughter, Aerith running up to grab at his leg fearfully. Sighing Leo bent and scooped the little pokemon up, gently shushing her and patting her head comfortingly as he turned back to the rest of his team. Link, for one, had his leaf blade ready to go, a green glow illuminating the forest as the Bellossom readied his attack.
"Guys, meet Froslass. We travelled together for a while," Leo said wearily, shifting Aerith so he was gently cradling the Happiny in one arm and gesturing towards where Froslass had disappeared. The ghost then promptly reappeared above Santiago, giggling silently as she put a snowball on one of the tips of his crown, then vanishing again. "…well, you'll meet her eventually," he said, unable to hide the pleased tone in his voice. Truly he was glad Froslass was back. Though he wondered what that meant for Spiritomb. Speaking of, he looked down at the keystone in his hand, all while waving his team back to sleep. Zuko snorted, his back fires dying out as he laid back down, wholly ignoring Froslass as she sprinkled snow on his snout.
At least it seemed that way until he huffed out a cloud of embers without opening his eyes, startling the ghost type off. Leo chuckled, gently setting Aerith down as she started to squirm. She immediately ran over to Link, settling in beside him and rubbing the top of the round stone in her pouch as she looked around for Froslass. Leo sighed. He'd have to get on to Froslass if she tried to traumatize the poor girl.
"Yeah, that's not the same little Quilava you used to torment," he said to the air, amused, then turned his attention back to Spiritomb. "Hey buddy, you there?" he asked, shaking the stone. Nothing. He frowned and tapped it with one finger, only vaguely aware of Froslass as she snuck up over his shoulder, peering down at the stone with him. "Any idea what's going on here?" he asked, glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes. She shrugged the best she could and breathed out a small flurry of snow into one of her icy palms. Leo raised an eyebrow at her as she furrowed her brows, eyes concentrated on the snow in her hand as it piled itself back up into the vague approximation of a tower.
"Are you saying I have to take Spiritomb back to the Burned Tower?" he asked, and Froslass shrugged again, cocking her head to the side at a decidedly unnatural angle. No head should twist that far, but then again this was a ghost. So. "That is entirely unhelpful, but does make sense. Stupid location-based evolutions…they should never have existed," he grumbled, rubbing his forehead and gently putting the stone back in his pocket. There was one thing for certain though – his Spiritomb was not a Magearna like Cynthia's. There were no memories of such things, and the memories of the spirits did not even come close to suggesting that.
"Laaas," Froslass cried softly, shaking her head and starting to fly off.
"It's good to have you back though," Leo said with a smile. Froslass glanced over at him and grinned wider than should have been possible, revealing jagged teeth brighter white than any snow before vanishing into the night of the jungle. Leo frowned. "You're going to make me eat those words, aren't you?" he asked rhetorically. But it didn't wipe the comfortable feeling in his gut, or the happiness that Froslass was back and Spiritomb, though apparently dormant, was closer than ever to being healed.
"Leo," Santiago said, drawing his attention to his starter. The snowball Froslass had speared on his crown was swiftly melting, despite the cool night air, and Link was looking at it in amusement, patting down his leafy kilt and settling down on the ground. "Are you ok?"
"I'm good, buddy. Feeling much better. I think I burned most of the poison out of me, but I'll keep an eye on it just to be sure," he said, looking down at himself and blinking. Gods above, he was filthy. His brown cargo shorts were matted with sap and dirt, twigs sticking off the fabric, and his pale green "safari" shirt, because that was the best word he could use to describe the button-up garment, wasn't much better. Not to mention all the scratches and dirt on his legs, black hair starting to come in on them, and arms. His hair probably wasn't much better, and a quick hand through the brown mess atop his head confirmed it. "Need a bath and to change clothes though. Probably wash these, somehow," he said, and Santiago snorted, visibly relaxing.
"You're fine. Don't smell that bad," he said.
"No, but I feel sticky," Leo grumbled, rolling his shoulders again and twisting from side to side, his back popping in a satisfying machine-gun pop running up his spine. He groaned in pleasure and slumped his shoulders, enjoying the feeling. "Ah, that felt good." Santiago gave him another look before wandering back over to the small divot in the earth he'd made with his psychic powers, lying down flat on his belly with his chin resting on the soil in a perfectly straight line – almost exactly how he'd slept as a Slowpoke.
A poke to his side had Leo turning to raise an eyebrow at Xena, the dragon huffing at him and flexing her claws.
