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    "Man, it really does heat up around this time of year, huh?" Sita for one didn't mind hot summers, but it was hard for her to not think about them as they were happening. She much preferred this over a cold winter, though! More exciting things tended to happen in summer, such as these annual festivals, and more importantly, trekking across hot, dried-up dirt was MUCH easier than across the ironically hellish substances that were snow and ice. And all she had to do in exchange was be a bit more aware of hydration, and tie her jacket around her waist. Normally, Sita would have done the mental equivalent of throwing a dart at an atlas and going to the anniversary event hosted in wherever it landed, but this time, she made a point to come to the US's festival. And just by looking around, she could tell that they were going all-out this year. A hundred years was a big deal, after all! Getting here had been quite the trek, though. Her boat from Australia got delayed, and then she still had to make the rest of the journey, most of which had to be done on foot because her scooter started having issues shortly after reaching solid land and she somehow couldn't find a mechanic. Her feet were sore, her legs were tired, and Sita just wanted to sit down for a bit. Luckily, she was here now, which meant she had plenty of chance to do just that. She could just sit down on the dirt, leaning against her scooter, and enjoy the lemonade she'd picked up on the way in. It was a refreshing drink, and while it didn't un-sore her lower half, it did make her feel better. With the drink drank, she could just relax until it was time for the President's big speech. And so, restless type that she was, Sita proceeded to not do that. This was a big event! She wanted to enjoy it! Sita looked around for something interesting to do. Her eyes settled on one of those dunk tanks. Looking at the sign, Sita was suddenly interested. For one buck, you got three shots to try and hit the target and send the heckler sitting atop the tank on a quick trip to the water beneath. Based on which throw you hit the target on, you could get your choice from a few different prizes, too! Based on his very dry appearance and the very full shelves nearby, nobody had gotten him yet. Which struck Sita as a bit odd. Handing over one dollar and stepping up to the line, she picked up a tennis ball from inside the nearby basket, took aim, and threw it at the target. Perhaps one of her fingers had slipped though, because the ball veered off-course, harmlessly bouncing off the wall of the tank instead. "Strike one! Won't hit shit like that!" the man atop the tank jeered. "Hey, am I allowed to use psychic powers?" Sita asked. "Course not! World's fulla people can do shit like throw things with their brains, you think I'd let 'em pull that shit here!?" "Yeah, my bad." Sita took care to aim her shot this time. She'd done enough hunting in the wild that she was quite proud of her marksmanship, and while it didn't perfectly translate to throwing a ball, it did mean that from this distance, hitting that target should have been a piece of cake! She took careful aim, took into consideration what little weight a tennis ball had, and made what seemed to be a perfect pitch! ...only to watch in utter disbelief as it suddenly swerved away from the target, before dropping to the ground. "Strike two! Sheesh, woman, how'd you even find your way to the pitchin' line with that sorta aim!?" Something was definitely up. Sita picked up her third and final ball for the one dollar she was willing to pay, and took a deep breath. Two could play at this game. Sita felt around on the ball, making sure it wasn't weighted or something before confirming that no, it was perfectly normal. Awesome. Overhead, the bright summer sun shone down on Sita and the villain of the minute, and as if looking for some sort of advice, she turned her head upward to take a look at this planet's parent star. "Say, there's an idea! Blind yerself! Not like you'd be able to aim much worse afterward!" Inside the dark, hollow interior of the tennis ball, where nobody could see, a bright light began to shine, occupying the inside. It wasn't able to break through and cause the ball to glow or anything, but the hot light inside did leave the ball feeling a bit warmer than normal. "Hurry up, lady, clock's tickin'!" One last time, Sita took aim, and threw the ball, directing her orb of light straight to the target. "STRIKE THRE--" SPLASH! The plank holding the heckler suddenly folded down as the ball impacted the target, sending the man straight down into the tank of water. When he grabbed the edge of the tank and resurfaced, he was met with a very smug-looking Sita, satisfied with her success. "Looks like I win," she smirked. "Yeah, yeah, whoop-de-doo. Third shelf, get your prize then get out." The third shelf seemed to not have anything impressive. Little toys and knick-knacks that even a light traveler like Sita would be able to keep around. Awfully convenient that this was when she got the prize, then. Sita picked out a little bag that had a sticker of a penguin and a wooden sculpture of the same creature. Now she was in the mood for ice cream. Slapping the penguin sticker on the front of her scooter and tucking the wooden penguin in one of several bags hanging from it, Sita took herself in that direction, dragging the scooter along with her.
