Disclaimer: I do not own Fossil Fighters, any of the vivosaurs or characters (Except for Creed), and am simply writing this for my own amusement.

A/N: As the sequel to my previous fic, Dark Horse Gambit, this story will continue building up on the foundation I have already laid down. It shall detail the adventures of novice Fossil Fighter Vestello Leoncor as he competes in the infamous Caliosteo Cup. What sort of troubles will he face? You are welcome to read and find out.

Acknowledgments: Firstly, I would like to thank Devaro Ayanami for his wonderful help as both my Beta and my sounding-board. Secondly, I would like to thank Tempest Bound for encouraging me to post this story now, rather than later. Thirdly, I would like to thank Vathara for all the wonderful stories, which I highly recommend you read, he has posted. Reading them has helped me find ways of expanding my own writing style.


Prelude

A deep reverberation sounded through her chest. Like that of a too-loud speaker or a low flying jet, accompanied by an unfocused pressure falling over her shoulders. Familiar, yet unfamiliar.

Well…this is different.

Bemused aquamarine eyes met equally bemused amber as Creed studied the other. She eyed the out-of-place orange-with-brown jumpsuit and shining goggles almost hidden in a mane of wild blue hair.

The boy studied her just as intently.

Another pulse, not quite as overbearing as the first, the pressure seemed even less focused now. Relaxed, even.

The boy cocked his head, eyes shining with a trace of curiosity.

Interesting… A smirk tugged at her lips. "Aren't you a bit young to be up here by yourself?"

Amber blinked, surprised, then the boy shook his head negatively.

"Got a name, kiddo?"

Another blink, then a flicker of discomfort flashed across the boy's face. Dirt crunched beneath his feet as he shifted, gesturing towards his throat and shaking his head apologetically.

Oh…oh, I see. "Do you know sign?"

Again surprise, but then it softened into relief.

[Name: V-E-S-T-E-L-L-O.] The boy's hands danced through the familiar introduction. [Your-name, what?]

"Call me Leveche." A small bow. "Now, what are you doing out here?"

A wry smirk settled on Vestello's face as he raised his hands again.

[My-friend, T-O-D-D, the-two-of-us, looking-all-over-for V-I-V-O-S-A-U-R-S]

"Oh?" One auburn brow quirked up. "What makes you think there are any up here?"

A shrug.

[Rumors.
My-friend believe.]

Creed tilted her head, taking in Vestello's carefully neutral expression. His Pressure, however, gave away his amusement.

Stable like earth, watching and waiting. She identified. Yet free like air, laughing and mischievous.

A breeze danced through amused tendrils of yellows and greens.
::Air and earth to your air and fire.::
Aero noted.

::Indeed.:: Creed agreed with a mental nod. ::Interesting how he can give off opposing elements at the same time. With training I suspect he'll be a very tricky Fighter to face.::

Another link stirred to life.

Gusts of bright intrigue darted through splashes of pale orange curiosity.
::He is like you not long before the bandits and statues.::

Well…that was interesting. ::How so, Chicane?::

Winds spiraled sharply through splashes of curiosity and sharp streaks of red anticipation.
::A rising current foretelling a coming storm. This one bears watching.::

::A prophet now, are you?:: Creed teased. But Chicane didn't respond again as his link with her receded back into the depths of her mind. Still there, still aware, but no longer a participant of conversation.

Bemused, Creed redirected her attention outward as Vestello's neutral façade faded into an expression of curiosity.

[You-here, why?]

Creed shrugged. "Scouting. I'm helping an acquaintance of mine with an errand of his." A pause. "Speaking of which, I'd better get back to it." Spinning on the ball of her foot, she faced the downward slope and tossed out a Dino Medal.

Light flashed then coalesced into the familiar, swan-necked form.

A breeze of playful greens wound through a sea of content pale yellows and pinks.
::Shall I free you from you're bonds-of-earth, my burning zephyr, my Leveche?::

Smiling, Creed extended a hand and stroked Mistral's long beak. The feathered serpent trilled happily at the caress and leant forward so Creed could swing up onto the juncture between wings and neck.