"Haka," she said, narrowing her eyes in concern as she looked him up and down. He snorted, feeling energetic despite his soreness, and stomped his feet while turning to face Xena fully. She cocked her head at him as he settled in a stance, spreading his arms in a manner that clearly said 'let's wrestle.' She snorted at him and shook herself, scales jangling as Leo snorted back, kicking his shoes and socks off and digging his feet in the soil. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, so Leo made the decision for her.
Surprise on his side, Leo darted forward and grabbled Xena around the middle, snaking his arms beneath her own and throwing his hip into her left side, knocking one of her legs just slightly off-balance. She yelped as Leo twisted, using her own body weight and momentum against her to awkwardly throw her to the ground, the dragon landing roughly on her back and eyes widening in surprise as Leo tumbled over with her, throwing an elbow towards her eve as he fell. She snarled and opened her mouth, her instincts kicking in as she leaned up to wrap her jaws around his arm, but he slapped his other hand around her face, rubbing his thumb and forefinger over her closed eyelids with a cheeky grin, holding himself up by pressing her head to the ground.
"I won that one, girl," he taunted, Xena's scales ringing softly from the brief tussle. He wiggled his fingers for emphasis, even as he felt the dragon's jaws tighten briefly around his arm. His message was clear; I may have lost an arm, but you lost your eyes.
What happened next was a brief, one-sided beatdown on Leo's part. After kicking him off of her; quite literally in this case, as Xena pressed her feet against Leo's middle and tossed him away, she had proceeded to methodically toss him around with greater strength, speed, and dexterity. Even if he did get a few surprises in – grabbing her by the head and using his entire body weight to bring her to the ground, sweeping her legs once when she over balanced, and using her own tail against her by tripping her up with it, for example – she absolutely dominated him. That was, until they were interrupted.
The rest of the camp had watched on in amusement as Leo wrestled with Xena, the Hakamo-o getting very much into the exercise as time went on, happily helping Leo to his feet and snapping her jaws in glee whenever he surprised her. Aerith cheered from the sidelines while Froslass hovered over her, cocking her head at the little one seeming unable to decide what to think of her, and Zuko pointedly trying to ignore everything with his paws over his ears to disrupt the noise, as Leo slammed Xena to the ground once more. It had been a beautiful counter, and one Leo was unlikely to be able to repeat on purpose – when she came in for a straight punch, hiding her claws to avoid mauling Leo, he had promptly brushed it aside, stepped inside her stance, and kneed the side of her leg before full body-tackling her to the ground.
She chuffed in the back of her throat as Leo stood up, panting hard and sweat dripping down his body as he offered a hand to her. That was when the disruption came.
Trees crashed as Buzzwole came tumbling through the jungle, buzzing madly and muscular arms flexing. Leo froze as the overgrown mosquito skidded to a stop right next to Aerith and Froslass, the two staring at the Ultra Beast in shock.
"Aerith, throw!" Leo barked without hesitation, Xena forgoing his hand to leapt to her feet with a snarl. His sudden order sparked the little Happiny into action, working on sheer instinct and reaction to his words as she hopped over, grabbed Buzzwole by one of its skinny legs, and bodily hurled it into the distance. Tree limbs snapped as it flew away, buzzing madly as it went. But it wouldn't be gone long, of that Leo was sure. "Guard, now! Aerith, batter's up!" Leo ordered, already backing up and away from the direction the Buzzwole had been sent flying towards.
Santiago hauled himself to his feet. Diana hummed angrily, lifting herself into away from the tree she'd been resting against to watch Leo wrestle with Xena, and turned herself to face the hole in the foliage. Link prepared a leaf blade and hesitated on making a sunny day, glancing over at Zuko, who flared his back fires and lowered himself to the ground on all fours with a growl. Froslass vanished into the shadows with nary a sound, and for a moment Leo hesitated on giving a command. Sunny day could interfere with Froslass' movement, but…
"Set up! Sunny dance!" Leo barked, the buzzing of Buzzwole once again reaching his ears. Too many teammates benefited from sunny day to not use it. Especially with fire being super effective against Buzzwole, as little as type advantage seemed to really matter. He just wanted every edge they could get.
