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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 fell 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?!" he chucked Zen directly into the fire pit, and 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!"
 
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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.

"...!" Zen honestly couldn't believe it. It's not like Zen 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 then 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?!" Minerva 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. He let out an annoyed sigh and left. Once he was for sure out of earshot, Minerva spoke 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 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. "I dunno 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," Diana 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. "Even if uh, I still don't really know it, hehe."

"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 is. 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.
 
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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 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!
 

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Five: Their Training Begins!


Diana stood alone, the thought of something or someone or… Maxwell being right under her nose always in the back of her mind. She tried to shake it away, figuring the best way to do that would be to get busy. Diana walked out into her garden and began plucking the juiciest Berries she could find. Once she got a decent amount, she went back inside and started a fire in the fire pit, placed a pot on top of the stone, and filled the pot with water. Diana sat down and enjoyed the heat of the fire, closing her eyes and allowing herself to relax.

'Should I have told that to Rio this soon?' She thought to herself. 'He's hardly had enough time to adjust, he doesn't need to worry about something like that monster.'

Diana took in a deep breath and let out a sigh, slowly opening her eyes. She was focused on the fire, but after a moment, she drifted her gaze upwards to see Zen sitting on the other side of the pit.

"Sweet Arceus!" Diana exclaimed, clutching her chest. "By Arceus' name, Zen! Why are you so good at sneaking up on me?"

"You were distracted. Even a hunter can be caught by surprise with something on their mind." Zen crossed his arms and grinned.

"Well, how did you get back here so fast? I wasn't expecting you so soon," Diana asked, crushing the berries in a large bowl with a cloth inside. "You were probably hiding around outside until Rio left, weren't you?"

"Hmph, you are still as sharp as they come, Diana," Zen answered with a light chuckle. "I overheard what you were telling Rio while I was waiting. Do you actually believe this Maxwell is to blame?"

Diana shrugged, adding a stick of cinnamon and a couple of yellow flowers to the crushed berries, tying off the cloth and placing it in the pot of boiling water. "I can't think of anything else. I'd love to be proven wrong, but since you can't really remember anything that happened last night, I have nothing to go off of."

Zen closed his eyes, tapping his arm as he thought. "I can vaguely remember the berry I ate before I blacked out. It was dark, unfortunately, so I couldn't really see what it looked like, but it felt just like an Oran Berry. It was weird for such a plump berry to be growing in that almost dead section of the forest, so I broke it in half, and this... indescribable aroma overtook me! I wasn't even hungry, but I devoured the fruit the moment it's scent got a hold of me… It's taste is still on my tongue, there were… so many flavors."

"Really? Why didn't you tell me when you were here earlier?" Diana questioned, causing Zen to clear his throat.

"M-My behavior during that event was... shameful. I've never lost myself over the scent of food before, and since I assumed the Outlander and his companions would be arriving soon, I didn't want to risk them hearing about it..." Zen cleared his throat and turned away, getting a giggle from Diana.

"It's adorable how you still get embarrassed over little things like this," Diana said, giving Zen a warm smile. As the tent was full of the scent of tea, Diana put out the fire and sat beside Zen. "They wouldn't think any less of you, you know. If anything, they'd start to see you as one of them. Kora and Minerva always get like that when they go down to the Bakery."

"Diana, I am not 'one of them,'" Zen said firmly, his cold demeanor returning for a moment. "Besides, them seeing me as an equal goes against the reason I decided to come to Sunset Valley in the first place."

Diana grabbed a cup and filled it with the tea from the pot, downing it in a couple sips before getting some more. She offered some to Zen, who politely declined. "I thought you came here to honor Orion, then stayed when you realized how wrong your old life was?" She asked, sipping slowly at her second cup of tea.

"Yes, I did come and stay for that, but I also stayed because I wanted to see how close to Orion Kora was, both relationship-wise and personality-wise. Surprisingly, he seems to have inherited Orion's sense of humor..."

"How unfortunate," Diana sighed sarcastically, managing a chuckle from Zen.

After a moment of silence, Zen thought it was time for him to leave, remembering that he may have left Kane and Eva for longer than he planned. "I'll be off, I have some things to discuss with Eva and Kane in regards to forming a team." He waved as he made his way to the exit. "I'll see to it that I don't eat any more berries I find in the forest."

"Good. Also, be sure to have fun, Zen. I know working as a team isn't your cup of tea, but you can at least try to enjoy it," Diana waved goodbye to the Bisharp, giving him a sweet smile as he left.

Diana looked at the entrance for a little while after Zen left, half expecting someone to walk in and keep her company. With nobody showing up, she sighed and stared into her cup, softly spinning the liquid within it. A frown fell upon her face before she downed the rest of it.

"... I think I might need some better soil for my flowers, this isn't as strong as it used to be..." Diana shrugged, getting another cup of tea.

<><><>​

On his way to Kora and Minerva, Rio passed by Eva and a pissed off Kane along the way. He waved to them, but Kane walked right past him, muttering something under his breath and clutching his arm. Eva looked worried and concerned, but something told Rio it might not entirely be towards Kane. Rio would have gone after them but already saw his friends entering the Bakery, and hurried to join them.

"Hey guys!" Rio said once he caught up to Kora and Minerva, then noticing the glum mood they both had. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"

"We ran into Kane and Eva on the way here," Kora sighed, the mention of the two making Minerva grumble and cross her arms. "They, er, well... Kane said some scummy stuff to Minerva. It kind of looked like his arm was busted too, which might be why he was so angry."

"It's not my fault he fell wrong... Don't see why he got so pissed off at me for..." Minerva muttered.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Rio said in an effort to comfort Minerva. "If I knew he did that, I'd have punched him for ya! Or maybe just thwack him with a branch, since that's the most I can do, hehe."

Minerva shot Rio a weak grin, turned towards the Bakery, the normally uplifting aroma of sweets barely granting the Meowth a smile. Kora put on a smile and was about to head in first, when Kai and Mia trotted out the tent and bumped into his leg. They were each carrying two adorable pink goodie bags in their mouths, and as soon as Kai recognized his brother, he dropped his bag and gave the Zoroark a warm smile.

"Oh hey bro! Where've you guys been? Did ya get in another fight?" Kai asked, hopping in place. Kora cleared his throat and knelt down to the two kids.

"Actually, we did. And we're hungry and a bit upset because of it, so I'll have to cut this little convo sho-" Kora said, getting cut off by Kai and Mia running past him to talk to Minerva.

"What happened, Minerva? I've never seen you so upset before..." Kai whined and Mia's tail sank.

"I-I'm not upset... I'm just hungry, is all," Minerva replied, hoping Kai couldn't tell she was lying between her teeth.

"You can have one of these goody bags if you'd like!" Kai offered, pushing one of his bags towards the feline. "There's just a bunch of biscuits in it, but I think they're awesome!"

"Thanks, kid, but ya can keep it. I prefer the pies more than the macarons." Minerva politely declined, patting Kai and Mia on their heads.

"Ok! I hope you guys feel better!" Kai said as he ran off with his friend. "And hi Rio!"

The trio entered the Bakery and were welcomed by the sugary-sweet smile of Clara, and the surprising vacancy of the Bakery. Normally, there'd be someone here this close to noon, but that just meant there'd be more treats for them! The three went up to the counter and waved hello to the Slurpuff behind it.

"Ah, good morning you three!" Clara happily greeted them, but gained a worried expression when she saw that Minerva was upset. "Oh, what happened to you dear? Kora didn't go too far with one of his jokes, did he?"

"Ok, ouch…" Kora winced at the accusation.

"No, it wasn't the twerp. It was that scaly prick Kane…" Minerva growled, but shot a smile at Kora. "This doofus couldn't hurt me if he tried."

"I'm sorry dear, I'll be sure to teach him a thing or two when I see him again. How about I let you three try a brand new pie, free of charge?" Clara's offer caught Minerva and Kora by surprise, and was music to Rio's ears.

"I-we couldn't! An entire pie?" Minerva stammered.

"F-For free?!" Kora exclaimed.

"I'll take it if they won't!" Rio said, unaware of his tail wagging excitedly behind him.

Clara giggled and nodded, pulling out a berry basket from behind the counter, revealing a bunch of dark berries that none of the three had seen before.

"Don't worry about it, you'd actually be a big help to us this way! You see, we found these strange berries in the back of our yard this morning." As Clara explained, she grabbed a berry and split it open. They looked like Oran Berries, but the outside was much darker, and the inside was blood red. "I ate a few this morning, I swear I've never had a berry that was sweet, sour, bitter and tangy all at once! We wanted to test them out in a pie, and if you three were the first to test it, we'd know if it'd be alright to sell them!"

"So, we're gonna be testing this... Dark Berry pie?" Rio asked, holding one of the dark berries in his paw. Clara nodded.

"I hope it's alright with you three. Trying the berry on it's own is one thing, but if it turns bad once heated or when mixed with ingredients, that'd be bad for business!" Clara said right before a loud DING sounded from the kitchen. "Oh! The pie must be ready! I'll tell Benny to bring it out to you in a moment. Thank you for your help!"

The trio took a seat and waited for Benny, also grabbing a few of the Dark Berries as they left the counter. The fruits had a bit of heft to them, surprisingly. They were so dense you could potentially convince someone it was a really dark and round stone. Rio tried to bite it, but it was a lot tougher than he thought. While he gnawed away at the berry, Kora and Minerva started chatting.

"This is one weird lookin' berry," Minerva rolled one around the table.

"I think it looks cool!" Kora said as he split it open, getting a surprising amount of red juice on his claws and paws. "Look at it, it's so... so..." Kora looked at his paws, drenched in the thick, red juice of the Berry. He watched it flow down his forearms and drip from his elbows onto his lap, unable to draw his eyes away from the crimson fluid.

"Hey, Kora?" Minerva asked, snapping Kora out of his trance. "Ya alright, twerp? Been starin' at ya lap for a bit."

"Y-Yeah, I'm good!" Kora answered with his usual energy, quickly tossing the berry aside and shaking the red from his arms and lap. "Like I was saying, it's a really weird berry, right?"

"Didn't ya say it was cool?" The Meowth asked.

Kora chuckled and shrugged, turning towards Rio for a second and freezing up. The moment the fox laid his eyes on the canine, Rio managed to bite through the berry with a powerful chomp, and splattered the juice all over the table and some of it on Kora himself. Seeing Kora staring at him caught Rio's attention, which led to what was left of the berry's juice to drip from Rio's chin and onto his chest. Rio was about to ask what was wrong, but became blissfully distracted by the swirl of flavors hitting him. It was just like Clara described, spicy and sweet, savory and bitter, and they mixed so well together, it was unreal!

"Oh wow~! This is amazing!" Rio exclaimed after swallowing the rest of the berry. "You guys should try it!"

"It's just a berry, Blue. It can't be that great, at least compared to the pies they sell here," Minerva scoffed, seeing Rio get so giddy over a berry driving away some of her sadness from earlier. "Right Kora?" When she turned to the fox, he wasn't there. She looked around, but he didn't even seem to be in the Bakery anymore. Right as Minerva was about to go and look for him, Benny came out with their pie.

"Here ya go! Nice and fresh! I tried to make it like I would for an ordinary Oran pie, since it looks so similar to an Oran. I wasn't able to try any myself, I was too excited to throw it in a pie and see how it'd turn out! Enjoy!" Benny said with a smile almost as sweet as Clara's.

"Thanks, Benny!" Kora said happily, suddenly appearing right next to the Mr. Mime, startling him. Kora quickly apologized. "S-Sorry! I didn't mean to scare you!"

"It's alright, Kora. Kai does the same thing every now and then, but it's usually on purpose from that lil jokester. You go on and enjoy your pie!" Benny replied, leaving for the kitchen, leaving behind a knife and three forks.

Kora sliced two slices from the pie, keeping himself from downing the entire thing. The crust of the pie was a velvet red and had a satisfying, flaky crispiness to it as Kora sliced through. As the fox lifted a slice out, the three were met with an almost alarming sight; a viscous, gooey, dark-red jelly that shared the same color as the berry's insides, and perfectly cubed chunks of said berry. The scent it gave off wasn't like anything either of the three had experienced before, it was mostly sweet and tangy, but there was definitely something else to it.

