Jump to content


  • Content Count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation

0 Neutral

About Antoshi

  • Rank
  • Birthday November 18

Profile Information

  • Alias
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Interests
    Writing, creating videos, enjoying life

Contact Methods

  • Website URL
  • Discord
  • Social Media A

Recent Profile Visitors

298 profile views
  1. Chapter 29 Latoshi led his siblings to the spot in the woods where he had found Poka and Chika. From there, the trio followed the Pichus directions and trekked north, toward Route 36. The snow patches between the trees fluctuated wildly, reaching anywhere between several inches and all the way up to their chests. With the radiant heat emanating from their auras, the snow evaporated on contact with their bodies. After a half an hour of walking, however, the hills of white abruptly leveled off until there was nothing left. For the first time in what felt like forever, the siblings stood upon bare dirt and grass within the forest. All three of them were equally astonished at the sight. As the Pichus had told them, they found themselves in a green oasis, completely devoid of snow. The cloud cover over their head was still just as dense as anywhere else. Antoshi narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Whoever was behind this didn't just control the weather — they were also smart enough to cover their hiding place so it wouldn't show up on weather radars. “Be careful,” he said to his siblings. “We don't know who's here, or what exactly it is we're walking into. Don't let your guards down.” Latoshi and Mitoshi nodded, their irises glowing intensely with the respective colors of their Ki. All three of them dissipated their aura in a simultaneous effort to conserve their energy. They moved slowly and quietly, staying close together. Their eyes scanned around every inch of the area around them — every blade of grass, every leaf upon each tree, every sound in the breeze. They even paid attention to any deviation in the crisp, clean, cool scent in the air. Nothing escaped their heightened senses. Suddenly, all three of them turned their attention to a fixed point in front of them: the sound of footsteps gently brushing across the grass. Mitoshi swallowed nervously; all three of them incredibly tense as to who was about to join them. From behind the trees emerged a young man of average, mid-teen build, and hair of pure white. The siblings, however, were shocked beyond reason at his appearance. He was covered in the black fur and accurate golden markings of an Umbreon. Tall, black, gold-ringed ears pointed out from the top of his head, and a similar tail stuck out from his tailbone. The sclera of his eyes were red, his irises pure black. His clothes — a white t-shirt, the sleeves of which torn off long ago, and blue jeans that seemed to be a bit small for him — were dirty, scuffed, and very worn in. He was exactly as the Pichu twins had described: a person, but also a Pokémon. The siblings were too stunned to speak. None of them knew what to say to the smiling young man, who seemed to be only mildly surprised to encounter them. “Howdy there, folks!” he said, in a friendly, yet faux, country accent. “What brings ya' 'round these parts?” “Uh, …” Antoshi spoke up, trying to find the words. “Hello … there. We were, uh, wondering if you could help us. We're looking for anyone who might know about the cause of this sudden blizzard.” “The blizzard, you say?” the young man replied, in his normal voice. He shrugged casually. “Sorry, I wouldn't know anyone or anything to do with that. What makes you think I would?” “We … just happened to be exploring nearby and found this place,” Antoshi replied. “It seems a little strange that … this happens to be the only area where the snow isn't falling.” “Hey, that's true, isn't it?” he mused, gazing up at the cloudy sky. “Strange storms can cause strange things, don't you think?” “Yeah, …” Antoshi replied, eying him suspiciously. “Very strange things.” “Well, it's nice to see visitors around here for once,” he said, “but, unfortunately, you three are going to have to head back the way you came.” The three siblings looked at each other. Things were becoming curiouser and curiouser. “… Why is it we have to go back?” Antoshi asked. “Are you trying to protect something?” The young man smiled and shrugged in response. “Erm, … why don't we introduce ourselves first? I'm Antoshi, this is my brother Latoshi, and my sister, Mitoshi.” Latoshi remained apathetic to the situation while Mitoshi smiled and waved to him. “Oh-ho, cool names!” the young man replied. “Mine's Kage — and that's 'cage' with a 'k'. I know, it's awesome.” He stood proud while the others stared at him in bewilderment. Latoshi silently mouthed his name in disbelief. Having once believed his own name was made-up, 'Kage' was most certainly not a birth name. “… Yeah,” Antoshi said, after a moment of awkward silence. “Anyway, we're here because we wanted to investigate.” The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Investigating? Oh, sweet, are the three of you detectives?” he asked, awe-struck. “I didn't think such young kids could get hired as private eyes.” The siblings became more concerned at how unexpectedly foolish Kage came off as. “Um, … well, no,” Antoshi replied, “we're not detectives. We're more like … concerned citizens. We were told that whatever or whoever might be causing this snowstorm is around here somewhere. We just want to understand what's going on and see if we can help.” The other two nodded in agreement. The young male Umbreon narrowed his eyes. His expression turned stern, becoming very suspicious and wary of the trio. However, his mood abruptly lightened up again. “Nope!” he replied, chuckling. “There's nothing like that here. Whoever told you that is wrong. Sorry I couldn't be of any more help to you three. Have a safe trip back!” Now it was the siblings' turn to be suspicious of him. The Pichus wouldn't have any reason to lie — not after what they endured. The fact that Kage, an Umbreon-like human, was standing before them was proof enough that the little ones were telling the truth. “Listen,” Latoshi spoke up in an impertinent tone, “we're not stupid. Whoever you're covering for doesn't give a damn about others, and they sure don't give a damn about the innocent Pokémon that are being affected by this blizzard. Don't you even care that there are Pokémon out there, right now, that aren't prepared for this cold? They're freezing and dying out there!” Antoshi held a hand out to his brother to get him to stop, giving him a concerned gaze. He was fully aware that his brother had a personal stake in this bizarre weather, but, he didn't want to upset and alienate what could be their only lead. Latoshi folded his arms across his chest, huffing in frustration, allowing his brother to take charge again. Kage bit his lip, turning away to hide a worried expression. He gazed out at the snowy woods in the distance, contemplating the truth behind the sable-haired boy's words. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I—I'd like to help you, I really would. I just can't. I'm sorry.” Latoshi scowled, clenching his fists. The very thought of those two Pichu snowed over and helpless fueled the fires of his anger. “But, hey, if you guys want to stay for a little while, I've got some great jokes to tell you!” “Jokes?” Latoshi mused, enraged. He let his hands fall at his sides. “We don't have time for your stupid jokes! There's nothing funny about any of this!” “Oh, come on!” Kage whined. “I've got some really good ones, too! 'Why did the Farfetch'd cross the road', 'three Mr. Mime walk into a bar'. … Oh! I've got some killer 'knock, knock' puns that'll knock you off your toes!” Latoshi was at his breaking point. “Look, idiot!” he shouted, catching them all off guard. “Move your ass out of the way and let us through or I'm going to knock, knock your head off! We've wasted enough time here listening to you!” “Latoshi, please,” Antoshi said in concern, turning to him, “calm down.” “Sheesh,” Kage replied, rubbing the back of his head. “You sure remind me of someone I know.” Latoshi snarled, stepping forward, holding up a fist in a threatening manner. Both of his siblings followed him, holding back each of his shoulders. “Okay, okay!” he exclaimed, cowering. “I'll let you through.” Latoshi sighed, calming down some. “But, before I do, you have to listen to just one joke, okay?” Latoshi sighed in frustration, rubbing his forehead. “Fine. One stupid joke.” “Sweet!” Kage replied, pumped up. “Now, each of you, look straight at me. You really gotta observe and appreciate the timing of a true comedic master.” Latoshi rolled his eyes, following suit with his siblings as they all did as he said. “Okay. 'Knock, knock.'” “Who's there?” all three of them replied. “You.” “You, who?” Kage grinned from ear to ear. Suddenly, his red eyes and the golden rings on his body began to glow brightly with a mysterious energy. “You thought you were getting past me, but you were wrong…” The siblings all gasped in shock as the world around them began to spiral and blur before fading to black. “What the hell's going on here?!” Latoshi exclaimed. He turned his attention to Kage, who grinned at him. “You bastard!” Latoshi lunged at him, only for the young man to inexplicably drift away out of his reach. “It was nice knowing the three of you,” Kage said, quietly, his voice echoing in their heads. The male Umbreon faded from sight. “You're stuck in a deep, dark hellscape now — doomed to wander around forever. I don't know if you'll ever be able to come back…” “What—what are you talking about?” Antoshi asked. “Why are you doing this?!” “Because I told you to leave, but it's too late for that now,” Kage replied, his voice getting further and quieter. “Hey, … why don't you take a look around? …” Antoshi did so, startled to realize that his siblings were gone as well. He was all alone. “Latoshi?” he called out, waiting a moment for a response. “Mitoshi? Are you there?” There was no response from either of them. He started to walk around, aimlessly, through a void of complete darkness. He turned his head and eyes in all directions, seeing absolutely nothing beyond the dark. All he could hear was his own breathing, and nothing else. ‘Where am I?’ he thought. ‘Did he really send me to some strange location? Or, did I … lose my eyesight somehow?’ First and foremost on his mind was finding his siblings. Antoshi wandered for a while in the quiet, pitch black space. Fear and doubt began creeping in his mind. There was nothing he could think of to get him out of his solitary confinement. He attempted to fly, but that was to no avail — he couldn't focus his mind, let alone gather his Ki. Kage's unknown power was far beyond anything he, Latoshi, and Mitoshi could've prepared for. After what felt like hours of torturous walking, Antoshi suddenly picked up a faraway shout from his brother behind him. He turned around, finding Latoshi laid on the ground. His elation to have found one of the others quickly turned to worry. He ran over to him immediately. “Latoshi!” he said, getting no response. He knelt down beside him, shaking him. The sable-haired boy was on his side. “Latoshi. Are you okay? What happened—” Upon rolling him onto his back, he saw the wide, terrified stare in Latoshi's glazed eyes. The boy was totally lifeless. He paused for a moment, stricken by shock and grief. “No,” he whispered, slapping and shaking him some more. “No, please. Latoshi! Please wake up! Latoshi!!” His eyes quickly filled with tears, horror and heartache sweeping through him. “No, no, no …” he whispered, weeping, placing his forehead on Latoshi's chest. “No, this can't be happening. This can't be. … Please get up, Latoshi …” As the blond boy cried in agony, he was startled by another nearby scream. He gasped, jumping up to find his sister laid out on the ground just a few feet away. “Mitoshi, no!!” he shouted, crawling over to her. She was just as devoid of life as Latoshi. “Why?!” he exclaimed, clasping his hands over her limp hand. He trembled, sobbing uncontrollably, his face covered with tears. “Why … how did this happen? Mitoshi, … please say something …” He sniffled, clenching his eyes shut, holding her hand against his forehead for a moment. As he turned his gaze upward, his expression turned pale. “No,” he whispered, letting go of her, as he climbed to his feet. Laid before him was a trail of bodies — everyone he loved. Fireball, Bubbles, his adoptive parents, and his birth parents. They were all dead. He staggered forward, before dropping to his knees from the horrible weight he felt. His entire world had shattered. “Why?” he whispered, feeling terror and sorrow unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. He grasped handfuls of his hair, shutting his eyes, straining and sobbing. “Why?!” he shouted as loudly as he could. At the same time, Latoshi gasped in surprise, hearing Antoshi's voice cry out from afar. The sable-haired boy found himself trapped in a prison cell — the very same cell upon the military island base. The sterile, white room with the same blinding, white lights overhead were all too painfully familiar to him. He had been calling out for some time, hoping that anyone would hear him, but, he was alone … all over again. “Antoshi?!” he shouted, looking all around. The cameras watched his every move from the hallway outside the acrylic glass barrier. He was garbed in the same plain, white clothing, and his feet were bare. Everything was just as he remembered it. “Damn it!!” he screamed, pounding his fists on the glass in rage. “How did this … happen?! How did I get back here?! I- … I can't remember!” Like his brother, he attempted to dredge up his Ki to no avail. He was as helpless in his cell as he was the first time he was there. “Mitoshi!” he called out. “Someone, please help! Someone has to be able to hear me!!” Just then, the rhythmic tapping of approaching footsteps against the cold, tile floor grew close. His eyes widened and his heart sank, recognizing the walking pattern. The sound echoed in his mind, growing louder and closer. “No, …” he whispered, just before General Logan walked up to and stopped in front of his cell. The man smiled, cordially, holding a clipboard behind his back. “It c-can't be. … You're dead! I killed you!” “Hallucinating now, are we?” Logan responded, calmly. “I never died. I'm right here, and you're right there — where you should be. You're still a threat to the security of Johto, and the world, quite frankly. So, let's not beat around the bush anymore, shall we? You already know why you're here, and you know that you're never getting out of here alive. Not unless, of course, I sign off on it. Now, why don't we start by giving me some information, huh? Your name, your address, name of your parents?” Latoshi was totally mesmerized and bewildered. The man he watched go down in a ball of flames was standing before him, alive and well, while he himself was locked up in the very same prison cell he broke out of and destroyed. He started to pant, fearfully, holding his head. Did he really leave in the first place? Was everything about his powers, his family, his future … all just a dream? His surroundings were exactly the same. The prison was just as cold and white and quiet as ever. The same dreadful, sterile scent wafted through the air. The lights in the ceiling gave off their usual quiet hum. It was as if he never left. “Well?” the General spoke. “Are you going to say anything, son?” “What— … what happened to me?” the boy asked, as his eyes welled with tears. “Why am I back here? Where's my … brother, and my sister?” “You have names for those siblings of yours?” Logan asked, clicking his pen. “Their names are— … their … names … are …” he panted heavily, feeling light-headed. “I can't … I can't remember! Why can't I remember?!” “Take it slowly, son. You're only going to spiral into a panic. Why don't you just … describe them for me?” “Uh, … my brother, he— … he has blue hair— no, wait. That's not right. My-my sister she has long, … blonde hair. Or, … was it short hair? She liked blue! I remember she liked … the color blue, and my brother is … my brother … did I … have a brother?” He looked at the General with a fearful expression. “What's happening to me?!” he exclaimed, sobbing. “Why can't I remember anything?! They were right here! My brother was right … here!” “Okay, okay. Just relax now,” Logan said, in a futile attempt to reassure the boy. “Let me bring in someone to help. I think he'll be able to 'reconnect the dots', so to speak, with your memory.” Latoshi held his head down, trying to calm his breathing and his pounding heart. “Come on over here, sir,” Logan said to an unknown party. “Hello there, … Latoshi,” a very familiar, very unwelcome voice spoke to him. He froze in terror for a moment, lifting his head slowly to find the amorphous mass of black Ki known as Lazarus hovering beside the General. Latoshi's eyes bulged out, scrambling backward, pressed against the far wall of the cell. “No!!” he shouted. “No, you can't be back! Get out of here! Get away from me!!” “Oh, but I am,” Lazarus replied, chuckling in amusement. “ I am very much back. Now, I am here now to take care of everything. I can help you recall your memories. All you have to do is put your trust in me…” “No!!” the boy screamed at the top of his lungs. “No!!” Mitoshi gasped, picking up the faraway voice of her sable-haired brother. “Latoshi?” she mused, quietly. She'd wandered back out of the forest by herself, trudging through the snow, heading to the cabin. Unable to muster her Ki, the girl had been forced her to walk all the way back. She'd been calling out for her brothers the whole time, but, they were nowhere to be found. She found it incredibly strange that they would suddenly abandon her like that. Her heart had sunk in a mix of sadness and anger. Mitoshi sighed to herself, rubbing her arms to warm herself amid the wildly falling snow. She stamped back up the porch and headed inside. “Hey, Bubbles!” she called out, closing the door behind her. “Have you seen my brothers?” There was no response. “Bubbles! Fireball!” She looked around their small house, opening every room, finding no trace of the two Pokémon anywhere. “Poka? Chika?” The girl paused for a moment, concerned and confused. She headed over to Bubbles' Poké Ball, taking it off its usual pedestal, holding it out in front of her. “Bubbles, come on out! I really need to talk to you!” The ball remained inert. She looked at it in confusion, her jaw hanging. “Bubbles?” she spoke, softly. “Are you in there?” Again, there was no response. She placed the ball back where it belonged, running a shaky hand through her long hair. “Okay, … there's no need to panic. They're all probably just teasing me.” She chuckled, nervously. “Yes, that's it. They're playing a mean trick on me. They want to see me get scared and then they'll jump out and yell 'surprise!' or something.” Her breathing became markedly heavier and fearful. She again rubbed her arms in the cold and eerie silence of the empty cabin. “Come on out!” she said. “I know you guys are around, okay? You got me! That—that was a good one! … Guys? Please, come on out now!” Mitoshi swallowed again, waiting a few moments in the painful quiet. “Guys?!” she called out. There was no response. “Okay. Okay, … maybe they … maybe they went to our parents house or something. Maybe they were waiting for me to follow them.” She sat down in front of the videophone, dialing her home number as quickly as she could. It rang several times, but there was no answer. She stared in disbelief for a moment before trying to call again. As before, no one answered. She sniffled, her eyes starting to well up with tears. “Guys!” she shouted, getting back to her feet. “Come on, stop this! It isn't funny, okay?! You're really hurting my feelings doing this!” Mitoshi huffed and sobbed, quietly, wandering back over to the front door. She stood out on the porch, watching the powerful blizzard sending down blinding snow before her. Unable to use her powers, and totally lost from her loved ones, she felt so helpless and empty. She fell to her knees, crying uncontrollably. “Someone!” she shouted. “Antoshi! Latoshi! … Where are you?!” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Back in the real world, however, Kage snickered to himself. His eyes and rings continued to glow bright. The three siblings were still standing before him, having never left. Each of them had dull, faraway looks in their glazed eyes, tears trickling down their faces. The young man sighed. ‘I do hate to do this to them,’ he thought, ‘but, they left me no choice. These kids are going to wander through the most painful fears their minds can fathom until they go insane. That's when I gotta drag them out of here. They'll never come back after that. Whether they live or die from their experience doesn't matter to me. I can't let anyone through, no matter what.’ His attention turned to Latoshi, recalling what the boy said earlier. ‘I just hope Ken really knows what he's doing…’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “This can't be real,” Antoshi whispered, gasping and sobbing. He had already started digging graves in the black void using his bare hands. “I don't want this to be real,” Latoshi remarked, cowering in the corner of his cell. Lazarus was seeping through the glass, attempting to reach the boy. “Please, please just let this all be a horrible dream,” Mitoshi whispered. She knelt out in the middle of the field outside their home, mindlessly raking her hands through the piled snow as more continued to fall upon her. ‘Antoshi …’ she thought, closing her eyes, as more tears fell from them. ‘Antoshi, … please come back.’ Antoshi looked down at his lifeless sister, cradled in his arms. He sniffled, shaking his head in disbelief, before laying her down in one of the graves he'd made. ‘… back,’ Antoshi heard the girl's voice in his head. He gasped in a mix of shock and relief. ‘Antoshi, … please come back.’ “Mi—Mitoshi?” he mused, his voice trembling. Antoshi looked down at the girl, who was still lifeless and most certainly incapable of speaking. He sighed, closing his eyes, chalking it up to some passing memory. ‘Antoshi!!’ the girl's voice spoke in his mind once again, louder, and with much more conviction. He unexpectedly dropped her into the grave. ‘Mitoshi?!’ he thought. At the same time, the real Mitoshi's face lit up, gasping loudly. ‘Mitoshi, is—is that you?’ Antoshi spoke to her in her mind. ‘Yes, it's me, Antoshi!’ she thought. Her very thoughts pierced through the inky darkness that surrounded Antoshi, allowing him to both hear and communicate with her. ‘Where are you?!’ Antoshi looked down at the girl's corpse. He was at a complete loss for words, confused as to what was happening. He knew, however, that he was not looking at the real Mitoshi laying in that shallow grave. ‘Antoshi?’ the girl spoke again. ‘Are you there?’ ‘Yes, yes, Mitoshi!’ he replied, smiling in relief, closing his tear stained eyes. ‘I'm here! What—what's going on? How come I can hear you in my mind? I thought you were …’ ‘I'm not sure what's going on, either. But, I'm here, back at the cabin! I can't find you or Latoshi or anyone! Where did you all go?’ ‘I—I—I never left! I'm still here in the woods, I think. I'm in some kind of … dark … void or something!’ ‘Do you know where Latoshi is?’ ‘Mitoshi, I … I see all of you, but, … to me, you were all … dead. You're all dead in front of me right now.’ Mitoshi was startled before grinning reassuringly. ‘I'm not dead, I promise! We need to find Latoshi, though! I'm not sure how to … tune this 'frequency', or whatever we're doing, to call him!’ Antoshi thought for a moment. ‘Could it be that … we're hearing each others' thoughts? Like, … telepathy?’ ‘I—I guess that's possible?’ she replied, confused. ‘I didn't know we could do this!’ ‘Neither did I. Why don't we … try to search him out with our minds? You were calling out to me when I heard you, let's try the same for him!’ Mitoshi nodded in response. ‘Latoshi!’ they both called out in their minds. ‘… Latoshi!’ Latoshi wept and trembled as Lazarus inched ever closer to him. ‘Latoshi!!’ he heard the voices of his siblings in his head. He gasped loudly. ‘An … toshi?’ he thought, finally recalling his brother's name. ‘… Mitoshi?’ His inner voice got through the two, who were equally ecstatic to hear him. ‘Latoshi!’ Antoshi spoke to him. ‘Are you all right? Where are you right now?’ Latoshi held his head, trembling in disbelief. ‘Antoshi? Is that really you?’ ‘Hey, I'm here, too!’ Mitoshi said, grinning. ‘You wouldn't forget about your dear sister, would you?’ ‘Mitoshi,’ the sable-haired boy replied in awe. ‘You're both really … still here. It wasn't all just a dream.’ Able to converse with each other and pierce the veil that had fooled them, all three siblings had their sanity slowly return to them. ‘Where are you right now?’ Antoshi asked. ‘I—I'm in the military base,’ his brother replied. ‘I'm trapped here. I don't know how to get out!’ ‘Military base?’ Antoshi mused. ‘No, … that's long gone, Latoshi. It doesn't exist. This is all just an illusion!’ ‘Illusion?’ both of his siblings replied in unison. ‘Yes, I think I understand now,’ Antoshi said. ‘Kage … used some kind of power on us. What we're seeing isn't real. He's projecting some kind of hallucinations on us. All three of us are safe and sound. We're all still here in the woods, … together.’ Latoshi and Mitoshi smiled, both of them getting back to their feet. The visions all three siblings thought they saw before them started to fade away, much to their shock. They were left in the same kind of empty, black void that Antoshi had been lost in. ‘What should we do?’ Mitoshi asked. ‘Concentrate,’ Antoshi replied. ‘There has to be some kind of way to break out of this spell. Both of you, try to tap into your Ki, even if you can't feel it right now. This is all just a dream — a dream we have to wake up from!’ ‘Right!’ both of them replied. The sibling trio shut their eyes, focusing on the well of emotions that had built up from the torturous visions Kage had put them through. They each grunted and strained with all their might, summoning up their Ki the same way they always knew how to. Slowly and surely, the trio found a light breaking through the darkness. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ In the real world, Kage's expression turned to shock. “No way,” he whispered. The three siblings were stirring back to life. The color returned to their eyes — the colors of their respective Ki, which shone and glowed brightly; brighter than even Kage's eyes. With a sudden, explosive push that staggered Kage backward, all three of their auras flared to life. The three of them looked around in awe, finding themselves back to reality. “Oh, my gosh!” Mitoshi exclaimed, laughing and sobbing in joy, as she stared at her brothers. “We made it!” “Heck yeah, we did,” Latoshi replied, both he and his brother grinning. Mitoshi hugged them both, kissing them on the cheek. “That's crazy!” Kage exclaimed, stepping back a few paces. “No one's ever been able to break out of my hypnosis like that!” The three siblings turned their attention to Kage. “There's a lot more I'm about to break, funny guy!” Latoshi shouted, scowling at the young man. “Latoshi, wait,” Antoshi said. Latoshi sighed, folding his arms over his chest. “Fine. You wanted to take the reigns on this one. I'll leave it to you, then.” Antoshi smiled to him, before turning to the terrified Kage. “We are not angry at you,” Antoshi reassured him. “We only wanted to talk to you from the very beginning — that's all. We just want to find a peaceful resolution to this blizzard. Let's just talk, okay?” Kage swallowed, nervously. These three kids were most certainly not normal. They'd just created an inexplicable set of light shows around their bodies. He was unsure if he could trust them — or anyone. “I— there's n-nothing to talk about,” Kage stammered, shaking his head. “I can't let you three past me, that's all there is to it. Please, just g-go away.” “What is it you're hiding?” Antoshi asked. “Help us understand! What are you trying to accomplish here? What good comes from all of this?” Kage sighed and shook his head again. “You … you can't understand. You would never understand what it's like for us.” “'Us'?” Mitoshi mused. “The three of you are just … normal-looking kids. You don't know how it is to be like … this.” Kage held his arms out, looking down at himself. The three siblings were confused as to what exactly he meant. “You mean, you … really look like that?” Antoshi asked. “It's not some kind of costume?” “Costume,” Kage remarked with an amused scoff. “I wish it was. I wish I could just … take my skin off and start all over.” Latoshi and Mitoshi looked to each other in concern. “Tell us, what made you look like tha—” “Enough!” Kage shouted. His eyes and golden rings began to glow again. The three siblings immediately took a fighting stance, preparing for him to use his powers again. “You're not going to trick me like the other humans did! You're not going to fool us, any of us, anymore! This is our time now! We're the ones that are in control — not you!” “Your power isn't going to work on us again,” Antoshi said. “We already know how to deal with it!” Kage chuckled and grinned. “Who said I only had one ability, huh?” Similar to before, the world around them quickly grew dark. The trio gasped, watching the darkness sweep over them. “Just as any Dark-type Pokémon, I can use the darkness as my ally …” With a mischievous laugh, he skulked backward, stunning the trio as he disappeared into the shadows. “Where'd he go?” Mitoshi wondered aloud. “Is this … the same spell he used before?” “No,” Latoshi replied, looking around, “it's different this time. We can at least see each other now.” “It's either another projection,” Antoshi said, “or, he's literally removed the light from around us somehow.” “Why not both, huh?!” Kage said from beyond the darkness. The three siblings narrowed their eyes, keeping their guard up. “The three of you are trapped here for as long as I want you to be! Unlike my hypnosis, you won't be able to break out of this one, since you're all still conscious! But, that's just something I'll have to beat out of you the old-fashioned way!” “Bring it on, you unfunny idiot!” Latoshi shouted, standing shoulder to shoulder with his sister as they looked around. “How about I start with you, you wannabe edgy tough guy!?” Kage exclaimed. “No!” Antoshi shouted. “Leave them out of this! If you want someone to beat up on, then, I'm right here!” Kage laughed. “Fine, whatever! I have to take all of you down, anyway!” Antoshi shouted as a sudden punch rattled his jaw from the darkness. A trail of blood trickled from his mouth. His siblings gasped in surprise. “Antoshi!” Mitoshi cried out in concern. “It's all right,” Antoshi replied to her. He exhaled slowly, dropping his guard completely, letting his arms fall at his sides. The red aura faded from his body, and his eyes returned to their regular chestnut color. His siblings watched as Antoshi let his overall power drop significantly. The blond boy closed his eyes, displaying no further resistance. ‘What's he doing?’ Mitoshi thought, communicating her thoughts to Latoshi with their newfound ability. ‘I'm not sure,’ Latoshi replied to her. ‘However, this is Antoshi we're talking about here. He's always got some kind of plan.’ ‘Ohh, I just hope you're right…’ Mitoshi said, biting her lip. The humanoid Umbreon laughed in amusement, firing off punches from different angles at the blond boy. Antoshi clenched his jaw as his head was jerked from side to side “I've never had a living punching bag before!” Kage said. Antoshi ignored the pain from the strikes. He instead focused on what he was hearing and studied the directions each punch was coming from. “Man, you take a long time to knock out! Fall unconscious already!” “Not happening,” Antoshi replied. He swiftly reached up in the instant before Kage's next punch was about to land, grabbing the young man by his furred forearm. Kage gasped in shock. “Especially because this fight is over now.” His siblings' faces lit up with glee. “All right, Antoshi!” Mitoshi cheered. “That was cool!” To their collective surprise, the darkness seeped away from the land, returning everything to normal in a matter of moments. No longer hidden by the shadows, Kage stared at them, his eyes wide in disbelief. He grunted, attempting to pull away from Antoshi's overwhelmingly strong grip to no avail. He grinned and chuckled at the blond boy, nervously. “Hey, um, … so, this is awkward, huh?” Kage asked. “How about we … break the awkward moment with a great joke?” “Sure, I got one,” Antoshi replied, with a playful smirk. The Umbreon-like young man stared back at him, fearfully. “'Knock, knock.'” “Wh—who's there?” Kage replied, timidly. “Chop.” “Chop … who?” With his free hand, Antoshi gave Kage a swift chop to the side of his neck. It was a maneuver he'd learned about in his martial arts books at the library. Kage groaned weakly, promptly dropping to his knees and falling face-first to the ground. The humanoid Umbreon was left unconscious. “Chop you,” Antoshi replied, chuckling to himself. Latoshi sighed in defeat, shaking his head at the terrible joke while Mitoshi hopped and cheered for Antoshi. “Wow,” Latoshi remarked, walking up to his brother. “So, it turns out this guy was a big weakling after all. All he had was his little powers. Once we saw through that, he was as much of a threat as a wet sponge. If there's any others around here like him, this is going to be a cakewalk. You know what? Let me take the next one.” Antoshi sighed. “Fine, you can deal with the next one. Latoshi,” he began, looking his brother squarely in the eye, “remember: we're here to try to resolve things peacefully. Let's not turn this into a melee if we can help it. Okay?” “I got it, I got it,” Latoshi reassured him, grinning. He turned away, stuffing his hands in his pockets, leading the other two further into the grassy portion of the forest. His expression turned to bitterness, recalling the sight of the Pichu twins nearly dead in the snow. Unfortunately for Antoshi, his brother was not past his penchant for violence. Latoshi was far less interested in diplomacy — not with the personal stake he carried into their endeavor.
  2. Chapter 28 Latoshi's body whistled through the air, green aura blazing around his body. Within mere seconds, he backtracked the entirety of the way he'd walked. He dropped to the ground, hustling up the porch stairs and bursting into the house. The other were startled, particularly Mitoshi as he marched up to her. “What?” she asked, confused. He suddenly yanked away the heated blanket from her body, angering the girl. “Hey! What's your problem?! I was using tha—” She and the others gasped in shock as he carefully laid the tiny Pichus on the couch before resting them atop the blanket. All of them got to their feet. “What happened?” Antoshi asked, mirroring everyone else's concern. “Where did these two Pichu come from?” “I just found them a minute ago,” Latoshi replied, quietly. He knelt down, wrapping their bodies with the sides of the blanket. “They were in the woods, covered in snow. They're … they're barely alive. I—I didn't know what else to do.” He turned to Antoshi. “You're the experienced Pokémon Trainer here. Can you do anything to help them?” Latoshi moved aside, allowing Antoshi to kneel down in front of them. He touched their heads and faces, tapping and scratching the electric pads on their cheeks. Very faint sparks, not unlike static electricity, popped from their cheek pouches. Bubbles slid her way over to the living area to finally see what was going on. She, too, gasped at the sight of the unconscious Pichus. “It looks bad,” Antoshi said, softly. “They're definitely suffering from hypothermia. Bringing them here as quickly as you could helped, though. The only thing we can do for them now is keep them warm and … just hope for the best.” “Oh, gosh…” Mitoshi uttered, stunned, on the verge of tears — as was Bubbles. Fireball bit his claws nervously. Latoshi stared at the Pichus with a look of firm resolve on his face. He took a seat beside them, where Mitoshi had been sitting earlier. “I'll stay with them and watch over them. I'm just gonna stay right here and make sure they're okay.” Antoshi smiled at him. "Me, too," Fireball added. "I'll do anything I can to help. Just name it." “Should I get some water?” Mitoshi asked. “I'll get some water for them in case they wake up.” “I know everyone is eager to help,” Antoshi said, “but, there's nothing else we can do right now. It's all up to them to make it through.” Fireball sighed as he and Antoshi took a seat again. Mitoshi sat on the couch facing Latoshi. All of them watched and waited while the two little weakened Pichu as they slept. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ As the day rolled on, the others settled back into their usual daily routine. Latoshi, however, did not. True to his word, the sable-haired boy did not move an inch from his seat. He watched over them continuously like a worried parent, paying attention for the slightest change in their condition. He leaned over every so often to check on the state of their breathing. He also made sure they were comfortable atop the heated blanket, and that it wasn't too hot for them. While the others headed to the kitchen to have dinner, Latoshi waited on the couch until his brother brought over a plate of food for him. Later in the evening, everyone, sans Latoshi, played a game together on the floor in the living area. Latoshi gasped loudly when one of them slowly stirred. “Guys!” he said, keeping his voice low. “Guys! One of them is moving!” The others quickly got up, scrambling over to see. To their amazement, one of the Pichu slowly rolled over onto its side with a soft groan. It remained asleep without opening its eyes. “Th-that's a good thing, right?” he asked Antoshi, nervously. “Absolutely,” Antoshi replied. He checked their temperature again, as well as their cheek pouches. “I think they're past the worst of it now. They just need to rest.” Latoshi sighed in relief, closing his eyes with a smile. “That's great to hear, because I really need to use the bathroom.” The others laughed. “Don't worry,” Antoshi replied, “we'll look after them until you get back.” “Thanks,” Latoshi said, getting up and shuffling off to the restroom in a hurry. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After nightfall, when everyone else had gone back to their rooms to sleep, Latoshi remained awake. The living area lights overhead had been set to a low dim, keeping him from having to sit in the dark. He continued to watch over the two, ignoring the even colder temperature at night. His eyes were starting to get heavy, having stared at the Pichus nearly all day. He sighed, resting his head against the back of the couch, promising to close his eyes for just a few minutes. Quickly enough, however, he dozed off to sleep. Not long after, the Pichu that had turned over earlier started to stir awake. It slowly opened its large, dark brown eyes with a quiet groan. The Pichu froze in place for a moment, slowly taking in its new, unfamiliar surroundings — particularly the big, slumbering human next to them. It noticed, however, that its counterpart was right there beside them as well. It slowly and quietly reached over, tapping and pushing the other Pichu. "Wake up," it whispered. "Poka! Wake up!" The Pichu continued to shake its twin for a few moments, until the other Pichu finally awoke with a groan of its own. "What's … going on?" the second Pichu wondered aloud. Taking note of Latoshi, it gasped in shock. "I don't know," the first one whispered. "But, we really need to get out of here before—" Its remarks were suddenly interrupted when Latoshi woke up with a startled gasp. The two Pichus panicked, closing their eyes, pretending to still be asleep. Latoshi looked over at them, curiously. He could've sworn he heard something. “Are … you two awake?” he asked. There was no response from either of them. He sighed, scooting a bit closer to the pair. He pulled the sides of the blanket back over them, noticing it had fallen off their bodies. Latoshi began to stare at them in concern. He went to reach out to touch them, stopping and hesitating briefly. He placed a hand atop their heads and their pink cheeks, smiling as he took note of how much warmer they were than when he first found them. Their bright yellow fur was incredibly soft. “I really hope the two of you wake up,” he said, quietly. “I sure would … like to get to know you better.” He continued to pet the two of them for a few moments. “I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I only wish that … I had found you both sooner. … If the two of you make it through this, I promise I'm going to make sure nothing else happens to you both — no matter what. … The two of you have been through enough already.” He took his hand away, sighing despondently. Just then, Mitoshi's bedroom door opened. He turned, looking at her from over the couch. She smiled, walking over in her blue nightgown and white socks. “How are they?” she asked quietly, kneeling down in front of them. He looked over at the Pichus as Mitoshi gently pet their heads. “Still the same,” he replied. She smiled weakly and nodded. “I can tell … how much you care about them, Latoshi. I think it's really wonderful how dedicated you are to making sure they're okay.” He smiled at her. “… Latoshi, I'm really sorry for arguing with you lately. I didn't mean all that stuff I said, I just got … upset over those silly little things, and that was wrong. It seems so pointless for me to get mad at you after I've wanted nothing more than to meet my brothers for the longest time.” Latoshi was pleasantly surprised to hear her apologize. He chuckled softly. “I was actually thinking the same thing earlier.” She chuckled as well. “Still, I share just as much blame here. I've just been trying to get used to the whole 'having a brother and sister' thing. That, and I've been dealing with living with the aftermath of what happened during my time with … Lazarus. I've been sorta … keeping all that anger inside, and it's been rough for me. I should've talked to you instead of just being a jerk and lashing out. You don't deserve that. I gotta get out of that bad habit.” “Talking things out sounds like a great idea,” she replied with an elated grin. “You can always talk to me whenever you want about anything in the whole world. … Well, Antoshi's probably better at giving advice than I am, but, I love you, too — so much. Don't you forget that.” “I know. I love you, too, Mitoshi.” She giggled, quietly, standing up before throwing her arms around his neck briefly and giving him a kiss on the cheek. “Well, goodnight,” she said. She turned to the Pichus. “And, goodnight to you two as well.” Latoshi chuckled. “Goodnight, Mitoshi.” Mitoshi headed back into her room and quietly closed the door behind her. Both siblings felt much better, sighing in content to finally resolve their issues. Latoshi got up to head into the kitchen for a glass of water. He headed back to the couch, taking a few sips along the way. He set his water down on the glass table in front of the couch, and settled in for the night. Once the Pichus were certain he was asleep again, the first Pichu pushed the other. "Come on, Poka," it said, keeping its voice low while shedding the blanket away. "We're getting out of here." The other Pichu, however, turned with tears welled in its eyes. "Poka, … are you crying?" The other Pichu nodded. "Yes. … I'm not leaving." The first Pichu was shocked. "Poka, please, we have to get out of here now! You know how terrible humans are!" Poka shook its head. "I'm not going, Chika. This human, … he saved us! I think he really … cares about us. You heard what they were saying. Plus, they're brother and sister — just like you and me." "Poka, you are my brother, and I'm not leaving you here. If you stay, they're just going to put you in those prison balls and make you their slave. We both promised we'd never live like that!" Poka shook his head once again. "I'm not going out in that cold anymore. At least here we have … someone who will take care of us! I trust him, Chika!" She huffed in exasperation. "Okay," his sister replied, impertinently, "fine, you can trust him all you want. I'm leaving." Chika got up on all fours, stretching briefly. She gasped, collapsing suddenly onto her belly after being racked with intense pain from every exhausted muscle in her body — the very same muscles that had previously been frozen stiff. "Chika?" he mused, sitting up. He gasped as well at the very same pain, causing him to realize why she collapsed. Although the cold had thawed from them, it was still going to take some time for the soreness of their frostbite to subside. He slowly laid down on his back, wincing in pain. "Well, … we probably shouldn't go anywhere anyway." "And why not?" she asked, looking at him while the rest of her body remain totally still. "Because … what if the four scary people are out there?" Chika's eyes went wide with shock. "What if they're looking for us?" "Good point," she replied, quietly. With a pained groan, she, too, rolled onto her back, laying beside her brother. "… I'm scared, Poka." "Me, too," he replied, quietly. They reached out for each other, grabbing each others' paw. The two siblings smiled to each other. Their eyes fluttered closed, succumbing to their mutual exhaustion. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The next morning, after breakfast, Latoshi returned once again to his spot on the couch next to the sleeping Pichus. His eyes went wide, letting out a surprised gasp when they began to stir awake. “Guys!” Latoshi exclaimed, quietly. “I think they're finally waking up!” The other four, all gathered around the seating area in the kitchen, clamored as they headed over to look. The two Pichus yawned and stretched. They were feeling much better and far less sore than the previous night. However, one look at the crowd encircled and towering over them caused the pair to immediately cower away. “Let's back up a little,” Antoshi said, waving for the others to take a couple steps back. The Pichus relaxed some, staring at all the strange, new faces with wide, curious eyes. “Hello, there,” the blond-haired boy introduced himself with a smile. “It's nice to finally meet both of you. My name is Antoshi, and this is my best friend, Fireball.” Fireball grinned and waved to them. The Pichus lowered their heads, intimidated by the much bigger Typhlosion. “I know, he might seem pretty big and scary, but, I promise he's a gentle giant. This is my sister, Mitoshi, …” Mitoshi wiggled her fingers to wave at them, “and her best friend, Bubbles.” "It's nice to meet you both," Bubbles said, gently, from behind the couch. Despite her quiet nature, the Pichus were also intimidated by the large Lapras' head hovering over them. “And, lastly,” Antoshi went on, “this is my brother, Latoshi. He's the one that found the two of you in the snow.” The two looked up at the sable-haired boy in awe. Latoshi, meanwhile, swallowed nervously. “Well, you know,” he said, “I … I couldn't just leave the two of you there, and … well, I—I was worried. About you. The two of you.” He chuckled, awkwardly. “I'm … really glad the two of you are awake now. A-are you hurt? Do you need anything?” They looked at each other before looking back to him. "Water!" they both said, pointing to their open mouths. Due to the three siblings hearing nothing more than a simple 'Pichu!' from the two tiny Pokémon, all eyes turned to Fireball. "Water," Fireball and Bubbles both said in unison. “I'm on it!” Latoshi said, heading into the kitchen without delay. The Pichus were momentarily bewildered — it seemed as though the humans could understand what their Pokémon just said. Latoshi poured a full glass of water, came back and sat down. The glass was too big for them to hold, so, he held it in front of Poka first, tilting it back very slowly while the Pichu held on to it with his tiny paws. “There you go,” he said while the parched Pokémon lapped up sip after sip of water. Antoshi and Mitoshi smiled to each other. The two of them and Fireball headed back to the kitchen area, watching from a distance so as not to hover over them. Bubbles joined them at her own, slower leisure. After Chika got her own drink of water, the entire glass was empty. Both Pichus pointed to their open mouths again. “More water?” Latoshi asked, surprised. The Pichu's shook their heads. “… Oh, food?” They both nodded, ecstatically. “Okay, coming right up.” The others watched him as he returned to the kitchen. He opened up each of the cabinets below, digging through pots and pans that clattered loudly. “Antoshi, where do you keep that Pokémon food?” “It's … right above your head,” the blond-haired boy replied, calmly. Latoshi paused, gazing up at the large, conspicuous bag of Pokémon food on the counter before him. “I—I knew that,” he stammered, closing the cabinets. “I was … I was testing you, you know.” Antoshi raised his eyebrows, nodding playfully in response. The others snickered to themselves. Latoshi grabbed a bowl, filled it up with food, and returned to the Pichus with it. They stared at the spherical, dry kibble before them for a moment, having never seen such a thing before. It carried a very tempting aroma, however, that drew the pain to lean in and smell closer. The two gasped in surprise, grabbing the food in their tiny paws and chowed down. Latoshi took a deep breath, sighing happily. Having found the two of them frozen in the snow, seeing them in much better shape, and in good spirits, was cathartic for him. Once they finished, they both fell back onto the blanket, sighing in content. “You two must still be tired, huh?” he asked, smiling. The duo nodded to him. As before, he draped the heated blanket over their bodies. “Is the blanket warm enough for you?” They nodded again before closing their tired eyes. With a warm grin, Latoshi got to his feet to join the others. “They must still be very young,” Antoshi remarked. “I can't help but wonder if … they were separated from their mother somehow.” “That's so sad,” Mitoshi responded, softly. “At the same time, it makes me even prouder of you for rescuing them, Latoshi.” She smiled at him, and he responded in kind. “All I want,” Latoshi said, “… is to make up for the misdeeds Lazarus used me for. I just want to be better than how Lazarus 'taught' me I should be.” Antoshi reached over and patted Latoshi's shoulder in response. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After lunch, the Pichus had woken up again. Feeling much better, they decided to take their own personal tour around the cabin to get acclimated to their new surroundings. They crawled under the couches, moving slowly and cautiously across the open floors. Smelling everything in sight, they wandered through the open bedrooms and the bathroom. When they finally emerged back into the living area, they sprinted out playfully, laughing as they tumbled around and chased one another. Even though it was cold inside, being in shelter was infinitely better than out in the frigid, falling snow. The others couldn't help but smile at the new pair who appeared to be quite happy to join them. A short time later, there was a knock at the door. The Pichus panicked, scrambling for Latoshi. They hid behind his legs, peering out from behind him. He looked down and grinned at them. “I got it,” Antoshi said. He headed for the door, opening it, smiling at the arriving Serenity. “Hey, you're right on time.” “Brrr!” she responded playfully, shuffling inside while wearing a large pink turtleneck sweater and black sweatpants. Antoshi shut the door behind her. “This blizzard's getting more intense by the day. It's started to spread to parts of Ecruteak now.” She noticed the large, yellow heads poking out behind Latoshi's shins. “Oh, you have some new guests?” she asked, smiling warmly at them. “Yeah,” Latoshi replied. “I found these two out in the snow. They were in pretty rough shape.” “Well, that truly is a wonderful and caring thing for you to do, Latoshi,” she replied. “You've already grown so much since we spoke in Goldenrod City — and it shows.” The two smiled at each other. “Well, then,” she went on, turning her attention to Antoshi, “shall we get started?” “I'm ready,” Antoshi replied, rubbing his cold hands together. “I've been looking forward to this.” “All right,” Serenity replied, rolling up her sleeves. “As promised, I'm going to teach you how to use your Ki to heal.” Antoshi nodded to her. The others headed over to the couches, with Bubbles taking her usual seat behind Mitoshi. All of them were intensely curious to watch. The Pichus scampered up, sitting between Fireball and Latoshi on the large couch in the middle. Serenity swiftly swiped a hand across her forearm, causing it to bleed. The others gasped in shock. “Now, now,” she reassured them, smiling, “nobody panic. There's no real injury here, it's just for show.” She opened the same hand, now glowing with her pink aura, around her open wound. The others looked on as the wound was closed up and healed to perfection within seconds. Poka and Chika, in particular, were completely shocked. "How did she … do that?" Chika asked Fireball in a hushed voice. "She's using her Ki," Fireball replied quietly, as the tiny twins looked up at him with awe-struck expressions. "Ki is sort of like … the energy inside her spirit. It's a special power that comes from within her. All of the humans here can use it." The two Pichus looked at each other. They'd never heard of, or even imagined, anything so fantastic before. “You're up, Antoshi,” Serenity said. She proceeded to make the same wound on her arm before offering said arm to the young man. He took a deep breath and nodded. “All right. What do I need to know?” “Your thoughts and your intentions have to be pure,” she replied. “You can only focus on helping the person before you. You must care for their well-being, and that feeling has to go all the way to your heart. If you were to ever have even a shred of malice inside you, your Ki would instead injure them — the same way any of your usual attacks do.” Antoshi huffed sharply. He held his hands out, hovering them inches over her open wound. ‘Focus on helping,’ he thought while closing his eyes. ‘Care about them and their well-being. No other thoughts, no distractions …’ He kept himself calm and relaxed as his red aura began to glow within his hands. The others on the couch looked on in suspense. Serenity's wound began to close itself at a much slower rate than when the young woman healed it, but, it was indeed progressing. Mitoshi and Latoshi grinned at each other, cheering their brother on in silence. Antoshi began to struggle and grunt, his hands trembling, holding his breath. The energy needed to perform the feat was far greater than he anticipated. By the time his energy petered out, he stumbled backward, catching himself with a gasp of surprise. He panted heavily, taking a look at what he'd managed to accomplish — Serenity's wound was almost completely healed. “That was an excellent first attempt, Antoshi,” she said. She used her own healing power to finish closing the wound on her arm. Antoshi fell back onto the third, empty couch, grinning and panting. “That certainly felt different from the usual, everyday Ki blasts we usually make. I never would've expected … your power would take so much inner strength.” Serenity chuckled, taking a seat next to him. “As with everything that involves your spirit energy, it ultimately comes down to your resolve that determines the efficacy of your ability, and your emotions are what amplify that. So long as what fuels your ability to heal is love and kindness, then you'll be able to master it in no time. Considering how well you did your first time, I'd say you must care about me a lot.” Her response caused the blond-haired boy's eyes to shoot wide open, his face flushed red, going totally silent. Fireball, as usual, snickered in amusement. Serenity laughed. “I'm only joking!” The others all laughed in response. “Oh,” Antoshi replied, glancing away from her. “Erm, so, … uh, …” he stammered, trying to think of anything else to talk about, “so, … how long will it take me to … master this?” Serenity shrugged. “Not too long, I'd imagine. Just keep practicing at it, like how you and your siblings train your fighting prowess. Now you have something else to strengthen and get better at. Just remember — this ability does have some limitations. It's only useful for physical injuries. You won't be able to heal away diseases, allergies, and so on. You can't heal emotional pains, and it cannot resurrect people from the dead.” Antoshi nodded in understanding. “So,” she went on, turning to the others, “now that I'm here anyway, are there any other questions you might have for me?” “Yeah,” Latoshi said, sitting forward. “I was thinking about something you told me back in Goldenrod City. You said something like, 'sleep is not a necessity', and that Antoshi managed to tap into that somehow. What did you mean?” Antoshi turned to her, also curious of the response. “In some ways,” Serenity replied, “your Ki allows you to be self-sufficient for much longer periods of time than the average person. The need to eat, sleep, and even breathe can be supplied by the energy of your spirit. As you mentioned, Antoshi did this unintentionally when he was preparing to fight with you the second time around. Instead of sleeping, his Ki kept him feeling alert and awake. Without sleep, however, your Ki reserves burn at a much faster rate and, eventually, you will need to sleep in order to regain that energy back.” Latoshi glanced away, briefly. “So, wait a minute. … You're saying that, when Antoshi defeated me, he was actually … weaker than he would've been if he'd been rested up?” Serenity smiled, closed her eyes, and nodded. The two brothers looked at each other. “Wow,” he remarked, both of them laughing in response. “Can I do this, too?” Mitoshi chimed in, curiously. “I can just decide not to sleep one night and my Ki will just keep me feeling energized?” “That is correct,” Serenity replied. “Oh, cool!” Mitoshi said, grinning at both of her brothers. “Who's up for a never-ending slumber party?!” She shot her hand up, drawing a laugh from the others. “Speaking of 'cool',” Serenity said, “it certainly is quite cold in here. You don't have a fireplace or a heater?” “No, unfortunately,” Mitoshi replied. “But, hey, I can make us all some hot cocoa. That'll help, right?” “I'm up for some hot cocoa,” Latoshi said, just before Mitoshi hopped to her feet. "What's hot cocoa?" Poka asked Fireball, tugging on his fur. "The best sweet treat for cold days," Fireball replied, grinning at the two Pichus. "Trust me, you'll enjoy it." The two smaller Pokémon responded by gasping in excitement at each other. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That evening, after Serenity had gone home, the previously bedridden Poka and Chika were like little balls of energy. They laughed and tumbled around the floor between the three couches as the others sat and watched them. The pair raced around the living area, hiding from each other behind and underneath furniture. They ran up and down Bubbles' shell as the Lapras lounged behind Mitoshi, as usual. At times, they tugged and swatted at Fireball's hind feet, prompting the Typhlosion to get up. "All right, all right," Fireball relented. The duo continued to squeal and laugh as Fireball chased them around for a while. Fireball tumbled over onto his back, and the Pichus hopped up on top of him to bounce around on his belly, much to the amusement of all. After the little ones were finally all tuckered out, they crawled up the legs of Latoshi's pants, curling up into his lap, much to his surprise. The display prompted an 'aww' in response from Mitoshi, who was seated next to him. Fireball took a seat next to Antoshi once again. “You should let them sleep in your bed tonight,” Antoshi said to his brother. “I'm sure you still want to keep an eye on them, after all.” “You … really think I could?” Latoshi replied, grinning. There was a warmth and a softness about him that Antoshi had never seen from him before. “Of course,” Antoshi said, smiling back at him. “Fireball used to sleep in my bed when he wasn't fully evolved.” Fireball nodded in agreement. “I'm sure the two of them wouldn't mind it one bit.” Latoshi took a moment to look at the Pichus, who were very comfortable resting against him. “Well, … all right.” Cradling the tiny twins in his arms, he got to his feet. “I suppose I'll turn in early tonight. Goodnight, guys.” “Goodnight,” the others responded before Latoshi headed into his room and slowly closed the door with his foot. Latoshi laid them down, carefully, on the far edge of the bed, which was seated in the corner of the bedroom. The two continued to remain fast asleep, while he undressed into his white t-shirt and boxer shorts — the same nightwear his brother typically wore. He turned off the lamp on the stand next to his bed, and slipped under the covers. For a while, he laid in bed, staring at the two of them as they quietly slept — a sight that made his heart melt. Having Pokémon was a new experience for him, and, for them, so was having a human. He felt so incredibly attached them already. They were so cute and so much fun to watch. Latoshi gently pet them both, smiling warmly, hoping for nothing more than for them to stay with him always. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The Pichus eagerly scampered out of Latoshi's room as he opened the door the following morning. The sounds of Bubbles quiet humming echoed from Mitoshi's room, next to his. “Okay,” he said to the pair, “go and get your food.” “Hey there, you two,” Antoshi said, greeting the twins from inside the kitchen. He laid out a couple of bowls filled with Pokémon food on the floor, which they promptly dug into. Fireball stood in front of the kitchen island, eating from his own bowl of food. “Hey,” Mitoshi greeted her sable-haired brother casually, seated on the same couch she sat in the previous night. The TV was on in front of her. “Man, things are getting really serious for the people affected by the blizzard.” The two brothers came over and stood near her, watching the news broadcast. It showed video from inside the snowstorm impacting Goldenrod City. “… as the storm grows ever larger,” the male news reporter said. “With no end to the blizzard in sight, residents are being urged to stay indoors — which is causing major headaches for the flow of business in the city; along with serious, life-threatening situations. At least a dozen people have died so far from the combination of severe cold and paramedics being unable to reach those in need. Hundreds more are reporting a wide range of sicknesses. City officials are working around the clock to formulate a plan of action to evacuate some of the city's residents — particularly the very young and the elderly — to alleviate some of the concerns of peril. Attempts by many in the city to call upon Pokémon to combat the weather directly have, so far, failed as well.” Latoshi sucked his teeth, punching his open palm in frustration. “I hate this. I hate that we have these powers, but we're powerless to stop something like this.” Mitoshi held her head down with a sorrowful gaze. “I know,” Antoshi replied, quietly, taking a seat next to his sister. “Maybe it really will blow over. We just have to hope that all those people are going to be all right.” Both Pichus tugged at Fireball's leg. "We know what happened!" Chika exclaimed. The trio of siblings looked over at the two, tiny Pokémon with shocked expressions. "You mean, with the snowstorm?" Fireball replied. The Pichus nodded in response. "Well, let me tell them—" “Wait,” Latoshi cut him off. He slowly rose to his feet, walked over to the Pichus and knelt down in front of them. “I—I heard what they said,” he added, flabbergasted. “So did I,” Mitoshi replied. “Same here,” Antoshi said. “What was it … you said just now?” Latoshi asked. The Pichus, too, were dumbfounded for a moment. "We … know what happened?" Chika uttered, meekly. The wind was momentarily knocked from Latoshi's lungs, overcome by a surge of joyous emotion. He composed himself, nodding to the two. “All right, … um, tell us what you know.” Poka and Chika scampered over and stood in-between the three siblings. Latoshi rose to his feet again. "There were … these four strange people!" Chika said. "Scary people!" Poka added. "Yeah! Scary people!" “What kind of people?” Antoshi asked. “Why did they scare you?” "They were people, … but, also Pokémon!" Chika said. “People, but Pokémon?” Mitoshi mused, reflecting the confusion on everyone else's faces. The Pichu twins nodded. "Two of them had black fur," Poka said, "one of them looked like us, and another had blue wings. He was … cold!" "They scared us away when they saw us!" Chika added, her eyes welling with tears. "They told us never to come back or they would get us!" “Cold, …” Antoshi muttered, “and with blue wings? …” “What's up, Antoshi?” his brother asked. Antoshi furrowed his brow in thought for a brief moment before getting up and heading into his room. In the meanwhile, Bubbles emerged into the living area, curious of what was going on. When Antoshi came back and sat down again, he was holding a magazine retrieved from his backpack. He rustled through it while the others watched. “Blue wings …” Antoshi muttered again, flipping through pages. He turned the magazine around, pointing a finger at an image of a Pokémon. “Did they look like this?” The Pichus eyes widened in shock. "Yes!" they both exclaimed in surprise. "That's exactly it!" “And you said he was … 'cold',” Antoshi said. “Do you mean he had a cold personality or the air around him was cold?” "The air was cold!" Chika clarified. "Very cold!" Poka added, shivering. "It makes me cold just thinking about it!" A light suddenly went off in Antoshi's eyes. What the Pichus just told him suddenly connected with the cause of the blizzard in surprising fashion. He looked down at his magazine again, shaking his head in disbelief. “What is it, Antoshi?” Latoshi asked. “Are … you gonna share with the rest of the class, or what?” “There's only one Pokémon with blue wings that's 'cold',” Antoshi explained. “It's a breed of Legendary Pokémon: Articuno, the legendary bird of ice. But, you two said … it was a person. That's— … that's impossible.” "We saw it with our eyes!" Chika insisted. "Yeah!" Poka added. "We're telling the truth — we promise!" “A person with wings like an Articuno?” Latoshi asked the Pichus, who nodded in response. “Articuno's mastery over cold is part of its legend,” Antoshi explained. “It can freeze air moisture just from flying. A snowstorm like the one over Goldenrod would probably be … a simple task for a Pokémon with incredible power like that. But, how could a person be an Articuno?” “What do you think we should do?” Mitoshi asked her blond brother. Antoshi closed his magazine and sighed, pondering for a moment. “There's only one thing we can, and should, do. We have to go investigate.” “Investigate out in that cold?” Latoshi replied in dismay. “We could wander out there for hours and turn up nothing.” “Latoshi,” Mitoshi said, “you did just say you wanted to help, right?” Latoshi sighed heavily, relenting with a nod of agreement. "We know where to find them!" Poka said, much to everyone else's surprise. "They're in a part of the woods where there's no snow falling!" "Yeah!" Chika said. "We were walking away from them before we fell asleep in the snow! We moved in a straight line!" “A straight line, huh?” Latoshi mused. “That's … northeast from where I found you. Whoever it is that's behind this is practically close enough to be our neighbor and we never even knew it.” “If it's like the Pichu's say,” Antoshi said, “then, we're looking for an area of the forest without snow. If we can find that, we might be able to figure out what's going on. Once we do, we'll do our best to stop it. Whether it's a person or a Pokémon behind this, we still have a chance to talk and reason with them.” “When should we get going?” Mitoshi asked, getting to her feet. Antoshi did the same, tossing the magazine onto the couch. “Right away,” he replied. “The sooner we put a stop to this, the sooner people will stop suffering.” “Got it,” Latoshi said, nodding firmly. "What should I do?" Fireball asked. "I also have the same question," Bubbles softly chimed in. “Stay here,” Antoshi replied to them both. “Keep an eye on the Pichus. Err, … do the two of you have names?” "I'm Chika!" the girl said, cheerfully. "I'm Poka!" her brother added. The others chuckled. “All right,” Antoshi replied, smiling. “Fireball, Bubbles — keep an eye on Poka and Chika for us, okay?” Fireball nodded. "Please, be careful, Antoshi." “Hey, he's got us to back him up,” Latoshi replied, smirking confidently. “Yeah,” Mitoshi added, resting an arm on her blond brother's shoulder. “Have you seen how strong we've gotten lately?” "I know that," Fireball said, smiling at them. "I just … always worry about my best friend's safety, that's all." Antoshi smiled as well, walking up to Fireball to share a hug with him. Mitoshi took the incentive to do the same with Bubbles, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Latoshi knelt down, holding his arms out to the Pichus, sharing a hug with them as well. "Teach those big bullies a lesson!" Chika said to him. "Yeah! Make them promise never to be mean to Pokémon anymore!" Latoshi grinned at them. “I'll be sure to deliver that message for you.” They both gasped in elation, while Latoshi stood up tall again. “All right,” Antoshi said, opening the front door. “Let's get to it, then.” His siblings nodded, following him out the front door. Latoshi took the lead, the trio's colored auras flaring around them to protect them from the snow. They all sighed heavily, braving the frigid, whipping cold, trudging through the dense blanket of snow which had gotten high enough to reach their waists. The danger of the endlessly falling snow amid this frozen summer was growing more perilous with each passing day. The three of them were not willing to sit idly by and let things get any worse, however. With equally determined expressions upon their faces, they headed into the forest.