She glanced down at the boy again, thoughtful. She debated with herself for a moment before coming to a decision.

"Catch."

Amber eyes widened as Vestello caught the gift.

Mistral straightened her neck, sleek head angled towards the open sky. Creed kept her gaze on the puzzled boy. "Let me know if you find anything interesting. My email's the first on the list." ::Let's go, Mistral.::

Powerful muscles braced, as Mistral crouched.

Winds sang in an upwards spiral of warming yellows.
::Sever our binding chains, so upon the winds of freedom we shall fly.::

Tension released and muscles sprang out. One beat of powerful wings, a second, and then gravity held no more.

Creed glanced back at the bright-clad boy as the peak shrank behind her. She could still see his amber eyes, watching her with confused curiosity, before another mountain peak cut him from her sight. Another smirk tugged at the corner of her lips as she reached up and activated the communicator collar around her neck.

"I found another one."


What was that about? Vestello wondered as the sense of dancing warmth receded with the woman's, Leveche's, departure. He glanced back down at the smart phone she had given him.

It was new, top-of-the-line in fact, and in mint condition. Not the kind of gift you'd just hand off on a whim. Especially not to a kid his age… Not that he'd break it, of course.

Still…should the encounter worry him?

I don't think so. His brows furrowed. Somehow, I just know she doesn't mean me any harm.

It was simple fact, though he didn't know why he was so quick to declare it so. It just seemed like the same kind of knowing people had that told them that water was wet and fire burned. Experience. A kind of familiarity. Almost like…he knew her from somewhere…

"Hey, Vestello!"

Todd! Spinning around, Vestello slipped the phone into a side-pouch.

"How long are you going to stand around and stare at the scenery, huh?"

Gaze flickering away from his immediate location and farther up the trail, Vestello spotted his hat-clad friend. He stepped forward, paused, and then glanced back at the cliff and mountain peaks where Leveche had vanished. That nagging sense of knowing just wouldn't leave—

"Quit stalling and get over here, Vestello!"

Nagging later, vivosaurs now.

Dirt and pebbles scattered as the bluenette skidded to a sudden halt in front of the agape warning barriers, a sheepish expression on his face.

For a moment, Todd's blue eyes were dark with annoyed impatience, but quickly softened and was replaced by eagerness.

"People say wild vivosaurs live up at the top of this mountain."

If his voice went any higher he'd sound like a chipmunk. Vestello noted. Feeling playful, he cocked his head, eyes wide and innocent.

Todd huffed. "Come on!" Dust fluttered up as a sturdy sneaker stomped the ground. "We went over this! A vivosaur is a dinosaur that's been revived from fossils."

And who was the one who introduced you to vivosaurs? Vestello's expression remained one of quiet amusement.

Todd read the look. Blinked. Then swelled up indignantly at his friend's teasing posture. He seemed about to call Vestello on it when his stance shifted and he looked up the mountain.

"Man-" Wide blue shown with hope and delight. "—I never thought I'd see one with my own eyes!" Blue turned sly. "Now come on! We're not leaving until we get some wild vivosaurs of our very own!"

Is that an eye-glint?

"Race you to the top!"

Amber blinked at the suddenly empty space before him. Another blink, and Vestello glanced uphill at his friend's rapidly retreating back. Then a smirk tugged at his lips.

Touché, Todd, touché.

And then he was running after him.

/\/\

"…Hey!" Straw-blonde bangs flapped back and forth. "I don't see any vivosaurs anywhere!" Shoulders grew stiff and blue eyes narrowed. "Somebody must have been lying to me!"

Vestello politely smothered a chuckle. You take everything so personally—

The ground shook.

"Wh-what was that?" Wide-eyed, Todd stared at the deep underbrush. "What's going on?"

'What's going on' indeed. Curious, Vestello edged closer towards the bushes.