Rio, having already tried the fruit, was excited to taste the pie, Minerva didn't know what to expect but she still was looking forward to taste-testing a brand new pie, and Kora seemed more alright with trying the pie than he was the berry.

"It definitely doesn't look like any pie I've seen before," Rio picked up a piece of the pie with a fork. "But I'm not complaining, I'm super excited!"

"Me too!" Minerva agreed, now in a much better mood. "It's like a nightmare turned into a dream!"

"Y-Yeah... nightmare..." Kora said with a nervous chuckle, now somewhat on the fence about trying it out.

Kora cut off a piece of the pie and fed it to Minerva first as Rio ate his bit, and the two froze. The pie was so rich, it felt entirely unfair that they got it for free. The crust soaked up so much of the jelly that it actually felt like eating a velvet cake, and the jelly itself was almost too much to handle at once! It was so smooth and almost had a creamy texture to it, and the berry chunks were just the right amount of soft, having the perfect level of firmness that it would almost melt in your mouth, but not entirely. The actual flavor packed into the pie was leagues above anything Rio or Minerva could ever dream of, blending every flavor that was inside the berry, but somehow focusing on what they specifically enjoyed.

Rio felt the sweet and sour dance along his tongue, with a hint of savory singing in the background, meanwhile Minerva was struggling to handle the battle between the bitterness and the sweetness, as the spiciness came in to turn up the heat when they were done. Despite this experience being countless times more intense than the pies from yesterday, Minerva and Rio managed to stay in this plane of existence. That was indeed a surprise to Kora, who watched them both go through their divine experiences and debated whether or not to give them some macarons.

"Kora eat the pie," Minerva said bluntly, staring into the Zoroark's eyes.

"Is it really that good?" Kora asked, taken aback from Minerva suddenly demanding he ate it.

"Kora, I swear to god, if ya don't eat a slice of this pie, I'm gonna eat all of it," Minerva replied, moving her gaze from Kora.

"Trust us, this is beyond amazing~" Rio sighed, melting in his seat. "I actually can't describe it..."

As Kora was still hesitant, Minerva jabbed him in the side and put the rest of their slice in his maw as he opened it. In an instant, Kora's eyes widened as he too felt the rich flavor of the pie. It was a roaring flame of spice upon his tongue, with it's embers scorching the roof and sides of his mouth, but the pain was soothed by a powerful sweetness, and followed by a sprinkle of tang to tide him over. A tear came to the Zoroark's eye as he finished the slice, already missing the flavor it almost seemed to tease him with. Kora was so caught up in his personalized experience that he didn't realize Minerva still had her paw basically in his mouth.

"I..." Was all Kora managed to say.

"Right?" Minerva asked with a pleasant grin.

"Unbelievable..." Rio sighed.

They quickly sliced up the rest of the pie and finished it, with each bite more intoxicating than the last. They didn't even bother with their forks this time. In a moment the pie was gone, and Minerva snagged the tin and licked it clean. With no pie high to come off of this time, they went to the counter to congratulate the bakers for creating an actual substitute for heaven.

"R-Really?" Benny was surprised at the three's adoration and praise. "I-I don't think it was that-!"

"Benny, don't you say another word!" Kora interrupted. "That pie is the absolute best thing I have ever eaten. Don't you try and be humble about this!"

"Yeah! Ya basically turned gold and jewels into a pie!" Minerva added, standing on top of Kora's head. "I'd give up all the pearls we collected for a single slice of this!"

"I'd also pay loads of money for another slice! Makes me wish I... had some money, really..." Rio added, saying that last part mostly to himself.

"P-Please, you're too kind," Benny gushed, his face turning bright red. "Aw, you sweethearts spoil me too much! I'll go give Clara the good news."

Benny went back into the kitchen with a bright smile on his face. Kora, Rio, and Minerva looked excitedly at each other, each wanting to stay right here and wait for another batch of pies using the Dark Berry. But alas, responsibility decided to rear it's actually quite pleasant, but mostly disliked, head. Rio remembered that he planned on getting used to his body, and the first place that came to mind was Jax's Gym. Begrudgingly, Rio grabbed Kora and tugged him towards the exit.

"C'mon... we gotta go," Rio said, disheartened.

"B-But... what about the pies?" Kora whined, although Rio wasn't actually able to move the fox anywhere. Minerva hopped out of Kora's mane and groaned.

"Yea, we should probably get goin'. We got some stuff to do, twerp, let's go," Minerva said, grabbing the end of Kora's hair and pulling the fox outside.

"N-No, wait!" Kora pleaded, trying ,and failing, to stay within the Bakery. "The pie! I gotta have more!"

"Even if we wanted more, we'd have to wait for them to bake it, and chances are we'd also have to pay for it!" Rio said. "And with how much we loved it, I wouldn't plan on it not being expensive."

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" Kora sorrowfully exclaimed. "The price of the pie will be my downfall! Curse you, you deliciously deceiving desert!"

"Props to ya for the alliteration," Minerva giggled.

"Even if it doesn't really fit…" Rio sighed.

<><><>​

Once Rio and Minerva (mostly Minerva, honestly) were done dragging Kora to Jax's tent, the fox pulled himself together. Sitting in the middle was Jax, along with Zeke and Nate. The three older Pokemon waved hello, but Zeke and Nate had a somewhat worried expression on their faces.

"Afternoon, dudes!" Jax greeted the trio, a bit of excitement in his tone. "What're you guys up to? We weren't doin' anything important so feel free to borrow us for whatever!"

"We were trying to get you to actually join the guild, Jax..." Nate deadpanned.

"Well if you guys weren't up to anything, how about training me!" Rio suggested. Jax's eyes lit up and he jumped to his feet, and Zeke and Nate let out a groan.

"Hell yeah! Trainin' means fightin'! And fightin' is what I do best!" Jax declared, pounding his fists together. "Speakin' of which, have you had your first fight yet, Novice Puncher? I'd love to be your first!"

"Zen beat ya to that one, Musclehead. Zen went to town on Rio yesterday. He was so beat up and bruised it looked like he was dead!" Minerva said with a laugh. "Maybe ya could be a bit gentler on 'im."

Zeke and Nate were snickering to themselves behind Jax, but snapped back to being serious when they noticed Rio was looking at them.

"Anyway, I still made it back in one piece!" Rio said proudly, puffing out his chest a bit. "I mean, I'm getting the hang of this body at least. Maybe I just gotta keep fighting?"

"Well, duh," Jax scoffed. "A Fighting Type doesn't get stronger by sittin' around and talkin'. The only thing you should be doin' is fightin'! Now, before we get to the good stuff, how 'bout you try punchin' one of these again?" Jax stood beside one of the punching bags.

Rio nodded and faced the bag, getting into the fighting stance his body naturally went into. He closed his eyes and steadied his breathing, both a good sign of Rio's improvement according to Jax. Rio allowed his mind to wander for a bit, hoping to think of something to motivate him. For some reason, it was increasingly difficult to remember things, and the only thing that came up was someone beating two other people up. He couldn't tell who was who, but he felt a lot of anger from that thought alone. He threw his palm forward and struck the bag with a loud SLAP, causing it to swing back a bit. This time, he didn't hurt himself!

"Impressive, seeing where you were yesterday," Jax congratulated the Lucario, patting him on his back and letting out a hardy laugh. Rio felt a bit of his soul leave his body with how hard Jax patted him; like a brick wall just walked forcefully into him. "Alright, what say we get on with some trainin'?"

Before Jax led Rio to the exit at the back of the tent, Kora cleared his throat and stopped him. Jax turned to see what was up, a small part of him hoping that Kora would want to join in on the fun as well.

"H-Hold on..." Kora sighed, being nudged by Minerva. "We wanted to see if you could train us as well, since we're gonna be joining the guild together, as a team."

Jax could hardly contain his excitement. He joyously picked up Rio, Kora, and Minerva and held them in a tight hug, which hurt a whole lot more than anything either of them felt in the past two days.

"I'd never pass on a chance like this!" Jax said cheerfully, finally letting go of the three now-crushed Pokemon. "But I only got two sets of arms, so..." Jax slowly looked back at Zeke and Nate, a devilish grin on his muscular face. The duo in question both looked quite against whatever Jax was insinuating.

"Hey! Don't drag us into your training business! They're your students!" Nate exclaimed.

"Oh come on, 'Gatr Boy! I can only do so much by myself! Besides, it's not like you two have anything goin' on for the next week or whatever. Training these three could be fun!" Jax said, putting an arm around Nate and Zeke's shoulders. Once they were both locked into this, literally and figuratively, Jax turned towards the three trainees and grinned. "Whoever you spar against will be your teacher for the week. We'll go by the only way to fairly pick who fights who is with some good old-fashioned Rock Paper Scissors!"

"Ok, so that plan sounds perfect, but there's only one problem," Kora said. "I'm the only one who can shoot scissors... or rock." Minerva and Rio both punched Kora in his arms, but admitted anyway that he actually had a point. The Zoroark stuck his tongue out and snickered, rubbing his hurt arms afterwards.

"How about... oh! What if you guys just shouted out what you were throwing out!" Jax said, snapping his fingers. The three trainees shrugged, it was better than nothing. Jax grinned triumphantly why his two co-trainers sighed at their friend.

"Alright, so when a trainer and a trainee throw out the same thing that no other trainer or trainee throws out, they get paired together for the week!" Jax said, preparing one of his four arms to throw out something.

"That isn't how rock paper scissors works..." Zeke groaned. He was ignored by the others, and let out an aggravated sigh. Jax started to count down after making sure everyone was ready.

"3..." Each Pokémon looked at each other.

"2..." Kora, Rio, and Minerva started breathing faster with anticipation.

"1..!" Each pokemon raised a hand into the air, even though that didn't really matter for this.

"Rock!" Kora and Jax shouted at the same time.

"Paper!" The other four shouted all at once. Jax and Kora stepped out, whispering something to each other while the remaining four got ready to throw again.

"3..." The trainees looked between each other, thinking of what to throw.

"2..." The trainers both thought of what kind of pies would be sold today at the bakery...

"1..!" Jax and Kora are both filled to the brim with anticipation!

"Scissors!" Minerva and Nate shout out.

"Rock!" Rio and Zeke blurt out at the same time. On the sidelines, Jax pounded a fist into the ground and Kora cheered.

"I was right! I knew it!" Kora laughed, pointing at Jax with a smug look on his face. "You're buying me a pie when we're done today!"

"Wow, they're like brothers," Rio tittered.

"They both act pretty much the same. Jax was Kora's friend before I showed up," Minerva said.

"He pretty much copied Jax's whole persona, and added in some bad jokes to make it his," Nate nodded, getting a nod from Zeke.

"Maybe having them be together for an entire week isn't such a good idea?" Zeke questioned, imagining that the two would goof off during their time together. They were interrupted by Jax and Kora butting in on their conversation.

"If you four are done with the chatting," Kora started to say before being pushed aside by Jax.

"Then we got some fights to start!" Jax finished, getting pushed back harder by Kora. They started to push each other harder and harder until Minerva and Nate stepped between them.

"If the two of ya are gonna keep actin' like kids, then you'll have to fight last!" they both shouted pointing at either of their goofball friends' faces. Jax immediately shut up and sat to the side, and Kora backed away from Minerva. Rio and Zeke chuckled a bit to themselves.

"Alright, so how do we decide who fights first?" Zeke asked, crossing his arms.

"Seein' how the twerp and meathead combo are goin' last, why don't me an Nate go second, an you two go first," Minerva suggested.

"B-But you said 'if' we don't stop acting like kids!" Kora and Jax whined, getting glared by Minerva and Nate respectively.

"When the hell are the both of you NOT acting like kids?!" they both yelled, quickly shutting the pair up.

<><><>​

Behind the tent was a large, open area surrounded with forest, giving them a good hundred feet or so to spar in. In the middle of the field was a sand covered battle ground that has seen many sparring matches in its day.