  3. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — Part 5: Frozen Summer — ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi closed his eyes, standing amongst the quiet of nature, inhaling the fresh air deeply. He looked to the early afternoon's nearly crystal clear blue sky. With a slow exhale, he took some time to simply enjoy the peace and splendor outside of the cabin in the woods he now called home. It was a home he shared with his best friend, his brother, his sister and her best friend. The warm, summery air rolled past him in gentle breezes, almost soothingly, as if telling him he was right where he needed to be. In the large, grassy clearing outside their cabin, the blond-haired boy had finally regained his normal, sunny disposition. Antoshi was feeling much more confident than he had in past months. His new, abnormal life was finally settling into a sense of normalcy. It'd been exactly fifty days — not that he was counting, of course — since Antoshi first met his brother back in Goldenrod City and subsequently fought against him. The teenage boy strolled along the natural lawn, his hands in his pockets, enjoying the pleasant day all by his lonesome. He grinned to himself, well aware that at least one of the others would certainly join him before long. He briefly turned his attention to the skies over the cabin, recalling the snowflakes that fell upon the window one morning. Three weeks had come and gone since then. He wondered if it was a Pokémon that caused such a strange occurrence. His instincts as a Trainer made his heart swell with excitement at the idea that perhaps a Legendary Pokémon had appeared before him. Such fleeting creatures have always been known to appear mysteriously. His focus shifted to the front door, noticing his sable-haired brother heading outside. Both boys were wearing similar clothing: red and green tank tops in their respective favorite colors, and long, white shorts for both of them. “Out here by yourself, huh?” Latoshi asked, grinning, as he approached. “Yeah,” Antoshi smiled, turning his attention to the sky. Latoshi did the same. “It's a great day out today. Perfect day for some fightin',” Latoshi joked. Antoshi grinned, hissing, followed by a chuckle. “I don't need you using the 'f-word' around me,” he joked. “Don't give me that. You know this is what you love doing.” “Exactly! That's why!” “Come on,” Latoshi goaded him, stepping back a few meters from him. “Let's keep the streak going. This'll be twenty days in a row. So far, it's much better training for me than anything I ever got from Lazarus.” “How did you train with Lazarus, anyway?” Antoshi asked, as he started to warm up with some stretches. “Maybe you could use some of those methods against it.” Latoshi scoffed, stretching as well. “Lazarus made me do this 'image training' where I would envision my opponent's movements so that I could have this sort-of … sparring session in my head. It was actually the most boring way to train imaginable. I never want to do that again.” “Wow, it sounds boring. Besides, why pretend to have a sparring partner when you could have a real sparring partner?” “Oh, yeah! Now you're reading my mind! If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was related to you or something.” The two brothers shared a laugh. Antoshi's expression turned serious, taking a fighting stance, bringing his flaming red aura to life around him with a grunt. Latoshi smirked, generating his green aura as well while getting into a similar stance. The two boys' irises glowed brightly in their respective colors. Antoshi took a moment to appreciate his brother's aura no longer looking or feeling corrupted with Lazarus' rotten, black Ki. “Let's get a little more serious for day twenty!” Antoshi said. “Sounds good! I'm ready to find out just how strong we really are now!” With a visible shock wave, Antoshi disappeared in a flash. Latoshi's eyes widened. The blond boy's speed was overwhelming, but Latoshi was just barely able to detect his brother's presence sneaking up behind him. He turned, grabbing Antoshi's oncoming punch, the impact digging his heels into the dirt. Antoshi could not release himself from Latoshi's grip — the sable-haired boy's strength was still incredible. Latoshi smirked at him, throwing a punch of his own. Antoshi quickly countered by firing a quick blast of his red spirit energy from his free hand, impacting and knocking away Latoshi's fist, staggering the sable-haired boy back. Antoshi flew into the air to space himself and regroup. Latoshi clicked his tongue, grinning in jubilation, launching himself up after him. Fireball hurried out the front door, his maw agape as he watched the two boys fly into the air with their fiery auras trailing behind them. "Aw, man!" Fireball exclaimed. "Why do they always start training when I'm not ready?" “You and me both,” Mitoshi said, joining him out on the porch. "Oh, have they started for today?" Bubbles asked, sliding her way out through the open front door. Latoshi rocketed upward in an instant, throwing a punch at Antoshi's chest, ultimately striking an afterimage of his very swift brother. The sable-haired boy smirked and sucked his teeth, feeling out Antoshi's Ki. He flipped backward abruptly, dodging the kick Antoshi was about to land upon his back. “You're gonna have to be faster than that!” Latoshi remarked, taunting him. “And, come on, the whole 'appear behind you' thing is so predictable now! You gotta come up with something new!” Antoshi grinned and chuckled. “Hey, if it works, it works! What am I going to do — get below you and punch your foot?” “That would be different!” Antoshi laughed, vanishing suddenly. Before Latoshi could even think, his brother rained countless punches down upon him from all angles and positions. The others watching from the ground were stunned by the display of speed, though not nearly as much as Latoshi was. Once the brief volley was over, Latoshi slumped over in mid-air, groaning in a mix of pain and shock. “… Ow, damn,” he muttered, holding his jaw while setting it back into place. “When did you get that fast?” he asked, his brother reappearing before him. “I told you, I wanted to get serious this time,” Antoshi replied, resting his hands on his hips. “We should really keep pushing each other to our limits. You said you wanted to become better than Serenity and Collin, right? Think about it: if you can't keep up with me, there's no way you'll keep up with the likes of them.” Latoshi's expression turned stern, nodding confidently at him. His irises burned brightly with the green hue of his spirit. Antoshi gestured to come at him, and his brother did so promptly. Both of them darted toward each other and seemingly vanishing in a second. Their spectators were left bewildered, looking all around for the two boys. All they were able to hear were momentary strikes landing, and the flashes of their auras clashing. Mitoshi was awe-struck, constantly impressed by her brothers and their gradually increasing ability. Her eagerness to improve and evolve was just as strong, if not stronger, than the boys'. The girl's expression, too, turned serious, pursing her lips as the fire burned inside her heart and her irises glowed blue. Without even realizing it, she was able to detect their movements. They were darting at each other continuously, their fists striking each others' fists. All the while, the two brothers grinned at each other confidently. Mitoshi's chest swelled with elation as she trembled with excitement. She refused to be left in the dust, unable to remain on the sidelines any longer. She took to the air to go after them, flying straight into the fray with her brothers. The two boys dashed away from each other out of instinct. Both of them were surprised, jaws agape, watching the girl throw a punch through the air directly where they just were. Without wasting a moment, she charged at Antoshi with an intensely serious look on her face. She shouted and struck at him with everything she had. Antoshi's eyes were wide, irises burning bright, grinning as he blocked, dodged, and parried every strike. Latoshi dashed at them from behind. Mitoshi turned to the side, shooting him a bitterly serious gaze, grabbing his fist as he threw a punch at her. She countered with a punch of her own to his face, which he narrowly avoided. Latoshi was pleasantly surprised, as was Antoshi, at just how much their little sister had improved and matured as a fighter. Still holding his fist, she gathered some of her blue energy into her palm, prompting Latoshi to rip his hand away in the moment just before she fired off a blast of Ki that spiraled harmlessly into the air. Antoshi went over to his brother, hovering side by side with him. They looked to each other, nodded, and looked back at her. Mitoshi took a defensive stance, her blue aura flaring to life, remaining steadfast in the face of their oncoming coordinated attack. They dashed toward her, all three shouting and grunting as they punched and kicked at her. The girl dodged and blocked to the best of her abilities, keeping up with their combination of speed and power. The brothers backed off suddenly. Almost in unison, they aimed their open hands at her, shooting dual spheres of red and green energy at her. She gasped, holding both hands out, mustering forth energy blasts of her own. She grunted and struggled, the boys' clashing energy pushed against her own mere inches away from the skin of her palms. Her energy gave out, resulting in her brothers' attacks colliding and exploding violently on contact with her body. Fireball and Bubbles gasped, watching in concern as the girl spiraled downward helplessly; a trail of smoke left behind her from the exploding energy. She smacked down upon the earth with a hard impact. However, Antoshi and Latoshi showed no concern at all. They continued to hover in place, fully aware that the girl was far from down and out. Mitoshi groaned as she picked herself back up, brushing the dirt off her clothing, her face scuffed and muddied. She looked up at the two boys, who were still waiting for her to continue. She huffed sharply, none too happy to be struck down, soaring back into the air after them. She immediately went after Latoshi this time, shouting and swinging hard at him, while her blond brother maneuvered off to the side. Latoshi grinned, evading her movements until she perked up with an unexpected burst of speed. His eyes widened in the moment before he took a handful of shots to the face, chest, and abdomen. As Latoshi reeled from the hits, she spun around, nailing him with the back of her heel, sending him shooting to the ground. The girl subconsciously lifted an arm and dodged to the side, avoiding a sudden punch to the back from Antoshi. Her brother was surprised — even more so when she managed to grab and trap his wrist with one arm before he could move away. With her other arm, she struck him in the face with a few back elbows before spinning around once again, kicking him away with a hard shot to the sternum. Mitoshi wiped the sweat from her dirt-caked brow, catching her breath for a few moments as her brothers rose back into the air before her. They all looked at each other, flashing one another their own respective grins. The trio of siblings suddenly darted at each other in unison, their bodies becoming a blurring mass of punches and kicks. "Man, they're loving every second of this," Fireball remarked with a grin of his own. "They just keep on training like this every day and never get bored." The girl proved unbelievably durable, even without resorting to her water form. She kept her brothers on their toes, both boys continuously impressed at her high stamina and startling ability to take a hit like it was nothing. "She's getting very good," Bubbles remarked, grinning proudly. "She is getting good," Fireball replied. "All three of them are at the point where I can barely keep up with their movements." "Miss Mitoshi has gotten so much more confident ever since reuniting with her brothers. It's wonderful to see the change in her. She never showed any sort of interest in combat back home, but, it seems to make her so happy." A short time later, all three of them descended back to the ground. Each of the siblings were drenched with sweat, totally out of breath, and yet, so very content. Mitoshi laughed as the three of them happily collapsed onto the ground on their backs, making an almost perfect triangle with their feet inches away from each other. Latoshi was the first one to sit up as Fireball walked over to them. He shook the sweat of his matted black hair, ruffling his fingers through his scalp to air it out. “Not bad,” Latoshi remarked, panting. “I think someday soon we won't need to hold back against Mitoshi.” The girl leapt into a sitting position, looking at him in disbelief. “Wait a minute! You were taking it easy on me?” Latoshi looked over at his brother, who was also sitting up. He gave Antoshi an expression that begged him to bail him out from upsetting their sister. Antoshi sighed, nodding to her. “Yeah, … we did. I'm sorry to say it, but, we kinda have to.” “Oh,” the girl replied, crestfallen, “I get it. You guys don't think I'm good enough yet. I thought I'd at least be close by now. Maybe I won't ever be as good as you two…” Antoshi scooted over and sat next to her. He placed a hand on her shoulder, bringing her attention to him. “Don't ever get discouraged, Mitoshi. There's no reason to doubt yourself. You have the very same ability for growth that we do. Whatever level Latoshi and I can reach, so can you. All you have to do is find that power inside you and believe in it.” Mitoshi smiled at him, giving a nod of understanding. “You actually did surprise us a few times back there,” Latoshi said, causing Mitoshi to look at him in awe. “Neither of us were expecting you to come back so hard after we knocked you down the first time.” “It's true,” Antoshi said. Mitoshi grinned in elation at him. “You're getting better every day, and that's always something to be proud of.” “Well,” Mitoshi replied, “there's that, and the fact that training with you guys is so much fun!” The brothers and Fireball laughed. “I gotta say,” Latoshi began, as the three of them got to their feet, “training with you both is … infinitely better than sitting in the woods somewhere and listening to a voice in my head tell me what to do.” “It's better than training with Fireball as well,” Antoshi added, flashing a cheeky grin up at his taller companion. “No offense.” "None taken!" Fireball replied. "Training with you got kind of … overwhelming." The two brothers smirked at each other, momentarily reflecting on how much things had changed for the better between them. Latoshi suddenly dashed toward his brother, throwing a punch that halted mere centimeters away from his face. Antoshi did not flinch, continuing to smirk at Latoshi. Mitoshi and Fireball were taken by surprise, the burst of air he created breezing past them. “Stop showing off,” Mitoshi remarked. “Fine, fine,” Latoshi relented before he took his tank top off. “Man, it's so hot out.” “Yeah,” Antoshi replied, doing the same. Both boys had far more defined muscular features than before. “We're around the middle of summer now.” Mitoshi smirked, holding her hands out at the two boys. She pointed her fingers at them, slowly pulling back, as if removing something. Antoshi and Latoshi watched in bewilderment as the sweat was pulled away from their shirtless bodies, hovering toward the girl. “What in the world?” Latoshi muttered. His sister had pulled their combined sweat into an amorphous ball. “Pretty cool, huh?” Mitoshi asked, grinning. “That's … gross,” Latoshi replied. Mitoshi rolled her eyes. “Also,” Antoshi said, “we kind of needed that.” “I just wanted to show you guys I've been working on my own abilities, too,” Mitoshi said. “I'm starting to get the hang of being able to move liquid around that isn't attached to me.” “Very impressive,” Antoshi remarked, smiling. “I'm looking forward to see how else you learn to apply your water powers.” Mitoshi grinned at him, looking over at her other brother to see what he thought. Latoshi, however, did not seem very impressed. “… Yeah, so, that's cool and all,” Latoshi said, flippantly, “but, I really need to take a shower.” As he walked away, he was suddenly struck from behind by the blob of sweat. He gasped, turning around to face Mitoshi, who had a very perturbed look on her face. “You could at least pretend to care!” Mitoshi said, before stomping back toward the cabin. Fireball looked at the two brothers with worry. Antoshi walked up to his brother, patting him on the shoulder. “She did seem kind of proud of her new ability. Don't just ignore other peoples' feelings.” “I'm sorry,” he replied with a sigh, “I wasn't … trying to upset her. … It's just the heat, you know? I guess I got a little crabby.” “You can make it up to her. Make her one of those … pudding cups like you made a few days ago. The one with the banana eyes.” “Yeah, … all right.” Latoshi sighed again, ending up more crestfallen than Antoshi expected. “Don't sweat it too much. People argue over silly things. Then, you make up and move past it. Just look at you and I!” “I know, I'm … trying to be better than I was before. I guess I can still be kind of a prick sometimes, huh?” Antoshi uttered an uneasy noise, shrugging, implying that was mostly the case. "A little bit," Fireball also agreed. Latoshi grinned and chortled. “Well, at least you guys are honest about it.” “Come on,” Antoshi said, putting his arm around Latoshi's shoulder, “let's head back inside and cool off. It's hot as heck out here.” The three of them made their way back to the cabin, where Mitoshi and Bubbles had already gone inside. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ All remained good, and mostly harmonious, for the reconciled sibling trio. Their very abnormal lives had begun to settle into a rhythm of normalcy. The next day, however, it began to rain — almost out of nowhere. It rained for the entire day and, for some strange reason, it began to get colder as well. The rain soon turned to hail, and that hail gave way to snow. It was a never-before-seen summertime snowfall. The flurries of snow continued on for two days nonstop. Eventually, it intensified into a dangerous blizzard. The weather, becoming curiouser and curiouser by the day, began to shift its pattern. The snowstorm grew quickly in size, until it started to bring its blankets of white not just over Routes 36, 35, and the siblings' cabin, but also over nearby Goldenrod City. The following morning, Fireball opened the front door as he and the sibling trio single-filed their way out onto the porch. Between Fireball's Fire-type and Bubbles' Ice-type, the two Pokémon had no qualms about the cold weather. The siblings were dressed in the heaviest clothing they had on hand. For Mitoshi, that was a long-sleeved white shirt with a large blue horizontal stripe in the middle and white pants. Her long, blue hair was tied back in a ponytail. The brothers had on respective red and green t-shirts, and matching jeans. The trio shivered and hugged their chests as they looked out at the field of white before them. “First thing's first,” Antoshi said. “We stop by the Pokémon Center in Ecruteak to pick up our clothing drops, then, we head to Swalot's.” “I really don't want to fly in this weather,” Mitoshi whined. “You'll be fine,” Antoshi reassured her. “It's not that long of a flight. Remember to generate your aura — it'll at least stop the snowfall from hitting you.” “Oh, all right,” she muttered. “Yeah,” Latoshi added, “and don't turn into your water form or you'll freeze.” “I think I could've figured that one out myself, Latoshi,” she shot back, impertinently. Latoshi rolled his eyes in response. “Let's get going,” Antoshi said. He recalled Fireball into his Poké Ball, which he placed in his pocket. The other two nodded. All three siblings took to the air, the respective colors of their auras flickering around their bodies. The woods around Route 35 were completely blanketed with snow, as was the entirety of the footpath of the route. The siblings shivered in the cold winds, gazing down upon handfuls of people and their Pokémon trudging through the snow; most of them wearing layered clothing, knit caps, scarves, and mittens — all undoubtedly not summertime clothes. By the time they neared the city limits of Ecruteak, the siblings' all breathed a sigh of relief. They had made it out of the inclement weather, back to basking in the brightness and warmth of the sun amid a cheerful, blue sky. The trio dropped down, out of sight, into the edge of the forest bordering the city. They emerged, brushing some twigs and leaves off themselves. Antoshi released Fireball from the confines of the ball. After which, they headed in through the gate house separating Route 37 and Ecruteak City. “This is so much better,” Latoshi remarked, as all of them strolled in with the passersby upon the city streets. “I'd take the heat over the cold any day.” “Really?” Antoshi mused. “I actually like the cooler weather better, just … not that cold.” The group were in one of the sections of the city affectionately referred to as 'Old Ecruteak'. With its traditional Japanese style of architecture, stone brick roads, and an emphasis on more natural surroundings, the area was a living relic of a bygone age. The siblings looked around in quiet reflection, remembering that this was what their mother loved about the city and where their birth parents originally lived at one point. “It really is nice here,” Antoshi remarked, saying what was on his siblings' minds. “It's got a unique charm, and a sense of peacefulness to it.” “The suburbs where I live are peaceful, too,” Mitoshi said. “Although, it feels much more … empty than this.” Antoshi chuckled, knowingly. “Tell me about it. Like those days when you come outside and there's no one around — no cars, no people, no Pokémon. Like it turned into a ghost town.” “Right?!” Mitoshi replied, grinning. “One time, our neighbor left his lawn mower on, and he went inside right before I came outside, and it was like the mower was possessed.” She made eerie ghost noises, as Antoshi and Fireball laughed. “Okay, we get it,” Latoshi replied. “You two are suburban kids. Good for you.” Mitoshi huffed, staring at him in disbelief. She couldn't believe Latoshi was continually being so rude to her — and neither could the duo of best friends. She crossed her arms over her chest, all of them refusing to say anything further. The mood between them remained awkwardly quiet until they got to the Pokémon Center. There, Antoshi and Mitoshi were able to pick up the packages of clothes sent to them by their respective parents from the Center's parcel delivery system. Latoshi, meanwhile, stood by the entrance and waited for the others. With both of them carrying their parcels, they headed back. Latoshi grumbled to himself after Mitoshi walked right past him, refusing to make eye contact with him. A few blocks away, they arrived at Swalot's — a local supermarket based in Ecruteak City. Antoshi picked out a single shopping cart and the group wandered together through each aisle in order. They stocked up on a variety of fresh, packaged and canned foods, as well as toiletries. Mitoshi crossed items off of her shopping list, while Antoshi had to restrain Fireball from picking out nearly everything in the store. Once they were done, they headed into one of the unoccupied checkout lines. Each of them smiled at their familiar cashier. “Hey there, Serenity,” Antoshi greeted her while they placed their items onto the conveyor belt. “Hey, guys!” she replied, grinning while scanning each of their items. “I would say it's a surprise to see you, but, …” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “I sensed you guys were here for a while now.” Mitoshi laughed in response. Meanwhile, Fireball attempted to sneak a candy bar from a nearby shelf in with their items. “No candy, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, turning and grinning at him. Fireball whimpered like a scolded puppy, putting the candy back. “Crazy weather we're having, huh?” “Tell me about it!” Serenity replied. “I feel so bad for you guys, having to ride out that freak snowstorm in the middle of summer. If you ever need anything, don't be afraid to call me.” Antoshi nodded to her. “Oh, that outfit you have on is so lovely, Serenity!” Mitoshi remarked. Serenity briefly glanced down at her clothes behind her employee apron — a floral patterned pink fitted shirt and black dress pants. “Thank you! I usually shop for as little as I can. I bought this whole ensemble for just three thousand.” “Wow, that's a steal! I'm so jealous.” The girls chuckled to each other, while Antoshi had moved further down the checkout line to start bagging their groceries. Latoshi sighed, leaning against the conveyor belt. “Wow, girls and talking about clothes. Name a more iconic duo.” “How about Latoshi and being a jerk?” Mitoshi muttered as she elbowed him in the ribs. “That iconic enough for you?” Latoshi rubbed his side. “What? I was just joking!” “Jokes are supposed to be funny,” she shot back, glaring at him. The others looked on in silence. Latoshi scoffed in disgust. “Whatever. I'm waiting outside.” He walked off, making his way to the exit of the store. Mitoshi groaned in frustration. “I don't know what his deal is lately.” She smiled as Fireball attempted to console her by patting her on the shoulders. “I know siblings can be frustrating sometimes,” Serenity said, smiling warmly at her. “Don't forget, the three of you only recently found each other. It's gonna take some time for you to get used to each other.” “I suppose so,” Mitoshi muttered, looking away. “One thing you should always be grateful for is family,” Serenity went on. “Even if you don't get along with each other, … it's always good to appreciate the family you still have left.” She spoke with such heartfelt reflection that it gave pause to the others as they wondered what she might have been trying to imply. Serenity went quiet for a moment, ringing up their final total. Antoshi paid her, and she handed him his change and printed receipt. “Well, it's always nice to see you guys,” she said, smiling at them. “Thank you for shopping at Swalot's! Have a great day!” “Bye, Serenity!” they all said, parting ways with her while cradling bags in their arms. She chuckled before turning her attention to the next customer. Outside, Latoshi leaned his back against the wall of the supermarket, brooding, his arms folded over his chest. He sighed, taking one of the bags from Fireball as the Typhlosion handed them to him. “Come on,” Antoshi said. He gave Latoshi a reassuring pat on the back as the four of them walked back the way they came from. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Latoshi!” Mitoshi shouted from the kitchen, early the next day. “I told you not to eat the pecans! I was saving those for a new dessert I was going to make!” “Well, you bought, like, five different kinds of nuts!” Latoshi shouted back. He sat on the couch to the right of the largest of the three, which Antoshi and Fireball sat upon. The two best friends watched the impending argument in silence. “I thought it wouldn't matter!” “Of course it matters!” she roared. “The others aren't pecans!” “You don't have to bite my head off over it!” “I do when you end up doing things I specifically told you not to do!” “Fine, I'll just leave!” he exclaimed. He hopped to his feet, storming out onto the porch, slamming the door behind him. “Man! I can't do anything right around here!” Bubbles nervously peered her head out from inside of Mitoshi's room. Antoshi sighed, getting up and following after his brother. “Come back inside, Latoshi,” he said, holding the door open for him. “Don't stay out in the cold.” Latoshi humphed, turning away from him. “Yeah, well it's a lot colder in there right now.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, walking out into the field which was deeply covered in over a foot of snow. Antoshi sighed again, closing the door, heading back in. Mitoshi growled, infuriated, slumping down on the third couch across from where Latoshi had sat. “I know he did that on purpose,” she remarked. “He wanted to spite me and see me get riled up.” Antoshi walked past her, sitting next to Fireball again. “I know you're upset, but, be reasonable, Mitoshi.” “I'll be reasonable just as soon as he is!” she shot back. Antoshi and Fireball glanced at each other in concern. Mitoshi grabbed an electric blanket, which had been draped on the far end of the couch she sat upon. “Anyway, it's my turn with the heated blanket. It's so darn cold in here!” She shivered, huddling up tightly under the warmth of the blanket. The group went quiet again, focusing their attention to the program on television. Outside, Latoshi ignored the numbing cold, his green aura flickering around him as he aimlessly walked into the snow-covered forest outside their house. He kicked away some of the snow in front of him, which evaporated instantly on contact with his aura. ‘What the heck are we even doing?’ he thought. ‘Seems so stupid and pointless for us to fight with each other when we've all been so eager to be together and be a family. … I just wish she didn't piss me off so much!’ He wandered around through the trees, his breaths visible in the cold air, taking his hands out of his pockets every so often to rub his arms, which were exposed by the short sleeves of his green t-shirt. As he wandered in further, he saw a small group of Swinub slowly pushing their way through the dense snow. He smiled at them. ‘I guess Ice-type Pokémon must be having a blast in this cold. I wish the feeling was mutual.’ He walked around them, reaching a small lake in a forest clearing. As expected, the lake was completely frozen over. Nearby, he saw a wild Sneasel scamper over to something in a hurry. Curious, Latoshi followed it, watching it dig at the snow under a tree as if searching for something. It stuck its snout into the hole it dug, shaking the snow off its face before noticing the nearby human approaching it. Its eyes went wide, quickly fleeing from the sable-haired boy. Latoshi furrowed his brow, seeing something bright and yellow underneath a small covering of snow that the Sneasel dug at. He knelt down, brushing the snow away. His eyes went wide in horror, gasping loudly. He brushed more and more of the snow away, finding two small Pichu that had been buried under the falling snow. The wind was knocked from his lungs. “Oh, no…” he whispered in sorrow. He gently picked one of them up, looking it over as he held it in his arms. It made a tiny noise, surprising him. He brought the Pichu up to his ear, catching its very faint breaths. Latoshi's eyes widened in surprise. Without another thought, he picked up the other Pichu, cradling them both in each arm. His expression turned bitterly serious, shooting into the air. He soared over the forest, heading back to the cabin in a hurry.
  4. Chapter 26 The following morning, Latoshi waited with his brother near the front door. Both boys wore the same attire as when they went to Fern Town. “I'm kinda nervous,” he remarked, rubbing his arm. “Same here,” Antoshi replied. “They do seem like they're nice, at least from what Mitoshi's said about them.” “I'm just worried about it being … awkward, you know?” “Yeah…” “You guys ready?” Mitoshi asked, as she emerged from her room. She had on a casual blue summer dress with white polka dots, black bicycle shorts that were just long enough to be seen past the bottom hem of her dress, and white canvas shoes — appropriate 'flying attire' by her standards. The boys nodded to her. “Let's hit the road, then — or, the sky. You know what I mean.” The two brothers chuckled. Latoshi and Mitoshi headed out the front door. Antoshi turned to Fireball, who was seated comfortably on the couch and watching television. “Are you sure you don't want to come, Fireball?” "No, it's fine," the Typhlosion replied. "I don't want to be a distraction the first time you meet your family. This is something personal for the three of you. I'll meet them next time!" Antoshi smiled, warmly, nodding to his friend. “All right, then. There's food in the— well, you already know where the food is.” "Yes, I do!" he said, proudly. "I'll try not to eat all of it!" he added as Antoshi walked out the door, shutting it behind him. The blond boy met with his siblings just outside the porch steps. “Pretty strange how there was no answer again this morning,” Mitoshi said. “Maybe the videophone's on the fritz or something. Also, before you say anything — yes, I'll be able to handle flying on my own this time.” “Sweet,” Latoshi replied, taking to the air. “Your hand got really clammy and gross last time!” “Hey!” she shouted at him. Latoshi laughed as the girl swiftly flew after him. Antoshi sighed in contentment, ascending into the air to follow behind them. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Once again, it took the group over an hour to near close to their destination. They stayed close to the clouds as before, not wanting to startle anyone on ground level with the sight of three flying kids. Antoshi gazed down at the sprawling grasslands and farms far below. In his travels through Kanto, he and Fireball never got to see any farmland. The rich, vibrant colors of different grasses and crops, all neatly set in their divided fields was a visual treat for him. Mixes of various animals and Pokémon, from cows and horses to Miltank and Mareep, dotted the landscape. “Wow,” Antoshi remarked, in awe. “So, this is Olivine City, huh?” “Err, sort of,” Mitoshi replied, over the sound of the whipping winds. “We live in the outskirts of Olivine. Olivine City is over that way.” She pointed to the south, toward large buildings of varying shapes and sizes near the ocean. “Oh,” Antoshi said, “hey, that's just like my home back in Saffron City.” “We can land at that playground,” Mitoshi said, pointing to it. “Nobody's ever there at this time, especially on a school day.” The boys followed her lead, touching down lightly upon the playground's wood mulch. Mitoshi sighed happily, jogging out toward the suburban neighborhood before them. They followed the sidewalk through the residential area. The large, two-story houses of varying architectures lined up almost perfectly beside each other on either side of the wide street. The area was quiet and peaceful, with neatly cut lawns and freshly planted trees along the road verges. They headed down a few turns before coming to a unique, brick house. “Wow,” Latoshi remarked, walking up to the front door with the others, “this is where you live?” “Sure is!” Mitoshi replied. She attempted to open the front door, only to find it was locked. “Aw, man,” she said, peering through the door's glass. The house was quiet inside. “They don't lock the door unless they went out somewhere.” “Mitoshi!” a voice called out behind them. The trio turned to see an older woman waving to her. She held a leash attached to a pair of Rockruffs. “Oh, hello, Miss Heather!” she said, heading over to greet her. The boys lagged behind. “What are you doing here?” the woman asked, curiously. “I thought you'd be with your parents right now.” “… With them?” the girl asked in confusion. “What do you mean?” “You mean you didn't hear? Your parents were in a car accident the other day.” A sense of dread swept over all three of them. “Wh—what?” Mitoshi uttered, nervously. “W—What accident? Are they okay? Where are they?” “Last I heard, they were in North Shore Hospital. I can take you, if you'd like.” “Oh, uh, yeah,” Mitoshi replied, a bit confused. “Sure!” “All right, let me put these two away. Stay right here.” The woman shuffled off, calling to her Rockruffs to up the pace. Mitoshi was very visibly unsettled. The boys tried to keep her relaxed, despite also being deeply concerned themselves. Latoshi, in particular, was fearful that he was going to lose another mother and father. The trio remained awkwardly silent, none of them certain of what to say. Within a few minutes, Heather came back in a white, four-door sedan. The three siblings wasted not a moment getting in. Mitoshi sat in front, while the boys sat in back. The woman promptly drove off toward their destination. “Who are your two new friends?” Heather asked. “Hm?” Mitoshi uttered, lost in thought. “Oh, … it's a long story. I'll tell you all about it after we get back home.” “No problem, I understand.” The group remained quiet as Heather drove them to the hospital, each of the young people staring out their respective side window. The car slowed to a stop near the entrance. Mitoshi left the car in a hurry and dashed inside. Antoshi and Latoshi followed behind, confused and concerned. Mitoshi asked for her parents at the front desk. She was told where to find them, and was directed to the elevators. The three siblings headed inside an elevator car, ascending several floors. The elevator dinged. Mitoshi could not get out quickly enough, squeezing sideways between the doors before they had fully opened. She sprinted down the hallway, finding the room her parents were in. “Mom?!” she exclaimed, rushing inside. “Dad?!” To her surprise, her mother, a woman with long, vibrant blonde hair, was comfortably seated in a chair. Her father, a man with medium-length blue hair and a short stubble beard, laid in the hospital bed beside her. His leg was wrapped in a thick cast and elevated. Both of them were equally shocked to see her. “Mitoshi!” her mother said. She stood up, almost immediately greeted by her daughter's tight embrace. “Are you okay?” Mitoshi asked, her voice quavering. “Miss Heather told me you were in a car accident, and I was so scared. I thought— … I thought that …” “Oh, sweetie,” she replied, wiping the tears from the girl's eyes. “We're both just fine.” “Mostly fine!” her father interjected, guffawing. “I got a busted-up leg!” Her mother chuckled. “He's in good spirits about it, as you can tell.” “They gave me some pretty good stuff!” her father said. “Woo-hoo! Don't mind me if I get loopy!” “Is it … bad?” Mitoshi asked her mother. “No, no. They already fixed him up. He'll be here for a few more days, though.” Mitoshi sniffled and nodded. She let go of her mother, drying her eyes. “So, how have you been, sweetie? What made you want to come back home? Did you make any progress on your search?” “Well, it's funny you should ask that,” Mitoshi said, offering a soft laugh, “because I … well, I found them both.” Her parents were completely stunned by the revelation. They went silent for a moment. “Y-you mean,” her mother stammered, “you— … you found …” “You'd better sit down, hon',” the girl's father said. “Yes, I should definitely … sit down.” She took her seat, staring blankly at her daughter. She blindly reached for her husband's hand, both of them grasping each other tightly. “Are you guys ready?” Mitoshi asked. Both of them nodded tenuously. Mitoshi smiled and nodded back. She headed back to the door, finding her brothers curiously waiting right outside. “Come on in,” she said, waving them in. “Mom, Dad, … I have a couple of very special guests I want you to meet.” Their mother gasped at the sight of the two boys coyly shuffling inside. She held a shaking hand over her mouth. Their father was in sheer disbelief. “Mom, Dad, this is Antoshi and Latoshi,” she said before turning to her brothers. “Guys, … here they are.” “Hello,” Antoshi spoke, smiling weakly. “Hi,” Latoshi added, quietly. “Oh,” their mother uttered, tears running down her face. “I can't … believe it. This can't be real.” She sniffled, slowly getting to her feet. She approached the two boys, unable to contain herself from grinning. “Hello there,” she said, politely. “My name is Anne. It's so wonderful to finally meet you both.” The boys glanced to each other, both of them chuckling, nervously. Their mother's hair color was just like Antoshi's. Their father's hair was like Mitoshi's. She reached down, taking both of their hands in hers. She stifled her sobs as best she could. “Your hair,” she remarked, noticing the same thing of them. “That was one thing I could always … remember. The color is just like in my memories. You were both … so small then. So tiny and so precious.” The two boys looked at her, curiously, while she uttered a joyful sob. “The one thing I've always wanted to tell you, … if I'd ever gotten the chance, was that we always loved you both with all our hearts. We never wanted to … let go of you, but, we had no choice. I always dreaded that when you found out that you were given up, that you would resent us. The very thought was like daggers in my heart.” “We … don't resent you,” Antoshi said, quietly. “Finding out was … kind of confusing for Latoshi and I for a little while, but, … we understand.” Latoshi nodded in agreement. Their mother grinned and sobbed, weeping for a few moments as she hugged them around their necks. Both of them grinned, hugging her in return. It was a wondrously surreal moment for Latoshi, to be able to feel the warmth of his birth mother's embrace after having lost his parents. “I'm sorry,” she said, letting go of them. “I got carried away. It's just that this is something Laurence and I have dreamed of for thirteen long years. We figured seeing you both again was just an impossible dream, and that all we could do was hope that the two of you were healthy and happy and loved.” “You don't have to worry about that,” Latoshi said. “We were all of those things.” She sniffled and nodded, smiling from ear to ear. “Mitoshi,” she said, turning her attention to her daughter, “this is … the most wonderful thing you could've ever done for us!” “Yeah,” her father added, wiping tears from his eyes as well, “we can't thank you enough for this gift, Mitoshi. We love you bunches, peanut.” “I love you both, too,” she replied, grinning, “and—” she put her arms around her brothers, who smiled at her, “I love these guys, too. They're pretty great when you get to know them.” “'Peanut'?” Latoshi mused, flashing a cheeky smirk at his sister. Mitoshi groaned, rolling her eyes. “That's her favorite snack!” their father replied. “Ever since she was a little girl. It was one of the first words she ever learned, too!” “Dad!” she exclaimed in embarrassment, covering her face with both hands, prompting laughs from the others. “Well, then,” their mother said, taking a seat once again. “Why don't we all sit down? I'm sure you boys have a lot of questions.” The brothers found a couple of chairs and dragged them over, sitting across from her. Mitoshi sat next to her mother. “Well, um,” Antoshi began, “I guess the first question we both have is: what happened that made you … give us up? Mitoshi told us the short version of it, but, … we just want to hear it from you.” Their mother sighed. “Okay, well, it was about fourteen years ago. Your father and I were living in Ecruteak City at the time. We were there for less than a month before a fire broke out. I had accidentally left some candles burning one night, and it started a fire. … We lost our home. We didn't have any insurance, either, so we were completely homeless. We lost everything — well, almost everything, because it turned out I was also pregnant with both of you. It was a very rough time for us. We were living out of our car, going to work every day, but we weren't sure if we would manage to get by for a while. Then, your father, being as reckless as he is, started buying lottery tickets. I was so furious with him when I found the stubs he'd been hiding in the car.” “I know it was a terrible idea,” their father said. “I just had hope that things had to get better for us eventually. It was stupid, crazy, foolish hope. I refused to believe that things could get so bad for us without some kind of comeuppance in the end. Your mother wasn't speaking to me for a while after that. Then, … the two of you came.” “I went into labor,” she continued, “and the two of you brought us both together again. I'll never forget it. First came Antoshi, then Latoshi. You were the most innocent, adorable, beautiful angels I could've ever dreamed of. You both were so cute with your little sprouts of hair. … But, we couldn't keep you. There was no way for us to support you or take care of you the way you deserved. We made the decision to give you both up. It crushed us both so much. I didn't speak or eat for a few days.” “Things were so frustrating,” their father said. “I was so angry and so sad. Everything was being ripped away from us. It felt like fate played a cruel joke on us. But, as it turned out, our terrible turn of fortune came good fortune. Even though it upset your mother, I continued to play the lottery for a while afterward. Lo and behold, I … won! Not just a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, but the whole jackpot.” “I have to be honest,” their mother said, laughing, “when he told me, I thought he was lying. I got mad at first. I thought it was some attempt to get me to feel better for a little while. But, he was so insistent. He kept showing me the ticket. That's when I realized it wasn't a lie. We were so elated, but, even with our new fortune, we still knew that our boys weren't coming back. After we moved into our home in Olivine, we got a little overzealous and we ended up trying to have children again, probably a bit sooner than we should've. That's when our baby girl came along.” Mitoshi grinned as her mother stroked her blue hair. “And, so, that's the whole story.” “… Wow,” Latoshi remarked, after a few moments of silence. He looked to his brother. “That's more than either of us could've imagined had happened.” “It was unimaginable,” she replied, “and I hope the three of you never have to feel the regret and sorrow that we did. We always wanted you to know somehow that we loved you, no matter how far away you were. I just hope that this gives you boys the answers you needed.” “It does,” Antoshi said, reaching over to hold his mother's hand, smiling at her. She was surprised at first, but she quickly smiled back at him. She clutched his hand tighter, sighing in relief. “By the way, you said I was born first, right?” he asked. His mother nodded. “So, … that means I'm the older brother?” Latoshi was flabbergasted by the revelation. “Yes,” his mother replied with a laugh. “By just five minutes, of course.” Antoshi flashed a cheeky grin to his brother, who cut his eyes back at him. Latoshi fumed, quietly. “There is one more important thing you have to explain to us, though,” Latoshi said, as mother and son let their hands fall away. “All of us, and all the people who have ever met us want to know: what is the story with our names?” Their mother and father looked at each other in surprise for a moment, before grinning from ear to ear. “That was your mother's idea!” he exclaimed. “Blame her!” “It's true,” she added, with a laugh. “When I was younger, I had this incredible fascination with the historical culture of Ecruteak City. That's why we moved there, because I always wanted to be immersed in it. I wanted to engage in the fashion, the lifestyle, the language of Ecruteak. So, I came up with your names as a symbolic gesture of that. Your names are partially derived from mine and your father's — the 'An' and the 'La' portion. I wanted to give both you boys similar names so that anyone who met you would immediately know you were siblings. Of course, it also helped that you two ended up as identical twins, too. After that, though, we decided to give Mitoshi a similar name when she was born — part of which comes from my mother, Miriam. I … just thought it was a unique and endearing set of names to give you.” “Well,” Antoshi said, sighing in contentment, “I had thirteen years to get used to the name. I've gotten plenty of laughs and strange looks and positive remarks over it. It's definitely been a unique experience.” “I do wonder,” their mother said, curiously, “why did your parents keep the names for you both?” “They liked it,” Antoshi replied. “Honestly, I'm very grateful to them for keeping the name. It means a lot to me.” Anne grinned in elation. “As for me,” Latoshi said, “I actually had the name 'Declan' all my life. I only learned of the name 'Latoshi' when I saw the adoption papers. … It's grown on me, too,” he admitted, with a playful shrug. “I'm happy to hear that,” she said, laughing softly. “So, would you boys like to tell us about yourselves? We'd love to hear everything you want to share.” “That's for sure,” their father added. “It's not like I can go anywhere anyway!” He laughed, while Mitoshi chuckled in embarrassment. “Absolutely,” Antoshi replied with a grin. The brothers proceeded to fill their parents in on the events of their lives — from Antoshi becoming a Pokémon Trainer and his kinship with Fireball, to Latoshi's otherwise uneventful childhood growing up in Fern Town. Mitoshi joined in to give a convenient story about finding them both by chance, and to explain some of what happened after the three of them met. The sibling trio carefully omitted any remarks about their superpowers, as well as Lazarus, Collin, and all the fighting that occurred. Their mother and father were incredibly proud to hear of the tales of their lives. They also comforted Latoshi after the realization that he'd lost his parents in Fern Town. Latoshi ended up becoming fairly affectionate with them. They were the only parents he had left, and he cherished the fact that he'd been given a second chance to be their son. He was genuinely happy in their presence. At some point, a nurse came by to give their father some medication. “Wow,” their mother remarked, “to have a son that's a remarkable Pokémon Trainer, and another son that's a strong survivor. The two of you have lived such incredible lives already! You're stronger and more beautiful than I could've ever imagined. Seeing you here, after all this time, … it's so satisfying beyond words.” “My sons,” their father said, with tears in his eyes, “I'm so proud of the young men you've grown into.” “And, we're happy to have met you,” Antoshi replied, smiling at them. “I definitely agree with that,” Latoshi added. “Now, I am fading pretty fast,” their father said as his eyes fluttered closed. “Looks like the meds are kicking in.” Mitoshi sighed, happily, as she got up. “We should probably get going now anyway,” she said. The others got up as well. Their mother smiled, brimming with pride, hugging each of her children one at a time. “This was the most wonderful family reunion,” she said. “Please do come and visit us every so often. We'll probably be back home in a couple of days. I'd love to hear about everything that's happening in your lives.” “We will,” Antoshi replied, with Latoshi nodding in agreement. The three siblings said their farewells to their mother, as well as to their father, who was fast asleep. They took their leave, all of them beaming. “That was a great idea,” Mitoshi said, skipping down the hallway alongside her brothers. “I'm so happy you finally got to meet them, and that it went so well. I'm so, so, so happy!” “Yeah,” Antoshi concurred. “Thanks for suggesting it, Latoshi.” “I really wanted to meet them so badly,” Latoshi admitted, staring at the ground, his hands casually in his shorts pockets, “even if I was nervous about it. Knowing that I still have a family, a mom and dad, … it all means a lot to me.” Antoshi put an arm around him, both of them laughing and grinning at each other. “I just hope Fireball hasn't raided the refrigerator yet,” Mitoshi remarked. Antoshi's eyes went wide. “… We'd better hurry on back,” he replied, with a hint of concern in his voice. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A few days passed since the brothers got to meet their birth parents. Outside their cabin at noon, Latoshi and Mitoshi stood next to each other as they practiced punching drills. The boy wore a green tank top with a white horizontal stripe in the middle, and loose white shorts. Mitoshi wore her previous light blue sleeveless shirt with the large Marill print on the front, along with white denim shorts. She looked over at him and giggled. “I'm finally starting to see your movements!” she remarked, gleefully. “You've been punching three times for each one of mine.” “That's great!” Latoshi replied, grinning to her. “You're making some serious headway already. I just wish 'Brainy' would come outside and make some headway with us.” “I heard that,” Antoshi said, as he headed out the front door. Fireball sat on the porch swing, with Bubbles resting beside it. “Oh, hey there,” Latoshi said, stopping his training. “Finally done with all your homework?” he asked, teasing the boy. Antoshi sighed in exasperation, approaching his siblings. “I told you, I have tons of free time now, so I might as well get caught up with my home schooling. My parents just sent me a new lesson this morning.” "I don't get why he enjoys it either, Latoshi!" Fireball called out from the porch. Bubbles laughed, softly. “Well, big brother,” Latoshi said, sarcastically, “it's good of you to finally join us.” “It sure is,” Antoshi replied, hopping up and down to get his blood pumping. “I'm feeling really good. Got a lot of energy I need to burn off. I see you're liking those clothes my parents got for you.” “Heck yeah,” Latoshi remarked, looking down at his attire, while Antoshi did some stretches. “Your parents know how to pick out quality stuff. … You know, Antoshi, after that chat with Serenity, I can't help but wonder how much stronger I can get. I feel like there's huge potential inside me, so, I want to keep on training hard and push my limits. Want to push the limits with me?” “Actually,” Antoshi replied, sighing, with his hands on his hips, “I have been thinking about that, too. I've given some thought to how much good can be done with our powers. Refining them seems like it would only be beneficial for us.” “All right!” Mitoshi squealed in joy. “We'll be like … sibling superheroes!” “Don't get ahead of yourself, little sis',” Latoshi said, playfully ruffling her hair, “you've still got a ways to go before you catch up to our level.” “Hey!” she exclaimed, pouting angrily. “I will catch up to you two, and I won't stop until I do!” Latoshi shrugged. “If you say so,” he said, teasing the girl. “It's not that I don't believe you, it's just that you're just kind of a pushover right now.” Mitoshi growled, her irises turning bright blue, her aura flaring to life with an explosive fury. She immediately went on the attack, striking and punching at Latoshi. He laughed, hopping backward while blocking her attacks with his hands. “Jeez, you hit like a girl!” he continued to tease her. Mitoshi shouted again, her aura intensifying as she continued to keep up the pace. Antoshi chuckled to himself, watching the two of them. “I thought they wanted me to train with them,” he muttered, smirking. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Antoshi and Fireball laid awake in their room, gazing at the ceiling. "So," Fireball said, "things sure have changed for us, huh?" “They sure have,” the boy replied with a smile. "Do you wish anything had turned out differently?" “Well,” Antoshi replied, turning on to his side to face Fireball, “… I would say that I wish I hadn't needed to fight with Latoshi. Then again, doing so made me stronger — physically, mentally, and spiritually. Everything turned out all right for us in the end, so, that conflict is just something the two of us share as part of our history now. … Are you all right with how things turned out?” "I have to admit, I am a little sad to know we won't be adventuring, going to new towns, and collecting badges anymore. Still, your brother and sister and Bubbles are all really fun to be around. Watching you guys be yourselves with each other is great. It's nice to see you getting along with new people, Antoshi. Especially since, … you know, you didn't have many friends when we were younger…" “I feel that way, too. It's so great to stay with my family, whom I have things in common with. Plus, I have to give you a lot of credit for making this happen. One more than one occasion, you picked me back up and gave me strength when I needed it. I was ready to … be done with Latoshi. I was ready to walk out the door and never come back when Mitoshi said she was my sister.” "You were the one that always made me strong, Antoshi," Fireball replied, grinning to his friend. "I only learned how to motivate like that because of you." “Well, you learned well. Thank you, Fireball. I love you, buddy.” "Love you, too, Antoshi." Antoshi rolled onto his back, as the two best friends breathed a sigh of relief together. “Goodnight, Fireball.” "Nighty-night, Antoshi." ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ In the wee hours of the morning, long before the crack of dawn, Latoshi sat on the big couch in the living room. He was illuminated by the light of the television, watching a repeat of the previous night's news. Mitoshi came out of her room in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes. “Latoshi? …” she uttered, groggily. “I imagine you already know what time it is.” “Sorry for waking you,” he replied, smiling at her. “I couldn't sleep.” “… continue to clean up the aftermath of the fallen Sun Tower in Goldenrod City,” the news reporter said. “Miraculously, all people and Pokémon inside survived, most of which with only minor injuries.” Latoshi narrowed his eyes bitterly, unable to take his gaze away from the screen. Mitoshi stared at the television, before looking over at him in confusion. “What's up, Latoshi? Do you know something about what happened?” “I know exactly what happened. Collin happened.” “Collin?” she asked, concerned, sitting on the couch beside him. “You mean … Serenity's brother?” Latoshi nodded. “The very same one. I met him in the park nearby. I … may have called out his supposed strength, and, … he reacted by bringing down that Sun Tower faster than I could even see — without even moving from where he was.” “But, how did everyone inside survive?” “Serenity. She just showed up out of nowhere, rescued all the people in the building while it was collapsing, and kept them all safe somehow after it fell.” Mitoshi was bewildered by the tale. “I can't figure out the two of them, Mitoshi. They have unbelievable power. They're strong on a level I can't even begin to dream of. That Collin guy, … he comes off as calm and friendly and wise, … but, there's something very scary about him.” Mitoshi bit her lip, watching the news segment with him until it went to commercial. “Come on,” she said, getting up. “I think we should all try to get some sleep.” Latoshi sighed, conceding to her request as he used the remote to shut off the TV. The two of them quietly headed back into their respective rooms. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The next morning, the siblings shared breakfast at the counter together, having a pleasant time conversing and laughing together. Antoshi smiled, idly gazing out the window. He witnessed a shadow dart over the cabin for just a second, followed by what appeared to be snowflakes falling. The blond-haired boy furrowed his brow, staring in confusion for a moment. One of the flakes stuck to the window, promptly melting in the humid, summer air. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — End of Part 4 — ⁂ ⁂ Mitoshi
  5. Chapter 25 The next day, in the midmorning hours, the three siblings and Fireball walked out into the field outside the cabin. Latoshi was wearing a green t-shirt, which Antoshi had gone out and bought for him, along with blue jeans borrowed from Antoshi's wardrobe. His outfit resembled his brother's red and blue attire. Fireball closed his eyes as Antoshi pulled him into the confines of his Poké Ball. “Ready to go?” Antoshi asked his brother, tucking the minimized Poké Ball into his pocket. Latoshi sighed, pausing for a moment before he nodded. The two boys took Mitoshi by the hand. “Then, let's go!” The girl grinned as her brothers helped lift her into the air. She used her own training and ability to help keep herself airborne as well. Bubbles remained at the front door, waving to them with both flippers as they flew off southward into the clear blue sky. The trio of siblings sailed high, near the clouds. The warm, summer wind whipped loudly around them. They took in the sights of Route 35 beneath them, which gave way to Goldenrod — the city that they were all so intimately familiar with already. After some time, the two brothers watched as Mitoshi hesitantly let go of their hands. She shrieked and flailed for a moment, losing some altitude, before managing to fly on her own between them. She laughed it off, her face lit up with elation, keeping her attention focused on her flight and managing her energy as Antoshi had taught her. At the same time, she couldn't help but revel in the freedom of flight — despite how scary it was being so high up at first. The blond boy grinned at her, proudly. She giggled, maneuvering up and down, spinning and rolling with her arms out wide. The black undershirt and blue shorts she wore held tight to her body, while the much more loose, blue shirt on top, as well as her long blue hair, flapped wildly in the intense winds. The longer she kept at it, the more comfortable she became — like learning how to ride a bike, as Antoshi said. The group flew for over an hour without stopping. By then, their destination was in sight. They descended slowly to the ground, just on the outskirts of a wooded area, away from eyesight of nearby people. The trio emerged from the trees, having made it to the remains of Fern Town. Before them was a memorial park, currently visited by a few dozen people scattered around the area. The neatly landscaped grass was bordered by large, circular pathways, allowing people to stroll and to jog amid newly planted oak trees. Small statues, flower beds, and short, brick walls made up just what they were able to see from their vantage point. More notable were the many memorial plaques and headstones alongside the paths. The group stood at the edge of a sidewalk, leading toward a parking lot occupied by several parked cars on their right. Antoshi held out Fireball's Poké Ball, releasing him from its confines, allowing the Typhlosion to gaze upon the scenic park. Mitoshi groaned, weakly, falling back onto her posterior on the grass. She caught her breath, visibly sweating, resting on her hands. “You okay?” Antoshi asked her. Mitoshi uttered an airy laugh. “Yeah, I'm just a little wiped out. That was a heck of a first attempt at flying.” Antoshi chuckled in response. “It's really beautiful here,” he remarked, to the agreement of Fireball and the girl. The three of them watched as Latoshi hesitantly walked forward. The sable-haired boy exhaled slowly, gazing out at the long, empty stretch of grassy plain, bordered by a forest, behind the park. Small handfuls of people walked on by along the grass and the paved walkways. Very few cars drove along the nearby stretch of road. The brief sounds of laughing children and Pokémon rang out. Antoshi took a seat next to Mitoshi, and Fireball followed suit. Each of them understood how important this was for Latoshi. It couldn't have been a more picturesque day, with pillars of white clouds brushed across the warm, blue sky. A gentle breeze carried him forward as he approached a small memorial area where people stopped by briefly. He stopped in front of a vertical, black marble memorial slab to read its inscription: 'This land is dedicated to honor the memory of the citizens of Fern Town. A beautiful town with over seventy years of history. 7,182 souls were lost one fateful morning. May their memories of their lives continue in our hearts forever.' He exhaled in awe upon looking out at the makeshift cemetery laid out in the distance. Aside from the thousands of plaques within the confines of the park, beyond that lay thousands of identical headstones dotting the pristine field of grass, set in perfectly spaced rows. He wandered through them, looking at all of the engraved names — names that were all that was left of the town's residents. Many of the headstones had flowers or balloons or toys laid out in front of them. Each of the gifts that loved ones had left felt like a dagger through his heart. His town was gone. He was the only one left. He came to a halt, gasping in shock as he found a shared headstone with the names of his parents — along with his name, too. His jaw quavered. It was a jarring experience to see his own name upon a grave. Part of his memories, his past, his former name, had perished with the town. ‘They think I died, too,’ he thought, his eyes welling with tears. He scoffed and wiped his eyes. ‘So, … it really is the start of a new life. … Just like Lazarus told me it would be.’ He sat in front of the headstone, crossing his legs. He reached out and touched the smooth finish on the cool, hard marble. “It's been a long time,” he muttered, staring at his parents' names. “I finally … came to see you. I know it took a while for me to get here, but, I had no idea what happened until just recently. I'm sorry I didn't come sooner.” He sighed and looked away for a moment. “I wanted to apologize for everything I did. I was … so terrible to you near … the end. I realize now how difficult I had been over the past few years. I was dealing with a lot of things. I never … felt like I 'fit in' at school. I barely had any friends. I started acting out. I thought I was cool acting like a punk and getting into trouble. You were both always so patient with me. You just wanted the best for me, but, I was so shut-in that I never noticed any of that. I just wanted you to leave me alone and I— … I never realized how much that must have hurt you.” Latoshi huffed and wiped the tears from his eyes. He steadied his breathing for a moment before continuing. “After … I had found out that … you had adopted me, it was like … I dunno, something snapped inside me. I had this horrible, emotional burden inside me all the time, and then finding out about the adoption made me feel like my whole world came crashing down. It was like my life was ending. I was so confused, and scared, and I didn't know what was going to happen to me. I felt so alone, but, the truth was, I wasn't. If I had just listened to you, if I had just stopped and had an actual conversation with you, … none of this would've happened. I was too weak, emotionally. That's why I turned to Lazarus. It felt like he understood me, and he would take care of me, and that all of my troubles were over. Turns out that was far from the truth.” He touched the headstone again. “I cried so much over the past few days. It hurt every time I thought about … what I had done. I know it wasn't me that did all these terrible things, but … it's hard not to feel that way. My mistake was letting Lazarus in and giving him the ability to act out his plans. I should've been stronger and smarter, but I wasn't. Now, that's my burden to bear. … I can't keep crying over it, though. I have to be stronger and smarter now. I have to move forward. Even despite all this horrible tragedy, there's a light of hope for me in the end. I have a new family now. I finally got to meet my twin brother, and my younger sister. They're really amazing. I bet you'd have loved them, too.” Latoshi stood up, exhaling slowly. “I'll come and see you again soon. I want to tell you about everything that's happening with me. I want you both to know … that I'm doing my best to become a better person now. I love you both so much.” He slid his hands into his pockets, turning his gaze to the sky for a few moments. He cleared his throat, rubbing his eyes once more, before heading back. The trio were still sitting in the grass, talking and laughing, as Latoshi approached them. They stood up, noticing Latoshi heading over. “How do you feel?” Antoshi asked him. Latoshi smiled and shrugged. “Better,” he replied. “It gave me some closure, just like you said. Thank you for talking me into this.” Antoshi nodded to him, smiling. Latoshi sighed, looking to the sky again. “It's so weird when you think about it. None of this would've happened if not for my decisions. We probably never would've met — at least, not so soon. We might not have even used our powers on the scale we did. … It's like realizing the moment when my life suddenly split off into a completely different direction.” “Do you … regret the way things turned out?” Mitoshi asked, softly. He smiled and shook his head. “No, I don't — I can't. If I regret it, then, I can't move on.” “Well said,” Antoshi replied. “There were plenty of times when things didn't turn out the way any of us expected, or hoped. Even still, we'll move on together.” “Sounds good,” Latoshi said. “Speaking of 'moving on,'” Mitoshi added, “could you guys cart me back home? I don't think I can fly all that way again.” The others laughed. “All right, take my hand,” Antoshi said, holding a hand out to her. “Yeah, and be sure to look both ways, little one,” Latoshi added, smirking. “Hilarious,” Mitoshi replied, sarcastically, as she grabbed hold of Antoshi's hand. "So, when do we get to eat?" Fireball asked. “We'll have lunch when we get home,” Antoshi replied. "Maybe we could have a … pre-lunch before that?" Antoshi smirked, shaking his head, before recalling Fireball into his Poké Ball. The three siblings headed back into the woods, before going airborne once again. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Antoshi sat alone on the large, middle couch in the living room. He sighed, moving his Trainer ID card around through his fingers. The door to his room opened, grabbing his attention. "Antoshi?" Fireball mused, groggily. "It's almost 1 A.M. What are you doing up?" “Can't sleep,” he replied, as Fireball shuffled over to him. “I've just been sitting here, thinking.” "What about?" the Typhlosion asked, taking a seat on the couch to his left. “Well, … Latoshi came to terms with his parents. Now, I have to do the same.” Fireball went silent for a moment. "When are you … going to talk to them?" “The sooner, the better,” he replied, staring at his ID again. “I haven't spoken to them since, … well, since I found out. I only went this long without talking them once before, and you know how worried they were when I finally called. It's just, …” his hand trembled as he pinched the card between his fingers, “I kind of feel the same way Latoshi did when he found out. I can't help but thinking that … they lied to me by never telling me.” "But, they are your parents, Antoshi — you know they wouldn't ever lie." “I know, I— it's selfish of me to think that, but, … I just wish they would've told me.” "It's hard. That much I know from what I've seen from you and from Latoshi. Obviously, I couldn't what you're going through, since I barely remember my own parents. But, you know I've always got your back. Whenever you want to talk to them, I'll be right there with you." “Thanks, Fireball,” he replied. “I was thinking about going as soon as possible tomorrow morning. I was going to ask you to come with me, too.” The best friends smiled to each other. "Why don't you get some rest now?" Antoshi closed his eyes and nodded in response. The two of them got up, and headed back into their room. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Are you sure you don't want us to come with you?” Mitoshi asked, the following morning. She and Latoshi stood by and watched as Antoshi knelt down to tie his shoelaces. “Yeah, I'm sure,” he said, standing up. “This is something Fireball and I have to take care of together. I'll be back tomorrow, though.” “Don't forget to call us,” Latoshi said. The two brothers smiled at each other, sharing a brief handshake. “I sure won't,” Antoshi replied. “I'll be thinking about you guys the whole time.” Mitoshi walked up to him, giving him and Fireball a hug around the neck. Antoshi laughed. “Come on, guys, we're only going to be gone for one day.” “Yeah, we know that,” Latoshi replied, “but, it won't feel the same without our 'fearless leader' around.” “Is that how you really think of me?” “You didn't give up on me after learning about Lazarus,” Latoshi said. “Mitoshi also told me about how you would go outside and send out energy in the hopes I'd sense you.” “You're also teaching me how to use my energy like you do,” Mitoshi added, smiling. “I just enjoy being with you guys,” Antoshi replied, with an embarrassed grin. “I … I care about you, and I just want to make you both happy.” “And, that's why it won't feel the same without you around,” Latoshi said. Antoshi nodded in understanding to them. “Well, try not to miss me too much,” he joked. The others chuckled. He bent down to grab his backpack, slinging it over his shoulders with a content sigh. “See you guys tomorrow.” “See ya,” they both replied, while Fireball waved to them. Bubbles, staying near the back of the main area, waved to the duo as well. Antoshi held the door open for Fireball, heading out after his friend did. Latoshi let out a heavy sigh. “So, what should we do now?” he asked. “Hmm, … you know, this whole time you guys haven't watched any TV.” Latoshi stared at her blankly. “I … thought the TV wasn't working or something.” “No, it works. The remote should be in a little pocket on the side of the couch.” “Awesome,” he replied. Latoshi performed a flashy backflip from where he was standing, startling Bubbles, before making a soft landing sitting down on the couch. He reached for the remote where she said it would be, sighing happily, putting his feet up on the table. Mitoshi grinned. “I'm glad you learned how to make yourself at home here,” she said. “This place is so cozy,” he replied, “especially with all of you around. How can I not?” Latoshi flicked the television on and reclined with his hands behind his head. Mitoshi smiled and shook her head, heading into the kitchen to grab a snack for them both. Bubbles quietly returned to her usual task of tidying up. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ In the early afternoon, Antoshi and Fireball headed off the Magnet Train. The boy took a deep breath and huffed sharply. He had a determined expression as they made their way out of the train station and back into their hometown of Saffron City. "You were quiet the whole ride here," Fireball remarked, as they crossed the street together. “Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I was just … rehearsing what to say to my head, and what they might say, and how they might react …” "You could've called them." “I could have, but this is something really important. It's the kind of conversation that needs to happen face-to-face.” "That's true, but, I meant you could've called them to let them know we were coming." Antoshi chuckled. “I haven't been able to call them this whole time because of what I want to talk about with them. I wouldn't be able to keep myself from bringing it up and, like I said, this needs to be discussed in person.” The duo grew increasingly nervous the closer they got to home. Their serene neighborhood was quiet. Only a handful of their neighbors were out and about, and none of them seemed to notice the pair. By the time he reached for the front door, Antoshi's hands were trembling. He turned the knob and they headed inside. “Mom! Dad!” Antoshi called out. “I'm home!” “Antoshi?!” they both responded in surprise from the living room. Antoshi headed over, finding them getting up from the couch. His mother quickly shuffled over and embraced him tightly. “Oh, we were so worried!” she said. “You hadn't called in so long after you got to Route 35! We were hoping you'd been taking care of yourself, but, is everything all right? Why did you come home so suddenly?” The boy looked up at his mother, smiling, with tears filling his eyes. “Antoshi, … what's wrong?” “I, um,” he said, his voice quavering, “… I think we should all sit together to have a talk.” His parents looked to each other in concern. His father came over to join them. “All right, sure, son,” he said. He pulled out a chair from the nearby dining room table. “Here, come sit.” The boy did so. He was promptly joined by his mother sitting on the chair next to him. His father pulled out another chair and brought it over to sit with them as well. Fireball opted to stand nearby. Antoshi gazed down at his trembling hands, exhaling slowly. “Did something happen in Johto?” his father asked. Antoshi chuckled, weakly, rubbing the tears from his eyes. “You could say that,” he replied. His mother looked up at Fireball. “Well, you're here, and Fireball is here,” she said. “You both look all right. What could it be?” “It's not really about me or Fireball,” he replied, “it's … it's about you. Both of you.” His parents looked to each other in confusion. “I don't understand,” his father said. The boy sighed again. “While I was in Johto, I met a couple of friends my age: a boy and a girl. They're both really nice, and Fireball really likes them, too.” Fireball nodded in agreement. “Well, that's wonderful, honey,” his mother said, softly. “It is wonderful, but, … well, the girl ended up telling me something I—I certainly wasn't ready for. She told me that she was actually my sister, and that the other boy with us … was my brother. She'd been searching for us for some time after finding out she had two older brothers that were given up for adoption.” He looked up to see the alarmed expressions on their faces. “She told me that I was … adopted.” His parents went quiet for a few moments. His father reached over to grab his wife's hand. “Oh,” she whispered. “I see.” “Ever since I found out,” Antoshi went on, “it's been eating at me. I had so many questions on my mind, but the main question was: why? Why did you never tell me?” “We were most certainly going to tell you, Antoshi,” his mother said, her voice breaking, “just … when you were a few years older. We weren't sure you were ready just yet.” Antoshi took a deep breath, exhaling with an almost relieved laugh. “I was … really hoping that was going to be your answer,” he said, sniffling. “We didn't keep it from you to hurt you,” his father said, shaking his head. “We just, … well, we certainly didn't expect you to find out on your own like this. We wanted you to go out and fulfill your dream as a Pokémon Trainer. We wanted you to … live your life, and learn, and grow, and just have fun. I'm so sorry you had to find out this way, son.” Antoshi sniffled and nodded. “I'm sorry, too,” he replied. “I should've called you sooner. I knew you were worrying about me, it's just … I couldn't bear to talk to you for a little while after I found out. I was too scared. But, I couldn't avoid talking to you for very long, so, that's why Fireball and I are here now.” “I understand, Antoshi,” his mother said, taking him by the hand. Her hand was cold and trembling just as his was. “I'm glad you decided to come home to talk about this. That was very responsible of you. I've always said I trust in your judgment, because you've always had good judgment.” “That's true,” his father added. “I'm just … glad to finally get this out of the way,” Antoshi said, chuckling. “But, just out of my own curiosity, could you … tell me about it? How you adopted me and … why?” “Of course,” his mother said. “You deserve to know.” “Well,” his father said, “without getting into all of the embarrassing details, after your mother and I were married, we found out that … well, we couldn't have children of our own. Even still, we decided we wanted to start our own family regardless of that.” “We contacted an adoption agency,” his mother continued, “and, not long after, they called us back to set up a meeting with a newborn baby. We ended up flying to their location in Blackthorn City, and that's when we met you.” The two parents grinned to each other. “You were the most adorable little baby with your little sprouts of blond hair. We fell in love with you immediately.” “The adoption papers had the name your birth parents gave to you,” his father said. “It was 'Antoshi.' We thought it was a wonderful, unique name, so, … we stuck with it.” Antoshi let out a soft laugh. “So, my … birth parents were the ones that came up with my name?” he mused, grinning. His parents responded with a nod. “It's funny because … of all the people I've met on our journeys that thought that my name was 'weird' or 'crazy' or 'exotic'. I always figured I had you both to 'blame' for that.” His parents laughed. “Well,” his father said, “of course we considered giving you a new name, but, … we just liked the name 'Antoshi' too much.” “After thirteen years, it's grown on me, too,” he replied with a smile. “But, there was one other thing I needed to talk to you both about. … I've given it a lot of thought, and … I think that I'd like to put my Pokémon journey on hold indefinitely.” His parents were surprised by the news. “I … hope you both aren't upset with me. It's just that I'd really like to spend some time with my brother and sister. I really want to get to know them better.” “Oh, honey, we're not upset one bit,” his mother said. His father nodded in agreement. “We always trust in your judgment, like I said. If that's what you really want, then we want that for you, too.” “We'd love to be able to meet them, too,” his father said. “It'd be wonderful for us to talk to your siblings.” “I know they'd love that,” Antoshi replied. The three of them got up in order to share a group hug. Antoshi sighed with his face in his mother's shoulder. “I love you both so much,” he said. “We love you, too,” his mother replied. “You will always be our little 'blond ray of sunshine.'” Antoshi laughed in embarrassment. “We love you, son,” his father added. Fireball eagerly shuffled over, putting his paws around all of them with tears streaming down his face. The others shared a laugh. “We love you, too, Fireball!” Antoshi's father said. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The duo stayed home the rest of the day, as Antoshi had planned to do. The two of them were extremely content being home once more. They spent the day enjoying time spent as a family, as well as the satisfaction of home-cooked meals. They walked around outside, talked to their friends and neighbors, reminiscing on earlier times. They played games, watched some television, and Antoshi happily caught up with some of his belated home schooling. "Do you really enjoy doing that paperwork stuff?" Fireball asked, watching him write. “Oh, yes,” Antoshi replied with a grin. “Yes, I do.” Antoshi and Fireball got a sound sleep that night. Both of them felt much better being able to address the issue of Antoshi's adoption with his parents. Since last they slept at home, the course of their lives had altered dramatically. Neither of them were perturbed by that or by what the future held for them. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The next morning, Antoshi and Fireball walked down the path leading away from their home. The best friend duo turned and waved to the boy's parents, who stood together at the front door. “Good luck, Antoshi!” his mother called to them. “Try not to have too much fun!” his father added, in jest. “Call us at least once a week, okay?” “Will do!” Antoshi called back. “Love you both!” “We love you!” they said together before heading back inside. The duo headed back down the same street they grew up on once again. Fireball sighed happily. "It was really great to be back home. That whole 'adoption' conversation went swimmingly." Antoshi was taken aback by the remark. “'Swimmingly'? Your vocabulary is becoming very good, Fireball.” "Why, thank you," the Typhlosion replied, playfully. "I happen to consider myself smarter than the average Typhlosion." “You're definitely taller and heavier and eat way more than the average Typhlosion.” Fireball chuckled, warmly. “You're right, though. That whole situation couldn't have gone any better. Now, it's time to head back and see what Latoshi and Mitoshi are up to.” "I'll bet they passed out from boredom already." ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Several hours later, Mitoshi sat outside on the porch stairs, watching Latoshi as he trained. With a serious expression, he rattled off several rapid-fire flurries of punches and kicks for a short time. He shouted, finishing with a kick powerful enough to cause a visible shock wave. “That was great!” Mitoshi said, offering a gentle clap. Latoshi sighed, smirking at her. “It's nice to finally stretch out a bit. It's been forever since I felt this strong.” He grunted, looking down at his clenched fist as he summoned his aura to it. The color of his aura had shifted to that of a dark green. “… Or this green,” he added. “Oh, hey, that's right,” Mitoshi replied. She hopped to her feet, skipping playfully over to him. “Your aura was black the last time I saw it. Why is it changing colors?” The girl gasped in shock. “Are you a chameleon?” Latoshi chuckled. “Nah. Last time I checked, I'm definitely human. Still, this is kind of odd. I have no idea why my aura is changing color.” “We can figure that out later~,” she whined. “You said you were going to train me while Antoshi was gone.” “All right, all right. Let me think here. From what Antoshi told me, you're still pretty inexperienced. So, I'll figure out where to start by testing how good your sensing ability is.” “Right!” she exclaimed, standing at attention. “What should I do?” Latoshi turned to the side. “I'm going to punch a certain number of times, and you just tell me how many you see. Sound good?” “Sounds great! I'm ready!” Mitoshi remained fully alert, narrowing her eyes as she stared, unblinking. Several moments passed before Mitoshi finally blinked, and looked at him in confusion. “Are you ever going to start?” Latoshi raised his eyebrows. “… Seriously?” he asked in disbelief. “You didn't see anything just now?” “Uh, well, … no~o?” she replied, meekly. “Should I have?” Latoshi sighed, sharply. “Wow. Okay, then. Looks like we're starting at the basic of the basics.” Mitoshi groaned in frustration. “Fine. What do we do first?” “First, you have to tell me how you did that thing where you turned your body to water. I've been wondering about that this whole time.” “Ooh, that. I've been able to do that for a couple years now. I can't really explain how, it just happens when it happens. I usually need some kind of water source to do it, though.” “You didn't need any water when I was about to punch you in the chest back on Mt. Mortar.” Mitoshi shrugged. “Like I said, it just happens when it happens. But, like Serenity explained to me after that fight, if I ever lose any part of my 'water body' then I really do need a source of water to kind of … 'refill' myself.” “That's so weird, but, I would love to be able to do it.” “It is pretty fun. So~o, about training me?” “Okay, let's see. … How about you unleash your aura first?” “Got it!” Mitoshi spread her stance a bit. With a determined gaze, she gave a loud shout, her blue aura suddenly flaring to life around her. At the same time, her irises turned a shimmering blue. Latoshi hummed and nodded, impressed. “Not bad,” he said. He idly gazing down at his open palms, which were visibly slick. “You know, your aura actually carries moisture inside it.” “Antoshi mentioned that, but, he figured it was a side-effect of having an elemental Ki like Serenity said.” “Okay, I seriously want to trade Ki with you now. Your power is sounding more and more cool.” Mitoshi laughed. Latoshi sighed and grinned. “Well, like I said, let's go with the basics, okay? How about you just come at me with your best?” Mitoshi smirked, confidently. “Watch out, I might knock your jaw off again!” she exclaimed, running at him. “Keep dreaming!” he retorted, smirking just the same as her. She shouted with each strike she threw at him. He blocked each punch with open palms, smiling, as he gradually moved backward. “Not bad!” Latoshi said. “Let loose! Give it everything you got!” Mitoshi kept it up for some time, finding a comfortable rhythm in her punches. After a while, however, she started panting and sweating heavily. Her hair was becoming matted to her head. Her flickering blue aura weakened, diminishing in sync with her faltering energy and slowing strikes. “Okay, that's good enough,” Latoshi said. As she came to a halt, he suddenly bent down to catch her from falling. “Whoa!” He laughed, letting her lay down on her back. “All right, take a breather. We can keep doing that every day and build your stamina.” Mitoshi grinned weakly, staring up at the partly cloudy sky. She caught her breath for a few moments while Latoshi sat next to her. “That was so much fun!” she remarked. “I've never gotten to just cut loose and train like that before. I hadn't ever thought much about fighting, or learning how to fight before I met you two.” “I think training with you and Antoshi would be a lot of fun,” Latoshi remarked, smirking. “You've gotten a lot stronger since that time you knocked me silly.” “You've gotten stronger, too! I swung at you just the same way as I did when we fought, except now I have more Ki control.” Latoshi humphed, thoughtfully. “I guess that shows how much Lazarus really was holding me back. My strength is coming back in a big way.” “Hey, there!” another voice called out from afar. The two of them turned to see the familiar faces of their brother and Fireball. “You guys are back!” Mitoshi responded in elation. The girl sprung to her feet with a sudden burst of energy that surprised Latoshi. She ran over to them, hugging her brother tightly around his neck. Antoshi laughed in response. “Hey, you're getting sweat all over my clothes!” "Aw, man!" Fireball said. "You were training and I missed it? I wanted to watch!" “Blame Mitoshi,” Latoshi replied, walking up to the group. “She got impatient and didn't want to wait for Antoshi to get back.” “It's true!” Mitoshi replied, pulling away from her brother. “I'm super excited to start training with you guys for real.” “I think it'll be fun to train with you as well,” Antoshi replied, smiling at her. The four of them continued chatting as they headed back toward the cabin together. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The group all sighed, almost in unison, as they sat down on the living room couches together. Latoshi sat alone on the big couch in the middle, Antoshi on the smaller couch on his right, Mitoshi and Fireball seated on the couch to his left. Bubbles slid herself over to rest beside Mitoshi. “Another amazing dinner,” Latoshi remarked. “I'm finally feeling back to normal again.” Mitoshi laughed, petting Bubbles' head. Just then, there was a knock at the door. “I'll get it!” the girl said, springing back up. She headed to the door and opened it. Mitoshi gasped in excitement. “Good evening,” Serenity said, smiling. “May I come in?” “Of course!” Mitoshi replied, waving her inside, eagerly. “Hey, guys, look who it is!” “Serenity!” the others greeted her, as Mitoshi closed the door behind them. “Hello, everyone,” she replied, politely. “Here — come, sit down,” Mitoshi said, guiding her over to the couch Antoshi was seated at. Serenity and Antoshi smiled to each other as the young woman sat down. Mitoshi was bubbling with excitement, taking her seat next to Fireball again. “So, what brings you here?” Antoshi asked. “I wanted to see how everyone was doing,” she replied. She paused for a moment, smiling, as she looked at all of them. “It's quite the sight to see you finally together. It warms my heart like you wouldn't believe. In my opinion, you're all where you should be: together, as a family.” The others chuckled, looking to each other. “Serenity!” Mitoshi spoke up, raising her hand over her head. “I've been getting a lot stronger. Antoshi and Latoshi are both training me.” “I can tell!” Serenity replied with a warm smile. “Your Ki is much more refined than the first time I met you. In fact, all of you have gotten stronger since then.” She turned her attention to Latoshi. “Especially you.” Latoshi was taken aback by the personal remark. “Oh, hey!” Mitoshi went on. “I just remembered! Latoshi, show Serenity your aura.” “Oh, yeah, you're right.” Latoshi held his fist out. Antoshi was surprised, watching his brother summon his dark green aura around his lower arm. “Wow, it's green now,” Antoshi remarked. “That's really awesome! But, what does it mean?” Serenity closed her eyes and smiled. “Latoshi,” she said, opening her eyes, “if you'll recall, I spoke to you not too long ago in Goldenrod. I said that your heart is where your strength is. If you open your heart and let your true emotions shine, your powers will return. Just from being here, I can see that your mind and heart have mellowed considerably. You're very relaxed. Your siblings give you strength, and the same is true for them.” "Hey!" Fireball exclaimed, taking offense to being left out. The others laughed in response. “Yes, and Fireball's presence gives you strength as well. I'm sorry about that, Fireball.” Fireball folded his stubby arms, smiling in contentment. “The truth is,” Serenity continued, “being around your family has drawn out your emotions and empowered you. Not only has the strength you lost to Lazarus returned, but, you're continually becoming even stronger.” Latoshi grinned from ear to ear, proudly. “Your spirit energy is finally breaking down the barrier that Lazarus created. Your willpower is burning away its leftover energy bit by bit. That's why it's turning green. It appears to be the natural color of your Ki.” “I've been wondering about that, actually,” Antoshi said. “Why do we have different colored Ki?” “A very good question,” Serenity replied, “however, I'm not totally sure. It's possible it could be as simple as what color you subconsciously prefer. It's also possible the color of your aura reflects the type of person you are. Antoshi, yours is red. Red is the a color associated with leadership, and strength. Green typically represents loyalty and passion. Blue reflects peace and unity. That, I feel, is fairly accurate to your personalities, don't you think?” The three siblings nodded, murmuring and looking to each other. “What about pink?” Antoshi asked. “I remember that's the color of your Ki.” Serenity chuckled. “Love,” she replied. Antoshi was suddenly a tad embarrassed for asking. “It's my gift and curse. I care very deeply for the people around me — even complete strangers. I only wish for no one to be harmed, and for everyone to live in peace and happiness. I can't bring myself to disdain anyone, … even if I should've cast them aside long ago.” Her smiled faded, her gaze faltering away. “Collin,” Antoshi remarked. Serenity looked to him, smiling reassuringly. “It's nothing to worry about,” she replied. “Well, I have a question,” Latoshi said, boisterously. “Why the heck can the three of us understand what Fireball and Bubbles say?” “Another very good question,” Serenity answered. “Pokémon instincts are more naturally in tuned with the spirit than humans. That's why all Pokémon are able to sense spirit energy, while very few humans can do the same. The bond between humans and Pokémon can run deep enough to the spirit. Since Antoshi possesses spirit awareness, he can 'hear' what Fireball is projecting with his spirit through spoken words. The same goes for Mitoshi and her Lapras. As for why the other two siblings can hear them, too, I believe it's because of your familial bond. Your spirits are deeply attuned to one another by birthright.” Latoshi was visibly impressed by the explanation. “Ooh, that reminds me,” Mitoshi chimed in. “I'm so sorry I never introduced you to my Lapras. This is Bubbles! Bubbles, Serenity — Serenity, Bubbles.” “It's very nice to meet you, Bubbles,” Serenity said, smiling warmly. Bubbles offered a coy smile and a nod of acknowledgment. “'Deeply attuned to one another by birthright,'” Antoshi reiterated. “Is that why Mitoshi and I were able to see through Latoshi's eyes at one point?” “Did this happen in a dream?” Serenity asked, curiously. Antoshi and Mitoshi nodded. “And, I can only assume it happened when Latoshi was using a considerable amount of spirit energy.” They nodded again. “Then, yes, that's exactly the reason why. The three of you share a very incredible bond with each other unlike anything I've ever seen. You draw strength from your siblings and all three of you strengthen each others' limits. Because of that, I believe that any Pokémon that one of you bonds with automatically bonds with the other two. Truthfully, I think the three of you may soon discover that you can apply the bond between your spirits in ways you never knew. Don't take that as a fact, though, it's just a theory I had floating around in my head. The colors of your spirits may be different, but I feel a powerful sense of similarity and familiarity between them.” "Sweet!" Fireball exclaimed. "I have three best friends now!" The others laughed, loudly. “How long will it take before we see the color of Latoshi's real Ki?” Mitoshi asked. “When Antoshi was only possessed,” Serenity replied, “it only lasted for a few minutes, so the energy from Lazarus burned away almost immediately. However, Latoshi was possessed for months — that's how long I could sense Lazarus' presence inside him. It'll still take some time for him to be completely rid of Lazarus' energy.” Latoshi nodded in understanding. “Oh, man,” Antoshi remarked. “I can't believe how selfish we've been. We've asked so many questions about us, we never asked about you and how you're doing, Serenity.” Serenity chuckled. “It's all right, Antoshi. I'm more than happy to answer your questions if I can. If imparting my knowledge means that the three of you grow stronger and with better understanding of yourselves, then it's very much worth it. But, since you asked, I recently had a job interview at a local supermarket and I'm happy to say I was hired.” “That's great!” Mitoshi said, the others nodding in agreement. “Which supermarket is it?” Latoshi asked. “Swalot's in Ecruteak City,” she replied. “Home of the 'Big Gulpin' Discounts!'” she added with a laugh. “Wait, you live in Ecruteak City?” Antoshi mused. “Yes. When we first spoke, I had said I was in Goldenrod because I sensed Lazarus' energy. However, I actually live in Ecruteak City.” “Could we come and visit you sometime?!” Mitoshi asked, eyes sparkling with excitement. “I'd love to see your place. Oh, and to see Ecruteak City!” “Of course,” Serenity replied. “All of you are welcome to come and visit me whenever you like — as long as I'm at home, of course. I'll even make snacks for us.” "Okay, when do we leave?" Fireball asked, in a dead serious tone. The others shared a laugh. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The group continued to chat long after the sun had gone down. Serenity took her leave, heading out the door as the group said their 'goodbye's to her. Everyone remained in the same seats as before. Five small plates littered with pie crumbs, along with small forks, were sat upon the glass table in the middle of the group. Tea cups were situated in front of Antoshi and Mitoshi, while Latoshi had a glass of water before him. “That was nice of her to stop by,” Antoshi remarked. “Yeah,” Latoshi added, folding his hands behind his head. “On a different note, there's something that I've been thinking about recently.” “What's that?” Mitoshi asked. “Well, I went to visit my parents. Antoshi went to visit his parents. … Looks like there's one set of parents left.” Mitoshi was surprised by his suggestion. “You … really want to meet my parents— I mean, our parents— I mean … what do I even call them?” “'Our parents' is fine,” Antoshi said, smiling to her. “That's so surprising,” she said. “I didn't know if you were ready to meet them, or if you even wanted to.” “I'd like to,” Antoshi replied. “Yeah, same here,” Latoshi added. “I've definitely got a few questions I have to ask them. How about you, Antoshi?” Antoshi nodded to him in agreement. “Okay, then, it's settled!” Mitoshi said. “I'll call them and let them know that I'll be coming back home since … I succeeded in what I told them I was going to do.” Mitoshi got up, stretching for a brief moment, heading over to the small video phone on the desk outside her room. She hummed to herself, using the screen's navigation to call her parents. The phone started to ring. The boys looked on with intense curiosity. The phone continued ringing for a few moments before it automatically disconnected. “Huh,” Mitoshi uttered, looking over at the group, “that's odd. They're always home at this time. I'll try again.” She attempted calling once more, but the phone again ended up failing to connect. “Maybe … they're out or something,” she mused. “I'll call tomorrow morning, and then we can head over there. How's that sound?” “Sounds good to me,” Latoshi said, as he and the others got up to stretch. “Well, I think I'm gonna get some shut-eye. Goodnight, guys.” “Goodnight,” everyone else replied to him while he retired to his room. “Guess we better do the same,” Antoshi said to Fireball. The Typhlosion gave a nod of agreement before they, too, headed into their room. Mitoshi hugged Bubbles, planting a kiss on the Lapras' cheek. “Well, it looks like we're going home tomorrow, Bubbles.” Bubbles smiled with joy. "I'm so looking forward to it, Miss Mitoshi." Mitoshi chuckled, quietly. “Goodnight, Bubbles.” Bubbles nodded before the girl smiled and parted from her. Mitoshi turned off the lights in the kitchen and living room. Bubbles tapped her snout against her Poké Ball to retreat into its confines for the night. Mitoshi sighed, smiling proudly, as she gazed at the boys' closed bedroom doors. She had indeed succeeded in her venture. The girl headed into her room and closed the door behind her. Everyone rested up for what was surely going to be an eventful day.
  6. Chapter 24 It had been two days since Latoshi rid himself of Lazarus' spirit. Antoshi stood on the porch of the cabin, gazing up at the starry night sky. By then, all of the injuries he sustained from his fight with Latoshi had healed completely. His red aura slowly flickered on and off, almost like a firefly. Fireball sat on the wooden porch swing, which quietly creaked under his weight. The Typhlosion ate from a small bag of Pokémon snacks. Mitoshi opened the front door to accompany them. “What's going on out here?” she asked. “You're making my head go 'bzz-bzz-bzz' with your energy.” Antoshi laughed, turning to her. “Sorry about that. I'm just … I dunno, sending out a signal for Latoshi. Maybe he's trying to find us. I want to let him know we're right here waiting for him.” Mitoshi smiled warmly, closing the door behind her, standing by him. “That's so sweet, Antoshi. I think that's a great idea, and I'd love to join you, but, … I don't know how to do that with my, uh, 'aura' was it?” Antoshi chuckled. “It's simple enough once you get the hang of it. Think about what matters to you and what you care about the most. Feel your emotions for that from the bottom of your heart. Imagine your emotions like a burning fire that's going to ignite and explode, trying to burst out of you. Focus all of your energy into that and then just … let it out.” She looked at him, baffled, expecting a little more in terms of instructions. “Uh, all right. Guess I'll give it a shot.” She took a deep breath, closing her eyes, focusing herself in the way Antoshi told her. The boy smiled, as he and Fireball watched her grunt and strain, clenching her fists. After a few moments of trying, she slouched over with an exasperated sigh. “Did anything happen?” she asked. “No,” Antoshi said, laughing. Mitoshi groaned in defeat. “Just keep working at it. I know you'll figure it out soon.” “Well, … what if I … came to train with you?” she asked nervously. “I've been thinking about it lately, and … I'd like to be able to do the same kind of things that you and Latoshi can do.” “Sure thing,” Antoshi replied. Her face lit up with delight. “I think it might be fun to teach someone else what I've learned so far.” “Ooh, that does sound like fun!” "I can help, too!" Fireball chimed in, raising a paw. "I can take a punch like nobody's business!" “It's true,” Antoshi said, smirking. “Fireball's built like a super reinforced brick wall.” Mitoshi laughed. “Awesome! So, maybe we could start tomorrow?” “Sure thing!” Antoshi replied. Mitoshi headed back to the front door. “Well, I guess I better check on those cookies.” "Cookies?" Fireball mused in excitement, quickly springing up onto his hind feet. "I'm ready, bring on the cookies." “They're going to be hot,” Mitoshi said, as they headed inside together. "Mitoshi, I can breathe fire." Antoshi smiled, turning his attention to the night sky once more. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The next morning, Latoshi gasped for air, jolting awake. He sat up on the bottom platform of a fire escape, propping himself up with one hand. A wild Koffing groaned curiously at him, hovering and slowly spinning around, while exuding grimy, putrid smoke from its round body. The boy covered his nose. “Wow, I thought I was just dreaming that horrible smell.” He looked up and grabbed the hand rail behind his head, leaping over backwards, landing on his feet in the alley below. The sable-haired boy had managed to get some semblance of sleep here and there in the past couple of days. He hummed curiously, staring at his open palms as he summoned forth some of his dark aura. ‘Feels like my strength is slowly returning, bit by bit,’ he thought. ‘Whatever Lazarus did or stole from me, it was pretty significant. I'm still nowhere near as strong as I used to be. I can't believe how powerful I felt right up until I got rid of him. I guess that was him just sharing energy to make me think what I wanted to. … Am I going to feel depleted like this forever?’ Latoshi took a deep breath and sighed, sliding his hands into the pockets of his shorts. His green shirt and shorts had become dingy, disheveled, and frayed; as were his shoes and socks. His hair was unkempt and started to fall over his eyes. He set out once more on his aimless quest through Goldenrod City. It was midmorning, the streets were bustling with activity. As he emerged from the alley, a woman holding several rowdy Growlithe and Lillipup on leashes passed by him. He chuckled, heading down the sidewalk. ‘It's been almost a few days since I got rid of Lazarus. I thought at least most of my Ki would've returned already. Still, my memories have been coming back in my dreams. Little images and past events here and there, but only of the things that Lazarus kept from me ever since he took control of me. I finally remember everything that happened during my fight along the beach with Antoshi…’ Just then, his attention was immediately pulled away to a specific point in the distance. His eyes went wide. ‘What is that?’ he thought, abruptly jogging across the street ahead of a few cars. ‘Why do I sense someone's presence over there?’ He made his way into a park with a long, broad brick pathway winding through it. He made his way down said path, passed by some cyclists, and a man calling out commands while jogging with his Primeape. He ignored his surroundings, his eyes intensely focused on his target. ‘Who could this be? Why is their energy so intense? Don't tell me it's going be yet another weird, new person I've never seen before, here to make things even more complicated than they already are.’ Latoshi gasped in shock when he neared close enough to see who it was. Past a large fountain statue, sat the impeccably dressed brother of Serenity: Collin. All the muscles in the boy's body became rigid, freezing up, swallowing nervously. The silence between them was pierced by the sound of water splashing down from the fountain. ‘Damn it. What do I do? This guy … he's the one that made Serenity tremble in fear — and she's way stronger than I am. What if … what if he decides to fight me? Could I take him? Maybe I should leave. I need to get out of here.’ Collin calmly read from a hardcover book resting in his gloved hand, one leg crossed over the other. He smiled to himself, continuously, seemingly oblivious of Latoshi's presence. Despite Collin's placid demeanor, Latoshi's heart was pounding in fear. ‘No,’ Latoshi thought. ‘He already knows I'm here. He had to have sensed me when I was still all the way across the street. Damn it! He was luring me here, wasn't he?’ The boy sighed, straightening his back, staying as composed as possible. He kept his hands in his pockets, walking over to Collin until he was just a few meters away. “Hello again, Latoshi,” Collin greeted him, without so much as a glance. The sable-haired boy bit his tongue, glaring at the refined young man wearing his gold waistcoat and white dress shirt, with matching white pleated pants and patent leather shoes. His brown hair was slicked back as before. White formal dress gloves covered his hands. Collin's white gold wristwatch gleamed in the pre-noon sunlight, as did most everything on his person. His ensemble was a stark contrast to Latoshi's unkempt look. “That's quite the intense look you're giving me,” Collin continued, again without looking at the boy. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were … scared of me.” ‘What the hell does this guy want?’ the boy thought, his concealed hands trembling. ‘I'm getting an awful sense of dread just being near him. His energy feels like it's going to swallow me whole at any second.’ “Sorry,” Latoshi replied after a brief pause, “I just forgot to wear my sunglasses today. I have to squint my eyes to see you since you're glowing like the freakin' sun in that goofy outfit.” The young man raised his eyebrows in surprise, gazing down at his clothing. “You think so? I happen to like this ensemble. You wouldn't be trying to rile me up, would you?” Collin finally looked over at the boy. Latoshi's eyes went wide as they met with his. ‘What's wrong with me?!’ the boy thought, baring his clenched teeth. ‘I'm scared to death of him and he's barely done or said anything! This is so stupid!’ Collin laughed in amusement. “Your muscles are so tense,” he remarked. “Your breathing is becoming ragged. You're fearful of me — don't be. Believe me, I have no intention of harming you; certainly not in the severely weakened state you're in. This is nothing more than a cordial conversation between acquaintances. Come, have a seat.” “Thanks, but I'll stand,” Latoshi replied, before swallowing the lump in his throat. “Fair enough.” Collin shut his book and set it aside. He shifted his seating, changing which leg was crossed over the other, while turning his full attention to Latoshi. He curiously tapped his fingers over his mouth, studying the boy. Latoshi swallowed again, beads of sweat starting roll down his forehead. “Like my sister, I've been watching over you and your brother ever since the two of you came to Goldenrod. While Serenity's been more direct in interacting with you both, I've merely observed from afar. Seeing you up close like this just electrifies my spirit.” “I didn't know I was building my own fan club,” Latoshi replied, wryly. Collin laughed, resting his arm along the back of the bench. “Yes, there's that cutting wit that you're so good at. Lazarus was incapable of restricting your colorful personality. You are a fascinating prospect, Latoshi. You have so much untapped ability that you can't even fathom. Yet, you're still so … green. You know neither the purest basics of how to fully tap into your Ki, nor what to do with it whenever you do utilize it. You have so much to learn, so much potential growth, and that exhilarates me in ways you cannot understand. You're like raw clay waiting to be molded. If you so desire, I can be the one to teach you.” Latoshi scoffed. “No, thanks. I've had enough 'teachers' for one lifetime.” “As I expected,” Collin replied with a grin. “Your spirit is still tarnished with Lazarus' energy. You can't smell it the same way that I do, though. That foul, malodorous stench — it's unmistakable.” “I haven't showered in a while, so maybe that's it.” Collin smirked. “I want you to think of the moment when you ejected Lazarus' spirit as … a rebirth of sorts. It's the cusp of a brand new life for you, full of endless possibilities. The path you take from here will shape you for the rest of your life — that 'raw clay' I mentioned before.” Latoshi shifted his gaze away for a brief moment in confusion. “So, … what, you brought me here to give me some pep talk or something? 'Go get 'em, slugger' and such? I have better things to do, like wander around the city in misery.” “That's what I like about you, Latoshi. Your brother would never say such things. No, he's far too reserved. You're brash and arrogant; you say exactly what you feel, and to hell with the consequences.” “You want me to say what I feel? Okay. The more I stand here, the more I feel like this is a waste of my time. I think you're not as strong as Serenity made you out to be. I think you're just some creep in obnoxious clothing who likes to listen to himself talk. Is that good enough for you?” Collin chuckled, nodding his head. “That's more than good. Just for my own amusement, why don't you take a look behind you? What do you see?” Latoshi glared cautiously at Collin for a moment, before doing as he asked. “What am I supposed to be looking at?” he mused, turning his attention back to Collin. “There's a giant building that looks like it's made of glass.” Collin smirked, lifting his head and looking behind the boy. “Look again.” Latoshi turned once more. His eyes immediately went wide with horror as he watched the giant skyscraper of over one hundred stories crumble to the ground in the distance. People and Pokémon in the park also looked on, screaming, some of them fleeing from the sight. ‘What … the hell?!’ he thought, his jaw hanging, trembling fearfully. ‘Did he just do that? I didn't see or sense anything from him! He was just casually sitting there! No, … he has to be tricking me somehow.’ “Of course, that was just a mote of my power,” Collin remarked, casually. Latoshi turned to him in shock. “That's not possible. You didn't do anything!” “Oh, but I did. Like I said, you're incredibly green, Latoshi. What you sense from me is only what you're capable of feeling. I assure you the well goes far, far deeper.” The boy's horrified expression turned to anger. “But, … why? Why would you do that?! You bastard! There were lives in there!” Collin chuckled and gazed at the aftermath of the destruction. “Don't get so riled up. You can relax knowing those lives you're so concerned with are safe. She's taken care of everything. Every single person and Pokémon in that building is still perfectly fine. Ah, she always knows when to hover around nearby to clean up after my messes.” “'She'? Who are you talking about?” “Who else? Yes, it was quite the spectacle you missed out on. She cleared every single floor before the structure crumbled to the ground. She took count of every living soul in there, protected them by wrapping her Ki around them, then went to the each subsequent floor and repeated the process. I counted, … oh, about two thousand people and a few hundred Pokémon. For the seconds in which all they saw was shrapnel and dust, it must have been the most confusing seconds of their lives. After the building fell, she made sure to give every single one of them a little escape tunnel. Of course, they'll have to wait until the dust settles before they can see anything. I'm sure the news reports will explain it as nothing less than a miracle.” Latoshi stared at him, blankly. ‘What is this guy even saying? I—I can't even understand anything he just explained. It's impossible for someone to do all of that in less than a minute!’ Just then, Serenity appeared out of nowhere, standing a short distance away from the two. Her hair and clothing was full of dust. “Bravo, Serenity,” Collin replied, smiling, offering a slow clap, “even though that was such a trivial amount of your ability. You could've come up with so many other clever solutions to that problem. I was just explaining to our young prodigy here everything that you just did.” ‘Serenity?!’ Latoshi thought, looking at her in disbelief. ‘How could she possibly … do … that?’ “Collin, you promised me,” Serenity said, her voice trembling with anger. “You promised that you wouldn't let this happen again.” “I remember what I promised. I would never let what happened in Slateport happen anymore. This was certainly nothing close to it. I knew you would handle it, as usual. You're always putting others before yourself, after all.” ‘Slateport?’ Latoshi thought, his eyes shifting back and forth as he turned the pages of his mind. He gasped, recalling images of devastation on a television screen. He held his forehead, turning his gaze downward. “Slate … port City?” he mused. “You mean … that city in Hoenn that was destroyed?” He gasped in shock. “You destroyed Slateport City?!” Collin sat, smiling, with his eyes closed, hands folded in his lap. “He did,” Serenity replied, sighing. “It was a long time ago, when he lost control of his powers. Since then, he's become far more composed.” “My baby sister is correct,” Collin said. “I don't partake in such things anymore. Those days are behind me. Now, I enjoy spending my days enjoying the finer things that life has to offer. I simply did this as a visual example for Latoshi. He doubted my power, but … I believe I may have instilled a little faith in him now.” Latoshi looked back and forth between the two of them in bewilderment. ‘Just what the hell am I dealing with here? These two are on a level I could never have imagined before, and yet, they act so calm and collected about it. They're like deities in human form.’ “Now, then,” Collin said, grabbing his book and getting to his feet, “I believe I shall take my leave. It's going to become quite the chaotic mess for some time around here, and I'd much rather relax in the quiet of my home. May the two of you have a splendid day.” He casually walked away with one hand in his pocket, whistling a tune to himself. Latoshi sighed heavily, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Are you … okay?” he asked with some confusion, looking to Serenity. “I'll be fine,” she replied, walking over to him. “There's something I should've made crystal clear to you and your siblings the first time you encountered Collin. It's best not to test him or rile him. When he gets angry, he … well, … Slateport City happens.” Latoshi was deeply disturbed by the very insinuation. Serenity smiled, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It's all right. I have no reason to believe anything like that will ever happen again. What's more, all those people and Pokémon in that building are perfectly fine. Don't worry about it. Just remember what I told you, okay?” “Yeah, I—I got it.” Serenity sighed, looking at her clothes. “I was supposed to have a job interview today. Now, I look like a total mess. I better hurry and get cleaned up, so I don't miss my appointment. I'll talk to you again soon.” “Yeah—” he started, only to watch Serenity seem to vanish right before his eyes. “… See ya.” Latoshi quickly stumbled over to the nearest bench and sat down, hunched over, panting softly. He felt sick to his stomach over the sheer power he'd just witnessed, and the implication of even more potentially dire consequences. ‘This is so insane,’ he thought. ‘Here I am struggling to regain whatever tiny scraps of energy I can, while in the presence of people who can level whole cities and rescue thousands of people in the blink of an eye. I'm like a tiny worm in the presence of giants.’ Latoshi spent some time watching police and rescue personnel show up. They coordinate rescue efforts to help every person and Pokémon get out of the massive pile of rubble and twisted shrapnel. The area was cordoned off with police tape, while news crews showed up to report on every second of the efforts. Just as Collin had said, every single one of them was completely unharmed, and easily able to locate inside the many nooks that Serenity made for them. ‘The way Collin explained what Serenity did made it seem so simple. She didn't even look winded when she showed up. What exactly are we dealing with here? And, just how strong is this Collin guy? …’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Antoshi, Fireball, Mitoshi, and Bubbles were all gathered in the living room. Antoshi and Fireball sat on the couch directly facing Mitoshi, while Bubbles sat on the floor next to the girl. They talked and laughed, continuing to share the same jovial mood they had since meeting. Antoshi grabbed a balled napkin from the glass coffee table and playfully tossed it at Mitoshi. “Hey, don't throw that at me!” she said, laughing. “Mitoshi's just starting to learn how to use her powers,” Antoshi remarked, cheekily, to Fireball. “We're starting off slow, so she still has to work on her reflexes.” Mitoshi blew a raspberry at him before grinning. "That sounds so wonderful," Bubbles remarked. "I'm glad the two of you are getting along so well. It's the one thing Miss Mitoshi's been wanting for such a long time." "Sure is wonderful," Fireball remarked, sitting next to Antoshi. "Finally, I have others to talk to!" The others shared a laugh. Just then, there was a quiet knock at the door. “I'll get it,” Mitoshi said, hopping to her feet. As she opened the door, the pleasant expression on her face quickly turned to shock. She gasped, covering her mouth with a hand, stepping back. The others watched her in concern. “Co—come in,” she said, softly. The two Pokémon were astonished to see a certain young man wearing ragged, green clothes and a head full of sable hair emerge. “… Latoshi?” Antoshi uttered in disbelief as he got to his feet. Latoshi offered a weak smile to the group, unsure of what to say to them. “Hey,” he replied, before turning his gaze away. A moment of awkward silence followed. Mitoshi shut the door. “Um, can I get you anything?” Mitoshi asked. “Would you like some water? We, err, we have some chocolate chip cookies in the fridge.” “Thank you, that'd be nice,” he said. “My stomach's kinda been running on empty for a few days now.” Mitoshi smiled, before promptly shuffling off into the kitchen. Antoshi approached his brother, who was unable to look him in the eye. Fireball stood off to the side alongside Bubbles, both Pokémon watching curiously. “You're … really here,” Antoshi remarked. Latoshi nodded gently. “You don't have Lazarus' spirit inside you anymore. I can sense that 'rotten' energy is gone.” “Yeah,” Latoshi replied. “Turns out, I didn't need him. You were right all along, and I see that now.” Antoshi smiled, warmly, offering a hand to Latoshi. “It's good to have you here.” Latoshi smiled as well, chuckling as they shared a handshake. “It does … feel good to be here.” Mitoshi quietly placed down a plate of cookies and a glass of water on the counter. She watched with the same curiosity and fascination as the others. The two boys, who had waged war against each other for what felt like ages, finally made peace with one another. “First thing's first, though,” Latoshi said. “I wanted to apolog— no, … what am I saying? I could never apologize enough to you for what I've done to you; to all of you. I ended up causing you so much pain and misery. Antoshi, I-I ruined your life. If it wasn't for me, you'd be on your journey through Johto like you wanted, and … I ruined all of that for you. I can never make that up to you.” Antoshi had closed his eyes to listen, gathering his thoughts for a moment. When he opened them again, he gave Latoshi a reassuring smile. “It's okay, Latoshi. As you can probably imagine, this direction my life has headed is … something I've given a lot of thought to lately. When I first decided to experience Johto with Fireball, I wanted it to be something I would learn from; something I would grow from and remember for the rest of my life. I think it's fair to say that's certainly the case now. Latoshi, you and I went through so much together in such a short amount of time. I feel like I've grown much more from all of my experiences so far than I would have from any journey across any region. Honestly, the positives that came from all of this outweighed the negatives.” He placed both hands on Latoshi's shoulders, looking him squarely in the eye. “I don't blame you for any of the terrible things Fireball and I had to endure. It wasn't you, and it wasn't your fault. I've waited for this moment ever since you and I shared a simple ice cream together. I always knew you were a good person, and I've been waiting all this time for the real you to come back.” Latoshi looked into his identical brothers' eyes with sheer astonishment. Just as tears started to well within them both, Antoshi pulled him in and hugged him tightly. The others were pleasantly surprised, though not nearly as much as Latoshi was. He stared blankly for a moment before putting his arms around Antoshi to reciprocate the hug. Mitoshi sniffled and sobbed, shuffling over to them, joining in on their hug. Antoshi chuckled warmly, putting an arm around her as the girl cried tears of joy. Latoshi was further shocked, that this girl, his sister whom he'd never known, cared so much for him. He followed his brother's lead, wrapping an arm around her as well. Fireball and Bubbles were extremely happy for the trio. “You know, hugging me was probably not a great idea,” Latoshi muttered. “I haven't had a shower in, like, a really long time.” Antoshi snorted, both he and Mitoshi breaking out into a laugh. “I was trying not to let it spoil the moment,” the blond boy admitted. The two boys grinned as they all pulled away from each other. Mitoshi continued to sniffle and wipe the tears from her eyes. “Well, thank you for that,” Latoshi said to the girl, “but, you and I haven't really been introduced.” “Oh, you're right!” Mitoshi replied, offering a trembling laugh. She inhaled deeply to steady her breathing. “Sorry about that. I'm Mitoshi.” “Mitoshi?” he mused. “Just when I thought the name theme stopped with Antoshi and I.” The trio laughed together. “Sorry about all the crying,” she said, her lips quivering as she smiled. “It's just so … so wonderful to see both of you together like this. I've dreamed about the first time I could hug my siblings for so long now. I never thought it would ever come true. Thanks for letting me have that moment with you both.” The boys nodded to her. "I might as well get in on this, too," Fireball said as he approached. "After all, this guy and I have some history together, too." Latoshi smirked, shaking Fireball's paw as the Typhlosion offered it to him. “That's true. I hope you and I get to share a chocolate chip ice cream again and talk some more.” "I think you'll soon find out that I'm always ready for food." The others shared a laugh. After which, Latoshi sighed. “Well, I know you offered me cookies and all,” Latoshi said, “but, … I should probably get going now.” “No way!” Mitoshi quickly said, expressing her sorrow. “Don't leave! You can stay here with us for as long as you like.” “I—I don't know,” Latoshi replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “Won't it be pretty awkward having me around as a … third wheel? 'Black sheep of the family' and all that?” “Of course not,” Antoshi said, firmly. “We would never think of you that way. You're not a 'third wheel', you're a third sibling.” Latoshi smiled, warmly. “All right, then. If you put it that way, I'll stay for as long as you guys want me around.” Mitoshi squealed in joy, clapping her hands. “Although, I do feel pretty gross in these old clothes. Would it be okay if I took a shower?” “Absolutely!” Mitoshi replied. “The bathroom is the door in the hallway down there. There's clean towels in the cabinet.” “I'll get you a change of clothes to borrow,” Antoshi added, quickly making for his room. The group waited until he came back with a plain white undershirt and matching boxer shorts. Latoshi took them with a grateful nod. “Thank you both. I really— … I really do appreciate this. It took all the courage I had to face you guys again, but, I'm really glad now that I did.” “Same here,” Antoshi said. Latoshi heaved a relieved sigh as he headed for the bathroom, quietly shutting it behind him. “Oh! There's unused toothbrushes in the drawer!” Mitoshi said. “Thank you!” Latoshi called out from behind the door. Antoshi, Mitoshi and Fireball all grinned at each other. Bubbles wiped away her tears with her flippers. The two siblings sat down at the counter, leaving an open seat between them. Latoshi emerged a short time later, shutting the door behind him. He glanced down at the clothes Antoshi gave him. “All white,” he remarked, “kind of like a clean start, huh?” Latoshi walked over to join them, sitting on the seat they left for him. He wasted no time eating the cookies left out for him. “Thanks for telling me about the toothbrushes, by the way. It's been so long since I brushed, it looked like a murder scene in the sink. These cookies are great.” “Thanks!” Mitoshi replied, with a smile. “They're from one of those pre-mixed packages, and I just followed the directions. So, I kinda-sorta made them myself.” “I really appreciate them anyway. It was probably a good idea for me to have something simple like cookies after having not eaten in like a week.” He stopped to take a drink of water. “You guys have already been super generous to me. I don't know how I can make it up to you.” “You being here is all we wanted,” Antoshi replied. Mitoshi smiled and nodded. Latoshi sighed, nudging the plate away. “I'm really stuffed already. Plus, it doesn't feel right just eating in front of you guys. You should have some, too.” The other two promptly took a cookie from the plate. Antoshi passed his back for Fireball to take. "Sweet!" Fireball said, eagerly tossing it into his mouth. "This is the best homecoming ever." The three siblings all shared a chuckle. At the same time, Bubbles emerged from the middle of the three bedrooms. "This room is all cleaned now," she said, quietly. “Thank you, Bubbles,” Mitoshi replied, smiling to her before turning to Latoshi. He was momentarily stunned that he was able to hear the Lapras speak. “Well, it looks like your room is set.” Latoshi snapped out of his daze. “My room?” “That's right,” Antoshi said, as they all hopped down from their stools. “There's three bedrooms, and three of us. So, you get your own room.” “And we happened to have a green blanket stored away in the closet,” Mitoshi added. “Your clothes were green, so I figured you'd like it.” “Wow,” Latoshi remarked in awe. Antoshi stood next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Get some rest.” Latoshi smiled thankfully and nodded to him. “That sounds like a great idea.” The sable-haired boy's spirit was placid and relaxed. He felt so much more at ease than he could've ever dreamed. The three of them gathered together, sharing another brief group hug. The Pokémon looked on in contentment. The trio heaved a collective sigh of relief as they broke away. “Well, goodnight,” Latoshi said. “Goodnight,” the others replied. After Latoshi headed for his room and shut the door quietly, the remaining two siblings smiled to each other. “This is a dream come true,” Mitoshi said. “I always hoped this day would finally come!” “Same here,” Antoshi replied. “I'm really happy things turned out this way. It's like a huge weight's finally off my shoulders.” "I'm really glad you won't have to fight Latoshi anymore," Fireball added, patting his friend on the back. "Going through all of that — it was one terrible nightmare." Antoshi couldn't help but grin in relief. “Well,” Mitoshi said with a yawn, “I guess we should all get to bed, too.” She headed over to Bubbles, bringing the Lapras' head down to her, giving her Pokémon a kiss on the cheek. “Goodnight, Bubbles. Goodnight, guys.” “Night, Mitoshi,” Antoshi and Fireball said in unison. "Goodnight, Miss Mitoshi," Bubbles replied, nodding respectfully to her, before sliding over to her Poké Ball. She pressed her snout against it, resulting in her being pulled into the ball to get some rest. The others headed into their respective rooms and shut the doors behind them. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Four days passed since Latoshi had reunited with his siblings. After sleeping for most of the first couple of days, Latoshi eventually got to sit down and chat with Mitoshi. She caught him up to speed with everything that she had explained to Antoshi. Latoshi found himself left in disbelief, just like his brother, at the revelation that he was adopted. He, however, did not participate in much activity with them, as he continued to feel quite tired, spending most of the time asleep. Antoshi continued his training with Fireball and Mitoshi. It became something of a balancing act, as Antoshi had to divide his time training between them equally. During the day, in the field outside the cabin, the three of them prepared for Mitoshi's next lesson. “All right, Mitoshi,” he said, “let's try to get you to fly. Are you ready?” Fireball stood by, watching them curiously. Mitoshi huffed sharply. “Heck yeah!” she replied. Antoshi laughed, warmly. “Well, first, why don't you bring out your aura, like you've been working on?” Mitoshi nodded and took a deep breath, closing her eyes. She exhaled slowly, focusing intensely. Upon breathing in again, her blue aura slowly emerged from her body and burned like a flame. When she opened her eyes, her irises glowed bright blue. “Very good!” Antoshi continued. “Now, as far as flying goes, it's kind of like learning how to ride a bike. You focus on one action, then you keep that action up until it gets to the point where you can do it without even thinking about it.” “And what action is that?” “Using your Ki to keep your body airborne, like you're lifting yourself up with it. There really isn't any way to teach you how to do that, you just figure it out and perfect it from there. The only advice I can give you is to just keep your output of energy as steady as possible.” “Oh. … Uh, all right, then.” Mitoshi sighed, nervously, rubbing her hands together. “Okay. Here I go. Gonna learn how to fly.” She spread her arms out wide, closing her eyes, straining to use her Ki in the way Antoshi described. After a few minutes of merely making her aura flicker about wildly, she hunched over with a loud exhale. “… I figured this was going to be an 'easier said than done' situation,” she deadpanned. “It's all right! Don't rush it, you've got all the time in the world to learn.” “Right. Don't rush — got it.” Antoshi and Fireball quietly chuckled to each other. Mitoshi continued straining to fly. She stood on her tiptoes, tried flapping her arms, and tried getting a jumping start. All of it was for naught. The duo sat in the grass for a while and watched her. At some point, he headed inside to get some snacks for him and his friend. The boy sipped from a box of juice while Fireball ate some vegetable chips from a storage bag. With the front door ajar, Bubbles came outside a few times in-between tidying up the house to see if she was making progress. “This is so tough!” Mitoshi complained. “I was really hoping it wouldn't three hours, but, here we still are.” The girl sighed in exasperation. “Don't try to force it to happen,” Antoshi replied. “It's the same concept as when you were learning to bring out your aura. You've got to learn how to use your emotions to strengthen the rest of your abilities.” “Well, … maybe you could fly and I'll … take notes or something.” Antoshi chuckled, getting to his feet. “All right, fine.” He smiled, relaxing his mind, allowing his aura coming to life in a rather gentle flicker. His body almost immediately began to ascend into the air. Mitoshi watched, awe-struck, as he hovered several meters over their heads. “You see? Once you learn how to do it, it's easy enough.” He held out a hand to her. “Come on. Try to reach for me.” Mitoshi groaned in defeat. She stood on the tips of her toes again, reaching up as high as she could. She strained and grunted with effort, her aura expanding and flaring around, wildly. “Come on, Mitoshi! You can do it! Feel it in your heart! Let the energy of your emotions pull you to the clouds!” She clenched her eyes shut, tears falling from her eyes, putting out an intense amount of effort. Fireball gasped in surprise, slapping a paw over his gaping maw, as the girl's feet suddenly began to leave the ground. “That's it, Mitoshi! You're flying!” Her eyes shot open, gasping and grinning in elation. “I'm flying?!” she exclaimed, looking down. “Oh, my gosh! I'm really doing it! I'm really—!” She stopped upon abruptly toppling forward and falling to the ground. “… Ow,” she muttered, with a face full of earth. Antoshi grinned, nervously. “You okay, Mitoshi?” The girl sat up, shaking the dirt off her face. “Yeah, I'm fine!” she replied, giving them a thumbs up. Just then, a loud, horrifying scream came from the house. “That sounded like Latoshi,” Antoshi said in concern. He promptly landed on the ground and headed for the front door, the other two quickly in tow. As they entered the house, Bubbles was quite scared and concerned as she looked at the group. He made for Latoshi's room, opening it to find Latoshi sitting on the edge of his bed, which was set in the far corner of the room. The mid-sized bedroom was almost identical in appearance to Antoshi's. The sable-haired boy was panted heavily, his head in his hands, grabbing fistfuls of hair. “No, no, no, …” he continually repeated. “Latoshi, what is it?” Antoshi asked, worried, kneeling down beside him. Latoshi slowly turned to his brother. His eyes were wide, filled with tears. “I-I remember … everything.” Antoshi and the others were flabbergasted by the revelation, yet there was uncertainty as to what him finally regaining his long-lost memories meant. The fact that the boy huffed and sobbed meant he recalled something dire. “I remember— … I remember what happened that night. The night of the … explosion.” "Fern Town?" Fireball quietly mused. “My home, … my family, … my parents. Antoshi, I … Lazarus, he … he made me …” “It's okay,” Antoshi said, sitting beside him. “Just take a moment—” “No, it's not okay!” Latoshi shouted, surprising the blond boy. “I killed my parents!!” The others went completely silent from shock. Mitoshi covered her mouth with one hand. Latoshi grabbed his hair again, shaking his head as he sobbed uncontrollably. “Why did I want to remember? Why did I want my memories back?!” The others had no words, only turning their gazes downward. Mitoshi and Fireball looked to each other. They felt it appropriate to leave the room for a short while, allowing Antoshi to console him in peace. He waited by his brother's side until Latoshi's crying started to die down. “I'm so sorry, Latoshi,” he whispered. “All I ever wanted was for you to stop hurting. I'm so sorry this is happening to you.” “I can't believe this,” Latoshi remarked. “Of course … this would happen. All I ever wanted this whole time was to get my memories back. I should've known that I was going to remember … something horrible. Why else would Lazarus hold my memories from me?” He closed his eyes, sighing shakily. “I remember how everything started now. It was actually … after I had learned I was adopted. I found the adoption papers, which had my birth name on it. That's where I first saw the name 'Latoshi.' It's how I recalled my name when I was in that prison cell. My whole life, my name had been Declan. Yet, here was this piece of paper with this name in front of me that I'd never heard of, and, it was … my name. I was so … scared and so angry when I found out about the adoption. I was angry at my parents. They never told me, and I felt like I deserved to know. I … lashed out at them. I told them I hated them. I said— … I said they weren't my 'real parents!'” Latoshi choked back further tears, clenching his eyes shut. “So,” he continued, “one night, Lazarus came to me. He told me that he felt my anger and my despair. He told me I was so much stronger than I realized, that I had a gift I never knew of. He offered me the promise of 'a new life.' He said I would be free of all of this sadness, and that I would gain power beyond my wildest imagination. I couldn't believe I was … talking to this black cloud floating in my room. Yet, everything he was saying was so exciting to me. I wanted to get out of there so badly. I just wanted to run away, get as far away from Fern Town as I could. So, I … I let him in. He became part of my spirit, and I heard his voice in my mind.” Latoshi paused for a few moments. He gazed down at his cold, trembling hands, wringing them together. The boys looked up as Mitoshi returned to the room, holding a glass of water. “Here,” she said, softly, handing it to Latoshi. “Thank you.” Latoshi took a long drink of water, sighing heavily once he was done. He held the glass in his lap, wiping his eyes with his other hand. “I had Lazarus' spirit living inside me for a few days. I didn't even realize the change in my personality. I became totally arrogant, and I looked down on everyone. I went to school and acted like such a prick to everyone that I got suspended by the time my first class of the day was finished. Lazarus told me I should use the time away from school to develop my powers, and that's what I did. He taught me Ki control, how to manifest my Ki into attacks, how to use it defensively — the basic stuff. Then, came the point where … Lazarus said it was time for me to move on. He told me I needed to leave my old life behind, so that I could go on to bigger and better things. I needed to 'erase' my past. He talked me into it. I was so drunk off of this power he showed me that I listened to every word he said. So, … I walked out into the hallway outside my parents' room. I pointed my hand at it, and … I pulled the trigger…” Latoshi broke down and sobbed once again. Antoshi and Mitoshi looked at each other with equal parts sorrowful and astonished expressions. “I killed them without even thinking about it. I killed them … leaving them thinking I hated them. I never saw them after the blast, they were just … gone. Once I realized what I did, I—” “You fell to your knees,” Antoshi interrupted. Latoshi looked over at him in surprise. “Lazarus' voice,” Mitoshi added, “it said, … 'it was what needed to be done.'” Latoshi's jaw hung, completely bewildered. “How—how did you both know that?” “Mitoshi and I,” Antoshi replied, “we both saw it play out in our dreams. We saw … the entire thing, starting from that point. I remember it felt so real, like I was actually there. I could feel your emotions inside me.” Mitoshi nodded in agreement. “You … saw everything that happened,” Latoshi mused, before scoffing in disbelief. “I'm— … I'm sorry you had to see that. I didn't want anyone else to witness that horrible scene.” “Don't apologize,” Mitoshi spoke gently. She walked over and sat at his other side. “Neither of us understood what happened, but, … now that we do, it only means that we know exactly how you feel right now.” “Mitoshi and I are more than willing to share this burden with you, Latoshi,” Antoshi added. Latoshi sniffled and nodded. “Thank you both. You've both been so great to me already. … Still, … I'll never be able to see my parents ever again. …” As Latoshi cried, lamenting over the loss he finally remembered, his two siblings held his shoulders tightly. They both held their heads down, tears falling from their faces as well, sharing in his agonizing pain.
