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MarbleZone 12-24-2014 07:18 AM

Basker the Arcanine looked through the window, to the vast forest surrounding the Treetop Home his Trainer called Marble Garden. His Trainer... who was currently half-way across the known world, training in the wilderness of Kanjohto to elevate himself to new heights. Basker had graciously accepted the responsibility of tending to the usual chores in his place, but he missed his dear Trainer terribly. He wished he could have gone with everyone else, but he knew many of his friends needed this training more than him.

He remembered Levin's resolve as he prepared to leave...

"I need to figure out what I really want to become. "Stronger" doesn't mean anything in itself, it's not enough... Respect, recognition, fame, power; I crave all of those, but looking back at our journey so far, have I really accomplished anything of note? Some managerial roles at the Bank and Cascadia's adventure routes, a referee degree, but who really knows me within the professional circuit?
That Kayl guy and his Squirtle wiped the floor with me, the Elite Four probably don't even know I can battle, I beat Ivan and nobody even realized it. I call myself a Fighting-Type expert, but shouldn't someone else bestow that title upon me for it to actually mean something? Maybe... I've been wasting my time for the past two years and a half.
So Basker, I need to leave for a while. Fizzy Bubbles is my home, but the level I need to reach demands different hardships. And although some of the best Trainers in the world can be found here and in Asbel, these are well-monitored environments where someone always knows where you are... There's a land out there ravaged by nature, lawless and dangerous, where nobody would be able to find me or watch my progress. I think that's where I need to go. I trust you the most to keep everything running in my absence... I'm sorry, but I won't be home in time for Christmas."


Basker feared for Levin's well-being out there in Kanjohto; still, he trusted his friends to keep the young man safe. Mazo and Nyx were with him, so there should be no reason to worry... but he did. Basker could more than hold his own against the usual threats surrounding Marble Garden; it was not knowing what Levin was facing right now that made him anxious. But just as his Trainer trusted him, so too should he trust in Levin to see his training through to the end and return, stronger than ever, ready to reach the heights he always dreamed of.

He couldn't wait to see what all his friends would become... but for now, lonely as he felt, he had to see all the Christmas activities through on their behalf.

MarbleZone 01-02-2015 08:06 PM

A hooded figure approached the Marble Garden, gazing at the Treetop House from a distance, shrouded by the trees of the surrounding forest. Pulling the hood of his dusty old coat, Levin took a deep breath; Arceus, he'd missed this.

I'm back. But please wait a little longer Basker... I have matters to attend to before I return home.

He'd acquired some very valuable things during his absence.
First and foremost, an incalculable amount of experience, owing to the various near-death situations he'd lived through and all the rabid foes he'd faced during his time in Kanjohto. Thanks to them, he could finally consider himself worthy of being a referee in Fizzy Bubbles, and there were people waiting on him. To them, it'd be like he never left... but there was a world of difference between this Levin Sanders and the Trainer from three months ago.
Second, the precious rewards he'd gained for helping desperate victims of the disasters needed to be put to use, now that his Pokemon were powerful enough to make the most of them. He gripped a leather bag in his hand tightly; the two items inside clanked together, as the young man mentally recalled the way to a particular shop...

MarbleZone 02-01-2015 02:20 PM

The joint sounds of steps and scuttling approaching Marble Garden go by unheard even in the silence of the night. The forest is asleep, and not a soul notices the long-haired figure and the creature that accompanies him heading straight for the Treetop Home.

- Found you.

---

It was the dead of the night. A large hound lay motionless by the entrance to the Treetop Home. Basker the Arcanine couldn't bring himself to sleep inside, all by himself, where Levin once slept alongside him, so he opted to stay outside instead; the once-lively and happy Base had become silent and cold ever since the Trainer and all of Basker's friends had left for Kanjohto to become stronger. The sight of that empty house filled the Arcanine with sadness and concern, and even the midnight chill felt more welcoming.

He'd promised Levin and himself that he'd do everything he could to keep the house safe. But in carrying out every chore in Levin's absence, as well as frequently engaging wild Pokemon in the woods to get some training done on his own, Basker felt exhausted. And despite his competence, he never saw it coming this time...
Something woke him up all of a sudden, as if a sharp needle had just penetrated his hind leg. Then, he felt nauseous and his vision, still blurry and adjusting to the lack of sunlight, could only spot a human figure and a large purple insect by his side... both grinning. He realized then that he'd been poisoned in his sleep, and just as he leaped forward to ward off the attackers, a vicious Venoshock wave hit him with tremendous force, sending him flying back into the Base wall and knocking him out cold.

The person smirked and headed for the front door, followed closely by his Pokemon. But just as his hand touched the handle, something caused them to stop. A soundless voice.

YOUR PRESENCE IS UNAUTHORIZED.


The assailants instinctively turned back, alarmed. Behind them stands a blond Trainer dressed in a ragged overcoat, alongside a Metang. Levin Sanders looked at the fallen Basker, then turned to face the duo that attacked the hound. Fierce determination was quickly replaced by a look of disbelief as the Saffron-native recognized the man by the door.

- What are you doing here...


-... Vesper?!

Startled at first, the emerald-haired man suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. He stepped away from the porch and toward Levin, and as he drew closer his grin widened. Levin couldn't help but notice how much he'd grown since back then...
The man called Vesper stood about as tall as Levin himself, and roughly the same age as well. When he finally spoke, his voice was low-pitched and raspy, much like it used to be.

- Look at that. I thought I'd find you inside, but here you are ganging up on me. How's that for hilarious?

His eyes told a different story than Levin remembered. When he last saw Vesper, he was a shy kid with no friends, who kept to himself at all times. This man sounded confident, amused, even leaning towards crazy...

- Long time no see Vesper. Last I heard of you, you were scared of walking into your own house. That doesn't seem to be an issue anymore. How'd you find me, and why did you come here?

- Last I of you, people didn't let you within ten feet of their Pokemon for fear you'd mess something up, and that doesn't seem to be an issue anymore either. Times change, Levin. And so did we. See, there's been talk going on that there was another Sanders walking around making a name for himself. People back home were starting to whisper about Ivan's little brother, and you know me, I had to come see for myself. Oh wait, you don't know me... the current me, at least. Do you?

He was right. Levin had memories of a boy named Vesper, the one kid in class with less friends than him. Much like his own, Vesper's father (his only living relative) didn't let him get a Pokemon until he was older, so the boy spent most of his time alone. Bullied at school and rumored to suffer occasional beatings at the hands of his father, Vesper had it rough during his entire childhood, but was powerless to change any of it. It wasn't until he turned 18 that he fled from home, leaving Saffron City not to be heard from again until a some years later...

- I know who you were. And that Vesper wouldn't dare approach someone else's front door, let alone force his way in. Then again, that Vesper couldn't raise a Drapion or stand up to an Arcanine, even in that cowardly fashion. I remember you went on to have a surprisingly successful Trainer career after you ran away, but never heard from you again for a while after that. And here you are now.

It was true. Years after his disappearance, Vesper had resurfaced on the professional circuit with considerable success, to the surpise of all those who used to know him. He even reached the Pokemon League in Kanto, but for the life of him, Levin couldn't remember what had happened afterwards...

- Oh, I guarantee you've heard from me... it just didn't click. No matter, you'll remember soon enough, and when you do you'll understand why I came all the way to see you! Say, wanna have some fun? I learned how to party hard while I was away... Lemme show you!!

There was an intensity, an eagerness in Vesper's raspy voice that Levin had never heard before. In fact, this was probably the longest he'd ever talked to his old schoolmate, but he was sure this man before him now had nothing to do with that boy from school. Drapion grew restless but Vesper had other plans and reached for a Pokeball in his belt, of which Levin noticed he carried six.

- No, not you, not now. He can't handle you, and I want to savor this moment!

He tossed the device in the air, and after it snapped open, an imposing Ferrothorn materialized. Its armor was full of dents and cracks, indicating it'd endured countless battles, and the way it stared at Levin was discomforting for some reason he couldn't quite pinpoint...

- Still not clicking? No problem, I'll make you remember soon!

Levin didn't expect things to go this way at all. He'd left Fizzy Bubbles on purpose, aiming to become stronger elsewhere, away from prying eyes and the routine he'd grown to in the land he grew to call home. He'd done so with the purpose of being good enough to challenge and defeat the Elite Four, to be the rightful Champion of the land and stand on the same level as legendary Trainers like Red, Steven, Cynthia or Gottfried. He'd done so to beat Kayl Kessler the same way he'd crushed him on his way to Asbel, a defeat so brutal it haunted him to this day. And now it seemed his efforts had finally been noticed, for the first time in his life, on the one moment he wanted to stay off the radar. But Vesper's timing was actually perfect, now that he thought of it - he'd just returned to Fizzy Bubbles, eager to test his newfound power, and this man was raring to see it for himself...

You have no idea what I've become. But I won't keep you waiting either... Zion, you sit this one out too; there are some things he doesn't need to witness.

UNDERSTOOD.

A smile crossed his lips as he realized he could show, and witness, the results of his training. Vesper was right... he did change. He picked a Ball from his belt and tossed it onto the field, In a flash of light his own partner emerged, and seeing it now, Levin immediately remembered everything it had endured during their time in Kanjohto.

- You'll understand me better than anyone when I say this, Vesper: I don't like people. We're selfish and ego-driven, and trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Whether we realize it or not, we're looking out for ourselves first and foremost at all times. We're needy and frail. And worst of all, most of us are every bit as power-hungry as we are powerless. Power and recognition are things I crave with every fiber of my being and have fought for my entire life, and in doing so I came to realize something - by myself, I'm nobody. The ones who fight my battles, who put my name on the map, who offer lend me their strength and protect me, they're the ones that made "Levin Sanders". They're my only true friends, the Pokemon who have accepted to live and journey with me, grow strong by my side and walk my selfish path. And I'm fortunate to have twenty one friends willing to travel down that road with me. This is one of them.

As he spoke, the Pokemon stepped boldly, if slightly groggily, toward Ferrothorn. Red claws up in a unique battle stance, Levin's partner awaited dutifully awaited instructions, clearly eager to let loose the second the order was issued.

- I overlooked him for quite a while. For someone who wanted to be a fighter like the rest, he couldn't stand out in the slightest. He was physically incapable of throwing a punch and had a hard time even walking a straight line. But we saw and experienced things on the other side of the world that would've claimed the lives of many, and our only choice was to endure and fight back. In his incredible resolve to keep everyone safe, he found the ability to transcend past his crippling limitations; no headache and no lack of limbs were enough to keep him down in our daily struggle, and here he is now: my Breloom, Melo!

The http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn286.gif grinned as he remembered. Levin was right; it had taken him every ounce of dedication, every last drop of fighting spirit to get here. He knew from the start that he was easily the weakest of the entire team, especially with the curse of being affected by his own spores. It wasn't until Opal took him under her wing, and practiced with him extensively in the art of resisting the toxins, that he became practically immune to their effects. And with that renewed focus, he was able to train harder than ever, until he found himself warding off groups of poachers by himself. Before he knew it, he'd become strong enough to surpass the limits of his own frail Shroomish body, and all it took was one more fight for the miracle to happen. Now he was a true fighter like the rest, able to hold his own against every other Fighting-Type on the team.

- Fine speech. Don't remember you being so talkative... that ego part's probably right. Let's fix that, shall we Ferrothorn?

The steel pod buried its claws in the ground and started to glow, the armor taking on a brilliant shine as a luminescent sphere formed in front of it. As it readied the Mirror Shot, Melo just smiled. And too fast for anyone who blinked, his arm extended like a whip, delivering a lightspeed Mach Punch square between Ferrothorn's eyes, causing it to lose focus and shoot the Mirror Shot wide into the sky!

As he retracted his claw, Melo winced. Powerful as his punch had been, it had connected with one of his foes Iron Barbs; punching it into submission was going to be painful for both sides, but clearly, Ferrothorn had it worse. Its eyes were briefly glazed over, stunned by the unexpected hit, and the way it wobbled was the image that finally pieced everything together in Levin's mind. Vesper picked up on his shocked expression and burst into another fit of laughter.

- Do you see now? Is it all coming back to you?! Yes, I am that guy!

Levin finally remembered. How could he have forgotten at all...

Vesper had reappeared in the pro leagues around two years after he left Saffron. He was still very much the same shy kid as before, but just like Levin, he'd found the benefits of befriending and raising Pokemon. Where he tried his very hardest to stay away from the spotlight, his Pokemon shone through and carried him to several victories against some of Kanto's finest. He became progressively bolder in his success, and in his later years, he wouldn't just win - he was putting on a show with spectacular performances that had people buzzing. With the abuse he'd suffered as a child, to see someone like him climb the ranks was an inspiration to many spectators, and the once-quiet Vesper gained a strong following. Meanwhile, Levin was starting out in Fizzy Bubbles, so he missed most of his former schoolmate's meteoric ascension.
What he did witness some time later, but had failed to remember until now, was the end of Vesper's career.

- That Ferrothorn... it's the same one from back then, isn't it?

- Oh, absolutely. Glad to see you're picking up on where this leads, Levin!

It was the annual Indigo League. Vesper had made it to the Top 16, and it was him and Ferrothorn against a mysterious man and his Xatu, who would go on to win the whole Tournament.
The crowd was hot for Vesper, who they labelled an eternal underdog. But the opponent was hardly fazed, and disaster struck at one point in the match. Xatu unleashed a Confuse Ray that found its mark, and within seconds, Ferrothorn was pacing groggily around the arena... just like he was after Melo's punch. Vesper, grown confident by the immense support from the Kanto crowds everywhere he went, decided to go all-out regardless and knock out Xatu as soon as possible; in his eagerness to win, "whatever it took", he ordered a Pin Missile, and what followed was nothing short of a catastrophe.
A barrage of spikes rose from Ferrothorn's armor, thousands of needles flying high across the air... but in its confusion, it didn't bother to aim. Like a storm of arrows, the pins flew in all directions, raining down on the panicking crowd. That day, countless people were injured, including the referee. As a result, Vesper was immediately disqualified and kicked out of the League for reckless behavior.
He didn't take it well. With his progressively inflated ego came certain expectations, and he never got over the incident. Both guilt-ridden and frustrated, he quit the professional scene, claiming it was the League's own faulty security measures that cost him his dream. That Levin could recall, nobody ever heard from Vesper again after that, which was why it came as such a shock to see him now, so eager to fight.

- They ruined my dream that day. They took it away, stole my destiny from me when it was their fault to begin with! This was all I had. Battling, winning... It's all I was ever good at. But if I can't have that, if I'm not allowed to go as far as I could... I'll crush your dreams like they crushed mine!

That last oath, that last venomous promise, made Levin's eyes widen as he finally saw everything clearly. He'd heard that claim before; he'd seen this all before. A Trainer whose sole purpose in life was to defeat and humiliate the hottest prospects of every League and official Tournament, only to immediately withdraw from the competition himself. A man whose single greatest joy was to rob promising battlers of their dreams, more so than actually winning any tournaments of his own. The dream crusher... "Career Killer" Gant?!

Levin's heart was racing. The green-haired in front of him, once little more than an afterthought and the butt of all jokes, turned phenomenal Trainer with a tragic ending... could he really have changed into that terrifying man that haunted Professional Leagues the world over?

- There you go, now you're seeing it! So now, for the sake of clarification... Say my name.

- ... Vesper Gant.

- You're goddamn right.

With that, Ferrothorn suddenly shifted its focus, ready to engage again, but aiming somewhere Melo took a while to realize. When the iron pod unleashed a barrage of Pin Missiles into the sky, it was obvious it wasn't aiming for the Breloom at all... and it wasn't until the wave arched and came crashing down that Levin understood: those hundreds of needles were intended for him!

It all happened too fast. The Saffron-native could do nothing but instinctively shield his face with his arms, futile as that would be. But when only a couple of pins pierced his pants, grazing the skin underneath, he mustered the courage to open his eyes, intrigued by his unlikely survival... only to find Melo selflessly shielding him, his body stabbed by countless needles. And a couple of seconds later, the Breloom lost his balance and landed flat on his face, completely unconscious.

- First blood. Now, please tell me that wasn't the best you got, it was hardly worth the trip!

Levin stood in shock, gazing at Melo lying motionless on the ground. He... saved him! If the Breloom hadn't stepped in at the last second, was Vesper really willing to go all the way with his attack? Or did he lure Melo in on purpose? Either way... what kind of monster did Vesper turn into?!

And Zion... it didn't even try to protect me, it just stood there! It doesn't care at all, it can't care. For all the knowledge in the world, he still knows nothing of emotions...

- Come on Lev, best of three then. Here, I'll even let you see my next Pokemon beforehand... well, kinda like the first time, but that didn't seem to help.

Grinning all the while, Vesper recalled his Ferrothorn and replaced it with a second Pokemon from his belt - this time, the creature that materialized... was a red-eyed Glalie!

A shiny Pokemon?!

Levin, still stunned by the sudden turn of events, returned the heavily-injured Melo to his Ball and addressed his opponent before making his choice. He'd started the battle off full of confidence in his newfound skills, but right now, continuing this match was the last thing he wanted.

- Why me Vesper? Of all the world-class Trainers in Fizzy Bubbles and Asbel... why come after me?!

- Because you, like every other punk kid in Saffron back then, didn't give a damn about me. Just like all of them, you didn't think I could hang, you thought I was a pitiful, lonely boy who would never amount to anything in life. You stood by and watched me suffer, so you get special treatment! I didn't get to your brother in time... but your dreams are mine to crush.

Levin understood. Not Vesper's deranged logic, but his motivation anyway. And although the Career Killer's spotlight of choice was always the big tournaments, he was quick to realize that Vesper was just looking to halt his rise to the top, putting a hamper on his growing motivation. This was Vesper's way of letting Levin know he'd be watching... but he wouldn't take this lying down!

- You resent me for not helping you back then? But you're right. You were a worthless piece of crap, and the only person I've ever looked out for is myself. I made it on my own, and so did you, but picking a fight with me is not something you want to do... not anymore, not at my current level!

His hand reached for a Christmas Ball, which he tossed into the air.

- I faced my own share of adversities over the last years. I grew into someone very different from back in the day, just like you. Just recently, I found myself in more near-death experiences than I could count, lost in a land without hope or morals. I almost caved, but I had someone to pick me back up every time I fell - a dear friend of mine, who was once so scared of failing he couldn't even move without my reassurance. But he came through for me and everyone else, and through those hardships he became the anchor that held all of us in place. And in keeping all of us safe and level-headed, when everyone else was about to give up, he finally achieved his own potential! I don't know if you can say that about any of yours, but I'd trust my very life to this Pokemon.

The Ball snapped open, and the Pokemon within materialized in front of Vesper's Glalie. Four large, heavy paws landed on the grassy floor supporting a huge frame while a familiar soothing scent filled the clearing.

- My partner for this battle: Bud!

At that moment, Basker started to come to. His eyes took a while to regain full focus and his body ached all over, but he still managed to glance over to the battlefield trying to realize what happened. And in doing so, he laid eyes on his Trainer! Levin was back! But for some reason, he was battling a green-haired man's Glalie in front of their home... And his partner, was that Bud?! He looked so different than before! Lush grass seemed to sprout everywhere he stepped, his body was much larger and more imposing, and the flower on his back had blossomed! More importantly, despite the foe he was about to face, he'd never seen the Grass-Type exude such tranquility, as if his own absolute peace of mind radiated onto those around him... was this the result of their training?