"Man, I've been aching for a good fight! I'm also lookin' forward to how strong you got since we last fought, Kora!" Jax exclaimed, stretching each of his arms and legs. Kora did the same stretches, probably without realizing he was mimicking his burly friend. "Those two rarely come over to fight anymore, they're always busy doing... I dunno, stuff." Jax huffed, pointing at Nate and Zeke.

"It's not our fault! Maybe if we had, oh, I don't know, a third member to help with all the tasks we gotta do, we'd have more free time!" Nate huffed back.

Before an argument could arise, Kora shut the conversation up by pointing at Zeke and Rio, who had just entered the ring and were facing each other.

"Ok Rio, this is gonna be a quick sparring match alright? We'll go until one of us calls it quits. What do you say?" Zeke asked, cracking his knuckles and getting into a fighting pose.

"Sounds good to me!" Rio agreed with a smug grin, getting into his stance as excitement and adrenaline pumped through him. "Just don't expect this to be easy! I am very good at not knowing when to quit!"

Zeke smirked in response to Rio's confidence. "Hey, it'll be on you if you get too roughed up. I won't stop until you call it," Zeke clicked his tongue, a fiery aura covering his body. Rio could feel the heat and excitement from across the field, which got him even more excited. Jax stood in the middle of the area, two of his hands on his waist.

"The first fight is between the Rookie Outlander, Rio, and his opponent, Zeke!" Jax said, with an authentic announcer-y tone. "This fight will end when either of them gives up, or until I say it's over!" No one could deny the anticipation building in the air, especially not Kora and Jax.

"Let the fight... Begin!" Jax shouted promptly, jumping to the side of the arena and slamming his hand on the ground in place of hitting a bell. Rio and Zeke charged towards each other, their blood boiling for battle. Kora and Jax leaned in, watching with anticipation. Minerva and Nate, even though they kept themselves contained, were just as excited to see this fight to the end.
 
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Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Six: The Drive to Grow


Rio seemed to have a better grasp on battling than in his two other fights. For one, while his movements were still clunky, he was able to evade some of Zeke's more telegraphed attacks, and block the ones that would have caught him by surprise before. Of course Zeke had no problem dealing with Rio's attacks, the few that actually landed felt like virtually nothing to the seasoned fighter.

"C'mon, Rio, ya gotta hit harder than that!" Zeke scoffed, landing a swift jab to Rio's gut. The Blaziken hopped from one foot to the other, embers gently dispersing with every hop.

"Oh yeah? How's this then?" Rio threw himself forward, thrusting out his palm. Zeke sidestepped it, confident enough to keep his back to the Outlander.

"Really? I don't mean to be rude, but that's waaaaay too slow to- AAHK!" In the middle of his sentence, Zeke was suddenly shoved forward. Rio had quickly pushed himself off the ground and rammed his shoulder into Zeke's back.

Proud at landing an actual solid hit on Zeke, Rio stood with his paws on his hips and a smirk on his snout. "Hehehe! It worked!" The Lucario cheered. "A few more of those and this battle is mine!"

"You do realize you're being overconfident, right?" Zeke shook the hit off and faced Rio. "I'd love to see you manage that again, but something's telling me you won't be able to. What say we kick up the heat a little, huh?" he smirked, spewing a small flame from his beak.

Rio didn't decline, and instead took the initiative and ran towards Zeke, throwing out his palm. He got one hit on the Blaziken before being grabbed. Zeke chuckled and lifted Rio above his head, spinning around and tossing the Lucario far behind him. Before Rio touched the ground, Zeke hit him with a powerful kick, sending him flying back..

"Don't lose that confidence, Rio!" Zeke said. "I thought you were gonna win this?"

"I-I'm not out just yet!" Rio exclaimed, although his body would beg to differ.

Zeke smirked. "Alright, that's what I wanna hear! Let's see how well you do against a flamethrower then." The Blaziken rolled his shoulders and threw out his fist. "I'll hold most of it back, since I don't wanna hurt you too much. Just enough to make you give up."

Zeke let out an exhale of embers as his wrists shot out red and orange flames. He did some flashy spins before throwing a punch in Rio's direction, shooting out a blast of fire. It was about as tall as Rio, and it was coming in hot! He didn't have any time to move out of the way, thanks to his body struggling to listen to his directions. The most Rio could do was throw up his arms and block the attack.

The fire was so hot at first, almost entirely engulfing Rip. But... it didn't hurt? Rio felt something spark inside his body, a heat of his own, and his arm band started to glow. Then just as fast as he was swallowed in flames, the flames wrapped around his arm and exploded in a glorious gold and red burst of energy. His body felt pumped up, and a warm glow appeared around his body.

"Whoa..." Rio blinked. "Was that... supposed to happen?"

"I, uh... no?" Zeke shrugged, just as confused as Rio was. "There's usually, like, smoke. And it's supposed to explode, er, differently."

"Maybe try it again?" Kora suggested from the sidelines. "Maybe you missed?"

"How could I-" Zeke groaned and shook his head. "Fine, I'll just try it again."

After a much less flashy display, Zeke fired another Flamethrower. This time, Rio's body reacted on it's own, holding out his arm. Mimicking some of the movements that Zeke made, Rio threw his palm forward and instantly dispersed the Flamethrower without causing an explosion. A flurry of embers danced and glided through the air before vanishing.

"..." Rio looked in awe at his paws, then over to the others, equally amazed at.. whatever it was that just happened. They were all in silence for a minute, until it was shattered by Jax and Kora.

"THAT WAS SO FREAKING AWESOME!" The two overgrown children roared with pure excitement.

"RIGHT?!" Rio exclaimed back, with just as much energy as the other two. Minerva, Nate and Zeke each groaned.

"Now there's a third child to take care of..." Nate sighed.

"Great, 'cus Jax wasn't enough, right?" Zeke shook his head. He looked up to Rio and grinned. "Well, Outlander, I'd say we did a good amount of sparring. I'm impressed, you got the drop on me for a second, and for how little you're used to being a Lucario, your attack still hurt a tiny bit. I'll enjoy making a fighter out of you!"

Rio grinned proudly. "Thanks! I'm looking forward to it!" He flexed his paws and felt the heat flowing through his body, and watched the band glowing faintly. "I have no idea what this is, but I think it's gonna come in handy! I've gotta learn how to use it."

After a little while, the heat and the glow faded, leaving Rio feeling heavy again. Along with the heaviness came a sudden exhaustion, and Rio started panting and stumbled a bit. As he fell, Zeke caught him.

"Yeah, you definitely can't fight any longer," The Blaziken chuckled. "Let's go ahead and rest for a bit."

<><><>​

"Alright, next up are two powerhouses, Minerva and Nate!" Jax announced, a grin plastered on his face. "We might wanna take a step or two back, there's gonna be a bit of a splash if they really go at it!"

"You really enjoy this announcer thing, don't you?" Kora asked.

"It's the second best part of a fight, next to actually fighting of course," Jax replied, placing himself beside the Zoroark. He then turned to the two on the field. "Alright, whenever you guys are ready!"

Nate was about ready to get this fight going, but Minerva looked a little out of it. The normally bold and abrasive tomboy had a rather uncharacteristically distant and glum expression on her. Something was getting her down, clearly.

"You alright?" Nate asked, catching her attention.

"Huh? Yeah, I'm good." Minerva answered, readying herself to fight. "Ya gonna come at me or what, Gatr Boy?"

It was a step back to her normal attitude, but Nate still felt something was wrong. Who knows, maybe he was just overthinking it. "Well if you're gonna call me 'Gatr Boy,' maybe I shouldn't hold back against ya?" he smirked, getting on all fours.

After Jax did his countdown, Nate shot a Hydro Pump, which was just barely evaded by Minerva. She swiftly closes the gap between them, trading blows with Nate and them both getting unbalanced and stumbling back. Minerva quickly recovers and runs back in, punching Nate in his gut. Nate returned the hit in kind with an Ice Punch, taking her hit well. Unlike Nate, Minerva really felt that one, staying on the ground longer than normal.

"You got this Minerva!" Kora cheered, trying to push away the worry in his chest. Minerva stood back up and faced Nate, her facade of confidence starting to falter as whatever was troubling her came back.

Nate crouched down and fired another Hydro Pump, the semi-distracted Minerva hardly dodging it this time. She tried again to close in on Nate, zig-zagging towards him. He fired another when Minerva was close, but she was able to avoid it and slugged Nate with all her might, sending him back several feet. A smirk came onto her face as she started to catch her breath.

"How's that, huh?" Minerva gloated.

"Eh, I've felt harder hits. Hope that's not everything you got," Nate replied with a smug grin, but his smugness left him when he saw Minerva tense up. "I-I mean, it's not something I want to get hit by again, so I can't get reckless now!" he quickly backpedaled, hoping he didn't hurt her feelings. Unfortunately for him, Minerva was filled with a sort of blind rage.

Minerva charged Nate down at a terrifying pace, her claws extended and her snout in a fierce snarl. She wailed on Nate, forcing the Feraligatr to be solely on the defense right then. His arms got scratched up, and he had to decide to either sit there and take it or to get the raging feline off forcefully. He tried to take it for a bit longer, but once he felt her cutting into his skin, his own temper got a bit out of control.

"ENOUGH!" Nate roared, swinging his arms out to push Minerva away. A torrent of water engulfed Nate's tail, roaring like a raging river as he swung it towards Minerva. She either didn't care or was blinded by her fury to see the attack, still charging the reptile down. Instead of getting any hits in, Minerva had the mighty force of Nate's Aqua Tail slam into her.

Minerva was sent flying backwards, rolling painfully on the ground as she hit it. Nate then subdued his fury, feeling a tinge of regret after hitting her with such a strong attack. Kora got up and dashed to his friend's side, followed by Rio. The two tried to help her up, but were shrugged off by her.

"I got a fight to finish..." she grumbled, glaring back up to Nate. "I ain't done 'till I knock him flat!"

"No, Minerva," Nate stated firmly. "I'm not going to fight you anymore, you couldn't beat me. Look at yourself, you can barely stand." He had a point. As Minerva stood it took all she had to just to not fall back over. Dealing damage was right up her alley, but taking it was an entirely different ordeal.

"Shut up!" she barked. "I'm still standin' so I can keep fightin'!"

Kora wanted to stop her, but found it hard to actually say anything. He knew why she was this upset, and partially blamed himself for it. Rio decided to speak up in Kora's place.

"Minerva, you did great! It was a really cool fight!" the Lucario said. "But you're a bit too beat up to keep going. Maybe next time you ca-"

"Can it, Rio! Ya barely did jack shit in your fight, I don't wanna hear that 'You did good' speech from you!" Minerva snapped, quickly covering her mouth afterwards. "I-I... shit..." She looked back at Rio for a second before running past the fox and jackal, leaving the field without another word.

"Minerva, wait..!" Kora called out as she left, quickly following behind her.

Nate frowned and slumped over a bit. "Aw man, it must've been something I said..." he groaned.

"No, I think it has something to do with whatever Kane said to her some time before we got here," Rio explained. "I'm not so sure what it was, but when I bumped into her earlier she seemed pretty upset about something. You're fine, I think," he hurried after his two friends, wondering what Kane could have possibly said that got Minerva so messed up about it.

<><><>​

There weren't many places Minerva would have gone, and although the bank was the closest, Rio and Kora made a stop by the Bakery first just in case. Upon entering the bank, the two looked around and didn't see anything at first. They walked up to the counter and leaned over to see Minerva laying on the ground with a sour look on her face and the faintest of tear stains trailing from her eyes.

"..." she stared right past them at first, but when Kora tried to poke her she flicked his claw away and grumbled at the two. "The hell do ya want..?"

"To make sure you're ok," Kora replied, again trying to poke Minerva. "Are you?"

"Yes, I am," Minerva answered bluntly, flicking the claw away again. "No get outta here, doncha gotta fight Jax or whatever?"

"Well, you don't really look fine. Kinda like an upset cat that's too grumpy to let her friends help her," Rio said, also trying to poke Minerva.