  7. Chapter 23 Latoshi stood silently in the forest. Splintered, fallen trees laid around him — the aftermath of a fit of rage. The immediate area was devoid of life, having all fled from his wrath. He glared into the distance with a cold, vicious bitterness. He was unable to let go of the pain, shame, and embarrassment he had to endure atop Mt. Mortar. His mind replayed the images of everyone staring at him, their caring pleas permeating the coldness in his heart. Collin and Serenity's explanations of Lazarus' motives resounded powerfully with him. He never realized Lazarus had been using him all along, … or, had he? 'Latoshi, I need you to listen to me,' Lazarus said, audibly concerned. 'Do you understand? Please, listen to me!' After a moment of silence, Latoshi's expression suddenly lightened up. He plopped himself down into a sitting position. “Okay,” the boy replied, in a light-hearted tone. “I'm listening.” 'Latoshi, … you must understand the reason why I withheld those memories from you. It was for your own benefit.' The boy nodded, with an intrigued look on his face. 'You have no time to deal with such ineffectual things like family and memories of the past. I told you that before. You must look to the future; your future, which is bright and full of possibility. I understand that my methods seemed cruel, and I am truly apologetic for that, Latoshi. You must believe that I only did this for your benefit. I was only looking out for you, and your tremendous potential.' Latoshi hummed in thought. “Very interesting. I understand why you did what you did, and … really, there's no need for you to apologize.” 'So, you have forgiven me, then?' “Well, I wouldn't be that hasty,” he replied, looking to the sky. “You know, I had a lot of very interesting experiences today and heard a lot of interesting things. I used to think that Antoshi and I were … the only two people in the entire world capable of harnessing our Ki. I thought we were the ones setting the bar of power, but, wow, after seeing Serenity and Collin today and how impressive they are it got me wondering how many others like us there are in the world. More importantly, though, I was totally crushed in two different fights against two people that had absolutely no training from you whatsoever, Lazarus. The kind of training that I got from you, … well, it turns out it's not as effective as I thought. Serenity really hit the nail on the head there.” 'Latoshi, you must understand, you are still young. You are not as experienced as they are. You have much room to grow under my tutelage.' “Yeah. … I was also thinking about how Antoshi told me he would give up all of his power if it meant I'd be free of you. It's weird, at the time I thought he was just talking out of his ass. But, then, he sparked a memory — a memory I didn't even know I had. You were withholding that memory from me and just calling him a 'liar' the whole time. Now it turns out that I actually don't have any reason not to believe him anymore. Isn't that weird?” The boy laughed in amusement. 'Latoshi, please….' “And, as I looked at Antoshi, I saw all of the friends he'd made. Friends that surround him and care about him. Friends that are warm, and keep him company, and never make him feel alone. Yet, here I sit, with no company other than a voice in my head. So weird.” Latoshi grinned from ear to ear, sighing in content. He admired the white and blue streaks of clouds drifting in the early evening sky. 'Latoshi, I promise you that you will still—' “It's such a big world out there,” Latoshi interjected. “There's so many incredible, wonderful things to see. So many places to visit and people to meet. Maybe, someday, I'll even meet someone special to me. The thing is, I can't do or see or experience any of that if I just sit and train forever in my big, old patch of dirt in the woods. So, there's something one last task I have to take care of.” 'Please, Latoshi! I beg you!' Latoshi chuckled, warmly. “Don't make this out to be such a bad thing, Lazarus. I've learned so much from you … by learning what not to do. However, I have one request. At least tell me the truth. Why did you possess me? What was the real point of all of this?” 'I … hate … you,' the spirit replied. Latoshi smirked, raising his eyebrows in mild surprise. 'Do not take that personally, however. I hate all humans. The point, Latoshi, was for me to take your bottomless well of energy for myself, take your body, and then take the lives of every last human being in the world. Humans are a disease; a horrible, disgusting race of petty, filthy animals. You are, all of you, beyond redemption, beyond hope, beyond the worth of your miserable lives. You are parasites. I wanted you to kill the worst of your kind until you became numb to it. After that, I was going to have you lay waste to every town, city, village, home — everything. Leave nothing in your wake but ashes. Once your kind was extinct, then I was going to dispose of you as well.' “So, that's where I got all of that from,” Latoshi remarked. “All that hatred toward 'parasites' and the like. That was all your influence, just like Antoshi said.” Lazarus scoffed. 'And, yet, you still speak of Antoshi — your 'savior.' … You stupid children. You have no idea how hard this was for me. How difficult it was to hold your hand constantly, to console your fragile little ego, to boost your confidence and then have to deal with your snot-nosed counterparts. You miserable little shit. The lot of you make me retch. I was nothing but a babysitter to you. I had to deal with your temper tantrums and scold you.' Latoshi had a tranquil expression, continuing to smile. “You're still as self-centered as ever,” he remarked, softly. “You think this was hard on you? You ruined my life, stole my memories, destroyed my livelihood and my relationships with my friends and family. You lied to me constantly. You kept telling me that I was unstoppable; I had ultimate power. Nobody besides Antoshi could possibly stand up to me. You said that, even though you knew that people like Collin were out there. Although, despite all of that, I'm not mad at you. I just wish for you to experience the same agony that I did. I wish death on you. I wish for you to die slowly and painfully.” Lazarus seethed with rage. Latoshi sat up straight, folding his legs, cupping his hands together. He closed his eyes, sitting in the very same meditative pose that Lazarus had taught him. “Well, I think it's about that time. Here's where we say 'goodbye', Lazarus.” 'Damn you, Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted. 'I will not relinquish my control of you! You are my puppet for as long as I deem you useful! You will never be rid of me! Never!!' Latoshi's dark aura suddenly flared out with an audible boom, gathering up all of the energy that wasn't being kept from him. Lazarus responded with the same, torturous, high-pitched whistle he'd used so many times on the boy to keep him obedient. “That won't work on me anymore, Lazarus!” Latoshi shouted, furrowing his brow. “I want you gone! I want you out of me for good! I'm going to use every last bit of strength I have to do it! You're finished!” The boy's expression turned bitterly serious, belting out a long, loud cry. His aura grew and whipped around wildly. The pressure of his Ki blew away the fallen trees from his earlier huff, while also shaking nearby trees, threatening to snap them as well. The size of his aura exploded, growing twofold in an instant. 'No!' Lazarus shouted, its voice becoming warped. 'Stop this! You are nothing without me! I made you who you are!' “I hate who I am!!” the boy shot back. The fires of his spirit were ignited. His drive intensified, shouting even louder. His body quaked, his muscles tensed and bulged. He focused his mind, body, and heart, unwavering in his singular goal of expunging the parasite inside him. From out of his aura, an amorphous blob of pure black Ki pierced out and began discharging. As the black mass grew in size, Lazarus' voice became quieter and more distant in Latoshi's head. With one last, explosive push, the blob of energy was violently thrown several meters away from Latoshi's aura. Latoshi collapsed onto his side, panting weakly. His aura was severely diminished. The earlier sheer force of his Ki had become almost nonexistent. At the same time, the mass of dark Ki floated around, harmlessly, for a few moments. "N-No!" Lazarus' voice emanated from it. "No! No! No!! This cannot be happening! You impudent little brat! You stupid, pathetic child!" Latoshi's voice trembled as he chuckled in amusement. A weak grin was plastered on his face. “So, that's what you look like,” he remarked, quietly. “I guess my idea worked after all. I wasn't sure if … I just had to burn out my Ki or what, but, I definitely felt your presence when I was looking for it. It was like … a splinter wedged under my skin. I just had to … squeeze it out with all my might.” Lazarus roared, crashing its spiritual body into Latoshi, only to be shoved back each time. ‘Damn it! His spirit is rejecting me!!’ the parasite thought. “Looks like you're locked out,” Latoshi joked. “Maybe you should try knocking first.” "How dare you do this to me! After all I've done for you! I saved you from that prison! I guided you and showed you everything you know!" Latoshi laughed, weakly. “Oh-ho, Lazarus, you have no idea. I'm going to take everything you ever taught me … and I'll use it for good. All those abilities and pointers, I'll share them with my siblings. I'll help them to learn everything I know and we'll become stronger because of it — all thanks to you. Thanks, friend.” "Do not get cocky, boy." “Hey, hey, … didn't Collin say he was going to kill you if he sensed you?” he asked, playfully. “That guy seemed pretty scary.” "Shut your mouth! Your so-called 'friends' and 'family' will never accept you, Latoshi! They all hate you after what you've done to them and to others. They wish you were dead. You're a murderer. Your contemptuous soul will burn in Hell for all eternity." “Maybe that's all true. Maybe … I don't stand a chance out there in the world like I had hoped. Maybe I'm beyond saving. The only thing that matters … is that you're gone for good.” Lazarus laughed. It was a humorous laugh that quickly morphed into a wild cackle. "That is where you are wrong, Latoshi. I will never be gone for good. I am immortal. I have lived for many lifetimes, far beyond what your mortal body is capable of. I will always be a part of you until your dying day. I will always be watching you from the shadows. I will have my revenge on you, Latoshi — mark my words. You will never be done with me…" Latoshi's upbeat composure finally faltered, taking what the parasite said to heart. He feared there was at least some truth to it. The boy showed his concern as Lazarus' spirit sank into the earth, laughing malevolently. The boy was unable to keep himself conscious any longer. His grueling ordeal was finally over. His eyes fluttered closed, groaning in exhaustion before falling fast asleep. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After nightfall, Latoshi awoke to a brown muzzle and pair of large incisors in his face. A wild Bidoof uttered a curious sound, tilting its head, staring inquisitively at him. “Hey there, little guy,” the boy said, groggily. “Did you come to check on me?” The Bidoof continued to stare for a moment. It finally responded by turning and trotting away into the woods. Latoshi chuckled. “Didn't think so.” He sat up, slowly, groaning and rubbing his eyes. ‘I'm so dizzy,’ he thought, shaking his head. He rested for a few moments to get his bearings, before rising to his feet with another groan. After straightening his back, he looked up at the starry night sky. He closed his eyes, breathing slowly, taking in the sounds of crickets chirping among the gentle breeze. ‘Everything is so much quieter without his voice in my head. Feels so strange now that he's gone. It's peaceful, … for once.’ Latoshi took a look around one last time at the chaos and disorder left in his wake. With a heavy sigh, he made his way out of the woods and onto the wide, beaten path of Route 35. He headed down south, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his shorts. The gate house to Goldenrod and its bright lights were within eyeshot. Being so dark out, the path was illuminated by lamp posts on the edges of the route. A small flock of Murkrow hopped around nearby, pecking at bugs in the grass. He offered a slight smirk to the warm light. ‘This place sure feels comfortable. Lazarus barely ever gave me the chance to take in the sights.’ “Hey there, kid!” a young female Trainer called out, as she stood nearby. “Want to battle?” “Sorry, I don't have any Pokémon,” he replied, continuing to walk on by. “Wow,” she replied, dumbfounded. “It's dangerous to wander around at night without any Pokémon with you. Be safe!” He grinned and gave her a thumbs up. “I will. Thanks.” The road was incredibly sparse after the sun had gone down. Only a small handful of people passed him by, mostly Trainers. When he entered the gate house, he found the nearest bench to sit down on. He held his forehead, shaking his head. ‘Man, how much of my energy did Lazarus sap away?’ he thought. ‘I feel like I'm going to collapse.’ “Young man?” the gate guard spoke to him. “Are you feeling all right?” He took deep breath and stretched his neck out. “Yeah. Just a bit tired,” he replied, rising to his feet. “All right. Take care and get yourself some rest.” “Thanks,” he replied, sighing, as he headed out into the city limits. Latoshi wandered around the city, his tired eyes curiously gazing around in all directions. ‘I wonder what I should do now,’ he thought. ‘Where should I go? Should I really … try to talk to my siblings? … I probably should, but … I'm too nervous of how awkward that conversation's going to go. 'Hey guys, sorry for trying to kill you and all that. We're cool though, right?'’ He couldn't help but scoff in amusement, continuing to randomly explore the city. ‘That girl, … Mitoshi. She's my sister? Antoshi didn't know who I was before we met, so, I wonder if the same is true for her. Maybe she's the one that can put the puzzle of my memory back together. … I don't know if I should talk to them, yet.’ He sighed, looking to the night sky. ‘What do I even do with myself?’ Latoshi headed down a lonely sidewalk lined with trees planted in their own little fenced off squares. He stared down at his hand, straining as he summoned a volume of Ki that was paltry compared to when he was with Lazarus. ‘My strength has really dwindled,’ he thought. ‘Can I even still do the basic stuff, like dodge bullets?’ He suddenly blinked back and forth across the sidewalk. ‘Yep, I sure can. Can I fly, too?’ His body slowly pulled off the ground while he strained with effort, his aura flickering weakly. A few meters up, his energy vanished, causing him to fall back down to the street, flat on his face. ‘Nope.’ Latoshi groaned in pain as he climbed back to his feet, brushing off his face and clothes. ‘How the hell can I dodge bullets but not fly? How does that even make any sense?’ He sighed in frustration, slipping his hands back into his pockets, and continuing onward. Before long, the first drops of an oncoming rain fell upon him. He was forced to seek shelter under the ledge of a nearby store that had closed for the night. Those drops of rain quickly turned into a downpour. ‘Well, here I am. Hiding out from the rain. All by myself. Yes, sir.’ Once the rain stopped, he headed down the quiet streets again. Eventually, he walked on by an alleyway where he heard a couple of voices. From his experience, alleyways at night typically had less virtuous individuals residing within. He curiously gazed into the darkness, able to make out three men. Two of them stood together, one with a gun pointed at the third man, who stood against the wall. Latoshi rolled his eyes. ‘Why am I always running into the criminals around this city?’ He sighed in frustration, figuring he'd probably need to step in and help somehow. With his hands in his pockets, he headed into the dark alley. “… Boss knows you've been skimming off the top,” the man with the gun said. “P-please, it was just a little bit,” the man staring down the gun replied. “He won't even miss it!” “Oh, but he does miss it. Now, give back the money you took, and we'll only give you a few bruises.” “I-I-I don't have it!” “… What?” the second man uttered. “I … I spent it already.” “Very stupid mistake,” the man with the gun said. He sighed heavily. “You know how this has to end. Turn around, on your knees.” “No, … come on. I can make this up. I'll work twice as many jobs—” “Shut it. I got my orders. You can either take three in the gut and bleed out, or we can do it quick with two to the head. Your choice.” “Hello there,” Latoshi said, hands in his pockets. His remark grabbed their attention — they didn't hear the boy approach at all. “What the hell are you doing out here at this hour, kid?” the other man, without the gun, asked. “Get lost now. This ain't nothin' for you to see.” Latoshi shrugged. “I think we can agree to disagree on that one. Now, why don't you put the gun away and let this poor schmuck go?” “Hey!” the man against the wall exclaimed. “Who you callin' a schmuck?!” “Shut it!” the man with the gun shouted at him, before pointing said gun at Latoshi. “And, you! Beat it, kid! I'm not gonna ask you twice!” Latoshi had an unimpressed look on his face. “You can ask as many times as you want, but I'm not leaving, and I'm not letting you shoot this schmuck.” The man with the gun laughed along with his cohort. “You believe this kid? 'I'm not letting you.'” The two of them laughed again, before the man suddenly whipped the butt of the gun at Latoshi's head. The boy responded by casually tilting his head back to avoid it. “The hell?” the man with the gun mused. The two henchmen immediately began to advance toward Latoshi. “Get the hell out of here, you stupid little bastard!” Latoshi's expression turned serious. He threw a swift jab to the gunman's abdomen, faster than any of them could see, knocking the wind out of him with a loud groan. He immediately followed up by jumping and thrusting the point of his shoe into the other man's jaw. In that brief moment, both men simultaneously fell over to the ground, grunting in pain. The man against the wall was frozen in disbelief. Latoshi reached down and took the firearm from the gunman's hand. “Man, I'm really getting tired of seeing these things,” he remarked, looking it over. He hummed, curiously, fiddling with it for a moment until the gun abruptly fired a bullet into the nearby brick wall. “Hey!” the third man exclaimed, jumping in fright. “Be careful, you dope! You're gonna hurt yourself!” “Whoops,” Latoshi said, as the man approached him, “that was not what I wanted to do. How do you get the bullets out of this stupid thing?” “Here, let me show you,” the man replied, carefully taking the gun from him. He pressed down on the gun's side to release the magazine. “There you go.” “Oh, nice,” Latoshi said, taking the magazine from him. He casually placed it in his pocket, just before the the other two men got back to their feet with pained groans. The boy stared them down. “Now, then, why don't you two get lost?” “Stupid kid,” the former gunman replied. “You're as good as dead now.” The pair limped their way out of the alley, disappearing from sight. “Man,” Latoshi remarked. “To think crime these days has gotten so strapped for cash that they can't afford to give two guns to two of their lackeys.” The man standing with Latoshi breathed a sigh of relief. “Those were some pretty slick moves, kid. Name's Emilio. What's yours?” “Latoshi,” he replied, shaking the man's hand after he offered it to him. The man scoffed. “Heck of a name. Never heard anything like it.” Latoshi shrugged, casually. “So, what did those creeps want from you?” “Well, … we're all part of the same crew. At least I was, but, … I started taking some of the cash from our scores. I have all these debts I gotta deal with and … I got a kid, too. Little girl, she lives with her mom.” “What made you decide to get involved with them if you have a kid?” “It's a long story,” Emilio said, with a disappointed sigh. “I just ain't never been good with holding down a real job. Slingin' and stealin' is what I'm used to. Honestly, kid, you would've been doing me a favor by letting those guys do me in.” Latoshi responded with another unimpressed expression. “Don't ever say that again, or I'll lay you out like I did to those guys. Your daughter needs her dad. Believe me, … family is important.” Emilio was surprised at the youngster's keen wisdom. His first impression of Latoshi was that he was just a street punk looking to pick fights for thrills. The man sighed again, nodding in agreement. “You're right, kid. I-I'm sorry, it's just been a rough few months for me. I've been trying to save up to get out of here, and I've been living in a crappy dump where I'm even behind on rent. That's more money I'm in debt for. I was all set to hop on a train tonight and finally go be with my kid. I was heading back to my place to start packing when those guys you fought caught up to me and jumped me. I don't know if they were tailing me, or if it was just crappy timing.” “Well, then, I'll help you to get out,” Latoshi said, nonchalantly. “I'll hang out with you and make sure they don't, … you know, come after you again.” The man stared at him, incredulous. “Look, kid, what you did was impressive and all, but, you should really get out of here. Those guys are gonna come back, and they're gonna bring even more guys.” Latoshi had a disinterested expression on his face. “More guys with more guns? You know, the killing kind?” Latoshi's expression did not change. Emilio sighed in defeat. “You're going to stay with me, aren't you?” Latoshi slowly nodded. “… All right, fine. We need to move quick, and we need to move now. My place is a few blocks away.” “Let's get going,” the boy replied. Both of them jogged out of the alley before slowing down a bit, walking at a brisk pace across the street. Running, as Emilio knew, would only attract unwanted attention to them. Their shoes rhythmically shuffled along the sidewalk — the sound made more apparent by how incredibly quiet the area was. The gentle sounds of Hoothoot and Noctowl emanated from nearby trees and along buildings. Latoshi's eyes narrowed, catching the glimpses of people nearby watching them. “So, this crew you're part of. Just how many people are in it?” “They have people everywhere, kid,” Emilio replied, keeping his voice low, “especially in this part of town. Don't look anyone in the eye or they'll get suspicious.” Latoshi sighed and rolled his eyes. Even though his powers were severely diminished, he knew he had more than enough left in the tank to take down anyone in their way — guns or no guns. He held and shook his head again, overcome by passing dizziness. Soon after, they came to a small apartment building. Emilio led him up the small steps to the main front door, buzzing himself in with a nearby keypad. They headed inside and took the stairs immediately to their left, up to the third floor. The building smelled stale, old, musty, and of cigarette smoke. Walls and floors were in disrepair. Graffiti littered the walls. The metal stairs they climbed became sticky or wet on random steps. People shouting, Pokémon cries, and loud music rang out from each of the floors. They headed down the third floor hallway. The carpeting had been long forgotten about; matted and torn everywhere. One of the doors they passed by didn't even have a doorknob, but instead, had a knife handle sticking out as a replacement. A couple of tall men in street clothes stood outside one of the apartments, staring the pair down intensely. Latoshi rolled his eyes again. He was itching to step up to everyone glaring at him. ‘I can still mop the floor with all these punks giving us the stink eye,’ Latoshi thought. ‘But, I guess I shouldn't make trouble for Emilio's sake. He's almost home free.’ Emilio pulled out the key to his apartment, situated at the very end of the hall, unlocking the door to head inside. “I'll be as fast as I can,” he said, leaving the door partially open behind him. Latoshi sighed, opting to lean against the wall outside Emilio's place — not unlike the men who were still staring at him. The boy smirked to himself, avoiding eye contact as Emilio had told him to. ‘I really want to find out what they'll do if I actually step up to them.’ Just then, he caught the sound of loud voices outside. He looked out the cloudy, cracked window at the hallway's apex. There was a large, black vehicle poorly parked against the curb, and four or five men shouting — each holding a gun. Among them were the two men from the alley. The boy groaned in frustration. A handful of people that had been standing on the street started walking away. The group of thugs waited for another man emerging from the back seat of the car. He stood up tall, wearing a black, pinstriped, three-piece suit, with a freshly-cut rose set in the breast pocket. The man looked around, adjusting his cuffs and necktie for a moment. Latoshi momentarily had the wind knocked out of him. ‘Oh, crap. I thought that guy that was Collin for a sec'. Then again, Collin can move way faster than anyone I've ever seen, so I doubt he'd roll around in a car with a group of goons. This guy's blond, kind of like Antoshi.’ “He'd better be in there!” the man in the suit said. “Otherwise, each of you are about to get a permanent imprint of my ring on your heads!” “Yes, sir, Chad,” one of his lackeys said. “We know he lives here!” “Chad?” Latoshi whispered to himself with a disgusted expression. “What kind of name is 'Chad'?” “That's not what I said,” Chad replied to his underling, “but, let's go! Come on! Chop-chop!” He clapped his hands, prompting the group to all head for the main front door. Latoshi sighed, quickly barging into Emilio's apartment. Emilio was already heading toward him, carrying two full canvas bags in both hands. “We have a problem,” Latoshi said. “Ay, maldito,” Emilio remarked. “They caught up to us, didn't they?” “Sure did,” Latoshi calmly replied, looking around his apartment. “You have a fire escape?” Emilio nodded. “All right, go down it and make sure they don't see you. I'll keep these losers more than busy.” “No, please, Latoshi. Please don't play 'hero' just for me. You don't even know me, and you got your whole life ahead of you!” Latoshi chuckled, waving him off. “I already promised I'd help you get out, didn't I? Trust me, these guys are chumps. I can handle them.” Emilio sighed heavily. “All right. I already know you well enough to know you don't take 'no' for an answer.” The boy smirked. “Thank you so much, Latoshi. If we both get out of this, I'll make it up to you somehow. I promise.” Latoshi nodded. Emilio turned and headed for the back window leading out to the fire escape. Meanwhile, the boy went back into the hallway, pressing his hands against both walls to act as a blockade. He grinned at the two men who stared at him. ‘Watch out, Antoshi. Now, it's my turn to get to be the good guy for once.’ One of the men peeled himself off the wall, posturing in front of him. “What you lookin' at, kid?” Latoshi merely humphed in amusement, having gotten the answer to his earlier question. “Behind you,” Latoshi replied, turning his attention behind the man. The man turned around, just before the group of thugs with guns came storming up from the stairway. He and his cohort promptly retreated back into their apartment and shut the door. The group of thugs were brought to a confused halt by the kid in the hallway. “That's him!” the gunman from the alley said. Latoshi briefly waved to him. “The kid is here! Emilio is here, too!” “Move, kid,” one of the other men commanded. He and a couple others pointed their guns at the boy's arrogant, grinning face. “Now!” “What is the holdup now?” Chad remarked, walking by them. He came face-to-face with the boy blockading his troops. “Aha, 'the boy with black hair.' Yes, I was informed about you. You did a number on my underlings. I should have you executed for that on principle, but I do have standards. I don't like to harm children. You should consider that a blessing from above. Run along home, now — it's far past your bedtime.” “Sorry, fancy-pants,” Latoshi replied, “not happening.” “Why is that?” Chad asked, calmly. “What kind of allegiance do you hold to this washout? Is he … a friend or yours? Family member?” “No, actually, I just met him in that alleyway.” “So, why concern yourself?” “Because I have standards, too, 'Rosy,'” Latoshi shot back, prompting Chad to take hold of the rose in his breast pocket and smell it. “Granted, they're standards that I only adopted since, like, an hour ago, but, I'm learning from someone very important to me. I need to be a better person now, after all the terrible things I've done to him and to others.” “Wonderful speech,” Chad said, offering a slow clap. “Now, I'm a very busy man and I've wasted enough time here. So, 'be a better person' and move out of my way.” “Like I told you, 'not happening.'” Chad sighed in defeat, shaking his head as he looked the boy over for a moment. He snapped his fingers, prompting the other men to advance forward. “Teach him a little lesson about respecting his elders,” he commanded. Latoshi grinned, remaining confident as they all approached. The boy charged forward, swinging at the first man's sternum with barely enough strength to stagger him back a step. His eyes widened in surprise. ‘A~nd that's not good,’ he thought, immediately before the men shoved him to the ground and started kicking him. Latoshi clenched his teeth and curled into a fetal position, guarding his face and his vitals as the men continued to pummel him for a short time. ‘Now, here I am getting beat down by a handful of chumps. Definitely not how I expected my day to go, but at least I'm keeping them busy. The longer I can distract these pricks, the more time Emilio has to get away from them.’ Chad sighed again, glancing down at his expensive gold wristwatch. “Okay, okay, that's enough. You brutes need to learn self-restraint. He's just a child.” The men immediately backed off. “Now, go search the apartment. I want that greedy little turncoat found.” Two of them did as he instructed while the others waited outside the apartment door. Chad shook his head in disgust while walking past Latoshi, who groaned in pain. “How truly shameful,” Chad said. “Remember this day always as you grow. And, do get yourself cleaned up.” He pulled out a handkerchief from the side pocket of his pants, tossing it on top of Latoshi. The boy glanced at the pristine white cloth embroidered with the letter 'C'. He couldn't help but roll his eyes at how full of himself this guy was. “He's not here!” one of the men exclaimed as he returned. “The fire escape window is open!” Chad seethed, turning and heading back to the stairs. “Let's go! Get to the car — now! I want him found!” The group of men quickly followed behind, walking around Latoshi, leaving him in a crumpled heap. Once they left the hallway, all was quiet. Latoshi groaned again and sat up. His pride was more injured than his body, still miffed that he lost a fight to a bunch of weaklings. He hissed, holding his head, feeling that dizziness return. ‘Maybe if I wasn't so damned tired…’ he thought. Just then, a nearby apartment door unlocked and swung open. An elderly woman cried out in horror upon seeing the scuffed, bruised boy on the ground. She shuffled over, holding her hands out to him, frantic. She was on the verge of tears, wailing endlessly in a language he could not understand. “I'm all right, I'm all right,” Latoshi reassured her, as he slowly got to his feet. “It's okay, I promise. … I'm completely fine. You don't need to worry about me. Everything is fine, please, just go back into your home.” The woman continued talking as he stretched his back. ‘My strength is really dwindling,’ he thought, amid the woman's chatter. ‘I'm so exhausted, but, I've got to see this through to the end. I want to prove to myself that I can be as upstanding as Antoshi is. If I give up now, I'll be just the same heartless bastard as I was before. Still, at this point, I may need a damn miracle to find Emilio before they do.’ The sound of tires screeching outside led Latoshi over to the hallway window again. The car containing the men peeled out down the street. ‘Time to go.’ The woman was crying by the time Latoshi turned to leave. “Okay, okay, I'm fine,” he reassured her again, reaching out and taking her hand. The woman neared closer, hugging the boy as she wept. “Okay. … Okay.” Latoshi grinned nervously as he patted her back. Once the moment was over, he headed into Emilio's open apartment, peering out from the door frame. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” The two waved farewell to each other, and the woman headed back to her apartment. Latoshi shut the door with a sigh. His expression turned serious, racing out the open window to the fire escape. He headed on up, making his way to the roof of the small apartment complex. ‘There's no way those guys knew where Emilio was going,’ he thought, while looking around, ‘otherwise they would've mentioned someplace to look. They're running as blind as I am now. Damn, I wish I could fly right about now.’ Latoshi stepped back a few meters and huffed sharply. ‘If I can't fly, I sure as hell better be able to jump!’ He took a running start, traveling a bit faster than a peak athlete would, and vaulted over to the roof of the next building with incredible jump distance. He looked back and smirked. ‘Not bad. I just hope my strength holds out.’ The boy continued running swiftly, leaping from building to building. Water had puddled on the rooftops in spots from the earlier, passing shower. Latoshi used his heightened eyesight to keep a lookout for his new companion amid the sparse cars and even sparser people on the streets. After covering several blocks, he gasped in shock. Emilio was in sight, heading across an empty parking lot. ‘No freakin' way!’ he thought. He quickly made his way down to the street, jumping onto several balconies to slow his descent before landing on the sidewalk. “Emilio!” he called out, jogging over to him. Emilio turned around, bags slung over his shoulders, just as shocked as Latoshi was. “Oh, dang it, kid, what are you doing?” Emilio replied. The two of them moved hastily together. “What do you mean? I told you I was going to stay with you and keep those guys off you.” “I was better off by myself! The two of us together, we're gonna be seen! This is too dangerous for you, Latoshi, please just leave!” “Hey, I'm in this just as deep as you are now. I met your boss, Chad, so he knows my face.” “Chad knows who you are now?! Kid, you're seriously going to turn your life into a living hell because of this. You know that, right?” Latoshi scoffed. “Trust me — my life was already hell, and way more dangerous, before I met you.” Emilio briefly looked over at him, taking note of the seriousness in the boy's eyes. For him, he couldn't imagine what could possibly be more dangerous than becoming an enemy of a crime syndicate like Team Rocket. “Well, then, let's hurry,” Emilio replied, picking up the pace. “We don't have much time. My train leaves in about one hour, and we've got fourteen blocks to go.” “Hope your legs are in shape!” Latoshi said, grinning as he picked up speed as well. “I've been running my whole life, kid!” he replied. Latoshi laughed in response. The pair stuck close as they headed down several city blocks. They used as many alleyways and roads with no outlets as they could, trying to keep away from the hit squad sent to find them. However, the two of them eventually had the misfortune of being spotted. The very same black luxury SUV from earlier barreled down the rain-slicked one-way street, straight at them, before squealing to a stop. “Oh, damn it!” Emilio exclaimed. The men inside quickly emerged, guns drawn and pointed at the two. Emilio dropped his bags as they both put their hands up. “Hmm, I think this might delay us,” Latoshi quipped. “This is no time for jokes, Latoshi,” Emilio replied. He was already sweating bullets. No way out for either of them. At the very least, he was ready to surrender himself so the kid could get away. “That's mighty impressive, young man!” Chad remarked, as he got out of the car. “You not only found Emilio before we did, but you also got a fair distance away! You have a bright future as a marathon runner.” He walked up and stood between his men. “To think we found you at a dead end. How very … apropos. With that said, I'm going to be unbelievably generous and give you one final chance, kid. Leave here now. Live your life and never look back. Go and be that better person you promised you wanted to be.” Latoshi pursed his lips, seeing through Chad's faux compassion. He looked over at Emilio, who insistently motioned for him to leave. He recalled a similar scenario after his fight on the beach with Antoshi. 'Leave now!' Lazarus had commanded him. 'There is nothing more for you here! Leave!!' “Latoshi!!” Antoshi shouted after him as he fled. Latoshi closed his eyes. The memory of the heartache he suffered stirred the vigor inside of his heart, stoking the fires of his Ki; invigorating him. He was done leaving the people he cared about behind. The boy turned his attention back to Chad and shook his head. “If I left now,” Latoshi replied, “I wouldn't be making good on that promise. That person I told you about earlier, … they told me not too long ago that I should use my talents for good. I was too stupid to realize I should've listened then, but, I plan to make up for it now.” In his open palm, Latoshi began charging up a black orb of what little Ki he had left in him. The others around him were incapable of seeing it. Chad sighed in dismay, shaking his head. “I don't know what's wrong with you, young man. It's like you just don't understand the danger involved here. Even still, I have a job to do. I informed you of the risks many times already.” Emilio glanced to Latoshi, taking note of the contented smile on the boy's face. ‘What is that kid thinking? Is he really this reckless beyond saving?’ “All right, men!” Chad said. “You know what to do! Take them out!” Before the men had a chance to fire, Latoshi fired off his spirit energy. It soared past the men in the blink of an eye, collided violently with the SUV, and caused it to suddenly explode. The men in front of the car all fell to the ground. Latoshi immediately grabbed Emilio's bags in one hand, and Emilio himself by the wrist, continuing running off toward their destination. “What in the hell just happened?!” Emilio exclaimed, struggling to keep pace with the revitalized youngster. “No idea!” Latoshi replied, hiding a grin. “Must be our lucky day!” “After them, you idiots!” Chad exclaimed. The men got to their feet, firing their guns in the direction the duo escaped. All of them missed, allowing the pair to disappear down a nearby alley. The men shouted to each other, quickly giving chase. Chad remained behind, left scratching his head as he surveyed the fiery wreck. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Some time later, Latoshi and Emilio made it safely to the parking lot of the train station. The train had just arrived. Both of them took a look back, the last of many since escaping Chad's clutches, to make sure they weren't still being followed. The pair headed up a ramp that led onto the train platform, where they were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. “Looks like we made it,” Latoshi remarked. “Sure did,” Emilio replied, catching his breath. “I don't know how the hell we're still alive.” “Like I said, it's our lucky day,” the boy said, with a cheeky smirk. Emilio chuckled and shook his head. “Well, Latoshi, this was one hell of an experience. You are one weird kid, and I've never met anyone like you. Even still, you saved my life. I don't know if you're just crazy or if you're some kind of guardian angel, but you've got a good heart. Sure takes real guts, and some stupidity, to take on Team Rocket like you did.” Latoshi shrugged, his hands in his pockets. “Hey, I just wanted to help.” “You did help me, kid — more than you know. I realize now that I can't just give up on my little girl. She needs her dad, just like you said.” “Get out of here and go see her, then.” “I sure will, Latoshi. Seeing her face again, … it'll make everything worth it.” The two shared a firm handshake and smiled to each other. “Thank you again, kid. I'll never forget what you did for me today.” Emilio parted ways with his new friend. He handed his ticket to the conductor, who let him on board. Latoshi decided to stick around for a short time, until the train started to roll away. He and Emilio spotted each other, giving each other a quick wave. He smiled, watching the train carry Emilio toward a new start. Latoshi heaved a long sigh, turning to the night sky for a moment. With their talk about Emilio's family, the boy's own family was on his mind as well. He turned away, hands still in his pockets, resuming his aimless stroll toward the city. “That was quite nice of you, Latoshi,” a gentle voice suddenly greeted him from a nearby bench. He stopped in place, shocked, turning to see Serenity sitting and smiling at him. “What in the world?” he mused, briefly looking around. “You again? Don't you ever sleep?” Serenity laughed, getting to her feet. “I only sleep when it's necessary. When you learn to control your Ki better, you'll see that sleep is actually something that you can avoid for much longer than normal people. It's something your brother did inadvertently, leading up to the last time you fought on the beach.” The two began to walk and talk together. “That guy Collin was right about you,” Latoshi said. “You really are watching us all the time without us knowing it.” “Well, not all the time. I just have some free time right now, and I wanted to check on you. I care about how you're doing, just like how Antoshi and Mitoshi care about you, too.” Latoshi chuckled. “That's not what Lazarus told me. He said you all wished I was dead.” She smiled at him. “Have you really been so misguided as to believe Lazarus, even after removing its spirit from yours?” “You can tell he's gone, huh?” he asked. Serenity nodded in response. “Of course I don't believe him, but, still, … it put into perspective the kind of relationship I have with the only people I haven't killed.” “You are not to blame for what Lazarus did,” she replied, softly. “Those were its ideas, and its alone. You were being used and manipulated for Lazarus' own ideals. You can't blame yourself for what's transpired — and you shouldn't. You can only look to the better future you created when you rejected Lazarus' spirit.” “I don't know,” he quietly spoke. “I've got a lot of stuff I need to work out. Most importantly, I have to talk to … my siblings.” “And, I know they want to talk to you, too. They're patiently waiting for you.” “Talking to them is going to be one hell of an awkward conversation.” He stopped and looked away with a guilty expression. She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Give it time,” she said, earnestly, as he turned to her. “Don't rush off to them because you feel guilty. Let your mind become more settled and really think about what to do next. Decide what's right for you — just like you did earlier tonight when you helped that man. Always remember, your heart is where your strength lies. Only when you commit to your emotions will you find your powers returning.” “I can only hope my memories return as well.” “Your memories will come back to you in time.” “I've heard that line from Lazarus plenty of times.” “Well, when I say it, you can believe I am telling the truth.” Latoshi sighed as her hand fell away. “I guess it is better to trust the word of a real person, and not a parasite stealing my Ki.” Serenity laughed, gently. “Besides, you're all right with Antoshi, so, you can't be all that bad.” The pair smiled at each other. “Well, I'll take my leave now and let you be. I have faith in you to be safe and make the right decisions — just like I did with Antoshi.” “Thanks, err, … I forgot what your name was.” “My name is Serenity,” she said, extending a hand to him. “I forgot that we hadn't been formally introduced. Latoshi, it's nice to finally see you for the person you really are.” He briefly shook her hand and smiled. “It's nice for me, too.” “See you around.” Serenity casually headed down the sidewalk, in the opposite direction from him, leaving as mysteriously as she appeared. Latoshi slid his hands into his pockets, sighing heavily, walking off as well. ‘I really need to get some sleep…’
  8. Chapter 22 A short time later, in the early afternoon, Latoshi stood atop the roof of a tall skyscraper. The bustle of Goldenrod City so far below him was muted. A strong, passing breeze blew by him as he gazed off toward the north. He was completely unaware of his rampage the previous night. Lazarus didn't bother to talk to him about it, either. 'You sense that, too,' Lazarus remarked. “I do,” Latoshi said. “It's Antoshi again. I don't know where he is, but he's left the city for some reason.” 'Will you go after him? Will you test your newfound level of strength?' Latoshi lips curled into a devious smirk. “I think I will.” The boy dashed to the edge of the roof, bounding quickly from building to building in the direction of his target. Once he was out of structures to stand on, he took to the sky. He was high enough that people on the ground didn't notice him overhead. An intersecting flock of Pidove panicked and flew around him. He laughed, spinning and flipping playfully. “Flying feels so effortless now,” Latoshi remarked. “It's like I'm not using any energy.” 'Your willpower and my direction have gotten you this far, Latoshi. Your power and confidence will only continue to swell from here.' Soon, Latoshi neared the city limits of Goldenrod. ‘There,’ the boy thought, making a gradual descent toward the trees along the forest edge of Route 35. He landed gently, under the cover of the forest canopy. A look of crazed excitement was in the sable-haired boy's eyes. He was elated to get to see Antoshi again, but he did not know why, assuming it was to satisfy his urge to fight. 'Wait, Latoshi,' Lazarus said. The boy obediently came to a halt. 'Do not make your presence known so easily to him. Antoshi will almost certainly sense you nearby.' “What should I do?” he asked. 'You must learn how to lower your Ki output to avoid detection from afar. Quiet your mind and relax your body.' Latoshi was momentarily confused as to why he needed to do this, when all he wanted to do was fight. Nevertheless, he closed his eyes, letting the muscles in his body relax. 'Breathe slowly and calmly. Your heart and your spirit must not be in turmoil. Keep your entire self composed like a still body of water.' The boy's head hung down, catching on quickly, his breathing having become placid. 'Very good. Your spirit energy will be undetectable if you stay like this. In this state, you could walk up almost right behind Antoshi and he would not sense your presence.' Latoshi inhaled deeply, bringing his chin up. He chuckled in amusement. “That would be quite a surprise for him.” 'Remember not to use your Ki at all from here.' “Got it,” the boy replied. He quickly headed through the trees on foot. ‘How miraculous,’ Lazarus thought. ‘To think that he has already managed to completely center himself, even after the chaos he wrought last night. Perhaps there is hope for him yet. I still have to handle him very carefully. I can only be thankful for how childish and naive he is to have accepted my apology earlier.’ Latoshi eventually reached light on the other side. He peered out from behind a tree, looking at the forest clearing and the cabin situated in it. “What is this place?” Latoshi mused, quietly. He narrowed his eyes, able to see closer details of the house, as if up close, from over a hundred meters of grassy field away. He hummed, curiously, making out Antoshi's aura as he and Fireball ate lunch at the kitchen island. He took note of the girl with blue hair, as she walked around in the kitchen. “Who in the world is that? Is it someone important to him?” Latoshi watched the girl walk over and give Antoshi a hug from his side. The sable-haired boy's expression shifted into a cruel grin, chuckling in amusement. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “We're gonna head out for a walk!” Antoshi said, as he and Fireball exited the front door together. Latoshi perked up, having sat down and rested against a tree out of sight. He peered out again, his hearing picking up their conversation, as though he were right next to them. “The two of you sure like to stay active, huh?” Mitoshi replied with a laugh. "Sure do!" Fireball said. “We'll be back in a bit!” Antoshi said, closing the door behind them. Latoshi's eyes followed them as they headed off down the dirt road leading into the woods. Once they were far enough away, he sprung to his feet. He dashed across the clearing, swiftly and quietly, managing to use very little of his Ki in doing so. His rapidly stamping feet made almost no noise. He headed up the porch, peering inside the frosted glass on the front door, before opening it as slowly and quietly as possible. Inside, he crept up behind the girl, as she finished cleaning their dishes. Mitoshi stopped what she was doing, getting an odd sensation. She turned around, gasping in fright. “Latoshi?” she uttered. Latoshi was shocked that she knew his name. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A couple hours later, the duo headed back toward the cabin. "I can't get over how peaceful it is here," Fireball remarked. “Like I told Mitoshi, I would love to live in a place like this. I guess now we can get that chance — at least for a little while.” The two friends chuckled. They headed up the porch steps, and Antoshi opened the front door. They were immediately greeted with the sight of Bubbles staring out a nearby window, weeping. The pair became concerned. “Bubbles?” Antoshi asked, as he and Fireball approached her. “What's wrong? Where's Mitoshi?” Bubbles sniffled and sobbed, struggling to speak. "The—the other one came … here," she replied. "He left a n-note on the c-counter…" “'Other one?'” Antoshi remarked in confusion. He headed over to the counter and picked up the note. His eyes went wide with horror at what he read. "Antoshi?" Fireball asked. "What is it?" The boy crumpled the note in a tightly clenched fist. “Latoshi,” he muttered. He kept his dormant frustrations in check, realizing their fight against Lazarus wasn't finished yet. "What?! How did Latoshi track us down here?" Antoshi sighed. “I don't know, but he says he's going to kill Mitoshi if I don't 'prove my worth' against him. He knows I don't want bystanders, so he's waiting for us on a mountain to the north. He wants me to fight him again without holding anything back.” Antoshi headed to the front door, kneeling down, quickly digging into his backpack. He pulled out his only Poké Ball. “Come on, Fireball, hop in.” Fireball was shocked by the request. "You're … taking me with you, right?" The boy's gaze faltered, staring at the Poké Ball as he weighed the option. "Please, Antoshi. I need to come with you. I just got through telling you that I'd always be by your side, remember? I know you don't want me to get hurt. I don't want you to get hurt, either. I have to make sure you're okay." Antoshi sighed and nodded in agreement. “All right. At least hop in for now. It'll be easier than carrying you around like I did last time.” Fireball recalled hanging on for dear life on Antoshi's shoulders as the boy raced through the streets of Goldenrod. "… Good point," he replied. He closed his eyes before his body was reduced to a mass of red light and swiftly pulled into the confines of the ball. Antoshi minimized it to a smaller size before slipping it into his pocket. “Don't worry, Bubbles,” he said. “We'll get her back.” "Please be careful," she replied, softly, with tears in her eyes. “I'll do my absolute best,” he replied with a confident smile. He headed out the door, into the clearing, before blasting off high into the air. Bubbles wished for everyone's safety, watching in awe as the blond boy took to the sky. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi eventually found the mountain by way of sensing Latoshi's energy. His eyesight had become acute enough to make out Latoshi's smirking face from miles away. The sable-haired boy looked up at him, arms folded across his chest, also able to see his rival just as clearly. Mitoshi laid unconscious next to him. Antoshi descended down upon the large Mt. Mortar, which was a couple of miles wide in diameter. Its center was concave not unlike a grinding bowl, and Latoshi stood in its center. Antoshi landed a short distance from him. The winds were strong at their elevation. The trio's hair, clothing, and Latoshi's black aura whipped around in the gusts. A nearby Absol stared intensely at the duo. It sensed an impending, ominous event, quickly sprinting away from the two boys. “I always love this part,” Latoshi said with a grin. “This is when we trade barbs back and forth at each other. We get to strut around and try to intimidate each other. It's a nice little build-up to punching each other senseless, don't you think?” “This has gone way too far, Latoshi,” Antoshi replied. He pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball from his pocket, enlarged it, and let the Typhlosion out. Fireball stared Latoshi down with a stern expression. “Oh, you're going to have your pet fight me instead? That's awfully … idiotic of you, Antoshi.” Antoshi shook his head. “No, Latoshi. He's not going to fight you — and I'm not going to fight you, either.” Latoshi was bewildered by the remark. “Uh, okay? I guess you just want me to kill you, your pet, and this girlfriend of yours? That's fine, too.” He aimed an open hand toward Mitoshi's unconscious body. “You don't want to kill her, Latoshi. Believe me.” Latoshi scoffed in amusement. “Oh, yeah? Why is that? Because you're going to cry a lot if I do?” “While that is true, it's not what I was getting at. Latoshi, that girl is your sister.” Latoshi was blown away by the revelation. “Our sister,” Antoshi added. “'Our sister?'” Latoshi reiterated in disbelief. “You mean, … you really believe you're my …” Antoshi closed his eyes and nodded. Latoshi immediately turned his attention to Mitoshi. He stared at her with an intense gaze. ‘I don't know this girl,’ Latoshi thought, his jaw agape. ‘She's my sister? Why don't I have any memories of her? I should know who she is!’ 'Stop getting distracted, Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted at him. 'I told you before, this is his way of trying to divert you from your rightful destiny!' “No!” Latoshi exclaimed to the blond-haired boy. “I know what this is, Antoshi. You're trying to trick me. It's not going to work. Now say 'goodbye' to this girl!” He held his hand out again, summoning a mass of dark energy into his palm, grinning wildly. “Latoshi, don't!!” Antoshi shouted in panic, preparing to intervene. Before Antoshi could react, Latoshi suddenly fired off a blast of Ki, demolishing everything in a small crater below him. He cackled wildly, the dust that billowed out was the only thing left of the spot Mitoshi had been in. Antoshi and Fireball were horrified, and in shock. ‘I … I wasn't fast enough?’ Antoshi thought, trembling. ‘Mitoshi … is …’ "No," Fireball whispered. "How could he? How could he do something so heartless?" Antoshi trembled, overcome with rage all over again. His irises burned with his Ki's signature color red. He stared down his rival with fury in his eyes. Latoshi smirked as he glanced over at them. However, his smirk quickly faded — his attention turning to behind the pair. The duo noticed his expression and turned around. A few meters behind them, Serenity cradled an unharmed Mitoshi in her arms. She calmly laid the sleeping girl back down on the ground. “What the hell?!” Latoshi exclaimed. “How … how the hell did she just … just …” “Serenity!” Antoshi said, in a mix of surprise and relief. "Oh, man," Fireball chimed in, heaving a loud sigh. "I really don't need anymore heart attacks like that." Serenity smiled at Antoshi and Fireball. “I made a promise to myself,” she said. “I promised that I wouldn't get involved in your struggle unless there was no other choice. I couldn't let Latoshi make a mistake he was going to regret for the rest of his life. Just like I wasn't going to let you do the same the last time you two fought.” Antoshi's eyes widened in surprise at the revelation. “You mean … you were going to stop me from that final attack against Latoshi?” Serenity nodded to him. “I had only intended to use my powers as a last resort. I knew that once I did, the possibility of you relying on me for your battles was far too great. You needed, and still need, to become strong on your own. That's why I refused to get involved when you asked me to.” “I see now,” Antoshi replied, with a confident nod. The three of them turned their attention to the sable-haired boy. “Did you hear that, Latoshi? With Serenity here, this battle is over. There's no need to continue.” Latoshi was baffled at the sheer ignorance of what was just said. “You think our fight is over because of this bitch?” he shouted. “I remember seeing her during our last fight. So what if she's fast? She's just another insect that I need to squash!” Latoshi fired a large blast of energy that zipped past the duo and careened directly into Serenity. It exploded violently, leaving a cloud of smoke. Antoshi and Fireball were left stunned at the sight. Latoshi began laughing uncontrollably. Once again, however, his mirthful mood was brought to a screeching halt. Serenity remained completely unharmed. At that point, Mitoshi began to stir back to life. She groaned weakly, opening her eyes and taking in the scene. “What in the world?” she uttered, sitting up. Antoshi jogged over to her. “Mitoshi, are you okay?” he asked, kneeling down. Fireball followed, and stood behind him. Mitoshi groaned in pain, rubbing the back of her neck. “Oww, that jerk,” she replied. “He came to the cabin, and I thought that he was there because he was free of that evil spirit thing. Then, he hits me and knocks me out when I wasn't expecting it. So, I guess I was wrong.” She turned her attention to Serenity, who smiled warmly at her. “Oh, wow, it's you again. The person from the beach.” “Nice to see you again, too,” Serenity replied. “You were wearing that concealing disguise. I knew I recognized your energy when I got here.” “Whoa,” Mitoshi remarked, awe-struck. “You knew that was me just by sensing it?” “Uh, hello?” Latoshi chimed in. “How about we pay attention over here? You know, to the guy who's about to slaughter all of you?” “There isn't any reason to fight,” Serenity said. “Antoshi has already made it clear he does not wish to fight you.” “Oh, and you think you just get to decide?” Latoshi shot back. “You know, I'm sick of watching you act like you belong here. I think I'll take you down first out of principle. Believe me, I won't be holding back this time.” Serenity brushed away some of her brunette hair, displaced by the winds upon the mountaintop, from her face. “You don't want to fight me, Latoshi,” she said, calmly. “You'll only end up disappointed.” Latoshi scoffed. “Yeah, disappointed at how pathetic you turn out to be.” Serenity closed her eyes, opting not to make any further remarks. Instead, she walked a few paces toward him, positioning herself between Latoshi and the others. Latoshi sucked his teeth. “Fine, then. Play it cool. I don't care if you're a girl — I'm going to kill you just the same!” He darted at her with incredible speed, irises shimmering black, kicking up dirt and dust along the way. He swung a fist at her, only for Serenity to sidestep. Latoshi seethed with anger, throwing punches and kicks at her. She responded by effortlessly hopping and leaping back and to the sides to avoid every strike. Antoshi looked on in disbelief as they passed by him. ‘She's … so nimble!’ he thought with eyes wide. ‘She's not even just dodging, she's moving at an unbelievable pace that I can't even keep up with. Not to mention, I can't even see her Ki! Is she … hiding it somehow? Or is she not even using it at this point?’ “Stop running away!” Latoshi screamed, infuriated. “Stand and fight me, you pathetic coward! And why the hell can't I see your aura?!” Latoshi and Serenity both came to a sudden stop just a short distance away from each other. Latoshi panted softly to catch his breath, feeling winded already for some reason. Serenity was totally relaxed as she opened her eyes. Her irises burned with the bright, pink glow of her spirit energy. “You can't see my aura,” Serenity replied, “… because it's far too great for you to fathom at your current level.” The others gasped in unison, dumbfounded at such a claim. “Is she serious?” Mitoshi asked Antoshi, quietly. He could only shake his head in response, just as uncertain as she was. “You're so full of it,” Latoshi said. “Just an amateur talking crap. There's no way anyone besides Antoshi is anywhere near my level — certainly not a nobody like you.” “Attack me, then,” Serenity replied, calmly. “I won't dodge any longer. In fact, I guarantee I won't even move from this spot.” Latoshi chuckled, deviously. “Okay! I'll be sure to write that on your gravestone!” He charged forward yet again, his dark aura flaring, giving a loud shout as he fired off a blinding flurry of punches at her. With one arm behind her back, Serenity calmly blocked and parried every one of his strikes with her index finger. She made good on her vow not to move, and Latoshi proved incapable of budging her. ‘There's … no way!’ Latoshi thought. ‘She's making a joke out of me with just one finger!? Damn her!!’ ‘This stupid child,’ Lazarus thought. ‘He has no idea what he is dealing with, even when she tells him directly. I cannot intervene here. He will just have to learn the hard way.’ Latoshi leapt away from her, seething with rage. He panted heavily to catch his breath, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Serenity remained unfazed and composed. She closed her eyes, folding her arms behind her back. Latoshi narrowed his eyes, realizing she was in a poor defensive stance. After a moment, he came at her again. His body blurred into afterimages while moving haphazardly in all directions around her, attempting to outpace and disorient her. Serenity sighed at his futile efforts. She held an open hand out to her side in the instant before Latoshi appeared to strike her. His eyes went wide, expecting her to fire off an energy blast. However, she simply flicked his forehead with her index finger. The deceptively innocent strike ended up sending him hurling violently through the air. He shouted in shock, before crashing and sliding to a stop against a nearby pile of rocks. Everyone else, including Latoshi, was bewildered at what just happened. Serenity's power and skill were undoubtedly beyond anything they'd seen before. Latoshi strained and grunted, holding his throbbing forehead with one hand, as he sat up. He felt more drained after that one, paltry attack than throughout the entirety of his previous fight with Antoshi. Serenity opened her eyes and turned to him. “Do you see now? There's a reason why you're so weak now. It's because the guidance you've been given by Lazarus is contributing to your downfall.” Latoshi scowled at her, viciously. “What the hell do you know about Lazarus? Just who are you, anyway?!” “I'm someone who's had to deal with Lazarus before. I've seen and experienced first-hand the kind of chaos and evil it sows. The torture and the strain that it puts on its host and the people that care about them is something I would never wish upon anyone. It's the same strain that your friends and family are dealing with right now. The ones that are here for you at this very moment because they only wish the best for you. Latoshi — that parasite inside of your spirit is not your teacher, and it is not your friend. It is pure evil, and its only purpose is to steal the energy of your spirit.” Latoshi continued to look at her with a bitter, serious glare. He slowly shook his head in response. “No, that's not true. You're only trying to trick me; to get me to turn against Lazarus like Antoshi's been doing. He's jealous of my power. He's jealous of the heights I can reach, which are far beyond his own.” “That's not even remotely true, Latoshi!” Antoshi interjected. “I never wanted any of this! I would gladly give up all the power I have if it meant that you were safe, and free of Lazarus!” Fireball was pleasantly surprised at how much Antoshi cared about the sable-haired boy. 'Do not listen to him,' Lazarus said, calmly. 'You already know all of his lies.' “That's right,” Latoshi replied. “Antoshi is nothing but a pathetic liar who would stoop as low as he can just to get a cheap shot in on me. Instead of acting like the snake you are, Antoshi, why don't you fight me face-to-face?!” “I am not fighting you, Latoshi,” Antoshi said. “I refuse to fight you ever again.” Latoshi balled his fists, scowling with rage. “I'll fight him!” Mitoshi said, surprising the entire group. The girl stepped up, her long, blue hair whipping in the sharp gusts as she stood alongside Serenity. Latoshi scoffed, trying not to laugh. “You've got to be joking.” “I'm not some damsel-in-distress,” Mitoshi replied, sharply. “If both of my brothers can fight, then so can I!” "Have you … ever fought before?" Fireball asked. “I sure haven't!” she replied with conviction. The remark prompted some serious concern from Antoshi and Fireball. “Still, Latoshi had the nerve to hit me, and I'm not going to let it slide! I'm going to give you a real … thrashing!” Latoshi snickered, shaking his head in disbelief. Serenity stepped back, looking to Antoshi and Fireball with a reassuring nod. The duo trusted her, backing away as well. “Fine, then,” Latoshi said, with a nonchalant shrug. “If you want me to tear you limb from limb, so be it!” Mitoshi's eyes went wide as he flew through the air at her with an arrogant grin. Her irises suddenly glowed bright blue in response. Latoshi threw a punch through her chest — which ended up literally going through her chest. Antoshi and Fireball gasped in surprise; Latoshi's arm was sticking out through her back. Her body around the point of impact had turned into clear water. “What in the hell is this?” Latoshi uttered. Mitoshi herself was momentarily surprised. She capitalized on the distraction, shouting as she swiftly punched the side of Latoshi's head. The hard impact sent him to the ground. He groaned, getting back to his feet. Mitoshi responded by keeping on him, landing several rapid punches to Latoshi's face and chest, while he managed to dodge the rest. He shouted in rage, punching back at her with far greater quantity and force. It was not unlike his first fight, trading blows back and forth with Antoshi, although Latoshi held no advantage this time. Mitoshi was pleasantly awe-struck as every part of her body he struck her instinctively turned to water for as long as he made contact. ‘Is this some kind of nightmare?!’ Latoshi thought. ‘How am I getting outclassed by not one, but two girls?! Why the hell is her body made of water when I hit her, but when she hits me it sure as hell feels like flesh and bone!’ Latoshi seethed, far past the limits of his patience. He created a blast of Ki in his hand, firing it through Mitoshi's torso. The blast connected and tore a hole through her, instantly causing her entire body to turn into a watery version of herself with a large hole in the middle. The others were awe-struck by the sight. “Whoa,” Mitoshi remarked, her voice sounding as though she were underwater. “That's never happened without me thinking about it before.” She looked herself over, curiously sticking a hand through the hole in her chest. “Are you … okay?” Antoshi asked, concerned. “I feel okay,” Mitoshi replied. “I don't feel any pain or … anything at all. This is pretty cool! … And, pretty weird. Good thing I don't have to breathe when I'm like this.” Antoshi grinned, gazing over at Serenity. Her attention, however, was turned upward. She had a deeply uneasy expression on her face. “No,” she whispered. Antoshi and Fireball both looked upward, followed by Latoshi and Mitoshi. The four of them were shocked and confused when they realized a person was hovering high over them. ‘It's too late,’ Serenity thought, her fist trembling. ‘I suppose this was inevitable…’ "Who is that?" Fireball asked. The person slowly descended down to the ground — a tall, young man of average build. He was neatly dressed in formal clothes: a dark blue waistcoat atop a matching tie and white dress shirt, along with matching dark blue trousers. His clothing was spotless, and his black shoes were so impeccably polished that the midday sunlight reflected right off them. His perfectly groomed, short, brown hair was slicked back. As he touched down, he had a pleasant smile upon his face. His violet eyes slowly panned around the group, before offering a soft chuckle. ‘What in the hell is going on today?!’ Latoshi thought, scowling, baring his clenched teeth. ‘Who are all these nobodies that keep showing up out of nowhere?!’ “Well, this is truly delightful,” the man said, sliding his hands into his trouser pockets. “I finally get to meet all of you in person at once. Let's see, now,” he turned his gaze to Antoshi. “You're the famous Antoshi, along with your best friend, Fireball the Typhlosion. … We also have the brooding Latoshi, and lastly, the fresh-faced young sister of them both, Mitoshi. That's quite the remarkable power over water you have. I have to say, I adore how peculiar your names are.” All of them were equally baffled as to how he knew not just their names, but also who they were. The mysterious individual took a deep breath and sighed. “Yes, the air is rife with the smell of inexperienced Ki,” he continued. “The kind of exuberant, blossoming energy flowing from the passionate hearts of such spirited youngsters. I must say, seeing you three in person only affirms how much potential you truly have. But, where are my manners? Greetings — my name is Collin.” With an arm over his midsection, he offered a polite bow. “It truly is wonderful to meet you all. The looks on your faces tell me that Serenity never spoke of me. Then again, who among us likes talking about the skeletons in our closets?” “What does he mean?” Antoshi asked Serenity. She slowly exhaled. “… He's my brother.” The others looked at him in surprise. “That's correct,” Collin said. “So, here we all are — family. You boys found out today that you have a sister, and that Serenity has a brother. It truly is a monumental day, and I know all of you will remember this for the rest of your lives.” Serenity quirked an eyebrow, finding his remark suspicious. “Wait,” Antoshi said. “How do you know when Mitoshi told us she was our sister?” Collin laughed. “Let's just say I'm very attuned to my senses, just like Serenity is. She's been around behind the scenes, following all of you without you being even the slightest bit aware of her presence. That's all right, though. In time, the three of you will metamorphose into exceptional Ki users. As I said, you all have enormous potential, … except for you,” he added, the tone of his voice shifting to contempt. He briefly took his hand from his pocket to point at Latoshi, much to the boy's confusion. “… Just what the hell are you talking about, you wannabe prick?” Latoshi spat. Collin chuckled. “Technically, I'm not pointing at you, Latoshi. I'm pointing at Lazarus. I believe my sister already explained it earlier. Lazarus is nothing more than a parasite wasting away your incredible power. It is a shame what he's done to you.” Latoshi got over his brief shock that yet another person knew of Lazarus. “Idiots!” he shouted. “All of you! You're all mindless liars!” “I understand that you doubt me, Latoshi,” Collin said, calmly, “but, the reason why Serenity is so intimately familiar with Lazarus is because Lazarus used to control me.” “No way!” Mitoshi remarked in surprise, reflecting the others' reactions. “Is this true, Lazarus?” Latoshi asked, narrowing his eyes. 'They are all agents of deceit,' Lazarus replied. 'They are here on behalf of Antoshi to fool you, to take your rightful place at the top.' Collin smiled gently, waiting a moment in the midst of silence. “… Is he done speaking? I'm sure he just said we're all liars, we're all out to get you, so on and so forth. Here's some immutable truth, however, …” Collin's aura suddenly exploded to life with so much intense force that it caused all of them to stagger backward, save for Serenity. She merely stared at him with a stern, unblinking gaze. The others looked on in disbelief. His aura was just as dark and black as Latoshi's. “Do all of you feel the wavelength of my Ki? Feels familiar, wouldn't you say?” “Oh, man,” Antoshi remarked, trembling from the sheer power radiating from Collin. “It's like there's two Latoshi's…” Collin's aura dissipated as quickly as it emerged. “Very perceptive, Antoshi. Remnants of Lazarus' very own spirit energy still exist inside me. I like to keep it inside me as a reminder of those days we had together. I used to be Lazarus' pet project. I've grown and learned of the parasite's fallacious promises since then. Tell me, Latoshi, how much stronger have you gotten since he infected you? Not enough to even touch Serenity. Not enough to keep yourself from being outpaced by Antoshi. Not enough to even defeat your sister who has literally no fighting experience whatsoever. You're already exhausted due to how much energy Lazarus is keeping from you. How do you expect to realize your full potential? What's the point of keeping him around? It's a one-sided symbiosis, Latoshi, and you're the one stagnating.” Latoshi went silent, hanging his head down. He offered a few snarls and growls for a moment while the others watched him. There was an ominous presence wafting through the air. Collin chuckled in amusement. “Now, this is an interesting shift in energy. Speak of the devil, for he hath returned.” Latoshi snapped his head upward, his eyes completely filled with shimmering, dark energy. “Shut your mouth, Collin,” the boy said, his voice combined with that of Lazarus'. “I will not continue to sit idly by while you speak ill of me.” “There it is,” Collin replied, amused. “That rage, that venom, that spitefulness; it's just like old times. It has been a while, Lazarus.” “Do not be cordial with me, child. I will just as soon wipe that arrogant look off your face.” “Interesting that you should threaten me, Lazarus. You're only slightly less feeble than the last time we spoke. What was that, about … eight months, five days, seventeen hours and four minutes ago? You told me then that you were looking for new prospects. At least you didn't lie about something for once. Although, it's quite impressive, Lazarus — you didn't manage to get either one of these boys to kill the other. Your influence is, … well, quite sad these days.” “Do not be upset simply because I no longer need you, Collin. Do not be upset because you will cease to exist soon.” “You should choose your words carefully,” Collin replied, with a convincing smile. “You know what may occur if you anger me.” “I know you better than that, Collin. I know your inclinations. I know exactly what you have planned for these three children.” The well-dressed young man closed his eyes and laughed. “Fair enough. In that case, I've seen all I need to. I believe I'll take my leave now. Oh, and Lazarus? When the boy eventually ejects your spirit from his, you had best hope it happens far away from me. You also know I'll gladly take the opportunity to end you. I've discovered how to now.” Latoshi glared at him. “Take care Antoshi, Latoshi, and Mitoshi. We shall meet again in due time.” Collin slowly ascended back into the air. To the group's surprise, he vanished in an instant. Serenity let out a sigh of relief, holding her trembling hands to steady them. Antoshi looked over at her, inquisitively. ‘I've never seen Serenity lose her cool,’ he thought. ‘This Collin guy, … he must have some impossible level of strength that the four of us can't even begin to grasp — just like Serenity.’ Latoshi shouted, angrily, his voice returning to normal. He grabbed his head, falling to a knee. “Damn … you! Lazarus! Give me back my body!” Latoshi gasped loudly, panting for air as he looked up at the sky. 'I apologize sincerely, Latoshi,' Lazarus said. 'I only wished to stop him from sullying my name.' “Shut up!” the boy snapped. “I'm fed up with all the crap that's happened today!” “Latoshi, please listen,” Antoshi said. “I really do care about you and your well-being. I'm fed up, too! I'm fed up with this fighting and the hatred and contempt between us. Aren't you?” Fireball and Mitoshi, still in her watery form, both nodded in agreement. “Try to remember back. Remember when we first met? Remember how we bumped into each other in Goldenrod City? You thought it was crazy that we both had such weird names. We went and got ice cream together. Remember how you and Fireball joked about chocolate chip ice cream?” ‘What is he talking about?’ Latoshi thought, looking away. ‘Why can't I remember that? Why can't … why can't I remember how I even met Antoshi? How do I even know his name to begin with? How did we first meet? What's he rambling about ice cream for? …’ Latoshi gasped, suddenly flooded with memories of the ice cream shoppe. 'I love ice cream!' Fireball's voice permeated his scattered memories. 'That chocolate chip was great — right, Latoshi?' ‘Yeah, this is the best ice cream I can remember,’ he joked in response. Latoshi had the wind knocked out of him. ‘There it is,’ he thought. ‘Antoshi … he—he's telling the truth. How can that be?’ There was a conflicted look in his eyes as he backed away from them. He shook his head in disbelief before abruptly taking off into the air. “Latoshi!” Antoshi called out. His brother flew off without looking back. Serenity walked over to Antoshi, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “That's it, then,” she remarked, as they all watched Latoshi flee. “The seeds of dissent are finally taking root.” “Are you sure we shouldn't go after him?” Antoshi asked, worried. “I could keep trying to talk him through it, … maybe i-it'll give him strength or something.” “If it were anything other than a spirit parasite, sure,” Serenity replied. “However, our presence would only serve to distract Latoshi. He has to concentrate in order to rid himself of Lazarus. Just as before, we have to leave this in his hands.” “I saw the doubt in his eyes,” Antoshi remarked. “I think what I said … got through to him. It broke through the blockade Lazarus built in his head. I just want him to remember everything. I want for him to be who he really is.” “A lot has happened here today,” Serenity said with a heavy sigh. “He had to have been wondering why he was fighting, and what he was even doing here. When he went after me, he'd never been so humbled in a battle before. After all of that training and the time spent with Lazarus, he realized he wasn't as strong as he was led to believe. He has a better understanding to the depth of Lazarus' lies now.” “Good,” Mitoshi chimed in. “Cause I sure would like to meet my brother — the real Latoshi." "Same here," Fireball added. “Speaking of real,” Antoshi said to Mitoshi, “what about the real you?” “Oh, wow,” she replied, looking at herself again. The girl was was still in her watery form. “After everything that's happened here, I completely forgot I was still like this!” She briefly grunted and strained, trying to will her body to take on a solid form once again. “… Okay, well, we seem to have a small problem: I can't turn myself back to normal.” “I think I might know the solution to that,” Serenity said. “Come on, let's get going.” “Err, well, I don't know how to fly,” Mitoshi replied. Serenity smiled at her. “That's no problem. Take my hand.” Mitoshi did so, holding onto Serenity as though her hand was solid. At the same time, Antoshi held out Fireball's Poké Ball. The Typhlosion nodded, being pulled back into the ball's confines. The three of them lifted off the ground, ascending slowly for Mitoshi's sake. The girl panicked, briefly, before settling down. “W-Wow, … this is so cool!” she exclaimed. Antoshi and Serenity chuckled at each other as Mitoshi experienced her first time flying. The girl made of water, and with a hole in her chest, looked down at the mountain as it got smaller and smaller the further up they went. Her exuberant eyes stayed open wide, helped by the fact that she did not need to blink in her current form. Her jaw hung open, gasping in awe continuously. The perspective of the world from so high in the brilliantly blue sky was beyond anything she could've dreamt. She'd never flown before, in a plane, or on the back of a Pokémon. It was something she never realized she'd wanted to see and experience so badly. She was able to see the large, beaten paths of routes 35 and 36, along with the sprawling forests surrounding them. “Ooh, I think I can see our cabin from here! Hi, Bubbles!” she exclaimed, waving. The National Park was off to her right, Violet City to her left, and the large city of Goldenrod up ahead. By looking behind her, she could even see Ecruteak City. With its wildly different locales, Johto was truly a remarkable sight to behold. She grinned through most of their flight, soaking in every second of the brief trip. Soon, the trio landed at a large lake nearby Route 35. Antoshi promptly pulled out Fireball's Poké Ball to let him out. “This is where you wanted to take us?” Antoshi mused, both he and Fireball looking around at the picturesque scenery. “Indeed it is,” Serenity replied. “Mitoshi, why don't you take a dip in the water and see what happens?” “Oh, … all right,” Mitoshi replied. She waded her bare, watery feet along the shore of the lake, inadvertently scaring off a handful of slow-moving Magikarp under the surface. The massive hole in her body began to fill itself back up from the body of water. Fireball and the two siblings looked on in amazement. “Now,” Serenity said, “try to return yourself to normal.” Mitoshi focused for a moment. Her skin and clothing slowly became visible, the water appearing to recede back into her body. She giggled in elation, patting her solid form to make sure she was really back to normal. She turned to the others with a grin, holding her arms out, theatrically, to present her regular form. Fireball offered a facetious clap. “I can't get over how incredible her power is,” Antoshi remarked while the girl stepped back onto dry land. “But, … why is she able to do that?” “It's rare,” Serenity replied, “but, some people have sort of an 'elemental' spirit energy. They can manipulate their Ki into one specific natural element, and then apply those elemental abilities in various ways. Mitoshi can turn her body into water. As we've seen, she can also use that ability to defend herself and become nearly invulnerable. The only drawback is that she needs water to regenerate her wounds. Still, I'm sure she can discover much more in her mastery over water.” “Ooh, this is so exciting!” Mitoshi responded, bouncing up and down. Serenity laughed, grinning at her. “Well, I should get going. I'll come and visit soon. We can sit down and have a proper chat then. I'll even bring tea.” “She has very good taste in tea,” Antoshi remarked to his sister. Fireball nodded. “Ah, I see,” Mitoshi replied, smiling. “Hey, Serenity,” he said, just as she was about to turn away. “There's one more thing I was curious about. If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?” “I don't mind,” she replied, smiling. “I'm sixteen. My brother, Collin, is eighteen.” “Oh,” he remarked, not sure what he was expecting. “I guess … that means we need years of experience before we'll be anywhere near as strong as you, huh?” Serenity chuckled. “Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? Anyway, so long for now!” The trio waved while Serenity ascended into the air and flew off. Antoshi sighed in content. “You know, we're really close to the cabin,” he said. “Want to just walk back?” “Sure thing!” she replied before they headed off together. "That's fine by me," Fireball said, "as long as we don't run into anymore spider webs." “Don't worry, dear Fireball!” Mitoshi said, deepening her voice, walking in front of him. She held a hand out, keeping her posture tall and straight. “I'll protect you from any and all spiders!” Fireball sighed in relief, placing his paws on the girl's shoulder. "My hero!" The group laughed as they made their way through a thin, beaten path in the woods. Their exhausting day had come to an end, but, that was not the case for the siblings' wayward brother.
  9. Chapter 21 The duo re-emerged from the woods sometime after dusk. Both of them were scuffed with plenty of dirt marks. "That was so much fun!" Fireball exclaimed. "Man, it feels like it's been forever since I trained. There's a lot of wild Pokémon around here! Your skills look so awesome, too. You were punching and kicking and running around everywhere. You've gotten way faster since the last fight. Is it just me, or have you also gotten a bit more muscular?" Antoshi curiously looked down at his arms. They had indeed become more toned and defined since their arrival in Johto. “Oh, I guess I haven't noticed. I've been juggling so many other things lately. I haven't even eaten or slept very much over the past couple weeks.” "Yeah, that's true. I—" Fireball's train of thought was interrupted by the scent of something deliciously sweet. He began sniffing the air. "Is that … apple pie I smell?" “Oh, that's right. Mimi said she's going to make dessert for us when we—” Antoshi stopped abruptly as Fireball charged toward the cabin on all fours. "Desse~ert!" the Typhlosion cried out along the way. Antoshi grinned and shook his head, jogging along behind his friend. Fireball managed to calm himself down a bit, waiting by the front door for Antoshi with an eager tap dance. The boy opened the door and both of them headed back inside. “Welcome back, you two!” Mimi greeted them. Upon the marble countertop, she gently placed a pie in a tin pan on top of a wire rack. Bubbles had already returned to her Poké Ball. “You made a pie while we were out?” Antoshi asked, pleasantly surprised. He took his shoes off to set by the door once again. “Sure did! Well, you know, it was one of those pre-made frozen ones that you just put in the oven. But, hey, I got to put the crumb topping on it myself. Still has to cool off for a bit, though.” “I think I should probably take a shower in the meantime.” “No problem. The bathroom is the door in the hallway. Oh! There's fresh towels in the cabinet.” “Thanks a lot, Mimi. We both really appreciate the hospitality.” Mimi smiled and nodded before Antoshi headed for the bathroom. "As for me," Fireball said, "I usually just clean off with a hose." “Well, lucky for you, we have a gardening hose on the side of the house. Would you like me to help clean your back?” "Absolutely! My arms are pretty short, you know." Mimi laughed as the two of them made their way outside together. “I've never dealt with any Fire-type Pokémon before. I always figured they'd, like, melt from water.” "Don't worry, I've survived plenty of meltings," he joked. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After getting cleaned up, the trio sat around the trio of couches in the living room. Antoshi and Fireball sat on the long couch resting against the left wall, while Mimi sat on the shorter, perpendicular couch to the left of them, sitting closest to Antoshi. A circular glass table sat between all three couches, atop a beige area rug with vine patterns. The group enjoyed their pie and chatted for a while longer. Afterward, Mimi provided the boys with one of the bedrooms to stay for the night. They thanked her once again, closing the door behind them. The mid-sized bedroom was surprisingly spacious. A double pane window with horizontal blinds on the far wall faced the door. A plush, wood-framed bed rested against the left corner, covered with white sheets and gray pillowcases. A dark, wooden nightstand held a small lamp and another area rug laid next to the bed. Fireball found it to be a perfect sleeping spot. The two were very content with their sleeping quarters, getting settled in for the night. Dressed in a simple white t-shirt and boxer shorts, Antoshi slipped under the covers, while Fireball took his usual spot on the floor beside him. The two smiled as they gazed up at the ceiling. "You know," Fireball said, "this room is a lot like your room at home." Antoshi took a look around. “Yeah, it really is. The window is even in the same spot.” The duo went quiet for a few moments. “You know, there's something I was thinking about. Did you notice how Mimi didn't … say anything about my name? Usually everyone we meet has an opinion on my name when I introduce myself. Mimi just didn't seem to care.” "Maybe she's just an exception to the rule." Antoshi laughed. “Maybe so.” "She really is super nice, though. I'm glad we decided to stop here." Fireball looked over at his friend, concerned. "I'll bet you're still thinking about Latoshi, huh?" Antoshi took a deep breath and sighed. “I haven't stopped thinking about him. I really hope he's doing all right. I'm worried for him, Fireball. I'm worried that … maybe he won't be able to get rid of this evil spirit inside him. It's been blocking his memories, so it probably keeps making him think I'm his enemy. If that's the case, then, I'll only end up fighting him over and over and over again. I really don't want that anymore. I can't … bear to fight him again.” "This really stinks. I wish I could help him, too. He was a good friend to us at first. You and I both know the kind of person he really is." “Yeah. That memory of him is what I'll keep fighting for.” The duo went quiet for a while once again, lost in their own thoughts of the sable-haired boy. In that time, Antoshi picked up the sound of soft breathing outside the bedroom door. He curiously sat up. “Mimi?” he called out, quietly. “Is that you?” Fireball also sat up, wondering what was going on. On the other side of the door, Mimi panicked and jumped. She opened the door and nervously laughed. “Sorry about that. I was just listening to see if you two were awake. I was heading for the kitchen to get a glass of water, and wanted to know if you wanted a glass, too.” “No, that's all right. Thank you, though.” Mimi nodded. “Okay, well, goodnight.” She quietly closed the door, shuffling over to the kitchen with a relieved sigh. ‘That was close,’ she thought. ‘I don't want either of them to start getting suspicious about me…’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Later that night, Latoshi was still seated in the same position on the same patch of dirt since morning. He visibly strained, struggled and sweat. He trembled incessantly, rhythmically clenching his fists. His aura flickered weakly, barely able to manifest itself. “I can't … take this … any longer,” he muttered. “I can't sit here. I want to move. I want to leave …” 'You will continue to sit and focus,' Lazarus replied. 'You will not move an inch until I—' “I want to le~ave!!” Latoshi suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs. His black aura exploded to life with so much ferocity that it caused trees in the distance to bend and sway. Some Sentret and a flock of birds that had congregated there for the night fled for their lives. He slammed his fists into the dirt, creating small impact depressions. He jumped to his feet, glaring off into the distance with an incensed expression. He trembled and seethed, panting like an enraged animal. 'What do you think you are doing, Latoshi?!' Lazarus said. 'Sit down! I command it!' Lazarus' demands came with the usual, torturous ringing noise in the boy's head. Latoshi screamed, wringing fistfuls of his hair before he abruptly took off into the air like a bullet toward Goldenrod. He continued screaming and snarling. Lazarus' method of restraint over him no longer had an effect on him. 'What is going on?! Why will you not heel?!' His head felt like it was shrouded in an intense fog. Acting purely on instinct and no longer thinking clearly, Latoshi made his way into city. He descended upon the nearest high-rise building in an abandoned area. He heaved for air, his irises glowing intensely black, dropping to ground level. He stared blankly at the building before him, before he suddenly crashed headlong into it, effortlessly smashing through the tightly locked, glass doors. Once inside, he screamed in rage once again. He darted through the main lobby, punching through each of the support beams as if made of cardboard. He slammed through solid walls, busting up everything in sight, until the structure began to creak with an ominous groan. Floor by floor, the building collapsed in on itself. A cloud of dirt and dust billowed out in all directions. The handfuls of people and cars nearby took note of its collapse and quickly fled in a panic. Some pulled out their phones to capture the inexplicable destruction. With the building fallen to a crumpled mass of concrete and steel, all fell silent for a moment. Latoshi suddenly burst through the rubble, screaming, taking off into the air once more. 'Damn you, Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted, intensifying the ringing noise. 'Listen to me right now! Heed my will!' Latoshi remained unfazed by it. Instead, he landed on the rooftop of another empty building and began punching down on it furiously. It, too, began to rumble and buckle, its supports snapping from the sheer force of Latoshi's strikes. It toppled in on itself, creating another plume of dust and debris, to the shock of the confused onlookers. ‘Damn it!’ Lazarus thought, as Latoshi smashed through the outer wall of another building. ‘This stupid child will not heel from my whistle, and he has become too powerful for me to possess him! He is going to level this whole city block!’ The boy threw his arms around one of the main support beams. With a long, strained shout, he lifted up on it until the entire building split from its foundation. He trembled and growled, holding the twenty floor structure high up over his head like a trophy. The framework couldn't take the lack of support for very long until it also fell to crumbling pieces over his head. Latoshi punched through the debris, launching himself into the air. At that point, police cars started to trickle in with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The thick clouds of smoke made it unsafe for them to get too close. They were forced to get out of their cars and watch from a distance, calling in for reinforcements on an unknown assailant. Latoshi darted around too quickly, not staying in one place long enough for anyone to identify him. 'Damn you, Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted. 'Think! Think, so I can get through to you!' After he stomped through the roof and darted all the way to the ground floor of another building, he grabbed his hair once again. “Where are you now, Antoshi?!” Latoshi screamed, as yet another building caved in around him. “Come out and fight me! Fight me right now!!” Latoshi continued on smashing through an entire city block's worth of buildings — just as Lazarus surmised he would. By then, military and federal vehicles rolled up, and began to coordinate tactical responses. Some of them cordoned off the area, putting up road blocks and signs to keep the public at bay. Standing in the dead center of all the chaos he'd wrought, Latoshi panted heavily. Under the cloud of smoke, he fell to his hands and knees, trembling. It was at that moment when his eyes turned fully black from the energy of Lazarus' spirit. Finally under the restraint of Lazarus' control, Latoshi had enough consciousness to snarl in contempt — aware that he was being possessed again. Lazarus guided the boy's body, flying through the debris, retreating with haste back to his usual resting area. Once back in the eerie silence of his forest clearing, Lazarus relinquished control of the boy's body. Latoshi fell face-first to the ground with a weak groan, promptly falling unconscious. ‘He is gradually losing his sanity,’ Lazarus thought. The boy slept peacefully, covered in dust and dirt. ‘I cannot continue suppressing his memories. His anger towards me, and the ignorance of where to direct his anger after I restrict his memories, has caused him to go mad. He will continue to regress into nothing more than a feral, bloodthirsty beast at this rate. I cannot allow that to happen — not after the progress I have made. I must be careful with the memories he makes from here on out…’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The next morning, Antoshi and Fireball emerged from their room to the sounds of breakfast being cooked. Fireball eagerly went on ahead, out to the kitchen, while Antoshi sat on the edge of his bed for a moment. He could've sworn he felt an odd disturbance in his sleep — markedly similar to the dreams he had of Latoshi. And, yet, he recalled seeing nothing in his dreams. He shook it off, getting himself dressed into his usual red shirt and blue jeans. “Good morning!” Mimi cheerfully greeted the boy from in front of the kitchen range. She was wearing a light blue sleeveless shirt with a large Marill print on the front, and white denim shorts. Fireball was already standing at the marble countertop, waiting eagerly. “I hope the two of you are ready for my 'super-extra-deluxe breakfast'! I named it myself.” "I'm ready for anything with a name like that!" Fireball replied. Antoshi took a seat next to him. A couple of tall glasses of juice had already been set for them. “Whatever it is, it smells amazing. Do you usually cook a lot at home?” “Oh, absolutely! Both of my parents are chefs, so it was only natural that I learned how to cook from them.” Mimi set up three plates with bacon, eggs, hash browns and waffles. She turned to the boys, sliding a couple of plates in front of them. "Wow!" Fireball remarked in amazement. He said nothing further, eagerly digging in with his knife and fork. “Thank you again for this, Mimi,” Antoshi said. “Fireball and I really appreciate how kind you've been to us.” “Ohh, you're very welcome,” she replied, warmly, as she came around to the other side of the island to join them. “You don't have to keep thanking me. Really, I enjoy this!” She sat next to Antoshi with her own plate of food, and the group all started to eat together. Once they finished, Fireball sighed happily while patting his stomach. “Why don't you let me clean up this time?” Antoshi asked. “It's the least I can do to repay you.” “No, that's all right. I'll bet the two of you are eager to get out and train some more.” “Actually, … I think we should get going to Ecruteak City. We don't want to seem selfish, especially when other Trainers might want to come here, too.” His response prompted dual whines of disagreement from both Fireball and Mimi. “Don't leave so soon,” Mimi said, pouting. “You guys can stay here as long as you like — the longer, the better. You can even use the place like a home base.” "Yeah, come on, Antoshi," Fireball chimed in. "Can't we stay at least one more day?" Antoshi nervously rubbed the back of his neck. “I—I dunno…” “Ple~ase?” Mimi and Fireball asked, in unison. “Okay, fine, one more day.” The other two cheered, thankfully. At that moment, the videophone rang. “Oh! That's probably my parents,” Mimi said. “I better get that.” Mimi headed over for the phone, while Antoshi made his way to the bathroom. “I'm gonna brush my teeth really quick before we go,” he said, quietly. Mimi nodded to him before he walked in and shut the door behind him. She picked up the receiver of a phone with a fairly small hologram video screen. Fireball stood by the front door, patiently awaiting his friend to come back. “Hi, Mom!” she said. “… Of course, I'm doing just fine. … No, no, nothing yet. I'll probably be here for a little while longer. … Yeah, I do have some company over! A Trainer and his Pokémon are staying with me for now. … Everything is fine, don't worry about it. Everything's all stocked up. … Yes, Bubbles is doing great. She's, well, you know, in her Poké Ball with guests around. … I will. Love you, Mom.” Just as she hung up, Antoshi emerged from the bathroom. “You have some really great toothpaste,” he remarked. “Ah, yes, Sparkly Fresh. That's my favorite brand!” “I think it just be my favorite now, too,” he said, heading for the front door to put his shoes on. “Well, Fireball, let's get a good training session in.” "I can't wait!" Fireball exclaimed, heading out the door with Antoshi. Mimi sighed in content, heading for the kitchen to bring the plates to the sink. Almost on cue, Bubbles re-emerged from her Poké Ball. “Hey there, you,” Mimi greeted her, grinning. Bubbles smiled warmly, sliding her way into Antoshi's room in order to tidy up. Back outside, Antoshi and Fireball gazed in awe at a loveliness of Ledyba congregating in the open clearing outside the cabin. “Oh, shoot,” Antoshi remarked, quickly turning back around. "What's up?" Fireball asked. “I forgot my wallet.” "Do you really need it? We're just going to train." “Yes, I do need it. I don't want to be accused of being a Pokémon poacher again.” "Ooh, that wasn't a fun time," the Typhlosion remarked, under his breath. Fireball waited in place as Antoshi headed back up the porch. The boy stopped suddenly, his eyes widening with a look of sheer disbelief at what he saw. He slowly walked over to the window on Mimi's right that looked in through the kitchen. The girl hummed to herself as she washed the dishes. Antoshi was bewildered by the sight of Mimi's hands and forearms having turned from flesh into clear water. ‘No,’ he thought. ‘It couldn't be…’ Fireball sighed in frustration. 'What in the heck is he staring at?' Fireball wondered. "Hey, Antoshi! Let's get going!" The blond boy, however, remained frozen in place. Fireball became concerned. "Antoshi? …" He headed over to the house to check on his friend. Before he could, Antoshi recollected himself and burst through the front door with purpose. “Oh!” Mimi exclaimed in surprise. Her arms immediately returned to normal as she turned around. “Wow, that was quick! I didn't expect you to be back so soon!” “Yeah, I'll bet you didn't,” Antoshi replied, cautiously. Mimi looked at him in confusion as he stared back at her with great suspicion. Both Fireball and Bubbles emerged to see what was going on. “What's … wrong?” Mimi asked, laughing nervously. “It was you,” Antoshi replied. “You were the one that followed us through Goldenrod.” The other three gasped in shock. “You're the one … that turned into that puddle of water and disappeared.” "Her?" Fireball remarked in disbelief. "But, how can that be?" “Yeah,” Mimi agreed, becoming visibly uneasy, “that just sounds … totally crazy, right? How—how could I even do something like that?” She glanced over to Bubbles, who hung her head down. Antoshi walked over to the girl, getting up close to her. She trembled, looking into his eyes, fearfully. Being so close to her, he recognized her brown eyes as the same as their stalker in the alleyway. “It is you,” he remarked, taking a few steps back. “But, … why? Why were you following us around?” Mimi remained quiet for a moment, nervously looking over at Fireball. The Typhlosion was just as curious for answers as his friend was. “I … I—I can't answer that.” “What?!” the boy replied, offended. “What do you mean? You stalked us and you can't even give us an answer why?” “Yes. I—I mean, no. I mean, … let's just drop it, okay?” The girl was starting to crumble. She turned her gaze away from him, rubbing her arm. “No way. I'm not dropping this until I get answers from you. You know something about me, don't you? You know something … about my powers?” “No, I—I don't know … anything,” she replied with uncertainty. “You know something about Latoshi, or about Serenity. Are you with them? Are you friends with either of them?” “I'm t-telling you, I don't know what you're talking about.” "Antoshi, maybe you should ease up," Fireball chimed in, quietly. Antoshi held a reassuring hand out to him. “Now I know what you did,” he said, grabbing the girl's attention. “You put that sign up because you knew we'd be coming. Then, you took it down and you got back here before we did. That's why the signs were the same.” Mimi's eyes widened, surprised that he managed to correctly deduce her actions. “You specifically lured us here,” he continued. “I understand you when you said you wanted company, and that it gets lonely out here with just you and Bubbles. What I can't understand is why. Why did you target Fireball and I? You followed us; you picked us for a reason. There's been way too many weird events in my life lately for this to be just some random coincidence. A girl who can turn her body into water is definitely another weird event.” Antoshi walked up to her again and grabbed her shoulders. She jumped in fright. “Tell me why you brought us here. Tell me who you are.” The girl shook her head. “If you don't tell me right now, Fireball and I are going to walk out that door, and we're never going to come back here.” She gasped, looking at him with a deeply hurt expression. “I mean it. Right now, I don't know if I can even trust you. We'll walk out, and we'll never speak to you ever again.” “No,” she whispered, “… please don't do that.” “Then tell me!” Mimi was on the verge of tears. “I can't! It's … it's too soon! I was going to tell you later! Much later, when I … got to know you better. When the time was right!” “I'm so sick of all these secrets and mysteries!” he shouted, shaking her. “Tell me who you are!” “I'm your sister!!” she shouted back at him. Mimi immediately collapsed onto her knees, sobbing, covering her mouth. Antoshi stumbled backwards, grabbing the marble counter as he bumped into it, having the wind knocked out of him. Fireball looked on in shock. Bubbles shut her eyes, also brimming over with tears. “No,” he said, quietly. He reached up and held his head. “No. No, no, no, no. This isn't happening again. This can't be happening again. There's no way I have another sibling I never knew about. You're lying.” “I'm not lying, Antoshi,” she replied, sniffling. “My name isn't … Mimi. … It's Mitoshi.” Antoshi panted, struggling to breathe. Her name echoed continuously in his head. “I'm so sorry, Antoshi,” she continued, trembling as she rose to her feet. “I didn't want … to—to tell you this way. … I'm sorry. I couldn't think of how else to approach you to tell you something so serious. Please, … let me explain everything. I promise it'll all make sense—” “No,” he quickly said, stepping out of the kitchen, away from her. “Don't come near me. I don't know who you are, okay? Just leave me alone!” In an impulsive huff, Antoshi bolted out the front door. “Antoshi, wait!” she called out, rushing to the door. “Please, don't go!” The boy ran off into the woods, without so much as looking back. At the same time, the girl now known as Mitoshi covered her face with both hands as she sobbed, uncontrollably, by the door. "I'll go talk to him," Fireball reassured her as best he could, quickly heading outside to follow after his friend. As the girl cried, Bubbles slid her way over to her. “Bubbles, what have I done?” she asked, hugging her friend tightly around her neck. “I've ruined everything…” The Lapras closed her eyes, letting her own tears fall. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi didn't head very far into the woods before he came to a stop in front of a tree. He panted and trembled heavily, his eyes welling over with tears. He grabbed the tree for support, digging his fingers deep into the bark. The boy slid down onto his knees, turning himself around into a sitting position with his back against the tree. He hugged his knees to his chest, sobbing just the same as Mitoshi did. ‘What if … she turns out the same?’ he thought. ‘I can't go through how I dealt with Latoshi all over again …’ A few moments later, Fireball caught up with him. "Antoshi?" he spoke up, softly. "I'm here, buddy." Antoshi sniffled, rubbing away as much of his tears as he could with his forearm. He looked up at Fireball, eyes red and bloodshot, offering a weak smile. “Thanks, Fireball,” he replied, clearing his throat. Fireball took a seat next to his friend. Antoshi took a minute to just breathe, and think about what to say. “Guess I … overreacted a little back there. It's just that, … my life's done a complete one-eighty since we got to Johto. Once upon a time, I thought the craziest thing in the world was that I … had the ability to talk to you. Now, I can— … I can shoot energy from my hands. I can fly, and I can run way faster than normal people can see. I've had to fight for my life twice. Apparently, I have a twin brother who I never met before, and is being controlled by some evil spirit. Now, … I have a sister, too?! … Not only that, but they both just come out of nowhere and find me! I feel like I'm the target of someone's horrible joke! … I just don't know how much more of this I can deal with. I never asked for any of this. This isn't why I came to Johto. I just wanted to go on an adventure with my best friend, and to be a normal kid. This is like a dream — a terrible, terrible dream that I just want to wake up from. I want to wake up from all of this, Fireball.” "Antoshi, I told you plenty of times that I'm always here for you. I'm always here to support you whenever you need it. I see how hard all of this is on you, but … right now, you have to be strong. You've got to be strong for everyone around you, including me. It's not just you and me anymore. There's more people in our world now: Latoshi, Serenity, … and your sister. Right now, we need the old Antoshi back. The Antoshi that's calm, and smart, and thinks things over. The Antoshi that always comes up with the best decision. The Antoshi that … always gives it his absolute best. Remember that phrase?" “I'm sorry, Fireball. I'm just so scared. All of this stuff is just … piling up more and more and it's—it's so hard to deal with! I've never had to go through anything like this before. I feel like I'm losing myself constantly. Like my life is just falling to pieces.” "That's why I'm here. I'm always looking out for you because you're my best friend. If your life falls to pieces, I'll be right here to help pick them back up. I know what I said before might have sounded a little harsh, but … I think it's what you need to hear. We need you to be strong, because that's when you're at your best." Antoshi sniffled and nodded. He leaned over to share a hug with Fireball. “Fireball, you are my best friend and I love you.” "I love you, too, buddy." “I'm glad that you're here with me,” he said, as they let go of each other. “I don't know … what I'd do if I had to deal with all of this on my own.” "Well, you don't have to worry about that at all. Still, what should we do now?" Antoshi scoffed and grinned. “I guess I have no choice, huh? I have to be strong. I have to confront Mimi— err, Mitoshi, … and get the answers I need.” Fireball nodded, standing up along with his friend. Antoshi sighed, taking a few moments to collect himself before the pair marched back toward the cabin. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “I'm such an idiot, Bubbles,” Mitoshi lamented, as she sat on one of the two shorter couches that faced each other. Bubbles rested on the floor beside her. “I've ruined Antoshi's life.” "Don't say that, Miss Mitoshi," the Lapras replied, quietly. "You had nothing but good intentions." “I knew this was a terrible idea, but … I just had to meet him somehow. I shouldn't have blurted it out like that. … I was just so scared when he started pressuring me.” Just then, the two boys returned — much to the surprise of the pair already inside. “Antoshi?” she uttered, getting to her feet with a hopeful look in her eyes. “It's all right,” he replied, “you don't have to get up.” Mitoshi nodded and sat back down. With a heavy sigh, Antoshi took a seat on the couch across from hers. Fireball sat down next to his friend. “Antoshi,” the girl said, “I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for things to turn out this way. Please don't be angry with me…” “I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. It's just that, you have to understand there's been a lot of crazy stuff happening to me and to Fireball recently. It's really been getting to me. I haven't been eating or sleeping much, and I've been pretty wound up all the time. Because of that, I lashed out at you. Still, it's no excuse. I was wrong to react the way I did.” Mitoshi smiled at him. “Even still, I … do want to talk about this. I'm sure you can guess I have plenty of questions.” “I understand,” she replied with a nod. “First, the most important question on my mind is, … well, how do you know for certain that you're my … sister?” “I only found out around a year ago. One night, I overheard my parents talking and they were … well, they said the craziest things I'd ever heard. They were talking about their 'boys'. My mom said she missed them, and she wondered if they were doing all right, how they looked now, and so on. I thought I was dreaming at first. My parents couldn't have had any 'boys', I was their only child. Well, I … I couldn't stop thinking about it, so the next day I talked to them. I told them what I heard. They seemed a little nervous at first, but they decided to tell me the truth.” “What did they say?” “They told me … that I wasn't their only child. A little over a year before I was born, they said they had two sons — twin boys. They were all ready to welcome them into the world, but, not long before my mom was due, a fire burned down their house. They ended up on hard times. They didn't have the money or even a home to raise two boys anymore, so … they had to give them up for adoption. My mom told me that she'll never forget their hair — one blond and the other had black hair. The real ringer here is what she named the babies before they were given up. She named them 'Antoshi' and 'Latoshi'.” Antoshi hunched over, having the air sucked out of the room yet again. He took a few deep breaths, staring blankly at the glass coffee table. He looked up to the ceiling, to hold back another round of tears. “This is so … unreal,” he remarked, his voice quavering. “You said that she … gave us up? I—I can't believe this. I'm … I'm adopted? I'm— wow.” The others looked on in concern as Antoshi came to terms with what she told him. “My parents never said anything about this. When were they going to tell me? Were they … going to keep it a secret from me forever?” Fireball placed a paw on his friend's shoulder. “No, you're right. I shouldn't be upset with them. … But, how did you even come to find us?” “After I learned about you and Latoshi, all I could think about was the two of you. I kept thinking about how I had two brothers out there, and it filled me with so much excitement. I kept imagining about what my life would be like with two siblings, and I had so many dreams at night about meeting you both. A couple months ago, I had … the strangest dream. I dreamt that I was in someone else's body somehow and everything felt so real. This person screamed and let out this huge burst of energy that just destroyed everything for miles. It was such a huge shock that it rattled me out of my sleep. I felt … so much fear, like somehow I had done something horrible.” Antoshi gawked at her. “That was the same dream that I had. It turned out it was Latoshi. I watched him as he … destroyed Fern Town.” Mitoshi nodded with a sorrowful expression. “I heard about that on the news the next day. I remembered my dream and I couldn't understand why I had seen that. Well anyway, fast-forward to a couple weeks ago and I ended up feeling this strange sensation in my head. It was like I was seeing something: two tiny little lights, red and black, clashing with each other. It was coming from the direction of Goldenrod City. I just knew this had to be it, I knew it was the two of you. I told my parents that I was going to go on a journey to find my brothers. They were pretty confused, and thought I was joking at first, but, when I made it clear I was serious, they were nothing but supportive. They gave me some money, I took Bubbles' Poké Ball and some supplies and I headed for Goldenrod.” “How did you get to Goldenrod?” “By water.” “You mean you were on a boat or something?” “No, I … 'swam' there, sort of. With my water powers, I can shoot through bodies of water like a torpedo — it's really neat.” The boys were awe-struck at what she said. “… Well, I'm getting off point. After I couldn't sense you two anymore, I had no choice but to stay somewhere until I could again. Luckily, our vacation cabin was close enough, so I unpacked my things here. I heard the news reports about attacks on prisons and I just knew it was tied to you both. I disguised myself and started taking trips through Goldenrod at night, which is when the attacks were happening, and then I eventually found you two on the beach.” “… That was when we fought,” Antoshi remarked, his expression quickly turning to dismay. “You … saw that fight?” Mitoshi nodded. “Your presence was so clear to me. I went over and I started watching. I was so excited at first, but the two of you had such horrible looks in your eyes. I watched the fight playing out and … it was terrifying. The power you both had scared me, and it scared me even more to see you both fighting like that. I was so overwhelmed. Then, a girl with brown hair told me to get off the beach, so I walked away far enough that I wouldn't be seen, but came back again to watch the rest of your fight. I was happy that the two of you made it out alive, but … it wasn't anything like what I had imagined you both would be like…” Antoshi sighed heavily. “Well, I guess it's only right that I fill you in on what's been going on with Latoshi and myself.” He proceeded to fill her in on everything he'd experienced since coming to Johto. He included his conversation with Serenity, along with what he learned of Latoshi and Lazarus. Mitoshi was horrified and confused. “An evil … spirit?” she remarked. “So, Latoshi isn't really a bad person, and that icky feeling I felt from him was from this … Lazarus thing?” Antoshi nodded. “Why aren't we helping him? We can go out right now together and go find him. I'll help pummel this evil spirit thing out of him!” Antoshi was taken by surprise at the sudden fire in Mitoshi's gaze. He smiled reassuringly at her. “We can't do that. Serenity told me that only Latoshi can get rid of this spirit inside him. There's nothing we can do to help — physically or emotionally. My guess is if we try to help, it'll only give Lazarus proof to Latoshi that we're trying to oppose him. It'll start another unnecessary fight. Not to mention, he can just take away Latoshi's memories afterward.” Mitoshi's gaze faltered. “What can we do, then?” she asked, her eyes welling with tears. “I don't want him to suffer like this.” “I don't, either. All we can do is to have patience. You've never met Latoshi, but … I have faith. I've seen the good in him before. He is a good person, and he has heart.” Antoshi turned to Fireball, both of them grinning at each other. Mitoshi let out a trembling sigh. She nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Well, … I guess that's everything, then.” “Yeah,” Antoshi replied, sighing. “Now that we're all on the same page,” Mitoshi said, “where do we do from here?” “We take things one day at a time,” Antoshi said with a smile. “I think Fireball wouldn't object to staying here for a while.” Fireball nodded in agreement, enthusiastically. The two youngsters laughed. "You really are a good person, Mimi— sorry, I mean Mitoshi," Fireball said. "I think that you and Antoshi are a lot alike; kind of like brother and sister!" Antoshi sighed and rolled his eyes while Mitoshi laughed again. “Fireball is right, though,” the boy added. “You are a kind person, and we would be glad to stay here if you'll have us.” Mitoshi could barely contain her excitement as she got up, walked over, and grabbed Antoshi's hand in hers. She grinned from ear to ear, her eyes sparkling in jubilation. “Nothing would make me happier,” she replied. “I've waited so long for this moment!” Their two Pokémon smiled at each other before looking back at the scene. “Well,” Antoshi said, as he got up, “I think Fireball and I will take that training session now. I'm sure it'll do us some good to get a little fresh air after that long conversation.” “I'll be right here when you get back,” she happily responded, stepping back. “Come on, Fireball,” he said, leading his friend back outside once again. Mitoshi sighed in relief, watching them head off. “That ended up way better than I was fearing,” she said to Bubbles. “I understand now that Antoshi still has a lot to deal with, and I want to be there every step of the way to help.” "I'm happy things turned out this way," Bubbles said, quietly. "I know how important this was for you." “Well, we're only halfway there. One brother down, one brother to go. … I really hope this situation with Latoshi gets better. I've never met him, but I'm still scared for his safety.” Bubbles nodded, before taking her leave to resume tidying up Antoshi's room. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ "That was a lot to take in," Fireball said. "With everything she said, I think you handled yourself really well there, Antoshi." “As well as I could. It's not every day that you find out you're … adopted. I'm going to have to talk about this with my parents soon, but I'm not sure when or even how to bring it up. … For now, let's just focus on training.” "Gotcha." With that, the two best friends headed into the woods together for some late morning exercise.
