Chapter 44: Into the Fire

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I will say this with neither hesitation nor guilt: SCREW THE EARTH TITAN FIGHT AND MAY THE RNG GODS HAVE MERCY UPON YOUR RESOURCES! Seriously, I had to use all of my level items on Ghost Marriage Rook and SSR Dorm Epel and repeat the fight continuously until I got the perfect moves and Vil's curse effect finally decided it wasn't gonna miss and stop the thing from continuously healing. I kid you not, it went into round 10 and I barely managed to survive (because it didn't crit) and I had the foresight to use the double hit move. I haven't even gotten to Idia!
Chapter 44: A Heated Battle

Team Riddle
Groans and screams echoed from the abyss below as Azul and Riddle peered down.
"The Phantom Asylum Tartarus." Azul said, adjusting his glasses. "Is it built into an ocean trench? It's so deep that I can't see the bottom of it. I doubt even Dragapult could fly us down due to the high density of blot from below. I wonder how many stairs we will have to walk to reach the lowest layer. Even my breath is turning to frost. The temperature is quite low. I'm used to it, but Riddle, you and Dragapult should take care so you don't get hypothermia. Riddle?"
Azul had just now noticed the two in question had gone ahead towards the elevator. The Stealth Pokémon nudged Riddle's hand, as if trying to warm him up despite being a ghost type. Riddle gave him a reassuring scratch on the head as the octopus caught up to them.
"Hey! Please don't proceed without telling me!"
"Without telling you?" The red head repeated. "Aren't you the one that's late? We're not here to sightsee. We don't have time to chit chat."
Azul put his hands on his hips. "It isn't empty talk either. We should understand the situation first. Forethought is a powerful tool, but we can only cross the bridge when we get there. Making the first move gives you the advantage, does it not?"
"As expected from Riddle." The octopus sighed. "The impatience of someone who became dorm leader one week after entering school is quite something. Haste makes waste, but very well. You are the leader of this team, so I'll follow your lead."
"According to the map, there should be an elevator we can use to get down to the next floor."
"Pult!" The Psuedo cried, motioning towards a door.
Riddle smiled. "Ah, good work, Dragapult."
"Riddle, please wait!" Azul insisted. "This might be a trap!"
Riddle ignored him and hit the button. There was a tense moment as Dragapult put himself between the students and the machine, but nothing happened. Azul still wasn't convinced though.
"All the equipment of S.T.Y.X. is under Ortho's control now. I doubt the elevator will start working."
As if just to spite him, the machine rumbled to life, letting the door slide open.
"Hmph, there's no idiot that would enter this obvious trap." Dragapult obviously ignored the merman and sank into the shadows to scout around. "Dragapult!"
The Pokémon quickly returned, motioning the two boys to follow inside. Trusting the dragon's judgement, Riddle fearlessly entered the elevator.
"Did either of you listen to me!?" Azul yelled. "It's definitely a trap!"
"We're fully aware of it!" Riddle yelled back. "If you keep hesitating, we will leave you here."
"Ah, seriously!?"
With little choice, Azul ran inside, the door closing shut behind him as the room was plunged into darkness. Just then, Holo Ortho appeared.
"Hey, everybody! Welcome to the third tower of the cursed asylum, Tartarus!"
"Look. What did I tell you? I knew it was a trap."
"Even so, this is still the shortest route." Riddle argued.
"I hope the shortest route doesn't end in our defeat!"
"Huh?" Ortho said. "You're already arguing with each other before the adventure even starts? Will you be able to get through the many trials that await you?"
"Trials?" Riddle repeated.
"Fufu, adventures are full of trials, right? And your first trial is...this!"
A game screen appeared, causing Azul to smirk.
"Isn't this the game that made Riddle completely forget himself?"
"You guys are heading to the Underworld, so don't you think this is the perfect game for you all?"
Riddle frowned. "Don't tell me this game is the trial."
"Yep! Ah, maybe this is more difficult for you than battling the Phantoms."