"Plus, what good is me fighting Jax if you aren't there to see me beat him?" Kora asked, managing to poke Minerva's cheek without being flicked. "How else am I gonna brag about it to you if you don't see it for yourself? You'd just think I made it up!"

"Oh please, if any of us could beat that muscle head, it'd be you. You're crazy strong, and agile..." Minerva trailed off, her sourness turning into sadness for a moment. "..."

"Hey, you're stronger than I am!" Kora said with a smile, falling over the counter beside Minerva and laying beside her. "You could throw me into the sky, and I wouldn't come down 'till dinner! Maybe... I really wouldn't like to test that out, so..."

"Yeah, but what's so good about bein' this strong if I can't… fight?" Minerva sighed, swatting Rio's paw from her face. "I can barely take a hit without goin' down... might as well be weak too, just to fit with how useless I am..."

Kora leaned up and stared sternly at Minerva. "Minerva, Kane doesn't know what he's talking about. We beat him and Eva yesterday! And nobody blames you for this morning, none of us could risk getting close to Zen with how he was!" he said, a bright gleam in his eyes.

"Yeah, that was terrifying. I literally couldn't do anything other than get hit!" Rio exclaimed. "Other than try not to get hit... So if anyone's useless right now, it's gotta be me."

"Kane's just upset that he was used as a weapon, which I don't understand why, it looked really fun!" Kora chuckled, getting one from Minerva as well.

"Maybe. Guess the only one that's alright gettin' thrown around is you, twerp," Minerva said with a smile, sitting up and patting Kora on his chest. "But that might just be cuz ya don't gotta worry about brain damage if ya fall on ya head."

Kora stuck out his tongue and laughed a little, laying his paw on Minerva's head. "I'd be hurt if I knew what that meant!" he joked, but then remembered something. "Oh yeah! Rio, bring out the thing!"

Minerva was about to ask what 'the thing' was, but after hearing Rio rummage through a bag and then being sucker punched by the aroma of desserts, the feline had a pie plopped into her lap with a fork stuck in the top. It was fresh, hot, and absolutely mouthwatering. She looked up at Kora and Rio with utter joy upon her face.

"We stopped by the Bakery for a bit, firstly because we thought you'd be there, but when you weren't we decided to buy you a little something," Kora explained. "Clara sold it to us with a 'dis count' or whatever, but we only bought one pie so I don't know what she didn't count. It was a bit cheaper than I thought, so maybe it got messed up or something when they were baking it?"

"I didn't feel like correcting him, still don't either..." Rio whispered to Minerva. "Anyway it's all yours. Nice and fresh!"

"You guys..." Minerva smiled sweetly and stood up, pie in hand. "Ya really don't want any of it? It's just for me?"

"It ain't a gift pie if we had some too," Kora explained, hopping over the counter. "Besides, can't fight with a full stomach! The last time I tried wasn't pretty..."

"Yea, I remember that," Minerva shuddered. "That's probably the first of ya ideas that completely backfired."

Rio felt he knew what had happened, and didn't bother asking for details. So, with Minerva cheered up and a pie delivered, Kora and Rio made their leave. At least until Minerva stopped them. With warning the two, she jumped up between them and caught her arms around their necks, pulling them into a hug from behind, and also accidentally banging all three of their heads together. Thank goodness Kora's mane cushioned most of the back of his head, but that just meant instead of pain, Minerva got a mouth full of hair.

"Thanks," Minerva said after letting go and rubbing her head. "And, I'm sorry for what I said earlier, Rio. I was just-"

"It's fine, Minerva, I had a feeling you were going through something," The Lucario cut her short, giving her a forgiving smile. "I'm pretty sure if you were really mad at me, you'd probably knock me out instead of chew me out."

"You can go and enjoy your pie, I guess I'll just have to beat Jax without a full audience." Kora waved goodbye to Minerva, exiting the tent with Rio right behind him, leaving Minerva to her lonesome with a steamy fresh pie awaiting her.

With the boys gone, she sat on the edge of the counter and placed the pie on her lap. The first bite was just as incredible as the pie they tried earlier, if not somewhat more refined in the ingredients. Everything blended together a bit better, the crust was flakier and crispier, and the chunks of berry were perfectly cooked.

"I bet it would taste even better if they shared it with me," she said to herself as she went for a second bite. "Dammit, why's he gotta be so nice? Those brats off the island wouldn't bat an eye at me if they saw me like that..." For a moment, she thought back to what Kane told her.

"How can you be so ungodly strong, but so utterly, goddamn useless?! Why the hell would you throw someone into, not just Zen, but Zen raging the hell out like that?! Were you trying to kill me, runt?! Are you so unbelievably brain dead, that the simple idea of fighting can't be understood in that thick skull of yours?"

The piece of pie in her mouth tasted sour suddenly, but she didn't care to spit it out.

"I'll show that bastard who's a 'runt' between us..." She swore to herself, finishing another bit. "I'll show him who's really useless, who actually knows what a fight is..!"

Sour again, but just like before, Minerva didn't care. The pie was a gift, and if there's a bit of sour while eating it, she wouldn't let that ruin it. Besides, the sour was drowned out shortly after by a tango of sweet and spicy, which seemed to be led on by the latter. It wasn't a combo she was expecting, but she enjoyed it nonetheless.
 
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Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Seven: Ok, Now Their Training Begins. For real.


"You think Minerva'll be fine by herself?" Rio asked Kora as they walked back to the Gym.

"She loves her alone time just as much as she loves pie," Kora replied with a weak smile. "Besides, I still gotta fight Jax, and if you're gonna be my audience, I gotta bring you with me!"

Right before they entered the tent, Jax, Nate, and Zeke walked out and bumped right into them. Well, it was more Kora and Rio bouncing off of Jax without alerting the Machamp at all to their presence. They were going to get stepped on if Nate and Zeke hadn't pulled Jax back with all their might. With that near-death experience out of the way, Kora popped onto his feet and smirked.

"Hey guys! We were just heading back, so ya didn't have to come looking for us!" the Zoroark said, playfully punching Jax in his chest.

"Actually, why were you guys coming out? You look like you have something important to say," Rio asked, getting a proud smirk from Jax.

"While the two of you ran after Minerva, us three teachers decided how we're gonna school you guys!" The Machamp explained, pounding his chest.

"I've decided that it would be best for me to teach Rio how to use different attacks and to try and help him with that ability he showed off earlier," Zeke said with his arms crossed. "Plus, I can teach him whatever he needs to know about Pokemon while we're at it, since I'm probably the only one here that can name almost everything off the top of their head..." he sighed, but kept a smile on his beak.

"And I'll be sparring with Kora to help improve his own set of skills! Not saying you aren't a good fighter already, but it doesn't hurt to practice some more!" Jax stated, his arms on his waist. Both Rio and Kora for a moment thought about what they'll be doing before their minds shifted back to Minerva.

"What about Minerva and Nate? What're they gonna do?" The two surprisingly said in unison.

"I decided to help her get faster and stronger, specifically. Maybe toughen her up a bit, since she could barely take a hit from me," Nate answered with a slight frown. Kora and Rio both felt a bit bad when they remembered their match, it wasn't exactly in Minerva's favor.

"Oh, I almost forgot! We're pretty sure that the guild won't hold it's tryouts for another month or whatever, so you guys have a whole month to prepare! And we're gonna make sure you'll fit the bill to get in!" Jax said, cracking his knuckles and grinning. "You know what that means, right Kora?"

"So we get to fight for a whole month without being interrupted?" Kora asked with an excited smile. Jax returned a smug grin and pounded his fists together.

"You know it little buddy!" Jax and Kora pounded their fists together and smiled brightly, causing Zeke to roll his eyes.

"They're either gonna slack off or wear each other down in less than a week," the Blaziken chuckled, amazed at the two's childlike excitement for fighting each other.

"So, when exactly are we going to start training?" Rio asked, getting a small smirk from Zeke.

"Actually, I wanted to get started as soon as possible. I was thinking we could train on the beach, you know, away from the forest full of Pokémon and flammable trees," the Blaziken stated, getting an excited nod from Rio.

"Then let's go before Mt. Muscle and the Jester start brawling," Zeke joked, turning towards Nate and smiling. "See ya later, Feraligatr. Make sure you don't piss Minerva off too much. Meet up same place tonight?"

"See you then, Blaziken. And don't worry about me, I can probably handle it," Nate replied. "But if anything goes south, I'll count on you to fix it."

The two tapped the back of their forearms together, looking at each other for a moment before Zeke and Rio left for the beach.

<><><>​

As the new Mentor and Trainee arrived on the beach, they were surprised to see Zen sitting on the shore. The Bisharp was also surprised to see the pair, but hid that well in his usual stoic demeanor. He stood and faced the two with his arms crossed.

"Zeke, can I ask what you're doing here with the Outlander?" Zen asked, staring the two down.

"Honestly, you need to lose the uppity attitude you have, Zen, and I'm here to train Rio." Zeke replied, crossing his arms as well.

"I have an uppity attitude? What about you? Whenever anything happens, you either sigh and roll your eyes to the back of your skull, or say 'whatever'!" Zen exclaimed, much to Rio's surprise. Zeke sighed and rolled his eyes.

"See?" Zen clicked his tongue, making Zeke sweat a bit.

"Whatev-!" Zeke immediately covered his mouth and coughed. "A-anyway, we have important training to do, so I guess we'll just go somewhere else!" the Blaziken turned towards the forest, ready to leave, but was stopped by Zen before he took a step.

"What exactly are you training him in?" Zen asked. Somewhere, somehow, Rio felt the tiniest amount of worry coming from him.

"Really? I thought you'd be too busy brooding to care about Rio?" Zeke scoffed.

"Seriously, what is it?" Zen asked. The Blaziken cleared his throat.

"That band on Rio's arm might have the ability to absorb whatever attacks that hits it, and boost Rio in some way. He was able to cancel out one of my Flamethrowers without causing an explosion, but it took a lot out of him," Zeke explained.

"Really?" Zen quickly glanced at Rio, "Perhaps, I should assist as well. For purely analytical reasons, of course." Rio was surprised by what looked like a change of character. He was even finding it hard to believe how close Zen and Zeke were. Then again, Rio did arrive yesterday, it's only natural anyone on the island would have known each other for a while.

"Well, thanks for the extra set of hands, Zen. Seems like someone is growing out of their iron-plated shell?" Zeke chuckled at his own unfunny joke. "I guess the first thing we should do is to show you what exactly I was talking about," Zeke said, standing a good distance away from Rio. "You ready, Rio?" The Outlander nodded, putting up his guard. Zeke nodded back, getting himself ready to fire a flamethrower. Zen back away from either Pokémon.

After throwing his head forward, Zeke fired a Flamethrower like the one during his sparring match with Rio. The Lucario threw out his right arm as the Flamethrower hit, causing the attack to envelope around him. As the fire faded away, Rio was shown totally unscathed and holding up his arm. The band was glowing a bright orange and red, and Rio also gave off a faint glow of the same color.

"That's, well, I guess it's impressive," Zen said. Rio groaned and rolled his eyes.

"Alright, fine. Hey Zeke, fire another Flamethrower, please!" Rio asked, annoyed at the Bisharp's lack of amazement. The Blaziken readied another Flamethrower, still ,aiming at Rio. This time when the attack hit, Rio put both paws out to hold it. The Lucario was successful at stopping the attack, dispersing the flames in a glorious fashion. He looked proudly at Zen, until his glow faded and his body was strained, surprised at how much the ability took out of him. He found it difficult to stand, but stood strong regardless.

"That's a bit more impressive, but from the looks of it, you can only do that once every time you gain whatever ability that is," Zen concluded, an impressed grin escaping his stern demeanor.

"That's what I'm hoping to help him improve, who knows, maybe he could send it back or something with enough practice?" Zeke chuckled, patting Rio on the back and nearly toppling the jackal over. "What do ya think, Rio?"

After keeping himself upright, Rio shrugged. "I might even be able to absorb it, I don't know?" he replied sarcastically. "I feel like I don't need to say I've never done any of... this before."