  10. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — Part 4: Family Reunion — ⁂ ⁂ Only a day passed after Antoshi's second, vicious fight with Latoshi. A doorman held the door open for them, as the blond-haired boy, and his best friend, exited the front door of the hotel they'd been staying at for the past two weeks. Antoshi quietly thanked the man, who tipped his hat, and headed back inside. Under the warmth of the midmorning sun and the cheerful, blue sky, the duo finally checked out, ready to move on. If nothing else, they wanted to get back to continuing as much of their carefree exploration of Johto as they could. A decision was made to save Goldenrod Gym as their final challenge, so that they would be able to head back home on the Magnet Train afterward. In the aftermath of the brutal encounter, Antoshi was still fatigued — physically and mentally. The duo had taken an entire day of rest to recuperate. The boy wore a fresh change of the same red t-shirt and blue jeans he'd worn before, along with his backpack. Despite the severity of the injuries Antoshi received, his body had been healing at an astounding rate so far. He still showed some scars of battle, however. His face and blond hair were no longer bloodied, his scratches and bruises were nearly gone, his posture remained tall and straight — not favoring any part of his body. Faint burn marks remained on his arms and around his eyes. Even though his physical injuries had almost fully healed, the internal scars from the battle left him dejected. Fireball showed deep concern for his friend, who hadn't spoken at all since the conflict's conclusion. Antoshi had come to the realization of what Latoshi had to endure, and digested that knowledge over the past twenty-four hours. He was being controlled, manipulated, and lied to by the parasitic spirit Lazarus. It had been blocking Latoshi's memories, forcing the boy to believe what it told him, and to obey its commands without question. All along, Antoshi had firmly believed that Latoshi was the mastermind of his own doing. It pained him to think that Latoshi was being treated like a slave, to a force none of them could even see. The regret and sorrow that Antoshi carried was exacerbated by Serenity's warning that Antoshi could not help Latoshi at all. Latoshi had to deal with Lazarus on his own. That did not sit well with him. Neither did the image of Latoshi's eyes, full of sorrow, looking to him as if pleading for help before Lazarus forced Latoshi to leave. The duo briefly stopped by the library, in order for Antoshi to drop off the book he'd checked out days prior. After that, they proceeded to make their way northward to Goldenrod's city limits. The morning sky behind the skyscrapers was wonderfully picturesque. Towering pillars of clouds were illuminated by the pinkish hue of the rising sun. Happy tourists stopped on the street nearby to get a group photo with a Dragonite statue sitting in front of a store. A couple of small children laughed as they chased after a rogue Drifloon. None of the cheerfulness around him helped to perk up Antoshi's dreary demeanor. “What was the point?” Antoshi finally muttered, catching Fireball off-guard. "… What do you mean?" Fireball replied, quietly. After everything they'd gone through since coming to Johto, he kept his voice low in the hopes of keeping his friend from becoming any more upset. Antoshi bit his lip. “Why did I even bother … trying to learn how to fight? It was useless.” "But, that's not true at all. You became way stronger and confident in your abilities. You know how to defend yourself so much better now." “I can't do anything for Latoshi,” he said, as the children and the Drifloon passed by them again. “I can't help him. I can't share his burden. … My brother's burden.” Fireball was shocked by the remark. "Your …" he trailed off. “Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I've never said it before. I never wanted to say it, or admit it. … You know, at this point, I don't even care if he's not my brother. Considering what we've been through already, he might as well be. I keep having this sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about that moment before he flew off. The way he looked at me, … it was like he was family all along. I just can't explain it.” "It's okay, Antoshi — you don't have to. I'm your family, too." The boy sighed, shakily, on the verge of tears as he momentarily glanced up to smile at his friend. “I know you are, Fireball. What Serenity said, about how Latoshi doesn't have anyone to confide in like I do, it only makes me appreciate what I have even more.” Fireball placed a reassuring paw on Antoshi's shoulder. "He's strong," Fireball said, prompting a curious gaze from the boy. "Latoshi is strong. Obviously, I don't know him very much, but even when he was kicking our butts, he did it with everything he had. He has heart, just like you do. I think it's safe to put faith in him and believe he'll kick that creepy spirit's butt very soon." “You're right, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, wiping a tear from his eye. “I should have faith in him. I'm sorry for putting you through so much lately. It's been really hard for me ever since I started using these powers. Since coming to Johto, I found out I have … a brother whom I've never known before, who then beats us up. Then, I thought I just had to defeat Latoshi and we'd be able to move on and live happily ever after. Now, everything is so much more complicated. … I'm not sure how many more of these twists and turns I can take.” "At least we'll take 'em together." Antoshi stopped, suddenly, heaving a sigh before he embraced his best friend. Fireball was initially taken aback, but hugged him as well. It helped to ease some of the dull pain in Antoshi's chest. The Typhlosion's larger than average stature ended up acting as a blockage in the middle of the sidewalk. Neither of them cared about the accessibility of the passersby and their Pokémon that had to walk around, as they were too busy sharing a moment confiding in each other. The blond-haired boy had achieved enormous strength and was capable of phenomenal feats. He had become stronger and faster than Latoshi — who had completely devastated him the first time they clashed. Fireball knew him as a strong leader that planned his moves, kept a level head under pressure, and always came up with a solution to any problem. Yet, he was still just a 13-year-old kid. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ At the southwestern edge of Goldenrod, in his usual clearing in the woods, Latoshi sat, gazing up at the morning sky. He, too, had also changed into new clothing. His eyes were glazed over, a weak grin spread across his lips, seemingly lost in a daze. He felt something off inside of him, something he couldn't explain. It was almost like a tickle in his chest. He gave a soft chuckle, which gradually shifted into a loud guffaw, as though he'd heard an exceptional joke. He continued laughing, holding his forehead, unable to stop himself. 'Latoshi!' Lazarus shouted. Latoshi gasped, loudly, bringing his laughing to an abrupt end. He groaned and shook his head, rubbing his temples. “Yeah, I'm-I'm awake,” he replied. 'Good. I see that your injuries are healing as quickly as expected.' Latoshi stretched his arms up high, suddenly uttering a grunt of pain as he held his ribs. “Mostly,” he said, sighing. “That bastard Antoshi got me good. Damn good. How did he get so strong?” 'He is not stronger than you, Latoshi. He is merely faster and he appeared to have formulated a better strategy. That boy is much more clever than I would have expected. However, there is one thing you need to be aware of: Antoshi, either consciously or not, has managed to tap into the energy of his emotions. It happened after you threatened his family again. Because of that, Antoshi has grown substantially more powerful. It is for that reason that you, too, must learn to harness the power of emotion.' “Well, how do I do that? I already feel like I have a ton of pent-up rage inside me, so I'm ready.” 'Very good. I already taught you the basics back in that prison cell. Now, we progress further. Close your eyes, and focus yourself like you do with your meditation.' Latoshi folded his legs, heaving a sigh, doing as Lazarus instructed. 'Now, visualize your enemy. Visualize the moments when he struck you down — when he dared to lay a hand upon you. Feel the anger and rage that seethes through your heart and permeates your spirit. You must hold fast to that emotion. You must truly believe in it with all of your being. Your emotion gives you strength. Your anger is your power.' Latoshi focused for a few minutes. He clenched his teeth, straining, ultimately finding himself struggling to concentrate. “I can't seem to focus like you're telling me to. I can't grasp my rage. It's like … water that I'm trying to squeeze in my hands; it's all over the place.” 'That aggression inside you stems from your loss to Antoshi. It should be directed toward him. Harness it; weaponize it.' Latoshi's aura turbulently flickered around while he strained and seethed. He balled his fists, hunching his back. His output of Ki refused to rise. Eventually, his aura dissipated altogether. “I can't do it,” the sable-haired boy remarked, sighing. His forehead glistened with sweat. “It's too difficult. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.” 'If it is too difficult for you right now, then you will work at it. I already gave you your instructions, now you must apply them. You are not to move from this spot until you get it right. You will not eat, drink, rest, or relieve yourself. You will stay in this position on this very patch of dirt until you achieve results. Is that understood?' Latoshi was shocked. “But, I can't—” His remarks were swiftly interrupted by Lazarus' torturous method of punishment. A deafening, high-pitched tone caused Latoshi to cover his ears and crumple over, while shouting in agony. 'Is that understood?' Lazarus asked, over the terrible noise. “Yes!” the boy cried out. Latoshi gasped as the sound came to an abrupt end. He panted, sitting up straight once again. 'I hate to do that to you, Latoshi, but you require focus. You need direction. Listen to me, and I will never lead you astray.' Latoshi closed his eyes, scowling bitterly, resuming his mental training. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ By the afternoon, Antoshi and Fireball headed across one of the many streets of the increasingly busy metropolis. Fireball smelled food nearby, so the duo stopped at a hot dog cart to grab a quick meal. Antoshi smiled, getting his with his favorite: just ketchup on top. Fireball insisted on having everything on it, causing the vendor to engage in some serious stacking skills. The duo went on their way, eating their food as they walked. Unsurprisingly, Fireball made a mess all over his claws and fur. It was one of the simpler things that Antoshi had missed on their journeys. Not long after, they were finally nearing the last few miles before reaching the city limits. Goldenrod would soon be behind them. Antoshi had a rather stern expression, however, brought on by a suspicious vibe he was feeling. "So, what do we do about battling other Trainers?" Fireball asked. Antoshi glanced over at his friend with a reassuring smile. “I know how much battling means to you, Fireball. Considering how our last Trainer battle went, I'm really not ready to try again for a little while. Let's just take it easy, until this whole situation cools down.” "Of course I do love battling, but I don't want to anything that you don't. If you want to take it easy for a while, then there's no complaints here." He cleaned off some dried relish on his chest before he grinned to his friend. Fireball immediately became concerned upon realizing Antoshi had a rather serious look on his face. "Is everything okay?" “I guess you haven't noticed,” Antoshi replied, leaving Fireball befuddled. "Noticed what?" “… We're being followed,” he said, quietly, narrowing his eyes. Fireball was surprised, turning his head to peer back. “Don't look. It's someone in some weird clothing that completely covers themselves. I don't know what they want, but I'm not okay with being stalked. Not after everything we've dealt with lately.” It was the very same stranger that had watched Antoshi and Latoshi's fight along the beach. They strolled along at the same pace behind them, still wearing the same long trench coat, large fedora, and sunglasses. In the bright daytime, their ensemble was fairly conspicuous. The clothing was starkly different compared to how almost everyone else on the street was dressed for the summer weather. Whoever they were caught a number of curious glances and murmurs along the way. Fireball kept his gaze forward with the same serious expression as his friend. "You think it's … someone from Team Rocket again?" “No idea. I know it's not Latoshi, though. I definitely would've sensed his energy if he was this close.” 'Antoshi's senses have gotten really sharp,' Fireball thought, surprised. 'I never would've noticed that person following us around like that. I don't know if it's from how much stronger he's gotten or … how much more on edge he's been lately.' “Let's head down this next alleyway,” Antoshi said, casually pointing to it. Fireball nodded. The duo abruptly changed direction, turning down the gap between two businesses. Their mysterious stalker gasped, stopping at the entrance of the alley. They appeared nervous, looking around for a moment. After a brief pause, they ultimately followed on through, not far behind the pair. The stalker slowed their pursuit as the alleyway became darker, quieter, and more eerie the further they went in. After turning a corner within adjacent alleyways, Antoshi and Fireball had somehow vanished. The person stepped quietly, looking around for the duo. When the stranger passed by a recessed wall, Antoshi leapt out at them. The mystery person cried out in shock, as Antoshi dragged and shoved them against the far wall. The impact caused the person's sunglasses and hat to shift slightly. He kept his forearm across their collarbone, trapping them in place. The larger Fireball emerged from the shadows behind Antoshi, curiously staring at their suspicious stalker. “Who are you?” Antoshi asked. “Why are you following us?!” He eased off a bit upon seeing their wide, terrified, brown eyes staring back at him. “Tell me!” The stalker suddenly shoved him away as hard as they could. While Antoshi reeled, the stalker bolted further down the alley. Antoshi grumbled, as he and Fireball quickly gave chase. “Stop!” Antoshi called out. “I'm not going to harm you! Just tell me why you're following us!” Instead of running back out onto the streets, their stalker made a sharp turn down another nearby alleyway. Antoshi and Fireball turned to follow, finding their mystery person staring down a dead end a short distance away. The stalker panted, fearfully, hands scouring the dark wall for any kind of escape route. The stranger turned around to face the duo as they stood at the mouth of the alley. “Listen — we just want to talk, okay? Fireball here isn't going to let you go until you explain yourself.” Fireball smirked, pressing his claws up against both walls of the alley to act as a blockade. “Don't try to shove him, too, 'cause he's a lot heavier than I am.” The stranger panted and trembled in fear, as Antoshi slowly advanced toward them. Just then, the stranger caught a glimpse of a slow dripping faucet on the wall near them. The running water trickled into a small storm drain. The stalker quietly gasped in surprise. Antoshi stopped as the stranger suddenly peeled away from the wall. They turned on the faucet, letting the water rush out. Antoshi and Fireball watched, curiously, as the person knelt down, letting the water flow over their hands. “I don't think splashing water at us is … going to help you here,” Antoshi remarked in confusion. The person just chuckled in an oddly, raspy tone, as though they were trying to disguise their voice. Antoshi and Fireball both gasped in shock. The water from the faucet inexplicably bonded and flowed into the stranger's body. Their entire frame became as translucent as the water itself — including their clothes. The stalker gave the duo one last glance, before their body melted down into a large puddle of water and flowed into the storm drain. Their stalker was gone. Antoshi and Fireball stared in stunned silence for a few moments. "What … in the world … just happened?" Fireball finally spoke up. Antoshi walked over and pulled the small storm drain lid off to look inside. There was nothing but water, grime, and darkness. “I have no idea,” Antoshi replied, replacing the lid, “but, this is definitely one of those 'twists and turns' I said I wasn't looking forward to.” With a heavy sigh, Antoshi made his way out of the alley. Fireball followed alongside him. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A few hours later, as the sun was starting to get low, the duo reached their next checkpoint. After being in Goldenrod much longer than expected, Antoshi finally had his Trainer Card scanned by the guard at the gate between Goldenrod and Route 35. The process updated his current location, which would also send an alert to his parents' tracking device. The guard was as friendly as any he'd met in Kanto, sending the pair on their way with a farewell. Exiting out from the automatic doors, into the pristine canopy of the large, wooded route, they both took a deep breath. Handfuls of passersby came and went past them while they took a short time to soak in their new surroundings. "It's been so long since we've camped in the wilderness," Fireball remarked. "It's almost like our home away from home." “You say that about every place we stay,” Antoshi replied, with a smirk. Their mirthful mood was short-lived, however. "I can't stop thinking about that weird … water … person," Fireball said, as they resumed their trek. Antoshi sighed heavily. “Same here. I don't know what's going on anymore. I don't know if I should be concerned about this person or not. Although …” "Although what?" Fireball asked, as the boy kept him in suspense. “… I know it sounds weird, but, just when I tackled them in the alley, I—I dunno. I got the sense that they were peaceful somehow. They didn't want a confrontation with me. It's the same sense I got when we first met Serenity.” "Maybe it wasn't a person. Maybe it was a Pokémon." Antoshi's head cocked back in surprise. “That's … actually a possibility. There's no way a person could just transform into water like that.” "I bet we'll get answers out of them, eventually. They found us before, they'll find us again." “Maybe so,” Antoshi replied. He abruptly stopped, and took a look around. “Well, I suppose we should start looking for a nice spot to camp out.” Just then, the pair heard a sudden rustling in the bushes along the side of the road. Fireball and Antoshi immediately turned their attention to its source. "What was that?" Fireball asked, as the duo curiously walked up to a tree where the sound came from. “Maybe it was just a Pokémon we scared off.” Antoshi found a hastily written cardboard sign taped to the tree that read, 'Free Food and Shelter for Pokemon Trainers!', with an arrow pointing further into the woods. "What's that say?" Fireball asked. “A place with free food and shelter for Pokémon Trainers,” Antoshi replied, musing. "Free food?" Fireball grinned in elation. "What are we waiting for?" Antoshi hummed in thought. “I'm a little worried about staying in houses in the woods.” A look a dread suddenly came over Fireball's face. "Oh. You mean … the ghost house." “I do mean the ghost house. We were both lucky to get out of there without having our souls ripped out of our bodies.” Fireball shuddered in disgust. "I'll never trust another Ghost Pokémon ever again. … But, hey, what are the chances there are two houses like that? Don't forget, that was back in Kanto. Plus, you're a super-strong fighter now who can kick butt." Antoshi sighed in defeat before nodding. “All right, we'll check the place out. But, if it even feels like the place is haunted, we're sleeping by a campfire.” "Good call. Free food isn't worth my soul. … Most of the time." The duo headed into the woods, following a hastily beaten path through the trees. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ It wasn't long before they neared their destination. However, Fireball suddenly screamed in horror. Antoshi turned to his friend, panicked. “What is it, Fireball?!” he asked with eyes wide. "Spider!!" he squealed, frantically tearing away a spider web from his face. "There's spiders! I walked into a spider web and now they're all over me! I'm gonna die, Antoshi! I feel them crawling! They're gonna get me!" Antoshi watched, quietly, as Fireball ran in circles, swatting at his face with his forepaws. The boy tried his best not to laugh. He walked over, grabbing the Typhlosion by his shoulders to bring him to a halt. “Stand still,” he said, quietly. “Let me see.” Fireball whimpered and trembled while Antoshi preened the webbing away from his friend's fur. "I hate spiders," Fireball whispered. "I hate spiders, I hate spiders …" “You're all right, Fireball. There's no spiders on you. You must've ran into one of their vacation homes or something.” Fireball sighed in relief. “Feel better?” Fireball nodded to him, expressing his embarrassment. Antoshi chuckled, patting his friend on the back as they continued on their way. The pair soon came across a quaint, wooded cabin within a large forest clearing. They crossed a properly beaten dirt road for vehicles that led out into the woods. As they neared the one-story cabin, there was another cardboard sign, identical to the first, taped to a wooden beam on the front porch. "This is really nice," Fireball remarked, as they walked up the porch steps. "Doesn't look haunted so far." Antoshi chuckled as he knocked on the wooden front door's segmented, frosted glass pane. “Hello?” he called out, trying to look through the glass for signs of life. “Anyone home? We saw your sign along the pathway.” The door opened, and the two were greeted by a younger girl, just a bit shorter than Antoshi. She wore a long-sleeved, white shirt, and a pleated, dark blue skirt. Her long, bright, electric blue hair draped down past her midriff. “Welcome, Trainers!” she exclaimed. “Ohh, just one Trainer this time, huh?” “Yep. My name is Antoshi, and this is my best friend, Fireball.” Fireball waved to her. “He's so well-mannered!” she remarked. “But, which one of you was I talking to — right?” She laughed, boisterously, waving for them to come inside. “Come on in. I was just about to make supper. I'll bet the two of you are starving!” “Fireball here is always starving,” Antoshi said with a smirk. The girl laughed, heading into the modern style kitchen, her bare feet shuffling across the glossy, maple wood floor. Antoshi set his backpack and his shoes near the front door. The inside of the cabin was warm, cozy and clean. The space before them flowed as one, large, open area. The walls were paneled with oak. Bright lights in the vaulted white ceiling overhead illuminated the large living area to their left, and in the ceiling of the kitchen to their right. The left wall seated a couple of tall, four-pane windows, spread apart from each other. On the far wall from them were two open doors which appeared to be bedrooms, a hallway directly facing where they stood, and a third door along a wall to the right of the hallway. The cool, circulated air smelled of pine. “Well, my name is Mimi, and I'll be your chef this evening,” she joked. “Please, sit.” Antoshi and Fireball looked at each other with a grin. They took a seat on two of the four pewter gray bar stools, set in front of the kitchen island's white marble countertop. As the stool strained under Fireball's weight, both of them gazed at it in concern. He hopped down, opting to stand instead, as he was more than tall enough to reach over the counter. “Thank you very much, Mimi,” Antoshi said. “Both of us appreciate it. If there's anything we can do to repay you, we'll be more than happy to.” Mimi filled a pot with water from the sink and placed it on the nearby gas range. “No payment is necessary,” she replied. “It gets a bit lonely out here, so the company of nice guests like you two is the only payment I need.” She turned a knob to get the water heated before reaching into a nearby pantry. Antoshi took a look around while Mimi dropped some pasta into the boiling water. “This is a really nice house. I've always wanted to live someplace like this — a quiet, little home surrounded by nature. I really like the peace and quiet of nature compared to the hustle and bustle of the city. Is this place yours?” “Err, well, yes and no,” she replied, stirring the pasta. “This is a vacation home my parents rent in the winter.” “Wow. Your parents let you stay here all alone? How old are you — if you don't mind me asking?” “They sure do! They trust me more than I trust myself, honestly. I'm eleven, since you asked. I'll be twelve in a few months!” The group heard a shuffling noise nearby. They turned to see a Pokémon slowly sliding out of the far-left bedroom. It was a Lapras, who was being careful not to let the shell on its back touch the door frame. In its fin, it held a feather duster. “Whoa!” Antoshi remarked, awe-struck, getting to his feet. “I've seen tons of Pokémon, but never a Lapras. They're so rare!” Mimi laughed. “That's my company all the way out here, and my best friend. Say 'hello' to Bubbles.” “Hello there, Bubbles,” Antoshi said, grinning as he waved. The Lapras smiled coyly and turned away, sliding itself into another room nearby. “She's a little shy,” Mimi said. “It takes her a while to trust new people.” Antoshi took a seat once again. “Oh, I see. I know a thing or two about being shy.” Mimi chuckled. A few minutes later, she slid a couple of plates full of spaghetti with red sauce in front of the two boys. “I hope you two enjoy it,” she said. “Wow, looks great!” Antoshi remarked, picking up his fork. Mimi sat down on a stool next to Antoshi. Fireball wriggled his claws in anticipation. The Typhlosion picked up his own fork to begin eating along with the other two. Mimi looked over at him and laughed. “You taught Fireball table manners?” she asked. “Yeah. He's been a part of our family forever. Whenever we eat at home he sits at the table with us, so my parents and I taught him.” “That's really cool. I bet you have just about a million stories to tell about your life.” “Fireball and I have been through some pretty crazy adventures, … especially lately.” “Why? What's happened lately?” Antoshi sighed. “A lot of complicated … drama and nonsense. It's nothing worth talking about. It's just been a really wild ride since we got to Johto over a couple weeks ago.” “Where were you before that?” “Before that, Fireball and I traveled from our home in Saffron City and went all around Kanto. We beat all eight Gyms there and then competed at the Indigo Plateau.” She gasped in astonishment. “Really?! Did you win?” Antoshi laughed. “No, unfortunately. We managed to make it past the qualifying bracket, but we lost in the first round of the actual tournament. Still, top one hundred twenty-eight out of all the Trainers in Kanto is pretty nice. We had some amazing moments to go along with it, too.” Fireball smiled and nodded in agreement. The Typhlosion eagerly went back to twirling more pasta around his fork. “What about you, Mimi? Where do you come from?” “Well, when I'm not here, I'm at home with my parents in a little neighborhood north of Olivine City.” “Olivine City? I've always wanted to see what it looks like there.” “You should definitely go sometime! You can meet my parents, too — they're super nice.” The two young people chatted away about anything that came to mind while they ate together. They continued to sit together and talk after finishing their food. Mimi laughed, playfully nudging Antoshi's shoulder with her own. “You are so funny!” she remarked. At that moment, Bubbles emerged from the room she had been in. "All of the bedrooms are cleaned now," the Lapras said, quietly. Antoshi froze in shock upon hearing it speak. He was at a loss as to why. “Thank you, Bubbles,” Mimi said, smiling to her friend. “Would you like to spend some time with our guests?” "Oh, … no, thank you. I think I'll return to my Poké Ball for the night." “All right. Goodnight, Bubbles.” Bubbles nodded. She turned her attention to a Poké Ball being held in the cradling hands of a small statue on a nearby table. Pressing her nose against it, her body was reduced to a mass of red light that was pulled inside the confines of the ball. Mimi sighed in content, turning to her guests with a smile. She noticed the stunned expression on both Antoshi and Fireball's faces. “What's up?” she asked, curiously. “Did you … just talk to your Pokémon?” “Oh, … yeah, I did. I know, a lot of people think it's weird or impossible, but Bubbles and I have been able to communicate since we met. I … hope you don't think I'm crazy,” she added, nervously. “No, I don't,” Antoshi replied, much to her relief. “Actually, to tell you the truth, I can talk with Fireball, too. Isn't that right?” He smiled and turned to his friend. "That is right!" Fireball replied. "We have the best conversations together." This time, it was Mimi's turn to be stricken with shock. “Wait, I—I just heard Fireball speak.” Both of them looked at her in disbelief. “He said … you have the best conversations together. That's … so cool! I've never been able to hear any other Pokémon besides Bubbles speak.” The duo looked at each other in awe. “Well, now that you mention it,” Antoshi said. “I … may have heard Bubbles talk when she said she was finished cleaning the rooms.” “This is unreal!” Mimi exclaimed, joyful, surprising the duo. “Fireball, what's your favorite, … um, ice cream?” Fireball's eyes lit up. "Ice cream? I love all kinds of ice cream! My favorite is 'chocolate banana brunch crunch.'" “Ohh, that's a good one. I've had that before!” Antoshi grinned in amazement, watching the two of them converse back and forth. His expression suddenly turned to thoughtful curiosity, as he recalled a very similar conversation play out with a certain sable-haired young man. “Well, I'm gonna get these dishes cleaned up,” Mimi said, hopping down from her stool to collect their plates and silverware. “Are you sure?” Antoshi asked. “We'd be fine cleaning up for you.” “It's fine!” Mimi reassured him. “I'm just gonna put them in the dishwasher anyway. It makes the funniest noises, like brr-brr-brr and bum-bum!” she added, laughing. The pair smiled in amusement. “Well, in that case, Fireball and I are gonna go outside and get a little exercise.” “Oh, that's fine. Whenever you come back, we can have dessert and chat some more!” “That sounds good! See you in a bit!” Fireball followed his friend to the front door, where Antoshi slipped his shoes back on. Mimi waved to them as they headed out the door together. Outside, Antoshi and Fireball walked out into the forest clearing. "You want to train some more, don't you?" Fireball asked. Antoshi laughed. “You know me well, Fireball. I'm feeling better after that great dinner.” "Yep," he replied, casually brushing his snout, "I'm pretty smart when it comes to my best bud. So, are we training you or training me?" “How about … a little of both?” Fireball gasped in surprise. "I'm definitely ready to get a good workout in. Man, that Mimi sure is nice, huh? She's already the best host we've ever stayed with." “She sure is,” he replied, distantly, briefly lost in thought. “… Well, anyway, let's get to it.” "Watch out, wild Pokémon! Here I come!" ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Back inside the house, Bubbles re-emerged from her Poké Ball. Despite being contained within, she remained consciously aware of what was happening around her. She slid along the floor, making her way over to her friend. Mimi greeted her with a smile. The two of them looked out the kitchen window, watching the boys head into the woods. "So, … that's him?" Bubbles asked, softly. “That is him,” Mimi replied, sighing happily. “I can't believe how nervous I was! I barely kept it together when he first showed up.” "Did you … take down the sign?" Mimi giggled. “I sure did. They didn't even realize the sign on the house was the same one that was on the tree.” "Are you going to tell him why you brought him here?" “Not yet, Bubbles. … I just have to wait for the right time.”
  11. Chapter 19 Just as the blast was about to hit them, Antoshi appeared to intercept it. He swatted the dark energy away, sending it flying off and exploding harmlessly in the air. Serenity was pleasantly surprised at his speed. Fireball slowly opened his eyes, curious as to what happened. He gasped in shock, seeing his friend standing tall before them. Latoshi was fuming with rage. ‘He seriously closed the gap between him and his friends before my shot hit them!?’ “My friends are not a weakness, Latoshi!” Antoshi said. “They're my strength!” Latoshi huffed, incensed by the remark. “Oh, you sound like such a walking cliche, you little boy scout!” His eyes widened as Antoshi marched toward him, calmly. The sheer amount of pressure Antoshi's energy was giving off, and the sense of righteous fury that came with it, was overwhelming. It was a level of power he simply could not match. Latoshi's spirit was already beaten back. “You threatened my life,” Antoshi said, his voice returned to normal and filled with confidence, “the lives of my friends and those of my family. You tried to kill Fireball. You tried to kill me. Now, you're going to have to face the consequences.” Trembling, Latoshi scoffed in amusement. “Consequences?” he replied. “I'd love to see what kind of c—!” Before he could even finish, Antoshi shot toward him and punched his cheek. At the point of impact, however, a tiny ember of Latoshi's black aura curiously manifested itself inside Antoshi's aura. "Wow," Fireball remarked, awe-struck. "Antoshi's fast." Serenity's brow flexed slightly, showing a minute amount of concern. Antoshi yelled in rage as he gave Latoshi the same barrage of punches as he'd received earlier — multiplied tenfold. Thousands of punches rattled the sable-haired boy around like a rag doll. ‘What the hell is happening?’ Latoshi thought, fading in and out of consciousness. ‘He shouldn't … be … this strong!’ Antoshi struck Latoshi hard enough to spike him into the ground. Latoshi shouted in agony, as an eruption of sand billowed up around him, leaving him in a crater. The crater was further exacerbated when Antoshi flew into the air and fired off a hail of energy blasts at him. ‘This pain,’ Latoshi thought, the energy burning at his flesh, tearing at his clothes, ‘how could I be in so much pain? …’ Antoshi's offensive came to a sudden halt. He landed on his feet, catching his breath for a moment. Having gotten to their feet again, Fireball and Serenity surveyed the aftermath. Fireball's previous wounds had been completely healed. 'Is … he dead?' Fireball wondered, concerned. Latoshi coughed, weakly propping himself up with his forearms. Antoshi walked up to him, reached down, and grabbed him by the throat. The sable-haired boy struggled and choked, kicking and swinging at him. A few hits landed, but they were in vain. Firmly on a whole new level of power, Latoshi's strikes no longer did any damage to him. Antoshi gave him a deathly serious glare. “You were right, Latoshi,” he said. “It really is nice to see your enemy in such a pathetic state. Now, I get to end your corrupt ways for good.” Latoshi spat at him. Antoshi responded by punching him in the face hard enough to send him a short distance away. He marched after him to continue his offense. Fireball looked on, incredulous. 'I can't believe it,' he thought. 'Antoshi, my best friend. All this time you've had this inside of you. This power, this skill, … this rage. I've never seen you like this before…' ‘This is Lazarus' doing,’ Serenity thought, biting her lip. ‘Its evil influence is starting to corrupt Antoshi as well. I can only pray Antoshi realizes that before it's too late.’ Latoshi grunted in frustration, shaking, trying to will himself to get up once more. As he looked at Antoshi stalking him again, he abruptly recalled memories of the two of them and Fireball taking a stroll around Goldenrod City together. ‘What … the hell are these memories that keep popping up?’ he thought. ‘Are they from … before I was in that prison? No, … they're more recent than that. But, why do I know when they happened?’ 'You stupid child!' Lazarus shouted at him. 'Focus! Harness your anger! Unleash the rage that burns inside of you!' “I … I can't,” Latoshi whispered in response. 'Worthless little weakling! I have to do everything for you!' As Antoshi neared, he charged up a blast of energy into the palm of his hand. Before he could strike, however, he was suddenly overcome by a wave of rotten, dark spirit pressure that stumbled him back — just like what he had done to Latoshi earlier. Antoshi and the others watched curiously as Latoshi got to his feet, hanging his head down. He stretched his arms out, rotating and cracking his joints as though he'd awaken from a long slumber. He inhaled deeply, tilting his head back to the sky, letting out a long, hissing exhale. The boy came off as unnaturally relaxed and spry for someone who'd just taken a violent beating. “Now I am the one in control,” Latoshi said. Lazarus' voice had audibly fused with the boy's. Their voices were combined as he chuckled, staring Antoshi down. His eyes were fully consumed by the dark energy of the parasitic spirit within him. “Just what is that supposed to mean?” Antoshi responded, flatly, with an apathetic expression. “I found it interesting that you would say you are going to finish me,” he said, calmly, “when you have not seen the extent of my power yet.” Antoshi and the others quickly picked up on Lazarus' method of speaking, and how it differed from Latoshi's. Yet, Antoshi trilled his lips, fully consumed in his own hubris. “I've seen the 'extent' of your power, and how you never shut up about how great you are. You won't beat me this time, Latoshi. I can still outwit you, no matter what you try.” Suddenly, Latoshi was in front of him, throwing a punch that ended up being just barely blocked by Antoshi's hands. The impact caused a brief, but noticeable, shock wave. Latoshi grinned at him, his eyelids hanging low. Antoshi grunted, holding Latoshi at bay, as the sable-haired boy continued to press his fist into him with great force. He was baffled by his adversary's sudden boost in speed. “It appears you were not expecting that,” Latoshi remarked. “Your body defended out of sheer instinct. So much for being able to outwit me.” Antoshi's hands glowed red as he summoned his energy to his hands again. Latoshi cooed in surprise, smirking, as he responded in kind. They fired their attacks simultaneously. Their dueling Ki exploded, leaving a cloud of smoke, staggering Antoshi back. Latoshi burst through the smoke, rearing a fist back. Antoshi went to counterattack, but stopped abruptly. His eyes went wide, sensing his opponent's energy elsewhere. He instead jumped high, avoiding a straight kick by Latoshi from behind. The initial image of Latoshi's body swiftly faded away. Although believing he was out of harm's way, Antoshi was suddenly caught by a punch to the cheek from above. ‘How?!’ Antoshi thought, mid-strike. ‘Out of nowhere, he's become faster than I can follow!’ Antoshi impacted and rolled uncontrollably across the sand, his body getting covered in it. Latoshi flew after him, while Antoshi regained control of his momentum. He bounced up on his hands, springing high into the air, narrowly avoiding a hard punch from Latoshi. The sable-haired boy's strike hit the ground, the impact knocking up a burst of sand. Latoshi continued to follow him, while moving so fast it was as though he were disappearing and reappearing. The same, twisted grin remained omnipresent on the sable-haired boy's face. ‘He's not going to attack from the front,’ Antoshi thought, panting heavily, keeping his attention away from Latoshi's position. ‘He's using his speed again to—’ Much to Antoshi's shock, however, Latoshi did strike him from the front. While Antoshi was dazed and reeling, Latoshi grabbed the collar of his shirt. He spun Antoshi around, violently, before sending him crashing hard into the sand again. Latoshi kept on him, giving the blond-haired boy no quarter. He appeared before Antoshi, landing slow, yet powerful, punches to Antoshi's face. Each thunderous strike caused sand to billow in all directions. He cackled wildly, as Antoshi cried out in pain. “It does not look like you are outwitting me at the moment,” Latoshi remarked. “You seem to be too busy thinking over your strategy. Nevertheless, I have faith that you will come up with something good eventually!” ‘What's happened?’ Antoshi thought, his face being bloodied. ‘It's like his whole personality and his fighting style completely changed. I … can't read his movements the same as I did before!’ ‘Lazarus has shown itself,’ Serenity thought, clenching a trembling fist. ‘It's managed to absorb enough energy to manifest itself, taking control of Latoshi's body. With its host's body, it's gained the upper hand against Antoshi. Latoshi wasn't strong enough before to allow Lazarus to possess him. Lazarus must have really pushed Latoshi to his limits in order to store up this much Ki in such a short amount of time.’ Latoshi pulled Antoshi's exhausted body up, by his shirt collar once again. Antoshi grunted, weakly, scowling at his grinning adversary. “How sad,” he remarked. “You almost had me. You had all the tools and all the power to do it, but, you still could not finish the job when you had the chance — just like Latoshi. I will admit, your sudden bursts of power had me worried for a while. Regardless, it would appear I made the right choice when I chose Latoshi as my vessel.” He broke out into a cackling laugh. Antoshi strained, trying to wrap his head around what Latoshi just said. With a shout, Latoshi suddenly flung him into the air. “Now then, I think I shall use Latoshi's new trick to its full effectiveness. What was it called again? Ah, yes. Shooting Stars!” He shouted again, creating the same mass of Ki orbs from his aura. Laughing wildly, he took aim at Antoshi while bringing his hands forward. Diminished, and unable to dodge like before, Antoshi screamed as the orbs exploded violently on contact with him. The ones that didn't make direct contact ended up bursting around him, adding to the damage with powerful shock waves. His protective aura flickered, weakly, leaving him vulnerable to the attacks. The dark energy burned him and tore at his clothes, which quickly became tattered like Latoshi's. His adversary continued laughing, watching as Antoshi fell along the shoreline. "Antoshi, no!!" Fireball exclaimed. Latoshi turned his head, grinning proudly at Fireball. The Typhlosion bared his teeth, trembling, forcing himself to remain on the sidelines after what happened last time he tried to get involved. Latoshi's attention shifted to Serenity. A bitter expression suddenly came across his face, before he looked away. ‘Yes, I'm well aware that you remember me, Lazarus,’ Serenity thought. Antoshi strained, weakly lifting himself onto his hands and knees. His body was terribly bloodied. He coughed up some of the wet sand that was also stuck to his face. “Ah, so there is still some life in you,” Latoshi said. “Well, not for much longer. I think I shall stomp out those last, pesky, flickering embers now.” He leapt high, aiming at Antoshi's head with the heel of his shoe as he came back down. “Quite literally!” he added. Without looking, Antoshi suddenly caught his adversary's foot. Everyone else was left stunned. He looked up at Latoshi, glaring menacingly. “I may be down,” Antoshi said, his trembling hand glowing bright red, “but I sure as hell am not out!” Latoshi jerked his foot away in a panic, just before Antoshi fired off his Ki. The energy blast zipped past, within inches of his face, and spiraled harmlessly into the air. ‘What the hell?’ Lazarus thought. ‘That attack had undeniable vigor behind it. How? Why … can he not just give up and die?!’ The two opponents ascended into the air again. They were nearing their limits; sweating profusely, breathing hard, their shirts torn and tattered. Yet, they fought on, going after each other with a barrage of kicks and punches that was shockingly reminiscent of earlier on. 'This is crazy!' Fireball thought. 'The two of them are … going at it just like before! It's like they hit the 'reset' button on their fight!' ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ At that moment, Latoshi awoke with a gasp, as though he'd been starved for air. He found himself floating in an endless void of darkness, helplessly drifting. His whole body felt paralyzed, unable to move. ‘Where am I?’ he thought. ‘My head feels like … there's a huge cloud around it. I can't think clearly. I can't … keep myself … awake. Am I dreaming? Am I … dead?’ Before him, he stared at the images of the ongoing fight with Antoshi through his own eyes, as if they were television screens in the distance. They were the same eyes that were currently under Lazarus' control. ‘I'm … fighting? I can feel my arms and legs burning — my Ki is surging! But, … I'm just here in the middle of nowhere. What is going on? Who is … controlling my body?’ He thought it over for a moment, blankly staring at the fight. ‘La— … zarus? Is … Lazarus controlling me? How can that be?’ Latoshi's consciousness began to stir. ‘No. I don't want … to be controlled. Lazarus can't control me. Give me back my body, Lazarus. Give back my body!’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi's body abruptly seized up. He grunted with effort, struggling to move. ‘Damn!’ Lazarus thought. ‘The boy is starting to regain consciousness. I have burned through too much of this child's energy already! I cannot hope to fight and keep Latoshi's spirit restrained at the same time! I'm not ready to go back yet! Damn it all!!’ Antoshi studied him, curiously, for a moment before taking advantage. He struck the restrained Latoshi with a hard shot to the face, propelling him backward. Latoshi continued to struggle, while falling rapidly. “I am not done with you!” Latoshi screamed. “Oh, you're done, all right!” Antoshi replied, following him to the ground. Latoshi found enough strength in time to land on his feet. He gasped, suddenly finding himself face-to-face with his opponent. Antoshi immediately laid into him with another blistering barrage of punches to his head, arms, and torso. Latoshi was thrashed around helplessly from the relentless assault, blood gushing from his mouth. Despite the beating, Latoshi grinned, weakly. ‘Very well, then,’ Lazarus thought. ‘If that is the case, then my protégé can endure this pain in my stead. After all, I have a new apprentice who is about ready to join me…’ Latoshi gasped again, his eyes suddenly returning to normal. The boy was in full control of his body once more, regaining consciousness in the midst of Antoshi's brutal assault. ‘What—what the hell is going on?!’ Latoshi thought, panicked, as he was beaten, relentlessly. Fireball and Serenity looked on with concern. 'That's enough, Antoshi,' Fireball thought. 'He's finished! Please stop!' Antoshi knocked him upward before spinning around and kicking his sternum hard. Latoshi groaned, sliding to a long halt on his shoulder blades before coming to a rest, sprawled out on the ground. Their fight was finally over. Fireball and Serenity followed at a distance, while Antoshi stalked his fallen foe. The blond-haired boy had an intense look in his glowing eyes. He grabbed Latoshi by the neck, lifting his limp body up high enough to face him. Latoshi's eyes opened, slowly. “All that bragging,” Antoshi remarked. “All that confidence, all that cockiness — it looks like you left it scattered along the beach. What a shame, huh? What do you have to say now?” Latoshi offered no words, only pained groans, and shallow breaths. Antoshi scowled in rage. 'Yes~,' the hiss of Lazarus' voice suddenly became clear to Antoshi. 'You have defeated your nemesis. Bathe in the glory of victory. Revel in your newfound power and might. He will never be able to best you, Antoshi.' “I am better than you,” he said to Latoshi, in response to Lazarus' remarks. His irises began to darken, shifting from their trademark red into a lusterless black. “There's no doubt now. You are insignificant to me.” 'What has he ever done for you? Caused you pain?' “You put me through so much pain since we met, Latoshi.” 'Misery?' “I'll never forget the misery you caused Fireball and I.” 'Torture?' “I've been living in torture, fearing the moment I had to see your face again.” 'Threats against your family, your loved ones.' “Threatening everyone I hold dear to me is inexcusable.” 'You have the power to make it all stop.' He aimed an open hand at Latoshi's head. “The time has come for you to pay for everything you've done, Latoshi. I've been waiting for this moment: the moment I can finally put an end to this horror.” Antoshi's flickering aura slowly became corrupted with the blackness of Lazarus' spirit. Tendrils of black energy seeped their way into Antoshi's spirit, the parasite beginning to take its hold over him. “I'll make you pay, Latoshi. I'll make you eat all your arrogant words. You're the pathetic one now … and you will never hurt me ever again!” He charged an amount of burning Ki into his hand that was much larger than any of his previous attacks. “I'm going to make sure of it. …” Serenity looked on, with a serious gaze. ‘Antoshi,’ she thought. ‘this moment is going to define the kind of person you are for the rest of your life…’ 'Very good,' Lazarus continued. 'Hold on to that anger. Let it ignite your spirit. You hate Latoshi — you want him to stop. All you have to do is burn him away to ashes. Free me from this weakling, Antoshi. You are so much stronger than he is. And you can still be so much more. …' "Antoshi, no!" Fireball shouted, fearfully. "Don't do it! Please!" Antoshi gasped, turning his attention to his best friend. “Fire … ball?” he uttered, lost in a trance. He saw Serenity standing by Fireball. Her earlier plea suddenly replayed in his mind. ‘Promise me that you'll help Latoshi. He desperately needs help, and I believe that you're the only person who can. Would you be willing to do that?’ ‘But … how?’ he recalled asking her. ‘How can I help him?’ ‘I know you'll find the best solution if you look into your heart. … When the time comes — act.’ He turned to Latoshi once again, whose eyes were welled up with tears. The sorrow and fear in his eyes were utterly apparent. “I'm … sor— … sorry …” the sable-haired boy spoke in a raspy voice. Antoshi was horrified with himself. He immediately let go of Latoshi, rescinding the energy in his hand back into his aura. Latoshi stumbled back, on trembling legs. Tears fell from Antoshi's eyes as the two boys stared at each other in shock. He panted, fearfully, looking down at his bloodied hands. ‘What … have I done?’ Antoshi thought. ‘I almost … I almost killed him! I'm not like this, I … I shouldn't be this way. This isn't what I promised Serenity. I was supposed to help him, not to …’ As Antoshi snapped out of his vengeful trance, regaining conscious thought, his eyes returned to normal. The fragments of Lazarus' spirit that had infested his aura slowly burned away. He fell to his knees, trembling and sniffling. Despite his own injuries, Latoshi gazed upon him with concern. “An—Antoshi,” he spoke, grabbing the mournful boy's attention. “I … I really am—” Latoshi's remarks were interrupted when he grabbed his head, shouting in agony. Lazarus' ear-splitting ringing noise had returned to punish him. The others looked on in confusion, as Latoshi stumbled back. 'Leave now!' Lazarus commanded. 'There is nothing more for you here! Leave!!' Latoshi immediately did as he was told. He took off into the night sky, while continuing to hold his head and groan in pain. “Latoshi!!” Antoshi shouted after him. Serenity appeared beside him, grabbing his shoulder in the instant the boy attempted to follow. “Stop,” she said. “There's nothing more you can do now.” Fireball was stunned. He looked to his side, realizing Serenity had dashed over there faster than he could think. He jogged over to the two. Antoshi's shoulders slumped over. He gazed at the ground, defeated. “… I heard him,” he remarked. “Lazarus?” Serenity asked. Antoshi nodded. “His voice was so clear to me, like he was inside my head, … just like Latoshi told me. It was such a … hypnotic and soothing voice. He was telling me everything I wanted to hear, feeding all of my negative feelings.” Antoshi looked to the sky, where Latoshi had fled to. “I finally understand now. I understand what Latoshi is going through. I know … how he truly feels. I saw everything in his eyes for just that brief moment. He's been pleading for help this entire time. The honesty in his eyes … it reminded me of his eyes when we first met. That short time we spent that morning when we were actually happy together.” Serenity smiled, letting her hand fall away. “… I almost killed him, Serenity. Lazarus' influence was so powerful that I didn't feel any different at all. I just felt all of my anger boiling over. I … forgot about the promise I made to you. I … I almost did something that I would have regretted for the rest of my life.” “It's all right,” Serenity reassured him. “That's what Lazarus does. It amplifies your emotions and makes it impossible for you to think clearly. It's exactly what Latoshi's had to deal with all this time. For you, hearing Fireball's voice broke through that barrier and you came to your senses. Latoshi doesn't have anyone like that to help him.” “We have to save him,” Antoshi said, his aura flaring back to life. “I have to go find him. I—I have to make this right. I have to help him.” “You've done all you can,” she told him. He looked at her in confusion, his aura receding. “You defeated him in battle, you made him reveal his true emotions. After this, he'll certainly make him question how effective Lazarus truly is. You planted the seed of doubt in him, and so your job is done. Now, it's on Latoshi to take the next step. He has to deal with on his own from here on out. Only he can remove Lazarus' influence. It has to be his decision. The problem is, Lazarus has the ability to block the memories of its host, which keeps its host loyal.” Antoshi was left stunned for a moment, his eyes going wide. “So, … that's why he seemed so different when I first spoke to him earlier. Lazarus is keeping his memories from him. … That's why Latoshi doesn't remember anything about his past!” Serenity nodded, gently. “Now you understand the method to Lazarus' influence.” “All this time, … I've been so angry and so bitter towards him. I thought he was the one I should focus my hatred at. I never knew what he was enduring. Every word of anguish he's spoken about other people — how evil human hearts can be, how cruel people are, … he meant every bit of it because of how hurt he's been all along. I can't believe I … didn't figure that out myself until now.” He turned to Serenity, his eyes full of regret. “You were right, Serenity. He does need my help, more than I ever realized.” Serenity closed her eyes, nodding to him again. Antoshi stood in reflection for a moment. Afterward, he sighed heavily, closed his eyes, and began sulking away. Fireball and Serenity looked on in bewilderment. "You still won, Antoshi!" Fireball said. "You saved who knows how many peoples' lives from that evil creep controlling Latoshi." “That was no victory, Fireball,” Antoshi replied, dismayed. “Not this time. … Not when my heart feels this empty.” “Antoshi, wait,” Serenity spoke up. “Let me use my powers. I can heal you again in no time.” “No, Serenity,” he replied. “I think, this time, I should suffer through the pain, … so that I don't let this happen ever again.” Fireball and Serenity looked at each other in concern. Her expression quickly shifted to a thankful smile. “Thank you for your help, Fireball,” she said, squeezing his paw, gently. “I hope, someday soon, the three of us can get together again under calmer circumstances. Take care of him, okay?” Fireball nodded to her with enthusiasm, before quickly following after his friend. Serenity looked toward in the sky for a few moments, lost in thought. She eventually took her leave, walking further down the beach. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi landed in his usual clearing outside the forest, immediately collapsing to the ground face-first. He panted, groaning and straining, weakly. “Why?” he whispered, between ragged breaths. “Why did you … force me to leave?” 'You do not question my decisions,' Lazarus said, 'you follow them.' “You—you took over my body. You took … took control of me.” 'That is because I am the master and you are my marionette! You dance when I pull your strings!' “You said I was 'stupid' … and 'worthless',” he added, his eyes welling with tears. “After I've done everything you asked without question, … no matter how much I hated doing it. I'm sick of all of this. I don't want to do it anymore. I don't … want you in my life…” Lazarus laughed in amusement. 'You do not have the strength to eject me from your spirit, Latoshi! I own you!' Latoshi gasped, panting fearfully. 'Do you think that I am going to sit back and let you defy me, child? Do you think that I am going to let you keep these memories of your rebellion against me?!' “My … memories?” he mused, quickly becoming terrified. “No, you can't … you wouldn't take away my memories! You can't! You …” Latoshi lay completely still and silent for a few moments, staring blankly. 'Now, tell me who it is that you seek to destroy.' “… Antoshi,” he replied, in an almost robotic tone. 'And who is it that you owe your life and all of your energy to?' “… Lazarus. I owe it all to … to Lazarus.” 'Very good. Tomorrow you will find new clothing, and then you will resume your training while you heal your injuries. This is only a minor setback for us. Together, we will emerge triumphant — no matter how long it takes to get it right.' Latoshi's lips curled into a slight smirk. He closed his eyes, his voice weary. “Yes, Lazarus. … Whatever you … say.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ In the dead of night, Antoshi and Fireball spent hours walking back to their hotel room. They were incredibly quiet and incredibly exhausted. Fireball showed constant concern for his best friend. Neither of them complained about the length of their trek, how tired or hungry they were, or how long it took. They merely put one foot in front of the other, and kept on moving. By the time they'd reached their hotel, it was almost morning. The mysterious figure in the trench coat appeared, emerging from the shadows across the street. Having followed them all the way from the beach, the unknown party silently watched them, as they finally went into the hotel to retire. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — End of Part 3 — ⁂ ⁂ Serenity
