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Pokémon Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Broken Reality

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
What would you do if you woke up in some strange place, a voice appeared out of nowhere, told you that you were dead,
asked you some questions, then dropped you into a world tasking you to save it?
If that sounds like a lot to deal with, things only get more complicated from there, unfortunately...

...And quickly too...

Mild Language, Violence

 
Last edited:

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Prologue


"."

".."

"..."

"Wh...Where..."

My body is aching, the sensation of waking from a long slumber being the first feeling that comes to me...

I open my eyes, but I can't see anything... only the darkness of what looks like space and the light of objects similar to stars...

I try to move, but nothing happens... I can't even feel my body... but in spite of that, the feeling of wetness sticks to me...

I am alone... or at least... I think I am. There's nothing around me, but the feeling of being watched grows dominant over any other feeling.

"You’re awake... Finally..."

"..." I don't respond. I wanted to, but there were so many things going through my mind that I wasn't able to say anything. That didn't matter anyway, because that voice seemed to know what I was thinking.

"You have many questions... But I cannot help you answer them..."

"What..? Why not?" I ask, trying to find a source that I knew wasn't there.

"It's... complicated..."

"Alright then... What can you tell me?"

"..."

The voice grows silent, leaving me in the eerie darkness of this place. A moment passes, and I start to get restless.

"Hey! Are you still there?" I speak into the emptiness. "Hello?!"

"I need you to answer some questions, first..."

"What took you so long? Did you have to go find them or something?" I joke.

"N-No..."

I snicker at the voice's stammer, I can't believe whoever this was actually left to go find some questions for me. With however long I was out, you'd think they'd be ready by now.

"Fine, shoot. I don't have anything better to do."

"How would you respond to your own death?"

"Excuse me, what?" That question was so abruptly asked. Who just goes ahead and asks that like it's just some normal thing to talk about?

"It's not as odd a question as you think it is... Now, your answer?"

"Uh, I dunno. I guess I'd be pretty bummed out about it. Wait... you're not gonna tell me I'm dead, are you?"

"..."

"Oh my god..." Alright, there's no reason to panic... maybe I'm just having one of those dreams that look and feel real, and I'm about to wake up any second...

Any second now...

...

"This isn't a dream..."

"You aren't helping!" I begin to panic. If I had lungs I'd be hyperventilating, and sweating, and probably laying in the fetal position in whatever could work as a corner.

"Alright, look. You're dead, there's nothing you can do about it now. Everybody dies! Big deal..."

"YOU'RE one to talk! You aren't dead... Probably..."

"Yes, I am... Technically speaking."

"T-TECHNICALLY?!"

"Look, we're getting nowhere. We both have places to be and things to get done. So how about you try to get over it and answer my other questions?"

The voice, although blunt, had a point. A very morbid point, but a point nonetheless. I'm dead. I am dead. Something in my life had occurred, that ended up with me losing my life and coming here... I'm perfectly fine, just incredibly dead...

"Why does this happen? Almost every time one of you comes here, you're so full of yourself that you can't get over your own death? I've been dead for longer than anything that has ever existed! Both technically and literally..."

"How the hell does that make sense? Maybe I really am dreaming..." I sigh. This is getting to be too much too fast. "Just... let's get this over with..."

"Finally! Eh hem... Now... if you saw a total stranger collapsed on the floor, and you couldn't tell if they were still breathing, what would you do?"

"Is death and the possibility of death your favorite topic?" I ask. The voice doesn't say anything, so I sigh and give him what he wants. "I'd look for help, obviously."

"How incredibly generic, and yet a stance not shared by most of you."

"I'm not understanding any of your cryptic nonsense, so if we could just get on with this? Please?"

"Ok, fine... Alright, one of your friends has gotten into trouble. It's not unusual for them, in fact they quite often bring you into trouble too, but this time they've bitten off more than they can chew. Would you help them?"

"They're my friend, aren't they? Of course I'm gonna help them out! It probably wasn't even his fault!" I reply sincerely.

"Interesting... Onto the next, then. You and someone who dislikes you have gotten into quite a bad situation. It's likely that if you were to separate, one of you would certainly meet a gruesome fate. This other individual is adamant on getting as far away from you as possible. Would you try to assist them?"

"I mean... yeah? Just because they don't like me, doesn't mean I'll just let them die. I'm not crazy... at least I hope I'm not," I answer. "To be honest, this whole thing's making me question that..."

"You would really go out of your way to protect someone that you know doesn't want any part of you?"

"I already said yes! I'm not gonna change my mind because you pointed out something you just said!"

"Really? No matter what?"

"Yes! Hating me doesn't mean they should just-"

"Even if they would cause your death in the future?"

"..." I'm pretty sure I heard the voice clearly, but... "E-Excuse me..?"

"If they would turn out to be the cause of your death... Would you still save them?"

"I-I..." This question was... not what I was expecting... Sure, it fits with the death shtick this thing is fixated with... but it’s starting to sound uncomfortably personal... "Y-Yes... I wouldn't know at the time, so-"

"But what if you did?"

"Wh-What?"

"In fact, let's spice this question up a bit. What if this was that friend of yours? The one that always gets into trouble? Hell, what if it was ALL your friends?"

"U-Um-"

"What would you do if you were the reason you all were in this horrid situation in the first place?"

The voice was barely giving me a moment to speak. It started to echo and ring in my head, and my vision started to blur.

"What if EVERYTHING was on the line? What if you KNEW that? What if you knew you had to sacrifice your friends for the sake of EVERYTHING?!"

"S-Stop!" I cry, but the voice ignores me.

"What if, by letting those close to you live, you instead sentence them to a life of misery?! By allowing them to continue on, and by allowing YOURSELF to do the same, you've brought upon them a fate worse than-”

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" I shout, thankfully putting an end to the torment the voice was putting me through. My heart would be racing... if I currently had one..."P-Please..."

"...I'm sorry... We-I... get too carried away sometimes... I understand what you're going through, and I'm not helping you in the slightest... I'll give you two more questions, they'll be a lot easier on you..."

"Th-Thank you..." I start to calm down.

"And... if you'll like... I can get rid of those questions I threw at you..."

"Maybe... I mean, they're just questions, after all... Hehe..." I don’t bother asking how, just wanting this to be over quickly.

"Ok... Would you risk everything for the betterment of others?"

"I think I would... What would you do?" I ask. The voice takes a moment to respond, hopefully he wasn't trying to scrounge up the answer like the questions.

"This... is the first time one of you turned a question back on me like this. Normally, it's out of anger or bitterness, but..."

The voice chuckles to himself, and mutters something under his breath. I was only able to catch a "...I wonder...", but I'm not really sure...

"How much would my answer affect yours?"

"I'm not sure... it might shift my way of thinking a bit... but I don't think it would really change it." I reply, pondering for a second on what my answer would actually be. "You know what... I think I would. Especially If I was given a second chance. I already died once, and if I knew that I think I'd easily give that up for somebody else..."

"Really? Huh… forgive me, but I don't think I've met anything like you in… ages. Willing to risk themselves for others, regardless of how many times they might have done it already... You're quite admirable, in that sense..."

"Thanks, I guess? Now, what about your answer?" I metaphorically poke at the voice.

"What if my answer was swayed by your near outlandish way of thinking? How can you tell I didn't change mine because of how you answered?"

"I think you'd still answer honestly. For some reason... it feels like I can trust you to tell the truth..." A strange thought crosses my mind. The voice probably wasn't going to answer, but I still felt I had to ask. "Who... Who are you?"

"Hmhmhm... Don't worry about that yet. I still have one last question."

"Oh, right."

"What would it take for you to date a guy?"

"I BEG YOUR FREAKING PARDON?!" That settles it, this thing is nuts! First it talks about nothing but DEATH, and now it’s asking me if I would GO ON A DATE WITH ANOTHER GUY?!

"Oh please, you're overreacting."

"OVERRE- BITCH are you INSANE?! First you basically toss my the mortality of me AND my friends on me like it's nothing, then wrap that up with what could actually be the absolute FURTHEST thing from that!"

"Aren't you feeling less hung up on all the death stuff?"

"I mean... yes. But that doesn't-"

"Good, that's what I was going for."

"..." There's no questioning it now... this is some manic fever dream I'm having, and I’m not sure if it's gonna get worse... With a defeated sigh, I chuckle and relax a bit. "I don't think I'm ever going to understand you... but thanks... and sorry for calling you a bitch..."

"Oh, just for that, you actually have to answer the question now."

"Wha- I'm sorry! Is that not enough?!" I exclaim. If I had a body, I'd be on my knees begging for forgiveness.

"Nope, too bad... Answer the question."

"Uhhhggg..." I groan, a feeling of heat rushing to what would be my face. "W-Well... I've never been against it... but I've never thought about it before... M-Maybe somebody smart, but not arrogant because of it... And he'd have to be handsome... and sharp... a-and strong... Stronger than me, I guess. And a good hugger, and resourceful... I'd like him to be quick on his feet, and to hold himself high, and-"

"Alright, please contain yourself. I wasn't planning on you getting so into it. Whatever, I've been long dead so who am I to judge? Oh wait... that's my job..."

"You... have a job?"

"Yep! In fact, as The Judge, I judge you to be worthy of another chance at life!"

"..." I feel like I'm getting pranked again. Some part of me just feels like this is another joke. To be fair, we are a couple of disembodied voices in the void of space, so I guess anything would be par for the course. But another chance at living..?

"Your skepticism is very justified! But I promise on my eternal existence as a Judgmental Voice, that I am not pranking you! Those questions, however blunt and questionable as they were, was actually a test of your character! In fact, our entire conversation was nothing but a test! Don't worry though, everything I said was true, we both are indeed dead and I feel I can't stress enough that I am granting you another life, so there's that. Anyway, I deem you the selfless, heroic, responsible archetype! Those like you are noted for having a strong body and a strong mind, but the strongest part about you is your adamant will! Practically nothing is strong enough to deter you from the path ahead, even if it's incredibly difficult and may or may not lead to you injuring yourself along the way!"

"You say that like it's supposed to be bad, but you sound pretty happy at the same time. I also don't like the whole, 'may or may not lead to you injuring yourself' part."

"Listen, I'm gonna not lie, it's nice to meet someone like you. It's new! It's fresh! It's got a high chance of unforeseen consequences, and it's refreshing!"

"W-Wait, what was that about unforsee-"

"Don't worry about that now! I have something for you, a parting gift!"

A sudden flash of light blinds me, I instinctively try to block it, but uh... no body to block with... As the light grows in size, it creates a floor, flowing with different colors that stretch as far as I can see. The light is warm, comforting, and after a while I'm able to look at it painlessly. I take a few steps towards it's center, but stop a few steps before reaching it.

"Hey... I know this wasn't that long, and I know it was basically just business for you, but... can I call you a friend?"

"Friend? With how much I brought up 'friends' and 'death' in the same sentence, I'd think you wouldn't be able to see that word and think positively about it."

"Nah, friends are more important to me than the concept of death. God, it feels weird to just casually say that..." I metaphorically shudder. "A-Anyway, I think this experience between us should be enough for us to be friends, right?"

"..."

The silence was almost uncharacteristic for the voice. I guess I wouldn't know that for certain just yet, but with how much he talked my ear off just now, I dunno, it just feels off.

“Honestly… Why would that matter? How would us being friends benefit you? I’m not declining your offer outright, but why would you care to ask such a thing?”

“I dunno… it kinda just seems like the thing to do…” We sit in silence for a moment, I assume we’re both thinking this over. “So… friends?”

“...We’ll see where this new life of yours takes you, first.”

“We? You mean you’re gonna be watching me, or am I gonna come back here?” Asking that question allows another one I’ve been ignoring to pop into mind. Before I’m able to ask it, the voice stops me.

“What do you think this place is? I believe you haven't asked me that yet.”

“If you could answer that, wouldn’t you have told me already?”

“Maybe I like having the choice to say I can’t answer something…”

“Huh... Just when I think I have some sort of idea of who you are, you change on me…” I let out a sigh and face the object in the light, letting my eyes adjust to it again. “Alright, enough stalling, what is this thing?”

“It’s a special object, created for those with certain personality traits. It’s different for whoever is lucky enough to acquire it. For you… it seems to be an armband. Since it’s tailored for you, I am uncertain of its capabilities. I can say that it will assist in your journey, and it’ll look pretty awesome at the same time.”

“Cool. So do I just…” I act like I’m extending my arm towards the light, and it suddenly grips onto me. The armband floats out of the light and blue flames shoot out from within it. The flames start to burn me, creating an arm and crawling up it. Everywhere the fire spread, more of my new body formed from it’s flames. I had a snout, and fur, and a tail! I touched my mouth and was poked by sharp fangs, and I looked down to see paws attached to my legs and my arms. The burn of the heat was exhilarating, and the feeling of having a body was comforting; I felt like myself again. Right as I thought it was done, a sudden heft overcame my chest and my arms, and all of a sudden, spikes popped out of my chest and the back of my hands, er… paws. After the flames dissipated, the armband snapped to my right arm, stretching and tightening itself around my right arm. Blue, red, and green flames flashed along the band, burning their dance into it.

“The body you reside in is that of a Lucario. They’re known for being as tough as steel, and the only thing stronger than that is their resolve. When it comes to physical strength and agility, Lucario’s are hardly ever outmatched, which is mostly thanks to their innate ability to draw upon and effectively use Aura. They’re the perfect example of an adamant being; once they decide on a course of action, no force on earth can stop them.”

“Wow, they sound incredible!”

“They tend to be the most memorable Pokemon in any given place, yes. Oh, right, that reminds me…”

The voice seemingly vanishes for a little while, then suddenly clears his throat and starts back up again.

“It would seem I forgot to mention… Your new body has a condition tied to it. The world you’ll return to will be in grave danger and you’ll have to protect it.”

“...” I pinch the bridge of my snout and let out a sigh. “How, exactly, did that slip your mind?”

“I was caught in the heat of the moment.”

“The heat of the mo- You know what… whatever. I accept.”

“R-Really??? I mean, you already have the body so you don’t have a choice, but… you’re just gonna accept being forced to play hero?”

“Why wouldn’t I? What else am I gonna do, spend the rest of my afterlife in… whatever this place is? You never told me what this place was.”

“You never told me what you thought it was.”

“And I’m gonna say I can’t answer that.”

“...I think I might’ve read you wrong. I doubt a smartass like yourself is actually fit to be a hero.”

“Too late, I already accepted the condition it came with! Now it looks like I’m just gonna have to go and save the world!” I scratch my chin for a second. “Um… how do I go about saving the world?”

“Hell if I remember, it hasn’t happened yet. Why don’t you just jump ahead and see what happens? I think life’s more exciting when you blindly run into it!”

I let out one last sigh and grin into the abyss. Despite the fact that I’m being thrown into something I am probably ill prepared for, I can't deny the excitement building in my chest. I turn towards where the light was and walk towards it, touching it and causing it to disappear. A sort of window appears where it was, and I can see an island through it.

“This is goodbye… It was an interesting experience, meeting with someone like you.”

“Ditto. I don’t know if you’re gonna accept being my friend-”

“I probably won’t…”

“-but, I think I’m still gonna consider you mine. Until next time.”

“One last thing that I might’ve held off until now… You’re hardly going to remember what happened here once you go through that window. After a while, this whole experience will be nothing but faded memories and fragments of a dream. You might not even remember your past lives.”

“You really should try and say those important bits first.”

“If the first thing I say is that I’m here to grant you another chance at life, and all you have to do is answer some questions, do you honestly believe that everyone who comes through here will answer honestly?”

“Can’t you read their minds? You read mine?”

“Eh, semantics. I’ll open the window portal, and you can get one with the heroics. Anything you want to say before going into a brand new world?”

I am almost entirely sure that is not how semantics is supposed to be used...“Well… I’m pretty sure I’ve answered the majority of your answers, so why won’t you answer mine?”

“We both know the answer to that. I just can’t, not yet.”

I shrug, it was worth a shot. Beams of light start shooting out from the window and the floor, and a breeze flows in. It’s chilly, and my first instinct was to back away from it. I took a deep breath and turned one last time towards the voice.

“I’ll be seeing you, friend.” I say, falling backwards into the portal. I manage to hear one last thing before being wrapped in a bright light.

...For our sake...

...I really hope you don’t...
 

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter One: Rio's Arrival in Sunset Valley



As the Lucario fell through the portal, he felt as if he was being carried downwards. The sky was a light pink, orange, and purple-ish blue, perhaps it was sunrise? The air smelled crisp and clean, and each breath he took felt more relaxing than the last. After a few moments, the sun rose enough for its warmth to bounce his fur, and a cozy smile appeared on his face. As he took in the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the air, he also took a look at his surroundings.

He was floating towards a large island, to the north stood a tall, jagged mountain that pierced the sky. To the south, a forest of bright orange and yellow leaves, showing the season to be Autumn. To the east, more of the same forest, but the trees were thinner than the rest, he wasn't close enough to tell clearly. Directly below the Lucario were more colorful trees.