"Hmph..." Zen contemplated for a moment. "That could have some decent implications later down the line. Energy Absorption, or Type Absorption, whatever it turns out to be, can easily remove any paralysis, poison, burn, what have you. We'll have to see what your body or that band can take."

"Y-you aren't suggesting that I get hit with different things for a while... right?" Rio asked, hoping he doesn't get the answer he thinks he'll get. Zen responded by putting up his hand to Rio, and a familiar dark aura growing in his palm.

"You might want to guard this attack, Outlander. I don't have any moves that would cause any of those ailments, but it would still be to your benefit to find out if you can absorb the Dark typing. " The Bisharp stated before firing a Dark Pulse directly at Rio.

Rio couldn't exactly prepare for the attack so soon, throwing his arms up, bracing as much as he could. The attack hurt more than before, the thought that Zen was holding back when he beat Rio to a pulp, and he might even be holding back now, left a bitter taste in the Outlander's mouth.

"What the hell! You couldn't give me a minute to recover?!" Rio shouted, much to the other Pokémons' surprise. It could have been their imagination, but to Zen and Zeke, Rio's fur looked a few shades darker than earlier. Rio also took a more aggressive stance than before, more than ready to fight.

"I think you should calm down a little. I mean, you should be proud that you blocked that, given how tired you are!" Zeke stated with a smile. Rio didn't calm down however. Instead of regaining his cool and leveling out, he almost immediately lost his temper.

"Calm down?! Don't you tell me to 'calm down' after I blocked his Dark Pulse! If I hadn't block that attack I'd probably be dead!" The vastly infuriated Rio turned to Zen. "Were you planning on holding back, because I sure as hell didn't feel any 'holding back', metal head!" Rio snapped, making the Blaziken back off.

"Screw the training, I'll 'calm down' by beating this self-entitled prick to a pulp!" The Lucario charged the Bisharp with surprising speed, slamming his palm before pushing into Zen with maximum force, throwing the Bisharp into the water.

"Hmph, are you sure you want a repeat of our first fi-?" Zen scoffed, failing to get to his feet before being attacked by Rio again. The Lucario kicked Zen in the side, knocking the wind out of him. Before Rio could get another hit in, Zeke quickly grabbed the outraging Outlander and held him in a headlock.

"Seriously Rio, don't make me force you to calm down!" Zeke shouted. Unfortunately for the Fire-Fighting type, Rio started to jump and fall backward on top of Zeke.

"You can't force me to do anything!" Rio roared, breaking free of the headlock and surprising Zeke.

'What the hell? He couldn't have gotten this strong after so little time had passed after the hot springs. Is this from my Dark Pulse?' As soon as Zen stood back up, he readied another Dark Pulse.

Rio took notice and ran straight for Zen. The Pulse was fired, however Rio was able to sidestep the attack and thrust his elbow into Zen's stomach, causing the Bisharp to fall to his knees. The Outlander then clasped both paws together and slammed them into Zen's back. Zeke got back up, quickly gaining Rio's attention.

"Don't say I didn't warn you!" Zeke jumped over Rio, throwing a Flamethrower as he jumped over the jackal.

The attack hit the water around Rio, creating a steam cloud that blinded the Outlander for a moment. Seizing this chance, Zeke rushed in and hit Rio several times with Fire Punch before slugging him full-force with another one. Rio was knocked back to shore, some of his fur burnt where he was hit. Without giving Rio a chance to stand back up, Zeke fired a Flamethrower, directly hitting Rio and creating a massive explosion! The Blaziken turned and saw Zen knocked out in the water and ran over to help him out. As the dust cleared, Rio was knocked out cold with blackened fur.

"Can't say I was expecting Rio to flip out and attack us like that..." Zeke said to himself, placing Zen on his back near Rio, "Maybe I should get some well deserved sleep too, huh guys?" The bird joked to himself, sitting on the other side of Rio, looking across the open sea. Instead of taking a rest, Zeke tried to piece together what exactly caused Rio to lose it so fast.

<><><>​

"So it's settled then? Loser buys the winner anything they want from the bakery?" Jax asked, a confident grin upon his face.

"Yep! Basically, you're gonna be buying me a whole lotta food!" Kora stated boldly. The two were moments away from letting loose right then, but before they could do anything, Minerva showed up and stopped them.

"Are the both of ya completely dense or somethin'? I know the two of ya aren't plannin' on fightin' right in the middle of the Square, right?" Minerva said, staring down the two. Nate nodded his head and crossed his arms.

"Minerva!" Kora exclaimed, a bright smile stretching across his maw. "How ya feeling? Was the pie good? You doing alright?"

"Geez, slow down, Kora!" Minerva giggled, hiding an embarrassed smile. "Ya already asked that twice! And the pie was delicious, I was just comin' out to thank ya and Rio, but looks like Blue's already gone. Oh well, he's gotta lotta trainin' to do, so I won't bother him, wherever he went."

"Oh, Minerva! It's actually really convenient you came out. We wanted, er, I wanted to get to your training as soon as possible!" Nate said with a toothy grin, which fell soon after. "I know you wanted to keep going, and I wanted to too, but you can't-"

"I already know what I gotta do. Can't let that lizard bitch get away scotch free for acting like an ass to me, the Meowth grumbled, clenching her fists and growling. She went into a sort of enraged state for a second, and when she came to, Nate and Jax had backed away from her. "...What?"

"N-Nothing... Look, I'm just gonna, take Kora and go. Good lu- I mean, Have fun, Nate!" Jax picked Kora up and quickly walked away, waving to Nate with a worried smile. Kora waved bye to Minerva, but he and Jax were already gone before he could say anything.

Nate opened his mouth to call out to the Machamp, letting out a few exasperated breaths before turning to Minerva and grinning nervously.

"Looks like, it's just us now, huh?" The Feraligatr chuckled, shaking his head a little and grinning. "Can't let everyone else have all the fun now, can we? Let's go and get you stronger!"

"Right!" Minerva cheered, a devilish grin on her face. "You get me stronger, and I pound Kane's stupid face in! Let's go!"

'Good... at least she isn't mad at me.' Nate sighed, leading Minerva into the woods.

<><><>​

Kora and Jax stood at opposite sides of the sandy area, both excited for the fight that was about to unfold.

"Alright, we go at it on the count of three," Jax said, cracking his knuckles.

"1..."

"2..."

"3..!"

"WAIT!" Kora and Jax were stopped mere moments before their fight began. The culprit was Kai who, somehow, got into the middle of the field with neither Kora nor Jax noticing.

"Wha- Kai? What're you doing here?" Kora asked, a tad impatient.

"I wanted to train with you guys! Mom said I could so I came down right away!" The young Zorua said excitedly. Kora did his best to not show how utterly uninterested he was to fight with his or against his younger brother, so instead he tried to change the subject.

"What happened to Mia? Don't you guys have... I mean, I dunno, Kai and Mia stuff to do?," Kora asked, hoping he could get his brother to run off.

"Oh, she went to train with Minerva and Nate! She said she wanted to get strong with your best friend, since I'm gonna get stronger with you!" Kai answered, bouncing up and down and smiling brightly.

"Really? I mean, she's your friend and you don't even wanna train with her?" Kora raised a brow.

"Do you train with Minerva all the time? Usually, you two just kinda do whatever? Eating desserts, collecting pearls, sleeping together-"

"D-Do you just watch your brother?" Jax asked, uneasy. He looked to Kora, expecting some level of being creeped out by Kai's invasion of his privacy, but the Zoroark didn't look bothered by it in the slightest.

"We don't gotta train all the time, but we do sometimes," Kora replied. "Just like me and Jax were before you kinda just, butted in."

Kai turned to his brother and stuck out his tongue.

"Liar liar!" He taunted. "You two never train! Her hitting you because of a joke isn't training! Even when you fight Eva and Kane, you're hardly even trying! Eva would say something mean, then Minerva would beat her and Kane up!"

Kora groaned, more upset at being called out than the fact that his brother has been avidly watching his day to day activities. Jax, on the other hand, was having trouble getting over how little the Zoroark cared. There's no way anybody would be this ok with being watched so much!

"Well, why don't you train with Mia anyway? Me and Minerva don't need to train together because of how great we know each other! Only super-best buddies don't have to train together all the time," the Zoroark hoped this would be enough to kindly drive his brother away.

"Or at all, in your case." Kai snickered, a playful grin on his maw. "But if that's the case, Mia and I are Ultra-super best buddies, so we don't need to train at all!" The Zorua went up to Kora and looked up at him. "You and me never do anything together, bro! So we gotta train together until we're super-best buddies!"

This was turning into a hassle for Kora. He let out a sigh and looked down at Kai.

"Kai, look. Jax and I have been wanting to fight, by ourselves, because he's training me so we're ready to join the Guild. As much as I'd love a distraction, this is... really important." Kora's face dropped a bit, but he shook it off and tried smiling again. "Tell ya what, if Jax and I can get a few practice sessions together, we'll see if we can train with you too?" He had no intention to keep that promise, honestly, but he knew it would sate Kai for now. Maybe, if Kora's lucky, Kai would forget about this promise after a little while.

"Really? AWESOME!" Kai cheered excitedly, hopping around Kora with boundless energy. "I'll leave you guys to fight then, and after that, I'll join in!" The Zorua scurried off to the side, sitting a good distance away from the battlefield.

"Now that that's out of the way, let's get this started!" Kora stated, cracking his neck and grinning excitedly. He crouched down and threw himself forwards.

"Night Slash!" Kora shouted, his claws gaining a black and red aura.

"Dynamic Punch!" Jax roared, one of his fist glowing red. The two were just a foot away from finally getting to hit each other, when a certain Pokémon got into the midst of it again.

"Lunch? I can totally eat lunch right now! We should do that before we start fighting, right?" Kai asked, sitting between Kora and Jax. The sudden appearance of Kai led to Kora and Jax crashing into each other, hurting Kora much more than Jax.

"HOW THE HE-" Kora caught himself and coughed, "Didn't you just say you'd sit this one out?" The Zoroark asked through gritted teeth.

"Wait, really? I thought I was going to get food!" Kai said happily, pulling out three little baggies from behind him. Neither Kora nor Jax knew if those were always there.

"I-How..? That has-" Kora calmed himself down and fell on his but, accepting this despite how much he was dreading it.

"Alright, thanks Kai. Maybe we should eat a little before the fight?" Jax said, giving the young fox a smile.

"I'll make sure to grab a bite later, don't wanna stuff myself before we get into it. Kora sighed.

Kai gave Kora one bag, another to Jax, and the last to himself. Instead each bag was a small slice of the new pie that Kora had tried earlier today. For a moment, Kora was hesitant to eat the slice, however he scarfed down the slice anyway, feeling a strange hunger overtake him momentarily. The pie tasted much stronger than it did in the morning, sending a pleasant chill through Kora's body.

"Did they change the recipe already? This is fantastic!" Kora exclaimed, the other two had their mouths full so all they did was nod and smile. After a moment passed, Kora froze. He felt like he was choking on something, but for some reason he didn't want to cough it out. The fox started to sweat, gripping the dirt.

"Hey Kora, you feelin' alright man?" Jax asked after swallowing the last of his slice. The choking sensation Kora had finally subsided, allowing the Zoroark to breathe. Kai happily finished his slice, his puffy tail wagging behind him.

"Yea. I think I ate that pie a little too fast, hehe," Kora joked, reassuring Jax. "Ok, Kai, please sit on the side and watch us please?"

Kai nodded and bounced to the sidelines, planting himself on the ground and smiling innocently at the two fully-evolved Pokemon.

"Then let's get to it, we've got some sparring to do!" The Kora grinned.

The two again stood on opposing sides of the sanded area, and even though the two thought they could finally have a go at each other, the feeling of being interrupted again didn't leave their minds. After almost a minute of waiting, Kora and Jax both decided it was time to finally battle.

'Finally!' The two thought as they ran towards the other, ready to attack.

"Dynamic Punch!" Jax shouted, throwing out a super powered punch towards Kora. The Zoroark stepped to the side, evading the attack easily. Unfortunately, a particular Pokémon decided to also throw out an attack.

"Tackle!" Kai shouted, tackling Kora in the back, the two falling right in front of Jax.