The http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn003.gif just smiled lazily as he stared Glalie dead in the eye, unfazed by the enemy's innate advantage. Whatever it could do, they'd faced worse in Kanjohto and made it out fine; this would be no different. Levin could only smile himself as he contemplated the drastic transformation from the Bud of old; back when he was a Bulbasaur, he lived tormented by the idea of letting his Trainer down after the crazy investment Levin made to get him; it wasn't until he realized Levin's true feelings, during a battle with Solair at the Friend Safari, that Bud was able to partially let go of his anguish... and now here he was, a beacon of hope and serenity who guided them all through their training in Kanjohto - a creature so completely at peace with himself and the world that he radiated an almost contagious sense of tranquility. Levin could've easily chosen a Fighting-Type to handle Vesper's Glalie, but right now, it was his time to show something to the Career Killer!

- That whole speech and you send out that one? If you're trying to prove a point, I'll have to cut you off right there. Glalie, put it to rest with a Blizzard, whatever it takes!

Again the familiar phrase, which all but meant Vesper's Pokemon had permission to do whatever it wanted, so long as it won. Regardless of who they injured in the process... And sure enough, a tree-bending, blood-chilling gale started blowing instantly, carrying millions of ice crystals that pelted Levin's skin and burned on touch from the intense cold.
A particularly strong mass of freezing air then emanated from the shiny Glalie, heading straight for Bud and Levin, causing the latter to close his eyes instinctively. But when freezing death didn't come, he gazed at the field of battle once more, to find Bud mostly unharmed behind the light pink shielding of Light Screen!

- Way to go Bud! Our turn now...

Bud grinned, buried his claws in the grassy field and roared as hundreds of leaves materialized and swirled around him.

- Leaf Storm!

The leaves gathered and spiraled forward, creating a hurricane-like mass of grass energy that went crashing right into Glalie, knocking it to the ground hard! The red-eyed Ice-Type floated back up, hovering precariously above the floor, heavily wounded. Rage began to take over and blades of grass beneath it suddenly turned into icy crystals, frozen completely by the energy it began to emanate.

- Big mistake Levin! You went and made it mad! Now I can't be held accountable when it kills your Venusaur with, say... Sheer Cold!!

The entire field was suddenly covered in frost, as if they'd been transported to Cascadia's Glacier Island. And in the blink of an eye, an icy prison emerged from the ground and swallowed Bud whole, trapping him in a gigantic crystal, threatening to freeze him to the core!

Saw that coming a mile away Vesper. I got you all figured out by now.

Vesper's grin widened each second Bud remained frozen inside Glalie's death trap. The absolute-zero cold could kill anything subjected to it long enough... but Levin wasn't the least bit worried.

- Nice try, but you don't know who you're dealing with here... I'll show you!

A loud shattering sound filled the clearing and a million ice shards flew in all directions. Bud stood smiling among the crystal shower, eyes locked firmly on Glalie's blood-red ones.

- W-what?!

- No amount of cold can freeze his resolve. Think I chose my partner poorly? It's the best one I could've picked.

Six thick vines emerged from Bud's large frame and shot forward, wrapping around Glalie and binding it helplessly. They'd trained this move a hundred times, but Vesper would only get to see it once.

- Pull it in for Double Edge!

The Venusaur retracted his Vine Whip, dragging Glalie along, and took a running start at the same time; when the foe was in range, he unwrapped it and rammed into it with all his strength, resulting in most of Glalie's ice armor to crack loudly and sending it flying back into a tree! After colliding with the trunk, the shiny Pokemon tumbled to the ground, unconscious, causing Vesper to curse under his breath and recall it.

- That makes us even. I hope you see now, I'm not going to let you break me. Now leave!

- Leave?! Oh, that won't do at all. See, I heard about a proud Trainer who took after his brother and burned with the desire to surpass everyone! Would that man really settle for a draw? Come on now Levin...

- What you do isn't battle. Beating someone like you proves nothing.

- And yet losing to someone like me would mean everything! Just imagine, a Sanders beaten at the hands of the lawless Career Killer! You'd cease to be relevant, you'd be nothing more than a number in my book. And yet you already lost one fight... Tell me that hint of doubt isn't eating away at you! Come on, put it to rest once and for all!

He's right. I trained harder than ever in Kanjohto; when I came back, I felt like I could take on the world! My next goal was to fight the Elite Four and cement my legacy. But Vesper, of all people, is giving me trouble?! Granted, Melo could beat his Ferrothorn in a clean fight, but it doesn't change the fact that we lost. And if I back out now... what does that make of me?

- ... Let's end this. Bud, great job, take a rest. Ready to show me what your Drapion can do?

Vesper again burst into a fit of laughter, much more high-pitched than his usual raspy tone. He was loving every second of it, and Levin knew he was playing into the Career Killer's hands, but he had a point to prove. Bud had shown the man wasn't unbeatable, and one more victory was all he needed to move on with his life.

- Excellent! One more round of fun. Things went well for you just now, so because you were nice enough to humor me, I'll even let you pick against me one more time! But no, not Drapion... not this time.

Vesper tossed a Fast Ball, and the creature inside took its place on the battlefield upon emerging, flying above the frozen grass. Levin couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at his opponent's last choice: a Beedrill?

Is this a joke? Even my mother could raise a Beedrill. What's he up to?...

He brought two fingers to his lips and whistled; after a short while, the sound of wings flapping was heard.

- This one's been dying to show what he can do in a real match. He grew the most out of all my partners while we were gone, so don't bother to hold back when you see him. Your turn, Solair!

The tiny Fletchling landed on Levin's shoulders, chirping happily at the chance to finally show the result of his training. Ever since Bud had beaten him, he'd devoted his time to honing his skills - Solair valued honor above all else, and felt the obligation to redeem himself after his defeat against a Grass-Type.

Vesper looked genuinely curious while he gazed at the robin.

- Look at that... a Kalos Pokemon! I wonder whose boots you had lick for that one. It's something you've always been good at.

Levin didn't answer but smiled as he remembered Chantelle and their journey across the Friend Safari. It was quite the experience to travel with the Kalosian, especially by the end, but he wouldn't grace Vesper with the details.

- Solair isn't just a Kalos Pokemon. He was the first Fletchling brave enough to migrate to Fizzy Bubbles, and much more than your average bird. I'll show you!

- Oh, I got something to show you as well... if you last that long! This'll be fun. Beedrill, rip its wings to shreds with Twineedle!

Not even gonna wait until he flies off my shoulder? You're becoming predictable.

Solair immediately dashed forward at unbelievable speed, no more than a red blur to the human eye, and Pecked Beedrill's abdomen before it could even react. He flew upwards and dove back down, pelting Beedrill once more, then a third time, flying circles around it all the while.

- Catch up to him with Agility to match his speed, then stab him until he stops moving!!

With a sudden burst of speed, Beedrill almost vanished from sight itself, and now all that could be seen was a red speckle battling a yellow one in the night sky.

- Solair, time to get serious. Use your own Agility and strike it down with Flame Charge!!

A burst of flames briefly lit up the darkness as the Fletchling rammed into Beedrill. The wasp came crashing down to the floor while Solair stood above it, both fighters visible for the first time since the match started as they finally slowed down the pace. Beedrill struggled to get back up, but Solair had his sights on the insect; the second it even thought of taking flight again, he'd smite it with another Flame Charge for good - despite their size difference, the robin was in complete control.

- That's pretty good! Never seen a bird fight like that. Damn fine luck of yours to have caught it. You've earned the right to see what we can do!

Vesper reached for the inside of his shirt and pulled out a necklace. Its pendant was a multicolored crystal, a sphere of some sort. It suddenly started to glow, and so did something strapped to the Beedrill's abdomen that Levin had failed to notice before in the dark of the night. On closer inspection, he realized it was a similar sphere attached to a leather belt... and as it shone, Beedrill began to change!

- What the...?!

The wasp grew larger, as did its needle arms; its stinger became longer and sharper, and the whole creature mutated slightly to become more aerodynamic and a hell of a lot scarier.

- Oh, you've never heard of this? This is priceless! The look on your face... why else did you think I'd send out a Beedrill?

As if sensing Levin's utter confusion, Zion was quick to provide an explanation. A concept Levin had never heard of before.

MEGA EVOLUTION. THE ULTIMATE FORM A POKEMON CAN ACHIEVE.

A new form of evolution?! How did he miss this? This... changed everything!

- Rip it apart!

Mega Beedrill suddenly vanished from sight; not even the yellow blur from before could be seen - this new form moved faster than the human eye could track. All that was left to see was Fletchling be struck out of the sky and plunge into the ground below after a lightspeed hit from behind. And with Solair still trying to pick himself back up, the foe reappeared, hovering right in front of it... and pierced each of the bird's wings with its Twineedle, drilling a hole in each of them as the stingers buried into the ground beneath.

The gruesome sight was too much for Levin to bear; Solair screamed in pain while blood stained Beedrill's iron needles as it kept the Fletchling pinned to the ground. The foe's larger drill was raised, a Fell Stinger aimed straight at Solair's torso... until the Saffron-native recalled his partner in a hurry, sheltering him in the safety of his Safari Ball.

- I give up! Enough... You win.

Again the maddening laughter filled the clearing. Beedrill somehow returned to its previous form, unlike a normal evolution would, and was soon recalled as well while Vesper struggled to catch his breath after his latest hysterical fit.

- That was glorious, wasn't it? Don't worry though, I'm pretty sure it'll heal up... some day!

Levin felt a thirst for revenge he'd never experience before. And not even for the loss itself, tainted as it was, but the unprecedented harm done to his dear friends.

-... He will. And next time we meet... he'll burn you to ashes!

- Oh, you're completely right, we will meet again! This time all I did was wound you so you wouldn't soar too high - a reminder that I'm out there, waiting to prey on you. Remember this: neither of us went all out this time, but when we see each other again it'll be in the venues where I do business - the Pro League - and I will kill your career permanently. And that time, I'll take special enjoyment out of it too - crushing the dreams of a childhood acquaintance has such a special taste! Meanwhile wear this scar, and whenever you feel elated about a victory...remember who did this to you.

He walked by Levin, Drapion following close behind, and mockingly tapped the Saffron-native on the shoulder, grinning all the while. Levin said nothing, but the sight of Solair's pierced wings burned vividly in his mind, as it would for years to come.

Next time, I'll make you suffer. I won't forget this Vesper... I'll be the one preying on you!

As the pair disappeared into the woods, Levin walked over to Basker, ran a hand through his fur and apologized for the prolonged absence.

- I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner... But I'm here now. I'll make it up to you, I promise! I just... wish I could've shown you how much we've all grown. This... I wasn't ready for this.

Just like I wasn't ready for Kayl that one time. But I'll beat them both, I have to! I'll harness the power of this Mega Evolution myself... and I'll surpass them all!

He gazed at the Safari Ball in his hand, guilt-ridden for having put Solair in harm's way like that. Not even Min's Softboiled would be able to mend his wings... only specialized care at a Pokemon Center would nurse him back to full health. A trip back to the city was in order... for a number of reasons.

I'm not holding back anymore. From now on, there will be no pulling punches, no secret weapons; Solair and Melo were injured because I was overconfident. It's time to show everyone what we're really all about! Vesper, Kayl, Elite Four... I'm coming for you.

He called out three Pokemon from the confines of their Balls: Dux the Machoke, Rook the Rhydon and the massive Oro, the Shiny Onix. They all knew what this meant - they just didn't know Levin was making his move so soon.

- We're taking the world by storm guys. No hiding anymore; we'll let them all see what you can become. Let's get going!

He recalled Basker, also in need of medical attention, and turned to head back into town, Zion floating close by. Not two steps later, a voice echoed in his head, but this time it wasn't the Metang's.

Master.

Levin stopped immediately. When this one spoke, it was always worth listening. He reached for his Luxury Ball and summoned the resident within; in a matter of moments, Mazo the Lucario appeared.

- Mazo... what is it?

Before we go... This loss. What does it mean to you?

- Not now... please. Mazo, I was crushed on my first match back. Melo and Solair are severely injured. What do you think it meant to me?!

The turning point. Much more than any amount of training - this defeat changes everything.

Levin found himself reminiscing. The first time he ever heard Mazo speak was due to Kamui's incredible power - inside the Golduck's mind, the Lucario was temporarily able to reach his full potential and talk to Levin. And it wasn't until years later, after days on end of strenuous training in the Kanjohto wastelands, that Levin would hear from Mazo again. But when he finally spoke to him through his own unlocked powers, Levin knew Mazo had finally transcended into an incredibly powerful being. That enlightenment came with the full mastery of Aura, and from then on the two of them grew even closer.

- You mean because I found myself an enemy?

Because you found yourself a fire that wasn't burning before. Ambition alone never took you very far... but you learned a lesson today. You learned what can happen if you're anything less than the best you can be. Solair and Melo paid a price you will never let them, or anyone else, ever pay again. Consider this your own awakening.

He was right. He wasn't just feeling angry or guilty - he felt wiser. Through his deranged antics, the Career Killer actually showed him something he'd been blind to all this time - no matter how fun it could be, battling wasn't a game, certainly not just a contest. In battle, both people and Pokemon could get injured or worse, and it was his obligation to make sure that didn't happen. He saw everything clearly for the first time since the start of his journey - along with his lofty ambitions came a growing responsibility of protecting those he depended on to realize his dream.

You're about ready now. When you've fulfilled your tasks in town, I'll show you something - I sense the aura of several powerful Pokemon you should be able to raise now, with your newfound power and wisdom. They will prove challenging, sometimes dangerous, but their Auras are not something to be ignored. Your new life as a Trainer begins now, in the wake of this defeat. Let's make the most of it... all of us.

Levin just smiled and nodded. He'd welcome these new challenges; if it meant more capable fighters for his team, he'd do whatever it took. Especially since some failures were still fresh in his mind - he was close to redemption with Ryker, but creatures he could never control, like the dreaded Veiss, still represented failures in his path to greatness. He took to the city, with all this in mind, and determined to show all of Fizzy Bubbles a Levin Sanders they'd never seen before. And when the day came, that one man would be the first to crumble under the full extent of his power.


Vesper Gant... you won't have to wait long.

MarbleZone 03-22-2015 04:16 PM

It was almost lunch time and Levin was still in his room. He hadn’t even changed yet; he sat on the edge of the bed, lost in thought after a particularly touching dream.

I thought I got over them.

He’d dreamed of his parents. It had been three years since he last saw them after he left home to pursue his dream. Both had been adamantly against his decision, having already lost Ivan during his own journey, but Levin refused to listen – the longer he and Min stayed in that broken home, the more oppressed he felt.

He resented his mother and father alike for the way they reacted to Ivan’s death. Sadness, mourning, he understood all of that – to this day, he couldn’t put into words what his elder’s brother’s passing had meant to him. But in their sorrow, they failed to remember they still had a son who needed them; they weren’t the pillars of strength he needed the most as a child – if anything, it was a still-infant Levin who tried his best to snap his parents out of their profound depression. And when they finally realized they’d been neglecting their only remaining child, it was much too late. By then, Levin had already packed his things and was on his way out, and no amount of begging or crying would change his mind.

They should’ve been there for me. I needed them when Ivan died, and they gave in to their own anguish instead. Had it been the other way around, had it been me in that cave-in at Victory Road, I wonder how they’d have reacted – it’s no secret they cared for Ivan the most.

So why is was that he’d dream about them, the mother and father he’d long left behind, three years later? It was as clear a dream as he’d ever had, not the usual deep-slumber nonsense he could hardly ever remember the following morning. This was different, coherent… nostalgic.

It had portrayed mostly his youth; an amalgam of memories from his early years spent in Saffron City, where he’d been born and lived all of his infancy. But his complexion wasn’t that of a regular Kanto native – his blonde hair and hazel eyes were a typical northern trait, because that’s where his mother’s family hailed from. His mother was a renowned Berry Farmer from the coldest land in the Pokemon world, the Heiml Region. Located far to the north of Kanto, it was a land of hardy, stubborn men and women, and his mother fit the mold to perfection. She was able to maintain berry fields during terrible hailstorms like it was nothing, and often credited her mentor, Mr. Vaughn Roth, with teaching her everything she knew about agriculture.
She met his would-be father in her hometown, while the latter was carrying out a POLT assignment in Heiml to gather intel on a gemstone traffic baron. As a result, Ivan was born in Heiml shortly before the end of the mission; the family took residence in Heiml for a few years before being forced to move back to his father’s homeland of Saffron City, Kanto, where Levin would be born, on the day of Volcarona’s arrival in the morning sky.

His father had been mostly absent during his childhood, constantly being assigned to missions abroad. Most of his time was spent with Ivan and their mother, hearing stories about Heiml and its people. Ivan told him everything he knew about the incredible northern Trainers and how he planned to return to Heiml after winning the Kanto League. Levin once thought of heading there himself, but after realizing how far behind Ivan he was, eventually dropped the thought. This dream reawakened that lingering idea.

Not until I’ve beaten Tess, Arnold, Stacey and Stark. But once I do…

His mother had actually met some of Heiml’s Elite Four, who were close friends with her teacher Vaughn. She often talked about the Champion, Gottfried, an imposing man with no sense of humor but a heart of gold hidden between layers of stoicism and strictness. She also talked about Elite Four’s Drago, an equally sullen man of few words who only Vaughn had managed to befriend; of Drago, Ivan described a Trainer who had only ever been defeated once, by Gottfried himself – to the point where he became known as “God’s Gatekeeper”, through whom nobody passed except with Gottfried’s permission. It made no sense to Levin back then; if nobody could defeat the Elite Four, why would the Champion agree to face them anyway? Overtime he realized that skill goes hand-in-hand with respect, and that the best Trainers aren’t necessarily the ones that win all the time, but those that everyone admires. Gottfried must have understood that a long time ago.

It’s almost inconceivable that monsters like those exist. Pros who cannot be defeated…

The dream stirred a number of feelings inside the young man’s soul. Seeing his parents again, reliving all the happy moments he’d spent with his family, forced him to remember the dark times that followed, and the disdain he felt for his parents since then. But the storytelling sessions of his infant years also reminded him of the fascination he felt every time he heard about the legends of Heiml’s League – Gottfried’s Royal Six, Drago ‘s “War Axe” Jaeger, Bernhardt’s fire mastery, Brunhilde’s warriors and Harold’s heavenly companions.

He finally mustered the will to get up and head outside. Fresh air would do him some good. He was grateful for some of the memories he’d just unearthed, but some others should have remained buried. He didn’t want to miss home or the parents who’d neglected him; above all, he didn’t want to miss Ivan again, now that he’d finally come to terms with everything that happened.

As soon as he stepped outside into the morning sunlight, he noticed something was amiss, snapping him back to reality. Contrary to every morning since he left the Friend Safari, there was no chirping and no familiar red speckle in the sky, basking in the Sun’s warmth. Solair was missing.

-----

Blessed sunlight shone through the leaves, but the forest itself was still mostly cold and unwelcoming. This was darkness’s realm, and he was a lone servant of the light. But he had something to prove – both to Levin and, above all, to himself.

Solair the Fletchling had left Marble Garden at the break of dawn. He couldn’t sleep for several days now, haunted by memories of his battle against Vesper’s Mega Beedrill and the ultimate humiliation he’d endured at their hands. Wings pierced and will shattered, the bird had been left scarred and traumatized since – and although his wings had been fixed by the Pokemon Center’s miraculous healing contraptions, not even that kind of technology had managed to erase the pain he felt each time he relived those moments.

Since meeting Levin, he’d been embarrassed twice – first against Bud in the Friend Safari, and then against Vesper. He’d accumulated victories over all kinds of foes during their training in Kanjohto, but with such pitiful displays at such critical moments… what did Levin really think of him? He’d sworn fealty to the man, holding him in almost as high regard as he did the Sun itself… but he’d brought Levin nothing but shame and loss when he needed him the most.

