I...vastly underestimated how long this book is in terms of dialogue. The split path really hits here, especially with Vil's team.
I own nothing.
Chapter 45: Round 2 with the Earth Titan
"During reactivation, please verify your fingerprints, voice recognition, or charge with your magic power." The AI of the spear ordered as it entered standby mode.
Vil sighed in relief. "Thank goodness. The energy from the spear is so powerful that it was hard to control it with floating magic."
Both he and (Y/N) settled the spear on Metagross's back. The Psuedo legendary seemed unfazed by the extra weight.
"Metagross should be able to carry it on his own like this, especially with Rotom keeping an eye on it." (Y/N) said as the Plasma Pokemon beeped from within the spear. "Still, Rook, why don't you ride with Epel and I on Swampert? Vil should be near the spear in case we need it."
The blonde nodded. "Oui."
"Wait, (Y/N). Let me carry the spear." Epel offered.
"Oh?" Vil said teasingly. "What made you so eager all of a sudden?"
Epel shrugged. "Back at the asylum and during the Titan fight, I wasn't really helpful, so I want to at least carry things for you."
"Hmph!" Vil huffed. "You think Metagross and Rotom would get tired of carrying a thing like? You seem to be looking down on them."
"I-I didn't mean it like that! Metagross and Rotom would be way more useful in a critical moment! I can't really do much during battles, so please let me be helpful in other ways!"
"You always jump out in front no matter how much we try to stop you, but now you suddenly act so obedient?" Vil asked, rolling his eyes. "What's wrong?"
Rook chuckled. "Fufu. Acknowledging your own weakness is proof that you have grown stronger than before, but Monsieur Crabapple, you don't have to think like that. You have done all you can."
"Just as Rook said, if you push yourself now, we will be in trouble if you are exhausted." Vil agreed.
Epel sighed. "Ugh...okay."
Rook then adjusted his hat. "Though seeing Metagross and Rotom carry such a load reminds me greatly of Vil, so I understand wanting to relieve him of such a burden. After Vil enrolled at school, if anyone heard he was going to the school store or the foothill town to buy something, so many people would volunteer to go with him. It wasn't just the students of Pomefiore either. Vil was always surrounded by people."
"They got close to me just because they never really met a celebrity before." Vil sighed sadly. "Most of the students also got tired of it after a few months."
"I can empathize." (Y/N) admitted. "When I first started training to take over the champion seat, a lot of kids my age tried to become my friends either because they wanted the glory or an opening to 'knock me down a peg', in their own words. There were a couple of close calls, but I always had teachers close at hand."
"The straws some people are willing to grasp to achieve fame." Vil muttered.
"Not many students emulated Vil's self discipline." Rook continued the story.
"Ah, then...did you guys meet because of that?" Epel asked.
Vil shook his head. "Of course not! Rook would approach me when the crowd of potatoes were not there anymore. Currently, I want to focus on my studies, so I reject most of the offers from performances, shows, and movies, but when I was a first year, I was still acting for roles that I accepted before enrolling in school. Once, while I was reading the script for my next show on the bench in the courtyard-,"
Swampert and Metagross cut him off by growling and a roar sounded from behind them.
"It's a Phantom!" Rook warned. "It's bigger than any other Phantoms we've fought!"
"Besides the Titan." (Y/N) said.
The Phantom leapt at them, leaving it wide open for Vil to blast it. Epel followed up with flora magic, softening it up for Swampert to nail it with an Ice Punch that miraculously got a freeze. The ice encased Phantom fell into the abyss wordlessly.
"I'm glad we took a proper rest back at the hanger." Rook said.
(Y/N) nodded as they continued to make their way to their next stop. "Yeah. We may run into the Titan again, so we'll need to conserve our strength whenever we can."
"Jeez!" Epel whined. "They alway interrupt whenever I ask about the first time you guys met!"
"Hahaha!" Rook laughed. "You don't seem phased, Epel!"
"It's not like that! I'm just curious about the story of my dorm leader and vice dorm leader."
"I remember I talked to Vil while he was reading a script in the courtyard. Under the beautiful afternoon light, Vil looked like a beautifully elegant painting. I was so nervous when I talked to him."