"What did you say!?" The red head growled, turning red. "Without completing this game, I could pry open the door with my magic!"
Dragapult slapped the boy with his tail, knocking the magic pen from his hand.
"Wha-? Dragapult!"
"Listen to him." Azul implored. "If you use your magic inside of the elevator, it'll be a disaster. Dragapult may be a ghost, but I'd rather not be. I'll complete the game. Ortho, please start."
"Okay! Game start!"
Azul was fairly skilled, but the level was difficult. He barely managed to reach the end, and that was only because he ignored plenty of extra points.
"Game cleared!" Azul said smugly.
Ortho looked less than pleased. "Don't look so proud. I did lower the difficulty. Even so, it was a decent score. All right, I'll let you through."
"...the annoying way he speaks seems so familiar to me." Riddle mumbled.
Azul adjusted his glasses. "Yes, they really are the same. I never thought he would be this good at angering someone."
"After this, it's not playing anymore." Ortho warned. "You'll be fighting real Phantoms. I wonder what kind of fights you'll show us. I'm looking forward to it."
Riddle huffed. "We will reach the lowest layer soon and it'll be off with your heads, just you wait."
The robot laughed with a menacing grin. "Fufufu! Do you think you can reach us so easily? I'll be waiting with my brother."
Ortho vanished as the elevator doors opened.
Riddle gritted his teeth. "He can only fool around like that for now. Let's hurry up!"
"We don't know what kind of enemies we will encounter after this." Azul pointed out. "We should be cautious." He was ignored again. "Wait, Riddle! Please don't move on your own again!"
He sprinted to catch up to the shorter dorm leader, Dragapult lingering behind to cover their rear.
"Riddle! As I told you before, please stop moving forward alone."
"Why?" Riddle's gray eyes were narrowed in annoyance. "I'm the leader of this team. Of course I should be at the front."
"I'm not talking about that. I'm telling you to be more cautious. Even though it's a straight road through Tartarus, there might be Phantoms hiding in the cracks waiting to attack us."
"Are you saying I'll fall to a surprise attack like that?"
Azul narrowed his eyes. "It's a good thing to have confidence in your abilities, but we never received any training on dealing with Phantoms. In addition, our most reliable backup is Dragapult since Gyarados is entirely a wild card. We should be on high alert!"
"I agree with everything you said, but we're already inside the rabbit hole. There's no turning back. It doesn't matter if we proceed cautiously or confidently."
"Even so, there's a fine line between bravery and recklessness, Riddle."
"And there's a finer line between cautiousness and cowardice, Azul. Also, in the book regarding emergency situations, it doesn't tell us to fear the enemy. I'm just following that."
"Does that mean you will follow every rule that's written in the manual? What if it said 'measure the power of the enemy by taking a hit from them'? Would you make poor Dragapult take the hit?"
"I'd do it myself, because it's the rules!"
Azul sighed, deciding it was useless to argue with the stubborn, temperamental redhead any further, contemplating his decision not to follow Leona. Dragapult suddenly emerged in front of them, growling at something. Both males were immediately on guard as Phantoms charged from the shadows. Dragapult pelted them with Dragon Darts as Riddle forced Azul back so he could scorch them with fire magic. It didn't take long for their combination to reduce the creatures to ink.
Riddle winced back. "The Phantoms are turning into black ink! It smells disgusting! Let's leave at once! Dragapult!"
The Psuedo returned to their side, carrying them over the ink puddles and setting them back down on the path. Azul was looking sternly at Riddle the whole time.
"Why did you do that?"
"What?" Riddle asked.
"Force me behind you. I know I became a dorm leader a year later than you, but we are both second years and dorm leaders. I can fight without you protecting me."
"I know that." Riddle said. "But I can't let you get injured in this place."
"Injured? I'm fully prepared for it. Please don't underestimate me. And what of Dragapult? You're fine with him fighting?"
"(Y/N) is Dragapult's trainer, I have no right to give him commands. His duty is to escort us, and Gyarados too for that matter."