The Fletchling braved the dangerous woods surrounding the Secret Base with a very clear goal in mind – face his fears and conquer them, so that he’d never let Levin down again. So that next time he faced Vesper’s Mega Pokemon, the outcome would be different.
He scoured his surroundings as he went, flying for hours across the forest, until he finally found what he’d been looking for. Dangling from a nearby branch, a huge hollowed nest tilted in the morning breeze. A Beedrill hive.

Solair had to find a place to land and catch his breath – not that he was tired, but the idea of coming face-to-face with another one of those wasps made him tremble in fear. Memories of the two cold needles piercing his flesh and pinning him to the ground kept surfacing, like he was going through it over and over again. But that’s what he came here to overcome, the weakness he had to conquer, or he’d never be of any use to Levin again.
Just as he was struggling to take flight again, a familiar buzzing sound came from within the nest. A yellow and black-striped body emerged from the hive, and Solair found two angry red eyes staring straight at him… Beedrill in this forest were highly territorial and aggressive, and when it raised its two needles and dashed toward him, the Fletchling was certain this one was no exception.

But no matter how hard he tried, his body wouldn’t move. Paralyzed by fear, he passively stood by and let Beedrill’s left needle slash the outside of his wing, causing him to lose his footing and fall from his perch, crashing into several branches on the way down until his body met the floor. But the pain was welcome – it surpassed fear, and in turn transformed into thirst for revenge. Solair glared up at the attacker, briefly forgetting the reason for his earlier panic; it was an enemy of his cause, and had to go!
Fighting spirit renewed, flames engulfed his body and Solair rose like a phoenix into the air once again. His blistering speed caught the Beedrill off-guard, allowing Solair to strike with a powerful Flame Chargeto the wasp’s chest!

Solair watched while the Beedrill’s body was engulfed in fire and it fell from the sky, much like it’d happened to him seconds earlier. But before the Fletchling could capitalize, louder buzzing was heard coming from the hive, before two more Beedrill emerged to join the fight
The pair rushed at the bird, but his increased speed allowed him to nimbly dodge their charge and rise even higher, almost past the trees themselves. As he did, he pondered on his situation. He’d come into this forest expecting to surpass his recent fear of Beedrill, but couldn’t bring himself to react when faced with a real one. And yet, all it took was mild damage to fuel his resolve… and now he was battling a whole swarm without a hint of fear. He’d been constructing the image of a savage killer in his mind all this time, wondering if he’d ever be able to face another one of these wasps again… but now he understood. The Beedrill that almost crippled him permanently was different, and much stronger, but even then not the one he should seek revenge on. It was Vesper.

The Career Killer was single-handedly responsible for shattering Levin’s confidence and piercing Solair’s wings; Mega Beedrill was a pawn in his hands. The one to suffer should be Vesper – and all the time he spent twisting the image of a regular opponent into a terrifying creature, he should have been focusing on getting stronger to destroy the man that had caused so much harm! And these Beedrill before him now… would be no more than stepping stones toward that purpose!

All three Beedrill homed in on Solair once again, tackling him at the same time, needles glowing in the morning sunlight that pierced through the leaves. But the Fletchling’s determination was unwavering – he refused to be beaten here, or to lose to the same Pokemon twice. Never again would a Beedrill defeat him! Cloaked in fire once more, he dove down like a flaming meteor to meet the Beedrill, and easily powered through them, setting each one ablaze in his wake.
He turned around in midair, preparing to strike again… but suddenly the flames were replaced by a powerful glow! Solair remained oblivious to the ongoing phenomenon, picking up speed once more and rising to meet his weakened foes. As the light shone brighter, his body grew in size as well, and it kept climbing faster and faster. When the glimmer subsided, the red arrow flying across the air at break-neck speed was no longer a small Fletchling, but an elegant http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn662.gif leaving behind a trail of embers!

Bright-colored flames once again erupted around Solair at the last second, and when the phoenix-fire clashed with the three Beedrill, it exploded in a spectacle of light. The unconscious bodies of the three wasps tumbled to the ground, and it was only when his enemies were vanquished that Solair realized the miraculous transformation that had occurred. He smiled, looking down upon the three Beedrill as they scurried back inside their hive. Today he’d been the ray of light in the darkness that Levin deserved to see more often – but thanks to this new form, his light would be able to shine on the man he swore to serve much more brightly.
The battle had served its purpose – he’d conquered his fears, refocused his drive to beat the true enemy, and attained a new level of power for Levin to command. No doubt Vesper would also be stronger the next time they fought, so it’d be Solair’s obligation to aim even higher from now on; there was still one more step towards enlightenment, and under the Sun’s watchful gaze, he was sure he’d attain it soon.

From the shadows, a black lion watched in silence with a faint smile. Ryker the Luxray, who lived away from the rest of the team, patrolled the forest grounds often – and despite his insistence otherwise, he grew to care about the Pokemon who ventured inside in their quest to become stronger for Levin’s sake. This time, his aid hadn’t been necessary, so he quietly returned to the darkness of the woods.

MarbleZone 04-21-2015 07:56 PM

Levin opened the bag he'd just received earlier from Stark of the Elite Four. The contents fell on the grassy floor by the entrance to his Treetop Base, a glimmering rock radiating flame energy... a rare, elusive Fire Stone.

How appropriate that it came from someone so skilled in the art of Fire. I intend to make the most of this...

He couldn't really explain it though. Why he was so adamant about getting such an item, no matter the cost, when he'd usually be much more conservative about his investments. Something compelled him to do it, but more importantly, to do it regardless of Nyx's vehement protests. The Gengar's apprehension was palpable, and he should know better than to ignore a millennia-old creature, but for some reason he did...

I can't explain it, but it feels like it's something I just have to do... much as I hate to put it this way, something I was destined to do. I can't fight this feeling, no matter how much Nyx begs me to stop!

He knew exactly what to do. And when his hand touched the Pokeball on his belt, he also realized exactly who led him to do it. The one whose Aura was a perfect match for his own, intertwined in his, as Mazo said... Katsune
In a flash of light, the cheerful-looking Vulpix emerged and immediately nudged Levin's leg affectionately. But as soon as it sensed the magic radiating from the nearby Fire Stone, it shifted its attention to the rock and instinctively approached it, intrigued.

Just then, the Daughter of the First Night emerged from the ground and pleaded with the Saffron-native yet again. The Gengar was no longer just apprehensive - Nyx was downright terrified, for the first time since Levin met her, and it just didn't suit her character at all...

Levin, you have to stop this right now! Please, I beg you!! Keep that dreadful creature away from the stone! You... you can't do this to me! Please don't let him come back, or I'll be -

Nyx's final attempt was cut short. The second Katsune approached the Fire Stone, the latter exploded in a blinding burst of light which engulfed the small Vulpix and caused the Gengar to shriek and cover her eyes. The glow from the shards and that of Katsune's own transforming body became one, a mass of light that swirled and grew until finally stabilized and subsided. The Fire Stone was gone, and in Vulpix's stead, at the center of a circle of burning grass, was Katsune in his new glorious form - a golden http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn038.gif!

The Ninetales slowly turned his deep red eyes to Levin, and a calm, soothing, almost melodic voice rang in his head. Was this part of Katsune's new power?!

Levin Sanders... Eld's Chosen One. The human bearing the blessing of the First Dawn, protegé of the Old Sun. I am the harbinger of Eld; I prepare its return, purging away the darkness of this world... you and I are intertwined by our common fates - both children of Light, worthy of Eld's trust. You have awakened my dormant powers... now I must do what is expected of me.

Katsune howled, and the clouds above vanished. Intense sunlight filled the clearing, and Levin was forced to watch the following events unravel beyond his control. A Pokeball and Snow Ball detached from his belt on their own and hovered toward Katsune; they snapped open, causing the Pokemon within to materialize - Wicca the Seedot and Skuld the Snorunt.

This is the Age of Light; there is no place on this Earth for servants of the arcane Darkness. With the passing of the First Night, the primordial shadow embodied as Gengar, the Age of Dark ended and Eld's rule was unopposed. You are remnants of that era, creatures unwelcome in the light of day - old lost souls of a time long past. I am tasked with preparing the return of the Lord Eld, the First Dawn, and it is my duty to smite the darkness from this land. Seeds of the Age of Dark... begone, by the will of the Light I serve!

Nyx's pleas, her desperate attempts to prevent him from getting Katsune back, and then begging him to stop seeking the Fire Stone... it all made sense now. She knew Katsune as servant of the Volcarona from his youth! She knew he could find her one day... and Levin led him straight to her.

White, cleansing flames swirled from the ground up, holy Fire Spins that engulfed each of the three Pokemon individually. Nyx was the aeon-old daughter of the First Night, Skuld an ancient spirit of ice and death, burdened with the curse of freezing all life around her, and Wicca was even older than her, having cheated death countless times by manipulating darkness and light to allow him to revive eternally. All three of them abominations of the realm of shadows in the eyes of Katsune, Harbinger of Eld and apparently his paladin...

The Fire Spins swallowed their victims, the white flames burning them away until only three glimmering orbs remained in their place, hovering above the ground. There was a deafening silence that told Levin what he already suspected - there was no life in those fire spheres anymore... Nyx was gone, as were Skuld and Wicca. Katsune single-handedly saw to their execution...
He'd failed to notice before, but when the white orbs traveled toward Katsune, Levin realized the Ninetales only had six tails, just as the Vulpix did before evolving. But only for a minute - the Fire-Type swallowed the three orbs in succession, and with each one he devoured, a new tail sprouted! And when all the spheres were consumed, Katsune's tails... were finally nine.

Of their characters I know not. But this is a world of life, a land for Man and Pokemon to coexist under the watchful eye of Arceus and with the blessing of the Sun. These three souls should never have lasted past the age when darkness ruled. It is my duty to cleanse the world of stray souls who Giratina has yet to reclaim, leaving this world free for the living to roam. But such a task is mine alone, Chosen One of Eld... this particular burden does not weigh on your shoulders, even if our fates are linked. Your duty is different altogether - all I ask is that you welcome Eld into your family once destiny deems it appropriate that you should find one another again. Raise the First Dawn again, restore the glory it once had and reap the benefits of power that comes with the deed... Please Levin Sanders, the world needs Eld's light once more.

The Saffron-native couldn't bring himself to speak. He just witnessed three of his dear friends disappear forever, and he led this "harbinger of Eld" to them... But how could he have known? More importantly, why did he, in the deep recesses of his soul... actually agree with Katsune?

Because he's right... some creatures have no place in the world of the living. Nyx was trapped in that Gardevoir's Dream World, fighting her for all eternity, until I brought her out; Skuld's instincts drove her away from society until her curse led her to freeze herself away, but I forced her into the human world, intent on "curing" her, "changing" her; Wicca had been cheating death for generations by manipulating dark magic. But did they really have to be destroyed?...

In stunned silence, he recalled the Ninetales he unwittingly brought into existence. It'd be a long time before he truly came to terms with what just happened... three of his friends were now gone, apparently by will of the one Pokemon he'd been seeking out for years now - Eld the Volcarona. Was it worth the price?...

MarbleZone 04-26-2015 06:28 PM

Levin absent-mindedly gazed at the Ninetales taking in the warmth of sunlight by the clearing in front of his Base. Ever since absorbing the essences of Nyx, Skuld and Wicca, Katsune's mental voice was never heard again, and it instead behaved like a regular Pokemon - docile, obedient, devoted. Not that it wasn't the case before... but the fox made it exceedingly clear that it served Eld and the sun, which made it impossible for him to coexist with darkness, and the way he effectively got rid of three of his friends without a second thought was still a very vivid memory.

I know I can trust him, he and I share an identical Aura; Katsune would never let me down, and yet I can't seem to place my full trust in him... He killed Nyx. It might have been his destiny to do so, but even so! I... I despise the occult, Ghosts and Dark-Types were never my interest to own or understand, and maybe in a way, Katsune's soul resonates with my own in that aspect, but...

He felt exceedingly conflicted. Despite never truly understanding them or their nature, he grew fond of Nyx, Skuld and Wicca each in their own way. Perhaps he blamed himself for knowing that, deep down, he'd never be able to connect with them as he did with the others, possibly a side effect of being exposed to Eld's light for so long as a newborn - maybe, just maybe, he would never be in tune with darkness of any kind. Maybe he really was a soul of light, like Katsune implied...

He was snapped out of his musings by the unmistakable touch of his signature Pokemon. Mazo the Lucario bowed apologetically for interrupting his train of thought, but revealed he carried an important message.

The Emperor's Aura is shifting.

While at first he didn't understand the meaning, he soon picked up on Mazo's urgency; only one Pokemon peaked the Lucario's interest like this. Haou the Meditite, who Mazo always theorized would become his greatest rival upon reaching his full potential. Could it be?...

He walked outside and called out to Leon, his kindhearted Ralts. The Psychic-Type materialized next to him, and Levin dropped to one knee to deliver the news.

- Something special might be about to happen, and I think you'll enjoy watching it. I need you to take us to where Haou is training... could you do that for me, Leon?

Confused but excited at the same time, the Ralts acquiesced. Levin placed a hand on Leon's head and the other on Mazo's shoulder... and in the blink of an eye, they were in a completely different place, far away from Marble Garden.
The distinct sound of a waterfall could be heard nearby; this was definitely Haou's favourite spot. It didn't take long for the trio to find the large cascade, where large volumes of water crashed down on the rocky lake below. Standing on one of the boulders, balanced on a single foot, was the Meditite with his eyes closed. But more interestingly than that, two creatures suddenly leaped out from the depths of the lake and charged at Haou - two identical copies of itself!

This mastery of the Copycat skill is unprecedented...

- He can make them act independently from one another!

The mysterious attack allowed the user to sacrifice his own health to create flesh-and-bone doppelgangers of itself, but these clones usually mimicked the original one's actions at every turn. To see the Copycat homunculi moving and attacking on their own was something he never thought possible!

Haou nimbly dodged each strike, evading both foes simultaneously as he leaped from rock to rock, not once losing his footing on the slippery surface of the uneven stones. When one of the doppelgangers went for a Low Sweep Haou jumped up, avoiding it, while the second clone dashed forward simultaneously to strike the airborne Meditite, only to be met with a Force Palm! The gust of wind produced on contact sent the Copycat flying back and crashing into the tree right next to the spot where Levin, Mazo and Leon were watching the fight from, before vanishing in a cloud of smoke.

He knows we're here.

The remaining copy recovered and moved in for a Force Palm of its own, but found itself unable to move and instead being lifted off the ground by an effortless Telekinesis. Haou gazed over to Levin, staring him in the eyes all the way across the lake, before summoning a Shadow Ball and launching it at the trapped clone, causing it to fade away in the ensuing blast.

Levin stepped out of the shadows, followed by a smiling Mazo and an awe-struck Leon. It wasn't just the Lucario who could feel what he previously described as Haou's "aura shifting"... there was something in the air here, almost palpable power, a repressed strength he last felt when delving into Kamui's mind all that time ago.

He's more than ready, but it seems as if...

- I know.

He didn't need an explanation this time around. Despite being absent most of the time, training in the depths of the forest on his own, Haou held Levin's authority in the highest regard. He wouldn't embrace the greatest change of all without his consent. The Meditite looked at Levin without saying a word, his expression the same as always, but it was clear as day to him that Haou awaited his verdict.

-... Go on. You've never been more ready than this.

With a silent nod, Haou brought his hands together in one last act of meditation. A massive burst of energy suddenly emanated from his body, all the pent-up energy he'd been holding back finally unleashed; pulse after pulse of intense chakra caused the waterfall to split, nearby trees to bend and every rock on the lake's surface to shatter. The Psychic-Type's body took on a familiar glow and his body began to change as it shone brighter. When the light faded everything quieted down, and in a moment of absolute stillness, Haou hovered above the lake motionlessly in his new form: an incomprehensibly powerful http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn308.gif, just as Mazo had predicted almost a year before.

At last... Haou, this is your true self!

The Medicham stared blankly at his own hands for a moment, then turned his attention to Mazo and nodded. He continued to float above the lake, so effortlessly he might not even had noticed he was doing it, before dropping to walk across the water and approach Levin and the Lucario.

Such insane degree of control... What is the real extent of his power?

Haou stopped right in front of him, and in a rare moment of emotion, bowed down to his Trainer in heartfelt gratitude. Levin was sure he could communicate mentally as easily as Mazo or Zion did, but had learned not to expect words out of Haou - the Emperor had been silent from the day of his birth.

- I can't wait to see how far you can go, and how far you will take me on the road I've chosen to travel... but I'm so very grateful you decided to walk down that path along with me and all the others.

First Zion, and now Haou. I cannot afford to fall behind - these are interesting times to serve under you, Master. I long to see where you will lead us all.

Hopefully to victory, Mazo. To the ultimate victory, with you, Haou and the others right there beside me when that day comes!

MarbleZone 05-25-2015 03:53 PM

Levin sat outside, by the pond next to his Base, with a carefree smile on his face. Next to him, bending over the water's edge, was Min feeding Reina one last Pokeblock.

She made these herself. I can't remember the last time she was this focused on anything, but she's really taken a liking to that ugly fish... Good for the two of them. Reina doesn't get to make a lot of friends looking like that, and Min hasn't had a close one since Opal left... These two need each other.

His gaze then shifted to the other Pokemon inside the lake - Nylus, the Magikarp he'd gotten from Liza. Despite their daily proximity, the orange fish made no effort to interact with Reina at all... or anyone else that approached the pond for that matter. The only thing he did, from morning to nightfall, was repeatedly leap out of the lake as high as he could, as if desperately trying to get out... to be something he wasn't. The pond was indeed small, but he was no big fish - the tiny body of water suited him perfectly, but Nylus wasn't having it. The Magikarp was perpetually restless, as if trapped in a place (or perhaps a body) that didn't suit him at all.

He watched in silence as Nylus continuously jumped out of the water, each attempt reaching slightly higher than the last. In hindsight, the Magikarp had done some great progress in the short amount of time that he'd been under Levin's care; he still remembered the days all Nylus could muster was to surface briefly in futile attempts to catch small insects... Now, he could probably jump clean over Baroque.

He was snapped out of his reverie by a sudden blue blur leaping across the lake and grabbing Nylus mid-jump. Vlad the Skorupi, who'd been lying in wait for Arceus knew how long, had claimed its prey and was preparing to feast on the helpless fish!

- Vlad, stop at once!

The Poison-Type froze in place at Levin's command. Despite his mostly instinctive behavior, Vlad obeyed the Saffron-native's every order, regarding him as a father figure and the only authority he should respect - and that's what set him apart from Levin's previous unhinged Skorupi, Veiss. Embarrassed for having made Levin angry, Vlad immediately released Nylus, allowing the young man to throw the Magikarp back inside the lake before it suffocated.

- I know it's in your nature to do this, but the rules we talked about apply to all Pokemon under my care, not just Hebi! And seriously, stop hunting Hebi.

The Skorupi hid his face behind his claws, ashamed, but Levin patted him on the head affectionately.

- I'm not mad. I understand your need to do this; Im just asking you to try a bit harder. That way you might even make some more friends instead of scaring everybody away! Nylus is defenseless, he doesn't have it in him to fight back. Please try to keep your instincts in check around the rest of the team...

Vlad nodded but scoffed at the notion of "making friends". Levin was the only friend he cared about, the only one whose opinion mattered. Everyone else he simply had to live with... but for Levin, he'd stay away from the weak ones.

Just then, Min let out a startled cry. Levin turned back, alarmed, to find the water rippling; at first, he didn't realize what was wrong, until he saw the Cincinno forcefully pull Reina out of the water... while Nylus flailed about incessantly in a rage inside the pond! Vlad's assault must have made him angry at his own powerlessness... and maybe Levin's own words only served to make things worse! The Magikarp whipped his fins violently, kicking up water all around him, and leapt outside once more, higher than ever, before starting to glow brightly!