As softly as he has fallen, the Lucario finally landed on solid ground, he stood for a moment, taking in the scent of the forest air, before being approached by a black fox with a large, spiky, red mane with dark spikes curved downward, bright red claws, and piercing blue eyes.

"Huh, that's not how she said that happened… I thought they fell like rocks," the fox muttered to himself. Clearing his throat, he waved and put on a grin. "Howdy, name's Kora, a Zoroark," the fox extended his paw to greet the Lucario. When he finally shook Kora's paw, he was met with a firm shake and a warm smile. "Don't believe I caught your name, figure it's only fair you share yours after I already told you mine."

The Lucario had almost forgotten to introduce himself. It took him a moment to remember, but it came to him nonetheless. "M-my name is Rio, nice to meet you," Rio replied with a smile.

"I'm gonna go out on a whim and assume you don't got any places to be, right?" Kora joked, motioning for Rio to follow him. "I can take you to my place, it's not too far from here."

Rio nodded; the Zoroark was right, after all. Other than remembering something asking him to save the world, Rio had no idea what to do or where to go. After walking for a few minutes (mostly stumbling in Rio's case, his body felt unnaturally stiff), Rio thought it would help him to find out whatever he could from Kora.

"So... Kora? You don't exactly look, surprised that someone just… fell from the sky. Why is that?" the Lucario asked, nearly tripping over himself. Kora slowed down his pace and offered Rio to hold onto him for balance.

"My mom said the same kinda thing happened to her. Pretty sure she said she's an 'Outstander" or something like that," the Zoroark shrugged. "I can't really remember off the top of my head."

"From the sounds of it, your Mom might be my best shot at finding out what I'm supposed to do then, huh," Rio said.

<><><>​

As the two continued to talk, they finally came to the village Kora was talking about. It was small, with only a few tents with hardly anybody around; a couple kids, a blue alligator and a tall chicken, and Rio could swear he saw someone staring at him from the woods. It was quaint and homey, a feeling of peace coming to Rio when he first walked in. Kora put on a big smile and introduced Rio to the town.

"Welcome to Sunset Valley, Rio! It's not the biggest or fanciest, but it's home! We even have a Square down that path over there, I can show you it later!" Kora said, pointing to a path to the side. Suddenly, those two kids that were running around were standing beside Kora and Rio, gawking at the Lucario.

"Whoa, Kora! Is that an Outlander?!" the small black fox said, with wonder and awe practically glued on his face. Kora grinned, putting his arm on Rio's shoulder.

"Yep! This is Rio, he just showed up and I was just about to bring him to Mom, so-"

"My name's Kai," the small black fox said, interrupting Kora, "and this is my best friend, Mia!" Kai gestured to the small dog fox thing, who waved excitedly at their new acquaintance. Rio nervously waved back, chuckling to himself.

"Nice to meet you, Kai and Mia!" Rio greeted the two with a smile. Kora cleared his throat and started pushing Kora away from the two children. "This is gonna be so cool! You're a Lucario, which is awesome, too! I can't wait for you to mee-"

"Like I said, I was right about to bring Rio to Mom! So you two can go on and do... whatever it is you do..." the Zoroark stated, getting Rio and Himself away from his brother and his friend.

Up close, the tents looked much older. The roofs had interesting designs that looked to represent the Pokémon who lived inside of it, in one way or another. The house Kora was leading Rio to, for instance, had black and red designs on a large bushy object similar to a Zoroark's mane. The actual tent itself looked very stable and the entrance to the house was a large opening hole covered by a tough cover cloth. Inside was a large room with a decent sized fire pit in the middle. In the middle of the fire pit was a wide, thin, flat rock holding a metal pot. Around the fire pit were three large rugs with two big cushions each. The interior of the tent was cozier and larger than expected. Kora plopped down on the second largest rug and patted the cushion next to his for Rio to sit on, and Rio obliged.

"Weren't we supposed to meet your mom? Where is she?" Rio politely asked, carefully scanning the room. Kora grinned mischievously.

"Well, why don't you ask her yourself!" Kora said, pointing at the wall opposite to them.

"That doesn't make any-" Somehow, in the few seconds it took for him to turn his head, another Zoroark appeared out of thin air right where Kora had pointed. Rio jumped back in surprise, stumbling over one of the cushions.

"Good afternoon Kora, honey," the Zoroark said, her voice as sweet as honey and as smooth as silk, " and who, pray tell, is this Lucario you brought with you?"

"This is Rio! I thought you were always joking when you said Outlanders fall from the sky, but he actually did!" Kora stated, pushing Rio slightly closer to his mother.

"An Outlander? Really? I never thought another Outlander would arrive at the same island I did so long ago. My name is Diana." She gave a warm smile after introducing herself. Rio shyly smiled back.

"Um, Kora said you were an Outlander too. I wanted to know if you could tell me what being one means, if you wouldn't mind," Rio asked politely. Diana, pleased with Rio's politeness, gladly took up his request.

"I'll tell you anything you want to know, sweetheart. It's unfortunately rare to find such a polite and well-mannered Outlander. I can't begin to tell you how many snobby, uppity Outlander's I've come across in my travels! I think I've fought more Outlanders than I have regular Pokemon!" Diana laughed, letting out a nostalgic sigh.

"So, Miss Diana, what am I supposed to do? When I was sent here, I didn't get any help from who or whatever sent me," Rio asked, Kora sat down next to him and Diana across from him. He showed his right arm and the band on it. "Well, except this. They said it should help me in my journey, or something along those lines."

"It's hard for me to say, honestly," the Mother Zoroark replied, closing her eyes and crossing her arms. "Perhaps, you could tell me why you were sent here in the first place?"

"Apparently, I'm supposed to save the world from something, but I don't know what or when it's gonna show up. Even that voice said it hasn't shown up yet, so I have no idea what I'm up against! I-I'm pretty nervous about it, honestly..."

"Don't try and think too much of it now. If the world were in danger, I would notice it long before anything happens," Diana reassured the Lucario, giving him a warm smile as well. "Right now, you need to focus on getting used to your new body. When I first came here, I stumbled everywhere for a while, but I was still a Zorua so it was much easier for me. Were it up to me, I'd have sent you as a Riolu so you could start out with a more reasonable body."

"Ok, so I've gotta learn to fully control my body. Would, uh, would you also be able to help me with that, by any chance?" Rio asked with a nervous chuckle.

"As much fun as training a fledgling Outlander would be, I'm afraid I'm not too knowledgeable about Lucario training regimens, at least not any that would prove useful to you. Besides, I think it would be best for you to wing it on your own! Or, even better, Kora and help you!" Diana suggested, her son snapping back to reality at the mention of his name.

"Diana said you could help me get used to my body. You can do that, right?" Rio asked. Kora looked Rio blankly for a second, then a smile started to stretch across his face.

"Of course I can train ya buddy! That's what friends are for, right?" Kora smiled proudly, and Rio nodded and smiled back. "Hey Mom, as my first training session with Rio, could I introduce him to everyone else in town? Just a quick run around the Square to get him used to walking!" Kora asked, springing to his feet. Diana smiled sweetly.

"Whatever you think is going to help him, honey. You are his partner now, after all." As Diana finished her sentence, Kora waved bye to her and dragged Rio out the house almost immediately. Diana giggled at her son's excitement.

"Might as well start gathering things for dinner then, I've got nothing better to do," she said to herself, putting on a satchel and walking outside. "Oh, wait, they probably need some money. They're definitely going to buy something from the Bakery." She quickly ran back in, grabbed some money, placed it in her satchel and went back outside.

<><><>​

After being dragged through the forest by Kora, Rio was met with a much larger section of Sunset Valley. It looked like a town square, with four large, colorful tents, an old, large tent, a park-like area in the middle of the whole thing, and a path that led into a different section of the forest.

"This is the more, business-y area of Sunset Valley. It's probably one of my favorite places to hang out on the island!" Kora stated.

"So we are on an island? It's a pretty big island!" Rio exclaimed. "Do you think I'll be able to see all of it?"

"I dunno, I don't think I've seen all of it myself, and I've lived here since I was born!" Kora chuckled. Kora began showing Rio the Square, starting from the old tent.

The two reached the large, old tent and were unimpressed by it. The roof didn't have too much of a design on it, or any at all for that matter. The cloth was tattered and torn in some places, and there might even have been some moss growing on it too. Instead of having the cloth like the other tents, it didn't have anything covering the opening. Even the inside was bare and abandoned. The most impressive thing about it was that it was built to have an upper level, but it looked to have collapsed, leaving only the lower level.

"Does... anyone live here?" Rio asked, puzzled by the lack of any interior design.

"This is just an old tent, I guess. I don't think I even remember it being built, now that I think about it..." Kora replied.

After that uneventful experience, the two went toward the actually used tents. All four of them surrounded the large, grassy area in the middle. The first tent was red, with white feathers shooting upwards. There was a wide table in front of it with a penguin-looking Pokémon behind it. The Pokémon, a Delibird, as Kora whispered to Rio, waved at Kora as they approached.

"Good morning to you, Kora! Come to buy some more trinkets and Berries for Diana's garden?" The Delibird asked politely.

"Not right now, a new Outlander showed up and I'm showing him around the Valley," Kora put his arm around Rio's shoulder, "This is Rio. Rio, this is Mr. Nick."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Rio greeted.

"The pleasure is all mine. Whenever you need to buy or sell anything, feel free to bring yourself down to my little shop young lad," Nick said with a warm smile.

The next tent was black with a red crest-like object on the top of it, and a yellow coin below that crest. This tent didn't have a table out front so the two walked right inside. To Rio's surprise, the tent was much larger on the inside, holding two large vaults behind a wide counter, and a cat standing right behind it. The cat, a Meowth according to Kora, was barely able to stand with her head above the counter.

"Mornin' Kora. Who's the new guy?" the Meowth asked. Her voice sounded kinda young for what Rio assumed was a shop owner of some kind, she couldn't be much older than he was from the sound of her.

"Well, Minnie, this is-" before Kora could finish his sentence, a dirty rag was thrown straight into his face by a very angry "Minnie".

"I told ya to stop callin' me that, twerp! The name's Minerva! Not Minnie!" Minerva quickly calmed herself down.

"Ptoo! Gross, my mouth was wide open, geez! The nerve of some Pokémon." Kora laughed, however the joke didn't sit well with the young Meowth behind the counter.

"Always with that same damn joke..." Minerva pulled a large box from under the counter. It definitely had some weight to it, to Kora's dismay, "luckily I know how to shut that annoyin' mouth of yours!"

"H-hey, Minerva, m-my friend! There's no need for… senseless violence, r-right Rio?" Kora turned to see Rio standing far away from him. His face reading, 'Yea, I'm not even gonna try to stop this, that joke was terrible.' Kora stumbled backwards as Minerva approached him, she was literally fuming.

"C'mon it was just a joke! A tiny, little, harmless joke! Y-you don't have to do anything that could really, um, hurt me, riiiiight?"

"You shoulda thought about that before saying that lame joke for the millionth time!" Minerva shouted, throwing the box full force at Kora. Frozen in fear, Kora was unable to dodge, and it slammed into Kora's chest with a loud THUD, knocking him outside the tent. Rio now somewhat regretted not helping Kora, but he couldn't think of anything he could've done to stop what the fox set in motion.

"Hey... Rio, right?" Minerva walked up to Rio, her arms crossed. Obviously, throwing that box calmed her down greatly, but Rio still jumped when she approached. Minerva sighed. "Ya don't have to worry, I ain't gonna hurt ya. I already said this, but the name's Minerva."

"I-I'm Rio, I'm an Outlander. Does Kora always tell such bad jokes?"

"Yea, that's pretty much all he does besides bein' a bonafide dumbass. Ya'd think he'd find some better material every now and then."

"Well I better find some better living arrangements. I'm already tired after just one lame joke," Rio sighed, pulling a giggle from Minerva.

"I know that feelin' blue! Anyway, we might wanna help him up soon. That box was full of the heaviest non-breakable things I could find... mostly just rocks." Rio and Minerva went to help Kora, who was currently unconscious under some of the rocks. The box broke on impact. After getting the stray rocks off of him and putting the box to the side, Rio and Minerva spoke while Kora recovered, still laying on the ground.

"So, do you own this little tent shop, thingy?" Rio asked, poking Kora with a stick he found.

"Eh, I'm just watchin' it for my Pops. And this ain't a shop anyway, it's a bank," Minerva replied, sitting next to Rio as they spoke. "The hell kinda store got vaults full o' cash sittin' out in the open?"

"Maybe a shop that's daring somebody to try and rob them? Like how Kora's basically asking to get crushed by rocks with his terrible comedy," Rio said, getting a chuckle from Minerva. "So, where is your dad, anyway?"

"He went overseas with the guild we got 'round here. He and the Guildmaster are long time buddies, and he's good with cash, so whenever the Guild goes on some grand ol' adventure off this big rock, he tags along to manage their funds and the like." Minerva's expression saddened for a second, but Rio didn't notice. "He left yesterday, so I'm not expectin' him to come back 'till next week." This time, Rio actually heard the somewhat growing sadness in her voice.

"Sounds like you don't like being here by yourself. Does he leave often?"

"Boy ya ask a bunch of questions, but... kinda? Don't get me wrong, I'd do anythin' to see somethin' that isn't on an island, but it ain't so bad with the twerp always around. I'd rather him than some of the other Pokemon here..." Minerva answered, but whispered that last part. Her ear twitched, and Minerva sighed, picking up a pebble and chucking it at Kora's side. The Zoroark yelped and rolled over in pain for a second.

"What's so funny, twerp?!" She growled. Kora shot up, not wanting to anger Minerva more.

"Oww! I-I wasn't laughing, I swear! I was clearing my throat because I think I might've swallowed a rock or two! Honest!" The fox hastily apologized.

"How did you manage to swallow any number of rocks?" Rio asked, getting a playful smile from Kora. Minerva rolled her eyes and groaned.

"Ya'd be surprised at what this idiot will eat..." she replied, standing up and dusting herself off. "Weren't the two of ya doin' somethin' before ya came by to annoy me?"

"Yeah you're right, I still gotta show Rio around the place. Man, I didn't realize how much time flies when you get knocked out by flying boxes full of rocks." Kora stated, stretching his body out until his side and chest pained him too much to continue.

"Ya weren't even knocked out, ya crybaby! And it's barely been a minute!" Minerva said, crossing her arms and walking inside the bank tent. "Whatever, both of ya can do whatever ya want, I got some stuff to do."

"Alrighty then, let's go to the next tent Rio-" Kora started walking towards the other tent "-see ya later Minerva." The Meowth waved and nodded goodbye. Before Rio started walking, he paused for a second and turned back to Minerva.

"If you want, you could join us. Also, it was nice meeting you!" Rio waved goodbye as he caught up with Kora. Minerva hesitated before she turned to reply.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be at the Bakery once I'm done here. I've been cravin' a pie lately..." Minerva replied, trailing off when she noticed Rio was already going inside the other tent. She shrugged and grinned, looking forward to getting a slice of warm pie on this chilly day.

<><><>​

The next tent they arrived at was much larger than the bank tent. It was grey and had three weird "rings" at the top. Inside you could hear someone hitting a punching bag. The inside was hot, and in the dead center was a tall, muscular, four-armed Pokémon punching through the punching bag! He did it so effortlessly, it hardly made that loud a sound.

"Damn, that's the third one today," the burly Pokemon said to himself, not aware of the two others within earshot. He didn't notice Kora and Rio until after he tossed the bag aside with the two other broken ones and went to the other side of the room for a newer one. "Oh, afternoon Kora. Come to train a bit?" He said, pounding his chest with one of his fists. Rio instinctively stood cautiously still, not at all knowing what else to do.

"Actually I was just showing my new friend here around. Meet Rio the Outlander, arrived just this morning in the middle of the forest!" As Kora showed off his new friend, Rio shyly waved hello.

"Well Rio, the name's Jax, short for Jackson. Since you probably don't know, I'm a Machamp." As he introduced himself, Jax flexed each arm, he seemed to sparkle, mostly due to how sweaty he was after training in this hot tent.

"Seeing how you're an Outlander and all, how about we see how strong your Lucario body already is! Come on over here and punch this punching bag with all you've got!" Jax plopped himself down near the bag, gesturing for Rio to approach it.

Rio took in a deep breath and pulled back his paw. He then threw his palm forward with all his might, and... missed. The Lucario chuckled awkwardly and went to try again, this time hitting the punching bag, but it felt like it was full of cement or something because Rio ended up hurting himself rather than the bag! Jax let out a hardy laugh and stood beside Rio, patting the canine on his back.

"You gotta put way more force into your punch, man! Even with a different body, punching can't really be that difficult," Jax said, although he muttered that last bit to himself.

"Yeah Rio, punch it like you're punching something you really don't like. Like, uh... well, something you hate? Sorry, but you've never told me what you like or didn't like." Kora, attempted, to help motivate his blue friend, which helped get Rio thinking.

"Can I say I hate your puns?" Rio joked, getting a playful glare from Kora.