"You're lying." Vil called out. "You didn't seem nervous at all. And I could never forget the first words you said to me. 'I just saw your performance a few days ago. I've seen many of your performances before, and all of them were very impressive! But this time your acting as a villain was truly amazing! There are not many people who can perfectly play the role of someone who is oppressive, cold, and hysteric!'. That was our first meeting."
(Y/N) broke down in laughter. "Oh my Arceus, Rook, you did not say that!"
"W-wow..." Epel said.
Rook shrugged. "Ooh-la-la. I thought it was the best compliment."
"Even so, you were too straightforward." Vil pointed out. "I looked at you and thought, 'who is this rude guy?'."
"Well, it can't be helped, I guess." Epel shrugged.
"After that, even though I didn't respond to him, he would come see me. He'd talk about his thoughts regarding my performances then leave. He left both good and bad impressions. At first, I thought he was just someone arrogant who was pretending to be an advisor, but I realized something about his thought, or rather, I should say his opinion was somewhat observant. 'Hey! I watched your latest performance in that musical. The last scene where you realized you lost the one you love, that expression was amazing. But I noticed your acting was a bit more stiff than the last performance, what happened?'. At that time, he was critiquing that part even though I thought I did pretty well. I was just doing what the director told me to do, and there are even some parts that I can't really accept. He always guessed the right reason for it. Something like 'were you satisfied with that last scene? It doesn't seem like that to me though.'. And I asked him, 'how would you act out that last scene?'. And then, it took him at least five hours to finish his speech."
"Sorry, Vil, but that was your mistake." (Y/N) joked. "You left yourself open to a monologue."
"I admit it." Vil sighed. "It was the first and last time I made that mistake."
"It was a truly meaningful time!" Rook said dreamily. "Not only about Vil's performance, we also discussed drama, the shows, and the scripts that we both experienced. When I realized that it had already passed the dorm curfew, I immediately snuck back into my dorm."
"I thought I knew more about art and drama than anyone my age, but Rook's comment made me realize I'm no match for him. To be honest, I couldn't understand half the things he said and I got so frustrated."
"You're not the same as me." Rook insisted. "I just had a lot of free time when I was younger."
"After that, I would always speak to Rook in the courtyard after school."
"The conversations were so immersing that we ended up catching colds during the winter."
Epel then cracked a smile. "Hahaha! So you guys had a moment like that too. But why would you guys talk outside during winter?"
(Y/N) tilted her head. "Yeah, you guys are in the same dorm, so why not just talk there?"
"Ah!" Rook chirped. "I was still a student of Savanaclaw back then!"
"Oh, Rook was a Savanaclaw-eh!?" Epel screeched as (Y/N) leaned against Swampert.
"So, you were in Savanaclaw then. That actually checks out now that I think about it. Poor Kitty, he must have been so scared back then."
"Oh he was-, oh look! We've reached the door to the next asylum." Rook noted.
"You're right." Vil said. "Let's put this conversation on hold for now."
"Eeh!?" Epel shrieked. "W-wait! Please wait! I'm curious about Rook's story!"
"Hahaha!" Rook laughed. "I can tell you as much as you want once we get through the next asylum safely."
"That's right. The deeper we go, the stronger the Phantoms become..." Epel muttered.
Vil nodded. "Yes. It won't be the same as before. Besides, we never know what Ortho has planned. We should be cautious."
The Pokémon led the way, keeping a lookout for any Phantoms. The humans followed suit, staying close together.
"Now, where will Ortho show up?"
"Ah!" A voice cried out. "I-I hear someone! Did the security team come to rescue me!?"
"Who is it!?" Vil growled.
Rounding the corner, they saw a researcher tied up and blindfolded. "Please don't Attack me! I'm just a researcher...I can't fight! How is the main office? Is the Cerberus System back to normal?"
(Y/N) ran up to him, trying to undo the binds. "Unfortunately, not yet."
When the rope was finally undone, the researcher blinked at them. "Y-you are...one of the subjects taken from Night Raven College and the people who invaded the island."
"Yes, that's right." Vil confirmed. "I'm subject E, Vil Schoenheit. And the grand mastermind behind the heist...actually would that be Rook or you, (Y/N)?"
"I'll take the blame if it means they have to admit my most recent Pokémon mopped the floor with their 'elite squad'."