The deafening sound of a tree falling filled the jungle as Aerith grabbed a nearby tree – not too big, of course, it wasn't one of the monsters easily thicker than Leo was tall – yanked it out of the ground, and swung it just in time for Buzzwole to come hurtling through the jungle once more, crashing through the tree-sized bat Aerith swung with one fist outstretched. Leo covered his face as wood splinters rained down around him, and was briefly blinded as the clearing was lit up with attacks. Fire blasted forward from Zuko, joined by a jet of blue dragonfire from Xena, while Link hurled a seed bomb. Santiago blasted Buzzwole with a psychic, stopping it in its tracks, while Diana jettisoned forward, plowing through the flames to smash bodily into Buzzwole. The bug type tumbled out of the air, landing flat on the ground as Leo breathed out, Froslass floating beside him protectively.
They had a fight on their hands, and it wasn't just Buzzwole. His senses twitched and he pivoted on his heel, pointing behind him and shouting a wordless command as another pokemon appeared out of the jungle; white and tall, with long legs, and insectoid face, and a skirt-like frills along its body.
Pheromosa. Speedy, bug/fighting. "Slow her down!" Leo barked, leaping to the side as the bug type buzzed towards him, arms outstretched and missing his shirt by inches. Froslass screeched and breathed out, a wave of ice extending from her maw to cover Pheromosa, chilling the bug. It did little to slow her down though, as she blurred over to Leo and grabbed him by the shoulder, leaning her face down to look into his eyes inquisitively. Then they narrowed, and Leo slapped the bug as she leaned even closer.
The blow did little to actually hurt Pheromosa, but it did startle her enough to give Froslass an opening. She phased up out of the ground between Pheromosa and Leo, firing a point-blank ice-beam at her midsection. She screeched and let Leo go, the chill giving him goosebumps and a block of ice freezing Pheromosa's legs together.
Then Xena was there, hitting the bug in a flurry of scales and draconic energy. Leo cursed as he backpedaled away, assessing the situation; watching Santiago get slapped into the ground by a backhand from Buzzwole, and Diana come hurtling back into the camp from where she'd been slapped away. Zuko seemed torn on fighting Buzzwole or coming to Leo's aid, while Link, well…
Link had turned into a furious storm of leaves that leapt all around Buzzwole, leaving cuts all along the red bug's muscular form. Unfortunately there still wasn't a sunny day up though - they probably got distracted by Pheromosa.
"Sunny day, then let's hit 'em! Diana, bulwark!" Leo barked, dive-rolling to the side of Pheromosa, who broke out of the ice and went on the offensive against Xena, nd popping up in an odd stance. Zuko belched out a ball of light, floating high into the sky and making Link go even faster before leaping towards Pheromosa, electricity crackling along one paw as he struck the bug in a thunder punch. The unexpected blow drove her off of Xena, and let his dragon spin and slam a dragon tail into the bug's gut.
Then Diana was there, jetting through the air with a trail of stones bursting from the ground behind her and driving Pheomosa further back.
Santiago stood slowly, shaking himself off and scowling, gem glowing atop his head and momentarily freezing Buzzwole in place, allowing Link time to whip up a dazzling gleam, infuse it into his leaf blade, and resume his rapid attacks. Almost should've named him Yoda. Leo thought, watching the Bellossom leap up Buzzwole's body, leaving glittering marks along its muscles as he went, then tumble down his back and narrowly dodge when the giant bug turned to slap where he had been standing, cracking the ground.
Then Pheromosa struck. A loud buzz rocked the area, momentarily stunning Leo and his team as her antenna trembled in a bug buzz – and then she was gone in a plume of dust. Link shouted in alarm as he was plucked away from Buzzwole, Pheromosa punching him mid-air, only to dodge away as a boulder the size of a minivan hurtled through the clearing towards her, courtesy of Aerith.
Leo cursed and recalled Link just before he impacted a tree, re-releasing the little grass type by his side before being forced to dodge away as Pheromosa once again settled her interest on him. Only this time he wasn't fast enough, and she grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him into the air, eyes narrowed curiously. Xena howled in rage but was stopped by Buzzwole, who powered through a psychic by Santiago and slammed a fist into her side, its sheer strength sending her crashing into a tree.
Zuko roared and belted out flames towards Buzzwole, encasing it and forcing the bug to retreat.
Leo couldn't help himself. A grin stretched across his face as he lifted his legs, twisted his body around, and locked his ankles behind Pheromosa's thin neck. The bug blinked at him as he yanked himself backwards, tearing his shirt and jerking the bug's face down, low enough for Link to promptly leap up and punch her with a fist full of fairy energy, the dazzling gleam exploding in a glittering display of light. Stone spires jutted out of the ground the moment Leo was free of Pheromosa's grip, catching her in the side and knocking her sideways –
And then the cavalry arrived. But not for Leo.