"Oh, sorry bro!" Kai apologized, sitting on Kora's back. The Zoroark didn't respond, instead he chose to lay there for a while.

"Uh, maybe we can train later, Kora..." Jax said, defeated and disappointed. Again, Kora didn't respond. Kai hopped off his brother and started to trot towards the gym, leaving the defeated Jax and Kora in the field.

"I bet Rio and Minerva are still training. Lucky punks," Kora muttered into the ground, still refusing to move. Jax didn't want to bother the fox and went inside to punch some punching bags.

<><><>​

Minerva and Nate didn't talk too much, mostly because Nate was contemplating whether or not he should say something. He knew Minerva wasn't mad at him, but...

"So, uh..." the Feraligatr broke the silence. "Why did you run off earlier?"

Minerva didn't answer right away, making Nate feel like he accidentally said the wrong thing. Before the Feraligtr could apologize, the Meowth stopped him.

"It was somethin' Kane said earlier. I'd rather not repeat it, but I will say that he's got a beat down pendin' 'cause of it," Minerva clenched her paws as she remembered what that scaly bastard said.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that," Nate apologized, getting a soft smile from Minerva.

"Don't worry about it, I'll beat the snot outta that prick later," the Meowth boldly stated, reassuring Nate.

Nate led Minerva to a clearing with plenty of fallen trees and rocks scattered everywhere. Some of the trees look beat, like someone crushed them with something big or heavy.

"Every now and then, I come here to keep myself busy and break some trees, so this should be a great place to start your training," Nate explained, leading Minerva to a sturdy tree. The feline was expecting her instructor to tell her to chop it down by the end of the day, but his actual order was much more challenging.

"I want you to cut this tree down with one attack," Nate ordered.

"Alright I can do- wait, did you say with one attack?" Minerva asked, giving Nate a puzzled expression. The Feraligtr nodded, stepping to the side.

"Just one attack. And if you can't, or if you refuse to, then you'll have to wear these." Nate pulled out a pair of black bands.

"What's so special about those?" Minerva questioned her teacher, surprised at how her training has turned out only a few minutes into it.

"I'm glad you asked," Nate dropped the two bands, they hit the ground with a loud thud. To say that the feline was surprised would be an understatement.

"WH-WHAT THE?! How much do those things weigh?!" Minerva shouted, a bit of regret showing on her expression.

"About 70 pounds each. Not too bad right? Surely, you're strong enough already to wear them comfortably for the rest of the month, right?" Nate mocked. However, Minerva was more focused on the weight of the bands more than his small jab at her.

"So, are you gonna cut the tree or wear the bands?" Nate asked. The Meowth couldn't decide which was the lesser of the two evils presented to her.

'There's no way in hell I can cut a tree like this down in one attack, but a whole month with almost 140 extra pounds weighin' me down, constantly?' she thought.

"From the looks of it, you're probably going to take the bands, no?" the Feraligtr asked, getting a more anxious response from Minerva. The gator quickly wrapped the two bands on both of Minerva's arms, at first it wasn't as bad as she thought, but after a minute or so her arms felt like they were tied to boulders below her.

"Don't worry Minerva, you can take those off when the week is done, I wouldn't make you wear those all month," Nate reassured Minerva, the feline then let out a relieved sigh. "That's because after you get used to those, I'm going to give you heavier bands to wear," the gator snickered. Had she been able to, Minerva would have thrown one of the rocks laying around directly into Nate's jaw.

"One more thing, it wouldn't help you if I didn't give you some exercises to get you more used to the weights. For now, I'll have you clear out all the rocks and trees from this clearing," Minerva almost fell over, not just from the amount of work Nate is putting on her, but also because she lost her balance for a second.

"When this trainin' thing is over, I'll knock you out cold..." Minerva growled, again struggling to not topple over by the weight of her arms. Nate grinned.

"That's the whole point of training, now chop chop, these trees aren't gonna clear themselves. And besides, if you can't do this, then how are you gonna beat the shit out of Kane?" Nate asked, raising a brow.

Minerva grinned back and nodded, the drive to beat Kane fueling her. The Meowth started to move the tree trunks from the clearing, all while Nate watched from the side.

'Great! This is already going better than I expected,' Nate thought to himself and chuckled to himself. 'She's just like when I was training as a wee Totodile; angry, strong... well she's waaaaaaaay stronger than I was at her age, but whatever. Good times, good times.'
 

Fusion

Exploring The Infinite
Pronouns
Him/His
Chapter Eight: Side Effects Include


Rio shot awake, blinded by a bright light. A cold chill further woke him up. He couldn't remember what exactly happened, but he remembered he was at the beach not too long ago. He took a look at his surroundings; there was no sign of the shore, no taste of salt in the air, and he was entirely alone.

Instead of the warmth of the beach, he was in a clearing surrounded by a thick wall of trees. Rio felt imprisoned, bringing a feeling of claustrophobia out of him. Everything had an irritating blue tint to it, but it wasn't unbearable at least. He went towards the treeline, trying to look between the trees, and saw only darkness.

"Where... am I?" he asked aloud, as if someone was there to hear him. The atmosphere was so still and quiet, almost tranquil if not for the wall trapping him there. After a while, however, the silence was starting to drive Rio insane. He only heard the static that accompanied the silence.

"You again? Back so soon?" A voice suddenly spoke from behind Rio. It sounded foreign and yet, familiar in a strange way. The Outlander turned towards the source, seeing a Lucario standing where he woke up earlier, a friendly grin on his snout. "Weren't expecting you back so soon, if you were gonna come back at all..." Rio's lack of a response must have said something to the jackal, since he cocked his head and his grin faltered. "What? You look like you've seen a ghost? You didn't forget me did you?"

"I-uh..." Rio could swear that he had never met this Lucario before, but a closeness towards the jackal convinced him otherwise. That, and the fact that the Lucario flat out asked if Rio had forgotten about him. Rio let out a nervous chuckle and admitted he couldn't recall. "Sorry... I think I did? Who are you?" he asked, hoping not to sound insulting.

"Eh, it doesn't matter. You're here and that's what counts!" the Lucario grinned and chuckled. "C'mon, I gotta show you something!"

The Lucario gestured behind him, revealing a wide opening that Rio knew he couldn't have missed. The parted trees were forced to reveal the suffocating darkness they tried so dearly to hide from the Outlander. As the jackal gestured for Rio to follow, a fearful moan escaped him, alerting the Lucario to Rio's hesitance.

"What's wrong? The dark isn't all that scary," the jackal assured Rio with a smile. "Besides, there's nowhere else to go, and I'd rather not spend that much time in this place."

"I-I don't know..." Rio knew that there wasn't much he could do here, but while the dark was unsettling, a sense of adventure started rising in the Outlander. The jackal grinned and extended a paw towards Rio.

"I think you do know, actually!" the jackal said, an infectious bravery emanating off of him. "I'll be with you the whole time, I promise," Rio cautiously looked at the paw, that bravery starting to get to him. He took hold of the Lucario's paw, the softness sending a pleasant sensation throughout Rio.

"Alright, let's go then," Rio said, putting his caution to the side.

The Jackal smirked and chuckled. "I thought I'd like you!" he said, pulling the Outlander along into the dark.

<><><>​

The trees pierced high into the darkness, much taller than Rio thought they could be after seeing the trees they left behind. It was humid, nearly unbearable, borderline suffocating. Rio couldn't see more than a few feet ahead of him, but the Lucario he held onto ran through the darkness with more confidence than anyone reasonably could in this situation.

"You're really slow, kid," the Jackal shot back, not turning his head for a moment. He maneuvered around some trees, climbing over a rock Rio didn't even know was there until the Outlander was dragged over it.

"I-It's kinda hard to see!" Rio replied, making sure not to let go of the Lucario's paw. "How can you see in this darkness?"

"Easy." The two stopped abruptly, causing Rio to run into the Lucario, but it hardly fazed him. He turned to Rio, his body gaining a faint blue glow, just enough to show that his eyes were shut. "I'd say something cliche about 'don't see with your eyes,' but I can't think of anything clever yet, hehe."

"Y-You're eyes have been shut this whole time?!" Rio exclaimed, quickly getting shushed by the jackal.

"Shhhhhh! We're not out of the clear yet!" the Lucario warned, pulling Rio along again. "You remember that fire I gave you last time?"

"What fi-" A sudden memory came back to Rio, of him and this Lucario talking about something, and the Lucario giving Rio a green flame. "I-I, yes! I remember now! You still didn't give me a name back then!"

"Shhhhhhhhhhhut up!" the Lucario shushed Rio again, stopping again. "Can you feel it?"

"...Faintly, but why is that important?" Rio answered, a faint heat rising within him.

"Focus on it," the jackal demanded. "Just... focus."

'Focus...' Rio closed his eyes and tried to focus on the heat of the flame within him. He could feel it rising, but every now and then it would waver and shrink. "It's... hard! I can't-"

"Rio..." the jackal said softly. "You got this... just..."

<><><>​

"Focus..."

Rio woke up on one of the rugs in Kora's house, sitting next to him was Zeke and Zen, and across from him was Diana. Diana and Zeke were talking about something, and Zen was only listening. Since he had just woken up, Rio couldn't quite hear everything they were saying, so he decided to get up and ask what they were talking about.

"H-Huh? When did I... What happened?" the Lucario asked, feeling a sharp pain in his right arm that pulsed through his body.

"Hm? Oh, you're up Rio!" Zeke smiled. "I was just saying that your ability is incredible, but you just have to focus on using it more. Zen thinks you absorbed the Dark Energy of his attack, which made you incredibly aggressive as a result."

"You... knocked me out," Zen had a disgusted look on his face, which was covered up fairly well with a bandage wrap. "I got too careless, and the boost you gained from my attack was astronomical in comparison to your earlier show of strength. Diana said not to exert myself too much, but..." Zen's aura sparked briefly as he stopped his rising anger. "It would have been favorable for me if someone didn't wait for me to awaken before bringing us here. I find it laughable that a Blaziken can't carry a Bisharp and a Lucario on his own."

"To be fair, I also got a bit roughed up in the fight! Whatever you fed him gave him a more than just a kick!" Zeke chuckled, holding his side and wincing.

"I'm not a dumbass!" Zen growled, pounding his fist on the ground. "You weren't hit a single time, worm!"

"W-Worm?! That's no-"

"Alright, enough," Diana interrupted, sparks scattering into the air. "Whoever did what doesn't matter right now. I want answers, and if you both are going to bicker back and forth about meaningless dribble, I won't hesitate to shut both of you up, and let the grown-ups talk."

Zen and Zeke got quiet fast, neither wanting to further piss off the Zoroark Outlander. It was interesting for Rio to watch; the two were almost ready to brawl right then and there, but one warning from Diana and now they're obedient again. Zen cleared his throat and faced Diana.

"Right, of course. While I am sure that my attack did grant him the power to, surprise me, I took note of how similar his outburst was to how Kane and Eva described my own, and I'm almost entirely certain he went Berserk."

"Berserk... like when you fought them in the springs earlier?" Diana asked, the Bisharp catching onto what she might have been implying.

"Rio, did you eat any black berries today? It might've looked like a black Oran berry?" Zen asked, him and Diana both staring at Rio. The Lucario thought for a second before responding.

"Yeah, actually. It was at the bakery. They said that a weird berry plant started growing in their garden and asked me Kora and Minerva to try the pie recipe they used it in. The taste was amazing! It felt like everything I loved was mixed into the perfect berry just for me!" the Outlander smiled at the memory of the delicious berry and godlike pastry. Diana and Zen both froze, leaving Zeke and Rio puzzled.

"Y-you said..." Zen stuttered.

"You, Minerva, and my son ate a pie..." Diana stammered.

"With the black berry in it..?" the two finished, worry drenching both of their faces. Rio slowly nodded yes, wondering what it was they were going on about.

"I know you didn't know this, but the reason why Zen went berserk at the springs earlier was because he ate a black berry after he first fought you. He also said that he can't remember what happened after he ate the berry, so it might not be the berry itself that does it... but I see no other option." Diana said, holding her forehead.