"Har dee har! I don't know why you'd hate the pinnacle of comedy, but whatever boats your float, dude," Kora replied. "But, what do you actually hate?"

"I dunno... lemme think..." Rio took a second to try and think of something. A memory of his childhood popped up, but it was odd. He was there with two other kids, but their faces weren't easy to make out. They were playing on a beach, when three other kids showed up and started beating them around for no reason! Although it was frustrating to remember something like that, Rio was more upset with how hard it was to remember it in the first place.

"It's alright, Rio," Jax interrupted the Lucario's train of thought, seeing it cause him some discomfort. "Ya don't gotta punch the thing, really. These things are supposed to withstand a helluva lot of punishment, and they're tough as steel, too. I don't want ya hurting yourself on my watch."

"Alright, I guess. Thanks for letting me try anyway!" Rio thanked Jax. "Maybe someday soon I'll plow through these things like you do," Rio said with a grin, referring to the tens of broken punching bags piled near the end of the tent. Jax let out a hardy laugh and patted Rio on the back, nearly knocking the Outlander over.

"Normally I'd love to throw out some attacks too, but I've been injured in a freak 'box full of rocks' incident," Kora said, acting as if he was in great pain. "The culprit had too short a tolerance for comedy, it seems. Oh, sigh..."

"Lemme guess, you made that 'nerve' joke again, didn't you?" Jax said, rolling his eyes.

"You say that like it's a bad joke! It's great!" Rio and Jax both looked at Kora, obviously skeptical. Kora shrugged and sighed. "I guess my comedy is just too good for my audience, sigh," Kora said sarcastically, turning to leave. "Anyway, we got one more tent to look at Rio, then we got just a couple more places before you're well acquainted with Sunset Valley."

"I'm right behind you!" Rio said as he followed Kora out of the tent. "See ya later, Jax!"

"Come on back whenever you'd like, Novice Puncher!" Jax waved as the fox and dog left. "... Did… did he say sigh? Twice?"

<><><>​

The two walked a bit slower on their way to the last tent; a cool breeze had rolled in and they both liked the chill it gave them. And not only did the breeze bring a relaxing chill, but also the delectable scent of freshly baked delicacies! Rio could practically taste the crispy, buttery crust of whatever pie was baked just from the smell alone! Kora's injuries seemed to fade away as his lungs were filled by the healing power of sweets.

"Man, they just keep out doin' themselves, huh?" Minerva's voice broke through the sweet-scented trance the boys were caught under. Kora jumped at the Meowth's sudden appearance, but was quickly calmed again by the Bakery's intoxicating aroma.

"Oh, hey Minerva. I don't think I could disagree with that, even if I was crazy enough to want to," Kora replied.

"What'd you say this tent was again? A Bakery? I coulda sworn it was the gates of heaven instead," Rio said, trying to keep his mouth from watering, but was hardly able to focus enough to do so. "Man I don't know what any of these smells are, but I will try all of them!"

"Trust me, we will! We're not gonna leave that tent without trying EVERYTHING at least once! Maybe even twice~!" Kora declared, picking up his pace, the control of the Bakery's treats starting to overtake him.

"You're gonna love the pies! They always make so many different kinds, so many flavor combinations! Even if I had all the pies I could eat, it wouldn't be enough!" Minerva licked her lips and hopped into Kora's mane. "Every time I think I've had their best, they come up with some kinda Holy Pie with the power to wash away all your troubles with a flood of flavor!"

The three were sprinting towards the Bakery, solely focused on eating twice their fill of treats, and (literally) ran into Diana, along with Kai and Mia, as they were about to turn into the Bakery tent. Despite Diana being such a kind soul, a petal in the wind, a gently flowing stream... her body was about as solid and immovable as a boulder. Kora bounced right off of her, knocking him and Rio to the ground. Minerva was able to hop off the fox at the last second, spared from being caught in a pile of boys.

"Uhhhhhggg... What hit me..?" Kora groaned, sitting up and holding his head. "Was there a wall or something..?"

"Oh, Honey! I was just looking for you," Diana happily exclaimed when she noticed who had bumped into her. She lifted the fallen boys off the ground. "So, how are you liking the island so far, dear?"

"D-Dear..?" Rio got flustered for a moment before clearing his throat and answering Diana. "U-Um, I like it a lot! I met Minerva, and Jax let me try hitting a punching bag in his gym... tent... thingy. We were on our way to get some goodies from the Bakery when we ran into you. Sorry about that, by the way."

"It's just... the smell was soooooo goooooood, and we could hardly control ourselves!" Kora snickered. "I didn't mean to run into you, um, literally."

"It's fine, I barely felt it!" Diana giggled. "Anyway, here's some money. I knew you didn't have any on you, but you bolted out the tent before I could give it to you. I'd say not to spend it all in one place, but that hasn't stopped you before, so... Make sure you bring some back for later."

"Sure thing, if Minerva doesn't try and eat all of it," Kora replied, jokingly sticking his tongue out at the feline.

The inside of the tent was just as decorative as a bakery should be: the floor had a large rug with red and pink stripes, there were tables with decorative coverings and flowers on top, there were multi-colored streamers hanging from practically anything that they could hang off of, and there was a counter covered with pastry designs and showcased today's treats in glass display cases. Behind the counter was a Pokémon that reminded Rio of cotton candy, and another Pokémon that looked like a mime. In front of the counter was actually Mr. Nick carrying a box, and behind him was that tall, red, bird Pokémon and the big, blue, alligator Pokémon Rio saw earlier.

"Hey, Zeke! Hey, Nate!" Kora loudly greeted the two, surprising them both. The two turned around, looking as if they had just seen a ghost. Rio snickered at how easily startled they were.

"O-Oh... Kora! And Minerva, too!" The tall one, Zeke, sighed, holding his chest and chuckling to himself. The blue one, Nate, was looking at Rio strangely. He was fixated on Rio's face for some reason. The Outlander pretended not to notice and introduced himself.

"My name's Rio, I'm an Outlander and I only arrived this morning. Pleased to meet you both!" Rio politely shook both their claws and smiled.

"Ain't the both of ya supposed to be with the Guild on their expedition or whatever?" Minerva asked "You're not skippin' out, are ya?"

"Yeah, if it's an expedition or whatever, why aren't you two with them?" Kora asked, placing his paw under his chin with suspicious intent.

"We had other plans, that's all. Can't be spending all our time doing work stuff," Zeke answered. "Besides, practically everyone left for this thing. The only teams left are us and one other group, so I really don't think they need us."

As their conversation came to a close, and Zeke and Nate ordered their treats, the jackal, cat, and fox were more focused on acquiring the sugary confections they so desired, than whatever reason Zeke and Nate decided to skip out on a Guild Expedition for. The cotton candy looking Pokemon, a Slurpuff according to Kora, greeted the three with a smile almost as sweet as Diana's.

"Good afternoon young Kora and Minerva, and hello to you too, young stranger. What brings you to our humble Bakery today?" Kora pushed the urge to blurt out his order down as much as he could so he could introduce Rio.

"This is Rio, Miss Clara. He's an Outlander who just arrived today and I've been showing him around the Valley! Really, just the Square so far." Rio gave a small wave and a smile after Kora's introduction.

"An Outlander you say? Well if he has the appetite of one, I'd be glad to give him anything he could afford," Miss Clara said jokingly. "Anyway, I know you didn't just come in for idle chat, so what'll you three be having today?" Clara asked with a sweet smile again on her face. The three had decided to get three of whatever pies were freshly made today, with Kora and Minerva splitting the payment between them.

"Alright, three nice and fresh pies, coming right up!" Clara smiled and walked toward the back, where the source of all the sweet scents were coming from. The three could hardly wait to chow down on their prized pies: Rio's mind was going crazy because of how hungry he was, Minerva couldn't stop thinking about what kind of pies they were gonna get and what style they would be in, and Kora had to stop his mouth from watering every now and then. After a minute of waiting, all three of them were counting, Clara and Benny, the Mr. Mime, walked out with their cherished confections, wrapped in pink and white striped foil and tied with pink bows.

"Here you go kiddies, enjoy! We even tossed in some macaroons, free of charge!" Benny stated happily. The three Pokémon thanked the bakers and went outside to eat in the middle of the park.

<><><>​

The first pie was a Sitrus Berry pie with a macaroon crumb crust and a basket-weave top, the second a Durin Berry cream pie with a sweetened crust, and the last a Lum Berry custard pie with a savory biscuit crust. The moment the foil was removed from the pies, that same overpowering scent filled the air, and the three nearly lost control of themselves again. In order to keep the pies spared when they began to eat, Minerva cut two slices from each pie, one for Rio and the other for Kora and her to share, and wrapped what was left back up with the foil. Rio kept himself under control, up until the first bite of the Durin cream pie hit his tongue.

There was a bitterness to the pudding that normally would turn Rio away from it, but the sweetness of the crust worked with it in just the right way for it to bring a blissful tartness to the forefront of flavors. For a moment, Rio felt like he might've fallen out of his body for a moment, unable to move for what seemed like an eternity in the serene state of mind he reached. He managed to conjure up enough strength to grab one of the macaroons and give that a try, which was still flavorful, but bland enough in comparison to free Rio from the pie's hold.

"Guys... I think I just had an out of body experience... I wasn't ready for this pie..." the Lucario stated, tempted to take another bite, but unsure if he was strong enough to get himself back out again.

Minerva, being an experienced expender of exquisite delicacies such as these, was having just as much trouble as Rio in keeping herself on this plane of existence. Despite her incredible physical strength, her willpower seemed to quiver before the face of pastry perfection. Kora managed to keep himself grounded long enough to grab a macaroon and place it within his feline friend's maw. She needed a moment for the biscuit to work, slowly closing her lips around it and the tips of Kora's claws without knowing it. Given a few seconds, Minerva was able to chew and swallow the biscuit and return to earth.

"I thought you'd know to always have a piece of macaroon in your mouth whenever you take that first bite of their pies, Minerva!" Kora chuckled. "And you call yourself an expert!"

"Can it, Twerp..." Minerva replied, leaning on the fox for a moment. "The biscuit'll take away from the flavor of the pie! I ain't a chump that can't take the full punch of the first bite of a fresh pie."

"If it weren't for me, you probably wouldn't have made it back!" Kora said, sticking his tongue out and downing the rest of the slice, making sure to pop a macaroon immediately after. "I mean, one of us gotta be the smart one when it comes to this kinda stuff, even if it means taking less of a risk with the power of the pie."

Having been more than satisfied with the one slice, the three thought the safe decision would be to save the rest for later. Kora opted to bring the goods back to his place now and have his Mom, Kai, and Mia enjoy it while it's still fresh. Rio, still on the heels of what could possibly be the closest he's had to a divine intervention, laid in the grass and stared at the afternoon sky. Minerva did the same, amazed that the simplest of flavor combinations could still bring forth such powerful feelings. There had to be a secret, but she didn't think she would be able to comprehend it right now. Kora eventually came back and plopped himself face-first on the ground, landing beside Minerva and sprawling his lanky body out on the floor.

"I don't think I'm ready for anymore pies, guys..." Rio stated. "Hell, I don't think I'm ready for anything from that Bakery yet."

"You're gonna flip when you try their savory options. It's mostly fish, but every now and then the Guild gets some fresh fresh meat, and the Baker's are the first to handle it, so you KNOW it's gonna stay fresh, fresh." Kora replied. "Speaking of fish, I haven't shown you the beach yet!"

"Oh yeah, the beach would be a perfect place to come off the pie high at!" Minerva exclaimed. "But, uh, my legs are still weak, and I think I'm lightheaded or somethin' so..."

"You were already gonna climb inside my mane, Minerva. You don't gotta make up some story for a free lift." Kora rolled his eyes, lifting the Meowth up and tossing her into his luscious mane. The Zoroark walked over to the Lucario and offered a paw. "Whaddya say, Rio? Wanna piggy back ride, too?"

Rio grinned and took Kora's paw, the fox being able to easily lift the heavy jackal right off the ground. "Nah, I need to move around as much as I can on my own. Can't get used to a body if that body's getting carried everywhere."

"Suit yourself. The beach is about forty minutes away, so you better get ready for a loooooooooong walk!" Kora stated, running off towards the path leading into the forest.

"W-Wait, that's almost an hour!" Rio exclaimed, getting a laugh from Kora. The Lucario tried to run after the fox, but his body was still heavy and stiff. "I-I change my mind! Kora, come back!"

"Sorry, partner!" Kora yelled back. "I'm a one-stop fox and I'm already out of here! And you already said noooooooo!" the Zoroark was already gone, his voice trailing off into the woods.

"D-Dammit Kora! C'mon on!" Rio yelled, managing a light jog. The jackal swore he was gonna punch the hell outta that jokester when he gets the chance, and that thought seemed to help Rio move just a bit faster! "I'm gonna make you WISH Minerva threw another box of rocks at you! You prick!"
 
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Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Two: Fights Along the Shore


While Rio descended from the sky, he attracted the attention of more than just Kora. Watching from the shadows was a Bisharp, with a sharp glare fixed directly on the Lucario as the canine fell from above. The Bisharp silently surveyed Rio, his meeting with Kora, and their walk towards the village. He wasn't noticed by either of the two until he crept too close to the treeline and, for a moment, caught the Outlander's attention.

The Bisharp retreated, rather unimpressed at first glance, but felt the faintest sensation of potential in Rio. He believed it might just be due to Rio being of the same species as somebody close to him. With thoughts of the past clouding his mind, the Bisharp blindly bumped into another resident of the island, someone he knew well.

"Zen?" a Scrafty asked. "Where the hell do you always disappear to, dude? And why are you up so early?"

"I could ask you the same thing, Kane," Zen replied. "I find it quite uncharacteristic of you to be out and about before the turn of the century."

"Whatever, smartass. Eva wanted me to find you, wanted to ask if you were ready to become an official team yet," Kane told Zen as they walked through the woods.

"The two of you have asked me this, how many times? I've always answered the same way, so what makes either of you think that today will be any different?" Zen questioned.

Kane shrugged. "Hell if I know, it was her idea."


<><><><><>​


After a rather short walk, Kane and Zen came up to a large, hollowed out tree with a door leaning in front of the entrance. It was far wider than any other tree, and despite it being hollowed out, it was still full of life. There was an opening near the top, and from it stood a Zangoose. She was a bit shorter for her speciesthan the average Cat Ferret Pokemon, and instead of crimson red, she bore pink markings on her fur. The Normal Type dropped from the top of the tree and landed in front of the two who had just arrived.

"Zen, I think I can convince you to finally join Kane and I's team!" Eva said excitedly.

"How, exactly?" Zen asked. Eva put on a big grin and pushed the door away from the tree's opening, revealing a room with some of Kane's belongings scattered on the floor, a wool blanket, a fire pit, and a Zorua and an Eevee sitting patiently inside. Zen and Kane were both surprised when they noticed the two children—, they didn'ton't normally hang around either of themwo.

"Hiya Kane! Hiya Zen!" Kai greeted, sporting his own playful grin. "I have some super-awesome news! Kora found an Outlander!" The Zorua looked as if he was about to burst, while his companion was much more contained.

"Yes, I am aware. What about him?" tThe Bisharp asked, thinking back to the stumbling toddler of an Outlander he saw not too long ago.

"Isn't this great?!" Kai exclaimed. "An Outlander means trouble, and trouble means adventure!"

"Weren't you getting bored of being on a tropical island, eating mostly berries and seafood, and only sparring against the same five Pokemon for five whole years? I've been here for almost my entire life, and I know I'm getting tired of it," Eva grinned. "If that Lucario showing up means something bad is gonna happen, don't you think we should form a team and help him?"

"Please, he's hardly capable of walking in a straight line as of now. Whatever 'trouble' his existence indicates can't possibly warrant any concern of ours," Zen replied firmly. "And I don't mind the simplicity of island life... I'd rather this than my old life off the island."

"Oh please!" Kane butted in. "You go on and on about how hard your life was, but mine was just as rough, buddy, and you don't hear me whining about it!"

"Perhaps because you're too busy crying yourself to sleep about it whenever you're alone," Zen retorted coldly. "I only complain about my old life because I had things then to complain about now. What does a castaway bastard like yourself have to cry over?" Kane and Zen glared at each other, the air grew more tense as they were about ready to get at the other's throat.

"A-Alright guys!" Eva quickly stopped the two. "Let's not do this now, we're all friends here!"

"Friends?! This stuck-up hardass hardly even considers us equals!" Kane barked, glaring back at Zen again. "I know that look you give us behind our backs, I'm not stupid. You think you're better than us because you think you're strong, huh?"

"That would be exactly why, yes," Zen replied, his expressionless face riling up the Scrafty more. "I guess you weren't lying when you said you weren't dumb, color me impressed."

"AL-RIGHT!" Eva shouted, pushing the two boys apart. "Both of you need to chill out! Why are you both so aggressive today?"