Four Nihilego descended from the skies, stones encased in purple light – power gem – peppering the landscape and catching Leo's entire team unaware. Zuko yelped as multiple stones struck him, Santiago barely managed to shield himself with a blast of psychic energy before retaliating with rapid-fire water pulses, Link ducked behind his substitute shield, and Leo recalled Aerith before the little Happiny could be struck from where she'd been hiding behind a tree.
Froslass shrieked and fired an ice beam into the sky, freezing half of one Nihilego, only for Pheromosa to lunge across the clearing and pierce the frigid ghost with sharp claws. Froslass shrieked again and vanished into shadows on reflex. Leo knew she was hurt bad – Froslass weren't known for their ability to soak up damage, and she had just come back to him.
"Xena, roar!" Leo commanded, and Xena, tossing a tree that had collapsed on her off of herself, stomped her feet and roared at the night sky. The Nihilego froze at the noble roar, and Leo took the opportunity to bark out a few more commands. His pokemon responded even before he finished them, almost seeming to read his mind as he conducted them into defensive positions. Diana rocketed into the sky to mix it up with the Nihilego, crashing into the one Froslass half-froze full-force, while Link took on distracting Pheromosa. Xena charged across the clearing to Buzzwole as an almost purely physical attacker, dragon claws lashing out against the bug's tough hide, while Santiago and Zuko turned their attentions to the skies and began peppering the descending Nihilego with ranged attacks. Ember, heat wave, water pulse and psychic all peppered the white jellyfish, but Leo knew it wasn't enough.
They needed something more.
He set his feet, locking eyes with Zuko and letting out a huff, his aura aligning with the traits of Fire. He slid his foot along the ground in the first step of the fire dance, letting his instincts guide him -
A terrible crash alerted Leo to incoming danger, but he was mid-step and couldn't adjust. Xena had been bodily tossed aside by the much-larger and stronger Buzzwole, the dragon crashing into Santiago and sending both to the ground. Pheromosa juked around Link, eyes focused entirely on Leo as she sped towards him with unparalleled malice in her eyes – likely recognizing the Dance of Fire, Leo realized, as they had likely fought some Alolans before – and he stumbled backwards as the two closed in.
He didn't have time to –
Stones abruptly rose up around him and Diana was there, crashing into Pheromosa from above. Her jet-engines roared furiously, a dark pulse blasting off of her form as she carefully righted herself – only to be kicked three times in rapid succession by Pheromosa.
"Diana –" Leo started, but was cut off by Buzzwole, who ripped a tree out of the ground with a horrific snap and swung it like a baseball bat. It crashed against the boulders around him, impacting Diana and Link, who was attempting to jump into the fray. Buzzwole stepped forward, attention locked on Leo and wholly ignoring Santiago's water pulse as it impacted the back of the bug's head, and Leo realized something as he stepped away from the stone wall and the angry ultra-beast. There would be no flex-off to save him this time.
It was angry. This was not the almost playful challenges it had issued to him and his team before.
Pheromosa buzzed angrily and slapped at Froslass, who appeared out of the shadows to spit another ice beam at her, and shot towards Leo – only to abort as Diana once again blasted forward, placing herself between the bug and Leo. Pheromosa juked around a stone edge that burst from the ground to catch her and, with anger and annoyance on the bug's alien features, promptly began laying into Diana. Leo's breath hitched as he watched, time slowing as Buzzwole joined in, moving behind Diana and slamming a fist into her back.
Santiago's roar stretched on forever as the Slowking struggled against a Nihilego, Zuko and Xena similarly tied up while the fourth jellyfish descended on Leo from above. Link was darting through the trees from where he'd been tossed, a solarbeam searing through the dark night sky to hit the Nihilego threatening Leo, Froslass similarly focused on the most immediate threat to her trainer and friend, all while Diana alone stood against two fighting-type ultra beasts.
"No!" Leo roared as Buzzwole's fist lashed out, slamming into Diana's carapace and cracking her armor. It was a horrible sound, and Diana's shriek of pain echoed through the clearing, ringing loudest in Leo's ears. Fury and fear pumped its way into his system, heart hammering in his chest as his feet forced themselves forward, heedless of the danger. And Diana…Diana turned herself, just barely, just enough so her large red eyes could look directly at Leo.
They were filled with sadness. With joy. With curiosity and the smile of a child's innocent wonder, taking in the world one day at a time. All the things that Diana was, all the things she was grateful to Leo about, conveyed in a single glance.
All in a last hurrah, because the ultra beasts were after his life, and she could not allow that.