  12. Chapter 18 While Fireball continued to look off in the direction that Antoshi had gone, Serenity unexpectedly appeared beside him. “Hello again, Fireball,” she said, warmly. Fireball jumped in surprise, looking at her in disbelief. 'Whoa,' he thought, 'where the heck did she come from?' Serenity gazed off into the distance. “Looks like the two of them are getting ready to square off again. It's hard to see anything from here, though. Would you like to move somewhere else to watch?” Fireball nodded with enthusiasm. Serenity smiled and held out a hand to him. “In that case, grab on.” Fireball hesitantly placed a claw in her hand. She took hold of him, and the two slowly ascended together. The larger Typhlosion flailed momentarily in a panic while she guided him through the air. 'She can fly too?!' he thought. Serenity brought him up to the roof of a nearby building. They were in a direct line of sight of where the two boys faced off. “I think is much better, don't you?” she asked. Fireball nodded to her, his eyes wide with surprise. She gently laughed in response. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “So,” Latoshi continued, “I can see you're not here to take me up on the offer I left you. You're not going to score any bonus points trying to look tough in front of me or your Typhlosion pet. Where is he, anyway? Trying to get the jump on me or something? … Come on out, Fireball!” Latoshi looked around with a smirk. “He's not here,” Antoshi replied, bringing Latoshi's focus back to him. “I'm giving you the chance to make peace. Latoshi, I promise that I'll accept you as my brother, as long as you agree to stop this insanity.” Latoshi was thoroughly surprised. “Wait, you'd … actually do that?” ‘I wonder what it would've been like,’ Latoshi suddenly recalled his thoughts from over a week ago, ‘if I … had actually gotten to know Antoshi instead of fighting him. Maybe the two of us could be talking about Pokémon stuff right now. That would be pretty normal. Kind of like … a family.’ Latoshi looked away. ‘What was that? Is Antoshi messing with my head with some new power? Or was that a m— a memory? …’ The sable-haired boy shook it off, turning to his rival with a bitter glare. “Tell me, Latoshi, what are we fighting for? We've got to end this war!” Latoshi scoffed. “Don't start thinking that sentimental crap will work. It might work on your pet, but, not on me.” “I already know about Lazarus,” Antoshi said. Latoshi tilted his head curiously. “I know that Lazarus is controlling you. He's manipulating you. This isn't who you really are. Fight against it, Latoshi! Listen to me, and get Lazarus' influence out of your head!” “Oh, man, whoa!” Latoshi replied, sarcastically, pretending to stumble around. “You—you got me, Antoshi! I—I can feel myself coming back to normal! You saved me! Oh, you saved me!” Latoshi made a bursting motion with his hands next to his head, and an exploding noise with his mouth. Antoshi scowled, unimpressed, while Latoshi laughed at him. “Gee, you sure have everything neatly figured out, huh?” he asked, amused. “But, there you go, again, trying to be the moral authority, thinking you know what's best for me. What kind of epiphany did you have to figure me out so perfectly?” “I have a new ally now. She told me all about Lazarus and who—err, what it is.” Latoshi scoffed. “Some girl? You're following the words of someone you don't even know? Someone you can't even trust?” “You mean like you and Lazarus?” Antoshi shot back. Latoshi was surprised at first that Antoshi would reply so impertinently. He narrowed his eyes, coldly. “You dare speak down about Lazarus? If not for him, I would still be locked up in that damn prison cell! He's done a hell of a lot more for me than you have, Mr. High and Mighty! Lazarus taught me everything I needed to know to earn my freedom — and, here I stand now, on the cusp of greatness.” “You don't look all that great,” Antoshi replied, “especially not with some voice telling you what to do, rather than thinking for yourself.” “Shut your mouth!” Latoshi shouted, vengefully, his irises flashing black. “I will kill you where you stand, Antoshi! Don't test me!” “You couldn't go through with it last time, Latoshi. You had too much remorse, and you spared me. What I've been saying all along is getting through to you, so, I know you won't do it this time, either.” Latoshi narrowed his eyes in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about? I didn't have remorse for you. I left you with one last chance to think things over and join me. Looks like you blew it.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Something is wrong,” Serenity said, shaking her head. “I witnessed their fight. Latoshi showed genuine concern in the moment just before he was about to kill Antoshi. He most certainly would've remembered that, and yet he doesn't. That means Lazarus is suppressing his memories.” Fireball looked at her with shock. 'Suppressing his memories? It can do that? Man, Serenity really does know a lot about Lazarus. … But, how the heck can she even hear what they're saying from all the way up here?' ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “I know you want to end this, Latoshi,” Antoshi said, “and I still want to help you. Helping you regain your memories and finding your family — I'm still willing to do that. I know it's what you want, too.” Latoshi furrowed his brow and looked away. ‘What is he talking about? Help me find my family? Why don't I remember him saying that? …’ 'Antoshi is just trying to distract you!' Lazarus shouted, startling the boy. 'Do not take your eyes off of him! He has your guard lowered and will go on the attack!' Latoshi panicked, taking a battle stance as his aura flared to life. He fired a blast of energy at Antoshi, in response to Lazarus' presumption. The blond-haired boy swiftly avoided it with a tall leap. The subsequent explosion caused a crater in the sand. Antoshi landed on his feet. He looked back at the aftermath before looking at Latoshi, taken aback. The sable-haired boy was still unnerved for a moment; staring, wild-eyed, at his adversary. He exhaled slowly, stood up straight, quickly regaining his cool. “Nice try,” Latoshi said, uttering a soft chuckle. “I see what you're doing, and it's not going to work.” “The only thing I'm trying to do is avoid another fight,” Antoshi replied. “I'm still willing to find a peaceful resolution, just like before. I don't want to fight you, Latoshi. I never wanted to fight you.” “And, just as I made it clear last time, you're not going to change my mind — no matter what you say.” Antoshi hung his head and sighed, before giving a nod of understanding. “At least tell me … why? Why would you would be so cold as to kill all those people?” “As if their pathetic lives even mattered. I'm ascending to godhood where I belong. They're just insects that have to be crushed along the way.” “Insects?! You killed hundreds of people, Latoshi! Innocent people who had nothing to do with you or your 'ascension'.” “'Innocent?' Well, that's just silly. They were all parasites and criminals. But, there you go again, trying to fill my head with lies that—” “I'm not lying to you, I—” “With lies that only serve to impede my glory. I see past you, Antoshi. My eyes are open. My path is clear. The only voice I listen to is that of Lazarus.” “It all comes back to Lazarus again, huh? You just believe what he says without question.” “I do.” “You think that Lazarus isn't taking advantage of you? You think that Lazarus isn't leading you astray?” “Of course. Lazarus doesn't lie — certainly not to me.” Antoshi scoffed in disbelief. “It's incredible how blind you are. The truth is right in front of you and you can't even see it. You refuse to see it.” “I don't care what your version of the 'truth' is, Antoshi.” “I don't know what's happened to you, Latoshi, … but I know this is where your campaign ends. You have no remorse for anything you've said or anything you've done. Consider this an intervention. I'm going to stop you from walking down this path.” Latoshi laughed, hysterically. “That was a good one. Still, think about this for a minute, Antoshi. Just consider what it is you're trying to stop.” Antoshi tilted his head, eying him warily. “I'm offering a world free of violence and evil, where no one preys on the weak. Peace and harmony for everyone. You're the one standing in the way of this just cause. Yet, you refuse to back down and then call me the 'blind' one?” “Like you said, we already had this conversation before,” Antoshi replied. “This isn't the way to go about your ideals. There are so many better options that don't involve senseless killing. You could use your powers to do so much good for people. That is something I would gladly work with you on.” Latoshi scoffed again. “Do you really think all those horrible people are worth saving?” “Yes. I do.” “What a shame. Still as naive as you were before. People never change, Antoshi — you're proof of that. Your idea is a waste of time.” “Then that's where we disagree,” Antoshi said. He limbered up his legs, taking a battle stance, keeping one fist in front, the other fist at his side. “This time around, I'm not afraid to stake my life on stopping you. I'm also not afraid to end you.” “End me?” Latoshi replied with a laugh. “You're trying to be threatening now? You really don't scare anyone, Antoshi — certainly not me. You're too much of a bleeding heart; a boy scout. You care too much, you cry too much. You don't have what it takes to get rid of me. You look like a harmless child in your little fighting pose there. Oh, and, need I remind you? The last time we fought, I left you in a pool of your own blood. You can't beat me, Antoshi. You never will.” “Shut it,” Antoshi snapped. Latoshi grinned in amusement. The two boys flared their auras out — an initial display of their power. Neither one was impressed or intimidated by what they saw from their opponent. The boys had naught but the pale light of the full moon to illuminate the dark beach. It was more than enough light, as both of them were fully capable of sensing each other's energy. The staredown between them lasted for a few moments, witnessed intently by Fireball and Serenity on the rooftop, as well as the mysterious, trench coat-clad person. “You have no idea what you're getting yourself into, Antoshi. You have no idea how powerful I really am.” “The same goes for you, Latoshi. You have gotten stronger, Latoshi — I can tell. But, so have I.” Latoshi swiftly flew at his rival. Antoshi shielded himself with his arms crossed over his face, while Latoshi punched at him, laughing wildly. Their eyes shone brightly with their respective colors. Antoshi grunted as he was pushed back with each hit. The scenario was not unlike how Antoshi trained his defense with Fireball ‘His strikes are so intense,’ Antoshi thought, ‘even after all that training Fireball and I did. I have to do my best to keep away from him, if I want to gain the upper hand.’ Latoshi suddenly darted behind him, catching him off-guard. Latoshi kicked his counterpart's back with intense force, sending Antoshi diving into the sand, a short distance away. “Well, that was disappointing,” Latoshi remarked, standing tall. “I thought you were supposed to be 'stronger' now.” Antoshi climbed back to his feet, slowly. He took a moment to brush the sand off his clothes. He recomposed himself, looking at his foe with a confident smile. He wanted to make it clear to Latoshi that this fight was only just getting started. “I sure hope you weren't holding back just now,” he said, “because that wasn't very impressive.” Latoshi was befuddled. ‘That hit had enough force that would've instantly ended our last fight,’ he thought. ‘I guess he has gotten a bit tougher.’ 'Do not dwell on it,' Lazarus said, 'and do not let up! Keep the pressure on him — now!' Latoshi gave a shout, going on the offensive once again. Antoshi's eyes glowed brighter, opting not to defend, but to evade. He continuously hopped backward, weaving back and forth to keep just out of reach of Latoshi's swift, powerful punches. Latoshi clenched his teeth, snarling furiously, as he put more effort in his attempts to land a single blow. Antoshi's eyes remained wide, carefully studying Latoshi's attack pattern. ‘Watch him,’ he thought. ‘Focus, stay calm, watch his movements. That's how you'll beat him.’ ‘What the hell?!’ Latoshi thought. ‘Why can't I hit him?! There's no way he should be able to keep up with me after all that insane training I went through!’ Latoshi held his hands out in front of him, summoning his energy forth. He aimed for a moment, before firing a blast of energy. Antoshi gave a shout, launching his own energy blast to cancel it out. The colliding red and black energies exploded, creating a brief cloud of smoke. Using said smoke as a diversion, Latoshi managed to dart behind his rival. “Remember this one?!” Latoshi shouted. He threw a punch into the small of Antoshi's back. His fist, unexpectedly, went through nothing more than a blurred image of Antoshi's body, making no contact. Latoshi was stunned. 'Behind you!' Lazarus shouted. Before Latoshi could react, Antoshi countered with a strike of his own to Latoshi's spine. The sable-haired boy groaned in pain, hunched over while holding his back. “Yeah, I do remember,” Antoshi replied, acrimoniously. Latoshi seethed in rage. He grabbed handfuls of sand before slamming a fist into the ground. He was being made a fool of, even after the gains to his power and skill. “Damn it!” he shouted. Latoshi leapt back to his feet, turning to Antoshi with a bitter scowl. “This isn't some game, Latoshi,” Antoshi said, “and I am not your pawn.” Latoshi spat on the ground. “You're never going to convince me to back down and see things your way. This whole stupid, naive ideal you have of 'everyone deserves to live' makes me want to retch. You have no idea who I am, or what I'm capable of!” Latoshi took aim at his foe with open palms once again. He shouted, angrily, firing off a multitude of energy blasts, forcing Antoshi to leap high to evade. The explosions kicked up sand dangerously close to the mysterious onlooker, who gasped and turned away, shielding their face with both arms. When the sand settled, the onlooker, Latoshi, Serenity, and Fireball all gawked at Antoshi. Instead of landing, the boy remained stationary in the air. He glared down at Latoshi, his red aura flickering wildly. 'Antoshi is … flying?' Fireball thought, awe-struck and grinning. 'He hasn't done that since he saved me from Team Rocket. … Awesome! I finally get to see him flying!' “So you can fly,” Latoshi remarked, ascending slowly into the air to match Antoshi's altitude. “But, are you as swift in the air as you are on your feet?” “Why don't you find out?” Latoshi sneered for a brief moment, before seemingly disappearing. Antoshi's eyes narrowed, glowing bright, following Latoshi's movements as he moved so fast, it was as if he blinked around through the air. Latoshi laughed, his voice coming from all directions. Antoshi's gaze snapped upward, throwing a jab that connected with Latoshi's own punch. They were both surprised, finding their fists in a deadlock. The two boys threw rapid-fire punches at each other, connecting one after the other with near-perfect precision. Fists striking fists, they both gave a long cry as their auras flared out and their strikes became more intense. The shock waves from their attacks caused the sand below them to kick up. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “Do you see that?” Serenity said to Fireball. “Their skills become more obvious the longer this goes on. Latoshi has been struggling to land a blow, but, when he does, the impact is much more intense than when Antoshi strikes. That means Antoshi is faster, but Latoshi is stronger. Speed versus power — it's an interesting dynamic. Both of them came prepared, and I think their unique skills put them on equal footing. This is going to be much harder to call than their previous fight.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi's spirit burned with vengeance. His attacks became much faster, managing to slip a punch through every so often that struck his rival's face and chest. Unlike before, Antoshi was now aware of how to weave his Ki into his strikes — thanks, in part, to Latoshi's previous gloating over his own ability to do so. It caused Antoshi's strikes to have immense impact as compared to before. The burning Ki seared at Latoshi's flesh, tearing away at the very essence of his black Ki, gradually wearing the sable-haired boy down in a way that Antoshi could not do in their previous showdown. Latoshi roared, incensed, suddenly grabbing Antoshi's fists. Antoshi was stunned, taken aback by the overwhelming grip strength keeping him in place. As they struggled for control, their shimmering eyes glared at each other. Their respective red and black auras clashed with each other; vying for dominance, while sending flares of colored energy outward. Latoshi pulled him closer, suddenly ramming a knee into Antoshi's stomach. The blond-haired boy's eyes went wide, groaning as the wind was knocked out of him. Latoshi laughed, releasing him, kicking his adversary's chest hard enough to send him plummeting toward the ground with a large impact. Antoshi coughed as he sat up. He held his abdomen, staring up at Latoshi, who hovered high above him with a proud smirk on his face. ‘Okay, so, testing his strength was definitely a bad idea,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I really do have to avoid his grabs and strikes as much as I can.’ In an instant, Antoshi was airborne once again. He weaved around in random patterns around Latoshi, using his superior speed to misdirect the sable-haired boy, and find openings to strike at his unguarded areas. Latoshi struggled to block or deflect. The scene was similar to their first fight, only in midair. ‘He's like an annoying gnat!’ Latoshi thought, before he also opted to fly around in a likewise pattern. The two boys clashed each time they got close, trading quick jabs and blocks. To the spectators, their auras appeared as red and black streaks darting around in the night sky. 'Enough fooling around!' Lazarus spoke. 'Use the upper limits of your strength and put this fight to an end!' “He's not worth that much effort!” Latoshi replied. Antoshi narrowed his eyes, realizing his rival was conversing with Lazarus. 'Do not be a stupid child!' Lazarus snapped, surprising the boy. 'I am your master, and you will follow my orders! Is that clear?!' Latoshi's concentration was broken upon suddenly remembering the first time Lazarus yelled at him. ‘This is my life!’ he recalled himself saying. ‘You aren't going to tell me what to do forever! I'm the one with limitless, ultimate power — remember?’ Latoshi stared blankly, bewildered by a memory he was unfamiliar with. 'Pay attention, you buffoon!' Lazarus shouted at him. Latoshi gasped, shielding himself with one arm, just before an energy blast collided with him. The subsequent explosion pushed him back, slightly. He growled in frustration, glancing at the noticeable burn mark left on his arm. He turned a cutting glare to Antoshi, before flying into him. The two began another deadlock of punches and kicks, using their superhuman speed to avoid the other's strikes. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ “For someone who's been opposed to fighting,” Serenity remarked, “Antoshi certainly has a natural talent for it. They both do.” Just then, she noticed a couple of young people strolling across the beach together with a Pokémon. They were unknowingly headed in the direction of the fight. Her gaze suddenly shifted to the other side of the beach, where another small group of kids were also making their way in the same direction. “That's not good,” Serenity remarked. “Antoshi must have told you to stay behind, didn't he?” Fireball nodded in response. “Well, it seems there are some innocent bystanders down there.” Fireball looked along the beach in shock. “This stretch of the beach is supposed to be closed to the public after sunset. I guess they didn't get the memo, … or, they don't care. They're going to be hurt, or worse, if they get too close. But, I think there is a way you and I can help Antoshi during his fight. …” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi and Latoshi struggled for dominance once again. Their hands were clasped together in another test of strength. They scowled at each other, trying to push each other back. Their auras burned against each other, sending off more flares of energy. However, Antoshi found himself once again on the losing end of the duel. ‘I should really stop getting lured into these situations,’ he thought. He gave a long shout, amplifying his aura severalfold, and increasing the output of his Ki to the point where they remained deadlocked. His eyes abruptly widened in surprise, sensing something peculiar. ‘Fireball?’ he thought. ‘Serenity, too? Why are they both getting closer? And why can I sense them getting closer? … No, it's not just them. There are … some other people around. People visiting the beach. I can't even see them, but I know they're there. That's crazy. I'm totally aware of everything around us, while still focusing on the fight.’ Antoshi strained with effort as Latoshi clamped down on his hands. ‘Serenity … and … Fireball are trying to get those people away from here. I have to help them. I need to bring Latoshi someplace where innocent bystanders aren't going to see us, or get hurt.’ Antoshi gave another shout, conjuring dual blasts of energy to his palms. Latoshi looked on helplessly as the boy's red Ki shined bright between their hands. He cried out in pain; the resulting explosion burned his palms. Antoshi used the brief distraction to quickly fly away, over the open waters. 'Stop getting outclassed!' Lazarus shouted. 'You are letting him make a fool of you! Now, go after him!' Latoshi gave another frustrated shout, taking off after his counterpart. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Serenity, having landed out of sight, walked up to the pair of young people and their Pachirisu. “I'm sorry, folks,” she said, in an authoritative tone, “I'm afraid you're going to have to go back the way you came.” “What?” the young man asked. “Why?” “Yeah, this beach is public property,” the young woman added, flippantly. The Pachirisu on her shoulder complained, loudly. “We're fully aware of that, but, unfortunately, a large toxic spill was just found on this beach. It's been shut down by order of the Goldenrod City police.” The young woman was shocked. The young man, however, found her claims suspicious. “I don't see anyone else here,” he said. “That's because we've cleared the beach of any civilians,” Serenity replied. “Cleanup crews are on the way.” Serenity shooed the two away, insistently. “This area is extremely dangerous right now. For your own safety, you must leave immediately. Failure to comply will result in your arrest.” The two muttered to each other, while Serenity stood tall with her hands folded behind her back. “All right, fine,” the young man said, before they turned around to leave. The Pachirisu turned to Serenity and stuck its tongue out. Serenity chuckled, quietly, before looking to the ocean where the two boys were. ‘Well, this area is extremely dangerous right now,’ she thought. ‘That much is true.’ She noticed, and turned her attention to, the mysterious onlooker in the trench coat. “Hey, you!” she called out, startling the person. “This beach has been shut down by order of the Goldenrod police! Please leave right away!” The person turned away in a panic, shuffling away. Serenity turned to leave as well, but stopped, suddenly. She looked at the stranger with an inquisitive expression. She glanced down at her palms, rubbing them together to remove some moisture. She hummed, thoughtfully, before jogging down the beach. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ On the other side of the beach, Fireball ran out on all fours to greet the group of incoming young kids. “Whoa, it's a Typhlosion!” one of them said. The others fawned over the rare sight. Fireball, however, glared at them, menacingly. He slowly advanced toward them, growling loudly, baring his teeth, and igniting the fires on his back. “It doesn't look too friendly,” another kid remarked, nervously. Fireball stood up on his hind legs, boasting his exceptional height. He took a deep breath, and exhaled a powerful stream of fire onto the sand in front of them. “Run away!” one of the others said. The kids screamed and ran away as quickly as they could, leaving Fireball to roar at them from afar. Once they were far enough away, he sighed in relief. 'I hate to do that to those kids, but I don't want them to get hurt. I know Antoshi doesn't want that, either.' Serenity met up with Fireball. They nodded to each other before they headed further inland, away from the fight. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi let out a long yell as he closed the distance between himself and his foe. Antoshi turned around, just before his rival struck him. Latoshi ended up going through another after-image, his fist striking nothing but the light of the moon before him. He stopped, shocked that he'd been outmaneuvered once again. Antoshi suddenly flew at him from above, delivering a powerful heel kick to the back of Latoshi's head. The sable-haired boy shouted, briefly, sent deep into the water with an enormous splash. Seeming to have a moment's respite, Antoshi sighed, looking out to the shore. ‘I can't sense those people anymore. That's good. Fireball and Serenity must've gotten them to safety.’ In the dark, under the water's rippling surface, Latoshi was fuming with rage. His facial muscles twitched, scowling, while a school of Remoraid calmly swam by him. ‘I won't be made a fool of like this,’ he thought. ‘I'm going to make him suffer before I kill him!’ He turned his attention upward, able to make out Antoshi's image hovering in the air. He took careful aim, holding both hands out, firing off another barrage of multiple energy blasts that swiftly tore through the water. Antoshi was taken by surprise, shielding himself with both arms, the blasts colliding with his aura and exploding. Latoshi capitalized on the distraction, appearing before Antoshi with a cruel smirk. He spun around, striking at Antoshi with the back of his elbow. Antoshi barely managed to block the attack with his hands, but was still sent soaring a short distance away from the intense blow. Latoshi quickly sped after him, breaking waves on the surface of the water with his momentum. Antoshi came to stop, facing his advancing foe. Latoshi threw a volley of rapid punches at him, each of which were swiftly evaded or deflected. Antoshi suddenly grabbed Latoshi's arm, turning around and throwing him over his shoulder with a loud shout, sending him back toward the shore. Latoshi spiraled through the air for some time, finally regaining control by the time he was over land. He hunched over as he hit the sand, his hand raking through it, sliding to a halt. He stared down his counterpart with contempt. Antoshi flew back to the shore, landed, and stood before him. The bitter scowl on Latoshi's face abruptly softened into amusement. He placed a hand on his forehead and started laughing, hysterically. Antoshi remained unfazed, keeping a stern, serious expression. He wasn't going to fall into some kind of distraction by Latoshi. “You think you have the upper hand now, huh?” Latoshi asked, amused. “Don't bother answering — it was a rhetorical question. It was rhetorical because I'm about to show you exactly why you're wrong.” Latoshi threw his arms out to the side, grinning smugly, summoning forth a larger volume of energy from his deep well of Ki. Antoshi took a defensive stance, while Latoshi's aura flared out intensely. Latoshi let out a loud shout, creating countless energy orbs that hovered around him — the same attack he'd practiced. Antoshi's eyes widened in disbelief. The onlookers were equally stunned as him. “While you were off doing your own so-called 'training',” Latoshi said, “I was pushing myself beyond your comprehension. This is a little attack I created myself. I call it 'Shooting Stars'. Make a wish!” Latoshi swiftly clapped his hands together. In response, the masses of energy were sent careening toward Antoshi at blistering speed. Antoshi gasped, his eyes going wide. The internal engine that was his spirit revved up with blazing energy, causing his irises to burn red-hot, pushing his abilities further. Rather than fleeing or defending, he instead charged directly into the swarm of Ki. He instantaneously stepped, hopped, and pivoted around the blasts as they darted past him. The boy's body blurred in and out of the oncoming field of black orbs, managing to evade every one of them. Latoshi was left in shock by Antoshi's incredible speed and dexterity. His shock, however, quickly turned to anger. ‘This can't be!’ Latoshi thought. ‘There's no way he's gotten this good!’ As Antoshi continued to maneuver around the energy, Latoshi clenched his shaking fists. ‘I won't let you, Antoshi. … I won't let you win!!’ Latoshi shouted in rage, firing a much larger blast into Antoshi's path. Antoshi gasped, unable to react in time. The attack exploded in his face, violently, sending him flying backward into the sand. The previous attacks he'd dodged erupted along the beach, kicking up sand in all directions. Countless small craters were left in their wake. Antoshi cried out in pain, his hands cupped over his eyes. He got back to his feet slowly, his hands falling away to reveal burns around his tightly shut eyes. He groaned weakly, straining to open them. “Aw, what's the matter, Antoshi? Can't see anything?” Latoshi asked, in a patronizing tone. “Well then, this just got a whole lot more interesting.” Antoshi clenched his teeth, trembling in pain while taking a defensive stance. Having gotten close enough to see the fight more clearly, Fireball cried out in horror at the turn of events. Serenity remained stoic, carefully watching every detail of the encounter. The trench coat-clad spectator had returned, in the same spot as before, to continue watching the fight unfold. Latoshi, meanwhile, laughed at his foe's misfortune. Oozing arrogance as usual, he raced toward Antoshi. Though unable to see, Antoshi still sensed Latoshi's energy nearing. He attempted to block, but his body was suddenly racked by the blunt pain of Latoshi ramming a knee into his gut. As Antoshi hunched over, straining to breathe, Latoshi clasped his hands together and raised them high. He slammed his fists down, across the back of Antoshi's head, viciously driving his opponent to the ground. The blond-haired boy shouted in pain. In an instant, Latoshi punted him like a ball across the beach. His body violently rolled around in the sand, ending face-up. Latoshi kept up the pace, hovering over Antoshi and delivering hundreds of punches to his rival in a matter of seconds. Latoshi laughed wildly, Antoshi's body being thrashed around from the ferocity of his assault. Fireball swallowed a lump in his throat, his claws anxiously fidgeting. He wasn't sure if this was the end, but seeing his friend being brutalized still terrified him, regardless. Antoshi groaned, weakly, once the barrage was finished. Latoshi, however, left one last statement in the form of a hard knee to his stomach once again. Antoshi croaked loudly, coughing up blood. Latoshi hovered himself back up to a vertical base, proudly looking over his handiwork. “Now, everything is as it should be,” he remarked, smirking cruelly. Antoshi coughed weakly, holding his midsection with both arms. “Antoshi, I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to see you as pathetic as you are now! I knew you were no match for me — I just needed to find that one opening. Now, here you are, at my feet and at my mercy, yet again.” 'End him this time,' Lazarus instructed, sternly. 'Do not let him rise from the ashes once more!' Latoshi smirked as he held a hand out, summoning forth a large amount of Ki into his palm. It was enough energy to make his arm tremble at the sheer power he was holding. “Don't worry, Antoshi,” Latoshi said coldly, “I'll put you out of your misery quickly. That's just how benevolent I am.” Antoshi trembled and clenched his teeth. ‘Damn it, not again,’ he thought. ‘I have to fight back, but … in my condition, he can just put me down if I even try to move. I can't run; I can't defend myself. He has the advantage. I'm not sure what moves I have left here. It's over for me…’ Fireball suddenly raced toward them. "Antoshi!" he called out. Serenity continued to remain behind, watching from afar. Latoshi turned to the Typhlosion, scowling. “So, your little pet did come with you.” Antoshi panicked, uncertain of which way Fireball was coming from. “Fireball, no!” he exclaimed, in a raspy tone. “Get away from here, now!” Latoshi shifted the aim of his palm from Antoshi to Fireball. “A little target practice, huh? Why not.” The Typhlosion gasped in shock, just before Latoshi fired a blast of energy at him. The resulting, large explosion sent Fireball soaring backward — right into the arms of Serenity, who caught him just before he hit the ground. As with Antoshi, Fireball's weight was like nothing to her. She laid him down, letting his head rest on her lap. Fireball's body was littered with injuries, groaning in pain, just as Antoshi was. Latoshi narrowed his eyes in confusion, left to wonder who the girl was. He correctly assumed that she was the girl that informed Antoshi about Lazarus, but, he had no idea how she could know, or anything else about her. “Just stay put, Fireball,” Serenity spoke, gently. “I can heal you like before.” Her irises and hands glowed with the pink hue of her aura. She started to treat Fireball's wounds, simply by resting her hands on his chest. "Antoshi is … going to die!" Fireball said, his eyes welling with tears. "Please — you have to save him! I know you can!" Serenity offered him no response, only watching the scene unfold with the same, seemingly detached demeanor. “It's okay, Antoshi,” Latoshi said, turning his attention back to him, “you're just a failure. You did a lot better this time, but, once again, you're nowhere near as good as I am. Don't worry, though. Once you're dead, I'll make good on my promise and kill everyone you know so that they don't have to grieve over you.” Antoshi gasped in a mix of horror and rage. The engine, which had been stalled out from Latoshi's assault, began to sputter back to life, and shift into overdrive. His blood felt like like it was boiling, his body surging with power. A sudden, massive rush of Ki swelled to life within him. The resulting wave of pressure was enough to cause Latoshi to stumble backward. The sable-haired boy grunted, shielding his eyes with one arm, as he looked on in bewilderment. Antoshi was actually rising to his feet. “Latoshi, …” he said, his voice trembling, clenching his fists tight, “You're not … going to have your way again!” His vengeful cry was accompanied by another wave of spirit pressure that pushed Latoshi back even further. Latoshi snarled in frustration, struggling to keep his footing. “I'm not going to let this go on any longer! I won't let you hurt anyone else — especially not my family!!” His red aura exploded in a wild frenzy that was beyond anything the others had witnessed from either of the two. All of the muscles in his body tensed, visibly bulging around his lean frame. "Whoa!" Fireball exclaimed, shielding his eyes. ‘Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit,’ he recalled Serenity explain to them. ‘Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit and can, therefore, make the strength of your spirit energy explode in a pinch — like gasoline on a fire.’ Antoshi's aura whirled and surged brightly far outside his body. His bitter, glaring eyes glowed intensely as he slowly opened them. Latoshi looked on in disbelief. Antoshi had regained his eyesight. It was as if every bit of damage he'd done to Antoshi had been undone. “What's happening?!” Latoshi shouted. ‘This—this pressure! It's unreal! How … when did he gain all this power?!’ 'I don't remember Antoshi ever being this strong!' Fireball exclaimed, in thought. “Finally,” Serenity remarked with a smile, “he's discovering how to tap into the energy of his emotions.” Latoshi turned his gaze to Fireball and Serenity. With a devious grin, he held out an open hand toward them. Antoshi's eyes went wide in shock. “So much for all that power you have,” he exclaimed, firing a large blast of energy. “I can just exploit your weaknesses instead!” As the attack neared, Serenity calmly closed her eyes, while Fireball panicked and shielded himself.
  13. Chapter 17 The following morning, Fireball awoke with a noisy yawn. He sat up in bed, sighing contently as he stretched. The early sun peered in through a gap in the drawn curtains. "Looks like another nice morning ahead," he remarked. "Guess we didn't have to worry about the police questioning you after all, huh?" He turned to Antoshi, who stared back at him with a deeply serious expression. Fireball immediately became concerned. "You okay? What's wrong?" “I sensed him,” the boy replied, staring at his bedsheets. “I finally sensed where he was. His energy was so clear to me last night, it was like he was right next to me. It was that same, rotten energy I felt before. I don't know what he did, but … it felt like he used a decent amount of power to do it.” "What should we do?" Antoshi chuckled, weakly. He got out from under the covers and sat up. “Nothing now. Honestly, though, his energy seemed really intimidating — and I don't even know if that was his maximum power that I sensed. Whatever training he's been doing, … it's certainly working out for him.” He let out a heavy sigh before perking up, giving Fireball a reassuring smile. “Still, now it means I have a better idea of where his level of strength is. I don't think I'm ready to take him on, yet. I'll just have to do my absolute best to train even harder if I want to show him up.” "That sounds more like the Antoshi I know," Fireball replied, smiling back. "Just don't leave me out of your training. I'd like to watch, at least!" “All right, fair enough,” Antoshi said, chuckling. The boy proceeded to call the hotel's room service to have their breakfast sent up to them. He got up, and got dressed in his newly favored outfit of a red t-shirt and blue jeans. As they waited for their food, the two friends joked and laughed, helping to lighten some of the dour mood they'd been going through as of late. Despite the storm that was Hurricane Latoshi swirling in the distance, Antoshi finally felt like things were at least getting back to normal between himself and Fireball. Just by being there for the boy, Antoshi recognized how much Fireball was helping him to feel whole in his time of need. Once their food arrived, Antoshi brought it over to the table and chairs set up in the room's small dining space. Fireball turned the television toward them and turned it on before eagerly shuffling to his seat. He licked his chops at the sight of several plates of food before him. Antoshi chuckled, idly turning his attention to the TV as a newscast resumed. “We want to take you back now to the scene at Goldenrod Penitentiary,” the lady reporter said. “If you're just joining us, seven officers and one hundred twelve inmates were found dead, with dozens more injured. Part of the wall of the prison, as you can see, has been completely blown away.” Antoshi and Fireball were stunned by the sight. The grassy field outside the prison was littered with plastic yellow tarps and evidence markers. “At this time, officials do not have any suspects or any possible motives in mind. No explosives or any sort of explosive device was found at the scene, though there is some speculation that there may be multiple perpetrators at large, given the swiftness of how the scene unfolded. Officials tell us that these victims were all slain within a matter of less than a minute.” Fireball turned to his friend. Antoshi's hand was trembling as he held his glass of orange juice. “Latoshi, …” the boy muttered. “This is it. This is part of his horrible 'plan' to exterminate people he believes are evil. … What better place to strike than a prison?” “None of the officials on scene could give us a cause of death for any of the victims,” the reporter continued, “however, a police spokesperson has said they're investigating whether there may be a connection with the explosion at Sunset Park yesterday.” "You and Latoshi are making news reports for all the wrong reasons," Fireball remarked. Antoshi sighed, sharply, getting up from his seat. "You okay?" “I'm fine,” Antoshi replied, retrieving his shoes by the door and heading back to the table to put them on. “It's just that, … well, I know the police have to investigate these things. I just wish they weren't involved. I'm worried more people are going to end up getting hurt or killed over this pointless war between Latoshi and myself.” "Yeah, I understand," Fireball said, quietly. "This is all so terrible…" “I better get started training as soon as I can,” Antoshi said, getting up from the table once more. "But, you didn't finish your breakfast!" “That's all right. I'm not really hungry after what I just saw, anyway.” He got up and headed for the TV. Fireball quickly scarfed down as much food from both of their plates as he could. “City and regional officials are asking for the public's help,” the reporter said. “If you have any information—” After Antoshi shut off the TV, he turned to his friend. Fireball quickly got up, wiping his maw with a napkin which he quickly tossed onto the table. Antoshi slung a towel over his shoulder before they headed out once again. He was eager to put into practice what he'd learned in his books. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A few hours had passed after the start of Antoshi's rigorous training session. The two friends fell onto their backsides, facing each other, panting from exhaustion. "Nice moves, Antoshi," Fireball remarked with a grin. Antoshi smiled back. “Thanks.” He grabbed the towel and wiped the sweat from his face. "You've gotten way faster and way stronger since that fight with Latoshi already. You learned a lot of really good stuff. I know I'm not going to doubt the power of books ever again." Antoshi chuckled. "By the way, thanks for taking it easy on me. I could tell based off our previous training sessions that you pulled your punches this time." “I don't want you to get hurt anymore, Fireball. That's the whole reason I'm even doing this.” Fireball nodded in understanding. Antoshi gazed down at his open hands, scuffed with dirt. “I want to keep others from getting hurt, but I have to fight with Latoshi. I hate not being able to resolve this peacefully, but I have no choice.” "I know how bad you feel having to do this. I'm sure you'll beat him this time, though, Antoshi. Then, you can put it behind you." “Maybe. I mean, I certainly hope so. If there was a way I didn't have to fight him, I'd rather take that road instead. At the same time, I still have … so much anger. I still feel that rage every time I think about what he did to you, what he said to me, and about my family…” Antoshi's irises glowed bright with the shimmering, red hue of his Ki. He clenched his fists tightly, his aura suddenly erupting to life around his body in an almost explosive fashion. Fireball was taken aback by the sheer pressure being given off by the boy's fiery energy. “The police can't do anything about this — they don't even know what they're looking for, or where to start. They're just going to end up as more potential casualties. I can't let things go on this way.” "Antoshi," Fireball said, grabbing his friend's attention. "I care about you, and what happens to you. You're my best friend. This anger, though, it isn't like you at all. … I don't want you to lose yourself." Antoshi sighed and shook his head. His aura faded from his body. “If that's what it takes to defeat Latoshi, then … I may just have to.” The boy got to his feet, walking away to resume his training. He threw a few rapid-fire combos of straight punches and jabs with such speed that it made them audible. Fireball sat and watched his friend with concern. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Across the city, Latoshi also continued his training in solitude. The blood from his victims the previous night had been cleaned away from his body. He wore a new set of clothes, strikingly similar to his previous green shirt and green cargo shorts. With no memories to distract him, he was solely focused on the task before him. In his usual spot in the forest clearing he'd created, the boy ducked and weaved, throwing punches and kicks at an invisible target. His strikes, though not as swift as Antoshi's, were strong and significant; powerful enough to cause brief, small shock waves. 'Keep up that pace,' Lazarus told him. 'You will go for as long as I tell you in order to build your stamina. Put your image training to use, and keep your target visualized.' Latoshi envisioned his blond-haired adversary's nimble movements, relentlessly following them, striking with each opportunity for an opening. He maneuvered in the same endless loop, grunting and growling with each subsequent attack. 'Good. Now use your Ki. Let him see how outclassed he is.' He came to a sudden halt, while his irises glowed a shimmering black. Holding his hands out, he summoned forth a quick barrage of energy blasts at his imaginary target. He gave a loud shout before firing one final, much larger, shot. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ At that very moment, Antoshi's eyes went wide. He stopped what he was doing, his attention fixated somewhere in the city. Fireball got up on his hind feet. "What's up, Antoshi?" “I just sensed someone's energy,” he replied, much to Fireball's shock. “Latoshi is nearby.” The boy quickly marched back toward the city limits. "Hold on — wait!" Fireball called out, while chasing after him. "Shouldn't we, … you know, think this over? You can't just charge at him the first chance you get. What if there are people around?" “I'll have to figure something out quickly,” Antoshi replied, narrowing his eyes, bitterly. The duo moved with purpose through the city streets, weaving around passersby and their Pokémon. Antoshi was fixated on his target. He was terrified, but wouldn't let it show. His stern, serious stare contrasted with Fireball's nervous expression. They rounded the corner of a city block. Antoshi slowed down, his eyes carefully scanning around the immediate area. ‘He's in that café,’ he thought. Antoshi headed for a small coffee shop in the middle of a business strip. The welcoming bell rang sharply as he barged through the door. All the faces inside stared at him in confusion. He walked further in, toward a quieter corner of the establishment. He clenched his fists, irises glowing red in anticipation of a confrontation that was about to happen in front of onlookers. He gasped in shock, his eyes going wide. He nearly crumbled to pieces upon realizing that it was not Latoshi who he was chasing. It was the mysterious brunette girl that had healed him. She quietly sipped from a cup of tea, before setting it down on a plate near a tea kettle. The young woman looked over at him with a warm smile. She wore a shirt with horizontal orange and white stripes, beneath a long, white jacket with floral patterns. Her shirt just barely draped over her tight, white pants and matching, white shoes. Sunglasses casually sat atop her head. Her violet eyes brought back the blurry memory of her knelt beside him. Fireball finally caught up to his friend. He was left puzzled by the girl that Antoshi was blankly staring at. “It's … you,” Antoshi remarked, quietly. “Okay, … so, you weren't a figment of my imagination.” She laughed quietly. “Yes, I am real,” she replied. “Please, sit.” Antoshi remained in place, clenching his fists. He eyed the young woman suspiciously. She responded by laughing again. “If you'd like to stand, that's fine, too. Although, you'd be blocking the aisle. I promise you have nothing to fear from me. You don't have to have your guard up like that.” “I do, if you're working with Latoshi,” he said. Even though he didn't get a sense of animosity from her, there were still too many unknown variables with trusting this complete stranger. The girl smiled and shook her head. “I don't work with anyone.” “You're not … going to fight me, too?” “Of course not. That would be a bit silly for me to heal you just so I could fight you, don't you think?” Antoshi sighed in defeat, slumping down into the seat across from her. “I don't know what to think anymore,” he replied, running a hand through his hair. Fireball sat down on a third seat beside them, his eyes shifting between the two. The girl greeted Fireball with a smile. He smiled back, still very much confused as to what was happening. She took an empty tea cup from a holder on the table, pouring the contents of the kettle into the cup. “You've gotten stronger since the last time I saw you,” she remarked, sliding the tea in front of Antoshi. “You look to be in good condition, physically. Your spirit, though, is very unsettled.” Antoshi stared, strangely, at the tea cup before looking to her. “What is this?” “It's chamomile tea. It's perfect for dealing with stress.” “No, I mean what is all this? Who are you? Why do you have powers, too? Why was I able to sense you? Do you know me or Latoshi?” She chuckled in response. “I understand this is all very confusing. You must have a million questions.” “Yeah, try two million questions.” “My name is Serenity. I'm not here to upset you or harm you. You were able to sense me because I output just enough of my spirit energy for you to do so. I wished to bring you here simply to talk. I'm more than willing to answer the questions that are clearly stressing you.” Antoshi sighed, heavily. “… You think I'm having stress issues?” “I know you are. Your aura is agitated. It's churning around your body constantly like a swelling sea. Your heart is filled with terrible anger.” “You can tell all of that just by … looking at me?” he wondered aloud, before taking a look at himself. “How are you even able to see my aura? I can't even see it.” “Your aura is always around you, faintly, protecting your body like a second skin. In fact, aura is always around most people — they just don't know it exists or how to use it, like you can. In time, once you get stronger, I'm sure you'll be able to see what I see.” “Stronger,” he mused. “So, I can reach a level even higher than I'm at right now?” “Absolutely.” Fireball cleared his throat, tugging on Antoshi's sleeve to grab his attention. He pointed to the girl, covertly. “Oh, right. Sorry for ignoring you, Fireball. This is the person that healed our injuries after the fight with Latoshi. She's … actually the same girl that I bumped into outside the Goldenrod train station.” Fireball's eyes lit up in surprise, turning to her. She smiled, and extended a hand to him. “It's very nice to meet you, Fireball,” she said. Fireball smiled back, gently shaking her hand, before turning to his friend. "Quick reminder that you told me she was pretty," he whispered, "and she is!" Antoshi kept his gaze locked on her with a forced smile, ignoring Fireball's remark. Serenity laughed. “You can communicate with Fireball, can't you?” she asked, much to the duo's shock. “Don't worry — I, myself, can't hear what Fireball is saying. However, being able to do so is just a natural part of your abilities using your Ki.” “I keep hearing that word — 'Ki'. What does it mean?” “It's the energy of your spirit. Some people call it ki or chi. The strength of your vital essence, and the ability to apply that strength in various ways. It's an amalgamation of your vigor, courage, mindset, and tenacity.” “Oh,” Antoshi remarked, looking down at his open hands. “Well, how does spirit energy work?” “Spirit energy is, as you may have guessed, fueled by the spirit. Strong emotions tend to heighten a person's spirit and can, therefore, make the strength of your spirit energy explode in a pinch — like gasoline on a fire. Love, sorrow, fear, anger; these are all powerful emotions that can ignite ones' aura or serve as a catalyst to unlock ones' latent abilities. Very few people can actually tap into these abilities, though. It also depends on how these emotions are channeled that determines the weight of ones' spirit.” “You mean if someone turns out … 'good' or 'evil'.” “Yes. If your abilities are used for pure intentions, then your aura will shine with radiant color. But, if you use your Ki for cruel and selfish purposes, your aura becomes corrupted and reflects the darkness in your heart. I believe you may know who I'm referring to.” “I do,” Antoshi replied, shifting his gaze downward. “I remember my … powers unlocked when I panicked over the thought of losing Fireball forever. If Latoshi's aura is corrupted by darkness as you say, … does that mean he's beyond saving?” “Only if you think so,” she replied. He was taken aback by her statement. “Is it … wrong for me to think that way?” he asked, with guilt in his voice. “Yes,” she said, before taking another sip of her tea. Antoshi's heart sank, as he and Fireball looked to each other in concern. “That's because there's something critically important about him that you must know before you encounter him again. It's the main focus of why I brought you here to talk.” She took another sip of tea, leaving the duo in suspense, before setting the cup back down. “What if I were to tell you that you're not actually fighting against Latoshi, but, rather, something inside of him?” Antoshi furrowed his brow in thought. “… Lazarus?” “That's correct.” “But … that's a voice he said he hears in his head.” Antoshi suddenly recalled the sound of Lazarus' voice in the dreams he had of Latoshi. There were two voices: Latoshi, and someone else he was talking to. However, Antoshi never saw who it was coming from. “Lazarus is not just a voice. Lazarus is a parasite.” The duo were floored by the revelation. “Latoshi is being controlled by a dark spirit, one that uses people like a parasite would.” “A spirit … parasite?” “Yes. As you already know, its name is Lazarus. It is a being of pure, spiritual energy that seeks out hosts with awareness of the spirit. It latches on to the host's spirit, essentially becoming a part of them. In order to do that, though, it searches for people whose hearts are easily corruptible, or influenced by negativity. From there, Lazarus coaxes its host into trusting it. The most important reason for why it does this, is that it feeds off of the spirit energy of its host, taking said energy for itself. Latoshi may believe that Lazarus is helping him, but the reality is that Lazarus is stealing Latoshi's energy. The greater Lazarus' power becomes, the more it will be able to force control over its host.” Antoshi was left in a daze, as was Fireball. All of his thoughts, judgment, and bitterness had been directed at the wrong person all along. He sat silent for a moment before replying. “H—how do you know all this?” “I've dealt with Lazarus before. I came to Goldenrod because I sensed his energy lurking about. It was either fate, or sheer coincidence, that I also bumped into you outside the train station. Once I witnessed your struggle with Latoshi later on, it was critical for me to tell you that Latoshi is not the evil person you've been led to believe he is. He is being controlled.” Antoshi's hands trembled as he rested them on the table. Serenity poured herself another cup of tea, giving the boy a few moments to assimilate what she just told him. “Are you all right?” she asked, taking a sip of her tea. Antoshi let out a long, shaky sigh and nodded. “Yeah, I … it's just really … I'm not sure what to think.” “It's all right,” she reassured him with a smile. “This is a lot for you to take in at once. I can understand the position you're in. You've only recently learned about your powers, learning about Lazarus, dealing with it and Latoshi. It's a lot to bear.” “Would you also happen to know if … Latoshi is my brother?” “I don't have the answer for that, unfortunately. All I know is what I've seen so far of you both. It certainly seems that way to me. The two of you look almost identical. Maybe someday the two of you will stop punching each other long enough to figure out the answer for yourselves.” Antoshi nodded gently. “I'll still have to fight him, … and I'll have to give it everything I have, won't I?” “I imagine so. I think Latoshi is too far gone under Lazarus' influence to be willing to hear you out. If you do fight, you'll be fighting against Lazarus — not Latoshi.” “You seem to know so much about everything that's going on. Can't you … fight alongside me, at least?” Serenity grinned and laughed. “I knew you would eventually ask that, but it's not my place to intervene. This is your fight, Antoshi. The actions you take from here on, and the consequences of those actions, are what will determine your future. You and Latoshi both have incredible power. I know that letting fate run its course is the right thing to do. You've only just taken the first steps in unlocking your power, Antoshi. You and Latoshi have far more potential than you realize.” Antoshi's eyes widened with awe. She took another sip of tea. “You won't unlock your true potential until something happens that causes you to push yourself to your limits, similar to when you first unlocked your powers.” “How … much potential do I have? Is it enough to beat him?” “I'm not sure, I just know it's there. Everyone's Ki eventually reaches a limit or plateau, but you have a lot left to discover. You can become far stronger than you are now. It depends on your mindset, your emotions, and your vigor. As he is now, Latoshi does not have total control over his powers, or himself. He's only following what Lazarus tells him.” Antoshi went silent again, taking a short time to process everything again. Fireball looked over at his friend with concern. “I can feel the sorrow in your heart, Antoshi,” she said with a warm smile. Antoshi immediately perked up and looked at her in surprise. “I know it sounds strange, but with enough spirit awareness it is possible to feel the emotions of others. This entire situation is something you dread, and you don't want any part of it. However, you still feel a responsibility to keep others safe. Am I right so far?” “Well, … yes.” She smiled and nodded. “In exchange for all the information I told you, I want you to promise me something.” “All right. … What is it?” “Promise me that you'll help Latoshi. He desperately needs help, and I believe that you're the only person who can. Would you be willing to do that?” Antoshi turned his gaze away for a moment. He recalled the bitterness that their fight created — the pain Latoshi caused him and Fireball, the threats he made, the arrogant smirk on his face. He sighed, also recalling the short, yet pleasant time they spent together as friends, taking a stroll through a new city. A brief smile crept into the corner of his lips, remembering sitting with Latoshi and Fireball in the ice cream shoppe. He turned to Serenity and nodded. “I promise.” “Good,” she replied. She reached for a small tote bag hanging on the back of her chair, searching through it. “But … how? How can I help him?” he asked. Serenity placed some money down on the table. “I know you'll find the best solution if you look into your heart,” she said. “Don't stress yourself over dealing with this. Just prepare yourself as best as you can. When the time comes — act.” Antoshi scoffed in amusement. “You have more faith in me than I do in myself right now,” he remarked, glumly. Serenity slipped the bag over her shoulder and got up from the table. “I've only just met you, Antoshi, but I already know that you are a good person with a kind and caring heart. I think you'll be an excellent leader. You just need to take a step back, quiet your mind, and decide the best course of action for you.” She smiled and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Take care, Antoshi.” The duo watched as Serenity put on her sunglasses and exited the establishment, leaving them to mull over everything she told them. Antoshi and Fireball turned to each other. "What do you think?" Fireball asked. Antoshi chuckled, weakly. “Think about what? I had tons of questions, and she answered almost all of them. There's lots to think about. … If you mean about what she said, … I guess I don't have any reason to doubt her.” "I agree. She sure was cool, huh? She was so relaxed, like nothing in the world gets to her — and she seemed super-smart, and nice." Antoshi chuckled. “I suppose all of that's true. It's just, with all the insane stuff that's been happening lately, I can't help thinking she's bad news somehow.” "Do you think she really is bad, and she's just putting on an act or something?" “I don't know, … maybe.” He sighed, heavily. “I did make her a promise, though. I intend to keep it.” "Hey, you didn't drink your tea." “… So, I didn't,” he replied with a smile. He picked up his tea cup and took a sip from it. “Mm, hey, this actually is pretty good.” Fireball chuckled as Antoshi continued to enjoy the tea. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ As the next few days rolled on, Latoshi continued stepping up his attacks on the public. He created a trend of going after various correctional facilities, using a combination of his otherwise invisible Ki energy and his immense speed to remain undetected. He tore away walls and even whole sections of each compound, leading to the deaths of hundreds more prisoners. Goldenrod was starting to stir into a state of panic because of the unsolved attacks. But, as Latoshi kept on killing, there was a growing expression of regret in his eyes. He couldn't understand it, but he felt a shallow emptiness inside him. His heart was calling out for something, but he did not know what. Latoshi ignored it as best he could, continuing to follow Lazarus' orders of training during the day, and slaying the parasites of Goldenrod City at night. Antoshi, meanwhile, had still not been sleeping much. The constant air of dread looming over him every time he thought about Latoshi kept him on alert. He and Fireball continued to hear of Latoshi's actions on the news. It drove him to push harder, each subsequent story fanning the flames of his spirit; steeling his resolve. From time to time, Serenity dropped in to watch Antoshi from afar, curious to see how his training was progressing. Each day became tougher to bear on both boys. Antoshi felt he was finally ready and prepared for a confrontation, but he could not discern Latoshi's location. As evening fell on the third day after meeting Serenity, Antoshi wasn't remain content to stay in his room — he wanted to end this waiting game. He and Fireball made a deliberate tour around as much of the city as they could. Even under the dark of night, they continued to trek further and further in all directions. Antoshi tried desperately to feel out his adversary's energy. The search endeavors ultimately ended up fruitless for the duo. ‘If he would just show himself already…’ Antoshi thought, bitterly. The growing anticipation of his inevitable encounter with Latoshi was wearing on him, and on Fireball as well. Watching his best friend in such a contemptuous mood was not something Fireball enjoyed. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The following evening, back in their hotel room, Antoshi had a video call with his parents to check in with them. “Antoshi,” his mother said, with worry in her eyes, “are you doing all right? We've been hearing terrible stories about attacks in Goldenrod.” He reassured her with a nod and a weak smile. “I'm fine, Mom. It is a little scary, but … Fireball and I shouldn't be in Goldenrod for much longer anyway.” Fireball, standing behind him, was surprised by his friend's remark. He couldn't figure out exactly what the boy meant by that. “You look so stressed, son,” his father said. “Try not to let it get to you. I know you'll be safe, as long as you stay inside. Plus, you have Fireball to protect you.” “I sure do,” he replied, smiling to his compadre. “Get some rest,” his mother said. “Okay, honey? I agree with your father — you do look exhausted.” “You're right, Mom. I will. Sorry for worrying you both.” “Oh, don't be silly. We have faith in you, Antoshi. We know you'll always make the right decisions.” He became lost in thought for a moment, thinking back to the promise he made Serenity. He smiled and nodded to them. “Thank you both,” he warmly replied, much to their delight. “We love you!” they both said, before the call was ended. Antoshi turned away, rubbing his tired, worn eyes. His lack of sleep had gotten to the point where others could see it in him. He thought he should've been overwhelmingly tired after going so long with so little sleep, but, for some reason, he felt oddly energized. He sat in silence for a few moments, to reflect on what his parents said. With an empowered huff, he quickly got up from the video phone, heading over to the door to grab his shoes. “I can't stay here,” he said, sitting on the bed to slip them on. "What do you mean?" Fireball replied. "Where are you going?" Antoshi stood up and gazed out the window. “I have to go out again. I have to try and find him. I'm not going to get any sleep until I do, Fireball. I have to keep searching for him, so I can finally put an end to this insanity.” "I want to come with you," Fireball said. Antoshi smiled, turning to his friend. “I want you to come with me, too.” With that, the duo headed downstairs, out onto the streets in the early night hours. The streets were still fairly busy with people and their Pokémon passing on by. They made their way directly west for a few blocks. "Antoshi?" Fireball spoke up. "At … the risk of making you upset with me again, I think that maybe your parents are right. You shouldn't stress out this badly." “I really am trying not to let it get to me, Fireball. Talking to Serenity, and understanding so much more now, has made me feel a little better. Still, … what else am I supposed to do? I can't take this situation easy. Latoshi's out there, and he's killing people. It feels like he's mocking me, … like he's trying to get me to react.” "Do you really think this is a message to you?" “I'm sure of it,” Antoshi replied, narrowing his eyes, as his irises briefly flashed red. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The duo continued on their westward trek for a couple of hours. They stopped to rest, get some snacks and drinks, and use the restroom along the way. They traveled further through the city than they had the entire time they'd been in Goldenrod. At the same time, Latoshi stood up from his meditation. He sighed in content before stretching his neck out. 'Excellent work,' Lazarus told him. 'Now, we should continue forth in our righteous crusade.' “I'm all for crusading,” Latoshi replied, “but … maybe I could go crusading somewhere a little more scenic? Like, … the beach, perhaps?” 'Hrm, … I suppose that will be fine for one night. The humans are likely increasing security around those filthy prisons, anyway. They will be expecting another attack on one of them tonight.' “Exactly. Might as well take the time to take in the scenery.” 'Very well. I expect you to increase your training when you return here later. You are not to slack off.' “Of course, Lazarus,” he replied, slyly. Latoshi laughed in amusement, as he took to the sky once again. Before long, sandy dunes and the gentle lapping of the ocean waves along the shore came into view. He headed in the direction of the beach, grinning from ear to ear. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ "I only wish there was some way I could help more," Fireball remarked. “You already are,” Antoshi reassured him, smiling. “Sticking with me, being my shoulder to cry on, helping me deal with this and understanding this whole situation. … I appreciate all of it, Fireball, more than you know. You've been keeping me sane.” The duo smiled at each other. Afterward, Antoshi came to a halt, sighing, heavily. “I suppose we should head back now. It's gonna take forever for us to get back to the hotel at this point and—” the boy stopped suddenly, his eyes widening in shock and horror. “His energy,” he remarked, trembling. “I … I can sense it!” Fireball was equally as shocked. "Are you sure it's not Serenity again?" “No, I'm definitely sure. It was there for just a second, but the pressure being giving off, it's corrupted. It's … rotten, just like what I sensed from him before. Latoshi is nearby, …” he turned and pointed in the direction of the beach on the west edge of the city. “That way.” Both of them stood in place for a moment, taking in the realization that their long-awaited confrontation with Latoshi was now imminent. "So, you found him," Fireball remarked. "Are you sure you're ready to go through with this … again?” Antoshi exhaled sharply, punching his open palm. “I've had an entire week to do nothing but get ready. It's all I've been able to think about. You definitely know that by now.” "I know, I just … well, like I said before, I don't want to see you get hurt." “I've already been hurt by him — physically, mentally, emotionally. It was more pain than I could've ever imagined, and it's been gnawing at me ever since. I've gotten used to it now.” Fireball lowered his head and nodded. “Fireball, … I've been waiting until he shows up to say this. There's one thing I need you to promise me.” The Typhlosion perked up again. "Of course, Antoshi. Anything." “I need you … to promise that you won't get involved in this fight at all.” "… Okay, anything but that." “Fireball, please. I know you're concerned about my safety, … but I'm just as concerned with yours.” "Fighting is what I'm good at — you know that better than anyone." “You're an amazing fighter, Fireball, … but, this isn't an ordinary fight. I'm the only one that can deal with him. I'm the only one that should.” "Well, what about Serenity? She seems like she knows a lot. Maybe she knows how to beat him. You could … call out for help to her with your energy or something." “No, I can't involve other people in my problem. She even told me I have to deal with this on my own. I have to face him myself, Fireball — that's what I've been training for. There isn't any other way. Latoshi is going to come for me again, eventually, whether by his own choice or with that voice in his head telling him to. I have to put all of this to rest. So, promise me you won't get involved, okay?” "… All right. I promise." Antoshi sighed in relief, turning his attention to where Latoshi's energy was. “Let's get going. Hop on my back, I'll get us there as fast as I can.” Fireball looked at Antoshi, strangely, for a moment as the boy dropped to a knee. Fireball made sure no one was around to see them before wrapping his short forelimbs around Antoshi's neck. The boy hooked Fireball's hind legs under his arms and stood up, wearing the Typhlosion not unlike how he would wear his backpack. Fireball's otherwise heavy weight felt like nothing to the boy. “Looks like the calm is over,” Antoshi said. “The storm's finally beginning. Time to find out if all that training paid off.” In an instant, Antoshi took off, down the city streets. Fireball cried out in shock, while holding on for dear life. The boy weaved in and out of people, cars and obstacles with almost pinpoint precision. Those he passed by were shocked and bewildered by the sharp gust of wind that staggered them. “I'll get us close enough that he won't see us!” Antoshi spoke over the rush of air around them, “but you have to stay there, okay?” "I think I heard what you said!" Fireball replied. "I'll stay put!" Antoshi closed in on their destination, covering a distance of a hundred miles in less than a minute. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi strolled along the beach, casually, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his shorts. Neither of them were aware that Antoshi was approaching them very rapidly. “This is nice,” he remarked. “Very tranquil.” 'Soon, it will all be yours,' Lazarus replied. Latoshi laughed. “My very own beach property, huh? That would be nice.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi slowed to a halt in the middle of an empty parking lot near the beach. Fireball groaned weakly, stumbling onto his hind feet. "That was a little too fast for me to deal with," Fireball said, rubbing his eyes. “This is where you have to stay. Please, … don't leave from here, okay?” Fireball bit his lip, forcing a nod. "Please be careful, Antoshi." The boy smiled to his friend, walking up and sharing a hug with him for a moment. “I'm not going to let him win,” Antoshi said, as they let go of each other. “Not this time. No matter what.” Fireball looked on as Antoshi ran toward his destination at normal running speed. Being forced to the sidelines tore him up inside, as did not knowing what would happen. He sighed, heavily, tears welling up in his eyes. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi turned his attention to the sound of a girl shouting in the distance. Curious, he headed over to its source. “No, stop!” the girl cried out. “Let go of me! Please, I just want to go home!” As Latoshi approached, the girl, and a large man dressed in heavy black clothing, came into view. Within a thicket of tall beach grass, he held the girl by her wrists. “I can't let you go now!” the man replied with a chuckle. “You were so rude to me! I think you need to repay me!” “Well, now!” Latoshi exclaimed, making his presence known. Both of them gasped, turning to him. “Isn't this convenient? Another parasite, right here on the beach. There's an endless supply of you disgusting freaks at every turn.” “Get the hell out of here, kid,” the man said, brandishing a gun at him, “or, you're next.” “Ooh, but I do want to be next!” Latoshi said, playfully, jumping up and down, waving his hand in the air. “Please, pick me right now!” The man looked at him in disgust. “What's wrong with you? Are you screwed up in the head or something? I'm telling you I'm gonna blow your damn head off!” “Please,” the girl remarked, “don't get hurt because of me…” A cruel grin spread across the boy's lips. “Don't worry about it,” Latoshi replied to her, his irises turning black. “The only one getting hurt here … is him.” In an instant, Latoshi closed the gap between them, and grabbed the man by his neck. The man gagged and croaked, struggling in vain as Latoshi lifted him with one hand. He dropped his gun to claw at the boy's arm. The girl fell onto her seat, horrified by what she was witnessing. “Let— … let go!” the man choked out. “Sorry, I think you need to repay me,” Latoshi replied with a twisted grin. “Latoshi!” a voice shouted to him. Latoshi froze in place, his eyes widening in surprise. The voice was so very familiar. His heart raced as he slowly turned his gaze to find Antoshi standing nearby. The sable-haired boy smiled, his eyes crazed with excitement. “Well, this is an even better surprise,” Latoshi said. “If it isn't my brother! I thought you'd be too busy cowering somewhere.” “Latoshi, stop it! Let him go!” Latoshi turned his attention to the struggling man, sighing in defeat. “Okay, fine,” he replied, before suddenly snapping his neck. Both Antoshi and the girl shouted in horror. Latoshi smirked, tossing the man's lifeless body near the girl. She screamed, scrambling to her feet and running away. “You can thank me later!” Latoshi called out to her. He shook his head, turning his attention to Antoshi. “Can you believe the nerve of some people? So ungrateful.” Antoshi clenched his fists, trembling with anger. “Why do you have to do this? What good does killing people bring?” “… Well, 'hello' to you, too,” he replied, in jest. “I believe I already explained all of this to you before: people with evil hearts, cleanse them to rid the world of bad, yadda yadda, you got the gist of it the first time. So, what brings you to this neck of the woods? If you say it's to—” “I'm going to stop you, Latoshi,” Antoshi replied, bitterly. “I had a funny feeling you were going to say that. Yeah, that's not happening, Antoshi. It wasn't happening before, and it's certainly not happening now. You're making a very serious mistake showing your face to me again. I'm so much stronger than I was the last time we fought. You're lucky I spared you last time, so, get lost now, or you won't be that lucky again.” As the two boys stared each other down, a mysterious presence came to a stop at a nearby beach access pathway. It was a shorter figure, wearing a long, old-fashioned trench coat, wide-brim fedora, and sunglasses that gleamed in the light of a lamp post overhead. The unknown party watched the conflict between the boys, with great interest.