- Oh no... not now. Not like this...

Levin had seen it happen enough times to understand immediately - Nylus was undergoing a transformation, but the circumstances this time around made it much too dangerous!

If Nylus evolves in the middle of a fit of rage... what's going to happen?!

He'd longed after a Gyarados of his own for years. Owning such incredibly destructive power was a childhood fantasy of him, thinking that such a powerful creature under his control would ensure victory against any opponent, even the Elite. But he never considered the possibility that such a power could ever be out of his control!

The glowing Nylus grew to unimaginable proportions - how could such a small creature become almost as huge as Oro?!
The shining mass towered above Vlad, Levin and finally even the Treetop Base. When it was all over, Nylus was far from the helpless little Magikarp he'd been... a roaring, massive http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn130.gif now stood in front of them... above them all. It was one thing to watch Gyarados from afar at the Lake of Rage... up close, this was a terrifying sight. The water dragon's eyes glimmered with fury and hatred, overwhelmed by the intense desire to exact revenge on those who mistreated him - the creature who hunted him down, the human who belittled him, the filthy Feebas who shared his lake and would leave him the hell alone!

Blinded by rage, the Gyarados began flailing about like he'd done earlier as a practically harmless Magikarp; now, a mere swing of his tail ravaged several of the trees that grew closest to the lake. Thrashing wildly, Nylus's rampage threatened to destroy the entirety of Marble Garden, and it was Levin's fault!

I... I underestimated him; how could I know he'd evolve so soon? He's not ready for this kind of power... I shouldn't have talked about him like that, and I should've kept a better eye on Vlad! Damn it, now what?!

Mazo and Haou were far away, training together at the waterfall that had served as the Medicham's favourite meditation spot. Syre was also away, flying around freely as he so often needed to do to avoid pent-up frustration. Baroque and Basker were terrible match-ups against a Gyarados and he couldn't risk their safety...

Before Levin could settle on a partner to stop the madness, Nylus swung his tail right in his direction! Immediately Min and Vlad reacted, almost simultaneously, and leaped forward in front of their Trainer. The dragon's tail rammed into the small Pokemon and sent them flying several feet away, knocking them out cold in one hit, and leaving Reina helplessly splashing about on the grass - there was no way he could throw her back inside the lake, now fully occupied by Nylus's gigantic frame... so what could he do?!

The Gyarados once again raised his tail, and this time his rage-filled eyes were locked on the helpless Feebas. The tail came crashing down, but at the last second, a tiny Pokemon Teleported out of thin air and held up a Protect barrier between Reina and Nylus, blocking the killing move!

- Leon!! Thank you so much!

This was his opening; he reached for his belt and prepared to send out his....

*ROOOOOOOAAAAAHHH!!!*

Nylus lunged at Levin with his huge jaws agape, looking to devour the defiant human, moving so fast for his size that Levin froze in place, dominated by sheer horror, unable to call out a partner. The deadly fangs drew closer and closer.... until another Pokemon came to his aid!
Emerging from the ground below, having Dug his way over to make it in time, El Rojo jumped in front of Nylus at the last minute.... and Levin was forced to watched, hopelessly and in complete disbelief, as the Gyarados's jaws closed around the prodigious Druddigon's body and his fangs sank into the drake's flesh. The sound of scales and muscle ripping, followed by bones shattering, made Levin's body go numb...

No... NO!!

Rojo's eyes glazed over, his breath became shallow. Nylus released his grip and shifted his attention to another target, anyone would do, so long as the place was laid to waste. Levin rushed over to the mangled dragon, as did a very scared-looking Ajax, the young Axew Rojo had taken up as apprentice...

- Rojo... why? You... you and I... we were supposed to win the League together!!

Ajax was crying. So was Levin. Of all the Pokemon he'd met, the several he'd raised, none had been as tough or as remarkable as El Rojo. A legend in his own right, and the only one to ever get through to Ajax following his abandonment. The driving force behind Gaius's, and later Syre's growth... above all, one of his dearest friends.
Rojo muttered something to Ajax, looking at Levin - one final explanation to the tiny drake he'd agreed to tutor, but couldn't any longer. One final request, that Ajax serve and protect the man he'd chosen to die for, because he deserved it. With his last breath, El Rojo the Druddigon let out a faint warrior's cry, gave Levin one last customary grin... and passed away.

Levin and Ajax were left in a stunned silence, even while Nylus rampaged mere feet away from them. To each of them, and to each in his own way, Rojo had meant the world. He'd given his life to protect Marble Garden, and above all Levin, a gesture that would never have crossed his mind when Stark first traded him over to the younger, eager Trainer... Levin now lived because Rojo died, and he'd take that sacrifice with him forever. Ajax, in turn, promised to himself he'd protect Levin with equal dedication, for his mentor's sake, to honor the memory of the only creature he'd ever respected or cared for. He would become stronger than Syre, stronger than Rojo... and most of all, stronger than the murderous Gyarados who ruined his life!

The Axew bolted forward, blinded by revenge, hitting Nylus with Night Slash after Night Slash to no effect whatsoever. The Gyarados shrugged him off with another tail swing, sending Ajax tumbling back several steps, and proceeded to slither toward the Treetop Base, intent on burning it down... Levin didn't move an inch. He stayed by Rojo's body, contemplating on the catastrophe around him, his role on his beloved friend's death and the impending deaths of everyone else at this rate. His mind was clouded by grief, preventing him from doing anything, including calling out Zion or Bud to stop the menace as he'd previously intended...

Nylus towered over the Treetop Base, casting an ominous shadow on the structure Levin had built from the ground up three years before. He let out another roar, as if triumphantly declaring victory over the man, but before he could ravage the Base a massive lightning bolt came crashing down from the skies and struck the water dragon, electrocuting the beast and stopping it in its tracks!

From the forest's edge Ryker the Luxray emerged. His golden eyes were locked on the Gyarados, and his body crackled with electricity. He'd anticipated this before anyone else, watching on in disapproval while Levin closed the trade with Liza. Years of experience had taught him what nobody else on the team had yet realized - that Gyarados cannot be controlled like normal Pokemon. He let loose a second Thunder, further damaging the dragon, but Nylus kept standing and growing even angrier!

This won't do... he won't fall. He'll destroy everything I have... that monster can't be stopped!

Ryker stepped in front of Levin and gave him a light shock to snap him out of his trance. This was the first time he willingly addressed his new Trainer since leaving Zak's ownership... The Luxray made sure to get Levin's attention before pointing at the flopping Feebas, who could barely hang on anymore. Leon, meanwhile, had already been knocked out during the onslaught, unable to raise a second Protect in time.

- R-Reina... I... I can still...

He took the Premier Ball from his belt and moved to recall the Feebas to safety, but Ryker blocked the path. That wasn't what he meant...

- Why? What do you mean? She's going to die at this rate, she can't breathe! I've seen enough death and destruction, I... I just want peace!!

Wait... peace?

Ryker growled, relieved that Levin finally seemed to get it. Yes... Gyarados embodied destruction, while Feebas held a very different ability within - the dormant power to soothe souls and stop conflict. But in order for that power to awaken...

- So must Reina. Ryker, please, take me to her!

He hopped on the black lion's back and the two dashed towards Reina; Levin held out his hand and picked up the small fish while Ryker kept running towards the Gyarados, nimbly dodging his tail strikes the second they came thanks to his unmatched eyesight.

- Reina, hang in there! Please dear, I... I need you. Rojo... Rojo died to protect me, he sacrificed himself so that we can continue our journey, but if Nylus isn't stopped we have no future! Just look at what he did to Min, she... she's barely breathing after his attack, she also got in the way to keep me safe! But she also needs you now. Please, for all the time she spent with you, all the effort she put into making you the most beautiful Feebas in the world... remember that? She's your best friend, your only friend. And if Nylus isn't stopped, if he can't be tamed, she'll die along with the rest of us!

Reina, struggling to hold her breath, clinging on to what little oxygen she had left in her system, listened intently but looked dejected. It's not like she didn't already know, but there was nothing she could do in this state!
Before Levin could say anything else, Ryker was caught by an unexpected swing from a strange angle, Nylus's tail catching the Luxray's hind leg and causing the three of them to fall and tumble across the floor painfully. Levin, wincing, looked around for Reina, finding her near the Base's front door, out of his reach. She seemed about to pass out from the pain and lack of water, but it was then that Min, limping, caught up to them again. Visibly hurt, she nonetheless winked reassuringly at Levin, approached Reina and, holding her in her arms, healed her with her special Softboiled.

The Feebas, reinvigorated and deeply touched by her dearest friend's gesture, faced the titan with renewed confidence. Levin had made it clear - she was the only one who could stop Nylus and secure a future for the survivors. She hadn't been strong enough to keep Rojo safe, but she had to find it in herself to grow, go past her limitations... for everyone's sake!

Her scales glistened in the sunlight, and for a brief moment, Levin thought she almost seemed... pretty. Her body took on the same glow as Nylus's, and so too did her body begin to grow, multiplying in length until her form was no longer that of a deformed Feebas - shining brightly, Reina unlocked her hidden potential after all, and where once there was a helpless little fish, now stood a gorgeous http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn350.gif!

- Reina... y-you did it! Please dear, please stop Nylus!!

Her presence alone exuded tranquility, and it was with a thoroughly peaceful smile that Reina took her Trainer's plea. Turning to face the rampaging dragon, who was now waging battle with an injured Ryker, she let out a stream of boiling water that drenched Nylus, despite dishing no discernible damage to the colossus. But Levin immediately realized her intention and issued one final order to the exhausted Luxray.

- He's soaked! Now Ryker, put everything you got into a Wild Charge!

Enveloped in lightning, Ryker dashed forward on command, rammed its full body weight into Nylus and watched as the electricity spread across the dragon's entire body, dealing severe damage! Stunned and heavily injured, Nylus faltered for the first time, staggering and looking around for the one who interfered in his battle with the puny Luxray. His murderous stare found Reina's angelic gaze, and it was the opportunity the Milotic needed - her soothing aura washed over him, clashed with Nylus's destructive spirit and left the dragon numb, briefly calmed down just enough for Levin to hurl a Pokeball at him, finally trapping him inside again.

- It's over...

He was too drained, too sad and empty to get back up and retrieve the device. His mind kept racing between almost letting Reina suffocate, to his home almost being destroyed... to Rojo. The haunting images just kept coming back - the dragon's body breaking and crumbling between Nylus's jaws, his final plea to Ajax, his last cocky grin before dying. El Rojo, the legendary rogue Druddigon... was dead.

The price of my lust for power... I'm sorry buddy. I'm so sorry!...

Laying wounded on the grass in front of his home, he cried himself to sleep, overpowered by exhaustion. But he'd wake up eventually... El Rojo wouldn't.

MarbleZone 06-09-2015 06:57 PM

The images still haunted him. No matter how hard he tried, the mekories of El Rojo being crushed by Nylus's jaws and his lifeless body in his arms always came back. The crying of Ajax still echoed in his ears, as did his own.

Because I was negligent...

In his mind, that's what it came down to. He failed to realize the danger Nylus posed, even as a worthless Magikarp. If he'd taken proper precautions, or tried to warm up to the Water-Type before he evolved, maybe it'd have been different... maybe Rojo would still be alive.

How can I do it without you here? Even if I make it... even if I win the League, what will it be like when you're not there? You were supposed to see me become Champion!

Tears came back for the millionth time, but this time he wasn't alone with his thoughts. Basker, Min, Reina and the young Lumi were all there with him, as he sat outside by the Treetop Base's shade. They'd always been the more affectionate members of his team, and could sense his sadness a mile away. Leon had also intended to stay behind and try to cheer Levin up, but Baroque - effectively the leader of the whole group - decreed the small Ralts needed to become stronger, in case disaster ever struck again. Much to the pacifist Psychic-Type's dismay, the Rhyperior's word was absolute.

- How... how is Ajax doing?

The Axew, to whom Rojo had always served as mentor, had it worst than anyone else. Disillusioned and frustrated by nature, after a prolonged period of abandonment in the Adoption Centre, the Son of the War Axe had never opened up to anyone other than the Druddigon he idolized. Rojo's death meant Ajax was alone again, despite the dragon's dying wish that his apprentice take care of Levin in his stead. Ajax was still coming to terms with all of it, and spent most of his time on his own, off training sowewhere in the woods that surrounded Marble Garden.

- I'm sure Ryker is looking after him from a distance... right?

Basker growled at the mention of Luxray's name, but was forced to agree. Despite his personal feelings towards the rebellious Ryker, there was no denying the Electric-Type had been a critical ally in stopping Nylus. Maybe they could trust Ryker after all, although Basker would always have trouble admitting it.

- Hey Lumi... sorry to have dragged you into this. You weren't even with us when it happened...

The Mareep smiled in his usual carefree manner and curled up closer to the young man, reassuringly. He might not have witnessed the events nor met Rojo personally, but he couldn't allow Levin to give in to sadness and lose sight of his dreams... if anything, he should press on to make the Druddigon proud!

The time is near.

Levin was startled by the sudden voice ringing in his head; a familiar one he hadn't heard in a while. Katsune's voice.
The Ninetales was standing idly by the field not far from where Levin was resting. He'd been there for several hours, silently gazing at the sun, but now seemed to have reached some sort of conclusion...

The Old Sun is near. Eld is looking for you master, albeit unknowingly.

- Wait... what do you mean? How can you tell?

Eld will be reborn soon. The exact moment is not known to me, but the First Light's rebirth is indeed at hand. A new cycle is about to begin; but in its newborn state, Eld's memories will be locked away... it falls on you to awaken them.

This was much too sudden. He needed time to grieve one death, and here Katsune was talking to him about rebirth... It made very little sense to him, but he had a feeling Katsune couldn't tell him much more either.

I came to prepare the path for the Old Sun. I have done so by cleansing your home of the ancient dark spirits that inhabited it... I am but a servant. The designs of Eld are not known to me - I serve as a mere link between you and the First Light. My role is all but fulfilled, only one thing remains to be done. Please listen carefully master...

The Ninetales approached Levin, Basker, Lumi, the sleeping Min and Reina. Locking eyes with the Saffron-native, Katsune delivered a final message, much to the young man's dismay...

When you took me in, years after letting me go, it was because fate deemed it so. You might not have known then, but hopefully you realize now... I am no more than a conduit that leads you to your destiny. I am your link to Eld, the one that has eluded you for twenty four years. But now that the moment approaches, I leave you with one final gift.

- Wait, what do you mean "you leave me"?! What are you talking about? Katsune, please...

It all led up to this moment. The cleansing of your spirit allies, which made me strong enough to achieve my current form, which in turn allows me to close the cycle now. Eld will return to the world with no memory of it; use this to open the Old Sun's eyes. Levin Sanders, Eld's Chosen... you have faced loss, and will continue to face it as long as you walk this path; but know always that light shines upon you, and your dreams will become reality if you embrace it. Be strong, and aim ever higher... as high as the Sun itself.

Each of Katsune's tails began to glow, until his entire body was engulfed in light and flames. The brightness was so intense that it forced Levin to cover his tear-filled eyes.

Thank you for all the moments, however brief. Your future is bright, you have my word... Goodbye Levin, Eld's Chosen.

When the light faded, Katsune was gone. The Ninetales vanished in the same manner that Skuld, Wicca and Nyx had mere months before. In his place, a small item floated in the air briefly before falling on the grass.

Why? Why is everyone leaving? I... I can't take it anymore, I... can't bear to lose anyone else! Katsune, you could have stayed! At least until we got to see Eld together...

He reached for the tiny object, all that remained of his dear Ninetales. The item was warm to the touch and seemed to radiate a faint light when Levin picked it up. The Saffron-native stared blankly at his partner's parting gift, and finally put http://i72.photobucket.com/albums/i1...psmvo48jsq.gif Katsune's Ring on.

Basker and Lumi drew closer to him once again; coping with Rojo's death was already hard enough, but now with Katsune gone as well, Levin was going to need all the company and cheerfulness they could give him.
The young man stared into the distance, lost in thought.

In two months I lost more friends than I made in my entire childhood. I never wanted this... I just wanted to be good at what I did. I wanted people to notice me. Is this path of mine going to lead to even more losses? And if so... is it even worth it?

As if sensing the Trainer's doubts, Katsune's Ring emitted a stronger glow. Levin tried to smile, but couldn't.

- It's the only path I know. You're right Katsune, I will aim as high as I can. I just wonder how many of my friends will remain when I reach those heights...

MarbleZone 06-13-2015 08:17 PM

- Are you sure about that Dartz?

The Croagunk grinned with absolute confidence. As Mazo had just relayed to him, the Poison-Type intended to challenge Baroque to a battle - something the Croagunk had never done before, and something the Rhyperior had never lost at since evolving.

- Baroque is the team's leader and one of my strongest partners, short of maybe Zion. I'm not underestimating you, but you're smart enough to realize the odds right?...

Mazo nodded. It was a fact, even with his and Haou's incredible powers, they still struggled to keep up with Baroque when he went all out. His combination of unparalleled strength and the wisdom passed down to him by Zion and Cygna made the Rhyperior, quite simply, the epitome of the perfect fighter. For Dartz to believe he could topple such a giant... it was uncharacteristic of such a brilliant mind to be so delusional.

But Dartz was adamant. He smirked at Levin and walked outside, ready to confront Baroque. The Saffron-native followed him, concerned about the outcome - the Rhyperior was a conqueror, and wouldn't hesitate to crush insurgents to teach them a lesson. An advocate of tough love, Baroque never held back and expected nothing less of those who challenged him.

Dartz wouldn't do this if he didn't have both a plan and a purpose. He needs to prove something to you and to himself; I share your concern, but we should place some faith on our young friend.

- Dartz fights in the shadows, outsmarting his foes and striking unseen. A head-on confrontation is something he's not trained to do... Mazo, please don't hesitate to step in if things get out of hand.

The Lucario said nothing, but the message was, of course, perfectly understood.

---

Sunlight filled the wide clearing of Marble Garden's entrance, where so many stories had already unfolded - the meeting with Vesper, Nylus's rampage, the death of Rojo and so much more.
This time however, everything was peaceful. Several of Levin's Pokemon wandered around, minding their own business. Not far from the Treetop Base's front door, Baroque trained Leon in the art of combat, something the Ralts openly despised; the Psychic-Type was a pacifist at heart, but Baroque's will was final. Truth be told, the Rhyperior was right - after the disaster that went down upon the evolution of Nylus, every member of the team had the obligation to become as strong as they could, so that such events would never happen again; according to Baroque, it was their collective duty, as Levin's Pokemon, to protect their home and their master.

Dartz kept moving, unflinching, and stepped right between Baroque and Leon with arms spread wide and just as wide a grin. Baroque looked on, visibly annoyed and puzzled by the Croagunk's interruption. When he realized the reason, the Ground-Type muttered something to himself and finally acquiesced with a silent nod; where many others of comparable strength would have laughed in Dartz's face, Baroque tempered his own emotions. If the Rhyperior felt either amused or insulted, none could tell, other than Mazo if he so wished.

- Dammit Dartz, what the hell are you doing?...

Baroque dismissed Leon, who hurried towards Levin with a relieved expression, although visibly fearful for Dartz at the same time. Baroque assumed his customary stance, intentionally dropping his guard to test his foe's mettle - he always allowed the challenger to strike first before riposting.

Dartz welcomed the opening and charged ahead; this was the first time Levin ever saw the Croagunk engage an opponent like that.
His glowing fist connected with Baroque's abdomen, barely leaving a mark on the foe's Solid Rock body, but Dartz himself seemed invigorated after the Power-Up Punch and immediately followed up the first hit with a lighting-fast Bullet Punch to round out the one-two combo.