"I think there's something over there…"

Amber eyes widened as a sudden sense of malice swept over him like a rogue wave. What the—

Branches and leaves shattered and tore as a massive form barreled through them. Thick talons clawed the dirt as dark, insane eyes glared at them. The blue-and-white maw swung up and an ear-splitting roar tore through the mountains.

Uh-oh…

"Th-that's an—" Sheet white, Todd stared at the charging vivosaur in frozen terror. "Allosaurus!"

Less gaping, more running! Vestello yanked on a green sleeve, hard, tearing Todd from his stupor.

They turned, and they ran.

We need thick trees and big rocks to—Oh, shoot!

Two sets of boots dug in, sliding to an abrupt halt just shy of a sudden drop.

The cliff, how could we forget the cliff?

Twisting around, Vestello stood protectively in front of Todd. They were trapped, and the vivosaur knew it. Slowing, head low, it snarled and bared saliva-coated fangs as it advanced.

Stiff-backed, Vestello braced.

Lord, help, please.

A pulse, unfamiliar-yet-familiar. Like an unspoken promise. Something cried out over the mountain winds.

Todd let out a startled scream. "A pteranodon!"

A nonmaterial weight came down on Vestello's shoulders. Firm. Focused.

His hand shot out, fingers gripping Todd's wrist.

"Jump on! Both of ya!"

Air flow shifted down.

The weight-not-weight shifted, directed, tugged.

With blind faith and trust, Vestello followed the pull.

Fingers gripped-then-yanked as his legs coiled-then-sprang and they leapt clear of solid earth, into open air. Vestello's free hand stretched out, grasping, reaching desperately for what wasn't there—

-were caught in strong, calloused fingers as a hand gripped his wrist and pulled him—them—onto something solid-but-moving. Vestello wrapped his arms around the man's waist, breathing in the scent of dusty leather. Behind him, he felt Todd's hands grip his shoulders in an almost vice-like grip, but any discomfort went unacknowledged.

Safe.

Like bracing against a pillar, a strong rock warding off all threatening blows. Yeah, that was it… The man felt solid, like stone.

Another pulse, reverberated through his chest, this one…almost friendly.

A whoop from the man in front of him snapped Vestello from his daze.

"Hold on, pards!" A western accent. Like some kind of modern cowboy.

A blink, to force his eyes into focus and Vestello glanced back at the rapidly shrinking cliff. Glaring after them, the enraged vivosaur roared its fury to the skies.

Flying. He realized, mind still a little sluggish. We're flying…

Like Leveche had earlier.

"You folks alright?"

Vestello blinked again, gaze drifting back over his shoulder to Todd. Still pale and shaken, the other boy nodded, eyes bright with gratitude.

We're both safe. More tension eased from Vestello's frame and he relaxed his own grip and looked up to meet the gaze of their rescuer. Amber met cerulean and another feeling of weight-on-shoulders—no, not a weight, a pulse—of a different kind reverberated, bringing warmth through Vestello's chest.

Like…being with family. He compared as the cowboy broke eye contact and faced forward again, directing his pteranodon downwards. Warm, safe. He feels safe.

He didn't even know the man's name, yet he knew he was safe.

Just like with Leveche.

What was this feeling?

/\/\

Dirt crunched beneath their feet as the man recalled his vivosaur.

Not a command spoken. Vestello eyed the space where the pterosaur had just been. Just a smooth flow from one thing to the next, not like the Fighters I've seen on television…

"…Oh – My – Gosh!"

Vestello jumped, then glanced at Todd with some alarm.

"Y-you're…Joe!"

Eh? Amber blinked, puzzled, alarm fading.

"Yep, that's me." The man nodded, smiling. "Surprised you know my handle, kid."

"Of course I know you!" Todd practically bounced in place. "You're the greatest Fossil Fighter in the whole world! You're Fossil Battle skills are legendary!" One finger pointed dramatically at the cowboy. "You're Joe Wildwest!"

Ah, now I remember.

Vestello hummed softly, settling back on his heels. It was a little worrying that he hadn't recognized the man before now but, eh.