"Us?!" Zen turned towards the Zangoose and scoffed. "Whenever Koraza so much as breathes incorrectly, you throw a hissyfit and berate him until he's a mess of tears, or Minerva comes in and stops you! You are the last Pokemon I want to hear talk to others about being aggressive!"

"I do not!" Eva exclaimed. "I just can't stand him messing up and thinking it's alright! It's beyond infuriating!"

"But why do you only get on him when he messes up? Zeke and Nate probably screw things up more than he does!" Kane pointed out.

"Actually, Zeke and Nate are doing a lotta things all the time. They do more than I think any of you do..." Kai said quietly, being hushed by Mia as to not attract the three angered Pokemons' attention. Unfortunately, he wasn't hushed quickly enough, and the rage-filled glares of Zen and Kane fell on him.

Mia tugged on Kai's tail, pointing towards the opening at the top of the tree. "Yeah, I think we should get outta here before things get messy. At least it shouldn't get messier than this room!" The two children snickered, but Kai's snide joke was caught by the owner of this tree, unfortunately.

"HEY! Get back here, runt!" the Scrafty yelled, pushing past Eva and Zen and trying to grab the two kids. "Who the hell even said you could mess around with my stuff, huh?!" Kane dove in to grab the two kits, but was easily avoided.

Both kids used Kane's robust head as a springboard to climb towards the top, leaving the fuming Scrafty in a pile of ash from his fire pit. Kane spat out soot and ash, wiping the residue off his tongue and cussing under his breath. He grumbled to himself as he watched the two annoyances scatter through the foliage, laughing between themselves until they practically disappeared. The Scrafty walked out of his tree, and was met with Eva holding back laughter, and Zen with a smirk on his dumb, metallic face.

"What? What's so damn funny?" Kane angrily asked.

"You just let two children make a bigger fool out of yourself than you do on a daily basis!" Zen said with a chuckle. "They even gave you a makeover. Ashen gray... it soots you."

"And now I've had enough," Kane groaned, grabbing hold of Zen and lifting the Bisharp over his head. "If I get a new look, why the hell shouldn't you?!" The Scrafty chucked Zen directly into the fire pit, a large POOF of ash and soot coated him in a complete layer of grey.

"Why you little-" Zen grabbed Kane by his arm and yanked him into the pit again, and with another cloud of ash, he too was a dashing shade of gray. The two fought each other in the fire pit, when they realized Eva was giggling at them.

"The both of you look like ghosts fighting over who has the right to haunt this place!" she snickered.

Zen and Kane glanced at each other, then grinned devilishly at Eva. They both walked menacingly towards her, with Kane holding his arms out and "OOOOooooOOOooooOOo"-ing like a ghost probably would. Eva grew nervous and walked backwards, stumbling over a tree root and bumping into the side of a tree.

"H-Hey, guys! This isn't funny!" Eva said, trying to lean as far away from the ashen Kane and Zen as she could. "I just spruced up my fur, I'll never be able to get all that grey outta it!"

"Maaaaaybe you should've thoooooought about thaaaaat, befooooore lettin' those braaaaaats in my hooooouuuussssssseeeee!" Kane said as he and Zen grabbed Eva and carried her back to the fire pit.

"Come on, Eva! We're friends, are we not?" Zen jokingly asked. "If one of us gets a makeover, we all do!"

With a toss and a PHOOMP, the white and pink Zangoose became just as gray as the other two. "There! Now everyone's a mess!" Kane chuckled to himself and was about ready to go and clean himself off, when he was suddenly grabbed by a very pissed off Eva. He felt her grip tighten and pain shot up his arm, followed by him being slammed into the wall behind Eva.

"E-Eva! C-C-Calm down!" he exclaimed, the color fading from his face once he saw Zen's body being thrown at him. The two sat in fear as Eva angrily approached them, bearing her rather large claws.

"Eva, we can talk about this!" Zen tried to reason with her, but was instead woefully ignored.

"I JUST SAID I CLEANED UP MY FUR!" The Zangoose's voice was booming, sending chills right up both Pokemon's spines. "DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TAKES TO WASH ASH OUT OF WHITE FUR?!"

"I-I'm sorry! It was all in good fun, you can forgive me right?" the Scrafty begged.

"Oh, you'll be SORRY in a second!" Eva grinned, cracking her knuckles. Zen and Kane braced themselves for her first attack. They waited for it to come, knowing that any moment now they'd be feeling sore and bruised, but the attack never came. Kane slowly opened his eyes and saw Eva clutching her fist and breathing calmly. She let her arm go limp and let out a long exhale, giving her friends a smile.

"Y-You're not m-mad?" Kane asked, pushing Zen's body off him.

"Oh, I'm furious, and you're both gonna make it up to me." Eva clarified. "But not right now. Let's head down to the beach and wash this stuff off."

"Thank you, Eva," Zen said, releasing a relieved sigh and standing up. "It might be presumptuous of me, but I'd like to request that whatever you ask of us is... reasonable, at least."

"Of course it's gonna be unreasonable!" Eva laughed. "Why the hell would I go easy on either of you, especially you mister 'High and Mighty'?"

"Dammit, Metal Head! Why'd you have to ask..?" Kane groaned, not looking forward to whatever deed Eva was gonna throw at them. "I still have burns from the last time we pissed her off..."

"And I'm positive there's still sand in me..." Zen was hoping Eva would forget about this soon, or would at the very least have the mercy to go easy on them, but the deceptively sweet smile she put on was a clear sign that they were in for a grueling experience.


<><><><><>​


A walk through the woods later and the trio made their way to the serenity of the coastline. Nothing but clean, untainted sand, beautifully scattered seashells, and the light blue ocean that stretched across the horizon. Towards the north was the sky-piercing mountain owned by the Guild, and to the south laid nothing but endless sand and sea... and also the forest, but that's not what we're focusing on right now.

Eva took a deep breath of the crisp, salty ocean air. She would have enjoyed it had she not seen this same beautiful, boring, shore countless times before. After growing up with this beach, seeing all the shells, building hundreds of sand castles, spending hours upon hours sunbathing… it was losing its charm. Despite that, it was still relaxing at least.

"Isn't it grand?" Zen calmly said, walking into the water until it was past his knees. "There is nothing like this on the mainland continents. Truly breathtaking!"

"It really isn't all that," Eva replied, laying down in the water and allowing the waves to wash over her. With each wave, a good amount of soot released itself from her high-maintenance fur.

"Yet you still seem to enjoy it," Kane stated, already in waist deep water.

"Yeah, a little, Who wouldn't? This island is practically a paradise! Doesn't mean I wanna be here forever..." Eva exclaimed, sitting in the water and crossing her arms. "A paradise isn't a paradise if you live there, it's just a home at that point."

"Well, I'd say it's a paradise to me and Kane," Zen replied, washing his face. "I'd rather spend my entire life here instead of spending another day off it."

"I second that. Last time I was off the island, I was bein' chased by some crooks. Had to sneak on one of the Guild's boats and stay hidden until we arrived here," Kane said, shaking the water off his body. "That is not somethin' I wanna go through again. Although, I'm pretty sure I could wipe the floor with any of those punks now!" the Scrafty added, punching the water in front of him and creating a massive splash.

They spent a surprisingly long time washing themselves cleanーthe ash was a lot clingier than expected. The sun was directly above them, so they decided to lay out on the sand and dry off in its heat. After a while of sunbathing, Eva and Kane stood over Zen and poked him to see if he was still awake. Obviously he was, and he tightly gripped their hands.

"What is it?" he asked, agitated.

"We wanted to make one last proposition for you to join our Exploration Team," Eva answered, giving Zen a smile.

"Alright, let me hear it. If it's a bribe, I can assure you it won't work." Zen said, getting up and facing the two. Once he saw them jump back and get ready for a fight, excitement started coursing through his veins. "Oh?"

"We figured the best way to fully earn your respect would be to beat it outta you!" Kane said with a confident smirk.

"We've been sparring in secret for a while just so we could make you join our team!" Eva added. "And with the Outlander showing up, now's the perfect time to form an official team, and once he goes on his big journey or whatever, we'll just tag along for the ride!"

"Really? That's what the both of you were doing?" Zen scoffed. "I'll be blunt, if hiding out in the forest and fighting each other for several hours a day is your idea of 'secretly training', you will still need a miracle if you want to best me in battle. Two-on-one is child's play! I've had to fight multiple fully-evolved Pokemon on numerous occasions before either of you were even capable of speaking!"

"Welcome to the club! I took down a Poliwrath before I could even count!" Kane exclaimed.

"That's funny, I don't remember seeing any Poliwrath today?" Zen mocked, getting himself in a battle stance.

"Oh you think you're funny?!" Kane growled. "Eva, help me shut that joker's mouth, will ya?"

"Yeah!" the Zangoose cheered excitedly. "Then we'll be one step closer to forming a team!"

Kane and Eva sped over to Zen, almost surprising the Bisharp, and both threw out a punch aimed for his chest. Zen side-stepped their attacks, grabbing hold of Kane's tail and tossing the Scrafty to the side. Eva quickly turned back around and slashed at Zen three times, but didn't get a scratch on him! Zen kicked Eva off her feet and grabbed her leg. Zen threw her right at Kane, who caught her and tossed her high into the air. Kane closed the distance between him and Zen, throwing out quick jabs while keeping him in one place. After landing a few solid hits, Kane suddenly jumped back.

"Crush Claw!" Eva's voice called from above.

Zen had forgotten about her, much to his own surprise. Eva was right above Zen, her claws glowing a menacingly bright red. Zen was more than able to evade it, or he would have, had Kane not gotten behind him.

"Brick Break!" Kane was closer to Zen than Eva was, and his attack posed far more of a threat than Eva's physically. But being hit with Crush Claw would make this fight more difficult in the long run.

Although he wasn't planning on actually harming either of his companions, Zen decided he had to retaliate. He might have underestimated them at first, but the fight was still his to win. Zen blocked both incoming attacks with his forearms, and the air around him started to crackle dark energy.

"Dark Pulse," Zen spoke, a sudden whirl of darkness sending both his opponents away from him. The Bisharp cracked his neck and grinned. "You're already doing better than I expected! I applaud you both."

"You can applaud us after we become an official team!" Eva declared, again summoning a circle of swords which faded into her body.

Zen dodged another Brick Break from Kane and kicked him in his chest. Kane quickly recovered and threw out another set of jabs. Zen took a couple hits, but was able to land two powerful strikes on Kane and knock him back a bit. Eva rushed in with another Crush Claw, swift enough to land the attack on Zen before he could block or avoid it. Zen winced, feeling a rush of weakness flow through him. He quickly slashed at Eva, but Kane grabbed his arm and punched Zen in his gut.

"Y-You two have indeed improved..!" Zen admitted, clutching his stomach and taking a couple steps backwards. "Quite greatly, in fact..."

"So is that a yes?" Eva asked, fully expecting Zen to say no.

"I thought you'd have to beat me to have me join you. You'll have to try much harder, because I'm just getting started," Zen smirked, darkness crackling around him. "I'll try not to hurt you too much."

"I was gonna say the same thing!" Kane said with a sneer. "You ready, Eva?"

"Hell yeah! I was kinda hoping he'd make a big deal outta this, I've been wanting to spar with him for a while now!" Eva replied, summoning one last set of swords to power herself up.

The three continued sparring, both Eva and Kane seemingly on-par with Zen. All the while, they were being thoroughly analyzed from the shadows.


<><><><><>​


Rio was aching all over.H e felt like his legs were made of lead, his arms being weighed down by boulders, his heart was about ready to burst from his chest, and his lungs were on fire! He must've been running for an hour at-LEAST! The Outlander kept going, feeling glad that Kora forced him to get to the beach on his own two legs, but also incredibly pissed that the Zoroark didn't slow down and left Rio entirely alone!

"Wh-When I... hah... hah... find that fox..." Rio panted, finally stopping to take a break. "I'm gonna... hah... I don't even know..."

Rio decided to wait a while for his body to recover a little before walking down the path. He should probably be close to the beach already, so there was no need to keep pushing himself. It wasn't all bad; the soil was soft, the forest was calm and quiet, and his body was back to one-hundred percent in no time flat!

Aside from being beaten senseless, Rio was enjoying himself here. It was hard to believe that this world was in danger. But now that he was thinking about it, Rio was having trouble remembering who told him that...

After enjoying a little bit more peace, Rio could smell the distinct scent of saltwater, and heard the sound of waves breaking along a shoreline. Rio ran towards it, making his way from soft, loamy soil to white, grainy sand. He took in the beauty of the shoreline, the relaxing sound of waves, the warmth of the sun, and soon laid his eyes upon a red bush-like mane laying in the sand.

"Hey Kora!" Rio shouted, causing the mane to jump and reveal Kora beneath it. Rio walked over to the fox and debated what he should actually do to him, eventually siding with the idea of pricking the fox in the side with his arm spike. "Thanks for leaving me behind, jerk!"

"AAUUUUUGGGGHH!" Kora shrieked. "H-Hey! It was your idea. Besides, you look fine now!"

"Still coulda slowed down a bit," Rio said, poking the Zoroark again.

"O-OK, I'm sorry! Please s-stop that, it tickles!" Kora pleaded.

"Tickles?" Rio cocked his head. He wasn't really trying to hurt him, so that's better than it being painful.

Rio was about to take a seat beside Kora when he noticed that someone was missing. It didn't take long for him to figure out the missing Pokemon was Minerva. Right before the Outlander opened his mouth to ask where she was, a splash came from the ocean, followed by Minerva coming ashore. She carried an assortment of clams, struggling to keep them from dropping out of her arms. The Meowth plopped down the clams once she reached the two boys, grinning from ear to ear.

"I think we're gonna find a pearl in some of these," she happily exclaimed. "If ya gonna be livin' on an island, might as well get loaded on valuables, right?"

"I just think they're neat. Still don't get why you would wanna sell them if we hardly find any in the first place..." Kora said, grabbing a clam and instantly opening it. Once he saw there wasn't a pearl, he slurped up the meat inside and tossed the shells back into the water.

"We sell them because they're hard to come by, dumbass!" Minerva had a glint in her eyes as she cracked open a big clam, but that glint went away once it also revealed nothing but clam meat. She handed the clam to Kora, who happily ate it and did away with the shells. "When somethin's hard to find, that means it's worth a fortune! Ya can't make money sellin' shit that everyone can get,"

"Well we already got so many, won't the price drop or something?" Kora asked, helping Rio pry open a clam. A rather decent sized pearl fell out of it, and Minerva wasted no time swiping it.

"If we have all the pearls, then we get to raise the price on 'em and make even MORE money!" Minerva explained, a greedy glint returning to her eyes. "Once we get off this island, we'll be filthy rich, Kora!"

"That sounds kinda, I dunno, greedy?" Rio stated, trying the clam meat and immediately regretting it.

"Hey, we've been puttin' in the work for these things. It ain't greedy if ya put hard work behind it, at that point it's just knowin' what you deserve." Minerva told Rio, opening another clam but not finding a pearl. "All we get near the island is clams. Do ya know how difficult it is to get pearls from clams? If this was a job, I'd demand more pay than the pearls themselves are worth!"

"Now I know that's greedy," Rio replied, struggling with another clam and handing it to Kora. "You guys can enjoy the pearl hunting. I'm just gonna enjoy the sun for a while."

While Kora and Minerva kept cracking open clams, Rio laid back in the sand and rested the back of his head on his paws. With the serenity of the beach, and the sound of Kora and Minerva chatting and playfully mocking each other, Rio's mind again hovered over the idea of the world being in danger. Was it really? Diana did say she'd be the first to know if it was... Well, Rio wasn't going to complain.

"..."

The sudden silence from Minerva and Kora's voices got Rio's attention fairly quickly. He opened one eye to look at them and see what was up. They were both just... staring at something; Minerva in anger, and Kora in worry. Rio turned his head to face whatever they were staring at, seeing a furry, white and pink Pokemon and a scaly, orange and yellow Pokemon with what looked like a very large pair of pants.

"The hell do ya want?" Minerva spat. "We're busy, so buzz off."

"We're here for the Outlander," Kane said bluntly, his odd grin putting Rio off.

"He's better off with us than a short-tempered child and her brain dead friend," the furry one stated. Minerva was pissed now, and Kora tried his best to calm her.

"Don't listen to them, Minerva... We're leaving..." he said, his voice almost unfamiliar with how downtrodden it was. "We can finish looking for pearls later... C'mon Rio..."

"Oh? You still have the habit of running away?" the furry one spat. "At least you're kind enough to bring your 'friends' this time!"

"Shut the hell up, Eva!" Minerva growled. "I swear I'll come over there and beat the shit outta both of ya!"

"Maybe, if you weren't too busy following behind Kora. Clingy much?" the scaly one chuckled. For Rio's first meeting with these two... he had the strangest feeling that this maybe isn't how they normally act.

"Y-You don't need to be such a jerk to her, Kane..!" Kora retorted weakly, lacking his normal confidence.

"Don't try to be anybody's hero now," Eva stomped her foot in the sand. "The only thing you'll be saving at the end of the day is your own hide! And you won't even give her a second thought."