If Baroque was in any way affected, it didn't seem to be the case. He simply raised one of his arm-cannons and unleashed a Rock Blast barrage at point-blank range, which sent Dartz flying back several feet and tumbling down hard!

He's not holding back at all...

It was just as he'd feared: Baroque had no problem going easy on Pokemon he personally trained, but if challenged to a battle, it was a whole different story. Then again, Dartz already knew this, so... why?

Fighting in the shadows is proof of intellect; Dartz needs to know the limits of his actual strength. At first, I believed he might have laid a trap beforehand... but there is nothing more to this match than meets the eye, for once. Dartz's plan was quite simply to see if he could measure up...

Levin cursed under his breath and watched as Baroque Bulldozed the still-downed Croagunk, steamrolling the poor frog without a hint of pity and kicking up a large amount of dust and grass as he went. He finally stopped, only to raise his arm again, this time mere inches away from the battered Poison-Type's face, and pausing.

This is the closest thing to mercy Dartz is going to get out of Baroque...

The Rhyperior and Croagunk's staredown was brief - the former's eyes revealing both respect and sadness, while the latter's glimmered with defiance and confidence, even in the current predicament. Baroque shook his head and unleashed a Zap Cannon right in front of his helpless foe, with the ensuing explosion ravaging about a third of the entire clearing!

Dartz... not you too! Please be alright!!

Levin had dealt with too much loss recently to face the unavoidable truth... but how could Dartz possibly have endured such a hit? What was Baroque thinking?!

... Suddenly, amidst the smoke, Dartz leapt up and grabbed hold of Baroque's horn! He was okay!! But how on earth could he still move like that?!

Double Team... he tricked Baroque into blasting a doppelganger! He must have multiplied after the Bulldoze kicked up all that dust and Baroque never realized it.

Grinning triumphantly, Dartz stared Baroque dead in the eye, drilling home the fact that he'd just outmaneuvered the conqueror and caused him to expend a massive amount of energy for nothing. Baroque, in turn, wouldn't give Dartz the satisfaction of falling for his mind games, and caused his horn to start spinning furiously!
Dartz hung on for dear life, spinning wildly but knowing full well that the second he let go, Baroque would crush him underfoot without a second thought! He had to hang on and somehow, some way, find a way to fight back! Because he was a fighter at heart, not just a venomous creature! He knew he could be just as strong as Mazo, Haou, Dux or Buster... now it was time everyone else realized it as well!!

Fueled by his resolve, Dartz's body took on a progressively brighter glow and his frame started to expand, until a hand could be seen still holding Baroque's horn but two feet now rested firmly on the ground - when the shine faded, Dartz was no longer at the mercy of Baroque's horn, but the newfound grip strength of his http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn454.gif form had become powerful enough to stop its spinning altogether with one arm!

If any was needed, there is the proof.

Baroque looked genuinely shocked for the first time in the match, and for the first time in a very long time. Dartz channeled frost energy into his free hand and delivered a crushing Ice Punch to Baroque's jaw while still holding his horn, then another, then another, and finished by charging up his fighting spirit into a sphere and drilling the Focus Blast right into the Rock-Type's chest!

Master, did you notice?...

The shockwave triggered a huge explosion, but the impact still wasn't enough to knock Baroque down! Battered and gasping for air, the Rhyperior's gaze became wild, filled with nothing but pure warrior's instinct. Levin had failed to notice it before, but Mazo called it - Baroque's body had been glowing a faint red during Dartz's onslaught, and now it made sense!
The Rhyperior brought his cannons together and unleashed a massive Bide pulse, grinding the surrounding area to dust as the beam traveled towards the recovering Dartz. Unlike Levin, the sharp Toxicroak had indeed noticed Baroque's setup, and looked to Dig out of the way... but the blast was so intense that Dartz failed to burrow deep enough and was washed over by the energy wave!

When the beam subsided, Dartz was kneeling in a crater, gasping for air with his eyes glazed over. Baroque, equally exhausted, walked over to his opponent, towering over him. Dartz grinned one last time, which was met with Baroque's earnest smile, after which the Toxicroak passed out from his injuries. The Rhyperior picked his fallen comrade up and placed him at Levin's feet.

Dartz earned Baroque's respect today. And hopefully he will have earned yours as well; he proved his strength matches his brilliance. One can only wonder if the outcome would have been the same had Dartz played to his strengths; that was quite the display of bravery.

- Dartz had my admiration from the start. But today he showed everyone who thought he couldn't handle himself in a fight wrong. He went out of his comfort zone to test himself - and we can all learn something from his actions here today.

Baroque, Mazo and Leon nodded simultaneously. They all needed to surpass themselves just like Dartz had just done. When they all went beyond their limitations, nobody would be able to stop them as a team - not Kayl, not Vesper, not the Elite Four... and certainly not Nylus.

When will I find the guts to let you out again? And when I do... will we all be prepared?

MarbleZone 08-17-2015 12:40 PM

Levin twirled the Pass in his fingers, pondering on its significance. The ticket itself opened a world of possibilities, allowing him direct access to the rarest Pokemon in the Egg House. But it was more than that - it was validation. The item wasn't available to everyone, but only to those whose contributions to the land had been officially recognized. And for over three years he toiled in search of that recognition. No, the Egg House Pass wasn't just a chance to fulfill his dream team at long last - it embodied the acknowledgement of his efforts in the eyes of the ruling authority.

Damn right.

He wasn't going to lie, he felt exceedingly proud of himself. Not so much because he could realistically aim for the few Pokemon he still craved, but because of how long he'd waited for the chance to do it! It felt so sweet and so richly deserved that part of him felt conflicted about ever redeeming the Pass. Admittedly, a very small part of him.

Master, the King requests your presence.

Mazo the Lucario was by the door with a knowing grin on his face, uncharacteristic of the usually reserved fighter. Immediately Levin knew who the Aura Pokemon referred to - he'd taken an inkling to addressing Baroque as royalty for his immense presence and stoic demeanor, partly humorously, but the rest of the team were quick to follow. Before they knew it, the Rhyperior effectively became known as the leader of the team, whose authority rested only behind Levin's. That being the case, if the Rock-Type ruler asked to see his Trainer, Levin felt naturally compelled to oblige - especially since the last time he saw Baroque was in his battle against Dartz, after which he disappeared into the nearby woods with a very reluctant Leon to continue the Psychic-Type's training.

---

It was sunny outside, much to Solair's delight. The Fletchinder landed on Levin's shoulder the minute he stepped out of the house, chirping happily. Basker and Lumi also rushed to meet the Saffron-native, and joined him while he made his way towards the towering figure at the edge of the clearing.

Baroque stood, imposing as always, under the shade of a huge oak. He stepped out into the sunlight upon spotting Levin, and greeted his Trainer with a grunt. The Arcanine by Levin's side growled amicably at the Rhyperior he considered his equal, and was met with a similar show of respect. Levin considered Baroque the stronger of the two by a narrow margin, but the truth was they never clashed, and held mutual admiration for one another. Levin patted Basker in the head and addressed the silent rhino.

- It's been a while Baroque! You wanted to see me, right?

The Rhyperior acquiesced, smiling. Much like Mazo, it was rare for the Rock-Type to do so, which left Levin all the more intrigued. It was then that he felt a second presence - no, one he'd sensed earlier, but mirrored his own so completely he instinctively dismissed it. But it was there, like a mirror behind Baroque, a creature whose heart reflected his every feeling. A familiar, albeit decidedly different Pokemon from the one he remembered.

- L-Leon?...

Shyly stepping out from behind his mentor, the Psychic-Type stared at the ground the entire time, unable to face any of those who stared at him. He'd left as a Ralts, unwillingly, to train under the King himself... to become strong enough to protect Levin and the others, the family he loved so very much. But at the same time, he despised battle, avoided confrontation whenever possible, and as such had a very hard time learning under the warrior king. Still, he was back now, Baroque having deemed him ready - despite of how he looked now. No longer bearing the same form as before, decidedly male Leon now sported a particularly feminine appearance; long gone was his Ralts stage, and the Psychic-Type had grown into a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn281.gif who felt unquestionably upset about his new look...

- See Lumi? He had it worse.

Levin chuckled, remembering how deeply uncomfortable his Flaaffy had felt ever since evolving, due to the pink coloring his body took. Lumi laughed sheepishly (quite literally) at the undeniable evidence - Leon was in a much more embarrassing situation. Feeling his pain, the Electric-Type approached the crestfallen Kirlia and patted him on the shoulder, speaking brilliant words of encouragement like only he knew. Uplifted by the heartfelt advice, Leon looked at Levin for reassurance, finding just that in the young man's carefree smile.

- It just means you've gotten stronger. You know what you can do, don't let anyone judge you by appearances - odds are those who dare to mock you can't hold a candle to you when things get rough!

Baroque nodded in agreement and spoke in his deep, roaring voice, instantly translated by Zion from within his Cyber Ball. Such were the perks of owning a near-omnipotent Metagross.

- I know you think he's ready; you wouldn't have returned otherwise. But what do you mean with "he's also deserving"?

The Rhyperior lifted one of his massive arms and pointed at Levin's bag. Though confused at first, having completely forgotten about the item he carried for years with no real purpose, he soon realized what Baroque was talking about.

- You're right, I do have one of those... Ever since I journeyed to Mediville. Do you really think he's grown to that point?

Baroque confirmed his absolute faith in Leon's progress. He could handle the exposure to Levin's Dawn Stone and was ready to awaken his true power.

If anybody knows how to judge potential, it's Baroque. He's the wisest and most battle-tuned Pokemon I own. If he thinks Leon is ready, even though he despises combat, who am I to disagree? And besides, I think he'll welcome the change too...

Levin dropped to one knee next to Lumi and Leon, addressing the former first.

- Hey, wanna see something cool?

He turned to Leon and held out an item wrapped in a piece of cloth.

- Baroque believes in you, and so do I. And the same way you can sense my every feeling, so too can I guess yours with no effort at all - this strange bond we share works both ways. I know what fighting represents to you, but I can also tell how much you crave the power to protect me. I've sensed that desire ever since Nylus rampaged and you couldn't stop him; I felt that need grow while you witnessed Dartz's battle with your mentor. You're finally strong enough to embrace that power, though what you do with it - or how often you can bring yourself to use it - is your call alone. This is a Dawn Stone. It'll unlock your true potential and trigger your evolution. Leon... do you want to go through with it?

The Psychic-Type didn't need to answer; Levin could feel what he felt. He sensed the turmoil, the conflict between attaining a form strong enough to protect and having the responisbility to use it. Leon saw no point in fighting, no fun in battling and despised all forms of pain. On the other hand, Levin was his mirror image, his soul-partner in a way, and he felt compelled to guard him with his life. He had no choice - if he turned his back to this power now, he would be failing his Trainer and his entire family.

The Kirlia nodded with resolve and unwrapped the Dawn Stone. Immediately it took on a powerful glow, one that grew to envelop Leon as well. A pillar of light rose to the sky, Lumi watching in wide-eyed amazement, and when the glimmer faded, the Kirlia was no more. In his place stood a silent knight whose mere presence commanded respect.

Leon, now a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn475.gif, gazed at his new form with the same apprehension he felt about the evolutionary stone moments before. He could feel it - power to preserve or destroy what he saw fit. A level of strength he never thought he could have... and an immense weight on his shoulders to put it to use. This was everything he wanted and all he feared - immense power at Levin's disposal, and the lingering doubt of how his Trainer would have him wield it...

- I know you're scared, but please Leon... trust me as much as I trust you. Allow yourself a moment to enjoy what you've become! Just look at how far you've come since you started training with Baroque!

The Gallade paused and nodded, turning to Rhyperior. He held out his hands in appreciation, thanking his mentor for teaching him everything he needed to know to grow into this form. Baroque, in turn, praised the Psychic-Type for his perseverance and, above all, his drive for continuing his training in the interest of Levin and everyone else. It was obvious Baroque had taken a liking, and no small amount of respect, towards Leon and his righteous cause.

- There's a human saying that reminds us how with great power comes great responsibility... I understand if you need time to let this all sink in. Time to rediscover yourself... I needed time of my own for just that not too long ago.

Their hearts connected by a special bond, both knew exactly how the other felt at all times; on occasion, it was almost as if one's feelings were mirrored by the other. So it came as no shock to Leon that Levin knew exactly what troubled him. Bowing in gratitude, and with more questions than answers regarding his new purpose on the team and in life, he needed time and space to figure it all out... and Levin was granting him just that. He would take him up on the offer and return as soon as his mind was clear.

- I understand. It's the best thing to do; just know that I will never pressure you into doing anything that's against your principles. Take as long as you need out there! And Leon... thank you so much for this for me.

The Gallade smile, waved at Levin and the group and Teleported away, to parts unknown, in search of his true self. And that, in turn, was the one thing that gave Levin some solace - no matter how far he needed to go, home was just a Teleport away.

MarbleZone 09-04-2015 10:49 AM

- Come on guys, we should get back. The others are probably waiting.

Levin had taken Brimir and Hebi on a walk around the outskirts of Marble Garden, through the familiar woods where so many adventures had already unfolded - and where miracles such as Opal's evolution had taken place before his eyes. But today, he wasn't in search of a new story to tell; the simple company of his Swinub and Dunsparce was comforting and soothing, owing to their distinctly peaceful personalities, and he needed some of that right now - peace.

But it was almost noon, and the rest of the crew were probably waiting on them. They'd all been training particularly hard during the last month, at the expense of exploring the land like they all preferred; but the team knew of Levin's lingering ambition and that, without putting in the work, they'd never be strong enough to surpass the challenges required for their Trainer to achieve the status he craved. Working in almost perfect unison, the entire team came together to train and became stronger than even Levin could have predicted - but with such herculean effort came hunger, and it fell on Levin to fix that; it was only fair.

They're giving it everything they got for me, to see me succeed. I never thought I'd gather so many friends, so many who cared... Despite the colossal prick I've been all these years, I was lucky; not many Pokemon would agree to stay with the kind of guy I was. I changed for them, now I have to repay their efforts.

As they prepared to return home, a familiar growl reached their ears. Looking to the distance, Levin saw a huge black lion dashing towards them, but didn't so much as flinch - that was one of his own. Ryker the Luxray stopped in front of the group, looking terribly distressed, a sight uncharacteristic of the usually serious and aloof predator. He hastily motioned for Levin to jump on his back (even stranger of him to do so!) and turned to the direction of the Treetop Base. Something was very wrong...

Levin recalled both Hebi and Brimir into their Pokeballs and did as Ryker told him. Before he knew it, they were blitzing past trees and low branches at incredible speed, the Luxray nimbly dodging every single obstacle thanks to his perfect vision and innate agility. As they approached home, a dreadful smell filled his nostrils - the scent of something burning.

---

The sight before his eyes made him go weak and left him speechless. The entire Marble Garden, both the large clearing and the Treetop Base, were a pure battlefield. The wooden house had a huge hole on the side wall from which flames erupted, with Loffley dutifully trying to put them out as quick as he could. Lying on the grass were several of his dear friends who no doubt tried to stop Nylus's progress, while Min and the pacifist Leon tended to their wounds with Softboiled and Heal Pulse respectively. The remaining Pokemon formed a small army that waged war against a massive, common enemy.

Nylus...

The water dragon, jaws fuming while the air around them sizzled with embers, seemed to be in his usual state of blind rage. It headed for the lake, where a helpless Reina cowered in fear. The only real obstacle betweent he Gyarados and the Milotic was the towering Oro, who clashed with Nylus blocking his progress, but struggled heavily to do so. And despite the pain and destruction before him, Levin still struggled to pull himself together and fight back - he was overcome with guilt.

I should never have left without taking his Ball, dammit! Nylus is a constant threat. What was I thinking?!

He'd let his guard down, and the Gyarados had managed to escape his Pokeball in the Saffron-native's absence. Now it fell on him to pick up the pieces and stop the leviathan before more damage was done. And yet something was wrong about all this...

When he evolved, that rampage was a berserker state devoid of reason or purpose - a primal need to destroy. But this time...

He gazed at the path of destruction left behind by Nylus as he went. From the hole on the wall to the Pokemon he'd ran over, and even the way he clashed with Oro - Nylus moved with purpose this time, with a goal... a target.

The Gyarados moves to kill the Milotic. It was bested and humiliated by it. It is moved by one of you favorite feelings.

Zion's metallic voiced ringing in his head was unmistakable. The Metagross was no expert on feelings, but had come a long way since Mazo helped him. The Steel-Type meant it was about pride this time... It was easy to see why Zion would call it was Levin's "favourite" feeling. For years was the proudest egomaniac on the land.

Ryker growled again, snapping him back to reality. He was right - he couldn't stand by and watch things unfold anymore, he had to move.

- Reina isn't safe. She managed to pacify Nylus last time, but she's the victim now - and Nylus isn't rampaging now, he wants simple revenge. There's nothing her powers can do right now, it falls on us to protect her!

He prepared to send Ryker into battle, but hesitated at the last minute.

No. I'll need him later. Besides, there's someone else who wants revenge.

He chose a Pokeball from his belt and tossed it hard over to where Nylus had just toppled Oro with a Fire Blast. The Shiny Steelix collapsed next to the lake, fortunately missing Reina but sending a tremor across the field that almost caused Levin to lose his footing. Just as Nylus prepared to lunge at Reina, the Pokeball snapped open and another obstacle stood in the Gyarados's path.

- It's your chance to avenge Rojo! For both of us, show him how much you've grown Ajax!

Much like Lumi had become stronger in his time off from journeying across Fizzy Bubbles, another of his partners had achieved a new level of power. Fueled by his intense desire to bring justice to his mentor's murderer, Ajax trained harder than anyone during the team's absence and now stood face to face with the culprit bearing a new form. Blood-red tusks emerging from each side of a teeth-filled mouth, crimson eyes locked on their gargantuan target, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn611.gif roared loudly as if issuing a challenge to the one who took everything away from him.
Nylus stared down the new threat with disdain, remembering nothing of the once-tiny Axew he mauled in his previous rampage.

The Gyarados let loose a wicked flame of pure Dragon Rage that engulfed the Fraxure, but when the fire subsided he stood tall, defiant as ever, prepared to seek retribution! Blades coated in darkness, Ajax jumped forward and hit a vicous Payback, following it up with a powerful X-Scissor that caused Nylus to roar in pain. However, just as he lunged again for a Night Slash on the same spot, the Gyarados caught him with a merciless Dragon Tail so strong, it sent Ajax flying dozens of feet back before crashing into a large tree and passing out from the sudden impact.

- Ajax!!

The Fraxure didn't respond; despite his considerable increase in power, the Fraxure was still no match for what was, essentially, one of the absolute strongest Pokemon on the team. Nylus continued forward, eyes locked on Reina, and was unfazed even by her desperate attempt to Scald him. He arched his head back and prepared to dive in for a murderous Bite, the same attack that claimed Rojo's life... until a sudden sharp pain from out of nowhere caused him to stop and flail about instead!

It took Levin a while to figure it out, but when he spotted the small blue creature digging his way out from beneath Nylus, he understood. Vlad had been lying in wait, as he always did, and took the opening to inject his Toxic right on the Gyarados's underbelly, badly Poisoning him!

That's right... you have a debt of your own, don't you?

He remembered the events of that day and how Vlad was the one to trigger Nylus's evolution after pouncing on him with the intention of eating the then-Magikarp. Ever since that day, the Skorupi grew progressively more restless, and although the Poison-Type lived too much on instinct to realize it, Levin knew Vlad felt guilty.

- Well done Vlad! Don't let up, follow that Toxic with a Venoshock!

It was precisely what the Skorupi wanted to hear. He unleashed a pulse of purple energy that crashed into the vulnerable dragon and exploded violently, causing the Gyarados to bend over in agony and stopping his progress toward Reina altogether!