"So you trust that wild sea serpent over me!?"
"I trust (Y/N) wouldn't give us a monster who would attack us. And I'm not underestimating you. First of all, you are the one who said that my academic and practical skills are better than yours. Of course the stronger person should stand at the front. Secondly, Dragapult is experienced in fighting a wide variety of monsters and blazing fast, so he is best suited to fight alongside me."
"Ha, is that so?" Azul said, frowning. "Then I'll gratefully hide behind you."
Riddle rolled his eyes. "Do you have to speak like that every time? We can't overcome this without working together, so you're not allowed to act on your own."
"Speak for yourself, you thickheaded-,"
Azul froze as he felt something against his neck. He almost shrieked as it crawled under his hat, only for a little head to pop out and hang in front of his face.
"Dreepy!" One of the little dragons from Dragapult's horns cried.
The other one was curled up on Riddle's head, the crown he usually wore now on their head. Both boys looked at the Psuedo legendary, who gave them a warning look, as if to say behave. Not wanting to argue in front of the babies (or anger their escort), they followed soundless behind the dragon/ghost type. Eventually, they came upon a large door.
Riddle studied it. "This must be the door to the Phantom Asylum."
Azul nodded, taking off his hat and urging the Dreepy back to Dragapult. "We've already encountered Phantoms, so they must have been released."
"We should stay alert." Riddle decided, taking his crown back as the other Dreepy returned to its caretaker. "Dragapult, keep an eye on the shadows. Azul, be sure to follow the instructions of the leader. Understand? You should also consider letting Gyarados out."
"Fine, fine, but I'll let out the rampaging demon only when it's absolutely necessary."
Riddle yielded to this condition and led them inside, the doors shutting behind them. He shivered slightly as Azul studied the boxes stacked in the room.
"I believe these are the cages that imprison the Phantoms. It's already a hassle to deal with a few of them, let alone this many."
"Humans and Phantoms cannot coexist, after all." Riddle noted. "We have to stop them, no matter what."
"And thus, the adventures renew their determination!" Ortho narrated, appearing before them. "Hey, Riddle Rosehearts and Azul Ashengrotto! Are you enjoying this real life quest?"
"Hmph." The Heartslabyul Dorm Leader scoffed. "It's so easy that it's boring."
"Hahaha! Well said, but I understand. Games have to be a little difficult or else it won't be a challenge, right? Hence why I canceled the registration of the ID card you guys have been using."
Azul's eyes widened. "Huh? Then ID card we received from the staff is-,"
"Finding the right key to unlock the door is part of the challenge of any game. Having a master key from the start makes it less fun. One of the awakened Phantoms in these cages has the new ID card. Find the key to get through here!"
"Don't mess with me!" Riddle growled. "We are not game characters!"
"Hahahaha! All right then, good luck to you all!"
Ortho vanished, leaving the redhead seething.
"He keeps fooling around! If it wasn't a projected image, it would have been off with his head!"
The nearby cages began to rattle and growl, causing Azul to take control.
"Riddle, it seems we're being forced to attack in a timely manner."
"Ugh...indeed. As time passes, more unfrozen Phantoms will awaken."
"Let's hurry up then!"
"I know. Dragapult, scout ahead and find our target."
"Dra!"
The Pokémon flew ahead, darting between the cages and sticking his head through the metal to peer inside. Turns out, it paid to have a creature with a questionably physical body in your corner. He eventually circled a box in back, signaling it was the target.
Azul sighed. "The cage won't open easily."
Riddle stepped up. "I'll destroy the lock. Dragapult, get down from there. Azul, step back."
The octomer rolled his eyes. "Telling me to step back again? Whatever, I don't care."
"Let's go. Ha!"
Riddle blasted the door open, allowing the Phantom to escape. It didn't get far as Riddle coated it in flames before Dragapult finished it off with Dragon Darts. One of the Dreepy picked up something and flew it back to Azul.
"What do you have there, little one? Ah! It's the ID card! Well done!"