"I said that's enough!" Minerva growled, standing between Kora and the two Pokemon insulting them. "I've already had it with the both of ya! Kora, ya can sit this one out, I'm gonna beat these jerks to a pulp!"

Eva and Kane chuckled, getting into a fighting stance. The air started to shift, wisps of dark energy floated off their bodies, and a crimson glint shone from their eyes. Rio was about to ask if that was normal, but Minerva didn't seem to notice. Kora, on the other hand, got a bit worried and went over to Minerva's side.

"That's... There's something wrong with them," the fox said, bearing his claws to fight.

"Ya mean other than them lookin' for a fight no reason?" Minerva asked, not taking her eyes off the two.

"No... I'm not sure how to explain it..!" Kora replied. "M-Maybe we should run..."

Without even giving Kora a chance to retreat, Eva rushed towards him and slashed at his chest. The fox wasn't able to step back fast enough, getting two scratches across his chest. Minerva punched the Zangoose away, pushing her several feet away. Rio felt he should probably try and help them, but wasn't sure what he would do. His body still felt foreign and stiff, which would do little more than get in the way.

"We'll make quick work of the both of you. Can't have our ticket outta here get all buddy buddy with Kora, no point in endangering him before he's even off the island!" Eva said, again running in to attack Kora. This time the fox grabbed her paws and held her in place.

"I-I..." Kora muttered.

Minerva quickly knocked Eva away. "Stop listenin' to her, Kora!" she told her friend, dodging a Brick Break from Kane. "If ya don't wanna fight her then get outta here! Ya don't gotta worry about me, I'll be fine."

"But..." Kora looked back at Eva and the furious glare she had pointed at him. He held his chest and tried to stop thinking about her. "Are you sure?"

"Yes! I got this, promise," Minerva replied with a reassuring grin. "They're not that much trouble to deal with."

"Of course, just leave your friend behind! You're oh so good at that," Eva spat, her claws glowing a sinister red. "Just like old times."

Eva jumped above Kora and struck him with Crush Claw. Minerva tried to help him, but was kicked away by Kane. Kora pushed Eva away and slashed at Kane, anger showing on his face.

"Leave her alone!" he warned. Kane grinned and chopped Kora in the side.

"If you want me to stop, then stop me," Kane taunted. Minerva grabbed Kane by his tail and threw him at Eva, but he caught himself and dusted his shoulders off. "Although, it doesn't seem like you're gonna be able to do that."

"GAH! I HATE that cocky ass attitude ya always have! I'm gonna knock that outta ya real quick!" Minerva furiously declared, chasing the Scrafty along the shoreline.

Kora tried to pump himself up to fight, but whenever he looked up at Eva he felt whatever confidence he built slipping away. Eva frowned and bore her claws, a circle of sword swirling around her before fading away. They went to battle, Kora mostly on the defensive and Eva lashing out with anger-filled attacks.

Rio thought he'd be of no help to either of his friends, and although he wanted to stay, he felt something staring at him through the woods. He only caught a glimpse of who or what it was, and decided to check it out himself.


<><><><><>​


He ran through the woods in pursuit of what he saw, but eventually bumped into a red, blade covered Pokemon in a small clearing. Rio felt he'd seen him somewhere before, but couldn't put his finger on it.

"...You're the Outlander, correct?" the bladed Pokemon asked, his tone sounding somewhat disappointed.

"Yeah, I'm Rio," the Lucario replied. Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. "My friends Kora and Minerva are in trouble! Could you help them? I can't exactly... fight right now."

"I am aware. But if you are unable to assist your 'friends', I refuse to do it for you," the Pokemon replied coldly, turning deeper into the woods.

"Wha- Please? The two they're fighting... don't seem right! I can't do anything to help them right now, please!" Rio pleaded.

"If you care so much about two Pokemon that you met this morning, why are you here?" the Pokemon glared at Rio, sending a chill up his spine.

"I was... I thought I saw something watching us, and when I came over to see what it was, it ran off into the woods," Rio explained.

"You allowed something that you don't even know to draw you away from your friends in need? Pitiful."

"M-Maybe they were trying to bring me to you so you could help me!" Rio thought aloud, realizing how stupid that sounded once he said it. "Look, I really can't help them by myself, can you please help them? Please?"

The bladed Pokemon thought to himself before turning back to Rio. He raised his arm and swung it to the side, a burst of energy erupting from his body. Rio took a step back, regret burning throughout his body.

"If you are so weak that you can't even stand by your companions in battle, then you are worthless. Not only as a Pokemon, but as an Outlander as well," the Pokemon growled. "I will be generous, however. If you can survive a fight with me, then I will assist you. If not..." Blades extended from his gauntlets, a menacing sheen to them.

"A-Are you serious?! I-I'm only asking for help because I can't fight!" Rio exclaimed. "But if you'll help Kora and Minerva, I'll... I'll do it!"

"You're both weak and a fool. We'll see how far that naivete gets you. Caring for others... endangering yourself for them... None of that matters when you lack the strength to do so." The Pokemon was surrounded in a black glow as he got into a fighting stance. "If you yourself are weak, then all you will accomplish is failure! I'll prove it to you with this very fight."

Rio, fear building within him, felt an unreasonable excitement building as well. As deadly intimidating as this guy was, Rio couldn't deny how much the thrill of his first fight was getting to him. His body moved on its own and got ready to fight.

"I don't really get what you're going on about, but I'm ready!" Rio admitted. "I don't think I've ever felt so scared and so excited at the same time!"

The two stood across from each other, Rio grinning excitedly, and the Pokemon he faced radiated a fearsome pressure. Rio's heart was pumping, he felt more in tune with his body than before, and his tail was wagging without him noticing. He was so caught up in his excitement that he almost forgot that Kora and Minerva needed help. Not knowing exactly what to do, Rio let his body do whatever it thought was best, and ran towards his opponent.

"Alright, here I go!"
 

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Three: A Learning Experience


Rio's attack was intercepted by a backhand from the bladed Pokemon. A simple maneuver, hardly an attack, and yet it was enough to knock Rio to the side and leave a painful sting on his cheek. It felt like he was hit with a heated plate of metal, which was only half true. Rio tried to stand but his body wasn't listening to him anymore

"Just as I thought..." Zen sighed, walking over towards the Outlander. "You really are a waste of potential. An Outlander is naturally gifted to surpass even the most disciplined and harshly trained Pokemon. Equipped with a metaphorical 'step-up' that most Pokemon are jealous of. Not only are you a Lucario Outlander, but you've been bestowed with a gift, something I've only seen in Diana, and all I needed to do to halt your approach is swat you away like the insect you are."

"Y-You got a cheap shot, that's all!" Rio exclaimed, finally managing to pick himself back up again. The Lucario rushed in, trying to ignore the aches of his body so he could focus on fighting. He thrust out his palms, hitting Zen in his chest but getting himself damaged in the process. Just touching this guy was excruciating!

"I applaud your bravado, Rio. But it would be unwise to let your bravery lead the way to stupidity." Zen told the canine, raising his palm towards Rio. "I'll give you a chance to turn away from this fight. I can guarantee that you won't see it through."

"B-But I need your help!" Rio exclaimed, not noticing the growl rolling in his chest. "Kora and Minerva need help, I can't just leave them!"

"You mean leave them like you already have?" Zen pointed out, shaking his head.

"I was gonna go back to them regardless, and do what I can to help them. It's just..." Rio's growl grew as he bore his fangs. He didn't know what he was feeling, so he tried to focus on the fight once more. "If you say you'll help them, then I'll keep fighting you until you're satisfied!"

Rio tried attacking with his palms again, throwing all his weight into the attack. He managed to shove Zen back, while getting himself hurt again. He kept on anyway, getting somewhat used to the sting after a while. Zen grew tired of being gently pushed, so he flexed his hand and an orb of dark energy formed.

"Dark Pulse." Zen fired a blast of dark energy at Rio, amplifying that burning sting way past his pain threshold, and sending him flying back into a tree, breaking off one of its limbs.

On the plus side, Rio couldn't feel the aches and weight of his body, but he also couldn't feel anything other than searing pain that might actually cause him to pass out. Zen walked slowly up to Rio, that glow around his body intensifying. The Bisharp stood above Rio as the Lucario remained painfully silent, unable to get any sounds out of his mouth and staring blankly forward.

Zen let out a sigh and turned towards the woods, the glow fading away. He took a couple steps before getting struck in the back of his head by a hefty branch. Zen aggressively turned around and saw Rio standing there, branch in hand, with an angered stare on his face.

"You're trying my patience," Zen said, firing another Dark Pulse into Rio. The Lucario managed to raise the branch to block the attack, but it snapped right in half, and he still took the brunt of the attack. "Is the well-being of two strangers worth this stubbornness?! Or is it that you enjoy this pain?!"

Rio didn't respond. Well, it was more he couldn't, actually. His mouth was agape but the only sounds that could escape it was pained groans. Zen waited a few seconds, making sure the jackal wasn't going to get back up, and was annoyingly surprised when Rio did in fact get back up. The way he was moving, it was obvious that his body was in immense pain, making slow, jagged movements. Zen engulfed himself with the glow once again, pulling his hand back and surrounding it with his energy. The Bisharp jammed his fist into Rio's stomach, resulting in a pain-filled scream from the Outlander to fill the air.

"I warned you, Outlander, I even graced you with the option to turn away from this battle. The only one to blame for this pain you are feeling is yourself." Zen told Rio, letting out a huff and walked a couple steps back. Rio fell to the ground, clutching his stomach in agony. The tree behind him had a fist-shaped indent in it and pieces of the bark fell off, landing on Rio's back.

'Perhaps... it would not have cost me anything if I held back a little...' Zen thought to himself. 'It is a shame that my hypothesis didn't work... He seems to still be unable to use his aura.' Confident that Rio had had enough, Zen again began walking deeper into the woods, taking a few more steps before being interrupted.

"G...Get..." Rio groaned, trying to lift himself off the ground. "Get... b-back... here..."

'I stand corrected. Clearly, I wasn't trying enough.' Zen chuckled to himself as he watched Rio attempt to get up.

"You are certainly an Outlander in terms of durability, that I will commend you on!" The Bisharp clapped his gauntlets mockingly. "I am afraid that you've ventured from being brave to being horribly idiotic, however. You're barely able to speak and yet here you are, thinking that the fight is still going on."

"Y...You prom...ised... to h-help... them..." Rio struggled to say, nearly falling back onto his face. "I-If I... sur...vived..."

"Did I say you had to survive? My apologies, that was some of my past life rearing it's head. I meant to say that you had to win, and as far as I can tell, you've lost." Zen spun back around and walked just one step before feeling something blow from behind him. He turned his head and saw a broken branch land past him. He laid his eyes back on Rio and was rather amazed that the canine managed to get back on his two paws.

"Y-You... liar..." The Outlander muttered.

"I'm not a liar, I just said the wrong thing. You are in no place to label me as anything other than the victor." Zen retorted. "I'd advise you to not try anything that would result in getting yourself attacked, if you cherish that life of yours."

Rio stumbled backwards, leaning on the tree for support. His eyes were blank, half dead, but they held a furious look on Zen. The Outlander was beaten and bruised, but after a few seconds to catch his breath, he was able to stand on his own again, with his gaze focused solely on the Bisharp before him. It was faint, but Zen could feel some sort of familiar energy emanating from Rio's body. The thought of his deceased master crept into his mind for a moment, but he brushed it away.

"You lied... to me..." Rio said weakly.

"I've already told you, I said the wrong thing. I apologize for you misunderstanding me because of it, but you must have figured that out by now!" Zen replied.

"Then... fight me..!" Rio get himself into the same battle stance as before.

"You can't beat me, Outlander! Why are you too stubborn to realize that?!" The Bisharp wiped his face and sighed. "If this goes on any longer, you actually won't survive, you understand that right?"

"..." Rio kept his stare on Zen, which was actually starting to irritate the Bisharp. The Jackal remained silent, waiting for Zen to attack.

"It's a shame that I will have to be the one to do this... but I'm only doing this upon your request." Zen began glowing again, raising his hand up to Rio and having all of his glow flow into a ball of Dark Energy. "Dark Pulse!"

The Bisharp fired one more Pulse at Rio, this one stronger the two previous attacks. Once the blast hit Rio, he was engulfed in a beautifully dark explosion, with sparks of darkness shooting from the smoke. Despite using considerably more power than he probably should, Zen had an inkling of the idea that, by some miracle, Rio would be standing there, as if nothing had even happened. It took a while for the smoke to clear, but Zen's idea was proven correct, to a degree. Rio was still there, still alive and kicking, but he was blown clean through the tree behind him. Intriguingly, his armband gave of black smoke, similar to the smoke from the explosion Zen caused.

"Is that... all you... got..?" Rio let out a pained chuckle, falling to a knee.

"...Hmph." Zen honestly couldn't believe it. It's not like he was putting in an excessive amount of effort, but he shouldn't be having this much trouble trying to get the Lucario to give up. "This is starting to become ridiculous. For your own sake, I ask that you please stay down!"

"Will you... help... then..?" The Lucario asked as he started to stand back up.

"I..." Zen hesitated for a moment. "I'm calling this as a forfeit on your end, only so I won't have to deal with the consequences of you dying by my hands. I'll go help your friends, and the next time the two of us should be at odds, you'd better be able to put up more of a fight than this."

"G-Great..." The Lucario finally collapsed onto the forest floor, unconscious.

Zen looked at Rio in disbelief, surprised that the jackal was still alive. Of everyone who wasn't an official Guild member he should rank above everyone except Diana. But, Rio's ability to withstand all that pain was… unsettling, to Zen.

"No..." Zen told himself, lifting Rio's body over his shoulder. "I've overcome the impossible on my strength alone... He's built to last, but nothing more..."

<><><><><>​

Minerva and Kora were both beat up and exhausted, but they barely managed to overpower Eva and Kane in the end. The Zangoose and Scrafty were both knocked out cold on the sand, the energy that wisped from their bodies dissipated. Kora fell on his butt and threw his head back, taking in as much air with each breath as he could.

"Man, were they always this tough?" Minerva asked. "I swear neither of them could really take more than a couple o' hits before giving up."

"There was definitely something wrong with them!" Kora exclaimed. "They hurt me a lot more than the last time we fought... both with their attacks and with their words..."

"Hey, I said ya coulda left if ya wanted to." The Meowth patted Kora on his back and smiled. "Ya did pretty good, for someone too scared to actually hit a lady."

"And you were pretty alright for someone half their size." Kora shot back with a grin. "I'm just glad it was just them! Imagine if we had to fight Zen, too!"

As if he had heard them talking about him, Zen just so happened to walk out of the woods at that very moment. Minerva flicked Kora in the back of his head for jinxing them and got herself ready to fight again, when she noticed that Zen was carrying Rio on his shoulder.

"Rio?! What the hell did ya do to him?!" She exclaimed, seeing how bad a shape the Lucario was in.

"Please, your yelling is enough to give me a headache. He ran into me in the woods, and we..." The Bisharp trailed off when he noticed Eva and Kane on the ground. "Were... Were the two of you fighting them?"

"They came up to us lookin' for a fight so we gave 'em one! What, ya want one too?!" The Meowth glared at Zen.

"I swear I just left them at the hot springs..." Zen thought aloud, tossing Rio towards Minerva and inspecting his companions closer. "You two managed to beat them, after how strong they've become..." The Bisharp shook Kane and Eva gently, seeing if they would wake up.

"Are ya done bein' weird? Just grab 'em and get outta here!" Minerva spat. Zen rolled his eyes and lifted the two under his arms.

"Minerva, I am not, nor will I ever be, in the mood for your obnoxiously loud behavior. If I need to rip out your tongue or sew your gaping maw shut, I will not hesitate." Zen threatened, his eyes piercing through Minerva and causing her to keep her mouth shut. The Bisharp let out an annoyed sigh and left. Once he was for sure out of earshot, Minerva was finally able to talk again.

"Y-Yeah! That'll show ya, punks!" She said, kicking up some sand.

"Wow, you're real tough, aren't you?" Kora mocked.

"And you are? That guy's a livin' nightmare! I'm pretty sure my heart stopped for a while!" Minerva replied, falling backwards into the sand. "How's Rio? Is he still breathin'?"

"Hard to tell. He's giving off some kinda warmth, which I guess is neat. And hey, his chest's moving, but I don't hear him breathing." The Zoroark replied. He went to lay his ear on Rio's chest, but the Outlander suddenly shot up and the two hit their heads together. "GAH! He's good, unlike the side of my head, geez..."

Rio was taking in deep breaths and clutching his stomach, and he had a look of confusion on his face when he realized he wasn't in the forest anymore. The Outlander needed a minute to relax, which was greatly helped by the ocean and the sand. The three ended up spending quite a bit of time just sitting in the serenity of the beach, before Rio decided to recall what had happened.

"That guy, I don't think I caught his name, was brutal. I couldn't even touch him! Every time I did, I got stung by something on him, that weird glow he has." Rio told the two. "Do you guys fight him often?"