"And there you have it."
"Why are you guys here?" The employee asked.
"We can't go through all the details, but we're headed to the depths of Tartarus to resolve the situation. And why are you here?"
"We received a signal that an emergency situation had occurred, so I was heading to the escape terminal with the rest of the staff and one of the Ferrymen caught me! They brought me here and detained me after taking my ID card away. The Ferryman put the ID card in one of these cages and then left me."
"I see." Rook said while nodding. "So this is what Ortho meant by 'placing an NPC guide at the next entrance'."
"That bastard." Epel growled. "Does he have to put a defenseless person in danger just for that?!"
The employee began to shake. "The cages in the asylum keep unfreezing, and I heard the sounds of Phantoms moving...I thought it was over for me!"
"It's too early to be relieved." Vil told him. "We need to hurry up and find the ID card. If we get surrounded by the Phantoms, then it's game over."
"Do you know which cage they put the card in?" Epel asked.
The employee shook his head. "I was blindfolded the whole time, so I'm really not sure. But, from what I heard from the Phantom when they opened the cage, it wasn't a beast or a crustacean. There's a high possibility that it's being kept in one of the cages labeled in the 800s."
"Okay." Vil nodded. "Please hide somewhere safe until we find the ID card."
"Let's try to speed things along." (Y/N) said before whistling. "Rotom, check the cages. Give us a signal if you find anything!"
The electric type zipped out of the spear and began scouting. As he did, Rook pursed his lips.
"We've fought many types of Phantoms until now, but now I know Phantoms have different classifications such as beasts and crustaceans. Very interesting."
"Rook, stay focused." (Y/N) scolded.
Vil rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "Curiosity killed the car, Rook."
Rotom shrieked suddenly, alerting everyone he had found something. As they encircled the cage Rotom hovered over, Vil began pondering something, seemingly at random.
"I know there are various types of Phantoms. I wonder what I would look like if I completely turned into a Phantom."
"Vil, stop it." Epel pleaded. "Never say that again."
"A jewel-like appearance or a beast-like one...I realized that Phantoms are the embodiment of the overblotted wizard's desire and real nature. When I overblotted, the Incarnation behind me was an old lady in a long robe, messy white hair with gnarled hands that looked like tree branches. I unconsciously thought that youthfulness means beauty. Perhaps that's what caused me to feel disgusted and afraid of being old. If so...I really hate it."
"We still haven't experienced what it feels like, being old." Rook noted. "Everyone is afraid of things they haven't experienced before. You're not the only one. Let's not avoid facing Phantoms, no matter how scared you are."
Vil nodded. "Yes. It's also to discipline myself."
Both boys took position with Swampert and Metagross flanking them. Rook blasted the cage open as a low rumble echoed through the cage.
"I'm...hungry...meat...LET ME EAT IT!"
The Phantom came barreling out, ink dripping like saliva. Swampert reared up and grappled the thing by its shoulders. Scarily enough, it looked as though he was being pushed back. Rotom zipped at the creature and fired off a Thunderbolt with (Y/N)'s signal. The Phantom roared in pain and swiveled to strike at the ghost, only to be met with a Bullet Punch from Metagross, reinforced with light magic from Rook. The creature was dazed and stumbled, only for Swampert to shatter the bottle head with a Hammer Arm, backed up by fire magic by Vil and Epel.
"I'm hungry..." It moaned. "I'm...hungry..."
It dissolved into ink as Rotom scooped up the ID card, dropping it in his trainer's hand.
"Well done, gentlemen." The trainer praised, petting the ghost type.
"We have to thank the staff for this." Rook said. "Without him, we may have wasted more time looking for it."
Vil nodded in agreement. "Yes. Let's exit the asylum with him."
The group quickly headed back, picked up the staff member, and exited the asylum before anymore Phantoms could give them trouble. When they made it out, the employee looked close to tears.
"Thank you for helping me. You guys saved my life. Hey, will you leave Tartarus with me? From here on, there will only be Phantom ranked A and above. It might be too dangerous, even for you."
"Thank you, but we will keep going." Rook insisted.
"Someone's gotta stop the end of the world." (Y/N) said.
"We also need to slap, Idia." Vil growled as (Y/N) pointed at him.