"Dre!" The little dragon squealed as Azul gave it praising scritches.
Suddenly, more of the cages began rumbling, causing Riddle to flinch.
"Azul, let's hurry to the exit!"
"Agreed."
With Dreepy safely returned to Dragapult, the trio ran outside.
Riddle sighed in relief. "Phew, we managed to escape without injury, but we never know when Ortho and the Phantoms will appear again. Be sure to keep up with me. Dragapult, guard the rear."
"As expected from a top honor student." Azul said sarcastically. "You are willing to proceed while protecting the clumsy student. How kind of you."
"Enough with your sarcasm. I didn't even say you were clumsy."
"But it's the truth. I have never surpassed your grades even once."
"...eh? Were you trying to win against me?"
"...can't I?"
"No, it's just...I never thought about it, so I'm kind of surprised."
"Well well...you seem to be making a fool of me. Are you saying that someone like me whose grades have always been in second place is not worthy of becoming your rival?"
"Yeah, because you have too many interests to make competing with me a top priority.  Not only the business of the Monstro Lounge, you're also very active in investment, right? Jade also told me that you often leave school during the weekend to do market research. Besides, I saw the exam study guide that I confiscated from my dorm students before. To cover every exam question, you have to use your own study time to do so. If you'd only focus on your own studies, maybe you could get full marks, but you waste most of your time and energy analyzing and measuring the way to get higher grades for others. Even so, you still try to win against me, who spent most of my time studying and improving my magic. You seem to be making a fool of me. Stop underestimating others."
Azul stumbled back at having his words thrown in his face. "I-I'm not making a fool of you...everyone has the intention of reaching the top."
"You're right." Riddle agreed. "It's a good thing to aim for the top. If you spend all of your time studying, then maybe you could stay at the top. Of course, I'll still be there as well."
Before Azul could retort, Dragapult pushed between them and growled as a Phantom came charging from the shadows.
"Uwah!?" Azul shrieked. "When did that get so close to us!?"
Dragapult sent the creature flying back with a Dragon Tail as Riddle readied a spell.
"Azul, don't just stand there! Step back!"
With Dragapult engaging the creature, keeping it in place, the redhead had all the time he needed to conjure a massive magical blast that was more than enough to kill the Phantom.
Riddle sighed in relief. "That was fortunate. Thank you, Dragapult."
The dragon type saluted, only for Azul to run up to him.
"Dragapult! You were injured protecting us, weren't you!?"
Dragapult just licked him, but Riddle did catch a glimpse.
"It seems like a small scratch." He then pulled out a potion (Y/N) had given him. "Hold still."
"You don't need to keep protecting us." Azul insisted as Riddle tended to the wound. "It's our own responsibility for being ambushed."
"Correction." Riddle interjected, satisfied. "It is my responsibility as leader of this team. I should not have allowed either of you to be injured."
"That again!? Just as I said before, I'm not so weak that I need both of your protection!"
Riddle raised a brow at him. "Why are you getting so emotional? It's not like you at all."
"I'M TELLING YOU TO STOP TREATING ME LIKE A BURDEN! I know you are a very powerful person who immediately became a dorm leader and got the highest grades, however, that's only a status inside Night Raven College."
"What did you say?" Riddle growled as Dragapult started to step between the two.
"If you take one step off campus, your titles are only accessories. They're even worse in this life threatening situation. At least Dragapult is a dragon trained for combat. In this place, you and I are equals, so don't order me around again!"
He then took off down the stairs.
"Azul, don't move on your own!" Riddle called out. "There's another asylum just ahead! Wait!"
Riddle also ran off, leaving Dragapult to groan as the Dreepy rubbed soothing circles into their caretaker's head.
By the time he caught up to the students, they were arguing in front of a bewildered Ortho.
"Oh my, it seems they've gotten worse." Ortho noted to the dragon, who he sounded very sympathetic for. "I'm fine with it. But if they keep arguing with such volume, they may miss important hints."
"Hints?" Azul repeated, finally getting out of Riddle's face.