"We've fought him once or twice, but he wiped the floor with us and decided we weren't worth his time." Kora answered. "We've fought Kane and Eva a lot more than we have Zen. He's so mysterious sometimes. Like, he'll show up out of nowhere, maybe say a few words, then he's gone! Poof!"

"I'm glad ya ain't hurt that bad." Minerva told the jackal. "Havin' him be the first Pokemon ya fight must've been rough."

"You're telling me. I'm just amazed that I'm able to move at all. He punched me so hard, he punched the tree behind me! It still hurts, don't get me wrong, but it's not nearly as bad as when he actually punched me." Rio chuckled, an oddly pleasant grin on his face. "Call me crazy, but I kinda wanna fight him again."

"Alright, Crazy." Kora joked. "You might've gotten punched a little too hard, buddy. Hey, you guys wanna head back to my place? I think getting into a fight makes sitting on the beach a bit less enjoyable."

Rio and Minerva both nodded, and once again Rio decided to walk on his own instead of hitching a ride on Kora's back. Luckily, Kora and Minerva walked at the same pace as Rio. As they entered the path leading back to the Square, Rio looked to the spot he thought he saw Kai and Mia, thinking that they might've come back for some reason. He didn't see anything and shrugged it off, who knows, maybe he didn't even see them in the first place.

The trio didn't talk much on the walk back, other than the one or two jokes Kora would think of at random and the usually negative response from either Rio or Minerva. Once they made it to the square, Minerva popped out of Kora's mane and said she needed to get some things from the bank and that she'd meet the two boys later. Kora offered to wait a while since they didn't need to rush, but Minerva insisted that they leave. The sun was already beginning to set, and the chill that precedes nightfall began rolling in. Kora again tried to wait a little while, but was literally thrown away this time by the Meowth. Kora begrudgingly left Minerva and led Rio back to his place.

<><><><><>​

The moment Kora and Rio felt the heat of a fire and the scent of gourmet delicacies, the two nearly melted. They walked in to see Diana, Kia, and Mia sitting happily around the fire, enjoying the delicacies that Kora brought home earlier that day. Diana gave the two boys a sweet smile before she noticed how beat up they both looked. After swallowing her bite of her pie, she ran up and hugged Kora and Rio tightly.

"Oh my Arceus, what happened?!" She exclaimed. "You both look like a wreck, are you alright? Did you get into a fight?"

"It's not as bad as it looks, Mom! Calm down, we're fine!" Kora reassured his mother. "We had a run-in with Eva and her friends, it's no big deal, really!"

"Eva? Oh, I'm sorry sweetie. She's not-"

"Mom, really, I'm fine." Kora quickly stopped her. "How's the pie taste?"

"They're the best, bro!" Kai exclaimed as he and Mia downed a slice of pie with some macarons. "They just keep getting better and better!"

Rio had a brief sensation of pleasure run up his spine as he remembered taking the first bite of his pie, and declined the chance at getting a slice when Diana offered it to him. After chatting about their day, the group was joined by Minerva, who greeted Diana and the two children. After the Meowth showed up, Mia tapped Kai on the shoulder and nodded her head towards the exit.

"Oh, right. Hey Mom, Mia and I gotta go do something really fast. We'll be back in a minute!" Kai said before disappearing outside the tent. Diana barely had a chance to ask them what they were up to, but she trusted him to stay safe.

"They've been so active lately." Diana sighed. "And he hardly tells me what they're doing. Always some little adventure with those two."

"It is a big island." Rio said, allowing himself to try the macarons. "It looked huge when I was falling down here, made me wanna explore the whole thing!"

"You fell down here?" The Zoroark Outlander asked. "From my knowledge, Outlanders normally just wash up on shores or appear in random, open spaces. I myself woke up half buried in the sand here. I don't believe I've ever heard of one falling from the sky."

"Really? I just thought it was a thing that could happen." Kora said. "Since Outlanders are already strange to begin with."

Diana shrugged. "To be honest, I don't fully understand Outlanders, never really tried to look into it. I just focused on getting my mission done. Your father was much more interested in us than I was."

"Really? I wouldn't have pegged him as the researchy type." Minerva admitted. "From what I've heard of him, he's more of a clown than Kora is."

"Who? Kora's dad?" Rio asked. "Don't know who that is. Have I met him yet?"

"Right, of course. We were referring to my husband, his name was Orion." Diana laid her paw on her chest and her smile wavered for a moment. "He was such a wonderful Lucario. He was funny, and sweet, acted like a child even in the face of danger, and he never left my side." Without saying anything, Kora walked out into the garden. Minerva followed behind him, a worried look on her face.

"He sounds like a great guy." Rio said.

"He was. I didn't get to meet him when I first woke up, but in all honesty I don't think I would be able to focus on my task if I did. He had this... air about him. Whenever I got close to him I felt safe and calm, like I didn't have such a burden on my shoulders. His lackadaisical nature was infectious, too. It was difficult to want to do anything around him other than relax. Despite how much of a lazy joker he was, he'd always take a fight seriously, and saved me on several occasions." Diana had a loving look in her eye, and her smile was sweeter than normal. Despite her smile, she looked somber, almost on the verge of tears. She opened her mouth to continue, but shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ramble on so much."

"It's fine. I kind of wish I could meet him, just from hearing you talk about him like that." Rio said with a smile. Diana smiled and wiped the tears from her eyes, putting out the fire and handing Rio a blanket.

"If you're going to join Kora and Minerva, you're gonna want that. It gets quite cold at night. Thank you for listening to me go on about Orion." The Zoroark Outlander said softly. "It's funny, you remind me of him in a way, besides the both of you being Lucarios."

"Thanks. I'll try to follow his example." Rio replied.

"Only the heroic parts, please? Minerva wasn't lying when she said he was a bigger joker than Kora, the man would've been beyond perfect if it weren't for the majority of his jokes being absolutely terrible." The two Outlanders chuckled for a moment before Rio waved goodbye and went to join his other friends.

<><><><><>​

Diana's garden was full of colorful plants with berries of all sorts of shapes and colors. There was a pleasantly sweet scent in the air, although nowhere near as powerful as the Bakery. The entire garden was much larger than their tent, and was surrounded by berry plants with round, blue berries. In the back of the garden was an assortment of vegetables, mostly pumpkins. On either side were several rows of berry plants, most of them with green, round berries. In the center was an open space was a fire pit, a Zoroark, and a Meowth, both of whom were laying on their backs and staring into the sky. Rio set himself beside Kora, who was startled by the jackal suddenly being there.

"Oh, hey Rio. Isn't this garden nice? It's full of berries and flowers, we got a fire, and we can see the stars clear as day! The cold is also a plus, can't warm up next to a hot fire if you aren't freezing first, right?" The Zoroark took in a deep breath and let a relaxed sigh.

"It's wonderful out, yeah. I can't believe how late it looks. Sort of feels like I just got here, ya know?" Rio replied. "My body still kinda aches, which sucks, but I'd say today was a pretty good day. What about you guys?"

"Other than Eva and Kane bein' kinda difficult to deal with, today was pretty alright." Minerva answered. "It did feel kinda short, though."

"Yeah... I'm still pretty sure that there was something off about them. You think they were up to something?" Kora asked, pulling a Lum Berry up from beside him and eating the entire thing in one bite.

"Maybe they were trainin'. They're probably gonna make an Exploration Team or somethin', I can't think of any other reason." Minerva replied.

"Exploration Team?" Rio questioned.

"They go around exploring things and saving Pokemon. You get to explore the world and all that stuff. My Mom actually joined a Guild, and when she formed a team, they split off from it and did their own thing." Kora explained. "Man, I wish we could explore the world like that..."

"You guys aren't a part of the Guild?" The Outlander asked, getting a 'no' from both his friends.

"Never had a reason to join." Minerva replied.

"But you both wanna get off the island, right?" Rio sat up and looked at the two of them.

"Yeah?" Kora answered, somehow not getting what Rio was getting at.

"Didn't you just say that Exploration Teams get to leave the island and explore the world?" The Outlander said. "If you wanted off the island, why didn't you two form a team?"

"..." Kora and Minerva paused for a second, looking at each other blankly. Then a sudden wave of realization washed over them, as well as the overwhelming sense of being complete idiots. They both facepalmed in shame, letting out a shout of frustration at themselves.

"Are you two SERIOUS?!" Rio exclaimed. "Did you both SOMEHOW not put that together?"

"I-I don't know! It just never clicked!" Kora groaned. "How did we not think of that?!"

"GAHH! I feel like a giant moron! We coulda been off the island whenever we wanted!" Minerva exclaimed, slamming her fist on the ground. "Ya've gotta be kiddin' me!"

The two went on for a little while until Rio's laughter stopped them.

"The both of you are unreal, you've been wanting off the island for however long, and yet the answer was practically staring right at you and you couldn't figure it out!" He said through his laughs, wiping a tear from his eye.

"Hey, it ain't our fault, probably! They probably don't allow pairs!" Minerva retorted.

"You mean like Zeke and Nate?" Rio asked with a chuckle.

"Alright, alright! We're both dumb!" Minerva snickered. "Ya made ya point, Blue!"

"Well, now that we're partners, that makes you stupid too! So there!" Kora joked. Rio rolled his eyes.

"How does that work, genius? I haven't done a stupid thing since I've gotten here!" The Outlander raised his brow.

"You decided to keep getting beat up by Zen for no reason." Kora said, chuckling. "That's super stupid."

"I did it because he said he'd help you guys! That's not stupid!"

"Nah, that's nothin' but stupid! All ya did was get beat up! We didn't even need help in the end!" Minerva said with a smug grin. "Makin' ya just as stupid as the both of us!"

"I am at most, kinda stupid. I stayed down after the third time he knocked me down!"

"Uh huh, sure." Kora chuckled, tossing a Lum Berry at Rio that hit the Lucario's head with a thok. Rio retaliated by throwing the same berry back at Kora, but it was devoured the moment it got close to the fox's mouth.

The three shared a brief laugh then went back to watching the sky, seeing the bright oranges, yellows, and pinks fade into violets, then deep purples, and finally dark blues and black. Somewhere during that long stretch of time, each of the three would fade into slumber, the softness of the dirt beneath and the warmth of the fire being just right for them to fall soundly asleep.

<><><><><>​

Rio was probably the last one to fall asleep, feeling himself slowly drift into his well deserved rest. The weight of his body faded, and the sensation of gently falling ushered him to open his eyes. He found himself in an expansive space full of purples and blues flowing together in clouds of color. He seemed to be falling towards a forest, with tall trees and thick foliage covering the forest floor except for the one spot he was heading.

'Am I dreaming?' He thought to himself as he grew closer to the ground.

The Outlander landed in the clearing, thinking it odd that he couldn't feel anything beneath his feet. There wasn't anything noteworthy of the area he found himself in, although it did strike him as familiar. After giving it some thought, he realized that this was the clearing where he had fought Zen earlier that day.

"I guess I am dreaming. I've never had a lucid dream before... I wonder if I..." As he finished that sentence, Zen walked out of the woods and looked around. Rio grinned and was about to get ready for a fight, when he saw a pair of Pokemon run out from the woods opposite to Zen, being followed by a Lucario. "Whoa... Is that what I look like? I look so cool!"

The two Pokemon looked at each other in silence. Rio thought this whole thing was going to play out exactly how it did earlier, but when Zen opened his mouth, he said something different than what Rio was expecting.

"You are weak." The dream Bisharp spoke as the dream Rio ran up to him. Instead of smacking the Lucario to the side like in the actual fight, Zen punched Rio in the gut and fired a Dark Pulse. Dream Rio was launched into the same tree as in the real fight, but smashed right through it this time. Pain surged through Rio, more intense than it should be.

"O-Oh no..!" Rio yelped, watching as dream Zen walked over toward his dream self. Instead of a faint black glow, Dream Zen had a faint green glow surrounding his body. Rio sensed overwhelming danger coming from the Bisharp. Dream Zen raised his hand to attack again, this time a green ball of energy forming before his palm.

"W-Wait, stop!" Rio cried out, rushing over towards the two. Dream Zen's head turned to Rio, a sinister grin on his face.

"Oh so very weak..." The Bisharp said, turning back to the dream Rio and preparing to fire his attack. "What a pitiful existence you have..."

Rio did the only thing he could do and stood between Zen and his dream self, planning on taking the attack head on. The Bisharp chuckled and fired the attack. Rio braced for the impact, but felt himself getting pulled away by someone. The dream Rio had pulled Rio behind him and threw his right arm out to guard the attack. An enormous blast of pure energy overshadowed the two, but once the attack hit Dream Rio's arm, it's energy flowed into the armband, along with Dream Zen. The only thing left of the Bisharp being a malicious laugh that faded into the woods.

"You're about as brave as you are stupid, you know?" Dream Rio said, his voice slightly different from what Rio imagined he sounded like.

"I, um..." Rio stuttered for a moment. "Thanks for saving me... me."

"Don't mention it. You should be waking up any moment now, so this is gonna be goodbye for now." Dream Rio took a step away from Rio and smirked. "Oh, before you go, take this with you."

The Dream Rio held out his right paw and a small, green flame appeared. The flame flowed into Rio, bestowing a warm and familiar sensation to the Outlander.

"Isn't this from that dream Zen?" Rio asked.

"I wouldn't focus on the details. Right now, it's yours, so it's whatever you want it to be." Dream Rio answered. A sudden grogginess overtook Rio, causing the Outlander to stumble and teeter. Dream Rio gave the Outlander a warm smile and waved. "See ya later, Rio!"

"Y-Yeah.. See you... lat.." Rio trailed off, not able to keep himself awake to finish that sentence. His vision began to blur as he swayed back and forth before falling forwards and entering the darkness of sleep, not entirely certain of what happened, and likely to forget it even occurred.
 

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Four: Outrage at the Springs


Zen was too lost in thought to realize where he was going, a common occurrence for the Bisharp, but still a hassle to deal with. The island was quite expansive, and whenever this happened Zen would normally shrug it off and use the chance to explore as he made his way back out, using the Mountain as a guide point.

This time, Zen had found himself in a part of the forest with abnormally thin trees, about as thin as his arms, and they grew to the same size as normal trees. The temperature had dropped, and the soil was crumbly, almost... rotten.

"This is... odd..." Zen said to himself, now also realizing that he still held Kane and Eva under his arms. "Kane won't last long in this temperature. I should probably get him out of here."

Zen looked through the foliage for the Mountain, but wasn't able to see it from there. He carefully placed Kane and Eva on the ground and pulled on a tree to see how strong it was. He gripped its trunk tightly and was fascinated when it deformed in his grasp, as well as when it took back its original shape once he let go. He tried to see how much of his weight it could bear, but the moment he tried to pull himself up, the entire tree bent over as if it had no support at all, like a pool noodle.

"These are so absurdly weak and entirely void of the toughness of a tree, but they seem to be very much alive..." Zen thought out loud. "Regardless, it will be impossible for me to climb to a higher vantage point in this section of the woods. How... How exactly did I get here?"

The Bisharp lifted his unconscious companions, picked a direction, and walked. It was sort of difficult to walk, since he sunk into the ground a little with every step, and with the sky almost dark, it was getting more difficult to see. The chill of the night bit harder here than normal. Zen began to worry about Kane's safety, and decided to sprint.

With how much the Bisharp's greaves sunk into the ground with each step, it was possible that sprinting actually made him slower than if he was just walking! It didn't help that he couldn't tell where he was going, either.

"Where the hell am I?" He growled.

Zen, now fed up with the forest, placed Kane and Eva right next to each other and tried to cut down some of the trees to build a shelter to stay in for the night, or at least until they woke up. He used Slash on one of the trees, causing it to splinter and shatter where he sliced it. The tree fell, and once it hit the ground, the rest of it shattered into chips. Zen cursedcussed under his breath and grabbed Eva and Kane again.

"This is just great! Lost in a part of the forest where the trees are malleable, but will shatter when any amount of force is used against them. Fantastic!"

After running in the dark for a little while, Zen felt something watching him. He gave it no mind, thinking little of it, but became alert when he heard something moving around him. He couldn't risk Kane and Eva by staying to figure out what it was, so he trudged on. Eventually, the sounds grew closer and closer, confirming that the Bisharp was being followed. Zen cleared his mind and focused, listening for when whatever was following him would be close enough for him to take out easily.

He sped up in order to force his pursuer to match him, and waited a minute or so before abruptly slowing down and changing direction, just to pick his speed back up again. This went on until Zen was certain his pursuer was expecting his next move, and made the mistake of closing the distance just enough for Zen to have an idea of where they were. In two swift and concise movements, Zen tossed Eva into the air and fired a Dark Pulse to his right, shattering through several trees and tearing through the ground.

"Hmph. That should do it." Zen said to himself, catching Eva as she fell back down. He walked over to where he fired his attack at, curious to know who it was, and was surprised to find nothing there, other than the shattered wood.