"I can't believe I'm actually talking to you!" Todd went on. "This is amazing!"

Vestello quirked a brow, amused. Todd, catching the look, reddened and shifted sheepishly.

"…I must sound like a real nerd, huh?"

A faint tremor rattled the earth as a furious, though still distant, roar split the air.

Did Todd just squeak? Vestello wondered, turning towards the noise. What do we do now—Huh?

A firm arm gently nudged him aside, followed by the rustle of leather. Joe stared up the mountain, frowning.

"That Allosaurus is madder than a sack full'a hornets." Something flickered in his tone, sorrow maybe? "We can't let it leave the mountain all riled up like that, or folks'll be in a heap'a trouble.

Strongest known neutral vivosaur—and a ticked one at that—and a bunch of unwary, helpless people…yeah—Vestello winced. That would end so well.

"Aint no other choice. We gotta subdue the critter in a Fossil Battle."

Vestello perked up.

"How about it, small fry." Todd froze and shrank as Joe looked at him. "Think you're up for it?"

Did he just glance at me? Vestello wondered.

"I'll even loan ya one'a my Dino Medals for the fight. So how 'bout it?"

Todd moaned, folding in on himself while clutching his middle. "Oh, my stomach!" A hiccup. "It hurts real bad…"

Uh-oh, here it comes…

"Must be that rotten banana I ate this morning. …Yeah, that's it."

Amber eyes rolled as Vestello chuckled fondly. Joe's bewildered expression was almost as funny as Todd's antics.

"I really wanna fight-" Pleading blue landed on Vestello. "-but I don't think I can. So…you'll have to fight in my place, Vestello!" And then Todd folded up again, moaning miserably.

"…Huh." Cerulean blinked once, then Joe turned to Vestello. "Well, fair enough. Guess I'll be lending you my Dino Medal instead."

Vestello cocked his head. Yet…why do I feel that you wanted to offer the chance to me in the first place?

A click, then Joe held out his hands. Vestello stared at the medals resting on the other's palms, noting the different colors.

"I got four of 'em, so just take whichever one strikes yer fancy."

Green, blue, yellow, and red.

For some reason, it was the green medal that just seemed to stand out most to him.

Vestello gestured to it, looking up at Joe with a question in his eyes.

"That there's an Aerosteon." Joe explained. "He's a power-type that overwhelms foes with his sharp claws."

He…feels right. Vestello's fingers gripped the green-edged medal—

-and a raging windstorm roared in his ears.

A gale of raging reds and yellow-oranges writhed in tandem with vicious, bloody-darks.
::Fight! Strike! Strike!::

Vestello jerked, the world snapped back into focus. Something was gripping his shoulder—Joe?—holding him steady. The eager tempest still licked at the edges of his awareness.

A roar. When did the Allo get so close?

Reach back. Brace. Aim. Throw.

The tempest roared into existence in the guise of a blue-gold, feather-lined house of razors and knives. Startled, the Allo skid to a halt, posture off balance.

Gusts of red-orange eagerness splashed across the maelstrom of aggressive bloody-darks.
::Fight! Strike! End threat-to-us, yes?::

The vivosaur glanced back for confirmation, sharp eyes narrowed to dangerous slits, then looked forward again.

-"A ravenous beast…"—
-"…hunting for the blood of others."-

The familiar quote appeared then vanished from his mind. There was no time for observations, the Allo was lunging again. Its monstrous head swung down-

Arm swinging out, Vestello yanked at the winding reds that represented the Aerosteon. ::Evade!::

-iron-hard skull shattered stone, but made no contact with flesh or feather. The Aeros snapped at the exposed blue-and-white flank as it danced out of reach. Though, whether the response was out of common sense or obedience to Vestello's nonverbal order he didn't know.

Something stirred behind him-a flicker of surprise? –but it didn't matter right then.

Heavy, corded muscle shifted, flexed as the Allo snarled. Sharp amber eyes caught a minute stutter in muscle-and-joint as weight fell on it.