"...help..." a voice croaked. "Help me!"
"Is that a woman's voice!?" Riddle demanded.
Ortho laughed. "The NPC you will try to save will give you the item to proceed! It's not the time to fight each other. At this rate, she might be in big trouble!"
"Let me out...someone please...!"
"Is she trapped in one of these cages?" Azul said. "Dragapult, find her!" The ghost type zoomed off as the octomer turned to his fellow dorm leader. "Riddle, this is no time to argue."
The red head nodded. "Yeah, let's get her out as soon as possible!"
The two ran after Dragapult, stopping as he dove into a cage.
"There might be a Phantom in there with him!" Riddle yelled, preparing to blast the door open. "Dragapult! Stay back!"
"It's gold!" A Phantom shrieked, appearing from nowhere. "A gold crown!"
"Riddle! Look out!" Azul yelled.
The octopus blasted the Phantom, reducing it to a puddle of ink. Riddle blinked.
"I'm surprised...you saved me, Azul."
He smirked. "Does this make you acknowledge my power at last, leader?"
"Have you misunderstood again?"
The cage door then was blasted open and a woman ran, breathing heavily.
"Ah...I finally got out! That dragon saved me. It's keeping the Phantom held down."
"Dragapult!" Azul yelled, running to support him.
The Psuedo then calmly emerged, an armored suit dangling from his jaws.
"Isn't that one of the power armors that attacked us?" Riddle asked. "It seems inoperable at the moment."
"Eh?!" The woman squeaked in embarrassment. "So it's not a Phantom?"
"Seems like it." Azul said. "Anyways, I'm glad you're fine. Sorry for not giving you time to catch your breath, but we are in a hurry. Will you give us your ID card?"
"S-sure, it's here." She handed the merman the card.
Riddle nodded. "Thank you so much. Please vacate Tartarus as soon as possible."
"Thank you, too. Take care!"
As she ran off, Azul adjusted his glasses.
"Ortho...he was completely messing with us."
Riddle seethed once more. "When we reach the lowest layer, it will definitely be off with his head!"
The three bolted out of the room, only to come to a crashing halt as they exited, being hit by a wave of heat.
"Gah!" Riddle sighed. "Why is it so hot? Even the surroundings are starting to distort into a heat daze."
Dragapult suddenly began growling, his eyes locked on the edge of the stairs. Thudding suddenly began rumbling in the air as the ground shook.
Azul nearly stumbled. "Was there an underground eruption!?"
"No!" Riddle said. "There's something big approaching us!"
A large hand coated in magma suddenly reached over the edge. The boys shrieked as Dragapult blasted it with Dragon Darts. The attack connected, but the Dreepy scrambled back with tears in their eyes, seemingly burnt.
"Careful, Dragapult!" Azul yelled as the hand steadied itself and an ink bottle head and a lava coated body appeared.
Riddle shot the hand holding up the creature with ice, causing it to harden.
"Hit it there, Dragapult!"
With a grunt, the dragon slammed his tail down, causing the cooled lava to shatter. The creature shrieked as it fell.
"What was that!?" Azul yelled.
"It must be the Magma Titan!"
"WHERE ARE YOU!? JUPITER! GAH!"
Dragapult, spying the hanger, grabbed the boys by the collars of their shirts and made a break for it, the Titan clawing back up behind them. As soon as the dragon type dove in, the doors slammed shut, an angry Titan far behind.
"It's heating up the door!" Riddle yelled.
Azul gritted his teeth. "At this rate, the door will melt! I'll make an ice barricade! Riddle, Dragapult, find the Lightning Spear!"
"Now would be a good time to let loose Gyarados!"
Azul's eye twitched, his hand reluctantly going for the Ultra Ball. "I suppose there's no choice...please don't eat us."