Having had enough, Nylus suddenly rose and let out a mighty bellow; fueled by pain and growing fury over the repeated obstacles put in his path, the Gyarados let loose all of his Frustration on small scorpion, pummeling him into the ground repeatedly with his tail, with such force and so many times over that when he was done, the Poison-Type laid unconscious at the bottom of a deep crater.

No... not another one! Enough. We end this now!!

He didn't care anymore; Nylus was his Pokemon, but he was also, and above all, a threat. One he intended to deal with, no matter what it took. He had been weakened substantially but Reina was still in danger, and he was still strong enough to destroy or otherwise escape his Pokeball if he tossed it now.
Reaching over to a Pokeball and Cyber Ball simultaneously, he summoned two more partners to the fray; Haou the Medicham and Zion the Metagross rushed to stand directly in front of Reina; Levin was going to go all out.

- Haou, Zion, bind him as hard as you can in your Psychic grip!

He jumped off Ryker's back and called out one more partner, Lumi the Flaaffy, who looked at him in obvious confusion before quickly realizing the severity of the situation.

- Come on guys, it's now or never. We have to knock Nylus out now, we can't fail!

Nodding simultaneously, the rogue lion and friendly sheep dashed together to stand by Haou and Zion. The Metagross and Medicham focused and took on a faint blue glow, which soon enveloped Nylus as well. At first it seemed to do nothing, but at peak concentration Haou and Zion were finally able to restrict the Gyarados's furious movements, although not bind him completely, such was his immense physical strength. But when Vlad's poison became strong enough to further debilitate the water dragon, his flailing slowed down enough to be contained by the two Psychics, and that was the opening - Ryker and Lumi looked at each other, nodded decisively and unleashed two simultaneous Thunders, creating a pillar of lightning that engulfed Nylus! And when the dust settled, the Gyarados panted heavily, bound completely in the Psychic hold, and his body finally gave out, going limp.

This is it!!

Levin immediately tossed Nylus's Pokeball at the fainted behemoth; the device snapped open and drew the creature inside, successfully locking afterwards and trapping him within! For now...

- It's done... we did it. Reina, are you alright?!

The Saffron-native dashed over to the still-frightened Milotic, held her in his arms and comforted her. They'd managed to avoid the worst this time, but for how long?...
A tug at his leg made him look down; Min gazed at him with concern and deep sadness in her eyes. They'd been together almost a lifetime and words were of little use here - Levin knew what the Cinccino was thinking, and found himself agreeing with her, despite how painful it felt.

- I know... it's not safe for her anymore. Not here, not with us...

He could easily dispose of Nylus, trade him over, release him somewhere. But he couldn't bring himself to do any of those - imposing the deadly creature on some other unsuspecting Trainer would be criminal, as would be returning such a demon into the wild - especially when he was responsible for bringing it into this world. Not only that - taming Nylus was a matter of pride, something he promised himself he'd do ever since Rojo died. Perhaps Zion was right in that regard, pride was often the driving force in his life. So no, getting rid of Nylus wasn't an option... but as long as Reina remained close by, she'd never be safe, and Nylus would never rest. Only one option remained, and judging by the way the Milotic now looked at him, it seemed the Water-Type had already reached that same conclusion before he did...

- I'm sorry dear. I really am... but think of the opportunities it'll bring. You can live peacefully again, you can pursue your true passion of performing, you can enjoy life the way you should! Leave Nylus to me. I promise I'll tame him one day, and when I do, I hope... I hope you come visit...

The last words hurt the most. He recalled Reina into her Premier Ball and looked back at the destruction that his irresponsibility had brought about.

I'll make things right. No matter what it costs, or how long it takes... I'll never, ever be weak or careless again! Not as long as they're depending on me...

MarbleZone 09-27-2015 04:33 PM

Levin sat in his room, in the company of Mazo and Haou, whom he requested join him to discuss an important matter.

- … but there’s no way I can be certain. I need your help with this.

Haou, as usual, said nothing, but a simple touch of his hand on Levin’s shoulder caused a flurry of images to flash before his eyes, conveying everything the Medicham thought on the matter without a word. He saw glimpses of a golden and black dragon standing victorious over its elder, and a meek yellow herbivore triumphing over its natural predator.

- Is this… what’s bound to happen?

Mazo shook his head.

I do not know what Haou sees, but I’ve learned to accept it as a likely outcome. We share the same belief – neither is ready to move on without passing the torch; without knowing that you’re left in good hands.

- But you also think they have to go?

I believe both have destinies that diverge from yours, powerful allies as they would be to your cause. One seeks something you cannot give him, and the other something that cannot be repaired. They are, each in their own way, loyal to you… but if you did truly change as I believe you to have, you already know the answer to your question.

Haou nodded in reassurance, while Levin merely stared out the window. This was becoming a theme – he rose a family, only to see his “children” move on to happier futures without him. Made him wonder just how cut out for training he really was…

Why do I hesitate? It’s for the best, it’s what they need. I shouldn’t let my own feelings get in the way, but what it comes down to is… I’m scared. These guys are the closest thing I’ve ever had to friends. We grew alongside one another… why do they all leave, sooner or later?

Mazo and Haou sensed the Saffron-native’s concern and each placed a hand on his. They weren’t going anywhere. And deep down, Levin knew exactly who the Pokemon who would be with him forever were. All he had to do was watch them all from afar, each tending to their own daily routines, to know how he felt about every single one of them – and who was in it to the end with him. For one reason or another, some wouldn’t make it, and fate would have other plans in store for them. But he welcomed them all regardless and let Arceus decide what he couldn’t. In this case, keeping either Pokemon around would do nothing but bring them misery… He couldn’t be selfish like that, as much as he loved having them around.

He stepped out of the house and whistled. Basker the Arcanine came running to him, recognizing his master’s calling.

- I know how much you’ll dislike this request, but there’s someone I need you to fetch for me.

----

The clearing in front of his Treetop Base was bathed by the morning sunlight. Levin stood at the center and faced two of his strongest partners: the imposing, rogue black lion, Ryker the Luxray, and the dragon who’d been at his side in each of his most career-defining adventures, Syre the Salamence.

- I called you here to… ask you a favor. Each of you are the strongest Pokemon of your respective Types and your knowledge… your power, you should share it.

He was having trouble finding the words. He knew how each of them felt, things neither of them would readily admit to their Trainer, and he wasn’t going to be the one to press the matter. But if he found a way to show them they’d be well-represented, that they would leave behind worthy successors, maybe then they’d be more at ease. Maybe then… parting ways wouldn’t be so painful.

- Ryker. I know you still harbor negative feelings toward me. I took you away from Zak, I took away your old name, all for the sake of owning a powerful Pokemon. Considering everything that’s happened recently, I don’t think you’ll ever think of me as a worthy replacement. Fact is, I tried to change you from Silas, Zak’s Luxray, into Ryker, my own Pokemon… but maybe I was wrong the whole time. I wonder... if that resentment might be holding you back. I wonder if you can hold your own against a younger Pokemon – I challenge you to fight Lumi.

Mazo, stunned by Levin’s choice, turned his head to face him but didn’t protest. Lumi? The sheep wouldn’t hurt a fly, and the Lucario still remembered the way Ryker manhandled Dux, a pure Fighting-Type, in their forest duel. Surely he knew the Flaaffy would be in danger?

The black lion growled. Levin’s words hit a nerve, and were punctuated by calling his strength into question. He’d show the human… he’d hurt the Flaaffy if that’s what it took, just like he hurt that insolent Machoke. But maybe… maybe Lumi would hurt him back. And maybe, in doing so, he’d awaken a power strong enough to… to succeed him. Maybe then he could leave afterwards without compromising his honor. Did the human know of his feelings?...

Levin turned his attention to Syre, his beloved dragon, the humble hero who let him fly on his back without so much as a complaint, the strongest of his kin Levin had ever met. The only Pokemon of his ever to claim a life – that of Mediville’s Gardevoir, who threatened to kill them all otherwise. He owed more to Syre than just about any of his other friends. And that’s why he couldn’t ignore the obvious any longer.

A family… that’s what you crave the most at this point in your life. Not the battling or flying around… you have your eyes on a certain someone. It’s my obligation to give you that chance, at the very least, after everything you’ve done for me. But just like Ryker, you’re a proud warrior – I’ll show you we will all be in good hands. Trust me Syre…

- Ajax lost his mentor to Nylus and I failed to do anything about it. I know you aren’t keen on the idea of having a pupil, nor do I ask that of you… but just one battle. Please Syre, do what you can to test his limits. See what Rojo did for him and the brilliant fighter he can become. Only you can do it – short of Nylus, you’re the only one he is motivated to fighting. Will you do that for me?

Again, he couldn’t reveal his true intentions. But perhaps if, by some miracle, Ajax could topple one of his very best fighters, Syre would be more comfortable in pursuing his own dreams, knowing Levin and the team would be in good hands. He believed Ajax could one day surpass Syre; question was… did that day arrive already?
Syre, ever obedient, nodded without hesitation. He too wanted to test the Fraxure’s true potential – he owed it to his late friend Rojo, at the very least. And maybe, just maybe, there was a chance Ajax could even surprise him and, who knows surpass him. Just this once, he’d gladly accept that defeat, because his heart and mind were already focused elsewhere. Could Levin somehow know of that?...

Ajax the Fraxure and Lumi the Flaaffy both emerged from simultaneous flashes of light. While the former instantly locked eyes with Syre, the one colossus he had to beat before getting his revenge on Nylus, the latter wasn’t comfortable with so much as glancing at Ryker – they had only joined forces once, and the meek sheep had always been wary of the lone predator.

- Ajax, Lumi, are you ready for the training session of your lives?

Levin’s jovial tone hid a torrent of conflicting feelings. They didn’t need to know any more than this; training was, after all, their daily routine. Only difference this time around was that this wouldn’t be a lighthearted sparring, but actual battles. Ajax, as expected, was raring to go, eager to test himself against the dragon he considered disgraced for bowing so easily to a human. Lumi was mostly apprehensive, but his natural penchant for always seeing the good side of things told him Levin would watch out for him if Ryker got too violent… right?

You should watch from afar. This is a story they have to tell on their own.

- I know. All four of them need this, whether they realize it or not. My only regret is having taken this long to make up my mind…

They’re family. You want them close to you… it is only natural. If anything, you deserve praise – the Levin I first knew would never willingly part ways with a powerful ally, no matter what it took to keep it.

Ajax lunged at Syre, who merely took flight and avoided the charge. Believing himself out of harm’s way, and with little desire to hurt his younger kin, the Salamence merely released a wave of Embers to warn him off… something Ajax took exception to. If Syre wasn’t going to take this seriously, he’d make him!

Channeling his fury, the Fraxure unleashed a sudden burst of energy in the form of Dragon Rage. The blue flames enveloped the airborne Syre, who stopped momentarily to douse the fire that engulfed his wings. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the smaller dragon summoned a barrage of stones that came crashing down on his foe, dragging him back down to the floor and trapping him in a Rock Tomb!

Using his Strength, Syre was quick to remove the debris, but the relentless Ajax had him in his sights – the super-aggressive warrior lunged forward and slashed the Salamence with a vicious Dual Chop, leapt up and came crashing down on his foe with a X-Scissor that left a nasty cut on one of Syre’s wings… rendering him unable to take flight again!

Ajax… you’re not pulling back at all. Did you want this fight that badly?...

Growling in pain and annoyance, Syre’s look changed. Levin instantly knew what it meant – the dragon wasn’t going to take it easy any longer. Taking advantage of Ajax’s proximity, he slammed his massive Dragon Tail against the Fraxure’s torso, propelling him back several feet. Ajax landed on his feet, but was immediately blasted with a powerful Dragon Breath that caused him to lose his balance and fall hard on his back! And then, Syre’s belly took on an ominous red glow…

Meanwhile, Ryker had already engaged the apprehensive Lumi. The black hunter’s body crackled with excess electricity as he charged ahead, reminding Levin of just how much raw power the creature possessed. There was no doubt in his mind that, despite his limited arsenal, Ryker’s lightning attacks were far stronger than Lumi’s, or even Crix’s, could ever become in their prime.
The easygoing sheep watched in stunned disbelief while Ryker lunged at him without holding anything back, ready to Crunch his bones between his fangs. It wasn’t until the very last second that Lumi managed to react, creating a large Cotton Guard shield that completely halted the Luxray’s momentum, much to his irritation. The predator leapt back to create some separation and devise a new approach, while the Flaaffy wondered just what exactly Levin expected him to do – surely not try to hurt Ryker in return?...

He did. And deep down, Lumi knew it – an actual battle, with actual danger, was the only way to really become stronger. Ryker had been through so many of those already… now it was his time to step up! With renewed confidence, and always telling himelf that Levin would keep him safe, the Flaaffy prepared to fight back, much to Ryker’s amusement. It wasn’t until Lumi released a Power Gem blast, which Ryker narrowly avoided, that the Luxray realized his foe really intended to fight back. So be it…

A massive pillar of lightning shot upwards from Ryker’s body and into the sky above. Clouds gathered over the clearing instantly and a twice-as-large Thunder strike came crashing down on Lumi, engulfing him completely in its destructive light. When it faded, the Flaaffy was on the ground, writhing in pain, much like Ajax some feet away.

And here it comes…

Syre had finished charging up, and shot a crimson sphere of energy into the cloudy sky. The orb vanished, and shortly afterwards a deafening noise filled the clearing, as if the world’s most violent storm was just above their heads, announcing its arrival. The clouds took on an orange glow, and one by one, flaming meteors began to fall, homing in on the clearing and, more specifically, on the downed Fraxure. But a move of that magnitude could lay waste to the entire Marble Garden, no matter who Syre’s intended target was…

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white creature materialized directly in front of Levin, Mazo and Haou, and proceeded to erected a Protective green dome around them all.

- Leon!

This was something the Gallade would never hesitate to do – his sworn duty was to keep his soul twin, Levin, safe at all costs, no matter how far apart they were. And right now, faced with the incoming Draco Meteor Syre had summoned, they needed all the protection they could get. But Ajax and Lumi would have to fend for themselves…

Each comet struck the earth with incredible violence, sending a powerful shockwave on impact. One after the other, the Draco Meteors ravaged the clearing, creating untold devastation. Not even Nylus’s last rampage had been this damaging… Levin clenched his fists, fearing the attack might have been too much for the Flaaffy and Fraxure to withstand. And if that was the case…

After what seemed like an eternity, the onslaught was over, and Leon removed his shield. All around them, smoke and embers were all they could see. When the dust began to settle, the first thing they noticed were the countless desolate craters where once stood a lush green field. And then, something odd – a large round boulder, perfectly severed in two, a meteor that didn’t disintegrate. And scattered all around the large two halves, several small pebbles that should by all accounts have been incinerated on impact, but instead sparked occasionally with electricity.

Incredible…

Mazo stood in place, visibly stunned by something he picked up before Levin, as usual. Haou, in turn, stepped forward and, with a spreading motion of his hands, caused the remaining smoke to vanish from the clearing with his psychic power, revealing the truth of the events.

Where Levin feared to find the charred corpses of Lumi and Ajax, instead were two magnificent creatures, standing proudly and brimming with power. Triggered by their survival instinct, the sheep and dragon joined forces to ward off the deadly barrage, and as a result, the Flaaffy and Fraxure were no more – in their place were a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn181.gif and http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn612.gif, staring their respective opponents with confidence and defiance!

A simultaneous evolution. Your household truly is full of surprises…

Syre stared directly at his foe, revealing little emotion but burning inside – finally, this was the true Ajax, and potential successor to his throne. But he had to be sure his power was real, that he could carry Levin to the ultimate victory in his absence. The winged dragon roared and lunged at the Haxorus, coated in glimmering blue energy. The Dragon Rush took the form of a giant dragon’s head and came crashing down on Ajax, ready to engulf him, but the golden warrior didn’t flinch.

A fierce, violent aura enveloped Ajax, empowering him both in strength and speed; the Dragon Dance perfected his body for combat, as Syre drew ever closer, ready to seal the match with his favorite move. The Haxorus stared at the oncoming Salamence and grinned before leaping up directly into the glowing shape that surrounded Syre, as if purposefully allowing himself to be swallowed by the ethereal fangs. Channeling dragon energy of his own into one of his claws, Ajax met Syre mid-air, and the two collided in a flash of light followed by a massive burst of energy.

The expected outcome. Did it go the way you predicted, master?

Mazo, and likely Haou as well, already knew the result. Levin had to wait for the dust to settle and the light to fade; then, he saw one of the dragons land on his feet, and the other tumble to the ground, unconscious. When the golden armor glistened under the sunlight and its wielder let out a triumphant roar, the Trainer realized the torch had indeed been passed – Ajax had just bested Syre!

Ryker saw everything through the corner of his eye, a luxury his unrivaled eyesight allowed. At the same time, he kept his attention on his newly-evolved opponent: Lumi gazed at his own hands, half-confused as to what had just happened, but quickly adjusting to the pleasant reality that he was no longer an effeminate-looking Flaaffy. Empowered by his newfound confidence, the Ampharos found himself able to control powers he never knew he had – he lunged forward, channeling fire into his fist, and prepared to deliver a powerful Fire Punch!
However, the Luxray had his opponent perfectly scouted. Each muscle contraction was effortlessly picked up by Ryker’s prodigious vision, so that he could effectively predict Lumi’s movements the second he began to carry them out. The black lion dodged Lumi’s strike, leaping to the side at the last moment, and fought back with a powerful Take Down that knocked down the Light Pokemon!

Ryker towered over his fallen opponent, intent on putting an end to the battle. Part of him felt disappointed – Lumi wasn’t the replacement he’d hoped, unlike Ajax. Flames escaped his mouth, and the Luxray moved to finish things with a Fire Fang. However, at the last second, Lumi smiled and carried out the plan he’d been aiming for since the start! Ryker’s eyesight was indeed incredible, but at the same time, his most exploitable weakness – and having realized as much, Lumi did what he knew best, unleashing a Flash of light so strong even Levin’s eyes hurt all the way from where he stood watching!
Ryker growled in intense pain and leapt back, eyes shut and burning intensely. His vision was as perfect as it was delicate and more than anyone else, the Flash did a number on him for that very reason. All he could see was a white screen punctuated by stubborn speckles of light. The hunter paced around the ravaged battlefield, trying to shake off the blindness to no avail, and Lumi had the perfect opportunity to strike back! He tapped into a new energy reserve he never knew he had, his body taking on a blue glow as he did. And then, with a ferocious roar resembling Syre or Ajax, Lumi unleashed a beam of draconic energy straight at the vulnerable Ryker! The Dragon Pulse found its mark, exploding in a myriad colors, and to Levin’s profound amazement, the Luxray fell and didn’t get back up!

- Lumi… you did it!!

The ampharos panted heavily but smiled as warmly as he ever did; if Levin were a betting man, he’d wager the Ampharos was as surprised about the outcome as he was. Ajax, equally tired, stood over the fallen Syre with a look of fulfillment on his face – for the first time in his life, the Haxorus radiated inner peace rather than frustration or anger.

Mazo and Leon approached the fainted combatants and revived them with their Heal Pulses. Syre and Ryker, aware that their respective rivals had finally surpassed them, both looked at their Trainer with eyes that told the entire story – it was time to go.
The Luxray moved first; he approached Lumi and nodded in approval, growling his satisfaction and relief. Then he walked over to Mazo and bowed respectfully; though he never admitted it openly, he considered the Lucario the strongest warrior he’d ever met. And at last, Levin. The Saffron-native whispered his apologies to Ryker, for everything – forcefully separating him from Zak, the only Trainer he’d ever loved; failing to bond with him; letting the predator roam the nearby forests rather than welcoming him in his home. Ryker shook his head in disagreement; overtime, he’d come to hold some measure of respect for the Trainer he once loathed. And while it was true he felt lonely and sad beyond repair after leaving Zak’s side, he would leave Levin with fonder memories than he thought possible. But his old heart cried out for freedom, the chance to explore the world on his own after so many years under the care of humans – he was one of the older Pokemon in Fizzy Bubbles at this point, and battling didn’t call out to him as strongly as it once did. It was time for a new generation to take his place and for him to live a new life with the years he had left.