"At the rate we're going, it's gonna be more than a slap from me. I'd say we need to pick up the pace. Sir, get to the upper levels quickly."
"I see." The employee said. "I understand. Please be careful. I'm a veteran researcher that has examined Phantoms for the past 20 years. I understand their habits. I'll manage."
She nodded. "We all will. Hurry."
He ran for a different path. Once he was out of sight, Epel turned to Rook.
"Please continue the story!"
Rook hummed. "Hmm...where did I leave off?"
"You were a Savanclaw student." (Y/N) reminded him.
"Oh, yes! During the entrance ceremony, the Dark Mirror assigned me to Savanaclaw. I related to the spirit of persistence of the King of Beasts a lot, which is why I had no doubts. In fact, I had a very fun and meaningful time in Savanaclaw."
"I'm guessing your dormmates didn't feel mutually." (Y/N) mumbled under breath.
"Then why did you move to Pomefiore? What a waste." Epel immediately corrected himself when Vil glared at him. "No, I mean, if the dorm suited your character, why did you move?"
"I did it to understand more about beauty. Even if I had stayed in Savanaclaw, I could still pursue my own beauty, but I felt that if I moved to Pomefiore, which is based on the spirit of the Beautiful Queen, I would come closer to the depth of beauty. My hunter instincts told me to do so."
"You made such an important decision just from your instincts!?" Epel yelped.
"Hahaha! Of course it wasn't just my instincts. Of course another reason is that I wanted to see Vil enchanting beauty more closely. You need a blacksmith to turn melted steel into a sharp blade, no? I wanted to become a blacksmith for Vil's beauty."
"Oh...that's pretty strange."
Vil sighed. "When he first told me he wanted to transfer, I tried to stop him. But once Rook decides to do something, nothing stops him. You've noticed as well, I assume?"
"Believe me, we have." (Y/N) said as her Pokémon huffed in agreement. "I don't think Decidueye has ever had such a consistent practice schedule before meeting Rook."
"Before I realized it, he was already wearing the Pomefiore dorm uniform. He looked completely different back then."
"How different?" Epel pondered.
"First, he never took care of his hair, so it kept growing long, and since it was so thick, it was dry and messy, and he's the type that easily gets sunburnt, but he didn't seem to care about applying sunscreen and skincare products. His cheeks were marred by freckles and the tip of his nose was always red, and the only thing he emphasized in an outfit was maneuverability. He could wear a sweatshirt with frayed hems and pants with torn knees without any problems. Actually, now that I say it out loud, it reminds me of a certain other person I could mention."
(Y/N) whistled innocently as she got the side eye from the blonde.
"It's hard to imagine that from Rook now." Epel said.
"He took care of his appearance when he went to an opera or a concert that required a dress code."
"How nostalgic!" Rook reminisced. "Though I do feel embarrassed discussing this in front of my juniors."
"That smile would say otherwise." (Y/N) pointed out. "Though, you moved dorms to pursue beauty, but you didn't care about your own appearance?"
"Also, even though you're very rich, you still wore frayed sweatshirts?" Her fellow first year added.
"His own appearance wasn't included in the beauty he pursued." Vil explained. "One time, we were having an exciting talk about how theater shows and live performances are a comprehensive art that the stage and audience put together. The stage can only be completed by the audience. In other words, the audience themselves are also part of the cast. Of course, you are free to wear casual clothes if you visit a theater that doesn't require a dress code, but if it were me, I would want to visit the theater in a beautiful ensemble that matches a beautiful stage. Of course, you can't wear something that would bother the actors or other guests. Coordinating my clothes and doing my makeup that match the stage, boosting the atmosphere of the show, that is what excites me. After that, Rook happily told me that he bought a ticket for a show with his favorite actor in it. So I suggested he dress up for the occasion. The theater recommended smart casual attire."
Rook nodded. "I wasn't interested in attire back then, so Vil gave me a lot of advice. He coordinated my whole outfit, and I had a real feeling of excitement that day! I'll never forget it! Watching theater shows was always exciting, but if my excitement before was 100, it felt like 120 or even 200 that day! Since then, I have been meticulous about my beauty care."
"Thinking back now, his favorite actor was Neige. He wouldn't have minded seeing his fans dressed up in frayed sweatshirts or torn pants. The advice was unnecessary."