A limp? Fingers clenched into a fist, Vestello drew in his hand and elbow. ::There! Strike there!::

His silent command must have gone through because yellow feathers bristled then blurred. The resounding crunch of bone-on-bone, muscle-striking-muscle sounded moments later.

The Allo bugled, staggering off balance.

Vestello thrust his arm forward, palm out and fingers splayed. ::Aeros blast!::

A roar. Wind danced, twisted, surged forward in a wave of turquoise.

Rocks, trees, people. All jumped at the thunderous crash.

Stuck on its side, the Allo moaned.

Wind surged upwards through rising, aggressive-ill-intent reds—

::No! Settle!:: A yank, an internal twist, and the colorful tempest went startlingly mute.

Vestello caught the Aeros's medal and stepped forward, one foot in front of the other. A voice sounded behind him. Warning. Fearful. But it was easily tuned out as the bluenette stared up at the felled vivosaur. One hand stretched out, pressing against the overheated hide. He could feel a faint tremor under his palm, echoed mentally by traces of fear-unease flickering at the very edges of his awareness, riding a weak current of washed out colors, mostly tired grays.

::Calm, settle…rest now?:: Vestello ventured, compelled, uncertain if it would work.

Blue-and-white hide shifted.

Faint wisps of questioning pale-orange skittering across the sea of weary grays.
::Tired, rest…::

Tension leaked out of the battered frame, and then the vivosaur's form dispersed.

"That allosaurus finally calmed down and went back into its Dino Medal." Brushing passed Vestello, Joe reached down and gently picked up the white-rimmed medal. He studied it, then straightened and faced the two boys.

"Nice job, small fry!" A gloved hand clapped Vestello's shoulder. "You did real good."

"You ran that battle like a pro, Vestello!" Todd cheered. "You're awesome."

A dark brow quirked and Vestello stepped forward.

"Huh?" Todd backed away from the sharp jab towards his stomach. "Hey—" A nervous laugh. "—my stomach doesn't hurt anymore."

Amber rolled, amused. Real convincing, Todd.

Recognizing the nonverbal sarcasm, Todd sputtered. "Yeah, well, who cares about that now, am I right?"

Don't snicker. Vestello told himself, face carefully blank. He'll just take it personally.

A polite cough reminded them of Joe's presence.

"This Allosaurus—" Leather-clad fingers creaked, gripping the medal. "—was abandoned by some cruel fighter." Sad cerulean looked over the white rim and the relief outline carved on the front. "Reckon that's why he had his shorts in a bunch."

Vestello, remembering the rage and pain the Allo had displayed, winced.

"Vivosaurs need to be with Fossil Fighters they know they can trust." Cerulean locked with amber. "If they're abandoned, they go feral and their true nature emerges."

Why would anyone betray a vivosaur? It made no sense, not to him. It wasn't right, betraying something that relied on you so much. Anyone should know that. Yet…that Allosaurus proved there were people in the world who didn't, or simply didn't care.

He wasn't sure which was worse; ignorance or indifference.

"That's why I'm here, actually."

Blinking, Vestello cocked his head and focused on the elder Fighter again.

Joe leaned back on his heels. "The Fighter's Association asked me to round up rogue vivosaurs."

—"I'm helping an acquaintance of mine with an errand of his."—

Was Joe the acquaintance Leveche had mentioned?

"Aw, shucks." Joe palmed his forehead. "Where are my manners? You know this already, but I'm Joe Wildwest, and I'm a Fossil Fighter."

Vestello bowed, hands coming up. [Name: V-E-S-T-E-L-L-O]

Wait…did Joe even know what sign language was?

"I'm Todd—" The blonde bobbed in place. "—and Vestello is my best friend. We always cheer for you on TV, Joe!" Todd punched the air. "Our dream is to become great Fossil Fighters just like you!"

Joe laughed. "Aw, shucks. You small fries are makin' me blush." Holding up a hand, he shook a finger in a mock-scolding manner. "But y'all oughta aim a little higher. Don't try to be as good as me." He paused, letting the words sink in. "Try to be better."