"If the berry is the cause of me going berserk, then the last Pokémon you want to eat a pie made of it would be Kora and Minerva," Zen added, standing up slowly. Zeke and Rio both jumped to their feet as well.

"We have to find them, before something bad happens!" Diana exclaimed, grabbing Zeke and running out the door.

"If this gets too out of hand, you are the one that's going to fix it. You do realize that, right?" Zen asked Rio, the Outlander gave a nod.

"M-Me?!" Rio exclaimed. "I-I still don't know how to fight! I don't even remember fighting you, or beating you up!"

"That's a shame, because after you did this to me-" Zen clenched his fist tightly, more of his aura spiking with his subdued rage. "-I am not in the condition to exert myself, at least not unless entirely necessary. If the need to fight those two arises, you will fight them."

Rio gulped, nodding in spite of his fear of getting in a fight with one or possibly two Berserk Pokemon, but Zen felt more terrifying by comparison. It really helps that Rio has already fought Zen, and that the Bisharp is about three seconds away from ripping him to shreds right now.

<><><>​

Zen led Rio to the Bakery, on the way there the two planned to get the black berry plant removed from the bakers' garden and to remove any pastries that might have the berry in it.

"You sure this is what we should be doing? You don't think we should head to Minerva or Kora first?" Rio asked.

"No, I doubt that you were the only one training. Assuming either of your companions are with Jax or Nate, I'm sure we aren't currently needed. Besides, if we don't get this cursed berry out of circulation, who knows who else could eat it and go Berserk?" Zen replied, entering the bakery with Rio close behind him.

Ben jumped as the two bandage-wrapped Pokémon approached the counter, both with determined looks on their faces.

"Oh my, what happened to you two? You weren't fighting, were you?" Ben asked.

"That's not important. We need you to throw out anything you baked with that black berry you found in your garden," Zen said firmly.

"We also gotta get rid of the plant too! Whatever that berry is, it makes you go crazy and attack anyone around you!" Rio added, not making Ben anymore comfortable.

"The black berry? Oh no, Clara!" Ben quickly ran into the kitchen and was heard running down some stairs. Not wasting anytime, Zen hopped over the counter.

"I'll go and get the plant. You get rid of any pastries with the berry," Zen commanded, running through the kitchen and into the garden.

Rio nodded and started sorting through the pastries on the counter. The aroma of the forbidden pies were tempting, and the deceitful warmth of the tins they were in was almost enough to drive Rio mad as he got rid of them. He forced himself not to look, knowing that seeing the angelic gifts from the gods would shatter his will.

"I-I'm sorry..." he whispered as he threw the last pie in a bag and tied it off. With tears in his eyes, Rio stepped on the bag to crush it's contents, feeling like a wretched beast the entire time. Truly, this was a task too great for him, as he collapsed on the floor moments after...

<><><>​

The Bisharp was met with a surprisingly large garden, tall berry plants with plenty of fruit growing from their branches. A sweet scent lingered in the air, and the assorted colors of the berries helped create an extremely relaxing atmosphere. Without the time to sight see, however, Zen ventured deeper into the garden.

After what seemed like several minutes of walking, Zen noticed that something was wrong. He'd been walking in a straight line the entire time, he should have come to an open area outside the bakery by now. Come to think of it, some of the plants look very similar to the ones near the entrance. The Bisharp turned around, seeing nothing but more plants.

"This doesn't feel right," he said, running back the way he came. Zen ran and he ran, but he didn't seem to be going anywhere.

"What is this? What's going on here?" Zen tensed up, looking into the shadows of the garden for any sign of movement. He didn't get a response.

"Rio? Ben? Clara? Anyone?!" he shouted as loud as he could, but to no avail. The Bisharp sighed and held out both arms.

"Forgive me, Ben and Clara, but I can't afford to waste anymore time," Zen said, slashing through the plants near him. The Bisharp slashed through plant after plant, eventually cutting the entire garden to the ground. Much to his dismay, however, the plants grew back immediately after being cut.

"... Why must you destroy the plant, Zen?" A voice spoke from the greenery, surprising Zen.

"Who..?" The Bisharp looked for the source, but was unable to find it. "It is a danger, not only to those who eat it, but to those close to whoever eats it," he replied, keeping a watchful eye on everything around him.

"A danger? maybe at first, but you got stronger from it. Didn't you?" the voice asked. At first, Zen didn't respond, not knowing what the voice meant exactly. After some thought, Zen did remember feeling somewhat more powerful after he recovered from his fight under the berry's influence, and there was Rio who had eaten a pie with the berry within it and got unbelievably strong after absorbing a Dark Pulse.

"What exactly is the berry? And who are you that knows so much about it?" Zen questioned the voice.

"It's a Dark Berry. It only works on Dark Type Pokémon. It gives whatever Dark Type Pokémon that eats it a massive power boost, but also messes with their emotions. After they are subdued, though, some of the extra power will stay inside them," the voice explained. It sounded like it was moving around Zen, but there wasn't any sign of movement.

"That... There's no way that's natural. What did you do to make these berries?!" Zen shouted. The voice giggled.

"All I did was simply that. Make them. No need for such aggravation. I planted these berries for the greater good, just because you can't see it yet doesn't mean it isn't there." After that, the voice didn't speak again. Zen hoped that meant he could finally leave the garden. As the Dark-Steel Type turned to where he thought the Bakery was, he was met with the Dark Berry plant, with a singular berry left.

'The Dark Berry grants any Dark-Type Pokémon who eats it a massive power boost, at the cost of also boosting their emotions.' The words the voice spoke repeated in Zen's head as he approached the plant. A massive boost in power to any dark type...

<><><>​

The Outlander was worried about how long it was taking Zen to return. Rio was just about to head into the garden when he heard some commotion from outside. Peeking his head out the tent opening, Rio saw Kane towering over Kai and Mia. But... there was something off about him...

"Was that glow, thing... that strong on Zen..?" Rio asked, seeing the black flames that came off of Zen when he went Berserk, but there was a more controlled flame more tightly around Kane. He could feel both of them from here, the expansive, intimidating flame having a chaotic, malicious, and uncontrollable feel to it, and the more compact one being aggressive and proud, but there was some... sadness to it. Rio's train of thought was derailed when Kai's voice broke through it.

"S-stop it! Leaves us alone, o-or I'll go get Kora!" Kai yelled, standing guard in front of Mia.

"Kora? Don't make me laugh! I could beat him to a pulp without even trying!" Kane growled. "He and that runt he hangs out with ain't got nothin' on me now!"

"You won't get the chance to beat anyone!" Rio shouted, kicking Kane in the side. Unfortunately, the attack did practically nothing, leaving Rio wide open for a Brick Break to his attacking leg. The Scrafty grinned devilishly as he lifted the Lucario hit the ground, grabbing his leg and holding him up to his face.

"I got a whole gang of Pokémon worth beatin' up! I've been waiting to put you in your place, dog!" Kane laughed, letting go of Rio and kicking the Lucario in the stomach before he hit the ground. Rio slid across the dirt, stopping a few feet from the Bakery entrance.

'What the hell...' Rio thought to himself, picking himself up while his aura started to flare up, 'Was he always this strong?'

The jackal didn't have much time to think as Kane was turned back to the two smaller Pokémon. This time, he jammed his elbow into the Berserk Pokémon's back. The results were mostly the same, Kane not being affected, Rio getting a hefty blow to his body. Instead of being thrown away, Rio tried to attack Kane again, head butting the lizard as hard as possible, but getting himself more injured in the process

"Are you completely brain dead? HA!" Kane laughed, his dark aura flaring up even more. Before the jackal could react, Kane's fist was placed firmly into Rio's stomach, knocking all of the wind out of him. Rio fell to the ground. Despite how powerful the attack was, the Lucario didn't feel as hurt as he expected. Well, he was practically immobilized, but he wasn't dead so, yay?

"Not knocked out yet? You're kinda stubborn, fitting knowing the brats you're friends with," Kane spat, picking Rio up and hit him with another Brick Break, sending him back a few feet. As Rio got back on his feet, Kane was already approaching at an alarming speed.

"High Jump Kick!" the Scrafty jumped and slammed his knee directly into Rio's head, sending the Lucario into the Bakery. Hoping to keep the fight outside, Rio picked himself up again and got back out there. As fast as he could, the jackal made a sharp turn straight to Jax's Gym, hoping to god that's where Zeke and Diana were.

"Runnin' ain't an option for you, mutt!" Kane roared, getting right next to Rio and punching him in the jaw. The Lucario slammed his shoulder into Kane's side, getting grabbed in the process. Rio was thrown right where he needed to go, right into the gym, but he hit someone as he entered.

"What's the rush, rookie?" Jax asked, picking Rio off the ground. The Outlander didn't have a moment to respond as Kane already rushed in.

"You're just as pathetic as the cat! Can't even beat me without help, huh?" Kane mocked. Something in the air shifted. Rio felt that sense of danger rapidly incoming.

"I should've known that a friend to that worthless excuse for a 'Mon would attract useless scum like you," Kane continued, the pressure around them grew noticeably heavier. Rio and Jax turned slowly, seeing Kora standing at the entrance to the field.

"Say. That. Again." The fox snarled. Kane frowned, more darkness wrapping around his body.

"Here comes the Halfbred Brat, you upset now or something? Didn't seem so mad when I called that runt you follow blindly that earlier. In fact, you looked like you were about to run off cryin'!"

Somewhere in that sentence was the wrong thing to say, like, the absolute wrong thing to say. Rio instinctively ran to cover, pulling Jax with him. Kora raised his head, his eyes vacant and empty until they laid upon Kane. At that moment, they turned a deep red.

"Who the hell do you think you are..." Kora muttered, the ever-so oblivious Kane cracked his knuckles and laughed.

"I'm a real Pokémon! I don't need to surround myself with trash to make myself feel strong!" Kane ran towards Kora, ready to attack the Zoroark. Upon reaching Kora, unfortunately, Kane was stopped in his tracks by the fox's glare.

"You aren't a real anything. You're dead." Kora's own aura expanded and crept along the floor, pushing Kane back. Rio and Jax ran outside, leaving the two Berserk Pokémon to their battle.

"What's gotten into them?!" Jax shouted. "I've seen both their auras before, but whatever that is isn't either of them!"

"I'll try to keep this short, but there's a berry that makes you go berserk when you eat it, and we had a pie with that berry in it. Diana, Zeke, Zen and I were trying to find Kora and Minerva before someone got hurt, but unfortunately it seems Kane might get a lot more than just hurt!" Rio explained, something telling him to get down. As the Lucario pushed him and Jax to the ground, Kane came flying over them.

"..." Kora walked out the gym, his aura was so thick you almost couldn't see him in it. Kane caught himself before he landed, his face drenched in fear and his aura almost entirely gone. Rio could sense more regret and fear coming from Kane than he felt any emotion besides rage coming from Kora.

"WH-WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU?!" Kane screamed, not getting any response from Kora. The fox held up his palm, and a Dark Pulse instantly shot out at Kane. Going against his instinct, Rio got in front of Kane and blocked the attacks. Kora stared with empty, uncaring eyes.

"You have to calm down, Kora!" Rio shouted, getting silence from the fox.

"..." Kora launched himself forward and slammed his arm into Rio's. The Lucario was sent flying away, leaving the cowering Kane to Kora's fury. Before the Berserk Zoroark could attack, Jax managed to land a hefty punch on him.

"C'mon Kora, you're better than this!" Jax tried to convince his little buddy to calm down, but got the same result as Rio did. Kora approached Jax, pushing him back with just a paw back towards the gym. Kora turned to Kane, seeing again his friend standing in front of his target.

"I won't let you do this! Please, Kora! Stop this!" Rio shouted.

"..." Kora got down on all fours, his aura expanding even more than before. With blinding speed, Kora jumped over Rio and landed, claws first, onto Kane. Without hesitation, Kora slashed at Kane's chest. The Scrafty screamed in agony, trying to run but Kora had him pinned entirely. Before the fox could get another attack in, he was hit with a Dark Pulse coming from the Bakery.