Levin smiled, ran a hand over the lion’s head (the first sign of affection between the two since the day they met) and remembered there was one final thing he had to do. Reaching for a Pokeball, he called out Basker, and the second the Arcanine’s eyes met Ryker’s, he knew the time had come. They’d been bitter enemies for the duration of Ryker’s stay, but held mutual respect for one another as fighters. They said their short but heartfelt goodbyes, wondering if they’d ever get the chance to fight one another in the future. With no loose ends, Ryker waved his tail in one final goodbye, and without looking back, ran off into the forest and the world beyond to start the final chapter of his own story.

Be well, Ryker… I hope we meet each other again some day.

A low-pitched growl brought him back to reality. Syre too should be getting ready to say his goodbyes, but neither him nor Levin felt the story was complete. Ryker’s desire was about to be fulfilled, but Syre’s calling was different and one Levin couldn’t provide on his own. Until he found a way, the dragon would linger. But just then, in a curious twist of fate, it seemed the final chapter of Syre’s story was indeed about to be written - commotion by the entrance of the Treetop Base alerted the group, and Syre was the first to react. Spreading his wings and eagerly approaching Marble Garden’s very first visitors, the Salamence roared a challenge to the woman who’d just arrived.

Levin smiled, counting himself fortunate that everything had fallen into place the way it did. In the woman’s possession was a Pokemon that could change Syre’s life forever, and that was the reason he invited her over in the first place.

- Glad you could make it, Pest.

Pest 10-02-2015 10:30 PM

Pest was pretty sure this was the right place. Granted, she didn’t know much about secret bases — she was something of a wanderer, at least for the time being — but Levin had been specific about the base’s location. In this particular forest, this many miles off … her path zigzagged as she came across clearing after clearing, looking for some sign that this was the place. Wherever the base was, he’d hidden it well.

By her side walked a Charmeleon, her oldest and most trusted friend. Vesta was alert, keeping an eye out for any wayward bugs that might choose to attack. The flame on the tip of her tail flickered, swaying a little as she walked, though years of being raised in a forest much like this one had taught her how to avoid accidentally setting things on fire. Every once in a while her claws would twitch as she imagined a silent, stalking predator ambushing them in a sudden flurry of claws and teeth. Not that she was worried — she, too, was carnivorous, and she knew a thing or two about getting into a fight. She was Pest’s strongest Pokemon, after all. This wasn’t a boast, but rather simple fact; Trivia might try to push her around occasionally, but a Crunch in response would send the Dusknoir running off. Still, she knew better than to be careless about this upcoming encounter. If what Pest had told her was true, then this trainer would be raising Pokemon who at the very least would give her a run for her money. And there had to have been a reason that she had been particularly requested to accompany her trainer to this far-off site.

For her part, her trainer wasn’t much more in the know. After acting as a referee for a hard-fought battle between her and a trainer named Chad, Levin had taken Pest aside and asked if she would come visit his secret base, bringing Vesta along with her. According to him, there was someone he wanted Vesta to meet. She’d accepted, and now they were making their way to Levin’s hideaway. Hopefully this was a good time. She’d hate to catch him by surprise, but she figured that he’d be expecting her in any case.

Up ahead, the canopy cleared a little, signaling that they were drawing close to another clearing. She hoped they were getting close; they’d been walking for the better part of the day, and on a bad day she’d have suspected that they were lost. If they could see some sign … but then again, it wouldn’t be much of a secret base if they did—

A roar startled her from her thoughts. She scrambled back as a huge winged shape loomed in the clearing ahead, challenging the strangers who’d intruded on his domain. Part of Pest was confused at what a Salamence was doing in a forest like this; the other part was too busy trying to reel in her initial fear, forcing her to move forward rather than backward despite what instinct told her. It’s nothing to worry about, she told herself. It’s probably one of Levin’s Pokemon. You have a Steelix, you know your way around big Pokemon. Then again, dealing with a Pokemon who she knew well to be gentle and protective was one thing; dealing with an imposing dragon she’d never seen before was something else entirely.

Vesta seemed to be of the same opinion, though she handled it differently. While her trainer was stumbling in surprise, she jumped forward to answer the dragon’s challenge, tail flame swelling to show that she was no pushover. Hackles raised, she let loose a growl of her own, lifting her chin to glare up at the Salamence. Eyes narrowed as she prepared her defense—

“Glad you could make it, Pest.”

The trainer blinked. Cautiously, she looked beyond the dragon, and there was Levin, smiling at the sight of them. She felt relief at not being a bother by showing up so suddenly, followed by the much more rational relief that the Salamance probably wasn’t going to eat her. Gently, she put a hand on Vesta’s shoulder; the Charmeleon tensed a little, but then relaxed in equal measure, though she didn’t take her eyes off her could-be opponent.

“Hi, Levin.” She took a deep breath, willing her heart to slow to its usual rate. “Glad to be here. Vesta’s glad to be here, too.” There was a moment when Vesta was tempted to roll her eyes. “And the welcoming committee is impressive, that’s for sure.” Vesta chose to indulge herself this time. “Well, is there anything we can help you with? You were pretty interested in us having us visit. What’s the occasion?”

MarbleZone 10-03-2015 06:26 PM

He smiled back at the first Trainer to walk into Marble Garden with his permission - more than that, his invitation. The only other two people to ever approach his base were Kayl and Vesper, and neither had left fond memories. He'd repay them both in due time, but this took priority.

- I'm afraid the welcoming committee wasn't my doing. Syre's happy you made it, in his own way.

He recalled the day he asked Pest to pay him a visit. It was at the end of her match with Chad McBrennan, of which she'd walked out victorious. Levin knew her oldest partner was one Syre could possibly bond with; in Pest and her Vesta could lie the answers to Syre's recent anxieties, the shortcomings that haunted the elder dragon in his adulthood - lacking a family of his own.

- How's Kam... I mean, Fons doing? Anyway, if you remember our chat back at Silver Lake, I have a favor to ask you. I'm afraid that's why I asked you to come all the way here.

He might as well come clean now. No point in keeping secrets from the person you're depending on.

- Syre, the Salamence before you, has a problem I can't fix on my own. I'm not sure anyone can, but if anyone has a chance at helping him, it's you... Syre's been around for a long time, he's done his share of battling and flying me around the world. He's even had to... kill at one point. But he's past that stage of his life, and he isn't happy with me anymore. He needs a family of his own, you see...

The dragon huffed, annoyed. Levin was never one to open up like that; who gave the human the right to reveal his troubles to a stranger?!

- I could tell you I was just looking for a battle to pass time. But I'd be lying, and I see little reason to do that. Syre needs someone by his side, but that someone has to be a Pokemon he deems worthy; only someone he respects can be his partner. I understand the magnitude of what I'm asking here but... I think Vesta could light that spark in him.

Syre growled. Now Levin was crossing the line. He would be the one to choose his partner, and when to look for one! He appreciated the human's effort, and above all that he could anticipate his needs like that, but to assume this Charmeleon was good enough for him... He would be the judge of that! The Salamence stepped forward, fangs glistening in the sunlight, but found himself moving slower than usual - his muscles were still sore from the battle with Ajax. Ah, now that had been a glorious clash!

- I realize this is all a bit sudden, but I want to see if Vesta can take Syre to the limit. If she succeeds, maybe she'll earn his affection... and maybe he'll be complete at last. What do you say? He's a bit banged up from a fight he just had, but you'll find he's more than a capable opponent.

Syre wasn't going to wait around for two humans to decide his fate. The Charmeleon before him looked defiant and ready to go - what need was there for their Trainers' approval? He roared and unleashed a powerful Dragon Breath straight at Vesta, ready to test the female.

Levin looked on. There was nothing else he could say to persuade Pest; she was in her right to recall her Charmeleon and walk away now. If she didn't, Syre would pursue this to the end. But despite having potentially found the solution to his dragon's problems, he couldn't bring himself to smile or feel happy.

Regardless of how this ends... he can't stay.

Pest 10-14-2015 08:21 PM

To say Pest was surprised at this proposition would have been an understatement. As she listened to Levin, old ideas imploded and new ideas flared from the ashes. She’d always considered Vesta as a friend, a little sister, and sometimes a big sister if the day was off enough. A fighter, a thinker, a snarker … but never had the idea of the Charmeleon starting a family crossed her mind. She looked to Vesta, a little nervous as to what her reaction might be, and took note of her wide, unbelieving eyes. Never before had she seen Vesta so utterly stunned.

“I … wow,” she finally managed to say. “That’s not what I expected to hear at all. Not that it’d be a bad thing necessarily! I’m sure Vesta would also be happy to have a family of her own, even if she’d never admit it.” She paused, thinking of the team’s junior members playfighting, and of the little smiles the Charmeleon would wear when she thought no one was looking. “But I can’t choose for her. If she takes him on for size, then great! But I don’t know how she’d agree …”

While Pest was musing over this, Vesta’s confused daze dissipated at the sound of Syre’s growl. The Salamence had taken a menacing step forward, clearly no more comfortable with this topic than she was. But his aggression was also clear: he was ready to pick a fight, even though he already seemed a little banged up, and even though his trainer hadn’t given him any orders. Vesta glanced back at Pest, who was still tripping over her own words — she’d have to make her own strategies, then. Much as she didn’t want to antagonize him, she’d rather play his game than risk her trainer getting hurt.

How to go about this, then … As she pondered, Syre rushed forward, expelling a noxious cloud of Dragon Breath. She stood her ground as the chemicals seeped into her scales, nearly to the point of cramping her muscles uncomfortably. Still, she stood her ground, mind racing. He hadn’t used a very powerful attack. Probably trying her on for size. A good deal of her attacks wouldn’t do much against him, so she’d have to resort to less familiar types. First off: keeping his attention off her trainer. She thought of Pest, of the years they’d spent together, bonding and growing as close as could be — certainly not something this Salamence could replicate with her! Focusing her loyalty into power, she launched herself at him, tearing into his scales with considerable force. He cast a shadow over her, but she wouldn’t let his size intimidate her. Not when she was so busy Returning Pest’s friendship, fending off the would-be aggressor.

Her move complete, she skipped back, just out of reach. Now that she’d made her mark, she’d have to keep him from retaliating. He’d probably favor physical moves, despite his opening move; there was no way he’d resist getting his claws dirty. What with him apparently killing someone … suppressing a growl, she instead summoned thin whips of Fire that soon roared to life, Spining around Syre and stirring themselves up to crackling heights. It probably wouldn’t hold him for long, but she wasn’t looking for a huge chunk of time. Just enough to figure out what to do next. Regardless of their similar levels of strength, this wasn’t going to be an easy battle.

MarbleZone 10-18-2015 06:13 PM

Levin smiled. Vesta was taking this seriously; it was a start. Even if nothing came of this as far as Syre finding a partner, at least he helped Pest's friend grow stronger - a thought that would've brought him absolutely zero satisfaction in the past, considering how everyone else was a target to beat.

Funny how things change.

He'd grown leaps and bounds since then. The team he'd assembled was no doubt among the most powerful in the land. His targets were now much fewer - Kayl, Vesper and the Elite were all that remained between him and his destiny. Pest wasn't an enemy; she was a fellow Trainer on her own journey. There was no harm done in helping her, as others had helped him.

Took me long enough to realize that not everyone is a threat. There are nice people in this world who are just out there to make a name for themselves, same as me. Vesta is already a worthy opponent... but Syre can make her an even greater warrior. And perhaps something more.

He held back from giving his partner instructions. This wasn't their battle, only the Salamence's. But he knew the dragon was experienced enough to escape his predicament and bring the fight to the gutsy Charmeleon... and so he did.

Flames danced around Syre, burning on contact with his scales; despite his natural resistance to fire, it was still a nagging pain that he cared little for. The blazing spiral roared around him, but he knew what to do. Spreading his crimson wings, the dragon took flight; his massive blue frame soared high and above the Fire Spin, and once freed, Syre dove down and struck Vesta on the chest, completing his Fly strike. And then, he decided to change gears.

Levin's smile widened in amused surprise.

- Hey Pest. How far is Vesta willing to go? Because look at Syre...

An orange light emerged from the elder dragon's torso, ascended up his throat and concentrated in his jaws.

- ... he's gonna go all out.

With a roar that filled the clearing, Syre unleashed his strongest move. The luminescent orb rose up into the skies, vanished, and was soon replaced by a myriad clouds. As if hailing a golden thunderstorm, the sky turned orange... but it wasn't lightning that was on the way.

He already used this move once today; Ajax evolved into Haxorus and slashed the meteors in half; what can you do, Vesta?

This was, in a way, Syre's ultimate test. He loved melee combat more than anything, being supremely equipped to handle it, but nothing compared to the sheer destructive power of his Draco Meteor. That's when it became clear for Levin, and maybe to Pest as well: Syre wasn't looking to win the match...

He was testing Vesta all along.

Pest 11-05-2015 02:06 PM

Vesta wheezed as Syre’s Fly attack knocked the breath out of her. She was thrown backward, soon landing in a heap on the ground. Hearing his trainer say something, she shook the stars out of her eyes and shakily got to her feet. Syre was certainly powerful, and this latest move he was using proved it: a blast of brilliant draconic energy surged through his jaws, streaking into the sky to unleash his most powerful move. Her eyes narrowed as she wracked her brain for a solution out of this. The Salamence definitely wasn’t holding back now. Was he testing her limits? If so, she figured that she was getting pretty close to them. There was a definite disadvantage here, in size, typing, and maneuverability all at once.

There was one way to close that gap, she knew. One that she’d been capable of for quite some time now, though she’d been wary to consider it. She thought of long, rainy afternoons in days gone by, when she’d bonded with the girl who would become her trainer. Most of their best memories were formed when she’d been in her Charmander form, and those memories didn’t seem so far away as long as she was a Charmeleon. But to shed her earthbound ties completely, and embrace her draconic heritage … everything would change. The girl, once carrying a cute orange reptile on her shoulders, would suddenly become the rider. And in a way, Vesta’s authority would grow to levels that none of the other Pokemon on her team could possibly match, what with her having reached her full potential as well as boasting seniority. She wasn’t sure she could handle that responsibility - and she wasn’t sure how it might affect Pest, at any rate.

But now, watching the sky shatter into meteors, she realized that holding herself back wasn’t helping anyone. Not herself, not Pest … not this Salamence, either. She was starting to see that, violent though he was, he did need friendship. Even if that friendship had to be established through the school of hard knocks. And if, to get through to him, she had to prove herself to him in any way necessary… then so be it.

The meteors shrieked, growing louder and larger as they converged upon her position. She squinted against their radiance, calculating just how much force they’d come down with. Her eyes flicked toward Syre, who, though looking pleased with his show of power, didn’t seem to be in the position to repeat it any time soon. Draco Meteor, she remembered, was a move that took its toll on the user’s capabilities. Much like Overheat, she reasoned. She’d only used that attack a few times, and the sheer power of each usage was offset by the unpleasant drop in effectiveness of subsequent attacks. If Draco Meteor was anything like that, then Syre would be much less of a threat once this move was completed. She might be able to deal with him then … assuming she survived these next few seconds. She concentrated ...

With a roar, the meteors struck, dazzling as they burst against the ground. Plants and dirt exploded outwards in a shower of nature, streaked here and there with wisps of energy. Pest managed not to be knocked over by the impact, but just barely; having seen imminent doom approaching, she’d taken cover behind a tree - even though the still-rational part of her brain hated herself for panicking like that when Vesta was in danger. She grasped its trunk as the earth shook, gritting her teeth as the rough bark scraped her hands.

Then, all too suddenly, everything settled. Cautious, Pest emerged again, coughing as smoke and dust made her eyes water. The air began to clear, giving her a better view of the new crater that had broken the earth. In the middle was a familiar orange-red shape … standing? Standing there, seemingly unfazed, as if the Draco Meteor had never happened at all. The reason for this soon became clear: there was a flicker of a field around the Charmeleon, pale green and translucent, that blinked out of existence a moment later.

Something in the Pokemon’s expression gave her pause. “Vesta?” she asked.

Hearing her trainer’s voice, Vesta cast a look over her shoulder. Winded by the effort of keeping up a Protect against the Draco Meteor, she nevertheless managed a small sad smile. Then she looked to Syre again, and then - no longer delaying it - she accepted her destiny. A flash of white light obscured her form, transforming her into a lit silhouette that expanded and swelled, building muscle and sprouting horns and wings. When the light faded, a towering http://upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn006.gif stood in the midst of the rubble, examining everything from her new vantage point. Trying out her new appendages sent a gust of wind rushing through the leaves that hadn’t been already been destroyed; her tail flame wavered, then crackled at an unprecedented size.

“Vesta …” Pest breathed. A smile lit her face. “You did it!”

The new Charizard’s eyes widened, before she smiled herself. Even though evolution had changed her … her relationships would remain unspoiled.

But this was no time for celebration. Her opponent still stood before her, and he had to be dealt with. She considered her new reserves of power, just waiting to be used. In a rush of inspiration, she lifted herself into the air, only pausing a moment to wonder at the novelty of flight, and flapped toward him. Draconic energy, now easier to command, streaked up her arms and gathered in her claws, giving them a tougher, more jagged appearance. Building speed, she swooped past him, slicing at him with a Dragon Claw as she passed by.

She pushed herself higher into the air, listening to the trees rustling under her wings, and slowed and turned in midair, looking back at her foe. Even if she lost this, she decided, it would be worth it to have come this far. She had closed the gap, and now she was ready, waiting for his next move ...

MarbleZone 11-07-2015 07:56 PM

Levin had seen this dozens of times by now, but it was a special sight whenever it occurred. Pushed to the edge, and in the face of absolute destruction, Vesta had awakened her full potential and evolved into Charizard, attaining what was considered to be the species' ultimate form up until recently. It was nothing short of majestic: towering above any human, wings spread wide and her tail's flame burning brighter than ever, Vesta was now a sight to behold. A sentiment shared by Syre, Levin could tell.

The blue dragon gazed in admiration. Vesta had not only nullified his ultimate move, but she had grown even stronger in the process - much like Ajax had done earlier in the day. The Haxorus was indeed the stronger dragon and bested him immediately upon evolving, but he didn't really think of Vesta as having comparable potential - until now. This changed everything; he had to stop testing her and actually give it his all now. There was no doubt about it - Vesta was the most impressive female he'd ever met.

His heart was racing and he found himself short of breath - not just because the second Draco Meteor of the day had taken an immense toll on him, but also because he felt an unprecedented excitement after the latest turn of events. This, more than anything else in recent memory, made him happy. Somehow, Vesta made him happy...

Syre was briefly lost in thought when the newly-evolved Fire-Type made her move. Dashing forward with unexpected agility, the orange blur blazed past the Salamence and slashed away with a Dragon Claw that severely injured his torso, before flying upward to gain superior positioning over her foe. Syre contemplated his options: there was one move in his arsenal that could knock Vesta clean off the sky and douse her flame for good... if only he wasn't so heavily drained from the previous Meteors. No, Hydro Pump wasn't an option, as wasn't any kind of ranged offense at this point in the match. If he wanted to triumph over Pest's partner, he'd have to bring the fight to her, no holds barred. He was a close-range powerhouse, and it was time he put all of his strength to use: one move to finish her off!