  14. Chapter 16 Several days later, the duo were still checked in to the same hotel room. With the dim, early morning sun peering in through the curtains, Fireball awoke in his own bed to the smell of food. He looked over at Antoshi's bed. It was empty. The boy was gone — again. A breakfast plate rested upon the nightstand for the hungry Typhlosion. Fireball sighed in defeat. He sat up, scratching his side. Left to reflect upon their situation in solitude, he reached for the plate and eagerly partook of the food left for him. Antoshi had been on a gradual return to form over the past few days. His mood had improved immensely, though he continued to keep himself occupied with the singular goal of getting stronger. The boy was still a bit distant, lost in thought from time to time. Antoshi still had not gotten much sleep since the fight. Fireball could only hope for the best, wishing for nothing more than to be done with this ordeal, and for his friend to be himself again. Once he finished with breakfast, he quickly hopped out of bed and made for the door. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Out in the same clearing in the woods as before, Antoshi was in the midst of training. With an intensely focused expression, his limbs blurred while punching and kicking in succession. Training his speed, he ran laps from one tree to the next and back continuously. He was clearing several hundred meters in heartbeats — not unlike what Latoshi had previously shocked them with when they first met. "You're at it really early today," Fireball spoke, as he approached. Antoshi broke his focus, coming to a halt, smiling to his friend. "You didn't even wait for me to come with you." “Sorry about that. Training is all can I do lately to keep myself from going stir-crazy. Sleep is pretty much an afterthought for me at this point. I woke up super-early this morning, brought you some food, and headed out here right after.” Antoshi turned away and balled his fist tight, his body surging with the red energy of his aura. He gave a shout, throwing a punch as hard as he could. His aura flickered intensely, energy exuding off of his fist. The forest's foliage swayed before him, as though a sharp breeze had passed. He was gradually catching up with the abilities that Latoshi had displayed to him. However, he wouldn't be satisfied unless he could far surpass what he knew Latoshi was capable of already — let alone any improvements. After all, Latoshi was undoubtedly training, too. He needed something more, to give him the best chance at soundly defeating his rival. "Whoa," Fireball remarked. "You sure have learned how to use your energy a lot better." Antoshi reached down and grabbed the towel he'd brought from the hotel room. “I've been working hard at it,” he replied, wiping the sweat from his face, “considering how many times Latoshi kept pointing out my faults. I'm more comfortable with using my energy offensively now. There's still one little problem, though. I can flail my arms and legs all I want, but … I still don't know how to fight.” "That … is an issue." “The only fighting styles I've ever seen were from Pokémon, … as well as getting beat up by Latoshi. I don't think any of that is going to help me very much.” "What are you going to do?" Antoshi slung the towel over his shoulder. “The one thing I've ever been good at — learn.” "Oh, no," Fireball remarked, horrified. "Don't tell me…" “That's right. It's time to go visit … the library.” Fireball covered his ears and shut his eyes. "No! Not books! Anything but books!" Antoshi smiled, patting his friend's side, as they walked off together. “Come on, you. Books never hurt anybody.” "That's not true. There was that one time when a book on the shelf in your bedroom hit me on the head." “Oh yeah, you're right! I forgot about that.” Fireball came to a sudden halt. "Antoshi, wait up a second." Antoshi stopped, turning to his friend, curiously. "I've been meaning to tell you that … well, I'm a bit worried." Antoshi sighed and looked away. “Yeah, so am I.” "Not about the fight, really, as much as I'm worried about … you." Antoshi expressed his confusion. "You've been really obsessing over this lately. When this is all over, … and, supposing we both make it out of this alive again, … will we be able to go back to normal?" “I understand what you're saying, Fireball. I'm sorry, again, for losing myself recently. This … fight with Latoshi is the only thing I've been able to think about. It's only made worse by how I can just barely feel Latoshi's energy every so often. It's so … faint, but it's there. He's far away, but not far enough. It seems almost like he's taunting me.” They both turned their gazes to the ground. “To answer your question, though, I do hope we'll get back to our normal lives. I hope so just as much as you.” Fireball gave his friend a slight smile. They continued on back to their hotel room. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ After Antoshi took a shower and changed clothes, the two headed out for the library, which was only a couple of blocks away. Once they were inside, Fireball curiously followed Antoshi around, while the boy curiously browsed the aisles. He picked up several books on martial arts, as well as on self-defense. He found an empty table nearby to place them on, before going back to find some more. With a few, small stacks of books piled up on the table, Antoshi sat down to start reading through them. Fireball, meanwhile, continued to meander around the library. The Typhlosion was trying to find anything to entertain him in the painfully quiet, uneventful building. There was not much besides nonspeaking people scattered randomly through the aisles, some with their Pokémon, and librarians to help others find what they were looking for. That, and books — lots and lots of books. Given that Fireball himself could not read, he was out of options. He headed back to Antoshi, sitting across from him. Antoshi looked up, briefly, greeting his friend with a smile. "Why didn't you use a computer to look up the stuff you wanted?" Fireball asked, keeping his voice hushed. Antoshi pointed a thumb behind him, casually. “That's why.” Fireball looked over and saw every one of the dozen or so computer terminals occupied, as well as a line of people waiting for them to free up. "… Oh," the Typhlosion remarked, feeling silly. Antoshi laughed, softly. “I learn better with a book anyway. The Internet is too distracting.” "That's true. Don't forget to follow the 'Safe Browsing Rules' that your parents taught you." Antoshi smirked and rolled his eyes, while Fireball snickered. “Trust me, they're drilled into my brain at this point.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The minutes of studying rolled on into hours. Antoshi was fully engrossed in his reading, setting each book aside as he finished gathering information that was relevant to him. At various points, he would look at two different books simultaneously to compare information. He was enlightened to the basics, like fighting stances, and the proper way to throw a punch, before gradually stepping up the learning curve. He read how to keep from wasting movement, how to block and parry, pressure points to aim for, and how to read bodily movements to predict opponent's attacks. Fireball gradually slumped over in his seat more and more until he was resting his head and forelimbs on the table. He curiously watched his friend mimic some of the fighting poses in the books. "I'm so bored," Fireball eventually spoke up. Antoshi heaved a sigh, and smiled reassuringly at his friend. “I know, Fireball.” He glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Let's take a break for now. We can go walk around the park nearby for a while.” "Sounds good to me!" Fireball eagerly got up and headed for the exit. Antoshi deposited all but one of the books into a nearby collection bin. He took the one he was reading with him, checked it out with the librarian, and joined his friend outside. The midday sun hung out with the puffy clouds littered high in the sky. The duo stretched their arms up, taking a deep breath of the outside air, before they set off for the nearest crosswalk. “It is a really nice day out,” Antoshi remarked. “Good idea getting us outside, Fireball.” "You said it. Hey, maybe there'll be an ice cream vendor at the park." Antoshi chuckled. “I know you'll keep your eyes peeled.” They crossed the street safely and headed down a nearby pathway that led into the aforementioned park. It was a much quieter park than the one they saw outside the Goldenrod train station. Nevertheless, there was plenty of activity around them. Joggers along the path, people sitting together on the grass, and a young man playing fetch with his Growlithe. As the duo walked side by side, Antoshi's nose was firmly buried in his book. Fireball inhaled and let out a content sigh. "I remember you used to call nice days like this a 'good omen' back in Kanto." “Yeah, now it's more like 'the calm before the storm',” Antoshi joked, with a laugh. Fireball expressed his disappointment at the remark. Despite making light of the situation, his friend still didn't come off to him as being back to his old self. Antoshi was too busy reading his book to notice's Fireball's reaction. “Did you know,” Antoshi went on, “in some old civilizations, women were the ones that developed and mastered different forms of martial arts? That's so cool. I've never even seen a girl fight before. … Though, I haven't seen much combat between people at all.” "You seem pretty excited about this whole 'fighting' thing." “Yeah, well, it's almost certain at this point that I'll have to fight Latoshi again soon. It scares the heck out of me, but … I don't really have a choice. I might as well get as excited about it as I can.” "Antoshi?" Fireball said, grabbing his friend's attention. "I just wanted to say it's nice to see you … mostly back to normal. You seem a lot more confident now. You're not so, … well, angry as you were a few days ago." “I'm as normal as I can be, given the circumstances,” he replied with a grin. “I'm just … doing my best to keep my feelings in check.” “Hey, you!” the nearby voice of a youngster called out. “Book Kid and Typhlosion!” The duo turned toward the boy. “Want to battle?” They both looked to each other with the same expression of elation. “You up for it?” Antoshi asked. "When am I not?" Antoshi slipped a Furret-shaped bookmark into his book and closed it. Fireball eagerly took his position a few meters in front of his friend, standing between him and the youngster. “Cool beans, dude! I've lived in Johto my whole life and that's only the second Typhlosion I've ever seen!” “Well, I think you'll find that Fireball here is the best Typhlosion you'll ever see, too.” Fireball's eyes lit up, turning to his friend with an enthused grin in response to his friend's confidence. They gave each other a thumbs up. “Awesome! I love a challenge!” The boy pulled a Poké Ball from his belt. “The name's Gabriel. What's yours?” “I'm Antoshi, from Saffron City.” “Antoshi, huh? Weird name!” Fireball and Antoshi grinned to each other. “Good to know some things never change,” Antoshi remarked. Gabriel tossed out his first Pokémon from the confines of its ball: a Gurdurr. The stocky, muscular Pokémon gave a cry, raising a large steel girder over its head for a moment before holding it at its side. “So, are you ready to battle or what?” Gabriel asked. Folding his arms across his chest, he flashed Antoshi a cocky smirk. Antoshi's eyes widened in shock, his heart rate raising substantially. The way Gabriel smirked caused him to recollect images of Latoshi's arrogant expression. “Hey there! Antoshi-dude!” Gabriel said, snapping Antoshi out of his daze. “I said, 'are you ready'?” “Oh, … we're definitely ready!” Both he and Fireball nodded in unison. “All right! Gurdurr, give 'em a Rock Slide!” Gurdurr spiked its girder into the ground, raised its arms up, and gave a long shout. Amorphous orbs of energy appeared high over Fireball. The orbs solidified into rocky boulders. “Fireball, keep moving!” Antoshi said. Fireball quickly sprinted around on all fours. "Finally getting a good stretch in after all that sitting!" he remarked. The heavy boulders slammed down to the ground in a seemingly random pattern. Antoshi studied said pattern, carefully. Each one missed Fireball by a short distance, but were gradually closing in. “Fireball — stop!” The Typhlosion immediately did so, coming to a halt mere inches from one final boulder that rattled the ground in front of him. ‘That wasn't bad!’ Gabriel thought, with a look of surprise. ‘They know what they're doing.’ “Fireball, use Flamethrower!” Fireball hopped on top of that last, massive boulder. He inhaled deeply, before opening his maw to send a powerful stream of fire at the Gurdurr. “Gurdurr — defend!” Gurdurr held on to the back of its metal girder, which was still firmly planted in the ground, using it as a shield from the flames. “Full breath, Fireball!” Antoshi said. Fireball shut his eyes tight, pouring out as much fire as he could give. The girder glowed red-hot. Before Gabriel's eyes, the metal started to bend and melt. Gurdurr shouted in shock, dancing around in a panic, the intensely hot flames lapping at its feet and sides. Once Fireball's attack finished, he inhaled deeply before sighing in relief, exhaling a large puff of smoke. Gurdurr hopped away from the smoldering streaks of fire on the ground. It swiftly patted out the flames on its body. Gabriel had a look of concern as he inspected the melted steel. ‘That was pretty scary,’ he thought. ‘Just how good are these two?’ Fireball hopped down from the rock and returned to his position in front of his Trainer. “Gurdurr, return!” Gabriel said. He held up its Poké Ball, which retrieved it into its confines, along with its melted steel girder. “All right, Antoshi-dude! Your Typhlosion is really strong, so I'll just send out my best Pokémon! It'll be a clash of the titans!” Gabriel switched out for an Ultra Ball on his belt, which he enlarged and tossed out. “Go, Houndoom!” Antoshi was shocked by the presence of the emerging black-furred demonic dog. His mind immediately recalled the horrors brought about by Lucent, the undead Houndoom aspect that aided Latoshi in their fight. Fireball, too, was not terribly happy to see another Houndoom so soon. He turned to Antoshi, greeted by a blank look in the boy's eyes. “So, what do you think of my Houndoom?” Gabriel said proudly, his hands firmly on his hips. Antoshi was on another plane of reality, unable to respond as he stared at the opposing Pokémon. Unlike earlier, Antoshi was not able to snap out of his daze this time. “Aha,” Gabriel said, “you're giving that 'calm and stoic' reaction, huh? Well, we're not gonna be intimidated by you! All right, Houndoom, use Rocket Fuel!” His Houndoom whimpered and rolled its eyes. The boy laughed. “You hate it when I call it that, huh? Okay, okay. Flame Charge, Houndoom!” Houndoom gave a snort of fire from its nostrils, its body quickly becoming enveloped in flame. It darted swiftly toward Fireball while Gabriel looked on with pride. ‘Flame Charge isn't Houndoom's best attack,’ Gabriel thought, ‘but, at least it'll give me a good idea of how strong that Typhlosion really is.’ Fireball stood in place, confused, waiting for Antoshi to make the next call. Antoshi, however, was frozen in place at the sight of the Houndoom rushing toward them. His heart raced, trembling fearfully. He recalled Lucent lurching toward Fireball, and how he intervened to shield his best friend with his own body. The smell and the sight of blood running down from his gaping wound were still fresh in his mind. ‘Fireball,’ he recalled his words, after his friend had been knocked unconscious by Latoshi. ‘Come on, Fireball. … Please, wake up!’ Fireball was about to be struck by Houndoom's Flame Charge. The Typhlosion turned around in concern, and gasped at the sight of his friend suddenly enveloped in his red aura. ‘How perfect it is to have both of you together like this,’ Latoshi had said, ready to strike the two with blasts of energy. ‘It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel!’ “No!” Antoshi shouted, aiming his open palms at the Houndoom. In his stupor, he fired a potent blast of spirit energy at the ground between Fireball and Gabriel's Houndoom. The resulting explosion knocked the two Pokémon backwards several meters. The blast was heard and felt by nearly everyone in the park. Passersby and their Pokémon screamed in terror, some of them running away. "Antoshi!" Fireball exclaimed, over the sound of falling dirt and debris, finally pulling his friend back to reality. "Why did you do that?!" “What was that?!” Gabriel shouted. His Houndoom got to its feet and returned to the boy's side. Antoshi was terrified by what he'd just wrought. People all around him were gawking and staring at the sight. A large crater, the size of an automobile, sat between the two Trainers, and beneath a cloud of dust. Antoshi had no idea what to say to Gabriel, or to any of the bystanders. “Fireball, let's go,” he said, shuffling away from the scene, quickly. Fireball got up and followed, lagging behind him. The duo were too nervous to look at anyone. “What happened?” a voice in the crowd asked. “Was it from a Pokémon battle?” “I think it was some kind of old, unexploded land mine,” another person remarked. "Antoshi!" Fireball said, as he caught up to his friend. "Are you okay?" “I thought I was,” the boy replied, solemnly, “but I realize now that I'm definitely not.” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi and Fireball headed straight back to their hotel room. They opted to stay put, uneasy about going out for the rest of the day. Antoshi kept his book from the library, continuing to read and study it in silence while he laid on his bed. Fireball passed the time by resting, looking out the window, and eventually turning on the television. Antoshi sighed, closing the book for the time being. He opted to watch TV with Fireball during the evening news broadcast. “And, in other news tonight, an explosion rocks Sunset Park in eastern Goldenrod,” the news reporter said. The duo's eyes widened. “Witnesses say an unknown explosive ordnance detonated in an area where two young Trainers were having a Pokémon battle. The Trainers and their Pokémon were unharmed, but the blast made a sizable crater. Police have cordoned the area off. They could not give any further details on the situation and are still investigating.” “Great,” Antoshi remarked, burying his face in the mattress. “That's all I need now — for the police to come and ask me questions about what happened. What do I even tell them?” "What's wrong with telling them the truth?" Fireball replied. Antoshi looked up, gawking at his friend in disbelief. “You want me to tell them that I did that?” "Of course! Do you really think they're going to believe you when you tell them 'a giant ball of energy came out of my hands and destroyed the ground'?" Antoshi pondered for a moment. “That … might be crazy enough to work,” Antoshi said, grinning. “The story is way too insane. They'll think I'm nuts and leave me alone. Even though, … right now, I definitely am going nuts.” The boy sighed as he rolled over onto his back, staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea when Latoshi's going to make a move. It was just dumb luck that I bumped into him after sensing his energy the first time we met. I can't pinpoint exactly where he is, not unless he outputs a lot of energy. Right now, he's keeping his energy restrained. I can't do anything until he's ready to seek me out again.” Antoshi scoffed. “I'm sure he'll make that point loud and clear whenever he does show….” ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Latoshi was in the midst of his meditative training once again. His thoughts, however, were distracted. ‘Who is 'Declan'?’ he thought, furrowing his brow. ‘Is it someone I knew? Someone … I was close to? Was it … me?’ He growled softly in frustration. ‘If I could just remember. … If I could remember that woman's voice. She was calling out. 'Declan.' … 'Declan.' …’ “Declan!” Latoshi gasped at the sound of the woman's voice again. He immediately sprang to his feet, looking around. There was no one around. He exhaled slowly, closing his eyes and clenching his fists. ‘Concentrate,’ Latoshi thought. ‘Try to remember. Remember … Declan …’ “Declan!” the woman exclaimed. This time, however, he didn't open his eyes. He kept them closed, putting all of his effort into trying to scratch and claw his way through to his subconscious. Latoshi recalled a gradually clearing image of a woman with long, wavy blonde hair. He gasped again, trembling in excitement. It was a breakthrough unlike anything he'd had before. His heart fluttered at the very idea of recollecting his memories, and finally being able to tie himself to his forgotten past. The woman was angry. She was angry at him. He walked up to her, trying to get past her, as she stood at the front door of a house. She blocked the doorway, and he responded by angrily pushing her aside. “Declan, that's enough!” she said. “Stop it now!” a man next to her shouted, trying to grab his arm. He immediately yanked his arm away and stormed up a flight of stairs. “Get lost!” Latoshi shouted back. “I won't listen to you! You're not even my real parents!” “Declan!” they both called to him. His vision abruptly turned to darkness. Latoshi fell to his knees, panting and trembling. Tears welled in his eyes as he slowly opened them. ‘Why?’ he thought. ‘Why did … I do that? Why do I feel so much sorrow? Why can't I … remember everything?’ He hunched over, pounding his fists into the dirt as he wept. ‘Damn it.’ He inhaled, shakily, tears falling to the ground. ‘Why can't I remember?’ 'Because I will not let you,' Lazarus replied, startling him. 'Oh, so sorry. Did I interrupt your thoughts?' “Lazarus?” he wondered aloud, falling back into a sitting position. “You … can hear my thoughts?” 'Of course. I have been able to hear and see your thoughts since the very beginning.' Dread suddenly swept over the boy. “What— … what did you mean you won't let me remember?” Lazarus chuckled in amusement. 'Ah, I knew this would happen eventually. I knew the truth would have to come out someday.' Latoshi had a puzzled look on his face. 'You truly believed you had amnesia. All those months locked in that prison. You believed me, just like I knew you would, because of what a stupid little child you are. So easy to manipulate and do my bidding.' Latoshi slowly got to his feet, trembling in rage. 'The truth is, … you never had 'amnesia'. I have been blocking your memories and holding them hostage.' The wind was knocked from his lungs. “My … memories,” he remarked in disbelief. “Give them back, Lazarus. You have to give them back! You're in my body, and relying on me to get stronger! I'm not going to do anything you say until you give me what I want!” Lazarus cackled loudly, leaving Latoshi confused once more. 'How stupid are you?! You think that you are the one in control? How do you think I was able to see your vision training earlier? I have become just as much a part of you as you are, Latoshi. So, you will never get what you want — I get what I want all the time!' Latoshi was frightened and bewildered. 'You have never had a moment to yourself this whole time! I know everything that you think and say, so you cannot hide anything from me! You thought you could scheme and plan against me, go against what I tell you, like some rebellious little delinquent? I know that you have been trying to muster up your memories, and bits and pieces of them have slipped through the cracks of the barrier I built around them. But that is not a problem — I can just reset your memories again!' “No!” Latoshi shouted, grabbing his head. 'Yes, Latoshi! And while I am at it, I shall block out all those fond little memories you made with Antoshi and his stupid pet! You will do my bidding as long as I want you to, and there is nothing that you can do about it because I can continue to lock your memories away again and again! I am the only one you will listen to for the rest of your life! Every time you think you think you have the upper hand with your disobedience toward me, I always have that as my ace in the hole!' “Please, no, Lazarus! Please, don't take away my memories!” 'Oh, it is too late for pleading now, Latoshi. I cannot let you know of my true plans for you! I did not want to have to resort to this because of how loyal you were, but you have left me no choice! Now, get stronger for me, my puppet! Dance for me as I pull on your strings!!' Lazarus' cackling echoed through Latoshi's head as he stared at the sky, blankly. All of the positive memories he made, the positive emotions he felt, and the memories of his past life he rediscovered were ripped away from him once again — just as Lazarus had done to him before he awoke in the military base. When all was said and done, Latoshi stumbled and fell onto his behind. In the quiet of the night, he continued to stare, vacantly, at the ground for a short time. 'Now then,' Lazarus spoke again, calm and collected. 'I think you have had enough time to train, Latoshi. Your power has grown exponentially since you began your tutelage under me. Those men slain by you in the alley some time ago were just an appetizer. I think the table is set for you to enjoy the main course.' A twisted smile of elation slowly crept across Latoshi's lips. He rose back to his feet with aplomb, gazing at the city in the distance. 'The time has come for you to begin purging the evil from this world. Cleanse it in your image, Latoshi. Lay the groundwork for what will become your utopia.' Latoshi chuckled, stretching out his neck. “Sounds good to me. I feel like I've got a ton of pent-up frustration for some reason, and it needs to be taken out on someone.” The boy ascended high into the air. He took off, soaring around the city, looking for any individuals whom he deemed unworthy to live. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Latoshi scoured dozens of miles of city streets from way up high. Frustration began setting in, as all turned out to be far quieter and peaceful that night than he'd like. There were no guilty souls for him to pass his judgment upon. 'If they refuse to come out,' Lazarus said, 'you must seek them out.' “They're hiding like cockroaches,” Latoshi remarked with a bitter expression. “Where would I find these parasites? People who commit crimes, and have hearts of ice? …” His eyes lit up when he spotted a large compound near the western edge of the city. He flew toward it, its bright spotlights pointing to the sky, drawing him in like a moth. The long facility was surrounded by multiple rows of steel gates topped with barbed wire. His chest swelled as he noticed the sign at the front: 'Goldenrod Penitentiary, Maximum Security'. 'Very resourceful, Latoshi. However, you must remain cautious. These facilities tend to employ advanced technology in their security, not unlike the one you were imprisoned in.' “What should I do?” 'Move quickly and quietly, if you plan to enter. It is very likely they have heat, motion, or sound detection — even outside. Whatever plan you decide on, make sure it is something their normal, human eyes cannot detect.' “Then, I should use my Ki,” he remarked. “Those disgusting creeps in the military base couldn't see it when I used it then.” 'Of course. Only those with spirit awareness are able to detect it. So, what do you plan to do?' Latoshi thought for a moment before chuckling in amusement. His dark aura emanated and briefly flared around his body. He held both hands out toward the prison walls. “Knock, knock,” Latoshi muttered, grinning, before firing a large blast of energy. The attack caused an explosion that ripped through the solid concrete, shaking the entire compound, demolishing a massive section of the wall. Distant screaming from inside the building followed immediately after. Alarms rang out through the prison. “Security breach!” a voice said over the loudspeakers. “Southeast corridor security breach!” “Now, then,” he muttered to himself, “how many of you scum want to party?” The boy waited patiently as the cloud of dust started to settle. He hummed curiously when he saw a prisoner emerge soon after. Wearing a yellow jumpsuit, the man climbed over the rubble, and ran for the first barbed wire gate. The field he passed through was particularly long, and his yellow clothes made it easy for the guards in the towers to spot him. Amid the chaos, however, there were no guards aware of his escape. Dozens more prisoners began to follow, forming a few large groups that raced down the field. Latoshi laughed, beginning his descent toward the ground. “I knew it,” he remarked with a smirk. “Just like cockroaches, they scatter. Don't worry, I'll give you all an early release from your sentences…” The first man panted heavily, scrambling closer to the first gate. Latoshi suddenly landed in front of him, causing him to come to a startled halt. “Who—who the hell are you?!” he shouted. Latoshi gave his response in the form of an amused grin. He disappeared in an instant, leaving the man bewildered until the boy made a dash past him. Latoshi just barely nicked the man's neck with his hand, which burned with a thin layer of his dark energy. Though minor, the strike was more than enough to slice his throat like the edge of a razor-sharp blade. The man's eyes shot open wide with horror, clasping the open wound with both hands. He fell to the ground, choking and gagging, while Latoshi quickly went after his next victim. He rushed toward a very brawny man who was nearing the first wall. Latoshi appeared behind him, grabbed him by his jumpsuit, and threw him with such force into the metallic wall that he was killed by the impact immediately. His body made a large dent in the wall before he slumped to the ground. Latoshi turned around and fired wild blasts of energy at the groups of fleeing prisoners. The ones that were unfortunate to be struck had their bodies, or parts of them, instantly burned to ashes on contact. The guards in the towers finally noticed the prison break. They were too perplexed by the sight of the prisoners quickly dying off before their eyes to react. Latoshi moved through the rest of the people in the field, slaying and felling every single one with conviction. Endless screams rang out from his victims. His lips were ever curled into a pleased smirk, blood spattering all over his body and clothes. Yet, despite how effective and thorough he was, his eyes carried a deep emptiness. It was an emptiness that only became more pronounced as his rampage continued on.
  15. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ — Part 3: Intervention — ⁂ ⁂ A scream, echoing in the forest. Sounds of explosions all around. Nostrils clogged with the scent of blood. Terrible, mind-numbing pain in every nerve. The horrifying image of Fireball near death. ‘Fireball, no!’ Antoshi cried out. Latoshi's laugh echoed all around him. The sable-haired boy's sneering expression was so clear — cold, vicious, methodical. “Join me, Antoshi,” he said. “Let's make this world so much better by cleansing it of evil.” “I already know how to make this world better,” Antoshi spat, “by cleansing you out of it!” He and Latoshi shouted as they rushed toward each other. Antoshi gasped, jolting back to reality, sitting on the edge of a messy bed. Even though he'd only dozed off for a few minutes, he had to recollect himself and remember where he was: the hotel room they were staying. They were safe — far away from the site of the horrific battle between himself and Latoshi. Only a couple of days had passed since his fight with Latoshi. He'd gotten almost no sleep since then. His thoughts had been consuming him and drawing him into dreamlike dazes, pulling him back into that point in time, causing him to relive the horrors of their fight over and over again. The brutal extent of their confrontation rendered him unable to think about much else. The lack of sleep left him agitated. He looked over at Fireball. The Typhlosion stood staring out of the room's large windows, high above eastern Goldenrod City. It was a bleak afternoon, the sky was cloudy and overcast. The duo had opted to lay low for a while, staying put in their room. Their exploration of the city, and their Johto journey as a whole, was on hold, indefinitely. The mood between them had been abnormally quiet and somber as of late. ‘What is this power inside of me?’ Antoshi thought. ‘Why? … Why was I given this?’ "So," Fireball said, turning to face his friend, "Latoshi … broke my Poké Ball?" “Yeah,” Antoshi replied. He looked down at the new, unblemished Poké Ball in his hands, slowly rotating it. “I should've stopped him. I should've … done more to make sure that you weren't hurt, and that your Poké Ball was safe. Now, all that history and those memories with that ball, the one that brought you to me for the very first time, are gone.” The Typhlosion turned his gaze to the floor. "That's why you went out earlier and bought a new Poké Ball," Fireball remarked with a weak chuckle. "After I saw you with it, I thought maybe … you were ready to get back on the road. I thought you were planning to catch a new Pokémon for the first time, or … maybe even a bunch of new Pokémon." “We can't get back to traveling yet. I have to deal with Latoshi first.” Fireball took a seat on a second bed across from Antoshi. His concerned gaze met with Antoshi's brown eyes. "Antoshi, you can't blame yourself over what happened in that fight. You don't have to feel like it's your responsibility to take him on." “How can I not? I know I'm the only one who can stop him.” "That's true, but … how? What can we do? You heard him before, he kept going on and on about his training and experience. He— … he beat you … badly." Antoshi cut his eyes at him. “I know he beat me, Fireball,” he said, raising his voice, “you don't have to keep reminding me, okay?” "Okay, okay. I—I'm sorry, Antoshi. I didn't mean to …" he trailed off. The mood turned quiet again. Fireball sighed, looking at the Poké Ball in Antoshi's hands. He reached out and grabbed it with a paw, smiling to his friend, reassuringly. Fireball's body was quickly reduced to a reddish light, pulled into the open ball before it promptly snapped shut. Antoshi watched the ball gently wobble, while the front button glowed red and blinked for a moment. Once it stopped glowing, the new home of his best friend was officially set. The blond-haired boy sighed, staring blankly. He pondered for a moment, hesitating to let Fireball out again. He placed the ball on the bed, and walked away. ‘I don't want to fight you,’ he recalled saying to Latoshi. ‘Good!’ Latoshi replied back. ‘That'll make killing you so much easier.’ Antoshi sighed, getting into a fighting stance, raising his fists. He grunted, throwing a few straight punches in the blink of an eye. He expressed bitterness. He found himself back in the forest, envisioning Latoshi standing over him with the same arrogant smile. ‘Well, so much for this little 'fight' you decided to put up,’ Latoshi said to him. ‘It was okay, but, in the end, the person with real training won here.’ Antoshi narrowed his eyes, letting those words sinking in. He stood up straight, eyes widening with the spark of an epiphany. He grabbed Fireball's Poké Ball and held it out to finally release him. Fireball materialized, sitting on the bed again. "Um," Fireball began, "should I … ask why you waited to let me back out?" Antoshi had a serious expression upon his face before he turned away. “Come on, Fireball,” he said, heading for the door. “Let's get going.” "Oh. Okay, sure," Fireball replied with some confusion. He followed Antoshi as they exited their hotel room. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Outside, Antoshi marched eastward through the city streets toward an unknown destination. His eyes were fueled with determination, irises glowing brightly with the red hue of his spirit energy. Fireball remained behind his friend as opposed to his typical designation by the boy's side. The mood continued to be unusually quiet and tense. Antoshi had become fairly distant toward Fireball ever since the fight with Latoshi. A gloomy air hung over the boy. It wasn't the Antoshi he knew and loved. Fireball wanted to say something about it to him, but he was too afraid that it would only anger Antoshi further. Soon, the city's Gym came into view. Fireball's eyes lit up, gasping in elation. "Oh, hey! Goldenrod City Gym!" Fireball said. He stopped in front of the white pathway leading to the doors of the large, yellowish building, grinning eagerly. "Man, I can't wait to—" He looked over to see Antoshi was still walking away. Fireball gave chase after him. "Antoshi? The Gym's over here!" “We're not going to the Gym,” he replied, keeping his bitter gaze forward. Fireball was stunned. "Oh. … Where are we going?" “Just follow me,” he said, flatly. “I'll explain later.” "Oh, uh, all right then…" Fireball replied, nervously fidgeting with his claws. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Once they reached the wooded outskirts of the city, Antoshi led Fireball into the first open clearing he found. A small flock of Starly flew off upon his arrival. Fireball was surprised, curiously staring at him. Antoshi took a slow look around. The environment was similar to that of the battle with Latoshi. The memories again came flooding back to him. ‘Let's just call that a … 'parting shot',’ Latoshi said. ‘You have a lot to think about after this ordeal. But, I think you'll find it wise to reconsider my offer.’ "So," Fireball said, bringing Antoshi back to reality. "What … are we doing out here in the woods?" “Training,” Antoshi replied calmly. "Oh, sweet!" Fireball said, with a relieved sigh. "You know, you had me worried for a sec' there. I'll bet you want to make sure we're strong enough to beat all of the Johto Gyms, huh?" “We're not training you, Fireball,” Antoshi replied. “I already told you, we can't start traveling again yet. I'm the one who's getting training.” The boy stretched out his neck and rubbed his hands together. Fireball was left confused. "… Huh?" he uttered, bewildered. Antoshi walked a few paces away, turning around to face his friend. “Come at me,” Antoshi said. “I want you to attack me just like you'd attack an opponent.” Fireball's jaw hung in disbelief. "Antoshi … what? What are you asking me here? I can't … hit you. You're not my opponent, you're my best friend." “We don't have time for this, Fireball!” Antoshi shouted, causing the larger than average Typhlosion to jump. “Every second we waste allows Latoshi to get stronger. He's scheming, plotting, waiting to attack us again. He could very well be watching us right now.” "Antoshi, … is this really the right call? Are you really going to train to … fight him again?" “This is the only thing I can think of, Fireball. I don't know exactly what Latoshi's training consists of, but the fact is, like you said earlier, he did beat me … badly. I thought that my powers were strong enough for me to do anything. I could fly, I could pick up cars, but Latoshi's power and skill … were on a whole different level I couldn't even comprehend.” "I thought that you wanted to try to talk him out of this whole, err, whatever it was he's trying to accomplish." Antoshi laughed weakly. “We're probably way past being able to talk things over with him at this point. The only language Latoshi understands is fighting.” He spread his stance a bit, loosening himself up. “Now, let's train. Come at me.” Fireball looked at his friend with deep concern in his eyes. He sighed, looking away for a moment before nodding in acknowledgment. The fires on his back came alight. He made the first charge at Antoshi, growling, swiping a claw at his chest. His attack completely missed, however, as Antoshi had already maneuvered behind him. Fireball turned around, eyes wide with surprise. “Come on, Fireball,” he said, with a perturbed expression. “I know you and your strength better than anyone. You're holding back already. Don't. I can take whatever you dish out at me. And, well, if I can't … I think you know what that means.” "Yeah, … that's what I'm most afraid of." “This isn't the time for us to be worrying about 'what if's. Now, stop messing around and strike!” Fireball hesitated for a moment. “Fireball, use Rolling Fireball!” Fireball was shocked by the command. Antoshi took another few paces back and gestured for him to come forth. With a bitter growl, Fireball curled himself up. Revving in place like a spinning tire caused the fires on his back to ignite his entire frame. Antoshi's eyes glowed bright red, clenching his jaw, watching Fireball blast towards him in an instant. He leapt over Fireball's first attack. The Typhlosion quickly spun around, coming at him again with greater speed than before. Antoshi side-stepped the next pass, and the one after it. After which, Fireball's speed continued to increase to a phenomenal pace. Not content to simply dodge, Antoshi decided to take a risk and test his own strength. He braced himself, holding both hands out. He grabbed the spinning Typhlosion, his feet digging into the ground from the impact as he slid backward. The intense flames seared at his hands. He strained with effort, the force of Fireball's attack pushing him back less and less. He quickly managed to slow Fireball's momentum to a complete halt. Once the flames on Fireball's back went out, Antoshi let go of him and took a few steps back. Fireball leapt up into a vertical standing position. "You okay, Antoshi?" he asked. Antoshi inspected the ash collected on his trembling palms before patting them clean. His skin had ended up raw and red from the heat of the flames. He felt no pain from it, and was otherwise fine. “Yeah,” the boy replied, with a slight chuckle. “Luckily.” Fireball smiled in response. "That was definitely not something a normal person should be able to do." “Almost nothing over the past few months has really been 'normal' for me, … no matter how much I wish it were.” "We still don't have to do this whole 'training' thing if you don't want to." Antoshi shook his head. “Latoshi … threatened your life, he threatened mine. … He even threatened Mom and Dad.” His expression turned bitter, staring at his clenched fists. “I can't let anything happen to my family. Not when I have the ability to protect them.” "He could've just been bluffing." “And what if he wasn't?” he shot back, surprising Fireball. “You saw him just as well as I did, Fireball — he's insane! He hears voices in his head that tell him to … to go out and—and murder people? No, I have to stop him. I'm the only one that can. That has to be why I kept having those dreams about him, and what he did to Fern Town. I know if I try hard enough, I can find the strength to beat him. I have to do this.” He closed his eyes and sighed in sorrow. “I have to.” Fireball turned his gaze away, unable to offer a response. Antoshi looked over at his friend with a serious expression. “Now, come at me with Return.” Fireball's eyes widened. "You want me to use Return on … my Trainer?" Antoshi scoffed, grinning slightly. He guarded his chest with his forearms. “I'm aware of the irony in that. Keep on hitting me and don't hold back.” Fireball shook his head with a groan of defeat. He narrowed his eyes before taking aim, swinging at Antoshi with enough force to stagger the boy back. Antoshi clenched his teeth, grunting through the powerful, clubbing strikes. The pain he felt was echoed in his expression and his glowing irises. ‘I've been too coddled,’ Antoshi thought. ‘I've never had to fight for myself. I've always depended on Fireball or my parents, ever since I was a child. I can't be a child anymore. I can't sit by and let everyone else take care of my problems for me, not when Latoshi is out there after threatening their lives.’ He shut his eyes tight, his arms glowing bright with his red energy, continuing to defend. ‘Latoshi was right. I can use my power for good, to do great things in the world. Now, I'm going to use them … to put an end his madness…’ ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ Antoshi was not the only one focused on training, however. At the southern end of Goldenrod City, not far from where they fought, Latoshi was busy honing his skills within the seclusion of the woods. He stood still, his eyes closed, breathing calmly. His transparent, black aura gently fluctuated around him. There were no Pokémon anywhere near him. The ones that did show themselves quickly fled after gazing upon his ominous, dark energy. 'Now,' Lazarus instructed him. His eyes shot open, irises shimmering black. He brought his clenched fists up at his sides and gave a long shout. His aura flared wildly, extending further out around his body. 'Concentrate,' Lazarus said. The boy briefly closed his eyes, his expression turning bitterly serious. A large multitude of energy orbs, each about the size of his fist, suddenly burst from his aura and hovered around him. Latoshi broke his focus to look around at them in awe. “Whoa,” he remarked. “That's unreal.” He brought a hand up, which caused some of the orbs on that side to move up. He gasped, waving his hands around, prompting the orbs to do the same. Smirking confidently, he thrust both hands forward. The energy he summoned responded by shooting out in front of him. He kept his sense of amazement as the orbs violently exploded on contact with the trees and ground. Once the dust had settled, a flat clearing of earth lay before him. Everything for several dozens of meters had been completely ravaged to nothing. Having the power to destroy at a moment's notice made him feel all-powerful, capable of guiding his own destiny. Yet, taking it out on a bunch of harmless trees left him with a feeling of emptiness. 'Outstanding. You successfully improvised a new technique. Your fight with Antoshi strengthened your abilities far quicker than meditation ever could. You truly have excellent potential, Latoshi.' He curiously gazed down at his hands, summoning up some of his energy to them. “I don't feel much stronger,” he remarked. 'Of course not,' Lazarus snapped, as if to chide the boy. Latoshi furred his brow in concern. Lazarus quickly lightened his tone. 'This is your new baseline of power. Of course, it would not feel any different for you.' “Well, if you say so.” Latoshi put his hands in his pockets, strolling casually through the destruction he wrought. “So, where do I go from here?” 'As I have told you, your power is limitless.' “Yeah, … you have said that,” he replied with disinterest. '… Is there a problem?' “I just keep— … err, never mind.” 'Tell me. I will not have you keep secrets.' “It's … about Antoshi. I keep thinking about when we met, and the things he's said, and … I don't— I mean, I just want to talk to him again.” 'You are not to speak to him. There is nothing that needs to be said to him, and nothing he could say will ever matter.' “But, if I could just—” Latoshi was interrupted by a piercing noise ringing out in his head again — Lazarus' method of punishment. His eyes shot open wide, letting out a scream of agonizing pain. He fell to his knees, covering his ears. 'I told you not to disobey me anymore, did I not?' Lazarus spoke, calmly, over the terrible noise. Latoshi gasped once the noise suddenly stopped. He panted quietly for a moment, scowling. “I don't think that's necessary to get your point across,” he remarked, bitterly. He was very quickly getting fed up with Lazarus asserting authority over him. 'Let me tell you what is 'necessary': putting your full faith in me. I will not lead you astray. Antoshi is weak. He is unskilled, he is a coward. You are none of those things. I have already proven my loyalty to you. Now, you must do the same.' Latoshi's gaze was fully focused on the ground like a scolded child. The mysterious voice had a point — he did owe Lazarus a great deal. He settled into a sitting position with his legs folded. 'No distractions. Nothing will stop us from our goal. Nothing. Is that understood?' “Yes, Lazarus,” Latoshi replied, quietly. 'Very good. Now, return to your meditation. You are to continue honing your new abilities until they are as sharp as a sword.' Latoshi closed his eyes, heaving a sigh before he returned to his training. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ A day later, there were a few small breaks in the heavily clouded, mid morning sky. Antoshi and Fireball's roles had reversed as they continued to train in the woods. Antoshi was on the offensive, while Fireball dodged away from each of the boy's punches and kicks. Antoshi was struggling to land a strike on his battle-hardened Pokémon, especially with his mind continually distracted by the same haunting memories. Nonetheless, he remained ever persistent. As they pressed on throughout the day, and as Antoshi managed to focus more, Antoshi's speed gradually made significant progress. That improvement came with the intensifying red glow in his eyes, brought about by the fiery emotions stirred up by thoughts of Latoshi's viciousness and arrogance. ‘You're pathetic,’ Latoshi remarked in his memory. ‘You're way too emotional. All you do is cry over every little thing, like a baby. Killing you almost seems like a waste of energy now.’ Antoshi was still not able to tag his target. The constant failure, the lack of sleep, his inability to let go of his memories — it was all wearing on him. He gave a frustrated yell as his red aura exploded to life around his body. In an instant, he suddenly grabbed Fireball by the throat and pinned him to the ground with a violent slam. "Antoshi!" Fireball strained. “You think I'm a crybaby?!” Antoshi shouted, enraged. He reared a fist back that burned with the energy of his aura. “Let's see how funny it is when I make you cry!” "Antoshi, please, stop!" Fireball exclaimed. Antoshi's eyes widened as he snapped back to reality. He quickly let go of Fireball, his jaw hanging in disbelief. “Fireball, I'm … so sorry. I …” "It's all right, Antoshi," he reassured him. He and Antoshi sat down in front of each other. The boy was crestfallen. Fireball knew Antoshi was hurting inside over Latoshi, and what Latoshi had done to him. He was disappointed that his friend chose to manifest that pain as anger. It was so unlike him. Antoshi had always been so kind, friendly, and caring. This rage wasn't like him at all. His best friend was unrecognizable. He was no longer a blond ray of sunshine. "We've been training like this for hours," Fireball said. "Maybe we should take a break for now. It's a miracle that nobody's come by here yet to see you darting around like a bullet." “Maybe,” he replied, his voice low. He was unable to look his friend in the eye. “I'm really sorry, Fireball. I went too far there.” Family was, again, the most important thing to Antoshi. Lashing out at his family made him finally understand how badly misplaced his heart had been. He hadn't seen the situation from Fireball's perspective. He took a moment to steady his breathing, so he could think clearly. "It's okay, Antoshi. This whole 'Latoshi' thing is getting to you. Why don't we just, you know, go and get something to eat?" Antoshi grinned and scoffed in amusement. “You never miss a chance for food, huh?” he joked. Fireball grinned. “Still, food sounds good right about now.” The two of them got up, idly brushing at the dirt and scuff marks littering their bodies. "You have a little something right here," Fireball remarked, pointing at a glob of mud under Antoshi's eye. “Oh, I do, huh?” Antoshi smirked, rubbing his cheek, smearing the mud around. “Did I get it?” Fireball chortled. "Yep, you're fine," he replied, stifling a laugh. Antoshi grinned and sighed. “I guess that means we should go get cleaned up before we eat. Better call Mom and Dad, too. They probably want to know what we're up to in Goldenrod.” "Sounds like a good idea." As they ended their training session for the day, they were unaware that they were being watched. In the shadows of the nearby trees, stood the mysterious girl with long, brunette hair that had healed Antoshi's injuries. She smiled warmly, watching the pair as they left. With a quiet, content chuckle, she turned and headed off in her own direction. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ The duo were back in their hotel room, having cleaned up and gotten something to eat. The clouds had almost completely cleared up by noon. The room's wide-open curtains allowed the bright light to pour in. Antoshi was visibly nervous as he sat at the videophone in their room. Fireball stood behind him as usual. Both of them did their best to put up a convincing front while the phone automatically dialed Antoshi's parents. “There's our amazing Pokémon Trainer!” his mother greeted him. Both she and his father waved to them. “Hi, Mom and Dad,” Antoshi replied, offering his parents an embarrassed grin. “Ooh, I'll bet the two of you are enjoying the sights as usual, huh?” she asked. “Are the Trainers there tough?” his father chimed in. “Yes, and … err, yes,” he replied with a nervous chuckle. “Fireball and I have been really distracted here in Goldenrod.” Fireball nodded. “Well, Goldenrod is as big as Saffron City,” his mother said. “You two will have tons of things to do and see there!” “How's the food?” his father asked. “It's great. Fireball and I really enjoyed the—” Antoshi recalled his memory of being in the ice cream shoppe with Latoshi. “The, um, ice cream,” he added with a convincing smile. Fireball was surprised at the remark, realizing where the boy's mind was. “I just wanted to let you guys know that we'll probably be in Goldenrod for a little while longer. We're busy training, and I don't feel like we're anywhere near ready to challenge the Gym here yet.” Fireball nodded again. “Oh, that's perfectly fine, Antoshi!” his mother said. “Have fun and take all the time you want there. Just remember to keep in touch with us. Your father and I just want you and Fireball to have a wonderful time and remember all the experiences you have in Johto.” “I'm definitely going to remember all of this,” he responded, with a worried chuckle, as his eyes faltered away. “Antoshi?” his mother spoke up, grabbing his attention. “Is everything all right? You seem more distracted than usual.” “Oh, I … I don't know, I guess I just feel a little homesick again. I've been thinking about both of you a lot lately.” “That's no problem, son,” his father said. “Anytime you want to come home just let us know and we'll set it up for you, okay?” “Thanks, Dad,” he replied, with a grin. “I really appreciate you both being there for me.” “Love you!” his mother said. “See you soon!” his father added. Antoshi and Fireball both waved to his parents before the call ended. As the screen went blank, Antoshi hung his head down with a heavy sigh. "Are you okay, Antoshi?" Fireball asked, quietly. Antoshi rhythmically drummed his fingers across the videophone's desk. He pondered a response for a moment, before scoffing in amusement. “I'm lying to my parents, …” he muttered, “all to keep this a secret. All to keep them from worrying about me. All because I'm worried about them getting hurt. … It's kind of funny when you think about it.” Fireball did not take his concerned gaze off of his friend. “I hate this feeling, Fireball. I just want this nightmare to be over….” "So do I," Fireball said, placing a reassuring paw on his friend's shoulder. "But … what do we do?" “Stick to my initial plan. We have to train — I have to train. I have to get much better than I am now if I want to stand a chance against Latoshi.” Fireball sighed in defeat, his claw falling away. "Are you sure?" “Definitely,” Antoshi replied. He got to his feet and stretched. "Do you want me to train with you again?" Antoshi turned to his friend with a smile. “I know how uncomfortable you are with this. You don't have to come with me, Fireball. I'll figure something out sooner or later. … I always do.” "Should I … stay here and wait for you to come back?" “You can hang out wherever you like. Just … don't go too far, okay?” "You don't think I might get kidnapped by Team Rocket again, do you?" Fireball joked. “I want to believe it's unlikely. Still, you're a rare Pokémon, Fireball — the kind that Trainers would jump at the chance to catch.” "Gotcha." “By the way, I ma~y have heard there's a buffet happening in the hotel lobby today.” Fireball's eyes lit up like fireworks. He quickly headed for the door, pushing Antoshi in front of him. "Man, just look at the time, Antoshi! You're losing sunlight here! Better get to that training right away!" Antoshi laughed as they headed into the hallway. “Fireball! I don't even have my shoes on!” Fireball quickly reached back in to grab the boy's shoes by the door, before shutting it behind him. ⁂ ⁂ ⁂ That night, Latoshi was focused intensely upon his meditation. His dark aura flickered calmly around him. As per Lazarus' instructions, he performed mental exercises. He envisioned himself in the midst of a violent struggle with Antoshi. They fought in the same location as their initial battle, both of them ducking and weaving through the trees, steadily making their way toward each other. Antoshi was fast — that much he was sure would continue to be the case. Latoshi snapped his head from side to side to keep his mind's eye on him. Antoshi threw the first punch, but Latoshi was swift and strong enough to block it. Latoshi clenched his teeth as Antoshi followed up with a kick to his chest, which was hard enough to stumble him back. 'Yes, that is good,' Lazarus said to him. 'You must prepare for Antoshi's inevitable return. You must be wary that he will likely be stronger than before. But, also know that he can never defeat you — not with my guidance.' Latoshi smirked confidently. Lazarus' words once again empowered him. In his vision, he produced the same mass of hovering energy orbs around him as before. Antoshi appeared to be shocked. 'Perfect. The element of surprise will be key. Let him believe he has the upper hand, and then … strike!' Latoshi launched his attack at Antoshi, who attempted to shield himself. Just as the blasts were about to connect, a voice called out suddenly, breaking his concentration. “Declan?” a woman called out in the distance. Latoshi's eyes shot open in surprise. He turned toward the source, his eyes scanning the nearby woods. No one was there. He looked around while getting to his feet. “Declan!” he heard again, behind him. He turned around, finding nobody once again. “Who's there?” he called back. He waited for a short time, but no one appeared or responded. ‘What the hell was that?’ he thought. ‘Am I hearing voices … again? Was it some kind of memor—’ His eyes went wide with shock. ‘Am I— … am I remembering something? Something from my past? …’ 'Focus yourself, Latoshi,' Lazarus said. 'Do not break away from your training unless I tell you to.' “Lazarus, I … I think I just had a memory come back to me,” he said, with an elated grin. “I think … I just might be remembering someone.” 'You must not dwell on trivial things,' Lazarus replied. 'Your training and the rise of your power are the most important—' “Wait a minute,” Latoshi cut him off. “You told me before that my memories would come back in time. Now that they might be starting to, … why are you so eager to distract me from them? I thought you would at least pretend to be happy for me.” 'Because you do not have time to reflect on the past,' he said, becoming audibly cross with the boy. 'Do not interrupt me again when I speak. Return to your training, is that clear? Or shall I remind you of what happens when you disobey me?' Lazarus' inquisition came with the creeping sound of low ringing in the boy's ears. Latoshi scowled, bitterly pursing his lips. He obliged Lazarus, returning to his meditative sitting position. 'Now, I will give you different scenarios for you to react to. You will continue your image training for the next four hours. Am I understood?' “Yes, Lazarus,” he replied, disdainfully.
  • Create New...