Azul released (more so dropped due to the shock of how heavy it actually was) the ball. The Atrocious Pokémon appeared with a furious roar and turned to the students. For a second, they thought they had just created a second problem, but Dragapult floated in front of the serpentine Pokémon, seemingly communicating about the danger. Turning his head, Gyarados saw the door being slowly melted and began to hose it down with a Hydro Pump. Relieved, Azul began to add ice to keep the heat at bay. With that temporarily taken care of, Dragapult and Riddle took off to find the weapon. It didn't take long for them to find it.
"This must be it." Riddle said. "It's so big! I haven't even activated it, but I can still feel how powerful it is! Can I even handle it?"
"Riddle, hurry up! We can't keep this up forever!" Azul yelled from the other room.
The red head steeled himself. "I don't have the time to think. I have to activate it!"
Riddle inserted the drive as the spear began the startup sequence.
"Ugh!" He yelped as the air became electrified, having to be steadied by Dragapult. "I feel like I'll be blown away! The magic power from the spear is losing control...hey! Listen to me!"
He tried to prop up the spear but it wouldn't budge, even with Dragapult's help.
"We can't do this alone!" He realized. "Azul! Gyarados! Lend me your power!"
Hearing this, the Atrocious Pokémon grabbed Azul and bolted for the back. The octopus looked quite smug.
"Sure, I'm confident in my strength-Ugh!? S-so heavy! What kind of person did the have in mind when they made this spear!?"
Gyarados wrapped himself around them and used his entire body to prop up the spear as a loud crash was heard.
"The door is broken!" Azul realized. "The Titan is coming in!"
"Azul, keep holding the spear! I'll take aim! Dragapult, Gyarados, keep it at bay as long as you can!"
The Magma Titan came crawling in, only to be blasted in the face by another Hydro Pump, causing steam to spew off its body. With it's surface temporarily cooled, Dragapult had no issues landing Dragon Darts. For a few moments, this combo worked as the pain and steam kept the beast confused. However, eventually, it powered through with a furious moan, but by then, it was too late.
"TAKE THIS!" Riddle declared as the Lightning Spear fired, crashing into the Titan and sending it plummeting back into the abyss. "Did we win...?"
Azul huffed for breath. "We just sent it flying...right?"
"...WE...WE DID IT!" Riddle screamed victoriously as Gyarados slinked away, causing the spear to immediately drop. "That's amazing, Azul! We just won against a Titan!"
"Hahaha!" Azul laughed. "We did it, Riddle!"
The two embraced, joined by Dragapult.
"Battery low. 10% remaining." The AI informed them. "Please install at charging station."
Riddle cleared his throat, blushing in embarrassment. "Ahem, i-it seems like the spear can only handle one use at a time."
Azul was also embarrassed. "Ahem! Of course! It did release a powerful blast."
"We might have to fight another powerful Phantom after this. We have no choice but to wait for it to charge here."
For a few minutes, the boys struggled to get the spear back into the port. Eventually, Gyarados got sick of watching them and whacked it into place.
Riddle's eyes widened at the timer. "3 hours? So slow! We are in a hurry!"
Azul rolled his eyes. "It won't do us any good to tell the machine to hurry up. We should rest." He then looked over to Gyarados, who was now curled up in the corner and walked over to him. "Thank you."
He held out a hand. Gyarados growled lowly, but eventually settled down as the male petted his head. Riddle smiled, petting Dragapult and the Dreepy.
(Timeskip)
"Is it finished charging?" Riddle asked, slowly walking up from a nap.
Azul nodded. "Seems like it. By the way, Riddle. I'm surprised you could fall asleep in a place like this"
"I usually go to bed at this time...and I got sleepy." He admitted with a yawn. "Have you been awake this whole time?"
"Octopi are cautious by nature. We're sensitive creatures. That's why I can't fall asleep in this place. Especially not with him watching."
The two glanced at Gyarados, who was watching them harshly,
"I see." Riddle sighed. "He did save us though. I think we should give him more trust."
"You're more daring than I thought."
Riddle ignored the comment. "We should get moving. Let's go."

Think I'm gonna do the rematches all together, and then all of the Idia fights. Finally managed to clear the book after draining pretty much all my resources.

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