Light spewed from her shell as she forcibly started her evolution, her jet-engines revving ominously and shell cracking dangerously as Pheromosa and Buzzwole redoubled their efforts to break her, and get to Leo. Leo's breath came in rapid huffs as he realized what was going to happen – Diana had not accumulated enough energy for an evolution. She hadn't grown enough inside her shell, and her energy hadn't finished condensing enough to spark the titanous evolution into a Tyranitar – a veritable force of nature. For a brief moment she would be her final evolution, but that was all. Her life would fade in a glorious but brief flash of light – just long enough, he imagined she hoped, to grant her victory.
Leo stomped his feet and ground to a halt, not daring to move his eyes away from Diana's evolution, the light already fading, flickering dangerously.
Not today. Not on his watch.
His feet spread apart and arms spread, fists raised skyward as his muscles flexed. He could feel his aura surge, aligning with the indomitable nature of Rock and Stone, building higher and higher as he slid his feet forward. But he did not want rock. A mere stone was not enough for Diana, and his aura connected with hers and flooding into her, further feeding her evolution. The dimming light of evolution began to brighten, but all the power he possessed was not enough to help her, so deeper he dug. Reaching down, down, down into the deep earth below, into the bedrock below.
Santiago bellowed, reaching out and just barely slowing Buzzwole's attacks with a disable, Link hurling a substitute shield in-between Pheromosa and Diana, giving Leo just enough time to finish his dance.
He stomped his feet and twisted his body to the side, striking another pose as stone rose up to greet him, the weight of a mountain pressing down upon his shoulders. A small spark of lightning touched his mind from the depths of his bag, the light of a thunderstorm adding that last sliver of help needed to push Diana over the threshold.
Dream of Mountains, who Dwell on Things Eternal.
And Diana's light exploded.
"Continental crush," Leo finished quietly, all his energy gone, though the Z-move never came to fruition. Instead, the jungle was filled with a furious roar, stone cracking as a fist of green granite burst from the Pupitar's shell, catching Buzzwole's fist with relative ease. Pheromosa leapt back, but another hand shot out from the other side, snagging her by the wrist as the Pupitar's shell twisted, broken, and turned into pure white energy, transforming into a new form. Then it faded, and a Tyranitar's roar of pure gleeful fury filled the night air.
She rose high into the air, tail thrashing and green stone armor as unblemished as a polished countertop. Her spines shuddered against each other as she stretched out to her full height, towering a good foot and a half over Buzzwole, and nearly two feet over Pheromosa, her maw open wide to reveal rows of teeth meant for crushing stone…and particularly irksome interlopers.
Buzzwole struggled against Diana's grip, fist still caught in her own. She rumbled and twisted, smashed him into the ground with her newfound tail and yanking Pheromosa back, slinging her around like a toy and slamming her into Buzzwole.
But, just like Leo had taught her when she was but a little Larvitar, she did not let go. She did not give the gift of close proximity up easily. She snarled and slammed her head into Buzzwole as he lifted himself up, the sheer impact sending the giant mosquito to his knees. The earth trembled beneath her fury, stones ripping out of the ground and slamming into Pheromosa as Diana stepped forth, slamming a knee into Buzzwole's gut. The bug doubled over – and Power Gems pelted Diana's green hide. She snorted in annoyance and turned her head to face the Nihilego, cocking an eyebrow at it. Light pooled in her mouth, as bright as the light of an evolution and forming a bright ball in front of her maw.
The hyper beam screamed as it pierced the night sky, blowing Nihilego away from the sheer force.
Buzzwole froze. Pheromosa froze, eyes wide in fear as Diana turned her attention back to them, still holding onto their respective fists as she was. Then the bugs turned towards the rest of Leo's team, battered but not beaten, as they rallied themselves and prepared the best of their attacks to combat the ultra beasts.
Pheromosa and Buzzwole shared a look, and Diana promptly leg go of their hands, spinning rapidly and smashing her tail into the larger Buzzwole with enough force to send him to the ground, on top of Pheromosa. The Nihilego waved their tentacles in distress as Zuko roared out a stream of flame so hot it burned blue, and Santiago slammed one into the ground with a use of psychic. It landed right next to Xena, who laid into it with malicious fury and judicious use of dragon claws.
Diana roared into the night sky once more, and the Ultra Beasts scattered. Her eyes narrowed for but a moment, and the familiar sound of a jet-engine's roar reached Leo's ears. He watched mouth agape as Diana, sticks and plants whipping in winds generated by the air vents in her green stone armor, lifted a full inch off the ground to hover. Then, abruptly, the sound cut off and she hit the ground with a thud, feet digging deep into the soil from her own weight.