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    FESTIVAL GROUNDS *THUMP* *THUMP* *THUMP* His trek to Chicago had been a long one, but he had eventually made it all the way here. Everywhere he had gone, from New Arizona to where he was now, it was as if the sound of thunder followed behind each and every one of his footsteps. The haphazardly sprung up stands of the celebratory event shook with each step he took. He was met with slack-jawed stares, which he met with an enormous and toothy grin. Many people were not familiar with his kind, and he was quite used to that. But Stalag Mightjaw was an emissary of his clan for a reason. He found that the smooth-skins were easy to talk to and befriend. He liked that about them. "Hey buddy! Can you keep tip-toe or something? You're wrecking all the merchandise." Stalag looked to the fussing to see a stand worker visibly frustrated at the fact a glass of liquid had spilled on himself, probably thanks to all of Stalag's mighty strolling. "Ah! It is my apologies, smooth-friend. Stalag Mightjaw is still unsure of how to walk amongst your people! I assure you I will keep property damage to a minimal! You have my word." Stalag nodded his head with his arms crossed. "And a Mightjaw's word is his life! HIS HONOR! May it rest in your hands." "Calm down bub. Nobody's askin' about all that. Just get on with it." Stalag nodded once more. He took a deep breath. "On to the getting!" The roar almost shook the whole block. After all, this was what the smooth-skins called a "Carnival". A perfect event for a carnivore. It was a time for merriment and celebration. And what a time to do so! It was the anniversary of the Crisis, an event that brought his people back to the realm of the living. in the Meteor-kin's villages, it was a most holy time. The stars and sky had blessed them with a second chance on Earth. The thought of it almost brought a tear to Stalag's eye, but he had already cried his tear-ducts dry earlier in the day from the same thoughts. So instead, he pressed his palms together in a moment of solemn prayer. After a minute or two, Stalag began to 'get on with it', walking with utmost care, as he strolled down to the main center of the celebration. The smell coming from here was absolutely tantalizing. He towered over the crowd of smooth-skins, so locating prey here would be a piece of cake. He had never seen so many varied pieces of food in his life! Meats, cheeses, and Ales for every man and child here! One smell in particular caught his attention above the rest. Walking up to the stand, small puffs of yellow and white were being handed out in small paper bags. The stand owner looked to Stalag in somewhat of shock. "They make all kinds these days huh?" "They certainly do!" Stalag replied in kind. "What sorts of prey are you serving at this establishment. It is like nothing from my village!" "Uh...this is called Popcorn..." "Popped Corn! Wonderful! I will acquire one of your finest!" Stalag pulled out a crumpled up piece of 'money', and handed it to the owner. Trade was common in his village, but this 'money' was used to be able to trade anything. He had learned many things while attending classes of the NAR Government to become an Ambassador of his people, and currency was one of his favorite subjects. "Sure pal..." the owner grabbed a bag and scooped up a hefty amount of the food into it, before handing it to Stalag. "Ah! Thank you my smooth-friend!" Stalag popped one of the tiny bits of popcorn into his large maw, chomping down on it as if it were a deer. The salty flavor, and the butter mixed together superbly, followed by the light texture that almost seemed to evaporate with a flick of his tongue. The fleeting moment of deliciousness was gone. "This could use more meat! And I am talking of a lot more!" Pointing his nose to the sky, Stalag followed the scent of meat in the air, wherever it would lead him.