Despite the cold biting at him, Zen's intrigue overpowered his need to get out of there, and he decided to investigate the area a little more. It was too dark to see, as if there was anything to see, but when Zen was about ready to head on out again, he accidentally kicked a small, round object. He reached for it and felt something with the same texture of an Oran Berry.

"A Berry? Out here?" Zen asked himself, breaking it in half and feeling it's juice ooze on his hands. "And it's surprisingly full, too..."

Could whatever was following him somehow have evaded his attack, and left this berry on accident? If that were true, Zen would be somewhat worried at the prospect of a Pokemon capable of such a feat. The Bisharp was sure he lured the pursuer close enough for his attack to easily land, and he found the idea of him being a failure on his part to be laughable at best. He was about to toss the berry and be on his way when a sudden, overpowering aroma invaded his body. Sweetness, bitterness, spiciness, even sourness and savoriness, hit Zen all at once.

"I-Is that... the Oran Berry..?" He asked, keeping himself from drooling. "No, what sort of berry is this?"

His immediate instinct was to devour it and see for himself, but a part of him warned that that was a bad idea. Unfortunately, it didn't take much for that part of him to be shut down by the desire to eat this berry whole. With the savagery of a beast, Zen scarfed the entire berry into his mouth and swallowed it whole, coughing and choking a little since he didn't bother to chew it.

The taste was just as fantastical as the scent; almost every flavor a berry could have was dancing around on his tongue. A warm sensation traveled pulsed throughout his body. Once he finally got past the punch of the berry, Zen held his head in shame of his actions, but was relieved that the only other Pokemon around were still unconscious.

"Wh-What's gotten into m- G-GAAAAHHHHGGGG!" Zen dropped to his knees, clutching his chest as an intense pain shocked his system.

Eva and Kane were on the floor, still blissfully asleep, while Zen was in utter agony. He could hear his mind screaming and his body aching as dark aura was drawn out from his body, and his pained screams filled the forest. With everything inside of him now burning, his body feeling as if it was overflowing with his own aura and moments away from bursting, and the darkness and bitter cold of the night were the last things he experienced...

...Zen blacked out...

<><><>​

Rio woke up groggy and half asleep. His body was somewhat sore, and he felt like he might've had a dream and was annoyed he couldn't remember any of it. The Lucario yawned and stared at the morning sky, tinted red and orange. Shortly after, Kora and Minerva woke as well. Kora stretched out his body and yawned, and Minerva just laid in the same spot and stared into the sky.

"Uhhggg, my back..." Kora groaned. "The ground was so soft when I went to sleep, why is my everything sore?"

"Maybe we shouldn't have slept outside, my back's as stiff as a rock," Minerva said.

Rio sat himself up and stretched his arms and legs. "To be honest, I don't feel much different than I did last night. My chest does feel a little hot though..."

"Well, look on the bright side, this is probably the first time I woke up at dusk! Maybe it means something good will happen today?" Kora said with a grin.

"Firstly, it's dawn. Secondly, what does wakin' up early gotta do with what happens durin' the day?" Minerva asked, lightly jabbing the fox in his side and standing up.

The trio snagged a few berries and went inside the tent. Rio folded up the blanket Diana lent him and placed it next to the entrance to the garden, noticing that Diana was still asleep, and that Kai and Mia were nowhere to be found. Kora noticed a note attached to a tied-up cloth next to Diana, and motioned for Minerva and Rio to go on ahead without him. He quietly tip-toed towards his sleeping mother, grabbed the cloth, and looked at the note.

"If you wake before I do, I've left you three some macarons to snack on~!

Love, Diana.

P.S. Try not to get into any fights, Sweeties!"


"I should ask Minerva what this says..." The fox muttered to himself, opening the cloth to reveal a bunch of macarons. "Ooooooooo!" Kora popped a biscuit into his maw, and placed the note in his mane. He caught up to his friends before they went on one of the forest paths, snacking on another macaron.

"Alright, hopefully no one else will be at the springs this early. Once you get in the water, Rio, you won't want to leave it!" Kora said with an excited smile, handing some of the macarons to Rio and Minerva.

"I'll have to take your word for it. Lead the way." Rio replied, returning a smile. As they went down the path, a small, ominous chill crept up Rio's spine. He had a strange feeling that something bad was going to happen, but dismissed it. The jackal finished his macaron and tried to shake the feeling off, following behind Minerva and Kora.

<><><>​

A little while down the path Kora remembered that he had that note. He wiped his paws together to get the crumbs off and reached into his mane to get it. Once he had it, Kora tapped on his feline friend's head and handed it to her.

"What's up?" Minerva asked, grabbing the note from Kora's claws. "it's just a note? Ooooh... right."

"What?" Rio asked.

"I never learned to read." Kora answered with an innocent smile. "Not a lot of things to read on an island, after all."

"Ya mom left these macarons for us and asked we didn't get into a fight." Minerva told Kora as she finished reading the note. She crumbled it up and tossed it back into Kora's mane.

"Wait, how come Minerva knows how to read then?" The Outlander questioned.

"I wasn't born on the island, Blue. I've only been here like, ten years." Minerva replied. "I don't really remember too much off the island. I've been in the guild's care for a long while, and they did a pretty good job at not tellin' me shit."

"Then…" Rio tapped his chin, turning back to Kora. "Why don't y-"

"OOOOOH! Hold that thought, we're close to the springs!" Kora excitedly interrupted Rio and walked faster. Rio looked at Minerva, getting a shrug. Rio tried to remind himself to ask Kora about it later. Well, it's not that important, but he was still curious about it.

<><><>​

As the air got hotter and more humid, the trio finally arrived at the vacant hot springs. The springs were basically pond-sized pools with rocks of varying sizes all along the edge. A torrent of bubbles could be seen rising up from the bottom of the spring, causing the water to have an opaque whiteness to it. There were three pools in total, all of different sizes, and there was a small waterfall cascading from the larger pools to the smaller pools The trees around the area had more vibrantly colored leaves than elsewhere in the Valley, which only added to the serenity of the springs.

"Before we go in, I wanted to add something to the water." Kora mentioned, pulling out three roses, one red, one white, and one light blue from his mane. He plucked the flowers from their stems, and threw them into the largest spring, and watched as they flowed down the waterfalls into the lower springs.

"What are those supposed to do?" Minerva asked, wondering how Kora got his paws on those flowers in the first place.

"I dunno, I keep forgetting to ask my mom why she does this whenever we come here. I think it's just to make it look fancy!" Kora waved his paws over his head. The fox and feline both jumped right into the largest hot spring. Rio, however, slipped and fell inside. The heat of the water hit him so suddenly that he scrambled back out of the water. Minerva and Kora snickered at the Lucario.

"Are you ok, Rio? It might just be me but you look quite heated at the moment." Kora joked. Minerva and Rio both booed his pun.

"How is it that I'm always tellin' ya that ya jokes suck, and yet you never improve?" Minerva teased. Kora rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at the Meowth.

"Maybe 'cuz all you ever say is that they suck, and whenever I use a good one you punch me into orbit!" Kora replied, splashing Minerva.

"I don't remember hittin' ya when ya made a good joke! I only hit ya when ya deserve it!" Minerva retorted, splashing Kora back.

"But you didn't hit me this time, which means you liked this one!" Kora cheered.

Rio, with much more caution this time, eased himself back into the water. Now that he wasn't falling in face-first, the spring felt much more soothing to him. Their soreness seemed to melt away, and a look of pure relaxation was present on each of their faces. It was a much tamer form of bliss than when they tried the fresh pies, but maybe just as peaceful.

"Ahhhhh. I could stay here all day~." Rio said with a relieved sigh. His two friends nodded.

"If it weren't the fact that other Pokémon use 'em, I'd never leave 'em~." Minerva stated, her head laid just barely above the water.

"Yeah, this is pretty great!" Kora agreed. He had taken off the large blue gem that held his mane in place, and it spread out like a very large fan. Kora managed to get some of it trapped in his mouth and had to spit out some of his own hair. For a moment, Rio thought he was talking to a sentient wig. Unfortunately, the trio wouldn't be alone for long.

"Well, here we are!" a voice spoke from the woods. "Maybe the hot springs can loosen you up, right Zen?"

Kora groaned and sank into the water, probably unaware that his lustrous mane still gave him away. Minerva opened her eyes and angrily floated beside Kora and Rio. He couldn't tell why his companions were getting so bothered by the voice they heard, until he saw who it belonged to and who was accompanying her. Rio and Minerva laid their eyes on Eva, Kane, and Zen at the same time those three saw them, and an equally distasteful groan emitted from the two groups.

"Oh goddamnit..." Kane groaned.

"I could say the same damn thing..." Minerva said, glaring at the three. "Why doncha head into one of the lower pools so I don't gotta think about ya any longer than I have to?"

"We'd actually prefer this one. Since it's more than big enough for the six of us, it should be fine." Eva said halfheartedly. She then pretended to have just seen Rio. "Oh! Are you the Outlander? Wow, it's crazy running into you here!"

Kora then suddenly rose from the water, gasping for air and spreading the hair from his eyes. "H-How about you guys don't? We got here first, so we have first dibs on this one!"

"It's a huge pool, jackass! The hell do the three of ya need all this room for?!" Kane aggressively replied, plopping himself into the water and forgetting how hot the water was. To save face, he stayed in and toughed it out.

Eva and Zen also got in, although the latter had an air about him that read as 'borderline furious.' It was normal for the Bisharp to look unfriendly, but he had a coldness to him that nearly froze the springs. To make everything more unnerving, he kept his deathly gaze on Rio. After giving the three who just arrived one last look over, Kora shut his eyes and allowed himself to enjoy the springs, but Minerva and Rio were starting to get a bit antsy.

"Hey Rio," Minerva whispered to the jackal, "I'm gettin' the feelin' that we should leave, like right now."

"Yeah, I'd really hate for us to get in another fight with these guys. Also, I think Zen has been glaring at me this whole time." Rio whispered back, taking a quick glance at Zen to prove he was right. After a long moment of silence, Minerva finally decided to get out of here.

"Well I'm all rested up, I say we get outta here boys!" She said, quickly dragging Kora and Rio out the water.

"Wha- aaaaaawwwww..." Kora groaned. "Hold on, lemme get my hair thingy." The fox shook the water from his fur and reached for the large crystal ball, but accidentally pushed it instead of grabbing it. He attempted to grab it again, but it rolled away from him before he even got close to it.

"C'mon, Kora! Hurry it up!" Minerva rushed the fox, somehow already dry.

Kora was getting close to the crystal ball, but whenever he was just about to grab it, it just scooted away from him! It probably looked like he was kicking it or pushing it with his paws, but he was starting to get frustrated at this point. After chasing the ball to the other side of the spring, Kora pounced at it, hoping that he'd finally catch the stupid thing!

Unfortunately, when he reached his arms out and tried to close his paw on both sides of the ball, either it jumped out of the way or he accidentally swiped it pretty damn hard, because the ball shot to the side and crashed into the back of Zen's head, bounced high into the air, and slammed down on the top of the his head!

Everybody was speechless. Both at Kora somehow being so inept at grabbing a giant ball that he chased it around a spring, and also at Zen's lack of an immediate reaction to being hit that hard in the back of the head. The Bisharp kept his head submerged for a worrying amount of time, and Kora tried to creep into the woods after finally grabbing his crystal ball.

"Uh, Zen? You ok buddy?" Kane asked, cautiously placing a hand on Zen's back. The second he was touched, Zen smacked Kane's hand away and rose his head from the water. His face didn't change, but there was a menacing red glow in his eyes.

"Do not touch me." The Bisharp said, freezing the Scrafty in fear. Zen lifted himself out of the water and turned to face Kora, who went stiff. Minerva and Rio hurried over and stood between Zen and Kora.

"H-Hey, it was an accident! I get that you're having a bad day, but whatever it is you're about to do isn't-!" Rio was interrupted by Zen pushing him out of the way. Several feet out of the way.

"Cool it, Zen!" Minerva said firmly. "It can't've hurt that much!

Zen responded by grabbing Minerva by her head and lifting her up to his face. "Stay. Out. Of. My. Way." He ordered, tossing Minerva behind him.

Zen faced Kora, and a look of pure dread washed over the fox's face. He couldn't get his body to move. He desperately wanted to get the hell out of there, but it felt like he was trapped in a very handsome, Zoroark-shaped rock. Zen raised his hand and an intense ball of malice and rage formed in front of his palm, which drew out a terrified scream from Kora. The fox shielded his face with his arm, and it seemed like he was about to be blasted to smithereens, when Eva grabbed Zen's arm and stopped him.

"Zen. That's enough." She told him, not letting go of his arm. Zen glanced over at the Zangoose and his anger seemed to increase a hundredfold.

"Unhand me at once." The Bisharp demanded, but not trying to free himself at all. Eva refused, and even Kane decided to help her by grabbing Zen's other arm. "You both are going to regret this."

"Make me, Metalhead." Kane challenged Zen's warning. "You've always been a hardass, but what the hell is up with you today? It's like you've been nothin' but pissed since we saw you this mornin'!"

"Weren't you the one getting at me for being excessively rough with Kora? Aren't you being a bit of a hypocrite now?" Eva pointed out.

"I will... destroy... the both of you..." Zen grumbled. a burning sting caused Kane and Eva to recoil and let go of his arms. Darkness began to rise from his body, a black flame that caused the air around the springs to grow heavy, and a sinister red glow appeared around his body. "I-I will..! I... will..!" Zen grabbed his head and started to shake and stumble in pain, choking on his own words and scratching at his helmet.

"Wha-What's g-going on?" Kora stuttered, peeking from between his claws.

"I got no goddamn idea! He's never done this before! A-And what's that black stuff... aura?" Kane replied, starting to regret acting tough earlier. "I-Is it supposed to be that dark?"

"I-It's... I-I-I..." Eva froze up, her paws violently shaking and sweat dripping from her face. A familiar and horrifying dread crept up her back as she stared at the black flames engulfing Zen, and the piercing red glow in his crazed eyes. Kane tried to get her attention, but nothing seemed to work.

Zen exploded with darkness, the sinister aura taking the form of a roaring fire of darkness around him. He stared forward, emotionless, until he focused his eyes on the three that pissed him off in the first place. A maniacal grin stretched on his face, and his body stance changed to match. His normally collected and high-and-mighty nature was replaced with that of beast, and what was more terrifying was how well it suited him.

"Z-Zen?" Kane said, swallowing his fear long enough for him to speak. "A-Are you ok?"

"..." Zen looked at Kane and started chuckling to himself. "Hehehehehehe... HAAAAAAAAA-HAHAHAHAHA!" The fiendish laughter was a clear sign, along with the darkness and red glow, that Zen was not himself.

Kane got himself ready to fight, but was worried when it looked like he was going to be the only one fighting. Eva was still frozen, Kora was having some sort of panic attack, and Minerva and Rio weren't anywhere to be seen. The Scrafty knew he barely stood a chance against Zen when he wasn't a crazy beast, even with Eva fighting alongside him. But, he wasn't gonna let that stop him from protecting Eva and snapping Zen out of whatever this was! It was probably the adrenaline, or just his nature shining through, but Kane decided to make the first move.

"Well?! Come at me, freak!" Kane shouted, stomping his foot on the ground and unknowingly drawing out his own aura. Zen closed the gap between him and Kane in the blink of an eye, slamming his knee into Kane's stomach. The Scrafty fell to the ground, his vision now blurred and his body numbed by the pain coursing through it. Luckily, it was enough for Eva and Kora to snap out of it. Eva grabbed Kane and ducked out of the way, and Kora pushed both of his paws out, a red ball of flame burning in front of them.

"Incinerate!" Kora shouted, firing a powerful bolt of fire and Zen. The attack was dense, and powerful enough to push Kora back just by firing it. It struck Zen in his chest, and it sent the Bisharp back several yards.

"G-Gah..." Zen muttered, clutching his head, despite the attack hitting elsewhere. "Th-That hurt... Hahaha... HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!"

"That looked like it hurt!" Minerva said, suddenly popping out of Kora's mane and startling the fox. "Maybe, keep doin' that!"

"When did you... Nevermind. Can you help me fight him?" Kora asked, getting an affirmative nod from his companion. Rio finally showed himself too, carrying a branch that was about the same size as he was. "Oooooooo, nice stick!"

"It worked the last time I was fighting him, since I can't actually fight... Hopefully this doesn't turn out as bad as last time..." Rio muttered that last part to himself, standing beside Kora and readying his branch. Zen laid his eyes on the Outlander and frowned.

"It's you. Agh, I DESPISE everything you stand for, SCUM!" The Bisharp spat. "How DARE you show up and survive a battle against me?! ME?!"

'Ah, I see. This is gonna be even worse than last time,' Rio thought to himself, accepting the amount of hurt he was about to be put through.

"Alright, since he seems to want me dead, I guess I'll go in and thwack 'im with this branch, and you can do that fire thing you just did," Rio told Kora before turning to Minerva. "Hey, you feel like getting knocked around senselessly for a while?"

"Goddamnit..." The Meowth groaned. "Fine! But ya owe me a pie, fox!" Minerva pointed at Kora before getting beside Rio and preparing herself to fight.