For a moment longer all was still, Leo and his team tensing and waiting for any of the ultra beasts to return.
"We need to move. Who's injured, who can travel?" Leo commanded, pushing aside his fears and worries for now. Santiago grumbled something and pulsed with pink light, the heal pulse washing out over the team and visibly healing a few of their wounds. Link rolled his shoulders and Xena cracked her neck, wincing as she rubbed her shoulder and pulled a bent scale off, tossing it away. Froslass drifted lazily through the trees, dropping and almost looking like she was going to melt, while Zuko shook himself off.
Diana rumbled, clenching her fists and thrashing her tail as she stared at the sky, a growl echoing up from the back of her throat.
As much as Leo wanted to talk to her right now, his top priority was getting him and his team out of here, and losing the ultra beasts. They needed time to rest and recover, even with Diana newly evolved he wasn't supremely confident at being able to take all of them. The evolution had been a surprise, after all, and there was a lot of them. He'd hate for them to go seek reinforcements, too.
"Right, return all of you. Link, get on my shoulder and keep an eye open. We're moving, and we can't have everyone out. Too many pokemon moving through the jungle at once will draw too much attention," Leo said, recalling each member of his team besides Link and Froslass. For Froslass he simply held an empty pokeball out to her and raised an eyebrow. She cocked her head to the side, clutching her side – which had an entire chunk missing, jagged edges of ice mixing with an ethereal purple glow emanating from the wound – before grinning and shooting forward, catching herself. Leo nodded and clipped her new ball to his belt, bent, and picked up Link, settling the little Bellossom on his shoulder.
As the last vestiges of the sunny day vanished, returning the jungle to darkness, so did Leo, taking off into the jungle with nary a sound.
He ran and ran, leaping over logs and around trees, very careful to leave as few tracks as possible. After an hour he came across a stream, which he stopped at, stripped out of his shirt and pants and sending them floating downstream, and proceeded to liberally coat himself with mud in an attempt to mask his scent. He didn't know if it would actually work against the Ultra-Beasts, but everything was worth a shot at this point. After two more hours he reached the coast, steep cliffs dropping off into the ocean below and the faint remains of a trail leading northward, along the cliffside. Leo followed that for a ways until he came to a bridge crossing a chasm – or at least, what remained of an old rope bridge that had long since fallen to the ocean below.
Then he turned back into the jungle and kept running, all but nude and covered in mud, as Link rode on his backpack.
Only when the sun started to rise did he come to a stop, a small pond covered in green algae before him with a few water-types lounding about in the pool. Morelull floated in the air above the pool, the psychedelic-looking three-headed mushrooms turning to him and blinking in surprise, but not flying off. Leo's instincts prickled as he knelt at the water's edge, dipping one finger into the pond while Link tensed.
As sharp crackle of lightning was all the warning Leo got of the rogue Rotom's arrival, the ghostly ball of plasma appearing before him with hexes hovering about its form, balls of purple lightning. Leo raised an eyebrow at it.
"I really don't have time for you," he said blandly, and Link immediately acted, leaping over Leo's head to cut straight through the ghost with a leaf blade. The Morelull scattered at the sudden combat, Rotom having been cut in twain by Link. But it quickly reformed, the ghost's smile turning vicious – only to morph into one of surprise as the seed bomb Link had thrown right in the middle of Rotom, so it reformed around the explosive seed, detonated and blew it apart.
Leo snorted as the ghost shrieked, its remains zipping off and leaving them in peace.
"Well, I'm glad that worked. Glad we discussed this too," Leo muttered, shaking his head and stripping his shoes and socks off to dip his feet in the pond.
He'd half expected Rotom to show up – it sounded like the ghostly thing to do to show up right after a hard fight – and had discussed what to do with Link. It worked far better than expected, and took advantage of a ghost's unique ectoplasmic composition. Still, the cool waters of the pond felt good against his aching feet and Leo let that feeling dominate his thoughts. Link muttered in agreement, wading through the waters – which rose to his chin – to pull himself up next to Leo. "This'll be as good a place to rest as any. We'll take an hour or two, let the team out, then get back on the road again," he said, reaching over and scratching Link's head fondly, just between the red flowers. Link sighed and leaned into his touch, dipping his little feet into the pond as well as Leo tapped the release buttons on the rest of his team.