Tipping his hat back, the veteran fighter glanced skyward, his brows furrowing. "Well…I s'pose I should think about seein' you two home, but I ain't quite done with my job yet." Arms folding across his chest, he hummed. "Still got one more vivosaur that needs rescuin', ya see? But…"

He looked them over, gaze lingering mainly on Vestello. "Y'all seem pretty capable, so I trust ya can make it home—"

Stepping forward, Vestello held out his hand.

Cerulean eyes blinked at the green-rimmed medal resting on the open palm. "Aw, bacon!" Another flush spread across his face. "I durn near forgot that Dino Medal I loaned ya!"

Joe glanced from the medal to Vestello and then back again, thoughtful. Then he smiled.

"Tell ya what." He reached out, and folded Vestello's fingers back over the medal. "Vestello, what say ya keep it as my way of sayin' thanks for all the help?"

Amber eyes widened. Keep it? Me?

Wisps of pleased yellows wound between splashes of smug greens.
::Stay with you.::

Vestello could swear the medal was vibrating beneath his fingers.

"If only my stupid stomach hadn't started hurting…"

Amber flickered to the sulking boy, amused. Vestello tched loudly, a smirk tugging at his lips. That's what ya get.

Todd glared at him.

"Listen up, small fries!"

Both boys snapped to attention.

"If you love yer vivosaurs and share their passion for Fossil Battles, then y'all can accomplish anything!"

Both blue and blonde nodded.

Joe smiled, tipping his hat to them. "I look forward to the day ya'll become proper Fossil Fighters. But for now—" He spun around on the ball of his foot. "—I've gotta mosey on down the trail." Glancing over his shoulder, he grinned. "Adios!"

And then he was gone.

"Wow." Starry eyed, Todd stared after the cowboy. "We just got advice from Joe Wildwest himself!" Beaming, he turned to Vestello. "No choice now, Vestello. We have to become Fighters."

Smiling, Vestello stood tall. Todd snorted.

"Yeah, I know how you want it bad." A sly grin. "But not as bad as me!" Blue gleamed with a fierce determination. "Next time I see Joe, I'm going to be a full-fledged Fighter!"

In tandem, both boys leapt high, beating the air with their fists.

/\/\

From: Leveche
Subject: Congratulations

So you chose an Aeros for your first vivosaur? Boy after my own heart. My own first was a spinax and to this day he remains one of my most dependable partners. Be careful though, aeros can be willful but I know you're up to the challenge.

/\

From: Leveche
Subject: Pressure

Pressure—thatpulsing weight-on-shoulders sensation you experienced when near Joe Wildwest and myself—Is an umbrella term for several aspects of Fossil Fighting not commonly known by the general public. I won't bore you with the fine details so this message will give you a brief overview:

It is a manifestation of one's intent, made nearly palpable due to our connections with our vivosaurs. It can be used to stand up against threats and to hold on to one's ideals through sheer will. Not everyone is strong enough to produce Pressure, only those of the same caliber as Saurhead of Vivosaur Island and Joe Wildwest of the Caliosteo Fossil Park can produce one. This can either make them seem intimidating and unapproachable to most people (Saurhead), or great and alluring for those seeking protection or advice (Joe Wildwest). You probably felt safe when Joe was near you. Like with him there you need not fear any danger. Had it been Saurhead you'd have felt unnerved and likely sought a way to get away from him. ((Personally I think he does that on purpose to keeps most of those rabid fans of his away, though there are those insane/stupid enough to try braving it. *ugh* those guys are the worst, I tell you.))

Anyway, perhaps I'll explain the finer details of Pressure in future messages, but for now this should do.

/\/\/\/\


Reviews are always appreciated. They let me know my story is not simply collecting virtual dust. And by reviews I mean something a bit more than 'awesome story' or the like. Tell me what you enjoyed, and even what you did not (though please refrain from going on a tangent).