Epel chuckled. "But if Rook enjoyed it more after dressing up, then it's a good thing...I guess?"
"Exactly as you said." Rook agreed. "Facing the unknown, it's always a beauté experience!"
Suddenly, a shadow bolted them, one of familiar size and shape.
"Grim!?" (Y/N) called out.
"Let's chase after him!" Rook said.
They all chased after him. However, the shadow vanished just as it seemed they were catching up.
"The path only leads one way!" (Y/N) yelled. "How did we lose him!?"
"(Y/N)! Above you!"
Rook yanked the girl out of the way as a small Phantom jumped from the ceiling. Swampert practically punted the thing into the abyss as Vil sighed.
"We thought it was Grim, but it was just a Phantom that looked similar to him from the back."
"Where is he?" The girl muttered, worriedly. "Thanks by the way, Rook."
"No need. Though I am surprised, I usually never mistake the shapes of animals. I must be tired."
"We should be cautious." Vil said. "Even if we don't find Grim down this path, once we teach Idia a lesson and restore the Cerberus System, we should be able to find him. You know how bold and stubborn Grim is more than anyone else. Having faith in your dormmate is the duty of a dorm leader, (Y/N). Trust him and keep moving."
She gave a weak smile and nodded. They eventually came upon the final asylum.
"Beyond this is the depth of Tartarus." (Y/N) said. "We're walking right into the Pyroar's den. Keep an eye out."
They all walked in, watching each others' backs.
"Now,what kind of trap did they set up this time?" Vil wondered out loud.
For a moment, they all held their breaths, waiting, but nothing happened.
"It's too quiet." (Y/N) said.
Vil nodded. "Maybe they don't have enough time to deal with us."
"It could be." Rook said, not sounding sure. "This place is eerily quiet, and there isn't a sign of Phantoms moving in the cages."
"Maybe we should use the Lightning Spear to destroy the door and escape." Epel suggested.
(Y/N) shot it down. "No, I don't want to use up our one line of defense for the Titan. From what I read in the S.T.X.Y. manual, there should be an emergency key card nearby. Let's just look for that. Maybe if we're lucky, Ortho hasn't set up a challenge down here yet."
They headed towards the security box. Rook got there first, gasping before narrowing his eyes.
"Vil, look at this!"
Vil frowned. "It's been destroyed, and the inside is empty."
"Did Ortho get here before us?" Epel said.
(Y/N) studied the marks carefully. "No, whatever did this was huge. Plus with all the ink stains...did the Phantoms steal the key then? Are they smart enough to do that on their own?"
"We've encountered Phantoms with enough intelligence to mimic humans." Rook pointed out. "Maybe they are trying to use the key to escape."
"So then, where are they? Hiding?"
Vil nodded to the girl. "They could very well be, probably waiting to attack us and escape."
"We have no choice but to open the cages one by one." Rook said.
Staying huddled together, they moved carefully, trying to find the right cage. Rotom popped in and out of them, with little luck. Eventually, (Y/N) froze.
"(Y/N)?" Epel asked.
"Do you hear that?"
"...beautiful dress..." It muttered. "Give it to me..."
"A woman's voice?" Vil said. "Where did it come from?"
"(Y/N)! WATCH OUT!" Rook yelled.
He pushed the girl out of the way as a shadow blitzed at him, scoring a blow across his arm. Rook grunted as Metagross pushed the creature back with a Psychic.
"Rook!" Epel yelled. "Your arm!"
"It's just a scratch!" He insisted. "Watch your surroundings!"
Suddenly, there was movement all around them as eyes glared at them from the shadows.
"Where did they come from!?" Vil asked as their circled together.
"We're surrounded!" Epel noted.
"Cute eyes...beautiful lips..." The Phantom that attacked Rook said. "Shinning crown...I want it. I want it. I WANT IT!!!"
It let out a mad shriek as the Phantoms closed in.
(Y/N) grabbed Epel and Vil, Rook following her lead, and pulled them under Swampert. "Not today, hellion! Rotom, Discharge!"
Metagross got out of dodge as the ghost type let out a huge shockwave of electricity that fried the smaller Phantoms. With the big one dazed, Metagross leapt at it and crushed it beneath his weight. It cried in agony before dissolving, a key card dropping to the floor.