Santiago and Aerith appeared first, shaking themselves off and appearing ready for combat, but relaxing when Leo told them that there were no enemies around anymore, even if he did want them to stay on guard.
"Aerith, stick by me. Diana just evolved, and I need your help going over her to make sure there were no complications," Leo said softly, picking the little normal-type up and running his fingers through the small tuft of pink fur on her head. She babbled softly at him, nodding and twisting so she could press her face into Leo's chest. "I'm sorry. That was scary, wasn't it? Or were you worried about me?" Leo muttered, to Aerith's indecipherable muttering.
"Leo's too stubborn to die. Where do you think I get it from?" Santiago muttered, sinking down into the pond and sighing in relief. Leo snorted and thumbed the release for Zuko and Xena, going over their injuries real quick and healing them a little with a hyper potion he pulled from his pack. They were battered and bruised, but the battle hadn't been harsh enough to put them fully out of commission. Thankfully.
Next was Froslass, who vanished almost immediately to hide in the depths of the pond and rebuild her frozen skin with an ice beam, leaving only the girl of honor left.
Taking a deep breath, Leo thumbed the release to Diana's pokeball, the Tyranitar appearing in a flash of red light. She shook herself and rose to her full height, eyes blinking open as she took a quick look around, and Leo took the chance to take in her new form. From first glance alone, Leo knew she was a little bit different than other Tyranitar. For one, she was taller, and a tad bit bulkier. The average Tyranitar was six feet tall, but she towered at least seven feet, her armor thick and gleaming in the light of the sunrise.
The holes in her leg and chest armor, that most Tyranitar used to cool themselves off as well as aid in whipping up sandstorms, were bigger and more reminiscent of a Pupitar's vents – and Leo was certain he had seen a few more along her back, where most Tyranitar didn't have them. That both excited him and worried him, because what if – and this was a big what if – Diana kept her mobility from her Pupitar stage?
A flying Tyranitar? Yes please.
But those were thoughts for later, because the first thing Leo did was lunge towards her and wrap his arms as far around her impressive girth as he could, resting his cheek against the cool blue scales of her stomach. Diana rumbled as he squeezed her as tight as he could.
"Don't ever do something like that again," he whispered. She rumbled, the sound reverberating through her armor and scales and into Leo's chest, bending and nuzzling his shoulder.
Only if you do the same. He could almost hear her say, and he laughed through a choked sob, the fact that she had almost died – no. He wasn't going to think about it that way. She was willing to sacrifice herself for him, and damn it, he didn't want that even if the sheer gratitude at the sentiment threatened to overwhelm him. It was an odd feeling.
"No promises," Leo laughed weakly, and Diana huffed out a rumbling laugh. Then she grabbed him back and lifted him up by the backpack – there he was, shirtless, pantless, in only his underwear and covered in mud, being held up like a wet puppy by a Tyranitar so her big red eyes could peer into his own green.
She opened her mouth and licked him, her rough tongue dragging across his face like sandpaper.
"Gross! Diana, no!" Leo laughed, squirming in her grip. She chuffed and spun him around, clutching him to her chest and sitting down with a thud, him in her lap and refusing to let go. He squirmed a bit but she refused to move, rumbling contentedly and slouching so her chin could rest gently on the top of his head. A whine from Zuko drew both of their attention to him, the Typhlosion looking their way jealously. Leo sighed and patted his lap, prompting the oversized fire-type to happily move over and lay his head in his lap. Taking up Leo's entire lap. Leo smiled and chuckled, rubbing Zuko's ears.
He frowned as he absently reached to the side to wave over a pokemon that wasn't there – and for a moment he felt confused. Where was Sunny? The little Meinfoo was usually the first to come running to jump in his lap.
Then he remembered, and he sighed, rubbing his face with his free hand, feeling a pang of longing in his chest. Longing for Sunny, for Victoria, for…people. For where his bonds led. But that just furthered his resolve, and he screwed his eyes shut to take a deep breath. Getting home was the priority. Then he could see everyone again. For a moment longer he sat there, enjoying the company of his team and almost drifting to sleep as exhaustion overtook him, but through sheer force of will he stayed awake and stood up, extracting himself from Diana and Zuko's cuddle pile. Diana rumbled sadly at him, her pleading look joined by Zuko's begging puppy-dog eyes for more scratches, and with considerable effort Leo managed to push through.
"No, Diana, we need to check you out. Make sure you're ok. You took a lot of damage, so…Aerith, would you help me?" Leo called the Happiny over from where she'd been playing in the pond, splashing waves at Santiago as he lounged. She happily skipped over as Leo set about inspecting Diana…though first he washed himself off of mud, and put on new clothes.