"Zen? Zen!" Rio exclaimed, never having been so happy to see someone that beat him into the ground less than a day prior. Zen remained mostly silent, but his calculating gaze was enough for Rio.

"Dammit," Zen got himself ready to fight, black flames engulfing his body as well. Rio was scared at first, thinking he might have gone Berserk, but Zen wasn't lashing out like Kane was or Kora is. With Kora knocked on the ground, Rio regrouped with Zen and stood in a fighting stance.

"I hope you have a plan of some sort, because I sure as hell don't!" Rio admitted with a shaky voice.

"We just have to calm him down, or knock him out. Either works, really," Zen responded, flaring up his aura.

"Alright! I'll follow your lead!" Rio said, an excited heat rising within him. Kora got back up and faced Zen and Rio. With no warning, Kora jumped at the two opposing Pokémon with his claws primed and ready. Zen quickly slashed upwards, catching Kora off guard and hitting his shoulder. As the fox landed he pushed himself back with his other arm, aiming his body for Zen.

"..!" The fox was shoulder bashed by Rio. They hit the ground pretty hard, but it didn't seem to hurt Kora in the slightest. The mindless fox put both paws up, red and orange sparks flickering in front of them. Zen quickly pushed Rio to the side, readying a Dark Pulse to counter Kora's Incinerate.

"Hahhh!" The two attacks exploded upon hitting each other, pushing the two Dark Types back a few feet and pushing Rio to the ground. Before the dust settled, Kora jumped through the smoke, getting two slashes on Zen. The Bisharp's aura appeared more unstable after the attack; Rio felt Zen was starting to lose control.

"Leave him ALONE!" Rio shouted, ramming his head into Kora's. While the fox was somewhat dazed, Rio slammed his shoulder into Kora's chest as hard as he possibly could, knocking Kora to the ground. Zen quickly recovered and hit Kora with a powerful Dark Pulse. The thick aura around the Zoroark started to waver, a good sign to Rio that they were doing something!

"Nngggghhh..." Kora groaned, Rio gained a hopeful smile after hearing something finally come from his enraged friend. "Wh...what..? Wh..y?" the Dark Type groaned, holding his head.

"Kora, please! You have to stop!" Rio yelled.

"So... loud... shut, shut up..." Kora held his head, a fierce snarl on his snout. "Shut up..! Shut up! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! SHUT THE HELL UP!" The aura expanded dramatically, swallowing Kora whole in its darkness. A powerful pressure formed from the massive aura, pushing Rio and Zen away and causing the tents to shake. Unfortunately, Zen's own aura faded and he fell to a knee.

"Not yet! We can't give out now, body! Dammit!" Zen said, trying but failing to stand. Rio felt a whole lot more danger coming, not a single thing was going right then.

'What am I supposed to do? How do I stop this?!' Rio's mind was filled with worry and fear. Thankfully, the Lucario was soon joined by Nate and Minerva, both relieved to find Rio.

"What's happenin?! Where's Kora?" Minerva asked. Rio pointed at the large void of darkness.

"Kane started saying some terrible things to Kora and he just... exploded with this aura! I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the black berry pie we ate earlier," Rio explained.

"Actually, the Dark Berry only affects Dark-Types. Minerva should be fine. Once we knock him out or have him run out of energy, he should get back to normal," Zen added, panting heavily. The Bisharp's previous injuries and new ones finally caught up to him. "I can't... I can't fight anymore. You... have to stop him."

"How? You two got any ideas?" Nate asked, not getting a positive answer from Rio or Zen.

"..." Minerva looked at the well of darkness, knowing that her friend was in there, hurting. "I think I got somethin'."

"What is it?" Rio asked.

"Just, if this doesn't work, try not to hurt him too much, ok?" Minerva asked as she walked into the swirling darkness. Rio wanted to stop her, but something told him to trust her. He sat down beside Zen, crossing his fin- er, his paw fingers. Whatever they're called.

"Whatever you're doing, I hope it works..." Rio sighed.

<><><>​

The darkness was hot and suffocating, which was perfectly complimented by a swirling vortex of deafening static and other incomprehensible noises. Yet it wasn't enough to drive Minerva away. The ground didn't feel like grass and dirt, actually, it didn't feel like anything. For a while, she trudged forward, the pressure around her and the darkness being too dense for her to see but, suddenly, there he was.

A mass of crimson, red hair, a beacon in the darkness. Minerva pushed through the dark towards her friend.

"Kora!" she called out, grabbing his attention. He looked back at her and blinked, almost starring past her.

"...Huh?" he spoke, facing the Meowth. "..?"

Minerva grabbed his paw and pulled him towards the way she came. "C'mon! We gotta get outta here!" she said.

"Oh... Ok," the fox said blankly. "Where are we going?"

Minerva looked back up at the fox, wondering why he was acting so strange. He had a downtrodden look about him, his eyes fixed on Minerva but she couldn't tell if her could see her. "Are you alright?" Minerva asked.

"Um..." Kora shrugged. "I don't think so, I have some left on me too." he chuckled. Minerva snickered, but didn't let him hear it.

"Goddammit, ya actually had me goin', ya prick!" she laughed.

"Haha... yeah..." Kora smiled, as if his usual childish nature had finally returned to him. Although, he wasn't fully there, and Minerva could tell. Not knowing what exactly to say, she pulled Kora down and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"You're fine, Kora," she said softly. "We're gonna get outta this place and relax for a while, ok?"

"Ok, Minerva," Kora replied, returning the hug. "But maybe... I should rest a bit..."

"Sure, I gotcha. I'll wait right here for ya."

<><><>​

Right after Minerva went into the swell of darkness, Zeke and Diana got to the scene. The injured Rio and Zen took their attention for all of three seconds before the swirling ball of darkness did.

"What's going on?" Zeke asked calmly, keeping his cool.

"She just, went in. Does she not understand what that is?" Zen muttered, staring at the darkness before him.

"Who?" Diana asked, but received no asnwer. The others were more distracted by the now shrinking darkness. Slowly it shrank smaller and smaller, bits of aura floating away into the wind like embers from a flame. It took a good minute before the aura dispersed entirely, leaving Minerva hugging a passed out Kora in its center. Rio was about to go and join the two, but his injuries hit him abruptly, making him fall on his chest.

"You did it. Whatever your plan was worked!" Rio cheered, unable to get himself up. Diana rushed over to her son, unknowing of what had happened, but knowing that he was hurt. The mother held her son, thanking Minerva, and lifted the resting Kora up in her arms.

"We need to get rid of those berry plants, immediately. Zeke, Nate, I'll handle the plants. I, no, everyone needs you to train these kids to be as strong as possible. Whatever or whoever made these plants needs to be found ASAP," Diana stated, "Go find Jax as well, after I treat my son's wounds, we'll meet at the gym." Diana walked off onto the forest path leading to the houses.

"One more thing, Zen..." she looked sternly at the Bisharp. "They need you. I get that you have some sort of... complex, but as you can see, this is bigger than you. I would suggest you put your pride behind you, and cooperate with them," Diaina ordered. Zen couldn't find the strength to object, and even if he had, Diana wouldn't be so kind taking a "no" after this incident anyway. He figured it'd be best to do as she says.

"Hey Rio, wanna go over to the springs and get yourself fixed up? We can bring the metal head too if ya want," Minerva offered, helping Rio off the ground. She went over to the Bisharp and offered him her paw. With some hesitation, Zen raised his hand and rested it in the feline's paws.

"Can either of ya walk? I'm not gonna lie, the both of ya look like ya could pass out anytime." Neither of the heavily injured Pokémon could move all that much. Nate lifted the two and carried them over his shoulders. Zeke left to find the Machamp, and the others walked down to the hot springs.

<><><>​

The sun was setting, giving the sky an orange and pink hue that made the leaves seem to glow. No one had really spoken on the way to the springs, apart from Rio explaining what had happened. Upon reaching the springs, the first thing that caught everyone's attention was the Machamp inside the springs.

"Jax? When did you get over here?" Nate asked, putting Rio and Zen into the water.

"Kora did a lot more damage than I thought he did. I tried to get back up after he pushed me, but a whole lotta pain shot through my chest. I was thinking about getting someone to help Rio, but I thought this would make that a lot harder on me, the Machamp said.

"From the sounds of it, Rio wasn't exactly on the top of your priority list. I don't know if you noticed, but these two were fighting Kora while they were already beat up! You've handled much worse than sharp pains before, muscle head," Nate pouted, making the Machamp sink into the water a bit.

"N-no it's not like that at all! I'm serious, it was getting worse by the second I had to come here!" Jax attempted to defend himself. The Feraligtr sighed and went into the water. Rio and Zen floated aimlessly in the spring, both having their eyes closed and breathing softly, as if they were sleeping.

"I guess it's been a long day for everyone, huh?" Minerva said, enjoying the relaxing heat of the spring.

"If by long you mean painful, then yeah," Rio joked, trying to laugh but it came out strained.

"I've been beaten twice today..." Zen sighed. "Three if you count this morning..."

"Ain't somebody's feelin's hurt? Boo-hoo, get over it! Everyone loses sometime, ain't nobody got a perfect fightin' record." Minerva rolled her eyes.

"Except I did," Zen growled, not wanting to face the Meowth. "I haven't lost a fight in years... and now I've lost at least twice in a single day. How have I fallen..?"

Rio felt Zen's sadness and anger towards himself in his words, or rather, more than just his words. He wanted to console him, but couldn't find the right thing to say. Maybe leaving him be would work out better than trying to connect with him. There was something about Zen that told Rio not to get too close right now, maybe some hostility?

<><><>​

The group left the springs and started walking towards Diana's house. Jax and Nate split off for the gym and the other three went inside to check up on Kora.

Kora sat in front of the fire with no bandages or anything. He was, unsurprisingly, totally fine. Kora turned his head to see who walked in, redirecting his eyes back to the fire once he saw who it was. Silently, Rio and Minerva sat on either side of Kora.

"I'm sorry," Kora muttered, not looking at either of his friends.

"It's alright dude. It's not like you could have stopped yourself. Besides, Kane kinda deserved it," Rio said, putting his paw on the Kora's shoulder. Zen eventually sat opposite to the three.

"Why's he with us?" Kora was exhausted from the battle prior, making his tone weak and uninterested, but he was actually sort of pleased to see Zen.

"He helped hold ya off 'till I got there. If it weren't for him, you'd have blasted Rio and the rest of the Square to dust," Minerva said. Kora looked directly at Zen with a bit of surprise on his face.

"Then I guess I owe you one. Never thought of you as someone that would help me of all Pokémon," Kora admitted with a friendly smile. Zen stared at Kora for a moment, looking at Minerva and Rio before shutting his eyes and crossing his arms.

"Hmph. You don't owe me anything. I only did what I was needed for, nothing more," the Bisharp replied, letting out a sigh and laying on his back. It was safe to say this day didn't end exactly how he wanted.

'It's a bit too late for regret now. I have a job to do now, by the order of Diana.' He thought to himself. 'This Outlander and his companions... Right now I surpass them marginally, but...' For a moment, black strands of aura rose from Zen's body, then quickly dispersed. 'No, I will not allow them to reach me. I must remain stronger than them, I will always be stronger than them...'

After half an hour passes, everyone but Kora falls asleep. The fox was lost in his thoughts and the dance of the flames before him. It's not like he hasn't heard insults about Minerva before, and even with the effect of the berries, why did he blow up so much? What is he going to do if it happens again? What if he hurts his friends? More than he already did?

His expression fell as he stared at the orange and yellow flames rise and fall, at the beck and call of whatever breeze came in the room. The fire was warm, but some part of Kora felt cold. 'No, I can do this...' He told himself, looking over at the curled-up Minerva beside him and the now-snoring Rio leaning on his shoulder, and his smile returned. 'We're a team, we'll get through it together... Right?'

Kora sighed, not wanting to think about this anymore. He put on a smile and tried to doze off, expecting tomorrow to be full of training, but hoped that it wouldn't have all this added excitement. 'Tomorrow's problems for tomorrow's me,' he thought before finally falling into a warm slumber.
 
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