A glimmering blue aura surrounded the large dragon, engulfing him in light; the ethereal flame twisted and swirled as Syre focused, and then, with a mighty roar, the Salamence took flight and dashed straight at the airborne Vesta! The energy took shape as Syre charged, changing to resemble a colossal dragon's head with jaws agape, ready to devour its prey. This was Syre's strongest move, that made the most of his physical supremacy: this Dragon Rush was his best bet to overcome Vesta, now that she was in her prime!

After two drawn-out battles in the same day, he felt his body falter and his vision blur briefly, but he'd persevere. He had more pride than perhaps even Levin, and falling before Vesta was something he couldn't conceive. Levin watched on as his Salamence crossed the sky, leaving a glowing trail behind, like a blue comet on a collision course with the orange star up above.

Syre, I don't know if you see it yet, but she's the one you've been looking for all this time.

Pest 11-23-2015 10:27 PM

Vesta watched Syre carefully, noting the draconic aura that flared around his body. If he'd been testing her before, there was no sign of such now. He looked determined, but his eyes - small but sharp, like an eagle's, she noticed - no longer carried the annoyance they'd held just minutes prior. Rather, they seemed to sparkle with excitement ... had her evolution changed his view of the battle? That seemed a likely theory. He was a tough dragon, well-trained in the school of violence, and violence was certainly a language he spoke; being able to fight a Pokemon of more comparable strength to him would certainly appeal to him. But that didn't explain his current expression. He looked positively glad to throw his all into the battle.

So he was holding back. But Vesta, seeing him rapidly approach, knew that speculation would have to be put on hold for now. Syre's incoming assault streaked through the air like a blue star, its dragon's jaws wide. In a flash of reckless inspiration, she tapped into her own power, deciding to fight fire with fire - or dragon with dragon, as it were. With a flap of her wings, she angled toward him in an accelerating dive, letting a Dragon Rush of her own blossom around her like a flower of fire. Not being as attuned to draconic energy as Syre was, she could tell that her dragon manifestation wasn't quite as impressive as his. But then again, it didn't need to be. Not if her understanding of typings was correct.

The wind rushed in her ears. Around them, the two glowing dragons roared with power. This was going to hurt both of them, Vesta knew ... but she also knew that Syre wouldn't have it any other way. And come to think of it, neither would she. Her eyes narrowed as he streaked toward her, and she gritted her teeth, preparing for the impact to come ...

MarbleZone 11-29-2015 03:44 PM

The orange star turned into a second blue comet, diving down to meet the incoming twin. Syr eand Vesta lunged at one another enveloped by the shimmering aura of their respective Dragon Rushes, each of them knowing that the outcome of the collision could determine everything. Neither faltered as they gained speed and momentum, intent on seeing this battle through to the very end.

An end Levin could already predict.

Valiant effort Syre.

The two dragon heads intertwined in a dance of war. Auras mixed together, a powerful burst of light ensued. The clearing was painted blue by the following explosion of draconic energy, and the resulting shockwave almost knocked Levin, Mazo, Leon and Haou off their feet.

When the dust settled, Syre and Vesta had landed. Each of them panting heavily, gasping for air, their eyes were glazed over but their bodies endured. The stalemate seemed to last an eternity, but for Levin and Mazo, the outcome was already clear.

Vesta lost her footing first, her large frame wobbling as her consciousness began to drift... but she hung on, refocusing at the last moment and refusing to fall! Syre smirked at the female's resilience, impressed and smitten at the same time... but soon it was his turn to falter, and with a loud thump, his massive body collapsed to the side, the Salamence dropping unconscious.

It is done.

- Yes Mazo, Syre has found his match: Vesta is the one.

The Lucario nodded, approached the fallen dragon and placed a hand on him, sending a Heal Pulse coursing through his body and releasing him from his exhausted slumber.

Levin approached Pest, passing next to Vesta with a smile as he went. He extended a hand at the other Trainer in a show of respect.

- Your partner's nothing short of phenomenal. It was a privilege to witness Vesta's growth first-hand. And I think Syre is even more impressed - I'd say Vesta managed to pierce a hole in that stubborn dragon's stone heart. I was wondering if you'd be willing to let that connection bloom into something more... Syre would welcome it.

Levin was being as honest as he possibly could. He wasn't about to let this glorious battle be for nothing - Vesta represented Syre's only chance at genuine happiness, an opportunity to have a partner and perhaps a child of his own. He couldn't force neither Pest nor her Charizard to play along, but it was worth a shot...

- Please give it some thought. I really think Syre would be happiest with Vesta... and with you.

Pest 12-12-2015 01:18 PM

At first, Pest was sure that she'd hit her head too hard - the collision of two Dragon Rushes summoned by two powerful Pokemon had been enough to blast her right into the tree behind her. That had to be the explanation for why Vesta was still standing and Syre wasn't. Yet, as she tentatively touched the the bump forming there on her head, the sight in front of her didn't waver; indeed, Levin's Lucario was approaching his teammate, ready to lay healing hands on him, while Vesta looked on with exhausted disbelief.

With wobbly legs, Pest stepped forward - slowly at first, but soon breaking into a half-falling sprint. She threw her arms around Vesta, marveling at her starter's impressive new stature. "You did amazing, Vesta! I've always wondered if you would choose to take this path ... not that I would ever pressure you into it, but you know. To see you grow up like this, after all these years ... I can't tell you how proud I am of you." Vesta, though taken aback for a second by the sudden outburst, returned the gesture of affection by carefully laying a clawed hand on her trainer's head. Both of them knew there would still be a lot to get used to.

After a minute, Pest pulled herself away to face Levin, who was smiling - smiling? - as he made his proposition. She listened with great interest, wondering at how such a magnificent dragon could have his heart laid low in such a short time. And then, his suggestion that Syre join them ... she nearly reeled back in surprise at the prospect of suddenly taking on a certainly dangerous Salamence. Yet as she collected her thoughts, she slowly came to the realization that it did make sense. Levin had mentioned Syre's violent tendencies, his willingness to go so far as to kill. But the fight with Vesta seemed to have softened him, even if it was just a little.

She looked over at Syre, who was groggily getting to his feet. Then she glanced up at Vesta, noticing how the Charizard's gaze had lifted to meet Syre's, apparently thinking along the same lines as her trainer. Her wings unfolded, hesitantly now that the heat of battle had passed, and she flapped just hard enough to propel herself forward. (They would have to work on getting Vesta used to her new form, Pest thought absently. She filed that idea away for later.) Vesta pulled to a stop in front of him, narrowly avoiding an unwanted collision; she took a second to regain her bearings before making her next move. Before her trainer's wondering eyes, Vesta extended a wing forward, cautious yet hopeful, and patted Syre's head. It was a clumsy, uncoordinated movement, and she cast her wing an annoyed glance before shaking her head and looking back to Syre. She seemed interested in him, Pest thought. Concerned with the path of his future, and interested in seeing where he might go next, Vesta was probably sure that she could soften his heart further. But it occurred to Pest - not that she'd ever say it out loud - that this might be good for Vesta, too. It'd be a chance to ease her serious nature, and to balance out her quiet pride.

They would fit well together, Pest decided. It would be an adventure reeling the Salamance in, but she was used to adventures by now, wasn't she?

With a smile, she grasped Levin's outstretched hand. "I would love to give Syre a new chance," she told him. "I might not know what exactly has gone down in his past, but I'll be happy to be part of his future. Vesta even more so, I think." She glanced knowingly at the dragons' exchange. "This is ... this is a big responsibility, and I'm honored to be trusted with it - with him. Thank you." She took a deep breath. "I won't let you down."

MarbleZone 12-12-2015 04:36 PM

Levin's smile widened. He wasn't sure he could do it, despite the silent promise he'd made to his beloved Syre. After all, how many females would be fit to handle his personality? Furthermore, how many Trainers would agree to begin with? But the stars aligned and both Pest and Vesta were willing to welcome the Salamence in their midst - in Vesta's case, in her life.

- I really can't thank you enough. A family of his own was the only thing Syre craved anymore... I was worried I'd never be able to help him find it. You were a bit of amiracle, to be honest...

A brief flash of concern crossed Pest's expression, and Levin wasn't oblivious to it. After all, if one virtue could be attributed to the Saffron-native, among his many character flaws, was that he was observant. The blonde Trainer could sympathize with Pest's apprehension - after all, Syre had built a bit of a reputation...

- If it eases your mind at all, I think there's something that needs clarification: Syre never killed anyone for sport. It was an isolated occurrence, and if he hadn't done it... I wouldn't be here today. The Pokemon he killed was a Gardevoir from the Arcane Realm that threatened to do the same to me. Syre's reaction was instantaneous, and not something he takes pride in. He's no murderer, despite the stories you might have heard.

It was true. Proud, arrogant, loner, stubborn - Syre could be called all of those. But his heart was in the right place at all times, and it was important that Pest knew that before taking him in. She deserved that much.

Levin looked over to his dragon and his soon-to-be companion. Despite their initial reluctance, it was becoming more apparent by the minute that they were meant for one another. Vesta was a magnificent Pokemon in her own right, and it took an exceptional creature to tame and win over someone as reserved as Syre. The Charizard had managed just that.

- We should give them time and privacy... whether things will work out between them or not, there's only way to find out for sure. I might know just the place, and I think you do too.

---

Mazo watched on as one of his oldest acquaintances took his first steps towards a new life - a life away from Levin's family and into one of his own. Levin would lose a powerful companion, but it was for the best; Syre needed this, and there was no containing a dragon's desires. In any event, it was a noble purpose in life to have - a family, a wife and descendance to continue his legacy...

And what about me? What is my own purpose?...

Happy for the Salamence as he was, the Lucario felt conflicted about his own condition. Contrary to Syre, he couldn't fathom a life away from Levin, or goals different from the human's own. And he was content... what did that make of him? Was he merely an extension of Levin's will?

As if sensing his troubles, another Pokemon approached Mazo and rested a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, the Lucario was met with Haou's penetrating gaze, a wordless stare that said everything. The Medicham reminded him that indeed, Mazo had a purpose of his own, a goal only he could strive to reach in his peerless power - perfection. And between him and perfection now stood one of few obstacles.

You are right as always. You and I... we have unfinished matters to settle. The battle we never fought; indeed, now is the time. Thank you, Emperor.

Without a word, the Lucario and Medicham retreated into the depths of the forest, unbeknownst to Levin...

MarbleZone 12-31-2015 09:31 AM

The sound of blades clashing with one another brought him to the window. Levin had been lost in thought all morning, trying to find a reason to stay, but he couldn't; the thought of facing an actual Elite Four and its Champion to fulfill his life's dream was within his reach, but in order to do so, he'd have to leave Fizzy Bubbles. With Kyzer, his ultimate team was now merely two Pokemon away from completion, and then...

But the noise of battle snapped him out of his reverie, and he peered outside. What he saw was an unlikely face-off: Sai, the lone brooding warrior, tested his swords against the living sword itself, Almace. The Ghost-Type was one Levin couldn't figure out; it followed him around everywhere, often materializing from his own shadow, but never revealed a hint of its own personality, making it an unsettling company. To think that either of them would start a fight was unlikely, but there they were.

The blonde Trainer stepped outside, and his unusual insight allowed him to pick up on several details that explained everything. Sai's blade-arms were spotted dark-red on several places, and the edges were notched from extreme usage. Levin knew the mantis enjoyed complete solitude in the woods nearby (reminding him of Ryker, his former Luxray) where he trained incessantly to surpass the team's strongest. He despised advice of any kind, making him very hard to deal with, but there was no denying his hard work had paid off; Levin had never seen Sai moving this fast or hitting this hard.
Almace's edge, on the other hand, was as impeccably clean and sharp as always, and the Pokemon's movements were still sluggish although picking up the pace. No doubt about it - it was Sai who'd started this fight, challenging the still-slumbering Almace. After all, what better way to test your swordsmanship than versus an actual sword?

Either Sai thinks he's strong enough or he's hit a roadblock. Ajax did the same thing once, as did Syre - warriors like them, who don't accept help, often take on battles they can't win in hopes of triggering that "something" they know they lack. It's the same for you Sai, isn't it?...

Despite his assumption, the mantis was doing exceptionally well. Moving too fast for Almace to land a hit, his agility allowed Sai to run circles around his foe, while alternating between close-range slices and raged offense with Air Slashes and Silver Winds. Almace took every blow without flinching, and the occasional swing missed widely, but the Ghos didn't seem fazed at all. In fact, with each of Sai's hits, Almace's blade seemed to glimmer brighter and sharpen...

He's... improving himself with each of his opponent's strikes?

Tiny scraps of metal flew from Almace under Sai's intense onslaught, and that's when it dawned on Levin - that's what the Honedge intended. Before Sai could realize it, Almace had shed most of his unnecessary weight in blunt steel, and when he finally made a move, it was faster - much faster - than either the Scyther or Levin himself could have predicted. Taking full advantage of its Autotomize, the living sword flew straight toward the charging Sai and cut him down with a powerful Retaliate, then turned around and unleashed an unblockable flurry of Slashes! As Almace flailed wildly, hitting faster than Sai could dodge, he began to glow even brighter, but not just the edge this time; the hilt itself took on the same shine, a familiar light-blue, and suddenly the number of slashes doubled, causing Sai to lose his footing and tumble helplessly on his back!

When the light faded, Almace hovered over his fallen foe in his new form, twice as deadly - the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn680.gif stared down at Sai with an unreadable expression, but giving the Scyther time to struggle back to his feet, as if inciting him to try again...

Sai, you were outmatched from the start. Against a Doublade, what chance do you have? But I know you...

As Levin expected, Sai merely spat on the ground and rose back up, beaten but not done yet. He assumed his battle stance, scanning his foe for a weak spot with his Technician instincts, and prepared to charge again... only to see Almace travel through the air faster tan he could react and hit an upwards slash of incredible difficulty and precision, again leaving Sai powerless to block. And after that single Aerial Ace, the mantis could no longer continue battling, succumbing to his injuries and fainting.

Levin rushed over to the fallen Sai; Ciel emerged from her Pokeball and immediately nursed the Scyther back to health without her Trainer having to say a word, like she'd been watching all along. But how could she? She was inside her Pokeball the whole time...

- Sai, are you alright? Come on, you need to rest. That was a good effort, but you should...

Before he could finish, the wounded warrior cut him off by jamming one of his blades into the young man's backpack, nearly piercing it. His expression was a mix of frustration, anger and burning resolve.

- What... what do you want? Is there something there that...

Metal Coat. He needs it.

The realization was as sudden as it was unexpected. Mere months ago, Mellow (now Qeth) had to pry the coat off of him after the trade, since the mantis was too proud to accept any form of armor. But he understood now that he had to embrace its power to achieve the level he craved, even if it meant training even harder to overcome its weight without sacrificing mobility. The Metal Coat would allow him to become stronger than any further amount of training, and Sai was finally ready to accept that limitation.

- If that's what you want... sure. I'll find a way to help you.

Sai merely scoffed, but Levin could sense the slightest hint of gratitude. But just then, he felt something else entirely, something overwhelming, overpowering and at the same time familiar, emerging from the woods ahead...

Master.

- M-Mazo?! What happened to you? And... where's Haou?

At the end of Syre's match with Vesta, the Lucario and the Medicham had slipped off to engage in their own final battle, way from prying eyes. It was Loffley who later filled him in, and it had been days since either Pokemon had reappeared, but Levin simply assumed they needed time. No matte how much he wanted to see his two strongest Pokemon face off and go all-out, he knew how much the battle meant to them and didn't dare to disturb them. So what had happened? And why was Mazo's aura so different?...

The Emperor... you will not see him again.

His mental voice had a different ring to it, and he sounded saddened. Something had happened to Mazo while he was away, but Levin's most pressing concern was Haou's absence...

- What do you mean? Mazo, tell me what happened!!

We clashed. For days, we battled one another, finding a resilience neither of us knew we possessed. The Emperor countered my every strike, but I managed to fend his off as well. Despite his Pure Power and his Psychic proficiency, my Aura matched him. It... was glorious.

He faltered with every word, visibly emotional. It was the first time Levin saw him in such a state.

This morning, there was a winner at last. His last strike missed, but my aim was true... I defeated Haou with the last ounce of my strength. And then...

As he could no longer continue, overcome by a rush of feelings uncharacteristic of such a composed fighter, Levin dropped to one knee and placed a reassuring hand on the lycan's shoulder.

- It's alright... just show me.

With a nod, Mazo closed his eyes, and in a moment the events were playing in Levin's mind. He saw everything...

Mazo stood over the defeated Haou and helped him back to his feet. Around them, where one was a waterfall and lush vegetation, nothing remained but a barren wasteland. Haou, having recovered his consciousness, spoke to Mazo in a language Levin didn't know, but in his vision could fully understand.

Levin's champion... Your power already exceeds my own, yet it may grow further. I can help you, if you wish.

My only purpose left in this life is to serve Levin as best I can. If you say I'm yet to reach my peak... please tell me, Emperor.

Haou hesitated, for some reason. Levin had never seen the Medicham hesitate... what was going on?

There is one more gate for you to open, one that grants godly power. Through my meditation I've seen it, I've touched it... but I cannot cross the gate even in the peak of my strength. It is my curse to bear; you, however, may still achieve that ultimate state. I wish to be a part of that glorious transcendence, and I would give you my essence to do so. Our powers combined may be enough to force the gate open.

Your... "essence"? Emperor, what do you mean?...

It is not like you to ask questions for which you already have the answer. Yes, that is what I offer you, and I would be honored if you accept. I have reached my limit, no amount of training or meditation can further strengthen me. In this current state, powerful as though this body may be, I feel unworthy to serve Levin - others, such as yourself, are my superiors. This is the only contribution I can still give, and would do so gladly...

I cannot accept. I will not be responsible for your...

Death? I will live on, through you, in your soul and as part of your Aura. The one you call "Haou" will physically cease to exist, but I will be with you always. I insist - it is the only way for you to achieve the power we both feel Levin deserves. The only way for you to become his perfect warrior.

Haou held out his hand, and Mazo took it. At that moment, the vision ended...

- Mazo... what happened? Did Haou really?....

The Lucario stared at the ground, not answering for a while. When he spoke again, Levin could clearly tell his voice was indeed different... like two creatures spoke in unison through the same Pokemon.

Haou, as you knew him, is gone. He is part of me, as he wished; our Auras have merged, as have our bodies, his gone and mine empowered by his sacrifice. I can feel his soul dwelling within me, and an unprecedented power coursing through my veins... but the Medicham himself is no more, and he speaks only through me. I am so sorry, Master... but he wanted this to be his final contribution. I could not deny him that...

Levin closed his eyes, fighting back tears, but he understood Haou's sacrifice - it was for Mazo's sake, for the greater good, and he, much like the Lucario, had no choice but to respect the Medicham's choice. He offered his soul to allow Mazo to grow even further, and that gate he mentioned... Mega Evolution?
He instinctively reached for the Lucarionite in his Bag, but stopped midway. This wasn't the time... Mazo needed to adjust, and above all, to mourn. As did he.

Master, if I may ask one more thing of you... Haou and I are one now, he is not dead and I am not alone. I am no longer simply "Mazo"; for his sacrifice, and for his spirit dwelling within me, I believe "Hazo" should be my... our name from now on. With your permission...

- Hazo... I think you're right, as always. But it'll take me some time to adjust, I've called you Mazo for over three years! Even so, Haou's soul and Aura live on through you, and I can't ignore that. We will both honor his sacrifice; he had great plans for you, and I'll see his final wish come true! You and I, with his help, will open that final gate.

He turned to his Scyther, who listened intently with a fierce glimmer in his eyes.

- And then Sai, you can challenge the greatest force of all to the battle of your life.


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