Zen rushed in and tried to Slash at Rio, who got pulled down by Minerva and was used as a springboard so she could uppercut the Bisharp. Once he was airborne, Zen was hit with another Incinerate by Kora and got blasted out of the sky. Rio swung the branch as Zen landed, but he barely got two swings in before the branch was broken with a swift punch.

Zen grabbed hold of Rio's arm and crushed it in his gauntlet, causing Rio to yell out in pain. Minerva hurried over and kicked Zen in the side of his helmet. Zen grabbed his head again and glared at Minerva and Rio, charging the two down in blind fury.

"Sorry about this, Rio!" Minerva apologized.

"Sorry for wha-aaaaAAAAAAHHHH!" The Outlander was grabbed and thrown high up into the air, with Minerva still holding on, taking them safely out of harm's way. Another blast of fire struck Zen, courtesy of Kora.

"Scum! All of you, SCUM! Why won't you just stand there and allow me to EVISCERATE YOU?!" Zen yelled, throwing his palms forwards and firing a Dark Pulse. The attack was quicker than Kora was ready for, he couldn't counter it. He raised his arms to block it and braced for the impact.

"Dark Pulse!" Kane yelled, his attack colliding with Zen's before it could reach Kora. However, the explosion still blew the fox back. "Can you finally chill the hell out?! This is startin' to piss me off!"

"You again? Wait... where is-!" Zen was struck in the back by Eva's Crush Claw, but he looked mostly unaffected by it. "There you are..." The Bisharp slammed his elbow into Eva's chest, knocking her on her back. Zen was about to kick her when he was suddenly knocked over by a Lucario crashing into his back.

"Sorry again, Rio!" Minerva shouted, wincing as the jackal crashed into Zen's back.

"Why... me..?" Rio muttered, his head spinning. It took a moment for him to realize where he was and he quickly sprung to his feet.

Zen was face down on the ground, unmoving. Rio sensed danger and quickly helped Eva up, the two getting a good distance away from Zen just as darkness exploded around him. Zen slammed his fist on the ground and stood up, facing the other Pokemon. He held his head with one hand, the other pointed at Rio. For a brief moment Rio felt something different, like from when he and Zen first fought.

"M...Move!" He shouted, firing a Dark Pulse at the Lucario. Rio jumped out of the way, narrowly avoiding the attack. "I-I almost... got.. it..! K-Keep... fighting..!" The Bisharp strained to say, falling to a knee.

"Zen!" Eva exclaimed, joined by Kane.

"Don't worry, Metalhead!" Kane told Zen before turning to Kora and the others. "We gotta knock more sense back into him"

"Don't tell me-!" Minerva was about to snap at the Scrafty, but Rio nudged her and shook his head.

"Now really isn't the time!" The Outlander quickly scolded the feline.

Zen stood back up, his movements more jagged and forced. He was trying to control himself, the darkness slowly getting weaker and weaker. Despite that, he still packed a punch. Zen rushed forward and struck Eva, knocking her to Kane, and tried to fire a Dark Pulse at them. Rio was able to pull Zen's arm away, but got punched in the gut as a result. Minerva grabbed Zen by his legs and spun him around, throwing him skywards.

"Incinerate!" Kora fired another attack at Zen, but it was counteracted with a Dark Pulse. The two attacks exploded and shrouded Zen in smoke. A moment later, another Dark Pulse parted the smoke, aimed directly at Kora.

"Dark Pulse!" Kane again stopped Zen's attack with his own. After that, Kane felt someone grab onto his tail, and saw Minerva standing behind him. "D-Don't you dare!"

"I'm darin'!" She yelled, quickly spinning and throwing Kane towards Zen.

The Scrafty wasn't ready to do an attack, so he and Zen painfully butted heads and came crashing back down to Earth. Both Pokemon hit the ground, but Kane was in the most pain. He cussed under his breath as he rolled off his back and tried to stand.

"I really hate you..." He glared at Minerva, who pretended to be innocent.

Zen stood for a moment but wasn't stable enough to stay balanced. The Darkness around him began to waver, and the red glow around him and in his eyes began to fade. He began to breathe rapidly, and although it seemed he was almost able to shrug the strange influence off, he raised his arm up one last time and prepared another Dark Pulse.

"M-Move! Get out of the way" He warned, his attack aimed at Kane. "Hurry! It's already-!"

Zen's attack fired mid-sentence, ripping through the ground on it's way to Kane. The Scrafty tried to jump out of the way, but his body was too beat up and he fell. Kane tried to fire his own Pulse, but couldn't charge one fast enough. Seconds before the attack hit him, a bolt of fire collided against it. Kane shielded his face from the smoke, and felt someone pick him up from the ground. Rio stood there, smirking at him before focusing back on Zen.

"Hah... Hah..." Zen panted, his arm falling to his side, his body falling forwards, and the black aura dissipating. Relief washed over everyone in a welcome wave. Kora completely dropped the serious face he put on, a fatigued smile replacing it before he fell to the ground, Kane and Rio let out pained groans as their adrenaline seemed to wear off and the aches of battle fully set in, Minerva was trying to get Kora up, and Eva walked over to Zen.

"Oh my god..." Kora groaned, refusing to stand back up. "It's too early for all of this!"

"Quit whinin', we won! And you didn't even have to get roughed up like us!" Minerva replied, flicking Kora's ear.

"Yeah, thanks for that." Eva snapped, sounding more aggressive than she intended. "I-I mean, thanks for helping us..."

"Shit, is 'pissed' the default response ya got for anythin' Kora does?" Minerva asked, not getting a response from Eva.

"How's Zen? Is he back to normal?" Kane asked once the worst of the pain subsided.

"He's definitely out cold, so I guess?" Eva replied, lifting up Zen's arm and letting it go, watching it fall back to the ground like a rock. Kane and Eva got up and were about to lift Zen off the ground when the Bisharp suddenly shot awake and jumped to his feet, surprising everyone, including himself. He looked at his friends, then at Rio and the others, then himself. He moved his limbs and twisted his body, but didn't feel any pain.

Zen opened his mouth to speak, but wasn't able to find the right words. Eventually, he landed on something he was planning on saying later. "I accept your offer to join your team."

With Zen so suddenly waking up after fighting everyone at the springs, and him blurting that last sentence out, Eva and Kane almost couldn't believe what they heard was correct. They looked at each other, then back at Zen.

"Y-You're serious?" Eva asked.

"Like... serious serious?" Kane added.

"Is there another kind of serious?" Zen asked sarcastically, turning towards the woods and walking in that direction. "In fact, there is a serious matter I'd like to discuss with the both of you. Let's go."

"I... Ok! Sure!" Eva said, confused but still happy at how this turned out. The three hardly even waved goodbye to Rio and the other two, the most any of them got was Zen shooting a glance at Rio.

Before they spoke on what had happened, Rio, Kora, and Minerva hopped into a hot spring and mellowed out some. Well, as much as they could after that mess of a morning.

"So... that was something..." Rio stated. "I'm assuming something that doesn't normally happen either?"

"Absolutely not! I've never seen anythin' like that before!" Minerva replied. "That was aura, but I've never even seen aura before! I didn't think I could!"

"..." Kora remained mostly silent on that matter, a vacant look in his eyes. He instead pitched in with a different topic. "Those guys didn't really say thanks before they left! Eva... yelled at me first."

"Awww, don't worry about it! They looked like they were in a rush anyway! Maybe if we run into them again, and don't end up fighting for the third time, they'll thank us properly?" The Outlander assured Kora. "For now, I'm gonna let this spring wash away all my pain... again..."

<><><>​

After a good soak, the trio were back in tip-top shape and left the springs. They headed back to Kora's place, feeling the need to tell Diana what had occurred. When they walked into the tent, the trio were quite surprised to see Zen conversing with Diana. The Bisharp hardly paid them any mind, and stood up.

"I believe these three can tell you what happened in greater detail." He said, walking towards the exit. "My memory is still foggy."

"Wait, Zen!" Diana said, but her call was ignored.

"We will discuss this further, later." The Bisharp replied, giving Rio a glance before leaving.

Diana sighed, but gave her son and his friends a smile and greeted them.

"Good morning, Sweeties! I heard you had quite an eventful morning?." She said.

"That's one way to put it." Rio replied.

"Zen went all crazy and tried to kill us," Minerva added. "And by us, I mean Kora."

"Kora? Why?" Diana asked, turning to her son and grinning at him. "You weren't cracking jokes at him, were you?"

"No, actually. I accidentally hit him with my crystal ball thingy." Kora replied. "I was trying to grab it, but it kept slipping out of my hands and I think I knocked it into Zen's head? I don't think I even touched it to be honest..."

"And after he hit Zen, Zen got wrapped in this black fire and attacked Kora!" Rio added. "He tossed me and Minerva aside like we were nothing!"

"A black... fire? You mean a black aura?" Diana asked, tensing up for a second. "Did... Did all of you see it?"

"Yeah! It was intense! And there was a red glow around his body and in his eyes, too!" Minerva answered. Diana's smile wavered for a second, and she gave off a more serious demeanor than before.

"Th-This isn't good..." She whispered to herself. She put back on a smile and looked at Kora and Minerva. "Excuse me, but would the both of you mind heading to the Square? There's something I need to tell Rio."

The cat and fox looked at Diana for a second, reading that this was very important and waving goodbye. Rio sat down in front of Diana and gulped, a sense of nervousness filling his body.

"What's wrong?" The Lucario Outlander asked. Diana let out a sigh and the air smelled of sparks and electricity.

"There is a slight possibility that Zen was possessed. And if that possibility is true, then there is another slight chance that the Pokemon behind it is an adversary that I laid to rest about two decades ago. A deranged, evil scientist by the name of Maxwell," she explained. "He was a monster and worked with the literal devil, but my team and I took care of them ages ago."

"Well, it can't be him then, right? Y-You defeated him!" Rio gulped, failing to keep his fear from showing.

"We did, I'm more than certain of it. However, with them being as powerful as they were, the idea of either of them coming back to life isn't far-fetched," Diana said. "I'm going to look into this further on my own; you aren't ready to be fighting someone strong enough to do something like that to Zen, let alone Maxwell, if it is him."

Diana stood up and her motherly demeanor returned, giving Rio a sweet smile and placing a paw on his shoulder. He felt comforted by her touch, a small smile finding its way on his snout.

"Once you get into the swing of things, I'm positive you're going to be a better hero than I was. This Outlander stuff is only difficult at the start, I promise!" she told the Lucario, pulling him into a snug hug. Rio felt his face redden as he returned the hug, not sure if he should put his arms around her back or her mane, but quickly deciding to just go around the mane.

"Th-Thank you. I'll do my best!" Rio said confidently, letting go of Diana and heading for the exit. His confidence lasted until Rio was outside, seeing Minevera and Kora had already left. It was difficult to tell what exactly he was worried about, simply knowing those kind of people and monsters existed, or idea that he might have to deal with something like that.

"No, Diana said she'd be the first to know about something like that," Rio shook his head. He brushed his paw on his chest, light static dancing along his fur. "She's already going to look into it, maybe I shouldn't worry so much?" Try as he might, he couldn't shake that worry away.
 
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MidnightMutetation

Reviewing 'til I drop~
Location
Singapore
Pronouns
Her/She
[Chapter 1 Review]

Hello, hello Fuse! I’m back with another review, and this time it’ll be on the TR forums (and will continue to be on here until I’m caught up). The last review I left for the prologue was mostly positive — about 90% of the chapter was a really great read — and it makes me happy to say that the standard was maintained in this chapter too! Like the last review I left for you, this will be in the “specific thoughts > general thoughts > SPaG mistakes” sequence, so if you don’t like it, I’ll be glad to change it for the next review! Anyways, moving on:

-/ And right off the bat, the transition from ethereal nothingness to the comforting warmth of the real world is smooth as heck. I particularly like the description during that sequence.

-/ And first surprising thing of this chapter is that apparently "Outlanders" are rather commonplace in this world, to the point that Diana can so comfortably talk about them like they're your everyday travelers. Now, I'm curious if all Outlanders are world-saving heroes, or if each of them were brought to this world for varying reasons. It's honestly a pretty cool concept, and I can't wait to see the duo meet other Outlanders.

-/ A minor detail I like about his transformation is that Rio is completely unused to his new Lucario body, but not overtly so because he's still bipedal in nature.

-/ [Rio could swear he saw someone staring at him from the woods.] That's ominous as hell, and it tickles me that Rio glossed over it like it's an everyday event (although I'm chalking it up to Rio still getting used to his new circumstances).

-/ Oh my god, Minerva is my new favourite character here. Who wouldn't love a sassy meowth that chucks box full of rocks at bad jokes, huh? Jax is also a delight; he's so boisterous without being obnoxious about it.

-/ Huh, that's a bit of an odd flashback. The fact that Rio doesn't end up punching the bag anyway makes me wonder if this flashback would play a bigger role later on (maybe I'm just overthinking it, ha ha).

-/ Were you hungry when you wrote the pie section? The pies' descriptions are making *me* hungry now, ha ha. Props to you though, the way you went about the description without dragging it out is great.

-/ Oh, real animals coexist with Pokemon in the PMD world? Interesting, I hardly see that in fics,


And that's about it for my comments on specific sections! As for my general thoughts, I thought that this was a really entertaining first chapter (sans the prologue)! Every character was distinct and had their own voice, and it never got to the point that I couldn't differentiate characters from dialogue alone. The prose was entertaining, humor was more or less on point, and it was overall a great introduction to Sunset Valley and its locals. I'll delve into the characters and the setting separately.

So, Sunset Valley seems like the typical "first town in PMD" that the MC (Rio, in this case) will be staying in indefinitely. There's nothing particularly special about it, but I feel like the colourful cast of residents more than makes up for it. The most memorable has to be either Minerva or Diana: the former being a spunky meowth that doesn't take crap from anyone (but seems to get along well with them at the same time), and the latter sharing a significant similarity with Rio by being an Outlander. Minerva really bounces off the duo personality-wise, which opens up a bunch of opportunities for her to have fun interactions with the two main characters. As for Diana, she just inspires a lot of questions: who *is* she? What was she brought here for? How many goddamn dangers does the world face if it requires *multiple* Outlanders to be brought over? All of them are rhetorical questions for the future, though, so I'll move on.

Now, characters. I already pretty much covered what I thought of the Sunset residents -- love Minerva and Diana, liked Jax, neutral to everyone else -- but I have to say that none of them are able to beat out Rio and Kora. Kora's an entertaining goof all on his own -- with his dynamics with everyone else, bad jokes, and cheery disposition -- and Rio... To be honest, while Rio hasn't been totally amazing compared to everyone else, he doesn't really have too much of a personality established? The prologue already shows he's heroic to a fault, and this one just shows him pretty much reacting to everything around him. This isn't a bad thing, though! The little banters he has with Kora was a delight to read, and it felt very natural despite them having met on literally the same day. I don't have much more to say about it except for that I can't wait to see how they develop as a duo.

Those are the main positives I have. For the negatives, I only have two, one of which has more to do with a specific section.

First is the odd dialogue formatting. Once or twice, I would've just dismissed it as a mistake and pointed it out for you, but I noticed it was the same throughout the chapter. You tend to format dialogue like ["Hello." He said.] and ["Let's go," He wrapped an arm around hers.] when it's supposed to be ["Hello," he said.] and ["Let's go." He wrapped an arm around hers.] respectively.

Second thing is that, the whole pie eating section was *really* drawn out. Yes, the pies' descriptions were well done, but I personally felt that the characters' reactions while eating the pies could've been shortened somewhat? I'm not too sure; considering the earlier slapstick scene with Kora and Minerva, it could just be a type of comedy that I'm not the target audience of. Basically, this is probably subjective, so take my opinion on it with a grain of salt :joltyshrug:

That was all for general thoughts. As for the SPaG mistakes I noticed (note that none of the quoted lines are the incorrectly formatted dialogue I mentioned above):


["Who's the new guy?" The Meowth asked.]

"the" instead of "The".

[...Rio asked politely. Diana, pleased with Rio's politeness, gladly took up his request.]

While grammatically correct, having two variations of the same word ("politely" and "politeness") just sounds really odd when it's read out loud. Perhaps "politeness" could be replaced with "attitude", since readers can already infer from the previous line that Rio is being polite, and thus Diana is pleased with that, if that makes sense.

[The burly Pokemon said to himself, not aware of the two others within earshot. He didn't notice Kora and Rio until...]

This has a similar problem with the previous quote. Having two variations of "Jax didn't notice them" so close to each other sounds awkward. Perhaps it could be arranged as ["The burly Pokemon said to himself, not aware that the two others were within earshot until after he tossed the bag aside...] instead, or something like that.


And that's all I have to say! Overall, this chapter was just fun to read, as an introduction to new characters and an insight to some characters' personalities and quirks. I probably talked way too much for chapter 1, but there was just so much to talk about, and I enjoyed every bit of it! I'll get to the second chapter soon, but in the meantime, keep up the good work!
 
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