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    Z. only realized after the fact, after Jirachi’s pure light had enveloped them before anyone else, that screaming in false pain and terror would have been a really good prank. It would have thrown everything off, and caused one extra flinch of realization, but not more than that before they’d get swept away too and land with only mild discomfort. And it was still discomfort. Just because it didn’t hurt didn’t mean Z. had to like the feeling of being displaced. Alas, again, they only thought of all this when they landed at the center of the island and had to watch everyone else’s reactions to landing without the extra bit of playful fear. They didn’t even say anything snarky to Clobber; his fears were already assuaged by Jirachi bringing up the rear in his spell. The plan, as outlined, was a bit whimsical. “Make a wish…” “Think happy thoughts…” It all seemed like something straight out of a play. “Clap your hands if you believe.” But as soon as they thought that, a new set of words floated into their head, seemingly only by association: But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, They knew where that was from. That was the final monolog of The Tempest. How did they remember that? But the words kept flowing, and Z. found themselves mumbling along. “And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free.“ Their fanfic! Yes, that was where they had used it. Their months- and tens-of-thousands-of-words-long project had ended with that exact ending, a final thanks from the main character to anyone who had read that far. Speaking of indulgence, it was definitely a bit of wankery to have done so. As Z. would later write in Zeta Channel, “If you start referencing other stories, you better make sure you can live up to them. If I see fucking Shakespeare, I’m going to start wondering why I’m not reading Shakespeare instead.” When they got called out about this apparent hypocrisy, they responded, “You think my story wasn’t worth it?” Z. hadn’t responded with the other reason they’d allowed themselves such vanity. In truth, they’d promised themselves exactly that sort of ending to their story from the outset. Even before knowing its quality, even before being able to measure it up against the other submissions to the Creative Writing subforum and find all the rest lacking, it was simply a promise for creative release and satisfaction -- borrowing from the Bard meant they had completed the damn thing in the first place. The laurels that followed never actually mattered. Just finishing it was enough. Jirachi wanted happy thoughts, right? What could be happier than that? Even more recent goings-on had generally been more positive. They were cordial with people who deserved it, after all, which had led to a fair few positive conversations. Even on a selfish level, talking with Hector and Chester had led to their own self-improvement; they were now more confident in their Zoruan ability to mimic other Pokémon. Like they had told Chester, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a marked step up from back in the Mystery Dungeon where half of their attacks had barely worked at all. There were other, negative parts, of course. Z.’s mind briefly drifted through some of them. There was still an inherent lack of trust some of the other forum members seemed to have with each other, and a grudge that didn’t show signs of going away anytime soon. Z.’s eyes fell on the target of their enmity, but they looked away as that Pokémon nearly returned Z.’s stare. There was still nothing to say about that. But Z.’s antics on the forum had gotten them unfairly slapped with the label of “cynic” (they’d tried for “realist”, at least, to massage the pessimism inherent in that label, but it never caught on). They could be happy for some parts of the future, as long as they got a chance to see them. Right, that was the wish Jirachi had asked for. Z. closed their eyes, consolidated every thought they’d had since their arrival at the center of the island into a single phrase, a single image pictured in their head which they held onto with as much mental strength as they could muster, and WISHED.
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    "This shouldn't hurt" followed by "don't move" was not a good sign. Clobber felt himself immediately begin to tense up, the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do in those situations, and his fight or flight response nearly kicked in. Only stopped by the sight of the mist coming in. He knew that Pokemon could get pretty spooky at times, in fact he always liked seeing creepy ghost art when Halloween came around, but this felt like a step too far. It did allow him to stop himself from taking off. Thankfully he was one of the first to go and so he didn't have to wait long. "Urgh, I don't think I could ever get used to that." Nor did he want to have it happen enough times for it to become normal. He had enough time as everyone began popping up to look around and all he saw was....trees. A lot of trees. A forest of trees one could say. At first Jirachi didn't appear and Clobber began to feel on edge. "Hey what do we do if he never..." and then he popped up, cutting Clobber's hesitantly voiced concern short. "On my count, lift your badges into the air. When you do, please focus on happy thoughts. On hopeful thoughts. What brings you happiness? What brings you hope? These will provide you with the strength you need to stand against the Endless Mist." Well that sounded....cheesy. Surprisingly so with how dire everything had looked. Happiness and hope, in this economy? Well, guess he had to get to work then. Happy thoughts....happy memories....but wait, all he could remember was the forum. And that...well. All that came to mind was not what he'd call happy. Even when he felt good about the art he posted it would just take one negative comment to turn the memory sad. Even pushing past that part of his forum life most of the rest was him arguing about topics that he only had enough knowledge to know that the other side was wrong. Not the most hopeful of endeavors. There was that time he checked out polls, drawn in by the rather cringy but tempting topic of "best girl" only to discover that somehow Giratina had taken the crown. Which at least was somewhat funny if not frustrating but he doubted those kind of thoughts would help much. He was starting to think that this was pointless, that maybe they shouldn't have brought in a downer like him if they wanted hope and happy feelings, when something came to mind. A memory that had struggled its way through the rest of the mire. It wasn't anything special. If he overthought it he'd realize it was pretty lame for this to be what he latched onto. But latch onto it he did. One day, after a rather hectic spree of deleting a bunch of old artwork, he saw a PM pop up. Usually this meant that someone had complained about him again but this time it was something different. "Hey." it began. "I like your art! I checked your profile and didn't see anything but do you accept commissions?" This small interaction reminded Clobber of a small bubble of hope, a surprisingly potent feeling of joy coming from out of nowhere. And so when Jirachi counted down he held up his badge, trying his best to keep the feeling in his heart, and WISHED.
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