Only then did he pull out his pokedex, scan her, and start inspecting her for physical damage. His conclusion? She was fine. Healthy. Her armor was thick, she was big, and she was the same as the little Larvitar he'd picked up in the Silver Mountains. Aerith seemed to agree with his assessment, and the brief scan from his pokedex, as little as it showed, indicated no major issues. From his research into Tyranitars and what Oak had told him, though, she would still have a bit of growing to do. Not in size or weight, but her armor needed to firm up a bit more, and she likely had to settle into her changes quite a bit. The early evolution meant she probably wasn't as strong as a regular Tyranitar either…yet. She still had plenty of time to grow.
Now satisfied, Leo settled down for real this time, closing his eyes and allowing himself to drift into a light slumber. He didn't have much time, but he did need rest. Hiking all day and night was taking its toll, as well as having been sick the past…however long. And slowly, he drifted off to sleep.
Sunny jolted awake, senses flaring and eyes flying wide open as she sensed something. Ever since her Chosen Trainer had disappeared she'd been at a bit of a loss. She'd trained some with the Master of the Normal, but that had felt stale compared to the training with her Chosen. She was not some frivolous pokemon who could jump between trainers at will – she was a Meinfoo of the Tribes, and her Chosen had been approved by the Elders. Even the Dragons Against Darkness approved of him, sending one of their champions to aid in his quest. She had honor, and even now she could feel her connection with her Chosen flaring strong –
Sunny leapt to her feet in elation, a small cry of surprise escaping her lips. She was not her father nor her mother, she could not sense aura to the degree that they could. She could not whip out aura spheres at will, nor could she see the very flows of the universe; and even though they denied that they could see that deep, she knew better. But here and now? She could feel something. A little strand, a bond that stretched out to who-knows-where, connecting her to a very, very familiar aura. An aura that was burning brighter than ever, flaring before falling asleep once again. Once the flare died down she could no longer sense it, but knew it was still there. That bond hadn't faded. Her fate with her Chosen Trainer was not yet done.
With a cry of joy Sunny darted out of her little sleeping place, quietly padding through the House of White and out into the open air. She sprinted through the man-made island called "Aether Paradise" and down the steps, feet padding silently on the slick floors to reach where she knew the Master of Normal was. Victoria, her Chosen Trainer called her, a name of victory and strife. Sunny poked her head through the door, the Master of Normal angrily whispering to a screen while her Persian lounged next to her.
"I told you, Giovanni, I don't have time to help you! I have my own issues here in Alola!" She snapped, irritation flaring loudly. Sunny almost flinched back, but the joy of feeling her Chosen Trainer's aura again spurred her onward, padding into the room and jumping up onto a chair in Victoria's line of sight. She spared her a glance, raised an eyebrow, and then returned to glaring at the screen. "I can't help you right now. Unfortunately, what I'm dealing with here is actually bigger than Kanto's situation. And no, I can't tell you what's going on, so don't ask." She growled out, then tapped the screen she'd been staring at, turning it off and cutting off the other person's shouted "You don't understand, Lance -!"
Leo's alive! Sunny shouted, all but vibrating in excitement. Victoria raised an eyebrow at her, but the Persian raised his head.
How do you know? He asked, at the same time Victoria asked "What do you want?". Sunny shouted her explanation to Persian happily, and he furrowed his brows, kneading his claws into the carpet. How does this help us? He asked, and Sunny paused at that.
Uh…Ma and Pa might know. She said weakly. They know aura better than me. Persian cocked his head to the side and licked one paw, revealing rows of sharp teeth. Sunny resisted the urge to shudder – even having been raised next to dragons, this pokemon was nothing if not intimidating.
The Persian called it a sound theory, and also said they should seek the advice of the Old Master, Sofu. None were closer to the Tapus than he, after all, and Sunny hopped from foot to foot with unburnt energy. They finally had a lead! She wrung her paws together and looked to the side, where Victoria was watching their interaction with confused interest. Maybe, just maybe, this meant they were actually getting somewhere. She could only hope.
There we go. Chapter's done. Not much for me to say this time around. Thanks for all the love and hope you enjoyed!
Santiago – Slowking
Zuko – Typhlosion
Diana – Tyranitar
Link – Bellossom
Xena – Hakamo-o
Aerith – Happiny
Not On Hand:
Stein – Type: Null
Sunny – Meinfoo