"Excellent reaction, (Y/N)." Rook said with a smile before flinching.
She was immediately at his side. "Rook, let me see you wound. I have to dress."
"Don't worry, it's just a small injury. I just feel a little sick after being spattered with blot."
"Rook. Arm. Now."
Not waiting to put up a fight, he let the girl see. (Y/N) studied it, glad she had plenty of experience treating wounds from claws. It was shallow, but that didn't mean it was good to leave it exposed, especially with all this blot. Thinking fast, she quickly flushed the injury with one of the water bottles and wrapped it up with gauze from her bag.
"There, that should hold you over."
"Thank you." Rook said with a smile. "You're quite composed in situations like this."
"Well, all part of my job, I guess."
Just as she finished, a loud banging from the entrance got their attention, a familiar one.
"Please tell me that isn't what I think it is." (Y/N) said.
"Jupiter...I'll defeat you...Jupiter..."
Vil gritted his teeth. "It is the Titan!"
"We need to leave and lock the door!" Rook said. "It may not hold it off for long, but it could buy us time to counterattack!"
"Vil, get on Metagross and ready the spear." (Y/N) ordered. "Rotom, help him out!"
The two followed orders as the Psuedo carried them towards the exit. As the spear began charging, the Titan persistently rammed the door.
"It's not gonna hold out for very long!" Epel yelled.
"It was hit by the Thunder Spear, but it wasn't phased at all!" Rook noted. "So powerful!"
"They were kept inside a freezer for more than a thousand years!" Vil said. "They must have really wanted to go on a rampage."
The door caved in as the Titan rushed through. Swampert fired off an Earthquake to stagger it as everyone prepared to guard the spear.
"Come! I'll be your opponent!" Vil challenged.
The Titan roared at them angrily, only to be nailed in the gut by a Waterfall from Swampert. Metagross, with all his concentration, tried to push the creature back with a Psychic. Its feet ragged a few centimeters, but the monster was persistent, even as Swampert dug his heels in and Rook and Epel pelted it with light and flora magic. Fortunately, the spear didn't take nearly as long to charge this time, especially with Rotom desperately firing off Discharges from within.
"Take this!" Vil yelled as the spear fired. "One last push! Use all your power!"
They all roared as Swampert made a crack in the Titan's body with a Hammer Arm and ducked out of the way as the spear fired.
"GAH!" The Titan screeched. "YOU...YOU BASTARD! JUPITER!!!"
This time, the spear did significantly more damage and again sent the beast into the abyss. Like before, the spear's AI warned about low battery as everyone huffed for breath.
"I-is it gone this time?" (Y/N) huffed out as she pulled herself to her exhausted partner.
Everyone else collapsed in a heap.
"I hope so." Vil admitted, patting Metagross for a job well done. "I've already reached my limit. I don't want to take another step..."
"Even Vil's tired..." Epel wheezed.
"Guys, just hang in there." Rook insisted. "Just a little more. There's another hanger with a charging station just around the corner. Vil, can you stand up? Do you need my shoulder?"
Vil huffed and stood up. "I won't borrow the shoulder of an injured person."
"Let's just get to the hanger." (Y/N) said.
Slowly, they managed to drag themselves to safety, securing the spear in the charging station.
"Let's just hope the Titan stays down this time." (Y/N) prayed.
"We don't have enough time to wait for it to finish charging." Vil said. "We'll leave when it's half full."
"Fine. For now, let's treat everyone's injuries." (Y/N) insisted.
"Haa...my whole body is dusty, my clothes are worn out, and my hair is messy..." Vil lamented. "I want to get out of here as fast as possible and take a bath with my favorite soap. After that, I'll moisturize my skin with the skincare products you bought for me...we were living ordinary lives just a few days ago, but now it feels like a dream."
"Speak for yourself." (Y/N) snarked as she was dressing Epel's injuries, feeling cranky from lack of sleep.
"What I mean is, Idia and Ortho, perhaps they just wanted normal lives like ours, but reality is always harsh to us. I must crush their dream for the sake of my own. They should do their best to destroy our dreams too. Behind your happily ever after, someone must be crying"
"Don't encourage them." The trainer said, immediately crashing the second the wounds were bandaged.
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